26.09

Cider-with-Rosie-vegetable-patch-September-2

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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20.08

Cider-with-Rosie-Vegetable-Patch-August-8

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

Cider-with-Rosie-summer-vegetable-recipes-7

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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17.07

Cider-with-Rosie-Vegetable-Patch-July-9

And all of a sudden, the vegetable patch is bearing fruit!

Well, it’s bearing vegetables, and that’s good enough for me right now. In fact, I don’t think I’ve bought a single vegetable from the supermarket in a good month now! We’ve had three kilos of Charlotte potatoes from just six plants (I forgot to weigh the harvest from the first row!), an endless supply of courgettes, the first of the runner beans and our sweet, earthy beetroots (my new favourite crop to grow, they’re delicious!), a slow but steady trickle of sugar snap peas, and more than a few ample handfuls crisp, peppery radishes.

And the lettuces have finally taken off! I think Jason and I might actually start turning green and leafy any day now, because we’ve been eating lettuce every day for weeks and still have masses of plants growing down in the vegetable beds. You won’t catch me complaining though, especially since it took them a while to get going!

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The radicchio plants that were just tiny seedlings in my last garden diary post are now planted out and thriving, and will turn deep red and deliciously bitter once the weather turns cold later this year. They’re destined to be turned into winter salads, perhaps with honey and balsamic-roasted beetroots   and some walnuts from the tree growing just down the lane from our house…

Meanwhile in the brassica bed, I’m just days away from taking a knife to my prize Savoy cabbage! It’s now got a lovely firm heart and looks just perfect with not a bit of pest damage to it, which is truly a miracle what with an army of cabbage white butterflies now on the march! Thank goodness for Enviromesh, is all I can say. And its bedfellows, the ‘Beaumont’ broccoli plants, are  F I N A L L Y forming lovely green heads, the first of which will be ready by the end of the month, I hope.

Who knew it was possible to get so very excited over cabbage and broccoli, hey?! But I’ve been tending to these brassicas since February you see, and so the anticipation has grown and grown over the last six months!
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Now that the summer vegetable plants are all away and thriving, I’m turning my attention to planning, sowing, and growing winter vegetables that will take us through the colder months. I’m challenging myself to grow enough food that we’ve something to harvest each month right through to next spring, so we’ll see how I get on!

The butternut squash plants that went in immediately following the First Early potatoes have begun to romp away, and though one is looking decidedly healthier than the other, if I get a couple of decent squashes from them to store for winter I’ll be chuffed to bits!

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Purple sprouting broccoli above, and below a main crop ‘Sarpo Mira’ potato below that decided to pop out of the soil a few weeks early plus the first ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ borlotti beans that I’m letting dry on the plants ready for winter soups and stews! Yum!

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But as ever at this time of year, there’s still lots to sow! So if you’re keen to get outside and grow some food, there’s a plethora of seeds you can be sowing during the next few weeks to provide harvests in the months to come.

Here’s what’s on my own ‘to-sow’ list from now until the end of August…

- Pak choi.

- Spring cabbages: a variety called ‘Jewel’, for overwintering and enjoying early next year.

- Winter lettuces and leaves: ‘Winter Density’ lettuce (a ‘gem’ type that copes with frost and can last through winter!), Mizuna and mustard leaves, and wild rocket.

- Spinach: ‘Medania’ is supposed to be an amazing variety for both cooking and salads that gets sweeter in cold, frosty weather!

- Beetroot: ‘Chioggia’ + ‘Boltardy’ varieties both can be sown up until the end of July, for picking in October. I’ve read that they can store in a cool, well-ventilated place for a couple of months too so we could have enough to last until Christmas!

- Turnips: I’ve never even eaten turnips before I don’t think but they’re supposed to be delicious, so I’m planning on sowing a tray and giving them a go!

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I’ve been busy in the garden this month, not just harvesting, planting, and watering, but creating new growing space too! Jason’s built two new beds in the last few weeks, one for strawberries (which I’ll be netting against toddlers and birds next year!!) and the other that’s currently got swede and kale in, but next spring I plan on using for peas! With a couple of barrowloads of well-rotted horse manure in from the yard plus a few bags of compost, they’re away and earning their keep already!

On the bed-building agenda for the rest of the summer (read: before this growing bump of mine gets so ginormous I can’t do much any more…) are a couple of long beds for the raspberry canes I just ordered from Marshall’s that arrive for planting in November, and two smaller, square beds for next year’s squashes and carrots.

Maybe one day I’ll get round to bark-chipping all the pathways around the beds…

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Oh, and I can’t round off this post without a quick trip to the greenhouse! Still just as jungle-like, but beginning to offer up a promise of fruit to come…

The tomatoes have been forming a little patchily thanks to my slightly shoddy watering schedule, but the cucumber vines are covered in baby fruits which makes me so excited! The ‘Crystal Lemon’ variety are my most-eagerly anticipated, with promise of rounded cucumbers that have a lemony tang.

It took me two rounds of failed seedlings to get these babies on their way, so the very first taste of homegrown cucumber this year will taste like pure determination I’m sure!

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On final recommendation before I go, for anyone looking ahead to next year already (I know I am!) and planning what to grow- James Wong’s wonderful book ‘Grow for Flavour‘!

Jason bought it for me a couple of weeks ago on a whim, and it’s absolutely brilliant. It breaks vegetables and fruits down into categories, explaining about the varying flavour and nutritional characteristics of different varieties, and how to get improved flavour from the crops you grow. It’s been the most fascinating read, and I’ve taken so much away from it in terms of what I want to grow myself next year!

It would be a brilliant read for anyone looking to get started with a veg patch, allotment or just some container gardening next year, alongside Hollie Newton’s ‘How to Grow‘ which I always recommend to beginner veg-growers.

~ ~ ~

What’s growing for you, this month? And is anyone else dealing with an army of aphids and cabbage white caterpillars trying to eat your brassicas down to stumps before they even get going?!

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