Tomatoes, potatoes and ‘TomTato’…!

We ate things from the garden this weekend, which kind of makes it all feel worthwhile.

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Last night I made pizza, using the first of the tomatoes.  It seems a shame to be roasting and pureeing home grown tomatoes, I feel as though they should be eaten raw, maybe in a salad, but the sad truth is I don’t do raw tomatoes, it’s the only thing I don’t eat and F is the same. DSC_0193Luckily, my youngest LOVES all vegetables so he has been snacking on the little cherry toms – Ildi – which I think deserves a place on my yearly list, as they are cropping beautifully with huge clusters of tiny fruit.  The Brandywine above were roasted as they were a little damaged underneath, where the weight (they are MASSIVE) had pushed into the edge of the bench where I’d propped them to mature, but C is looking forward to eating some sliced in his vegi-burger bap, at a later date.

DSC_0195There’s the first of the plums (San Marzano), these are also cropping well, in fact this year is looking good for tomatoes in general.

DSC_0198 Which brings me to a TomTato update.  As per this earlier post, the TomTato is a tomato plant grafted into a potato, so I should get a crop of both.  The plant was quite expensive so I’ve been looking after it with regular feeds and it’s been growing happily outside, in one of my large pots.

DSC_0201The potatoes are showing their first flowers

DSC_0204and I was excited to see the cherry tomatoes colouring beautifully, almost like the Thompson & Morgan promo photo below…..

8830534975518almost!

DSC_0205My other large potato pot, full of Lady Christl has given us its first meal, I grubbed about and managed to pull out a few tubers for our lunch and they were delicious, eaten with a little butter and salt.  It’s a new variety for me, I nearly always grow Charlottes but these are equally lovely.

The broad beans are nearly over, they are getting a little large now, today’s were blanched and then the skins removed and the beans added to a feta and pea salad.  C had a courgette (zephyr), also from the garden added to his frittata for lunch (the rest of us eat meat, so we had Jerk chicken), so all in all it was a good day for eating garden produce.  If I’d been better organised we’d have also pulled some carrots and the sweet corn is almost ready, but ideally needs a few more days.

Off the water and feed the greenhouse now, and enjoy the last few days of sun, before the rain arrives 🙂


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Planting Up Day…

It’s a day I dread, mainly because I HATE lugging bags of soil around, but there was no way I could put off planting up the greenhouse into their (mostly) final pots.

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On the plus side, my lovely local gardening shop had some cucumber plants, £1.99 for a pot with two seedlings I couldn’t resist and due to my excessive juicing these days, I get through 2 cucumbers a day so it’ll be worth every penny.  I threw in some pretty pink English Daisies (Bellis Perennis Rose), they aren’t my normal thing but having seen some in a big pot outside my Aunt’s pub on a  recent trip to Yorkshire, I just fancied them.

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My main reason for going though, was to buy soil, bag after heavy bag, so I could get the tomatoes, aubergines, potatoes, peppers, chillies and melons planted up.  I grow all of these on containers as they do better in the greenhouse (expect the potatoes, they have been put into a massive 60 litre container outside), I’m undecided about what I might move outside at a later date, so for now the tomatoes are planted without supports.  After planting them deep, to compensate for the usual leggy stems when they went from jiffy pellets into small pots, they don’t need to planted deep again.  I did have to nip quite a lot of the side shoots off though, and some of the plants are about to flower, at which point I’ll start feeding them.  As always, the tomatoes are in the usual green buckets.  I’ve been recycling these for years now, they don’t look very attractive but they are sturdy and cheap,

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Excitingly my Tomtato has arrived!  It’s a tomato top grafted onto a potato bottom, more info here.  This is an expensive experiment so for now I’ve just re-potted it up in a slightly larger pot and we’ll see how it goes.

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After the recent rabbitgeddom, I have constructed some very temporally fencing along the line where our new decking area meets the veg patch.  I’m sad not to be able to wander between the two, as planned, but at least I know my seedlings are safe.  The main garden is getting a thorough munching though and I’m worried about many of my spring flowers returning next year after they have had their heads removed…I hope the few leaves left will allow them to keep going.

In the garden, I’ve planted out more peas and I’ve decided to throw all my remaining old flower seed into half a raised bed.  I don’t hold out much hope that they will germinate, but I may as well try.  From the ones planted in the greenhouse, only my zinnia sprite has taken, that might be more to do with intermittent watering whilst I’ve been away (I left the garden in the hands of my husband for the week).

It’s sounds like it’s going to be scorchio tomorrow, so perhaps we’ll be putting the BBQ into use!

Potatoes and Sunday Lunch…

We’ve had a lovely weekend.  It feels odd, it being the last of the Summer holidays (the boys return to school next Thursday) and even though it’s been a warm sunny day, there is a definite Autumn feel to things, the days are noticeably shorter and it all feels a bit chillier.

Sundays mean Sunday lunch.  Today I departed from the usual roast and made Bill Granger’s ‘Okayodon’ (which means ‘mother and child’ in japanese, apparently), from his book ‘Feed Me Now’.  It’s a stew made with chicken thighs, onions, soy sauce, mirin, dashi stock and sugar, with some beaten eggs thrown in at the last minute.  I always feel guilty if I copy a direct recipe into a post, but if you do a web search you’ll find the details all over the place.  I served it with rice, and some green vegetables, including pack choi from the garden and it went down very well with the boys so a winner there.  I didn’t take a photo as the scrambled egg makes for a slightly messy looking dish, in fact I noticed in the book they have included a photo minus the egg, which is a bit misleading.

For dessert I made a blackberry and apple pie with the first berries from the garden.  I love how they ripen a few at a time, it takes the pressure off to eat a whole crop in one go, sadly I’d picked the best ones before thinking to take the above photo.  I always feel the need to wash them very carefully and then inspect each one before putting it into the dish as various little critters cling on and I don’t need any extra protein with my fruit!  Again it went down well with the boys, F was very keen to try some berries raw, it really reinforces the idea, for me, that they might be more adventurous with their eating when they see things growing in our own patch.

I wouldn’t normally eat a big dinner after a Sunday lunch, but I got a sudden craving for some pickled herrings (Scandi style in dill – from a jar, I should add) to be ideally eaten with some chives and creme fraiche, thin crisp rye and a few new potatoes from the garden with herbs.  Lucky we have potatoes and chives in the garden and the rest in the cupboards.

I realised I’ve never done a round-up on the potatoes I planted this year.  Back in March, I received the following seed potatoes from good old Thompson & Morgan.

  • Potato ‘Charlotte’  Truly sensational flavour whether eaten hot, smothered in butter, or cold in a tasty salad niçoise.
  •  Potato ‘Maris Peer’ – Favoured by restaurants and gardeners alike as the firm creamy yellow fleshed tubers retain their colour and have a superb flavour, without disintegrating.
  • Potato ‘Rocket’ – A very early bulking and heavy cropping variety producing almost round, white skinned and fleshed tubers. First early.

They were planted (late!) in 14 litres exhibitor bags (1 tuber per bag) and when we came back from our holidays, recently, they looked like this:

All the tops were gone, the bags were quite dry and weeds were moving in.  I had expected this as the leaves were already on their way out when we left, but I wanted to give them as long as possible to grow.  The lack of water and late planting meant some of the tubers were still rather small when we left for Yorkshire.

It appears to have been the right decision, as on turning out the bags, each contain a nice bowl full of potatoes, enough for a single meal for our family with few tiny ones that never reached their full potential.  It backs up my theory that planting one tuber per small bag is the way to go for us, if I had enough space in beds, I’d probably plant them there so I could dig up one plant at a time, but I don’t so growing bags it is and not having to eat a large bag with 4 or 5 plants again takes the pressure off and reduces the sense of having a glut.  As per last year, I plan to leave the bags in the garden and turn them out each time we want to eat some, so long as they are all gone before the first frosts, I know they will keep nicely this way.

I am off to work outside now as I have plenty to do plus I’ve just cooked the most amazing batch of cookies and I’ve eaten four in a row and need to leave the kitchen.  I’ll write about them in the next post.

Potatoes 2012…

My new seed potatoes arrived last week and are happily chitting in the kitchen, once they have a few shoots, I plan to plant them in the greenhouse in bags and hope we don’t get any late frosts, before moving them outside later in the year, when things have warmed up for good.  I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d ordered (as it was back in October) but this is what came:

  • Potato ‘Charlotte’ – Truly sensational flavour whether eaten hot, smothered in butter, or cold in a tasty salad niçoise.
  •  Potato ‘Maris Peer’ – Favoured by restaurants and gardeners alike as the firm creamy yellow fleshed tubers retain their colour and have a superb flavour, without disintegrating.
  • Potato ‘Rocket’ – A very early bulking and heavy cropping variety producing almost round, white skinned and fleshed tubers. First early.

The above descriptions are borrowed from Thompson & Morgan where I bought them as a ‘Potatoes for Planters Collection’ so I get 5 of each tuber plus I added an extra 10 of the ‘Charlotte’ variety as they are my very favourite.  I ordered the tubers only with no additional planting bags, following last years trials I am opting for putting all my potatoes in 14 litres exhibitor bags (1 tuber per bag), which I have plenty of.

The first year of growing, I planted my potatoes in large potato barrels, the ones I used had 5 tubers per barrel and the sides at the bottom could be lifted in order to remove a few potatoes at a time.  It worked fine, but I got bored of trying to push the soil back in to the hole and get the sides back on each time we wanted to eat a meals worth and eventually you just have to turn the lot out, which left us overwhelmed and guilty for not eating them direct out of the soil, when they are ay their best.  I used these planters in year 2 as well.

Next I moved onto large bags (below, left) which came with last years gourmet potato planters collection, also for planting 5 tubers per bag (although I planted 4).  In this case you ‘grub’ your hand down the sides and attempt to pull a few potatoes out at a time as you need them.  Again, not ideal.

I also experimented with a few of  the 14 litre exhibitor bags (above, right), which are essentially a small heavy duty black bag with holes in the bottom.  As with the other planting bags you place the tuber (once chitted  on a sunny windowsill to produce a few green shoots) on top of about 3 inches of soil (I use John Innes 2 or 3).  You then cover the tuber with soil and keep topping up as the plants grow, covering the stems but leaving the top leaves poking out, until the bag is full.

My main reasons for opting for the single tuber bags is because it produces the perfect amount for a family meal, the boys love turning the bag out and pulling out the potatoes and none get wasted.  The down side is they look a bit ugly and you have to buy the soil to fill them (which, of course, I have to do with all my planters) but as I don’t have space in my raised beds for this crop, I’m happy with that sacrifice.

Finally, I wanted to share this photo, apart from my ravishing ‘slippers’ I found these very edible potatoes when I turned out a bag that has spent the entire of winter stuck behind the greenhouse.  It was shoved there late last year, long after the foliage had died off and we’d struggled to eat all the ready crops, I think I put it there out of guilt, meaning to eat them at some point but forgot.  I’m amazed that they were still in perfect order after an entire winter outdoors, but there you  go, my garden always surprises me.

 

What a mess…

I once said to one of the Mum’s from school, who at the last minute was popping back to my house for a coffee, “please excuse the house, it’s a bit of a mess.”  I think she was a bit shocked to find out it really was a total mess and I wasn’t just being overly house proud (to be fair, we had builders in ripping the back wall section off so everything was stacked in the living room and it was a bit *ahem* dusty).  The same could be said of the garden right now, it’s a bit of a mess, and I really do mean it there are weeds growing all over the place and the grass is about ready to make hay with.  I blame the last 2 weeks of school and pre-school with all the chaos that, that brings but even I was surprised how out of control things can get in such a short time.

On the plus side, because we haven’t been in the garden each day, munching as we go there is a huge crop of the wild strawberries at the moment.  I am going to pick all the ripe ones today, some we will just eat but the rest are going into the bachelor’s jam I started a while ago.

The potatoes grown in the small (14 litre) grow bags have been a big hit, there is no question that this is how I will grow all my potatoes from now on with a single chitted tuber per bag.  Being able to tip it out, have the boys rummage for the contents and have enough for a meal or two is great.

This is the crop (Charlotte variety) from a single bag, the bowl is a very large salad one so you can get an idea of the quantity.

As well as potatoes and strawberries we are also eating courgettes, salad, spring onions, herbs, the last of the broad beans and peas and carrots right now.  The tomatoes and cucumbers are running very late, next year I will probably leave them to get started in the greenhouse for a lot longer, before moving them outdoors.

I have picked the redcurrants, we have 2 bushes in amongst the border of the vegetable patch and they have provided about 2 kilos of fruit each (and that’s leaving a few for the birds).  Half of his has been turned into redcurrant jelly and the rest has been put into the freezer, some as whole fruit and some as strained juice, I simply didn’t have time to deal with it all right now.

I made yet more jam with the final blackcurrants and packed some up for teachers gifts.  The boys helped pick the berries and weigh out the sugar and stir the jam etc.  I made little ‘blackcurrant’ coloured birds for the packaging and then had F write out thank you tags (this was the hardest bit, he’s not keen on writing!).

And so, we are now on the first day of the long summer holidays; I’d like to fall into last years routine of sectioning the day up and getting a little of my chores done as well as entertaining the boys but it may not work out that way.  I hope to sew for the next hour and then once it’s warmed up outside try and sell the boys on the paddling pool as today’s entertainment with maybe a walk later, that way I can attempt to tidy the garden and feel less guilty about the mess.  Perhaps a little ice cream bribe in the afternoon will do the trick 🙂

June Eating and Container Planting…

We’ve just returned from a trip to Germany and I’m relieved to find the vegetable garden survived quite well.  Apparently it was very dry whilst we were away but I was expecting that and this year I have planted everything (including the melons and beef tomatoes) outdoors.  It seems to be working quite well, the tomatoes would be a lot further along if they were indoors but the massive advantage of being able to put a single sprinkler on a timer (I had to, as sadly there is no-one to come and water for me) and know that it pretty much reaches all the important crops makes it worth while.  The rest of the garden is not looking it’s best, due to general lack of water and I’m slightly worried we’ve lost one the huge pines on the border but time will tell.

The garden in general is a bit messy, as you can see, I covered the fruit bushes in enviromesh in rather a hurry to stop the birds from stripping them.  The fruit netting was already in use on the beds to stop the cats from using them as a litter tray and the birds are quite quick around here and will often take the redcurrants and such whilst they are still very green.

I’ve spent today removing any weeds, dead heading roses, and generally having a tidy up.  The garlic is just about ready to pull up, it’s looking rather impressive this year despite a late planting, I think giving it the best raised bed has really improved the crop in general and it looks like we’ll get some huge cloves.  I’ve also cleaned and washed down the empty greenhouse in anticipation of drying the garlic in there for the first few weeks.

We are eating quite a bit from the garden at the moment:

Radish ‘Sparkler’ & ‘Cherry Bell’

Spring Onion ‘North Holland Blood Red’

Salad

Courgettes ‘Defender’ & ‘Soleil’

Strawberries Alpine

Pak Choi

Herbs ‘Parcel’, ‘Savory’ & ‘Thyme’

Rhubarb (although it’s past it’s best)

As for the growing crops, I’m quite excited about the potatoes which are looking great, I’m just waiting for them to flower and the broad beans are also about ready.  Sadly, the squash and pumpkins aren’t really taking off, I’m sure they’ll be fine but they are a bit slow to get going.

Planting in the huge containers that I normally put my squash in is also working really well, I’ve finally got around to writing up the crop lists in my book, I normally plan every aspect of the vegetable patch in here during the Winter months and this is the first time I’ve been so loose with my plans and I’m rather enjoying it.  I’m sure that because of this I’m not going to be making the absolute most of successional planting and I am definitely missing some things (like chard and kale) but it feels a lot more relaxed and that’s working for me right now 🙂

Planting out Squash and Pumpkin…

Yes, it’s a little daring planting out the squash and pumpkin quite this early but I have been watching the forecast and it looks like we are due some warm nights and if we do get a last minute frost, I will cover them in cloches and hope for the best!  I know a few friends that have lost potatoes and beans to the recent cold snaps, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather.

I only have 6 well germinated plants, I say well germinated but I’m sure you’ve spotted the tiny pathetic ‘Butternut’ in the middle bottom, I have shoved an extra seed in the pot direct in the hope of germination in case it doesn’t make it!  So the list is:

  • Turk’s Turban
  • Butternut Harrier F1
  • Buttercup
  • Gem/Rolet
  • Mariana di Chioggia
  • Dill’s Atlantic Giant

Sadly the Sweet Dumpling and Crown Prince didn’t germinate.  I’m not sure if it was because I used my own seed or not?  Either way it’s probably a good thing as I only have 6 giant pots, the rest are a little small for planting Squash.

OK, so I removed the top layer of soil from last year and replaced with manure and then a bag per pot of John Innes 3 to give them a good start.  I hope that using the same pots as last year wont make me prone to early powdery mildew, I figure our slightly harsher Winter has killed of a lot of the garden diseases but I guess we”ll see.  The seedlings are now in and have been well watered, they are having a little sunbath but I will cover them in cloches later so it isn’t too much of a shock being outdoors for the night.  I am also unsure if the evil pigeons will try and eat them so might have to cover with netting, I discovered lots of feathers in the garden yesterday so one must have been munched, I have to admit I couldn’t resist a little ‘happy dance’ 😉