Got the Bottle?

20131003-125426.jpg Sometimes when watching TV it’s what the producers don’t intend you to focus on that’s the part that sticks. Watching Gardener’s World last week, I noticed a great reuse of plastic milk bottles. Like many of us with families we get through our fair share of the 2l bottles, and although we recycle them, I always think that there must be a good way to reuse them. At the plot we also have a problem with pigeons taking a liking to our brassicas, causing a serious dent in the rows of Cime di Rapa and Kale. So the chance viewing of wind operated bottle bird scarer got me thinking. Armed with a quick sketch from the TV screen I set about recreating them with our own pile of leftover bottles.

What you will need

Old 2l plastic milk bottles (with lid on)

Scissors Bamboo cane/stick

First you will need to make a hole in the middle of the base of the bottle. It needs to be slightly larger than the diameter of the stick or cane, so that it can spin around. The cutting of the flaps is the most crucial step (and one I got wrong repeatedly before finally succeeding). The flaps need to be cut so that they go around the edges of the bottle (this allows the wind to catch them better and turn the bottle). They also need to be cut so both flaps encourage the bottle to turn the same way (see the image above). Once the flaps are cut, fold back and out to maximise the cup size, and then place the whole bottle on the bamboo cane. I decided to lightly spray paint mine with the leftovers of some enamel paint, but other than that, that’s it. So far the winds haven’t been too strong and the bird scarers have been gentle rotating, but as the winds get up during the autumn they should keep the pigeons away from my Cime di Rapa and other brassicas.

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Penne with Cime di Rapa

The Cime di Rapa on the plot has reached maturity and I’ve begun to harvest the quick growing brassica. One of the classic dishes of Puglia is Orichiette con Cime di Rapa and to me it seemed a good plan to start eating the Cime di Rapa in this classic Italian pasta dish.

Looking online (as I tend to do to get ideas for meals) I found that, although the basic recipe was the same, there was quite a bit of variation in ingredients to accompany the Cime di Rapa. Some included cherry tomatoes, and the plot has a surfeit of them at the moment, so I included them. So I ended up with my own version of the dish, which I hope has some authenticity to it.

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What you will need (serves 2)
200g Penne (we had Penne in the cupboard, so used this instead of the classic Orichiette)
100g Cime di Rapa (trimmed to include thinner stalks and the floriferous heads)
3 anchovies (finely chopped)
10 cherry tomatoes (cut into halves)
1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
Small pinch of chilli flakes
Handful of chopped parsley and grated Parmesan to finish the dish.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta (adding the Cime di Rapa after the first five minutes). Cook the penne until al dente, draining and retaining a small amount of the pasta water. As the pasta cooks fry the garlic, chilli flakes, anchovies and the chopped tomatoes. Once the pasta is drained, add to the sauce and toss to thoroughly mix. At this point I added a little of the pasta cooking water to bring the sauce together, then stirred in the Parmesan and parsley before serving.

October at Plot 4

I was talking to a friend the other day and she asked what the plot looked like. This got me thinking. Perhaps I should post a picture each month to show it through the seasons. Its character certainly changes over the year. So I’m going to post a few pictures at the start of each month, so I can track the plots progress.

October can bring the first frosts and is definitely a time to start to put the plot to bed for the winter. This has been my view for the last few years; but I’ve come to realise that the last weeks of September and the first in October are a good opportunity to harvest and begin to sow crops to cover the winter and beyond. So this year, apart from the usual tidying of the plot, netting the brassicas and pruning the blackberries (brambles), I’ll be planting too.

We use a lot of onions, and white onions are cheap from the local grocer, so we’ll be growing red onions and shallots this year (planted as sets on a ridge to prevent waterlogging in our clay soil). I’ll be planting garlic on ridges soon, as I find the winter cold is vital in ensuing the bulb splits well into cloves. As for varieties, I haven’t decided yet, but will be checking out Lottie Landgirl’s post on onions for some advice.

I’ll also be planting some broad beans in the next few weeks. Last year we sowed them in the spring and they were fairly successful, however we’ve had greater success in the past with autumn sowings. So for 2014 we’ll be sowing soon, then doing another sowing in the spring to ensure some succession and a lengthy supply of the fabulous beans. Unlike onions, broad beans are expensive in the shops, so by growing them at the plot we can still enjoy them at a fraction of the price.

Cime di Rapa

My wife and I really like Purple Sprouting Broccoli and grow it at the allotment. However, we can’t grow it all year round and refuse to pay for the imported crops out of season. Earlier in the year I discovered an alternative – Cime di Rapa. This is basically a variety of broccoli (despite the name referring to turnips) and although not known in this country is widely grown and eaten in Italy. One of the key advantages if this brassica is its speed of growth – different varieties range from 30-90 days from seed to harvest. The fantastic Franchi Seeds sell a number of varieties (I grew Cime di Rapa Quarantina, a 40 days variety).

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I sowed the seeds with 10cm gaps between each station (sowing a few seeds at each stop). Once sowed Cime di Rapa does pretty well left to its own devices. I’ve thinned some of the rows to get larger plants; but as the leaves alone can be eaten as greens, this is not necessarily needed. When the plants are at a reasonable size the flower heads can be picked and used as you would Purple Sprouting Broccoli. In Italy, it’s often eaten a part of a pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa is one of Puglia’s signature dishes.

I’ve used the Cime di Rapa as an accompaniment to Pork Chops stuffed with sage and bacon. The greens were treated very simply; steamed, then tossed in garlic infused olive oil and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The slightly bitter flavours contrasting brilliantly with the sweet pork meat. The wilted greens also make a great bruschetta topping.

Writing this post has reminded me – I’m off to the plot in a moment to sow some more Cime di Rapa.

What to do with a spare wellie?

Having small children we have inevitably have a supply of old small Wellington boots. What is it with children and wellies? Or perhaps it’s just my children? Every time we buy a pair of wellies we try to buy a decent pair, so they don’t wear out. Then inevitably they do just that, or the children’s feet grow! Anyway, this leaves us with a fare share of wellies to recycle. What to do with them? Well, one use I’ve come up with is to use them as planters.

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First you need to drill drainage holes through the soles of the wellingtons. Then put some polystyrene or other crocs in the bottom to help with drainage. Fill the boots with compost and then plant your plants in the top. I’ve planted nasturtiums and marigolds this year. They need a good water and will need to be regularly watered, like all containers. But they’ll do fine!

To liven up the fence at the plot I hung the wellies on the fence panels using cup hooks. It’s always nice to be met by flowers as we enter the plot.

The Great Cucumber Monster

On a walk back from the school run one day I noticed someone had thrown out a wooden parasol. It got my attention, but I had no use for a broken sun shade. A trawl later through Pinterest (it was wet) led me to a photo of a cucumber frame made from an old parasol. Ever keen to reuse rather than recycle I returned from next morning’s school run with a broken parasol and hot-footed it over to the plot. A quarter of an hour later the allotment had its very own cucumber frame! No cucumbers, but a great piece of reclaimed garden architecture.

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Fired up by cucumber enthusiasm I bought seeds, sowed and raised plants to populate frame. The standard parasol has eight spurs and so I duly planted eight cucumber plants. After a few weeks the plants started to ramble up the wood and I repeatedly tied them to the spurs to tame the evergrowing eight armed cucumber monster!

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Eight cucumber plants produce a lot of cucumbers and nearly everyone we know now has an almost unlimited supply if cucumbers.

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Now to investigate cucumber recipes as there seems no end to the supply – and I’ve got another plant growing in the greenhouse!