Christmas dinner, compost, and new shoots

I’ll start with a confession… I’ve enjoyed not going to the allotment so much this month…

Now, many of the die-hards would, I’m sure, look on in disapproval when I say this but I felt I had worked hard up to the end of November and deserved some down time. Of course, you can’t ignore an allotment completely, and nor would I want to, but knowing that I was up to date with everything, had done as much as I could and any veg left in the ground didn’t need any further attention other than to be picked, allowed me to relax and enjoy the build-up to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought about the plot and have been up there several times to tend to the compost and check for any damage after the stormy weather we’ve had here, but in the main it’s been a much calmer month.

The build-up to Christmas was helped by the excitement, yes, even though I’m in my middle age I’ll admit to the childish excitement of opening an advent calendar every day (husband’s eyes are back and lifting skyward). Those of you that follow my Instagram account will know that I had a seed advent calendar this year

and I was surprised and delighted with the last envelope containing seeds to grow our own Christmas tree – how cool is that! The tree will take eight years to mature, though, so I will have to think carefully about where and how I plant it.

I was also really proud that Christmas dinner this year was accompanied by our homegrown vegetables. I’m still not 100% sure of the timings of things so I think it was a bit more of luck than judgement that so much was available to pick, but I was chuffed with the result.

The veg may have been wonky to look at, but the flavours were huge! They were picked on the 23rd December, prepped and chilled rather than frozen beforehand and added to the potatoes that were grown earlier in the year and have been stored since. I could have cooked and served them up as they were, but this year I decided to make the most of them and used recipes from my mum’s much-loved cooked book, Goodhousekeeping’s Cookery Book, The cook’s classic companion. Mum’s edition of this book was from 2011 and as you can see it’s been well used and still has many of her notes attached so it means a lot to me. The latest editions have a different look, but I’m sure the recipes are just as good.

Not allotment-related but I couldn’t leave Christmas food without mentioning the dessert I made this year. I made a Chocolate orange-tini trifle, described as a cross between a Mississippi mud pie with a marmalade martini – a grown-up Christmas trifle… It was delicious (and very rich) and I would definitely recommend it 😋

Now then, it may not be everybody’s first choice of a topic of conversation but as I’m slowly starting to get my head around it and have created quite a few peelings this Christmas, I must just mention the wonderful world of soil and compost. I’ve been reading a great book ‘Building Soil a down-to-earth approach’ by Elizabeth Murphy which has been really helpful in my understanding of how to create the best soil for the plants. And the more you look into composting the more fascinating it becomes as there is so much to know! Hot or cold compost? Wooden slatted or Dalek bin? Open to the elements or covered? and that’s just for the container! Also to consider are the balance of nutrients; particle size; moisture content; oxygen flow and temperature… I’m very much still learning, but understand the concept of layering the necessary materials so you get a balance of nitrogen and carbon. In a nut shell the recommendation is that you need a 50:50 split or of green materials that will give nitrogen and brown materials that give the carbon. Nitrogen-rich waste (green): grass clippings; annual weeds; fruit & veg peelings; used coffee grounds; nettles and teabags. Carbon-rich waste (brown): prunings; hedge trimmings; paper or newspaper; cardboard; straw; sawdust; pet bedding; paper towels and paper bags. You can also add eggshells; natural fibres such as wool or cotton and wood ash.

However, I don’t add tea bags to the compost heap because most companies still add plastic to their bags, I think it’s only PG Tips that have recently stopped.

…actually writing this has reminded me I received two of these in the post.

They are 100% pure sheep’s wool which is compostable and the bag is biodegradable, so all of it can go on the compost – and in case that sounds a bit weird, I didn’t order them, they came as insulation around the meat I ordered for Christmas dinner.

It makes sense but is probably worth saying, that anything you add to the compost needs to be cut up small(ish), other wise it will take a long time to break down. I started cutting up the cardboard I was adding into neat little squares…

…but when I couldn’t feel my finger and thumb any more and the scissors became blunt I soon stopped that and have since only ripped the cardboard into smaller bits – a very kind neighbour offered to cut up some cardboard for me and soon came to the same conclusion.

The compost I am creating is what is called cold compost and some experts suggest that this can take anywhere between a few months and three years to be fully ready, so I have plenty of time to learn any tips and hints which I’ll be happy to pass on.

Who knew my eyes would light up at the sight of some compost! Hopefully you can see the mix of peelings, brown paper, cardboard and some old nasturtiums. It’s almost full so I should really be starting on the second bin and give this one a chance to just so its thing.

Even though there hasn’t been much to physically do on the plot, I have thought about it a great deal and have pondered on how far I’ve come. As you’ll know, 2020 was, what I consider, my first real go at growing and there have been many successes. Far more actually than I was expecting and even the fails weren’t that bad and just spur me on to try again in 2021.

If this allotment has taught me anything, it’s a little bit of patience and it’s reminded me that we are so used to supermarkets having produce available all year round we lose sight of what that actually means. If you consider the parsnips we had for Christmas dinner for instance, the seeds for these were sown eight months ago in April 2020… just sayin’

Also, and I felt I knew it already but I am constantly reminded of and understand my place in nature and that nature has a balance all of its own. We know this balance is necessary for our planet to survive – which is why I try and use natural ways to deter creatures that are only doing what comes naturally to them. If I sow vegetables that are ‘caviar’ to aphids, flies and caterpillars, then I must expect them to eat them – so by simply covering the plants in the correct netting which keeps the bugs away from the veg and planting some sacrificial plants like nasturtiums which the bugs can still feed on, then I’m happy knowing I’m doing my bit and we can all try and rub along together. I’m even more relaxed about the small and medium-sized rodents that I’m sure roam around our plots – well, when I say relaxed, if I ever saw one face-to-face I’m sure I’d be anything but relaxed, but I’m getting there.

Now, I don’t know if I’ve learned this because this is what usually happens, or whether it’s just because we’ve had such a mild autumn and winter so far, but those new shoots I mentioned in the title are all over the plot! These photos were all taken yesterday morning 29th December 2020.

Clockwise from top left – Rhubarb; Blueberry; Pear tree; Aquadulce broad bean; Raspberry; Redcurrant; Lark Ascending Rose; Dutch Gold Rose

Not a bad way to end the year with the promise of things to come 🙂

🎇🎇🎇🎇🎇

It goes without saying, that I hope next year is a little easier on us all, that we all remain safe and well and can enjoy time with our families.

Happy New Year folks, see you in 2021

Cheers, Ruth xx

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