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Overwintering Plants & A Welcome Friend

It has really felt like Autumn this week with the wind and rain that we have had and the trees in the park are now turning into beautiful colours.

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At home in my kitchen garden I have started to tidy some areas.  I gave my pyracantha a light prune as it seems to grow so quickly…..I made sure I left all the berries for the birds to eat.

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I also gave my comfrey its last cut of the year too:

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As my compost bins were full I spread the comfrey over an empty bed and I will dig it into the soil another day after it has died.

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I also decided it was time to strim my green manure (phacelia) that I sowed in August, as it was beginning to flower.  Phacelia has beautiful purple flowers which bees absolutely love, but unfortunately it self seeds like mad (which I don’t want in my small garden) so I cut the plants down before they flower.

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Soon I will dig the green manure into my soil to improve it, however until then I have covered it with weed suppressant as I have found through bitter experience that digging Phacelia into the soil doesn’t always kill it……but the weed suppressant will kill it if I leave it down for long enough:

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This week I also cleared the yellow, dying leaves from my rhubarb plants.  The plants have grown very well this year, though I will leave them another year before I harvest any to allow the roots to grow strong:

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In the middle of August I sowed some Broccoli raab ’60 days’

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This week I finally got around to thinning the plants to their final spacing:

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I was very pleased to see that a couple of plants actually have a broccoli spear growing in the center….I have never grown this variety before so I am looking forward to seeing the results, though I don’t think I will be harvesting at ’60 days’ as the packet suggests:

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This week I have also been sowing some seeds.  I started with perpetual spinach, which should really have been sown a month ago…so it will be interesting to see how it does.  I then sowed some ‘All year round’ cauliflower for next year and some overwintering peas which I have sown in modules which I think improves the germination rate.  Finally I sowed some coriander which is sitting on my kitchen windowsill:

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I also ‘pricked out’ the winter lettuce and corn salad that I sowed a few weeks ago:

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This week I removed my last two outdoor cucumbers (which felt quite sad) and I then pulled up the remaining plants and added a bucket full of compost and some blood, fish and bone to the soil:

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I bought garlic to plant this week in place of the cucumbers.  It is a softneck variety called ‘Cristo’ which I haven’t grown before…..hopefully it will turn out well.  I have planted some cloves directly in the ground and I have decided to put a cloche over them in a few weeks time to stop the cloves from rotting in my heavy, clay soil over winter.  I have also kept some cloves back to plant in pots in my greenhouse, ready to plant out in February.

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I also planted out my overwintering onions next to my garlic this week:

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Last weekend I picked my final ‘outdoor girl’ tomatoes.  They have given me such a good crop this year:

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I have finally started to pick some of my ‘Money maker’ tomatoes too, but as you can see from the photo below I still have lots left still to ripen:

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I knew we were in for some rainy weather during the week, so I made the decision to pick my remaining green tomatoes and place them in my greenhouse to continue to ripen…..this way I wont lose them to ‘blight’ .  I’m not sure if they will ripen this late in the season, but if not I will be making green tomato chutney!

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On Sunday Mr Thrift was very happy as my sweetcorn was finally ready to pick.  I picked four cobs that were cooked and eaten within fifteen minutes and they were delicious!

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Finally this week I noticed that I have a couple of new, very welcome visitors to my garden.  I don’t know if you remember, but when I first started my kitchen garden I placed some rocks around the edge of the garden to attract beneficial insects to my plot…..My plan seems to be working as I found a couple of frogs hiding in the rocks this week…..the frogs will eat the slugs so they are welcome to stay!

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This week in the home:

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This week it was Mr Thrifts birthday and my daughter made him a lovely cake.  I was especially impressed with the footballs she made out of icing…they must have taken her ages to do!  The cake tasted delicious.

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I made Mr Thrift some shortbread as it is his favourite biscuit:

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And I also made a chocolate traybake with chocolate frosting and grated chocolate on top, for Mr Thrift to take to work for his colleagues.  He said they enjoyed them:

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Finally this week my lovely friend gave me a bag of crab apples from her tree, so I spent a happy few hours topping and tailing them ready to make crab apple jelly.

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Well that’s it for this week.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a great weekend!

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Kitchen Garden Photos & A Christmas Chutney Recipe

I thought I would start my blog post by showing you a wonderful sand sculpture I came across this week outside the ‘Richard III’ visitors centre in Leicester.  Apparently it took a lady called Susanne Ruseler just seven days to create it…..what a talented lady!  I think it is wonderful and I found it purely by accident as I walked past:

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This week in my kitchen garden:

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This week I turned my attention to sowing some winter seeds.

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I sowed mizuna, winter lettuce, winter purslane, winter spring onions and corn salad.  I am a tiny bit late sowing these seeds, but hopefully they will be fine.

At the moment they are in my mini greenhouse, as I am trying desperately to keep the squirrels from them.  The squirrels are becoming a nuisence in my garden at the moment, as they keep digging holes to bury the monkey nuts that one of my neighbours insists on feeding them….it also sends Judy (my rescue dog) into a mad barking session each time they come in the garden, so I really need to think about this problem and come up with a solution.

But for now I have used some chicken wire to try and keep them away from my seeds:

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Also this week I noticed the ’60 day’ raab that I sowed three weeks ago was ready to ‘thin out’.  I used scissors as normal to cut away the seedlings that I didn’t want (this stops any root disturbance for the remaining seedlings).  I will need to thin them again at a later date, but for now I left plenty of them in case the slugs and snails decide to have a feast on some of them:

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I have continued to harvest runner beans, tomatoes, beetroot, salads, spring onions and curly kale this week too:

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….And I noticed that my sweetcorn has really had a growth spurt and will soon be ready too:

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“Sweetcorn is ready to pick when the tassels at the end of the cobs turn brown and when you press your nail into a kernel the liquid comes out is milky”

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The phacelia that a sowed a few weeks ago is growing nicely now.  I won’t thin the seedlings out as it is a green manure that I want to grow thickly to keep the weeds from germinating:

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I will chop down the phacelia before it sets seed and then dig it into the soil to add nutrients ready for next year’s crops.

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The rest of the kitchen garden is doing well too and I thought I would be nice to show you some photos that I took this week:

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This week in the home…

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This week has been a very busy week here in my kitchen:

I started by making some more dishwasher liquid as I had ran out.  I make it using soapnuts and it works really well in our dishwasher and it is really easy to make:

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I also made a big portion of spaghetti bolognaise.  We had some for tea and then I managed to freeze four portions.  I always ‘pad out’ my spaghetti bolognaises with whatever vegetables I have to hand, so this one had carrot, runner beans and curly kale included in it.  I find the portions go further if I mix the spaghetti (or pasta) in with the sauce rather than layering the sauce on top:

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I then had a freezer disaster to sort out:

I don’t know if you remember, but a couple of weeks ago our small chest freezer broke and myself and my daughter had a mamouth cooking session to save the large quantity of vegetables that were in this freezer.

Unfortunately this week I had another ‘freezer disaster’…. the door of one of my other freezers was left open by accident.  Luckily again, there was no meat in this freezer as it was mainly full of allotment fruit, homemade cakes, scones and my bread rolls for the week ahead.

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I had been waiting for a spare few hours to make jams with the fruit that was left in my freezer, ready for my Christmas hampers, however this forced me to make them now instead of later.  So I spent a couple of days cooking yellow plum jam, gooseberry jam, strawberry jam and finally some plum and worcesterberry jelly….

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On the positive side, nothing was wasted again and this has created a lot more room in my second freezer, though I am sad to say I now have no fruit or vegetables left from my old allotments……so I must work out how to grow even more fruit and vegetables in my new kitchen garden next year!

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Beetroot from my new kittchen garden:

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This week I also wanted to use up the beetroot and apples that I was given last week (together with my own beetroot), so I made some beetroot chutney:

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……And I also wanted to use the remaining plums that I was given last week, so I made some ‘Christmas Chutney’ which uses cranberries and plums and a few lovely ‘christmas’ spices.  I have written the recipe below if anyone is interested.

  We will use some of the preserves that I have made, but a lot of them will be given at Christmas in the hampers that I make.

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Christmas Chutney With Cranberries & Plums

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500 grams courgettes chopped

500 grams plums halved with stones removed

400 grams granulated sugar

300 grams dried cranberries

600ml white wine vinegar

2 onions chopped small

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground mixed spice

1 tsp salt

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Add all the ingredients except the sugar to a large pan and bring it to the boil stirring all the time. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

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Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved and then simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the chutney is thick and chutney like.

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Pour the chutney into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place for a minimum of three months to mature.

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Then enjoy it with cold meats and sandwiches at Christmas!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!

My Harvest & A Freezer Breakdown

I wanted to start my blog today by saying well done to my eldest daughter for her AS level results that she received yesterday.  She has had a very difficult year (which I won’t go into here) but dispite this she achieved a ‘B’ in English language/literacy,  a ‘B’ in psychology and a ‘distinction-star’ in hospitality……..we are extremely proud of her!

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This week I visited Haddon Hall and gardens with my lovely sisters and had a wonderful day out.  This was my eldest sisters Christmas present to us all….it was such a treat!

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The website says:

“Described by Simon Jenkins in “1000 Best Houses” as “the most perfect house to survive from the middle ages”. Set in the heart of the beautiful Peak District National Park, parts of the house date from the 12th Century, sitting like a jewel in its Elizabethan terraced gardens, and overlooking the River Wye.

Film-makers flock to Haddon Hall to use it as a location. The house and grounds have played host to no less than three versions of “Jane Eyre”. Screen credits also include “Elizabeth”, “Pride & Prejudice” and “The Other Boleyn Girl” and “The Princess Bride”, the cult classic movie in which Haddon Hall becomes Prince Humperdinck’s Castle and village”

I enjoyed looking around the house as it was so interesting and the gardens were lovely too:

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They had lavender lining their path in one area and the bees loved it.  It reminded me of the lavender path I used to have at my allotment as it smelt so wonderful as you brushed past it:

(The photo on the left is Haddon Hall and the photo on the right is my old allotment)

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In my kitchen garden this week:

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This week I noticed that my sweet peas are being attacked with greenfly, so I spent a happy half an hour squashing them between my fingers…..as an organic gardener I prefer not to use sprays.

  I think it has been a particularly bad year for aphids this year, so hopefully next year we will have a bumper year for ladybirds, as this usually happens.

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There is some fabulous information and advice on the RHS website regarding aphids here if anyone is interested.

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Everywhere around my kitchen garden seems to be doing well, though the ground has been really dry.  This has caused some of my spring onions to go over a bit quicker than normal, so I pulled them up.  I don’t want to waste them, though I don’t think they are good enough for our salads, so I have decided to pickle them like ‘silver skin pickles’.

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My outdoor cucumbers are growing well now and my leeks and spinach have put on a growth spurt:

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 I also had a surprise this week as I found that a patty pan that I had given up on, is growing.  I put three seeds in my big tub between my two courgettes after my previous sowing in pots didn’t germinate.  Two seeds germinated and the slugs destoyed them and I thought the third seed hadn’t germinated until I found it this week.

I removed a couple of leaves from the courgettes either side of it, to allow the light to get through to the little plant.  It maybe too late to get a harvest of patty pans now, but if we have a mild couple of months I may be lucky:

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This week I dug up the last of my ‘2nd early’ potatoes which were a variety called ‘marfona’ (I still have my ‘desiree’ main crop left in the ground).

At my allotment I would always start to dig up my 2nd early potatoes in July, as I used to plant so many potatoes (early and main crops).  This way I could spread the harvest over July and August as I always found digging up my potatoes such hard work.

Obviously it is really easy in my small kitchen garden, so I have just dug the potatoes when we needed them for a meal and I have got to say I am really surprised and pleased with the size some of them have grown, as they have been in the ground longer than I would normally leave them in:

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In place of the potatoes I decided to grow some green manure.  I gave the soil a good rake and sowed some phacelia.  My seed packet is quite old now so I’m not sure if the seeds will even germinate, but I thought it was worth a try….I will have to wait and see.

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“Phacelia tanacetifolia is good for sowing between March and September and it takes between one and three months to grow depending on growing conditions.  It is a green manure that tolerates most soils.

If you leave phacelia to flower, it is a beautiful lavender colour that the bees absolutely love, which is why I used to grow it in my wildflower area at my old allotment.  The one drawback is that if you leave it to flower it self seeds like mad.  I will chop it down and fork it in before it flowers, so it doesn’t grow and become a weed to me next year”

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I also sowed some seeds in the area where I pulled up my strawberries last week.  I sowed ‘Broccoli raab ’60 days’ which apparently are quick growing broccoli-like shoots that grow on dwarf plants.  I have never grown this before but the seeds were free with a magazine so I thought I would give them a go:

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I also gave my apple and pear trees a summer prune.  I am growing them as cordons so this first prune was to encourage the shape I want the trees to grow into:

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This week I have been harvesting runnerbeans, outdoor tomatoes, frenchbeans, spring onions, potatoes, courgettes, parsley, a few peas and my first red cabbage of the year (that I couldn’t resist picking):

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So overall I am very pleased with the produce my small kitchen garden is producing each week.  Next year I will be looking at ways to increase my harvest and hopefully my fruit bushes will produce more in their second year too.

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This week at home:

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I started the week by making some more laundry liquid.  

Just before our holiday last month I ran out of my homemade laundry liquid and I bought a box of supermarket brand washing powder to tied me over until we got back and this is what I have been using since then.  I must say, I don’t think it washed any better than the laundry liquid I make (and mine is much cheaper) and also, my eldest daughter started to complain that the new wash powder was making her skin itchy!

Next time I will make sure I am more organised and won’t run out of it just before a holiday!

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This week I also cooked and pickled the beetroot that I harvested last week and we are looking forward to eating it soon:

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Finally this week, our old chest freezer unfortunately stopped working.  Thankfully it was the freezer that I just kept my vegetables in and it was only a quarter full.  I have been trying to use up the contents of this freezer for a while so I could switch it off completely and just use the other two freezers that we have.

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I don’t know how long it hadn’t been working for, but everything was half defrosted and there was a puddle at the bottom of the freezer!

So myself and my daughter set about trying to save as much of the half frozen vegetables as possible.

We made a massive pot of tomato pasta / pizza sauce with vegetables to freeze in portions, I cooked lots of the vegetables in my steamer to freeze in portions and then reheat in curries and my daughter made a big pot of creamy, thick, vegetable soup to freeze in portions.  I also filled my slow cooker with vegetables in gravy to again freeze in portions so I could reheat it for a lunchtime meal.  I also cooked the sweetcorn I had left and froze it in portions so I could defrost it and add it to salads:

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Luckily I still had room in my other two freezers for the things we made:

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We managed to use nearly everything in the freezer, so really we were very lucky that hardly anything was wasted….and the soup was delicious!

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I hope you enjoyed reading my blog today.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a good week!

A Lot Of Hardwork!

I love this time of year as the harvesting of crops is finally slowing down at the allotment after a very busy summer and I can finally carry out some other jobs.

A couple of weeks ago I started to remove the old, unproductive raspberries from my plot and I laid a new path next to the area.  I have finally dug up the rest of the raspberries now and the area will provide another bed for me to use next year:

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The weed suppressant in the middle of the raspberries (in the first photo) covered the grass that I sowed a few years ago to walk on.  I covered the grass for a few months to kill it, so I could just easily dig the grass into the ground.

Weed suppressant kills the grass and weeds well, except for bind weed which just skims the surface and ‘pops’ out at the side.  However it does make it easier to just pull most of it up, though I will have to make sure I hoe this area every week during the growing season to weaken it, in the hope I can eventually kill it.

For those of you that don’t grow organically, ‘glyphosate’ does kill bindweed easily, though I choose not to use chemicals.

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After digging the area over I topped it with some of my homemade compost and I laid some paths so I don’t need to walk on the soil that I plant into and I was very pleased with the result:

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As I had a few spare slabs I also laid a path between my woodland area and my strawberries.  This area was a real pain as before I only had a small path made of weed suppressant that I struggled to walk down.  I also finished off a path next to my water tank, which will also make things easier for me:

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If you read my blog a couple of weeks ago you will remember I stripped the green tomatoes from my outdoor plants as I was worrying about losing them to ‘tomato blight’.  I put the tomatoes in my mini-greenhouse at home and they have been ripening well:

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….And I have been busy at home making lots of tomato sauce to use in spaghetti bolognaise, pasta sauces. pizza sauce etc.

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And it is a good job I did remove the tomatoes when I did, as ‘blight’ did strike a week later and you can see in the photograph below how it very quickly affected the few remaining tomatoes that I left on the plants.

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I dug the tomato plants up quickly, removing any remaining tomatoes and put the foliage into my compost bin.

The stems and leaves of tomato plants that have ‘blight’ can be added to your compost heap, as the spores won’t survive on dead plant material.  Do ensure that you remove every last one of the tomatoes on the plants, as the blight spores survive in the seeds….SO DO NOT COMPOST THE FRUIT. 

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I dug the area over where the plants had been growing and forked in some manure.  I again split the bed up with some old weed suppressant, so I could easily walk around the bed without treading on the soil…and this was another bed completed for the winter:

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Another area I have concentrated on this week is outside my polytunnel.  This area used to be a real problem area as it looked unsightly with a few slabs, crazy paving and couch grass and the area was full of weeds.  So last winter I removed everything from the area and laid weed suppressant, with woodchip on top and it looked lovely.

However, this is how the area looked again last week:

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Unfortunately, the weed suppressant I used was just not up to the job and the weeds had grown through it!

I bought this weed suppressant from our allotment shop and it was a different sort to normal.  Weed suppressant is sold in different grades and this was obviously a low grade, but as I have never had a problem with their weed suppressant before, I just never gave it another thought….that will teach me not to check.

So I had to remove all of the wood chip and lay some more (better quality) weed suppressant and then put the wood chip back……I have got to say it was really hard work!  Hopefully this will work this time.

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A couple of weeks ago I picked my saved pea pods from my pea plants and left them to continue to dry for a couple of weeks in my kitchen on trays.  This week Mr Thrift helped me to ‘pod’ the peas so I can use the seeds next year.

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I store the seeds in an envelope in a tin, which will be placed in a cool, dark place.

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Finally, the first of my melons from my polytunnel was ready this week.  They are a variety called ‘outdoor wonder’.

The melons aren’t really big, but they are really sweet and delicious.  I grew them last year for the first time and I know I will be growing them every year from now on.  According to the packet they can be grown outdoors, though I grow them in my polytunnel just in case we have a bad summer:

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That’s it for this week.  I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog.

I will be back next Friday as usual.

  I hope you have a good week.

Saving Pea Seeds & Moving Raspberries

This week at the allotment it has felt more like autumn, with some wet and breezy days.  One morning this week it was quite foggy too and on this particular morning I noticed lots of spiders webs that looked beautiful with the moisture from the air making then sparkle:

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The allotment is starting to slow down a little bit now and I am harvesting vegetables every three days now instead of daily, however the harvest is still good on those days:

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At the moment the allotment plot is looking very pretty with the calendular and tegetes that line the paths.  They also attract many beneficial insects as well, which is why I grow them:

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But I can’t wait for the final finale that the michaelmas daisies give, that edge my rotational beds.

 When they flower I love the contrast between the purple and the orange flowers and when they arrive in September, I know that autumn is here.

Below is a photograph of the michaelmas daisies last year.  I hope they look this good again:

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This week at the allotment I have been carefully watching my outdoor tomato plants for ‘ tomato blight’.  After we had a few wet days I became very nervous that I would lose all the lovely green tomatoes if I get ‘blight’,  as I do most years.  I have already had lots of lovely ripe tomatoes from these plants and the tomatoes that are left are all a good size, but just not ripe.

So I took the strange decision to remove the tomatoes from the plants and ripen them at home.  So here they are:

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I have also been collecting my pea seeds at my allotment ready for next year.  My dwarf peas and my climbing peas gave a wonderful harvest earlier in the year and so I want to make sure this happens again.

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It’s very easy to save pea seeds.  All you need to do is leave a few on the plants and wait until they are dry and brown:

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I then pick the pods on a dry day and leave them on trays in my house for a couple of weeks.  This ensures that they are completely dry.

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I then take the pea seeds out of the pods and place them into a paper envelope or bag and store them in a dark, dry, cool place until I need them next year.

I find it so satisfying saving seeds and I always get such a buzz when my seeds germinate and produce plants the next year.

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Also at my allotment this week I decided to dig up my two summer raspberry beds that I inherited.  I will buy some new raspberries and plant them in a different place in Spring:

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I covered the grass in between the raspberry rows a few weeks ago to kill it off.

Unfortunately, the raspberries never really did very well.  Some of them looked lovely but would disintergrate when you picked them and the other plants just didn’t produce many raspberries.  Over the last three years I have fed them and treated them very well indeed, however this hasn’t improved them and I can only think that the raspberries are old now and past their prime.

So I spent a merry morning removing their supports and digging half of the canes up.  Due to the amount of compost and manure that has gone into the ground over the last three years, I found the raspberries dug up well and the soil underneath is beautiful.

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I had some spare slabs at my allotment so myself and Mr Thrift laid a path down the side of the new bed, where I will shortly be planting my spring cabbages when I have dug up the rest of the raspberries on the other side:

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At home my attention has turned to winter salads for my polytunnel.

I have sown seeds for mizuna, winter lettuce, perpetual spinach, winter hardy spring onions and coriander for my kitchen windowsill.  I have also sown some more beetroot, which really is too late to sow (and i’m not even sure if it will germinate), but if it does I will plant it in my polytunnel in the hope I can use the young leaves in salads during the autumn.

My seeds are sitting snug and warm in my mini-greenhouse.

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Finally this week at home I have been juicing all the lovely apples that I picked last week from my early apple tree at my allotment.  I must say there weren’t many apples on the tree this year, but the ones I did have were great.

Below is a photo of my trusty ‘apple picker’ that I wouldn’t be without now, as it reaches all the apples on the tree without using a ladder – a great invention!

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 I juiced the apples using a ‘press’ I bought a few years ago.  I must say though, I wish I had spent more money on a much bigger apple press as it does take me quite a while to juice all my apples.

I first wash the apples and cut off any bruised or bad bits and then chop them in quarters and ‘pulp’ them in batches in my food processor (again, bigger ‘presses’ have ‘pulpers’ attached).  Then I put the pulp in the apple press…..

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….and out comes the sweetest, most delicious apple juice I have ever, ever tasted.  It’s also free from any nasty chemicals and preservatives that some shop bought apple juices have in them.

Unfortunately I don’t have a pasturiser so I freeze the apple juice in little plastic bottles that I have collected, so that my family can have the juice in months to come.

The bottles are ideal to pack in lunch boxes straight from the freezer, as they defrost by lunchtime and while it’s still frozen it keeps the sandwiches cool too.

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Just to finish off with, I thought I would show you the strawberries that I talked about a couple of weeks ago.  If you remember I cut the foliage down to approximately 8cm from the crown a couple of weeks ago and it always looks so harsh:

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Cutting the strawberries back in this way helps the plant produce more fruit the following year, as the plant then puts all it’s energy into producing a strong root system.

Below is a photo of how they look today.  You can see that new foliage has already begun to grow back and I will hopefully have lovely strawberries next year:

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back at my usual time next Friday.

‘Romantic’ Seed Potatoes

I was very excited this week as I purchased my seed potatoes (little things make me happy).  I like to buy them early so I get the varieties that I particularly like to grow.  I have chosen:

‘Marfona’ which are second earlies,

‘Picasso’ which are an early main crop and

‘Desiree’ which are red potatoes.

I bought the potatoes from a nursery in Enderby, as I like to be able to pick the exact number of seed potatoes that I need for each row at my allotment.  It was fascinating to see the amount of different varieties of seed potatoes that they stock.  I must say they have an amazing choice.

However, the best price per kg for seed potatoes that I have found this year, is at Wilkinsons.  Unfortunately they don’t stock the varieties I wanted, but If I wasn’t fussy then I would definately buy them from there.  They are also selling some potatoes loose this year for the first time, so you can also just buy the exact number of potatoes you require, rather than buying a bag.

I have now put my seed potatoes in seed trays to ‘chit’ them.  You don’t really need to ‘chit’ main crop potatoes but there isn’t really anything else to do with them until April.

As per normal, I am the most romantic wife around and I have the potatoes ‘chitting’ in our bedroom, as it is the coolest room of the house.  It’s a good job Mr Thrift is a tolerant man:

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This week at the allotment I removed the environmesh over my overwintering onions and weeded.  A couple of years ago I lost most of my overwintering onions to the ‘allium leaf miner’ (you can read about it here).  When I harvested my onions last year, they were great after I covered them with the enviromesh, so I did the same thing again when I planted this crop.

After weeding I replaced the cover again.

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I also forked my green manure into a couple of beds.  I sowed ‘Phacelia’ in the beds in late summer and then chopped it down just before it flowered, but I find it never seems to die completely and keeps growing.  So now, I cover it with weed suppressant for a few months to make sure it dies back and then I fork it in.

I then covered the two beds with plastic to warm the soil ready for my onions in February or March:

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I also spread some manure around my rhubarb plants.  I have placed a bin over one of my plants to ‘force’ the rhubarb.  This way I will have lovely pink tender rhubarb a couple of weeks earlier than my other plants.

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  I inherited the rhubarb when I took on my plot number two, so unfortunately I don’t know what variety it is.  What I do know is it is a very early variety and it’s actually starting to grow already:

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Back at home I have started my seed sowing.  I used toilet rolls filled with compost to sow my broad beans in.  I sowed an overwintering variety called ‘Aquadulce’.  I will leave them in my greenhouse until they germinate.  You can plant these broad beans directly into the ground at the end of October but I find that mine always seem to get eaten by mice, so by planting them at home it ensures success.

I also sowed my leek seeds and I planted some garlic.  I am a bit late planting my garlic but it should still be ok:

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I am still harvesting things from my allotment and this week we have had some cabbages, carrots and a swede.

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One of the cabbages was huge and I have loads left in my fridge:

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One bit of bad news this week is we finished the last of my butternut squashes (which were also stored in my romantic bedroom with my pumpkins).  I made a butternut squash soup and it was lovely and thick.

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Finally, I picked my last red cabbage from my allotment and I decided to make some pickled red cabbage.  If you have never pickled red cabbage before, it is really easy to do:

All you do is wash the cabbage, shred it and then cover it with salt:

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Cover it and leave it overnight:

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Rince the salt off the cabbage and then put the cabbage into a sterilised jar and cover with pickling vinegar.

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Leave for a month before eating.

Enjoy!

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Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back again on Monday at my usual time.

An Onion Trial, Tomato Soup And Freezing Parsley

Hi all, I hope you had a good weekend.

Since the New Year, I have only been blogging twice a week and I am finding it really hard to cover everything I actually do in just two posts a week.  So I try and cover as much as possible, but I do miss out a lot, so I would like to apologise for that.  If there is anything you would like me to write about, or anything that puzzles you, please let me know.

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The weather was good here yesterday, so I managed to dig up two more rows of potatoes and dry them ready for storing.  These potatoes are a variety called ‘Piccasso’ which I have grown a lot over the years.  They are great for roasting, mashing and baking and I find they boil and hold their shape well.  So they are a good all rounder, which are great for storing over the winter.

My potatoes drying in the sun

My potatoes drying in the sun

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A couple of weeks ago, I took up my over-wintering onions.   This is a job I usually do in July, but this is another crop that was behind due to the cold spring we had.

My over-wintering onions last year didn’t do very well at all, due to an attack of the ‘allium leaf miner’.  So in autumn last year, I planted seed sown over-wintering onions (rather than sets), in the hope that they would grow stronger than the sets I usually plant.  I also covered them in environmesh to protect them.

My onions growing under environmesh

My onions growing under environmesh

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The allium leaf miner is a pest that was only detected in Britain in 2002.  It has been spreading rapidly since and spread to many places in the Midlands for the first time two years ago. 

The allium leaf miner isn’t choosy which allium it attacks.  Alliums include onions, leeks, garlic and shallots.

You can read more about the pest here.

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I am really pleased with the results, as none of them suffered from the allium leaf miner and this year I have lovely, large onions, which are now drying in my mini greenhouse ready for use:

My onions drying in my mini-greenhouse

I will use my over-wintering onions first, as they don’t store for as long as summer onions do.  I usually chop them up and freeze them, ready to use when my summer onions have ran out.  However, as it’s been such a good growing year, I am struggling with space in my freezers.

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Yesterday, I also managed to pull up my summer onions.  I planted a variety of onions this year so I could compare them and find out if one variety was more resistant to the allium leaf miner than the others, as my summer onions also suffered badly last year from this new pest.

  I sowed some seeds back in January called Bedfordshire Champion and in March I planted two different varieties of onions sets, one variety called ‘Sturon‘ and another called ‘Turbo‘.  Incidentally, both of these onion sets have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

My onion patch at the beginning of July

My onion patch at the beginning of July

The results (drumroll please)…..

I didn’t suffer very badly this year at all with the allium leaf miner, even though my summer onions weren’t covered in environmesh.  However, a few onions were affected on all three varieties, so I can safely assume that the allium leaf miner is not fussy about which onion variety it chooses and it didn’t make a difference whether the onion was grown from a seed or sets.

I don’t know yet which onion I prefer, as I need to taste them first and I would like to see how well they all store over the winter.  But on first impressions, it’s definately ‘Sturon‘ that has given me the biggest onion.

I have now set out my onions to dry for a few weeks, ready for storing over the winter:

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Last week I sowed a green manure called ‘Phacelia’ and I am pleased to say that it has germinated and growing well now.  I like using this particular green manure as I don’t need to worry about my rotational beds as it isn’t a brassicca, legume, allium or part of the potato family.  I usually sow it at this time of year in any areas that become available.

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‘Phacelia tanacetifolia’ is good for sowing between March and September and it takes between one and three months to grow depending on growing conditions.

It is a green manure that tolerates most soils, which is why I chose it, as I have a heavy clay soil.

If you leave phacelia to flower, it is a beautiful lavender colour that the bees absolutely love, which is why I grow it in my wildflower area.  The one drawback is that if you leave it to flower it self seeds like mad.

As I am sowing it as a green manure, I will chop it down and fork it in to the soil before it flowers, so it doesn’t grow and become a weed to me next year.

Phacelia in flower

Phacelia in flower

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I just thought I would tell you about the winter salads that I mentioned on Friday’s blog post.  I am amazed to tell you that the winter lettuce (arctic king) and my mizuna have germinated in just four days!  I am amazed by this.  These will go into my polytunnel when I have a space in a few weeks time:

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I’ve been busy in my kitchen this week too, blanching and freezing my crops.  One of the things I have frozen is my parsley.  I don’t bother drying it, as I only really use it in a handful of recipes, including homemade garlic bread (you can find the recipe here).

It is really easy to freeze parsley:

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Start by chopping all the leaves off the stalks and wash them

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Leave the  leaves to drain so the leaves are not too wet when you freeze them.

Pop the leaves in a freezer bag and put the bag in your freezer.

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Use the frozen parsley straight from the bag.  You will find it crumbles easily ready for use when it is frozen.

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My tomatoes are ripening well now, both inside my greenhouse and outdoors at my allotment:

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I decided it was time to make my tomato soup as my daughter loves it.  This is how I make it:

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Tomato and Basil Soup

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1400g ripe tomatoes cut in half

2 medium onions chopped

2 medium potatoes chopped small

2 tablespoons of olive oil

550ml of vegetable stock

2 garlic cloves chopped

3 teaspoons of dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

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Gently heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the onion and potato and soften for approximately 15 minutes, without it all browning.

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Add the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes.

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Add the stock, garlic and basil.  Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

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Use a hand blender to blend the soup roughly and then pass the whole lot through a sieve to extract the seeds.  Throw away the contents of the sieve.

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Re-heat the soup and serve.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at approximately 4pm.

Have a good week!