Three Things Thursday: 7 September 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, visiting a friend. On Tuesday I went to visit Sue, who lives about an hour away and who I met as a result of blogging. We had a lovely day, chatting and setting up her new blog (more on this when she’s properly up and running). She has these words of inspiration in her kitchen:IMGP4028 (2)

Second, the harvest. The garden and limery continue to yield their bounty. And, after a few days of rain, the courgettes were huge!

Third, still alive. We have had a poorly dog over the past month, but I’m happy to say that after a couple of weeks of antibiotics, liver support tablets, multi-vitamins and a change to a low fat diet, Max seems to be somewhat better. He’s an old boy, so he won’t be with us for too much longer, but at least he’s eating well and happy now… even though he is doing a very good Eeyore impersonation in the photos.

So, that’s what’s making me happy this week. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Something to eat

Following on from yesterday’s post about all the potential crops, I just wanted to say that, even at this time of the year, we are still harvesting from the garden. Throughout the winter we have picked (and continue to pick) kale, mizuna, parsley and blood-veined sorrel and now we are about to have our first purple sprouting broccoli of the season:

In addition, because of all the preserving, we are still eating last year’s crops: bottled apples, bottled passata, frozen raspberries and red currants, apple juice and frozen chillies. We are also getting loads of eggs from the hens. Plus we are undertaking a different sort of cultivation by making yoghurt and cheese.

We are a very long way from self-sufficiency, but I am very proud of what we do manage to produce in our small garden. Even if you don’t have much space, you will be amazed what you can achieve if you have a go.

Three Things Thursday: 10 November 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Ms Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds (note her new blog) and others for Three Things Thursday. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

I’m finding words difficult this week (you may have noticed the lack of posts) so it’s mainly pictures

First, blankets made for Knit for Peace and Sixty Million Trebles. My mum made the blue bordered one and I made the others:

Second, how readily my mum uses technology…

imgp1025

If you’d told her 20 years ago she’d be doing this, I don’t think she would have believed you!

Third, stores of food…

imgp1020

Just a small fraction of the apple harvest

 

 

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

Forward thinking

This is a time of abundance – tomatoes are ripening every day, there’s the last flurry of courgettes, squashes need picking and there’s the potatoes to harvest. Indeed, as I was digging up potatoes this morning I thought about my successes this year and my failures, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to change my attitude in the garden. You see, my problem is that I am easily seduced.

imgp0774

Some of this week’s harvest that we will definitely enjoy

No, not like THAT… I am seduced by seed catalogues! I read the descriptions of interesting crops and I fall for the marketing. I’ve got better over the years at resisting, but I still succumb sometimes. There are several vegetables that I love the idea of growing even though I know that there are good reasons not to – because only one of us likes them, or because they need lots of care, or because they’re  not something that thrives in our area, or just because they don’t really come out well in a cost benefit analysis (for example, space versus yield). Broad beans are good example: yes I like the flowers and the young beans are nice, but I don’t like them when they get old plus they take up lots of space for a relatively small crop… they also tend to get blackfly.

imgp0776

Ready for soup-making

When you only have a limited amount of space, it’s essential to prioritise, and so that’s what I’m going to do next year. I’ve been thinking about the things that I really like growing and that I’m successful with. So next year we’ll continue to grow peppers, chillies, tomatoes and melons in the limery (I may even be tempted to try something new), but in the garden I’m going to focus on potatoes, courgettes, squashes, kale, lettuce and other salad leaves, broccoli, mange tout and climbing French beans. These are all crops that I know we will eat and enjoy and that, where appropriate, I have reliable ways of preserving. I’ll also carry on growing various fresh herbs and nurturing the soft fruit.

This afternoon I will be making Mulligatawny soup for the freezer, using courgettes, potato and tomatoes that I harvested this morning. I’ll also be planting some winter lettuce seeds and I will be collecting seeds from the French beans to sow next year. And later in the winter when I’m being tempted, I’ll come back to this post and remind myself of my priorities!

Apple season

The time of year has come to prepare for the apple onslaught. However, this year is different. Although there will still be an abundance of cooking apples from dear ‘old faithful’ from Perkin over at High Bank, I will have a few snail-grown eaters too.

p1030020_2

Old Faithful © High Bank Cottage

A couple of years ago we planted an Ashmead’s Kernel that came from Karuna. Janta had grafted in onto a small rootstock, so it was ideal for our garden. We planted it in the chicken patch, where there would be no weed competition and plenty of nutrient input. And we waited. Last year was too soon to allow it to produce, but this year it has thrived. I took lots of fruit off early in the season and even so two branches snapped under the weight. Now we have about 15 nearly ripe eating apples. It’s not the most visually appealing apple, but all sources I have consulted suggest that it is one of the best tasting… hopefully I will be able to report back soon, once I can work out exactly when they are ripe (any tips welcome).

 

It’s that time of year again

I know it’s a recurring theme, but this is what my kitchen looks like at the moment:

An apple or two

An apple or two

I am very lucky to have some generous friends at High Bank near Ludlow who share their apple harvest with me every year. In return I always give them some of my surplus vegetable plants and, this year, I’m supplying them with willow cuttings too.

This wonderful harvest does require me to go and visit – a drive of a couple of hours. So, today I packed the car with receptacles for apples, willow cuttings and dogs and set off for a lovely day out. I forgot to take a photograph at the beginning of the day before our departure, but I did mange to remember to take a few pictures later. I set off at 8am and drove through beautiful sunshine here on the coast and over the mountains, then thick fog and finally more sunshine before arriving in Herefordshire. Once there, I enjoyed coffee, homemade soup, an interesting discussion about home-schooling (something I really support) and lots of apple-picking.

All the apples come from a single. beautiful tree that has been carefully pruned and nurtured over the past few years to create this wonderful specimen (‘old faithful’):

And this is what the car looked like when we were just about to set off for home:

I certainly know how every spare minute is going to be spent over the next couple of weeks… I’m just concerned that I might need to invest in a new peeler!

Daily pinta

Today's pint

Today’s pint

There used to be an advertising slogan in the UK ‘drinka-pinta-milka-day’… being lactose intolerant rather puts the kibosh on this, but currently I am picking  a pint of raspberries every day. It’s turning out to be a very good year for berries, so each day I go out to the garden with a plastic pint jug (that’s a UK pint, so 20 fluid ounces) and fill it with raspberries. Once it’s full, I come back in and don’t pick any more – it’s enough. Every day I have raspberries for breakfast with my homemade yoghurt and homemade granola… what a joy, especially if they are just picked, still sun-warmed from the garden. The remainder are being put into the freezer for a delicious taste of summer in the winter.

Yesterday's courgette harvest

Yesterday’s courgette harvest

And raspberries are not the only abundant thing in the garden… the courgettes (zucchini) are prolific. I picked a kilo and a half yesterday, despite the fact that the day before I had turned a kilo of the things into soup. I probably shouldn’t have planted six plants, but that’s what I’ve got! It’s quite early for a glut, but the weather here in June was so good that the plants have just romped away. Never fear, though, they do not go to waste. Apart from soup and courgettes fried in olive oil with garlic, we will be enjoying courgette moussaka (replace the aubergine with courgette), courgette risotto, roasted vegetable sauce… just not courgette cake – Mr Snail will not eat any sort of cake containing vegetables! What we don’t eat straight away will be turned into either soup or simply roasted in chunks and frozen. I love to have a freezer full of soup for use in the less abundant months – it’s so good to be able to defrost a block for lunch on a chilly day. So much nicer than opening a tin and I know what all the ingredients are.

On the horizon are runner beans, mange tout and shallots. All of these are grown without the aid of chemicals and from traditional seed varieties. I just want to remind you, though, that my vegetable patch consists of an area measuring 4m × 6m, with an additional 2.5m ×1m plus some pots and a 1.9m × 2.2m greenhouse, then I have 3m × 4m for fruit and herbs. So, it is possible to grow a significant amount of your own food in a really small space… you don’t need a farm. And all these crops help me control what I’m eating and cut down on food miles, to say nothing of making me feel a connection between my food and the seasons, the soil and the sunshine.

And the results are in…

An early harvest of Colleen

An early harvest of Colleen

This year I decided to keep a record of some of the crops that I harvested from the garden (not all of them, I’m not that much of a garden-geek). Really I wanted to demonstrate to myself that I am making a useful contribution to our food consumption, and to show that it is possible to grow a significant amount of food in a relatively small space. The two crops that I recorded were courgettes and potatoes. Since the potatoes were all dug up some weeks ago and the courgette plants have now been finished off by the cold weather, I have the full season’s results.

Prolific courgettes

Prolific courgettes

In total, from an area of approximately four square metres I harvested just over 12kg of courgettes. Of these 7.3kg were from ‘ordinary’ courgettes (two green bush and two Trieste White Cousa) and 4.8kg from three Costata Romanesco plants. We ate the majority of these over the summer, but some of them went into soups that are currently frozen for winter consumption.

Colleen and Valor in a raised bed

Colleen and Valor in a raised bed

The total harvest of potatoes was an impressive 41kg. They have been feeding us since about June and we still have quite a lot stored. We grew these in approximately five square metres of garden plus three dumpy bags* and one small growing sack. The most prolific variety in the dumpy bags was the first early variety Colleen which yielded just over 6.07kg from one dumpy bag filled with grass clippings. garden compost and shredded paper and planted with 9 tubers. In comparison, six tubers planted in a soil-filled raised bed gave us 5.73kg. The main crop varieties Milva and Mira did less well, only yielding 3.5kg from their dumpy bag (I mixed them together). Valor (a second early) did particularly well in the raised bed containing soil, yielding an astonishing 12.7kg  from 6 tubers.

Potatoes in dumpy bags in the 'waste of space' corner

Potatoes in dumpy bags in the ‘waste of space’ corner

All varieties of potato did better in soil in beds than in dumpy bags. I think this is actually related to water availability: we had a very dry summer and the vigorously growing potatoes in the dumpy bags wilted on numerous occasions even with daily watering, whilst those growing in the garden never wilted. Despite this limitation, the dumpy bags were a great success – they increased the growing space available and added significantly to our harvest. My favourite potato has to be Colleen – they grow really well and provide the first potatoes of the season, but I liked Valor too. I think these are the varieties we will focus on next year.

Costata Romanesca - delicious fried with garlic (each of those slices is 5-8cm across)

Costata Romanesca – delicious fried with garlic (each of those slices is 5-8cm across)

The Costata Romanesco courgettes are a favourite of Carol Deppe and she recommends using them for drying. This is something we didn’t get round to doing this year, but I will have a go at next year. The plants are big and start off as bushes, but then get to sprawling around. Whilst not prolific in terms of fruit, those they do grow can get really big but still remain very tasty (unlike marrows) and tender. However, I do like the more normal courgettes, especially for their joyful abundance and will continue to grow them every year.

All in all, it’s been an interesting experiment to weigh our crops. And what’s the most important thing I have learned? Next time make a proper recording sheet, because trying to decipher all those scribbled notes on several tatty sheets of paper is quite a challenge at the end of the season!

-oOo-

* I have been experimenting with growing in containers in a previously unused bit of space. There are several ‘waste of space’ posts if you are interested: here, here and here

The fruits of our labours

Here we are in September – according to Keats this is…

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
      Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Potato variety Valor... blight-free and delicious

Potato variety Valor… blight-free and delicious

And, we do tend to think of harvest at this time of year. Certainly we have some swelling gourds in our garden… well, winder squashes actually. We are enjoying an abundance of runner beans and still more courgettes, plus the other day Mr Snail-of-happiness harvested nearly 9kg of potatoes from a plot measuring less than a square metre (we can recommend this particular variety heartily, it’s called Valor). A rather busy summer meant that these particular potatoes were never earthed-up, so the abundance is especially welcome.

Pearl's blankie

Pearl’s blankie

Other projects have their yields too. I was pleased to finish my latest blankie in time to be able to give it to my friend when I saw her last week. Fingers crossed that the babe will arrive happy and healthy and that my work will be used for  years to come. Many folks confine their knitting and crochet to the cooler months of the year, but I love to make things all through the summer too… mind you those often are cooler months!

Winter vegetable seedlings will help to fill the 'hungry gaps'

Winter vegetable seedlings will help to fill the ‘hungry gaps’

But autumn is not just a time to rest on our laurels and enjoy the fruits of our labours – it’s also important to think about what we will be able to harvest later in the year and at the beginning of next year, when there is often little fresh food in the garden. I will be allowing some of my runner beans to go to seed so that I can dry the large butter bean-like seeds for use in soups and stews over the winter (I grow the variety The Czar specifically because they are good for this) and, of course, the squashes will keep for months, but I also want fresh vegetables. I’m happy, therefore, that my seed-sowing from a couple of weeks ago is also showing a yield… not that we will be harvesting these for a while.

It’s really important to remember the cycle of growing and harvesting, so that we don’t get carried away with current successes and forget to plant for the future.


		
%d bloggers like this: