Archive for the ‘Kitchen Garden’ Category

The kitchen garden in Spring is my most favourite time in the garden and certainly the busiest. But I’m not complaining, all this physical work is welcome exercise for my waistline!

I know it sounds a bit cliched, but growing your own veg really is the way to go and you can soooo taste the difference. I also grow far too much of everything, but this year I have a plan for my surplus.

How About An Honesty Table?

Each year we grow as much fruit and veg as we need and always end up giving loads away or relegating it to the compost heap. But this year I’m going to try something new. I’m going to put an honesty box at the end of my lane. If this is as new to you, as it was to me (until my friend Ruth told me) then read on.

Basically an honesty table is somewhere where you lay out your spare produce and invite passers by to drop a couple of coins into an old box , in exchange for your surplus. Seems like a great idea. Joe Public gets to take home some lovely fresh organic fruit and veg, while you (hopefully) collect a few pounds to spend on the garden or give to your favorite charity. I suppose someone could always nab your table along with the proceeds, but hey if their they needs that great then they’re welcome to it.

We’re lucky to have a lane at the end of our plot, which leads onto another minor road that is often used by walkers, so we might attract a few passers by. But before then I need to get on with growing some produce, or we’ll have nothing for the kitchen, let alone the rambler!

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

We adopt a ‘rotation system’ at Blackbirds, which basically means creating separate and distinct plots for each of the different veg types. We’re also organic, which means we never apply any chemicals, which means we have to find ways of minimising potential threats from ground borne diseases in other ways and crop rotations certainly helps.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your plot, just so long as you avoid growing the same group in the same space for at least 3 years.

Plot 1
My first plot is planted up with a few rows of potatoes. This year i’m only growing Charlotte as it seems to like my chalky ground and I find they don’t go all mushy when I cook them. We also make a fair bit of potato salad in the summer and Charlotte works really well in potato salad.

Last years second early potato crop

Last years second early potato crop ‘Charlotte’

We eat a fair bit of salad in the summer and I find Charlottes are excellent for potato salad.

My recipe for the perfect potato salad

Cook off about a dozen new potatoes, making sure not too over cook them. They should be softish on the outside, but still fairly firm on the inside.

While they’re cooking prepare the dressing.


  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of good vegetable oil. You can use extra virgin olive oil if you prefer the taste, personally I find it overpowers the potatoes.
  • 1 – 2 Teaspoons of Maggie seasoning.
  • 3 – 4 teaspoons of warm vegetable or chicken stock. (I prefer Knorr stock cubes)
  • Tablespoon of wine vinegar.
  • Teaspoon of lemon juice.
  • Couple of grinds of black pepper.
  • Medium sized onion finely chopped, or alternatively finely chop a spring onion.
  • Small chopped garlic clove (optional).

Mix all the ingredients together really well in a bowl.

When the potatoes are cooked drain them well and while they are still warm peel them and chop into approx 1 inch cubes. Then add the potatoes to the dressing and fold the potatoes in. As the potatoes are warm they will soak up the dressing and produce the most amazing tasting potato salad. It doesn’t work nearly as well with cold potatoes.

If the mix is a bit too wet, add a teaspoon of cornflower mixed with a little cold water and fold it in and the mix will thicken nicely.

Serve with grilled sausages, lettuce and tomato salads.


Plot 2 – Root Veg

My second plot is for my root veg. I’ve sown my beetroot in modules which have started to appear at long last. I’ll transplant in a couple of weeks when the risk of frosts has past. We use a lot of Beetroot both in salads and pickling for the winter.

I’ve planted 2 rows of early Nantes carrots, Kohl Rabi, Spring Onions and Turnips. The Spring Onions will help to keep the carrot fly from laying there eggs. It’s the larvae that do the damage as they burrow into the carrot. Nasty things they are, completely ruin your carrots if you let them.

Last Years Early Nantes Carrot

Plot 3 – Legumes
So far I’ve got my sugar peas in and they’re doing quit well, which I think is because they are slightly protected by the potting shed. I’ve planted my main crop peas in pots in the polytunnel, and they will go outside in a couple of weeks.

Plot 4 – Onions, Shallots and Garlic
I like to start my onion sets off in modules, but you need to keep an eye on the watering as they can be prone to dry out. Three weeks later weeks and they’re big enough to be planted out, and but his time they’re too big for the birds to yank them out!

How to grow onions the organic way with the Rural Gardener

Plot 5 – Lettuce
This year I’m going to be a bit more adventurous and growing several different varieties of lettuce. Instead of growing them in the kitchen garden I’m going to build a small raised bed close to the house to grow my everyday salads like lettuce, radish and maybe a few tomatoes when the weather warms up.

Plan is to build a simple wooden frame out of some gash timber we have around the place and position it next to the herb garden. I’ll fill it with some top soil mixed in equal quantity of well rotted compost and plant straight into it. Should be fun.

Tom Thumb Lettuce

One of the benefits of a Poly tunnel is the early salad crops including these gorgeous little Tom Thumbs.

Tom Thumb is my absolute favourite of all the lettuce and an excellent candidate for small gardens or of you’re stuck for space. I’ve also planted Lorroroso, Cos and Rocket, all in modules. The seeds only cost me 10 pence each, so we should have salads for weeks in the summer, and all for the price of a daily newspaper.

As for the rest of my kitchen garden it’s waiting from the weather to warm up a bit so we can plant out the Sweetcorn, Dwarf Beans and main crop Peas. I have planted them this early in the past, but the weather hasn’t been great over the last few days, so I think I’ll hang on for a bit longer.

Back soon.

Best wishes.


Rural Gardener

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If you’d like to keep this post for future reference I have created a PDF. It’s absolutely free, so please feel free to download as many times as you like, with my best wishes.


It’s Tomato Tasting Time!

It’s that time of the year when all the hard work we put in to growing tomatoes comes to fruition, and perhaps more importantly it’s the time of year when we conduct our own tomato tasting session at Blackbirds. Each year it turns up some interesting results, and this year is no exception!

Each year we grow 1 or 2 new varieties, just for the fun of it, nothing serious, it’s really just an excuse for eating freshly picked tomatoes.

This year I’ve throw care to the wind and grown 3 varieties, one I’ve grown in the past, and two I’ve never grown before.  I like to grow at least one ‘novelty’ tomato in a season, and this year I went for Tigeralla, a striped variety, but more on that later.

All three were grown in the Polytunnel using the same growing method, and received the same amount of watering, and supplemented with a high potash feed.

You can find all the details of how we grow our tomatoes in a previous blog,

Cherrolla F1 Tomato

First tomato for the taste test is, Cherolla, an F1 Hybrid and my choice for cherry tomato this year. They produce a small perfectly formed tomato and are the most prolific of all the tomato plants I’ve grown this year. The tomatoes hang from long, regular spaced trusses that look like a real work of art.

The second tomato up for the taste test is ‘San Marzano Astro F1’, an Italian plum tomato. It’s my first time I’ve grown plum tomatoes, so it should be interesting to find out how they taste.

The seeds produce a fairly stocky looking plant with small trusses of typically 4-5 tomatoes per truss. As expected they produced a plum like shaped tomato, with lots of leaf growth. I found I had to remove a fair few leaves so the sun could get to the fruits.

I restricted the growth to a single stem by removing all the side shoots, in the same way as if I was growing an Alicante, which in hindsight may not have been the best way to grow this variety.

Last but not least we’ve had a go at growing an unusual looking tomato called Tigerella. As the name suggests the seeds produce a stripy looking tomato from a standard looking plant. As with all the tomatoes I grew these on a single stem, in bunches of fruit more akin to a bunch of grapes. I thought this would introduce disease to the fruits, but it didn’t and they’ve produced a good crop of tomatoes.

On to the taste fest!

Cherolla F1 Hybrid

A gorgeous tasting tomato, and so sweet, not even a hint of bitterness. The skins are soft, and the fruits are juicy and have the most gorgeous tomato flavour. For me the most appealing thing about these tomatoes is the size, just pop one in your mouth and wait for the taste explosion! A sure fire winner that I will most definitely be growing again next year.


Cherolla - Cherry Tomato

San Marzano Astro F1 Plum Tomato

Slightly disappointing taste to be honest. Only because I was expecting to harvest a regular tomato that I might make a tomato salad, or just eat them straight off the vine, but they are clearly grown specifically for cooking.

The fruits are fairly tasteless and they are full of flesh. I prefer a juicy, moist tomato, but these haven’t delivered I’m afraid. I will continue to grow them for the rest of the season, and report back on how I got on with them in the kitchen.



To be honest they tasted pretty much of a regular tomato, like the old standard Moneymaker tomato, but with a slightly tougher skin and tangier flavour. I found the flavour pretty uninspiring to be honest, especially compared with the Cherolla, but appreciate taste and flavour is a personal thing.

They will work in a salad, with all the other flavours adding to the tsate, but on its own it’s not really worked for me. Also the striping is almost no existent when the fruits ripen, which is a little disappointing,, given I grew them partly for effect.



I’ll most definitely be growing Cherolla as the taste is superb, the plants are prolific and they are easy to manage. The other 2 varieties have a place in the garden I’m sure, but not for me I’m afraid.

Next year I’m planning to grow ‘Marmande’ a beef stake tomato, along with ‘Black Russian’ a popular Heritage variety that I’ve heard produces an amazing flavour.

Perhaps you would drop me a note if you have any experience of either of these varieties, or any others for that matter.

Thanks &

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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Stuttgarter Onions ready for lifting

Stuttgarter Onions ready for lifting

Time to lift and store the onions and garlic

It’s a been mixed season at Blackbirds for onions and garlic. We’ve had some successes and the odd failure it has to be said.

I planted onion sets back in February, about 6″ apart in rows about 12″ apart. I prefer sets, although I have had success with seed in the past. When I say ‘about’, everything I plant in the kitchen garden is based on a certain amount of guess work.  I don’t believe it’s rocket science at the end of the day, just as long as you leave enough space for the plant to grow to full harvest, it should be fine.

I’ve just come back from the Kitchen Garden and both my onions and garlic look ready for lifting. You can always tell as the tops fall over and start to turn brown.

Onions drying in the sun

I've grown Stuttgarter for years and they always crop well for me

If your onions look ready for lifting I’d suggest you wait for a nice sunny day, then take a fork and lever the plants out of the ground, taking care not to damage them (or they won’t store well) and leave them sitting loose on the top of the soil, so the sunshine can bake them nice and hard.

I leave mine out for about 7-10 days, after which I gather them up and lay them out on wire racks in the shed. This can be a tricky period as the onions can sprout back into growth if the air is to damp, or they can also rot off, but providing you can spread them out and position them somewhere where the sun can catch them, they will dry in no time.

Best to leave them on a shelf in the shed, or even outside the back door (providing its covered) just make sure they are nicely spread out, so the air can get to them.

Tip: If you have some  old chicken wire lying around its great for making racks to dry your onions.

Drying garlic bulbs in the summer sun

We managed to grow a few garlic this year, despite a few failures

As you see my garlic has been a bit of a let down this year, and I don’t know why? 😦

Main problem is the size and the general poor state of the bulbs. I did everything exactly as last year, and I also grew them in a different patch of the garden as we garden with a rotational system at Blackbirds.

I think it cold be a couple things as I was a bit late planting them out and also I didn’t water quite as often as I should.

Anyway, I’m going to dry them  on my low tech chicken wire racks in the shed, and see how I get on. It’s unlikely I’ll be making garlic strings this year though.

Last year I worked out how to make a garlic string, so this year I thought I’d have a go at making a string of onions.  I’ll post the details in a couple of weeks when the onions have had a chance to dry out.

Looking outside today the weather has broken and it’s raining, which is great for the garden. I guess every cloud has a silver lining, as they say.

Have a great weekend!

Best wishes


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First of this years Kohl Rabi in the Poly Tunnel

It’s at this time of the growing season that one of my most favourite vegetables, Kohl Rabi are starting to mature in the Polytunnel. Kohl Rabi are so easy to grow, and are usually ready to harvest just 6 weeks from first planting the seeds, so if you haven’t grown them before I’d urge you to have a go.

We grow our Kohl Rabi both inside the poly and in open ground, usually in rows about a foot (30cm) apart.  The preparation is the same for both, but we do have to protect the young plants outside from the chickens, and the pigeons who are very partial to fresh Kohl Rabi leaves!

Growing Kohl Rabi

I start the seeds off in a 3inch pot, and then when they’re large enough to handle I plant them on into seed trays. When the plants are about 4 inches,I plant them out into a well prepared bed.

I find the secret to good Kohl Rabi is regular watering, and just as the bulbs are starting to swell  add layer of compost mulch, which will help reduce the amount of watering in the height of summer.

Pick your Kohl Rabi when they are about the size of the palm of your hand, when they are at their most tastiest.

When it comes to cooking Kohl Rabi I remove the root, the leaves, peal them and cutting them into bite size pieces, before adding them into Stews and Mince. One tasty alternative is to cook them off and mash them in with a few fresh cooked carrots, a knob of butter and a little grated nutmeg. It makes a wonderful sweet mash, that goes with pretty much anything.

General update from Blackbirds

We’re almost at the end of July and so much has happened in the garden this year. The wildlife pond and stream are looking good and we’re attracting all manner of birds to drink and bathe in the stream.  So far we’ve seen Blackbirds, Robins, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Woodpeckers, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows, Pigeons, a male Pheasant, Wrens, and not forgetting the Bats, which have returned, I’m pleased to say, since we put up a bat box in the Walnut tree back in the Spring.

I’m so pleased we decided to have a  wildlife pond, as it’s a constant source of fascination for all the family.

Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you like what you read.

Best wishes,


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First of this years Cauliflowers grown in the kitchen garden with the Rural Gardener

We’ve been eating our root vegetables for a few weeks now, but I do like to grow a few brassicas to vary the meals.I’m not a great lover of cabbages, apart from Red cabbage which is just my most favourite winter vegetable, but I do like to grow a few cauliflower and calabrese. Not because the family are especially fond of them, but more because they can present a bit of a challenge for the amateur gardener.

Growing Brassicas

I start my seeds off in mid April in seed trays, pricking them out into 4″ pots when they are large enough to handle.  Inhibiting any growth at this stage can produce problems later, so I give the plants a good start, using a half decent potting compost, with a little extra fertiliser.I tend to use pots because the roots of brassica develop quite fast and pretty soon, need plenty of room to grow.With a little extra care and attention at the planting out stage will repay you handsomely, with those gorgeous little white curds from July onwards.

Planting Out

Cauli’s don’t need as much space as some of the brassicas, so I plant them out about a foot apart in rows 18″ apart.  If you are on clay, or sandy soil you will need to add some lime to the planting holes.   If you’re on chalk, as we are in Hampshire, there is no need to add any more lime to the soil.

Keep them well watered on a regular basis and they should be fine, but try to resist watering little and often or you could increase the chances of splitting the stalks.  Best to give them a really good watering once a week, ideally directly at the roots.

If you’d like to know more about how we approach watering our kitchen garden then we recomend you have a read. <How to Preserve Water in the Garden>

Tip – How to keep your Cauliflower curds white

If you want to keep the heads of your cauliflowers nice and white, you’re going to need to protect them from the sun. Easiest thing to do is fold over the leaves when the heads are about 4″ across.


First of the brassicas in 2011

First of the Calabrese from the kitchen garden at Blackbirds

I don’t give my Calabrese any special treatment, other than to prepare the soil with a bucket full of compost and a sprinkling of fish blood and bone. I also tread the ground nice and firm before planting. Not sure why but my dad always planted  his greens into firm ground, and it  seems to produce results.

In around 2 weeks I’ll lift all my Cauli’s, blanch them in boiling water for a minute, allow them to cool, and then pop them into the freezer. We’ll eat the Calabrese as they mature as I find they don’t freeze terribly well.

Special treat for tomorrow’s lunch, Cauliflower Cheese, made with the most wonderful local cheddar, with just a hint of nutmeg.

Can’t wait!

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

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Just got back from the kitchen garden and harvested the first of this years beetroot. Really simple to prepare, and full of that gorgeous beetroot flavour. I also think I read somewhere beetroot is supposed to be really good for you, especially your blood pressure?

The first of this years Beetroot.

As with my carrots I try to harvest them when they are young, ideally about the size of an over sized golf ball.  I plant the seeds in a 5inch pot, in a medium compost, around late March. When the seedlings are large enough to handle, I prick them out into a larger seed tray, in two’s just in case I lose one. Then, I let them grow on until they are about 3 inches tall and plant them out into a well prepared piece of ground.

As with all my root veg I rake a handful of bone meal into the surface of the soil.  This year I also added a little well rotted compost into the bottom of the planting hole, to see if helped to keep the beets clean, when it came time to lift them. Glad to say it worked, so next time you plant out your beetroot, give it a try.

Cooking Beetroot

I’m not fussy when it comes to cooking beetroot, but it does help if  you can retain as much of the flavour as possible. I twist the tops off  rather than cut them, as my grandmother told me once it helps to keep the flavour in, and stops the colour from leaking out.

Then I given them a good wash off under the tap, cut the roots off , leaving a little of the root intact, or they will leak all that lovely crimson colour, and you’ll end up with pale looking beetroot.

Then I put the beets into a saucepan of cold water, taking care not to bruise the outside. Then I bring them to the boil, and gently simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until they are tender, but not too soft.

Finally, I drain the water off, and leave them in the saucepan until they have cooled. Then they go into the fridge with the skins on until I’m ready to use them.

I’m planning to lift the first of my Red Duke of York potatoes tomorrow, so should be fun!

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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First of this years carrots

First of this summers Nantes carrots

My favourite root vegetable, the humble carrot

Today was a particularly special day. I got to lift the first of my root vegetables! How cool is that.

It’s the most brilliant feeling in the world when all the hard work you put in at the beginning of the season pays you back ten-fold, with the most wonderful fresh summer vegetables, which seem to reach perfection at this time of the year. And the best part is, it’s all just a short walk from the back door.

I feel this year is going to be a bumper year in the vegetable garden, especially with the return of the rain over the last 2 weeks, everything is looking lush.

First of the root crops I like to lift are my favourite’s the early Nantes carrots. I sowed these back in late April, which I admit was a bit late, but I never worry as they always seem to catch up in the end.

I’ve been lucky with the carrot fly, which may be due in part to companion planting alongside the onions. I read somewhere it does work, so I thought I’d give it a try. I also try and sow thinly to avoid too much thinning out, which can allow the carrot fly in.

I like to pull my carrots when they are small and sweet.  Pick them young, and this way they only need a wash under the tap, the tops twisting off, and they’re ready to cook.

I think the secret to cooking great carrots is to resist boiling them into submission. Instead try roasting them in the oven with a splash of vegetable oil, plenty of salt and pepper, and a couple of garlic cloves mixed with a small onion cut into quarters.

Now I’m off to dig the first of the beetroot. 🙂

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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