The Best Tomatoes

2014 TomatoesThis year I think we’ve cracked the tomato business. We’ve tried Marmande before, a beef tomato, and liked them. They can be exceptionally ugly, amd grow to various sizes, despite being a beef variety we have small to huge on our plants. But despite their inconsistencies, this year we grew eight plants-worth, because at the end of the day, they are delicious. They are so juicy, their flesh is firm enough to hold their shape, yet melts in the mouth, and their skins are just tight enough to prevent their innards popping out, but give when you bite into them, with none of the toughness other varieties have. Personally for me, this is a perfect tomato.

Then we have the other new variety this year – a plum tomato by the name of Roma VF. Absolutely dry as anything when eaten raw, but cook with it and you discover an intense tomato flavour, perfect for sauces and drying. In fact, this year we filled an oven with these, cut in half, and dried them over 16 hours on a low heat. Dropped into jars of olive oil, mixed with fresh or dried herbs and chopped garlic, they keep for around two weeks. Be careful to completely cover with oil – else the bits poking out will go nouldy (we learned the hard way and lost a couple of jars – disaster!)

I need to add – this photograph has not been doctored in any way – they are the actual colours!

Roma VF Tomatoes

We’ve tried a few varieties of tomatoes here at Merrybower, but never a cooking tomato. This year we’ve planted eight Roma VF plum tomatoes in a greenhouse, just to see what would happen. Well, it’s been the perfect year for tomato growing! The heat has meant longer days of warmth, although water was soaked up so quickly that some days they needed watering three times!

They are pretty disgusting raw – dry, fleshy, no juice and tough skins. However, halved and cooked on a low (100C) heat for 16 or so hours and they make perfect oven-dried tomatoes. Mixed with olive oil, garlic slices and mixed herbs in a jar and they are delicious!

Say Hello to Mr Carrot

Oh no! I hear you cry…

But oh yes – it’s that time of year when the rude veg stomp onto the stage and demand our attention. Suz plonked this in front of me and declared “We can tell it’s a he can’t we?”

You know – like Baldrick – amusing vegetables will never, ever, get dull to me 🙂

 

2014 Mr Carrot

Sunflower Seed

2014 Sunflower SeedThe result of drying out around 20 Sunflower heads – a decent bag of seed to replant or just feed to the birds. Easiest thing to do, but not sure how you’d clean them decently for human consumption.

Cabbage and Onion Harvest

2013 CabbagesWith the great weather continuing, we tried a new technique to dry the onions out, stringing them outdoors and hanging them on some of the many builder’s spikes we use here. The round and savoy cabbages are also looking partcularly decent – the scaffolding mesh and groundsheet method of growing is definitely the future! 2013 Onion Harvest

Hay Making

This year was the first we carried out the plan to make our own hay. Way back, when the layout for The Patch was drawn up, one quarter acre was always meant to be left to grass. In theory, this quarter acre would give us around 20 small bales, enough for a couple of sheep over winter. Now, not having sheep that need feeding, and the grass still being quite new, we have grown grass for hay before.

However, last year we made around 10 bags by necessity – a long rainy stretch at the start of the year meant our grass was too long to cut, in the chicken paddock at the back of the house. When we finally did manage to cut it, it was around 8-10″ high, just about manageable with the push mower, held at an odd angle. From this we made hay, very mulched as it was, and the rabbits had good food for winter!

So, after that experience, this year it was decided that we’d have a bash at our first hay! The grass grew, the clover started to peek out amongst the rye grass seed heads, and a week of sunshine was 2013 Hay Makingforecast. The fly in the ointment was how to cut it! We’d been lent an old scythe a few months prior, but the blade was in a pretty bad way. Not having the first clue about how to use one, and looking at a week of sun but also a good load of normal day-time job work, meant I couldn’t afford to take the time to learn and do, and risk losing the grass. We needed someone to cut it for us, after which we could turn it and bag it.

And therein lay a 2013 Windrowsproblem. No one wanted to do it! More to the point, no one was capable of doing it! All the local farms are large scale, no one is geared up to squeeze between 8′ gates anymore. Even if they were, to cut a quarter acre is not economically viable. Luckily Farmer John next door put us in touch with a chap who would cut it for us, but into a semi-mulch state – 2013 Bagged Hayaround 6″ long pieces. The day arrived, and my task was to follow him with a garden rake, and rake the missed stalks upright, for the second pass, and rake the cut grass into rows that he could go over again. After three passes of the field, trying to keep up with the cutter, I have to say I was exhausted! A full day outside, in the hottest sun we’d had all year. Once he’d left, as the pieces were quite short, the windrows needed turning more frequently than normal hay as wind had a struggle getting into the piles. So a full week later and we were ready to bag  the hay. Of course, not managing 2013 Hay Barnto find a small-scale hay cutter was a precursor to also not finding a small-scale hay baler. We needed to improvise, and in such a short term I decided on recycled refuse bags. If left open they would hopefully breath enough, although the hay was pretty dry when we finally came round to bagging it up.

All four of us spent half a day bagging it all up, 2013 Hay in Garagethen we needed to transport it to a small barn that Farmer John said we could use – a life saver as the garage was almost full as it was, and we needed space for storing our produce! It was a satisfying sight to see it all brought in, and enough in our garage for the pet rabbits. The best thing was the quality – I hand weed the quarter through the first part of the year, pulling out anything that’s not meant to be there. No chemicals are use, and so we can have complete faith in using it, or passing it on.

Currants!

This is the first year that we’ve had reasonably sized currant bushes. We’ve lost one white currant bush, which we’ve had to replace, but the red currants have been fantastic! Here’s the crop we’ve taken this year – they are gorgeous!

Potato Harvest

For some reason, despite the amount of cloud and rain we’ve had this year – the good old spuds have done well, better than I had hoped, and better than our neighbours! We did manure the patch a lot over winter, I can only assume this has helped 🙂 These are the earlies (first and second) – Arran Pilot and Red Duke of York first earlies, Nadine second earlies. The Nadines were particularly scrummy – the Duke of Yorks weren’t the most prolific, but to be honest I’d pop all three of these in again next year!

As ever an escapee chook is on hand to help out with any pesky worms we might dig up…

Sloe Gin

Simple minds like simple things – Sloe Gin is one of the simplest things to make, and will, in excess, give you a simple mind:

450g of sloes, washed, cut (I just make 3 or 4 scores across each with a knife), plopped in a clean jar. Add 350g of sugar (I use light brown soft for a richer flavour), and 75cl of gin – cheap stuff is fine, don’t go wasting your Bombay Sapphire on these 😉 Leave for 2 1/2 months, shaking every week. After 10 weeks, decant through a muslin cloth into the final bottle and it’s ready to drink, just in time for Chrimble – yay!

Garden Gate Sales up on Last Year!

It’s a bit of a mashup this one, but this was the first day the Merrybower Growers stuck produce on the front (tongue still firmly in cheek over the name, but not sure the public is aware). With the glut of onions and shallots we knowingly planted, it was time to see if the passers-by were up for some oniony goodness. A stretch of 5 sunny days meant we could get them hanging on the fence at the front so people could see them as they walked by, and hopefully would remember to bring some money the next day. Although we’d grown several varieties of onions and shallots, we only put out for sale the Tris di Cipolla (lovely mix of three Italian onions, red, white and brown), and the Sturons. We kept the Centurions back for ourselves as we had less of them and they store well. The Sturons were monstrous in size – I really should have taken some photos of the stonkers. We also kept the Bedfordshire Champions for ourselves as about half of those had started to flower so they ended up in the freezer, which meant I’d like to keep the remaining strings for us to use fresh.

I’m chuffed to say that in the 5 days they were out, we sold about two thirds of them, about £30 worth, which is about one third of our seed costs per year to feed the family. We could have sold more, but we gave some away to family and the weather turned, which made leaving them out not an option. Next year we really could do with a cart that could be left out, with a small roof on. I’ve learned though, and now we have a sign with ‘Jersusalem Artichokes Coming Soon’ on, to build up expectations. All good fun!

We’re also getting ready for a marathon pickling session – the shallots here are the Picasso red shallots, perfect picklers I’ve been advised. This tray is one of sixteen we’ve pulled up, four each of Picasso, Red Sun, Yellow Moon and Golden Gourmet.

And finally, the ratatouille. Out of desperation of friends coming and what to feed them, I realised we had most of the ingredients for a decent ratatouille – garlic, onions, aubergines and courgettes. Only the tomatoes were thin in the ground so we had to resort to tinned (we need a 10′ x 8′ greenhouse for tomatoes alone I fear, the amount we could get through). This is one batch – the next batch was frozen ready for winter – yay for the new chest freezer!