Don’t get ahead of yourself

Spring is getting very close indeed and the urge to get out in the garden and “do something” is growing. But I need a bit of restraint as weather in these parts is quite variable just now.

So today I restricted myself to two urgent tasks, transplanting a rhubarb corm for a friend and tieing up the broad beans.

As you can see the rhubarb was rather bigger than I originally thought.

So into a larger container it went, along with some interference from the girls who wanted to pick the good bits out of the compost first.

With a little ‘help’ from my friends.

I left it a bit late to do this job so I hope the plant survives.

Thankfully the broad beans were a bit easier to manage, particularly after I put the chooks away. The plants are growing away nicely and we can expect a big growth spurt once the warm weather really arrives.

Broad beans at the end of winter.

In went the poles and out came three t-shirts worth of ‘rope. I can’t remember just how long we’ve been using this to tie up the broad beans but it’s been a few years now. As you can probably see there is no real rhyme or reason to my tieing pattern. Just keep winding until it runs out.

A crazy cat’s cradle for the broad beans!

Oh and I did manage a bit of weeding while I was there. Enough to keep the chooks happy at least.

Three of the four chooks, the other one was trying to jump up and eat my camera.
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Production line

Today we have been spending some time doing prep work for making doubangjiang, or chilli bean paste. My partner does the fun work and I get to help with peeling the skin from dried broadbeans and here, scraping the membrane and seeds out of the chillies.

After de-seeding, the chillies are left to soak in a salty water brine for several days before the prepared broadbeans are added.

Having made this style of chilli bean paste in previous years, my partner is going ‘off piste’ this year with his own version of the recipe.

If you would like to try it yourself, here is a recipe. The pictures will guide you through the process.

Pick for productivity!

This morning’s harvest of Alderman peas, front; and broad beans, at the back.

A quick reminder to all of us that picking the pods from our peas and beans on a regular basis encourages more flowering and more productivity.

If you don’t need to eat them straight away then pod, blanch and freeze your produce as you go. Smaller amounts are handy for one or two serves and you will be relieved that you didn’t need to spend all day processing those kilos of beans!

Broad Bean rules

It’s undeniable, but some people on this planet of ours do not like Broad Beans! Hard to believe, I know.

But if you’ve only ever been served these beans in their nasty thick overcoats, then that’s hardly surprising.

This is NOT how to serve broad beans! These need second peeling

So getting a bit ahead of myself, Rule#1 is always double peel your broad beans! That means take the beans out of their pods then blanch the beans in boiling  water 1-2 minutes (if you’re not sure of this technique I suggest you ‘google’ it). Then take the beans out of the boiling water, using a slotted  spoon, let the beans cool enough so you can handle them and  then squeeze the inner bean out from their outer leathery pod. This is the result.

Broad beans, shiny and ready to go

You could just toss these in a bit of butter or oil and dress with salt and pepper and serve them as a side dish to just about anything . Another option is to saute them with some pancetta or bacon, cut into small pieces and swirl them through some pasta!

OK getting pretty excited here so I will just back track to some other thoughts.

Rule #2 don’t plant too many plants (guilty). Those large seeds encourage over planting. This year I planted out about 10 plants, some of which got dug up by an escaped chicken. But really that’s enough for two people unless you are a vegetarian,  in which case I’d say go your hardest as broad beans are great croppers for the ‘hungry gap’ and you can certainly store and use them frozen or dried all year round.

Rule # 3 pick early, pick often! I don’t completely agree with people who say you can eat the smallest broad bean pods just boiled, but picking when pods are smaller will allow you to get beans that blanch and shell more readily. Also regular picking encourages more flowers and therefore more beans.

Stoage options are to freeze the double peeled beans (you will be grateful you made the extra effort up front when you pull them from the freezer ready to go). Drying is the other main option just ignore all those pods, leave them on the plants and harvest them when the plants die back. Beans in this form are great for making earthy dips like ‘ful‘.

So, broad beans, not so scary after all. Enjoy!

Random harvests

There is never a ‘right time’ to leave your garden over summer. We had taken two weeks off early in December to catch up with family and returned home to a garden that appeared definitely the worse for wear.

Because of the valiant efforts of friends and neighbours we still had something to return to. But several short very hot days had blasted  any lingering traces of November’s rains away.

The first task I chose was to start tidying up the yard. Those chick peas that I planted way too late last summer needed picking. You know what, they actually produced a crop. A whopping 23 seeds, each of which was a quarter of the size of your average bought chick pea.

chick peas
A massive chick pea harvest – not

Then there were the raspberries.They were set to be the largest crop we had ever harvested. Of course they would reach perfect ripeness the week after we went away. By the time we came back they were totally dessicated on their canes. I did not want to lose all that crop and cursed that there was no way to have picked them earlier. Then I looked at them again and realised that they had just been naturally super-dried. I tasted one, and another, they still retained that intense raspberry flavour.

raspberries
One bowl of very dried raspberries

I  picked the berries over and removed them from their stems. Thankfully this is as easy as releasing the moist ripe berries from the canes. A quick toss in a metal mesh sieve removed the remaining dry bits and the few pieces of left-behind stem. We plan to pulse them in the spice grinder and use them as a base to make raspberry ice-cream.

Next task will be harvesting the broad beans (fava beans). Most have dried in their pods and I think I’ll hang the remaining stems up to dry as well. At least we managed to harvest several bags of young beans earlier in the season and they are tucked away in the freezer.

Sadly the snails and slaters (wood lice) have once again decimated my new beans. I think I’ve planted at least 6 well-grown seedlings and a further 9 seeds after all but one plant got ring-barked at its base. I think I’ll try more seeds, but this time inter-plant them with my Golden bantam corn. The corn is in a slightly drier part of the garden. I can only hope that the new plants will have a better chance there.

On a more positive note some of our garden visitors have been enjoying themselves as we try and give our garden some much needed water. Here young magpies are playing in the front garden. I’m pleased that I decided to leave the white paper daisies to spread across the newly planted garden while the tube stock plants are still small.

magpies2
Everyone enjoys playing under the spinkler on a hot day!