Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is It Me, Or Are Winters Colder Than They Used to Be?

At the moment we are knee deep in snow. Very picturesque, but darned cold! My recollection of winters past is that snow was a bit of a rarity, but now we seem to get it every year. What's more, this lot started at the end of November. Let me repeat that - AT THE END OF NOVEMBER!! That is just not supposed to happen. January, yes. February, perhaps. But not November.

Predictably everything has ground to a halt. So today I have had to work from home as my youngest son who attends a special school 35 miles away has had to stay at home, which he thinks is great. Here in the Lincolnshire Fens though there are no hills to slide down which is a major disadvantage.

The chickens are not impressed - they have just stuck their heads out of the house and decided to stay inside. The goats look rather bewildered by it all and just stand in the snow bleating rather pathetically. The geese find walking in the snow rather hard work, having to rest frequently as they sink into the snow with every step.

I am hoping that it won't last too much longer, but it just keeps coming and there is no sign of a thaw. So, is this going to be the pattern for winter now with prolonged (for the UK that is) periods of snow causing chaos? I suppose for many people around the world this is the norm. But I don't like it!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Am I So Rubbish At Growing Peppers?

These are the last of my peppers that I picked a week ago after finally accepting that they just are not going to get any bigger and are not going to ripen. I checked the packet again and the picture shows gorgeous looking large red and shiny peppers. Instead, mine are rather small and have stayed stubbornly green.

I have tried growing peppers most seasons and each year the results are the same, but I live in hope that one year I will get the type of peppers that I am looking for. I have tried various varieties, but that does not seem to make much difference. I have wondered if this year I have planted them in too small a pot, and I guess this would make a difference to the size. But this does not explain why they refuse to ripen. All that I can think of is that my greenhouse is not warm enough in late summer and does not receive enough sun.

Apart from these possibilities I don't really know what I am doing wrong.

Another similar crop I am particularly rubbish at growing is aubergines. Again, I tend to find that the crop is rather on the small side. With the last batch I grew the first one tasted great, but all the others tasted absolutely foul!! As a result I have decided not to bother growing them for the time being.

Any suggestions for either peppers or aubergines gratefully received. Do you have any experience of growing these that you would like to share?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Curious Case of the Butternut Pumpkins

Back in Spring, in that time of frantic seed sowing when the weather was distinctly warmer than it is now, I sowed some courgettes, some pumpkins and some butternut squash. I have never grown butternut squash before so I was looking forward to see how they would get on. I planted them all in a new plot that I had created next to my main vegetable plot. The courgettes in particular were hampered by being scratched up by the chickens, but with a little protection the plants seemed to thrive.

However, after a while I realised that planting them all together was a mistake as the plants grew through each other and I couldn't actually remember which was which. After a while though the various squash began to grow and I looked forward to harvesting them in the Autumn.

When Summer slowly drew to a close, I was a little perturbed that my squash did not really look much like pumpkins. Nor did they look much like butternut squash. Nevertheless, I just convinced myself that as they ripened they would look more like how they were supposed to. However, when I came to harvesting them last week I found that they had become these curious beasts:

These are clearly neither pumpkins or butternut squash. I checked the seed packets again and I had definitely sown what I thought I had so that wasn't the problem. After a couple of days pondering what had happened. Suddenly, it dawned on me that they had cross-pollinated!! It seems that I have inadvertently created a new type of squash. I have christened it a "butternut pumpkin". I used one of them last night in soup - I used a standard pumpkin soup recipe and it tastes pretty similar except with a slightly milder taste. I'm not sure what I will do with the rest - after all, in the recipe books do I look under "pumpkin" or "butternut squash"!?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Using Up the Last of the Green Tomatoes

As it is getting colder now and it has to be said that my greenhouse (held together by bits of clear polythene) is not exactly well insulated, I came to the conclusion last week that my remaining green tomatoes were just not going to ripen. So I decided to pick them and find some sort of use for them. After a bit of research I decided that my options were:

1. Put in a drawer with an overripe banana. Apparently the banana emits a gas which encourages the tomatoes to ripen (which is why it is best not to keep bananas in your fruit bowl). However, I always worry that you will end up with tomatoes that taste of banana - not a nice thought!

2. Make some fried green tomatoes. However, I decided that mine were too small.

3. Make some green tomato chutney.

I decided to make some chutney and followed this green tomato chutney recipe which I won't reproduce here as that does not feel very fair. Many of the recipes that I found included cooking apples which as mine have already been cooked up and frozen was not very practical. However, this one doesn't and is very straightforward. What I had not anticipated was just how long it would take to reduce down to the right consistency - over two hours in all! This was the result:

As you can see, not exactly an impressive amount, just one and a bit jars! However, it does taste very good. I am told that it is not a good idea to use metal lids on jars when you make chutney as if it comes into contact with the metal it makes it go off. Something to do with the acidity of the vinegar I think. So in the absence of another alternative I put some greaseproof paper under the lids.

This was first truly successful attempt at making chutney, so I look forward to experimenting with more.