Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cooking from the garden: vegetable soup

A slow cooker with mixed vegetable soup
Vegetable soup, September 2017
For the past several weeks, our main meal has been a variation on the photo above:  garden vegetable soup/stew.  The above has carrots, onions, garlic, celery, potatoes, runner beans and zuccini.  I chuck in a little bit of meat (pork is a favorite), some herbs, plus a tub of homemade chicken stock from the freezer and maybe a dash of vinegar or cider--also homemade. 

The slow cooker is great in summer:  I can make a hot meal without heating up the house.  And it's much cheaper to run than the gas oven;  I've been making most of our meals in it.  It's really easy to do, if I schedule for it.

After I take the seven year old to school I do my daily walk around the garden;  after watering the pots, I usually pick anything that's ready.  After I've collected everything for our dinner, I bring them in and wash (root vegetables) or soak (leafy veg) them.  Some things, like runner beans or zuccini, generally don't need a wash.  Next, I trim/peel them if needed, weigh and record them, then prepare them for cooking. 

For the most part, I just chop everything up the same size and throw all the ingredients into the slow cooker together, on the low setting.  If using a mixture of hard and soft veg (for instance carrots, potatoes and chard), I'll leave out the soft vegetables until about an hour before dinner time (chard stems can go in at the beginning, however).  I usually add fresh herbs near the end of cooking too:  maybe 15-30 minutes before serving.

Does it get old eating vegetable soup five nights a week?  Well, it's so tasty I don't think so, and no one else has complained (yet).  I try to vary the spices and seasonings, and at the moment, we have enough variety of veg so that it isn't the same ingredients every single day.  Maybe if we ate it five nights a week for the next year...

Friday, September 15, 2017

The fig tree


A small Brown Turkey fig tree, with several immature figs
Little fig tree, September 2017
My lovely little Brown Turkey fig tree was bought as a tiny cutting.  I don't remember how much I paid for it:  less than £5, I think.  It lived in a pot for a year, then the following spring the husband dug a deep hole next to the patio, lined it on four sides with large paving stones, chucked some broken bricks then a layer of small diameter wood in the bottom, and planted it. 

The first year in the ground (two years ago), it produced two figs.  They were glorious (just ask the rats, who nibbled on them first).  Last year it grew figs, but none ripened.  It was still a small tree--just over knee height with about six leaves.  This year we've had five beautiful figs.  There are still several on the tree which may or may not have time to ripen.
Close up of a Brown Turkey fig, held in a hand
Ripe fig, September 2017
The tree now stands just over waist height.  I'll give it a little pruning over winter after it's dormant, as I only want it to grow against the fence, espalier style;  I'm not growing a true espalier, but most of my fruit trees are growing against a fence or wall, with other things growing underneath.  In the fig's case, it's the main vegetable beds (holding bed this year).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

State of the flock, September 2017

Five black chickens preening on a garden bed
Cookie (far right) and her nearly grown up children
Our current flock total is now at 14, after two more deaths;  one of this season's chicks died from sour/impacted crop.  We tried to treat it, but couldn't save it;  Cookie (their adopted mother) also had this problem when she was a little chick and luckily recovered, though she's never forgiven us for what we did to save her (lots of crop massages and force feeding of probiotics).

The remaining four new season chicks are now huge--taller/wider than our biggest grown up hens, though not yet as heavy.  Cookie can still tell them off, even though they're twice as tall as she is.  I can say for certain that one is a cockerel, but I don't think the others are.  Maybe.  All their combs and wattles are very similar, and the one definite cockerel is technically a different breed (he's an Orpington and the others are Australorps);  he's the one in the foreground in the above photo.

We bought another six eggs for Cookie to sit on--she became broody again in late July/early August--but she ended up abandoning them after two weeks;  we later discovered there was a bad mite infestation in her little hutch.  We've dusted it with diatomaceous earth (DE) and will make sure it's mite-free before it's used again. 

We haven't had any eggs off our new season pullets yet;  thankfully no one's tried crowing yet either.  They're about four months old now, and I expect them to be ready to lay between now and November;  although it being later in the year, they may not start until spring.  That is, if they are pullets!

At the moment we're getting around 3-5 eggs per day (from 10 adults), and two hens are desperate to jump over the fence every day to lay in secret locations.  At least the rest of the flock aren't slim lightweight birds like these two--I think I need to attach weights to their little ankles.

We're hoping to keep our new cockerel for at least one breeding season;  if he's aggressive he'll be dinner, but if he's gentle like Tiny rooster was, he might get to stick around for a while. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Too much food!?

Close up of a ripening Hokkaido squash in a garden bed
Squash ripening, August 2017
Above is my squash pictured back in July, now turned a lovely orange.  It has several compatriots, and some vines are desperately trying to squeeze out a few more fruits before the season ends--a bit optimistically, I think. 

Right now we are slightly overwhelmed by food from the garden (with the exception of eggs, which have really slowed down).  Of some things, there are currently too much to keep up with every day, including zuccini, runner beans, and chard.  Good old chard:  it's the gift that keeps on giving;  not only was the majority of it self-seeded, it's been going since spring.  However even smaller harvests--like the French beans and lettuce--have been hard to keep a handle on, with everything coming in all at once.  I mean, most days I've had to pick a handful of about five different things before they get too big and tough;  there's a limit to how many vegetables three people can cram down in a day.

For the last several weeks we haven't even bought any salad fruits (peppers, avocados, etc, which are allowed under "no bought veg" rule) to pad out our meals.  And we even fed houseguests for two weeks!  In fact, we were struggling to keep up with fruit for a little while, with apples, figs, and plums all coming ripe around the same time.  The only fruits we've bought at the shop have been bananas and melon--and we've been neglecting them in favor of our own fruit.

I admit, I've taken the easiest route to preserve and chucked some stuff in the freezer.  I'll probably serve them in October/November, to keep up my pledge of not buying veg.  I don't want to have a freezer full of veg, as I've mentioned previously, because it's only a small freezer and I prefer to fill it with frozen milk and meat bought on special--in other words, expensive stuff.  This extra veg in the fridge is only for the short term.

In my gardening manual, The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, the author notes that late summer brings out "an embarras de richesses";  I'm glad to have this kind of embarrassment, as well as this kind of riches!  No doubt I'll be missing this explosion of fresh food by the end of the month;  but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

August 2017 garden notes

A garden bed with various vegetables, including chard and celery, with a lawn behind
Volunteer chard and thyme in front, celery behind
Roots

Finished harvesting all the shallots in this bed, and harvested all the onions;  most onions pretty small, but a few lovely big ones.

Still eating a few beets and more carrots through August.  Celery very big!

I broadcast some green manure seeds over this bed, particularly where the shallots and onions were, but also in bare spots among the beets.  None sprouted yet this month.

Peas and beans

I harvested the second batch of maincrop peas in August;  I let them dry on the vine for winter storage.  Finally began harvesting runner beans.  Started and finished the French beans;  we really liked those French beans on dwarf plants:  very productive for such little plants.  I will have to remember to plant them at the edge of the bed next year instead of the middle, for easier harvest. 

Brassicas

I was out most days to pick off and squish caterpillars.  The seven year old and husband have helped a little.

I pulled up the summer broccoli (it was a disappointing harvest and by August was only feeding the caterpillars), and the last summer cauliflower (caterpillars had eaten its tiny newly forming head).

Harvested the remaining mature Savoy cabbages in August.  New season ones growing well, with only a bit of caterpillar damage.  Harvested a little bit of new season kale and two nice sized summer cabbages;  two or three summer cabbages left, but only just starting to form heads.

Rutabagas and turnips growing slowly;  rutabagas seem to have some root formation, turnips not so much.  Brussels sprouts in holding bed still growing nicely but with very holey leaves.

Sowed spring cabbage and winter kale in trays, sowed pak choi in a cleared carrot planter, all of which have sprouted.

Miscellaneous

Cucumber plants succumbed to disease, after a small harvest.  I left a couple fruits on the vine to hopefully save for seed.

Begun harvesting cherry tomatoes in August, but regular tomatoes still far behind:  none of the plants had formed four full trusses yet.  Tomatillos growing well, and covered in little papery husks;  they seem to have shaken off whatever ailed them last month.  None harvested yet;  not sure if they'll have time to ripen?  Never grown them before.

There are at least six small squashes formed, some going orange (I believe they are red kuri/Hokkaido type), and the vines are still attempting to make a few more.  I put a tile or stone under each fruit, to keep it off the ground (attempting to prevent them going moldy).  None harvested yet.

Only one pumpkin formed that I have seen.  Vines vigorous and putting out lots of female flowers, but don't seem to be pollinated.  One zuccini plant producing modest amounts of fruits, the others are behaving like the pumpkins:  all leaf and no fruit.

Sweet corn only just beginning to form little ears at the end of August.  Leeks still small and been damaged by marauding chickens--I put a wire rack on top of them to try and mitigate any further damage.  Still eating and sowing radishes.

Chard still producing well, but affected a little by powdery mildew.  Older lettuces (cut and come again) producing modestly, new ones growing well.  I sowed some winter lettuce seed near the end of the month but none up yet.

Potatoes

Some plants have now grown to shoulder height.  We harvested a few plants in August, to eat with guests.

Fruit

Still harvesting a couple alpine strawberries per week, but nearly finished by the end of the month.  Maincrop strawberries sending out plenty of runners, but not transplanted any yet.

Autumn fruiting raspberry bush just starting to form flower buds at the end of the month.  Bought a new whitecurrant bush and planted it out.

Started picking plums in August:  pretty purple color and very tasty.  Picked both Laxton Fortune apples.  Picked one (of two) Sparta apple, and two lovely figs.

Almonds and Williams pears still maturing.

Perennials and herbs

Artichokes still strong but not put out much new growth this month.  Asparagus from seed has some new growth, but still very small and spindly.  Weeded and mulched its bed.

Sorrel regrowing from its chicken harvest (they ate it right to the ground).  One rhubarb plant seems to have two very small leaves on it;  the other is completely dead.

Lots and lots of thyme growth this month.  Rosemary still alive, but looking a bit sad still.  Mint, tarragon, chives looking well;  dill, basil, parsley small but growing.  Summer savory flowering.

Friday, September 1, 2017

August 2017 Food Totals

Williams pear, small but growing
Vegetables:

48 oz carrots
169.5 oz cabbage
2 oz cucumber
122.5 oz chard
89 oz potatoes
32 oz French beans
66 oz zuccini
5.5 oz radishes
51.5 oz runner beans
1.5 oz broccoli
2 oz celery
4 oz shallots
2 oz kale
14 oz onions
15.5 oz beets
3.5 oz mixed herbs (chives, thyme, tarragon, summer savory, etc)
20.5 oz tomatoes
3 oz lettuce
6.5 oz peas (dried weight)

Does not include fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, dill, tarragon, chives, summer savory) which were too small a quantity to weigh, i.e. less than 0.5 oz.

Total:  659.5 oz or approximately 41 lb

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc. 

Fruit: 

3.5 oz blackberries (from volunteers, aka weeds)
2 Laxton Fortune apples
1 Sparta apple
2 figs
12 plums

Eggs:

Total:  111 eggs from 10 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total)

Preserves:
3 medium jars pickled zuccini spears (zuccini from friend's garden, dill and garlic from my own garden)
1 medium bottle tarragon vinegar
1 small jar salted mixed herbs
4 large jars sauerkraut
1 large jar fermented French beans
1 small bag dried peas (6.5 oz)

Homebrew:  

Rhubarb wine and cider bottled up.  Elderberry/blackberry wine still fermenting.  2 new demijohns (8 L total) of cider begun brewing, from wild harvested apples.  Approximately 8 L of apple cider vinegar begun, using leftover pulp from cider.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Preserving for winter, 2017

A collection of different jars filled with various preserves
A bit of this and that, Aug 2017
From left to right above:  mixed fruit vinegar (elderberry, apple, pear), a small jar of mixed salted herbs, a large jar of sauerkraut (plastic bag on top is filled with water and acts as a weight), garlic and dill pickled French beans.

I'm doing my best to put some food by for winter use.  Most of my veg this summer has been harvested under the "little and often" principle, but occasionally there's too much to eat all at once, like the three Savoy Cabbages Gruff (little one, medium one, giant troll-busting one);  the excess of these became several jars of sauerkraut.

A few things I've grown particularly for winter storage/use:  squash and pumpkins--though the pumpkins are all leaf and no fruit yet--potatoes, and maincrop peas (dried).  I really need more peas next year though--I got about a cupful this year.

I've got a few jars of pickled zuccini spears;  I didn't much care for the ones I made last year, but I've gone for a milder vinegar and just garlic and dill for flavoring;  I couldn't get hold of any dill last year, but managed to grow some in a pot this year.  Hopefully they'll be better tasting, but I won't crack them open until the growing season's done. 

I've done some salted mixed herbs, which are simply finely minced fresh herbs layered with a lot of salt, and also a few jars of herb vinegars.  I normally try to make at least one jar of English mint sauce which for us is just chopped mint leaves in malt vinegar;  we not only eat it on lamb but use it as an easy base for salad dressings.  I had a light bulb moment about that--why not use my other favorite salad dressing herb in vinegar:  tarragon.  I look forward to having it in winter, when the plant has died back.  I hope to make another jar or two before this happens.