December 2018

31st December -- Happy New Year to you all! The fireworks have begun here already, and with such a mild evening will no doubt continue on and off until midnight, to see in 2019

It has been a very quiet week on the plots, with harvests pretty much the same as usual .. Red Cabbages ... stiil really small but they do make good coleslaw... and Flat leaf Parsley, which has been a real stalwart for weeks. The very last Harvest Monday of the year, but better than nothing. We have had plenty to eat from our stores though, including the carrots here. 

This seems an appropriate moment to thank Dave, from Our Happy Acres, who hosts Harvest Monday every week, I really enjoy seeing what growers in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world too, are harvesting week on week. There are so many similarities, but plenty of differences too, sosme of which have inspired me to grow new crops... the Kohlrabi.. and some of which have made me feel a little envious.. so many different tomatoes, and chinese cabbage too. Long may it continue.  Thank you Dave!!

 

The mild dry weather continues, and the soggy ground is gradually drying out a bit. A cold spell would be helpful though, to reduce the numbers of overwintering insect pests and give the strawberries time to develop lots of buds for the coming season too. 

It has been a very odd year, with a mild Winter, a freezing spring, the "Beast from the East", then a long hot Summer of drought, an Autumn that still seems to be ongoing and who knows what to follow?  Hazel catkins are in full flower already... I don't remember this ever before. The only certainty is that we shall try our best to carry on growing a succession of edibles of one kind or another, regardless of what conditions may bring us

When I look at how much we have in store, it is clear this has in fact been a successful year on the plots. Highlights have been the lack of Late Blight, meaning tomatoes gave us an amazing crop, the huge carrot crop, which growing under fine mesh has been free of carrot fly damage, the French beans that went on seemingly for ever, huge onions that grew in the polytunnel better than we could ever have guessed, a succession of calabrese and cauliflower that made us smile, and kohlrabi and Malabar spinach for the first time, both crops "on the lst" for the coming year too

OK,  ee couldn't water the potatoes enough,and they were quite small, the runner beans were slow to grow, tough and not as many as usual either the leeks are a bit on the skinny side, and we had a resident rabbit to comtend with, but hey, you can't win 'em all. On balance, pretty good!

The annual Seed Sort is completed, so the very short list of purchases is ready (about 3 packs of seed to be honest!) and so now i can settle back and draw up the Sowing & Planting Plan for 2109, a job I thoroughly enjoy

 

We said farewell to two of our plot neighbours, who are departing for pastures new in Devon. They left us a lovely note, pushed under the shed door, which we really appreciated. Life will be different without them, and we wish them every happiness in their new venture, and with their new plot too!

To end this year of blogging, here is photo which sums up the unexpected year of weather conditions.. a beautiful sunset from yesterday evening: far from typical at the end of December

Happy New Year to you all. May 2019 bring happiness, health and good growing, wherever you may be. Your continued interest is much appreciated. Thank you!

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

24th December - Is that sleighbells in the distance? In some parts of the world it is already Christmas Day, so I'd best begin by wishing everyone, wherever you may be

A Very Happy Christmas

I always feel proud of our seasonal selection of vegetables for a family meal on Christmas Day, be they gathered from the plot on Christmas Eve, or chosen from what we have in store. We are fortunate to have the space and time to grow enough to provide not only for ourselves, but some to share with others too.

Here is a quick round-up of Harvest Monday:

Our first harvest of Leeks (As they went in a bit late, I was pleased to find sme large enough to dig up) Ptogether with Parsnips, Brussels Sprouts, Red Cabbage, Thyme, Sage, Rosemary and Flat Leaf Parsley, plus of course, Carrots. Do check out the big beast there though, larger than the parsnips (which are quite puny, admittedly): it weighed in at 502g !!!

The boxes and bags of preserves are all packed. That candied orange peel doesn't look quite so prehistoric in nice neat cellophane bags, thank goodness, so I included it after all

One more thing to share before we open a bottle of something nice from our store, and settle down for the evening ... last year we searched high and low for miniature pineapples, to no avail, but this year, in our local supermarket, just look what was by the door!!

(I am banking on neither of our children's families looking at my blog this evening, as surely they will be busy with Christmas stockings and veg prep? If they do, please let them act surprised and delighted when we give them theirs)

And as I doubt if any other readers are going to be reading about seed sorting etc tonight, once again, enjoy Christmas Day, and I'll be back next Monday on the last day on 2018

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

First attempt at candied orange peel.. tried hard, could do better!

17th December -  Getting ready for Christmas! To make the most of the wet days, I set to, and dressed most of the jars that will make up Christmas gifts, as well as attempting some chocolate dipped candied orange peel. OK, this didn't come out as well as it might. but it certainly tastes all right. The next batch will hopefully be much tidier, as I know now not to let the syrup boil down quite so far before taking the strips of peel out to dry. I'll keep you posted on Mark II, hopefully more aesthetically pleasing, especially to the person who thought these looked like chocolate coated pork scratchings!

 

Time also to check out Harvest Monday. The first picking of Brussels Sprouts, just to try them before the 25th, you understand. These are Crispus, which is a fairly early variety, but this year I think they were held back a bit by the Summer drought. Still not a bad size though, and they tasted superb. Crispus is a club root resistant variety, so has a lot going for it: plenty of seeds still left in the packet so I shall be sowing these next season.

The plants are solidly staked, and the soil well firmed, so they should resist wind-rock and carry on producing tight buttons for a while yet. The pigeons sit on the edge of the cage and eye up the juicy-looking top leaves, but the nets keep them off...good!

There have also been the requisite Carrots, which continue to amaze me with their size. Not all of them are oddly-shaped either, but to be honest, once they are cut up, no-one woud ever know anyway. Chinese Red Dragon Radishes are also still on our weekly menu (no photos, sorry) and now that the mice are more under control, their leaves look much healthier. These are quite hardy, so I hope they stand up to a bit of cold weather without any rotting, as there are still plenty left. I am glad they are in the polytunnel, as they certainly wouldn't thrive in the saturated soil outside. We had a couple of sharp frosts this week too, which wouldn't have been helpful.Parsnips are a different matter (again, no photo. it was raining too hard!) They are so much better for a few frosty spells, as the cold helps the convert the starch in their roots to sugars, developing their flavour nicely

Last year I successfully grew some Forsythia from semi-ripe cuttings,* so this September I took cuttings of some other shrubs: Choiysia, Eleagnus (both plain green and golden variegated) white Buddleia and a pink flowered Cistus. These were put into pots of gritty compost and kept in the shade, watering them occasionally but keeping them on the dry side.

These are mainly evergreen shrubs, and you can see here that they seem to still look fresh, so I guess roots have formed. The pots are fairly sheltered, and so won't get too wet where they are during the Winter, being partyl under the covered area. The plan for the future is  to create a border of evergreen flowering shrubs along one of our boundaries, providing more  foraging for insects and cover for birds. It is a way offbeing achieved yet, but they will have space to grow and I don't mind waiting.

*Semi-ripe cuttings have a woody, bark covered bottom end, where the stem joins the main branches, but the top few centimetres of growth are still soft. The best time to take these is between late Summer and mid Autumn.

Woody cuttings, where the whole length has bark on it, can be taken now and planted directly in the ground, about 30 long, with the lower half buried in the soil. These should roots during the Winter and early Spring.. currant and gooseberry cuttings root well like this. Just make sure you plant them the right way up

 

Including a Hebe or two in this new shrub bed will provide flowers into early Winter if the weather is mild. This one here is a short variety, but I do have a Great Orme at home, which will be needing a new home soon....

This week has seen The Return of the Rats. A huge one leaped out of the top of a compost bin when Abi pulled back the plastic cover. Not sure who was more startled, the rat, or him! So it has been out with the bait blocks again, to try to keep numbers as low as possible. The mouse traps in the polytunnel are working a treat, with a current count of 16. They are go to feed the Red Tailed KItes, which circle and glide above our car in anticipation, as we pull up by the gate.

In the garden at home we also have a persistent rodent...a grey squirrel. It munches from the fat sticks, put out for the birds, only a metre from our doorI. t is very athletic, and quite entertaining to watch, but we shall have to rethink where these fat sticks are hung up to make it more difficult for the squirrel and give the birds a chance to enjoy some too

This Friday coming is the Winter Solstice, Mid-Winter's Day.The 21st December marks the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere  and in days of yore a Yule Log was burned on the fire to boost the power of the sun for the day after. The Holly KIng was believed to rule over the world during the Waning year from mid- Summer until Mid-Winter's Day, when the crown passed once again to the young Oak KIng, for the Waxing year. There are many traditions surrounding these two faces of the same life force, coming together to celebrate the birthday of our Sun. Nowadays there are fewer who mark the Solstice in this way, but the turn of the year is surely worth a nod in that direction, even if it mainly involves chocolate log cake and putting holly sprigs up in our houses. A time to celebrate the wonders of a new beginning perhaps?

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 December - It's all about the seeds and juggling skills: Seeds to eat, seeds to share, seeds to save for next year and seeds to buy - not many of those - plus several very necessary but enjoyable juggling acts about now every year

This week seeds have been a very big focus, and so I'll start with Seeds to Eat for Harvest Monday, First to our table are the Drying Beans.

The Runner Beans performed so erratically this year that I gave up checking them over for edible pods, and so ended up with a whole lot of pods hiding in the mass of foliage, all far too tough to eat. I started chopping these up for composting, but then lost interest in that whole Runner Bean event, so just ignored them completely.

When I took down the support sticks, I threw all the huge pods to one side, but as these dried out... look what we ended up with: several meals' worth of beautiful big fat beans!!!  Once dried to total hardness they will be stored in an airtight jar.

We also had a smaller harvest of dried mixed French beans, plus some peas not needed for sowing next season. These will make a tasty substitute for cannelini beans during the Winter.

Before using them, any beans  need to be soaked for 24 hours, then rinsed, and boiled in fresh water for at least 15 minutes. They contain a toxin called Lectin, a glycoprotein, which needs removing to avoid food poisoning. No short cuts with this, please!

 

Other harvests this week include another gigantic Carrot, (one this size is enough for two of us) plus some modest Parsnips. These small roots  were overshadowed all Summer by a border of Calendula, so haven't done especially well, but they were delicious roasted whole

We also had the first picking of our Scarlet Kale, which is really more purple than red so far. Steamed and then served with butter and black pepper, it was a real treat.

So back to main business of this week: Seeds, this time looking at our Seed Saving

Seed from Peas, Beans, Chillies, Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes that I am keen to grow again next year, whave been saved,carefully dried and packed in labelled envelopes ready for sowing. This cuts down on our seed costs significantly, as well as gives enough to share with family and local friends

I have now received all the packaged-up seeds saved by the members of our Seed Circle. Each variety is what is known as "Open Pollinated", whch means they are not hybrids and will grow into exact replicas of their parents. With F1 hybrids, you never know what parental characteristics the next generation might display. 

 

 

Chukka Koorah leaves

Every year the selection sent in amazes me, and this year there are some real gems, including two un-named varieties of pea grown year on year by someone's family in Wiltshire, right back as far as anyone can recall, which is at least into the Georgian era, if not Victorian. This is especially interesting for me, as the ancestors from my Dad's family were in the same area then and so may have even grown these too. Local varieties tended to be shared around then, just as now. Gardeners re gardeners, from whatever era, I reckon

There are also some traditional Indian vegetables, brought to the UK from Andrah Pradesh, including Indian Sorrel (Chukka Koorah).  Pea and bean seeds from a French family, again, grown for generations,  as well as chillies and tomatoes new to me, will be interesting to try too. 

I have saved Malabar Spinach, Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce and Padron Peppers from Barcelona,  to share, which I hope people enjoy growing and eating. The Padrons pickled with Oregano are really good, so perhaps I'll include the recipe 

A wonderful way of trying new vegetables for so little effort, some of which may join our "must have" list in years to come

 

 

And then comes ... Seed Sorting!!

I love this task, as I rediscover forgotten packets of seed. They then all go into the storage tins, organised alphabetically by type, so that any gaps for the coming season are apparent... right now it looks as though all I shall need to buy is another packet of parsnip seed, which is good going.

Then the best bit of all, which I am saving for as a treat for the next dismal day, is the Sowing & Planting Plan for 2019. The sowing is easy of course,  but planning how and where to fit in the resulting plants is a year long juggling act, one which all growers can identify with, I'm sure. Of course there are all the lovely varieties from the Seed Circle to try to fit in as well: another juggling act to look forward to.

 

 

The storage of all our produce, involves still more juggling. At this time in the year I always have a bit of a re-sort, firstly to remind myself what we actually do have, as the preserves all come thick and fast towards the end of the Summer, and secondly to take out jars that will be gifted for Christmas. Our remaining stocks can then be reorganised so we know where everything is. 

Seasonal jar dressing has begun... and then suddenly halted: I ran out of suitable fabric. More has been ordered and I am poised, almost scissors at the ready, so that I can crack on as soon as it arrives. The jars in storage all have temporary labels, as sometimes these get damp out in the garage. Once the gift jars have their bonnets, new labels will be added. They do look good when they are finished, so I shall share a picture once one basket is packed

 

The Bramley apples in store were starting to soften, much earlier than usual, probably due to the continuing mild weather (Some of the potatoes are growing shoots too) so it was time to do something with them before they spoilt.

So it was out with the dehydrator, and lots of apple rings were in their jar 16 hours later. Dipping in acidulated water before putting them on the racks helped them stay a reasonably colour. 

The rest were made into Apple Sauce (Preserves December 18). This is so versatile that I wish I had more than one jarful now. I haven't made it to keep like this before, so I am hoping it will be alright. Once the jar is open it will be stored in the fridge of course

 

While the dehydrator was on, the batch of chillies drying on paper in the kitchen went in, as they seemed to be taking ages. I'd like to pack some up as gifts and they need to be totally dry first. 

They are mainly Serrano and Yukari Bakun, plus some Lemon Drops, which I shall keep. I do still have some chillies growing the in the frost free greenhouse, mainly all red now so we have plenty to pick as needed. 

 

There are several pheasants around on our site at the moment.Two beautiful cock birds, that stroll around the adjoining football pitches as though they are in some way in charge of events, and a bevy of half a dozen hen birds, that can't quite decide if they need to move out of the way of vehicles on our roadway or not. There is plenty for them to eat, with several empty plots around to provide grass seed and fallen fruit, so I am hoping they don't bother with our onion and garlic shoots!

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 December - Winter is here, but someone forgot to tell the weather!! Let's hope that more seasonal conditions soon arrive, as these warm wet days seem abnormal and  quite disconcerting really. It has been a year of extremes so far right through from January, so it would be good to see things return to normal if possible.

Several readers have asked if I could show what the plots look like overall, and how these are organised, so while there is little else to report, it seemed a good time to do this, so I hope you find it interesting.

 

The plots are mainly pretty tidy now, although very, very wet. The last few bulbs have been planted, albeit rather late, but they will still grow away next year, albeit with slightly delayed flowering, and most beds with Winter or Spring crops are reasonably weed-free. Mind you, if this mild weather carries on, they won't stay that way for sure! The bark paths are absolutely sodden and some areas still do need weeding

Now that most of the beds are empty, it is time to assess where repairs to bed edges or other structures might be needed. We have had #146 for seven years now, and there are a few pieces of rotten planking to replace. During the height of the growing season it is impossible to see right across this plot, with the archways covered in climbers and each set of vegetable beds edges with areas to grow flowers. It does have real character, but it is much more difficult to manage than #145.

The original idea was to create three different "rooms" with four vegetable beds around each, joined together by walkways under wooden arches.  We had not considered the need to a storage shed or seating area, so there was a bit of a re-think, giving us two "squares" of four beds and a set of four with three near the seating area and one by the front lavender hedge.

THree sets of four beds make crop rotatation fairly straightforward, and with each bed being 3.6m x 1.2m provide 51.84 sq m of vegetable growing space. There are two large rectangular flower beds by the covered seating area. This paved area is a real suntrap, and protected from the prevailing wind. In the Summer, we have troughs, pots and hanging baskets of flowers to enjoy too

Plot 145 always looks much neater and better organised somehow, whatever the time of year. One of the biggest drawbacks of #146 is that there is only one long straight path there, and other routes are quite convoluted, whilst on #145 the beds are laid out in a grid pattern. Each of the 8 beds is 5m by 1.2m, again making it easy to plan ahead for crop rotation, and there is an overall area of 48 sq m of vegetable growing space. This plot also has the two polytunnels, which are 6m x 3m, with a central path 0.9m long (25.2 sq m of under cover growing space) Their placement offers some protection from the prevailing wind to the outside veg beds on #145, whilst the orientation has the minimum impact on light levels both inside and outside the tunnels

The paths between the beds are bark covered, but at each end of this plot are grassed areas, by the flower beds, which although they take extra work to maintain, they are restful on the eye

Top fruit is grown on both plots, with individually planted apple and pear trees on #146, adjoining the barked orchard areaa on #145.

Soft fruit is planted on #146, occupying a bed 13m by 2m along the boundary with #145, as well as a hedgerow of blackberries, logan berries and tay berries on the opposite boundary with our neighbours. (You can see the hooped tops of the 2m tall fruit cage behind the brassica cage - no nets on at the time in the year) Strawberries are in containers on #145, as I explained last week

Three cubic metre compost bins made from pallets are also on #146, as is our small pond, and both the manure and leaf mould heaps are on the verge between the two top gates. There is also a large coldframe, helpful for hardening off plants before they are set out in the open ground

I shall make time to draw a sketch plan for the two plots to show you next week how it all fits together.

I know many growers only enjoy tending their plots during the period Spring through until Autumn, but ours is definitely a 52 weeks of the year effort, with no clear beginning or end to each season, they just blend one into the next

You can see from the photographs there are plenty of crops growing, some ready to harvest, and some growing on for the Spring or early Summer, and in the protection of the polytunnels  there are others too.

But at home, in our frost free greenhouse, the onion seed for plants to be harvested next August have now germinated. This variety - Globo - performed really well this year, so I am giving them a few weeks' of extra growing so that they may have extra ripening time in 2019. Hard to think these tiny little green elbows could grow into nice big sweet onion bulbs!

Next big job is the seed sorting and audit, then I can finalise the sowing & planting plan to follow on.

I shall be back next Monday, maybe with some festive recipes too

I always value your insightful comments, and respond to any questions, so please either comment directly on this page, or via email

info@alittlebitofsunshine.co.uk

Thank you