Saturday, June 26, 2010

New potatoes in buckets

In early summer, when new potatoes are not yet obtainable from greengrocers or market stalls, those grown in buckets outside at home form a special early summer treat.
After my abject failure to grow potatoes in the plastic sacks much advertised for the job, I experimented with growing them in the black plastic buckets now on sale almost everywhere.
It is necessary to drill holes in the bottom of these buckets, then to cover the holes with broken crocks to aid drainage,
Obtain seed potatoes of an early variety and allow them to chit (grow small green/brown sprouts in the daylight), and put 3 on a 3” layer of the compost covering the crocks. Then cover these with perhaps 3” to 4” of compost or sifted soil mixed with compost.
When the green leaves (haulms) appear, add more compost to almost cover the leaves (leave some greenery showing).
Again, allow the leaves to grow, almost covering them with compost.
Leave a couple of inches of the bucket unfilled to make room for water (spuds like plenty of it).
This year (2010) I planted 3 Arran Bard potatoes in each bucket on the 9th of March, harvesting a small crop (a good dish) of small potatoes after 66 days from one bucket. The second bucket was emptied 77 days after planting, and provided 10 walnut-size potatoes from each seed potato (two dishes).
This was well before English new potatoes appeared for sale in the shops.
So, from the buckets, resting on a shelf in the garden, we enjoyed two early potato treats.
After boiling them for about 16 minutes I like to serve these delicacies in individual bowls into which I put salt, a lump of butter and a splash of vinegar. On top I sprinkle a little chopped fresh mint.
The hot potatoes melt the butter and all the potatoes can then be coated with the butter/vinegar/salt/mint mixture before being eaten – as a course on their own. If eaten cold, a vinaigrette or thin mayonnaise is the better coating, and the spuds are then best peeled.
Our harvesting is done by cutting off the haulms for compost, and then upturning the bucket of soil and potatoes on to a marble topped garden table.
The potatoes are then extracted to be washed and eaten (skin on), the spent seed thrown away, and the roots with enmeshed soil composted.
This home grown treat makes for a lovely and exciting annual, springtime ritual.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fusker again

I am rather devoted to the name “Fusker” because many of the hits coming through the ether to our computer arrive by that name.
Well, “Fusker” is, I believe, something Swedish. It may be a computer programme or even something a little more risqué. But hits come in.
I speak of hits without much authority because my own computer is not connected to the net, being an old-fashioned machine that I feed with 3 ½” floppy disks if I want to transfer anything from it to my wife Margreet’s very up-to-date edition of modern technology.
I suppose that many of these Fusker hits relate to neighbour James May’s cat of that name, an animal of considerable character but somewhat of a villain.
I recorded in this blog a fight that I once had with that cat which sent me to hospital for repairs and injection after a bloody conflict on my territory, which I won. Since when, the cat respects me as “top cat” and keeps his distance.
Many of us love cats. We just want to stroke them and hope for their friendship. That is why they are so popular as pets.
When newcomers come to live nearby we warn them of possible trouble if playing with Fusker.
Now Fusker loves houses more than people. Leave the door open and your back turned and Fusker is indoors – slipping in often unnoticed.
When inside he investigates the house from top to bottom, sometimes finding sympathetic hosts who allow him to stay – and even people who will feed him choice morsels (I believe smoked salmon to be one of his favourites).
But Fusker poses danger.
As we are frightened that he might turn on a child, we warn those who do not know him of potential danger. So we warned two new neighbours who have a young boy.
True to form, Fusker infiltrated their newly acquired home, prancing up and down stairs sizing up the place and its inhabitants.
The new master of the house managed to apprehend him and was pleased to stroke the quiet miscreant - as one is wont to do.
Then Fusker sank his teeth deep into the man’s hand.
At least the child was safe, who witnessed the attack and thought that it was hilariously funny.
Fusker is a villain of course. But at least he can make a child laugh.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Garden update Spring 2010

As spring turns to summer it is a chance for me to write a garden update.
From a large pot we harvested – and ate raw – half a dozen spears of asparagus. They were delicious – tender, sweet and juicy.
This brings me to almost conclude a theory.
I have tried several times to grow two or more varieties of a perennial shrub or plant of the same genus in the same pot. And each time, after initial apparent success, only one has survived.
The most recent example of this has been in that asparagus pot of ours.
In it I had planted, over several years, crowns and seedlings of several varieties. They all started well, but beneath the soil a battle was taking place, leaving only the strongest to survive.
This fight between roots beneath the soil in pots has occurred in this London garden between two types of viburnam, two varieties of lavender, and now asparagus. The strongest wins each time. The others die. I won’t bother to try this double or multiple planting again. Nature has taught me a lesson. She has spoken.
In the winter I dug out a pot of mint which had noxious weeds in it, and its plastic was, anyhow, beginning to break up. I replanted a few of its young, rooted strands in a new, strong, drained, black plastic bucket, filled with crocks at the bottom and clean soil above.
This has produced plenty of healthy mint stems, and is the happier for its regeneration. (In tipping out the old mint, I noticed that its roots spread out quite near to the soil surface, and not much downward.)
A success has been in the strawberry pot of geraniums (pelargoniums). From its top are growing three colourful varieties, and from the holes in its side grow the trailing kind. And from one aperture sprout the thin pointed leaves of a thrift plant that was given to us and had no other appropriate place in which to live. It looks a bit odd as it sticks out – rather like hair, favoured by modern youths.
Unable to keep the corms of the Bolivian begonia throughout the winter, I now have two young (gift) plants of its “Bonfire” variety growing well and flowering early.
I have written about my disappointment with plastic sacks for growing potatoes, and the lack of success when using them the following year for Swiss chard (not bad), carrots (poor), and beetroot (very poor).
Well, this year I constructed a frame of bamboos and string and, in the sacks with replenished topsoil planted broad beans (The Sutton) and climbing French beans. These are doing splendidly, with the broad bean plants now in full flower and the climbers climbing.
As for potatoes, I continue to plant three seed potatoes in each of two black plastic buckets (crocked and drilled for drainage). This year I chose the variety Arran Bard.
After 66 days we harvested one bucketful and enjoyed a feast of small, new potatoes (last year we harvested after 77 days). As the spuds were still quite small, we will wait another 10 days before harvesting those in the second bucket.
Potato harvesting is done by first composting the haulms, and then turning the bucket upside-down on a marble-topped table in the garden. Spuds are sorted out from the light soil, which is either to be rejuvenated in the compost heap or spread on the small areas of garden not covered by flagstones.
There should be apples and pears aplenty this year. Herbs do well, and the pieris continues to please. Roses are fine (Rev P-R and Typhoon), and our robins, having brought up young, continue to land in our shed next to us to eat morsels of cheddar cheese and dried maggots.

Friday, June 04, 2010

French Toast

This simple dish is ideal for breakfast, a snack, or child’s tea. It was certainly popular in my childhood. Yet now I find it to be a little dull. So, besides adding any leftover mayonnaise to the mix, I have been experimenting by spreading either Marmite or Bovril on to one side of the bread before dipping it into the egg/milk mixture. I have also been adding a shake or two of Tabasco chilli sauce as well. All these additions have been successful in invigorating French toast. The amount of milk to be added to egg in this recipe is a matter of experiment. With the texture of my home-made bread being denser than bought loaves I use a little less milk than the volume of egg. The recipe below is for about two slices, perhaps three.


You will need:
Slices of bread (with or without crusts)
Tabasco sauce, possibly
Marmite, possibly
Bovril, possibly
Pepper and salt
Olive oil
Cinnamon powder or grated nutmeg, possibly

Break an egg into a soup plate. Add pepper and salt. Whisk with a fork or whisk, and add about the same volume, or a little more, of milk. Whisk again.
To add taste, consider spreading either Marmite or Bovril on one side of the bread, and adding a shake or two of chilli sauce (like Tabasco) to the mixture.
Soak slices of bread in the whisked liquid and fry them in olive oil on both sides until golden. Some then sprinkle over a little cinnamon powder or grated nutmeg.