Allotment blog: Our first harvest

30 Jun 2013 @ 10.15 pm
| Food & drink
A splendid display of lupins from a neighbouring allotment. Photographs: Apples For Eggs

More than halfway through the year, and the allotment is starting to produce a harvest – no thanks to the weather, as Sue Jewitt and Vicky Swift explain

So here we are, mid-way through 2013, officially past midsummer and finally the days are long, and the sun is periodically making an appearance.

But before we proceed with this months thoughts a quick note on midsummer. Pagan in origin, midsummer celebrates the longest day of the year and is marked in some countries by the lighting of bonfires and gathering of golden coloured midsummer plants. It’s an especially important festival in Scandinavia, Finland and the Baltic and in many places it’s considered to bring good health and fortune to leap over a communal bonfire.

Now to the allotment which is once again humming with life as vegetables grow and fruits ripen. But what happens at this crucial time if you happen to go away? We had just this dilemma over the Whit half term holidays.

The seedlings were coming on a treat – sweetcorn stretching upwards, courgettes and squash becoming sturdier in our little grow-house in the yard, kale and fennel slow to get going. Rather than ask someone to come to the house on a daily basis to water them, we took a calculated risk and planted courgettes, squash and sweetcorn out.

It had been raining regularly, the ground was moist and the chances of them getting a further watering or two in the week were good. We asked our neighbour at the site to throw some water on when she was down, but largely just crossed our fingers for rain. Cut to: one week later – Britain had been drenched in sunshine, not rain, and the seedlings, sadly, were decimated.

The borage is doing a great job attracting the bees
Some of the harvest so far

The kale and fennel were pretty much sacrificed at home in their trays – no surprise to find them shriveled. But the rest! From 12 sweetcorn we were down to five, barely surviving, all the courgettes were dead, and just two brave little squash plants survived.

So what to do? With chin up and cash in hand, we turned to the local nursery and spent £2.99 on eight new sweetcorn plants. The courgette shaped hole in our planting plans will probably be similarly filled – it’s just too late to start again from seed.

The kale and fennel probably can be started again, but to be honest, the beds are full – they were “extras” that would’ve been squeezed in somewhere, but their loss isn’t fundamental. A courgette-free allotment, however, would be pretty unthinkable, so garden centre, here we come, any purist notions of raising everything from seed abandoned!


Early harvest

And now as we near the end of June we’ve started to harvest small amounts of produce – a handful of redcurrants, a few strawberries, pak choi, lettuce and our first Charlottes! All’s looking good!

Alongside the vegetable crops we’ve been enjoying splashes of colour from the flower beds – it started with the light pink of the peonies at the end of May followed by an amazing display of lupins on a neighbouring allotment at the beginning of June and our borage which started flowering in May and is still going strong and doing a grand job attracting the bees.

And in abundance this year is sage! Used in ancient times to ward off evil spirits and attributed with healing properties sage has a number of uses. You can freeze fresh sage leaves by washing and patting dry and packing loosely in freezer bags, they can be frozen for up to a year. Also great in an omelette, superb with savoury apple dishes, butternut squash and sage tea for sore throats! 


Recipe – sage and cheddar scones

At our first York food swap one of our regular swappers brought bunches of fresh sage to swap along with some tasty sage scones and it’s with these in mind we’ve been baking some of Hugh Fearnley -Whittingstall’s sage and cheddar scones.

300g self-raising flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp English mustard powder
½ sp salt
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
110g chilled unsalted butter
3tbsp finely shredded sage
120g strong cheddar, plus 30g more for the top, coarsely grated
200ml buttermilk plus a little for brushing

Heat the oven to 200C/400/gas mark 6. Sift the flour, baking powder, mustard powder, salt, sugar, and black pepper into a mixing bowl.

Chop the butter in to small cubes and add to the bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.

Tip in the sage and grated cheese and stir in well. Using a knife, stir in the buttermilk until you have a slightly sticky dough.

Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and press it gently into a round about 2cm thick. Dip a 5-6cm pastry cutter in flour and use to cut out as many scones from the dough as possible. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough.

Line a non-stick baking sheet with greaseproof paper or sprinkle lightly with flour and arrange the scones on it. Brush the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake until golden brown and puffed up – about 12-15 minutes. Serve warm with butter.



Saturday, June 30, 10am to 5.30pm: Wild food walk with Rural Harvest Crafts. Basket weaving and food walk

Saturday, July 13: Apples for Eggs food swap. More details on the Apples For Eggs website