Fruit growing · Raised beds

Is there such as thing as too many strawberries?

As you may know one of our raised beds is dedicated to strawberries. We planted it up last year with a couple of different varieties (none of which I can remember now) with plants of varying ages and had a very small but steady crop last year. Now I had planned to properly prune the strawberry bed in Autumn this year but things just got away from me and aside from removing the runners which had tried to escape the bed I did very little pruning. In fact I basically just left it alone. I promise you I haven’t neglected all of the garden this year. Anyway, come springtime our lovely little strawberry bed had an abundance of flowers. And we all know that flowers lead to fruit so we got rather excited about our potential harvest.

When we set up the raised beds J put semi-circles of piping over them so that they were easy to net as you can see above and once our strawberries looked closed to ripening we covered them with a black netting as shown below.

The netting enables bees to get in but keeps birds out. Once the strawberries were ripe it was a proper battle to keep on top of harvesting them. At peak time we were picking a kilogram or more everyday. In the end I was actually quite glad when the season ended. Aside from those which were eaten fresh we gave lots away; C took some into nursery where they made chocolate dipped strawberry ladybirds, I took some into work and we gave away lots to friends and family. I ended up freezing about 8 kilograms in the end to use up in the future. There really is something special about homegrown strawberries though, they’re so sweet that once you’ve eaten them you’ll struggle to buy regular supermarket ones again. I’ll update in the future about how we’ve started to use up our frozen ones.

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

When to pick a pumpkin

Now as I’m sure I’ve said before, pumpkins were very much a novelty item for us. J doesn’t really like them, neither does C (I think, I haven’t really tried her with them since she was weaning) but I do like pumpkin soup as a nice winter warmer. But I had some seeds free from a magazine so I’d planted two next to each other and then once the seedlings had appeared removed the weaker seedling. The pumpkins had been planted in a raised bed with the cauliflowers (naively I had thought the cauliflowers would be out by the time the pumpkin got to any size, how wrong that was). We’ve had moments when they started to invade the rest of the garden and had to be cut back. 


I ended up cutting it back to leave us with a total of two good pumpkins. It has been quite fascinating to watch not only as they grew in size but also slowly changed in colour.




So you can see they have grown quite a bit and slowly changed colour as they’ve ripened. So after a little bit of research about when to pick them (tap them and a hollow sound is a good indication) as the vine was starting to die back by itself I decided to bite the bullet and cut them. 


You can see that the stem has already started to darken to the traditional look that you see in shops. So now we are going to leave them for a few weeks to finish the hardening. Apparently if stored in a cool and dry place they can last for a good six months so even though they have been picked now they should still be good until Halloween when we can try our first carving! Now I have about a month to find some good pumpkin recipes. Any suggestions? 

Life in the Countryside

One year on: the recreation area

J thinks I sound very poncey (no idea if that’s how you spell it) for calling this the recreation area but we did originally call it the grassy area and that name doesn’t really apply anymore. So this was the area when we moved in.


Now this area was originally a substantial vegetable garden with a bit of general garden space as well. That was of course at a time when everyone had substantial vegetable gardens as they had to grow their own. The area was completely overgrown (can you see a pattern here with the cottage) and the ground was very uneven. So we arranged for the area to be completely stripped back to bare soil and then we seeded it ourselves (wasn’t that fun). It then stayed as just grass for all summer and into winter. 


Then come January we began finalising what we wanted the area to look like. So we had the random bits and pieces of hedge and bushes removed from the corner by the apple tree as the tree wasn’t really accessible and it all looked a bit higgeldy piggeldy (again apologies for the total lack of spelling knowledge here). Then the plan was to install six raised beds and a climbing frame for C into an enclosed bark area. This was brutal and pushed both J and I to the limit at times but we’ve created an area we’re really happy with. You can read about it here, here and here


We have also created a patio as an eating area, our bifolding doors will eventually lead out here. This has a lovely lamppost on it and electricity so I can have my patio heaters here if required. You can read about that here and here

 

We also have a patio at the back of the garden for a greenhouse (still to be purchased) and of course we have the craft cabin.



This is my little space for being me. It still needs some finishing touches to the paintwork inside and out but it is the only place where a can put things in their permanent place as the cottage is going to be totally ripped to pieces. The recreation area is something I’m really proud of. J and I have worked together to design an area which really enhances our lifestyle. It’s the area which most people comment on, even our Tesco delivery guy said he could holiday there! For this area there is very little still to be done. A bit of finishing of the border of the bark area and probably topping up the bark. The greenhouse needs purchasing and installing. Longer term we want to put some decking outside the craft cabin and create a nice relaxing area with sofas. Next week I’ll have a look at the changes that have gone on in the field in the past year. 

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

Broad beans

So the broad beans were really J’s idea. He is a big fan of them and has been really keen to grow some beans but as our final bed was rather late getting filled we’d had to pick up whatever plants we could find to grow rather than starting them off ourselves from seed. Hence we’ve ended up with broad beans. Now I’ve not really given them much attention at all apart from including them on my usual nightly watering. A month or so ago I saw that they had flowers appearing and shortly after I discovered they were being ravaged by aphids.


I told J to give them some attention (spraying with diluted washing up liquid is supposed to get rid of them) but I don’t think he got round to it as we had a fair bit on trying to sort the cabin. For future reference it is recommended that you pinch out the tops of the plants once the flowers develop to help prevent nasties. No matter as they seemed to dissipate on their own  (helped I feel by the ladybirds I spotted on the corn) and I noticed the pods begin to develop. 


Now as I’m not an experienced broad bean consumer I had to look up how to know when to harvest them. You can either harvest when they are about 3 inches long to consume the pods whole or you can wait until the beans are clearly visible to shell them and consume whole. Consensus seems to be that if you leave them so long that the line down the spine turns black then the beans will be inedible. 

We didn’t really have enough to make a meal out of when we picked our first batch a couple of weeks ago so we shelled them (great activity for a toddler) and blanched and froze them for a future meal when we have some more picked. 


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. 


Life in the Countryside

Caterpillars

I was so proud the other day to have a sign of my first cauliflower head. However, today it is quite the opposite as my cauliflower has been savaged by caterpillars. I had seen some sign of leaves being nibbled before but now they have gone into overdrive. 


This is the much nibbled cauliflower.


These are the eggs which have been laid right around the cauliflower head along with a baby caterpillar.


And this is a full size grown up caterpillar.

C spent some time working on the hungry caterpillar book the other week so absolutely loved finding the caterpillar. I on the other hand was less than impressed! I’ve picked off all the ones I could find but what is the best way to rid myself of them and prevent future infestations? Looks like I need to do some more research (again), there is so much to learn about growing your own that I’m not sure I will ever know everything!

Fruit growing

Our first strawberries

So we have given one of our raised beds over to strawberries and we have had our first harvest. Well, not exactly a full on harvest but we’ve had four strawberries so that is better than nothing. Enough for one each for me and J and two for C. They were so amazingly sweet that I’m now itching for more to ripen. They’re not evenly sized and are a bit grubby but perfect in every way!

Life in the Countryside

Deer

So yesterday evening I was going about my usual evening chores, topping up food and water for the chickens and sheep and then watering the lazy beds and raised beds when I stopped to do an assessment of what seedlings had sprouted so far (no sign of anything from the cauliflower and pumpkin bed). I heard a noise that was kind of like a crack, my first thought was that one of the chickens had encountered the electric fence. I started walking towards their fence when what should I encounter but two deer just behind the recreation area. It was the most magical thing I’ve ever seen. They quickly startled and ran in opposite directions, one through the hedge and across the road and the other back towards the chickens. This was the one I followed. She went through the hedge at the back of the orchard and into the field and was then trapped in the fenced off area where the lazy beds are. Then she leapt over the fence and into the main bit of the field, she ran around the edge of the field and finally after much deliberation leapt over the fence at the back and went through into the farmers field behind. So it seems the fences may be sheep proof but not deer proof. I only managed to get a couple of pictures when she was quite far away which J is going to try and blow up for me as obviously I wasn’t expecting to be taking photos at that point. It’s moments like this that I love living in the countryside, nothing makes you feel more alive than seeing the glory of nature up close.

Raised beds

Planting asparagus crowns

This weekend the post brought a nice surprise, the asparagus crowns we ordered last year. We ordered from Suttons and they deliver them ready at the optimum time for planting. Now both J and I love asparagus but at the price it is in the supermarket it ends up being a luxury treat vegetable rather than a weekly pleasure. So when we decided to start growing some vegetables asparagus was high on my list to try. Now asparagus has a great advantage in that once planted and established it will produce annually for somewhere between 10 and 20 years. So after a bit of research we ordered ten asparagus crowns of the Mondeo variety (a crown is essentially a year old set of roots which is ready for immediate planting). This weekend they arrived and I was able to plant them straight into one of our raised beds. Raised beds are ideal for growing asparagus as they appreciate lots of good drainage, they hate sitting with wet roots (to be fair I hate sitting with wet feet too).

Asparagus is quite unusual to plant compared to many other vegetables. First you need to dig a trench about 6 to 12 inches deep and six inches wide. You can pile your soil to the side as you will need it later. If you haven’t already done so, then you need to ensure that there are some nutrient rich material added here to the bottom of the trench such a well rotten manure, compost of leaf mulch. Then in the middle of your trench create a small mound running down the centre, see picture below. It is on this mound that your crowns will sit.

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Asparagus crowns need to be planted about 30cm apart. To plant put the crown on top of the mound in the middle of your trench and spread out the roots as much as possible, see picture below.

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You can then cover them back up with the soil that you removed earlier and water well. Asparagus should not be harvested in its first year so for us this particular raised bed will need weeding and watering but no harvesting this summer. However, our efforts should pay off with a good supply of asparagus next year, hopefully. To make sure that this bed is not totally unproductive this year we are planning on adding some salad to the bed in the summer. It’s also the closest one to the house so easiest to pick fresh for dinner.