I’m late, for a VERY important date…

Or very nearly anyway.  We have great luck to be surrounded by old apple trees and the like, there have been houses on this site for a number of years, on the old maps there were quite a few and since 1850-ish just ours, when I say ‘ours’ we are end-of-terrace in the sense that it looks like one very big house but is in fact split into 4 along it’s length.  Beyond our garden, via the shoulder high nettles there is a bank of sloe bushes and although all the recipes I have say to ideally pick your sloes at the end of September, after the first frosts I know to pick ours by end of August.  I forgot.  Last week I climbed over the fence and braved being stung to collect enough sloes to make a batch of sloe gin, I was nearly too late, most of the sloes had started to shrivel but I got enough firm ones to make up a batch.

To make approx 900ml you will need:

  • 450g sloes
  • 350g sugar (I use caster, unrefined)
  • 700ml gin

Ideally you are supposed to pick the sloes after a frost (no chance in August!), but I put mine in the freezer for a couple of days as it helps to break them down, alternatively you can prick all over with a fork, then simply put all the ingredients in a jar, stir and seal.  You should then shake or turn the jar regularly to keep the sugar moving (I turn mine most days, or when I remember) for between 8-12 weeks, tasting every few weeks to see if the flavour is to your liking.  Again, I am likely to forget and just go for the full 12 weeks, also I leave my jar on the kitchen window but most recipes advise a dark corner.

After 8-12 weeks, strain through a fine sieve into sterilised bottles and ideally leave for a few months to mellow before drinking, if you can wait that long!

HFW suggests stoning the discarded fruit at the the sieving stage and eating with ice cream, I’m guessing it’s not a good idea to let the kids have any.

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Squash, the conclusion…

I couldn’t help but notice it was a bit nippy this morning when we set of on the school run (F started ‘big school’ last week) and I decided to remove all my squash/pumpkins to the greenhouse for their final drying period.  I am pretty sure we wont get any frost but I fear there is so much going on around here I may forget them and it only takes one frost for all the hard work to be ruined.

So, to re-cap, last April I started Squash ‘Turk’s Turban’, ‘Butternut Harrier F1′, ‘Sweet Dumpling’, ‘Buttercup’, ‘Crown Prince’ & ‘Gem/Rolet’ in Greenhouse.  To be honest I struggled to germinate some of them and when it warmed up planted some direct outside.  All my squash were planted in 125 litre (I think!) plastic buckets bought from The Garden Superstore and were filled with the contents of my compost piles (to be honest not fully matured), some bought manure and topped off with a bag or two of John Innes No 2.  The containers are big and heavy and wont be moved unless I empty them first.  They worked really well, I had healthy plants and I’m very happy with this method as it saves the raised beds for other things.

A while ago I did photograph the growing squash but I think we will skip this and go straight to the ‘ta-da’ shot:

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so this is what I’ve got:

Buttercup (top left) x 2 – not bad, might have liked another one but they are a decent size

Crown Prince (middle back) x 1 – love the colour of this and it’s the biggest, as expected.

Gem/Rolet (right) x bucket loads – this is the only summer squash so needs eating pretty swiftly but the quantity and lovely 1 person portion makes it a winner.  I have eaten loads already, pricked with a fork, boiled for 45 mins then cut open seeds removed and eaten direct with a blog of butter and some seasoning.

Sweet Dumling (bottom left) x 4 – I grew this as it’s described as a ‘Shreck’ squash and I thought the kids would like that.  It was very late to get started so I am happy with my 4, they are meant to be that size, like the Gem, you get lots of small squash.

Butternut (bottom middle) x 6 – I should have removed some of these earlier, I took off about 6 forming fruit but I think a little late, I think I should have aimed for 5 if I wanted decent sized squash, as it is I have 6 small but edible ones.  They could have done with a bit longer to grow, they started late.

Oh, did I forget one?  Oh, yes, that would be my ‘comedy’ squash, the petite but perfectly formed Turk’s Turban.

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This was part of the three (or two in my case) sisters planting and as you can see, it didn’t flourish.  I watered the container planted squash every day, a lot, and it’s been a dry summer here, I tended to rather neglect my raised beds so I think this was the problem, it’s a shame as I was growing this partly for decoration, as you can see it’s very pretty (and tastes good too apparently) there were 2 but one got eaten by slugs early on and this mini version was the only surviver.

Next year I think I will add ‘Marina di Chioggia’ which is an Heirloom variety that’s has fantastic warty skin and I will definitely shift the ‘Turk’s Turban‘ into a container to get a better crop.

Sowing Hardy Annuals…

A Hardy Annual pretty much lives up to it’s name, it can withstand cold weather, as opposed to a Half-Hardy Annual, which MAY survive the cold (some of mine do if I mulch them but more about that another time) and it grows, flowers and sets seed all in one year, unlike a Biennial which grows foliage one year and flowers the next or a Perennial which comes back year after year.

As Autumn has arrived, it’s time to sow hardy annuals (HA) so they can form a small plant before the weather gets too cold.  You can sow them in Spring but they will not flower as early, Autumn sowing gives them a head start and in my experience works well for my cutting patch, you can then sow replacements in Spring in the greenhouse that take over after the Autumn sown plants are past their best.  I used to start mine in small pots in the greenhouse but I mostly sow direct now, it saves a lot of energy and keeps the greenhouse free for other things.  You can just scatter your seeds in your chosen spot but it’s hard to tell what is a weed and what  is a plant as they sprout so it’s better to sow in lines/drills, the seed packets should have the ideal depth and distance for each final plant, you will probably have to thin them out a few times as they grow.  I wont go into too much detail, as to be honest there are so many good tutorials on the internet on how to grow HA and they are much better written then I could ever manage!

I find that I grow a lot of the same plants each year and most of my HA self seed, so I just transplant the seedlings to the desired spot once they are established.  My worst problem is not watering the seedlings enough, or thinning them too keenly too early and having the slugs take out the rest leaving me to begin again next Spring.  I am late planning my cutting beds but I know I will grow the following HA:

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  1. Bupleurum rotundifolium – Griffithii
  2. Salvia Viridis/Sage – Blue Clary
  3. Euphorbia Oblongata
  4. Centaurea Cyanus/Cornflower – Blue Boy
  5. Calendula Officinalis/Marigold – Indian Prince
  6. Nigella Hispanica/Love-in-the-mist
  7. Nigella Damascena – Deep Blue
  8. Helianthus Annus/Sunflower – Red Sun
  9. Cerinth Major Purpurascens/Honeywort
  10. Malope Trifida Vulcan
  11. Ammi Majus/Bishop’s Flower
  12. Scabiosa Atropurpurea

I sow the Helianthus/Sunflower in Spring in the greenhouse but everything else is started in September, I give a few seeds a helping hand by shaking the seed heads in the spot where I want my new plants, cover them lightly with fine soil, water and then leave them too it.  I still rather neglecting the garden, we have new school for Felix and builders working on part of the house so there is enough going on but I am worried about getting behind, I had better stop writing and get digging or I will regret it next Spring!

Late August eating…

As with the flower beds, the poor veg beds have been a bit neglected.  I have concentrated on watering pots and have rather let the rest dry out resulting in a bit of a scruffy mess.  The courgettes have finally come to an end, I took the photo below just before cutting and composting.

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The 2 x courgette ‘Defender‘ (dark green) were really past their best, very dry and covered in powdery mildew (more about this in the next post on squash), the 2 x courgette ‘Soleil‘ (yellow as above)  still had life in it but the leaves were also covered in powdery mildew and I had thrown a few marrows away recently so decided to also compost those.  The 4 plants did us well, they grew very nicely in their potato bags and provided just about the right amount for our family (2 adults, 2 kids).

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Also still providing lost of fruit are the tomato plants.  The lovely orange cherry ‘Sungold‘ are about over as are the ‘Tigerella’ and beefeater ‘Brandywine’ but ‘San Marzone’ are at their prime, we are getting huge trusses of fruit, as above.  The 8 plants (2 of each) were about right, next year I think I will add a couple more early fruiting but we have managed lots of puree for the freezer, a good few jars of ketchup and lots of fresh fruit.  Sadly the plants are showing signs of Early Blight but I know from past years they still have time so I have removed some large trusses to ripen in the sun for a few days and have left the rest on the plants to chance.  There is a great description of Blight here for those unsure what it is or how to deal with it.

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Finally, in the greenhouse the Aubergine ‘Violetta di Firenze’ are ready and outside Aubergine ‘Slim Jim’, although they are a bit nibbled by earwigs.  Other than that, it’s cucumber, salad crops and herbs that are providing food, oh and the final few sweetcorn.  There is plenty growing ready for over winter and lots more to sow but that’s for a big September update when I will take stock of the whole patch.

August Flowers…and sorry!

I bet you were wondering where I have been?  Well, the summer holidays have slightly taken their toll, Mummy duty has been full on (I am writing this sitting in the living room as Mr C can’t be left alone with F, who is terrorising him at every opportunity).  Also, The Linen Cat has been having a sale which has meant a lot of packing and posting and some hasty panic sewing of new stock to fill the gaps.

Owl lavender bags about to be posted

Owl lavender bags about to be posted

This along with a complete lack of rain and not enough watering from me has resulted in slightly neglected garden, and blog, I feel suitably guilty and need to get everything back up to speed.

Right, the cutting garden is still producing:

  • Helianthus Annus/Sunflower – Red Sun
  • Amaranthus Caudatus – Viridis’
  • Centura Cyanus/CornflowerBlue Boy
  • Salvia ViridisBlue Clary
  • CosmosDazzler
  • Salvia Patens
  • Nicotiana AlataLime Green
  • CosmosPurity
  • Bupleurum

I have to admit that at this time of writing some of the above are getting very scratty and a number have produced seed heads but I am still picking large amounts of Cosmos and Sunflowers (warning!  bad photo alert!):

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The boarders are still pitiful, very dry and with little colour, I will correct this for next year with plenty of late summer plants to fill the gaps, for this year I want to concentrate on making sure the cutting garden is planted up in September with new Hardy Annuals that will survive winter and give early flowers next year.  This is made a lot easier by the fact that most of my Hardy Annuals self seed, I prefer to plant in the same spots so I just give a shake of the dry plants as I lift them, give the soil a rake and water to allow the seeds to settle in then move the seedlings into position once they have sprouted.

I have also saved quite a lot of seed this year.  The dry weather and my total neglect of the garden has left me with quite a few dry seedheads so I figured I may as well pack them up.

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Above, you can see Sweet pea ‘Matucana’, Nigella Hispanica and Damascena both of which produce beautiful seed heads which I also use in cut flower arrangements.  I now need to draw up plans for next year’s cutting beds (I will post these, along with photos of the planned plants and instructions on planting Hardy Annuals and Biennials) and get planting so the seedlings have time to settle in before the weather turns cold.