No longer the ‘has bean’!

beansAh the joys of growing your own vegetables… you stare at your courgette, runner bean or tomato plants for weeks and weeks and nothing happens. And then suddenly – whoosh – they all ripen at the same time!

We are currently awash with courgettes and runner beans and trying all sorts of different recipes and playing ‘swapsies’ with other veg growers. But it is all great fun and tremendously satisfying to eat what you have grown.

I love runner beans (luckily!) but coming up with different ways of preparing them can be a challenge. The beans have to be trimmed before cooking, so they need top and tailing and the fibrous strings on each side need to come off as they can be tough and difficult to digest. An old farmer friend who used to grow masses of runner beans every year recommended this nifty bean slicing device (pictured). It is brilliant at producing beautifully cut beans quickly and easily. I can buy the bean slicer in my local Devon ‘sells everything’ shop, but if you can’t find one, try online. It really is a fab kitchen gadget!

beanslicerThe key to good runner beans is to pick them before they get too big and woody and not to cook them for too long, otherwise they become tough and grey and they lose flavour and nutrients. The poor old runner bean does get a bit of a bad press as so often we just boil them and stick them on the side of the plate next to sausages or Sunday roast. But they are great in their own right and versatile and you can do much more with them.

Quite often it is just a case of combining the cooked beans into a salad. I always steam mine, retaining the colour and texture and often add them to salads. As soon as you have streamed them, run them under cold water, shake dry and mix in with whatever salad takes your fancy. For a quick and healthy lunch, I love mixing them with feta cheese, spring onion and a sweet homegrown tomato or two finished with a drizzle of salad dressing. If you like fruity salads, why not try grilled nectarine and parma ham with a runner bean salad – it’s the perfect summer salad, chock-full of seasonal flavours. If you look online you will find thousands of recipe ideas for how to deal with your runner bean glut.

beansfriedHow you cut your beans will dictate what you can do with them. Thinly cut with my magic bean slicer and they are great in salads… but if you want to cook them in a dish, such as a curry or a stir fry, top and tail them and then cut into angled chunks. They are then quite robust and won’t fall apart. For an interesting hot dish, you could try sautéed runner beans with onion and garlic. Simply crush a clove of garlic and fry with some chopped red onion in olive oil until the onions are soft and golden– make sure you don’t burn the garlic or it will be bitter. Add in the beans (top and tailed, raw and cut into chunky slices) and sauté until they are crisps and also tender. Sea salt and fresh ground pepper are the finishing touch, although a splash of really good balsamic vinegar added at the end of cooking lends a sweet and pleasantly tang. Delicious!

 

 

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Longer lasting lavender…

LavenderBiscuitsI adore lavender. I love the scent and the colour, I have it in dried arrangements around the house and I also use it in cooking – lavender shortbread is delicious. However, it can be a surprisingly tricky plant to grow successfully. When the plants are first established they look wonderful and give off their gorgeous smell as you brush past. But I always struggle to keep lavender for more than three or four years as it becomes woody, gappy and just plain tatty and I end up digging it up and replanting.

Early September is the time I usually give my lavender its summer trim. The flowers have lost their colour and the bees have lost interest. So I thought I’d look for advice on pruning English lavender (the French variety has the little tufty ears and needs different pruning), to ensure I was doing it correctly.

LavenderPruneI always prune my lavender rather timidly having been told that if you cut into the wood it won’t regrow. However, looking online, I have found that specialist lavender growers say that English lavender needs hard pruning and you should cut right down into the brown part, where little lavender shoots can just be seen. They suggest cutting back as much as 9” just after the plants finish flowering.

A neighbour (with enviable lavender plants!) says he cuts it right back to the brown, especially in particularly spindly areas of a plant, and it shapes up well again before Christmas. In fact, you can prune lavender into a sculptural shape for winter – it looks lovely in the frost. So, this year, I am taking the bit between my teeth and will be chopping back the lavender plants a good 6” and see what happens… if it’s a success I may be bolder next year!

Top Tip
LavenderChair
The experts say you should use good secateurs for cutting lavender. This makes the job a lot longer than using shears, but it seems to give a tighter, more sculptural finish. And you need to not go mad and chop at it willy–nilly or you will kill it. Secateurs mean you can see what you’re doing. You need to be careful and cut just above the tiny shoots at the bottom of the stem – if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate and it will die… So wear your reading glasses!

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Spruce up your garden on a budget!

I am forever sighing over garden makeovers in magazines or on TV. The trouble is, it can all be so expensive! Don’t despair, though, there are lots of things you can do to spruce up your garden, big or small, at little or no cost.

PaintedShedAs pretty as paint

Wood stain and paint for sheds used to come in dark brown or, if you were really racy, green! But not any more, now there are fabulous colours available and, if you choose ‘own brand’ options, rather than some of the posher paints, a litre of paint can cost as little as £12 and will cover about 12 m². Sheds can look shabby and garden furniture frumpy but if you give them a lick of paint in an exciting colour, it will cheer you, and your garden, up no end. Do make sure you use proper exterior wood paint or stain, though, as interior or gloss paint won’t work.

A friend of mine who didn’t feel up to wielding a paintbrush outside bought a very cost-effective pump-action sprayer and covered a fence and a trellis in no time. Provided you clean it out properly after use, you can re-use the sprayer again and again.

Shaping up

CircularLawnOne of the easiest and cheapest ways to transform your garden is to cut the lawn into a clearly defined shape such as a square or a circle or even a heart. It’s important to plan it out first, so mark out the shape with string and use a spade to cut away the excess grass. It’s not a difficult job and shouldn’t take more than an afternoon. But if digging is a bit much… perhaps a teenage offspring could be persuaded to help for a small bribe?!

Stack the cut turf green side down and stack in an out-of-the-way corner. Leave it for a year and you’ll have beautiful stuff that makes great seed compost!

Divide and thrive

GeumsA really cost-effective way to fill flower beds with great colour is to buy perennials that can be divided. This works really well with any clump-forming perennials such as astrantia, geums (love them!) and hardy geraniums. Tip the plant out of its pot and carefully pull it apart into two or three bits, each with some stalks and root. Dig a hole and plant each bit in your flowerbed and water well. Next year when they’ve grown and established, simply do the same again…

See the light!

When I was a child, fairy lights were for Christmas and that was it! Now, you can buy an amazing array of colours and shapes to use outdoors. Fairy lights can be bought online all year around and they’re a quick, simple and cheap way to bring a pretty glow to your GardenLightsgarden. Drape them through tree or shrub branches or attach them to fences, they can be run from a plug inside the house, so you don’t need an electrician. Or, look out for solar powered lights for the easiest option possible.

Shop online and you can find all sorts of bargains… have fun!

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A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.

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Vampires and wild garlic…!

Today we have a lovely guest blog from my foraging writer friend from Pembrokeshire, Julia Horton-Powdrill. I know I have written about wild garlic before, but its arrival every spring is always so wonderful that I don’t think there’s any harm revisiting it…

“I know everyone is probably already fed up with wild garlic otherwise known as ramsons (allium ursinum), but it is one of the most available and exciting ingredients around at the moment in Pembrokeshire – and Devon! To preserve wild garlic put 500g clean dry wild garlic leaves in a food processor with 500ml olive oil and blitz. Store in lidded jars in your fridge where it will last for ages (I have some from last year which I am still using). Every time I take some out I top up the jar with a little more olive oil. This garlic flavoured oil is useful on its own to drizzle a little emerald colour onto salads, soups, etc.

Remember that you can eat the whole plant, the bulbs, flowers, seeds and stem as well as the leaves and if any of you are suffering from vampire problems, wild garlic will keep them away! Of course if you eat lots of it there is the distinct possibility that it will keep everyone else away too….

Wild Garlic has been used to treat asthma and other respiratory disorders and during the Middle Ages the herb was instrumental in treating cholera and in preventing the plague. Fresh juice from the small bulbs was also an important wound dressing and they were chewed to aid breathing and to treat digestion and intestinal gas.

This altogether stinky plant has regained popularity and it is always wonderful to see the bright green leaves coming through to herald the onset of spring. As the season wears on these plants, which favour damp and woody areas, produce beautiful white star-like flowers and can often carpet a woodland floor along with the bluebell. Together they make a wonderful sight although the smell of garlic overpowers everything else!”

Here’s a lovely veggie recipe for you to try – a delicious aubergine dip. Happy foraging!

Julia

BABA GHANOUSH WITH WILD GARLIC

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons wild garlic preserved in olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Lightly grease a baking tray.
  2. Cut aubergine in half and place cut-side down on oiled baking sheet. Roast it for approximately 30 minutes or until soft.
  3. Cool slightly then scoop out flesh into food processor along with other ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Chill in fridge before serving.
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