The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...


Friday, July 30, 2010

The War of the Cabbages

There are battles being fought in the veggie garden...

I had never noticed that many cabbage white butterflies in the past...

But now that I am growing cabbages they seem to have made a beeline to my back garden.

I have started an egg and caterpillar removal patrol every couple of days. I am learning the tricks of the caterpillars. They curl up and drop to the ground when I try to squidge them. So now I have a cup waiting to catch them. This is today's crop. Whilst I am doing this the butterflies are continuing to flutter around on the other side of the cabbage patch.

However, I have had some unintentional revenge. The cabbages in RP2 have a double layer of netting as I had originally cut a length to cover the whole of the planter but now the onions are getting quite tall I have just folded it back over the cabbages. Several butterflies have been tempted by the large healthy plants and have made their way under the first layer only to find themselves trapped.

I transplanted my leeks yesterday. I have got three good rows and two wimpy rows but I decided that I wasn't going to faff about - it was all or none. Inspection this morning showed evidence of dog (my money is on Jen) stomping over some of them. I pulled up and replanted about half a dozen.

I also got around to a better attempt at staking up my two tomato plants. I spotted in my fruit and veggie bible that they were vine tomatoes which are normally grown up a single tall support and sideshoots removed. Too late for that, but I could tidy them up from their sprawling on the ground. They are still fruiting well and there are loads more flowers on them.

I picked my first good-sized carrot (Amsterdam Forcing) on Tuesday, followed the next day by one of the other variety, Supreme Chantenay.

The peas are now also being cropped and I can hardly keep up with the dwarf beans now. And don't even mention lettuces although I have found an outlet for some of them in the shapes of Penny and Margaret.

I have found a use for some bright raspberry pink wool. I have been tagging runner beans, dwarf beans and pea pods to keep for next year's seeds. Adds a bit of colour.

I haven't completely neglected the rest of the garden. Penny came over last week and helped me to weed the LBE. I then sprayed several outbreaks of bindweed. I have since planted over a dozen hostas, a rhododenron and nine surviving carnations from J parkers, and two platycodons and rhodohypoxises that I thought were reasonably priced in Morrisons. It still looks very empty in places. I have my eye on several plants in other parts of the garden that can be divided in the autumn...

I am also back to planning the fruit tree bed to be. I think I have found a very good site to source my apple trees. And will probably get my pear and plum trees from J Parkers. Still undecided on cherry trees...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sugar and Spice...

A trip into Berwick yesterday to buy the basics for my new adventure into pickles and chutneys.

Brown and white pickling vinegar. Four bottles of balsamic vinegar. Light and dark brown sugar. Onions, ginger, chillies, coriander and mustard seeds.

On my way back to the car I spotted Youngman's had a display of Le Parfait preserving jars in their window display. Dumped the shopping and went back - two 1 litre and two half litre jars purchased along with a couple of jam cover sets.

A trip into Duns this morning to get some muslin from Penny. Then into the deli - what a cornucopia of spices. The last two on my list where mace (not ground) and allspice berries - no problem. It then occurred to me that Youngman's may also sell muslin (hadn't thought of it yesterday) so I went in and asked. Yep... So back to Penny's to return hers.

Right. I had everything I needed... Just needed to get the kitchen in order first...

Jars washed, rinsed and into the oven to sterilize.

Ingredients weighed. Onions chopped.

Spices selected and tied into a small muslin parcel.

Gently simmer the onions in half the vinegar for 10 minutes.

Then throw everything else in.

Stir continuously until the sugar has all dissolved.

Turn the heat up to a steady simmer, stirring occasionally.

Start worrying as it takes forever to thicken up...

Turn the oven off as I won't need the jars for a long time yet.

Hmm. What exactly does the consistency of a thick jam mean?

I think it's getting there - the gooseberries have broken down.

Turn the oven back on.

Is this the right consistency?

I have to decide at some point that it is ready and this is it.

Remove muslin parcel and bottle up...

The recipe said it should make nearly 4 lbs if using apples. I think I have got about 3. My other recipe book expects yields to be much lower than the weight of the ingredients so I am not worrying yet. Probably depends on the water content of the fruits used.

Am now supposed to leave it for at least a month to mature...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It'll Be Chickens Next

Paul had wanted me to throw out my mum's old jam pan. Okay, it has sat in the cupboard unused for years but I really didn't want to throw it out. And now I have found it a perfect use...

I did a 'double' batch - 6 pints of water. And I was right - this produced about one gallon of elderflower cordial. I really hope the campden tablets work. It has had the thumbs up from Anne. I still need Penny to try it - I have tried hers which is a lot sweeter than mine.

My diet survived the visit of Gerry, Jane, Charlotte and Charlie intact. I have now lost half a stone - over half my target with 5 weeks to go.

The veggies are continuing to grow and I picked my first Purple teepee dwarf beans yesterday - about 40 pence worth I reckon. Went very nicely with some more of my 'free' rogue potatoes and a salmon fillet. I have been given a scientific explanation of why they turn green when they are cooked...

I have now dug out all of the rogue potatoes from the tomato bed in the veggie patch - but more plants still keep popping up in various places. Have now harvested over 12 lbs and haven't started on the ones I actually planted...

I thought I may have had the odd carrot ready for pulling. But unfortunately the size of the carrot didn't live up to its promise or my expectations. About an inch and a half of tasty goodness.

Similarly with the pea pod I popped a few days ago. They are getting there but not quite yet...

I did pick a pound and a half of the rhubarb and make a large crumble last week for our visitors. It all went in the one sitting.

26 radishes picked so far, including a few whoppers. It seems to be the case that two or three are ready every few days.

Yesterday I picked the gooseberries. Not a good year compared with the last couple - only 5.75 lbs and way down on quality. They had been badly hit with mildew and took forever to clean, top and tail. Next year they are going to be sprayed! I am thinking of trying to make gooseberry chutney with some of them. Quite inspired with my new books...

Now that we are well into summer the weather has decided it doesn't like it. Absolutely peeing down again. I know we wanted rain a few weeks back but I am getting bored of this now. My seed sowing regime has broken down. The curly kale needs transplanting.

The violas I ordered arrived last week - and there I was getting drenched as I potted them up. The long bank extension really needs weeding and the potted-on hostas are waiting to get planted in there. And all the time the rabbits are trying to make burrows and undoing a lot of what I do get done.

On a positive note I have almost convinced myself that some of my leeks may be large enough to transplant by the time we get a day of good weather...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This and That

It was the UK Masters last week. The toughest event in the domestic scrabble calendar - the top 16 players in the UK are invited and then down the ratings list for the reserves. So no easy games unlike in Swiss paired events where if you lose a couple of games you are likely to get a much lower rated opponent.

In the past it has been a straight round robin, but this year it was decided to add on another three games after the round robin stage. Which was a real bummer for me - for the first time in many years of trying I was leading after the first 15 games. The title would have been mine for the first time, after coming so close so many times before. I won the first of the extra games against Paul Allan so Lewis Mackay and I were two clear of the field with two to go. My spread was well ahead of Lewis so essentially I just needed to win one of our two matches. But the tile gods decided to abandon me. or to be more accurate smile on Lewis. So I lost the first match by a heart wrenching two points. Don't panic - I could still do it. But our opening racks set the tone for the decider - I had AEEIRRU, and Lewis was blessed with two Ss and a blank. His responding bonus to my opening dump of URAEI blocked my GROOMED bonus and so the game went, in the end me losing by thirty something.

Things are going better in the veggie garden...

Jean called in on Paul while I was away and told him the potatoes looked ready to her. So I have started harvesting them now, beginning with the rogue ones in the veggie patch from last years missed potatoes, potato 'pips' and spade-sliced-off sections of potato. I had been removing most of them when they appeared in the wrong places but left two patches to their own devices. So I have now cleared the area around the runner beans and have started to dig up the ones by the tomatoes. Jen has decided that the ones in the fruit-tree-bed-to-be need excavating too - luckily also the spare ones that I transplanted into the last gap. She knows she shouldn't go in there but makes a bee-line for it almost every time I let her out the back. I did a Basil Fawlty on her yesterday with the broken off potato plant which just ended up with her covered in dirt and giving me an equally dirty look.

Jen is actually my biggest garden pest. She seems to think my raised planters are her vantage points. The middle one is safe, with the hoops and butterfly netting but RP1 has paw prints in it - luckily the seeds seem to have taken it in their stride - npi. RP3 is the latest victim - we let Poncho and Jen out the back on returning from food shopping and I watched her run and jump straight in it. Luckily it is only half planted and just a few carrots squished before I dragged her out.

So on to the veggies.

Life In The Raised Planters:

My first sown surviving carrots appear to be maturing - how do you know when they are ready?
The lettuces are overtaking us now. I have picked a few of the small romaine ones to let the others (another dozen) reach a good size and the salad bowl ones are growing faster than we can eat them. And I have another sowing of the romaine variety on the way in here.
More spinach and rocket coming up too - one of my severed spinach plants re-sprouted. And another row of radishes...

The cabbages I left in there are pushing up the butterfly netting. Another half dozen need transplanting.
A second sowing of kale is doing well but will need to be moved as they are being swamped by the cabbages. Not sure whether to just move them into the veggie patch as they are still very small.
And another row of radishes...

My pickling onions seem to be thickening, as are the bulb onions.
I am still concerned about the leeks...

Yet more lettuces. Lucy has suggested making lettuce soup which I had no idea existed - I will definitely give it a go.
I have been harvesting a few radishes every couple of days - almost finished the first sowing. I had a go with the radish-top pesto after a trial run with the last of the first sown rocket. It was okay but I think I over-seasoned and garlicked it - the rocket was better. And I have another row of radishes coming...
More carrots - Jen permitting, kale and spinach - although only three plants germinated.
And the red onions that I just bunged in are now about to flower...

Life In The Veggie Patch:

Just over 6 lbs of 'free' potatoes so far, although some of these are the Jen ones.
The first of my peas have flowered and pods are appearing.
My runner beans are flowering, and the first wigwam has been covered. The second wigwam is well under way with one plant ignoring it and making a dash for freedom. The first obelisk is also very colourful, although they have only climbed about half way so far.
The dwarf beans are flowering away merrily. Another batch have been planted free-standing as the first ones don't appear to want to climb the netting.
I have transplanted the three surviving first sown kale plants and they seem to be appreciating it.
The cabbages are thriving. The first transplanted cabbages that survived the slugs and snails are now bulking up. Another dozen winter cabbages are now in the veggie patch.
I have now counted 11 baby tomatoes.
I am also tempted to pick some of the rhubarb - all three crowns look exceptionally healthy an it seems a shame not to have any home-grown rhubarb this year.

On the fruit front I have already picked as much weight-wise as I have potatoes! This is one of four main patches. And they will keep coming for the next couple of months. One batch of jam already made.

I have decided to branch out and make some elderflower cordial, in competition with Jean and Penny. So I went on the web to find recipes. You are spoilt for choice, but I was left a little bewildered trying to work out how much by volume the recipes actually produce. So if you use 3 pints of water and then add three pounds of sugar how come you still only get 3 pints. So I asked Penny - and she says it makes more as I expected. And on further questioning I discovered hers sound more like syrup with the amount of sugar she uses. Anyway I thought I would try this recipe. So I then scoured the web looking for citric acid, campden tablets and a suitable container and found all that I needed here. My package arrived this morning.

And then I branched out again as whilst looking I had come across the Collins Gem Food For Free book and that sounded rather enticing. So on to Amazon and I ordered a copy. And a couple of books on jams, chutneys and preserves. Awaiting my next package with eager anticipation.

Back to more mundane things and I have made a start on cleaning and tidying the house. Gerry and family are coming next week for a few days. So the sunroom is now looking a lot better with the dead flies hoovered up from the window sills.

And finally I have disproved the old adage Red Sky At Night as it peed down starting in the early hours and continuing on until late morning...

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