Site visit

While I was back in the UK, I took the opportunity to check up on how Farrar’s Field was getting on. It looks really good. Mr Farrar Senior and his friends are doing nicely and enjoying a good harvest it seems.

The raspberries have been ripening daily so there have been plenty of them for the whole family to enjoy.

And Mr F Snr has been very pleased with his potato bounty – two sackfulls – as well as  his rope of onions.

Barry and Stella have grown quite a range of vegetables on the patch, including peas, which I’ve never been brave enough to tackle. (I don’t know why.) They may technically be past their seasonal best but they still tasted wonderfully fresh and sweet.

I also enjoyed seeing how all the flowers were doing, including these chive beauties.

It’s so nice to see that Farrar’s Field is getting so much care and attention.  I wasn’t sad at all to visit, as I thought I might have been. I’m just truly pleased that it is being used for good food that can be shared among friends and family.

The berries are in!

It’s official!  The berries are in down on Farrar’s Field!  We’ve seen photos of the first bounty….


I love growing fruit – perhaps more so than growing vegetables.  Perhaps because they’re often easier to grow, perhaps because they are so expensive to buy in shops, perhaps because they just taste to deliciously sweet. I am thrilled that they are being enjoyed by the in-laws.

And our nephew’s special little strawberry patch is coming up trumps too.  And by all accounts, he’s loving the taste of the season’s greatest fruit.

Robinson’s Ranch

I’m back in the UK and have been helping my dad out on his allotment, Robinson’s Ranch. He’s not been able to do as much up there this year, and as a result it is a weed haven.  It reminds me very much of Farrar’s Field in recent years.

Despite the waist-high weeds and red ant population, Robinson’s Ranch is a glorious spot in the Warwickshire countryside.  Behind a very cute garden gate and sandwiched between a country lane and an empty field, his plot is one of just two at this particular site, so it is peaceful to say the least. I’ve really enjoyed going up there.

My brothers have worked hard to clear one area and in it they have planted onions, spinach, potatoes, chard, dwarf beans, runner beans, kale, courgette, beetroot and leeks.  As it is just one small area it’s been a delight to weed and hoe, as it’s so manageable and the view is so pleasant.

We also cleared up and weeded the soft fruit area.  Dad has some great raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, redcurrants (so close to ripening!) and what he thinks are boysenberries on the go.  They seem to be doing well after their weeding and I’ve since covered them in a bit of a haphazard, semi-fruit cage.

To get the full allotment experience in the two weeks I have been here, I’ve also made jam with some raspberries (and a few blackberries)  I found in the freezer. Clearly last year’s bounty, but the jam is still quite tasty.

I also felt privileged to be around to enjoy the first pickings of the strawberries.  Dad doesn’t usually net his strawberries apparently but because they’ve been thoroughly cleared out this year they seem very exposed. So I have netted them to stop the pesky birds.

There may have been only 10 in the first pick, but they were delicious.  So sweet and lovely.  You really can’t beat a home grown British strawberry.  And ready just in time for Wimbledon to start. (A benefit to being back in the UK this week is that I can enjoy BBC’s coverage of a great British sporting tradition.)

We took on the task of clearing out the little shed.  Found what can only be referred to as Shelob the spider – and her mate – as well as a decomposed rat that got itself trapped in some net.  Delightful.

So what’s next?  We hope to clear all the hideous weeds by strimming them short and then digging the plot over.  Then I think that we’ll put weed matting down to keep everything at bay.  It’s unlikely that dad will be able to do much with the rest of the plot this year but if we can keep the worst of the weeds down for the rest of the summer, then next year it might all be a lot easier.

Allotmenting at Robinson’s Ranch is a totally different experience to allotmenting on Farrar’s Field. I, of course, have a soft spot for Farrar’s Field but it doesn’t hold the beauty of the Ranch’s surroundings.  Neither is the Field a sun trap like the Ranch.  It gives the eco-gym workout you get from gardening an extra dimension – there’s an added sauna experience. But Farrar’s Field was ours and that makes it special.  (Although by all accounts, the Field’s new tenants are very happily enjoying a productive season up in Yorkshire.)

I didn’t realise how much I had missed spending time gardening, or at an allotment, until returning to the UK. I certainly intend to grow plants and vegetables in the US, once we move to our permanent home, even if it’s just in containers or as houseplants.  Still, these past few weeks on Robinson’s Ranch have been enjoyable. And it’s been made all the better by this view at the top of the lane, where, when feeling a little lazy I have parked the car (rather than doing the seven minute walk up to the plot).

Home-grown across the pond

Apparently the rhubarb is doing very well on Farrar’s Field and rhubarb crumble is a regular item on the menu.  Over in Portland I have been missing the allotment.  Everywhere you turn there is someone growing something locally, or a farmers market to visit, and every blog post, tweet or photo seems to relate to something home-grown.

To make myself feel better I decided to make meals with some of the fruit and veg we might have grown at the allotment.  First, and in solidarity for Farrar’s Field: rhubarb. I bought local and organic, to make it as ‘real’ as I could.

I was thinking of how to use it instead of just in a crumble. So I pimped a Victoria Sponge cake by adding stewed rhubarb to the buttercream.  And instead of using jam, I just added fresh, organic strawberries.

I know that the strawberries won’t be ready yet on the plot, but the strawberry patch is my favourite part of the allotment and now that the first strawbs are out in Oregon, it just seemed rude not to!

Onto another one of my favourite veggies grown on the allotment: beetroot.  I even bought ones that needed cleaning to make it feel like I had just picked them myself.  (Even though cleaning dirt off veg is one of my least favourite allotment jobs!) I used them to make the fail-safe beetroot soup from Sophie Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights recipe book.

And for tea tonight? Butternut squash risotto.  Certainly not something in season, but squashes and pumpkins are one of Nick’s favourite vegetables to grow, so they will always remind me of Farrar’s Field.

Farewell Farrars Field….for now!

We’ve not been down to Farrars Field lately – which I know is key allotment sowing and planting time - because we have been planning a big move to Portland Oregon.  We’ve known about the move for a while, which is why I haven’t waxed lyrical about the joy of choosing seeds to grow, or been over-excited about a dry weekend day.

We are thrilled to say that Farrar Senior has agreed to maintain the plot in our absence.  This is great news as I’m quite confident that no one new would have taken the plot on and it really would have gone to rack and ruin, just like all the plots surrounding it.

Farrar Senior has no previous allotment experience so we have been trying to give him as much help and support as we can.  It will be fairly basic crops this year though: potatoes, onions, enough garlic to feed the local township, cabbage, beetroot and broccoli, while he finds his feet.

And hopefully, the soft fruit will work it’s own magic again this year. In fact, despite a slow start, the rhubarb is coming on strong, the raspberries are looking good and the blackcurrants and gooseberries are doing well.

I also hope that after re-doing the strawberries last year, they do well in 2013.  I was expecting that they would be a bit further on by now, but you never know.

We had a wander down yesterday and were impressed with the improvements that had already been made.  Farrars Field now has a gate and most of the beds have been dug over.  It looks lots neater than we would ever have managed!

We celebrated our final foray down there with an allotment picnic, something I had wanted to do this year.  We went down with a good friend, in between packing and cleaning, so we weren’t there for long but it was good fun.  We enjoyed sitting on the bench Nick had made last summer and the daffodils I planted at the end of last year looked especially cheerful. We were happy.

So, off to Portland OR we go! We hope to continue growing while we’re out there. Whether it’s in a garden or even on a balcony, I’m sure I can get something grown.  The climate there is quite similar to the UK, except a little warmer in summer. Perhaps we’ll have better luck with tomatoes and I’m very interested in growing blueberries, cranberries and finding out what boysenberries are and whether they can be grown.  I’d like to say, watch this space.  However, I’m going to retain Farrars Field for its original purpose – homemade and homegrown in Yorkshire.  When we check in to see how things are going in Yorkshire, we’ll let you know on here.

So instead vist to keep up to date with what the Farrars are doing over the pond and how we’re settling in to our new life there. (The site is currently in activiation mode but will be up and running soon I promise!) I’m sure I’ll feature some growing and gardening but I hope there will be much more besides…..

Snow days

It should be the time of year when we’re up at the allotment all the time.  No such luck in this snow.  The poor daffodils are the only things that are poking their heads up. And even they must be so confused by it all. 

So I’ve been doing a bit of admin and catch up.  One of which was to do a guest blog for Leeds Grub (a great blog site about where to eat in Leeds and the surrounding area. I wrote this after our inspirational trip to Fairburn Ings.

We’ve got potatoes chitting in the garage and that is as far as it goes really.  If we’re not careful, even they are not going to grow properly as they won’t get in the ground in good time. As an aside, I do like to think that rather than chitting, the potatoes are chatting.  Imagine what they would be nattering away about.  Probably the weather – we’re growing British potatoes after all! Let’s hope that next weekend brings us some reasonable weather for digging potato trenches to get them out and that the ground stays warm enough to help them grow. 

The one good thing about the snow?  I’m spending a lot more time in my lovely new wellies! My old ones, as much as I loved them, sprung a leak. These bobby dazzlers were a birthday gift earlier in the year.  They’re coming in very useful.


Further afield

We recently returned from a trip to Portland Oregon.  Portland has what I believe is the US’s only maritime climate.  Which means that it is similar to the UK – except they have better, longer summers.  As a result, the produce they grow is phenomenal.  A trip round any of their supermarkets or fresh produce markets, which are common-place, is like an Aladdin’s Cave for keen allotmenters and people who like to know where their food comes from.

It’s displayed proudly, looks very very tempting and the choice is phenomenal.  I mean, look at these marble potatoes – amazing.  They do look like little bags of marbles.  We were staying in a hotel, otherwise I would have been spending a fortune in the fresh produce section at Whole Foods!

It also means that you can count on the food in the restaurants, cafes and food carts (an amazing food cart revolution is taking place in Portland, let me tell you) to be locally  grown, sourced and produced too.

Although I wasn’t lucky enough to see any fruit or veg being grown (I think I spied a vineyard on a drive to the coast but that was it) I did take time to look around two of Portland city’s beautiful gardens.  On a beautifully warm and sunny day I wandered around the International Rose Test garden.  There wasn’t much to see of the roses at this time of year – but the view was amazing.  Mount Hood is quite spectacular in the background.

Rose Test Garden

Sounds like an ice cream to me!


The view from the International Rose Test Garden

The second garden was in the very centre of downtown.  It was the relaxing and reflective Lan Su Chinese Garden.  It was not a gloriously sunny day when I visited. It was absolutely throwing it down. But it was still beautiful.  As you will see, over in the North West of America, spring seems so much further on.

Chinese plum

I learnt that the Chinese Plum is known as one of the Three Friends of Winter (along with the pine and the bamboo) because of it’s ability to flower even in the coldest months.


Not sure what this one is - but it's pretty nonetheless!


Winter Daphne


I’m not sure how much of these we’ll be growing ourselves but it was certainly an inspirational trip all round!






Soft fruit tidy up. Part 2.

Finally, I got down to the allotment today to prune the autumn raspberries.  I wasn’t there for very long – it was snowing lightly after all – but it was just enough time for tidying up the last of the soft fruit.

They were in a bit of a mess.  (As I think everything always is on our plot. We really aren’t tidy gardeners are we?) But when you look at messy photo and then you look at the tidy photo it makes you realise that you have done some good work, even if it’s not perfect.

Stage 1. Weed the area. The most boring part I think but, as you see above, quite important on this occasion.

Stage 2. Prune.  Now I had done a little research into raspberry pruning but I was really unsure about pruning the canes that already had leaves sprouting.  So I put the secateurs to some of them, but not all. Just in case.  It is amazing how much neater they look so let’s hope that they still produce plenty of juicy raspberries.

Stage 3. Get the stakes in. I found these in the garage. I’ve no idea what they were used for but I figured that they would do very well as plant supports.

Stage 4: The final stage. Wrap two rows of wire around each stake.  If I had been doing a really thorough job then I would have used self-tensioning bolts.  I obviously wasn’t and instead got tangled up with the wire. I think the idea is technically the same. I’d also like to think that this is what a normal, time-pressured person would do.

And, ta-dah! A row of raspberry supports, standing like little soldiers. I imagine they wouldn’t past muster if they were on parade. But as I said earlier, if you see things go from being very untidy to reasonably tidy, you do think that the change has been worth it whether it’s perfect or not!

A sign of spring?

Snowdrops.  Or galanthus to give them their proper name.  I have often been confused about snowdrops.  They’re fabled to be a sign of spring and yet I always think of them as being very wintry. I’d like to think I’m quite positive but even I am not sure that I could say that “spring is just around the corner” if you spy a small crop of snowdrops in January.

However, the snowdrops have appeared in the garden, hurrah!

And it got me thinking about snowdrops and how I don’t know much about them.  So I did what any normal person would do. Wikipedia.  As a result, here are some of my favourite facts about snowdrops.

  • Gala is Greek for milk – so snowdrops could also be called milk drops.
  • In most countries it is illegal to collect wild snowdrops. In fact, two years ago the National Trust strated tagging snowdrops when one stolen bulb was sold for £375 in an auction. (That last bit of the fact was from The Daily Mail so make of it what you will.)
  • During the Second World War, British people gave the US Military Police the nickname Snowdrops because they wore white helmets.

Hopefully we’ve all learnt something new. And I hope that everyone gets out this weekend and enjoys a bit of snowdrop spotting. It seems that spring is just around the corner!

I heart lists

I do. I aboslutely love lists.  And I am thrilled to say that I have been having a real list-making type of week. In work, at home, wherever. I’ve even written a list of what lists to make.  And I’ve cracked open not one but two new list-specific notebooks this week: magical.

For the allotment, a list -I’d really prefer to use the word cataloguing- of seeds that can be re-used for this growing year.  And also a short list of seeds that we need to buy.

It is unlikley to be a normal growing year for us but we are keen to clear the allotment up. We plan to grow potatoes, onions, beetroot, salad (I’m including spinach, lettuce and radish in that) more fruit and perhaps experiment with swede.

The growing list sits next to a basic diagram of the allotment beds. I’ve used Joe Swift’s book to help plan the crop rotation. I love that each year when I use the crop roatation chart in Joe’s book, I find the previous year’s diagram.  I hope that I will keep them all and go on finding them year on year.

In other exciting list news, I’ve become a little obsessed with Pinterest.  I think mood boards – and what is Pinterest if not an online mood board? – are essentially visual lists. I can categorise, add to and remove from my own lists whenever I so choose and can like, follow and admire other people’s lists (pins -whatever) a list lover’s paradise. You may even have noticed that I have added the ‘follow me on Pinterest’ button.  Please do!

And so, on to my next list….