Thursday, 27 November 2014

Cabbage for tea!

Well it is certenly cold down on the allotment, I was down there this morning harvesting some ‘greens’ for my tea. 
Cabbage,kale,onions,apples and some turnips. Kind of makes it all worth well.
There is a lot of talk about the best way to grow and it what kind of bed.
As readers of this blog know, I am really into Raised Beds. The sight of raised beds topped up with rich soil just crying out for young plants in the spring.
With raised beds beds; once there done they are done. Well that is true, up to a point, there are some rules>
  • Never walk on them. The whole idea is to have soft rich soil to a depth of at least two feet. My beds are just four feet wide so that I can reach over them from either side.  
  • When you beds are empty, it is best to cover them with a plastic sheet and put bricks on them to stop the plastic blowing about in the wind.The reason to cover the beds is to keep the winter rains off them. You need to keep your beds dry because if they are left out to soak up water they will get heavy and “bulge” out at the sides and could well break your boarder boards.
You may wonder why I grow cabbage in the winter: I believe a good gardener has ‘greens’ from the garden all year round. Cabbage do so well ( like leeks ) that I would not be without them.
They are not the ‘boiled to death’ dinner of your school days. There are many interesting thing that you can do with them.
I steam them with carrots, chard, leeks or what ever and pour sauces over them or mix them with bits of chicken/mushrooms/paste.
Cabbage are great source of winter food, not to be with out.
Watch this space for more information about growing and using cabbage.  

                                                                 My raised beds

Saturday, 22 November 2014

November is a time

November is a time in the year when nature seems to change gear: from doing to being, however this does not mean that you stop ‘doing’ things in the garden.

  • Sweep up leaves and put them on the compost
  • Mulch the soil to protect it from the weather
  • Protect you crops that are likely to come to harm from the winter. Use cloches to do this.
  • Clean out your shed and clean and repair your tools.
  • Dig over your empty beds. 
                                                      a home made cloche that is easy to move to where you need it.
                                                           make sure that it is tired down against the winter gales.

When I was in the States last winter, I was amazed how cold it got. I then stated to think about all those vines that you might thing are freezing to death. But that is not so, it is the grapes that need the sunshine; not the vine.

So why not make a wire fence to support some vines? Do it now and leave them for a couple of weeks before you put the vines against them; doing this means that you can tighten up your wires without the plants getting in the way.  

Monday, 17 November 2014

What to do in the garden this week.

What to do in the Garden in the Garden this week.

Autumn has truly come to the UK. Now is the time to do quite a lot of important jobs, so that you can get on top of things.

  • Good time to plant fruit trees. Because you will only get one shot at this; make sure the hole your put plant in is well dug with some good manure or compost in the bottom. If your are planting a standard tree, make sure you put the stake in before the tree. If you are planting any sort of currant bush, do remember that they are very hungry feeders.Do choose a site that is sheltered from north easterly winds and do allow at least six feet between each plant.
  • If your plot is a little bit acid or affected with the club root disease; this time of year is a good time to lime. I find that a lime dressing of ten pounds to the square rod will do the trick. The value of lime for sweetening your soil and for liberating potash cannot be over-estimated.
  • It is a mistake to lift  your parsnips for the winter. The will taste much better if you lift them when you need them. With beets and carrots however it is a different mater. If you have not already done so; both these crops should be lifted and stored.. I store mine in a sack and hung them from the roof of my shed, I do this to keep the mice out.
                                                  I find it helps in the garden this time of year: to remember the summer!

   How To Get the Best From Your Herbs 

The use of herbs in our cooking has grown over the last couple of decades. Most top chefs recognize that the importance of good quality fresh herbs in their dishes can make a world of difference to the flavors of the food. So much so, that many top restaurants have their own herb gardens from which to pick and use only the freshest herbs.

Growing your own herbs in the garden or a container is an excellent way to ensure a good supply of fresh herbs or even growing them on the kitchen windowsill. But if you do not wish to grow your own, supermarkets now sell a wide range of pre-cut and potted herbs. Pots of herbs last longer than cut herbs, but need to be cared for just as houseplants do. They will need a sunny windowsill and be picked regularly to keep them growing and from going to seed. Other sources of good quality herbs might be a greengrocers, who often sell a wider range of herbs than supermarkets do. Also farmers' markets, often have more unusual varieties of herb such as angelica, lovage, pennyroyal, and uncommon varieties of thyme, mint and sage. 

To get the best flavors from herbs, storage is very important. Many of us tend to store dried herbs as well as spices to well past their sell by date. This will definitely not enhance the flavors of your dishes to their best. Make sure you renew jars and packets of dried herbs frequently, as they go stale very quickly. While it's handy to keep a few dried herbs in the cupboard, most herbs taste best fresh, and some such as basil or coriander, have a very disappointing flavor when dried. Frozen herbs are a good substitute. These can now be bought from the freezer section in a supermarket or frozen from your own home grown herbs. This can be done by finely chopping herbs and placing them in ice-cube trays, top up with water and place in the freezer. This is handy to keep to put in stews and casseroles.  

To protect the flavors of fresh herbs with cut stalks they should   be wrapped in a plastic bag (left open, not sealed) or in a damp paper towel and kept in the fridge. Bunches of herbs that have longer stalks can be kept like cut flowers in a jug or vase with a little water in the bottom. Do not fill right up as this may rot the delicate leaves. Some hardy herbs, such as curry leaves, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, can be stored whole in the freezer, wrapped in a freezer bag. If using potted herbs bought from the supermarket they are best kept on a sunny windowsill with the soil regularly moistened but not waterlogged as this will rot their roots. 

Preparing Herbs

Fresh herbs are usually best prepared by picking the leaves from the stalks, apart from herbs such as bay, (although this is not always necessary), then chopping them as finely as desired with a chefs' knife or two-handled rocking knife (mezzaluna). Herbs such as chives can be cut in bunches into small pieces using kitchen scissors. Some tender herbs - particularly basil, tarragon and mint - bruise easily which can adversely affect the flavor. To avoid bruising and discoloration, do not chop these herbs too finely and make sure you use a sharp knife. They can also be added as whole leaves to dishes, or torn into small pieces with your fingers.

What gives herbs their unique flavor and fragrance is their highly volatile oils which in some cases dissipates quickly after exposure to heat, so to get the best from your herbs it's best to add them to dishes towards the end of cooking, or just before serving. However, some herbs such as sage, bay, rosemary and thyme are best when given time to infuse with the other ingredients in the dish, so should be added at the beginning of cooking dishes such as stews, soups and casseroles. Tender herbs - such as basil, chives, mint, chervil, dill, coriander, parsley, tarragon - can also be used fresh and uncooked to make salad ingredients, toppings and garnishes. In this case they should be picked just before serving. 

Getting the best from your herbs just involves a few simple steps in storing and preparation. Using fresh herbs wherever possible is always best.  

Monday, 10 November 2014

What to do in the Garden this week.

Now that the weather has turned more seasonal,
  • I am cleaning my  Asparagus beds by cutting them back and topping the bed up with some home made compost.
  • Also I am cutting back and harvesting my Jerusalem Artichokes. Do not dig more then you need for they, unlike potatoes, store well. I use mine as a base for vegetable soups
  • Check and weed you cabbage beds. I am finding that slugs like to ‘winter’ among the plants.

Ten Ways To Use Herbs 

Herbs have been used throughout history for their medicinal properties and some are highly prized for this such as Garlic and Basil. However, today we use herbs more on a day to day basis to enhance the flavors of our food or as ingredients in essential oils and perfumes. Here are ten of the most popular ways to use herbs.

Herb Oil

Herbs steeped in oil can be used for salad dressings, marinades, stir frying etc. This can give a huge boost to the flavors of your dish. Olive oil is best used for this but sunflower oil can be used. Add one or more of your favorite herbs to the oil and leave to steep for about a month. Strain the oil then bottle it. Basil is well suited to this and is a favorite ingredient in Italian cooking. Rosemary, fennel and garlic  also make excellent herb oils. 

Bouquet Garni

This is a little parcel of herbs made up to put in stock, stews or casseroles and should be removed before serving the dish. To make, gather a bunch of several sprigs of parsley, thyme and bay leaf and tie with fine thread or string. Other herbs can be added to your preference. Place in with the other ingredients and remove at the end of cooking time. If using dried herbs, these need to be placed in a muslin bag and tied. 

Grow your own herbs

Herb Butter

This is a good way to add flavor to your food at anytime as it can be made and stored in the fridge to use when wanted. Herb butter is simply butter in which finely chopped herbs have been mixed. For this herbs with strong flavors should be used such as garlic, chives, rosemary, thyme or sage. Parsley although a mild herb, makes an excellent herb butter to accompany a fish dish. Mix about a tablespoon of herbs to about 4oz of softened butter, beat until they are evenly mixed. This can then be put into a mould or shaped into a roll between greaseproof paper. It should then be put into the refrigerator until firm. It can then be either sliced from the roll or served straight from the mould. A variation of this would be to use cream cheese instead of butter. This makes an excellent spread for sandwiches. 

Herb sachets

Herb sachets can make wonderful presents to put into drawers and cupboards to make clothes smell fresh and clean. One of the most commonly used herb sachets is a Lavender sachet. Lavender is well known for it's relaxing and sleep inducing properties. One tucked under the pillow at night it will aid sleep. 

Herbal Teas

There are many well known commercial brands of herbal teas on the market such as chamomile which is commonly used for relaxation. But it is very simple to make your own herbal tea. A drink made by steeping the leaves of herbs as well as the flowers or fruits in hot water is known as a tisane. Mint and Chamomile are the top two favorite herbs for this. To make use fresh or frozen herbs rather than dried and pour boiling water over the leaves and allow to stand for 5-15 minutes. For most herbal drinks 3 teaspoons of chopped fresh herbs to one cup of water is sufficient. 

Herb Vinegar

As like herb oil this is very simple to make but can make all the difference to the flavor of your cooking. One or more herbs can be used at a time. First slightly crush your herbs and place in a jar. Pour over 500ml of tepid white wine vinegar. Cover tightly and place in a warm place for 2-3 weeks giving it the occasional shake. Strain the vinegar and then bottle. Include a sprig or sprigs of your chosen herb. Suitable herbs for herb vinegar include: dill, rosemary, bay, basil, mint and time. 


This has to be one of the most common uses of Basil in cooking. It is very versatile and easy to make.  Pesto is an Italian sauce which is used with steak, poultry, pizza and most importantly with pasta. It is a blend of Basil and Garlic with parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil all blended together. It can be used on it's own drizzled over dishes such as mozzarella and Parma ham, for dipping bread or used as an ingredient in pasta dishes etc. 


This is a mixture of dried flowers, leaves or herbs that remain fragrant for a long period of time and used as a room fragrance. Often flower petals such as rose are used because of their wonderful scent. However many herbs can be used to make your own pot-pourri such as Lavender which is a very popular herb to have as a room fragrance. If using fresh Lavender, it can be dried first in a warm place such as an airing cupboard for a week or two. It can then be placed in a bowl to release it's scent.

Amazone's top selling Herb Book. Take a look here.

Salad Flowers

Flowers from herbs can be used to both decorate and add flavor to salads and other cold dishes. These included the purple flowers from chives, the attractive orange nasturtium flowers, basil, thyme and pot marigold. 

Fines Herbs

This is a mixture of very finely chopped herbs with a delicate flavor. Three or more herbs are required for this mixture such as; parsley, chives, chervil, and tarragon. This mixture is used fresh or dried and is mainly used as an ingredient to egg dishes.

As can be seen herbs are incredibly versatile and provide a vital ingredient to cooking as well as household uses. 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sit in the sun

Sit in the Sun:

The other day I picked my first broccoli and went home and had it for tea. It was absolutely wonderful. I thought to myself’ how did I grow this, it taste so good’

However I came to the  understanding  that we do not grow anything.
Growing does not have to be difficult ( unless, you want it to be ).

Put the plant in, feed/water/keep weed and pest free and then
So many books have been written about it, but why; it is very simple.
Growing something, teaches us the wisdom of ripening in our lives, if you will let it.  

How does an apple ripen: it just sits in the sun and that is just what we should do. We strive, but to what end!

In the northern hemisphere the days are growing shorter—we have fewer and fewer hours of daylight. We may have to seek out the sun’s rays more intentionally. In moderation, sunlight strengthens the immune system, enhances emotional health, and synchronizes biorhythms.  Make like a plant: Find some time where you can simply bask in sunshine, exposing your skin and soul to the light freely given, only waiting to be received.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

In the garden this week, at a glance.

In the garden this week, at a glance.

  • If you are growing Celery in your garden, then now is a good time to give them a further earthing up. Also, if you have Celeriac in the ground then now is time to ‘lift’ them and store the roots in old ashes or sand for the winter.Make sure that they are in a frost free store.
  • Transplanting of fruit trees can be done now. Lift the tree carefully, and if any roots are damaged, cut them back to the damaged portion prior to replanting, otherwise thee is a dangour of canker.
  • I am still sowing lambs lettuce and spinach. I do this in pots so that if there is a really hard winter, I can easily put them in my glasshouse out of the weather.  

A herb garden in New York; summer 2014 

 How to Grow Herbs In Containers 

  • The great thing about growing herbs in containers is that anybody can do it and you do not even have to have a garden to have all the herbs that you will every need. Some herbs, like mint for instance are better off in pots, because it will stop them taking over your garden.  
  • So long as the conditions are right for the herb; you can grow what your like. After all a what could be better then a collection of your favorite herbs right there in your kitchen. A great assent. There is no real downside to this assembly of herbs, any that die off in the winter can be harvested in the autumn and stored for use in the winter.
  • You sow your own plants or buy ready rooted and potted up plants from your local garden center or super market.
  • Some herbs need to be grown outside after being stated off inside. French tarragon and coriander are two such plants. Grow them in pots out side however make sure you protect from frost.
  • Mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage can live out doors all year round, that being so because they are fairly hardy. 
  • Do not be tempted to rush out and buy your herbs at the first sign of spring. Wait till the weather warms up first. The reason is that planted herbs do not like cold wet potting compost and can be very vulnerable to root damage.
  • The best way to start is to make a list of the herbs that your are going to use. You will be surprised at the number of people that grow what they do not or can not use.

Choosing a Container

  • Once you know what herbs you are going to grow the next thing is to find out how much space each herb will need to thrive. Rosemary is a fairly large bush whilst thyme is a low little plant that creeps along the ground.
  • You should choose a container that is going to give your herb a good home.
  • Long tall pots for herbs that required depth while others will managed very well in small little pot.
  • If you go for glazed pots be aware that you could loose them with the first frost. 
  • A large wooded planter, like a half beer barrel could hold a mixture of herbs 

Planting Your Container

Once you have chosen your containers you can now pot them out. 
  • You will need some gritty, well-drained compost, adding up to 25 percent by volume of coarse grit or perlite to a loam based compost.
  • The compost should be kept moist, but never let it become soggy.
  • Use a balanced fertilizer to encourage leafy growth, rather than potassium-rich fertilizer that might promote flowering. 
  • The herbs can be replanted frequently, using generous pieces of root, into rich potting media, taking care to avoid over potting by putting your cuttings in too bigger container. 
  • The best way to judge if your herbs need re-potting is if they look straggly, lift roots and repot into fresh compost. 
  • Larger perennials such as rosemary and sage can be left in the same containers for several years before they need repotting.

Over wintering herbs in a container
  • Some herbs die back in winter, such as French tarragon and mint. 
  • These and most herbs will look after themselves if placed where they cannot become frozen, saturated by rain or allowed to become too dry. 
  • To protect more tender herbs in winter they are best placed against a sheltered wall away from wind and rain or in a cold frame or even in an open fronted shed.
  • A protective sheet of glass, plastic or plywood will keep off heavy rain and protect from frost.
  • To avoid your container becoming waterlogged, stand it on pot feet or stand containers on bricks.
  • If very cold weather is forecast, protect containers from freezing by wrapping in bubble polythene or garden fleece.
  • Basil is one of the herbs that will not survive outside in the winter and can only be grown if brought indoors into a warm, bright frost-free greenhouse, conservatory or a sunny windowsill.

Growing your own herbs is very simple and satisfying to do. If you select your herbs carefully you can be sure of fresh or dried herbs for much of the year.