Friday, 28 October 2011

A break from the routine

No harvest total for this week - not because there is nothing to pick and gather, but because I have been too busy to do so, and have nowhere to store it. My parents have been staying, and we've been getting on fitting the new kitchen (which some of you may remember has been ongoing almost as long as I've had this blog).

The good news is, some of the cabinets are in place, so I've been moving stuff into them (the luxury of all that space is a joy). But most importantly, my fabulous new oven - an electric combination steam/fan oven/grill is in and it works! It will take much getting used to, but that is only a good thing. I roasted a chicken on the steam setting to begin with, to test the manufacturer's assertion that is could cook one in 46 minutes (around half the time of a conventional oven) - and it did! Of course, steam cooking doesn't crisp up the skin quite the same, so I did it on fan for a bit afterwards. Later, I baked banana bread - I was able to do two full-sized cake tins side by side - what luxury! The gas oven I've used up till now is tiny, so the extra space (and reliability, and accuracy, and functions) makes a huge difference.

But it's hard cooking for myself and my guests in these conditions (everything is in flux), so it's a bit stressful. Normal blogging will resume when it's over...

Monday, 24 October 2011

October harvest: week three

I started clearing the last of the tomatoes. I picked all the remaining fruit in the front garden first, and pulled up the plants from the ground, gathering those in grow bags together, ready to be taken round to the compost bins. A couple of days later, I stripped all the fruits from half the varieties in the back garden, and the rest I'll do in the next couple of days (I did it that way so I didn't get confused between similar-looking varieties, given they're mostly all green).

I also picked the first stem lettuce (celtuce). I was impressed - it was exactly what I was expecting. It turns out I planted them too close together - they were tiny when I put them in, but they swelled and are pressed together now they're getting mature. But they are perfectly healthy, and that's really encouraged me for next year - the oriental greens can be sown early in the spring as well as after midsummer. I need to harvest the rest of them soon, because I don't think they are frost hardy (and I need the space for other crops). I prepared the first one by discarding the lower leaves, then taking off the upper ones, washing and chopping, peeling the stem, and chopping that into matchsticks. I stir fried it with lime juice, fish sauce, and Shaoxing wine, and sprinkled with (shichimi) tōgarashi (Japanese seven spice). Despite being a mature lettuce, it was very mild with almost no bitterness.

Totals for week 15th-21st October:
19th: 205g stem lettuce (comprising 88g stem and 117g leaves), 1.984kg tomatoes (comprising 22 'Risentraube' at 130g, 63 'Jaune flammée' at 1.185kg, 1 'Super marmande' at 24g, 1 'Cherokee purple' at 171g, 6 'Costoluto fiorentino' at 140g, 7 'Sub arctic plenty' at 176g, and 19 'Cream sausage' at 158g; day total: 2.189kg)
21st: 137g baby pumpkins, 293g 'Uchiki kuri' pumpkins (largest 153g), 1.434kg tomatoes (comprising 7 'Snowberry' at 32g, 15 'Costoluto fiorentino' at 821g, 18 'Jaune flammée' at 306g, 67 'Sun belle' at 275g; day total: 1.864kg)
Total for week: 4.053kg
Year to date total: 37.891kg

The pumpkins were a writeoff. Of the two plants that I got into final positions (out of several dozen sown into pots), one produced nothing, and the other didn't have time once it had recovered from snail attacks to produce full-sized fruit. The baby fruits I took from a vine that grew of its own accord from homemade compost. It germinated in July, I think, but has spread along the whole depth of the front garden - I'll measure it before I pull it up. Sadly, the fruits were bitter. Squash cross-fertilise easily, so if you plant seeds you've saved (or allow seeds to germinate from home-grown or shop-bought fruit), they might have crossed with something inedible, like an ornamental gourd. In any case, that's probably why they tasted so bad. Never again!

I will be able to post my roundup of the tomato season in the next week or so, once all the fruit is in. Meanwhile, I've been doing a bit more preserving - pickling beetroots, and bottling tomato sauce, so I can savour my harvest into the winter.

Friday, 21 October 2011

October harvest: week two

These grapes are small, but oh so delicious.

Little has changed outside. Sunshine is a memory, and the world is grey. We've had a lot of rain, and a powerful storm, followed by a day or two of calm, then another storm. Darkness comes at half past six, dawn at half past seven; the light has gone (though it will get a lot darker in the next ten weeks, leading up to the solstice).

All this means I've had to swallow my delusion and sacrifice most of the tomatoes. All the sickly plants, those with no change of setting more fruit, and any which have been damaged by the weather will have to go - and the enormity of composting sixty plants struck me yesterday (it should yield a lot of good stuff for the spring though). The contents of the grow-bags most of them have lived in over the summer will be spread over the garden, filling new beds, and providing low nutrient, organic conditioning, which should lighten the heavy clay, improve structure, and produce better crops next year. I'll use some for planting tulips in pots, too - I want lots more of them next year.

The temptation is to leave them, because they are still flowering, and most are covered with green fruit. But with no sunshine, mediocre temperatures, and lots of rain, the chances are they will rot on the vine. And Monty Don (my hero) made a good point on Gardeners' World: the space they're taking up could now be better used. A salad or herb crop sown now, especially under cover in the greenhouse, will provide some food over the next few months. The tomatoes, like it or not, will die.

Totals for week 8th-14th October:

10th: 456g tomatoes (comprising 8 'Summer cider' at 155g and 21 'Sub arctic plenty' at 301g)
13th: 3.097kg tomatoes (comprising 1 'German orange strawberry' at 212g, 8 'Super marmande' at 1.090kg, 15 'Cream sausage' at 247g, 25 'Jaune flammée' at 707g, 5 'Great white' at 196g, 5 'Green zebra' at 77g, 9 'Costoluto fiorentino' at 207g, 25 'Sun belle' at 92g, 5 'Black cherry' at 35g, 5 'Snowberry' at 19g, 26 'Gardener's delight' at 136g, 1 'Sub arctic plenty' at 26g, 1 unidentified at 53g), 396g grapes (day total: 3.493kg)
14th: 225g tomatoes (comprising 2 'Jaune flammée' at 141g, 1 'Costoluto fiorentino' at 72g, and 1 'Cream sausage' at 12g).
Total for week: 4.174kg
Year to date total: 33.838kg

So the harvest is heavy, but this is an ending. Much of the fruit has been taken green, to ripen indoors if I do it right. There are still many outdoors, because it's such a big job, and because some plants are simply too healthy-looking to kill yet. The smaller fruits have a chance of ripening naturally before the frosts, if they come late. In any case, I always check the weather forecast, so I can keep an eye on it.

Update: I wrote the preceding paragraphs earlier in the week. By the end of it, I noticed a great many plants with what I can only assume is blight - great patches of stem and leaf brown, shrivelled, and exuding clouds of spores at the lightest touch. It's very late - for the third year I've been paying attention, blight hasn't struck here before mid-autumn - and for that I'm lucky. And in a way, it's good - it means I can no longer afford to be sentimental. The plants must go. (What's interesting is how patchy it is - not just on individual plants, but some plants are still bright green, healthy, and growing, among their withering brethren - varietal resistance?)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Tomatoes: roll call 2012 (part 2)

Continued from part one.

Jaune flammée


Yellow-orange, medium-large, round fruit, with richly-coloured, sweet flesh. Stable American cross, producing quickly on shorter plants. I love orange tomatoes, so I have added more to my list this year. Photo: sweetbeetandgreenbean

Plum lemon
Another curiosity. These really do look like lemons - they are medium-sized, yellow, and oval with points at either end. Russian, with an acid taste.


The large number of Eastern European tomatoes on my list is in part because they tend to be better-suited to the cool, wet British climate, while Mediterranean varieties are obviously selected for hotter, sunnier places. This is a red, rounded, medium-sized fruit in large trusses, from Czechoslovakia, whose flavour is highly praised, and produces in a short time. Potato-leaved, which I rather like (I don't know that it makes any practical difference). Photo: Satrina0


A classic, from what I gather. Another orange one, a little larger than cherry-sized fruit, quick to produce. A Swedish variety. Determinate (bush type). Photo: talkoftomatoes

Super marmande

White cherry
I'm comparing this to 2011's 'Snowberry', which was good, but I need to find out which works better for me. I couldn't find out much information, but it's apparently sweet and resistant to splitting.

White wonder
Medium to large, creamy white fruit. Flattened, somewhat ribbed, with very sweet juicy flesh. A 19th century American heirloom variety, which I'm comparing with 'Great white'.

Zloty ozarowski
Medium, orange fruit - a rival to 'Jaune flammée' (though I'd be amazed it could do better). Slightly ribbed Polish variety.

Many thanks to Passion tomate and Tatiana's Tomatobase for information on these varieties.

Tomatoes: roll call 2012 (part 1)

It may seem premature to be talking about next spring, given autumn is still in full sway. But we are now almost two-thirds of the way through the tomato year, partly because living by the coast affords me a long frost-free autumn, and partly because I intend to sow next year's a week or two earlier, to give me more time to get organised planting them out (which was the weakest link in my system this year).

So, we are coming up to week 33 of the 2011 season, and in 18 weeks' time, I'll be sowing the 2012 crop. And as a birthday treat, I ordered all the seeds I needed over the weekend. I have some left over from this year - so whether I liked them or not, I will grow these varieties again (I suppose the poorer-performing ones deserve a second chance). For a few I will save seeds of my own - a first for me, although given how readily they germinate in homemade compost, it shouldn't be difficult. The new ones I selected for a few key criteria - variety of colour, shape, and size; recommended flavour or disease resistance; or as replacements for under-performing varieties I tried this year (or simply to try something new).

Now I have ordered them, I can present the final list. I've split it into two parts, as there are now a total of 23 varieties. I won't describe ones I grew this year here - I have put links in to the entry I wrote about them back in the spring. Pictures are provided where a good, copyright-free example could be found.

Black cherry

Black prince

Plentiful medium-large dark red fruit, with dark red-brown/green flesh of good flavour. From Siberia, so good for cool climates. Photo: dreamexplorer

Brown berry
Dark red or brown cherry-sized fruit, greenish inside, with a good reputation for flavour. Possibly American, or Dutch (sources differ). A rival to 'Black cherry' - I will be comparing the two to see which to grow in future.


Dark pinkish-brown, large fruit with richly-flavoured flesh and few seeds. American. I will be comparing this with 'Black prince', 'Cherokee purple', and 'Japanese black trifele' - all are similar in size and dark in colour. Photo: kthread

Caspian pink

Large to very large beefsteak fruit with few seeds. Very large plants. A variety hailing, as its name suggests, from the Caspian region of Russia. Photo: summersumz

Cherokee purple

Cream sausage

Garden peach

A curiosity, this - a tomato which resembles a peach, pale yellow with downy skin. These seem to be better established in the USA, though I'm not sure where this hails from. One source claims this keeps for up to several months, but another that its shelf life is very short. I'm only really growing this to see what it is like - I don't expect it to be particularly good. Photo: fortinbras

Garden pearl
I am comparing this to 'Gardener's delight', although it is somewhat different - this is a determinate (or bush) variety, and often recommended for pots or hanging baskets, I think. It's a bit twee, but said to be very productive. Lots of small red fruit.

Gardener's delight

German orange strawberry

Great white

I have heard good things about this. It replaces 'Sun Belle' from this year, being a yellow cherry tomato, tending to oval or pear-shaped. Massive trusses of several dozen fruits each. Said to be from Sweden.

Japanese black trifele

Medium to large dark red fruit. Russian. said to be delicious. Photo: Rubber Slippers In Italy

Continued in part two.

Many thanks to Passion tomate and Tatiana's Tomatobase for information on these varieties.

Friday, 7 October 2011

October harvest: week one

Your eyes are not deceiving you - this is a strawberry, ripe, in October. I tore out the fruit patch, but the strawberries have spread around the rest of the garden. They're covered with flowers.

I had labelled this as a 'German Orange Strawberry', but I was suspicious when the fruits started forming. Its identity is now secure - 'Black Cherry'.

The heat has gone, and autumn has returned. But autumn means different things to different people, and varies a lot by location, so what do I mean by that?

Well, I live near the coast, as I may have mentioned in the past. That means it is, at all times of year, less extreme in temperature, but more so in wind, than much of the country. Autumn does not mean clear light, crisp mornings, the first frosts. No, it is more a matter of regular storms, lots of rain, and only slightly lower temperatures than the season preceding it. This year's heatwave was brief and exceptional - early September was much more typical. This blasts the leaves off the trees, brown, and turns them to mush underfoot, treacherous and unlovely. There's not much yellow, gold, red, on the trees - they don't get the chance, for one thing, nor is it hot or dry enough here in the average summer to promote the bright colours' formation in the first place.

The herbaceous plants - the shrubs, vegetables, annuals - continue, a little slower, shaggier, tireder, but little changed from July and August. My Cosmos plants have finally started flowering in earnest - they spent the summer growing to five or six feet, monsters that overfilled the space I'd allotted them. The Calendula, also grown from seed, are having a marvellous time - they've filled the garden with gold and shocking yellows and oranges for months now, and hopefully will self-sow profusely. Verbena bonariensis, which grows of its own accord every year - each time in different locations - is doing its lovely thing. The same goes for the tomatoes, beans, and pumpkins, which are all blissfully unaware of the oncoming darkness and cold. But frosts here come late, and are infrequent - I've had tomatoes fruiting outdoors well into November the past two years, although they look rather forlorn by that point. So I am not worried about the winter just yet - like the plants, I can afford to pretend everything's going on as before, though the early, more sudden, sunsets are rather cutting off my options for outdoor work in the evenings now.

Totals for week 1st-7th October:
1st: 32g chard, 10g pumpkin flowers (day total: 42g)
3rd: 139g tomatoes (comprising 3 'Jaune Flammée' at 94g, 1 'Summer Cider' at 45g)
4th: 17g runner beans, 32g strawberries, 1.01kg tomatoes (comprising 2 'Super Marmande' at 107g, 1 'Summer Cider' at 117g, 1 'Costoluto Fiorentino' at 35g, 2 'Great White' at 11g, 2 'Snowberry' at 11g, 11 'Sun Belle' at 54g, 12 'Gardener's Delight' at 80g, 6 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 67g, 2 'Cream Sausage' at 43g, 5 'Green Zebra' at 126g, 11 'Black Cherry' at 115g, 8 'Jaune Flammée' at 244g; day total: 1.059kg)
7th: 1.341kg tomatoes (comprising 5 'Green Zebra' at 223g, 1 'Summer Cider' at 61g, 6 'Cream Sausage' at 174g, 7 'Jaune Flammée' at 211g, 6 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 154g, 4 'Snowberry' at 23g, 17 'Sun Belle' at 55g, 13 'Gardener's Delight' at 77g, 3 'Costoluto Fiorentino' at 47g, 4 'Super Marmande' at 131g, 3 'Great White' at 185g)
Total for week: 2.581kg
Year to date total: 29.664kg

A lot of tomatoes! If I have just one day harvesting a dozen varieties of tomato in the whole year, I will have achieved a major part of what I wanted. I now have an ongoing dilemma - do I gather in all the remaining unripe fruit, and hope to get them to colour up indoors, or do I rely on the continuing mild weather, and occasional sunshine, to do it for me? I think a bit of both; some plants look very tired, and need to be laid to rest on the compost heap, while others look as fresh as they did in June. I also need to start planning my overwintering vegetables - the onions I sowed are doing well; I will order garlic sets, and sow broad beans and peas to put out in November.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Insalata caprese

The version is layered, and uses three types of tomato. I'd like to say I grew the basil, but mine was destroyed by aphids, so this is from the market. Still tastes good!

There must be thousands of versions of this online and in books. But it's one of my all-time favourite dishes, and now's the perfect time to make it, with an abundance of ripe tomatoes coming from the garden.

It's hardly a recipe at all - which is probably why I like it so much. It's just a matter of combining the six ingredients, more or less prettily, and eating them. The simpler a recipe, the more important the quality of each ingredient - there's nowhere to hide. So, indulge yourself and buy the best you can (homegrown produce is even better).

Insalata caprese (Capri-style salad)
  • the best-quality tomatoes you can find, at the peak of ripeness
  • buffalo mozzarella (the fresher the better), brought to room temperature
  • fresh basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt (Maldon, or another coarse sea salt is perfect)
  • black pepper, freshly cracked
  • slice the tomatoes, or cut them into chunks - whichever you find more appealing. Slice or tear the mozzarella into chunks about the same size as the tomato.
  • arrange the cheese and tomato on a plate, or in a bowl, roughly mixed together, or layered alternately.
  • tear the basil over the top, or layer the leaves between the slices, if using.
  • sprinkle over salt (if using coarse sea salt, crush it between your fingers as you sprinkle) and pepper to taste, and drizzle as much oil as you like.

It's pretty, not terribly unhealthy, takes no time to make, and is delicious at any time of year. If I had the money, and access to the best ingredients, I would eat it every other day.

Incidentally, the price of the plateful above works out around £1.25. I used bocconcini (small mozzarella balls), which are a little more expensive than full-sized cheeses; I used around 1/3 of a pack. The basil was 99p a pack, of which I used no more than a fifth. The tomatoes were free, and the oil and seasonings were a penny or two each, at most.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

September harvest: week four/monthly summary

The greenhouse 'Jaune Flammée' has reached its end, but outdoors, several other plants have started producing even larger fruits recently. This variety continues to impress.

We've been having a heatwave, along with the rest of England and Wales. It's been perfect, with light winds, mostly clear skies, and temperatures in the mid twenties by day, mid teens at night. So the summer crops have continued to flourish - I have have left them be for now.

Totals for week 22nd-30th September:
23rd: 37g turnips, 21g turnip tops, 60g chard, 46g runner beans, 390g tomatoes (comprising 2 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 54g, 3 'Jaune Flammée' at 76g, 3 'Cream Sausage' at 74g, 14 'Gardener's Delight' at 90g, 4 'Snowberry' at 30g, 6 'Sun Belle' at 36g; day total: 554g)
24th: 1 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 17g, 2g French beans, 7g runner beans (day total: 26g)
26th: 41g turnips, 39g turnip tops, 8g pumpkin flowers, 17g runner beans, 197g tomatoes (comprising 1 'Black Cherry' at 17g, 6 'Sun Belle' at 41g, 1 'Green Zebra' at 37g, 4 'Gardener's Delight' at 19g, 3 'Snowberry' at 14g, 2 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 13g, 1 'Super Marmande' at 56g; day total: 302g)
27th: 221g tomatoes (comprising 3 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 107g, 5 'Jaune Flammée' at 114g)
28th: 24g runner beans, 290g tomatoes (comprising 1 'Summer Cider' at 146g, 3 'Green Zebra' at 69g, 2 'Jaune Flammée' at 32g, 6 'Sun Belle' at 43g; day total: 314g)
29th: 17g pumpkin flowers, 191g tomatoes (comprising 2 'Jaune Flammée' at 80g, 3 'Costoluto Fiorentino' at 111g; day total: 208g)
30th: 132g mizuna, 12g runner beans, 2g French beans, 280g tomatoes (comprising 2 'Costoluto Fiorentino' at 65g, 4 'Jaune Flammée' at 135g, 1 'Sub Arctic Plenty' at 12g, 12 'Gardener's Delight' at 68g; day total: 426g)
Total for 8 days: 2.051kg
September total: 5.605kg
Year to date total: 27.083kg

Two kilos in just over a week is good - the tomato harvest has accelerated. All but three varieties ('Riesentraube', 'German Orange Strawberry', and 'Great White') have produced something, and I'm confident even these will give some fruit before the end of the season. Mizuna has rebounded from its first proper cropping, and I'll let it grow back once or twice more. Stem lettuces are huge, but suffering in the heat a little; chard is growing well; swedes were thriving but have been ravaged by caterpillars; turnips likewise, but with slugs. I'll need to tidy the whole garden pretty ruthlessly as things start to wind down through the rest of autumn, but for now, I've been getting more outdoor joinery done (this time, building a shed).

Many more harvests to come!