Tuesday 31 January 2012

Roman roads

Look at this satellite photo of the Via Flaminia (one of the most famous Roman roads) passing through the suburbs just North of Rimini. The occupied (warmer) houses show up as white / pale green, while the darker rectangles are colder, unoccupied premises.

No, that's a load of rubbish. It is actually a picture of a leaf!  Here it is viewed more conventionally:

It's a Sweet Chestnut leaf, floating in a puddle of water.I just love the patterns created by its veins.

This is a more traditional style of photo - a close-up study of a Blueberry bud just beginning to form:

I'm "on" leaves today, so what do you think of this one? It's a tiny leaf from a Swiss Chard plant.

I think the pink stem is particularly attractive. During the Summer the plant's stems were all white, but in the cooler weather the bases of all the new leaves are this shade of pink, though it seems to fade when they grow bigger.

Finally for today, this lovely but unidentified red leaf. It looks a bit like the one I used for my "Autumn" picture a couple of months ago, but it must be of a different type since all the "Fish tree" leaves have been dry and brown for ages now. It must have blown in from someone else's garden.

The brown berries are the formerly bright red ones from the Fish tree itself. [Note to new readers: Fish tree is our name for a tree in our garden that is a type of Sorbus. It has very "fishy"-smelling blossoms in the Spring.]

I'm afraid I haven't much time for blogging at present. For the first three days of this week I am commuting from Fleet to Bristol each day, a journey of about one and three-quarter hours each way, so spare time is a bit scarce. I hope to put together something a bit more substantial later in the week, and hopefully I'll also have the time to enjoy YOUR blogs too...

Monday 30 January 2012

The last of the Parsnips

The other day I wrote (here) about the fact that my parsnips were beginning to re-sprout. I subsequently decided that I should dig them up, influenced by the fact that I shall need the space soon for Spring sowings (which this year will be possible a little earlier than in previous years, since I now have some cloches). Incidentally I recently acquired a fourth one of those Parasene "Longrow" cloches, so I now have enough to cover one complete raised bed.

This was the yield from the last part of my double row of parsnips and Hamburg parsley:

Although there were 14 parsnips (weighing a total of 700g),  they were mostly very small. Only three or four were of a respectable size. You can judge their size by looking at the garden fork at the top of the first photo.

But if the Parsnips have yielded well this year, the Hamburg parsley has been disappointing. Although these last few are the biggest of the ones I grew, none of them are even as big as the smallest of the parsnips. I think I'll just save the best half dozen or so and use them for flavouring a stew or some stock. I will not be growing Hamburg parsley again.

One of the parsnips did provide a little bit of amusement....

An ice-skater who has tried an over-ambitious pirouette, maybe?

Sunday 29 January 2012

Raspberry maintenance

Along one side of my garden I have a line of Raspberry canes next to the fence. They are of the variety "Autumn Bliss".

Spot the Shield Bug...

This is a primocane variety - in other words it fruits on the current year's canes, not on the previous year's like most other varieties. I usually cut down the old canes in late Winter. This year the job needed doing a bit earlier than usual because the mild weather has prompted the plants to start growing again. Little green buds were breaking out all over.

So I decided that prompt action was required. They had to be cut down without further delay. This is the scene yesterday before starting the job.

I think there are approximately 24 plants there, each one with about 3 or 4 canes, like this:

The canes are quite tough, so I used a set of long-handled loppers to cut them. They are quite hard to cut with secateurs. Another tip: wear gloves when working with Raspberries, because the canes are covered in tiny spikes.

The base of the stems was covered in a thick layer of fallen leaves. There is a Raspberry plant in this next photo. You just have to know where to look!

I know that this could provide a haven for any number of unwelcome little beasties, so I removed the leaves to expose the soil around the plants. The little birds will have fun over the next day or two, picking up the bugs from this area.

This is a picture of the same spot as the one in the photo above. Now you can actually SEE the Raspberry plant.

Having completed this bit of the task I also checked that the retaining wires were in good shape. In order to restrain the vigorous canes produced by these plants and keep them roughly upright, I have put in four lines of garden wire at various heights, secured to large eyelets screwed into the wooden fence-posts:

The final part of the task was to remove any "suckers" that had popped up any significant distance away from the fence. The Raspberry plant has very shallow roots, but they can travel a long distance, and every so often they throw up a new shoot - like for instance this one in one of the raised beds:

I sometimes dig up these suckers and replant them over by the fence (which is why I'm no longer able to say how many plants I have).

In a few days time I will give the plants a feed of slow-release fertiliser (I use Vitax Q4), and when I get round to emptying the compost bins I will give them a mulch of home-made compost. That will complete this year's maintenance regime, and it will be just a matter of keeping the canes tucked behind those restraining wires as they grow, and watering them from time to time if we get a dry spell. The harvesting season for "Autumn Bliss" is a long one. The first berries usually ripen in late July, and the last ones in about October.

Job done!

P.S. If you are wondering what those upright metal poles are, they are the arms of two old rotary clothes-lines used as stakes. I put them in some years ago to support the first Raspberry canes I had, tying the canes to them individually. Now that I have the horozontal wires they have become largely superfluous. I suppose I really should take them out...

Saturday 28 January 2012


Ever since I took up photography I have had a fascination with raindrops on plants (you probably noticed!). Well, I have been using my new camera lens to pursue this interest...

Some plants, especially the Brassicas, seem to a have a special water-resistant nature. When water falls on them it does not disperse, but tends to remain in tiny spherical droplets, like this

If you look closely, you will see not only the one big droplet at the top, but many more distributed all over this Purple Sprouting Broccoli shoot.

This little yellow Crocus has accumulated quite a collection of raindrops. It looks as if it has been edged with tiny pearls.

In the biggest droplet at the top you can see a reflection of the brick wall of my house, the blue wheelie-bin and a white window-frame.

This is a Cavolo Nero leaf...

Apply the "Heat Map" effect and the photo looks even more dramatic!

Here are some more shots on the same theme:



Fir Tree

Sprouting Broccoli

Sprouting Broccoli
As you have probably guessed, we have had a fair bit of rain recently! I ought not to complain about this though, because if we don't get enough rain in the Winter, we will have water shortages in the Summer, with hosepipe bans and all. Our Winter has in fact been very mild and very dry by normal standards.

Friday 27 January 2012

Still harvesting chillis...

First an apology: Due to further health problems (The Fibromyalgia is still pretty bad, and now I have a huge cold) I have not felt much like blogging, so my comments on other people's blogs have been very sparse the last few days, and I have not responded to your comments on mine. I'm sorry about that. Furthermore, whether I manage to produce any material for posts of my own over the next few days is seriously in doubt. Don't worry though folks, I'm not not giving up just yet... This post that follows is one that I prepared a couple of days ago.

At the weekend I removed the three all-but-defunct chilli plants that were in my plastic mini-greenhouses. They were my least favourite ones (the lucky three other plants are still in the garage and may survive to grow again).

There were still a few fruits on the plants, which I picked before cutting the plants into pieces and putting them in the compost bin.

They are not prize specimens, are they? But to be honest I'm amazed to get any at all at the end of January.

I'm just about ready to start sowing new chilli seeds. I've resolved not to sow them until at least the beginning of February. This year I shall be sowing "Amando F1" as well as three varieties that performed well for me in 2011:- "Hot Portugal", "Fuego F1" and "Pinocchio's Nose".

All six types of chilli that I grew in 2011 produced very mild fruits. This may have been because of the weather (we had a very grey Summer, with precious little sunshine), but I have heard that being too kind to chillis can have the effect of making them bland, so maybe I was too generous with the water and the plant-food? This year I think I will be a bit harsher and force them to earn their place in my garden!

Who else is growing chillis? If you are, what varieties have you got? And has anyone (especially in the UK) sowed their chilli seeds yet?

Thursday 26 January 2012

Focus on Crocus

Crocus flowers are beginning to appear in my garden.

I have some around the base of the three trees in my back garden next to the veg plot. These are "naturalised" - in other words I leave them to their own devices.

This year I also have a few pots of Crocuses that I planted in the Autumn. Crocuses are very good bulbs (corms) to plant, because they are small and don't require much depth of soil, so you can put them in small pots and all those little spaces in the garden where nothing much else would fit. And these days they come in a good variety of colours. I bought three packs at £1.99 each - a total of 45 corms.

The stripey yellow "Gipsy Girl" ones (pictured in this post) were the first to flower. Notice that the pack says "Flowers Feb/ March".

Did you spot the pesky little aphid lurking in there?

Hopefully within the next few days I'll have flowering Crocuses all over the place.

What do you do with your potted Crocuses when they have finished flowering? This is what I do: tip them out of their pots, dry them; store them until Late Summer / Early Autumn and then plant them somewhere in the garden. They do tend to lose their vigour a bit, so re-planting them in pots is likely to give you second-class specimens. When they are in the border they  probably won't come under such close scrutiny, so their individual quality will not be as important.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Ham Hock and Mustard Terrine

A few days ago Jane made this spectacular Ham Hock Terrine:

It was made to a recipe which appeared in the December issue of the BBC Good Food Magazine.

For those of you who don't already know this, a terrine is a bit like a paté, but coarser and firmer. You can't usually spread it like you can with most patés; you have to eat it with a knife and fork. And the Ham Hock is a cured version of the Pork Knuckle, which is the piggy equivalent of the Lamb Shank. It comes from the animal's ankle. The meat is full of flavour but needs long slow cooking to make it tender. Ham Hock is not something you could reliably expect to buy in a supermarket because it is relatively uncommon. It's best to do what we did - order it in advance from your local butcher.

Jane made the dish in accordance with the recipe, with one minor variation. Having been advised to do so by the butcher, she blanched the Ham Hocks (she used two) before cooking them. This involves putting the hocks into a large pan of water, bringing it to the boil and then discarding the water. This will remove some of the salt used in curing the meat. The butcher's advice was good, because even with this blanching, we found the finished terrine too salty for our liking. Jane says that next time she does this dish she will also soak the hocks overnight.

Anyway, the gist of the recipe is that you cook the ham long and slow until the meat falls off the bones, and then flake it, removing as much as posible of the fat and gristle. You keep the cooking liquor for making the jelly which binds the whole thing together. Because you need the finished item to be quite firm the jelly is enhanced with leaf gelatine. The meat is packed tightly into a Terrine or a loaf tin; the jelly is poured over the top to cover it; and then you chill the thing for several hours until it has set. Then you can turn it out onto a plate, like this:

Well, yes it does look a bit like a housebrick!

This is pretty substantial fare (the recipe says "Serves eight as a starter"), so you don't need a huge amount:

How you serve it is entirely up to you, but we had ours with a variety of additional bits and pieces: bread and butter, cheese, pickled onions, cherry tomatoes, lettuce - and in Jane's case only - pickled gherkins (I don't like them). I think the Balsamic Onions that Green Dragonette wrote about a few days ago would be a perfect accompaniment to this terrine.

Our verdict: Visually very impressive. Perfect for a posh Dinner Party (especially as you could make it a couple of days in advance if necessary). The meat was lovely and succulent, but we felt that it was still too salty. And the spicing was too strong for us. The recipe uses 3 whole Star Anise, but this flavour dominated the whole thing and meant that we couldn't taste the mustard. I'm pretty sure Jane will make this dish again, and when she does I'm convinved it will be even better!

Tuesday 24 January 2012

My first Iris of the year

The first of my Iris Reticulata flowered on 21st Jan:-

Last year the first Iris flowered on 5 February, but this blue type didn't flower until 12 February, so you can see that this year we are ahead by 2 - 3 weeks.

If you're wondering what the green wire lattice in the background is, it's my way of protecting the bulbs from foxes / cats. It is simply the shelves from my mini-greenhouses, anchored into the soil with some wire pegs. It has probably fulfilled its mission by now, so I must remove it before many more of the flowers open up.

 I love these flowers because they give my garden a little bit of colour very early in the year, when everything is looking drab and needs a bit of brightening-up.

The Crocuses are not far behind...

P.S. Thanks to all those who offered their sympathy in respect of the Fibromyalgia. I'm not as bad as I was, and am now back at work. I even did about half an hour's gardening on Sunday, the first for about a month!