Thursday, 22 June 2017

Pickled Green Chillis

I'm not normally a fan of pickled veg, but I make a few exceptions. One of these is pickled chillis.

Last Summer, Jane made some "Jeruk Cili Hijau" (Pickled Green Chillis), following a recipe in Ping Coombes' book "Malaysia. Recipes from a family kitchen". Despite my initial reservations, I enjoyed them. This year we are making the same pickle, and starting early!

This is my contribution to the enterprise - providing the chillis:

The dark green ones are "Cayenne", but I don't know what the lighter-coloured ones are. They look like those Turkish ones I grew a couple of years ago, which were big but quite mild even when ripe.

The recipe (which makes one jar) calls for 165g of fresh chillis and fortunately that is just about exactly what these ones weighed - no adjustments to the recipe were necessary.

For copyright reasons I won't reproduce the recipe here, but suffice it to say that in addition to the chillis it only requires salt, caster sugar and distilled white vinegar. A really simple recipe, but very effective!

Here is the finished article:

Ping Coombes says her grandmother used to love these pickled chillis with wan-tons, but I can assure you they go with Beef Rendang, Singapore-style noodles and Nasi Goreng as well as with many Western-style meals too, such as pizza.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A comparison of some Early potatoes

As regular readers will know, I like to grow a few of several different potatoes every year. I have a few favourite ones that appear on the list year after year, but I also like to ring the changes and try some different ones each time as well. I thought it might be interesting to compare how some of them have performed.

In the last couple of weeks I have harvested all my First Early types. They were all grown, 2 tubers to a pot, in containers approximately 30cm in diameter and 35cm depth, using ordinary soil from a dismantled raised bed. I used no compost this time, but I did add to each pot a handful of "Growmore" general-purpose fertiliser and a handful of pelleted chicken manure.

The varieties I grew were Belle de Fontenay, Accord, Lady Christl, Juliette, International Kidney and Orla. The first 4 of those were planted on Mar 11, and the last 2 on Mar 23.

First to be harvested (3rd June) was Belle de Fontenay. The harvest was not huge (533g), but the potatoes were very fine - pale oblongs with smooth unblemished skins. When cooked they were light and insubstantial, very nice indeed.

Next up was Accord, harvested on 12 June. The fact that I didn't even photograph them says a lot - I was disappointed with them, especially since the Belle de Fontenay had been so good. Accord produced a small number of tubers which were very variable in size. They included four huge ones, about the size I associate with a baking-potato, not a new potato. When cooked (boiled) the texture was very dry and rather unpleasant. In retrospect they might have been better baked! We initially ate only half of the ones we had cooked, but we re-cooked the remainder the next day, frying them with some bacon and they were better the second time round.

My faith in New Potatoes was restored on 15 June when I harvested the Juliettes:

They yielded 1.28kgs, with 52 tubers of a useable size. The tubers themselves were lovely and clean. When cooked the flesh was firm but tender. I think this is a perfect salad potato. I say this with authority because I often eat any leftover potatoes, cold. If you are unfamiliar with this one, think of it as being very similar to Charlotte, which I'm sure everyone knows.

19th June saw me harvesting Lady Christl.

This pot yielded 922g. Again the tubers were very nice, clean and regularly-shaped. My only complaint is that when boiled many of them split. Thinking about this, I realise that in the past I have advocated leaving the potatoes for three or four days after harvesting before eating them, to allow the skins to harden-up a bit, which seems to help prevent them splitting. I must practise what I preach!

In terms of quality, I would rate Lady Christl as 7/10, behind Belle de Fontenay at 8/10 and Juliette at 9/10.

Following my own advice about letting the skins harden, I dug up two more lots on 20th June. What a disappointment! The first one was Orla (incidentally a type that can also be grown as an Early Maincrop because it can get pretty big). Initially the crop didn't look too bad, with a decent number of good-sized tubers. Weight was 790g.

When washed though, it was a different story. Many of the tubers had a fair bit of Scab on them. This is a disease often associated with excessively dry soil, lacking in organic matter. I hold my hand up to this, because as mentioned earlier, I used simple garden soil. However, most of the other varieties did OK in it. Next year (as long as I can find some good compost) I think I will revert to using either 100% compost or perhaps 50/50 soil/compost mix.

Scab looks bad, but fortunately it is only skin deep, and if you scape or peel spuds affected by it they will be fine. No prizes on the showbench though...

The second variety harvested on 20 June was International Kidney. This is the type marketed as Jersey Royal (officially only if grown in Jersey, of course). When I tipped the pot out I saw straight away that it was seething with red ants, and the soil was very dry. These are probably reasons why the tubers were poor:

They were mostly lumpy and mis-shapen and deeply pitted with Scab. Not a pretty sight! Weight was only 709g.

Considering the high profile of International Kidney / Jersey Royal, you could reasonably have expected this variety to have been the best of the bunch, but it wasn't, it was the worst. I must say that I was quite surprised that mine didn't have any of the loose skins that normally characterise this variety. Maybe they only go like that when grown in sandy Channel Island soil - and with sea air?

Anyway, looking back on the six potato varieties I have harvested so far, I rank them in this order (best at the top of the list)
Belle de Fontenay
Lady Christl
International Kidney.

To be honest though, at the time of writing we have not tried the Orla or International Kidney ones yet, so maybe taste and texture will compensate for poor appearance.

In 10 days or so I will start harvesting my Second Earlies. I'll let you know how they perform.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


Some of my vegetable crops have passed significant milestones in their development this week.

For instance, the "Boltardy" Beetroot have discernible swollen roots now. [This photo is zoomed, btw.]

The Courgette plant has opened its first flower, a female. None of the male flowers look ready to pollinate it though...

My "Long Red Florence" onions, grown from seed, are finally beginning to show some signs of redness, though you do have to look closely to see them.

The first Runner Bean stems have reached the cross-bar of their support-system, 8 feet above the soil level, and I have pinched them out in order to promote the formation of side-shoots lower down.

And further down the plants the first flowers are beginning to show some colour.

Almost all the tomato plants, with the exception of some of the Beefsteak types, have set lots of little fruit. This one is "Costoluto Fiorentino".

For several days now we have been experiencing hot, dry weather ("Hot" means 25C + in these parts!), and the longest spell of over-30-degree temperatures for more than 20 years. This has certainly helped the plants to grow quickly, but it has also brought with it the need to do lots of watering. I have many of my plants in pots and containers, which do tend to dry out very rapidly, so they need watering every day (sometimes twice) when it is hot like this.

Just a few tips on this theme:

1. Plastic pots tend to be better than terracotta ones, because they are not porous and therefore retain moisture better. However, the loss of water via evaporation can also be useful because of its cooling effect!
2. It's best to water in the evening or in the very early morning, so that water loss via evaporation is minimised, and the plants have time to make use of the water you give them.
3. If possible, equip your pots with saucers, which retain some of the water which would otherwise just run away and be wasted. Like these:-

4. Whether using a watering-can or hose, make sure that you water the roots of the plant not the leaves.
5. It's better to water more copiously but less often, so that water has the chance to penetrate down to the roots of your plants instead of just dampening the surface of the soil / compost.
6. If you are short of time for watering, try to concentrate on the plants that are most in need - ones which will suffer very quickly if not kept hydrated - e.g. the cucurbit family.
7. Another strategy for the time-strapped gardener is to make a rota (be it written or mental) for which plants get watered when, so that everything gets a turn and you don't just water the same few plants every day.
8.[Added to my list because I have just been watching a Starling drinking from my bird-bath] As well as watering your plants, don't forget to provide water for birds and animals, who need it for drinking and for bathing (I'm sure they feel the heat just like we do...)

Monday, 19 June 2017

Harvesting Broad Beans

Yesterday I picked the majority of the pods from my first row of Broad Beans.

These are the "Witkiem Manita" ones, a row of 12 plants. This batch amounted to 2.23kgs. Put that together with the batch of 500g I took a few days previously and I think it adds up to a decent crop, especially since there are still a few more pods to come.

Knowing when to pick the pods is a matter of experience. I gently squeeze a few of them when they look ready, to see what they feel like. If they are tight and firm, then they are ready, but if they are soft and pliant there is still room for growth, and the beans inside will probably be very small. If in doubt, pick just one pod and open it to see what's inside. However, you don't want to leave the pods too long, because over-mature Broad Beans are floury and unpleasant to eat. In my opinion it is better to have a smaller harvest of tender young beans, rather than a bigger harvest of old tough ones.

I normally reckon that a two-person serving of Broad Beans is about 500g (before podding), so this batch of over 2kgs will do us for four meals. Fortunately they keep well, especially if stored in a Stayfresh bag in the fridge. It is better to harvest the pods at the perfect stage and store them than it is to leave them on the plants, where they will continue to grow.

I have another row of beans coming on too, which are not ready yet.

They were sown a month later than the first row, but they have caught up a lot and they will be ready for cropping in about a week or ten days. Four of the plants in the second row are "Witkiem Manita" like the first ones, but the other eight are an unknown variety. They look as if they are a Longpod of some sort, with longer slimmer pods. "Witkiem Manita" usually has four or five beans in a pod, but Longpod varieties typically have seven or eight. This is one of the "Longpod" pods:

The second row of beans has not produced so many pods down low on the plants, but up at the tops they have really excelled, with a high proportion of flowers setting pods.

By the way, have you noticed that I used my personalised trug for harvesting the beans?

It was a birthday present from Jane. I haven't used it till now because it is very big, and the meagre harvests I have had so far would have been dwarfed in it! Hopefully it will be fully utilised when the Runner Beans come on stream in a few weeks' time....

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Courgette "Defender"

This year I'm growing courgettes for the first time since our kids left home. One of our girls in particular was very fond of courgettes, and couldn't get enough of them. Jane and I are less keen. However, having been served some really nicely-cooked courgettes in a restaurant a few months ago, I'm having another go at growing them this year.

I say "them", but I really mean "it", because I have only one plant. That said, it looks a good one.

It is an F1 variety called "Defender", which is allegedly not only high-yielding ("twice the cropping power of other courgettes"), but also very resistant to cucumber mosaic virus and mildew. If it performs as well as is claimed, one plant should be plenty for us. A courgette plant normally produces a new fruit every 3 days or so, which is why so many people end up with gluts.

For want of space elsewhere, I'm growing my courgette in a big (50cm diameter) tub.

Actually I think growing courgettes in tubs is an ideal way to do it, because it means that it is easier to provide the right environment for them - they like deep, rich, moisture-retentive soil. They thrive in full sunlight as long as they are kept well watered. When grown in dry soil, courgettes get stressed and succumb easily to mildew.

My plant is just producing its first fruit:

Not far behind are at least two more embryonic fruits.

I just hope that some male flowers open at the right time to permit pollination.

Sharing the big tub with the courgette plant are two cucumber plants - one "Diva" and one "Passandra". They are still small, but I have started encouraging them to climb up the bamboo canes I have provided for them.

Initially they need tying-in, but eventually they will probably be able to support themselves with the aid of their spiral tendrils.

Saturday, 17 June 2017


Isn't that a lovely word, "burgeoning"? It is the present participle of the verb "to burgeon", which means to begin to grow or increase rapidly; to flourish.

After rain last week (while we were away on holiday in Portugal, tee-hee!), followed by several warm sunny days, my garden is definitely burgeoning, as I shall demonstrate...

The first of my Broad Beans will be ready for harvesting in just a couple more days:

And lots of pods are setting on the second row too.

The apples are swelling. These are "Laxton's Superb".

Although far from ripe, the fruits on the Blueberry bushes are recognizably Blueberry-shaped now.

My little row of 15 Leeks is looking promising - at least they are growing.

And this definitely looks like my first courgette forming:

The foliage on all my potatoes has "turned" now - gone yellow(ish) and droopy. In other plants this might be worrying, but in potatoes it is to be welcomed since it means that harvesting-time is close.

Here's a batch of "Juliette" spuds I harvested a few days ago. I planted 2 x seed-tubers (costing me a mere 17p each) in one 30cm container. They produced for me 52 useable tubers, weighing 1.28kgs. I consider that to be a good return!

About half of my chilli plants have now set fruit.

Several of the tomato plants (especially "Maskotka" and "Losetto") have set fruit too, though the big beefsteak varieties are some way behind.

Even some of the onions are beginning to bulb-up:

Unfortunately several of the red ones ("Red Baron"), grown from sets, have formed flower heads. I have picked off the flower-stalks, but I expect those particular onions will not be very good. The "Sturon" ones, also grown from sets, appear to be less affected, as do the "Long Red Florence" which I have grown from seed. Maybe the red ones were not heat-treated? (This supposedly prevents / discourages bolting).

On the Flowers front we also have good progress. The Hydrangea has lots of blooms, and the first couple are showing colour now:

And the biggest of my six dwarf sunflowers has a bud. It's a weird twisty thing!

I still have some nice Aquilegias:

Some Calendulas too. They are self-seeded ones from the "Flighty's Favourites" selection gifted to me a couple of years ago by Mike Rogers of "Flighty's plot". I particularly like the rather muted "biscuit-coloured" ones. I think they are more attractive than the plain orange and yellow varieties.

OK then folks, have I convinced you that my garden is burgeoning?

To be honest, there is not a lot of work for me to do in the garden at present. I spent some time earlier in the week clearing up fallen leaves and twigs, a consequence of the aforementioned storms, and I have done a bit of tying-in of tomato plants. Oh, and transplanted my PSB and sown a few more lettuce seeds, but it's hardly been a busy week. It's nice to be able to just enjoy watching things grow.