Slow painting

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Seeds of Italy

My daughter is in France at the moment and experiencing the delights of French home cooking for the first time. She's also having some lunches in school with her exchange partner. Looking at the school lunch menu for the week I was struck by the fact that each day had its own salad - not just 'green salad', but a proper salad dish: tomato salad, mushrooms a la Greque, salad of green beans, lettuce and Emmenthal salad. I also noticed rabbit on the menu. No tripe, tho. When I was an assistante in a French school in the 1980's tripe was a favourite school lunch dish...favourite of everyone but me, that is.

These salads made me think nostalgically of French and Italian lettuce varieties, and to scratch that itch and introduce a bit of variety into the Scottish summer salad I ordered some seeds from Seeds of Italy. They sent me an email confirming my order and apologising for a likely delay in delivery. Apparently they're so busy just now that they're having difficulty meeting their normal delivery times of between 3 to 14 working days. I settled down to wait - but the order arrived within 3 days. Now I'm even more impressed by them, over and above their company policy of all sitting down to a proper lunch together, closing business when Italy is playing football, and re-using all packaging and paper.

I hope we can do the seeds justice. Lettuces have never been very successful at the allotment. Perhaps I should be lavishing more care, i.e. water, on them. We'll see what happens with

Lattuga Testa di Burro d'Inverno
Lattuga Quattro Stagioni
Lattuga Romana Biondi
Swiss Chard Bionda di Lione
and the very sweet green pea Piccolo Provenzale

Thursday 15 May 2008

My Parish Map

I love the idea of the Parish Map. As a child growing up in a small Highland village I had my own personal topography of place that had nothing to do with formal, published maps. While some of this was wholly personal, some of it was shared with the other children, as in the best trees to climb, the pools in the burn where the first tadpoles could be found each year, and the names handed down from older generations for streets and quirks of the local landscape. So it felt like coming home when in adulthood I discovered the Parish Map movement started by Common Ground.

It's been harder to have the same sense of place living in the city. For a start I haven't grown up here, so I'm having to construct my own history as I go (ironic in a city where you trip over history at every corner). But I realised the other day that the allotment is helping to foster that sense of belonging that I've missed. Our shortcut to the allotment site takes us along the side of a disused railway track. Even this small stretch of pathway, half mud, half Victorian brickwork underfoot, has its own identity which changes with the seasons. These photos were taken about 10 days ago, and the blossom will be fading now, but they capture one of the things I love about the allotment, which is the sense of going to a place apart.


The blackcurrants appear to have taken. The photo is a bit fuzzy, but in the flesh they're defintely bursting with fresh new growth.
The onions are pulling away. I've only just discovered that they need a period of cold weather after planting to establish good roots. Not sure if normal Scottish spring temperatures count as cold weather.

And the shallots are doing their usual trustworthy stuff, looking very pleasing.

Some of last year's garlic didn't get dug up, and has started to sprout long green spikes. I dug them up to make room for something else, and have been using them in cooking. They have a more delicate garlic flavour than the mature cloves, and have been good value in stir fries.

Weeds (small trees)

The first in a series of posts about my weeds. I'm becoming closely acquainted with these. Thankfully in this plot we don't seem to have any of the dreaded horsetail, but we do have lots of other weedy interest.

This year the seedlings of the sycamore trees which border the plot seem much more prevalent than in the past. We hoe them out, more spring up.

If the plot was left to its own devices for a couple of years, we'd have a copse of thriving saplings. As it is, each week we start all over again and hoe them out.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

The Bens and Glens

With this blog, I realise that I'm going to be able to keep track of what I've planted. I was so sure that I would remember the varieties of strawberries and raspberries we'd put in 18 months ago, but not a trace of their names remains. The raspberries did have a label attached, but it blew off in a winter gale. The Chris Bowers catalogue I ordered from is no help, as I've marked some items with question marks, but nothing with a tick or other positive sign that 'this is the one'.

The strawberries MAY be Norfolk Nectar, 'a new British strawberry in the old fashioned style'. The raspberries MAY be Glen Ample. I guess we'll know if we get 'quite amazing quantities of impressive large fleshy fruits blessed with a lovely sweet flavour'.

While browsing the fruit catalogues in search of my varieties, I was struck by the Bens and Glens. Blackcurrants are Ben Sarek, Ben Gairn, Ben Connan, Ben More, Ben Lomond, Ben Nevis, Ben Hope, Ben Alder, Ben Tirran. Ben Sarek and Ben Connan aren't, but the rest are all Scottish mountains/hills. Ben Tirran sounds as if it should be in Narnia. I hadn't heard of it before, but here are some views from it.

The raspberry glens are Glen Ample, Glen Rosa, Glen Magna, Glen Clova, Glen Moy, Glen Lyon and Glen Prosen.

First foray - blackcurrants

I long for homemade blackcurrant jam. Just writing that makes me hungry - imagine a slice of toast, thick with dark purple blackcurrant jam...For our first foray I've put in a modest three bushes, until I get the hang of the feeding and pruning regime. My Reader's Digest 'New Illustrated guide to Gardening' (1979) informs me in rather 1950's BBC tones that 'For the average family, 9-12 bushes should yield ample fruit', but I think that's a bit ambitious.

The modest three bushes arrived mid-week when I had no spare time to get along to the allotment, so I had to sheuch them in temporarily to a border in the back garden.

The variety is Ben Sarek, which can be planted as close as 4 feet apart. My gardening apprentice and I didn't think that we had 3x4 feet to spare once the paths on either side were taken into account, so we opted for a stylish triangular formation. The plan is to put sweet peas in either side of the 'point'.

The gardening apprentice prepared the ground first of all:

Then we planted and watered:

And following instructions, we cut each stem back to two outward facing buds

Rhubarb excavations

We have an abundance of rhubarb, and some of it had to give to make room for a new bed, reclaimed from grass. Strenuous work was involved, worth at least an afternoon at the gym:

I hadn't realised quite how...prehistoric rhubarb roots were.

Worth it, though.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Seed time

The first lot of seeds is underway. We don't have a greenhouse, so it's the good old living room window sill. When we first looked round this house 16 years ago one of the things that attracted me to it was a good, broad living room windowsill for raising seed.

Sowing day this year was 21st April. Quite late by most advice in books, but here in the north it doesn't do any harm to wait. So far I have two varieties of dwarf French bean, 'Tendergreen' and 'Aiguillon'. Here's the first one just peeking through, only 5 days later.

Four days later again and they've shot up:

Next the brassicas: the first sowing of broccoli, 'Claret', and a new venture, kale 'Nero di Toscana'. We all loved the purple sprouting broccoli we had 2 years ago, and are keen to step up production this year. On the kale front, we normally have a good Scottish variety, but I'm the only one who is truly entranced by kale, so I thought we'd try a suave Italian version. Here they are at their tiny seed leaf stage:

In the same tray I have two rows of pumpkin 'Connecticut Field'. As soon as they started to come through I remembered why it's a mistake to sow them in the same tray as less robust seedlings - by the time they're ready to plant out they are swamping their rather frail neighbours. I'll have to pot them on individually once they start to get too big.

Not doing anything at the moment are 8 pots of sunflowers sown by my daughter, a tray of sweet peas 'Old Spice Mixed' (a blend of heirloom sweet peas, highly scented), and, back to edibles, a tray of green peas, 'Feltham First'. I'm rather proud of my recycled arrangement for the last two. The commercial 'root trainers' that I have the other seeds in are very well designed and robust, but rather expensive. I needed more, but balked at the price. Recently I noticed that the plastic trays that large open-cap mushrooms come in would take 8 insides of toilet roll, and would be perfect for transferring peas straight to their final location.