Monday, 10 November 2014

Jersusalem Artichokes

Now that most of the vegetables in the garden have come to an end and alot of us are hanging up our forks and trowels for the winter it may seem that this year is over for growers.

Not so long ago I would have thought exactly this but this year I have put as much thought and effort into preparing my garden for winter vegetables as I did at the beggining of spring. As a result of this the king of the garden at the moment is surely the Jerusalem artichoke.

Back in the spring I had bought a bag of articokes from the farmers market, delicious as they were we didn't eat all of them and a few began to sprout or chit as potatoes would. Consulting one of my many vegetable growing books revealed that these are just about the easiest thing that can be grown at home, so I set about finding some space where I could make a permenant bed for some.

In a not particularly sunny spot next to a dwarf pear tree I cleared about a metre square of previously uncultivated ground, built a rough border from the piles of stone that I seem to have everywhere and planted four of these sprouted artichokes about six inches deep. Then I left them, I didn't go near them for at least three months. After this time the only interference was a quick hoe to stop any weeds trying to take over. It took a few weeks but sure enough shoots began to appear which kept growing and growing. Being a relative of the sunflower artichokes send tall flower stems shooting upwards topped with bright yellow flowers towering over the rest of the garden.

One advantage of my chosen spot was that it was fairly sheltered by the house and hedge alongside. Eventually the stems started to lose their vigour and begin to slouch but still I left them. I was waiting for the first frost which came this week, this is said to sweeten the tubers.

Up to this point of course I had no idea what was going on under the surface, whether the slap dash planting and no maintenance approach had worked at all. So you can imagine my delight when a few turns with the fork revealed some fantatsic tubers, a good size and in perfect condition.

Less than an hour later they were in the oven, a five minute effort earlier in the year paying dividends later on down the line. This for me is the real joy of gardening, something so simple can produce such amazing results, something that may have even gone to waste has gone on to put food on my table.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A Rogue Cockerel

Throughout the summer we have raised three chickens with the intention of them being for the table. They were bought at eight weeks old and were destined to live in a large pen in the garden where they had plenty of space to scratch around and run about.

This plan worked well for about the first three months with the chickens being happy in their pen and me being happy that the chickens were still in their pen.

However with three ducks having full access to the whole of the garden it was a matter of time before the chickens became jealous and wanted to explore what was beyond the fence. This was alerted to me when on returning home one day one chicken was out and the whilst the other two, as normal were in the run. I opened the gate and he ran back in and straight to the food bowl. He had obviously figured out how to escape but not how to get back in.

Over the next couple of weeks all three of them became inquisitive and would regularly jump over the five foot high fence I had naively thought would keep them in. I came to the what turned out to be a quite poor decision in that rather than reinforce the pen I would also let the chickens free range in the garden.

This worked well for a while but they soon became more and more interested in the veg patch and in particular my courgettes, wiping out entire harvests in an afternoon. Next was the lettuce before they decided the duck food was better than theirs and began pulling rank on the ducks by making them wait while they had their fill.

To top it all off, the state of the art coop that I had lovingly built them was longer acceptable when they thought a nearby Rowan tree covered in ivy was a better place to spend the nights. I spent most of an evening climbing and getting them down one by one by which point the first one down was already making their way back up.

Although once I thought about it, it seemed like a perfectly sensible place to sleep. Safe from predators and somewhere they could make their own up way to when they were ready. Rather than me wrestling with them every night, during this mild summer I let them stay up there.

The event of catching them when they had reached the desired weight was a challenge in itself involving lots of temporary fencing and a lot of chasing around. The two hens were dispatched with the minimum of stress. The cock however remained elusive, wise to the fact that I wanted to capture it, I could barely get within fifteen feet. With his domain now extending well beyond the garden to the fields behind it would be quite rare to see it in the garden to plan a capture.

The intention was never to leave one on it's own, Having the ducks around has softened the blow and now instead of having two rival gangs in the garden the cockerel has tried to befriend the ducks. They are understandably cautious and so far keep a weary eye on him. They still sleep in their coop and he still retires to his tree. I must admit he has grown into a magnificent animal with even the neighbour commenting on his swagger.

However he is now costing money to keep and I have purchased the next lot of chicks to be penned in (more securely this time, and for good) on the vegetable patch over the winter. I have an idea in the back of my mind about breeding some in the future but I'm not sure if it's worth keeping him all through the winter just to sire my hens in the spring. So at the moment I will be purchasing a fishing net and tracking him down once and for all.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Week Away

After spending the past week in Dorset I was intrigued as to what I would find in the garden when I got home. I had been slightly regretting booking a week away at such a crucial harvest time. With the weather being as warm as it has there was a real chance plants would bolt, dry out or over-ripen in the time I was gone.

To my delight I came home to a polytunnel full of perfectly ripe tomatoes

Before leaving I picked every fruit that was anywhere near ripe in the hope that this would leave only green tomatoes which should take at least a week to ripen fully. It had worked and I was presented with a glut of Gardeners delight, Alicante and Sungolds.

One thing I have found this Summer is that the polytunnel is surprisingly effective at keeping the water in and the soil moist. Despite the heat in the day when it cools at night all of the condensation drips back down watering the plants at the best time of all. If I had been at home I probably wouldn't have watered inside the polytunnel more than twice in a week anyway.

With this amount of tomatoes on my hands theer was only one thing for it, roast tomato sauce!

Hugely versatile and a great base to so many dishes, this sauce is a must for anyone with a large quantity of tomatoes. It freezes very well so it's always worth having a batch in the freezer whether the tomatoes are home grown or shop bought.

With the tomatoes chopped in half and placed cut side up on a couple of large roasting tins, I added a generous pinch of salt and pepper, plenty of thyme and oregano and some very roughly chopped garlic. This was put in a medium oven for around forty five minutes.

Once passed through a sieve with the back of a spoon the sauce is ready to go. With a deep, rich flavour it's a perfect pairing with pasta, on it's own or with any number of other things added to the mix.

In other garden news the fennel did bolt which I'm not too concerned about. It's great for attracted the last of the bees and any remaining butterflies. There's only few bulbs left in so I'm happy to leave them the flower for another few weeks.
Also in the polytunnel I have managed to grow my first few chilli plants, Cayenne peppers to be exact. With no experience of growing these before it is certainly something I'll be diversifying on next year. I'll have to wait a little while longer before I have any peppers big enough to harvest but progress at the moment is certainly encouraging.