Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Glutbusters: November 2014

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Disappearing ‘Chinese lanterns’, the ornamental Physalis alkekengi

It has been a long, warm autumn in my area, and we have yet to experience the first frost of winter – but the leaves are falling and it’s clear that colder weather is on the way. Very little sown or planted now will put on much growth, as the days are short and there isn’t enough light. But bulbs, perennials and hardy veg will be putting down roots, ready to emerge as the days begin to get longer in late winter.

Broad beans are a classic winter vegetable, sown now to provide a welcome harvest during the ‘hungry gap’ in spring next year. Whilst spring is a hive of activity for the gardener, and plants will be putting on new growth, having anything worthwhile to harvest requires a little planning.

At first glance, broad beans may not seem an obvious choice for a GlutBusters’ garden – although they can be grown in containers, they are far more productive when planted in open soil. Dwarf varieties are available, but these beans can take up quite a bit of space. But the broad bean is a multifunctional plant that deserves your attention.

Broad beans are quite often sown in modules (toilet roll tubes work well, as do little handmade pots), as they are very attractive to rodents until they begin to sprout. They are traditionally sown in November, or February, but check the packet advice for your chosen variety. The large seeds are easy to plant – simply push them into the compost with your finger. Pot-grown plants can be set out in May, and are normally planted in a double row, so that they provide each other with some support. (Space rows about 22cm apart, with 15-20cm between seeds.)

Broad bean bed
Broad beans are an attractive addition to the garden

GlutBusters broad bean advice

  • Broad beans are attractive plants, with interesting square stems and pretty white flowers early in the year. Plant them somewhere where you can appreciate the view – and bury your nose in the flowers to draw in their delicate scent. If it’s looks you’re going for, see if you can find seed for the ‘Crimson flowered’ heritage variety.

  • You should also consider this a wildlife-friendly plant, as those early flowers provide a valuable source of food for bees when not much else is in bloom.

  • You might like to try munching on a few flowers- they’re edible, and were included in a dish I was served at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, no less. Sprinkle a few onto your salad for a homegrown, winter lift.

  • Sowing a couple of different varieties (or some now, some in late winter) will stagger your harvest. Autumn sowings usually mature in late spring/ early summer, but you can find early/ express varieties.)
  • Don’t forget to eat the tops of your broad beans as a leafy vegetable. Pinching them out makes the plants less attractive to blackfly, but don’t throw them on the compost heap!

  • Another simple way to stagger your harvest is to pick some pods very young, and eat them whole (like a beany version of mange tout).

  • At the height of the harvest season, you can shell your beans for cooking (as the season wears on, you may find they need peeling as well….). But don’t waste those empty pods – they are edible and can be used in soup, or for vegetable stock.

  • And once you’ve had enough broad beans, you can leave the rest to ripen fully on the plant and save them to keep as dried broad beans later in the year. The Vegan Organic Network has a PDF factsheet on growing beans for drying.

  • Broad beans are physically easy to save seed from, but they cross very readily. If your garden is isolated, or you don’t mind growing plants that will be different from their parents, then you can keep some seed to replant for the next season.

  • Field beans are tall varieties of broad bean grown as a green manure – to benefit the soil, rather than the gardener. They are nitrogen fixing. If you’re growing your broad beans to eat then they will have used a lot of their nitrogen to produce beans, and won’t have a lot left to leave in the soil when the plants are finished, but there’s still benefit in either digging them in, or removing them to the compost heap to add their remaining nutrients there.

GlutBuster alternatives

If you really don’t have the space for full-grown broad bean plants, or just fancy a quick and easy indoor crop, then why not try the microgreens version instead? You will need broad beans (or ful medames) that are sold for eating/sprouting rather than for planting (as seeds may have been chemically treated), but you can get fresh harvests from the kitchen windowsill all winter long! Broad beans are sprouted in exactly the same way as peashoots are grown, so why not try doing a tray of each?

Soy beans are a more exotic option, although they’re still an unusual crop in the UK and there’s no guarantee of success. They’re tender, and would be sown in spring for planting out once the risk of frost has passed.

Or you could simply choose to grow peas, which can be sown now if you choose one of the hardier, smooth seeded varieties that won’t mind the cold weather.

And although we’re familiar with the idea of shelling peas, we rarely think of doing so with beans, either eating them as young pods or waiting for the beans to dry. But freshly-podded beans are a real homegrown treat! Seeds of Italy have a large range of beans and would encourage you to try eating some of them freshly shelled. Again, these would be for sowing in spring, rather than now.

GlutBuster buys

Blueberries have stunning autumn foliage

Suttons are offering their blueberry plants* collection for just £18.99 at the moment (RRP £44.97). It includes three plants, one each of three different varieties – spreading your blueberry harvest from early July right through to late September. If you’re hoping to add more fruit to your garden next year then that sounds like a bargain not to be missed :)

For something more seedy, Helen Gazeley has profiled a company that looks like it was born to cater to GlutBusters – MoreVeg sell seeds in smaller packets, with the idea that you can then choose to grow more varieties :)

And the first half of the month is the time to bag a bargain from, where they’re offering a whopping 75% discount on everything until 17th November 2014.

*That’s this month’s only affiliate link. If you choose to click through to Suttons and place an order then I will be rewarded with a small percentage (at no cost to you). If you prefer to leave me penniless then don’t click :)

GlutBuster star

Lots of colorful pumpkins
Lots of colourful pumpkins, by Tambako The Jaguar

Our seasonally-relevant star of the kitchen garden this month is the pumpkin. Growing a giant one to carve on Halloween is a popular gardening task with kids, but eating the innards may be less so!

The joy of pumpkins and squash is that they come in all shapes and sizes, and if you’re short on space in the garden you can find a well-behaved one, or allow it to scramble up a vertical support. Nearly every part of the plant is edible, from the tender young leaves and shoots (a common source of greens in African cuisine) to those lovely yellow flowers.

Summer squash are eaten fresh, but winter squash (including pumpkins) can be easily stored to eat later, once they have been properly ‘cured’ – allow the outer skin to dry by keeping harvested squash at room temperature with good air flow for a couple of weeks. And harvest them with a T-shaped ‘handle’ of stem, which helps prevent rot from entering the fruit. You can even use them as a decorative display until it’s time to eat them….

The Independent reports that Halloween pumpkins waste a staggering 18,000 tons of food in the UK, so when you’re carving your pumpkin, think of the flesh as food rather than compost fodder. There’s a recipe for pumpkin soup at that Independent link, and a quick Google will bring up plenty more ideas.

And… you can eat the seeds! You don’t have to have a hulless variety to do so. Check out these sites for a Roasted pumpkin seeds recipe, basic preparation and 5 ways to use squash seeds for ideas.

GlutBuster top tip for November

Check that none of your garden containers is sitting in a saucer – even winter hardy plants will struggle to survive with waterlogged roots! Give them a wash and put them away for use next summer. You may also find they’re harbouring slugs and snails, so it’s a job worth doing :)

That’s your GlutBusters update for another month. What are you suggestions for garden jobs to do in November, or are you all busy planning ahead for next year’s garden?

Posted in Blog on Nov 1, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 1, 2014

Tag: GlutBusters

UF Space Plants Lab

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This new short video from the University of Florida Space Plants Lab explains how and why they’re studying how plants react to being in microgravity.

Posted in Blog on Oct 28, 2014 ·

Tag: space

Book Review: Qaqamiigux

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Shortly before I moved, I came across references to a new book with an unpronounceable title – Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. I was intrigued, especially since I had to look up where the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are. It turns out that they’re off the south western coast of Alaska, with a cool, wet and stormy climate. The region is volcanically active.

Qaqamiigux (if you’ll forgive the ongoing lack of accents, I can’t quite get them to display correctly in HTML!) is the word for subsistence in the local language – hunting and gathering. The book arose out of anthropological work in the region, and aims at improving the diet of local people by ensuring that they still have the knowledge and expertise needed to harvest and process local foods. A lot of the information included was gathered through interviews with elders; some of whom have since died.

The diet in the islands has changed considerably in the last few centuries. The population was once entirely dependent on the local environment for sustenance, but new foods were introduced by the Russians when they arrived in the islands in the 1700s. From an anthropological perspective, it’s interesting to note how they were not immediately accepted by the locals – for one thing, they were too expensive. But the Russians did successfully introduce vegetable gardening.

The Americans brought more new foods, and livestock, when they bought Alaska – but again, they were not initially accepted by the local population. Even in times of hardship (and famine seasons are a feature of the environment), the islanders clung to their traditional fare. Only social changes, and being made to feel that their traditional foods were ‘inferior’, led to their wider adoption. [It’s interesting to juxtapose this BBC article on which meats are considered ‘normal’ and why – which looks at this scenario from the opposite direction.]

The Russians brought food such as flour, sugar, tea and salt. Whilst they were useful additions to the diet, and allowed new methods of food preservation that are still in use today, you can see that they may also have been the start of a problem. When the Americans brought their packaged and processed foods, which are widely available today, the islanders began to adopt the Western diet that is making so many of us overweight and leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Qaqamiigux is an attempt to reverse that trend, by bringing the younger islanders back in touch with their local foods and a healthier diet. It is a mixture of traditional stories and wisdom, practical knowledge on harvesting and processing local foods, and recipes to add them into a modern diet. There’s information on safe canning, nutritional information for all of the ingredients covered, a pronunciation guide and a full set of references in the back of the book.

I feel I have to offer a warning at this point – do not buy this book if you are vegetarian, and are offended by images of dead animals. They abound in the book, and the animals featured are ones that we would not normally see on the dinner table. Marine mammals loom large, with the traditional diet including seals and sealions. Whales and sea otters were once (but are no longer) on the menu.

Fish and bird eggs are included, as are reindeer and caribou (although these were introduced into the islands). For each species there is hunting/harvesting information, details of butchery and preservation, recipes and traditional stories and the values they encompass. Coming from a culture that wouldn’t dream of catching and eating animals like seals, it makes for fascinating reading.

There’s also a section on edible plants, some of which sound very interesting. The Chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is also known as wild rice, as its bulbs look like tightly-packed rice grains when they are harvested in summer and early autumn. They’re a starchy staple, as are the bulbs of the bog orchids (Platanthera convallariaefolia and Platanthera dilatata). The roots of the blue lupine (Lupinus noot-katensis) are mentioned as ‘Aleut potatoes’, which I found interesting as unusual edibles have been marketed to the UK population as ‘like potatoes’ ;)

The local berries we would now doubt find familiar (if not immediately palatable), but you would have a harder time convincing people from outside the region to eat Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum), which is called Putchki. Toxic chemicals in the ‘skin’ of the plant can cause burns on human skin in conjunction with sunlight (parnsips can do the same, for reference – same plant family). The book notes that harvesting on a cloudy day is preferable, and that the plant has to be peeled before being eaten, but is used much like celery.

There are sections on tidal foods harvested from the beaches, and seaweeds, and one on ‘other foods’ – the ones that were introduced by the Russians, and are part of the culture now.

So… Qaqamiigux offers an interesting insight into the food culture of the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands for those of us who live elsewhere. However, it is important to bear in mind that this is a cookbook aimed at the modern inhabitants of the region. Its recipes are not entirely traditional; many of them call for packaged ingredients, or canned soup – like most American recipes. If you buy this book wanting to recreate ‘authentic’ recipes in your home kitchen then you may well feel disappointed (although most people would struggle to get hold of sealion intestines anyway).

If you live in the US, you can buy a hardcover copy of the book direct from the publisher, or via Amazon. The RRP is $55.

To avoid a wait, and overseas shipping, I bought the Kindle version instead, which is £6.33 or $10.19. Remember that you can get a free Kindle app for most devices now, you don’t have to own a Kindle to read the books.

Qaqamiiĝux̂: Traditional Foods and Recipes from the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands
by Suanne Unger

Kindle edition, £6.33
Hardback, 381 pages, $55, published 15 November 2014
ISBN 9780991459100
Publisher: Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association,Inc

Posted in Blog on Oct 26, 2014 ·

Tags: books & food.

Gardening offers 25/10

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Penny Royal
A plant that is not Penny Royal!

If you’re stocking up on seeds, then head over to, where they’re offering a whopping 75% discount on everything until 17th November 2014.

Thompson & Morgan are offering ‘buy one, get one free’ on selected varieties of onions for autumn planting. To make use of this offer, click through to see the list of varieties, and add your chosen ones to your basket. The cheapest pack will be free, providing that you complete your order before midnight on Thursday 30th October 2014. The discount should be automatically applied, but if it isn’t then the coupon code you need is TNS278A.

Sarah Raven are giving you up to 50% of selected varieties of bulbs for autumn planting, until midnight on Sunday 26th October. Again, click through to see which varieties are on offer, and add any you fancy to your shopping basket. The discount has already been applied. There are also 50% discounts on hardy annual seedlings and perennials, whilst stocks last, so have a good look around the site for bargains, whilst you’re there.

And foodie, rather than garden-related, but Cool Chile are celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead by offering a 10% discount on all web orders placed before midnight on Thursday 30th October. You’ll need to enter the discount code BONES when you checkout to activate the offer.

Just a reminder that there are some affiliate links in these offer posts – the small amount of revenue I make from them helps pay for the upkeep of the blog, and costs you nothing. If you’re leery of these things, the links to avoid this time are the ones for T&M and Sarah Raven, but if I’m saving you money, surely you don’t begrudge me my crust? ;)

Posted in Blog on Oct 25, 2014 ·

Last modified on Oct 26, 2014

Tag: offers


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Ethiopia is in the news today, remembering the famine of 30 years ago. Rather than dwell on the past, I thought I would share this upbeat video from Perennial Plate – celebrating Ethiopia’s food culture:

Ethiopia! from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

The description of the video on Vimeo says “We travelled to Ethiopia for two weeks and filmed the making of injera, false banana and coffee as well as everything else we saw. Please watch, enjoy and visit this amazing country!”

For those of you who are intrigued by the ‘false banana’, it’s Ensete ventricosum, also known as the Ethiopian banana, Abyssinian banana, or simply ensete. I found a nice article that explains how this multipurpose plant is turned into different foods – ensete doesn’t produce fruit, but has edible pseudostems (the ‘trunk’ is formed from tightly-packed, overlapping leaf sheaths).

Posted in Blog on Oct 23, 2014 ·

Tags: food & ethnobotany.

And we're in

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Ryan and I have (finally!) moved into our new house! And, whilst we had the use of a van, we collected all of the tall plants from the allotment. So the first refugees from my old garden have arrived in their new home. As well as my Christmas tree, there’s two cobnuts, a crab apple, a golden bamboo, a rosemary and a lavender, the medlar and one that remains unidentified until I can have a good look at it.

I also brought back two scented pelargoniums that I uncovered from amongst the weeds on the allotment – one is Attar of Roses :) They were part of an order of four; all that remains of one is an empty pot. One seems to have been eaten to the ground by snails. Frankly, I am surprised any survived!

And I found, but didn’t bring back for the moment, my horseradish.

There’s a lot more work to do, rescuing plants from the allotment and bringing them home, but that can be done over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us occupied unpacking indoors, and I have some nice big pots ready to be planted up with winter veg.

Did I mention that I now live just a stone’s throw from a garden centre?


Posted in Blog on Oct 17, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & allotment.

Garden visit: Roman Fishbourne Palace & Gardens

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It was raining last weekend when Ryan and I went to visit Fishbourne Roman Palace & Gardens, the remains of what was one a high-status Roman building by the sea. It doesn’t make a difference to viewing the ruins, which are housed in a lovely, open-plan building with specially-constructed walkways that allow you to get reasonably close to the mosaic floors without any risk of damage to them. Which is important, as subsidence and algae (they were built without foundations, and water rising up is a problem) are both doing their bit to reclaim them already. There’s a museum, with some of artifacts archaeologists have found on the site, and a short film to watch if you are so inclined, as well as activities for budding archaeologists.

Roman mosaic
A famous Roman mosaic, showing Cupid riding a dolphin!

A particularly lovely mosaic. Some of the mosaics here are as old as any you’ll find in Britain. The Palace was repurposed several times over its lifetime, before being abandoned when it burned to the ground. One of the last ‘upgrades’ was still in progress – the installation of a hypocaust heating system:

Roman-style central heating, unfinished

I was more interested in the gardens, so it was a little disappointing to have to see them in the drizzle. The gardens at Fishbourne were immense – around half have since been covered by modern housing, but you can still get an idea of the scale. The formal gardens were… extremely dull. A large expanse of lawn surrounded by box hedging. The original kitchen garden is no longer present, but there an area has been designed to showcase some of the plants that would have been grown in Roman gardens. There’s even a gardener, in his potting shed:

Roman gardener
A Roman gardener, in his potting shed

I wouldn’t recommend listening to him for too long, though. He’s a bit of a whinge bag!

Far better to step outside and have a look at the Triclinium:

The Roman concept of outdoor furniture – for lounging and dining

In terms of plants, there was (of course) a big fig:

Big Fig
Lots of leaves, but no figs, at this time of year

and an arbor covered in grape vines:

Autumn grapes
Grape vines showing their autumn colours

An old bay tree had been pruned, was was sprouting new leaves from its sizeable trunk:

Big bay
When bay becomes a real tree

Branched asphodel

According to the label, the bulbs of Asphodelus ramosus were roasted and eaten, but as yet I haven’t found any modern references to the plant being edible, so do your homework before you tuck in!

It’s a lovely place to have a wander, and I’m looking forward to going back earlier in the growing season (hopefully on a more pleasant day!). There’s a good gift shop to peruse before you leave, which (pleasingly) is stocked more with things adults might like than plastic tat aimed at children (although they have not been forgotten). Ryan bought himself a leather pouch, which he is using to protect one of his camera lenses. As I already have a copy of the book ‘Roman Gardens and their Plants’ by Claire Riley, I bought myself a little kit to try making lip balm and a clean t-shirt (over-stressed brain having forgotten to bring any!). If you’re a long way from Sussex then you can order a copy of the book from Seeds of Italy; mine is in a box waiting to be unpacked once we’ve moved.

If you’re intrigued by Roman gardens, here are some more blog posts you will enjoy:

Have you been to Fishbourne, or another Roman garden?

Posted in Blog on Oct 12, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Simple Suppers: Dairy-free creamy pasta

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I don’t have photos of these recipes because… well, they were tasty and we ate them. So feast your eyes on my new route to work instead :)

One of the great challenges, during our summer of waiting to move, has been feeding ourselves. We packed away a lot of the ‘unnecessary’ cooking equipment for a few weeks, only to find it was out of action for a few months. With numerous false starts, I kept running down the cupboards and the freezer, in anticipation of a move date that never came. Stress levels rose, cooking mojo vanished and we ate far more oven chips than you can imagine.

So I am looking forward to settling in to my new kitchen, having everything to hand, and beginning my culinary explorations once more.

One of the things that I struggle with is Italian food, due to its fondness for dairy products, and the fact that I don’t love tomato-based sauces. But I had half a carton of Oatly oat cream to use up, so last week I invented a dairy-free spaghetti recipe that turned out nicely – it’s a good, quick, store cupboard meal:

Ingredients (to serve 2)
1 onion, chopped (roughly or finely, it’s your choice!)
2 large cloves of onion garlic, crushed and sliced
1 packet (about 2 handfuls) of chopped, smoked cooking bacon
1/2 carton Oatly* oat cream
2 servings of pasta (we only had spaghetti….)
1 large sweet pepper, or a handful of smaller peppers, chopped
A little oil for frying


  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

  2. Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic together over a low heat, until they start to turn translucent. (I like my onions soft, not crunchy.)

  3. Turn up to a medium heat and add the peppers and cook for a couple of minutes.

  4. Add the chopped bacon, and stir for a couple of minutes, until the bacon is cooked through.

  5. Drain the cooked pasta, combine with the bacon and onion mixture and stir in the Oatly cream. Gently heat through; your supper is ready to serve when it’s hot enough for your tastes! There’s no need for the sauce to boil….

*You could use soy cream if you like it (I think it tastes like cardboard), or regular cream if you don’t have issues with dairy.

Yesterday was a cold day in the office, and when I got home I had a hankering for something involving hot, bubbling cheese. And so the final carton of Oatly cream in the cupboard came out for another pasta extravaganza – this time a pasta bake.

Pasta bake is an awesome way of turning leftover pasta into a new meal – simply pop it into a suitably-sized casserole dish, sprinkle with grated cheese and pop into a medium oven for about half an hour, until the cheese is golden and starting to bubble. The trick is not to overdo the cheese – it seems like more would be better, but when you cross the line you get a gooey, greasy mess…. A generous sprinkling, but not a complete layer, is what you’re aiming for. This one isn’t dairy-free, unless you forgo the cheese :(

Anyway, digging through the last remnants in the freezer, it was the chicken breast’s turn to take a bow. With its more subtle flavour, it was going to need a bit more attention to seasoning….

Ingredients (to serve 2)
1 onion, chopped (roughly or finely, it’s your choice!)
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed and sliced
1-2 chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1 carton Oatly oat cream
2 carrots, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 handfuls of sweetcorn kernels
2 servings of pasta
Small chunk of hard cheese, grated (mine was goat)
A little oil for frying
Teaspoon of dried mixed herbs


  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, and preheat the oven on a medium setting.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic together over a low heat, with a sprinkling of mixed herbs, until they start to turn translucent.

  3. Turn up to a medium heat and add the carrot chunks and the chicken, frying for several minutes until it is browned on all sides and well on the way to being cooked.

  4. Chuck the sweetcorn in with the pasta for a couple of minutes to defrost (if frozen) or cook a little bit (if fresh), and then drain when the pasta is cooked.

  5. Combine the pasta with the chicken mixture, add the carton of Oatly and mix well. Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

  6. Bake in the middle of a medium oven for about half an hour, until everything is hot and bubbling and the cheese is melted to your liking.

The dried mixed herbs added a lovely note of sage to the proceedings, so you could use fresh sage leaves instead if you have some handy.

You’ll notice that in neither recipe have I mentioned seasoning – in the first the smoked bacon took care of any salt requirements, and I didn’t feel pepper would add anything. In the second recipe I mostly forgot, but in actual fact it didn’t taste as though anything was missing – the cheese adds a salty note. You should, of course, feel free to season to taste :)

So… not gourmet standard, perhaps, but tasty and filling and a nice change from heating up some form of convenience food, and created from what we had on hand.

How do you like to dress up your pasta?

Posted in Blog on Oct 7, 2014 ·

Last modified on Oct 8, 2014

Tag: food

Moving forward

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Ryan and I have been away for the weekend, a last minute break booked on Thursday evening when it looked – again – like the purchase of our new house* was going to fall through. We have been to Hayling Island, and seen the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, Fishbourne Roman Palace and Gardens, and West Dean Gardens. More on those last two later in the week.

It was gone 5pm on Friday when we finally heard that the contracts had all been exchanged, and that we will be moving in the next couple of weeks! Very exciting news, or it would be if we weren’t more than two months behind schedule. I had envisaged having summer in the garden; instead we’ll be settling in as winter approaches. But that doesn’t matter, as we will be free to move forward with our plans once more.

So… it’s time to unveil a few more details of the new garden :)

This is the front of the house, showing the strip of front garden:

There’s a clause in the deeds that says trees can’t be planted in the front garden, but that’s not something I would wish to do anyway. The house looks out onto trees and a tall hedge, and there’s a gate into the ‘back’ garden (which is actually off the side of the house) where the fence begins. From memory, that’s a west aspect for the front of the house. I am pondering putting some herb planters in the front garden.

From the kitchen window, you would get this view of the back garden:

According to the estate agent’s details, this is 11.2 metres by 7.3 metres (36’8 × 23’11), but we haven’t had a chance to check the measurements. The wall facing the house is the end of the garages; it looks like a lovely surface to cover with a climbing plant, but as the garages are a communal space, we won’t be able to fix anything to that wall – we are pondering alternatives.

And there’s a third stretch of garden, for which I don’t yet have a photograph. To the left of the garage block, along the road at the front of the house, there’s another strip of garden that (I think) is of a similar size to the front garden. It cannot be entirely fenced off, because it contains a utility box to which access it needed. But it is mine to plant…. Currently it has low-maintenance plants and weed fabric. It’s tidy, but (as with the rest of the garden) neither inspiring nor remotely edible. So I’m thinking of the whole thing as a blank canvas. There are no definite plans until we’ve moved in and can measure properly and ponder.

I have been driving around with large planters in the back of my car, collected from my parent’s garden a couple of weeks ago. Once I move in I can get my hands dirty and plant up some winter veggies. There are also plants to rescue from the allotment. So that’s the immediate plans for the garden… the rest will have to be unveiled as we move forward :)

What do you think?

*We have been trying to sell Ryan’s flat and buy our new house since the end of May. It was a complicated and seemingly unending process, and it was the flat and not the house that made the last couple of weeks so nail-bitingly tense.

The house images were taken by Thomas Merrifield, Didcot.

Posted in Blog on Oct 5, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Glutbusters: October 2014

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Homegrown Garlic, Rosemary & Lemon Thyme
Homegrown Garlic, Rosemary & Lemon Thyme by Susy Morris

Well, that was the driest September since records began, and one of the warmest this century! Good news for the last of the summer crops; bad news for the gardener toting the watering can…. The warm weather means there’s still time to plant overwintering onions, so have a look at September’s advice on that topic. A true GlutBusters tip arrived in my inbox from Suttons this week, who recommend planting your onions closely, then harvesting every other plant as a ‘green bunching onion’ in March and April, leaving the others to bulb up nicely for a later harvest. Sounds good to me!

It may be hard to grow a year’s supply of onions in a small garden, but it’s easier to come close to self-sufficiency in garlic. Depending on which variety you choose, garlic can be planted from October right through until February – it needs a period of winter cold before it really gets going. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see no signs of life from your garlic until February, but rest assured it’s still there under the soil.

Seed garlic is sold as bulbs, and it’s relatively easy to find a supplier that will allow you to mix-and-match if you want more than one variety. Keep the bulbs intact until you’re ready to plant, and then simply break them apart and push the individual cloves down into holes made with a dibber, about 7 cm (3 inches) deep. The standard spacing is 15 cm apart. Keep your garlic patch weed-free, and don’t water it unless there’s a period of very dry weather, as garlic bulbs can rot if they are too damp. Your harvest is ready when the leaves turn brown and flop down of their own accord, usually in August.

It is possible to plant garlic that you buy in the supermarket, but it’s not recommended. For one thing, it may have been treated to stop it sprouting. For another, it has probably come from a climate very different from your own. Invest in seed garlic suitable for your garden in the first year, and you can save your own seed in subsequent years (if you want to), and your variety will adapt itself to your local microclimate!

So far, so traditional. How can the GlutBusters get more garlic bang for their garden buck?

Mix-and-match shopping for GlutBuster garlic

GlutBusters garlic advice

  • If you have the space, choosing more than one variety can extend your harvest period – look for one with ‘early’ in the name. ‘Early Purple Wight’, for example, could be ready as early as May.

  • Garlic is happy in pots, although the bulbs are likely to be smaller, so you can find space for a few extra cloves on the patio.

  • As for onions, a more generous spacing will give you larger bulbs with larger cloves, but putting plants closer together may give you a larger harvest overall – decide which strategy works best for you.

  • It’s hard to grow enough garlic to constitute a glut, but easy to store one. You can try your hand at a traditional garlic plait, or simply store whole bulbs in the cupboard once the skins have dried out to a papery feel.

  • There are two main types of garlic. Soft-necked varieties are more common in Europe, and are very good for storing. Hard-necked varieties are said to have the edge for flavour, and are standard in the US.

  • Hard-necked garlic produces sinuous flower stems called scapes in early summer. These are removed to improve the bulb harvest, but form an extra crop in their own right. Recipes abound for garlic scape pesto; they’re also good in stir-fries. Although they’re very attractive, don’t let them get too big before you harvest them, as they get tougher.

  • Soft-necked garlic produces tiny bulbs called bulbilsinstead. You can eat these, or plant them. Each one will grow into a small, undivided bulb in the first year, and a proper divided bulb in the second.

  • You can harvest some of your bulbs early, as green garlic (or wet garlic) in June.

  • You could also harvest some of your garlic’s leaves as garlicky giant chives. In fact, Rhizowen suggests blanching a patch of garlic (excluding light, a little bit like forcing rhubarb) for tender leaves. The Chinese treat garlic chives that way.

  • When you harvest your garlic main crop, hold back the best bulbs for planting if you want to save you own seed. Keep the bulbs intact, and plant only the largest cloves. You can eat the rest ;)

GlutBuster alternatives

Other alliums are an obvious choice, and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) give you an almost year-round patch of garlicky leaves, in a perennial plant. They have lovely, white star-shaped flowers, too, held in familiar allium clusters.

Elephant garlic is impressive, with its enormous cloves, and is grown in the same way as regular garlic (but often from a spring planting). It’s more closely related to leeks, though, so it has a less pungent flavour.

Foodies with a shady, damp spot in the garden might like to consider wild garlic (Allium ursinum). You can order bulbs from the Organic Gardening Catalogue at this time of year. Bear in mind that, in the right conditions, wild garlic can be quite prolific and it is (of course) rather pungent…. Leaves, flowers and bulbs are all edible, with the main harvest period in spring.

Another wild plant that could find a home in your garden is garlic mustard, for garlicky leaves. This one is grown from seed.

GlutBuster buys

Society Garlic
Society Garlic by Louisa Billeter

(Here be affiliate links…, but seriously they’re not hazardous to your health. Clicking on them costs you nothing, and I only recommend things I like the look of myself. Should you choose to click through and make a purchase, you can feel the warm glow of altruism, as you’re helping to pay for the upkeep of my lovely website :)

For a garlic flavour without the bad breath, you could try Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea. These pretty, perennial plants are available now from Suttons, and have stems and flower buds with a sweet, roasted garlic flavour. Harvest all summer long and use fresh, or cooked.

And if you fancy a pretty little plant that offers intriguing fruit around midsummer (and would make a nice, small hedge…) then have a look at Suttons’ Chilean Guava offer. At the moment you can buy three Chilean Guava ‘Ka-Pow’ plants for £12.99 (a single plant costs £7.99). They got the royal seal of approval from Queen Victoria – they were one of her favourite fruits!

GlutBuster Star

Rosemary Flowers
Rosemary Flowers by tdlucas5000

Rosemary is a perfect plant for a GlutBuster’s garden. Perennial and evergreen, it boasts a wide range of uses. Its leaves are easily dried and stored (but available fresh all year!), and good for making roast lamb, soups or stews or baked goods. I love rosemary scattered on garlic bread, and you can throw whole stems on to the barbecue to infuse your lunch, or even use the stems as kebab skewers. Jekka McVicar recommends rosemary tea, made from a 3 cm sprig, for its memory-boosting properties. It even now features as a cocktail ingredient, usually by using it to infuse a simple syrup.

Happy in a pot, and to be kept well-pruned to fit in a small space, rosemary flowers are a magnet for beneficial wildlife. And if you want to make something a little bit special for the store cupboard, try rosemary in Nigel Slater’s herb salt recipe.

GlutBuster top tip for October

Throughout the UK we can expect the first frosts this month – they come earlier the further north you go. Plan ahead and bring inside the herbs you want to overwinter on the kitchen windowsill. Chives, basil and parsley are all good choices to keep on hand, but pot up whatever you use the most and bring it inside out of the winter weather.

That’s it from me this month, but what are you favourite things to do in the garden in October? And what’s your top tip for keeping the kitchen well-stocked from a small garden? Leave me a comment, or share your thoughts with us on Twitter and in the Facebook group.

Posted in Blog on Oct 1, 2014 ·

Tag: GlutBusters

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