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It’s been a while since I posted any pictures of my newly acquired allotment.  I feel that we’ve done quite well with our plot, considering that we only get down there occasionally.

This photo was taken almost a month ago – we had just finished planting five large beds of potatoes! 

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With N out playing cricket, I made a trip down there on Sunday and ended up there for about 3 hours.  The garlic, onions and shallots seem to be doing well. 

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The shallots have started to split, which is quite exciting for someone who’s never grown onions or shallots before:

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I planted some Cosmos that I have grown from seedlings, which had probably spent a couple of weeks too many in their tiny pods, so we shall have to wait and see how they fare on the allotment.  I also managed to plant out some Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants that I bought at least a month ago and have been hanging on to as it said to plant them out in May.

I spent a good while erecting a chicken wire barrier between them and potential death – I’m not sure whether bunnies like broccoli plants, but I’m not about to wait and see:

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Overall I was quite pleased with my attempt, especially as it was quite a challenge with no one to hold the other end of the roll of chicken wire:

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I do feel that having put a fence to prevent the wild rabbits from munching on my tiny vegetable plants that it will attract them.  I worry they will see it as a challenge, that because there’s a fence whatever’s behind it must be even tastier, and therefore they will try especially hard to get it.

The potatoes have finally shown their faces – I was beginning to think that maybe all five beds were lost…but fear not, they are growing:

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The fruit canes (believed to be raspberry) behind the ‘shed’ are now green and leafy with lots of flower heads appearing, which means (fingers-crossed) lots of berries – my mouth is already beginning to water at the thought of harvests yet to come:

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I burnt off at least one of the three-and-a-half-bars-of-chocolate brownies that we made for N’s birthday by hoeing a piece of ground at the bottom of the allotment.  I am undecided as to whether I will sow it with purple clover (which is a green manure) or whether I might try making it into a mini meadow. 

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I do think it’s a shame you don’t drive along country roads in this country and find odd patches of meadow brimming with colour and buzzing bees like these we’ve found in France:

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And finally, the rhubarb has shot up thick stalks topped with a foam of white flowers.  How pretty.

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Recently I have taken on an allotment.  It’s in the small town next to us, about a five minute drive away – I put my name down on for all the allotments in our town, and the next, because I was told it would be about a three year wait (!!!) for allotments here.  Back in February, when I’d given up all hope on the allotment front, I received an email from the council and went to visit a couple of allotments that had become available.  For a start, the plots were a lot larger than I imagined the would be – a full plot is 250 square metres!!  The first plot I was shown was overgrown and had been unloved for over a year – this one filled me with fear, I just didn’t have the time to sort it out.  The next looked more manageable, so I signed up and I now have an additional 125 square metres in which to grow.

my new allotment

my new allotment

There are a lot of raspberry canes at the bottom of the plot, in amongst the rubbish.

raspberry canes and rubbish

raspberry canes and rubbish

And quite a lot of rubarb.  It’s quite exciting to be given a plot that already has things growing on it.

rubarb coming through the weeds

rubarb coming through the weeds

A couple of weeks after I’d taken it on and still hadn’t been down to do any digging, I was beginning to think I’d taken on too much.  I finally managed to spend a couple of hours there on Monday last week and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

freshly dug raised bed

freshly dug raised bed

I dug over a number of the raised beds that were left by the previous owner, and put in all my garlic and shallots, and half the onions I’d bought. 

rows of garlic, shallots and onions

rows of garlic, shallots and onions

N dropped in on his way home from work on Friday afternoon to check that they hadn’t been decimated by some naughty bunnies (wild ones, not the cheeky pets this time), birds or mice.  They were fine – thank goodness! – and still sat neatly in their lines.  I’ve never grown shallots or onions before, so I shall keep you posted with how they go.  I adore all things onion-ey and couldn’t live without them in my kitchen, so I am looking forward to the day in autumn when I can (hopefully!) cook some of them.  Garlic I haven’t had much luck with in the past, so fingers-crossed I’ll do better this year.  If anybody has any garlic growing tips – please leave me a message in the comments as I would love any help I can get!

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This week has been a bit mad and I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and tell you about our lovely visit to the Potato Day at Hulme Community Garden Centre last weekend.  I am finally getting that chance. 

Hulme Community Garden Centre is what it’s name says – a community run garden centre.  It is based in Manchester and is a little oasis in what is an area of concrete and tarmac.  I have long been on their mailing list and receive regular updates about the lovely events and things that they are doing.  But I hadn’t ever been in.

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Last weekend they held a Potato Day.  Having just taken on an allotment I have plenty of space for those large vegetable plants (like potatoes), so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit the garden centre and stock up on potatoes and onion sets.

It was everything I was hoping it would be, and although looking like most gardens rather dreary at this time of year, you could see that it is a well loved green space.  There were community gardens, a green roof, ‘pot rescue’, and a small shop selling local handicrafts and artwork. 

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one of the community gardens

one of the community gardens

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the pots of 'pot rescue'

the pots of 'pot rescue'

The potatoes of ‘Potato Day’ were laid out in a large polytunnel.  A huge long table was laden down with hessian sacks and there was a fantastic display celebrating the many different varieties.  We came away with a bag of salad and maincrop potatoes, some onion and shallot sets and a small bag of garlic.  There was a good selection of fruit bushes and other lovely plants that I was tempted by, but with N there I was quite restrained.  

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There were baked potatoes (how appropriate) and chunky soup for lunch and berry cupcakes for hungry children.  I am planning on going back during the summer to see the community gardens in bloom and perhaps without N so I can be a little less restrained…

For more information on Hulme Community Garden Centre please visit their website: http://www.hulmegardencentre.org.uk.

hearty tomato, lemon and lentil soup

hearty tomato, lemon and lentil soup

This recipe should be tried by all – it’s delicious.  A fantastic winter soup that will bring a little ray of summer sunshine into these cold and dismal days.  It bursts with rich tomato and zingy lemon, but with deep earthy lentils and hearty pasta twirls.  And what’s more, it is made from store cupboard staples.  We ate large bowlfuls with grated Parmesan and a sprinkling of torn parsley.  For lunch the next day I finished up the leftovers with a pile of sunflower sprouts and a drizzle of oil.

Tomato, Lemon and Lentil Soup

Serves 2
(this is what the recipe says, but really it’s two large bowlfuls and one for lunch the next day)

1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
400g tin plum tomatoes
60g red lentils
900ml (1 1/2 pints) vegetable stock
75g fusilli
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Delicious garnishes: torn flat leaf parsley or sunflower sprouts

Heat some oil in a large saucepan and gentle fry the onion, garlic and carrot until soft.

Add the tinned tomatoes and break up a bit. Add the red lentils and stock and stir well. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until the lentils are tender.

While the soup is simmering, cook the pasta in a separate pan. This is really important – the first time I made this soup I thought I would save on washing up and bunged the dry pasta in with the soup to cook. The soup turned out more like a stew as the pasta absorbed too much of the cooking liquid.

When the soup has had its 30 minutes, use a hand blended to blitz it up a little bit so that it is a mixture or smooth and coarse textures. Add the pasta and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Make sure you taste the soup and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper until the soup bursts with flavour in your mouth.

Serve in warm bowls with plain or with a garnish of your choice.

soup with sunflower sprouts

soup with sunflower sprouts

This recipe is taken and slightly adapted from Family Food by Silvana Franco.

ingredients for a storecupboard dinner

ingredients for a storecupboard dinner

A storecupboard meal to save you.  On realising that I am 2 ounces short of enough risotto rice to make the planned (and I might add for a number of days…plenty of time to check the jar of risotto rice and buy more) Pea, Mint and Mascarpone Risotto, I had a mild panic and was then saved by a couple of items that have been lounging in the fridge since Christmas.  I like nights like these, when plans go to pot, but in turn make way for a creative meal to be cobbled together. 

Tonight’s meal has been cobbled from: potatoes (delicious golden fleshed potatoes, ashamedly I admit from the supermarket, but grown in Hertfordshire), an onion, chorizo sausage (the cooking type, not the salami), green olives (remnants of the edible Christmas gifts), and a lump of hard Spanish cheese (brought back from Madrid by my dad).

Chop up the potatoes and parboil.  Slice the onion and fry in an ovenproof dish on a medium heat.  Add some sliced chorizo.  And some finely chopped garlic.  A sprinkle of dried herbs.  Ground black pepper.

Add the drained potatoes.  Stir well.  Add half a tin of tomatoes and 200ml of chicken stock (from a cube).  Bung in the oven (180°C).

20 minutes later, remove from the oven.  Sprinkle over the green olives.  Grate on some cheese.  Bung it back in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until the cheese is all gooey and golden.  Yum.

time to lay the table

time to lay the table

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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