Oyster Mushroom Advent Calendar: Part One

On the first day of Advent the postman gave to me, some mushrooms to grow in coffee…

My children (aged 4 and 7) were exploding with excitement this morning as they opened the first door in their Lego advent calendar – a special treat this year from Grandma and Grandpa. We also have the atmospheric beauty of another Jacquie Lawson digital calendar – this year it’s a seaside advent world with a puzzle, short video or mini-game each day. One of my friends even has a beer advent calendar – like a grown-up chocolate version, I guess. As usual, I’m off on a tangent with my advent journey – through upcycled coffee grounds to a harvest of oyster mushrooms, hopefully in a couple of weeks’ time.

img_20161201_140727

The Kitchen Garden Pearl Oyster Mushroom Kit is from The Espresso Mushroom Company, featured in my recent post 10 Ethical Gardening Gifts for a Green Christmas. They kindly offered me a kit to grow throughout December and having grown mushrooms in the past and had successful crops, I was happy to give it a go. The growbag filled with recycled coffee grounds from 100 espressos needs to be soaked for 12 hours and then I’ll be keeping a photo record of the development of the mushrooms over December and updating on my Facebook page and on the blog.

img_20161201_1412571

The best kind of advent calendar

I’m intending to upload a few videos of the mushroom growing process to my YouTube Channel – if you’d like to see inside the kit, you can follow my mushroom growing exploits here. I’m pretty new to vlogging and it’s the first time I’ve narrated (not keen on the sound of my recorded voice – but then again, who is?), so any helpful hints will be gratefully received…

Here goes… and a very merry Advent to one and all.  🙂

What is your advent calendar this year – chocolates, art or something completely different? If you’d like to watch the development of the mushrooms and my other gardening activities, you can follow the blog below. Thanks.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Chilli Harvest 2016

Earlier this year I brought my overwintered chillies out of the spare room and sowed a range of new seeds in the hope that I would be knee-deep in chillies by the end of the summer. I’ve been pleased with the results of what has ended up as a collection of 39 plants with 17 different varieties.

DSC_0061 (2).JPG

Chilli nursery in early spring

 

Our Favourite Chillies

We’ve enjoyed endless suppers of ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ chillies stuffed with cream cheese. Despite ‘Hot’ in the title, HHW is actually a mild 2000-8000 on the Scoville heat scale. I sowed an entire seed packet because the seeds were out of date and was amused and surprised when they all germinated. Even after selling many of them at the school fete plant stall I have had enough HHW chillies to dine royally throughout the summer.

dsc_0010_2

One of my trays of Hungarian Hot Wax

 

DSC_0061_4 (2).JPG

HHW maturing nicely

‘Purple Gusto’ has been another favourite, with good production rates and a spicy Scoville rating of around 10,000. The fruits mature to a beautiful deep purple, creating an attractive display.

DSC_0070_3 (2).JPG

Gloriously shiny ‘Purple Gusto’

‘Cayenne’ did well as usual and produced lots of long, spicy fruits (30,000-50,000 SHU) and I also grew ‘Cheyenne’ which at first I thought might be the same variety with a different spelling, but actually turns out to be a fatter chilli which matures to an attractive orange colour and has a SHU of around 40,000.

‘Cayenne’ and ‘Cheyenne’

Another favourite which overwintered successfully and has produced a good crop is ‘Aji Crystal’ which has a spicy citrus tang and scores around 50,000 SHU.

DSC_0152.JPG

‘Aji Crystal’ with its beautiful light green fruit

I’ve grown ‘Apache’ for years – it was the first chilli I grew from seed and I love the spicy fruit (70,000-80,000 SHU) which mature to a vibrant red. I only have one ‘Apache’ this year, rescued from a nursery where it was in a sorry state and retailing for an attractive 50p. I refused cake with my cup of tea and bought the chilli and a couple of its spicy neighbours instead.

img_20160909_165709

After some TLC this ‘Apache’ looks much more cheerful

 

Underperforming Chillies

Several varieties have been disappointing this year including some of my favourites – ‘Numex Twilight’ (30,000-50,000 SHU) with its tiny upright multi-coloured fruit, ‘Jalapeno’ (2,500-5,000 SHU) normally a prolific fruiter and the sultry heirloom ‘Hungarian Black’ (around 5,000 SHU). None of these have been heavy croppers this year and seem to have taken a long while to recover from their winter hibernation.

dsc_0134

The only ‘Jalapeno’ fruit – although being in the green roof hasn’t helped. An unsuccessful experiment as the plants have suffered from the dry environment. Worth trying, but not to be repeated

 

DSC_0083_3 (2).JPG

‘Numex Twilight’ with its meagre crop in August

dsc_0142

‘Numex Twilight’ had recovered a little by this week

 

dsc_0147

‘Hungarian Black’ has sulked all summer. Its foliage is naturally variegated, but has been stunted and slow to develop

My tree chillies ‘Alberto’s Locoto’ have also been disappointing so far, with lush foliage and a branching habit, but no flowers at all until the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong – maybe they need feeding more than other varieties – my feeding regime has been rather haphazard this year. They are recommended to be particularly suitable as perennials, so if I can be bothered with the palaver of spare room chillies again this winter maybe they’ll do better for me next year.

DSC_0076_3.JPG

Healthy foliage, but no fruit on my ‘Alberto’s Locoto’

DSC_0145.JPG

Deep purple flower buds are just appearing on the tree chillies…

 

New Chillies on the Block

Some of my new chillies new this year were ‘Almapaprika’, ‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’, ‘Joe’s Super Long’  (its chillies are currently super non-existent), ‘Piri Piri’, ‘Habanero Red, ‘Habanero Big Sun’ and ‘Prairie Fire’. ‘Prairie Fire’ (70,000-80,000 SHU) has lovely little upright fruits which start the softest cream and then mature through yellow, orange and purple to red.

DSC_0137 (2).JPG

‘Prairie Fire’ starts off a really pale cream…

‘Almapaprika’ is another Hungarian heirloom variety which has unusually shaped rounded cherry fruits and is very mild (1-1,000 SHU). It is also known as Hungarian apple pepper. The chillies start as a pale yellow and mature through orange to a rich red colour. Apparently you need lots of plants if you are going to dry it for paprika which I don’t have, but it tastes good stuffed like Hungarian Hot Wax and is an interesting novelty.

img_4764

A sweet little Hungarian apple pepper

‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’ is an aji type like ‘Aji Crystal’ and has a rating of 30,000-50,000 SHU. The long, hanging fruits start a pale green and then mature to a light yellow. They are great in curries and good to stuff if you fancy a hot lemony treat.

These ‘Lemon Drop’ chillies will get lighter as they mature

I haven’t had fruit to try on the other varieties yet as some arrived a little late as plug plants. But they all have either flowers or ripening fruit, so I’m looking forward to a late tastebud tingling harvest of ‘Joe’s Super Long’ (15,000-20,000 SHU), ‘Piri Piri’ (175,000-250,000 SHU), ‘Habanero Red’ (150,000-325,000 SHU) and ‘Habanero Big Sun’ (250,000-350,000 SHU)!

DSC_0045.JPG

Some of the chillies in the greenhouse before the tomatoes took over and obscured the view

DSC_0153 (2).JPG

My crazy chilli display

An amazing array of different colours, shapes and sizes – I love chillies as they tick both my boxes – ornamental AND delicious…

So all that remains is to hope for more warm weather so all the chillies will continue to grow and ripen, and start concocting more devilish chilli plans for next year. In the meantime there will be more roasted chilli suppers, Thai curries and still chillies left over to freeze for winter curries, soups and stews. What better way to remember a long, hot summer than with steaming Thai tom kha soup on dark December evenings?

Chilli Seeds and Plants

I save seeds from my chillies as well as overwintering some plants and growing new varieties each year. I’ve particularly enjoyed the chillies I’ve either bought as plants or sown from seeds from these sources (these links are not sponsored, but based purely on my own experiences and recommendations):

Pennard Plants – Pennards have a fabulous collection of heirloom vegetables, fruit and herbs, including many chilli pepper seeds which I’ve been sampling and growing for several years. This year I visited their stand at Chelsea and bought a chilli trio recommended by Chris at Pennards. Can’t wait for January so I can sow the seeds and start a whole new chilli journey…

Real Seeds – really unusual varieties with excellent information about the required growing conditions, histories of the cultivars and customer recommendations. I love Real Seeds because every time I visit the website there’s more to learn and new varieties to try…

Suttons Seeds – wide selection of chilli seeds and plants, with some excellent offers later in the year which enabled me to get a set of 10 chilli plug plants this year for £4.99. Suttons have been exploring more unusual vegetables, fruit and herbs over the past few years working with James Wong. I’ve enjoyed sowing their seeds and have now established several plants I’d not be without, such as cucamelons, Chilean guavas and my particular favourite this year… the trombocino (more on my soon-to-be prize winning trombo later in the month) 😉

chillies pennard.jpg

The chilli trio from Pennard Plants that is getting my pulse racing…

 

Has the weather been kind to your chillies this year? What varieties have performed well and have there been any disappointments? I’d love to hear your chilli stories, so please do leave me a comment. Thanks 🙂

Follow my blog to get further updates on my chillies and other harvests…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Hey Presto – Pesto!

It was too hot tonight to spend much time in the kitchen – what was needed was a quick supper for the family to eat in the garden. Salad is plentiful at this time of year, so add a bit of pasta on the side and job done. Pesto is great to mix with speedy pasta and luckily I’d made some earlier in the week. Here’s how I made it, plus some top tips on how to grow and harvest the basil and store the pesto afterwards…

Sowing Basil

I grow basil on the top shelf of the greenhouse (away from all but the best ninja slugs) and I usually grow sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) as it has the sweetest taste for pesto and salads. I’ve grown Thai basil in the past – I grew Ocimum x citriodorum ‘Siam Queen’ primarily for cooking Thai dishes. It has a stronger liquorice flavour which is lovely in a curry and is a more ornamental plant with its purple/red stems and pink flowers. It didn’t make such good pesto though, so I went back to sweet basil for my pasta dishes.

Seeds can be sown from February to June and take a couple of weeks to germinate in a propagator or a pot/tray inside a polythene bag. Once the seedlings are large enough, they can be pricked out into small pots. I tend to grow mine in pots (I pot them on a couple of  times over the growing season into larger pots and probably would grow them in bigger pots still if I had the room.) They can also be grown on a windowsill for the duration or hardened off after the risk of frost is over and planted outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. I’ve found this to be less productive due to low temperatures in past summers, but in a hot summer this would probably be more productive than greenhouse growing if you have enough space.

If you like the idea of growing different types of basil for pesto or other recipes these seed suppliers are a good place to start. Here are a few on my seed list for next year…

Thompson and Morgan – I like the idea of Basil ‘Lemonade’ adding a ‘sherbert lemon twist’ to a bowl of summer strawberries.

Kings Seeds – Cinnamon basil sounds tasty and ripe for some culinary experimentation. Lemon basil also appeals and I like the idea of adding it to Earl Grey tea. Especially when the tea is made from bergamot from the garden.

Nicky’s Seeds – Basil ‘Floral Spires White’ and ‘Floral Spires Lavender’ combine the ornamental and culinary, with pretty flowers on a compact plant. Sounds like it has real potager potential.

Top Tip 1:

If you don’t want to raise basil from seed it is easy to buy a cheap supermarket pot of basil and divide it. I did this one year when I needed plants for the school plant sale and mine had all been gobbled by the hungry and increasingly skilled ninja slugs.

Basil in pots is overcrowded and often doesn’t last long – convincing cooks that it is a hard plant to grow. With a few extra pots and a bit of compost, all the seedlings in the pot can be pricked out, given their own space and then grown on in a greenhouse, on a windowsill or in the garden. This gave me over 30 individual plants which all matured to be stocky sizeable specimens with many leaves over the course of the summer. Bargain!

DSC_0258 (2).JPG

Some of the basil after its first mini haircut

 

Growing Basil

Basil likes warm conditions and plenty of water. It should also be fertilised once a month over the summer.

Top Tip 2:

I grow my greenhouse basil in pots placed in gravel trays. Although the plants shouldn’t be sitting in water, I do find they are happier in a more moist environment than many of my greenhouse plants. Without a gravel tray the water quickly drains away, but with it they can absorb more of the moisture and then any excess can be tipped away. (Although in practice I’ve found an occasional few days here or there sitting in water doesn’t seem to do them any damage.)

Even managed to squeeze some basil into the tomato hanging baskets

Harvesting Basil

Basil can be harvested throughout the growing season and is lovely in salads and well as in pesto. I particularly love it at this time of year in a basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with a mix of our red, purple, orange and yellow tomatoes.

Top Tip 3:

I generally harvest basil for pesto twice in the season. Pinching the plant out stimulates side growth, leading to a sturdier, more productive plant. I use the pinched out leaves for salad early in the season and then leave them for a few weeks to grow back. I then take most of my plants back to the lowest set of leaves and make pesto. Finally towards the end of the growing season I pinch the plants back to the lowest leaves again. This set of leaves usually makes the largest amount of pesto.

DSC_0116.JPG

This plant has been pinched back hard twice and is branching enthusiastically

 

Making Pesto

I collect a basketful of leaves from about 20 plants and then pick off and wash the leaves. These are blended with 50-100g of pine nuts, 1-3 cloves of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 100g grated Parmesan cheese and enough oil to blend to a fairly smooth paste. I generally try the pesto when it’s blended and add more garlic, salt and/or nuts to taste.

DSC_0002 (2)

Late summer pickings

 

Top Tip 4:

This week I discovered I only had half a pack of pine nuts in the cupboard – disaster! I read about using other nuts in pesto so I added cashews to make it up to the right amount. The pesto was delicious and I’ll be trying different types of nuts in the future (pistachios and walnuts for starters) to see what works.

DSC_0019.JPG

Pesto ingredients with a mix of pine and cashew nuts

 

Top Tip 5:

The second batch of pesto invariably makes more than we can eat fresh, even in a particularly pesto-loving household. I have frozen it in little pots before which is a bit of a nuisance as it ties up all my containers for months, so this year I froze it in ice cube trays and then popped the pesto ice cubes into a bag when frozen. Leave out the cheese if freezing and add when you defrost. The pesto ice cube can just be stirred into hot, cooked pasta and it will melt with the cheese to create perfect easy tea.

Pesto ice cubes

What have you made pesto with and how successful was it? I’d love to try other greens in the future as well as different types of nuts…

Pesto pasta for all the family with a colourful garden salad

More delicious recipes from the garden to come in later posts. Follow the blog to get tasty updates…

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Grow your way to happiness…

It’s not been the easiest time in my life, but the past 5 years have been the making of me – mentally and physically. I’ve been a full-time mum for 7 years, having left the teaching profession to focus on being with the kids in their formative years. I’ve loved being at home, but have also had to deal with illness, culminating in a diagnosis of coeliac disease. Compared to what many people have to cope with it hasn’t been too bad, but it has still required a change of mindset and re-education where food and cooking is concerned.

During this time gardening has been a really positive force in my life and has inspired me to follow a new direction – training as a garden designer and setting up as a gardening blogger and writer. I’ve also become involved in several community garden projects including The Wynd Garden, The ‘In Bloom’ Garden and The International Garden Cities Garden in Letchworth, and the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin. Through my volunteering I’ve seen how gardening can help people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to develop confidence, overcome problems and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the natural world.

I’ve recently had an article published in Free-From Heaven (a great magazine with endless lovely healthy recipes and stories) and hope it might help others to grow their way to happiness. I’m not sure I’m a prolific gardener and I don’t spend much time crimping pasties, but apart from that it’s all true!

The full text is reproduced below the image – do leave me a comment below with feedback and let me know how gardening/cooking has influenced your life. Thanks.

Free From Article.jpg

My Free-From Life…

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be up at dawn, exploring the natural world at its most active, listening to the dawn chorus and engaging with the day in its infancy. In reality most mornings I struggled to rise for work, or in the early days of motherhood, to soothe night-time toddler traumas. And much as I loved interacting with my kids, games, for me, were generally conducted from the sofa rather than the floor.

Then five years ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, like my father five years previously and slowly I began to understand the reasons why my expectations so far exceeded my abilities. I was tested because of my family history and registered positive in both the blood test and a biopsy. Initially we thought I was asymptomatic, but after a year on a gluten-free diet I realised other people didn’t try harder than me to get out of bed in the morning – they just had more energy than I did. My general health and energy levels, which I’d never thought of questioning, improved rapidly.

Over the past five years I’ve rearranged my life around new rules. I generally choose not to eat out as I’m extremely sensitive to gluten and have had a couple of bad experiences in the past, so as a full-time mum I turned to my house and garden, to growing, harvesting and cooking my own food as a way of regaining control of my life. Using my gradually developing energies, I learned to create the kind of food I feared I’d be missing now eating out was off the menu.

Initially I used the garden to provide ingredients for my cooking, but it quickly became something greater, an inspiration, an education and a growing passion. My garden became a haven, somewhere I felt comfortable, but also somewhere I was finally able to develop my relationship with the natural world. I started laying the first border into the grass at a stage where I could only manage an hour’s digging before retreating to bed, then laid paths, developed flower borders, nature areas and set up a productive, although small, fruit cage and three vegetable beds. As a family space, the garden gives us a base for finding essential oddments for craft activities, gardening with the children (as I write, they have a thriving bed filled with carrots, oca and enthusiastic nasturtiums) and a willow den, which my father and I built using willow whips, and which now can entirely absorb passing small children into its frondy interior in summer games of hide-and-seek.

Produce from the garden has been an inspiration in my cooking. As I’ve begun to master gluten-free cakes, biscuits and a variety of different pastries, the garden has provided. It has offered vegetables for Cornish pasties, raspberries and alpine strawberries for adding magic to cupcakes with the kids and baskets of fruit which my husband carefully transforms into jellies, jams and chutneys to see us through the winter. As my confidence in gluten-free cooking has grown, I have begun to create more ambitious foods. Birthdays now always mean a big gluten-free cake – anything from rainbow cakes to flower garden cakes and even an entirely gluten-free gingerbread house! Most normal recipes need a little alteration, but we think my cakes and biscuits are generally pretty similar to gluten alternatives.

Bread is the latest challenge – one of our New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Soda bread has been very successful, especially when eaten on the day it’s made – with a homemade soup based on seasonal vegetables from the garden. My first focaccia attempt would have been extremely useful as a building material, but had little culinary merit. Since then I’ve experimented with different flours, psyllium husks and flax seeds. The results are slowly improving and I’m hopeful that a soft, tasty loaf with plenty of added fibre is just around the corner. Perfect to spread with home-grown jam or to make into a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, with salad freshly picked from the garden.

I no longer feel the need to rise at dawn because I now engage with the world in a more immediate way. I’m out there, doing what I love, greeting the days with renewed energy, grateful for my new life and my good health.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please do follow the blog below:

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

If you’d like to get involved with volunteering in your local area there are many community gardens throughout the UK. The BBC has a list of local gardening projects, the RHS runs the Britain in Bloom and It’s your Neighbourhood projects which offer local volunteering opportunities and the social and therapeutic gardening charity Thrive also has four community gardens around the country supported by local volunteers.

With thanks to my friends and family for their support and to all the garden volunteers who give so much and make so much of a difference.

 

Exploring wild flowers: 5 coastal plants with interesting edible histories

These days I spend much of my time in private and community gardens (and sometimes even my own) working with plants and I’ve learnt a great deal over the past few years about where garden plants will thrive, how they will combine with their fellows and when they will steal the limelight. But my knowledge of our native flora is still at the seedling stage, with only a few stalwarts remembered from walks in the Welsh country lanes with my grandparents (Herb Robert, Red Campion, Lords and Ladies…) I’ve not yet developed the ability to connect with a landscape through observing its plants the way I have with birds, through years of watching, listening and learning.

So this year I’ve started developing my knowledge of our wild flora. I’ve attended several excellent courses at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens – on Trees in Winter (sticks), Trees in summer (sticks with leaves) and Tricky Taxonomy (focusing on Docks, Sedges, Umbellifers, Crucifers and Willows). These courses have been interesting and useful – not because I can identify a great deal more than I could before, but because they have opened up a whole new world of native plant life and a new way of looking at it – focusing on the structure of the plant and its links to native habitats, rather than considering plants in terms of their garden worthiness and aesthetic possibilities.

Thus I found myself at RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk this week, crouched in the vegetative shingle, focusing on the plant life rather than the bird life. There was a brief foray into East Hide with the rest of the family to marvel at the iconic avocets and argue over the identity of a female whinchat/stonechat, but mostly I wandered along the shore learning to connect with the landscape through its vegetation. I’ve learnt to identify new species and enjoyed researching their history and uses. I’ve been surprised at how many have edible parts, at least theoretically and historically (some are now not eaten due to their toxic effects and some are protected species in certain areas).

Here are some of my favourite new acquaintances and a little about why I’ve found their histories captivating:

1. Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus)

These beautiful little papilionaceous flowers (shaped like a butterfly) are tiny specks of colour in an otherwise green and tan landscape. A trailing perennial, the flowers have obvious links to sweet peas and garden peas with their 5 petals (the upstanding ‘standard’, the 2 lateral ‘wings’ and the 2 fused lower petals forming the ‘keel’.)

P1020052 (2).JPG

The delicate sea pea flower

The seeds float and can remain viable for an impressive 5 years. It was first recorded in 1570 and used to be so abundant that it was regarded as a valuable food source in Suffolk in times of famine. However, like many other members of the genus, they contain a neurotoxin which can cause a disease called lathyrism if consumed in large quantities. Lathyrism causes paralysis and is still an problem in some areas of the world where large quantities of lathyrus seeds are consumed due to poverty and famine.

Suffolk supports a large percentage of the UK’s scarce population of sea peas, so foraging would no longer be a responsible option – even if there was a consensus on the safety of eating it in small quanitites – which there isn’t.

DSC_0041 (2).JPG

Beautiful and enigmatic sea pea

 

2. Sea Radish (Raphanus maritimus)

A common sight along the coast, I love sea radish for its yellow or white flowers and its abundant profusion. The flowers aren’t conventionally beautiful, but I spent quite a lot of time studying Brassicaceae flowers through a hand lens last month, examining the four petals in a cross shape which gave the family its older name, Cruciferae. The open flower structure and generous quantities of sea radish blooms add a fresh, airy feel to the dunes. Although the Brassicaceae I’m most familiar with are grown for their edible parts, the family also includes ornamental garden favourites like wallflowers, aubretia, honesty and night-scented stock.

DSC_0010

Clouds of fresh sea radish flowers

The seed pods can be clearly seen at this time of year and remind me of the rat-tailed radishes which commandeered the vegetable patch last year and produced hundreds of (to my mind rather unpleasantly cabbagey tasting) seed pods. The abundance of sea radish and the fact that it can be harvested for leaves, flowers and young seed pods, especially in winter when other wild crops are scarce, makes it a valuable wild food source. Although I didn’t harvest any myself this time, it is possible that the taste will be better than the rat-tailed variety as I do generally like the radish pods of varieties which are not conventionally grown for their seed pods (not sure why they taste better – perhaps it’s just that I don’t get on with anything with ‘Rat-tailed’ in the title due to nettle compost tea trauma – see Nettle Soup blog post).

IMG_20160812_201922

Sea radish seed pods

Rat-tailed radish - www.dogwooddays.net (2).jpg

Rat-tailed radishes in the garden last year

 

3. Sea Kale (Crambe maritime)

Another member of the Brassicaceae family, sea kale was a favourite food of the Victorians and their habit of digging up plants to try and grow them in their gardens contributed to their decline in the wild. Today plants are still scarce in some areas, but they grow in abundance on stretches of the Suffolk coast. However, we can now grow sea kale from seed, thus avoiding putting pressure on local resources. Seeds are available from Suttons Seeds and The Organic Gardening Catalogue, or plants can be bought from Victoriana Nursery Gardens from 2017. (All links are based on my personal knowledge and use of these suppliers. They are not sponsored links). Sea kale is an interesting vegetable to cultivate because of its perennial nature and its many edible parts – roots, leaves, flowers and seeds. If you are interested in learning more about sea kale, Mark Williams’ fascinating blog, Galloway Wild Foods covers more foraging information and Alison Tindale offers excellent practical advice about growing and propagation in The Backyard Larder.

DSC_0031

Sea kale shoots emerging from the shingle

 

4. Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Sea holly is another plant perfectly adapted to grow on vegetative shingle, with its long tap root growing down a metre or more and an extensive root system which helps protect the environment against erosion. It has a long history of usage as a medicinal and edible plant – the shoots can be blanched and used as an asparagus substitute whilst the root can be cooked as a vegetable or candied and used as a sweetmeat.

P1020047 (2).JPG

Silvery sea holly on the shingle

Eryngium spp. have, of course, been traditionally planted in gardens for their ornamental value. The waxy, glaucous leaves and bracts, which protect the plant from sun and wind damage, also create the beautiful silvery blue sheen which contrasts so well with orange and yellow flowers such as Helenium, Anthemis and Achillea, or complements blue and purple combinations with other flowers like Allium, Echinacea and Perovskia.

P1020050 (2).JPG

Blue flowers above the glaucous bracts

For more information on sea holly’s history and edible properties I’d recommend Plants for a Future. I first came across this resource several years ago when I bought the book second-hand at Conwy RSPB reserve. Online, it’s an astonishing database of over 7000 edible and medicinal plants, with their historical and modern uses. I use it regularly both as a source of fascinating historical information and to help me maximise the use of the plants growing in my garden and allotment.

DSC_0056.JPG

Prickly sea holly on the shingle/dune margin

 

5. Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marsh mallow is a plant of tidal river banks, salt marshes, damp meadows and coastal margins. The flowers are smaller and paler than common mallow. Most of the mallows have been used as food for centuries in the UK and all around the world and marsh mallow was apparently a delicacy in Roman times. Like the sea pea, marsh mallow is still eaten in countries like Syria as a staple in times of famine, but without the unfortunate side effects.

P1020042 (2).JPG

Marsh mallow flowers have a softness with their pinky-lilac hue

The mucilaginous sap of the root has been used as a sweet treat since Egyptian times, mixed with sugar and egg whites to form a meringue which hardens as it cooks. Modern marshmallows no longer use Althaea officinalis as the base of the confectionary, but the plant still has myriad uses. The root can be cooked as a vegetable, the leaves used to thicken soups and the flowers and root made into tea. Marsh mallow also has many medicinal applications listed in Plants for a Future and further interesting historical information is available in Mrs M. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931), now accessible online.

common mallow

Common mallow flower (Malva sylvestris)

Marsh mallow is scarce in the UK these days and therefore not a viable option for foraging, but seeds can be bought from numerous suppliers, such as Kings Seeds and Jekka’s Herb Farm. With a damp area in the garden it should be possible to grow Althaea officinalis to make marshmallows, as a vegetable or for medicinal purposes. Alternatively it could simply be grown to attract pollinating insects and to create a link to our diverse and rich natural floral history.

If you have enjoyed this post and would like to follow more of my explorations into wild flower territory in the future, please subscribe to the blog:

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

It’s always great to have comments on the posts – I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you forage, grow or cook with these or other coastal plants? Looking forward to hearing from you…

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally. Always ensure it is legal to forage and where identification is concerned, if in doubt, leave it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allotment 96B: New Beginnings

Ten years ago I went on the allotment waiting list. Local sites are heavily oversubscribed and I was expecting a substantial wait. Five years later, with one small child and another on the way I decided to come off the list as allotmenteering seemed unfeasible in the blur of family life. Instead we worked on our new garden, trying to include as much space for growing as possible.

IMG_2156

The mini-potager in our back garden

Put off but not forgotten

But I still had a secret hankering for more space – for growing brassicas, potatoes and other crops which aren’t really worth the space in our small raised beds, for experimenting with new plants, for a cutting garden, for oca trials, for experiencing gluts … the list went on and on! Then, this year, with school for my youngest on the horizon, I decided it was time to rejoin the list. Perhaps in a mere six years we would have our own allotment waiting for us… Three months later I received a phone call and within a week we took over Plot 98B with a certain amount of trepidation.

Initial plans for the allotment – the 3 central beds have now been made into 4

The plot in early April… then dug over ready for potatoes

Plot 98B

We chose 98B out of 3 possibilities. Plus points included 4 established rhubarb plants, 2 long rows of autumn raspberries, 3 blackcurrants (or some may be reds), 2 compost bins, a shed, a strawberry raised bed and resident celeriac and broad beans. Also one of the other plots had swede and leeks – ours didn’t (another plus point).

DSC_0256

Our handy little shed

Our weeds

The shed needs some sorting (tidying, water butt fitting, minor repairs), but overall is in pretty good nick. The plot does have quite a lot of perennial weeds, mostly couch grass and poppies with some bindweed thrown in for good measure, but the poppies look stunning and were covered in bees this morning, so at least we’re doing our bit for pollinators!

Poppies smothered in bees

Our crops

The celeriac was swiftly despatched into several batches of soup and I’ve been harvesting the broad beans with the kids to be eaten young, barely parboiled in salads. The broad beans and poppies seem to be harmoniously sharing the same space – we’ll have a go at digging out the poppies and their long tap roots when the beans are over. The rhubarb has already manfully supplied several crumbles, pots of stewed fruit and 4 or 5 rhubarb sponges (my favourite). It’s now destined for cordial and jam.

DSC_0259

The poppies and broad beans happily coexisting

The plot is split up into 6 beds and the fruit takes up 1 1/2, leaving 4 1/2 beds to play with. Today I’ve dug over the 1/2 bed between the rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes and planted 2 courgette ‘Tricolor’ and one Fuchsia berry which we’re trying this year for its fruits. We have four more to plant but this one is the guinea pig (I didn’t tell it) to see if anything eats the plant (slugs, snails, birds, deer…) If so, I’ll need to protect the others when I plant them out.

DSC_0247

Courgettes and fuchsia berry planted out

One bed has already been planted with potatoes ‘Lady Christl’, shallots ‘Picasso’ and onions ‘Red Baron’. That leaves 2 more beds to dig over and plant – with my trial oca plants (all 14 of them!), a runner bean, cucamelon and trombocino wigwam, brassicas (Brussel sprouts ‘Rubine’ and Kohlrabi ‘Olivia F1’) and root crops (Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and a mix of rainbow carrots and beetroot). I feel very behind where I’d like to be, but having only taken on the plot in April and with a small family in tow most of the time I guess I should be pleased with any progress we make!

DSC_0253

Potatoes and rhubarb

Jerusalem artichoke ambivalence

One happy chance find (or possibly not – I’ll let you know) is the large clump of Jerusalem artichokes in the corner of the plot. I’m ambivalent about their taste and have not really found any super successful recipes, but judging by the amount we will be unearthing in November I’d better get working on a range of delicious ways to cook them! We dug out a large area which had encroached on the path last week and passed a couple of bags of tubers on to other people courtesy of a local facebook gardening swap site (not without the warning that it might be better to plant them in a big pot rather than in the ground).

DSC_0246

The Jerusalem artichokes are big, bold and a little intimidating

Our small allotmenteers

The kids are enjoying their allotment experience. They’ve made new small friends on neighbouring plots, ‘helped’ digging holes, watering and we’ve been working on their own dinosaur garden. They chose the plants (the most yellow form of heuchera they could find – ‘Electra’ as yellow is their favourite colour) and planted them in a tyre which we got from the local garage.

Dino

‘Planting’ trees in the dinosaur garden

They’ve collected stones to put around the edge and we’ve started painting the tyre with acrylic paints (yellow) to live it up a bit. Then the big pot of dinosaurs comes out every visit and they create a Jurassic scene. We’ve also had the bug box out examining the mini-beasts on the plot (snails, snails, snails… and slugs) and they’ve both got grubby and tired – result!

DSC_0065

The dinosaurs have found a new home

DSC_0200

The heuchera in the dinosaur garden

All in all the first few weeks of having an allotment has been fun, we’re already eating the proceeds and I’m looking forward watching it grow, weeds and all.

DSC_0269

I found this little beauty, Tragopogon porrifolius (Purple Salsify), growing wild in the meadow verge adjacent to the allotment path

What hints and tips would you give to newbie allotmenteers like us? Please leave a comment for us – we’d love to hear your thoughts. To see our allotment as it develops, follow the blog here:

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Currants, raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries

Onion/shallot bed and the rest of our, as yet unplanted, growing space

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation (Part 2)

Welcome back to my potter through the changes in our back garden over the past 6 years. In the last post I considered the diverse aims of many modern gardens and their similarity to the older styles of cottage, potager and walled gardens – that of combining utility and beauty in one place. My garden is no different. We wanted a space to provide fruit and vegetables for the family, to have flowers (some for cutting), to provide a place for the kids to play, grow (in all senses of the word), explore and have fun, and to give us somewhere to be outside with friends and family.

Helianthus annus

Stunning sunflowers  – beautiful and edible

Fruit Cage Protection

Previously I looked at the side espalier/herb border and the spring garden. This leads on to the fruit cage, which has now been established for 5 years and which provides us with raspberries (‘Joan J’, ‘Allgold’, ‘Glen Moy’ and ‘Glen Ample’), currants (red ‘Rovada’, white ‘Blanca’ and black ‘Ben Connan’), blueberries (‘Patriot’, ‘Chandler’, ‘Earliblue’, ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Pink Lemonade’) and rhubarb (‘Timperley Early’ and ‘Early Champagne’) throughout the summer. I had grown fruit in our previous, extremely small garden and remember vividly the morning I pottered outside in my pjs to pick the gooseberries which were perfectly ripe – only to find the bush had been stripped by creatures unknown. I blame hormones for the tears I cried over this mishap (I was pregnant with my first child at the time), but to be honest I think I might still react the same way now.

IMAG0314

The fruit cage – worth its weight in raspberries

So I determined to investigate small fruit cages for our new patch to give me a head start in the fight to save the fruit. We decided to buy a walk-in 2m x 3.5m aluminium fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural. It was a bit of an investment, but five years on it is still looking great and we’ve lost no fruit in all that time, so I reckon it’s paid its dues, especially when you consider soft fruit prices and the amounts we’ve picked. It just needs the netting roof removing in early winter and replacing in spring. Occasionally young dunnocks get in under the pegged down netting and need to be chased out again. Never any other birds – always dunnocks, presumably because of their habit of footling around in the undergrowth. But apart from that it’s pretty maintenance-free.

fruit cage

Sweet peas and sunflowers in front of the fruit cage

One of the disadvantages in a small cage is having enough room to move between the plants. The raspberries are planted in two rows so I can get between them to pick – just. But a couple of years ago the gooseberry ‘Invicta’ I’d grown from a cutting had to be donated to a friend because of its antisocial habit of lacerating me every time I squeezed past to get to the rhubarb. Now I’ve got an allotment we’ve been able to plant a new gooseberry, a red ‘Hinnonmaki’, so gooseberry crumble will be on the menu again – a very small one this year – provided I get round to erecting some kind of netting round it!

IMAG0279

One of last year’s colourful fruit harvests

Raised Vegetable Bed Bounty

In front of the fruit cage are my two raised vegetable beds which I designed to allow a small path between the beds and the lawn/flower border. They are constructed out of wood, which despite being sturdy and treated, is badly rotting at the base after only 5 years and looks like it will need replacing in the autumn.

DSC_0463

Protected growing in spring

Over the past few years we’ve grown a range of different crops in the raised beds, including oca, potatoes, flowers for pollinators and for cutting, salad leaves, courgettes, beans, peas, brassicas, tomatillos, onions and garlic, carrots, beetroot, a strawberry bed – the list goes on… I’ve never had as much room as I’d like, so this year, for the first time with the allotment, I’m just using the garden beds for salad crops and the children’s vegetables, and anything which needs to be in the ground longer term can be installed in the allotment (more on the allotment growing in a later post).

IMG_2156

Summer brings the greatest rewards

Flower Border Fun

In front of the spring garden is the only flowerbed (flowers are often unfairly relegated to smaller spaces in my garden unless they are edible as well as beautiful), but I do love growing flowers for their own merits wherever possible. We extended the border into the lawn to create more growing space and to separate the lawn from the back of the garden, creating different areas of interest. Here’s how the flower border has developed over the past six years in six photos…

IMG_1233

Established shrub borders, but no space to grow…

 

IMG_1648

Early days in the garden…

 

IMG_1839

Clearance time

 

IMG_3180

The extended border, fruit cage, raised beds, new shed and willow den

 

DSC_0013

Spring tulip glory (Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Purple Prince’ with Myosotis sylvatica underneath)

 

DSC_0076_1

Summer bounty – I love the frothy effect of the Verbena bonariensis, Festuca glauca flower spikes, Knautia macedonica and Ammi majus

We kept an established Spirea japonica ‘Goldflame’ for the foliage colour, although I remove the pink flowers as they don’t fit in with the more dramatic colours of the border. This shrub also works well with the willow den to add structure to the border in front of the shed. Initially the border had predominantly crimson and white flowers, but over time it has developed to include more purples and blues. We planted Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ for winter colour, Salvia ‘Caradonna’, Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Knautia macedonica, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Hesperis matronalis ‘Alba’, Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’, a selection of different Dianthus, Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ (with flowers which are gorgeous for cutting, but tend to get rather lost in the flowerbed) and ‘Amethyst in Snow’ (one of my favourites at this time of year.)

DSC_0004_1

Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’

Then I add to the seasonal interest by growing annuals in the border, either sown direct (or self-sown) or sown initially in modules and planted out later. Stalwarts include Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’, Ammi majus and Nigella papillosa ‘African Bride’. I also plant out my Dahlia ‘Bishop of Canterbury’, ‘Scura’, ‘Happy Single Date’ and ‘Wizard of Oz’ for some extra zing.

Dahlia 'Bishop of Canterbury' 1

My favourite dahlia – ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ – such vibrant flowers and deep purple foliage

On the edge of the border is a low hedge of Lavandula angustifolia ‘Dwarf Blue’ interplanted with Aubretia ‘Red Cascade’. The aubretia begins to flower in April and just as the flowers are fading the lavender reaches its best. In this way, the hedge provides colour from spring right through to later summer.

DSC_0024

The aubretia ‘hedge’ bursting into flower last week

 

Lavandula angustifolia 'Dwarf Blue' hedge

The lavender hedge later in the season

The Working Areas

These are the main elements of the garden. Other important features include the greenhouse, the compost bin and the cold frame. These provide the fuel and growing spaces for the garden – allowing it to work at full capacity.

IMG_1235

When we arrived the greenhouse thought it was for storing bikes

IMAG0660

We soon taught it otherwise

DSC_0002 (2)

Our compost – the most valuable commodity in the garden

Time To Enjoy

At the beginning of the first post I set out to retrace my steps through designing and building this garden. I also intended to look forwards to where I want it to go in the future. Whilst I’m sure there’ll be more plants added and taken away, more harvests of fruit and vegetables and more learning to be done, the main aspiration I have is to make more time to share the garden with those I love. I’ve created a lovely outdoor space with the help of friends and family, and now I’d like to spend more time enjoying it with them.

fun

Friends and family enjoying the garden

BEFORE5

after2

If you have enjoyed reading this, or other posts, please leave me a comment and follow the blog via email or wordpress to get future updates. Thanks very much. Nic

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation(Part 1)

Potager gardens, walled gardens and old-fashioned cottage gardens – all styles I love for their eclectic mix of vegetables, fruit and flowers. They can be seen as nostalgic, whimsical, outmoded; gardens which exist in an historical context, from time to time tempting modern gardeners into grand estates or rural open garden shows, but without contemporary relevance. Their visual, almost casual beauty belies the amount of hard graft behind such dual purpose gardens, which needed to create an aesthetic impact whilst also fulfilling a practical role for the household – whether that be a cottage with two occupants or a grand estate of many hundreds.

IMAG0688

My veggie bed with a mix of edible flowers, flowers for cutting and vegetables (plus Billy the Scarecrow!)

Modern gardens don’t have to provide us with medicinal herbs which are unavailable elsewhere, they rarely need to feed large estates, or provide food for families who have no access to other sources of nourishment. But they do have to work as hard as in the past, especially modern small gardens which are required to fulfil a number of purposes. Many have an assortment of children’s toys sprawled untidily across the centre (ours often does), they are required to provide aesthetic appeal with flower borders, containers and other key features. They are intended to attract wildlife, to create space for entertaining, cooking and relaxing,  and some even have to provide fruit and vegetables for the table. As our requirements for our gardens increase and their size diminishes, the pressure on outdoor spaces to cater for many purposes grows. In this way we could be seen as returning to these older styles of gardening where the garden has to work hard to earn its keep. In spaces too small to allow different areas for each function, the potager style works well as each part of the garden can be used in multifunctional ways.

climbing frame

Our much-loved, but enormous slide and swings

We moved into our current house six years ago and have just finished the major changes on the garden (although I know it will always be changing and evolving and that’s the fun bit). Now there’s no major designing and restructuring to do, I thought it might be good to look back over the past six years at what we’ve achieved and where I hope it might go next.

IMG_1215

Original tidy but rather dull border

Six years ago our back garden was uninspiring, with established shrub borders, a small rotting shed, a lovely little greenhouse and a fair-sized lawn. The garden is about 9m by 13m and is north-east facing, without much shading tree cover and fenced all round. I guess many people would have viewed the garden as low-maintenance, finished and tidy, but I saw it as an opportunity to create a garden which packs as much in as possible without seeming too busy or chaotic.

IMG_1232

This side had an empty gravel border which emphasised the concrete fence base and an overgrown Ceanothus

My first aim was to replicate the semi-wildness of my childhood garden for my kids. I grew up in a 1/3 acre garden in Cheshire with several mature trees, a vegetable and fruit garden and a wild patch at the bottom. The wild patch existed quite happily without having an impact on the rest of the garden as it was unviewed fron the house and therefore an ideal place for secret club meetings, wildlife watching and endless hours of tree climbing with an apple and a book. We have no trees big enough to climb in our current garden, nor much likelihood of growing any, so I decided to create a willow den in the flower border to give the kids an area where they could exist unobserved.

IMG_1236

Behind the shrubs, the border was empty and unused

IMG_1240

The garden had a good-sized lawn

We kept the lawn (although we extended the border area) and the greenhouse, which had been one of the things which had initially attracted me to the garden. I replaced the shed with a larger potting shed, in which I’ve spent many productive, happy hours in the past five years, creating a small plant empire and generally pottering, in teeming storms, muggy afternoons and evenings so dark I’ve needed a headtorch.

IMG_4036

Love my potting shed…

Initially we removed the large Thuja which were blocking light from the garden and then cleared out the back border, giving many of the plants away to local people though Freecycle. My main aim was to get the fruit trees and bushes established first as these would take the longest to become productive. Now, five years on from planting, the plum, apples, greengage, cherry (in a pot) and pear (in a pot) are really getting into their stride and we’ve been harvesting superb crops from the raspberries, currants, blueberries (in pots) and rhubarb for several years. We chose espalier apple trees along the side fence (‘James Grieve’, ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bountiful’), two dessert apples and one cooker/dessert. ‘Bountiful’ went in the shadiest spot near the house, as cookers can tolerate more shade, and we planted short hedges of lavender and rosemary to create areas for herbs between the trees. We now have three modestly productive espaliers, now with four tiers, and a thriving herb border with sage, chives, garlic chives, assorted mints (sunk in pots), thyme (which has been fabulous for the past five years, but didn’t like the wet winter so now needs replacing), majoram, chamomile, lavender and rosemary.

IMG_1643

After planting the espaliers

I’ve also added bulbs with varying levels of success. The snowdrops along the side of the lawn are thriving and the white hyacinths which I planted around the base of each apple tree have increased threefold and look and smell stunning in the spring. Tulips were less successful as the area is mulched with bark and slugs (the latter not intentionally) so I gave up the tulip struggle in this border as they emerged eaten and misshapen year after year. Alliums are more successful and the Allium sphaerocephalon increase each year. This year, however, the stock of larger allium like Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium christophii looks diminished and I wonder if the wet winter is again to blame (we do have quite heavy soil here, but I usually use grit under bulbs when planting which seems to help with longevity.)

IMG_2188

Espaliers, herbs and Lonicera ‘Hall’s Prolific’ on the house wall beginning to get established

 

DSC_0496

The alliums at their best in the herb/espalier border

Winter clematis (‘Freckles’ and ‘Jingle Bells’) thrive up one of the espalier poles and Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Artic Queen’ up another. The final post supports Vitis vinifera ‘Reliance’, which last year gave us our first harvest of sweet, seedless pink grapes.

Clematis cihhrosa  var. purpurascens 'Freckles'

Clematis ‘Freckles’ flowers non-stop throughout the winter

Clematis 'Arctic Queen'

Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Arctic Queen’ twine together up the post

At the back of the garden around the fruit trees I’ve planted several varieties of Narcissus which look and smell lovely in the spring, along with Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Primula vulgaris, Fritillarea meleagris and two Cotoneaster horizontalis which were found in the garden as seedlings and have been trained up the shed wall as coverage for insects and berries for the birds.

IMG_2564.JPG

Fruit trees becoming established

DSC_0113

Daffodils at their best this year

DSC_0324

Early dwarf daffodils emerging – the logs are sections from the tree in the front which we removed as it was too large, too close to the house

 

plums

Plum heaven…

On the back fence, between the dogwoods and primroses we have a blackberry ‘Apache’ which gives us lovely blossom followed by huge, sweet fruit which form the basis of sorbets, stewed apple and blackberry and fruit leathers in late summer. It fits in perfectly with the potager style – combining beauty and utility, covering a boundary with foliage, flowers and fruit.

IMG_3202

This bench catches the afternoon and evening sun – perfect for a late cuppa and a book

pool1

Other pop-up structures the garden has to contend with…

tent

Our DIY tent

So much for the herb/espalier border and the fruit tree area which I, rather grandly, call the spring garden in reference to the blooming of the daffodils, primroses and fruit blossom from March to May. In the next post I’ll take a look back at the development of the fruit cage, vegetable beds, willow den and flower border. All testament to the fact that you can include much of what you want in a garden, if you are prepared to think a bit outside the box (willow den in a flowerbed), embrace the potager style and let your imagination run wild…

Read about the transformation in the rest of the garden in next week’s blog post…

Old chillies v new chillies: how do you grow yours?

To sow or not to sow?

It has been a real labour of love overwintering last year’s chillies in the spare room. It’s the first time I’ve tried to grow chillies perennially and it’s been mostly trial and error. First they had a bad case of fungus gnats, then greenfly. The room was filled with little flies when the in-laws came to stay and the windows covered in sticky residue and blobs where I had squashed hundreds of insects. Then nearly all the leaves fell off, leaving them resembling pots of dead sticks. I fought back with nematodes (very successful – killed all the gnats) and organic fatty acid spray – killed the greenfly provided it was repeated periodically. I collected up the dead leaves and waited to see what would happen come spring.

DSC_0048

A rather leggy specimen

Renovation pruning

Then, a couple of weeks ago, tiny leaves started to unfurl on the leggy stalks. (I was very bad at pinching the chillies out last year – partly through inattention and partly through sentimentality, so they grew much taller than I would have liked and lacked a vigorous, bushy shape.) I’m experimenting at the moment by cutting several of them down to about 15cm from soil level, thus removing the forked stems higher up, to see if I can restructure the plants as the new leaves emerge. I’ve also given them a feed in the hope that a bit of TLC will perk them up. So far it seems to be working and in a week or so I might cut the rest down, once I’m sure they’ll eventually forgive me.

DSC_0052

Radical pruning seems to be yielding results

A growing collection

At the same time spring started breathing life into the old chillies, I began sowing new ones to increase my stock and experiment with different varieties. Last year’s veterans include ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Aji Crystal’, ‘Hungarian Purple’ and ‘Numex Twilight’. This year I’m sowing ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ and ‘Albertos Locoto’. I was also waylaid by some small chilli plug plants at the garden centre who threw themselves into my basket, namely ‘Cayenne’ and ‘Purple Gusto’ (I’m noticing a certain penchant for purple fruit and vegetables in these blog posts.)

DSC_0053

‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ seeds were out of date so I sowed lots – they all germinated…

Chilli ‘Alberto’s Locoto’ intrigued me as it’s supposedly well suited to overwintering, so I’ll be attempting to keep it in the hope of earlier, heavier crops next year. It’s a rare chilli sometimes known as the tree or Rocoto chilli and has big purple flowers, black seeds and numerous fruit in late summer and early autumn. More information is available from Real Seeds.

DSC_0054

Vigorous ‘Alberto’s Locoto ‘ seedlings

How do you eat yours?

For several years we’ve been using fewer chillies as child-friendly meals generally require milder flavours. But as the kids get older their tolerance for spicy food is growing and last year we also ate many of our crop filled with cream cheese and baked, to reduce the heat. This became a favourite supper. I suppose the sensible approach would have been to grow milder or fewer chillies, but where’s the fun in that?

I’d love to know if you have successfully overwintered chillies. How do you prune them in spring and have crops been heavier in subsequent years? How do you cope with a growing chilli collection – do you stop buying new seeds or just move to a house with more windowsills?!

DSC_0061

Full window ledges and so many seedlings to prick out…