Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Just now I don't have a huge amount of veg in my garden to blog about, so I have put together this little collection of "miscellaneous" subjects...

Firstly, the seed-head of a Dandelion, covered in tiny droplets of water, on a foggy day. This one was photographed at the same time as all those fungi I showed you.


A spider's web, stretched between the legs of a garden chair. Remind me to tell her off for making an irregular web.  If she wants to put it in my garden, it needs to be neater! :-)

The other day Esther Montgomery asked me in a comment whether the white Dogwood berries were the same as Snowberries, and I said "No". Well, during my Fungus Foray a few days ago I saw these in a hedgerow, which I believe are Symphoricarpos,aka Snowberries.


Caterpillar. This photo has been zoomed, because I was trying to identify the object on the caterpillar's back. I still don't know what it is. Do you? Could it be a tiny snail? It seems to have a sort of square base, which looks really odd. Let me know if you think you have the answer.

This is a photo of my Prunus Autumnalis, which seems to be heeding the encouragement to produce more flowers that I gave it.[Photo taken 19 Nov.]

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Bread-making with Xylitol

As many of you know, my wife Jane is diabetic and she is therefore always looking for ways of preparing food with as little sugar as possible. Recently she tried a bread-making experiment to see whether it would be viable to replace the sugar she normally uses in bread with a product called Perfect Sweet (a trade name for the artificial sweetener Xylitol), which has recently come onto the market here in the UK.

Xylitol has properties that make it particularly useful for diabetics. Absorbed more slowly than sugar, it does not contribute to high blood sugar levels or the resulting hyperglycemia caused by insufficient insulin response.  However...

Jane often makes bread in an electric bread-maker, which consistently turns out very nice bread. The recipe she uses for a plain white loaf uses four level tablespoons of sugar. This time she replaced the sugar with Xylitol. In every other respect she used exactly the same ingredients and method. The result was disappointing. The loaf came out what I call "claggy" - heavy and doughy, and it had not risen very much at all. The bottom part was very brown, but the upper crust was still white and flabby. We think maybe the Xylitol killed the yeast, or at least stopped it performing properly.

The loaf was not fit for human consumption, and went to feed the birds, and Jane immediately set-to to make another loaf using the conventional recipe, which turned out perfect as usual. In my picture above you can see the difference. (Xylitol loaf on the right, if you hadn't already guessed!).

So, the conclusion is: Xylitol is not suitable for bread-making! I'm sure it is useful for other things though. Jane is planning to try it in Cranberry sauce for with the Christmas dinner.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Harvest Monday - 28 November 2011

No beans from the garden this week - for the first time since early July - but the Parsnips are in full swing now, which suits me fine. Parsnips harvested from your own garden and eaten straight away have an amzingly strong, sweet flavour. [I know: you either love it or hate it.]

I have also harvested the Purple Sprouting Broccoli that I wrote about a couple of days ago. Apart from the fact that it is 3 months early, that's great too, since PSB has to count as one of my all-time favourite vegetables.

I cut the central flowering head of one of the "Rudolph" plants, and four of the biggest side-shoots. I have to admit though that this was not a prime specimen. Having developed too early it was a bit on the stringy side, and had a much stronger flavour than usual - Jane found it a bit overpowering.

Also still cropping are the Chillis. These little ones are "Serrano" (from a plant inside one of the mini-greenhouses), but the last of the enormous "Pinocchio's Nose" ones are ripening nicely too, in the garage.

I've picked the last of the Summer lettuce, along with some more of the "Catalogna" chicory. The Winter lettuces under my cloches are still far from ready. They are growing very slowly, which is not unexpected.

To see more of what people around the world have been harvesting this week, visit Daphne's Dandelions

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Walton Gardens

Jane and I recently spent a couple of days visiting her Mother, who lives in the village of Golborne, near Warrington. She is elderly and has mobility problems, so she was very pleased when we offered to take her out-and-about a bit. On one day we visited Walton Hall and Gardens. This is a country estate, formerly the seat of Lord Daresbury, founder of the famous Greenall's Brewery, that was taken into Public Ownership by Warrington Council in 1941.

The Hall itself, whilst imposing, is not hugely grand. You wouldn't call it a "Stately Home". And being built mostly with the local red standstone and red brick, its appearance is rather dark and sombre.

The Hall appears to be in use as a conference centre and is not set up as a tourist attraction, so I can't tell you anything about the interior. For many people though the main appeal of the place is really the thirty acres of land surrounding the house. Some of it is laid out as formal gardens, some of it is devoted to woodland walks, but much of it consists of tree-studded lawns on which you can walk, play games or just relax on one of the many benches provided. Jane and I took turns trundling Mum around the paths in her wheel-chair, with me pausing every now and then to capture something on camera.

There are lots of interesting things to see, some of them plants - like this beautiful Acer in full Autumn "plumage"

And this very festive-looking Yew tree, with its curious hollow red fruits. You'll think me wierd, but I reckon they look like Olives stuffed with Pimento - except reversed!

Some of the things to look at are purely man-made, like this gravestone commemorating a loved pet. Don't know what sort of animal Bristles was, but I would think it was either a horse or a dog.

Some of the objects were partly natural and partly man-made, like this clever carving of a Fox, in the trunk of a dead tree. You can't see it in my photo, but at the top of this tree was also a carving of an Owl. It reminded me of a Totem Pole!

In one part of the garden is a small zoo, housing animals and birds of the types that most children love:- goats, chickens, geese, rabbits, Shetland ponies etc - even a 26-year-old donkey called BoBo (who you can apparently follow on Twitter!) but also some other more unusual things, such as a fair number of Red Squirrels (our native species, but now very rare in the wild, having been ousted by the more vigorous Grey Squirrels). My picture shows one of the Red Squirrels looking down on me from an overhead walkway which connected cages on both sides of the path.

There were also some very appealing Ferrets, including this albino one.

This African Pygmy Goat was quite cute. I expect Hazel would like it anyway...

I know that many of my blogging friends are fanatical about chickens, so I dutifully snapped this one. Don't ask me what type it is. In fact I can hardly tell one end of a chicken from the other without specialist advice. This one was white and fluffy. Was it a Silky???

This photo was supposed to have been of a Herdwick sheep, but  I like it best for the cheeky little Robin sitting on the branch at the left of the picture

Finally - some of the Fungi on display were so dangerous that they too had to be kept behind bars...

I'd like to go back to Walton in the Summertime, and look at the formal gardens. I imagine they would present a lot of good photo opportunities...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Try not to peak too soon!

My Purple Sprouting Broccoli is thoroughly confused by the weather conditions. The heads have developed at least 3 months earlier than I would expect. The variety in my photos below is "Rudolph", which I know is an early variety, but I don't usually start cropping it until at least February. This year it is ready now - in fact it is already going "over". The flowers seem to be very loose, and are beginning to show some yellow petals, which makes me think they need to be picked before the flowers open fully.

PSB "Rudolph", November 2011

The spears are long and spindly, just like the secondary ones you usually get late in the season.

PSB "Rudloph", November 2011

I think I will cut the main head of this plant in the next couple of days and just hope that some of the spears will be held back by the cooler weather we are having, and will develop at the "proper" time. [We had our first, very light, frost of the year on Wednesday 23rd November.]

Just for comparison, here is a photo of a "Rudolph" plant taken in March this year, just before harvesting. It looks much better!

PSB "Rudolph", March 2011

Has anyone else got the same problem?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Mushroom medley

Driving back from Emma's place last weekend, through the country lanes just outside Fleet, my attention was attracted by an impressive clump of Shaggy Ink Cap fungi at the side of the road. I went back later on to photograph them:

Mature Shaggy Ink Cap

Young Shaggy Ink Caps

My knowledge of fungi is strictly limited, and there is no way I would risk eating fungi harvested in the wild without the benefit of some very specialist advice, but I don't mind photographing them...  Looking around near the Shaggy Ink Caps, I realised that the area was teeming with all sorts of other fungi. They were mostly more unobtrusive, and not the type you would notice when driving past in your car, but when you are on foot it is easy enough to spot them. All the following photos were taken within a couple of metres of the road:-

This is one I think I recognise. I believe it is a Boletus of some sort, so probably edible. The black slug you can see obviously thinks it is...


This little green one looks deadly! It probably glows in the dark.

These ones were all growing on an old tree-stump:

This tiny little plant (not a fungus!) was also growing in the rotted wood.

The next two might be clumps of the same type of fungus, at different stages of maturity. But then again, they are of different colours so they could be completely different  types as far as I know.

Did any of you spot any wonderful delicacies in that selection of photos? If so I'm in for a feast, because there were loads of them!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Salad protection

We do like our salads, and this year I am trying hard to keep the salad-growing season going as long as possible. Underneath my three Longrow cloches I have lettuces of two different varieties ("Winter Density" and "All The Year Round"), as well as various endives and radicchios.There were more lettuces than would fit under the cloches and a few of them were therefore "left out in the cold" (except that it hasn't yet been really cold...).

"All The Year Round"

I remembered today that earlier this year I bought some very large individual cloches, which were originally used to protect my Marrow and my Cucumbers, so I have dug these out of the garage and put them to use:

These cloches are really good, because they are especially tall and allow plants to grow quite big under their protection. They were a bargain at £10 for 3. They have closeable vents at the top, which allows you to control the temperature, and come with wire pegs to anchor them into the soil.

Elsewhere I have salad plants dotted around all over the place, like for instance in this large plastic pot which previously housed potatoes.

 It houses two plants each each of Curly Endive and Batavian Endive.

Batavian Endive, aka "Scarole"

Curly Endive
Actually, I must see whether one of those cloches would fit over that pot. It looks just about the right size.

Last year I tried to protect my late-season salads with fleece, but it was not very effective, largely because it kept getting trashed by the foxes. Hopefully the more rigid cloches will not succumb so easily.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


My late-sown "Cobra" climbing French beans were a great success, amply compensating me for the dismal failure of the cucumbers which had been the original occupants of the huge plastic tub in which I subsequently sowed the beans. On Saturday (19 Nov) I decided that the plants had to come down. I wanted to do this job in reasonable weather conditions, and I didn't want to leave it any longer. To be honest, the plants were looking very tired and ragged.

19 Nov. Note Callicarpa bush at right...

But there were still a few pods to be had...

I cut down the plants and put them in one of the compost-bins, and then dismantled the canes and the wooden supports that I had so optimistically constructed for my intended plethora of cucumbers.

This then was the last crop. Not a lot of pods - only 60 grams - but they'll be OK mixed in with something else.

Next year I think I probably won't bother with cucumbers, but might use the big tub for beans right from the start. This variety, "Cobra", is one I have grown for many years now, and I find it to be very prolific and very reliable. If you leave the pods to grown to their maximum size they get huge, but susprisingly never seem to go tough or stringy.