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.