Kitchen Garden

What’s Growing On In February?

Biting winds, rain, hail and snow showers, we’ve never been so thankful for the occasional glimpse of sunshine to provide some respite. Ooh naughty February! Welcome back to our monthly catch up posts where we show you what’s growing on in our garden smallholding.

The vegetable garden in February still offers fabulous things to eat thanks to a bit of careful planning. By dedicating a whole bed to carrots rather than just a couple of rows for late summer/autumn use, we’re still pulling tasty roots of ‘Autumn King’. Standing well in our soil our garden tends to get rather boggy in winter so this variety really is worth growing. The same can be said for ‘Gladiator’ parsnip, fantastic roots right through to spring.

Another great crop providing nutritious leaves from summer right through to winter is kale. ‘Nero Di Toscana’ will grow in difficult conditions such as a shady spot and poor drainage (trust us, we know!). The flavour improves after a frost and once it finally bolts the flowers can be eaten too.

We’ve just finished picking the last of the Brussels Sprouts and now we’re patiently waiting for spears of beautiful early sprouting broccoli to make an appearance. Early purple sprouting is sown late spring one year and produces from February/March the following year – so you really do need to be patient!

The veg garden in February

Autumn-fruiting raspberry canes got their annual chop this week. Rich carefully tidied around to remove the old leaves and debris being careful not to damage emerging canes, finishing up with a mulch of compost afterwards.

The canes are very spiky – gloves are needed! In just a couple of months the whole bed will be brimming with fresh new growth.

Rather than burning or composting we’ve decided to keep the cut raspberry canes and use them as organic slug and snail deterrents (due to the spikes), laying them on the ground in and around seedlings.

Something has had a go at the broad bean seedlings underneath the cloche tunnels (unlikely to be a pigeon, a mouse perhaps?), a bit of soil disturbance and a couple of seedlings vanished – one is wilting so I guess the seed bean is damaged. This is the first place we’re going to use the canes. I wonder if mice will be that bothered by a few spikes? It’s an experiment so we’ll let you know if it works.

Our chickens were beginning to lay regularly (except for Mrs Broody pants), a couple have now decided to have another moult which means no eggs.

Some of our girls are getting on for retirement, perhaps nearer summer we’ll increase the flock seeing as we have a new coop!

 

Kitchen Garden

Bringing in the Beans

One of my garden jobs this month has been picking beans and bringing them in to shell. We grew 6 different climbing bean varieties this year, each were chosen for their interesting looks, cropping times and versatility. Us Brits usually pick our beans young and small eating them pod and all while tender, but older tough pods can be shelled when the beans inside have actually grown. Used in this way there’s no waste and they can be cooked fresh or dried for storing.

Three of the varieties grown were runner beans; Polestar, The Czar and Greek Gigantes. Runners are usually prolific croppers and so I realise this seems rather a lot for the average size family to keep up with, but we’re after lots of beans for shelling and storing. Once the inevitable happens and the beans become large and stringy, simply open them up and cook the fat beans without their jackets on. Left to dry the shelled beans can be stored for many months and used in hearty autumn and winter dishes. Don’t forget to save some seed for sowing the following year. Scarlet-flowering runners have the most amazing pink and deep purple splashed beans, they almost seem unreal. Such a shame they turn brown when cooked. White-flowering varieties produce white beans, such as The Czar which produces large beans with a butter bean flavour.

A little tip for growing runners, they are vigorous and heavy, particularly so towards the end of the season when laden with all those beans. Growing them on sturdy A-frames will help to avoid toppling over during blustery weather. Cut them all down and bring them inside before the first frosts arrive.

Our old favourite Borlotti made the list again this year, the pink splashed pods glow in the summer sun and the beans inside are just as beautiful. We always allow the beans to dry for storing, they have a slightly sweet yet buttery flavour. I find soaking them in cold water overnight speeds up the cooking process.

Two varieties we’ve never grown before, Cherokee Trail of Tears (small black bean, very striking and looks great in the garden) and Coco Sophie (round white bean) did rather well too. Not quite as heavy cropping as the other beans but plenty for winter use.

Beans are fully dry when the pods turn brown and are dry and crispy to the touch. Bring your beans inside to dry out if the weather is wet and damp for a prolonged period. Store dried beans in jars and containers with airtight lids, somewhere cool and dry such as a larder cupboard.

Uncategorized

Catching Up With 2016

the view from river cottage

Where did 2016 go? It whizzed by!

We had a wonderful Christmas but I find the run up to New Year a little boring. I love family time but I’m not one to sit around for hours/days on end doing nothing, I get the urge to do something other than eat junk and fall asleep in front of the TV watching the obligatory Christmas repeats of Only Fools and Horses.

I decided to review the blog during the quiet moments over the holidays and it quickly dawned on me that I missed some things out during 2016. The Monthly Peek at the Veg Garden posts ended rather abruptly in June (I have no idea why and I’m sorry about that) and in July we went to Beer near Seaton, a delightful fishing village in East Devon with a visit to River Cottage HQ while we were there. It was an amazing holiday and I’m stumped as to why I didn’t blog about it?!

I’m going to amend all of that by sharing photos of the gorgeous Jurassic Coast scenery in Beer and Seaton (I had to really cull the photos down, otherwise this post will never end!) and our memories of River Cottage HQ. I’ve thrown a couple of our garden harvests in too!

There’s a village by the sea, it’s a little piece of heaven and the angels call it Beer …

Beer is a fishing village in East Devon, England. The village faces Lyme Bay and is a little over one mile west of the coastal town of Seaton. If you’d like to know more about this beautiful unspoilt sea village, please do take a look at this informative website: http://www.beer-devon.co.uk/about/

Fishing boats at Beer, Devon
Fishing boats at Beer, Devon
Beach huts at Beer, Devon
Beach huts at Beer, Devon
Seaton Hole twinned with Beer fishing village
Seaton Hole twinned with Beer fishing village
Rock pools
Rock pools
Red cliffs of Seaton
Red cliffs of Seaton
Rock pools Seaton Hole
Rock pools Seaton Hole
Limpets
Limpets
Seaton beach huts
Seaton beach huts
Seaton beach
Seaton beach

Our dining experience visit to River Cottage HQ in Axminster was just amazing. Arriving at 6pm we were transported in groups by tractor and trailer down the famous winding hill to the even more famous white farmhouse. Being a massive fan of River Cottage I did get ridiculously excited as the house grew in size as we got nearer.

Drinks and canapes in the River Cottage yurt
Drinks and canapes in the River Cottage yurt

After getting off the trailer we entered a huge yurt, there we were greeted with delicious canapes and offered shots of a local-made cider, being Kingston Black for our evening. We were then encouraged to explore our surroundings including the River Cottage farmhouse and kitchen garden.

The view from River Cottage
The view from River Cottage
I really didn't want to leave, I coud have sat there all day looking at the gorgeous view of the kitchen garden
Check out my sulk face! I really didn’t want to leave, I could have sat there all day looking at the gorgeous view of the kitchen garden
The River Cottage kitchen, many TV dishes have been cooked here
The famous River Cottage kitchen

river cottage

Dad and Rich discussing cabbages....
Dad and Rich discussing cabbages….
Welcome to the River Cottage kitchen garden
Welcome to the River Cottage kitchen garden

river cottage

We made our way to the barn to be seated for our meal, the seating arrangement encourages you to get to know your fellow diners with many sharing starters (as well as many individual ones) to break the ice. The food was just as delicious as I imagined it to be, fresh seasonal food from the kitchen garden and farm as well as local produce too. The staff were informative and welcoming, the kitchen is left open for you to pop your head round the door to meet the chefs if you wish. The ingredients for each dish were explained, Hugh’s philosophy for fresh home-grown produce, animal welfare and supporting local producers/smallholders/farmers was very evident.

The River Cottage HQ barn
The River Cottage HQ barn
One of the sharing starters
One of the sharing starters
Just one of the many individual starters
Just one of the many individual starters

I can honestly say I’ve never eaten so much in one evening! Vegetarians and vegans are well catered for and if you have any other dietary requirement the staff are only too pleased to help.

Pickled cucmber and nasturtium leaves from the garden
Pickled cucumber and nasturtium leaves from the garden

As we climbed back into the trailer in the dark it was very obvious the awkwardness of being with strangers at the start of the evening had disappeared. Everyone giggled loudly as the bumpy trailer slowly began climbing the hill. Perhaps it was just the wine! My parents, Rich and I all left with full stomachs and wonderful memories

And last but not least, some harvests from the garden at the end of the year. Ta da!

pumpkins and squash

apples in a basket

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Still Finding Charlotte Potatoes

Somehow I managed to miss a few Charlotte potato plants, normally I’ve pulled them all by now. I started digging over the ’empty’ potato bed at the weekend and found dried potato haulms just visible on the surface of the soil and lots of healthy Charlotte potatoes buried beneath – the best yield per plant yet!

I usually find a few rogue potatoes in the empty beds but this is ridiculous! Luckily the weather for this time of year has been beautiful, I’m pretty sure this time last year we were under a blanket of thick snow and ice. Surprisingly, only one potato from this little lot was slug damaged, the others are just asking to be boiled and tossed in butter, perfect for an autumn snack.

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Harvest · Kitchen Garden

September in the Garden Smallholding

I’m pretty sure autumn arrived earlier this year, but now it’s official I have to say it’s my favourite season of all. I recently spent a bit of time in the vegetable garden clearing away debris for composting, generally tidying up and grappling with weeds. Lovely home compost is ready to use now so I shall be digging plenty of that into empty beds as they become available, this will give the soil a really good boost. One job that I’ve been putting off is tidying the greenhouse. I didn’t opt for a concrete base or slabs so I should have put membrane cover down on the floor with gravel on top because now it resembles something like a hot-house from Kew Gardens – the grass and weeds have really done well. I think I’ll leave it through autumn and winter, just in case baby frogs from our wildlife pond have taken up residence.

It’s nearly time for planting the first of the spring garlic, I will probably grow ‘Cristo’ again, I’m really pleased with it so far and it seems to be keeping well too. I’m still deciding whether or not to autumn sow broad beans and peas, although nature has already beaten me to it thanks to some stray pods. There’s still plenty to eat from the vegetable garden including, cabbages, kohl rabi, carrots, beets, squash, autumn raspberries, runner beans, potatoes and huge parsnips although I like them to get a frosting for the best flavour. I planted two large blocks of sweet corn this year, one block went to my allotment and the rest in the garden, by doing this I managed to accidentally extend the picking season. Carrots are proving to be a big hit this year, hardly any carrot fly damage! I grew Flyaway, a variety with a higher resistance to carrot fly. Admittedly, I did wonder if the flavour would be impaired due to breeding but I was pleasantly surprised.

Now is a perfect time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, I haven’t yet but I might pop some more daffodils in simply because I adore them. I highly recommend planting ornamental Allium bulbs, I have ‘Purple Sensation’ and they’re so striking. There are some really large-flowered varieties available if you’re after something extra eye-catching.

How are you getting on at your veg patch or allotment?

Chickens · Fruit Garden · Harvest

August in the Garden Smallholding

August is the time to reap the rewards, a time when the garden really starts to give back what you so carefully and lovingly put into it, providing regular harvests of fresh fruit and veg, packed full of flavour. An array of crops are ready for harvest this month including sweet corn, golden-yellow cobs bursting with sweetness, a flavour so intense to rival any shop bought produce. Pick them and enjoy straight away, I guarantee you will always find the space to grow them year after year.

The fruit garden will spoil you for choice now too, jams, jellies and chutney are just crying out to be made, a great way to use up a glut of vegetables. Add apples or plums to chopped vegetables and make tasty combinations, a reminder for months to come of the wonderful produce your garden/allotment provided. August is a good month to plant a new strawberry patch using well-rooted runners, a great way to gain more strawberries for free. Perpetual strawberries will extend the picking season until the first frosts, sadly they don’t produce runners freely but it’s well worth buying plants to keep you picking strawberries much longer than usual. Autumn fruiting raspberries are kicking in now, big dark red (almost plum colour) berries are a welcome treat. The summer raspberries are still producing but are noticeably coming to an end.

The temperature has dropped quite a bit recently with a distinct autumn ‘nip’ to the air, leaves are beginning to fall from trees that have taken on a rusty autumn appearance already. I certainly think autumn is creeping up on us faster than usual. Even though I’m enjoying late summer flowers, the occasional warm day and mouth-watering fresh food, now is the time that I start to think about what I can plant or sow for the coming months ahead. Garlic can be planted out from October through to winter as long as the ground is workable, as well as autumn peas (under cloches) and broad beans. I’ve decided to sow Meteor, an autumn variety of pea in the greenhouse from October time, field mice are plenty here due to being surrounded by farmland – my peas don’t really stand a chance otherwise.

Our hens have been laying well considering they are quite old, well, in ex battery terms they are, we’ve had a steady supply of lovely eggs since early spring. Each morning for the past week the floor of the coops have been littered with feathers, a sign that moult has begun and laying will decline soon. Poultry spice added daily to the mash or pellet feed is really useful at this time of year, it helps birds get through the moult and gives them a bit of a boost during cold weather.

Don’t forget natures free kitchen cupboard, elderberries are ripe now and can be used for jelly and jam making, we’re lucky to have a free supply growing wild as well as uncultivated blackberries. Enjoy your August garden!

Harvest

Sunday Dinner

Today’s harvest from the vegetable garden to use for our Sunday dinner.

Yummy!

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Potato Harvest

The Charlotte potatoes are ready for lifting, oh how I love the smell of fresh potatoes from the soil. You can’t beat it. I adore the taste of Charlotte, they’re a good size salad potato and you can do pretty much anything with them. The seed potatoes had a pretty hot and dry start during the spring heat wave, a lot of watering had to be done which, I shan’t (is that a real word?) lie, was a total boring chore. They also dodged a late frost too thanks to a covering of cardboard, but I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the resulting tubers – even though the plants are much smaller than previous years.

I think I will make a nice minted potato salad today. Yum!

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

First Spring Harvest

I’ve been pulling radish for the past few days, they’re always a welcome treat and usually straight forward to grow. With prolonged warm weather you can expect to start pulling radish from 3 weeks after sowing, because of their speed of growth they’re a handy gap filler amongst slower growing plants and a great first crop for children to grow. I tried another variety this year called Bright Lights, they’re almost ready to pull and so far I can see a purple, white and yellow one!

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Harvesting Mangetout

I have been harvesting the mangetout recently, a few pods at a time at first but now a good picking session is needed to keep up with them. I love the sweet taste of mangetout. The support frame is bearing up too which is a good job really because the plants are quite heavy now.

I have a second batch just starting to flower, hopefully to extend the picking season. What are you currently harvesting?

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

Carrotastic!

Young Autumn King Carrots

We are harvesting young carrots at the moment and very pleased with the results, no forked or odd shaped carrots to be found. Yet! We are growing Autumn King this year and decided to leave the job of thinning the seedlings until the carrots were a decent size. This way we can munch our way through young tender carrot thinnings whilst leaving the rest in the ground to mature until autumn time. No waste!

How are your carrots coming along, which variety are you growing and do you also eat the thinnings rather than throwing them away?

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

One Potato, Two Potato…

Charlotte Salad Potatoes

We harvested some Charlotte potatoes on Friday, our first potato harvest of the year and wow they were scrummy! We harvested two plants which produced more than enough potatoes to feed a hungry family of four, with some to spare too. This was our first time growing salad potatoes and they have definately earned their plot for next year.

Charlotte Potatoes 2009

The main crop are flowering away nicely, although they got a bit battered and bruised by recent strong winds but they seem to be holding their own. Which varieties are you growing and do you have any favourites? I have been making plenty of potato salad with the Charlotte’s, look out for the simple Karen proof recipe coming soon!

Harvest · Kitchen Garden

First Harvest

radish harvest

Here it is, our very first harvest of the year, well, from seed anyway if you don’t count rhubarb which we have coming out of our ears. Not literally but you know what I mean! Yes its those fab little radishes all grown up, willing and waiting to be devoured. I’m sowing them like crazy now to keep up with the family’s demand!

Harvest

October Harvest

Its not much I know but very satisfying all the same, especially as I did not think we would get any runner beans this year due to my failure to sow them on time, whoops. We hope that this time next year we are harvesting a bit more produce, rather than one big bang all at once in the summer. Planning is the key, this we need to learn and fast.

The hens all layed today, the white egg belongs to Dolly. Lily’s eggs are the deepest brown so again very easy to spot, whatever she produces needs to be thrown away for the time being, which feels awful to do but totally necessary. The chillies are a tad yellow but they do ripen once brought indoors into the warmth. We used one last night and it gave off alot of heat, perfect.