September 2018

21st September - Not sure if I shall be able to access my website on Monday, as I shall be fishing on the Isle of Wight with my brother, so here is an early update just in case. We have been really busy trying to get things on the plot ready for the end of the season, but have been rather hampered by the weather. It was somewhat un-nerving working in the polytunnel on Wednesday for sure, with the wind rocking it madly, but we did manage to pull out and cut up all the tomato plants, consigning all the green matter to that newly available compost bin, and harvesting the rmeinaing tomatoes, both ripe and unripe. I had no idea there were so many tomatoes still lurking amongst the foliage: over 17kg of lurkers in fact! Here they all are, sitting in the boot of the car for their journey home. They certainly put a different complextion on the rest of the week, as they could not sit there in boxes on the kitchen floor until my return, so Preserves-R-Us had to spring into unexpected action. The photo is deceptive, because the containers are quite deep 

I shoud have said we left in the single Apero plant, as it is covered in flowers and developing fruit. As this is such a small-fruited variety, there is every chance that fruit will mature and ripen, assuming the blight stays away of course

 

A single PInstripe Aubergine

The observant amongst you will have spotted... the one, single Aubergine of the whole season, a small Pinstripe, found hiding under the Malabar Spinach tripod. In case you missed it, here it is in all it's glory home in the kitchen. Aubergines were one of our failures of this year. I think the extreme heat affected fruit set, as there were plenty of flowers and I even attempted hand pollination: over 32C, pollen is rendered sterile, and there were long periods when temperatures were at least this high in the tunnels despite the ventilation

Courgettes of course just arrive every day. Luckily one of our neighbours was kind enough to accept a handful today!!

Emir Melon

The remaining Emir Melon has been cut, even though it was not fully ripe. It is already beginning to smell luscious, so I am taking it with me to share with my brother.

It was a long, hard couple of hours taking out all the tomato plants, working around the chilli and pepper plants that are still growing and flowering, then chopping up all the greenery to add to the compost bin. 

We did harvest a further 2.5kg of Long Red Marconi Peppers, and about 0.5kg of mixed sweet peppers, mainly yellow and purple. Lots of the Jalapeno Chillies were ripe red, so these came home with us too. Removing all the stalks and seeds took a very long time, and I think Abi started to regret offering to help. He wore gloves to deal with the chillies, so survived unscathed, thank goodness, and it did speed things up a bit having two of us working in the kitchen

The finely chopped peppers did look pretty ready to cook, and much of their colour was retained in the finished salsa too. It tastes very fresh, even after water-bathing

It took us a day and a half of solid hard work for the two of us to ensure we shall be able to enjoy our late summer harvests for months to come. This is what we ended up with:

  • 6lb of Balti Sauce

  • 4.5 lb of Mixed Tomato Chutney (P/2016/Aug)

  • 15lb of Mixed Pepper Salsa, some with Oregano added

  • 3lb of Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

3lb of Pickled Cucumbers

One more tray of slow-roasted tomatoes with olive oil and oregano is now in the freezer, and there are four trays of green tomatoes stacked neatly in the cool garage in the dark. Some will ripen, and some will be used green over the coming weeks.

The Zeina Cucumbers are continuing to fruit, and the quickest way of dealing with the latest harvest was to pickle them with Dill seed. 

With a sense of relief,the last jar was filled and the post washed.... and then I remembered the grapes!! In the greenhouse at home we have a Black Hamburgh vine, which this year has gven us an amazing crop. They have certainly enjoyed the weather, but covering the door with voile, which originally was to stop white butterflies from laying eggs on the seedling brassica plants under the staging back in the Spring, but it also prevented local cats from snoozing in there, and then meant that wasps and blackbirds didn't spoil or eat the grapes, so..... Abi went off down to the greenhouse and came back with 10kg of bunches of Grapes

PIcked over and washed, they looked great, and the idea of making wine seemed attractive, but yesterday there wasn't really time to sort that out ... an idea for another time perhaps ... so they were boiled up to drop overnight for juice

And then this morning I ended up faced with 3 litres of juice, which was full of flavour and delicious to drink, so I sterilised two screw-top wine bottles, and filled the hot bottles with boiling grape juice. A dissolved campden tablet between the two bottles might help storage, and now the cooled bottles are in the fridge, Even if they only stay useable for a month I shall be delighted.

The remaining juice was made into Grape Jelly, which should last for many months unopened.

Prior to the preserve-fest in our kitchen, we started getting the outside growing areas ready for the Autumn.

The Brussels Sprout plants now have a pigeon-proof cage much more suited to their eventual height. Plastic covered metal poles and joining balls sound like they should make a solid structure, but it was very wobbly, despite the poles being 30cm deep into the ground, and so has been braced with metal fence pins. What a blessing that turned out to be, as it survived the storm-force winds of the last two days.....  

(The shorter plants ot the left are those calabrese sold as Purple Sprouting Broccoli. There are also some late onions in a row across the middle of the bed) 

A less attractive looking structure now covers the brassica bed with the huge "alien invader", and this also withstood the gales, mainly as it offers so little wind-resistance. Fence pins are so versatile! The orange plastic bottles are there to prevent the netting from slipping down over the tops of the metal pins, and also reduce the opportunity for pigeons to perch 

The weather this morning was horrendous, but once the grape jelly was in the jars, we thought we ought to check if there was any storm damage at the plots. As already said, the brassica cages were as good as new, but the section of voile joining the two polytunnels had been torn, and was flapping frantically. At the this point in the season,we decided it didn't seem worth replacing the voile, so moved the pots etc from that section into one of the tunnels (The Oca and Tiger nut plants) or outside for the Winter (The Strawberry tables) before closing the end panels of each tunnel, returning the to two individual structures. It does seem strange seeing each so short, after months of the long view right down the 13m length.

We were both completely soaked right through to the skin when we had finished, and were glad to get home for a shower and dry clothes. The oniosn sets and garlic didn't get planted this week as originally planned, bu the amount of rain that has fallen will have gone a long way to wetting the soil for when we are able to get them in the ground 

Regular readers will know that Kestrels are often seen hovering over our plots. They have been markedly absent since mid-Summer, mainly I think due to the lack of voles and mice for them to feed on. 

This morning though, we spotted a young bird checking out the area in the rain

I managed to take a photo through the car windscreen, which is not that great, but she was very nervous and so I was loathe to open the window to lean out. You can see enough to identify her though. Depending on the food supply, we might see her again, but although she is lovely, her absence will indicate an absence of small rodents which is no bad thing where our crop sre concerned to be honest

if you'd like to contact me, please either use the box at the foot of the page, or

info@alttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I shall respond as soon as I can

(Recipes not listed will follow will be added soon)

17th September - I love this time in the year, with mellow days and cooler nights, dew sparkling on the grass in the morning and glorious sunsets. However, mostly it is head-down time, harvesting, clearing beds, filling the compost bins and planting out new crops.

I made good headway this week, sowing Perpetual Spinach, Mustard Greens, Mooli and an overwintering Onion, one called Hi-Keeper. These are all in the polytunnel, and some are showing their heads already.  A row of Mooli seedlings, just perfectly formed, is full of promise.

Harvests though are moving on from kilos of tomatoes: here are our Harvest Monday offering this week.

First up are Winter Squashes again, as some others are mature enough to cut now: Musque de Provence, is an heirloom variety from France, new to us, grown from a plant given to us by our Son-in-Law. The skin will ripen to a deep browny-orange colour, and I am looking forward to tasting it in two or three months' time when it is fully ripe. Thank you MIchael

He also gave us a plant grown from a packet of seeds marked Rugosa Butternut, that has origins in Italy. This is supposed to be a ridged squash with that traditional Butternut shape and golden colour.... hmmmmm. In fact, from this packet came plants bearing squashes of all sorts of shapes and colours. I hope this enormous beast has a flavour to match its size.

Our Pea Surprise

There was a small surprise harvest of Peas, from the plants I have been growing in the polytunnel as Mangetout. Oregon Sugar Pod has produced plenty of large juicy pods, mostly munched as we go along  as they are very sweet and crisp, but the plants I thought were sugar snaps turned out to have very fibrous pods so I let them grow, and here we are ...peas!!

It has made me wonder whether it might be worth growing a late crop of peas under cover, as they are safe from attack by pea moths inside, so no maggoty peas. On the other hand, we had a decent early crop outside and perhaps the precious under cover space might be better used lmid season.  Something to ponder on

Calabrese

Calabrese conntinues to grow heads, including now those plants sold to be as Purple Sprouting Broccoli... it seems to be a bit of a theme this week, that you don't always get what you think you're getting.

These heads are not huge, but I am happy with them in this very dry soil. Two are shoots grown as an extra, after the main head had been cut, which is a bonus really. They will all be straight into boiling water to blanch, then into the freezer, so we can enjoy them at their best when there are no fresh ones growing on the plot.

When I opened the polytunnel, the perfume of ripe Melon filled the air, all coming from one fruit grown on a plant given to me by a plot neighbour. When I cut into it, it was just dripping with juice, and it tastes sublime. Having looked through seed catalogues, I think it is a variety called Emir, and one that is now on my list for next year for sure. Thank you, John.

We seem to have done well with melons this year, one advantage of such a long, hot Summer. Both the varieties grown this year (The other one was an Ogen called Outdoor Wonder) were advertised as being suitable for growing outside, but I had them in the shelter of the polytunnel, and hand pollinated as there were few insects in there. Seems to have worked a treat!

We also had the usual suspects: Courgettes, Runner Beans, French Beans and Beetroot:

  • Both French Beans and the Courgettes went into a vegetable curry

  • The first Runner Beans to be blanched and frozen this year.

  • Beetroot were roasted, then eaten in salad and a cheese sandwich

The season for compost shifting is upon us, with the current bin full to overflowing, so the contents of the other two bins will need to be combined into one, to create an empty bin. There will be masses more green material in the next month that will be chopped up for composting: bean stems, squash foliage, tomato plants (blight free ones), dahlia stems, soft green weeds, brassica leaves and so on, and mixed with shredded paper,  it will make the most wonderful brown crumbly compost for us to use in Spring 2020....the "combined" bin is for 2019.  And all for free, too. It'll be spread about 5cm deep on beds, and add not only to the nutrients but the soil structure itself. You know I can go on about the value of soil structure for ages, so I'll leave it at that for now. If you don't already make compost, then please start today.

Our compost harvest, whilst not an edible harvest, is invaluable in building and maintaining the health of our soil and thus the productivity of the plots

That is the end of our Harvests this week ( No pictures of tomatoes this week... gving them a rest)

That Vegetable curry mentioned was cooked by Abi, and should really have been called by it's Indian name of Subzi. (Recipes/208/ Sept). It is one of those recipes that you can adapt to whatever you have to hand, and is a bit of a regular in our house, as it uses up all sorts of vegetables. You might spot carrot, sweet red pepper, cauliflower as well as the courgette and French Beans in this mix

 

Rhubarb & Apple Jelly

I have now managed to use all the apples that had insect damage or bruises. The last of them went into this Rhubarb & Apple Jelly (Preserves 2018/Sept) I always find getting anything with rhubarb in it a challange to set. Does it have some sort of enzyme it it like Papaya? Anyway, I added some pectin to this recipe in the end as I was not after a pouring preserve, but something you can use as a wobbly jewel sitting on hot roast chicken, or glistening in a small bowl on a cheese board. 

The finished article looks pretty and has a good sharp rhubarb after taste, which is what I was aiming for

The flowers in the garden seem to have got their second wind: roses are coming back into bloom, and the fuchsias have decided it is time to make an effort now. 

This Mrs Popple is at least fifteen years old, and is covered in beautiful red and purple "Dancing Lady" flowers, on a bush a metre tall and wide. We cut branches of these to have indoors, and they last surprisingly well in water. 

And this little beauty is so laden with flowers we brought the whole pot indoors to enjoy! It is a variety at the other end of the scale to Mrs Popple: Tom Thumb. It is also hardy, and will overwinter in a sheltered spot outside. 

I have prepared the two beds where onion sets will be planted in the next few days, weeds removed and a dollop of Blood, Fish & Bone to help their roots grow strongly before the Winter. I have to sort through the garlic to choose the cloves I shall plant, as they need to be in the ground as soon as possible. Definitely got my eye on new crops we need, and will have  abusy few days. Oh yes, the red peppers are ready to make that jam now... I kept them out of the fridge for a few days so they could ripen to a good bright scarlet, so it should look good.

To end this week I am sharing this picture of the Naked Ladies in the garden. These never fail to raise a smile, coming up as they do without their leaves, delicate petals opening in the Autumn sunshine. They are even more special as they don't last long, just a few days, before they start to collapse.

Thank you for reading this, and for all the encouraging comments. I like knowing there are real people out there! 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

10th September - It really feels like the cycle of the year is turning rapidly right now, with preserving crops already harvested, harvesting new ones that are coming to their best, and at the same time planting for future harvests. 

Harvest Monday begins with our beautiful, bountiful Peppers, both Sweet & Chillies: Long Red Marconi, Red Padrons, yellow & purple from the MIxed Sweet Peppers, Jalapenos both green & red, Big Bomb chillies from the plants given to us by our daughter, little Basket of Fire chillies and one Razzamatazz (We have already used the others picked) 

Lots have already been used to make jars of Chilli and Tomato Sauce, and of course Tomatoes are still being picked, not quite as many as in the past few weeks, but that is no bad thing. Most plants are coming to the end of their strength, and with a little less water are ripening their last fruits, all except for the single Apero plant, which has a new lease of iife and is growing several trusses of deliciously sweet small, oval fruits. We snack on these from a bowl on the worktop, as they are so very good, and from the looks of things will be able to for a while yet

I have put up some jars of Chunky Tomato Ketchup - chunky because I couldn't find our mouli, but successful nonetheless - and Orange Tomato Preserve. I managed to make something that shows off the colour of the Orange Banana and Golden Sunrise tomatoes at last, and it will be a lovely condiment to have with roast chicken, in the same way you might use Redcurrant Jelly, as well as being added to stirfries later in the year to add a touch of lemony, gingery sweetness and Summer colour. (Recipes in Preserves/2018/Sept)

  • Chilli Tomato Sauce

  • Chunky Tomato Ketchup

  • Orange Tomato Preserve

With far more tomatoes than we could eat again this week, I slow oven roasted two trays, open froze them and packed them in the freezer in zip-lock bags. A fair few were eaten en route as they are full of irresistable, rich tomato flavour . They will certainly be welcome once the fresh crop is ended

Next to the table we have Ogen Melons. We already harvested one, but these all ripened together, so we are keeping most of them in the fridge to prolong their life a bit. They smell amazing and taste even better. Definitely worth growing again next year

The rest of the Curcubit family is also  thriving: we have Courgettes of various colours, and Cucumbers from the polytunnel. This week we started cutting the Winter Squashes, to leave them on the onion rack under the shelter at the plot, where they will get plenty of sunshine to fully ripen before they go into store. They will taste even better in a few weeks' time. Cooking the Spaghetti Squash will be interesting, as previous attempts were quite unappetizing,so watch this space!

 

  • Cucumbers are still growing

  • Four varieties of Courgette

Cauliflowers and Calabrese are maturing again, and we are enjoying eating some of these most days. I think the rest will be frozen though, as they really are very big. The Calabrese plants where the heads were  cut a a few weeks back have grown some very good sideshoots. I am surprised, given how dry the weather still is, but it is definitely a welcome bonus

  • Clapton Cauliflower

  • Side Shoots from Marathon Calabrese

We also harvested the last of the golden Beetroot, a variety called Boldor, which was very successful in the polytunnel. Our neighbour loves beetroot, but her husband only grow the traditional purple ones, so she went home with a couple of golden roots to try. They are very sweet roasted, and I shall try to find a bit of time to make a jar or two of these pickled.

Our final harvest is one that is rapidly becoming a real favourite - Malabar Spinach. The beautiful heart-shaped leaves grow from pink vining stems, and there are lots of flowers coming now too. Apparently these are also edible, so we shall be trying them in a mixed salad. It is the leaves though that are just fantastic: thick, juicy and with a good "green" flavour. They are good raw, but this week I tried a traditional Indian way of cooking them: Pakoras

Crispy Spinach & Jalapeno Paakoras

Here are the Pakoras: Malabar Spinach & Jalapenos (Recipe 2018/September) They had a light, crispy texture and a really good flavour. They are so easy and quick to make that they can be on the plate and ready to eat in about 20 minutes. What's not to like?!

That is the last of our harvests this week, and time to move on to look at our preparations for plants to crop later in this year and into the Spring.

We cleared away the remains of the sweetcorn stalks in the polytunnel recently, leaving a space in which to plant out Kale (Midnight Sun) Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Winter Gem Lettuce

You can also just see a carrot flower at the bottom of the picture. This is Red Horn, which was so good this year I am saving some seed for next season's sowing. With few insects in the tunnel I have hand pollinated the flowers, so hope that seeds develop and that these come true

It might seem odd planting kale and PSB under cover, but the plan is to bring on the plants to crop earlier than those planted outside (and there are some planted some outside too) to give some continuity of harvest, as well as keeping them safe from maurauding pests and severe weather

In the next couple of days I shall sow some Perpetual Spinach and Mustard Greens inside, planting out the seedlings when they are large enough around the end of October, in the space currently occupied by tomatoes and chillies. I am trying to make the best of this sheltered space throughout the year, not just in the warmer weather. Soon to time to think about onions again....

There is another crop growing away inside quietly: Kohl Rabi. I have never grown this before, but inspired by Dave from Our Happy Acres, here are our developing ones.. pleased with them so far. I hope to be eating one very soon, they look very crisp and crunchy

Usually to end the blog, I have a photo of a beautiful flower, or even a bird, but this week, as the final photo, is the proof that you are never to old to look for the troll who lives under the bridge. It's good to take time out occasonally from weeding, picking crops and sorting them out in the kitchen, and a trip out was just the job for recharging the batteries and just enjoying the scenery

Thank you for all your kind comments after last week's entry, and for those who enjoy reading the recipes too.

I originally started recording recipes here so that I could find them when needed, but over the past three years or so, I seem to have collected rather more than I had planned, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to find anything quickly. So... I have made a Recipe Index. If you also would like to look at any "back numbers" it will now be much easier.

I shall be back next Monday, with more jars of preserves no doubt... there is stilll a rather large quantity of apples to deal with!

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can

3rd September - the Show "Special"  Show preparation filled our lives for days, with last minute preserves to make ... remember the pears that didn't quite work out last week? ... and a list of vegetables already harvested to check over and prepare for their places on the bench, such as onions to dress their tops, potatoes to re-wash and those that could only be gathered last minute, such as blackberries and damsons, together with a very long list of cut flowers required for twelve different classes. 

We were very organised, but nothing prevents that moment when you go to cut the roses, only to find that every bloom on a bush that looked glorious when you went to bed is brown-edged and soggy in the morning, the French Beans that were less than crisp when unwrapped so were withdrawn, or the courgettes that were perfect when they went into the box had one of the set with scrape marks on one side when they came out again at the venue an hour later

Mostly though it went very well, much better than we could have even imagined, given the cold wet Spring, the belated start to Summer followed by the record breaking extended heatwave. We did work hard, and it was wonderful to see the best of our edibles and flowers displayed on the tables along with other people's. That in itself is a celebration of the growing season and worth the effort.  Harvest Monday this week is subsumed within our entries!!

After years of trying, we won the Show Top Tray and the Show Vase too, which brought big grins all round, but it didn't stop there. With the most combined points in the Vegetable, Fruit and Flowers categories we were awarded the President's Cup, along with cups for our Roses, Fuchsias, cut flowers, potted plants, Preserves and Photography. It was all very unexpected, and somewhat overwhelming, as we had no idea this could happen. The funny thing is that even though the season as extremely challenging, the number of entries was the highest ever, and some of the sections were quite tightly packed on the tables

The Globo onions were not all the same shape, so we managed to have three as round onions and three as flat ones, plus the three that were a little on the greenside on the Top Tray. I have been very grateful for the advice from other growers both through the season and recently in the drying of these big onions, as this is very new for us. I have learned an awful lot, which I hope I can build on next season 

We also won the Heaviest Onion Class by a long way. Several people asked which variety these were as they wanted to grow these next season too, although one or two were a bit dismayed when they realsied the length of the growing season they need... ours were sown on 29th December, and next season I shall try to sow them a month earlier than that, to give them a longer growing period prior to mid-Summer when they then start to bulk up. We have even arranged an "onion sitter" for when we are on holiday!!

We were only left with five reasonable onions after the mole disturbances that went on and on for months, but these five were close enough in size and colour to win the class for onions under 250g, despite the small marks in the skin.  They were grown from sets, a variety called Spitfire

The cherry tomatoes were unplaced, and the plum ones were a strange mixture of orange and greeny yellow the day before, but they turned red overnight. The seeds came from a Seed Circle and were labelled San Marzano, bu the shape of the fruits seemed quite different to others of the same name. Really pleased with them though, and the plants have cropped heavily without splitting, as well as looking good on the bench. Excellent for sauce making too

The others are Ferline (smaller ones were the only ones we could match five of) and the beefsteak style ones are some smooth-looking Marmandes, grown from self saved seed.Those on the Top Tray were Crimson Crush.

  • Medium tomatoes

  • Plum tomatoes

  • Large tomatoes

There were also Firsts for White Potatoes and Damsons, Seconds for Cucumbers, Dessert Apples and Blackberries, Thirds for Shallots, Courgettes (that one with the scrape ... argh!) Beetroot and Rhubarb.

The second batch of Spicy Pickled Pears was good, and came away with first place ticket, as did Mixed Citrus Marmalade, Apple & Lavender Jelly and Basil & Pinenut Pesto. I was really pleased, as well as a tad relieved, as I tried some recipes a little different from the traditional jams and jeelies presented at Shows for years, however delicious these may be. Our daughter's fine-cut, colourful piccallili also had a first, so it was good to see new flavours and ideas are being welcomed and enjoyed

There are also possible changes in the Classes too, with requests being made for dedicated sections for Sweet Peppers & Chillies, and Winter Squashes, and perhaps leaving aside Sweetcorn for a late season Show: all ideas for the committee to deliberate

 

 

The real stars of the Show however were our grandchildren, who threw themselves into the event with enthusiasm and imagination, and no small measure of talent, so here are their entries:

A garden of fresh flowers on a plate - 

FIve butterfly cakes on a plate -

(had to be covered in plastic film, so some of the beauty of these is lost in the photos)

A mosaic, made os anything you choose - 

(Cannot find a pic of the entries for the older group, so help with this appreciated please, so I can add these in)

A vase of paper flowers -

And here are their cups: The Junior Youth Cup, the Senior Youth Cup (won jointly by two of them) The President's Award for the Best Exhibit in the Show ... one of the flower gardens... and the Novice Cup for entries in the vegetable and flower classes in the Novice classes

And they all won prizes on the tombola stall, funded by their winnings.. congratulations to you all for a fantastic effort, much appreciated and enjpyed by many of the older exhibitors who are looking to the future of local Shows

And that is the end of this week's blog. Normal service will be resumes next Monday, as there is weeding to be done, plants to be set out, seeds to be sown and cuttings to be taken... and of course watering continues to be needed

Thank you for reading this: I hope you found it interesting... another side of Grow Your Own!

 

If you'd like to read more about Harvest Monday, have a look here at Dave's hosted pages

http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

and if you would like to contact me, you're very welcome, on:

info@alitttlebitofsunshine.co.uk

and I'll get back to you as soon as I can