Saturday, 5 July 2014

Keeping on top of the raspberries (or alongside them at least...)

The number of things that I have really not been that efficient at in the garden continues to increase. It didn't occur to me, when planting my rows of raspberries in my raised sleeper beds, to string up a proper wire frame. This has resulted in having to tie new lines, made of string, across the canes I'm using as a makeshift support every week or as (the plants are shooting up at mad speeds and there are small, underripe fruits hanging in tantalizing bunches from most of the branches - I think it's possible I'll get a good crop this year even though the canes are in their first year!). Next year I'm going to have to get a proper support and put it in before they start growing. String really isn't that strong...

Friday, 4 July 2014

It's all a bit of a squash in here

Oh, puns. They prompted Caligula to roast a comedian alive and Bierce to sneer at them as a “form of wit to which wise men stoop and fools aspire.” But my love of them, established early at the knee of my maternal grandfather, lives on. Puns and cracker jokes. I just can't get enough, and they spill over into all areas of my life, like when I made up herb-related puns for the herb centrepieces I grew for a friend's wedding. Still, dear readers, I'm sure you'll forgive me? Because the squash in the garden really are going crazy.

One of the things I've already learned this year is that less can be more. I'm not overly convinced that stuffing my outdoor shelving with as many plants in small pots as it can hold was the best of ideas. I suspect that using four larger pots per shelf would have been a better idea. Yet I have to admit, they are thriving! And, as you can see, they're spreading to block sunlight from other plants with their huge leaves.

Eventually I suppose I'll have to create little support bags for the squashes so that their growing weight doesn't pull them off their vines. But for now I'm really enjoying watching them grow. They soak up water at an astounding rate too.
Next year I think I'll deliberately position all of the squash plants next to the trellis on the side of the shelving so that the vines can cover that and so that the courgettes can get more sun. At the moment the squashes are really aggressive, threading their tendrils onto anything they touch, including leaves of other plants which they puncture. It's all a bit creepily reminiscent of Day of the Triffids.
Creepy vines puncturing leaves

I've got two winter varieties: Potimarron and Autumn Crown, both of which should be quite fruitful and yield 3-5 fruits per plant. We shall see!
Shelving covered by squash and courgette leaves

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What a difference some weeds make

Before weeding
I wish that I had a massive garden. Well, a smallholding really. That's the eventual dream, to be able to potter out of our house and see our cows and sheep grazing our fields in the distance, to wander about lovely large veggie patches next to the house whilst the chickens burble away at me demanding corn. I would use a razor hoe to grab weeds when I see them and all would be in perfect harmony.
Weeds creeping under the fence

Back to reality and my tiny London patio garden which has started to look really shabby around the edges. The problem? My neighbour rents his house out by the room to a bunch of people that have no interest in keeping it tidy. The weeds in his garden regularly top our six foot fences (which we had to replace last year) and they also sneak underground onto our land and push up through my raised sleeper beds. So we're not just weeding our own patch (by hand and with suppressant material, never with pesticide), we essentially have extra work because he never deals with his. Anyway, moan over, it is what it is, but it has meant that the garden has become incredibly messy over the last few months when bending over has become a bit too uncomfortable for me. But with the baby arriving next week, I resolved to do something about it and just three hours after the gardener started, look at the difference!
Post weeding (Cat conveniently in shot again)

It was an odd feeling, hiring someone to do something I'd usually do myself in stages, but very satisfying to know that at least it's done now, and that my poor plants are being given a break from the attention of the interlopers.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How to freeze berries: making the most of a home-grown blackcurrant harvest

One of the biggest problems with having such a tiny city garden is that you can't fit in lots of plants. This isn't a problem in itself as most plants, especially berry bushes, will crop quite heavily over the growing season. However, if you find yourself (as I do) in the first year of your garden, with immature berry bushes that are fruiting sporadically, what are you to do? Eat the berries two or three at a time as they ripen? Or save them in the freezer until I have enough for cooking?

I chose the latter. I was enormously excited to see some of the beautiful blackcurrants on my Ben Connan Blackcurrant bush. They were enormous and beautifully black and shiny and just begging to be picked. I was also pleased that once I started picking them, there appeared to be many more than I'd originally though hiding under the large leaves. I managed to harvest an initial yield of 130g. Small fry for now, especially considering that I can apparently expect about 3.5kg a year (about seven pounds) as of next summer, but still, more than enough to make me happy as the bush should keep cropping for a good month or so this year and hopefully I'll be able to add to the bag of frozen berries I'll have in the freezer until I have enough for a pie or, if the weather is still good, homemade ice lollies.

So here's a quick "How To Freeze Fresh Berries" guide that will help you store your harvest without it all clumping together:
Under-ripe berries/blackcurrants should be left

1. Harvest your blackcurrants. Make sure that you only take the juciest and ripest berries. Leave anything else on the plant to flesh out and darken properly.

2. Cover a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and (without washing them) spread the berries out evenly across the surface. Carefully place the tray into the freezer for four hours, making sure that the berries still aren't touching. 

3. After four hours, decant the berries from the tray into a ziploc or vacum-packed bag. Label with the contents and date and leave in the freezer to have new berries added to it each time a load ripen. 

4. Bear in mind that once you defrost the berries they might look a bit wrinkly or deflated - but the flavour will be just as wonderful as ever. This is a good technique to use when you're looking to cook the blackcurrants, but if you want them to look pristine (for example, on top of a cheesecake), then you might want to wait a year until you can harvest all that you need all at once. 


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Garden ornaments: Tacky or fun?

The Royal Chelsea Flower show always makes headlines. But one last year really caught my eye. Gnomes, those maligned imps of the garden world, were making a comeback. They've never really been my sort of thing but I have to admit to thinking that no garden is complete without a spot of whimsy. I have friends with pinwheels, and even a friend with Aleksandr the Meerkat in their garden, but no gnomes have made it into our circle yet.
My personal shameful preference has always been for the pink flamingo. As ludicrous in life as in plastic, they've always held a strange allure for me. I don't know if it's because I associate them with the plethora of bad 80's movies that I watched in my youth (there was always at least one flamingo on the lawn), or if it's just because they're tongue-in-cheek fun now that the low brow has been elevated. But I love them. And last month, whilst we were on holiday in Dorset, I emitted a high squee of happiness at seeing one peeping out at me from the window of a tourist tat shop. Mr Garlic rescued him from his perch next to the "Kiss me quick" hats and he now occupies a place of pride next to my Buckingham Tayberry. Tacky? Yes. Kitsch? Yes. Pointless? Yes. But he makes me smile as he whirls his silly wings that get him nowhere. He's not edible, but he's brought some fun back into the garden. 
Hello, my name is Catherine, and I have a tacky lawn ornament. What about you?