Macro Allotment

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
–  Robert Frost

 

May at Plot 4

 

The month of May is a significant one, being the month which ushers out the spring and welcomes in the summer. On a personal level, it has my birthday in it, and as such is a convenient point to analyse the year gone and reassess priorities. I find, as I start another year, the promise of better weather and abundant growth such a positive thought; one which can see me through darker days.

We are finally able to harvest some new crops. The rhubarb is looking beautiful and has been excellent in crumbles, as well as accompanying a granola and yoghurt breakfast, and a cheeky pasteis de nata. The first of the salad leaves are also coming to harvestable size; so we will be able to enjoy lettuce again fresh from the plot, instead of the bagged salads the supermarkets so like. Last month saw the mint at the allotment flourishing, so its time to enjoy its freshness in dishes like tabbouleh, salsa verde, and of course in mint tea.

The April sowings of beetoot, beans, peas and salads have all sprouted and are doing well, but its time to sow another batch to ensure a succession of crops. I’m also going to be sowing some parsnips, a bit late I know, but I think it will be worth it. Like the carrots mentioned last month, parsnips don’t like my clay rich soil, so I’m going to experiment with using a large bin with a good draining sand-rich soil in it.

With the evenings becoming longer there is more time to visit the plot and develop the baking day job, this meand that I can  keep on top of the ever growing list of jobs this month.  The crops already planted, need to be hoed between to control weeds and also create a “dust mulch” to conserve precious soil moisture. I try to water with a watering can in the cool of these evening visits, as it allows me to direct the water around the root area of the crops and the sun doesn’t get a chance to evaporate it before the plants can have a drink. The strawberries are already flowering and I will put some straw underneath the developing fruits to keep them off the soil, as well a water around the base of the plant to reduce any problems with mildew. 

 It all looks a lot to do. Still, there’s nothing like a bit of time at the allotment to make everything better.

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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.

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers Can Be Yours

20140506-204242.jpgThere’s a reason I’m sure that Vincent Van Gogh painted sunflowers. Many experts believe he suffered from bi-polar disorder, and the sunflowers he saw in the fields of Arles must have given him hope in some of his darkest times. They are certainly one of my favourite flowers to grow on the allotment; providing both colour and height, as well as being a great source of food for both insects and birds.

This year we’ve grown a range of sunflowers, from the massive (well, meant to be) Russian Giant, to much smaller red varieties. Sunflowers need full sun; perhaps as much as 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day is needed – the more the better really. They need a well-drained location, and as they are heavy feeders, you’ll need to incorporate a load of organic matter into the soil too. I use a combination of some home made compost and a scattering of chicken manure pellets. I tend to sow seeds in a similar mix, then transplant the seedlings when they are about 15cm. Apparently, if you want gigantic sunflowers the trick is to sow them in situ (so as not to damage the tap root when planting out). I don’t tend to do this as I find the slugs and snails at the plot take a liking to the small seedlings, with disastrous consequences.

As they grow, the plants need support for the stem. This can be done by placing a cane near the stem and loosely tying the cane to the plant with string. Make sure the cane is the correct size, its easier to give a big cane to a small seedling and watch it grow, than to swap a small cane for a larger one. Sown in the next week or so, they will produce beautiful radiant flowers in August. Something to cheer up anyone’s day.

I’m also dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014

 

Favourite Five Broad Bean Recipes

favorite fiveI’ve mentioned earlier this month that the first broad beans of the season are a real delight for me. I like the fact that you can plant a few beans in October or November and they emerge in the last of the autumnal sun, brush off whatever the winter throws at them, then rapidly grow as the days warm in spring. One single bean brings one plant, but a whole basket of harvested pods and countless beans. They are one of the easiest of crops to grow, only being slightly blighted by black fly and bird attack. I’ve found that overwintering the beans seems to cut down on the black fly attacks, but opens up the possibility of birds like pigeons feasting on the new shoots. So I often use a net to cover the plants in their infancy, and also pinch out the tops of the plants when the beans are formed; which I’m told reduces the chance of the black fly descending. As an ingredient the beans are perhaps at their best when small and sweet, although the larger beans work well when made into purees and we had amazing large dried and fried beans in Peru; a kind of Latin salted peanut.

Broad bean

Broad beans are a great ingredient and often make their way onto our plates. Here are my Favourite Five Broad Bean recipes.

Broad Bean Hummus – Cook 400g of shelled beans in boiling, lightly salted water till tender  about 8-10 minutes or so). Drain, cool and pop them out of their slightly grey skin. Whizz with a small sprig of mint in a food processor before pouring in a little lemon juice, and some olive oil as the processor blitzes. Continue to mix until smooth.

Broad Bean, Pea and Mint Tagliatelle  – This is perhaps our favourite spring/summer pasta dish. Start by blanching the beans   and peas (100g of each shelled). If the beans are young you don’t need to peel off the outer skin, but if older its worth the time. Take half of the beans and peas and whizz in food processor until semi-smooth. Finely chop a garlic clove and soften in some olive oil, add the whizzed pea/bean mix and cook for a minute or so. Add 200ml of double cream and the other half of the beans and peas. Stir in a handful of chopped mint and 75g grated parmesan. Add your choice of cooked pasta to the sauce, serve with a little extra parmesan sprinkled on top.

broad bean pea and mint pasta

Broad Bean Falafels – Place 500g podded broad beans in a food processor and whizz; add 1tsp. baking powder, small red onion, 1 clove garlic, handful of chopped coriander, parsley and mint, and 1 tsp. cumin seeds. Blend until smooth, adding a little lemon juice to help it break down. Add a little olive oil and then form into balls. Chill for a few minutes and then fry in oil until crisp, serve in a pitta with hummus and minted yoghurt.

Broad Bean and Chorizo Tapas – Cook the podded broad beans in salted water for 8-10 minutes, drain and peel off greyish skin. Meanwhile, slice a chorizo and fry in a little oil. Add the beans to the chorizo and spicy oil, toss for a few minutes, then add chopped flat leaf parsley.

Broad Bean, Pea and Feta Orzo Salad – Orzo, a delicate grain-shaped pasta, is quick to cook. Whilst it cooks, sauté 2 shallots, lemon zest, and some cooked peas and beans in a bit of butter. Combine the bean and pea mix with the pasta, some chopped feta, and a finely chopped mint. A great summer salad or side dish.

What ways do you use broad beans in your cooking?

I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014

 

 

 

May at Plot 4

April is one of my favourite months. It’s the time of year when the garden, the allotment, everything is growing. We’ve had some cold and wet weather, but its been pretty sunny of recent weeks, and the sun has started to transform the plot.

The month that has just finished is the first of the year to have new produce to harvest, as well as the stalwart that is Swiss chard.  Only the other day we were able to pick the first few delicate broad beans.  I love harvesting the first of these beans, sliding my finger along the shell and opening it to reveal the lime green beans in their silken bed. To be honest, the majority of the crop is not quite ready, but my wife and I couldn’t resist a quick nibble on these sweet treats. We’ve also be harvesting a few radishes (the globe variety grown in boxes in the cold frame) and the first of the salad leaves.

I started sowing with enthusiasm during April, and this will continue into May with beans, peas, beetroot, chard, fennel, cavalo nero and cime di rapa all to sow. Every year I get excited by the coming of spring and good weather, sow a load of seeds and then have too many plants, then end up with a glut. I’m determined this year to sow successionally, so I’ll be curbing my enthusiasm and only sowing a few seeds every few weeks. This way I aim to keep the crops coming, but not have them coming out of my ears!

I’ve pretty much completed the big winter jobs at the plot. I’ve managed to get the fence fixed, water butts sorted and have even managed to construct a netted protection frame for some of the crops. During May I need to create another of these netted cloches, but without a doubt the major job for this month is weeding. The crops are growing, but so are the weeds. So battle commences again for the year!

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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.