Love Freecycle

15 Oct
freecycyle shed

freecycle shed

I wouldn’t say I have a love-hate relationship with freecycle, more of a muted like-dislike thing going on.

Minor irritations include time wasters who don’t turn up to collect when they say they will (I now leave all items in the front garden so I don’t have to wait in and then get annoyed with non-collectors), and the increasing number of WANTED posts.  One recently was along the lines of “WANTED: pair of bedside tables, must be matching and in good condition”.  Didn’t exactly leave me with a warm glow inside, unlike the more usual “WANTED: student/new homeowner/person recently made redundant would be eternally grateful for pair of bedside tables etc”.

And then there are the people who allegedly use freecycle to find freebies and sell them on for their own profit.  Opinion is divided between those who think this is against the principles of freecycle and those who take a more relaxed view – it still stops stuff going to landfill and people to tend to freecycle things they wouldn’t want to sell themselves.

Moans and irritations aside, the principle of reducing what gets sent to landfill still gets my vote.  And this month my relationship with freecycle has been upgraded to LOVE.

Spent a long 9 months scouring freecycle for a second-hand shed for my allotment and, finally, my patience paid off.  Last week the shed was erected and patched up (huge thanks to mum and dad). A lick of paint later and it looks as good as new.  Fabulous.

PS Now looking for paving slabs.  Will collect.  And I’ll be eternally grateful.

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Wanted: Dead or Alive

8 Sep
aubergine damage

aubergine damage

Something has been munching my aubergines and I’m not happy 😦

My money is on slugs, snails or earwigs – all three are thriving in my garden this year.

But I did manage to harvest one undamaged aubergine:

aubergine 'black enorma'

aubergine 'black enorma'

This made it’s way into an aubergine curry, sadly supplemented by a bought aubergine to make up for the small harvest.

I grew this outside on my south facing patio and treated it just like a tomato plant in terms of watering and feeding.  Quite pleased it managed to produce aubergines despite the distinct lack of heat or sun this summer.  Just need to declare war on the pests for next year.

aubergine 'black enorma'

aubergine 'black enorma'

Tomato Heaven

5 Sep
Gardener's Delight tomatoes

Gardener's Delight tomatoes

I’m puzzled.

Can’t figure out why 2011 has been such a bumper year for tomatoes.

Was it the BBQ summer ?  Erm, I don’t think so.  Or my magic green fingers?  Only in my dreams.

As always, most of my tomatoes are grown in terracotta pots outside my back door, on a south-facing patio.  After a few of years of neglect and indifferent results I decided to do things differently this year:

  • I’ve tried – and tried is the important word here – to keep the compost uniformly moist (but not waterlogged) by watering more frequently. Not the usual OMG-the-tomatoes-have-completely-dried-out-let-me-deluge-them-with-water.

And for these efforts I’ve been rewarded with significantly fewer split tomatoes (classic symptoms of the oops-I-forgot-to-water-let’s-overcompensate-now approach).  Plus, it may be my imagination, but the tomatoes seem to have much more flavour this year.  Tomatoes flooded with water allegedly lose flavour and taste less concentrated, more watery.

  • I’ve also fed the plants more this year.  Normally I only feed tomatoes once the first truss of fruit has set, slavishly following instructions on the bottle of tomato feed.  But this year I also used a balanced plant feed prior to fruit set, on the grounds that the nutrients in the potting compost might be exhausted by hungry plants after 2-4 weeks.  I then switched to the high potassium tomato feed to encourage fruiting.

And this year my tomato plants are noticably stronger and healthier with lots of lush, green foliage.  Often such lush foliage comes at the expense of flowers and fruit but this hasn’t been the case; happy to report that my tomato plants are positively dripping with fruit.

I kept things simple this year and grew mostly tried and trusted favourites:

– Gardener’s Delight (bright red, well flavoured and well known cherry tomatoes) 3 x

– Sungold (orange cherry tomatoes with exceedingly sweet tatste – yum!) 2 x

– ‘Striped Stuffer’ (have grown before and liked) 1 x

– An unknown plum tomato (donated by my mum – great flavour) 1 x

– Cherry tomato ‘Lilliput’ (random purchase of small plant at RHS Wisley – fabulous looking fruit but none have ripened yet) 1 x

Next year I’ll try some new varieties…..

Hampton Court Flower Show 2011

28 Jul
Hampton Court Flower Show 2011

Burgon & Ball Edible Garden

I’ve never been to the Hampton Court Flower Show before but I’m a HUGE Chelsea fan (I know, I know, very unfashionable of me – I should be ranting about the elitism of the RHS, the extortionate ticket prices, the lack of relevance of the show gardens to the man on the street etc).

But this year the Chelsea tickets had sold out before I’d got my act together.  So I thought I’d give Hampton Court a try.

People had told me that, whilst Chelsea is all about showmanship and design, Hampton Court is more about the plants themselves.  And true to form, there were lots of nurseries exhibiting and selling plants.  Add a generous helping of grow-your-own, plus a few places selling antique galvanised garden paraphernalia (my current craze) and I felt like a child in a sweet shop.

Managed to capture some of my favourite things on camera, starting above with a detail from the Burgon and Ball edible garden; a table full of plants good enough to eat.

And below;
– lentils on the plants of Italy stand (a first for me, had no idea what lentils looked like when they were growing);
– giant cabbages (wow);
– edibles skillfully inserted into an ornamental garden (why doesn’t my garden look like that?!);
– and finally, these lablab beans caught my eye (have bought the seeds to trial next year).

Lentils

Lentils at Hampton Court 2011

Cabbages at Hampton Court 2011

Cabbages at Hampton Court 2011

Hampton Court 2011

Hampton Court 2011

Lablab beans at Hampton Court 2011

Lablab beans at Hampton Court 2011

Strawberry Hearts

2 Jun
frozen strawberry puree

frozen strawberry puree

Oh my goodness, what IS happening to me?  I’m in danger of turning into a domestic goddess and I don’t even like cooking.

Returning home from the allotment last week with a glut of strawberries, I pureed some of them (no sugar or anything added, that would have been too complicated) and popped them into heart-shaped ice cube trays.

Fast forward to tonight when my daughters had friends round for an impromptu dinner.  I found some vanilla ice cream in the freezer and served with frozen strawberry hearts*.  A HUGE hit.

* For the avoidance of doubt I am fully aware that ice cream does not constitute a nutritionally balanced meal and would like to reassure you that I did serve them pasta first.

* Plus I am also aware that pureeing and freezing strawberries does not actually constitute “cooking” but let’s gloss over that and let me bask in my moment of glory.

Architectural Angelica

16 May
Angelica archangelica

Angelica archangelica

My Angelica plant is in full flower at the moment and the bees are loving it.
It’s a biennial member of the Apiaceae (carrot) family and  I bought it as a young plant last year.
I wasn’t intending to eat it, I just loved the plant and didn’t have a spot for it in the garden.  I was vaguely aware the stems could be crystallised for cake decorations but I knew I’d have to go on a serious time management course before I’d even contemplate that kind of thing.
Angelica archangelica

Angelica archangelica

But it turns out that my new allotment neighbour uses Angelica in cooking (in cakes, stems candied as a sweet snack) so some leaves and stems will be making their way over to her soon.  I may even try throwing some of the leaves into a simmering pot of rhubarb as it allegedly cuts through the rhubarb’s acidity and reduces the amount of sugar needed.
And finally I’ll collect some seeds and plant them straight away.  My previous attempts at germinating Angelica seed (bought seed, rather than collected) ended in failure and I’m now wondering if freshness of seed was an issue.
Germination aside, Angelica was fairly easy to grow on my clay soil.  After planting last summer it put on lots of leafy growth before the foliage died back over winter.  I wasn’t sure if it would reappear because I didn’t protect the crown over winter (neglect and disorganisation on my part, I had meant to) but it popped up in early spring.
It didn’t grow as tall as the specimen that inspired me to grow it (at Capel Manor College, Gunnersbury), perhaps reaching just under 1.5m.  But it’s still a majestic, stately plant and I love its strong architectural form.  I’ve since discovered they like moist soil and watering regularly is not one of my strong points……….

A Panoply of Seedlings

12 May
seedlings

too many seedlings?

Panoply [pan-uh-plee] > noun  a complete or impressive collection of things; a splendid display.

The panoply of seedlings (small selection left) covering my patio is nearly ready to be planted out. Have a suspicion I may have been slightly too enthusiastic and now wondering how I’m going to fit them all on the allotment 😦