I gave this a go recently out of sheer desperation. We had a big hole in our garden ready for autumn/winter planting and an inspection looming just a few days away. With nothing left in the garden centres we were racking our brains how best to quickly fill up the mini plot to make sure it looked like we weren’t just needlessly making a big hole in the garden. As it turned out, they didn’t even look at what we’d done to the garden, but at least it gave us a solid push to get our stuff sorted for the year!
I was trawling through the supermarket and there it was… a pack of lettuce. But not a cellophane wrapped cut lettuce head or ready to eat bag mix, it was those “still growing” fresh varieties that are all the rage right now with force grown lettuce jam packed into a small container of thin soil that last just a few days longer than normal if you get them home to sun and water quickly.
Not this one but something just like this (from the mysupermarket website):
The lettuce is tiny and delicate – and that’s good if you’re into that but it you want something substantial you should think about replanting it. Yep, turns out that this little tray of lettuce has so many seedlings in it, a third of this small tray produced two packed rows of lettuce on my mini plot. They toughened up in no time with a temporary poundland polytunnel which lasted just long enough to prepare them for their new outdoor life (about a week – not worth the pound).
This is the little beauties a week later after I removed the destroyed polytunnel.
Not only did they survive, but they have grown very well, given a new lease of life they took to the new average soil very well no doubt starved of nutrients long ago in their little tray and have become good sized plants. I am now just a few weeks later cutting leaves off for my salads without much thought. The leaves are still also relatively delicate and they aren’t tasteless, tough abominations.
Considering this tray of lettuce cost me £1 (from the reduced section) and I easily have more than 10 lettuces out of a third of the tray I’d call that excellent value for money and a great fast turnaround for the vacant autumn plot. I’m definitely recommending this trick for anyone in need of fast lettuce or looking to get some lettuce seedlings out of garden centre season.
It’s the beginning of tomato season.. and only one or two tomatoes are ripe while the rest wait patiently to ripen in little clusters of reasonable quantity.
The very first tomato that ripens you will probably eat and comment on how amazingly sweet your tomatoes are compared to the shop standard. But what could you do with the small clumps afterwards? They aren’t enough to make a meal just yet so you’d be forgiven for keeping some shop tomatoes in the fridge still.
Well this year I’ve decided to dry a few in my dehydrator. It’s sunny, so for fear of flies I didn’t want to leave them out in he sun – but if you have good weather and appropriate netted racks this would be ideal. You can also choose to pop them in the oven on a low heat.. say around 50 degrees c and this will do the same job as your dehydrator.
Cut the tomatoes at least once to expose the gooey centres and line them up on baking paper. It helps if they are all roughly the same size as this provides an even drying process.
Make sure they are thoroughly dry throughout to prevent spoiling later on. When completely dry, you can store them in jars and keep adding more as and when they ripen.
These dried tomatoes are full of flavour and make great additions to soups, risotto/paella, tapas, sauces and more. You can use them up now, or wait until tomato season is over to get a bit of extra seasonal milage out of them.
Do you have a thriving tomato plant in your home, garden, polytunnel or conservatory? Great! Then by now you are no doubt getting handfuls of tomatoes from it and looking at more unique ways of serving them up. This is a fantastic way of preserving the tomatoes and gaining a tasty sauce you don’t need to feel bad about adding to your dishes. This sauce keeps for up to 12 months sealed and 6 weeks once opened (if stored in the fridge when open). It tastes great too!
1 large onion
2 tsp ground black peppercorns
2 tsp coriander
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons ginger (ground or juiced according to taste)
dash of chilli according to personal preference
600ml white wine vinegar
250g white sugar
1 tsp salt
Roughly chop the tomatoes and onion, and place in a large pan with all the spices. Add the vinegar and bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add the sugar and stir until dissolved then bring to the boil. Once boiling point is reached reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.
When the sauce is thick and pulpy blend or sieve the mixture according to your preference and store in an appropriate rubber sealed bottle.
While this is a picture of Yarrow on my allotment, I can assure you this plant grows everywhere and you are as likely to come across it as you are to find docks or dandelions. Often hidden in short grass the plant Yarrow can appear to be horizontal for most of the year only revealing itself by a few well trodden on curls of leaves in parks and pathway grass. However, at this time of year it also starts to grow upwards as it attempts to throw out some flowers and it can get very tall in the right location.
The leaves and flowers of Yarrow are used in salads and yarrow oil is also used in shampoo. Some people chew on yarrow to relieve toothache. In the garden it makes an excellent compost activator. Medicinal uses include easing the symptoms of fever, colds, gastrointestinal issues including IBS symptoms and to induce sweating.
WARNING: Do not consume excessive amounts, may contain thujone, cause drowsiness and increase urination. For some people, it can also cause a skin irritation.
WARNING: Not to be confused with Foxglove and Comfrey.
Foxglove – feel the leaves, are they soft and fur like? If so then you probably found foxglove before it flowered which is poisonous.
Comfrey – Flowers are purple instead of blue. Comfrey is the perrenial version of borage which is annual.
Borage works much like Comfrey in the compost bin as a brilliant plant stimulant for leafy growth. However, it is also considered an edible herb with tasty crisp leaves (if a bit furry). Some report they taste liek cucumber but I am less convinced. The flowers are also edible and as such make a brilliant garnish and addition to salad mixes.
Collected leaves and flowers from the borage plants on my allotment. Many garden shops now sell borage seeds to grow yourself and they excellent plants for attracting bees.
Borage leaves and flowers used to boost the contents and appearance of Elderflower cordial. I found that in this mixture the leaves slowly turn neon pink from the tips inward creating a pleasing and pretty drink garnish.