Sunday, 12 May 2013

Rhubarb, rhubarb. . .

So Mother Nature has finally caught up a bit, though temperatures still seem cool for May.
The plot is definitely looking perkier and I'm feeling more confident about getting some good produce this year. There are seedlings and plantlets abounding in the greenhouse and all we Northern gardeners are just waiting for the threat of frosts to disappear. 

If nothing else, we've been enjoying the fruits of my labours <<d'you see what I did there...?>>  - every plot holder's best friend - rhubarb. 
After last time writing about chilis - a vegetable which is actually a fruit, today I'm singing the praises of a fruit which is actually classed as a vegetable....
At a time of year when there's not a huge amount of options to harvest, rhubarb's beautiful  huge leaves  make a corner of your plot look abundant. And oh, the joy of parting those monster leaves to find spears of pinky loveliness, all waiting to be transformed into treats!
OK, by the time you've added enough sugar to stop your cheeks turning inside out with the sourness, there may not be a great deal of nutritional value in rhubarb, but it is such a stalwart, low maintenance, fail-safe crop, easy to grow and with lots of culinary uses. It's also known to be a useful laxative.!
So over the years, we have gorged on crumbles, with residual syrups then frozen to make ice lollies for the children; I have experimented with rhubarb in cake - highly recommended and delicious served warm with cream; I have made rhubarb-infused vodka, to be served with ginger ale as a sort of Yorkshire mule cocktail! 
And this year, my cupboards are now full of beautiful, dark red, ginger and rhubarb jam.
I haven't been caught eating it out of a jar with a spoon. No, no, that must have been someone else.....

You can also use the leaves - which are toxic to humans and some animals - as a spray for aphids and other sucking insects, as it suffocates them. 
  • Use 1kg of leaves and 2 litres of water.
  •  Bring to boil and simmer for around half an hour.
  • Strain off leaves
  • Dilute to use as a spray.

This does need to be used fairly quickly as its effectiveness apparently wears off if stored.

There's some fab other uses and interesting info about rhubarb on this site, which I stumbled upon while looking up using rhubarb leaves as a hair dye...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Chill out!

We've just marked the vernal equinox, the first day of Spring!
Ah, Spring - that season of increasing daylight and warming temperatures and the rebirth of flora and fauna......

Only nobody seems to have told Mother Nature this.

 It's snowing heavily as I type. It has snowed on and off for days. Now, I'm normally a big fan of snow - it's far prettier than rain, you can have fun in it and watching snow falling is one of life's dreamy pleasures as far as I'm concerned. But now, the lustre is wearing off for me.
Even the children are getting bored of the white stuff.
This has been the coldest March for 10 years, possibly longer. The daffs are still tightly budded, the crocuses haven't bothered unfurling, snowdrops are still in bloom and there seems no end in sight.
And my expectations for the coming growing season are somewhat low! Nothing in the unheated greenhouse is germinating, and the outside ground is sodden and will be for some time yet. It's rather frustrating.

So I am trying to make myself feel a little warmer by focussing on what's happening on my window sills at home.

Chillies. Easy to grow and so many uses! We're great fans of the lovely little  fruits!
The plants with their tiny white blossoms are attractive in their own right, and then when you have your own little chillies forming....!
All I can think of is wonderful things to cook - chilli chocolate brownies, salsas, chilli infused oil, curries, stir fries, nachos, pizza toppings, chilli jam, arrabiata sauce, all studded with flecks of  flavoursome red. Chillies are so useful and we are addicts.
I know there are loads of different colours, varieties and strengths, but this year I am concentrating on jalapeƱos  as they are the most versatile for my needs.

I'm also starting off sweetcorn, tomato, broad beans, sweet peas and broccoli on my son's 'magic' windowsill. His room is the warmest in the house and although not south facing, seems to gather the most light.

How are you other allomenteers staving off the long winter blues?

Friday, 1 February 2013


''A dormant seed is one that is unable to germinate in a specified period of time under a combination of environmental factors that are normally suitable for the germination of the non-dormant seed. Dormancy is a mechanism to prevent germination during unsuitable ecological conditions, but the probability of seedling survival is low.

One important function of most seeds is delayed germination, which allows time for dispersal and prevents germination of all the seeds at same time. The staggering of germination safeguards some seeds and seedlings from suffering damage or death from short periods of bad weather or from transient herbivores; it also allows some seeds to germinate when competition from other plants for light and water might be less intense. 

Another form of delayed seed germination is seed quiescence, which is different than true seed dormancy and occurs when a seed fails to germinate because the external environmental conditions are too dry or warm or cold for germination. 

Many species of plants have seeds that delay germination for many months or years, and some seeds can remain in the soil seed bank for more than 50 years before germination''
It has been an embarrassingly long time since I last visited this blog. And with such a fledgling blog, it is probable that any readers have long since wandered off to admire someone else's plot.
 If you're reading this, well hello! 
Pull up a plastic patio chair, and I'll crack open my flask of tea to share :) 

 Why the long, long absence?
 I've been dormant.
 The last year has been really challenging - practically and emotionally, but I'm here, I've survived. 
I'm ok and I'm ready to start a new season. 

 It was a hard year on the plot too - bad weather, poor crops, a paltry harvest; not much reward for the mud sweat and tears we allotmenteers endured. But having my Eden to escape to has nonetheless, been a godsend. 
 Peace. Fresh air. Hard physical work. Grounding. Mindfulness. And mind-fullness. While I'm on my plot, there is no room in my head for all of the external stresses and anxieties. 
There is just me. The elements. The earth. Some worms. And sometimes a robin....:)

I went down to the plot several weeks ago - the first time since Christmas. It was in pretty good shape considering; I had worked hard in Autumn to clear the decks, prune back, tie back, all ready to kick back over winter!

 In a spirit of optimism, I sowed some sweet peas seeds in the greenhouse. 
Then the ice and snow came...and I didn't get round to watering them. 
January passed with plummeting temperatures, frost-bound earth and blanketing snow. And latterly, a swift thaw which left the plot under water in places. 

But tomorrow, with a milder, calmer day forecast, I will venture down to see if by some miracle they have germinated. And heartened by the sudden arrival of snowdrops and crocus, I will sit in the greenhouse, pretend it is spring, sow some more seeds and look forward. 

 Brighter days are coming. . .
The first crocus