Crop a load of this harvest

The latest update from the garden comes from me peering out at a dank and dismal day, but on the up side, the weather for the carnival was splendid, and the patch is getting a good old drenching.

This week I’m delighted to announce that we’ve had our first real harvest from the vegetable plot. After the broccoli heads bolted and turned to flowers earlier in the season, I chopped off the non-edible stems, but left the plants in situ. It appears this was the right thing to do, as they are now throwing up small heads on a regular basis, and we’re picking these as cut and come again vegetables. With any luck we’ll be harvesting for a good time to come.

I’ve also done a bit of digging around in the history of the house, and it seems a farmhouse stood on the plot in the mid 1800s. This could explain the rich crumbly soil, (an absolute joy after 20-odd years of gardening on clay) and why after a somewhat slow start, once established, the plants appear to go a bit bonkers.

The runner beans – looking decidedly dodgy just a few weeks back have now flourished and sprinted up the canes. In no time at all, they bushed out, flowered profusely and are now giving us a steady supply of lovely succulent beans.

I’m also thrilled to report that the other slow starter – the courgette plant – has now picked up and is pushing out fruits left, right and centre.

My peas are also looking lush and healthy, and it won’t be long now until we’re picking stuff that’s ‘as sweet as the moment when the pod went pop’.

Whilst this is all excellent news, the star performers in the garden have to be the pumpkin plant and the French beans. The pumpkin has snaked its way towards the bottom of the garden, and is now fanning itself up the fence panel; with two decent-sized fruits forming already.

The French beans have foliage now so thick, and so dense that I have to do a fair bit of rootling around in there to uncover the beans. But what a treat when I do. They are so sweet, that many just get chomped raw in the garden, and don’t even make it to the dinner table! And if the amount of flowers on the plants is any indication of the potential harvest, we’ll surely be bi-lingual by the end of the season.

So, this weekend, after removing a couple of stray caterpillars, we enjoyed laughter-filled feast of beans, courgettes and broccoli to slap by the side of the Sunday roast*.

Although I’m biased, the flavours were out of this world.

*the ‘ahem’ company may have had a lot to do with that 😉

Harvest from the garden

Harvest from the garden

 

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Sweet dumpling squash and courgette soup

Now I’ve found out that my mystery squash was a sweet dumpling, I thought I’d transform it into a lovely autumn soup.

Sweet dumpling squash

Sweet dumpling squash

Serves 4

You will need:
1 sweet dumpling squash (butternut would work just fine though)
1 medium onion
400g courgette or marrow
1 vegetable stock cube
1/2 litre of water
A spoonful of creme fraiche (or cream)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

First of all I cut my squash in half and took out all the seeds. I then chopped it up roughly, drizzled with oil and sprinkled some cumin seeds on the top. Into the oven it went on 180 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Sweet dumpling squash and cumin on roasting tray

Sweet dumpling squash and cumin on roasting tray

To be honest, the marrow was an afterthought as I had some lurking around in the fridge that needed to be used up. I chopped it up (about 400g) and added this to the roasting tray. The whole lot went back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Sweet dumpling squash and courgette

Sweet dumpling squash and courgette

I use a soup maker, but a large pan with do just fine. Chop up the onion and add it to the pan, and saute gently until translucent. Separate the squash from the skins, and add the squash flesh and marrow to the pan.

Chuck in a crumbled stock cube and half a litre of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Blitz until smooth, and stir in a generous dollop of creme fraiche or cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.

And the verdict? Absolutely delicious! Roasting the vegetables with cumin really brought out the flavours and the result was a lovely, warming soup. Next time I might even whack half a chilli in there. I think it can take it…

Four portions of sweet dumpling and courgette soup

Four portions of sweet dumpling and courgette soup

Greenhouse planting

Last weekend I was all geared up for a wriggle round the garden and looking forward to a fair bit of pottering and pruning. However, the weather had other plans. A glance out of the window told me that rain was back with a vengeance.

No matter though… earlier in the week, the other half had returned home brandishing gifts for me. Not flowers or chocolates – even better than that… an assortment of chilli seeds. Seeing that any outdoor jobs were well and truly scuppered, I trotted off down to the greenhouse for a planting session instead.

As well as the chilli seeds, I also sowed some peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and cucumbers. I’ve also sown a couple of trays of flowers to pad out the borders later in the year: larkspur, petunias and nicotiana.

In between the rain, there were a couple of sunny spells and it was amazing to see the temperature soar in the greenhouse from 14 to 25 degrees in just a matter of minutes. It will soon be time to remove the bubble wrap that’s insulating it, but I think I’ll wait until the end of April when the risk of frost should be much less.

There is further evidence (although sometimes it doesn’t feel like it) that the days are indeed getting longer. Mildred and Maud have finally got their act into gear, and for the first time this year we collected an egg from each of our chickens. True, they were a bit of an odd shape, but still they signify the start of the laying season. It’ll be cakes and quiche all round before you know it…

After the marathon planting session, the greenhouse bench is now chock a block with potential offerings, and I’m now spilling over onto the floor space. The leeks and onions are slowly but surely showing their heads, and the broad beans are positively bursting through the soil, looking healthy and strong.

Beans in toilet roll tubes

Beans in toilet roll tubes

I’ll wait until the beans are a nice manageable size, and indeed the soil outside dries out a bit before planting them into the vegetable plot. The spot I have earmarked for them is a relatively high bit of the garden, so should drain off and warm up over the next couple of weeks or so.

However, the middle part of the veg plot is currently still under water. Sitting on clay and having continual wet weather does not a good combination make. As we lost so many plants last year due to boggy soil, this year we have decided to install raised beds.

The other half has been rootling round on the t’interweb for some likely materials, and will be ordering some packs of pre-treated timber gravel boards very shortly. When they arrive, we’ll be after a long enough dry spell to construct them.

The Hinckley Times 21 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 21 March 2013

Courgette lemon cake

Looking for a way of using up the glut of courgettes that are still being produced down the garden, I thought I’d try baking a courgette cake.

Dubious at first, but willing to give it a try (remember the days when carrot cake was ‘just weird’), I whipped up a courgette and lemon loaf yesterday. I think it was a success as it had a life span of about two hours. The whole lot was snaffled up by the family… gone!

All agreed the cake was delicious, moist and obviously very moreish…

What do you think?

Lemon courgette loaf

Serves 12, Prep: 15 minutes, Cook: 45 minutes, Suitable for home freezing

You will need:

200g (7 oz) peeled, grated courgette
150g (5 oz) caster sugar
1 egg
125ml (4 fl oz) sunflower oil
200g (7 oz) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grated rind and juice from half a lemon

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees/gas mark 3.

Grease and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Add grated courgette, sugar, egg and oil to a bowl and beat together.

In another bowl, mix together the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cinnamon.

Add this to the courgette mixture, and beat together until just mixed.

Stir in the lemon juice and rind until well combined

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 45 minutes.  A skewer or knife inserted into the loaf at the end of cooking should come out clean.

Allow to cool slightly in the tin before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

Some variations I may try in the future are to add some poppy seeds to the mixture. I also think that a sprinkling of brown sugar on the top of the cake before cooking might be nice.

Courgettt and lemon loaf

Courgette and lemon loaf

Courgette and lemon loaf

Holiday

After a lovely couple of weeks swanning around in southern Italy, I was itching to see how the veg plot had progressed in my absence. I meandered off down the garden to have a quick poke about down there this morning. Meandered… did you hear that?  The holiday must have done me good: I’ve learnt another speed other than ‘bombing around’.

First port of call was the greenhouse, and I have to say, that everything is going swimmingly in there. We are going to be inundated with tomatoes any time soon, have four decent sized aubergines growing, and the chilli and pepper plants are festooned with flowers and fruits.

Oh, and we have a melon that’s now about the size of a fist, and four or five cucumbers coming along. Our holiday garden-sitters have done us proud!

Peering outside, I noted that the courgette plants were also romping along. I planted them in the side of the raised strawberry bed, in the hope that they would trail over the sides. Not so – they are happily covering all the strawberries, so I think I’ll give them a patch of their own next year.

A wander over to the veg plot told rather a different story.  The wettest summer my garden can remember has done the runner beans no favours. There are a few paltry beans dangling on puny plants, but no flowers to speak of.  I even planted stunt doubles before I went away, in the hope that if we got a late summer, there would still be beans-a-plenty. Not one of them has popped up, so it looks like all the time and effort digging the bean trench, making the wigwams and planting the beans has been in vain. They are now officially ‘has-beans’.

I whipped them all out and weeded and dug the area. A quick check of the crop rotation plan tells me that brassicas are next up in that bed. The family will be pleased. There is nothing in the world they like better than a nice cabbage 🙂

The wet weather hasn’t done the onion bed any favours either.  The weed fairy had obviously paid us a visit whilst we were away, and the onions were difficult to spot in amongst them. If they haven’t rotted away, the leaves have started to go brown and wilt over, which tells me that they’ve done growing and need to come out. These were soon whipped out too, and I weeded and dug over the patch ready for next year’s crop of potatoes. Some of them came out not much bigger than when they went in, and I have to admit I’ve probably had bigger ones on a salad, but nonetheless I’m sure we will find a use for them. They’re currently drying out on the edge of the decking and will be winging their way towards a French Onion Soup very shortly…

Minestrone soup – about 20p a portion

A quick rummage around in the fridge yesterday produced some veg that needed using up. Too much to throw away, but too little to make a meal, I decided to make soup. The finished result was tasty, cheap and nutritious, and I think i’m finally getting the hang of the soup maker!

I used:

2 carrots, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small courgette, diced
5 cabbage leaves picked straight from the garden and chopped finely
a handful of brussels that had grown loose – finely chopped
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 vegetable stock cube
approx 10 sticks of spaghetti, broken into pieces

I fried the onion in the bottom of  the soup maker, then added all the rest of the veg, stock cube and bits of spaghetti. I then filled the jug up to 1400ml, and let it work its magic. (Brought to the boil, then simmered for about 20 mins).

End product… delish!