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.

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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.

Off gallivanting

I chose a reasonably good time of year to be busy, at least from an allotment point of view. The only useful-looking thing there right now is kale, and it’s looking a bit like it might not survive the frosts, although I think I’m worrying unnecessarily. I’ve never grown it before, but it’s meant to be strong, isn’t it?

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You can do it, kale!

My visits to the allotment throughout the week are quite short over the winter, partly because of my laziness and reduced tolerance to the cold At My Age, and partly due to a general lack of things to do other than pace around. I do like the fact that it’s so quiet on the allotments now, though:

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This has been my first free weekend in a long time (I’ve been to Donegal, Derry, Edinburgh and Glasgow in the past three weeks and while it was all fantastic, I’m deeply grateful to finally have a day with no obligations at all), and I’ve been using this time to get an idea of what I want to grow next year. It’s always subject to change, but my first rough draft looks like this (prepare yourself for some great artistic skill):

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I had to have quite a stern word with myself about potatoes – I grew five different varieties in Year 1, four in Year 2, and this year it’s going to have to be three as an absolute maximum. I’m thinking of one first early (Kerr’s Pink, for storageability) and two maincrops (Maris Piper, which I’ve never actually grown before, and Desiree), and all in smallish quantities.

Two ‘challenges’ I’m setting myself are the asparagus and the globe artichokes. I’ve never tried growing either and I’ve been hesitant because both require some long-term commitment, but I feel that they’re reasonably sensible challenges. More sensible than sweet potatoes were in Year 2, at any rate.

I’m also not giving up on growing carrots – surely I’m due for some luck there. If they fail this year, I might just give up, but I was heartened by the unexpected success of my parsnips this year, and my thinking is that if parsnips are possible, so are carrots.

If anyone has any particular growing tips for anything I’ve mentioned above, that’d be very welcome. I’m most uncertain about the asparagus and carrots, I think. But as I said, this plan is subject to change until February or maybe even beyond. Until then, I’ll keep planning out this little corner of Northumberland I’ve claimed!

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A window of no rain

It’s been so rainy here over the last couple of weeks. I tried allotmenteering in the rain mid-week but it was a terrible plan because I came back covered in mud, so I was glad to see that today was a window of opportunity for me to come and tackle the weeds, which had been gaining a tactical advantage. If there is a sudden downpour, I’ve now got a shelter in the form of the greenhouse, which is still standing thanks to the additional tent pegs I bought to secure it.

I casually bought a pumpkin, he’s called Peadar (I’m learning Irish at the moment so everything has to have an Irish name so I remember pronunciation). Decided the pumpkin needed friends, so they’ve been growing quite happily too. I’ll think about where to actually put them once they’re a bit bigger. Lack of space has never been an issue on the allotment, and I suspect that when I start taking the potatoes up, I’ll be glad to have something to keep the weeds at bay. I hadn’t planned on pumpkins, but all the cucumbers met their maker after the greenhouse fell one night, (prompting me to invest in the aforementioned tent pegs) and I needed something to take the pain away.

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The Mayan Gold potatoes have grown some quite attractive purple flowers, even though it’s too early to even think about taking them up yet. I’m concerned about the sweet potatoes. The leaves of the original plants are turning black, which can never be a good sign, and while some of them are growing additional leaves to form the vine they’re supposed to, something’s been nibbling on them, quite possibly slugs. Not much I can do other than monitor then and try and keep the ground warm.

There are a couple of successes, although I think the beans are growing quite slowly. Not as slowly as the climbing beans, which I might just give up on, but I keep seeing pictures from other blogs with bean plants ready to harvest! And strawberries already harvestable! The ones on my allotment and on the terrace haven’t even formed properly yet, they’re just flowers at the moment. I suppose this far north in England, things work differently. I’m happy with the progress of the peas, to the right, as well. I’d wanted all eight obelisks to look like that, but the Homebase peas got eaten (main suspect is a rabbit) and the sweet peas look healthy, but just haven’t grown very much.

Finally, are you ready for some artwork? Are you sure?

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It’s a wonder my artistic talents have laid undiscovered for so long, but there we go. I had a quiet day work-wise a couple of weeks ago, in the dim and distant past before I took on a lot of work and grumpily worked into the night for several days in a row, and used my spare time to update the plan to reflect more or less what’s in the allotment at the moment. I’m not sure why I’ve labelled one bit as ‘weeds’, when that could apply to a lot of bits. It helps me figure out how on earth I’m going to plan things for next year – issues include:

  • Where am I going to grow potatoes, having giving over a lot of the allotment to potatoes previously? Will I just have to grow fewer potatoes? But I love potatoes.
  • I want to grow asparagus, but it takes three years to get established and I can’t make that kind of commitment. What should I do, other than ‘not grow asparagus’?

And so on. But there’s plenty of time to figure this out, and at the moment, the real battle’s against the weeds.