Friday 23 October 2020

Nature notes - Autumn 2020

 We've had some lovely nature encounters this year and this past month or so has been no exception. Last month we had a Common Darter Dragonfly in the allotment sunning itself on the fence for instance, and at the weekend we had a kind of Mayfly inspecting the bug house on the same fence. 

In the back yard one morning last week this White Lipped Banded Snail (Cepaea hortensis) was very slowly working its way up the metal gate, still dripping from being in the foliage below. 

Also in the yard we have a lot of Garden Spiders (Araneus diadematus), one of which has made its home in an old water butt that we are turning into a planter for a minature apple tree!

However, the most interesting sightings in this past few weeks have been away from the house and the allotment. In Collingham, a village about fifty minutes cycle ride away (at my speed anyway!) a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) became a local celebrity for two weeks as it pottered around the cricket pitch there, even being in local and national media. 

Last week, whilst out cycling near Catterton near Tadcaster there were eight Whooper Swans (Cygnus Cygnus) in a stubble field and they were also there last weekend too. These birds are winter visitors, mainly from Iceland and usually I have only ever seen them flying over on migration here, in fact a flock flew north early in March straight over the house. 

These birds have much more yellow on their beaks than such as the Mute Swan which is a resident bird and are bigger than the much rarer Bewick's Swan that also comes to the UK in winter. They are also noisy in flight. 

You can read about when we saw Whooper Swans in Iceland here 

Thursday 22 October 2020

Autumn in the Allotment - Part 2

 One thing which has been a nice problem to have in the past few weeks is what to do with all the pears that we have harvested, especially as they seem to all want to ripen at once! (there's only so many pears I can eat!)

So, with the help of one of my go-to preserving books (The Preserving Book  - DK/Soil Association) I have been bottling pears for use in the new year after the remaining stored ones have been eaten. 

The pears were washed and peeled and chopped up and put into sterilised jars. A thick sugar solution was boiled up to pour into the jars and then the jars were heat treated in the oven. 

We've also been making Kimchi using this recipe which appears to be relatively foolproof - though I was rather surprised to get a decent result on the first time I made it! Whilst it is fine to keep the finished kimchi in the fridge for two or three weeks, making sure that the ingredients are fully submerged, we've found that boiling the mixture up and putting in sterilised jars means a much longer shelf life although the intensive flavour does reduce quite a bit by doing so. 

It will be soon time to make another batch as there's three more cabbages ready in the allotment now!
In the same patch in the allotment the very last sprigs of summer broccoli are available but then there will be a gap in this until the purple sprouting broccoli is available in the new year. A handful of beetroot and the last of the spinach beet are also available to pick. Next year I am going to try a different variety of beetroot as the variety Boltardy haven't done that well for a couple of years to be honest so I am going to maybe try Cylindra which the plotholder of a neighbouring allotment has been growing successfully this year. The "Italian" varieties don't work very well in our allotment at all. 

It will soon be time to make pumpkin/squash chutney. The method I use is documented here  but this year I won't be able to go to my parents' house to use my mum's big jam pan - this pan did belong to her mother and was saved from being turned into raw material for the war effort! I do two different chutneys, one ginger and one spicy, with to be honest a general guesstimate of the spices required but it all turns out fine every year. The spicy one is great with a mature cheddar. I also sometimes make a courgette and onion chutney, in fact I am currently eating a jar from 2017 which again has a bit of a kick to it and has gone well with Davidstow Cheddar. I made rhubarb compote earlier in the year. 

Finally, I bought a new English Lavender bush for the allotment this year as the old one looked as if it had reached the end of its useful life (it has since regenerated itself aftera thorough pruning back!) and whilst the new one is still small, I've seen bees on it all summer and into autumn, the other day there was some kind of carder bee for instance. I also have a couple of lavender plants for the yard which are in pots right now, one of which was looking very sorry for itself outside a small Sainsbury's supermarket during some hot weather but has revived happily in the back yard!

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Autumn in the Allotment - Part 1

One aim we have had in the allotment is that we can always find something to pick from the allotment at whatever time of year, or failing that, there is something in our stores that came from the allotment. All of the onions have been in store for a month or two now, and just recently we have been picking the borlotti and ying yang beans that have been drying on the plants. This year, we did get a little mixed up with these and found that we had planted some climbing ones on open ground and some non-climbing ones under the swing frame! We constructed some more frameworks from hazel sticks from our pruning of the hazelnut tree early in the year.

I have though now made sure that I know which beans are which in the bedroom where I have them laid out on newspaper for drying before we pod them and put into jars. The beans are aesthetically pleasing! There's still a few more yet to pick and I am just waiting for a few more dry days to finish the job. We ate some with tortillas at the weekend, also using home grown onions, a handful of home grown tomatoes supplanted by a can and a home grown clilli pepper, among other bought in ingredients. 

The little pot Meyer lemon tree that has found freedom from scale insect - now it is in the allotment - is flourishing. There are at least three lemons on it and there's some more flowers but it probably is too late for those to be pollinated. As you can see in the photo, we have started to protect it against the cold and shortly I think it will be wrapped up for the winter. I have also put some straw into the pot, again for protection against the cold but also as a mulch to stop weeds. The lemon is against the back fence which has a hedge that the holder of the neighbouring plot has planted and also is south facing, so it should be fine for the winter as it was last year. 

The strawberry patch around the lemon has now been fully weeded, but again there's a few strawberries with flowers! We are pretty sure they are standard strawberries rather then remontant ones! 

The minipop sweetcorn harvest has come to an end now, but we have at several bags now in the freezer. We use these in stir fry dishes and at around £1 for about a dozen in the supermarket, shipped or flown in from south east Asia, this is a very economical and indeed emission reducing crop to grow in the allotment. We start them off inside in toilet roll tubes folded over at the base, filled with compost and then warmed and sterilised with boiling water, allowed to cool a bit and then the individual corns are put in. Once big enough in May they go into the allotment with a mesh over to protect them, and then by late August/September they are giving three or sometimes four cobs per plant. 

This is the top end section of the allotment which this year has been used for onions and garlic (now harvested), leeks (in the rear central area, parsnips (left hand side) and carrots in the tyre stacks nearest the camera. We've had quite a lot of carrots already and so the remaining ones have been given a break for a few weeks to grow bigger and also protected from any frost in the next few weeks with straw. The tyre stacks also keep the soil warmer and we have in the past harvested carrots right through winter. 

The nasturtiums and calendula are still providing food for the bees and other pollinators that are still active, and - although the plants can get very enthusiastic in their bid for world domination - provide good ground cover. Even when they have been hit by the first severe frosts and die off the plants rot down as a mulch during the winter