Investing in the future

Today I planted the first seeds of the year.

  • Two types of chillies: Pyramid and Romanian Yellow
  • Two types of sweet pepper: Corno di Torro Rosso and Sprinter
  • Two types of tomato: San Marzano and Veepro Paste

They are in the propagator and I have my fingers crossed for fabulous harvests in the limery again this year.

The labels are made from old milk cartons and are in their second or third year of use; the modules and pots I’ve owned for years; and the compost is made in England from wool and bracken.

When the rest of the world gets me down, sowing seeds always brings a smile to my face.

Preserving our Heritage

For many years now I have been a member of the Heritage Seed Library, part of the organisation Garden Organic, which…

… aims to conserve vegetable varieties that are not widely available… The collection consists of mainly European varieties, including:

  • rare landrace varieties, which are adapted to specific growing conditions.
  • heirloom varieties that have been saved over many generations. These are unique to the Heritage Seed Library catalogue.
  • varieties that have been dropped from popular seed catalogues over the past decade. This occurs for a number of reasons; their lack of popularity with customers, their unsuitability for commercial scale production or simply the prohibitive cost of trialling and National Listing.

Each year, as a member, you get to chose six packets of seeds. This year I have had success with several of their varieties:

Sheep’s Nose Pepper – once it has ripened up, this is the sweetest pepper I have ever grown. The fruit aren’t huge, but the flesh is thick and, when ripe the taste is excellent. In their green state, I don’t think they are particularly special, although they are fine for cooking; once red, however, they are ideal for using raw and are truly delicious. Some of the fruit are quite dull-skinned and these seem to have the best flavour!

Theyer’s Kale – I’ve grown this successfully several times, but this year it seems to be especially exuberant. When I think of kale in my childhood, it was the curly stuff, which required very thorough washing to get all the grit out. This variety is completely different: with large divided leaves, it does not collect debris and is easy to harvest, process and cook. Plus, it’s very hardy and it has attractive purple stems.

Green Nutmeg Melon – I first grew these a few years ago, but they didn’t do well in my old greenhouse, so I passed the plants on to a friend. He harvested lovely sweet melons, but was unable to share them with me, so I’ve never tasted them. This year, with the wonderful conditions in the limery, I have three fruits growing well and the possibility of several more. I’ve supported them with mesh so they don’t pull the vine down. Fingers crossed that they will taste as good as reports suggest. As a bonus, the flowers have been lovely too.

Blue Coco Climbing French Bean – I usually only grow runner beans, but the lovely purple flowers and dark pods of these beans really appealed to me. Sadly, like all purple beans I have encountered, they turn green when you cook them, but they do look great on the plant and they taste good. I also like the fact that you can let them grow on to produce beans for drying… so it really doesn’t matter if you get a glut as you can just ignore them until the seeds have developed.

Czar Tomato – a bush variety that produces plum tomatoes highly recommended for cooking. I’ve already turned some of these into passata and they were very good – lots of flesh and hardly any seeds. I’ve also used them to make  salsa, which worked well, but I find them a bit dry just for eating raw on their own.

So, that’s this year’s excursion into HSL varieties. There should have been a Caribbean squash to report on, but sadly a compost disaster earlier in the year meant that none of the seeds germinated… well, maybe I’ll manage some of those in 2017.

Heritage seeds are really great for gardeners – often the flavours are better than commercial varieties, or they are specifically suited to local conditions. In addition, by helping to maintain heritage varieties, we are helping to maintain maximum genetic diversity and thus to provide a more secure future for our crops in terms of adaptation to a changing climate and resistance to pests and diseases.

So, if you are in the UK, I encourage you to support HSL, and if you are in another country there are almost certainly similar organisations doing an equally great job… if you know of one, please share the information in the comments below.

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…

IMGP9144

it’s been a good season for rhubarb so far

Still, there’s plenty of it!

Spring has been cancelled

Well, we seem to have transitioned directly from winter to summer in less than a week. I’m sure it won’t last but whilst the sun is shining I have been planting and sowing and potting up. The runner beans are in the soil, I have sown peas, potted up peppers and tomatoes and transplanted herbs… too busy to write much, but I have pictures…

I hope your weekend has been as productive as mine – oh, I did my accounts too!

There will be no green tomato chutney

The basic message over the years has been: It doesn’t matter how many of you tell me it’s lovely – I simply do not like green tomato chutney! Honestly, it’s a waste of time and ingredients me making it when I know it will only go to waste. It’s better for the chickens to have any unripe tomatoes than for me to make them into chutney.

And this year? There will be no green tomato chutney; not only because I don’t like it, but because there will be no green tomatoes! The limery is still providing a productive growing space – chillies  are going red or yellow, according to variety, courgettes are blooming and producing fruit, peppers, although growing slowly, are still being productive, the red banana passion fruit vine is reaching for the skies and the tomatoes are ripening.

It astonishes me that, despite the delay in starting growing in the limery (it wasn’t completed until July), we have harvested so much and will continue to do so into November. I can’t wait to see what’s possible next year with a full growing season!

In the green

I know that you are probably sick of seeing pictures of the limery, but it was so long coming, that I still can’t quite believe it’s complete and that the plants in there are growing so well. There are now tomatoes, peppers and chillies fruiting (although all green) and the passionflower has put on about 20 cm in height since it arrived.

I promise to stop obsessing about it eventually, but it is making me SO happy right now!

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…?

Seedy Saturday

Some of today's work

Some of today’s work

Today I’ve been sowing… I love putting seeds into compost, knowing that such tiny things will transform into the huge variety of vegetables that we’ll be eating later on in the year. Today I planted squashes, pumpkins, courgettes, melons, tomatoes, ground cherry, runner beans and maize. Tomorrow I’ll be focusing on leafy things and starting off some mange tout. Already in the ground are garlic, shallots and some potatoes and there will be more of the latter going in soon. And, having fumigated the greenhouse earlier in the week, I’ve now transferred the peppers and chillis out there to carry on growing.

Beans in root trainers on the left and the propagator lid on for double insulation of the more sensitive seeds

Beans in root trainers on the left and the propagator lid on for double insulation of the more sensitive seeds (it’s not plugged in)

This year I’m trying to focus on using up resources that I already have. In the pictures you can see that most of my curcurbits are planted in coir pots… I bought loads of these years ago and I think that these are the last of the batch. I’ve also done some more planting in toilet roll middles and the beans are planted in some very old root trainers, which are just about holding together… I’m very reluctant to replace them as they are quiet expensive.

What a lovely time of the year… fingers crossed everything germinates.

 

Ends and beginnings

Finally, we have come to the end of last year’s potato harvest… not bad for such a small space. This is all that’s left:

Just a few little Mira and Milva in the bottom of the last box

Just a few little Mira and Milva in the bottom of the last box

I think I might plant them and see what they can produce!

Thank you farmers!

Thank you farmers!

Of course, having money and living where we do, the end of our own crop does not mean that we have nothing left to eat: a trip to our local organic shop replenished our stock of potatoes. It does make me think, though, of people who do have to be self-reliant and the challenges they must face in providing for their families throughout the year. Big thanks to our local farmers for ensuring that we can continue to eat. The gap between now and our own new potatoes being ready to eat is only a few months, but it would be long enough to starve in.

Ready for potting up

Ready for potting up

Today, however, is also a day for moving another crop forwards. The peppers and chillies are now ready to be potted up and moved out of the propagator. Tomorrow, we will take some of them over to my sister for her to grow on in her lovely new garden, complete with greenhouse. We’ll also be taking her some chitted potatoes so that she can plant them out in her newly prepared beds. I do love this time of year for its new beginnings.

Gardening without a garden

We are very lucky here to have a bit of land around our house that allows us to garden. Over the years, the lawn has completely disappeared as we have built raised beds, constructed a fruit cage, built a greenhouse and (the final straw) started keeping chickens. We have expanded into spaces originally considered unsuitable for growing and now have designs on the small patch out the front.

As I write, I am, however, conscious of people who do not have any land. People who live in flats and apartments that may just have a balcony or even only a window sill, perhaps not even that.  For a while Mr Snail-of-happiness worked in Reading, where we rented a flat for him to live in. The only room that had a useable window sill was in the kitchen, but it was tiled and got quite a lot of sun, so I took him several sweet pepper plants and chillies, and they grew happily there for a couple of years, providing him with some fresh produce, even if only a little. In addition, he had some herbs in pots… a lovely way to add fresh flavours to your cooking.

Two trays of oriental leaves.

Two trays of oriental leaves.

However, things like peppers can be a little bit daunting for a complete beginner and, if you want to grow them from seed, it’s best to start them off at the beginning of the year, so they start to get long days as the plants mature. What if you want to start growing something right now? In that case (whenever you may be reading this, and whichever hemisphere you are in) I can suggest nothing better than oriental leaves. Buy yourself a selection of seeds (you can even get mixed packs), fill a seed tray with compost, sow your seeds, cover with a little more compost, place them on a tray to catch any water, water them and put them on a window sill or table in a light place. Keep the compost moist and wait for your crop. First, you will get heart-shaped seed leaves, then the plants will start to grow proper leaves which you can harvest once each plant has a few of them. Snip the leaves off and more will grow.

Baby leaves like theses are not strongly flavoured and are ideal for salads, but can also be used in stir fries, or wilted into a risotto a minute or two before cooking is finished. Next time you go to the supermarket, look how expensive bags of baby salad leaves are and this should convince you that the activity is worthwhile!

Seed compost isn’t full of nutrients, so the leaves might be a bit yellow after a time and, if so, a bit of plant food is in order. Eventually your plants will become ‘worn out’, so after a couple of weeks, plant another tray to get going whilst you are using one… this way you can have a succession of fresh leaves throughout the year even without a garden.

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