Lost Gardens of Heligan II

_1080673So what would the “take home” message from Heligan be. I’m not sure that I care for the impression the expression gives – as if all the love and care and experience we encountered in our five days there could be pre-digested and regurgitated into a sentence like philosophical bird vomit.  But we definitely found things we wanted to remember and try for ourselves when we got back to the allotments, and here are some of them: Continue reading “Lost Gardens of Heligan II”

Harvesting the Borlotti beans

_1080629I thought about replacing this photo with one that was correctly exposed, but then I thought it had a rather Winslow Homer look about it that suited the topic quite well. I especially liked the newspaper background – I mean – just how wholesome can you get in a small first floor flat in the center of a city? But don’t worry I’m pretty normal most of the time!

The thing I wanted to write about is the flexibility of the borlotti bean.   Continue reading “Harvesting the Borlotti beans”

The Allotment

IMG_3156We’re soon reaching the first birthday of the day we took on the other half of the allotment.    We’d been waiting for it for over a year during which it fell into ever greater disrepair, and broadcasting its weed seeds over the entire area. The previous tenant, although he’d completely lost control of it was strangely unwilling to let it go and so we had a number of ‘Uncle Jim’ moments with him including a couple of larcenous visits before he finally disappeared.   Continue reading “The Allotment”

Autumn jobs on the allotment

Even as I write this there’s a bit of an inward groan – it’s so, well …. everyday. There’s very little breathless excitement about allotmenteering, after all a potato is just a potato and you’d need to be a bit of a propeller head to get excited about the minutiae of varieties.  But that’s just the way it is – you need to keep on keeping on. Continue reading “Autumn jobs on the allotment”

Chateau Victoria (Park) update

2018-09-27 11.40.47I confess I was a bit disappointed when it came to straining the grape skins out of the must. There, down in the garage was our lovely new press, courtesy of Nick and Kate who now own a gigantic hydraulic number, and there was me in the kitchen making the most desperate mess and squirting wine and grape skins all over the place, trying to extract the fermenting must a ladleful at a time through an old bag left over from my beer making days.  It didn’t take long to work out that without using the press we’d waste most of the fruits of our labours, however Madame had been implacably opposed to using the press in our flat for fear of wine running across the floor and dripping out of our downstairs neighbour’s light fittings.   Continue reading “Chateau Victoria (Park) update”

Bit of a breakthrough on the sourdough. Can it really be time to reset the propagator?

ba6c1953a58db1c50e1c3624a85f79c5

I gave the bread 8 hours to mature before I cut it this morning. I was looking for a better structure and a thinner crust and I think I achieved the first aim and I’m on my way to achieving the second, so I thought I’d better make a note of what I did because I’m bound to forget. There are two principal changes. Firstly I diluted the strong flour by substituting 25% organic white soft flour. This was an idea that came from the Shipton Mill website which says that (home) bakers struggle to achieve a good result with because apparently most strong bread flours are all a bit too strong, which seems to suit industrial bakeries but makes such a strong dough that it can’t really expand into the big open textures we all like. The 25% figure was a pure guess and it would be worth experimenting around that percentage and maybe also trying different flours. I addressed the issue of tough crust by giving the loaf a 15 min blast at 220C with maximum steam and then turning it down to 180C (opening the door for a moment to let some of the heat out), for a further 15 minutes and then finishing with five minutes with the oven turned off and the door ajar by a couple of inches. The crust is definitely thinner – still crisp, but not tooth-breaking hard. I think I must have been cooking the loaves too hot. On occasions with wholemeal loaves I’ve had brick hard crust but undercooked crumb at the centre.

65634f2e9f7941a24b0c586094e9f77aMeanwhile the propagator has been brought back into the kitchen and filled with coir pellets sown with winter lettuce, chard and spinach. The coir pellets have been a great success and have enabled us to avoid peat based sowing composts. They’re less messy and even beetroot seems to develop naturally from them. My only misgiving is the material used for the fine netting that surrounds them – is it biodegradable or are we in danger of loading yet more plastic into the earth. A bit of research on the internet suggests that the peat industry is sponsoring a fightback through so-called independent websites, suggesting that the netting surrounding Jiffy 7 pellets doesn’t degrade. There’s a lot of confusion about degradability in any case. The ‘degradable’ bin liners we all use don’t degrade in normal domestic compost heaps but only in commercial high temperature industrial composters and so the many that I’ve used in our heap seem undiminished even when the heap reaches 40C. It’s a fraud on the gullible who hope to save the world by buying something different and the manufacturers are getting away with it. Then there’s a distinction between biodegradable and photo degradable plastics. If the Jiffy 7 netting is only photodegradable it’s never going to decompose while it’s under the soil surface. Coir pellets only need to to be contained until the seedlings are planted out – so maybe five or six weeks maximum – and then they can biodegrade as quickly as possible. Don’t we have any suitable materials to to this? and could we not use a form of woven cotton to achieve the end we all want. The problem I suspect is that the highly compressed pellet (light, robust and cheap to transport} doubles or trebles in size when it’s soaked prior to sowing and so the coating fabric needs to be able to expand accordingly. Some form of extra fine cotton crepe or sheeps’ wool might do it but would probably need developing. As ever it’s cheaper to use weasel words on the packet than to do the research and development. I think this is calling for an experiment. It would cost more than a penny to bury a few pellets and to expose some more to sunlight and weather, and I could find out for myself.

Later we decided not to go to the allotment but to go for a walk along the canal. It was a great decision and we both enjoyed it enormously, especially when the skies cleared a bit and the sun came out just as we came to the refreshment hut above Bath Deep Lock. So we walked up to Sidney Gardens and back along Great Pulteney Steet.

Then home and I made a salad of mango, smoked chicken and a thai style dressing on our own salad leaves. I chucked a few cooked salad potatoes in underneath for a bit of padding but there was ample for both of us. I even managed to use one of the Apache chillies without making th whole thing too fiery.

 

How hard can it be to make dill pickles?

2018-07-02 20.28.42The cucumbers did amazingly well this year. Last year we planted them amongst the tomatoes and they got swamped.  I think we had a very few and so the question of preserving them never came up.  But this year we ran the propagator and grew nearly everything from seed, under lights in the kitchen. For several months the whole flat looked like an overfurnished greenhouse but it resulted in many more young plants than we’ve ever grown before. In the end we gave many of them away but we still planted out half a dozen plants and they generated a surplus that just cried out to be preserved in some way. Continue reading “How hard can it be to make dill pickles?”