Saturday, 5 July 2014

summertime and the living is....busy

The solstice has come and gone and the veggies are finally starting to fill up the beds at Tawny Oaks. It feels like we've had a slow start this year having suffered seedling losses to blackbirds and slugs, so it's rewarding to feel like we are starting reap what we've sown! All of the usual annuals are in attendance plus a nicely accumulating stock of perennials for the forest garden. The forest garden currently consists of various pieces of carpet surrounding some apple, quince and plum trees. We laid these down as a clearance mulch in the autumn and will leave them there until next spring when we'll lift up sections of it as and when we have enough plants to fill the ground. We've been collecting, sowing and propagating plants for the last couple of years and the collection is growing pleasingly. The latest addition is half a dozen oca plants which I got from the Feed Bristol community market garden while on a field trip there a couple of weeks ago.

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa)
This Mexican tuber is one of my favourite forest garden crops. The leaves look like clover or wood sorrel but the stems look almost succulent-like, more akin to a Sedum. The tubers are the size of small new potatoes and come in a spectrum of reds, oranges and yellows. The flavour, as their name suggests (Oxalis tuberosa - oxalic acid is what gives citrus fruits, sorrels and rhubarb their zingy flavour) is tangy citrus when raw but mellows to a sweet lemon balmy taste when cooked. They are very versatile and like most tubers are especially good roasted. But we'll have to wait a while as these little gems are harvested in the winter when they're all are harvested and some are kept to replant in the early spring, much like potatoes.

 Last summer we created two new growing beds using a three-layer organic mulch of cardboard, manure and compost topped with a thick layer of bracken (see previous post summer 2013). As the layers have merged into one and the bracken begins to disappear we can see that we have some wonderful humus-rich topsoil to plant in to next year. For now we will add another layer of manure and compost then re-cover it with bracken for the rest of this year. We want to use these beds mostly for root crops as the raised beds we have inherited here are not very deep. We are still debating what to do with the paths and are definitely leaning towards bare paths - we'll have to see whether we can keep on top of the hoeing involved in keeping them bare!

My very first attempt at growing onions seems to be going well (despite the woodspurge and clover....before you think it!) I decided to grow from sets and I think I'll experiment with leaving a few bulbs in-situ to see if they produce offsets. It seems that raising onions from seed is rather hard work but I find the idea of buying sets each year a bit strange as well. I'd love to hear any thoughts or tips anyone has.

This is the first year we have had all of the raised beds in production. Finally after four years we have managed to make enough soil to fill these four 1.2 x 10m's been quite a job! Luckily 4 acres of mixed gardens does produce a fair amount of material, and we have had the most incredible blessing in the form of a small Welsh mountain pony and a Dartmoor cross pony moving in next door! Our neighbour is more than happy for us to nip through with a wheelbarrow, so we have an unlimited supply of gardeners gold right on the doorstep!

The last bed to be filled has some pretty manure-rich compost in it, perfect for the cucurbit family who will thrive on all of that nitrogen. Courgette soup anyone?

Courgette and Mint Soup

The courgettes have just started cropping and as we know, they're not going to stop for a while yet! So we need every courgette based recipe we have close to hand, and here's a nice simple one for the collection. I'd never thought of souping courgettes until I tried some a couple of years ago that took me by surprise. It was absolutely delicious! Since then I have never balked at the sight of a mountain of these summer staples on the kitchen bench, or a friend arriving with arms laden. This soup is a taste of summertime which can be enjoyed hot or cold, with or without cream. And it's this easy.....

2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
5 medium courgettes, sliced
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 pints vegetable stock
60ml cream
a small handful of wild mint leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Fry the onions in some butter or oil until soft. Add the courgettes and garlic and fry for a minute over a medium heat then cover for 5 minutes to allow the courgettes to sweat. Add the potatoes and stock (stock should completely cover the vegetables but only by half an inch) and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Do not simmer for too long or the courgettes loose the deep colour on their skins and turn a bit murky.

Add the mint leaves and blend until smooth. Taste and season as necessary then stir in the cream. Serve hot or allow to cool and refrigerate to serve cold.

My favourite for a garden nibble and a super easy side veg is the marvellous mange-tout (can't help hearing Dell-boy). It's so good raw as a snack or in a salad, or lightly steamed for a couple of minutes and chucked next to pretty much anything. They are one of those seasonal treats I get very excited about.

And the tomatoes are their droves again....why do we find it so hard to cull excess tomato seedlings?? More soup.

On the ornamental front I am loving the Crocosmia lucifer (great name!). It looks so exotic but not out of place to me having grown up on the south coast where the wild orange Crocosmia line the verges in late summer. I think this one is a beauty, although I'm worried it may start to take over if its anything like its wild ancestor.

I am also enjoying our stock of mallow plants in the forest garden collection. There are many species and varieties of Malvus and I think this wood mallow is one of the prettiest.

Our single wee blueberry plant is about to give us our first mighty crop! Unlike the blackcurrants which are left outside to fend for themselves this one is netted in the greenhouse.....having not got our chops on a single blackcurrant since planting them 3 years ago!

Maybe this will be the year!? Or at least the year we invest in more netting!

Our many projects are still moving along but much less quickly now the gardens are booming. Between teaching courses, cooking for courses and keeping on top of the garden there is not a lot of spare time, especially when you throw a busy toddler in to the mix! However, we have many helping hands on their way in the form of wwoofers and permaculture students, so who knows, perhaps that tree bog will get built, and those raised beds will materialise in the big greenhouse before the summer is this space!