Sunday, 29 August 2010

Supersized Stuffed Courgette

Aah, oversized courgettes. They'll always be inevitable for those of us whose plants are not in our own back gardens. And for those of us who go on holiday. They may be seedy. They may be watery. But they're certainly not useless.

We brought home this whopper last weekend, which weighed in at a massive 3.5kg/7.8lbs! Surely the biggest we've grown yet!

Nope, I couldn't even hold it up in one hand to take the photo - I had to rest it on my knee too.

I stuffed it and it fed the family nearly twice over - not bad! I'll include my recipe here, but it's extremely flexible really. Chuck in whatever you've got!

Stuffed (Giant) Courgette:
serves many
  • Cut the courgette in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out. Season generously, sprinkle with mild chilli powder and paprika and rub with garlic oil.
  • Place in a 180C oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fry a chopped onion until soft.
  • Add a chopped yellow courgette, a chopped red pepper, and a big pinch of paprika and chilli, and cook until soft.
  • Add chopped mushrooms, a can of chopped tomatoes and a big splurge of tomato puree. Simmer a few minutes.
  • Add two cans red kidney beans or similar and a pinch of basil. Simmer.
  • Take the courgette halves out of the oven and tip away any liquid that's accumulated in them. Spoon in the vegetable mixture.
  • Whiz two bread crusts and some cheddar in a food processor. Top the courgette halves with the crumbs.
  • Return to the oven and bake for... well, I lost count actually. I think it was about 40 minutes. Until the courgette flesh is soft.
  • Serve with buttery potatoes.
It was yummy, and I think it could have been even yummier with the addition of some chopped sausage too. The courgette skin was a bit tough, but easily discarded. Maybe next time I'll peel them.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Onions and... Garlic!

This is our onion and shallot harvest. Well, most of it - there were a few onions still putting some effort in, which we thought we'd leave in the ground a bit longer. We lost a fair few to white rot, and a lot of them are still quite small, but well, we've had worse.

And the really good news is... we've actually managed to produce some garlic this year too!

All right, they could be bigger, but I think they did quite well considering the forest of weeds that has swamped them for most of the summer. And they smell sooooo gooood. When are you supposed to harvest garlic? I forget. There are plenty more where these came from!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Summer Crookneck Squash

I had nearly given up on our 'Summer Crookneck' squash - one of the plants was producing tons of tiny fruits that rotted at just a couple of inches long, and the other hadn't shown any sign of even thinking about flowering. But somehow ignoring them for a couple of weeks seems to have done the trick.

I'm not sure I can bear to eat it - I think it's beautiful! Good job we've got a dozen more, and still more coming! This has obviously reached 'squash' stage - the skin is thick and hard - but we ate a smaller, more tender one today just like a courgette. And the best thing is, these have become useful just as the regular courgettes have started to dry up. Hurrah!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Beetroots - and an imposter!

Today we harvested beetroots! This is another NomeGrown first - previous attempts have yielded beetroots too small to be worth the hassle of preparing them. Some of these, on the other hand, might even be too big and woody!

Can you spot the odd one out? I'm guessing there was a stray seed in the pack, but heck if I know what it is. The leaves are the same as beetroot leaves (though taller), but with white veins instead of red.

Answers on a postcard please!

UPDATE: A bit of poking around on Google reveals that it's not uncommon for a white root or two to pop up in a line of Boltardy beetroots - which mine are. BUT... they are usually still beetroot shaped. Weird...

Monday, 16 August 2010

Tomato Update

Last night I received my first email alert from the free 'Blightwatch' service, telling me that we were experiencing a 'full Smith period' situation - i.e. the temperature and the humidity in my area was just right for blight over two consecutive days - and out I rushed and sprayed my tomatoes with a 50% milk spray, which is supposed to help protect the plants. This is by far my most successful year for outdoor tomatoes yet - I'd hate to see them take a turn for the worse now. What a great service!

Remember when I saved seeds from my favourite supermarket tomatoes and planted some? Check these out:

They are looking pretty true to type so far - although the proof will be in the tasting... The plant is rather unusual - incredibly sparse and easy to manage!

Two years ago I grew a few 'Hundreds and Thousands' tomato plants which I bought from Suttons, and the following year I found a few had self-sown around the place in various pots. Since I didn't have a very good gardening year last year, I basically ignored the plants... And this year they were popping up everywhere in my garden! The sprawling plant below is one of these 'second generation' volunteers, and just like its grandparents it has literally hundreds of tiny tomatoes ripening, and hundreds more flowers on the way! I will have to make sure more self-seed for next year!

This 'Sub-Arctic' tomato plant has always looked rather sickly and has a lot of yellow leaves, but it is still bearing a couple of dozen good-sized fruits.

So much for 45 days from sowing to harvest though - this was sown way back in March!

We also have two 'Red Cherry' plants, two 'Moneymaker' and two 'Gardener's Delight'. I always go on about how Red Cherry seem to perform best for me (despite ultimate total tomato failure!), and sure enough they have been the first to ripen!

Red Cherry:


Gardener's Delight:

All right, I know; you know what tomatoes look like. But this is very exciting for me!

This is also the first year I've had any real success with chillies and peppers (fingers crossed - haven't actually eaten any yet). Here are my first green 'King of the North' peppers.

And here are my beautiful Jalapeno chillies.

Anyone know why they're turning black in some places?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

New home, new Nome

Sorry the blog has been so quiet lately - what with moving house and settling in and holidays and work and the usual flurry of summertime social engagements, there hasn't been much time spare to spend at the allotment. Hopefully it doesn't matter too much; it's that time of year when most things there are just sort of getting on with it. Must go and pick some runner beans though...

There are plenty of exciting things going on in the pots in the garden however, and I promise a full update tomorrow. After all, I'm going to have a lot more time on my hands from now on...

Moving to my parents' house has given me the opportunity to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I have left my job. Don't get me wrong - it was a perfectly decent job; interesting and varied and something I was good at. But something I have become incredibly bored with, and certainly not something I could see myself still doing in say ten, twenty years time. (And for a company that was making life increasingly miserable, but I won't get into that.)

Of course, we moved here to save up some money, and I won't be saving money if I'm not working. I have been promised a few casual shifts at my old place of work and at another theatre down the road, I have signed up for occasional TV extra work with my wannabe-actress sister, I plan to try to sell some crafty things (things I used to love doing but really haven't had time for since I first got a 'proper job'), and most of all... most of all I hope to set up as a freelance proofreader and editor. I'm one of those annoying people who always spots mistakes in written material, who always corrects things on the office whiteboard, and who everyone comes to when they don't know how to spell something, so I feel I have a pretty good natural talent for it, and I'm taking a home-study course (I would have finished long ago if it wasn't for the extremely poor customer service of the company I'm taking it with) to get me started. If I can be successful working from home, then I can keep pursuing the dream (you know; smallholding, strawbale house, eco-campsite) wherever we end up, and even while I'm spending the other half of my life behaving like a crazy hippie!

A whole fresh start! Suddenly earning money is an adventure instead of a sentence! I am finding it by turns ludicrously exciting and utterly terrifying. But my family are right behind me, I'm raring to go, and I've already made some really good contacts.

Look out world, here I come...

And if anyone ever needs the services of a proofreader, you know where to find me!

Saturday, 7 August 2010


We have been enjoying the first of our cucumbers this week!

I love the smell of fresh cucumber, and Nome-grown smells even sweeter!

Since we don't have a greenhouse, we've always been a bit limited when it comes to cucumbers (and tomatoes). These are 'Wautoma' - an American variety I got from the Real Seed Catalogue - which are very productive even outdoors (we have seven more cukes this size already!). But even though they are advertised as 'bitter-free', I'm finding the skins very tough and bitter and have to cut them off, which is a real shame. I wonder if there's anything I can do to get rid of this bitterness - maybe more feeding?

The first year I grew veg, I grew some free cucumber 'Moneta' seeds that came with a magazine and they were absolutely AMAZING. Huge, juicy, fragrant, delicious and prolific. But I have never been able to find the seeds again since! The search goes on...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Chatsworth Gardens

Please excuse the long silence - I have been enjoying a lovely week away in the Peak District with friends!

I must confess I find the Peaks a little underwhelming when compared to certain other spots in Britain, but I can't complain; it's great to get away, and there's nothing like a good dose of countryside.
The weather was rather grey all week, and as a result my photos are rather grey too, but I will give you a rundown of some of the highlights anyway - the most relevant of which is our visit to Chatsworth House and Gardens.

Visting gardens has never previously been 'my thing', and I wouldn't have gone if the rest of the group hadn't suggested it - they mainly wanted to see the house. Eddie and I bought a gardens-only ticket, however, and there was still plenty to fill the day!

The highlights of the gardens for me were the hundreds of statues and carvings at every turn, such as here in the rose garden...

...and the numerous water features, from this simple but picturesque 'trough waterfall' hidden away in the woods... the cleverly engineered 'willow tree fountain', which at first glance looks like a real tree but is really made entirely of metal pipes... the 'cascade'; a man-made waterfall of sorts, where water flows endlessly down a series of differently-shaped and -sized steps...

...and finally this incredible gravity-fed fountain. No pumps here; just the pressure of a water source far above on the hilltop. The fountain plays here at only about a third of its maximum height! Now that's impressive!

Of course, I did enjoy the planting too. I particularly liked this purple-themed bed (sorry; the colours didn't come out too well in the photos).

And does anyone know what these yellow flowers are? I loved them - they stand 3-5ft high, and are just the right mix of rustic and sculptural.

They were everywhere, and particularly set off the rocky areas. And the bees loved them too!

Of course the real point of interest for us was the kitchen garden, on a rather steeply sloping site right at the top of the estate. Everything looked fantastic, and I kept wanting to reach out and pick things!

Most crops are planted in a sort of wagon wheel pattern, with rows emanating from a single point in the middle of each bed, and different types of crops planted side by side seemingly at random; lettuces next to courgettes next to carrots next to peas next to herbs next to onions next to potatoes next to brassicas next to peppers and so on and on and on!

There are a few more traditional rows too; see beetroots on the left below and parsnips on the right(ish), with all kinds of brassicas caged beyond. And what's that in the middle?

I studied them for a while and I swear, they look exactly like some kind of gigantic dandelions! What on earth are they?!

I was pleased to see plenty of companion flowers about as well; nasturtiums everywhere and whole beds of borage - like here next to the runner beans.

Also on display were the rather grand old greenhouses, full of ripening tomatoes and melons supported in nets.

And more cold frames than you could shake a spade at!

And how's this for an industrial-sized bird scarer? It rotates slowly in the middle of the garden, casting bright reflections in all directions. And to think the rest of us have to make do with CDs on strings...

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