allotmentlife

  • Exploring the rhizosphere: how to grow trouble free onion sets...

    Rootrainers are what I've chosen for years to grow overwintering onion sets, garlic and spring planted onion sets. Onion sets (small immature onions) allow me to have onions all year round. But, originally manufactured to grow tree seedlings, why would I use Rootrainers for onion sets?

    Growing Onions using Haxnicks Rootrainers
    Growing onions from seeds can be a hit and miss affair, with weather, birds and the like all affecting the young seedlings’ growth outdoors, particularly those seedlings that have to overwinter. I am not after prize winning onions anyway or even huge onions so don't need to use onion seeds. I prefer sets. However, whenever I planted sets direct into the soil outdoors, within a few days, I would find many of the sets had been pulled up from where I had planted them and scattered all over the soil. Who or what was responsible?

    Some detective work - root zones and rhizospheres...

    The root zone is the name for the region of the soil around plant roots as they grow.  The roots produce secretions that help and protect them as they force their way downwards through the soil. The immediate area around the root is called the rhizosphere. There will be many rhizospheres within the root zone of a plant.

    The rhizosphere is the most dynamic environment in the soil, or a microbe ‘hot spot’, the fast food areas of the soil! The roots are also continually shedding old tissue and sloughed-off plant cells. The root secretions and dead plant cells are a feast for microbes living in the soil. In return the soil microbes provide nutrients for the plants, which encourage plant growth. More plant growth means more roots. A win-win situation! Hence soil microbes themselves congregate around the roots. Microbes in turn are a beacon for earthworms, who sense the root secretions and microbes in the soil and target such ‘hot spots’ to feast upon them!

    The Culprit!

    In my garden its the blackbird.  Blackbirds deliberately pull up the onion sets to seek out earthworms and other such tasty morsels, living and feeding in the root zone underneath the onion set.

    By planting onion sets in Rootrainers, the roots will grow in and around the compost, binding it together.  Then when planting them outdoors, unless the blackbird has fed on at least 3 Weetabix (!) that morning, it will not have the energy or strength to pull out the onion set with its well rooted fibrous compost ball, which is a lot heavier than an onion set on its own. Result:  no more scattered onion sets!

    Due to their size onion sets are great for children and school projects too.  Handling them is easy.  Planting requires less skill as sets are easier to handle than seeds.  Together, sets and rootrainers make the exercise easy and interesting for children to do for themselves. One major advantage for schools is that the children can grow AND harvest them all within the school year.

     

  • Halloween special... Pumpkin Pie anyone?

    From the pictures on Social Media it appears that this was a bumper year for pumpkins and squashes.  I am sure that this was not without its difficulties, particularly keeping them watered in the long hot summer.  Not something we have cause to worry about often!  But the results speak for themselves so I am sure that there are many of you in need of another pumpkin recipe so here it is.

    Pumpkin Pie topped with Pecans

    Some say pumpkins are not that flavoursome however, after spending hours hollowing them out at Halloween you can’t possibly let all that free food go to waste! So I have this recipe for a sweet pumpkin pie that makes a change from what you eat during the year.

    This pie can be eaten hot or cold, and is rather nice with cream, ice cream or crème fresh. Delish!

    Ingredients

    Filling                                                                                           Pastry

    2 eggs                                                                        6oz 170g plain flour

    2 tablespoons soft dark brown sugar                                  2oz 50g icing sugar

    1 can sweetened condensed milk                                         5oz 140g salted butter

    400g pumpkin flesh                                                                  1-2 tbsp. cold water

    50g plain flour

    1/2 teaspoon salt

    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

    100g pecan halves broken into little bits

    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking Time: 45 minutes Serves: 6-8

    1. Firstly make the pastry: Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add enough cold water to make a good dough, do not overwork the pastry.
    2. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave in the fridge for 15- 20 minutes.
    3. Grease a 9”, 23cm diameter pie tin and place in fridge.
    4. Turn the oven on to 190°C, gas mark 5.
    5. Now for the filling. Cut the pumpkin flesh into thin slivers or little squares ½ cm x ½ cm.
    6. In a separate bowl place ALL the other ingredients and mix hard with a wooden spoon until you have a gooey consistency.
    7. Add the pumpkin pieces and mix in.
    8. Get the pastry and tin from the fridge. Roll out the pastry to fit the tin then add the filling ingredients - If there is too much mixture you can always bake it in a little ramekin and cook separately.
    9. Lastly, put your pecan nuts into a bowl and bash with the end of the rolling pin until they are the size you want them.  I like little chips.  Then sprinkle them on top of the pie and place the pie into the oven for 35-45 minutes.

    For a printable copy click here Pumpkin Pie topped with Pecans

  • Carrot or Courgette Cake

    Carrot or Courgette Cake

    This is a vegetable cake, it can be nutty by adding the walnuts, or extra yummy by adding the optional cream cheese icing, which is completely delicious. If you have too many courgettes you can even add these instead of carrots.

     Preparation: 20 minutes Cooking time: 50 minutes Serves: 8

    Ingredients:

     

    Cake:

    carrot-or-courgette-cake

    8oz (225g) plain flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/2 tsp baking soda

    1 tsp cinnamon

    1/4 tsp salt

    4 floz (110ml) vegetable oil

    6oz (175g) sugar

    2 eggs

    8oz (225g) grated carrots

    4oz (110g) chopped walnuts – optional

    Icing

    4oz (110g) cream cheese

    2oz (55g) soft butter

    1 tsp vanilla flavouring

    10oz (275g icing sugar

    Directions:

    1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C /325°F/ gas mark 3.
    2. Sieve the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon into a bowl. Mix

    3. In another large mixing bowl beat the eggs, add all the sugar and then slowly, little by little add the oil beating all the time. This may look a little odd but worry not as it will look better after you have added the rest of the ingredients.
    4. Add the dry ingredients, carrots and the nuts – if you are having nuts. Mix it all up.
    5. Pour the mixture into your tin and put it in the oven for 45 – 50 minutes, until it is golden brown and has passed the* cake cooked test.
    6. Take it out of the oven, allow it to cool for 20 minutes, before turning it out onto a wire rack.
    7. When it has cooled properly spread your icing on the top.

    Icing

    Cream together the butter, cream cheese and vanilla, when this is soft add in the icing sugar. It should have the consistency of very soft smooth butter.

    Downloadable pdf for you to print here Carrot or Courgette Cake.

    We would love to see your finished cakes.  Post with #Haxnicks

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