a beefy italian

 

romano's tomatoes

 

When I walk my little dog every morning, there is a lovely old italian chap who brings his working pointer in for a bit of excercise and we almost always walk together and chat.

here's hoping

 

He is charming and always makes me laugh. He shoots, has a garden, an allotment and cooks all the time.  He is in fact a retired chef.  We always have long chats about food and what we were doing at the weekend and he has lead an incredibly interesting life.

Last year he gave me the most enormous italian beef tomato to dry for seeds to plant this year.  It was an italian beef variety that came from his home in italy where his mama still lives.

sliced beef tomatoes

I wasn’t very hopeful after drying them as they looked a but mouldy but I thought I’d chance it.  I planted them in old baked bean tins a few weeks ago and they are starting to sprout.  I am hopeful that they will look as lovely as these photos when they grown on.

 

sprouting tomato seedlings

I have labelled them Romano’s Tomatoes and I like to think of them as being a hansome juicy italian variety just like him!

#6 still growing our own

courgette flowers

As relative novices at this, we seem to have an abundance of certain things such as rocket and nasturtiums and this will happen with the lettuce, carrots, cabbage and corgettes too.  Staggering the planting of your produce every two weeks has been lost in translation somewhere!!

Not to be daunted by too much produce for our consumption rate, some has gone to grace other people’s supper tables other things like the spare rocket has been turned into rocket pesto for later use.

I recently found a recipe and a few suggestions for the use of the green tops of carrots so as we thin them out and eat them as baby carrots (delicious!!), we are also using the leaves in salad.  We haven’t tried wilting them into pasta or scrambled eggs yet but it works just like doing it with spinach. The flavour is quite different to spinach and it is definitely reminiscent of carrots.

huge courgette flowers

The substantial courgette coverage that we have has also offered enormous flower heads which we will be coating in batter and frying (yum yum) along with lots of baby courgettes for salad and pasta.

courgettes and flowers

We have enough Pak Choi to stir fry until christmas, the strawberry plant has taken on trifid like proportions and although it has produced a limited harvest, the strawberries that we have enjoyed have been very sweet and full of flavour; perfect to liven up a breakfast bowl of cereal.

curly red lettuce

The crispy green lettuces seem to have suffered from a bit of unwanted insect attention but are still edible if chopped into a mixed salad. The curly red ones on the other hand are looking amazing and certainly add colour.

crispy red lettuce

I don’t think we have ever eaten so healthily or so cheaply though JC wonders how cheap it is if you take into account the time spent planting, tending, maintaining, picking and preparing.  Regardless of this, our salads and vegetables have never tasted so good and it most definitely makes an enormous difference when it is straight from the ground to your dinner table.

mini tomatoes

We have learned a lot from our short venture into vegetable growing like how important it is to space things properly, how important it is to spread your harvest over as long a part of the season as possible by staging your sewing and then of course there is the things you begin to understand about the general care.  It will all hopefully contribute to making us more successful and more efficient as we progress.

nasturtiums

One thing that has been unexpected and has proved interesting is our compost.

We’ve been making our own compost for quite a while now in a concerted effort to drive down our rubbish production and having sieved it and stored it, we only got around to using it for the first time this year for our veggies.

Everywhere that we used it, almost without exception, there are mini tomato plants popping up which must be germinating from the tomaotoes that have ended up in our composter.

Free tomato plants too!

#5 one of many reasons to grow your own

baby tomatoes

The spectacle of rapidly developing vegetables in our garden has become a deep joy for me over a very busy period at work.

My days have been long and my nights restless with thoughts of the many things I need to remember and others that I need to co-ordinate.

cabbage

My 6am walk with the furry one is a time to collect my thoughts and have an interesting chat with some of my dog walking buddies, but there is a deep relaxation and sense of satisfaction tending and harvesting the provisions we have started to grow in our back garden.

lettuce

The rocket has gone mad, mad, mad and we have had to give a lot of it away.

carrot tops

The carrots are just fluffy tops at the moment but they hold such sweet promise.

The dwarf beans are still pretty small shoots but then I suppose they are dwarf so I shouldn’t expect too much.

strawberries

The large but solitary strawberry plant is promising enough fruit to promise at least one dish that could be called a desert.

spinach

The spinach is ready to be wilted into a nice paste dish.

pak choi

The pak choi is my absolute favourite and is so, so pretty.

It really takes me back to my childhood when Dad asked us to hoe the veg garden or my grandad was lovingly tending his vast veg garden after his retirement from farming.

I believe I inspect each plant and leaf more closely for imperfections and possible disease or pest than I spend inspecting myself for the same!  Whilst I don’t quite expect to see signs of pests or disease about my person, I should be taking care of myself a bit better.

BUT, I think this is taking care of myself. It is relaxing, therapeutic, a source of incredibly fresh and nutritional food as well as a very important contribution to the environment while those little plants gobble up CO2 at night.

I am still waging an angry war against snails and slugs but it is a slightly methodical and calm battle now rather than an angry war. I will win, however.

#4 produce in abundance

black courgette

The vegetables seem to be doing well in the garden helped enormously by the recent combination of sunshine and rain.

rocket and mixed salad leag

We are eating baby leaf salads on a daily basis now and have just planted our second batch to see us through a few more weeks when the earlier stuff runs out.

strawberries

The strawberries are flowering and showing the first signs of fruit hidden in there so we will have to net those soon to protect from the birds.

cucumber, courgette and garlic

The black courgettes that I planted in loo roll cardboards have been planted into the ground along with the cucumbers that I seeded in an egg box and they seem to be doing fine.

carrots

We have carrots, herbs, pak choi and brocolli sprouting too and it all looks so tasty. Even the tomatoes have recovered now that they are in bigger pots and are outside.  I can hardly wait.

tomatoes

The most frustrating wait is for the rhubarb and asparagus!  Although they both seems to have taken very well they shouldn’t be harvested in their first year so we must wait for next year. The wait gives the root system a chance to strengthen and allows then to establish themselves.

This time next year Rodney…..

#3 recycling and growing your own vegetables

asparagus ready to flower

You know when you start something and wonder where it will end…….

We set up our raised vegetable box quite a few weeks ago along with a small plastic green house to help with seedlings, pots and 2 old butters sinks.

Not content with that, last weekend, I dug over a flower bed that was struggling under the strangling effects of a variegated grass and spreading sweet woodruff.  My efforts have revealed about 1m x 3m of ground that is going to take a mix of flowers and shrubs as well as even more vegetables than those we are already growing.  JC fancies a leek trench!!!

flowering strawberries

It is quite poor soil that we have never riddled or improved and have, historically, simply stuck shrubs into spaces when we got our hands on them.  It is filled with builder’s rubble from when our flat was formed as part of the conversion of the victorian terraced house it sits in,

In order to improve conditions a little, a healthy portion of turkey manure that we had transported from the farm has been turned into it.  The bags of turkey manure are bought as a recycled by product of turkey farming and the 2 bags that we scrounged off the farm have been festering away at the back of the garden and smell mighty potent.  It seems that you only need 10% of horse manure or other soil improvers as it is that fertile.  I was warned that we might end up with triffids.

lettuce

Our earlier efforts seem to be relatively successful, well stuff is growing. We now, however, have garlic and herbs planted in the new patch (turkey manure and all), cucumber, courgette and brocolli seeds are sitting in various containers in  the greenhouse waiting to sprout before they are planted into the newly fed flower bed.  It is very satisfying

As well as wanting to produce my own food, these tough times and the ‘grow your own’ gardening has made me into an even more committed recycler.  As a result of my planting needs and I have found some new uses for egg boxes, the cardboard tubes from a loo roll and the unused pee pads from when we were house training our wee dog when he was a pup.

loo roll 'pot' on a pee pad

Egg boxes are superb for seedlings, they hold moisture in the cardboard brilliantly and you just cut each section away from the other and plant them straight into the ground.  It means that the roots of your delicate seedlings are not disturbed and the cardboard breaks down as the plant grows and also feeds the soil.  The same applies to the loo roll tubes but these have to have the bottoms snipped and turned over to form a ‘pot’.

The most satisfying recycle of all though has been the training mats that we bought when ‘the furry one’ was a pup and house training was in hand.  He never needed house training particularly so the bulk pack of these matts that we bought have never been used.  We’ve tried giving them away to friends with pups but still seem to have too many taking up valuable storage space in our cupboards.  They now have a new life and are the moisture base of my mini greenhouse shelves that is keeping my seedlings watered!

tomatoes flowering but not looking too happy

Things seem to be thriving and it is very encouraging.  The tomatoes are the least happy of our ‘triffids’ but I have taken them out of the ‘greenhouse’, repotted them and hope the extra food and fresh air will bring them along.  The weather is a bit unpredictable, at the moment so I hope they don’t get nipped.

The more we do, the more confident we are becoming and already I don’t feel quite so ‘scared’ of it all now.  Come on sunshine, we want to start eating our salad!!!!!

#2 tinyinc’s vegetable patch

tomatoes in the 'greenhouse'

I can’t tell you how exciting and satisfying it is to see things growing that you are going to also be able to enjoy eating. Especially when you made it happen yourself!

I’ve long delighted in the minor successes (and mourned the major failures) of gardening but having finally got around to growing something to eat, I can’t believe it has taken me so long to catch on.

rocket, lettuce & mixed salad

When our garden evolved the many times it has, before it turned into what it is now, it should have occurred to me to add something ‘useful’ to the list of plants out there.  We enjoy a lot of wildlife from birds, frogs, newts and the like out there because of what we have created but there is ample room for a bit of food production too.

basil in the 'greenhouse'

Anyway, we set it all up a few weeks ago with a raised vegetable bed, butlers sinks and a mini plastic greenhouse.  This weekend we have seen success with sprouting lettuce, spinach, carrots, spring onions, mixed salad, dwarf beans, another asparagus spear has appeared, there are flowers appearing on the strawberry plant and the tomato plants seem to be thriving but we have seen failure in one of the 2 rhubarb plants.

We planted 2 that had been separated from a monster rhubarb on the farm and whereas one seems to have taken wonerfully, the smaller of the two hasn’t taken at all.

dwarf beans in the 'greenhouse'

We have tried to give everything a fair chance by using egg shells to keep the greedy slugs and snails at bay, covering things in plastic trellis to protect the seeds and seedlings from our hungry bird visitors (who, I hasten to add, get better fed than us and the furry one!)

rhubarb

And we are diligent about watering from our water butts and we are gently removing whatever we consider to be weeds (and leaving what we are unsure about just in case), so we are hopeful to be reporting a feast of warm salads this summer.

My sister is in the process of moving house and the wonderful, wonderful place she is moving to has been looked after very well by a retired gentleman with a passion for vegetable gardening.  If my ‘greenhouse’ plugs are a success and the raised veg bed continues to sprout as well as it has started, I am going to transplant some of the surplus into her well tended soil and hope that she can enjoy some ‘home grown’ seasonal produce too.

She has lots of room and is planning to plant fruit trees.  I feel a surplus produce swap coming on…

flower heads appearing on the strawberry plant

It’s incredibly exciting and I know I  am soooooo behind everyone else but I really love it.

spinach

Dig for Victory

Dig for Victory

I have long harboured a desire to ‘grow your own’ vegetables and salad, we are part of a box scheme from the wonderful woodlands farm when we are away at the weekends but only really use it in the summer and autumn.

Dig for Victory

Like most things that I want to do that aren’t attached to my normal job that earns my income and keeps the mortgage payments up to date, the battle to get them done is always about time (or the lack of it).

Dig for Victory

I would dearly love to spend my days sewing or planting or baking or making or any of those other wonderful things that are associated with a country life (or at least a life with a little less work in the balance) but I do have to pay the bills so off to work I go.

a trimmed shrub with lanterns

We cook a lot and always prepare from fresh so we buy a lot of produce.  We are pretty lucky to have a decent sized garden for a flat in a victorian london terrace so why not put it to more uses.  The pond won’t be affected so our little colony of newts and frogs won’t suffer, the bird feeders won’t have to move so the birds won’t mind, the flower beds are mostly around the edges and will remain untouched, the decking won’t change for our al fresco eating, it is only the failed lawn that will change and it can only be for the good.

a helping hand

I feel a bit of pressure to succeed at ‘grow your own’ and it may have contributed to the delay in getting around to it as my paternal grandad was a great gardener and in fact that is what he spent his life doing once he gave up farming and he excelled at it.  My dad had a vast vegetable patch and orchard on a pig farm in Great Langton and then actually went into horticulture in the 70s by joining the Land Settlement Association in Lincolnshire. My maternal grandparents kept an allotment along the side of a redundant railway line which they had started during the second world war in the ‘Dig for Victory’ scheme, my brother has a veg patch and even my sister is just about to start one…  it goes on.  I am quite frankly a slacker in this field.

work in progress

Because the weather hasn’t been the best over the last few summers, and the fact that we are away most weekends now means we seem to have spent less time out in the garden in town than we normally would and some of the shrubs had started to take over a bit.  We also had town foxes visiting that were becoming a problem and their smell was quite bad.  The dog has waged war on them and has sorted it out now so that they are much less frequent visitors.

some of our pond visitors

The gorgeous weather and the need to tidy up and get rid of the grass that we couldn’t ever really maintain to any level that would warrant it being called a ‘lawn’ stirred us into finally getting on with it last weekend.

We have created a raised vegetable bed from some old oak groins salvaged from a building site, we bought a plastic greenhouse which is now full of tomato plants and herb seedlings and I had scrounged 2 old butlers sinks from my mum ages ago that are now planted with asparagus and some more herbs.  We bagged ourselves some potent Turkey muck from the farm so all the ingredients are there.

Combined, these 3 growing areas should provide us with all the herbs we favour, all the salad we can toss, all the spinach, beans, carrots, strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus we can eat.

rocket

rocket

It has all come from bought seed unfortunately and that goes against my instinct to scrounge, trade and thrift but there are exceptions; The tomato plants were bought at a car boot sale for pennies, the asparagus was given to me by my friend Maria, the rhubarb came from the farmer’s wife and the strawberry plant was saved from a dried out pot.

asparagus

It has only been a few days since the transformation but there are already rocket sprouts showing and one of the 2 asparagus tips (that I actually planted in a butlers sink a few weeks ago) is up too.  It’s very exciting and although we have a bit of tidying and finishing off to do, I do feel a bit like I am also Digging for Victory albeit my own little victory.