June at Plot 4

So, summer has started and its rained all day for the first two days of the month! Still, it promises to be a good, and busy, month at the allotment.

With the transition from spring to summer, there is increasingly more to harvest from the plot. The salad leaves have enjoyed the gentle rise in temperatures and surfeit of water, producing a great crop of cut and come again leaves. We’ve also seen the Swiss chard in its last flourish, producing some beautiful glossy leaves, which have made their way into curries, tarts and pasta dishes. As the days get longer, with increasing amounts of sunlight, the strawberries have been getting close to ripening, and we should be enjoying their juicy sweetness very soon.

This time of year is brilliant for sowing, as pretty much anything will germinate rapidly, sprouting into life and onto its journey to harvest. I’ve been sowing more French beans, both climbing and dwarf varieties. Starting them off in plugs in the greenhouse to avoid the mice and rats getting the seeds before they germinate. I’ll also sow some cime de rapa; it’s very short period of growth allows us to fill gaps in the ground before planting out other crops later in the year. A succession of salad leaves, and even a few more peas will no doubt also be sown during the month.

With all the seedlings, and plants growing, there are many jobs on the plot at the moment; not least the unending battle to keep the growth of weeds under control. I’ve installed a new water butt at the top of the plot, and I’m looking to link it with the old one to allow me to collect the maximum amount of rainwater. The growing temperatures we hope for as June develops will bring an increased need for watering, so we’ll be using the longer evenings to nip to the plot for a quick water, weed and crop. Here’s to some warm evenings at the allotment; it’s one of my favourite times to visit.

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.


Dealing with the June Drop – How to Make Mint Sauce

One of the most frustrating things about growing any crop is when, for the sake of improving the quality of yield, you have to remove fruits or seedlings. To me this seems to be wrong. I know thinning seedlings means that the plants that remain have more space to develop and grow healthily, but the very fact that I’ve nurtured them to that point means I feel a sense of attachment and of lost potential. That’s why, whenever I can, I use the thinnings in meals. When it comes to apples, nature, as if to ensure I don’t get lazy and just let things go, steps in with the ‘June Drop’. The annual time of year when the apple tree chooses to drop a few of the extra fruits, self regulating to give those fruit that remain the best chance of forming properly and going on to ripen to their potential.

I know its July, but the drop has only just happened in earnest and the apple trees at the plot have a scattering of undersized, under ripe, apples in the grass below. Unripe apples are not a culinary highlight of the year, but they do have one great asset. Pectin. Like the super-sour crab apple, these dropped fruits are full of pectin and when tempered with sugar they are also light on flavour. As such they can be used in preserves to produce a beautiful herb jelly. This month has also seen a mint infused takeover of the allotment. The ever invasive herb has spread its refreshing leaves between and beneath almost al of the top half of the plot. So in effort to capture the mintiness for later in the season when mint suffers in the baking heat, I made mint jelly. The perfect accompaniment to roast lamb, and infinitely better than the supermarket fluorescent green version.

mint jelly

You will need (makes  jars)
500g unripe apples (cooking apples would do the job if apples are actually in season)
1 bunch of mint
Granulated sugar
30ml white wine vinegar

Chop the apples roughly; if they are small, then just chop them in half. Add to a pan with the bunch of mint and enough water to barely cover the apples. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or so, until the fruit is very soft. Pour the contents into a scolded jelly bag and leave to drip overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, or poke it, as this will effect the clarity of your jelly.

straining the pulp

Measure the strained juice, before adding the sugar. For every 200ml of liquid you will need 150g of sugar. Return the liquid to the cleaned out pan, with the addition of the vinegar. Heat to boiling point, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved properly. Continue to boil for 10 minutes or so, until the setting point is reached. For this I use a jam thermometer and wait until the bubbling liquid gets to 104°C, before removing from the heat, skimming off the scum, and then pouring into warm, sterilised jars. Once sealed with a lid, the mint jelly will last up to a year. Not that it will last that time, as it’s an irresistible accompaniment to lamb.

mint jelly

June at Plot 4

May, of all the months, seems to fly by. I don’t know what it is, but it always seem to be a month that happens; before you even realise your in it. In terms of the allotment, it’s the month when everything grows. Everything including the weeds. In fact, I’m sure the weeds grow quicker. Still, there are benefits to this growth spurt; flowers emerge, bulbs swell and fruit forms.

Finally the allotment has started to offer us a reliable harvest. The broad beans that I planted way back in October/November have done brilliantly, perhaps aided by the mild winter. We’ve been picking them for a couple of weeks now and we’ve still got lots to go and another row or two developing. Those spring sowings are not quite doing as well as the overwintered variety, but hopefully the warm weather of June will help bring them on and even allow us a cheeky final sowing! Salad leaves have been doing well, although the leaves I sowed in the greenhouse were decimated by extreme heat one day (all shrivelled and crispy). The Swiss chard continues to give us a supply, as does the spinach, although both are beginning to go to seed now the weather hots up. This month has also seen me channelling my inner forager, with nettles for a risotto and elderflowers for cordial being harvested. The elderflowers in particular look like they will give a good harvest, so I must get round to making some more cordial, or even champagne and fritters. Oh yes, and we harvested the first strawberry (from the greenhouse) the other day!

As with last month, there’s been a lot of sowing going on.  Various crops haven’t taken a liking to the heat in the greenhouse on some of the days, or my erratic watering, and have suffered as a result. So, I need to sow some more climbing beans and peas. I also want to get some dwarf beans started; they’re a family favourite, but have somehow got through the seed ordering and sowing net. Outside, there’s more rows of carrots to sow and I’ve got some great purple cauliflower to sow too. Towards the end of the month it will be time to sow Florence fennel seeds too. These delicious bulbs cost so much in the shops, so I’m hoping to grow them at the plot successfully and save myself a few quid.

A lot of the jobs for this month are related to keeping the crops growing. So weeding, watering, mulching and general maintenance of the plants will be a key job. The warm weather we’re due means it’s time to plant out the ever increasing squashes and courgettes. I’ve prepared the soil already, but will add a bit more organic matter before planting them out. Hopefully, we’ll be enjoying a plentiful supply of courgettes and winter squash well into the latter part of the year. In addition, we have discovered a big leak in our pond which means that most of the water has drained out. The newts and a few tadpoles seem to be happy enough in the remaining concentrated soup of a pond, but I think if we can reline the pond all will be a lot happier! Any ideas on a cheap way to get a suitable pond liner?

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This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.