Monday, 28 April 2014

Sunday lunch from the garden

Yesterday's Sunday lunch - a risotto - was mostly from the garden. Apart form the rice, salt and pepper everything came from overwintered vegetables and new spring growth.

Swiss chard - beginning to bolt but there are still plenty of leaves and stems from last year's sowing

Celeriac - last year's sowing did not get very far and only produced leaves but I left them in over winter and they started to bulb up a couple of months ago. We picked the last one for yesterday's meal and also used some of the leaves for flavouring.

Florence fennel - like the celeriac, this did not produce the harvest we had hoped for but I noticed earlier this year that small fennel bulbs were forming at the nodes on the now prostrate stems of the plants. I cut off a few of these for the risotto.

Spring onions - the autumn sown spring onions survived well in the mild winter and are now reading for picking

Herb fennel - this is growing well again and has a much stronger flavour than the leaves of the Florence Fennel

Lovage - I planted this last summer so this will be its first full year. I picked two small leaves to add flavour to the meal and that was more than enough. A little lovage goes a long, long way!

Ramsons - used the chopped leaves in the risotto and the flowers as an edible garnish

Monday, 21 April 2014

Comfrey juice decanted

Time to decant the comfrey juice that has been squeezed out of the autumn harvest of comfrey leaves over winter and start a new batch.

Comfrey has a deep taproot and an extensive root system that pulls nutrients from the soil and subsoil, where most other plants cannot reach. Comfrey is high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and accumulates essential trace elements. It is therefore an excellent fertiliser for the garden.

The leaves can be used as a mulch around the base of plants or added to your compost heap. The leaves can also be rotted down into a liquid fertiliser.

Many different techniques for extracting the liquid are described on the web but, whichever one you choose, under no circumstances soak the leaves in water or add them to your water butt. I am told that you end up with something that stinks like a sewer!

I use an old pedal bin with its plastic lining as the main collecting container for the liquid that is produced as the comfrey leaves rot down. I put the leaves in a large plastic flower pot, which by chance happens to fit inside the bin perfectly. I don't bother removing the stems as recommend by some people - it all seems to rot down perfectly well.

The rim of the flower pot sits on top of the plastic inner lining of the bin. This leaves several inches free at the bottom of the bin for the comfrey juice as it drips through the holes in the pot.

I weight down the comfrey leaves in the flower pot with a couple of large stones in a plastic food tray. Then I cover it all with the pedal bin lid.

When enough comfrey juice has collected at the bottom of the bin it can be decanted off into a bottle or similar container. I use old liquid fertiliser containers. I add the residue in the bottom of the flower pot to the compost heap.

I dilute the comfrey juice about 15:1 with water and use it every couple of weeks, mostly on the tomatoes and chillies that are in pots.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Saturday Lunch

I was going to try and make a lunch only using ingredients that had been gathered from our garden on the day and over the past 6 months, but was tempted by the fresh squid in the Smelly Alley fish shop in Reading. In the end the ingredients were squid stir fried with dried chilli flakes and tomato sauce (made and jarred about 5 months ago), garlic, parsley and chopped leaves from my young Babington's Leek plants. On the plate to the right is a parsnip rosti seasoned with ground coriander seed and a salad of mustard greens (Golden Frills), red veined sorrel, chopped celeriac leaves, and flat leaf parsley. The tea was made from fresh herb fennel.

Had I not succumbed to the lure of the squid I would have used some dried beans, harvested last September, in a sauce made a few months ago from tomato, onion and sweet pepper.

Friday, 14 February 2014

February 2014, Windowsill gardening

As the rain and gale force winds continue here in Caversham outdoor gardening and even general tidying up is impossible. There is still plenty to do indoors: planning the sowing calendar and checking through the catalogues for seeds I've forgotten to order. In any case, it is the time of year for starting off some of the plants and vegetables indoors. Potatoes are chitting on the kitchen windowsill alongside the Babingtons leeks that I have started off in pots. The kiwi plant - 'Jenny', a self fertile variety - has arrived but will have to stay on the sill until there is a lull in the stormy weather and we can plant it out. 

On my office window sill I have sown the chilli seeds in a propagator. The varieties I am growing this year include:
  • Habanero Fatali HHH+ "Brightyellow, very hot, fruity"
  • AJI Pulsar HH "Nearly white, erect fruit turn orange then red. Low growing"
  • Bulgarian carrot HHH "Hot and fruity "Carrot coloured and shaped"
  • Nepalese Bell H-HHH "Jumbo sized version of Friars hat" [Friars Hat - "2" (5cm) flange shaped fruits. Slow to mature but worth it. Heat strength variable."]
  • Habanero 7 pot yellow HHHH+ "Fruits mature pale yellow with wonderful flavour"
  • Scotch Bonnet Bahamian Goat HHH "Pale green, slightly ribbed, fruit ripen peach/orange"
All came from Simpsons Seeds.

Next onto the windowsill will be the aubergines.