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.
February on the Allotment – 2018
-pruning - although this job may well have been started in the late autumn, it is important to prune apple and pear trees while the plants are still dormant – plums and cherries are best pruned in the summer to avoid silverleaf, blackcurrants are best pruned after harvesting.
-Keep the allotment tidy [please don’t bring rubbish to the allotment to burn];
-If you still have brassicas growing on your plot – Brussels sprouts, cabbages, broccoli, etc. remove all yellowed leaves and compost. Remove also, any plants which have finished producing crops, to reduce the opportunities for pests and diseases;
-If you have a poly-tunnel or greenhouse it is important to clean and disinfect the inside of the polythene or glass to reduce the likelihood of algae and diseases in the coming season. Check also, the outside of the cover. Over time and especially in a wet season a coating of algae will build up and significantly reduce the levels of light inside.
-If you have not already done so during December and January, plan what you intend to grow and where. It is important to rotate crops, as far as possible, to avoid build-up of specific pests and diseases.
-If you have not already done so, plan what you intend to grow this year and order your seeds – placing a larger order can save time, money and anxiety. Sometimes it is economical to plan with a plot neighbour or friend to buy your seeds. Remember that some types of seeds will be valid for several years, while others, like carrots and parsnips lose their effectiveness after the first year;
-Mulch fruit bushes and trees and perennial vegetables – eg. asparagus and globe artickokes;
-If growing rhubarb, now is the time to put a cover on your rhubarb plant to ‘force’ and early crop – some early varieties are already showing new growth;
-Prepare the ground inside your poly-tunnel or greenhouse for early crops or seed beds – water well as it may have significantly dried out during the winter months – check for destructive pests like red ants and slugs;
-Check for damage to fruit cages and other structures which may be a result of the heavy snow and plan for the coming season.
-Potatoes – especially early potatoes, should be chitted now. If buying from a seed house where they will be delivered to you, ensure they are removed from plastic or net packaging and set to ‘chit’ [set out in a light, airy, cool, frost-free place to develop short, sturdy shoots – if planting a small amount, egg boxes are useful].
If you have a propagator this month is the time to set it up although, I will wait until a bit later in the month. An electric propagator where you can control the temperature is best. However, before you sow seeds in your propagator, consider where you will put your seedlings where they will have enough light and warmth to grow on. Although tomatoes, chillies, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers can be sown now in a propagator, it is too early to set them out in an unheated greenhouse or poly-tunnel.
In your poly-tunnel or greenhouse you can think of sowing some brassicas but do check on the varieties to see if they are suitable for early sowing – summer cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage. Try also leeks for an early planting – they can then be planted out in late April to May. Carrots can also be sown in a poly-tunnel. My ground, being heavy clay, is difficult for carrots but, my friend and colleague, Pete, grows his in his poly-tunnel every year and every year, he has a successful crop. It might be worth, if you like carrots, to dedicate a small part of you green house or poly-tunnel to this crop. I have tried this with an early crop – the carrots grew well but, I found that those carrots closest to the doorway were still attacked by carrot root fly. They don’t transplant well so, expect them to take up this space until June onwards.
While it is tempting to sow lots of seeds at this time of year, remember that the ground and weather conditions may not be suitable for transplanting outdoors and the young plants will become too leggy and stretched to be worth planting out. While we can’t predict the weather, we may always be caught out with seedlings ready at an inappropriate time so, it is best to patient – a skill I am not good at!
A crop of early potatoes planted in the poly-tunnel in mid February can give you with a small harvest of Earlies at least a month before they will be available outdoors. I have found Accent to be particularly successful for this crop. They can then be out of the ground before the area is needed for later crops.
Of course, broad beans can be sown in November for an early crop in springtime – try Imperial Green or Aquadulce but, do check out the varieties recommended for autumn or spring growing on your plot. You will also need to check if they are tall varieties [not suitable for windy plots] or bush varieties. Autumn sown seed will give a crop in May/June, though of course, the young green pods will provide an excellent vegetable some weeks before that when there is little else fresh available. They can be sown directly into the ground from February onwards but early sowing, in pots in a poly-tunnel or greenhouse in February onwards in pots will allow the young plants to germinate and develop before planting out. If sowing directly into the ground, especially as the ground is already well ‘watered’, a cloche could help the germination of and development of young plants.
Some brassicas – Brussels sprouts, summer cabbage and cauliflower can be sown under cover. Brussels Sprouts and parsnips can be sown outdoors in February but later sowings are likely to have a better germination rate except in particularly kind years. I might follow Pete’s advice this year and wait until late March or April to sow my parsnips, although this year I’m not so sure we will have much, if any, very cold weather. But the ground, while not cold, is much too wet.
Indoor sowings of leeks in modules or seed beds will give them an early start.
Aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and chillies and tomatoes can be sown in a propagator in February which should give them a suitably long season for ripening and cropping, but an appropriate growing on environment is required which will provide the required warmth with the demands for light.
Some salad crops can now be sown under cover – lettuce, radishes, and spring onions.
February is an excellent time for planting rhubarb fruit trees, bushes and canes.
Harvesting and Cooking in February –
Fresh from the plot – Leeks, parsnips, kale and winter cabbages are good, as well as over-wintering varieties of broccoli. Spring cabbage used as spring green and grown under cover should be harvestable. Brussels sprouts and parsnips should still be good.
This year, parsley has continued to grow and has provided an excellent harvestable crop all winter. My sorrel has also been in good harvestable condition – an excellent addition to salads and useful for soup.
From your stored produce – carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, shallots, squash and pumpkin, apples.
From the freezer – chillies, courgettes, parsnips, peas, peppers, sweetcorn, tomato pulp, blackcurrants, blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, herbs,
Dried – beans, chillies, herbs.
In the kitchen –recipes
Bean and chilli Hotpot
200gm [7 oz] dried beans or chickpeas
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes – or even better – a ½ litre [1 pint] tub of home-frozen tomato pulp
2 – 3 medium onions finely chopped
2-3 red peppers -finely chopped
1 -2 finely chopped red chillies [I like Joe’s Long – leave the seeds out if you don’t want it to be too hot]
2 – 3 young courgettes [try Orelia or other variety of yellow courgette – much dryer and denser than Zucchini]
Garlic – 3-4 large cloves peeled and well chopped
Spices - ½ tsp allspice, 2 tsp cumin, ¼ tsp ground black pepper, ¼ tsp ground cinnamon, 2 tsp ground coriander
Salt – sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
! Tblsp freshly chopped parsley, 1 Tblsp freshly chopped coriander leaves, 1 Tblsp freshly chopped orinago or marjoram
2 Tblsp good olive oil
¼ Litre [½ pint] red wine
•Soak the beans or chickpeas overnight or until soft. Drain, wash and cover with water then bring to the boil and simmer gently until the beans are cooked [the older the beans, the longer it will take them to cook so, consider your supplier].
•Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions, garlic, peppers, chillies and courgettes.
•Allow to sweat – cooking without colour for a few minutes – until the veg is soft.
•Drain the beans or chickpeas and add to the pan.
•Add the tomatoes, wine and seasoning.
•Simmer gently for 30 – 35 minutes – until the beans are soft.
•Add the herbs and stir in well.
•Serve topped with grated cheddar or parmesan and with warm crusty bread.
Herby Bean Rissoles
The dried beans can be quite bland and colourless but, they are very nutritious and lend themselves beautifully to providing a base for your favourite flavours. These rissoles will freeze well. Put a layer of greaseproof paper between each rissole. Use within a couple of months.
275g (10oz) dried beans – kidney, butter, borlotto, yinyang (chickpeas are good too)
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) plain flour
1 large onion – finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves – crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small bunch each of lemon thyme, marjoram and tarragon – finely chopped
1 dsp. finely chopped parsley
2 Tblsp oil for frying
•Soak the beans overnight. Drain off the water.
•Put the beans in a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil then simmer until the beans are soft.
•Cool the beans then mash or put through the food processor.
•Put the chopped onion in a saucepan with the butter and sweat (cook without allowing the onion to brown) until the onion is soft.
•Add the garlic, thyme, marjoram and tarragon and mix in.
•Add the beans, season to taste then stir in the parsley.
•When the mixture is cold divide into even sized rissoles (this mixture should make 6 – 8) Roll in flour and shape.
•Fry in a little hot oil, turning over when the first side has browned. Drain well. (I like these cooked on a griddle without oil.
•Serve with vegetables in cheese sauce or fresh vegetables with a salsa sauce.
Spicy Bean Rissoles
Replace the herbs with curry spices – 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp garam masala, ½ tsp turmeric (add a little Harissa paste if you like it hot)
Fry the spices with the onion then continue as before.
Serve with slices of lemon and a fresh mixed salad.
Vegetable and Bean Rissoles
Replace the herbs with - 50g [2oz] frozen peas, 50g [2oz] frozen sweetcorn, a small finely chopped or diced carrot.
In the summertime when fresh vegetables are available from my plot I will use those, otherwise I will use ones I have frozen in the summer.
Cook the vegetables in a microwave or a little water until soft. Cool and add with the mashed beans. Continue as before. Serve with chips, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes.
Don’t freeze if using frozen vegetables.
Although you can use a tempura batter, I do prefer the sublime spicy batter of Indian cooking – higher calorie perhaps but, so delicious.
You can use potatoes, cauliflower florets, mushrooms, onions, carrots, mooli [white Asian radishes], etc
For the batter:- 100gm( 4oz) gram flour / besan flour
2 tsp ground cumin (jeera)
3 tsp ground coriander (dhania)
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda( bicarbonate of soda)
Water to mix
Oil for frying
200ml water approx.
•Mix the flour, salt, spices and baking soda in a bowl
Vegetables:wash - potatoes – peel and cut into slices; cauliflower – cut into smallish florets; mushrooms - cut in half; peel and cut into rings; carrots – peel and cut into batons or rings, mooli – wash and cut into rings.
•Add the prepared vegetables and the water and mix until the vegetables are coated generously with the batter( ensuring there are no pockets of dry ingredients and that all parts of the vegetables are covered)
•Add the coated vegetables to preheated oil in a deep-fat fryer or wok. If using a deep-fat fryer, don’t use the basket as the batter will attach to the wire.
•Turn the pakoras over as necessary
•Fry until the pakoras are evenly brown, then remove from the pan and drain.
Serve with a suitable dipping sauce.
Broccoli and Cheese Flan
For the pastry For the filling
175 gm (6 oz) plain flour 225g (8oz) broccoli [purple or green are best]
75 gm (3 oz) butter 1 medium – large red onion – peeled and chopped
6 tsp. cold water (approx) 3 medium eggs
Pinch salt sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 Tablespoons milk
110 gm (4oz) mature cheddar cheese
40gms (1½oz) butter
•Prepare the pastry – sieve the flour and salt the work the butter into the flour until the texture is like fine breadcrumbs.
•Add enough cold water to ensure the mixture binds ( approx.1 tsp for every oz of flour but, a little more may be needed – don’t add too much water or your pastry will be hard and tough)
•Roll out the pastry fairly thinly, to line a flan dish or suitable plate (grease or oil well before putting the pastry into it). Trim. ( If you have added too much water the pastry will shrink when cooked).
•Bake the pastry case ‘blind’ – without filling – in a fairly hot oven – Gas 6 or 200°C for 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry is golden.
•In the meantime, ‘sweat’ the onions in the butter until soft – don’t allow it to brown.
•If using solid heads of green broccoli, break into florets and simmer in a littler salted water for a couple of minutes until starting to soften [don’t overcook]. Drain well. For broccoli sprouts – trim and wash... it should not be necessary to precook it.
•Beat the eggs, seasoning and milk together in a bowl and grate the cheese.
•When the pastry is cooked, remove it from the oven and fill the flan with the cooked onions and the prepared broccoli. Add the egg mixture and top with the grated cheese.
•Return to the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook until the filling has set and the topping cheese is golden.
•Serve with a mixed salad and onion marmalade.
This dish can be served hot or cold, is good for a main meal or in small slices as a starter, or for a picnic.
Cheddar can be replaced by any blue cheese, gruyere or any other suitable ‘melting’ cheese.
Squash and Chicken Breast Parcels
This is a low fat main dish par excellence, but very, very tasty and satisfying.
Per person you will need:
1 chicken breast – without skin – left whole
3 slices of butternut squash (1cm thick - ½inch) skinned and sliced – OR - use the flesh from a range of squashes or pumpkins instead with excellent results
1 piece of fruit – a pear, apple or peach / nectarine – washed and sliced – leave the skin on.
3 – 4 medium mushrooms – wiped and sliced
3 – 4 mini tomatoes or one regular sliced
Herbs – be generous (my choice is for a mixture of lemon thyme, tarragon and marjoram with parsley, but do use you own favourites)
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
A knob of butter – if you must!
•You will need a sheet of tinfoil or greaseproof paper for each portion. Spread it out and add the prepared ingredients – it really doesn’t matter what order you add them to the pile.
•Season well and add your chosen herbs.
•Close the parcel and put in an oven proof dish.
•Bake in a preheated oven 180ºC, No 5 gas for about an hour.
•Remove from the ‘parcel’ onto the plate and serve with mashed or baked potatoes and green vegetables.
Note This makes an excellent supper party dish wrapped in greaseproof paper where each guest has their own parcel.
•The flavouring ingredients can be changed – spices and chillies, peppers, curry spices, a different range of fruit, grated lemon or orange rind, etc. You can put sliced or tiny potatoes into the parcel. They will take longer to cook and will absorb the juices from the ingredients making a drier dish but, the upside is that the whole dish is cooked together.
Gooseberry Sponge Pudding
1 bag/tub of frozen gooseberries [ 350g or 12oz approx] – fresh are good too.
2 Tblsp sugar. You may need a little more as freezing can make the fruit sourer
1 spoonful of water
•Defrost the gooseberries.
•Put them with the sugar and a spoonful of water into a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer until the fruit has cooked and is pulped. Don’t allow it to ‘catch’.
•Place in a greased pie dish and leave to cool
80 gm [3oz] butter – softened
80gm [3oz] castor sugar
110gm [4oz] self raising flour
•Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.
•Gradually work in the lightly whisked eggs.
•Fold in the sieved self-raising flour.
•Spread the mixture over the gooseberries in the pie dish., ensuring they are completely covered.
•Bake in a moderate oven [180°C, No 4 Gas] for 40 – 45 minutes.
•Serve hot with crème fraiche, cream or custard.