Saturday, 31 December 2011

Fire in my heart

So the year closes with the burning of the brambles and raspberry canes for bonfire night with the boys, before (ideally) retreating to the fireside at home and hunkering down for the winter months: reminding me of watching the heather burn across the loch at Loch Harport, when we lived in Carbost on Skye.

Life on Skye revolved around the seasons - out all summer, camping and exploring and in all through the dark winter by the fire: reading, listening to music, burning furniture and video cassettes (fantastic firelighters btw - Best use yet found for Jerry Maguire - sorry ozone layer...)

So thinking of renewal and looking forward to the season ahead, some notes on last years cropping:

Garlic - not worth it!
Onions - not great this year, didn't really swell - think they needed more feeding early, more watering and more hot days to increase their size.  Not sure about growing normal french onions this year given their cheapness and local availability - Shallots and red onions though are always worth it!
Broad beans - parked in the shady bed by the greenhouse - cropped but only once but probably need more sun to be truly productive.  3 rows are good though.
Beetroot - finally got some decent beets in October, but need to plant earlier this year.
Red Cabbage - great, finally found out how to get the most from cabbages - pickle them.  Delicious with baked spuds, and of course beef! 4- 6 plants would do us for over the winter (with a couple of jars as christmas presents)
Primo cabbages - didn't hearten - too late out.
Spuds - I always think this and then get overexcited at the Potato day, but 2 beds is enough! 1 bed of our favourite, Maris Peer, and 1 mixed of Pentland Javelin, and others.  Thinking to try the Sapro this year, as it is slug resistant, something which did for the bulk of the Pink Fir Apple this year. All that said, I will be defending my bronze medal this year so lets just say 2 beds for now.

Carrots - I tried building raised beds, I've built frames with mesh and this year I roped Davy into helping me split a barrel in half and drill holes in its galvanised bottom, all to try and beat the carrot fly, and its 13" leaping limit and grow carrots.  This year, I ain't gonna even bother - I'm beat! Always thought the 13" leap sounded like a gardening myth...
French beans - didn't take - planted too late
Lettuces - great, but missed the second sowing out, whilst away in the Hebrides in July, sow [sic] didn't have much in August
Tomatoes - Gardeners Delight very abundant - didn't ripen on the vine but a top tip given to me by John was to put in a brown paper bag on the side in the kitchen sun and they ripen - cheers John!
Courgettes - I'd come to the conclusion that 1 plant provided plenty but now with chutney making three is, of course, the magic number
Broccoli - did really well until in a pique of excitement i took out the heart to promote side shoots - always check the variety before doing anything as rash as chopping your entire crop.
Nero kale - brilliant, coming into its own.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli - have checked pack, and have just picked first cropping, chopped the heads... here's hoping we all learn from our mistakes last year, and use the knowledge this year!

Thursday, 20 October 2011


So I am 37 and a half - which means I've been on this earth for 13,690 days.  Yesterday, my 13,689th day I post a picture on the blog from a postcard that my good friend Matt sent me of the tram that pootles up through the forest where he stays in Saltaire in Yorkshire. Although I've been there, I didn't know what it was called until I looked on the back, and typed out "Shipley Glen Tramway".  Up until that moment - i.e. 13, 689 days I'd been oblivious to it's existence.

Then today, one day later (my 13,690!)in a ruse to get my 4 year old son to swap coats as we are about to leave the house, I promise him one with a badge on it - I scrabble in drawer by the door and pull out the badge above, which I got two years ago in a car boot sale in Edinburgh as part of a suite of train badges, which I thought might appeal to my other  (then) four year old Thomas loving son!
I think that's pretty amazing!  And I hope that's an omen of good luck for Matt forthcoming wedding... Ride on!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Shipley Glen Tramway

A memorable ride through the bluebell woods in Saltaire, Yorkshire.  Built in 1895, the tramway has been completely restored by the Bradford Trolleybus Association, is operated by voluntary help and runs entirely on marrow chutney. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Edinburgh's finest...

Robert Louis Stevenson, Ronnie Corbett, Dick Gaughan's LP Handful of Earth, Deuchar's IPA, Restless Natives, Gordon Strachan - add to that august roll-call - Johnny's spuds!

Got two third prizes yesterday, in this years FEDAGA Annual Flower and Vegetable Show.  In Class 74 - Round Potato for the Dunbar Rovers and Class 76 - Mixed varieties for Pink Fir Apples, Maris Peers and Dunbar Rovers...  Admittedly not enough for the Potato Cup (which in Patrick, my four year old's head was a golden potato - which make sense - but in fact is the altogether more prosaic Garden Shield), which was this year won, again, by George Sutherland from Saughton - hats off to George and his Arran Victory's, I know when I'm beaten by a better man!

So a good result for the first year of entering, and at least some return for the time spent digging, sorting, washing, waxing... no waxing, only joking FEDAGA! Tips for next year - size matters not a jot, uniformity seems to be key and they seem to like a heritage spud...

I was surprised there wasn't a bigger turnout, but some great leeks, parsnips and marrows! Patrick had a ball!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Edinburgh Annual veg show

We're into september, and so only a week to go to the annual show at The Southside Community Centre. Thinking this is the year to plan an assault on the Potato Cup! Need five spuds same size from three varieties (15 in total)...

Meanwhile the Red Rookie cabbages are heartening up nicely. Will harvest and pickle, maybe with some horseradish... Whilst last weekend, we stripped the last of the broad beans and got the first picking of the raspberries...

Friday, 26 August 2011

Strange brew

Having spent the summer at various dinners, do's and barbeques - in festivals, fields and parks up and down the country, there's one thing that keeps the world turning - booze. No matter how severe the recession gets, people will always drink. So in lieu of starting my own microbrewery (ideally on small Hebridian island - "Do you want a Canna beer?") I borrowed Phil's demijohn, plucked a kg of gooseberries and blackcurrants, and paid a visit to the wonderful Edina Homebrew shop just off Easter Road, who helped explain the whole really very simple process.

So after two weeks bubbling away in the corner of the kitchen, I've racked (siphoned off the good stuff into a new demijohn, whilst leaving the old sediment) the wine and in another couple of weeks they'll be ready for bottling - then another six months.  A slow way to get six bottles of wine, especially when as my dear wife reminded me they're down the road in the Co-op for £4 a pop, but she's kinda missing the point!

Meanwhile down at the allotment - the onions and shallots were pulled at the start of the month and purple sprouting broccoli and nero kale transplanted in.

Courgettes continue to come at the rate of knots. The broad beans have one last picking in them and winter sowing of cauliflower and winter leaves have been made.

Pulled my first kohl rabi, but having had it in a pork stew last night, lets just call it a turnip!!

Next up - the brambles and raspberries!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Catching up

Part and parcel of tending the allotment, is the feeling that you're never quite caught up with nature - there's always something to be done and always something that doesn't get done. This used to cause me bother, however its best to be easy-ozy, that's one of the nice things about it - a place where you go in with one idea of what you're going to do, and then promptly you get stuck into something else - no lists, no boss and no worries... bit like your holidays...

Returned after two weeks camping on the Small Isles, the beautiful islands of Canna, Rum and Muck - all unique and very different from each other- lots of fresh food - from shellfish for Jimi's big birthday bash from Sandy's boat, whopping vegetables from the Greenshed, rabbit pie at the Gille Brighde on Canna, newly dug Craigentinny spuds and even a couple of mighty seafish, wrestled from the sea by Col and myself and cooked on the fire.

Returned on the weekend to a very green patch - everything has spent the last fortnight, both hot and wet, bolting upwards and outwards...

Forked the onion roots out, so that they can dry over the next two weeks
Dug the third row of spuds - the Dunbar Rovers - good sized tubers with lovely firm, buttery flesh
Pink Fir Apple spuds are stretching to almost chest height!
First pickings of broad beans
First pickings of loganberries
First picking of blackcurrants and gooseberries, shielded under netting - think I'm gonna make wine with these
French beans now two inches and reaching for support
Fennel and Kohl Rabi well established and coming on
Lots of courgettes, currently about 2 - 4 inches long...

Even saw a frog for the first time on the plot in over six years!

Monday, 4 July 2011

(Almost) independence day

A busy june, travelling to Slovenia and Zagreb, and then Belfast meant that any space time was spent on the allotment rather than writing about it! Here's a selection of pics from sunday 3 july...

Flattened the onion tops to promote final juicing up for a fortnight
Hauled out the first earlies - Pentland Javelins, who have a great waxy firm flesh, which held together when cooked on the fire in Canna
Harvested first batch of lettuces
Planted out cauliflowers and leeks in spaces left by 1st earlies
Planted out celeriac and pumpkin in cold frame, now with its top off
Potted on nero kale for second time

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Keep on the sunny side

Ah, the nation's parched, while Leith drowns.. The rain wasn't ideal for the Leith Gala Day yesterday but perfect for getting the climbing French Beans in the ground and the beginnings of a bamboo curtain built...

At home my lawnmower is currently broken. Whilst I took it last week to get fixed at the perculiarly styled wild west themed lawnmower services guy in Morningside, I've yet to get it back and the back green is looking wild... Coming across this article yesterday by Joe Moran seemed pertinant...

The great lyricist of mowing the lawn is Philip Larkin, who mentions it throughout his poems and letters...Like many gardeners, Larkin moaned constantly about having to cut the grass, but never questioned the fact that he had to do it, in the same way that he complained about the tedium of library committee meetings while diligently chairing them and collecting the minutes. His ambivalent attitude to lawnmowing finds an echo in his poetry, which often suggests that everything is ephemeral and nothing ultimately means anything, but that in our fragile social conventions we find a respite from this knowledge.

Anyone who talks to a gardener with a carefully trimmed lawn will know that lawn care is a rich subculture full of social expectation and shared knowledge, from the relative merits of cylinder and rotary mowers to the dangers of close cropping. Like a lot of things in life in which we invest our physical and emotional labour, keeping a lawn tidy is ultimately pointless. The grass carries on growing, and the lawnmower eventually packs up, followed by its owner. If you want a vivid illustration of this, you can find Larkin’s rusty, grass-coated Victa Powerplus lawnmower in the Hull University library archive.

I always loved Philip Larkin's poetry at school, which contrary to my classmates I thought was too insightful to be depressing... 20 years later and I'd be turning into him - I even bought a Sidney Bechet LP two weeks ago! Meanwhile, here's some pictures of a lovely birthday present from my good chums, Colin and Sharon - who always make me smile!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Snails on the table, food's on the floor

Okay so it's not a horse's head in the bed, or a pigs head on the doorstep, and to be honest: I'm not normally up at 1am on Saturday night (either asleep on sofa, or out - asleep on someone else's sofa!) so I don't know what normally goes on - but finding a slug on one's kitchen table at night is puzzling - surely its not a coded threat from someone to hit me where it hurts - the lettuces! We'll see... 

Meanwhile down on the plot all is going well! The past two weeks have been spent primarily hardening off the brassicas (along with the leeks tucked in the back) in sharon's cold frame.
Down first thing in the morning to lift the 'light' - the lid of the cold frame - and again back at the end of the day to close up - this gives the plants a chance to acclimatise so that when they do go into the ground they don't go into shock and stop growing with the sudden difference of temperature.  
Last Wednesday the new moon co-incided with two days of hot, hot weather so got the Red Rookies cabbages and Olympia Calabrases 'puddled-in' to take advantage of the hot head start... One watering can per plant, then firmed in with the heel as the brassica's need a firm soil to prevent their roots getting shoogled in the winds and slowing growth.

Other crops coming through  - the broad beans, lettuces, early spuds and main crops and onions all responding well to warm and dry weather in May.  The smell of the onions after a mornings watering is gorgeous - the water seems to release a strong, fresh juicy onion smell... best enjoyed whilst having a brew from my favourite birthday present ever - the kelly kettle!

In the greenhouse, I've sown the second sowings of lettuces, and resown the cauliflower and kale in mid may as the first sowings went missing - not sure of they didn't come through or if I culled them by mistake... 

Whilst on the plot the beetroot (Bolthardy and Cylindra), spring onions, pak choi and this years first time challenges - fennel and kohl rabi - have all been planted - Good luck!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Earth shifting

A big week in scotland, culminating today...

1.  Wit's inside the tartan box, you ask? 

Spuds of course!! ...Having missed my self-imposed deadline of Easter, got the main crop spuds in last sunday - Pink Fir Apples and Maris Peers - the earlies already showing their appreciation for the incredibly warm, sunny spell we been having for the past month... The ground had capped due to the warm spell and as a result was the diggin was like breakin rocks in the Sinai desert!

2. The brassicas are also responding to the warmth...

Potted them on on Monday, along with the courgettes.  Maggie noted last night the particular lush green colour of the fresh grass, and fresh leaves as appear and reach out, which lasts around three weeks at this time...
the courgettes' colour is just like that... 
I've always said that one of the best places to be with a hangover is inside a green pepper... thats also like that.

3.  Having got there too late last year, made it to Newhailes Nursery this week, a gem of a place near the Honest Toun, Musselburgh, to get my tomatoes.

Why is it that I consider buying plug plants cheating, yet its okay to get tomato plants ready started?

Partly because they're are such a rip-off - I saw six being sold in B&Q for £3 - thats 50p a plant - you can get a fully grown lettuce for 89p!  Instead of aiding the big guys cashing in on people interest in growing, go to those who have been there for the duration... and who will continue to be!

4.  So finally today - the culmination day for seeds planted long ago - the lettuces are out ready to be doused! 

Here's to the coming thunder and lightning - scotland's saying bring it on!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Chittin' all over the world!

Its spud planting time all across the northern hemisphere - (Mrs Takhtarova must of got hers in early to be weeding in mid april!)... Planted the first earlies last weekend with the main crops due in this weekend, a wee bit behind the traditional Irish planting calender, which starts on St Pats...  As long as I get them in by Easter, the traditional Scottish planting time.

Chittin' pics from last week, from across the world - it is of course harvest time in New Zealand... so lets consider  peaches to be the southern hemisphere's tattie equivalent... feel free to send your chittin pics to be added to the gallery! Cheers: Dad, Scottie, Gareth

Also sown in the greenhouse last sunday, 10 April:
Nero kale
Borecole Kale
January King Cabbage
Autumn Spear Calabrase
Purple Spouting broccoli

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Anna Takhtarova and her granddaughter, Rita, were weeding potatoes near the village of Smelovka on 12 April 1961 when a man in a strange orange suit and a bulging white helmet approached across the field. The forest warden's wife crossed herself but the girl was intrigued. 

"I'm a friend, comrades. A friend," shouted the young man, removing his headgear. Takhtarova looked at him curiously. 

"Can it be that you have come from outer space," she asked. "As a matter of fact, I have," replied Yuri Gagarin.

Fifty years ago with a rousing cry of “ Poekhali!” ( “Let’s Go!”), cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin raced skywards to become the first human in space.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Lettuce begin...

First sowing in the greenhouse, whilst listening to the wind, the creak of the greenhouse panes stretching in the sun and a programme about popes and the Lombard League - I didn't know they played football!

All Year Round Cauliflower
Primo summer cabbage
Red Rookie autumn cabbage
Olympia broccoli
Zen Calabrase
Giant Prague Celeriac
Musselburgh Leeks

Lollo Rosso
All Year Round
Little Gem
Red Salad Bowl

Sunday, 20 March 2011


Finally after last weeks wet weather and frosts, the weather held for a few days, enough for the wet to subside, the wind to dry out the clods and the earth to be vaguely workable - spent the afternoon, planting the last of the garlic, the onions and shallots, and prepping for the new term whilst listening to the Old Firm slug out the CIS final...

Whilst much revolves around the seasonal cycle, there are varying degees of investment required:

Long-term - Rebuilt the compost heap after last fortnight's slow overnight burn from emptying out the BBQ ashes (oops!) which had melted the compost bin.  And prepared the carrot bins having finally collected them from David. The bins should hopefully lift them above the 18" required that put them out of the carrots fly's reach, and produce my first proper carrot crop... Check the hosepipe rim safety feature!

Medium-term - Most crops are spent in the year, and some take years to establish themselves, such as the boy's apple trees - however last week I unearthed one of the great inbetweeners - horseradish, which takes a couple of seasons to establish itself and then crops regularly - whilst I had forgotten all about it, it has been busy sending down long tapers, which brought tears to the eyes back in the kitchen, making a great accompaniment to a roast beef at the in laws last sunday.

Short-term - And whilst at the in laws, I was presented with one of the first wind-up radios (Thank you Denis!) which can only be described as a relic from another era.  An investment of 2 mins winding gets you full capacity of 30mins listening.  In this age of smartphones, a 12" box which, you wind up and um you can get FM radio on, seems rudimentary.  But for far off places with limited access to mainline power and the outside world it provides a lifeline...
Such as rangers v celtic scoreline! They'll be dancin on the streets of Govan/Gabon tonight!  You do get the distinct impression that the killajoules produced winding it are directly converted as you watch the cranking shaft rotate slowly anticlockwise...

Best go - there's three images in this post - I better get cranking!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


A special morning for Patrick! - him and some pals from nursery walked up the hill and spent the morning working out rhubarb poking through the shuck, eating biscuits and making a scarecrow for taking back to the nursery veg patch - a great way to start the growing season!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Full circle

Aye, this time last year I was lamenting for freelance mondays down the allotment to get on with the planting - this year, I'm available!

Thanks to everyone for coming down yesterday to clear and tidy for our special visitors on Tuesday.  Managed to rebuild the fence with Jimmy, removing a section so that the greenhouse gets full light (and warmth)/ Sharon designed and build a fantastic cold frame/Armida sanded and taped the edges of ten boards/ Maggie spruced and tidied whilst Alayne and Colski kept the bairns waving and entertained.

One hour from each adds up to one person's full day so lots achieved - thanks! Plus I don't think I could drink a crate of Tennants by myself!

Had our annual fire of briars and spent wood with all the ash (potash-heavy) going right back into the spud bed. What goes around, comes around....

The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary picture is repeated without end... 

from Circles, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Call for action!

With v. important guests confirmed for next tuesday morning, a call goes out for sunday afternoon assistance. Obviously can't say too much about the identity of the visitors, but here's a picture of the "Royal Princess" coming into berth at Oban from the shed...

So, much to be done: pictures to be straightened and dusted, scrap wood to be gathered, outlying boundry to be secured, fire to be lit, T to be drunk...

PS Solent Wight Garlic planted today...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Dunbar Rovers

Good day at the Bridgend Allotments potato day yesterday - Got Pentland Javelins (1st earlies), my new favourite Dunbar Rovers (sounds like Melchester's lowly 1st round fodder, cup opponents)(second earlies), Isle of Jura (early main crop) and Pink Fir Apple (late main) - 15p a tuber, which is about half price from most seed catalogues! Unfortunately, thought there as no Maris Peer, and a creamy fish chowder cooked over a summer fire on a west coast island beach just isn't the same without a firm Maris Peer or two peeking out... so ordered up 2.5kg last night from Marshalls seeds, along with

"Onion Stuttgarter Stanfield (100 sets) - it has a sweet, smooth and very mild taste, delicious for salads and cooking. Shallot Topper (25 bulbs) - our top selling shallot. Vigorous with stronger foliage and a 30% bigger crop. The bulbs store for an exceptionally long time. Garlic Solent Wight (2 bulbs) - a superb softneck Garlic, producing large, top quality bulbs. Bulbs will store for months."

Popped down to the allotment today, on last day of half term, with Sandy and Dan to sow the first of three trenches of the Sutton broad beans... Stealing a month on last year's sowing (25 March) Wanted to get the beans in before the forecast snow this week, so lets see what happens! Growing 2011 is ON!!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Fertile ground

For those who really want to get the nose in amongst the onions as it were (or who know their onions, to iron out my mixed metaphor!), check out this sowing guide! For those who don't, here's a postcard from Stromness:

Sunday, 13 February 2011


Sunday night, february, music, (M.Ward album withdrawn from record library and yours for 60p) red wine, last years seed packets... Sharpen the pencil, clean the rubber, its plot plan time! Crop rotation is a much conflicting area. Everyone disagrees on the plant types (legumes, roots, alliums, etc) the amount of years to rotate and even the order... science, no... Guesswork just gets more founded over time (i.e experience) Still who wants to grow four equal amounts of ech crop... As with everything, plan a little, but only so you can chamge tack! Due to canny Sept purchasing in pounstretcher all seeds got: just need spuds, onions and garlic!

rubarb, rhubarb

Having had a weeks worth of flu, a mowzie to the allotment on a fresh saturday afternoon was more about the consititutional rather than business... Just as well as the ground is soaking with the water table a few inches below the surface. Treading anywhere when this wet compacts the soil, reducing the air in the soil so instead spent an hour tidying the beds from the edges. The remnent of the red cabbage, beetroot and celeriac, all lifted and composted.

Whilst the winter weather has taken its toll on the beds, inside the new (donated through the fence from the golf course) plastic composter there's been plenty of action, due to the thermal qualities helping the bacteria to turn over. For the first time in six years of growing i can say i have actually made compost (being sure that it was something else six moths ago). Previously i have never remembered if that layer of black crumbly soil was there when i started the pile in between the palettes three years ago!

So the rhubarb crowns got their annual smothering...

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Long established protocol dictates that all gardening articles need a topical punning title, whether in old media like newspapers or new media like blogs. Some things don't change!

January and the new year is of course the time to review last year and look forward and make new plans. As the years pass and allotmenteers get older, we refine our favourite varieties, and perhaps become set in our ways. Regular readers will know that I set myself a challenge each year to grow something new, to keep me learning and staying young! And after two years of trying celeriac, i'm admitting that maybe the damp east edinburrgh climate just doesn't haar-ve the warmth required to bulk up the tubers. Pulled the roots last week and they've not even grown to the size of a golf ball!

Not so with the leeks. For five years i've grown the same variety: MUsselburgh, and finally i've cracked the secret of a good leek - the seeds need to be planted ina container with a good four inches of sandy loam rather than in modules as the roots need loads of room to establish strong seedlings. Although some former denizens of the royal burgh remain oblivious, these leeks as the name suggests, seem ideally suited to the local climate, and last weekends haul was a good start to the year, quickly made into leek and tattie soup. This year, i'm looking to build such local loyalties: Ailsa Craig onions, Pentland Javelin spuds, Musselburgh leeks: traditional scottish allotment fare. You can keep your Pixie's, your Red Rookies and your Picasso's this year I'm looking back to go forward!

And the challenge:well this year it time to reclaim that much maligned veg, the cauliflower. Hell, it would achievement enough to grow sometime that shape, but i'm sure fresh cauliflower would be deliciously crisp! And the variety?, you're asking: North Forelander sounds suitably intrepid to me!

Good luck to all in your gardening exploits for 2011- be brave!!