Friday, 9 August 2013

August on the allotment

The harvest in August

Walking through the gate to the allotments I exchange hard tarmac for soft, yielding grass; honking car horns for the chirping of fledging birds; choking exhausts fumes for sweet honeysuckle.  Suddenly a rush of mint floods the senses as escapees from a nearby plot are crushed under foot.  Thank goodness for sloppy allotmenteers, I say.

The glorious spires of white, pink and purple foxgloves on my neighbour's plot have given way to glowing sunflowers and Californian poppies.  The desiccated heads of parsnip flowers sway in the lightest breeze, scattering their featherlight seeds far and wide.  The starchy roots from which they grew remain in the ground - planted a year ago and forgotten in winter's final frost.

Autumn Raspberries 'Bliss'

Winter seems a distant memory when the thermometer is pushing 30C.  Full sun is wonderful for ripening fruit but the picking can get distinctly sticky.  Harvesting takes on a quick "grab and run" routine with a guilty snatch at a few weeds in passing.  Thankfully, the mercury has now dropped and early morning visits to the allotment have that dreamy quality which comes with mid-summer harvesting.

Picking the summer raspberries becomes less urgent. The drooping canes are almost exhausted, having only a thin crop of ripe fruit and browning leaves.  Close by, the autumn raspberries have taken over, standing straight and lush green.  What they lack in quantity of fruit they make up for in its texture and taste.  Plump and juicy and less seedy than the summer crop, today the pickings are almost equal.


I carefully untie the fleece covers from my two precious blackcurrant bushes.  This is their third year of growth and the first time I've managed to keep the crop to myself.  Blackbirds love blackcurrants as much as I do. They'll get their share - but not just yet.  There are compotes, jams and cordials to make first, so the covers go back on.  The gooseberry bush alongside has almost given its all.  Next week I'll strip it of any remaining fruits.

Time for a job I hate - crawling amongst the brassicas, planted to over-winter, looking for caterpillars to squish.  No matter what I do to protect the plants, Cabbage White butterflies will find a way to get in and lay their eggs on the underside of leaves.  There they are.  Three pairs of fluttering white wings, their job done, desperately trying to escape.  I release them and crawl on hands and knees to examine the plants which really shouldn't be as far on as they are at this time of year.  Already I can harvest black cabbage.  The damage is clear and it doesn't take long to locate the fat green caterpillars munching their happy way from leaf to delicious leaf.  Squish!

Borlotti beans

This is shaping up to be my best year for borlotti beans.  A dense canopy of vibrant green leaves hides a pretty, heavy load of red-streaked pods.  Fat with beans, when ready, they will be creamy and flecked with hues of pink through to burgundy.  The marigolds that  self-seeded all around the wigwams have not only looked glorious but seem to have done a good job in attracting friendly insects and distracting pests.

Not everything is performing to order  this year, though.  The courgette plants look healthy but growth is agonisingly slow.  An abundance of flowers, albeit more males than females, promises fruit. Needless to say my neighbour's courgette plants are  producing a fantastic crop. I'll wait until the next visit before taking any of the male flowers from my plants for the kitchen. The Butternut squash and Uchiri Kuri pumpkin plants are at least forming fruits.  I'll be on slug watch for a few weeks now.

The 'nectar bar' has been in full and glorious bloom for several weeks now.  It's difficult to give over precious productive earth to flowers but they're irresistible and I love to see the beds abuzz with honey bees.  The blooms serve to confuse crop-damaging insects, too.  I fear I'm becoming almost as addicted to flowers as my near neighbour whose plot is almost entirely devoted to them.

Nectar bar in August
Cornflower and Marigold

A few beetroots, some Long Red Florence onions, a bouquet of rainbow chard and it's time to leave.  Back across the mint-strewn path to the exhaust-choked street, until the next time.

Recipes you might like:

Raspberry Cordial

Raspberry & Rose Sponge Cake

A bowl of warm raspberries ...

Raspberry conserve

Borlotti Bean Bruschetta

Courgette Soup

Gooseberry Polenta Cake

Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub

Gooseberry Meringue Pie

First flush and a taste for Tortilla