Browsed by
Tag: peppers

Plant of the Year Award 2017

Plant of the Year Award 2017

First of all, a very big Happy New Year to all our readers. We are looking forward to a 2018 of cooler temperatures, more rain but still plenty of sunshine. Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, we have had quite a lot of (very welcomed) rain and the garden and veg patch look wonderful sporting a bright emerald green. When the sun comes out everything glows and it’s been perfect to get outside and do some end of year jobs between the downfalls. (And how nice that those clouds on the horizon have got nothing to do with fires).  The peas and broad beans are well on their way and I’m really pleased that all 60 of the garlic are up. Plenty of onions (red and yellow) have been planted too so it feels like being back on track at last.

So homemade damson vodka was put aside for operation hen run. The hens had completely scratched or eaten every single blade of grass and were living on a bare patch of earth. A few hoops later and some chicken wire they now have a tunnel to one of their other meadows which had been tempting them for the last few weeks.  I’d done this before and the system works very well; the hoops are simply removed once the grass returns. Now there’s plenty to keep them happy.

Very sadly our last Orpington didn’t survive to appreciate the green goodness. We have no idea why she died and it upset us both that she too succumbed, especially having survived the summer.  Rocky and Hatty are well though and very feisty, and two eggs every day is more than enough. Bye bye, Bright Eyes.

Over the year we also said goodbye to the Stanley plum and one of the plane trees we’d planted a few years ago (plus the redcurrant and blackcurrant in the veg patch), it was just too hot we think. So we decided to buy a load more trees! Of course this means yet more watering but plan A is that, once they are mature, they’ll create their own shade and prevent the ground from completely drying up.  We found a garden centre that sells saplings at a very reasonable price and came away with 33 (yes, 33!), for 18 euros. In addition, the Saturday before the New Year was just wonderful, we had lunch outside, and we were able to plant all of these in one go.

Some went in the back of the garden and some in the field we now have next to the house where we park the car. So a mixture of chestnuts, Monterey pines, Portuguese cyprus, oaks (red and cork), poplars, liquidambers, and strawberry trees. Plus a replacement Stanley. In danger of being strimmed, they are all earmarked with twigs bearing bright yellow ribbons. We hope they are now loving the rain.

Late December is also the time to make the year’s supply of marmalade and get the juicer out. I did the former and Richard the latter; the kitchen smelt of citrus for days.

But now it’s time to reveal what gets our Plant of the Year award for 2017. Well, actually I think they all deserve a medal of some sort. Such a horrid summer and yet very few things actually died. Some just stopped doing anything and have now kicked into life, mainly the brassicas. Others produced fruit but just not in the same quantity or size as previous years.  But the award, this year, goes to the capsicums. Both the green bell peppers, many of which turned red, and the chilli peppers did very well indeed and were certainly the stars of the show.

It was always so nice to pop into the veg patch and see their vibrant colours.

So it’s that time of the year now to sit down with the last of the mince pies and thumb through the seed catalogue. I have managed to keep loads of seeds each year, there’s certainly no need to buy any more tomato seeds, but it’s always nice to try something new. Have a great year gardening, too!

Some September stuff

Some September stuff

Where to start? Well, we took the first 2 weeks of September off, another camping trip to the French Pyrenees plus some super stopovers in Spain. Faithful hounds, house and hens were all looked after by a fabulous couple which gave us a real break.

Now of course it doesn’t feel as if we have been away at all.  Our first task on return was Operation Pergola. We put up this wooden structure in 2010, before we’d even moved in.

The idea was to grow vines over it for a lovely shady spot to eat under in the summer. The first year went to plan, three vines grew quickly up and over. The second year was okay but come the third the vines just didn’t seem to be doing very well, and then alas they seem to have died. Such a disappointment. I blamed it on the location: too high up, windy and exposed. But then Richard built another structure, even more exposed, on the threshing square. The vines grew and flourished and soon became exactly what we wanted:

The vines, or rather the dead woody branches, were cut down and onto plan B: kiwis. They grow so well around here and the fruit would be an added bonus. Again, they started well but it soon became apparent that these were a failure too. Digging them out, with a heavy heart, we found the problem, or rather the culprits: voles. There were enormous holes under each plant and the roots had all been eaten away.

So plan C was activated on our return. This was to lower the top, it was always proportionately too high, and cover it with bamboo sheets. Somehow we ended up buying the reed version but it has been covered. Then we’re going to plant climbers in large pots around the structure, it will look nice one day… but look how the plants around it have grown!

Meanwhile the veg patch has sort of been abandoned. The heat has just been too much for most things, although we have had tomatoes, cucumbers, some celeriac and courgettes on our return.

The real survivors though are the peppers, both sweet and hot. The forecast is for temperatures to remain high so perhaps the aubergine flowers will bear fruit.

Another victim of the heat has been the polytunnel. Such a great idea but in reality, with these Portuguese long and oh so hot summers, not very practical. There were days when it rained (I vaguely remember what that means…) or overcast when the polytunnel was great. However, seedlings, if left in there even on a sunny March day, would soon shrivel up. I tried to grow tomatoes in a small bed but these too suffered in the heat.  Rocket bolted and lettuce shrivelled. I was forever taking trays in and out, and then I lost a couple of sweet potatoes over the winter as it didn’t even keep the frost away. So, all the plastic has been pulled off and I’m considering just covering the top half so that it can still be some sort of shelter and storage area.

One success story has been the prickly pears, loads this year, and we seem to have a bumper harvest of walnuts too.

Finally, Richard has asked me to put up this photo of his cider factory. (Faithful followers will remember the last post when we picked barrel loads of apples). We’re hoping it’s going to be ready for Christmas:

That’s it! The chicken story will have to wait, as will the saga of the dual carriageway being built though the village…

 

It’s the weather, stupid

It’s the weather, stupid

We are often asked, What’s the summer / winter like? Our answer is always, It varies from one year to the next. We have just passed our five year mark and it remains true: the seasons have been different every year. However, there has been one constant: September. A few off days maybe but in general hot and sunny, perfect for the seaside or river beach. But now even September has let us down. We drove off at the start of the month in rain (a short sojourn in Spain) and for the 5 days we’ve been back it’s rained and rained. Sometimes a downpour is followed by blue skies, other times there’s relentless greyness and drizzle. Ho hum. The grass is green, there are field mushrooms galore and the fat hairy one is enjoying the puddles again. There’s a distinct smell of autumn in the air, and we’ve not seen one plume of smoke from forest fires over the whole of the summer, a first for us.

And the veg patch? Well, September is pepper month for us. This year I planted 5 different types, safe in the knowledge they’ll do well come late summer. We did have, before the hols, some large green, and even red, bell peppers which were wonderful. They were large enough to stuff (the red ones with cubes of potatoes and feta in pesto sauce, mmm). We also had a couple of dishes of some new types. Visitors to Spain may well be familiar with a popular dish: pimientos de Padn. They’re smallish green peppers which taste wonderful fried in smoking olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. However, their fame rests on the fact that occasionally one is fiery hot – and you can never tell which one is going to explode in your mouth! I was really chuffed with those.

pimentos

The others, alas, are suffering from the rain. There’s another variety of sweet red peppers, some hungarian wax peppers and some fiery red hot chillies. I’m hoping as I type this, and listen to the heavy raindrops on the vine leaves outside the study window, the weather forecast holds true and there are some sunny days ahead. That means we’ll have some more peppers and I can make some roasted chilli oil.

chillis

Meanwhile, the Cheeky Charlie saga still continues! We came back from (sunnier) Spain to discover the nice Kiwi couple who looked after our house and animals had caught him (her) and put him with the 4 new hens. Unfortunately, we got to see first hand how horrid chooks are to newcomers. Poor old Charlie was stood on and his neck, always featherless, was bled from being pecked. (It’s dog eat dog in the chicken world, as Richard would say). So I put him back in the old pig pen and made a fine hideaway in the field to encourage him to stay and not jump out and into the brambles. This did not work. He wasn’t interested in the brambles anymore, he wanted to be out and about.

charlieSo right now he’s in the third, spare hen field, next to both sets of hens for company but protected from them. He still jumps out at night into the 4 hens patch (while, they’re tucked away) but he seems ‘happy’ in his new field which has plenty of brambles growing through and plants for coverage. I have no idea why I spend so much time fretting about him when he should have been killed and with his old mates in the freezer. There’s something about his audaciousness and pluck (ha ha) which was lacking in the other ‘roasties’. I’m sure we’ll have Cheeky Charlie chicken casserole one day…