Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category


how-to-grow-vegetables

So you’re thinking of creating a new vegetable patch in your garden? Well, that’s good timing, as this week I’ve started working on my vegetable garden.

To be honest I don’t know if I could survive without my vegetable garden. It’s not so much the eating, although that is probably the best part, 🙂 it’s actually more the enjoyment one gets from planting a tiny little seed,  and them watching it grow from such fragile beginnings into something gorgeous and edible.

Back in 2007 when we found this plot it was the garden that convinced us to buy. We knew we wanted to grow our own food and having all this space brought that dream a bit closer.

We knew we wanted to grow our own food and with all this space the dream could become reality.  Now, seven years on we have a fabulous productive veg garden that provides for us for approximately 9 months of the year.

This weekend was the first dry opportunity we’ve had to get onto the garden, so Saturday morning I pulled on the wellies and headed for the hills!

As I was leaning on my fork and sipping what must have been my third cup of tea, I thought there must be loads of people out there thinking of starting their own veg garden. So I thought I’d pass on a few tips and suggestions which have helped us along the way.

How to get started.

Before we started on our veg garden we visited a few gardens to get some inspiration, in particular, Heligan in Cornwall which for me are the best gardens in this country and has the most amazing vegetable garden.

Then as with all my projects I put together a rough layout on paper. Simple sketches, nothing fancy.

You’ll need to rotate your veggies.

All it means is try not to grow the same vegetable groups in the same spot each year. At Blackbirds we’ve created a tapestry of 4 squares. They’re not exactly uniform in size but it still means we can set up a rotation system. Rotating your vegetables simply means not growing in the same place 2 years running. With

Rotating your vegetables essentially means not growing the same in the same place 2 years running. With a four-stage system you avoid planting in the same place for 3 years.

 

why-grow-your-own-vegetable

Selection of vegetables grown in our first year.

 

If you’re stuck for space … 

If you have a small plot you can always head down to your local builders merchants and buy a few lengths of 8 x 1 concrete shuttering board. Cut them to size (according how space you have) and nail them together to make what is essentially a bottomless box.

Fill the box with a mix of top soil and compost and you have the perfect veg patch!
Just make sure you position it on a spot where it drains well. Put it on concrete and your veggies will drown! 😦

My top ten tips for a great veg patch …

Tip number 1 – Keep the weeds down.
If there is one piece of advice i would share with anyone it is try to keep your veg garden as weed free as possible. Give your veggies plenty of space so you can weed quite easily.

Spring and Summer I try to weed most days as it just makes the job of growing so much easier. Doesn’t have to be much, just run a hoe up the rows and you’ll enjoy your garden so much more. Remember, little and often is the secret.

Tip number 2 –  Try and be organic.
One of my most favourite places in the entire world is Heligan in Cornwall. Speaking to the gardeners they explain how its not possible to be 100% organic as sometimes there is no alternative to chemicals. But I say do as much as you possibly can to be organic. Nature will always work its magic on the garden.

Tip number 3– Treat your soil as your best friend.
Work in lots and I mean LOTS of organic matter into the soil. It’s the one thing that will turn your soil into a good growing medium. If you’re on clay soil compost helps with breaking down the clay and if like me you’re on light chalky soil it will help to bulk it up …

Tip number 4 – Successional sowing.
Don’t plant everything at the same time or your vegetables will all come at once.

Tip number 5 – Don’t plant too close.
Allow plenty of space between the rows and you’ll find it much easier to keep tidy and you’ll get bigger and jucier vegetables.

Tip number 6 – Grow more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.
Sounds obvious but when you’re buying your seeds at the beginning of the year take your time and select what you know you’re going to eat. It’s all too easy to grab everything on rack in a mad fit of enthusiasm. Having said that every year I think I’ll grow something unusual and each year it gets wasted. But hey … What the heck! … grow what makes you happy. 🙂

Tip number 7 – Keep your plot tidy.
Nothing worse than vegetables that are surrounded by a sea of weeds and rubbish … And it encourages pests and diseases.

Tip number 8 – You’re going to need water … and plenty of it! 
If possible, position your veg patch near to a water supply. You’re going to need a lot of water in the summer months and its blooming heavy to carry.

 

Would You Like To Grow Your Own Vegetables

Keep your veggies well watered and they’ll repay you with lots of lovely produce.

 

Tip number 9 – Don’t be a hurry to plant your seeds.
Allow the soil to warm up. By waiting for the temperature to rise more seeds will germinate and you’ll get more veg for your money.

Tip number 10 – Companion plant.
My final tip is to companion plant. Companion planting is where you plant varieties of veg that support each others growing conditions. Best example is planting carrot seeds next to your onion sets. Carrot fly hate the smell of onions and so keep away. Basil planted alongside tomatoes keep the worst of the whitefly off your tomato plants. Scour the internet and you’ll find loads of examples of companion planting.

 

fresh-carrots

If you want clean carrots companion plant with your onions.

 

Hopefully, this has given you a few pointers as we move towards the time of year when you’re thinking of growing a few veggies for the dinner table.

So if you’re considering having a go at growing a few veggies then above all:

  1. Enjoy it!
  2. Occasionally stop digging and admire all your hard work.
  3. Keep your veggies well watered and they’ll respond twenty fold.
  4. Remember to feel that sense of pride when you know, as you place that bowl of carrots onto the dinner table and can proudly say … I grew those!

Just before I go I wanted to say thank you so very much to everyone that follows my ramblings and for all the wonderful feedback we recieve. It really does mean a lot to us and encourages us to continue. Only wish we had more time to share more.

Best wishes,

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The soil may be too wet to get onto … but I urge you get out there and start clearing the weeds and sowing a few seeds.
It’s amazing how much better it makes you feel! 

Warm aroma of ripening tomatoes

Time to plant your tomato seeds and you can look forward to these little beauties!

 

I met a friend for coffee in town this week (most enjoyable thanks, Matt) and having first put the world of digital media to rights we got around to the subject of gardening.

You see,  Matt is a keen gardener and we both have much in common on the subject. We both knew we should be in the garden doing something… but what exactly? I’m not sure we gardeners are ever quite sure when is the right time to pull on the wellies and haul out the fork and spade but one thing’s for sure … I can’t wait much longer. I’m already having withdrawal symptoms!

As soon we get January out of the way and the weather starts to improve then my advice is to get out there and make a start. There’s nearly always something that needs doing in the garden.

I usually wait until the middle of February when I can feel a change in the days. The light improves as the days stretch out and there’s every chance you’ll find a bit of sunshine at some point. Last Sunday was one such day.

The veg beds were too wet due to all rain we’ve had this winter in Hampshire,  but I did manage to get on to some parts of the garden and start clearing the weeds ready for this year’s veggies.

It sounds crazy to be weeding in February but as you know the more you do today … the less you’ll have to do tomorrow. 🙂

weeding

It’s clear our climate is changing as the winters get warmer and wetter and the effect is it encourages the flipping weeds to grow at an alarming rate. Is it me or are they starting much earlier this year?

One good thing about the wet weather, (apologies to anyone living with drought) is, it does make pulling the weeds a tad easier. I just take a small fork and turn over the soil and clear the weeds by hand. The chickens of course help … when they’re not pinching the worms that is!

chickens

Seed sowing in February.

It’s about this time of the year I start to sow my small seeds. Celeriac seeds can take an age to germinate so best get them started now indoors and you’ll have decent sized plants by the time the frosts have past.

celeriac-3

I simply sprinkle a few seeds onto a small seed tray of compost and gently press them into the compost. The idea is to push them just below the surface. Then sit the tray in a washing up bowl with a little water in the bottom so the compost can take up the water gradually and the seeds won’t get washed away.

It’s also about this time of year I plant my sweet pea seeds. I soak them in water for 24hrs to soften the shells. I then plant 4 seeds in a small 3″ pot. Best to start them off indoors until they’re about 6″ plants and then transfer the pots to the cold frame.

Tomatoes can also be sown indoors about now. This year I’m growing my favourites ‘Gardeners Delight’ along with a few Alicante and an F1 Hybrid called ‘Mountain Magic’. Not sure how well they’ll do but I like to try something new most years.You’ll have to provide a little heat to keep the worst of the cold off.

tomato-plants

I find with most seed sowing at this time of the year its wise to provide to get them started. As soon as they’re big enough to fend for themselves they can go out into the cold frame or polytunnel if you’re fortunate enough to have one.

Also managed to prune the climbing roses out the front at the weekend. Looks and smells amazing in the summer, but as with all ramblers it does need to be kept in shape. I grab a pair of strong gardening gloves and give it a general prune until I’m happy with the shape.

pruning-roses2

No mystery to pruning climbing roses, simply grab a pair of stout gardening gloves and give it a general prune all over. If a branch is in the wrong place cut it out but leave about 8″ of stem and it will grow back stronger than ever and provide loads of wonderful blooms.

pruning-roses

Next weekend I’ll be preparing the polytunnel ready for all the exotic goodies! This year I’ve decided to bit the bullet and build some purpose made troughs for my strawberries. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them

This year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and build a few purpose-made troughs for my strawberry plants. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them in but this year we’re hosting a summer garden party and I’d love to serve my own home grown scrumptious delights.

I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Back soon.

Rural Gardener

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why-grow-your-own-vegetable

Absolutely! It’s good for the soul, great for the mind and I can’t think of a better way of improving the waistline than digging over a vegetable plot. (Other than eating less of course)

But for me the most amazing part of growing your own fruit and veg has to be the harvest.

Just imagine for a moment, it’s a warm summers evening in July and you’ve a few slices of tasty locally cured ham accompanied by a few new potatoes on the side, English of course. A feast fit for a king that needs a handful of lush freshly picked lettuce leaves and maybe a sprig of fresh mint to add a little zing. Sounds too good be true … But it’s closer than you think!

I found out an amazing fact the other day. In the latter stages of the second world war home grown vegetables accounted for over 40% of all the vegetables consumed in the UK.

Why mention it?

Well, other than it being an extraordinary example of people power in the face of extreme adversity I really believe there will come a time in the not too distant future when the great British public will once again grow the majority of their own vegetables. It stands to reason. More young people than ever are turning to gardening and more specifically are growing there own vegetables.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone utilised a small corner of their garden to grow a few vegetables of their own and we didn’t rely so heavily on foreign imports. Pipe dream maybe,  but I really think we are on the tipping point of a sea change in this country and we are all definitely in favour!

… but how do I get started growing my own vegetables?

Best advice is jump right in and have a go. You don’t need masses of space. Anyone can grow a few veg in plant pots, boxes or pretty much anything that will hold enough soil.

I’ve seen someone growing early Nantes carrots in an old pair of wellingtons! You don’t need any special equipment to get started, just the desire to make it happen. I’m lucky as we have a fairly large garden but not so long ago I was growing my veg in raised beds. They’re really easy to make with just a few basic diy skills and a few planks of 6in by 1in treated timber. Locate it close to the house if you can as it’s not so far to walk when it comes time to harvest and it’s easier to manage. You can always add more as your confidence grows.

Home Grown Radishes

What should I grow?

That’s an easy one … grow what you like to eat. Sounds obvious but when I first start growing veg I grew far too much and ended up wasting half of it.

My advice is start with a few simple root vegetables like radish, carrot and maybe a couple rows of beetroot. Also make room for a couple of rows of lettuce. The varieties really depend on your personal taste, so if you’re not sure try looking at a few cook books, or look up a few of the popular chefs on the web.

I particularly like what Raymond Blanc is doing at Le Manoir in the Cotswolds with his restored kitchen garden.

These are a few of my favourites:

Tom Thumb – Perfectly formed little heads of gorgeousness

Lollorosso – Cut and come again lettuce that will keep producing as long as you keep cutting.

Rocket – Peppery leaves that will give any salad a real kick.

Raddichio – Fresh, Crisp and slightly bitter leave that will add a wonderful deep mauve colour to your salad. Maybe not one for the beginner though as it has a tendency to run to seed.

Growing Your Own Vegetables in the Polytunnel

If you’ve never considered growing your own vegetables I urge you to give it a try. You don’t need a huge garden and can start with a few packets of seeds and a little 4ft by 4ft raised bed. And all this for an investment of less than £20!

If twenty pounds sounds a lot check out how much for a bag of salad at the supermarket and I’m sure you’ll agree it is definitely worth having a go at growing at few salad varieties.

Next time I’ll share at few ideas around how you can extend your vegetable patch to grow a few slightly more ‘exotic goodies’.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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Celeriac - How To Grow And Cook Your Own Celeriac With The Rural Gardener

Christmas is around the corner which we so look forward to in our household. It’s a special time for family and friends to come together and to take time out for some well deserved rest and recuperation.

The garden is fairly quiet at this time of the year for us, but we still have a few of our favourite veg to enjoy not least my most favourite of winter veg, celeriac. We always find room to grow a row every year and have had mixed success to be honest, but this year I think I may have found the secret to growing decent size celeriac.

I start my celeriac seeds off in late may, early June in a seed tray when any sign of frost has past. The seeds are tiny so a packet of seeds will go a long way, so sprinkle the seeds thinly on the surface of the compost and firm with a tamper. Best not to water from the top or you’ll likely wash the seeds away.

I stand my seed tray in second tray of water to allow the compost to soak up the water from beneath. As soon as I see water appearing on the top of the compost I lift the tray out and stand on the seed bench.

The seed are slow to grow away but don’t give up on them as they will eventually appear after about 3-4 weeks. When they are large enough to handle I prick out my celeriac plants into 3 inch pots a celeriac have a fairly robust but fine root system and need plenty of room to grow.

It’s important to keep them well watered as celeriac hate dry conditions. In the mean time prepare the soil where you plan to plant with a good helping of compost or well rotted farmyard manure.

They are hungry feeders and prefer to have the roots in damp soil, so don’t skimp when preparing the ground. I plant the young celeriac plant about 10-12 inches apart in mid July and that’s about it until late September. As soon as the base starts to swell I add a little comfrey to a watering can every other week.

I mentioned earlier I discovered a secret to growing decent size celeriac this year, well here it is. By the way feel free to pass it on as I’m sure this made a difference.

At the beginning of November while I was weeding around the plants I thought the soil was looking a little tired, so I added a couple of inches of compost as a mulch around the base of each plant.

celeriac-3

If you think about it I guess it had to make a difference as the roots of the celeriac are all over the fruit, so makes sense to provide more growing medium for the plants to grow.

Celeriac - How To Grow And Cook Your Own Celeriac With The Rural Gardener

Not rocket science I know, but it seems to have made a difference to this years crop. It appears to have provided the celeriac with the perfect growing conditions as we lifted the first of this years harvest earlier today and as you can see they are a bad size at all!

Here are just a few of the recipes I use for cooking my Celeriac.

1.Celeriac and Cauliflower Mash

Really simple recipe and a great substitute for potato mash if you’re on a diet. John has been on a diet since October and has lost nearly two stone! … Much of which is down to removing potatoes from his diet … But more on that later. To cook your celeriac and cauliflower mash:

  1. Clean and peal your celeriac and chop into 1 inch cubes.
  2. Add to a pan of cold water and bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer for 15 minutes until the celeriac is cooked through.
  4. After cooking the celeriac for around 8 minutes break off a few florets from a fresh cauliflower and add to the pan.
  5. Turn the heat back up to bring it back to a simmer and cook for a further 7-8 minutes until the celeriac and cauliflower are cooked through.
  6. Strain the water off, add a knob of butter and a teaspoon of cream to the veg.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper
  8. Mash until smooth and serve.

One tip when your making this dish … Resist boiling the living daylights out of the celeriac and cauliflower or you’ll remove the delicate flavour. Simmer the veg gently and keep checking it.

2. Roast Whole Celeriac

To cook your celeriac and cauliflower mash:

  1. Wash and peel a medium size celeriac
  2. Take a grater and grate the sides up until the celeriac is a nest round shape.
  3. Slice off the bottom to leave a flat surface
  4. Heat an oven pan in the hob and add a little vegetable oil and a tablespoon of butter
  5. When the butter has melted add the celeriac and baste repeatedly with the butter and oil
  6. Sprinkle a little fresh thyme over the celeriac, a generous shake of smoked paprika, salt and pepper.
  7. Place in the oven for around 35 minutes until the celeriac is tender. You can tell when the celeriac is cooked by sticking a long needle into the centre. If the needles slides in easily the celeriac is cooked.
  8. Slice into chunks and serve with roast pork or poultry. Alternatively serve as a main with roast sweet potato and fresh green beans.

3. Baked Celeriac

This recipe came from watching Ruth Mott one Christmas when the children were small.

  1. Prepare your celeriac as before and slice into half inch thick slices.
  2. Place the slices in an oven proof dish and cover with a basic white sauce made from plain flour, butter and milk. Make sure the celeriac is covered completely.
  3. Season with grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  4. Grate some good quality cheddar and sprinkle over the top of the dish.
  5. Cook in a moderately to oven for around 25 minutes until the celeriac is cooked through
  6. Remove from the oven and add some salt and vinegar flavour crisps to the top and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  7. Remove and serve.

These are the three recipes I use most for my celeriac but have been known to boil a whole celeriac and while warm cut into small slices for a celeriac salad dressed with warm grain mustard dressing.

If you’ve never grown celeriac before I urge you to have a go as the deep nutty celery flavour is a taste of Christmas that you’ll come back to year after year! 🙂

Best wishes,

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How to Store Potatoes

We’ve been digging potatoes for the last few weeks but it’s approaching the time of year when we’ll have to start thinking about lifting and storing any surplus potatoes.

It doesn’t harm the potato crop to leave them in the ground, and it means you don’t have to worry about finding space to store them. Also I find if you bag your potatoes too soon they are more prone to rot off in the bag.

I leave my potato crop in the ground until the first frost, after which I’ll dig them up, remove the stalks and leave the crop sitting on the top of the soil for a couple of days to dry before storing.

To store my potato crop I use empty 56kg chicken feed bags which are made from layered paper. The paper stops the potatoes from sweating and rotting in the bag. To be honest they tend to get eaten before they have a chance to go bad anyway. 🙂

Sort any green or bad potatoes out before storing or they will turn the rest of your crop. Also never store potatoes near or close to stored fruit if possible as the fruit gives off a chemical that causes the potato crop to sprout.

Final tip, store your potatoes in a cool dry spot like an out house or shed, or if you’re really lucky a cool aerated pantry.

I’ve had a pretty good crop this year despite all the hot weather we’ve been having. I grew Charlotte and Desiree and both have produced a nice clean potato pretty much free from blight.

I really got hit with blight last year and so this year I grew my crop in a completely different location and well away from my tomatoes, which is another tip if you want to avoid blight.

Hope you managed to find room for a few potatoes this year!

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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How To Cook And Grow Squash

I decided to grow a few unusual looking vegetables this year as I’ve always been fairly safe when it comes to growing my vegetables. I tend to stick with the usual suspects …carrots, beetroot, a few second early potatoes, dwarf beans, broad beans. But this year I thought I’d be a bit more adventurous and grow a few Squash plants or Gourds and find a delicious recipe to that will make the most of the delicate flavours.

If you’d like to skip the growing part there is my simple recipe for cooking Squash at the foot of this post.

It started back in February when I was at the local garden centre and I spotted a packet of seed with the most gorgeous looking rich yellow vegetable with the most beautiful striped markings on the outside.  The fruits looked like a small pumpkin, but on closer inspection we’re in fact gourds, which I now know are part of the same family of plants called ‘Cucurbita’.

I’d read about how easy they were to grow so I thought I’d give them a go … and having just eaten my first harvest I can tell you they taste wonderful!

Growing Squashes.
Like most vegetables if you want the best results it starts right back at the beginning with healthy young plants.

You can buy your plants from the garden centre but you’ll have to search quite far as they are not the most popular vegetables.

I prefer to grow mine from seed in 3 inch pots two to a pot in a good compost mix at the end of March. You could use seed compost but I believe gourds, pumpkins, courgettes and marrows don’t like to be transplanted too many times, so best start with a regular potting compost mix.

Plant the seeds about an inch deep and give them a good water. Put them on a bench in a heated greenhouse, or on a windowsill and wait for them to germinate. Shouldn’t take long … I seem to remember mine were through in about a week.

A gardener friend of mine covers her pots with a clear plastics bag, but I prefer not to use plastic if possible, but it will bring them on quicker.

If your lucky and both seeds germinate remove the weaker of the two as early as possible so as not to disturb the roots to much. Make sure the plants don’t dry out in the pots, but try not to over water or the delicate stems can rot off and you’ll find one morning your gourd plants have keeled over!

When all fear of frost has past prepare a hole about 2ft x 2ft x 1ft deep with a mix of well rotted compost and top soil. I try to prepare my planting holes a couple of weeks before planting out to allow the compost and soil to settle. Not sure if it makes any difference to be honest but it works for me.

Spacing?
I plant my courgettes and gourds 2-3 feet apart as they eventually grow into sizeable plants, as you can see from the photos. You can’t believe they will grow so big when they are in the 3 inch pots, but grow they will so best give them plenty of room.

How To Cook And Grow SquashI didn’t give the plants any special treatment other than I make sure they never dry out and keep the surrounding area as weed free as possible.  I allow 2-3 fruits to grow on a single stem and cut the rest of the stem away after the next park of leaves.

As soon as the fruits started to set I fed them once every other week with my own organic  feed, which is a combination of nettles and comfrey. The nettles are high in nitrogen which I feed for good plant development,  and the comfrey for potash which is great for swelling the fruits.

It’s mid August now and we’ve just eaten our first gourd and I must say it was absolutely gorgeous. The flesh was a gorgeous orangey yellow colour and really tender with just a hint of sweetness.

Simple recipe for cooking your Squash.

1. Cut your gourd as late as you can prior to cooking to help preserve any natural occuring sugars. Ideal size for a gourd is about six inches across the top. Any larger and they’ll need more cooking and can be tough.
2. Give it a good wash under the cold tap to remove any nasty bugs and leave to dry.
3. Take your gourd and cut it into nice even size chunky wedges.

How To Cook And Grow Squash

3. Take a baking a tray and line the bottom with a sheet of tin foil.
4. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a little rape seed oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

How To Cook And Grow Squash
5. Add a small sprig of thyme and rosemary from your herb garden, but be careful as they are both powerful herbs and you don’t want to drown to the delicate flavour of the flesh.
6. I also add a small garlic clove and a sprinkling of smoked paprika as I really love the flavours.
7. Mix the ingredients together making sure the gourd wedges are well coated in the herbs and seasoning and place in a warm oven (180c) and roast for 45-50 minutes until the flesh is nice and tender.

How To Cook And Grow Squash
8. When cooked remove from the oven, scrape the flesh from the wedges and serve with roast chicken, or as I did as and accompaniment to a salad.

Just superb!

The gourd in the pictures fed four people quite easily and with lots more to come we can look forward to many more meals. Not bad for a £1.98 packet of seeds … Frugal gardening indeed!

I’ll definitely be growing a few more Gourds next season … How about you?

Best wishes,

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