Monday March 28th 2011, 5:32 pm

digging the allotment for the first time October 2009

I am writing this post to cheer myself up. I’ve been busy knocking my allotment into shape for the growing season ahead and I think I’ve overdone it. Somehow no matter how much I dig and how many hours I spend trying to get through the jobs on the list, they just never get all ticked off. I’m the same with decorating the house. It is only once the job is completed that I feel the slightest glimmer of hope. So with still loads to do I decided to look back to see how far the plot has come since I first wrote about it here on my blog in October 2009. Looking at my original ‘before’ pics is helping me recharge so I can get out there some more.

the allotment March 2011

I set out to plant a garden specifically with preserving in mind, so the bones of the plot are my fruit bushes; blackcurrants, gooseberries, white, pink and red currants, strawberries in abundance and rhubarb even more abundant. There’s a row of blueberries as well as raspberries and angelica, a mirabelle plum tree and an old English greengage. So the second season begins on an optimistic note even though I am momentarily gloom and doomy.

digging the allotment for the first time October 2009

Thing is there is still a whole lot needs to be done. I’ve ordered asparagus crowns so their patch needs to be well and truly weeded and ready when they arrive in the next few weeks. The stone wall that bounds two sides of the plot has been cleared of ivy and I plan to plant along it, with some espaliered fruit trees, like apricot, fig and cherry along the top edge, where the most sun reaches. The ground along the wall is full of the roots of the ivy, nettles, ferns, ground elder and brambles, so the clearing out involved is quite exhausting and I’m impatient for it to be sorted so I can plant this season. That is the part of gardening that does my head in, learning to be patient and accepting the limitations that time allows.

allotment March 2011

I’m quite pleased with the layout of the plot. The beds are all rectangles and squares made up as I went along, so the look is quite orderly but asymmetrical at the same time. I bought a job lot of old scaffolding planks last year intending to use them to edge the beds but I’m liking them laid down to form the paths between the beds with some hessian coffee sacks also covering some of the paths like fitted carpet. They’ve been pegged down with bent wire pins and will last for a year, hopefully longer, but in the meantime give the plot a nice tidy look and keep the weeds away. We have problems with rabbits and pheasants on the site, so you have to be on the defensive whenever anything is planted. Happily, there are fewer slugs and snails than I’ve ever experienced before.

the rhubarb is sending up flowers

With April upon us, it is now time to plant some seeds to fill in the gaps around the fruit. I’ve got some straightneck squashes to sow, that I loved in bread and butter pickle last year, dill for more pickling and borlotti beans for drying. My garlic for pickling scapes is growing well and hopefully the rabbits won’t take a shine to it.
The rhubarb is doing splendidly. I’ve harvested a few stalks already and will have more in the weeks ahead even though I need to go easy on the cropping as this is still early days. I think next year it will come into its own and again some patience is called for. Today I noticed there were a few flower heads starting to form, so it was necessary to cut them off so the plants don’t waste their energy needlessly.

cutting off the rhubarb flowers

I have high hopes for the strawberries planted last year. Fingers crossed they will do well this year and the preserving pan will be ready and waiting when they do (and some will be consumed fresh as well of course). I haven’t finished weeding the second strawberry patch yet and already have plenty of little plantlets potted up ready for a new home in my garden. Well, I’m feeling cheerier already. I’d best get out there and continue with the digging.

little plants dug up when weeding the strawberry bed

Tuesday March 01st 2011, 1:39 pm

the last of the rhubarb, blueberry and lime jam

Last week I posted on the Guardian Organic Allotment blog and, though seemingly out of season berry-wise, wrote about planting blueberry bushes for jam. The recipe I included for rhubarb, blueberry and lime jam is a real favourite of mine, so to keep things in order and so’s regular readers don’t miss the recipe, I’m posting it here as well.
I only ever have small quantities of blueberries to play with but this recipe makes a little go a long way when used in combination with rhubarb and they add such a great colour to the jam. I buy up reduced priced punnets at the supermarket when I find them for a snip, up to their use by dates but still nice and fresh, then I freeze them to add to muffins, pancakes and jam. In summers to come, I hope to have a plentiful supply of my own berries, from the bushes I’ve just planted on my allotment. I’d much rather use ingredients that come from down the road rather than the other side of the planet. Well that’s the idea anyways.

rhubarb, blueberry and lime jam


Makes 1.25kg (2 3/4lbs)

600g (1lb 6oz) rhubarb
300g (3/4 lb) blueberries
2 limes, the zest and juice
700g (1lb 8oz) sugar

Wash rhubarb, top and tail then chop into evenly sized pieces (I usually run a knife down the middle of the stalks then chop into roughly 1cm sized pieces). Place in a glass bowl and pour the sugar over the top. Cover with a plate or cling film and leave overnight, by which time the sugar will have soaked up the juice from the rhubarb.
Place the grated lime zest and blueberries in a pan, adding 3 Tblsp of lime juice. Heat gently and simmer for 15 minutes with the lid on, until the berries are cooked and surrounded by juice.
Prepare your canning bath and jars if planning to hot water process your jam, or put clean jars and lids in a cool oven for 20 minutes to heat and sterilise them.
Pour the rhubarb and sugar into a jam pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the blueberries and lime, turn up the heat and cook at a rolling boil until setting point is reached (a small dollop of the syrup on a cold plate will readily form a skin when left to cool slightly). It took me 10 minutes to achieve this and I advise that you keep an eye on it and give the occasional stir whilst it cooks as the mixture is apt to burn if you’re not careful. Skim if necessary. Pour into hot sterilised jars, put a circle of waxed paper on the surface of each one and seal. Alternatively, pour into hot canning jars leaving the correct headroom for your type of jars, seal and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.
This jam has a nice soft set that suits me fine. If you prefer your jam to ‘cut’ rather than dollop substitute all or half of the sugar with preserving sugar that includes added pectin.