Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Potato Harvest

I have just harvested my first ever batch of potatoes. It was so painfully easy that I am convinced absolutely anyone could do it. Look at the bounty just four seed potatoes produced!

  When it comes to gardening I’m an experimenter. Yes, some information is good but I’m convinced the best way to learn is to have a go for yourself. Each garden is unique, as is ever gardener. You may have loads of sun or hardly any, lots of time or be dashing from one place to the next all day long. I have a tiny garden where everything is in containers and I like minimal input and watering for my bounty. With the right, well placed plants such materials and habits can still produce lots of fresh fruit and veg.

This potato growing method below worked for me and it is really simple. Hopefully this will encourage you to try it for yourself and not worry about following lots of rules and regulations. It’ll be fresh new potatoes for dinner in no time!

Getting Started:
All you need is a good sized tub (I used an old recycling box -  about two ft across and 1 and a half ft deep - that I scrubbed, sanded and painted to look less bin-like), some multipurpose compost and some seed potatoes. For my recycling box I used four seed potatoes which seemed adequate room for them and produced a good crop. I planted in May and harvested in late August.

When your seed potatoes arrive (I got mine from Rocket Gardens) fill your box half full of compost and place the potatoes in. Cover with about ten centimetres of compost and water well. Within a few days shoots will start appearing above the compost. When this happens cover them completely with another 10cm layer of compost. Continue this process until your box is full. This encourages new potatoes to form all the way up the length of the plant.

Looking after:
My potato plants were fine in a more shady spot and the mass of foliage keeps the soil nice and moist so I found them to be very little work with infrequent watering required. I even managed to turn the whole box over one day (don’t ask!) and they survived that so I’m confident it would be pretty hard to kill them! I left mine to grow for three and a half months and harvested them as the foliage started to yellow and look a bit sad. I had a good harvest from this but some small ones so a couple more weeks wouldn’t hurt I’d say!

All in all I’m chuffed with my potato season! If you have any questions or hints from your own garden feel free to comment below.

Friday, 12 August 2011

My garden’s gone fruity!

I’ve been growing my own food, to varying degrees of success, for the last two years. My garden is living proof that you can grow your own pretty much anywhere as we don’t have much more than a patch of grass and various containers I’ve picked up along the way like this old recycling boxes that I painted Cath Kidston styleee…

I give myself a fairly major helping hand by purchasing most of my plants as babies from Rocket Gardens. It is one of the most exciting days of the year (think Christmas but…muddier) when the box of plants arrive and suddenly the garden springs to life for the season. As much as I love my own home grown produce I live in a one bedroom flat with old sash windows with no window sills so the idea of fashioning some device to keep seed trays inside but still in the sun really doesn’t appeal. I would also be slightly concerned that this would be the act that finally sent my husband over the edge and it would be just me and seedlings from there on out!

I’m particularly fond of any plants I can keep year after year and can often be spotted, like a shameless lunatic, talking to them in the garden as I graze their latest offerings. My herbs got upgraded to my favourite pot last year (an old wooden vintage port box) and have a prime spot just outside the kitchen door. This year I also invested in some Blueberry plants (two, they like company apparently) and look what I picked this morning!

This has inspired me to expand my fruit growing empire and just in time for the Rocket Gardens Summer sale! My new plants will arrive in November to be lovingly tended over the winter months in the hope on bounteous production in the summer next year. If love makes them grow I’m going to be the fruitiest gardener around!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Summer beers

It feels like summer is coming to a close alarmingly quickly. The garden is bringing the tail end of its produce, all the carrots are uprooted, the potatoes are dug and the lettuces are on their second life. It’s been raining (or threatening to rain) for what feels like a gazillion years. It’s all a bit…autumnal. But it IS still summer whether the weather wants to agree with us or not and so to keep summer reigning in our hearts I though I would do a run down of some of my favourite summer beers for you to try before the season is out.

1. All things Badger

On the August bank holiday last year I went to the fabulous Foodie Festival in South Park Oxford and met the guys from Dwink.  In just one short hour they persuaded me that I am in fact an ale drinker and the biggest converting factor was the fabulous Golden Champion Badger Ale. This beer is the colour of the sun on a baking hot day and it will make you feel like you’re lying on your back in a field full of daisies (not that that was how I ended up, ahem). It has a light taste of elderflower and is a good ‘entrance ale’ for us soft lager drinkers. You will never order a boring beer again.

2. Frulli
I’m a fan of making picnics interesting and this will not let you down. This lager is bright pink and packed with crushed strawberries. You probably won’t want to drink buckets of the stuff as it does get a touch sickly after the first pint but it would wash down a sausage roll very nicely indeed. And as it has fruit in it I class this as practically a health drink.

3. Blue Moon
Another Dwink recommendation, Blue Moon is a Belgium style wheat ale with citrus flavours. It’s meant to be cloudy so don’t be alarmed when you pour it out. Try it with a slice of orange to really bring out the summer flavours. Yum!

4. Oxford Gold
As a fully signed up Oxfordian I had to recommend this. Luckily that wasn’t too taxing a thing to do as I love it. Oxford Gold comes from the Wychwood brewery in Witney who do all sorts of amazing things with yeast (that sounds a bit wrong…). Again, if you are a new ale drinker don’t be put off. It really is delicious and lighter than you would expect. Try it slightly chilled. Alternatively you could come to Oxford and visit the Wychwood brewery and try for yourself. If they can’t make you an ale drinker no one can.

5. Kronenbourg Blanc
I’ve been a fan of this beer for some time and it is now available on tap in many pubs. A certified ‘girly beer’, this is a light white beer with citrus flavours. A softies version of Blue Moon!

Something for everyone! Enjoy!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Tea of the week – Jasmine Pearls

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and I have been thoroughly spoilt. As my friends and family know what an obsessive tea nut I am I received lots of tea related gifts, hurrah! One particularly exciting gift came in the form of two new tea cups by one of my favourite ceramics designers, Pip Studios. I had been lusting after these beauties for some time now, check it out – mmmm!

As all tea fanatics will know the mug/cup saucer you use for your tea is very important for the quality of your tea drinking experience. You can't go drinking a milky Saturday morning tea in fine bone china or a flavoured white tea in a chunky mug, that would be all kinds of wrong. So when I unwrapped these gorgeous specimens I knew immediately that they were destined for a fine tea indeed. So imagine my delight when I unwrapped another present of Jasmine Tea Pearls and a Tea House to brew them in! Presents coming seamlessly together, got to love it.

So I dedicate this tea of the week to my lovely friends. Thank you for being so kind and spoiling me with tea time goodies, my belly thanks you.

Jasmine Tea

What is is?
Jasmine tea is literally flowers in a mug. It is usually mixed with green or white tea and the jasmine gives it a subtle sweet and (unsurprisingly) a distinctly floral taste. Jasmine tea originated in China and has been a speciality there for over 800 years! Anything that has stuck around that long has got to be good.

How do you drink it?
Never with milk! I would suggest going light on the amount of tea you put into your strainer to begin with as it can become bitter fast. It also won't colour very much so stop brewing after a couple of minutes even if it's light and clear. I think this makes it perfect for pretty cups as you can see the patterns inside through the clear tea.

Where can I get it?
A good friend of mine spent some time in China and buys her Jasmine tea in bulk from Chinese supermarkets, very economical indeed. I am drinking Jasmine Pearls from Whittards which are absolutely delicious. You can also pick up a Tea House while you are there!

Happy Tea Drinking!