Edible Garden

 

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

I haven’t posted anything about our garden in such a long time. In fact not since before I separated this blog from my tinyinc blog in December 2010.

If I was honest, we’ve neglected it because we have been so busy and found no time to spend out there. As a result, we’ve had interesting things growing (without any help from us I hasten to add) but we haven’t really had any veg or produce from the ground behind our home and I miss that.

the herbs and rhubarb survived the new fence

the herbs and rhubarb survived the new fence and are now surrounded veg and salad waiting to sprout and grow

There is nothing more tasty, satisfying and relaxing than harvesting a few salad leaves, tomatoes and courgettes for your supper. Especially after the rigours of a long and stressful working day.

Our fence desperately needed replacing recently so on the back of that, and a bit of welcome good weather, we decided to revamp the garden and do things a bit differently this time. The mess and damage that the new fence inevitably made was the prefect excuse to tackle things differently and set it up in a new way.

the other side still has the creepers but bare soil below

the other side still has the creepers but bare soil below

We’ve tried things in certain spots, we’ve tried things in pots and we’ve tried a raised bed but my sister bought me Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Gardener which I love. I then bought her Edible Garden book which has so inspired me and talks about exactly the kind of gardening I have been looking for and didn’t have a name for it……

runner beans against the fence which gets a lot of afternoon sunshine

french beans against the fence which gets a lot of afternoon sunshine

POLYCULTURE!!!

It just makes so much sense.

french beans

french beans

We don’t want regimented lines of carrots really (although we have done that) and we don’t actually have time to manage that kind of garden anyway. Plus we don’t really want to see great swaths of precious tasty soil left with nothing growing in it when the weather is rubbish and you are stuck in doors looking out waiting for things to change.

swiss chard

swiss chard

So what is polyculture?

In the true sense of the word, it means ‘growing multiple crops in the same space’. The best example is how the native americans used to grow corn that had beans climbing up the stems and courgettes growing around it’s feet. The three plants develop and produce at different times so the space is very efficiently used to great benefit.

courgettes - one of my favourites

courgettes – one of my favourites

Perfect for a small victorian terrace garden in London.

Alys Fowler follows these principles but not to the letter and the result are stunning and very productive.

strawberries

strawberries

Aside from the sight of it being wonderful, the advantages are numerous and there are many publications that explain this.

sorrell

sorrell

So with that in mind, we have started out with a nearly blank canvas (I couldn’t bear to uproot my rhubarb and herbs etc so they stay put) and will see what we achieve be it successful or otherwise.

lettuce mix

lettuce mix

There will be some mistakes and I am already undecided about a few plant combinations but it’s very exciting and it has got me making lists, sketching out plans and scanning all my back issues of Country Living for more plant ideas.

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foraging for fungi

field mushroom harvest

field mushroom harvest

I have expressed my desire to learn more about identifying fungi before and I still haven’t done the course that was a present from hubby christmas 2011. I really must! If only to broaden our menu and save us from inevitable tummy ache.

freshly cut with ring in tact

freshly cut horse mushroom with ring in tact

It hasn’t, however, stopped my foraging this week. There is a field where we walk at the weekends that has a small but productive crop of enormous and delicious horse mushrooms. I haven’t seen them there before but they are certainly there now and boy are they tasty looking.

The fields are still very green and the bright white beacon of deliciousness that these wonderful wild food sources are is clear to see in the middle of the field.

bright edible domes amongst the grass

bright edible domes amongst the grass

I couldn’t help but notice them and after clearing it with the farm I collected only those that had been knocked off their stems by the ponies in the field.  Each morning, though, the ones that were tiny the day before had become monsters and so I couldn’t resist and picked some of those still growing.

the smallest of these is about 100mm across

the smallest of these is about 100mm across

Picking them properly is important (always use a sharp knife and cut off at stem, never pull them out with the whole stem) and you should never harvest an entire field.

Always leave plenty behind. There may be others who want to enjoy natures larder too but it is also important to maintain the crop to ensure they grow another year.

shades of pink and brown gills

shades of pink and brown gills

There are lots and lots left that will come to maturity over the next few weeks so we should see them again next year.

cider vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper

cider vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper

Preparing them is nearly as important.  Never wash them. Clean off any dirt or insects and then brush the outside clean. I’m a great believer that a bit of muck and interest adds to the flavour but if you prefer, the skins can be peeled to remove any possibility of unwanted flavourings (whatever form that might take!!).

I love mushrooms. I love their meatiness which makes them a great substitute for meat in a vegetarian dish. I especially love risotto, chicken and mushroom pie and I particularly love fried mushrooms on a thick slice of thoroughly toasted wholemeal or artisan bread.

What a wonderful autumn gift.

We had Chicken and mushroom pie on Saturday night but we ran out of time for any other mushroom dishes this weekend. In order to continue to enjoy the taste and waste nothing, I have gifted some, dried some and preserved some for later when the crop has finished.  Loving them fresh as I do, I have held back a few of today’s harvest to go into a mushroom based dish (whatever it ends up being) that I will conjure up later in the week.

horse mushrooms preserved in oil

horse mushrooms preserved in oil

The dried ones have a much stronger smell now they are jarred and I understand that drying enhances the flavour. I can’t wait to use them in a nice juicy dish in the middle of the winter when they are no longer available.

The others I have preserved in oil and vinegar from a recipe in the preserving book I bought some time ago. The flavours in the oil say to me that they should be eaten straight from the jar  raw but we will see as I have never used mushrooms in oil before. New things are great!!

dried mushrooms

dried mushrooms

The smell of freshly picked wild mushrooms is amazing. It is rich and earthy and reminds me very much of being a child. We always came home with field mushrooms or something edible and free when we had been raking around the open countryside for as much of the day as we could squeeze out of it.

It brings to mind people like my grandparents and my gran particularly who loved a bit of free food and a forage. I’m sure it is her tasks to us kids to bring home something tasty that fuels my interest in hedgerow eating. I realised the other day when I looked at a photo of me holding the mushrooms that I picked that I have her hands…. almost identical!

dried and preserved

dried and preserved

 


a weekend in the Peak District

the view

the view

This weekend of blistering temperatures and the threat of summer actually arriving, has reminded me of a weekend we were lucky enough to disappear on recently.

our acommodation for the weekend

our acommodation for the weekend

It was a gloriously sunny and fun weekend in the peak district to catch up with friends that we haven’t seen in far too long.

Max watching the coffee and cards session

Max watching the coffee and cards session

We booked a cottage that catered for all our needs, that was in a rural location but also close to the amenities of a little market town called Wirkworth.

We did brilliantly well with our choice and the cottage was amazing.  Recently converted from a barn just next to a very pretty public footpath, it afforded us quite a lot of privacy but the occasional distraction from passers by; especially since Max decided to greet each and every one with his big bark!!

Hamlet making the most of it

Hamlet making the most of it

It was just what we all needed. We went with absolutely no expectations and found it completely charming and far better that we could have hoped.

village pond

village pond

We had good weather, gorgeous surroundings, great company and enough beer to kill a man. What else do you need?

Everyone mucked in, there was lots of booze drunk, rubbish spoken and food eaten and it couldn’t have been better.

Matlock Baths - Biker's Paradise

Matlock Baths – Biker’s Paradise

Mostly we just chilled out at the gorgeous, gorgeous and perfectly appointed cottage. We played cards around the garden table or set up tennis (for the more energetic amongst us), we read, we chatted (a lot!!) and thoroughly relaxed.

When we did venture out (we were very tempted to stay put but really felt that we had to see more than the wonderful view from the barn garden), we were just as happy with what we found and some of it came as a complete surprise.

rows and rows of speed machines

rows and rows of speed machines

We had briefly passed through Matlock Baths on the Friday night as we arrived, so we decided to go and wander through this sleepy little ribbon town on Sunday morning. We would grab a coffee, maybe an ice cream and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverbank walk and it’s pretty shops. It should be pretty quiet leading up to lunchtime.

 

think bike - bit difficult to avoid it really

think bike – bit difficult to avoid it really

I think we were the only people in the whole county who DIDN’T know that every Sunday, Matlock Baths is overrun with bikes and scooters of all shapes and sizes as well as the diverse collection of people that ride them.

 

Every single parking space along the length of the village has 2 wheels parked in it and even the station car park was struggling to accommodate the 4 wheels that had chosen to visit at the same time.

 

hamlet enjoying a cooling roll in the grass

hamlet enjoying a cooling roll on the grass

JC got some cracking shots of some of the bikes (clearly someone’s pride and joy) and the irony of the huge, seemingly out of place, ‘think bike’ sign wasn’t missed on us – you really couldn’t help thinking about bikes since it was practically all there was as far as the eye could see.

 

some of the lovely little stairways in town

some of the lovely little stairways in town

Once we thought about it, it made sense that this funny little place couldn’t sustain about 8 fish and chip shops a greater number of cafes and 2 bike wear shops without something spectacular like the sunday pilgrimage to contribute to the coffers.

 

rambling pond side properties

rambling pond side properties

Everyone was clearly happy and there was a nice vibe.

Not remotely what we had expected but quite wonderful all the same.

 

village waterwheel

village waterwheel

We eaked out as much of the weekend as we could and didn’t leave until the latest possible (our booking was until monday am but we all had to get back for work!! boohoo) with another walk to check out the local station of Wirkworth and the sweet town centre itself.

 

dry stone walls

dry stone walls

These small towns are clearly affected by the out of town supermarkets and the change in our shopping habits but it is hanging on in there. Like all small market towns, it has it’s problems but it is surviving. It has retained its charm and there are a handful of brilliant little retailers as well as decent pubs and I hope it lasts.

 

lovely hilly meadows

lovely hilly meadows

We are going to make this little weekend an annual event now because we were so taken by the place and the surroundings. We’ll be booking it well in advance so we aren’t disappointed.

I’m looking forward to it already!!


Thank You Flowers

an open flower head

an open flower head

These gorgeous flowers are sadly finished but they lasted amazingly well.

They are peonies and just about the most perfect choice of flowers for me; they are pretty, not formal looking, they are simple and they are white.

perfect

perfect

They came as a thank you from V for having Agnes for the day while they were away.

They have been beautiful and lovely to see every day but they were completely unnecessary as having Agnes was so much fun and we’d do it again in a flash.

closed flower bud

closed flower bud

The flowers kept their form and colour and only started to droop 2 weeks or so.

a pretty bowed papery head

a pretty bowed papery head

I think I am going to treat myself to a vase of these every week or so from now on, I love them so much.


Bug Hotel

comfort bug style

comfort bug style

I was reading the UK handmade magazine summer 2013 (which I would highly recommend – you can read the online magazine or you can buy the download pdf)

And as I came to the end and page 81 presented me with a lovely image of a bug hotel project for your garden, I suddenly realised that our recent DIY project (more to come about that) had unwittingly provided us with the building blocks of the bug house and we pretty much had everything we needed around and about.

bamboo, loo roll tubes, twigs, logs and cardboard

bamboo, loo roll tubes, twigs, logs and cardboard

After a riffle through the recycling, chopping some lengths of bamboo up, selecting some nice short logs from the log pile and steeling a length of waste pipe from the garage I was all set to assemble them along with the slate and bricks into our own recycled version.

tada!!

tada!!

It won’t pass the inspection of even the most laid back structural engineer and the hotel inspector would be aghast but as Bug Hotels go, I think it is pretty fantabulous.

I’m very pleased with it and have stuck it in a little corner that does’t have much happening in it but it has been earmarked as our wild corner so couldn’t be better sited.

Fingers crossed for some creepy crawly guests :o)


Jenny Wren

watching out

watching out

One of my favourite birds is the Wren.

This gloriously sunny weekend was very welcome and so was the sight of a Wren while we were out on a walk.

dotting around near her nest site

dotting around near her nest site

We were severely chastised by this particular Wren who I suspect is trying to build a nest near to where I had chosen to sit.

I love these pretty and perky little birds, not just for their size but how their size is completely disproportionate to their bravery.

We are vast mountainous creatures compared to a Wren but there is little, if any hesitation when it comes to telling us off .

If we have had the temerity to step over the invisible line that surrounds and protects her little haven, we will be subjected to a barage of chipping and chatting that comes with an urgency and tone that leave little doubt that she is cross!

I wasn’t disappointed.

It is completely hilarious and quite disarming. I hope she settled back to the job in hand none the worse for having to stop what she was doing to tick us off for getting too close.

on the look out again

on the look out again


slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails

common snail on the stem of cow parsley

The recent wet weather has been very trying and I think it is safe to say that everyone is sick of it. I don’t think we’ve had the barbecue out once this summer and even if we don’t manage that, we eat outside most evenings. I think we did that once back in May.

yellow and striped snails on a poplar trunk

It is evident when you are out and about though that not all creatures great and small are as fed up of this wet and rain as we are……

There are slugs and snails absolutely everywhere.

We were walking at the weekend and not only are all the trees, grasses and flowers crawling with them but they are all over the paths and tracks too.

it’s a long way down

I’m sure we don’t see them as much when we get a proper summer because they are staying safe under cover from the sun in a nice moist recess somewhere. I’m also sure that many of them don’t survive a normal summer.

Ironically they are ‘making hay while the sun shines’.

room for a small one

We’ve seen them in every shape and colour and although I dislike them intensely when they are chomping on my veg patch, in the open countryside they are quite interesting and have a beauty all of their own.

striped snail

The ones I like the most are the yellow ones. They remind me of a lovely holiday in Brittany when I collected lots and lots of tiny empty yellow sea shells off the beach and brought them home. They sit in a vase on the shelf in our bathroom along with a load of others collected from around the world.

I’m not sure snail shells will be getting added any time soon…….

monster slug

I am reliably informed that the common snail makes half decent eating but it needs to be left in a bucket of spinach overnight to dine on which adds some flavour. I think I could feed the five thousand if I collected all the fat juicy ones I have seen over the last 2 days but I’m not sure if I want to try.

even more of a monster

I’m all for foraging and food for free but I might have to have a long hard think before adding snails to the list of what I am happy to chomp on.