Thursday 30 June 2011

Planning ahead: next year's broccoli

As many of my regular followers will know, Sprouting Broccoli is one of my favourite veggies. It does have one significant disadvantage though - it takes a long time to grow. About 10 months! So, in order to be able to harvest in the Spring (March and April are the height of the Sprouting Broccoli season here in the UK), you need to sow your seeds in May or June. I sowed mine on 27th May. As usual, I sowed a lot more seeds than I really needed. Here they are, shortly after germinating. (Notice my use of the re-cycled brown plastic tubs formerly used for mushrooms bought at the supermarket.)

When the seedlings had produced their first couple of true leaves (not those kidney-shaped cotyledons, or "seed-leaves") I transferred the best ones to individual 3" or 5" pots.

I now have six each of two different varieties of Purple Sprouting Broccoli ("Red Arrow" and "Rudolph") along with six of Cavolo Nero "Black Tuscany".  This is more than I will be able to grow. I expect to use only half of these, but I always like to have some extras to insure against casualties.

I decided this year not to grow any white Sprouting Broccoli, but to try some Flower sprouts "Petit Posy" instead. Unfortunately I sowed them too early and they are already pretty big. I now have the challenge of keeping them in good condition in their pots until such time as I can find somewhere to plant them out. It is supposed to be the place where the Broad Beans are now, but the Broad Beans are later than usual and it will be some weeks yet before they are ready to come out. I'll probably end up transferring them into the big pots currently holding my potato crop.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

End-of-June flowers

The main emphasis of my garden is on the edible plants, but in this post I want to remind you that I also have a few plants that are primarily for decorative purposes...

Oxalis "Burgundy Wine"

The bright white flowers of the Oxalis contrast well with the deep purple foliage

The Olive tree has lots of flowers this year

The Dogwood is constantly changing its colours
Rose "Sunset Boulevard"

The same Rose, a few days later



Lavender "Hidcote" in close-up

Geranium "Lara"

Coreopsis "Early Sunrise"

Right, now back to the veg...

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Swiss Chard in cheese sauce

Swiss Chard is a very versatile vegetable - its stems and leaves provide two completely different culinary treats. Here it is, growing...

About 6 -8 stalks will make a meal for one person.

The stalks and leaves, with completely different textures, are used in different ways. The leafy bits can be used just like spinach.

The stalks have a texture not unlike Asparagus, with a taste more akin to beetroot.

I cooked the stalks for a few minutes in boiling water, drained them, and put them into a pyrex dish.

I made a cheesy white sauce and poured it over the cooked Chard, and added a good grind of black pepper.

I then cooked the dish in a hot (180C) oven for about 15 minutes, until the sauce was bubbling and beginning to go brown.

I served my Chard with some cold ham, home-grown beetroot, and bread-and-butter. I did actually eat the green leafy bits of the Chard at the same time, but I  didn't think they looked very photogenic! Fortunately they tasted better than they looked. I found the Chard to be much sweeter than the Perpetual Spinach I ate the other day, which had a rather "metallic" taste - rather iron-ey.

I would think the Chard stalks would also be good stir-fried, though they might benefit from being par-boiled beforehand.

P.S. Thanks to those of you who contributed advice on how to deal with the apple-tree problem I wrote about yesterday. Sounds like it is a fairly common occurrence - and almost certainly caused by the sudden shift from drought to heavy rainfall. I'm now considering whether investing in a set of surgical instruments is justifiable...

Monday 27 June 2011

Apple problems

My Minarette apple tree "Scrumptious" is in trouble. A couple of long (30cm) cracks have appeared in the trunk this week.

I don't know the cause, but I have two possible explanations. The first is that the sudden over-abundance of water after a prolonged period of drought has caused the tree to split, as often happens with tomatoes when the skin cannot expand as quickly as the inside.

The second possible explanation is that the damage may have been caused by insect pests burrowing into the bark. This theory is based on the fact that there are two distinct areas affected, and not the whole trunk. Furthermore, looking closely at the photos I took, I notice that in the cracks there are lots of what look like insect eggs.

Of course it may just be that some insects have taken advantage of the crack to lay their eggs in what they consider to be a suitable place. Has anyone experienced this sort of problem before? If so, can you please advise me what I should do?

Elsewhere on the tree there is evidence of a different problem - aphids. Here you can see a "raiding party" of ants attacking the aphids. I think they "milk" the aphids of the honeydew-like substance they secrete.

The fruits of the tree are getting bigger now, but I wouldn't say that they look particularly good. Last year most of the apples were afflicted with the Bitter Pit, which is associated with lack of water and lack of nutrients. It may just be that my apple tree is located in an unsuitable spot.

Fortunately the pears are looking much better. This year my "Conference" tree has 11 fruits on it - not a huge number, I know, but more than twice as many as last year!

Sunday 26 June 2011

Mixed Veg!

The title hardly does justice to the collection of produce I harvested yesterday. Just look at this lot:-

In this picture are: Cabbage, Chard, Lettuce, Endive, Broccoli, Beetroot, Broad Beans, Peas, Potatoes - and my first-ever Daikon. I'm very proud of this Daikon. It may not be a perfect example of its type, but it certainly has character.

I pulled up one of the Daikon really only to see how big they were. This one looked as if it might be quite big, but I certainly got a surprise when it came out of the earth!

I think it's a boy Daikon, but just check out those hips!

The other veg were (thankfully) a bit more conventional. This is a "Caramba" cabbage. Generically, this type of cabbage is known as the Sweetheart, and I can understand why. I tried eating a few bits of it raw, and it is lovely - crunchy and sweet! Ideal for making a coleslaw I would think.

We also ate the first home-grown Broad Beans of the year. Just like the peas the other day, the beans were very young and tender, but not very plentiful. I'm not going to harvest any more pods until they are a lot more mature.

Once again, I have included an "arty" photo in an attempt to "Big them up" as they say...

For me though, the pièce de résistance was the potatoes (again, the first of the year).

These were all from one pot - and I have 25 pots!  Aren't they clean, and scab-free? The bigger ones are about the size of a large hen's egg.

There, Lara, beat that if you can!

When cooked, these potatoes were incredibly light and insubstantial - almost buttery. Such a contrast to the rubbery and musty shop-bought ones we had the previous day.

As anticipated, most of these veg were eaten as accompaniments to a roast chicken, complete with Jane's incomparable gravy!

P.S. Following on from my post about the wooden planter we won... Several people pointed out that it would be a good thing in which to grow carrots (because it would put the carrots above the height at which Carrot Root Fly normally fly), so I have heeded this advice. I have moved my little plastic washing-up bowl of carrots off the garden table into the planter. Because the planter is so deep, I have stood the bowl on top of some bricks. I have also put into the planter a bush tomato plant and a purple sage, both of them in pots.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Our prize planter

I want to tell you about another prize - one which was the result of a joint effort between Jane and myself. She entered a photo I had taken (of my Veg Plot, of course) in a competition hosted by Forest Garden. Jane is the competition guru; I do the gardening and the photography. The prize was a lovely timber "Bamburgh" table-style planter, made of sturdy timber and guaranteed to last 15 years.

Now that I have assembled it, I have the duty of filling it with compost (it will need a lot!), and the pleasure of planting it with suitable plants. I have not yet finally decided what to put in it, but I think it will be either herbs or strawberries. I think it has to be something edible, so that Jane (our household's chief cook) can benefit from it as much as possible. What would YOU put in it?

As you can see, we have decided to have the planter outside the kitchen window, in the hope that it will disguise some of the unsightly drainpipes and drain-covers. It looks as if I have fitted the planter with its own white plastic drain-pipe, doesn't it, but that is actually the drain from the kitchen sink.  Notice the bright yellow "marigolds" on the windowsill! [For those not in the know, "Marigold" is a popular brand of rubber gloves.]

Friday 24 June 2011


My first pea harvest of the year! Only a tiny quantity, I'm afraid (from the few plants that survived from my first sowing), but nonetheless welcome.

You just can't buy peas like this. Anything you buy in the shops is likely to be several days old already, so probably pretty starchy, whereas home-grown peas cooked (or eaten raw) just a few hours after picking are sweet and delicious. This first little batch was mixed with some shop-bought green beans, since it was not a viable quantity on its own.

In fact the little bowl of peas looked so small that I had to resort to photo-editing tricks to make them look more impressive...

Some of the Broad Beans are nearly ready too. Perhaps another few days before I can harvest the first pods. I'm already plotting how to eat them. I reckon it might be as part of a big vegetable medley. This coming weekend I might lift the first of my new potatoes, and I could put them together with peas, broad beans, broccoli and even maybe a cabbage. Of course we are meat-eaters too, so the meal will probably involve a roast chicken and some of Jane's famous gravy (plus no doubt a bottle of chilled tangy Sauvignon Blanc from "our own" [Wineshare] vineyard...) 

In that picture above you can see the way in which I have supported the broad beans - with a line of soft jute string each side of the plants, attached to a stout post at each end of the row. There are three such pairs of strings, at different heights.

Meanwhile, the climbing beans are finally beginning to motor. The first one has reached the cross-bar at the top of its supports. Unsurprisingly the winner of this particular race was a Runner bean!

When the beans get to this stage, I pinch out the growing tip to encourage the plant to put out sideshoots, and to prevent the formation of too much growth at the top of the supports, which would make things unstable.

Further down the plants, the first flowers are beginning to form.   Pods soon, I hope. I normally get the first Runners in Mid-to Late-July.

Last weekend we were at Lara's house for her Birthday party. Of course, she and I discussed the state of her garden, including her beans... This pot is planted with "spares" from my garden, so they are not so tall yet.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Chilli babies

No, not jelly babies; CHILLI babies!

My chilli seeds were sown this year on February 14th - Valentine's Day - and they are big strong plants now. Most of them already have a fair number of fruits forming, although of course these are still very small. This post shows you how my "babies" are developing...

This first one is "Hot Portugal"  - presumably named after its characteristics and country of origin... It certainly is prolific. The plant is only about 50cm high, but it already has dozens of flowers and tiny fruits. Don't you think that these fruits look a bit like lizards or snakes sticking their tongues out?

Hot Portugal
The next one is "Fuego F1". I'm hoping this one will be my perfect chilli - quite hot, but not TOO hot; with plenty of flavour; a decent size; a nice vibrant red colour when ripe... I don't ask too much, surely?

Fuego F1
This one is one I have grown from seeds I saved myself. Originally from a single fruit I bought at a foodie exhibition /show. The fruits are small, round and deep red when ripe. I don't know it's official name, so I have just called it "Short Fat", after its appearance.

"Short Fat"
This one is another from self-saved seeds. Also an unknown variety, nicknamed "Long Medium". Last year it did really well, producing a prodigious quantity of fruits, which were quite big, not especially hot, but visually very attractive - about 10cm long, pointed at the tips, vibrant red colour when ripe. At the moment though, the one fruit that is beginning to develop looks suspiciously like a Bell Pepper or Sweet Pepper! Will it get longer as it grows, I wonder? The plants of the capsicum family are notoriously promiscuous, and it could well be that last year's plants were fertilised with pollen from a completely different variety. This year's chilli could be absolutely unique!

"Long Medium"
I have two other varieties as well: "Pinocchio's Nose (very long thin fruits), and "Serrano", but neither of these has set any fruit yet.

You can read more about the ones I grew from last year's seed (and see a photo of "Long Medium" in full production) in an earlier blogpost called The 2011 chilli selection

If you live in the UK and are serious about growing and or eating chillis, you MUST (if you haven't already) visit the website of the South Devon Chilli Farm - or even better, visit their farm / shop itself! Fellow blogger James from Chillipepperheaven recently wrote about a visit that he made to SDCF earlier this year. James is a real chilli fanatic and often blogs about the wierd and wonderful chilli products you can buy these days. His blog is worth a visit if you share an interest in such things!