26 October 2012

Late October harvest

We're enjoying an Indian Summer at the moment - with temperatures yesterday in the low 20s/70s. Unfortunately, the forecast for the next week looks unrelentingly grim: much colder, rain every day and the chance of a visit from Hurricane Sandy. Lovely!

I decided to go and dig up some of the outside root crops before they all get drowned. I got a good haul of parsnips, carrots and sunchokes, plus a swede/rutabaga, one of my Savoy cabagges and more broccoli. Since recovering from the dry summer, the broccoli plants have been doing really well and I've been picking it twice a week. I wish I could say the same for the Brussels sprouts, which look fantastic from a distance but which haven't produced a single sprout between them.

A hard frost has brought about a dramatic change in the pumpkin patch at the hayfield. Here's how the bed was looking in early August:

And now it's looking almost as though there was never anything growing in it; just a few last spaghetti squash left to show how productive it has been.

Considering the problems we had with the long dry spells in July and August, I was pleased with the amount of produce this bed delivered. Especially compared to last year, when squash bugs destroyed all of these plants in the vegetable garden by the house. The longer walk also provided me with some good exercise as I carried all the pumpkins, squash and cucumbers back to the house!

20 October 2012

Botanical gardens, Berlin

I've been in Berlin for a few days on a business trip this week, with two days free at the end because of stupid flight pricing. Yesterday I went on a fantastic bike tour of the city centre with a group of other tourists from all over the world. That was great fun (especially the part where we were cycling through the Tiergarten: the park is really beautiful at this time of year).

Today I headed for the botanical gardens. I got there just before they officially opened, but the entrance gate was already manned, so I paid my €6 and set off into the garden, armed with a printed guide to the best parts to visit in the autumn. For about half an hour I didn't see anyone else at all and felt as though I had the whole space to myself. It was a sunny, dewy, morning with just a touch of mist in the air.

I wasn't expecting to see many flowers, so late in the year, but the trees more than made up for that. The season is less advanced here than it is at home and the trees are looking beautiful. The arboretum is full of interesting-looking small paths which beg to be explored: it doesn't feel at all formal, apart from the labels on the plants.

One that caught my attention in the North American part of the arboretum was this witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). I hadn't realised that this was native to our part of the world. Looking at its range, we're right at the northern edge of it, but it would be great if we could grow this in our woods at home.

Also in flower in the arboretum was this striking plant:

This is Cimicifuga simplex, otherwise known as bugbane. This is native to Asia, but the North American equivalent is Actaea (or Cimicifuga) racemosa, a.k.a. black cohosh, black snakeroot or fairy candle. Another one to look out for at home.

The roses in the garden were mostly showing off their hips. These are from the dog rose:

There were one or two brave roses still flowering. I didn't make a note of the variety, but this one looked lovely with its light spritzing of dew:

The glasshouses and their contents were architecturally impressive:

I narrowly missed taking a photo of a small brown newt which was sitting on this plant the second before I pressed the shutter button:

I've never been wild about cacti, but there's something about this group that's almost cuddly.

And did I mention that the trees were gorgeous?

Having spaces like this almost makes it worth living in a city, although I must admit that I liked it best in that first half-hour when I felt I was only sharing it with the birds. By the time I left there was quite a long queue at the entrance, so the garden is clearly appreciated by the city's inhabitants and visitors.

06 October 2012

Tarte au citron chocolat

We're having our official Thanksgiving meal a week late, as my dad and his wife will be with us next weekend and we thought we'd wait until then for the big feast. But there were small murmurings of discontent from the children at not having a celebratory meal this weekend, so I'm putting a bit more thought and effort than usual into tomorrow's Sunday lunch.

I made my Christmas cake and pudding this week and as a result had a dezested orange and lemon to use up. My original vague thought for a Sunday dessert was to make a lemon tart to use up the juice of the lemon. Google wafted me over to David Lebovitz's site where I got sidetracked by the amazing recipe for the pastry shell of the lemon tart he made. I adapted it slightly by cooking the butter mixture on the stovetop rather than in the oven, but it seemed to come out fine. Then while it was baking I wandered off to look at his other tart recipes and immediately fell in love with his description of his chocolate tart:

A good chocolate tart doesn’t need to be fancy, but it needs to be deep, dark, and yes, somewhat decadent.

The method looked a little scary, involving making caramel and warning about being "sure to avert your face" when you add the liquid to the hot sugar. But it all went smoothly (I love David Lebovitz's reassuring and straightfoward instructions) and I did use up the juice of the orange in the recipe, so at least some of my original intention was achieved!

Here's the finished tart:

Now the main challenge is going to be resisting cutting into it before tomorrow...

05 October 2012

Global success

I thought the globe artichokes I grew from seed this year had been killed by the dry spell in July. But they came back from the dead once we had some decent rainfall and are now looking quite healthy.

My next problem is whether they will survive the winter here. I think I'll cut the leaves back once we get a frost and then pile hay over the plants and see what happens. I grew one in one of the greenhouse beds, too, so that plant might have a better chance of making it through the cold season.

Has anyone else successfully brought globe artichokes through a Great Lakes winter?