Archive for fruit trees

Allotment currants and seedlings

pruned currant bush goblet shapeIt was a year ago today that we picked up our fruit trees. Then, this December, we drove to Brogdale again, to collect our final tree, a grafted Krasnyi Standeart, which is still waiting to be planted out – the weather really hasn’t been on our side!

I can assure you there’s nothing less interesting to look at than a fruit tree in winter, so I didn’t bother to photograph them. Instead, I have a nice picture of one of our currants which I pruned a couple of weeks ago and has a lovely goblet shape, if I say so myself!

Today was the half marathon on Brighton seafront, which apparently had to be snow-ploughed to remove all the shingle that was thrown up in the big storm the day before yesterday before the runners got down there! It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I knew lots of people who were running so I was a little torn about whether to go and spectate but it’s been such a rotten year that I felt obliged to grab any chance to get up to the plot and check things were okay. They were okay, although apparently two sheds were flattened on our site.

february rhubarbOf course the long (looooong) wet winter has had some upsides, although they are mighty few. One of them is the rhubarb! Rhubarb is doing well this year, and ours, which was well mulched with the last lawn clippings of 2013, has roared into the new year and I will be harvesting our first fresh fruit of 2014 next weekend!

broad beans and leek seedlingsAfter yesterday’s excitement of spending time in the glasshouse at RHS Wisley with the wonderful butterflies, my day seems really mundane, although it was very productive. My glasshouse is not exactly to Wisley standards although with a little bit of sun it seems just as warm, and my plants may not be nearly as exotic as theirs, although I’m happy with my broad beans which got off to a late start and are looking beautifully healthy. I hope to be getting them planted out next week too, if the windy weather abates a bit. They’ll go out under a cloche to give them some protection from the winter.

I also got on with some sowing: winter lettuce (two kinds: winter density and winter gem), the first batch of radishes and a tray that contains half kohl rabi and half leeks for later transplanting. I felt so happy to get some seeds underway at last!

I harvested leeks, red kale, thyme and a tiny amount of purple sprouting broccoli …I do wish the psb would hurry up, it would be lovely to have a bit of home-grown veg that I wasn’t already eating three times a week!


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Grow and Tell allotment workshops 2014

It’s been too wet to do anything at the plot, so I haven’t been posting. But I have been writing courses!

allotment harvest29 March – propagating cropping plants (for an extra 50 pence take home a ready-rooted lemongrass plant for your cold greenhouse or conservatory

19 April – planning a productive plot (or replanning one that doesn’t seem to be working, with a focus on avoiding weed notices and other problems

31 May – Brussels Sprouts, cabbage, cauliflowers, purple sprouting broccoli: how to plant brassicas and cover your seedlings, pest protection and summer-long maintenance tips to get the best from these long-growing winter crop

allotment squashes21 June – growing winter squash – how to have a harvest that will feed you through the winter

27 July – watering and mulching – practical ways to cut down on watering, conserve moisture and keep your crops alive through the summer

20 September – composting and green manures – this is the month to start adding nourishment back into your soil: tips on choosing green manures, building compost bins and making good compost

6 December – special class on training and pruning fruit trees in winter.

Limited to 8 participants to allow for maximum practical experience and problem solving. Meet at 11:00 at Weald Avenue Allotment Gate – indoor space available in bad weather – workshops finish at 13:00. Each session includes hands-on experience, comes with notes on the plants and techniques covered, and finishes at the WAG shop so people can buy seeds and supplies if they wish.

While the site is largely wheelchair accessible, those with limited mobility are advised to arrange a site visit first, to ensure they are comfortable with the location. £5.00 per person (please note some classes have an optional extra charge for plants to take home, there is no charge for crops harvested on the day!) All money goes to Weald Allotment Gardeners (WAG) for upkeep of Weald Site.

Prior booking is essential. Please email to reserve a place on a session or book through the WAG shop.

Also, I have some very exciting news about some fun things I’ll be doing this spring with some very nice people, maybe in a shop near you … but as nothing is finalised yet, I shall just have to be a bit of a tease!

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Allotment Fruit Trees – winter maintenance

allotment fruit tree mulching

Removing the old mulch from the base of first year fruit trees

Jupiter apple tree top-dressed with manure

Top-dressed with well-rotted manure because the mini-orchard was planted in poor soil and modern thinking is not to remediate the planting hole which can lead to root binding but to top feed instead.


Jupiter apple tree top-dressed and re-mulched

Weeds removed, top dressing added, mulch reapplied – tree ready for spring!

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Gluten-free blackcurrant clafoutis

blackcurrant clafoutis gluten freeHere it is!

After some experimenting I actually think this is better than the standard wheat-based recipe. I’ll post the recipe itself later today!

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Allotment rules – the law of diminishing returns

103 tayberry handfulFunnily enough, as I type this, Rebus has just learnt this law. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but you can certainly introduce them to immutable laws.

We used to own another Cairn Terrier, whom Rebus cordially detested, by the name of Falco. Falco loved to eat … well, anything, to be honest: cardboard, vegetables, gravel, cat poo, flowers, socks, fruit … especially fruit. He used to eat any kind of fruit, but especially windfall fruit because he was a little dog and that was what it was easiest for him to scavenge. He would get terrible bellyache from eating little green windfall apples but it never stopped him. So we learned to reward him with better food – if he brought in a rock-hard windfall apple, usually brown and bruised and rotten on one side and as bitter as sour grapes, we took it from him and gave him a little dog treat.

Rebus never ate, or brought in, a single windfall. He was contemptuous of the process and scornful of Falco. However, since Falco died, several years ago, Rebus had decided it’s his job – after all, somebody needs to do it, right?

rebus camouflagueNow Falco was greedy and probably ate three or four apples for every one that he brought in. Rebus is conscientious and brings in every apple he finds. That could be a lot of treats!

So the law of diminishing returns has to apply – he gets a big treat for the first one, a small treat for the second one, half a treat for the third one and a pat on the head for the fourth. He never brings in a fifth apple.

It hasn’t rained here for weeks and weeks and weeks – there was a dribble of drizzle on Wednesday night but it was really insignificant in the face of parched earth and empty water butts! It’s going to rain tomorrow (all day apparently – hurrah!) and I am utterly sick of watering. We can use hoses at the allotment but it’s really a waste of effort for all kinds of reasons – plants need water at their roots, the soil doesn’t need water (unless you’re germinating seeds) and every time you water it you (a) encourage weeds to germinate, (b) stop the roots heading down to find water and encourage them to grow more shallowly.

103 harvest 9 sept 10So dig down and see where your soil is still damp. Usually it’s still wet four to six inches (9-12 cm) below the surface and most roots reach that far. Some plants need a lot of water like winter squashes and tomatoes – water them by all means. Others don’t need that much and watering them to the same level is a waste of time, effort, water and may even damage their productivity. So a lot of what I’ve been doing in the past three weeks is hand watering into plastic bottles sunk in the ground. It’s exhausting. It’s necessary but exhausting.

The law of diminishing returns applies here too. I don’t water courgettes or radishes in this weather – they can die for all I care! They’re low value crops and they usually recover from quite drastic ill-treatment if it doesn’t continue too long. Peas and beans lose out next because while they are great crops, the amount of effort I put into watering them doesn’t get a great return. Perennials get watered with love and care: our new fruit trees and bushes and our asparagus will still be feeding us in five to twenty years time – the return on the investment this year is four to twenty years of harvest – the opposite of diminishment.

So apologies for absence, but the watering can has been calling me …

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Allotment recipe: rose and summer fruit jellies

rosepetal jelly 1These pretty little jellies can be made in moulds and turned out, but I never do that as our jellies usually end up being transported around in their ramekins. We had jelly for breakfast at the plot this morning and OH will take another with him to work for his after-lunch dessert. They are pretty simple to make and look utterly stunning, especially if you make them in clear glass tumblers so the suspension of the fruit can be fully appreciated. It is possible to make a version of this with agar agar for vegetarians, but I haven’t found it to be so successful in suspending fruit. I’ll try to dig out an alternative recipe that involves infused sugars and post that tomorrow.

rosepetal jelly 2Ingredients

    4 leaves of gelatine
    400ml water
    200g white caster sugar (golden/unrefined sugars don’t work for this recipe)
    40ml rosewater
    100 grams fresh fruit (I had a mixture of red and golden raspberries, white and red alpine strawberries, ordinary strawberries and tayberries)
    Rose petals – these are rosa gallica, because I love the effect of the stripes, although if I had Ferdinand Pichard that would be my rose of choice as it’s even more dramatically stripey!

rosepetal jelly 3Method

1. Chose your containers and put enough fruit in to cover about half the bottom – you want to be able to see each individual fruit, not pile them on top of each other. Hopefully this uses up about half your fruit.Chill these containers for about half an hour.
2. Put the gelatine in a shallow bowl and cover with cold water for a minute. Squeeze out the water and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
3. As soon as the water boils, tip in the sugar, stir to fully dissolve and remove from heat. Add the gelatine to the hot liquid and stir until dissolved.
4. Add the rosewater and then tip into a large jug and set aside. Don’t chill the mixture, leave it at room temperature.
rosepetal jelly 45. Take the containers from the fridge and pour the cooled but not yet setting jelly over the fruit, to about half way. Replace the containers in the fridge until the jelly is just firm, then repeat with the rest of the fruit and the jelly which should still be liquid if you’ve left it at room temperature. Chose your prettiest rose petals and with the handle of a teaspoon, just sink each petal under the surface of the jelly.
6. Replace in the fridge for about an hour – they should set nicely.
7. Apparently you can turn out these jellies by filling a bowl with not-quite boiling water, dipping the containers in it, then inverting them over a plate. I’ve never bothered and the truth is, most of our jellies get eaten with the fridge door still open, and us standing in front of it to nosh them – they are so tasty in this hot weather!

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Allotment netting

103 fruit cage 2Yesterday we had a Grow and Tell session at the allotment. Amongst other things, we explored the way that bird predation has destroyed many of the spring crops this year. Whilst slugs and snails haven’t been massively in evidence, birds definitely have, and many of us have had crops from fruit bushes to brassicas to salads stripped by hungry birds.

As a result, plot #103 is shrouded in every possible form of net and covering. The strawberries have a net anyway, on their specially designed roundabout bed, the fruit cage around the currants is made from netting, (the photo shows it just after construction in April) canes and those balls that have loads of sockets in them to accommodate said canes, and the brassica cage is a collapsible netting affair that moves around the plot every year. On top of that, there’s a bunch of upside down dump stacks (the things shops use to pile up sale items), a plethora of cloches and even some sieves and colanders that are no longer fit for kitchen use but work to cover up seedlings!

I also have a recipe to share, but I’ll post that tomorrow.

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