This Week’s Harvest – 2017, week 23

The hungry gap is over and it is filled with broad beans! I have had a good harvest this week of broad beans, some lettuce and a few peas.

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I harvested 1.4kg of broad beans and 150g of peas. I also pulled up a couple of carrots to see if they are ready yet. They are still small and have forked but at least there are no sign of carrot root fly!

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I also pulled up the spinach which had started to flower. This tends to happen quickly in dry weather – I think I need to find a cooler place to grow spinach!

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I hope your harvests are coming along nicely!

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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

April 2017!

April was really off to a sunny start with temperatures of 18 degrees in the south west!

I did quite a lot of work in my own garden the first weekend in April so that Sam and I could actually sit outside and start enjoying the lighter evenings but as always at least one day a week is reserved for the allotment.

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Overview of plot 1

We took the ‘mother-in-law’ around the allotments (not really the mother-in-law but for want of a better word) and she really liked the plots although thinks we are completely bonkers for taking on so much! Fast forward to the actual work we did, I dug up the newly planted strawberry plants on plot 1, laid weed control membrane over the bed and then re-planted the strawberry plants through it. This will save me the headache of constant weeding and stops the strawberries from being able to root runners! I then bought some straw and have placed that round the strawberries. This acts as a mulch, keeps strawberries clean as they develop and has the added benefit (or so I am told) of reducing slug damage.

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Strawberries have been planted through membrane and mulched with straw!

Sam and I also got to work digging over Section D where the potatoes will be this year. We removed the very last of the leeks and dug  over the ground ready for new raised beds on that section. This is the last part of plot 2 that needed raised beds in and then the structure of plot 2 would be complete! The weekend of the 8th saw us actually build those raised beds and set them in the ground (slightly wonky but hey, it doesn’t have to be perfect – just functional). Weed control membrane was laid down for the paths and then covered with bark chip. Fast forward to Easter weekend and Sam had the lovely (hard) job of planting all the second early and maincrop potatoes.

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New raised beds in section D!

Over the last three weeks, spring-planted onions have slowly been planted out in Section E and a variety of lettuces have been planted in the same beds. I have also sown a number of sowings of spring onions and beetroot but the seedlings don’t seem to get very far. I think this is more to do with the soil than with the seeds. Unfortunately, no matter how much compost or manure I add to the soil, it is always hard and dry! Yesterday I decided to sown my next lot of spring onion and beetroot sowings in the old wicker carrot planter where the soil is much nicer!

Section A on plot 1 (where the beans and peas are going) is starting to come to life. Pea and bean supports have been put up ready for plants. Two lots of pea plants have been planted out, one at the beginning of April and one at the end, and I have sown a further rows of peas direct which I hope will give me successional harvests of peas. All the broad beans have now been sown and the broad beans I planted back in November are flowering! Unfortunately, the frost we had last week has caused some of the tiny pods that were developing to go black! I guess that means I will be waiting a little longer for my first harvest of broad beans!

The Thursday after Easter, my dad came up and built me a new shed! We have treated it, painted the inside and can now store some of our tools on plot 3 instead of having to traipse all the way over to plot 1 every time we need something (or have forgotten to get something)! It is not as big as the one we originally inherited but hopefully with a lot of love and care it will last us for quite a few years (I am hoping for at least a decade!).

And shock! I finished tidying up the strawberries! I can’t believe it! I had to remove quite a lot of runners that had rooted and then moved some plants so there wasn’t such a big gap in the middle like before. We will be putting raised beds around the strawberries which should make it easier to weed, harvest and generally keep tidy – a job for May! I am so glad to finally get this off the to-do list! The strawberries are already showing lots of flowers so with a bit of luck I am in for a good harvest again this year. It is probably the last really good harvest I will get off some of these plants as they are 3 years old (some are new runners which have been moved). They will probably be left for another season and then the bed will be cleared for something new. By that time, the strawberry plants on my other plot will be nice and big and producing lots of strawberries!

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Strawberry bed has finally been cleared!

We have also lined the beds around the pond with wood.  The Californian poppies from last year have self-seeded and I decided to leave them there as they are such pretty flowers. I have also sown a white-flowered borage at home, and hope to plant them into the ponds beds and herb garden in the next fortnight!

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Pond beds have been lined with wood! This will stop the grass from creeping in!

For those of you who follow this blog you will know I have two friends who love to come up and help out on the allotment (often helping me get the hardest tasks done)! This last Saturday they came up and helped Sam and I to finally move the pile at the end of plot 3. The pile was dug up and moved to the lazy bed where it should hopefully compost down, and then we cleared the back of the plot of brambles, nettles and bindweed. Here we laid a thick mulch of dead leaves and then laid weed control membrane to hopefully stop all the weeds from coming back. We will cover this area with bark chip and next winter we will plant currant bushes here. We also marked out where the polytunnel will be going with bamboo canes and string and now that we have a nice (relatively) flat surface, I can order the polytunnel!

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Large pile has been removed and (mostly) leveled out. The polytunnel was marked out but unfortunately the bamboo canes snapped. Membrane at the back for currants next year!

There have been a few disappointments this last though, the frosts did some damage in our plots, the first early potatoes were hit quite hard. They are grown in bags and I didn’t get the bags filled up with compost in time! There is still some green foliage growing so have placed straw in the bags to keep them warm and protect from any further frosts and we will see if they recover!

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Straw put in potato bags to cover potato shoots and protect from any further frost.

Some of our plants around the pond were hit hard! The ‘Bleeding Heart’ and the flowers on the Heuchera have really been affected. The buds on the grape had just started to open up but I think the leaves have now died! It seemed to withstand the frosts really well last year but not so much this year! And also there seems to be a cat digging up my allotment! It dug a hole in the soil in my seed bed, destroying my brassica seedlings and it dug a hole in my parsnip bed!

Despite this, April has been a rather productive month! There is still a lot to get done in May. The polytunnel needs to be bought and erected and there will be a lot to plant out but I am looking forward to the month ahead!

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I hope you have  been able to enjoy your gardens and allotment this month as much as I have! Although I hope your muscles don’t ache as much as mine!

 

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!

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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!
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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!
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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:

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  • 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.
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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.
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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!

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.

 

 

Vegetable of the Month!

JUNE – PEAS

We are half way through the year and the pea season is now upon us! If you think the first broad beans are a treat, then you will be blown away by peas fresh from the pod! No cooking required!

Peas are such a treat for me and I love watching the pods develop and fill out. Getting a decent pea harvest every year is quite a challenge for us due to the large number of pests that can ravage the crop but when it’s successful it’s totally worth it!

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Image Credit: OutOfMyShed.co.uk

Peas (Pisum sativum – literally means ‘cultivated pea’) is a name that can be applied to many different peas in the wider family such a ‘pigeon peas’ but for the sake of this article, I am talking about our common garden pea. It is not just the pea seed inside that can be eaten, the pods can be eaten too and some varieties are specifically grown with eating the pods in mind such as ‘sugar snap’ peas and ‘snow pea’ varieties (we refer to them as mange-tout in this country). Each plant produces numerous pods filled with 6-8 individual peas. They are a climbing crop and use tendrils to wrap around supports such as the traditionally used ‘pea sticks’ in cultivation. Peas are a cool season crop which may explain why they can thrive in our spring/summer climate but the wild pea, from which our cultivated one comes from, is found in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

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Image credit: seedparade.co.uk

A short history of Peas

Archaeological evidence suggests that peas have been eaten and cultivated since neolithic times, as early as 4800-4400 B.C. They have been a staple in human diets ever since and were of special significance in medieval times to keep famine at bay. Peas used to be grown for their dry seeds and fresh garden peas, like what we eat today, was an innovative luxury of the 17th century  but by the end of the 17th/early 18th century it become popular to eat peas green and from there the garden pea was born. Along with the inventions of canning and freezing, green, garden peas became a staple all year long!

Why should we eat peas?

pea nutrition

Peas contain starch and sugar which gives that lovely sweet taste but they also contain good levels of Vitamin K, which is thought to be beneficial for good heart and bone health.  They also contain B and C vitamins which are important in cardiovascular health and for a strong immune system. Peas contain manganese, an important mineral essential for development and metabolism, and they are a  source of dietary fibre.

They are very low in fat (only 0.4g per 100g of peas) but the fats they do contain are high in poly- and mono- unsaturated fats, all super healthy for you! They are also an excellent source of protein.

Peas also contain a number of phyto-nutrients which give good anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and one study even suggests it might have a role in protection against stomach cancer! Other studies have suggested a link with pea consumption and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

How to grow peas

Peas, like potatoes, can be grouped as first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. This relates to how quickly they mature. Peas don’t like root disturbance so where possible you should either sow them directly or preferably in root trainers. I myself sow them in egg cartons where I can then break the individuals sections of the egg cartons off and plant them whole in the ground. The egg carton decomposes and the peas carry on like nothings happened.

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Peas can be sown from February until June (and Oct-Nov for autumn sown peas). Successive sowing helps to ensure a longer supply of peas. If sown directly, a shallow trench should be dug and pea seeds should be spaced 5-7 cm apart and 3-5cm deep into well prepared soil. Peas will rot in soggy cold ground so ensure that the soil is warm and well-draining. Peas require support as they grow, pea sticks or netting is ideal for their tendrils to twist around.

Pea and bean weevil can be a problem on young plants, the adults nibbling the edges of the leaves leaving little notches. Pigeons love to eat the shoots and can strip the tender plant if not protected and mice will nibble the sown seeds if they can get to it so make sure that plants are protected where possible. My main problem, though, is pea moth. The moth lays its eggs on the flowers and the larvae burrow into the pod and eat the peas.

How to cook peas

Peas can be eaten fresh out of the pod when they are young but if you prefer them to be cooked they are easily boiled or steamed for a few minutes. The pods themselves, are also packed full of goodness so we often boil the empty pods in stocks when making risottos – that way all the vitaminy goodness goes into the risotto!

Pea shoots are also delicious added to a salad or as a garnish! I often sow a tray full of peas just to use as pea shoots!

Pea recipes

Pea and Ham Soup

pea and ham soup

Lemony Pea and Prawn Risotto

prawn and pea risotto

Pea, Ham Hock and Watercress Salad

pea salad

The Big Pea Moth Challenge – Update

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen germination issues I have had to suspend my pea moth challenge until next year!

The germination rate of my peas have been quite bad but then the packets are a few years old!

I have bought some peas from the garden centre and a few new packets of seed but it is now a little too late to begin my experiment, however, I will still investigate whether or not the moth traps are useful – they have been ordered and should arrive shortly.

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Jobs for April

Ready, Steady….Sow, Sow, Sow!!!!

It’s that time of year where the soil temperatures are rising, the frosts are diminishing and its time for the allotment to come to life! I think this is the most exciting time of the year!

I was impressed with the scale of work we achieved in March so my to-do list is not as long as I thought it would be so I can get only with the most important job which is sowing!

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To sow at the allotment:

  • Carrots
  • lettuce (for successional sowing)
  • beetroot

To plant at the allotment

  • potatoes
  • broad beans
  • peas

To sow at home in pots

  • courgettes
  • cucumber
  • brussels sprouts
  • sprouting broccoli
  • squash
  • sweetcorn
  • runner beans
  • green beans
  • shelling beans
  • peas
  • more broad beans

Despite all this sowing there are still jobs to be getting on with at the allotment – mainly weeding and tidying to keep the plots in order.

Last year I focused so much on the structure of the plots that I kept finding the weeds were get on top of me as I neglected to hoe them off regularly. So this year I have developed a new ordered plan to ensure that I use my time correctly when down the allotment with focus being on the care of my plants and getting even better harvests this year!

  1. Weed – hoe off any annual weeds, dig up perennials. I neglected to do this last year and the weeds crowded out some of my plants,
  2. Harvest – often we ran out of time and I would forget to harvest certain veg, like courgettes, and next time I returned they had gone over,
  3. Sow/plant/care – Then it is time to sow new seeds, transplant seedlings and plants and care for existing plants such as tying in, staking, removing diseased or dead plants, pest control etc.
  4. Water – water all the plants and feed where necessary. Last year we were always in a rush to get the watering finished before we went home – this year we will dedicate the proper time to it to ensure our plants flourish,
  5. Tidy plot – tidy away any rubbish, burn perennial weeds, wood etc
  6. A.O.B – any other business can now continue i.e. digging over beds, putting in raised beds, turning compost, building projects etc
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Last years the weeds took over! 😦

I’ll let you know how the new plan works out!

During this month, I hope to get a start on putting together my herb garden.  I am also going to try and mulch our fruit trees and get the ‘orchard’ into good shape!

However, the main focus this month is to get sowing and planting. I feel a trip to the garden centre coming on…

March 2016

Oh how March has flown by!

The first week of March was just as hectic in work as February was, however, the second week of March found me unemployed and fancy free so I had plenty of time to do a little catch up! First thing I did was to get my sow on!

I planted up the remaining onion sets into little cardboard tubes to give them a head start before planting out in April. I also sown my two varieties of Broad bean (1 red, 1 green), potted on my peppers, aubergines, cabbages and broccoli/calabrese and sown some herb seeds, mainly chives, basil, oregano and lemon balm. I also had a chance to start my big pea experiment with my first sowing of peas (only a month later than I had planned!)

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Onions are nicely growing away. They will be planted in the allotment soon.

It also left me time to visit the allotment, I finally moved all my herbs down to plot three to start my herb garden, and finished digging over the leek bed and as I have written in a previous post, we finished building all the raised beds in plot 1 – finally completing the planned structure!

The third week of March saw us planting out onions and the plum and cherry trees as well as the free Honeoye and Florence strawberry runners I received in the post. And finally, we have dug the pond beds and gotten rid of all the grass! Cross that off my to do list!!

I also have to commend Sam for the brilliant bonfire he got going! That weekend was a particularly cold one and it was nice the eat our lunch next to the warmth of the fire (even though we reeked of smoke afterwards)!!

First early potatoes were planted into potato growbags (International kidney and Annabelle) so wont be long until we will be tucking into some delicious new potatoes! We also planted ginger into a large pot which will be kept indoors as I am a little unsure of what I am supposed to do with this!

The fourth week of March saw us sowing grass seed in the little orchard we have now established, and planting up the pond beds with some lovely fragrant perennials including Lavender, Borage, Aquilegia, Foxgloves and Hollyhock. We have also managed to get some plants into the pond! Some rushes around the edge and some marginal plants such as Marsh Marigold and Water Mint. We also spent out on a beautiful yellow waterlily which I am looking forward to watching it bloom! The pond still needs a bit more improvement but once all the plants get established. it should stop looking so bare and the pond liner shouldn’t be so visible. Frog spawn is in (thanks Stacey!) so hopefully in a few months time little frogs will be hopping around!

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Pond has been planted up and frog spawn has gone in!

Other than that we got a start on digging over what will become the bean and pea bed. The asparagus bed is at the bottom of this bed and it was covered in nettles. I started trying to gently remove the nettles so I wouldn’t disturb any growing asparagus but quickly came to the conclusion that this was impossible so Sam and I started digging up and hacking away at it! If the asparagus survives and hasn’t been chopped up or dug out then that’s wonderful, if not then I guess I am going to have to have another go at planting up an asparagus bed (because the last one worked so well)!

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Some sowing has finally been down out in the allotment, I have sown leeks, radishes, lettuce and spinach as well as planting out some lettuce plants I procured from Wyevale garden centre. (My new job is next to a Wyevale Garden Centre!!!) At home, I  re-potted my two banana trees and removed the extra suckers. The suckers have been potted up and will be given new homes.

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Banana suckers.

And whilst we had a four day weekend this last weekend what with it being Easter and all,  only one and a bit of those days were actually spent at the allotment!  Instead, I attended the rather fabulous wedding of my two occasional allotment helpers – Jenny and Adam! I watched my beautiful friend get married to the love of her life! And don’t they make a beautiful couple!

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I wish them all the best on their journey through life and may they grow many vegetables together!

The Big Pea Moth Challenge

I have been attempting to grow peas now for 3 years and each season I always have pods of peas infected with the maggoty larvae of the Pea Moth!

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Is the dreaded Pea Moth caterpillar lurking inside?

Last year, early sowing of peas gave me a harvest free from pea moth caterpillars but later sowings led to an infestation of epic proportions! And there is not much I can do in terms of biological or chemical control either. One book I read suggested spraying with general insecticide when flowering to prevent the moth from laying its eggs. I did try this but it didn’t seem to have an effect and I would rather not do this again as I worry about the harm it will do to beneficial pollinators! I have also read about using pheromone traps as a warning system for when to protect your crops and then covering the crop with netting or fleece. I did try covering the peas but the little buggers still found there way inside although after a particularly windy day – the fleece was no more.

So this year, I am conducting an experiment (this is what happens when you put a scientist in the garden!) to try and ensure that I don’t waste my time growing peas that I will inevitably be unable to use!

A little bit of background on my small yet mighty foe…

The Pea Moth

The Pea Moth is a very small brown moth that overwinters in a cocoon in the soil. They emerge from this cocoon in May and June and lay their eggs on pea flowers June-July. The larvae hatch from the egg and move into the developing pea pod where they munch their way through the peas leaving trails of excrement (frass). As the larvae mature, they burrow out of the pod (if left unpicked) and drop to the ground where they will over winter – completing the cycle.

It is unlikely that you will spot the eggs on the flowers and the first sign that there has been an infestation is when a pod is opened to find the creamy white black headed caterpillar munching away.

Although this tells me which period the moth is active, what I want to know is how this relates to sowing time. Which sowings will lead to pea moth infestation?

Armed with this knowledge, I am going to set up the following experiment:

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Aim: To determine when pea crops are most likely to be infected with pea moth larvae in my area

Method: Peas will be sown at 7-14 day intervals between March and August up to a total of 20 sowings. Each sowing will be of 20 peas and will be labelled with the variety and the date of sowing. Once peas are 5-7cm tall they will transplanted to their final growing positions and plants will be labelled with their date of sowing. Peas will be monitored for signs of flowers and the date recorded when peas first start flowering. At harvest time, pods will be picked and kept in groups according to their sowing date. Peas will be podded and the number of pea moth larvae present will be recorded.

This is just a simplified version of my experiment. I know it is going to be far more complex to carry out. What I hope to achieve from this is an idea of which sowings and/or flowerings are likely to result in an infected crop so that I can take precautions to avoid this from happening in the future!

As I will have a lovely new polytunnel by the end of the year, I hope that by identifying which sowings lead to pea moth infestation means I can plant these plants in the polytunnel which may afford greater protection from the Pea Moth.

I also hope to gather quite a bit of data from this experiment generally on peas and their growth characteristics as well. It will interesting to see how their germination rate differs throughout the six month period!

A second experiment may be conducted if I have the time and space to do so as I would like to know if pheromone traps can be used to reduce the likelihood of infestation.

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A pheromone trap!

Aim: To determine if pheromone traps will  reduce the number of pea moth caterpillars in pods.

Pea plants bought from a garden store will be planted in the beginning of May to ensure a flowering period during pea moth activity. They will be planted in a separate plot from the first experiment and a pheromone trap will be placed among the peas from Mid May to July. Traps will be monitored every 2-3 days and numbers of pea moth found will be recorded. Pods will be harvested and numbers of pea moth caterpillar recorded and compared to numbers found in experiment 1.

I’ll keep you updated with the experiment as it progresses!