This is that phase of the vegetable growing year when all the hard work seems to be done: digging over and clearing ground at the end of winter and sowing seeds in the chilly early spring are distant memories. Instead, in early July most plants are pretty much looking after themselves, just needing watering, occasional feeding and tidying up. And with harvests starting to come in, this hobby really is a joy.
Behind their leafy cover, various plants are growing strongly. I’ve a row of swede, the variety Gowrie, which are rounding out nicely. That’s visible because they push themselves up out of the ground, which is very helpful in letting you judge when they’re ready to lift.
Nearby, I’m joining the glutterati as courgettes are coming in thick and fast. Pictured is the Romanesco plant. These grow quickly and are recognisable by their stripey form. Cooked briefly they’re packed with taste and are very versatile.
Elsewhere I’ve dedicated one of the mini greenhouse tents to sweet pepper plants. I’ve about twelve on the go and changed the shelving round so that they’re on two tiers and can all receive the sunlight. Plenty of buds have turned into flowers and I’m making sure of pollination by using a small soft brush to spread the pollen round, while trying to clean the brush between varieties so as not to completely cross pollinate. Marconi Red, New Ace, Sweet Banana, Golden Calwonder and Carmagnola: they’re all similar varieties but it’s nice to try and keep them true to type.
The sweet peppers are dwarfing the chilli peppers though; the chillies have been very slow in comparison. I think at some early point their roots were too wet for too long and that can kill a chilli if you’re not careful. Still, there’s the odd Jalapeno with flowers, so there could be some fruits eventually. I do like to have fresh chillies though, so crossed the line that dare not speak its name and bought a fairly mature pre-grown Apache plant from Aldi. I only normally grow from seed but this will ensure I have some crops at least.
The garlic is growing strongly, with very tall leaves and stalks dominating their raised bed. All three varieties are hardnecks, so have produced the tell-tale scapes, which would turn into flowers if left to do their thing and take energy away from plumping up the bulbs below ground. So off they come, not to go in the bin but – today – to make garlic scape pesto.
Compared with normal pesto, the chopped up garlic scapes replace both the garlic and the basil leaves as they provide their own green bulk. So it’s just scapes, best olive oil, parmesan and, optionally, pine nuts. A blitz in the blender and it’s ready to eat.
The strength will be affected by the variety of garlic that the scapes come from. Mine came from Red Duke, Bohemian Rose and Mikulov, with Red Duke in particular renowned for a fairly ferocious flavour. Sure enough, the pesto is nice and garlicky but balanced out by the parmesan and olive oil. Today it went well as a side dip with a courgette quiche, but there’s plenty more still in the fridge for stirring into pasta during the coming week.
What better to follow dinner than a nice cup of tea. Having discovered the delights of fruit teas lately, I’d resolved to try and make my own using things growing in the garden. This being the harvest season for various fruits, I picked a few strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, sliced them up and dried them in the oven: lowest heat setting / for ooh .. ages. Can you see why I’d never make a recipe writer? Indeed it took so much oven time to get the fruit dry and leathery, regularly checking on it, that it really calls for a proper electric dehydrator that you can just put the stuff in and walk away. Some things can take 24 hours to dry in a dehydrator but at least it’s easy and is done properly. They seem very reasonably priced so I may well get one.
Anyway, equipped with some ‘make your own tea’ tea bags, I chopped up a teaspoonful of the dried fruit nice and small, pulled the string tight and steeped the bag in boiling water. I still have some stevia powder that I made ages ago and was tempted to add some as a sweetener but really wanted to taste my blueberry/raspberry/strawberry tea au naturel.
After a good five minutes I tasted it and .. delicious! It’s mild, like many of the commercial fruit and herb teas, but is sweet, refreshing and you can taste each individual fruit. That was a first trial mix. Other candidates still growing in the garden are lemon balm, grapes and figs. I quite fancy a fig and lemon balm tea next. Once the figs are ripe I’ll be pleased to harvest them and cut the tree right back as it’s starting to overgrow the shed. Still, fig leaves have a history of covering things I suppose 😉