August 2018

27th August - Is it really Bank Holiday Weekend already? The last Bank Holiday befoe Christmas? Really???? The end of Summer is just  afew days away and we shall be in to Autumn. Harvests are reflecting that really, with more "end of season" produce now coming along. It has been a week with some successes to celebrate and some things not so much celebratory as thought provoking

Harvest Monday, celebrated jointly with others in several countries and hosted by Dave of Our Happy Acres (Link at the end), begins this week with Beetroot.  We have had a few roots here and there, but this is the first bigger harvest, in preparation for making chutneys and pickles. There will be more to come, but they are still happy sitting in the ground so can wait for a little while. This is the first time for ages that I have grown cylindrical beetroot, and as you can see, they have been a success. I like them for easy slicing, as well as the way they force themselves up out of the ground as they grow, so that a couple of inches of the root is protruding above the soil. I only sowed a 1m row, and am more than happy with the amount this produced. There are still some in the ground, and we have eaten four or five already. Pretty good!

Carrots from the box

Next on the harvest table are Carrots. This season I grew some in a large box, hoping to have some good straight roots, and in the really hot waether it proved a challenge to keep them evenly watered. Today, we emptied out the box, and had 3.35kg of roots, which is a good return from a box 45cm x 30 cm, 25cm deep. None were split, but they were very variable in size, and the leaves were getting very stressed-looking. In hindsight, theye were not fed enough and so next season I shall use a foliar spray to help them along. Matching up three for the local Show next weekend was pretty difficult: I shall be digging some from the ground tomorrow, in the hope there are some there we could use.

There is one Beast from the Bed excavated already though, as two of our younger grandchildren were at the plot with us today and were keen to see him in all his gnarly glory, all 1.009kg of arms and legs, with a big fat body!!

This isn't one of the best years for apple harvests, but we do have enough for the fruit bowl for the next few weeks, and some for using in preserves, but none really for longer storage; here are a selection of our Apples for three different trees, followed by what is almost our whole harvest of Bramley Seedlings, Most of these have some damage from what I think may be Codling Moth, so they will need to be used up quickly or they will rot and be wasted

Pears to ripen in the fruit bowl

The pear trees haven't had a great year either, but there have been enough small Pears to use in preserves. These are best used when still hard, so picking them now is a good idea. There are three larger ones ripening in the fruit bowl too. As we eat these, they will be replaced by unripe ones from the tree for about a month, when they will all need to be picked or they will be over ripe and fall off. Again, we shall not have enough this year to worry about long term storage. Two or three jars of spiced pears would keep us going.

I have made these for years, based on a recipe of my Mum's, who always put up a large jar each year, using hard fruit from a perry pear tree that hung over the wall of a local farmhouse, and windfalls fell off into a nettle-filled ditch. Gathering these windfalls was quite an experience and we were usually badly stung, all in a good cause. I certainly knew all about using dock leaves to lessen the sting of nettles! The fruits matured to a beautiful pale pink in the jars, but the texture and flavour was a voyage of discovery on Christmas Day each year, when they were an accompaniment to our family lunch. Some years they were delectable, others, best described as mouth-puckeringly acerbic. 

 

Preserved Pear in Spiced Syrup. Look at the level of the syrup

I now have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to try to do something different this year.I tried a recipe that involved putting the raw pears in a spiced syrup and then cooking them in the  jars in the oven. The result was shrunken pears that did not fill the jar when cooked, and so the level of the syrup was low... they tasted OK but I don't like the look of jars not properly filled, sitting on our shelves, even though the seals are fine. I just think it looks wrong! I shall be making some more, using the original recipe of lightly stewed fruit, with boiling spiced syrup and a dash of apple cider vinegar, added to the jar before sealing.  

The younger grandchildren pronounced the first jarful to be wonderful, and this second jar will soon be used in a crumble or a fruit pie, it won't be wasted by any means.  Not quite right to accompany Christmas Lunch however

Plums are also not great. The large Czar tree had three harvestable plums, and although they are massive, a few more would have been appreciated. They are in the fruit bowl to enjoy as they are. This tree is now 8 years old and I would have expected it to have much better harvests by now. Maybe it is on borrowed time: it takes up a lot of space and shades a couple of beds for a significan tpart of each day too. It flowers well, but never seems to set much of a crop, sometimes due to weather conditions. This year however, our Greengage tree, which is now four years old, fruited well, so it seems unlikely that environmental factors limited the Czar plums, or indeed incorrect pruning, come to that, as they were pruned in the same way

Unfortunately,the sudden spell of heavy rain damaged a lot of the Greengages, spoiling their bloom and even knocking some off. The ones we salvaged are sweet and delicous, so I hope that next year the tree can support a larger crop. Last year we had two, so things are going in the right direction

  • Czar Plums

  • Old Green Gage

Chocolate Muffins with Courgette

Courgettes are still arriving regularly, and there have only been two this week that escaped notice long enough to grow large. Three batches of Chocolate Muffins (Recipes 2018, 9th July) have used up a lot of the smaller ones, and visits to and from family and friends have saved our waistlines from expanding too much! Cheesy Breakfast Mufins have done their bit to keep the courgette pile in the fridge door to a minimum, and are well worth repeating.I'll take  aphot next time round

The recent spell of rainy weather has boosted the growth of the outdoor courgettes and there are several yellow ones that look as though they might make the Showbench yet. Let's hope so, as I have never yet managed to have four of a similar size and colour ready on the same day, let alone for a specific date!!

 

We have had more tomatoes, cucumbers, malabar spinach and both french and runner beans this week, as well as dahlias and the last of the gladioli from the plot, and that rounds off our harvests for this week. Whoever would have known malabar spinach, eaten straight from the vine, would be such a hit with a seven and an eight year old?

With the Show less than a week away, it seemed time to take a further look at the onions we harvested a few weeks back, only to find that some of the Globos had splits in their outer skin, and the next layer down is very green. So disappointed, but after a rethink, there seem to be enough to enter the set classes. Even if not of the highest quality, there will at least be some on the bench, and they are the best we have. 

I'll have to find out how this issue can be best avoided next year if possible though.

 

 Most of the week has been taken up with fruit and vegetables, but time still has to be spent in deadheading flowers to keep them blooming, as they add so much to the character of our plots. We do now have some new arrivals though:  beautiful lilies  at the end of the garden, grown from some bulbs that arrived a little late in the season for Spring planting. They are certainly giving us a good display, despite the gloomy weather, and their flowers are huge, particularly the white one, which has buds at least 15cm in length . They are also richly perfumed, which is really enhanced iwhne they are warmed by any sunshine

I shall be back next week, with some photos from the Show, surrounded by vases and vases of flowers from our exhibits, as well as lots of produce in the fridge to deal with too. I am not sure how some growers manage to exhibit at several different places during the season. One is more than enough  here!

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

20th August- This time in the year is all about harvesting, so here we go, straight into Harvest Monday

A "first"  this week -  Apples, which came away on the tree as I touched them, and more Blackberries. There are enough in the fridge for another small batch of jam... but where are the jars?????

There is a distinct lack of jars round here right now, and those ordered seem to be taking ages, temporarily halting production. Not for too much longer I hope, as the Produce Mountain is beginning to grow again.

Here is another one of our new harvests, not just new for this year, but the very first time we have ever grown one: a Galia Melon

I may have been a bit impatient in picking this, but I really couldn't wait any longer. It was still slightly under ripe, but was juicy and slightly perfumed, even so. There are another four of these growing, so I shall try to leave them in place until they are more yellow in colour, or the stalk dries up. The information on the seed packet says these will grow to about 4ins in diameter, and ours are about 6ins so am very pleased with these indeed

There are also two melons of a more oval shape that have developed on a different plant gifted by a plot neighbour. No idea of the variety but they are definitely melons!!

Tomatoes are still central to our harvest These are some of each of the large and medium sized ones, and very good they are too. The most flavoursome are definitely the reddish brown ones we have named Lanzarote Stripe, the sweetest of this group  are the Orange Bananas, and the meatiest the San Marzano and the Ox Hearts.  Here is a selection of what has been made this week: (Preserves August) 

  • Tomato Jam with Smoked Paprika

  • Basil & Tomato Sauce

What a difference twelve weeks makes. Hard to believe that these are the same tomato plants as the tiny ones I planted out in May, isn't it?

Back to the harvests. Calabrese is not really new, as we had an earlier harvest, but this is the first of the late Summer ones, that have struggled on through the drought with a minimum of watering. A few of the others are developing heads too, so more will be arriving. Perhaps there will be more than expected too, since the Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants I bought in and have grown on are in fact growing Calabrese heads. Much though we like Calabrese, we weren't planning on having quite so many, so there might be some re-organisation of the freezer needed soon to accommodate those we cannot eat immediately. And of course i shall have to look out for some PSB plants. Thye will end up planted in a different bed to the Sprouts, so next year I shall have to juggle round to fit Spring planted crops in different places than originally planned. {{{{ sigh}}}}} All these thngs are sent to try us, and by golly, some of them do!

Carrots and Beetroot are regulars on the table, as are Climbing French Beans and Runner Beans, in small but steady quantities, now joined by Oregon Sugarpod Mangetout. It is a few weeks siince the early crop of mangetout finished, so it is good to have these sweet and succulent pods to enjoy. They are especially good sliced into salad with a garlicky dressing

Another crop new to us this year is Malabar Spinach, a climbing vine from Asia, not related to spinach but having a similar flavour. It grows well in the heat, unlike actual spinach, and takes up little space, as you can see from the photo. The stems and flowers of this variety (Rubra) are pink and it looks very pretty indeed, even though they are not fully open yet.

It has slightly fleshy leaves, and gives a good crunch in sandwiches, as well as being good cooked as you would spinach, in curries for example. As the leaves are thicker than those of spinach, yu end up with a larger cooked quantity for weight, which I like too. The stems can also be steamed as a vegetable. I haven't tried this yet, but as there are several waving off the top of the tripod support now, there is enough growth to be able to try these soon.

I hope the flowers set seed ,as it is a crop I shall want to plan in again next year: there is a lot to recommend it

Courgette Fritters

Cucumbers and Courgettes are still being cut regularly, and this week's new use of the courgettes has been fritters with mint and onion, which made a tasty lunch. Should you make these, be aware that they don't stay crispy for that long so eat them as soon as they are cool enough! We had them with a mixed toamto salad, using the cherry-sized ones: Apero, Black Cherry and Yellow Pear. Apero is incredibly sweet but with an exellent rich flavour

There have been two or three courgettes that escaped attention for a few days, and grew into rather large beasts, but with there being some new families on our site now, who are only just starting out and have nothing to take home yet, these were gratefully received ... phew!

We eat quite a lot of cucumbers, and so do our family, so luckily there are not lots lurking in the fridge on ther way to the compost bin.

That is the end of our harvest this week

With the weather being a little cooler this week, and the occasional rain, we have been able to relax a bit after the past two hard months of wielding hosepipes and watering cans night and morning, and much apprecaited this rest has been too.

Preserving will be back on track when the vital components, ie the jars, arrive. Once the tomtoes are under control again, I can look at preserving some of the beetroot and carrot harvests. They are fine in the ground right now, but if the rodents should start to move in again, they will certainly be a casualty again.

The flowers are now beginning to catch up a bit, and cosmos are opening into a flurry of pink and whie flowers, punctuated by purple verbena and greeny gold fennel seedheads. I'll take some photos to show you for next week's blog

This particular beauty is a Red Monardia, which suddenly has burst forth from a  fairly unpromising looking small plant. It's other name is Bee Balm, and it certainly is popular with bees. 

I shall be back next Monday, hopefully with neat rows of jars in the garage store. Thank you for all your kind comments... I enjoy reading them and it is good to have evidence there are real people out there reading this!

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

13th August - It's all about the TOMATOES!!!! This week we have harvested over 30kg of tomatoes so far, in a range of shapes, colours and sizes, and we eat tomatoes with virtually every meal. Harvest Monday is indeed mainly Tomatoes this week!

Red Wine & Garlic with Oregano

However, most of them are being turned into sauces, water-bathed and stored for use during the rest of the year. Prepared like this, they will last for at least a year. So far, we have:

 9 jars of Curry-base 

3 jars of Red Wine & Garlic with Oregano 

7 jars of Tomato & Basil

and today's effort will be a Barbecue-style sauce, followed by Tomato Jam in the morning

Some years I have made huge batches of just two sauces, but this year I am trying to ring the changes so that we have a wider choice from our stores. I am also going to slow roast two trays' worth in the oven, with olive oil and herbs, then open freeze them and pack into zip-lock bags. This way they will take up less precious freezer space, and be able to be used in anything tomatoes would normally be added to. Having roasted cherry tomatoes for soup last week, I thought that cooler and much slower should dry them to the point they are a leathery texture rather then crisp, as they would be from the dehydrator, plus I can get a larger quantity in the oven at one time. I'll let you know how this goes.

I'd also like to make something special with the orange and yellow ones. Two years ago I made Yellow Tomato and Basil Jam which was luscious, but I fancy a jammy type of preserve with smoked paprika perhaps..... 

Lots of crops are continuing to ripen:

Cucumbers: which will be made into a relish with Coriander leaves, as well as some Bread & Butter Pickles (Recipes in Preserves)

Runner Beans: I have found that those green plastic bags designed to keep vegetable fresh for longer are ideal for keeping runner beans in the fridge in good condition. I am picking the small amount of good pods almost daily, and keeping them until there'ss enough to use. I am not freezing many this year, as we ended up with too many last year and got a little tired of them.

The wire fence erected last week seems to have kept the rabbit away from the bean stems, but now he has turned his attention to the Florence Fennel... yes, another wire construction is now around them. Huh!

Sweetcorn is now finished. This last ear wasn't fully pollinated and most of the grains were misshapen. I shall be taking the plants out, which will leave space to sow some turnips

Fruit & Nut Cake (with courgettes)

Courgettes have been in a steady stream, and several found their way invisibly into the Curry-Base Sauce, and with 500g in this cake (Recipes 2018)  there are not many left in the fridge right now.

The two round ones will be grated for Courgette Fritters (Recipe 2018) for tomorrow's lunch, and a further couple will be cooked with dinner on Wednesday. By then of course, there will be more to cut!

That single Parthenon plant in the tunnel is still producing fruits, and has certainly been worth it's space. It has even grown a sort of side branch, which is also now flowering. I can certainly recommend this one to anyone who only has space for one courgette plant, or only wants a modest number to use, not a sackful at a time!

Blackberry & Apple Cranachan

Blackberries are another regular from the plot, and as well as jam and jelly, we had Blackberry & Apple Cranachan this week (Recipes 2018). This is made with Greek yoghourt rather than double cream, and is an almost-healthy pudding! 

There are still lots of green berries on the bushes, so I shall have to think of some other ways to use them, aprt from crumbles and pies...maybe a cake? We do have a fairly long run of bushes, and usually this year they are all ripening at the same time. Usually the large-fruited ones are much later than this: another anomaly this Summer. They store in the fridge for a day or two, but after that they begin to spoil, so they do need to be used up fairly quickly, and with around half a kilo every day or two, it's another regular kitchen job to fit in while the jars of sauce are in the water bath

And that is where I am leaving Harvest Monday this week. Flowers are another welcome gift from the plot though. Most of our new dahlias are now starting to flower, although a few are still at that first-bud stage, and with the old favourites still with us too, we certainly have plenty to choose from when it comes to cutting!

 

Our asters are clearly enjoying the sunshine, as they are better than they have ever been in other years. The open centres are enjoyed by pollen-loving insects too.

Marmalade Hoverfly on Cosmos flower

This week's Wildlife Spot goes to a very common little insect: the Marmalade Hoverfly. It is a harmless little fellow, feeding on pollen and suddenly present in massive numbers. It's larvae, which are like tiny greenish-grey leech-shaped grubs, feed on aphids though, so the current population explosion means these little grubs have been doing a grand job munching through the aphids, which is excellent news.

The adults especially like flat headed flowers like fennel, and right now we have masses of these on the plots, so there is plenty for them to eat too.

Definitely one of the Good Guys!

And that is where I am ending this week, as the tomatoes are calling... I shall be back next Monday, to talk about sowing some follow-on crops to keep harvests going through the Autumn and into the Winter

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

6th August - Sunflowers are loving this weather! So glad that I chose shorter varieties this year, as they are so much easier to enjoy than those that are towering up into the sky, and they make excellent cut flowers too.

To start off with Harvest Monday then, here are some of the Sunflowers that have filled our vases with a glorious look of Summer, maybe not an edible harvest, well not until the seeds ripen, and only then if we get to them before the birds, but a harvest to share none-the-less:

It has been a busy week with harvests every day, so here is a selection of what we have gathered. Courgettes have been left until last recently, as we have so many: his week they are first on the table instead. These are just a few of the ones we have picked, and were tasty in stir fry, great grilled with roast chicken and easily incorporated into a quick batch of muffins! 

This is so far such a good year for Beetroot, and this week I pulled up a couple of the cylindrical ones. They were sticking up out of the ground by about 10cm, and there was even more under the ground. I haven't grown these for years, but I now wonder why, as they are so easy to cut into nice even slices, which will pack well into jars when I get to make some pickles. These ones were roast alongside potatoes, and had a deep, sweet flavour. Lots more in the ground too

Another crop which is doing amazingly well are the Carrots. They seem to be relishing this hot weather, and although some are far from pretty they all taste great. The ones outside under the fine netting are watered every third day, with a really good soak, which is keeping them growing. The most recent sowing is beginning now to bulk up, so this routine suits them, it seems.

In the polytunnel are the remaining Early Red Horn, and two of them are here... huge beasts.... one plant has thrown up a flowering stem so I am going to let it grow on. This is an 18th Century heirloom variety from The Netherlands, and it has done so well it is worth keeping ifI can. Being in the tunnel there is little chance of cross pollination with Wild Carrot, which is in flower now in the water meadow behind our site, and I am hoping for viable seed that comes true.

The little carrot on the plate is a Sweet Candle from the box. It was a bit squeezed for space: I missed this one on the last thinning, but it is good to see it is stumping up now and looking the right sort of shape. Fingers crossed that its brothers in the box, which have much wider crowns, are as good-looking

Sweetcorn is coming to an end now. It has thrived in the tunnel, and most of the cobs have been well filled.  I wish now I had grown more plants, which is something I'll try to remember when planning for next year. Growing dwarf french beans amongst them has made very productive use of the space, and if the sweetcorn were slightly better spaced it would be easier to harvest the beans. Another thing to take into account in the future!

This is the first time we have had enough corn to freeze, and it is very satisfying to have some stored away, to give us a taste of Summer when it is cold and damp at the end of the year. 

A male flower on the sweetcorn developed these unusual growths which looked and tasted like corn, albeit rather a tough version. It didn't seem to affect the cobs on that plant in any way. Never seen anyhting like ti... very strange! If anyone knows more about how/why this happened I'd appreciate you letting me know please

Cucumbers are even more prolific than courgette right now: this week I have cut fourteen, some of which we have eaten, a couple have been shared with friends, and the majority have been made into more Dilly Cucumber Pickles. It is surprising how many can be fitted into a jar once they have been de-seeded!

  • Here is one batch of cucumbers, rinsed off after salting overnight, before they were dried off and packed into their jar

  • Dill self seeded from last year, and grew into big plants, full of flowers, which are perfect for including in the pickles for fantastic flavour

  • The final pickles packed in the jar, topped up with hot white wine vinegar. These will be stored in the dark to keep their colour fresh

French Beans have continued to be plentiful. Both the yellow Orinoco and the green Speedy in the tunnel have no more developing beans, so they have had a feed of tomato fertiliser to boost them back into flower if possible. I'd rather do this than sow more seeds to try to get a late crop.

The climbing beans outside have been terrific too, and I think they also need a feed if they are continue to flower.

There are now lots in the freezer, in small ziplock bags of a "double serving" size for convenience, so a break from picking will be fine for a while

 

Runner Beans however, are a whole different story. They have really suffered in this hot, dry weather, very slow to set any beans and then any that did eventually grow developing so slowly that they have been too tough to even eat.

The white flowered Moonlight has been slow to even develop any flowers, but at last this week I have been able to pick some beans from these plants, taking them when they are about 15cm or so in length and are definitely tender

However, the resident rabbit bit through the stems of two of them whilst grazing on the lower leaves, so these are now dead. I made a barrier fence out of wire mesh to try to keep it away from the other stems, which seems to be working, thank goodness. Just typical that the plants which are producing edible beans are the ones the rabbit ate!! I just wish we could get rid of the blasted thing. We only see it occasionally and it shows no inclination to leave through the open gateways. It seems to mainly live on windfall apples, which is probably better fare than the dry sere grass everywhere to be honest.

I've stripped off all the tough bean pods, doubled the watering and given the plants all a feed, in the hope things improve

Tomatoes are still ripening quite quickly, and there are certainly plenty of them! These are one day's picking from the outdoor plants, and we are eating them at almost every meal in one for or another. Now that I have cleared all the other harvests, the bulk of the tomato crop can be dealt with

Having seen a photo of a rather tasty -looking soup on Mark Willis' blog, I thought I'd have a go at making something similar. Mark served it cold with tiny raw vegetable dice and sour dough croutons, so I may well do something in a similar vein. Either way, it is very refreshing indeed, so thank you for the idea, Mark

  • Roasted cherry tomatoes, with onions, garlic and basil, drizzled with a smidgeon of olive oil, salt & pepper

  • Blitzed, sieved, with a teaspoonful of sugar and a touch more salt, it is now in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch

There are some further harvest this week, to round off Harvest Monday

  • Jalapeno Chillies

  • Chard

  • Coriander Seeds

  • Onions (from sets)

Thiw week I planted out the Kohl Rabi seedlings in the tunnel, where they will be slightly shaed and protected from the white butterflies that are everwhere this year. 

It is certainly a good year for butterflies in this area, with two further species on the plot this week. Both of these are very small, barely a centimetre in size, and so are easily overlooked. This week's Wildlife Spot goes jointly to the Small Blue and the Small Skipper butterflies

  • Small Blue Butterfly

  • Small Skipper BUtterfly

Having shared pctures of our sunflowers, I'm ending with another of our flowers: a dahlia. This is one of our new ones, called Bom Bini, and it gives such a bright splash of colour you can see it right across the plot

Next Monday, I'll share pictures of some of the others. I hope everyone is harvesting well and enjoying the Summer, despite the trials of watering that many of us continue to face right now

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