Thursday, 14 June 2012

Fresh Garden Salad

We have been harvesting fresh leaves from the greenhouse for a few months now. With the small glimpses of sunshine we have had recently and the slightly less arctic temperatures, we now have more salad than ever and I am battling to stop some things bolting. In the picture, going clockwise from top left, we have a mix of mini gem and all the year round lettuce, wild rocket, radishes and right at the front you can just see some coriander (which started to bolt almost before it got any real leaves). In another greenhouse bed I have more rocket, mizuna and corn salad (I think it's corn salad, the label disappeared and I threw the empty packet away). I regularly patrol the beds for slugs and snails, I don't think I've ever seen as many as I have this year. I love taking my trug and a pair of scissors up to the greenhouse and snipping away until I have the right mix of leaves for dinner that night. The mizuna is very spicy with a mustardy flavour, while the rocket is peppery and the little gem leaves are refreshing. I have also been adding fresh garden herbs to my salad mixes. I really like the freshness and lightness of produce seasonal to this time of year. Add my salad mixes and herbs to the broad beans and baby new potatoes we have been harvesting and you have a pretty perfect dinner. Next time it stops raining I must dash out and sow the next lot of salads to keep the supply coming - and to mix up the ingredients of my salads!

Sunday, 10 June 2012


So apart from five days of actual summer about three weeks ago when it was hot and dry, this has pretty much been the wettest drought ever. I was very pleased with myself that my water butt was full and I even ordered two more through a deal with the water company before the drought kicked in (although they didn't arrive for over a month and missed most of the wettest weather). However, it seems that just by announcing a drought, mother nature decided to show us all who's boss and make it do nothing but rain for weeks on end. As you can see from this photo, I have had to become an all-weather gardener/photographer, this was taken on a particularly foul day. I know it looks like night time but it was actually the afternoon. The garden seemed to respond well to all the water for a little while with everything shooting up and looking lush and green. Fast-forward a few weeks and the weeds are overtaking the veg, seedlings have rotted off and the onions are forming flower buds which I am picking off to stop the plants putting all their energy into forming flowers instead of swelling the bulbs. Gardening has become a game of cat and mouse where I dash outside and get as many jobs done as possible before the next rain cloud sheds its load over my garden.
I hope the drought conditions are called off soon, despite all this rain I have had a taster of watering the garden using watering cans and it is hard work. The water butt also empties out much faster than the time it takes to fill so I'm not sure how we would have coped in a long, hot, dry summer. Last year, to save on our water bill, we saved shower water in the bath and used it to water the garden - so we are well prepared with water saving if the drought ever does turn up. What are your experiences of the drought so far?

First Broad Bean Harvest

I don't know about you, but I am a pretty impatient gardener. I plant something and then obsessively check it on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis to see whether it is growing, producing a crop or flowering. So it was a rather pleasant surprise when my first broad bean crop of the season kind of snuck up on me. I would throw them a cursory glance and note that they were getting taller (but not nearly as tall as Monty Don's) as I made my way to somewhere else in the garden but didn't see the appearance of bean pods. Then last weekend (before the deluge of wind and rain) I was helping Sam put our decking together (to be the subject of a separate post) right next to the veg patch and there they were, gleaming green pods of ready-to-pick broad beans. I immediately fetched my trug and eagerly collected up the fattest pods and there were loads!
I love the contrast in the second picture of the bright green beans against the red bowl, the beans look so fresh and appetising. Sam cooked them up by blanching them for a couple of minutes and then adding them to a pan with some strips of streaky bacon and garlic. He finished it off with parley and mint - both from the garden and they were lovely. There really is nothing like eating something a few minutes after you've picked it from the garden, knowing exactly how it was grown and how much love and care was put into the growing. I am savouring these moments when I get them because I think with the difficult weather we have been having, I may have some disappointing harvests, or rather non-harvests this summer.

Elderflower Champagne

I booked the last week off work in the hope that we might get some good weather and that I could catch up on jobs in the garden... no such luck though. Luckily I found plenty of jobs to keep me busy (and dry) indoors. Sam and I are getting married next year and as with everything here at BB&B we are doing it on a VERY tight budget. For those of you about to close this window thinking you're in for an avalanche of wedding related bridezilla posts, don't worry, I will be keeping them to a minimum!
We have decided to make and do as much as possible to keep costs down and one of the things we are doing is making some of our own food and drink. We got really into foraging last year and we wanted to include something we could make from foraging (ie free) for the wedding. So this week I collected some elderflowers and had a go at making elderflower champagne. It was actually pretty easy, or at least the recipe I used was.
First I collected six heads of elderflowers, I put these in 4.5 litres of cold water with 2 sliced up lemons. I left this to steep for around 2 days although you could leave it for as little as 24 hours. I then strained the liquid through a muslin cloth, added 2 tablespoons of vinegar - the recipe I used said that cider vinegar would be best but I didn't have any and neither did Asda so I used white wine vinegar instead. I also added 750 grams of sugar and stirred until it dissolved. It smells delicious and although very sweet at the moment, it tastes pretty good too. I bottled the champagne in plastic bottles (apparently this is better than glass because it can't explode!). The lids are only gently screwed on to stop fruit flies and other beasties getting in. According to the recipe, I now need to leave the champagne for about 2 weeks, tiny bubbles are already starting to form which is a good sign apparently because it means the natural yeast in the elderflowers is working on the sugar. When bubbles have stopped forming I will need to screw the lids on tight and leave them to carbonate for a couple more days. Then all that will remain will be to chill and drink! According to the recipe the champagne will become drier the longer it is left and will most likely be too dry after about three months (not that booze ever lasts that long around here!). This means that to make it in time for the wedding which is in August next year, I will need to make up enough for all our guests around the end of June/beginning of July. We will do several taste tests with this batch to see exactly when it is perfect for our tastes. I can't wait to try it now!