Salad (sort of) Lyonnaise

A one-pan warm/room temp salad using allotment gleanings. Ingredients list roughly what I used, but essentially it was ‘what I picked/had on hand’.

Also, does anyone have an official name for the ‘fried and folded’ egg? Does this technique have a name? Eggs over easy? Low temp ‘fry’ in a non-stick pan, minimal oil so no crunchy bits, fold the thin bits of the white in and flip it over part way through, so the white ends up cooked through and the yolk still runny. It ends up being a bit like a poached egg, but with much less water…

Ingredients:

  • Lettuce (in this case a heading type, a bit like a cross between little gem and iceberg), 180g
  • Garlic scapes, 20g
  • Mange tout, 20g
  • Olive oil, 2 tsp
  • Bacon, 2 rashers, chopped
  • Egg
  • Bread – in this case, sourdough w/grains, about 110g, crusts cut off and cubed for croutons, the rest of the slices served with
  • Butter

Assembly:

  • Fry bacon in about 1tsp oil until crisp; drain and set aside (keeping oil in pan)
  • Add another tsp of oil to the pan and fry croutons. Set aside.
  • Lightly saute the scapes and mange tout, and the lettuce if you like it charred/wilted (I do)
  • Fry-and-fold one egg.
  • Assemble prepared ingredients other than the egg on plate; top with egg.
  • Butter the rest of the bread and serve alongside.

The State of the Allotment

There has been much allotmenteering in the last two years. I started off with a mini-plot – 5m x 5m. I outgrew that in the first year, and traded in for a ‘half’ plot – 5m x 25m. I’ve been digging and planting, digging and planting, and it is starting to look productive (if not weed-free; I am going to be dealing with bindweed, perennial thistles, and horsetails for the forseeable future):

The ‘old’ part

And this spring, I’ve managed to acquire the other half of the same plot! It hasn’t been cultivated much for the last two years, so I am going to be digging again… Here it was just before handover; the bag is mine, and marks the boundary:

The ‘new’ part (before handover)

It’s hard to see the far end, but the white blob is on the next patch, over the path.

My ‘new’ part was strimmed and rotavated (rotivated? rotovated?) before I took it over. I still need to dig out a lot of perennial roots and rocks, and the soil on both the new and old parts needs some serious amendment and improvement.

It’s come on quite a bit already; the old part is significantly more planted, and I’m diggin the new. I’ve put two mini polytunnels in for tomatoes and chillies. I lost all my tomato plants to blight last year, and keeping the rain off should, hopefully, help with that. The polytunnels have guy ropes and I have pegged the base frames to the ground. I still visited three times in one (windy) day last week to make sure they were still there!

One polytunnel viewed from a second under construction

In the near future:

  • I absolutely need to lay in irrigation, or at the very least, water barrels with a hose and pump. Watering this lot by hand is not a realistic option!
  • A fruit cage (already bought – needs erecting)
  • Perennial plants. Asparagus! Artichokes!
  • Enough space to try growing some dye plants! (food gets priority).
  • Experiments! How much land would I need to grow (e.g.) all my wheat for the year? (I’m not going to try that, but I can maybe grow a small patch and extrapolate…)

That’s a whole lotta ‘lottment

So, I signed up for an allotment earlier this year.

Thanks to delays getting it prepped, I didn’t get my hands on it until the weekend before Easter, when I was going to London to visit friends.  Then there was Easter itself, when I travelled North to visit family.  Then I got a stomach bug (apparently all the rage), which wiped me out.

So I’ve managed three visits to it since handing over a cheque – in the middle of what should be the planting season.

IMG_3480
A whole lotta ‘lottment

It’s big.  Around 120-feet-long big.  About a tenth of that wide.  And it’s been ‘fallow’ for three years, for which I think we can read ‘neglected’.  It was ploughed and rotivated before I got my hands on it, but that mostly means they’ve buried and broken up the weed mat and roots that were on the surface.  Still, I’ve found evidence of dandelion, bindweed, docken, nettle and some sort of really persistent grass with long, tough, wiry roots.

And parsnips.  I think we can say that the previous tenant really liked parsnips.

This thing is going to be a challenge.  Still, the potatoes are in.

Sproing!

…and then Spring happened.

If you’re currently living in the UK, you won’t need me to tell you that we went from snow to sunburn in under two weeks, and though we’re still having the occasional frost (in May!!), daytime temperatures are remaining high, and us opportunistic Brits are behaving as though summer has already arrived.  After all, this might be all we get.  😉

My gardening plans are in a total shambles this year.  Firstly, I was expecting to be in a rented property in Scarborough at this point.  Then I considered the possibility that I might be moving out of there in the middle of the growing season – so I bought seeds for plants that are container-friendly during the February ‘heat wave’.  I also started chitting some potatoes that were turning green – waste not, want not! – and picked up a few potato ‘grow bags’ for a very cheap price as they were last year’s, apparently.

Then it started snowing again, and I moved back down south, and then BAM – growing season!

I got the spuds planted (in pots! Feels so weird…) a couple of weeks ago, and I’m giving the veg bed a serious digging over.  It’s already very late to be planting some of my seeds, but I’ll probably give most of them at least a small go anyway, and save the rest for another year.

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And whaddaya know?  The potatoes celebrated May day by sticking their heads above ground.  The first one made it up yesterday, on the Bank Holiday itself.  Two more are up today, and the fourth and final one looks like it will be putting in an appearance tomorrow.

…the letter ‘C’ and the colour orange

Another long-overdue issue of the Sustainability Sundays series…

The garden has been much-neglected this year, firstly because Yarnscape was such an all-consuming business to run full time, and secondly because the return to ‘regular’ full-time work has been a bit of a shock to the system.  Besides, it was too late for many crops by then, anyway.

I did get a few plants in the ground this year, though:

  • Potatoes, from last year’s seed.  I’d intended these to be our salad/new potatoes for summer eating, but since our ‘summer’ never really arrived, they’re mostly still in the ground.
  • Jerusalem artichokes.  Not only did I specifically plant on some of last year’s tubers, it seems that every single one of the ones I failed to dig up from last year’s patch has sprouted and thrived.  I think they’re going to be one of ‘those’ plants.
  • Beans.  I had really poor germination of my pole beans for some reason, but the few plants that made it have produced well.  I’m not going to harvest any more for eating green; I’m allowing the rest of the pods to produce seed and/or big beans for drying now.
  • Carrots.  Oh, boy!!

I wanted to grow both carrots and parsnips this year, but I was late ordering seed (and doing just about everything else), so I decided to sow my old carrot seed instead.  As it really was pretty old, and I didn’t know how viable it was, I decided not to sow rows, but just ‘broadcast’ it over a bed about 1.5metres per side.

I think that carrots are one of my personal tests for a garden soil.  If it can grow good-sized carrots that are not bifurcated, twisted, lumpy or otherwise deformed, then you’re doing something right.  And it seems that my garden soil has now reached that level of maturity.

I’m also pleased to say that we seem to have been remarkably free of carrot fly this year; it’s plagued us in the past, and is supposed to be endemic to this area in general, so I’m even more pleased that I don’t have to deal with nasty little maggoty holes in my produce.

Again, most of the carrots are still in the ground.  They’ll keep just fine there, and will even get sweeter with a frost or two to encourage sugar formation (it’s natural antifreeze for plants, you know!) – but I’ll have to be sure to dig them up before the ground freezes hard, or – horrors! – gets covered in snow.

Unseasonable

Well, it’s October tomorow, and yet we in England have been sitting in a heatwave for the last few days.  Lazy lunches, sunhats, ‘too-hot-to-do-anything’ afternoons and barbecue dinners.  I think it has everyone flummoxed, though few people are complaining.  (It’s the best summer weather we’ve had since April, which was also warm).

I have a tomato plant that I didn’t actually cultivate; it just popped up a while back in one of the veg beds.  I wasn’t going to grow tomatoes this year; we had such bad blight last year that I thought I’d give it a rest, but I find it quite difficult to kill a healthy plant, so this one has been allowed to remain on sufferance – as long as it stays healthy!

It started late, so I’d expected it to maybe produce a few stems of green tomatoes, which I could either chutnify or ripen indoors.  Instead, it is now loaded with small, green fruit, and I’m starting to think a few might actually begin the ripening process on the plant itself.

We also have a houseguest for a few days; J’s Mum is visiting, so the amazing weather gives us a chance to do all sorts of summery things that we normally wouldn’t have a chance of contemplating at this time of the year.  Yesterday was a day for relaxing though: some shopping in the morning, and just chilling out in the afternoon.  I made a couple of cheesecakes, and in the afternoon got weaving on a project that has been in the getting ready phase for a month now:

I’m really delighted with the way it’s coming on.  This is an 8 shaft pattern, by far the most complex threading I’ve ever attempted, and there was only one error.  I was worried the warp wasn’t up to it at one stage, but I think we’re doing OK now.

Today: the beach?

The Return of the Garden

Anyone looking at the UK weather reports for the last couple of months will know that spring arrived late, and fast.  I’d had my usual burst of seed-sowing enthusiasm earlier in the year (umm, late February?!), but things had damped off rather as the frosts and bitter winds persisted.

About a month ago, I made sure that all the garlic that wasn’t planted in the autumn finally made it into the ground, along with all our seed potatoes.  We have planted a *lot* of potatoes this year, in the hopes that we won’t have to buy many at all.  Additionally, we should be self-sufficient in garlic, as all the seed garlic was from last year’s harvest.  I also managed to get the broad bean seeds in the ground (also seed from last year’s harvest.  Given that the original seed was given to me by my Dad, I’m keen to continue the line), and to thin out the strawberry plants (the baby plants from last years’ runners have gone in a patio-strawberry-tower thingy).

…and last weekend, I finally got to plant out some of my rather overgrown seedlings, and tend to the veg beds.  I have rather a lot of baby chilli plants now (various varieties), and quite a lot of okra.  Also, three cucumber plants, which, bless them, may not survive the transplantation.  The biggest problem with leaving them in the seed trays so long is that, by now, they have a lot of roots to damage.  What follows is a quick photo tour of the things that looked interesting this evening (brought to you by A Failure To Focus.  Just *what* was going on with the camera, I don’t know, but the light is now Gone, so out of focus it will have to be):


The broad beans, tall and sturdy


Lots of strawberries! (Slightly blurry)


The blueberry bushes, in their second
full year, are looking promising too…


…though I think the white currants are
stealing the show! (Exceptionally blurry).


These are cherries…


…whereas these are plums!


Trying to grow hops between two poles
to minimise vertical height required…


The last shot and the blurriest (but I love it!)
FIGS!

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Quick update on the Leylandii

The wretched hedging plants seem to have struck a chord with a few people! UK residents might like to know that the ‘high hedge law‘ applies to any group of two or more evergreens which form a barrier to light or access and is over two metres high. If you own such a high hedge, affected neighbours have recourse under the law to get it sorted out.  (Or, if your neighbours own such a hedge and it is a nuisance to you, then you can start complaining, too).

Anyway, removal of our hedge has (predictably) left a lot of debris and mess in the garden, though most of the actual vegetable matter has been removed now.  It’s also allowing a lot more light into the garden, especially in the evenings, which is lovely!  It’s a lousy phone-snap, but just to give you an impression, we have before:

And after:

Not quite the same vantage point, but the bird feeders are in both shots.  And the new fence is the same height as the one you can see in the left hand side of the ‘before’ shot.

We’ve regained a lot of space, over four feet in depth, and the ‘feel’ of that end of the garden is much more open and light than it was.  We like it!

Bye-bye, Leylandii

One of the ‘features’ of our garden is a Leylandii ‘hedge’ along one of the borders.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with these monsters – firstly, congratulations.  Secondly, they’re a coniferous hedging plant, common in suburban gardens, presumably because they’re difficult to kill and form a tight, meshy growth that isn’t easily seen through.

Unfortunately, they are also very vigorous, and need regular attention if they’re not going to get away from you.  If they *do* overgrow, you end up with a huge, bushy, straggly and potentially very tall hedge which is only thick and green on the outside.  If you cut it back far, you will be faced with scrubby, brown, dry growth which will take forever (read: years) to green up and look nice again – if it ever does.

Our hedge was a little rambunctious when we moved in, but I managed to trim the sides back up to a height of around six to seven feet.  The plan was to take the tops off above that height and maintain them there.

As you can see, it hasn’t happened (dog included for scale):

The ‘controlled’ part is still about six feet tall; there is at least another six feet above that, now, which takes us well beyond the ‘tall hedge’ height (above which neighbours have the right, under law, to ask you to sort the damn thing out).

As you can probably imagine, we also lose a lot of depth (easily a metre, at a guess, probably more) to the thing.

There is, in fact, a path (juuust visible in the picture above) that runs alongside the hedge and which can hardly be walked thanks to the overgrowth.

Much as it pains me to cut down a tree, these are clearly beyond our control.  In addition, they don’t add much, if anything, to the ecology of our garden.  So today, we have some nice men coming in to cut them down and erect a fence in its place.  The reclaimed space will become a border, either for flowers or to house my collection of Fruit Trees In Tubs (more on those later) – or possibly for a cold frame or two, because the location and orientation is ideal.

We’re also going to have this ‘passageway’ down the side of the house cleared and the fence will continue down there:

That’s the wall of our house on the right.  The Leylandii start just outside the left hand side of this shot; that fence panel behind the elder bush is (mysteriously) the only one standing on the border.  The old shed door, on its side, stops the dogs getting down the passageway, which has a dead-end and has become a bit of a dumping ground for Things That Need To Go To The Tip.  I will be *so* glad to see it opened up!

In fact, I think the only person who will be sorry about any of this is Woody, who spends a lot of his garden-time investigating the myriad smells to be found under the hedge.  Quite often, all that can be seen of him is his tail, bottom and hind legs, sticking out from the undergrowth as he sniffs and snuffles eagerly.  Still, I’m sure he’ll cope: there’s still the back of the shed to enjoy.

92) Of socks and carrots

…in which we prove that something is always better than nothing.  First, I think, the carrots.  Some of these carrots are Very Small:

I planted these carrots as part of a second crop, much earlier this year.  For the two or three days immediately after I sowed the seed (evenly, in a well prepared bed, I might add), it rained, solidly.  When the carrots germinated, they were all on one side of the bed, where the seeds had been washed.  I ignored them totally until it was time to clear the beds back.

And when I cleared the beds, I found carrots.  As you might expect, they were very variable in size and shape.  Some of them (top right, for example), are almost normal.  Others… aren’t.  But they are carrots.  Between them, I managed to salvage enough actual vegetable for seven portions of squash and smoked paprika soup (recipe possibly to follow – it’s good), and around ten portions of bolognese.  Sure, I’d have gotten more carrot if I’d dug up the cramped ones and sown more, but since I never got around to it, I still got some carrot.

And so to socks.  I rarely knit socks.  I think they take forever, and I’m tough on my footwear, so it seems I wear them out faster than I knit them.  But when I do knit socks, it’s almost always as a secondary project; I hardly ever actually work on them.  These, however, have been my main project for the last ten days:

For me, that probably means 10-20 minutes in an evening, plus whatever time I can snatch at my desk during the day.  Time is short round here.  And see?!  Progress!  It’s amazing.

Take home message: Doing pretty much anything towards what you want is better than doing nothing.