Meanwhile back at the ranch

 

A rare day of sunshine on the allotment today and so we made the most of it because there’s the tail end of hurricane Lorenzo about to do one final lap of honor around the UK before finally (we hope) petering out. This is a challenging time of year for allotments because although there are a multitude of jobs to be getting on with, the weather often gets in the way.  We used to call these unsettled patterns “equinoctal storms” but the Met Office get a bit sniffy about the term, saying there’s absolutely no connection between the frequent storms and the day length. They just happen at the same time. Often!

But the last of the tender crops need to be gathered in and new ones sown almost immediately to allow germination before the cold weather really kicks in. That  means the ground needs to be weeded and prepared with compost even if you don’t dig.  Any ground that’s not going to be planted up immediately needs feeding and sheeting, or sowing with a green manure crop.  That’s not something we’ve ever done – I’m not sure what you do with the crop if you don’t dig it in – maybe if it’s tares you can cut it off leaving the roots with their nitrogen nodules intact in the ground, and compost all the green tops – it still gets fed back into the earth but a little later.

It’s this time of the year when we get a sudden mass of green material for composting. We’ve already dealt with the bean vines, but today it was the turn of the peppers, aubergines and those of the tomatoes not affected by blight – oh and the giant sunflowers which need sawing into pieces which are then either bashed with the back of an axe or split down the middle to expose the soft core to the composting bacteria. I often chop the vines a bit with a sharp spade – but you need some air circulation, so turning it all into a soggy mess will lead to slimy anaerobic conditions. The trouble with having a mass of fresh green material at this time of year is that at lower temperatures it can sit there sulking rather than composting. This is a great time to use some human urine to get things going.  We dilute it 10:1 for growing crops, but I’ve put it on the compost heap neat with no obvious ill effects. It’s rich with bio-available nitrogen and it really doesn’t smell.  We tell everyone we’re doing it to discourage the fastidious from browsing our crops! And keep the heap covered with old compost bags because it won’t thrive if it’s inundated with cold rain.

One of our success stories this year has been the outdoor chillies, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines.  The peppers were intended to be grown in the greenhouse but as ever we’d sown far too many,  so early in the season we planted some very poor and bedraggled specimens in a patch of sheltered open ground that happened to be empty. They absolutely loved it, and we’ve had our best ever crops from the open ground, leaving the pampered indoor plants standing still.  The only exception were the hot chillies, but they made the most of the greenhouse and they’ve been fantastic.  It’s touch and go whether the Habenero’s ripen fully, but I ate a tiny slice of an underripe one today and it was fierecly hot already. The mildest chillies – the Hungarian Hot Wax are still flowering and fruiting outside even now.

But all good things come to an end and so we came home with a big basket of green peppers, red cabbage and broccoli which is still cropping well plus a large quantity of green tomatoes. I’m looking for a recipe for a green pepper relish now. We ripened a few peppers on the windowsill earlier and roasted them to use as an ingredient in cooking.

The Sweet Cicily I sowed has resulted in a couple of very vigorous bushes so one of them is going to have to live in a container.  The other is on a patch of unuseable land near the greehouse and it’s very pretty and very useful – sweet and fragrant – so it can stay where it is for the time being. One major winter job is to reorganise the fruit cage and move the strawberries to a new spot.  It’s far too crowded, and a faff to get in and out of which has led to it becoming a bit neglected. Access is so important when planning beds and plots.

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Home then, thoroughly knackered with a day of gallery visits tomorrow for a change. It’s amazing, though how after a cup of tea and something to eat we felt energized again, which was just as well because the harvested  vegetables needed preparation and washing before they could be stored. It’s amazing how many slugs can live in a red cabbage, for instance.  But a soak in salted water and a couple of rinses soon gets rid of them and it’ll keep in the fridge until tomorrow evening when I’m baking anyway so I’ll make some spiced red cabbage at the same time.  Anyone for green tomato chutney?

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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