Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Last of this year's garden pictures

The garden has kept some colour right up until now - 23 October!  I know I keep boning on about the perrenial wallflower - Bowles Mauve - but you can see why when I show you what it is still doing in the garden and has been since May.

We still have some roses out - this little bush and best of all my favourite pink noisette are still struggling along.

A friend bought me this little gem and it keeps flowering its socks off come what may.

I planted this jasmine late last year and it has galloped up and over the trellis - another year should see it smothered in lovely perfumed flowers and pretty leaves.

Its cousin - another jasmine has put on its autumn colour and looks really nice though it doesn't exactly thrive in that box.

So we are done for this year - roll on the Spring.

As a real finishing touch we had a fantastic rainbow a couple of days ago - a perfect arch and zingy colours....

Monday, 21 October 2013

Veg through the winter

Because I grow for just two people I ALWAYS have stuff left over - everything left over when I prepare for a recipe I simply chuck in a plastic bag and tie a knot in the top and chuck in the freezer - that way you always have a ready chopped bit of green pepper or onion or whatever to hand to add to a chilli or something.  When I seem to have gathered lots of bits and bobs and they need culling this is what I do with them.

It doesn't look very appealing as they are all sizes and still frozen..... to explain.

This is my Dutch oven (you can just see the lid top right) - big enamel pot with lid - in which I always roast my meat.  So, the chicken breast has been carved for a roast dinner and some put to one side (foil and in fridge) for a sandwich.  The legs and wing joints are picked and put in a box for the fridge or freezer, with or without gravy.  They will get used in a soup or stew or pie.

I then pull the frame apart and put it back in the roasting pot, skin and all.  This is where the 'garden' comes in - I chuck in everything I want to get rid of from the freezer - do not worry about quantities, how it is cut or what the mix is I swear it always turns out great.  This mix was spring onions, red onion, yellow onion, celery,  red pepper, green pepper and broad beans. Just about cover it with water.  Lid back on and back in the oven at anything from 160 - 190 depending if I have anything else going on in there.  Ideally on its own at 160 and leave it for as long as you like.  Generally it gets a good four hours with a couple of checks there is still enough water and a couple of stirs to break up the goodies some more.  I sometimes don't even bother to do that if I am busy.  You can just leave it alone while you get on with your day - what could be simpler.  

When its convenient for you, take it out, strain it through a large sieve and you have a fantastic chicken stock.  In the fridge it will set like jelly.  You can then skim the chicken fat off the top and the stock is now good to use or to freeze.  On this occasion it never made it to the freezer I put it in a saucepan, added King Edward spuds, carrots, parsnips, topped up with water, cooked for about half an hour, added in the chicken pickings for about ten minutes to warm through; I then thickened it a little with cornflour and we had a great chicken stew - enough to feed four!!  Can't seem to be able to cook for two!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Lotty to bed

Ken and I went over to check on the chaps who were tidying up the site today.  They are part of the Community Pay Back system and are doing a grand job for us.  Today they were strimming and clearing up the weeds and the saplings which have grown back in during the summer and shifting a load of rubble for the far end of the lotty.  The site looked much better when they'd finished.

I spoke to the chap in charge who said they will be tackling the end of the plot which is full of old carpets and all sorts of rubble beneath the surface.  They are going to get in a digger and clear the land and level it and plant up the wild life area with bushes and plants and bug houses etc.

Ken measured and drew up a plan of the plot and I am going to fiddle around with it to see what we can get in and then offer it up to the others to see if its OK with them.... onwards and upwards!

Garden jobs for October

This is as bit of a pretend as I don't do most of these things because we are not here through the winter but this is one I do try to do in hopes I see it - plant bulbs in a layer in a pot.

- Buy tulips now while they're fresh in garden centres, but hold off planting till next month
- clear away summer bedding and annuals and compost them
- sow sweet peas in pots and keep in cold frame or unheated greenhouse over the winter
- prune tall roses to reduce wind rock
- pot up strawberry runners
- lift last of main-crop potatoes and store in paper or Hessian bags in the dark
- pot up herbs and bring indoors to keep you going through the winter

You will see tips for sowing broad beans and hardy peas for an early crop next year.  I honestly think we are too far North - I have never had success with it.  You might have a nice warm micro-climate in your garden so it may be worth a try.


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Young Gardeners

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered to help try to get some youngsters interested in gardening. The Community Group have a raised bed on the lotty which they could use.  if we actually end up with any interested in doing it for real next Spring we will need more than one bed.

For now this is it.  Ken and I pulled up all the weeds and covered it in cardboard to keep the weeds down for next year.

It looks a bit coffin like as it measure 3 x 8 feet - not much to go at there.

I am trying to set up a growing challenge with prizes throughout the winter - quite tough trying to find something for them to grow.  The one for September was the ubiquitous bean challenge. They also have to record four stages of its growth on a sheet which I have given them which then goes in their folder.  This is my bean after a week!

October's challenge will be a hyacinth in a hyacinth glass if Summerseat 'helps out'.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Putting the lotty to bed

This is the last photo of growing things for this year.  There are still loads of flowers and unripe strawberries on the plants and the rhubarb yielded three pounds of glorious stuff before this shot was taken.  I know I am not supposed to pick it this year but really how can you see three pounds of puddings rot away?

You might notice I have removed the bird netting until next Spring to help preserve it.

This is what the other two beds looked liked when we left.  Covered in cardboard to stop the weeds.

We also laid down down weed suppressing cardboard - aka Ikea boxes - where I want two more beds to go.  Fingers crossed that happens over the winter some time.  I am on a promise.

So, here we go - farewell lotty.  We'll check again next month but then that is pretty much it until next April.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Food again!

I know I recently wrote that this blog wasn't supposed to be about cooking but about gardening..... I know....I know.......... but the two are inextricably linked for me.  The whole purpose of the lotty is to grow stuff to eat!

I am still using up our spuds and have started on the beans we put in the freezer.  Yesterday we had ham (2 lbs weight?) which I roast in the oven for a couple of hours covered for the first one and a half hours and open for the other half hour at 180  degrees.  The point of this post though was to share the spud 'recipe' - more a method really but it is one of my absolute favourites because it is just a case of lobbing it in the oven with something slow roasting like the ham (or any other joint) and bob's your whatnot.

I am sorry the photo is a half attacked dinner but that was the point I decided to share the spud method with you.  Look in the Recipe section at the top under B for Bakehouse potatoes.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Photo albums

I have 58 web albums out there and have just discovered today that the link I have been happily posting here there and everywhere does not take you to them!  Apparently the (not-so) wonderful Picasa web albums doesn't have a single link to 'all albums' which you can pass out to folk - only a single link to each album.  Aaaaarrrggh!  This meant I have to sort out 58 albums between 11 blogs - and, believe me, it is a laborious process.  I have made a start and some blogs, like this one, are sorted.  

The irony is that when you get to a single album all you have to do to access all of them is click on the heading which says 'Marilyn Ormson's Gallery'.

Do as I say not as I do

Here's the list of my jobs for September.... yours will certainly be hugely different but maybe there is a reminder here for you:

Scarify the lawn - this will be the second September I haven't done it - just don't want to
Plant garlic Thermidrome - mmm not sure ...don't really want that amount of garlic
Plant tulips (add bonemeal)
Handful of bonemeal per square yard for the lawn sometime
Plant free daffs (from Summerseat)
Plant new strawberries in Ikea bag keep at the house until next year
Clean out the greenhouse (kill the monster cucumber plant)
Dig up last of potatoes
Pick last strawberries
Probably put the lotty to bed
Probably put outside furniture away
Slug pellet garden and bio slug pellet lotty
Cover lotty beds in cardboard to keep weeds down for next spring
Cover areas in lotty for new beds

Friday, 6 September 2013

Simplest is sometimes best

What we eat through the summer is dictated by what the lotty has produced that day/week.  We had our first rush of tomatoes and it set off a yen for fried - tomatoes - haven't had them in years.  Generous blob of unsalted butter in the pan - in with the tomatoes, some salt, some pepper, small pinch of sugar and go at them with a high heat and keep stirring gently until they are mushed and starting to caramelise.  Just yummy.  

We had them slathered on a half of a part-baked baguette with Tesco Finest chipolata sausages - cooked in the oven - 30 minutes at 190 centigrade.  Too much of everything to make a butty so we had to just pile it on a plate and knife and fork it.  I promise you it was the best lunch/dinner in ages.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Still more goodies to come

on the turn
 A few days ago I got fed up with my greenhouse tomatoes not turning red.  The ones outside, doing battle with all weathers, are much further ahead.  These cosseted greenhouse ones are miles behind.

I knew when we put the greenhouse in it would be light deprived - it is surrounded on three sides by the house wall and two fences but I wanted it to start my seeds in each year.  This year - as I never get ripe tomatoes before we leave for the States I thought the greenhouse was the answer.  However, it would seem that light levels are way more important that warmth and protection from the weather.  So, as I said I turfed them out.  By the next day they had changed and now I can see them beginning to ripen.  Lesson learned for next year.  Start them off in the greenhouse but put them out when they have fruited.

nom, nom, nom
Another brilliant batch of strawberries, so pleased with them this year.  I hope they go on like this for years.  

The spoon is a teaspoon to give you a sense of the size of them.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

I want a new gate

Dudmaston Hall

How about these for a pair of garden gates?  As you can see they are at Dudmaston Hall, Severn Valley, Shropshire.  We were there on the 15th during a week's break, split between Hopton Wafers and Woodhall Spa.

Mind you I suppose those are the back garden gates you have when this is (literally) your back garden.....

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Free greenhouse?

Does anyone have 1500 empty pop bottles?  If so I could do with them..... how about this for the lotty?

Nice simple construction, threaded on canes and staples to a frame.  Trust me it was a great deal warmer inside there so it works, gaps and all.

If you click on this you can see it was made by children from Belton Lane school and is at Belton House.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Microwave Jam

We came up trumps with the strawberries on our last visit to the lottty.  The were very large, very red and delicious.... and .... too many to eat!  Answer?  Microwave Jam.  The recipe is at the top of the blog under Recipes M - R 

It isn't worth making jam the 'proper' way unless you are doing 5 lbs plus of fruit - lot of big kit and longish chore.  I f you have about a lb of fruit as i did this is the way to go. Here's the process for anyone who hasn't done it.

Everything you need.
Kit: something to crush the strawberries, big bowl cup, tablespoon and teaspoon measures, lemon squeezer.  You can use an ordinary cup (not mug) and proper tablespoon and teaspoon and just cut the lemon in half and squeeze it - so no cooking kit necessary.
Ingredients: see recipe -crushed strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, dab of butter in a big bowl.  so you might have to buy a lemon - you need it to set the jam.

15 minutes in microwave and test for set.  Do this by dobbing a bit of jam on a cold saucer or something small - put in fridge when you start so it is very cold, the jam will thicken as it cools and wrinkle a bit when you push it with the spoon.  Mine was set on this first test.

I have a jam funnel to help me get jam into jars tidily.  Not necessary but if you are going to just pour it I'd wait until it cools a bit - jam is at a higher temperature than boiling water so its a burn you don't want.  The funnel makes it easy so in it goes.

One and a bit jars.  I am sure you can do the whole sterilising jars and wax sealing etc and keep the jam for ages, but as this will only last us a couple of weeks at best, I just lob it in the fridge and a few butties, a handful of scones and a Victoria sandwich later it is all gone.

No idea how I get fat!!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Almost harvest home

We took our first trip to the lotty today after a week away.  This is what happens to a courgette in that time.  Pretty good marrow.

This is what happened to the beans.  Absolutely expected I just wanted to see if I could get away with it - the answer is no.  I had grown a brilliant vegetable sail so as soon as a decent wind caught it, down it went.  Some canes had snapped so it was time to say goodbye to the runner beans. 

Next year they'll be grown in a builders bag in their usual tepee shape.  They were useless in a raised bed any way, I had to climb on the bed to pick them - 8 foot canes plus height of box equals waaaaay too tall.

 We have eaten some beans already and given some away and frozen some so with the (approx) 10 lbs Ken picked from these today we have as many beans as we can go at.  I gave away four lots on the way home to help reduce the 'load'.  Obviously I will shortly be known locally as the mad bean woman.

I did have the pleasure of giving two kids and their mom (hanging over one of the fences surrounding the lotty) the biggest strawberries ever as well as beans and the marrow.  It is lovely this growing stuff malarky.

The strawberries have done us proud considering they were moved this year to the lotty.  These have filled quite a big box in the fridge for tomorrow..

Remember I said a couple of weeks ago that I don't faff about with all this layering in the ground or into pots business for new strawberry plants.  I cut off and planted ten runners as I wanted five and, guess what, nine are doing just fine.

This is the box without the beans.  I also pulled up the courgettes - we've had enough of those too and they were crowding out the tomatoes.  I staked and tied up some of the trusses to get them off the ground and put cardboard under the ones that were left.  Not sure that wet cardboard is any better than soil but it is cleaner.  

Most annoyingly (but nicely too) some of these outdoor tomatoes are just turning colour unlike the ones in the greenhouse.  Go figure.

Pulling up the fallen beans means the spinach and dwarf beans that were under them (!) have a shot at doing something before the cool weather hits (maybe).

I am going to cover the beds with cardboard when they are empty in hopes it will help keep the weeds down.  It should compost down through the winter and I'll be able to dig it in next spring.  

This is the first instalment on the potato box.  One sixth of the crop remains for another month maybe.

  We went home with a huge bag of my favourite of the three spuds - the Jersey Royals - which I will transfer to a fabric bag and hang in the garage in hopes they'll keep a while.  I don't want to have to go and dig them up one dinner at a time.

It's back!

Garden is being decimated again like it was in the Spring - maybe spraying with Provado knocked it back for a while.  It is back with a vengeance   It eats almost everything - demolishing flowers before they come out and turning leaves to lace.  Is it earwigs or lily beetle?  Is there a solution?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Table and chairs

Before we went away we took our old table and a couple of chairs over to the lotty.

Table seats six.  The chairs are in the shed as we thought they would be easy to 'remove'.  We'll keep them in the summerhouse when that's sorted.

I have a stack of stuff for my beds stashed in the shed right now but it will be used in the next couple of weeks.  If anyone else want the space - let me know and I'll shift it straight away.

Monday, 19 August 2013

See what a week can bring

I keep saying it but then I keep doing it.....  gardeners can't go on holiday in the summer!

My tomatoes may have crocked it.  I have been away for a week and when I got back they were all tipped over (leaning forwards) from their tray - probably the unsupported weight of the fruit getting bigger.  This meant a lot of stem snapping and no water to the plant as they were no longer in contact with the tray!!!!  This sad picture is wonderful compared to how I found them.  I have gently levered them up, staked and tied and watered them by the time you are looking at this.  So now it is a case of wait and see.  Still not a single red tomato to be seen.  Fed up with 53 degrees north and tomatoes.

The cucumber which was a beautiful sight to behold before we decamped has dried out or baked or something.  The leaves are pale and splotchy, lots of new cucumbers have shrivelled and the ones left clinging on are rock hard and dry looking.

Finally even the outside leaves and radish troughs look pretty miserable.  I would have said I didn't do anything to them but obviously I do because if I am not here this is how they develop.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Gardening and eating

This is a garden blog so I am doing my very best to avoid it becoming ‘all about food’ BUT….

I am going to allow myself one preaching rant about the relationship between growing your own and eating and money.

I get fed up of people who have never had to do it (Jamie Oliver et al) boning on about how ‘poor folk’ should do better.  I can feed two of us for £20 a week (once the cupboard staples are in!) if I had to; and that’s fine if it is for a short while but a 'potato and minced beef' diet gets decidedly tedious if you have a lifetime of it.  Notice it also presumes a back stock of basics.  If you have a very low income – where do these come from?  Anther thing these pundits don’t understand is that people don’t necessarily have a cooker or pots and pans and if (like me way back when) they do have those basics, the next worry is the cost of fuel.  You can’t cook if you don’t have ‘two bob for the meter’.  In circumstances like these, even if you know how to cook, it takes a lot of self discipline to beat the lure of a bag of chips and the hell with it.

That rant aside, I could feed two of us (with variety) for £40 a week.  This becomes even easier if you can grow your own.  Hence my chunnering about food in my garden blog. If you have the tiniest ‘garden’ area you can cram in quite a lot of veg.  Even a few pots on a balcony will do something to help the budget – better still you will get hooked on creating food from seed to plate.  If I hear you screaming who can afford pots and compost if you are that strapped for cash?  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Grow in plastic bags, plastic milk containers (with their tops cut off) anything you can find.  My latest wheeze will be Ikea shopping bags - big ones 40p each and small ones 20p each.  Produce grown from seed will always save loads of money when they come to fruition so try save up a bit here and there for the compost. 

Just this once I decided to share our Sunday, Monday, Tuesday meals with you as they all came from one chicken and GYO.  If you can't face chicken, chicken and chicken three days in a row then just freeze the soup stock for another day.  The leftover cold chicken for the salad (or any other dish) will keep in the fridge for a couple of days

On Sunday we had Spanish Baked Chicken (Pollo Estofado) with potatoes and runner beans, followed by strawberries and cream.  The chicken recipe has a link at the top of the page to the recipe.  It is really lovely, give it a try.

This was followed by the yummiest of huge strawberries from the lotty plus cream.

When I jointed the chicken for the estofado I was left with the back section of the chicken with quite a lot of meat sticking to the frame.  This went in a slow cooker on high with just enough water to cover it and simmered away all evening (three hours?).  You can do this in a casserole (tight lid) in the oven on a low heat or in a saucepan on top of the cooker (but check this now and then to make sure it isn't boiling dry).  Always, always use a chicken frame for stock.  It can be raw like this one or the cooked frame from a roast chicken.  Either way, after straining out the bones and skin and stuff it makes the best base ever for a multitude of things.  The simplest being a chicken soup.

This was our next meal.  No recipe for this just add what you have around - This one had four runner beans (saved from the previous day's batch), four baby carrots, one courgette, one small onion and some (**)celery.  This is all chucked in at the same time.  I also added the sieved jus from the casserole which had a glorious flavour of wine and garlic and herbs.

When making soup a proper recipe will tell you to sweat the vegetables and add them at various stages, believe me 'the chuck it in the pot' approach is just fine.  Bring to the boil, simmer very gently until cooked, add back in the chicken pieces you've pulled from the frame you made the stock with and heat them through.  Serve with crusty bread - this was a part-bake baguette - another freezer staple.  If this is your main meal of the day have a substantial lighter meal later like a cheese and potato (leftovers again) omelette.

Our third meal was a sort of a salad. Bit of a cheat here as I am still having to buy tomatoes - hey ho!

I know it looks odd with sauté potatoes but, honestly, it is lovely.  It was a cool day and I didn't fancy potato salad.  These are done on a fairly high heat with a mix of olive oil and (not salted) butter.  They don't stick, come out crispy and not greasy and with a great taste.

So, for the cost of one chicken and some tomatoes, veg from the lotty and store cupboard items we had main meals for three days.  I rest my case.

PS - you could have got a sandwich out of this too but we reckon three chicken things a week is overload enough. 

(**) My other half hates celery but I think it is vital to most casserole, soups,stuffings, so I employ a crafty ruse.  I buy the occasional celery heart and enjoy the wonderful centre.  All the outer stems get chopped and put in a plastic box in the freezer.  When I want to add it to something I take out the amount I need and while it is still frozen chop it very, very finely.  It is dead easy to do while it is frozen and you can chop it into oblivion - almost literally.  When it cooks down in the dish it totally disappears. 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Repeat sowing - storing seed

I've just come up with this brilliant wheeze.  I repeat sow salad leaves and radishes every couple of weeks all summer long. [and would do under glass in the winter if I was here]

It is fiddly and time-consuming opening the little foil-lined seed packets, pinching out the bit of seed you want, returning the bits you find you actually don't want and then closing the packets back up again neatly to keep the seed safe.  Two small (3" wide) Ikea food boxes sorted that problem.  I now have easy access to the seeds and I can chuck them in a drawer in the kitchen (keep away from the light), ready to go when I want them.  My actual seed box is kept in the garage because the summer house (aka my garden shed) gets too hot so I also had to unlock the garage to retrieve the two packets every time.

The labels are my favourite labelling system for a lot of things - (painters) masking tape.  It is easy to write on, sticks well but comes off easily and cleanly so you can swap labels around without a fuss or great expense.  Indeed the right hand one has already been changed.  I needed to top up both boxes with a fresh packet of seeds so I decided to just buy whatever took my fancy and keep mixing it in with whatever was left in the the box.  My radishes are no longer just English breakfast - they are mixed varieties.  Salad leaves by their very definition are a mixed bag.  When I come back to the leftovers next year, ready to start again, it won't mater if one-year old seed isn't quite as viable as it will have fresh seed amongst it.  It might even help the plants if some doesn't germinate as I am rubbish at sowing thinly.