Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Fleet Pond

Having been suffering from a severe cold for days on end, I had begun to develop "cabin fever" and felt a strong urge to get out of the house for a while. Since it was a bright cold day I felt that a trip to nearby Fleet Pond was in order. This small lake is a well-known haven for wildlife of all sorts, so I reckoned I ought to be able to get a few decent photos...

Fleet Pond is more than just a pond. It's a mega-pond; quite a large expanse of water.

The pond was covered with a thin sheet of ice, making it look as if the water-birds were walking on water.

What the wildlife likes most is the reeds.

The green thing in the background is the new two-storey car-park at the railway station.

Around the pond there are big reed-beds.

The reeds are 6 - 8 feet tall, providing plenty of cover for all the little birds and animals that love to inhabit them.

Lots of Swans live on the pond.

Here's a pair of Swans "necking"!

This one probably thinks it's a Swan, but of course it isn't - it's some sort of Duck.

This one is easier to identify - a female Mallard duck, glowing in the sunshine.

Here is a male Mallard, along with a couple of Canada Geese.

And this is a couple of Canada Geese with another Mallard. The Goose in the centre of the shot is nicely illuminated by a fortuitous ray of sunshine, making it the unmistakeable focus of the photo.

This next shot was taken at a range that was really beyond the capability of my 14 - 42 Standard lens, but I think it is good enough to include anyway. It shows a Grey Heron.

Apart from the water-birds, I met loads of Robins. My photos here are of three different birds. The first one posed very obligingly on a footpath marker-post.

This one perched on a fence looks really chubby - almost spherical.

I think this would count as a "difficult shot" by any measure. This Robin was NOT going to sit in an easy-to-photograph position, but I got him anyway! I rather like the effect of the complex array of boughs and branches.

Apart from birds, I did see some other stuff, like this Marsh Marigold, flowering despite the icy conditions.

And this fungus growing on a tree-stump.

Even an old brick culvert can be photogenic, you know. I love the light and shade effect, and the warmth of the mellow brickwork.

I was talking to another photographer at the pond, and she said to me "What did you come to photograph?". I replied "Whatever looks interesting!"
If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in THIS older one - from 2011 - too.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Parsnip "Guernsey Half Long"

Although I seldom grow many of each type of vegetable, I like wherever possible to grow at least two varieties of each type. That way, if one fails or performs poorly I have a second chance of success. So it was that this year I sowed two varieties of Parsnip - "Duchess" and "Guernsey Half Long".

Parsnips take a long time to grow. I sowed mine on 8th March and harvested the first of them on 1st November. But then, you only use a few at a time and they keep in good condition for a long time too. If you didn't harvest them they would stay in useable condition for at least another three months.
During their growing period the plants produce a lot of luxuriant foliage and store away lots of energy in their deep tap-roots. This is a photo of my Parsnips taken on 29th June, when the foliage was about three feet tall. They are covered with Enviromesh to protect them and their neighbouring Carrots from Carrot Root Fly.

The "Duchess" Parsnips are (mostly!) long and straight, as they are supposed to be, but the "Guernsey Half Long" ones are described as "medium short (8 to 10 inches)". They are quite broad at the shoulder, but they taper rapidly down to very long thin roots:

The big one in the centre of that group is a "Duchess" Parsnip, while the others are "Guernsey Half Long".

Harvesting Parsnips is always a hit-and-miss affair. Since the roots are broad at the top you pull up what you think is going to be a big one, but it often turns out to be a small one!

I am pleased with my Parsnips this year. Growing them in that deep bed full of sandy, light compost has produced mostly pretty regular roots, with only a few wierdos, and they have smooth, almost canker-free skins.

 The smaller ones will have to be cooked whole, while the bigger ones will need to be halved, I think.

I think the best way to eat Parsnips is roasted (preferably in goose fat!), but they are also very nice made into curried Parsnip soup. What's your favourite way of eating them?

P.S. Thanks for all your good wishes and commiserations concerning our colds. I wish I could say that we are feeling better, but if I did it would be a lie! how much longer can this thing last..??

Monday, 29 December 2014

Harvest Monday - 29th December 2014

This past week has been very different, for a number of reasons. For a start, there was Christmas (which Jane and I spent with our daughter Emma and her family). Then there was the cold. I mean "The Cold". We have both been struck down with an exceptionally severe cold, with all the usual symptoms: headache, blocked / runny nose, sore throat, coughing etc.  A cold like this is so debilitating. You don't feel like doing anything, and hot drinks and paracetamol only go so far.... Oh and then there has been the other type of cold - the weather. Many parts of the UK have had thick snow, but we have so far escaped that, though we have had a heavy frost a couple of nights.

In view of the above, I have not done much gardening, despite having the leisure time to do it. A couple of brief harvesting forays have been about it. I got a nice batch of Parsnips, about which I will write more fully tomorrow:

And another small picking of Brussels Sprouts:

If I had felt like it, I could have harvested some more salads, but to be honest I didn't feel up to it - and anyway we haven't been eating anything much at all...

This is my entry to Harvest Monday, hosted by the ever-dependable Daphne's Dandelions. I hope someone else has something more ambitious to show off!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Edible Christmas presents

Prominent amongst my Christmas presents this year were some lovely edible (and drinkable) goodies. We are currently going through a period of pride in British products, so Jane bought me some very British foodstuffs, like this Kentish Cobnut oil from Hurstwood Farm near Sevenoaks:

Cobnuts are similar to Hazelnuts and Filberts. The nuts are shelled, roasted and then pressed to extract their oil, which is like Hazelnut oil, but "with a more intensely delicious nutty flavour". It can be used cold as a dipping oil or salad dressing, drizzled over hot vegetable like olive oil is used, and even used as an ingredient in dishes like Chocolate Brownies!

It is not cheap but it is a definitely a top-quality product. I bet it would be good made into that Hazelnut Mayonnaise I made the other day.

Jane also bought this for me:

This kit needs only the addition of milk to enable one to make two different types of cheese - mozzarella and ricotta.
Well, I imagine that when home-made they will be "in the style of" rather than authentically like the real thing. Still, I'm sure it will be fun to have a go. Just a few days before Christmas I had seen on a blog something about making cheese at home, and had said that I wanted to have a go at it. Jane had been trying to steer the conversation away from this subject for fear of divulging the fact that she had already bought me this kit! I've bought loads of milk now, so I'll let you know how it goes...

This is not a present for me; it is officially for both of us:

These are Alcoholic Fruit Mixers - Cassis (blackcurrant), Framboise (raspberry) and Fraise (strawberry) - the sort of thing you put into champagne to make a Kir Royale. They are made with "pure pressed fruit juice, a little champagne yeast and just enough sugar to sweeten". They contain 13% alcohol.

They are manufactured in Herefordshire by Jo Hilditch of British Cassis at Whittern Farm, Lyonshall. This is just a couple of miles from Pembridge, where we rented a self-catering cottage for a holiday in 2011. Incidentally, Lyonshall has a fabulous Water Garden which is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the vicinity.

Lyonshall Water Gardens

So what did YOU get for Christmas? Any nice edible goodies?

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Brussels Sprouts

My six Brussels Sprout plants have produced a good crop. I have been very pleased with the yield. Individually, the sprouts are small , but there are lots of them, and they just keep on coming:

It is a well-known fact that plants grown close together are generally smaller than ones well spaced out. I have six plants in one 1 x 2.4 metre raised bed, so I'm not surprised that the plants (and their sprouts) are small.

Following recognised Best Practice, I have been picking the sprouts from the bottoms of the stalks first. This allows the ones up near the crown to keep on growing bigger. Two of the plants are nearly finished now; they are the two "Brilliant" ones. I also have two of "Bosworth" and two of "Napoleon". As you can see in the next photo, many of the lower leaves are going yellow now, so I have been progressively removing them as they fade, to lessen the chance of disease setting in.

I deliberately chose varieties of sprouts that would mature at different times, in order to extend the cropping season, and it seems to have worked. Jane and I are not keen on frozen veg if fresh can be available, so I have not aimed to produce big quantities all at once. And the best thing is that by the time the Brussels Sprouts finish, the PSB will be just about ready.

When all the sprouts have been picked I will use any of the Tops that look all right as additional greens (they are like a full-flavoured cabbage), and I will compost the stems. The enormous stems are very tough and woody, so in order to help them decompose I smash them with a hammer, breaking open the thick outer skin. And then the cycle will begin again: it won't be long before I'm sowing more seeds. A gardener's task is never complete!

Friday, 26 December 2014


Hi Everyone; I hope you all had a good Christmas! With the Main Event past us already, I am turning my attention to gardening plans for 2015, and trying to decide what seeds to order.

Most of you will know that I grow Purple Sprouting Broccoli every year, so this is definitely going to be on my list.

I usually go for the varieties that produce their crop in the Spring, at a time when not much else is available - in other words the "Hungry Gap". I know that these days you can get PSB that flowers in the Summer, but I have never grown any. This is mainly because during the Summer my garden is crammed full of other crops, so I can't spare any space for Summer PSB as well as Spring PSB. I did once get as far as ordering some seeds for the variety "Bordeaux", but by a cruel quirk of fate that type was just not available that year, due to a poor harvest the previous year! Just browsing around a few websites today I see that several of them say this variety is "currently unavailable", so presumably it is a difficult one to grow. I think I will avoid it...

I have in the past successfully grown some Summer-cropping types of green Broccoli, especially the multi-headed ones like "Apollo" and the oriental hybrid "Kaibroc" (a cross between Broccoli and Kailaan). The ones I choose are necessarily small ones, due to space limitations. Recently I have been inspired by the Broccoli called "Di Ciccio", which I have seen described on the blogs of some fellow bloggers in the USA - especially Michelle Hamer, who writes From Seed To Table. "Di Ciccio" seems to be highly variable in both size and yield, and can evidently get quite big, so it is one I would normally avoid, but Michelle makes it sound so attractive that I am determined to try it. Seeds for this variety seem to be quite hard to come by in the UK, but as luck would have it a friend recently sent me some seeds of this type along with a load of others of which he had plenty spare. Thanks Chris!

I wonder if any of my readers have tried "Di Ciccio"? If you have, would you please tell me how it fared in your garden, and what you think of it?

In the meantime, I am getting quite close to being able to harvest my PSB sown back in the Spring of 2014. Well, by "quite close" I mean about another 6 to 8 weeks I expect! PSB takes a long time to grow (about 10 months is normal), so 6 - 8 weeks is a relatively short time. This is what the most advanced of my 6 plants looks like at present:

This is the main head, but you can definitely see plenty of side-shoots forming too.

My plants this year are two each of "Red Arrow", "Red Spear" and "Early Purple Sprouting" - the latter being my current favourite. It is an older variety and produces its spears over a longer period than many of the more modern types, so it is more useful in the domestic garden. I don't think PSB freezes well, so I don't want a big crop that matures all at once; I want little crops over a longer period.

Who else grows PSB, and do you have any recommendations for me?

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Traditional Christmas fare

As regular readers will know, Jane and I have a very wide repertoire of recipes and favourite foods; we eat British food, Asian food, Mediterranean food, Caribbean food - food based on recipes and ingredients from all round the globe. But when it comes to Christmas, we want traditional English food. We always want roast Turkey for Christmas dinner, accompanied by all the usual bits and pieces - roast potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts, Parsnips, sausages wrapped in bacon, Sage-and-onion stuffing, bread sauce, gravy, etc, etc.

Around our country - indeed around many other parts of the world - people will be eating meals like that on Christmas Day. It is a familiar scene! Today however, I want to show you some of the other food and drink items that we associate with Christmas.

I know lots of people will join me in considering this first one an essential element of Christmas fare - home-made Sloe Gin:

This Gin is drunk as a liqueur. It's not traditional to add Tonic water and a slice of lemon! It has a delicious fruity plum flavour and a lovely warming effect. Somehow Sloe Gin doesn't seem right in the Summer-time; it only seems appropriate at Christmas. Last year I made loads of it, so the bottle you see in my photo is about 15 months old - nicely matured. I didn't make any this year because I thought I already had enough, but that is my last bottle so I shall definitely need to make some more in 2015. [If you want to read about making Sloe Gin, I have written about it a couple of times before, so use the Search facility in my side-bar to look for the key word "Sloe", or just follow this LINK ]

Here is another thing I associate with Christmas - Panettone:

Panettone is a type of sweet fruit bread, originating from the Milan area of Italy. Here in the UK it is becoming more widely available, even though I would not say it is hugely popular (yet). Incidentally, mine came from Lidl. It amuses me to see the artificially even distribution of the dried fruit in the illustration on the packet, as compared with the real loaf (below)!

I normally eat Panettone as a dessert, usually with a glass of Port (or maybe Sloe Gin).

This is something that is definitely part of the Christmas routine in our house - mixed nuts in their shells:

I think part of the attraction is the challenge of getting the nuts out of their shells. There is a definite knack to this, and I don't think I've got it! I usually end up with both shell and nut splintered into about 100 little shards instead of the whole kernel coming out smoothly in one piece. I remember when I was little my Granny had a metal nut-picker, a bit like the things you use for removing whelks and snails from their shells. It was rather like a very thick trussing-needle. Very effective it was too. I wonder if they still exist?

Medjool dates are another food item that we only buy at Christmas-time. Actually I don't think they are available in our shops for most of the year, even though as you can see from the label on the pack pictured below, they have a long shelf-life.

Medjool dates are the biggest and most succulent type of date and they are considered a luxury item. They have a soft sticky texture, and a taste that is almost like caramel. Their flesh is fibrous, but not in an unpleasant way. We often eat these dates alongside nuts, perhaps with some cheese, as a dessert after our dinner.

Wishing all my readers a Happy Christmas - hopefully full of good things to eat and drink!

Best Wishes.


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A casualty already?

Even though we have not yet had much Wintery weather I think one of my Rosemary bushes may have died - or at least partially.

This is what most of the Rosemary bushes look like at present - not as lush and fleshy as they do during the Summer months, but certainly OK:

But take a close look at these:

That is actually two bushes. The one on the right is OK, but part of the one on the left appears to have died. The bush branches into two main parts very low down. One seems all right and its leaves are still shiny and green, like this:

But the other part is very different. Its leaves are dull and lifeless, and desiccated:

They are thinner too, really needle-like.

I know that Rosemary (which is originally a Mediterranean herb) is a bit averse to cold conditions, especially if it is in wet ground, but the weather we have had so far this Winter has been a lot milder than normal. The biggest enemy of herbs like this though is not the cold temperatures, but the wind. These Rosemary plants of mine are in a far-from-ideal site. The wind funnels between our house and the one next-door like a wind-tunnel, so the plants do get a battering. One of my plastic compost bins provides a little protection, but I am well aware that it is only a partial solution:

My approach to this issue is a) Don't panic, and b) Take lots of cuttings to produce a succession of new plants! I'm just hoping that none of the others succumb.