Sunday, 1 November 2009

Transplanting leeks

Well the veg patch has finally been flattened. Work is slowly progressing on the garden and most of the plants have been moved to their new home. The final project will be to create a new set of raised beds in the end third of the garden. The dimensions of the new area will be about 20ft x 30ft, in what is currently the lawn. Although today was rainy and very windy, it was my only opportunity to save what veg I could, so I braved the wind and mud to keep my 14 biggest leeks.

I prepared the new area by removing all weeds, and digging in some compost. Although I wanted to keep all the leeks, I have finally started to get my head around the idea that plants don't do well when they're overcrowded. So I got the biggest plants, spaced them about 6in apart and watered them thoroughly. I'm really pleased that I've managed to save so many leeks. My absolute favourite winter meal is leek and potato soup and it'll be great for it to be home grown as well as home made.

What to do with butternut squash?

Loosely connected to Halloween, I am stuck for ideas on what to do with the only butternut squash growing in the veg patch. On Saturday Kitchen yesterday I watched a clip where they recommended seasoning the squash and sticking it in the microwave for 5 minutes. This is an appealing idea as it's so convenient and is probably the healthiest ready meal you could get. However, I just can't bring myself to nuke it when there are so many delicious recipes out there.

The clip also inspired me to explore more of the many varieties of pumpkin and squash there are out there. In particular I'm looking forward to trying the red onion and blue hubbard varieties. is a really useful site that gives details on some of the most popular winter squash varieties.

The aftermath of Halloween

Yesterday I got into the spirit of Halloween at the very last minute. I bought the last pumpkin in the market and did a very bad job of carving. I'm now left with all the pulp and seeds from the inside and I can't bring myself to just throw them in the compost bin. Instead I've decided to keep a few of the seeds and have a go at growing my own pumpkins next year.

For me, the carving was a resounding success as I managed to get away without any accidents with the knife. However, it was quite embarrassing when I saw the fantastic creations of my neighbours. So, determined not to be outdone two years in a row, I have already started researching templates for next year's effort. I have been particularly inspired by the Pumpkin Lady's fantastic designs. My favourite is the bewitching witch, but perhaps that might be a bit ambitious. Still, I do have 12 months to practice...

Some very late tomatoes

A few months ago I managed to get hold of some free packets of seeds from the BBC's Dig In campaign. I got them a couple of months too late to plant the tomatoes, but I gave them a go anyway and have been amazed at how well they've turned out. We're into November now, and they're still going strong.

Although I don't eat tomatoes myself, I gave a couple to my mum and she assures me that they are delicious and very sweet. I had hoped to preserve them and make ketchup, but since work is taking me away from home for a month I have had to concentrate on preparing the garden for screen number 2 and my tomatoes are sadly going to pay the price. Much as it pains me to pull up all that fruit before it's ripe, I am looking forward to next year's crop. This year's success has been really encouraging and I will definitely make space in the veg patch for next summer.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The veg patch is saved - for now...

As part of the garden redesign, I spent Saturday helping (oh, alright - watching) my Dad put up a rather large screen. The new design is intended to break the garden up into sections, starting with a patio and large planting area, then a square lawn, then a veg patch at the end. This is going to consist of 4 raised beds, making the veg patch 4 times bigger than it currently is. Unfortunately, one of the two screens that will divide these areas is going to be situated right in the middle of where my veg patch is right now.

So, when Dad asked if he'd like all four posts put up together, or one whole screen put up that day, I immediately opted to concentrate all efforts on the first screen, far away from my precious sweetcorn, which are getting ripe at last. I shared one with my sister on Saturday night and it was delicious - much sweeter than those you normally get in the supermarket.

This weekend I'm looking forward to harvesting the remaining plants and making a large batch of chicken and sweetcorn soup. Unfortunately I don't think the leeks are going to be big enough to be harvested before the second screen has to go up. I'm going to try to save them by transplanting them to an area of the garden that won't get touched for a few months. While the future of the garden is looking good, I think I have to face facts that the days of my little raised bed are numbered...

Friday, 18 September 2009

Sweetcorn: How can you tell they're ripe?

As mentioned in my previous post, I took a fairly heavy handed approach to checking my sweetcorn and just pulled one of the cobs off the stalk. Having researched this further, I found a useful article at This article gives some useful tips on when your sweetcorn should be ripe. Apparently, the silk coming out the top should be brown. A few days after this happens, the sweetcorn should be ripe. Other indicators are plump kernels that give out a translucent milky fluid when pressed. If it's thick and white, it's overripe.

All well and good, but surely that means pulling off the cob? Apparently not. What you can do is just pull some of the husk away and carry out your tests. If you find the corn is not yet ripe, you can simply put everything back where it was and secure it with a rubber band.

As you may be able to tell by the lack of photos in these recent posts, I'm on the road with limited internet access, so I haven't been near my veg patch all week (sob!). However, I'll be back tomorrow morning - wellies on, fork in hand, so I will report back with my findings as soon as I get back to my glorious mud.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The first signs of Autumn

For the past couple of weeks I have noticed the trees changing colour whilst I've been out and about. But I can now officially announce the arrival of Autumn, because I've made an apple pie with fruit from the garden! Ever since I was little, I've associated Autumn with apple pies and crumbles made by my Grandma. This year has been extra special for me as it's the first time I've made a pie myself. I did attempt pastry once, but it was such a disaster that I've been too scared to attempt it, until I felt I had to give it one more go, for the sake of my apples.

The recipe I used was from The Ultimate Recipe Book by Angela Nielsen. The pastry recipe was strange to me as I always remember watching my Grandma rubbing in lard, butter and flour and it all getting a bit too messy (mainly due to my over-enthusastic "helping"). This recipe is more like a cake in that there's no rubbing in. Instead, you cream butter and sugar, add a whole egg and an egg yolk, then mix in flour until you get a dough.

This strange process actually worked a treat, and the pie was delicious. The recipe called for Bramley apples and unfortunately I have no idea what mine are as the tree was there when I moved in. Still, they tasted lovely and I'm looking forward to making another one next weekend.

In veg patch news, my sweetcorn plants are looking truly majestic and I've got about 15 cobs in total. Unfortunately, I have no idea what they look like when they're ripe. I pulled one off the plant and opened it up a couple of weeks ago, but it was nowhere near ready. Rather than try this ham-fisted technique again, I'm going to look online to see if I can get some advice. As soon as they're ripe, I'll report back, hopefully with a bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup...

Sunday, 13 September 2009


As briefly mentioned in my last post, I have a habit of planting my seedlings in one go, without giving any thought to how big they will eventually get. This turned out to be a particularly large problem with my cabbages. Basically, the people to cabbage ratio was heavily against the humans. Despite our best efforts to give them away and eat cabbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we still ended up with far too many than we could deal with. The solution was a well spent morning in my kitchen batch-blanching the remaining veg.

Since I have never blanched anything in my life I thought I would go through the basics of what I did. If you've never done it before, I hope I can help. If there are any blanching experts out there, please feel free to comment on where I can improve!

To start I halved my cabbages and soaked them in salty water to get rid of any beasties that were still lurking (note to self - get nets to deter caterpillars next year!). Then I finely shredded the halves. My understanding of blanching is that you have to get the veg hot really quickly and then cool it quickly after about a minute.

The way I did this was to plunge the halves into boiling water and boil them for 2 minutes. I took them off the boil and straight into cold water. Since I had 10 halves, I then went onto boiling my second one. When that needed to go into the cold water I shifted the first half into ice water before boiling the third half. I continued in this way, shifting each half along the stage until I had a huge pile of blanched cabbage draining on some kitchen roll. Once the cabbage was dry, I then divided it into sandwich bags and popped them in the freezer.

Some of the tutorials will advise keeping the freezer as full as possible to prevent it warming up. One article I read even advised filling your freezer with bread when it started to get empty. We've got quite a small freezer anyway, so I didn't really bother with this bit too much.

One thing I will add to the blanching process - if you've got a lot of batches, you will need to refresh the water frequently as it will quickly warm up. Also, be prepared to live with your house smelling like cabbage for the rest of the day!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

My friendly visitor

While digging up my cabbages a couple of weeks ago, I unearthed a very welcome guest to the veg patch. Meet my little friend Toadie! He's currently living in a pile of turf that has been dug up to expand the patch. The eventual plan will be to convert an old tree trunk into a more permanent home for him.

The veg patch is now bursting at the seams and my next project is to work out the "footprint" of each veg. Hopefully this will help me be a bit more organised with my planting next year. In particular, the butternut squash are creeping over the sides of my raised bed. A big lesson learned is to plan ahead for when the plants are fully grown, as opposed to cramming in as many seedlings as possible.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Minimum Preparation - Maximum Results

In keeping with my mantra of "very little effort, money or skill", I can honestly say I've done nothing to prepare my soil. I know the books tell you to get your soil pH levels tested, mix certain ratios of poop to mud to get the best soil, and rotate your crops so all the nutrients aren't sucked out.

While I'm sure that all of these things make for a far better crop than mine, I'm only feeding 2 people and I want to spend as much time relaxing in my garden as I can. And faffing about with test tubes isn't my idea of a good time.

So I decided to take the lazy route. My theory is that if it's meant to be, it will be. If I plant a seed and it does well, then great. If it doesn't, then it's not suited to my garden for whatever reason and I should try something else. That way, I won't be wasting a load of time, effort or money on improving my soil for the sake of some cucumbers.

Using this theory I've grown 15 different types of veg in 3 years, and learnt a new lesson at each step of the way:

Potatoes - do too well, they need to be kept in a pot
Tomatoes - do better in the mud than in the growbag and much less watering required
Spring Onions - always seem to come back to life no matter how much they dry out
Radishes - grow from seeds sown straight into the ground but slugs love them
Cabbages - they get a lot bigger than you'd think, plant them far apart
Beetroot - so easy to grow, they survived under my cabbages with virtually no sunlight
Sweetcorn - take up a lot less space than you'd imagine
Squash - really fast growing
Lollo Rosso Lettuce - much hardier than I expected
Spinach - needs picking regularly, you'd only need one plant to feed two people all summer
Leeks - another vegetable that seems to need no water
Celery - just plant them through some black fabric and leave them to it
Carrots - sow the seeds in a pot, not directly in the ground

The only true failures I've had so far are peas and purple sprouting broccoli. I tried the peas twice with bad results both times. I'm going to give them one last chance, by growing them in a big pot. If I don't get any luck there, then I'll admit defeat. The broccoli was a heartbreaking disaster. Having just two plants survive my premature planting out was bad enough, but returning from holiday to find them utterly decimated by caterpillars was too much. Next year not only will I be more gentle with the planting out, I'll also be sure to keep them under a net.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The story so far

The veg patch was born in the spring of 2007, when a bare area of mud became the future site of my foray into self-sufficiency. I bought a bag of potatoes (Desiree, I think) and stuck them all in the ground. Next thing I knew, little tufts of green were poking their way through the mud and I was hooked. Over the next few weeks, I bought a load of seeds - onions, radishes, spring onions and carrots and learnt 2 key lessons.

Firstly, it really is best to sow successively. We ended up with 3 carrier bags full of spring onions that appeared in every meal for 2 weeks. I find it very difficult to sow my seeds and then pull half of them up when they've barely begun to grow. I get so emotionally involved with the little guys that even the thought of it makes me upset. I learnt to get round this problem by sowing just a few seeds every week or so and planting them a good distance apart - no ruthless thinning out required.

The other mistake I made (that I am still paying for now), is that potatoes are best grown in a pot. I can't believe that over 2 years after planting the things, they are still popping up now. Don't get me wrong, they're a damn sight better than dandelions in my rose garden, but the novelty is starting to wear off. If you're planning on growing potatoes in the future, please keep them in a pot. The added benefit of this is that it is so easy to keep adding compost as they grow and you end up with a huge amount of potatoes for such a small place. Just make space in the freezer for a load of shepherd's pie!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

My vegetable patch journal

Welcome all, to the Vegetable Patch Journal. This blog is designed to share my experiences as I try my hand at "the good life". I bought my house in 2007 and have had some successes (and many failures) in growing my own food. With the help of some family members I have some grand designs for the garden this year, the most ambitious being increasing the size of my vegetable patch fourfold. Work on the garden is due to start over the coming weeks so keep checking back as we (hopefully) progress.