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Winter preserves

Some of my first memories are apple picking in a house we rented for a couple of years in Surrey.

Dad would shin up a very long ladder and pass them down.

Mum would make stewed apple and keep it in kilner jars.

I loved it for breakfast. Or with sweet crunchy caramelised breadcrumbs on top as a pud.

Mike, my brother, made that as part of his scouts or cubs cooking badge. He had to make a whole three course Sunday lunch to get it.

Anyway. Those apples were the ubiquitous Bramley cooking apples that were very tart and needed sugar to make them palatable and preserve them.

Fast track fifty years and the Bramley tree here in our garden in Norfolk is diseased and will have to come down soon – this year the crop is practically non existent.

But the memory of preserving has stayed with me and I’ve bottled quite a few pears, some stewed eating apples and a big kilner jar of quince.


Instead of using a water bath to preserve them I’ve used the bottom simmering oven of the Aga.

I’ve followed directions from the Aga Cookbook by Mary Berry (written before she was famous).

I’ll be interested to see how well the fruit lasts and what it tastes like.

Most I’ve done without sugar; only the quinces have needed it as they are mouth puckeringly sour without! But I did use a recipe that suggested far less sugar than usual.

I’ve also made quince jelly.

I’ll keep the rest of the apples and pears in a dry, cold, dark place although that might be difficult as the mice (and possibly other larger rodents!) like the shed and the pantry’s crammed with other stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ready for Winter

Alex came today.

We put fleece over the landcress, pak choi, mustards and Chinese cabbage.

I use the 35g one which is slightly thicker than the usual horticultural fleece – it seems to keep the frost at bay.

Things won’t grow that much over winter but they’ll really put on some growth after Christmas as the days get longer and there’s more light.

These are white kale, Peacock F1 variety. My friend Lawrence sent me the seeds in the post.

We tidied up the kale and red cabbage removing any yellowing or dead leaves from the plants and the ground around them – it helps stop whitefly and aphids.

We also re-staked the red cabbage and harvested some of the cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale) and the showstopping white kale.

I picked some of the carrots that are interplanted with the red cabbage.

They’re doing really well under the enviromesh with little sign of carrot fly, in fact they are some of the best I’ve ever grown.

They make up for the ongoing failure of my beetroot – the roots get nibbled when young but I can’t work out what’s inflicting the damage.

Enriching the earth

Alex moved the compost that’s ready to be laid around the apples and pear trees.

She started weeding around them but the wasps feeding on the windfalls were getting agitated so she stopped.

We’ll do more weeding next week and then lay the compost down.

While she was doing that I pulled up my cucumber plants and harvested the last dozen or so.

Next – the tomatoes were for the chop!

They lasted a long time but were finally showing signs of blight so I cut them down too and am trying to ripen them off the vine in a brown paper bag with a banana!

The pile on the right weren’t wasted – they went into a wonderful minestrone that had fennel, kale and carrot in it as well as celery and tomatoes

 

I also began harvesting my black beans – the first time I’ve grown them.

Some of them had gone mouldy from the wet weather we’ve had.

I prefer to dry them on the vine but I picked as many as looked ready – to stop yet more of them getting damaged.

They are now on a tray drying.

These are from a couple called Nicky and Graham Elliot who showed the Norfolk Organic Group round their smallholding on the Waveney Valley last year

They are a shiny midnight blue – I can’t wait to cook them later this winter.

One of my friends suggested this recipe.

I’ve also re-staked the bean plants ,which are a vigorous dwarf variety called Canterbury Black, so that the remainder that aren’t quite ready to pick get a bit more air to them – then there’s less chance of them becoming soggy and rotting in the pod.

I’ve also grown Czar Runners mainly as huge white butter beans – but they’re also delicious when younger and more tender as a runner bean.

We had some runners tonight for supper alongside a simple tomato and cucumber salad and a potato and red onion salad using some Anya and Pink Fir Apple I still have in the pantry.

This week I’ll start remaking the big compost pile nearest the house layering homemade woodchip, grass cuttings, comfrey leaves and spent vegetable plants with a little compost activator.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Wild Autumn

It’s been a wild, wild month in more ways than one!

Today, Alex who helps me in the veg garden, saw a newt in a plant saucer full of rain water.

We think it’s a common or smooth newt.

And last week on Wednesday, my singing and gardening friends, Steve and Joyce had just arrived to camp and work in the garden, when we spotted a little hedgehog coming up the drive.

Joyce was particularly excited as it was the first time she’d seen one.

It went under the hedge between us and next door, and our neighbours, Mark and Lesley said they saw it with a larger one later the same day, in the evening.

We’ve had buzzards and marsh harriers circling overhead during the harvest and our other neighbours say there’s been a breeding pair of the former which have produced three youngsters!

Joyce – who’s an amazing photographer – also took this shot of a dragonfly and a Comma butterfly on the damson tree.

I think the dragonfly is a male southern hawker – maybe one of you can let me know if I’m right.

Eagle eyed Joyce also spotted a Stag Beetle larvae while she was weeding – she put it back where she found it.

Stag beetles are quite rare and on the endangered list in most areas of the UK.

The weather’s also been very wet and wild over the past week.

Steve and Joyce camped in the garden for two nights and weathered the huge storm overnight last Thursday night/Friday morning.

But, by some small miracle, it was sunny and warm all day Thursday and they transformed a couple of areas of the garden – removing the winter squash and frame that supported them, hoeing the weeds and replanting the bed with winter veg.

They also edged the bed and weeded the rather overgrown raspberry canes.

Although we had to observe social distancing, wear masks sometimes and dodge the high winds and rain it was wonderful to see them – a much needed morale boost before the darker and more solitary days of winter.

Today, Alex and I achieved a lot, removing most of the remaining bamboo cane structures, staking the asparagus ferns, weeding, hoeing and replanting endive frisee, raking up leaves and chipping branches brought down during the storm.

 

We also picked apples and pears to share with friends, family and neighbours.

I’m very grateful to for all the invaluable help we’ve had this year, including Sarah, Mum’s gardener and her friend, Ros, who volunteered throughout the spring and summer.

We couldn’t have managed without you.

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New Secateurs

I’ve received my new tools and ikebana equipment; a birthday present to myself!

They’re all from a Japanese company called Niwaki.

My friend Alison, who’s lived in Japan for thirty years, points out that the two Chinese characters that make up the name Niwaki mean garden and tree, so it’s appropriately named!

Here’s a link to the video of me opening the parcel.

That was a few weeks ago and the secateurs are wonderful to use – ergonomically just right for the size of my hands.

I’ve got used to the closing mechanism at the bottom of the handles.

I’ve just used the hori hori knife to make holes to plant out my choy sum and Belstar broccoli – both should be ready to harvest before Christmas.

The knife should also be good for targeted weeding.

I’ve still got a huge amount of seedlings (land cress, spinach, chinese cabbage, pak choi, dill, frizzy endive and frilly oriental mustards) to go out which will be fleeced if we get a cold snap.

I’m planting out very slowly bit by bit as I can’t bend down for very long and I’m hoping I’ll get a wee bit of help next week from a couple of friends.

I’ve tried the crean mate cleaning block and the sharpening stone (soaked in water first) on an old pair of secateurs with great success.

And to top it all off my lovely friend Jenny Holland delivered a late birthday present today – a Niwaki canvas wrap for my tools, old and new!

 

 

 

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Make Your Own Seed Compost

I used to laboriously sieve my home made compost to make it really fine for sowing seeds in modules.

It took ages and I’ve discovered that it’s a complete waste of time!

Seedlings love a bit of rough to get their tiny roots into.

A “Golden Frills” mustard seedling being pricked out

The really rough stuff will be used again in a new compost heap to create much needed air pockets to speed up the process and avoid stagnation

So now I use a mushroom tray to sieve out the really large undecomposed lumps in my compost but let the other stuff through.It takes seconds rather than a few minutes.

It also improves drainage and my winter salad seedlings like the frilly mustards below, seem to love it, brandling worms and all.

 

 

 

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