Waiting

It’s a funny time of year in the garden… so much potential, so little actual produce. There’s still lots of lettuce and plenty of rhubarb, but otherwise, it’s mainly flowers and developing fruit:

I’m not sure how much longer the lettuce is going to last in this hot, dry weather, so it may not be long before we are just left with rhubarb to eat…

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it’s been a good season for rhubarb so far

Still, there’s plenty of it!

And sow it begins…

Saturday 9 January was officially the first growing day of the year for me. I absolutely love growing from seed, so it is always a joy to put the first seeds of the year into compost and imagine what they will turn in to.

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My late dad’s propagator

It’s too early to plant most things, but January is definitely the time to start off peppers and chillies chez snail. So, Mr Snail retrieved the propagator from the loft. It was my dad’s and I’m sure that had he still been with us he would have appreciated the fact that it is still in use. I dug out the ethically -produced coir pots that I sourced last year plus a few small plastic pots and sorted through my seed collection. Then I made some new plant labels by cutting up some old plastic milk bottles that I have been saving for just this job.

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A lot of frozen chillies

The fantastic conditions in the limery meant that the 2015 chilli crop was HUGE. We have pots and pots of hot sweet chilli sauce and in the freezer I have a 2 litre tub completely full of whole chillies. So, in 2016, I plan only to grow one variety – my favourite – Lemon Drop. Of course some of the plants from last year may survive the winter (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t) and so we may have more than this, but frankly, we won’t need them.

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Seeds sown

I have focused instead this year on sweet peppers. I had some seeds left over from last year for two varieties: Kaibi and Nova. The former did well in 2015, but we got very poor germination from the latter. Anyway, I have planted all the left-over seeds and we shall see. In addition I have one variety – Sheepsnose – from Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, and I have decided to try out two new varieties from Tamar Organics: Yolo’s Wonder and Corno di Torro Rosso. I’m hoping to identify varieties that like the conditions we can provide so that I know what to focus on in future years.

Few other crops benefit from being planted this early in the year, but I did sow a few lettuce seeds to grow indoors… the last of our 2015 lettuce was consumed by slugs in early December. Now I await germination… I can hardly wait to see those green shoots.

Food from around the blogosphere

I have lots of recipe books, and I do like sitting down and browsing through them. But, I don’t do this nearly as much as I should to gain new inspiration. It’s lovely, therefore, to come across recipes that inspire me in the land of blog. This week I’ve encountered several that are now on my list of ‘must try’ and a couple that I tried straight away.

The first was koftas – little meaty sausages/patties served with flat bread and spicy condiments. I have to confess that I now can’t remember which blog I saw these on. I didn’t write down the recipe because it was so easy – minced lamb, garlic and seasonings mixed together, rolled into little shapes, put on one side for a while and then cooked in a pan without any oil added as lamb is fatty anyway. My only modification was that I used mutton rather than lamb – it has more flavour, its use means the animals have a longer life and graze naturally rather than being brought on using concentrates (as much lamb is) and apparently it’s good for you. The reason this recipe appealed so much was that I could serve it with a whole host of home made/home grown things: lettuce picked fresh, flat breads made by Mr Snail, dollops of the delicious sweet hot chilli sauce, home made yoghurt and freshly stewed apples. I can report that is was all delicious – certainly something we’ll be cooking time and again.

The other recipe I tried this week was for Dutch Apple Pie… in my life I have made many apple pies but, trust me, this one was really special and different from any I’ve made before. The buttery crust is delicious, and the filling – made with sugar, corn starch, water, cinnamon and apples – was wonderful. For this one, I can direct you to the recipe, it’s from Amanda, The Farm Wyfe and you can find it here.

In her post, Amanda also mentions apple brownies, which she has also kindly given me the recipe for… see her response to my comment at the bottom of her pie original post if you want this.

In addition, Kate (Tall Tales from Chiconia) sent me a cake recipe earlier in the week, but since it requires lots of eggs and our girls are hardly laying at the moment, trying that will have to wait.

So, have you come across any good recipes in blogland recently? If so, do share!

If you only grow one thing

I returned from holiday to a garden with few crops. I knew that builders and gardening do not mix well, so I had left plenty space for the builders to expand into, thus severely curtailing my planting. However, before I left I sowed a large container (a plastic fish box salvaged from the beach years ago) with salad leaves. And now I am reaping the rewards:

A mixed crop

A mixed crop

Since I arrived home on Sunday evening I have had four meals containing leaves harvested from this box and there are plenty more to come. I chose to plant red mizuna and a red-leaved lettuce, plus there are a few self-seeded Claytonia in there. I can harvest exactly the amount I want, so my salads are always fresh.

If you want to start growing and only have a limited space, or worry that your skills are not up to it, get yourself a container and plant some seeds for salad leaves (you can buy a mixed packet). Choose cut-and-come-again varieties and you will have weeks of fresh food at a fraction of the cost of those plastic bags of mixed leaves you can buy in the supermarket. Plus the only packaging will be a seed packet or two and you won’t have unused food going to waste in your refrigerator.

This is why I garden – pesticide-free food, freshly harvested, no plastic bags, cheap and easy.

Not-so-hungry in the gap

We are currently in the time of year known to vegetable gardeners at the ‘hungry gap’ – when we’ve planted our seeds (or at least some of them) but there’s nothing to harvest yet.

However, we  don’t seem to be suffering too much this year… the purple sprouting broccoli and kale are both doing well and there are still leeks to be harvested. In addition, as we prepare vegetable beds for future planting, we keep finding overlooked potatoes – not enough to supply all our needs, but still a welcome addition to our supplies. We are also starting to be able to harvest some leaves – blood-veined sorrel seems to have established itself around the garden and the Claytonia is growing in profusion in one of the planters… in combination with some young kale leaves, these make a very acceptable leafy salad. Indeed, combined with hard-boiled egg and the surprise potatoes, I have been able to rustle up a meal or two completely out of the garden.

Because I was careful to store as much as possible from last summer’s harvest, we are also enjoying a wide variety of home-grown produce. There are still bottles of apples and a few frozen raspberries and blackberries. Plus, in the freezer I can find roasted courgette, passatta, pesto, vegetable soup, roasted squash, chilli and redcurrants and there are more bottles of passatta in the cupboard. We are by no means close to being self-sufficient, but I love to be able to eat something we have grown at least once every day.

However, it is the promise of crops to come that really excites me. The herbs are starting to perk up now – mint, chives and lemon balm producing fresh shoots. Plus rosemary and sage beginning to wake up and grow again. I’m restraining myself from picking any rhubarb yet – but there are now lots of tender shoots. The lettuce and mizuna seeds that I planted a week or so ago are germinating and the chilli and pepper plants need potting up. Some more compost translocation is required before we can plant potatoes and various seeds directly into the garden, but the weather forecast for this weekend is good and my labourer is home, so we should be able to achieve something.

I’m also delighted  to report that, although Anna is still doing more sitting down than usual, she is no longer limping. At 3.1kg she is a big chicken, so physical injury (literally falling off her perch!) is a distinct possibility. I think she’s even laying again, although distinguishing eggs is quite a challenge… and Lorna keeps sitting on them whether she’s laid or not!

Anna and Tiffany enjoying the sunshine

Anna (l) and Tiffany enjoying the sunshine (yes, there are two hens there)

The lettuce and potato diet

I have discovered that there are a number of things that I can grow really well in my garden: lettuce, potatoes and courgettes amongst them. Tomatoes I don’t seem to be able to have much success with, but I’m a dab hand with peppers. Of course I do grow other crops and this year it looks like parsnips and shallots are going to be a roaring success, plus the runner beans are doing well, not to mention the raspberries. But so far, what we have mostly been eating is lettuce. I have delayed harvesting potatoes in order to maximise yield and because lovely local Pembrokeshire new potatoes have been readily available, but once the last kilo in the cupboard is eaten up, our own harvest will commence.

Lettuce in an old strawberry planter

Lettuce in an old strawberry planter

This year I have grown three varieties of lettuce: Flashy butter oak (a firm favourite from the Real Seed people), Forellenschluss (which means ‘speckled trout’; these seeds came all the way from Australia) and Red deer tongue (which may become my all-time favourite as it’s prolific and so crunchy). To add variety, we also eat blood-veined sorrel (a perennial) and various brassicas (there’s a nice self-seeded mustard currently doing well and adding a kick to our salads). I’m really not keen on supermarket lettuce out of a bag, but ours is always fresh from the garden – no packaging, no food miles and no chemicals.

Potatoes doing well

Potatoes doing well

This abundance has led to many of our meals in the past few weeks comprising boiled new potatoes, freshly picked lettuce and some form of protein… last night smoked trout, the night before Glamorgan sausages and one night last week simply boiled egg – seven minutes so that the white is hard, but the yolk is still slightly runny. In all cases, served with homemade mayonnaise. Until recently, I bought ready-made mayonnaise, but I have now decided to add this to the increasing list of things I will try to make from scratch. When I made it years ago I used a food processor and struggled to get it to thicken, but now I have an old-fashioned Kenwood Chef (actually I’ve had it for three years!) and fresh eggs, it turns out that I can (literally) whip up a batch in double-quick time. No only that, but I can thin it using my homemade apple scrap vinegar, so there’s an extra “no food miles” ingredient’

Anyway, tonight things are going to change as the ‘great courgette harvest’ begins… perhaps served with potatoes…?

Planting time

I love this time of year… seeds germinating, seedlings in need of transplanting, vegetables that were planted out earlier in the season starting to grow. It’s even been nice enough to get out and make some progress with all the jobs this afternoon:

Ready to be planted out

Ready to be planted out

My earliest planting of potatoes

My earliest planting of potatoes

These ones were planted a bit later

These ones were planted a bit later

Shallots doing well

Shallots doing well

Potatoes in bags

Potatoes in bags

Lettuces planted this afternoon in what's supposed to be a strawberry planter! A bit floppy as they'd only just been put in.

Lettuces planted this afternoon in what’s supposed to be a strawberry planter! A bit floppy as they’d only just been put in.

Newly transplanted... they'll perk up soon!

Newly transplanted… they’ll perk up soon!

Courgettes and squashes

Courgettes and squashes

More squashes

More squashes

Beans tomorrow. Fingers crossed everything does well.

 

Winter veg

A time of plenty... courgettes growing by a Boston winter squash

A time of plenty… courgettes growing alongside a yellow Boston winter squash

Yesterday brought beautiful August weather, with lots of sunshine and a breeze to keep the air fresh. It does feel like the end of summer, though, with the mornings a little cooler and a slightly different smell in the air. It’s a time of plenty in the garden… something to harvest every day. However, we also need to think about the future… we may be awash with fresh vegetables now, but things will be different in the winter. So, even as we harvest, we should also think about sowing. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday afternoon.

Newly planted seeds surrounded by abundant capsicums

Newly planted seeds surrounded by abundant capsicum growth

I sat in the garden with compost and seed trays and planted a range of vegetables that, I hope, will help us through the winter. In the seed trays I planted kale, spring onions, red mizuna, komatsuna, kai lan and namenia. I discovered that I had very few plant labels just before I started, so I cut strips from a plastic milk carton and wrote on the rough side – it seemed to work well. Next, I cleared the bolting lettuces out of the strawberry planter and fed these to the chickens. In their place I sprinkled seeds of Claytonia and a lettuce called ‘Winter Marvel’. I also potted up some sweet pepper and chili plants. as they seem to be growing really well and it looks like we have a late-season mountain of capsicums to look forward to.

I will be planting more seeds over the coming weeks, including coriander, rocket and several more varieties of oriental greens. If you want ideas about what to plant now, the best resource I know is the Garden Organic website. They have pages for ‘what to do in the garden this month‘ which include planting suggestions… do check it out, it’s great.

Reaching for the sky

The Waste of Space design is bearing fruit (and vegetables).

Permaculture designs, as this is, often incorporate use of vertical as well as horizontal space (often referred to as ‘stacking’). With this in mind I planted yellow-podded mangetout in pots alongside the fence. In order to contain chickens, last year we attached wire mesh to the wooden fence slats and thus increased the height of the structure to about 2m, just the same height that the seed packet suggests these peas grow to.

And that is, indeed, what’s happening:

Making good use of vertical space

Making good use of vertical space

Resulting in an abundant harvest (these were picked just before the photograph above was taken):

Yellow-podded mangetout

Yellow-podded mangetout

I’ve also used an old strawberry planter to make use of vertical space for growing lettuce:

Multistorey lettuce

Multistorey lettuce

In addition, we have harvested a couple of kilos of potatoes from the dumpy bags, but the majority of the harvest from them is yet to come.

This whole area, which was previously unused, is contributing significantly to our food supply this year… onwards and upwards!

How does your tarmac grow?

Very well thank you, as you can see:

Something from nothing!

Something from nothing!

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Lovely lettuce… in a strawberry planter

In fact, it’s not the tarmac that’s growing anything, but it is providing the base for various containers, all contributing to our vegetable yield this year. For those of you new to my blog, the area in the pictures used to be a complete waste of space, a corner at the end of the driveway that just accumulated junk. A bit of thought and the application of some permaculture principles, and I have turned this area into somewhere useful.

So far this year, we haven’t harvested much from this part of the garden – some lettuce, parsley and about a kilo of potatoes* – but we have high hopes.

It’s lovely to see the mangetout, having been guided by “pea sticks” to grow in the right direction, scrambling up the fence. The mesh on the fence was put there to stop the chickens escaping and wandering down the street, but it has turned out to have a second function – supporting these plants (Yellow-podded – a variety that grows up to six-feet tall).

The lettuces are in a container that was originally intended for growing strawberries. Somehow the fruit-growing was not successful, so it has found a new function – multistory leaves – which seems to be going well so far. Sometimes, success just requires some lateral thinking!

-oOo-

* It’s early for potatoes yet, but it’s possible to remove some from the edge of the dumpy bags without disturbing the root system too much. Although this will reduce our total yield, it means that I am able to supply us with new potatoes at a time of year when the ones in the shops are very expensive. Those in the soil rather than containers will be harvested later in the season when they have produced their maximum crop.

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