Crystalised Thoughts

Well it’s exactly one year and two weeks since my last blog and, even though I haven’t been sharing it, there has been a lot of freeranging thinking going on in that time.  The exciting thing is that the thinking has at long last morphed into action and it feels good!

I’ve made some life changes – jumping from the security of a well paid and demanding job to a very part time job on an exciting project linking young people and the environment AND taking the first steps to start my own small business.

It’s early days with lots of planning, market research and making contacts so there is not much to share apart from my deep sense of satisfaction and the joy of taking the first steps towards a new future and way of life.

Key to this change is stepping up the food growing and self sufficiency and so the greenhouse and polytunnel are full to bursting with plants – it has not been an easy growing season with a dirth of runner beans balanced with lots of climbing  french beans and the anticipation of sweet corn – the first for many years!

sweet corn 2

Advertisements

How many beans make five?

We’ve had some rain and it’s a beautiful evening so I have been outside planting out leeks, kale and sprouts in whatever gaps I can find in the vegetable garden.  On my way back to the house I checked out the polytunnel – tomatoes are doing well , the cucumber glut is progressing with alarming speed and the climbing french beans just needed to be picked.

As I was picking the beans my thoughts turned to Jerry, a dear friend who sadly is no longer with us. He used to amuse the boys when they were little with the question  – ‘how many beans make five?’
The answer which must be said at high speed is
‘two beans, a bean, a bean and a half and half a bean’
after years of repeating it I can say it quickly, without hesitation and without even thinking. How I wish I had asked Jerry the origin of the saying.

So as the french and runner beans in the vegetable garden struggle to get established due to wind, cold weather especially at nights and anything else you can think of to blame-  I am delighted with the results in the tunnel.  I had never tried growing broad beans and climbing french beans in the polytunnel before so I gave it a whirl this year.  We have been eating broad beans for about 6 weeks now and have moved seamlessly from the tunnel to the outdoor crop.  But even better the climbing beans are prolific and tonight’s harvest went straight into the freezer.

As a result of the early bean crop I have been experimenting with some new recipes.  All year I have been enjoying following the months in  Hugh Fearnley-Whiitingstall’s book The River Cottage Year and one of July’s recipes is french beans with tapenade and chicken.  I liked the basic idea of the recipe but not too sure about anchovies and thought what about using a mixture of fresh summer vegetables – french and broad beans and tiny baby courgettes. The experiment worked and served with freshly dug potatoes it is a really tasty meal.

See – summer vegetables with tapenade and chicken recipe

And if anyone knows the answer to the origin of ‘how many beans make five?’ do let me know!

Dashed, but not lost hopes

Easter is one of my favourite times of year and this year has been no exception. It is a time of hope – hope of winter really being over, hope for new beginnings, hope for a good growing season with more progress towards self sufficiency, a garden flowering with plants which are a pleasure not only for us but for the wildlife that they attract and support and the ever eternal optimism of longer days giving more time for exercise and physical fitness.

I had high hopes for this Easter break – I had intentionally started sowing seeds in March to get ahead making the most of the greenhouse which is about to celebrate its first birthday. The broad beans under cloches in the polytunnel are now a good 10cm tall and I hope we will get an early crop before the tomatoes go in. So the plan was to get to grips with the herbaceous beds which have not been tended all winter cutting back all the dead stems which have been protecting new growth from late frosts and weeding and mulching and planting out overwintered potted plants.

Well I had not bargained for a completely debilitating bout of flu followed by a chest infection which has left me as limp as a frosted lettuce leaf and all hopes dashed. I have sat in the sunshine in the greenhouse and dozed, I have sat outside when it got warmer and dozed and I managed to pot on the tomatoes and make a simnel cake but that is it.

I was feeling really sorry for myself this afternoon, feeling like my Easter holiday had been totally wasted and annoyed that I cannot shake this bug off and get going. As I sat in the sunshine I caught a glimpse of a brimstone butterfly, my first of the year, and then watched as it returned to hover around the holly hedge. About half an hour later a peacock butterfly skipped up and down the border which the man of the house had tended this morning it looked like it was inspecting the compost that he had used to mulch around the rosa mundi and lavender plants. I sat and watched the butterflies, I listened to the chiffchaff calling and then I sat for about an hour watching Mr Wren preening and strutting and singing to Mrs Wren as they flitted in and out of the Irish Juniper which is a favourite nesting site for them. So I may not have ticked off the gardening to do list this Easter but I took time to listen, watch and enjoy the beauty of the natural world and to be grateful for living in such a special spot.

And hope – yes I hope by next weekend I will be back to my usual self and the borders will be sorted and more vegetables planted and the hope of a lovely spring and summer remains strong in my heart.

Picking pears by torchlight

It’s been a long and sunny autumn with an abundance of fruit and vegetable.  Tomatoes still ripening on the tumbling toms outside, runner beans and cucumbers growing, autumn raspberries and still the occasional blackberry (despite the old wives tale of the devil entering them after the autumn equinox).

Life has been fairly full picking, pickling, freezing and storing but what a shock when the weather turned cool this week.  Last night I was eating my evening meal listening to the wind battering the kitchen window when I realised that my beautiful conference pears were at risk.  When the last mouthful hand been swallowed off I went with basket and torch to pick the remaining crop and to search the ground for any windfalls.

Apples places in single layers ready for eating!

Apples placed in single layers ready for eating or sharing…

Picking this final crop spurred me on to deal with the previously picked apple crop – mainly egremont russet eaters. I’ve sorted out the best and wrapped them individually in newspaper and placed them carefully in cardboard boxes in a cool store.  The rest I have placed in single layers to be eaten or given away as soon as possible – apples keep so much better if they do not touch each other.

Tomorrow I will lead the apple scrumping party in the field near work ready to  start using windfalls to make apple jelly and apple and almond cake and anything else appley and delicious.

 

Never turn your back on a courgette!

I had been keeping an eye on my courgette plants and picking the young tender courgettes either to chop finely and mix with dressing as a salad or cooking as a vegetable.  All was going so well until I had to work away from home for a few days and when I returned to my horror lurking beneath the giant leaves were some marrow sized courgettes…

The large and the small!

The large and the small!

So a little earlier in the season than planned we ate our first meal of stuffed courgette.

I cut the courgette into horizontal rings and remove the inner seeds and pithy flesh. Setting the rings on a baking tray (top tip line the tray with foil or baking parchment as it makes the washing up so much easier).  Then prepare a tasty filling – I usually use minced beef as a base but nuts or lentils can be used. The most important thing is make your filling really tasty so with a classic mince, onion, garlic and tomato mix you can add cinnamon and dried fruit for a middle eastern taste or go heavy on the marjoram and basil for a Mediterranean flavour.  Put the filling in the centre of the sliced courgette and then cover with a generous amount of strong cheese and roast in the oven ( about 180 degrees C) until the courgette is cooked which is usually around 45 mins. Serve with a tasty chutney and a crusty bread and enjoy. Any surplus slices can be frozen and come out as a surprise long after the courgette season is over!

The next giant courgette will sneak up on me soon despite my best efforts to keep them in check.  That one will be peeled, chopped and cooked very gently in butter to form the base of the delicious recipe in Delia Smiths Complete Cookery Book for Eliza Acton’s Mulligatawny.  But more about that later when there is a glut of tomatoes and onions and the temperature is dropping and we begin to think of winter soup.  For now I am happy with  tender young courgettes sliced in my salad for lunch.

Home Again

Image

It’s always hard coming home after a lovely holiday.  There is the thought of work, routine and things to be done,  But as soon as the house appears and we enter the drive there is that feeling of homecoming and familiarity and then there is the excitement of seeing what has happened in the garden – always the first thing before unloading the car or checking the house.

IMG_8391Rosa Mundi

 

 

 

 

When we got back  today I was amazed at how things had grown in eight days.  Yes the weeds have done well but so has the garden.

Roses, delphiniums, hollyhock,sweet peas on long stems and mesembryanthemum which bring back childhood memories of lying on my Hollyhocktummy watching the flowers open as the rays of the sun Mesembryanthemumwarmed them only to close again when a cloud passed by.

 

 

 

Next stop is to check the vegetable garden and greenhouse to see how things have fared. And as usual there are the successes this time- lettuce, radish, cucumbers, courgettes and potatoes.  The french, broad and runner beans are looking hopeful  but where are the parsnips? They are usually one of our best crops and as for the peas it will be a meagre crop.

But after unpacking there was a real sense of satisfaction and living the good life when we picked and harvested and then we sat in the evening sunshine and ate a completely home produced meal Just picked(well except for the mayonnaise).  We enjoyed an egg salad with lettuce, radish, basil, rocket and potatoes. Finely chopped courgettes with a tiny red onion and slivers of freshly picked cucumber.  Maybe comingFreshly picked and prepared home from holiday is not too bad!

 

 

Bean and Peas

Mice and voles are cute furry little creatures until they find a vegetable grower and then there is a conflict of interest!  What havoc they can create – in the seed trays and in the vegetable garden.  How many times over the years have we watched for the first sign of the broad beans and peas only to find that they have been munched by our friendly mice and voles and not a single one is left to grow.

This year I decided to get one step ahead of my furry friends.  Beans and peas really don’t like having their roots disturbed so planting in a seed tray and then pricking out is not an option. So I have planted broad beans and french beans in little newspaper pots.  A good use fo the excess newspaper and a biodegradable pot that can be popped straight into the row in the vegetable plot.  I find that if you put tow or three little newspaper pots in a 9cm pot then fill with compost and plant the beans they are easy to move around and the plastic pot reduces the amount of water that is lost through evaporation.

So here is lovely little broad bean plant ready to go into the ground with a healthy root system and a few minutes later happily planted!

broad bean ready for planting

Broad bean in paper pot

Planted!

Planted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not that there is any competition in the household but I am hoping that ‘my broad beans’ starting life in their newspaper pot will crop far earlier than those planted by the man of the house directly into the ground – we’ll have to wait and see!

 

Inspiration in Cardiff

A trip to a garden or a flower show is always a risky thing  – it can generate a feeling of enthusiasm  or a feeling of complete hopelessness when the realisation dawns that the  perfection observed will never be achieved.  So last Friday I set off to spend the day at the RHS Flower Show Cardiff with mixed feelings.  It had been a long week and I was a bit tired so wasn’t sure if I could face seeing perfection knowing that I had left a lot of imperfection at home!

I needn’t have worried it was a perfect day.  The Show was held in Bute Park, about 10 minutes walk from the station.  It was just the right size to wander round for a day taking in the gardens, displays and the stalls.  Being early in the year I was full of admiration for the exhibitors who had coaxed plants into flower or leaf but yet had not gone over the top to create false shows.

My favourites – well I do love auriculas and so loved seeing them in displays, gardens  and also the stunning theatre on the Hill View Hardy Plants .(Sorry not the best photo but the display was lovely)

auricula theatreI bought my first auriculas about four years ago and now have quite a collection and this is exactly the time of year that they come into their own. Today I popped my parent plants of Brenda’s Choice, Piers Telford and Beatrice on the doorstep so that we can enjoy their flowers.  My normal spot for building my auricula theatre has been taken up with a temporary log pile!

Back  to the Flower Show favourites and another great one was the  beautiful Hooksgreen Herb exhibit .  Encouraging everyone to get involved in growing edible plants was the focus of The Pennard Plants and Growing for the Future at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales garden. The fantastic design made you want to rush home, create raised beds and get planting. But how practical is the perfectly designed raised bed?  What happens when you eat one of the four leeks and leave a bald patch? So somewhere there needs to be a compromise between aesthetics and functionality.  I think that the exhibits at the Show helped inspire and encourage all visitors to get gardening in a practical and manageable way.

So what’s happened in my garden since Friday – well more vegetable and herb seeds planted ( including some fenugreek, chervil, minette basil, red giant mustard  – all bought at the show) . I also have planed some cute little boxes ( bought at the show) with lettuce, corriander and peas which will be cropped when they are young and tender for salads. ( I’ll let you know how the get on in future blogs)

In a bid to thwart the mice I have lifted the strawberry plants from open ground and replanted them in big pots and moved them under cover – maybe this year we will get a crop or maybe we won’t. And most importantly I have been extracting the tangled webs of ground elder from the  main beds – oh why was this invasive ‘herb’ brought to Britain by the Romans. I know its edible- the young leaves can be used in salad, it can be cooked like spinach, used in quiches and many other dishes. But if like me you wage war on it in your garden I can only think that is would choke me if I tried to eat it!

 

 

Optimistic seed sowing and a busy Life

Yesterday I was optimistic about Spring actually being here but in fact I had suffered a rush of optimism about three weeks ago when I got that urge to get growing.

Compost was purchased (Fertile Fibre peat free) and the shiny metal box containing all my lovingly gathered and purchased seeds was opened with that rush of anticipation which heralds the start of a new growing season. Oh what to plant first and trying to be sensible and moderate the urge to fill scores of seed trays I rationed my early season planting to sweet pea, broccoli, rocket, greyhound cabbage and salad bowl lettuce. Remembering my brother’s mantra  ‘steady as you go’ I curbed my enthusiasm and stopped at that point (well for a day or two!)

next crop comingThe first two weeks were fine I had time to keep an eye on things ( and plant more seeds – stock, globe artichoke, butter-nut squash and basil to name a few) but then my early optimism came a cropper – working away from home, visiting parents, village events and in the flash of an eye seeds had germinated and stretched their leggy stalks up to the sky making them look quite unhealthy.  Oh why had I planted so early and why had I not taken a few minutes to check the seed trays?  How many times have we all said this to ourselves. Never fear one of my very useful birthday presents from my sister came into play a widger – a little stainless steel tool which replaces my rusty old teaspoon for gently lifting seedlings allowing you to transplant them without crushing their delicate stem or leaves.

The straggly cabbages were gently lifted out of the seed tray and  potted on into 9cm pots with the seedling planted deeply so that the compost covers the straggly stem and holds the leggy plant firmly in place.  After 10 days the plants are looking like sturdy little seedlings and my neglect is not evident.  All if safe for now but there are still many hurdles ahead – frost, slugs, pigeons, caterpillars and probably some more human neglect before we enjoy the first taste of the cabbage and bacon.

 

Is spring finally around the corner?

Image

wood anemoneThe weather has been so fickle recently –  one day sunny and warm the next the hail is bouncing off your face. But today as I went for a walk at lunch time I was filled with optimism as I saw a carpet of wood anemone in the wood so, despite the chilly wind, I was optimistic.

Imagine my delight when I got home in daylight and wandered down the vegetable patch and there in front of me was purple sprouting broccoli… suddenly the evening menu was looking brighter!

 

purple sprouting ready for the pot!

 

 

Within 20 minutes of spying the broccoli it was picked, popped in the steamer for about 5 minutes and then enjoyed by everyone.  The first harvest of the year – yes spring is finally on its way!