The Potato Harvest

I harvested my potatoes last weekend.

I was surprised.

The recent downpours must have swollen the yield as they are really quite decent size although the skins are a little tough – probably due to the long hot dry spell before it finally rained.

So far I’ve made Leek and potato soup, jacket potato with courgette and kidney bean chilli (I used Morrocan Ras al Hanout for the spice), and the stir fried potato slivers you can see in the photo.

The recipe for that came from one of my favourite cook books, Sichuan Cookery, by Fuschia Dunlop.

It is also in her book, Every Grain of Rice and it featured in this Guardian column.

I’ve also tried the version using green peppers (home grown of course).

I would also highly recommend Potato and Rosemary Pizza!

The Italian version of a chip butty.

Thinly sliced potato tossed in olive oil finished with chopped and whole fresh rosemary leaves and black pepper.

The space vacated by the potatoes (variety Mozart) has been swiftly planted up with a late sowing of fennel in modules and a few red chicory that have survived the total neglect I have shown them!

I’ve also planted up some lettuce after ripping out two spent courgette plants which left a good gap for the seedlings that will overwinter hopefully.

I also have a last flush of beetroot seedlings multi-sown in modules that must go in before I go away.

I’m also going to try and sow some coriander, dill, more lettuce and spinach and mustard leaves today.

Remember to pick your tomatoes when they show the first signs of colour and ripen on the window sill.

Otherwise they’ll split if left too long on the plant – which is what’s been happening to mine!

And I must get a garlic order in soon – you can plant cloves over three months from October onwards.

Other jobs

  • hoeing off red oxalis weeds and clearing an area to be planted up on my return with more winter veg seedlings
  • stopping pumpkin and winter squash plants – nip the end out of the growing shoots as they won’t produce any more viable fruit
  • look out for first signs of blight on tomato leaves and remove immediately
  • water bean plants – they need it and it’s very dry at the moment even though it’s not as hot as it was
  • prune cherries and plums if you didn’t do it earlier in the summer
  • pick early apples – you can tell if they’re ready if the pips are dark brown and they come off easily if you pull and twist gently
  • pick and freeze kale and chard
  • start harvesting wonderful red cabbage
  • Save seed – I have left some lettuce to flower and go to seed, also shungiku chrysanthemum greens, beans, mangetout peas, chillies, tomatoes.
  • Saving seed from courgettes, pumpkins and other curcubits are more of a faff as they tend to cross pollinate and will not come true next year (although you can take measures to stop this)





Art in the garden

Creative Gardening

One of the things I love best about gardening is it brings out my creativity.

This first photo is my latest art installation!

I have transplanted some more mange tout seedlings and constructed a frame with horizontally tied string supports for them to grow up.

I’ve fleeced it to stop the pigeons decimating them – in a month’s time they’ll be vigorous and robust enough to shrug off the pesky birds!

New group

Last Monday I joined Norfolk Organic Group  and went to my first ever monthly meeting at the Quaker meeting house in Norwich.

I was really impressed.

There was tea and cake.

And free seeds.

And seed potatoes for sale – Mozart early mains!

They also arrange visits to interesting gardens like Bob Flowerdew’s in South Norfolk.

All for fifteen quid a year!

More composting and feeding the soil

Every month they have a talk.

This time the guest speaker was a grower called Hannah Claxton, who started a community farm called Eves Hill Veg Co  a couple of years ago.

She gave a talk about compost teas and green manures and managed to sneak in some information about soil biology.

It was fascinating – and fits in with my attempts to start gardening without animal products or manure.

Anyway I’ve been cutting making more compost using, amongst other things, leaves that have been sitting in an old builders bag (horrid – I know it’s plastic!).

Half made leaf compost. It has some tiger worms in it – a sign it’s well on its way to full decompostion.

A medicinal herb that feeds the garden

I’ve been layering freshly cut comfrey with the year-old leaves, other green stuff like grass clippings, weeds without their roots and shredded torn up newspaper.

Comfrey can take three or four cuts a year and it grows back with more lush growth that’s fuelled by the long tap roots that bring up vital nutrients from deep in the ground.

Garden Organic, formerly known as the Henry Doubleday Research Institute, has some great information on how to use the plant.

It’s also a medicinal herb and was used as a poultice to mend broken bones in times gone by – giving it the common name of knitbone.

I am also making nettle tea for the first time.

Nettle leaves
Nettle leaves are covered with water and left to soak for a few weeks.

Hannah also recommended reading Dr Elaine Ingham’s research and visiting her website and following her recipe for compost tea.

Having once helped make biodynamic preparations in the form of a tea to be sprayed around the garden – her method seems familiar and I can’t wait to try it.

Other jobs that are being done now:

  • clearing bed and finding unexpected full sized edible potatoes from last year
  • laying new compost down on that area to plant module sown leeks into
  • transplanting module sown beetroot
  • pricking out magic cauliflower mix into individual pots to be transplanted to final position in the garden in about 6 weeks time
  • sowing more peas, white icicle radish – seeds courtesy of the Norfolk Organic Group or NOG
  • sowing black and red kale and saved chard seed
  • weeding the asparagus bed and garlic that is looking really vigorous now the weather’s warmed up
  • sowing marigold seeds
  • planting out garlic chives in a long row – they can be cooked as a vegetable in their own right – Chinese and Japanese influenced recipes to come later in the year
  • and planting a rosemary hedge with cutting that I took from a plant I ended up destroying by pruning it too hard last year
Rhubarb and chives with self sown forget-me-nots 

We are harvesting:

  • chives
  • parsley
  • leeks
  • over-wintered pink stalked chard and lettuce
  • rocket which has sprung back to life from its dormant state
  • potatoes that were lost and forgotten over winter
  • perennial cauliflower – which I’ve made into the most amazing Italian cauliflower and millet soup – recipe to follow soon
  • kale
  • purple sprouting broccoli (steamed and served with a lemon and olive oil dressing)
  • and dried, reconstituted (soaked and boiled) borlotti beans cooked with parsley and garlic

What a wonderful world! Gratitude for all it provides.


Make your own compost

Baptised into the Church of Composting!

Two weeks ago I became a member of Norfolk Master Composters.

Thirty of us spent the weekend learning more about turning much of our kitchen and garden waste into gorgeous, crumbly black compost.

Compost bins and signs
We looked at the pros and cons of various methods including a barrel or tumbler composter which speeds up the process

A bin to suit everyone

The Master Composter course, organised by Garden Organic , was held at the Green Britain Centre on the outskirts of the pretty market town of Swaffham.

It seems that when it comes to composting there’s a bin to suit everyone.

Lifting lid off bin
Lifting the lid off the Green Johanna with a black hotbin in foreground

We looked at the pros and cons of most of them including how to make a compact wormery or a Japanese inspired bokashi bin.

And we discussed the efficacy or otherwise of black plastic “dalek” bins (that can often be bought cheaply from the local council) open heaps and everything in between

I’d never heard of some like the Green Johanna which takes cooked food and meat.

Spreading the word

Now we’re expected to spend at least thirty hours over the coming year preaching the good news at plants sales, fetes, at work to colleagues and anywhere else the spirit moves us.

My first attempt last weekend failed miserably.

I picked up all I needed for a outdoor display from the compost co-ordinator, David Hawkyard in Norwich.

But the extreme cold and constant rain meant the Easter Eggstravanza at my local village hall was an indoor affair only.

But writing this blog is one way to encourage others and I hope I can take some information to a nearby plant swap soon.

My own experience

Until a couple of years ago I was a bit half-hearted about composting.

I had a cold heap on my allotment near Norwich which I rarely turned and yet it produced half a cubic metre of reasonable compost each year.

I topped up the veg beds very occasionally with van loads of spent mushroom compost.

And for a time a friend of mine brought me spent hops from his micro brewery to add to the heap.

Making your own compost is much cheaper when you need lots of it for No Dig gardening

But I became almost evangelical about composting three years ago when I moved to a bigger garden where I’ve been trying a No Dig approach.

That’s because it requires lots and lots of new compost every year as a growing medium, soil conditioner and mulch.

I’ve gone from one compost heap to six!

Last spring, Angus, a young Australian visitor helped me reinstate three very rough bays made out of old electricity poles.

We cleared up an area at the bottom of the garden so we could grow more veg.

Veg bed and compost bays
New potato bed and compost bays

And at the end of the summer I managed to make my first “hot” heap from scratch – layering brown and green material with the occasional addition of urine and homemade comfrey liquid.

I was amazed at how quickly it heated up and how it accelerated the composting process.

I pretty much followed this video by Charles Dowding .

You don’t have to go as far as peeing on your compost heap but both the comfrey and the urine are good accelerators along with nettle leaves and horse, cow or pig poo – although I am no longer adding manure as I would like to rely entirely on plant matter.

Seaweed maybe a good alternative but I haven’t tried that yet.