23 November 2011

Mixed precipitation

We had our first storm of the winter overnight: a mixture of rain, freezing rain, and snow. Made for some nice photographs this morning, so I'm not complaining.

I've been taking pictures of these beautiful Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) berries for weeks (there are just so many of them this year), but today's weather has brought them to Christmas-card perfection:

And, just along the same fence, even barbed wire can look attractive when it's encased in a coat of ice:

21 November 2011

Dropping fast

The sun and the temperature. Very clear today and we're expecting a low of -6°C/21°F tonight. That might finally kill off the greenhouse pepper and tomato plants. The sun's now setting at around 4.30pm and it's a lot easier to get the chickens are to settle in their coop than it is on summer evenings.

I was wrong (again!) about the gender of the three chicks that we hatched this year. They turned out to be two males and one female. It's good to have roosters back in the flock after we lost the father of these ones in the summer.

18 November 2011

Fronts on Front Street

The older stores on Belleville's Front Street show a genteel, polished appearance to users of the street, but it's a different story in the alleys leading up to it. There, the limestone structure of the buildings is on display, with no attempt to hide its roughness with a layer of plaster.

I haven't yet worked out why 'Front Street' is the preferred term in this part of the world for 'Main Street' (or what would be 'High Street' in England). But when you see the contrast between the sides and the fronts of these buildings, it makes you wonder if that's got something to do with it...

12 November 2011

Pre-winter harvest

It's getting to the point where denial of winter's approach is not going to be possible for much longer. In acceptance of this fact, I've picked a lot of the still-green tomatoes this morning and they're now taking up a good part of one of the kitchen counters. I've scattered some ripe ones over them pour encourager les autres. There's still some more to pick but there isn't room for them and this was as much as I could carry in one trip! They will gradually ripen over the next few weeks.

I also picked a lot of the spinach that's still outside and some of the prodigious quantity of parsley that I've got in the greenhouse. The spinach I trimmed of its stalks, blanched for 2 minutes and froze in ziplock bags. The parsley I just rinsed, divided into bunches and froze whole in small bags. Whether I remember to actually use any of them is another matter entirely...

11 November 2011

Cooking from itch

I've only mentioned my pasta machine once here, I think, but it's proved to be one of the more heavily-used of the kitchen gadgets I possess. One thing I really like about it is the ability to mix flours so that I get a light wholemeal pasta. I've always found 100% wholewheat pasta to be too stodgy, whereas white pasta just doesn't fill us up for very long. It's a similar story with bread, although I use a different mix of flours with pasta. With my bread I usually make it half-wholemeal, half-white. When it comes to pasta I prefer a mix that's a quarter-wholemeal, three-quarters white.

Tonight I made spaghetti bolognese. Yes, it does take a bit longer, making the pasta first, but not as long as you'd think, with the machine doing most of the work.

I used one of the frozen batches of tomato sauce made from the greenhouse tomatoes, bulked up with carrots I'd harvested from the garden last weekend. Our onion crop was disappointing this year, so it contained store-bought onions, but at least the herbs were fresh from the garden. I steamed a few spinach leaves and sugar snap peas from the greenhouse over the boiling pasta and that was that. Feel like I've come a long way from the days when most of a meal like this would have come out of a packet, jar or tin.

The phrase 'cooking from itch' isn't mine, I should add. I heard it the day I bought the pasta machine at the yard sale and have been meaning to use it ever since!

06 November 2011

Overwintering herbs

I've had mixed luck with keeping herbs alive over the winter. Thyme, sage, mint, and oregano seem to survive fine in the border next to the house and parsley usually comes back well in the spring. Plants like rosemary and French tarragon which would have survived over winter outside in England are less likely to do so here, so need some winter protection. The first winter, I dug up the rosemary plant and put it in the basement. Where I promptly forgot about it and it died of dehydration rather than cold. In the following year I took cuttings from its replacement and kept them in the kitchen, where I did remember to water them and they lived until the following year although the parent plant, left outside, did not. Last year, the rosemary plant I left outside did actually make it through the winter, although the smaller plants I kept in the kitchen did not. I'm just not good at remembering to water indoor plants...

But I am persevering and have taken four cuttings from the surprise survivor of last winter. I'm keeping these next to the kitchen sink in the hope that this will prompt me to water them more regularly...

Then I remembered the French tarragon plant I bought this year. I like tarragon but it's one of those annoying plants that can't be grown from seed, so I had to buy it from one of the local nurseries. I left it in its pot, thinking that it would be easier to bring it indoors in the winter that way. I went outside to find it and was rather disheartened by what I saw:

There are some small signs of life (if you look very hard), so I've brought it indoors anyway in the hope that a spell in the warmth of the kitchen will effect a minor miracle and bring it back to full health. Gardening is all about optimism, after all...

01 November 2011

On borrowed time

It's been quiet around here because I've been away on a work trip to the UK. Coming back from such a trip at this time of year, I'm never sure whether the summer vegetables will have been killed by a frost or not.

This time we've been lucky and the tender veg in the greenhouse are still hanging on, despite a few frosts which have killed the tender plants outside.

Over the next week I'll be doing a big harvest of all the remaining tomatoes and peppers before we start getting into the really cold weather. Fortunately, there's no frost forecast in the short term, so this is not as urgent a task as it might have been.

The fall pea experiment in the greenhouse has partially worked. I picked a good harvest of sugar snap peas today but the regular peas ('Lincoln') on the right of this photo have not been quite so successful, despite good germination rates.

I'll probably just sow the sugar snap ones next year - but it was definitely worth trying.

The chickens are still laying which is interesting because this time last year we didn't get any eggs at all. We're only getting two or three a day now, but there were none for three weeks last year between October and November. Strange...