Sugar Free Ginger and Date Muffins

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It’s the start of the Busy Season here and what with seed sowing and orchestrating a huge School Fundraiser my blog has been sadly neglected. However, recently little ideas for posts have been popping into my head so hopefully I’m back on track again. I have to say I’ve a lot to blog about what with choosing trees for The Nuttery, sowing seeds for the Cut Flower Garden not to mention my plans for a Herb Garden (Aromatherapy and Tea) and of course the usual vege seed sowing. I’m exhausted just reading that list!

To even begin a To do List like that I highly recommend a little toothsome snack. It’s a Sugar Free Date and Ginger Muffin. Strictly speaking you will of course find sugar in the dates and the apple juice but…..for a pretty healthy, tasty option this little muffin is hits the spot! It’s such an easy recipe too; no butter to cream or melt just a little light date chopping and you’re halfway there.

To Do List Muffin

Ingredients
150g dates
140g self raising flour
1 egg
125ml apple juice
3 Tbsp veg oil
1/2 tsp powdered ginger

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Sieve the flour and ginger into a bowl. Chop up the dates and add to the bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients in a jug and pour over the dry ingredients.

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Give it a mix but don’t go mad and over do it. Spoon into prepared muffin trays. Bake for 12 minutes at 200c.

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It’s a cute little cake and not too heavy. Just enough sweetness to give you a mid morning boost after an hour or two of gardening. So next time you’re staring at an endless To Do List make some of these to lighten the load!

 

Sowing seeds for the Cutting Garden

Seed scene

I know my blog has been a bit quiet recently but I’ve been quite busy behind the scenes. I’ve been planning and dreaming and just recently sowing seeds. You know all about the vege seeds I’m growing but I’ve also started sowing flower seeds for my Cutting Garden. I’ve been a bit cross with the cutting garden or rather the man who ploughed and grassed our paddock. I marked out my Cutting garden with canes and asked him NOT to grass inside the canes. Yep you guessed it. As my carefully planted bulbs began to peep out from the soil so did millions and trillions of grass. The air was as blue as the grass was green that morning. Annoyingly I had to spray the whole lot and I HATE spraying but what can you do? So, I’m back to square one but progress is on it’s way in the form of tiny little seeds.

While I’m pretty excited about all the seeds I’ve chosen to grow there are a few Stand Out Stars that I really can’t wait for Here’s my Top 5 seeds to grow for the Cutting Garden.

Stocks

These are stock seeds (Matthiola Incana). I can’t wait to smell their spicy scent! They were a very popular Edwardian flower that went by the name Gillyflower. There are two types of stock; hardy annual and biennial. Brompton stocks or ‘ten week stocks’ are treated as an annual and take ten weeks to flower. They produce just one stem so are definitely not a cut and come again flower. They often produce fancier flowers though and have a greater variety of colour. The biennial type of stock are sown in the Autumn, put on growth over winter and flower in early Spring. They form branched plants so you can pick them over a long period of time. Biennials are a great idea for the cut flower garden because they will flower earlier than any spring sown seeds. The variety I found (and there wasn’t a huge amount of choice) are hardy annuals. It seems that they’re a mix of singles and doubles as they advise to select light green seedlings for doubles and darker green ones for singles.

Ammi Majus

Ammi Majus is another flower that I’m really looking forward to. It’s a member of the carrot family so has a long tap root which doesn’t like to be disturbed when potting on. It’s white umbrels are very similar to cow parsley that froths and frolics in English hedgerows. It’s a filler plant and can be used with a huge variety of flowers to add bulk and a relaxed meadow feel. I much prefer natural looking bouquets and posies. They have  a sense of quirkiness and vitality that glossy imported perfect specimens lack.

Antirrhinum Princess White

Snapdragons or Antirrhinums are such charming flowers with their dreaming spires of individual blooms. You need to get the taller varieties for a good cut flower option. Garden centres prefer the bedding varieties but you can still buy seed for the taller varieties. I found three varieties; Princess white with purple eye, Snowflake and Brazillian Carnival. All grow to about 85-90 cm and will simply fizz with colour (Brazillian Carnical) or radiate peace and calm (Snowflake).

Briza Maxima

Briza Maxima is a grass that also goes by the name Quaking grass. The grass heads have a pearl lustre to their coats and they hang from gossamer thin stems which naturally tremble and shake in the breeze. I love the idea of adding this energy to a bouquet so I really hope they germinate. Apparently you need patience as they take their time.

The final cut flower in my Top 5 is Larkspur the smaller cousin of the delphinium. This seed requires stratification which means pop it in the fridge for a few weeks. It needs a cold spell to break it’s dormancy and germinate. These flowers benefit from pinching out the growing tip to produce a bushier plant.

It’s the first day of spring tomorrow! My favourite season of them all!

 

 

I’m going back to my roots….yeah

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Beetroot is such a hotly contested little root. Don’t be fooled by the vinegary pots of lurid purple slices to be found on the supermarket shelves. Beetroot has had a makeover recently and is now a vegetable in it’s own right; sometimes even the star of a dish rather than something to pop in a sandwich or on the side. It’s definitely worth growing your own beetroot because you can harvest it as a young little orb and you can also eat it’s baby leaves. Where can you buy fresh baby beetroot leaves for a salad? I don’t think you can. If you’re still not convinced perhaps I can temp you with a beetroot brownie recipe!

This is successional sowing post #2 and I’ll focus on beetroot and hopefully give you some Top Tips. It’s always best to sow beetroot in situ; that goes for all root vegetables. They don’t like disturbance and who can blame them since all the action is going on in the root. So, once your soil starts to warm up you can sow beetroot outside. If it’s still a bit cold start a box/bucket in the green house. You can really pack them in. As they mature you can harvest the tiny beets and leaves for salads which effectively thins your crop without wasting a single one. The beets left behind will have more room to expand and you can go back for them later.

The beetroot seed is a tough old nut. It actually has a naturally protective coating which can hinder germination. It’s advisable to soak your beetroot seed in water to dissolve this coating and hopefully improve germination rates. It doesn’t take a minute. Pop them in a bowl of water and by the time you’ve made your drills and popped some compost in you’re ready to rock.

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I sowed my beetroot a little too early so germination has been poor. If you close an eye and squint you might be able to see the 3 or 4 seedlings that have bravely soldiered on. I’ve added a few more seeds and fingers crossed the soil has warmed up a few degrees and I’ll be on my way to harvesting.

I know you are probably desperate to know how my Successional sowing Spreadsheet is working out. It’s working out really well!

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The back row are the second sowing that I made today.

There’s something about filling in the spreadsheet cells with sowing dates then germination dates and in a few weeks time harvest dates that appeals to the geek in me. It also makes me focus on other factors like which peas are easiest to germinate (Pea Blue Shelling and Snow Pea Goliath without a doubt)

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… and which ones are a struggle (Pea Alderman unfortunately as this came highly recommended to me).

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I was also unable to fill in the Eggplant and Sugar Snap Pea germination cells (shock horror!) because (wait for it….)  No Germination Occurred…….

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……not a sausage let alone a pea of an eggplant. Very disappointing. Golly Roll On Spring or this blog is in danger of becoming scarily Dull!! Photos of soil and little else do not a good blog make :-)

I’m even able to see what kind of germination percentage I’m getting (I’m not recording this but I could if I wanted to!). Anyway, care, patience, meticulous – they’re my new watch words…..

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Radish, broccolli, spinach, lettuce are all merrily germinating

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Here’s what I’m sowing in the second half of August

Pea Alderman Tall Climbing
Pea Blue Shelling
Dwarf Sugar Snap
Snow Pea Goliath
Beetroot Bull’s Blood
Broccolli Tender Stems
Broccolli Sprouting Summer Purple
Radish Pink Beauty
Eggplant Long Purple
Eggplant Purple Gem
Spinach Approach
Lettuce Lollo Bionda
Lettuce Little Gem
Rhubarb Cherry Red (I didn’t actually sow this in the first half so I’m sowing it now)
Peppermint
Oregano

Let’s see how this second sowing goes. I’m hoping it’s going to be a warm Spring so that I can plant my hardier seedlings outside because at this rate I’m going to run out of greenhouse space!

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Mind your Peas and Qs

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Self sufficiency post #1 and it’s all about the Peas really. I’ve always been quite successful with peas in the Spring. I start with the rush of enthusiasm experienced by many gardeners and sow trays and trays of peas. By the time these peas appear I remember to sow some more but then summer shimmies along and I get caught up with other tender greens seeking my attention and no more peas. So what’s the change for this year?

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This year, I’m sowing every two weeks from August till I get sick of peas (!) and I’m growing both dwarf and climbing varieties. I have Alderman Tall climbing, Snow Pea Goliath, Sugar Snap Dwarf and Blue Shelling.

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The reason for trying out the climbing varieties is that, unlike the dwarf varieties, the climbers will fruit, then grow a bit, then fruit, then grow a bit and finally give you a third lot of peas. Whereas the dwarf varieties give you one lot of peas and then shut up shop. The dwarfs really put the pressure on for successional sowing but the climbing peas allow a little room for error! I’ll try them both and see what happens.

Peas

You may have read about sowing peas in old bits of guttering? It does sound like a good idea. I tried it once. It wasn’t a good idea for me. You really need to be an octopus to pull this one off. Two hands to hold the guttering and two hands to gently slide the peas and soil into the ground. As I cautiously manoeuvred the guttering from the greenhouse to the pea bed I managed to knock down a willow obelisk, trip over the dog and lose a third of the peas that I’d painstakingly grown. Perhaps I’m just clumsy. Perhaps you don’t really need guttering to grow peas. I sow 6-8 peas in little plastic trays (2 trays per variety) with good seed compost. If there’s one thing that peas don’t like it’s over watering.

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You’ll know when you’ve done this because the pea seeds go mouldy.  You can see in the photo above some mouldy Alderman Tall Peas looking a bit worse for wear. It happens. Don’t be disheartened just grow a few extra peas to allow for casualties.

Sugar Snap peas

Here’s what I’m sowing in the first half of August.

Pea Alderman Tall Climbing
Pea Blue Shelling
Dwarf Sugar Snap
Snow Pea Goliath
Beetroot Bull’s Blood
Broccolli Tender Stems
Broccolli Sprouting Summer Purple
Radish Pink Beauty
Eggplant Long Purple
Eggplant Purple Gem
Spinach Approach
Lettuce Lollo Bionda
Lettuce Little Gem
Rhubarb Cherry Red

So when can I expect some food from this sowing session? Well, I’ll have some radish next month in September followed by spinach, baby beetroot and lettuce and of course peas in October! Eggplant will be a lovely surprise in February and rhubarb won’t be ready for 15 long months. It doesn’t seem much does it but if I continue sowing little and often through the year the menu will increase!

Self Sufficiency in the Vege Garden

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Before embarking on vege gardening 5 years ago I have to admit I had quite a rosy tinted view of how it would all pan out. I imagined that everything I sowed would not only grow but would grow abundantly and voraciously. Sometimes that happened but sometimes not. I thought that I’d be able to bypass the vege shop and grow everything I needed (apart from bananas and other exotic fruit) but I didn’t really think about successional sowing until the spinach ran out. I also found myself leaving crops in the ground. Why? Well, I’m not sure but a mixture of not wanting to be without the veg (I didnt have a successional crop following on) and not actually liking that particular veg! Perhaps I am alone here but I suspect not. Vegetable gardening is a very real, and very enlightening learning curve. Now that I’m in the quiet time of the vege calendar I thought I’d reflect on Lessons I’ve Learned (sounds serious but not at all!) which will hopefully be helpful to experienced and new gardeners alike. Also, it’s the start of a challenge for myself to be as self sufficient in my vege garden as I can. How much veg do I need to actually buy to supplement my vege growing?

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What vegetables do you really like to eat? This sounds so obvious but I have been lured more than once by the glossy photos of an unusual veg that I Simply Must Try To Grow! Sometimes experiments work like the lovely heirloom spinach strawberry. Not only do I like the quirky little spinach tasting strawberries but I also found the leaves a real bonus for adding to salads. However, borlotti beans (while really very pretty with their red and white stripy coats) were left on the vine as I didn’t know what to do with them…. Only grow what you know you will eat.

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Having said that you might also want to consider other factors about the veg you eat including how much space you have. I probably peel and chop an onion every day but my vege garden doesn’t really have the space for this crop because it takes months to mature so would use up one whole bed for a long time. I do however grow garlic which also takes it’s own sweet time to grow and uses up a whole bed. However, I justify this because I really do think that homegrown garlic is superior to bought and hasn’t been fumigated to within an inch of it’s life.

Beetroot  Strawbs

Which leads me onto my next point quite neatly. Some vegetables are seriously treated with pesticides. This is an issue that sways my growing preferences. Lettuce is my number one bug bear. In most supermarkets these days the lettuce on offer is in little plastic bags or the hearting lettuces are wrapped in a plastic coat. There is nothing good about this. We know that the actual lettuce has been sprayed to keep away the pests. I’ve also read that that the bagged lettuce is washed in chlorine to make sure no little beasties are found crawling around your plate. You can understand the need for hygiene but lettuce is my one Must Grow. I can also grow a variety of leaves and mix them up for some really classy salads. I prefer the Cut and come again variety because they are easy to keep on top of and with a little but of successional sowing you can have salad leaves all year round. Some types of Micro green can be harvested 10 days after sowing – talk about Fast Food! Other heavily sprayed veg includes celery, capsicums (peppers), cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and lettuce. Berries are also highly sprayed but can easily be incorporated in a vege garden plan. Don’t think you have to grow all this from seed. I planted some celery from my local health shop (they sell organic seedlings) and I love the way I can just take a stem or two for cooking and there’s no waste.

Snow Peas

To even begin to try and be self sufficient in veges you need to know about successional sowing. It’s not difficult but you need to be disciplined. I’m not even going to try and pretend that I have salad leaves all year round (because I don’t) but this season that is my aim. If I sow various varieties of salad leaves every two weeks from August I should achieve my goal. Successional sowing doesn’t just stop at lettuce though. You can successionally sow a variety of veg including beetroot, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, beans, peas, rocket, radish and herbs. I normally think that I’ll remember. I never do. So this year it’s all going on a spreadsheet with dates and everything……eek!

King of the Blues54

Do I save money growing my own veg? I think I save money on salad greens, spinach, beans, peas, chillis, garlic as these can be quite pricey at certain times of the year out here. I also save money on all the fruit that I grow; plums, greengages, pears, lemons and limes. However, my ultimate motivation for growing veg is to keep the nutrient content up (lots of comfrey tea and animal manure rather than man made fertilisers) and to keep the pesticides down (non-existent I hope).

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Little extras that you might want to know – when thinning out your beetroot and carrot seedlings keep the tiny little babies that you eek out of the soil, wash them and pop them in a salad. Add beetroot leaves to salad. Learn about Autumn sowing. It makes a HUGE difference to the “hungry gaps” in your garden when there’s nothing really ready to harvest. Sowng veg in late autumn to “over winter” means that they will be ready to fire up as the weather warms up so you’ll be enjoying peas, beans, beetroot, carrot, radishes really early in the growing season. Grow comfrey and make comfrey tea for your veges. I can’t emphasise how amazing comfrey tea is and it’s so easy and cheap to make. Use it on all your growing veges. Lay some leaves out on concrete in the sun to wilt them and lay around your fruit trees.

Close up Calendular

Plant calendular amongst your veges for natural pest protection – they look so cheerful too and flower throughout the winter. Don’t stop at calendular either. Grow sunflowers, dahlias and nasturtians with your veg. They’ll encourage the beneficial insects and make you smile.

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Grow herbs. Lots of herbs. I feel very Rich knowing that I can go and gather a huge handful of herbs throughout the year (herbs I pretty much can grow year round apart from the tender ones like basil). No dilly dallying with tiny little pots of herbs from the supermarket but straight in there with a huge bunch – nothing like it. The flavour of home grown herbs is also so superior you may find yourself never going back. You can also grow all kinds of herbs that you can’t buy.

Courgettes 1

Final words of wisdom. I’ve gardened enough to know that not everything grows to plan. I may have my spreadsheet but I’m sure a whole host of incidents will happen and that seedlings will suffer damping off, fruit will be eaten by unwelcome pests and the weather will add it’s own set of obstacles but in five years I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for growing veg. The miracle of planting a seed and seeing it produce edibles is still a joy for me. I still have a lot to learn but I’m really looking forward to my quest this season as I attempt to be as self sufficient in fruit and veg as possible in my climate!

Twiggy