Wednesday, 29 June 2011

I hope you're not squeamish...

Earlier this year I managed to repel an early aphid invasion on my broad beans.

Since then my beans have been aphid - free and have been slightly smug. Why not, it's always good when you get one over a creature the size of grit.

I don't know if aphids have a season, or how they actually travel. Do they fly? How do they just appear and then multiply? And where does the first one come from?

Much is written about companion planting. My approach has tended to be read it, forget about it, read again, buy the seeds, forget about it, plant it in the wrong place. But this year, by happy accident rather than design, I planted borage in a container next to the broad beans. I have more to write about borage, but just to say that there has been a second wave of aphids this year and thankfully, they've decided to go for the borage rather than the beans.

And so have the feasting ants. Yum:

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Peek - a - boo. A couple of days ago, one of my courgette flowers opened:

It had been hiding as they do, sheltered by a sturdy green canopy. They know their worth, an ever popular and increasingly sought after delicacy.  Stuffed, they are apparently a fine diner's delicacy.

Bristol was host to a foodie festival at the weekend - where local restauranteurs demonstrate their exceptional skills while stall after stall lined up to sell over-priced 'posh' sausages. If it wasn't for the local culinary masters I would be sceptical about the worth of these festivals. But one particular gem on offer was pan-fried courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese and pine nuts (more of a mouthful than the dish).

However, in order to be stuffed it seems they need to be picked before they flourish. I could be wrong and stand to be corrected (as ever), but it does make me wonder that if, on hearing Jamie Oliver had praised their kind, evolution kicked in hard. So, in order to protect themselves from the scourge of the mini Oliver in all of us (oh dear, did I really just write that?), the flower keeps itself from sight until the point where it's too late and then melts us with it's burst of colour.

Or laughs in our face, depending on your point of view.

And a question troubling the mind of my friend with the lovely radishes is, if you pick the flower do you lose the fruit?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A pear

A reminder that although the garden's bounty has started, the best is yet to come

CSI Cymru

Someone has done a runner. Or something more like.
Yesterday I picked up this distress call:

"This is all that is left of the runner bean of joy. I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO IT. It was in a tub full of green shoots.. THEY HAVE ALL BEEN MASSACRED. I can only imagine by either a) aliens or b) someone who hates me." 

The "runner bean of joy" was no ordinary runner bean. Named with affection, it had been a birthday present to my good friend Sarah, veteran of many a festival and gig and music musing. A young seedling nurtured in Bristol, and safely carried across the border to Cardiff way back in May, it made its first public a cool bar. Yes, this bean was destined for great things handling celebrity status with assurance and charming those in its presence.  

Paul, 28, from Cardiff, and seen here bonding with the bean, was inconsolable at the news "It's not right, this can't be, he was an inspiration to me, made me appreciate there's more to this world than crazy nights out in 'Diff."

Bev, a socialite from North London remarked "Working as an influential women in the media, I often come across chancers and wanabees trying to make an impression at events, but this bean was the real deal, he could have had any girl he wanted. And even some of the boys." 

She was not wrong:

It's clear this was a professional job. Not a shred of evidence was left. Someone, or something had it in for the runner bean of joy. Someone, was jealous.

Here's a picture taken only two weeks ago showing the bean on holiday.

Sarah is devastated. Local investigators are at a loss and we're calling for anyone who may be able to help identify what happened and who might have done this? 

Runner beans don't just die.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Dirty 'dishes

I was really looking forward to coming home tonight. I was buzzing from something that happened earlier.

I'd had a great lunch with my gaggle of gardening pals from work, when at the end of the meal my friend got out her radishes. From her handbag. That she'd planted at mine as part of my potting night.

It was a class move to wow the crowd, and one that came from a deep sense of pride in these two beauties, despite being a couple of days past their freshly picked best.

Radishes can be strange, often neglected. These two came from a mixed seed packet and make strange brothers. I'm reliably told that they have a strong peppery taste that gives rocket a run for its money but works well with it too. Keep it simple.

And on the evidence of these nuggets, again from my friend, radishes are quite the varied sort:


Radishes are dirt cheap, less than a quid for a pack of seeds if you know where to look. You can sow them straight into the ground and leave them be with just regular watering. And they can be ready in a month or two. They don't take up much space. What's not to like?

Well, for some reason I couldn't seem to get them to produce. At all. Not even a hint of decent crop despite long stalks. One of the most satisfying things is pulling up a crop and hearing patter of the falling soil, the aroma released from its disturbance after weeks of peace, and the sense that this really is the freshest beast you could find.

Inspired by earlier, I ran out into the garden and pulled up, er: this:

Worse than disappointing. Humiliating. Chalked up as this year's worst failure so far... I can only hope a quick re-sow will make amends and restore my own sense of pride from this radish shame.

Another one for the pie

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Respect your elders

There is a new industry in town. Trending. On Twitter, stats are compiled, shared and even called 'news' by journalists on the words people use. But only words with a # in front of them. So anything trendy on Twitter is consciously created...

And it's just not cool to try to be cool. Genuine trends appear because they capture the imagination.

I'm not sure if the #elderflower has ever been considered trendy, but among the garden/food/drink/foraging connoisseurs it certainly appears to be cool, taking hold of culinary passions everywhere. I've found recipes popping up for  Elderflower vinegar, ice-cream, turkish delight, chocolate, buttercream, cordial of course, jam, jelly and yes, cocktails.

One particular favourite is Elderflower champagne, which just sounds right. For those who like their Britishness to be a bit more humble and respectful but still proud, it gives creative ownership within a superior foreign product.

Imagine my excitement when, by my backdoor, I spotted these:

Earlier in the year I thought I had weeds growing there. They were around the base of a tree and not causing much bother so I left them, and they duly flowered.  Whilst preparing my blog in defence of weeds, my mind jumped to photos of elderflowers on other blogs. Could it be that I have my very own supply?

As normal, I have no idea.

Is there anyone out there who can confirm whether mixing this white beauty with bubbles will poison me in a bad way, or a good way?

The champagne is on ice, awaiting an experts verdict...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sage fright

We all get man flu, even women.

On the surface it's a debilitating illness that only the care of another can cure. Whether in a house shared by randoms, or a cosy nest for two, there is always someone who steps up to the  plate. 

And by care I obviously mean unlimited sympathy for all pain (imaginary or real). provision of hot drinks, food and blankets, dispensing of pills,  assuming all responsibilities on a temporary basis and relinquishing any say over the TV. 

It's only fair. Because essentially man flu is the body's way of say 'I've had enough, I'm going to stop and you, host, are going to indulge me with your simple food, no movement and the box set of '24' until I say I'm ready to get out and do your daily chores again'

The last few days I've been knocked down by a virus. Without the luxury of man flu support I've been gingerly fetching my own drinks, blankets and soups. Responsibilities have had to be scaled back, but at least control of the TV isn't an issue.

As I popped the ibuprofen and drank my ginger tea, I recalled seeing a 'grow your own drugs' book in the high street over Christmas and thought out to my herbs. Could any of them be of use? On my windowsill I have coriander, sage and parsley on the go. So I got googling and found a garden remedies website.

And I decided to test 'Sage for Fever'

  • Boil sage leaves (aprox. 1 tablespoon sage to a cup of boiling water.)
  • Cover, and steep aprox. ten minutes.
  • Drink 1/2 cup no more than 3 times throughout the day.
  • Lemon juice and honey can be added for flavor.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid sage.

So I set about picking my leaves apprehensively.Sage is a strong bitter herb when picked fresh, tarnishing your hand with its scent. I could only imagine it's method of tackling fever is from the Jack Bauer school of pain management (stop being a wuss and take more)*.

But, if you don't go overboard on the sage it actually gives the hot drink an edge that feels healthy. And I think this is where garden herbs and indeed fresh vegetables have the psychological advantage over their processed competitors - be they drugs or food.

As I moved off the soup and on to the hard stuff, I picked fresh peas and consciously thought - this is good for me. I'm actively nursing myself better. It was empowering. I can't claim scientifically that it worked, but at the very least it hasn't harmed my recovery.

Man flu is acceptable as long as you recognise that you have to take back your responsibilities at some point. And what better way to do it than taking responsibility for your own health?

So in future, if you are nursing someone with man flu and think it's been going on a little too long, get them to pick their own herbs. And if they won't - perhaps drop a few extra sage leaves in there...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Life is like a box of chocolates...

Usually Quality Street:

Bright colours, something for everyone, attractive on paper, a sugary, nutty, fruity rush when you bite into it you but as you dwell on it you can't help wondering if it tasted better when you were a kid.

Sure it offers variety but in the passing years 'quality' and 'variety' have become so bland as to be meaningless; positive words detached from your senses but fixed in your brain. And when such words become meaningless you become a marketing guru's plaything. They can even make up associated words. Ribena is now full of 'Berryness'.

When I began growing, I just wanted to grow things like potatoes, beans, onions. That they come in varieties was lost on me at first. You rarely see varieties stocked for the discerning shopper. As far as I was aware, a cucumber is a cucumber.

Yet the garden centres are stocked with choice, and that's before you go online. I took two approaches this year. For runner beans I went on instinct, for blackcurrants I researched properly

Runner beans have striking but small colourful flowers. Last year mine were orange, this year I plumed for one red, one white.  I planted them by separate canes in a big container in the hope that they would spiral up towards each other in a burst of contrast. Today the first flowers appeared and I'm actually excited about this experiment:

When I chose my blackcurrants I made a conscious decision on which variety to choose. I read widely and from 5 varieties, plumped for Ben Hope - deemed to be an excellent grower with heavy yields.  But there was choice over the height, the taste, the amount of crop, the timing of the crop. It was actually quite empowering to choose what was right for me. And this is where varieties coax you deeper into the murky world of gardening...before you know it you'll be a veg snob.

All I'll say for now is that we'd all better keep this in check. Any garden snobs out there, take a good look at yourself. Why not try something new? Challenge yourself. Hell, why not walk into a garden centre and pick your next blackcurrant plant purely on Berryness

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

What did Usain Bolt say to the tomato?


Hapless gardener. Keepin' it fresh. 21st century.


It's well known among friends and family that I don't do raw tomatoes. Historically the conversation goes exactly like this.

[Hapless gardener takes tomatoes out of Pret sandwich]

Friend: "Do you not eat tomatoes?"

Me "No, they're the devil's food"

"What about tomato based sauces, like pasta sauces"

"Yes, I like those, it's just the raw texture and flavour of them raw"

"You must like cherry tomatoes"

"No I don't eat any raw tomatoes"

"But the taste totally different. Especially if they're fresh"

"The day I eat tomatoes is [insert appropriate unimaginable event]"

Looks like there are going to be many unimaginable events happening on a day near you soon.

I planted some seeds on 8 April and  left them in the grow house until a couple of weeks ago. At the weekend I noticed the first flowers:

Don't they look sinister?

When I planted the seeds, the reality of eating tomatoes seemed a long way off. But this was the first time I realised, I'm actually going to have to try these. Time is both speeding up and slowing down; the day is looming, approaching with quickening menace. But I now watch the plant as if in slow motion, thinking over every aspect of the main event. The pick, the smell, the placing, the bite, the wash of the juice, the moments that the flavour settles and reveals itself. Then the horrific realisation that your mouth wants it out. In fact you every sense wants it rid of. But the taste, oh it won't ever leave.

The peas i was curious about, having developed a love of beans. But this. No, there is no excitement building on this one, no nervous tension. Just dread. I repeat, food of the devil.

Now, based on my life experience to date I'm expecting a backlash on my take on this nasty beast. But thankfully I'm not alone:

(click me)

Monday, 13 June 2011

Mint imperials

Herbs are fashionable, and rightly so.

They can lift even the most basic cooking from dull to sharp quicker than you can say mint. Go on, say it.


That's quick eh?

This is the second in my series on herbs, the first taking issue with basil. I've been asked by a Twitter follower, @MissilePanda, to write more about good herbs to plant that will survive. I reckon mint is a good starter. of the first things I was told on planting mint was to put it in a container. Leave it in open soil and it will colonise.

So of course  in the open soil it went,  to see just how much it colonised. First of all it claimed the fledgling celeriac, then the young third batch of broad beans. I had to have a mint cull.

This year I clearly didn't learn my lesson. Yes, I put  them in a container, but I gave it companions. Like minded woody herbs that it would surely show some respect to?

Ah how naive, mint does nothing but dominate and subordinate:

What you can't see underneath all that mint are the rotting corpses of thyme stalks, all grey and decrepit. The mint really shows no mercy in its march to dominate its territory. Imperialism indeed.

The only way to keep mint in check is give it a container of it's own, and allow your other herbs space to breathe.  It might mean a bit of outlay on pots but you can then take time to arrange your pots in a nice way, thinking about which herbs look good together, which take pride of place.

Or develop a Mojito habit.

B&Q isn't expecting a run on containers this summer.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Broad beans are amazing

This weekend I picked my first broad beans of the year. I'd completely forgotten everything discovered last year about them, and its time to pay a quick homage to this iron rich stalwart of the bean world.

I can't hang about because I'm making broad bean risotto (thank you to Claire at Food4Two for the recipe) but just had to share the genius of the pod. Once you pick your beans - mine were about 8 inches in length (yeah baby)- prize them open. You'll be greeted by delicate jewels individually cushioned in what can only be described as candy floss.

I've never bought them from a supermarket or even greengrocers, so it would be good to know if this is standard? But as far as a design classic goes, this has to be up there with the best in terms of attention to detail. Respect to the bean.

Damn it my onions are burning

Name that Robin

An excuse to put these photos up really, but competition time. Ol' Rob here deserves a name for his bravery and I'm not sure he's a Florence (see Battle of Bristol)

"What's the craic?" 
"I think I'm being watched"

"I was right!"

"Hold on, this is my good side"

Was it all a mirage?

Of course not, little prankster

So, suggestions on the comments board/facebook/twitter please for this little gem!

The Battle of Bristol

It was an ambush. Late afternoon, stillness in the air. Last of the day's sun toasting the back of my neck as I admired a long day's toil.

Something was afoot. A rustle here, a squawk there. I wasn't sat far from the table of food. Then, like a scene from Black Hawk Down, the raid began.

I don't know if you've ever stood in a confined space next to half a kilo of killer pigeon but it's enough to put the wind up the most scarred SAS soldier I can tell you. They move the air with the same power and sound as I imagine an apache helicopter to. Deep, meaty beats that sent the branches of the buddleia haywire. Three of them, well all you can do is dive for cover.

Disturbed by my startled movements they retreated, only to take up posts along the walls and the roofs. After a stand off, peppered with near-kamakaze efforts to nab the nuts and seeds, it all boiled down to a well executed pincer movement that had me scuppered.

It wasn't long before the food was gone and I was left dejected and beaten.

I sat on the edge of the raised bed contemplating the point of giving aid to the birds when it all went to the pockets of the big and powerful. And then, quietly and reassuringly from across the garden came this little healer.

Not so much the cavalry, more Florence Nightingale.

When pigeons attack (3 - Garden. Sacked)

Saturday, 11 June 2011

When pigeons attack (2-assault)

When pigeons attack (1 - intent)

Pruning my rose bush

I am.

I made friends for life at school, played football, got the grades, went to university.

I made friends for life at uni, played drinking games (safely mum, safely),  got the grades, went to London

I made friends for life in London, I rubbed shoulders with the political elite, partied in the deepest of underground holes and ate canapes and drank from the classiest towers. My work literally took me to the heights.

A one-off visit to the top of Canary Wharf

From the window on the other side
I then took on a new life out west - less glamour, less Tube, more responsibility. Yet still young. still man.

So what has happened? Out alone in the garden? No hangover. No to being social. What about all my friends for life? Surely I'm not ditching them?

Maybe it's the stubborn side of me. Having dead-headed the rose, I was desperate to then hold it up so that it didn't drop its petals over the soil I need for veg. And then I needed to cut it back to stop if going crazy growth. I wasn't going to stop until it was sorted.

Or perhaps, its the slow appreciation that comes with age (and evidence) that your body can't take the heavy nights out Friday after friday, activities weekend after weekend, along with day after day of work pressures.

I promise you it's nothing to do with helping the rose to flower it's gorgeous creamy white flowers with that wonderful sweet vanilla scent. No, this is a veg garden where the potatoes rule and flowers are purely practical. A concession to the reality of bees.

Real men prune

In defence of weeds

A bit like a pansy, the thought of a weed really doesn't get the back garden juices flowing.

Unlike pansies, weeds are tough. They'll survive where they're not welcome, get up every time they're knocked down and work so hard at getting nutrients they are first up at the sight of spring sunshine.

But we relentlessly cut back, spray and hoe them down. They are notoriously not welcome amongst our pre-planned arrangement of vegetables.

Every book you will ever read on kitchen gardening will insist that  keeping on top of weeding is vital to protect your veg from competition. I tried onions and garlic early on in spring for the first time and was warned to keep a vigilant eye our for these nutrient thiefs.

I'm now very attached to my hoe (that's just wrong on every level).

A treat to myself from my favourite garden centre, Riverside, (they don't pay me, perhaps they should?) it's sharp good looking and mean, and has kept my prepared soil in good nick. I couldn't conceive gardening without it again.

However, the patio has been allowed to run wild. Not deliberately of course, this man has just had to prioritise this spring and weeding the patio...well, it requires effort.

Yet leaving the weeds in peace has led to a surprising development (to me at least). They don't look too bad once they flower:

We all like flowers don't we? Unless we have hayfever. Bursts of colour under grey skies, nectar for the bees, endless variety. And to prove once and for all the maxim that weeds are just plants in the wrong place, this is actually wild rocket growing in between the cracks!

So are they actually to be admired? They're resilient, yet give them time and space they reveal a softer side, a desire to actually give us what we want.

Weeds. Just misunderstood.

(PS Thank you to Emma who took charge of my camera to snap the weeds)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Breaking broad bean news

Yeah, move over rocket there's a new story in town...

Actually, it's just an update on how broad bean plants should actually look:

(Click me)

Thank you redrasbery for sending me the photo. These were planted closer together to support each other. Penguins of the green bean world. Lovely.

I guess, being looked after in my hapless manner my veg will always turn out a bit more individual. Quirky perhaps? Unique? Certainly.

Gardener's droop?

I didn't even go looking for this one, the broad bean plant gave it to me on a plate:

Broad bean plants have to be strong, these pods certainly demand support. This year and last, the first few weeks seemed normal with my broad bean plants growing straight up with strong stems. Then, come May they lose the plot and go off in all sorts of directions. A combination of wind and a disappearing gardener probably doesn't help, but i did try and support them this year with canes at the end of each row and string to hold them in place. I just forgot to keep adding string the higher they went!

This can lead to weird and wonderful structures, but it can't help efficient bean growth. Does anyone have photos of how broad bean plants should look rather than my twisted versions?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Gardener's question time (1)

Er, as in I have a question...

I think one of my major squash plants, that on the face of it was looking bold, brash and exciting has been putting on a very brave face.  Today it opened up and revealed that its stem is failing it. Shrivelled and brown, I just don't know what has happened. My only guesses are a lack of water or a truly evil slimy nasty s***

I fear the worst, but is there any chance to save this plant?

Bug off

Quick post, I've just heard a report on the news that no lesser an institution than The Natural History museum is urging us to get out into our gardens...

Why? To look for bugs. Ok, all very Terry Nutkins so far.

They want us to find rare bugs, and count them.

The list includes the 2-spotted ladybird. Lovely, they're our friends, they eat aphids don't they?

If I paint a few spots red...
Next up the small tortoiseshell butterfly. Great, every child knew the tortoiseshell.

Butterfly in moth's clothing?

And the leopard slug. Er hold on a sec. Well, apparently this slug is also our buddy, eating other slugs. But am I really going to be out there doing a finger tip search on a wet Wednesday morning. And what if they bite? Like real leopards? Silly name. Come on guys, is this really a good use of our time?

Apparently so. The news report was accompanied by a sound bite from the museum's spokesperson. "We want to understand more about the bugs we share our lives with..."

Come again?

Last time I looked, I'd not rolled over to see a ladybird cuddled up next to me. No butterfly joining me on a long country walk to reflect on how the last 10 years had, um, flown by.

If you would like to share your life with one of these eligible creatures, you can find out more here. I, however, have to go to work.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Grumpy old pod

Fussy eaters, universally mocked, admirably stubborn.

Children fly the fussy flag in this battleground. Every meal a challenge for the parent to get as much from plate to tummy with as little persuasion as possible.

That you could write a book on tactics employed by exasperated kiddie creators to get their cherubs to know what's good for them shows just what a hard battle this is to win. Child relishing the mayhem from the sudden position of control, the (high) seat of power.

My friend actually grows her own veg purely to help her daughter get more involved with food she refuses to eat. Playing the long game. Persevere Heidi, or else she might be waiting another 30 years before she experiences what I did on Saturday.

I ate peas straight from the pod, for the first time in my life.

Today's freshly picked peas, eaten in seconds
I have used every strategy to avoid trying these little green pearls, from flat refusal to hand picking every single pea out of the special fried rice.

The first time I remember eating peas it was only so that I didn't pass on my fussiness to a five year old who needed no encouragement to refuse. She actually mocked me, knowing full well I didn't like them.

The second time was last year when, suitably shamed, I grew them. I cooked and ate them and was one step closer to maturity. No, seriously.

Saturday. That was a different experience altogether. If you've never eaten freshly picked peas then don't wait a moment longer. If you've not started growing yet, no harm in trying straight away. There may still be time this year. Then when your pods are looking full, ready to be split open, pick them.

Open them up, pop them in your mouth and burst. Juicy and almost sweet enough to be little green pomegranate. Except with a fresh earthy note. Totally totally different to anything I expected.

I've been saved.  Start off fussy, become stubborn. If you're stubborn, you become set in your ways. Once set, it takes a strong character to change you. And if you don't change...

(click me)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Morning is broken

Hands up if your typical day starts with the following:
  • Woken up against your wishes, be your alarm clock a unadulterated buzzer or a more sophisticated "is it morning time yet?"
  • Your first thought: 'I have 45 minutes before I have to leave for work, but I've got to shower, make breakfast for me, 2, 3 (delete as appropriate)' and hang last night's washing out.
  • You put your feet on the bedroom floor only to realise you now have 20 minutes.
  • In the shower, you wash your body with shampoo because your mind was too busy thinking about the person at work who annoyed you yesterday and how you're going to deal with them today.
  • You left the house without your staff pass/wallet/gym kit/keys/pants
If it doesn't ever start that way and you're feeling smug, then you must be a student, rock star or celebrity gardener. Damn you.

In a bid to add a moment of calm to the madness of life, I've discovered that even just 10 minutes with a yoghurt and coffee in the garden, rain or shine, can massage your overworked morning head, soften the stinging eyes and fill the heavy lungs with peacefulness. 

But if you've nowhere to sit then peacefulness turns to wistfulness as you wish you could rest your sleepy legs in the sun all morning. 

Chairs. There's a reason every designer known to history has tried to create the ultimate bottom-pampering structure.  There is no better resting place for the waking hours. Garden chairs perhaps don't get as much press and need to be weather proof thus limiting the designer's palette, but they have no doubt kept many a creative genius up at night. Although in truth, everyone just wants a hammock.

Last year I saw a bench outside an antiques shop that at the time I couldn't justify buying. I loved it and have been pining ever since. Then, this week, my lovely friends Sarah and Mark delivered a present to my door - Sarah's iron and wooden bench, looking for a good home gratis, in need of just a touch of tlc. Safe to say, it has made itself, and my backside, very much at home already, despite plans for a mini bench makeover! Thank you Sarah, absolutely love it. 

My mornings this week have been transformed by a simple addition of this understated classic piece of furniture. The everyday pressure to do something, be somewhere, please others, punctuated; a pause in time to allow raspberries to be picked for porridge and enjoyed sat in the gentle heat of the morning sun.  

So, as you kneel among your onions or dig up your potatoes, take a look around and think, where is your spot to quietly admire your handiwork? If it's not there, then you're disrespecting your peaches.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Check out these ripe plums

It comes to something when your sister in law checks out her nectarines and sends you a picture purely because she thinks the photo would fit in with the tone of your greenhouse musings. What kind of blog do you think this is?! And shame on you all for being taken in by the title (unless you actually thought I was growing plums)

Peaches, plums, nectarines. They're a step up from your berries; a step down from your apples. I must admit starting proper fruit trees from scratch are something I'm saving for when I have more permanent roots in Bristol, but after last year's raspberry experiment I thought I'd branch out with black currants  (I swear I didn't mean those puns!).

It's always a danger when you start growing to get a bit carried away. Like going into a supermarket on an empty stomach. Anyone can grow tomatoes but who else is growing whitecurrants huh? Nevermind that you've never seen one let alone eaten one, just think how cutting edge you are.

Garden centres are alive to the scent of an overenthusiastic beginner in particular and my favourite little hideaway Riverside Garden Centre seduced me with all manner of soft fruit  promise. All I could think of was Ribena, and blackcurrant chewits.

As things stand, due to my utter failure to look after my garden in May, my currents have decided to make the most of their situation, concentrating all their energy on producing some juicy looking numbers at the expense of the leaves.

But I seem to be sharing the plant with another critter from the insect world. The ant. Crawling everywhere, I've never had to deal with them before. I don't want to spray my fruit, and don't even know if they are a problem because they just seem to be duckin' and divin' all over the leaves but not touching the fruit. Are ants a threat?

I'll leave on this note. There appears to be paths to follow whether you stick to the classics (strawberries), go soft (currants) or hard (apple). Once you start harvesting your fruit, a world opens up - blackcurrant vodka anyone? And once you get really good, you can even make up your own fruit:

Tayberries grown by Gillian.

Well, that was my first impression. Raspberry on steroids or real fruit?

Thursday, 2 June 2011


I may be about to poison myself.

Last year I planted some potatoes, which I didn't really pay attention to but still got a small crop from.

The final crop

It turns out that if you leave a potato in the ground at the season's end, it'll bide its time over winter and then in spring come to life, sending its shoots merrily upwards through the soil past unsuspecting worms and fresh into the crisp March air. Whether you gave it permission to or not.

I clearly allowed a few to slip through the fork last summer and was blessed with extra potatoes this year.
I'd earmarked their sunny but sheltered spot for some dwarf beans, but instead let them get on with it and at the weekend they'd reached a decent but not spectacular height:

However, I came across the advice that one should certainly not be encouraging such rogue behaviour and that these tearaways should be dug up to prevent the harbour of blight, dare they infect the purer innocent new potatoes with their disease

Now this seems a tad harsh. It wasn't the potato's fault, it was mine for abandoning them. Left on their own they looked after themselves, got their own food and water and created a meaningful life. Who am I to deny them the ultimate honour of arriving on my plate adorned most likely with butter.

With a need to create some planting space, I reluctantly gave in and dug up these rascals. I tentatively placed the garden fork in the ground and lifted them from their home. Normally this is such a satisfying task. Something about picking your spot, grabbing hold of your handle and pushing off your toes to un-earth golden nuggets. This time, however, I was a touch more reserved in the process, and the harvest showed they have been cut short before their time.

I gathered them in to look a bit more respectable and realised I just couldn't let them go. They'd earned their future.

One last photo shoot

I took them in gave them a scrubbing and placed them in the fridge. I feel totally naive in wondering if potatoes of such a background are safe to eat. My guess is that they are, but I wait to be warned before I try...

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.