Monthly Archives: May 2014

Pasta with Cima di Rapa

Bowl of freshly picked cima di rapa

Bowl of freshly picked cima di rapa

Cima di rapa, also known as sprouting turnip tops, rapini, or broccoli raab, is the Italian name for a cruciferous vegetable that somewhat resembles broccoli, but produces only small flower spikes. As it does not grow to any great size, it can crop very quickly. This is our first year growing it. We sowed a few rows in the polytunnel at the beginning of April and it was ready for harvesting this week. Continue reading

Dealing with an aggressive colony

Over the last couple of months we have been increasingly bothered with one of our colonies, which has become a little aggressive. The bees also have the bad habit of following us after we approach the hive. As hobby beekeepers, working with a large colony of angry bees is not pleasant and we certainly do not want anyone to get stung. We therefore decided to replace the queen before matters got out of hand. Rather than try to introduce a new queen, which is never certain of success, we decided to allow them to create a replacement. However, we did not want one from this queen’s eggs, but from another colony of very nice bees. To start with, we went through the hive to make sure there were no existing swarm or supersedure cells. We then found the queen and removed her. Continue reading

Pasta with sage sauce

The vibrant leaves of fresh sage

The vibrant leaves of fresh sage are at their best at this time of year

Sage is one of my favourite herbs. It is available fresh from the garden for most of the year, but is at its best now, covered with vibrant new growth. It is an odd herb in some ways, as it must be used sparingly in some dishes else it becomes overpowering and somewhat medicinal in taste, but in others it can be used in large quantities. Stuffed pastas, such as ravioli, are often dressed with butter in which sage leaves have been fried, and then sprinkled with a little hard cheese such as pecorino or parmesan. Simple is often best, and this is just about my favourite way to enjoy ravioli. Continue reading

Sowing this week

This was yet another week with no sowing but a bit of planting out. This week’s task was to plant up the winter squash bed. Some weeks ago I potted on the young squash plants, moving them from the small pots they were sown in into various larger pots of around one litre or so. I used a rich mixture of homemade compost and manure. They have been quite happy to remain in those pots and were not yet pot bound. This is important so as not to check their growth and ensure that they transplant well. Continue reading

Sowing this week

This week was more about planting out than sowing. Here in a sheltered spot in the south, with the help of some warm walls, frosts in May are unusual, and rarely harsh. I am not ready, quite, to risk planting out the winter squash as they are a precious crop, not to mention that the bed is not ready for them yet, but the summer squash – courgettes, conventional and round, and patty pan – were planted out this week. Hopefully there will not be a late frost, but they can be resown if needed. Continue reading

Swiss chard with sweetcorn

The versatile leaves of swiss chard

The versatile leaves of Swiss chard

Swiss chard is a versatile crop that can be sown from spring through to late summer or early autumn. It is, perhaps, most useful when sown late and overwintered for a spring harvest, when other vegetables can be in short supply. The young plants stand well through the winter and then put on vigorous growth as conditions improve in the spring, providing a great harvest from a relatively small space. At this time of year, the chard is just about to go to seed, so the harvest from the overwintered plants is coming to an end. When young, the smaller leaves can be used for the salad, whilst the larger leaves can be cooked like spinach. The thick ribs can also be cooked separately or added to stocks and soups. I often prepare a dish with both, braising the ribs until tender and adding the greens towards the end of cooking. At this time of year, though, the ribs are a little coarse so I wanted a quick side dish to use up the last of the enormous leaves. Continue reading

Thinning the peach bush

Peach bush overburdened with fruit

Peach bush overburdened with fruit

Following successful hand pollination, our young Peche de Vigne was carrying a large amount of fruit; far too much for the strength of the branches and too much for the tree to bring to perfection. This is quite normal, and, unless the set has been particularly poor, peach fruitlets need to be thinned each season to allow select fruits to develop to their full potential. It is also common for fruit trees to naturally shed a certain amount of their crop. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘June drop’, although with an early fruiting peach it might happen before June and with orchard fruits quite possibly after June. With fruit trees such as apples, thinning may be needed to discourage biennial bearing ­– the condition where the tree bears a large crop one year and very little the next. Some varieties are especially prone to biennial bearing, but thinning the crop should help. Continue reading