Operation Sunshine

operation-sunshineOperation Sunshine is complete and a huge success. See for yourself before, during and after.

The big tree on the right was 17 years old. Basically, when we bought the house, we could have cut it with ease. We made the mistake of ignoring the wild growing trees until we had to make it a fairly expensive professional job.

Ah well, it’s done, and sunshine once again hits the garden not only between 13:00 and 16:00, but pretty much all day.

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20120512_142628Ah, wonderful. This weekend, and hopefully not only for this weekend, spring has returned after several week’s absence. It’s still a little chilly, but the sun is out and the sky, while not cloudless, definitely shows a good amount of blue.

Recently laid sugar peas (the French “mange tout” variety) are raising tiny heads, and green beans should be coming through the soil one of these days. I sew lots of Swiss chard. I planted some pre-grown chard, planted salads, celery and beetroots. The cherry tree is netted against pigeons, starlings and other birds. The bananas are trimmed, the spring flower bulbs are taken out and stored away.

The tomatoes are coming out of the greenhouse soon, and our herbs are in full production already (minus the rosemary, which appears to struggle).

All we need now is a decent remainder of spring and a glorious summer.


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The Best Season

DSCF8672It’s got to be my favourite time of the year. The tulips are in full swing, the cherry and pear trees are in bloom (the nectarines are already done). The bananas are unwrapped from their winter packaging and grow at the most astonishing rate, the greenhouse is stocked with seedlings. There’s life everywhere!

Even the cat’s got a spring in his old legs, and has been seen to move at speed at least twice recently.

(Picture shows plums in bloom in the Osaka. Also nice.)


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Grow Your Own

DSC_0330For this Saturday’s dinner, feeding eleven diners, I used 2.5 kg of red wheat flour for fresh lasagne sheets and sourdough bread. I was just wondering how big a field we ate empty in one evening, for flour for bread and pasta making alone.

The BBC reckons you’d get a yield of 3 tonnes of wheat per hectare, when growing organically. 3000kg per 10 000m2 gives 3kg per 10m2, a square field of approximately 3 by 3m. Can this be right?

I realize the world has enormously huge wheat fields, much bigger than 3 by 3m, but there’s a lot of people out there. Gosh, what a lot of wheat, and what a lot of people. I guess it doesn’t even matter if my single dinner party chewed through 1m2 or 10m2 or even 20m2. Any number is huge when multiplied with the world population of 6.75 billion.


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A Little Healthy Number

2011-04-02 007Mark Hix is the celebrity chef writing for The Independent in their weekly magazine, and most weeks, you’d want to roll up said magazine and whack it around Mark’s head and ears. He delights in the little number of lettuce and parmesan cheese shavings, or a fresh goats cheese with relish and ripe peaches, or another nice-looking, healthy and marvellous creation that barely deserves a place in a cooking column.

It’s just too easy.

While simplicity matters and while cooking mustn’t be complicated or overwhelming, I find he ought to show some real cooking too. You can’t impress many dinner parties with endless repetitions of a light little salad.

But, I do love the impressive salads, of course, and this is just the right time of the year.

A little number with cucumbers for crunch, mixed leaves, fresh raspberries and blueberries from the garden, and a small fried goat’s cheese makes a perfect and stunning starter.

A more complicated number with asparagus, chicken liver, swiss chard, crispy bacon and a cracked egg makes for a complex, delicious and quite perfect meal. (Shown here.)

A roasted onion and fennel base with goat’s cheese, grapes, sharp radish sprouts and pea shoots.

Fresh roasted peppers, fresh artichokes (fried with lime and olive oil), grilled aubergines, a pinch of thyme and lime.

Or just a good old and ever so popular Salade Lyonnais.

Lovely, easy to incorporate whatever the garden produces, easy to personalize, easy to impress with. Rarely a little Mark Hix number though. At least I now know what we’ll be cooking next week…


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Chickens (street decoration in Bornheim, Pfalz) I know. It is impolite to spy on others. Therefore, I don’t.

But, if something moves in the corner of anyone’s vision, anyone will refocus briefly, and take a quick look. As it happens in my case, the neighbour’s chicken cage (bought from a company sensibly called Omlet) sits right in the left bottom corner of my field of vision, as I stare at a computer screen full of boring data.

The perfect distraction!

We have now donated a cabbage from our garden (the caterpillars had already eaten half of it), and I am now fascinated to see how enthusiastic the birds get through a whole half cabbage. You’d think there’s nothing else to a chicken’s life than food.

Assuming that chickens also break wind (do they?), I can only hope that Greenpeace isn’t going to put a siege on our street due to excessive methane emissions.


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Gardener’s Delight

omelette A little Gardener’s Delight for lunch: a two-egg omelette with blue cheese, and a filling from Swiss chard, spinach, cherry tomatoes, roasted artichokes and basil.

It’s early days for our garden, but everything green in this is home-grown, so there’s a start.

Just remember Raymond Blanc‘s words: Three minutes, he says when demonstrating a basic (smoked salmon) omelette, three minutes ‘tis is all it takes. If you don’t have ze three minutes (he shrugs into the camera) you don’t have ze life.


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No Work of Beauty

greenhouse It’s no work of beauty and, regrettably, not a piece of perfection. But, it’s unique, very unique: our very own greenhouse is ready, and catching the early morning sun on a chilly morning as we speak!

Some more work on the shelving and other finished touches are to be done soon, but over this cold weekend, we have already moved some of the vulnerable youngsters into the sheltered and warm inside.

The roof, made from a large single sheet of wire-enforced glass, opens upwards, and the window towards the shed opens outwards.

We’ll see how the greenhouse fares, with temperature and humidity changes. I expect some of the glass to crack as a result of movement in the timber structure, but hopefully not too much!

We certainly look forward to a cracking harvest.


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The Race

nectarines This was an exciting race! I am of course not referring to The Race, but our very private race. At times, we seemed to approach a tight finish between the cherries and the nectarines, but this Easter weekend brought a clear win for the nectarines.

The cherries will be next, but might take another couple of mild and sunny days. I can’t wait for those.


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Industrious Days

poorthing Ah, I just love those industrious days; those days were you need to sit back, relax and gather your concentration to enumerate everything you’ve done.

I had taken Monday off work –of paid work, I should say- and managed to do this:

  • Spend one hour on my Open University course work,
  • Remove weeds from the front garden,
  • Load the car, meet a friend, help moving some stuff to his allotment, then move some junk to the dump (ahem… the Greenford Recycling Centre),
  • Drive to the Syon Park Garden Centre, spend lots of money on more plants, seeds, pots and other things necessary to revive our garden,
  • Do the shopping for our dinner,
  • Prepare puddings for after dinner (Pudim Flan),
  • Have a quick bite for lunch myself (leftover pizza), and two very large coffee,
  • Plant cabbages, Endive salads, Beetroot, Swiss chard. Clean and prune the old strawberries, add a few new plants. Plant and hang a new strawberries hanging basket. Split and plant basil and parsley. Split and re-pot one of the Bananas, plant some of the shoots into the garden. Pot a new Nectarine tree (which is on a dwarf rootstock). Sow peas (Mange touts),
  • Build two large frames with gardening fleece to protect the newly planted things from the chill at nights and from severe rain,
  • Clean-up, tidy-up. Prepare all the rubbish and recycling “waste” for collection on the next day,
  • Prepare dinner (Crisp and extra-nice chicken thighs on cherry tomatoes, with potato gratin), and
  • Sit back, relax, eat.

I love those industrious days. A day well worth getting up for.


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A Back-breaking Saturday

gardenPath A back-breaking Saturday later, and another 500kg or excavation are removed from the garden (to the tune of £70-something pounds), and 800kg of gravel and slate have been laid to rest in form of our new path.

As rain washes off the dust a little, I think it will turn a little darker – especially when wet, which it probably will be most of the time.

Anyway. Another thing done and ticked off the list. All we need now is nice and warm weather.


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The Cheapest Workout

raisedBeds The cheapest workout is to have 800kg worth of gravel and slate delivered roadside, sign the receipt, then carry those 800kg into the back garden.

It always looks so much! As if I had ordered three times as much as needed, but it will only be a few buckets over, if anything, I know from experience.

Weather permitting, I’ll be digging and sweating and gravelling and making the new garden path this weekend. This will connect the patio area (railway sleepers, far back in the picture) with The BBQ Zone (granite pavement, front right) in a playfully meandering way such that your journey from said patio leads you through the kitchen garden and banana grove, then through the orchard and the decorative garden, past the shed and the camomile lawn. Unless you are in a hurry, you might require as many as seven or eight steps for that, and even more if you may a detour past the greenhouse!

Well. We can’t change the boundaries of our home and garden, but we love it, and the new garden is going to be brilliant.

Enough gravel and slate is here. I can feel it in my shoulders.


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