Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for June, 2016

‘Elements’ Fashion Show in Cornwall – on a BARGE! 30 June.

Monday, June 20th, 2016

This is where the next ‘Elements’ fashion show will be!

The Barge

Isn’t it cute?  It is a barge, moored on the canal in Bude, right outside the shop where I am also teaching that day, which is Thursday 30 June.  I am teaching for the lovely Coastal Yarns people and the workshop is the Drift Mitts from Elements. The workshop is fully booked but I believe that there are spaces for the free-of-charge fashion show, at which there will be drinks, nibbles, me and all the Elements knits, books, Rowan garments and a raffle!

Here are the Drift Mitts which I am teaching that day:DSC_0937

If you’d like to join the workshop, you can ask Coastal Yarns about the waiting list.  And do come to the show, which is free of charge and runs from c 5 PM to 6.30 PM. Contact Coastal here.  Or ring the shop on 01288 350304.  I hope to see you there.


Smoke and Mirrors – a new version!

Friday, June 17th, 2016

This is another version of Smoke and Mirrors by Michelle who attended this course here recently – the ginger and the deep blue look amazing together.  I love it.

Smoke and Mirrors by Michelle

If you would like to make this bag and learn a lot about felted hand-knitting with no tears, there are still two places on my autumn repeat – it is on Sunday 4 September and you can book it here.  These are are the last two spaces for any Court Cottage courses for 2016, so do come!  The knitting is pretty straightforward and rather good fun.  Everyone who has made this bag is delighted with it – it is a real head-turner.

Allotment Blues

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

It’s all ups and downs at the allotment.  Is this normal?  I don’t know.  I am a gardener, not an allotmenter.  There is a big difference.  Show me a shrub or a leaf, a bulb or a flower – and I can almost certainly identify it.  And I have grown vegetables and fruit for many years – on a tiny scale.  But I don’t know a squash from a courgette until it’s in the frying pan, and the range of insects and pests that an allotment can generate is industrial.

Before I start moaning, which I am going to, some pretty images from last week:


So, downs.  First, the potatoes have died in their towers.  Cause:  ants.  Huge colonies of dark brown or black ants had secretly and unseen, invaded the lower regions and in making their soil-cities, totally undermined the potatoes.  The tops just suddenly died.  We have dismantled two infested towers – the lovely pink ones – and await the imminent demise of the two others – ant activity is obvious.  I am just so sad about this. There was nothing but mush left.

Second, the brassica cage is preventing large butterflies such as cabbage whites from getting in.  But the mesh is not fine enough to stop smaller flying predators, notably tiny white moths (I think) and small flying beetles about 4mm long.  A few eggs have been laid so I have been frantically inspecting the cage every day.  This strategy is not sustainable. I think the producers of this cage and net probably assume that gardeners will also spray the crops for other pests, but I don’t.

Also in the cage, ants undermined three plants (this was about a month ago so I set organic ant-baits and this worked, insomuch as no more plants died.  Yet). And though we bought and watered in nematoads which are an organic and critter-friendly anti-slug treatment, slugs have eaten and killed some kale.  So I have set down some organic slug bait now.  The cage is also hard to weed.  This last problem is entirely my own fault.

In the lower part of the plot, slugs have eaten some of my climbing French beans – again, organic slug bait is now down.  I am not hopeful.  I think I may as well do an anti-slug dance down there and place the matter in the hands of the universe; it has about the same chances of success.

Ups:  the courgettes are starting to show fruits, as are some Japanese squash that Will bought off the interweaves and I germinated and planted.

Courgette, Black Beauty:

Courgette, Summat Yellow Off The Intertrawls:

The runners look OK – but they are right beside the blighted potato towers so I am on ant-alert up there.  The broad beans are all out of the ground. We have a fair few bags stashed in the freezer too.  In the end, it was so dry and warm here, they kind of bolted in that they just went from baby-beans that were tender and delicious, to being uber-leather-jacketed-beans in the space of about four days.  The garlic is also out and it was rubbish but I have some to use and store and after all, I only used shop bought bulbs for about a quid.

The carrots in the raised bed are great, as are the pea-shoots. And the free raspberries are all, bar one, alive and sending out new growth.

We have eaten the first cut of chard.  Hmm. I think I ought to have tasted some before I planted so much of it.  It is like spinach – which I love – but with an aggressive soil after-taste.  I hear from Lily that ‘soil’ is fashionable in them fancy restaurants where they present you with a box of grass and some dry-ice.  Any ideas for cooking it in easy ways that may mitigate the tangy earthy palette?  I cooked a mix of white, ruby and orange chard, all baby stems which I kind of steamed/fried with a little butter and then when that was tender I  added the shredded leaves to wilt.  I mean, it worked; it was edible.  Just not very nice.

The wet June a lot of places have had, has not happened here.  The communal water tanks, pumped from the pond, are dry and our own water butt is half empty.  It seems that it is ‘usual’ for folks to take from the communal tanks routinely and use the plot tank only when really needed, but we didn’t realise that.  Plus, it is a fair walk with buckets and cans to the pond area and I frankly do not have the time to schlep water in some soft-focus idyllic version of real allotment life, in which the truth is you need military standard anti-mosquito spray and clothing to go within five meters of the pond and the lush, bug-infested grass around the water tanks.  I sustained EIGHT bites a fortnight ago and lost the thick end of two nights’ sleep as a result.

Beneath this lot, there is a pond:

And there were a bazillion of these, this one was captured by Mark:

So…in month eight of Project Allotment, here’s what I think.  It has been incredibly hard work and to a great extent this has paid off.  It looks OK, it is all dug and we have had some produce with the potential for more.  I love the place it is in and, when I am not under pressure, I love the being there part.  I have learned a lot too.  However, I just do not have time to do this properly.  The reality of ‘sharing’ a huge project like this is that it needs someone to be there, if only for an hour or two, at least four times a week.  I am the only partner with a ‘flexible’ timetable, so this is almost always me. I expected it to be 60% me, and 40% the other three.  This is not the case – and it’s not a ‘fault’, it’s just a fact.  I find myself worrying in a low-level way about it more than I think happy up-lifting thoughts too.  If I went away for two weeks, even if the others were here, I know it’d be a nightmare when I got back because they just can’t spend the time there that it seems to need.  And at least half the work feels ‘remedial’ – weeding, pest-control, grass cutting, water schlepping.

I think I may be edging towards handing in our notice in October. Meantime, I will keep it clean, tidy and weed free, and get from it what I can.  But this model is not sustainable.



Finally, Produce From The Allotment (that is not rhubarb)

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

In month seven of Project Allotment, it’s all going rather well.  We have been able to harvest our first non-rhubarb crops:  broad beans and pea shoots:

We did not grow the wine.

The broad beans are really delicious, and as we are picking them small and young all they need is a quick saute with seasoning, butter and garlic.  We also had some with crispy bacon cubes sizzled first.  I will definitely grow these again, but I will do some things differently.  First, I will sow them a bit later in the winter – December, not November.  Then I will plant them much closer together, as most folks on the allotment do.  And I will add a sort of rope and stake support framework as they really suffered in the big storms we had from January to March.  And I might add a second sowing of a later variety that goes in in February, and crops in the mid-summer.  If I make the sowing closer, I reckon I can double the output over a longer period.

The pea shoots were an experiment in a raised bed. I just found an old packet of dried peas in the cupboard and popped a lot of them in – 98% germination and they LOVE it!

Beans in the background.  These are now over half way up the poles.  The pea-shoots are so tasty; the idea is to pick the tips continuously so they do not make pea-pods.  This salad crop is eleventy pounds a bag in that London or Waitrose.  This is free!  I am very chuffed.

In other news, the brassica cage and I have been spending a lot of time together and I really wish I had a door rather than a complex system of veils and hooks plus bricks.  But, the bastard cabbage whites are thronging elsewhere so my little plants are safe, at least.

Here are the little plants in situ (note: still had to put in 2 rows of orange chard, this shot was about 3 weeks ago):

And this is now:

A lady in our village was giving away raspberry plants the other week – she had loads that were taking over her garden so she was just pulling up canes with roots and she kindly gave me about 20 canes.  I have put them in, and they do look a bit sorry for themselves but in the winter I rescued 3 canes/plants from the weed infested top border at the allotment and re-planted them; even though they looked as if they had died at first, they are thriving now. So I am hopeful that these will ‘take’.

The courgettes are all in and they are just beginning to show tiny courgettes, some of which are yellow!

It said on the packet they would be yellow!

Also, did you know that the roots of ruby chard, are PINK:

It’s hard to see, but they are very softly pink, really pretty.

The potato towers are now 4 tyres high and now it is time to let the potatoes grow above the soil level.  The pink ones will be ready in about 4 – 6 weeks I think.

The carrots in the seed beds have gone very well and should be ready to start eating the ‘thinnings’ in a week or so; the ones in the ground went less well but I am still hopeful that we will get some decent ones.

And the nuclear rhubarb is STILL growing.  Here it is after being picked again, with the fork in shot for scale:

Rhubarb is now included to take home, free of charge, after all my workshops and I will be making rhubarb fool pots every time, sorry. I have also got a new recipe for rhubarb cream cookies and a rhubarb cinnamon cake recipe to try.  If you don’t like rhubarb…well, I guess you could have an apple?

When I got the plot, officially that was 1 November 2015, the man who had it before kindly gave me the shed and water butt.  I said then that I’d bring some produce up for him and I wrote down his address.  Well last night I was able to deliver the first batch:  rhubarb (which I am going to assume he absolutely adores, as the patch he grew is the most productive of all on the field); and a large bundle of broad beans.  I left them on the step.  I hope they are not on holiday…

It’s not all gone brilliantly.  The garlic is frankly poor and way behind where it ought to be.  I think it may not like the heavy and now bone-dry rock-hard earth. But anyway, it’s not good.  And the strawberries which were all rescued from the choking weeds are also very poor, probably they are just old.  I am not a big fan of them anyway, so I might plant some youngsters from runners or I might not bother at all and use this ground for something else.

I also have a few flowers that I either took myself from here or rescued:

Here is a shot of most of the plot:

What a difference this last few months have made.  I feel very at home there.  To be honest, about a month ago, I did get very overwhelmed by it all – this allotment plus a garden here plus 2 jobs etc – and I thought I’d let it go come the autumn.  But Mark has helped a lot and last weekend they kids went down for a half-day on their own and I had a long break from it.  But usually I am happy to wander down and on average I guess I spend 2 hours at a time – so sometimes it’s more like 4 or 5, but others it’s just a quick watering session.  There is no shade, and I think I will need to have some sort of shelter, even if it’s just an old sun-shade umbrella as it has been very hot and very dry.  No real rain for a lot of weeks now.  There are cracks in the earth that I can fit my hand into, and I can’t dig it!

The whole field looks amazing at the moment.  Some of the plots are like show-gardens and I love looking at them all.  Everyone does things slightly differently and I have learned a lot.  For example, the lady next door gave me two little squash plants she had grown, Patty Pan Squash.  She also lent me two tubes of plastic to ‘shelter’ them in – cut from a squash bottle or similar.  You just nestle it round the small plant and this not only lends some shelter, and protection from slugs, it also make it easy to water direct into the space.  So we have saved all ours (Will and I drink litres of cheap fizzy water every week) and I chopped them up to snuggle young brassica plants into.  After a few weeks you can just lift them off.  Clever.

The pond at the bottom is just lovely with so many wild and marginal plants now many feet tall.  And the frog population is vast – the grass round the pond and the water butts is alive with tiny frog-lettes.  Mark caught one long enough for me to take this: