Sunday Sowings- Peas and Tomatoes

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Today was a lovely day here in London. The sun was shining and I was glad that I had scheduled some things to do in the ‘garden’ other than just potter around all 5m² (or however big it is) of it poking at this and that. I know it is a silly thing to complain about but small gardens do not take much maintenance for the most part of the year. Of course in the height of summer I will think differently, as I monitor what is dehydrating on the roof terrace and worry about every little thing if the sun hasn’t shone in a few days, as can happen here in England!

Fortunately for me I put in a few days of dedicated organising in February. At that time I decided all the crops I wanted to grow and scheduled when to sow all my seeds in my diary. Potting up and planting out will be done as necessary but I find it hard to keep track of what to sow when so it is really handy to have it all in my diary like that. Thanks me!

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These are the crops I sowed today; The first container of peas (Hurst Greenshaft). I am honestly a bit confused about peas because I thought they were supposed to be the earliest of crops but apparently now is still a bit early to sow them… I think maybe I was supposed to sow some last Autumn or something… Well anyhow, I have planned to have quite a few peas this year as last year we only got about two peas. So today I sowed the first container and I placed two seeds into it. I will plant more in a week or so to try and stagger the crop. I hope two is an appropriate amount to sow in a container this size. The only instructions I can find are for sowing in drills so it is not that easy to translate to pots.

Next was tomatoes. There are plenty of tomatoes on the agenda for this summer and I sowed two varieties today. The first is a really early variety called Latah. I am excited about these for two reasons. Firstly they are a bush variety so they should be perfect for container growing. Secondly they are very early so we might, fingers crossed, have tomatoes as early as JUNE! Wow, that would be amazing as space is so valuable on the terrace and last year we didn’t have much of a tomato glut until September.

Finally, I sowed one tomato Marzano. This is a large variety of plum tomato. This should make a large plant that will require a large pot for a long season. I decided to grow this one for a few reasons; to extend our tomato season after the Latah are finished, to have another variety of tomato (and hopefully store some in jars for the winter…) and also just to try something new. The tomatoes were a big hit last summer so we want to try out more than one variety this year.

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That was my Sunday sowings. You can also see that two more of the cells in my seed tray (to the right) are filled. These are where I sowed sweet peppers a short while ago. These have not sprouted yet but I believe they should take 2-3 weeks to sprout so I am being patient with them still.

Emma

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Easy Peasy Tomato Soup

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This tomato soup is incredibly easy to make from the larder. The ingredients are likely things most people keep in stock and it cooks in 20 minutes. Perfect!

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Add a chopped onion to a pot and soften in oil for a few minutes over a medium heat. If you like your soup garlicky you can also add a clove or two of minced garlic after a few of minutes. I added dried garlic as I didn’t have any fresh cloves.

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Once the onion is softened, tip a tin of tomatoes into the pot. Fill the empty tin with water and add the water. Season with as much basil as you like (lots in my case) and leave to simmer for 15-20minutes on a low heat with a lid slightly ajar.

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Once the soup is cooked blitz with a stick blender. Season with cracked black pepper and a dollop of natural yogurt if you like it. Serve!

Emma

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Ingredients (serves 2)

1 tin Tomatoes

1 Medium onion

1-2 Cloves garlic

Dried basil

Sowing Pepper Purple Beauty

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One of the things I promised myself I would do this year is sow my seeds at the correct time. Last year I took a few chances with sowing too early or late and in the end I was mostly disappointed.

The first of my main crops for this summer need to be sown now in order to allow them mature for as long as possible. These are sweet peppers. I am really excited to be growing sweet peppers this year. I didn’t think it was possible to grow them successfully in England but I have bought seeds for an early variety which should be ok in the London climate.

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Adam requested these lovely purple peppers -called Purple Beauty- when I asked which colour he wanted! I have never actually tasted a purple pepper but I love all other peppers so I would be very surprised if they do not taste delicious. It is exciting to grow a variety which is a little bit different than what we normally buy or eat.

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Peppers need to be sown in seed cells in a propagator. My propagator is not heated so I have sown one seed to each module and left it on a warm windowsill. It is self-watering so I can just leave them there until they sprout. Apparently they might take 2-3 weeks to germinate and need quite a bit of warmth.

I have sown two pepper seeds. Pepper plants are relatively small so they should be well suited to growing in containers. The reason I have only sown two is because they take a long time to mature and I am trying to be space efficient this year. Varieties which will be in their pots right through the whole summer are being limited to one or two plants!

I hope they germinate successfully. Sowing in a propagator is a good way to keep seeds warm when they are small but the last time I used it they got quite leggy so I hope that doesn’t happen again. Fingers crossed for them!

Emma

No Bake Tiffin with Mixed Fruit

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I had some digestive biscuits leftover after making cheesecake recently. I was amazed that they had stayed relatively un-stale for so long so I decided to do something with them! I think that no bake cakes like tiffin are sort of de-constructivist; you take finished products (like biscuits and chocolate), break them up and re-form them into something new. How is that for recycling!

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Melt 50g hard butter, 13g brown sugar and 1tbsp honey in a pot over a low heat.

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Use a rolling pin or wooden spoon to bash up 120g of digestives in a bowl or a plastic bag. Roughly chop 75g mixed (dried) fruit and add to the digestives. Add the biscuits and fruit to the melted butter mix and combine.

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Press into a (lined) loaf tin. Lining the tin (if you decide to) is definitely the most fidgety bit of this recipe. I have a really nice loaf tin and I am terrified of scratching the inside so I lined it with greaseproof paper. Maybe I need to learn to stop being so precious about my baking tins! As the tiffin does not get baked in the oven I actually used sticky tape to stick the greaseproof paper into shape!

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Melt 100-150g chocolate. I melted my chocolate in a low oven (110C fan oven) as I have no microwave or appropriate heat proof bowl to create a double boiler. You can melt it whatever way you find easiest.

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Pour the chocolate over the tiffin in the tin. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour to set.

Once the chocolate has set properly tip it out and slice. This is really easy if you have lined your tin!

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Enjoy with tea!

Easy as a piece of cake!

Emma

Ingredients (approx. 8 pieces)

130g digestives

75g dried mixed fruit (or currants if you don’t have mixed fruit)

13g brown sugar

1 tbsp honey

100-150g chocolate (depending how thick you like it!)

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

Mini Quiches- Ham and Red Onion with Balsamic

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As promised, here is my mini quiche recipe. This recipe has come about because we were given two muffin tins for Christmas; a 12 hole tin and a 6 hole tin. I like muffins but I thought we must be able to make some other things in the tins as well, Adam had the idea to try and make mini quiches and they have been a success.

First off, I don’t try to make my own pastry any more. I have tried a few times in the past but it has never been very good. So for this recipe I use almost a full packet of normal butter puff pastry from the supermarket.

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Dividing the pastry is not an exact science. I have 18 spaces in my trays so I cut the pastry in half, role it a bit using flour so it doesn’t stick to my rolling pin, then keep cutting it down until I have about 18 pieces. Normally there is a bit extra so I just smear the cut off pieces with some pesto and bake them alongside the quiches as an appetiser. I suspect that if we had another 6 hole tray we could probably manage to get 24 mini quiches out of one packet of pastry.

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The pastry does not have to fit the holes perfectly, unless you are a real perfectionist. Just roll it until it is large and thin enough then shape it into the muffin holes and fold the edges until it sort of fits! I have used my pastry brush to lightly oil the muffin holes before adding the pastry, but this is probably not really necessary.

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Once the tins are full you can put them in the fridge until you are ready. Sometimes I prepare them earlier in the day and don’t bake them until the evening, when I need to use the oven for something else.

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The filling can really be whatever you like; in this case I have taken some baked ham (leftovers from Sunday dinner), chopped it up and dropped some into each hole. I then softened some red onion in a pan with some oil for about 15-20mins. At the last minute I added a splash of balsamic vinegar and let it reduce a little. Divide the onion amongst the pastries.

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I have a fairly casual attitude towards the egg mixture in my mini quiches, I think there is more of a margin for error here than with a large quiche as they are small, so if they do not set perfectly it is not a total disaster. My mix is 4 beaten eggs, 200ml milk, 40g grated cheddar and lots of dried herbs (basil, thyme, oregano). Pour this between the quiches, they only need to be half full- just make sure to cover the ham and onion so they don’t burn.

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Finally bake at 180C (fan oven) for about 15minutes. Keep an eye on them and take them out once they are set and the pastry is turning golden brown. Once you can handle them transfer to a wire rack to cool. You can eat them immediately with a salad or let them cool completely and keep them in the fridge for about 3 days. I usually freeze most of them and defrost overnight before eating them as a packed lunch.

Enjoy!

Emma

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Ingredients (18 mini quiches)

1 packet puff pastry

100g chopped cooked ham (approx.)

1 red onion

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 eggs

200ml milk

60g grated cheddar

1 tsp dried herbs (basil, thyme, oregano)

Planning and Buying Seeds for a Small Garden

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Planning what to grow in a small area is so difficult! I have been chasing myself around in circles for a couple of weeks now, trying to decide what is in and what is out. First I line up all the vegetables I love to eat and would love to grow, then I cut out everything I cannot grow in a container. Finally I try to make some attempt at a logical plan for the space we have which does not give us everything all at once. This last step is the most difficult by far; I have not mastered succession cropping yet and summer vegetables are much more tempting than winter ones!

I decided to buy my seeds from Real Seeds this year. They have a really nice selection including some unusual varieties. I love their descriptions and every time I look at their website I get really excited about the growing season ahead! I have limited myself to 6 packets of new seeds because I want to mix new varieties with some of the crops we grew last year.

I am not going to give away what is planned just yet; the seeds are ordered and as soon as they arrive I will get sowing and be sure to blog about it all! Here are the principles I used for this year’s garden plan;

1. Choose some early fruiting varieties which will be finished in time to get a winter crop in the ground. For example peas should be finished by mid- summer in time to let kale take over the space until January.

2. Don’t choose too many crops which take a long time to mature. Tomatoes, summer squash and peas are not all equal- some varieties will take up space in the containers for a lot longer than others.

3. Make sure to choose some pretty things- beans, tomatoes, edible flowers… Make sure that at least some of the plants you are growing are going to be pretty to look at.

4. Only grow what you will eat- I think this is even more important for small space gardeners than people with lots of space. It is great to try new things but if you are going to get kilos and kilos of purple tomatoes or yellow beetroot make sure you will be willing to eat them.

5. Try inter-planting. In a way this is not as easy in containers as an allotment or vegetable patch but it is still possible. Flowers can be sown below climbing plants, quick growing herbs can fill in gaps in space or time and radish should grow pretty much anywhere you can fit a few seeds in.

Impatiently awaiting the post!

Emma