What Have We Learnt?

What have we learnt in the last six months of having an allotment?

The first one is an obvious one. It is hard work.

Don’t be fooled by the pictures and the accounts that make it seem like it is a breeze, it really isn’t. Some days it is six hours of digging in the blistering heat, or 2 hours of trudging around in the mud on a chilly Winter morning.

Expect failures.

Sometimes the easiest thing to grow will fail, you can give it all the care and attention in the world and it will not survive. We experienced this with our tomatoes. They were doing so well, lovely green tomatoes starting to ripen and suddenly over a weekend they died. They had contracted blight, so there was no hope. Our rhubarb root was eaten when it was moved and our lettuce bolted. Be prepared for some disappointments.

There are no real rules.

Plants that shouldn’t thrive do, plants that should grow with little help need a lot. Colours that shouldn’t work together look wonderful. Sometimes, you really just have to wing it. Nature will do its own thing.

The pumpkins absolutely thrived in terrible soil, so we had to move the herb patch as they were being overshadowed. Your allotment is always changing.

You will get a glut of something.

No matter how little of something you think you have planted, there will always be a glut and preserving will become your best friend. But, if you aren’t a fan of chutneys and jams, expect to have a freezer full of runner beans and eat potatoes everyday for a week.

People are generous.

We have been given a shed, paving slabs, seeds, plants, tools… and the list goes on. We are so grateful for this and we try to give back when we can. We have been blown away by peoples generosity. People want to see you succeed and will help you along the way.

You become quite thrifty with your money and materials.

For anyone who knows me, I have always been someone to hunt for a bargain. Having an allotment has increased this sense tenfold! Half dead plant for 50p? I’ll take it! All it needs is a bit of TLC and it will come back to life, but don’t buy things just because they are cheap. You have to find a balance.

There are plenty of things that we have given a second life two down at the allotment. Scrap wood became our work bench, old clothes became our allotment clothing, a tire we found became a herb planter and a bunch of pallets became a compost bin. Almost anything can be given a second life with a little imagination.

Time management.

Time is precious. You have to make the most of the time at the allotment, especially in Winter when a lot of the time the weather isn’t on your side. If you haven’t planted your seeds or prepared the ground in time then you simply won’t have a crop. I’ve found by just putting my seeds in month order and digging a little bit at a time keeps you on top of things, but don’t be lured into a false sense of security.

I could sit here for hours and talk about all the little things we have learnt, but I would say these are the factors that have seeped into our everyday lives. I am grateful for the journey this little patch of land has taken us on, here’s to the next six months and beyond.

Our happy place.

Hearty Pumpkin Soup

Here’s a simple recipe to use up some of your pumpkin glut. This will make enough for four large portions.

Ingredients:
– 900g of roughly chopped pumpkin
– one large red onion
– one parsnip
– one carrot
– one large potato
– three cloves of garlic
– 150ml of double cream
– Two vegetable or chicken stock cubes
– 1tsp cinnamon
– 1tsp nutmeg
– 1tsp paprika
– salt and pepper to taste

Place the chopped carrot, onion, garlic, parsnip and potato in a pan with some water to cover, let the vegetables soften for around 10-15 minutes. Add the pumpkin and let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes and remove from the heat. Drain the water from the pan and then add the stock mixture. For extra flavour, we added one vegetable stock cube and one chicken stock cube. Allow this to simmer for around 20-30 minutes.

Put the softened vegetables and stock mix into a blender. Blend until smooth. Follow up with the double cream and blend until you are satisfied with the consistency. Put the soup back in the pan and gently heat.

If you do not have a blender, you can use a masher. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the mixture until you are satisfied. Stir in the double cream and place back on the hob to warm through.

If you want, you can roast the pumpkin seeds for an extra crunch. Rinse the seeds in cold water and then place the seeds on a clean tea towel to take off the excess moisture. Put them in a bowl with the seasoning of your choice; we used 1tsp of cinnamon and 1tsp of paprika. Add 1tsp of olive oil and mix the seasoning and pumpkin seeds until they are coated. Put them on a baking tray at 180°c, checking every 5 minutes until they are crispy. Ours took around 15-20 minutes.

And enjoy!

I love this recipe with a chunky slice of homemade bread.

Rain, rain, go away…

With all of the rain recently, it feels like the allotment has turned into a bog! We had to wait two weeks to be able to plant the trees. There was either never a long enough break in the rain to plant them or the ground was too sodden. Luckily, we were able to plant them this week.

The runner beans have finally been taken down. I removed all of the swollen bean pods and saved the seeds. I can’t believe just how big they’ve swelled. Several people have said they have never seen beans so large, so I must be doing something right! We have left the roots in the ground, as we have heard they are nitrogen rich – but sources vary. They will rot down either way, although it is advised not to plant beans in the same area as the year before.

The bean pods are ready when they have turned brown and the beans are hard.

We have finally harvested our last crop, which was celeriac. It was a win-fail crop. We were given three (or so we thought) plugs and planted them as was, but it turned out that months later the three plugs contained several plants! Our celeriac grew, but no where near to the size it should have. It varied in size, from golf ball to small orange sized. They should be around the size of swede. I don’t think we will try growing these next year.

The first seeds for next season have finally been sown. I adore sweet peas and sowing them now will ensure an earlier bloom. They are now sat in the windowsill of the shed to ensure that they germinate. Naturally, I chose a purple colour palette.

I’ll leave you with the last of the lavender blooms. I had already picked the butterfly lavender (deep purple) a month ot so ago, so I was surprised that it grew back so quickly. The English lavender only produced two stems this year, but that’s two stems more than expected! I can only hope the plants are bursting with lavender next year.