20 Sep 2010

Gourdness! Giveaway and pumpkin carving

Last year I recall resisting the onset of Autumn and savouring the last days of summer but, this morning, I'm positively excited about the forthcoming Pumpkin Season for I have learned of an exciting competition looming… 

Some of the carved pumpkins featured in the book

A chance conversation yesterday revealed that Fortnum & Mason, renowned London-based purveyors of luxury food hampers and other delightful goodies, are holding their first Pumpkin Carving competition on October 29th.  It's a Friday so, presumably, you can take your pumpkin home to show off on All Hallows Eve. There are fabulous prizes (Fortnum's broomstick anyone? Even better: a £1000 hamper, which would nicely sort out Christmas) and themed food such as witch's hair (aka - of course - candyfloss).

I've just spoken to them and been told that places are limited due to pumpkin display space (as of today 50 spaces still up for grabs), booking is essential but it's free!  Not that I'm competitive or anything ~ahem~ but I'm definitely going!  (It is open to adults as well as 5-18 yrs…)

Pale carved squashes look like porcelain. Find out how in the book.

Now this may all sound jolly frustrating to anyone living out of reach but I know that you're a creative lot and hope you'll be inspired to rise to the spirit of the event in your own communities.  Personally, I'm going to be referring to a book which I bought last year:  Decorating Pumpkins and Gourds written by my York Rise neighbour and fellow gardener, Deborah Schneebeli-Morrell and photographed by her husband, Heini.

Debbie is a phenomenal artist and her ideas in this book veer right away from the usual fare of grinning face pumpkins; she not only shows us beginners (in my case) how to carve designs such as Birds in a Bush, Maids in a Row or the Hansel and Gretal house, but also tells us the correct tools to use.  I absolutely lOvE the lantern pumpkins shown in the above photos.  Her love of gardening shines through when we're taught how to make bird feeders out of squash (an easy project for children) and also which are the best - and easiest - varieties to grow. On a practical level, Debbie advises what to do with different squashes (acorn squashes, for example, are difficult to hollow out but can be carved and displayed before being roasted into a platter of patterned veg). Excellent illustrations and instructions throughout make this all very achievable and, although it's not mentioned, it's best to keep the children's involvement to scooping out the flesh rather than knife wielding!
 Giveaway!
Cico Books have very kindly offered to send me a copy of Decorating Pumpkins and Gourds as a !giveaway! for my readers.  I'll also ask the author to sign it. Just leave a comment before 15th October (should then give you enough time to get carving before Hallowe'en) and I'll randomly pick a winner.  (Please also say if you don't want the book.)

(All photos in this post are © Cico Books and taken by photographer Heini Schneebeli.)

19 Sep 2010

The Cheerfulness of Chard:


Isn't this fabulous?!  First year that I've grown chard - and I've yet to actually eat any of it - but those colours are a real show-stopper on the Veg Patch.  Love it!

(Note to self:  grow it in a higher bed next time to better display the stems!)

In case of interest: Bright Lights Chard, Johnsons seeds, sown into recycled council compost in raised beds, open aspect but shaded early pm onwards.  Well watered by the weather.

16 Sep 2010

From Soil to Sail:


Hello again, time's zipping by, we're nearly into Autumn and I'm still catching up with myself… There seems to be so much to pack into each day (not least of which is to get my potatoes dug up!).  As a result, I seem to have fallen out of the habit of popping in here to say hello which feels odd because, in my head, I've got lots to tell:  trips to the seaside, apple scrumping, a street fair, hedgerow-jam making, allotment-soup making, books to review (three!), autumn progress in the Veg Patch and new bedtime reading: seed catalogues for 2011…mmm, lovely!  So, whew. 

The thing that has taken a goodly chunk of time is the street fair which we had in our little corner of London.  I'd had a fancy to make fresh apple juice on the day (using a traditional press) and put my hand up to help in order to ensure that the event was actually going to happen. Doing the pressing was quite a learning curve so deserves a later post all to itself!   In among all of this frenzied activity, what with the end of the summer hols looming, I also decided to make a dash for the seaside to spend a few days on the south Hampshire coast with my parents. (Another reason for the silence here … I was beachcombing elsewhere!)


Lovely, isn't it?  I never tire of this view of the Solent (taken from the little cross-harbour ferry): Old Portsmouth on the left and, just out of view, sailing boats making their way in or out of harbour.  Look in the other direction and you see Portsmouth Harbour, ferries waiting to sail for the Isle of Wight and, in the historic dockyard, the masts of Nelson's HMS Victory and modern ships of the Royal Navy. All very busy and nautical.

For me, though, the highlights of a shore-side break-away are the long walks on the beach, picking up driftwood and shells (pebbly beaches are so interesting).


…and, at this time of year, collecting hedgerow blackberries (loads of them on the seafront common land). Turning the corner from my parents' house, a short walk leads to the common …


… with the Isle of  Wight clearly seen on a good day.  Wow, looks likes there's no sea at all between the mainland and island! (Although, I think there's probably a good couple of miles of Solent to swim before you get over to the Island, here reaching Ryde.)

Normally we walk along the shoreline towards the sailing club and the ice-cream cafĂ© - yes, what bliss! New Forest ice-cream, yum yum, served with a sea breeze - or a cup of tea if the weather is chillier.  This time, we walked towards the scrubbier part of the common, for a change, where there were plentiful berries to be picked and, presumably from a discarded apple core, a heavily laden apple tree, ripe for the scrumping!  A big trugful of nature's harvest - and just in good time for my apple pressing venture!

1 Sep 2010

Catching up…


Well, here we are again… I hadn't realised that I'd been away so long, the weeks have just slipped by.  (Did anyone notice?)  I wish I could say that I'd been enjoying myself on holiday somewhere warm - but, no. Truth is that the deluge of rain … day after soggy day … coupled with very strong winds was wreaking havoc in my little vegetable garden and I had to devise various Heath Robinson structures to stop everything keeling over.

My poor beans had been happily climbing up a ridge-tent-shaped frame of bamboo poles - but I'd forgotten to pinch out the growing tip. Gradually it became a tad top heavy and started to lean ever-so-slightly.  The problem was made worse as continuous rain softened the soil and the wind pushed it over as if the frame was being pulled from one end.  I had to duck underneath to get by!  All very well until someone gets hurt and one stick was, by now, at eye-poking level.

While figuring out a solution to the bean problem, the wind kept blowing and then I found my beautiful super-tall sunflowers had succumbed and collapsed across my fruit trees and crash landed on the potatoes.  The roots were ripped up but because I found them not long after, I was able to firm them back into the soil and start hoping for recovery… but that ol' wind kept blowing.


Time for some urgent action.  A hazel wigwam was dismantled and the branches used to pin the sunnies against the wall.  Hmm, gooood thinking. 

The beans, though, were slightly more problematic: I'd tried tensioning the frame with some ties, like pitching a tent.  That worked for a while but the wind got stronger and stretched the ties.  It was Leigh who found the solution: a small team of us dragged a very heavy builder's bag over to the veg patch as ballast and anchored the bean frame to that.  Looks ugly as hell but - hey - it works!  Should get a few more beans before the end of the summer.  And what have I learned from all this?  Next year, I'm going to grow my beans up a very sturdy wigwam!  (and pinch out the growing tip)

Elsewhere everything is a bit wind-bashed but surviving:  I'm getting some lovely carrots with excellent flavour…  (all that rain must have done them good)


The beetroot is getting awesomely large…

The bees are still visiting the last of the lavender…


And what I thought were wonderfully chic black chilli peppers are, in fact, turning a vile colour I can only describe as blorange.  Fingers crossed for improvements on that front…

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