Allotment days!

So the second week of May shows up and is all like, “maybe you should plant some squash seeds now…” This little voice gets me every year and although I haven’t started a lot from seed myself this year (thanks family and friends for your spares!) I couldn’t ignore the siren call of the curcubit family and away we went! 

With great squash though comes a great need for space to grow them in. The plant itself can take a tiny patch but the foliage of most varieties will need a big space to trail (‘it keeps the weeds down!’ – me, every year…) but if you haven’t a lot of space you can still have squash – try this

And so we headed up to the plot for a couple of family working party days. One with Nonna and Brian and the other with my Dad & Sue and together we have managed to clear loads, strim, plant potatoes, strim again, and most importantly, get the first squash of the year in the ground. This one is my all-time favourite – the ‘Crown Prince’, all steely blue skin and bright orange flesh which roasts well and makes the best ever squash soup!

Little P has enjoyed playing in the grass and having milk and allotment naps and visiting our friendly neighbour plots. I’ve been able to do things I’ve not been able to do for ages, like use the strimmer and the rotavator which is immensely satisfying. It’s a great sense of achievement but also it just feels so good to be out in the fresh air working in the soil. 

As ever, a big thanks goes to our family for lending an extra hand and also to the chaps from the flats next door who spotted that we may have had a loose spark plug which let us get rotavating (and now I’ve remembered how to adjust the front wheel properly there’ll be no stopping us!)

A great couple of trips were enjoyed by all and both times we had three generations growing together which is what it’s all about! (I also got to have a go driving Brian’s cool allotment van which was great fun!)

Here’s a few before and after shots of our recent trip to the plot:

A before and after shot in one! Believe it or not this had already had a days work on it!
A view from the artichokes
Three Brussels and a tenderstem broccoli
Courgettes
Garlics progressing well with bulbs fattening up nicely!
Potato land

You may notice that the chicken house has moved and is looking like it needs a bit of TLC. Now we need to get ready for the girls!

Keeping it green family style,
Allotment Virgins

P.S. James and Cynthia have given us two new varieties of squash to plant this year, they are a blue guy:


And the Thelma and Louise Squash:


Right, best be off down the plot – you can never feed or water a squash too much! 

Simple Pleasures 

I’ve been very fortunate and have worked hard along with my generous and helpful family to have had a year of maternity leave with Little Pea. A new chapter awaits us in the coming weeks when I’ll be heading back to school three days a week for all of the joys and challenges of teaching (that’s another blog entirely!) I’m looking forward to rediscovering that side of myself, seeing my amazing teenagers learning about life (and if possible, French) and of course, buying some new pens!

Little Pea will enjoy some Daddy days and she’ll be having some summer adventures with the fab Steph McGee and her little buddy Elvis too. 

As change awaits us I find it helpful to anchor myself in the simple pleasures of life that provide a constant calm to dip into when things get a bit ‘fizzy’.

These include meditating, writing and reading but nowhere gives me as much joy or peace as in a big bag of compost 🤗

This month we started by making a batch of home-grown rhubarb gin. Inspired by my very cool Geordie brethren instabuddies Locally Seasonal, we got some juicy pink stalks from Little Lottie and with some sugar and leftover gin (really?!?) we made a fabulous pink batch of gin which is infusing as we speak, complete with a label that says, “Do not open until Little Pea’s birthday!” Whilst she’s enjoying some birthday treats we’ll celebrate an amazing year with a Rhubarb Gin Fizz.


In the garden, I’ve enjoyed a morning or two pottering around in the cool, early sunlight planting squash seeds and herbs.

Here are a few pictures of how the garden is getting along:

Brassicas awaiting their new home at the allotment.

Roses in bloom.
Tomatoes 🍅Kindly donated by Dad and Sue
Cornflowers from my Mother’s Day seeds ❤️
Nonna’s cosmos!
Agapanthus and Honeysuckle.
Herb patch including the happiest Lemon Thyme ever!

Finally, any avid readers of the blog will know that when it comes to growing, squash are my one true love. We’re part of a Twitter seed circle this year and hope to share some of the following:

* Black Futsu – a gnarly dude that I can’t wait to try!

* Giant Pink Banana – to match the stroller ☺️

* Blue Kuri Hokkaido – little blue onion squashes.

* Uchiki Kuri – red onion squashes – very fruity and a great alternative to meat in a curry. 

* Crown Prince – big, thick blue skin, bright orange flesh and great for soups.

Coming next : Allotment days and getting ready for the girls 🐓

Enjoying the simple things!

Allotment Virgins

First steps

Little Pea is coming up to nine months now and although I’ve still got a fair bit of mending to do (core?!?) I’m feeling stronger and fitter than ever. The first steps we’re talking about today aren’t Little Pea’s (although they are imminent!) but our first steps back onto the allotment as a family in this our glorious new growing season.

Little Pea picking daffs and tulips

We’re enjoying some gorgeous Easter weather here in Oxford at the moment so we took our opportunity to pop on some sun hats and slap on some factor 50+ and to see just what was waiting for us. A world of weeds?

A friendly neighbour chicken
Blackcurrants on their way
Little Pea’s garlics with a few dandelions (helping the bees)

We were pleasantly surprised to find that things were looking pretty good considering and that we’d been able to cash in a little bit of previous years’ efforts to find a fairly decent patch with beautiful bulbs poking their way through the grass, awesome sculptural artichokes heralding our new start and rhubarb for the masses that we could sell for a fortune by weight! (Recipes to follow as the season continues.)

What we found most importantly was a sense of self. Of us as a family. Some things have changed but some have stayed the same – like Wally’s ever useful advice and now we’re ready to get growing!

Feeling inspired!

Allotment Virgins

The Fair Maids of February 

Yesterday Little Pea’s Grandma and her fiancé Simon joined us for a trip to Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire. It was a Snowdrop Day and we were lucky enough to catch the start of a great snowdrop talk from one of the excellent Waterperry Gardeners before having a lovely stroll in the sunshine around the gardens. There was lots of early Spring interest to be seen including primulas, beautiful purple hellebores and, of course, carpets of snowdrops of many varieties.

Hellebores at Waterperry

One of my favourite facts that we learned was that the name snowdrop comes from the German Schneeglöckchen which was only given to the plant in the Middle Ages as their shape emulated the popular pearl earring style of the time – a fact that appeals to both the historian and German teacher in me!
Galanthus Atkinsii

Reflections of silver birch

What surprised us all was the amazing scent of the snowdrops, especially that of Galanthus S. Arnott which was almost like honey. Another way to love an already much loved plant.


If you too are a fan of the Fair Maids of February and are in Oxfordshire then pop on over to Waterperry for some great information on how to grow your own and myriad varieties on offer. I’ll be taking the following tips when planting my snowdrops this year:

  • Plant them soon – ‘in the green’. This allows for the plant to draw the energy from the stem when reproducing. 
  • Plant them 8cm deep and 8cm apart.
  • Add some bonemeal and sharp sand to get them going.

If the swathes of snowdrops at Waterperry were anything to go by then this is top advice!


I’ve been wanting to go to the gardens for a long time but am now strong enough for a pleasantly long walk out and about and the weather was very kind to us. Lots of extra pairs of hands made for an easy trip but I’m sure Little Pea will be back for a few more trips this Spring and Summer and the accessibility and facilities make it suitable for all. 

There was lots to do for little ones, good baby changing facilities and the ginger cake in the café was delicious!

Three generations enjoying the Truth Trail at Waterperry

We had such a beautiful day and we enjoyed being outdoors immensely. Being by plants and streams gives me a sense of peace and calm that cannot be replicated. 
Ever hopeful for Spring,
Allotment Virgins
 

19th Hampshire Potato Day – A Derry’s Field Guest Post

Little Pea’s Granda and Nana visited the 19th Hampshire Potato Day on Saturday 28th January at Whitchurch in Hampshire. Located in the Testbourne Centre this event is supported by, amongst others, the Hampshire branch of the National Vegetable Society (NVS), Hampshire Organic Gardening Group and of course the good people of Whitchurch. 

This visit came about following a recommendation from Peter Thatcher (greenhouse erector par excellence and another Derry’s Field allotment holder) who erected our new greenhouse in April last year. We certainly weren’t disappointed! With around 120+ varieties of potato on display it was very difficult to decide which ones we were taking home with us. In the end, we settled for some Red Duke of York and Salad Blue – Organic tubers. 

Despite the number of tubers on display calling this event a potato day is a little bit of a misnomer. Also available, were many varieties of onion, shallot, garlic, peas and beans etc. There was something for everybody. We couldn’t resist the Longfellow Broad Beans supplied by the Hampshire NVS and look forward to the promised bumper flavoursome crop this summer, or the Percy Pepper fun pot – with added snowdrop – that we brought home for Little Pea. 


Other exhibits included; a seed swap run by the Hampshire Organic Growing Group, grow your own cards – each greeting card contains a small packet of seeds, Heritage Seeds from Thomas Etty, local honey and our favourite – bobble hats. These were displayed on top of toilet rolls with faces painted on them!! 


All in all this was a great day out, not least because the people in attendance were as varied as the potatoes on display.

Derry’s Field 

Nonna’s Marvellous Marmalade 

A couple of weeks ago, Little Pea and I were joined by Nonna to make some marvellous marmalade!


I usually make a batch of marmalade every year but this was Nonna’s first batch and it was a triumph!

We had a lovely afternoon chatting and slicing Seville orange peel before Nonna set off for home to let the peel soak in the perfumed juices overnight and to boil up the batch the next day. 


The result was a gorgeous golden marmalade with a bittersweet tang thanks to a great recipe from the Mistress of the Marmalade – Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin.


The first preserve of the year, marmalade is relaxing to make, delicious to eat and keeps for up to two years (it usually gets devoured long before however!) I’m really pleased I got to help to make some this year and that Little Pea was happy chatting away to us in her bouncer as we shredded the orange peel. 

I’m now looking forward to the first clicks of rhubarb to make jam for ice cream but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Keep it sweet,

Allotment Virgins

The plot thickens…

…slightly less figuratively than one might like as there are a lot of winter weeds and matted grass that needs tackling as the weather warms up! 
This week a burgeoning sense of Spring has come over us. The days are getting ever so slightly longer and with every vitamin D supplement I pop I feel that we’re one step closer to vanquishing the winter darkness. 

The first daffodil of the year poking its head out of the soil.

Today is one of those days where you can almost feel Spring waiting around the corner. Many moons ago I had a rather dark period of depression and anxiety and a turning point came when (along with a truckload of CBT) I saw the first snowdrops of Spring – a sort of Patronus if you will (Potter fans?) and each year since when I see them I am filled with that same hope. 

This year’s first snowdrop in a neighbour’s garden – look closely, he’s in there!

Hope is something that we need in the world at the moment so instead of sitting around writing about it and not doing anything now is the time for action to make our own corner of the world a little lovelier. Such actions as joining the Green Party, changing to renewable energy, growing our own food and keeping the pressure on our MPs to fight against the cuts to our local children’s services are on my list – good luck with whatever is on yours 😊

Looking forward to Spring,

Allotment Virgins

Coming soon on Growing Together:

  • Marvellous Marmalade 
  • Tales from the Potato Fayre – Derry’s Field guest post.

If you plant it…

…it will grow – Wally, OMMLAA, 2010

Sorry to go all Field of Dreams/Wayne’s World on you there but this is a story of optimism. Optimism and garlic.

As the nights are drawing in, there are even less chances to get up to the allotment so we’re taking our chances where we can.

A couple of weeks ago, Chris and Little P hung out whilst I dashed up to lottie for my first dig since she arrived.

Not a massive patch, I’ll grant you. And there are some pretty mean looking weeds looking eager to encroach but it’s my little patch and I’m proud of it! 

Last Friday we took advantage of a beautiful sunny morning to head up to the allotment to plant our overwintering garlics. Perhaps a tad late, but my Dad’s allotment buddies, Romeo and Francesca reckon that mid November is (thankfully!) the right time to plant them and what they don’t know about growing garlic ain’t worth knowing! 

Our lovely neighbour Ronnie came up to help us and showed Little P round the plot whilst we planted the garlic. It was a real joy to open up the papery bulbs and plant each clove in the soil with a wish of what it might become (garlic bread, chicken and garlic soup, aioli…) 


This year we’ve gone for a couple of bulbs of ‘Early Purple Wight’. Personally I love the purple garlic, especially picked early in spring and used in lieu of an onion in a tomatoey pasta sauce. 

For all you need to know about growing your own garlic head on over to our Twitter buddy Richard Chivers’ blog Sharpen Your Spades for the low-down!

Each time we head up to OMMLAA we’ll do a little patch more, adding next year’s veg as we go. It’s great to think that what we’re planting now will become food for all three of us in the new year! 

Just as last year, our planting of bulbs in autumn brought us joy in spring, so too does the thought of the little cloves of garlic taking root on our plot tonight. And as Wally said on our first visit to OMMLAA, ‘Don’t worry too much about it, plant it, it’ll grow.’

Ever the optimists,

Allotment Virgins

A light in the darkness.

This morning, we, like many parents, were awoken at an ungodly hour by a baby who doesn’t understand the concept of the clocks going back (who does?!) and as we were up we thought we’d all get a head start on making the soup for Little P’s christening next week. We’re having a christening/fireworks party and this soup is the perfect accompaniment as things turn chilly.

Squash is my all time favourite thing to grow, cook with and eat. I love everything about them, the seeds, the myriad varieties, everything. Nothing brings as much joy on a cold winter’s day as opening a slate blue Crown Prince Squash to see the colour of sunshine inside. That, and eating them with loads of roasted garlic and sage!

And so we come to this morning’s recipe:

Ingredients 

1 large ‘Blue Banana’ squash or similar.

1 bulb garlic

Small bunch fresh sage leaves 

Olive oil

Sea Salt 

Freshly ground black pepper

Organic gluten free chicken stock 700ml approx.

Method – Oven 180• 

1. Prepare the squash. Wash the skin but leave unpeeled. Cut into large wedges and remove the seeds.


2. Place the wedges in a roasting tray. Season with the salt and pepper. Dress in olive oil and scatter with unpeeled garlic cloves.

3. Roast at 180• for 45 minutes or until the squash is soft all the way through.

4. Leave to cool, then scoop out the squash flesh straight into a blender. Peel and add five of the roasted garlic cloves.

5. Add finely chopped sage leaves, to taste and as much stock as you need to cover the squash and blend, adding a little stock as required to reach your desired thickness. 

6. Reheat when ready to eat. Freezes v. well too. Great with a grate of gruyère. Enjoy on a cold autumn day, preferably at a fireworks christening party! 

Squash soup, packed and ready for Saturday.

This a simple recipe but one of the great joys of the growing year. Autumn is my favourite season. Of course, we have the bounty of the year’s harvest, but what I like best is that as things turn darker and colder, we do whatever we can to bring in the warmth and light.


Keep it cosy,

Allotment Virgins

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas…

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys Christmas strictly on 24-25 December then perhaps this is not the blog post for you! 

In our house, Christmas preparations come with the harvest and this year, the harvests of others. We’ve been fortunate enough to share in some great veg, including squash from our neighbours and allotment buddies Chris and Ronnie, and the last of the year’s courgettes from Dad and Sue. And so to get the scent of Christmas wafting up the street, Little P and I set out to make some Glutney – a River Cottage harvest chutney with cloves and mace and lots of other festive spices. 

Apples and cyder vinegar give a lovely fruity tang to this chutney.

Once upon a time before I began teaching I had a little market stall and sold jams and chutneys around Oxfordshire, (I’m even designated as a Market Trader on our marriage certificate 😊) and ever since I’ve tried to keep making preserves with the produce of the season. It was great to get the Maslin pan back out for this chutney as I love the ceremony of preparing all of the ingredients (1cm dice for this chutney) measuring the liquids, working with sugar which is at times the cruellest of mistresses, and to be rewarded after a few hours of bubbling and brewing with a rich chutney which allows you to drag a spoon across the bottom of the pan and creates a path for a few seconds. 

Despite the house smelling like ‘the inside of a Christmas pickled onion’ for a couple of days, the chutney was a success. It’s rich and chunky and is crying out for a tangy cheddar, some German rye bread and a half of West Berkshire Breweries ‘Dr Hexter’s Wedding Ale’ or similar – Christmas Eve supper anyone?
Keep it festive,

Allotment Virgins