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:


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:


this morning’s harvest

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


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.

Apple time

How can they escape your notice when they are so big?

How can they escape your notice when they are so big (1.3kg)?

It’s good to make plans, but in life sometimes you just have to respond to the situation. This seems to have been particularly so this year in the garden – our warm winter followed by an early spring and hot July seem to have combined and delivered us to a premature autumn. Currently there are blackberries to pick and apples to harvest. Normally I would not expect to have to deal with bags of cooking apples until September, but mum gave me the first bag from her tree on 10 August and so the great apple processing event is underway, whilst still having to deal with mounds of courgettes/zucchini (I found the one pictured snaking its way under its parent plant out of sight, attaining a weight of more than 1.3kg/2.8lbs before I spotted it). I’m waiting for a sunny day to do some more courgette dehydration.

The first bag of many, I'm sure!

The first bag of many, I’m sure!

Although I know I can do dried apple rings, I love bottled apples and so most of the harvest is likely to be preserved this way… I have loads of Kilner jars, so am able to store litres of the stuff. Over the weekend I made two big pots of courgette and carrot soup, some of which we ate, but most of which went in the freezer for delicious lunches on cold winter days. So preservation is proceeding apace even if it does seem to be happening somewhat earlier than usual. Now I’m expecting a message from Perkin to tell me to come and collect apples from their fantastic tree too. I do love this time of literal fruitfulness!

However, life does throw all sorts of things in our paths and so, whilst I am busying myself with gardening, preserving and cooking, Mr Snail of Happiness is preparing to go and work away from home for at least the next six months. A phone call 10 days ago offered him a big contract with a company he has worked for before that was too good to turn down. As a result, in the past week, we have bought a second car and done a lot of on-line property hunting. We collect the new car tomorrow (a tiny one with very low carbon emissions and fuel consumption and no car tax) and he’s off to view a couple of flats on Thursday. Thus, this winter I will be ‘home alone’ during the week… which may result in much more blogging and crafting. In the mean time, bear with me because we have a lot of packing to do and finding all those things that we stored  after his last contract away from home, more than four years ago.

All dried out

Yesterday I experimented with dehydrating as a way of preserving some of the great courgette mountain. I borrowed an electric dehydrator off my friend Linda so that I could test out the resulting produce and see whether it’s worth our while building a solar dehydrator of our own (i.e. one that does not use electricity).

I chose a sunny day to do the test because (a) the air was dry and (b) we were generating enough electricity from our solar panels to run the thing. I started by wiping and drying the courgettes, then sliced them by hand into thin pieces. I spread the slices carefully on the drying racks and switched the contraption on at about 10:20 in the morning. The temperature was set to 125°F/52°C, so it’s a fairly gentle process. Being new to all this, I checked how things were going every hour or so. It’s a slow business, but by about 8:00 in the evening they seemed to be ready. I allowed them to cool in the dehydrator and finally transferred them to clean Kilner jars. They taste very intensely courgetty to me and quite nice, but Mr Snail isn’t keen – he says that they taste like cucumber (which he doesn’t like).

The finished product

The finished product

I’m going to try re-hydrating some of them soon to determine whether the reconstituted product is good to use. If it is, I’ll do some more, otherwise it’s been an interesting experiment. I notice that sweet peppers are also supposed to be good for drying, and I might have a go at these if we get a big enough crop.

Have you had any successes with drying your own vegetables?


Yesterday's courgette harvest

A small harvest a few days ago

Every time I go into the garden there are more courgettes (zucchini) – clearly a run-away success this year. I’ve generally been weighing them when I bring them into the kitchen, and so far I’ve picked well over 7kg (15lbs) of them… not bad for mid-July, eh? Currently there are seven decent-sized specimens in the fridge, a pot of courgette soup on the stove (simple recipe: courgettes, curry powder, homemade stock, cook together, then stir in some creme fraiche and season to taste) and lots growing on the plants in the garden. Last night we did have a meal that did not include courgettes (new potatoes, lettuce, boiled eggs and homemade mayonnaise: all out of the garden except the oil in the latter), but we did have courgette soup for lunch!

However, not everyone is having my success this year, and I have been asked by a couple of people what might be going wrong. I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you what works for me.

Courgette plants in the compost bed

Courgette plants in the compost bed

I always grow my courgettes in lots of compost; in fact, the bed that I use for most of them doesn’t have soil in it – it’s an in situ composting system to which I add grass clippings, leaves, cardboard, shredded paper, compost, chicken bedding and anything else I can think of every year. I have grown courgettes and squash in it for the past four years and the lack of rotation seems to have had no adverse effects. I think I add so much extra material each year that, effectively, there is always new substrate. In the winter I let the chickens onto this bed to give it a good turning and to further increase fertility. When I do plant courgettes into beds with soil, I always add lots of extra compost and water sometimes with some sort of nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer (worm wee, for example).

Making use of lots of compost has two benefits: first, you are supplying plenty of nutrients and second, organic matter holds large amounts of water. Courgette plants are both hungry and thirsty! According to the University of Kentucky, a courgette is 95% water! So that means for every 1kg (2.2lbs) of courgette that you harvest, you need to supply 950ml (33 fluid ounces) of water. In contrast, a potato contains a mere 79% water. I, however, do not like to have to spend too much of my time watering plants, and all that organic matter saves me having to do so. I do give them a drink very occasionally, but even in June when we got a total of 58mm (just over 2 inches), I only watered them about once a week, despite the very sunny, warm weather. So far this month, I haven’t watered them at all, apart from giving the ones in the soil some liquid feed once. In drier climates, watering is likely to be required, but using lots of organic matter will certainly reduce the amount you need to apply.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with some images of the abundance… clearly the organic matter approach is working here:

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!


* 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

Filling the gap

In my earlier ‘Waste of Space‘ post I described my plans for a previously unused area beside the house. The first stage was just to get something in the area and I started by placing some potatoes along the fence in bags. These have grown like mad, but the rain and strong winds last Friday rather battered them – being raised above the ground they are more exposed than plants growing directly in the soil. However, they weren’t completely destroyed and so should still be producing tubers down in the compost.

Mangetout with some of the storm-ravaged potatoes

But potatoes were only the beginning. The next addition was two large pots of mangetout to grow up the fence. This fence has had to be covered with mesh and the height increased because of escaping chickens that would  get over the top (via the compost bins) in order to visit the neighbours or take a stroll down the street. Sadly our greatest escapee, Gytha, died yesterday, but the mesh has to stay as the others are not entirely trustworthy. So, tall pea plants seemed a good way to mask the mesh and make use of vertical space that was just begging to be utilised. The plants were started in the greenhouse where some of them were eaten by a mouse; however, some survived and are now a few inches tall… fingers crossed they will produce some pods.

My latest addition to the area is a ‘dumpy bag’ filled with compost from my big green cone compost bin and planted with the ‘three sisters’. For those of you who don’t know, a dumpy bag is one of those cubic metre sacks that building materials arrive in. The builders merchants won’t take them back for reuse (in case they fail, I guess) and so they are generally regarded as rubbish. We have several of them and I’ve heard of them being used elsewhere for planting so thought I would give it a go once I had enough compost to fill one.

Mostly from waste: a dumpy bag filled with grass clippings, cardboard and home-made compost.

As for the ‘three sisters‘, they are squash, corn and beans, which grow well together as a ‘guild’. In theory, the corn should provide support for the beans, but I know that corn is a tricky crop here in west Wales, so I have added some canes for the beans. My planting is very dense, but since the bag contains compost with a cardboard-grass clippings-cardboard sandwich in the base (to hold moisture and provide heat as it breaks down) there should be plenty of nutrients and the beans should fix nitrogen to further boost the fertility. I did cover the top of the home-made compost with about an inch of coir fibre with no added nutrients to serve as a mulch and discourage weed growth from the compost until the squash leaves get big enough to suppress any weeds on their own. I only had three runner bean plants left from my earlier garden planting and these are looking the worse for wear, but I’m hoping that they will perk up now they are in such a great growing medium. I planted three different squashes: Boston (a winter squash), summer crookneck and a courgette (zucchini)… any rampant rambling can be across the tarmac or along the little fence. This is a real experiment for me, but I think that it might be quite successful.

Slowly less of the space is wasted

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