Experiments in the Kitchen Garden

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.

Strawberries

2- Ice

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.

ice

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.

thyme and sage

4- Basil

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.

IMG_8734

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.

Enjoyed this post? Keen gardeners from all over the world post weekly updates on The Propagator website, you will find links in the comments at the end.

Thanks for stopping by here and remember if you enjoyed this post and don’t want to miss another you can follow my blog to get an update when I post new content.

All the best,

Mum in the Woods

24 thoughts on “Experiments in the Kitchen Garden

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  1. I love the borage flowers in ice, what a great idea, and so pretty. Also, that ‘soup’ looks foul, but I bet it’s terrific on the garden. Can’t imagine having a glut of strawberries!

  2. All looks lovely and yummy until I reached the comfrey and chicken manure 😦
    Love fruit rolls, I used to buy them often when I lived in South Africa, not sure if you can buy them here, but making your own is an excellent idea. Unfortunately I only collect a handful of strawberries a day and the slugs appear to enjoy them too!

      1. Nothing quite like that freshly picked, still warm from the sun, sweet taste. I enjoy about 6 every morning on my garden check 🙂

  3. Great six. And the strawberry rollups look superb. Please do write a detailed post, if you can. For how many weeks do you let your nettle tea brew? I just started a batch yesterday and was thinking of letting it go for two weeks. Is that not enough?

    1. Just to let you know that in my WordPress reader when I click on your name your blog doesn’t come up. You tweeted a SOS on twitter but no link to your blog on your profile so unless you spotted tweet its lost. Just to let you know, trying to help out a fellow blogger.

  4. I have a dehydrator and dehydrated strawberries are really tasty (what raspberries are not) I tried roll ups like you without success.( Just find the right mix and know the right drying time). About ice cubes, I did it with red currants. With flowers, it’s nice too!

    1. Hi Fred, we can’t run a dehydrator here because we are off grid and electricity from the generator is limited. Dehydrators use about 360watts power for 12 hours – the equivalent of a disco rave here in the woods! So I use the Aga and it’s trial and error with mixes and length of time in the oven. I’m hoping to write another post just on roll ups with recipes, maybe you can give it another go. I like the red currant ices idea, will try that next time as we have loads.

  5. So pleased to read you plan to do a post on your strawberry rollups. They look delish! The whole six has been a very interesting read today thank you 😊.

  6. I love the experiments here. Strawberry roll-ups sound lovely! Interesting re: borage. I wonder how close they need to be? I have borage about 10m from strawberries.

    1. The university of Sussex asked us to set up the experiment with the ‘test’ strawberry plant next-to the borage and the ‘control’ a minimum of 3m away – which leads me to conclude that 10 m is too far away as the ‘control’ in the experiment should not be affected by the borage.

  7. Love the borage and strawberry idea…may have to try that. I have borage all over the Old House garden that self seeds itself. I always leave some as the bees love it. I’m going to try some of the flowers in ice as that looks so pretty!

  8. I’m another one waiting for the roll up instructions. Your trial & error will hopefully help the rest of us w/success success & more success. As yourself, I plant the grocery store herb plants but unlike your good self, it never occurred to me to separate them. Sometimes the most obvious thing . . . anyway, your basil looks great. May have to get some, next shop. Great experimental six!

    1. Ah Lora I wish that were true but the main lesson I’ve learned from my roll up experiments is that you do need to trial and error yourself, it seems you can’t even just follow a good recipe because it all depends on what type of oven you have, how juicy your fruit is, what combinations you have to hand etc etc. Some people use commercial dehydrators but we can’t run one off-grid so my experiments were even more experimental because I was using an Aga which has no temperature control – just a coal fire burning inside. Will certainly blog a lessons learned post to help you on your way. And as for your basil, yes well, at least now your supermarket convicts can now properly stretch out!

  9. I imagine that the stinkier it is the more potent ans effective the fertiliser. Im thinking of getting a couple of comfrey bocking plants. Just have to find space.for them. I’ll probably just put the leaves on the compost heap, avoid the stinky part.

    1. Have just seen your comment here, apologies for delay in responding. My comfrey mix stinks to high heaven with a pong that lingers on your skin for days so I should be reporting tomatoes the size of caravans in my next six 🙂

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