Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Vegetable art

I enjoy making my harvests look good, and presenting them nicely. I don't produce a lot of anything, and I feel that some good photographs can help to compensate for this! Here are some photos of my harvest from a couple of days ago. See what you make of them...

This is the sort of harvest I like best - a mixture of lots of different vegetables.

What do you think of this double-headed beetroot? I've never seen one like that before.

My style of gardening doesn't involve growing vast quantities of any particular crop. Instead I like to have just one or two of several things. There are some exceptions: this year I had 26 pots of potatoes, though I deliberately chose many different varieties so that they would mature over a long period. I also usually grow more Runner Beans and Tomatoes than we can consume fresh, so some of those get preserved - either by making into sauce (tomatoes), or freezing (beans).

This is the sort of basketful of goodies with which you could tempt a novice gardener to have a go at growing veg, surely?

The baskets I use for posing the photos come from our local charity shops, and seldom cost more than a pound, but I think they add a certain attraction to the photos, don't you? This big shallow one is especially good because it allows me to spread things out so that everything is visible.

Someone suggested recently that I should go into business selling photos like these printed onto canvas and framed. Do you think people would like something like that hanging in their kitchen? And more to the point, would they buy it?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Harvest Monday - 1st Sept 2014

Over the Bank Holiday weekend and the early part of last week, we had really atrocious weather. Prolonged heavy rain, and temperatures much colder than normal for this time of year. We had a night-time temperature of 3.7C one day last week! Autumn has come early this year, it seems.

Despite all this, I have continued to harvest salads, even though it feels as if I should be harvesting Leeks, Swedes and Brussels Sprouts:

The tomato harvest this year has been slim (you already know why, I'm sure), but the Lettuces keep on coming, as do the Cucumbers.

As you can see, I also picked two Radishes. Well, I know that doesn't seem too impressive, but for me it's a significant victory, because they were grown in a pot. In the past I have had little success with growing Radishes in pots. They generally bolt before bulbing-up. This time it looks as if most of them might (might) be OK. Let's hope those first two are a sign of things to come.

I had to pick some of the tomatoes before they were ripe, because they had split after the heavy rain. I felt that it would be better to bring them indoors and try to ripen them in slightly warmer conditions. This one is a "Noire Charbonneuse" beefsteak, grown from seeds sent to me by my friend Eddy in Belgium. When ripe (as I hope it will eventually be), it should be a deep brownish red.

The "Autumn Bliss" raspberries are trickling in again. Never enough of them, but individually mostly  nice specimens, although a few of them have been attacked by the Raspberry Beetle, which leaves them with dry brown patches. This batch was only about 100g.

This batch was a bit more like it - 270g.

"Autumn Bliss"

I picked what will probably be the last significant lot of Blueberries, since there are only a few berries left on the plants now. This lot was 420g.

On the day when I picked that last batch of Raspberries, I also picked some Runner Beans, a Radicchio and a "Predzvest" Cabbage.

The Cabbage was not a brilliant specimen. It hadn't really formed much of a heart, but it was beginning to go tall and lanky (shielded from the light by a bigger sibling), so it had to come out. The Radicchio ("Palla Rossa di Chioggia") was a decent one though. Its crunchy texture will make a nice change from Lettuce in our salads.

And then there were the Leeks... Ta dah!!

I'm very pleased to have been able to produce those. I know it's not a big achievement, but it does feel good when you manage to grow something that you have not grown before, and they turn out right!

This is my entry for Harvest Monday, hosted as ever by Daphne's Dandelions, so pop over now and see what everyone else has been up to...

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Prolonging the harvest season

I wrote yesterday about the early advent of Autumn this year, but today I want to demonstrate that the harvest season is by no means over, and in fact a new phase of it is beginning.

This year I planted my Radicchio a bit earlier than I usually do, so that the plants had more opportunity to get big before the return of cold conditions. It's as well that I did so, with August being such a poor month in terms of the weather. When a head of Radicchio is ready for harvesting it sort of "bursts". The green outer leaves roll back, often dying in the process, and going brown and soft, to reveal the crisp red-and-white inner core of the vegetable. This one looks like a real beauty.

My Cucumber plants are evidently tired after a good run, but there are still a few fruits developing:

"Iznik F1"

I only have four pots of potatoes left now (out of an original 26). They are all "Pink Fir Apple". The foliage is yellowing, and developing brown speckles, which tells me that they ought to OK to harvest, but in view of the modest yield I got from the first one of these, I think I will leave the others for a little longer.

Many of my chilli plants have produced ripe fruit by now, even this "Red Habanero" one which was so badly damaged by hail back in the Spring.

"Ohnivec" has been the best performer in terms of the size of the harvest. It has very decorative fruits, which go through a range of colours in their ripening process. (Not to mention a range of physical contortions!)

I am experimenting with Leeks this year. I have only ever grown them once before, many years ago, and they were a dismal failure, but this time they look much better. I had planned for these to be part of my Late Autumn / Early Winter harvest, but I think some of them are about big enough to harvest already. I expect they will get bigger if I leave them a while, but I'm anxious to dig up one or two just to see what they are like. A couple of them have already bolted, and although I have cut off their flower-heads I expect they will be a bit tough. I want to be able to eat some of them before they all go that way.


I have four Swede turnips on the go, of which two are looking fairly respectable:

Hopefully these really will wait until late Autumn before maturing! Two of them, incidentally, show no sign at all of producing a swollen root or bulb. Maybe they are just late starters...

The "Cobra" climbing French Beans are having a bit of a late rally. Several new flowers have appeared, so if the weather over the next couple of weeks is anything like decent I will probably get a few more pods.


There are even a few tomatoes still to come. This one looks OK, doesn't it? This particular fruit is on one of the lower trusses of its plant, which were the least affected by the compost contamination problem.


These, on the other hand, are on the secondary growth produced as a result of allowing the sideshoots to develop instead of pinching them out as I normally would.


They are a strange shape, and still firmly green, but with a bit of luck (sunshine, I mean), they should make it to maturity eventually.

So, do you see what I mean? The weather has definitely turned, but the harvest still go on.

P.S. I dug up two Leeks. Couldn't resist the temptation!

I am very happy with those.  And wow, did they smell strong when I dug them up! The whole house smelled oniony when I brought them indoors.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Autumn already!

Autumn in August? Surely not! But yes, it does seem that Autumn has arrived already. Although the weather forecast for the next few days looks a little more encouraging than of late, it is still not what we would normally expect in late August and early September.

The garden already looks Autumn-ey. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I like the fact that the garden changes with the seasons. The rich red, yellows and golds of Autumn foliage is particularly attractive, but they are not with us yet. At present we just have that sort of faded, tired look that plants get at the end of their productive life. Here is a little selection of photos that illustrate what I mean:










French Bean "Cobra"

After a stint this week working in London, with no opportunity for dead-heading or other garden chores, I think the weekend will be devoted mainly to an all-round tidy-up operation.  

Friday, 29 August 2014

Kofte with bulgur

This is my interpretation of a classic Middle Eastern (Turkish?) dish. I don't claim that it is authentic, but it is certainly nice!

With our weather here having turned very cold (down to 3.7C one night!), our thoughts have turned to Winter-style food; stuff that will warm you up on a chilly evening. In the past we have had a couple of very pleasant holidays in Turkey, and enjoyed the food we had there, and I'm sure this was in the back of my mind when I was deciding what to cook.

My version of kofte (aka meatballs) involves minced Lamb, seasoned with ground cinnamon, allspice, coriander and cumin, along with some dried oregano, some cumin seeds and a sprinkle of dried chilli flakes. To give the meatballs a softer texture and to help them stay together when cooking I added two slices of white bread (crusts removed), softened in milk. Using my hands to ensure that everything was well mixed, I shaped the mixture into balls about the size of an rather flattened golf ball:

I covered them in clingfilm and then put them in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm-up.

Later on, about two hours before dinner-time, I started the rest of the dish. First stage was to soften a couple of sliced onions in some vegetable oil in a large casserole. Then I added about a litre of home-made chicken stock and a pile (about 300g) of home-grown baby carrots:

Adding a little salt and pepper, I covered the casserole and put it into a low oven (about 140C), while I browned the meatballs.

At this stage I wanted the kofte to be browned but not cooked all the way through, so I gave them a minute or so each in really hot oil in a deep pan (I used our ceramic wok).

Notice that I only did a few at a time, to avoid crowding the pan, which would reduce the temperature too much. As they were done, I lifted them out and set them aside on a plate.

When they were all ready, I arranged them in the casserole, on top of the carrots and onions, and returned the whole thing to the oven, where they simmered away for the next hour and a half.

With about half an hour to go I removed the casserole lid to allow the gravy to reduce a bit and thicken. This is a very forgiving dish, and a few minutes either way would not be critical!

Meanwhile I made up some bulgur (cracked wheat). This is incredibly simple to do! I softened another finely-chopped onion in a deep pan until translucent, then added a measured quantity of chicken stock, brought it to the boil and added the bulgur. You have to follow the manufacturer's instructions on quantities, because they are not always the same. Mine had one and three quarters cups of stock to one cup of bulgur (to feed two people). When the stock returns to the boil, cover the pan and let it simmer very gently until the bulgur soaks up the stock (approx. 20 mins).

Finally, fluff it up with a fork. You can add embellishments such as raisins, pistachios or chopped parsley if you like, but I left mine plain. The taste was predominantly of the home-made chicken stock, which was deeply rich and flavoursome.

The final flourish, just before serving, was to add to the kofte dish a generous sprinkling of snipped chives, to give it some colour. Normally I would most likely have added chopped parsley, but I didn't have any parsley, and anyway, as Jane pointed out, the chives nicely complemented the oniony flavour of the broth.

I was very pleased with the level of spicing in the meatballs. This is something you learn to judge for yourself, and I think I got it just right this time. People like different levels of spicing, and it is not really appropriate to dictate to other people how much of each spice (and indeed, which spice) they should add. And anyway, the level of flavour depends on things like the freshness of the spices themselves, so "half a teaspoon" can be a meaningless term.

I served the meal with some salad accompaniments - sliced red radishes, crunchy Cos / Romaine lettuce and home-grown tomatoes covered with torn fresh Mint and sliced Spring Onions:

I don't have a photo of the plated-up dish to offer you. You just have to imagine it: take a portion of bulgur into your bowl; add a few of the kofte; add a few of the carrots; pour over the whole lot a few spoonfuls of the savoury broth; dig in...  Heaven!

This is what we call Comfort Food - unsophisticated, but very warming and tasty!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Are these failures?

Regular readers will know that I have had a good year for potatoes. The quality has been the best ever, and the yield has been respectable too. I don't keep detailed records of such things, so I can't say exactly how the yield compares with previous years; I just know that I have been very satisfied with what I have got - up till now. In this context then, maybe the following batch of Pink Fir Apple must be seen as a failure...

Those six tubers (Yes, I know it looks like seven, but one of them has two bits, joined at a right-angle) are the total yield from one plant, grown in one of my big pots. I must confess that I am disappointed. I had hoped for more. It's not even as if I have been impatient and harvested too soon, because apart from those tubers in my photo there were only two other really minuscule ones, so I don't think that waiting another couple of weeks would have made any perceptible difference. Normally when I harvest potatoes I expect to see tubers of several different sizes, but this plant had only these few.

After washing the potatoes I weighed them. They came in at a meagre 281 grams:

Still, they are quite good-looking potatoes again. Not particularly pink, considering their name, and with one exception, not particularly knobbly by the standards of this variety, but nice nonetheless.

Now what about the Carrots? Whilst the ones grown in my big Woodblocx raised bed are good (by my standards), the "finger" carrots grown (as I have done several times before) in black plastic tubs in a raised wooden planter, have been pathetically bad this year:

These carrots are small and very "hirstute" this year - they are covered in a mass of hairy roots.

These carrots are useable, and I'm sure they will be tasty enough, but they will need a huge amount of effort to make them fit for consumption. I know from my experience with a previous batch that I will need to scrape them with a knife: scrubbing will not be enough. Scraping about 50 tiny carrots will take ages!

So is that a failure? I think the answer is probably "Yes". I spent money on the compost (which was almost certainly the reason why the carrots were poor); I spent time on sowing the seeds, protecting them from Carrot Root Fly, and watering them. I even spent about a quarter of an hour picking through the compost to find anything that might be worth saving. And what do I get? Enough carrots for a small helping for two people. They had better taste nice!!!

P.S. Since drafting this post, we have eaten both the carrots and the PFA potatoes - both very tasty! I have to say that PFA beats all the other spuds I have grown, Hands Down, when it comes to taste and texture. I have to work on maximising the yield now...