Harvesting in January

So I have a confession…

I have not worked in the vegetable garden at all this Christmas break.

I know, very bad. But I was juggling work, university work and working in the pig run to prevent it from resembling the battle of the Somme over winter. Those are my only excuses.

Despite my lack of care, the garden has looked after itself pretty well (the grass is thriving in all of the beds it should not be in…)

It has been so long since I worked over there regularly that I had actually forgotten what I still had planted and left to harvest. I had forgotten the kale, the rest of the sprouts and carrots, the tree cabbage… all I thought we had left were potatoes. So I made a big effort and harvested and prepared lots of our produce during the week.

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Carrots: these are the last of the carrots sown this year. They were under horticultural fleece and managed to survive some of the freezing temperatures we had suddenly. Not one has rotted so thank goodness we are on sandy soil. They were delicious and not a lot of damage or forking going on. We even had one gorgeous proper sized carrot!

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Think they are ‘Flyaway’ carrots.

Celeriac: first homegrown celeriac harvested from this crop. I know, lazy. But it was in really good condition, a good size, and tasted really good. I like to boil mine but roasting them makes an excellent replacement/accompaniment to roasted parsnips as they apparently taste the same. I have also eaten it raw, grated with apple, in a salad and that is surprisingly good too.

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Brussel Sprouts – the left over small ones from Christmas finished up. They did really well and packed a punch to the taste-buds.

Kale – the kale is still alive and doing pretty well despite the various slug/pigeon/ cabbage white attacks it had this year. I do love kale boiled and it goes great in stews, on top of pizzas, in casseroles or stir fries. Kale is brilliant because it fills in the cold ‘hungry gap’ aka, winter, when most other things aren’t available.

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Garlic – I sneak up a bulb every time I need it. Garlic is still prolific in our garden from years of growing it.

Potatoes – Too. Many. Luckily, they taste really good and are in pretty good condition.

All of this dinner was homegrown, except the lentils. Self-sufficient and proud of my little garden for doing so well all on its own.

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Pumpkin, Cheese and Garlic Bake [Vegetarian Christmas dish]

Christmas dinner can be a little tricky if you are vegetarian. Sure, you’ve got all the veg, bread sauce, Yorkshire puds and vegetarian stuffing if you like it, but unless you are splashing out on a nut roast, there isn’t a lot to make up a ‘main meal’. As a vegetarian – not just a vegetarian, but a fussy vegetarian who needs a balanced meal with all the groups for health reasons – Christmas dinner can be a pain when it comes to protein. I don’t like bread sauce, Yorkshire puds, stuffing or nut roast, so I’m basically doomed. This year, as I was catering for two vegetarians, I thought it was time to try a new recipe. I still had three pumpkins from the veg patch and I thought it was perfect for xmas dinner – I know they are traditionally linked with Thanksgiving, but in the UK we didn’t have it a month earlier so we could afford to use the pumpkin again!

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I needed something quick and simple, with some protein in. I opted for cheese. As pumpkin is, well, bland, I also decided to throw some garlic in there too.

It is really basic and can be made in advance of the big day so it doesn’t take up space in the kitchen. Of course, you could make this any time of the year too 😉

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Pumpkin, Cheese and Garlic Bake

(Serves 6)

-1 large pumpkin -Olive oil, for drizzling -260g cheddar cheese -20g Swiss gruye -2 garlic cloves

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Cut the pumpkin and remove the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into large slices and place on baking trays. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until golden and cooked. Allow to cool completely.
  3. Cut the pumpkin up into small cubes and place in an oven-proof dish.
  4. Grate the cheese and dice the garlic up into small pieces. Mix together and then sprinkle it over the top of the pumpkin.
  5. Preheat the grill to high and heat the bake until the cheese has melted at the top is golden – it should only take a minute or two so keep an eye on it. Or, preheat the oven to 200C and bake for approximately 10-20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese has melted.
  6. Serve. Store in the fridge when cold.

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Christmas from the garden

Christmas is one of the busiest times in the kitchen, but it doesn’t mean you can’t pop out to the garden too… especially to harvest things.

Christmas cooking can be like the climax of the harvested year. You can give your jams away as presents, eat redcurrant and cranberry jelly and sauce with your Christmas meal. Harvested chestnuts or other nuts can be used in desserts. Dried cranberries or raisins are great for puds. And of course, anything that is still green at this time of year can be added to your wreath or house for festive cheer.

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Dried Cranberry Chocolate Cake anyone?

But you don’t have to stop there… what about the main Christmas meal?

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What about growing and cooking your own Christmas dinner?

For future thinking, here are some traditional Christmas dinner things you could plan to grow for next Christmas:

  • Potatoes – we always plant so many we still have plenty in the ground come Christmas day. As long as they are well buried and not planted in too damp a place, potato tubers will be fine against the frosts.
  • Brussel Sprouts or Brukale (Brussel sprout crossed with kale).
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots – yes, you can still be harvesting carrots from the ground at Christmas, if you cover them with fleece.
  • Parsnips
  • Cabbages
  • Beetroot – why not add some to your roasted roots?
  • Celeriac – ditto, or a celeriac mash? Or just boiled?
  • Celery – homemade stuffing anyone? And in that case how about freezing some pears or storing some apple too?
  • Onions
  • Runner- beans or peas – store them in your freezers all year round from the first harvest onwards.
  • Pumpkin or squash – usually USA’s Thanksgiving, I know, but how about roasting some and creating a vegetarian/vegan replacement for the usual meat?
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Homegrown Brussels and Brukale

Christmas is a holiday, a time of celebration and of having fun with loved ones. To me, it is also a time to be creative and original, to do what I love by going back and cooking from scratch, a way of tying up my year of cooking and growing. This year we will be having our own cabbage, beans, pumpkin, celeriac, beetroot, carrots, potatoes and Brussel Sprouts, not to forget homegrown redcurrant jelly and homemade cranberry sauce… What a way to celebrate an end to 2018!

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RIP David Austin Sr. 

What do you grow/dream of growing for Christmas time? Let us know.

For Christmas baking recipes, check out Beagle Baking (https://bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com/home/)

Just type ‘Christmas’ into the search bar and it will show you some festive treats.

And then, after all that food, just follow Rainbow’s advice:

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Bed.

Summery of 2018 in the Veg Garden

It is time to do the annual check list of how this year when in the vegetable garden.

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It was an unusually cold, uneventful spring this year – we basically skipped it and went straight from winter to summer. But boy, what a summer it was! Major heatwave and no rain for weeks on end. It was glorious, even if it did mean a lot of watering all day long…

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But how did this all impact on the plants?

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Lettuce – started off really good but struggled with the hot weather in the heatwave and bolted. We bought loose leaf lettuce plants from Sainsbury’s and planted them out and they did pretty well despite the weather. When they bolted, the ducks and chickens loved them.

Spinach – bad year for spinach, not a lot germinating, probably because my seeds were too old. I bought some new ones at the end of the season and got a few to grow, but it was too late by then. Oh well, next year!

Rocket – very good rocket growth this year. Planted some at the beginning of the season and at the end and both batches lasted ages – the last batch has only just gone thanks to Jack Frost.

Radishes – they love sun and were whopping sizes.

Carrots – started off very badly. I sowed them in early March and they did not germinate at all. Sowed some in June/July, thinking it wouldn’t work, and we got a beautiful crop. Some really big ones too!

Celery – I wasn’t going to grow celery this year but a neighbour gave us some spare plug-plants so I used them. They grew pretty well, but were not very tasty. I think they needed more watering a care.

Celeriac – again, wasn’t planning on growing more, but were given plug plants. They seem to be surviving, along with last years crop I never got out of the ground… at least the pigs will be happy…

Cauliflower – didn’t come to anything, as usual!

Peas – had some really good crops but the pea plants themselves died off really quickly. I think it was too dry and they needed more care and watering. Mixed bag with the germination rates.

Beetroot – did fantastically well. I only planted one batch and we still have three buried in the ground to get through. Bolthardy is amazing.

Cabbages – I was too late to sow brassicas so we bought some plug plants from the garden centre. The savoys and spring cabbages did not do very well and ended up going to the poultry, but the red cabbages… I am now converted. Beautiful, huge, delicious and a few more left to get through…

Brussel Sprouts – ran out of time to sow seeds but were given plug plants. They are huge and delicious. Producing really well despite my lack of feeding and weeding this year.

Sweetcorn -OMG. Best sweetcorn harvest ever. So big, yellow and yum. Really big cobs! So exciting.

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Pumpkins – amazing crop, some big and small ones, each plant produced lots.

Courgettes – really good. Mixture of types of courgettes grown this year, including Defender, Golden Zucchini, Grisdella etc. All produced lots, really yummy. Cucurbits do love sun.

Cucumbers – didn’t do great, but did fine. Needed more watering and care. Only got a few Passandras and Femspot varieties, I think.

Tomatoes: did pretty well, but again needed more care. Got a few outdoors and indoors this year thanks to the sunshine.

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Broccoli – ran out of time to sow so bought plug plants. Did pretty well – lots of small florets rather than big ones. Probably more water needed?

Aubergines – plug plant bought as my seeds did not germinate. I think harvested one? A few grew but did not develop into edible stage.

Sweet Pepper – plug plant as seeds did not germinate. Got quite a few small but delicious ones.

Runner-beans – very good harvest. So many grew after my fears none would germinate due to the hot weather. Roots left in ground from previous years grew again. Got an amazing supply and was still harvesting in November!

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Chickpeas – only one plant survived out of the billions of seeds planted. Didn’t develop anything. Will have to try again another year.

Onions – did not do great. Not very big. Needed more water probably.

Garlic – as good as always!

Potatoes – amazing as always! Bought some early Charlottes and Red Duke of York and a main crop Kingsman. Planted some old ones we chitted out from previous batches. Lots of growth and some incredible sizes.

Parsley – good supply from previous year’s sowing.

Chervil – ”

Chicory – ”

Strawberries – great year. Lots of lovely delicious red gems. Made lots of strawberry jam.

Raspberries – very good year. There were some to be picked in late November still. Lots of raspberry jam.

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Pears – didn’t get any because fox ate them all.

Grapes – only got one batch because birds ate them all.

Cherries – birds ate them all but the Morello was laden.

Damsons – good supply from one tree. Made one pot of damson jam which was delish.

Apples – very good harvest from all trees. First Bramley harvest, was yummy.

Quince – diseased so didn’t produce anything.

Mulberry – no produce.

Medlar – produced but did not develop and then eaten by birds.

Blueberries – good crop.

Redcurrants – very good crop.

Jostaberries – a lot stolen but birds but good crop.

Blackcurrants – ”

Gooseberries – no crop.

Chives – very good crop as always.

Parsnips – no actual parsnips but great flowers growing.

Plums – lots of Victorias and Green Gages. Made some good plum crumbles.

Sweet Potatoes – disaster. Didn’t cut off vines so no root growth.

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I think that is all…. thanks for the year 2018. It was busy, juggling with university, heatwaves, water leak fears, drought fears, and now freezing weather, but what a lovely time we had! Looking forward to another summer of playing in the sun in the garden.

Merry Christmas everyone from the Kitchen Garden in advance. And just to finish it off, what a good year for space2grow – one year ago it was established and it has so far one 3 Bloom awards, has been given sponsorship and its volunteers and supporters are rocketing, including santa…

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Recipe: Kidney beans and fried onion

Such an easy, simple dish but tastes so good. 

Homegrown potato, runner beans and onion, fried with kidney beans in olive oil, and mashed with butter

Kidney Beans and Fried Onion

(Serves 4)

-Dash of olive oil, for frying -450g kidney beans (drained if canned, soaked and cooked if dried) -1 large onion, sliced 

  1. Warm the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and fry until just starting to turn golden.
  2. Add the kidney beans and turn the heat down to medium and heat for a couple of minutes. 
  3. Remove from the heat and serve with a baked potato mashed with butter, a side salad or some veggies. 

Extending the growing season – what to plant in autumn?

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Last night was probably the coldest nigh in the South East in months. The sun is now no longer reaching parts of the veg garden and it is dark sometime around 8pm. Now is the time to find something to grow in the last few months of 2018.

So what can you try growing as the weather cools down and the light fades?

  • Broad beans – Aguadulce or Superaguadulce– sow Oct-Feb, harvest Jun-Aug
  • Pea – Meteor – sow Oct-Nov, Jan-Mar, harvest May-Sep
  • Autumn planting onion sets – red Radar, brown Electric, white Snowball – sow Sept-Oct, harvest May-Jul
  • Garlic cloves – Provence Wight (Softneck), Lautrec Wight (Hardneck), Elephant Garlic – plant Sept-Oct, Jan-Mar, harvest Jun-Aug
  • Spinach – Turaco – sow Aug-Oct, harvest Jun-Oct
  • Cauliflower – All The Year Round – sow Sep-Oct, Jan-Jun, harvest Jun-Oct
  • Cabbages – Advantage – sow Mar-Oct, harvest Jan-Dec – Spring Hero – sow Sept, harvest Mar-May – Duncan – sow Sept-Oct, harvest Mar-Jun
  • Purple sprouting broccoli – Claret – plant Sept, harvest Mar-May
  • Winter lettuce – Density – sow Aug-April, harvest Mar-Jul – Valian – Sept-Mar, harvest Oct-May

Update: August 2018

Finally had a little rain which will help the newly planted lettuces settle in nicely today.

I’m so proud. I finally made a homemade version of tinned tomatoes.

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It has been a dream for a long time. I use tinned tomatoes from the shop so often and I was feeling very guilty. It is so easy to make at home, and yet I have never tried it!

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Finally did it today, so I can cross that off my bucket list 😉

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Garden is surviving – too many beans to pick 😦 Did not get a lot achieved this week as I ended up helping my mum fix the road (long story) and getting lost on a dog walk with my siblings and carrying a heavy beagle back to the car (long story).

Aren’t these peppers cute? The orange one is a plant donated by a friend of my mum’s so I had to take a picture for him.

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And look at this giant onion!

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So it is my birthday weekend coming up and to celebrate good old 23, my newest book is available free on Amazon for 3 days, so go check it out.

Happy gardening everybody.