It is raining again. That favoured sentence that we love to say almost as much as we dislike hearing. We talk about the weather more than any other subject in the U.K. and as such grumble about the weather more than celebrating it.
So, while the wet conditions may keep me from the plot, it doesn’t keep us from wanting to do something with all these crops the surplus water is creating. All those juicy fruits and tasty vegetables need to be used or stored so rather than just mull about getting bored; here are some tips and recipes.
Tomato and Basil Tart
Short crust pastry made with 175g (6oz) flour and 75g (3oz) fat
300g (10 1/2 oz) tomatoes halved, small-medium sized (own grown preferably)
100g (4oz) Feta or hard goat’s cheese
A large handful of torn Basil leaves (from the garden?)
Good Olive Oil
Ground Black Pepper
Roll out and line a greased shallow flan dish with pastry.
Prick the bottom with a fork and bake for 10 minutes at 220 C/425 F/Gas mark 7.
Halve tomatoes and arrange over the base in a single layer, cut side down.
Season with pepper and a drizzle of vinegar.
Back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
Crumble the cheese over the tomatoes, sprinkle over the basil leaves and olive oil then pop back in the oven again for the last 20-25 minutes.
After allowing to cool, if you can wait that long, you’ll have slightly soggy but delicious pastry and a dish that will serve 3-4 people.
Tip: Like all Legumes (pea/bean family) pea roots will have tiny nodules along the hair roots which store nitrogen. If you leave the roots to decompose down in the soil after harvesting the last of your crop, they will release that store of plant food back into the soil.
Nitrogen is good for leaf growth so following peas with a leafy crop such as a brassica (cabbages, Swede, radish etc) that will benefit from the extra boost is a good idea.
Bees are having a rough time this year with record numbers of hives suffering losses and bees themselves fighting off disease problems so you may find pollination is low on some of your squash or bean plants. Tomatoes, butternuts and courgettes can all be given a hand with a soft artists brush. Brush pollen on the anthers as near to midday as possible and then spray with clean water in the evening when it’s cooler to help set the fruits. Just remember to avoid the cucumbers. Pollination makes cucumbers bitter
Carrot fly is the arch nemesis of the orange root lover so confuse the culprit with a low hedge of onion smelling chives. Chives are always good to have around just for the flowers even if you don’t want the leaves for the kitchen and carrot flies hate strong onion smells and can’t fly high enough to go over either!
Mono cultures are not natural playgrounds for beneficial insects so try growing some colourful salads amongst the flower borders where nectar rich daisy like flowers will draw the predatory insects that will protect your food and confuse the pests.
You should be harvesting peas, salads and the last of the early potatoes now along with soft fruits and cane fruits.
Soft fruits are, as the name implies, the softer fruits such as strawberries. Top fruits are simply fruits that grow on higher plants such as Apples, Pears and Cherries. Cane fruits, yes, grow on canes. Think Blackcurrant, Red or even White currants, Gooseberries, Jostaberries and others. Raspberries can be grouped with Blackberries and the hybrids under the heading Brambles, as they have a unique way of fruiting on stems that need to be wound over a support rather than being thick enough to stand alone like the Canes.
You may read the name Drupe, referring to some top fruits. This comes from the botanical description of a fleshy fruit with a single stone centre containing one seed and coming from a single flower. These are more commonly called stone fruits and will include Cherries, Plums and the related Damsons, Nectarines and Peaches.
Well, if the weather breaks for long enough, I will be back out and reporting on what I’m doing in the garden and on the plot but until then, I’ll be working hard sampling the products of the kitchen. It’s a dirty job but....