Update continued…

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In my last post I got very excited about making my first preserved chopped tomatoes from our homegrown crop. I will end that little story by saying I used them in a homemade paneer curry last night and it was great – along with homegrown onion, garlic, coriander seeds and mustard seeds in it, and homegrown runner beans on the side, of course. Here is a link to my paneer recipe if you need it, part of my old cucumber post —>¬†Cucumbers

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Now that the rain has settled in … ūüė¶ I’ve had lots of time to catch up on making preserves. Spent a busy Friday making two batches of strawberry jam and a chutney – recipe coming soon!

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But I took the chance yesterday to snap some quick pictures of the garden in the sun before the rain came back and would love to share some with you. Below is a picture of our William red rose. It is the most prolific yet at the moment. I counted 7 flowers and another 8 buds getting ready to open the other day. This after mostly just 3 at a time for the last couple of years. It shows how good feeding a rose is… It is a beautiful, delicious smelling rose I highly recommend.

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Next up we have the sweetcorn. It has grown so tall this year – taller than me, which isn’t saying much, but that makes it over 5’3… They have been loving the summer and he sprinkler and are looking really good. Next test will be to see if they have produced any kernels…

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I grew most of my tomatoes indoors this year, which I always do because the English weather is often rubbish, but we do always get a few rogue plants in the compost we spread outside. These often come to nothing but this year they are laden with fruit and look stunning!

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Below is a photo of the one chickpea plant that decided to germinate. The little brown pods are the beginning of what will hopefully turn into an actual chickpea being grown. Fingers crossed.

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Runner beans are doing very well, but I’m going to have to start using a ladder.

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Pumpkin!

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The other huge plant this year was the courgettes. The actual plants were whopping in size. I should have taken a photo earlier when they looked even more striking, but I got one now to remind myself in the future that courgettes need space!

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That’s all for now. Hope you all have a glorious twelfth – oh, fun fact, it is international elephant day on 12th August every year.

 

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 ūüėČ

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Garden is surviving – too many beans to pick ūüė¶ 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.

Roses

My mama just surprised me with (very) early birthday presents … so she didn’t have to look after them until then!

She bought me three David Austen roses.

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‘Gentle Hermione’

I love roses, they are my favourite flower. Now, my mum makes a point about not buying plants for their names (I try not to, but I am a bit of a sucker for a good name on a label), but this time she completely changed her tune. She bought me a light pink, gorgeous smelling one with little petals called ‘Desdemona’. This is the name of one of our pet ducks. Then I unwrapped another one called ‘Gentle Hermione’, another light pink one with larger flowers. This is the name of our other pet duck. I opened the third one, unsure what to find (as we had run out of duck names by this point) and was amazed to read a label saying ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. Whoever named this rose as dark red as strawberries that, is a hero.

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(Little explanation: ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ is one of Thomas Hardy’s most brilliant novels that I recently re-read for my English literature Victorian course a few months ago and loved it just as much as the first time I read it. Honestly, it is probably one of the causes for my obsession with cows, farming and the Dorset countryside… But back to Tess: she is a tragic heroine who is disgraced in the eyes of society and therefore unable to find peace and happiness. It is a beautiful book and one I highly recommend for anyone who likes Victorian fiction. And yes, the strawberries and colour red is one of those big symbols that pop up throughout the narrative. Red=blood=loss of purity/murder etc…).

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‘Desdemona’
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‘Gentle Hermione’
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‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

We also got given a big (I mean BIG) pile of strawberry plants from our neighbour in return for looking after her veggie garden for a week in this massive heatwave going on. So, planting it is…

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‘Desdemona’¬†

 

Update – 28th May 2018

Hello Blog, it has been a while.

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Honestly, I’ve been really busy. Uni exam revision, foot injury and then a lot of catching up of work in the veg garden. Also… I’ve been writing a cooking book specially for gardeners who need a variety of recipes for homegrown surplus or gluts, and some fiction.

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So… this week we have harvested our first baby broadbean pods, kale, parsley, radishes, oregano, chives, tree cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, rocket, rhubarb… it is getting exciting! The harvesting has begun!

The potatoes are doing really well, so are the broadbeans. The runner beans and peas are hanging in there, the fruit trees are all starting to produce, some gorgeous roses are flowering and nearly everything is planted out except the pumpkins. Oh, and a lot of tomatoes and sweet potatoes for the greenhouse.

I found it really hard to get things to grow this year. The cold weather, the hot weather – so unpredictable. I’ve had a lot of failed germinations and then death by stress. Poor plants. Out of the billions of chickpeas I planted, two germinated, one died a week ago. I’m still heartbroken. Taking special care of the last one… Two spinaches germinated, and immediately bolted. My neighbours onions have bolted, one cucumber died in the greenhouse when we suddenly had a -2C. Crazy England.

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Tomatoes

Tomato Рthe edible, often red, veg of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The plant belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae (potatoes, auberinges/ eggplants). The species originated in western South America.

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Wild versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red.¬†A member of the deadly nightshade¬†family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious.¬†This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter¬†plates.¬†The leaves and immature fruit in fact contain trace amounts of solanine¬†which in larger quantity would be toxic, although the ripe fruit does not. Aztecs¬†used the fruit in their cooking. The Nahuatl¬†(Aztec language) word¬†tomatl¬†gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BC it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico.¬†The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination.¬†The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.¬†Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes¬†may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan,¬†now Mexico City, in 1521. Christopher Columbus¬†may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal¬†written in 1544 by¬†an Italian physician and botanist who suggested that a new type of aubergine/ eggplant¬†had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant – cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. It was not until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as¬†pomi d‚Äôoro, or “golden apples”. Taken to Europe, the tomato¬†grew easily in Mediterranean climates¬†and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in Spain.

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Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty”, and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available.¬†The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

 

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s.¬†However, by the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica¬†stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups and broths.¬†They were not part of the average person’s diet, and though by 1820 they were described as “to be seen in great abundance in all our vegetable markets” and to be “used by all our best cooks”, reference was made to their cultivation in gardens still “for the singularity of their appearance”, while their use in cooking was associated with exotic Italian cuisine.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, a berry, consisting of the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Typically served as part of a salad or main course, rather than at dessert, it is considered a culinary vegetable. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require.

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing 180 cm (6 ft) or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally 100 cm (3 ft) tall or shorter. Tomato plants are dicots and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines. Tomato vines are covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a mutant “u” phenotype in the mid 20th century that ripened “u”niformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

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Here are some to try growing: 

Garden Pearl¬†(Determinate) ‚Äď Sweet cherry tomatoes, happiest in large pots outdoors.

Marmande¬†(Semi-determinate) ‚Äď Large irregular fruits with excellent flavour, happiest grown outdoors.

San Marzano 2¬†(Semi-determinate) ‚Äď Classic flashy Italian plum tomato, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Golden Sunrise¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Distinct sweet flavour, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Red Cherry¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Prolific crops of sweet ‚Äėcherry toms‚Äô happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Tigerella¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Good flavour and novel stripes on the skin, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Sungold F1 (Cherry) РAttractive golden fruits with a very high sugar content balanced with some acidity, Indeterminate.

Shirley F1 –¬†A much loved variety famed for its heavy yields of well-flavoured fruits – an outstanding hybrid.¬† Indeterminate.

Loretto F1¬†–¬†sweet cherry sized fruits with excellent flavour and a good choice for outdoor containers. Resistance to blight is one of the major benefits of this cascading ‚Äėbush‚Äô tomato. Indeterminate.

Alicante F1 –¬†One of the best for flavour and very reliable yielding a good crop of medium sized tomatoes. Indeterminate.

Ferline F1¬†–¬†A top quality tomato variety producing high yields of large and tasty fruits. Trials have shown that tomato Ferline F1 has excellent resistant to blight. Indeterminate.

Indeterminate – these varieties of tomatoes are the most common and are grown as cordons (single stemmed plants with side shoots removed). They will grow very tall – sometimes taller than 2.5m in very warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate – these varieties stop growing sooner than indeterminate varieties with the stem ending in a fruit truss. They are referred to as ‘bush’ and ‘dwarf’ types (suitable as hanging basket tomatoes) and don’t require any pruning.

Semi-determinate – these are similar to indeterminate varieties (grown as cordons) only they produce shorter plants.

Types of tomatoes:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 10¬†cm (4¬†in) or more in diameter.¬†Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce¬†for canning and are usually oblong 7‚Äď9¬†cm (3‚Äď4¬†in) long and 4‚Äď5¬†cm (1.6‚Äď2.0¬†in) diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes.
  • Cherry tomatoes – small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1‚Äď2¬†cm (0.4‚Äď0.8¬†in) size as the wild tomato. Probably my personal favourite.
  • Grape tomatoes – are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
  • Campari – are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
  • Tomberries – ¬†tiny tomatoes, about 5¬†mm in diameter.
  • Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
  • Pear tomatoes are pear-shaped and can make¬†a rich gourmet paste.
  • “Slicing” or “globe” tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating.¬†The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5‚Äď6¬†cm (2.0‚Äď2.4¬†in) diameter range.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular amongst home growers as they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-fertile varieties that have bred true for 40 years or more.

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How to grow tomatoes

In England, we can be kind-of lucky and get some tomatoes off the vines when we grow them outside, but really it is easier to do it in a greenhouse as they will prefer warmer growing conditions.

Tomato seed is normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) although they can be sown earlier for greenhouse cultivation. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. If only a few plants are required sow two seeds into a 7.5cm (3in) pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. The seeds generally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C (70F). Keep the compost moist.¬†Pot on the tomato seedlings when large enough to handle, taking care not to touch the stem. Handle the plants by the leaves and transplant them carefully into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Take care not to expose the plants to frost, cold winds and draughts as this may kill them.¬†Tomatoes need a lot of water and feed (high potash) to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. If growing outdoors,¬†plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows.¬†Regularly pinching out of tomato side shoots will concentrate the plant’s energy into producing fruit.

One of the most common problems when growing tomatoes is tomato blight, which spreads quickly throughout the plant in wet weather, causing the plant to die and the fruits to decay. The symptoms are brown patches on all parts of the plant. It is much more common in tomatoes growing outside than tomatoes growing in a greenhouse.

Start picking your tomatoes as the fruits ripen and gain full colour. When frost threatens at the end of the season, lift any plants with unripe fruit on them and hang them upside down under cover.

Tomatoes contain excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources. In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Tests suggest tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer. Lycopene flavonoid antioxidant has the ability to protect the cells even as it protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, and as a possible result, skin cancer. Lycopene in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis and prevent serum lipid oxidation, thus exerting a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, in tomatoes, fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. The presence of vitamin A in high quantities has been shown to reduce the effects of carcinogens and can protect you against lung cancer. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhoea. They also prevent jaundice and effectively remove toxins from the body.

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There are so many ways of using tomatoes and they are such a valuable crop to grow yourself. You can eat them raw, as part of a salad or cheese sandwich, cheese¬†toasty, stuff them, cook with them to make a sauce for any dish, fry them to go with your English breakfast, sun dry them, bottle or can to make your own tinned tomatoes, always a handy thing to have at hand for a quick meal…¬†

Here are some recipes that use tomatoes. Plenty more on the site!

Recipe: Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

 

Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Updated recipe: homemade pizza

Quinoa РChicken Casserole

Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

Salad ‚Äď Rocket¬†– Pasta and tinned tomatoes and rocket

Keep searching for more recipes! 

Borlotti Beans

The¬†borlotti bean (singular borlotto in Italian), also known as the¬†cranberry bean,¬†Roman bean¬†or¬†romano bean¬†(not to be confused with the Italian flat bean, a green bean¬†also called “romano bean”),¬†saluggia bean (named¬†after the town Saluggia in Italy where borlotti beans have been grown since the early 1900s), or¬†rosecoco bean,¬†is a variety of ¬†common bean¬†(Phaseolus vulgaris) first bred in Colombia¬†as the¬†cargamanto.¬†The bean is a medium to large tan or hazelnut-colored bean splashed or streaked with red. They come in large beige and red pods with colours that resemble the dried beans.

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They originated in Colombia in South America and were one of the crops that found their way into Europe with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The Italians were the first Europeans to embrace the borlotti bean (as well as the tomato). Now you can eat these beans in Italy in stews with polenta and in salads as well in appetizers along with prosciutto and lots of parsley and olive oil.

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The borlotti bean is a variety of the American cranberry bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. It is used in Italian, Portuguese (Catarino bean), Turkish, and Greek cuisine. When cooked the beans will lose some of their bright markings and turn a light brown colour.

Borlotti beans are potassium rich so are good for the muscles and for the proper functioning of the kidneys, as well as maintaining good blood pressure. They also contain other minerals such as¬†sodium, zinc, selenium, copper (good for stimulating blood cell formation), calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron and phosphorous as well as Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. They¬†contain vitamin A and several of the B-complex¬†vitamins including B1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Borlotti beans also contain 18 amino acids¬†along with dietary fibre (good for the digestion), folate (good for pregnant women and enhancing the nervous system) and protein. If you are trying to grow your own vegetarian protein, beans are a good place to start…

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Sow indoors for surest results April-May, 2.5cm (1″) deep into individual pots of compost (I use tall yoghurt pots, they give the plant lots of root room). Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20¬įC (60-68¬įF) is ideal.¬†Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out when 15cm tall, 25cm (10″) apart, during May-June when frosts are over. Allow 45cm (18″) between rows. Like runner beans, insert canes into the ground along with the bean plant to allow them to climb up it. If it is sunny, cold or windy when you first plant them out, rig up some covering (I use left over horticultural fleece) to give them shade or protection from the elements that might damage them before they are fully established. You can harvest borlotti beans from July-October. To harvest, pick the pods before they set seed and slice them up and cook them like you would do to runner beans. Or, leave the pods on the plants and allow them to grow very big and to set seed. The pods will turn a pale straw colour as they start to dry out towards the end of summer or early autumn. Harvest and take them inside to continue drying before you pod the beans. The pods will rattle once they are ready. You can cook them straight away, freeze them or dry them out and store them in glass jars in the cupboard. They can be shelled into trays and placed in a warm place to continue drying. The beans should ultimately be light and hollow-sounding when tapped, at which point they can be decanted into glass jars for storage in a cool, dark place. Discard the pods at this stage, they get too tough to eat.

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Dried beans contain high amounts of lectin, a natural chemical which can cause stomach upsets. Soak the beans overnight or for at least eight hours then place into cool water. Bring the water up to a vigorous boil and boil like this for ten minute before turning down the heat and simmering till soft.

Grow borlotti beans from Mr Fothergills: ‘Climbing Bean Borlotto lingua di fuoco 2 Seeds‘.

Borlotti beans can be added to any dish for vegetarian protein.

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Coconut Borlotti Beans

Serves 4

-450g borlotti beans, pre-cooked -1dsp coconut oil -1 onion, finely sliced -2 generous handfuls of spinach leaves

  1. Warm the coconut oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced onion and fry until golden brown.
  2. Add the spinach leaves. Stir in until wilted before adding the borlotti beans. Combine and leave briefly so that the beans warm up.
  3. Remove from the heat and serve with rice or potatoes, as a side dish, or in a wrap.

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A January Growing List

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Here’s some inspiration of what to start sowing (indoors) in January:

Aubergines (I’ve sown some Black Beauty seeds)

Peppers (Sown California Wonder)

Calabrese Broccoli (Ironman)

Cauliflower (All Year Round)

Peas (Meteor)

Sprouting Seeds – think speedy cress, sunflower seeds, beansprouts, alfalfa etc.

Herbs – parsley, coriander, dill etc.

Rocket (Buzz, Trizona)

Baby Carrots (cold-frame outdoors under a lot of fleece)

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Have you got any suggestions? Please feel free to share!