Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Sweetcorn at last!

We love sweetcorn, which is why my attempts to grow it for the past 5 years have been so disappointing (the first year however was a roaring success). Each year I carefully nurture my seedlings, sown in modules in the greenhouse, then moved to a bed that's been lovingly weeded and layered with compost. I water them and underplant with beans and squash (the 'three sisters'). And what happens? Well, I get sweetcorn but only a few and much later than everybody else.

My neighbours' have tall proud sweetcorn plants with multiple ears of corn. They take pity on me and offer me some to supplement my meagre pickings.  I ask them what they do - they manure/compost just as I do. They water, just as I do. They block plant; several try the 'three sisters' approach. My crop is poor; their's is bountiful.  Well not this year! This year I have tall, proud, multistemed sweetcorn and I have plenty of it and have been giving it away.

What I have in inadvertently discovered (I think) is that sweetcorn doesn't like being confined in a 2 by 1 metre bed and/or being raised in modules.

This year I grew two batches of sweetcorn (I accidently bought two packets of seeds). The first I grew in modules then planted into a 2 by 1 metre bed that had been weeded and manured.  The other was planted directly into a large area in my second plot; it had been the site of the chicken run so was well manured for 3 months. Both were underplanted with pumpkin and french beans.

The module-grown sweetcorn grew pretty much as normal (for me that is). All the plants grew, they most produced one small sweetcorn - but there were gaps in the cobs where not all were fertilized. However with the directly planted sweetcorn only about 15 of the 30 seeds grew into mature plants, a pretty poor survival rate I think, but each plant that did survive has thrived and produced bigger and better sweetcorn that the module-grown sweetcorn.

I thought this was a really interesting result and next year I'm going to try again - this time reversing the planting to see what happens. Module grown seedlings can go into open ground and the bed will be directly sown.  I might also add a few directly sown into open ground just to make sure I get some sweetcorn.

Watch this space!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Jimmo remade

Jimmo - after his makeover
Elizabeth and I popped along to the plot yesterday to pick up Jimmo and bring him home. He was looking very sad and worn. When we started peeling back the layers we found his nose and his hat flat against his face hiding his face.  The only bit that was still intact was his stuffing of newspaper inside plastic bags. 

After an afternoon's work he has new clothes, a new covering for his head, extra stuffing, a heart and a new (handmade) hat. Oh, and a smiley face. Doesn't he look lovely?
Jimmo's smiley face

And whilst I was there today I did some weeding around the sweetcorn and onions. Here's a view across the plot, showing my sweetcorn.
A view across the plot

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Jimmo the Scarecrow

Jimmo on his first day at the allotment
Three years ago my friend Clare, my three year old daughter and I cut up some old coffee sacks and created Jimmo the Scarecrow (instructions here). He was an excellent addition to the plot: he protected the strawberries from birds, was surrounded by sweet peas and, well, just looked wonderful.

Now, three years of sun and rain can have an effect on a chap. By the second summer all the colour was bleached from his patches and scarf, his hat was floppy and he looked a bit bedraggled.

I took a photograph of him yesterday in preparation of giving him a bit of long overdue tlc. A bit sad looking methinks.

Jimmo in 2012
Watch this space to see how we bring him back to life!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

My chickens

February - their first day in their new home

I've had my chickens for nearly 18 months now and they are well and truly part of the family. My girls were rescued from a battery farm where they spent the first 2 years of their life 'living' in a small cage with no room to move or show any natural behaviour. And you could tell. When I first put them into their run they just stood still. They had pink floppy combs, were featherless in places (I was told they weren't that bad compared to some) and looked scared stiff. On their first night I had to entice them into their house by putting a torch in there - eventually they walked in and settled down.

For the first month they were confined to their house and run - but this was just fine for them; a nice roomy 4 metre long run rather than the tiny cage they'd grown up in.

April - free ranging

Eventually, however they got curious. Whenever I cleaned them out they tried to escape; it was time to free range.  I began by making a temporary pen for them outside their run so they could get used to going in and out when I was with them. Once they tried escaping that I knew it was time and let them explore the garden.  Now everyday, come wind, rain or shine the girls and I spend time together in the garden. The girls get to roam the garden whilst I potter about, sit and read or have dinner. But I don't leave them alone in the garden as there are foxes roaming the area so when I can't be with them they are safely in their run.  They seem like happy chickens.

July - happy garden chickens

What made me write this post after we've had the girls so long? I was lying in bed last night pondering their ability to think and remember. They certainly know who I am (and the family for that matter). They know that the saucepan means they're getting a treat (pasta, rice or potatoes); they know that when I get a handful of grain it's time to go into their run (I use that to entice them in); they know that the spade means I'm digging and will uncover worms and insects for them. They clearly remember a lot of day to day things... but do they remember life in the battery farm? I hope not!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

June colours

The weather here has not been good - cold, wet, overcast. The vegetables are growing slowly, the slugs and snails are very happy and the flowers on the fruit trees never turned into fruit. But what has come through and kept my allotment looking good and my spirits up are the flowers. From purple poppies and alliums, pale pink roses through to bright orange calendula. They all look ravishing; who cares about the vegetables???

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Been making...

Dulce de Membrillo, or Quince cheese to you and me. It took ages - cleaning the quince to remove the fuzz...

then chopping (which was hard!), then cooking with lemon juice for 3 hours...

before pushing through a sieve and cooking the pulp with lots of sugar for 30 mins stirring continuously.

But it was worth it. It tasted delicious and impressed my lunch guests when I bought out the cheese, fruit, crackers and membrillo.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Been picking...

I love this time of year, reaping the rewards of the year's hard work. I've been picking apples, from my 2 trees plus a neighbours. Have also had a fantastic crop of William bon chretien pears - the boughs were bending under the weight. We have 10 jars of plum jam from my fantastic crops of Czar plums. I also have my first crop of Vranja quince to pick. Counted over 30 of them!

My daughter and I have also been doing one of favourite late summer past-times - wondering the river banks and hedgerows at the allotment picking blackberries.

Think we'll be making another apple and blackberry pie today!