Monthly Archives: May 2015

salad days …..

DSC_0011I’m not really a lettuce sort of girl.  Which is why I have only just got round to sowing it.  Plus, it has been a bit parky throughout May which hasn’t helped.  Honestly, the LAST thing I want to eat is lettuce when the evening temperature is hovering around 10 degree celsius. Bring on the roasted root vegetables, sweet rabe and spinach.

I did sow some out of date mixed leaves seed in the suspended guttering in the polytunnel earlier this year, but the combination of heat and insufficient water did for them.  Note to self: guttering for peas – excellent idea, guttering for cut and come again – forget it.

However, summertime does beckon towards bowls of green salad leaves with a lovingly crafted dressing.  Throw in the fact that my all time favourite summer meal is fresh crab with a green salad, crusty bread and a delicious chilled sauvignon blanc… well you get the picture.  So time to get cracking on the sowing. Whilst bagged salad leaves are convenient they are very environmentally unfriendly.   Triple washing might reduce the risk of salmonella, e-coli etc. contamination but that’s a lot of water.  If not don’t worry – the doses of chlorine will probably do the trick.   Yummy.

So in spirit of eating seasonally here is my list of must have salad and lettuce.

Rocket.  Love it.  Growing in the poly tunnel means delicious, juicy leaves and no flea beetle!


Little Gem, (cos) and Tom Thumb, (butterhead).  Both are compact varieties which means I can pull a single head for the two of us – no wilted leaves hanging around in the fridge.

The oriental greens like pak choi and tatsoi:


And not forgetting baby leaves of beets, chard and spinach.

Hello summer….


keeping it simple supper

peasI’ve started to pick the peas in the polytunnel.  Some of them even made it to the colander.

peas&asparagus…and some of them even made it into a supper

peapastaof pasta along with tips of asparagus, a drizzle of olive oil and a grating of parmesan.  Ready in less than 10 minutes.   Had I wanted to be a little fancier I could have added chopped shallot or some pancetta.

Or the wilted leaves of the ramsons that now carpet the woods.


Reading this week: Smoke gets in your eyes by Caitlin Doughty




pip.. pip..

A day away – beautiful weather and another opportunity to have a look around an old orchard.


The walled garden at Croft Castle has a lovely collection of traditional and rare apple trees.  I clocked a number of varieties that I haven’t encountered before. Quite a few of the cultivars have ‘Pippin’ attached to their name.  Pippin is an old English word derived from the old French word ‘pepin’ translated as  ‘of unknown ultimate origin’, i.e. a seedling.

DSC_0040I was particularly taken with the ‘Nutmeg Pippin’ specimen.   With a name like that one imagines tudor serfs lovingly picking the fruit and transforming them into an apple tansey or some such recipe.

In fact the apple was first recorded by Edward Ashdown Bunyard in the 1920s; it is a small russet style apple with a spicy flavour.   Of course it could be much older, either way I’m entranced.  I shall have to see if I can squeeze another specimen into our orchard!





cherry on top…..

cherry lapins

According to DEFRA, 2015 is set to be year of the English cherry, brought about by using new techniques such as growing modern varieties on dwarfing rootstock in polytunnels.  Easy to protect from bad weather and birds, yields have increased, from a measly 400 tonnes in 2000, to 3500 tonnes last year.  So acres of polytunnels it is if the UK is to stem the flow of imports from Turkey and Spain.

I can’t say that we will be adding hugely to the home produced tonnage although the ‘Lapins’ specimen in the new orchard looks like it could have a good crop this year.  ‘Lapins’ is a modern, dark red, sweet cherry, (Stella x Van cross),  that was introduced around 30 years ago, and is known for producing decent crops, that is if we can come up with a netted structure to keep the birds away.

As we are not planning on covering the orchard with polytunnels our current thoughts run along the lines of old tennis balls stuck on long bamboo canes with netting tossed over the top…..

Could be a winner!





soupe du jour…..


… turnip soup.  We need to clear space in the polytunnel for planting out the tomatoes; aubergines; chillies; melons and cucumbers.  Hence the harvest of the early cold tolerant crops.

Soup is a great way to use a heap of veg.  We pulled turnip from both the Snowball and Green Top Stone varieties.  I adapted a recipe found in a book by Susan Loomis, (On Rue Tatin) using half quantity and substituting vegetable stock instead of veal and using milk instead of creme fraiche.  The soup had a lovely earthy taste but there was also a tiny hint of bitterness – perhaps the turnips  pulled were a little too big or perhaps  I should have been more ruthless with peeling the skins.

Of course whilst trying out a new soup recipe is very exciting  – this posting is nothing more than an excuse to welcome back the Soup Dragon, (of Clangers fame).

soup dragon

…..coming back to the small screen soon.  Welcome home, Soup Dragon.




oh the weather outside is …..

Tipping it down, yet I’ve been giving the peas and beans in the poly tunnel a thorough soaking.  Once they start flowering you need to make sure that they get plenty of water to enable the pods to swell properly.


The peas have already started to produce pods.  I’m always amazed at how good the pollination is in the tunnel.  It doesn’t take much.  I clocked a rotund bumble bee, perhaps a queen, visiting the broad bean flowers the other day.

On my recent trip, looking at commercial growers in Sweden, I found out that many of them use bumble bees, (Bombus spp.), in their glass houses and tunnels to ensure a good set.  The orchard growers are also turning to bumble bees because they will still fly in cool weather, down to 41F, in the rain, wind and on cloudy days, whereas honeybees stay in their hives.  Bumble bees also don’t get distracted by some other bee coming up and doing a waggle dance telling all his mates about a rapeseed field down the road.   Head down and get on with the pollination job in hand, that’s the bumble bee for you.  So I’m really, really hoping my visiting bee has made a nest somewhere in the polytunnel.

Fingers crossed.


amongst the hordes at Hidcote …..

The OH and I had a trip out on this Bank Holiday.   I have always wanted to visit Hidcote, so we set off bright and early, arriving about 30 minutes after the garden had opened.  It was a very, VERY good thing that we arrived early.  By the time we had walked over and through the house it was already busy in most of the ‘garden rooms’.  We shuffled round with the crowd.

Because the paths are for the most part narrow it was nigh on impossible to stop for long to examine the planting in any detail.  The rooms were never meant to hold so many people at once and at times it felt quite claustrophobic.   It was far more enjoyable to be away from the hordes in areas like the ‘Wilderness’; Stilt Garden; Beech Allee; Kitchen Garden and Orchard.



The Wilderness contained a lovely collection of Acers and Birches, many displaying beautiful textured bark.

Chinese Red Birch

Chinese Red Birch

We had the best of the Bank Holiday weather and the hornbeam and beech plantings provided cool, shady areas to walk along.

Stilt Garden

Stilt Garden

Beech Allee

Beech Allee

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden



I am very taken with the casual undulating mown grass paths in the orchard and the scattering throughout of wild flowers.   It’s a shame I couldn’t take a closer look at the planting in the more intimate spaces.  I’ll go back on a quieter day.

We left to have lunch away from Hidcote.  I counted over 60 cars waiting to enter the already full carpark;  a case of one car out and only then – one car in.  Some of those visitors, I suspect, would have a long wait and some perhaps would have turned and gone away…..