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 pumpkin outcome

At this time of year I think the edible results from the allotment look far more impressive than the allotment itself, even if I do keep accidentally eating everything before I get a chance to photograph it to boast of all my ‘triumphs’.

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I was quite successful with climbing beans this year, these are Borlotto Lingua Di Fuoco and indeed, I did choose them because they look pretty. They seemed to take a while to actually do anything (especially germinate), but I was very glad when they did.

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I harvested the rest of the sweet potatoes – as predicted, it wasn’t a huge harvest by any means, but it was enough to prepare a couple of meals, and I was glad I gave them a go at least.

But the most exciting allotment outcome was that MY PUMPKIN SURVIVED LONG ENOUGH FOR ME TO EAT IT. And I might have a couple left in the allotment too, just a bit smaller. After my complete paranoia that the largest would just rot overnight, I finally took it home with me last weekend and made my first pumpkin pie. To be honest, it’s not the best pie I’ve made by a long way, but baking’s never been among my talents (and I fully intend to eat it). I also carved my very first pumpkin, I’ve named her Theresa.

Here’s a photo to prove that I don’t only eat pie:

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Yet another positive thing about having an allotment is that you can supplement massive great salads like this and eat them as full meals and use that as an excuse for pouring cake and cider down your throat whenever possible.

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And finally a picture to remind me that while Northumberland might not be the best environment in which to grow sweet potatoes, it’s not a bad environment in which to live at all. Nearly four years since I moved here and I think it was one of my wiser decisions.

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!