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Welcome to Make More of Vegetables!

Hello, my name is Peter Chadwick and together with my co-authors, Patricia Harbottle and Elisabeth Winkler, we’d like to welcome you to our blog, which is for anyone who likes to cook and has become interested in growing vegetables.

We are building on the ideas contained in the Make More Of Vegetables series of books where the recipes make vegetables the star of the show. Let’s be clear though, we are not vegetarians, just vegetable lovers.

The books started life as collections of recipes, written by Patricia Harbottle, based on a particular vegetable group. So the first one deals with peas and beans, the second one features pumpkins and squashes. The books also contain advice on how to grow the vegetables yourself.

We hope you will share our enthusiasm for vegetable edibles and have a go at growing some of your own food as well as cooking it. This is not a gardening advice blog, but we will be sharing our growing experiences here in Worcestershire as the season progresses and telling you about the ups and downs of our great vegetable growing adventure.

There will be new recipes from Patricia in Dorset together with seasonal treats and ideas on how to handle surpluses if you should be ultra successful.

And of course, we’d love to hear from you . What has worked for you in the garden or in the kitchen? And if you have the books, of course let us know how a particular recipe has worked for you or whether you’ve had any particular successes in the garden.

If you don’t have the books yet you can find out more and order them here.

Badger culling

Now that the Minister has given the go-ahead for a culling trial, I feel moved yet again, to condemn this proposal to cull badgers in the UK.

Make no mistake, this plan requires the complete extermination of all badgers within the designated trial areas, so if the State, in its wisdom, decides to roll this out nationally, it will be good-bye to a large native mammal – all because of the shoddy (and shady) activities of the UK livestock industry.

I would have thought that by now, everyone would have rejected the plan to exterminate badgers as an inhumane, impractical and completely ineffective way of managing bovine TB.

Any objective evaluation of the scientific evidence seems to bear this out and if the existing legislation that is supposed to prevent interference with badger colonies is reversed to make the proposed plan legal, we will also be legitimising the activities of the beasts who enjoy tormenting them.

Google Operation Meles to discover more about this disgusting “sport”, or see:

The real issues of closely supervised movement control, effective testing and immunisation of domesticated cattle are still not being addressed with any rigour while time and money are being wasted on scapegoating a wild animal that also happens to be susceptible to bTB.

What is being done to stop the practice of ”bed & breakfasting” cattle on their way to market which makes them appear to come from a region free of bTB

In view of the practice of “ringing” the ear-tags of slaughtered cattle, why has there been no consideration given to the indelible alternatives of branding or ear tattooing to eliminate this corrupt activity?

Chillie update

Its 4th November and thanks to the mild weather so far this autumn, here are my aubergine and pepper plants still going strong in their containers.

Peppers and aubergines in the back yard

I will dry all the chillies in the airing cupboard and there should be more than enough for the winter kitchen’s needs.

There are a few golf ball sized fruit on the aubergines which will probably not get much bigger now, and although the plants are still flowering well, they are not setting any fruit – its probably too cold and not much flying insect activity for pollination.

Mediterranean crops outdoors in the UK

Every year I grow solanaceous crops – peppers, tomatoes and aubergines in the backyard hoping their fruit will ripen before the first frost kills this tender species.

As you know, I am a great fan of builder’s buckets as containers so I use these filled with (peat-free) multipurpose compost and (peat-free) growbags to support the plants.

Everything motors along fine through the long days of summer, but the plants do not set any fruit until the days start to shorten just before the equinox and this is where the gambler in me surfaces.

Most years frost kills the plants before they can develop any fruit of a size that is worth eating.

Crop production starts back in April when I sow the seeds and it is an act of faith really as most years the cold and dull weather of early autumn stops growth before the crop matures and I end up harvesting aubergines the size of strawberries, lots of green tomatoes and peppers (Corno di Toro is my favourite variety) not much bigger than my little finger.

The first frost drags that person who has spent the summer thinking he is in Provence or Sicily back to Evesham!

However….. this year I feel vindicated.

We have been harvesting aubergines, courgettes and brilliant peppers for the last three weeks.

Thanks to good levels of solar radiation (plenty of direct sunlight) average daily temperatures have remained high enough to support crop development so although the tomatoes have all ripened by now, the peppers and aubergines are still going strong though developing rather slowly.

I expect to harvest a good crop of ripe chillies to dry for the winter’s curries and Spanish dishes and a few more goose-egg sized aubergines which are far more delicious than anything my supermarket can provide.

As I said earlier, this whole exercise is an act of faith – if you want results, get a polytunnel!

Scary couch-grass

Just back from the allotment where I have been digging over a bed that has been used for squash and courgettes this summer.

speared by couch grass

As usual, I pulled out plenty of long wiry couch roots and remembered these pictures taken a few years back – pretty impressive performance by the innocent-looking grass

 

 

What went on inside

Snakes alive

This is where it happened

Not sure what this all means, but I had a rather unsettling experience last week.

It was a warm sunny day and I had been away from home for most of the afternoon.

When I returned and opened the back door, I found a grass snake, about 80cms long, entangled in some light plastic mesh which I use to keep the marauding sparrows off my seedlings.

My unexpected visitor

The poor creature was tightly wound up and it took me a few minutes to cut it free. By then we were both hot and bothered with one of us hissing and spitting but when I released it, the snake slid off into what we laughingly call the flower bed and seemed to be non the worse for the experience.

I have been up on my hind legs for about sixty years now and this is the third grass snake I have ever seen. One was a “pet” that my mate’s Dad caught when I was about eight so it hardly counts as a sighting and I saw the second one in Norfolk about nine years later, when I was out walking.

Two questions crossed my mind after this adventure – what brought this shy and quite rare animal to my back door in Worcestershire and how responsible is it to use floating, invisible meshes to discourage pests.

On the allotment last year, I accidentally trapped a bird in another kind of mesh cover and had quite a struggle to release it.

Your comments on this are welcome here.

For more ideas check out “The One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fokuoka where the “intervention in nature” principle is discussed in some depth.

Easy times

A whole day of steady rain – bad news if you are holding an outdoor event but good tidings for everyone else AND NO WATERING.

Now I can just sit back for a bit and watch the weeds grow.

Broad bean bonanza

 

We are having a feast of broad beans out of the vegetable patch.  They are so young and tender at the moment that I have been cooking them simply and eating them with some lovely unsalted farm butter.  Really yummy.  As they become more mature, I like to put them in risottos or serve them in a garlicky cream and herb sauce.  Nothing else is yet ready for harvesting from our garden at the moment.

Another interesting business we came across on our Herefordshire holiday was Trumper’s Tea.  I mistakenly thought that Claire Trumper had a retail outlet in Hereford but it turned out that she has a mail order and most entertaining website www.trumperstea.co.uk.  She was away on a working trip but we met her parents who are very much part of the business.  We came away with samples of the range of teas.  We have tried some and will gradually work our way through the rest.  It is a most impressive collection of very high quality loose leaf teas, including delicious herbal varieties.  They also have “DIY” teabags so that you don’t have the bother of cleaning out the leaves from the pot.

Hard Times

We are experiencing poor growing conditions around here with very little rainfall, a steady breeze which also dries out the ground and low day temperatures.

I have been watering the more sensitive crops like courgettes and runner beans, but to be honest, it doesn’t do much for the plants, just makes me feel better!

Everything (apart from weeds) seems to be marking time and waiting for better conditions.

On the positive side, I haven’t seen much pest activity so far this season apart from pigeons that got stuck into my cabbages and broccoli when their covers blew off.

Its worth keeping an eye out for flying aphids – check your white washing if you dry it on a clothes line – because the non-flyers that do all the damage will be along a couple of weeks or so after you first spot the winged form.

Also look out for white-winged butterflies, cover any caterpillar food, keep a close eye on all your crops and deal with any problems early on.

I am trying out a new cover material called Filbio mesh. It looks a bit like plain net curtain and seems to combine the open weave of Enviromesh with the lightness of fleece. Find out more at:

 

http://www.texinov.fr/en/agriculture/products/

 

Filbio crop cover

Novagryl fleece 19gsm.

Enviromesh medium weave

Local fresh veg treats on Herefordshire holiday

 We have just had a splendid holiday in Herefordshire. As usual, we took a self-catering cottage so that we could explore the local produce, take some of it back to the cottage and sample it.  It is a fantastic county for people who really believe in the very best.  I met “Wil” of Wil’s Smokehouse who smokes all manner of seeds, nuts, salt, garlic, olive oil and paprika, all of which are gluten free and organic.  I am addicted to his Smoked Organic Marinated Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds!  His website is http://www.wilssmokehouse.co.uk/ if you want to see his range.

We were in an area where supermarkets are thin on the ground.  It meant that you could shop in good greengrocers and farm shops who stocked local  fruit and vegetables in season, as well as produce from further afield, where necessary.

Here at home, the vegetable patch is growing well, and with any luck we will pick our first dish of broad beans at the weekend.  We planted them by Peter’s toilet roll core method last autumn and kept them in the greenhouse until we were able to plant them out early because of the warm spring.  So far there has been no sign of the dreaded black fly so I am very pleased with the results.

Seed germination and vigour – further adventures with climbing bean seed

Here’s an update on The Tale Of Two Seed Lots.

= 1000 words

I made a complaint to the seed company who supplied the variety I called “Absent” in my previous post, actually it’s a variety called “Czar” which I have never grown before, and the seed company in question was D.T. Brown.

In my e-mail to the company I asked for a refund if they were not able to replace my packet with one from a different lot.

I got no sensible reply from them but after an e-mail nudge ten days later, I received another one in the post.

I emptied the contents on to a plate – and guess what, more rubbish. As before, the packet contained lots of broken bits and cracked or chipped seeds. The ones that were intact looked yellow and stained.

The contents of my replacement packet

 

A phone call secured me a credit on my account, but I think I ‘ll spend it on cress seed next time.

So that’s seed germination potential in practice, pretty simple really, your seeds sprout and grow or they don’t.

If they fail and you sowed them in soil or compost, they will quickly rot away – and you can either try again or move on to something else.

Seed vigour is much more interesting and there is no legal minimum standard for this characteristic.

Google “seed vigour” to find out more.

I was reminded of the concept this spring after sowing some borlotti bean seed which I had kept for three years.

I managed to get the seeds to germinate and emerge from the compost, but the seedlings were weak and they have been very slow to develop with a few dying before the seed leaves opened.

Past experience tells me that the survivors will struggle to establish themselves on my allotment,  probably be stunted, carry a poor crop and have high susceptibility to pests and diseases.

Lack of seed vigour is more of a problem than poor germination because under normal conditions in the garden it only becomes noticeable after time, money and effort have been invested in the crop.

Conclusions:

Buy from a supplier you trust

Don’t keep seed for longer than the recommended time

Keep your spare seed in paper envelopes and store them in a COOL, DRY place.

If you can’t provide the right environment for storage, don’t save seed from one season to the next because it is one of the most influential factors affecting seed vigour.

I am going to plant out my runts alongside the more vigorous runner beans and it will be interesting to compare the performance of the two crops through the season.