Sunday, 25 April 2010

Zombie chillies have risen…

I was just about to empty out the pot of 'dead' cayenne chilli seeds that I assumed had rotted away (because everyone told me they were tricky to germinate and they’ve done nothing for ages) – but now two of them have just clawed their way out of the grave . Bloody Typical! It must have been the heat yesterday.

Now I have a bit of a dilemma, I never really expected them to live and would have preferred it if they hadn’t survived, as I never really wanted to eat anything that hot. The Anna Valley website lists the Cayenne as 6 out of 10 in terms of heat (I know from experience that my limit is the Jalapeño at 4/10) but they were a present so I’ll have to keep them. Besides I am loathe to kill anything as so many plants seem to commit suicide without my help and these little sods have been so tenacious.
They shall live - for now. I have decreed it. If they manage to fruit then I’ll dry them, grind em up and make my own Cayenne pepper Mwhahahha!

Here's a bad pic of the Spanish Spice (left) and Pepperoncini (right) now they’ve had time to settle down, not bad for £1.99 each I reckon.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Bogarting the slug beer…

I thought I might get some poster work done today, but events once again conspired to deny me electricity and thus kept me out of the office.

The good news is that the strawberries arrived this morning, 12 each of Mara Des Bois and Tenira from Ken Muir. They were well packed in a custom made box that screamed URGENT LIVE PLANTS! and yet it came second class post. I also see that it is addressed to Yorkshire and not County Durham for some reason and that the website still lists the order as pending. Hmmmnn… This may explain why everything looked pretty sad and lifeless when I unpacked them. I suspect they may have been in a depot for a week – possibly grounded by the volcano.

This was all in stark contrast to the experience I had with Anna Valley Chillies yesterday. My Gran had given me some old Chilli seeds ages ago but they completely failed to germinate, which was a relief as it was a hot Cayenne and I wasn’t looking forward to eating one in front of her and pretending to find it delicious. I’m not a fan of hot chilli and don’t see anything clever about eating something that causes pain and discomfort in the area that I am using to taste things with. In the *jungle, sliced super-hot green chillies were pretty much the only ‘flavouring’ that was available to make my twice daily ration of Dal-Bhatt slightly less monotonous, so my choice was between insipid or inflammable. As there was already a 10% chance that any meal would contain a surprise comedy ingredient like dysentery I mostly chose to forego the possibility of turning explosive Diarrhoea into a chemical weapon.

With Gran’s hot chillies a no show, I decided to order some ready grown seedlings of a more civilised variety. After a bit of Googling I came across Anna Valley Chillies who seemed to know what they were talking about and had a sensible selection. In the end I went for Pepperoncini and Spanish Spice, which I think is an F1 hybrid, both were said to rate 2 out 10 for heat and seemed like they’d be more interesting to cook with as the write up specifically mentioned the word flavour. They arrived next day, amazingly well packed with good leaves and a torpedo of roots tightly wrapped in Clingfilm, all surrounded by what looked like pipe insulation foam. They perked up within minutes of being potted up and I’m actually looking forward to tasting them - my Gran need never know that these aren’t the same chillies.

This afternoon, while I sat on a pile of grow-bags happily potting up the strawberries into my two big Gardman pop-up planters, the cat sat behind me and did her best to infuriate a series of very large and angry bees and wasps (yes we have some really big wasps already) by repeatedly poking them, and once they were suitably irritated swatting them up the back of my T shirt as I bent over. How we laughed – not!

It has been baking hot today and whilst refilling the slug traps with Sainsbury’s cheapest own brand bitter I thought ‘sod it!’ and decided that the slugs would have to buy their own beer tonight. It was surprisingly cold (having sat in the garage for a week) and as I was unsurprisingly hot it tasted rather good. I can see now why men have sheds – I totally get it. I promise to post some photos of stuff tomorrow.

* There you go, I'm doing it again. Told you so.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Achtung! Fallschirmjager...

It’s raining today and I’m still stuck inside trying to get this poster finished for the end of the month. Yesterday I was sieving soil for the overflow raised bed and made a startling archaeological discovery that instantly whisked me back in time some 35 years. Caught in the sieve was a little plastic toy soldier whom I recognised instantly as the plucky paratrooper I had recruited all those years ago. Still attached were some (suspiciously singed) cotton threads, a testament to his last action when he led the daring assault from my bedroom window into the hostile territory of the back garden, his canopy ablaze. I had just seen the film ‘The Longest Day’ for the first time and was obsessed with parachutes. To this day my favourite film quote is from Wolfgang Preiss, playing General Pemsel, when he incredulously receives the telephone report about rubber dolls being dropped behind their lines as a diversion; ‘Puppen? Gummipuppen?’ Still makes me laff.

Things are growing quickly – when the sun finally manages to poke its head out for a few short minutes everything rockets up. I was caught out yesterday by the speed of the squashes, cucumbers and melons who had only germinated a couple of days ago but already had massive long roots hanging out of the bottom of their modules and needed re-potting. The Shocka-mats arrived this morning, which are clever copper-impregnated mats that zap any slug that dares approach my strawberry bags, like a little slug minefield. I’m still waiting for the arrival of the actual strawberries though.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

We're all doomed...(probably)

I only meant to be out for a few minutes this morning as I am getting well behind with my work, but ended up spending the whole morning in the garden. I didn't notice it while I was out but as soon as I came in it was obvious that I was coated in a thin film of dust, it's up my nose and in my hair. On the plus side the only sounds in the garden were bumblebees. Durham Tees Valley airport is only a few miles down the road and there is usually an AWACS circling overhead or the police helicopter in hot pursuit of some shoplifter or other master criminal, not today though because we are all living in the shadow of the volcano. I was desperate for another news story to liven up the next four weeks of dull election coverage but this has the added advantage of trapping huge numbers of the world's stupidest people in airport departure lounges so that journalists can repeatedly ask them 'how does this make you feel?'

In other news...

Everything in the propagators has now sprouted/germinated, and I've just set off a load of cayenne chilli peppers and courgettes so things really feel like they are progressing on the garden front. The kitchen has had a bit of a setback and it looks like sandwiches and paper plates for another week.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

New Arrival - Lemon Tree...

You may have noticed that I haven't cooked anything yet. This is because (a) nothing has grown yet and (b) the kitchen is currently being knocked out and rebuilt. The cooker is half dead and was on its last legs long before this week so there will be no cooking until everything has calmed down and a new cooker arrives. Thanks to some odd wiring (the whole place was rewired last year) it seems that it is no longer possible to isolate the kitchen circuit and so the house is undergoing extended periods without power - as someone who works from home surrounded by computers and with a deadline looming this is not fun.

On the plus side I received an early (very early) birthday present this morning courtesy of my Gran. A Lemon tree (Eureka) arrived from Reads Nursery, this is the second small tree I've had from them and they have both arrived fantastically well packed. This one is nearly as tall as me and came in a decent plastic pot, so no need to re-pot. It will divide its time between the front porch/'conservatory' and the garden, but is stuck in the greenhouse for the time being due to the house being full of building hassle.

No photos until things have calmed down around here a bit, but I’m sitting at my desk with a handful of crushed lemon leaves and can’t get over the smell of them – smells like…victory (or something).

Eureka is supposed to be ever bearing and this is a big and healthy looking specimen but no signs of any fruits on it so far. The plan was to be drinking G+Ts with lemon whilst eating something involving strawberries on my Birthday (July) but I suspect this may not manage to squeeze out a lemon by then. Come to think of it the strawberries haven’t arrived yet so it so this year's post-birthday sulk may well begin in June.

Everything seems to be surviving in the poly tunnel and the radishes that I sowed only a couple of days ago, directly into the raised bed, have all come up so I’ll have to start looking for recipe ideas that revolve around radishes. The sweet corn (F1 Incredible) has germinated on my windowsill, although one moron managed to emerge arse about face and stuck its roots in the air before turning around and finally poking its nose out this morning. No signs of the squashes or dwarf French beans yet.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Quick update, have to get back to work...

The sun is shining but I am stuck in my studio/office working on a poster for Cannes, so no Garden jobs for me today. Apparently my 6yr old niece noticed one of my magazine covers in WHSmiths the other day, she recognised my style of work without having seen the original (usually she sees my work before it goes to press, but she missed this one) and said 'that's one of uncle Sandy's, he's famous!' My number one fan (and harshest critic). Bless.

I managed to knock up another, smaller raised bed yesterday for the 'overflow' veg, as slightly more things have germinated than expected. It would seem that the best place to germinate seedlings in my garden is not in the greenhouse, nor in any of the array of expensive propagators, but under the anti-weed black plastic sheeting stuff (it has a proper name that slips my mind) that currently covers the area where my peas will be going. I lifted back a corner yesterday and there were huge things growing under there, they were all bigger and greener than any of the seedlings that I was actually trying to grow elsewhere. To add insult to injury they were untouched by slugs. Grrrrrr....

Saturday, 10 April 2010

I love the smell of poly tunnels in the morning…

A couple of weeks ago I built a double-decker raised bed in order to kick off my new growing-stuff-to-eat regime. It is cunningly fashioned to utilise exactly one 5 pack of Wickesgravel boards and one fence post and cost me less than £25. Within 5 minutes of filling it with a combination of compost and sieved soil there were 3 cats fighting over who was going to crap in it first – I only own one cat.
After that I bought some nice bendy hoops, polythene sheet, hoop clips and clever clingons and built a huge poly tunnel to enclose it, which probably cost another £25. It is now cat proof.

When I poked my head inside this morning I was hit by a wave of hot, damp air that was like being catapulted straight back into the jungle*, except that nothing was trying to eat me and nobody was shooting at me. The poly tunnel/raised bed project is currently home to Shallots , Garlic, Garlic Chives, 3 varieties of beetroot, 3 varieties of carrot, 2 varieties of radish, wild rocket, and a load of mixed cut and come again French salad leaves. I think I could happily live in here. Unlike the greenhouse, which hit 33 degrees C by 11am (even with all the windows and door wide open). I think I may have got a touch of sunstroke in here whilst planting out my next batch of seeds as my head is splitting right now. This is probably why the potting shed was invented.

*It is just possible that I may go on about the jungle too much, get used to it.

Friday, 9 April 2010

A prize arrives...

Today my book-prize arrived from Debora over at Love and a Licked Spoon, a copy of Canteen: Great British Food, which I won for being a bit of a smart arse and boring everyone with jolly tales about my time in the jungle - again. I've been in the garden all day so only just had a chance to sit down and go through it. I have to say it looks way better than I had hoped, chock full of proper recipes like steak and kidney pie and treacle pudding. As soon as the new kitchen is sorted and a cooker that works arrives I am going to go through this book systematically trying - well just about everything I reckon. So thanks again to Debora for that.

The book does however have some really weird photos to illustrate sections of the book, using some oddly lumpy stuffed animals in bizarrely posed tableau. I went to art college in the 80's and have done my fair share of pretentious twattery and was pickling things in formaldehyde and other weirdness over in Northwick Park while Damien was doing the same thing with more success south of the river (wish I'd stuck with that idea for a couple more years, doh!). But even I am a bit freaked out by these, they remind me of Mr Potter's Museum Of Curiosities. For example on pages 52-53 'oh look, an odd assortment of unnaturally posed mice and a hedgehog have chanced upon a selection of cheeses, fruit and marrows in a little woodland glade what could be more natural?' Actually now I come to think of it the only thing this scene is missing is a few torn pages from Razzle or Escort poking out of the bushes. In the old days before the internet sparse foliage in woodland glades was the only place you could find porn, it's just what this image needs to make it truly retro - yet again it is up to me to teach art directors how to do their jobs.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

First figs...

This time last year I bought a small fig tree (Petite Negri) from Reads Nursery, it arrived with one fig already on it, this eventually turned black and tasted unbelievable. I know most people think figs are disgusting, gritty, dried up splats of fruit that do dubious things to your insides - but that is really unfair. You can't go wrong with black/purple figs. You know when they're ripe because they look like huge black grapes, the size of a hen's egg, that just drop from the branch into your hand. They're blood red when you slice them open and taste like huge strawberries. Try them with blue cheese and a good red wine and they will blow you away. Figs are easily my favourite fruit (at least until I manage to grow a banana). After this first fruit I assumed it was finished for the year, but as I was growing it in a pot in the 'conservatory' it managed a second crop in late summer, producing a couple more that were even better. Today I see there are already 3 or 4 little figs on the way so I'm expecting to get at least one tart out of it this year. My life needs more tarts in it.


Hopefully one day soon all this is going to be spicy tomato relish or possibly a puttanesca sauce. Right now they are fairly respectable looking tomato seedlings (Minibel) that I got as a free gift in a gardening magazine. They are doing a lot better than the ones I bought (F1 Floridity) which went leggy in the dark days at the end of March.
Other things that are on the go or imminent are in no particular order; Beetroot (Burpees Golden , Bulls Blood , Egyptian turnip rooted ), Carrots (Early Nantes , French Touchon ,Pariser Market), Shallots (Vigarmor), also Garlic and Garlic Chives, Jostaberry, Strawberry (Mara des Bois, Tenira), Victoria plum, American Date Plum, Apricot, Banana (Musa Sikkimensis), Pepino (Melon Fruit), Lettuce/Salad leaves (Mervieille des quatre saisons, Rougette de Montpellier, Sorrel de Bellevile, Cornsalad Verte de Cambrai, Chervil), Melon (F1 Hybrid Sweetheart), Squash (Baby Bear), Peas (Hurst green shaft, Dwarf French Beans), Courgettes (F1 Cavili), Cucumber (La Diva), Sweetcorn (Incredible F1), Herbs (Orange Scented Thyme, Lime Mint, Hyssop, Winter Savory, Oregano, Lovage, Borage, Sorrel Silver Shield, Rosemary, Lemon Coriander ), and probably many others that I've forgotten about.