Posts tagged Vegetables
Things to Grow on Your Windowsill
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To kick off today's post I want to say that although we now have a polytunnel and grow most things from seed in there, when we first moved to the country we had little more than a warm(ish) windowsill.  Our pea plants, lettuces and carrots all started life there - albeit with mixed results - and so I feel qualified to advise that although it can be difficult, if you have the right conditions you really can reap the rewards. So firstly - do you have the right windowsill?! Here are some general tips from the BBC on growing grub on your windowsill; particularly helpful before you get started to check that you have the right conditions.

So you've got your windowsill. Now what on earth should you plant? From my own experience I'd have to say that herbs are the easiest and most fruitful plants to start off with, and some can grow so quickly you could be flavouring your evening meals in no time.

Luckily the fabulous folks at Gardening After Five posted a few years ago, covering everything from how much water the herbs need to what containers to use; link here.

If you prefer visual tips try this YouTube tutorial here; I love the look of the mojito in this video! This is actually marketed as being for men, but I love the simple style and basic tips - definitely one for both genders.

Now if herbs aren't your bag (and if so - why on earth not?!) or you're looking to add to your current collection of windowsill plants, there are other choices. Lettuces are probably your next best option, simply for the fact that they grow quickly and if you grow the 'cut-and-come-again' varieties they will continue to crop throughout the summer months. Try these if you're unsure which variety to start with. Just be careful that you rotate the pot so that the lettuce doesn't just grow in one direction, and be careful it's not too hot as the lettuce will get leggy and wilt before growing leaves. Suttons give more great tips here.

A Catch Up
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It seems strange that I haven't posted in a few days, almost like my creativity has been stifled somewhat without its usual outlet. I've come to rely on this blog as an opportunity to develop those writing skills that have festered over the past few years, that have been neglected without good reason. But there has been a reason for my online absence: a horrid cold that has lingered and interrupted what would have been a wonderful weekend full of sunshine and flowers.

It's not all doom and gloom though, and prior to my lapse in health, I had been enjoying the beauty of the countryside as we helter-skelter full steam ahead into the delights of early summer. Here are some of the wonders I've been admiring this month so far...

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The evocative smell of the zesty yellow oil seed rape that surrounds our cottage. I love winding my window down in the car and realising I'm nearly home. It also looks pretty spectacular in the late evening sunshine that falls softly on the fields; we've been trying to go for walks at this time of day to really make the most of the lighter nights.

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This lettuce that has erupted what seems like overnight is bringing me so much joy right now. The plants that have been in the polytunnel have just started to accompany our evening meals, but the prospect of nipping out the front door for a few leaves is so exciting.

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Eating seasonally is something we try to do throughout the year, but it always seems so much easier once you've got over the 'hungry gap' between February and April and the rapture of the year's first asparagus is not to be beaten (except perhaps by the first strawberry). Mr CC cooked up a treat with homemade hollandaise sauce, grilled smoky bacon, asparagus and poached duck eggs on toast. I was in food heaven.

How's your week so far? Done anything exciting?

CC x

Lunch Inspiration
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I posted about trying to eat healthily but also finding exciting combinations for my lunch menu here and today's post is an addition to the search. I toasted slices of a day-old baguette on a griddle pan and fried up some green pepper with olive oil, but the rest was cold and only took a moment to assemble.

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I added to my plate pickled courgettes from last year's surplus in our garden, slices of extra mature cheddar cheese (although I think I'll try feta next time), the first of this year's lettuce leaves and a little salsa dip. It left me feeling energised, which is not always the case with my lunches! I finished it all off with a glass of homemade lemonade (recipe here); delicious!

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Have you got any lunch recommendations I can try?

CC x

How to Grow Potatoes
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They are the staple of many a person's diet, can be roasted, boiled, mashed, baked and chipped, and are ultimately not that expensive to buy. Why grow them then? For one simple reason: taste.

I've written here about the delights of early potatoes, but whether you are growing early or maincrop the difference in taste can be tremendous. Picking a smooth new potato from the earth, boiling until tender and then serving with lashings of butter and freshly picked herbs is simply delicious (particularly with meat straight from the barbeque!).  Lifting them from the warm soil and eating not 15 minutes later means that there is no loss of nutrients and no transportation costs (whether that be monetary or environmental) - they are literally fork to fork.

They are also easy to nurture once you've planted them, and if you buy the right variety can keep you in fresh potatoes for a large proportion of the year.

Timeline for growing potatoes:

  • Early spring: if you want to chit your own potatoes, buy them in early spring and leave in a cool, dark place so they can sprout.
  • Late April/early May: if you are looking to plant potatoes this year buy them already chitted from garden centres or online.
  • Early May: dig a trench (3-5in deep) in your veg bed.  If you have comfrey growing near you (it's often by the side of the road) pick the leaves and use shears to chop smaller and line the trench generously. Simply push the potatoes into the earth or if like us you have chalky soil, use a bulb planter as this stops the stones damaging the crop. Plant them with the chitted growth pointing upwards (removing any growth facing other direction) approximately 12in apart. Rake up the surrounding soil to form a ridge over the potatoes.
  • Throughout May/early June: continue to earth up the potatoes so that the shoots are just buried. This is to protect the delicate leaves in case of a surprise late frost.
  • June-September: harvest your potatoes!

Four helpful hints:

  1. Buy blight-resistant varieties to give your potatoes a better chance; foliage blight struck our potatoes in our first year and wiped out half the crop.
  2. If it is a particularly dry summer it is worth giving the potatoes a water if possible; it often gives a higher yield.
  3. We grow Charlottes for our early potatoes and Cara for our maincrop and have had continued success with these varieties; highly recommended.
  4. Pay attention to the soil. When digging your beds make a little note of the insects you see as this may affect the type of potato you should plant. We have a little problem with Golden Eel-Worm which we didn't notice in our first year and when it came to harvest the ones that had survived the blight had been eaten inside out! However all was not lost and since we switched to the Charlotte and Cara varieties last year (which are G.E.W resistant) we have had fewer problems.

For more information on potato varieties, their properties and help on what to grow in your area hop over to this very handy website.

Are there any other vegetables you'd like to see a. 'How to Grow...' guide for?  Please do let me know!

CC x

How to Grow Peas
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If you read my post from last week about vegetables to grow in a small garden, you'll know how I like to rave about home-grown peas.  They are ridiculously easy to grow in the early stages, and with a bit of TLC they can produce succulent green pods filled with delight over the summer months.Start off by planting your seeds into modules of compost; this year I've planted Duchy Originals peas after previous success with this company.  Make sure the seeds are covered with compost and water well.  Starting them off in a greenhouse or polytunnel is best, although we had some luck on a warm windowsill in our first year.  They should be watered every few days, more if it is exceptionally hot for the time of year, and you should see growth within the first few days.  Leave the plants in the warm place until all chance of frost has disappeared (late May / early June here in Lincolnshire).

The next stage involves leaving the pea plants outside during the day, and bringing them in at night - hardening off.  Do this for about a week until you are ready for them in your vegetable bed.  By this point, I have usually gathered twigs and branches of a similar width and length (see images above) to provide support for the pea plants - push one into the soil for each plant.  Water well and cover with netting or chicken wire if you suffer from greedy pigeons as we do.

The key to growing peas is to plant them over a period of a month or so; this ensures a constant supply and means that you're not podding for a whole day at a time (we fell foul to this in our first year).  However, if you do find yourself with a surplus, fear not; they freeze excellently and you simply need to blanch them first.  For this you should put the peas into a saucepan and just cover with cold water.  Put on a high heat and remove from the hob just after the water begins to boil.  Then sieve the peas and put straight into a bowl of cold water; they should remain in here until cool and then should be dried on a tea towel or kitchen roll before freezing in bags.  It's worth the effort and is easier than it sounds!

Happy planting!

CC

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5 Top Vegetables for a Small Plot

It’s often the case that despite desires for half an acre of glorious grassy field behind your house, staring you in the face is an odd-shaped piece of muddy back garden.  Surely this can’t suffice to provide produce for a couple or family?  Here are 5 vegetables that say it can.

  1. Courgettes.  Last year I had one plant in a hanging basket, another in a pot, and a third in my flower border.  Not only did they look spectacular, but they provided us with enough courgettes to roast, fry and stew all summer long, and even a few to pickle for the autumn.  They do tend to spread quite intrusively, but once they are fully grown you can expect a plentiful supply; the more you pick, they more they produce!  Sow seeds once the weather is warmer – around May – and plant in their final position once all chance of frost is gone (beginning of June in Lincolnshire usually).
     
  2. Chard.  Walking around my garden last week, the realisation hit me that not only had my chard plants survived, but they had been consumed frequently over the autumn and winter months, seemingly unaffected by the cold weather.  Chard is full of vitamins and is so easy to add to pasta dishes, curries and stir-fries.  It picks like lettuce and cooks a little like spinach.  It is also a vibrant wonder to observe in your garden; go for the varieties with pink or orange stems such as ‘Rainbow Chard’.  Sow seeds any time from February/March onwards.
     
  3. Carrots.  They aren’t as good as courgettes and chard in terms of yield quantity, however the taste of home-grown carrots is simply too irresistible to count them out of your small plot.  I have tried growing carrots in a number of different ways, but the best (and easiest) way is simply to sprinkle seeds thinly over raked soil and rake over once more.  I have always grown ‘Nantes’ and find them not only delicious but also of a good size.  Even if you only manage one row of carrots, it will be worth it I assure you!
     
  4. Early potatoes.  By this I mean those that you can use as new potatoes early in the season.  Last year we planted the classic ‘Charlotte’ variety and were extremely pleased with the creamy, soft taste compared to previous years.  Although potatoes can take up a lot of room, you can also grow them in pots on your patio, freeing up space for other tempting edibles.  Potatoes need chitting in a dark place (start in February) and should then be planted into the ground around Easter time.  A top tip to improve the start of their growth is to line the holes with comfrey leaves; these are often found around the countryside or in back gardens and can be an excellent resource to plunder.
     
  5. Beetroot.  I pondered long and hard whether beetroot or peas deserved the last spot.  In principle, peas would have been miles ahead in terms of the enjoyment I get from them in my own garden; I eat them like sweets straight from the pods and relish in the sweetness only freshly picked peas can provide.  However, they do take up an inordinate amount of space.  We managed to be self-sufficient in peas from July until November last year, however this was the product of a 6m x 1m plot, evidently not the option for most.  So beetroot got the spot, and I really do love beetroot.  It’s got an earthy, wholesome flavour that is eons apart from the pickled beetroot you buy in jars.  It’s easy to sow (exactly the same as carrots) and can be picked small for salads or large for roasting etc.