Monthly Archives: September 2011

Cooking the Bounty

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IMG_1925I have mostly been blogging about growing the vegetables so I thought I should write something about eating them too! Recently we have been reaping the fruits of our labours and finally getting a regular supply of food from the garden. Since the courgettes started in August we have had either courgette, French beans or tomatoes every few days and it has been great! We have also eaten pea shoots from our living room windowsill both raw and fried. Recently our radish crop ripened so I made up a salad using radish and tomatoes from our garden and mixed them up with some cooked green lentils, salad onions, coriander and home made dressing. Simple!

Emma

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Compost Power

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IMG_1954There are lots of good reasons to compost. It reduces food waste in the dump, reduces our dependence on shop bought compost, enriches the soil, saves money… Honestly though, the main reason we feel the need to compost is because it is incredibly awkward and time consuming for us to buy compost without a car. So we have decided to make our own.

Once we decided to make compost I started doing research on how exactly compost is made. Well, again, it is really easy. I read everywhere that you just slap together some old palettes or timber planks, start throwing your waste in and hey presto the worms crawl up and break it down. Except, we don’t have any soil, we want to compost on our roof terrace.

I really couldn’t find much info about composting on roof terraces with no worms and after deciding against going for a wormery or bokashi bin the decision was made to buy a plastic tub and experiment. So that is what we did. Three weeks ago we bought a big blue plastic bin from Tesco for a few quid (less than a fiver). We immediately started collecting all our uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. Also going into the tub are tea bags, coffee grounds, raw egg shells, unprinted paper and cardboard and garden waste. That is all. We don’t want to take any chances on the compost becoming smelly as we have neighbours very close, so no oils, fats, cooked food etc.

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This picture is our pile after only two weeks. The first thing which amazes me is how much we have accumulated in only two weeks. The pile has definitely been bulked up by my recent pruning of the tomato plants, but I think the fact we cook most our own meals is also a big factor. The second thing which came as surprise is that the pile has started breaking down immediately. Ok so it doesn’t look like something we could plant our seedlings into just yet, but it has only been a few weeks. I have a lot of hope for it. The only slight problem is that we are using a plastic bin and it is covered with a plastic bin bag as a lid. I think this is making the pile sweat a little bit and there is some mould. I looked it up and apparently mould is not necessarily a problem. But I would still prefer to keep it to a minimum. So the pile has been turned and I will make an effort to air it out regularly and try to reduce the mould.

Here’s hoping that by next spring we will have some lovely, black, crumbly compost ready to refill our pots and get next years new crops off to a good start.

Emma

Christmas Potatoes

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As mentioned I planted some seed potatoes two weeks ago. On Thursday evening I saw the first little leaves sprouting from them and by yesterday they had all sprouted.

I dutifully piled more compost on top of the sprouts as I have read this might encourage them to sprout more roots and therefore more potatoes down the line. I could hardly believe it when two of the sprouts had come through again by this morning!

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I have just done some more reading about earthing up potatoes and realised that I have the whole thing wrong. Damn it! It seems I was not supposed to bury them immediately but wait until they were quite big and then add more soil. Woops! I hope they recover ok.

As the only seed potatoes I could find online to buy were charlotte I decided to wait a couple of weeks between planting them all. Charlotte are tasty and small salad potatoes but I don’t think they will keep very long once they are ready. It would be a big shame to get a few kilos of fresh potatoes and have them go to waste. So this morning I planted the final seed potatoes.

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They have been sitting in an egg carton in the sun for two weeks and were really dry and ready to be planted. I also planted a few ‘salad potatoes’ we left in the cupboard and which sprouted a little bit too. The salad potatoes have also been sitting in the egg carton in the sun but they were not as old as the seed potatoes so they were not as dry. They are an experiment into chitting our own spuds, hopefully they work out.

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So we now have six pots of potatoes growing away outside. All the bought seed potatoes are in old compost bags, folded down to allow for additional soil once they are earthed up. The shop bought salad potatoes are planted into an old plastic tub that was on the terrace when we moved in as I as all out of containers for planting into.

I am looking forward to tasty, fresh potatoes by Christmas!

Emma

September So Far

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September has started really well. We have been picking French beans since August and now they are in full swing. They need to be picked every two or three days before they get too big and after about three weeks like that they are still going strong. They have been added to many dishes. The tomatoes have also started to ripen. Fortunately they have been ripening a few at a time so we have not been overwhelmed with them yet. I have pruned back the plants quite significantly. The leaves have been thinned and any branches with no flowers or fruit were removed. Mostly they are branches which should have been thinned out months ago but we missed. The tomatoes are incredibly sweet and delicious. Nom nom nom!

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Outside, the beetroot, turnip, pak choi, pea and chives have all sprouted and started growing away slowly. I am not sure if they are unusually slow or if they are normal, but they all look good. The weather has been a bit cool and wet so far this month. IMG_1898

I finally managed to find some seed potatoes for sale so I purchased a kilo of Charlotte to plant. To be honest they would not be my first choice, not because I don’t like them, just because they are usually eaten very small so I am concerned about them not keeping very long. As a result I planted half of them already and have left the other half for a few weeks. They are planted into old compost sacks, rolled down, with a few holes poked in the bottom for drainage. Still no sprouts coming through the soil yet, I am checking them every day!

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I sowed some seeds for winter crops. This is a bit of an experiment, again! I read that chard and kale will stand well during the winter so I have decided to plant some now. The problem is that they will probably stand well if they are already big by this time of year, but we don’t have any big chard or kale plants so I am hoping I can encourage them to grow now. Chard should be fairly fast to grow but kale takes a while and might not grow until spring. They have been sown into a small propagator thing, like a mini greenhouse. I sowed eight modules of chard Bright Lights and four modules of kale Black Tuscany.

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Finally, the bad news. The courgette plants are done for. After only three or four courgettes from each plant the mildew has won. There was one small courgette on one of the plants for a few weeks not growing so I decided to finish them off. The leaves were so brittle that they almost crumbled in my (gloved) hands. The case was worse than I expected when I turned them over and saw some shrivelled courgettes on the underside. There was no life left in the plants at all. I tried to get some of the roots up too but it is not so easy to find the roots. I disposed of the leaves in a separate bin bag and put them out for the rubbish. I hope the fungus is mostly gone and doesn’t come back to wreak havoc next year. It really decimated those two plants very quickly and before we had gotten our real value out of them.

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IMG_1884After a few days wondering what to do with the compost in those pots I mixed some fresh compost in and sowed carrots. I am not sure if the fungus will remain in the soil ready to attack but I decided against putting the chard or kale in the pots as they are leafy so they are probably more susceptible. It might actually be too late to sow carrots but I thought I would chance it seeing as I didn’t get a good chance to sow lots of vegetables in the Spring!

Emma

August Summary

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August was a nice busy month. Early in the month we harvested another big crop of basil leaves and got to making some pesto. There was no real recipe involved; it was done by eye and feel. Pine nuts were put into a measuring jug and bashed up somewhat with the end of the rolling pin. Lots of torn up basil was added and a tonne of grated parmesan (about the same amount as the pine nuts) thrown on top. Finally it was topped up with olive oil and blitzed using the hand blender, because that is the only blender we have. We added a little more oil until the consistency seemed correct then ate some with pasta and popped the rest in a jar in the fridge with some olive oil over the top of it. Yum yum! The only shame was that the pesto in the fridge went mouldy before we got back to eating it. Supermarket pesto has a much longer shelf life, that was a real waste. I have now been tipped off by an Italian friend that we can freeze it in ice cube trays to prolong its life next time.

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I did plenty of reading in August and absolutely devoured You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail (a birthday gift from my very generous brother). I love her blog and found the book thoroughly enjoyable and very inspiring. The tone was just right for me and the illustrations were really cute. It is definitely a good book for every girl who has even a flicker of interest in growing plants. I immediately wanted to get outside and get to work with all the veggies. By now the vegetables had mostly recovered from the trauma of the move, some tomatoes were taking on a red hue, more and more flowers on the beans were slowly turning into tiny little French bean pods, and we were starting to get some courgettes too. Most the herbs were also in flower, which means we accidentally missed the harvest season for them. whoops!

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By mid-August the problem of no compost was becoming more significant. How do two urban gardeners, with no car, acquire a sack of compost in the middle of a city? Well, there is an answer to this conundrum. We took the bus to a large B&Q a couple of kilometres from our flat. We surveyed the shop and bought some seeds, containers, a lavender plant and a few other bits. Then later the same afternoon we borrowed a sack truck from our building. This is one of those two wheeled trolley used for moving heavy objects around. We wheeled it to the bus and headed off to B&Q again. Surprisingly enough the security guard seemed unfazed by us bringing our own trolley and was happy to let us bring it inside the shop. As we now had the truck with us we decided to take two bags of compost, two of the biggest bags in the shop; 120litres each! This was probably a mad folly, but the effort of taking a sack truck all the way to the shop was just too much to be repeated at regular intervals. So we staggered back to the bus stop, carefully lifted 240litres of compost plus truck on to the bus and headed off home!

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Armed with new supplies of soil and pots we immediately got out to the terrace to see what could be done. The strawberries have been sending off runners for months so Adam got to work potting most the runners in any containers he could find; small pots, finished butter tubs, half plastic bottles, re-cycled supermarket packaging. 

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IMG_1781By now the courgettes were suffering from an attack of powdery mildew so we started a routine of spraying the leaves twice a day with a mixture of milk and water. This seemed to work after a few days and we continued to get a few fruits, although they took longer to ripen than before.

 

I had intended to plant potatoes at the end of August in the hope of having some fresh new potatoes by Christmas. It turns out that it is extremely difficult to buy seed potatoes at this time of year and after a week trawling the internet I finally got desperate and decided to have a go at IMG_1810chitting my own potatoes. We had recently bought some new potatoes, of unspecified name, from the supermarket so I chose a few which were past their best and lined them up in an egg tray. I added a chopped shallot as I remember reading once that onion fumes can encourage potatoes to sprout. I put them in a dark place until I read that I should put them in a sunny place so they were moved! They are still chitting away and have a few sprouts.

Finally, in the last days of the month, we finalised the cleaning of the garden. There were some pots on the terrace when we moved in, mostly with dying plants in them and a few fake olive trees. On close inspection one of the very brown shrubs turned out to be a rosemary bush. It was in bad shape but I transplanted it to a larger pot and added plenty of compost to help it recover. There were some troughs with no plants in them so I added fresh compost to these and sowed turnip, beetroot and pak choi. Hopefully we will get some autumn crops from them. There were some pieces of broken pots in the bottom of them which I left in place as the troughs have no drainage holes. Fingers crossed that they get sufficient drainage. In addition to those somewhat appropriate crops for Autumn sowing I decided to chance a pot with two peas in it and a pot full of chives. Who knows, maybe they will work! I also filled up two indoor troughs with compost and sowed sprouting peas, rocket, radish and spinach on an inside windowsill.

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I feel all set for the Autumn now and the garden is looking lovely and tidy too!

Emma

July Summary

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July was an incredibly quiet month for the garden, all things considered. We went away for the first week of the month and came back to find our crops all a little wilted and somewhat in shock from the neglect! The second week of the month we moved to our flat. We were fortunate enough to get a loan of a car for the weekend so we moved all our own things on the Saturday and headed back for the plants on the Sunday.

Moving so many pots full of large plants in the height of the summer is definitely not advisable! All stakes had to be removed first which immediately resulted in two stalks of beans totally collapsed into the pots. The tomatoes were slowly and carefully twisted down until they were half their original height and very twisted. Then large plastic bin bags were carefully placed over them to hold them in that shape before lifting them into the back of the car. The courgette stems both split in the Spring so they were not very strong. They had to be arranged carefully in such a way as to have a little support. Finally the pea, bay and rosemary cuttings, basil, strawberries, canes and utensils all had to fit in around the seven large pots easily taking up all the space.

I drove as carefully as I could, in a very strongly scented car, all the way to the flat where we brought it all up to the terrace and forgot about it for a couple of days in the chaos of unpacking, buying kitchen utensils, work, exploring etc.

After a few days we finally unpacked the tomatoes which were not very happy about being straightened out again and never really regained a ‘tidy’ shape. I made a new ‘tripod’ for the beans and tied string around it at higher levels. Then I very carefully wound the stems around the canes and string in the hope it would recover.

So, long story short. Everything survived! The beans slowly took hold of the canes again, the tomatoes looked exhausted and very stressed for over a week but finally started growing again, the courgette plants even gave us our first fruit, which was a beast because it was left too long on the plant.

I had expected July to be a big month in the garden but, aside from our self imposed labour from moving to the flat, there was not a huge amount going on. We got one courgette and nothing more. The strawberries were finished by July and no new crops had taken the baton. I didn’t get a chance to plant any new seeds either for late crops, which was a real shame, but we had no compost, never mind time!

Emma

ps: hopefully I will be able to post a picture of the car stuffed with plants soon Smile

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June Summary (last week or so)

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IMG_1367Given the great weather in June there was still surprisingly little to eat in the garden. One thing we had was a few last strawberries before the plants got a bit excited about throwing out runners at any crack of land within a few metres reach.

 

 

Other plants were mostly beginning to set fruit. The pea, tomatoes, French beans and courgette had all moved past flowers onto early fruits too small to be eaten yet.

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The basil was in full flow by June and we could hardly keep up with the rate we were getting leaves so we decided to do a big harvest and dry it. It was good to thin the plants out a bit and slow them down because they need to be kept tidy. We laid the picked leaves on a couple of cookie sheets and put them in the oven, with the door ajar, for over an hour on a very low heat. I took them out a couple of times and turned them over. As soon as a few of them were brittle I took them out and crumbled into a jar. Ideally there should have been kitchen paper under the leaves and I think that this would have helped as the under side was ‘sweating’ a bit. The result was that some leaves didn’t dry quite thoroughly enough.

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IMG_1387It was nice to harvest some basil but I have mixed opinions about drying them this way. Using the oven, even on a low heat, for such a long time only for some basil seems wasteful. Also the masses of leaves dried down to what seemed like a small amount once it was put into a jar. Finally the taste of dried basil compared to fresh is totally different. This is not necessarily a bad thing of course, both are delicious in their own ways. But our dried basil tastes different from ones we have previously bought so it will take a little bit of getting used to. On the other hand this is a great way to save basil for the winter or darker months of the year and the leaves can be dried by hanging them in a warm, place which would much be much more energy efficient.

So that was June, a busy month of warm weather: everything in bloom and a few earlier things cropping.

Emma