December 2017

24th December : Good to go !! It has been an incredibly busy week in our house, with last minute floor laying underway, as well as decorating, so the preparations for the festive food have been pretty much left to me... no complaints here, as I do enjoy it! 

Pictures of this week's harvests are included in the header photo, together with with other goodies from our stores which will go towards our Christmas Lunch tomorrow. Fresh today are:

Brussels Sprouts which have been a partial success. There are enough ready to eat now but two plants are small and weedy looking: maybe mouse tunnels under them?

Red Cabbage deserves a picture of its own though, as it such a good colour... now braised with apples, onions and festive spices (recipe in R-2017)

Carrots have been saved for Christmas. They are supposed to be Sweet Candle but look a bit pointier than expected, but not to worry, they are a decent size, and have been worth the effort of keeping the mice away from them

(The onion has a whipped top as it is the last of those we enetered in the local Show this year. We always save one for the stuffing, as they tend to be very sweet and juicy)

Herbs are still plentiful:

Sage and Parsley for the stuffing (recipe in R-2107)

Rosemary for the roast potatoes

Thyme for the Cheesy Leeks (R -2016)

There is also a jar of Cranberry Jelly in thr trug, made by Poppy, our eldest grand daughter, so thank you very much Poppy. There was a small crisis earlier when I couldn't find it, but after ringing several people to see if it had been accidentally included in their Christmas hampers, it was discovered safe and sound in the kitchen fridge!

Almond crumble Topped Mince Pie with Satsumas

In the absence of Christmas Cake or Christmas Pudding this year, I thought I'd better come up with something suitably festive for pudding tomrrow, so here, a real blast-from-the -past as I used to make this for my Dad, is Almond Crumble Topped Mince Pie with Satsumas

And really that is all for this week... short and sweet!

I hope you all enjoy the festive season, spend time with friends and family, eat well and have time to relax, as it won't be long before the 2018 Growing Season will be upon us!

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

 18th December : Under cover work! No, not as a spy, more a case of out of the wet weather in the polytunnel, which is a real treat. Not all that much to do, except deal with the mouse traps every day, and make sure nothing has blown over outside. The mouse count is up to 87 now since the middle of August.The Red Tailed Kites do appreciate the extra food: they whistle dolefully from their perches in the bare trees if no mice appear on the verge for them to collect

As you can see from the picture above the long job of "jar dressing" has begun. It is lovely to be able to share our harvests with family and friends at Yuletide, through preserves, jams and pickles, and even better if they look attractive too. These four jars have already been gifted, but there are many more to be washed and dressed in this coming week

Harvests are slowing down, but we have had some fresh food. First to the table for Harvest Monday are Parsnips, the whole of the rest of the bed of parsnips, because rats have decided they are totally delicious and have been digging frantically to excavate and take away large roots... Arggh!!!! All the remaining roots are now safely in the fridge at home, thank goodness, so we can eat them, not the local wildlife! 

Mice have carried on nibbling Carrots and have now decided that the Winter Radishes are worth a chew as well!

  • We still have carrots to eat, even though some are slightly damaged

  • China Rose radishes are good in stir fries as well as in salad.. crisp and juicy

We have to be careful though, as some have been munched at by mice

Luckily the rodents don't seem especially drawn to brassicas or leeks... at least so far. Leeks are very versatile, and this weeks they have been braised in butter with thyme, and added to potato to make a very tasty boulangere. This cooked away slowly in the bottom of the oven, and appeared, golden and delicious, to go with cabbage cooked with caraway seed and some home made burgers, accompanied by some of our Hot Chilli Jam, which has mellowed out very well over the past months. (Recipe in the 2017 section)

Potato and Leek Boulangere

I used some of the Kifli potatoes we were given: they are a salad variety, waxy enough to stay together, but a more floury variety would give a softer outcome of course. There was plenty of sage in it to add flavour. This is the kind of recipe that is easy to vary, by using different herbs, or onion instead of leeks, or even different cheese.

And that is the last of our fresh harvests this week. I keep looking hopefully at the Brussel Sprout plants, and I reckon there will be enough to pick for Christmas Lunch next Monday... hurray!! 

 

One of the good things about not being head down in the veg beds all the time, is the chance to look around at the birds on site: I noticed there are now two Grey Herons stalking in the long grass around the edges of the site, and there are some pheasants that seem to have moved in too, mostly on untended plots where there are grass and weed seeds for them to eat.

My favourite at this time in the year has to be the Robins. They are an iconic image  of Christmas, with their cheerful red breasts, and they boldly come close to take advantage of any tastyy morsels we might disturb.

Their battles with each other now seem to be over, a sign they have now (mostly) paired up. Only a robin would know the difference between a male and a female, quite honestly: both sing and both are territorial, but if there are two who are tolerating each other in close proximity...one is a male and one a female. I alway think that females look fatter, but that could be my imagination. Either way, our robin nest boxes need to be put up securely very soon, so that the birds can get used to them and consider occupation in a few weeks' time

I really like this image as the robin appears to be surrounded by twinkly Christmas lights, reflected in his eye, and this is where this week's blog ends. Hard to believe there is less than two weeks of 2017 left isn't it?

The shortest day of the year here in the UK will be 21st December, which is of course on Thursday.. so from Friday onwards the days will gradually start to lengthen, although it will hardly be noticeable for a while. A sign for us is the level of the shadow in the fence at the end of our garden, which at the time in the year reaches to within half a metre of the top... it'll be reducing as the angle of the sun changes, moving towards Springtime

So Happy Solstice to you all! I shall be back before Christmas with some more pictures and a lot of chilli powder from all those dehydrated chillies

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

11th December - Snowbombing over the country! Most areas woke up yesterday to snow and here it lasted for several hours, all thanks to a dramatic plunge in meteorological pressure over the Atlantic (Jet stream in action) which led to a "whirlpool" of winds and stormy weather... and being the wintertime, it equalled squally freezing rain... and snow.. by the time it reached the UK. (Nick, if you read this, I hope my simplified version of events passes muster) Today has been wet and slushy, but with temperatures set to drop well below zero tonight, tomorrow may well be very icy indeed out there. GIven the amount of disruption to travel today, goodness knows what tomorrow might be like. I have been out to the greenhouse with a torch already, to check that the heater is working properly.

The photo is our garden after it had been snowing for about half an hour: we haven't had any proper snow here for about four years, and I got quite excited. I should really have take another one later in the day!

I managed a quick plot visit this morning: the net carrot tunnel had collapsed when the blue pipe hoops bent sideways, but with no real damage done. Fixing it can wait. Even after just ten minutes my hands were numb, and I was glad to get into the relative warmth of the car

Thelma Sanders Squash

Harvests are slowing down now and we are beginning to rely more on stored crops. Yesterday we ate the first of our Thelma Sanders squashes, roasted alongside some chicken, plus the remaining section of Romanesco cauliflower, some onions and garlic, with sage and bay. It is very satisfying to have such a variety of our harvests stored for Winter use, with enough, hopefully, to see us through into the Spring as well.

I went to visit a friend this week, who generously shared her harvest of Shark's Fin Melon with me, and you can see from this week's header picture how beautiful it looks. Thank you, Sue!  They get their name, so I am told, from the consistency of their cooked flesh, which resembles the shark's fin used in a traditional Chinese soup. I am not sure this will end up in soup, more likely to be roasted and added to a spicy prawn and mustard greens stir fry! Their skin is very thick, so I think it may last for a good while... it'll be joining our other squashes in the spare bedroom until we need it. 

Gnawed parsnip!!!

We have had some harvests though, so first to the Harvest Monday table comes.. parsnips!! You might remember that this year I really struggled to get parsnip seeds to germinate and we have only a small number of plants, so imagine my dismay when I spotted that something had unearthed the crown of one and gnawed it. Looking at the large chunks, I suspect a rat or a squirrel. Funnily enough, when I dug this root up, it was one of those where the top looks very promising but underneath is a scrawny, skinny root.

I had to then dig a few more of course, just to check that there were not all like that, and luckily these were a decent shape. Parboiled and roasted, they were sweet and delicious. We have had enough frosts now to enhance their flavour: a real taste of Winter! 

 

Leek harvests have continued, along with fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage), with some more carrots and turnips adding to the week's food. Today however, despite the bitter cold, I decided to bring home one of the Kilaton ballhead cabbages: I fancy a potato and cabbage curry with plain chappatis for dinner. 

This head weighed in at 2.25kg after trimming, so there will be plenty of cabbage to go around for a while!

Inca Bella potatoes

And really that is all we have brought home fresh this week. I mentioned we have been eating stored vegetables. I checked  over all the potatoes in sacks to make sure none were rotting, and found that these ones had started to chit already. They are Inca Bella, which are Solanum phureja rather than the more usual S. tuberosum These cook much more quickly than most,  and make superb roast potatoes. Sadly, our crop was very small, and these are the last of them, but when the shoots were rubbed off, they were still perfectly good to eat

This reminded me that it was about time to look through the tubers stored for seed potatoes. They will be moved to the salad drawer in the garage fridge, to make sure they don't start growing ahead of time.

One other variety we particularly enjoyed the flavour of was PInk Gypsy, so while there was an offer of free p&p, I added some to an order, hoping that we can grow a good crop of them in the coming season. They should arrive by the end of January, when it will be time to set them in eggbox trays in the light, in the greenhouse so that they can develop good sturdy chits before being planted out in March. Also ordered were heat treated onion sets. This heat treatment is designed to prevent the bulbs from bolting ie growing unwanted flower stalks, which makes for poor onion bulbs, so after having a big problem with this last season, I'm giving it a go. (I shall also be growing some onions from seed as usual)

As well as the shark's fin melon, Sue gave me some of her Kifli potatoes to try. These are a blight resistant maincrop, salad variety, so if they are to our liking, I shall plants few of these too...  need to be careful not to have more potato tubers than we have space for though..... 

The weather was still mild at the start of the week, so I took the opportunity to prune the Autumn Raspberries, removing all the fruiting stems down to about 10-15cm, and taking out any really old pieces of woody stem remaining from te previous year. They were not as prolific this season as in previous years, so some TLC is definitely needed. Come the Spring I shall feed them well, and keep a careful eye on the colour of the foliage, as it looked a bit more yellow than usual. Epsom Salts might be needed  to add Magnesium for chlorophyll development

The Blueberries also needed attention, as they were getting swamped by the vigorous rosemary bush planted behind their bed, and lots of weeds had invaded under cover of this excess growth. Two barrowloads of rosemaary branches later, I added a good handful of sulphur chips around each plant, as Blueberies need an acid soil the thrive, and a large pile of shredded conifer branches dropped by the site gate provided a perfect mulch, being slightly acidic. All looks good to go! The Blueberries in their post at home really benefitted from a top dressing in their pots, so I hope these bushes respond with lots of flowers and fruit next Summer

Because the Viburnum bodnantense in our garden at home is so reliable, we planted one alongside our boundary on #146 last year, and it has just shot up. It has been in flower since November and on warm days, fills the air with is scent, much to our plot neighbours' pleasure too. These are the only flowers we have on either plot right now, so definitely one to share!

In the cold weather birds flock to our feeders, and down on the plots birds are much more visible now that the leaves have fallen from the trees.

The photo to end with I took early on Tuesday morning, in the roadway outside our plot: a Grey Heron, which had been searching through the long grass for something to eat. He was very suspicious of us, and flew slowly up into the trees as soon as I moved closer. I do wonder if this is the juvenile that hunted frogs along our verge last year, returning as an adult. I suspect it is, as we don't usually see herons actually inside the site.

I hope you have found this week's blog interesting. Things are much quieter at this time in the year, but I have worked out that sowing for next year's crops will begin in just over two weeks!! Seeds at the ready.....

 

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

 

4th December -  Romanesco's unexpected appearance!! It was such a lovely mild, calm morning today, perfect for taking the debris netting cover off the tall brassica cage and putting on the open-weave Winter cover. The debris netting gets weighed down by snow, or blown sideways by gales, the supporting structure then collapses, and it is farewell to the Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Brussels Sprout plants. Lesson learned the hard way a few years back! So off came the green net cover, and there, lo and behold, was a big fat lime green Romansco cauliflower. How it got there is anyone's guess, because I only had the one plant and that, as you mights remember, has some sort of purplish bulging head, and is growing alongside the green cabbages in another bed completely. Life is full of mystery some days, but I am certainly not complaining. There will be a quick adjustment to this week's menus to make the most of our unexpected bounty

 

A quick tidy round to get rid of dead or yellowing leaves, squashing as many whiteflies and scales under the leaves as possible... nowhere near enough though as they will persist now until we get a decent spell of very cold weather ... adding three canes with bottles on top to create a taller cage as that broccoli has a lot of growing to do by next March before we can start to harvest it, and there it is, ready to keep the pigeons off through the Winter months: a renovated brassica cage

Two of the Brussels sprouts plants are looking pretty good and should give us enough for Christmas Dinner at least. The other two are spindly little things with no sign of a button between them, but i have left them in as we can always eat the sprout tops as greens when we need to. Not quite sure why two have grown so well and two have not, but as it is the two nearest to the plank of wood holding down the edge of the netting, I suspect mouse tunnels under their roots might have something to do with it. Note to self: make sure this can't happen next year, use a couple of bricks instead. As you can see from the photos, the plants are well staked to make sure their roots stay steady in the ground and don't get rocked about in high winds. This is worth the small effort it takes as it helps good solid sprout-buttons to form

Some of our other harvests this week, linking with Harvest Monday as usual, include more China Rose Radishes, which are such a beautiful colour and no bother to grow whatsover

We did have a rather unusual harvest this week: beetroot leaves. We have some roots stored on a bucket of compost, covered with a thick layer of cloth to keep the light out, on a shelf in the garage. When I took the cloth off, just look what was there ... bright red leaves!

These are sweet and succulent, with a very good beetroot flavour, much stronger than the taste of fresh green leaves.  They are a very welcome addition to salads right now, and are definitely going to be harvested as long as they continue to grow. The roots will get slightly soft eventually, as the moisture to grow the leaves is mainly drawn from them, but they will be fine to roast for a good while yet!

I tipped out another pot of yacon roots, which weighed in at a pleasing 3.5kg, a whole kilo more than the first pot a few weeks back. We have eaten about half of these already, and they certainly seem to be keeping well enough, so in view of the cold spell forecast I thought I should start to bring the rest home. Interestingly, the skins of the ones harvested first are now a dark reddish purple, rather than the white of the newly dug tubers, although their flesh is still white.

  • Tipping out the potful of tubers and gently removing the soil you can see that most of the pot was filled with fibrous feeding roots and storage tubers

  • The storage tubers are the part you eat. Some were slightly damaged so we shall have to eat them fairly soon as they probably won't store that well

  • And near the surface of the compost at the base of the stems are next year's growth buds. These stay dormant until conditions are warmer and lighter.

The growth buds for next year will be kept in smallish pots of just damp compost, under the staging of the frost-free greenhouse at home. They should start to grow again around mid-February. We shall probably have more than we need, so can share them with friends

Other harvests have mainly been herbs. I never thought we would be picking fresh dill in December out on the plot though, but it has been a real delight to be able to add it to the Potato Latkes, with some good thick, plain yoghourt. I forgot to take a photo of them until they were almost all eaten though... a good excuse to make more this week, I reckon!

Alberto's, Sweet Red Peppers and Padrons after drying

Remember all those gorgeous chillies I was dehydrating? Some of the larger, thicker ones took nearly 48 hours to be crisp, but they are all now in sealed jars ready to be ground down to powder or crumbled into flakes, once I have the spice grinder I have arranged to borrow. Usually we use  a large stone pestle and mortar for spice grinding, but a) the sheer amount of chillies to deal with is a little daunting, and b) I have feeling there might be some choking issues breathing in so much chilli oil and dust. 

I also set aside enough seeds for next year, drying them carefully on kitchen paper and transferring them into labelled envelopes. Even touching the seeds made my fingertips itchy and sore. There were quite a lot of seeds overall, more than you would usually handle in one go, but even so, when I come to sow them in a few weeks' time I shall be careful to avoid touching my face afterwards. Chilli residue takse several washes to be removed completely it seems. A  big red weal across my eyelid was the price I paid for being a bit careless sorting them into packets: once is enough, thank you. Take heed, chilli growers!!!!

 

 

At home, our Christas Cacti (Schlumbergia) are in bloom, looking just beautiful. These are from Brazil originally and enjoy a slightly shady position: they are not desert-dwellers! This lovely sugar pink one really belongs to our son but it has been with us for many years. I worked out it must be well over 25 years old. Some years it flowers more heavily than others, but it always reliably blooms in early December. We have some smaller red flowered ones as well, and recently bought a small one with white flowers. I hope they thrive as well as the pink one does.

Sometime plants sneak up you to take you by surprise, and not just weeds, either. This hard cane Dendrobium orchid has sat on quietly on our kitchen windowsill all year, getting watered when one of us remembered, and suddenly this week has burst into bloom to delight us with its pastel flowers. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

That is the end of our exploits on the plots and in the kitchen this week, so thank you for sharing them with us. I do enjoy hearing what other growers have been doing, both here in the UK and abroad, finding out about varieties new to us, or different crops entirely. Thanks to Dave of Our Happy Acres, who has inspired me to try again to grow sweet potatoes next year, large enough to eat... I live in hope!!

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