Saturday... A Bank Holiday weekend... Blue skies. Grey skies. Billowing white clouds. Blankets of grey. Sun. Brief showers... very brief showers... and lots of chat.
Being the first Saturday in May it was Naked Gardening Day, though no one I know of... including myself... was brazen enough to go the whole hog; I did go barefaced apart from suncream and wearing a T-shirt... so my arms were definitely taking part in the day of the year that elicits a huge amount of social media interest with very little full-on nudity... which is both fair enough and a good thing in my view!! Much more Monty Don and Carry On rather than red-light district... thankfully!
Being Spring Bank Holiday weekend in the UK I guess it was always going to be a busy three days at our site, as I'm sure it was across most sites in the four countries of the UK... and possibly allotment sites, Victory Gardens, community gardens and such other community-driven green spaces around the northern hemisphere too. Down Under, the busyness is of a different time; gathering harvests, relishing bounties and seed-saving for next year's hopes and dreams... polar opposites, literally!
As I chatted with plot neighbours there was much talk of how this year is behind last year; the sunniest April on record still turned out to be the frostiest since the great depression. Early potatoes still not showing, carrot and parsnip sowings delayed, direct sowing of French beans postponed, tomato plants still being coddled at home, fleeces readily at hand, greenhouse venting largely closed, warmth whilst in sunshine, chills in the shade, flasks still filled with warming liquids rather than cooling cordials, and no rain... or too little to give any real benefit. The forecast was for the Bank Holiday weekend to end with a downpour, or two, or three... and no one was complaining... and no one is now as for once that forecast was right!
With so many wanting both to chat and just crack on with their tasks a quiet job I'd planned for Saturday was moved to the day after, and a job for the day after was done instead. Beds were topdressed with Soil Improver and Peat-free Compost, and their bags dried out and readied for re-use. The forecast rain would mellow the topdressing onto the beds, and the nutrients will start working their way down.
Shortly after my job was done I was told by a passing fellow allotmenteer that my beds were so neat that they looked like they were on parade... and I sort of got the drift, and hoped for once the forecast would be right so that we WOULD have rain on my parade... which we did. I'm still deciding which beds will hold brassicas, and which beans and salads and direct-sown beetroot and turnips, and more; one thing for sure is none will hold radish which remains a bête noir...
We're now well into our growing year, which for us runs October to September, just as it did for my dad; I know I think differently to others, and I guess in terms of this I always will. To me the planting of garlic and sowing of broad beans in October is always a good start for the year.
And on broad beans, will I do Bunyard's Exhibition again? This year they were bitten so hard by snows and rugged chill winds I think we'll be back to the seemingly sturdier Aquadulce Claudia come October. And that's where part of my head is now... October... and next year. I'm already making notes, as it's never too soon... varieties I want to grow... and ones I don't... seed-saving of what and how and when. I'm doubting onions will be in our beds next year. In fact, I doubt we'll do onions here again... unless, of course, we do...
So the weekend wore on and work got done... hoeing, weeding, raking, topdressing, watering, tidying and importantly the art of quietly observing; a simple yet complex skill that often many forget.
Of all that got done on our May Day at the plot, and during the rest of the weekend, the most important was chatting... chatting is so important, and such an intrinsic part of allotment life; remaining socially-distanced didn't mean we had to remain distant. Catching-up... who's doing what, feeling well, needing an uplift, a gifting of smiles, a sharing of laughter, a listening ear for someone's sorrows, and an uplifted heart from sharing someone's joys... simply spending time in the company of others whether friends, colleagues, acquaintances or simply frequently passing nods and smiles. This is allotment life... as important as communing with the soil, sowings, seedlings, plantings, harvests, Planet Earth and Mother Nature is communing with each other.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, 4 May 2021
Even though these planters look a bit ragged and rugged at the moment, they still bring me that little uplift that one needs when starting a long day of work.
Yesterday was a day at For Earth's Sake, and it was longer than usual. We had an additional meeting in the early evening - a Business Improvement District meeting - so my train back would be late. It's rarely a chore to travel down and visit Vanessa and the team, however multi-sequenced my trek... They're all working so hard to try and do good for the planet, its wildlife, flora and fauna and its people. Nothing to not enjoy being part of, though it is a trek; albeit giving one time to think, as public transport often does.... though more on this another time...
... going back to these planters!
It's early morning and the middle of winter and they're looking a little forlorn. In a few months' time some of this grouping will be flowering and giving up their yellow buds to commuters already weary and worn on their morning commute... I'm sure they are even more of a blessing during their evening trudge back to home! These planters, or rather the plants, are also adding a little fresh air, doing their carbon dioxide and oxygen thing that they do so well. These little green growing places, these oases that we often walk past without a care do lift the spirit, if you let them. I'm forever grateful that there are those willing to care for them; as part of their job or on a voluntary basis of one sort or another.
We had some planters at the top of our road which had "seen better days", sullen palms in them. Not really the ideal plant for this place at the outskirts of London, in my humble opinion... I suppose the council thought "plant a palm and you won't have to worry about it", though the rest of the human detritus that gathers in these planters is the main problem. You see, the issue isn't the palms... it's the people. At one time I thought about taking up the cudgel with these top-of-the-road travesties and doing some guerrilla gardening, though there's already a lot going on in our life and maybe that would've just been a step too far... Anyhow, now they are gone, and the space is more barren... ...
... going back to these planters!!
As I continued my journey to Cranleigh, I had a little outward smile and inward warmth at this little oasis of greenery; positioned awkwardly amidst the rolled steel tracks of railway lines, harsh steelwork hoardings, softening wooden fences, vibrant caution stickers, and the hard concrete, tarmac and slabs of the platforms.
Returning late last night, and passing through the station at a little past 11pm, I glanced over my shoulder at these planters again; through the cinematic little lit pods of travellers of the train as it trundled out of the station.
There they were... unsurprisingly... across on the other platform, in darkness yet lit up by the neon glow on the station. All quiet, and gentle, and resting...
One bus ride home and I would be doing the same.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 23
It may not seem like much of an auspicious start... but it's a start!!
Almost three months ago now I first noticed that a whole load of bricks had been stacked up against a wall at the bottom of our road. Who had put them there? Was someone going to use them for something? Was there a carefully concealed camera looking on to catch a thief?
All fair questions maybe, though knowing folk in our area often 'freecycle' by popping unwanted items on the pavement or their front wall, my immediate thoughts were "Can I take them?", "These could be very useful at the allotment", and "I need to get a wheelbarrow to trundle them across to our plots."
And the next time I passed them I had exactly the same thoughts... and the next time I passed... and the next time... and the next...
On Monday, I took the bull by the horns, or maybe it's better to say I took the bricks by a wheelbarrow.
It might seem like a relatively simple job, and it certainly was, though the time it has taken me to get round to doing this is symptomatic of the last few months. I'm really hoping that now, as we get in to the real darker days of winter, I will have more time at the plots, allowing me (and Richard!) to get them sorted for spring sowings and the happy onslaught of growing all that is green.
So this simple job was really our first task to getting the new plot into some sort of shape; albeit only by moving bricks from one place to another! The bricks, which are a hodgepodge of different colours, shapes and sizes, will be used to put on top of cardboard to weight it down so that the winds don't blow this ground cover away over winter. When we can get compost, from our bin or elsewhere, we will place this on top of the cardboard, and the weight of that compost will replace these bricks, though these bricks will do well in the meantime.
So it was from here (above left), at the bottom of our road, that I wheeled the bricks to here (above right), at the side of the shed on our new plot. We also acquired some tiles (though I'm not really sure what we can do with them!), and a few pieces of wood which I'm sure will come in handy at some point.
The scavenging of bits and pieces that one finds on one's daily jaunts certainly help keep the cost of an allotment down, and sometimes you get an unexpected and truly treasureable find.
Happy days. 😊
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 13
Even though I love travelling by train, sometimes it can be a bit of a pain to get to one of our local stations. The journey can to often feel far longer than it actually is, especially during rush hour.
Yesterday, as I started my journey to visit my client For Earth's Sake in Cranleigh, the traffic in which my bus was travelling seemed a bit endless. It seemed we were literally inching closer and closer rather than happily trundling along in our charabanc.
However, once I got off the bus and started walking down to the station I passed this lovely area of community gardening. It really is something that lifts me each time I'm nearing the real start of my journey. There are areas on either side that are simply grass verges and weeds, and in their own way they would be lovely - if the detritus and plastic was regularly removed! However, it is this block of community gardening that always lift my heart. To see the Calendulas happily blooming away and a few other perennial plants now in place alongside explanations of how and why this community managed space is here, it literally put a spring back in my step.
So, as I mentally skipped down to the platform and my train came trundled in, I already had a smile on my face. It really is amazing how just these little happinesses can lift our day.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 8
This afternoon I had a little bit of luxury, well at least it felt like a little bit of luxury.
It feels as though I've been at my desk for an eternity. The last fortnight I've had only fleeting visits to the allotment to check on a few things and harvest. This afternoon though, I was able to take out a couple of hours and set to on preparing beds for the sowing of broad beans and also of our garlic. The garlic is going in where our tomatoes were on the top plot, and even though I took the blight-ridden plants out a few weeks back there was plenty of weeding and rescuing of flowers to do. I potted up some cheery Calendula, some absolutely gorgeous self-seeded Violas and a fabulous Feverfew which was dancing in the wind. Hopefully these will all over winter and be able to be used either in pots or in beds in the spring.
So, the long bed for the Messidrome garlic is ready (below). There's still a flower left in the far end though I'm sure it only has as a few days of glory left in it. The bed I've sorted for our broad beans (above) still has a nasturtium in situ. I'm leaving it here for a few more days as Vivi has been making Poor Man's Capers from these seeds so I need to check on her video and try and make those before I pull the plant out, which is destined for the compost heap. In the other end of the bed is a small Morning Glory which has been trailing along the ground as it had nothing to climb. It will definitely be bitten by frosts and come out though I'm leaving it for the bees for the moment.
One of the jobs that I also sorted this afternoon was the weeding of the autumn harvesting broad bean plants, the Luz De Otono. As I was weeding, two big fat bumble bees came down and nestled into the unctuous flowers. They seemed happy with their lot as they buzzed from flower to flower. I've already noticed that some broad bean pods are forming so maybe we will get more beans in November. Time will tell.
So, though some may not see these two hours I've had as a luxury, the hours certainly were for me. I came away feeling uplifted and refreshed, and with three types of carrots and some Portuguese Cabbage in my hands. Along with the Desiree potatoes we were given a few weeks back and some Linda McCartney burgers, that is this evening's meal sorted.
I write this whilst taking a few minutes rest before making supper, and unusually I'm having a nice glass of red wine. Another little bit of luxury.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 6
Dad never really liked pasta. If it was in a lasagne then that was a bit different as the pasta was all hidden. As dad got older he enjoyed penne with a nice rich tomato sauce... and cheese. But in my early years dad was not a fan of pasta... and especially spaghetti...
When I suggested to dad around the age of eight that there was a vegetable that I'd like to grow called Spaghetti Squash, the seeds never arrived. I'm sure I continued to ask to grow this same vegetable over a good number of years, though the seeds again never seemed to arrive. Lots of other seeds arrived: parsnips, runner beans, carrots, beetroot, French beans, lettuce, tomatoes, aubergine, peppers, sweetcorn, courgette, marrow, spinach, radish, celery and many more. To be frank, I sort of forgot each year about the Spaghetti Squash because of the abundance of other exciting seeds that were arriving and being sown. I got so caught up in the joy of what we had that I forgot and therefore didn't worry about what I didn't. It was only when I saw it in the annual catalogue from Thompson & Morgan that I would say again "Dad, can we grow some Spaghetti Squash this year?"
It was in this first decade or so of my life, filled with the joys a productive garden brings - veggies, flowers, soft fruits, and apples and pears in our orchard - that my desire to want to grow fruit, vegetables and some flowers really flourished.
Some four decades later, in January this year, we received a little parcel from Erica of Erica's Little Welsh Garden. As an extra Erica had also included a whole host of different seeds. There were loads of packets of her own saved seeds from last year's harvests, including a good number of different squash and pumpkin varieties. However, it was one little plain white packet that really caught my eye... it held six of Erica's saved Spaghetti Squash seeds. There were also other packets with some giant pumpkin seeds and some other exotic squash seeds, though my heart just leapt at the thought of these six little dried, papery and weightless Spaghetti Squash seeds.
Obviously, I sowed them as soon as I could. The seeds germinated well and grew strong. When they reached a healthy size I put them in at the Community Gardens; I wanted them to be away from our Cheeky Prince at the allotment plots. I admit to watering them, though apart from that I sort of left them to their own devices. And boy did they grow... not massive and spreading, though rather productive. In fact these Spaghetti Squash have proven to be our most prolific of any squash this year. There seems to be two distinct varieties. One is a mottled green (below) and the other is the yellow one (above).
Yesterday, with some excitement and trepidation, I went down to the Community Gardens to harvest the first Spaghetti Squash. It was quite a moment and did somewhat pull at my heartstrings. It's quite incredible that I have been waiting to sow, grow, harvest, cook and taste a Spaghetti Squash for almost 46 years!
I brought it home and found that the mellow yellow skin was actually extremely tough. Maybe I had just left it in situ ripening too long? I tried to prick it all over as it says on the cooking instructions that I had read online, though the fork hardly made a dent. I decided the best thing to do would be to cut it in half and then bake it in the oven with the cut sides down. After 45 minutes I turned the bronzed shells over so that the flesh was showing and popped a knob of butter and some cracked black pepper into the hollow where the seeds had been. Back in it went for another 15 minutes...
When I took it out of the oven it smelled nice, though nothing special. I used a fork to tease out the flesh, and sure enough the yellow lusciousness came apart and turned into little threads of buttery squash. Awesome!! I have to admit it was all a little bit wetter than I had imagined it would be, though with a little bit of salt added it was absolutely divine!
Finally, I had sown, grown, harvested, cooked and eaten a Spaghetti Squash!! A lifetime goal achieved, and a desire fully quashed (not squashed!!)!
Will I be doing them again? Most probably. I still have three seeds remaining from the six Erica sent, and will be saving some seeds from the mesh of threads and seeds I removed prior to baking.
All I need now is more space to have a huge squash and pumpkin patch, and to harvest the rest of these little beauties of Spaghetti Squash at the Community Gardens.
I think even dad would have been happy with the outcome; he loved marrow with butter, salt and pepper and I'm sure this would have been one 'spaghetti' he would have happily devoured.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 4
As I was shopping in Morrisons this morning it was with a bit of a heavy heart I had to plunge my hands into the loose onions and bag up a kilo or two. As you may remember, our onion harvest for the past growing year was pretty disastrous, and our garlic harvest wasn't much better. It had rained so much just prior to harvesting that our onions and many of our garlic were pretty damp. Some of the onions had succumbed to white rot and others just weren't up to scratch. None of them had bulked out in the way our previous onions had. With our garlic the Allium Leaf Miner had taken quite a toll and we will certainly not be growing garlic nor onions in that bed for some time to come. Leeks is another of the edible allium family that I don't think we will be planting this growing year; the last two years have been pretty poor totally due to Allium Leaf Miner.
Now we are in a new growing year, at least for us, and I had the joy on returning from shopping of opening up the Messidrome garlic that we had purchased from Suttons. Apart from the plastic netting bag packaging I am absolutely delighted with this order. The cloves themselves are big and chunky, and the bulbs from which the cloves have been split are absolutely full; happily almost filling the palm of my cupped hand. We haven't grown this variety of garlic before though one of our YouTube subscribers suggested that we do. Normally we have grown Germidour, both new from Wilko and as saved cloves from the previous harvest, and we have also planted cloves from a bulb of garlic bought from Lidl.
Last year the onions and garlic went in deeper than I normally do, very much in the the way that dad used to do it. However, I'm going to be planting them this year as we have done in previous years. I don't think it's the fact that the way dad used to do it was wrong, I think rather it is more that the soil in Guernsey is far lighter and more sandy and therefore drains extremely well. Our allotment soil is good, don't get me wrong, though it certainly doesn't drain like much of the soil in Guernsey. Given this, these Messidrome cloves will be planted about an inch or so deep and then we will top dress with some chicken manure pellets in the spring. After planting we will cover them loosely with scaff netting for a few weeks, until they have started rooting and the green tips have begun to lift above the surface.
Messidrome garlic is a soft neck variety and hopefully is going to store well for us. Though I have not yet checked its origin I am thinking it must be from the Drôme region in southeast France, and be that region's famed harvest. The blurb says it has 'excellent flavour for all culinary uses' (what else would a grower or allotmenteer use it for?) and 'stores for longer and has more numerous but smaller cloves'. Time will tell...
Unlike in all our previous years of growing alliums, we are not going to be overwintering our onions this year. Last year we overwintered sets of Red Baron and also Shakespeare. In the years that we have grown Red Baron they have always bolted, and then have to be used first as they won't store well. In contrast, for the last few years the Shakespeare variety of white onions had done superbly for us, and stored well through to about January when we ran out.
Richard and I were at the RHS Malvern Autumn Show last Sunday and met up with a load of YouTubers, including Vivi Gregory, Jane Kelly, Huw Richards and Liz Zorab who were taking part in a Q&A in The Potting Shed. During the Q&A Huw mentioned that he is not going to grow Red Baron again as his had also tended to bolt. I must admit there was a little bit of me that was pleased that someone who grows organically as well as Huw does had also had challenges with their Red Baron. I felt a little less inadequate in the onion department!
So, as I mentioned we are not overwintering onions this year. We will have our garlic growing over winter, and we will have two types of broad beans too; maybe some peas also. Hopefully the growing tips of all these will keep me smiling through the winter months.
I am going to be following the advice of Vivi this year and buying onion sets for planting in the spring. In fact I will be copying the Queen of the Gardens entirely this year in our choice of white onions and will be growing Jet Set, and they will be going in around March / April I think [note to self, check What Vivi Did Next's video of her planting sets in 2019]. We are still going to be growing some red onions, even though Richard is not a great fan of them. I have ordered a variety called Rosanna - again a French variety which is apparently pink rather than a deep red. I have never grown this variety before so it will be interesting to see how it does for us, especially compared to the experiences that we have had with Red Baron.
This afternoon I got down to the plots, got the rest of our tomatoes out on the top plot, and tomorrow I will start preparing that bed for the Messidrome. Oh, and at Morrisons I also bought myself a mini flask. A little treat that will keep me warm for the work ahead at the allotment over the coming dark months.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 3
Butternuts, it appears, are a little like buses. You wait ages for one to come along, and then three appear at the same time!
It hasn't been a great year for our squash, or at least not at the allotment. There are a few Cheeky Prince growing amidst the toppled Gigantes and buckled rose arches; some of these squash royalty are green and some distinctly turning a bright orange. However, on the whole squash on our allotment plots this year have been few and far between... literally!!
When I meandered down earlier to check on our plots and read the site water meter, I thought whilst I was there I would just pop over to where we are tending to a 2m by 1m patch on a fellow allotmenteers plot. The two Achocha that Vivi gave us in early July are both about seven or eight foot high now, and covered in little fruits (note to self - make Vivi's Achocha & Chickpea Curry!!), and the sight of them did brighten my day.
One of them did look a little off though... Odd colour... Odd shape... Had it not been pollinated correctly? Had it been distorted somehow by rubbing against the willow pole structure? Or was it in fact not an Achocha at all?!?!
So you can imagine the flush of warmth inside and the big smile that came to my face when I saw the little wee Butternut Waltham above. Finally... FINALLY we had a butternut. And then I spotted another! And yet another!!!!!
So, after all that slightly pained forlornment of the past few months, we finally have three baby Butternut Walthams, though as Hamlet said, 'there's the rub'! It is now the third of October, the nights are chilly, rain is always round the corner, sun shines brightly and then is quickly scurried away by storm clouds, and therefore the chances of any of these three beauties ripening to maturity is slim to none.
However, it is now true that we do have butternuts. They may not lift to the heights, maturity and fruitfulness of Hugh & Mama and their plump family of last year, but they are Butternut Walthams none the less. And that, in itself, is worth smiling about.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 2
It's amazing how jobs that sometimes seem daunting, are often just a matter of getting stuck in.
Today I sowed Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia in the edged bed Richard and I made yesterday in our video. Yesterday afternoon I emptied three barrow loads of our pallet bin compost into it and levelled it off. This morning was the sowing of seeds and watering them in. I've left the bamboo canes on the bed and added the upturned cordial bottles as a deterrent to our on-site foxes.
If you want to see our plot update and the building of this edged bed visit our channel at YouTube.com/c/richardandpaul
Within the last 10 hours, we have had a Pine Nut Hummus from Marietta and also a Beetroot Hummus from Jude posted to Planet Vegetaria - both obviously look delish!
Do you make your own, or do you buy from the shop? And if you buy from a shop, which is your favourite? And if you make your own, what is your favourite recipe?
Of course, it's not just about chickpeas; fresh butter beans, cooked tinned beans, lentils and more are used in different countries to make this ever popular favourite... of most.
...long term partners.