Sunday, 26 September 2010


Our Marina di Chioggia pumpkins, which've been spreading their tendrils all over the back half of the plot are finally about ready to pick.  All these might be better left on the plants for a few more weeks, but gangs of teens have been seen climbing the fence and roaming the site, last week smashing a load of pumpkins, so thought best to harvest ours this weekend.

We had 2 plants on the go, one planted in the soil and one in the manure pile. The manurey plant has been much more productive, giving us 4 pumpkins that are between 5 and 12 lb each so will use that trick again next year if I can get hold of another truck load of manure. The one planted in soil gave us 3 fruits between 4 and 5 lbs each. We tried the first one last night - sliced and gently fried in butter this one tasted amazing - like a cross between pumpkin, chestnuts and chicken flavoured crisps.

Butternut squashes plant gave us about 7 fruits, so looking forward to trying those.

And we left the last 2 trombonchino squashes on the plant till the skin yellowed and hardened (the rest we ate as green courgette fresh fruits), so should be able to store those for a while. Yum.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Birds versus Cats

For the past seven years, thanks to the threatening presence of the cat next door, birds visiting our back garden have been a very rare treat indeed. But quite frankly, our next-door neighbour owned the ugliest tom-cat in the world.

He (the cat, not the neighbour) used to squat on our back garden wall and stare at us in a beefy threatening way until we dropped eye contact and sidled off furtively back into our kitchen in a diminuitive manner. He was the kind of cat that just looked like he smelt funny (I say this as a cat-lover). Sometimes, if I felt a bit cavalier and derring-do I'd pet him till he purred and rolled over to invite a belly-tickle, which oddly enough, I always declined with a "Ummm, uh, yeah, errr, thanks, but no thanks, ewwww". And I always felt the need to immediately wash my hands afterwards.

So, birds were a rare treat. Oh, except of course for the herring gulls squawking from nearby roof-tops who thankfully never visited the garden, though would always seem to make a special flyover visit just to crap on any bed-linen I might have dared hang outside to dry. Sheets to a seagull are obviously like red rags to a bull.

Last year, sadly, the bruiser (still talking about the ugly cat) moved on to the cattery in the sky. I think in the end my neighbour was somewhat relieved to see him go - he only ever came indoors to poo on his carpets (the cat that is, not my neighbour).

Since then I've spent a fair amount of time, money and effort over the past year making my garden bird-friendly. A carefully selected bird table, bird treats, nuts, fatballs, you name it, I had it. Nothing happened for weeks. Then months passed. But finally, they flocked. Blue tits, sparrows, wrens, robins, the impressive looking red-legged partridge. I can't say I relished the daily visits by the idiotic wood-pigeon - bird of fat body and tiny brain that would perch on the roof of the bird-table and seemed unable to figure out how to get to the seeds on the table below. But when it finally did figure it out it'd stay and scoff the lot.

I specially welcomed the gardeners friends, blackbirds and thrushes, who came and hung out daily hopping in and out and round all the containers and pots, dining on all the spiders and snails. My heros. Specially on the spider-munching front.

But it's all over now. Another set of neighbours have bought two kittens. Like I said, I love cats, so I'm quite  pleased to have them visiting our house and garden. Though now it's strictly supervised house-access only, after the recent muddy-paws-all-over-the-bathroom incident.

But I'm very sorry to find that the birds no longer feel safe to visit. Can't think why.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Mooning Sunflower

All of our tomato plants are keeling over from blight. I got away with it last year, but not this time. Perhaps we were too greedy with a dozen different varieties growing, so we had a total of 24 plants on the go. There are sprays you can use, but although not overly fussy about the food I buy from shops, I do try not to spray the food I'm growing myself with chemicals. Ignorance is bliss, in other words.

Some tomatoes ripened before the blight struck or are ones that we've caught early when plants were only just beginning to keel over. These have been placed in a fruit bowl packed with bananas, the ethylene gas from the bananas helping our toms to ripen. Though we do need to keep a close eye on these, as some do rot thanks to the dastardly blight.

But we've too many to save, so the remainder are being made into green tomato chutney. We've cooked up about 6 kilos so far, using 3 different recipes. I reckon I need to cut down the remainder of the plants tomorrow, and think we'll salvage another 4 or so kilos for yet more chutney.

Tomatoes. Looked forward to them all summer. Got very excited about the first pickings, and enjoyed the first few plates made up of lots of varieties. But now I'm bored of them already (oops - did I say that out loud?). I really wanted to eat them back in the height of summer, with leafy salads. Now the weather is starting to cool, I'm eyeing up all the comfort foods. Hey ho. Guess I need a greenhouse so I can start them off earlier in the year.

I've also been roasting the last of the sumer squashes & marrows, and cooking them up with some minced lamb & bechamel sauce & making them up into lasagnes stored in the freezer, to take to work for lunch. And we're still picking runner & borlotti beans a couple of times a week - most of these are bagged up in the freezer to eat later this winter.

I've just got to share with you a picture of the most amazing sunflower that's on the route into the allotment site, so it cheerfully greets all arrivees. It's a mutant double-headed sunflower. Now, just what does that remind you of?