Oh my, the air temperature has dropped dramatically since the beginning of the week though, hopefully, we have seen the last of the ground frosts. Of course, being aware of the oncoming weather is to be forewarned. I have brought all plants in pots undercover and have been draping the tender new plantings with fleece….
which is somewhat ancient and because it has been stored in the piggery over the last year, rather tattered courtesy of the mice. It reminds me of Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. Still it does a good job of protecting the plants on chilly nights.
Last week, the lovely OH cut the orchard and the grass of the vegetable plot, leaving the areas where we have spring bulbs. Everything is looking spruce, which reminds of the sage advice on making a garden look good if you have limited time i.e. ‘cut the grass and edge’.
The plums, damsons and gages have finished blossoming so hopefully had good pollination. The apples are coming into bloom now; I hope the cold weather won’t affect the pollination too much.
Whilst the cold weather has set back germination a little, I have, amongst others, recent sowings of peas, lettuce ‘Little Gem’ and Basil ‘Aristotle’ coming through at the moment. The latter makes lovely green mounds and is an excellent choice for pots. No sign of Basil ‘Genovese’ yet; I have bought another packet of seed just in case the lack of sprouting is due to old age.
More tulips are in bloom…
and the artichokes are producing flower heads. I’ll pick some of these to steam and serve with a mustard vinagrette for a light lunch tomorrow…
The wild cherry plums sprinkle the floor of the old orchard. I feel a momentary pang that I shouldn’t waste them but there are so many, and we have other cultivated varieties that, quite frankly, taste sweeter. These cherry plums can be left for the wildlife to enjoy. The wild prunus forms are a forager’s dream. I am particularly fond of the damson but our old trees get stripped by the birds so quickly. At least I think it is the birds – badgers have been known to scale trees to net a snack and in the past we have found their neat latrines at the edge of the orchard.
The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), isn’t a native tree but is naturalised in the UK and is now commonplace in our hedgerow. Easily spotted in spring because it is one of the first of the Prunus to come into flower. I’ve always assumed the small purple fruited trees in the old orchard are damsons rather than bullace. Both are strains of P. domestica subsp. insititia; possibly the diference comes down to shape; the bullace spherical, the damson, oval. Perhaps the bullace is native, perhaps not. Perhaps the damson is a cultivated form of bullace. Maybe the damson was introduced by the Romans or maybe not.
What I love about these hedgerow fruit is the hundreds of years of socio-cultural history associated with them.
One of my favourite recipes for plums is a crumble – with custard. Here is one from Nigel Slater:
900g plums or damsons, 50g-75g sugar, 150g plain flour, 100g butter, 75g light brown sugar
Cut the plums in half and remove the stones; with damsons it may be easier to leave the stones in and spit them out afterwards. Put the fruit in a large shallow baking dish. Sprinkle over as much sugar as you like (50-75g should be enough). Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs then stir in the light brown sugar. Sprinkle the crumbs with a tablespoon of water and stir through lightly with a fork. Scatter the crumbs loosely over the fruit. Bake in a pre-hated oven at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for about 35 minutes until the top is crisp and golden.
Heavy rain fell this morning. The rain lifted and now the mists drift down from the hills.
Last year the weather conditions resulted in zero top fruit. This year the combination of no fruit set the year before and better weather has meant heavy crops.
I made sure to put aside time to strip all the fruit off the ‘new orchard’ trees – didn’t want any broken branches on the young trees – oh no – of course not! How virtuous I felt.
Though perhaps I should also have put aside some time to work in the ‘old orchard’. The truth is I hadn’t been in there for a number of weeks, mainly because I knew I needed to do some weeding, (actually – a lot of weeding).
I wandered in there the other day and was astounded by the heavy crop of plums and damsons dripping from the trees – when the heck did that happen?
But we have some tree limb casualties as result of the fruit overload. The trees are old, but even so it is likely that a few hours thinning would have prevented the damage. I won’t remove the branches yet, the fruit may still ripen. I have no idea what the varieties are – the yellow plum looks like it might be ‘Yellow Pershore’ – the others – damsons (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia). I’d better dig out the jam pan.
The crop from the soft fruit we planted was, understandably, sparse. We had bought the tail end of the nursery bare root offering – marked down for sale. I didn’t expect much – the bushes/canes were already breaking into leaf so it would be touch and go to get the plant established let alone produce fruit in the first season, (not the best way to purchase bare root – buy early!). We picked it all – blackcurrants, redcurrants, the cornelian drops of the Hinnomaki Red gooseberry, added a few strawberries and made a single summer pudding.
One glorious, delicious pudding from the whole crop of the year.
Reading this week: No Nettles Required by Ken Thompson (a good book for dispelling the myths surrounding ‘wildlife’ gardening).