Monday, 5 October 2015

Harvest Monday - 5 Oct 2015

So, Harvest Monday is under new management... Thank You, Daphne for hosting the linkup for all that time. Your efforts are much appreciated. And Thank You, Dave at "Our Happy Acres" for agreeing to take on hosting the linkup.

So here's my harvest for the past week:

More beans of course. The Runners have been very good this year, and so have the purple French Beans, but the yellow ones were pretty much a flop.

I picked my "Mystery" beans too. I still can't identify them.

That basketful weighed 825g, and that is all from one plant. The pods are now spread out in a bigger basket, in the airing-cupboard, where they will remain until they are fully dry. The colouring on the pods is very variable: the ones that have been most exposed to the sun are mainly purple, whereas the ones that were shaded have remained mostly green. I'm dying to see what the beans inside look like.

I harvested a few more potatoes. Three tubers each of "Kifli" and "Shona". This meagre harvest is the result of the very delayed planting of some leftover seed tubers. I suppose in a way this is not such a bad result - one very small tuber planted in a container that had already produced its crop has now returned a second crop with a yield of three to one.

I harvested the penultimate pot of "Pink Fir Apple" potatoes:

I've been harvesting potatoes a few at a time for several months now, so it is going to seem odd when they are all gone. However, it has been another good year for spuds, so I'm not complaining. This batch (from one seed tuber) weighed 682g.

I'm getting quite a few ripe chillis now. These ones are all from outdoor plants. I'm leaving the indoor ones a bit longer, but I keep expecting there to be a frost, so I'm picking the outdoor ones as soon as they look ready.

The green ones are immature pods of "Aji Limon", which would be bright yellow if they were ripe. Jane particularly likes to have some green chillis for cooking with, so I harvest a few before they ripen and keep them in the freezer. The pale ones are "Blondie".

After visiting the Challock Chilli Fest yesterday (of which more later), I was inspired to make a batch of tomato and chilli sauce / ketchup. It tastes wonderful!

These are the very last of my Cucumbers. Their parent plants have down been pulled up and composted. In keeping with this year's pattern, they are pretty scruffy specimens, but I expect they will be OK when peeled.

I hate to think how many Lettuces we have consumed this year. Little ones like this are a constant feature of our diet!

We had another decent punnet of "Autumn Bliss" Raspberries - this was about 170g.

And then (you don't see this very often)... my Pear harvest!

Yup, that's it - two pears. Well, there may not be many of them, but I'm confident they will be good. They are big too, weighing in together at 522g. The variety is "Concorde". They will need a few days indoors in the warm to ripen fully.

I'll leave you with a medley photo.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

I expect that some of you will remember that I have been experimenting with growing Sweet Potatoes this year. I haven't mentioned them for a while, because nothing needed doing to them, but with the prospect of frost very close now I decided to dig up the Sweet Potato plants and see what the harvest was like.

Well, it wasn't very impressive:

(As an aside, don't you think the lid of our blue wheelie-bin makes a good photo background?!)

That's it. There are four tubers of a useable size, and about a dozen wispy "tiddlers". However, you have to see this in the light of the fact that they were grown from some sprouts on some Past-Their-Sell-By-Date supermarket vegetables. And by someone with zero prior experience of growing this vegetable. And in a year in which we had no perceptible Summer!

I think in future I will leave growing Sweet Potatoes to people who live in warmer climes.

I will be completing the procedure in the approved manner by "curing" the tubers for 10 days or so before attempting to cook them. Apparently this improves their flavour and sweetness, as well as their keeping properties (though this latter will not be of much concern to me!)

If you are interested in reading more about how I grew these things, you might want to read or re-read this: Planting Sweet Potatoes.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Leave of absence

As most readers will know, I generally post to this blog every day. For the next few days I expect to be a bit low-profile though. We have a lot of commitments coming up and I will probably not have much time for blogging, so don't be surprised it you don't see anything new from me.

One of the commitments is a visit to the Challock Chilli Fest, hosted by Stephen and Serena Shirley, at Victoriana Nursery Gardens, in Kent. I'm sure their display of chillis will be a lot more impressive than mine, but some of mine are not too shabby you know!

This funny little Siamese twin is a "Calico".

While I was away from home earlier this week (on business), Jane made herself a meal of Stir-fried Chilli Prawns which included one of these "Hungarian Hot Wax" chillis.

This variety is very mild for a chilli. Jane described it as "like a sweet pepper but with a warm afterglow".

In the photo above are Hungarian Hot Wax (centre), Ring of Fire (right), Indian Chilli Bullet (bottom), Caribbean Antillais (top right) and some of the unidentified Turkish ones (top left).

Hoping to be able to post some photos of Stephen's chillis next week...

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A herbal remedy

No, I don't mean that I have a herbal remedy to offer. I mean that some of my herbs need a remedy!

I have some pots of Thyme that are looking very sorry for themselves. They have lost their fresh colour and now look grey and desiccated.

The upper surfaces of their leaves are scarred and full of little white patches. Something has definitely been nibbling them

I don't know what has caused this, and close inspection has not revealed any bugs, but I have a suspicion that the culprits may be Capsid Bugs - the same ones that made all those holes in my cucumber and chilli plants. Has anyone else got any theories on this? Please tell me if you know of any suitable remedies.

Fortunately some of the other herbs are in much better condition! A couple of weeks ago I cut back the tired old growth of some of my potted Mint, which has prompted the production of some lovely fresh green leaves:

Some of the Lemon Balm has had the same treatment. This plant is closely related to Mint, and responds in the same way to severe pruning. This mature clump of Lemon Balm, no longer looks attractive:

That's better. A clump of re-sprouting Lemon Balm a week or so after pruning:

Last year I got a collection of herb plants from Rocket Gardens. One of them was a Flat-leaved Parsley. In fact it was a whole bunch of rather thin and straggly plants, and I was dubious about whether they would do anything much. However, they did survive and we did crop them a bit, but now they have come to the end of their lives (Parsley is a biennial, as you probably know). Here you can see the clump of Parsley tied loosely to a bamboo cane for support.

Even with support, the tall stems droop sinuously over the container of Sweet Potatoes behind them, and wave about in the wind.

Where the flowers once were there is now a multitude of little seeds forming.

Rather than cut off these seed-heads I am leaving them in place, in the hope that they will eventually mature and fall to the ground, and maybe go on to produce another generation of Parsley plants.

Nearby lives this Oregano, one of the most prolific self propagators known to man!

As you can see, the flowers of this plant are (were) purple, which gives the lie to the assertion that it is Greek Oregano (which has white flowers), as the seed-supplier would have me believe. I have written previously about my disappointment with this plant, which looks nice enough and is very popular with bees, but has very little culinary value since it is practically tasteless. I have already taken steps to remedy the situation, in that I have bought a packet of "true" Greek Oregano seeds to sow next Spring. They are "Greek Oregano. Origanum vulgare, subsp. hirtum", described as an "Aromatic culinary herb. White flowers, produced in Summer". Sounds hopeful...

In the garage at present I have a couple of pots of herb cuttings (covered with clear plastic bags to help maintain humidity).

That's one each of Variegated Sage and Rosemary.

Woody herbs like these two go very straggly after a few years, so I take cuttings from them every so often, to make sure I have always got some new ones coming along. This next photo shows some Sage grown from cuttings taken this time last year. A bit yellow at this time of year, but looking strong nonetheless.

Well, there you are then. Apart from the Thyme, the herbs look OK. It's just a bit of a shame that Thyme is probably our most frequently used herb. I think I shall have to look out for some more of those £1.25 pots of Living Herbs from Morrisons.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ticking over...

At present my garden is "ticking over quite nicely" as the saying goes. (If you don't understand this, it means something like "idling"  - the way a car engine is when the vehicle is stationary).

I have done all the planting for Winter. The Brussels Sprouts are coming along well. Nothing needs doing to them at present, except perhaps removing any of the lower leaves that turn yellow. Getting rid of those promptly helps to reduce the risk of fungal infections, which are a definite risk at this time of year.

Likewise the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is quite happily doing its own thing. The plants are huge this year. You can see how they are pushing up against the netting now.

Size is determined by many factors, but amongst them is density of planting. This year I have only three PSB plants, whereas I usually have six. Sometimes Less is More!

The plants around the edges of that raised bed are Brokali and Savoy Cabbage. I recently removed some of the leaves of the PSB to allow the smaller plants to get more light.

When I planted-up that bed I had two Cabbage plants left over, so I kept them just in case of casualties. A few weeks later I put them into containers that had until recently held potatoes. They seem to be doing OK. A lot smaller than their siblings of course, but that's a good thing because it just means they will develop later, thus extending the harvest period.

The Leeks are still very small, which is worrying. I was hoping that by now they would be much bigger than this, but they are only about an inch in diameter.

OK, I'm not in any hurry to dig up those Leeks. It's not as if I need the space for another crop just yet, so they can stay there for another 4 or 5 months if they really want.

The beans will need to come down some time, but again I'm not in a hurry to do this, because there are still some pods developing. The "Jed's" plants have just about finished producing now, but the "Enorma" ones are still going strong.

The purple-and-green pods of the mystery French bean are big and fat now. Although since there is only one plant of this type there won't be much of a crop, I'm looking forward to it because I think I will save some seeds and grow them "properly" next year.

I have left a few pods on the "Kew Blue" for the same reason. I have been very impressed with this variety. It has been very prolific. Definitely worth growing again.

I very much doubt whether I will be growing any yellow beans - ever. My opinion has been confirmed: they produce a much smaller yield than either green or purple-podded varieties.

Next year I expect I will return to growing my old favourite "Cobra". I have missed it this year!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Chicken casserole with fresh tomatoes

This dish of mine is loosely based on what in our family we used to call "Chicken Marengo". Having looked up Chicken Marengo I see that it is supposed to include crayfish and fried eggs, as well as wine, none of which our dish ever had, so I think it is safer to refer to it as just "Chicken casserole with fresh tomatoes".

We have plenty of fresh tomatoes available at present, and we are using lots of them in our cooking. For this dish I rather appropriately used some of the "Possena del Vesuvio" tomatoes. [Get it? Marengo = a place in Italy. "Possena del Vesuvio" = an Italian tomato variety.]

The reason why the photo shows the tomatoes in a bowl in the kitchen sink is that I put them there in order to skin them, which I did by pouring boiling water over them.

Chicken Casserole with Tomatoes
2 chicken breasts, skinned and cut into large chunks
500g fresh tomatoes, skinned and halved
200g chestnut mushrooms (or similar), sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
750 mils good chicken stock
1 tsp dried Oregano
1 tsp dried Herbes de Provence
1 dessertspoon cornflour or other thickening agent
Approx 2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
Salt and pepper to taste

Using about 1 tbsp oil, soften the onions in a casserole dish over a low heat until translucent but not brown
In a frying-pan, use the other 1 tbsp oil to lightly cook the chicken over a medium heat until just beginning to turn golden
Tip the chicken (with its juices) into the casserole dish
Add tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, stock, dried herbs and seasoning
Bring to the boil (on top of the cooker).

Cover and transfer to the oven
Cook in the oven at 160C for about 90 minutes
About 15 minutes before serving time, add the slaked cornflour or other thickening agent and stir in well
If the sauce is too thin (e.g. if tomatoes were very juicy, or if the mushrooms gave off a lot of liquid), take the dish out of the oven, remove lid, and boil hard for a few minutes to reduce the liquid.

I served my dish with lots of home-grown vegetables - roast potatoes, buttered carrots with chopped parsley, and Runner beans - but I think it would go just as well with pasta or with rice.

OK, that's half a kilo of tomatoes used. Only another 10 kilos to go then...  I'm not complaining though. I love tomatoes, especially home-grown ones!