So my hanging baskets have been looking pretty sorry for themselves for a while. I tried reviving them but now the weather has started cooling (how can it possibly be Autumn already?) there is not as much of the heat and sunlight that they require to ripen well. So I decided to cut my losses and pick the remaining tomatoes. The hanging baskets were starting to look rather unattractive and so they are better off down and out the way emptied and ready to use next year.
As you can see we still have a significant number of unripened tomatoes. So what do you do with them? Well I have removed them and brought them inside to sit on a warm sunny windowsill. Here we should get some more of them ripening and reaching that lovely deep red colour that indicates a lovely sweetness. In fact most of the tomatoes I’ve picked this year I’ve put on the windowsill for a day or so to get that last bit of ripening.
Any that remain green can become a green tomato chutney, which is a winter favourite of mine with cheese.
Chatting to my grandmother the other week she said that October half term used to be called Blackberry Week as that was when the wild blackberries used to be ripe and you could go foraging. Now she is from Northumberland but I wouldn’t imagine the seasons to be vastly different from where we are based in the South West. However, we started having blackberries here from about mid August. It was the same time of year last year that they began and by the first couple of weeks of September we were overrun with them. Our blackberries are all wild and are spread about the land which is nice as we get to have a good wander, but we do tend to occasionally miss a patch. Last year the field was our best blackberry hunting ground and I would end up going round it every other day and picking two to three kilograms every time. And that was only the ones we could reach as there were many more that were too high up and so we left them for the birds. We had the field hedges cut back massively in January and they haven’t really got back to full strength yet so the field hasn’t been the best harvest this year. Last year C had blackberries pretty much everyday as her snack and she has enjoyed them again as a snack this year, especially picking them and then eating them straight away.
What I have noticed about soft fruits from the garden is that they just don’t last that long. Not just beacause they are eaten, which of course with C around they rarely make it back into the house. But also as they go soft fairly quickly after picking. Now this has made me realise several things. Firstly, the supermarket ones tend to last for a couple of days, at least, after purchase and presumably they are not in the shop the day they are picked. So what on earth do they do to get them to last that long, and how can that be good for you? Secondly, our homegrown soft fruits taste so much better than shop bought (in my humble opinion), much sweeter and juicier. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that they are eaten so much sooner after picking or just that some part of the production process for supermarket ones tends to mask their true flavour, but I just can’t find the supermarket ones as satisfying anymore.
So what do we do with all those blackberries? Well aside from eating a good portion of them, I tend to freeze those not being eaten immediately to preserve that wonderful natural goodness. I am lucky to have a tray at the top of one of my freezers so I can open freeze them. What this means is that I can lay them out flat and freeze and then bag once frozen. This means that the individual berries are kept separate and so it is easy to take out a few at a time. I always try to label the bags with the prefrozen weight if I remember! What do I use these frozen berries for? Well defrosted they tend to go a bit squishy so I have tended to use them for smoothies or yogurt toppings, fruit crumbles and of course jams and chutneys (I made about 20+ jars of blackberry and apple jam last year that were amazing). This year with the hedges having been cut right back we haven’t had quite so many but C was still able to have a couple of friends over for some blackberry picking and eating and I’ve still added to my freezer collection for the winter. What do other people do with their blackberries? Does anyone else do any foraging?
Now last year our pear tree gave us nothing. Zilch. There were a couple of malformed pears on there but nothing remotely edible. As the trees in the orchard haven’t been pruned for a number of years we hoped that a good pruning and bit of attention might bring it back to life although we weren’t hopeful as it is next to the pampas grass and quite overcrowded. Well yesterday we were able to harvest our first pears.
One thing about pears is that it is really hard to work out when to pick them as they need to be picked before they are ripe. So it is a bit of a challenge to decide when to pick. We picked a total of 23 yesterday, I’ve set aside some to go with our lunches this week and have a few left over that I might try and do a pear tart tatin with. There are still loads left on the tree so it looks like we might be eating pears for some time to come. Does anyone have any favourite ways to use up pears? Or any suggestions on how to make sure that you are picked them at the right time?
So this week we have been away on holiday in Ruda (watch out for a future post about my week and recommendations for things to do in North Devon) with some of our extended family and whilst we were away my mum had kindly volunteered to stay at ours and keep an eye on things. I asked her for a midweek update that I could share about what’s been going on at the cottage so far and what she’s found the biggest challenges and successes which I’ve included below. It sounds like she’s been having a good time (I hope) and she’s used to having a dog and doing bits of preserving so she’s well placed to keep an eye on things.
Ok………so here I am, left in charge of chickens and a ten week old puppy. The chickens are a doddle and have reliably given me six eggs a day. The puppy, lively at times but manageable and great fun (her rash has cleared up nicely but I’m still finishing her course of antibiotics). The problems are actually with the inanimate objects around here…..namely fruit and veg! Apples and plums just keep needing to be harvested and used as I hate waste, but before I did anything major with them ( apart from eat them or give bags of them to J’s Dad ) I thought that I would do an easy job with with some beetroot that Laura harvested before she abandoned me……sorry, went on holiday.
There are many different options out there when it comes to pickling beetroot but sometimes the simplest can be the best. I’ve used some Kilner jars which were pre-washed and sterilised. Simply cook the washed beetroot in salted water for about forty minutes until they are soft when pierced with a knife. Then drain and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Try and find some plastic gloves so that you can peel them without your hands looking like you have just committed murder (disposable gloves like the kind that dentists and doctors are ideal), then slice them, pack them into warm sterilised jars and cover with pickling or white wine vinegar and seal (a clear coloured vinegar is best to allow the colour of the beetroot to shine through). It needs to mature for about a month……can’t wait! Next job plum and apple chutney.
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.
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.
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?
Now this year I had planned on growing a selection of tomatoes in a greenhouse. Now we didn’t manage to get a greenhouse in time to do that but I did still want to grow some tomatoes as both C and I really like them (J doesn’t mind them in things but wouldn’t ever choose to eat them whole). So about a month or so ago we picked up some tumbling tomato hanging baskets from the local garden centre. We had tomatoes in hanging baskets last year by the kitchen door and every time we walked either into or out of the house C would ask for a “mato”. So not many managed to be kept for use other than random snacks but I did have some left over unripened at the end of the season to use for green tomato chutney. This year I’ve been more diligent about feeding them and so I’m quite excited about a new crop. They’re not quite ripe yet but there seem to be a good number of fruits there and they seem to be a good size. I think they’ve struggled with the hot weather through the past few weeks despite my efforts to keep them hydrated and the leaves look very weak.
So after a few weeks of a good supply of raspberries today C and I picked the last one. They have been looking a bit weak for a while now so I’ll need to tend them in the Autumn. J helpfully told me the other evening that they were going yellow and I must have been overwatering them (any problem we have J tends to think is either under or over watering). In actual fact on closer inspection it is only the canes which have had raspberries on this year which are dying off. The new growing canes are thriving. So in the Autumn I have to cut back all the canes which have fruited this year and leave those which have not to produce next years fruit. Thankfully it seems easy enough to see which are the old and the new canes. I’ve also now removed the netting and bamboo canes supporting it as there is no longer fruit to protect and they look much better without it!
So, this is the second year of our raspberries in pots and their first year fruiting. Now I couldn’t remember the variety and whether they were Autumn or Summer fruiting so wasn’t really sure how I was supposed to prune them if at all. As we’d had a house move and they had been somewhat neglected then I was surprised when the dead looking twigs that were left started to sprout leaves and then produced a good number of flowers and fruit.
What’s been quite nice about the raspberries is that they don’t all ripen at once so we have been able to enjoy (and still have more to enjoy) fruit for a good number of weeks. Not that I’ve been able to eat or preserve many as I would have liked too as C is a big fan of the pick and eat immediately strategy. She does let myself or J have the odd one but finishes all the rest straight away.
Our netting system has worked brilliantly and so far we haven’t lost any of our crop to birds. We have some arched canes in each pot tied together at the top and then have just draped the netting over them (see below).
Then when we want to pick we simply lift up the netting, pick and replace. Simple yet effective as a system as shown below.
So to ensure that I could actually have a chance to keep and use some of our crop this year I snuck out and picked some yesterday evening and have hidden them in the fridge.
Whilst I was there I noticed the new growth on our plants. So the current years stems have brown woody bases and then green growth out the top as pictured below.
Then we also now have the new growing stems appearing as shown below. It is these which will end up looking like twigs during winter and it is from these that our next years fruit will grow.