Saturday, 15 May 2010

What a difference between today's weather and last Saturday's. Sunny, warm... cheerful even and just the right weather to really get on with things. So, after hanging the washing out in the lovely sunshine that's just what I did.

I started with potting on the brassica seedlings. I had sown loads of brassica seeds two or three weeks ago and they had germinated with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, snails had crept into the coldframe and munched quite a few of them, preferentially the Brussel sprouts it would seem. I put out slug pellets mid-week which seems to have helped but in the meantime the seedlings towards the back of the cold frame have grown leggy. So I rummaged around for a collection of small flower pots, some plant labels and compost and potted the seedlings up, burying their long stems deeply. I returned them to the cold frame with fresh slug pellets and a dose of hope.

After lunch we all headed around to the allotment. Here I started by running my hoe between the rows of onions, shallots, garlic, peas and broad beans, all coming along nicely. Next I moved some self-sown leek seedlings to a more convenient place and added my deliberately sown leek seedlings to the same rows. Then I resowed carrots and beetroot. I had sown them originally the weekend before Easter but apart from one very small patch of carrots nothing had germinated. They are notoriously difficult to get started and there is lots of conflicting advice out there on how best to get them started. I have heard it said that watering them every day for 14 days after sowing is the answer but I have also been told you should never water carrots but only let the rain do the job. Who knows! Anyway, this afternoon I used up a whole bag of sharp sand, lining the bottom of each drill before sowing the seeds. Maybe this finer medium will help. Time will tell.

Whilst we were there a man from the parish council turned up with a map of the site in his hand. He told me he was checking to see if any of the plots were not being worked at the moment since our tenancies are due for renewal right now. We had received the renewal notices in the post this week. I don't know whether our parish council is typical but I found the whole thing very unfriendly and a little stressful. The notice went on about things which were against policy and the checks that would be made. There was a deadline for returning the payment by, after which time your plot would be offered to the next person on the waiting list, and to top it all they had increased the annual fee from £12 to £25 without a word of warning. Not that that is expensive but it is still more than double what it was and no mention it was going to happen. Allotment gardening is a great deal of fun and other plot holders are a friendly bunch so why can't the parish council be a bit friendlier too? You know, thanks for being a tenant every year for the past 13 years, always paying on time, keeping your plot tidy... and so on... and is there anything we can do for you... cut the grass more often, trim the over hanging surrounding trees maybe? So when this man in his bright red jumper appeared with a clipboard and map this afternoon I found myself feeling nervous, wondering who would pass the grade. Is May really the best time to work out which plots are being properly worked? Lots of bare ground and the sudden growth of grass and weeds at this time of year is hardly catching us at our best. The man in the red jumper didn't look like he knew much about gardening and I suspect he didn't have the imagination to work out what the plots would look like in a month or two when the seeds have germinated, when the things in pots growing at home had been planted and the weeds were a bit more under control. Not that I need to worry but some of the other plot holders might need to, and they are my friends and they have lives too which can at time get in the way of perfect plots for a short while.

Anyway, shortly after the man in the red jumper left I did too. The girls were keen to go home and I had some rhubarb prepared and ready to turn into jam too. Usually I bottle my jams in cute little 4 oz jars, and a few 2 oz jars too, which I label and sell at craft fayres around Christmas. However, this batch of jam is already earmarked for one of the school run mums who bought my entire stock of the stuff last year. She's impatient for her new supply and not at all bothered about cute little jars and pretty labels so I ladled this panful into three 8 oz jars, slapped a simple name label on it and emailed her to arrange delivery. Job done. What a satisfying start to the preserve making season. £25 a year... worth every penny!

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

4-5 stems, weighing roughly 1 lb (454g)
The same weight of sugar as rhubarb
1 small lemon, rind and juice
1/2 oz (15g) root ginger, bruised
1/2 oz (15g) stem ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon syrup from stem ginger jar

Wash the rhubarb and cut it into pieces roughly 1 inch (2.5cm) long. Layer the rhubarb in a non metallic bowl with the lemon rind and sugar then pour in the lemon juice. Cover the bowl and stand overnight. Tip the contents of the bowl into a preserving pan and add the root ginger, wrapped in a piece of muslin. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes until the rhubarb is soft, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a vigorous boil and boil for 5 to 10 minutes until the setting point is reached. Remove from the heat and discard the root ginger. Stir in the stem ginger and syrup. Ladle into warmed jars and seal immediately.

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