Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

18 Sept 2020

Home grown from Old Suffolk Cottage

Greetings from the Old Suffolk Cottage. As I've said before, lockdown was a very productive time for me and the husband, and I'm not pretending for one minute that we didn't drive each other up the walls but there was one project that became a resoundingly successful joint venture and that was the vegetable patch.

Luckily for us our best friends and neighbours are a few more years ahead of us on the 'moving from town to country' game so we had good advice and inspiration from the start. When we saw the fenced veg patch at our friends old farm we decided to do the same. You need to put some fencing round your raised beds in the country as the deer and rabbits often wander in and have a nibble, it's probably advisable when planting out new shoots and seeds to also string up some kind of bird scarer, I just strung old bunting across.

It has most definitely been a learning curve and I will do things differently every year as I discover what works and what is a waste of time. 

Not only do we have three raised growing beds but we are also surrounded by mature hedgerow so on top of the chosen vegetables and fruit trees we also discover bonus things growing. Having only moved here two years ago we are still finding what is growing around us as we clear the weeds and let in light to some overcrowded trees. Also some fruit trees only produce every other year so that's possibly why we didn't notice them before.  We were surprised to find a plum tree amongst it all and had just a small bowl of edible plums this year, so we just ate them straight from the tree. I also found what I thought was Sloes only to discover they are wild damsons neither of which should be picked until about October so I shall hang on a bit to use them in Gin.

hedgerow blackberries also a contender for crumble

For the raised beds we didn't dig up the grass but just laid layers on top of it. First we made a wooden frame the shape of the bed. Then laid cardboard down on top of the grass inside the frame. On top of that we put a layer of mushroom compost bought by the digger load from a local mushroom farm. The final layer was normal garden compost bought in bags from the local garden centre. Charles Dowding gives good advice about the 'no dig bed'.

I started a few things off in the greenhouse, like pumpkins, fennel, artichokes and tomatoes. The rest was small plants found on honesty stands and donated by friends because the garden centres were still shut at that time. I ended up with far too many tomato plants but thought I'd always do something with them and generally I just reduce them down in batches for pasta sauce which I add other things to. I tend not to freeze it but just eat it over a few days and then make another batch. We are a bit crazy for the spelt pasta from Waitrose so I just do different variations of sauces to go with that. 

The courgettes were the biggest surprise of all. Not only did I have a huge success with them, most of them grew into marrows of enormous proportions, with one 'courgette' being enough to feed a large family for a week. One type were particularly gorgeous and tasty, a very nutty flavour, and that was Romanesco courgette. It's ribbed in shape and slightly prickly, and I can't say that with a straight face. Anyway, sniggering aside, I had to find some good recipes for the courgette glut of 2020. Other than just frying them and adding to the tomato pasta sauce I also found a Riverford recipe for reducing a large amount of just courgettes into a thick sauce with creme fraiche stirred in at the end, oh my word it's totally delicious. 

Another great way to use up the courgettes is in a soup with peas and basil. This recipe came from the Ottolenghi Simple book.

Aside from the tons of tomatoes and courgettes we have had massive cucumbers too and luckily our friend showed up this fantastic pickle recipe from Riverford which is slightly sweet and makes a perfect accompaniment to tuna, cheese and cold meats. It's not a recipe that takes hours of boiling either and I was really quite surprised how lovely it is. 

I was all over the place with the tomatoes, I did do a bit of pinching out of side shoots, but to be honest, there was so much watering to do and I didn't want to risk pinching out the wrong thing. So it ended up being a tomato jungle which, once the fruit was getting large, I took all the foliage off so that they would get maximum sunshine to ripen. In the process of doing this a lot of green tomatoes fell off and so I needed to find something to do with these. This time I opted for a chutney, I just googled up one that suited and this is now all jarred up and ready for Christmas. 

Another tree which has suddenly born fruit out of nowhere is an apple, tucked away down the side of the house and there's only one thing for it - crumble. I could eat crumble every day and yes, sometimes I really do cheat and buy the ready made bag of crumble topping so that I can have it ready in just ten minutes. 

I'm saving the pumpkin story for another post as these have triumphed and grown out of their enclosure and currently making a bid for freedom down the garden. Now I know how well them climb I will be doing something different with them next year.

The beetroot I planted directly just never really came to anything, and the fennel is producing great feathery tops, but as yet, I've no idea what is going on below the soil. The artichokes looked to be doing well in the greenhouse then I planted them out and it's not looking great for them. Lettuce was a huge success, I grew these from small plug plants from a garden centre, again, we had too much of these for just two people and I soon realised I much prefer rocket to lettuce anyway. I've been growing rocket from seed and had some success with that although I think I planted it out too late. I will try harden with the rocket next year and not bother with so much lettuce. The rhubarb was another monster plant which takes up so much space I might change it's position next year and also learn a bit more about when to pick it - it's another great contender for crumble! 

I've also had a few peppers growing in the greenhouse but they haven't produced enough to warrant taking up so much space and needing to be watered every day. I actually don't like peppers and would rather have a crop of garlic so now I have to look at the time to plant these out and get into a year long plan of what happens when. Because we started all this growing during lockdown and because garden centres weren't open I've been playing catchup a bit, having said that I consider it a resounding success so far and my diet has never been healthier if nothing else. 

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