Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Freezing Green Beans

Chances are if you've planted beans in your garden, or know someone who has, you will have more French beans than you can eat or give away.  I can see the neighbours hiding behind their curtains when they see me coming towards their front doors with another basket filled with beans, hoping I can force them to take them off my hands.  At first they are delighted, then polite, then they just try to avoid me.

So, in the hope of preserving friendships and neighbourly relationships, I have decided to freeze some of the many Blue Lake beans harvested from my allotment. 

Freezing fresh produce is SO easy and you will enjoy a little taste of summer once the winter sets in.  All you need are some little freezer bags, a marker pen and these simple instructions: 

1.  Pick and wash your green beans.  Sort them roughly by size, little skinny ones in one pile, medium sized beans in another, and big beans in a third pile.

2.  Top and tail the beans and cut them into bite size pieces.

3.  Fill a large sauce pan with water and bring it to a rolling boil.  Add the first pile of beans and parboil them for the following times:
      BIG BEANS - boil for 4 minutes
      MEDIUM BEANS - boil for 3 minutes
      SKINNY BEANS - boil for 2 minutes

4.  Drain the beans and plunge them into VERY COLD water to cool them down. Drain the beans well.  

5.  Pack the cooled beans into freezer bags, press out as much air as possible and seal.   I like to use a marker pen to label and date the beans.  

6.  Place the bagged beans into the freezer and enjoy within one year.  

Monday, 10 July 2017

Allotment Learning

It's almost the middle of July.  I figure this is the height of the growing season in the allotment. As you know, this is my first year of actually growing vegetables and it has been a real learning experience.  I've made all the expected novice mistakes; bought too many different seeds, put plants in the wrong locations, over planted some things, and planted too few of other vegetables.  Perhaps the most annoying thing I've done is not giving myself enough room between rows to harvest the vegetables comfortably.  It's like a game of Twister when harvesting flowers from the cutting patch - right foot between the cosmos, left foot by the cornflowers. 

It's been lots of work but I have loved every minute.  Things don't seem as frantic now that most of the planting and planning is done.  I've had time to stop and enjoy the garden and evaluate what lessons have been learned in such a short time.  Here's a list, in no particular order, that might be useful if you are a beginner 'plotter' like me:

1.  Sow seeds indoors and plant young seedlings into modules.  Transplant them into the garden once you think they are big enough to stand up to the slugs. 

2.  Use heavy cardboard, landscape fabric, or old carpet to cover any garden beds not in use. This will smother out any weeds and saves you digging it over more than once.  

3.  You can never have TOO much twine... 

4.  You can never have too many bamboo canes, pea sticks, or plant supports. Practically everything taller than ankle height needs staking in our coastal winds.  This is also why you can never have too much twine. 

5.  Grow beans and peas that climb up.  Bush beans are lovely but they are harder to pick and growing vertically gives you more room to plant different things. 

5.  Pick beans, beets, and turnips when they are young and tender.  Most veg is best picked on the small side. Nothing is worse than wooden turnips or stringy string beans.  

6.  Grow some 'No-Fail' plants to encourage you to be brave.  If you don't have room to start plants from seeds you can purchase lots of different veg from garden centers in modules or bare root ready to plant in your garden.

7.  Grow some scary plants, the kind that may or may not make it.  I've got watermelons in the polytunnel.  If I get one melon I'll be happy.  

8.  Always add flowers, the bees will love you and it makes the garden look beautiful.  

9.  Water! Weed! Feed! Then weed again. 

10. The 'Golden Gardening Hours' are VERY early in the morning and that hour between sunset and dusk.  You can catch the slugs and snails unawares and watering is most effective when the sun isn't beating down on the garden. 

11.  Make friends with your allotment neighbours but don't live in their pockets. Do a good deed for them now and then and they will return the favour.  

12.  Dress appropriately; hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, and SUNSCREEN. And don't forget to wear the right shoes/wellies/work boots. 

13.  This may be the most important point, research: READ, READ, and READ some more.  The more you learn before you plant the more success you will enjoy. 


Listen to advice but don't necessarily take it, especially from ME!  

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Beans and Flowers for Cutting

Today is the 4th of July - not that it means anything special here in Devon. When I was a kid it was a big deal, Independence Day, one of the few times when my parents would host what we would consider to be a party. They would fire up the Bar-B-Q, make homemade ice cream, slice a big watermelon, and invite the neighbours over to our BIG back garden to watch the fireworks.  As a child, this was almost as good as Christmas... almost.  

I often feel a little nostalgic on the 4th.  It was always a big 'family day' for us. The plants in the allotment also are reminding me of days gone by and family members who are no longer with us. The vegetables remind me of my great-aunt and great-uncle who kept the most immaculate gardens and grew Sugar Baby watermelons just for me!

I planted zinnias in memory of my grandmother Lessie.  She always grew her vegetables in great beds bordered by colourful zinnias.  Most of my family 'gardened' and each plant and flower fuel a memory.  I think it is true of most people's gardens.  So I'll cut sweet peas, collect some beans, and remember all those who shared those special Independence Days with me.  Of course, there won't be any fireworks tonight... not in DEVON!  

Friday, 16 June 2017

Strawberry Pie

Oh boy, do we have a bumper crop of strawberries!  I am not complaining, honestly.   We have had lots to share with the neighbours, enough to make jam, and plenty to eat with cream or yogurt.  Now it's time to get a bit more adventurous with the berries.  Andy suggested strawberry pie.... 

What a good idea!  Why didn't I think of that?  So, I did some research (that means Googling) and found several recipes for strawberry pie.  I had all ingredients I needed to make this one ... and very good it is, too. 

Here's the recipe as written:

9 inch pie shell - baked and cooled to room temperature*
1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries - approximately 
1 cup white sugar (caster sugar)
3 Tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour)
3/4 water
1/2 cup heavy cream for whipping

Arrange half of the berries in the pie shell and set aside while you make the filling.

Remove the stems and slice the remaining strawberries into a saucepan.  Add the sugar and bring to a rolling boil.  

Combine the water and cornstarch.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually add the water-cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly. 

Lower the heat and cook over a low flame, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is VERY thick.  

Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract... this is my addition to the recipe.  I like the taste of vanilla and strawberries.

Spoon the filling over the berries in the pie crust.  Try to cover each berry with the glaze.  Let the pie cool to room temperature then refrigerate until the pie is 'set'.

The recipe says to serve the pie with the cream whipped.  We just poured it over and tucked in.  I bet a scoop of vanilla ice cream would be great, too. 

* One other thing... I used a sweet pastry crust for the base but a regular short crust will do.  If you don't 'DO' pastry you can still 'DO' this pie. Simply purchase some lovely packaged pastry at the supermarket.  This easy pie really is the taste of an English summer.  Enjoy! 

Monday, 12 June 2017

Plum Patch

I am not a 'purple' person.  My taste in flowers runs more towards the pale pinks, blush, and peachy tones mixed with a bit of blue and white. Somehow I seem to have a rather large patch of plum flowers in the garden right now. 

I don't remember intentionally planting this group of flowers in such a coordinated way.  I tend to purchase plants first and figure out where to put them later.

This may have been a fortunate accident... or ... perhaps I did it intuitively.  

Either way, I am enjoying the change.  

Monday, 5 June 2017

A Strawberry's Story

When you are brought up by a family of gardeners and farmers, every plant in your garden will evoke a childhood memory.  Working on our allotment plot gives me time to think of all those who shared their gardens, flowers, and produce with me when I was a child.  Now that strawberry time is here I am reminded of the story my Dad told me about when he was a kid growing up in Tennessee. 

My grandpa was a cotton and strawberry farmer.  My Dad, being the youngest and still at home, and like most farm kids, always helped with the harvest.  He told me how they would pick the berries and put them through a grid to 'size' them.  The best and biggest berries would stay on top of the grid and be sent to market. Times would be good! Well, as good as they could be on a Tennessee farm in the years between the Great Depression and World War II.

The bad times came when all the strawberries were too small to 'size'.  When all the berries slipped through the grid there was no crop to sell.... no money... no prospects until the next summer. These must have been very lean years.  Not much was ever said about those hard times.  I can't image how my grandparents must have felt.  They never complained about anything. They were stoic and kind, really 'good people'.  

You would think that being problematic, my family would have had their fill of strawberries but I still remember the big cut-glass bowls filled with prepared berries on my grandma's sideboard, covered by a pristine white cloth, waiting to be eaten with a slice of homemade cake after lunch. Always the optimist, my Dad would finish the story by saying, 'I didn't mind when we had to eat all those little, rejected berries.  Everyone knows the little ones are the sweetest'.  

Here's to all those sweet little berries, enjoy! 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Plot - May 13, 2017

I haven't abandoned the blog, well, not completely.   Our  allotment plot has been taking A LOT of my time.  I've spent hours sowing seeds, preparing the soil, and planting up.  Finally, things are starting to grow!

As you can see, ours is the plot directly behind our garden fence.  Nice location don't you think?  It wasn't always like this.... 

This is how it all began last year around the fifth of July when we took over the plot.  They say you have to be an optimist to be a gardener but really, this bordered on lunacy! 

Today with the roses covered in little buds and the strawberry beds full of flowers, it all seems worth it.  There is lots more growing to do... watch this space!