Foraging in the garden

Whilst I’m not well-adapted to very hot weather, I do like this time of year for the opportunities it provides to pick my own food from the garden – fruit herbs and vegetables. I’m very fond of soft fruit, and it has been extremely satisfying in recent weeks to wander outside and pick berries for my breakfast. Eighteen months ago I planted new raspberry canes and this is the first time they have produced any quantity of fruit. This morning, in addition, I was able to harvest blueberries – such a delight. On the berry front, the red currants are also producing like mad and the harvest has begun. In fact, I still have frozen red currants from last year, but I have decided to bottle those and most of this year’s crop, only freezing a small proportion to use in baking. Fortunately the weather has cooled somewhat and so bottling fruit is no longer out of the question.

The other big foraging opportunity at the moment is the courgettes and summer squashes. This year, I planted these in the raised bed that was built at the same time as the limery. In the past six years, we have filled this bed with all manner of material: cardboard, paper, grass clippings, spent compost from pots, soil washed off the field behind the garden, chippings from the willow hedge, a variety of home-made compost, as well as the layer of old teaching notes and handouts that formed the base of it. The curcurbit family love compost to grow in and so this year they are going mad (it took a while with the cold spring). The result is huge abundant leaves. Somewhere under the jungle there are courgettes and squashes to be had (not many yet, but they are growing), but they are difficult to find. I have the distinct feeling that a bit later in the summer I’m going to come across some enormous fruits that I had simply missed under all the foliage, but for now we are just enjoying the hunt.

Inappropriate makes

We’ve been having a heatwave. Nothing compared to what you dwellers of the tropics have, but still hot for us temperate flowers here in Wales. It’s too hot to walk the dogs and too hot to do much gardening, so we must either sit still outdoors or occupy ourselves inside. Since my creativity seems to have returned, I have been doing the latter, but making a couple of things that really don’t suit the weather.

First, some sewing… I happened to have already cut out the pieces for a coatigan from a lovely boiled wool fabric. This garment is intended for chilly autumn days (or possibly chilly August days, considering the unpredictability of the weather). My favourite, long, 30+-year-old cardigan is now so disreputable that I can’t wear it in company, so this is intended as a replacement. It should do for outdoors and indoors. The pattern is the “Jessie Coatigan” from Sew Over It. I found the instructions rather difficult to follow in places, so I ignored them and did my own thing and it seems to have worked ok. Whilst the machine sewing has been fine in the heat, there’s still the hem and cuffs to hand-stitch, but it’s too warm to have it in my lap, so the finishing will have to wait until next week. If it turns out to be comfy I may make a second one with patch rather than in-seam pockets because I think these are better for hankies, crochet hooks, a Bluetooth speaker and all the other bits and bobs I find myself transporting around the house.

Then, I have to have some knitting or crochet on the go… and what better project to start on during a heatwave than a cosy blanket? I’ve had the yarn for this sitting around for years and finally decided to get started with it. It came as a kit and was supposed to be knitted, but I didn’t want to conform, so settled on a wavy crochet pattern. I’ve been at it for exactly a week and I’ve used more than half the yarn so it won’t be log before it’s finished… just in time for the weather to get cooler. As a point of interest, it’s Colinette yarn – they used to be based in Wales near Welshpool, but closed down a while back and have now re-opened in Wansford, near Peterborough.

Although not much work is happening in the garden in this gloroious weather, I have managed to harvest the shallots and they are ripening and drying in the sun, and we finally have courgettes after a very slow start to the season. There are couple of lemons that are nearly ready too, but sadly the lettuce hates this weather, so thank goodness for oriental leaves.

Love-lawn

When we moved into Chez Snail, the back garden simply consisted of a lawn, a patio and a paved path, There were literally no plants other than the grass in the lawn. A bit of investigation revealed that there was also almost no soil, and after the first heavy rain we discovered that the water from the field behind rapidly flowed, river-like, into our garden, formed a lake and then progressed into next door’s garden. Our solution was planting and soil-building – a willow hedge, raised beds, composting. We whittled away at the lawn until, eventually, there was none left, although we did keep part of the patio so that we could sit outdoors. Then, six years ago, we had the limery built and our outdoor seating space was greatly reduced. We managed and it didn’t seem like much of an issue until covid and the need for space outside in which to socialise.

So, earlier this year, and setting aside my reticence about lawns**, we made some changes to our garden. Mr Snail removed two of the long thin raised beds from just outside the back door, and created a single deeper bed on the far side of the garden. We levelled the former site of the beds (well, sort of) and I ordered some turf becuase that seemed like the quickest way to establish our new grassy patch. We didn’t return the area back to it’s original level, but retained about six inches of our homemade soil on top of the original ground level, surrounded by the bottom layer of old railway sleepers that had formed the raised beds. Ten days of excluding the dogs, and we had achieved our aim.

In fact, we don’t intend to have a pristine grassy patch – we’ll let the wild flowers grow and Mr Snail will be scything it when necessary. Around the edges I am planning to seed some native wild flowers. The soil will act as a reservoir for some of the excess water when there is heavy rain and the grass is cool for feet and paws (unlike flag stones) when the weather is hot. It’s been in place for a couple of months now and has been well-used… it’s even hot enough at the moment to have dinner out there in the evenings.

-oOo-

** “A lawn is nature under a totalitarian regime”

Lawn Again — writinghouse

Mr Snail has been writing about what we’ve been up to in the garden, so, over to him…

All hail the soon-to-arrive lawn! As my Reader knows, Chez Snail now has a new raised bed and some bare earth (didn’t know? Read about that endeavour here). The bare earth is, of course, where the grass is going to go. The Snail decided that we should invest in some pre-turfed, er, turf, the kind […]

Lawn Again — writinghouse

Going potty

That first time at The Bistro Chez Snail

The past year has seen many changes in our approach to life. In particular, our relationship with ‘home’ has evolved as we have been forced to spend so much time here. I don’t think this has been a bad thing, and there are certainly new habits that are really positive. For example, early on in the first lockdown in 2020 we were feeling glum about not being able to eat out, so I created “The Bistro Chez Snail” in the limery, and immediately we realised how lovely it was to play at going out and to make use of our growing space as our eating space. There have followed, for more than a year now, many excursions to our fantasy eateries, and even when we are not pretending to go out, we continue to eat in the limery almost every night. It was never really the plan to do anything much but grow plants in the limery, but I’m very happy that we have found that it’s good for nurturing us as well.

All this time at home, however, has raised the issue that our garden was very full of growing things and there was hardly any space for people. This hasn’t been a problem whilst it was just me and Mr Snail – we had a lovely corner to occupy where our two deckchairs and a small table would fit. However, as it’s been increasingly clear that welcoming visitors to our home is safest outdoors, we came to the conclusion that we need to make more space for this. I outlined my ideas for some changes to Mr Snail and he launched himself enthusiastically into the project(which he’ll be blogging about very soon). However, making space for people means less space for crops, so I’ve decided to move over to growing more things in pots. On a recent visit to Sue (Going Batty in Wales) I was impressed by potatoes that she has growing in large plastic pots. Mr Snail measured them and worked out that they have a volume of 50 litres, so once we were back home I sought some out online. I could have got very cheap ones, but I was determined to buy some made of recycled plastic (if I am using plastic, which is essential for such large pots if the are to be moved about, I’m certainly going to make sure it’s made from existing stuff). So, the pots were found, an order placed and a few days later, I had more mobile growing space. Combined with some 30 litre pots that I bought a few years ago and lots of other containers collected over the decades, we’ve now got various options. Currently, many of the new large pots are planted with potatoes and these are out on the tarmac at the front/end of the house in a space that is otherwise pretty useless and where I’ve done some container growing before. We had to dig up the horseradish during our garden remodelling, so that’s in a 30 litre pot, as is the oregano, which also had to be moved.

The combination of the garden remodelling and the very cold weather this spring mean that lots of crops are still indoors, but hopefully the weather will be kinder from now on (an incredible hail storm two days ago notwithstanding) and I can plant some things out and sow some seeds outdoors without fear of them being killed. I’m toying with the idea of buying a large wooden trough on legs for growing herbs in, and I’m sure I’ll have other ideas about suitable containers, so watch this space.

Not very Springy

I don’t seem to have written about growing things for ages. We’ve had a rather sunny April so far and, normally, this would have helped the garden along. However, it has been really cold and we’ve had frosts during recent nights, so the few things that are outside – garlic, shallots and some hardy salad leaves – are making slow progress. The exceptions are the rhubarb, which is thriving as a result of the heap of compost that was piled atop it a couple of months ago and the red currant bush that we moved in March, which I was worried might not survive, but seems to be doing fine. Just this morning, however, I brought one of my small trays of salad greens indoors because the tiny seedlings were looking so forlorn outside.

My issue at the moment is space in the limery. Things that I had hoped to move outdoors by now (in particular the three citrus trees) are still inside. There are still potatoes chitting on the windowsill, and lettuce in pots. The planter I want to use for the tumbling tomatoes remains unplanted because there isn’t room for it inside, so the plants are in pots still because these take up less space. Last year’s chillies and peppers are slowly resprouting, but it’s too early to know which are likely to be worth keeping and which can be “recycled”, so that’s more space being occupied. I’m holding off planting more seeds because I need to prioritise what little spare space I have for potting up things that are already growing. I have a number of things that I would like to get sown, but they will have to wait until things warm up outside… I’m sure they will make up for lost time once they do get planted.

The weather forecast is showing cold nights for another week at least, so it looks like I’m going to have to be patient a while longer.

Prospects

This is one of my favourite times of the year – no, not the biting winds, incessant rain and sodden garden, but the fact that this is when we invest in the future. From little paper packets, we extract tiny packages of potential. That unassuming, dry disk is filled with magic: given a little moisture and heat, life will spring forth. Life, in the form of tiny green shoots that will immediately start using light to grow. Life that will provide food, beauty and oxygen.

On Saturday, after a trip to pick up some compost from a friend who had arranged a bulk order (much saving of money), I planted the first seeds of the year – tomatoes and peppers. Into the propagator they went and now we wait. They are the first of many this year – lettuce, rocket, beans, peas – as well as some plants not from seed – potatoes, shallots and garlic. Not all of them will thrive, but I know that in months to come I will be able to pick fresh food, all of which started from those tiny seeds that I put my faith right at the beginning of the year.

So, if you are feeling glum about the prospects for the coming year, plant a few seeds and just see how much joy and hope emerges with every little shoot.

Apples of my own

As you may know, our garden isn’t very big. I do what I can with it, but there is only limited space. As a result, I don’t have room (unlike Sister of Snail) for an orchard. However, a few years ago,we were given an apple on a very dwarf rootstock, which now lives with the chickens… which liberally apply fertiliser around it and make it very happy.

The variety is an interesting old one “Ashmead’s Kernel”, which is a good dual purpose variety with a great flavour, although visually it’s not very appealing. It takes a few years to start fruiting well and, apparently , it can be quite pernickety about pollinators, but this year in our garden it thrived. I used some of the fruit in my most recent batch of sweet hot chilli sauce, but this morning I picked the rest of the crop for bottling.

Not the prettiest apples, but maybe the most delicious

It doesn’t look much in the bucket, but once prepared, there were enough apples to make six 500ml jars. I’m so happy to finally be bottling my own apples from the garden. It’s not enough to keep us going through the year, but it sure is satisfying.

Bubbling away

Autumn kitchen

I’m always in two minds about this time of year – one the one hand, I hate the days getting shorter and the reduced opportunities for walks with the dogs, but on the other these couple of months are always associated with happy times in the kitchen, as I preserve the harvest (mine and that of others). So, I am choosing to concentrate on the positives and spend time enjoying the abundance.

I went and bought lots of lovely vegetables – many locally produced – on Friday and have spent the past couple of days combining these with some home-grown produce to make passata, delicious soups and a second batch of sweet, hot chilli sauce. This year has been particularly good for chillies in the limery: I grew lemon drop, trifetti, Trinidad perfume, red and purple jalapenos and hot cayenne. In total, I’ve harvested approximately 2kg, but I haven’t kept track exactly, as I often pick a few to use immediately. Anyway, there’s more than 1.6kg in the freezer, we’ve eaten lots and each batch of chilli sauce uses 100g. In addition, there are still some yet to ripen in the limery and also there are the outdoor ones to bring inside.

Since we are close to ScrapHappy day, I do want to point out the use of “scraps” in my soup-making. Whenever we have meat bones, I boil them up to make stock, then freeze this in blocks. I never use a stock cube or stock powder, I just use my frozen stock and add whatever herbs and spices I fancy. On the bottom left above, you can see two blocks of lamb stock added to the chopped and lightly fried vegetables that became leek and potato soup.

And so, my freezer is filling up nicely – soup, chillies and little blocks of passata, as well as stock and roasted peppers from earlier on in the year – all ready to fend off the winter blues.

Right on Kew

Last weekend I visited Kew gardens for the first time in over 30 years. It’s a place that I’ve been intending to return to for ages. It’s amazing, with iconic glasshouses and rare plants, as well as some artwork that I particularly wanted to see again. As an unexpected bonus, there was also an impressive exhibition of the work of Dale Chihuly, who creates huge glass sculptures, many inspired by natural forms.

It was a hot day, so spending any time in the tropical house was beyond us, but we did manage to enjoy some of the glasshouses. Mostly, however, we wandered the extensive outdoor spaces, enjoying the sculptures dotted around the garden as well as the beautiful plants.

I particularly wanted to revisit the Marianne North gallery – it’s a wonderful space, completely filled with her paintings. She paid for its construction, but was prevented from implementing her original idea that it be a tea room… such a shame because it would be a perfect place to relax with afternoon tea.

I’m not going to leave it another 30 years before going back.

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