Category Archives: Vegetables

Santa Claus is coming!

This week has had a slight Christmas feel to it and as Little Sis’ has been nagging me for another blog to read I thought I would write about her favourite thing – brussels sprouts for Christmas Dinner!

I had a slight panic that, due to the cold Spring, I was way behind with seed planting and had done nothing about brussels sprouts or parsnips for Christmas Dinner. I sowed a couple of rows of parsnips in one of my new raised beds and I am pleased to advise that, unlike last year, we appear to have successful germination. A staple of our winter diet is spicy parsnip soup, so this is a relief as last year we spent a fortune buying parsnips.

The makings of roast parsnips and spicy parsnip soup!

The makings of roast parsnips and spicy parsnip soup!

The variety is Tender and True (“Delicious for Roasting”) and from to sowing to cropping is 28-32 weeks – so we should just make it for Christmas dinner!

As I was over a month late with the sprouts I opted for a variety called Evesham Special (large, old-fashioned flavour sprouts) promising a heavy, early crop from medium sized plants, ideal for exposed sites. Sowings in February indicate cropping from September so fingers crossed we will have plenty for Christmas.

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On another Christmas theme, our lucky dip perennial box arrived this week. This was a special email offer from Suttons back in April – 4 x 18 different lucky dip perennials for £9.99. We had forgotten about it so it was a bit like Christmas opening the box to see what was inside. Our four lucky dips were:

Dianthus – I am not a big fan but Mr Mac is. We have two in the garden already which, despite my deliberate neglect, continue to thrive. They will now be joined by another 18!

Coreopsis – I was quite happy about this because I tried to grow these from seed last year and the slugs ate every single one. I was reluctant to try again but now I don’t have to.

Monarda – I had never heard of this but believe the common name is Beebalm.

Sedum – Mr Mac had been after some of this  so he was pleased. According to the catalogue it offers “drought-tolerant” late summer colour. Not something we usually have a problem with but it would be a nice problem to have for a change!

It was too hot in the greenhouse to pot them on so we sat outside in the sunshine!

It was too hot in the greenhouse to pot them on so we sat outside in the sunshine!

All potted on and ready to grow!

All potted on and ready to grow!

Normally what happens at Christmas is I receive my presents and then go out and buy what I really wanted! The same was true this week. We are fortunate that Scotland’s flagship gardening show – Gardening Scotland – takes place less than a 15 minute drive away. The show was last weekend and Mr Mac and I set off with good intentions “not to go draft”- but we were like kids in a sweet shop.

I bought some Helenium plants and another couple of Meconopsis to supplement the pathetic specimens I bought online. Mr Mac got some Lupins, Heuchera and some alpines. We also invested in another couple of Clemetis – a white and pink Montana for some spring colour.

Our purchases

Our purchases

Finally, on a present theme, I was bemoaning to Mr Mac how I am concerned that there has been no activity from the Calla Lillies I planted in a pot. All the other bulbs are starting to show but not the lillies.

When I came home from work the other evening, look what was sitting at the from door…….

Mr Mac bought me a couple of Calla Lillies and planted them in pots with some trailing lobelia.

Mr Mac bought me a couple of Calla Lillies and planted them in pots with some trailing lobelia.

 

 

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Purple Sprouting Broccoli…was it worth it?

I have had limited success these last few years growing broccoli. I have lovely tall strong plants but the florets flower almost immediately meaning there is little left to eat. Having read up on the subject I think my mistake has been to leave the florets thinking they will grow bigger and look like the ones on sale in the supermarket.

However, I have discovered that the spears should be cut as soon as they form and this encourages the side shoots. The more you cut, the larger the florets…..at least that is what I think is supposed to happen. I am still not sure.

Last year I decided to try growing purple sprouting broccoli. The seeds were sown on 8 June 2012 (basically 11 months ago). I planted them at the same time as the rest of the brassicas but was aware that it would be Spring before they did much.

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Most of the plants did produce small purple heads and I waited and waited for something more to happen. In desperation at the weekend I decided to cut the heads of to see if it encouraged the side shoots to sprout and it has had limited success. I think this together with a combination of warm sunny weather has caused two plants to grow and the rest to produce side shoots.

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However, they are still only about 9 inches high and are not producing nearly enough to justify taking up one third of my veggie plot after having spent the best part of year doing so.

I have no idea what I am doing wrong but I’m really frustrated as I love broccoli and really want to grow it successfully.

My first crop of heads

My first crop of heads

My second crop of side shoots.

My second crop of side shoots.

In their defence, none of my brassicas did particularly well last year, probably due to the wet weather. The cabbages never grew more than tennis ball size, the cauliflowers went to seed immediately and there were barely enough brussels sprouts for xmas dinner!

So being the eternal optimist I will give them the benefit of the doubt and try one more time. You never know, this time next year I may be blogging about a broccoli glut and posting recipes for broccoli brownies!

Mr Mac is itching to get this plot rotivated and I have to admit I really need to get my carrots and parsnips in the ground soon. So the purple sprouting broccoli have a stay of execution until the weekend and then its off to the compost and time to start again.

If anyone has any hints or tips I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

It’s been a busy old weekend….

 

While Mr Mac was busy digging, splitting and relocating irises and crocosmia earlier this week I was in need of something to make me look “busy” so I did not have to help him. To give you an idea of how much I really did not want to help him I decided to tackle my pot mountain……the pile of used pots accumulated over the summer of 2012 that had formed a heap where they had been thrown out of the greenhouse when their purpose had been served.

I think I even mentioned in my Jobs for February blog that it was the prefect time to wash and clean pots yet here we are at the end of April and mine were still untouched, caked in soil, providing the slugs with a comfy winter hotel.

I was so desperate not to wash the pots that I had even offered to pay some of my friends children to do it for pocket money during the Easter holidays but apparently the youth of today don’t need money!

I set about sorting through the pile, throwing away broken pots, trays and modules that were beyond saving and ended up with a nice, neat, tidy pile.

A tidy pile of pots ready for washing

A tidy pile of pots ready for washing

So yesterday when the sun was shining I got my chair, my scrubbing brush, a tub of warm water with some washing up liquid and bleach in it and another tub with clean water for rinsing….and set about scrubbing.

All ready to get scrubbing!

All ready to get scrubbing!

I did not get them all done, but the smaller pots I need for potting on seedlings are all clean and ready for use. The larger pots can wait for the next sunny weekend!

Clean pots drying in the sunshine

Clean pots drying in the sunshine

On Friday I had a delivery of “Million Bells” plugs that I had ordered for my hanging baskets. I read an article recently about planting plugs directly into pots and baskets if that is where they will ultimately end up, so as these were all destined for hanging baskets I decided to plant them up. There were six each of lemon, fire crackle, blue, deep pink and white so I planted the four small baskets with the lemon and fire crackle and the two large baskets with pink, white and blue.

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The instructions recommended three plants per 30cm basket so while they look slightly puny at the moment hopefully they will soon fill out. I will keep them in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks and then start hardening them off with a view to putting them out by the end of May.

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Today the forecast was for rain but we were fortunate enough to have gorgeous sunshine between showers and so we got the potatoes planted.

We planted Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple varieties and this year we have decided to try growing them in the ground rather than tubs or bags (except the first earlies).

We have been watching Gardeners’ World and Beechgrove Garden on BBC and so did exactly what they did….dig a trench, plant the seed potatoes 12 inches apart and pull the soil up over the top to form a ridge. There has been a lot of talk about the soil being warm enough to plant main crop potatoes but we did not check the temperature and just planted them anyway.

Other than the obvious way of checking soil temperature I heard of another method recently and that is to scrape back some soil and stick your elbow in as if you were checking bath water for a baby. Apparently in Victorian kitchen gardens the way they checked if the soil was warm enough was to pull down your trousers and sit on it with your bare bum! Thank goodness for soil thermometers!

Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple

Maris Piper and Pink Fir Apple

Even though the seeds have been in the dark garage rather than on a sunny windowsill, they still have chits!

Even though the seeds have been in the dark garage rather than on a sunny windowsill, they still have chits!

We set the seeds out in the trench but then dug a hole to put them in so they were even deeper.

We set the seeds out in the trench but then dug a hole to put them in so they were even deeper.

All haunched up and ready to grow!

All haunched up and ready to grow!

Finally we decided to make the most of the sunshine and planted the garlic (Solent Wight) and the rest of the strawberry runners. We forgot we had some old strawberry pots (yes they were lying under my dirty pot mountain where we could not see them) and so they were given a quick scrub to remove the  algae and planted up with the runners from the old strawberry patch.

The garlic had been hardened off for weeks but we could not get over the length of the roots.

The garlic had been hardened off for weeks but we could not get over the length of the roots.

We sneaked the garlic in beside the leeks.

We sneaked the garlic in beside the leeks.

Dirty strawberry pots.

Dirty strawberry pots.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

 

And we’re off……

For some reason this year I have been putting off getting started with anything, mainly due to the weather but partly because I know once it starts it is going to be non-stop until next winter! However, I had a word with myself and took a big deep breath……

Last Sunday I planted some flower seeds and sat them on a tray in the dining room covered with a plastic cloche (for paw protection!). Within 2 days the Malva seeds have germinated, closely followed by the Cosmos Purity.

Cosmos Purity seeds

Out in the greenhouse, the lettuce leaf seeds I planted two weeks ago have now germinated but no sign of the peas yet. The garlic is now ready to be planted outside but it will probably be a few weeks before we will be able to do that as the ground is still covered in snow and will be too hard to plant.

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Today we finally planted the First Early potatoes. We bought them weeks ago and they have been lying in the garage in the dark, not on a sunny windowsill to chit! However, no harm done and plenty of growth on each seed potato.

We decided to go for the same variety as last year called “Foremost”. Last year we grew them in tubs inside the greenhouse and the yield was superb. They were perfect for salads and we were eating them between June and August. Due to the main crop potatoes suffering from blight last year, these were the only potatoes we had!

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We have planted some in tubs again but also put some in compost bags. Enough soil to bury the seed potatoes and then just wait for them start growing and keep covering them with soil.

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A few weeks ago our garden got trashed by sheep that escaped from the field next door. They took a fancy to my winter flowering pansies and ate the lot. I had grown them from seed since June 2012 so I was devastated. It also left me with lots of empty pots, too late to plant spring bulbs and too early for summer bedding.

However, a trip to the garden centre to see what I could replace them with led me to the bargain of the year so far. In a quiet little corner where the bargain bucket is we found trays of primulas reduced to 75p for six. So we bought all of them.

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Then we saw a pile of terracotta pots, originally £15 but reduced, then reduced again to only £2.99! So we bought nine of them!

So after a little bit of dead-heading we now have three little pots of sunshine on our doorstep. Bah humbug and mint sauce!

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Jobs for February

Well I can’t believe it is February already and we have been blessed with another sunny weekend which meant lots of gardening jobs got done. Mostly weeding and tidying but I’m feeling quite smug now! The garden is starting to transform – check out my other blog at http://www.ayearinmygarden2013.com for a weekly photographic record.

I’ve been reading up on what gardeners should be doing in February and here are the main jobs:

  • Prepare soil for summer bedding by forking in compost.
  • Suppress weeds with mulch – well rotted manure or bark chips.
  • dead head winter bedding.
  • Start sowing summer bedding and greenhouse vegetable seeds if you have somewhere warm to do this.
  • Wash the greenhouse glass and ventilate on sunny days.
  • Start collecting toilet roll tubes and egg boxes for starting off sweet peas and beans and chitting potatoes.
  • Tidy up strawberry plants.
  • Chit early new potatoes.
  • Add potash around the base of fruit canes, bushes and trees – Mr Mac sprinkles the ash from the wood burner.
  • Warm soil by placing a cloche, polythene or carpet over it.
  • Tidy up herbs.
  • Check seeds from previous years to make sure they are still worth sowing. Try the germination test – put 20 seeds on moist kitchen paper and put somewhere warm for seven days. If the germination rate is less than 50% then chuck them out and buy new ones!
  • Clean out water butts.
  • Turn compost heap.
  • Sow peas inside for an early crop. I did this last year and it was a great success.

I still have not done January’s job of sorting out my seeds, seeing what I need to order and make a plan for the garden for this year but it is too early for me anyway. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made last year by sowing tomato and flower seeds in mid-February and then losing them all to frost in April. That set me back 7 weeks but everything caught up in the end.

I have done lots of weeding, mulching and dead-heading so don’t feel too bad and the garlic was planted last weekend.

Having researched what type of garlic to buy I decided hardneck types would be better for the Scottish climate. They are more hardy than their softneck cousins and thrive in the UK, especially in northern areas. The only down side is they do not store as well – not an issue in our house as we eat it all the time.

However, when I went to the garden centre the packaging gave no indication of whether the variety was hardneck or softneck so we opted for Solent Wight which is produced in the UK and Arno, a French variety.

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We split up the bulbs and planted each clove of the Solent Wight in individual pots so it can be planted outside later in the spring. As Arno is used to the French climate we opted to grow that in one of the beds inside the greenhouse.

Garden Blog 2013 032It is the first time we have tried growing garlic so fingers crossed!

 

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb….

Well we managed to get two jobs done this weekend – rhubarb crowns and garlic planted.

We had rhubarb in the garden but it had been there for at least 20 years. It had stopped producing anything worth trying to eat and after moving it to a new position last year it seemed to have given up. I have since discovered that plants should be replaced after ten years which probably explains it!

We decided to start again and bought two crowns each of “Victoria” and “Red Champagne”. We went for these varieties purely because that was all the garden centre had!

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“Victoria” promises to be high yielding with a tangy flavour (not sour) and “Red Champagne” is an easy to grow sweet tasting variety.

According to the labels, rhubarb requires rich soil including plenty of well rotted compost / manure if available. Dig over the area with a fork and plant the crown so the top is just level with the surface.  So we did!

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If we are to believe what is written about rhubarb then that should pretty much be all we have to do other than remove flowering stems in the summer, dead leaves in the autumn and cover it with some manure for the winter.

A couple of years ago Mr Mac tried forcing the rhubarb we had by using a section of drainage pipe with a brick over the top. However, with these new plants we need to let them establish for a couple of years before forcing them.

Interesting rhubarb facts:

  • Rhubarb growers in the Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle – between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield – have applied to the EU for Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). If successful, Yorkshire indoor rhubarb would join a prestigious list that includes Parma ham, Normandy Camembert and Newcastle Brown Ale.
  • Yorkshire indoor rhubarb is produced from crowns that are cultivated outside for two years before being moved indoors and grown in the dark in special sheds and harvested by candle light!
  • Rhubarb was brought to Europe by Marco Polo and was used as a medicinal product for centuries to treat stomach, lung and liver complaints before it made its crumble debut.
  • Rhubarb leaves should NOT be eaten but they contain poisonous oxalic acid which is said to kill off club root fungus, the scourge of the brassica crop. It was the active ingredient in now withdrawn club root chemical controls. Tear a leaf into small pieces and add one to the bottom of each planting hole before planting brassicas.
  • Rhubarb’s high calcium content has made it a popular metabolism booster among slimmers.

I’m looking forward to my first rhubarb crumble.

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The Garlic Minefield

Two things that you can do this month is plant garlic and rhubarb crowns. I was listening to Terry Walton on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 programme last week and Terry was planting garlic inside his greenhouse, each clove in its own polystyrene coffee cup.

Simply put a couple of holes in the bottom of the cup, fill it with compost, separate the garlic cloves from the bulb and plant each clove in a cup. When they are big enough and the weather is better they can be planted outside in their final growing position.

I thought, “I can manage that,” and so having paid attention to the part about making sure you use a hardy variety suitable for the British climate I decided to do a bit of research before heading off to the garden centre.

However, my research shed a whole new light on the innocent little garlic bulb. I did not realise I was entering into one of the most lucrative EU  smuggling commodities of all time!

Sweden has issued international arrest warrants for two Britons suspected of illegally importing 10m euros (£8m) worth of garlic into the EU via Norway. But why would criminals do that?

According to the BBC, Swedish state prosecutors claim to have cracked one of Europe’s most unusual but lucrative smuggling rings. Two British men are believed to have made millions of euros smuggling Chinese garlic from Norway into Sweden.

The EU imposes a 9.6% duty on imported foreign garlic.

The supplies are said to have been shipped to Norway – a non-EU state where no garlic import tax is applied – and then smuggled into neighbouring Sweden and the rest of the EU by lorry, and so avoiding EU import duties.

It’s not the first time garlic smuggling has made the headlines. In December 2012, a man from west London was sentenced to six years in jail for smuggling garlic from China into the UK. He told officials it was fresh ginger which is untaxed.

In March 2012, the head of Ireland’s largest fruit and vegetable producer was jailed for six years over a 1.6m euros (£1.3m) scam involving the importation of garlic. He avoided paying customs duty on more than 1,000 tonnes of garlic from China by having the shipment labelled as apples.

So when did garlic start attracting criminals?

The real financial implications for the EU started in 2001, when a 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic was introduced.

It was meant to prevent garlic growers in EU member states being driven out of business by Chinese farmers, who produce crops at knock down prices.

China produced 18,560,000 tonnes of garlic in 2010, accounting for about 80% of the world’s output. Millions of Euros have been lost over the years and most of the EU has been affected.

Well who would have know the humble garlic clove was so interesting?

Garlic facts

  • Garlic originated in Central Asia where it was probably used as far back as Neolithic times as a food flavouring and seasoning
  • It is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian and Chinese writings
  • As a culinary and medicinal plant, it spread in ancient times to the Mediterranean and beyond, and used in Egypt by 3000BC
  • Also known by ancient civilisations of the Indus Valley – in what is now Pakistan and western India – from where it spread to China
  • Spanish, Portuguese and French introduced it to the New World
  • EU imposes 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic
  • China produces about 80% of the world’s garlic, cheaply
  • Criminals can make millions of euros smuggling it!

Garlic

I seem to have Brussels sprout envy!

Every year the fields to the east of my town are planted up with Brussels sprouts. One major supermarket proudly displays a sign advising passing motorists that they are proud to be supporting local farmers and growing Brussels sprouts for Christmas.

last summer saw a substantial increase in planting – four fields in all but it was the week before Christmas before there was any serious picking activity and even then only one field was harvested before the big day.

I can only assume that they had suffered the same as me and as a result of the wet summer, the crop was not ready for harvesting in time for the big day. I barely had enough Brussels sprouts for me, Mr Mac and little sis and I had to suffer the indignity of buying Brussels for our traditional Scottish steak pie dinner on New Year’s Day.

Even now my stalks look great, nice and upright with healthy leaves but the Brussels are still the size of marbles!

Every day I drive past the remaining fields full of Brussels and wonder what is going to happen to them. The control freak in me wants to stop and pull the yellow leaves from the bottom of the stalks but it is not my place to do so. The rows and rows of neat, uniform Brussels sprouts do fill me with envy though. Am I weird?

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Control-freak gardening

This year I discovered I am a control-freak gardener. I realised this towards the end of the summer (I use the term loosely!) when I noticed one of the areas usually swamped with vegetables was only a quarter full with a teepee of peas, one of beans and a couple of rows of beetroot and swede. To be fair, there should also have been parsnips and fennel but neither of them came to anything.

In my quest to stop worms eating potatoes, they were all in bags, my carrots and peas were in pots, melons and tomatoes in troughs and lettuces and courgettes in growbags. The control-freak in me was determined to contain everything under the misconception that I would be able to control it. Did it make any difference ……what do you think?

The potatoes got eaten by slugs anyway, the carrots rebelled through lack of water and overcrowding and the courgettes got water-logged and turned to mush.

However, two experiments in control-freak gardening this year were a great success. Having had limited success with sunflowers and butternut squash in previous years – the former snapping in half from wind damage just as they were about to flower, the latter requiring a whole greenhouse to themselves – I was intrigued by the cover of Suttons Spring catalogue showing the most beautiful sunflowers in a pot.

The variety were Waooh! and promised “a multi-headed sunflower, producing a profusion of golden flowers with large, dark, central discs. The bushy plants are ideal for border or patio container…”. They germinated really well and I think you will agree the results were stunning.

Sunflower 1

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The added benefit of them being in pots was that they were portable and could be moved to a sheltered spot or placed at the front door so we could look at them from inside on the rainy days (of which there were many!), reminding us of sunnier times.

While perusing Suttons catologue I came across a similar solution for the butternut squash greenhouse hijackers – Squash F1 Butterbush. I was promised “a compact-growing variety which makes it possible to grow tasty butternut squashed on your patio.” And I was not disappointed. I grew two pots and they did have a fair spread but I was rewarded with many full size fruits.

Butternut 1Butternut 2butternut 3butternut 4

Now while these containment experiments were successful, it has become patently obvious that I don’t have room to grow everything in pots and I have a large garden with a selection of veggie patches lying empty. Something has to change.

So for 2013 I have decided to try to embrace the fact that it is impossible to control nature and give myself over to the green side; worms will eat my potatoes, slugs will eat everything, caterpillars will eat my brussels and aphids, flies, beetles, bugs, mice, birds, moles and deer will all try their best to scupper my hard work. To fight nature is futile and will only end in tears.

So my new mantra (provided by Monty Don) will be, “If a weed is no more than a plant in the wrong place, then a pest is only an animal eating the wrong food!”

However, my inner control-freak might need a wee bit of counselling first!

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The best tomato pasta in the world!

In any normal year, come August and September, Mr Mac and I usually take on an orange glow due to the amount of tomatoes we eat. Our staple diet is usually this simple pasta dish which originally came about as we had to find ways to use up all the tomatoes.

This year it was 21 September before we ate it for the first time and I have been waiting all summer to share it with you!

It takes minutes to prepare and you can leave it in the oven for an hour and go potter in the garden.

Ingredients

  • one big bowl of tomatoes
  • spaghetti
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Method

  • Fill a bowl with ripe tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Wash and slice in half (or quarters if they are large).
  • Place in a roasting tray and add a generous helping of salt, freshly ground black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a glug of balsamic vinegar.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Place in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C until the mixture has reduced and the tomatoes have started to caramelise. This usually takes about an hour. Check after 30 minutes and give it a stir. It will look very watery but, trust me, it will reduce down to a gorgeous sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Boil and drain the spaghetti and stir in the tomato sauce.
  • Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

We have tried adding garlic but I think this makes it bitter. Chorizo works well cut into small cubes and also using chilli oil instead of olive oil adds a nice bit of heat. However, I believe the tomatoes are always the star of the meal and this is definitely a case of less is more.