Tuesday, 22 January 2019

A Week of Weeds - Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bitter-cress: Cardamine hirsuta

Look at this fighter flowering already in January.  It's secret weapon is the speed of reproduction and explosive seed dispersal.  Brush against the plant when the seedhead is ripe and you set off a shower of projectiles, each one an irretrievable seed (on account of it's small size). Ballochory is the term for this - my new word of the day  (and not to be confused with barochory which is seed dispersal by gravity alone).  Hairy Bitter-cress  appears first as a rosette before sending up a number of stems which rapidly produce unprepossessing flowers.  Once primed the seed head reacts to your weeding efforts as a stimulus to explode.  "You are too late"  it says as it peppers your face with pellets. Moral - weed early, preferably at the rosette stage.

Monday, 21 January 2019

A Week of the Weeds - Charlock

Charlock: Sinapis arvensis

It's a brassica - you can tell that on sight.  But which one and what is it doing popping up all over the garden this winter?  It's wild alright but is it wild turnip or wild mustard.  It turns out to be Charlock, which is probably THE native brassica. In seed form it is very persistent. Garden Organic advise that seeds last 12 years in dry storage but 35 to 60 years in the soil!!  Sadly the plants are host to all the brassica problems including root fly,  clubroot and cabbage whites.  For a full verification I should let these seedlings mature, but I am not keen to do that.  The bit that nailed the identification for me was the advice that Charlock can be introduced as a birdseed alien.  It is around the bird feeding stations that these seedlings have appeared.  Either direct or after passing through the digestive tract of the birds I am convinced that the birdseed is the source of these plants.  They are all coming out.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

A Week of the Weeds - Shining Cranesbill

A weed with a shine?

Meet Geranium lucidum:  Shining Cranesbill.  It took me ages to identify the occupant at the end of the garden.  I own up that I once sowed Herb Robert  (Geranium robertianum) as part of a wildflower mix in our garden.  It has self seeded ever since then  (along with Yarrow, also in the mix). This invader either arrived in the same way, but was less imposing, or made its own way in.  It seems to thrive in the shadow of the trees, archway and ivy clad fence on a northsloping bed, 

A weed mounting a takeover bid

Looking very lush and quite at home in advance of the bluebells and daffodils

Healthy winter growth

At first I mistook it for Dove's Foot Cranesbill and then Round-leaved Cranesbill.  But the first doesn't have red stems and the second is found only in the South of England, so I was happy to have found the correct ID at last.  It is still a blooming nuisance but I know what I am up against!
Having the right name I can now see that Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board classified this as a grade A noxious weed in 2009 but the downgraded it to grade B in 2015.  In case you are wondering, it is not poisonous, just very hard to eradicate.  The shining part of it is the leaf, although the hairless red stems are pretty shiny too!  I will be removing a lot of this before it flowers and sets seed this year.  I am confident it will still be around in some nook or cranny for years to come however scrupulous my weeding efforts.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Flowering in January

Considering myself a vegetable grower I do love flowers too, particularly in the garden at home.  There is nothing to lift the winter spirits than a splash of flowering activity outside your window.. Most are winter stalwarts but they still surprise: 

Winter Flowering Cherry - Vertical view

Winter Flowering Cherry - Horizontal view
Here's one that is lighting up the darkest corner of the garden - on the northern side of an ivy clad fence:

Winter Jasmine - Jasminum nudiflorum

Jasminun nudiflorum 2

Other flowers are from stubborn plants which seem to flower throughout the year...

Euphorbia   Hebe!
 ...or have hung on stubbornly through the winter and aren't going to succumb just yet.

Rudbeckia Autumn Colours still hanging on
Other bloggers have been showing off their Hellebores.  Well mine are going to have to wait another year to flower.  These were grown from home saved seed sown in 2017. Just as well as there is no sign of the parent plant this spring!

Hellebores !
I may be a bit previous to call it spring, but there are signs that the plants think it is just around the corner.

The prospect of things to come.

Monday, 24 December 2018

I'm Dreaming of a White - Soup?

A heartwarming bowl of soup

From humble beginnings...

Salsify roots

The tricky part is peeling the roots because salsify turns brown on contact with the air. It's not a pretty sight.  In addition when peeling it weeps lactose - just as lettuce stems do.  Prepared roots have to be dropped into acidulated* water, to stop them browning,  in readiness for dicing straight into the pot.

Not such a pretty sight

Other ingredients are leek (white only) and a potato and in this case our golf ball sized celeriac too.  Green chervil from the garden for garnish.

The good news is that the end result is subtle and unique.  A winter warmer.

*Water with a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of vinegar.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Festive Treats

We couldn't find any pfeffernusse this year in the shops so we had to make some. 

Never realised how important it is to ice them!

Of course once these had been baked we spotted some on our next supermarket visit.  The freshly made up spice blend made a difference not to mention the freshness of all the other ingredients.  The homemade ones were in a class of their own and have all been consumed. 

On the savoury front taralli are an addictive Italian snack we make at this time of year.  The dough is made with wine, olive oil, flour and salt.  Divided into four  quarters each gets a different flavour. (fennel seed, cracked pepper, chilli flakes and rosemary)  Then each quarter is rolled into a long cylinder. The tricky bit is making them into small rings and dunking them into a pan of simmering water before baking

Dough and the 4 flavourings
 It is best to do the fennel flavoured ones first as the more robust flavours leech into the water and carry over to the next. So chilli comes last.

The finished product

Now it feels like Christmas:

Festive greetings to all visitors!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Kohlrabi Sauerkraut

Take a couple of these


and grate (foodprocessor recommended)

 Mix well in 2% by weight salt.

Pack into jars:

Use a glass weight to keep the pulp submerged.

Set in a cool room with loose lids and leave to ferment for three weeks at least.

Close lids tight and refrigerate.

Persuade your family that sauerkraut is the new wonder foodstuff.

Enjoy with soups, stews, salads, sausages, fish, chips .....everything !