Monday 31 December 2018

Harvest Monday - Happy New Year!

Just time for a little post before we head round to friends' for New Years Eve. It will be an extravagant night of nibbles and board games (and maybe the odd boozy drink). Jan is actually busy making mince pies to take round, she even made the mince meat! I snuck a quick photo before she shoo'd me away.
The mince meat is really tasty, not as sweet as shop-bought, including lots of apples and some chopped nuts for a bit of texture.

We had a quiet Christmas here in Norwich. Our cat is very elderly (18) and needs lots of looking after, so we're trying not to leave her on her own for too long. She was quite poorly for a couple of days but has made an amazing recovery (possibly thanks to all the extra cuddles). So we have been popping out to see friends (which has been lovely) but also spending lots of time at home. A plus-side to being at home is all the time that Jan has had to spend baking.....This is the third batch of mince pies! Yum. 

Our Christmas lunch was really tasty, and kind of healthy. We made a chestnut pie using sweet chestnuts and walnuts that I'd previously foraged, with homegrown potatoes, kale, Brussels sprouts and market-bought carrots. We also made a mushroom gravy and bread sauce from scratch. It felt like a nice balance of comforting wintery foods and healthy greens. I didn't get a photo apart from the sprouts! 
They had a lovely flavour, and Jan even tucked into them despite saying she was only going to eat a couple (unfortunately for me, as I was looking forward to a larger share!). The plants have recovered well after being swamped with grey aphids. Some of the lower sprouts have started to 'blow' but rather than harvest them, I've left them to grow out further, as I like them as spring greens. I picked some more the other day but we haven't eaten them yet (a New Year's Day bubble n squeak?). I also harvested more lambs lettuce, kale and chard...but no photos!

Instead, here's my overwintering chilli peppers, inside by the window. They actually live inside permanently now, as they make nice houseplants and it saves space in the greenhouse for sweet peppers. On the left of the photo is a leaf from my home-sprouted mango plant, grown from a mango seed. I'm quite proud of that! The mango needs re-potting though as it drys out quite quickly in the small pot, which it doesn't like.
I harvested all the lovely deep red chillis from one plant but left the lighter ones for a bit more ripening.
Oh and here's some non-edible foraging from just before Christmas....holly and ivy harvested from the local woods. In the photo below, I've started winding ivy around a solid metal circular frame which I re-use each year to make a wreath for our front door.
It looks better on the door than on the bike but you get the idea!
And just to finish, a piccie of our lovely, cute, little old lady cat Minxie....if only she was as untroublesome as this all the allotment seeds box is strategically placed to stop her getting in and having a wee behind the bike (and yep, we have a bike in the lounge, but that's another story). 

On that note, I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing what everyone has been up to (via Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Happy Acres) and to hear what your plans are for the coming spring. Cheers!

Monday 17 December 2018

Harvest Monday - back again

Well, another unplanned hiatus but these things happen, eh. I'm now trying to remember how to use this blog app! So here goes....

Kale has been amazing at the plot this year, cropping all the through from summer, despite the drought and attack of grey aphids. I've seen on various Facebook posts that the aphids have been particularly bad this year, I've certainly never seen them like that before, even a few of the smaller plants died completely before I noticed how badly they were covered in aphids. The curly kale seemed to be affected more than the cavelo Nero. 
I had a reasonable crop of winter squashes, this piccie taken recently, set up on our sofa, not a fancy background as it looks!....The squashes are storing well in the house on various shelves. We'd already eaten a few of the smaller ones. I definitely need to try and grow more next year, they're so good for winter food.
I recently dug up all the parsnips as I wanted to cover that bed with leafmould, and knew I'd lose where the 'snips were hiding. Well, they were pretty small (about twice as many as in the pic) but tasty roasted. I blame the drought again (good to have something to blame this year, ha ha). Actually they're usually quite good, I intercrop them between broad beans....the 'snips grow on after the beans are cleared.

On Saturday I had a good couple of hours on the plot, sorting a few things out including protecting all the brassicas with netting / mesh etc to keep the pigeons off over the winter. They've been ok uncovered up until now but as the weather gets worse and 'wild' food in the area becomes more scarce, the pigeons tend to come and have a munch. I've got plenty of self-sown chard uncovered around the plot, so they can have a good old feast on that.

I harvested most of the remaining beetroot (variety cylindra) which I'd originally multi-sown in modules at home before planting out on the plot. They were intercropped as well, with little gem lettuces earlier in the year and then czar runner beans growing up wigwams over the top later. The Nero kale is still looking healthy but as growth slows at this time of year, the leaves are small. I've started harvesting leeks as well...they have a bit of rust but are ok when the outer leaves are removed. They were sown in pots at home and then planted out into dibbed holes in the bed once the early potatoes were all lifted. The corn salad is looking great around the plot, this is another plant I let self seed. I have to hoe some of it out where it grows too thickly or on paths but that doesn't take long. I find the best plants are those where they have a bit of space to grow into a decent size rather than all crammed close together. Plus you can help by harvesting individuals to then let the others around them grow on.
Jan was making mince pies today (yum!), so as the oven was on I took the opportunity to roast up the butternut squash. Excuse the photos, it's difficult to get a decent shot in the electric light. I meant to weigh the squash first but forgot.
It was really easy to cut through, so I left the skin on for roasting. The colour was gorgeous but you can't tell in this pic unfortunately.
Oh my gosh, it was so so good. I did one batch just in olive oil which was real good but even better was with ground coriander, a pinch of salt and chopped dry chilli (rough recipe from BBC Good Food).
I used the chilli ones to make a spicy meal with my own onion, garlic and kale, plus green lentils, mushrooms and a tin of tomatoes, and a dollop of yogurt. Mmm.
This Autumn I did a bit of foraging. I went to the usual sweet chestnut woods, not actually expecting too much because of the drought, but I guess the rains came at the right time for the nuts to swell because they were amazing! We've still got some in the fridge, and am hoping to use them to make a pie for Christmas lunch. I've found a really good way of roasting so they don't dry out....slice them all as usual then soak in water for at least 30mins. Roast in a tray, adding water to the tray every now and then - keeps them lovely and moist.

There's a walnut tree on public land near my allotment, planted by the city council a few years ago (nine or so?). Last year it had a handful of nuts but this year it really bumped up the numbers...surprising what a different one year will make. Most of them came down in a strong wind so I headed home with pocketfuls that day. The grass underneath the tree had been recently cut so it was easy to find them whereas last year I was scrabbling around in the undergrowth (raising a few eyebrows I'm sure). Here's some of them....
Last year my two hazel nut trees put out an incredible crop but this year all the leaves fell off mid-summer in the drought! There's plenty of catkins now so will have to see how it goes next year, they make a fantastic addition to the free nutty protein from the foraging.

In November we were really lucky in Norwich to be visited by renowned no-digger Charles Dowding. I've been interested in his methods for quite a while, so it was a real treat to see him speak in person...a very full-on two hours packed with information. As well as his main no-dig approach (applying composted mulch to the surface) he has loads of advice on time-saving methods. Check out his website, books and many You Tube videos. Oh and huge thanks to Norfolk Organic Group for arranging the visit, I know they've been trying to get him to Norwich for a couple of years but he's not often in this part of the country.
He kindly gave me a free bag of salad as I bought a couple of books and calendars!
To finish, a pic from yesterday, when we had a sunny winter walk down to our local Country Park (Whitlingham). Amazingly, although we live in the centre of Norwich, the park is within walking distance for us.
Thanks for taking the time to read this...I'll hopefully be back next week if I've managed to get a few pics. The iPad keeps grumbling at me that it's full, which isn't helping. Wow, it'll be Christmas Eve!
Massive thanks to Dave at Happy Acres Blog, who hosts Harvest Monday.
Take a look at what everyone else has been up to this week.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Harvest Monday - including edamame/ soya beans!

We've had some good rain showers this week, the allotment and back garden have been loving it (me too, as it means I don't have to spend time watering, huzzah!). It also means that my water butt at home has been filling up, so the lean-to greenhouse crops can get a nice drink of rain water too.

I took a harvest of the greenhouse basil earlier in the week, I love it when the leaves are huge like this. There's still a bit of purple basil too, though I've left most of it to go to flower...the flowers are purple too!
Tomatoes have been epic, with bowl after bowl. All varieties are doing well apart from super-marmande which has been suffering from blossom end rot, though fingers crossed, a few of them are now setting fruit without signs of it, (probably as the temperatures have cooled a bit so the compost mix in the pots doesn't dry out as much). 

Tigerella is definitely my favourite at the moment. They look and taste amazing.
My four over-wintered chilli plants indoors have some lovely ripe fruits on too, so I've picked a few of them this week, to make tomato and chilli sauce.

This batch had basil in too. I've made five tubs-worth altogether, which have gone in the freezer, there's still just enough room to squeeze a few things in.
It's been a colourful week too, with the first beetroots harvested. The variety is cylindra, and I multi-sowed them in modules at home first, before planting out under two of my bean wigwams. I had little gem lettuces growing amongst them earlier in the year too, so that small area has been very productive. 

The purple blauhilde beans are still producing well too, they've enjoyed the rain and so I've harvested a few handfuls over the week.

A nice variety picked yesterday...can you spot an exciting harvest? 
The sweetcorn (not actually the exciting harvest, but still pretty exciting), has come on this week and I've picked a couple of cobs. The variety is Sativa early. I've never seen aphids on corn before, but one of the cob husks was covered in them (and ladybirds). They didn't affect the edible part though.

We've had some really tasty meals, mmm.
Here's my exciting harvest....edamame / soya beans, wow! I had 12 plants I think, initially sown in loo roll tubes at home before planting on the plot. They didn't really need any special attention apart from tying to sticks when they got a bit tall.
I cooked them for a few minutes in boiling, lightly salted water.

They were so good, with enough to last over two meals for us both. So that's definitely edamame and chickpeas getting grown again next year (see last week's post for chickpeas)
I've had some more windfall apples, these have grubs in.
So I picked more blackberries... make the first batch of stewed apple and blackberry of the year. The apples are quite sweet so no need for any sugar, I just added ground cinnamon mmm.

I'll end on a guided walk at High Ash Farm yesterday, organised by Norfolk Organic Group. It's just a couple of miles from Norwich, and quite well known as it focuses on farming for wildlife. I've walked around the farm several times before but you get a much more in depth perspective with a guided tour. Here's just a couple of snaps - first, one of the many fields sown with wildflowers...beautiful sunflowers have followed phacelia in this field. Apparently a lot of the flower varieties have finished much earlier than usual this year due to the heat and lack of rain. Last week's rain has brought the sunflowers out though, lucky for us.
And second, the group enjoying a grey heron flying past, putting on a nice show for us. But most unusual was a swallowtail butterfly that tumbled through the air along the lakeside - especially amazing as our guide had never seen one there before...quite a way from The Broads where they breed on milk parsley....what a treat!

That's me for the week. Thanks for reading and I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Happy Acres.

Monday 6 August 2018

Harvest Monday - full swing (and chick peas!)

There are quite a lot of harvests coming through now, with plenty of kale and chard. Here's a small bunch I picked earlier in the week, though last night  I actually harvested about three times as much. I'm still thanking the wasps who've been doing a marvellous job of picking off most of the caterpillars.

Ooh, and talking of caterpillars, I was carrying out a bit of tomato care (removing lower leaves etc to improve light and airflow) in the greenhouse at home and came across this cutie munching it's way through some leaves. 

I popped it outside with a few leaves and later on, after a bit of book and web research, identified it as the interestingly named 'bright line brown eye' moth, which is also known as the 'tomato moth'. The name refers to markings on the adult moths, and apparently it eat lots of different plants, not just tomatoes. Anyway I'm happy to share a few leaves with it for fact it probably did me a bit of a favour as the leaves were quite dense and needed thinning!

It definitely hasn't impacted the tomato crop, I'm getting bowl after bowl at the moment, with four currently lined up on the worktop!  I'm really loving the detail on the stripey tigerellas. They're delicious too. One evening, when it's a bit cooler, I need to do a bit of batch prep with them, maybe I'll just do a tomato and basil sauce instead of slow roasting's too hot to have the oven on!
Back at the allotment, the blackberries are continuing to ripen well. A fair few have already gone past their best on the plants (probably due to the rain last week, plus I haven't picked them as often as I'd like), but there's still plenty for us. I eat quite a few of the squishier ones whilst I'm harvesting, mmm. The beans are ok overall - blauhilde (purple) are now coming along nicely, whereas the dwarf beans are struggling a bit with the return to dry hot conditions. The crystal lemon cucumbers are romping ahead of the other varieties, their leaves are still looking ok whereas the others have quite bad mildew (which is worse in dry weather). The crystal lemons are in a bit of shade some of the day, so that may actually be helping them this year. Although there's a nice big courgette in this photo, I've only got one plant producing, and it's quite slow to put them out, so I don't actually have a glut for a change! The patty pan summer squashes are finally developing little fruits though, so we should have some of those soon. The tiny apples are windfalls, but are reasonably ripe, so we're able to eat those too, quite nice chopped into the breakfast muesli.

An example of one of my favourite meals at this time of year - chop it all up, fry a little bit and add a couple of eggs. This had some leftover potatoes in too,  yum!
And onto the chickpeas...I tried growing these last year. I think I just popped them in the ground (not even soaking first) - one plant grew up and excitingly started producing which point I went to move it a little from growing into the path, and of course the stem snapped, ah! So this year I sprouted them at home first - soaked in a jar of water for a day, then drained and rinsed with water each day until they started sprouting, then planted out (probably about 3cm deep, just making a hole with a stick). I also put a stick in the ground at each location I planted a chickpea, so I knew where to look for them (they were a bit randomly planted, in the area I have two dwarf apple trees).

Anyway...ta daah! I had a few plants make it through, and once the pods developed, gave them some water, to encourage swelling of the pea inside (or peas...up to two per pod) and harvested when the pods felt nicely full. 

They didn't take too long to pod, but I imagine if you've got a lot of plants it could take a while.
I boiled them in a tiny bit of water for about five minutes. There were enough for us to have a tasty portion each, with a salad of homegrown goodies. The flavour was very fresh, a bit like a traditional pea but slightly different (bad description!). I'll definitely be growing these again (I didn't buy special seeds, just used dried organic chickpeas from the wholefood shop).
My next exciting unusual harvest to come is edamame beans / soya. The pods are there but need to fill out.

Apparently we might get another storm tomorrow night...we definitely need some rain again anyway.

That's me for this week, thanks for reading. I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by
Dave at Our Happy Acres.