Onion Harvest

I planted my heat-treated onion sets (Cupido F1 and Red Baron) on 19th March 2021. By 24th August, the leaves had flopped and were starting to yellow. We had eaten a few onions already but now it was time to dig up the remainder and cure them for winter storage. The soil was loosened with a garden fork before gently pulling up the onions. Any bulbs showing disease (white rot) or thick-necks (having bolted/flowered) were put to one side for immediate use as these will not keep. Carefully brushing off any soil and trimming excess foliage to about 25-30 cm (not roots), the bulbs were then placed on a wire mesh to dry in a covered area.


Cupido white/strong onion sets (250 g) were bought from D.T. Brown (£3.45) and contained approximately 70-75 sets. Sprouting was close to 100% and only two onions exhibited white rot (?) - see below - these were used immediately in a batch of cucumber chutney after cutting away the diseased parts.  

I estimated a yield of about 18 kg (40 lb) from the Cupido onion sets. Assuming these store well over winter, that puts a value of £0.19/kg on this crop. For comparison, Sainsbury's are selling large white onions at £1.58/kg and small organic onions at £1.67/kg. Or to put it another way, investing £1 in onion sets yielded £8 in onions for a six-month investment!

The Red Baron pack (250 g for £3.45, also from DT Brown) contained only 40 sets with, again, near 100% sprouting. Two onions bolted and developed a hard neck - see below - so they were used within a week.


The remainder were cured on a wire rack and undercover in preparation for winter storage. The Red Baron pack (£3.45/250 g) yielded about 9 kg of onions with a 'market' value of £0.38/kg. Sainsbury's are selling red onions for £2.33/kg or £2.50/kg for organic. The 'investment' return on growing red onions was, therefore, less than white onions but still a healthy 660%!!

Generally, I do not have too many problems growing onions. I use crop rotation (4-year) and a mesh insect barrier around the onion plot. Apart from adding homemade compost to the onion plot before planting the sets in March and fortnightly weeding sessions during the growing season, there is very little to do before harvesting in late summer/early autumn. In dry summers, like 2020, some watering is required but this has not been necessary in 2021 as we have had rain fairly regularly throughout the spring and summer.




Arthur's Stone

Arthur's Stone near Dorstone in Herefordshire is a Neolithic burial chamber that is over 5000 years old. It is under the care of English Heritage who describe it as:

The chamber is formed of nine upright stones, with an enormous capstone, estimated to weigh more than 25 tonnes. It was accessed through the side of the covering mound, via the right-angled passage. There is an isolated stone that probably formed part of a false entrance, perhaps providing a visual focus for ceremonies.

Or as one Trip Advisor contributor described it:

This is just a small group of stones...

There was an article in our local rag (Hereford Times) a few days earlier reporting on some excavations that had taken place a few years earlier. Must have been a slow news day in Herefordshire. This link gives a bit more detail.

We have visited in the past when we had the place to ourselves but this time it was quite busy presumably because of the Hereford Times publicity. There is parking for about 4-5 cars at the monument itself or, if you fancy an uphill walk, you can park in the village of Dorstone and climb Dorstone Hill (just over a mile).

Arthur's Stone was apparently the inspiration for the 'stone table' in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. The legend that is King Arthur and Camelot has connections with many places - but he definitely slew a giant here because the giant left impressions of his elbows on one of the stones where he fell!

We parked at Arthur's Stone, checked out the monument, had a picnic and then set off for Merbach Hill (1043 ft). This is a level walk of about 5 km (there and back), initially along the road and then across fields filled with harebells, goldfinches, stonechats and sheep to the hill-top trig marker.


There are excellent views of the Golden Valley and the Black Mountains:



Including Hay Bluff (shrouded in cloud today):



And from Merbach Hill you can see Clee Hill (about 50km away):




A Surfeit of Cucumbers

The cucumber is a versatile fruit consumed raw in salads, sandwiches, tzatziki, chilled soups or just cut into sticks for dipping sauces.

I typically grow four plants in the polytunnel using a Greenhouse Sensation Quadgrow system. For the last two seasons, I have grown the all-female Passandra F1 which produces a large crop of 'mini-cukes' about 15-20 cm long. I start the seeds off in Fertile Fibre seed compost in an indoor heated propagator during March, transplanting to 3-inch pots during April. If Spring is warm (e.g. 2020), the plants can be transferred to the polytunnel in late April/early May. In cold Springs such as 2021, planting out is delayed until mid or late May. I let the plants grow 'au naturelle' - i.e. without pinching out the side shoots or the growing tip unless the growth interferes with other plants - and tie in the vines every 15 cm or so to support the fruit.

I harvested my first fruit on June 24 (see picture above), a little later than normal due to the cold spring, and expect at least 20 fruits per plant throughout the season. I had a spare Passandra F1 plant (just in case one of the polytunnel plants failed) which I planted outside in the kitchen garden in June. This has already produced 5 good cucumbers but that is probably it for the season.

After giving cucumbers away to friends and neighbours, there are still plenty of cucumbers to eat. Mary is, as I type this, preparing our second batch of Cucumber Relish:

Cucumber Relish



6 x mini-cukes (6") - chopped finely or a few seconds in a food processor (= 5 cups)

1 x onion - chopped finely or a few seconds in a food processor (= 2.5 cups)

1 tbsp salt

Mix and leave for 1-2 hours then drain

2 x cups white vinegar

½ tbsp turmeric

1½ cups sugar

 2 tsp celery seed

3 tsp mustard seed

Combine with drained cucumber/onion and simmer for 15 minutes then transfer to sterilized jars. Keep in fridge. Use within 6 months. 

Cucumber Soup (Vitamix)

Cucumbers are 96% water so I just replace some of the water with a cucumber (8-inch, 400-500 g) in any of my soup recipes such as Cream of Courgette soup. Simples. The cucumber adds piquancy to the soup and can be eaten (drunk?) hot or cold.

German Rice Ring

We bought a copy of The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas in the 1970's which is where this recipe came from. Basically, it is a ring of rice, flavoured with herbs and spices, to which a cheesy sauce of sauteed cucumbers is added in the middle. Here is a typical recipe. We do not peel or deseed our home-grown cucumbers and we also add other items to the rice such as mushrooms, beans (kidney, cannellini, etc), tomatoes, etc. An easy and simple dish to prepare.

Cooked Cucumber as a Side Dish

Cucumbers can be roasted (Fan, 170 ℃, 40 min, rapeseed oil, dill, salt & pepper) in the oven as a side vegetable.

No need to peel (greenhouse varieties) but you can remove the centre/seeds if you wish. Slice as chips or cylinders. I don't but you can sprinkle with salt and leave for an hour to draw out some of the moisture then rinse and dry before coating in oil, salt, pepper and herbs/spices. Also, try slicing and adding to stir-fries.

Cucumber and Apple Chutney

We recently found a 6-year old Kilner Jar of Cucumber and Apple chutney at the back of a cupboard. Tastes as good as it did 6 years ago! We think this was the recipe...

Makes 6 x 1lb jars:

2lb (1 kg) cucumber from the polytunnel

2lb (1 kg) apples (cookers or eaters)

1lb 8oz (650 g) onions

3/4 pint (450 ml) malt vinegar

1lb (500 g) demerara sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp mustard powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

  1. Peel, core, chop apples
  2. Peel & finely chop onions
  3. Cut cucumber lengthways, scoop out seeds & chop finely (Ridge cukes should be peeled as well)
  4. Put, apples, onions and cucumber in large pan with the vinegar and bring to th boil. Simmer til soft
  5. Add sugar, salt and spices; stir until the sugar dissolves
  6. Continue simmering until chutney thickens with the occasional stir to prevent sticking (about 1 hour)
  7. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal
Bulgarian Salad

Tomorrow, I will raid the polytunnel for tomatoes, sweet peppers and cucumber and the kitchen garden for garlic and herbs to make this delicious salad best eaten with fresh bread.

3 large tomatoes (chopped)
1 small pepper
1/3 cucumber
Handful of black olives
Minced garlic
Chives
Fresh oregano & mint
Black pepper
3tbsp olive oil
2 tbs red wine vinegar
Feta cheese (optional)

The Knife Angel @ Hereford Cathedral

The Knife Angel, British Ironworks Centre, Oswestry

 The Knife Angel has spent the last month in front of Hereford Cathedral - today was its last day before moving on. Made from over 100,000 knife blades collected from 42 police forces, the sculpture weighs 3.5 tons, stands 27 feet tall and was created by artist Alfie Bradley and the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry.

Equally impressive during the day or when lit up at night.



The touring Knife Angel is the centrepiece of a nationwide campaign highlighting knife crime and includes a knife amnesty at each location. Over 200 blades were handed in while the sculpture was in Hereford.

Finally, a recommendation to visit the British Ironworks Centre on the A5 near Oswestry. Large outdoor spaces displaying numerous sculptures, largely of the animal variety, and the home of the Knife Angel. An excellent cafe and large shop selling unusual items. We last visited 2 years ago and will definitely return when next in the area.

Butterfly Season

 

Tis the season for butterflies in Herefordshire - July and August - this fine specimen of a Small Tortoiseshell was spotted on a blackcurrant bush in the Kitchen Garden on June 30th.

small tortoiseshell

 There were earlier, mostly single, sightings such as the overwintered Peacock in March as well as Holly Blue (end of April), Small, Large & Green-Veined Whites (May), Orange-Tip & Speckled Wood (end April/beginning of May). On the same day this Small Tortoiseshell was sighted, we also saw Red Admiral and Comma butterflies. As the weather warms we hope to see greater numbers of butterflies in the garden.

This brings me to the main point of this post - The Big Butterfly Count organised by Butterfly Conservation. This starts on Friday 16th July and runs for 3 weeks. No matter where you are, just spend 15 minutes in the sunshine counting the number and type of butterflies (and day-flying moths) you see and then send in your report. Go to the website to download the app and an identification guide. This is a great citizen science project. Good Luck!

 

Seasonal Changes in the Garden - March 2021

The winter months of January and February have passed and the onset of Spring brings fresh growth and colour to the garden.

The trees were still bare on March 3rd (below) but fresh green leaves are appearing, the Christmas Rose (hellebore) is still in full bloom and the early daffodils and primulas are flowering. There is a hint of pink in the wild cherry with the promise of more to come. In the left foreground, some components of the new summerhouse are laid out ready for treatment with eco preservative; LifeTime Wood Treatment from The Natural Gardener.

The Shire Hampton Summerhouse is intended as an all-year-round replacement for our summer-only pop-up gazebo. Ordered 22/2/21, delivered 1/3/21 and finished 7/3/21. We have added rugs, table, chairs, storage and plants to the summerhouse and enjoy sitting in there most days, rain or shine (photo below from March 12th).
 

The garden did not look much different on March 11th, apart from a few more flowering daffodils, and I still need to tidy up the patio. Mary puts the finishing touches to the summerhouse and records it for posterity.


It is now the end of March (31st), and it is beginning to look like Spring. The wild cherry is blooming marvellous (as is our neighbour's tree) and the daffodils, primulas and tulips add much-needed colour. The patio is also looking a bit tidier!


There are some hidden gems not visible in the overview photos. For example, in the secret garden (behind the green shed so no longer secret!), there was a fine display of daffodils on the 19th March:
And this snake's head fritillary near the patio:


  

Deer, Oh Dear

Spotted on the road outside the house by Owen and Lucy, a muntjac (Barking Deer) making its way home after a night on the town? 

Muntjac deer are a non-native species introduced into Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in 1894 although specimens were on view at London Zoo in the 1830s. Now widely found throughout the south of England and spreading northwards. A local businessman has a collection of unusual animals including flamingoes, wallabies. rheas and fallow deer though not, as far as we know, muntjac. Wallabies have been seen roaming the local byways and highways.

Muntjacs are reasonably common in the local countryside and have been reported in the city before. 

A few days earlier I spotted our first grey squirrel in the garden, after more than 18 years living here.

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