News From The Plot

As anyone who has ever dabbled in some gardening will know, growing things is nothing if not unpredictable. A crop that was prolific last year may struggle to get off the ground this year round and something that you’ve always struggled to grow might leave you with a plentiful bounty to share with friends, family and pretty much anyone you encounter on the street! We are in the middle of our first harvest at the plot here in Topsham and although we have had a mix of successes and failures, it’s been a great experience nonetheless and for once (mostly due to my co-worker’s enthusiasm!) we’re even planting winter crops.

The season started with an abundance of strawberries and asparagus, beds that my co-worker inherited with the patch. Before I knew it, the kids were actually asking to go the allotment rather than being cajoled by me as they knew they could spend the whole time hunting for juicy red fruit and more often than not, eating it all before the adults got a look in! Our potatoes have been plentiful, the raspberry canes have been producing non-stop for weeks now and our paddy pan plants (an odd mix between a courgette and squash) are providing a steady and constant supply of yellow flying saucer shaped fruits. Our carrots were hilariously misshapen and tasty and the beetroot was delicious although there definitely wasn’t enough of it! Our spaghetti squash, sweetcorn and brussel sprouts are still growing but I’m looking forward to them being ready (especially for the former, an amazing variety of squash I once received from Riverford but never encountered again).

However, we have also had our fair share of failures. Our peas were repeatedly eaten by slugs and snails, our beans have been slow and not particularly abundant and more recently, my gorgeous stripy tomato plants caught blight! Apparently it’s spread across the allotment like wildfire so I don’t think we could have prevented it but I was so sad as nothing beats how delicious a home-grown tomato is compared to the watery, bland shop bought variety. I think the somewhat sporadic weather over the last few weeks is to blame (and is also the culprit of the prolific weeds which we are constantly warring with) but I guess that’s just the way it goes.

But as the season slows down and we turn our thoughts to keeping the plot maintained during the colder months of the year, the thing I’m most excited about is the fact that we are making a pond!! Someone mentioned to us that we could have a small pond if we wanted to use up a little of the space and we jumped on the idea! The kids are absolutely psyched as am I about the whole process, from digging the hole to filling it, choosing plants and hopefully watching wildlife appear and make it home!

I’ve said it before but I really think that growing things with your kids is of amazing value, from teaching them how to garden, to having an excuse to get them outdoors when tempers are fraying to the excitement of when they get to harvest the fruits that they’ve carefully helped grow over the last few months. It also has the added benefit of having a fairly quick turnaround so they see their results within just a few months of starting the process. No need to be naturally green fingered, we can all learn as we go and you won’t regret growing your own (or at least trying to), I promise!

Pride before a fall

(This is a column that was in the paper from before Christmas but thought some of you might enjoy it so posted it despite it being rather late!)

On Saturday I took part in my first ever trail run. I have done plenty of road running in my time and this year have started participating in races, taking part in a 10k and half marathon. I’ve even enjoyed them! Consequently, in the run up (pun intended I’m afraid!) to the Cockington Christmas Capers run, I was a little relaxed, verging on cocky (intentional again). It was 8 miles. I run 8 miles regularly as part of my training for next year’s marathon (more on that later). I didn’t need to make any special effort, I was just going to turn up and run it. Job’s a good ‘un as they say.

Well. Two things. Firstly, trail running is a whole different kettle of fish to road running. (Why didn’t anyone tell me!?) And secondly, it was, without exaggeration, the hardest sporting endeavour that I have ever taken part in. I think the word used to describe courses such as Cockington is the innocent sounding ‘undulating’. I estimate perhaps 10-20% of the course was flat, the rest was up huge muddy hills in the forest or down steep steps covered in wet leaves. I was running with an incredibly fit friend of mine who kindly stayed at my slow, often staggering pace and without him, I don’t think I’d have finished.

I was less than two miles in when I first thought the fatal thought…I can’t do this. The hills were too steep, the ground too slippy, I had had too little sleep (thanks kids!), I obviously just wasn’t made for trails. But by the water point halfway round I’d remembered a conversation between two ladies that I’d overheard during the Great West Run. They had devised thirteen different conversation topics for each mile of the run in order to keep their minds distracted from the running. I had a bit of a moment and realised that I was perfectly capable of running it, but only if my head was in the right place. So I switched back to annoyingly chirpy, put on my big girl pants and got on with it.

And you know what, I finished the race. I think I’d say that I’m glad that I did it and I’d probably even do it again. Speaking of which…that marathon I mentioned? Turns out that I signed up for something without fully looking into it. Not only is it a marathon but it’s on trails, not road and is described as ‘brutal’ and in the top ten of toughest marathons in the UK. I’m feeling slightly apprehensive but I’ve got six months to train and I haven’t fallen over yet. Watch this space!


Project Sweetie

Last week Sophia started playing a game in which she pretended to sell sweets in the garden. She made a sign (‘Roll up, Roll up. Sweets!’) and taped it to the top of a tall branch before taking it up to our driveway to be displayed next to our gate. She got frustrated at the lack of customers and her lack of actual sweets or money. Her imaginative play was blurring lines with reality and she was starting to get fed up and to be honest, I think a little confused with what she actually wanted to do or achieve…

So Dan came up with a good idea. He would help her make proper advertising, take her to the cash and carry to bulk buy some sweets, work out pricing and take her to a car boot so she could tout her wares (who couldn’t resist buying a bag of sweets from a cute 4 year old, desperate to play shop?!) She was ecstatic! I thought about it a bit and suggested that rather than buying some sweets we could make some to sell. I’m not sure who was more excited; Sophia at the idea of making her own sweets or Dan at the idea of Sophia seeing a ‘business’ through from beginning to end!

So today we chose some recipes and gave Dan a shopping list. Once we’d finished our ‘work’ for the day we attempted our first sweet recipe, a simple recipe from an old book to make little toffees. And it was an absolute, complete and utter fail! I’ve never boiled sugar before and did think it was odd that the only ingredients were sugar, water and vinegar but trusted the book and their picture of delicious looking golden brown toffees, topped with hundreds and thousands. We followed the recipe to the letter but unfortunately the end result was these…


Essentially, rock hard, clear, sticky lumps of boiled sugar….complete with hundreds and thousands! I almost broke a tooth trying to eat one. We’d had some leftover ‘toffee’ and I’d dipped apples in them but it made the apples impenetrable so I ended up chipping the hard sugar off the apples so the kids could actually eat the apples whilst Isaac moaned about having sugar stuck in his teeth.

toffee apple

toffee apple2

toffee apple3

However, despite me suggesting that we throw them all and start again another day, Sophia still insisted on trying to eat one of the original toffees. After a valiant attempt, more teeth picking and stickiness pervading every area of the table, she admitted defeat and agreed that we won’t be making toffees for her to sell! We’ve got ingredients to make fudge so she’s feeling optimistic (as am I!) about making some fudge on Wednesday.

It was a good learning experience though. Sophia often struggles with not getting things right the first time so it was good for her to see us trying something, not managing it, but still having fun. There was a lot of laughter as our treat was downgraded from homemade toffees to toffee apples to….apples on sticks! We were also able to talk about where we might have gone wrong, did we boil the sugar for too long, did we need extra ingredients, are they good for anything but the bin now?

So stay tuned to see how we get on with fudge later in the week. Once we have 2 or 3 good recipes under our belts, Dan is going to take over and talk about pricing with Sophia before making some signs and researching which car boot they could go to and how much it’ll cost them to have a table. It feels like quite an exciting project for all of us to be taking part in and the best bit is that it has organically evolvedĀ from imaginative play and is being developed and followed by Sophia herself, just with help from us where needed. I foresee Businesswoman of the Year in her future!