Friday, 9 June 2017

The end of spring

Things have grown. The line of pots have been sown with summer and winter squash, which will go into the bed at upper left, currently swamped with goldenrod.

I was away for part of May due to unavoidable commitments, and in the meantime, the plants grew rapidly - both my crops, and the wild ones around. At this time of year, anything seems possible. Throw a few seeds down and in no time they're thriving. But the others - in the context of the veg patch, 'weeds' - threaten to retake the ground that's been cleared, so there's no end of chores to do.

I'm behind in many regards. The tomatoes are now small plants, desperately needing potting on, but a lack of suitable pots hindered me. I got all my pumpkins and squashes sown, but they'll not be big enough to plant out for another month at least - but since there's not yet anywhere to put them, that's a bit of breathing room.

A few harvests have brought pleasure - mixed salad leaves, courgette flowers (from the plant I bought a few weeks ago, for an early crop), basil. There's more mint than I know what to do with. And everything else looks healthy and strong (see below). This isn't an ideal time of year to be doing major ground clearance - yet needs must. I often hit a mental wall in June, as the springtime slows, the light peaks, and autumn creeps into my thoughts. However, a week's work now will pay dividends in two months' time, and fill that season (which I don't enjoy) with the achievement of a good harvest. Meanwhile, at least there are lots of flowers around, and everything in general seems at its most alive - the leaves are all out, and still fresh green, supple, and mostly un-nibbled; invertebrate life is busy and endlessly fascinating.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Early May

It's the busiest time of the gardening year. I have pots and trays of seedlings and small plants both indoors and outside. I've hoed and dug more of the vegetable beds, and started clearing the paths around them, and planted more crops - broad beans the latest to go in (which I'd started in cardboard tubes back in March or early April).


There's so much more to do. It's not too late to sow many things - especially this far north, and spring here has been slow, with daytime temperatures only picking up into the mid teens since the start of this month. I recently got a book I've wanted since the last time I blogged here a lot - a book on heirloom tomatoes. This has rekindled my love of lycopersicon, so I ordered a few more varieties - it can't hurt, even if they don't eventually fruit. I have the advantage of a greenhouse and polytunnel here, although both need repairing, so I should be able to extend the season somewhat.

I bought a courgette plant from the botanic garden shop - a yellow-fruited variety. I will grow more from seed, but this tiny plant had even tinier embryonic flowers already sprouting. I repotted it on the first day, and in a week it has roughly doubled in size (I've put it out in the sun during the day, brought it in on the chilly nights). It should provide an early crop until the home-down ones get going. I've never grown a yellow variety - they are so pretty, I couldn't resist.

Elsewhere, I've been tackling an area towards the end of the garden near some trees. I've always envisaged a woodland garden there - bulbs and shade-loving perennials with a seating area. So far it's been the hard task of lifting encroaching turf, digging some organic matter into the hard, dry soil, planting (primulas, Trillium, Cardiocrinum, foxgloves), and mulching. It'll need some care, as it's naturally drier there than I'd like, but then it's been a dry spring so far.

Finally, I've been planning ahead in a less glamorous way, making liquid plant feeds from nettles and comfrey, and dock as it seems similar to comfrey in its growing habit. And for the even longer term, I lifted and divided some comfrey, and potted it up - I'll need lots more leaves in the coming months.

The veg plot a couple of days ago, above; and today, below. Progress!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Beginning again

This bed was as overgrown as the one behind it just a few weeks ago.

I've neglected this blog for a few years, in large part because I stopped doing the two things it was set up to document - growing plants (especially edible ones) and cooking. Not that I lost my love for such pursuits, but changes in my personal circumstances and health meant I was no longer inclined to devote so much time to them. One thing that took the place of these activities was in fact due to this blog - I bought a cheap secondhand DSLR to take better pictures to post here, and it began a passion for photography that has become an essential part of my life.

However, I'm willing to try again, especially with growing vegetables. I had never had enough space where I was based before - I signed on to the waiting list for an allotment, but never heard back from them, and now I live somewhere else. The upside is, the garden here is very much larger, and came with a vegetable and fruit patch. The first spring I got stuck in, but having weeded, dug, enriched the soil, and planted lots of crops, I was forced away for several months, so it was largely wasted.

Three years have passed, and I am in a position to start afresh. So far, I've sown a few seeds, and begun to bring the beds back into cultivation. It'll be a slow process - I can't do a lot at once, but cheeringly the work I did before has made it much easier this time round. The soil and paths were lost under a thick growth of nettles, goldenrod, coltsfoot, and creeping buttercup, amongst others, but the soil beneath is still friable and quite rich. Hoeing the top growth, then forking and removing the roots and runners has been largely successful, and the first crops are now in.

So far I have planted out shallots, garlic, and potatoes, and sown broad beans, more shallots, mixed salad leaves, beetroot, tomatoes, and basil. There's a lot more I want to try - there's no limit but the effort I make, so this year I won't put artificial limits on what I set out to achieve. Conversely, I am very realistic and know that I can't do everything, and unforeseen circumstances tend to rule, so I won't get upset with myself if things are left undone.

I'll try to document the progress that I and the garden make together this year. I can certainly take a lot of pictures, at the very least.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Katana cocktail

This blog was started almost precisely a quarter of my life ago. Quite a lot has changed in my circumstances since then, but mostly I am the same person, with the same tastes and dreams.

I revisit very few of my old blog posts, but a couple are worth sharing occasionally - including the recipe for one of my all-time favourite cocktails. It's one thing to love something for a year or two, but this has stood the test of nearly a decade, so it's worth restating, and expanding on.

This is simply delicious, never failing to bring me great pleasure. It's the most complex of my top three or five cocktails, but its basis is the same as e.g. the caipirinha - sugar, lime, and alcohol in perfect balance.

I tasted this in a cocktail bar I visited at random with a friend in London back in 2009. I recreated the recipe at home, keeping the name, and tweaked it until it was perfect. This is not the easiest cocktail to make as you really need a juicer, but if you have one, it's straightforward and well worth trying. I'll give a few ideas below if you don't have a juicer.


to make a medium-sized jug (about 800ml).
2-4 apples (2 very large, 4 small, etc)
1/2 a cucumber (Long green English-style, as sold in the salad section of supermarkets)
1 1/2 large, or 2 1/2 small limes
A small bunch of mint
Sugar syrup (buy or make at home by combining equal volumes of white sugar and water)

  • Juice the apples, cucumber, limes, and mint. Not all juicers will process mint well - ideally you need a masticating (augur/screw) juicer, rather than a centrifugal one, but check the device's manual for details. If you can't juice the mint, then see below.
  • Strain the juice through a fine sieve - if you want really clear juice, then one or two layers of kitchen paper will help, although it may take a while, and this can lead to the juice discolouring due to oxidation.
  • Add gin and sugar syrup to taste - approximately 300ml and 100ml respectively. The aim is, as with all good cocktails, a balance between sourness, sweetness, and alcohol. Stir.
  • This mix can be refrigerated for a few hours, though it may settle and separate. Otherwise, shake each serving over ice. Serve in a martini glass or large champagne coupe.

Note - there are a few options for the mint other than juicing. You can purée in a blender with the sugar syrup or gin, then strain. Or you can steep crushed or "muddled" mint in the sugar syrup for a few hours or overnight, before making the cocktail. It might be possible to substitute ready-made mint cordial, but I've never tried this.

Shop-bought cucumbers tend to be very bland. If you use homegrown, they should be much more fragrant, in which case reduce the quantity. This should not taste strongly of any one ingredient, but rather be a fresh, bright-tasting combination of them all.

The variety of apple or mint you use will affect the finished cocktail, so experiment. I've used garden mint (I guess peppermint) and apple mint to good effect. Sour apples may require more sugar/less lime, and vice versa. Crisp apples juice more easily than soft or floury ones.

Freshly made, this cocktail is a vibrant green. However, with time and air, it will turn brownish, the one downside to using such fresh ingredients. It will still taste great, either way. There are many options for a garnish, if you're so inclined. Something with a contrasting colour (red or pink) has visual impact - a strawberry (plain or skewered with mint), a rose or peony petal; or simply a slice of cucumber.

Delicious at any time, this is especially good in spring and summer, served outdoors on a sunny day - it tastes of that season, fresh, bright, and juicy.