Prosecco and potatoes

I was away from the allotment at a fairly crucial time again, this time during a heatwave that’s been plaguing the country for seemingly years now. Weirdly, things didn’t seem to be too badly affected by the lack of water. My only theory is that the soil’s less dry than it looks on the surface because the allotment’s at the bottom of a slope, but I’m a long way off being a soil expert so it could be witchcraft for all I know.

I was in a jubilant mood this weekend because I found out I’d passed an Irish exam I took a couple of months back, and not only that, but when I told people about it they seemed really happy for me, even though I didn’t take the exam for a particular reason other than wanting to see where I was at. It was still really important to me, and it was nice that people saw that and shared in the general jubilation. I’d find that quite touching if I still had emotions.

I was also happy because there’s a lot going on at the allotment, lots of it with familiar veg.

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Artichokes and radishes have always done pretty well. I’m still amazed at how quickly the artichokes grew last year, when I planted these tiny plantlings right after coming back from Cuba and was surprised by an overabundance of artichokes just a couple of months later. The mixed radishes are doing well, and I’m experimenting with the Chinese Rose variety too, although it seems to be taking quite a bit longer. Peas and beans have done really badly this year, but I think it’s a result of my neglect. Kalelettes never even germinated. On the other hand, shallots are looking promising and might be the subject of my next post, if things go as planned. I’ve never tried to grow shallots before.

Here’s a couple more things I’ve never properly tried growing before, tummelberries and chard. The tummelberry’s been around for years (since January 2015, this very blog tells me) but never actually produced anything until now. The berries are delicious although not hugely abundant right now. Possibly because I keep eating them. The chard’s not in a great position – very close to the artichoke and so in quite a bit of shade – but it seems to be doing OK.

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Took up some potatoes today, specifically Golden Wonders (too early but I was hungry) and my all-time fave, Ratte. It meant that I was able to enjoy my first mostly allotment-based meal of the year. The only thing I didn’t grow was the garlic mayonnaise (although I did grow the garlic). I’m not intending to start keeping chickens for the mayonnaise any time soon, that’d be too stressful. Before last year I had no idea how to even eat an artichoke, and I like to see that as a skill I’ve developed because of the allotment. That, and an ability to worry a lot about the weather forecast and when it’ll next rain.

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Borage is one of my Top Ten favourite things

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Plagued by rabbits

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I’m being bullied by rabbits, which out of all the creatures to have bullied me, is probably the cutest. Except for the time when a baby ganged up on me. I don’t know why they’re eating my onions when the traditional rabbit snack, lettuce, remains basically untouched:

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I think it’s going into the category of ‘problems I’m choosing not to deal with’ (along with my generalised uncertainty on what I’m doing for the whole of the rest of my life), because I can’t do much with the fencing and I’m not going to trap them. If the family dog comes to visit me this summer, his mere presence might scare them off, I suppose.

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Note: he’s scared of squirrels and large insects

Apart from that, things are ticking over despite a late start.

I’ve been trying to get better at using the seeds I’ve got rather than buying stuff I never use, so I’ve ended up growing beetroot for the first time this year (Natoora Golden, for beetroot fans). This breaks my rule of never growing things I personally don’t eat, because I never wanted to turn into That Person who’s always offering her long-suffering friends vegetables they don’t really want, but I think that ship has sailed anyway, and I can maybe trade the beetroot for veg I like more. Although I might be thinking of popular computer game Banished rather than real life there. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about some of the Spanish onions, and I’m wondering whether they’ll grow as huge as they did in 2015.

The town council installed a new tap at the near end of the allotment – yay! It’s handy having two taps, one at each end, when your allotment’s the size of Essex.

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Except it doesn’t work. And to make this improvement, they turned off the water supply to ALL taps for a couple of weeks without giving us any notice, which would’ve been OK in February but less ideal now when everything needs watering. I know I should probably save griping about the local council’s allotment policy until I’m literally a pensioner but friends, I’m probably not going to get much of a pension at this rate, so allow me to sound much more elderly than I actually am.

I am at least starting to get food from the allotment and I’m already predicting a lot of globe artichokes in my near future. I’m not sure why globe artichokes do so well in the allotment but I’m really glad they do – they take up a nice bit of space, I like eating them, they’re fairly low-maintenance and they’re expensive to buy in shops, so I’m winning there as far as I’m concerned.

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Finally, I found a better place to dry my garlic than the washing line – from a basket I wove on Inis Oírr, next to a placard I made for a protest months ago that I now don’t really know what to do with, and I think if any of these photos sums up my life at the moment, it’s this one.

The wonders of social media

Being a modern young* woman of class** and distinction***, I occasionally indulge in the odd Tweet, and imagine my happiness when I saw that Thomas Etty Seeds had some spare to give away to the first fast-fingered twitterers to respond. I wasted no time and was overcome with delight when this came through my door:

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SO MANY! There are some very hot chillis there (which I might have to donate to people of less delicate constitutions than my own) and also the odd turnip and heirloom tomato. If I didn’t have so much to do between now and spring, I’d be wishing it was here already so I could start planting all this. It’s sometimes overwhelming selecting seeds and planning everything out before the year begins so in many ways it’s nice to just have enough there.

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These are the things I’m most excited about now though, Icelandic poppies! I hadn’t even heard of them but I’m hoping they’ll do really well, at least they’ll probably not find the Northumbrian climate too chilly.

Got to spend plenty of time on the old allotment this weekend for a change. I’m still really proud of the artichokes, I know I keep talking about them like they’re my own children, but look how beautiful they are:

My last post linked to a comparison of how quickly these creatures have grown and I was just about to apologise for concentrating solely on the artichokes again before realising I unashamedly love them and before the season’s out, plan to take a selfie next to them so it’s clear how big they are. I don’t know if they’re just easy to grow or if I somehow have the right soil, but either way, I’m hereby crowning them the main success of 2017 (failures including the usual carrots, and even potatoes this year for some reason).

Some other things did grow, though – I did a bit of blackberry picking before realising that the ones on my allotment were even better. I have a thornless variety and I’d expected there to be some kind of catch involving compromising the quality or yield but actually, they’re delicious and plentiful. This is the first year I’ve had blackberries from it and I’m pleasantly surprised. In the interest of regional diversity I should also point out that up here, they’re called brambles rather than blackberries and while I don’t have strong personal feelings either way, I wanted to point this out for the sake of regional dialect preservation.

Pictured are also my fearsome carrot crop, which succeeds only in looking weird although these are the biggest I’ve ever actually grown.

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So finally coming to the end of the summer, I’m a bit relieved because soon I won’t be having to do battle with weeds and feeling guilty that I never win this battle. Time to watch them die back naturally and have a bit of a rest myself.

*-ish

**petty bourgeoisie

***very little

Homegrown meal

I failed to do a July allotment update, partly because not a lot happened but mostly because I wasn’t here, I was on Inis Meáin learning Irish, as is my custom.

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Can’t think of many nicer holiday destinations tbf

That only took up 95% of my mental capacity, so I used the remaining 5% not for normal things like ‘remembering to sleep and to feed myself’, but instead for ‘noticing the plant life on the island’. I was quite taken with how the potatoes are grown, for example, with seaweed being used as compost (and I can attest to the fact that this makes them taste especially good). My own potatoes aren’t doing fantastically well this year, but they were fairly low down the priority list.

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I had a great time despite the neglect of my own allotment, and I’ll be going back to the Aran Islands later in the year. Not sure if there’ll be anything notable in terms of plant life but I will, as ever, remain vigilant.

Back to my own allotment, then, and the best thing that’s happened is this:

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I had no idea artichokes grew that quickly – compared to just a couple of months ago, or even back in May, they’re huge, and I’ve now got to look up interesting artichoke recipes because I think I’ll have a few to eat before long.

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The asparagus is still doing OK – it’s less obviously successful than the artichokes but it’s survived (I thought a lack of water had killed it off totally while I was away).

Of course, the most important bit of harvesting all this food is eating it. This is the first year I’ve successfully grown garlic, and I even had ‘kind-of’ carrot success (full disclosure: I bought a Rainbow Carrot set designed for children from Homebase) after growing them in containers.

I managed to make a stew that was maybe 90% home-grown (I bought the dill because mine all perished while I wasn’t paying attention, and I also added fennel because I had some to use up):

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(I’ve made more colourful meals, it’s true, but it’s the taste that counts). So despite my ongoing occasional neglect of the allotment, it’s still worth having since it gets me the odd free meal. Tune in next time when I’ll exclusively be eating home-grown potato wedges.

Row by row

I was thinking that after Cuba, I’d be putting the Factor 50 into the Cupboard of Useless Things until…well, my NEXT trip to Cuba, maybe? It’s not like I go warm places all that often. But lo, this weekend the sun made an almost inaugural visit to Northumberland, so the sunscreen was put both on me and into the Allotment Kit, and off I went.

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Like all those of my kind (gingers), I have to be obsessive when it comes to avoiding sunburn

As always, I don’t mind cheerfully admitting that there’s a lot of work to do; as one of the passers-by said to me today, “It’ll be lovely once it’s sorted”. I didn’t have to heart to tell her it’s been THREE YEARS. But my attitude towards the allotment has always been to do as much as I can in the time I have. There’s only one of me and there’s a lot of allotment, so it’s probably never going to be sorted in the sense of being ‘weed-free’, but if it’s providing me with food, and most importantly, if I’m enjoying it, then I’m happy enough.

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Allotment + weeds

I’ve been making great use of the watering spikes at this time of year, and noticed that nearly all the bottles I’ve used are tonic bottles of some kind or another. Could not speculate as to why this is.

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I really like the watering spikes though (and I really like gin, as it goes), I think they were a reasonably wise investment and although they obviously don’t fully replace watering the allotment, it’s good to have them as a kind of back-up option if I’m away.

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The peas and the artichokes seem to be getting more established, at least, four out of the five artichokes are fine (there’s a little runty one I’m concerned about, but having just four isn’t the end of the world). Two of the three potato patches are doing fine but the last one – the biggest – is just overgrown with weeds because the place I chose to plant them has been a wildflower patch for two years running. Which isn’t ridiculous in itself, because I’m a firm believer in rotating potato patches to avoid taking all the nutrients out of the soil, but of course it’s my fault that I let it get so overgrown anyway, so during my next allotment visit, I’ll mostly be tackling that.

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Rare Northumbrian pigeon baskets

So I’ve not ended up growing everything on the plan this year (the carrots failed, of course they did, the carrots always fail and I never learn), but I’ve made a few changes (I’m growing sprouts and broccoli instead) and feel like I’ve made more progress this weekend, so it’s time to sit back and get on with some translation.

Cuba

Happy to report that not only did I survive Cuba, I really enjoyed it. I was over there with Unite and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and it was one of those experiences that was so good that you don’t quite believe it’s happened in the first place. It’s a bit weird being back to everyday life, but I’m now thinking of decorating my allotment so it looks a bit like a Cuban farm:

We got to help out a bit with the agricultural work; no planting in my case but some excellent rock piling. I struggled with the heat (people with my complexion just aren’t really built for the weather outside Northern Europe. E.g. I once got sunburn IN DONEGAL) but got some sense of achievement after helping to pile the stones. From what I understood with my terrible Spanish, the farmers are planning to plant an orchard once the field’s been ploughed.

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Overall just a really nice experience, and I’d really like to come back some day. The whole thing was some way out of my comfort zone and I thought I’d be really relieved to come back to normality, but other than taking a few days to actively appreciate having good hair (Cuba made my hair go WILD), I’ve been missing it.

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BUT today it was time to return to my allotment, which had become considerably more rich in weeds during my absence. Victoriana Nursery had delivered my young onion, artichoke and asparagus plants, so I had to make a start on planting – quite late in the year but then again, I’m usually far too early and over-eager, so it’s a nice change.

I’m glad to have got the artichokes planted as they’re taking up a nice big area of the allotment, and as we know, one of the issues I’m NOT facing with this allotment is lack of space.

The asparagus is going to be interesting to grow, and it’s another ‘established’ plant that I won’t be able to do anything with for a couple of years. Feels like quite a commitment. I’ve been reading up on how to make sure they don’t all die and I’m hoping it works out.

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For today that’s all I’m doing on the allotment (I’m technically meant to be working this weekend, by which I mean working at my actual job rather than on the lovely allotment) but I’m hoping to get the weedburner out tomorrow and tackle two week’s worth of growth.

Ticking over

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Today’s the PERFECT day for going on the allotment. The kale’s flowered which isn’t ideal but not the end of the world as it’s proving popular with the bees.

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I’ve had a LOT going on generally so I’m trying to take any opportunity I can to sort the allotment out and grow at least the basics, even if the weeds are taking over as always. Today was especially important in terms of getting stuff sorted because, excitingly, my trade union is sending me to CUBA soon. It’s been a dream of mine to go since I was about 13, and even though there’s a lot to prepare and I’m a BIT apprehensive, I’m really looking forward to it. On a more relevant note for this blog, I’ll be helping out with agricultural work, which I’m also really looking forward to because I’ll get to see crops that I’ve never even seen before, let alone tried to grow. I hope to update next month with plenty of photos.

Here we have the tummelberry on the left – I’m hoping it’ll produce fruit this year, it’s been hanging around, sponging off me, for two years now. I have a vague plan that it’ll help to form a hedge at the open end of the allotment. To the right, we have our old friends the Lord Leicester peas from the Real Seed catalogue. Or to put it more accurately, from peas I stored and dried last year. Normally I quite like changing varieties of whatever I grow (approx. 20 different types of potatoes over the last three years and I regret NOTHING), but I’m sticking with these peas. They suit the soil, they’ve never let me down yet, and the only thing I have to worry about is making sure I build adequate support for them.

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The fruit trees are also looking quite lovely at this time of year, although possibly need pruning (if anyone is an expert pruner, would they mind advising me? There’s a branch I’m thinking of chopping but I’d rather know what I’m doing isn’t going to harm the tree. More pictures can of course be provided next month).

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So that’s it from the allotment for April – here’s to a productive May!