What to do this May!

Like April, May can be a busy time for gardeners and allotmenteers! Frosts are becoming less frequent and by the middle of the month we can  be reasonably confident that our more tender veg can be planted out and beans and squash can be sown direct in to the ever-warming soil!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

It is particularly busy time for planting and sowing now that summer is nearly here!

Sowing

  • All your beans can be sown now; runner beans, climbing beans and dwarf beans and peas.  Watch out for the dreaded pea moth laying her eggs in June and July on peas which are sown now.
Untitled
Peas and beans can be sown direct now!
  • Squashes and other cucurbits such as courgettes, melons and cucumbers can be sown direct outdoors in May or started off in pots indoors if there is still a chance of frost.
  • At the same time, sweetcorn can be sown now both outdoors and indoors. They will be an excellent companion crop to squashes and climbing beans
20170512_131013[1]
Sweetcorn can be sown now, either indoors or direct in the soil once frosts have passed.
  • Continue to successionally sow root crops for continual harvests including beetroot, carrots and this moth is really the last chance to sow parsnips!
  • Brassicas such as winter cabbage, broccoli, late season Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers and kale can be sown now for harvesting in Autumn/winter.
  • Don’t forget to sow other brassicas such as radishes, turnips and swede. These root brassicas still require protection from pigeons who loves to strip the leaves!
  • Salad leaves and other crops that add pep to your salad including spring onions, swiss chard, spinach and lambs lettuce can be sown now. Where necessary remember to keep sowing successionally so you can enjoy salads all summer long.
  • For your herb garden, tender herbs such as basil, parsley and coriander can be sown now too!

Planting

  • Chilli peppers, sweet peppers, aubergines and greenhouse tomatoes  that were started back at the beginning of the year can now be planted out into greenhouse and polytunnel borders.
20170512_132033[1]
Tomato plants are ready to be planted into greenhouse/polytunnel borders.
  • If you have ordered sweet potatoes then they will be delivered this month ready for you to plant out. Make sure you plant out after all chances of frost have passed.
  • Any courgettes, cucumber and sweetcorn you started in April will be ready for planting out from the middle of the month onwards.
  • If you haven’t been able to start brassicas off from seeds then you can plant out brassica plants bought from your local garden centre or any of the online retailers.

Harvesting

  • Salad leaves and other salad crops such as radishes, swiss chard and lettuces will be ready to harvest now.
  • Early peas and broad beans may be ready to harvest this month
  • Rhubarb will continue to crop this month as will asparagus if you are lucky enough to have this delicious crop.
20170430_182106[1]
Rhubarb will be cropping well at this month.
  • Towards the end of the month, early strawberries will be starting to ripen. Make sure you get them before the birds or slugs!
  • If you planned ahead, last year you may also be harvesting spring cabbages and cauliflowers!

Jobs on the plot

As the weather warms and we start to make the transition into Summer, your crops will be growing strong – as will the weeds. Watch out for any late frosts in the first half of this month depending on where you live.

  • Protect young and tender plants from any late frosts. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, if the temperatures are set to plummet over night protect with cloches and fleece and earth up potatoes to protect the shoots.
20170430_170008[1]
Potatoes have been earthed up with straw to protect them from frosts.
  • New sowings and young plants will be vulnerable to pests especially slugs and snails who are looking for an easy meal. Put down barriers and traps to stop these critters in their tracks! Apply predatory nematodes and predators such as ladybird larvae to keep the pest population under control and fit brassica collars round newly planted brassicas to stop cabbage root fly.
  • Sow catch crops such as fast growing radishes and lettuces between slower-growing crops like brassicas to make good use of the space and keep weeds at bay.
  • Hoe off annual weeds as they appear but when you see perennial weeds in your patch it might be better to dig these out by hand and remove as much root as possible otherwise they will just come back. Also make sure you get up any volunteer potatoes as they could be a reservoir for blight!
  • Harden off your tender plants before planting them out to acclimatize them to outside conditions.
  • In the fruit garden, thin out raspberries where necessary so they don’t become overcrowded and prune almond, peach and nectarine trees. Remove strawberry flowers from very young plants or any that appear to be struggling and as the fruit starts to ripen on older healthier plants, protect them from pests.
  • In the polytunnel or greenhouse, any tomatoes you have already planted may need staking or tying in as they grow and any side-shoots removed. The temperatures can get quite high under cover so make sure you open vents and doors on particularly hot days remembering to close them again at night when temperatures drop.
  • Keep your plot well watered especially if there isn’t much rain or you grow your plants in pots. Rising temperatures can cause the ground to dry out fast. Where possible apply mulches that keep the moisture locked into the ground.
  • If you have ordered plug plants, then they will be arriving on your doorstep. Get them potted on or planted out as soon as possible. Suppliers send out these plants at the best time for planting.
20170512_131944[1]
Plug plants will be arriving – pot on or plant out immediately!

May Recipe

Pea and broad bean risotto (from BBC Good food)

broad bean risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g cold butter , diced
  • 1 small onion or 2 shallots, chopped
  • 175g risotto rice
  • 100ml white wine
  • 600ml hot vegetable stock
  • 50g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 200g fresh peas, podded (about 1kg/2lb 4oz unpodded weight)
  • 200g broad beans, podded (about 1kg/2lb 4oz unpodded weight)
  1. Heat oil and 25g of the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-5 mins. Stir in the rice and cook for a further 2 mins. Turn up the heat and add the wine, let it bubble to evaporate the alcohol.
  2. Once the wine has reduced, begin adding the hot stock a ladle at a time over a medium heat, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next and stirring continuously. The rice should always be moist, but not swimming in liquid. The process of adding and stirring should take about 16-20 mins, depending on what kind of risotto rice you use.
  3. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the peas and beans for 2-3 mins. Drain and set aside. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the remaining butter, Parmesan, peas and beans with some seasoning before serving.
Advertisements

What to do this April!

April is a busy time for most gardeners and allotmenteers! The sowing season is upon us and with Easter happening this month, there is also the tradition of planting out your chitted potatoes over the Easter Weekend!

20170422_180856[1]
Chitted potatoes ready to be planted!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

The sowing season is upon us and if your ground is not ready and prepared for your new sowings and plants then it really is time to get a move on!

Sowing:

  • Peas and Broad beans can be sown now. These will crop a little later than those that were sown in the Autumn or back in February. French beans (dwarf or climbing) can be started this month too but better off indoors as if sown outdoors you will have to watch out for those sneaky frosts!
Untitled
Peas can be sown now!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips, salsify, scorzonera, turnips and carrots can be sown this month. For successional crops of carrots and beetroot sow every three-four weeks.
  • Salads leaves such as land cress, chard, spinach and lettuces can be sown now ready for those delicious summer salads
  • Brassicas can be sown outdoors into a well-prepared seed bed or where they are to crop including early season calabrese, late cropping sprouts, kale, cauliflowers, and summer/winter cabbage. Sprouting broccoli should be started now too. It needs to be sown approximately a year before it is due to be harvested.
  • Leeks should be sown by the end of this month and spring onions can be sown successionally every two to three weeks to give you a continuous supply.

Planting:

  • If you have always wanted to have an asparagus bed, then now is the time to start one. Remember not to harvest in the first couple of years and only take a few in the third, after that you will have asparagus to enjoy year after year!
_asparagusplantingsm
Start an asparagus bed now!
  • Spring-planting onions and shallots can be planted out now.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be planted out in April. They produce beautiful sunflower type flowers throughout the summer and earthy sweet tubers in the winter
  • Second early and maincrop potatoes can be planted out now. Traditionally, they are planted out on the Easter Saturday (which has now passed) but if you are a little behind, not to worry, they will soon catch up if you are a few weeks late.

April firmly sits in the hungry gap but that doesn’t mean you can’t have offerings in the garden.

Harvesting:

20170304_1500411

  • If you already have an asparagus bed you can start harvesting from around St George’s day up until the Summer solstice.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Any remaining winter savoy cabbages, cauliflowers and leeks should be harvested this month to make way for new crops and Sprouting broccoli and spring cabbage is in full swing during the month of April
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious salad along with any new sowings or radishes, leef beet/chard, spinach and other salad leaves that may be ready now.
  • Rhubarb should be cropping well throughout April.

 

Jobs on the plot

April is busy, busy, busy what with all the sowing and planting but be sure to remember the other jobs that might need doing:

  • Hoe off any weeds that appear in your vegetable beds. The days are longer and the temperatures are warmer which means weeds will be growing quickly. Control weeds whilst they are still small and before they flower and set seed.
20170422_143917[1]
Hoe off young weeds now before they have a chance to set seed!
  • Pests can often start to appear this month especially aphids. These pests should be controlled and removed in whatever way you see fit (chemical, biological or mechanical) before their numbers get too great.
  • Support your legumes! Build bean and pea frames to support your pea and bean sowings that you will make this month. Bean frames can be bought from many retailers or you can make your own from hazel sticks or bamboo canes.
  • Watch out for those frosts! Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts and if it looks like the temperature is going to plummet over night then bring tender plants in or protect them with fleece.
  • In the fruit garden, feed blueberries with a liquid feed or mulch with ericaceous compost to help get them off to a great start. Grape vines and kiwi fruit should also be fed and mulched with general garden compost or well-rotted manure. Keep an eye out for any fruit tree pests and deal with them quickly remembering not spray chemical controls on trees in blossom.
20170422_150706[1]
Mulch blueberries with ericaceous compost!
  • Train and tie in blackberries against a fence or using a wire support system. Mulch thickly around blackberries and raspberries.
  • Clear out polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure there is room for new sow plants. Also make sure you are removing any dead or diseased foliage so that rots can’t spread.
  • If you have planted first early potatoes in a polytunnel or grow bags then make sure to earth up the foliage as it grows..
  • Thin out young seedlings to make sure that plants have room to grow and aren’t competing with one another for food and light.
  • You still have time to trim and tidy up any perennial herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage.

Indoor jobs

  • If you have tomatoes growing indoors or in a greenhouse, don’t let them get pot bound. Make sure you transplant the tomatoes into a bigger pot ready for planting out in May.
  • If some of your seeds have been unsuccessful then take a trip to your local garden centre and buy some replacement plug plants.

 

April Recipe

Creamy Chicken with Asparagus and Tarragon (from BBC GoodFood)

chicken and asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 500g baby new potato, halved
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • small bunch tarragon
  • 175g asparagus, trimmed
  • 3 tbsp reduced-fat crème fraîche

 

Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water for 8-10 mins until tender, then drain and keep warm in the pan. Season the chicken with ground black pepper. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Gently fry the chicken with the onion and garlic for 5 mins until both are lightly browned. Turn over the chicken once and stir the onion regularly.

Pour over the stock, add 2 sprigs of tarragon and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 mins, then turn the chicken, add the asparagus and cook for 3 mins more. Chop the remaining tarragon.

 

Stir the crème fraîche and tarragon into the pan with the chicken and heat through, stirring, for a few secs. Serve with the new potatoes

I hope you all have a good April and for those of you who will be celebrating the religious holidays, Happy Easter, Happy Passover or just Happy Holidays!

What to do this March!

March is my second favourite time of year! To me, the new season is finally here and the likelihood of me being able to get outside on the allotment is higher! Birds are flying around making their nests and the tadpoles are hatching! It is also time to start sowing (mainly indoors) and planting!

But as exciting as all that is, it also marks the start of the hungry gap! Harvests are dwindling (I myself am down to leeks and rhubarb) and we have a couple of months to wait until we get the new season peas, broad beans and the first of the strawberries! Now is the time to plan for the hungry gap next year by making sure that those essential crops are included in your allotment/garden plan!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

Sowing is really starting to get underway now especially under cover. Frosts  are still likely so tender plants will still have to wait and even the semi-hardy varieties may suffer if there is a particularly cold snap!

  • Tomatoes can be sown this month. Sow them indoors so that they get a head start for the season. Tomatoes that will be planted outdoors won’t be planted outside possibly until mid-May but sowing now means you will have big strong plants ready for planting.
  • Peas and broad beans can be sown now outside. Remember to check your soil conditions before planting outside as peas and beans can rot in waterlogged soil and hungry mice will be on the look out so cover them with netting or chicken wire to stop those pesky rodents! If in doubt, sow indoors and transplant when seedlings are strong!
Untitled
Sow peas but watch out for those pesky mice!
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots can be sown this month.
  • Salads and lettuces can be sown now to help fill the hungry gap in April/May. If you are sowing outside seeds may take longer to germinate in cold weather. Spinach and chard can also be sown outside now.
  • Brassicas such as summer cabbage and cauliflowers can be sown now and if you are thinking about the winter and hungry gap harvests you can sow Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and kale.
  • Next winters leeks can be sown now in a seed bed and in a few months they can be lifted and transplanted to their final positions.
20160325_145027
Leeks can be sown in a seed bed!

 

In March we can start thinking about planting tuberous plants and some fruits.

  • Plant strawberry plants now and there is still time to plant bare-rooted  raspberry canes.
  • Onion sets can be planted out towards the end of the month or they can be started off in trays of compost now and planted out later in April. Watch out for birds who will pull the sets up!
  • You can plant new rhubarb crowns now but you won’t be able to harvest the fruity stalks for the first year and only sparingly in the second year to allow the plant to build up energy! The same goes for asparagus crowns if you are thinking about starting an asparagus bed. Asparagus is an excellent hungry gap crop!
_asparagusplantingsm
Asparagus crowns can be planted now if you want to start an asparagus bed!
  • First early potatoes that have been chitting can certainly be planted now and second earlies towards the end of the month. Watch out for frosts and make sure any foliage is covered up to avoid frost damage.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can also be planted towards the end of the month for those lovely sweet tubers in the winter.

Although we are heading into the hungry gap, March still offers a few delectables which can be harvested from the garden.

  • Brussels sprouts may still be cropping if you planted late seaon varieties but will be finishing this month
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Spring cabbages, cauliflowers and Sprouting broccoli can be harvested now.
  • Leeks are still in abundance in my allotment but you will want to get your leeks lifted soon as they will start to flower soon.
  • Parsnips that are still in the ground can be harvested. Once the weather starts to warm up, the root will start to put all that sweet goodness into producing flowers and seed so don’t forget to eat them!
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can still harvest these for a delicious salad.
  • If you force rhubarb then you will be harvesting these delicious pink stems now!
20170304_1439381
Leeks and forced rhubarb can be harvested now!

Jobs on the plot

March is a busy month with Spring getting into full swing. When you are not admiring the daffodils and crocuses there are plenty of jobs to get done around the plot!

  • As I have already mentioned, harvest your winter veg. Many winter veg are biennials and will start to put their energy into flowering as Spring advances. You will also find you need the room for spring-cleaning crops!
  • If you can sow crops now then weeds can grow now! Start as you mentioned to go on by keeping your beds weed free! Getting weeds out when they are young will stop problems getting too big later in the year! Also get the ‘volunteer’ potatoes out now, those small tubers that have been accidentally left in the bed. If left, they will could disturb rows of newly sown seedlings. They also carry the risk of spreading blight if left.
  • If you have established strawberry beds then they are likely to need some attention now. Give them a good haircut getting rid of any dead and browning leaves. Clear any weeds from the bed and to protect the plants from slugs and further weeds, you can invest in strawberry mats which you can place around the crown.
  • Give perennial herbs a good tidy up as well, sage and rosemary can be given a trim and mint and chive clumps can be divided and re-planted. Now is also a good time to plant out any new hardy perennial herbs.
  • If you can, empty a compost bin ready for the season ahead. The season is likely to generate a large amount of garden waste which will fit down into a nutritious hummus for your plants. Spread the compost made from last year’s waste over your beds either as a mulch or in preparation for new plants.
compost-bin3
Empty a compost bin for the year ahead!
  • Give any perennial herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables a good mulch and top dressing of fertiliser to help them for the coming season.
  • If you have a peach tree that is currently in flower, you can aid fruit set by hand pollinating the flowers. The cold weather can lead to lack of pollinating insects so for a good harvest you can use a soft paint brush to gently brush the flowers when they are fully open.

Indoor jobs

Although we are moving back outside for a the new season there is still plenty of indoor sowing that can be done, whether that is in your house or your greenhouse so on those rainy days you can still be getting something done!

March Recipe

Rhubarb and Apple crumble 

Ingredients:

  • 750g forced rhubarb, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices.
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 85g butter, cut into cubes
  • 140g plain flour
  • 50g rolled oats
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 50g Demerara sugar

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan and heat on a low heat. Stir the rhubarb occasionally and cook for 15-20mins. Pre-heat the oven at 200°c

Whilst the rhubarb is cooking, make the crumble topping. Combine the butter and flour in a bowl and rub the butter and flour together to form fine bread crumbs. Once all the butter and flour is combined mix in the rolled oats, flaked almonds and half the sugar and put to one side.

 

rhubarb crumble.jpg

Once the rhubarb has cooked but is still holding its shape, take off the heat. Layer half the apple slices along the bottom of a oven proof dish. Lay half the rhubarb mixture over the apple and then repeat with the rest of the apple and rhubarb. Spread the crumble topping over the rhubarb and apple layers. Finally, sprinkle the last half of the sugar evenly over the top of the crumble.

Bake the crumble in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the rhubarb mixture is bubbling. Serve hot with custard of ice cream.

I hope March brings good weather for you all and we all get the opportunity to get outside and into that fresh spring air!

What to do this February!

I find February to be a month full of anticipation! Anticipation for all the things to come and an impatience to get started. It is very much an in-between time where it is not quite warm or light enough to sow yet we are starting to prepare none the less. As I am writing this, it is snowing outside my window which shows that winter still holds us firmly in its grip! I have not yet had much opportunity to visit the allotment as the biting cold keeps me at home! However, as the month moves on it will start to warm up and there will be plenty to do!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

Now is a time when we should be preparing for the sowing season which will hit hard and fast in March and April. Some things can be sown in February especially those greenhouse crops that need a longer season.

  • Chilli peppers, sweet peppers and greenhouse tomatoes can be started this month but do check the instructions on your seed packet as some tomatoes are best left until March. For best results, I start mine off in a heated propagator placed in a room that gets the most light.
20170212_105807
Sweet pepper seeds have been sown in a heated propagator.
  • Early peas and broad beans can be sown now to get a early crop in May. Remember to check your soil conditions before planting outside as peas and beans can rot in waterlogged soil and hungry mice will be on the look out. If in doubt, sow indoors and transplant when the soil conditions are better.
  • Root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots can be sown this month for early crops
  • Hardy salads and lettuces can be sown now to help fill the hungry gap in April/May!
  • Some brassicas can be started in February too including early season Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli and some cabbages.
20170212_110503
Some seeds can be sown in February.

You still have time to replenishing, replacing or extending your fruit garden.

  • Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes now whilst it is still cold before the leaf and flower buds open in the spring.
  • Bare rooted strawberry runners and raspberry canes can be planted now.

20170108_1123501

  • You still have this (extremely cold) month to plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
  • February also offers the chance to get shallots in the ground if you didn’t have a chance in Autumn.
  • You still have time to start forcing rhubarb. Simply cover the clump with a large bucket, pot or bin. Excluding the light, forces them into growth.
20170212_1454461
Cover rhubarb with a bucket, barrel or pot to force the stems into growth.

Although we are marching steadily towards the hungry gap, February still offers a good harvest from the allotment or garden.

  • Brussels sprouts may still be cropping if you planted late seaon varieties and may continue to crop into March.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Kale, winter savoy cabbages and Sprouting broccoli can be harvested
  • Leeks are still in abundance in my allotment and are a perfect vegetable for warming soups and stews at this time of year.
  • Parsnips that are still in the ground can be harvested. Once the weather starts to warm up, the root will start to put all that sweet goodness into producing flowers and seed so don’t forget to eat them!
20170204_1755361
Parsnips and leeks can be harvested this month!
  • If you have planted hardy lettuces over the winter then you can harvest these for a delicious winter salad.

Jobs on the plot

February can be a busy months in terms of preparation for the sowing season so there are a good few things that you can do around the plot to get ready.

  • Gather all your sowing materials together. Make sure you have plenty of labels, pots, seed trays etc. Also make sure your pots have been cleaned out to prevent the transmission of pests and diseases.
20170212_110151
Gather sowing materials together ready for the sowing season.
  • Buy in seed and potting composts, vermiculite, perlite, fertilisers etc for sowing both in and outdoors.
  • Prepare your soil ready for planting by raking over beds that had organic matter added in over the winter. You can add a general fertiliser by scattering it evenly over the surface and raking in. In beds where you are growing brassicas you can apply lime to raise the pH of the soil and keep it neutral or slightly alkaline. You can cover soil back up if you wish to help warm the soil and prevent winter rains from leaching the nutrients from the soil.
  • It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
  • In the fruit garden, it is not to late to do winter pruning. Make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.
  • Give any perennial herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables a good mulch and top dressing of fertiliser to help them for the coming season.
  • Check over polytunnels and greenhouse to make sure they are in tip top condition and haven’t suffered from the winter conditions. Repair any glass and make sure the glass is clean to let maximum light in.
  • If you have a polytunnel, then you can try planting a few early potatoes to help extend the season. You may have to cover with fleece if night time temperatures are forecast to be low.
  • Some early flowering fruits such as apricots, peaches and nectarines may need their blooms to be protected from the cold and frost. Where possible move trees to a protected location and cover with fleece overnight. Remember to remove the fleece during the day to allow pollinating insects to do their job.
  • If you start any early outdoor sowings of carrots, peas or other crops they may benefit from the protection of cloches or winter fleece to keep the cold off.
  • If you grow chives, established clumps can be dug up, split and replanted to increase your stock.
chive-clump
Any chive clumps that are emerging can be split now to increase your stock!

Indoor jobs

There is also plenty of jobs to do indoors to prepare for the coming season.

  • There is still time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Out of date packets of seed will have unreliable germination. Best to get in new, fresh seed.
  • If you have bought your seed potatoes then now is the time to start chitting. Pop the potatoes in the egg cartons with the eyes facing up and place in a cool, light location such as a windowsill. You will soon see little shoots sprouting from the tuber. If you haven’t bought your potatoes then now is a good time to do so.
  • Plenty of seeds can be sown indoors at this time of year (see list above). I have a tray tidy where I do all my sowing and potting indoors as I am not lucky enough to have a greenhouse.
20170212_110329
I use a tray tidy to do all my indoor sowing

February Recipe

Saffron and Leek Risotto (Serves 4)

20160301_181015

Ingredients

  • 40g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 280g risotto rice
  • 1 tsp crumbled saffron threads
  • 1.2 litres simmering vegetable stock
  • 115g freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • squeeze of lemon juice

Melt 1 tbsp of butter with the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the rice and mix to coat in the oil and butter. Cook until the grains are translucent. Dissolve the saffron in 4 tbsps of hot stock and add to the rice. Add the remaining stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy. Season with salt and pepper

Meanwhile, stir fry the sliced leeks in a tsp of butter in a frying pan until softened and starting to crisp slightly. Be careful not to burn the leeks.

Remove the risotto from the heat and add the remaining butter. Mix well, then stir in the parmesan until it melts. Add the leeks and then season with lemon juice, adding a small squeeze and tasting as you go. Serve immediately.

I hope keep warm in February and that your just as excited as I am about the coming season!

What to do this January!

January is a time when we all look at our gardens, allotments or veg plots with fresh new eyes! It is likely to be very chilly outside but there we still be some of us outside finishing our winter jobs and if we are lucky enough to have finished all our winter jobs then we will be tucked up inside reading through the seed catalogues and planning for the year ahead!

Sowing, Planting and Harvesting!

If you are already thinking about sowing seeds this month then there are a few things you can start to get underway:

  • Chilli peppers, aubergines and greenhouse tomatoes can be started towards the end of this month to give a long growing season.
  • Microgreens and sprouting seeds can be started anytime to add that lovely crunch and zing to winter salads
  • Onions can be started from seed this month, whether they are exhibition onions or not.
  • Salad leaves can be started for growing on the windowsill or under cover if you are looking for that salad hit after a heavy festive period!
20151214_060424[1]
You can start sprouting seeds at this time of year to add that extra crunch to salads.

Now is the time to think about your fruit garden and replenishing, replacing or extending your stock.

  • Plant bare rooted fruit trees and bushes now whilst it is still cold before the leaf and flower buds open in the spring.
  • Bare rooted strawberry runners and raspberry canes can be ordered and planted now.
20170108_112350[1].jpg
Plant your bare rooted strawberries!
  • Dormant rhubarb crowns can be planted now or old ones can be lifted and divided to keep them productive.
  • If you didn’t get a chance to do it in the autumn, you can still plant garlic cloves if conditions are dry. Garlic needs the cold conditions of winter to form cloves. Don’t plant cloves when it is wet otherwise they will rot in the ground.
garlic plants 3 jan 2017.JPG
Garlic still has time to be planted if it is dry

There can also be plenty to harvest this time of year if you have planned accordingly:

  • Brussels sprouts will still be cropping depending on variety. These delicious little buttons aren’t just for Christmas!
  • Winter cabbages and cauliflowers can be harvested now.
  • If you are a lover of chicory, then this can be harvested now too.
  • Jerusalem artichokes can be lifted now although remember to get all the tubers out of the ground otherwise they will come back next year.
  • Kale, winter cabbages and winter cauliflowers are all ready to be harvested in these winter months
  • Leeks are a staple in January, with plenty of Potato and Leek soup (recipe below) being made during these cold days.
  • Parsnips are ready to be harvested with the cold frosts making these root vegetables even sweeter. They can be stored in the ground until needed but beware of frozen soil!
  • If you have success with swede then they can also be harvested this month (mine were decimated by pigeons)
DSCF9100
There are still things to harvest!

Jobs on the plot

It is good to make sure that the plot is ready for the spring when sowing and weeding will start in earnest. These next couple of months are the best time to try and get a head of the game by performing some routine tasks:

  • In the fruit garden, consider applying oil-based winter washes to trees and bushes to kill off over-wintering aphid eggs and make sure apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, autumn raspberries and blueberries are given a good prune to encourage new shoots and keep their shape.

pruning-2-jan-2017

  • Try not to let compost heaps become to cold. Turn the compost pile to encourage further decomposition and clad the pile with layers of cardboard or cover with carpet or polythene.
  • Make sure you move any vegetables, fruits and herbs in clay pots to a frost free place in the garden or cover with bubble wrap to stop the pots getting frost damage and breaking!
  • Practice good hygiene and rinse out any pots and trays you plan to use prior to the sowing season. It is also worthwhile to sort and tidy your shed and sharpen your tools ready for the new season!
20170103_121004[1].jpg
Tools should be cleaned, sharpened and oiled to prevent rust!
  • Whilst having a tidy up, cleaning down any greenhouse glass and polythene sheeting on polytunnels to ensure maximum light levels can reach your plants. Insulate your greenhouse and polytunnel if very cold conditions are forecast.
  • Make sure that all guttering is clear of leaves and debris so you can efficiently save water. Install more water butts if possibly to make the most of the winter rains.
waterbutt jan 2017.JPG
Install water butts and make sure guttering is clear!
  • Protect plants from pesky pigeons who will be on the look out for a brassica feast. Make sure that cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli and kale are covered with netting stretched tight to prevent them from being eaten.
20170108_1001201
If you don’t protect your brassicas from pigeons, they can strip the leaves off the plant like my brussels sprouts!
  • Don’t forget to do any winter digging on dry warmer days. Don’t work the soil when it is wet as you will ruin the structure of the soil. Turn over the soil with a fork and leave the big clumps on the soil for the frost and the worms to break down. Or you can work some well-rotted manure into the soil ready for planting later in the year.

Indoor jobs

It is often so cold in January that even the best intentions get put aside in favour of a nice hot cup of tea and some biscuits (I like a chocolate hobnob or two)!

  • Now is the time to sort through seed tins and discard any old and out of date packets of seed. Make a list of what plants you want to grow this year and search through the seed catalogues to find the best varieties for you. Remember that you can make use of any extra, in date seed packets you no longer want at any of the seed swaps that happen around the country. Who knows what you may find in return.
  • As well as seed swaps, potato days are also being held around the country this month and into February. This is a brilliant opportunity to go any look at a wide variety of potatoes, more varieties than you can find in a seed catalogue! There will also be opportunities to meet other like minded people and join your local National Vegetable Society or allotment association at these events.
  • If you buy any potatoes remember to save your egg cartons so you can start chitting potatoes. Pop the potatoes in the egg cartons with the eyes facing up and place in a cool, light location such as a windowsill. You will soon see little shoots sprouting from the tuber. Also remember to save your empty toilet roll tubes for sowing seeds in. These are great, free biodegradable pots which are perfect for starting off peas, sweetcorn and beans in.
20160305_150412
Use egg cartons to chit your potatoes!
  • Make a detailed plan of your plot and plan where plants are going to grow making sure you consider crop rotation where possible to stop the build up of pests and diseases.
plot-2-and-3-mini-plan
Plan where your crops are going to go next year!

 

January Recipe

Potato and Leek Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 large leeks, sliced
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • salt and pepper to season
  1. Add the butter to a large pan and heat until melted. Add the sliced leeks to the pan and cook for 3 minutes in the butter until slightly softened.
  2. Add the flour to the pan and mix together so the flour combines with the butter to form a type of roux. Stirring continuously, cook the roux for 2 minutes.
  3. Slowly start adding the milk to the pan, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens. Add the vegetable stock and potatoes and bring to the boil.
  4. Once the soup is starting to boil, remove any scum that has formed and then turn the heat down to a simmer and partially cover. Stir occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly. Serve hot with warm crusty bread.

Hope you have a happy and productive January! I know I’ll be working away down the allotment. At least I have got my little kettle and gas hob to keep me warm with cups of tea!

kettle jan 2017.JPG

Oh and the biscuit tin!