07.11

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Up until maybe three or four years ago, you couldn’t get me out working in the garden for love nor money. Too cold, too dirty, too many bugs- absolutely none of it appealed to me! It seems bizarre now to look back on my past self, and think of what I was missing out on.

I’m not sure exactly what the turning point was or why I changed my mind about the whole idea of gardening, but last spring, when Ottie was around six months old, I decided to try my hand at growing some vegetables in our little garden.

Two growing seasons, one move to a house complete with so much land I didn’t even know where to start with cultivating it, four beds (then four more…), more bags of compost than you could count, and thousands upon thousands of seeds, and it’s safe to say I’m addicted!

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And it’s absolutely changed my life for the better, in every way.

Over the past two years I’ve taught myself, through knowledge gleaned from books, YouTube, and the incredible Instagram ‘allotmenteer’ community, how to grow enough vegetables to keep us from having had to buy any since around May of this year. The novelty of being able to wander down to the vegetable patch to pick some fresh beans or courgettes or cabbage for dinner still hasn’t become old, and we’re eating a greater variety of veg than ever before. In fact, there were times this summer when we couldn’t eat the produce growing in our garden fast enough and everyone who came to our house was sent away with a bag or basket full of veggies!
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Possibly my favourite thing though about gardening and growing our own vegetables has been what it’s given Ottilie.

This summer as she’s grown, she’s learnt how to identify vegetables by looking at the shapes of their leaves and how they grow. She’s eaten her way through an entire season’s worth of raw peas picked straight from the plants, and almost every single plum tomato that our little greenhouse had to offer. She has unfailing faith in my ability to conjure up a fresh cucumber for her at a moment’s notice, and wants to stroke and hold every single worm, caterpillar, and frog we come across amongst the soil and plants.

To know that she truly understands where her food comes from, and that she’ll grow up with a connection to the natural world around her, makes me so very happy.

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And if gardening with a toddler in tow has taught me one thing this year, it’s about the importance of speed and efficiency.

Ottilie loves being out in the garden with me and taking part in any jobs I happen to be doing, but as with any young child, her attention span is short! So I’ve learnt that in order for us both to have fun and also for me to get as much done as possible in a short amount of time, we need to work fast and efficiently when we garden together. And that means having the right tools for the job!

I’m so proud to be partnering with Fiskar’s for this post, a company who make quite possibly the sleekest tools for gardening I’ve ever had the pleasure of using! I naively had always thought that a spade was a spade and a fork was a fork, but I was so wrong!

The trowel that Ottilie’s using was so lightweight and easy to manipulate, and made planting out our rows of garlic such an easy job! I’d also used the cultivator tool to prepare the bed just before planting- loosening up the top layer of soil and working in the manure I’d spread on it a couple of months previously, and scraping out the many, many weeds too!

I’ve never owned or used a tool like that before, and it was honestly amazing and made such light work of a job I’d been putting off for ages!  

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The fork in these photos too is a dream to use- it’s part of Fiskar’s ‘Light’ range, and my goodness I wish I’d had it to use all this year instead of the super heavy one I inherited from my Grandma! It would’ve made easy work of all the prep work that went into creating and filling the raised beds back in January!

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Also on my list of jobs was picking the last of the borlotti beans to have dried on the wigwam, and cut down the plants that have finished cropping for the year.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was being down in the veg patch again with my hands (and trowel and fork!) in the soil, after being too heavily pregnant for the last 6 weeks or so to manage anything much beyond picking a few veggies here and there! I’d missed the gratification of preparing ground, sowing and planting, weeding and harvesting. It’s a wonderful, refreshing break from the all-consuming nature of keeping two small children fed, happy, and entertained (though granted Arlo needs nothing on that front just yet!)- a little bit of ‘me’ time I’m always grateful to have taken.

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I’m so thankful to Fiskar’s for giving me pause for thought about how much gardening has brought to my life, and for the tools too! I’m ready to tackle that rather weedy, overgrown vegetable patch now and tame it ready for next year…

~ This post was sponsored by Fiskar’s. Thank you for supporting the sponsored content that makes Cider with Rosie possible. ~

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26.09

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Oh September. What a month you’ve been! I feel as though I’ve barely set foot in the vegetable patch, other than quick trips down here and there to collect veg for dinner or pick kale for a smoothie on Ottie’s request (I know, so middle class ;).

What with being nine months pregnant and having a baby the size of a watermelon getting in the way of pretty much my every move, the nights drawing in so fast now we’re moving into autumn, plus work and all the last minute preparations that come the month before a baby is due, it’s become so tricky to keep on top of the gardening lately!

In fact, it’s made me feel kind of sad at times seeing the weeds growing as fast as the vegetables in amongst the neat rows I planted back in spring, slug damage galore on some of the brassicas thanks to the nettles providing such a perfect hiding place for them along the bed-edges, and caterpillars eating away unchecked at a few of the kale plants.

But I’m trying to remind myself not to fret too much, that I can only do what I can do, and that even the biggest of weeds can be pulled up come next spring!

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We’re moving into the season of brassicas now, and it’s so satisfying watching them grow. Most of the kales and swedes were netted until just a few weeks ago, but since they seemed to be fast outgrowing their tunnels I braved removing the netting, and for the most part they’ve been fine!

To take us into the colder months, I’m growing a few different types of brassicas- ‘Cavolo Nero’ and ‘Red Devil’ kale, ‘Filderkraut’ and ‘Savoy’ cabbages, and a variety of swede promisingly called ‘Best Of All’! I’ve found kale such a satisfying thing to grow this year- being able to nip outside and pick three or four big, iron-rich dark green leaves to go alongside my meals is amazing, and the taste is a world away from the bags of pre-chopped, dried out curly kale I used to buy from the supermarket! I’m really, really hoping it lasts the winter…

The swedes I maaaay have gone overboard on- if they all grow to full size, we’ll have a good 10 or so to harvest later in the year! And beyond carrot and swede mash, I’m not that sure what I’ll do with them…answers on a postcard please!

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The promise of leeks to come…

I can’t say that our leek harvest will be particularly large, but it will be exciting nonetheless! We’ve maybe got 8-10 leeks that have made the grade- next year I’ll know to sow 10x as many, and also that they like a lot of water during hot weather to keep them from frazzling!

Still, I grew them and they’ll be delicious just for that fact alone I’m sure. I’m thinking of cooking them into some sort of gratin with potatoes and a creamy sauce, which is making my mouth water just thinking about it…

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This time of year is just so colourful isn’t it? What with the trees beginning to change colour and lose their leaves, the bright pink and red and yellow Swiss chard stems, and dark ruby of the beetroot leaves, the garden’s looking just as beautiful as it did back in the height of summer.

I’m excited to see the beetroot I planted as a second crop (after my failed attempt at onions…) do so well! They should be ready to pick around December time, and will accompany many a meal of sausage and mash I’m sure. I’ve grown them in multi-seed clumps again, with up to four beetroot seedlings per position. As they grow I just pick out the largest from each group, leaving the others to grow on longer. It’s worked so well the rest of the year, and has provided more food per row from the soil than traditional spacing!

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The Borlotti bean crop is still coming along, though since I’m leaving them to dry and only after the beans themselves instead of the pods, it feels like the most meagre harvest so far! But they do look so beautiful hanging from their teepee, and the dried beans will make a lovely addition to soup or a stew later this winter I’m sure.

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Perhaps the vegetable I’m most excited about though are my prize butternut squashes! Ironically of the two plants I have growing, it’s the that seemed to be lagging behind for weeks on end that’s suddenly put on a burst of growth and produced three full size fruits. They still have a little way to go before they’re that familiar tan colour and so ready for picking, so I’m just praying the weather doesn’t get too cold and nip them with frost before they fully ripen!

We’ve already had a mini butternut squash from the other plant already, which we cooked into a massaman curry a few nights ago with lots of coconut milk and some homegrown carrots too. It was the most delicious thing, creamy and warming and the squash itself was soft as butter too! I was so proud, ha!

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And that’s the round up for my little vegetable patch this month! I’ve managed to snatch some time in the last few days to pull up weeds, tidy up all the mess that had gathered round the edges of the beds throughout the summer, and just generally do a little maintenance before the weather turns truly cold (and before I pop!).

Our jobs for the coming couple of months are more about maintenance and preparation for next year- we’ve got compost to order ready for mulching all the beds over, two new 1x4metre beds to fill ready for raspberry canes going in later this winter, and four bulbs garlic to plant too! I’ve promised Ottilie she can help with that job, so I’m looking forward to a half hour of gardening soon with my favourite girl <3

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Posted in AUTUMN, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, GARDENING, KITCHEN GARDEN

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20.08

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I have a feeling we might be at peak-harvest stage now, with baskets and baskets of vegetables coming up from the garden on a weekly basis. In fact, I’m working overdrive to cook, freeze, and preserve everything I can so as not to waste our precious homegrown produce!

The freezer is filling up with ratatouille, courgette fritters (this Guardian recipe is my favourite!), and bags so full of French beans, runner beans, and blackberries that they’re a struggle to zip closed. Our cupboards are becoming more crowded by the day with jars of preserves, chutneys, and pickles, though with our family’s obsession with toast slathered thickly with butter and jam, I’ll need to keep making batch after batch just to keep up our supply!

I’ll be honest, I’m finding it much harder these days to stay on top of any upkeep of the vegetable patch, so am incredibly grateful that, aside from the ever-present weeding and picking of vegetables and fruit, it’s basically taking care of itself these days. I hugely underestimated how exhausted I’d be towards the end of this pregnancy, and am just so glad that I was able to keep up with the constant sowing, planting, and maintenance that the garden needed earlier in the year when I still had lots of energy!

Being able to do essential things like crouch down and bend over without making groaning noises as a certain little baby sticks its feet under my ribs now seems like a distant memory!!

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August has been the month of the bean so far, with the runner and dwarf French beans suddenly producing more than we can eat!

I love seeing them form on the plants, going from tiny, spindly little bean-babies to fully grown and ready to pick within just a few days! In fact, I keep finding runner beans hiding on the plants that I’ve missed whilst picking that are a foot long, an inch thick, and no good for cooking any longer. Those get sent straight off to the compost heap, though I’ll let a few pods mature and dry on the canes at the end of the season to save for next year’s plants.

Picked young though, they’re just delicious. Sliced thinly and tossed into pasta sauces, or dressed with vinaigrette and mixed into salads, I can’t get enough. Which is a good thing, really…

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My tiny gardener’s assistant is very, very pleased to inform you that the strawberry bed is still producing the odd berry here and there, and that they’re delicious eaten straight from the plants!

I’m hoping that the plants are using all the well-rotted horse manure I carted over from the yard and laid in the bed to create strong roots, so that next summer we get a really good crop. Though Ottie does seem to think that any and all strawberries that pass through our house belong exclusively to her, so I’ll be lucky to eat a single berry no matter how much of a crop we might have next year…

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Oh and joy of joys, my cucumbers have finally taken off! It took  F O R E V E R  to get them going, but they’re finally away and completely delicious! I’m too impatient to let them grow much bigger than this, but who cares when picking them young means they’re extra sweet and tasty?

Strangely, it’s been the outdoor plants that’ve done better than those in the greenhouse. The two plants that’re outside were raggedy-looking spares that I popped up against the sugar snap pea netting a couple of months ago and then completely ignored, and they’ve rewarded my neglect with dozens of fruits!

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And finally, let’s talk root veg! I finally got round to thinning the carrots, and I maaaay have left that particular job a bit on the late side! They were the most tangled, knotted clumps of carrot babies you’ve ever seen, and I had a hard time separating them out enough to leave a few in the soil to grow bigger over the months ahead.

Ted and Elsie sat dutifully by my side whilst I got to work, hoovering up all the thinnings that were too tiny or bizarrely shaped to bother saving. The bigger ones had a quick scrub-clean, and then made the perfect accompaniment to a pot of hummus a couple of days later.

Waste not want not!

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As we’re taking our final pick of the spring beetroots (I’ve got a load sat in the fridge that I’m planning to roast and stir into risotto later this evening…), the next sowing has been planted out and is growing well! And I’m glad, because as I’ve said approximately 500 times over the past few months, they’ve been my favourite things to grow so far this year! Why is it that pulling something edible from the soil is so very satisying?

Speaking of which, the maincrop potatoes are starting to come up! I pulled up one plant earlier this week to check (and photograph…), and though one or two have clearly been nibbled on by mice (I can’t be mad, the teethmarks are kind of adorable!), they look fantastic! Huge and with a decent yield per plant, and the one lone potato we’ve cooked so far has been delicious too! The variety is ‘Sarpo Mira’ which is supposedly very blight-resistant, not that we’ve had that to worry about during this arid summer…

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^^ The courgette jungle. ^^

Finally, a quick note on my least successful venture of the year- the allium family!

From three full rows of onions I’ve had just eight or so puny specimens, which isn’t quite the winter-long supply I had in mind! The leeks I sowed and planted back in spring have been hit and miss (they’re not ready until October, and the harvest will be scant to say the least!), and I’ve even failed at growing supposedly idiot-proof spring onions! I’m not sure if perhaps I’ve under-watered them all, but I guess I’ll just have to try again next year.

You win some, you lose some!

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07.08

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If there’s any one vegetable you can always count on to be plentiful when growing your own, it’s the courgette. Last year I had three plants growing in the tiny garden of our old house, and such a bountiful supply I promised myself that in 2018 I’d cut back to just two plants.

But in reality? I’ve somehow managed to end up with five, yes, FIVE plants of differing varieties, and we’re picking an average of two courgettes a day. Last weekend we picked NINE. It’s madness, madness I tell you!

So what to do with them all? Well, we’re cramming them into just about every savoury recipe going (from risottos and pastas, to fritters and salads), I’ve made batches of pickles and chutneys, but my current favourite way to use these sweet summer squashes up is to bake them into a loaf cake.

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The cake itself is the simplest thing to knock up (even with the help, or hindrance, of a toddler), and is absolutely delicious too.

It doesn’t taste exactly of courgettes, in the way that carrot cake doesn’t taste exactly of carrots, but it does have a certain undefinably ‘green’ flavour that works so well alongside the freshness of berries or some citrus zest. I’ve been topping it off a simple lemon glaze more often than not, but this time, thanks to a distinct lack of lemons available in the house, I had to get creative with a few of the first blackberries of the season instead.

Simply warmed through, crushed, and then mixed with a small mound of icing sugar, it made the most delicious topping for the cake. And oh so seasonal, too!

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The recipe is one I’ve adapted from BBC Good Food, though minimally it must be said. Mainly through laziness (I didn’t have self raising flour first time I made it and so replaced with plain flour and just doubled up the baking powder), and also I’ve removed the sultanas because does anyone really want sultanas in a sponge cake? I think not.

Makes one loaf cake.

Ingredients:
350g courgettes
250g light brown sugar
125ml sunflower oil
3 large eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
300g plain flour
2tsps baking powder

- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and grease and line a loaf tin with parchment paper.

- Grate the courgettes, then put them all into a tea towel and wring out as much of the moisture as you can.

- Add the courgettes to a large bowl, and add in the sugar, oil, eggs, lemon zest (if using), and vanilla extract. Mix together. Tip in the flour and baking powder, mix thoroughly, and then pour the batter into the lined cake tin.

- Bake for 50minutes-1 hour, and then allow to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.

- A simple and delicious glaze can be made by mixing icing sugar into fruit juice (lemon, orange, grapefruit, mashed berries…) until a smooth runny consistency is achieved. Allow the cake to cool completely before icing.

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If you have a go and make it yourself, do tag me in a photo on Instagram! I’d love to know how you get on!

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Posted in CAKE, COUNTRYSIDE LIFE, EATING SEASONALLY, FROM MY HOME TO YOURS, KITCHEN GARDEN, RECIPE, SUMMER

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