March 2009

This wasn't supposed to happen...

I think I may have created a problem for myself with the seeds I have just planted. I’m worried that when they grow up into big tasty plants they might look a little – how can I say this – right wing. Let me explain.

I’ve got a couple of square raised beds at the bottom of the garden. For a few years now I’ve been growing vegetables in nice straight lines, but this year I thought I’d try something a little different.

Feeling adventurous, I planted my garlic in a cross in one bed, and my onion sets in the same shape in the next door bed. Nice structural veggies, they’ll form elegant dividing lines in the beds. So far, so good.

Next I planted various salad seeds and some beetroot, different seeds for each quarter of the bed. These I planted in straight lines, but for a bit of variety I switched the direction of said lines so that the veggies in the NE and SW quadrants will grow horizontally while the SE and NW ones will grow vertically. Sweet, I thought. This is going to look pretty good.

But then I got to thinking about the pattern that will emerge. And this is where I start to get a tad nervous. Try sketching out the lines and you see what I mean. Uh huh, that’s right.

It looks just like a swastika.

I appear to have inadvertently planted some vegetables in homage to Adolf Hitler.

Not good. But luckily I noticed in time to prevent myself doing the same thing in the other bed. This time I congratulated myself by not going for straight lines, instead opting for diagonals, with the lines all pointing in to the middle.

But then I had a think about this one too. And you see, a cross with diagonal lines on top of it, well that’s basically a Union flag. Not so bad by itself – a little odd I guess, but harmless – but stick your Union flag next to a swastika and all of a sudden you look like a deranged BNP nutcase who is so obsessed wtih fascism that he grows his vegetables in the shape of Nazi symbols.

This is not good. I’m telling myself that hey, the salad leaves are bushy and planted pretty close together, and I’ve messed the seeds up a little so the lines aren’t that straight.

So no one will notice, right? Still, next time I might sketch out the plans before I sow anything.

Lesson learnt.


Early days yet

It’s hardly the finished article, but as you can see my masterpiece is slowly taking shape.

Several soggy weekends of hard graft and impressive blisters has led to, well, not exactly an Eden but something that’s starting to resemble an allotment.

I’ve got five beds dug now, and some of them even have stuff in them! On the far side of the plot, in the two long beds, you can just make out the sticks in the mud that are – will be – my blackberries and raspberries.

The squash are going to go in the long bed opposite them, and I’ve stuck some onions and carrots in the short bed in between the long ‘uns.

The digging has been ferociously hard work, with plenty of turf removal followed by the turning over of severly compacted soil. Not sure what the previous occupant was doing here, but if they used the plot for marching band practice I wouldn’t be surprised.

That and the rather heavy soil has meant having to dig in loads of compost to try and make it a slightly better habitat for my precious veggies.

Oh, and there’s another complication. As you can see at the top of the picture, there are a few bushes on the edge of the plot. What you can’t see – because I don’t have a wide angle lens – is just how big they are. The evergreens are about forty foot high, and this has a pretty disastrous effect on two counts.

Firstly, they’re busy sucking up every drop of water and goodness from my plot, and secondly when I was down there last weekend in the blazing sunshine between 1 and 3pm the whole of my plot was in the shade.

Disaster! The rest of the place was cooking and I was shivering in the shade in my little corner!

Now I’m an optimist, so I’m telling myself that it’s early in the year and the sun is still low in the sky. Assuming it does actually rise in the East then in the summer the sun shouldn’t sit behind the trees. And even if it does then I reckon most of the plot gets a few hours’ sun notwithstanding the trees.

Not ideal, but things should still grow and I’m hoping that the worst that happens is that my veggies are smaller and later than the rest of the allotments.  And anyway, there’s plenty of people on the waiting list and it’s got to be better than having nothing at all…

Time will tell.

Can you tell what it is yet?

Ah, topiary. The noble art of bending nature to your will.


Some time ago I got it into my head that I would culitivate a little topiary on the patio. I bought a few spriggy box hedges and some topiary frames – hinged cages in all sorts of different shapes that clip over the hedge – and sat back in eager anticipation of a beautifully sculpted and trimmed work of evergreen art.

It turns out these things take a little longer than you might think. Two years on and my magnificent topiary swan has a bit of growing to do before it’s easily recognised as poultry. Few observers would claim it has grown out of its ugly duckling phase just yet.

Hope springs eternal though, and I am confident this year things will be different. Already there are signs of new growth, and a few months of decent sun and I will surely have my swan.

And once I’ve mastered the waterfowl, onto the next challenge…

Next year's project

Don't they look delicious?

Well, planted rather than builded, but it’s Sunday as I type so forgive the hymnal references.

A trip to the allotment today to plant some Jerusalem artichokes kindly donated by my mate Richard.  I’ve planted 12 tubers, which should give me anything up to 16 kilos of artichokes.

More on the plants at a later date (they’ve never been to Jerusalem, you know. It’s a corruption of girasol, the Italian word for sunflowers – they’re related) but for now a little recipe.

Much excitement and antipation chez Drooling  as I prepared to roast the artichokes as an accompanyment for Sunday lunch. The audience watched eagerly, making enthusiastic noises such as “Are you sure they’re not meant to be peeled?” and “What are those brown bits? Is that dirt?”.

An air of delighted anticipation filled the house. Smaller members of the family played it cool, pretending they were reluctant. “Do we have to eat them Dad?” they feigned. They’re so funny!

Mrs Drooling joined in the jollity. “Eeuurgh!” she sqealed, claiming that is was in fact Globe artichokes she’s always liked, and not their almost-namesakes. So convincing were their hilarious protestations that they even declined to finish their portions, pretending they were full.

I chuckled along, joining in their fun. “Don’t worry about leaving them” I said,  “16 kilos more to eat this year!”

You don’t need me to tell you how their happy little faces lit up on hearing this joyous news.

Anyway, on to the recipe:
Roast Jerusalem Artichokes

(serves a family of 5 as a side dish. A bit too much for 1 if the other 4 decide not to eat them)

500-600g artichokes, scrubbed

a lemon

olive oil (not the good stuff)

salt and pepper

thyme leaves, a finely chopped handful

Heat the oven to 200c. Don’t bother peeling the artichokes (and anyway, if you try you’ll end up so little artichoke left you may as well not bother).

Chop them into the size you want (try and keep them roughly the same size, that way they will cook at the same pace). Take a roasting dish that can go on the hob, put in a few splashes of oil and gently fry the artichokes, making sure to coat the cut sides.

When everything is sizzling, squeeze over the juice of the lemon, season and chuck in the thyme leaves. Give it all a good stir and stick in the oven.

Take it out when it’s ready. That’ll be about an hour, but it will depend on your oven, what else you’ve got cooking at the same time, etc etc.

One last thing; they taste delicious, but they won’t crisp up like roast potatoes. And yes, they do make you parp. Thus allowing you to take sweet revenge on anyone who won’t eat them…

The master plan

An evening spent with a ruler and the boys’ paint set, and this is what you get: a high quality rendition of the world’s greatest allotment…

Of course, it looks an awful lot better in the flesh. It’s just the scanner’s a bit dodgy so you can’t see the lovely brushwork and fine draftsmanship.

You’re going to have to trust me on that one.

Anyway, enough of the picture, let’s talk about the plan. The plot, as regular readers will both know, is not currently quite as structured or carefully laid out as a first time visitor might think when looking at the above.

In fact there are currently no clearly-marked beds to speak of, only a few strange-shaped holes in the grass that look reasonably man-made. Clearly some work will be required to get it looking like the piccie, but every journey starts with a single step, blah blah blah.

I’ve gone for a fairly straightforward layout; lots of long thin beds that should allow me to access all the veggies without having to clamber over all the soil. And to stop it getting too boring and linear I threw in a few triangular beds at the western end of the plot (although I fear they might be a bit of a faff to measure out and dig).

I’m thinking that once I’ve dug the beds I’ll edge them with boarding to give them a nice clear border, and if I put down weed matting and woodchip over the paths then that should also remove the need to cut the grass, thus lowering the maintenance levels.

It may have an added bonus of deterring slugs and snails. The slimy buggers don’t seem to like the raised beds at the bottom of the garden and I’m hoping that’s at least in part because of the woodchip that surrounds them.

As well as the layout of the beds I’ve also decided what to plant in them. Obviously you can see the fruit and veg very clearly in the delightful botanical illustration above, so you don’t really need me to explain what’s going where, but for those of you who perhaps have dodgy eyes or poor quality monitors, I shall humour you.

Along the Northern border I’ll be planting raspberries and blackberries. That’s the shadier side of the plot and they should be a bit happier than most things being slightly out of the sun.

On the opposite edge are potatoes (roasting and new) and butternut squashes. In the middle, from left to right, are onions, carrots, (more) squashes – Uchiki Kuri this time – and then leeks and parsnips.

I’ve gone for a bit of height in the nifty triangular beds, and there we’ve got (clockwide from left) sweetcorn, borlotti beans, globe artichokes and jerusalem artichokes. Apparently they make you parp.

In theory I should have a good mix of veggies that are either far too big for the back garden (I’m looking at you, Uchiki Kuri) or nice and low maintenance so can cope with being ignored for days on end; the root vegetables should be tough enough to handle the neglect coming their way.

Closer to home the back garden will have some of the more high maintenance specimens, such as broad beans (which always get covered in black fly) and salad, which we eat pretty much every day.

But enough of the chit chat. Time to get the paints out and work on the plan for the bottom of the garden…