13 Sept 2013

Broad Beans - Top of the Pods

Picked beans

The weekend before last, during a big garden tidy up, the last of the dried broad bean pods were cut for seed and the plants dug up and added to the compost. It's been a strange year for broad beans as they're usually cleared well before now but I was harvesting beans until end of July (maybe I sowed later) and there's even a couple of plants that are resprouting having been earlier hacked in half by kids playing sword-fighting with my canes. (Grrr.) This year I grew two varieties of broad bean; the Karmazyn beans from last year and a crimson flowered heritage bean for colour.

Shelled beans

cooked and peeled
Heritage beans on left, Karmazyn on the right. 

Karmazyn is a variety with white flowers, green pods and pink beans. The beans are rounded, heart shaped and sit apart in the pod so there's usually no more than 4 or 5 to a pod. (The heritage pods are firmer and smaller.)  Once shelled and deskinned, the young Karmazyn beans are the most beautiful bright green. Last year's end of season pods contained inedible but useful beans that were dried and saved as seeds for this year and all germinated from an early March sowing.

I sow my broad beans in spring (rather than autumn) so when I bought some Heritage red flowering bean seeds earlier this year, I was still in time to sow those as well. I wanted to grow them alongside the Karmazyn to see if there's a difference, other than flower colour. There were subtle differences,  mainly in the taste, with the Karmazyn beans being sweeter and nuttier. (Some of my seeds were given to a friend working at the local City Farm and he agreed about the taste, finding it very pleasant.) The heritage crimson beans had a more pronounced bean flavour and were slightly harder and more floury in texture after cooking. As a recent convert to liking broad beans, I prefer the Karmazyn beans.

The plants all grew vigorously to the same height.  Karmazyn were slightly quicker off the mark but perhaps they'd adapted to my growing conditions as they were grown from saved seed.  A few of the crimson flowered beans didn't germinate whereas, like last year, the Karmazyn beans all grew. The flowers have been so beautiful:

White flowers for pink beans

Crimson heritage bean flowers

and, strangely, also from the crimson heritage beans, striped pink flowers ... lovely!

Pink striped bean flower

In 2012 the beans weren't troubled at all by black aphids; I put this down to the nasturtiums that I grew around the edge of the bed. This year, one or two plants were heavily invaded (temporarily, as I was on squish alert) despite some lovely Milkmaid nasturtiums appearing by their sides.


As the pods started to plump up, I pinched off all the tops so that the plants put their energy into the pods.  I steamed the tops with a few of the de-podded beans for supper -  they were delicious with just a trickle of butter and grinding of salt and pepper.  Well worth remembering for next time as I've composted the tops in the past.

I've managed to save a couple of large bags of parboiled beans for the freezer but I'm already looking forward to  next year's crop.  My Veg Planner advises that broad beans can be sown in October and November and then again in January.  I usually sow in early spring, i.e. late Feb/early March, but this year, I'll give an autumn sowing a go, protect the seedlings over winter with cloche protection, and see if that makes for an early harvest next year.

Broad beans 25th June
My little patch of broad beans in June this year.

11 Sept 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

My flowering veg patch

This was my veg patch a couple of weeks ago at the end of August.  Sun shining, bees buzzing ... it felt like the best of summer as I walked around picking fresh raspberries and tomatoes.  Crouching by the low wall around the central veg patch bed, this view looks more like a cottage garden - you'd never suspect that I was standing in a sea of concrete paving slabs and overlooked by about 50 flats, would you?

With the weather having become suddenly autumnal over the last few days, I wanted to post this photo as a reminder of one of summer's peaceful golden moments.  It will also remind me that, in spite of feeling that I hadn't achieved much this year, this part of the garden flourished with herbs, rhubarb, raspberries, sweet corn, mountain spinach (orach), beans, nasturtiums (red, white, orange), phlox and echinacea. There's also five varieties of tomato, a forest of sunflowers and a cabbage growing to the right in there.

I think the weather is set to stay gloomy for a while but I'm hoping that we're due a little more summer after the long wait for spring to arrive earlier this year .

7 Sept 2013

The eyes have it

Harvest crop

Earlier this year I wrote about my day out at the Garden Museum's Potato Day and which spuds I'd chosen to grow. (Arran Victory, Foremost, Vitelotte, Linzer Delikatess and Cherie.) This year I decided to grow my tubers in potato sacks as I'd tired of finding moochers (tubers left in the soil) popping up all over the place. (There's always one or two tiny potatoes that get left behind!)

Last week, I emptied all of my potato bags after a summer without sufficient water, either from rain or tap. A few of them hadn't even had sufficient depth as I didn't get round to earthing them all up in time.  (Shocking.) Even with my optimistic tendencies, I wasn't hopeful of finding anything usefully edible.

But what joy! Lots and lots of small to medium sized potatoes! Emptying potato sacks (or digging up potatoes) is a job I really delight in - it's a magical moment to find dozens of (hopefully) perfect potatoes where only one went in months before. I was watched by a two year old and, frankly, I couldn't have done better if I'd been Harry Potter himself. She stood transfixed and wide-eyed as I pulled one purple potato after another from the sack, only moving to gasp in amazement or silently mouth "Wow"! Love it!

One of the downsides to gardening in a community space is that the garden is at the mercy of whoever wanders by. I quickly realised that some mischievous tike had swopped all the potato labels over but I was able to identify them by referring back to my original post. The Arran Victory spuds were the easiest to spot being purple, with the Vitelotte potatoes a close second being almost black skinned with purple flesh.

To cook these little spuds, I simply boiled a selection of each one, throwing a knob of butter and sprinkling of salt over when drained. So, which potato won the taste test?  Arran Victory - the "rare blue-skinned, white-fleshed tuber of superb flavour". Never a truer word was said.

All of Pennard's descriptions were accurate and, undoubtedly, my little taste trial would have had truer results from well-watered plants but I found that the other varieties were nice but not outstanding. The Arran Victory had a flavour and creaminess that I haven't found in any shop bought varieties - and that's the qualifier that means I'll be looking out for these to grow exclusively next year. I don't have enough to know how well they'll store (as in, they'll all be eaten before the end of the week!! So delicious!) but next year I'll grow enough to last a good while longer.

Harvest trugHere's the fuller harvest picture, a sun-warmed tomato, a few physalis (tart but delicious) and a Braeburn apple.  The trees are loaded with fruit this year but I've noticed that people are picking the fruit already because they look so nice.  Surely they should still be on the tart side for a few more weeks? The two year old happily munched her way through two apples, declaring them to be yummy! I thought I'd better try one and ... hmm, and she's right! Apple pie ahoy!

31 Aug 2013

The flashing question mark of doom

© E H Shepard.
"It's snowing ... and freezing," said Eeyore.  "However, we haven't had an earthquake lately."

No, it's not snowing here in London but I'm more than a little behind with my posts. As is the way of the world, when things go wrong they go wrong all at once. I had just got back from a fairly harrowing trip to stay with elderly and ailing parents when the laptop suddenly stopped working. One minute, absolutely fine, the next, grey screen with a flashing question mark. After a lengthy wait for a repair appointment at the Apple Store, a new hard drive is needed. Apparently Macbooks are not as transportable as I was led to believe; the hard drive suffers if moved when working. (Must tell that to teenage son!)

In the meantime, I've bought a flatscreen but that's brought another bout of frustration as I have to upgrade all my software, even though my laptop was only just two years old! I'm still debating the way forward with my photo software; I really need to replace my old Adobe Creative Suite with a newer version but it's so expensive so I'm trying to find some good photo resizing software to tide me over until I'm ready to spend again! (All suggestions gratefully received, I'm not getting on well with iPhoto - it's a bit of a comedown after Photoshop!)

Elsewhere, the much needed rain of last weekend has flattened a lot of the tall plants in the veg patch (orach and sunflowers, but the fennel is still standing) so, after a weekend of careful tidying and pruning, it all has to be done again. My source of watering has dried up as my friend has new taps in her bathroom which the hosepipe won't fit on to so plants are being lost in the hot dry summer; I'm particularly concerned for my Chilean Guava which is looking a bit dessicated! It's in a large pot and hand watered when I can but I think the damage may already have been done. And as for the salad crops, a sorry sight between bolted and wilted.

And then, last night, my phone stopped charging. This is rather unfortunate timing as my son is abroad at a music festival with friends - not the best time for my mobile phone to become problematic! So, instead of gardening today, I'll be phone fixing.

But it's not all gloomy, I've been eating tons of fresh raspberries and one or two warm tomatoes from the garden, the bees are buzzing round, my asparagus has survived (ready for next year - yum!) and a neighbour has recently asked to get involved with the garden.  She especially loves weeding :)

I'm going to assume that this little cloud of bad luck will move on and normal service will resume shortly!  I hope to post later with proper veg patch news - and in the meantime, there's always Nigel Slater's Beetroot Chocolate Cake (which I will be making later on today).

Next day update:   A big thank you to the lovely 'Genius' at the Apple Store yesterday who quickly decided to replace my phone with a new one and spent the rest of the appointment (and a fair part of everyone else's allotted time) restoring my contacts, etc, and explaining a lot of techie stuff to me.  I managed to squeeze into a cancelled slot so, all in all, a much better day! Plus I had a good excuse to treat myself to lunch out :)

7 Aug 2013

What's killing our bees?


Bees, it seems, are enjoying the city life. The environment suits bees rather well and recent projects to encourage and train more urban bee keepers was absolutely the right thing.

Leaving the telly on last week after Gardener's World, I serendipitously caught Horizon's report on BBC2 into the research that's been going on over the past decade as to the health and welfare of our bees and what's causing the recent decline in bee numbers in this country. Neonicotinoids were discussed at length - arguments for (scientific) and against (environmental ) were presented.  The way these pesticides interfered with the bees navigation systems made compelling viewing. Amazingly, it appears that the British government would still like to support the use of these chemicals, judging the research to be inconclusive! Un-bee-lievable!  The programme was fascinating, informative and well worth making the time to view on iplayer (link below), if you haven't already seen it.

Flower bee

My little veg patch here fairly well buzzes throughout the summer months as various flowers on the veg, fruit, herbs, shrubs and annuals come and go over the weeks. It may look like a jungle with orach, fennel and sunflowers towering above all else but the bees are happy! At the moment it's the sunflowers, raspberries, lavender, eryngiums and herb flowers that are drawing them in and it would be all too easy to believe, on numbers, that things were pretty hunky dory for our bee friends. Unfortunately not so for the countryside bees, as Horizon's documentary clearly demonstrated, but urban bees are actually doing quite well, helped by the wide range of food available to them from parks, gardens and allotments.  We're obviously doing something right, here in the city.

The bees have plenty of choice in the summer but nectar rich winter plants are even more important and many gardens have plants that, quite by chance, provide a winter food source for bees: Hellebores, aconites, crab apples, Chaenomeles (flowering Quince), Mahonia and Sarcococca to name just a few.  Planting beautiful snowdrops that will help to feed bees in the cold winter months is a win:win situation, in my book.  The extra warmth generated by city buildings would also help and we can carry on doing our bit by providing the right environment in our gardens and reap the rewards of a healthy, bio-diverse plot!

Eryngium bee

Catch the documentary if you can; it's available until 2nd September on iplayer:  What's Killing our Bees?

The British Bee Keepers Association has an excellent list of what to plant to ensure a year round supply of nectar and pollen rich food for bees; it can be found at this link: Gardening for Bees.

Sunflower bee

23 Jul 2013

The beans, the cherries and the plague of ants

Beans and cherries

On Sunday evening I went to pick a few broad beans, as you do. 30 degrees of daily sunshine and enough water to stop the plants keeling over has given the beans a big boost and, in one week, they've gone from smallish pods to fat beans.  In short, they needed harvesting and I picked about 2 lbs (almost a kilo) of pods - more than I need so they'll be blanched and frozen. The plants are attracting a lot of blackfly now (despite being underplanted with nasturtiums) so I won't be sorry when the last few pods have ripened and I can clear the bed for winter veg.

Cherries ripe
Plenty left to ripen (or get eaten by birds) after I'd filled my basket.
It's the same story with the Morello cherries.  There are more cherries on the tree than in previous years. Yesterday evening I noticed that quite a lot were looking very tasty.  They had turned a lovely deep shade of lipstick red and I can't believe that the birds haven't stripped the trees already.  There's been a fair amount of maintenance work being done on the flats at the moment so perhaps the increase in busy-ness has kept them away.  Whatever the reason, I've seized the opportunity to start gathering the ripest ones and came away with 2.5 lbs of cherries yesterday.  I added these to the basket and left it on top of the border wall while I went back and forth with the watering can for an hour.

Basket of cherries

I thought that was it for the day, bar washing and bagging my haul but fate had one more trick in store for me.

Back indoors again, I put the basket down and noticed an ant creep out from underneath.  I squished it. Then another appeared ... then several. I lifted the basket - there was about 70 ants scuttling underneath!  I put the basket down and slapped at the ants with my hands, lifted it and slapped at the next plague of ants, and so on. A bit pointless to keep putting the basket down so finally my brain engaged and I put the basket in the sink and filled it with water.  As the ants struggled up to the top of the basket I was able to squish 'em.  So that whiled away the hour that I should have been podding my beans.  I can't bear ants indoors (or on me) so I had to give the kitchen (and basket) a good clean when I was sure I'd got them all; there must have been over 200 ants so I can only assume that I put the basket down near an ants' nest in the garden.  I've learned my lesson - gather the harvest and come straight home with it!!

Now I have to decide what to use my cherries for: a clafouti, jam or some cherry and almond muffins.  They're Morello cherries so quite sharp.  It'll probably be jam or compote, giving a taste of summer in the middle of winter and enough over to give a taste to neighbours.

12 Jul 2013

Clematis, Dark Eyes


Put the colours purple and green together and you have one of my favourite colour combinations.  Despite this area of the community garden being a 'Veg Patch/Orchard', I really wanted to get more flowers and colour into the scheme.  So earlier this year, I bought this Clematis with 2 others (another of my £2 supermarket 'twig' bargains), inspired by the idea of training climbers up into the fruit trees with this one chosen to clash with the orange day lilies just behind this cherry tree. The lilies are on the brink of flowering - it will either be a disaster or glorious when they do!

I've checked back to the photo on the packet - it somehow suggested larger blooms with purple centres.  As a novice to growing clematis, I wouldn't know one variation from another but I'm really pleased with these.  The flowers are about 2 inches across and, planted in May, it's already about 3 feet up into the tree. It's facing east so gets morning sunshine but not the full blast of midday sun we've recently experienced.  Clematis like their roots to be kept in moist soil so it was mulched on planting and I've been careful to keep it watered; it was also planted out with the protection of a plastic sleeve until it was established.

Another clematis planted into the shady border has not put on much growth - a classic example of right plant, right place (not!) as, although its supposed to enjoy the shade, the viburnum above it has cast it into deep shade.  Perhaps it will fare better once the viburnum leaves have dropped; if not, it will have to be relocated. Must check when will be best - any advice most welcome!

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