Country Living Blog from Herne Cottage

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Another Kitchen Garden Year at Herne Cottage 07/04/2012

Hello one and all, I am back again to report on what’s been happening at Herne Cottage so far this year!

We started on the veg garden later than usual due to work and other commitments, beginning with a tidy of old pots and pruning in the patio area, as well as some vigorous de-weeding! We brought in a few tomato and cucumber plug plants to get us started and these were potted up along with some pretty spring bulbs and aromatic herbs. This gave us back our lovely relaxing patio area that is just perfect for unwinding in with a glasss of wine after a hard day’s gardening, and of course eating al fresco when the weather is good! We then got on with catch up sowings of lettuce, spinach, chard and peas a few weeks ago, which have started to push through in their seed trays this weekend.

There was a frost this week however, that caught us out after a good run of sunny spells, so the tomato plants have perished as they were left outside and we need to sow some more after all! With the longer days and warmer weather on the horizon, we should have some new plug plants in no time..

The next job to do this weekend was to clear the raised beds, again of old plants from last autumn as well as the weeds, and dig in some rich organic matter.

This helps prepare and improve the soil ready for planting out seedlings. We added in some chicken manure pellets, as well as our own compost, freshly sieved from the bottom of the bins. This is a very satisfying task knowing you are putting something useful back into the earth from your own kitchen waste recycling and helping the next years crop of veg grow beautifully! Home made compost is also great for seed sowing as has just the right consistency needed for the seedlings to push their roots through into.

The first seedlings to then go directly into the ground were radish and lollo rosso lettuce in one bed, with beetroot and marigold flowers in another. I am hoping these pairings will look decorative next to each other when they are in full growth, making the kitchen garden look ornamental as well as functional. In the greenhouse were sown our replacement tomatoes, french beans, courgette and curly kale. This year we have also sown runner bean seedlings saved from last years pods, so that will be interesting to see how well they come up as well. This is a great way to save money instead of buying new seeds every year. If you can let some of your crop go to seed for this purpose it again is a recycling process of the whole garden, putting back into the earth some of what you take out.

The redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberry plants have all now been pruned in our fruit garden, and the base of the plants de-weeded with a sprinkling potash feed to get them off to a good start. The gooseberries already have flowers on as well as the sloes so here’s hoping for another bumper fruit harvest this year. The neighbouring damson trees from the railway embankment are also nearly in full blossom (and very pretty) so we should have another crop of wild fruits ready to make into delicious damson gin again ready for Christmas!

Lastly in the fruit garden, our rhubarb donation from mother in law last year has several healthy looking stems, so will have to find a delicious recipe to use that in over the next few weeks for when it is ready to harvest. I am hoping it is around the same time as the gooseberries as that will be a tasty (sharp tasting) pairing!

A final look back at the garden to the newly tidied raised beds and that’s our job done for this weekend. Now all we have to do is wait for the seedlings to push through, then the next round of kitchen garden tasks will need to be done, including thinning, potting on, and weeding…. but that’s for another post 🙂

Bye for now and happy gardening!

Spinach seedlings

Spinach seedlings

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Clearing the raised beds of weeds

Sieving home made compost

Sieving home made compost

Home made compost

Home made compost

Saving runner bean seeds

Saving runner bean seeds

Damson blossom

Damson blossom

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

Tidied raised beds ready for another year of vegetable growing

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Spicy Pumpkin Soup 30/10/2011

Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup

Here is my recipe for lovely Pumpkin Soup. Perfect for Samhain/Halloween celebrations and the spices liven it up a bit to make it extra warming in front of a fire. If you have a few pumpkins from your vegetable patch, why not make a few batches and freeze to enjoy at Christmas too?!

Spicy Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4

1 cooking pumpkin (can also use butternut squash)
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder or dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 litre of vegetable stock or boullion

Chop the onions and garlic and sauté them in a large saucepan until beginning to turn clear. In the meantime peel and chop the pumpkin into 2 cm pieces. Add to the pan with the spices, mix with the onion and garlic flavours and soften for about 3-4 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.

Allow to cool, then blend until smooth. Pour into bowls, serving with crispy bacon or toasted pumpkin seeds, and swirled in cream.

Yummy!

 

Green Tomato Chutney

Did you have to get your tomatoes in this year before the frosts hit? Some were still green? Well here is an idea of what to make them into, delicious spicy Green Tomato Chutney. This is the first year we’ve made this at Herne Cottage and should be just perfect in time for Christmas!

Recipe adapted from ‘The WI Book of Jams and Other Preserves’

Green Tomato Chutney

Makes about 3 kg (7 lb)

2kg (4lb) green tomatoes
500g (1 lb) apples
250g (8 oz) raisins
625g (1 1/4 lb) shallots
15g (1/2 oz) root ginger
8 green chillies
2 tsp salt
500g (1 lb) brown sugar
600 ml (1 pint) malt vinegar

Chop the tomatoes, peel and chop the apples and shallots and put into a large preserving pan. Chop or bruise the ginger and put in a muslin bag with the chillies (whole). Add all of the rest of the ingredients to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer for about 3-4 hours until desired consistency is reached (about the same as a curry or stew). Remove the muslin bag and pour into warmed, sterilised jars. Cover and label.

Green Tomato Chutney

Green Tomatoes in Pan ready for Chutney!

 

October – Final Harvest

October was the month for the final harvest for us at Herne Cottage. The last veggies left in our beds were tomatoes, beetroot, runner beans and chard. We’re hoping the Kale will keep going throughout winter – one year it even survived through snow! Just perfect for adding to winter broths with chestnuts and leftover Christmas ham. We decided to get all the tomatoes in before the frosts, which meant that some were still green. No problem however as they made a perfect Green Tomato Chutney!

So all that’s left to do is a final tidy of spent plants for winter, then planning next years garden when the new seed catalogues fall on our mat just after Christmas!

Final Harvest - Beetroot and Tomatoes

Final Harvest - Beetroot and Tomatoes

 

July in the Kitchen Garden 10/08/2011

July was the month that the main harvest started and we’ve enjoyed plenty of peas, French green beans, courgettes, chard and lettuce to keep our kitchen larder stocked! The second early potatoes were also ready towards the end of the month and we’ve been enjoying those especially with seasonal fish suppers. The veg beds need constant weeding and tidying this time of year also to allow the veg to have the best conditions to come through, along with lots of watering and feeding to allow their fruits to swell! We’ve also been pinching out out tomato plants to allow them to concentrate on swelling their fruit and feeding regularly also. Towards the end of the month/early August the first kale and runner beans were ready to pick.

The fruit garden has been abundant this year for us, helped by the combination of some warm sunny days to help ripen the fruit, but also rainy days to help swell it and make nice and juicy! We were still picking strawberries well into the month, along with blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries. The blackberries are also early to ripen this year and we have picked a good 500g already! Now the only decision left is what to make with them?!

Here are some pictures of our harvest:

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June in the Kitchen Garden 19/06/2011

Wow – what a lot of rain we’ve had this month. Still, it has been very good for our kitchen garden and encouraged it to grow rapidly (as well as the weeds – lots of frantic clearing needed yesterday!). It’s our first real month of proper harvesting and we’ve enjoyed lettuce, peas, mangetout and plently of strawberries so far. We also harvested the last of the Cavolo Nero (black kale) before the cabbage white butterflies have a chance to lay their eggs! The last of our self raised seedlings went in the ground and bigger pots (wherever there was room basically!), so we now have our runner beans, french beans courgettes and tomatoes well into full growth – along with everything else! The potatoes, beetroot, spinach and chard are growing well – and our artichokes are MASSIVE!! Shame you only get one per plant, but we have to say, they do look spectactular!! Will have to search italian recipe books for how to use these.

So how have we used all this harvest? Well, the lettuce speaks for itself and we’ve been enjoying lovely salad for lunches and dinners for most of the month. The Cavolo Nero went into a mushroom and cheese omelette, and we’ve been adding the few peas (if and when they make it to the kitchen!), to risottos, summer stews etc. Strawberries have been the best so far, and as well as having bowls of them with luscious double cream for dessert, Rachel has made the main harvest into jam today (see strawberry and gooseberry jam recipe here). They are still cropping too so we’re expecting more yet. Oh and we’ve had our first few raspberries and the redcurrants are ripening nicely too!

Our wild food foraging this month has been centered around the abundant crop of elderflowers there seem to have been this year. They are definitely the taste of summer as far as we are concerned, so we’ve made them into some Elderflower Cordial. This will give us a refreshing drink ingredient, or lovely syrup for those strawberries and some ice cream!

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading – do share your kitchen garden stories too and we’ll see you next month 🙂

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

First Raspberry!

First Raspberry!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Purple French Beans in Containers

Purple French Beans in Containers

First full punnet of strawberries

First full punnet of strawberries

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

 

May & June 01/07/2010

Filed under: Fruit Growing,Self Sufficiency,Vegetable Patch — hernegardens @ 10:16 am

May and June are when the season really picks up, hence not much posting for a while! There has been loads to do in the veggie garden over the past few months mainly consisting of planting out, weeding, successional sowings and general looking after/tidying everything as we go.

The first tasks were to start earthing up our potatoes. This protects them from frost, which you can still get in May, and encourages them to produce more tubers. It was a bit of a task in our garden, as our soil is loamy, so doesn’t ‘pack’ well unless wet. So we settled for a combination of the soil, grass clippings, manure and home-made compost. We stopped when the plants were about 20 cm tall and after the risk of frost had passed in late May. We did have some frost damage to our plants, with crumpled black leaves, but they seemed to pick up once the weather got warmer in late May/June.

Broad beans and tomatoes need looking after during these months too. The growing tops of the broad beans need to be pinched out to stop pests settling and to encourage them to produce pods. Also, with tomatoes, it is important to pinch out the side shoots to encourage the main shoots to concentrate on producing fruit. Both of these relatively tall veg garden plants need staking and tieing in too, to help support their growth and to avoid them toppling over when they are heavy with fruit later in the year.

After the risk of frost had passed in late May, around the 23rd, we planted out our tender plants such as courgettes, squashes, french beans, tomatoes and runner beans. Our brassica plants raised from seed (kale, purple sprouting broccoli, brussell sprouts) also went out into the beds too, with a cardboard collar placed around the base of them to help avoid cabbage root fly settling. A netted cage was also put up around the brassica beds to protect from cabbage white butterfly later on. These are the butterflies that love laying eggs on brassicas, whose little green caterpillars will devour a complete crop in one fail swoop!

The rest of May and June was spent regularly watering, weeding and tieing in new growth regularly all to help and support the young plants’ growth. We aslo applied some of our home made nettle fertiliser made in March. This is diluted to about 1/5th in a watering can and just sprinkled on. We had massive cabbages and courgettes last year due to this excellent stuff! The weather certainly warmed up considerably in late June, so watering every day, sometimes twice a day was absolutely essential.

As for  new sowings, in late May we sowed more fennel, mangetout, sweetcorn, gardeners delight tomatoes and successional lettuce. At this time we also took some of our first cuttings from the flower beds, to help fill them later in the season. These were delphiniums, sedum, heliotrope (lovely one purchased from an open garden, ‘Princess Marina’). We dipped them in rooting powder, placed them in a pot of compost, then a plastic bag over the top and left them in the cold frame to do their stuff. After about 6 weeks we were happy to see they had indeed taken root, and then could fill the gaps in our borders! On that note, the borders have been doing excellently this year, with lupins coming through in early June, aquilegias, delphiniums, anemones, etc, then giving way to roses, campanula, sweet peas, mallow, hollyhocks, foxgloves, irises later in the month. For the rest of the summer we hope to see our dahlias, gladioli, helenium, echinacea, and sunflowers do well, giving us a blast of summer colour, and endless cut flowers to enjoy in the house! We also started to establish another summer bedding area at the entrance to the veggie garden, with some rudbeckia, our heliotrope and sedum cuttings, as well as a lovely purple aster.

In the fruit cage, things have been a bit hit and miss. The bad news first: one of our blueberry bushes has completely died and we just cannot fathom why. We have another one left though that is happily producing fruit, so we will have to investigate that before next year to avoid the same happening to the one that is left. Also the first fruit that came through on the currant bushes seems to have been nibbled – by something with big teeth! So we think either slugs or mice. We are not too worried about it this year as they are still young bushes and perhaps next year when they are more established, they may be able to fend off an attack much better, producing more fruits to replace those lost. Now for the good news: most of our new raspberry canes have come through, so we should have a good crop next year, the strawberries are regularly producing fruit (after being netted, and straw layed under them) and we have apples starting to swell. The sloe bushes seem to all be doing well too, and we will have a good crop of damsons from the trees we have running along the railway siding (some gin or jam springs to mind there!).

In the herb garden, we began to harvest in May and June also, and now have a good crop drying ready for later use. These were oregano, lemon balm, mint, lovage, thyme etc and look rather fetching on our Provencal looking metal dryer (from The Secret Potager)! More seeds went in for a later crop including parsley, dill, oregano, basil and thyme.

Mid June we noticed some things nearly ready to harvest. The broad beans and early peas were starting to swell, with a small crop harvested later in the month. We planted out more winter brassicas – savoy cabbage, purple sprouting broccolli, swede, and borecale. Also celeriac and swiss chard plants went in the beds. We did some successional sowings of beetroot, kohl rabi, beans, peas and sweetcorn to keep the veggie garden producing over the seasons. Disappointingly our turnips bolted, so we sowed more in modules ready for planting when weather conditions more favourable. All the plants that need humid conditions are also now planted in position in the greenhouse, such as tomatoes, aubergine, peppers and cucumber. We started the regular feed of these plants too with standard liquid feed, to help the fruits swell. The rest of the nets were put up, including one over the peas (to protect them from birds, and also to help them climb up). So along with yet more weeding, watering and feeding that takes us up to July and we will leave you with some pics.

More photos on our Facebook page here

Harvested onions drying in the sun

Harvested onions drying in the sun

Patio pots doing well - can just see tomatoes & carrots

Patio pots doing well - can just see tomatoes & carrots

First flowers on our purple french beans

First flowers on our purple french beans

First peas

First peas

Flowers to help attract wildlife in full bloom

Flowers to help attract wildlife in full bloom

Carrots and peas

Carrots and peas

Artichokes growing more each day (swiss chard alongside)

Artichokes growing more each day (swiss chard alongside)

Greenhouse Veg - Peppers & Cucumbers

Greenhouse Veg - Peppers & Cucumbers

Lovely Strawberries

Lovely Strawberries

Runner beans starting to flower

Runner beans starting to flower

Lovely nasturtiums climbing around galvanised containers!

Lovely nasturtiums climbing around galvanised containers!

Tomatoes in mini greenhouse

Tomatoes in mini greenhouse

Apples swelling well

Apples swelling well