Tuesday 29 August 2017

August Bank Holiday

Well, something really unusual has happened - we had beautiful weather for a Bank Holiday weekend! Whenever there's a 3-day weekend, it's normally cold wet and windy, but just this once it was warm, bright and sunny. The daytime temperature here were in the mid 20s for three days in a row. One last spell of Summer before Autumn takes over?

I've not had to do much gardening recently. It's mostly been a case of sitting and watching things grow - and then harvesting them!

Of course there have been more tomatoes to pick...

I'm particularly pleased with this one. It is the first ripe fruit from my "Vintage Wine" plant.

Vintage Wine

Two years ago I set out to grow this variety (amongst many others), but the plant I grew was one of those I gave away because I had too many plants to fit in. Last year I tried again, and the plant I grew was weak and became one of the first to succumb to blight, so I never got any ripe fruit. This year, "Vintage Wine" is the slowest variety to ripen. So far, I have just that one fruit, but there are another 14 decent-sized ones on the plant, plus a few tiddlers, so hopefully it won't be the last.

Vintage Wine (immature)

Over the weekend I managed to freeze nearly 2kgs of Runner Beans, so that's something to look forward to in the depths of Winter.

Runner Beans "Scarlet Emperor"

I have picked quite a few more chillis now. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, Jane made some of them into a lovely Sweet Chilli Sauce, which is sweet, sticky and pleasantly warm. If you want the recipe for this, here's a link -- Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Even some of the fruits on my "Aji Limon" - usually the last to mature - are beginning to show signs of ripening. They often go a darker green, almost purple, colour just before turning yellow.

The fruit on my "Laxton's Superb" apple tree (the one I bought last Autumn) are swelling nicely now. In theory, they won't be ready for picking until October, but I have heard lots of people say that their fruit is maturing very early this year, so who knows?

Laxton's Superb

The Endives and Chicories I planted out a couple of weeks ago are looking fine at present (no bolters so far!), although they are a long way off being ready. In the photo below you see Endives at the left, Chicories at the right (next to the Leeks), and Lettuces in the middle.

Endives are particularly temperamental, and seem to bolt at the slightest excuse - a change of weather conditions being the most common. I'm also a bit suspicious about Leeks in this regard, but so far they seem to be behaving themselves properly...

Saturday 26 August 2017

More harvesting, more preserving

I think I have mentioned before that the only vegetables we consider freezing are Runner Beans, Tomatoes (in sauce form) and chillis. Well, over the last couple of weeks, those three are what I have been harvesting most of, so we have been busy preserving them.

I'm not one of those people that keeps meticulous records of the weights of crops I produce, but I'd say that this year I have probably picked about 20kgs of tomatoes already, and that's only half the crop. When I first noticed blight on a couple of my plants my immediate reaction was to pick any fruit that was showing any sign of ripeness, and I have been ripening these in trays, moving them around the garden to keep them in the sun whenever possible.

I have had to throw away a few fruits which were already infected with blight, like this one:

But my quick action in removing blight-affected fruit and foliage has slowed the spread of the disease, and my garden is still full of tomatoes that will almost certainly ripen before the disease gets them.

Ailsa Craig

Sweet Aperitif

Orange Banana


I have also picked a significant quantity of ripe chillis now.


Jane made a batch of Sweet Chilli Sauce this week - her first ever. It turned out to be really nice; sweet, tangy and pleasantly hot without being atomic!

After their slow start, the Runner Beans have really started to produce now, and I have accumulated enough to make it worth freezing a batch. It's not a huge quantity (about a kilogram), but although we are eating beans approximately ever other day at present, it's more than we need.

My method is to simply wash, de-string, slice and briefly blanch the beans prior to open freezing them on baking trays.

When they are fully frozen I take them off the trays and put them into 2-portion-size plastic bags and return them to the freezer.

Something else I want to mention today is that Jane has won us a Sourdough Bread cookery course, taking place in London in a few weeks' time. As you know, I am very much into bread-making now, and have reached the stage where I can turn out a reasonably respectable loaf, but there is always room for improvement, and I am looking forward to picking up a few tips to improve my technique and add to my repertoire. I made this loaf on Thursday:

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Lavender - making a fresh start

I have recently read several articles about how to prune Lavender, the gist of which is to prune it very hard - right down into the brown wood. This is alleged to make the plants "come back with a vengeance", putting on lots of vigorous new growth in the following year. Hmmm, I'm not convinced. But then I'm no expert on this subject. My usual technique is to use shears to clip the plants just after the flowers have died, taking the stems down to just above the brown wood. I have had limited success with this, I admit. The plants do produce new growth, but it has never been as vigorous as I would like, and it has meant that the plants end up being straggly and rather unsightly except when actually flowering.

Old woody Lavender (Photo from 2014)

It was therefore with some relief that I accepted the offer of three young Lavender cuttings from a friend. They were already well established and just required potting-up.

With these, I'll be able to make a completely fresh start!

My immediate action on receiving these new plants was actually not to plant them up, but to cut down and discard the old woody plants first. However, I did keep one, to which I am planning to apply the Prune Extra Hard treatment, just to see if I can get it to work, so for the record, here it is:

Today I also want to show you photos of two other flowers currently in my garden. The first is this Lobelia Cardinalis, whose first flowers are just opening. It usually begins flowering in late August or early September. Notice the raindrops dripping from the petals!

The other one I want to show you is this tiny Cyclamen:

I'm very pleased to have this one. It is the one that came up in the shingle of my back garden as a volunteer (i.e. not planted by me) in the Autumn of 2015. I spotted its leaves, dug it up and potted-it up. This is the first time it has flowered.

Monday 21 August 2017

Feast, not famine

At present I don't have much gardening stuff to write about except for harvesting.

But as you can see, I have been harvesting lots of different vegetables:

The tomatoes in that basket are just representative of their type, because I have picked huge quantities of them. I noticed blight on a couple of my tomato plants on Saturday, which prompted me to pick all the fruit which was showing any sign of colouring-up, with a view to ripening it off the plant - indoors if necessary.

So far, the blight is under control. I removed all the affected fruit and leaves, and I am watching very carefully for any further infection.

You'll notice that in today's basket are a few French Beans, the first from those plants I am growing in the pots that formerly held the potatoes. It's not a lot, but they will make a nice change from the Runners (not that I dislike Runners though).

There are a few chillis in there too. They are "Cayenne" ones, which are tasty but not too hot - ideal for cooking with.

I have quite a few of them ripening now, so I'm saving them up to make a batch of Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Chilli "Cayenne"

The "Aji Benito" chillis are ripening in quick succession too, so some of these may join the Cayennes in the sauce, whilst the others will be frozen for use in the forthcoming months.

Chilli "Aji Benito"

That's all for today. I hope your harvests are proving plentiful too...

Saturday 19 August 2017

That's more like it!

As predicted a couple of days ago, my Runner Beans ("Scarlet Emperor") have responded to the wetter conditions and begun to produce pods in greater quantity.

In that trug there's just over a kilogram of beans (1019g to be precise!). In other words, about enough to serve the two of us four times.

They are not huge beans, and that's because I don't allow them to get too big. Runner Beans that have grown over-large are very unpleasant. They develop a fibrous inner membrane between the pod and the actual beans, which is extremely tough and chewy, with a texture much like plastic! Harvesting the beans small means a lower yield in terms of weight, but they will be far superior in terms of quality. Regular readers will remember that this year I am focussing very much on quality before quantity!

The Runner beans will soon be augmented by a few French Beans, from the plants I put into pots used earlier this year for potatoes.

Dwarf French Bean "Processor"

The French Bean plants don't look too impressive, being quite small and with pale leaves, but I think this is because the soil in those pots is a bit tired after hosting the spuds. Before planting the beans I added some pelleted chicken manure, and just recently I have given the plants a feed of liquid "Growmore" general-purpose plant food, so they ought to be doing all right.

Still, the fact that these plants are right outside my window means that I can keep a close eye on them and pick them at the perfect stage. There will be enough for one or two uses from each pot, and I have 3 pots sown with beans a week apart.

Friday 18 August 2017

The tomato-processing factory

The tomato harvest is in full swing now!

Every day I pick more of them. Today it was this basket of cherry tomatoes - mostly "Losetto", with a few "Sweet Aperitif".

Now, much as we like tomatoes, you can only eat so many of them. They are lovely eaten raw in salads, but you can't really eat tomato salad for three meals a day, so some of this fruit needs to be preserved.

We make a lot of what we call Tomato Sauce, and freeze it for use over the coming months. Actually our sauce is more like Passata, because it is just tomatoes with some onion. We make it plain at this stage and add any required flavourings later, when the sauce is used in cooking. It's more flexible that way.

An indispensable piece of equipment at this time of year is our trusty "Mouli-Legumes" which very efficiently converts the cooked tomato and onion to a smooth pulp and removes the pips and skins.

Our sauce normally gets frozen in these little plastic boxes. They hold about 400ml, which is a convenient size for a 2-person meal, when used as an ingredient.

As I mentioned yesterday, we also usually make some semi-dried tomatoes, using the little cherry-sized fruits. Done this way they don't keep for very long (unless immersed in oil or something), but we never make huge quantities of them and they get used up within a couple of days. We eat them as snacks, often with a drink before dinner.

Today Jane has made a batch of tomato ketchup, which has filled five and a half jars.

The ketchup is made to a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It uses a method quite similar to the sauce, but with the addition of sugar, spices and vinegar (the latter for its preservative qualities). It comes out really strong, sweet and tangy. Unfortunately it does need to be kept in the fridge.

OK, so now we just have to decide how to use all these...

And the best thing is, most of the bigger tomatoes are yet to be harvested!

Thursday 17 August 2017

Not good drying weather!

When I harvested my onions the other day I had every intention of drying them in the sun. The sun however had other ideas! For the first few days I dutifully laid out the onions on a groundsheet each morning - but then found myself having to rush out and rescue them from rain several times a day. I soon got fed up with that and decided it would be more sensible to dry them in the garage. I therefore rigged up a low-tech drying-rack using some of the ubiquitous wire shelves from my mini-greenhouses. (They have so many uses!)

The wire shelves are balanced on top of some empty flower-pots, so the onions are exposed to air on all sides.

There are only 8 of the "Sturon" brown onions left, because we have eaten all the others (14 of them). I had never intended to keep them for long-term storage. They were lovely onions - very crisp and firm - and very strongly-flavoured too.

I still have about 30 of the "Long Red Florence" onions though. They are in my opinion 'gourmet veg', and thus not for everyday use. We will use them in dishes where their qualities can be fully appreciated!

Back in the Spring, when I planted my onion sets, I put a few of them into a couple of vacant pots, aiming to use their leaves as a Spring Onion substitute, cutting them repeatedly.

In this role they didn't perform as well as I had hoped and I think we only used two lots of leaves. Due to the restricted space available to them, they haven't grown big either. Today I have pulled them up, and plan to use them in a sort of Boeuf Bourguinon-style casserole dish, in which they should be just right.

Since my post today is essentially about drying, let me end by mentioning that today I have been making another batch of semi-dried cherry tomatoes, using my dehydrator.

If you're interested in such things, my dehydrator came from Lakeland, priced today at £52.99. It is very basic (e.g. the only controls are an On / Off switch), but it does the job well enough.