Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Gwenfar's Garden is moving!

Over the next couple of weeks, my site is going to be moving from Blogger to WordPress. Hopefully there won't be too much downtime, but I wanted to let people know.

Email subscribers: with luck your subscription will just transfer over, but if not, I'll need to get you to resubscribe. Once the work is done I'll be able to confirm.

RSS Feed: This will be moving as well, but I'll let you know the new feed URL once I have it confirmed.

I've been wanting to move to WordPress for ages and get away from the google-sphere, so fingers crossed it all goes well. See you on the other side!

An unknown Sempervivum cultivar, that after several years
finally flowered for the first time this summer.

Courgette Soup with Lentils and Cheese

c. 8 litres of soup

Serves 6

450g courgettes - chopped
350g potatoes - peeled and chopped (I leave the skins on as I prefer them that way)
3 garlic cloves - chopped
1.2 litres veg stock
Small bunch oregano
Summer: add ½ cup lentils (c. 120g)
Winter: add ¾ -1 cup lentils (c. 150g to 230g)

225g Brie - rind removed, or 200g grated cheddar or feta

1. Briefly fry garlic and oregano.

2. Put all the veg in a large pot, add the stock.

3. Bring to the boil, and add the lentils. Then simmer for 15 minutes or until the veg are tender.

4. Cool slightly, then process the soup using a blender until smooth.

5. If batch cooking, separate out into containers to freeze. When eating straight away or once a batch has been defrosted, see 6 and 7.

6. Add the cheese, bring back to near boiling point, stirring constantly so the cheese is combined with the liquid (you can also do this step using a microwave).

7. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

The lentils make it a heavier but protein rich soup, so I've given rough summer/winter estimates, given you don't always want a heavy soup in summer.

This soup easily scales up too. I often make x4 of the recipe, c. 10 litres.

Note: this is based on an Allotment Soup recipe, by Michelle at Veg Plotting, but adapted to my taste.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Broad Bean and Feta Salad

Serves 2

200g shelled Broad Beans
1 crushed garlic clove, several garlic scapes, or Chives
10 or so leaves of Mint, chopped up
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
Black pepper
100g Feta
Salad leaves

1. Put garlic (or chopped alternatives) into a bowl with the olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper and mint.

2. Chop up the feta so it’s small crumbly pieces, then put to one side.

3. Boil or steam the broad beans for 1min 30 seconds.

4. Add cooked beans to olive oil etc dressing, and stir. Then add in the feta and stir again.

5. Serve on salad leaves.

Simple, but delicious.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

A simple way to water sprawling cucurbits

Once your cucurbits (pumpkins/squash/courgettes) get growing, they can sprawl all over the place. When it comes to watering them though, you only need to water near the root of the plant. Watering along the sprawled stems and fruit won't actually do anything.

I use plastic bottles to make it easier for the water to go directly to the roots. Below are some bottles where I've taken the label off.

Remove the caps, then cut them roughly two thirds of the way along the bottle.

You end up with two pieces. On the left is the section that you'll be using for the cucurbits. On the right you could cut a couple of holes in the bottom and use these as pots to sow seedlings into.

You then want to dig a small hole next to the root ball of your plant. Not too deep, c. 10 cms. Basically, one-third of the plastic bottle (the thin end) should be embedded into the ground.

This shows that the plastic is in place, with the soil pushed hard up around it to keep it in place.

You can now easily water the roots of the plant via the plastic bottle access.

Here you can hopefully see that I've put in a plastic bottle next to each of the three plants, two pumpkins and a courgette.

Ideally, do this when you plant out your cucurbits, but as I did, you can do it a bit later. Just don't leave it too long, as you don't want to disturb the roots too much.

It's kind of less of an issue in a small garden when you are only growing a few plants, though even then, I've found it means I water more carefully. In a large garden or on an allotment site, this makes it easier to see the where to water.

P.S. I cannot claim that this was my idea originally, but I wanted to share how I do this, with pictures, to show people the steps.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Happy ramblings: Rosa 'Seagull'

When we were leaving our previous house and garden, I took 10 cuttings of my rambling rose, Rosa Seagull. Roses aren't exactly known for being easy growing plants, and I'd never taken rose cuttings before and wasn't that hopeful that the cuttings would take. So it was quite a surprise when 9 of the 10 cuttings did!

So two years ago I planted two 20cm 'sticks' into the border of our south-facing fence. Here's the result. 

This was after a large attack of greenfly, just when the flower buds were developing, which my soapy water squirter took care of. It recovered well!

It's a very fragrant rose, and in the hot weather last week, sitting outside for dinner at our garden table, the aroma was beautiful.
And it was alive with buzzing from the many bees seeking it's pollen.

The flowers are now spent, so I'm going to prune back the stems and with luck, I might get a second smaller flowering.

As for all those other 7 plants, I didn't have room for them, so I gave them away so others could enjoy them.

It turns out that taking rose cuttings successfully is really quite easy, so do give it a try.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry with Sorrel

Serves 4-6

Olive oil (or canola/rapeseed oil)
2 tablespoons (30ml) grated ginger
6-8 garlic gloves, crushed
2 teaspoons (10ml) curry paste or powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground cumin
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground chilli powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) turmeric
2 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-3cm chunks
1/2 cup (120g) dry red lentils
1 can coconut milk
1 cup (240g) of water
1 cup/a good thick handful of Sorrel (or Spinach/Chard leaves), larger stems stripped out and leaves torn up a little.

Steamed rice

1. Prepare vegetables and spices.

2. In a large pot, add some oil, and all the ginger, garlic and spices. Stir, and cook this for a few minutes on a medium heat.

3. Stir in the sweet potato, lentils, coconut milk and water and bring to a simmer. Then cover, turn the heat down for c. 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender.

4. Add in the Sorrel. Stir, replace the lid, and cook for a couple more minutes.

5. Serve immediately over steamed rice.

a) The Sorrel adds a lemony tang that we think goes really well with this recipe. And with Sorrel being a perennial vegetable that is so easy to grow, we tend to choose it over Spinach and Chard now.

b) We are generous with the garlic and ginger and use double the amount from the original recipe. So do start with less if you aren't sure you like quite that much.

c) This is a great recipe for batch cooking. We often make 3 times the recipe, then freeze most of it in containers. A standard (not small) takeaway container will hold enough for two. Then just unfreeze when you want, heat up and make rice, and there you have a healthy and yummy meal for when you are low on spoons.

Spilling the Beans, Julie Van Rosendaal & Sue Duncan, 2011, page 146.
ISBN: 978 1 77050 041 9

About Gwenfar's Garden's recipes

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Front garden: Spring 2020 overview, in pictures

The front garden, May 2020

The front garden has really come a long way since we first moved in. So this is an overview in pictures (I am too exhausted to write much at the moment), particularly as so many plants are now looking so good.

For comparison, this is what the front garden looked like when we moved in.
November 2017

So, going back to earlier this Spring...

March 2020
Overview near the front door

Under the Quince treen: Primula vulgaris and Anemone blanda, with grassy leaves
from Stipa tenuissima.

Looking towards the lounge room window

Quince tree

View from the front gate

One of my favourite daffodils, the fragrant Narcissus 'Cragford'

April 2020

Quince flower, Cydonia oblonga 'Vranja'

Under the quince tree, Muscari aucheri 'Blue Magic'

Planter under the lounge room window. Tulipa 'Ballerina' (orange), plus a rouge that was pulled out!

Tulipa Ballerina and Tulipa Havran (beetroot colour), plus Myosotis sylvatica and other plants

Viola 'Butterpat', which also has a lovely fragrance. Planted next to the front door.

Tulipa 'Abu Hassan'

Front: Primula veris, back: Primula elatior

May 2020

 Quince tree and Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea'

Camassia, in detail

Planted together: red Geum 'Mrs J. Bradshaw', and orange Geum 'Totally Tangerine'

Geum 'Mrs J. Bradshaw' up close

In another part of the garden, Geum coccineum 'Koi'

View from lounge room

Primula bulleyana and bumblebee

View from the front gate, with a young Acer Griseum

The front garden has come a long way since November 2017! Whilst I do all the designing and planting plans, the garden wouldn't be where it is without the help of my gardener Andrea. Thanks Andrea, we've created, I believe, a beautiful space.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Keeping blackfly off Broad Beans

Broad beans in the kitchen garden. You can see the first beans are almost ready to pick.

It's the time of year to start planning those broad bean meals, as the first crops should be ready to harvest soon. However, just before the broad beans are ready for eating, also happens to be the exact same time that the dreaded Blackfly (black bean aphid - Aphis fabae) decide to make an appearance. They suck out all the goodness from the plant and can destroy much of your crop if you don't get them under control.

Images: Left - The Vegetable and Herb Expert (2002), Right - RHS website.

The blackfly head for the tips of the broad beans first, as per the picture on the left, and an example of a bad infestation is on the right. It can take only a couple of days to go from just appearing, to a bad infestation, which can destroy the flowers before they even turn into beans.

If you notice that you have ants going up and down your beans, that's because they are also getting read for them. Ants 'farm' them (photo above) and can make an infestation so much worse. These are my tips for getting ahead of the blackfly.

Pinching out the tips
The first tip, is to pinch out the tips of the broad beans. This is because this is where the blackfly will land and start their infestation. By taking out the tips, you are opening up the top of the plant to more light and air, making it a little harder for them to take over.

You want to do this once the plants look like they are a decent size and have plenty of flowers on them. This is usually around early-mid May, but can depend on when you sowed them. Earlier May if you sowed in Autumn, later May if the sowing was done in Spring.

The circle shows the tips in detail.
You can see lots of young leaves and flowers all wrapped up tight.

From another angle, me holding the tip I'll pinch out.

Closer in, you can see I'm going to take out the whole tip.

Use your fingers (or pruners if you like) and snap off the tip.

Remember, the tips are edible and you can add them to salad or a stir fry.

The flowers have been pollinated and the bean pods are developing.

Spray the blackfly
Even with pinching out the tips, the blackfly will most likely still attack the beans, you've just slowed down the process. The second line of defence is soapy water, which works by clogging up the pores which insects breathe through, effectively suffocating them. Technically, it can harm all insects, including the good ones. But it dissipates quickly and doesn't really harm anything which isn't directly sprayed.

Squeeze some washing up liquid into a sprayer (see pic below) then fill to about 3 quarters. Given it a really good shake so it gets all soapy. Then squirt the soapy water directly onto the blackfly. Be really generous and drown the buggers. Also make sure to spray the undersides of the leaves as they can hid there too.
A squirty bottle with soapy water, filled to three quarters.

Make a concerted effort of spraying them morning and evening for a few days, and most will eventually be killed off. A few may hang around, but they will be weakened, and you will have saved most of your crop.

The soapy water won't hurt good bugs like ladybirds (whose larvae eat blackfly), just the bad bugs like blackfly. In fact, you can also use this solution on greenfly.

 Dwarf broad beans, in front of tall ones

Other options
Other options include ordering some ladybird larvae to be delivered to you, as these dine on blackfly quite voraciously, and they could solve your problem. I have yet to try this, so cannot say how well it works.

Some people use Neem oil for a really bad infestation. It's apparently effective, but can be hard on the plant and it can kill 'good' insects, so best kept for when you need the nuclear option.

Both Neem oil and Aspirin contain high levels of salicylates, the plant hormones involved in boosting pathogen-defending protein production in plants. Salicylic acid is also used by some plants as a signalling mechanism when they're under attack. Predatory insects and insect eating birds will follow a trail of salicylic acid, expecting a swarm of aphids or similar. So adding 1 soluble Aspirin to your soapy water is worth trying, and one I will experiment with this year.

An 'untidy' garden, particularly for ladybirds to over winter in, to increase their habitat and numbers, can help. Whilst I do this every year, and I've created a bug hotel, I've still not had much luck with increasing the number of ladybirds in the garden, so I continue to resort to pinching out tips and soapy water.

* * * * *
If you can, try to check your beans daily for blackfly. The sooner you notice and start spraying them, the better chance you have of keeping them under control.

A few days of some dedicated checking and spraying, and you can look forward to eating these!
 Just picked (last year) broad beans

P.S. Thanks to people on Mastodon (you know who you are) for sharing their experience of using Neem oil and Aspirin. To Alx who said their beans are looking much better after just a few days of the washing up liquid spray suggestion, and Xan for the extra information about how the soapy water works on the blackfly.
I also recommend reading a short post by a gardening professional, Saralimback, about the negative impacts of neem oil on your ecosystem.