Owing to the late/cold spring, there hasn’t had much of a salad crop yet. Last week was the first time when I could actually make a lunch based on salad leaves. The roll call was as follows: rocket, chive flowers, Welsh onion, flat leaved parsley, pea shoots and mizuna. I added some ham and Roquefort, plus a dash of mayonnaise – it made a nice and civilised lunch!
I haven’t been spending as much time in the garden as I should, because I’ve been doing odd jobs around the house. One of these jobs was to get rid of our old bed and buy a new one. The new bed was self-assembly so that entailed a whole day of screwing leg A into frame B, and swearing copiously when it all went wrong and had to be dismantled. Mr Beans tried to help but he’s not a huge DIY fan either. However, we got there in the end.
So this weekend I had a lot of gardening jobs to catch up on, including potting up my tomato plants. This is where the old divan came in handy. At the time of writing it’s in two halves, both propped on their side in our front garden, waiting for Thanet District Council to take them and the mattress away. As luck would have it, the tops of the divan halves were *just* the right height for me to use them as a potting table. I could stand comfortably at my full height, without stooping over and doing my back in.
Other jobs done this weekend: planting more seeds – peas, spinach beet and spring onion. I don’t feel very optimistic about the spring onion because the first lot of spring onion I planted back in March hasn’t come up. Well, there are a few whiskery seedlings but not the full container of tiny plants you’d expect by now. I’m not sure if it’s down to the cold weather, or the fact that the seeds may be too old? If the second batch comes up OK, then weather must be the answer.
The seed trays are sitting on our windowsill, covered with a piece of metal grille to stop the cats from kicking them about. This year I’ve planted Gardener’s Delight, Brandywine and Tumbling Tom.
At the end of last October, I did a job I’d been meaning to do for a couple of years, but had never quite mustered up the courage for. The job in question was to prune our fig tree. It had been planted there by our landlords, who probably didn’t realise just how big this thing would eventually grow. Given that our garden is a tiny triangular courtyard with a few raised beds, a fig tree isn’t the first thing I would have thought of growing there. Nonetheless, the tree has flourished and every summer, provides us with a nice crop of gorgeous fruit (try a fig and goat’s cheese salad with olives, home grown tomatoes and rocket. Or chop the figs up and have them with porridge for breakfast).
I am a bit rubbish at pruning and I was worried that I’d end up killing the tree. As I write this, there are tiny leaf buds on the tree so my fears were unfounded. Going forward, the plan is now to prune the tree every year, according to the advice given by Bob Duncan in Fruit Trees and More:
In a temperate climate like Bob’s (and ours), there isn’t enough heat to ripen the main crop of figs (i.e. the crop that develops on any new shoot growth). Only the so-called breba crop, which starts to grow in spring on the previous year’s shoot growth, will actually ripen off properly. So every spring (late March/early April judging by when the video was posted), Bob prunes back any two year old branches, i.e. branches that produced figs the previous year. The one year old branches are left in place, because they’re the ones that will produce the figs this year. The advantage of this system is that your tree never grows any higher, because you’re always chopping back the two year old branches. So this year, our fig tree won’t have many fruit on it at all but as of next year, we shall start to reap the benefits in terms of crop and ease of harvest. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, the pictures below – taken a couple of weeks ago – show our pruned fig tree, with bonus helpful cat. The strange lump to the right of the compost bin is a pile of clothing, tea towels etc. which are quietly rotting down underneath their covering of nylon net curtain.
My last attempt at planting elephant garlic was in 2011. It wasn’t totally successful – I got a crop out of it, but the bulbs I ended up with were the same size as normal garlic. Put it this way, there was nothing “elephant” about them. This time round, I’ve used bigger pots – ten inches in diameter rather than 6 or 7. Hopefully this will do the trick. I planted the bulbs last October, and as you can see, they’re doing pretty well:
Top tip: I grew mizuna from seed in the same pots as the garlic. So while the garlic was sprouting last autumn, I also had a crop of salad leaves.
The picture below was taken last autumn and shows a couple of containers of mizuna. (Actually, it’s not just mizuna in those containers, but that’s for another post.) The bluish-grey mess on the right is something that started life as a pair of jeans. They spent some months in our Dalek compost bin and this is the result – all the cotton has rotted down, leaving strands of polyester and Lycra behind. It’s quite annoying having to fish out strands of synthetic fibre from our compost so I’ve now created a separate pile outside the compost bin, which is reserved for mixed fibre items like jeans, T-shirts, sheets etc. that are too nasty/stained/ripped to be given to a charity shop. Once the worms have had their fill, the synthetic residue is put out for the bin men!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here – well over two years in fact. I got discouraged by the fact that this blog doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic, but on the other hand, it’s actually quite useful to me personally as a reminder of which jobs to do when. So I’m dusting it off and starting again.
One of the first jobs of my gardening year is to turn the compost heap. In the past, this has happened as early as the end of February but in recent years spring has been slow in getting off the ground, so here we are in late March and I just got the compost heap done yesterday. It’s a job that involves donning some builder’s gloves, lifting our “Dalek” away, and putting the newer material at the top of the heap into buckets. Once you get further down (see below), everything starts to get all gungy and the worms are hard at work. Those feathery things you can see in the pic on the left are in fact, feathers. They’re from an old down-filled pillow that had got so dirty I decided to jettison it and buy a memory foam replacement. Feathers will rot down quite happily in a compost heap, as will wool and human hair. All three of these are made from protein so they are a source of nitrogen.
The picture on the right shows the same pile of partially rotted compost from a bit further away. It’s at the stage where there is one last layer to remove before you hit the really well-rotted stuff at the bottom. Once I’d reached this well-rotted stuff, I used a spade to transfer it to the hole to the left of the heap. There were several large buckets worth. I then covered the hole with a couple of black sacks weighed down with flower pots, bits of wood etc. This was for two reasons: (1) to help provide a nice warm environment for more composting to take place, and (2) to stop the local cats from using the compost as a toilet.
I put the Dalek back in its original place and refilled it with all the newer stuff that I’d put into buckets. Job done.
…which was 13th of November. In a normal year, we’d have kissed goodbye to the last of our tomatoes in late September/early October. But this wasn’t a normal year. I placed the unripe Gardener’s Delight tomatoes I’d picked when I took down our tomato plants in a bowl and left it on our dining table. Amazingly, most of them ripened, and only a few turned into those horrible frostbitten monstrosities that tomatoes become when you’ve left them out in the cold weather for too long.
I ended up putting them in a chilli con carne.
I was forced to defrost our freezer yesterday. Somebody (don’t know whether it was Mr Beans or me) had left the freezer door slightly ajar, resulting in a huge ice build-up inside the freezer. This meant that the door couldn’t be shut at all, hence the need to unplug and defrost. This meant that I had 1.2 kg of blackberries that I didn’t know what to do with, so I ended up making blackberry and apple jam.
I don’t normally care for blackberry and apple jam, because all the variants of it that I’ve ever tasted have been too sweet. So I had a go at doing a reduced sugar version. It came out lovely, although be warned: there is a trade-off between amount of sugar used and cooking time. Reduce the amount of sugar, and you increase the cooking time. If you’re using the quantities I’ve used, you will need to allow two hours from start to finish.
750 g apples (that’s 750 g after peeling and coring)
1250 g blackberries
Juice of one lemon
600 g sugar
Peel, chop and core the apples. To stop the pieces going brown while you’re doing them, place them in cold water.
Wash the blackberries if necessary (I didn’t need to do this ‘cos I’d already washed mine before I originally put them in the freezer).
Place the apple pieces in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of the water. Bring to the boil, with stirring, until you’ve more or less got apple sauce (a few solid bits of apple are OK though). Add the blackberries, and cook further for a few minutes. Add the lemon juice, and stir it in.
Take the mixture off the heat and add the sugar. Stir thoroughly to dissolve. Put back onto the heat and boil, with frequent stirring, until the mixture is set. This will take quite a while so do be warned!
Every so often I get obsessed by something and decide to immerse myself in whatever it is. At the moment, it’s jam – which is why readers of this blog can be forgiven for wondering why gardening hasn’t been mentioned at all for the last five posts or so.
Anyway, seeing as my jams are quite successful and enjoyed enormously by both myself and Mr Beans, I decided to spend yesterday afternoon making marmalade. Turned out great! Although it took a total of nearly five hours – if you’re cash-rich and time-poor, then making marmalade probably isn’t for you lol.
As usual, I read several recipes and then halved the amount of sugar. So here goes:
3 lb oranges/grapefruit (one grapefruit, rest of weight made up by the oranges)
Juice of two lemons
3 lb white sugar
4 – 4.5 pints water
Wash the fruit. Cut lemons in half, squeeze the juice out into the pan and discard the peel, but save the membrane/pips. Cut the oranges and grapefruit. Squeeze the juice out, add to pan and again, save the membrane/pips. Chop the orange and grapefruit peel into strips, and add to the pan.
Tie the membrane/pips from the oranges, grapefruit and lemons into a muslin bag. Add to the pan. This part of the fruit contains a lot of pectin, which will help the marmalade to set.
Add the water to the pan as well. Your pan should contain:
Juice from the lemons, oranges and grapefruit
Chopped peel from the oranges and grapefruit
The muslin bag of membrane/pips
Simmer this little lot for two hours. It will reduce down, and the peel will go soft. About 20 minutes before the end, remove the muslin bag.
When the two hours is up, take the pan off the heat, and add the sugar. Stir to dissolve. Squeeze the contents of the muslin bag into the pan (this should have cooled down enough to touch. Actually, I ended up opening the bag and straining the contents through a sieve).
Return the pan to the heat, boiling vigorously with stirring, until the marmalade sets. This takes a looooong time, so don’t expect it to happen straight away. While the marmalade is boiling, skim any scum off the top.
Decant into sterlised jars, and pop on a bit of waxed or greaseproof paper before closing with a lid. This batch filled four jars, but two of the jars were bigger than normal.
The resulting marmalade had a lovely rich “thick cut” flavour – exactly what I was aiming for.
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