I suppose it was inevitable that one of the recent run of bank holidays would revert to form and be wet and miserable – unfortunate that it was this particular day when I had great plans for getting down to the allotment and planting out a whole host of young vegetables. Hey ho! Such is life.. and though a day at the computer wasn’t quite what I’d planned, I can at least be relieved that I mowed the lawn at home yesterday and trimmed the edges, plus finished off planting up all my pots with summer bedding. I also managed to plant out my tomato seedlings – old favourites Sungold and Gardener’s Delight for the tastiest cherry tomatoes and Tigerella, a stripy medium-sized fruit which is new to me this year – in their final resting places, six in tall pots lined up against the sunny back wall of the house and three in the growframe for added protection. So it’s been quite a fruitful weekend really.
This is such a busy time of year, with all the young plants brought on in the conservatory or growframe at home desperate to get out in the big wide world of the allotment. I’ve got squash (Sprinter) and sweetcorn (Lark) with their roots escaping from their pots in their eagerness to expand their horizons. There are a couple of courgettes and cucumbers in the same boat, although germination was patchy for both of these this year. Two cucumbers is ample, in any event, but I’d rather have four courgettes than two – especially when I planted 8 seeds! A friend has come to the rescue with a couple of round courgette seedlings – and no doubt I shall look back and smile when faced with the inevitable glut later in the year…
I’d hoped to finally plant my runner bean and climbing French bean seeds too; I used to start these off inside, but several years of having them whipped to shreds by strong winds or decimated by slugs soon after planting out in early June made me realise it was better to sow the seeds straight out in the open at this time of year. More salad/herb seeds are also due to go in – the coriander I planted earlier has been munched to non-existence by those dratted slugs, despite the nematodes, although the dill and lettuce are fine.
As the rain beats a refrain on the conservatory roof, I certainly won’t be getting anything of note done outside today! I will, however, walk my long-suffering hounds down to the allotment and bring back yet more asparagus for dinner, and possibly some baby broad beans too. I picked my first beans the other day, just the size of a fingernail when podded – delicious in a prawn, asparagus, mint and fennel cream sauce with pasta. And despite the arrival of asparagus beetle, a pest I’ve never come across before in the 6 or so years I’ve had the asparagus bed, the asparagus has been ridiculously prolific this year. I’ve taken to scrutinising the plants at close quarters when I go down and gleefully crushing any beetles I find: they look at first glance like little harlequin ladybirds in Burberry overcoats, but when you look closer you realise they’re longer and thinner, not unlike a lily beetle – and with the same irritating habit of landing (invisibly) upside down if you knock them off inadvertently. The eggs are like little dark thorns sticking out of the foliage, and I’ve been squishing those too. As an organic gardener, I’m loath to spray, but this method, while laborious, does seem to be controlling the problem – if it’s not one thing, it’s something else!
Beetles, slugs and weather notwithstanding, here’s a suggestion for using up some asparagus – should you be lucky enough to have a glut!
Asparagus, Yellow Pepper & Onion Tart
1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
Bunch of asparagus
1 yellow pepper
Bunch of mint
Bunch of fennel
2 tbsp crème fraiche
Olive oil to drizzle
Roll out the pastry to the size of your baking tray. I used half one of those frozen packs of pastry (375g, I think) and rolled out to double the size, so it was nice and thin. Cut a fine line, not quite going through to the base about 1 cm in all around the edge.
Caramelise your onion until soft and golden, then add the yellow pepper, sliced. Mix the beaten egg and 2 tbsp crème fraiche in a small bowl, then spread over the pastry base. Scatter the cooked onion and pepper mixture over the base and carefully place the trimmed asparagus stems on top. Season and scatter with chopped herbs. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in a hot oven, 200°C fan or Gas 6 for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is golden brown.
Serve with salad.