Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Raised beds

Just look how crazy the garden went when I was away…

We recently came back from being away from the cottage for almost three weeks and I have to say that although I loved our holiday, I was really glad to be home. Our garden was watered whilst we were away but any gardener know that no one looks after your garden as well as you do. It was so lovely to see how the garden has come on whilst I was away, and even better to started tending to it.

We had a courgette that had kept growing and growing, look how big it is compared to a normal sized one!

So now I need to find a good way to use up a marrow.

The plums weren’t quite right when we left for holiday and by the time we came back they had all ripened. We had lost some to insect activity and some had gone over but I managed to harvest a good amount.

Because of how ripe they were, those that weren’t to be eaten straight away were halved, de-stoned, vacuum sealed and frozen. That way when I have some more time I can use them up.

Some of our turnips and beetroot have also grown a bit ginormous. Hopefully they still taste alright.

It also looks as though somebody has been exploring our asparagus bed. Hopefully whoever it was (C suspects Peter Rabbit) hasn’t done any damage to the roots.

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Dog · Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Recipes

House sitting for the Cottage Garden Trio

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.

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. 

Life in the Countryside

What a difference a week makes

So C and I have been away for a week and J has been keeping an eye on things at home. The weather whilst we have been away has been very poor. Lots of rain and cloud and little sunshine. Now I want to preface this next sentence by saying I do love J. But he has kept an eye on the garden rather than tend to it. Not that I asked him to do any different or expected him to, after all he has been working all week too. Not that I would have done anything different to him but I know myself enough to acknowledge that I often think I would do things better. When I got back and went to have a look at how things had progressed then I was amazed at how much things had grown. I mentioned to J how large the pumpkins had gotten and he said he hadn’t noticed! Anyway, I digress. The garden has really bloomed with the much needed rain. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. 

So we have three pumpkins (one is quite a way behind the others) and they have grown so much. I need to work out some way to support them.


Some of our herbs and salad have unfortunately gone to seed with the weather.


Our baby corn is so tall now.


We have our first broad beans ready to harvest


The caterpillars have had a field day with our cauliflowers and some of them have bolted in the weather (more on that another time). 


We were able to harvest more of our beetroot as it had reached monster size.



Some of the potatoes are ready for harvest (see here to read about the excitement of harvesting). 


And the blackberries are starting to ripen. 


It really is reaching that amazing time of year when everything starts happening in the garden and our bellies are filled with homegrown goodness. 

Recipes

Beetroot chutney recipe

So whilst I enjoy beetroot, I wouldn’t exactly descibe myself as a beetroot lover. We had planted two rows of beetroot (boltardy variety) using seed tape and I was initially very critical of it. The theory behind the seed tape is that you don’t need to thin, the beetroot is perfectly spaced and the tape should ensure that every seed sprouts. This has not proven to be the case for us as we’ve had a good portion where no seeds have sprouted and they seem to have come up very unevenly. Not what I was hoping for. That said now they’ve had time to really grow they do seem to have flourished. When harvesting beetroot it is a good idea to try to pick out alternate roots to give the remaining ones time and room to grow. Our first harvest J’s dad took and cooked in the pressure cooker for us. Our second harvest I roasted in olive oil with just some salt and pepper. This weekend I took out our third harvest to make chutney. As I was making chutney I actually weighed the beetroot, a whopping 2.8kg! And we still have plenty more to pick. I tend to play about a lot with my chutney recipes and I thought I would include my version of beetroot chutney below. The recipe could be easily scaled up or down depending on your quantity of beetroot. I got about 6 and a half jars from this, jars all about 454g size, ish. 

Beetroot Chutney recipe

Ingredients

  • 2.8kg raw beetroot (if directly from the garden then cut the stalks off close to the base, rinse off any soil and cut the long winding root close back to the main bulb)
  • 2 pints vinegar (approximately one pint per 1.5kg). I used cider vinegar but white wine vinegar would also be good, avoid anything with too much colour.
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar (for cooking the beetroot, exclude if you like quite a tart chutney)
  • 4 large onions, peeled and diced. 
  • 900g granulated sugar (again you can adapt to preferences and use soft brown if you like a more caramelised taste)
  • Spices: I prefer not to just use a traditional pickling spice muslin bag and instead add spices to leave in. I used 4 bay leaves (which I removed when putting into jars), a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of nigella seeds, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and a good grind or two of black pepper.  These can be ground if preferred or just kept whole. 

Method

  1. Put the beetroot whole into a large saucepan or preserving pan and cover with boiling water. Bring back up to the boil and simmer until the beetroot is cooked through (this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of your beetroot, check it with a knife the same way as you would check potatoes).
  2. Whilst this is cooking then prepare your jars, I just put mine into the dishwasher to sterilise, but you can also use the oven.
  3. Drain and leave until cool enough to handle (cold water can speed up this step). 
  4. Peel the beetroot (washing up gloves can prevent any colour run) and dice. 
  5. In your washed out preserving pan add the onions and vinegar and soften on a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the beetroot, sugar and spices and stir well. 
  7. Keep the mixture on a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved then bring it up to the boil.
  8. The chutney then needs to stay at a rolling boil for the liquid to reduce and the chutney to thicken (this took about and hour and a half for me as I turned the temperature down a couple of times to pop out to the garden and do chores and I didn’t want it to burn).
  9. Once it has reached the desired consistency then fill and seal your jars (remember to put hot chutney into hot jars to avoid a disaster and aim to push it down with a spoon to avoid as many air bubbles as possible). You should hear the lids pop down as it cools and seals. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves as you find them now, if used.
  10. It will taste best if left for at least one month before using and once opened should be stored in the fridge. Unopened it should be good for a couple of years or longer. 


Raised beds

Raised beds update

So whilst giving a FaceTime tour of the garden earlier today I realised it might be time for an update on how our crops are doing. We have six raised beds so I’ll go through each one in turn.

Raised bed 1:

6 asparagus planted back in April. For the first year in order to maximise harvests in future years you are supposed to avoid cutting it and instead leave the foliage to grow. This helps to strengthen the crowns and ensure a productive crop for years to come (approximately 20 years apparently).


Raised bed 2: 

Two rows of turnips planted (purple top Milan)and two rows of beetroot (Boltardy from seed tape). The turnips thrived and have now all been harvested. We’ve eaten some (lots) and have cooked and mashed the rest for the freezer for our autumn and winter roast dinners. Yum! 


I’ve not been that impressed with the seed tape if I’m honest. The idea behind it is that the tape has seeds spaces out evenly so thinning is not required and all seeds should sprout. This has not been the case for us. We’ve found that some of the seeds have not sprouted at all and some appear to have moved so they are growing very close together. We do have the very first of these ready to pull I think, although I need to work out how we’re going to use them before we pull them. At the end of one of the rows where no seeds sprouted I threw in some carrot seeds just for fun so the space wasn’t wasted. 


Now the turnips have been pulled we’ve transported some cauliflower from bed number 4 which need to be thinned. Now sure how well they’ll fair long term but they seem to be hanging on just about for now. We’ve also put a final row of beetroot down the middle with some carrot seeds at the end where the tape ran out, just to use it up. 

Raised bed 3: 

12 strawberry plants. We have 8 plants of the variety Elsanta planted down either side of the bed and have four different varieties down the middle: Delizz, Vibrant, Fruitful Summer and Cambridge Favourite. They were really all bought on impulse with wanting to get something into the soil so there is no special reason for these varieties it was just what happened to be in the garden centre when we were buying! They are doing alright and are giving us a good bit of fruit so far, though yesterday C ate all our of pickings straight away so I’m not sure I’ll manage to preserve any. They’ll stay in this bed for about 3 years until they’ll need replacing/a new home. I need to do a bit more research into the different varieties and their needs/timings but for now they have some straw underneath them to protect the fruit and they seem to be managing ok. 


Raised bed 4: 

This bed is our cauliflower and pumpkin bed. We have two rows of cauliflower down either side, again we threw in a good number of seeds and have done some thinning. They are still fairly closely packed but they seem to be managing so far. No sign of anything apart from massive leaved yet though.


The pumpkin was originally two seeds planted next to each other and thinned to one. It’s in the middle of the bed on one end and was only really planted for novelty value as C loved seeing pumpkins around Halloween, even though we didn’t have one and J doesn’t really like the taste but I do. It has done really well and is starting to take over the bed a bit with its massive leaves and the starting of flowers have appeared.


Raised bed 5: 

This bed is still not completely filled yet. In half we have salad leaves, four different varieties of which three seem to be doing well. This last weekend we’ve also added in one row of swede seeds and will add in at least one more in a couple of weeks. These should be out in late autumn/early winter hopefully.


Raised bed 6: 

This bed has been entirely J’s choice. He was really keen on planting some beans so has half a bed of broad beans and half of baby sweet corn. All bought as plants from the garden centre as we were too late to use seeds. Long term we plan for beans and anything else needing canes to go into the field. 


So that’s our six beds so far. Not bad for our first year I think and certainly good to have them all filled with crops considering we were quite late in the day getting them built and filled. Planning for next year will be key I feel and I’m already getting excited about it!