27 September 2015

Sun-drying tomatoes

One of the tomato varieties I regularly grow is Principe Borghese (I seem to recall that these were a gift from another garden blogger, some years ago). In one of the descriptions online was a note that it used as a sun-dried tomato in Italy. Ever since I read that I've been thinking I should try this, but haven't got around to it until this year.

My oven has a dehydration setting, which is what I used for my first batch, but it was not very successful: even after 24 hours the tomatoes weren't dry and I wasn't impressed at having to leave the oven on for so long. (I did learn that my oven automatically turns itself off after being on for 12 hours, so that was vaguely interesting.)

So, Plan B. Which involves the sun. Much more satisfactory.

My set-up is about as low-tech as it gets. Small tomatoes, cut in half and arranged on a baking tray in the greenhouse. I've put the tray on top of some small plant pots - thinking this might deter crawling insects - and I have loosely wrapped horticultural fleece over the tray. The fleece allows the sun through, while letting moisture evaporate off. It also stops flying insects landing on the tomatoes.

They've only been out there for eight hours and are already looking drier than the first batch did after 12 hours in the oven.

If this works, it really is ridiculously easy!

06 September 2015

All shapes and sizes

I've got three different eggplant varieties growing this year, and so far I've had one fruit from each, with quite a few more to come if it stays warm for a while.

This one, applegreen, is new to me:

Korean early long:

And my favourite, as far as looks go, rosa bianca:

05 September 2015

Peppers (again!)

The hot weather in the last couple of weeks has really been ripening the peppers. I spent a happy ten minutes this morning, picking them.

I roasted the sweet peppers and then pulled the skins off them, once they'd cooled down a bit.

Then I packed them into a jar and pressure canned them for half an hour. This should preserve them over the winter.

I also tried a new trick with the pressure cooker - using it to cook eggs. Fresh eggs are always a pain to peel, but if you cook them in the pressure cooker, they turn out to be extremely easy. I cooked them at the lower presser setting for six minutes. I think next time I'll do it for four or five, as the yolks were a bit dry for my taste, but this was definitely an experiment that was worth repeating.

15 August 2015

Pepper pots

The peppers remained green for a long time, but are just starting to ripen. I picked two large flower-pots' worth this morning. The bright red ones in the middle are Cayennes and the ones to the bottom are Hungarian Hot Wax. The dark red peppers were supposed to be California Wonder,  but they look more like the Chocolate pepper I've grown in other years. The pretty yellow ones are Antohi peppers - they have an orange blush to them as they ripen. And the green ones are Tam JalapeƱo peppers, which I have sliced and pickled for winter use, together with the Hot Wax ones. They're nice on pizzas or in salads or sandwiches, to add a bit of extra flavour.

27 July 2015

Lentil harvest (part 2)

The pillowcase-and-baseball-bat threshing technique worked well to release the lentils from their pods. Then I removed the stems of the plants and tipped the remaining material from one plastic container to another, in a light breeze, to winnow out the last bits of straw and seed-pods.

From about 20 lentil plants, I recovered about half a cup of lentils (80g). Enough for one meal, perhaps, which perhaps doesn't sound too impressive. There are around 160 lentils in 5g, which gives a total yield of around 2,650 lentils in my batch.  I probably only sowed about 20 lentils to begin with, so that's a return of 13,150% on my initial investment, which is nothing to sniff at.

I'll keep a lot of these seeds for next year and grow a bigger patch outside, if I can devise a way of protecting the seedlings from rabbits!

23 July 2015

New harvests

I'm growing lentils this year and the time has come to harvest my first crop. Last year I tried growing them outside and every last plant was eaten by rabbits. This year I grew them in the greenhouse for a bit more protection.

I've been doing some research to find out the best way of processing the crop, and it seems that pulling the entire plant and leaving it to dry for a few days is the best approach. Then I should be able to thresh the plants by putting them in a pillowcase and bashing them about a bit, before separating the lentils from the straw.

Out of curiosity, I broke open a few of the pods to see what the lentils look like. The variety is Le Puy, which is the famous lentil grown in that region of France. There, they grow in a volcanic soil which gives them a unique flavour and in the European Union you can only call a lentil a Le Puy lentil if it is grown in that region. I suppose those types of rules don't apply outside the EU, but I don't know what you're supposed to call a Le Puy lentil if you grow it somewhere else! They are an interesting colour: basically green, but with blue marbling on them.

The other crops I've been researching harvesting techniques for are those in my 'grain patch' for this year. These are also new for me. From right to left in the picture below are: hull-less oats, Sangatsuga barley and Red Fife wheat. There's quite a bit of hop-clover growing underneath them, which I've left there, as it adds nitrogen to the soil and I don't think is doing the grains any harm.

These aren't ready to harvest yet, but they are definitely changing colour. Here they are in more detail - the oats:

The barley:

And the wheat:

My plan for these so far is to save the grain and sow a bigger patch next year, with the eventual aim of using it as feed for the chickens. Or maybe even eating it ourselves!

06 July 2015

Belated Canada Day blooms

I generally start the growing season with some sort of plan for the front garden bed that I can see from the kitchen window, but they rarely work as I expect them to. I grew cosmos this year, but only two of the plants survived and they are currently very tiny and spindly.  I also planted some miniature sunflowers, which have come up and should be flowering soon.

Star of the show at the moment though are these poppies, which I am fairly sure I did not sow. I don't know where they came from, but they're very pretty, and with the cilantro blooming at the same time, they are looking very patriotic. Shame they came out just after Canada Day!

A lot of this bed is given over to perennial edibles: sage, lovage, borage and horseradish, so the annuals have to be squeezed in between those. The bees and wasps love the borage and lovage: at one point this week I counted eight blue mud dauber wasps enjoying the lovage flowers. These wasps aren't at all aggressive and they eat spiders, so if you're not of fan of spiders, these are the good guys!