Archive for October, 2009

feeding the soil with green manure

Green manure packets‘Getting your onions in?’.  ‘Got your garlic ready?’ have been popular questions asked at the allotment in the last few weeks.  ‘I need to give something back before I sow anything else‘ I’ve been saying almost apologetically to clarify my head shake reply.  You see I’ve worked my plot for 5 years and never really gone in for manuring in a big way.  I know that I should but when your plot is in the furthest possible corner from the road and you refuse to drive your car on to the allotment your not left with a lot of options.  Believe me I know:  a morning back in 2005 spent schlepping back and forth to drag bags of horse manure, in the pouring rain, kind of put me off.  Instead we leave an area of the plot covered in black polythene each year which rests the soil and rotates where we plant.  In truth it’s also because I have more space than I’ve ever managed to keep on top of.  But with more time for gardening this year and a massive increase in produce as a result I thought it was time to nourish the soil we have worked and manure the patch we haven’t.  Green manure seedsI’ve been reading up on green manures*, particularly the varieties that can be sown as late as October/November.  These packets of Hungarian grazing rye and field beans arrived from the Organic Gardening Catalogue a couple of days after placing my order (the Red Clover is for the Spring.)   It may seem extravagent to buy organic seed for plants that won’t be consumed but I figure it’s akin to the choice between putting wholefoods or processed foods into our bodies.  And, get this, it was the cheapest option for the variety of seeds I’d chosen because the P&P was only £1.75 compared to £5 from other on-line suppliers.  Sowing grazing rye

The feeding of the soil commenced last week with the sowing of the grazing rye on the blighted tomato patch.  It took about an hour and half to dig the rest of the weeds out (started the weekend of rain and muffin making), about the same time to remove the runner bean canes and a couple of the sprout stalks and a further hour to sow the seeds in drills.  MOSAIC - digging tom patch for green manureI liked the idea of a biblical broadcasting of seed but not the idea of birds pecking it up before it germinated hence the rather tedious sowing in drills.  Fortunately it was a fresh and bright autumn day and the task was made easier with the company of Radio 4 and a flask of tea.  shadow tea drinking

*  reading - the goodness of green manure, about green manure: five to try, things to do in October, (especially relevant to the green manure seeds I planted)

October 24, 2009 at 11:00 am 9 comments

making spiced damson chutney

damson chutney_spoonedThis Delia Smith recipe for Spiced Damson Chutney was recommended by a friend at my badminton club.  Brenda followed the recipe from Delia’s ‘How To Cook Book 3‘ and found a copy of the recipe at Delia On-line to send to me.  As usual I made a few adjustments: swapping guaze spice bags dangled down the side of the pan for powdered versions of the spices and suspending cloves inside a tea ball.  I still hadn’t re-stocked the raisin jar so, as with the Spicy Tomato Chutney, the raisins were replaced with dates. Delia recommends finely chopping the unpeeled apples and onions in a food processor but since I don’t have one I removed the apple skin and roughly chopped them.  Food processing ingredients seems to be Delia’s favoured method when preparing chutney, alongside cooking gently on a low heat for about 3 hours.  I often find simmering for this long results in a chutney with a soft jam like consistency regardless of how chunky the ingredients were to start with.  As the chutney thickens and the shades of purple darken you’ll end up with a near black smooth chutney not unlike the colour of a ploughman’s pickle.damson chutney cooking

making spiced damson chutney

3 lb (1.35 kg) damsons
2 heaped teaspoons ground ginger
2 small cinnamon sticks 1 heaped tsp cinnamon powder
1 oz (25 g) allspice berries 1 heaped tsp allspice
1 dessertspoon cloves 2 tsp cloves
2 pints (1.2 litres) malt vinegar
1 lb (450 g) cooking apples (no need to peel) peeled and chopped
3 largish onions
3 cloves garlic
1 lb (450 g) seedless raisins dates
1 lb (450 g) dark soft brown sugar
1 lb (450 g) demerara sugar
2 tablespoons sea salt

  • Remove the stones from the damsons – either cutting them in half and twisting the stones out or stewing them in 1/2 pint (275ml) of the vinegar to loosen the flesh.  Wear latex gloves either way if you don’t want purple stained hands.
  • Place the stoned damsons into a pan with handles at the top (I use a stock pot for all my chutney making)
  • Core, peel and chop the apples and finely chop the onions to add to the pot
  • Crush the garlic and add that, followed by the ginger, raisins, sugar and the (remaining) vinegar.  Sprinkle in the salt and stir everything thoroughly.
  • Add the powdered cinnamon and all spice.  Put the cloves into a tea ball and suspend into the mixture by tying with string across the handles at the top of the stock pot.  (Or a la Delia – wrap the cinnamon, allspice and cloves in a piece of muslin or gauze and tie the top loosely with the string to form a little bag to tie on to the handle of the pan and suspended among the rest of the ingredients)

cloves in tea ball

  • Now bring everything to the boil, then lower the heat and let the chutney simmer very gently for 2-3 hours, stirring it occasionally and rather more often towards the end to prevent it sticking to the bottom.
  • When almost all the vinegar has disappeared and the chutney has thickened to a soft consistency, do the channel test – if it is ready, when you draw a channel with a wooden spoon across its surface, it will leave an imprint for a few seconds without filling up with vinegar.
  • While it is still warm, pour it into the hot, sterilised jars, filling them as full as possible.  Cover each with a waxed disc and seal tightly with a vinegar-proof lid. Label when cold and store the chutney in a cool, airy cupboard, leaving it to mellow for at least 3 months before eating.  damson chutney jars *

October 23, 2009 at 11:00 am 8 comments

changing seasons

virginia creeper for headerNotice anything different?  My blog has a new seasonally inspired temporary hairdo.  What I intend to do is create a header that includes the name of my blog so that weary travellers to my little corner of the blogosphere realise where they are resting.  However teaching myself how to use layers in Photoshop is proving to be a slow, frustrating process so while I puzzle it out the summer redcurrants have been replaced with autumn reds.  These beautiful Viriginia Creeper leaves camouflage a concealed shed down on the allotment. hanging creeper leavescreeper coloursI quite fancy wrapping my shed in a cloak of leaves and I like this combination of blue and red on another shed at the allotment.  I’ve heard Virginia Creeper grows easily from cuttings… creeper on blue shed Viriginia Creeper plants contain oxalate crystals and can irritate the skin in some people so I need to be really sure I’m prepared for looking after it (and can reach to cut it when it climbs much higher than my 5’3” height).  It’s not the sort of plant to give up without a fight once it’s established and can become stronger than the materials it attaches itself to making it hard to remove without damaging the surface beneath if you change your mind.  Just as well I’ve got more important maintenance jobs to complete on my shed before I think about how to make it look prettier – like getting a roof on it! dwarf beans on shed door

… which is why this overlooked bunch of dwarf bean pods, found sleeping in the spinach this week, will not be drying out in my shed.

October 22, 2009 at 8:57 am Leave a comment

speed making runner bean chutney

Runner bean chutney on a rainy dayWaiting in for our friends from Australia to arrive a few weeks ago I made a second batch of runner bean chutney using the last of the Polestar beans from the plot.  It was super speedy to make as I used the surplus vinegar drained off from the first batch.  I’ve only got one jar of the original runner bean chutney left:  yes, I am still eating it with salad even though it’s not the weather for it!

On a completely different note, entries for this month’s No Croutons Required frugal challenge have now closed and you can VOTE here if you think my Green Tomato soup would be a worthy winner.  The recipe with the most votes will be announced on the 31st of October.

October 21, 2009 at 7:29 pm 3 comments

souping green tomatoes

green tomato soup_close up*I’ve been reading Jacqueline’s fab Scottish food blog Tinned Tomatoes for quite some time; watching from the wings as the ‘No Croutons Required‘ soup challenge comes and goes each month.  This month’s challenge was to create a ‘frugal‘ soup or salad inspired by store cupboard favourites, leftovers or vegetables plucked from the garden.  Returning from the allotment on Sunday I decided I’d pick up the NCR gauntlet to create a nourishing soup that would warm me up, boost my immunity and most importantly fill me up.  A brief rummage through the fridge and freezer resulted in these ingredients …  Green tomato soup - toms and carrotGreen tomato soup_garlic bulbDaves chillis in box close upgreen tomato soup_coconut milk ice cubesbeing cooked like this… MOSAIC - green tomato soupwith a hearty sprinkling of coriander and cumin seeds.

A recipe in pictures for you!  If you’d like to check out the other soup or salad entries and cast your vote click here.  If you’re curious to know why I chose these ingredients:

green tomatoes – not enough to make chutney and a bit tired of all that stirring and bottling now anyway!

carrot -  the last chunk of my ‘bargain of the month‘ carrot – bought from the Farmer’s Market for 20p and the size of wine bottle!.  It wasn’t at all woody but I grated it to reduce the cooking time and retain the vitamin content.

garlic – sprouting and begging to be used.  I didn’t realise when I bought this garlic that they were single whole bulbs, rather than cloves.  As it cooked up it was stingingly strong but once the other spices and the coconut milk were added the dominance of the garlic mellowed.  It was probably equivalent to about 4 cloves.

chilli – added with the carrot, simmered and then removed before blending.  It added a nice kick that would have knocked me sideways if I’d left it in being a bit of a lightweight in the chilli department.  These chillis of Dave’s are really hot as I discovered when nibbling the end of the grated carrot and getting tingly lips from my chilli hands!

coconut milk, leftover from a curry I made a few weeks ago and frozen.  You can guess why I added it.

(butter beans… not added as the soup was thick enough without them and I didn’t want to alter the balance of flavours created)

creme fraiche - the dregs of a pot soon to be out of date to make it a little creamier.  If left out this soup is suitable for vegans.

pitta bread – toasted and torn in pieces for dipping (fresh, cough, from the freezer!).

Green tomato soup - George's with pitta

quantities for turning green tomatoes into a soupy orange delight
a dozen tomatoes, chopped – green + a few just ripening orange
1 chunk of a huge carrot (= about 3 normal size carrots), grated
2 small onions or 1 large onion, chopped
1 bulb of garlic, crushed (or about 4 cloves)
1 chilli pepper, de-seeded but kept whole to be removed before blending
2 heaped teaspoons of coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 mug of vegetable stock
6 frozen cubes of coconut milk (= to 2 tablespoons?)
oil for frying onion and tomatoes
creme fraiche (optional to stir in at the end)

ps. just look how big that carrot was! MOSAIC - supersized carrot
update: my green tomato soup won

October 20, 2009 at 10:22 pm 15 comments

lunching on leftovers

dinner - lunching on leftover fish cakesFish cakes are an obvious choice for using up leftover mashed potato but the sheer fact of using up leftovers often means there’s not a lot else in the fridge to jazz it up with.  Tuna?  Check.  Cheese?  Check.  Eggs?  hmmm.

So instead of the usual egg and flour coated cakes I mixed up the mashed potato with a tin of tuna, a shredded ball of mozzarella and some dried herbs and spooned the fish cake mix into 8 silicone cake cases.  We ate the fish cakes for dinner with steamed veg (no photos as you know what problems I’ve been having with my evening photography).  The mozzarella did a fine job of melding together the ingredients: they flattened and widened somewhat when turned out of their cake cases but with no ill effect on the flavour.  The two fish cakes that were leftover hardened up in the fridge and made a lovely quick lunch the next day after a morning at the plot.  I didn’t even heat them up just served them with warm baked beans.  Simplicity itself for days when there’s nothing quite like baked beans and mash to hit the spot.

October 20, 2009 at 2:01 pm 2 comments

making a strawberry hat come egg cosy

Big Knit - hatsI nearly forgot all about the teeny tiny strawberry hat I said I’d make for The Big Knit.  I was right not to build up expectations with rash promises to make more than one hat.  Before you congratulate me for doubling my efforts this lovely little blue hat, with fetching red pom pom, was made by Catherine (she of the muffin making fame).  Not bad for someone who hasn’t done any knitting since being taught by her mum a couple of decades ago.  Did you notice how neat her stitches are?  Very impressive.  Big Knit - strawberry hat egg cosyI was quite pleased with my strawberry hat which I found was a perfect fit as an egg cosy.  Our hats are on the their way to Fruit Towers now and Innocent have decided to extend the deadline to the end of the month to allow for delays with postal strikes.  So still 2 weeks to get knitting if you’d forgotten too…

note to self:  persevere with finding out how to take better photos indoors – wheelie bins do not make glamorous stands and rain is not good for cameras!

October 18, 2009 at 1:30 pm 7 comments

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