Summer is here and hopefully all your hard work in earlier months is paying off. A few jobs to keep on top of in July include:
Thin out apples and pears. After the “June drop”, there may still be clusters of fruit that are too numerous. Thin out to no more than two or three per cluster to ensure good air movement and give the fruits room to swell. If your trees are relatively young, thin out even harder to avoid the weight of fruit bending or even breaking the weaker young branches. If you are growing espalier or cordon trained trees, then you can also prune to help keep the defined shape.
Early flowering shrubs (like Forsythia and Weigela) can be pruned back to give a good shape for next season. For those such as Philadelphus, the recommended approach is to cut back 1 in 4 stems to the ground in order to stimulate strong growth. As a general rule, if shrubs flower before Midsummer’s Day, then they will flower on old wood, so pruning after flowering is required. If shrubs flower after Midsummers Day, then they tend to flower on the current season’s growth, so pruning in spring is best. Of course there are always exceptions and some shrubs don’t like to be pruned at all, so it is always worth checking. The RHS website has lots of hints and tips:
Keep dead-heading to prolong the flowering of your shrubs and bedding plants, and bring some of the garden into the house by “live – heading” your favourites to make indoor displays. Flowers like sweet peas, Dahlias and Gaillardia will all keep flowering if you stop them from setting seed.
Make sure you pinch out side shoots on cordon tomatoes to keep the plant’s energy focused. If you are growing in a greenhouse, pinch out the main shoot just before it gets to the roof, making sure you have at least two leaves after a flower truss so that the plant will pull nutrients up to the last truss. Don’t forget to feed your tomato plants regularly, they are hungry plants and will repay you with lots of fruit. Keep an eye out for disorders like leaf discolouration and blossom end rot which are signs of nutrient deficiency and/or irregular watering
We’ve written before about the joy of quinces, but having just made this year’s batch of jelly ready for Christmas cheese boards, we thought that we’d add a bit of detail. The recipe is pretty basic – quince, lemons, sugar and water. You will need a preserving pan or large saucepan and a jelly (muslin) bag.
Making it is almost like cooking alchemy, as during the process what begins as a yellow mush turns to a clear red jelly and the house fills with the lovely fragrance of quince.
Wash the fruit and cut into quarters (no need to peel or core them). As quinces are cut, put into a pan of barely simmering water so that they are covered and won’t discolour.
Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 – 60 minutes until the fruits go soft. This is the yellow mush stage. Cover and leave overnight. Pour into jelly bag held over a large bowl and leave to drain for several hours. It’s important not to force this bit or squeeze the contents of the bag or the final jelly will be cloudy. Even at this stage, the juice looks fairly unpromising.
Measure juice into pan and mix with 12 oz. sugar for each pint of juice (we use preserving sugar but any white sugar will do). Add juice of 2 lemons. Heat gently and stir until sugar is dissolved. This is when the colour starts to change.
Then boil rapidly and remove scum from the top as it forms. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the setting point is reached and pour into sterilized jars. As you can see this year’s batch was not quite crystal clear, suggesting that we could have strained the pulp a bit more slowly. Perhaps by dividing it into two batches to reduce the weight in the jelly bag. Nevertheless early taste tests indicate a Happy Christmas to come.
Ever since we first started growing vegetables in a few small raised beds in the garden having our own stuff for Christmas dinner has been a major aim. Nowadays with the allotments this is fairly straightforward, but this morning’s harvesting trip along with a trip to the garage to get some spuds out of storage means that we are well set for tomorrow.
The traditional Christmas Eve trip to the pictures takes us to Star Wars now and then tomorrow we’ll have these vegetables to look forward to (along with the roast goose).
A traditional part of our Christmas is the collection of fresh vegetables to accompany the roast. It gives us a huge amount of pleasure to have plates full of multi-coloured vegetables that are the fruits of our labours.
With a few spare carrots floating around we thought about using some of them to make a carrot-based version of a Christmas cake. Lynn found a recipe on the internet, and after a brief shopping trip headed for the kitchen with the following result.
Christmas Cake 2014
250ml veg oil
350g carrots, grated
75g macadamia nuts, chopped
75g pecan nuts, chopped
170g mixed dried berries / cherries (I used lots of dried cranberries)
100g ready to eat dried figs, apricots and prunes, chopped (I left out the figs and used dates instead)
300g golden granulated sugar
300g self-raising flour
1tsp mixed spice
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2tsp baking powder
4 large eggs, beaten
Pre-heat oven to 160 deg fan. Grease and line a 20cm round loose bottomed cake tin
Combine oil, carrots, nuts fruit and sugar. Sift and add flour, spices and baking powder. Mix thoroughly. Add eggs and mix well
Put into cake tin and level. Bake for 2 – 2.25 hours until skewer comes out clean. Cover with foil after 1.25 hours to stop top browning too much.
Mark has been lucky enough to be working in a garden with a mature quince tree. As well as having gorgeous spring time blossom, it is an abundant cropper. As most cooks know, quinces can’t be eaten raw, but poached they turn into a delicious fruit that is a gorgeous deep orange that evokes late evening sunshine. Making them into a jelly has an equally stunning transformation as a scummy yellow liquid, changes into a beautiful clear ruby red jelly.
Quince flowers 30 Apr 2014
Quince Tree 24 Sep 2014
A quince tree is now on our list for Father Christmas.