Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Monthly Archive: February 2018

Sweet Pea – Lathyrus – 2018

Last years Sweet Peas were very disappointing with very few flowers. I have put all the seeds left from last year, Mammoth Mix,  into a deep pot of moist compost and my plan is to buy some fresh seeds too for another go this Summer. The Fresh seed is on order and should arrive tomorrow, weather permitting.

 

The old seeds are showing signs of germination with five green shoots trying to emerge at 6 days. I found a few more Mammoth mixed today, Monday  5th March, and have put them into a deep pot. I want to start a really good amount this year using all my old seeds and some new. New seeds arrived this afternoon so I sowed about twenty of the Spencer Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill is a slightly scented Spencer type that has the most beautiful deep crimson. well ruffled petals. Update 17th March – Both the old and new seeds are up and the first pot have been pinched out above the second leaves. The Spencer variety germinated very quickly and I am already thinking that I may stick to these in future. Easter Sunday 1st April and after soaking them overnight I have sown 25 more of the Spencer Mixed seeds. The original sowings are outside now and about 2′ tall. I have placed an obelisk around them. Fingers crossed for a good year for Sweet Peas.

 

How To Grow Sweet Peas

  • Growing sweet peas is supposed to be easy. Sow into compost in autumn and overwinter or wait until spring and sow in pots or sow into the ground. Before I sow them I soak the seeds in tepid water to rehydrate them. It helps them get off to a quicker start but it isn’t essential as they will still germinate well in moist compost. I usually soak overnight, use a good quality compost and sow several seeds about half an inch deep to a pot. Place in a bright position.
  • As the seedlings grow they tend to become tall and leggy. Encourage them to produce side shoots by pinching out the tips. Simply nip off the top of the stem just above a set of leaves. This will make each plant much bushier and more robust. And the more shoots there are the more flowers will be produced.
  • Sweet peas climb by twining their tendrils around whatever they touch so help them to cling to the support you have  provided.
  • Throughout the season you will need to keep them well watered as dry soil will make them go to seed quicker, also deadhead regularly.
  • Towards the end of the season leave the seed pods to mature for collection towards next years flowers.

The Sweet Pea is a flowering plant in the genus Lathyrus in the family Fabaceae and is native to Sicily, Cyprus, southern Italy and the Aegean Islands. It is an annual climbing plant growing to a height of 1–2 metres where suitable support is available. A perennial variety is also available but although these plants are stronger the flowers are smaller. However, they do have a place in the garden as do the knee high and basket varieties. I feel the annual Sweet Pea is best for cut flowers and scent.

 

Herbs and Spices 3 – Cumin – Cuminum Cyminum

This morning the postman bought me a parcel of twelve packets of seeds, ordered from my favourite supplier of the moment, Seekay. Amongst them was a packet of Cumin seeds. Another new spice to me and one I intend to learn how to grow and cook with. This is number three of my posts about herbs and spices. I am sowing a few of these this month in moist compost and sealing in a polythene bag. Germination should take up to 14 days. These seeds went in on 24th February and today, 10th March, after 14 days, six very spindly seedling are through. I have moved them on to the window ledge but think they may need more light than nature is giving to us at the moment.

Sow the seeds in April – May where they are to flower or indoors from February. For Apr / May sowings sow the seed where they are to flower 10 mm deep. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Germination should occur within 10 -14 days. Thin out once the plants are large enough to handle. Harvest the seeds after flowering. Seekay

Number 3 – Cumin

Cumin is an aromatic spice native to eastern Mediteranean countries and Upper Egypt. This warm, flavoursome and slightly bitter spice derives from the seed of the Cumin plant and is traditionally added to curries, Mexican dishes and Moroccan lamb dishes. White cumin seeds are the most commonly available variety whilst black cumin seeds are slightly smaller and sweeter in flavour. The aromatic seeds are the part of the plant that is utilised. Cumin seeds are brown, oblong-shaped and are ground to make cumin powder. Seeds may be used both whole and ground. 

Every time spices are added to a dish they boost nutritional content without adding calories. Cumin is appreciated not only for its versatility but also because of its many health benefits. Thought to be the second most popular spice next to black pepper, cumin is harvested from an herbaceous member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, which includes parsley and fennel.

Cumin is highly valued in different cuisines. Mexicans, Indians and North Africans love using it to add color and flavor to their dishes. Cumin is also a primary component of curry powder. Cumin adds a nutty and peppery flavor. Cumin seeds strong flavor adds a warm perception on your taste buds, mainly due to the essential oils they contain. Dry frying cumin before grinding it brings out its flavour and softens its very spicy punch. Heat a frying pan, do not add oil, and add cumin seeds and toss until they expel a warm, rich aroma. Leave seeds to cool slightly, then grind and add to curry mixtures, soups and stews.

Cumin’s uses as a culinary spice have been well known ever since the ancient times but there are other uses for it too. Ancient Egyptians used cumin to mummify pharaohs, while in the Bible, it was mentioned that the spice was given to priests as tithes. Cumin even became a symbol of love and fidelity. Guests attending a wedding carried cumin in their pockets while wives sent their soldier husbands off to war with cumin bread.

The most popular use for cumin is as a seasoning or condiment adding a deep flavor to various recipes. This spice is a mainstay in curries and rice dishes. Cumin powder can be used in sauces and soups, rubbed on meats prior to grilling or roasting or for pickling. Cumin seeds are best gently toasted or roasted before adding to dishes. Grind the seeds when you’re ready to use them to keep its fragrance and flavor intact. Remember that ground cumin is spicy and peppery so don’t use excessively. If you have the seeds on hand make your own cumin powder by grinding them with a mortar and pestle.

Sowing the Seeds

Cumin doesn’t transplant well so start the seeds in 7″ deep pots. Using seed compost sow three seeds about 1/4″ deep in each pot. Place each container in a plastic bag to preserve moisture. Cumin seeds need heat to germinate. Check pots daily to aerate them and check soil moisture. Cumin can take 7-14 days to germinate.

After Germination 

The moment the seeds sprout they need light. Without enough light the seedlings can become leggy. After removing the pots from the plastic bags place them on a sunny window ledge and rotate them periodically so the seedlings grow upright and don’t have to reach for light. Alternatively suspend a daylight 40 watt bulb about 6″ above the pots. Keep the lamps on for 16 hours a day and move them up as the seedlings grow so they’re always 6 inches above the pots. Thin the seedlings to one strong seedling in each pot and continue growing the plants indoors. If you want to transplant them outside wait until after the frost when the plants are about 2″ tall and the temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant 1′ apart in a sunny area of the garden with well-drained, fertile soil. Although cumin is tolerant to drought it benefits from moderate water during dry, hot spells.

Aubergine – Mohican and Black Beauty

Today I have sown all of the Aubergine seeds left in my collection. Aubergine Mohican and Aubergine Black Beauty.  The Mohican is a dwarf white variety while the Black Beauty produces a standard sized dark purple fruit. This is another experiment in grow them or throw them using up old seeds. Aubergine have a five month growing season and require full sun and as much heat as possible as they originate in hot countries. I have grown these vegetables successfully before but they are difficult and when I harvested them I didn’t know what to do with them.

After sowing on the 17th February, there are five healthy looking seedlings through today 25th, 8 days. Update 18th March 2018 – About twenty healthy looking seedlings through now. Its a month on and seedling are forming their second leaves.

 

 

How to Grow Aubergine From Seed – Gardeners World

  • Fill pots with seed compost and lightly firm the surface. Place up to seven seeds on the surface of the soil, spacing them evenly.
  • Cover the seeds with a fine layer of vermiculite. Place pots in a heated propagator set at a temperature of around 21°C. Water sparingly but keep the compost moist.
  • Seeds should germinate within two to three weeks. Keep plants warm and avoid letting the compost dry out.
  • Once the seed leaves have fully expanded prick out individual seedlings into 7cm diameter pots. Handle the seeds by the leaf to avoid crushing the stem. Feed with a general liquid feed such as seaweed once a week.
  • When the roots emerge from the bottom of the pot transplant the aubergine into a slightly larger pot. Repeat the process until the plant is in a 30cm pot. Use multi-purpose compost.
  • Remove the main tip of the aubergine plant once it is 30cm tall to encourage branching. Tie stems to canes. Encourage flowering by feeding weekly with a high potash tomato fertiliser
  • Encourage fruit to set by tapping the flowers to release the pollen or spraying lightly with tepid water. If plants are growing indoors, open windows to encourage bumblebees to pollinate the flowers.
  • Pick the fruits when they are still shiny. Dull fruit suggest that seeds have started to develop and the fruit is past its best.

 

 

Sowing Saved Bell Pepper Seeds – Capsicum

Bell Peppers from saved supermarket seeds:

I hate to be negative but last  year I raised loads of pepper plants but didn’t harvest any edible fruits. I saved lots of seeds from bought peppers over the year and having had successful germination with saved seeds before I am once again sowing seeds of green, yellow and red bell peppers. I have obviously been doing something wrong when it comes to producing edible peppers so its back to researching the internet for growing tips for me. I have had good germination, potted on some good strong plants but sadly rarely got to eat the fruits of my labour. Below is a list of points that I gathered from my research.

Update on 17th February – One 7″ pot of moist compost sown with about 30 seeds of red, yellow and green peppers wrapped in a plastic food bag and put on the computer box for a little bottom heat. Fingers crossed.

Update Easter Sunday 1st April 2018 – The germination was amazing and today I am potting on the best twelve of the Bell Peppers grown from saved seed.

New sowing of bought seeds 1st April – I bought  new seeds of a yellow, sweet long chilli pepper. The variety is Sweet Banana from Seekay. I have sown four seeds today along with another pot of four saved seeds of a long red chilli pepper that I bought from Lidl. They were packed with seeds so I couldn’t resist saving them.

Important points to remember when growing peppers.

  •  Pepper plants are slow growing and need plenty of time to produce fruit before frost.
  • They are an ideal plant for container growing.
  • They need rich well draining soil with added calcium and regular watering.

Facts

  • Germination is 10 to 15 days
  • Harvest should  be 65 to 100 days
  • Require full sun.
  • Regular and frequent watering.
  • Rich soil with added calcium.
  • Ideal for containers.

Tips

  • To promote growth place a mat of tinfoil around the base of the plants to help the plant benefit from direct and reflective heat and light.
  • Sweet bell peppers are known for their high vitamin C, A and B6 content.
  • Plants should not be outside until the soil is warm, so start your seeds indoors in order to get a harvest before winter.
  • Find your expected last frost date and sow pepper seeds eight weeks before.

Bell peppers are some of the most versatile vegetables in the kitchen. They can be sautéed  with onions, sliced or diced in salads, soups, and casseroles. They can be stuffed, grilled, used on sandwiches, or simply sliced for a fresh, flavorful, and crunchy snack. These colourful vegetables  have a high vitamin and mineral content. Regular consumption of green peppers, which contain more than twice the vitamin C of an orange, helps protect against disease, boosts the immune system, lowers inflammation in the arteries that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and cholesterol build up. Other nutritional benefits of bell peppers include thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium and copper. 

Herbs and Spices 2 – Garlic – Allium Sativum

Number Two – Garlic

Technically Garlic is neither a herb nor a spice but is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion. Garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran and has long been a common seasoning worldwide with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was used by ancient Egyptians and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine.

There are many varieties and they differ in size, pungency and colour. The most widely used European variety has a white/grey papery skin and pinkish-grey cloves and is grown in southern France. The bulbs found on sale are actually dried though we tend to consider them fresh. Garlic is one of the world’s most valued ingredients, synonymous with so many cuisines that most kitchens would be bare without it. Not only does is have an irresistible flavour, it also has amazing healing powers. Consuming just one clove a day will not only top up your body’s supplies of vital vitamins and minerals, but also help maintain a healthy heart and help the body fight off infection. Well, I’m sold on this popular ingredient and intend to grow and cook with it much more in future. I have found an excellent book called  ‘The Goodness Of Garlic’ by Natasha Edwards so I am looking forward to learning more. Natasha Edwards grew up surrounded by garlic on the world renowned garlic farm on the Isle of Wight run by her father, Colin Boswell, and she draws on her own knowledge and experience of cooking, eating and using garlic as a remedy. She is the co-author of The Garlic Farm Cookbook and author of Garlic: The Mighty Bulb.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/natasha-edwards-Books

 

Some varieties of garlic are best planted as sets in autumn to be harvested in early to mid-summer the following year. It’s a crop easy to grow from sets and rising in popularity all the time to use in the kitchen and to grow in vegetable plots. Garlic is propagated by planting cloves or using bulbils. Save some of your crop for planting next season. Propagating garlic using bulbils can be much more effective than planting cloves. There are many more bulbils than cloves, making it easier to build up your planting stock. And since bulbils don’t touch the ground, you have a lower incidence of soil-borne diseases. Plant them just like you would plant cloves

Although the ideal planting time is November you can plant as late as April and at this warmer time of year you could try planting up any spare cloves left over from supermarket bought garlic. Start by dividing the cloves of garlic from the bulb and plant the largest and healthiest. The wild ancestors of modern day garlic would have originated from the mountainous regions of Asia and are programmed to search deeply for water. Fill a deep pot with seed compost. Plant one clove per pot in an upright position no more than 1½ ” below the soil surface. Water well and place outside in a sunny position out of the way of cold winds. From early June onwards begin feeding with a general purpose plant food every two weeks. The garlic should be ready for harvesting any time between August and September depending on weather and variety.Once dried these bulbs should keep in good condition for 3-4 months.

Garlic has many culinary uses. The cloves are separated, peeled and then used whole, chopped or crushed. The easiest way to crush garlic is to place a clove on a board and, using the flat side of a small knife, press down firmly until you have squashed it to a pulp. Sprinkle a little salt on the clove to help the knife grip. Garlic crushers are fine but some say that crushing the garlic this way gives it a bitter taste. The more finely the garlic is crushed the stronger it will taste in the dish but slow oven baking tends to mellow the flavour. By baking the garlic it softens the sharpness of the flavour and brings out it’s sweetness.

You can’t beat the simple flavour of garlic, thyme and salt and pepper on a good quality rib of beef. The juices make a fantastic gravy. Garlic bread is another popular way to use this versatile food.

 

Cucumber Long White T&M – Cucumis Sativus

I bought the seeds of this Cucumber, Long White, from T&M way back and have had several attempts to grow them without any success. They were £1.99 for 25 seeds and there were ten left in the foil packet so I have put them all into some damp compost, enclosed the pot in a polythene bag and sat it on my computer box for a little bottom heat.  This is my first sowing of the year. I have not been enthusiastic this year about seeds and sowing but I have nothing to lose with this as the seeds are here and its either sow them or throw them. I think it will be the same story with most of my seeds as I have only bought parsnip seeds for the allotment this year as these are well known for not staying viable over time. The allotment is now Robs domain any way as I will probably concentrate on the house, the garden and the chickens. Update 18th February – One seedling through at 8 days.

 

Herbs and Spices 1 – Star Anise – Illicium Verum

I have never used herbs and spices in my cooking and indeed admit to very little knowledge of them apart from the Sage and Onion, Mint Sauce, Salt and Pepper etcetera that are in every British kitchen cupboard. I have recently taken an interest and want to expand my use of them in my cooking. I have decided therefore to do a small series of posts as I think I learn and remember better when I write things down. Today I have made a rice pudding and to add a little spice have floated a star anise on top. It must be discarded before serving.

Number One – Star Anise

Star anise is a seed pod shaped like an eight-pointed star and contains seeds with an aniseed flavour which comes from the spice’s essential oil.  It is used widely in Chinese cooking and is one of the five spices in Chinese five-spice powder. Star Anise has been made in to a tea and taken as a remedy for rheumatism. The seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion.  Like anise, star anise is an anti-flatulent and can be used as a diuretic.  The taste imparted is aniseed or liquorice and can be used when poaching fruit. By itself whole star anise is frequently used to sweeten soups and meat stews in other types of cuisines. One or two pieces are usually enough to flavor a large bowl as the taste can be overpowering. If you plan to use it as a spice rub, powdered or ground star anise is more practical. The spice is also commonly used in breads, pastries and other types of desserts because of its particular sweetness. Pudding, strudels and custards are some of the preparations where star anise can be used to add a unique flavor. Spice up a rice pudding by adding a couple of stars to a simmering pot and discarding before serving.

Star Anise provides us with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and Phosphorous. It also provides moderate amounts of various B-complex vitamins. This versatile spice also helps ease digestion.

Illiciums first evolved in the Cretaceous period around 100 million years ago while dinosaurs still roamed the earth. They are a group of around 30 species of small trees and shrubs from North America, the Caribbean and Asia. Illiciums may not be instantly recognisable by their botanical name but will be recognised as the spice Star Anise which  is the seed pod of Illicium verum. The spice commonly called Star Anise or Badiam that closely resembles aniseed in flavor is obtained from the star-shaped seed pod of the fruit of Illicium verum which are harvested just before ripening. Star anise oil is a highly fragrant oil used in cooking, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams. 

 

 

Aicok Juicer

I have recently treated myself to a juicer. Initially it was to use up all the frozen berries that had accumulated in the freezer because I hadn’t been making jam. However, I am now very keen to try to consume a daily smoothie having read about the health benefits. Apparently its not just fruit that can be used up by juicing but vegetables too. My Aicok Juicer is small and was relatively cheap and is the centrifugal type.

There are two main types of juicer, centrifugal, the most popular and the cheapest and masticating cold press or slow juicers.  Centrifugal machines shred ingredients with their toothed blades on the bottom of a spinning sieve with a force that separates the juice from the pulp. They often have two speeds for hard or soft fruits and veg while pricier ones sometimes enable you to juice particularly soft fruits like berries. Centrifugal juicers generally tend to be smaller than masticating ones and work quickly. Some don’t even require you to chop fruit and veg up first. Masticating or cold press machines crush fruit and veg using slowly rotating augers that press out the juice through a punctured screen. There’s little they can’t juice but be warned, they are slower and often trickier to clean.

The next step is to discover which fruit and vegetables mix well together and which ones taste good. It seems obvious to me that any fruit and veg are healthy but not all go well together. The first experiment was made from what was available in the kitchen on that day. I had two bananas, half a pineapple and a few grapes plus a couple of scoops of Greek yoghurt and a good spoon of honey. This first try taught me something. I put everything that I was using in together through the little funnel to be juiced. Wrong!!! I should have just juiced the fruit and then added the yoghurt and honey to the smoothie afterwards. Made perfect sense after the event. I have since made juice with some frozen red currants, blackberries and raspberries that have been sitting in the freezer since last Autumn. I think I am going to love my new gadget. A few days on and although I have enjoyed quite a few smoothie drinks I am dismayed at the pulp waste which gathers in the bottom of the machine. I have given some to the chickens and composted some but am still shocked at the amount of waste created. I think citrus fruit in particular is still best done by hand in the old fashioned squeezer.

 

 

Echinacea Mixed – Cone Flower

Echinacea is a genus, or group of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. The Echinacea genus has nine species, which are commonly called coneflowers. They are found only in eastern and central North America, where they are found growing in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word meaning hedgehog, due to the spiny central disk. These flowering plants and their parts have different uses. Some species are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers. Echinacea purpurea is used in folk medicine. We already have a few roots of Cone Flower in the garden and Laura bought three more roots of mixed colours today. These flowers can grow quite tall and so are better placed at the back of the border.

 

Geranium Pratense Striatum Splish Splash

Geranium Pratense Striatum Splish Splash is an unusual sport of the native meadow cranesbill. The white flowers are randomly splashed and spotted with violet. No two flowers are ever the same. Some petals can be completely blue but overall the effect is usually paler rather than darker. Earlier flowers tend to be paler . Makes a sturdy upright  plant providing interest and colour in early summer. Equally at home in the border or wild garden. Laura bought a root of this interesting variety from Wilkos for £2. They are ready for planting out now and should flower from June until September. This plant is best placed at the front or middle of the border as it spreads and can grow up to a foot tall.Once established it is a hardy plant and needs to be kept tidy.