Monday 29 February 2016

Harvest Monday - 29th February 2016

I have somehow managed to scrape together another small harvest! And when I say "small", I mean "small"...

That is the last of my Celeriac. Unfortunately, it is only approximately the size of a tennis ball.

This past year I grew 4 Celeriac plants. One rotted before reaching a useable size, and the other three were disappointingly small. The one seen above was the smallest. I think I'll give Celeriac a rest for a while, and try something else!
During the week I also picked the very last of the Brussels Sprouts, which I have already written about:

Even after preparation for cooking, there was still a decent amount of useable material.

Meanwhile, we are still using chillis from the freezer, because we are going through a phase of being keen on oriental food. I made this soup on Friday:

The basis of the soup was stock made with the carcass of a roast chicken (gravy and all, hence the dark colour...), but it also included buckwheat noodles, Chinese Leaves (aka Napa Cabbage), and wafer-thin sliced pork. Additional flavourings were onion, garlic, galangal, Spring Onion and chilli. Let me assure you, this soup was wonderful!

This is my entry for Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Making preparations...

The weather over the last few days has been quite good gardening weather - cold, but dry, still and occasionally sunny. I have already written about making progress on the new raised beds, but I have done a few other tasks too.

This is the bed in which I am going to grow my Broad Beans:

I have covered it with my four "Longrow" cloches, to warm the soil before planting the beans. The beans themselves are only just germinating, so there is no imminent prospect of planting. I wrote the other day about sowing the Broad Beans in plastic containers. Well, a couple of days ago I checked for signs of germination and didn't see any, so I brought the containers indoors. The increased temperature did the trick all right, and the beans soon sprang into action. I expect to be planting about 24 bean plants, of three different varieties.

I have also sowed some more peas, in one of the raised beds this time. In the past I have not had a lot of luck with peas - they always seem to develop a bad case of mildew - but I am determined not to be beaten. I have heard recently that volcanic rock-dust is beneficial for reducing the incidence of mildew in peas, and since I gave all my beds a dose of that stuff just the other day maybe I'll be more successful this time. This is the bed where the peas are, photographed just before sowing:

I have put in two rows of peas, one of "Early Onward" and one of "Terrain". The latter is allegedly very resistant to both downy and powdery mildew, so it should have a good chance of success.

After sowing I covered the bed with a piece of chicken wire. Hopefully this will stop the cats / foxes from interfering with it. The six taller metal posts seen in the photo below will eventually support more wire for the peas to climb up. The shorter (light-coloured) rods are just for keeping the chicken wire in place.

I have also sowed some lettuce seeds in small pots that can be kept under cover, in the hope of getting an early start in the Salads department. With the salads I'm going to do what I usually do - sow small quantities, but often (i.e. "successional sowing"), because no-one wants a glut of lettuce that all matures at the same time. The ones I have chosen this time are all from part-used packets: "Tom Thumb", "Amaze", "Devin" and "Cervanek".

Saturday 27 February 2016

Work in Progress

I really do want to get on and build my new raised beds. Two things have been preventing this: wet and then very cold weather; and inertia. I keep looking at the pile of timber out on the patio and getting overwhelmed. I know it involves a fair bit of hard work, so keep finding smaller, easier tasks to do! My Fibromyalgia means that I have to take things relatively easy, and not do too much at once. However, I have now made a start...

I have removed the old paving-stones and the concrete and hardcore that supported them. The pavers are stacked neatly out of sight, round the side of the garage. My Goodness, how heavy they are! I will have to make several trips to the tip if I am not to overload the car. The old wood has been removed too. It was very rotten, and none of it was salvageable.

I have decided that this time I will shift all the soil from one bed to the next-door one, so that I can build the new timber bed more easily. Then, I will line the bed with a layer of compost from my bins, return the old soil to it, and finally top it up with a layer of the new topsoil I bought the other day. You can see why I say this is a big job!

The bed I am re-doing is the one which used to hold the Asparagus, and I have found that although I thought I had taken out all the plants, the soil is still full of Asparagus roots which all need to be removed. That aside, the quality of the soil is good. It has been there undisturbed for many years now, and had a layer of compost added every year, not to mention all the chicken manure and Growmore that has gone into it.

With the new raised beds, the depth is going to be nearly twice what it was before. The timber will be 40cm tall, though of course the bed won't be filled right to the top. All my beds are built on open soil too, so theoretically plant roots can go as deep as they like. They probably won't though, because the underlying soil is very poor and rock hard - which is one of the main reasons why I went for raised beds in the first place.

I have moved most of the soil onto the adjacent bed, and I have put in markers to indicate the position of the new bed. I'm allowing half a metre between beds.

One of the hardest tasks so far was sawing some of the sleepers in half to make the end-pieces for the beds. The timber is wet, which makes the task harder, but luckily I have a very effective saw.

As I worked, the local bird population watched me very closely, hoping that my digging would reveal some tasty morsels. The Robins (there are two of them most of the time at present - perhaps a breeding pair) are not afraid to dart in and grab a mouthful almost off the end of the spade, but the Blackbirds generally wait until I have moved away before they wade in.

Fluffed-up against the cold, this Robin is almost spherical:

This Blackbird has some very distinctive markings - almost like eye make-up!

Friday 26 February 2016

The end of the Brussels Sprouts

The Brussels Sprouts have finally come to the end of their useful life.

The only real sprouts left were a few right at the top of the "Cromwell" plant:

Almost all of the sprouts from the other three plants had been used, but some of the ones that had been left behind because they had split had opened out into what were effectively miniature cabbages.

So, I picked everything useable before pulling up the plants and composting the stalks. There were just a few very small sprouts:

One of the Tops was OK, but the other was riddled with Whitefly, so I discarded it:

I kept the cabbagey "blown" sprouts though.

With some careful preparation, there is enough "Greens" here for at least one decent meal for the two of us.

I haven't yet decided whether I'm going to grow Brussels Sprouts again this year, but if I do, I think I must get hold of some ultra-fine Enviromesh, because the Whitefly infestations are just too much of a nuisance, and they reduce the amount of harvestable material.

Thursday 25 February 2016

What's new?

Every time I go out in the garden I see more little patches of green. Winter is fading and the weather is edging slowly towards Spring...

Little clumps of fresh Chives are popping up.

It won't be long before there are enough to justify snipping a few to bring into the kitchen. I was making a tomato salad, and I just couldn't resist snipping a few Chives to go on it!

The first batch of peas has come up now. These are "Early Onward". I sowed them in a pot, which has been protected by one of my little mini-greenhouses.

When they are big enough, I'll plant them in one of the raised beds. Hopefully this will mean I get a small crop very early on. I'll be sowing some more seeds in the raised bed in due course, for my main crop.

I have potted-on some of those little Hellebores that I grew from seed pinched from the stately home. They will do better in fresh compost, and without competition from their siblings.

Hellebore seedlings are easy to identify once their first true leaves appear. The leaves have a distinctive saw-toothed edge.

At the rate things are going, I'll soon have the borders full of Hellebores!

Wednesday 24 February 2016


Last weekend I did a couple of pruning tasks. This is a good time of year for such things, because it needs to be done before the plants put on their Spring growth spurt. It is also easier to do when there are no leaves on the plants.

I have cut down most of my Dogwood shrubs, to a level just a few inches above ground level:

It looks awfully drastic, but I know from experience that this is the right thing to do. From those stumps will grow a new crop of straight, whippy stems, and it is these new stems that have the boldest colour in Winter.

The removal of the Dogwood has exposed the Clematis growing on the fence behind.

The Clematis is an un-named one that I got as a Freebie from some magazine or other and I have never known exactly how to treat it. I know that different types of Clematis need different care. Some, for instance, need to be cut right down each year, whereas others are best left to ramble. I think mine is probably one of the latter.

Anyone recognise it from the flowers? To me it looks a bit like the "Montana" type.

As well as the Dogwoods, I pruned my Hydrangea bush. The old flower heads had been getting a battering from the wind, and quite a few had snapped.

All along the stems there are plenty of new buds though.

So I snipped off the desiccated flower heads, trimmed a couple of damaged branches and cleared away all the pine-needles, leaves and miscellaneous debris from the surface of the soil, leaving everything neat and tidy.

Last year, just after I pruned the Hydrangea we had a spell of very cold and windy weather, which damaged the plant a fair bit - several of the new buds were killed off - so this time I have been very careful to position the plant in a sheltered spot, protected from the worst of any gales we may have. To be honest, I'd like to put it under cover if I had anywhere suitable.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Fungi Foraging

I am a member of the UK Veg Gardeners' forum, which I use quite frequently for interacting with fellow gardeners and veg growers. Despite its name, the forum hosts discussion of much more than just vegetables - flowers, for instance - and fungi. A new Group has just been set up called the Fungi Foraging Faction. I expect to be using it to share information with fellow fungi enthusiasts, because I am very interested in fungi, but know far too little about them.

I'm feeling inspired to write about fungi today because I saw some nice ones on sale in a Farm Shop at the weekend. You often see cultivated mushrooms for sale, but wild ones are rarely obtainable. I expect they have plenty of them in places like Borough Market in London, but not round where we live! These photos are very poor, I'm afraid. I snapped them hurriedly with my phone, and I don't have the steadiest of hands.

The most expensive ones were Girolles, at £43.15 per kilo, but there were many others priced at more than £20 per kilo, such as the Trompettes at £39.25.

I have been thinking about how many types of fungi I could conclusively identify. The photos below are of ones I know. I wonder if you can identify them too? (Names are at the end of this post).











Key to photos:
NB: I don't guarantee that these are correct, but I'm 99% sure!
A - Jew's Ear Fungus - Auricularia Auricula-Judae
B - Earthstar - Geastrum Triplex
C - Shaggy Inkcap Coprinus Comatus
D - Fly Agaric Amanita Muscaria
E - Birch Polypore Piptoporus Betulinus
F - Cauliflower Fungus Sparassis Crispa
G - Witch's Butter Tremella Mesenterica
H - Orange Waxcap Hygrocybe aurantiosplendens
I - Sulphur Tuft - Hypholoma Fasciculare
J - Sickener Mushroom  Russula Emetica

P.S. If the line spacings in this post are odd, I'm sorry about this but there is nothing I can do about it. Blogger seems to have decided that I have to have blank lines in some places where they are not necessary, and to have no spaces where they really ARE required! And to make it worse, it all looks different in the Edit mode, as compared with Preview, or the published post.  Grrrrrr!

Monday 22 February 2016

Harvest Monday - 22nd Feb 2016

My harvest this week is feeble. Just a few salad leaves!

They were not enough to make a complete salad on their own, so they were boosted with some shop-bought stuff - Little Gem lettuce, Watercress, Radishes and Mustard-and-Cress.

This salad was the "Salade aux Lardons" that we had with our special meal on Saturday evening. Here you see it shortly after the dressing was added. The dressing is made with fried lardons (bacon or pancetta cubes), to which some sharp red wine vinegar is added. When you pour the dressing over the salad, the leaves wilt a bit, so you have to eat up quickly!

I haven't harvested any more PSB, because we are still using up what I cut last weekend. Here is some being served with our roast beef and Yorkshire pudding...

It will be some while before I get any more significant harvests from my garden. I am now in sowing and planting mode, not harvesting.

A late addition to my post: I snipped a handful of fresh young Chives to add to a tomato salad. I reckon that counts as a harvest, don't you?

Why not drop by Our Happy Acres and see if Dave or anyone else has had some harvests this week.