Sunday, 3 September 2017

June 2017 harvest summary

Garden harvest total 7.534kg

Garden harvest shop/market price £37.10


Garden crops

Weight g

Shop price

Swiss chard496£3.75
White currants280£3.00
Cabbage/brassica leaves124£1.20
Purple sprouting broccoli28£0.30

Herbs - estimate £4.00
Salad leaves /lettuces estimate £5.00
Garlic scapes ? - not exactly commonplace in the shops!

May 2017 in pictures

Really pleased to see that the pear blossom and fertilised flowers survived/missed the frosts. It looks as though we shall have at least a dozen pears this year, up from last year's single fruit that survived.

A typical Sunday Lunch for this time of the year. Starting at the top and working around the plate clockwise: steak and ale pie from Reading Farmers' Market; pea shoots (kitchen window sill); stuffed purple sprouting broccoli leaf (garden) stuffed with risotto; purple sprouting broccoli (garden); carrots (Reading Farmers' Market); potatoes (supermarket); various brassica leaves (garden).

Typical daily veg collection for May and on this occasion the veg was for a shared meal at a meeting and AGM of Transition Town Reading (TTR). Includes swiss chard, purple sprouting broccoli, onions, cavolo nero, various kales and oregano.

And this is what I made for the TTR AGM: winter/spring vegetable quiche, spicy vegetable and chickpea flour muffins, and sprouting broccoli leaves stuffed with vegetable risotto.

At the front of the house, the new(ish) rosemary bush is now well established and liking the hot dry environment. The surplus garlic cloves that I planted as an experiment are also doing well. 

Some of the runner bean seedlings that were started off under cover. Having been caught out with late frosts in previous years these will not be planted out until late May or the beginning of June.

I bought some interesting varieties of tomatoes and chillies from Homecrafts in Caversham, and was forced to use the bath as a "waiting room" for them a while. Tomatoes were Brandywine (pink beefsteak variety), Principe Borghese (red egg/plum shaped fruit)  and Costoluto Fiorentino (red beefsteak).

Although there is a lot just beginning to grow some of the crops are finishing. Last year's planting of swiss chard is now going to seed but there are still several meals worth left before they need to be pulled out. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

May 2017 Harvest Summary

Garden harvest total 2.448 kg

Garden harvest shop/market price £19.19


Garden crops

Weight g

Shop price

Cabbage/brassica leaves474£1.60
Swiss chard442£4.20
Babington's leeks318£1.92
Purple sprouting broccoli258£4.65
Cavolo nero144£1.20
Curly kale56£0.56
Pea shoots48£1.00
Spring onions38£2.00

Herbs - estimate £3
Salad leaves/lettuces estimate £5

Thursday, 31 August 2017

April 2017 in pictures

Viewed from east to west with the garden shed at the bottom. Looks very messy and scrappy but there is a lot going on. Fruit trees and bushes in blossom, brassicas flowering, swiss chard still growing, onions and garlic filling out, Babington's leeks ready for cutting, strawberries spreading, grape vine against the shed budding.....

Time to assess what we have in the preserves cupboard. Damson chutney in there from 2014!

Cowslips in the lawn.

Early morning - brassicas in flower. 

The early morning light really makes the yellow brassica flowers standout in the garden.

Ramsons doing well in the garden and spreading!

"Bright Lights" swiss chard cropping really well.

Garden veg for lunch: swiss chard, cavolo nero, spring onions, Babington's leeks, ramsons, lovage.....

And this was the result!

The main herb patch is doing well apart from the chives not re-appearing this year. The spanish bluebell has been there ever since we moved in over 30 years ago. I have tried to remove it on several occasions and plant it somewhere else but it keeps coming back. Ramsons are coming towards the end now and the flowers are going to seed. Oregano going bonkers as usual, as is the lemon balm. Mint, lovage, rosemary, sage and thyme in pots.

Looks as though we might have more than one pear this year (last year's harvest). The blossom escaped the frosts we had a few weeks ago.

Friday, 5 May 2017

April 2017 harvest summary

Garden harvest total 1.914 kg

Garden harvest shop/market price £14.50


Garden crops

Weight g

Shop price

Swiss chard
Purple sprouting broccoli342£3.42
Curly kale (red ursa)218£1.74
Cavolo nero166£1.12
Spring onions140£1.12
Babington's leeks120£0.96
Cabbage/brassica leaves38£0.15
Pea shoots22£0.17
Herbs - estimated £2
Nettles ?!

March 2017 - blossom time

March is blossom time for our cherry plum, damson and pear trees. Sharp overnight frosts are still common and we carefully monitor the weather forecasts for signs of overnight drops of temperature so that we can try and protect at least some of the blossom with horticultural fleece. The pear is easy enough to cover as it is on growing on dwarf root stock, but we can only protect some of the lower damson branches and the cherry plum has to look after itself. At the moment it looks as though all three have fruits that survived this first of the weather challenges.

At the front of the house the crocuses have finished flowering but the grape hyacinths have taken their place and the daffodils are now open.

The rosemary bush loves it in the full sun but could do with a bit of pruning. We have plenty of recipes that have rosemary as an ingredient and now is also a good time to take some heel cuttings for propagation.

In the main back garden we have plenty of winter and spring greens: swiss chard, cavolo nero, curly kale (mostly red ursa), leaves from cabbages and brussel sprouts, a few brassica florets, and the ramsons (wild garlic) are flourishing.
The nettle patch at the back of the garden next to the fence and compost heap is rampant, but rather than pull them up we shall be eating the tender, young leaves over the next few weeks. I'm thinking nettle tea, nettle and squash soup; nettle, ramson and Babington's leek risotto; nettle, ramson and cheese tarts.... mmmm.

Having made several bids for freedom through the bottom of its growing bag, which had been on ground next to the strawberry patch, the horseradish has now been banished to the concrete path. Ha Ha! Try and get out of that. Horseradish leaves are still popping up amongst the strawberries and I am regularly pulling out roots. These have been taken up by members of various local veg growing and allotment groups, although one person subsequently decided not to plant them after learning how invasive they can be.

And finally, the birds are now in full song and a true delight to have around the garden.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

March 2017 harvest summary

March is when the herbs start to grow so mint, ramsons, oregano, lemon balm are now being picked. I estimate how much I might have bought if I were not growing the herbs myself but, of course, some such as ramsons (or wild garlic) are not sold in the shops. Nettles are another "vegetable" that I gather from a corner in our garden but to which I cannot allocate a price. I was luckier with pea shoots as Waitrose sell them, although not in my local branch (

Garden harvest total 0.992 kg

Garden harvest shop/market price £5.10

Garden crops

Weight g

Shop price

Brussel sprouts
Swiss chard196£1.47
Cavolo nero 154£1.04
Cabbage/brassica leaves154£0.28
Curly kale (red ursa)114£0.91
Babington's leeks68£0.54
Pea shoots18£0.11
Herbs - estimated £2
Nettles ?!

February 2017 - garden ticking over

February is generally a quiet month in the garden with most things ticking over quite nicely on their own. Adding to and turning the compost heap is just about the only regular job at this time of year and we are usually joined by some of the birds hoping to get an easy meal from the disturbed pile. This cheeky little robin was one of several regular visitors.

The winter greens are still producing but some of the cavolo nero was starting to sprout. We picked some to steam along with the leaves but we generally leave a few to flower so that we can collect seed from them in later months. As we start most crops in seed trays indoors we don't need need to free up the ground straightaway for the new seasons plants.

Indoors, one of my tasks is to test the viability of the older pea seeds in the Reading Food Growing Network's seed swap boxes. Once they have germinated I plant them in seed pans and put them on the kitchen windowsill for pea shoots. I usually get about three cuts from them before the stems start to toughen up. By that stage, the weather is often about right for planting them out into the garden to grow as normal pea plants.

I went on a willow weaving workshop run by Five a Day Market Garden in Englefield. I attended a similar event last year. The willow wigwam I made last year has lost its colours (see the photo below on the left) but is still good for another year at least. I was more adventurous with the design for this year's effort (wigwam on the right). I'm still not sure where I am going to put it but I'll have to make my mind up soon so that I can plan the plantings around it.

And meanwhile, at the the front of the house, the daffodils are about to burst into life and the crocuses are adding a welcome bit of colour as well as providing food for the insects.

February 2017 harvest summary

Garden harvest total 1.042 kg

Garden harvest shop/market price £7.36

Garden crops

Weight g

Shop price

Cavolo nero
Brussel sprouts318£1.13
Curly kale106£0.85
Swiss chard88£0.70

Monday, 1 May 2017

Winter food

I'm finally catching up with postings, harvest summaries and photos from the last few months. Many of the photos I've posted on Flickr and Facebook but have not yet got around to uploading them here.

I love winter food and this meal is an example of how wonderful veg can be at this time of year: vegetarian haggis with veg from the garden and Reading Farmers' Market. Cavolo nero and mashed squash from the garden; red cabbage, potatoes, leeks and celeriac (mixed in with the squash) from the market.

At this point in the year we were down to our last three home grown squashes. I called them traffic light squashes because of the colours and I am always reluctant to cut into the last of our autumn harvest. Pretty though they are they are grown to be eaten so it was the orange one that went into the haggis meal.

January 2017 harvest summary

Garden harvest total 2.026 kg

Garden harvest shop/market price £8.42


Garden crops

Weight g

Shop price

Brussel sprouts
Cavolo nero322£1.95
Swiss chard318£2.35
Curly kale100£0.80

Summary of 2016 harvest

Total weight of harvest Jan - December 2016  73.627kg

Prices in shops of harvest June - December 2016 £332.08

Possible value of foraged food £168.98

Herbs - £37.50

Salads  £35.00

Total possible value of harvest June - December 2016 £573.56

Harvest sorted by weight

Weight (g)
Shop price
Tomatoes 13624 £105.31
Squash 8528 £16.91
Potatoes 5424 £10.84
Parsnips 5163 £2.55
Green courgette 4308 £20.89
Cabbage 4219 £7.68
Cucumber 4122 £22.00
Onions 4120 £3.20
Runner beans 3618 £21.62
Swiss chard 2685 £12.21
Yellow courgette 2210 £14.85
Beetroot 2000 £9.69
Peas 1924 £18.48
Carrots 1428 £5.00
Cavolo nero 1358 £6.20
Grapes 920 £4.65
Spring onions 806 £4.50
Cauliflower 710 £2.10
Brussel sprouts 654 £3.05
Lettuce 646 £5.00
Jerusalem artichokeskes 627 £0.95
Damsons 576 £2.80
Curly kale  550 £2.05
Horseradish 466 £1.90
Garlic 466 £12.35
French beans 400 £5.66
Pea shoots 294 £0.50
Raspberries 290 £3.62
Sweet bell peppersrs 280 £1.01
Shallots 202
Babbington's leeks 200
Sprouting broccoli 184
Strawberries 156 £1.50
Pear 130 £0.70
Gooseberries 92 £0.65
White currants 85 £0.50
Fig 84 £0.76
Aubergine 78 £0.50

Harvest sorted by possible value

Shop price Weight (g)
Tomatoes £105.31 13624
Cucumber £22.00 4122
Runner beans £21.62 3618
Green courgette £20.89 4308
Peas £18.48 1924
Squash £16.91 8528
Yellow courgette £14.85 2210
Garlic £12.35 466
Swiss chard £12.21 2685
Potatoes £10.84 5424
Beetroot £9.69 2000
Cabbage £7.68 4219
Cavolo nero £6.20 1358
French beans £5.66 400
Carrots £5.00 1428
Lettuce £5.00 646
Grapes £4.65 920
Spring onions £4.50 806
Raspberries £3.62 290
Onions £3.20 4120
Brussel sprouts £3.05 654
Damsons £2.80 576
Parsnips £2.55 5163
Cauliflower £2.10 710
Curly kale  £2.05 550
Horseradish £1.90 466
Strawberries £1.50 156
Sweet bell peppers £1.01 280
Jerusalem artichokes £0.95 627
Fig £0.76 84
Pear £0.70 130
Gooseberries £0.65 92
Pea shoots £0.50 294
White currants £0.50 85
Aubergine £0.50 78
Shallots 202
Babbington's leeks 200
Sprouting broccoli 184

Friday, 3 February 2017

Veg crisis looms in Caversham

[Please note: this is a joke, a parody of the ridiculous stories about lettuce and courgette rationing that are currently hitting the UK headlines]

A veg crisis is looming in Caversham.

"We’ve got chard, cavolo nero and curly kales coming out of our ears! Despite the heavy frosts and rain they just won’t stop growing. And now the sprouting broccoli have sprung into life” claims local gardener Karen Blakeman. 

But there are more problems on the horizon. “It’s the brussel sprouts" says Ms Blakeman. "We’ve been eating large sprouts and sprout tops for nearly two months. But now we have the smaller ones to finish off, blown sprouts have started erupting everywhere, and fresh leaves are sprouting from where we cut the tops. It’s never ending.” 

Ms Blakeman says they could be eating brassicas and winter leaves from the garden for at least another two months, and she is getting desperate.“I’m running out of ideas. I have only 135 gourmet recipes left to try out”

Veg crisis in the UK? Hardly...

Not content with lamenting the lack of courgettes on UK supermarket shelves the media are now reporting that the so-called veg crisis has worsened to include iceberg lettuces and broccoli. Even the BBC has joined in: Iceberg lettuces and broccoli rationed as vegetable crisis hits supermarkets. The shortage is down to the appalling weather in Spain and Italy, which is where the veg are usually grown at this time of year.

Locally grown veg from Reading
 Farmers' Market
Whilst it is a crisis for the growers concerned it is ridiculous to refer to it as such for UK consumers. It is winter, after all! Courgettes, lettuces and aubergines do not grow in the winter in the UK but plenty of other veg do. There is an abundance of tasty, seasonal and locally grown veg, and plenty of recipes on the internet if you don't know what to do with them or want to get creative.

Our garden is not big enough for us to be self sufficient in veg all the year round but at the moment we are enjoying a glut of brussel sprouts, cabbage greens, kale, sprouting broccoli and swiss chard. All keep going despite the heavy frosts and rain that we have recently had. The rest of our veg is bought from Pagets via the Reading Farmers' Market and Tolly's via the True Food Co-op.

To call the current situation a "crisis" is ludicrous. We have far more important matters to worry about at the moment than the absence of a few boring, tasteless lettuce leaves.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Fermented home-grown horseradish sauce

I love horseradish sauce. Not the anaemic, wimpish impersonation that sits on the supermarket shelves but the clear-your-sinuses-blow-your-head-off variety. The closest I have found in a shop had chilli added to it and although it was definitely hot it really did not have the depth of flavour that a really good, pure horseradish sauce has. So I make my own.

You can buy horseradish roots in some supermarkets and Farmers' Markets but it is so easy to grow it yourself. Actually, it is a bit too easy to grow. A word of warning if you intend to try this in your own garden or allotment: it will take over the whole area if you don't contain it in some way.

It will grow fine in a large pot but I find that I get the best results by planting it in a growing bag. I use a Marshall's Gro-sack (there are similar products from other suppliers), which is primarily marketed for growing potatoes but it is also almost perfect for horseradish. The only problem is - and this applies to pot grown horseradish as well - the roots will make a bid for freedom through the drainage holes! That is why I am relocating the sack to the concrete path. I do not want it taking over the rest of the garden. (Am I too late?)

Extracting the horseradish from the bag required serious effort. I assumed that as it was sort of contained in the bag it would be a case of just pulling on a couple of roots. Far from it. I had to excavate deep down into the bag before they would consider yielding to the spade (forget about a garden trowel - useless when trying to remove horseradish).

Preparing and grating the horseradish requires planning on an industrial scale. See my posting from 2015.

Once grated I tried a different approach from previous years to making the sauce. I recall my mother, when I was a child, mixing grated horseradish with sugar, salt and a little water in a jar and leaving it for a couple of weeks. Then she would add it to what I think was yogurt but could have been sour cream. I realise now that she was fermenting the horseradish. This year, I decided to try and recreate the process but instead of the sugar I added some grated parsnip. I checked on the mixture every couple of days to make sure that it wasn't going "off" and the smell and taste of it was superb. Strong but more depth and variety to the flavour than I have achieved in the past by using it straightaway. I added the fermented horseradish to some home made yogurt and we had the perfect horseradish sauce. Far, far better than any of my previous efforts.

Fermented horseradish sauce

December 2016: brassicas, artichokes, parsnips and Christmas

The brassicas - brussel sprouts, kale, cabbages, cauliflowers -  and swiss chard are well established now and promise good harvests for the next few months. They can, of course, withstand frost and December saw the first of the really heavy frosts of the winter here in caversham.

Parsnips, I am always told, benefit from a heavy frost and taste sweeter. To be honest, I've never noticed much difference!

A crop I nearly forgot about were the Jerusalem artichokes.They are grown in a potato growing bag near the back of the garden and once the leaves have died back I tend to forget about them, as I did this year. I remembered in time to dig out enough for about 4 meals. I am sure there are more in the bag and I need to empty it to find them all. Some will go back into the bag for next year but I noticed this year that the foliage looked overcrowded, so time to thin them out.

The main event of the month was Christmas and the main Christmas meal. The brussel sprouts, kale (cavolo nero) and very wonky parsnips came out of the garden. The potatoes were from Paget's at the Reading Farmers' Market.

I was really pleased with our parsnips despite their "wonkiness". They were grown in a part of zones 2/3 that has only this year been brought back into use so they did well to grow at all.

Work on preparing the horseradish sauce started about three weeks before Christmas and is the subject of a separate posting. Suffice to say it was head-blowing stuff and perfect.

And we broke out the Quince Vodka and Damson Brandy with the brandied damsons served with ice cream, cream and hazelnuts.

Christmas fare

Frost on the garden fence

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Quince vodka update and damson brandy

Quince vodka and damson brandy
The quince brandy/vodka prepared in November made an appearance on the dinner table at Christmas and quickly disappeared! The spices were at just the right level and the flavour of the quinces came through, but it was a bit too sweet for my taste. The recipe that we worked with specified 450g sugar to be added to the 8 large grated quinces and 1 litre of vodka. I did wonder at the time if this was too much sugar; next time I shall reduce the amount by half.

The damson/blackberry/elderberry brandy was perfect. For this I used a large jar with 1-1.5inches of fruit at the bottom, then 1-2 heaped tablespoons of sugar, repeated the layers of fruit and sugar and covered with brandy. I added more fruits as and when they became available, topping up with brandy each time.

Alternative Christmas pudding
Damsons made up the bulk of the fruit with just a handful of blackberries and elderberries. Most of the blackberries were eaten almost as soon as they had been picked and the elderberries made into syrup for winter coughs and colds. .

For Christmas I poured off and bottled the brandy. Some of the fruit was served with ice cream and crushed hazelnuts, and the rest made into a crumble.

Not on the dining table but in the kitchen is the quince scrap vinegar, which has now been bottled. This was my first attempt at making it, using the peelings and cores from the quince vodka workshop. During the first couple of weeks of fermentation the aroma of cider wafted through the house and it was tempting to have a glass, but we did manage to leave it to turn into vinegar.

I use it in general cooking but I am not the sure that the pH is low enough for it be used for making preserves. (I really ought to get a pH testing kit.)

The remains of the quince scraps were added to the compost heap.