Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Preserving for winter, 2017

A collection of different jars filled with various preserves
A bit of this and that, Aug 2017
From left to right above:  mixed fruit vinegar (elderberry, apple, pear), a small jar of mixed salted herbs, a large jar of sauerkraut (plastic bag on top is filled with water and acts as a weight), garlic and dill pickled French beans.

I'm doing my best to put some food by for winter use.  Most of my veg this summer has been harvested under the "little and often" principle, but occasionally there's too much to eat all at once, like the three Savoy Cabbages Gruff (little one, medium one, giant troll-busting one);  the excess of these became several jars of sauerkraut.

A few things I've grown particularly for winter storage/use:  squash and pumpkins--though the pumpkins are all leaf and no fruit yet--potatoes, and maincrop peas (dried).  I really need more peas next year though--I got about a cupful this year.

I've got a few jars of pickled zuccini spears;  I didn't much care for the ones I made last year, but I've gone for a milder vinegar and just garlic and dill for flavoring;  I couldn't get hold of any dill last year, but managed to grow some in a pot this year.  Hopefully they'll be better tasting, but I won't crack them open until the growing season's done. 

I've done some salted mixed herbs, which are simply finely minced fresh herbs layered with a lot of salt, and also a few jars of herb vinegars.  I normally try to make at least one jar of English mint sauce which for us is just chopped mint leaves in malt vinegar;  we not only eat it on lamb but use it as an easy base for salad dressings.  I had a light bulb moment about that--why not use my other favorite salad dressing herb in vinegar:  tarragon.  I look forward to having it in winter, when the plant has died back.  I hope to make another jar or two before this happens. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How I record my harvest

My official harvest records are on little pieces of note paper, stuck to the front of my fridge;  once I fill up a page, it goes upstairs to my garden notebook, where I keep not only my harvest totals, but also my garden journal, random plans and to-do lists.
A cluster of runner beans growing amongst leaves and flowers
Runner beans, August 2017
For each thing I harvest from the garden, I write down the date, the item, and the weight or number picked.  At the end of the month, I tally it all together and record it on this blog.  I (or the husband or seven year old, whoever collected them) write down egg totals daily on a separate sheet.  Eggs are tallied by week and then by month, along with total feed bought.  Incidently, the seven year old has his own record for eggs:  he's keeping track of three chickens with distinctive egg colors (Cucky, as he spells it, is in last place, with Rock and Florry in second and first, respectively).

At the end of the year, I record everything down onto a big sheet of paper in my garden notebook, and staple the little pieces of note paper to it.  I like to add up the totals of each item, along with the month(s) they were harvested.  This gives me a better idea of when to plant things, and how much to plant.
An oldfashioned set of baking scales, with fresh runner beans in the weighing bowl
My set of scales
My scale came from a charity shop several years ago;  technically it's intended for baking.  The weights are measured in ounces, and I have a 1 pound, a 8 oz, a 4 oz, a 2 oz, a 1 oz, and a 0.5 oz weight.  This means I can weigh up to just under 2 pounds with my scale, and am accurate to within half an ounce.  To be honest I'd prefer metric, but until I find a set of weights in grams this will have to do.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The giant cabbage, defeated at last

A woman holding a giant Savoy cabbage
My mother and the giant cabbage, August 2017
We served the giant cabbage at every dinner for a week while my parents visited, and still hadn't cracked into the head by the end of it.  In fact, I was so sick of the sight of it, my mother and I made a big jar of sauerkraut to finish it off;  the whole cabbage after trimming weighed in at around six pounds. 

In fact, I've got three big jars of kraut on the go, as I decided to pick the giant's smaller sibling (recall the smallest one, which weighed just over a pound after trimming) to prevent any more caterpillar damage;  I think it was supporting about a hundred of those pesky little bugs but was still more than a match for them, weighing around three pounds after trimming.  It sure took a lot of preparation though--all those leaves had to be scrubbed individually to rid them of caterpillars and caterpillar poo.
Young cabbage plants growing in a garden bed
Slightly bug-eaten young cabbage, August 2017
All the mature Savoys are finished now, and the next generation are planted out and growing well;  I'm picking off caterpillars daily and am mostly keeping on top of them.  I still have one more cabbage ready to harvest now:  a summer variety I sowed in early spring.  It has a few other compatriots, none of which have formed a head.  Still, one's plenty right now.  We've been racing to keep up with the cabbage and the rest of the vegetables have been a bit neglected (sorry about that, chard)!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Garlic harvest, in full

A pile of garlic bulbs on a plastic packing tray
Not a bad haul
Here's my garlic harvest, which I dug up in June;  it was about a month earlier than I normally harvest, but the plants were ready and the bulbs were pretty big!  I'd planted it out October/November 2016.

Altogether I got about 90 garlic bulbs, not counting a couple very tiny one-clove-sized ones.  I planted out 50 bought cloves (from regular grocery store garlic), and around 30-35 of my own homegrown cloves.  The remaining bulbs were volunteers that I'd missed from the previous year's harvest.

I plan on replanting around 100 cloves for next year's harvest, though having a year's supply in the cupboard is the most important thing right now;  I'll keep at least 60 bulbs for culinary use and buy a few more for planting if there's any shortfall.  I've been fully self-reliant in garlic before, with enough for both replanting and eating.  Will it be the case this year?  I'll know by October, when it's time to replant.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Food for the soul

A colorful Peacock butterfly on a buddleia blossom
A welcome visitor
My garden is a beautiful place right now.  Apart from the abundance of vegetables and the promise of more to come--both fruit and veg--the whole property is at its peak just now.  Even the lawn looks glorious!

There are some wonderful flowers (both perennial and annual) in the perennials section and the front postage stamp, including roses, sunflowers, dahlias, sweet peas and more.  I put lobelia in some of my tomato planters, giving a pretty splash of blue to entice the hoverflies--we've had swarms of these helpful little insects this summer. 

It's so nice to sit next to the goldfish pond, listening to the trickle of water, and watching the butterflies flocking to the buddleia nearby.  The above picture is of a peacock butterfly, recently spotted.  I planted the buddleia to screen the view of the neighbors, with the added benefit of attracting butterflies and bees.  It does me good to see it covered in these lovely little creatures.

Part of my Plan for the garden is to provide beauty and tranquility.  What with the flowers, lush greenery, helpful insects and fresh vegetables and herbs, my garden is a haven right now.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dreaming of squash

Small yellow squash growing under big leaves
Squash, unknown provenance, July 2017
I'm trying not to count my squashes before they're matured;  one year I had about five big pumpkins all go moldy and fall off the vine before they ripened.  This year I mistook the young plants for zuccinis as I was planting out, so that the squashes went in the main bed and the zuccinis (all but one) went into a bed in the perennials section.  Not a huge mistake, but it means I have to keep an eye on the squashes so they don't overrun the other veg--which most of them are attempting!  I think there are about six vines, each with at least three or four fruits on them (so far).

The seeds came from a grocery store specimen last autumn.  It was a smallish orange one with fairly dense flesh, and not too sweet.  We normally only see butternut squash at the store, which is not my favorite:  I buy it because it's the only option.  We really liked this little orange squash, and the sticker said it was British grown (i.e. theoretically better adapted to our climate), so I made a point of saving seed from it.  Here's hoping I can save more seed again, this year from my own harvest.

Squash is a great vegetable to have, as it stores for a long while--making it an excellent winter vegetable.  Ideally, I'd like to have enough squash in storage to eat one a week from December to April/May:  20-30 squashes.  Realistically, I'll be lucky to get six (one per vine).  If I get two per vine, I'll be ecstatic!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Me and my cabbage

Woman holding a large savoy cabbage in a garden, with chickens behind
It's me! July 2017
I don't know if I've put a picture of myself on this blog--well, here I am, with one of my Savoy cabbages;  photo taken by my seven year old son.  I'm on our back patio facing the house, with the garage to the right of the photo, and the vegetable garden to the left (not pictured).

This is one of three Savoys that somehow got missed over winter;  they were sowed in the summer of 2016, and the one I'm holding is the smallest.  All have very little slug and bug damage compared to the summer cabbages I sowed in early spring, and have big waxy leaves.

In fact, the leaves are so big and thick, I thought they would need a lot of cooking to be edible--not so.  They cooked up normally and were nice and tender.  We did not eat the stems or mid-ribs;  trimmed of these, the leaves weighed in at just over a pound.  Unlike chard, which cooks down to about a quarter of its volume (a pound of chard makes one meal for us, and we eat the stems too), this lovely cabbage didn't decrease in volume and ended up being served in four meals. 

The giant cabbage?  Yeah, I picked it about a week ago and we're still eating it every day.  So far it's clocked in at over 3 pounds, trimmed weight.  Not all of it has been weighed yet (just the outer leaves so far).

Saturday, August 5, 2017

July 2017 garden notes

A garden bed packed with different vegetables, including cabbage, beans and potatoes
Misc bed in front, Peas and beans behind (with classy DIY runner bean support), Potatoes at the very back, July 2017

Begun harvesting shallots in this bed in July.  Most of them have flowered, and the bulbs are small and woody.  I'll definitely try growing them again, but make sure to catch them before flowering.

Eating some beets now, both white and red (pretty sure I didn't buy white beet seed!  but very tasty).  Most still small but growing.

Onions and celery both getting big, but none harvested.  Eating carrots in planters gradually.

Peas and beans

Finished and cleared away all peas in this bed: early, maincrop and mange tout;  maincrop plants hung up in the garage to dry pods for winter storage.  There is still another small batch of maincrop peas in one of the perennial beds, nearly ready this month.

Runner beans and French beans flowering and forming tiny pods, but none harvested in July.


Harvested main heads from two broccoli plants, one small, one medium. 

Planted out winter cabbages after peas cleared away, about 18-24 inches apart (really they need about 36 inches, but they'll have to share).  Kale and spring broccoli planted out earlier growing well.  Rutabagas sown earlier (both batches) growing a bit.  A small batch of turnips sowed and some sprouted.

Brussels sprouts in holding bed growing nicely.  About half the summer cabbages eaten in July;  of the remaining ones, two or three are forming nice compact heads.  The leftover Savoys also forming lovely heads.


A few cucumbers harvested in July, but plants seem to be diseased:  possibly cucumber wilt.  Melon plants completely demolished by slugs--none left.  Both grown in planters.

Cherry tomatoes forming good trusses of fruit, but none ripened yet.  Other tomatoes only just beginning to flower in July.  Most tomatoes in planters, but two growing in the main bed.  Tomatillos in main bed flowering and forming fruit, but also look diseased.  No idea what though--leaves are yellowing and wilting slightly.  Hope they survive.

Most squashes and pumpkins planted in the main bed, and two pumpkins in planters.  No pumpkins formed yet, but several squashes growing.  Plants look strong with good growth and flower formation. 

A couple zuccinis harvested at the end of July.  One plant very big, the others not as advanced, but just beginning to form fruits at the end of July.

Sweet corn plants still pretty small, but growing.  Not sure if they'll have enough time to produce.  Leeks still very small.  Harvested some radishes, and sowed some more seed.

Eaten pretty much all the bolting chard, now on to the non-bolting chard.  So much chard!  Eating lettuce leaves still about once a week, and still sowing a few plants in pots.  Eating a few spring onions and sowed a few more in pots (now sprouted).


Some potatoes chest high now.  I staked them up at the edge of the holding bed.  Still growing!


Finished Kordia cherries (we had about 6-8, birds had the other 12-15).  Finished blackcurrants (tons!), finished gooseberries (lot more than I expected off two 18 inch tall plants), finished raspberries and blueberries (only a handful each), finished last redcurrants and maincrop strawberries.

Alpine strawberries still producing in July, though slowing down.  Maincrop strawberries sending out runners, which I will transplant in August or early September.

Plums getting big, apples getting big (only two apples on each tree, sadly).  Williams tree has two small pears--I was wrong to doubt you, Williams! 

Fig still has three or four big fruits, and forming lots of little ones--probably don't have enough time to mature this year though.  Almonds growing well.

Lightly pruned plum, both cherries, Sparta apple, and Williams pear in July.  Tied down a few branches on Laxton fortune apple.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes growing well, and even produced small flowers in July, which I picked off to encourage root growth.  Hoping for a good harvest next year.

Asparagus from seed still growing little spindly spears.  Chickens ate all the sorrel;  hope it's still all right.

Still no sign of either rhubarb plant. 

Most herbs still growing well;  rosemary still alive after its bit of die back.  Thyme and bergamot flowering.  Harvested mint just before flowering to make a bottle of mint sauce.  Newly sown parsley sprouted.  Basil and new dill in pots very small. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

July 2017 Food Totals

A flock of chickens grazing a lawn
Black chicks nearly grown up, July 2017

215 oz chard!!
39 oz carrots
53.5 oz cabbage
11 oz cauliflower
9.5 oz lettuce
15.5 oz beets
1 oz peas
0.5 oz artichoke
8.5 oz new potatoes
2 oz celery
1 oz spring onion
4.5 oz broccoli
5.5 oz radishes
5 oz cucumbers
4.5 oz shallot
7 oz zuccini

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

Total: 381 oz

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


44.5 oz mixed berries (mainly blackcurrants but also gooseberries, redcurrants, strawberries and alpine strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and sweet cherries)
10 oz morello cherries

Total: 54.5 oz


Total:  143 eggs from 11 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total), 3 bags growers pellets (15kg total)


2 medium jars pickled zuccini spears (zuccini from friend's garden, dill and garlic from my own garden)
1 medium bottle mint sauce


Elderflower wine bottled up.  Cider, rhubarb wine, elderberry/blackberry wine still fermenting. No new homebrew begun