19 Jul 2014

A river runs through it

Oh boy, it's hot. And I'm so grateful that I'm not in a car, travelling down to the seaside (one of the options for my weekend).  Or on a bus. Or a train. No, I was in the garden yesterday since early o'clock, having woken in the night to the sound of tumultuous rain and a tremendous thunderstorm. As I'm on the second floor, the roof level guttering runs along ceiling level, making the rain sound like a trickling river running through the flat. It's one of the best features.  Rain means softer ground; more rain (forecast) means plants and seeds will get off to a good start - once I've protected them with anti-slug wool pellets (which, by the way, work).  Rain also means the garden gets a good soaking, a long overdue watering which I'm hard pushed to provide without a tap in the garden.

I had a walk round the garden with my camera on Thursday evening because I realised that my plan for integrating flowers among the veg growing is working, with little flashes of colour appearing all over and bees buzzing happily around. These are the photos taken (sorry, not all in perfect focus as it was fairly late in the evening); today more purple has appeared as the phlox paniculata has unfurled its petals. Never mind the sunshine and heat - this is what my summer is about.

The oranges:

Hemerocallis, nasturtium, calendula
Bupleurum, nasturtium, nasturtium
nasturtium & courgette flowers, succulent (gift so no idea!) nasturtium
sunflower, Milkmaid nasturtium, Blue Pepe nasturtium

The pinks:
Vetch, anemone, blackcurrant sage
Dianthus caryophyllus (pinks), Dianthus barbutus (Sweet William), purple artichoke
Primula, sweet peas, pansy

The purples and whites:

Chive, Eryngium, sweet peas
Lavenda angustifolia, delphinium, Polemonium (Jacob's Ladder)
Centaurea montana (cornflower), echinacea (soon to flower), 
Phlox paniculata
Thyme, alliums (last year's onions, great for bees), feverfew

And, of course, the veggie greens!

Broad beans re-sprouting, potatoes
Bush beans (Canadian Wonder), Indigo Rose (black) tomato (just forming)
Pea flower, Physalis (Cape Gooseberry)

12 Jul 2014


So we're having a summer of festivals, sunshine, music, happiness, flowers in your hair and chilling… but don't get excited - when I'm talking about being stoned, I'm only talking about cherry stones (or pits/pips, whatever).

You might remember that the cherry trees under my custodian-ship are both Morello, bought at the beginning of the community garden when there were quite a few of us. I'm not sure how the decision was reached to buy two sour cherry trees but every year those two trees are my best producers and, ironically, I don't even like sour cherries. Neighbours were told to help themselves as the fruit ripened but it didn't happen. I returned from a few days away to find deep dark cherries on the point of spoiling with none picked.

Not being one to waste good food, I checked through my cookery books (so many recipes for sweet cherries!) and googled for more inspiration. Not fancying a cherry chutney or pickle (good with duck), I thought I might be safe with a cherry crumble from an American website. The country is renowned for its cherry pies and cobblers so what could go wrong?  Salt, as it happens.

But first, time to gather the fruit in. I popped down to the garden with scissors and a trug. Having this year got wise to the fact that ants love the fruit juice and were swarming all over the fruit (unlike my experience last year), I returned home with just under a kilo of fruit and, it turned out, 4 small spiders, numerous teeny tiny caterpillars and 2 ants. As I picked, I'd discarded another kilo of fruit as it had little boreholes in it - either something had crawled in or out of those holes, best not to risk it - or had just become too overripe. With home-grown, it's always wise to check and wash, then check again. Yin/yang, there's a balance to everything with organic, pesticide-free gardening.

Back in the kitchen the cherries were weighed and picked over again - on a black surface so that I could see any bugs crawling away -

more had to be thrown, the remainder washed, dried,


stones removed, kitchen washed down (they were very juicy!)

and, finally, I was able to get on with the business of being a domestic goddess. The recipe was translated (almond flour?  eh? (ground almonds) - and cups versus grams) and about half an hour later, this was ready to go into the oven

with one spare for the freezer.

One word of caution: this should have been utterly delicious; ground almond crumble over vanilla scented sweetened cherries … BUT! why oh why did the recipe call for salt? In both the crumble and, more bizarrely, in the cherry mix. Also, lemon juice and zest in with sour cherries? With hindsight, no, not good. (Unless, of course, you're a big fan of Heston Blumenthal.) I blame my obsession with following a recipe to the letter the first time I make something; next time I'll trust my judgement.  Looks nice though, doesn't it?

So it's bye, bye American Pie but I'm going to see if I can rescue/start again with the second crumble and cook it with sugar and a good slosh of last year's delicious sloe vodka.

Just in case I haven't totally put you off, the recipe I used is here on the Epicurious website:  Sour Cherry Crumble 
It wasn't unpleasant, it's just that the hint of salt enhanced the 'sour' element of what I was eating and I was kinda trying to get away from that.

With a few amendments - if you have sour cherries to use up and want to give this a go - the crumble top would be sublime if the salt is omitted. The filling needs adjusting - leave out the salt and lemon juice, use 2 spoons of cornflour or arrowroot instead of 3 spoons of 'flour' (I did) and add a touch more sugar and vanilla - and possibly some booze.  Then, I think, it would be crumble-icious.

Finally, having stripped the tree of its fruit, now is a good time for pruning.

Edited to add: If you don't have your own cherry tree and have to buy cherries in, look for cherries that still have the stalks attached. The stalks should be green, indicating that the fruit is freshly picked and therefore still full of healthy goodness.

9 Jul 2014

The plot thickens, actually … eomv June/July

There's no getting away from the fact that gardening is time consuming. Last year I didn't give the garden as much attention as it needed and, come summer, it showed. (To me, at least.) With that in mind, I've made more effort this year with the result that it's coming together very nicely and the veg garden is definitely plumping up with edibles.

Despite slugs, snails, aphids, kids and footballs, I'm making time to work on the garden and to enjoy it, because spare time is precious.  I still don't have enough time in the garden but every little bit is making a difference. Writing this summer post has given me pause to stop to think about why enjoying the garden this year is different.

My gardening obsession has gone way beyond growing a few beetroot and trying to identify plants. Six years of helping myself to the community garden space, training in garden design/horticulture and engaging with the wider gardening community via blogs, lectures and visits to shows and gardens has undoubtedly given me a lot more confidence in what I'm doing.

My ideas have changed as well. Instead of growing neat rows of lettuces and carrots for the larger community, I now grow only what I and my helpers like. At the start, I so wanted the community to join in that I grew veg as tempting giveaways. I've now come to my senses and identify what I love to eat, what I'd like to try but is expensive in the shops (if available at all) and what is better freshly picked so that I can use the space effectively. When the veg patch was just started there was, shall we say, confusion as to who could take the harvest. It's fair to say that one's now been sorted. (Helpers, gardeners and very small children only.)

I've learnt to think ahead with my seed sowing so that the garden can be used all year round and not just in the summer months. (I have kale, broccoli (hurrah!) and romanesco cauliflower plants ready to go into the ground now that the broad beans have been cleared.) And I've introduced more flowers, both for bio-diversity, colour and/or for eating so that other people who live here appreciate what I'm doing. (Flowering now: Feverfew, sweet peas, meadow flowers, lavender, anemones, geraniums, pansies, dianthus, day lilies and the ever present nasturtiums. Next month these should be joined by rudbeckia, echinacea, delphiniums, lupins and sunflowers.)  … :D

The result, this summer, is that the veg garden is full with lots of mange tout and peas, kale, courgettes, beans and tomatoes growing, brassica plants for the winter, fruit and herbs. Space is made for unusual edibles such as Cape Gooseberry, asparagus, artichokes, cucamelons, golden mange-tout and giant sugar snaps. I'm also not averse to removing plants that aren't working for me.  All last year's strawberry plants will be being torn out as I don't like the flavour (but the slugs do). This year's Mara des Bois strawberries are so much nicer, and I'm thinking of planting just a few standard strawberries, nothing fancy, just Elsanta or Cambridge Favourite. The new Polka raspberries are a revelation - large, firm, sweet. Perfect. Autumn Bliss raspberries, you've been warned.

These are early Autumn Bliss from last year's canes. 

The warm and wet spring was a mixed blessing: more pests but I was able to sow earlier; more sunshine and rain meant that my lettuces and salad leaves bolted as soon as they were ready to eat, even the baby leaves! Rows of radishes and beans have been slimed and munched before roots could form.

But all that doesn't matter now that mid summer is here because, on the plus side, I can nibble on mange-tout pods, peas, raspberries and strawberries as I water the garden in the morning. The peas have now been picked, podded, blanched and frozen but there's still time to resow for a second harvest. I'm going to resow broad beans as well; they won't set pods before the autumn cools but I should get a crop of bean tops which are delicious steamed and served with a knob of butter and a wave of salt and pepper. (The same way I cook kale, incidentally.)  Sometimes with a softly poached egg on top. Simple, delicious, seasonal.

In previous years, I've felt a sense of panic as the year marches on and I get behind with my sowing, thus missing out on winter veg. Dare I say, I'm a bit more organised this year?  Fruits and veg are appearing in manageable waves - so far there are no gluts, although I have seen baby courgettes starting to form.  And my winter veg are good sized, healthy plants currently hardened off ready to be planted.

The orange fruit of physalis form inside the green pod. 
When they're ready to be picked, the outer case turns brown and papery. 
Cape gooseberries are expensive to buy but easy to grow from seed.

As befits a midsummer edible garden, there's still plenty waiting in the wings. Container potatoes are flowering so should be ready soon - I might have a quick furtle to see what's in the bag. Balcony tomatoes are starting to flower and the outdoor tomatoes are growing really well; hopefully this means that they won't all fruit at once! Courgettes are appearing, tall beans, more giant mange-tout and winter veg are ready to be planted out. Braeburn apples are looking good for the autumn. Actually, these look more like cooking apples but they are definitely Braeburn!

I wasn't quick enough with the elderflowers this year. I walked high and low over Hampstead Heath and found just enough flowers to make about 3 litres of cordial, most now frozen in small plastic bottles until needed, but this was in the very last week of local flowering. It makes sense that the trees would flower according to their growing conditions and location; being urban, London is a few degrees warmer but, as I drove back up through the countryside from the Hampshire coast last week, I saw so many elders still with a few flowers that I had to stop myself pulling over in country lanes to pick more!  The up side is that I now know where all the elders are on the Heath; there's a huge amount of berries forming so I won't miss out on elderberries (or sloes!) later in the year.

Yes, it's shaping up to be a very good year.

This end of month post is linking up to The Garden Share Collective hosted by Lizzie at Strayed Table in Australia. The GSC is one year old this month (happy birthday!) and is a growing group of food gardening bloggers from across the world. (Australia, New Zealand, UK and now US.) If you want to join us in our end of month garden share, click this link to find out more. Click the logo below to see what other GSC bloggers are writing.

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