June on the Allotment 2016
It has been a cold spring this year and everything seems to be that little bit later. I am only now starting to harvest a few strawberries and my autumn sown broad beans are late producing so they are covered in blackfly – normally I think autumn sown broad beans are fairly safe. This time there is little point in picking out the tender growing tips, the blackfly are crowded all the way down the stems – drstic measures are called for!
Maintenance - around the plot and in greenhouses or poly-tunnels –
* Birds are always a problem though, thankfully, not indoors. Netting brassica plants is probably essential. I have also found it necessary to put nets over peas and carrots.
* Berries, particularly gooseberries, are especially susceptible to harvesting by blackbirds. *They also hugely enjoy redcurrants.
* Slugs and snails are not so much of a problem in Green houses and poly-tunnels but do keep as lookout for them just in case. They can be quite a serious problem under cloches and in cold frames and a major issue on outdoor plants, especially brassicas. Do keep an eye on their activity – slug traps, pellets, etc are useful though, they can also be quite a pest underground with root crops and potatoes.
* Watch, also, for red spider mite on indoor plants – they like dry warm conditions and can take over and destroy your indoor aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and chilli plants. The leaves of affected plants will take on a mottled unhealthy appearance. On closer inspection you will see webs, mostly on the backs of leaves and when the infestation is severe, between leaves and stems [if the infestation reaches this level, it is best to dig up and remove the infected plants – keeping a close eye on nearby plants for similar infection].
* Carrot Root Fly – an ongoing problem in the UK for carrot crops. When thinning rows of carrots disturb the ground as little as possible and dispose of the thinning well away from your carrot beds. Alternatively, sown the crop very thinly to avoid thinning.
* By June you should finish harvesting asparagus. We should now allow the spears to develop into ferns to encourage strong growth in the crowns next year. Watch out for asparagus beetle and remove any beetles or larvae as soon as they are seen. This year I am seeing loads of them
* Aphids - particularly on broad beans, [Autumn sown broad beans are less likely to be attacked by blackfly – with spring sown crops, remove the tender top growth, once the first flowers have set to discourage this pest] and whitefly [on brassicas]. Watch out, also, for ants [especially red ants which seem to be more destructive and quicker to bite than their black ant cousins] – while they don’t, in themselves, damage the plants, they encourage aphids and will build their nests under plants undermining them.
* Cabbage White Butterflies. The green caterpillars of this variety can demolish your plants very quickly. Check daily, if you can and remove any caterpillars you see.
* Earth up main-crop potatoes as they grow.
* Pinch out the side shoots of cordon tomato plants as they appear [not from bush tomatoes], on plants already growing on in green houses and poly-tunnels. Stake or tie up the plants as they develop to keep them upright.
* Keep the plot tidy - cut grass on paths regularly to prevent weeds and grass from encroaching on your plot and to reduce slugs and snails.
* Weeding – keep seed beds, particularly, free from weeds. Hoeing is useful but take care to not damage young plants [hoeing is not very effective in wet weather as the hoed weeds will often re-root].
* Support your young peas plants as they start to grow. It is also a good idea to net them - young pea shhots make a wonderful meal for our greedy pigeons.
Preparation and planning
*Re-dig beds to create a good workable tilth - ready for planting out. As far possible, maintain the plan you created over the winter for good crop rotation – sometimes this does not work out as planned – weather, timing and condition of the soil can prevent implementation of excellent plans. Avoid planting root crops where you have added manure or lime.
* In June you can still sow many seeds outdoors and preparation of the seed beds is important for good germination. [If the ground is too hard in a dry month to create a fine tilth, try watering the ground well, leave for a short time then water again. If this does not break down unyielding ground, create a furrow 4 – 6inches [10 – 15cm] deep and fill this with compost [I use bought-in compost when necessary]. Sow the seeds into this as normal. The seeds and young plants may well need lots of watering in dry weather to ensure germinating and growing on. The addition of the compost should help the quality of the ground for the next crop when dug in. However, if using bought-in compost, be aware that it will dry out very quickly on the top couple of cms which will prevent seeds from germinating.
* When transplanting brassicas, it is a good idea to add a sprinkling of lime around each plant if you know your soil is too acid. Don’t add manure at the same time as lime but try to dig in good, well-rotted manure earlier in the season when digging the beds.
•Sowing and planting
- under cover [in green house or poly-tunnel] Herbs – basil can still be sown to have successional pots of the herb. Tomatoes, peppers, chillies, cucumbers, aubergines can still be transplanted into ground indoors or into large pots.
– outdoors – You can still sow – French beans [some varieties are better sown a bit later. Read the instructions from the seed supplier], runner beans, beetroots [although you may have sown earlier in the season, if you like this crop you can continue to sow for a couple of months:-
-Beans – French beans and runner beans can be transplanted outdoors;
-This is still a good time for sowing brassicas outdoors, try – Broccoli/calabrese, spring cabbage for next year, winter cauliflower and kale.
-Of course, carrots can be sown until the end of August, if you have suitable conditions although, I have found that I have had more success with earlier sown carrots.
-Courgettes – if you have good, kind conditions, can now be sown outdoors although I have always propagated my seedlings and grown then on indoors to plant out in June. In a good year, with predictably warm forecasts do try for an earlier crop but, I would still prefer to wait.
-Florence Fennel – a wonderful vegetable whose fresh aniseed flavour is such a wonderful addition to salads – sow from May until July outdoors;
-Peas can be sown for successional crops until the end of June. Although I have sown some developed for late sowing in late July. While this did extend my harvesting time, the crops were not amazing;
-Salad crops – lettuce, radishes, rocket, spring onions, can all be sown outdoors.
- You can still transplant outdoors – aubergines [only in warmer, sheltered areas], French and runner beans, Brassicas – broccoli and calabrese, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale], celery, celeriac, courgettes, outdoor cucumbers, leeks, peppers and chillies[only in warmer, sheltered areas], pumpkins and squashes, outdoor tomatoes.
In all cases, harden the plants off well before planting out and do consider the weather. The young plants should be well watered into their final growing spot and continue to water until the plants have established – if necessary.
•Harvesting – By now we should be coming to the end of the ‘Lean time’. For some time, the only crops available for harvesting have been asparagus, spring cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuce and rhubarb.
• Overwintered cauliflower should be ready now, if it has survived the winter. Spinach and Swiss chard should provide a good harvest now – fresh young leaves are excellent in soups, salads, stir-fries, etc.
•Early potatoes should now be ready for harvesting but do check early in the month as growth has been slow this spring- I have now been harvesting globe artichokes for a few weeks, the purple ones especially have been outstanding. The plants have overwintered very well in spite of minimal protection and no cutting back.
•Broad beans are now at their best – Autumn sown – the Spring sown varieties are not likely to be ready until the end of the month or into July.
•Early sowings of peas – if sown under a cloche should start to provide a crop now.
•Over wintered onions and garlic will now finish their growth during the month although there is no sign yet of die-back– look out for yellowing leaves and some withering. In onions, the leaves will fold over. Lift them and set them on the ground, in dry weather or on a rack, to allow them to dry out before storing in a cool dry place.
•Young turnips, sown under cover in early spring should now be available for harvesting.
•Rhubarb should now be at its best [don’t forget that the leaves are poisonous].
•Soft fruit - redcurrants, blackcurrants and white currants as well as gooseberries, early varieties of raspberry and strawberries should now be ripening. Keep them protected from birds – they do seem to love redcurrants and gooseberries particularly. If you have lots of fruit, make sure you have containers for freezing and lots of jam-pots ready for preserving. If you still have produce in your freezer from last year, now is the time to use it up so that you have space for the new crops.
September on the Allotment 2017
In spite of the cool weather this summer, I believe it has been one of the most productive years
It has been a totally outstanding year for fruit both soft fruit and the harder autumn fruits like apples, pears, plums. In the spring, when the fruit trees were blossoming the weather was warm and sunny giving the bees an excellent opportunity to pollinate the crops.
With these over abundant crops with the joy of making jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, etc comes the chore of too much stuff to use and preserve.
As crops finish their harvest, remove the spent plants and compost them;
Over-wintering Harvests – brassicas – [cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts]; leeks, parsnips, Swedes etc, clear of weeds and watch out for pests like white fly on the brassicas [ there have been fewer of these during the dry weather but during the wet weeks the numbers of these little pests has increased;
Keep perennial crops, asparagus, globe artichokes and fruit bushes, canes and trees free from weeds;
Keep paths and edges tidy and cut back to prevent perennial invading the plot [and you neighbours’ plots];
As beans, sweet peas, peas and other crops finish their harvest, lift the canes, clean them and store them where the canes or their ends are not sitting in wet conditions, which will rot them. Carefully looked after they should last for several years;
Crops in poly-tunnels and greenhouses should still be good to mature and ripen for a couple of months so, make sure you keep the plants well watered and free from pests.
As you finish using tools, cloches and netting, ensure they are clean and store in a safe and dry environment;
Remove top growth of tomato plants to ensure the plants put all their energy into those trusses which are already developing. Except for small salad tomatoes – restrict the plants to 2 – 3 trusses now
Preparation and Planning
As summer cropping plants finish their harvest, start digging these areas once cleared, especially if you have a large plot to dig. You may find that there will be fresh weed growth before the winter but it is better than leaving the digging until the spring. On heavy clay soil particularly, the difference between autumn dug and spring dug ground is significant;
Prepare beds for autumn planting perennial crops, fruit trees, bushes and canes;
Prepare ground for autumn plantings of onion, garlic and shallot sets and broad beans;
Think about ordering seeds, bulbs, sets and plants for autumn planting. Many of the large seed house are sending out their autumn catalogues now. Write to them to request a catalogue or find them on-line – see our website for contact details.
Sowing and Planting
There is not a lot which can be successfully sown during September although some varieties of lettuce and radish can still be sown until the end of September – choose your varieties carefully and protect the young plants from slugs, caterpillars and pigeons as they will be one of the few tender vegetables around at this time of year and as the cooler conditions slow up the growth, I find that the pests have devoured or destroyed my crop before they are large enough for me to use.
You can, of course, still transplant spring cabbages into their final growing place – as with salad crops, it is important to protect them from the plethora of pests which will destroy them long before you can usefully harvest them. I have found it useful to plant some in my poly-tunnel once the summer crops have finished [a while to go yet!] but this will give me a welcome crop of green vegetables in springtime when little else is available.
In preparation for new strawberry beds, pot up ‘runners’ from young strawberry plants [these are much more robust than runners from old – 3years + - plants]. Make sure they are kept well watered and detach from the parent plants when the ‘runners’ are well rooted
Set up new strawberry beds with rooted runners. I use a 2 metre wide meshed matting [which allows water through but keeps the weeds down] to plant my young strawberries through. Ensure the matting is well clamped down or high winds will lift the matting the young plants. The method is not perfect and it is necessary to keep an eye on slugs which will hide under the matting but, is better that leaving the strawberry plants on open ground. Of course, you could, like commercial growers, plant in raised troughs, a meter above ground where you can harvest and care for, at your leisure – Hmm, now that’s a thought!
Late sown sweetcorn will still be available for harvesting.
Drying French beans – Borlotto, Jack Edwards, Yin-yang, etc, are now drying on the vines and will be ready to harvest soon.
Curcurbits – winter squashes, pumpkins are beginning to mature and the skins to harden. If possible, lift the fruits onto a piece of wood, stone, brick or similar, to keep them off the ground to avoid slug and wet damage. They should be useable in the kitchen now but, for storing, ensure they have dried well and can lift from the withered plant easily [store in a cool dark place – I have had some which have kept until May of the following year but, only a few. Check them regularly throughout the winter and remove any which show signs of rotting]. Courgettes [zucchini] are now coming to the end of their main harvest.
Tomatoes are at their best now . Think about using the excess for Tomato Ketchup, Tomato Chutney, Freezing as pulp for winter use, freezing in a salsa with other ingredients. Outdoor tomatoes are likely to finish cropping earlier than the indoor grown varieties.
Peppers and chillies – are now beginning to ripen. Peppers can be stored frozen as part of a salsa, chutney or just sliced and frozen. If growing a thickly fleshed chilli like Jalapeno, they do not dry well in our UK conditions but, they will keep well, sliced in small pots in the freezer. Thinly fleshed chillies like Joe’s Long can be hung up and dried very successfully and used all winter long.
Potatoes – it is likely that all Earlies and Second Earlies have long been harvested and eaten.
Brassicas – some varieties of Brussels Sprouts, broccoli/calabrese and late cabbage are available now. Early kale can be harvested but may be best left until winter.
Early leeks and parsnips are harvestable now.
Salad crops, of course are still excellent where we have managed to keep the pests off.
Fruit – autumn harvesting raspberries are still available;
Apples, depending on the variety will now be harvestable – if they come easily from the stem they should be ready and can be stored. If you allow them to fall, the resultant bruising will mean that they must be used immediately. Check also for insect damage – those fruits also must be used immediately or discarded.
Pears, plums and damsons should still be ready to harvest.
Plum and Almond Flan
For the fruit filling
500gm [1lb] approx ripe plums – Victoria are best
2 Tblsp sugar
1 tsp. water
•Wipe the plums and pierce them. Place them in a saucepan with the sugar and water over a very low heat until the juice starts to emerge.
•Raise the temperature to gentle simmering point until the plums are soft and broken down.
•Cool. Remove the stones and pour off most of the juice and put aside.
For the rich sweet pastry For the Topping
150gm [ 6oz] plain flour50gm [2oz] butter
100gm [4oz ] butter50gm [2oz] caster sugar
25 gm [1oz ] caster sugar125gm [5oz] ground almonds
Pinch salt1 tsp almond essence
1 large egg- beaten1 Tblsp. Amaretto
2 large eggs - beaten
50gm [2oz] self-raising flour
25gm [1oz] toasted flaked almonds
•Make up the pastry – Rub the fat into the flour until like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Add the egg and bind the mixture together to make a soft dough. Chill for half an hour or so. On a floured board, shape the dough into a flat round then, roll out to fit a 25cm [10inch] flan dish. Bake the pastry case ‘blind’ [ place greaseproof paper on top and cover with baking beans to prevent the pastry from rising], in a hot oven 200°C or No 6 Gas for 10 – 15 minutes until the edges are golden but not browned. Remove the beans and greaseproof paper. Cool
•For the topping - Cream the butter and sugar together and gradually add the eggs, essence and Amaretto. Stir in the ground almonds and the flour.
•To make up – Put the plums with a little of the juice into the bottom of the flan case. Top with the almond mixture. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake in moderate oven 180°C or No 4 gas for 30 – 40Minutes or until the cake topping is golden brown.
•Serve with custard or cream.
6 corncobs – remove the kernels 1 sweet red pepper – finely chopped
1 large onion – finely chopped 3 large garlic cloves – finely chopped
1 – 2 fresh hot chilli peppers(keep the seeds in if you like it very hot)
500ml (1pint)white vinegar
250g (9oz) white sugar 1 –2 tsp salt ( to taste)
1 dsp. yellow mustard seed 1 tsp mustard powder
½ tsp ground black pepper ½ tsp turmeric
1 Tblsp cornflour – blended with a little water or a little extra vinegar
•Put the sugar and vinegar into a large pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
•Add the onion, sweetcorn kernels, red pepper, chopped chilli and garlic and simmer gently until the vegetables are ‘transparent’ and cooked 10 minutes or so.
•Add the mustard seed and powder, turmeric, pepper and salt and cook for 10 -15mins.
•Add the blended cornflour and stir in well.
•Bring to the boil and boil for 4 – 5 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken.
•Pot up in hot, sterilised jars. Cover and label.
Sweetcorn and Potato Bake
8 oz [225g] sweetcorn kernels – fresh, frozen or tinned
2 lb [900gm] approx. potatoes – floury potatoes are best – washed and peeled
1 large red onion
1 medium sweet red pepper
2 fl oz [55ml] milk
2 oz [50g] butter or 2 Tblsp rape-seed oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium tomatoes
6 oz [175g] grated cheddar cheese
•Prepare the potatoes, boil or steam them then mash with the salt, pepper and milk and half of the cheese.
•Peel and finely chop the onion and seed, core and chop the red pepper.
•Sweat the onions and pepper in the butter or oil until soft – don’t allow it to burn.
•Add the sweetcorn and mix in well. [Most fresh sweetcorn is very tender and will cook quickly so doesn’t need prior cooking].
•Add the mashed potatoes and mix all the ingredients – check seasoning.
•Put the mixture into a greased ovenproof dish.
•Slice or section the tomatoes and arrange around the edges of the dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
•Bake in a moderately hot oven until the cheese is golden brown.
•This is great as a lunch dish served with a crisp salad.
This is a recipe for and a method of using plums only when there is a glut of them. In more lean years they are too precious to indulge in this very ‘wasteful’ product. However, it is well worth the effort and the abundance of plums when they are available.
Fruit cheese is a very reduced ‘pulp’ of the fruit with sugar which can be ‘set’ into attractive moulds and turned out to be sliced and served with bread with pate, cheese, etc. Or I have enjoyed it with pork chops and lamb dishes.
The cheese has a cousin which is ‘butter’ which is less reduced and can be spread onto bread or crackers. I have not tasted it nor have I tried to make it nor have I tried to make it.
Ingredients and Method
•Add a little water to several pounds / kilos of fruit – in this case plums although you can also use damsons, black currants and other strongly flavoured fruit. Cook over a gentle heat until the fruit is very soft
•If you wish, add a little spice – cinnamon, black pepper or cloves, etc
•When the fruit is very soft – push it through a strainer or coarse sieve to get the pulp.
•For every 450kg [1pint ] of pulp add 450kg sugar [1lb sugar].
•Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar then bring the pulp to the boil. It is most important that this is stirred continuously to prevent it ‘catching’ and burning [I have done this with no trouble at all – I thought I was stirring continuously, and had to dump the whole batch ! ].
•As the mixture thickens - when you can draw the wooden spoon through the mixture and can briefly see the bottom of the pan, the ‘cheese’ is ready.
•Spoon it into prepared moulds or freezer containers.
•Some moulds should be lightly oiled to allow the ‘cheese’ to be easily decanted for use. I have used silicon moulds which have easily allowed the moulds to be decanted.
•This should keep for several months if covered and properly stored. I have not yet tried my frozen batches but will get back on this.