Seabass and leek bake

There’s a chap in our town who’s a keen allotment keeper. He grows so much stuff that often he will put a basket outside his house where you can buy vegetables. Driving past last week, I noticed the piles of booty and pulled over for a good old rummage. I snaffled up a bag of purple sprouting broccoli, a bag of leeks and a bag of parsnips – for the grand old price of £1.50. Dutifully posting the money through his door, I whizzed off home with my haul.

Last night we decided to do something with the leeks. I also had a bag of spring greens that needed using up. The leeks and greens were chopped up and soaked in cold water – this both cleans them up and brings anything slightly on the wilty side back to life.

 

Leek and spring greens

Leek and spring greens

The leeks and greens were then sweated down with garlic and white wine, and a tub of creme fraiche was added at the end. This mixture was transferred into an oven-proof dish. We then added two seabass steaks to the pan and lightly cooked them with some lemon slices, for extra flavour. These were then laid on top of the leeks.

 

Seabass steaks

Seabass steaks

Last weekend I made a batch of cheese scones – so to use these up, they were sliced and laid on the top – a bit like dumplings. A generous scattering of cheese was added to the top, and the whole lot was popped in the oven at 180 for 30 minutes.

Seabass and leek bake

Seabass and leek bake

The result? Absolutely blooming delicious! And there is enough leftover for my lunch today!

The cost: Leeks 50p, Greens 65p, Seabass steaks reduced to £1.50, creme fraiche 60p… so well under £3 for three portions. And who said you couldn’t eat fab food on a budget!

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Putting the beds to bed

With the nights drawing in, the weather getting chillier, and the simple fact that I’m a bit of a fair-weather gardener, I’ve started to wind down the garden for winter.

The onion sets have already thrown up some green shoots, and I’ll plant garlic next month – so these should be well established by spring.

All that’s left growing in the beds now are leeks and celery, which I’ll harvest for as long as I can. I’ve tidied up the other areas, and I’ll cover any bare patches of soil up until spring. Last year I planted green manure to grow through the cold months. This should have protected the soil, stopped all the nutrients being washed away, and provided me with some lovely nitrogen-rich plants to dig in once spring arrived. Slight problem with that idea: the manure germinated and grew, I let the chickens out, and they promptly scoffed the lot. So this year I’m covering the bare soil up.

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Chicken having a scratch in the vegetable patch

Onto each bed has gone a good layer of comfrey, a generous helping of hen house scrapings and the contents of the compost bins.  I’ve then put strips of old carpet on the very top. I’m hoping that the organic stuff will rot down and nourish the soil ready for next year’s crops. Not only that, but the carpet should help warm the soil up earlier, giving me a head start. Well… that’s the plan…

The last of the chillies and tomatoes have been ripening in the greenhouse, and the benches are looking decidedly bare now. I’ve used the space to sow some trays of broad beans and early peas in there, and will plant them out as soon as winter is over. You can sow the seeds straight into the garden to grow through winter, but last year most of mine got whipped out and eaten by mice: hopefully being under cover will offer a bit more protection.

Earthed up leeks

Earthed up leeks

Having said that, the broad beans I cut down earlier in the year have actually sprouted again, and the jury is out regarding their fate. Some gardeners have informed me that these plants are never likely to be top croppers. Others say they will be better as they will be more established. I’ve decided to leave them alone and see what happens: if all fails I have my reserves growing in the greenhouse.

The last job of the year will be to dig up, trim the foliage, and store the runner bean plants in a cool dark place – apparently they should regrow next year.

So with the garden tidied and some of next year’s crops taken care of, there’s nothing left to do but hang up my trusty trowel and retreat to the warmth of the house.

From there, I can keep a gentle eye on the garden, with a glass of something yummy, whilst flicking through the seed catalogue for next year’s goodies.

My perfect idea of winter gardening…

This one appeared in The Hinckley Times on 31 October 2013

Harvesting the spuds

Wandering around the garden at the weekend, I decided to give the leek bed a bit of well-deserved TLC. I’m delighted to report that the leeks are looking pretty amazing at the moment. The plants are looking lush and strong, and it’s almost hard to imagine the scrawny seedlings they were at the beginning of the season.

Every last onion is now out of that bed, which has left a nice supply of soil to earth up the leeks with.  Pulling earth up around the plants stops the light from getting in, resulting in longer, whiter stems so I set to work covering as much of the patch as I could with soil: oh yes, it’s all rock ‘n’ roll here, I can tell you…

Earthed up leeks

Earthed up leeks

Leeks are really hardy, so they should now sit there quite happily until we are ready to dig them up.

Turning my attention then to the potato beds, I noticed that the foliage on the last two rows was dying back. Apparently that means they’re done, so I decided to whip them out well before any chance of frost and store them for the colder months.

Rummaging around in the soil, it soon became apparent that we were in for a mighty crop. Not wanting to damage any with my fork, I donned my gloves and furiously furtled around in the soil by hand. The more I rummaged, the more spuds I found, and we soon had a more than impressive haul: some were absolute whoppers!

Harvesting the spuds - with a bit of help from the chickens

Harvesting the spuds – with a bit of help from the chickens

When I’d harvested all I could see, I had a good dig over the bed to turn up any lurking deeper in the soil, and promptly discovered a load more. It’s worth the extra effort to get all the potatoes out of the ground, so they don’t sprout and grow rogue plants next year.

The other half had bought me a hessian sack earlier in the week (who said romance is dead?) to store the spuds in, and all I can say is that I’m so glad he’d ordered the largest size. As I was merrily pulling them out left, right and centre, he was on quality control duties. Any perfect ones went in the sack; any with slight blemishes or damage went up to the house to use first; and any really tiny ones that weren’t worth getting the peeler out went in the bin.

Sorting the spuds

Sorting the spuds

It’s important to sort them, as any damaged ones in storage may start to rot, and the rot can easily spread to the other potatoes. Our sack of spuds is now in the shed, where it’s cool and dry. When the long winter nights draw in, I’m predicting an endless supply of leek and potato soup.

With the beds becoming emptier by the week, it’s also now safe to let the chickens out during the day, and they’re having a fine old time scratching around for worms and grubs – I’m hoping they may sniff out the last of our slugs too.

Chickens free ranging

Chickens free ranging

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 26 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 26 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 26 September 2013

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

Still a risk of frost

Well, well, well… who would have thought? A couple of weekends ago, we were treated to a lovely sunny spell and the promise of spring. This weekend it looked as though spring had well and truly scarpered, and we had snow!

It just goes to show how changeable the weather can be at this time of year: one warm weekend doesn’t mean a heat wave is on its way – we are in England, after all. Which is why if you do get any tender plants from the garden centre early in the year, remember they still need to be protected from frost if the temperature drops.

I am the most impatient person I know, and many a time I’ve dashed off to the nursery at the first sign of sun, returning laden with hanging basket plants and the like, only for the temperature to plummet and then lose the lot.

I was hoping to get some of my spuds planted out last weekend, but that plan was scuppered: the soil would have been too hard and cold for planting.

However, there are still a few jobs I can be getting on with this month:

Firstly I plan to have a good old tidy up and clear any leaves, early weeds and debris from the borders to make space for any spring bulbs and new growth that may be appearing. I’m also going to start my war on slugs early this year, and set beer traps near any emerging shoots that might take their fancy.

Some seeds can be sown direct in the ground during March – I may well cover the planting areas with a cloche or some polythene a week or so before planting, to warm the soil up before they go in.

Vegetables I can sow this month are beetroot, broad beans, early peas, Brussels sprouts, leeks, lettuce, radish, parsnips and early turnips.

My early peas were sown in an old grow bag and have been in the greenhouse over winter. I’m delighted to say that they have survived very well, the mice and slugs haven’t found them, and they will be transplanted to the garden in a couple of weeks’ time.

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Tomatoes, pepper

s, courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers can be started off in the greenhouse or a warm windowsill.

I sowed some cauliflowers, leeks and onions a while back in the greenhouse and these are steadily popping up through the soil. I’ll space out the seedlings when they get big enough to handle, then when they are more manageable small plants they will go out into the veg patch. Anything that’s going from the greenhouse to outside will need to be hardened off. This just means I’ll acclimatise them to the outdoor temperature gradually by putting the pots outside during the day, and inside at night for a week or so before they go out.

Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower seedlings

Leek seedlings

Leek seedlings

I’m making the most of this ‘pottering’ time. Before long, spring will definitely have sprung and the real gardening work will begin.

The Hinckley Times – 13 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

The Hinckley Times 14 March 2013

Spring

Just nipped down to the greenhouse, and it’s 29 degrees in there today… woo hoo… spring is on its way!

In addition, the following is happening…

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Onions transplanted to give them more space

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

Douce Provence peas waiting to go into the garden

 

Leeks popping through

Leeks popping through

Broad beans are up!

Broad beans are up!