All was glittering in the garden this morning – the first real frost of November. There was bright sunshine too, so I went around the flower beds snapping these fragile Hesperanthus. They have been flowering so bravely, though perhaps not for much longer. Then I stood in the sun at the top of the garden by the field and did some qi gong. It always feels best done outside, and there’s nothing like a bit of cloud hands waving and dancing with rainbows to spark up the spirits. Happy Friday!
So far my Monday has been unusually zippy. This morning I did the final edit on a short story and emailed it off to a literary magazine that specialises in ‘emerging writers’. Because the thing is, and this can be a commonly depressing condition for many long-published, but still unknown writers, after many years of publication, and awards won on three continents – (am especially proud of the Golden Duck for my contribution to children’s science fiction writing, Write Your Own Science Fiction Stories), I am still emerging. It is a damn slow process too – being half in and half out of my chrysalis. Nor am I entirely sure if those parts which are out have fully metamorphosed.
Anyway, I was quite pleased with the story and, having despatched it into cyberspace, I then felt free to go gardening for three hours. The allotment is verdant because at last we’ve had rain that has soaked into the soil. The runner and French beans have switched into prolific mode; I have a polytunnel full of groovy little yellow squashes, and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen.
Out on the plots there were butterflies everywhere, and for a while I faffed about with my Canon Ixus running after them in daft-bat mode. I also got the mower out and cut all the paths around my one and half plots – not my favourite task. Then I faffed some more, snapping an artichoke which proved a particularly absorbing subject.
Around 2 pm I thought I ought to head home and provide lunch for He Who Is Teaching Himself To Make Mortise And Tenon Joints So He Can Create A Shed Door, (where would we be without those life enhancing You Tube videos that show you such things as how to skin a dover sole, make almond milk and clean the stairs properly?) And it was then I spotted this Red Admiral on the Doronicum beside said evolving, currently doorless shed.
I am taking the butterfly as inspiration. This is how it will be when I’m full emerged. What I splash I’ll make. How high I’ll fly. Though I do hope for a slightly longer life span. In the meantime here’s a rather fascinating view of life inside a gone-to-seed globe artichoke.
P.S. Did you spot the web?
This year I seem to have started off the zucchini aka courgette season with a glut. I anyway usually slice them into spaghetti strips or noodles to use, seasoned, sprinkled with fresh chopped oregano or coriander, and warmed through with a little oil or butter, instead of pasta. They go well with either tomato or meat based sauces.
But then as the harvest began to multiply beyond the sensible, including exceeding neighbour capacity, my mind wended towards cake. I remembered having a delicious slice of lemon courgette cake last year in a museum cafe. So I did a trawl of recipes on the internet, and adapted a gluten free flour one found at The Pink Rose Bakery into a ground almond-polenta version. In fact I’ve been using ground almonds (and or polenta flour) in most of my cake recipes these days. They give much lighter, moister results.
So this is what I did:
Lemon Zucchini Cake
20 cm/8” deep cake tin, oiled
oven 180 C/160 C fan/350 F
250 gm/ good 8 oz of coarsely grated zucchini/courgette placed in sieve over sink to drain
2 large eggs
125ml/4 fl oz vegetable oil. I used groundnut
150gm/5 oz sugar. I used coconut flower sugar for its slight toffee flavour
112 gm/4 oz polenta flour
112 gm/4oz ground almonds
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
zest of one unwaxed lemon, though zest of two would not hurt if you like lemon
1. In large bowl beat eggs, oil and sugar together until smooth;
2. Stir into the batter all the other ingredients except the zucchini;
3. Gently squeeze any excess moisture from zucchini and add to the mix, distributing well;
4. Pour into tin and bake for around 45 mins until lightly browned and firm to the touch. I was using a fan oven. Probably wise to check after 30 mins.
5. Cool in tin for 10 mins. Turn out onto rack and sprinkle with coconut flower sugar.
Options: You could drizzle it with icing made with lemon juice and icing sugar, or maybe add a carrot cake topping, although we found the cake sweet enough without. I’m also thinking you could swap the lemon zest for orange zest, and use half a teaspoon of cinnamon in place of the vanilla essence. And I think the cake would be good served with fresh raspberries and creme fraiche. Unfortunately we have now eaten it before I could try out this last suggestion. But never mind. There are plenty more essential ingredients growing at the allotment.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Daily Post Photo Challenge: Satisfaction
Over the past few days the butterflies have been feasting on the allotment buddleia bushes. From top down we have: Red Admiral, Comma, and Small Tortoiseshell. In the teasels we have assorted bumbles:
This morning when I arrived at the plot, there were insects everywhere. It was also very hot, so I was glad to take a break from sieving compost and wander round, capturing some of the busy foragers. Having had a nice little play with my Canon Ixus, I then went back to work. I harvested my onions, hung them in the sun to dry, watered the polytunnel jungle, fought the tomato vegetation into submission, discovered a neat little cauliflower out in the raised beds, picked French beans, courgettes, plucked a few beetroot to make borsch and a lettuce for our neighbours, sowed some golden beetroot, carrots and Florence fennel, then staggered home across the field whither I arrived a very dishevelled and grubby person. Back at the homestead, he who is building a shed in the back garden had erected the fourth wall to his edifice, or at least the framework for same. And having laboured all morning and well beyond lunchtime, we then retreated to the cool of the kitchen for a restoring cup of tea. And there you have it, Monday chez Farrell – overheated but happy.
Am linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk which (as ever) is totally fabulous this week. Please trot over there for a longer walk than mine to the allotment, and also for some very lovely candlelit scenes around the streets of Lagoa.
You have to be out of bed rather earlier than I am to catch the Morning Glories unfurling. That is probably lesson number one: be up and doing earlier in the day; nurture the creative impulse before the world of dreaming totally recedes and mundane matters like doing the washing impose.
Then there is the lesson of making the most of opportunities as they arise, and at least here I came up to scratch. I dashed outside in my night attire to capture this scene. The hoverfly will feast. The Morning Glory will be pollinated. And I am watching, recording and posting. Everyone wins.
All the same, on the side lines my writer’s nerves are jangling. There are other lessons here. For one thing I have several works in stasis, projects that I dearly wish to complete. But for some reason I’m not attending to any of them. The danger is that procrastination may soon transmogrify into something toxic – a stultifying sense of failure that in turn becomes a downward spiral of non-doing and self-recrimination. The writer’s vicious circle.
But wait! I’m hurrying back to see what has happened to the Morning Glory. By late afternoon the sky coloured canopy of the day’s high hopes has imploded – the colours deepening, bruise-like. It is hard not to feel a pang of loss for such swiftly passing loveliness.
Yet there is a beauty here too in the subtle end-of-spectrum shades. Not failure, but process. Deep within the crumpled sheath things are happening. The hoverfly has done its work. There will be fruit in the making, new seeds to ripen and sow. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to bloom. Time to get back to work then.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
P.S. For more beauty in decay, pop over to Sue Judd’s blog. It is a theme she explores in many arresting photo essays
Next to my excitement in turning over a well-rotted compost heap, comes the joyous anticipation of lifting the first potatoes. Will they have grown well? Will the slugs and other pests have got in there first and had a feast? But no. Here they are – somewhat irregular in shape due to the long, long dry spell with only two or three rain showers to spur them on – lovely Belle de Fontenay.
This is an heirloom variety introduced in France in 1885. Pale yellow, firm, waxy – ideal for steaming or boiling, their flavour apparently improving with keeping , although I cannot verify that bit as we generally eat as I dig. And as well as arriving early, these pommes de terre have other obliging qualities. They don’t mind what kind of soil they are grown in, and they seem to love my allotment, which given its unyielding soil, is a huge plus.
This year I planted most of the potatoes on the ground I’d covered with several inches of partially rotted compost back in the autumn. I also sprinkled in some biochar and fish, blood and bone meal before planting in April. This was a half and half no-dig enterprise, in as much as the overwintering compost cover saved me from having to dig over the whole plot as I would have done in the past. I didn’t dig trenches either, just a row of holes, one for each potato.
The ultimate no-dig method would be to simply bury the spuds by hand in the compost layer, thereafter adding more compost to earth them up. But then that requires an awful lot of compost.
Anyway, compromise is everything when it comes to allotment gardening.
The spuds in the photo were delicious, steamed and shared last night with good friends from Buffalo, Jack and Kathy, who come each year like swallows to spend the summer in Wenlock. Also on the menu was Chicken Hymettus (recipe below), and also from the allotment, finely sliced greens (Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, beet leaves, Greyhound cabbage), Onward peas, lightly steamed, and served with a walnut and parsley pesto sauce.
Hymettus Chicken (serves 4)
chicken portions cut in half if large – I used thighs as they were
limes – juice and zest of 3 (or 2 lemons)
saffron strands – a good pinch
oil and butter for frying
honey – 2 tablespoons preferably light and runny though I used gooey dark African
thyme – 2 teaspoons fresh chopped/ 1 level teaspoon dried
mint – 2 tablespoons chopped
salt and pepper
almonds flaked – a handful
Prick skin of chicken pieces, place in shallow dish and pour over lime juice and zest. Marinate in the fridge for 1-2 days, turning meat occasionally.
When ready to cook, put saffron in a cup and add 4 tablespoons boiling water and leave for 20 mins.
Lift chicken from marinade with slotted spoon and fry in butter and oil till golden brown all over.
Strain saffron and mix liquid with honey and the remaining marinade. Pour over chicken, add thyme (I actually used Greek oregano), half the mint, and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Toast the almond flakes and to serve, sprinkle over the dish with the rest of the mint.
This recipe works well cooked a day in advance and then reheated.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
The endless envisioning of how plants will grow and crop is what keeps us gardeners gardening. In the face of failure we regroup, and start again – perhaps a different variety is required, or more careful cultivation techniques; maybe weather conditions were against us, so prompting us to think how we might come up with new strategies to reduce the worst effects if the same thing happens next year.
So it becomes an on-going pursuit of forward thinking, learning, re-learning and visualizing. I find it also helps to try and see things from the plant’s point of view. If I were it, am I getting everything I need: food, appropriate levels of moisture, protection from extremes (which among others can include ravages by aphids, pigeons, drought and tempest). With climate change we may have to rethink entirely the kinds of fruit and vegetables we grow.
This year I am probably growing too many sweet corn plants. I thought the first lot of seedlings were set to fail after being assaulted by several days’ torrential rain while I was away. Just in case, I sowed more seed. But then the shredded little efforts rallied, and the second sowing burgeoned, so now I have about three dozen plants on the go. They are greedy crops too, and also need lots of watering, which is hard work up at the allotment where cans have to be filled and hauled from the water tank. The site is also very exposed, and its heavy soil prone to turning to concrete at the slightest hint of a drought.
To cope with this I have adopted two different approaches. The later batch of plants has been planted out in a bed of deep litter from a dismantled compost heap. Hopefully this will both shelter and feed the plants as they get going and stop them drying out or needing quite so much watering.
The earlier batch I set out in a plot where I have overwintered trefoil and fenugreek still growing. I sowed these plants at the end of last summer as a green manure, and had meant to dig them in this spring. Then I had a much better idea, one that relieved me of much digging. When it came to plant out the sweet corn, I simply popped the seedlings in amongst the green manure plants.
There are all sorts of advantages to this. The fenugreek and trefoil are nitrogen fixing so should nurture the sweet corn. They also act as weed suppressants as well as providing shade and shelter to the developing plants.
So far this seems to be working quite well. I’m also trimming back the trefoil and fenugreek as the corn grows, so acquiring a crop of green stuff for the compost heap and to use as mulch around the beans, which also like to keep their roots cool and moist.
So now my vision is of summer’s end and lots of juicy golden cobs – perhaps enough for us and all my allotment neighbours. We’ll see…
All right I confess. I’m a fraud. I call myself a writer, but in reality I move soil. Year in and year out I move soil. It has become my lot in life – not only on the home front with The Man In My House Who Keeps Having Ground Moving Notions, but also on my own time up at the allotment. How did this happen? Was this the plan I had for myself?
This time last year we were busy shifting ten tons of gunky green Silurian clay and the junk of builders past, removing a huge and hideous waist-high flower bed outside our back door. We had lived with it for ten years, but finally it had to go. Ground Moving Man, then became Wall and Steps Building Man – using traditional mortar and the old bricks and limestone lying around to place to build a much neater, narrower raised border, and safer steps to the top of the garden. (Our cottage is built into a bank). The effort was as momentous, as it was cunning. The Wall and Step Builder had devised a way of dismantling the old steps in tandem with building the new ones so that we always had access to the upper quarters of our small domain, and thence my path to the allotment. Hats off to you, sir!
Here are views of the work as it proceeded.
A wintery before:
During the synchronised step demolition and rebuilding (pretty good work for a retired plant pathologist):
After – a bit heavy on the limestone perhaps, but we had it on site, which is always a bonus when you live on a road where deliveries can be tricky:
Most of the clay spoil and erstwhile builders’ rubble that had been hidden behind the steps and in the bed was barrowed round the front of the house and tipped into a Hippo Bag. This natty item is sent through the post in return for some loot. You fill it with 1.5 tonnes of stuff, and then a truck comes and cranes it away. Ideal for people who live on a busy main road, and have no room for a big skip. We had several of these handy mega bags.
Meanwhile up at the allotment I was dismantling a forty-year old allotmenteers’ spoil heap the size of Everest, and using the substance, which only vaguely resembled compost, to make new raised beds and terraces on my polytunnel plot. I shifted probably sixty barrow loads, and all with the aim of creating (ultimately) a NO DIG gardening system. I know this may sound mad.
The year before I had started clearing the plot by slicing off the neglected, weed-choked surface and piling the turves into pallet bins in the hopes that one day they would decompose into something usable. This was in no way compatible with the principles of NO DIG, but was my quick and dirty method of checking the buttercup, couch grass, and dandelion infestation. After learning the error of my ways early last spring, I gave it up for covering the remaining uncleared ground in layers of cardboard, and tipping a good six inches of spoil heap soil on the top. He Who Builds Walls and Steps then knocked up a few raised beds. (Those of you who come here often will know all this.)
This year I find that ants have been busy in the horrid heap of weedy turves, and the ensuing soil is usable, so am now repatriating it to the areas whence I cleared it two years earlier. So good on the ants, but more earth moving required.
Meanwhile, the notions of NO DIG, also require the seasonal application of deep layers of compost to the surface of all beds. The only problem with this is making enough compost. You need tons and tons. However, last autumn I made an effort and amassed material in bins and heaps all over my two plots – wherever there was space in fact. And now these need digging out, or at least turning.
NO DIG, it seems, does not mean the end of wielding forks and spades – not by a long chalk. So there we have it – ‘my days’ career’ as a young Kenyan farm wife once described to me her life of endlessly hauling things about.
And back on the home front this year we have already dug up the front lawn and replanted the bank beside the road. And we have dug up the back lawn and moved more soil so He Who Builds can now branch out into shed construction, though we did at least have two strong young men come and lay the paved concrete slab from which said edifice will arise. I am told it will have a curved roof.
The arrival of the shed will next dictate the remodelling of the back garden flower beds. All of which makes me feel as if my life is founded on shifting ground; the strata beneath my feet in perpetual motion and always needing to be somewhere else, and in some other shape. Perhaps one day all the earth in my vicinity will be in the places where we actually want it – no more moving required. Then perhaps I can give up the fraudulent writer posture and finish off a book or two; return to mental heaving and lugging, re-shaping and visualising, create the content and structure exactly as I want it – and all this without heft of spade or putting on my wellies. Perhaps…
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
A week ago the wilderness garden behind our house was all columbines. They went to seed very quickly and now it’s the foxgloves’ turn – along with the Dame’s Violets and the slender spires of purple toadflax. All self-sown and grown. I’m rather taken with the foxglove on the right, the one with creamy lips. I must remember to collect some seed, though there’s no knowing how its offspring will turn out.
The white foxgloves are lovely too. They have lime green speckles inside each flower.
And finally a view looking out over the garden wall as the sun goes down over Wenlock Edge.
You can’t have too many, can you? Aquilegias that is, aka Columbine or Granny’s Bonnets. They self-seed all over our garden, and also outside the back fence where we have a self-gardening border between us and the field. Dame’s violet, feverfew, purple toadflax, moon daisies, corn cockle and foxgloves are the other vigorous self-sowers. The Dame’s violet in particular is welcome for its fabulous scent. This year most of the plants have come up white. Last year they were mostly pinky-mauve as the plant in the next photo. I like the way they give us a change of scheme:
The border isn’t entirely made up of DIY flora. I have put in a few perennials, along with spreading useful herbs – various mints, oregano, lemon balm and marjoram. This year too, some left over allium bulbs put in 18m months ago, are making a nice show – quite unplanned planting scheme-wise. They were planted in the places where I could get my trowel in the soil.
You can also glimpse the transplanted crab apple tree in the top left corner. It’s just coming into full leaf. Next on parade will be the foxgloves. They are opening today under a sudden heat wave – so pictures to come. I’m also wondering if the invasion of opium poppies will be repeated this year. It’s nice to be kept guessing and to have a good garden fence to lean on – to watch and wait, and see what this unofficial garden will do next. It’s certainly keeping the bugs and bees happy.
Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Gardens Please visit Cee for more lovely plants and gardens.