Wednesday 31 August 2022

Dehydrating fruit

Now is the season of preserving fruitfulness. One of the ways of making harvests last and spread the fruits of your labour though the year is by applying different preserving methods to store produce. At this time of the year we make a lot of use of a dehydrator. There are lots of things you can use it for but we primarily use it for dehydrating plums and apples which are usually plentiful at this time of the year. 

There are recommendations about how long to put various fruit, vegetables and even meat to dehydrate but  trial and error produces the best results. We halve and de-stone plums and cut apples into slices and aim to dehydrate them to the point where they still retain a little chewiness. The process of dehydrating fruit results in a heightened intensity of flavour. 

You can add the dehydrated fruit to cooking or breakfast cereal but we mainly treat them as a snack. We like to think they are a healthy snack because no sugar or any other ingredients are added - just the fruit on its own.

A tray of apple dehydrated apple slices. The
dehydrator can accommodate 9 trays.

Plums and apples.  Several more jars of each to come.


Tuesday 30 August 2022

Chillies and their accompaniments

Having long been accustomed to an oriental oriented diet chillies quite often feature so it makes sense to grow our own, which I do every year. They can be grown outdoors in a sunny spot but with a greenhouse or polytunnel you can get a reliable crop. The conditions this Summer have been particularly conducive for growing chillies. As indeed has been the case for other greenhouse crops. Aubergines, sweet peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes have all been bountiful this year. I began harvesting some of the chillies today.

This year I have grown Hot Mexican, Early Jalapeno, and Hungarian Hot Wax. The latter are relatively mild so are useful if you want a chilli flavour but not too spicey hot. Chillies do have a distinctive flavour - its not all about heat.

Chillies freeze well so they can be used as needed throughout the year. So many of our meal preparation starts with chopping up ginger, garlic and a chilli. If not the latter, then spring onions. In terms of growing your own, of these, ginger is the one which presents a problem. It is difficult to grow decent sized roots and to keep them going over Winter. It is a while since I last tried so plan to have another go. Its is becoming increasingly possible to consider growing more 'exotic' fruit and vegetables in the UK, alas, for all the wrong reasons.

Saturday 27 August 2022

Orange, black and white hairy caterpillar

I was watering the plants I am growing on in the cold frame today and saw this colourful caterpillar on one of them. 

After examining photos online and reading about their habitat and lifecycle I have concluded it is the caterpillar of the Knot Grass Moth. Apparently quite common and widely distributed across the UK. It is very similar to the caterpillar of the Yellow Tail and the Brown Tail moths but all in all I am sticking with the Knot Grass Moth. But happy to be corrected.

The adult moths can be seen between May and July and there is a second brood in August and September which fits with the caterpillar found today. The caterpillar feeds on herbaceous plants so this one turned up trumps in my cold frame. 

The adult Knot Grass Moth looks like this (courtesy of

Thursday 25 August 2022


This morning I had the seemingly novel experience of tending to the livestock and opening up the poultry houses accompanied by thunder, some amazing lightening and, most welcome of all, some heavy rain. I know some parts of the UK have already experienced this, but around here, apart from an hour long light shower one day last week, this is the first significant rain we have had for several months. The forecast is that it should continue for much of the day. There is hardly any breeze so the rain is falling straight down. I can see big puddles forming where the rain is not soaking in but hopefully, if the rain keeps up, it eventually will.

The pigs are normally ready and waiting for me first thing but today they were slow to emerge from their arks. They were clearly not as impressed with the weather conditions as I was. I took the opportunity to top up their straw bedding as I suspect it will be an indoors day for them today.

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Seasons running awry

Running a few errands, I nipped into a shop to buy a couple of gardening bits. The section of the shop normally displaying gardening tools and accessories was fully displaced by this:-

I know its a commonplace to bemoan the annual premature marketing of Christmassy products, but in August, when its 26 degrees centigrade and even Halloween barely on the horizon? 

We are all aware that the seasons are getting out of sync. but this one can't be anything to do with climate change.

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Common Burdock

When out walking in uncultivated areas or long grass, especially at this time of the year, there is a risk of burrs attaching themselves to your clothes. Socks are particularly vulnerable to them. The problem is that you cannot detach burrs without them leaving behind multiple splinters which have to be picked out one by one. Being long haired, our golden retriever often succumbs. 

This is exactly how it should work. Burrs are the seed heads of the burdock and they have evolved an efficient means of seed dispersal through animals (and humans) brushing up against them so that the individual seeds eventually get deposited some distance away from the parent plant.

Around here the Common Burdock (Arctium minus) is indeed very common, growing along the edges of drove ways as well as in rough grass. Before they turn to seed the flowers are quite attractive. They are thistle-like and in two tones of purple (another late Summer purple). 

Common Burdock. The flowers have just
gone over and the seed heads (burrs) have 
nearly ripened ready to catch a passing animal. 

Through history burdock has been ascribed many medicinal and nutritional benefits. Perhaps nowadays burdock is most famous for the invention of Velcro. Swiss engineer, George de Mestral (1907-1990) was intrigued by the way burrs clung to his dog, something which many of us have experienced, during a hunting trip in 1941. After examining the structure of burrs under a microscope he came up with the idea of the hook and loop fastener which he patented as Velcro.

Monday 22 August 2022

Red Duke of York

With the fall in day time temperatures to a mere 25 degrees centigrade I took the opportunity to resume digging up the potato crop. I had previously unearthed two rows of Charlotte and two rows of Red Duke of York. Today, a third and final row of Red Duke of York. Six more rows of other varieties still to go.

The potato crop has been pretty good so far and we look to easily have enough to last through to next year's crop is ready. The photo below represents one row. There is a little bit of scab on some of the potatoes which is not unusual in drier soils. However, it is superficial and leaves no blemishes once peeled.

Red Duke of York is unusual in being a first early with red skin. It retains its red colour after cooking.  We don't generally eat them as 'new potatoes'. I have previously recommended Red Duke of York, as the best potato for roasting and indeed for chips (we have discovered the ingenious simplicity of 'air fryers' for the latter). They store very well too. As do Charlotte. 

I have never felt any desire to plant potatoes now and grow on in a protected environment to produce 'Christmas potatoes'. Ours are already waiting for this occasion.

Sunday 21 August 2022

Late Summer purple

Whereas Spring is dominated by yellow, as we move into late Summer blues and purples come very much to the fore. This is true in gardens, where blues and purples, such as scabious, asters and, a particular favourite, verbena bonariensis, are often effectively contrasted with deep red, such as crocosmia 'Lucifer' or the burnt orange of rudbeckias. It is also true of wild flowers at this time of the year too. I recently extolled the beauty of harebells growing in drought-ridden grass. 

Dotted along the bankside of a dyke today could be seen clumps of purple loosestrife ((Lythrum salicana). Their purple spikes stood out among the reeds which characteristically grow along fen dykes. They looked very well situated without any need for the intervention of a garden designer.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Plum tomatoes

Today's main harvest was the first pickings of San Marzano tomatoes which were grown outdoors. These are a plum tomato variety, similar to Roma, which have thick skins and lower water content but still have a sweetness. They are excellent for cooking with. We grow these primarily for passata, jars of which are being prepared as I write. We use this a fair bit in our cooking and its years since we last bought tinned tomatoes. The passata will store in jars for more than a year or two based on our experience. I also picked lots of basil which I grow in the greenhouse and is one of the ingredients that go into the passata. 

San Marzano tomatoes with
Sungold tomatoes alongside.

Friday 19 August 2022

Black bullaces

Bullaces are small, 'wild' plums. They are much smaller than cultivated plums and more spherical than the oval of damsons, greengages or the related mirebelle plum, also often seen growing wild. When ripe the the black bullace is a deep wine red colour. This is also when they are sweet enough to eat raw. 

They are a sub-specious of prunus domestica from which the many plum cultivars, such as 'Victoria', are derived. There are different forms of bullace which varying colours but the common wild type is  the black bullace. 

In some of the drove paths I walk there are neglected stretches of old mixed hedging and it is in such settings that you are more likely to come across bullaces. Ever vigilant for such opportunities I saw a tree with uniformly ripe bullaces within arms length. The small haul made a contribution to a fruit salad later in the evening.

Thursday 18 August 2022

Plums and what to do with them

Today's harvest is plums. Our elderly but esteemed plum tree (with have younger ones coming on) is absolutely laden this year. I picked this bowlful standing in the same spot. 

It seems to be a good year for established fruit trees. We look to be having bumper harvests for apples, walnuts and quince as well as plums. 

Pies and preserves for sure, but we will also dehydrate a lot of the plums, cut in halves and de-stoned, and store in large Kilner jars. Nothing needs to be added to them. Dehydrating them intensifies the flavour and they will store well into next year. They make a very tasty snack. 

Wednesday 17 August 2022

A drought resistant crop

Our blackberries are cropping extremely well and today I picked another bowlful. The blackcurrants and gooseberries were reasonably abundant earlier in the summer, but the redcurrants, which crop a little later, were scorched in the hot sun. Having gone through weeks of hot dry weather (still no rain for us so far!) I was surprised to see so much ripe fruit on the blackberry bushes.

Blackberry bushes in the wild usually fruit well left to their own devices often in quite rough ground, and so maybe it should not be surprising. The advantage of growing cultivated blackberries at home is that you can get thornless varieties which makes picking them a more comfortable process. I tie in the stems to a stake and wire set up like raspberries which also makes the fruit more accessible. The fruits are also much larger than wild blackberries.

However, given that blackberries are generally freely available in the countryside and in parks (best to avoid roadside bushes) I wouldn't grow them at home unless I have the space to spare, which we are fortunate enough to have. On the other hand, if you have young  children in particular, it can be quite an adventure to go blackberry picking.

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Sleeping under the stars

Still not a drop of rain so far here but we have tentative hopes for later today. The nights have been muggy and some choose to sleep out in the open to stay cool.

Monday 15 August 2022

Ave Maria

I grow several Hostas, mainly in containers to better protect against snails, but also  some in a border. I like hostas for their bold leaves although their flowers are certainly a bonus. 

They are all beginning to look somewhat stressed this year because of the prolonged hot, dry conditions however much I try to keep them watered.

One Hosta in particular is noted for its fragrant, white flowers. This is Hosta plantaginea. This Hosta typically flowers in August and for this reason is sometimes also known as the Assumption Lily. 


Saturday 13 August 2022

Another drought tolerant wild flower

There are patches of harebells here which are a regular Summer feature. This patch are growing out of the parched grass. The only difference is that they are much shorter compared to what they normally grow to. 


Friday 12 August 2022

Crispy Suffolk

The BBC published this satellite image of England and Wales today on their website. Much of the East and Central England has turned brown and Suffolk and Norfolk look particularly crispy. Not surprising an official drought has been declared although different regional water companies will apply their own responses as they see fit. So far no hose pipe ban from Anglia Water. 

I am hearing  more and more stories of concern from farmers and the like about how their crops and livestock are being affected. I have seen quite a few herds of cattle and flocks of sheep gleaning what they can from fields where there is no green grass. We are feeding our small flock hay plus some coarse feed supplement. This morning I collected another load of hay which should be enough for the next 10-12 days.

The forecast is not looking very encouraging and there could be a knock-on effect into next year if we have another dry Spring or do not have some sustained rainfall i the Autumn and Winter. It is 32 degrees centigrade for us today and 34 degrees is predicted for tomorrow and Sunday. Along with a couple of others we had arranged to help another smallholder erect their new to them polytunnel on Sunday. It has been called off because of the weather. This was a wise decision but like mad dogs and Englishmen I had been prepared to go.

Thursday 11 August 2022

Choosey chicken

We look to be having a very good crop of apples from our Blenheim Orange apple tree this year. A couple of times recently, however, we have noticed some rustling and pecking high up. One of the chickens has also noticed the apples and, ignoring the windfalls that  are freely available on the ground, prefers the choicer selection higher up.

Sunday 7 August 2022

Swan family re-appears

It has been nearly eight weeks since I last saw sight of the swans with their signets. They have not been in their usual haunts. Then, this morning I found them not 20 yards from our front gate. They appeared to be taking advantage of the shade of a small clump of trees and shrubs in a dyke which then stretches out into open farm land. Pleasing to see that all eight of the original hatch were present. 

Thursday 4 August 2022

The field to the rear

This is the view to the rear of our holding today. The farmer has just finished combining a field of rye. The straw bales are the large ones, about 2.4m in length and weigh about 500kg, often known as Hesston bales. The bales were in the process of being collected. They go to a nearby livestock farmer and eventually return sometime later as manure to be spread on the fields in the Winter.

There is not a day that I do not look across this field and watch it change through the seasons. In a month or two it will be brown and soon after that flush with fresh green.

Tuesday 2 August 2022

Luxurious lilies

The water lilies in the pond are oblivious to the continuing drought. Any rain forecast is determined to by-pass us. Hopes were high on Sunday but they were not to be. In fact I was driving back home from Gedney Hill late afternoon and when I reached the Denver Sluice near Little Downham there was a heavy downpour, but when I reached home thirty minutes later not a drop had fallen where we live.

Back to the water lilies. They are only in their second full Summer and up to now there have been flowers but only in solitary succession. Today there were four flowers in full bloom simultaneously. They have such an elegant but geometric look which, along with their colouring, can't fail to catch the eye.

Water lily Nymphaea 'Charles De Meurville'

Incidentally, I have not been able to discover who Charles De Meurville was but do know that the particular lily cultivar named after him was developed in 1931 at the renowned Latour-Marliac nursery in France. It was founded in 1876 by Joseph Latour-Marliac (1830-1911). He was good friends with Claude Monet and it was from Latour-Marliac that Monet purchased a large supply of water lilies (and other plants) when he had his lake at Giverny built. This, of course, became the subject of his famous series of water lily paintings.

Claude Monet water lilies at Giverny