May is always a busy month for gardeners and it feels even more so this year here – is that the same for you? After such a long, slow cool spring, all at once the sun has remembered to shine, the temperatures have soared and everything is putting on fantastic growth.
This week is particularly busy: Charles’ apprentice is on a course learning how to build straw bale houses – looking forward to hearing all about that – so I am working more days at Homeacres filling in for him. It is a lovely and rare opportunity for Charles and I to do some actual gardening together, usually it is picking 🙂
And as can happen when one is already really busy, things have started breaking and needing time to sort them out: older son’s car refused to go (new battery required), the bathroom tap has broken so I’ve been organising a plumber, one of the living room door hinges has completely come out which is making entering and leaving the room an interesting experience (how did that happen??!) I had one clear, quiet morning at home this week, the last one for months, ideal for writing: however that didn’t go according to plan either – younger son was ill and had the day off college, older son came home from work mid-morning having injured his back. Don’t even mention the pile of admin and accounts which is looking at me reproachfully …. Life is like this sometimes, isn’t it?!
I’m loving working on the new recipe book (first draft is almost all in!), there’s the new business to sort out with all of the associated new accounts systems to learn (oh my….), younger son’s student finance applications (how much information?!) and he’s about to start his A levels; and older son suddenly finding a degree course that is perfect for him and needing help with applications, finance etc for that. I am happy to say that he has had a firm offer and will be off to Bristol UWE to study Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in the autumn. Hurrah.
Two days after visiting Beechgrove, we flew to Dublin. Charles had 3 days of teaching, two in Leitrim at the Organic Centre and one at GIY in Waterford. I did all of the driving, through spectacular countryside. We stayed in Cliffony for the first two nights. The beach there at Mullaghmore is beautiful and there is a fantastic Neolithic court tomb at Creevykeel, dating from 4000-2500 BC.
It is a beautiful, magical place.
As well as writing about food, I’ve been making many seasonal salad dishes for our courses at Homeacres.
Oh the lovely new flavours of spring – the first peas, the first taste of a strawberry! The broadbeans could be eaten as small as these, steamed whole like French beans, but I wait until they have formed larger beans. Removing the tops when the broadbeans have finished flowering reduces the risk of blackfly and helps the beans to produce optimum harvests. They are tasty steamed, boiled and stir fried as well as raw in salads.
In the polytunnel, almost all of the over wintered crops have been harvested.
This is a gradual process, mainly because it has been so warm and sunny recently. The temperatures in the polytunnel got too high by about 11 am for me to work comfortably in there.
The winter plantings are replaced with summer crops – so far I have planted tomatoes, aubergines and some chillies. Ideally, the tunnel would have been mulched before planting everything, but I am doing this a bit at a time and spreading it around some of the already planted veg.
The weather became warm by day but was still cool at night – here Charles is protecting his cucumbers and tomatoes with fleece. It is being held up by some helpful overwintered garlic. Now, we should be past any danger of frost here in Somerset.
I had a lovely time going on an outing to Bowood House with other members of the Garden Media Guild. The woodland was is especially beautiful, you can tell it is very loved. We met Roy Lancaster in the woods! I warmly recommend a visit, if you can. The food in the cafe is fabulous too.
My allotment isn’t quite where I would like it to be but we have planted the sweetcorn and I should get many of the other allotment veg in tomorrow afternoon. It is pouring down at the moment, making the soil will perfect for planting in tomorrow. I’ll be taking my hoe too as weed seeds blown on from nearby plots will also be enjoying the rain.
We grow sweetcorn for both Charles and myself at the allotment because Charles’ garden is visited by badgers. They love sweetcorn and can eat a whole patch of ripe cobs in a night! I watered these in using comfrey and nettle tea.
We celebrated Somerset Garden Day on May 13th. I’ll be writing a blog about this soon. I don’t normally take selfies, but this is me wearing a flower crown made for the celebrations by Fiona at Electric Daisy Flower Farm, working in my kitchen garden at Roth Bar and Grill (Hauser and Wirth Somerset). Perhaps flower crowns should become regular day wear for gardeners!
Would you like to visit Charles’ no dig garden? Homeacres will be open on the 2nd and 3rd June as part of the NGS open days. We will both be there. I took these photos in the evening of May 13th.
Every day there are new flowers in my garden, with the promise of delicious harvests to come.
(Not the morning glory, lupins, peony or foxgloves of course, they are most definitely not good to eat.)
The rhubarb is super-abundant: as soon as I harvest some, there seems to be more. Here is a recipe for a delicious rhubarb chocolate cake which I made for our party on Somerset Garden Day, especially for our vegan guests. It is a variation of this recipe by The Lazy Vegan Baker, I tweaked it to make it even more chocolatey.
I use standard American cup measures. These are cheap and widely available, so useful for baking quickly.
Extremely Chocolatey Vegan Rhubarb Cake
- 1 cup self raising wholewheat flour
- 1/2 cup self raising white flour
- 2/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup sugar (I used soft dark brown sugar)
- 1 cup vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
- 2/3 cup non-dairy milk (I used almond)
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 3 cups rhubarb, diced
- 200g 85% dark chocolate
20 cm springform cake tin, lightly greased
A baking tray to put it on (it stops any drips leaking out into the bottom of your oven)
A large and small mixing bowl
Skewer or toothpick to test the cake.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
Chop the chocolate into chunks carefully with a kitchen knife on a board. Keep every scrap of chocolate! I went for chunks approx 1 cm square.
Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a large bowl.
Pour the sugar, maple syrup, oil, vanilla and milk into the smaller bowl and whisk together. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Add the rhubarb and every last flake of that chocolate. Stir to combine. The mixture will look thick and gloopy.
Pour into the cake tin, level the top with the back of a spoon (lick the spoon clean!) and put in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes. Hand the mixing bowl and a spatula to Charles to lick clean (optional).
It is ready when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out almost clean. It is quite a ‘flat’ cake, do not be dismayed if it doesn’t rise to fill the cake tin, it is a brownie/cake fusion and very delicious.
Remove the pan from the oven, place on a cooling tray and allow the cake to cool in the tin before serving.