Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Rudbeckia Fulgida "Goldsturm"

One of the perennials I bought last year in my drive to add more visual interest to my garden was a Rudbeckia called "Goldsturm".

I put it in a large terracotta pot, rather than in a border, so that I would be able to move it around whenever I wanted. This has proved to be a wise decision because it seems to be a very vigorous plant - one of those that will take over your garden if you give it half a chance, by the look of it. In this next picture you can't even see the pot!

The way the petals are arranged on the buds before the flowers open reminds me of a Linzer Torte! If you don't understand this, follow the link and you'll soon see what I mean.

The best is still to come. At present only a few flowers are open, but the plant is covered with  buds.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Harvest Monday - 21 July 2014

After all the setbacks I have had this year - contaminated compost, Blossom End Rot, Cabbage Root Fly etc - I am beginning to wonder if I am the subject of a jinx! However, I am trying to remain positive and to focus on the good aspects of the situation, so what do you think of this?

You can see for yourself that there is nothing wrong with my potatoes! These are a mixture of three types - "Charlotte" (700g), "Balmoral" (515g) and "Harlequin" (411g), each the yield from one pot. This year I have been trialling a number of varieties new to me, and some of them have been very nice (for example "Sharpe's Express"), but I have to say that I don't think any of them can beat "Charlotte". In the photo above the "Charlotte" ones are those at the bottom right. Aren't they clean, regular and good-looking? They also have great taste and texture when cooked.

In the photo there are also three "Iznik F1" cucumbers. I have four plants of this type, although one is still very small, having been planted a long time after the others, so I'm not going to be short of cucumbers. They are very prolific fruiters.

Behind the cucumbers you can see some "Cobra" Climbing French Beans - a batch of about 180 grams. Regular readers will know that this is my favourite variety of French Bean, one which I have grown every year for many years.

In the background are some "Purple Top Milan" Turnips, weighing-in at just over 400g. I'm planning to serve these roasted in a glaze of Sweet Freedom (as a low-GI substitute for sugar).

This week I have also harvested more lettuces. In fact, I have been harvesting lettuces pretty much every few days for weeks and weeks now, but I don't always see fit to mention it. Though I say it myself, my lettuces have been first class this year, and I have grown lots of different types. This is "Fristina", and a massive specimen it is too. That basket is 42cm in diameter.

And this is "Little Gem":

On Friday I pulled the first of my maincrop Carrots:

You may recall that I had a fair bit of trouble getting my Carrots started - I had to sow three times before I got what I felt was enough. These ones I suppose are the result of the first sowing, since there are only a very small number that are ready. I am quite proud of them, because although they are not even in terms of size (no prizes on the Show-bench then!) they are really clean and unblemished. No sign whatsoever of Carrot Root Fly damage, so the Enviromesh has done its job properly. This little batch weighed 470g.

They look even better when washed and ready for cooking:-

Next week I may be able to report the harvesting of my first Runner Beans of the year. I certainly hope so...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Mediterranean Lamb with polenta chips

This is a dish I invented myself, using a number of ingredients of a vaguely Mediterranean nature - harissa from North Africa; feta cheese from Greece; polenta representing Italy etc. I was particularly keen to make a salad accompaniment based on home-grown French Beans - but more of that later...

The first thing to do was to make some polenta for the "chips". You need to do this well in advance (I did mine the day before) so that the polenta has time to set.  My advice is to make the polenta quite firm, then it will be easier to slice. Mine was a bit too soft this time, so I had to handle it very carefully. Some of the chips were a bit rough at the edges, but actually that's not such a bad thing, because it helps them to go crispy.

The little green flecks in my polenta are fresh Thyme leaves, by the way.
Another job to do well in advance is to marinate the lamb. I chose a butterflied leg of lamb for my dish. It's basically a leg with the bone removed, and with the meat flattened out into a single thin piece. I marinated the meat in a rub that I concocted from harissa, garlic and a load of dried spices, such as ground coriander, cumin, fennel and cinnamon. To give the dish even more of a Middle Eastern feel I threw in some Iranian barberries and a slack handful of Za'atar seasoning. I was determined that this would be a very tasty piece of meat!
 Vegetable accompaniments for the main dish were glazed turnips with caraway seed, and a salad of French Beans with feta cheese and chopped toasted Hazelnuts. I served the turnips hot, but the beans cooked and cooled, with a small amount of Hazelnut oil drizzled over them just before serving. The turnips were peeled, halved and parboiled before finishing off in the oven, smothered in Sweet Freedom (a fruit-based syrup used as a sugar substitute. It's particularly useful for diabetics.)
Green Bean salad, with Feta and Hazelnuts.

Glazed Turnips
This meal is not one to do if you are in a hurry! I love cooking when I have plenty of time, so I spun out the preparations over quite a long period, and brought it all together with a flurry of activity just before serving-time. The meat was roasted in the oven, so that basically took care of itself, and when it was done I rested it while I cooked the polenta chips. This was really the only labour-intensive part of the meal because I had to supervise the chips carefully to ensure they cooked to a nice golden colour without burning. I had to turn them over a couple of times, which was not easy. I also made sure not to crowd the frying-pan, which meant I had to cook the chips in two batches and keep one warm while I did the other.
They look more like Fish Fingers than chips!
While the chips were frying and the meat was resting, I used the meat juices in the roasting pan to make some gravy:

In my opinion, a dish of roast meat is incomplete without gravy!

So here is the meal plated-up:

 In retrospect I see that I have given the polenta chips pride of place. It looks like a massive quantity of them, but let me assure you they are really light, and it is easy to eat lots of them.

 In fact, if I just had a bowl of those polenta chips and a jug of gravy, I'd be a happy man! I was particularly pleased that Jane remarked how good the gravy was, because in our family she is recognised as the Gravy Queen, and her gravy is what everyone else tries to emulate.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Tomatoes at last!

By my normal standards, this is pretty pathetic, but I am proud to announce that despite all the problems, I have at last managed to produce a few (a very few) ripe tomatoes!

Well, something is better than nothing.... These are the first useable specimens of "Orkado" (the big one), "Maskotka" and "Banana Legs" (obviously, the yellow one).

The Maskotka one was nice, with a good strong taste. Quite a decent tomato actually. The Orkado was rather dry, with a tough skin and a hollow centre with very little of the "jelly" you normally find around the seeds. And the Banana Legs one was insipid, almost completely tasteless. Now I am not saying that these tomatoes are representative of their varieties; far from it. Last year and the year before I grew Orkado and it produced some very fine specimens, so I think the poor quality is entirely due to the problems with the contaminated compost.

Some of the tomato plants are beginning to "grow out of" the weedkiller damage. Their newest foliage is looking slightly less contorted:

It's evidently not normal but it's not quite as bad as before. I think it will probably be too late in the season for the plants to set any more fruit on this new foliage, but at least it will help them to bring to maturity such fruit as is already there - i.e. not a lot!

For now, I'm placing my main faith in good old "Maskotka":

This is the only variety that looks like being even half decent this year.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Making the most of some remnants

Some weeks ago when I planted my Leeks I used the best ones but kept the others as spares, just in case of casualties. I put several of the spares into a couple of flower-pots, to grow them for "baby" Leeks, and they are doing well - not quite ready yet, but looking great:

The remaining spares have languished in their little 3" pots ever since. The nutrients in the compost have long since been exhausted, and the plants were merely surviving, hardly growing at all. I should really have thrown them away, but for some indefinable reason I kept them. I suppose it is instinctive in a gardener to preserve plants, not destroy them.

Anyway, it suddenly dawned on me that these Leeks finally had a chance - the big pots in which my potatoes have been grown are becoming available one-by-one as I harvest the potatoes. I have also kept the compost from them. Put these things together, and you get this:

As you can see, I have planted the Leek seedlings very deep, so hopefully I will get a decent length of blanched plant.

I have done the same with a couple of spare "Tundra" cabbages:

So down at the bottom of the garden a new plantation of pots is springing up...

These plants are not the best specimens - I chose the best ones for my main crop - but they will probably still be worthwhile. Now, I just have to work out where to put all these Lettuce, Chicory and Endive seedlings...

Thursday, 17 July 2014

More disasters!

If it's not one thing, it's another! First the problems with the contaminated compost, and now Blossom End Rot. I suppose my tomato plants are weaker than they would normally be, and thus less resistant to disease, because (growing in the self-watering containers) they have certainly not been the subject of erratic watering which is often cited as a cause of Blossom End Rot, and I have been feeding them with proprietary tomato food which should have provided the right balance of nutrients.

There is no mistaking the signs of this disease.

It takes its name from the fact that it starts in the blossom end of the tomato fruit - in other words the end which is furthest from the stalk / calyx.

Not a pretty sight, is it? And there is nothing you can do once the fruit is affected. It will spread throughout the fruit until the whole thing goes brown and mushy.

As if that weren't enough, look at this:-

What a sorry sight! That is a Purple Sprouting Broccoli plant that has been attacked by the Cabbage Root Fly. The fly's maggots eat into the plant's roots, and gradually degrade its ability to take up moisture, thus causing it to collapse. Even before this happens, you will see the plant's leaves fade and take on a matt finish, at which point you know the plant is doomed.

This is what a healthy PSB plant is supposed to look like:

Unfortunately even my spare plants have been affected, so as a last resort I have sown some more PSB seeds. They probably won't mature in time, but I feel obliged to try. This gardening malarkey can be a bit depressing at times...

Looking on the bright side though, I keep reminding myself that this year the Radishes were brilliant; the Broad Beans were brilliant; the Potatoes were (are) brilliant; the Lettuces were (are) brilliant, etc, but it's maybe not reasonable to expect EVERYTHING to be perfect. I must expect a few failures, or at very least a few casualties along the way.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Flighty's Favourites

Lots of people in my circle of blogging friends will know Mike Rogers, aka "Flighty". His blog is Flighty's Plot. Mike is particularly fond of Calendulas, and is more than happy to help other people to appreciate their merits by sending them seeds from some of those he grows on his plot. Earlier this year I was the lucky recipient of some of these. Today I want to show you how they are doing.

Mike sent me two packs, one of which was a mix of all his varieties, but the other was labelled "Biscuit mix". Judging by their biscuity colours I think most of the flowers in my photos are from the latter. I have arranged them in a sort of "time-lapse" sequence, though actually they were almost all taken on the same day.

This next one doesn't look "biscuity", so I think it must be one from the general "Flighty's favourites" mix. Very stylish though!

Flighty's Calendulas are so much more exciting than the plain yellow ones. These are ones self-seeded from a mix I had last year that was called "Sunshine mix", or something like that.