The Orange Tip

details in the dirt

Category: edibles

Apple Harvest

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Collecting apples this year was fun. Despite the meadows still being up in the orchard -a complication frustratingly owing to faulty machinery- the picking was easy. Our apple trees were planted about 5 years ago, comprising old varieties grafted as standards; the specifics of which are sadly omitted from any planting records I have managed to locate. The harvest this year was nothing short of a bumper; so much so that I have been filling small packets of mixed varieties for friends for the last few weeks, and I know other fortunate apple tree possessors have had a similar experience.

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Meadowsweet Tea

A month or so ago I spotted a patch of meadowsweet that had crept up unnoticed at the back end of the top meadow. It must have been growing there for some while as the scattered stalks were well into flowering. It’s not a plant I see in this garden very often, other than the cultivated variety we have in the long border (Filipendula rubra), as the soil conditions are generally too dry and free draining. However, there is one area in that top meadow that was once the site of a small pond. Having been dug up and re-landscaped some time before I started at the garden, you wouldn’t know it had ever been there, save for the particular plant species that show up from time to time. Among these have been the usual indicators of damp ground; docs, nettles, various lamium and now the newest arrival, meadowsweet.

Meadowsweet thrives in the damp and fertile areas of British grassland. It’s a Summer fixture up and down the West-Welsh lanes that surround the family home in the Towy valley, which is the ideal perma-sodden ground it loves. If you crush one of the flower heads in your fingers there comes a distinctive sweet smell followed by an unmistakeable waft of antiseptic – the reason for its notoriety as ‘one of the most sacred of the druid’s herbs’. In fact it’s herbal and medicinal uses are widely listed, and great in number. According to Julie and Matthew Seal, co-authors of the informative and super-handy, ‘Hedgerow Medicine’, meadowsweet helps sooth arthritis and rheumatism, dispel uric and oxalic acid, is used to tackle gout, mouth ulcers and bleeding gums and aids pain relief, forming the synthesised basis for aspirin. Also listed in the book are traditional methods of using the herb, including a pretty simple tea intended to settle the stomach and help you feel ‘Summer’s heat and brightness return’. Sounded pretty hippy to me but I did want to see what it tasted like.

The process of converting the plant into tea is really just drying, which is simple enough, but does take quite a long time. I cut a bunch from the meadow, quite close to the ground so as to keep the longish stalks, cleaned away any dirt and dead leaves, and hung them with an elastic band in the shed. I’ve learned through experience that an elastic band is always more favourable than string when hanging plants to dry. As the moisture departs, the stems often shrink, slipping loose from the tie and dropping over the floor.

Once the bunch has had a long while drying -mine were at least a month- they can be cut down and then crumbled (all parts, minus the stems) into a container.

Tea dried and prepared, I brewed a spoon-full through a strainer and enjoyed a mug at home. It’s not too bad at all. The flavour is distinct and you can definitely taste the Summer. It does feel like it ought to be doing you some good too. Certainly no bleeding gums anyhow, Summer’s heat and brightness, possibly..

The Veg Beds

The single raspberry says it all at the moment (to continue my pessimistic outlook on produce growing this year); an emblem for the stark appearance of the vegetable beds at present. It’s not totally fair to blame the terrible weather; imbalanced temperatures and freakishly low light levels included, as there are always additional measures that can be implemented. But I would say that I’d love to be a dedicated vegetable grower one year, released from the duties that come with caring for the larger garden as a whole. There just never seems enough time to really get to grips with the full craft of growing food. And I think time constraints have actually played an equally significant role in this year’s struggle towards a decent harvest.

With that said, there have been a few successes so far that have made it into the kitchen, albeit in slightly meagre quantities. The potatoes and broccoli were great, and the herbs raised from seed all did quite well, parsley in particular. And now after the usual slow start, the season of excessive runner beans has begun. You can never have too many runner beans, which is good really as once they start to fruit they just don’t stop.

Lastly, beetroot has been the unexpected winner this year. Although materialising from a later-than-planned sowing, the root bulbs are just as they should be, and taste amazing. Good to know I got something right anyway.

Fires, Hedgehogs and Food

Nothing beats a clearance fire. There’s an area of the woodland that I keep open in order to burn through non-compostables and invasive weeds destined for an inglorious disposal. In the weeks leading up to the recent garden opening (last Sunday) I’d amassed an enormous stack of sycamore limbs and bindweed, having cleared through the garden, and celebrated the end of a frantic month by setting them alight!

When burning material that’s been stacked and left for some time it’s always important to consider what may have set up home in the interim. Frogs, mice and even hedgehogs are among many unfortunate fatalities of domestic garden bonfires. In fact the Autumn garden-clearance fire has played a large part in the diminishing of hedgehogs numbers in particular; the damp and protective mass of leaves and cuttings being an ideal place for hibernation. So it’s good, especially when burning through a very large stack, to light an initial smaller fire to one side and add the rest bit by bit, allowing creatures to either make their way out or to be revealed in time and moved to a better place.


Another important consideration when burning cleared wood is that of distributing dead wood. No matter how large or small the garden, dead wood is essential for it’s ecological development and diversity. I try to strike a balance between the amount I burn and the amount I scatter; under shrubs, the bases of trees or just along the pathways.

As the bulk burned through I buried a couple of potatoes wrapped in foil in the ash (as is bonfire custom), stuffed with chives and butter. When they were ready, an hour or so later, we ate them by the fire in the dark. A field mouse came out from the undergrowth and moved around us on the hunt for some food.

Premature Apple Fall

Unfortunately the winds had claimed the top half of one of the apple trees in the meadow. I had debated with myself, all the preceding week leading up to my holiday, over whether or not it would be wise to thin the fruits that were beginning to weigh down the bows, in case there was a tough wind while I was away. Wise, frustratingly, it would have indeed been.

Removing the broken young limbs cleanly with secateurs, I collected up the premature apples, still developmentally inseparable from the spurs.  Other than a handful of lepidopteran-invaded, destined for the compost, I took the small haul home and followed Hugh’s simple steps to a redeeming apple chutney, to make the best of a fairly dismal situation.

Lesson learned. Although, early apples do make a bloody good chutney..

Gooseberries

We’re now entering our second season of difficult growing. Having come through a Spring of hidden sun, heavy winds and soggy damp, even the most reliable of the annual catalogue are struggling to say much for themselves. And now some weeks into what is usually considered Summer, the top players are most notable by the gaps they’re leaving in the borders.

The cosmos, scabious and dahlias are all very behind this year as a consequence, still only just developing their first flower buds. In the veg beds, aside from a couple of meagre potato harvests, things remain equally bleak. The runner beans are slow to clasp the poles and keeping slugs from devouring any new growth on the broccoli is a doomed endeavour. The strawberries are out however, and full of fruit, but without a few days of steady sunlight they’re retaining their immature green.

But all is not lost, there is one triumph this year. In fact so much of a triumph as to even be earlier than usual, and that’s the (now) trusty gooseberry. Nice one gooseberries.

Given that last year we lost almost all of our gooseberries to the birds and the squirrels I decided last month to throw some industrial netting over the bushes, just as they were beginning to ripen. Although not doing much for the ‘rustic’ aesthetic of the garden, it seemed to have done the trick, and the usual wound-inflicting picking process felt much more celebratory this time; my sole success so far..

Salad Pots

I’m at last getting round to replacing the Spring flowers in some of the pots with salads from the greenhouse. ‘Green Oak Leaf’ in one, and, ‘Valdor’ in the other. After fighting the good fight with the persistent slugs last year, I’ve surrendered my ground and opted for using pots instead. Although not mollusc-proof, it presents them with a much greater challenge.

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First Quick Harvest

Now in its third season our rhubarb has sent up a great number of Spring shoots and, although slightly premature, I wanted to get pulling. We made a compote with just a couple of the riper sticks, a load of sugar and a bit of ginger; definitely one of the best of the early harvests.

Here’s my attempt at a bit of food-blogging, much inspired by my sister-in-law’s fantastic and now infamous blog, http://welshgirleats.com/.

Space for Potatoes

Due to the usual designated area for my vegetables being otherwise engaged at the moment with bulbs for display and cut flowers, my potatoes are having to wait just a bit longer than usual to be planted. It’s not ideal, but more time to chit is never a bad thing.

It’s been a really fantastic Spring for the cutting beds this year and the tulips and species daffodils have created a staggering view from the front door. In about 2 weeks time the best will be long over and I’ll begin removing the rows one by one. In the mean time however, as well as the those I’ve forced in the greenhouse in bags (for super-early cropping), I’m planting potatoes into one of the compost bins by the shed.

So often with gardening the best results come unexpectedly and unplanned, as is so often commented. When digging over my compost bins last Autumn I had to frequently stop to remove enormous, perfectly formed potato tubers. These can only have sprung from the previous year’s waste crop, which would have been sprouting unnoticed early in the Spring, along with those intentionally cultivated in the vegetable beds. So, given their success last year and my need for space being greater than my need for well-rotted compost, I spent this morning going about planting up the end compost bin, making use of it’s own finished-product growing media. Tomorrow I think I’ll broadcast some early salads on top, just to make full use of the space, and I’ll just have to keep it weeded in the mean time.

Nettle & Ramsons Soup

Home for the Easter weekend, had a go at this wildflower soup. Been wanting to do it for years but I’ve always missed the season peak, which I now note as Easter; an Easter soup, when the nettles are young in leaf and the ramsons are fresh before flowering.

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