Sunday, 26 July 2015

Squashes popping up everywhere

A lot of squash plants have been popping up all over the garden. They've mostly come from seeds that have germinated from our compost made out of our kitchen peelings and discarded squash seeds, so we haven't a clue what most most of them are. This one could possibly be a butternut but I'm not totally convinced yet.

This squash came from a friend who said it was either a butternut or a dumpling squash (they'd lost the label). It doesn't look like either of those and is fast growing into what appears to be a marrow. It is now close to needing a sling to support it.

This is another one that popped out of the compost. This one could possibly be an acorn or a harlequin squash.

And there are a lot more dotted around the garden including a definite butternut squash.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Don't panic! Don't panic!

We've had two full Smith Periods in our area according to Blightwatch so I've been carefully checking the tomatoes for early signs of blight. My heart nearly stopped when I saw these from a distance. Then I realised that they are Indigo Beauty, a variety I am trying for the first time this year and that they are meant to be that colour. Panic over.

A full Smith Period has occurred when at least two consecutive days have had min temperatures of 10ºC or above and on each day at least 11 hours when the relative humidity has been greater than 90%. A 'near miss' occurs when one or both of the above two consecutive days has only 10 hours when the relative humidity is greater than 90% and the temperature is 10ºC or above. Of course, microclimates in the garden will also come into play and I find that going into the garden a couple of times a day to get a feel for the temperature and, more importantly, the humidity is a better guide to when conditions make blight more likely to occur. 

Full Smith Period alert for RG4 is run by the Potato Council's Fight Against Blight. To receive alerts of full Smith Periods you first have to register (free of charge) and then give it the first part of the postcode you want monitored. You can receive alerts by email or by SMS and view the charts online.

When it comes to treating plants, by the time the symptoms of blight have appeared it is usually too late to do anything. Most of the chemicals that have been used in the past to prevent blight have been withdrawn from sale to home gardeners in Europe but it has been suggested that aspirin may help protect plants (Trouble in the vegetable patch? Break out the aspirin). Prevention remains the best strategy. See Identify, prevent and treat Tomato Blight in the UK 

Saturday, 18 July 2015


Blackfly on a courgette
The veg gardening is flourishing and so are the aphids, and in particular the blackfly. I haven't been too badly hit - only a couple of beans and a courgette - but some of my friends have reported a total infestation plus a noticeable absence of ladybird larvae that usual chomp up all the little blighters. A couple of people have reported that the ladybirds have started to appear but too late frown emoticon
I sprayed the beans with water from the kitchen washing up bowl and the courgette is thriving left to its own devices, although the infestation isn't that bad.
Are others in the UK, and especially Reading, suffering as well and how do you manage the problem?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Cauliflower glut

We have a monster cauliflower glut. We planted them out late summer/early autumn last year in various places in the garden to fill in gaps as we harvested crops. They overwintered well and we had a couple of what I would call reasonably normal sized cauliflowers in April and the beginning of May. The remaining 4 plants just seemed to be growing masses of over-sized leaves and I resigned myself to making lots of "cabbage" soup. Then they went berserk and we ended up with cauliflowers weighing in at 3-4 lb each. I wish I had kept a record of the variety but I do remember the seed packet saying "ideal for the small garden"! 

Cauliflower and squash cheese with crispy, shredded
cauliflower leaves
There is only so much cauliflower cheese one can eat, lovely though it is, so we are having to get creative with our recipes. The small freezer section in our refrigerator is now choc a bloc. Even the traditional cheese recipe has been adapted to include squash (not our own but a harlequin squash from Waitrose) plus a bit of chilli to add a bit of a zing. As well as the "flower" there are the leaves to be disposed of. Many of them were too tough, or partially destroyed by slugs and snails, to be edible but there were enough in good condition to make some crispy, shredded cabbage and for dolma (stuffed leaves).

Dolma - stuffed cauliflower leave
To make the dolma, one first has to separate the leaves from the central stem and then blanch the leaves in boiling water for a minute or so. Then you can stuff them with whatever mixture you want. For ours we used a mixture of rice, peas, beans and onions left over from a paella.

Dolma with spiced tomatoes, steamed cauliflower and carrots

We added a spicy tomato and onion sauce to our dolma and served them with steamed cauliflower florets (what else!) and carrots.

Spiced cauliflower, potato, beans, mange toot and
onion on injera
Another recipe we used was spiced cauliflower with potato, beans, mange tout, onion and cauliflower leaves, all on injera style bread made from a sourdough starter.

Cauliflower, potato and leek soup

There has to be a soup in this collection of recipes and the one I went for was a chunky cauliflower, potato and leek soup with herbs and a dollop of yoghurt.


And finally... piccalilli. I love it. The first batch was a variation of the Hairy Bikers recipe. For the second I used a Waitrose recipe.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Breakfast doesn't get much better than this

Home grown oyster mushrooms with a little parsley on toasted, homemade sourdough bread. Fried potatoes with shallot and chives, all from the garden. White currants (White Versailles) and "wild" strawberries - again from the garden - with yoghurt (not home made) and local honey. And to wash it down some home grown lemon verbena tea.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The garlic harvest is in

All of the garlic in the garden has now been harvested. It was done in two batches: garlic in the main part of the garden was gathered in a couple of weeks ago and those in the veg bags, which were a different variety and matured slightly later, were picked a few days ago.

I had a go at plaiting some of the earlier crop but I had left them to dry and cure for too long and the stems and leaves were too brittle to make a tidy plait.

There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing how to braid garlic. The ones I found most useful were:

Plaiting Garlic (in the Horticultural Channel)

Plaiting the garlic crop

How to braid "Hard Neck" Garlics - Garden Harvest

Blue garlic

One of the garlic bulbs that I harvested from the veg bags has a blue-green area on the outer skins. I've heard of  garlic sometimes turning blue-green when cooked but can't find anything about the outer skin of a garlic bulb going blue. The individual cloves are pure white and when cooked they stay white. The bulbs either side of it in the photo are from the same bag and appear normal. They were grown in soil with some home-made compost and the bag had been watered every 1-2 weeks with a dilute comfrey feed. I can't think of anything that has been added to the veg bag to cause this and, as I said, the others in the same bag look normal. Any suggestions or ideas as to what has caused this are welcome!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Veg bags

This is one of the veg bags alongside our south facing kitchen/bathroom extension. It's all concrete along here so raised beds of some sort or pots are the only realistic option for growing plants. For many years I grew chillies and tomatoes in pots but then thought I would be able to grow a greater variety of crops using a raised bed. I wasn't sure if it would work so rather than build more permanent beds made from wood I opted for the bags to start off with. They also makes it slightly easier to access the wall should we need to for maintenance purposes. If the experiment didn't work I could use them elsewhere in the garden or Freegle them. I have three bags altogether that I bought from Unwins but there are plenty of other sources on the web that sell them. They are now into their third year and are still intact but they do tend to "sag", so I have to kick the front facing side back into shape and prop it up with planted pots. I'm happy with them as an interim measure but I'm now considering a more long term replacement.

All three of the bags have tomatoes and onion/garlic borders but I also plant chillies, lettuce, beetroot or carrots. The one in the photo contains tomatoes, garlic (about to be harvested), onions (about to be harvested), lettuce, plus a couple of things (squash/marrow?) that popped up out of the compost added to the bag earlier in the year. Throughout the year there is always something growing in these bags, which are in our permaculture zone 1.

I add a thin layer of my own compost to the top twice a year and when stuff starts to actively grow I water them once a week with a very dilute feed of comfrey fertiliser (around 1:100). I've stopped the liquid feed now as I have added some shredded comfrey leaves to the surface.

I was thinking the other day that I wasn't having many problem with pests in the bags. I assumed it was because of the the mix of veg I had planted and the onion-garlic borders. Then this morning I spotted a frog, no doubt just having finished her breakfast and thereby zapping a few more pests for me. This is the third frog I've seen hopping around the garden. We don't have a pond - just some areas that are shady and covered in foliage, a couple of wood piles, and a few plant pot saucers containing water dotted around.

So, the veg bags are still looking good and I'll probably continue using them until they fall apart.