Sunday, 3 May 2009

Sunday afternoon at the craft shop

Yes,  I have spent the day at the craft shop, being the first Sunday of the month.  I am able to use the library wireless network while I am here, so early this morning I went out to take a couple of photos of the garden for an update.  It's difficult in the early morning because of the peculiar shadows and consequent dark patches in the garden, but it will do for today.

The first one shows the brassicas that are coming along well.  These are mostly cauliflower and cabbages,  though the front ones are kai lan (chinese broccoli or chinese kale.)  I have grown some other chinese green vegetables but these seem to be the healthiest and less likely to be attacked by insects here.  It will be a few weeks until we get much broccoli or any cabbages or cauliflower,  but I have been picking this kai lan for stir fying already.  Notice that the broad beans in the background are coming along also.  They won't produce beans for quite a while yet, but the young tips of these are good in stirfried mixures also.  There is plenty to eat here already.

Back to my four rows of seeds (below) again...   the kale has slowed down, despite the dose of seasol that it had a couple of days ago.  The peas are growing ok though there are a few leaves missing...  birds get them.   I planted the fennel seeds carefully so that I wouldn't have to thin them very much and those are looking pretty good...  all about the right distance apart!  The onions and the carrots are slow,  but that's normal.  Onions seem to need time to get their act together and certainly can't compete with weeds,  and carrot seeds are so small that you can't expect much until they get enough feathery leaves to capture the solar energy with their chlorophyll.  You can't get something for nothing.

And to the asparagus and artichoke patch...  much of it was still in the shade this morning,  but you can see the stakes that I put beside each of the artichoke plants.  That is so that I don't dig them up accidentally, though I did do that to a couple of them!  
There is a shallow trench running across the whole patch.  I have planted potatoes in there, and I filled the hole in with soil leaving a bit of a dip there.  If it rains,  the rain will run into the dip and soak in rather than running off, even if the top layer dries out and becomes water repellant. Once the potatoes come out of the soil,  I'll fill it  in some more and pile some straw onto them too in case of cold nights in the winter.  If a frost is predicted, I can also cover the whole lot with newspaper and a sheet.  These are my experimental pototoes.  
If you look carefully, you might be able to see the dog footprints all over this patch too!
The blue bucket still holds the baby fig tree that will be planted pretty soon.  I have begun to dig the hole, though it will be a mattock job from here on.  The clay is very dry and hard once you get down a few inches.  I'll soak it and put some gypsum in the hole, and before I plant the tree,  I'll dig some straw into the hard stuff.
I still have a bit of space in this garden and the soil is considerably better than it was three or four years ago.  I will plant some more onions (seeds that I collected here last year) and the rest of the broad beans.  You can't have too many of those.  We eat the tips of the plants in stirfries, the baby beans whole, then the bigger beans taken out of the pod like peas.  When they get even bigger,  I take the inner skin off too and they make beautiful green soup. Eventually, the pods dry out and I husk the dried beans that either go into soup in the winter or back into the garden for the next crop.   At the peak season,  when we are getting too many husked beans to eat, I preserve them.  I used to put them in jars and process them in the Fowler's Vacola water bath,  but this year I have a freezer for the first time.  I experimented with freezing them at the very end of last year.   The best way is to blanch them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, cool them and spread them on an oven tray in the freezer.  I put them into bags loosely later.  That way I can take out as many as I need later on.  
Broad beans are beautiful in risotto, though pale, so I usually add some darker coloured herbs when we have a broad bean risotto.   On occasion I have also deliberately tried to match all of the colours and used pale green leeks instead of onions, and brown rice instead of white... the whole effect is quite different, but good.
Broad beans also come at the same time as artichokes.  Interestingly, when looking for recipes for broad beans I found several "broad bean and artichoke" combinations in Italian references, even an interesting broad bean and artichoke omelette.  It made me think that, as I sometimes do,  some ladies in Italy many years ago must have wracked their brains for ways to use what had been gathered on a particular day.  I wonder whether they could have guessed that the combination would be recorded for posterity...  as a  "classic combination."

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