I have been shopping for a special celebration. I found some lovely things not least the soft apricot coloured mallow, (Sphaeralcea ‘Childerley’), which has grey, green leaves and is good for a full sun position. Orange brick backdrops can be tricky for planting but apricot/grey/green is a spot on combo so I know that this plant will look lovely in its final space.
Of course it is a given when shopping for others that you chance upon something for youself. In fact shopping is no fun at all unless you bring back an item or two that stays with you.
I found a vintage Brades trowel and hand fork. Made from steel with wooden handles, probably in the 1920s or 30s, they are both well worn and homely. The Brades trademark was established in the early 19th century by William Hunt who built a forge at Oldbury near Birmingham. Ultimately the company was bought and subsumed by Spear and Jackson in the 1960s.
I don’t need another trowel or fork as I have several pairs of sturdy stainless steel ones. However at £4 each the Brades hand tools didn’t break the bank and I thought they needed to be set amongst working tools rather than languishing in a bric a brac store.
The polytunnel is the place to be at the moment. The temperature is balmy and the rain is held at bay. The crops of tomatoes; chillies; cucumbers and melons are coming along nicely. So too are the pots of aubergines, (Solanum melongena).
These plants are related to belladonna – deadly nightshade, (Atropa belladonna).
You can see the resemblance by looking at the aubergine flowers, or indeed the flowers of the potatoes, chillies and tomatoes as all of them fall into the same family, Solanaceae. Whilst the berries of the deadly nightshade are poisonous, the aubergine’s toxic substance, solanine, is concentrated in the leaves; the fruits have such a small amount that you would have to eat an awful lot of aubergines to become unwell, though steer clear of green potatoes!
The best recipe I have encountered so far for aubergines is one from a stalwart here at the smallholding, Nigel Slater, and the recipe is for Moroccan Lamb Shanks from his book ‘Real Food’ – it’s super easy and very good, even better if you make your own harissa paste. Serve up the succulent lamb with couscous.
Blackcurrant jam – recipe River Cottage Handbook No.2 Preserves.
Such an easy jam to make; quick and sets like a dream….
The summer soft fruit is falling from the bushes. We started the picking with early season redcurrants and moved on to the gooseberries, starting with (Ribes uva-crispa), ‘Invicta’. The berries are huge, the size of a shooter marble, pale green with milky white veining. This variety has been awarded the RHS AGM and with good reason. It is a very heavy cropper with large fruits, plus the bush showed no sign of pest or disease attack. Given the issue we had last year when we lost two gooseberry bushes I was pleased to see that this variety lived up to its reputation of having excellent mildew resistance. The very ripe berries are sweet and the fruit holds its shape when cooked so ‘Invicta’ is a good option for jam making.
Next to ripen looks like the ‘Hinnomaki Red’. This variety was bred in Finland and again the bush showed no sign of mildew. The habit is very upright which makes it a bit easier to harvest. Some of the other cultivars have a more spreading habit with drooping branches. This is not a problem for us as the fruit cage floor is covered with mypex but if the sheet wasn’t present the fruit would rest on soil which could spoil the berries. The yield of the ‘Hinnomaki Red’ isn’t a patch on ‘Invicta’ but the berries are a very pretty colour. The flesh is meant to be sweet though the skin is less so.
Gooseberries have been cultivated in the UK since the sixteenth century. Many new varieties were bred during the 19th century and amateur ‘gooseberry clubs‘ sprung up, particularly in the Midlands and north of England. I’m not sure that our berries would have taken any prizes at the shows but if you only have space for one bush I would most certainly plump for ‘Invicta’.
…. would have been the instruction to a small nipper shelling home grown peas in the early and mid 20th century as they are a sweet treat. I have been known to pull off a few pods for shelling and eating whilst out working in the polytunnel.
We have been harvesting the remainder of the pea crop sown outside. From field to freezer in less than an hour to ensure we retain as much sugar in the vegetable. Like sweetcorn the sugars in peas rapidly turn to starch once picked, which is why I never buy peas or sweetcorn in the vegetable aisle of a supermarket.
This year the crop was good. The sowing started off in the polytunnel in lengths of black gutter. Once the plants had grown a root system sufficient to bind the compost together we hung the gutters for a few days outdoors under fleece to harden off the plants. Then the stretches were slid out into their trenches and again covered with fleece for protection against frost and from the pigeons. Later twiggy branches were pushed into the soil to help support the vines and keep the pods off the soil. We grew short varieties as they need less support. Luck was on our side this year. There was some small damage from mice, (or voles), some damage to the leaf from pigeons and no sign whatsoever, thankfully, from pea moth.
Here in the UK, Lincolnshire and East Anglia are the main pea growing regions and the farmers produce around 90% of the UK’s requirement. It’s a race against the clock; from field to frozen in a time limit of 2.5 hours. Though I have to say the kit used is a bit more sophisticated than our fingers and bowls…..
Check out the process here: Harvesting peas
It’s always heartening to hear about a resurgence in fruit production in the UK. The amount of apricots, (Prunus armeniaca), produced in this country has increased from 30 tonnes in 2014 to a very, very respectable 200 tonnes this year. The mild winter has helped, but so too has the research that has gone into developing apricot varieties for our cooler climate. Bardsley Farm run by Nigel Bardsley down in Kent is leading the way with an expected crop of around 120 tonnes, and I have to say the pictures of his crop looks lovely, lots of large pink, orange blushed fruits.
Given the expected availability go and check out some English apricots this summer.
The apricot probably originated in China and was spread across the middle east and the Mediterranean via the ‘Silk Road’ trade route, pitching up in England around the 16th century. Allegedly it was Henry VIII who arranged to have apricots brought to England and planted in the garden at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey.
We have the cultivar ‘Golden Glow’ planted at the back of the dutch barn. This is a relatively recent variety and all specimens originate from a seedling found in the Malvern Hills in 1985. Trials have established that it is hardy, self fertile and heavy cropping.
Our tree is young but is showing a few fruit which I shall leave on so that we can try our own home grown apricots this year. We’ll be eating them fresh, straight from the tree, but I hope to have sufficient crops in later years to try both sweet and savoury recipes. Nigel Slater reckons that lamb with apricot is as good a pairing as pork with apple….
I’m looking forward to this Slater recipe.
We are growing musk melons, Cucumis melo, in the polytunnel. Melons belong to the same family as the squashes, (courgette, pumpkin etc.) and cucumber. Originating from the Persian/Asian Turkey/Armenian region, the first record of them in England cropped up in the sixteenth century.
The cultivar I have grown this year is ‘Emir’ and the seed is from the James Wong’s Home Grown Revolution range by Suttons. So I’m expecting an oval, cantaloupe style melon with netted skin and delicious, dense, scented orange-pink flesh. I’ve planted them in pots of loam and the vines are being trained up string. We will support the fruit once they start to get to the size of tennis balls; old tights or those bags that used to contain oranges are handy for doing this.
‘Emir’ is a good variety to try in the UK as it is meant to be more tolerant of low temperatures plus it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Let’s hope it’s a winner here.