Friday, 30 August 2013

Still more goodies to come

on the turn
 A few days ago I got fed up with my greenhouse tomatoes not turning red.  The ones outside, doing battle with all weathers, are much further ahead.  These cosseted greenhouse ones are miles behind.

I knew when we put the greenhouse in it would be light deprived - it is surrounded on three sides by the house wall and two fences but I wanted it to start my seeds in each year.  This year - as I never get ripe tomatoes before we leave for the States I thought the greenhouse was the answer.  However, it would seem that light levels are way more important that warmth and protection from the weather.  So, as I said I turfed them out.  By the next day they had changed and now I can see them beginning to ripen.  Lesson learned for next year.  Start them off in the greenhouse but put them out when they have fruited.

nom, nom, nom
Another brilliant batch of strawberries, so pleased with them this year.  I hope they go on like this for years.  

The spoon is a teaspoon to give you a sense of the size of them.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

I want a new gate

Dudmaston Hall

How about these for a pair of garden gates?  As you can see they are at Dudmaston Hall, Severn Valley, Shropshire.  We were there on the 15th during a week's break, split between Hopton Wafers and Woodhall Spa.

Mind you I suppose those are the back garden gates you have when this is (literally) your back garden.....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Free greenhouse?

Does anyone have 1500 empty pop bottles?  If so I could do with them..... how about this for the lotty?

Nice simple construction, threaded on canes and staples to a frame.  Trust me it was a great deal warmer inside there so it works, gaps and all.

If you click on this you can see it was made by children from Belton Lane school and is at Belton House.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Microwave Jam

We came up trumps with the strawberries on our last visit to the lottty.  The were very large, very red and delicious.... and .... too many to eat!  Answer?  Microwave Jam.  The recipe is at the top of the blog under Recipes M - R 

It isn't worth making jam the 'proper' way unless you are doing 5 lbs plus of fruit - lot of big kit and longish chore.  I f you have about a lb of fruit as i did this is the way to go. Here's the process for anyone who hasn't done it.

Everything you need.
Kit: something to crush the strawberries, big bowl cup, tablespoon and teaspoon measures, lemon squeezer.  You can use an ordinary cup (not mug) and proper tablespoon and teaspoon and just cut the lemon in half and squeeze it - so no cooking kit necessary.
Ingredients: see recipe -crushed strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, dab of butter in a big bowl.  so you might have to buy a lemon - you need it to set the jam.

15 minutes in microwave and test for set.  Do this by dobbing a bit of jam on a cold saucer or something small - put in fridge when you start so it is very cold, the jam will thicken as it cools and wrinkle a bit when you push it with the spoon.  Mine was set on this first test.

I have a jam funnel to help me get jam into jars tidily.  Not necessary but if you are going to just pour it I'd wait until it cools a bit - jam is at a higher temperature than boiling water so its a burn you don't want.  The funnel makes it easy so in it goes.

One and a bit jars.  I am sure you can do the whole sterilising jars and wax sealing etc and keep the jam for ages, but as this will only last us a couple of weeks at best, I just lob it in the fridge and a few butties, a handful of scones and a Victoria sandwich later it is all gone.

No idea how I get fat!!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Almost harvest home

We took our first trip to the lotty today after a week away.  This is what happens to a courgette in that time.  Pretty good marrow.

This is what happened to the beans.  Absolutely expected I just wanted to see if I could get away with it - the answer is no.  I had grown a brilliant vegetable sail so as soon as a decent wind caught it, down it went.  Some canes had snapped so it was time to say goodbye to the runner beans. 

Next year they'll be grown in a builders bag in their usual tepee shape.  They were useless in a raised bed any way, I had to climb on the bed to pick them - 8 foot canes plus height of box equals waaaaay too tall.

 We have eaten some beans already and given some away and frozen some so with the (approx) 10 lbs Ken picked from these today we have as many beans as we can go at.  I gave away four lots on the way home to help reduce the 'load'.  Obviously I will shortly be known locally as the mad bean woman.

I did have the pleasure of giving two kids and their mom (hanging over one of the fences surrounding the lotty) the biggest strawberries ever as well as beans and the marrow.  It is lovely this growing stuff malarky.

The strawberries have done us proud considering they were moved this year to the lotty.  These have filled quite a big box in the fridge for tomorrow..

Remember I said a couple of weeks ago that I don't faff about with all this layering in the ground or into pots business for new strawberry plants.  I cut off and planted ten runners as I wanted five and, guess what, nine are doing just fine.

This is the box without the beans.  I also pulled up the courgettes - we've had enough of those too and they were crowding out the tomatoes.  I staked and tied up some of the trusses to get them off the ground and put cardboard under the ones that were left.  Not sure that wet cardboard is any better than soil but it is cleaner.  

Most annoyingly (but nicely too) some of these outdoor tomatoes are just turning colour unlike the ones in the greenhouse.  Go figure.

Pulling up the fallen beans means the spinach and dwarf beans that were under them (!) have a shot at doing something before the cool weather hits (maybe).

I am going to cover the beds with cardboard when they are empty in hopes it will help keep the weeds down.  It should compost down through the winter and I'll be able to dig it in next spring.  

This is the first instalment on the potato box.  One sixth of the crop remains for another month maybe.

  We went home with a huge bag of my favourite of the three spuds - the Jersey Royals - which I will transfer to a fabric bag and hang in the garage in hopes they'll keep a while.  I don't want to have to go and dig them up one dinner at a time.

It's back!

Garden is being decimated again like it was in the Spring - maybe spraying with Provado knocked it back for a while.  It is back with a vengeance   It eats almost everything - demolishing flowers before they come out and turning leaves to lace.  Is it earwigs or lily beetle?  Is there a solution?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Table and chairs

Before we went away we took our old table and a couple of chairs over to the lotty.

Table seats six.  The chairs are in the shed as we thought they would be easy to 'remove'.  We'll keep them in the summerhouse when that's sorted.

I have a stack of stuff for my beds stashed in the shed right now but it will be used in the next couple of weeks.  If anyone else want the space - let me know and I'll shift it straight away.

Monday, 19 August 2013

See what a week can bring

I keep saying it but then I keep doing it.....  gardeners can't go on holiday in the summer!

My tomatoes may have crocked it.  I have been away for a week and when I got back they were all tipped over (leaning forwards) from their tray - probably the unsupported weight of the fruit getting bigger.  This meant a lot of stem snapping and no water to the plant as they were no longer in contact with the tray!!!!  This sad picture is wonderful compared to how I found them.  I have gently levered them up, staked and tied and watered them by the time you are looking at this.  So now it is a case of wait and see.  Still not a single red tomato to be seen.  Fed up with 53 degrees north and tomatoes.

The cucumber which was a beautiful sight to behold before we decamped has dried out or baked or something.  The leaves are pale and splotchy, lots of new cucumbers have shrivelled and the ones left clinging on are rock hard and dry looking.

Finally even the outside leaves and radish troughs look pretty miserable.  I would have said I didn't do anything to them but obviously I do because if I am not here this is how they develop.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Gardening and eating

This is a garden blog so I am doing my very best to avoid it becoming ‘all about food’ BUT….

I am going to allow myself one preaching rant about the relationship between growing your own and eating and money.

I get fed up of people who have never had to do it (Jamie Oliver et al) boning on about how ‘poor folk’ should do better.  I can feed two of us for £20 a week (once the cupboard staples are in!) if I had to; and that’s fine if it is for a short while but a 'potato and minced beef' diet gets decidedly tedious if you have a lifetime of it.  Notice it also presumes a back stock of basics.  If you have a very low income – where do these come from?  Anther thing these pundits don’t understand is that people don’t necessarily have a cooker or pots and pans and if (like me way back when) they do have those basics, the next worry is the cost of fuel.  You can’t cook if you don’t have ‘two bob for the meter’.  In circumstances like these, even if you know how to cook, it takes a lot of self discipline to beat the lure of a bag of chips and the hell with it.

That rant aside, I could feed two of us (with variety) for £40 a week.  This becomes even easier if you can grow your own.  Hence my chunnering about food in my garden blog. If you have the tiniest ‘garden’ area you can cram in quite a lot of veg.  Even a few pots on a balcony will do something to help the budget – better still you will get hooked on creating food from seed to plate.  If I hear you screaming who can afford pots and compost if you are that strapped for cash?  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Grow in plastic bags, plastic milk containers (with their tops cut off) anything you can find.  My latest wheeze will be Ikea shopping bags - big ones 40p each and small ones 20p each.  Produce grown from seed will always save loads of money when they come to fruition so try save up a bit here and there for the compost. 

Just this once I decided to share our Sunday, Monday, Tuesday meals with you as they all came from one chicken and GYO.  If you can't face chicken, chicken and chicken three days in a row then just freeze the soup stock for another day.  The leftover cold chicken for the salad (or any other dish) will keep in the fridge for a couple of days

On Sunday we had Spanish Baked Chicken (Pollo Estofado) with potatoes and runner beans, followed by strawberries and cream.  The chicken recipe has a link at the top of the page to the recipe.  It is really lovely, give it a try.

This was followed by the yummiest of huge strawberries from the lotty plus cream.

When I jointed the chicken for the estofado I was left with the back section of the chicken with quite a lot of meat sticking to the frame.  This went in a slow cooker on high with just enough water to cover it and simmered away all evening (three hours?).  You can do this in a casserole (tight lid) in the oven on a low heat or in a saucepan on top of the cooker (but check this now and then to make sure it isn't boiling dry).  Always, always use a chicken frame for stock.  It can be raw like this one or the cooked frame from a roast chicken.  Either way, after straining out the bones and skin and stuff it makes the best base ever for a multitude of things.  The simplest being a chicken soup.

This was our next meal.  No recipe for this just add what you have around - This one had four runner beans (saved from the previous day's batch), four baby carrots, one courgette, one small onion and some (**)celery.  This is all chucked in at the same time.  I also added the sieved jus from the casserole which had a glorious flavour of wine and garlic and herbs.

When making soup a proper recipe will tell you to sweat the vegetables and add them at various stages, believe me 'the chuck it in the pot' approach is just fine.  Bring to the boil, simmer very gently until cooked, add back in the chicken pieces you've pulled from the frame you made the stock with and heat them through.  Serve with crusty bread - this was a part-bake baguette - another freezer staple.  If this is your main meal of the day have a substantial lighter meal later like a cheese and potato (leftovers again) omelette.

Our third meal was a sort of a salad. Bit of a cheat here as I am still having to buy tomatoes - hey ho!

I know it looks odd with sauté potatoes but, honestly, it is lovely.  It was a cool day and I didn't fancy potato salad.  These are done on a fairly high heat with a mix of olive oil and (not salted) butter.  They don't stick, come out crispy and not greasy and with a great taste.

So, for the cost of one chicken and some tomatoes, veg from the lotty and store cupboard items we had main meals for three days.  I rest my case.

PS - you could have got a sandwich out of this too but we reckon three chicken things a week is overload enough. 

(**) My other half hates celery but I think it is vital to most casserole, soups,stuffings, so I employ a crafty ruse.  I buy the occasional celery heart and enjoy the wonderful centre.  All the outer stems get chopped and put in a plastic box in the freezer.  When I want to add it to something I take out the amount I need and while it is still frozen chop it very, very finely.  It is dead easy to do while it is frozen and you can chop it into oblivion - almost literally.  When it cooks down in the dish it totally disappears. 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Repeat sowing - storing seed

I've just come up with this brilliant wheeze.  I repeat sow salad leaves and radishes every couple of weeks all summer long. [and would do under glass in the winter if I was here]

It is fiddly and time-consuming opening the little foil-lined seed packets, pinching out the bit of seed you want, returning the bits you find you actually don't want and then closing the packets back up again neatly to keep the seed safe.  Two small (3" wide) Ikea food boxes sorted that problem.  I now have easy access to the seeds and I can chuck them in a drawer in the kitchen (keep away from the light), ready to go when I want them.  My actual seed box is kept in the garage because the summer house (aka my garden shed) gets too hot so I also had to unlock the garage to retrieve the two packets every time.

The labels are my favourite labelling system for a lot of things - (painters) masking tape.  It is easy to write on, sticks well but comes off easily and cleanly so you can swap labels around without a fuss or great expense.  Indeed the right hand one has already been changed.  I needed to top up both boxes with a fresh packet of seeds so I decided to just buy whatever took my fancy and keep mixing it in with whatever was left in the the box.  My radishes are no longer just English breakfast - they are mixed varieties.  Salad leaves by their very definition are a mixed bag.  When I come back to the leftovers next year, ready to start again, it won't mater if one-year old seed isn't quite as viable as it will have fresh seed amongst it.  It might even help the plants if some doesn't germinate as I am rubbish at sowing thinly.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

First runner beans and courgettes

The courgettes seem to turn into mini marrows overnight!  One day they were proper courgettes, a downpour and a couple of days later and they were these.  Whatever, they are perfect and my first so will be thoroughly enjoyed.  variety F1 Green Bush

Here's the first handful of beans - not exactly masses but they have to be picked to keep the others coming so that's OK they will add to today's veg.  Perfect again - not a mark anywhere.  variety is Scarlet Empire - Yes, I have got that right they aren't Scarlet Emperor.

No photo, but we also ate a golf ball sized strawberry each which was delicious.  This time I had to flick off a dreaded field slug - but I got to it in the nick of time.  The downside of the rain I guess. The big black slugs we usually see around don't do that much damage, they tend to eat the rotting stuff but these little fawn coloured beasties are the worst:

Field Slug  (Derocereas reticulatum)

The Field Slug
Field Slug  (Derocereas reticulatum)
The Field Slug is an­oth­er small slug, grow­ing up to 4cm (1½”) in length. It’s light­er col­oured than the Garden Slug, usu­ally grey or fawn with dark speckles. It has a whit­ish sole and a short ‘keel’, or ridge, on the back of the tail end.
The Field Slug only feeds on the sur­face but will vir­u­lently munch its way through most ve­get­a­tion, and is of­ten found nest­ling among the leaves of lettuces and cab­bages.
Of all the com­mon garden slugs, the Field Slug prob­ably causes most dam­age.


I saw these snips (these are called Herbies) around for a long time but wasn't inclined to fork out good money for them when I, armed with secateurs, had been doing the dead-heading job very well for years.  Bored and with nothing to spend my 'pocket money' on I bought a pair last year from a National Trust shop somewhere for £4.50.  I can do no better than let the NT describe them:

The spring action handles on this small pair of snips make them easier to use than scissors for a variety of jobs around the garden.  Sitting neatly between finger and thumb they use a simple pinching action.  The carbon steel blades retain their sharp cutting edge and give a clean cut that means no ragged edges, helping to prevent pests and diseases.  The compact size of these snips means you can easily reach the centre of plants and they can be easily stored in a pocket. 
The ideal tool for dead-heading, pinching back annuals and cutting herbs.
Mini snips measure approx: 10.5cm L x 2.5cm W
Treat yourself - they are a little gem.  I keep mine with the back door key so almost every time I go out I drop them in my pocket and do a bit of 'nipping' while I am out there.  Serious dead heading of anything with substance will require your trusty aforesaid secateurs but these are great for nipping off flower heads and saves you having a permanent brown/green thumb nail.

Handy tip - if you tackle anything too large the blades can cross over wrongly - right over left instead of left over right.  You may not notice its happened, but if you come to use them and they won't cut anything and seem hard to use and even make your fingers sore - just check the blade is in the correct place.

You can buy them in a load of places and the price varies widely - just checking today I could get them from EBay for £2.99 and from Marshalls for £6.99 and all shades in between.

PS:  Don't do what I did with them a couple of days ago..... I was dead-heading the geraniums in the corner chimney pot by the summerhouse and throwing the dead heads in the jungle behind the pot (naughty I know).  Bet you know what's coming... yup I threw the snips as well!  I said my farewell to them and reported my stupidity to my husband saying, "There is no way to retrieve them without deconstructing the whole corner full of huge pots and plants and by the time I can get to them (in the winter) they will be past rescuing".  Two minutes later he was back with them. He's a keeper.