Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Dipping into my stores

To keep up our daily veg intake, and in order not to break my No-Buy Veg Challenge, we've been eating a little more from the pantry and freezer this month.  While it continues to be fairly mild temperature-wise, there is a definite lack of sunlight hours now we're in the middle of October.  Harvest is slowing down.  I'm slowing down too, getting ready for a bit of a rest over winter;  I've put in plenty of work this growing season!

I'm glad I've got a bag and a half of cabbage in the freezer, and several jars of sauerkraut--not to mention all the dried chard (and their stems, still frozen).  I've been throwing them into stews and other slow cooker meals.  And all the while, I'm still drying greens:  just last week I hung up a string of nasturtium leaves to dry (the plants have put out a surge of new growth after being mauled by caterpillars this summer).

We've baked a squash or two, saving them for our Sunday roast dinner;  the slow trickle of runner beans still coming from the garden get served on Sunday too, where I like to have at least three different vegetables--or more.

And we even cracked open a jar of zuccini relish:  first served with hot dogs, then added as a salad garnish and even padded out a stew (when I made it, I cubed rather than grated the zuccini which retained a nice crunch).

Just to clarify:  no vegetables may be bought during the Challenge, but all fruits are allowed, including "salad" fruits;  however, as such I've only been buying cucumber for the son to put in his lunch.  And we are allowed to eat veg obtained for free:  gifts, trades, etc.  I never turn down free veg, and have been actively ingratiating myself to any fellow allotmenters I happen to meet up there: "Hi!  I'm new;  my name is _____.  Wow, your _____ looks amazing!"

Friday, October 12, 2018

Peppers, 2018

Many green peppers growing on a plant
So many! Sep 2018
I took a chance this year, and raised some peppers from seed.  I bought a pack of seeds in a £1 sale at the end of (a warm-ish dry-ish) summer last year.  I thought I'd grow them in planters in my warm micro-climate on the patio near the house, though realistically their prospects were doubtful in our usually cool summers.  Little did I guess what kind of summer we'd have this year--I took a chance and got incredibly lucky!

I harvested the very first red pepper this week.  I was initially unsure if it was sweet or hot, as I raised two varieties and there was a slight labelling mix-up.  I had a good look at the packet descriptions and decided it was assuredly a sweet pepper, and therefore picked it along with some tomatoes, lettuce and achocha for a salad. 

When slicing it up, I took a tiny sliver to taste, just to be absolutely sure;  the son isn't good with hot things, and I'm not a huge fan either.  Well, it turns out my diagnosis was incorrect:  my lips burned for the rest of the day!

Even though I don't really like hot/picante food, I'd rather have hot peppers than sweet ones as the husband does;  I want to make him some hot sauce, tabasco style.  There are a couple dozen peppers out there, most of them green (a few turning colors), but still very suitable. 

That one red pepper got chopped finely and chucked in the freezer to wait with the tomatoes until Red Salsa Day (when my No-Buy Veg Challenge ends 27 November and I can buy onions).  Though I did put a couple small slivers on the husband's salad.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Achocha and Aztec broccoli review

I grew two types of vegetable new to me this year:  achocha and Aztec broccoli (Huauzontle).  How did they do?
Close up of an achocha fruit growing
Little achocha, Jul 2018
Achocha

I sowed seed for this in mid spring, in a tray on my kitchen windowsill.  I think I ended up with about seven plants, which I transplanted out in May, about six inches apart.  They were initially very slow to get over transplant shock and start growing, but after a few weeks, they were ready for some sticks to climb up.  After another month, the vines were starting to take over their neighbors (sweetcorn, tomatillos and tomatoes);  by this time I still hadn't picked any achochas.  It wasn't till about July that I started to harvest, long after I'd been nipping back over-zealous vines.

The fruits are small and green with soft spikes.  They were described by the seller as tasting like green peppers, but to us they taste more like green beans, with a hint of cucumber (which they are related to).  It's a pleasant enough taste and texture, though nothing spectacular.  I prefer to pick them when the seeds are fully mature, as the fruits are a little more sweet, with less raw bean flavor.

However, the extra luxurious vine growth far outpaces its modest fruit yield.  They eventually overtook the sweetcorn completely (I had to search for those sweetcorn plants at harvest time), and mostly swamped the tomatoes and tomatillos slightly further away.  By September I'd given up keeping them in check with daily light pruning, and vines were exploring the morello cherry tree on the east side, reaching the lawn at the south, and going for the plum tree to the west (the north side is the patio which I refused to relinquish).

Will I grow this again?  

Yes.  With more care about placement and spacing.  And supports.  I used the fruits in salsa, in stir fries, in salads.  I like it enough to try and tame it next year;  I've saved seed and look forward to another go.

Close up of a flowering Huauzontle head
Aztec broccoli head, Sep 2018
Aztec broccoli, aka Huauzontle

This is not a true broccoli;  it's a chenopodium rather than brassica.  I direct seeded this one in a corner of the Misc bed (where it ended up being embraced by achocha, of course).  About 20 sprouted, and as they grew, I thinned them out gradually, ending up with about 4 plants.  Like the achocha, they were slow growing at first, and slow to produce.  By late summer, they finally began producing small flower heads.

This plant produces flower buds which I harvested along with an inch or two of stem and leaves.  I was able to pick a good handful at a time about twice a week, and although I initially started picking them quite small they are actually better when the flowerheads are nearly ready to flower.  Unlike true broccoli, the second and subsequent pickings weren't really any smaller than the first one:  the later flowerheads were similar in size to the early ones.

These don't taste like broccoli either, but they have a mild flavor somewhat like spinach, and to my taste a little like potato.  They are supposed to retain a little bite after cooking, but I cooked them mainly in stews in the slow cooker and they went very soft.  We liked them anyway.

Once the plants started producing, they maintained a consistent harvest all through summer and early autumn.  They grew to be about as tall as me, which made harvesting easy (less bending down).

Will I grow these again?

Yes.  These nicely behaved (unlike the achocha, for instance!), good tasting, and took care of themselves, really.  Plus they had an easy, constant harvest.  I hope to collect seed from them, but would certainly buy seed again;  in fact, they are supposed to self seed readily, so hopefully I can get them to naturalize, like chard and mizuna have already.

Friday, October 5, 2018

September 2018 garden notes

A tree branch covered in red apples, growing against a fence
Laxton Fortune, Sep 2018
Roots

Harvested the last of the carrots in planters (transplanted lettuce seedlings after them).

Beets and celery still in the ground.  Leeks still growing slowly;  old season leeks putting out new growth and newest little plants (from this summer's bulbils) small but growing.

Peas and beans

Harvesting about a handful of French beans once per week in September and even fewer runner beans.

One volunteer broad bean plant up and growing.

Cleared away the mange tout vines and collected a handful of seed.

Brassicas

Took insect mesh off all remaining brassicas at the beginning of September;  no real damage from caterpillars this month, though a few butterflies around.

Planted out two Savoy cabbage cuttings (very small).  Savoys (from seed) at the allotment are a bit bigger and well established now.

Brussels sprouts very big and falling over--need staking!  Same with curly kale;  harvested a little of this but not sprouts yet.

The young cauliflowers which were overwhelmed by squash vines have mostly disappeared--only a couple left.  One larger, last season plant still determined to form a head, but only slowly.

Purple sprouting broccoli plants growing well;  two have been staked, though the rest need it also.  None harvested.

One kohlrabi has a nice little bulb, the other has only a very slight swelling.  None harvested.

Miscellaneous

All but about three lettuces gone to seed by the middle of September;  new seedlings have been transplanted out in planters and in the ground (keep disappearing in the ground though).  Still harvesting a few spring onions this month, also from planters.

Harvested five sweetcorn cobs, but disappointing flavor;  picked too late, I guess--they were completely hidden by achocha vines.  Still harvesting modest amounts of achocha all this month.

Still harvesting ripe tomatoes regularly all through this month;  cherry tomatoes pretty much finished by the end of September, but still more regular tomatoes on the plants.  A couple more tomatillos formed this month, but none harvested.

Picked five lovely green squashes, and one small pumpkin in September.  Still at least one green squash growing.

Picked a few small patty pan squashes, but no zuccinis.  Melon plant formed one small melon and then wilted, just like the cucumber plants did in July.

Harvested several bunches of Aztec broccoli all through the month, and good amount of chard too.  Cleared away chard left for seed;  put down the plants (with seed heads still on) in several locations around the garden, including the perennials section.

Little peppers still growing this month, with a couple starting to turn colors;  a couple more tiny chilis formed.  None of these harvested.

Fruit

Finished harvesting the figs (a couple per week) by the middle of the month.  Harvested the plums and  Laxton Fortune apples over a period of a few weeks.  Started picking almonds and Sparta apples by the end of September.

Picked the one remaining nectarine after it, like its compatriot, split from a hard rain and started to go moldy.  Although it wasn't fully ripe, it was either eat it or throw it away--and after waiting four years I wasn't prepared to chuck it!  Not particularly impressed, though.

Picked all the unripe pears off Williams (only three decent sized) after the tree trunk completely snapped from high winds;  that's it for Williams, I think.

Yellow raspberries dried up without fully ripening--been a very dry summer, and hard on all the raspberries;  a couple more flowers formed this month, however.

Transplanted two strawberry plants to the allotment.

Perennials and herbs

Still picking small amounts of chives, parsley, basil, and mint.

Artichokes still standing but not producing.  At least one asparagus plant has been spotted (no bigger than it was this time last year though).  Sorrel regrowing after hard chicken pressure over the summer, and one small rhubarb shoot spotted.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

September 2018 Food Totals

Close up of a dark red apple growing against a fence
Sparta apple, Sep 2018
Vegetables:

290 oz tomatoes!!
8 oz French beans
4.5 oz lettuce
16.5 oz patty pan squash
13 oz Aztec broccoli
17.5 cherry tomatoes
17.5 oz chard
20.5 oz carrots
12 oz runner beans
12 oz curly kale
19 oz achocha
6 oz sweetcorn
1 oz spring onion
18 oz Savoy cabbage
9 oz potatoes
4 oz salad greens (lettuce, baby chard, lambs lettuce)

Total: 468 oz or 29 lb 4 oz

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc.  Does not include fresh herbs which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.  Does not include 5 green squashes and 1 small pumpkin which were harvested but not weighed.

Fruit: 

1 nectarine
60 Laxton Fortune apples (incomplete)
5 figs
49 plums (incomplete)
17 Sparta apples (incomplete)
12 almonds
3 pears (and 1 immature pear)

Eggs:

Total: 44 eggs from 5 hens
Total feed bought: 1 bag layers pellets (20 kg), 1 bag mixed corn (20 kg)

Preserves:

1 medium jar plums (water bath method)
1/4 medium jar salted runner beans
1 large jar fermented salsa fresca

Homebrew:  
8 L elderberry/blackberry wine started
750 mL fizzy elderberry/blackberry wine started
Cider still fermenting
Cider vinegar still fermenting

Friday, September 28, 2018

Pears

A pear growing on a branch
The biggest, Sep 2018
Again, I have a very meager pear harvest.  I picked off all immature fruits from the tiny Kumoi pear tree this spring (as I should have done the first spring after planting given it's still shorter than me three years on).  It's grown a bit this summer--finally.  Still shorter than me, though.

I also have a very vigorous, very spiky native flowering pear which still hasn't condescended to flower yet (about five years old).  In August I attempted to bud graft it with buds from a pear tree growing at our local country park.  I had a look last week and it looks like two of my attempts failed, but I'm not sure about the other two.  Maybe.

And then there's the Williams pear tree, which has grown strongly and flowered profusely for a few years now, but still has only managed to produce a couple pears for me.  I think there were three pears last year--all small, too.  This year, one good sized one (unripe) got blown off in high winds and bruised.  I cooked it the next day (pear streusel tart, courtesy of The Joy of Cooking), since I knew it wouldn't ripen after being damaged.  Two days later the tree itself blew down:  completely snapped at the trunk below the graft.
A small pear tree lying on a lawn
Defeated, Sep 2018
Luckily the tree only landed on a bit of chicken wire and no other damage was done.  The son and I picked the remaining five or six pears, most of them quite small, none of them ripe. 

I will attempt to graft a few of the shoots back onto the rootstock, but I'm not confident;  I'm very new at grafting and am relying on books and youtube.  I fear this is the end for Williams.
Hands holding three variously sized pears
A few more fruits, Sep 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

New homebrew, September 2018


Two glass demi-johns full of cider
The newest cider, Sep 2018
After a full year in the jugs, 2017's cider finally got bottled up.  I used our entire collection of bottles (some new, some seen lots of use) and filled up the drinks cupboard.  We've pretty much finished off all our homebrew by now, so it's good to restock.  The cider's not extremely potent, but fruity and refreshing.  I think one of the five jugs actually turned to vinegar by accident, but that's ok--cider vinegar is useful too.

The son and I went to our country park and picked two sacks of apples from various wild trees we know.  We juiced them in our electric juicer to fill up two new jugs for cider.  It's a big job, juicing up 8 L of apple juice all at once!  I put about half the pulp into some big plastic tubs, topped them up with water, and let them ferment too--for vinegar.  Once they stopped bubbling, after a week or two, I strained out the pulp and have been stirring the liquid once a day to help the process along.
A large stockpot full of purple juice
Elderberries and blackberries to brew, Sep 2018
The son and I also took two weekends in August to collect almost a full kilo of wild blackberries, again in the local country park.  We found a spot with some big juicy berries, very sweet.  We froze these, to wait until the elderberries ripened earlier this month.  When ready, I picked elderberries from two trees/bushes on the margins of our property and combined them with the blackberries, some sugar and yeast to start wine.  I made some in 2017 and we agreed it was much nicer than plain elderberry wine--and more potent than the apple cider.  I hope this new batch lives up to our expectations.

That's three out of five demi-johns in use now.  What to do with the last two?  I hope to pick another two sacks of apples, though we'll have to go slightly farther afield than our own country park now.