Archive for January, 2012


The Benefits of Wood Ash

If you have a wood fire then the benefits are many. Not only do they smell great, keep your toes warm and mean that you have more than the average number of visitors (in Winter at least). You can also use the ash on the vegetable plot.

At this time of year when I’m busy deciding what should go where for the coming season I normally scatter some wood ash on the proposed onion bed and around fruit trees and canes. They seem to love it.

The ash is washed away quite quickly so I’ll probably keep re-applying as the season gets underway. You can scatter it around onions, garlic, shallots etc and it will discourage root maggots. The slugs don’t like it either.

Be careful not to use it near any acid loving plants though (like Blueberries and Potatoes) as it tends to make your soil more alkaline.

You don’t have to use your ash up immediately either. You can store wood ash and use it later, so long as it stays dry. And you can also put it in the compost bin. It’s a very versatile fertiliser.


Joining the Pineberry Bandwagon

Shall I hop on the Pineberry bandwagon? I’m considering it. Not because they look so darn cool and… they are kind of inside out Strawberries, and… they taste of Pineapple not Strawberry. But because they’re something new to grow that I haven’t grown before. I’m a sucker for a new thing. Any new thing (horticulturally speaking) and I’m there.

To quote the press release that I got this morning, “The strawberries are a natural hybrid from the strawberry plant family, the white fruit which has a very pale pink tinge, appears early and can be ready in May.” The fact that I actually got a press release that was all about Pineberries says it all really. They are this season’s ‘it’ plant.

I like to think that I can rise above all that but the truth is I can’t. I’m already super excited about growing Pineberries and have planned exactly where I will plant them.

J Parkers sell them and so do Suttons. Wilkinsons apparently do them for £2.28 each, And probably lots of local garden centres too.


My Local Unmanned Farm Shop

This is the till at my local farm shop. It’s unmanned. It’s in a warehouse in the middle of a field with a greenhouse next to it. Inside the shop there are rows of produce, some scales, a calculator and a secure moneybox where you insert your cash. If you have an account you use the envelopes that are pinned to a noticeboard. If you don’t have the right change you can write an IOU and pay it next time.

The usual veg, fruit, nuts and plants (snowdrops this week) are for sale. Also bird feed and cider! It’s great. When I was there this afternoon I saw the farmer. He raised his hand to me and went about his tractoring.

It feels real. Mainly, because it is.


Banana Cake

I was going to bake Lemon cake today but I ran out of Lemons (essential ingredient in Lemon cake) so I made Banana cake instead. Bananas – now I have lots of those!

I used the very simple recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook which includes lots of ginger, cinnamon and melted butter. The boys seemed to like it even though it was quite gingery. Here’s the recipe from the book, which if you like cakes, I really do recommend you buy.

270g soft light brown sugar
2 eggs
200g peeled bananas, mashed
280g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
140g unsalted, melted

23 x 13cm loaf tin, greased and dusted with flour

Preheat the oven to 170°C (or 160°C fan)

Put the sugar and eggs in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until well incorporated. Beat in the mashed bananas.

Add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and ginger to the sugar mixture. Mix it thoroughly until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the egg mixture. Pour in the melted butter and beat until all the ingredients are well mixed.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth over with a palette knife. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tin before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.


Early Sowings

I started sowing a few seeds today, in-between the over-Wintering Lettuce in the coldframe. Just a few, then if they don’t work out it’s not the end of the world. I sowed a little Cauliflower (Gipsy), Carrot (Early Nantes 2) and some pointy Cabbage (Pyramid). All early varieties.

I’ve found in the past that the early Carrots do quite well in the coldframe. I can grow them quite close together (just not touching) since I will be harvesting them nice and young anyway.

The Cabbage I will transplant into the garden in early Spring so that they can grow to their final size. There really isn’t enough room in the coldframe.

And I just sowed a handful of Cauliflowers and will probably thin them to just three and then sow some more in about a month. I really don’t want a glut of Cauliflowers all ready at the same time and they take up so much room in the garden. Starting them early in the coldframe is the only way for me as they will be grown and harvested before the Cabbage whites can get to them.


Cool Seed Potato Display

I went to my local garden centre to see what seed Potatoes they had and found they had done this really cool Potato display. They could have easily just chucked the Potatoes in boxes and left it at that but someone had really gone to town with the display. Not only could you buy in bags but you could also do a ‘pick and mix’ style shop and fill an egg box with different varieties. This is great if you have a really small garden and don’t have room to plant a whole bag full of second earlies.

They also wrote up some boards with some ‘Potato Facts’ – like “In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts.” And also some boards telling you how to grow Potatoes.

It’s not rocket-science and of course it’s all designed to entice you to buy seed Potatoes. But I just love the passion behind this. You can tell that they both grow and sell Potatoes. And they love doing it.

And after all this they did make a sale – I bought a bag of Highland Burgundy Red.


Blueberry Pie

Not exactly cake but baking at least. I decided to use up the Blueberries from the freezer since there is precious little in the garden right now. A pie seemed the sensible option and a good excuse to get my pie dish out.

I made the pastry in the usual basic pie crust way – with a little help of course. We even made an err.. sort of, pastry snowman out of the left over bits.

I blind baked the base, weighted down with kidney beans and parchment.

The filling is so simple. Just Blueberries (550g), juice from one Lemon, lemon rind, 100g of caster sugar and a spoonful of cornflour to thicken. Then you let the oven do the work and cook it for 50 minutes at 170 degrees C. I think I’ll use more cornflour next time as the water from the frozen blueberries meant that the filling wasn’t as gloopy as I’d like.

But warm Blueberry pie with ice-cream? Wow! The boys had never had that before and by the end they were practically bribing me for more.


Botanical Illustration

I would absolutely love, love, love to be able to paint my fruit and vegetables like this. This is a painting by Susan Hillier, a very successful botanical illustrator who has worked for British Rail and holds exhibitions of her work regularly.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be that good but I’d like to have a go at just recording some of the produce that I grow, if nothing else. It looks like fun!

I remember when I did Art A Level at college and while everyone else was doing abstract paintings in a Georges Braque style I was hunched quietly in a corner doing a watercolour of a beefsteak Tomato. Ha ha! I was a strange child.

Anyway, the nerd in me wants out. Enthusiasm I have. But I’m currently looking into doing a course to get me pointed in the right direction regarding skills. Anyone have any experience of botanical illustration? Tips, links?


Which Onion Sets to Buy?

It’s about this time of year that I start to think about buying Onion sets. I must admit in previous years I have tended to buy what they were selling at the garden centre. But after growing a variety called Snowball last year I was very disappointed by its yield. I put it down to my soil or maybe me just not looking after them properly. But I recently read a trial that said that particular variety performed poorly – so maybe I should start taking notice of these trials?

Apparently, the soil here in the UK is not suited to all varieties of Onions. Sweet onions (the likes of which they grow in Spain) are difficult here because there are too many sulphur compounds in the soil (Which? Gardening January 2012).

I always grow from sets (immature Onions) rather than seed. And was interested to see that the following Onions did well in trials for UK soil:

Brown Onions

Troy (best overall 2010) – although many places don’t sell this variety anymore.
Autumn Gold – matures end of July
Centurion – matures mid July
Forum – matures mid July

Red Onions

Garnet – matures early Aug
Hyred – matures early Aug
Red Baron – matures early Aug

I think I’ll be giving Troy a go and also either Garnet or Hyred since I’ve already grown Red Barons in the past.


Late Afternoon Winter Walk

My little one had been snuggled up in his warm cot all afternoon and so I took him out for a quick walk just before the dark drew in yesterday for some fresh air. The sun was going down quickly and we had to run to see the horses in the fields before the light failed and they wandered home for their hay.

The sun was not quite disappearing over the hill and in the mist of a far-off bonfire sent a golden ray of light back to hit the big house on the hill. It glinted at us from across the field and made us squint and laugh and sneeze.

Down the lane our friendly Oak tree looked dark and mysterious against the beaming sky that faded from blue to orange. A perfect winter’s afternoon walk. Just far enough to make our noses red. Just short enough so we could push back for warm milk and crackling fires.

Loving Wintertime.

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