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rhubarb

Vegetable Garden

Seven jobs for your autumn vegetable garden

October 2, 2014

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden“And all of a sudden it was autumn”

The words from the social media stream of Foxglove Lane, one of my favourite photographic blogs, captured the almost overnight change in our weather. Our wonderfully long Indian summer is coming to an end. The leaves have started to flutter down in the autumn breeze and the hedgerows are giving us hints of the glorious shades that will soon adorn the landscape in their fall displays.

In the laneways the hedge cutters are busy trimming and tidying and thankfully those around us are doing so with sharpened blades that don’t leave the branches scared, torn and naked. The hedgerows are looking trim and tidy, ready to take the weight of snow that may befall them and the regrowth that springtime will bring.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenIn our homestead Mr G has been busy clearing out sheds so he has room to cut and store firewood and make space for workshop repairs, a never-ending pastime when you live in an old, rescued farmhouse.

And the garden… I’m beginning to despair at the lack of time I’m managing to find in my own. I do know however, this is a temporary glitch, soon I’ll be able to spend some precious hours inhaling the scent of soil and vegetation, preparing the garden for winter, hopefully before the rains come.

If you’re growing vegetables and are wondering what you could be doing outside now in the autumn days to ready it for winter, here’s seven jobs you could be getting on with. I keep adding to them, this was meant to be a list of five, and of course there’s plenty more, but I might frighten myself if I begin to list them all…

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenSeven Jobs in the Autumn Vegetable Garden

1. Pumpkins, Courgettes and Squash

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenThe days and nights are still warm but that could change, quick as a flash. Keep a close eye on your squash plants and the weather forecast as members of the squash family are frost tender. If you haven’t already done so, cut the stems of any plants that aren’t producing fruit and stop them growing. Small fruit are unlikely to amount to anything at this stage so its sadly time to get rid of them too. It may seem harsh but it will allow the plant to put all it’s energy into developing the remaining fruit on the plant. For more information on growing, harvesting and caring for squash, the RHS have a very useful information page here.

Courgettes will be coming to the end of their season and you may have noticed some whiteness on the leaves. This is likely to be powdery mildew and can be treated by removing the worst of the infected leaves from the plant and spraying the rest with a solution of 30% milk to 70% water. Don’t forget that plants have a natural lifespan and many will be starting to die off at this stage anyway so it may just be time to let nature take her natural course.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden2. Clear away dead plants and debris

Now’s a great time to get outside and clear away all the debris of plants that have finished growing. Compost anything that’s not diseased, tidy away canes and netting. Clear away dead leaves away from plants such as the brassica that will be overwintering.

3. Cover the Soil

Once you’ve cleared away all the old plants and vegetable debris from around your garden, you may be left with beds of bare soil. If you’re not planning on planting any vegetables to overwinter, it’s a good idea to cover the soil with well-rotted manure or compost then cover them with black plastic or cardboard to prevent the nutrients leaching out during the winter months and polluting water streams. This will not only feed the soil over the winter months but prevent weeds growing too.

If you don’t have access to manure or compost, most garden centres and online stores now sell green manures that can be sown and left to grow until the springtime before being dug into the soil before planting season begins again.

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable garden4. Start Collecting Leaves

Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients and will rot down to create leaf mould that will turn into a wonderful soil conditioner. It’s a good idea to keep leaves separate from your compost area. Sacks can be purchased to keep them in or make a leaf mould bin using four fence posts and some chicken wire. The Secret Garden blog explains leaf mould in more detail and why it makes sense to collect our leaves.

5. Look After Your Rhubarb Patch

I spotted some very useful tips from the Real Men Sow blog recently that will tell you how to look after your rhubarb patch in the autumn. If you haven’t done so already, stop harvesting, let the leaves die down naturally then mulch heavily with well-rotted manure. Don’t cover the crowns completely is it may encourage rot to set in. Tending to your rhubarb now will make sure you get a good crop of stalks next year.

6. Harvesting

7 jobs for the autumn vegetable gardenGrab what you can when you can! I’m pining for some time to preserve all the fruit and vegetable growing in my garden but have given up stressing about it. Berries (including hedgerow berries) can be frozen flat on trays then bagged up, ready for some quieter time during the winter months for jam and juice making. Apples can be washed, peeled, sliced and basted with lemon juice before freezing flat on trays, then bagging up. Runner beans can be blanched and frozen in handy sized bags and courgettes will keep for a while in a cool, dry shed. (Whatever would we do without a freezer?!)

7. Plant something new

Just because we’re approaching winter, doesn’t mean we can’t grow anything. Now’s the time to plant overwintering onion sets and garlic cloves. Oriental salad leaves grow well in our climate as well as winter spinach and hardy peas.

If you’d like more than seven things to get on with in the vegetable garden, check out the Garden Tips page on the tab above for a month by month guide, as well as some handy, free downloads. Oh and if you can think up any upcycling ideas for a pile of old bicycles, be sure to let me know!

Food & Drink, Green

5 reasons why we should eat ‘in season’ (& eat rhubarb cake too)

April 17, 2014

Rhubarb PatchWe often hear the term ‘in season’ bandied about but I was asked recently why it was so important when food is readily available all year round – a good question in the age of convenience. The following post therefore gives five reasons why we should be thinking more carefully about the foods we buy and cook throughout the year. It’s followed by a few suggestions for rhubarb recipes as well as a very seasonal rhubarb crumble cake that I discovered this week after we found ourselves with a glut of duck eggs and ‘in season’ rhubarb stalks.

Rhubarb Crumble Cake CrumbsNumber 1. In season food that’s been freshly harvested has more nutrients and flavour than food that’s travelled hundreds of miles and/or has been stored before it reaches you.

After we pick fruit and vegetables they continue to breathe (known as respiration) which breaks down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Warm air can speed this process up, as in the case of apples for instance. For the commercial market apples are generally stored at cold temperatures for long periods of time (for a year or more in some cases), with low levels of oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide added to them. After a few months under these conditions, their nutrient levels begin to diminish.  Even without long-term storage, it might take a week or two between a fruit or vegetable being picked, to when it’s delivered to the shop we buy it from. It may then be another week before we eat it.

When we buy ‘in season’ and locally, the food is generally sold within 48 hours of being picked and we’re more likely to use it quickly, perhaps excited and mindful that it’s so fresh.

Number 2. Buying seasonal food usually means we’re supporting local producers, farmers, farmers markets, CSAs and co-ops which is great for local economies. I wrote a post recently about the various schemes and projects we can support here if you’d like to find out more about them.

Number 3. Buying seasonal food means it’s usually cheaper. Buying a punnet of strawberries in June should be much cheaper than buying a punnet at Christmas. If it’s not, we should ask ourselves (or the shopkeeper) why not. Are the farmers getting a good deal?

winter squashNumber 4. Some societies believe that ‘in season’ food provides nutrients and ingredients that our bodies crave or need at certain times of the year. Somehow juicy soft fruits such as red currents and raspberries seem much more appealing when the sun is warm on our skins than in the cold winter months. Likewise we enjoy eating warming vegetable stews and soups loaded with root vegetables, pulses and winter squashes in the autumn months when we’re tucked up in front of cozy fires.

Number 5. Eating in season is good for the environment. At a time when climate change and fossil fuels are uppermost in many of our minds thanks to the recent IPCC report, there are less air and road miles used when we shop for and eat ‘in season’ local produce.

Buying more local and ‘in season’ produce doesn’t mean that we have to give up buying imported produce altogether, but that we become more aware of what’s growing or on offer at any particular time and choose it as often as we can over imported fruit and vegetables.

rhubarb plantsRhubarb Recipes

As a result of a sudden rhubarb glut in the Greenside Up household, I learnt this week that if we don’t have time to cook it all, it freezes very well. Just wash, trim and cut the stalks into 25mm pieces then blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 mins. Drain them, dry them then pack them into containers on their own. They can then be used for stewed fruits, pies and cakes when you have more time.

However, it seemed a shame to be in possession of so much rhubarb and not make something with it! I therefore chose this particular rhubarb crumble cake recipe because it uses lots of eggs and now that our duck is laying, we have an abundance.

Not used to baking with duck eggs, I googled and found that we can just straight-swap duck eggs with hen eggs. So I did. The resulting cake was light, fluffy and went down a treat but it did take longer to bake than the original Good Food recipe suggested, probably as a result of the slightly larger duck eggs.

Ducky & Bob, best pals since the fox attack

Ducky & Bob, best pals since the fox attack

If you’re searching for other rhubarb recipes, I’ve one here that the lovely Mona Wise published in her newspaper column last year for rhubarb cheesecake and another from Sarah of Cake in the Country for rhubarb lemonade that’s very refreshing at this time of year. There are instructions on the latter post too for growing and caring for rhubarb if you have any questions about it.

duck eggsRecipe for Rhubarb Crumble Cake

250g butter
250g caster sugar plus 1 tbsp
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs (I used duck)
300g plain flour, plus 7 tbsp
2 tsp baking powder
300g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and sliced thinly
Preheat the over to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3 and grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin.

Please note that since my old food mixer broke, I’ve been using a food processor for all my mixing and baking… 

Put the butter, 250g sugar and vanilla into a food processor and mix until the mixture is combined, light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time (I always break them into a cup first to check they’re fresh), and mix together before tipping the mixture into a large bowl. You wont need to do this if you use a food mixer. Sieve in the flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture.

For the crumble topping, remove about 85g of the mixture with a spoon and put onto a plate then stir in the extra 7 tablespoons of flour mentioned in the ingredients list. Use a knife and fork to mix and chop this up until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the chopped rhubarb into the large bowl of flour and eggs and fold in until combined. Empty the mixture into the prepared cake tin and sprinkle the crumble topping over the top before finally sprinkling the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top.

Place the tin onto the middle shelf of the oven for 1 hr 35 mins if using duck eggs (the Good Food recipe recommends 1 hr 15 mins for hen eggs). If the cake begins to brown or burn but is still runny in the middle when checked with a skewer, cover the top with a piece of tin foil.

When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a while before turning out of the tin and cooling fully on a wire cooling rack.

rhubarb crumble cake

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

I’ve plans to make a rhubarb and honey compote this weekend with honey from a neighbours hives, making it a truly homegrown dessert. Do you have any favourite rhubarb recipes? What are your thoughts on ‘in season’ shopping? Do you think we’ve forgotten what ‘in season’ really means?

Food & Drink

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb (& why I love Twitter)

May 20, 2011

Twitter’s a great place to hang out… sometimes you can ask a simple question and sometimes the replies come firing in, within seconds. Last night I sent out a simple tweet:

“Harvested an armful of rhubarb from community garden today but what can I make that doesn’t include lots of sugar?”

Here are the replies, and they all sounded so delicious that I thought I’d share them…

@LoveToGrowLass : rhubarb chutney, stewed rhubarb with maple syrup, grated ginger and lemon, served with yogurt

@Guestlandlord: use it as a layer at the bottom of a bread and butter pudding. Its sharpness cuts the richness of the B & B’s sugar/custard.

@luckylottielisa : pan fried mackerel and roasted rhubarb.

@likemamuse2bake : rhubarb chutney

@frandowdsofa : recipe ideas here http://frandowdsofa.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/rhubarb-rhubarb/ Also mixing small chunks into pork burgers worked nicely, with extra crumbled black pudding.

@JadaJelly : rhubarb and orange slump http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/5883/rhubarb-and-orange-slump

@fenifur : Baking/stewing it with pineapple or strawberries, rhubarb daal. Also http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/recipes

@EcoGitesLenault – rhubarb chutney http://forum.downsizer.net/index.php?component=catalogdisplay&show_post=751106&Cuisine=&Course=&Special1=&search_text=rhubarb

Hard to choose but think I’ll be trying out the chutney and will post up the recipe once it’s made. A big thanks to everyone who took the trouble to reply, and you can find me at www.twitter.com/Greensideupveg most evenings 😉 

 

Food & Drink, Vegetable Garden

Rhubarb…. growing, caring for and eating

May 9, 2011

rhubarbLove it or hate it, rhubarb been around for centuries and was originally grown for its medicinal properties. There are many varieties with stem colours ranging from green to pink to red, and a green stalk doesn’t necessarily mean a sour stalk.

Rhubarb is a perennial crop (all being well it will keep growing back year after year) and prefers a cooler climate, needing temperatures of below 5°C to break its dormancy and no more than 24°C to produce lots of growth, making it an ideal vegetable to grow in Ireland. Once planted it can stay productive for up to 15 years.

Along with many plants, rhubarb prefers fertile, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter dug in, preferably in a sunny spot. If you use fertilisers a sprinkling of a general fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone meal around the stems in the spring (taking care to keep it clear of the crown) will improve the yields. Likewise a shovel full of well-rotted manure or composted leaves applied in the autumn (taking care not to cover the crown which may encourage it to rot) will benefit the plant greatly. Rhubarb also prefers to grow in slightly acidic soil with a pH of around 6 – 6.8.

Rhubarb in springRoots should ideally be planted in the early spring, and if you want more than one plant, space them around 60-120cm (1 – 2′) apart.  Dig a large hole and mix in lots of organic matter.  Plant the roots with the crown bud 5cm (2″) below the surface of the soil, firming the soil around the roots but keeping it loose over the buds, watering in the crowns after planting. Don’t just forget about it once it’s in, although it’s a tough, hardy plant it still needs some care and attention… water your rhubarb in dry spells and remove the flower stalks as soon as you see them, usually in the spring (they look quite different from the stems), and keep weeding around it.

Picking

During the first year of growth, don’t pick the stalks as the leaves on the plant will nourish the roots for the following year’s growth. During the second year, and only if the plant is growing well, just pick a few stalks. After that the whole plant can be harvested.

To harvest rhubarb just cut the stalks at the soil line or pull them out one at a time, either taking them all out or just as you need them, usually between April and September. Once the stalks have been cut, remove the leaves which can cause poisoning if large quantities of raw or cooked leaves are eaten. The stems also contain it but to a much lesser degree. However, if the plant is hit by frost and the stems seem soft and mushy, don’t eat them, send them to the compost heap instead. Although the leaves can be dangerous if they’re eaten, it’s okay to compost them… they’ll decompose and breakdown in the heap without causing any problems.

Some people like to force rhubarb, giving an earlier crop, but personally I’ve always left it to develop naturally.

Eating it

There are many recipes using these delicious stalks, rhubarb crumble wins hands down in our household every time, although I did taste a delicious rhubarb cake last year as well as a divine roasted rhubarb cheesecake.

The inspiration for this blog post though goes to Sarah with her excellent blog Cake in the Country, packed full of great recipes. Her latest post was for Rhubarb Lemonade, a drink I’ll be recreating in the next few days (and maybe even try it with a wee drop of alcohol).

Sarah used:

4 sticks of rhubarb chopped roughly
About a 3/4 cup of sugar
Juice of 1.5 lemons
Zest from 3/4 of one lemon
about a cup or so of water. Just enough to cover the rhubarb in a large saucepan which will make a rhubarb lemony syrup.)

Place everything in a pan and add the water as above. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 8-10 mins until all the rhubarb has broken down. Taste it. If you like lemonade zingy and tart, you might want to add some more sugar and give it another minute or two to dissolve.

Strain through some muslin (or a clean nylon stocking) and sieve into a container (or for keeping in a sterilised jar) Sarah wrote a blog on sterilising here.

“The rhubarby mush is perfect for stirring into yoghurt or your porridge in the morning!” Let it cool. This is a concentrated syrup. Sarah used about 1/3 of a glass of this syrup poured over lots and lots of ice and top it up with water or sparkling water for some fizz.  Taste to test and add more syrup or water as you need!”

How do you like your rhubarb?

Vegetable Garden

Pesticides and Fungicides using kitchen/garden ingredients

June 21, 2010

Lots of people have been asking how to deal with pests and diseases organically recently so I’ve listed below a few ‘recipes’ to deal with most of the common ones.

However, even organic pesticides and herbicides should be used as a last resort, and are generally never recommended for use in polytunnels and greenhouses.

In the long term encouraging a garden full of biodiversity is the aim.  Planting hedges and flowers that will provide hiding places and food for natural predators as well as providing bird boxes and areas with water will all help to create a more balanced environment.

Traps and barriers work well if you put them up early – for instance adding netting will prevent butterflies landing on the brassicas before they become a problem.  Turn a terracotta plant pot upside down, stuff it with straw and balance it on a bamboo stick – this will attract earwigs that can be collected and disposed of easily.

Crop rotation and companion planting should be used too eg moving potatoes to a new area each year will help prevent the build up of potato eel worm and planting alliums and carrots/parsnips together will benefit both species.  Blasting aphids off with a hose or squashing them between your fingers works whilst colonies are small and keeping greenhouses hosed down will help to keep red spider mite at bay. Learning to recognise pests and their cycles is important too. 

However, until you’ve built up the ‘good’ insect population in your garden, you may have to resort to more instant control, so here goes: (its a good idea to test a small amount on a plant 2 or 3 days before use to check that it doesn’t damage the plant).

Pesticides

NOTE: Most insecticides kill beneficial insects as well as their predators so use with caution. It’s often advised to spray in the evening when the beneficial insects will not be as active (for instance if you spray soap to kill greenfly, you may kill the hoverfly larvae that would eventually eat the greenfly).  As with any chemical, organic or otherwise, wear gloves and avoid breathing in the spray.

Insecticidal Soaps – Control aphids, thrips, spider mite
Buy from organic suppliers or make your own:

Soap Spray

2 tbsp (30ml) phosphate free washing up liquid (label may say safe in septic tanks)
2.2 lts water

Avoid spraying in bright sun as it can scorch foliage. Test a few leaves a couple of days before use as it may damage the plant. Will have to repeat every 24 – 48 hrs.

Rhubarb Leaves – All leaf eating insects

Rhubarb leaves are poisonous as they contain large quantities of oxalic acid. Wash vegetables thoroughly that have been sprayed before eating them.

1kg rhubarb leaves (can use tomato, elder or nettle leaves instead)

1lt water

Mix together, leave for a week, strain and use as a liquid spray.

Or

450g rhubarb leaves
1.1lt water

15ml soap flakes

Boil for 30 mins, topping up to allow for evaporation. Allow to cool and add soap flakes as a wetting agent. Strain and use as an undiluted spray.

Elder Shoots – Controls aphids and caterpillars


450g young Elder shoots
3lt water

Mix in large pan and boil for 30 mins. Strain and cool. Can be bottled while hot and will keep for 3 months.

 Cinnamon PowerDeters ants

Sprinkle at the entrance to their nest and they will move away.


Garlic SprayKills many insect pests and friends

Note: Do not use metallic containers with garlic sprays as they may react with the mixture.

1. Non oily version

1-2 garlic bulbs
Boiling water
1ltr soap spray

Chop garlic bulbs and cover with boiling water in a lidded jar. Leave to soak overnight. Strain and add to soap spray. Unused spray will decay but it can be frozen to preserve it.

2. Oily Version

100g chopped garlic

30ml liquid paraffin or baby oil

500ml water

5ml liquid soap (phosphate free)


Soak garlic for at least 24 hours in paraffin or oil in a sealed jar. Add water and liquid soap and stir well to emulsify the oil. This should keep well. Use 30ml of preparation in 500ml to spray plants.

3. Powdered dry garlic bulbs

Sprinkle the powder over affected plants or mix with water to make a spray.

Wormwood TeaControls aphids, caterpillars, flea beetles & moths

225 g wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
2.25 lts water
1 tsp soft soap

Simmer for 30 minutes, strain and add soft soap and add to spray bottle. Alternatively place dried sprigs beside carrots & onions to mask their scent.

Sulphur – Spider mites, thrips

Fungicides

Fungal infections are usually visible to the naked eye and include mildews, leaf spots and rusts. They are spread by spores. Carefully removing infected leaves immediately they are infected will help to control the infection.

Sodium BicarbonatePowdery Mildew

5g baking soda

1lt water

Mix together for a spray

Or

Blackspot & mildew on roses

3 tsp baking soda
1 heaped tsp soluble fertiliser
Few drops phosphorous free washing up liquid
4.5 lts water

Mix first three ingredients together thoroughly with 200ml water. Add to the remaining water in a watering can. This can be watered over the foliage every two weeks, starting in early spring and continuing throughout the growing season.

Or

Downy mildew

100g washing soda
4 lts water
50g soft soap

Dissolve washing soda in water then add soft soap to a spray bottle


Or

Powdery mildew, blackspot

20g baking soda
15ml citrus oil
2.2 lts water

Mix and spray foliage lightly, including the undersides. Do not pour or spray this mix directly into the soil.

Milk – Mildew

300ml milk
700ml water

The enzymes of fresh milk sprayed on plants will attack mildew. A stronger solution will result in a foul smell as the milk goes rancid.

Elder SprayMildew and black spot

Same as pesticides:

450g young Elder shoots
3lt water

Mix in large pan and boil for 30 mins. Strain and cool. Can be bottled while hot and will keep for 3 months.

Dock SprayMildew

15g mature docks
1 lt water

Puree docks and mix with water. Leave to soak for an hour and spray.

Garlic SprayFor scab, mildew, bean rust & tomato blight.

See pesticide preparation above.

10g crushed garlic or – Powdery mildew.

15g crushed onions
1lt water

Horsetail – Mildew on crops and some rusts, eg., celery

Preventative against potato blight.

28g horsetail (can use all parts of the plant, including rhizomes)
1 lt water
Mix together and allow to stand for 24 hours. Strain and use undiluted as a spray.

Finally:

DISCLAIMER: The control methods are suggested here as a matter of general information. Under Irish and EU law it is illegal to use any preparation as a pesticide/fugicide/herbicide that is not approved for such use. The author and the website accepts no responsibility for how a user may mix, use, store, or any effects the mixture or its elements may have on people, plants or the environment. The information here is for reference only and does not imply a recommendation for use. If you disregard this warning and make any of the preparations, you do so entirely at your own risk.

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