A lot of things are demanding my attention in the garden at the moment as the festive season neglect is slowly coming to an end. I’m torn between doing a systematic overhaul one bed at a time so the garden is back to where it should be in an orderly fashion, or running about tending to the most urgent things first. The problem with this option is we are now in the height of the season and so everything is becoming urgent. As soon as you deal with one thing, there are another three demanding attention – and this is the way of a garden in full swing.
I decided to take a mixed approach and spent the first half of my allotted time in the garden doing a full tidy up of the beds in sector one. It kind of upsets my sense of order as this is scheduled for Mondays, but not enough to make me start on the Wednesday sector first. As much as it doesn’t really matter but I do like the rhyme of routine and it would seem I’m becoming set in my ways before my time.
So the herb bed was weeded and the rogue horseradish seedlings harshly ripped out – remind me to tell you about that one day – it is an interesting tale of caution that you should learn from me and not from your own experience. I trimmed the oregano which was trying to invade the chives and deadheaded the chives so they don’t take over the entire bed with their little black seeds. I nipped the tops out of the basil in an attempt to stop them going to seed. I sowed more dill and coriander so we’d have a constant supply and cleared away the weeds around the edge. It was so satisfying to stand back and see at least one bed was in order.
Then I moved on to the peas. They were past it now and were all brown and soggy. The birds have been a real pain here this year and actually stripped most of the pods of their peas before I could get to them. I’ve decided to go back to my favourite tall variety now that I have discovered the rebar posts in the garden. They are not only stronger than bamboo but actually cheaper too! And I haven’t really gotten on well with the dwarf peas – they just don’t taste the same and I miss my old favs. Now with all the peas gone until the autumn their bed has had other plants sneak in and I have some mountain corn and broccoli holding the space. I just need to decide what to put into the recently cleared bit.
The beans, cucumbers, zucchini, spuds and red currants were also given a bit of a weed. They didn’t need too much aside from tendrils being tucked in here and there. The Jersey Benne spuds need digging up – as do the Maris Anchor which succumbed to blight early on. I have some new sneaky ones to pop in their place so we can hopefully get another crop before the end of the season.
Looking up from the red currants I glanced across to the black currants. The branches were laden and each and every fat black berry was ready – in optimum condition. That made it easy to decide what to do with the rest of my allotted time in the garden. Harvesting blackcurrants. To be honest they aren’t the easiest thing to harvest and the bushes aren’t that tall so you sort of have to contort yourself into a half sitting half standing position, burying yourself in the bush, but kind of under it to ensure you get them all.
They release easy enough from the stalks if you want to pluck off each one individually but when the bush is heaving with fruit that method would take forever. They sort of hang off with many berries on one stem, but there is mostly more than one stem from the same point so you have a bobbly tassel affect making it tricky to strip the stem without crushing the fruit. However, by keeping the end goal in mind – hot buttered toast with a great blob of blackcurrant jam on top is more than enough motivation to ensure every last one is salvaged from the plant.
Once in the kitchen I found I had harvested 1.6 kg. Not a bad effort, but they needed cleaning up. There may have been a bit of dirt and grass in my bowl from when I knocked it over earlier in the harvesting process. So I filled the sink with cold water and set about the laborious process of removing stalks, leaves, green berries and debris. My fingers were soggy and wrinkled at the end of it all but I kept that hot buttered toast vision in my head at all times.
I used a kilo of the berries to make cordial to add a little something special to my long cold glasses of water while working in the garden under the hot sun. If you have to stay hydrated then why not make it fancy.
I popped them in the pot and added 300ml of water and gently heated them until all the berries burst. I found encouraging this with a potato masher was a great help. Great care needed to be taken as they have a tendency to stick and could burn on the bottom. Next I strained it through a jelly bag and measured the liquid – I got about 600 mls out and according to my calculations added about 375g give or take of sugar, and heated gently to dissolve the sugar. Lastly I added a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. The whole thing seemed a bit thick to me so I added some boiled water slowly until it reached a more syrup consistency and added a touch more sugar to compensate for the change in volume. Then I poured it into sterile bottles, ready for my next garden session under the sun.
I then took the last 600 grams and popped them in the pot and covered them with water, added the pulp from the jelly bag left over from the cordial – waste not want not and encouraged them all to give up their juice with the potato masher. Then I weighed the berries and added the same amount of sugar and the juice of half a lemon and boiled until it reached the setting point using the blob of jam on a cold plate, skin wrinkle test method and popped them into sterile jars. I don’t recommend doing this after dinner – it makes for a very long night. But at the same time it is so rewarding – just think about that hot buttered toast…
Come again soon – normal garden routine should return soon as the year loses some of its newness and life carries on as usual.
Sarah the Gardener : o)