Thursday, 28 April 2011

Chive talkin'

According to the River Cottage handbook on growing veg (my current garden bible) you can eat flowers.

Is there no end to their potential? Not only do some fill the garden air with their evening scent, others blind you with their beauty (except the common Pansy. Bad name, bad look), and the best bring in the bees to get your garden fruity,  you can now have them as a delicacy.

Great news, so along with my already established chives I'm looking forward to adding borage flowers to Pimms and filling my courgette flowers with whatever Jamie Oliver tells me to.

With my chives blooming, I now have the chance to venture into this new culinary world.

Chive flower, recently opened, soon to be toast

Except, well do I just shove the thing in whole? Do i need to fry it, chop it, roast it? And what if there's a rogue earwig in there?

And what does it go with? Chips?

Will I be conned, like I was when I believed people that said swiss chard tastes divine (it really doesn't).

I know how this will go. I'll take a tiny nibble, rapidly test its flavour on the edge of my tongue, pull a face like a disgusted five year old, spit it out and proclaim a dislike on these pages. Until someone reveals just how I'm meant to eat them.

Answers on a comment please


If you ever wondered who has picked up the baton to promote the humble carrot, well wonder no more. Step forward 'British Carrots'. And really, I can only admire their bravery. Because if my experience so far is anything to go by, then I'd quite happily see out my remaining years without so much as another crunch.

I sowed two rows of carrot seeds back in March. I even used string and a ruler to mark out the distances. I'd warmed the soil for weeks beforehand, made sure the soil was fine rather than clumpy. I used fleece to keep them protected. I put slug protection in place too. I got one seedling. So not only did I make the bed, I switched on the electric blanket before and tucked them in every night, and stayed up all night in case of burglars. And what thanks? Parents of adolescents, you have my sympathy.

Maybe it was too cold, too early in the year? Or perhaps the slugs were cunning and snuck up underneath? ( I learnt about that particular tactic from Emma and Gillian - thanks guys )

But my real beef comes with the end product. I love carrot sticks. Dunked in humous they are a nutrition junkie's dream. Except, have you ever tried to cut a carrot into sticks? Sweet Bugs Bunny they're a nightmare! Pieces of orange fly through the air, they don't cut cleanly and each stick ends up completely mishapen. For any sort of result you need to have knives infinitely sharper than a David Cameron put down.

So I face the conundrum of many a novice veg gardener. Which crops are truly worth the effort? Carrots are on my blacklist I'm afraid. I may not touch a bag of salad leaves, but pre-cut carrots are now first in the shopping basket with not a hint of shame.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Easy as 1,2, Pea

Oh god that was a bad title. Sorry.

Purely for this post I've just spent a few minutes potting up some peas and taking pics. In fact, the post has taken longer than the potting.

People that know me are aware of my 'issues' with peas. I have similar problems allowing mushrooms, raw tomatoes and sweetcorn anywhere near my mouth. But last year I was bold and grew some peas with the intention of eating them. 

So in 7 photos you'll be witnessing what I failed to appreciate in 3 decades of my life and the journey I've just been on (surely a cue for Christina Aguilera in the background?). So it's not only fun. It's therapy.

Get out your compost
Peat free and formulated
for seed germination.

Get out your pots and seeds

Glove not necessary, unless
you fear compost

Fill the pots with compost most of the way and make a thumb print for the seed. Drop in a pea. Take a photo.

Cover with a bit more compost, water and place in the sun, in grow house or on a window sill. In April, I think it's best if they have some protection from the elements in case of late frost/cold nights

After 2 and a half weeks

Planted 8 April in growhouse

After 7 and a half weeks

Planted 11 March.
The plants send out tough little string type things
that grip as tight as a toddler holding your little finger
on whatever is nearby. I used canes to help them out.

The green nuggets that await

Last year's chicharitos

I gave peas a cha...
no, sorry that's too corny

Technical problems

This blog is as fragile as an emerging seedling just as the rain has stopped and the slugs have woken.

I've lost my page on getting started and it won't allow me to create a new one. If this continues I may try and set up a blog elsewhere but in the meantime here's a summary of a beginner's guide to beginning:

I strongly believe that anyone can grow something, you just need the reason or motivation. Or be strong-armed into the deep end and left to swim.

For those in the final category, as I was, here are some armbands!

What you need

1.             Soil
2.             Water
3.             Sun
4.             Seed

This year's broad beans - March
Other things that help:

          Commitment (once you get your first seedling, you'll feel guilty unless you care for it)
          Energy (Plants don't grow themselves. Well, they do, but it takes your energy to give them the best chance of producing some tasty stuff)
          Emotional backbone (No point getting all upset when the slug beats you to your courgettes)
          Friends (The type that will happily listen to you drone on about soil pH and crop rotation because they want your broad beans, or even better the type that will donate seeds and plants)
          No friends (Friends have a habit of inviting you places when you should be gardening)

 I'll follow this up with some more pics to demonstrate how easy potting can be.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Salad leaves - rabbit food?

When was the last time you ate a salad leaf and concentrated on the taste?

Granted, there are finer things to chew over but at the cost of up to £2 a bag, I'd expect every damn leaf in that bag to make my taste buds crack open the beer and celebrate.

To be honest, most salad leaves taste a bit crap on their own. They need friends. A slick bit of oil, a sharp flavour or two and then they may take their place at the table. Except rocket. The daddy of salad leaves which can turn up to dinner naked and wow the crowd.

If you don't grow anything, then do your bit to end the scandal that is rip off salad bags and start with a packet of rocket seeds and a container of compost. Even a small one should work I reckon.

Salad leaves after a few weeks
The thing I realised, in one of those light bulb moments staring at the seed packets in the garden centre, is that you can start to create your own salads leaf by leaf (yes, this might appear even more pointless than spending more than 2 seconds chewing but bear with me).

Never again do you have to pick out the watercress from your watercress, spinach and rocket bag. Or the herbs from herb salad pack you picked up by accident because someone else left it in the wrong place.

I've planted rhubarb chard and rocket, and last year had mustard leaf. I've got a mixed salad container which gives me the bulk - the throne for the rocket if you like. I have some beetroot in the ground, and the leaves are apparently also tasty. I even have pea shoots, although I'm actually after the peas. But you can actually buy the shoots! I mean, that's not even the whole plant. The veg equivalent of buying a decent semi sticking in an extra door and bathroom and selling it off as two exclusive studio flats for twice the price.

I'm going to try rocket in a small pot indoors to see if it works, and I'll post the results on here in a month or so.

Aphids strike but there's more...

Last year aphids ran amok on my broad beans. Their predators couldn't keep up and in the end I lost a batch of beans to them.

This year I'm being vigilant and this morning, there they were! I'd read that they love the tips which should be pinched out upon their appearance.

To pinch the tops out, just take a thumb and forefinger, squish and pull. At least that was my method.

You're left with an earthy green fragrance on your fingers that makes up for the sense of destruction unleashed on a delicate plant (I have no sympathy for the aphids). Pinching out tips also allows the plant to concentrate its energy on growing the beans so if you're the type to get all emotional about plants (i regularly slap myself around the chops to get a grip), no need worry in this case.

Being new to the demands of this blog, I forgot to take a picture before releasing my aphid rage. My garden has a small standalone, sun-drenched veg patch where most of my broad beans are, but I also planted some out in the main long bed which runs for about 7 metres. My rule of thumb is to try and experiment to see what works where and then try and figure out why. I could just listen to experts but I have a stubborn streak...

So I went over to see if the aphids had struck in the long bed too. Immediately it looked like they had (where do they come from?), but when I took pictures and looked more closely I wasn't so sure:

Look closely and you'll see insects - a light green one on the main leaf and a small dark green one on the base of the leaf on the left. Are they good or bad? The light green one looks particularly dodgy

Close up these appear to be black spots - unless aphids are cunningly designed to appear like spots until I walk away and then they party again? A bit of googling and I'm none the wiser. Most of the leaves are fine except the top lot. The presence of predators indicates that aphids are getting frisky on my beans so I remain confused and to the expert probably appear a bit thick. 

For now I'll keep pinching the tops out and keeping an eye on my prizes but feel free to tell me the obvious answer

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Are moths good?

I found this little critter amongst my herb planter today.

Now this is where wildlife gets confusing. Will the larvae eat my salad, or will the adult eat the other creatures that eat my salad?

I'm a planner by trade and I now wonder whether the trend for building flats in cities is going to have unintended consequences spawning ignorant masses with little understanding of nature. Because for all I know this eye-catching winged wonder could be a poisonous super moth from southern Spain or somewhere equally hot where other extreme pests used to reside but because of global warming and lax immigration rules are now plying their venomous trade in back gardens across the land. So I need help, and not from the Daily Mail. Is this moth to be welcomed? Or not to be trusted? Indeed, is it actually a butterfly?

What a difference a growhouse makes

Ok, I have said that all you need is soil, water, sun and seed (So you want to grow veg). But IF you have that character trait known as impatience - or as I like to blame, the 'i want it now' gene then wow does a bit of artificial help do wonders.

My garden's too small for a green house, and a cold frame is too small for my ambitions, so I invested a few weeks back in one of those cheap looking plastic, self assembly growhouses.

Oh Ikea, look what you've spawned, all is forgiven. Below is the difference between runner beans grown outside (foreground) and in the growhouse (background), both planted on 8 April:

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Angry. Birds

It's me that's angry.

I've seen the headlines, read the books, listened to Monty and friends and thought - a bird table, what better way to encourage wildlife in and help the old sparrow survive in these troubled times. And as a bonus they can deal with my snail problem. To be honest it's more than a problem (b*******) but that's for a later post.

So, save the planet, save my crops.

Except I never realised how hungry birds could be, a whole feast of nuts has been devoured every day!

At first I thought I was single handedly reviving Bristol's feathered population, but this morning I found a shameless crow gorging on my generous offerings.

A bloody crow! Not even good to look at, let alone useful in any way. Do they even touch snails?

So as the country suns itself in the easter heat wave, I'm here itching for a showdown with the crow. I can see why gardeners need to get out more...

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.