Another Plum Tree Replaced by an Apple Tree

Well, another mild-ish winter, and only (only?!) one young tree failed to make it through the winter. Our Shropshire Prune looked fine, and to all intent and purpose, was waiting to come alive once the weather warmed up, but it never did. It honestly looked like it had been preserved – only a branch snapping off rather than bending proved the theory – it was an ex-tree. And as I dug it out to take back to the house to burn, it became apparent just how “ex” this tree was, as the trunk snapped off at the base! Now the puzzling thing is that this tree budded last year, and we had leaves. There was no sign of illness, it dropped its leaves in autumn along with the rest, but never woke up! It was never the biggest or healthiest looking, but it had a fair few scaffold branches formed.

As ever, we’ve planted an apple tree in its place, in case there’s anything specific to plum trees in the ground. Luckily we had a reserve of year-old grafted trees, and another Old Merrybower was chosen to take the now vacant spot. It’s a pot-grown tree so we can get away with planting it at this later stage of spring, but we need to keep an eye on the watering. The Old Merrybower’s aren’t an early blossom tree, and the fact it was one of the last standing standard trees from the old farm orchard gives me hope that it has the necessary fortitude to withstand the Merrybower winds and rains!

On the plus side, we have another Shropshire Prune (labelled as Shropshire Damson on the Orchard Plan), which is slightly higher and drier ground, and which is now almost finished its blossom.

Onwards & Upwards

I’m sure this is a problem most people have who grow their own from seed – where to put all the seedlings! It’s too cold outside in the greenhouse or open air, inside is the only place, but we rapidly run out of floor space! So our one East facing window is being put to good use as we’ve started to stack seeds on “The Tower”:

  • Sweetcorn (Incredible F1)
  • Coriander seeds (2-year self-harvested old  which are still viable, good to know)
  • Basil (Italiano Classico)
  • Celery (Groene Pascal)
  • Globe Artichoke (Violetto Precoce)

On the floor we have the leeks, tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergine we sowed a few weeks ago.

And You Think Coffee is Expensive!

Determined to put the time spent picking dandelions to good use, I vowed I would carry out the task of converting the dandelions to something useful – namely the coffee I mentioned way back.

Trying to speed the process up, I dropped the dandelions into a reasonably clean barrow (yes – the new posh black one – we’re officially a three-barrow household now!) and hosed the majority of the dirt from them before allowing myself into the house. I then topped and tailed them all, keeping some of the leaves for salads, the rest going into the brown bin as I’m lost for ideas that will make use of it.

Once topped and tailed, they’re scrubbed thoroughly with a nail brush to remove the majority of the brown skin – I’m really not sure if it’s necessary to be that thorough, but figure we do it with carrots and potatoes, perhaps it’s a good idea to do it with something else pulled from the ground.

Then they’re diced really small, slow roasted in the oven for about an hour at 75 Celsius, often turning them. Then they’re crushed. At the end of the day, after maybe two hour’s work, I ended up with half a small jar of coffee grinds for Espresso experience, great quality tho.
Something tells me there must be an easier way!

Root Crops are Go!

2015 Root Veg Sowing 5It’s time for hardy root crops to be sown directly into the soil. This is probably the first year, after five years of growing food in the patch, and seven years growing our own food, that I feel we’er finally getting the hang of it. Ironically it’s also the last year in our five-year crop rotation system, next year the various veg will be planted in the same place they were when we moved the veg to the patch from the house. So we’ve had four years of learning about the various bugs, pests and weather types that we can fall foul too – and hopefully know enough to keep on top of many of the more common problems life can throw at you! Of course, there’s no doubt a hidden spanner waiting to be thrown into the works when least expected! So far, with the warm weather, the shallots, onions and garlic are doing really well. One of my favourite groups of crops to grow, and not only for the fact that they really do seem to thrive on our soil – not one bad year really (touches head for luck).

2015 Root Veg Sowing 4And then there are our roots. We like the Hollow Crown parsnips we’ve grown since the start, the Flyaway carrots are now fly free, when grown under the enviromesh, and the three rows of Boltardy beetroot, that has never bolted on us, is nice and safe under the mesh nets, from sparrows, pigeons, rabbits etc. See – we really do feel we know what we’re doing at last! Isn’t ignorance bliss 😉

2015 Root Veg Sowing 1As you can see – another thing I like is straight lines – and this rake is one of my bestest tools. It was left behind in the old outside toilet in a house I used to live in in Birmingham. It looked old then, and it feels home-made, but quality home-made. The end is heavy, perfect for raking our light soil that’s littered with pebbles. The pebbles tend to rise to the surface as you rake, and can easily be collected to one side to pick up into a bucket and carted off to fill a pothole somewhere in Derbyshire.

2015 Root Veg Sowing 3In fact, you can see a couple of trays of pebbles in one of the photographs, and that’s the fifth year of raking the ground over! It’s also useful to make the seed lines in the soil – heavy enough to tamp down a line, move on and extend the line, if held inverted. Some tools are just made for work 🙂

Finally, the whole family got stuck in to getting spuds in the ground. Again – this year was like well-oiled machinery – Suz and I dug holes, Jay and Smiler dropped the spuds in, we covered them over. It’s so much easier with all four doing it, and a lot more fun.

Beetroot Curry

The relentless onslaught of beetroot recipes to use up the supply that seems to be the porridge-pot of the veggie patch has turned up this from Suz – beetroot curry!

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp lemon grass (powder)
  • 2 large onions roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic – crushed
  • 2 tsp chili flakes (more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1/2 litre vegetable stock
  • 1/4 litre coconut milk
  • 400/500 g beetroot – cooked, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Salt and black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Fry the spices until they start to brown. Add the onion and garlic, cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the chili flakes, tomato puree, veg stock, coconut milk and beetroot.
Season with salt and black pepper.

Bring to the boil, simmer for approx. 45 mins until onion and beetroot have a good consistency.

Add more coconut milk or water if the mixture starts to dry out.

Serve with chapatis/rice – or here Suz added grilled Halloumi cheese (squeaky cheese as we like to call it), though paneer might be more in keeping 🙂

Can be served with yoghurt and with fresh coriander mixed through.

For an even better experience, leave it to stand overnight in the fridge – the flavours really come out when reheated the day after.