Category Archives: Vegetable gardening

Success with celery

When I was researching what to grow this year, I invariably came across celery being described as everything from difficult to grow to the devil’s food. That was enough to make me want to do give it a go.


We decided on ‘Full White’ self-blanching celery from the Real Seed Company. We planted them in seed trays, transferring them individually to 10cm pots until the roots were well established and peeping out the bottom and then finally planting them out in their raised bed – the photograph above is shortly after planting them out into a block of 30 plants.


The two biggest threats to celery are lack of water and slugs. We kept them fairly well-watered and benefited from regular rainfall, but planting them in a block seems to be the best help as the leaves shade the earth and minimise weeds. And as for slugs – we just ignored them. Yep, they were there, but their actual damage was minimal.


Celery is key to a good vegetable stock, another benefit to our kitchen garden – no need to use those artificial stock cubes. We have also added it to salads and as part of bean stews. The flavour out of the ground is really spicy.

One thing is for sure though: two people don’t need 30 heads of celery! In fact, RB keeps harvesting them and we end up composting 90% of each head as it remains unused, even though in a little water they last a week.

Now that we have conquered growing celery, we may have a debate on our hands about how much we grow again next year, if any.


Cooking with our first tomatoes

We have finally harvested the first of our tomatoes, the Rose de Berne and Millefleur varieties. The Millefleur should really go red, but as they were so soft and juicy we couldn’t resist picking them yellow.


We were in a bit of a hurry for supper, so we diced up the tomatoes with garlic and basil and then combined the mixture with some gently cooked through courgettes and onions from our garden.


We then poured this over our favourite pasta, De Cecco fusilli, with cubes of fresh buffalo mozzarella.


It was delicious!

Elephant garlic

RB’s sister Julia, a seasoned allotmenteer, gave us two cloves of elephant garlic for Christmas as she knew we were preparing our first vegetable garden. We had to get them into the ground in winter, so when we got around to it we hadn’t planned for the raised beds yet, let alone worked on the clay soil properly.


So it was a bit of pot luck, and although they have been harvested small, we are quite pleased they look like garlic and not a host for rot. Julia suggested harvesting when the plant flowers, which is what we’ve done. The photo above shows the one flower, which reached 6 ft high.


If we grow elephant garlic again I would certainly work the soil so that it is less dense in order to allow the garlic to grow large. I would also leave them in the ground longer, perhaps until the flower fully blooms, maybe even until half the leaves have yellowed like with normal garlic.


We have put the garlic in the late afternoon sun to start the drying out process, which we will continue in a cool dry place for a few weeks.


I can’t say we’ve grown prize elephant garlic, but the unopened bloom adds a great modern twist to this flower arrangement given to us last night.

Redcurrant and strawberry jam

Yesterday RB harvested about a pint of redcurrants, as well as a handful of blackcurrants and strawberries. I decided to make a first attempt at jam.

After reading a few jam recipes online, I interpolated my own simple formula: 1 part fruit to 1 part sugar, measured by weight. It seemed too easy, and after my crabapple debacle in the autumn I was not confident of the result, but it managed to set beautifully.


I put the fruit and the sugar in a small pot over medium heat to melt the sugar for 10 or so minutes first, checking the liquid on the back of a spoon to ensure the sugar crystals were all disintegrated. I then brought the jam to a boil and allowed it to simmer for 25 minutes. I can’t recommend the cold plate trick, as it didn’t work for me and yet the jam was firm and jam-like once cool.


Do follow sterilising methods for jars. I haven’t bothered with sealing as this small jar will be in the fridge and won’t last more than a month! It is delicious on RB’s homemade bread and oatcakes.


Bumper crop

We have started harvesting in earnest today, with much of our vegetable patch coming into play: courgettes, potatoes, celery, carrots, lettuce and herbs. We are still getting plenty of strawberries, and picked our first pint of redcurrants.


The carrots were a surprise, as we didn’t expect them to come on for another month or so, but as they were popping up their tops we could see they were pretty big. We are really pleased that they are totally normal, as we never got around to finishing the cage to protect from carrot fly – perhaps the companion planting with leeks worked.

We have had a few rather wonky courgettes, which we’ll simply use by cutting off the end that looks unpleasant. Four of our six potato varieties are finished now, so far having netted over 8 kilos of potatoes.


Now, what to do with the red currants? A tart? Or maybe a jam that requires the fruits to be hand deseeded one by one? I will decide and then post the result.

Dinner from the garden

We have just harvested our first red iceberg lettuce from the garden. It hadn’t quite fulfilled its promise to have a crisp head inside all that foliage, but there is more than two of us can eat, so I can’t complain.


So tonight we’ll be having roast chicken, together with new potatoes, salad, courgettes and rosemary all from our garden.


Harvesting strawberries

Picking strawberries is one of summer’s pleasures. Back in March when RB and I planted out 10 new Cambridge Favourites in their special bed plus 2 in pots, we were sure this would be more than enough for us. In fact, they barely make it back to the house in one piece. But it is just their first year, and they are more productive in their second and third years before needing to be swapped for new.

Cambridge Favourites are being grown in the Queen’s new vegetable garden at Buckingham Palace.


Tips for picking strawberries:

– pick the strawberries in the cool, early morning
– pick only fully red strawberries
– use secateurs to cut the strawberry by the stem instead of pulling by hand
– keep them cool after picking, avoiding prolonged heat
– compost any damaged or rotting berries
– keep the green caps on until just before use, unless freezing
– wash the berries only just before eating or cooking

The wooden serving platter is by architect Alvar Aalto for iitala, and was a gift from our lovely friend Mayuri. Aalto was one of the early modernists.

Gooseberry mildew

When we moved in to our new house we were delighted to inherit dozens of currant and gooseberry bushes. I should have taken more heed of my vintage gardening book, How to Prune Fruit Trees, as the gooseberry bushes were in no fit shape to render mature fruits. They have developed a furry white powder mildew, also known as American gooseberry mildew.


These bushes are very old and seem to have remained unpruned for a few years. We will tackle the mildew in a number of steps:

– Remove infected branches now
– In winter, remove all old wood branches down to the ground
– Keep this year’s branches, as they will provide fruit next year
– Aim for goblet shaped bush with ample circulation between branches
– Resist temptation to leave branches, resulting in more but smaller fruit
– In Spring remove all but 3 strongest shoots, removing others
– Keep ground free of weeds and well mulched
– If all else fails, re-plant with resistant varieties like Invicta


Have you had any experience with white furry mildew on your gooseberries?

Harvesting courgettes

RB and I harvested the first of the courgettes yesterday. We are growing Verde di Italia, which are a pale green with superb flavour. We harvested them at around 10-12cm long (4-5 in).

Although there is the inevitable temptation to let them grow to show bench size, the flavour is better when the fruit is smaller and the flesh soft. Courgettes of marrow-proportions lose their flavour and tenderness.



The best time to harvest courgettes is in the morning, using a sharp knife that will cut easily through the flesh. Discard any damaged fruit.

The courgettes will go great with our second harvest of Desiree and Orla potatoes.

First potato harvest

RB dug up a few Amorosa and Desiree potatoes today and they look just gorgeous. It was a bit early for Desirees, but as one plant had flowered the temptation was too much. There are still 18 other Amorosa and Desiree plants that can mature a little further.


The photo was taken on my iPhone, sadly not the best but the Nikon battery is charging and these babies aren’t going to hang around long.

700g of potatoes and 1 strawberry to add to my spreadsheet.