feeling hot, hot, hot….

Lots and lots of sunshine.  The weather may break tonight, which will be a relief.  Meanwhile, it is ideal hay/haylage making weather.  Our neighbour was out, lickety split and had the field opposite cut in no time.

Within 2 days the whole lot bagged up for haylage.

The lad who rents the field from us wasn’t quite as fast; though he is baling for hay rather than haylage.  Still, all done ahead of the potential change in weather. It’s so much easier to rent the grazing to someone else rather than chasing a contractor to cut and bale. Everyone wants the hay cut at the same time.  The fields are looking quite bleached but within a fortnight they will be green again.

On a much smaller scale, the lovely OH cut the grass in front of the polytunnel with the sickle bar mower.  Not for hay or haylage.  I’m using the grass to earth up potatoes.  I’m afraid, given the heat, I just gathered up the cut grass as fast as I could and lumped it over the potato haulms. Not very elegant but hopefully will produce a crop.  I must go and investigate the earlies.We are finding that it pays to set the alarm a little earlier and get out onto the holding before the sun becomes too hot.  By midday we are finished with working outdoors and retreat from the heat.   In the tunnel the nasturtiums are blooming – another flower to add to the evening’s salad.

The elderflower cordial is draining fast. I’m making another batch before all the flowers disappear.

Reading this week: 60 Degrees North by Malachy Tallack

always time for tea…

Come the beginning of summer, one’s thoughts turn to afternoon tea.  The weather is not too hot, not too cold and the breeze is balmy.  In truth, I was helped on my thought journey by watching ‘The Durrells,’ followed by ‘Mary Berry Cooks’ on catch up, whilst doing the ironing.  The wind is still quite blustery round here.

Oh, the fabulous 1930s clothes, all gorgeous prints and georgette pin tucked shirts, (Durrells, not Mary Berry – though she’s no slouch in the dress department), and Mary baking up a storm as well as visiting an estate in Cornwall, (Tregothnan), that has a tea plantation. Watching the clip on Tregothnan, I’ve been captivated by the idea of growing my own.  I am a dyed-in-the-wool tea drinker, (must be leaf, thank you).  I might track down a few Camellia sinensis var. sinensis bushes for the kitchen garden, they’re meant to be quite tough plants.  They need acidic soil conditions, so perhaps in a pot.  I can put them with the blueberries.

In the meantime, we have a glut of strawberries, so in homage to afternoon tea, I’ve hauled out the preserving pan and pectin sugar for a spot of jam making a la Mary Berry’s recipe.

As it’s jam not a conserve, it’s a 1:1 ratio fruit to sugar, and I’ve used jam sugar, which has added pectin to help the set of low pectin fruit like strawberries.

So here’s MB’s method:

1 kg strawberries, with the juice of a lemon, softened over a low heat.  Then 1 kg sugar in, stirred until it dissolves, boil 5-6 minutes, check using the wrinkle method, leave for 10 minutes then stir to evenly distribute the fruit. Ladle into sterilised jars.  Done, all ready for scones.

As well as tea, I can serve up some refreshing elderflower cordial… I just need the cucumbers to hurry up growing for the finger sandwiches!



a cordial relationship…

I’m a hit and miss forager.  I might set out a few times a year when a particular hedgerow crop is in season.  Blackberries absolutely, rowan and crab apples occasionally, mushrooms never. However when the harvest in question is on your doorstep, in fact, right next to the lean to cowshed, then it pays to set aside a little time to indulge in some foraging.

The elderflower, Sambucus nigra, has been in flower for some weeks, and I’ve been intending to make cordial for a while. May came and went and June has been too wet so far for picking.  It’s best to gather the flowerheads on the morning of a sunny day, because it’s the pollen that imparts the delicious flavour.  So you don’t want wet flowerheads where the pollen has been washed away, but leave it too late on a sunny day and the insects have taken all the pollen.  Speaking of which, it’s best not to shake the heads to remove insects as this shakes off the pollen.  I find most insects drop to the bottom of the bowl anyway.  This morning was warm and sunny so off I went with a big bowl and picked 25 or so heads of newly opened flowers.

To the heads I’ve added the zest of 3 lemons and one orange plus 1.5 litres of boiling water.  I’ve covered the bowl and this can steep for the next 24 hours. Tomorrow I’ll strain add 1kg of sugar and the juice from the citrus fruit and warm through until the sugar has dissolved.  A quick simmer and then bottled.  The cordial will keep for a few weeks in the fridge or can be decanted into ice cube trays and frozen.  Added to sparkling water, the cordial makes a thirst quenching drink,  or to G&T, vodka and tonic or prosecco for an elegant sundowner.

A classic pairing with the elderflower is gooseberry, and the fruit on our bushes is starting to ripen…

I’m thinking elderflower and gooseberry fool, elderberry and gooseberry icecream, elderflower infused gooseberry puree with yoghurt, an elderflower panna cotta with gooseberry compote perhaps.

In the meantime we have plenty of strawberries to pick.

may flies…

May has ended.  It was a month of lots of lovely summery weather and enough rain so as not to feel the pressure of watering the vegetable patches.   From now on we will have plenty of produce gluts from the garden.

We have been picking salads and herbs from the polytunnel since the end of April. I’ll add peppery nastursium leaves and turnip thinnings to tonight’s salad bowl.

Along with succession sowing and planting out, I have been pinching out the side shoots on the cordon tomatoes and removing the lower leaves up to the first truss.

In the heat of the polytunnel, scent volatiles fill the air.  I only discovered this year what a lovely perfume broad bean flowers have.  Having moved the plantings to the far end of the tunnel I was concerned that the bees wouldn’t find the plants.  I shouldn’t have worried.  The pollinators have been hard at work alongside me.  I’m always amazed to see the formation of the pods on the broadbeans.  These tiny beans along with the season first garden peas will be added to a spring risotto – tonight’s supper.

Working in the tunnel is a delight.  I often run my hands through the herbs for a free aromatherapy session – variations on dill, rosemary, thyme and sage. The sweet basil is starting to come through and I have been pinching out the tops of the pot sown Basil ‘Aristotle’ to garnish the risotto.

I have been thinning the peaches and apricots and the gooseberries are fattening.  We already need to think about preserving the abundance – kept in oil, artichoke hearts make a lovely antipasti…

and I shall gather some heads of the elderflower to make a cordial.

Summer is here.


times they are a changin…

and I’m not just talking about the weather, though it was a relief to have the rain over recent days.

Well, it was a different story a week back.  Lots of glorious sunshine, which was timely.  As the lovely OH and I get older it means that we have to find ways to reduce the ‘graft’ on the holding.  I’ve been reading a number of Charles Dowding’s books and we’ve decided to move towards a ‘no-dig’ approach.

First up this year is using mulches for earthing up potatoes instead of soil, because if there is one thing we don’t have any shortage of here is grass.

The first and second early potatoes were planted a few weeks ago in about 4 inches in soil which I topped up with another 4 inches of old hay.  Charles Dowding prefers to use compost to mound up rather than hay or grass as his experience is that the latter attract too many slugs. We shall see.

The main crop potatoes went in more recently and in addition to using up our old bales we are applying grass clippings.  The lovely OH cut the grass in a number of locations which I then gathered up

and spread over the main crop planting area.   As the haulms emerge we will earth up with more grass clippings.  Hopefully the harvesting of the potatoes will be easier and the mulch should suppress weeds and help to conserve soil moisture and thereby reduce watering. We hope.

Since those sunny days, we have been away and it’s quite astonishing the amount of growth that has happened whilst the rain fell.  We have come back to an abundance of greenery. Even the indoor sowings of corn, french and runner beans have all sprouted away like triffids. Amongst all the green lushness, the first poppies have appeared  in the wildflower verge, their colour standing out as bright as a fifties starlet’s lipstick.

It’s good to be back home.



a stitch in time…

saves nine.  So the saying goes.  I used to hear this, mostly when the hem of my school skirt was adrift, (though I usually thought ‘that’s what sellotape is for’).  Why the saying?  We had heavy frosts in the middle of April. Though I fleeced newly planted peas we didn’t have enough fabric to cover all the crops and I’ve noticed that some of the strawberry plants are showing symptons of ‘black eye’.

This has been caused by the frost.  I’ve been picking off the flowers as these won’t develop fruit.  We’ll need to see if there has been any other effects once the strawberries start to develop.   The kiwi also took a hit, certainly on the leaves.

The flowers might not be affected as they were in bud and until the cultivar ‘Jenny’ starts flowering we won’t get fruit from the kiwis anyway.

The apples were starting in flower when the frosts came; I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed for them.  Elsewhere it all looks pretty good.

I will have to start on the thinning soon.



herb haven…

is the polytunnel.  We found that the thyme and rosemary fare far better over the winter in the tunnel. These woody herbs can take cold or wet but not both.

As these have done so well I’ve decided to keep the sage in here.  To these woody herbs, I have sown leafy coriander, dill, parsley and the basil has started to germinate.

The mints (moroccan, apple and spearmint) are still in the tunnel but I’ll move these out once I’m sure there won’t be any more frosts, ditto with the marjoram

It’s not just about the leaves. I’ve started to add flower heads to salads – the chive adds a mild onion flavour …and I can’t wait for the nasturtiums to start to flower.

The plot is now producing more home grown food

which is, of course, what it’s all about!