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:

IMGP3903

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:

IMGP3727

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:

IMGP3787 (2)

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

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

IMGP3786

this morning’s harvest

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

IMGP3788

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:

IMGP3773

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).

IMGP3774

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:

IMGP3762

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!

 

Blooming food

Some time ago a friend accused me of not liking flowers because I mainly grow food plants. I was a bit surprised that he should think this, especially looking round my garden at the moment at the amazing range of blooms that are in evidence. If you are ever concerned that planting fruit, herbs and vegetables will mean you can’t have a beautiful garden, think again…

And those are only a selection taken in about 10 minutes… there are also (or have been or will be) passion flowers, nasturtiums, pot marigolds, climbing French beans, potatoes, raspberries, comfrey, red currants, blueberries, squashes, mint, chokeberries and more. I don’t really select for the flowers, but if you do, you can ensure an amazing variety of colours and forms and still enjoy a delicious harvest.

Those pesky pesticides

Having written, the other day, about growing your own food to avoid unwanted chemicals, I’ve been doing a little more thinking. A friend asked me whether washing vegetables in dilute vinegar would help reduce pesticide residues more than washing with water alone. My initial thought was that, even if this did work, it would only help with surface residues, not pesticides that the plant had absorbed. I did do a bit of reading around and I didn’t find an answer to the original question but I did come across an interesting piece from Cornell University, entitled Can you wash pesticides off your fruits and vegetables? They note that various heat treatment (e.g. pasteurisation, canning and frying) have been found to reduce pesticides, as have milling, brewing, baking, malting and wine-making, but that drying and dehydrating can increase pesticide levels. Their conclusion:

Washing your produce certainly removes pesticide residue from the outside, but there’s no clear data showing whether it reduces pesticide exposure compared to consuming organic fruits and vegetables.

So, it does seem that the safest option is to grow or buy fruit and vegetables that have not been exposed to pesticides in the first place. At this point, it’s worth noting that some pesticides are acceptable in organic systems, so buying something that is labelled ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean that it is pesticide-free.

With home-grown produce, you need not worry about pesticides if you know you have not applied any. This means that when it comes to preparation, cooking and storage, you can relax and do what you like.

Since my (pretty-much chemical-free) garden is now at the beginning of its most productive period, I’ve already started preserving some of the bounty. I’ve made mint sauce, I’ve frozen some of the raspberries I’ve picked and I have some oregano hanging up to dry in the limery. There’s a small bowl of tomatoes in the fridge ready for conversion into passata, which I freeze if it’s only a small quantity or bottle if I have large amounts.

I love all the potential at this time of year. I know that by the end of summer I will be sick of courgettes, but now as I watch the first fruits swell, I can hardly wait for my first harvest. How about you? Is there something you love to grow and eat?

IMGP3545

2017 Courgette #1

What’s in your dinner?

IMGP3508

potatoes

At this time of year I feel particularly lucky to have access to growing space. We don’t have a very big garden and we have chosen to prioritise food production, so that means we don’t have flower beds or a lawn, just space for fruit, vegetables, chickens and compost, with some paved sitting space that we share with lots of pots of plants. We used to have more space for outdoor sitting, but the limery took that over.

My reasons are partly because I love growing food – being connected to the seasons, eating food fresh from the garden and clocking up food metres not food miles. However, I also like knowing exactly what sort of chemicals go into my food. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publish a ‘dirty dozen’ each year – a list of foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues. Although these data are collected in the US, the list is of interest wherever we live in the world. In 2015, the list was as follows:

  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes

Closely followed by Hot Peppers and Kale/Collard Greens.

From this list, we grow Peppers (hot and sweet), snap peas (we call them sugar peas or mange tout, I think), potatoes, kale and some apples. The bulk of our apples come from friends who do not use pesticides on their trees, and the other items on the list we eat rarely or not at all. Of course you can buy organic produce and avoid issues with pesticides (and we often do), but growing your own delivers so many extra benefits.

imgp3493.jpg

red salad bowl lettuce growing in a container

One of my particular favourite crops is salad leaves. I don’t think that there’s any substitute for freshly picked leaves. By growing your own, you can avoid packaging, the threat of salmonella, exploitation of workers and the use of chlorinated water for washing them – all issues that have been identified as being linked to bagged leaves sold in supermarkets (details here). And you don’t even need a garden – you can plant cut-and-come-again varieties of lettuce, along with oriental greens in pots, in window boxes, or in trays on your windowsill. Let the leaves grow up and then harvest them by trimming with scissors and allow them to grow back. If you plant a few trays in succession, you can supply yourself with a regular harvest for several months. And honestly, the taste just doesn’t compare with leaves that have been encased in plastic for a couple of weeks in a modified atmosphere so they don’t go off.

Herbs are another great windowsill crop and it’s lovely to pick your own fresh seasonings, even if you don’t have space to grow anything else.

So, however small your space, I encourage you to plant something to eat – you won’t regret it!

This one is for Tammie

It’s very easy when posting on the internet to show only our successes – the beautiful children, pristine kitchens, the perfect meal, the Shetland lace shawl, the abundant garden… ah, yes, the abundant garden.

Well, it’s true that my garden and the limery do contain lots of lovely crops. Currently there’s lettuce, piles of raspberries and the promise of peppers, chillies, courgettes, lemons, limes, red currants, blueberries, apples, mange tout, kale, broccoli, ginger and potatoes…

BUT… there are also dead bean plants, dead rosemary, rocket and mizuna that flowered before we had a chance to eat any, the world’s saddest sage plant, brassicas munched by caterpillars and huge swathes of weeds.

So, Tammie – fear not, we all have gardening disasters… we just don’t often ‘fess up to them!

And, just to make you all smile, it takes lots of effort to get all those perfect shots of a life…

%d bloggers like this: