Spring Clean

What a fantastic day!

Blue skies. Quiet neighbours. Time to spread compost made this winter on the vegetable beds and remake the heap for more.

Also a brilliant opportunity to tidy up.

We removed the fleece for the day and found claytonia/miners lettuce, chinese mustard leaves, lettuce, red chicory, and rather small chard. All the leaves are really taking off with the warm weather.

The self sown forget-me-nots have not flowered yet – perfect time to hoe them out and include them on the new heap along with duckweed from the pond and other unwanteds like dead nettle and wild mustards and a couple of thistles and groundsel.

It was hard physical work emptying the compost heap and remaking it – layering the weeds with half made compost from my two black dalek bins.

 

This was moved to the main heap

 

 

There were lots of tiger worms in evidence – a good sign.

The heap has also had some wood ash and urine sprinkled through it as well as half rotted leaves.

Some of that was very wet and slimy so I included a few layers of ripped up cardboard and old newspaper.

 

 

 

A bit further down in the garden towards the orchard and other compost heaps there are plenty of good things to eat.

This took about two or three weeks to force. I’ll pick it tomorrow to stew and eat fresh. Some of the other crowns are still almost dormant – but when they get going I’ll make rhubarb and lemon chutney.

These garlic chive seed heads should naturally self sow and will come back elsewhere nearby – you can also propagate clumps by division.

The ruby chard is still glowing along along with nearby clumps of snowdrops that light up this shady area of the garden.

I harvested the purple sprouting broccoli and some winter salad leaves – I shared some with Rebekah who helped me this morning.

I was pleasantly exhausted after five hours in the garden – so much so I had a cheeky pint of homemade cider to refresh myself when I’d finished!

Seeds update:

I’ll do a proper post next time – but so far radish in modules are germinating well.

Calabrese also reaching for the light and the first Greyhound Cabbage is through.

But no sign of the spinach.

The lettuce looks as if it’s “damping off” – I think I overwatered it and it’s going mouldy on the surface of the compost. I might have to sow some more!

You win some – you lose some!

Mustard Leaves – good stir fried or pickled in salty brine

 

 

 

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A New No Dig Bed

We had a very productive day on Saturday making a new “no dig” bed with old flattened out bike boxes covered with an inch or two (up to 5cm) very rough homemade compost.

It’s where the old asparagus bed was and the ground has been “rested” for about 3 years.

I’m going to put a new strawberry bed on part of it.

I was lucky to have help from Rebekah for the first part of the day.

We were fortunate the weather had warmed up again after a few days of hard frosts.

I pegged out one of my late father’s old lines and neatened the edges where the grass had started encroaching into the veg garden.

It was just the right length and I had visions of him using it years ago when he first laid it out.

I used a semi circular edger and composted the grass/weeds that I gathered.

The spade was not for digging – honest! It just helped me to edge the grass sward. In the foreground to the right you can see parsley which is self seeding and germinating like mad

I also laid compost around the rhubarb and the rest of the fruit bushes that were missed out last year when I ran out of homemade mulch.

I mixed in some potash from the wood ash from our fireplace to lay around the redcurrants – apparently they like it!

As do overwintering onions which will have to wait their turn until I’ve had a few more fires.

I have inverted an old metal dustbin over one of the rhubarb crowns to force a few pale pink spears for an earlier harvest like I did last year.

Rhubarb
Last year’s champagne pink rhubarb which was forced. Once the bin is removed it quickly reverts to a dark green and red. The hazel behind it has been coppiced and the soil around it has been covered in cardboard to stop weeds and mulched with compost

I’m also weeding the gravel path with a flat shovel/spade – using it almost like a hoe to sever the weeds off at the roots. But I’ll have to be careful to avoid the beautiful clumps of chives which thrive in the edges next to the rhubarb. They spring back year after year then die back to nothing in winter.

This what the chives will be like in three months time – just about to break into spiky round purple flowers

The brick edging is also getting the same treatment – it should look very smart in a couple of weeks time.

I guess you could say this time of year is about preparation – my Dad always said a garden’s made in winter!

This includes going through old seeds, discarding some and keeping others.

I have ordered some new ones including two varieties of beans, “Greek Gigantes” and “Czar”. The former is for drying and keeping as a giant butter bean and the latter can be eaten as a runner bean or also dried for storage for winter soups and stews.

I’m going for celeriac this year and a new variety of beetroot, “Sanguina”.

I would like to plant a persimmon tree but I’m not sure which variety yet.

One of the enduring images I’ve retained of the late autumn landscape in Japan is the orange globes hanging on the bare branches of a tree that had shed its leaves — against a piercing blue sky.

Recently I bought some seed potatoes “Sarpo Mira” – a blight resistant variety from a lovely old fashioned ironmongers and DIY shop in Stalham. I might also plant red skinned “Mozart” as they were so good last year. They will need chitting on a windowsill before planting in April.

I’m planning go to the Norwich Seed Swap in a couple or three weeks time which yielded some great finds last year.

There’s a bit more compost to come  – this is maturing under the makeshift cardboard cover and should be ready in a month or so

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Rhubarb and Lemon Chutney

It’s the season for rhubarb.

It’s one of the first things to come through in early spring – especially if you put a cover over the plant and force it (we use an old dustbin inverted over the crown).

It provides very pale, so-called “champagne” pink, spears of rhubarb.

The leaves, which are discarded before cooking, are a complementary acid lime green.

A visual delight.

Rhubarb
Champagne rhubarb which has been forced. Once the bin is removed it quickly reverts to a dark green and red.

You can take the cover off after your first couple of harvests and the more mature deep reddish pink stalks can be used in this chutney.

Rhubarb crowns can be split, divided and replanted to make more plants.

It’s said that you should stop picking it when it sends up a great central stem, flowers and produces a giant seed head.

Chutney cooking on the Aga

This has got to be my all time favourite chutney. It marries sharp, sweet and sour.

It’s good with curries as an alternative to mango chutney.

It’s from a book called Rhubarbaria. It’s even been translated into French!

Anyway, the author, Mary Prior has collected an eclectic anthology of rhubarb recipe.

She also gives a history of the plant and its uses.

I like making cakes with it – see my previous blog post for Amish Rhubarb Cake.

This chutney has received positive reviews from friends!

 

5 from 1 vote
Rhubarb and Lemon Chutney
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time
2 hrs 45 mins
 
Course: Preserve
Cuisine: British
Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • 1 kg rhubarb finely chopped
  • 775 g granulated sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 450 g sultanas
  • 25 g salt
  • 25 g fresh ginger root bruised with rolling pin or the blade of a flat knife and tied in muslin
  • 300 ml malt vinegar
  • 2 whole lemons finely chopped, seeds removed
Instructions
  1. Combine ingredients in a large stainless steel pan and boil for two and a half hours. 


  2. Remove ginger in the muslin.


  3. Then pot into hot or warm sterilised jars, cover with a waxed circle and secure the lid or a see through cover with a rubber band.


  4. Label with name and date!

 

 

 

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Amish Rhubarb Cake

One of my favourite cakes is this Rhubarb Coffee Cake.

I found the recipe in a book of Amish recipes that’s in the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in Norwich.

As the name suggests it’s a memorial to the men of the US Airforce who were stationed in Norfolk during World War 2.

Rhubarb stalks
Freshly picked Rhubarb from the garden

At that time the whole county was one giant airfield – within five miles of the tiny village where I used to live in West Norfolk there were more than a dozen runways and landing strips.

It was a time of great change for this very rural area.

And the USAF is still here in Norfolk and Suffolk 75 years later.

There are bases at Lakenheath, Mildenhall and Feltwell.

Chopped Rhubarb
Chopped Rhubarb is folded into a cake batter

I ventured into the memorial library for the first time about six years ago.

I was helping organise an Americana Music weekend which was really a chance to showcase the unique singing tradition of Sacred Harp or Shapenote music which I’d fallen in love with.

I handed out flyers put up posters and then had a quick look at the bookshelves and found the Amish recipe book.

That’s where I found the instructions for this Rhubarb Coffee Cake.

I soon realised that “coffee” didn’t allude to any ingredient but rather to having a slice of cake with a cup of coffee.

Rhubarb cake
The cake is scattered with a cinnamon and brown sugar streusel

 

Anyway.

I’ve converted the recipe that was scrawled in my own scrapbook so that it’s entirely plant-based.

And it works.

Phew!

I’ve subbed flax eggs for hens eggs and used fancy Rapadura sugar but would use soft brown sugar if I didn’t have this.

Hope you love it as much as I do.

Amish Rhubarb Coffee Cake

All measurements are in US cups

Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter or margarine
  • 1 1/4 cups soft brown sugar
  • 2 flax eggs (2 tbsp ground linseed mixed with 6 tbsp warm water and left for five minutes)
  • 3/4 cup soya milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups plain flour
For the streusel topping
  • 1 tsp melted vegan butter or margarine
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup soft brown sugar
Instructions
Cake Batter
  1. Heat the oven to 180 Celsius, 375 Farenheit or Gas Mark 5

  2. Cream the vegan butter with the sugar in a large bowl ( I use electric beaters/whisk).

  3. Stir the lemon juice OR vinegar into the soya or plant milk and then add to the butter and sugar mixture in the bowl.

  4. Add the flax eggs to mixture along with the vanilla essence and combine - but do not overmix.

  5. Add sifted flour and baking powder and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) and combine.

  6. Add chopped rhubarb and fold in well. The pour/scrape into 10 inch (25 cm) diameter tin or silicone mould. The mixture should be quite stiff and not runny.

For the streusel topping
  1. Melt butter/margarine, cool and then stir in cinnamon and sugar till it resembles breadcrumbs.

  2. Sprinkle evenly on top of cake batter in tin/mould.

  3. Bake in moderate oven for 40 minutes or until firm.

  4. Remove from oven and cool for ten minutes on a wire rack before loosening with a knife round the edge and inverting onto a plate and then back up the right way onto the rack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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