June in the Backyard Vegetable Garden

 

June has arrived and with it the beginning of winter proper.  This is the month of the winter solstice, mid-winter Christmas and snuggling indoors by the fire dreaming of Spring.  There will of course still be lovely days where if the southerly is not blowing then the air will be warm and the true gardener in us all can’t help herself – she or he will have to get outside to see what’s going on. And there’s always something going on.

Traditionally of course it is garlic planting time. You can use some of your best and biggest corms from the last season, buy some in from specialist seed growers or from our local garden centres.   Garlic is one of those must-haves in the garden. It doesn’t ask for much space but it will take up to 6 months to grow, so allow for that when thinking about where to plant. It needs the chilling of winter to get the bulbs forming.  Prepare your beds as soon as you can buy removing any weeds and digging in manure and compost.  You don’t have to plant straightaway but get the bed ready now.  When  you are ready, mark out the rows and plant pointy end up about 5 cms deep and about 10 cms spacing. Mark your row and mulch. Make sure you can how easily down the rows for ongoing weed management.

How much to grow? Well if you think your family can use a bulb a week, then plant at least 52 – one for each week of the year.  Then add a few more to give away and as seed stock for the next year.  Garlic can be expensive to buy and a lot of what we have in our shops is imported. Growing your own ensures supply and ensures you know what has gone into it so you can avoid potentially dangerous sprays.

If you haven’t done so already, turn your attention to perennials such as rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries.  My rhubarb must have felt the mildness of May as it is only just dying down now.  We’ve enjoyed the last delicious stewed rhubarb for breakfast.  Pull off any dead or dying foliage, weed any sneaky weeds and then give a good dressing of manure and straw to take it through winter.  If it has been in the same space for more than 3 years then dig up, divide and replant into well manured deep soil then water well and mulch as described.  Similarly for asparagus, chop back foliage, weed and mulch well with seaweed and straw. Prepare any new asparagus beds now ready for late winter or spring  planting by weeding thoroughly, flling with manure and seaweed then backfilling with good soil.  Should be just right for planting in a month or two.  New strawberry plants can be replanted from now on.

Keep liquid feeding your green leafy crops, broad beans and celery and leeks.  Those last two along with stored root crops will provide the basis of your winter soups.  Keep planting a couple each of brassicas every 2 weeks or so to keep up a supply.  Remember you can still sow or plant winter greens such as rocket, mesculun, corn salad, mustard and some lettuces. If you haven’t got a suitable warm well drained spot in the garden then plant in pots and pull inside when frosty.  Chop or pull of leaves as needed – the  most nutritious way!  Herbs also can be potted up and brought closer to the house for ease of use.

Pruning season is coming up so get your tools ready by getting them cleaned and sharpened ready for a dry day to get to work on your fruiting plants.  So always something to do if you want to but always a good time to be inside and think about next season while eating the preserved produce of this last season’s harvest.

Jobs for June

Sow indoors; brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage, cauli and winter greens.

Plant: Garlic and Shallots. Broad beans – sow another row as the last row emerges.  Plant brassica seedlings such as broccoli and cabbage, cauli and bok choy for spring eating.  Strawberry plants can go in now as well.

Cultivate: Use liquid manure to feed your leeks. Keep weeded and mounded up. Cut back asparagus fern, weed and mulch crowns. Split big clumps of rhubarb and replant. Keep weeds hoed, green crops sown and mulches laid.

Harvest: Silverbeet and spinach, broccoli,

Garden Notes for April

As harvest comes to an end it is time to think ahead to the new season when you will rotate your beds.   As you finish harvesting and cleaning up beds think ahead to what you will be planting next.  Where you will be sowing root crops in Spring, don’t add bulky manures as crops such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot etc prefer deep well worked soil to get their roots into. Root crops also prefer potassium and phosphorus  so apply wood ash, seaweed, blood and bone and a little lime.  If the bed is not going to be planted for winter then sow a green crop of buckwheat for phosphorus or mustard if the ground needs sterilizing. Otherwise clear, compost and mulch all beds that are not planted out.

For your legume bed, April is broad bean sowing time. Peas too.  These can either be green manure or for spring eating depending on what you sow. I have collected some heritage broad beans this year which I will sow along with the very pretty burgundy flowered one.

For crops already in the ground such as brassicas, leeks and celery, keep up the weeding, mulching and liquid feeding. Brassicas and onions planted now will not grow too much over winter over winter  but take off once they detect the change in season and be ready for eating in late spring.

Perenials such as asparagus. Artichoke,  rhubarb and strawberries can all be weeded, fed and mulched.

 

Sow: Broad Beans, onions (in trays or outdoors if warm). Brassica seeds sown now will take 4 months to mature. Lettuce. Peas including sweet peas.

Plant: Cabbage, broccoli, cauli, kale, lettuce.

Cultivate: Mound up soil around leeks. Keep well watered along with celery. Weed around asparagus.  Protect heads of cauli from the weather by covering with big leaves. Keep weeding and hoeing between plants to keep weeds down.

Harvest: Beans, sweetcorn, pumpkins, main crop potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spinach and silverbeet.

Prepare: Sow green crops, make compost and mulch bare ground in preparation for winter weather and preparing beds for spring.

 

Elderflower Champagne and Elderflower Cordial

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One of the sure signs of early summer with a promise of warm summer days to come is the billowing of the elderflowers in our hedgerows. Down here in Otago our hedgerows are blowsy with elderflower and hawthorn.  We still have the remnants of those hedgerows in our area and they are a precious source of shelter and fodder for insects, birds and animals – and us humans!   I look at elderflower and think… elderflower champagne and cordial followed in autumn by berry wine and nutritious cordials. In fact, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas now without enjoying a delicious glass of delicate bubbly elderflower summer delight. Here are a couple of easy recipes for Elderflower Champagne and Cordial.

Picking Elderflowers.

Like all herbs, gather the flowers on a warm dry day and go for the ones with a mix of some open and some buds. It would be hard to pick them all but make sure you leave some for the next round of delicious harvesting – the berries in Autumn. Mine usually come with little black insects. Shake them off. I also leave them on the outside table on a piece of newspaper for a while and they all seem to run off. I don’t think the odd little insect is going to do you any harm but strain well anyway.

Elderflower Champagne.

For this recipe you will need 7 large Elderflower heads –about the size of a lunch plate or saucer, a clean plastic bucket and some bottles. Start with recycled small sized fizzy drink bottles and lids. (750ml or less) I also save those small champagne bottles for individual servings. Don’t use ordinary glass bottles for any kind of fermented drink – they are likely to explode.

  • Dissolve 500g sugar in 2 litres of hot water in your clean plastic bucket.
  • Add 2 and a half litres of cold water.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of white or cider vinegar plus the juice of 2 lemons.
  • Add flowers
  • Cover with a teatowel and leave for 24 hours.
  • After the 24 hours is up, strain through a muslin cloth and bottle.
  • Leave in a cool dark place for 6 weeks.

Elderflower Cordial

There are a few variations on this recipe – the thing you are aiming for is to allow the delicate flavour of the elderflower to infuse in your syrup.

  • 25 elderflower heads
  • A couple of lemons and an orange– finely grate zest and squeeze juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp of citric acid.
  • Put the flowers and citrus zest in a clean plastic bucket or a large bowl and mix together. Pour over 1.5 litres of boiling water.
  • Cover and leave to infuse overnight.
  • Strain through muslin bag or jelly cloth and into a saucepan.
  • Stir in the sugar, the juice and the citric acid. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar then bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for a few minutes.
  • Carefully pour into sterilized glass bottles.

You don’t need the citric acid but it helps to keep it longer.  Once you have opened your bottle keep it in the fridge. You can also pour into smaller plastic bottles and freeze. Try freezing in ice-block trays to add to drinks etc. Would look gorgeous with some elderflower added – or blue borage. Elderflower goes well with English Gooseberries which are ready soon. Add some to any recipe to enhance the flavour.

Six ways to reduce Christmas induced Stress.

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December is upon us and as we all know it can be one of the busiest most stressful months of the year. Here in NZ it can be all the more complicated as we combine it with our summer holiday period and often the end of the working year – so lots to do! Here are a few tips to help things run smoothly so take a couple of minutes to read through.

Step 1. Have a planning meeting with yourself:First thing to do is to sit down with yourself and a piece of paper and write down all those things going round in your head that you keep remembering you are supposed to do but forget because another thing-to-do has taken its place.   What do you need to do this month? Just write it all down – doesn’t have to be in order. You can use headings if you like. Here are some that might be on your list.Christmas – Presents – Who?

Christmas – Cards – thankyou gifts etc – Who?

Christmas Dinner Menu – Guests

Christmas Hospitaltiy – who’s coming – beds etc.

Holiday /Camping

End of school year – prizegivings, gift for teachers etc

End of work year etc

Step 2. Eliminate or delegate.Take a look at your list and work out what you actually need to do, what you can delegate to others and what you can actually eliminate without hurting others.   Delegating who brings what for Christmas dinner for example –but you will need to make sure everyone is clear in what is expected of them. Don’t assume Aunty is going to bring the pudding if you haven’t asked her. You don’t have to go to every party or event if that is too much for you – choose which one. The early you can get in with your requests or apologies the better.

Step3. Put a time frame around it. Put actual dates into your calendar/phone/diary and work backwards from that date. For each event action or activity write down everything you need to do in order to make it on the date scheduled. This will become your plan of action and schedule this action into your diary and then follow the plan. Look for gaps where you can do the preperation work or make a phone call. What can I do now? Can I make things and put in the freezer? Do I need to organise a baby sitter for 3 weeks time? When do I need to post this parcel to Australia? Do I need to let my boss know I need to leave work early to make it to prize-giving on time? (Do I need to let my husband know weeks in advance so he can organise his life as well?) Pre-think, pre- plan and be pre-pared.

Step 4; Put a budget around your plan. Self expanatory –don’t get carried away but decide well before hand what you can spend. This is a whole big topic but in a nutshell – make stuff and if you buy gifts – buy local where you can and support our wonderful crafts, artisans and talented business women.

Step 5: Get your systems sorted. It’s often the small things that are stressful – not being able to find things such as addresses for cards, phone numbers, Christmas decorations or cookie cutters from last year. Make that the next thing you do. Collect together what you need to make those jobs run smoothly. Gift wrapping – make up a box full of gift wrapping tools. There are some good systems out there but get scissors, sellotape, paper, ribbon, bows – everything you think you will need all ready and together now.

Step 6. Learn from this year. And if your goal for next year is to be more organised and less stressed – then turn each of these exercises into a system that you can follow for next time.

 

How’s your emotional tank?

I was driving home from work the other day feeling quite stressed, half listening to the radio, when I caught a little segment about the importance of filling our own emotional tank. We can often be so busy doing everything and looking after everyone that we often neglect ourselves and end up running on empty. If we are not careful, our busy market-driven world will have us thinking that we are machines who can keep working at the same at rate all day and at all stages of out lives. The problem with the market driven world is that it doesn’t factor in our humanity or the way the natural world works.  We can’t keep giving out without putting something back. We can’t be great parents, partners, people, if we are constantly on the go doing things for everyone else without taking the time out to care for ourselves.

They don’t call it “recreation” for nothing – we need to take the time to re-create ourselves by doing something we love. Women especially can be guilty of putting ourselves last, feeling bad about saying what we need.  So don’t be a martyr. Take some time to go on a date with your mate and leave the kids at home. Book some regular time at the hairdresser. Get your nails done. Go for a walk. Read a book. Go and hang out with a friend. Whatever it is that you love to do that helps get your equilibrium back – take the time to do that.

Homework: Jot down in your journal 5 things you can do to re-fuel your emotional tank and then go out and do them.

Tip. Don’t fill your diary up with work and responsibilities without making room for recreation. It’s not a frivolity – it’s a necessity. A better quality life starts with a better quality you.

 

 

In the kitchen…Overrun with Apricots?

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Three quick ways with Apricots plus one not so quick…..

It’s been a great season for apricots this year. In fact we ended up forgoing our annual 500k round trip into Central Otago to buy apricots as our trees put on a good harvest this year.   Here are some ideas for good ways to deal with the abundance.

Apricot Idea#1

First and foremost – let the freezer be your friend. Apricots freeze well and my mother now freezes most of her fruit rather than bottling. Apricots are one of those fruits whose flavour improves by going through the process of cooking so freezing is not going to harm them. You can either cut them half and take out the stones or feeze whole. Use clean unblemished fruit.

Apricot Idea #2

Roast apricots. You can do this while cooking dinner or pop into the oven once you are eating dinner. Prepare fruit by halving and removing stone. Place cut side up in a roasting dish and sprinkle over some sugar. Pop into the oven for half and hour or so at a medium temperature.   Roasting intensifies flavours – one reason being that you are not cooking with water so there is little dilution of flavour. Cool then freeze. A good time saving idea is to get out a couple of pie dishes and line with plastic wrap. Carefully place the cooled apricots into the dish, cover over with wrap and freeze. Once frozen you can remove the pie dish and pop the frozen apricots (still in their wrap) into a proper freezer bag. Then you have a disk of delicious roasted apricots ready to pop into pastry or crumble and cook!

Apricot Idea #3

Quick 2 step Apricot Jam. Another one for the busy PCW.  I prepped the fruit before work one morning and made it the following morning. Prepare your fruit as usual by splitting and taking out the stone. You can cut into smaller bits for this and just cut out any soft or rotten bits on your fruit. Sprinkle equal quantity of sugar over plus the juice of a couple of lemons. 1kg fruit – 1 kg sugar. Experiment with quantities if you want but start off this way. Leave for 24 hours. The next day, slowly bring up to cooking temp and simmer until fruit is cooked.   Then boil rapidly for 15-20 mins until it has reached setting stage. Add knob of butter (optional) and then bottle into sterilized jars.

 

Apricot Idea #4  This one is not necessarily quick but it’s a great recipe – good with cold meats (especially lamb) or with a any cheese.

Apricot and Walnut Relish.

Apricots – I used about 2 kilos. Stoned and chopped

3 large onions chopped finely

300mls vinegar.

Put into preserving pan and start to heat.

Add the following;

2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp ground cloves

few grinds of black peppercorns

1 tsp turmeric

3 tsps salt

2 tsps curry powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer for an hour or so.

Mix 2 tblsps flour with a little vinegar and carefully stir in to thicken.

Add couple of handfuls of chopped walnuts.

Bottle into sterilized jars.

 

 

 

 

 

In the kitchen – with the Professional Countrywoman

The busy Professional Countrywoman has a repertoire of recipes up her sleeve to feed hungry families, extra guests, a muster of musterers or a shed load of shearers. New Zealand is blessed with some fantastic kitchen whizzes such as Annabel Langbein, Nadia Lim and so on, so no way am I going to compete with them. However, I am a good country cook and there are a few recipes that are classics which I will be putting up in this space. My aim this year is to actually make some of those recipes in those beautiful books rather than just looking at them from time to time. I am not saying that I am going to do a Julie/Julia thing and try a new recipe every day but I think I will aim for one a week. (maybe.)

The honour of the first recipe on this page is going to the humble scone. I remember when I made my first batch of scones. My mother – a mother of seven- is still a fabulous cook and was pretty clever at being a resourceful meal maker. (She also worked as a Pharmacist and diversified into being a travel agent so I guess was a good role model for the Professional Countrywoman). So while she was busy making this new fangled thing called a “pizza pie” I was charged with making the scones for Saturday lunch. I had seen her knead bread dough so I started doing the same thing before she caught me and told me that overworking the scone dough would make it tough. Well those scones were pretty good and she pronounced those prophetic words over me – “you are going to be a cook!” and I am.

Scones

Preheat oven to 220c

Sift together 3 cups flour with 5 heaped tsps of baking powder

Put into large bowl and add 2 dessert spoons of sugar (optional)

Grate in about 50 grams of cold butter. (this is easier than rubbing in butter)

Mix with enough milk to make a soft dough. Probably about a cup and a half. You want the dough to be soft but not too sticky. Careful not to over mix or they will be too tough.

Put onto a floured board, shape into a rectangle, cut into squares and put onto oven tray.

Cook in hot oven until cooked – about 10 or 12 minutes.

To make date scones – soak a cup of dried dates in boiling water for a few minutes. Roll out dough, place dates on half then fold over and pat down. Continue as above.

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A batch of date scones ready to go into the oven.