Saving for the future

With summer well and truly over and winter on the horizon, my thoughts start to turn to the 2018 growing season. I won’t be buying seeds for a while yet (although I plant my peppers and chillies as early as January, so that job is not too far away), but today I have been ensuring I have seeds for at least one crop next year.

One of this year’s big successes was climbing French beans. The original plants were destroyed by strong winds, and one of my friends came to the rescue with some spare plants that were just ready for transplanting (thank you Ann). I have completely forgotten what variety they are, but they produced delicious tender beans in abundance over a long season. Knowing how much we enjoyed them, I left some beans on the plants to mature and today I collected some of the drier pods from which to take the seeds to be saved:

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pods collected before they get washed away or rotted!

Over morning coffee, Mr Snail and I extracted the seeds and now they just need to be spread out to dry. So, that’s the first of next year’s bounty sorted… and not a penny spent.

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bean futures

What’s more, there are still quite a lot of pods to harvest, so I think tomorrow we will have Boston beans made, unusually, with freshly shelled beans (no soaking required).

Apple time

Yesterday we went to pick apples just down the road…

since then the kitchen has been a hive of activity…

There was a little time yesterday to do something that didn’t involve apples. I made harissa paste with some of the abundant chillie harvest…

A right old caper

Years ago I planted some nasturtium seeds in the garden… I have never needed to do so again, because they self-seed every year and I continue to get them growing all over the place. They provide a riot of colour, good ground cover and they are edible. The leaves can be added to salad or used in cooking (nasturtium leaf pesto, for example) and the flowers are also edible and look stunning as a garnish. The seed pods too are edible: until now I’ve never harvested them to eat, although I have eaten them elsewhere.

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today’s little harvest

Today I had a bit of a headache and decided to go out in the garden. Looking round I noticed the abundance of nasturtium seeds. So I picked some – it didn’t seem like many, but turned out to be about 140g. Consulting the River Cottage preserves book, I found that to make a couple of small jars of “nasturtium capers” I only need 100g, but that they do have to be soaked in a light brine for 24 hours before they are pickled with peppercorns and herbs. I, therefore, can’t actually pickle them until tomorrow. In the mean time they are soaking and I no longer have an excuse for not getting on with some work…

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24 hours to go

 

 

Exploding hens and wobbly eggs

OK, before you start to worry, let me assure you that no hens were harmed in the production of this post.

One of the joys of being a gardener is watching the seasons change and savouring the different produce. However, keeping animals adds an extra dimension to this connection with nature. I know, for example, that there will be fewer eggs from the hens in the winter, which makes them all the more precious in the summer. But hens do other stuff than lay eggs and perhaps the most spectacular is the autumn moult. Now, not all hens moult and not all moult completely, and those that do moult don’t always do it in the autumn. However, every so often one of the hens embarks on a complete change of feathers…

and so, Tiffany has gone from being fully-feathered last week to well on her way to oven-ready today. There are feathers all over the garden and in the hen house… to look at it, you really would think one of them had exploded (or been got by a fox).

Anna had a much more gentle moult over the summer and you can see her beautiful blue-grey plumage in one of the pictures above. Anna has always been rather rubbish at laying eggs, but having got over her moult, she is doing her best now. The other day she produced the egg on the right in the picture below (the middle one is ‘normal’ sized and the one on the left is from Aliss our smallest hen):

3 eggs

well, that’s not very impressive, Anna

Yesterday, however, she did manage to lay a normal sized egg:

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well, that’s a better size

However, all that effort that went into making a white and a yolk left no energy for a shell:

We’re hoping that the next one is full-size and fully formed!

Autumn arrives

Having just finished the summer bottling, we had a day off and went to visit Momma Snail. Imagine my delight to be offered some of her windfall apples – a sure sign that autumn is on the way and that the next big job will be bottling and juicing apples. On returning home I went to check our tiny apple tree and realised that several of the branches were under severe strain with this year’s crop, so I relieved it of some of the weight and picked up a single windfall. These are all destined to become juice – possibly apple and blackberry juice if I can find the time to go for a walk to pick blackberries.

And whilst I was in the mood for harvesting, I picked some of our chillies:

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Clockwise from left: Yellow Romanian; Pyramid; Lemon Drop; Black Hungarian

There are lots more to come. In particular, the Pyramid chillies are only just starting to ripen up, although the plants are laden with fruit. I have picked some of the Black Hungarians before they turn red as we really liked the flavour at this stage. Preservation for all these is easy – I simply freeze them whole. I’ve tried drying them in the past, but I much prefer using them from the freezer – plump and juicy and easy enough to chop/remove seeds immediately you take them out.

Are you seeing signs of autumn or are you in a place to see signs of spring?

Ruby Tuesday

Last autumn my friend @CambridgeGoats (not her real name) introduced me to the joys of steam-juicing and, as a result, I ended up buying a Mehu Liisa. By the time I got it, the only fruits that I had in abundance to juice were apples. We are still enjoying the results, although we’ve now consumed all the apple and ginger juice and there’s only plain apple juice left.

Today I decided to have a go with some of the red currants that have grown so well this year. I didn’t have enough to fill the whole basket, but as it was an experiment, I was happy to try with a small amount and to include the last of the frozen ones left over from last year (it’s always good to rotate your stock).

This method of juicing is single-step – it produces hot liquid, which can be drained straight into hot, sterilized bottles, ready for storage once cool.

The juice is very tasty and a beautiful ruby red colour, as you can see from the first bottle.

Now, I wonder how it mixes with white wine… or fizz…

Gardening for chickens

Not all the fruit and vegetables that I grow in our garden are destined for human consumption. Some we share with the hens, some unwanted plants (weeds or excess production) are fed to the hens, some infested plants (brassica leaves with caterpillars or insect eggs on them) are also given to the hens and one plant in particular was planted specifically to provide chicken treats. This plant is a chokeberry.

Years ago I read somewhere how much hens like chokeberries and so, when I planted up the fruit cage, I planted a chokeberry. It started fruiting after a year or two and now it produces a crop each year which the hens do, indeed, adore. I’m careful to ration them, as I suspect, given the chance, they would eat all the chokeberries in one go, and who knows what effect that would have on their digestive systems?

Today I picked the first batch for them – beautiful black berries, to which I added a few red currants (as we have so many of those, I don’t mind sharing).

They go straight from the bush to the hens and you can judge for yourself how much they enjoy them (please excuse slightly odd orientation of this little film – I was juggling camera and berries whilst trying not to get mugged by hens before starting my recording):

If you search on the internet, you will discover lots about how wonderful chokeberries are: a “super-food” (I HATE that term), full of antioxidants. However, they aren’t particularly tasty and so I don’t mind the hens getting all the benefits!

Eviction

As you know, the limery is full of plants at the moment – chillies, peppers, melons, Cape gooseberry (Physalis), the carnivores, germinating seeds, ginger, passion flowers and tomatoes.

Hmmm… tomatoes… as some of you know, I don’t really like the tomato plants. Don’t get me wrong, I like the tomatoes, just not the plants. Peppers form lovely plants; the melons are trained to climb over the door, the Physalis are statuesque, but the tomatoes are untidy… and smelly. And because I’m not keen on them, they are the plants most likely to get a bit neglected.

Looking around yesterday, I decided that I needed a bit more space as I wanted to plant a few seeds in trays and there was not much room on the window sills. My eye immediately fell on the two most scratty tomato plants which, despite regular feeding, look very neglected and sorry for themselves. Not being keen on throwing plants on the compost heap when they are still cropping (even if only a bit), I decided to transplant them outdoors. Our newest raised bed is slowly being filled with material to compost in situ (leaves, grass clippings, cardboard, tea, paper etc) and is currently home to some impressive courgette and squash plants:

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hard to get the scale, but they are huge

However, one end is unoccupied. So, as an experiment, I have planted the two tomatoes in this area. The compost (you can’t call it soil, really) is amazing – very organic and full of worms, as well as being warm because of the decomposition that is happening remarkably quickly. Of course growing medium isn’t everything and we might be let down by the weather, but fingers crossed these will survive and continue to crop:

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you can see they are currently not very happy – I hope that will change

Elsewhere in the garden, the crops continue to be abundant:

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this morning’s harvest

And even that sad sage plant I mentioned a few weeks ago has perked up…

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it’s growing!

I hope, if you are a gardener, you are enjoying abundant crops and, whether you are or not, that there is abundance elsewhere in your life.

Despite the weather…

It’s been a very mixed summer so far – alternating sunshine and rain with some strong winds thrown in. We are getting reasonable crops from the garden, including this first harvest of heritage French beans:

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we ate them last night: they were tender and delicious

But, in these uncertain conditions, the limery is coming into its own. Not only does it provide us with a bright, dry place to sit even when the weather is less than summery, it’s also giving us beautiful flowers and crops that need the warmth.

And on days when there is a glimmer of sunshine, we get rainbows from Pauline’s light catcher… every home should have one (really, I mean it… head over to her blog and commission one).

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my light catcher is full of charms of personal significance (you can read about it here)

Of course, sometimes there are also rainbows in the sky:

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this is one from last week

 

Food, glorious food

… all homegrown…

All photogaphed today (25 July) in (or recently harvested from) our garden and limery. Never let anyone tell you that you need lots of land to grow your own food. Our garden is about 6m ×20m, including the limery, and it’s still not fully utilized!

 

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