Tuesday 31 July 2018

Onion Frittata

Just recently we have been re-watching the TV series "The Hairy Bikers' Mediterranean Adventure", which has given us lots of inspiration for dishes to cook. A couple of days ago we watched the episode in which Si and Dave attempt to cook a Tropea onion frittata on the bonnet of a Fiat Panda - hilarious, but not totally successful! Having recently harvested some onions from my Courtmoor plot I decided to see if I could do this dish myself.

I didn't have any Tropea onions, so I used about 500g of my "Ailsa Craig" ones. They are really fresh and still juicy inside. If I wanted to store these for any length of time I would need to dry them further.

I also used a big bunch of herbs from the garden (Chives, Thyme, Parsley and Basil) and some lovely big free-range eggs recently purchased at a local Farmers' Market. Some of my homegrown "Nicola" potatoes were also brought in to provide an accompaniment.

If you want the full details of this recipe you need to buy the Hairy Bikers' book, but I'll paraphrase it for you...

You start by cooking the peeled and sliced onions very slowly, in a covered pan, for about half an hour. This makes them go very soft. Then you remove the lid and turn up the heat to caramelise the onions a bit - not too much, you don't want to make them go bitter.

When the onions are ready you mix them into a bowl containing the (beaten) eggs (use 1 egg per 100g of onions), add some grated Parmesan and loads of chopped herbs, then season to taste. Pour the mixture into a frying-pan in which you have melted a generous knob of butter:

Cook for about 10 minutes or so, until the egg is mostly set, but still a bit gooey. Then you put the pan under a pre-heated grill for a few minutes to cook and brown the top of the frittata. Again, be careful not to overdo it. The top should be well-coloured but not black!

Hopefully this is about right...

After allowing the frittata to cool for a couple of minutes, loosen it in the pan with a spatula and tip it out onto a serving-plate:

Meanwhile, your sliced pre-boiled potatoes will have been sautéing gently for half an hour in some olive oil...

When everything is ready, serve...

Ours was eaten with a proper helping of lettuce, cucumber and tomato salad - not the pathetic little garnish shown in the preceding photo, which was just for cosmetic purposes!

I have to say that I was pretty pleased with how this frittata turned out! The soft sweet onions; the buttery eggs, still slightly soft in the centre; the vibrant fresh herbs; what's not to like?

Sunday 29 July 2018

Blossom End Rot

Blossom End Rot (BER for short) is an ailment that mainly affects tomatoes, but also aubergines and peppers. Some of my tomatoes are suffering from it now.

This disease is caused by lack of calcium reaching the fruits, which in turn can be the result of insufficient or erratic watering. In theory, the plants should be receiving water at a steady rate, conveying calcium and other minerals to where they are required, but in practice it is sometimes hard to achieve this, especially if the plants are grown in pots rather than in open ground. My plants are in big 35L containers and I water them at least twice a day, but it hasn't stopped BER affecting some of my tomatoes.

I find that BER usually affects only the bigger tomato varieties, and the small ones escape it. Also, a plant is seldom affected throughout the growing season. Often, the fruits on the first truss are affected, but then those on the other trusses are not. This may be due to the fact that the first-truss fruits are often the biggest - like these beauties, which are of the variety "Larisa".


Just to illustrate the size of these fruits, here they are with my hand against them.


I have a bit of a Love-Hate relationship with "Larisa". It produces these huge fruits, which ripen to a lovely deep pink colour, but it seems to be susceptible to every problem going - blight and BER included - so I consider it a good result if I get ANY mature fruit!

Apart from "Larisa" I have a number of other big tomato varieties. This is "Super Marmande". The fruits on the first truss are just beginning to turn colour.

"Super Marmande"

This is "Cherokee Chocolate", which will hopefully produce masses of dark brown fruits. The first few look promising - and the plant is not showing any signs of BER (yet).

"Cherokee Chocolate"

In this next photo you can see "Bumblebee Sunrise" (a type with small stripey fruits) at the left and "Ferline" (a small beefsteak type) at the right. Notice that I have removed some of the lower leaves to let more light reach the fruit and thus speed up the ripening process.

Returning to the BER theme... Once a fruit has been affected by BER there is little you can do about it. Sometimes the brown patch will stay small and go hard, in which case the fruit will probably ripen and be useable as long as you cut out the bad patch. Most often though the whole fruit quickly goes soft and mushy, and has to be thrown away. My policy now is to remove any affected fruits as soon as I see they have the disease, because I think removing them must reduce the stress level for the parent plant. In other words, the same amount of available water has to supply fewer fruits.

My friend Stephen from Victoriana Nursery Gardens grows tomatoes commercially, and he advises me (too late for this year!) that adding Dolomite Lime (e.g. Dolodust) to the growing-medium will help prevent BER. Apparently not only does it provide lime, but also "a sniff of Magnesium" which has the effect of making the lime more available and less likely to leach out. I think I'll try that next year.

Friday 27 July 2018

Garden update - 27 July

These days I seem to write mostly about my "new" plot at Courtmoor Avenue, at the expense of my own garden. I suppose this is understandable, since my own garden is well-established and the new plot is full of new stuff, new opportunities and new problems... So, to redress the balance a bit, here's an update on a few things in my home garden.

I've been struggling to grow any decent lettuce this year. The weather has been just so hot and dry. This year my salads are in the Woodblocx raised bed. I would normally say this is perhaps too shady for them, since it is partially under the overhang of our Bronze Maple tree. This year though, I feel the plants probably appreciate some shelter from the scorching sun.

From a distance it doesn't look bad. Indeed a few of the lettuces, like this "Cocarde" one are OK.

Unfortunately, the majority are like this "Biscia Rossa" one - bolted.

I keep re-sowing and re-planting with fresh batches every couple of weeks, on the basis that maybe some of them will do all right. At some stage, presumably, the very hot weather will end and the lettuce will come into its own.

This is another vegetable that has had a bit of a hard time this year - Kaibroc:

In the Spring I put in 5 plants of this up at the Courtmoor plot, but all of them were killed by Cabbage Root Fly. I re-sowed another 5, and they seem all right. Three of them are up at Courtmoor, but the other two are growing in my own garden in one of the 35-litre plastic tubs that formerly held potatoes. They seem to be thriving in this tub (they are much bigger than their siblings), and are approaching maturity now.

Kaibroc is a hybrid vegetable, whose parents are the "Italian-style" broccoli (aka Calabrese) and the oriental Kailaan. The crop it produces is very similar to what you can buy in the shops labelled "Tenderstem Broccoli". As the name suggest, the stems are the main part of the crop, and they have relatively small flowers at their tips. In order to promote the formation of the succulent shoots, it is normal to remove the central flower before it gets very big. This is what I have been doing.

The central flower of a Kaibroc plant - I think I probably let this one get bigger than the optimum size

Kaibroc plant after cutting the main flower.

As all #GYO people know, nothing edible should ever go to waste, and I'm certainly planning to eat the little central flowers from my Kaibroc plants. This is four of them. The fifth plant is still too small to "have the op".

I think it's going to be a good year for chillis. Almost all of my chilli plants are already laden with fruit, with more forming every day. As long as they get sufficient water, they love the warm sunshine. Here are a few examples.

This is "Whippet's Tail", a variety I have not grown before. I got some seeds for it from a friend in a seed-swap earlier in the year. The biggest of its fruits are now about 25cm long.

"Whippet's Tail"

One of the chilli plants I over-wintered was one I have nicknamed "Not Cheiro Roxa". It was grown from seeds sent to me by a friend, but his plant that produced them had evidently not been quarantined. The original Cheiro Roxa seems to have hybridised with an Habanero of some sort. It has these rugged green-and-purple fruits that eventually turn red (and very hot). After a slow start, this plant is certainly enjoying the hot weather and is now covered with flowers and fruits.

"Not Cheiro Roxa"

Chilli plants are attractive for a number of reasons, including their foliage. These leaves are on a variety called "Fish".


I think this one is "Calico". Again, I was sent the seeds for it by a friend who had no idea what it was. I'm basing my identification on the multi-coloured leaves and purple flowers. We'll see about fruits later...


Cucumbers also love hot dry weather! I have four plants, two each of "Marketmore" and "Delikate B".

I haven't been keeping track of how many cucumber fruits we'd had, but it is a lot. The "Delikate B" plants have produced a lot more than the "Marketmore" ones - probably twice as many.

I grew the "Delikate B" from seeds obtained at the same seed-swap where I got the "Whippet's Tail" chillis. I think they were originally from Lidl. I'll be looking out for more of them next year. The "Marketmore" seeds were kindly given to me by friends on Twitter.

Plain green and spiky (foreground) is "Marketmore"; rough and stripey ones are "Delikate B".

While we're talking about cucumbers, here's a little tip for you. Cucumber leaves are quite prone to mildew, and if this disease appears on your plants you may be able to stop it or at least reduce it, by spraying the leaves with a 50:50 mix of milk and water. Last week a couple of leaves on one of my plants developed mildew, but the milk spray stopped it before it really took hold. It's left the plants with a faint smell of dairies though...!

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Tomatoes progress report

Regular readers will recall that for family holiday reasons this year I sowed my tomato seeds a bit later than usual, so I can't yet claim to have any ripe tomato fruits. However, some of them are not far off. This is "Maskotka", usually an early-ripener:

These "Montello" are also just beginning to change colour. These are on the plants out at the front of our house, which gets the full benefit of the afternoon and evening sun.

However, most of my tomatoes are still firmly green, like these "Super Marmande".

If it weren't for the threat of blight, I wouldn't be too impatient for them to ripen, but I know it is always a race against time. Blight seems to strike every year these days - it's just a question of when.

My three Dwarf tomato plants ("Beauty King", "Barossa Fest" and "Caitydid") are a long way behind the other varieties. They are only just setting their first fruit.

The fruits on this "Dwarf Beauty King" plant seem to be mostly trilobate (like a clover leaf).

I was asking Craig LeHoullier (who gave me the seeds for the Dwarf varieties) whether it was normal for them to fruit late, but he said that these varieties are so new that they have not yet accumulated enough data to judge this one way or another. He did say though that they were developed for warmer climates than ours, so he was not surprised to hear that they are not doing quite so well in European conditions. [I assured him that in the UK this Summer it is practically tropical!]

You may remember that I planted one each of the three Dwarf varieties up at the Courtmoor Avenue plot too. They have had much less TLC (particularly water) than their siblings here in my own garden and it is interesting to see how this has affected their development. The ones at Courtmoor Avenue are a lot smaller. They are only about 2 feet tall, and have very few sideshoots.

The three Dwarf plants growing in my own garden are much taller and have many more sideshoots - several of which I have removed in order to make the plants more compact.

However, the fruit is at just the same stage - in both cases only a few small tomatoes have formed so far, and they are still a long way from ripe.

Up at Courtmoor I also have one plant of "Mountain Magic", which again I have left virtually untended. I have tied it to a support-stake in two places and watered it a few times, but I have not removed any sideshoots or fed it any Tomorite. It seems to be doing OK, and has a fair few fruit, although they too are still small and green.

"Mountain Magic" is supposedly very resistant to blight and other diseases, and it is mainly for this reason that I have created a few more young specimens of it by planting some sideshoots that I had removed.

I kept the shoots in a jar of water until the stems had sprouted a mass of roots (which took about 2 weeks) and then just planted them deeply in some pots filled with soil. Obviously they are a lot smaller than the parent plant, but that's the whole point. If I see signs of blight on any of my tomato plants I will be able to segregate these little ones and keep them under cover where they are less likely to pick up the (air-borne) blight spores. Even if blight doesn't appear - and I sincerely hope it doesn't - I plan to plant this trio up at Courtmoor as soon as they are big enough.

The hot dry weather seems set to continue for at least another couple of weeks and quite possibly another couple of months. This means that not only will these small 2nd-generation plants probably have time to reach maturity before Autumn, but also that blight is less likely to appear. It likes warm but moist conditions and right now the conditions are anything but moist!

Monday 23 July 2018

Lifting onions (and potatoes)

This week I decided to lift some of my "Ailsa Craig" onions.

Although many of them are still modestly-sized, I think they are mature. Their leaves had started to topple over, which is a sign that they are ready. I think the exceptionally dry weather conditions have meant that the onions have not grown as big as they might have done if we had had some occasional rain.

I had two rows of these onions, each of 24 plants, plus a few spares that were tucked in at the ends of the rows. The first row was in a very open position where it got light all day, whereas the second row has been shaded to some extent my the tall climbing beans. On this occasion I picked all the ones that looked ready; any that looked as if they might grow a bit more I left for another time. This is what I got:

As I said, they are not big, but I expect they will be tasty. Home-grown produce is always so much nicer than anything you can buy in a shop - especially if eaten fresh. This is not enough onions to keep us going for more than 2 or 3 weeks, so I don't plan to keep them for very long.

The Courtmoor plot seems to be good for growing the Allium family, so I think next year I'll grow a lot more onions and shallots - maybe try some garlic - and I'll probably plant fewer of the potatoes, which have performed dismally. Having said this, of course 2018 may not be a representative year and maybe the potatoes would have done better in a year with more Summer rain.

Here's a good idea for drying onions, which I got via a friend on Twitter. Unfortunately the slats on my coldframe are quite widely-spaced and some of the smaller onions just fall through!

When I went to the plot to harvest the onions I had an unpleasant surprise - something (probably a fox or a badger) had torn up one of my "King Edward" potato plants:

"King Edward" is a Maincrop variety, so I had not been intending to harvest any of them just yet, but the deed was done and I just had to make the best of it, so I dug around in the soil to gather up all the tubers I could find. There were precious few - and even then I had to discard a couple that had obviously been chewed or scratched. Maybe whatever dug up the plant was desperate for food?

Because of the dry conditions the potato harvest has been very small this year, but you can see in the posed photo of my "Harvest Basket" that there were a few decent tubers.

The second picking of Blackberries, pictured here, was my share...

"King Edwards" have a light fluffy texture when cooked and make particularly good Jacket Potatoes (baked with their skins left on), so I think I'll try these ones done like that.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Soft fruit - almost a wipeout

Earlier this year I was full of enthusiasm for the prospect of getting a lovely harvest of fruit from my new plot at Courtmoor Avenue, and in between spells of digging I spent some time pruning and weeding lots of rather neglected Blackcurrant bushes and Raspberry canes.

However... my hopes have all been dashed, by a combination of two factors - weather and birds. The current hot dry spell of weather started at more or less the time when the fruit began to ripen, and ever since then my attention has been primarily focussed on vegetables rather than fruit. By this I mean that each time I have visited the plot (approximately an hour and a half every other day) I have had to spend most of my time watering, just to keep the plants alive. I haven't had the time (or indeed the energy) to do much to the fruit bushes. They ought to have been netted, and I ought to have pursued more vigorously my hosts' vague mentions of "We used to net them...", but I didn't, and I still haven't established if there are any nets available. The lack of netting has given the birds (specifically Blackbirds and Pigeons) free rein with the ripe fruit. They cleared the whole lot, and to the best of my knowledge none was picked by humans.

The total lack of rainfall for the past several weeks (it must be about six weeks now) has meant that the Raspberry crop was negligible anyway. If the weather had been kinder, the fruit would have swollen and become juicy, but instead the Raspberry canes have become parched and desiccated and the fruit was tiny and dry - almost crumbly.

Miraculously, the plants have managed to put up some new canes which are surprisingly green!

These canes are what will (or should) produce fruit next year, so I can only hope that we get some rain soon, so that next year's harvest is not lost even before it has begun! I'm tempted to make these canes into a new row of Raspberries, erect a new support system and remove the old one.

There is just one little shred of good news. I managed to pick about half a pound of Blackberries this week:

These came off the plant which I had protected with a scrap of spare Enviromesh. It looks as if I did this just in the nick of time!

I felt that the plot-owners should get first priority with this meagre harvest, so I can't tell you what the berries were like, but I'm hoping there may be a few more to pick next time I visit, and if so it will be my turn.

This coming Winter I will obviously have to spend less time in digging and preparing the veg-plot, so maybe I'll be able to spend some time giving the fruit bushes / canes / vines a bit more attention. Oh, and maybe I'll be able to sort out something in respect of netting...

Incidentally, back in my own garden the Blueberry bushes that normally give me a few pounds of fruit have produced practically no berries at all this year. I don't really know why, but I suspect it has something to do with the really cold, snowy weather we had in the early Spring.

The Blueberry plants are in pots, so I have had to water them religiously to keep them alive in the scorching weather, hoping all the while for a better result next year.

Still, looking on the bright side, at least this year I don't have to worry about netting the Blueberries, hehehe!