Monday, 19 March 2012

Plough or till...'tis the question.

Spring has sproing... the flowers is riz... oi wunder where the boidies is...
I've "bean" ploughing, not tilling [rotavating], and we have the next 3 by 14 metre slab of soil ready for the spuds...
We've also got the "cheat" salads in the ground... now for some radish alongside... and the Broad beans [fêves] alongside them.

Furrows and stones.
 Why ploughing? Wouldn't dare use a rotavator on our soil yet... just tooooo many large stones [sorry...ROCKS!]... but not just because of the aforementioned rocks... we've an awful lot of couch grass [also known as "twitch"] and field bindweed... with both plants, any small bit left in the soil gives rise to a new plant.
So I plough [or plow]...

"Betsy"... aka Bête C

We've purchased a two-wheel tractor to which we can hitch up a woodchipper, a cutter bar for the meadow and, unpowered, a set of culivation tools... one of which is a fully adjustable plough-share and turning the soil in that way allows us to remove long lengths of couch and bindweed root. I plough the land the same way that a big tractor does... but in a much smaller space. I go up and down the 14 metre bed, twice, and follow that up with the more tedious task of ploughing across the 3 metre width...

This years potato bed... the top shot is of the plough lines across the bed.
The picture above shows the 'bootiful' straight line up the edge... the dip inwards is where one of those "rocks" lies.... won't know until it is dug if it is a rock or a "nest" of stones, but the plough won't budge it. My trusty crowbar will tho'.

The tractor, fortunately, has an unlockable differential... so, whilst I keep the diff locked for ploughing, I can unlock it and spin the tractor round on its two wheels, line it up, re-lock the wheels and swing the blade across and plough back the other way... we have a two metre grass strip between the big beds to allow this.

The two angles I plough at... left on the way down, right on the way up.
 One of the other cultivation tools is a "potato lifter".... this is actually used as a stone lifter... I go through the already ploughed soil with this on the back and it breaks the soil up a bit further lifting the stones and good lengths of couch to the surface... that is one of this weeks jobs!

A sod held together by twitch [couch] grass... once dried a bit, more of the earth can be recovered by shaking the sod.
A ten inch [25cm] length of couch root... this is easily picked up... the little bits aren't so handy!
Pauline has been giving parts of the old potato bed from last year a 'forking over' as we've got more onions to go in... we've had to start buying them this year... and the soil is great, just needed me to give it a final rake over to get a good 'finish'.

Roger, of "Our French Adventure" also has a BCS 740 tractor... shown here with the rotavator/tiller attachment in use.

Gardening glossary...

Stones are smaller than rocks... unless a group of lonely stones* have clumped up with each other... then the clump is larger, heavier and more reticent at leaving the ground than either of the former... the stones are around seed potato/baseball size.... our rocks can be flint or limestone and the size of a hand, a head or a small car engine [usually flint those ones!] I've got one to move that is 2ft by 18" by 10"... or thereabouts... it is still part buried.

*Please note... gravel and sand clump together in winter to form stones... or that's what one of our allotment neighbours used to reckon... she'd remove bucket after bucket from the plot in the spring... grow her crops, harvest them, tidy up for the winter.... and in the spring would be removing bucket after bucket of stones...again!
And on allotments in the UK.... sand by itself fuses into glass in the summer heat... or seemed to on our plot... we were forever removing bits of melted glass!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Muffins - with peas!

Muffins are always an enjoyable snack, whether they are sweet or savoury. When we opened our latest pack of St Hubert 41, a low fat spread we mainly use for tartines, there was a recipe on the inner lid, number two of a series. Muffins with peas, onions and curry looked easy enough, given that there were home-grown "Pea Wee" petits pois in the freezer and all the other ingredients, or a ready substitute, are always in the store cupboard.

Pea Wee, the July harvest
When I translated the recipe, I realised that the weight given for the peas was for peas in the pod. That would restrict the recipe to the summer months, if using fresh peas, unless you have a gourmet vegetable shop to hand and don't give a hang for the food miles! We blogged about picking them here. I just used what I had left, which was a little less. Tim loved the effect, but I reckon 150g or so would be better. The recipe says it serves 4, and nothing about how many muffins it makes! It actually made 12 medium muffins.

The original French recipe.

200g petits pois
3 small white onions
100g St Hubert 41 spread
200g plain flour
1 sachet (2 tsp) baking powder
1 tsp curry powder
40g grated parmesan
3 eggs
70g fromage frais
a pinch of salt (omit if using St Hubert demi-sel)

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare 12 muffin cases or moulds (if you use tins, grease them thoroughly).
Shell the peas. Peel the onions and chop finely. Melt the St Hubert over a gentle heat (30 seconds in the microwave on high and stir).
Sift together the flour, baking powder, curry and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir in the parmesan and fromage frais. Beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the melted St Hubert and whisk thoroughly. Finally stir in the vegetables.
Share out the mixture into the muffin moulds and bake for 30 minutes.
They are cooked when the point of a knife comes out clean.

Four gone already... foregone conclusion!

If using frozen peas, defrost the peas thoroughly before adding them. I also used ras al hanout North African spice mix instead of curry powder; shallots instead of white onions, freshly grated cantal instead of parmesan; and faiselle (goat's milk curds and whey) instead of fromage frais. I found the cooking time was more like 50 minutes. Definitely a success!

Damn... now we'll have to eat this one as well! Oh dear...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Hungry Gap...What's left?

From the bottom they were:
Romanesco... we ate those, Black Tuscan and Red Russian kales...
then Chard [covered], Tenderstem Brocolli, Red Cabbage, Celery and Celeriac...
finally Carrots, Beetroot and Chicory [still green!]
This is the current state of the potager... the devastation left by the 'big freeze' has taken out all but one of our kale,  all the red cabbages [but they weren't the best this year], all the celery, almost all the stumps of the Stonehead cabbages but... not the chard! We had put a cloche over that to protect it from the frost...but not the freeze... and it got covered in a good layer of snow before the freeze started and looks as though it has survived.

The Leeks don't look very well either, but there is greenery and, therefore, probably enough to make a large amount of potato and leek soup.... yes, not leek and potato soup! Them leeks will be cut up and frozen [again] to be used to flavour potato and other soups... the hungry gap is upon us... we have plenty of potatoes and pumpkins. We haven't looked at what's left underground... haven't dared really.

Just about recognisable as Leeks!

In the freezer we have Runner beans, French [string] beans and Peas... along with Parsnips and re-frozen cabbage... and more pumpkin! In the cellier we have plenty of dried beans... but the only really fresh greens we have was one cabbage that was in the kitchen... and the chard, once it gets going again.

We've also got some dried peppers, shallots, etc., so soups and stews look to be our diet until salad crops get going.


Carrots... Autumn King

Underground report... have picked a swede... still OK and tasty... and a couple of carrots... fine! Haven't tried digging up the Jerusalem Artichokes yet though... and there's only one Celeriac left... but it feels nice and firm... so there may be hope there?