DECEMBER 2020 – GROW YOUR OWN, THE ESSENTIAL FIRST STEP

DECEMBER 2020 – GROW YOUR OWN, THE ESSENTIAL FIRST STEP

At the Allotment |

Vegetables are a lot more “hungry” and demanding of soil than a domestic garden and building a soil is the essential first step to growing your own.  As I have mentioned in previous posts I am currently building my soil and to do it I am using whatever I have at my disposal.

I was too late this year to consider Green Manure.  This needs to be planted six weeks before the first frost so that means August in these parts – a note for my diary next August.  I tried Green Manures when I very first started an allotment plot.  I remember it being quite difficult to dig in and only discovered much later that it helps if you cut it up first.  What I was doing, however, in August just gone, was taking root cuttings of Comfrey and increasing my stock of it on the plot plus introducing it into my own garden.  A fellow plotholder has had great success by lining planting pits with Comfrey leaves and stems.  It was she reminded me several months ago of Comfrey (Symphytum) tea, which again I used in early days and found extremely effective.  It is now important to be as organic as possible and I find myself resurrecting things I had almost forgotten.  Warning!  It’s a pretty massive task to gather enough organic matter to “feed” a plot without the expense of buying in soil.  Sizeable beds of Comfrey and Green Manure can help fill the gaps.

Green manure, sometimes called a Cover Crop, can be grown in two different ways: one in which the green manure crop and the main crop are cultivated in the same plot in different seasons, and another in which the green manure crop is cultivated in a different place and transported to the main crop plot.  The first method will, of course, need some planning if it isn’t to clash with winter crops and is suitable if you have plenty of space and aren’t growing much over winter.  Green Manure could be another of the methods I shall use in future to help build my soil.

Brandling worms, earthworms and soil quality

Both of these, thankfully, are in my growing environments.  For many  years I have wondered why when making compost the red wrigglers, the brandlings, would suddenly appear.  I didn’t put them there and they simply arrived in my collected kitchen waste.

These worms apparently usually die in cold weather leaving behind their eggs in the soil which will spring into action in the right conditions – hence their appearance as if by magic.  Brandlings are the surface level decomposing agents, beneficial to the environment because their worm castings are an organic fertilizer returning natural minerals back to the ecosystem and preferable to man-made fertilizers.    They are ideal for composting bins.  So, the areas where my soil is improved is due at least in part to the cardboard, which decomposes very rapidly, and the red wrigglers who once the material is gone also seem to disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Earthworms are the deep burrowers carrying the surface level dead organic matter down into the soil.  They prefer to stay below the surface and soil quality is improved also by their castings and their aeration of soil structure as they tunnel around.  Because they are not surface collectors they are unsuitable for composting and compost heaps need turning to introduce them to new material.

House Plants

Christmas cactus now in flower with my latest house plant a Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)
Christmas cactus now in flower with my latest house plant a Sago palm (Cycas revoluta)

I do enjoy a trip to a Garden Centre and last month I took one of these trips not to buy anything in particular but to browse.  I was pleased to get some multi coloured carrot seeds which I had wanted for the coming season when a lady whizzed by holding a delightful small palm that I just had to have.  It was love at first sight.  She was good enough to show me in which section in  a garden centre the size of a small country to get it and off I went.  I was lucky, it was the last of what turned out to be a Sago palm.  (Remember Sago pudding?)

Being very slow growing makes it ideal for a house plant but, do your research, as it has strong and definite needs which affect its care.  It is sub-tropical and requires an unusual amount of humidity.  It doesn’t care for dark locations but I’m afraid I fell for it anyway.  It has had much TLC and seems to be thriving.

Low Light Solutions

You may remember in last month’s post I focused on house plants that can cope with low light since not all of us have perfect house plant conditions in our homes.

Off the top of my head three solutions occurred to this problem occurred –

  • if your room can accommodate them make the most of reflected light by strategically placed mirrors near the plants
  • 1970s hanging rope planters are enjoying a revival and and a second row of plants could be suspended from the ceiling in the light areas above the existing plants on display.  Chatting to someone about this she suggested, having just learned how, that she could crochet her own plant holders.  Sounds like a plan.
  • There are lists of plants on the internet suitable for indoors in the UK that actually prefer low light levels.  There is a wide collection of plants lists on Google.  See, for example –

https://www.housebeautiful.com/lifestyle/gardening/g2628/low-light-houseplants/

See also –

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/mar/15/indoor-gardening-guide-making-macrame-hanging-baskets

Miscanthus waving in the wind in the park at dusk. Taken on my daily walk.
Miscanthus waving in the wind in the park at dusk. Taken on my daily walk.

Quince Paste/Membrillo

One of the plotholders at the allotment had a lot of Quince windfalls and was kind enough to let me take some.  I staggered home with my weighty prize and remembered that the last time I made both quince jelly and Membrillo I thought both pleasant but not much more.  Yet everything I had read waxed lyrical about the floral flavour with words like delicious, fabuluous taste etc etc.

When I peeled my latest set of fruits all but one were bruised and brown inside.  Made a quick change to Plan B and thought I’d avoid the jelly (supposed to be pale pink in colour and wouldn’t accommodate bruising) and just tackle the Membrillo which,  being deep red in colour would not be spoiled by the bruising.

Who knows, maybe it was this bruising, or maybe the different quality of quince but as soon as I started boiling the fruits the perfume was amazing.  Or maybe I am improving my preserves with experience now that I am in my second year.  I don’t think the two-for-one Plan A of making quince jelly followed by using what’s left afterwards to make the paste is the best idea for flavour and won’t repeat it.  I felt the fruit paste aspect was the most important for me and made that.

Plum paste - made from 2kg plums.
Plum paste – made from 2kg plums.

Fruit Pastes/Cheeses

I first became interested in fruit pastes, a long abandoned culinary art in this country, some time ago.  See my post of December 2018 –

December 2018 | Gardening – more than one way of doing things . . .

Last month, having decided I’d like a change from jam, I turned the 2kg of plums I had frozen into a fruit paste – some call it Plumbrillo – instead.  Successful and has a good flavour which does take a couple of weeks to develop.  I enjoyed some with a tangy Feta cheese.

The 2kg plums made the jelly rectangle you see pictured above – about 30cm in length.  Fruit pastes keep for some weeks in the fridge but indefinitely if you freeze them.  I cut it into squares and lined plastic boxes with baking parchment before freezing.

I am currently working my way through the entire yield of my medlar tree to turn it into medlar cheese (aka medlar paste).  This most horribly messy job seems to me to be the best use of the fruits and makes a great fruit paste for eating with cheese or meat and which will be a good addition to the Christmas table.  The mucky work involved can be done in stages as and when the fruits become suitably soft – which doesn’t happen all at once and I freeze the raw pulp in between times.

 

3 kg, roughly half my Medlar tree yield
3 kg, roughly half my Medlar tree yield

This has been a difficult year and I wish you, and me, a better time next year.  Silver lining – a positive thing to emerge during this odd time is that we are all becoming increasingly appreciative of our green spaces.  Hooray!  Happy Gardening from Rosanna.

SEASONS GREETINGS TO ALL READERS FROM ROSANNA – WISHING YOU A SAFE AND HAPPY 2021

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