Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Planning for winter: growing in the garden

Winter in the garden is less about work than about foresight.  I've been planning for winter gardening all summer long.  Not all of my plans will come to fruition (like my plan for a fresh leek harvest, sadly), but many seem to be on good course.

What do I have planned for winter growing/harvest?


I sowed winter cabbage seeds in mid summer, a variety called January King 3.  Most of them are big and leafy, and forming heads.  I believe it is a savoy type cabbage, well suited to standing winter temperatures.

Brussels sprouts

True, the young plants I sowed from this year's seed are small and unlikely to produce much this winter--they may even just go to seed in spring without producing at all.  But I do have several of last year's plants, gone to seed this spring, and regrowing new little sprouts now.  I cut down the biggest sprouts plants after they formed seed to make way for new crops, but the smaller ones weren't taking up much room, so I let them stay.  In this vein, I have a cabbage plant which is still growing and producing small heads on long stalks--now in its third year! 


What, leeks?  Yes, I may still be able to eat my leeks, flowering and trying to set seed all summer.  They've been in the ground for more than a year now, but they might still be edible!  I'll be giving them a try at least.

Salad greens

I mentioned in a previous post that the slugs keep eating all my lettuce seedlings.  Hopefully they will leave my lambs lettuce and miners lettuce alone.  We haven't had garden salad since early summer.  I also have a couple small spring onions left, growing for winter use.

Chard and kale

Though not related to each other, these two are the plants that keep on giving.  Although growth is slower as the days get shorter, there should be enough to give us fresh winter greens once or twice a week in winter.

Pumpkins and potatoes

There are two small to medium sized pumpkins ripening on the vine as we speak.  I have high hopes for them:  pumpkin pie, certainly.  I have one remaining potato plant, now hiding behind my tangle of runner beans.  By necessity I won't be digging them out until the runners are done. 

Beets, rutabaga and celeriac

The beets and rutabaga are chancy.  I sowed seed of both in containers in July and August (sowings in the ground disappeared quickly), and have some good plants growing but only a little root formation so far.  The later sowings are pretty small still, but I'm keeping them well watered and hoping for the best.  As far as celeriac goes, I believe I have three still surviving--and they aren't very big!  But I'll let them grow until first frost.  If nothing else, we can eat the greens off all of three.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Oh dear: blight

I think my three in-ground tomato plants have blight.  I've never seen this in person before, but I know it's not uncommon in this country.  It has been a long, warm summer, and has lately become a little cooler and more humid:  good conditions for blight, I understand. 

Although I'm not 100% sure of my diagnosis, apparently there isn't a treatment for blight, organic or not:  plants must be pulled up and burnt.  If allowed to remain, the fruit will spoil quickly;  so just in case, they're coming up and I'll rescue the green tomatoes to make some salsa and/or relish.  It's unlikely the fruit will have time to ripen now anyway, nearing the end of September, and luckily I have a good recipe for green tomato relish (from The Joy of Cooking).

It looks like my container tomato plants are still untouched, so they can remain for now.  I'm glad, as the biggest one has been giving me big ripe tomatoes for a week or so now.  I've made a point of saving seeds from it too--all of this year's plants are from my own saved seed.

As far as my remaining potato plant goes, I've no idea if it's got it too;  it's hiding behind a mass of runner beans and I can't even see it any more.  I won't be too disappointed if it has:  it was a volunteer, and we don't eat many potatoes anyway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The last little bit of summer

Since I have been gardening here in England, there have been a few summers which were a complete washout.  In 2012 it rained pretty much every day.  Though to be fair, a few of my vegetables were pretty good that year, notably the onions.  But a lot of things just wasted away from lack of meaningful light and excess water.

This summer has not been so.  There has been rain, there have been cooler days, but mostly it has been sunny and warm.  A good year for growing many things--though perhaps not onions! 

Now at autumn equinox, I'm very satisfied with how my garden has grown this summer.  The weather was in my favor to be sure, but I didn't have too many failures, and was able to enjoy plenty of quality garden relaxation time all summer, hangin' out with the vegetables.

I've also carried on with my pledge not to buy vegetables--so far, so good.  I have, however, procured a few through other means:  a few friends and relations have given me some of their excess produce such as zuccini, runner beans, rhubarb and more.  Some of this, along with my own veg, is preserved for winter use.  My little pantry cupboard has lots of pretty jars of various vegetables, mostly pickled, some dried, and a couple chutney-ed.  What a good way to remember the success of summer, by eating it all winter.  Er, I hope it is edible...

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Now's the time to go out and get the last of the wild food before winter.  We live only a few streets away from our local country park--a reclaimed coal mine--now a wildlife area.  There are many wild foods to gather here, including fruits, nuts, and herbs.

Earlier in the summer I gathered wild oregano and mint to dry for my cupboard;  I made a big jar of mint sauce too.  The six year old and I picked a few wild cherries in July, but just for eating, not for storage.  My own cherries are far superior in size and flavor, so those got stored instead, in the freezer. 

I've been picking blackberries for the freezer this month.  The six year old wants jam but I may just keep them for regular cooking and/or smoothie use.  I've made jam in the past--and I learned early on to strain the seeds out!  Last year we picked a ziploc bag full for the freezer.  Not so many this year, but it's only me picking them.

There are a couple wild apple trees at our country park, which are pretty good for both eating and cooking.  Even the crab apples have a good flavor, though the best crab apple tree needs a good frost on it first, so I haven't picked any yet.  Some of the trees have a lot of apples this year, more than previous years.  I've made apple chutney, courtesy of The Joy of Cooking, my favorite cookbook.  Later on I'll make apple cider, when I have a couple demijohns free (not long now, I hope). 

One thing I never manage to forage at our park, however, is hazelnuts.  I know where they grow, but I always miss out on them.  I don't know if someone else strips the trees before I get to them, or if it's squirrels (I've only ever once seen at squirrel at our park, in all my 13 years of walking it).  All I know is I wish I could get some, but never do!

There is also a very tall pear tree at our park, but again, I've never harvested it.  The pears are too far out of reach;  the one time I was able to reach them, they were gone before they ripened.  Oh well.

Another, more unusual fruit which I love at our park:  rugosa rose hips.  There's a very big bush which produces them all summer long, and they taste a bit like orange candies:  tangy, juicy, sweet.  Just don't eat all the way to the middle, because they have some very spiny seeds. I dried a few last year for tea (very nice, too), but they really are best eaten fresh.

It's elderberry season too, but as mentioned previously, all my demijohns are currently in use (two with last year's elderberry wine!).  If I can muster up the motivation to pick some, I'll freeze them now, for making wine later.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Four things I wish I'd done this year

Trays of Brussels sprouts and pak choi waiting to be planted out, Aug 2016
1. Moved all the perennials out of the new vegetable beds.  

Up until two years ago, I grew my vegetables in the back corner of our property.  Although I always grew a few edibles among the flowers near the house, I definitely haven't regretted changing things around.  It's so much easier and less work to have them right outside the back door instead of at the far corner.  But I there are still some remnants of ornamentals in the beds, such as a very nice peony.  I can't move it now or I'll probably kill it.  So it, and some other random things (a few raspberry canes, some sorrel, my morello cherry tree), have been hogging vegetable space all growing season until I can move them over winter.

2. Left the chickens on the vegetable beds for a longer period over winter.

I did let my chickens onto the vegetable beds during winter, but only for a week or two.  They scratched it up and tidied the debris for me, but I think a longer period would have resulted in fewer pests and more fertilization (poo).  I'll certainly keep them on it for at least a month before I start planting vegetables again--maybe even longer.

3. Got the seeds I needed--before I needed them.

I knew I wanted leek seeds.  I knew I wanted Brussels sprouts seeds.  I didn't have them when I needed them, and instead of waiting for my plants to finally produce some seed (sprouts did, in July;  leeks have been in flower since mid summer but no seeds yet), I should have just bought some.  Now I'm without new leeks, and the young sprouts are still miniscule;  I don't think they have time to grow and produce.  I have now bought new leek seeds, and have plenty of collected sprouts seeds, but both have to wait till next spring to sow--and at least a full year from now to harvest.

4. Sheet mulched the asparagus bed before planting them out.

It's a tangle of weeds now.  Sigh.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ode to the English tomato

Tomato in planter, August 2016
Oh tomatoes.  Every year I swear I'll give them up, and every year I grow them once more.  The English summer is inhospitable to this lovely rosy fruit.

How I long for jars gleaming red in the pantry;  or stacks of little ruby husks, dried to chewy perfection.  Instead, I have solid green globes--inflexibly green, drooping from stems, refusing to redden, even in the (unseasonably) not-cold, not-rainy end of summer.

When I was a child, I remember taking a giant mixing bowl into the garden in the mornings and filling it to the brim with tomatoes as big as my hand.  We ate so many fresh--I liked them best with black pepper--but most went into stacks of jars.  It was hot work boiling them to remove skins, stuffing them into the jars and then simmering away, half a dozen at a time in the big canning pot.  We made plain bottled tomatoes to begin with, and then in later years branched out to pizza sauce and salsa.  How beautiful those jars looked, lined up on the closet shelves we used as a pantry.

Never, in my 13 years living in England, have I collected enough ripe tomatoes to make even one jar.  I once made three (very) small jars of green tomato relish, a gem of a recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but even that resulted from the end of season, gathered-the-night-before-first-frost harvest.

Last year I collected one or two fresh red tomatoes per week from September to Christmas.  The plants were grown in a raised bed on my patio, up against my south-facing house wall.  I collected seed from these tomatoes, to carry on the line this year.  True, this year's tomatoes hang heavy and full on the plants.  They look plump and beautiful, and the plants strong.  But still green.  I suppose I can resign myself to a (very) small line of green jars in my pantry.

(I did manage to harvest three last week)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

August garden recap

A zuccini, at last

I remarked to my husband that it always rains on the first of August, and he was adamant it wouldn't this year.  Well, it did, but thankfully it was only a light shower late in the day--the good weather we'd been enjoying in July hadn't broken just yet.  So how did things grow in August?


The onions from onion sets matured, but were not particularly big.  It might be cheaper to grow from seed next time.  At least they taste nice.

The carrots in tubs were of decent finger size, and very tasty.  I harvested a few more beets (golf ball size at the biggest), and used some celeriac stalks/leaves sparingly (good flavor).

Peas and Beans

The last few peas are finished, and I let them go to seed for next year.  The runner beans started in earnest in mid August, almost a month later than last year.  They are in a slightly less sunny position this year;  I'll bear that in mind for next year.  Lots and lots of runner beans off them now they're going:  I've been salting some for winter.  Climbing beans still very sad from early slug damage.  Only one pod formed.


Kale slowed down in August.  Still growing, but picked less of it.  Transplanted most of the cabbages and broccoli to their final growing positions, but we'll will have to wait a bit longer for them to mature.  Good growth on them.

Brussels sprouts seedlings planted into the holding bed once the cabbages/broccoli were moved out.  They were sowed very late and are still small, but growing.  I don't know if they have enough time to mature, but I'll plant them out once the runner beans are finished in autumn.  There are three plants from last year which are regrowing sprouts now that they've finshed producing seed, so we may get sprouts this winter regardless.


No lettuce in August.  Seedlings keep disappearing, whether direct seeded or planted in trays.  I keep retrying, moving the trays to different spots, high up:  they still disappear.  Rotten slugs.

Tomatoes forming all over the place, but none ripened yet.

Potatoes harvested from one plant:  very big, very tasty.  One plant remaining.

Zuccini and cucumber still pretty sad, but both managed to produce fruit:  one zuccini and two cucumbers, both small.  Hopefully they'll give a few more in September.

Two pumpkins and one squash growing well.  I'm hoping for at least one more squash.

Chard is still rampant!  We couldn't keep up with it in August, so I froze some and dried some.  It's nice to have it preserved for winter.


The last of the blueberries went to the six year old.  Not many, but enough for one or two a day.  Everbearing strawberries producing a berry every other day or so.

Plums going purple.  Apples and pears looking lovelier every day.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes, asparagus (both new this year) and rhubarb not looking great.  Sorrel very happy, but only the six year old and the chickens eat it this time of year.

Rosemary, tarragon, thyme and chives thriving.  The tarragon is in a pot but I may divide it and plant it out, as I did with the thyme.  The garlic chives and oregano seem to have disappeared.  Mint is small, but still alive (newly planted this spring, as it all died under mysterious circumstances last year).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

August 2016 Food Totals

Runner beans, August 2016


Chard:  83.5 oz
Onion:  21 oz
Carrots:  16 oz
Kale:  17.5 oz
Runner beans:  80 oz
Brussels sprouts (greens):  3.5 oz
Pak choi:  4 oz
Potatoes:  47 oz
Peas (dried):  5.5 oz
Beet greens:  8 oz
Beetroot:  3.5 oz
Cucumber:  2 oz
Zuccini:  3.5 oz
Cabbage greens:  4 oz

Total: 299 oz, or 18 lbs 11 oz

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, tarragon, sage) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz. 

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc.


10 strawberries (everbearer)
8 blueberries
1 Opal plum
1 Laxton Fortune apple


Total:  199 eggs from 12 adult hens (our young Cream Legbar hen began laying!)
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)


1L jar dried chard leaves
500mL jar dried nasturtium leaves
1 small bag dried peas (5.5 oz weight)
1 medium jar pickled zuccini (zuccini from friend's garden)
2 small jars pickled mixed veg: zuccini, runner beans, onions, garlic (zuccini from friend's garden) 
1L jar salted runner beans


Elderberry, elderflower, and rhubarb wines all still fermenting.  No new homebrew begun