Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Home Made Yogurt With Garden Fruit

I have a feeling that yogurt is very good for you. I know this isn't really news, lots of other people think this and I also have no scientific basis for my view, but it's what I think. If it makes me live to a hundred and ten I'll be very pleased to have been right, if not, well it's still a delicious treat, so win-win (except I'd be dead...)
Anyway, I often make my own yogurt, partly because the Aga makes it so easy, and partly because if you make it yourself you can make it how you like. I like it thick and creamy, so I use full fat milk and I strain the yogurt, Greek style through a square of muslin or cotton. And the great thing about thick creamy yogurt is that is goes really well with the soft fruit from the garden, that's really coming into season now. If you don't happen to have an Aga lying about the place, you can use the airing cupboard, a slow cooker, or a large thermos. I say large because it's not worth making dribs and drabs especially if you strain it because the volume is considerably reduced. Also it keeps pretty well in the fridge - treat it as you would fresh milk.

Home Made Yogurt
4 pints of fresh full fat organic milk (I can't physically stop you from using low fat, but I would if I could)
A couple of big dollops of plain full fat yogurt, I use Yeo Valley, or Total,  about a third of the large tub in the picture.

Place your yogurt in a pristine mixing bowl, and whisk in the milk. Cover with cling film and place in a warm spot until thickened. It will depend on the temperature, but I usually leave mine overnight at the back of the Aga. It will be thickended but not very thick. Put it in the fridge to chill and it will get a bit thicker. You can use it as it is if you like, but I much prefer to line a large sieve or colander with a bit of scalded muslin or cotton, and pour in the chilled yogurt and leave. It takes a few hours, and you'll be left with a bowl of thick creamy yogurt and some cloudy water which is chock full of probiotics, and which you should give to your chickens, so that they will also live to a hundred and ten. Spoon the yogurt into another pristine container (I'm harping on about the cleanliness as it's quite important with any dairying process, try to think of yourself as a dairymaid in a Thomas Hardy novel..) and store in the fridge (not so Thomas Hardy but safe).

Flavoured Yogurt
Now for the best bit, yogurt for breakfast with some lovely soft fruit from the garden. With yogurt as thick as this, you can just add fruit as you fancy, just mash up a few raspberries and redcurrants a bit, add a little sugar or honey to taste and  use to top your little dish of yogurt. One other thing I like to do for a change from fruit is to scrape some seeds from a vanilla pod, and add to the yogurt with a little icing sugar to taste, Vanilla Yogurt, delicious!

Monday, 28 June 2010

The past week or so of hot sunny days has really got the soft fruit season off with a bang. Every year I try very hard with strawberries and for the last couple of years I have done fairly well. Yesterday I picked  a big basketful,and very delicious they were, but for me, nothing can beat a great big dish of these that I picked today.

Raspberries are my favourite soft fruit. To the extent that I have extended the raspberry row the full length of the veg garden, about thirty odd feet. I have a six foot fence that separates the front garden from veg garden, and although I still have some gaps, I have managed to fill most of the veg side of the fence with raspberries. Raspberries, like most soft fruit are easy to propagate,  - new canes come up all around the current years growth, and surplus ones can be easily detached and dug up, and re planted where you wish.So splash out on some good plants from a reliable supplier like Ken Muir and extend your row as you please.

My fence faces north east on the veg side, which is why I chose it for raspberries as I find that whilst they won't thrive in poor light conditions, they do well in a cooler damp aspect. I expect that's why we so often see Scottish raspberries in the shops. I mulch them well, but they still need copious watering to ensure a good crop.

It's useful to bear in mind the conditions required by different fruits when planning a garden fruit supply. Even if you have a limited amount of space, if you think in terms of using the vertical space around the edges of your plot, you will often find room for a supply of delicious organically grown fruit that you can pick at the peak of it's ripeness and goodness. Pears should always be given a good sunny condition, especially the delicate varieties like Comice. Victoria plums are happy in most places but you can grow fine varieties that you seldom see for sale  like Coe's Golden Drop, against a warm sunny wall. But raspberries and redcurrants are quite happy in relative shade.  My red and white currants are now grown against the north fence of the  chicken run - that's the inside of the fence where the chickens are. I grow them as cordons, (that's basically just a single stem with fruits growing all the way up) and throw a net over them when they are ripening, which I would have to do anyway to keep blackbirds off. I don't find the chickens or the ducks  do much damage, possibly eating the foliage low down, but that just keeps the "leg" clean, - when I've picked as many as I want, or can be bothered with, I  take the net off, it's quite fun watching them jump up to try to get the fruit.

If you don't have the time to devote to a veg garden, do think about trying some home grown fruit, it takes much less time and commitment, and can be acheived in a relatively small amout of space. And when you're tucking into that bowl of home grown raspberries and cream, you'll be glad you did.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Don't Panic Mr Mainwaring

 Calm in a crisis that's me. Like Tom Hanks in the Apollo 13 film. Houston we have a problem, we're about to crash the spaceship, no panic, we can deal with this calmly. So when someone (naming no names, but I'm married to him) rings up and says  sternly "we've got an emergency situation here, can you go over to the office now and ring me straight back", I waste no valuable time asking questions but hang up and rush,(but without panicking Mr Mainwairing) over to said office, all the time wondering whose blood is on the floor, whose life may be ebbing away, and in my hurry (but not panic) my fingers won't press the right buttons, don't panic, don't panic, can't get the phone to work, but eventually it does and it's engaged,dial again, oh god, what can it be, this time he answers... could I just look through the invoices for a missing delivery number as one of our largest customers won't accept their delivery without the correct number.

It's kind of an emergency I suppose, since they are a big customer, but it's not AN EMERGENCY.  I should have realised of course that I couldn't supply any life saving information from the office phone that I couldn't already have given from the home one, if indeed I even know any life saving information. But it's the word "emergency" that got me going, but not panicking. EMERGENCY to me indicates some kind of life and death matter, grievous bodily harm, falling off a ladder at the very least, and trying not to panic, definitely not panicking, but.. delivery numbers??. I had to laugh afterwards though. One person's emergency is another's missing delivery number.

Sorry, post has absolutely nothing to do with gardening or cooking. Back to normal tomorrow. Don't panic.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Great Scape

No that's not a typo for the Steve McQueen film, the scape I refer to is the great garlic scape, which looks like a kind of curly spring onion

I posted about this last year, but make no apologies for repeating myself, as it seems garlic scapes are still much undervalued, and not appreciated for the delicious treat that they are. Some people have been known to cut them off and throw them away! (Throw up hands in horror)
If you grow hardneck garlic, variously known as porcelain, or rocambole garlic, it will produce, around this time of year, a curious curly central shoot, which is in fact the flowering stem of the plant. I know of no other allium either edible or ornamental that does this curly wurly thing, it seems to be only porcelain garlic. My variety is "Music" and I have grown it for several years, saving a few heads each year for replanting. We eat a lot of garlic, I believe the allium veggies are very beneficial for health if not social life, and this year I've bought hardly any garlic at all, using our own supplies until well into the spring, with a bit of a gap until the scapes come into season, and tide us over until garlic harvest proper in August.
You need to cut off the scape for the benefit of the plant, so that it can direct its energies into plumping up the bulbs rather than producing flowers and seed. So cut your scapes, take them into the kitchen and chop off the flower buds at the end, and make yourself some Garlic Scape Pesto. This is a loose recipe, and endlessly variable, but here's the general idea.

Garlic Scape Pesto
6-8 garlic scapes
two handfuls of walnuts
2-4oz/50-100gr parmesan or similar hard cheese
handful of flatleaf parsley or basil if you prefer
Salt and black pepper
a good half pint of extra virgin olive oil

Cut the end off the scapes and chop into 1inch pieces.
Chop the cheese into manageable (for the blender) cubes.
Put everything except the oil into the blender and blend until finely chopped, at which point add as much oil as you fancy, to make a thick paste. Keep it in the fridge in a jar, floating a little oil over the top to keep the air out. Use it for:

Spreading on toasted sourdough and topping with sliced tomato for bruschetta style nibbles.

Stir into cooked pasta for a quick tasty supper when you've had a long day in the garden and don't want to cook much.

Spread on chops, chicken thighs, and/or chunky veggies, and slam in the aga to be cooking whilst you shower away the vestiges of the day's gardening, emerging Stepford fragrant, twenty minutes later to serve dinner.
I can hear someone laughing...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

You Go Away For A Few Days And...

..and you come back to find the garden has invaded the house. 

I noticed this sneaky tendril behind the bedroom curtain the other morning, and when I looked behind

I found that the wisteria, which I haven't got round to pruning yet, has decided to make itself at home and come into the bedroom. Once the flowers have dropped wisterias make a huge amount of triffid like vegetative growth which has to be controlled.
Actually, this is no surprise, and often happens if we don't prune after the flowers have fallen. I think we must have rather loose fitting window frames as this is the same window where the ladybirds find sufficient space to hibernate in the winter time. I haven't done anything about it yet, and anyway the colour goes rather well with my curtains don't you think?
At the moment it's heading for the wardrobe, and as long as it doesn't try to get into bed with me I reckon I'm safe.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

What I Did On My Holidays

The first day back from the school holidays when I was a child in primary school, was taken up mostly by writing a "composition", about What I Did In The Holidays.  And I could never think what to write, all the long summer days had paled into Autumn and Back to School, -  maybe it's just that children are best at "now" as opposed to "last week" or in my case even "ten minutes ago"!

Anyway, I've improved a bit now and can report that I've just come back from a trip to France and one of the lovely places we visited was Monet's famous garden at Giverny, not far from Paris. I was really looking forward to visiting this famous garden, and I thought you might like to see a few of the pictures I took.
But first here's Monet himself in his later years in his garden probably around 1920.

Bit of a dapper old chap I think, he was fond of the good things in life, and like to dress, and live well.
 And here's my picture of Monet's Garden now, a little too much ironmongery on show here, and not enough rose I think.

And as I walked around the garden I felt that there was a greater concern with keeping up a colourful display for the visitors, than in maintaining the garden in the way in which Monet might have known it.  Call me an old fuddy duddy (go on, I dare you) and maybe I've just been to too many National Trust "restored" gardens, and whilst I'm indeed no Monet expert, I don't think the old boy would have recognized some parts of his garden.
Would he for example, have had bedding displays of Impatiens, busy lizzies, like this

 or, (look away now, James) bedding geraniums (pelargoniums) worthy of any local authority roundabout display. I may be wrong, but I think probably not.

And whilst some of the climbing roses were absolutely lovely, there seemed too many modern floribunda varieties, (which I noticed are very popular in many french gardens) such as this bed of Centenary of Lourdes standards.

So loads of flowers, bright colours, and this may well be what Monet would have had were he still here, he certainly went to the french rose society's annual trials to find out what the latest thing was, and among his favourite "new" roses was the vigorous shocking pink rambler "American Pillar". So he certainly loved colour.
Anyway, the second half of the garden is the famous lake with the water lilies, which also  feature in Monet's  paintings. This part of the garden is wonderfully restful, and a delight, as you can see from even my amateur photography skills.

Here's Monet's Water Lilies

and Monet's Boat...

So, all in all, though I have some reservations on the planting, this is a wonderful garden, with plenty to see. It's always going to be busy though, so don't expect to have the place to yourself.
And finally I was pleased to note that Monet was apparently a poultry keeper, so here's..

Monet's chicken.

A Light Sussex if I'm not mistaken..

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Road To Nowhere

This isn't a road, not even a track really, and it certainly doesn't go anywhere. It's just the side of a field between the rape crop and the hedge, but it makes a nice walk with the dog, away from the lane so she can run in safety without a lead. But the other morning I turned into the field and came face to face with a big healthy looking fox sauntering casually towards me.  I don't know why, buy it didn't seem to see me at first, and Mo was busy with her head down a rabbit hole, and it carried on sauntering towards me, until it was no more than ten yards away,  when it stopped and stared at me in amazement, as you might stare if say, the Bishop of Bath and Wells suddenly appeared in your sitting room without warning, and then it disappeared into the hedge. And all before I had the opportunity to nip back home and get the camera! Or even interrogate him about the reduction in the chicken population at Carters Barn earlier this year.....

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Clematis Niobe

Just a quick pic of my clematis Niobe, if you don't have this one, you must get it for next year. The colour isn't too good on this picture, but it's a lovely dark rich maroony purpley, just gorgeous.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Here's Johnny...

If I didn't see this with my own eyes each year, I would scarcely believe it to be true. As I said last month David sets the pampas grass on fire every year when it gets past its best, and it goes in the space of a few weeks, from this burnt offering

to this
bursting through the charcoal like a phoenix from the ashes, or if you're not that keen on Pampas Grass, like Jack Nicholson in the Shining...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A Trip To Ikea

I can scarcely believe it, but apparently most men would rather have teeth drawn than go on a nice trip to Ikea.  Loads of  room plans to wander round, sofas to poke, drawers to open, and close again, and acres of useful kitchen stuff, plus as many swedish meatballs and Dime Bar cake as you can eat. What's not to like? Hmm, maybe it's just a man thing. Don't worry boys, the world cup's coming up.
Anyway, I went with my daughter to the Edmonton Ikea and came away with, amongst quite a lot of other things some of these lovely little vases.
 The smaller ones  with the usual weird Ikea name of Snartig were 49p each. It's always useful to have a vase or two with narrow necks, for when there's a dearth of flowers to cut, so that you can have a few elegantly restrained stems, as opposed to a big riotous middle-of-the-summer armful in a large jug.
You can see at the back of this picture the tall florist's bucket that I also bought at Ikea. According to Sarah Raven, who knows about these things, you should put your cut flowers in water up to their necks to condition them and make them last much longer in the vase. And you need a really tall deep bucket like this to do it in.

I think a few stems of Marguerites (these are May Queen) or Dog Daisies as my dad used to call them, from the garden look charming in my new Ikea vase. Free flowers and a 49p vase, don't say I'm not cheap to run...

Or a few stems of Iris Sibirica..

Or, if you happen to have a lovely husband around the place, you can leave a spare Snartig lying around the house and you might get a rose fresh from the garden with your cup of tea on your wedding anniversary morning...Ah, lovely.

Bird Deterrent Update

Just a quick update on the state of my cherry trees. I know how you worry about these things.

I'm not sure if it's because of the Whirring Blades effect of the plastic wire, or the plastic bags tied to the branches,but there is a definite sign of ripening on the fruit, ie it's still there, and hasn't so far been eaten by birds.  Not edible yet, but pinkish yellow, as opposed to greenish yellow which is about as far as we normally get.So progress on that front. I'm not about to count my chickens yet though, as I've done this in previous years, only to be disappointed in the end.

Some rain has fallen today, at last, but nothing like as much as was promised by the Met Office. I'm spending far too much time watering at the moment, instead of planting and weeding, especially weeding. After all these millions of years of evolution, you would think the weather would have worked out that it should rain during the night for an adequate period of time, and then be fine during the daytime. That would be much more convenient.

I have finally cleared away the last of the spring flowers,forget me nots have gone in the compost. Many spring flowers just fade away about now, snowdrops and primroses for example, but if you have any of the larger polyanthus, they tend to make large rather cabbagey leaves at this time. You can leave them in situ for next year if you don't need the space, but my Hose in Hose primroses are at the front of the border and I can put something more attractive in there for the summer. So I just dig up the clumps and plant them at the back of the border behind something tall, where they can spend the summer months. They are quite happy in a shady cool position provided they get enough moisture, and I will dig them up again in autumn and split up the plants and put them in their flowering positions ready for next year. Proper job, as they say in Devon.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Happy Birthday To Me

Amazingly, I've just noticed that I've been  writing this blog for exactly a year. I can hardly believe twelve months have passed so quickly, but then I do seem to think that about everything these days, and policemen are getting younger too...

Looking back at that first post I see that a year ago today I was worrying about finding enough space in the garden to fit in all the plants, whereas this year  - I'm wondering where I will find enough space to fit all the plants.... except truth be told,  I did get a bit of an organisational flurry going on last month, and most of the veg garden is now in and growing, and I've even started some new areas, such as the shade garden, and the wild flower patch, so, although there still seems loads to do, all in all I'm able to look around and see -wait for it- yes, an improvement over last year!

One of my ideas in starting the blog in the first place, was to make a kind of diary for my own reference, so that I could look back in smug complacency and see how I've improved, or as it's turned out in certain cases, in furious indignation at my own stupidity. But that was before I realised that there's a whole world of real people out there in the blogosphere, some are experts, some newcomers, young people, old people, slightly loony people, people round the corner, or on the other side of the world (which I still find incredible) and that, even more amazingly, some of them take the trouble to read my tedious ramblings and then at the end having managed to  retain the will to live, still have the enthusiasm to make kind, supportive or helpful comments. So thank you, I've learned masses of stuff about all kinds of things from you, so whether you're an old friend who drops by on a regular basis, or you're a one-post stand, (surely not, you're way too respectable...) I'd like to say I truly value all of your support and feedback and I thank you all for reading, and bearing with my ups and downs over the last year of growing, weeding, rearing, plucking, cooking, baking, and occasionally, burning, at Carters Barn.

I hope you will join me over the next twelve months for more adventures of my life in the pastoral idyll of rural Wiltshire, as I skip through the fields in slow motion with daisies in my hair. My life of harmony with all of nature...well apart from the foxes of course.
Oh and the squirrels
And the mice
And bindweed
And pigeons, I hate pigeons.....

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

My New Shade Garden

Lots of us have areas of shade in our gardens,  bits of space behind obstacles, fences, under trees and so on, and I have more than my fair share of shade, due to trees, as I've mentioned before. We have thinned out the trees to some extent over the years, but there is still a large area which will not accommodate plants requiring a "normal" amount of sun, and light. Additionally, areas under trees are often quite dry as the tree drinks up vast amounts of water, and its foliage acts as an umbrella to the ground below. This is a part of the scrubby bit of garden that I've chosen for my shade garden, where nothing much grows apart from weeds. So this is a "before" picture, the "after" picture will be a bit later...

Anyway, enough complaining, I have decided to make more of shade loving plants, and for the water requirements I will just have to bite the bullet, and make sure that I provide sufficient irrigation for them to survive.  If anyone's looking for planting ideas for such an area, the plants I've used so far are

Hosta  -Fire and Ice
Digitalis Lutea - the yellow foxglove
Sarcococca Confusa and Sarcococca Hookerianum, - Christmas Box, or Sweet Box in the US I think
Tellima grandiflora
Primula bulleyana - Candelabra primula
Primula denticulata - White Drumstick primula
Dicentra spectabilis Alba - the white form of  bleeding heart
Polygonatum hybridum -  no shady area would be complete without the wonderful elegant arches of solomans seal - one of my favourite plants, (I have it under some other trees)

All the above are plants known to do well in shady areas, but I have also planted a few things in slightly better conditions, in the hope that they will do ok. Concentrating mainly on white and lighter colours I have planted

Philadelphus, Belle Etiole - shrub with white scented flowers in summer
Physostegia Alba - vigorous herbaceous perennial, with spikes of white flowers
"Ground cover" rose - white, these are sold by most garden centres, and although not a choice plants for a rosarian, they are tough as old boots, grow in difficult positions, and are very trouble free and floriferous. Some of the colours are a bit garish, so white should be ok I'm thinking.
Viburnum plicatum "Maresii" a wonderful shrub with tiers of white blossom in early summer.
I already have the native viburnum opulus, or guelder rose,  which is doing reasonably well, in the mid-shade area.

Some of these are experiments, so I will have to keep a regular eye on them and watch the watering needs, especially over the first summer.  Updates follow in due course.


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