Monthly Archives: March 2015

life with lemons…..

We have 2 lemon trees.  At the moment they are in the polytunnel near the door.  The scent of the flowers is delicious and I get a concentrated hit of perfume first thing in the morning when I open up the tunnel.


Citrus are not hardy and need protection in a bright, cool, frost free place over winter.  The plant is self fertile and pollen can be transferred by misting, but we have a ritual; whoever opens up the tunnel does a quick once over, with a small paint brush, transferring pollen from one flower onto the stigma of another.


The fruit take take up to a year to ripen so it’s possible to have them on the tree at the same time as the waxy, white flowers.


At the moment I’m freezing whole the ripe lemons.  Once defrosted they’ll be okay to use for juice but probably not zest as the skins will soften – which is fine because these fruit were on the trees when we bought them and would have been sprayed so avoiding the zest is no bad thing.  No slices in a G&T!

Hopefully we will produce some of our own lemons from the pollinated flowers which I intend to turn into Hamad m’rakhad, (preserved lemons).

… until then I’ll make do with the lemon sky this evening.


our cider house rules!

The air is warming up which means that the soil temperature will soon be high enough to start sowing outdoors.  We have been cracking on with getting the original vegetable garden weeded.

veg plot spring 2015

The rising air temperature also signals that the end of the bare root season is approaching. We took advantage of nursery price cuts and brought home 4 trees, a Shropshire Prune to replace the scrappy specimen now rehoused in the ‘wild life zone’ and 3 more cider apples.    This brings the number of cider varieties to 11 and the total number of cider apple trees to 15.

Cider can be made from dessert/culinary apples (East Counties style) or from cider apples (West Country style).  The range of varieties in our orchard means we can go either way …. or both, blend varieties (traditional), or stick with a single apple (modern approach). Whilst cider apple orchards were grown traditionally as full standards we have stuck to a half standard rootstock in line with the rest of the planting.

In the UK, a grouping of the cider apple was devised by Professor Barker, the director of Long Ashton Research Station, way back in the early 1900’s.  Those were the days – when government put money into horticulture and forestry research.  He proposed a simple system of 4 categories, sharp, bittersharp, bittersweet and sweet, based on the percentage of acid and tannins present in the apple juice.

Sweeter (lower acidity)
Higher tannin Bitter sweet Bitter sharp
Lower tannin Sweet Sharp

As our orchard already contained sufficient sweet varieties I mainly sourced cider varieties from the other 3 categories, so we have

  • Bittersweet: Ellis Bitter; Yarlington Mill; Dabinet; Sweet Pethyre; Herefordshire Red Streak; Camelot
  • Bittersharp: Kingston Black
  • Sharp: Brown’s Apple; All Doer; Tom Putt
  • Sweet:  Dunkerton as well as others amongst the eaters/cookers.

Now all we need to do is wait a few years for the first fruit!

eat your greens…

When I was a young student my stamping ground was London, in particular the villages of South Kensington and Knightsbridge.  Occasionally I went to have a pot of tea at Harrods.  It was probably the first place I came across lump brown sugar which I used to pile up in a napkin and take back to my student digs.  The lumps I didn’t eat there and then of course.

I always wandered round the Art Nouveau designed Food Hall though I was probably more interested in the piles of hand-made chocolates than the meat, fish, fruit and veg displays.  Ahhhh….the exotic displays, smell and echoing sound.

harrods food hall

I should have a return trip and also take in the hall at Selfridges.

Perhaps not quite as swanky as Harrods, but by no means shabby, is the food offering at Darts Farm.


I was particularly impressed to see a couple of dozen leaves of cavolo nero (black kale) lovingly, and beautifully, presented. I don’t how much they sell but the display was fantastic.  Well it certainly made me smile.

Every so often chefs get very chefy about certain vegetables.  Kale has been on the radar for some, and it’s so easy to grow, plus it stands up well to cold, wet weather, so there’s no excuse no to grow it.  Sowings can be started now through to June and pickings can be made from October onwards.

I’m tempted by the Braised vegetables with pulses and tahini yoghurt recipe by Bill Granger in this Independent article.

I haven’t got any rustic wicker trays or personalised apple crates to spread with  cabbage leaves so I have left the leaves on the plants (for now).   Photos from the brassica tunnel……




Off to sow some kale…….


think pink….

March is here.  Combine that with a run of sunny days, (still a bit parky, but hey…. ), and spring has started.

Back in the days when I did a bit of gardening I became particularly fond of a spring planting combination of pink and acid green.  After the long cold, wash out of late winter I really looked forward to some punchiness – think dicentras, pink tulips, alchemilla, euphorbias etc.  Get the combination right and it packs a real zing.


On the smallholding I don’t have much time for gardening per se but the forced rhubarb, (Rheum x hybridum), makes a pretty good alternative:


Forcing rhubarb isn’t difficult.  It’s basically a process of light exclusion.  Victorian kitchen gardeners might have had access to beautiful thrown clay pots

rhubrab forcer

but anything that shuts out the light will do.  I commandeered an old metal bin that we used to store corn feed in.   Forcing weakens the crown which is why it isn’t advisable to do it every year on the same set but as we have a number of varieties, (Timperley Early, Glaskins Perpetual, Raspberry Red and Victoria),  I’ll be able to rotate.  The variety I have forced this year is the Timperley Early.   I can’t remember exactly when I popped the bin over the crown; I seem to recall I did wait until I could see the new buds just breaking; the RHS site suggests that the rhubarb can be covered in December or January, Gardeners World – anytime between November to February.  I suspect as long as the plant hasn’t put on any above the ground growth and therefore hasn’t started to green up and photosynthesise, then it’s okay to stick on a cover.

I’m very fond of marrying rhubarb with ginger.  Here’s a recipe from Mr Oliver.






mix it up!

I used to be a bit sniffy about mixed variety seed packets.    I don’t know why.  Perhaps it was because I didn’t know which varieties were included in the mix and I didn’t want to plant any old rubbish that wasn’t top notch on flavour.



I now LOVE rainbow mix packets.  They are really useful, especially in small areas where there isn’t enough space to sown several rows, i.e. the polytunnel.  Plus the pictures on the seed packets look just like smarties and who doesn’t love smarties?  My extensive seed stash includes rainbow mixes of beetroot, radish, chard, bell peppers, and some foils of themed salads (Italian, Californian, Oriental etc.).   Most seed companies produce mixed packets or ‘collections’, (the latter usually have the varieties separated), and I suspect quite a lot of thought goes into the selection.  In fact the more you look at the seed companies’ offering the more you find, for example Suttons has mixes of runner bean, cauliflower, and kale.  Jungle Seeds has a really interesting range; I fancy the ‘beans for drying’ special mix.

On the holding it is still too cold and wet to direct sow outside.  Inside the polytunnel the suspended guttering is multiplying.  I can’t wait to see it full of veg.