Stock taking…

The gradual slowing down of the growing season gives me time to pause for thought.

There is lots that I could be doing – always! – but I get to the allotment and potter. Wander around, pick a few beans here and a few overripe tomatoes there.

Sit in the sun, when it is out… perhaps writing this.

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Gather jugs full of rich and complex flowers – glowing with colours to share with friends.

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My body wants me to slow down too. I feel tired earlier in the afternoon. But honestly, my work load and generally barmy life dictate otherwise. So I want to assess my energy needs too.

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I have been interested in the idea of fasting for some time. I watched some of the TV programmes about it, such as ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’ which explained a lot of the more recent research in this field. I find it fascinating and exciting.

In the past, I have taught cookery classes and run courses, including  putting more value on good, basic foods. Learning about different ways to eat and nourish our bodies. Often this includes far more traditional ways of eating than the modern, western diet that many of us are used to.

Feeding our bodies with what they really need to thrive.

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Looking at long past history, and modern science, occasional fasting in a variety of ways can help our bodies to heal and grow strong. A bit of rest and recuperation for our beleaguered digestive system.

I really want to give it a go. But I procrastinate.

( To be fair, I procrastinate about most things in life. It is my default mode. I am extremely good a being indecisive.)

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I have lived on ‘Stock’ for several days at a time before. It is the start of the GAPS diet healing protocol. I found it relatively easy and extremely soothing for my digestion.

But that was years ago and I feel much more well now. Is that what puts me off?

Trying to work it out in my mind, I am aware that I dislike feeling hungry. I know that when I haven’t eaten for a while I generally have more energy and often feel more focused and clear headed. Perhaps that is why I get up early and get a lot done – I haven’t had any food in the night!

During the day, I find feeling hungry or empty very similar to feeling anxious. Or nervous and upset. Or scared. Or all of the above. The gurgling tummy is distracting and disturbing.

In fact I believe that I often do the opposite – lots of eating when I feel anxious and panicky, in case it is hunger after all…

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So perhaps I will wait until I feel relatively calm and stable (hmm….) before I try my next fast.

In the meantime I am reading Michael Mosley’s books – the Fast Diet, and his new one, the Clever Guts Diet – to inspire me. Clear and well written books. Highly recommended.

 

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PS I am rather hoping that ‘going public’ with the idea might encourage me to do it…. if only so I can write another blog on how it went! I suspect it is more likely that I will write another blog on procrastination….

Notes to self: next year…

Try to grow ornamental climbers on separate poles to the runner beans.

….. it may look very pretty mixed together but it is  rather difficult to find any beans!

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Grow less beans per pole….. see above. ( And below.)

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Put in stronger supports for tomato plants – they get surprisingly heavy. And it is a windy site…

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Be mentally stronger  ( in every way?) – cull some self seeded sunflowers when they are small. Man cannot live on sunflowers alone…..

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Give the pumpkin plants more space?

(Like a whole allotment each ?!)

Perhaps don’t throw away the labels. At least not until you are more experienced…..

It just means you are not quite sure what to do with the crop!

Well –  some things are reasonably obvious. If it is round and orange it must be a pumpkin right? ( unless it is a red Kuri squash…)

… but does anyone have a clue what this monster is? I thought it was going to be a butternut squash – there is only one per plant – but the leaf looks more like a courgette –

Who knows! But if it keeps growing at this rate I won’t even be able to lift it let alone eat it.

Most importantly – try and make that space to slow down in. I found this card before I ever had an allotment.

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( I hope it is allowed to picture it here – apologies if not. It is a wonderful Thelwell drawing)

It epitomises a dream I have of being a woman who doesn’t give a fig what other people think and who can, at least occasionally, put herself first. One who can recognise  that a deckchair is as vital as a vegetable in this world.

So I left a big space, and I bought a bag a grass seed. The space is full of weeds again now (that has to be a good euphemism for life somehow!) and I haven’t yet saved enough for the deckchair. But at least I am thinking about it. Will that do?

Probably not.

So this autumn I promise to myself that I will sow the grass seed..

And next summer I will sit in it.

On that note – I am going to try and have a few days at the seaside with my wonderful grandchildren next week.  A few days to think about other things. And so these are the books I will be taking:

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…a roaring, lusty and beautifully written romance..the perfect distraction

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…a book that makes me cry but also gives me back a little faith in the human race..

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And the most irreverent book ever written on depression and anxiety  – which can make me laugh out loud even in the blackest moments.

Time to go for a paddle.

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Not ugly..

A gentle melancholy lurks in the wings.

The wide, high skies are here too soon…

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What is this slight lurching of the seasons? This year seems to be a bit out of kilter, as if viewed through a pier-end mirror.

Unseasonably cold springs. Long, early heatwaves. Drought in autumn. Drought in winter. A bit more drought in the spring.

Rain. Floods. HAIL. Thunder and lightning.

( Not great photographs sorry – but it was one o’clock in the morning!)

It is July. We have had mornings of 8 degrees. Stubble is appearing……

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……..and I have already driven past a ploughed field. Hailstones like marbles have shredded the big leaved plants, bruised the apples, snapped off the dahlias.

I was really trying to avoid doing a ‘weather’ blog, but there is simply too much going on to ignore it any longer!

I am so full of sympathy for all the people who grow food for a living. Who are trying to  to feed themselves – and us. I know I am extremely lucky that it is mostly ornamental plants which have been damaged. That I am able to go to a supermarket for apples to replace my hail dented fruit. That we live in a part of the world where food is abundant and luxurious and can be flown in from almost anywhere. I often take this for granted.

On the good side…whatever difficulties you may have trying to grow any plant, anywhere in the UK  – this year we can certainly, genuinely blame it on the weather.

On the bad side… I most definitely do not feel ready for it to be autumn yet. The pumpkins may be getting bigger –

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– but that is not much compensation when they are ready before the runner beans…

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Come on sun..

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Please give us all a bit more summer for our holidays..

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And the ugly… Well, I was going to post a picture of these prematurely autumnal looking leaves…

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But really? Its not that bad! Just a few leaves. I need to shake myself up, sweep away the leaves and focus on the lovely bits. Put on blinkers as I walk past the stubble fields.

After all, the dahlias are recovering – and they are not ugly,  but simply lovely.

Sheep Shock

Sitting in my shed, early on a cooler morning – enjoying the comfort of hot tea…

I noticed something odd among the cucumbers. In an earlier episode they were making a bid for freedom, off to explore the wider world…

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This time I noticed…….an egg?

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What had those over-enthusiastic cucumber  plants  been up to now?!

I leaned in closer…

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……..and closer..

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They had kidnapped Shorn the Sheep!

( I know. I do know that that is the the most unoriginal name for a sheep. Half of the sheep in the country must be called that now. I tried to come up with something better, I really did. But every time he looked at me he was Shorn the Sheep – so eventually I gave up and accepted him just as he is.)

So…

I originally thought to write this post in semi-tabloid style – you know what I mean,

‘Shock Horror Sinister Sheep Kidnapping’

( or should it be ‘Rustling’? But can a sheep rustle? Surely they are a bit too woolly?)

Then I thought about it.

There is enough sinister in this world.

And honestly, could you really call a food plant and a wooden toy sinister?

So I guess they were just having fun and got carried away…

Even so, Shorn does look a little bit shocked..

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…. and perhaps a bit chilly…

 

So we wrapped him up warm and gave him a cuddle. A  snuggle day with his friends.

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That’s all most of us need in the end.

 

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NB It as been pointed out to me that I have spelt ‘Shaun’ wrongly.

Please. Really? He only has wool left on the top of his head!!

 

 

 

The Pumpkin patch

I first saw plot 2 in September 2016. I noticed several things – the autumn sun highlighting the tall, bleached grasses, and the even taller weeds…

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The holes in the (lovely) shed…

And the beautiful pumpkins and squashes on neighbouring plots, glowing on the ground like giant orange smarties.

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( by the way, do the orange ones still taste of orange, does anyone know? )

As I started to learn about  ‘allotmenting’, one of the many interesting things has been the soil differences between plot and home.

In my damp, shady garden the squashes have never done well. Even courgettes struggle. I hoped, from what I could see, that I might have a better chance here.

I wanted to try and grow quite a lot of these plants. For a start, in my bid to provide much more of my own food, they do store well. ( If properly ‘cured’!)

And you can freeze some, especially made into soup first. Or ratatouille, in the case of the courgettes.

More importantly, for my best helper, what small boy doesn’t love a giant pumpkin?

As the plot got closer to being ‘plantable’ – ( in retrospect, maybe I rushed in a bit early. I would have liked to have done more preparation) – it also looked like a vast, empty expanse of earth.

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Pumpkins were the answer! Lets get that ground covered..

Well of course I sowed too many.

…and of course they all grew..

…and they looked so sweet in their little pots..

I decided it would be fun to throw away the labels and just wait and see what appeared.. (!!)..

I sowed pumpkins, two or three varieties, some big, some small. And squashes, butternut types as well as Turks cap ( turban?) Courgettes (Three types? Maybe four!)

And now… The Giants have arrived.

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20170712_074730They are magnificent. Also slightly intimidating, with their phenomenal growing power.

Their leaves are stunning, both architectural and held with such poise.

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And the flowers huge and glowing – the bees love them, and come out drunk on pollen!

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They like my ‘burial mounds’, heaps of goodness to grow in, as I  hoped that they would.

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( the few leftover plants which I put in the ground at plot 1 are very sad and small by comparison.)

I planted 3 (3!) in the compost heap, where less than one would have been enough.

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I looked up ‘stopping’ them. The book said pinch out the growing tips after 2 or 3 fruit have set, so you get much bigger ones. I didn’t really have the heart to do it… I may regret that.. but I also thought, I am only cooking for one, maybe many small ones would be more useful? We shall see. While  finding out about that, I read too late that I could have encouraged them to ‘climb’ more, by supplying sturdy frames. Belatedly I shoved a few hefty sticks into the compost bin. It was difficult, and very prickly, trying to tie them up!

I learnt my lesson and left the rest to roam free. (Next year I will try to put in supports a little earlier.)

And roam they do…

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I measured one of the biggest – from tip to tip, it is 4.5 metres long and still growing.

So far there are largeish round yellow fruits and small,green corrugated ones, stripey courgettes and green ones and yellow ones, and Turks cap turbans big enough to actually wear on your head.

* plus one or two which still haven’t decided what to be…

Watch this space ( or rather, lack of it ) for autumnal updates.

PS. I guess that I could have also mentioned cucumbers in this post. But they did get a lot of limelight in the ‘Tendrils’ story and I don’t want them to get big headed.

(Plus I am eating 3 cucumbers a day. Like apples. Enough with the cucumbers.)

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(Sm)all good things…

The first tomatoes of this summer.

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Sungold from the greenhouse. So sweet.

 

Real rain….

 

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( I want to put a big smiley face here because that is what I would do on my phone but  apparently computers don’t do that.)

( Or if they do, nobody has shown me how yet!!)

21 mm ! Perfect.

 

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Summer vegetables..

 

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…and cooking up a summer medley…

kale and beans, onions and courgette, basil and lemon verbena.

 

I like this warm, with a fried egg on top!

 

Or cold – I add a probiotic dressing made with pouring yoghurt or kefir, sauerkraut and its juice, some good vinegar – cider or balsamic. Salt and pepper, oregano, sometimes mint…

Mmm. Good with chopped anchovy and warm, crispy bacon. Or crunchy almonds and seeds with some soy sauce… maybe smoked mackerel?

 

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Thank goodness for so many loverly things….

 

 

 

 

Anyone for Cabbage?

This year I have ‘cheated’. I feel like a fraud.

I am not sure how frowned upon it is to buy in the plants for your plot – but that is what I have chosen to do.

In the Battle of the Brassica the pigeons won hands down. ( or should that be beaks down?) See below:

 

Pigeons 5. Cabbages Nil

To be honest my cabbage growing got off to a rough start. I love the brassica family –         ( broccoli and kale, all the cabbages, cauliflower and calabrese…) – even sprouts! And especially Purple Sprouting broccoli.

In the madness of spring sowing, the seed got sown a little late. Then they got potted on a little bit late. Then the weather was just so hot – I suspect that the little plants dried out and baked in their pots. Several times over.

In desperation, I planted them out in any corners I could find.. instead of the prepared area I had fondly imagined. And I thought I would get around to covering them up in a day or so….

Well, what a catalogue of rookie errors! And so much of it I sort of knew but ignored anyway ( mainly due to a lack of time.) I watch my brother-in-law battle pigeons  in his fields every year, and I have them at home too.

I know that brassica  like a good firm soil and not to be ‘checked’ by drought at any point. ( And yes…. the plants that didn’t get eaten by the pigeons started to try and flower at 3″ high. The poor things. )

I got out my seed box and considered re-sowing in situ. But the ground is still so terribly dry…

To the rescue, an excellent company which I have used before; organicplants.co.uk

I chose a few plants which I particularly like  – 20 plugs – and put my order into the cyber basket. Then I notice their mixed pack offers – too good to be true – at £16.00.

So I am now the proud owner of 70 (!) baby brassica plants!

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They arrive like this , so

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an early morning potting up session with tea and toast, before work…

Now watered, shaded, and super protected from the butterflies, white flies and pigeons –

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..with old muslin curtains for now!

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A planting area is prepared;

…erm… except that I need at least three times this amount of space … I haven’t addressed that issue yet..

I would like to make proper frames to protect the plants, which I can re-use for a few years. I really admired this version on my neighbours allotment..

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But I have decided to make smaller units so that I can move them around and be more flexible.

Luckily the kind heart of a friend ( who is also a carpenter!) helped me out, and the frames are in the making – 1m x 1m x 80cm high. We are using the wood from the dismantled  tepee. ( Yes, that is another story…)

 

So, fingers crossed.

Now we need rain!

Well, we already needed rain but I would like to plant out my babies into perfectly moist conditions of course…

I envisage many future plates of deliciousness. Gently steamed Purple Sprouting broccoli and dishes of stir-fried curly Kale. Pointy spring cabbages squeaking in my hands, cooked with softly fried caramel brown onions. Cauliflower cheese- mmm -or tiny sprouts with chestnuts and crispy bacon. My mouth waters just thinking of these things.

A few years ago, when I was working to heal my badly dysfunctional tummy, cabbage was the King.

Cabbage juice to increase my stomach acid – I know that sounds awful, but it worked!

Brassica for fibre to feed my sadly depleted microbiome. Sauerkraut and fermented vegetable medley’s to try and  replace some of those missing microbes….. all things which helped me to get better.

…And also took my ‘gas’ production to new and phenomenal levels. I was rocket propelled! Even my grandson was impressed….

So, for now, I will do a little ‘farty’ rain dance in honour of the cabbage, and go and buy some more pigeon netting.

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