Vegetable of the Month

JULY – COURGETTES/ SUMMER SQUASH

rhs courgettes
Image credit: RHS

July – a time of year where you are constantly wondering ‘what do I do with all these courgettes!’ Courgettes will be growing by the day and if you take the time to blink they will have turned into giant marrows!

Every year, I plant too many plants, harvest over 200 courgettes and think ‘next year I won’t plant as many’ and then every year I suddenly panic that I won’t get any courgettes at all and plant too many plants again! It’s an endless cycle and one I am sure we are all in!

Courgettes (Cucurbita pepo var. cylindrica) are part of the squash family and are classed as a summer squash, i.e. you eat it in summer. They are related to other squash including pumpkins and butternut squash and belong to the same family as cucumbers and melons. They are are tender crop and are only in season in the warmer months when there is no sign of a frost. Courgettes can come in all shapes and sizes as well as a varieties of colours (as can be seen in the picture above). The flowers can also be eaten and are often stuffed and deep fried.

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Image credit: The Guardian

A very short history of courgettes

The ancestor to the Courgettes originally hail from Central and South America where it is thought to have been cultivated and eaten by the indigenous people there (Aztecs, Inca’s and Mayan’s) for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus brought it back with him after his travels to the ‘New World’ to the Mediterranean where the more modern variety we have now was developed further in Italy. In Britian and France it is know as the ‘courgette’ whereas in Italy and the United States it is known as ‘Zucchino/Zucchini’.

Why should we eat courgettes

courgette nutrition

Courgettes are extremely low in calories with only 17 calories per 100g which is largely due to their high water content. They don’t contain saturated fats or cholesterol and provides a source of dietary fibre, specifically soluble fibre which helps to slow digestion and stabilise blood sugar levels.

This vegetable would be excellent for those who are trying to lose weight or are watching their cholesterol levels!

Courgettes don’t have the same nutritional kick of other vegetables such as the brassicas but they do provide a good amount of vitamin C (essential for the immune system) as well as providing a good level of Potassium (good for the circulatory system).

How to grow courgettes

In my experience courgettes are relatively easy to grow and can pretty much be left to their own devices once planted in the ground.

You can sow seed indoors in March/April or outdoors directly in May after frosts have passed. Seeds should be sown individually into 8cm pots of seed compost or you can plant two seeds in one pot and then pinch out the weaker seedling. The seed should be placed  on its end to prevent the seed from rotting in the wet compost and pushed 2cm deep. Keep somewhere warm and wait for seedlings to emerge. Seedlings should be transferred to larger pots of multipurpose compost when roots start to poke out from the 8cm pots.

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Image credit: Garden Fresco

Two weeks before planting out into permanent positions, harden off plants by placing them outside for increasingly longer spells and during milder nights to toughen them up. Once hardened off and the risk of frosts have passed, plant out. Water the plants thoroughly and keep them watered throughout the season as they require large of amounts of water for their fruits to swell and give them a regular feed too. Fruits can be harvested by cutting them away from the plant with a knife whilst holding the fruit in one hand. Try not to pull /tug the courgette away from the plant Keep picking courgettes regularly when they are about 10-12cm long to encourage further fruit production. If courgettes are left on the plants they grow very large and become marrows (form seeds in their centre) and fruit production will slow.

Courgette plant in fruit
Image credit: Lovethegarden.com

Powdery mildew can often be seen on leaves towards the end of the season but this doesn’t tend to affect production too much unless the attack is exceptionally bad. Keeping the plants well watered should prevent this. Cucurbits can be susceptible to foot and root rots but you are only likely to see this with unhygienic horticultural practices. Slugs can be a problem with seedlings and young plants but don’t tend to have taste for the mature established plants.

How to cook with courgettes

Courgettes don’t need to be peeled and can be sliced, chopped or cut into ribbons. They can be roasted, fried, griddled or steamed and are a great addition to many Mediterranean dishes.

Courgette recipes

Below is a few recipes for using your many courgettes!

Courgette fritters

courgette fritters

Stuffed Courgette flowers with Olive dressing

courgette flowers

Chocolate courgette cake

cake

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June recipes

I am a little late in posting this but here are my recipes of the month. This month there hasn’t been a lot to harvest than radishes, broad beans and strawberries and so a couple of the recipes use these ingredients but I have also included a non-seasonal dishes which I tried this month and absolutely loved!

Strawberry jam

As I have ended up putting so many strawberries in the freezer, as I simply cant get through the huge quantity I have, I thought I’d share my strawberry jam recipe with you which is just perfect spread over the scone recipe I posted previously.

  • 1kg Strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 1kg suger with added pectin
  • juice of 2 lemons

Place a saucer in the freezer. Add the chopped strawberries into a jam pan with the lemon juice and cook on a medium heat. Once the strawberries have softened, you can add all of the sugar mixing thoroughly with the fruit. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan up to a boil and allow to boil rapidly for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to a simmer remove any scum as it forms. When the jam has started to thicken, test that the jam is ready by removing the saucer from the freezer and dropping some of the jam onto the cold surface. Wait a couple of minutes and then test the set of the jam with your finger. If the jam has set and/or wrinkles when you touch it – it is ready. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes and allow any bubbles to dissipate. Then add the jam to sterilised jars and seal.

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Brazilian Fish Stew

I tried a new recipe this month called ‘Moqueca’ or Brazilian fish stew/soup. I had some swordfish steaks left over in the freezer and needed a inventive way of using them and stumbled across this recipe. There is nothing seasonal about this recipe (it will be more in season when its time to harvest peppers and tomatoes) but I did enjoy it and thought I’d share it with you!

(recipe amended from this article on Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer)

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of swordfish cut into large cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • juice of 1 lime
  • Pinch of red chilli flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1/2 yellow and 1/2 red pepper, de-seeded, and chopped
  • 3 chopped  fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped spring onion and coriander to garnish

Place fish pieces in a bowl and marinate with the garlic, lime juice and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper and keep chilled. In a large pan, add the olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, brown sugar and paprika. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes longer, until the pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. Once the vegetables have softened, add the cubes of marinated swordfish. Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables.

Bring the stew to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 -20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. You may need to add more salt, sugar, lime juice, paprika, pepper, or chili flakes to get the soup to the desired seasoning for your taste. Once seasoned to taste and the stew has thickened slightly, serve with rice and garnish with coriander and spring onions.

Sausage, pea and courgette risotto (adapted from Eat-In Magazine)

Despite the fact that my pea plants have  been absolutely destroyed this year by various armies, fresh British peas are available now in the stores and it is a product we should make use of. Fresh peas are ten times better than the frozen ones! Also it’s my vegetable of the month so I’d thought I’d include this Risotto recipe. The peas can easily be replaced by broad beans or, if you are like me, have a mixture of both!

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Image: Eat In magazine
  • cooking oil spray (something like fry-light)
  • 2 large courgettes, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 125g risotto rice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 700ml hot chicken or veg stock,
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 chicken sausages (or any sausage of your choice)
  • 325g of podded peas (or use defrosted petit pois or broad beans or a mixture)
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • extra basil and parmesan shavings for a garnish

Spray a large non-stick frying pan with the cooking spray and over a medium heat, saute the courgettes for 5 minutes or until reduced by a third. Transfer to bowl and set aside. Spray the pan again with the cooking spray and reduce the heat to medium. Saute the onion for 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in the risotto rice and garlic for 1 minute. Add a splash of the hot stock, along with the nutmeg and mustard and season. If you are using fresh peas or broad beans, add them to the hot stock to cook whilst the risotto is being made. Turn the heat low on the frying pan and gradually add the remaining stock , a ladle at a time, waiting for it to be absorbed before adding another. This will take 10-150 mins and approximately 100ml should be left with the peas and/or broad beans in. The peas and broad beans can be taken off the heat and drained and set aside. Meanwhile, spray another non-stick frying pan with cooking spray over a medium high heat. Squeeze out small blobs from 10 chicken sausages into the pan (discard the casings) and fry for 3 minutes, turning once, until cooked and golden brown. Stir the sausages, courgettes, cooked peas/broad beans or defrosted petit pois, and the basil leaves into the risotto mixture. Add a splach of boiling water if it’s too thick. Cook for 2 minutes or until piping hot. Serve, garnished with extra basil leaves and parmesan.

 

 

Jobs for July

This month will all be about forward planning and preparing for the winter and the season to come!

1. Water butts!

We have a make-shift water butt on plot 1 which is essentially just a barrel with broken guttering directing rain water to it. Firstly, this doesn’t make full use of the rain available for collecting and secondly, by using a barrel that never gets fully drained (there is no tap at the bottom) and is open-topped we have allowed for  very dirty, algae infested water to accumulate (with bird poop mixed in for good measure) which could be the cause of the foot rot we have seen this year on the squash plants. This is my fault for not having cleaned out the barrel regularly but is a hard learnt lesson!

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The barrel needs replacing and guttering needs fixing!

So, this coming weekend my Dad is kindly coming up to install new guttering on the sheds on plot 1 and 3 along with nice new (proper) water butts – to make the most of the falling rain and develop the sustainability of my plots!

2. Rubbish!

It was my aim to have a polytunnel erected at the end of the plot before the autumn/winter sets in. However, currently, where the polytunnel will go is a large mound of weeds, grass and other vegetation we have removed from elsewhere on the plot (not suitable for the compost bin) and a separate pile of rubbish that need to be taken to the tip.

So, one job will be to clear all the non-vegetation rubbish to the tip to tidy up the plot in general. The second job will be to deal with the ever growing mound! We initially thought we could gradually burn it but the weather prevents us from doing this. I have considered covering it and letting it compost down but there is too much bindweed and knotweed in it to warrant using it as compost. This will be something to mull over. Any suggestions would be extremely helpful!

3. Fruit tree pruning

Towards the end of July I will be pruning our fruit trees. Plum and cherry trees require pruning in summer rather than autumn to prevent the risk of diseases developing in the tree. The apples and pears will be pruned to maintain shape and encourage fruiting shoots.The apples also need to have fruitlets thinned out so that we get bigger apples and not lots of small ones!

4. Transplant leeks to final growing positions

The leeks have grown extremely well in the seed bed and they are now slightly thicker than a pencil and ready to be transplanted. They will be moved to their final positions and have pipe placed over them to encourage blanching of the stems and protect the plant from dirt getting in amongst the leaves

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Leeks are currently growing in the seed bed!

5. Fill the carrot bed

I swear I will get this done one day! Last chance to sow carrots so really need to do it this month!

6. Maintain the plots

Whilst doing the above jobs, I will need to carry on weeding and mowing and harvesting and sowing and watering and….., generally keep the plots in a good tidy order!

 

 

Development of a wild life pond!

Over the last three years of allotmenting I have noticed a decrease in certain insects such as ladybirds and bees and an increase in pests especially slugs and aphids.

I freely admit that I am as much to blame as anyone else in their decreasing numbers. I never thought about the affects of blindly spraying insecticide would have on the environment. All I cared about was saving my veg for me! This time last year, I got a good look at what this attitude cost me! My broad beans became absolutely infested with blackfly. Every part of the stem, tip and the beans themselves were covered in black fly and I was lucky to spot even a single ladybird! When I took on my first plot three years ago, there was a bumblebee nest under our shed – they are not there now. This could be that they moved or it could be they died. I hate to think that I was the cause of this but unfortunately that is probably the truth!

I have been reading about the sharp decrease in the number of hedgehogs! Am I contributing to this because I liberally apply slug pellets to nearly every bare patch of soil on my allotment? What harm am I doing from the bioaccumulation of metaldehyde in hedgehogs and even birds?

Well no more! For those of you who have been following my journey on this blog you will know that I  have been developing a wildlife pond over the last year. I have learnt the error of my ways and am seeking to fix the harm that I have done!

At the same time as the realisation of what I was doing came to me, Monty Don on Gardener’s World luckily decided to put a wildlife pond into his garden, which is where I got the idea for mine from. This would be my first step in trying to right my wrongs.

Last June, just before I started this blog, I also started to plan my wild life pond. Sam and I marked out an area for our new wildlife pond. We decided it would sit within our mini orchrad where the trees would benefit from the increased bee activity and to also provide us with a lovely shady place to sit. At the time, there was a very large compost bin where we now have our pond that was left there by the previous tenant. My friends, Jenny and Adam, came up one day and helped us moved this large compost bin and the compost that was in it. A month later, they came up again to dig the wildlife pond (they really like digging!).

I had decided on a figure of 8 shape with a sloping ‘beach’ into the pond and a shelf around the deeper edge to sit pond plants on.

It sat like this for a few weeks until Sam and I then got round to buying some pond liner, shingle and a few large rocks. We spent a day putting down the pond liner and weighing it down with rocks. We filled it with water from the water trough and left the water to ‘de-chlorinate’ itself.

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The pond then sat like this all through the winter! The grass grew up around the pond, parts of the pond liner fell into the water and it generally looked a mess! No wildlife is going to want to live here!

Then we finally decided to move forward with this project and spent a day in March digging over the pond borders ready for planting, putting down more stones to hide the edges of the pond liner and putting some plants both in the pond and on the ground!

In the pond we planted a water lily, reeds, marsh marigolds, water mint and iris.

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And in the pond borders we planted lavender, bleeding heart and pansies to begin with!

My friend Stacey gave us some frog spawn out of her pond, and it wasn’t long before we had hundreds of tiny tadpoles wriggling their way around our pond!

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Since March, we have gradually added plants to the pond borders, both perennials and annuals. Bluebells have come up from bulbs planted in the autumn and more stones/shingle has been added to hide the pond liner. A bench was added and then last month, an archway where we are training a plant to grow over it (can’t remember the name of the plant -I just remember that it has white flowers).

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In the last month, what with the warmer temperatures and constant flow of rain, the plants have come on leaps and bounds, both in and out of the pond!

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The water lily is growing by the day, bees are flocking to the borage (which got so big it toppled over – although still provides plenty of food for the bees) and I have even spotted a few tiny frogs over the last week. I am not sure if these are our tadpoles maturing or if these are other frogs which are exploring our pond but suffice to say they are welcome. I can’t quite believe the change!

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I have also seen a slight increase in the number of ladybirds this year which is also welcome! There has even been a rabbit visiting although he has been eating my Brussels sprouts!

I have been so pleased with the progress of the pond but that is not the end of the story. There is still so much I can do for wildlife in my little piece of land! Firstly, I want to encourage more birds. Not necessarily pigeons but our native wild birds such as robins, thrushes and tits.

I am developing a herb garden on plot 3 which I also plan to have as a wildlife area, here I plan to put up bird feeder and bird baths to encourage birds, especially those that like to eat slugs! I would also like to put a hedgehog home in somewhere before the autumn when they start looking for somewhere to hibernate! I also want to encourage more shrews and bats into the allotment!

These are exciting times and what with my first wildlife project having gone so well, I am really looking forward to continuing on with this work and atoning for my sins!

June 2016

This month we have really focused on getting some of plot 3 up together and productive (kind of)!

We started the month by having a generally tidy up of the pea and bean frames, removed torn netting and spent bamboo canes. We also have mowed and strimmed the grass which, unfortunately, left brown swathes of grass instead of a lush green carpet. The constant raining since the beginning of June has helped to ‘green up’ the paths though!

We got underway with digging over bed 2 and planting out the brussels sprouts plants. We found a tomato cage in Wilko which we used to cover the brussels sprouts, mainly to keep the pigeons out – however, there has been damage to the plants which, for a while, I couldn’t figure out what was responsible but have since discovered that we having a visiting rabbit! The cage has now been further fortified! I doubt it will keep the cabbage whites out, or the cabbage mealy aphids (of which we also have a problem with), but I shall deal with these problems as and when they arrive

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We finished digging over bed 1 a month after I first started digging it over. The sweet potatoes were already in but weeds were in abundance so they needed a good hoeing! The Oca has now been planted. The tubers I bought originally shriveled up and didn’t look like they would survive so instead I bought some reduced Oca plants from Wyevale for £1 each! Bargain!

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The herb bed has gotten under way. We have picked through the bed, removing as many weeds and grass tufts as we can. We didn’t want to completely dig over the whole bed as there are a lot of usable plants in the ground and we enjoy the ground coverage that the wild strawberries give! The path went in, but instead of separating the whole bed into four separate beds we have three as you can see in the photo. The crab apple tree has been planted in the middle, surrounded by thyme and chamomile plants. The mint has been severely cut back and the bay tree planted. Maisie’s rose was also planted along with the pots of herbs I had started collecting. It will be a while before the bed starts to fill out but it is certainly coming along nicely!

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Bed3 has quite a lot of escaping raspberry canes in it which will soon have a bountiful harvest of raspberries. I have decided to leave these raspberries and will instead cut everything back in the existing raspberry bed. Most of the canes are dead and spent anyway and come the winter I shall replace them with new varieties!

Plot 2 has mainly been a battle of the weeds! We spend a few hours every weekend weeding, trying to keep the bindweed and other perennial weeds at bay. My new favourite thing is barley straw. I have been putting it down everywhere to kill off the weeds. Works to a certain extent but not on the knotweed-type weed I am having a problem with – will need another solution for this!

As per my previous posts, we have been harvesting large quantity of strawberries (~4.5kg so far), some of the Japanese onions have been harvested for cooking with immediately, broad beans are starting to come along and the first lot of garlic has been pulled up and in the process of drying out!

Climbing beans have grown quite steadily and the spring sown onions are getting big so all is coming along nicely on this plot! I have also been enjoying a good quantity of lettuce; little gem and lollo rosso varieties

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On plot 1 we had to replace a number of the squash plants as we found that the plants had some sort of foot rot. The base of the stem and the roots had rotted away which explains why they had sat there and done nothing for the last month! Not sure how we got that but will be investigating to find out how to avoid it in the future!

Radishes have been mostly harvested (and slightly woody – left them for too long) and new ones sown and the first spears of ‘tenderstem’ broccoli have been harvested! We still haven’t filled our carrot bed but there is always next month (again)!

At home, the slugs and snails have been attacking everything in the greenhouse – has anyone else noticed a significant slug and snail boom this year? Slug damage is at an all time high this month!

Chillies are finally planted into their final pots. Sam has chopped the tops of the plants to encourage more bushy growth and therefore more flowers, so watch this space. We have been harvesting our first early potatoes. Disappointing yields but just means there is room for improvement next year!

And finally, the wildlife pond is doing fantastically well. Flowers are in abundance and there are quite a number of bees buzzing around. Tadpoles are still happily swimming away and I have even spotted a few frogs around! I am really happy with the way this has turned out!

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