Raised beds · Vegetable growing

Baby corn harvest

This year we were very late in getting our raised beds built and filled, so we ended up being too late in the Spring to plant some of the seeds we’d originally hoped for. So on one of our frequent weekend trips to the garden centre we picked up some seedlings  that they had leftover. We went for mini pop sweetcorn. It is a baby corn variety, designed to be picked and consumed when the cobs are about 10-15cm long. Sweetcorn is a big favourite with C although she does tend to prefer the ‘normal sized’ variety. However, babycorn holds a special place in J’s heart. J lost his mum when he was very young to cancer and one of his memories of her is when he visited her in hospital and she gave him her babycorn from her dinner plate. He’d never seen babycorn before and it always reminds him of his mum now. So growing our own babycorn is something quite special for us. 

Now whilst normal corn is fairly easy to determine when to harvest (the tassels turn brown) for babycorn it seems to be a little bit more vague.  

These are the male parts of the plant, which some seem to suggest aren’t needed for mini pop but others imply are still necessary. 


And these are the tassels and indicate where each cob is.

Now all my research has said that if the tassels turn brown then they will be too far gone and will taste bad. So you have to harvest them when the tassel are still pale and you are aiming for the corn to be about 10-15cm long. Which is all very well and good, but how on earth are you supposed to know when they are that length without harvesting some? Well we decided to test one out today. We slowly peeled back the leaves (well it wasn’t really a peeling but a tearing) to reveal this.



My daughter was so excited to discover it, that is what has really made growing our own vegetables enjoyable giving her these wonderful childhood experiences. So tomorrows job is to harvest some more and then blanch and freeze them as they are best enjoyed when picked fresh on the day. I’ll be interested to see how many we get, as one doesn’t really give a meal!


Craft

Ironing table: my current set up

So in the craft cabin one of the key requirements originally was to have somewhere big enough to have an ironing board permanently set up for my sewing. Once I started looking into it a bit more I decided that ironing boards aren’t the most attractive and instead I wanted an ironing table. When I bought my three desks the intention was to have one for my sewing machine, one for my cutting mat and to turn the final one into an ironing table. I planned to cover the whole desk with iron safe material (no idea what that would be). I had a picture in my mind of what it would look like, and had seen some pictures of similar ideas on the internet so I thought it would be fairly simple to do. When my desks arrived they were a really good size and I started browsing the internet for some ironing board material (despite J’s suggestion that I might not want to permanently cover the desk as it was quite a large surface). But I just didn’t manage to find what I was after and, being desperate to start crafting I decided to get a temporary portable mat until I could create what I was after. I went for this one as it had the best reviews on Amazon (always a good indicator) and wasn’t too expensive for what I saw as a temporary solution. It rolls up nicely so it can be put away as required (although I’m leaving it out all the time at the moment).


My main concern with an ironing mat was that it would leave condensation on the table but so far (despite extensive use) that hasn’t been a problem. It also kind of matches the colour my chair will be (when that finally arrives) which is good. I also think it looks smart enough to have out all the time.


As sewing requires lots of bits of pressing seams, having a good iron set up was really important to me as when I was having to sew on my dining table I found the faff of putting up the ironing board and setting up (and then waiting for the iron to cool before putting away) put me off doing bits of sewing when I only had limited time. J wanted to me to get one of those huge steam irons to have, but as I mainly use cotton and didn’t really fancy spending £200+ on an iron I looked for an alternative. I settled on the idea of a cordless iron which would give me a bit more flexibility when needing to move about my sewing benches. Plus, the idea of dangling cords has always seemed like quite a hazard to me. I ended up going for this one, again as it had great reviews. 


When you first switch it on it needs about 20 seconds to heat up (indicated by blue flashing light) then a constant blue light tells you it is fully charged. Then you use it as normal and when it needs more power it flashed orange, it then takes less than 6 seconds to be ready again, time to turn your fabric/garment to the next position. It suits my purpose perfectly and fits nicely on my ironing table. I’m still not 100% that this will be my final set up, but for now it seems to suit. What does everyone else do about pressing when sewing? Does anyone have any suggestions for how I can improve my set up?

Fruit growing

Hanging basket tomatoes

As we don’t have a greenhouse yet, we grew our tomatoes in hanging baskets again this year. They are one of C’s favourite snacks. So far we had loads of flowers and then loads of green (unripened) fruit but they have been remarkably slow to ripen. Then after I was away for a week up north and there was a deluge of bad weather they seemed a little, well, how should I put this, a little dead. Actually scrap that. They seemed a lot dead. Well some of them do. Now for tomatoes there are a couple of possibilities when they start to look like this. It could be a lack of nutrients of some kind (magnesium apparently is the norm), the solution for this is to give them a feed of Epsom salts. It could be die back, possibly caused by overcrowding as the foliage is quite dense. It also could be blight. Blight is the worry of vegetable gardeners (or one of the worries) as it can decimate potato and tomato crops (they are the same family). It is a type of fungus (I think) which is encouraged in wet weather, so in our particularly damp summer it has been an ever present concern. 

I’ve given my tomatoes a quick feed of Epsom salts and have cut off some of the foliage and am keeping watch. We’ve had a good enough supply of fruit from it so far and the fruit are staying healthy, so I think for us it was a combination of everything (apart from blight). Hopefully we still have plenty more fruit to come. 

Fruit growing

Plums 

We have one quite old plum tree (well at least we think it’s quite old) in our garden and we’re lucky that it is a Victoria plum tree.  Victoria plums are considered by many as the Queen of plums, their trees reliably produce a good volume of tasty produce. This year it looked like we were going to have an amazing harvest when the fruits started to appear. I had planned to thin them a bit but, what with one thing and another, I never got round to it. It turns out that was a mistake. Our tree is laden with ripening plums. However, where we have had so many so close to each other we have had some go bad. And as they are so closely packed the badness spreads quite quickly. We’ve also had a number of branches snap in the poor weather we’ve had and so they need to be tended to. 


However, it is lovely to see the branches so heavy with fruit, especially as when the hang low it makes them easier to pick! 

The day before yesterday C and I picked two kilograms and made them into plum and rum jam (a favourite of ours and the one which we get requests for most frequently).


All ready to start jam making in my trusty old jam pan


The finished product, 12 jars in total with 3 kg of jam. (I need to get nicer labels, I know, but at least I’m reusing jars).


I did have a small amount leftover for us to try on crumpets, I mean it wouldn’t be right not to test it out. 

So after that massive harvest I thought we would be good for a few days, but then today C and I harvested another 3kg (and we’re still only going for the easy to reach ones. 


J has requested we make some plum crumble so it looks like that’s going to be this evenings job. 

Craft

Coaster craft guide

So now the cabin is up and running I’ve taken advantage and spent as much of my free time as possible there. Although I still have lots to do to get it finally organised, I just really wanted to make something. Anything. I’ve had so many things that I want to make but I just haven’t really been able to get my sewing equipment out that easily previously. So I just wanted to complete something simple to christen my cabin. My first project was two coasters for my cabin for when I have a cuppa down there. Ridiculously simple to make but the perfect homely touch. 


Homemade coaster

You need:

  • Material of your choice, this project is perfect for scraps you’ll need approximately 2 6 inch squares per coaster. Material should be prewashed and ironed. 
  • Cotton thread to match (or contrast if you prefer) your material.
  • Wadding – the same size to match your material, though you only need one square per coaster.

Instructions

  • Measure and cut your material and wadding to size. I prefer to measure a coaster I already have to get the size I like. Remember to add on an extra half an inch each way for your seams. You need one square of wadding and two squares of material per coaster.
  • Put the two pieces of material right sides together and put the wadding on top and using a 1/4 inch seam sew around the edge (make sure you leave a gap of about an inch so you can turn it inside out).
  • Trim the wadding and any excess material around the seams, being careful not to cut too close. Cut off the corners to enable as smooth a finished product as possible (figure one).
  • Now turn your coaster the right way round by pushing the fabric and wadding through the opening you left. This can be a bit fiddly, I sometimes use a crochet hook to help me. Pay particular attention to the corners (figure two). 
  • Now press your coaster, making sure that the gap left in the seam is lying correctly.
  • Finally sew all around the four edges, you need to sew close enough to the edge so that the gap in the seam is closed (figure three). 

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3


Ridiculously simple but I think they are very effective. I’ve also done some coasters and placemats for when we have BBQs in the garden. 

Dog

Jessie, end of week one: what were we thinking?

So today we have had Jessie home for a week. Although we would have considered ourselves prepared (I had a family dog growing up, we’d thought about puppy proofing and had bought all our supplies, we’d even read a book), we weren’t. Well we were as prepared as we could have been but nothing can really prepare you for how much your life will change. Same as having children really. We have been really lucky as Jessie has a lovely nature and has settled really well with being away from her mum and six siblings. We’ve also been lucky that C and her have bonded well and C has embraced having her join our household. J and I have been keen that Jessie has to fit in with our lifestyle and whilst we are willing to make concessions as she settles in, ultimately she will have to muck in with the rest of us. However, for this first week we have spent time working out Jessie’s needs and routine and seeing how it will fit in with our lives. So this is where we’re at with our now nine week old puppy’s routine.

J gets up at 6 and cleans out the cage, as required, and gives Jessie her breakfast. He then takes her for a couple of laps around the field, he’s currently at one with the lead so she learns how to walk well on it and one without with her walking next to him. She also normally manages her morning toileting during this, both varieties. I get up at around 7 and make us both a morning latte. Then it varies depending on what time J needs to leave the house and what time C wakes up (anytime between 7 and 8:30). We are trying to focus on several things at the moment with Jessie as part of her training/learning process. We are trying not to leave her unattended when awake (so we can stop chewing or poor behaviour immediately), if she is asleep on the floor I keep myself nearby (although I do pop to the kitchen/dining room/bathroom as required) in case she wakes up. This has provided some restrictions in what myself and C can get done but we’ve adapted alright so far. When she is awake C and I try to play with her both inside and out (when the weather has been nice enough) and have encouraged her to explore within reason. When C and I are having breakfast, or in fact when any of us are eating, then we are insisting that she is in her crate. For now we are locking the door but we’re hoping as she ages it will become a habit for her to go there when we go to the table. Why are we doing this? Well, both J and I don’t like dogs begging at the table and so want to try and make sure she leaves us alone when we eat. At first she would object when we put her in there but now she is increasingly going in there willingly and is calm and happy there. She now often goes in there herself for naps. Though sometimes just stretching out on the floor is best. 

Co-ordinating lunchtimes has been tricky as both she and C normally eat at 12, so I’ve tended to give Jessie her lunch first and then take her outside for her toilet stop and then give C her lunch afterwards. Speaking of toilet training, I’d really hoped that that particular phase of my life was over now. There seem to be mixed opinions about the best way to house train a dog. As seems to be the case with children, everyone has an opinion on what you should do. Some say use puppy pads, some say don’t; some say go down to them at night, some say never go down; some say let them out every two hours in the night, some say don’t. We’ve gone with what is going to work best for our life at the moment. That is having a puppy pad in her crate which she can use at night or when she’s shut in there. Then we let her outside at several points in the day; as soon as she’s let out of her crate (morning and anytime she’s been in there during the day), straight after meals, when she wakes up and when she’s had a big drink. That sounds like a lot but it isn’t really, she does sleep a lot and she’s getting pretty efficient at going as required. We’re also using a key word (toilet) whenever she does anything so she realises what we want her to do when we say it (in theory). We are having the occasional accident but that’s really only been when C has had to take priority. 


There have been lots of attempts at chewing so we’ve had to be firm with her. We’ve also had some distractions which have proven a godsend. My current favourite is her Kong, which, thanks to a tip from a friend, I have been filling with cream cheese and then freezing. It’s great for when she’s in a mood to chew and her teeth are getting to her. She absolutely loves it.


So although it has been a tough week and very trying at times, Jessie is settling in well and I keep thinking that it will only get better in time as she gets older. At least I hope it will. C has been brilliant with her considering how much her life has been upturned, I’ve been really proud of her. We’ve had to find different ways to play at times to avoid lots of tempting toys on the floor but it has been a rather fun adventure.

Dog · Life in the Countryside

Toilets, a puppy and a toddler

C has been toilet training since February (ish) but does still need prompting, especially if there are lots of distractions. Now I’ve been prepared for a regression for C whilst trying to housetrain Jessie and even a bit more of her wanting to go to the toilet outside. What I was not prepared for was the hilarity of today. I was trying to persuade C to go to the toilet after I realised she hadn’t gone since we had an emergency poo stop this morning whilst fabric shopping (again a phrase I never thought would be in my vocabulary pre-baby). The only way I could persuade her to go was to say she needed to show Jessie what she was doing. Cue the situation with C on the toilet, me on the floor talking to her and Jessie exploring with us. Jessie tried to lick C’s legs which caused hysterical laughing and her trying to pull her legs up, which caused Jessie to get very excitable and try to run behind the toilet. Which caused C to giggle more. And Jessie to try to run round more. And so on. There are many moments in my life when I think what the hell am I doing. If you had told me 10 years ago if I would have been happy sitting on a toilet floor with a dog running round me trying to persuade a toddler to go to the toilet then I would have thought you were crazy. But then I guess time can change what you know as happiness. At the moment there’s nothing which makes me happier than spending time with these two lunatics (and J of course).

Recipes

Beetroot and chocolate cake

So with our abundant crop of beetroot I’ve been reading about different ways to use beetroot. And as fate would have it when I went to a cafe recently there was a lovely looking beetroot and chocolate cake. Now it seems to be very on trend to include vegetables in your cakes. Carrot cake has obviously been popular for a number of years but I’ve also seen lots of recipes recently for courgette cake, parsnip cake, sweet potato cake and even spinach cake. Why is this so popular? Is it that because people see vegetables in cakes they feel less guilty about eating them? Are they (or do they seem) healthier? Is everyone suffering from a glut of homegrown veggies that they need to use up? Or are desperate parents trying to find novel ways to help their toddlers get their five a day (or is it supposed to be seven a day now, I lose track). Whatever everyone else’s reason, I’m trying beetroot cake as I’ve got lots of beetroot. Now I’ve never been a fan of carrot cake (and have never tried any other vegetable cake) as the idea of vegetables in cakes really puts me off. But I’ve been assured that you can’t really taste the beetroot in a beetroot and chocolate cake so I’m going to test it out when I have friends come round this week. 

There are loads of recipes out there for chocolate and beetroot cake so I’ve gone with one which has been recommended by a Facebook gardening group. It also has the beetroot raw and grated which appealed to me more than including it cooked. I have to say I was slightly (very) nervous about how it was going to turn out whilst mixing as it looked pretty disgusting. 


However, when it came out it looked like, well, a normal chocolate cake.



I was very worried about the taste still and wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to let my friends try it without sampling it first, as I pride myself on my ability to produce an alright tasting sponge. So J and I cut ourselves a piece each and quickly covered it in chocolate spread (I’ll do a proper icing for the rest tomorrow but will have to wait for it to be stone cold first). 


And the verdict? Totally amazing. Really moist. I coudn’t taste the beetroot, although J said that he could. It was light (surprising when it was cooking for nearly an hour) and had a lovely rich chocolate taste without being too sickly. It’s definitely one to try again and has helped, a bit, to use up some of our beetroot. 

Lazy beds · Vegetable growing

Potato storage and preserving

Now because of timings in creating our lazy beds we ended up planting all of our potatoes at the same time. We had six varieties: red duke of York (first earlies), Charlotte (second earlies), Maris Peer (second earlies), Maris Piper (early maincrop), Purple Majesty (maincrop) and King Edward (large maincrop). Now the theory is that they should be ready in sequence, which they haven’t all been, and even if they do spread themselves out a bit more, we had 1kg of seed potatoes of each variety so we’re going to end up with a lot of potatoes. An awful lot. We started pulling them up the other week but to be honest we didn’t really think it through and just started pulling up those where the foliage was dying back. We did stop but not before we had a vast haul. My wonderful husband then proceeded to help out (as good husband always do) and started cleaning them ready for use. 


It wasn’t until later when I did a bit of reading about homegrown potatoes that I realised we probably hadn’t done the right thing with our harvest if we were wanting a good storage period. The best thing to do is to pull up the plant and harvest any potatoes that are attached. 


Then ensure any potatoes still in the ground are still well covered with soil and leave for a couple of weeks for the skins to set. This will make them firmer and better able to withstand storage. Instead, some people, will harvest and let them dry out in the sun. I’ve opted to leave them in the ground. 


Now you can, in theory, harvest just what is needed when it’s needed. Or, if you are concerned about possible pest damage, then harvest and store in a dark, cool place. Most people opt for brown paper bags or hessian sacks for this purpose. Then only wash when you are ready to use. 

When it comes to preserving potatoes then the freezer is your best friend. Potatoes can’t be frozen raw so they need to be processed in some way first. I’m a big fan of my freezer and tend to do lots of batch cooking for my freezer. So far with our first harvest of potatoes I have done some roast potatoes: parboiled and tossed in flour and lard, then open frozen before bagging, they can then be popped straight into the oven from frozen to crisp up. They make delicious roasties and it’s easy to just take out the number you need. 


We’ve also tried doing a potato bake: sliced potato and onion in layers in a dish, then covered in stock (I prefer chicken stock for the taste), season (I use salt, pepper and a little thyme from the garden) then bake until the potatoes are cooked (about 40 minutes). We used purple majesty potatoes for this and have frozen in the dish and covered with foil. When we’re going to use it we will take it out the day before use (or on the day, but then it will take longer to cook) and cover with a sprinkling of cheese and bake for 15 mins. It doesn’t look particularly appetising now, but I promise it is delicious and fairly healthy (without the cheese). 


I also love to do a few baked potatoes in the oven when I have space then they can be frozen in foil and either defrosted in the microwave (remove the foil) or the oven relatively quickly for a proper baked potato taste in a rush. What does anyone else do to use up potatoes? I need some more inspiring ideas. 

Fruit growing

The blueberry

Yes, you are reading that title correctly. We have three blueberry plants which between them have produced the sum total of one blueberry. One solitary blueberry. Not exactly going to make a meal.


I mean granted it was very beautifully formed. I let C pick it (they are her favourite fruit) but even she was disappointed with it’s lack of companions; “I like more blueberries”. Well tough luck for this year I’m afraid. I’m hoping that it is because it’s their first year in proper soil (blueberries need acidic soil) that we have a lack of fruit as the foliage has been really flourishing. We’ve been taking care to water them in rainwater to maintain the PH balance too. I’m not sure what else to do to increase productivity?