23 Nov 2009

Trying to like Beetroot …

A couple of week's ago I suffered a touch of the "blogger's black hole" (my brain got distracted by half term holidays and wouldn't produce anything worth reporting) and because of that I don't think that I mentioned our beetroot had finally matured into an edible state.  There it is, in the photo above.  Quite respectable, don't you think?

Before the weekend, I retrieved some of our beetroot from the Veg Patch.  I'm trying to overcome my dislike of beetroot by trying the home-grown variety in a number of guises.  (After all that thinning and watering and nurturing, I have to at least try.)

First up:  Cooked Beetroot.

Wash and chop leaves off to 3 cm, leave the roots intact (stops the colour bleeding out), then put in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil.

Simmer 30 to 40 minutes. Pull one out to test - they're done when they peel easily.

Drain and cool.  (Oops, 'scuse fingers!)

Peel and slice.

So, cooked by boiling, then cooled, peeled and tasted (no dressing).
Verdict: Not bad, but not hankering for seconds; quite nice eaten warm.  Fabulous looking.

P.S.  I also tried them par-boiled and then oven-roasted with parsnips, butternut squash, sweet potato and Vivaldi potatoes.  Verdict: other veg - yummy;  beetroot - yeeuch!

19 Nov 2009

Looking around …

Recently I've been giving some thought to how helpful it would be to have a little Bay tree in our (next year's, expanded) herb patch and then I heard that there already was one growing in the York Rise gardens. (What bliss!) This is one of the greatest joys of the gardens here - the legacy of 70 years of tenant gardeners pottering around, popping plants in here and there as the fancy took them, so you never know what you might come across these days when you really look around.

So, when Tuesday dawned crisp, bright and sunny (albeit very blustery - tralala, as if I'd care!), this was my chance for a spot of looking around.  I'd actually gone out to make a start on clearing the ivy from the area we want to plant our fruit trees in, and there were plenty of surprises to be found along that route as well. I had such a lovely day, I thought I'd share.  (It's not all about growing veg, y'know!)

Walking towards the Veg Patch, autumn leaves growing across the door of the old Gardeners' Shed catch my eye …

Venturing into the front gardens, I discover the not-so-little Bay tree …

Nearby, a very useful Rosemary bush (Have you tried Potato and Rosemary Pizza?)

And this rose - tipping slightly into decay, but so so beautiful …

Back to the Task of the Day and before I start clearing I find a Strange Creature (who will become the Guardian of the Veg Patch) …

Some letter tiles from a child's game, discarded (with the hope of never being found again?) but revealed when colder months steal the vegetation away - and rearranged with the message for my day …

And, finally, a start was made on clearing the Ivy.  Three bags later and I realise I have a long, long way to go …

Until next time, my friends, enjoy the fruits of your labours!

16 Nov 2009

Foraging for autumn flowers…

There's something deeply comforting about being indoors, warm and cosy, when the wind is howling outside and the rain batters against the windows, don't you find?   As a result, I've had a very enjoyable weekend.  (That, and the fact that I don't have a shed for the roof to blow off.)  We've had some extremely variable weather over the last couple of days - in common with the rest of the UK - but I managed to get out for a bracing walk and foraged for these beautiful hydrangea heads (actually, growing by one of our flats so not too much foraging!) 

I was inspired to think again about hydrangeas as a cut flower after being given a bunch of flowers used as a table decoration at a wedding reception.  This posy was full of rich plums, purples, aubergines and greens, being made up of hydrangeas, berries and another plant which I can't identify: 

This, by the way, is the dried up version. (It's stayed on my kitchen windowsill for at least two months while I've pondered this puzzle!)  The plant also crept into an earlier photo when I posted a recipe for custard tarts:

So, gardening friends: If you know what this is (and I'm positive there's a fair few of you who do), please please put me out of my anguish!  (So far I'm thinking fennel or angelica but I'm probably way off the mark.) 

13 Nov 2009

It's a Bug's Life…

(Harlequin Ladybird:  Harmonia axyridis succinea)

There's been a lot of fuss over the summer about ladybirds - both our native UK ladybirds (Coccinellids) and the Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) aka Multicoloured Asian Ladybirds.  The Harleys are causing concern over here because they're born survivors and will eat the eggs of UK ladybirds and butterflies when hungry - but their first choice from the menu is aphids. 

(A few more Harlequin ladybirds caught on camera.)

I've been seeing quite a few Harleys in the last few weeks (one had managed to get through my third floor windows!) - and I wondered, "Where do ladybirds go in winter?" (if not to my kitchen).

A tiny bit of googling reveals that they hibernate.  (I know, I should have guessed.)  Their food supply dries up with the colder November temperatures and they start to look for somewhere to bed down, preferably together, sometimes hundreds together!  If you find any indoors, it's kindest to put them back outside as the warmth indoors will wake them up too early (normally they sleep until March) and they'll starve for lack of food (they search out early aphids prior to mating).  They like to shelter under a bit of tree bark or a few leaves, as long as it's frost free and where they're less likely to be attacked by predators (usually sparrows).

Or, using only two recycled items, you can make a lovely little Spotty Lodgers Hotel.  One which presumably sparrows can't get in to.  Find instructions here on the UK Safari website.   You only need an empty 2 litre drinks bottle and a piece of corrugated cardboard to roll up loosely inside it.  Easy Peasy.  (Here's a sneak preview, click link above for full instructions.)

But, if you do this, please don't put our natural ladybirds in with the Harleys.  It could get nasty.   And don't forget, as you're (hopefully) depriving the food chain of a few ladybirds, it's helpful to put out some sunflower seeds or millet in a feeder for the sparrows.  (Using another cleaned, empty water bottle, the RSPB has an instructable for making a Recycled Bird Feeder here.)

11 Nov 2009

Yesterday was a very good day …

It's a strange old thing, this blogging lark, isn't it?  One minute I'm feeling that there's nothing to tell, then suddenly I find there's almost too much to fit into one post.  So here are three lovely things that happened yesterday:

1.  I (think I might just have) saved a bumblebee.  As I left home,  I noticed a large, very still, bumble bee on an expanse of cold concrete path outside the door.  It's not often you get to see one of these beauties close up and, as I bent down for a closer look, one of it's legs stretched. So, not dead but probably too tired and cold to move to safety.  Having recently been prompted to read up about bee hotels, I scooped it up (on my shopping list as it was probably not too tired to sting me!) and took it to some sheltered ground level Knotweed stems, where it perked up a bit, and I left some freshly picked flowers within easy reach so it could get to the nectar.  (That may have been calling to my inner Girl Guide a bit, but it satisfied my need to nurture.)  Any hoo, the bee was not to be seen when I returned, so I like to think it made it to underground Bee Safety.

2.  Passing through a local Garden Centre (oh, alright then… Homebase), among all the almost empty gardening shelves was a box containing winter hardy Onion Sets…  (slaps forehead) a veg which I'd completely forgotten about!  (And they're a staple of my shopping list.)   One purchase later, I consider this a very serendipitous encounter indeed.

3.  Returning home to post my October photo collage, I notice a comment from a lovely fellow gardener, Jo at The Good Life, who has nominated my little bloggy-woggy for an award.  Gosh.  I'm totally awed and honoured.  So, thank you - and yes, I'm very, very pleased to accept.  (It may take me a while to pass the award on, in the time honoured tradition, as I first have to check out my fellow nominees, but I'll do my best.)

So, now that I have proof that people out there are reading my scribblings,  to celebrate, I think it's time for a piece of this…

10 Nov 2009

(Rather Belatedly) my October photo review …

Over the last few days, skies over the Veg Patch have been leaden, trees bare and the air decidedly damp, cold and unwelcoming. (I catch myself singing "California Dreamin'" quite a lot.)  However, I'm quite sure the next sunny but crisp day is just around the corner so, to cheer up an indoors moment, I've put together a little collage of my photos taken in or near the Veg Patch in October.

First up is our (still) wondrously lush parsley, strangely beautiful seed heads appearing in the borders, mushrooms sprouting up in the grass (a sign of damper days?), the ripening of L's lovely pumpkin (an experimental seed shoved into the ground!), lots (and still lots) of Vinca clearing to be done, brilliant late season flowers, beetroot at last (hooray!) and, finally, watching the leaves changing to their autumn colours in a burst of late season sunshine.

Additionally, the first of our fruit trees arrived (just waiting for the raspberry canes now), more veg has been planted for the Winter - am I alone in being totally thrilled when the seedlings appear? - and there's still an awful lot to be done before spring (which sounds pessimistic, but absolutely isn't).

P.S.  By the way, I make no claims to being any kind of photographer - just thought I'd say it first before anyone else does! - but it makes me happy to look back at my snaps, so you'll have to excuse this moment of indulgence. 

6 Nov 2009

Goodbye Autumn, Hellooo Winter!

 Not that I generally give too much thought to such things, but today is traditionally the Last Day of Autumn as we are at the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  And, no, I didn't just make that up - I read it on the Dorset Cereals website and I believe them.  Yes I do.

Having watched the leaves drifting steadily off the trees in the chill breezes of last week, this is a timely reminder to get out this weekend for a good long leaf-kicking walk, find some conkers and celebrate what little good weather we may have left.

We're very lucky in that we're minutes away from Hampstead Heath (plenty of conkers over there!) but for inspiration further afield, have a look at 'Catching the Colours of Autumn' from the Telegraph online - it's a tiny gallery, just 12 beautiful photos, of autumn colour the world over.  Personally, I quite fancy Kew Gardens (in West London) where, until December 6th, they have an 18 metre high walkway where you can view the treetop transformations in the Gardens.  Catch it while you can!

Have a great weekend everyone - I'll be gathering in any beetroot and planting broad beans…  and, with a bit of weather luck, having a walk on the Heath.
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