A Northumbrian Sweet Potato

Yes, it is autumn, time to race and harvest everything before the frost comes in, which happens around this time up here (the internet tells me. As does the weather, come to think of it). This is fairly stressful, but the general prettiness of autumn makes up for it.

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I’m still digging up parsnips.I think if I grow them again next year, I might grow fewer of them. I just never thought they’d actually survive, with the seeds being out of date and with my total failure to grow carrots. Which surely must be more or less the same. Anyway, I have consumed more parsnip soup than I expected to this year. Some of them aren’t weirdly-shape, look, this one looks normal:

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I’m trying not to get too emotionally invested in the survival of my pumpkins, because sometimes, this is what happens:

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But there’s one that might make it, and I’m trying not to surround it with barbed wire and security cameras and whatever else it might need to survive unrotted until Halloween:

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I’ve never successfully grown pumpkins but from what I’ve read of harvesting them, you have to wait as long as possible before cutting them from the plant. This is extremely stressful. Maybe I should set up one of those baby monitor cameras and stare at it obsessively in the early hours of the morning.

The main part of today’s allotment frolics, though, was to see what’s going on with the sweet potatoes. As we know, I was not at all optimistic about whether it’s even possible to grow sweet potatoes in Northumberland when most of the growing guides you’ll find online assume that you’re living in quite a warm part of the USA. Which I am not. And there’s no way of telling for sure when it’s time to harvest – the vine’s not supposed to die away like with normal potatoes, although my vine does indeed seem to be dying off. Anyway, it was not what I’d call a big harvest – the largest sweet potato so far is pictured – but I’ve still got 2/3 of the vine to go and honestly, I’m happy that something grew.

Soon time to finish off harvesting whatever’s left and go into winter hibernation, planning next year’s allotment!

Harvest in full swing

A lack of updates this month has been due partly to the fact that I’ve been busy digging up and storing (and eating) industrial quantities of vegetables, but mostly because my state-of-the-art photographic apparatus is being repaired after some idiot (me) broke it.

I’ve been able to soldier on against this self-made misery though and take the odd picture. Observe a couple of the harvests:

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I’ve not been overly convinced by this year’s tomatoes, I have to say. At least they grew, but so many got blight and more just never ripened, and I think if I try again next year I’ll really have to research what I’m doing wrong. The blackberries though – the ones that survived the frequent visits from next door’s stray chickens – are delicious. I’ve had broad and climbing beans coming out of my ears, resulting in me making large quantities of sweet potato and broad bean soup. The sweet potatoes, alas, did not come from my allotment, although there’s still time for mine to grow.

The soup was delicious, even if I did get a LITTLE sick of it the third day running. This week’s been very quiet work-wise, so keen to control what I can of my finances and ensure I at least don’t starve, I headed to the allotment to see what’s happened to the parsnips.

As we know, I was concerned that when I harvested the parsnips there’d be nothing below the ample greenery, and my first tester attempts proved more or less correct – there was enough for the odd small batch of parsnip chips but not much more. Turned out that the parsnip patch was hiding the hardcore members of its community in the centre of the patch.

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The one on the right in particular terrified me as it resembled Cthulhu rather than a vegetable:

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But it’s currently making yet another batch of soup, this time using this recipe. I still have half the parsnip patch left to dig and I’m a little bit concerned about what I’ll unearth. But excited too.

Start of a harvest

I’m not really sure where August got to – it seems like I looked up from doing one translation or another at some point and realised a month has gone by. I’ve kept up with growing vegetables though, although I find myself looking forward slightly to winter when the potatoes will be safely stored and I can work on instead growing a(nother) protective layer of fat to keep the cold at bay.

I’ve been fascinated by the revelation that mint comes in more types than spearmint and peppermint for a while, so I went shopping.

These new friends all came from Manor Farm Herbs (based, incidentally, in the town I used to live in between the ages of 3 and 8, small world etc). The two varieties of mint have to be kept fairly far apart, as (so my reading tells me), they’ll cancel out the flavour of the other variety. I’ll see how they do in containers for a bit, and may re-pot into a larger pot which I’ll then place in the allotment. We’ll see. It’s quite handy have them close by because they taste really good with certain types of alcohol (gin, it’s mostly been gin). The cinnamon basil has a very strong, noticeable flavour, and I’m yet to try the rocket (it’s only a baby, plus I have loads more on the allotment).

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I hadn’t been on the allotment for a good few days, and suddenly, THINGS have appeared. The most alarming being a few actual potential pumpkins. I’ve since placed things under them so they don’t rot into the soil (a lesson learned from experience). There was a lot of work to do, but I was happy to be harvesting things other than endless peas and beans. Not that I’m complaining about the endless peas and beans, you understand, it’s just I’m running out of recipes.

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The climbing beans took so long to do anything but climb, and now it looks like they’re finally forming into something edible. Tomatoes haven’t done badly at all, although I should have built them better support – another lesson for next year! I’m happiest of all with the thornless blackberry, though. I bought it during a visit to my parents quite a while ago and carried it with me during the 6-hour train journey like the Crazy Plant Lady I am, so while I know normally it’s not much of an achievement that a blackberry plant has survived because they are EVERYWHERE, I was pleased that it’s emigrated north successfully. Incidentally, the wineberry plant I mentioned I was thinking of getting in that previous post – I got it, but it subsequently went insane and grew huge, so I’m unsure of what to do with it.

A busy few months still ahead of me – lots of travelling and things to remember to do. However, for the moment, I’ll be settling down and having an evening meal of what I like to call ‘everything salad’:

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Revenge on the nettles

Yesterday was the PERFECT day for the allotment. Since I got back from Brilliant Holiday, I feel like I haven’t taken much time out, away from the steady stream of obligations associated with being a Strong Independent Woman (for that is what I am) and the high amount of work I must do in order to ensure my continued survival, so with the weather being so fantastic, I bid my responsibilities farewell once again and headed to my little rented patch of land.

I’d come across a recipe for nettle rarebit online. Now, one thing the allotment is not short of is nettles. I’d say if somebody came along and harvested everything edible from my allotment, it’d be around 40% nettles. It’s a sign of fertile soil, but had hitherto been an occupational hazard as I worked on the more cultivable parts.

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Nettles exist only to cause misery. Like the Tory party. OOPS.

It was time for revenge. I harvested the nettles in a way I could only describe as ‘gingerly’.

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It’s funny because I’m ginger. Albeit dyed-ginger.

After washing them, equally gingerly, I fried them until they wilted – it’s at this point that the internet assures me they lose their sting. I also read that if you stroke the leaves the right way, they don’t sting, but I wasn’t willing to try this. I’ve had nettle soup before, but never eaten the leaves more or less as they are. All my instincts were saying “NO, do not eat stinging rarebit. It will hurt”.

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Turns out it was absolutely delicious. I still have some leftover nettles and am assured they’ll keep for a few days, so I will try this again without a doubt.

A few other promising things are happening – I’m continuing the potato digging, and anyone who knows me well will know that this is my absolute favourite thing to do on the allotment. Fork goes into ground, fork comes up and these beautiful golden potential chips are looking at you, waiting to be picked up. A few things that look like they’ll be pumpkins are also starting to appear.

I cleared out the greenhouse (how I’ve managed to get it cluttered when it’s only existed for a couple of month is another question entirely) and repotted a few aubergines. Some of them (those on the sunnier side) are doing far better, so to make room on that side, I took some of the weaker-looking aubergines and moved them to the ‘terrace greenhouse’, where I can keep a close eye on them. I’d love it if I successfully managed to grow an aubergine that’s bigger than my ear, which was the rough size of my record-holder so far. Excited to see how these ones do!

Grow your own soup

I was asked a question on my previous post about growing sweet potatoes. I love it when that happens, because it makes it look like I have some idea of what I’m doing. It’s far nicer to be asked ‘How do you grow sweet potatoes?’ than ‘Would you please stop staring at my garden and leave my property before I call the police?’

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I only stare to get inspiration

I spoke a bit about how I started off with them in this post. Growing them from rooted plants as opposed to slips was an attempt to give them a head start in a climate that’s chillier than they’d prefer, and I made sure to give them plenty of water for the first month. I’ve stopped watering them now because the Northumbrian summer’s providing more than enough rain for them, but they’re still in the fleece tunnel, and there they shall remain.

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Nothing significant happened with them for several weeks after I planted them – in fact, I assumed that everything had failed because the leaves were turning black, rarely if ever a good sign. But when I returned from my holiday, I discovered that the plants had grown vines like they were supposed to, so I removed the grass cuttings I’d added around them to warm the soil, which might encourage the vines to grow even more.

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Sweet potatoes today – maybe this is right?

No idea if this is right, I have to admit – there are plenty of videos online about how to grow them, but all the ones I’ve found are from Australia or the American South, so I’m just playing it by ear. If I’ve understood correctly, the vines will continue to grow, and below each new set of vines will be a small number of sweet potatoes. This may not be a very helpful answer because sweet potatoes were a bit of an experiment,  but it’s at least a lengthy answer.

It’s that time of year when the allotment decides what I’m having for my tea, so I was delighted to discover a recipe for pea and potato soup. For I am short of neither vegetable. I’ve also grown a few onions, although not to the dimensions of last year’s freakishly large crop.

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This year’s onions, with inferiority complex

And also I grew some mint, so this might mark the first meal where I’ve grown all the main ingredients.

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I hadn’t planned to, but I segregated the two types of potatoes I’d dug today (Anya and Mayan Gold) and made separate batches, one with Mayan Gold and rocket, the other with Anya and mint. Not sure why I wanted to separate out the different types, maybe I’m being influenced by right-wing rhetoric in British society OOPS there I go again.

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And now I’m happily eating this batch of soup (the Mayan Gold version. Don’t worry, I’ll talk a LOT more about the different types of potatoes I’ve grown this year in a later post). Not too bad at all, and a rarity in that I’ve actually saved money this week because of the allotment. Quite the feeling of contentment.

To Donegal

My excuses for abandoning my allotment for a few days are generally reasonably good excuses, in fairness. It’s rarely because I’m just too lazy – I did abandon it last year briefly because of the hospitalisation etc., which is a great excuse, and this time I was on holiday to indulge one of my main hobbies besides gardening: I went off to Donegal to learn Irish.

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Not a bad place at all, really. I had a fantastic time, met some great people and improved my level of Irish so I can understand maybe one word in 20 as opposed to my previous one in 50. I examined various gardens on my way and concluded that it’d be really difficult to grow much there at all, so maybe I won’t be able to emigrate once Britain goes under post-Brexit (sorry, I’m almost over it after a month. Actually, no I’m not at all, it’s terrible). I will certainly be going back though, it was brilliant.

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But what of the allotment, you cry? Worry not. I was lucky enough to get the help of a very kind friend while I was away, and she kindly watered the plants in the greenhouse. I only took a quick look today during my allotment reunion because it gets so hot in there that it’s really uncomfortable if you can’t be bothered to zip the door up, but I have some very healthy aubergine and pumpkin plants. Who knows, I might get actual fruit!

I was amazed by how quickly the beans and parsnips have shot up in the 10 days I was gone. It’s like the allotment’s waiting for me to have my back turned before it does the interesting stuff, after months of me waiting for things to finally bloom.

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This is the bit I’m happiest with. I mean, look at it. This is exactly what I had planned, with the eight ‘obelisks’, four in each of the two areas, each area containing two sweetpea obelisks and either peas or beans diagonally opposite. I had no trouble with the Lord Leicester peas (pictured to the right), but everything on the seven other obelisks struggled at one stage or another. Most of the beans failed to germinate, the first batch of the other peas died off, and the sweetpeas seemed to take ages to actually get going, but now they all have and I’ve got this massive supply of my favourite flowers. Possibly my favourite, I’ve never really thought about that before. I like snowdrops too.

And best of all, the bit I was most nervous about – the survival of the sweet potatoes – seems to be all fine. They’ve grown and developed vines as they’re supposed to, possibly aided by the good weather Britain apparently had while I was getting rained on in Donegal. But more on the happy survival of the sweet potatoes later on.

Flowers and berries

I’m always surprised by how quickly things start growing once summer’s finally underway, even if I do complain about how late flowers bloom up here. This is how quickly things have grown in the last eight weeks:

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ZOOM. I did away with the remaining leeks and planted pumpkins there instead. This picture doesn’t show the happy state of the eight obelisks, just visible in the left-hand picture, because the raspberry patch has gone crazy as usual. Thankfully, I have photographed certain elements thereof:

My original plan was to grow one particular type of sweet pea per obelisk, resulting in a kind of monocolour scheme. That’s not going to happen because I didn’t grow enough surviving seedlings and had to supplement the ones that did survive with seedlings from Homebase. I bought some successful seeds of the Mollie Rilstone variety from Matthewman’s Sweetpeas, and I’m hoping they’ll bloom soon too. All in all it’ll probably be nicer to have a variety of colours, nice to have a bit of diversity on the old allotment.

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This week also saw the reappearance of an old friend, the borage! It’s not growing entirely where I predicted, but I don’t mind because it’s great and useful. I’d never even heard of it before getting an allotment and I think it’s a bit of a typical flower among allotmenteers, but honestly it’s one of my favourite things to grow. Not just because bees love it, but also because I like casually nibbling on flowers.

The tayberries have started to appear too. There have never been enough to do more than eat then individually, but one day I’ve decided I’m having tayberry pie.