June in the Kitchen Garden

Wow – what a lot of rain we’ve had this month. Still, it has been very good for our kitchen garden and encouraged it to grow rapidly (as well as the weeds – lots of frantic clearing needed yesterday!). It’s our first real month of proper harvesting and we’ve enjoyed lettuce, peas, mangetout and plently of strawberries so far. We also harvested the last of the Cavolo Nero (black kale) before the cabbage white butterflies have a chance to lay their eggs! The last of our self raised seedlings went in the ground and bigger pots (wherever there was room basically!), so we now have our runner beans, french beans courgettes and tomatoes well into full growth – along with everything else! The potatoes, beetroot, spinach and chard are growing well – and our artichokes are MASSIVE!! Shame you only get one per plant, but we have to say, they do look spectactular!! Will have to search italian recipe books for how to use these.

So how have we used all this harvest? Well, the lettuce speaks for itself and we’ve been enjoying lovely salad for lunches and dinners for most of the month. The Cavolo Nero went into a mushroom and cheese omelette, and we’ve been adding the few peas (if and when they make it to the kitchen!), to risottos, summer stews etc. Strawberries have been the best so far, and as well as having bowls of them with luscious double cream for dessert, Rachel has made the main harvest into jam today (see strawberry and gooseberry jam recipe here). They are still cropping too so we’re expecting more yet. Oh and we’ve had our first few raspberries and the redcurrants are ripening nicely too!

Our wild food foraging this month has been centered around the abundant crop of elderflowers there seem to have been this year. They are definitely the taste of summer as far as we are concerned, so we’ve made them into some Elderflower Cordial. This will give us a refreshing drink ingredient, or lovely syrup for those strawberries and some ice cream!

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading – do share your kitchen garden stories too and we’ll see you next month :)

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Tomatoes in their little greenhouse on the patio

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Beautiful Cavolo Nero

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

Salad bed with round lettuce and lollo rosso in good growth

First Raspberry!

First Raspberry!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Architectural Artichokes!!

Purple French Beans in Containers

Purple French Beans in Containers

First full punnet of strawberries

First full punnet of strawberries

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Salad Harvest - Round Lettuce and Lollo Rosso

Elderflowers

elderflowers

Elderflowers from our garden

We’re pleased to finally see the Elder tree in blossom at the end of May/early June. That means Elderflowers, and all the yummy things you can make with them! We’re having a Midsummer party for some friends in a few weeks, so the first thing to make was some elderflower ‘champagne’ for our guests to enjoy. We found an old recipe in one of our books, and is detailed below:

Elderflower Champagne

12 elderflower heads
juice and zest of an unwaxed organic lemon
1.5 lbs of sugar
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
4 litres/1 gallon cold water.

Put the washed elderflower heads in a bowl/bucket with the lemon, sugar, vinegar and water and leave for 24 hours. Then strain through muslin and pour the liquid into sterilsed screw top bottles. Leave them for about 10-14 days, then drink it, preferably before the end of the third week. The champagne is naturally effervescent so pressure will build up in the bottles. For this reason, we’ve left them in a room where we don’t mind if the tops blow off, and put the liquid into plastic bottles!

We’re not sure how it will turn out without some sort of yeast to make it alcoholic, but is definitely bubbling away in the bottles as we speak, and will let you know how we get on!

Also, not wanting to miss the best of the season, we thought we would try another traditional recipe for elderflowers, and that is elderflower fritters. As ever inspired by the excellent book by Richard Mabey, ‘Food for Free’, we had a go at his recipe this lunchtime, and very nice it was too!

Elderflower Fritters

4 tablespoons flour
1 egg
1 1/2 cupfuls water
elderflower heads (as many as you want fritters for!)
oil for frying (we used rapeseed from our local farm shop)
fresh mint
sugar for dusting

Make up the batter with the flour, egg and water. Then hold the flowerhead by the stalk and dip into the batter. Shake off any excess batter and then plunge into hot oil and deep-fry until golden brown. Trim off the excess salt and serve with some sugar, the mint and some lemon.

Our attempt below with some lovely salad from our garden. We omitted the sugar as this was a savoury dish, but the mint complemented it perfectly!

Elderflower Fritters

Elderflower Fritters

March

March was the month that seed sowing began in earnest in the vegetable garden. We began by sowing tomatoes, leeks, broad beans, peas, lettuce, kale, purple sprouting broccolli (psb), brussels sprouts, peppers, spinach and swiss chard in modules in the greenhouse. At the beginning of the month the ground was still a little to cold to sow direct into the soil so we decided to wait until later in the month to plant out our onion and garlic sets, and chitted potatoes. In the meantime, we covered the newly dug and manured area for our potatoes with fleece to warm the soil for when the tubers were ready to go in. We also assembled a cold frame to help with the hardening off of our seedlings to come, before planting into the garden soil.

Greenhouse sowings

Greenhouse sowings

Meanwhile, in the ornamental garden we planted out some alpines, including heather, thyme and sea campion into the rockery area. This is normally covered in ground elder during the spring and summer months, so we decided to plant some more ornamental ground cover plants to help suppress this pernicious weed. Hopefully it will work! Also from the garden centre we planted some campanulas, red hot poker and aquilegias in the borders to give us wonderful colour during the summer months. We already have many shrubs and evergreens in our garden, which is good in the winter months, but it is lacking a bit in flowers which we are hoping to fix this year. We are hoping for a border that is eventually crammed full of traditional cottage garden plants all billowing over the grass edges and giving us wonderful cut flowers to brighten up our rooms indoors! Sweet peas planted in January will also go into these borders and we also pushed some seeds direct into the soil.

Later in the month when the soil was sufficiently warmed, we planted the first early potatoes, onions sets and garlic into the soil. Also most of our root crops were sown direct into the first raised bed. These were carrots (early summer and yellowstone), beetroot (standard and yellow cylindrical), parsnips, spring onions and radishes. The carrots were covered with fleece to stop the root fly getting in but hopefully the sowing of spring onions will confuse them also and we won’t get an infestation. We also planted 3 artichoke tubers into raised bed 2 (where the asparagus currently is), hoping for a taste of this wonderful vegetable later in the year giving us an architectural look to the raised beds area in the meantime! In raised bed 3, we planted seeds of turnip and salsify. We noticed that something had been eating our spring cabbages (probably a rabbit), so Rachel took off the damaged leaves, leaving the new shoots coming through and covered with a polytunnel again, which meant that they were rescued later in the month, for us to add to our dinner plate again. Early Spring greens are most welcome when all the rest of the vegetable garden is almost bare (except the Kale of course!).

Our raised beds in March

Our raised beds in March

We added some more plants into our herb garden and are hoping for some lovely purple flowers on the chives this year. In this area we should have, in addition to the established rosemary and sage, some mint, lovage, lemon balm, fennel, oregano and tarragon. We decided to keep the parsley, thyme and basil in pots this year, adding colour and interest to the patio and indoor windowsills.

Back to the ornamental garden again and later in the month we planted some edible flowers in pots such as calendula, nasturtium, violas, chamomiles etc. We also added a few nasturtium seeds to the brassica beds, to hopefully help later in the year with the cabbage white caterpillar problem and encourage the butterflies to lay their eggs on those instead! Other wild flowers were also sown including sunflower, yarrow, wild strawberry, borage etc, which when large enough, will be transplanted to our wild flower/medicinal herb border. This will give us a natural medicine chest, as well as helping the bees. The spring bulbs we planted back in the autumn are also all starting to come through and flower, brightening and cheering our days as we move towards the warmer part of the year. We’ve got several daffodils, narcissi, hyacinth and tulips starting to come through.

Finally, we made some comfrey and nettle fertiliser by adding a few carrier bags full of leaves into a black dustbin and topping up with water. In a few weeks time this will be ready to feed to our plants and help us with higher yeilds, glossy leaves and colourful flowers. Rachel also started making lovely nutritious nettle soup for lunches and we started to enjoy salads made with edible wild plants in the garden (wild garlic, dandelions, chickweed etc).

The area marked for our wildflower garden

The area marked for our wildflower garden

Towards the end of the month also, the unusually warm weather encouraged the rest of the weeds to start growing in earnest, so the regular ritual of hoeing and digging them out began.

There are also a few new additions this year to our garden. We have added in all our fruit now, with the crab apple trees and sloe bushes planted into the ground ready to give us (hopefully) some crops this year and adding to the currant bushes and respberries we planted in February. We also have many more pots in the patio area now, thanks to a kind donation from Rachel’s Mum of the pots and compost. These are now filled with lots of lovely plants in a ‘black’ (i.e. dark purples) and white colour scheme, with as many scented flowers as possible. These should look very pretty when they come up and give us a nice backdrop and smell to the patio area when sitting out there on warm sunny evenings.

New pots for the patio area

New pots for the patio area

Nettle Soup

Lovely nutritious nettles

Lovely nettles

Have enjoyed one of the first batches of nettle soup from our garden for my lunch today, so am now inspired to share the recipe with you. This is a great way to get plenty of vitamins and iron in you at a time of year when the pickings from your veggie garden may be slim. It is also brilliant for making something useful out of plants (or weeds if you like) that you would otherwise be tempted to clear from your garden at this time of year and consign to the compost heap – please don’t! As these plants thrive on any type of soil and are prolific growers, they are packed full of nutrients and you can even use them to make an excellent fertiliser for your garden too. Just fill a carrier bag full of nettles and add them to a large bin filled with water, and let steep until it absolutely stinks, then you know it will be great for your garden! Use neat, or add to your watering can :-)

So, onto the soup recipe, it really is very simple. Please also do not be put off the fact that these plants have a sting, it will disappear when they are cooked and wont hurt your mouth, I promise! Do wear gloves to pick them though! Please note also that nettles are only good for cooking from about March – June when they are young, any time after that they will taste stringy and bitter. With young plants you can take the first 10 cms or so, but towards the end of the season take only the top 4 leaves to avoid bitter tasting soup too. You can forage from the wild if you dont have any in your garden.

Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup

Nettle Soup

Serves 4

1 carrier bag full of young nettles or nettle tops
about 1 tbsp good olive or rapeseed oil, or 25g butter
1 onion chopped
1 large potato (floury potatoes such as King Edwards give a richer texture)
1 litre of good chicken stock (or vegetable, or from cubes if that’s all you have)
pinch of ground nutmeg
Optional – double cream or milk to serve

1. Wearing gloves, wash the nettles well in a colinder and remove any large stalks – set aside to drain
2. In a pan, melt the fat until sizzling and add the chopped onion to saute over a medium heat until clear
3. Peel and chop the potato into chunks of about 2-3 cm square and add to the pan with the onions. Turn to coat in the oil.
4. Add the nettles and let them wilt in the pan, then add the stock
5. Season well, add the ground nutmeg and bring back to the boil.
6. Turn down the heat and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes until the potato is soft and squidgy.
7. Let the soup cool a little and blend until smooth, adding a swish of cream or milk if you like before serving.

Enjoy and let me know what you think! You could substitute the nettles for spinach if you like, or add some wild spring leaves like sorrel or chickweed, all adding to that earthy spring flavour.