Its been a funny old time for me with the allotment. Illness means I have been forced to rely on others, which is not something I am very good at. Thankfully FIL and TNG have risen to the occasion wonderfully, planting, weeding and picking while I have been stuck at home wondering. Without them the plot would be an utter disaster, but I’ve found it hard not being able to see what is happening, and find my utter failure to do the planned successional sowing irritating to say the least. Thankfully, today I was up to walking up to the plot with TNG, and despite the threatening skies, the rain held off until we got back. I managed to potter around, admire TNG’s wonderful weeding, and generally catch up with where things were at. I even managed to do some Actual Gardening!

Threatening Skies

Actually I have a small confession. TNG and I may have set out together, but we didn’t reach the plot together. The first thing to distract me and make me pull out my camera was the sea of ripe(ning) grain in the first field we cross. I love the contrast between the threatening sky and the straw coloured crop. A couple of weeks ago this was still all green. What I don’t understand is why walking along we were accompanied by the sound I associate with eating Rice Crispies – snap, crackle, pop… The reaction of the ripening ears to the sun? Something to do with moisture levels? Whatever it was, it was disconcerting.

Then there were the thistles. No idea what kind of thistles, but so pretty.


When I got to the field the plots are sat in, there was yet more distraction in the form of the wildflowers – or weeds – now occupying the unmown areas. I love the fact that apart from wide paths through the young trees the rest is left to get on with it.

Mown Paths

Last time I was up here, at the end of May, it was full of wild daisies, the occasional poppy, white campion and what I think is horseshoe vetch.

Wild Daisies
Horseshoe Vetch

This time there were emerging cow parsley flowers, which look extraordinary, something yellow (I’ve lost my wildflower book in the chaos of my desk) and something pink.

Cow Parsely Buds
Yellow Wild flowers
Pretty Pink Flower

There were other things too, but this isn’t actually supposed to be about the wild flowers, but about what I found when I eventually made it to the plot.

Lets get that dreaded blight thing out of the way first…

Our potatoes were already extremely disappointing. I put them in nice and early, they started growing really well, attracting admiring looks and even outright praise. Then all growth seemed to just stop. At the time I put it down to a combination of the sudden cold spell combined with the dry spell during which we didn’t water enough. All around me potatoes were overtaking my own paultry specimens, and by the start of June the main potato bed looked like this:


At the time I put the yellowing leaves on several of the ‘Swift’ potato plants down to the lack of water, but I started to wonder about the dreaded b-word. As I had a number of squash and courgette plants that needed space, and as the potatoes looked so dire, I got FIL to start clearing them. We had all assumed that there wouldn’t be any actual potatoes to eat, but as it turns out we have been eating a fair few now. But. By the time I read Kate’s sad tale FIL had brought back tales of neighbouring plot holders with blight. I don’t know if it always works like this, but on either side of me people have sections of really strong healthy looking spud plants right next door to pathetic yellowing plants just like mine. Today I saw how bad it has got. In fear of the blight reaching the tubers, we have removed the top growth on all the remaining plants and will be eating a lot potatoes in the days to come. But not as many as we had hoped, and not for as long. If anyone knows what the advice is on planting things in soil that has had blighty potatoes I would love to hear from you…

Shameful But Productive

On a happier note, despite the bed itself being a disgrace, the “legumes” bed – peas and beans – has been providing us with a bountiful harvest for weeks now. The first lot of broad beans are pretty much over, as are the dwarf peas, but both have delivered several meals of lovely taste sensation, despite, in the case of the peas, many being munched up at the allotment as a “reward” for weeding. The mangetout and sugar snap peas are still going strong, and the French beans will soon be producing too. I think this is the most successful bed so far, in terms of food delivered, though I long for enough space to grow enough broad beans to “have” to make hummus and other more exotic delights.

When I was originally planning how to use the space, I was going to have borders on either side providing flowers for cutting. Chopping and changing bed sizes, wanting room for more squash plants etc. has drastically reduced the number of flowers I have up there, but the front bed with sweet peas , cosmos ‘Dazzler’ and (as yet still small) Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ provides a lovely welcome to the plot.

Sweet Pea Border

I love sweet peas. No matter how many we cut and use to fill the house with fragrance, there are always more. Elsewhere there are snapdragons. I went for ‘Orange Wonder’, which are not at all what I envisaged, they turn out to have an awful lot of pink and peach to them, but they brighten the boundary between us and “next door”. These will soon be accompanied by various sunflowers, assuming they don’t get munched to ground level. I also have phacelia, which is actually far too tall to be growing where it is, alongside the raspberries, but its so pretty. Not quite the cutting garden I had dreamt of back in February, but together with the cornflowers I am squeezing in to every gap I can, much better than nothing at all.

Snapdragon Orange Wonder

All well and good, but you can’t eat flowers – or not these anyway. In theory I will have various marigolds popping up, but they are proving awfully slow. I was glad to see that the first lot of sweetcorn I planted are now growing strongly, though I would have expected them to be rather taller than this by now. The second batch are still miniscule, I don’t know whether they will mature in time, and are part of what has become my ‘Two and a half sisters’ bed.

Two And A Half Sisters

The glib little sections in my gardening books talk about combining sweetcorn with climbing beans (using the corn as supports) and trailing squashes (as a weed suppressant and to aid moisture retention). It all sounds wonderful in theory, but then I read that it worked for the Native Americans because they harvested all the crops as dried beans/corn, and that actually it can be hard to harvest the beans and corn “fresh” as we tend to want to. And anyway you need a huge mound of compost/manure and a larger area if you want to do it “properly”. But I still like the idea of combining the nitrogen fixing properties of beans with the weed suppressant qualities of squashes. So, I have two blocks of sweetcorn with courgettes planted in the gaps where not enough corn germinated and a block of dwarf French beans as a nod to the Three Sisters idea. As long as I get edibles from it, I’ll be happy!

All in all, with all the help I am getting, and thanks to the amazing resilience of plants – even when almost overwhelmed by weeds – I am pretty happy with the plot. There are cabbages and lettuce to harvest, cauliflower, sprouting broccoli and brussel sprouts growing away strongly, some of the salad onions I had given up on are actually going to be rather good, and I have courgettes and squashes forming. I can live with the failures – potatoes, bolting lettuce, disappearing coriander and parsley, pathetic parsnips – because every now and then I get to deal with something like this in the kitchen:

Good Harvest

And my new love? Could apply to the whole adventure of allotmenteering – despite learning today that some people are having their (presumably blight free) potatoes stolen). But actually its this:

Discovering Beetroot

I promised myself when I started this little adventure that I would try growing at least one thing that I thought I didn’t like. This year it was beetroot, because MIL loves it and its easy. It turns out that I love beetroot. A slice of freshly cooked Boltardy? Delicious. Raw grated yellow strands of Burpees Golden? Gorgeous. But my current favourite, courtesy of River Cottage Every Day, is beetroot hummus. Beetroot with roasted walnuts, a little garlic, lemon juice and ground cumin. Heaven. And has converted at least two other beetroot haters. Just don’t eat it while wearing white!

Beetroot Hummus

43 thoughts on “Of blight, help, and new love

  1. Wow! Another busy post. Loved the golden fields (& the mown path), flowery allotment (I see the twiggy supports are still standing) and veggie pics (especially the beetroot). I’m afraid to say that beetroot in vinegar from the supermarket is my favourite fridge snack. Might try that hummus recipe for a change.

    1. Hi b-a-g – at least this time almost all the business was other people’s! I still hate pickled beetroot, but am about to lunch on the hummus. Hope you enjoy it, though it probably won’t have the same elicit pleasure that the supermarket fridge snack would.

  2. The payoff! How nice to be harvesting all those great veggies. The beet hummus doesn’t sound good to me, but maybe I should try. Glad to hear you’re feeling better.

    1. The harvesting certainly makes all the digging feel worthwhile. I felt the same about the beetroot hummus, but love it. Though I will still vigorously defend anybodies right to dislike the red root ;-)

  3. I am so glad you took the detour through and past the wildflowers. You go some beautiful photos and the first one in the post is simple but phenomenal. Glad you are getting better too. I never had beetroot, but you can not beat the taste of homegrown veggies. I picked peas the last couple of days, and I hate peas. But I tried my homegrown ones to eat pod and all and they were tasty. So it is good to try new things.

    1. Hi Donna, so glad you enjoyed the photo, a great compliment coming from you. I think homegrown peas fresh from the pod are utterly delicious, so am glad you enjoyed yours. I think my next taste challenge will probably be kale…

  4. The “something yellow” flower is Hypericum (St.John’s Wort) I think – I recognise it because I posted about it only yesterday! And the best advice for growing spuds in a place where blight has been present is: don’t grow any potatoes there for at least 3 years. This is never going to happen at an Allotment site. Everyone will be trying to grow potatoes. In my opinion, it is really a matter of luck. I suppose you could try growing them under floating fleece to guard against the airborne blight spores, but then this might create too humid an atmosphere…

    1. Thanks for the id Mark – how funny that you have just posted about it! I was more worried about whether I can plant e.g. beans or salad leaves where the blighty potatoes were. Next year the potatoes will be in another different bed, which has so far not shown any potato growth from tubers left behind by the previous tenants and our digging. And will cross my fingers and toes for better luck. Will think about the fleece though.

  5. Blight can be a terrible problem on allotments, I think you were fairly lucky really. I had to stop growing tomatoes on the allotment I had in the UK because of it, and I’m nervous about inside the greenhouse here especially as this week has been humid even outside.
    I’m so glad you’re beginning to fell better and I’m sure all the fresh veg will help too! Christina

    1. Hi Christina, I don’t think anyone tries to grow tomatoes up at the allotments any more, and several people have given up on potatoes because of the blight and the wireworm. Its a real problem – and yet when I lived on Anglesey Jacqui never had any problems at all. Maybe the sea air helped, but there again, Kate lives near the sea too and got blight. Who knows!

      I really hope your greenhouse allows you to grow healthy tomatoes. If it is any help, I had a great crop last year even though my greenhouse is on the small side and we had lots of humid weather at times. Its certainly good to be feeling better again, and eating home grown veges certainly feels healthy, so who knows! Maybe it is all this beetroot I suddenly find myself eating…

  6. Ah I was thinking the yellow wildflower is ragwort. Which brings back memories of a National Trust “holiday” spent pulling the stuff up from steep banks around Fountains Abbey as a teenager, to avoid deer and horses being poisoned by it.
    So sad about your potatoes :-(. Though your beetroot looks wonderful, and the rest of your fine harvest. And your sweet peas and cosmos are beautiful, though indeed not so edible.

    1. Hi Sara – I will have to look in to the yellow flower more, work out which it is, hypericum or ragwort. or something else! I’ll blow up the details of leaves and flowers and go from there. Wish I could find my book, but for that I would have to tidy my desk!

      On the potato front, at least we are getting several meals out of what we have got, although lots of them would make good marbles they are so tiny! I’ll enjoy what we are succeeding with, including the flowers, and hope for better luck with the spuds next year. At least it is not just me, which makes me feel a bit better – if pot neighbours with years of expertise are having problems, I probably couldn’t have avoided it!

  7. Glad to know you’re feeling well enough to visit your allotment again. Hope you’re feeling much better and on the mend :) A beet root lover, I could snack on pickled beetroot all day (yuck I hear some say!), but that beetroot humus sounds great, combined with walnuts, etc sounds divine!

    1. Hi guys, it is good to be able to be more active again, though I am grateful not to be faced with the kind of Grand Project you are currently working on! The hummus tastes fabulous on spelt rolls…

  8. Looks like good crops as good as mine anyway. We won’t mention the tatties… Sometimes I think we try to hard nd the veg grow in spite of us.

    1. Hi Janet, I think you may be right, I find it pleasantly ironic that the weediest bed is producing the biggest crops!

  9. As far as I am aware you can plant in ground that has had potato blight as normal but obviously avoid potatoes and tomatoes. Some varieties are more susceptible to blight than others which is maybe why you have some growing OK next to ones that aren’t. If the potatoes are just yellowing it won’t be blight.

    As for the sweetcorn – it has plenty of time to grow yet. The sort that would support beans as planted by the NA Indians would have been much taller/stronger growing – the varieties we plant in the garden just wouldn’t survive the weight of runner beans.

    I think the yellow flower is ragwort and the pink one is a convolvulus (bindweed)

    1. Hi Sue, thanks for that. Any idea what the yellowing would be due to then? Some sort of mineral deficiency? Maybe there wasn’t enough muck dug in before we planted. I thought the pink flower looked like a bindweed relative of some sort, though we only had white flowering stuff clogging up our borders (now all gone, thanks to FIL). 2-1 to ragwort vs. hypericum then!

        1. Don’t think so – they were all VERY short plants, less than a foot, and that is all 6 different varieties…

      1. Ragwort and hypericum can look the same from a distance. To be honest it would need a close-up of the flower and leaf to be sure

  10. Janet, I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Your distractions are lovely and the idea of walking along and hearing the wheat ‘pop’ entices me.

    Your cottage flower garden is charming and fanciful and don’t even get me started on beets! Love them and have converted several of my friends too ;)

    1. I Cat, I wish I knew how to find out what was creating those popping noises. Glad you are a fellow beet fan, like all converts, I am now puzzled as to how I could ever have disliked them…

  11. Janet, your plot looks just lovely. I love the flowers at the entrance, such a nice way to start the gardening day. Many years ago I visited Australia where they put beetroot on everything. A vegetable I thought I disliked suddenly became my favourite. Who knew it could be so good fresh and uncooked on a salad? now if I could just get the seeds to sprout. I’ve planted twice so far, third times the charm?

    1. Hi Marguerite, I have to admit that one of the reasons I decided to definitely grow beetroot was because I read that you can sow a handful of seeds to each module in a tray and then transplant little groups of seedlings, allowing them to make their own space for themselves as they grow. I hope your third time round works for you, I imagine your colder climate will mean they should grow away now when perhaps they would have struggled earlier?

  12. Your first photograph is simply perfect, and looks so peaceful and inviting. Sorry about the blighty spuds, I haven’t had to battle that yet here. We grow quite a few beets here. At first Mr. CV was convinced he hated them, but he’d only ever had them out of a tin. He’s discovered he loves them roasted with a smidge of olive oil, or thinly sliced in a salad. I think it’s great you grew them, even though you weren’t sure you liked them. Home grown veggies are just always so much better tasting!

    1. Thank you – I did really enjoy the contrast between the sky and the crops. I’m glad you mentioned roasting beetroot, it is next on my list of ways to try cooking it, so you have helped convince me to not just stick to the hummus, however lovely. I hope you continue to be a blight-free zone, it is such a miserable thing to get.

  13. Sorry to hear about your blight problem. I’d expect potatoes to be growing about 3 or 4 foot high so not sure what’s happened there. I grow most in bags (17 litre polypots) and when I see die back the foliage is cut off and the bags are moved under cover for a couple of weeks for the skins to harden. It’s been successful so far. Great harvest and wonderful looking beetroot.

    1. Hi Damo, yes, 3′ was about what I was expecting – and what other plotholders now have. Ah well, there were bound to be some failures, just didn’t expect it to be the spuds somehow! At least there is plenty of beetroot.

  14. Hi,

    I’m glad you managed to get down to the allotment, shame about the blight…

    I’ve never tried potatoes though we do have them dotted around the garden thanks to a previous owner who used to have a veg plot… They never flower and never get higher than say, 30cm but also don’t look sickly so I never try to harvest them although yesterday when planting a Gaura I came across some very pretty little potatoes! :)
    You have a very nice harvest going on there though, definitely be proud of it! I know I’m jealous of your perseverence with it all as I know I’d give up; I like the idea of growing my own food way more than actually doing it.

    1. Hi Liz, the blight is a pain in the posterior, but there again, people with pristine spuds have been getting them nicked, so perhaps I am better off this way. I like the idea of you having spurious spuds littered through your borders – the only healthy spuds on our plot are the ones growing from tubers left behind from the previous tenants!

      I know what you mean about the perserverance thing, I wasn’t sure I would stay the course, but I love it, so am already looking forward to doing things differently/the same next year, depending on which experiments worked. Maybe your time will come in a few years?! I couldn’t have knuckled down to it until now, I don’t think.

  15. The narrow mowed swath with the trees is a lovely contrast to the wilder grasses.

    I’m glad you’ve turned the corner to love beets! In my book there are beet-lovers and those who eventually will be, given the right recipes and the freshest ingredients. I’ll add the beet hummus to my arsenal in this crusade. Thanks for sharing this great idea!

    1. Hi James, I am a very happy convert, just about to go and eat some of that hummus on a freshly baked roll for lunch.

  16. Glad that you are starting to feel a little better Janet. Shame about your potatoes, but the beetroot looks great, only ever had it pickled though, now I wonder if that counts as one of your five a day.

    1. Thanks Alisatair. I recommend beetroot in Other Forms – a personal revelation, though I am aware that I am beginning to sound like a very annoying new convert ;-)

  17. What a bountiful harvest you have there, Janet! I would say your allotment has been a resounding success this year, and how nice to have some help from family members. I don’t know much about growing potatoes, but my tomatoes often get the blight. Once you’ve had blight, you shouldn’t plant tomatoes in the same place for another three years; I suppose this might be helpful with potatoes, too. Perhaps the variation in moisture made your potatoes more susceptible, too, although it’s always hard to keep a garden as evenly moist as experts recommend.

    The beet hummus looks so colorful; I like hummus, but I’ve never seen it made with beets before! I’ve never minded beets, but after I planted some last year, I discovered I really like them, too, so I planted even more this year. Buttered or pickled beets are my favorites.

    Hope you are on the mend so you can enjoy the rest of the season in the garden!

    1. Hi Rose. Thank you, I feel pretty happy about my first year as an allotmenteer (if that’s a word). There have been the inevitable failures, but plenty of successes too, and I certainly have a better idea of what I would love to grow more of next year. I’m officially hooked!

      Its great starting to feel better and being able to get up there more frequently. Buttered beetroot sounds rather nice – glad you are a fellow fan!

  18. Hi Janet, enjoyed every minute of the sojourn up to the veg plot. Tarrying under darkening skies and wandering with wildflowers. Then on to serious allotment matters – another sad case of blight which is affecting lots of you veg growers but still a harvest of beans and beetroot (and what a festival of flowers too). Thanks for the beetmus recipe – love to eat it hand -to-mouth, still warm and sliced with pepper, garlic and oil – burgundy fingers and all.
    p.s. I loathed Corriander until this year – now I have a crush on it. Tastes change with age ;)

    1. Hi Laura, I love your comments, I always end up filing away another new phrase, This time I think it has to be beetmus! I agree about fresh still-warm beetroot, though I’ve not tried it with garlic and pepper, that goes on the list. Its funny how tastes change over time. You never know, I may end up liking tarragon and star anise, but for now I will celebrate discovering beetroot.

  19. I do hope you are better, I am sure the walk into the countryside helped. I grew up in a family of beet growers and beet eaters, and despite having to taste them each time they were served, I never aquired a taste, which is a polite way of saying how I feel about them.

    1. Hi Les, my, you were well brought up to be so polite about something you hate! My face was almost as red as the veg in question when I realised that my supposedly life-long loathing of it had come to an abrupt end, particularly looking back on the way I used to tease MIL about her beetroot habit. So watch out, it may get you, but if not, enjoy the loathing, I still hate liquorice.

      I am doing better, thank you. The walk in the countryside definitely helped, I’m making a point of getting out and about most days, pottering at the allotment and watching the landscape change as the summer roles on. I always feel better when I am getting outside a lot.

  20. I love beets and am looking forward to harvesting mine. I’ve never grown potatoes so I have no advice but at least your crop wasn’t a total loss. I love your snapdragons!! Beautiful!!

    1. Oh, enjoy your harvest – I’ve sown some more, I really don’t want to run out now!! I love the snapdragons too, they really cheer me up, and work well in a vase too.

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