Posts Tagged ‘grow your own food’

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Tomato feast

August 21, 2010

J and I both love tomatoes. We love, Love, LOVE them, in fact.

This year, our first with a garden, I decided to grow three different varieties to see how they all got on and which we prefer.

The picture above is of one of our Gardener’s Delight plants. I got the seeds free from the BBC’s Dig In scheme last year but didn’t have space to grow them on the balcony at my old flat. They’ve become huge plants – we had to cut their tops off when they hit about six foot as the plants were getting way too top-heavy and kept blowing over. They’re doing really well though – just look at those toms!

We’re also growing Minibel (more free seeds – these ones were on the front of the BBC Gardener’s World magazine earlier this spring), as well as Tumbling Tom, which I’ve been growing for a few years now, since J’s sister gave me my first tomato plant as a birthday gift.

The Minibel is an extremely compact little plant. It doesn’t seem to need as much watering as the others and forms these tight little mounds of foliage which you have to push out of the way and peer under to find the tomatoes.

The Tumbling Toms are big and sprawling – I’ve had to raise their pots up on bricks so that they’re not lying their fruits all over the ground. They’re prolific fruiters but annoyingly seem to be dropping their fruits this year – sometimes before they’re ripe. They’re still lovely to eat, but need a bit of ripening on the kitchen windowsill first.

As for our favourites? We can’t decide!

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Adventures in pickling

August 7, 2010

It’s only August but it’s starting to feel distinctly Autumnal outside already. I’m definitely hoping for some more of the glorious sunshine we were treated to a month ago, but for the last two weeks it’s been dreary and dull.

The thoughts of Autumn had me thinking of preserving some of the veg from the garden. While I’ve grown beetroot before — in pots up on the balcony at my old flat — this is our first year with a garden, so I never had the luxury of “too many” veggies to worry about before. We’ve had a couple of meals from the beetroot already (we made the warm mackerel & beetroot salad again that I wrote about last year since it was so nice) and so I decided to have a go at pickling the rest.

I have no idea how to expect them to turn out, and I seem to have used a jar which is a little too large for the quantities I used, but seeing as it was all judged rather than measured, I think it’s not too bad a job! Here’s what I did:

I sterilised the jar in the oven at 140°C for 15 minutes and boiled the rubber ring. I cooked the beetroots by boiling them for 20 minutes — didn’t want them to be too soft. At the same time I brought some white wine vinegar to the boil with a few whole cloves, a couple of bay leaves, a cinnamon stick and a few peppercorns mixed in. When that had boiled I added a little sugar and mixed it in until it had dissolved. Then I skinned the beets while they were still hot, chopped them and put them into the hot jar, and strained the vinegar liquid over the top. I guess that now it’s just a case of waiting. I’m not sure how long to wait – a few weeks? Hopefully it will be okay that the jar isn’t completely full, as my understanding is that the produce keeps better with less air in the jar. I doubt it will be a problem though; I don’t envisage them lasting all that long. They smell far too yummy!

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Courgette, Tomato and Paprika Cake

August 3, 2010

I mentioned that the veggies in our garden were starting to crop well. None more so than the courgette! I’ve never grown courgettes before and I must say, I’m not disappointed. From the one tiny seed I planted back in April, we have a huge plant that’s taking over a large corner of the garden and producing so many (huge!) courgettes than we have quite a glut. The tomatoes are also starting to ripen, so we were glad to find this recipe for Courgette, Tomato and Paprika Cake.

It’s admittedly not very cakey — quite mushy in fact — but made with our own home-grown courgettes and tomatoes — and served with home-grown french beans and (unfortunately not home-grown) new potatoes — it makes a delicious and filling dinner and it’s very rewarding to think we’re a step closer to self-sufficiency. A few food miles saved along the way.

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First courgette

July 3, 2010

We just ate our first home-grown courgette.

It was delish!

It always amazes me that with a little tiny seed and a bit of TLC we can grow food.

The flowers look pretty amazing too!

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Potting up the upcycling way

April 22, 2010

It’s busy, busy in the garden and today I’m quite excited because it was finally time to pot up some of my tomato seedlings!

I was determined not to buy any more flower pots this year and remembered this great idea from an episode of Gardeners’ World a year or so ago. The trick is to save up your old tin cans and pot into those. You need to use the ring-pull type, and ones with a nice smooth painted inside — I found that chopped tomato cans seem to be the right kind.

Discard the ring-pull lid part (put it in the recycling), carefully wash the can and dry it, then turn it upside down and remove the base with a tin-opener. You’re left with a tin tube and a flat circle. Drop the circle back inside and it sits nicely on the rim of what was previously the top of the can. The result is a bit like a loose-bottomed sponge-cake tin. It’s great for drainage, and when you’re ready to plant your little plant out into a grow-bag or into the garden, you can push it up out of the can from the bottom without damaging the roots. And once you’re done you can put the cans out to be recycled. How nifty is that?

As well as the tomatoes, everything’s growing and growing. The plants seem to be really enjoying the lovely spell of warm, sunny weather we’re having at the moment. We’ve already had one mini-harvest from the mixed salad and there will be loads for this weekend.

The little nasturtiums I grew from seed collected from my balcony last year are shooting up particularly fast. I’ve been interested to read about Life on the Balcony’s Nasturtium Seed Scarification Experiment as I had no idea that soaking or scarification of the seeds was recommended. I didn’t do either of these things and five out of my ten seeds germinated which I don’t think is too bad a result really. As you can see they’re turning into thriving little plants!

But maybe the most exciting of all is my little courgette plant! Well, I say little — here it is with just two days’ growth! If it carries on growing at this speed I will need a bigger greenhouse! Can’t wait to get some home-grown courgettes to eat. Delish.

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March winds and April showers

April 1, 2010

It’s almost a month already since our mammoth greenhouse-building session. I’ve been pottering in the garden almost every day since then — if only for a few minutes after work — planting seeds, watering the pots sparingly and checking to see if there have been any developments — signs of life — since the last time I impatiently checked.

After a couple of slow weeks where nothing much seemed to change, things are starting to happen in flurries. Of the three different varieties of tomatoes I planted, two keen tumbling tom seedlings are racing ahead to show the others the way.

The sweet peas (seeds I got free with the BBC Gardeners’ World magazine last month) are doing rather well — I’ve never had much luck with growing sweet peas from seed in the past. Five of the eight are poking their heads up for air and hopefully the rest will join in a few days.

The carrots are looking particularly keen — much more so than the ones planted outside in the little metre-square veg bed we’ve built. That’s also got garlic planted, and radishes, spinach and lettuce seeds sown but there’s precious little life there to show you of that yet.

Keenest of all, inside the greenhouse at least, is the mixed salad, which took less than a week to produce shoots, giving it a full week’s head start on anything else.

Also on the go — nasturtiums (sown from seeds saved from last year), beetroot, marigolds, cosmos (on the kitchen window sill), geraniums, and also on the kitchen window sill there is a tray of aubrieta seedlings, another one grow from last year’s collected seed.

But it’s still cold outisde. Or rather, the coldness has returned. And it’s still wet. So just for a bit of instant gratification while everything else is pushing up seeds — some pretty potted primulas. Voila!

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How does your garden grow?

September 15, 2009

Warm mackerel & beetroot salad

Of all the edibles I’ve grown this year in the little space that is my balcony, one of the most surprising successes has been beetroot. I would never have considered growing beets if it hadn’t been for the free seeds I received from the BBC’s Dig In promotion but they were easy to grow and have produced a few great meals, even though the pot I planted up was tiny. The leaves are super in salads, too, or substituted for spinach in cooking, so scarcely any of the plant goes to waste.

Pictured is our effort at this Warm mackerel & beetroot salad, which was so good that the last few ‘roots will go towards a repeat performance in a few days. Thank you, BBC Dig In, I’ll be planting lots more next year!