The last working party of 2019 at the Westbrooke plot

It had been raining for most of the week, and the forecast for the first day of November wasn’t encouraging, but 6 of us met at the plot at the corner of Lenten Street and Westbrooke Road and we were lucky. The rain held off until we were leaving.

Our main task was a change of direction for cultivating a narrow bed along the side of the path. Originally we grew potatoes there – but they were disappointingly small and scarce. Then we tried dwarf beans, with lots of manure to encourage them – too dry. Lettuces and other salad crops didn’t thrive either. One problem is the number of fibrous roots which grow into our plot from a nearby sycamore tree, which probably impoverishes the soil and dries it out.

So now we have planted it with a collection of little plants all of which are insect-friendly, gathered as seedlings from our gardens. They are tough, semi-wild in some cases, and we hope they will cope with this challenging habitat. With crocus,  grape hyacinths, primroses and the native small yellow wallflower flowering from March onwards, and sedum, scabious, perennial geranium and purple toadflax in flower in the autumn there should be something to attract insects for much of the year. I am calling it our insect corridor; I’ll report back on its success.

Meanwhile, the other urgent job was to repair the leaking tap at the bottom of the water butt. And that involved disappearing into it!

Some foxgloves planted on the shady bank at the top of the plot, and the herbs given a tidy up and a haircut, completed our afternoon. And I think we all felt better for the time spent there.

Community gardening is satisfying and fun. Let us know if you’d like to join us.

Courgette and Garlic Soup

Ingredients

  • 60ml/2fl oz extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • Handful basil leaves (preferably Italian), chopped
  • Sea salt and ground white pepper, to taste
  • 1kg/2¼lb green courgettes, cut lengthways, into quarters, then into 1cm/½in slices
  • 750ml/1¼ pint stock
  • 60ml/2fl oz single cream
  • Handful flatleaf parsley, chopped
  • 50g/2oz freshly grated parmesan, plus extra to serve

To serve:

  • Crusty bread
  • Green salad
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat.

Cook the garlic, basil, salt and courgette slowly for 10 minutes, or until the courgettes are lightly browned and softened.

Add white pepper to taste, then pour in the stock and simmer for 8 minutes, uncovered. Remove from the heat.

Put three-quarters of the soup mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth.

Return the mixture to the pan and stir in the cream, parsley and parmesan.

To serve, ladle the soup into a bowl and season to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Sprinkle over more parmesan to taste. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad.

Seedling Swap 2019

Saturday 11 May saw the annual seedling swap at the craft market in Cross and Pillory. We run this event each year and rely very much on locals and regulars to supply a wide variety of interesting  vegetable, herbs and flower seedlings to fill the stall. We had a busy time with both customers coming to swap seedlings with those on the stall, or to take away small plants for a donation.  We did make slightly more on donations than the last two years so thank you for your generosity if you participated.  If not please visit us next year. See our posters around the town or check out our newsletter for event timings.

Seedling swap stall with a good selection of lovely plants

The weather was kind on the day and we had plenty of interest in our stall. We always have plenty of runner bean plants, tomatoes plants and a selection of peppers and courgettes, and herbs including parsley, thyme, rosemary and many others. We had plenty of flowering plants too including geraniums and sweet peas. The stall changes in content as customers come and go. Some people come with the surplus seedlings they’ve grown, having attended the seed swap earlier in the year. The system is the same and there were some seed packets available at the seedling swap too.  Donations are used to help with plants, compost raised beds and the like for the plots and planters.

Grow Alton

On a warm sunny Saturday in late March we came together with the Alton Horticultural Society and the Alton Allotments Association for the first time to run a joint event to inspire Altonians to ‘Grow Alton’.

The first sight to grab visitors’ attention was an impressive array of second hand tools ranged against the Assembly Rooms garden wall, most of which had found new homes by the end of the afternoon. Some people took their new possession over to the stall opposite to be sharpened. Gardeners had also brought their own from home – keeping Hilary busy all day.

Tool sharpening

People got their hands into the dirt sowing some sunflower seeds, or making a grass seed head. In the hall the smell of baking wafted through the air as children made cheese and herb scones – pronounced delicious and incredibly easy.

Scone making

At our stand we talked to people about getting involved in our plots and planters around the town, and even starting new ones in their own neighbourhoods, continuing conversations over a cup of tea or coffee.

Barbara shared her knowledge on all things composting and Ellis shared tips on ways to cut down on watering in the garden.  More information and advice was on offer in the wide variety of second hand books and magazines to be picked up. Gardeners selected new seed varieties to try from the mini ‘Seed Swap’.

Visitors left inspired for the new growing season and with new, or renewed, knowledge of the many growing and gardening activities and groups in their community.

Visitors at one of the stands

Orchard in a heat wave

After 6 weeks without rain, it was with some trepidation that I went to check on the fruit trees on Jubilee field (by the Sports Centre.) We had pruned the trees in the spring and I had thinned the fruit quite a lot in June as most of the trees had set a lot of apples or pears. At that stage it looked as if it would be an excellent crop.

Now though, the lack of water was having an effect. At least three of the apple trees have many leaves with brown edges, and the apples are very small. I watered every tree thoroughly, and also gave them a dose of Tomorite to encourage the fruit to grow. But, basically, we are dependent on some really heavy and prolonged rain to have any real effect. On a more optimistic note, several apple trees, the pears and the quince are doing well, and the plum tree we planted in the spring seems to be surviving the drought.

Fingers crossed…

Distressed apple "Katy"
Apple “Katy” looking distressed

Pinova, looking much happier
Apple “Pinova”, looking much happier

Late Spring 2018 – what is happening on the ALFI plots and planters?

After a cold, wet spring, I was feeling frustrated at how difficult it was to get started on the vegetable-growing season. We had sown beans and parsnip seeds, and almost none had germinated, and planted out carrot, beetroot and spinach seedlings in April only to find wind and cold temperatures almost killed them. Although there was plenty of apple blossom on the trees at Jubilee Field, it was hard to believe there were many flying insects to pollinate them.

But a few weeks later, after some gloriously warm, sunny days, with intermittent rain showers, things are looking much more encouraging.

At the Westbrooke plot, the runner beans have started running (up the bean poles) and the sweet peas are suddenly following their example. The broad beans are forming  pods, a row of peas and a row of parsnips have germinated quickly now the soil is warm, and carrot, spinach and beetroot seedlings have recovered from the cold shock and are doing well. Lettuces and rocket are coming on too. And a row of tiny leeks are getting established.

The Allen Gallery raised beds have filled out, with their interesting variety of herbs and perennial vegetables enjoying more light and sunshine after some of the overhanging trees have been cut back. And other planters around the town are all looking good, with their herbs and insect-friendly flowers.

On the Jubilee Field most of the trees have set lot of little apples or pears and we can hope for a good crop of fruit in a few months.

The Vicarage plot, full of soft fruit bushes and strawberries, is flourishing and we shall soon be planning a rota of people to pick the berries to put out on the wall at the front of the garden.

The Station plot is full of promise too; come and see it on Monday July 2nd, at 7.00pm, before our short and sociable AGM at the Railway Arms at 7.30pm.

Green Pancakes

Makes 6

Ingredients

2 large eggs
200ml milk
2 tbsp melted butter
75g frozen spinach, partially thawed, or 150g cooked fresh spinach, drained 

Pinch of salt 

110g plain flour.

Method

Sift flour and salt into mixing bowl.
Break the eggs into a well in the centre.
Start to whisk the eggs, gradually adding the milk (or use a blender).
Add spinach and whisk until incorporated. Just before cooking stir in melted butter. Cook the pancakes in the usual way. Serve scattered with grated cheese or fill with tuna in white sauce.