she sows … flowers

A little update.

18 months ago Ron, (man with a digger), came round and levelled the ground that lies between the house and the kitchen garden.  We have gone from this…

to this…

We still have more structural planting to do.  The hedgerow alongside the road is a little thin in places so needs an additional line of native tree whips and the section of hornbeam hedging alongside the track will also go in this autumn.    I’ve placed an order of perennials with a wholesaler which should arrive October/November time.  These plants will fill the front 2 quadrants but as there will be more hard landscaping in the sections furthest from the house, I don’t want to plant anything permanent that may get trampled.   To avoid having large swathes of bare earth through next year, I’m planting a bed of annuals for cutting.

A September sowing of annuals will come into flower in May the following year, this can then be topped up with an additional sowing in late winter/early spring.  Hardy annuals such as Ammi, Calendula, Nigella, and poppies can withstand some frost so I’ve marked out a series of lines and direct sowed.  To this I’ve added lines of transplanted biennials, Sweet William and wallflowers that I sowed some weeks back.

Others such as delphiniums, snapdragons, sweet peas, scabious,  and cornflowers I’ve sown in half trays which I’m leaving in the polytunnel to overwinter.  The sweet peas, when transplanted, will be grown up a number of very excellent obelisks that my nephew designed and constructed when he visited.

Annuals are an excellent way of getting masses of colour into a garden whilst perennials are establishing.

I’m looking forward to a riot of colour next summer.


in praise of pears…

The pears are starting to ripen; in fact a large quantity of the Beth pear, an early variety, had dropped to the ground.  It is a, relatively, modern cultivar, developed by East Malling Research Station, (Williams x Buerre Superfin), and has the RHS AGM, (always a good sign for UK growers).

The pear is delicious and not wanting to miss out, we gathered up most of the fallen fruit.  There is always, as with gluts, a moment when I think ‘what on earth am I going to do with this lot?’,

but once I start prepping, the produce is used up in no time.  In this case, there wasn’t any point in storing the windfalls, (they were already ripe), so we sliced them up for drying.  The pear chips are much sweeter than the dried apple rings, so I can’t see them being around for very long.

I also decided to make chutney with the firmer Beth pears.  I’ve made Tom Kerridge’s spiced version, (here on the BBC Good Food website), on a number of occasions and it’s probably my favourite chutney.  One benefit of this blog being a haphazard record of the holding is that I know that the last time I made this was much, much later in the year, (December!), using Williams pears.  Whilst the Williams is also an early ripening variety, we had kept these fruit in cold storage, (the fridge), and brought the pears out a couple of days beforehand to finish ripening.

The recipe called for 10 pears and I made 4 1lb jars, and these have been added to our larder.

The glut is no more!





summer’s last hurrah…

We picked the peaches today.

We grow one peach tree, (Peregrine), and like the apricot it does produce a reasonable crop.  Both are planted at the back of the Dutch Barn under a cover which helps to reduce peach leaf curl.

As the trees have grown somewhat since planting, the canopy needed to be raised.  Luckily one of our nephews was visiting and was swiftly roped in to construct the new cover.  After a few days shimmying up the ladder/angle grinding/sawing/drilling and relocating one, (possibly more), false widow spider, the new canopy was done.

I’ll need to revisit the form of the trees over the next week to ensure they are as flat to the Dutch Barn as possible.

From the bowl of peaches, I set aside enough to make a trial batch of jam and the rest we cut into segments and filled a shelf in the dehydrator.

I turned the heater on and in no time the utility room was filled with the scent of ripe peaches which was a rather lovely final wave to the summer.



vinegar pete…

Way back last autumn the lovely OH helped out with some apple juice pressing.  The event was in aid of raising funds for our local library and all the apples were sourced from local orchards.  He brought home a 5 gallon fermentation bucket of juice and stuck it in the piggery.  Over time, the juice fermented, the sugars turned to alcohol and then to acetic acid.  This cold pressed, unfiltered, unpasteurised vinegar also contains the ‘mother’, a collection of beneficial bacteria, enzymes and proteins – it’s meant to be very beneficial healthwise.  The lovely OH tried some, hasn’t pegged it, so we’re good to go.

We use a lot of this vinegar, not just as the base liquor for pickles but also, for making flavoured fruit vinegars.  At the moment I’m picking a couple of kilos of raspberries several times a week, so this decant was most timely.

I’ll leave the fruit to steep for around 5 days before straining through muslin, adding sugar and briefly boiling.  Once the liquid has cooled I’ll bottle it.  It’s a really simple process, much easier than making jam or chutney. We add a good heft of fruit to our vinegars so they are much better than commercial versions.  The ratios I use are 600ml vinegar to 1 kilo raspberry, then 450g sugar to every 600ml of strained liquid.

Elsewhere on the holding, the berries are ripening on the elder  and we’re running out of elderberry vinegar – our replacement for balsamic.  So that’s next on the list.

Perhaps I’ll also make a blackberry version – it’s always good to try something new!






a bit of the exotic…

Jam is so easy to make and we grow so much fruit that it is no surprise that we haven’t bought any for quite a number of years.  Though, over time, we have learnt which crops we want to devote effort to making a preserve from.

Strawberry – yes; Raspberry – yes, Gooseberry – no.  However top of the list maybe, just maybe, is Apricot.  This year, back in spring, we had all the indication of a good crop….

unfortunately, we have taken a hit from ‘brown rot’, a fungal disease caused by the pathogens, Monilinia laxa and Monilinia fructigena.

Our apricot tree is undercover so I suspect the spores were carried to the flowers by wind.  The first notable sign of the infection has been on the mature fruits.  Even so, as we are making jam we just cut out any dodgy bits.

We planted the apricot is at the back of the Dutch barn to give it maximum heat.  As the barn borders the old orchard, there will always be a bit of a risk from brown rot because we have a number of ancient top fruit standards, including plums.  I don’t clear fallen fruit as avidly from the old orchard as I do from the new plantings – perhaps I need to revisit this as we don’t seem to be visited anymore by the badgers.  They used to hoover up a lot of windfalls.

The peaches, however are completely untouched!




I say! tomato…

Title – just for ‘mid brother come blog critic’.

Once in a while I stumble across a fruit or vegetable variety we have grown and think … ‘this is the one’.The’Cuore di Bue’ tomato we are growing in the polytunnel this year is superb, and less temperamental than ‘Marmande’, which has been my ‘beefsteak’ tomato of choice to date.  Well no more.

This delicious ox heart tomato is a weighty fruit with dense flesh and not too many seeds,

which makes it ideal for slicing, in salads or … for making tomato sauce.   So that is what I did in the afternoon whilst the rain bucketed down outside.

Europe has a heatwave – we have torrential rain.

Still, the inclement weather gave me the opportunity to make up a big batch of sauce which we can use on pizza or pasta.  I’m always pleased when I find a recipe that uses considerable quantities of produce; this one called for 5lbs of tomatoes; 3 medium onions; 8 cloves of garlic and a variety of herbs – all of which I could source from our kitchen garden.  Big tick.

Using up 8 cloves of garlic was handy.  Our considerable garlic crop was lifted a few weeks ago and we’ve been drying the heads in trays undercover in the dutch barn.  As I was helping out on our smallholder association stall at a local agricultural show, we cleaned the largest bulbs and I took along a basketful.

I managed to sell quite a number but then diminished our profit by purchasing a vintage, blacksmith forged, garden line winder from my fellow smallholder who had brought along a selection of old tools.

Somehow I don’t think I’ll be making my fortune from selling our produce.

Reading this week: The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom.






in a pickle…

Yes, I’m still at it, preserving any and all gluts from the holding.  No fruit, vegetable or herb is safe from the possibility of appearing in a pickle, preserve, or being put into the dehydrator.

This week, I’ve turned my attention to the courgette, which is a vegetable plant that can easily swamp one with its bounty.  I always have too many plants because I cannot resist having a range of courgette shapes, (cylinders and spheres), and colours, (different greens, yellow, striped…).

I’ve found that the secret to keeping a courgette avalanche at bay is to pick the vegetables when they are relatively small.  Of course, this is the plan, but things, invariably, don’t turn out that way.  This week, when I’d exhausted swopping the vegetables for other provisions with my neighbours, I made ‘bread and butter’ refridgerator pickles with sliced courgettes instead of cucumbers, (recipe used, here).

500g of courgette with pickling liquor fills about 3-4 pound jars, so making these can substantially diminish a courgette oversupply.  The pickles are ready to eat after a couple of days and can keep for a few months in the fridge.  Ours are all consumed well before then. They are delicious with bread and cheese and are a good substitute for gherkin with a burger.  I’m in no doubt that I’ll be making another batch soon.

In the tunnel, the tomatoes are starting to ripen.  I picked a bowl of the large ‘Cuore di Bue’ fruit.

Time to start making tomato sauce!