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’.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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 I just never thought they’d actually survive, with the seeds being out of date and with my total failure to grow carrots.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:


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


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:


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!

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?’


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Attempting sweet potatoes

This year I’ve been trying to focus less on ‘novelty’ vegetables and more on things that’ll actually grow and that I’ll eat. I think I came to this conclusion after running out of recipes for the hundreds of kilos of oka I dug from the ground*. That said, I like a challenge, so decided on sweet potatoes. They’re being grown commercially in the UK now, although that’s in the ‘south’ of England, a strange and mysterious region** very different from Northumberland. I want these sweet potatoes to live. I’m going to try almost everything I can.


They arrived in the post as rooted plants rather than slips, which makes them a little more hardy. They looked quite healthy, Marshalls Seeds was quite reliable there. These are the Beauregard variety, meant to be suitable for growing in the UK.

I used the fleece tunnel, which used to house the carrots which have since gone to Seedling Heaven (why are carrots so horribly difficult to grow? I’m blaming the soil, it’s always the soil’s fault), and I put various cuttings from the paths in the allotment around the five plants to try and keep them warm. I watched videos on YouTube that told me to do this, I didn’t have the idea myself.

So fingers crossed. If things go well I should get 2-3 potatoes per plant, and if they live, they should grow a LOT.

The beans, peas and sweet peas around the obelisks still seem to be doing well. I tried out some peas I’d bought from Homebase, but they died soon after I’d planted them, and proved considerably less healthy than the Lord Leicester peas towards the top of the right-hand picture. I’m sometimes a bit sceptical about heritage veg because I sometimes think there’s a reason it’s not grown so much these days, but that’s not the case here, I really like them. I’m hoping to save some of them to plant next year too.

Wildflowers are slowly starting to make an appearance – I planted a lot of wildflower seeds this year but I think the weeds might have defeated a fair proportion of them. I’m still pleasantly surprised that the celery is all looking healthy. I planted celery as an afterthought last year and didn’t expect it to survive the frost, but it’s looking better than ever.


Potatoes and parsnips continue to look promising and alliterative. I’ve never successfully grown parsnips before and am worried that when I come to harvest them, there’ll just be nothing under the leaves, but so far, so good.


And finally a view of the allotment from the corner I’ve ‘set aside for wildflowers’, aka ‘just left for the weeds this year’. The green tunnel’s home to some tomatoes at the moment, and I’ve planted broad beans in that patch to the left of the potatoes, by the Lucozade bottles***. Sweet potatoes underneath the white fleece tunnel yonder. Your humble allotmenteer lies exhausted in a small heap, having successfully avoided all other chores today.

*It wasn’t hundreds to be fair, and I quite liked the oka because it was easy to grow, covered a lot of ground and tasted good.

**In which I was actually born, but we don’t talk about that.

***Bottles contain water rather than Lucozade, I’ve not been feeding my plants energy drinks in a desperate attempt to get them to live.