This week’s been a scorcher across the UK and as a devoted sun worshiper I’m certainly not complaining. As well as working up a sweat keeping on top of everything in the garden things have been hotting up in the kitchen too as seasonal gluts quickly need using or preserving. There’s been a great deal of innovation in both departments so in the style of the regular feature Six on Saturday here’s a list of experiments underway this week.
1 – Dehydrating strawberries
We did it! After years promising the kids we’d grow more strawberries than they could eat, we finally managed to produce a bumper crop and stuffed overselves silly. Now of course we can’t eat any more and with the plants still cropping heavily it’s time to start preserving the fruit, but the question is how? Jams and jellies are all very well in modest quantities but making them uses as much sugar as fruit and when you grow the amount we do that’s a huge dose of tooth-rotting calories to get a decent hit of vitamin C in the winter. So this year I have been experimenting with dehydrating, a way to harness and intensify natural sugars and preserve the fruit. Strawberries were the test batch but once perfected the technique can been used on any combination of fruit as we harvest it. Pictured below are strawberry roll ups. Just unravell and enjoy.
Soaring temperatures this week had us all gasping for a cool drink so what better experiment to have underway than using fresh garden herbs to make a refreshing drink.
I started off freezing the delicate blue flowers of the borage plant in an ice cube tray filled with water. The result was not only incredibly pretty but flavoured your drink with a subtle cucumber flavour. After that there was no stopping and so far I’ve tried mini slices of lemon and fresh garden mint and the variegated leaves of lemon balm. The possibilities are endless.
3- Propagating thyme and sage
Experimentation with herbs continued with some rookie attempts at propagation. We recently moved our entire herb bed, lifting the plants with as much root as possible and plonking them into place in their new home. In case these plants did not survive the move I tried rooting a few cuttings of sage and thyme in pots. Not only do they seem to be thriving but a cutting of sage simply left in a glass jam jar of water also produced vigorous roots.
Masses of tiny basil seedlings are doing well in the greenhouse but impatient for the summery taste of a good homemade pesto I tried propagating basil from a supermarket bought plant. The results were surprisingly good, freeing the shop bought herb from the confines of its tiny pot and lavishing it with basil friendly TLC produced five strong plants.
5- Companion planting
I have been involved in another experiment using strawberries, although so far this one has been less successful. The University of Sussex have asked gardeners to grow bee-friendly borage next to a strawberry plant to investigate whether this improves pollination and results in bigger yields compared to a control test plant grown in the same garden but away from all flowers. The experiment got off to a bad start in my garden as the ‘Albion’ strawberry plants sent out for the trial were lost in the post and although a second delivery was quickly dispatched the plants were late in the ground and slow to get started. According to instructions I pulled off any flowers which appeared before the borage but unfortunately now that the herb is in bloom there are no flowers left on the poor mistreated strawberry and none look likely. Leaving the test aside and looking at my own plants I can see that borage which has self-seeded from previous years is not flowering yet while my own strawberry plants are fruiting, so I suspect timing could be a problem with this pair.
6- Liquid feed
With 25 hungry tomato plants in the greenhouse, additional peppers and a thriving pumpkin patch in the garden I thought I had better start experimenting with homemade liquid fertiliser this year. The bees were enjoying the comfrey flowers so much I had to wait for them to have their fill before I was able to chop the plants up with nettles and soak in a large bucket. The stinking mix has been marinating for weeks now and should provide a balanced nutrient rich feed for my plants.
I’ve also tried turning chicken manure into fertiliser. The resulting mix is even more revolting smelling than the comfrey and nettle mix, if that is possible. It will be interesting to see if the different mixes produce different results.
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All the best,
Mum in the Woods