Drying out Garlic, Shallots and Onions

You may remember that about seven our eight months ago now I planted some red sun and golden gourmet shallots, Casablanca garlic and Sturon onions into the ground.

Soon after planting the red sun, gourmet garlic into the ground I had a terrible problem with birds and squirrels pulling out the bulbs.  As a result the bulbs were very difficult to establish, but once they had taken root they soon started to grow.

By the time I planted the onions, I came across a neat trick to deter the birds from picking out the bulbs, however I’m little bit disappointed with this years result, they’re not very big and they’ve failed to swell.  I suspect that I may have planted them at the wrong time of year and this has caused a stunt in growth. Lesson learned.

But now the time has come to pull them out of the ground. You can harvest your garlic bulbs, shallots and onions once the tops of the bulb have fallen over and started to brown.  If you can, pick your onions in the morning when the temperature is lower.

If you plan on storing your onions for long period of time, then drying them out is essential. It’s really easy to dry out onions, you just lay them out on a dry surface and place that has good ventilation, like a shed, or in a porch or windowsill.

It’s great going into the shed after the onions have dried out, the place is filled with that sweet onion aroma only drying onions can produce.

Onions can take a few weeks to dry out and the outer layer will become brown and crisp. After that you would want to store the bulbs in a wire cage, nylon bag or hessian sack to reduce the risk of condensation forming.

If where you plan to store your onions is too damp, then you’ll find that some of your bulbs will begin to rot.

National Allotment Week

It’s the end of National Allotment Week and I’ve been eager to post something about it. I’ve been looking on the Twitterverse at everyone’s plots and I have to say it’s really great to see everyone getting involved in gardening, but more importantly with their local community.

The event is headed up by the National Allotment Association and this year’s theme is evolves around ‘Growing Together’. There’s no doubt about it, allotments are a great place to bring people from all walks of life together, ultimately about the one thing we have in common – food.

In this particular post, I’ve let you guys do the talking and I’ve embedded some of my favorite images of your allotments.

Enjoy and thank you!

Discovering the nature of Barbados…

You’ve probably noticed that it’s been a bit quiet on here lately and that’s because I’ve been away in sunny Barbados.  Gardening and allotmenting can be fun, rewarding and good for your health – but if there’s any advice I’d like to give you in this post, it’s to have a holiday or a break, otherwise you run the risk of shinning bright and burning out fast.

Barbados is a fantastic country for nature, vegetation, wildlife, landscape and climate. People often refer to Barbados as paradise, and they’re not wrong.  In spite of the 30 degree heat and the dry season, Barbados is a brilliantly green part of the world.

Barbados, of the most part is an island made up of limestone, meaning that combined with the lack of rainfall, the soil is very rich in calcium.  The calcium in the soil naturally binds with other organic matter to form a good level of drainage – it will also naturally encourage plants to establish strong root stocks, and thus providing such green and healthy foliage.

If you ever do a soil test (which I’m due to do at the end of the season at some point), and your soil is lacking in calcium, then you would be advised to add calcium into the ground in the form of fertilisers.

Overall, if you ever get the chance to go to Barbados – then do it!

The Landscape

Wildlife

I visited Barbados Wildlife Reserve in St Peters, which really is a sight to behold. The place was full of tortoises, green monkeys and deer to name but a few animals. The place is a jungle and as a result you really do feel like Indiana Jones exploring areas unknown (almost).

The Wildlife reserve is part of a mahogany tropical rainforest, and was home to all kinds of medicinal plants that were discovered during the times of Darwin. A truly fascinating place nestled in the corner of the island.

The plants

A big hello to Geri and Steve from Gemini House for being such wonderful and fantastic hosts during our stay – they also let me take these wonderful pictures of their vibrant garden.

Luckily, they have a great patch of aloe vera, which is a plant you definitely need if you’re prone to getting sun burnt very easily.  Needless to say, as a redhead, I needed a lot of aloe towards the end of the trip.

Travelling through Barbados, you’ll notice there’s palm trees and all kinds of plants, fruits and vegetables growing wild – and I think this is what makes the island’s environment so unique, in contrast to other parts of the world.

Broad bean and mustard carbonara

I’ll tell you a little bit of a secret – I’ve never grown broad beans and so far, from what I can tell they’re used as a bit of an accompaniment or something you would use to bulk out a dish. All broad bean recipe suggestions are welcome please!

Ingredients
Broad beans, as much as you like
3 Shallots
1 Garlic crushed
3 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon of creme fraiche
1 Teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
200g Pasta (allow for 75g-100g per person)
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Method

1. Add the finely diced the shallots, broad beans and crushed garlic into a saucepan and fry them all off with some olive oil until they’re soft.

2. In a saucepan bring some water to the boil and start cooking the pasta.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the egg yolks, creme fraiche and wholegrain mustard – this is the basis of any carbonara sauce and it takes seconds to cook through.

4. When the pasta is cooked, add it to the saucepan containing the shallots, garlic and broad beans. Stir it around and make sure everything is distributed evenly.

5. Add the carbonara sauce and stir for around one or two minutes.

Broad beans, black soot and chocolate spot

I haven’t been too hot on pest control this year so far and unfortunately it shows on my broad bean patch. My broad beans have become victim to both black soot and chocolate spot.

Black soot

This year my broad beans have become victim to a massive black fly assault and as a result a black, powdery soot-like mold is covering the leaves, steam and is present on the some of the pods.

Black soot occurs after the black fly (or white fly) suck out all of the glucose and sugar from the plant, with the mold growing off of the excess sugar and glucose.

The black mold can be particularly damaging to your plants the mold can block out any light reaching the plant which will lead to a growth deficiency.

Sooty mold will also attract other pests including ants, aphids and more black and white fly.  I need to first address the pest problem before I look to eradicate the mold problem.

Chocolate Spot

To add to my black mold woes, I’ve also got a dose of chocolate spot on my broad beans. Chocolate spot is a fungus and is spread via the air and the rain.

In recent weeks we’ve experienced very wet and humid conditions which has caused a secondary bout of chocolate spot.

Chocolate sport performs well at a temperature between 15° and 22° – and guess what, that’s been the average temperature of the UK over the past few days!

Chocolate spot is a little brown spot that appears on the leaf of the plant but can also affect the stem of the plant, which will eventually lead to the plant collapsing in a horrible brown heap.

Because the leaves will begin to shrivel and I’ve pretty much got the most out of my plants (crop included) I can’t say that I’m too fussed about seeing them go.

It’ll free up some space and I can look to use the area for crops that I want to grow in the autumn or winter.

Rhubarb quick jam

Introducing you to quick jam! This recipe is great if you have a glutton of rhubarb and can be tailored to your particular taste. If you like it sweeter, add more sugar, if you like a little more bite then less sugar – it really is a simple as that. I’m calling it quick jam because the recipe looks like that of a jam, but it takes less the effort. You just boil it up, put it in a bowl or container and use it as you see fit. It’s great with porridge in the morning, on toast, with ice cream, scones or you can sandwich it in between two sponge cakes. The choice is yours.

Ingredients
Two part rhubarb
One part sugar (any kind)
Splash of water
Juice of one orange (optional)

Method

1. Cut all of the rhubarb in to small chunks and place into a deep, wide pan. Add a splash of water and the sugar. If you use 500g of rhubarb, you’ll need around 250g of sugar. But this really is down to your preference as to how sweet you want it.

2. Quickly bring the mixture to the boil, stirring regularly and then reduce the heat to simmering. You want to simmer the mixture until everything is cooked down into a mush.

3. If you want to add a twist, squeeze the juice out of an orange and incorporate this into the mixture.

4. Taste as you go, and leave to cool.

How to tie up tomato plants

Tomato plants need support as they have no means of holding themselves up naturally.  Tomato plants that have the support of a bamboo cane or stake will naturally supply you tomatoes that are of  a higher standard, because your fruit will end up bigger, be relatively free of any dirt and other little pests that may want to tuck into them. It also makes picking tomatoes really easy too.

Tomato plants that haven’t been tied will remain on the ground, increasing your chances of developing diseases and causing your tomatoes to rot.  Tying up your tomato plants will held reduce any wind damages that may occur to your plant also.  My plants are around 12 inches tall and were starting to sway in the wind, and this is what has prompted me to give my plants some added support.

When I first planted them in the ground, you may have noticed that I already planted them with a stake/bamboo cane for this very purpose.   I tend to use gardeners twine because it’s quite durable but ultimately it’s bio-degradable so it’s good for the environment.  I have seen gardeners tear old t-shirts and clothes into lengths to use as ties also, so you may want to experiment with that.

I’ve also a number of ways in which gardens tie their plants to the bamboo canes, but I have a specific knot that I stick by because it allows just the right amount of movement, is strong but also it takes into account the growth of the plant as the stem grows bigger.

  1. Tie the a knot around the cane, making sure there’s a decent length of twine on either side of the knot
  2. Make a figure of eight with the twine and on the last loop, encompass the stem of the plant
  3. Finish off the figure of eight with a double knot

It should look like the pictures below.

Digging out First Early Potatoes: Pentland Javelin

I’m finally digging out some lovely, fresh first early potatoes!  Potatoes are a great staple in the kitchen and they’re so easy to grow and they are so delicious.  When digging up potatoes, it’s often the case that you stick your fork into the ground and you end up with a potato at the end of it – this does happen from time to time and depending on your preference, this potato will be find if you were to just rinse it under the tap.

To avoid this, start digging about a foot away from the plant and dig deep. If you’re unsure as to whether you’ve managed to find all of the potatoes, dig and dig again – you won’t believe how many strays managed to grow through from last year.

I have to say that digging up potatoes is quite exciting and quite a tangible experience, all of that planting, weeding and mounding up has paid off – but the thing that has struck me about Pentland Javelin is the colour, they’re a bright, white potato that shines through the mud.

Growing potatoes is a great way of cleaning the ground – if you have a patch of ground that hasn’t been touched, is hard and just needs to be worked then planting potatoes is THE plant to grow. Mounding your crop and then subsequently digging them out will achieve all of the above for you.  The patch that I’ve grown my first early potatoes in admittedly is now in need of some nutrients – once the potatoes have been dug out, I will look to empty the compost bin and pile in some freshly sifted soil.

The other great thing about growing first, second and main crop potatoes is that by the time I’ve dug out the first early potatoes, the second early crop will be ready to dig out and so fourth!

I can not wait to get these in the kitchen and cook these with butter and mint. I’ll keep you posted on what recipe I come up with.

Tom Thumb Lettuce: Review

How do you review a lettuce? Probably one of the hardest things to do if you’re a blogger seeing as they all seem to taste relatively the same and generally serve the same purpose.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’d have seen I had decided to grow Tom Thumb lettuce – a fast growing variety ideal for growing from March all the way through to August.

I sowed quite a lot of them in a polystyrene tray and if I’m totally honest, I would sow these differently I were sowing them again – perhaps only one or two in pots and then thin them out later.  I’d also keep the plants on the windowsill inside your own home purely because I have found that lettuce should be fresh and at your fingertips, in my opinion growing them at an allotment is a little bit too inconvenient, because you have to go to your allotment, dig it up or cut it and then go back.   I tend use lettuce for salads for lunch, and I’m not just not that organised, so I would definitely recommend growing these on a window box for the dis-organised among you.

If you are that organised and you’re short of space at home, there is a plus side, which is that Tom Thumb lettuces were pretty low maintenance as the seed packet described, this is a real benefit. They also lasted once they were cut, provided they were kept in a bag in the fridge.

If you do plan on keeping your lettuce in the fridge for a number of days then it’s best that you’re really thorough in your cleaning and subsequent drying. Be sure to wash your lettuce in cold water, and add a few splashes of vinegar to kill any hidden creepy crawlies and be quite diligent in getting all that mud off as this could work with any moisture to create mould and quickly turn your lettuce.

I’d really recommend investing in a lettuce drier (or salad spinner) (you know those cool things that spin around when you turn the handle).  Compared to lettuces you buy in the shop, these really stand above the rest – purely because it was fresher and you knew where it had come from.

Now, what variety of salad to grow next…