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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!

Plant of the year award 2016

Plant of the year award 2016

We have had the pleasant December we were hoping for: little rain, a few cold nights yes but mostly glorious sunny days.  It’s been the kind of December that reminds us why we moved here. Richard (whose middle name is now ‘master chef’) cooked one of our ducks for Christmas which we had with many of our homegrown veg plus, for a starter, his famous chicken liver pâté and some of our sloe gin.

This was followed by traditional pud but the stanley plums we bottled in the summer are just lovely now:

Now, as the days start to get longer again, it’s time to check over the seed packets, plan the veg patch and prepare the beds for the year ahead. But before that it’s (drum roll, please) time to announce the plant of the year award. Hurrah! What a hot summer it was, many of the stalwart plants were disappointing, reluctant to flower in temperatures well over 40 many days. The broad beans were great at the start of the season, and the broccoli and leeks are feeding us now but the plants which not only survived the heat but actually kept on going until October were… the cucumbers!

Yep, they were just fab this year. Prolific, tasty (never bitter) and a welcome addition to all our lunchtime meals, they never let us down. We have grown them every year, including some round yellow ‘lemon’ ones, and overall they do well but this year was special.

The award should be shared in fact with their cucurbit cousins, the gherkins. These were a first for us this year and, perhaps not surprisingly, they also did well. Both can be pickled successfully, the cucumbers are sliced thinly to make a kind of relish whereas the gherkins were either pickled whole or in chunks, some with a few of our chillies thrown in too. Either way they are just perfect with cheese.

Will just leave you with a pic of the garlic. I mentioned in the last post how I’d just covered their bed (previously mulched) with paper and cut grass and hoped for the best. Well, you can see for yourselves:

Wishing all our readers a great festive season and a wonderful time in the veg patch for 2017!

Plant of the year award 2015

Plant of the year award 2015

Forget the Oscars and all that movie stuff, the most anticipated award is the Plant of the Year award given at Casa Azul!  The first award, given in 2012, went to the leek. Actually, it should have gone to all alliums in general. They all do very well regardless of the changing weather and we have onions, both red and yellow, garlic, chives and leeks of course all growing now. The following year the award went to the aubergine.  These have done better some years more than others but it’s really great that they can now be bought as plugs in the garden centres if you need to get some replacements. 2014 saw the prestigious award go to the soft fruit; we have raspberries, black and redcurrants, gooseberries and of course strawberries which all do well. I have recently pruned or cut these back and mulched them all. I have to say the redcurrant bush looks like it suffered over the long, hot summer last year but I’m sure it’ll bounce back.

So I have decided to give the 2015 award to a plant that has been successful every single year, just when there isn’t too much around. Right now there are 4 plants, all taller than me, and despite taking a whole year to grow they are definitely worth it. Once going they can be so productive we can’t eat them all and many turn to flowers which the bees appreciate. Yep, it’s the purple sprouting broccoli!

psb

This photo was taken in March when the plants were in full swing, now they’re just a mass of huge leaves (well done those who recognise the Spanish Festoon which is having a bit of a nibble). Usually we just steam the florets, which then lose a bit of their colour, and serve them with a mustard vinaigrette. Very simple, always tasty.

Plant of the year award 2014

Plant of the year award 2014

frost

Mr Jack Frost has been nipping at our noses for long enough. Pretty the mornings may be but the constant sub-zero temperatures are giving many of the plants a hard time. The bougainvillea, flowering not so long ago, has black, shrivelled leaves. The lavender tips are drooping. The cactus plants don’t seem to be the right colour any more. So enough, no more! (I’ve just glanced at the weather forecast, looks like he’ll be around for a tad longer).

chickenfrost

The chickens seem nonplussed, giving us 3 or 4 eggs a day. Huddled together in their hut at night their feathers keep them snug, it’s the high temperatures they dislike. Topping up their feed and cracking open their water leaves my fingers numb. The other day I realised I’d left my wellies outside the front door all night, frozen feet in an instant!

There is always a silver lining. Cloudless days have also meant lunch outside, walks on the beach and gardening in the sunshine.

brassicas

Which has got me thinking about the plant of the year award (I know many of you are waiting with baited breath 🙂 !) The garlic call out to be nominated. This year, or rather last year, I didn’t buy any new bulbs but planted the ones which were beginning to sprout from those pulled up early summer. I’d planted loads, some were hung up to dry and others (I must remember) were frozen. We’ll be having them for some time yet. So 78 of the 80 planted are well up and good candidates they certainly are but I’d already chosen leeks for 2012, (you can find out why here) and I didn’t want another member of the alium family.

redcurrantsThe buttercup squash also wanted the award, we have three left from a good crop, doing well despite the wet weather 2014 threw at us. But as I was pruning the redcurrants, black currants and gooseberries (good with mackerel!) I was reminded of how well they all did over the summer. The raspberries, now either cut down or tied up depending if autumn or summer varieties, also did well. They have spread and given us extra beds for free. The strawberries were large and luscious. We still have bags of most of them in the freezer (I must remember) including blackberries. So the award goes to the soft fruit. You need a little patience but once established it’s only a touch of pruning and mulching to keep them going. And what is nicer than eating raspberries straight from the bush?

sloeginI think the sloes are also included in this category (I know blackthorn is a member of the plum family but it’s a shrub rather than a tree) so will toast the fruit with a glass of our pink sloe gin. Cheers!

Plant of the year award 2013

Plant of the year award 2013

A year ago it was the humble leek that got the prestigious casa azul plant of the year award, for reasons too numerous to list here. For 2013 there is another clear winner, more exotic and almost as prolific; a beringela, the aubergine.

Since mid summer there were plenty to pick, plump and purple, right up to the end of November. Every time I picked what I thought was the last batch I left the plants and their nodding violet flowers to die, only to discover more fruit a few weeks later. I’m also pleased because there was a time when Richard said he didn’t like them. Roasted over the dying embers of a summer barbecue and turned into baba ganoush he was happy but otherwise he didn’t like their texture. Since my vegetarian days they have been one of my favourite veg so I took it as a personal challenge to make him change his mind. Well, numerous dishes later he seems to have come round. They have been oven roasted with potatoes, lightly fried in chilli oil… .

aubergine1

…curried with coconut milk and served in half with roasted toms. Not to mention the pasta and other middle eastern dishes, I particularly like the fact they go so well with cumin.

aubergine2

And all eaten with great relish, so a culinary as well as horticultural success. Here’s to a good 2014 harvest and happy new year to everyone!

 

Plant of the year award

Plant of the year award

Rain, frost, wind and thick morning mists – the winter is well and truly here. All the leaves have fallen off the plane tree in the courtyard, the less hardy potted plants are in the barn or polytunnel and little is being done in the way of gardening although a number of (rainless) days have been spent weeding and composting the beds. We still can’t get over how green it is compared to last year but the downpours have seen to that. They’ve also brought out the snails and slugs that they slither towards the baby turnips and swedes. One evening spent collecting the little blighters in a bucket was enough to fork out on some horticultural fleece which is certainly doing the trick.

fleeceThe veg patch is actually looking quite good at the moment, with most of the beds full or covered in compost. We’re still eating our own potatoes, the colourful chard is going strong and at last some sprouts have formed. Plus the calabrese and cauliflower are ready now too so there’s more variety on our plates at the mo.

But as I walk down the beds in the winter sunshine there’s one plant that beats them all, yes the humble leek is crowned queen of the veg patch. There’s lots of reasons why: firstly, I’ve been growing them from seed for three years now and they’ve never failed. Every little leeklet grows, some bigger than others, but grow they do. Secondly, they take very little looking after. They need watering and weeding but that’s it – no pests to worry about, no supports, no pruning… Thirdly, they stay in the ground for as long as you need them. No need to worry that they’ll be past their best if not pulled out in time, so no storage problems either. In addition they’ll happily put up with whatever the winter throws at them. Plus they’ll reproduce from their own seed so no need to buy any more seed packets. Next year is the first time I’ll be trying this, I have a couple of dried flower heads from some plants left in the ground over the summer so with luck they’ll germinate in the spring. So all in all a fuss free, hardy, reliable cropper. Oh, and they taste good too of course! Long live the leek!

leeks2012