Category Archives: Herbs

Hello Tasty Surprise Vegetables!

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It really feels like Spring has arrived here in London. Finally I headed out to the roof terrace to tidy the garden and prune all the plants. I suspect I was supposed to prune last year but I never did as I was not sure how much to cut things back. By now many of the herbs have made it completely clear which of their long, dry stalks they no longer need so pruning was pretty easy.

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Along with pruning was the task of clearing the first of what I refer to as ‘troughs’ in preparation to plant some beetroot in a week or so. These are long containers which were on the terrace when we moved to the flat. They have no drainage holes (aesthetic over function unfortunately) but there were some broken up tiles in them when I emptied them out last summer. I left the tiles in and arranged them to allow quite a lot of space for drainage before re-filling the troughs. Unfortunately it looks like the soil is really soggy and rubbish. We will need to find a way to get better drainage into these containers if we want to grow anything in them this season.

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The good news is that the tidying unveiled a few treats. One of the troughs had a few *very* small turnips from seeds I planted last, um, August I think. They all sprouted at the time but never really went anywhere. Well now there are a handful of tiny turnips in there.

The carrots also seem to have survived the winter. We pulled up one from each container to inspect the size, which can only be described as tinchy. The rest will be left for another while as those containers are not needed yet so we might as well see if they grow in size.

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Finally swiss chard. This beauty has survived the winter, looked a little worse for wear a few weeks ago but in the last week it has started to thrive in the sun. you can really see the effect the sunshine has on it from this photo as the leaves closest to the camera are much larger on account of longer exposure each day.

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We sliced all our new veg and fried with plenty of garlic. I will not claim it was the most delicious side dish I have ever tasted but it was a tasty first dish from the garden for 2012!

Emma

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First Sprouts of 2012!

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Weee, my first seeds of the year have sprouted! The seeds have been in the soil for a fortnight now and I was beginning to think the pea shoots were not going to sprout; but here they are. The soil was a bit damp when I sowed them so some of the seeds got mouldy and in the end only about half of them have sprouted.

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The radish sprouted after one week and seem to be happy enough. They are leaning toward the window but it has been quite sunny recently and they are at a south facing window so they should be getting sufficient light.

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As the pea shoots and radish have sprouted I decided to sow a few other indoor crops today. There is now a pot of mixed salad leaves and a pot of basil on the kitchen windowsill. It might be a bit early for basil but we decided that it is worth a shot. Seeing as they will remain indoors and the weather is warm now they might be ok. And if the seeds don’t germinate successfully we can sow some more in a few weeks. Bring on the new growing season!

Emma

5 Container Gardening Lessons

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Over the past year I have learned a few things -through trial and error- about growing food with limited space. Here is a re-cap of my top five tips for container gardeners;

1. No roots; this was not immediately obvious to me but growing root vegetables like carrots is pretty space inefficient. When you have limited space you have to maximise what you grow. Root vegetables are frequently pretty cheap to buy as well so economically they are a poor choice for expensive container growing.

2. Timing is everything; crops like tomatoes can be quite productive but they can also take a long time to mature. In the end our four tomato plants gave us a bounty of cherry tomatoes which we still enjoy most days, but they also took up considerable space for the entire summer, not to mention all the hours I spent dragging watering cans out to them all summer.

3. Herbs; this is easy. Herbs are great value for money and space. Fresh herbs are expensive to buy and have a short shelf life. You can grow lots of different herbs in containers and some will even last from year to year, like rosemary or mint. Also, because the plants are small they tend to mature quickly, giving you a quick return on your space.

4. Size matters; this might be obvious to more experienced gardeners but beginners like me can still underestimate the size of mature plants when we sow the first seeds. I sowed courgettes and French beans at the same time last spring. By the end of the summer the French beans had climbed very tall, didn’t get any diseases and gave us loads of food. The courgette plants took up about three times more space and gave very little food as they got disease. The disease was certainly partially to blame for our courgette disappointment but overall the beans were just a lot more space efficient in a small area.

5. Beauty and the beast; something I probably overlooked in my first year was considering the flowers on the plants I chose to grow. The tomatoes, courgettes and beans all flowered and it really was a beautiful sight to see. In 2012 I plan to grow more plants for their beauty as well as their culinary usefulness. I think this is an important lesson for small space gardeners- yield is not the only factor, think about how happy it will make you to sit and admire a beautiful garden!

So those are my top tips after one year trying to grow my own vegetables in pots. I hope they are useful to people who are just starting out.

Emma

Big Basil Party!

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IMG_1995Well OK, not a party so much as an hour or so spent making all sorts of basil concoctions!

Look how full of basil our kitchen window has been for months! It has been great, we have had fresh basil all through the summer and we already dried a batch which is almost used up by now and also made a batch of pesto.

But the end has been in sight for our basil plants for weeks now; the leaves have been turning yellow and falling away and they have continued to flower and produce seeds, which I have been cutting off and collecting.

Finally we got around to doing something about the situation today.

Today became ‘Process the Basil’ Sunday. First things first we stripped the plants. By stripped I mean we took all the usable leaves which is a lot less than the total number of leaves. It is a shame to throw so many away but they were really past their best. Top on the agenda was pesto. We blitzed up about 50g basil leaves with 30g parmesan, 30g pine nuts and a few splashes of olive oil. While I was making the pesto Adam cooked some pasta and we took a break from basil processing to eat some pasta with fresh basil and a few tomatoes from the garden. Yum.

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Next on the agenda I decided to make some basil and garlic butter. I have been nervous about storing garlic on account of a danger of botulism or something like that. But it seems you can freeze it safely. So I mixed up an amount (less than half a tub) of butter, with two cloves of garlic and an amount (about 5 pinches) of basil leaves. Once this was combined it was also instantly consumed with some fresh bread straight out of the oven!

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The remains of the pesto and basil butter were drained into an ice cube tray to be frozen for later use. I am excited about the idea of being able to pop a cube of pesto or butter out in winter time to flavour steamed potatoes or some pasta. How easy is that?

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I also made a few other things today with basil. I crushed a few leaves a bit and added them to the end of a bottle of nice Italian olive oil. I will leave that to brew for a couple of weeks and we should have some tasty basil infused oil. Finally I blitzed the remaining leaves in the blender with some water into a sort of watery paste. The intention was to freeze this for adding to soups but the ice cube tray is now full so it is still sitting in the fridge!

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After all the work in the kitchen was done we removed the old plants from their pots, chopped them up and composted them. Look how much root and how little soil was left in this pot! Despite being watered every day for the last few weeks they have been constantly dry and really struggling, now I can see why!

Last but not least, I added fresh compost to one of the pots and planted a few of the seeds we have collected. I expect they should germinate as the weather has been so warm recently.

Bring on the next crop of basil all through the winter!

Emma

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

Back, After a Summer of No Internet

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IMG_1776Wow, it is hard to imagine but we have had no internet for months… We finally moved into London to our new Urban flat. Putting the ‘urban’ back into urbanfeedstuff!

Things have been busy in the garden too and harvest season is currently underway. Rather than try to backtrack and do a million posts I am going to offer up a couple of monthly summarys. I think that this will cover the gist of the summer and then I can get on with posting current info as it is happening. I can come back to any major issues which arose in the near future.

Ah, it is good to be back blogging!

Emma

Basil Greenfly

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I haven’t posted for a little while because I have been busy. I also haven’t posted for a little while because all is not well in the garden and I can’t bring myself to photo the state of the plants.

The weather has been cold and overcast for almost two weeks as far as I can remember. There is no sunshine to ripen the strawberries which are all half grown and there are no bumble bees buzzing about to pollinate the tomatoes or courgettes. It has also been raining and windy so the two courgette plants have had their stems snapped from the wind. Oh, it is a disaster out there. At least the peas and beans seems to be just about surviving.

Inside we have lots of basil. Basil coming out our ears. Lots of basil is good news. Unfortunately the plant which was brought in from inside has become a bit of a greenfly breeding ground. I have been keeping an eye on it since it came in because I found one or two flies on it already. Last night I noticed eggs and did a thorough inspection. The case had suddenly gotten quite out of hand. I picked more than ten leaves off the plants, all with multitudes of little eggs on the underside. I think I managed to get them all but I will have to keep a close eye on it from now on. I also checked the other plants but they seem to be clear for now.

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This invasion of insects makes me think about the insect problems we have been having outside as well. We have been staying in the suburbs and the plants were initially under a rose bush. This has resulted in invasions of greenfly, whitefly and blackfly. The courgettes now also have ants in the soil. Honestly, they are all totally covered in insects, and not the good kind. We realise that the tomatoes and courgettes might not work out so we are prepared to possibly abandon them and try some new seedlings soon, in the hope of a late harvest. However, I am now very concerned about the state of our soil. I do not want to move to a new apartment, with no insects or problems, and just bring all these little eggs with us in the soil. Then we might end up losing a second crop and possibly a lot of heart about the whole situation.

It does look like we are going to have to resort to some sort of pesticide to kill everything before we move. We didn’t want it to get to this but I don’t think we have any choice. We will research the options and see what choices we have but I don’t want to take any chances on starting a new colony of those pesky black fly in our new garden.

Emma