Tag Archives: compost

Getting stronger…

Cherry blossom front garden

Me, and growth in the garden, that is! An unexpectedly warm and sunny week in mid-April is just what the doctor ordered, encouraging me out to ever longer dog walks (dry and less treacherous underfoot, thank goodness) and also spurring the gardens into heavenly spring growth: tulips, daffodils, camellias, magnolias, epimediums, bluebells – all flowering at once…. Stunning!

I took the opportunity of a trip over to my son’s near Sevenoaks at the weekend to visit a garden I’ve always meant to visit: Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, perched on a fabulous vantage point above the A21, overlooking the Kent and Sussex Weald. It didn’t disappoint with intoxicating bluebell walks, stately rhododendrons, magnificent magnolias and fantastic views everywhere you looked. Dogs were allowed (on leads), a rare treat in these days where dogs seemed to be banned outright in many of the classic National Trust gardens. A sorry tale of the few cavalier dog owners spoiling it for the many who do pick up after their dogs and keep them under control in public places. For the odd child who veered away from our three (on their leads, good as gold). there were lots of others who were keen to come and coo and stroke them, especially my daughter-in-law’s working cocker spaniel, Ollie, who basks in all the attention, true therapy dog that he is.

Ollie in coat

Part of the reason I was able to have such a relaxed weekend was that I’d taken the plunge to get a cleaner back in to clean my house, partly because of my accident, but also to free up precious leisure time. I’d also, for the first time ever, paid for help in the garden, to do the heavy jobs I’d struggle to do with a weak, though recovering knee. A very good move: my overgrown lawn is now neatly mown, hard-to-access areas under trees and shrubs weeded, garden compost distributed around the hungry beds and my potatoes (Ulster Sceptre, Colleen and Bonnie) duly planted at the allotment. Such a relief!

On a side note, Ulster Sceptre is a variety I trialled from T&M some years ago and absolutely loved. I haven’t been able to find them since, but tracked them down to a grower in Yorkshire this year, only to see them described as the variety often grown as early Cheshires – no wonder I loved them, if they are the new potato taste of my childhood!

This left me free to spend a lovely afternoon just pottering on Sunday. I sowed more seeds in the propagator as others germinate and are moved out onto the conservatory windowsill: sweetcorn Ambrosia, courgette Defender and squash Crown Prince (from my own seeds saved from last year) and Early Butternut. Oh, and I’ve tried more celeriac this year (Monarch), having enjoyed it so much in cooking last year: so good with venison. It’s always been a martyr to slug damage whenever I’ve tried it before, but we’ll see…

I also got around to potting up my dahlia tubers, to get them going in the protected environment of my growframe before they go out in the open. Somehow or other I must have gone crazy at dahlia ordering time and have ended up with 10 new varieties! Six from Sarah Raven: purple Ripples, Shooting Star (cream tinged with mauve), Genova (mauve), Snowstorm (white of  course), Wizard of Oz (baby pink) and Daisy Duke (copper). The cream and purple shades are admittedly geared to my younger son’s July wedding, when it would be nice to have at least some blooms to accompany their lavender theme – weather permitting! I have bought a new raised bed kit to be dedicated to cutting flowers, but need help to install it: one for my gardener’s list, I think.

I had also succumbed to a Gardener’s World/Thompson & Morgan dahlia offer: four tubers for the cost of postage; who could resist?! These included Arabian Night, a deep red black cactus variety I’ve had before and loved – and since my favourite dark dahlia Rip City finally disappeared last year, this was an ideal chance to re-introduce that burgundy shade. The others were My Love (cream), Orfeo (another deep red) and Mingus Toni (speckled rose). I’m sure I’ll manage to shoehorn them all in somewhere… It may even be that some of last year’s, all left in the ground to overwinter as usual, haven’t survived the very cold temperatures we had earlier this year. Time will tell.

TM dahlia offer

Most of the tuberous begonias I’d overwintered in the shed had perished in the extremely cold temperatures, but two of my monster tubers still feel quite solid and have been duly potted up. I’ve had them all for a good couple of years, so they owe me nothing; we’ll see if they shoot, and if not, I’ll start again with fresh plants and new varieties. Such is the joy of gardening 🙂

My final task of the weekend, still from a gentle sitting position with my potting tray moved to my garden table, involved pricking out the fibrous begonia seedlings my parents had brought over the previous weekend from Dove’s Barn, a nursery near them in East Grinstead, always very reasonably-priced for a wide range of seedlings and young plants. These are very tricky to grow from seed yourself unless you have a heated greenhouse, so I usually buy them at the tiny seedling stage and prick them out myself. These were one stage further on as mini plug plants, but it’s still a lot cheaper to buy them like this than to buy trays of garden-ready plants in a month or so’s time. And while it may seem unadventurous to always have begonias in my garden tubs, I know from experience that these are such good doers: come sun or rain, slug epidemic or drought, these do well whatever the season throws at them.

Bluebells at Tapsells April 2018

 

 

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The last of the apples from storage…

Party Frock

One of the things that amazes me most about writing this blog is how often I come to write about my gardening activities, only to find that it was exactly the same weekend the previous year I did the same jobs! Certainly not by design; I don’t have a gardening calendar I slavishly refer to, or follow any particular rules. I can only think that after 30 odd years of gardening, seasonal chores become deeply engrained and automatically come to the top of your brain at the appropriate time!

Last weekend was the turn of spreading my home-made garden compost around the beds, targeting those plants that needed it most and particularly any new plantings or extended beds. Yet again I’ve been nibbling away at the lawn in the front garden, so the newly extended bed in front of my house windows was one of the main beneficiaries, as well as receiving the contents of my tomato and pepper pots last autumn to loosen up my sticky clay soil. I also managed to mow the front lawns after a couple of weeks of dry weather – unheard of in March, but I was glad I did as it rained mid-week – cue very smug sensation!

Double white hellebore Hellebores in compost

Sorting out the compost bins caused me to check on the last of the overwintered apples hanging up in the garage and, sure enough, a good number were starting to show signs of brown rot. I threw the offenders into the newly emptied compost bin, in the knowledge that they have a good two years before being used as compost, and brought the remaining few in to use up this week. These were the last of the Bramley cooking apples and still deliciously flavoursome, although much mellower and sweeter than when freshly picked. I used them in a number of ways: for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in fact, although not all on the same day! Breakfast saw them grated into a scrumptious Bircher Muesli, one of my all-time favourite breakfasts, and so easy to prepare the night before you want it. Lunch saw them transformed in a hurry (no-bread-to-accompany-my-lunchtime-soup panic!) into cheese & apple scones, and dinner incorporated them in Apple & Almond Pudding, a Delia classic I’ve been making for years. Not bad to still be eating your own harvest six months after picking (and apple purée still in the freezer, of course!).

Bircher Muesli

Bircher muesli

100g porridge oats

150ml apple juice

4 tbsp natural yogurt

1 tbsp flaked almonds

3 tbsp sultanas

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 apple, grated

Squeeze of lemon juice

Handful of blueberries

1 banana, sliced

Mix together the oats, apple juice, yogurt, flaked almonds and sultanas. Add a generous grating of fresh nutmeg, stir, cover and chill overnight in the fridge. In the morning, peel and grate the apple, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to prevent oxidation, and stir into the oat mixture with the blueberries. Add the banana and serve. This should serve at least two hungry people – however, if I’m just doing it for me, I find it makes at least four servings!

Cheese & Apple Scones

Cheese and apple scones

300g self-raising flour, sifted

½ tsp baking powder

75g butter, chilled and diced

125g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 apple, grated

1 large egg

About 100ml milk

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6, and grease a large baking sheet.

Rub the diced butter into the sifted flour and baking powder until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir 75g of the grated cheese, thyme and apple into the mixture. Break the egg into a measuring jug and add enough milk to make up to the 150ml mark. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and bring gently together with your hands until a soft dough forms. You may not need all the mixture depending on the juiciness of your apple, so add the last part carefully! Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and pat out gently, then roll until 2cm thick. Cut out 12-15 scones with a 6cm cutter, then space well apart on the greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining milk mixture and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 mins until well-risen and golden.

Serve with butter as an accompaniment to soup or as part of a ploughman’s lunch – delicious!

Baked Apple & Almond Pudding

serves 4-6

2 large cooking apples, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp demerara sugar (or to taste)

125g butter

125g caster sugar

2 large eggs, beaten

125g ground almonds

Pre-heat oven to 160°C (fan), Gas 4. Grease a shallow round or oval dish, about 1-litre capacity.

Cook the apples gently in the serving dish in the microwave for 4 – 5 minutes with 1 tbsp water and the sugar until soft. (Or stew gently in a pan if you prefer – they should retain their shape, not reduce to a purée.)

Cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl until light and fluffy, then gradually add the beaten eggs. Fold in the ground almonds. Transfer this mixture onto the cooked apples and cover the fruit as much as possible. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes – 1 hour until golden brown.

Serve warm with cream or crème fraiche.

This recipe is from Delia Smith’s original Complete Cookery Course, one of my kitchen bibles, and is perfect for gluten-free guests too.

That old black magic

A very enjoyable afternoon down at the allotment today after missing out last weekend due to gardening duties at home! Hard to know which to favour, but I figure that I see the home garden more (especially from my study window whilst I’m working), so I do like it to look nice.
Last weekend’s job was to distribute the compost around the plants that needed it the most – there’s never enough to go round everything, small garden or not! I have two of those “Dalek” compost bins hidden away behind my garage and work on a rotational basis: one is filled whilst the other rots down for a year, then in early Spring I empty the well-rotted bin and start again. I also have a couple of smaller overflow bins close to the back door (one an old wormery, the other a 50 l plastic container I used to use for recycling before the council decided to collect all our recyclable waste in a separate wheelie bin). It’s quite a trek to the garage on the opposite side of my driveway, so it’s handy to be able to empty the compost into the closer bins on a daily basis, then I tip these into the bigger bins periodically – trying not to leave it too long as they get VERY heavy. Both of them have drainage holes, which helps, and I suppose it serves the additional purpose of rotating the compost when it’s tipped out. It amazes me how much compostable stuff you accrue in the kitchen each day – I have one of those plastic cutlery drainers (without the dividers) in my half-sink, which I means I can empty my teapot (loose-leaf tea) straight into there, and of course all the peelings and vegetable waste, flower stalks, etc. Mine must get emptied at least once a day, more in summer or if I’m making juice. You can get those neat little crock pots with charcoal filters from places like Lakeland, but that wouldn’t be any use for draining tea – and mine is emptied so often that smells aren’t an issue.
In my previous 2-acre garden, I had two massive compost bays each the size of a small car, and the compost was to die for as it had been accumulating for so many years – helped by the vast expanse of lawn to mow with the ride-on mower and resulting grass clippings! My boys were young teenagers at the time and took great pleasure in mowing the lawn (perhaps that’s why they both passed their driving test first time?!) on the tractor mower, with the ability to turn it on a sixpence – unlike their mother…. Needless to say, one of the few things I took with me when leaving that garden was several bags of rich, crumbly compost to start the blank canvas that was to become my current garden.
I have two small compost bays made from pallets down at the allotments, again working on the rotational basis, but now sadly in need of repair as they’ve been there 7 or 8 years. Another plotholder (and fellow dance class attendee!) has kindly let me have a few spare pallets and suggested cable ties to attach them together, rather than nails. That will have to be next weekend’s job now, as it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, but I look forward to seeing whether that works.
The main beneficiaries of the resulting black magic tend to be any new plants/shrubs and anywhere I’ve created new beds and our sticky Wadhurst clay is still to the fore. You can sometimes see little brandling worms in the compost when you dig it out and I swear you can hear the plants sighing with pleasure as you spread it around. It certainly looks fabulous to see all those new spring shoots surrounded by dark crumbly compost. A very satisfying – if exhausting – task!
It had been my intention to go down to the allotment after finishing mid-afternoon, but an unexpected and nonetheless welcome invitation to afternoon tea put paid to that, so I ended up dashing down in the twilight to harvest some leeks and purple-sprouting broccoli for dinner. One of the things I love most about growing my own is the challenge of returning with delicious produce and deciding what to cook: this was the result last Sunday – so simple, yet absolutely scrumptious. The simplest things often are the best….

Image
Pasta with broccoli and anchovy sauce
Serves 2
6oz pasta – I used linguine, but suit yourself
8oz purple-sprouting broccoli
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sultanas
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
½ tin anchovies, chopped
1oz pine kernels
Salt and black pepper
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, finely grated to serve

Soak the sultanas in boiling water. Microwave or steam the broccoli for 3-4 mins until tender – if using calabrese rather than the finer purple-sprouting broccoli, you might want to chop this into smaller florets and any thick stems into round chunks first. Drain and set aside.
Cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, add the anchovies, drained sultanas, pine kernels and broccoli, stir gently, then cook gently for about 10 mins to allow the flavours to infuse. Meanwhile cook the pasta as normal, then add to the frying pan, season and serve with the grated cheese.

So flavoursome, yet with such simple ingredients – enjoy!