Eating my home grown produce

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The time has finally arrived, when I can walk through my tunnel and “shop” for what need for today’s lunch and dinner. The fruits of my labour are paying off and are both abundant and full of flavour.

There are still ways to go to get a balanced diet, the meat protein is missing as it is not time yet to kill our lambs and too soon for the ducks to lay their eggs. It is still amazing how much you can do with the glut of squashes.

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Traditional deep red beetroot.

My private veg market, i.e. my polytunnel, is currently providing for 90% of all the veg we are eating. I am still learning the knack of spacing out the gluts and providing veg out of season. So, the only veg I am currently buying are onions, garlic and lettuces. You might be surprised at the lettuces as these can literally be grown all year round, but I had problems with sheep breaking in and seed not sprouting, my next crop is still in the early stages.

My beetroots are just beautiful, not only are they gorgeous to eat but are so pretty as well. I have the traditional deep red variety, but also bright yellow ones, light red, white and striped ones. I simply roast them with my potatoes, onions and a few garlic cloves; and serve them with crumbed up feta on top. Sweet, warm, smoky and so good.

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Curly kale, one of the most hardy veg to plant.

The kale, curly and other, is a powerful addition to pretty much everything. Such a hardy and easy veg to grow, and it lasts forever. We particularly love it in soups, but it also works well in stir-fries, salads, risotto, steamed on its own and in colcannon (an Irish dish of potato mash with green cabbage through it).

I didn’t have time to sample my greyhound cabbage, which I particularly love in salads. I will be planting a good few more of these next year, they take a lot less space than the traditional cabbage. A lot of my brassicas are interplanted with nasturtium flowers, which supposedly attract the caterpillar away from the cabbages and broccolis.

This year I have hunted for caterpillars with a much happier outcome, as my ducks simply love them and they are a great treat for them. I seldom have the heart to kill the butterflies in the tunnel, which leaves me at war with their progeny. I don’t mind sharing a bit of my brassicas with the caterpillars, but when they take the mickey (go overboard, Irish idiom) I get really pissed off. This year’s sprouting broccoli is doing pretty good, but I need to keep on top of the harvesting. Again, the ducks do love the flowered broccoli for a treat.

My tomatoes are almost ready, just a few more days of warm weather and we are there. I can’t wait to taste the Indigo Blue variety, which I’m hoping will taste as interesting as they look. While I have tasted blue tomatoes before, not shop bought tomato can be compared with what you grow yourself.

In an earlier post I told you about the Rolet squash (see Curbing my seed frenzy), a huge favourite in our family, and I can confirm that it still an excellent veg to serve. It is so easy to cook and can accompany almost any meal. Boil or steam for about 15 minutes until soft, cut in half and eat the soft inside with butter and a bit of salt. Some people also eat the skin, but I find it a bit bitter.

In the Clare Garden Festival last April, I bought two types of pumpkins or winter squash if you prefer, from a fellow selling a good variety of seedlings. A bright Ushiki Kuri (red kuri), which already has provided me with a few, and a secret type that the fellow said hailed from Catalonia, in Spain. He couldn’t remember the name but said that it had tasted fabulously when he tried it during his holidays. I will get back to you on that when I taste them. I am training them up to the rafters of the tunnel, which they seem to enjoy.

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Spagetti squash, a great low-carb alternative.

This year’s newbie success has to be my spaghetti squash, which are almost impossible to find in a shop and a meal by themselves. This is my first year growing them and they are doing really well. You eat them by cutting them in half and roasting them, you serve the spaghetti looking flesh inside by scraping it out with a fork. If you are doing a low-carb diet you could not ask for a better option.

I will leave you with a very cheap, tasty, fresh and a true the low-carb option. It is a favourite as a side dish or salad – zoodles – zuchini noodles. This is so tasty, particularly on a hot day, served with fish.

 

 

Zoodle Recipe 

3-4 zucchini or other soft squash
2 finely cut onions or handful of spring onions
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt
Handful of finely chopped coriander (optional)

• Cut the outer part of a zucchini or soft squash into julienne strips. I only use the more dense outer meat and throw out the soft core with the seeds. Do not use a grater for this, either cut with a knife, use a xxx or ideally a xxx. The xxx is a great investment which I would highly recommend for any kitchen.
• Mix it with the onion and salt, let it rest for about 10 minutes. Throw out the excess water and mix in the lemon, oil and coriander (after your own taste, like a salad).
• Serve as is or chilled, by putting it in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

I’m not going to give you recommendations on how much lemon juice, oil or salt to use, as I love lemons I tend to do my salads a bit on the sour side. Just do a bit at the time and find the balance that suits you best.

I know a lot of people don’t move away from the turnips, carrots, spuds and cabbages; don’t get me wrong, I love them but there are so many more veg to try and they are not difficult or complicated, but often surprisingly tasty.

I did my gardening best

My gardening best

I promised I tried my best, I promised myself that I would not have an overflow of seedlings this year, I restrained my hand as much as possible while planting seeds, I have generously given away as many as I could, I even had seedling funerals and ate many of them in micro-vegetable state. And still, I am being drowned by them.

There are tomatoes galore, enough kale to plant a forest, cabbage for all, more celery than I ever wished for and so many flowers. My green fingers worked against me, as even the oldest seed sprouted into vigorous life. Who knew.

My sheep were kind enough to thin out many of my brassicas and kale seedlings, both planted in the beds and in the pots, when they ventured into the polytunnel a few times. At least they mind the plastic, unlike my bullock frenemies, and left my precious tomatoes alone.

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This cauliflower is begging to be planted, but I already have so many!

 

 

I have given away as many seedlings as I can. One friend commented that it was like going to a garden centre, as I loaded her with stuff.

Almost all my tomatoes have been planted, but I have a few tough and thriving ones in pots begging me to find space for them. I have cherry tomatoes, yellow ones, oval ones and I am very excited about the blue ones.

There are also peppers, both sweet and spicy. I never truly realised that Habaneros (very very spicy chillies) are from tropical climes, really needs a lot of heat. It is growing extremely slowly. Fingers crossed.

I never thought I would have success with artichoke seed I came across, now I’m wondering where I will have the space to plant these very large plants. A few years ago, I bought three seedlings that turned out to be Cardoons and not globe Artichokes. They are hardy, easy to maintain, tough and come back year after year in the outdoor garden, without me so much as looking in their direction. I didn’t even realise you could eat them until recently. Does anyone have any Cardoon recipes?

This year I thought I’d make everything that little bit prettier and I will end up having to create a flower border of some kind. I literally have a sea of flowers waiting for their forever home. It will look lovely though, I just don’t know how I will have the time to weed and maintain a flowerbed. It will probably look spectacular for a couple of months, and very sad for the rest of the year.

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A suprise crop of Globe Artichokes. I never thought they’d be so easy to grow.

I have tried making use of the flowers by interplanting them between the veg and in every pot I can find, and it looks very pretty. I always plant marigold between my tomato plants. This year, as in my plant plan, I also planted Calendula flowers to make hand cream. As a novice in flower gardening, just like vegetable novices, I did not realise how large those plants can get inside the tunnel. You learn something every year when gardening.

Again, the sheep have been kind enough to de-head most of my planted flowers. They will be taking a trip in the trailer to the butcher or the mart if that type of kindness continues.

Next year I will have to revise my gardening plan again, be stricter and harder. I was so proud that I had only planted the six cucumber seeds I needed for six plants. No more, no less. The sheep unbalanced the scale when they bit the top of two of the planted cucumbers. I’m sure I will find something to fill that gap, but six just looked so right in the spot.

My climbing rolet squash will do the trick. I have too many of those anyway, or maybe it is time for another polytunnel?

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RTE show, Nationwide with Anne Cassin, being filmed at the Irish Seedsavers’ plant swap day.

 

One bit of saving grace was the Irish Seedsavers’ plant swap day a couple of weeks ago. I happily brought my babies and gave them away to other loving homes where they will be appreciated. Thankfully we arrived quite late and there were not many seedlings to bring home; I did of course manage to grab a few odd ones…just for the craic of it. RTE was there that day filming a sequence for Nationwide with Anne Cassin, something that made my kids very exited.

The Irish Seedsavers have lovely gardens that have a wild touch to them. They are not like the tidy and perfect castle or walled gardens, but free, large and a great place for an outing in East Clare. The Seedsavers are specialised in native fruit trees and bushes, there is a lovely coffee shop and they also have a great array of workshops of all kinds, from beekeeping, gardening, beermaking and more.

A friend of mine has also given me a load of raspberry plants, which I hope will thrive by our back wall. There may be no jam this year, but I am sure these hardy plants will thrive.

Apart from a few stragglers of all kinds, it is only the celery and ginger that are giving me a bad conscience. There is a bit much of them and they are waiting to be planted. I am waiting for an overcast day to get them and my sweetcorn into the ground.

The tunnel is thriving and there are still hopes that this year will be the best year ever.

The bees love the flowered Pak Choi, I don’t have the hearty to pull it out yet.

Too many seedlings

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I have a few gardening weaknesses. Well many, but a few I will admit to.  Like many gardeners, I tend to plant too many seeds and then I have trouble killing off seedlings that seem perfectly healthy. Instead I end up with too many plants which I hopefully can give away, but sometimes have to just forget about and let them die a quiet death. Thankfully there is always someone that wants a few, and I am more than happy to give away my babies.

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Way too many celery seedlings. The seed were supposed to be too old!

This year again, I have plenty of extras, but in my defence some of the seed were old and I didn’t know or expect that they would actually come out at all. I just had to plant them all, thinking that only a few would sprout, but they seem to have been hardier than expected and I now have more broccoli and celery seedlings than ever.

The plan that I made up, which you can see in my Seed Frenzy post, is very helpful and does curb my ambitions, although I feel I should have space or make space for more plants. I am getting better at utilising spaces between plants for quick veg, such as radishes, salads and coriander.

This year I have also decided to plant more flowers, both as useful companions to deter bugs, as edible plants, but also for ground cover and for the pretty effect. I always plant marigolds around my tomatoes, but while they are edible I have never really used them in my cooking or salads, their strong fragrance has always put me off. I have bulked up on nasturtiums, that also are edible, as they were hard to find last year. They are hardy, pretty and a terrific addition to any salad.

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Kale, cabbage, cauliflower…how many can I plant? Let the Games Begin!

Other useful flowers I will be planting are Calendula, type of marigold really but leggier and more elegant. Last year I did a herbal workshop with local herbalist Vivienne Cambell. She showed us how to do a great hand cream with dried Calendula flower heads, it was a very good gardening cream. When my kids were small I always used the Weleda calendula oil at diaper changes, I found it excellent for their skin. In case you are interested, Vivienne has great webinars and e-courses on herbal medicine on her site, The Herbal Hub.

The Cosmos and Cornflowers, favourites of mine, will go outdoors. My children have also planted an array of old flower seeds that are nameless, so whatever comes will be a surprise.

I have added another edible to my list, more than one to be honest but lets not dwell on that (seed frenzy you see!); so I am currently looking for Stevia seeds.

You might have seen the Stevia syrup in shops, which is a good replacement for sugar as it is healthier and you use much smaller quantities. It still is sweet, it still has calories, but less. Supposedly you can sweeten your drinks with Stevia leaves and I thought it would be a good thing to try out as I find the syrup a good replacement for sugar. Depending on how much you need, I might give a try to making some kind of syrup.

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My favourite squash. Seeds from Seedaholic.com

After searching a bit, I have found seeds for one of my favourite vegetables, the Rolet squash. This is a fabulous vegetable that look like a black cue ball; you boil it, cut it in half, eat it with a bit of butter, it tastes strongly of sweetcorn and just heavenly. You can get the seeds at the Seedaholic.com site. Just be careful if you are an avid gardener, as their selection will make you drool. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

The one thing I have really succeeded with, in regards of my original planting plan, are my cucumbers. I have six plants, no more and no less, exactly as planned. I might be drowning in cabbage, kale, cauliflower and celery, but I am done with the cucumbers.

Unless…unless I come across some interesting new seeds. Small round lemon cucumbers sounded awful interesting I have to say. Wonder what they taste like?