30 September, 2010

Rainbow of tomatoes

It was freezing this morning when I went out to have a little nosy in the garden. Winter's definitely on its way. The new raised bed seems to be working well as the herbs are bathing in the morning sun and it's easier for me to spot the slugs. I read recently that coffee grounds might repel slugs, so I'll give that a go, but for now I'll stick to cutting them in half. Disgusting yes, but effective.

I decided to bring the big tomatoes in. They're still all green, but I think I'd rather try ripening them indoors than let them rot on the vine (I spotted a dodgy one maybe a week ago and have been diligently checking the rest for signs of the dreaded blight). I left the cherry toms in the smallest greenhouse as they seem to be doing fine and up until now I've been getting at least a handful of toms daily.

I think I'd rather stay in with a cup of hot tea, admiring my lovely rainbow of tomatoes ripening on the sunny windowsill.

29 September, 2010

Garden plans

In my first veg growing year I had three small lean-to greenhouses and the smallest raised bed imaginable. It quickly dawned on me that I couldn't grow much in a small space like that, so in my second year the raised bed had stretched to new dimensions (and is now occupied by ten asparagus crowns to be harvested in years to come), and was quickly followed by two others.

In addition to the asparagus bed, I had a bed with a clear cut section devoted for my beloved herbs, followed by strict lines of different types of salad leaves, spinach, rocket, radishes, spring onions and useless carrots that never germinated. The third bed was taken over by two rhubarb crowns, some flowers and a pumpkin plant that got eaten by slugs.

We got a decent crop, but I wasn't happy with the lack of sun on the shady second bed. I realised that the smart (although laborious) thing to do would be to move the second bed to give the chickens a bit of shade and shelter by the hedge and then try to find a sunnier position for the veg.  Admittedly the ever shrinking lawn had to take another hit, but at least the veg and the chooks will be happy.

Currently I'm reading The Edible Garden and making plans for my third year. I think I want to jazz up the raised beds a bit for next spring and make them look a bit nicer, chickens permitting. I've got a feeling I will be forced to invest in some netting.

A taste of what's to come

We ventured out into the country last weekend and found a lovely little farm shop selling some proper free range eggs. We could see the hens happily scratching away on this big field and came home with dozen eggs. The colour of the yolk was an amazing yellow and it tasted fab. Can't wait for our own eggs now.

Talking about chickens and eggs... We lugged huge amounts of compost from one raised bed to another to make room for the coop, just in case the chooks decide to arrive soon. I also might have placed an order for some layers pellets, mixed corn and other little bits and bobs.


24 September, 2010

Simple supper #1

Not quite Nigel Slater, but you can't deny it's simple. I've made this time and time again, this year for the first time with home-grown tomatoes.

Tomato feta pasta

olive oil for frying
cherry tomatoes
feta cheese
pasta (any shape will do)
black pepper
fresh basil
optional: parmesan and/or pine nuts

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Sweat the onions, add halved cherry tomatoes and fry until slightly softened. Add cubed feta cheese and let it warm on the pan.  Pour the drained pasta in with the tomatoes, season with black pepper and basil. If you wish, you can sprinkle some pine nuts and/or grate some parmesan on top. Dangerously moreish!

The right time?

Image from http://www.freephoto.com/

It occurred to me that it is getting quite late in the year to be getting point of lay (meaning they're getting close to laying their first egg) hens as the winter is approaching. Pure breed chooks especially aren't that fond of the cold weather and it will most definitely effect their egg laying. I might be alright with some hybrids though, because they should lay in the winter and therefore might start laying a bit sooner. Still, because of the bad timing I might be waiting for that first precious egg until Christmas time or even longer.

If I was being Little Miss Sensible, I would wait until the weather starts warming up next spring and get the chooks then. Unfortunately patience has never been my stronger points. I promise to try really hard, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days not too far in the future I came home with a suspicious pet carrier and sounds of gentle bokking.

(Oh and I'm leaning towards getting a Bluebell and a Speckledy, the first two chickens I fell in love with!)

23 September, 2010

Choosing chooks

Images from http://www.omlet.co.uk/
Got the coop, what next? There are lots of different breeds of chickens to choose from and frankly, the more I read the more confused I get. There are so many things to consider. There's the bird's appearance, friendliness, hardiness, egg production, egg colour, flightiness, broodiness... My head is spinning.

If I understand this correctly, the hybrids (the mutts of the chicken world) are very reliable layers, they lay most eggs the first year and then the egg production starts to diminish. So far, I've taken a liking to Black Rock, Bluebell and Speckledy. The pure breeds may not lay as frequently, but will usually lay for longer and perhaps more consistently. Pure breed hens that have caught my eye are Cream Legbar, Rhode Island Red and Welsummer.

I'm guessing the best thing to do would be to keep a mixed flock, a little bit of everything, but how will I manage that when I've only got space for two? I think I'll just ignore everything I've read, go see the hens and pick the ones that I like.

22 September, 2010

Why chickens?

Image from http://www.bbc.co.uk/

I suppose it started with watching the Edible Garden and falling in love with Alice and Gertrude... Now, for the past few months I've been reading about all things chickeny and browsing chicken houses, before finally stumbling across the ultimate chicken coop (and run) for a small urban garden, the eglu. It keeps the hens safely in and the foxes out, is very easy to clean (with plastic you don't need to worry about the dreaded red mite) and it looks lovely. The problem is that these beauties won't come cheap. After what has felt like an eternity, I'm happy to announce that I'm finally the proud owner of a second-hand eglu!

Image from http://www.omlet.co.uk/

It's all really happening now and it got me thinking, why do I (or anyone) would want to keep chickens? Well, here's how I see it. You'll have lovely pets that will gladly eat the slugs pestering your lettuce and the bits of veg that would otherwise end up in the compost bin. They will produce fertiliser for your veggies and you can use their dirty bedding to speed up your compost. They will keep you company when you're weeding in the hope of finding a juicy worm. And after all that help they still thank you for caring for them with an egg! Where could you find a better pet?

I've told all of this to Hubby, without going into finer detail about chickens wrecking the garden and eating all the veg. I guess he'll find out about that bit soon enough.

19 September, 2010

Rain, rain, go away!

I've been meaning to try some chilli recipes from Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook and as it's been raining non-stop today, why not crack on!

Chilli jam

500g very ripe tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 large red chillies (I took the seeds out as I don't like it too hot)
6-7 cm piece of ginger root, sliced (I keep mine in the freezer so that I always have some, no chance of slicing the frozen little bugger so I grated it instead)
300g sugar
2 tbsp thai fish sauce
100 ml red wine vinegar

Basically, you just blitz half the toms with garlic, chillies and ginger, pour the lot in a saucepan, add sugar, vinegar and fish sauce, dice the rest of the toms and add to the pan. Simmer for 30-40 mins until sticky and pour into sterilised jars while still warm. The jam stores for about 3 months.

It tastes a bit like shop-bought Sweet Chilli Sauce, just heaps better (and minus the salt we're trying to avoid). Even with the amount of sugar this has got to be a better option containing lots of juicy toms instead of water and preservatives.

16 September, 2010


My friend gave me this recipe and I had to try it straight away. It's absolutely gorgeous and it makes the whole house smell lovely when it's bubbling away on the cooker.

Apple jam

1 kg apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 vanilla pod split into halves
4 tbsp calvados
2 tbsp water
4 dl jam sugar (or a bit less, I found the jam a bit too sweet)

Put all the ingredients into a pan and boil 10 mins (or until the apples go soft). Pour the jam into sterilised jars and let them cool down in room temperature. Store in the fridge (or freezer if you haven't got the space in the fridge).

Easy peasy!


I tried growing tomatoes (Gardener's Delight if my memory serves me right) in pots and hanging baskets last year with some success, this year I wanted to try some different varieties. I ordered Ferline F1 and Tumbling Tom Red seeds and you can see the results above: my first 'big' tomatoes and masses of lovely cherry toms. I got some free Costoluto Fiorentino seeds with my order and I'm looking forward to tasting those wrinkly, funny looking toms if they ever ripen.

I love tomatoes, especially this one with a big red nose!

10 September, 2010

Cake, glorious cake!

We've eaten our strawberries ages ago, but there's only one way to celebrate birthdays in this house and it is by baking a strawberry cake. My mother always used to make me one for my birthday and I want to carry on the tradition. Here's the recipe.

Strawberry cake

4 eggs
1,5 dl sugar
1 dl flour
1 dl potato flour (starch)
1 tsp baking powder
a little bit of milk or juice from a canned fruit tin
whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Grease the bottom and sides of the cake tin with butter.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Carefully fold in the dry ingredients. Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 30 mins.

Whip the cream, add some sugar, crush the strawberries and mix them all together. Once the cake has cooled down cut it into 3 layers. Spoon some milk or fruit juice over the first layer to moisten the cake and top with strawberries and cream. Repeat with the second layer. Lift the third layer on top, spoon some milk/fruit juice over and cover with cling film. Put a weight, such as a cutting board on top and leave in the fridge for 2 hours.

Whip some more cream and add some sugar. Use a knife to spread the cream on top and on the sides of the cake. Decorate with strawberries. Enjoy a big slice with a cup of strong coffee. Delish!

Happy Birthday Dearest!