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Archive for April, 2009

Well, following the cultivation notice (that apparently we shouldn’t have got because we have had it less than 3 months) Jamie has worked incredibly hard on digging and planting the plot.

The new plot

The new plot

The plan is to have mainly perennial fruit on this site, so that it is lower maintenance. Also, fruit takes up a lot of space and you want to give it plenty of room. There were already three small plum trees on the plot (seen at the back of the photo below), and some Rhubarb (also at the back). Jamie has added raspberry canes with a frame, and gooseberry.

Fruit patch

Fruit patch

Once the asparagus seedlings are well established, they will go in and already have a dedicated row. The yew trees were in pots in the garden, but have been transplanted in as have a number of box plants (of course!).

This year I am going to get some space for annuals (the bare patch at the front). I already have some Charlotte potatoes chitting on a windowsill. I don’t think there’s any danger of putting the potatoes in too late. The girls have planted a lot of different flower seeds this year, so we will see if any of those are successful.

Finally, there is going to be a very small vineyard in the space shown below.

Space ready for the Vineyard

Space ready for the Vineyard

You never know, Costello home-made wine might be coming your way in years to come? Jamie has taken some cuttings of the vine that currently runs over the canopy at the flat.

Grapevine cuttings

Grapevine cuttings

We met a local grower/winemaker at a Farmer’s Market from the Old Railway Vineyard in Merstham. When we described our variety, he identified it as a good one for wine. It has a good pedigree, having successfully grown on the patio for what looks like the last century.

Finally, the first French tarragon of the year is coming through, so we picked some for our favourite dinner, recipe below.

Tarragon Chicken

For this recipe you can use either quarters, legs, thighs, breasts on the bone, whatever you have in.

Chicken pieces (see above)
Butter or olive oil for frying (depending on cholesterol count)
1/2 chopped Onion
Mushrooms
1/4 bottle of white wine
4 or 5 sprigs of French Tarragon (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons Creme fraiche (this can be low fat or full fat)
small amount of chicken stock (optional)
lemon rind and juice (optional)

Tips: This recipe has many variations, depending on what you have in the cupboard.  Stock can be added for flavour, but you can use a chicken Oxo cube, gravy granules etc., or leave it out altogether.  I find if you use chicken pieces on the bone, you don’t need to add stock, but if you use chicken breast fillets, it might need the extra flavour.  Lemon isn’t essential, but goes very well.  The basics are chicken, white wine, creme fraiche and tarragon.

Fry the chicken pieces in the butter/oil in a heavy bottomed pan or casserole, until nicely browned on the outside.  Take them out and reserve on a plate.  Then use the same oil to fry the onion and mushrooms if using, followed by the garlic (chopped or crushed as preference).

Once the onion has gone slightly brown, add the chicken pieces back to the plan and add the white wine and half the tarragon, stirring to get the brown glaze off the pan into the sauce.  Add water or chicken stock to cover the pieces.  Add the lemon juice and rind (you may need to add a tiny bit of sugar if using a very dry wine and lemon juice).

Simmer for about 30 – 45 mins on the stove, or put the casserole into the over, checking occasionally.  Strain excess oil if needed.  Add salt and pepper and more stock to taste.

When you are sure it is cooked through and ready to serve, add the creme fraiche along with the rest of the tarragon.

Serve with rice and mange tout or french beans.

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Jamie has worked so hard since we got the improvement notices, and I think the results will speak for themselves. I didn’t think the plot was particuarly untidy anyway, but I feel as if we are entering some sort of gardening competition within the next 28 days.

Apple blossom in the girls' plot

Apple blossom in the girls' plot

Potatoes

Potatoes have already gone into Stanley Road (Picasso). We chose this type because Paul gave us some of his crop last year and they really did roast well as described. He had got the tip from Doug, and so we guessed they would work well on our soil as well. They were a nice balance between a floury and waxy potato – not too extreme in either direction.

The Perry and George system in action

The Perry and George system in action

Jamie has put them in using the ‘Perry and George’ tried and tested potato planting system. They dig a trench and a mound, ready for earthing up the potatoes. Once the initial plants show through, you just heap the soil over the plants. Apparently this leads to a better crop, and it keeps the frost off the small plants.

Legumes

The second annual planting of the year went in – the pea and bean beds. This year is going to be a rainbow of colour, as I have saved last year’s seed and have bought some new ones to try. There are purple-podded peas and French beans, a rare yellow-podded pea from the Real Seed Company, as well as the green Sugar Snap Pea ‘Cascadia’. As well as the purple peas, I have acquired some interesting French beans, again recommended by the Real Seed Company. These have the rather fascinating name of ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ and are an old Native American heritage variety.

Not much to see yet really....

Not much to see yet really....

Sweet Pea ‘Fragrantissima, grown for flowers, finishes off my legume beds. I just can’t wait the month or so till they start to flower. Although I am leaving it quite late this year, I can’t say I am sorry after the spring we have had. I am sure any plants that had gone in earlier would have died or been stunted with the combination of cold and rainy weather we have had.

All that remains tomorrow is to put in some catch crops of salad and beetroot to make the most of the bare soil. Jamie’s tomatoes and peppers are doing brilliantly under cloches. The only worry is whether they will outgrow the cloches before the frosts are over….

Tender plants under cover - is this too early for them to be outside?????

Tender plants under cover - is this too early for them to be outside?????

Planting plan 2009:spring-20091

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So that's why it is so green

So that's why it is so green

We went to Somerset to get away from it all after Easter. The green, misty views were refreshing (for which read ‘unbroken rain’!) and a bright spot of the trip was going to the “Rainbow’s End” cafe in Glastonbury, a fantastic vegetarian cafe. It gave me lots of inspiration to cook fantastic recipes with our vegetables this year.

Rainbow's End

Rainbow's End

Now we are back, it feels as if all the allotment tasks have hit at once.

Both our allotments have cultivation notices. The main problem seems to stem from the bleak midwinter timing of the inspection, plus our lack of concern about size of yield. Although we are cultivating all our space, it is combining a grass lawn with flowers, a herb patch with lavender, a strawberry patch with a wendy house. Really it is a productive garden to us, not a farm.

It seems this is not really enough for the inspectors, so we had better dig up some more of the space I suppose. We are keeping the place tidy to our eyes, but maybe others have higher standards?

It is so depressing to have looked forward to crops that take a couple of years to establish, only to be told that is not enough. The council’s own guide says we should be toleratnt of people’s own use of the land, be it a garden or a children’s play area, but times seem to be a changing….

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