The Garden Isn’t a Harsh Mistress

Getting a few saved bulbs down early just in case I might be busy later.

There have been a lot of posts recently, haven’t there, dear reader? I’ve been making recipes and harvesting what’s come into readiness, it’s been a hectic few weeks. But I doubt anyone will complain, I’ve tried to balance them as best I can. It’d be fun to have a post a day for the entire month, I won’t force it, but if it happens that there’s enough to fill the month then it’ll be an accomplishment, of what merit, well, let’s pretend great things.

I’m honestly shocked they grew.

I can’t tell if you can remember, mind reader isn’t in my bag of tricks, but let’s recap the carrot situation. There was a heatwave that destroyed the carrots, twice no less, I learned that the top soil needs to be moist as moist can be. Crust kills. So, I did what anyone would do, I angrily threw down seeds and they grew, then in spite of warnings I split up clumps of carrots and transplanted them. Then, rational being that I am, I added two squash plants to the raised bed and left it to fend for itself. Lo and behold onto your hats, dear reader, I have carrots!

I had to chase this all over the garden.

Of all shapes and sizes, lumpy and bent, straight and narrow, all natural, organic carrots. Grown with little care, some feed, whatever the squash got they did too and when I pulled one up today to see it was large, shaped like a horse, and I took a few more. A bunch later and I was awed, my first ever harvest of carrots. I can take all I’ve learned and hopefully do better next year, but this is an achievement for me. I failed last year, but now I have grown carrots.

I’m going through all the shapes it seems.

I haven’t eaten any yet, but the skins are thin and the flesh tender. These are flyaway, supposed to be safe from carrot fly, well, they must have been with all the moving and thinning they took. It really is an amazing feeling to harvest your own vegetables, no matter how many, how large or how ordinary. Fresh produce is special in taste and the sense of accomplishment. There is so much that can go wrong from planting to harvest. Next year I plan a bigger harvest and do all I an to insure it grows. Okay, I’ll see you later, dear reader.

Peeled, blanched and frozen already.

A Plateful of…Basil?!

Thankfully they were a bit dry so it was easy move them.

It’s taken, well, a year I suppose, but today I had my first harlequin squash cottage pie, roll down a bit for the recipe. Now, this is a recipe blog, I am a food blogger and I will acquit myself accordingly! OMG! You guys won’t believe this recipe only takes…I was joking, don’t look at me like that! I’m just poking fun, mostly at myself. The recipe is pretty simple, an original, the usual thick and rich gravy, a benevolent blessing on the mistake that made me discover the thickening and enriching power of cashew butter. The topping though requires time, it takes over seven years without potatoes, it takes three years of growing harlequin squash and it takes seven months of growing to harvest. A berry, ever and always will I think of them as such, it lends them a magical air, that when steamed and mashed becomes so close to a floury potato that without the sunshine colouration, a yellowed hued bliss in a bowl, any tampering with the colour would be hubris, hue hue hue, you would scarcely tell them apart. Add to that a little salt, some cheddar, heat and finally grill and therein lies what will the best meal of the year for me. This year’s secret ingredient is smoked salt it add such perfect notes to the harmony of squash mixed with gravy and meat. If I still had my old stomach capacity I’d gladly eat two. I’ll just have to wait for the next pie day to roll around. I just typed an entire paragraph on pie, I should write a book on this, it’d be terrible but mesmerising. Like a car-wreck, you’d be loathe to look away.

It took an hour to pick all the leaves.

As you can see I’ve been harvesting basil again, I’d swear by the tomatoes and chillies as companion plant because whenever I see them start to grow the basil follows suit. This time I scalped the entire top of the plant leaves about five inches at the base. Then I poured in comfrey and nettle tea, the smell of which is utterly unholy. I have no intention of letting this be my last harvest, but it was time to cut it down by a lot. I did notice that even though the plants were extremely large they still were barely flowering. It’s an interesting thing to watch plants helping each other, even if they’re not, leave me my fantasy. Also my basil.

A very boring hour.

The weather has been dreadful so I’ve been forced to stay out of the garden most days, I have been on squash watch. I’m taking a different tack with them this year, when all the fruit has been harvested or is just starting again I’m dumping a strong batch of the aforementioned tea, in the hopes of pushing the plants to produce new blossoms. I did notice that they won’t produce from the centre, but instead put out a new vine, very short and thick which a new clump of leaves and flowers grow from, almost like a second plant on occasion. I’ve seen it before, but never realised this was what the mature plants end up like. They died in my first year before this could happen. A throw back to non-bush types perhaps? Hence the extreme feeding, if they’re that far away from the roots it might mean they’ll need more to be productive, we’ll see how it fares. I haven’t given up on my hopes for a third harvest. A Jack can dream, dear reader. Until later.

I’ll have pesto well into Winter.

Last of the first harvest is in.

I made more strawberry conserve with the large bitter strawberries.

Haggard, Hardened and Productive

Wait, what date was this harvest?

No, not me! I’m beautif… have an honest face. You shut up. I feel the need to type, dear reader, will you then go with me on a verbal journey, not an overly verbose or deep one, just to the garden to admire the marvels of production, the harlequin squash? Cast your mind back to the chaotic first year, I, naive, young…inexperienced, budding Jack had been told of the marvellous ease that squash grew with. Then the hailstones came, the frost came, the powdery milDEW CAME! Ahem, no I’m fine, that first year I will ever and always recall harvesting my first squash, lifting it gingerly for fear of breaking, I still hold the same reverence for them now, that and I’m clumsy at the best of times, lifting it slowly from the plant, which came up with the squash because it was dead. How they ever grew that year I will never know. Care and diligence, perhaps. T’was love, dear reader, love did grow the squash! Or tomato feed, probably the feed. The second year led to the discovery that with good weather came a second harvest. This year has been a mixture, but thankfully there will be a second harvest, barring some unfortunate occurrence.

Like me falling on them while taking photos.

They’re growing at all angles.

One thing you will notice is how ugly and gnarled the plants become over time. The lowest layer of leaves dies away and you have to let them seal up, they’re hollow tubes, so no infection can make its way into the plant, which rest on a single, fairly narrow stem. The bad weather is causing the powdery mildew, though I’m treating them, it never vanishes. There’s dust blowing where it has dried, but it’s still there. The squash is growing at all angles now, harlequin seems to enjoy spreading out, there are huge tendrils with more leaves and flowers and fruits all spilling every which way. I love it, really I do.

I tried pruning last year and it’s a waste of time.

They can ripen very swiftly.

I’m currently at six harvested, two table king and four harlequin. The table king made a delicious, simple pasta sauce. Next I’ll be making cottage pies. What I’ve done this year is give them a dose of nettle and comfrey tea while the next fruit setting starts, it’s less balance, more general than geared towards fruit, but I’m hoping the it’ll give them a boost and maybe, just maybe, there might be third harvest. It can’t hurt that much. I don’t want them putting out too much green at this stage, but they’ll need to bloom for a third time if I want more squash after this. I did warn that I’d wax eloquent endlessly on squash, didn’t I, dear reader? I enjoy it and thankfully you can skip past this when you want.

Quite a few danglers this year.

Another is wedged between two lids and a block.

I do dispose of the lids after using, you never know what they might be retaining and it’d be  waste to damage a squash because you didn’t want to get a fresh coffee cup lid. Kindly donated by anywhere that has them. I do all I can to keep them happy and healthy, but I think there’s a point where the plant can grow no further, where it’s used more than it’s stored and just stops. I’d like to harvest them all year-round, but I’ll settle for the weeks or months of harvesting. It’s an enjoyable time, in no way diluted by repetition. I’ll be back again soon, dear reader.

All that growth with such a thin centre.

Mounding the earth around it at the beginning helps so much with stability.

The second growth never quite matches the first.

Snail Went To Live On a Farm

Brussels Sprouts are being protected by lavender. Perhaps.

Dear reader, you wound me, do you doubt that dear gentle Jack, he who would wrap the lantern in gauze so that the moth would not come to harm, had I either of those things, would wilfully harm a snail? I see you eating my plants I’d brain you with a brick too, dear reader. I just noticed it after taking the photo, constant wet weather is not conducive to growing, but the pests thrive in it. After I placed the lavender plant near them the Brussels Sprouts haven’t been touched by caterpillars. Strange, but true.

These are peace I think. Irony, what’s that?

The purple chips I couldn’t eat. Next year purple sweet potatoes if possible.

In the last two years when the basil and chillies, this year tomatoes and bell peppers too, grew in the same space each has thrived. I really don’t know if companion planting is effective, but this is interesting to note. Perhaps there are gasses being released that each uses. They’ll always grow together and if it means a greater yield of both them I’m more than happy. I’ve hear nasturtiums help squash, but I’m not sure if it’s to divert pests and considering I have a whole section of garden overrun by them, on purpose, you won’t catch me making that mistake, I’ve seen others do it, I can only imagine them being a nuisance in between squash.

There sure how been a lot of posts these days. Not tired of them are you, dear reader?

*Picks up brick* No? Good good.

It’s not quite on the level of a recipe, but I roasted long sections of squash, chips in a way, and sweet potato with some fresh rosemary and they were delicious. The rosemary really survived the roasting. I’m going to try to save my squashes for some cottage pies, I think even a mix of both would be delicious. Naturally I’ll have to make another batch of pesto soon. Not that I’m complaining, at the rate I’ve been harvesting basil it may last me until next years harvest.

I think it was a mixed bag I bought.

This was almost grey and I thought it was dead.

I’ve mentioned before, check your notes, what do you mean what notes?! Ahem. I’ve said that I have older variety strawberries, there are big baby-fist sized ones growing currently and I’m saving them for conserve, I know it calls for small ones, but imagine huge strawberries in syrup. All softened, they’re really firm fresh, and sweetened, they’re tart. I still have a pound or two of the others in the freezer, collecting yellow ones still fr a 50:50 jam. It’s been a good year, the work has paid off.

They fell over. Nearly killed me righting them.

A flower starting. Beetroot and scallions too.

Nothing else to report. Today is the third of August. When this will post is anyone’s guess. See you then, dear reader, take care. I’ll leave you with my bellboys. Let’s hope they grow.

Can’t eat these either, but they’re fun to grow.

Next year I use teepees for support.

You learn more each year, mostly you learn how little you know.

A Fool, A King and Jack

I couldn’t wait another day.

Last year I grew golden nugget squash alongside my harlequin and with each successive squash I grew more and more disappointed. They seemingly had no resistance to bad weather other than to harden up so much that a hammer bounced off the skin. You can imagine that I wear leary and weary of cutting into my huge table king squash, my first ever table king no less. Though the knife did stick, it’s a very large squash, I’m more than happy to report that acorn style squashes will be what I’ll be growing from here on out.

“Wait, another squash tasting post?” Don’t cry, dear reader.

You know these posts feel like an alternative world version of those paid for product reviews. These are squashes grown from seeds I paid for, taken care of by me and eaten solely by me. The reason I’m sharing? Well, you never know who it might help, be it a prospective gardener wondering what they should plant, a curious shopper recalling a post like this when they stumble across freshly stocked squash. Last year I hadn’t much opportunity to compare the squashes, I’ve been eating harlequin for three years now, but this is the first year I could really compare freshly grown squash to store bought as I have a more varied selection and more experience.

I just sauteed a sample not a whole squash….this time.

If I were pad by the word I’d be a rich, rich Jack. As I am, well, I’m rich in spirit and I have squash so it balances out. So, what was my second squash like? The first thing I noticed, even when raw, was that the flesh is so creamy, it has none of that slimy hardness that you sometimes find with squash. They are stored so it’s unsurprising there’d be a difference with my fresh, but it’s such a great divide, they’re like two different berries. As you can see I tried a little coked and I can say if you can’ get harlequin then a table king wouldn’t be a bad replacement for potato, it was quite as crispy and crumbled as the harlequin, but it did have a lovely fluffy interior with a crispy shell. I made it into a pasta sauce with shallots. This was just one squash, I’ll be trying them as many ways as I can with what I have.

You get about half the weight after peeling.

It always looks like custard to me. The taste is pretty mild, pleasant in it’s own way, but I’d like this with some kind of seasoning. If I have a smaller one I may roast it with cinnamon or honey, something sweet. There’s not much else to say, but I’m really pleased with my choice of secondary squash this year. I love putting something away in the freezer made with fresh produce, I’d never use it all at once anyway and this way, in the Winter when everything is going dormant I’ll have all these wonderful flavours to enjoy. That’s all for today…oh, my seven feet, at least, artichokes fell over, I nearly crippled myself righting them. They better flower next year or, nah, I’ll keep them, they’re fun to look at. See you later, dear reader.

The roma are starting to ripen too. The plants are sagging dangerously. Next year: Tepees!

Plants To Pierce The Heavens

All the beautiful flowers look almost fake.

Last of the pea onward from the main planting.

I’ve scheduled a lot of posts recently. I have no idea in what order either, I was trying to vary them and I may have some where the dates don’t make sense. It’s the first of August, after that you’re on your own. I’m getting the sneaking suspicion that these dwarf plants I’m being sold are just regular sized plants. My green-house is now half tomatoes. I walk in and I’m engulfed by tomatoes. I’m nightshade intolerant, why am I growing so many tomatoes? Oh, yeah, bitterness. I suppose the flip-side of this is that I’m growing so many tomatoes! See the exclamation mark? I’m so joyous over the crop of inedible, to me, fruit. Okay, teasing aside, I’m glad the green-house is working out. I think the tomatoes and chillies are helping the basil too. I have a small bell pepper growing to, the plant is now twice as tall as it was supposed to be. I also have seven feet artichokes. No flowers yet, maybe next year. Then they’ll be eighty feet high and blocking out the sun.

They’re real, really…real.

I think I’ll be lucky enough with squash again this year, they seem to have been pollinated when the weather was fine, the second fruits aren’t likely to be as large as the first, but considering the size of the first crop that won’t be so bad. I still swear by the coffee cup lids, they even stop the discolouration in some cases, it’s cosmetic, but a perfectly unblemished squash is a beauty to behold. I also think tat I’ll see a few carrots, they weren’t planted very well, the first batch was and a heatwave decimated them, but they prove that transplanting works when small and that a little roughness doesn’t hurt them. I harvest a few carrots and there’s hope for the future. I mean my future, your future is still bleak. I’m kidding….stop crying.

I have yet to try a table king. Tomorrow I will see what they’re like.

By the time you read this I’ll probably have eaten a few of them.

I have a few later season crops. I just saw my first runner bean flower. There aren’t many plants and some were pretty roughly planted, but I’d like to see a few. The sugar-snaps are still going, the main batch of pea onward is done and I’m done with this variety. It just isn’t worth growing. It’ll be enjoyable choosing a new kind next year, Maybe another purple podded variety. Easier to find them that way. My sweet potatoes are spreading out their vines at a healthy rate, they’re more on the side of novelty, but I’d regret not giving them a try. There are still a lot of flowers yet to bloom, I’e tried to plant it so I’d have colour for most of the year, it seems to be working okay so far.

These peas had germinated in the pod.

Peas cover weeds and when they dry I’ll compost them.

I know I told you about my purple potatoes, I just can’t remember how much. I was gifted two small seeding potatoes. I split them, planted them and learned a lot in growing all these potatoes this year. One thing I’ve gleamed via observation, tearing the roots apart teaches you a lot is to fill the container with potting compost and fertiliser to 1/3 full, press the potatoes a few inches down. The roots will spread around the bottom, but no potatoes will form that low. I wondered why I was told to  do this. Now I know. Next year I’ll add all the feed that low and see what the yield will be like. It’s all a learning experience, dear reader, I’m enjoy it and I hope, sincerely, you’l enjoy reading about it.

Three kilograms of potatoes.

They look painted. Almost too waxy to be real. I keep saying it, but it’s true.

They’re purple through.

A Squash Fit for Jack

My first Table King and my largest ever squash.

I poke and prod, tap and test, it’s always nerve wracking when it comes time to harvest squash. There are many ways to test, poking with a nail, checking the stem, the colour, hearing a hollow sound when tapped, but in the back of your mind you still remain uncertain, never wanting to undo the work you’ve put in, but leave it too long and you’ll lose the chance for a second set. This one looks great, I’l have to cure it for three days before I use it. These are supposed to be sweeter so this will probably become bread or pasta sauce. Maybe jam, I’m still tinkering with that idea. I’d like a set jam rather than a sweet mash.

It’s so heavy. I was scared I’d drop it.

This year’s second type is vastly better looking than the golden nugget squash. I don’t know for certain if acorn types do better in Irish weather, but that does seem to be holding true. I won’t delve into an in-depth history of my squash growing practices because, well, I’ve done that before *Cough*. Anyway, just a quick recap for the newer readers, or the forgetful older ones, I grew these in thirty six litre hadpots, collapsible pots, lined at the bottom with compost, topped with potting soil amended with granular feed, not slow release, then when they started to set fruit I added bone-meal and started feeding with tomato feed. If things go well it c be a fairly simple task to grow squash, but if they go awry, then you’ll have your work cut out for you. I’ve been to hell and heaven with squash. They’re worth it though, every time.

The side that never saw sun.

It even has a crown.

There are a few more starting to finish ripening. They seem to go from patterned but still unready to finished and ready to harvest suddenly. I can’t remember how many I planted, over a dozen at least, mostly harlequin as the Table King seeds had trouble germinating. Whether it was weather or something else I can’t say for certain. I can see the plant struggling to produce this as the inside where the new leaves are is all scraggly and stunted. It might be able to bounce back and re-flower. I hope it will. I can freeze this as a mash and use it in baking or just as pasta sauces, you’d be surprised how nice it is to pull this out in a few months when the squash is finished. The harlequin is a different squash entirely, they’ll be roasted, sauteed, mashed and who knows what else. They’re my potato replacement and the best I’ve ever tried. These will hopeful be sweeter and still versatile.

Acorn squash are great for pots.

Curly kale…what is curly kale? I mean, no, I better Google it.

I’ll keep you updated on the harvest, whether or not you want me to, so until then take care, dear reader.