Tuesday 30 April 2013

Progress report - end of April

There is new life bursting out everywhere, and my garden is quickly transforming itself from uniform brown bare soil to patches and rows of lush green.

The first row of Broad Beans is looking really healthy. No damage at all so far!

Every bean I sowed, with the exception of one of the spares, germinated. Since the plants all look fine, I have now removed the three spares from the ends of the rows, leaving 14 good plants in place.

I hadn't the heart to throw away such strong-looking seedlings, so I have stuck them in the ground over near my Rhubarb. I don't expect they will do very well there, because it is too shaded, but at least they have a chance of survival!

Since I already have two more rows of BBs in the ground, the spares that I sowed in pots in the garage are probably not going to be required and I have already arranged to give most of them to a friend.

The herbs are growing away strongly now, and most of them have already reached a pickable state.

Greek Oregano

Lemon Balm
 The Raspberry plants have lots of shoots on them now. Which reminds me, I must get round to re-attaching their supporting wires which I had to remove when my neighbours had their fence replaced.

I expect the neigbours will now have Raspberries growing their side of the fence too!

These are some of my Brassica seedlings - Tenderstem Broccoli (for Summer harvesting) and Brussels Sprouts.

Since each of them now has two or three proper leaves (you can see the cotyledons or seed-leaves have shrivelled up now and are falling off) they are just right for planting out.

Tenderstem Broccoli

Brussels Sprout "Brilliant"

 I think I will put my plastic bell-cloches over them to keep them warm, because the daytime temperatures here are only 10 to 12C and at night-time it is still very cold, occasionally frosty.

The Broccoli plants are going to go in this bed, alongside the Shallots:

In the background (upper left of photo) you can see some clumps of Parsley - mostly the flat-leaf type - which I have just transplanted. This year I am going to try very hard to grow enough Parsley for our culinary needs, which is really saying something, since we use a lot of Parsley - and would use more if we had it!

Meanwhile, the Purple Sprouting Broccoli season is nearly at an end. Last week I picked loads more spears. The fridge is full of it!

All that is left now is the secondary spears. If you cut the main spears just above a leaf-joint two more (much smaller) spears will grow.

The potatoes are looking good too, with strong green shoots coming up in all the pots, especially those benefitting from the cover of the plastic seedling greenhouse:

One of my jobs for the next few days will be to earth these up with another layer of compost.

The peas are just starting to climb the canes now. If I get any crop at all from these it will be a bonus. These few plants are ones that I originally started of indoors, aiming to eat them as peashoots, before realising that they are semi-leafless and therefore not much use in salads!

Finally, the climbing beans are sown. I have sown eight pots, with either 6 or 8 beans in each, according to the size of the pot. These are Runner Beans (Scarlet Empire and Firestorm), Climbing French Beans (Cobra), and a couple of the varieties sent to me by Jude, author of that fascinating guest post about heritage beans called The Glorious Bean. I would like to be able to grow ALL of them, but I'm being very disciplined (realistic) and sowing only a few each of "Veitch's" and "District Nurse", both of which I plan to use for drying. Nothing much to see in my photo of these, apart from the inevitable anti-wildlife protection...

All we need now is some warmer weather - and with a Bank Holiday weekend looming I suppose that is a vain hope!

The Blueberries are flowering

All of a sudden the Blueberries have burst into flower.

Hopefully the severe pruning I gave them last year won't have done them any harm - in fact it may have re-invigorated them.

In common with many fruits, blueberries produce flowers at the same time as new leaves. So we have these at the same time:


And new leaves:

The smallest of my 5 Blueberry plants was only acquired last year. Its new leaves are green, whereas the others have red ones which only turn green later. (And of course back to red in the Autumn!). I wonder if this means that is a different type to all the others?

I strongly recommend Blueberries for someone who is new to fruit-growing. They grow quite happily in pots (though they like acid soil, so it's best to use Ericaceous compost), and produce a decent amount of fruit whilst requiring very little maintenance - except that they are loved by most children and all birds, so require a bit of protection when their fruit is in the final stages of ripeness. Actually I reckon that my local Blackbirds have developed an addiction to slightly-underripe Blueberries. They know that humans like the berries fully ripe, so they steal them a few days beforehand. This year I intend to be ready with my precautions well in advance.

That reminds me to say: I have a pair of Blackbirds nesting in my hedge at present. My neighbour's cat has already staked-out the site, and will no doubt be trying to grab some of the baby birds when they fledge. I must confess to having a degree of sympathy with the cat, because I have a love-hate relationship with Blackbirds. I love the sound of their song on a Summer's evening, but I hate the way they scratch so enthusiastically in the compost in which my little plants live. I also hate their persistent "Cat! Cat! Cat!" alarm call, especially at 5.00 a.m...

By the way, I have deliberately been posting more frequently these last few days. I just have so much I want to photograph and write about, because for me it is a really interesting time of year in the garden.

Monday 29 April 2013

Potting-on the Tomatoes

My tomato plants were getting too big for the Elmlea pots in which they began their lives, so I have moved them to bigger (5-inch) pots. This is important, because a tomato plant needs lots of nutrients and it needs moist soil, neither of which it will get in a tiny pot which it has outgrown.

I have described the potting-on procedure elsewhere, (HERE for example), so I'll just show you the result:

When this photo was taken, the tomato plants were sitting in trays in the garage. This is because the outside temperature was only about 8C and there was a strong breeze. In those conditions, tomatoes would not be happy, especially right after transplanting. However careful you are, transplanting always causes the plants a certain amount of shock, and it is best if they are given a bit of extra care and attention in the immediate aftermath. As it happens, soon after the photo was taken, I moved the plants right insidethe house since frost was forecast. This turned out to be a wise move because there was indeed a heavy frost that night.

Do you see the plastic trays in which my plant pots are standing? These are really useful if you have lots of pots to move around - like when you are taking them outdoors for hardening-off. Trays like this are usually available for free at your local Garden Centre. They use them in vast quantities, and just throw them away when no longer required.

Since we are clearly not past the danger of frost yet, I will keep my tomatoes in these pots for perhaps another two weeks before putting them into their final homes - large pots that are too big to keep indoors. During the day they will be outside being hardened-off (acclimatising to outdoor conditions), and in the evenings I will bring them indoors.

My chillis will need the same treatment before long, but they are not quite ready yet.

The main difficulty will be deciding which of the chilli seedlings to keep and which to discard, because I have far too many of them! I think I will keep about 10 or 12, because I don't have space for more.

The over-wintered Scotch Bonnet plant is absolutely huge now, and covered with flowers. If even 10% of them set I'll have masses of fruit.

Daffodil gallery

I don't have vast numbers of flowers in my garden (well actually I don't have vast numbers of anything), but I have plenty of variety. I have put together a collection of photos of my daffodils. These photos are all taken this Spring.



Narcissus Canaliculatus

Narcissus Canaliculatus

I don't know what type this is. Anyone recognise it?

Close-up of one of the above

Don't know this one either!





Tete a Tete

Tete a Tete

I think this proves how very diverse the "Daffodil" is!

Sunday 28 April 2013


At this time of year, with my garden full of tiny plants and seeds just germinating, I am very vulnerable to the antics of the local wildlife. Anything unprotected is destroyed more-or-less immediately. I cannot risk sowing anything without putting it under a physical barrier, so my garden is currently covered in nets and chicken-wire.

Four of my six raised beds are under nets:

Just look at the animal footprints in the central (foreground) bed in this photo - and imagine what would have happened to any seeds I had sown in it!

I have put my pots of potatoes out in the open now, after bringing them on a bit indoors in the garage:

But they are covered with chicken-wire! Without this, the foxes/badgers would snuffle about in the pots in their search for worms and wreck the tender young potato shoots that are emerging.

Around the side of my house I have a sort of potting-bench made out of an old kitchen cupboard unit with a piece of worktop perched on top of it, at a height of about 4 feet. I am currently using this as a place to put some boxes and trays of young seedlings which have only just germinated. Even this is protected with wire, because I know that foxes and cats can jump up onto things like this!

I know from previous experience that in a month or two the problem will reduce, presumably because the animals find other more easily accessible sources of food during the Summer months, but for the time being I have to put the cosmetic side of gardening into second place, with the protection aspect taking priority.

The Asparagus bed is currently undefended, but I have just ordered another net and some more hoops. If the badgers dig up this bed I shall be ANGRY!

Saturday 27 April 2013

Middle Eastern Lamb and Bean Soup

I hesitated for a long time over the title of this post. I was unsure whether to describe the dish I am going to write about as a Casserole, a Stew or a Soup. In the end I decided on "Soup", but this dish is a soup of the type generally described as "hearty".

The dish is another one inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi. It is vaguely based on a recipe in his book "Jerusalem", but I have adapted it very heavily. The key ingredients are lamb, beans, potatoes and spices. Lots of sweet, fragrant spices. The end result is very Middle Eastern, very un-British.

Here you see some of the raw ingredients: diced Lamb fillet, onions, garlic and spices:

The spices I used were (clockwise from 12-o-clock) Black Pepper, Cardamom, Cumin, Cinnamon, Allspice and Turmeric.

Perhaps the key ingredient was the Cardamom. The photo below shows what Cardamom pods look like. If you use them like this you either have to fish them out of your finished dish or else put up with the tough stringy husks.

So I removed the seeds and discarded the husks. Despite bearing more than a passing resemblance to mouse droppings, the Cardamom seeds are actually very nice and add a delightfully warm fragrance to a dish.

This is my recipe:-

Middle Eastern Lamb Soup with Cannellini Beans (serves 2)

350g Lamb fillet, trimmed and diced into small cubes
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
200g cooked Cannellini beans (or similar. Many other types of bean would be fine.)
200g small waxy new potatoes (e.g. "Charlotte")
300g Celeriac, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 litre stock
1 large squeeze of tomato puree
Half teaspoon each of powdered Cumin, Allspice, Cinnamon, Turmeric, Black Pepper
Seeds of 6 Cardamom pods
2 Tbsps vegetable oil, for frying
1 Tbsp plain flour

Cook the onions in half of the oil, until soft, using a large casserole-dish (one which is OK to use on top of the stove)
Add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes
Remove onions and garlic from the pan and reserve
Use the flour to dust the meat
Brown the meat in the remaining oil
Return onions and garlic to the pan
Add the spices and cook for 2 minutes, stirring contantly to prevent burning
Add the stock and the tomato puree
Add the Celeriac
Bring the pan to the boil and simmer gently for about two hours, until the meat is very tender

About 1 hour before you plan to eat....
Add the halved potatoes and the Cannellini beans
Check seasoning and add salt if desired
Keep the pan simmering until you are ready to serve
Add more water or stock if you want to reduce the thickness of the soup

When the potatoes are fully cooked, the dish is ready to serve. The tomato puree will ensure that the potatoes will not fall (disintegrate), so this dish is hard to over-cook!

Serve in large bowls, garnished with chopped Parsley and accompanied by a green vegetable such as Broccoli:

The flavour of this dish was sublime! The Celeriac gave it a very savoury taste, balanced by the sweetness of the Allspice and Cardamom. The Cumin and Turmeric also gave it a hint of a curry. Add that to the comforting bulk of beans and potato and meltingly tender lamb and you have a dish that is up there with the best "soups" I have ever eaten.