Book review: Monty Don – The Complete Gardener

February 11, 2012 - Leave a Response

Complete GardenerComplete Gardener by Monty Don
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good book, I enjoyed it a lot. The first, more autobiographical part is great to read, the second part where many varieties of veggies, herbs and fruits are described in detail is useful as a reference. The only thing I didn’t like is that the author is very focused on British climate (I think the garden is in Herfordshire) and doesn’t offer alternative growing methods for colder climates. Anyway, it’s a useful book with great pictures and I learned a lot from it.

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Vegetable Broth

January 13, 2012 - 2 Responses

Sometimes I make my own vegetable broth. I got this idea from the Urban Organic Gardener. I basically follow his instructions but I refined the process a bit. Vegetable broth is really easy to make and you’re using scraps and about-to-go-bad-veggies that otherwise would be thrown away. Here’s how to make veggie broth:

First collect vegetable scraps. I use things like onion peels, carrot peels and tops, chard stalks, celery stalks/tops, garlic that’s about to go bad etc. Be creative. Freeze everything in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Once you’ve got enough to make broth, add to a pot.

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Celery stalks (that were about to go bad), onion peels, broccoli stalks, butternut squash peels and more

Add just enough water to cover most of the veggies, then simmer covered on low heat for about 1 to 2 hours.

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Covered with water

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This is what it looked like after 1,5 hours

Once you think it’s done, meaning the broth took all the flavors and colors from the veggies, strain the broth (using a strainer or the lid) into a second pot. Reduce the liquid to about half by simmering on low heat (you can skip the step of reducing liquid if you want to, but it really concentrates the flavor).

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The butternut peels gave it a nice orange hue, but also a little bitterness

Let it cool. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

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Frozen broth

Once frozen, you can leave the broth cubes in the trays or put them into ziplock bags.

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Broth cubes in ziplock bags. Will last a few months in the freezer.

And you’re done!

I made about one and a half trays of broth cubes this time, this will last me ’till I’ve collected enough scraps for the next broth.

I use the cubes to add to sauces, currys, stews and about every recipe that calls for broth. You can also add it when cooking rice or other grains to enhance the flavor. The broth will taste a little different every time you make it, depending on the veggies you’re using. I have committed to not making veggie broth without garlic, onion peels and celery tops (or stems).

Plans for 2012

January 5, 2012 - 3 Responses

Once again, I’m trying to revive this blog. I realized that besides time, what was really missing on this blog was a clear concept. Many plant-related things happened in 2011, but often I wasn’t sure how to report on them. Every now and then I tried to write a post, put I didn’t finish. By the middle of summer, I just stopped trying. But during the last few days I realized that blogging isn’t just a “fun activity” for now, but it’s also a good instrument of remembering, reflexting and evaluating things. And I realized that if I wanted to become a better gardener/cook/forager, these were the skills that I’d have to learn. That’s the number one reason I’ll blog again: to improve on many levels. For this journey to work, there are three premises:

  • Premise 1: Blogging is neither gonna take over my life nor am I gonna neglect it.
  • Premise 2: A small post, e.g. a photo, is better than a long post that’s never going to get finished.
  • Premise 3: Blogging – like everything else in life – is not a question of time, but a question of priority.

Now we got this straight, here are the contents of 2012:

  1. Plants and gardening. While I’ve blogged a lot about edible plants, I’ll try to include ornamentals (especially indoors) as well. However, edibles will still be the focus. Growing, harvesting, pests, storing etc., maybe also some “plant portraits” reflecting what I know and my experiences with particular kinds of plants. I’d also love to write more about the challenge of small space gardening, garden design etc. But we’ll see whether that’s gonna work.
  2. Foraging. I’ve read a lot about it and done a tiny bit, but come spring, I’ll actually REALLY DO it. Focus will be on (sub)urban foraging. With foraging comes….
  3. Cooking. I’m now on a paleo or LCHF (Low carb, high fat) kind of diet. During the last few years, I’ve put on way too many pounds and since late summer, I’m trying to loose weight – with some laaarge breaks due to an operation, busy days in university and Christmas. I’ve lost about 7 pounds so far, which is not a lot, but for an estimated 2 months of strict paleo, I’d say this is actually the most successful and best tasting “diet” I was ever on. I’ve read TONS about paleo/LCHF and now think that it’s the way to go. Not only if you want to loose weight. The hard part are the recipes, so I’ll try to post some here. I’ll also try to write about the paleo diet in general or at least refer to it every now and then.
  4. Book/movie reviews. Related to gardening, of course.
  5. Pretty pictures. Lots of them. Maybe also interesting pictures. But pictures.

That’s it. Let’s see how it’ll turn out!

June 20th 2011: Harvest Monday

June 20, 2011 - 5 Responses

Overall, the last two months were very stressful, because of personal, family, work and study issues… the gardens are a way for me to relax. And now I’m back to show off my harvest! Thank to Daphne from Daphne’s Dandelions for hosting Harvest Monday!

In the parents’ garden, most of the Asian greens, radishes and lettuce are out and have been replaced by the summer crops: hot peppers, beans, tomatoes of course, but also cape gooseberries and tomatillos, both of which I’m trying for the first time this year. The cape gooseberries are a little behind, but the tomatillos are starting to set fruits. Tomatoes look okay so far, the weather during the last ten days wasn’t ideal for them, but most are flowering, some started to set fruit. I’ll post some pictures soon. No harvest from the balcony this week, the parents’ garden provided more than enough.

Potatoes! approx. 1 kilo from one plant

Lavender

4,3 kg strawberries from the strawberry field were mostly dehydrated or made into jam

Cherries from my parents' tree were dehydrated or canned

Radish pods. Lots of them, more than 0,5 kg (one pound). These plants are really, really productive, unfortunately I had to throw half of them out because they took up so much space. It seems like they are slowing down anyway

The snow peas are grown on a space of maybe 1-1,5m² and produce about 1-2 pounds per week - and that's only the pods that I find! I wasn't very careful with staking, so the plants are just a tangled mess, but productive anyway. And the taste? Wonderful!

Mizuna, already chopped up and packed for storing in the fridge. Unlike other Asian greens, it goes bad pretty quickly, so using it before it spoils is quite a challenge - especially if you harvested 5 kilos over the last 10 days! Mizuna grows on a 0,5-1m² plot and by now I harvested probably half of it.

I cut some arugula before we'll throw it out due to bolting

Overall, I feel like I’m spending a lot of time in the garden – about 8-10 hours per week – and with my food – maybe another 8 hours per week. The whole washing, chopping, cooking, canning, dehydrating is fun, but time consuming. Anyhow, I now understand a little better what it means to feel a connection to your food.

Review: Andrea Bellamy – Sugar Snaps and Strawberries

June 19, 2011 - Leave a Response

Sugar Snaps and StrawberriesSugar Snaps and Strawberries by Andrea Bellamy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries is a “How-to” for small-scale edible gardens, with small meaning anything from balcony to roof deck to tiny patio or allotment plot. Bellamy does a great job in giving basic information about soil, light, seeding, planting etc. Sometimes the information is more that just basic, most of the “info boxes” fall under that category. As far as I know, the information given is correct, but mostly nothing that you haven’t heard before. As somebody mentioned, the book is really similar to “Grow Great Grub”, down to the layout and format and heck, even the font type is the same! No offense, maybe Bellamy just had the bad luck of her book being published too late…

Anyway, I would have liked a bit more new and in depth information that is hard to find anywhere else, for example about designing small-space gardens, growing (pseudo-)grains and mushrooms (the two things that were really new to me) and – yes! – Bellamy’s very own garden.

Personally, I think the pictures are beautiful, but they are mainly macros that are decorative but often don’t deliver much additional ideas/inspiration or information (unless you don’t know what a particular plant looks like). What I really liked was the “Edible plants from A-Z” at the end, because it’s quite detailled.

Conclusion: This book is definitly a Beginners’ Guide and it’s really good for anyone who is totally new to gardening. More experienced gardeners will find only little new infos.

Second Harvest 2011

May 2, 2011 - 6 Responses

Thank you guys so much for your comments last week! I really appreciate them! And thanks to Daphne from Daphne’s Dandelions for hosting Harvest Monday!

Last week I picked some cut-and-come-again lettuce from my balcony – the first balcony harvest this year! I took a picture with my phone but couldn’t find the SD card reader to transfer it to the computer… but let me tell you, it was delicious! I also harvested a lot from the parents garden. But like last year, the bok choy is already starting to bolt! We’ve had some warmer days about two or three weeks ago, then it got cold and rainy again – not exactly what I’d call bolting weather. Any advice on how to prevent bok choy from bolting?

Clockwise from behind/left: Wild garlic (Allium ursinum, a little hard to recognize from the small picture) for pesto, lovage for salad dressings, "Easter egg" radishes, bok choy, lilacs for sirup, Asian greens and rhubarb in the middle. Please ignore the mess in the background.

Easter Harvest

April 25, 2011 - 13 Responses

Harvest from my parents’ garden: some “easter egg” radishes, also rhubarb, chives, and in the back of the picture you can see a bowl of oriental greens – tatsoi, mustard “Red Giant” and komatsuna. I’m very happy that the garden is finally taking off!

I’m participating in Harvest Monday once again. Please go and check Daphne’s Dandelions for more harvests from around the world.

First Harvest of 2011

March 29, 2011 - 2 Responses

The harvest doesn’t come from the balcony, but my parents’ garden. They allowed me to plant some of their plots. So first we had to clean them. I told them not to turn over the soil, because I really don’t see the benefits of it. I mean, yes, of course I know them in theory, but more than anything else it’s a lot of work and it’s bad for your back (and we didn’t have compost anyway).

During the cleaning we dug up the Jerusalem artichokes. I took home about two kilo of them.

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Jerusalem artichokes that overwintered in the soil (Dad's picture)

That was already two weeks ago. In the meantime, some plots were planted. Still nothing to harvest, but we went foraging around the backyard and found the following:

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The blue colander is back!

It’s dandelions and bitter-cress! Dandelions (Taraxacum sect. Ruderalia) are best harvested right now (march/april). They taste great as salad or in soups. If the salad is too bitter for your taste, add a cooked potato. Large bitter-cress (Cardamine amara) is less famous than its relative watercress (Nasturtium officinale) but way easier to find. Both like wet soil. The taste of Cardamine amara is similar to garden cress (Lepidium sativum, they all belong to the cabbage family, Brassicaceae). If you go foraging, take the young and tender rosettes. Bitter-cress looks similar not only to watercress but also to Cardamine pratensis and Barbarea vulgaris. All of them are edible, but of course you’ll want to be sure what it is before you eat it.

It’s already tuesday, but I enter this post for Harvest Monday. Take a look at Daphne’s Dandelions to see more harvests from garden bloggers around the world!

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5 Things That Didn’t Work In 2010

February 21, 2011 - Leave a Response

Looking back on 2010, there were some things in the garden that didn’t work so well:

1. Guerilla gardening. Remember this? Yes. It got thrown out two weeks later. Anyway: I’ll try some guerilla gardening again this year! I got a primrose gifted last week and I’m looking forward to planting it outside when it’s done blooming and the weather right.

2. Underplanting tomatoes: Epic fail. I underplanted my tomatoes with basil, marigold and begonia and none of them continued to grow. They just stopped. ’till I threw them out, like, 5 months later. I’m not gonna try it again.

3. Leaving dead leaves on the soil. What might work in a garden in the ground in this case doesn’t work for container gardening at all: There are no worms or bugs to decompost dead leaves, so they just stay on top of the soil, keep moisture and hence are perfect for any kind of soil born diseases: mold, fungi, you name it.

4. Keeping the oleander pest-free. Didn’t work this winter – again. Spider mites infested my baby once more and it looks pathetic now.

5. Overwintering herbs outside. Well, now I can tell that most – if not all – of them are dead. I tried to leave them outside because I know that they’ll only get ugly and leggy inside. Although I put them to the window sill (outside) where it’s the warmest, when the temperatures hit -10°C, they must have froven through. Well, it was worth a try.

I’m reviving thig blog – so stay tuned for more!

Harvest Week 39

October 5, 2010 - 2 Responses

Thanks for Daphne from Daphne’s Dandelions for hosting Harvest Monday!

As expected, last week was very stressful! But I can provide you with some good news: I now have a 5-hour-job at my university’s writing center (this position is especially for students), plus an additional 3 hours of teaching. The jobs will end by the beginning of February, but I expect for the summer term the job at the writing center again plus another hour of teaching. My boss even promised me the job until the end of my MA degree, but I don’t count on it. But the summer term job is already confirmed. Together with my proofreading jobs this will get me enough money to finish my degree and have a little luxury item here and there – and by luxery I mean plants!!! I have a big plan… more on that in another post!

More good news: My parents bought me a dehydrator! Wooohooo! I use it mainly for drying hot peppers, but threw in some tomatoes and pears as well. I’m not very fond of raw pears, but the dried ones are delicious!

And the last good news: Tomorrow is the vernissage of a students’ exhibition in which I participated. I’ll post some pictures.

And some bad news: I got ill last week and still have a little cold – so not much outdoor time for me. What a pity, because autumn is starting, which means: berries, nuts and fruits. Anyway, this weeks harvest includes a “first”, and some sprouts are missing:

The last first of the season: "Red cheese peppers"

The usual shades of red with some green

I’m impressed with how well the last week picked green tomatoes ripened, and they made the tally increase a lot!

Hot peppers: 443 fruits, 1560 g = 55 oz = 3,4 lbs

Tomatoes: 186 fruits, 3309 g = 116 oz = 7,3 lbs

Sprouts: 107 g = 3,7 oz

About 4,97 kg / 10,9 lbs by now!