First rhubarb harvest

Today we harvested our first stalks of rhubarb this season. Coming in at six stalks it made a nice compact handful. We’ve got 3 rhubarb crowns and one seems to be slightly ahead of the others so all the stalks came off the one plant. 

Over the last few seasons we’ve had mixed cropping results – in the first few years after they were properly established we got a pretty good crop and then a couple of years ago they started to bolt very early in the season. We would get curious but quite attractive flowering rhubarb stems but very little worth harvesting and the flower stems are hollow so no good for the pot. It seems that letting them flower or bolt reduces the crop. This year we could see the same thing was going to happen again so after some searching in gardening books (most of which simply didn’t even seem to recognise the problem) we found some advice in a wonderful old book (The New Illustrated Gardening Encyclopaedia by Richard Suddell, from the 1940’s I believe, its full of lovely pen and ink illustrations) which said the flower buds should be removed as soon as they appear at ground level. So we’ve done that and it seems to have worked so far; I’m hoping for a better crop this year.

I really love rhubarb, its such a wonderful part of the British seasonal kitchen, it can be refreshing and light or warming with a tang depending on how its prepared. For this first batch I decided simple was best and just cooked the cut up stems briefly in a small amount of water with a little sugar added until they became soft but still held some shape. So now there is enough lightly cooked rhubarb to last me this week, for adding to breakfast muesli or making a quick desert with Greek yoghurt. I’m looking forward to its refreshing tang and starting to think of some different recipes to try when the next batch comes through. I might even decide to force one crown next winter to extend the season and make me feel revitalised by the onset of spring a little sooner.

Coming over all horticultural

It really is amazing how a bit of sunshine, some daffodils and lots of blossom on the almond tree can make you come over all horticultural.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about growing veg from seed (its time to sow this weekend now its getting warmer), then we were reorganising the herb bed and lavishing love on the lemon tree but toady here’s a quick guide to making compost. Where will all this horticultural longing take me next?

How to make great compost?

Well first make sure you have a garden – its pretty useless to start a project like this if you’ve nowhere to keep the stuff whilst it works its composting magic and nowhere to use it when its ready – a balcony isn’t going to cut it I’m afraid. So a garden is key, or an allotment – but if you have one of those I don’t imagine you’ll be needing my composting tips (or perhaps you just had to sell the 4×4 to make ends meet and now you’ve decided to grow your own veg as well? If so read on). Anyway first step make sure you have a garden or allotment.

Step two – select a place in the garden where you are going to install your compost bin(s) preferably not next to the patio/terrace area – compost bins are functional rather than decorative.

Three – get a compost bin, buy a plastic one (some local councils sell them relatively cheaply or, of course, there’s you local garden centre) or get really creative and build one. Remember to select a suitable size bin; you don’t want enough compost for a small farm if your garden is 10 foot square or for the bin to be the defining feature of your garden. And remember like all purchases for the home it always looks smaller in the shop than it does when you get it home (or simply to your car; witness the IKEA car park on any Saturday anywhere in the world). Measure up carefully and there’ll be no need to get jammed in the doorway trying to get the compost bin in (or, as once happened to me, having to send back a really lovely but quite giant lampshade that we couldn’t get through the front door let alone to its final destination).

Four – get composting with all the bits and bobs of veg trimmings, tea bags, coffee grounds (plenty of those in my house), insides of loo and kitchen rolls, egg boxes (though you might want to save those to plant seeds in), shredded paper and envelopes, garden cuttings, egg shells, dead bunches of flowers, newspaper, orange peel and so on. Water it once in a while (if you have one of those condenser tumbler driers with a water collecting tray and you use only ecofriendly wash powder etc then use that water). BUT DON’T put in meat, bread, fish or anything like cat litter! Oh and try not to only have grass cuttings in there – you’ll end up with slime.

Five – delight in the lovely worms that decide to come live in your compost (you don’t have to touch them).

Step six – wait for about 12 months whilst the debris works its magic and transforms itself. Use compost to enrich your garden soil. Sit back smugly and think of how you have reduced your carbon footprint a teeny tiny bit.

Seven – watch old episodes of ‘The Good Life’ for more inspiration ?.

For more information try this link to the RHS.

Labour of love

After the gardening bug bit me on Saturday I decided it was time to see how my lovely little lemon tree was doing.

It lives in the lean-to that we use as a utility room and often gets forgotten amongst the never-ending piles of washing (how exactly do 2 people create so much to be washed, its not like we wear three different outfits each day – well not normally any way!).

So off I pottered to check it out.


It had been hit by another bout of scale insect (ugh ugh ugh). These evil creatures don’t look much – rather like raised brown ovals along the leaf veins – they aren’t even moving – but boy are they hard to get rid of. There was nothing for it but to don rubber gloves and attack them with warm soapy water and an e-cloth (yes those magic cloths that are great for cleaning just about everything with no nasty chemicals and almost no need for elbow grease). This of course takes ages. Even on a small tree or shrub you need to clean every single leaf thoroughly on both sides, scraping away at the nasty bugs to get them off. So on my small lemon I reckon there are about 40 leaves at the moment and it took well over an hour to do.

But it was worth it because now, after spraying the tree with safe for vegetable and fruit tree bug killer stuff and keeping a vigilant watch over the coming weeks, the one solitary lemon that’s growing will hopefully get to full size and ripen up. Maybe I’ll get some new blossom and more fruits and then there’ll be the chance to make lemon curd.

And few things beat homemade lemon curd slathered on good white bread toast (extra thickly cut of course so its crispy on the outside and delightfully soft inside).


Just like ‘The Good Life’

Over the last few days I’ve been doing food related sort of ‘gardening’ activities. What exactly does that mean?

Well so far its involved visits to three garden centres, some internet surfing, the purchase of about 10 packets of seeds and one rather nice terracotta pot, oh and a little bit of time actually in the garden. All this because some nice mild sunny weather and those daffodil shoots and tree buds I mentioned in my last post mean I just can’t help but start thinking about what herbs and vegetables to attempt to grow this year.

Last year we had a glut of very green tomatoes and a handful of red ones (just yummy) and we were still getting tomatoes ripening in late October. This wasn’t some special strain we’d tried but the summer weather, which never really got hot or warm enough for the tomatoes to ripen – made great chutney though.

This year there will be more tomatoes and we’re trying 
courgettes (yellow ones – how trendy!) and beans (I wanted the lovely striped red borlotti ones but couldn’t find any organic seed so had to settle for green). All to be grown from seed; credit crunch times call for cost cutting measures – a packet of seeds costs the same or less than little plants.

As well as the vegetables its time to replant the herb section of the garden. We’ve had rosemary, chives, sage and oregano for a long time but none of them do quite as well as we’d like so this year we (or rather my husband) are moving the herb bed to a slightly sunnier location; and anyway the birds that perch in the neighbours giant eucalyptus tree that partly shades the bed do untold damage to the herb plants rendering them pretty useless for cooking with. A new spot is being prepared with some good compost added (home made of course – there’s nothing as good as a bit of composting to make you come over all Richard Briars and Felicity Kendall) and the oregano and chives transplanted. The rest will be new plantings of parsley, coriander, sage and rosemary – again from seeds. 

So while the digging takes place I’ll be designing a giant spreadsheet of what seeds need to be planted when and the dates we might expect to be able to pick delicious home grown veg and herbs – or perhaps make another huge chutney batch!

And I haven’t even told you about the terracotta pot yet ?