Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

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New Herb Collection – Tregothnan Botanical Gardens, Truro Cornwall

I have received a package of herbs from Smartplantapp.com that was sourced from www.tregothnan.co.uk who apparently are the only tea growers in Cornwall. They have been established since 1999 and boast Europe’s Largest Tea Garden.

My package was a selection of herbs that Tregothnan grow both for sale in their gardens and for use in their tea infusions which they sold at the best hotels and stores before the Pandemic arrived.

Tregothnan Botanical Gardens

Tregothnan means The house at the head of the valley and from the look of this photo they aren’t exaggerating. It looks beautiful.

Tregothnan

Everything we do here at Tregothnan brings us back to the magnificent botanical garden. It provides us with produce and inspiration; our range of English estate teas and herbal infusions are grown here, our Manuka and wildflower honeys are produced here, our seasonal British flowers and foliages are sourced here. The gardens, both in Cornwall and in Kent, are the beating heart of the estate and we are constantly inspired by their fecundity and resilience.

Manuka Flowers

Tregothnan is the only place outside of New Zealand to grow the Manuka plant (Leptospermum scoparium), which have been recorded on the Estate since the 1880s. Tregothnan’s tea bushes (Camellia sinensis) are surrounded by Manuka plantations, in part to protect the tea from the prevailing winds due to Manuka’s thick, coarse characteristics. The Manuka bushes provide essential shelter for tea but also a delicious treat for the bees whose hives are nestled in amongst the kitchen garden.

Tregothnan also keep their own honey bees and produce and sell their own honey. Its a little expensive for me but I’m sure its delicious.

My tiny package of herbs arrived and included six young plug plants of Marjoram, Thyme x 2, Sage x 2 and Hyssop. Plus a complimentary tea bag.

I have planted them up straight away into a large blue ceramic planter that I have had by my kitchen door for many years. It was bought for me by the children one Mother’s Day and has been in the same place since then. Since Adam died it had contained Spring bulbs and Viola Sororia Freckles which have both multiplied again and again and this year the plants needed splitting and the soil refreshing . I have left a few of the viola in there and arranged the herbs around the pot. There is plenty of space for them to spread as it is a very big container.

Hyssopus officinalis Blue

Hysssop

I have never grown or cooked with this herb so a little research was needed. Apparently Hysoppus officinalis is a versatile herb. It can be planted in the border or used in the kitchen. Bees and butterflies are attracted by Hyssop’s electric blue flowers. The flowers are aromatic and long lasting and the foliage is evergreen so it could be a real bonus in the blue pot outside the kitchen door.

Although not well known Hyssop is a useful culinary herb used sparingly.  Chop and scatter young leaves onto salads, meat or oily fish dishes or use to flavour soups, stews and fruit dishes. Hyssop is said to aid the digestion of fatty or rich foods.

Hyssop also has medicinal properties. A tea made from the dried flowers infused with honey is soothing for coughs.

Origanum Vulgare Aureum

Golden Marjoram

The label says that Golden Marjoram has brilliant golden foliage and is of a low growing habit. It produces pink flowers in late summer, dies back over winter and reappears in spring. It advises cutting back old dead flowers in early spring. This woody perennial can be propagated by cuttings of non flowering shoots in mid-summer or by division in the autumn or spring.

Fresh or dried marjoram leaves are used to season soups, sauces, salads, fish, legumes and meat dishes. It is also great in marinades and may fragrance vinegars, oils and liquers. An essential oil, used by the pharmaceutical industry, is made from the foliage. Some medicines utilise marjoram in healing for respiratory and digestive system diseases. Its greens contain taurine, vitamin C and carotenes.

Salvia Oficinalis

Salvia officinalis is a perennial, evergreen subshrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae and native to the Mediterranean region, though it has naturalised in many places throughout the world.

The Latin name salvia officinalis is derived either from the Latin salvus, which means healthy, or salvare, meaning to heal. The name officinalis is derived from officina, which stands for the traditional storeroom in an apothecary where the herb was kept. It also refers to the fact that the herb is officially used as a medicinal plant.

During a major outbreak of plague in 1630, faith in the healing effects of sage was so strong that thieves in Toulouse rubbed a sage/herb/vinegar mix into their skin to protect themselves against infection before going out into the night to rob cadavers. When caught, they were told that their lives would be spared if they revealed the secret of how they inoculated themselves. Ricola.

My two Sages are a little different to the common sage. Sage Tangerine is described as a semi-hardy sage with bright green foliage and a strong citrus aroma. Sage Icterina Gold is described as a perennial with gold and green variegated leaves on a rough but keenly scented upright foliage.

Sage Tangerine

Salvia elegans, commonly called pineapple sage or tangerine sage, is a perennial shrub native to Mexico and Guatemala. It inhabits Madrean and Mesoamerican pine-oak forests. The foliage of this decorative culinary sage has a tangerine-like scent, while the summer flowers add a vibrant shot of colour to borders or pots. Both the foliage, particularly the younger leaves, and the flowers can be used to dress salads, while the leaves can be brewed for tea.

Sage has been used for centuries as a culinary herb, Tangerine Sage is grown as a tender perennial herb plant primarily for its flowers, which are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. However, the leaves and flowers can be used to flavour food and drinks. The leaves can be snipped into salads and the flowers make an attractive addition to a salad too. In addition the leaves add a herby tangerine taste to fruit drinks and cocktails or on their own make a refreshing tea.

Golden Sage

Golden Sage is a very popular herb. This variety has a milder taste in comparison with common sage . It is also a great companion with rich foods as it can aid digestion.

Golden sage can be propagated from cuttings. Many growers say Icterina does not bloom and is strictly an ornamental but the plant produces purple flowers in late spring. Seeds can be unreliable so growing golden sage through spring cuttings is a quick and easy way to make more of these lovely little shrubs. Root cuttings in sterile potting soil and keep evenly moist. To enhance rooting, provide heat and humidity by placing a bag or clear cover over the plant. Remove the cover once per day to release excess moisture and prevent root rot.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Golden Sage Care: How To Grow A Golden Sage Plant https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/sage/grow-golden-sage-plant.htm

Thymus Vulgaris

Thymus vulgaris is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to southern Europe from the western Mediterranean to southern Italy. Wikipedia

Thyme is thought to have the powerful ability to kill off bacteria and viruses and should be taken at first signs of a cold or illness. Thyme does contains antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial, carminative, diaphoretic and expectorant properties which supports healing throughout the entire body. A very useful herb to have in the garden.

The two tiny starter plants of Thyme in my package are Thymus Vulgaris, common thyme, and Thyme Coccineus.

Thyme Coccineus, the second variety is a creeping woody based perennial.

Thymus praecox Coccineus or Creeping Thyme with a degree of spicy fragrance. This flat-growing Thyme features fragrant dark green leaves, smothered by bright magenta-red flowers in early summer. A strong grower, ideal as a drought-tolerant lawn substitute or for planting between slabs. Creeping Thyme is easily divided in spring or early autumn and even small pieces will take root and grow. It is evergreen and attractive to butterflies.
Thyne Coccineus

Swiss Chard White Silver

Swiss Chard White Silver

I have sown seeds of white swiss chard today, May 1st, as I came across them whilst looking for herbs. Swiss Chard is a favourite of mine that we grew every year at the allotment. It is a very giving plant and needs very little maintenance once established. It is a member of the beet family. When we visited the allotment after being away for a whole year the chard was still there looking as healthy and inviting as ever. Day 7 and a few green shoots have appeared in the Chard pot. Potted on today 24th of May.

The variety of chard that I had seeds of is White Silver which has wide white stems. The early leaves can be used in salads. Later, use the tops as you would use spinach. Treated as a separate vegetable the stems can be sliced and cooked in boiling water and eaten with butter, salt and pepper – simple, tender and tasty.

I prefer to chop the whole stem and leaf and toss it in the pan with a little oil and lemon juice. Put the sliced stem in first and cook a little before adding the leaf as it takes a little longer to soften whereas the leaf wilts very quickly. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Perfect beside fish or steak.

Swiss Chard White Silver

White Silver is a classic Swiss Chard with thick white stems and glossy, rich green leaves. With an RHS Award of Garden Merit, this robust leaf beet is a versatile addition to the vegetable plot or even the flower border. Baby leaves can be used in salads while the juicy, mature stems can be chopped and steamed, or used to add a sweet crunch to stir-fries. Mature leaves can be used as a delicious spinach substitute. Sow Swiss Chard ‘White Silver’ up until August for cropping into the New Year. Thompson&Morgan.

Swiss Chard

Finally, Swiss Chard is very good for you being naturally low in calories and carbohydrates but very high in Vitamins K, A and C. A diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits has been shown to lower heart disease risk factors, Swiss chard is an excellent source of potassium, calcium and magnesium, minerals that help maintain healthy blood pressure. There is also current research that indicates that these leafy greens can actually lower LDL cholesterol.

Herbs – Parsley, Sage and Thyme

Inspired by Gardeners World I have sown a pot of mixed herbs. Just one large pot. The lady on TV had plenty of ready grown herbs and was potting them up into a large container. Expensive, instant herb garden. I only had a ten-inch pot and a few old seed packets plus a new bag of multi-purpose compost. I have searched through my seedbox and I don’t have any Rosemary seeds to make up the foursome.

The seeds are sown and now on the window ledge. I have watered them and enclosed the pot in a polythene bag to preserve the moisture. I estimate that germination should take place between two and four weeks.

Sage Broad Leaved

The perennial broad leaved variety of Sage that I have sown takes a little longer to germinate. I have grown this variety before at the allotment and as I remember it formed a beautiful shrubby bush with downy grey-green leaves and purple flowers. The taste is strong and distinctive and the aroma is wonderful. I will be happy if I manage to get one bush for the garden as the seeds are quite old.

The leaves of this herb are usually mixed with onion and breadcrumbs to make a delicious stuffing for pork or chicken. However, its unique taste and aroma enhance the flavour of many dishes.

Sage

Only seven days have passed and already many green shoots have appeared.

Parsley Italian Giant

Parsley comes in two main types, flat leaved and curly leaved. The seeds I had are of a flat-leaved variety and are the ones I prefer to use in cooking. The variety that I have sown is Italian Giant. This parsley has a distinctive flavour and is good with fish, salads and soups. It is easy to grow indoors or outdoors, as it is very hardy with good frost resistance.

Flat Parsley

Thyme English Winter

The variety of Thyme I have sown is English Winter. Thymus Vulgaris is a hardy evergreen perennial with dark green leaves that are followed by clusters of small pink flowers. This herb hails from the Mediterranean and can be picked all year round. The active ingredient in the leaves is Thymol which lends the herb its strong flavour and antiseptic properties. Thyme is used in cooking to flavour meat and stews. It is the classic herb used in bouquet garni and enhances the taste of most meats.

Thyme

In addition to livening up the flavour of food, the thyme plant is also the source of thyme essential oil. Thyme oil has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. It is commonly used as a preservative in foods, cosmetics, and toiletries.

Cherries – Growing and Cooking

I understand that cherries are a good source of vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, vitamin A and folic acid. They are also well known for their antioxidant properties. I think the birds who visit our garden are also aware of this as they seem to know the minute that the cherries are ready to harvest. I have two trees, a Stella and a Sweetheart, however they are both now too tall to net so we agree that I pick the lower fruit and then birds can have the higher up bounty.

Sweetheart is a popular, self-fertile sweet cherry and the large fruit have a good flavour. Beautiful white blossom in spring is followed by large, sweet dark red cherries (darker than Stella). This is a late-cropping variety, so useful for extending the season. The fruits ripen over a few weeks so you don’t get a glut all at once and you can be picking well into September.

Stella is a smaller tree and is also self fertile.  It is a heavy cropper having good resistance to late frosts. Stella will thrive in most locations and can be grown in a large container. The sweetly flavoured fruit will be ready to pick from mid July.  The lovely blossom which appears from early March will brighten your garden and herald the arrival of spring.

 

We all like to eat the fruit as it comes but another family favourite is Cherry Pie.

Recipe:-

  • A guestimate of cherries, washed and pitted
  • Lemon juice
  • 4oz sugar
  • Almond essence
  • 1 block of Sainsburys Shortcrust pastry

I normally cook the pitted cherries in a little lemon juice and sugar with a dash of almond essence. Set them on one side and line a pie plate with half of the pastry. Pour in the filling and put the pastry lid on. I brush with milk and sprinkle sugar on top then bake in the middle of the oven at 180 for 20 mins.

How to pit cherries. Place the cherry on top of the mouth of an empty bottle. With a chopstick, apply pressure and push the pit into the bottle. 

 

From beautiful blossoms to delicious pie

Herbs and Spices 4 – Ginger. Hedichium Ginger Lily – Growing and Cooking 2018

Little is known about how ginger first came to be cultivated. Historians write that the plant did not exist in its current form, but was bred by humans. These days, most ginger comes from Asia. India produces the largest quantity, followed by China and Indonesia. Zingiber Officinalis is a tropical plant which grows in shaded swamps so in the UK it needs help to get started. 

Ginger is easy to propagate using a piece of fresh root ginger, the rhizome of the plant. Choose the freshest piece you can with visible eyes. They are the small yellow tips from which the shoots sprout. The roots are like a hand with fingers of rhizome that can be separated by breaking into pieces.  Place each piece in a pot of compost  with the eyes just level with the surface and water in well. Enclose the pot in a clear plastic bag and place in a sunny spot indoors at about 20C. In a few weeks you will start to notice green tips. This is best done in the Spring. Kept in a light, warm room your ginger will become a pretty houseplant and start producing harvests after six to eight months.

Ginger plants love light and warmth but they can do just as well in strong sunlight. Avoid cold, wind or drafts at all costs. The growing tips at the end of each finger of the rhizome will sprout quickly. Long, slim leaves will grow from the end and look  like sprouting grass. Potting on is essential as within eight to ten months the ginger plant will be fully grown.

  • Garden care: Plant the rhizomes into pots using a good soil based compost. The rhizome should be placed horizontally just below the surface of the soil with the small reddish coloured buds facing upwards. Water well and then grow on under glass until all risk of frost has passed. Alternatively, store the rhizomes in a cool, frost-free place until they can be planted straight out in the garden. Keep well watered during the summer but dry during winter. The rhizomes should be covered in the Autumn with a deep, dry mulch, or brought inside and kept in a frost free spot until the Spring when they can be planted outside again. (info from Crocus.com)

Ginger is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudo stems about a meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear pale yellow with purple flowers and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots. Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae to which also belong turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger originated in the tropical rainforests from the Indian subcontinent to Southern Asia where ginger plants show considerable genetic variation. As one of the first spices exported from the Orient, ginger arrived in Europe during the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Ginger root has been used medicinally in Asian, Indian and Arabic herbal traditions for thousands of years. It is still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an aid to digestion and to calm upset stomachs. Its warm, spicy aroma has been believed to awaken vitality and in many ancient cultures it was used as an aphrodisiac.

Ginger is the perfect way to spice up your cooking. The intensity of the flavour varies according to when the ginger is harvested. The older the plant, the hotter the root will taste. Young ginger roots are softer and more succulent and have a milder flavour. These young tubers can be eaten fresh or preserved in vinegar, sugary water or sherry. Young ginger is also perfectly suited for making ginger tea. Just add sugar and lemon to taste.

Fresh ginger can be used finely chopped, grated, crushed to give a ginger juice, or simply sliced. In South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, fresh ginger is frequently added to curry pastes and it is often cooked with fish dishes in China. In Europe, dried ginger is more frequently used in baking, as in the classic parkin of northern England.

Another wonderful use for ginger is Ginger Beer. I remember my mother often had some of this on the go in out little kitchen. She made it in the traditional way fermenting it with yeast but below is a cheat recipe.

Ginger Beer Cheat Recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • ½ tbsp. clear honey
  • 150g root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 1½ litres soda water

Method

  1. In a large jug, mix the juice and grated lemon zest with the honey, grated ginger and caster sugar.
  2. Pour in 150ml soda water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  3. Top up with the remaining soda water.
  4. Using a fine sieve or piece of muslin, strain the mixture into another large jug, discarding the zest and ginger pulp.
  5. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving with ice.

 

Ginger is used in many forms. Whole fresh roots, Dried roots, powdered, preserved, crystallised and pickled.

  • Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste.
  • Dried roots.
  • Powdered ginger. This is ground dried root
  • Preserved or stem ginger. Fresh young roots are peeled, sliced and cooked in heavy sugar syrup.
  • Crystallised ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, air dried and rolled in sugar.
  • Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in vinegar.

 

Ginger tea is good to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It is a diaphoretic, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration. Use it when you just want to warm up. Steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you fancy. This is great for lifting your mood. Packed with antioxidants, it has a whole range of health benefits so is the perfect Winter warmer.

 

Growing Leek Musselburgh From Seed For 2018

This morning I have sown the last of my leek seeds. They are Musselburgh bought from alanromans.com and can be relied upon for a top sweet flavour, winter hardiness and good all round performance. It is a variety with good disease resistance and an excellent flavour. This year I have gone for sowing the seeds individually in toilet roll tubes just eight at a time for staggered planting at the allotment.  The seeds should germinate in about 21 days and will be left to grow on until they are about 8″ high and pencil thick. We shall plant them out in  May leaving a gap of about 6″ between them and with rows about 1′ apart. We have grown this variety before and had varying results so fingers crossed for this year.

Tip – When planting Leeks, choose a well drained bed and apply a general fertiliser a week before. Water the bed the day before if the weather is dry. Make a 6″ hole with a dibber, drop in the leek plant whilst at the same time gently filling the hole with water to settle the roots. Do not backfill with soil at this point. Keep ground moist and earth up when the white base starts to show. NO MANURE. 

Cooking with Leeks. Leeks are part of the onion family but have a sweeter, more delicate flavor. Leeks contain good amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making the vegetable a wise addition to a healthy diet. You can cook leeks by poaching them in chicken broth, pan-frying them in a little oil, or boiling them until tender or you can include them in a variety of other recipes. I use Leeks mainly in soups, stews and casseroles but they are equally useful as a side vegetable or in a pie.

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.