Our eighth harvest supper

Our final harvest this year in mid October included two varieties of pear, four types of apple, plums, yellow courgettes, runner and green beans, tomatoes, onions, an abundance of curly kale, cavalo nero and chard, and lots of different herbs.

Our menu for our harvest supper comprised Wensleydale soup, onion soup, three cheese three leaf lasagne, vegan veggie pie, Lebanese green beans, cheese with plum chutney, apples and pears, blackberry and apple crumble with ice-cream – everything made with at least one ingredient from the LRSP garden.

Our eighth harvest supper was probably our biggest ever with thirteen people sitting round the table, including three new members who joined us two weeks ago, and two of the original members who helped set the garden up in 2011 and remember planting the apple trees. And just to remind ourselves of how it was back in 2011, we watched Madeleine’s first video ….

 

 

 

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Crawley Beauty comes into her own …

Six years ago we planted out mini-orchard of seven fruit trees in our tiny community garden at London Rd Station. Four of the fruit trees were old Sussex varieties of apple: Crawley Beauty, Tinsley Quince, Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin. Our cordoned trees have done really well but Crawley Beauty, the only cooking apple and late fruiting, always seemed the runt of the litter. Slightly more in the shade, it has taken her all this time to fruit confidently. This year, however, she has produced the best apples.

We planted our apple trees in raised beds. They are cordoned to restrain growth but all the same, they’ve required quite a lot of summer pruning in the last few weeks. Crawley Beauty and Tinsley Quince in the first bed seem to be doing best this year. We’re not quite sure why: perhaps because they had a bit of shade in the heat of June and July, perhaps because that’s where we always started our watering, or perhaps because that bed got the benefit of more compost mulch? The next two – Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin – have produced smaller fruit this year and have more evidence of insect damage. It may also be that they had the biggest growth spurt back in the early years, and I haven’t been able to prune the extensive leaders on either of them.

I’ve already harvested some apples as the fruit have started to fall even though they are supposed to be harvested in late September and even early October. Despite insect damage around the core, they make a great apple cake. Just a case of cutting out the damaged bits … My recipe is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Kentish Apple Cake and uses 500g of chopped apple, more than any other ingredient. With whole meal flour and reduced sugar, sweetness provided by raisins and the apples, it’s as near to a ‘healthy’ cake as you can get … served up, of course, with crème fraîche!

This will be one for our 2018 harvest supper. We’ll probably also need to reprise our three leaf, three cheese lasagna as cavalo nero, kale and chard have all done well. Our courgettes and beans didn’t do so well this year, perhaps because of lack of water, and our onion crop was small too, though probably enough to make onion soup. Pears, on the other hand, are looking great – some are already being ripened in a garage – and hopefully, will be work well in a proposed Pear and Stilton soup.

SUSSEX APPLE CAKE

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 350g whole meal self-raising flour
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 120g sultanas or raisins soaked for 1-2 hours in water
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 75g toasted hazelnuts roughly chopped
  • 500g apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • grated zest of lemon
  • 3 large eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Sift together flour, cinnamon and salt. Rub in butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in raisins, sugar and nuts. Add chopped apple together with lemon zest. Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the mixture. You need a large mixing bowl to do this – best done with clean hands and/or wooden spoon. When well mixed together, spoon the mixture into cake tin and bake for around 60 – 75 minutes or until firm to the touch. The mixture is very moist so try to check this middle of the cake with a skewer. You can cover the cake with foil to stop the top getting too brown. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack – beware the cake can be crumbly, that’s the risk of lots of apple. It’s delicious, though.

Adapted from Sarah Raven’s recipe for Kentish Apple Cake.

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Cold but growing …

The north wind was blowing today … and it was freezing. We’ve already had a couple of air frosts near London Rd Station and it’s only the beginning of November. After the clocks went back at the end of October, it’s easy to feel that winter is on its way. We’ve been winding down: our last two sessions have mostly taken place in the comfort of the conservatory. We did those ‘autumny’ tasks: cleaning and oiling tools, talking about next year’s seeds and cleaning out pots.

I cleared out the maturing compost bin: I think this is our best compost so far – crumbly and not too soggy. But there wasn’t a lot of it, probably because we’ve had it in the resting compost bin for almost a year now. We’ll need to mulch the shady garden and there’s not a lot left.

We’ve agreed that we’ll continue meeting at least up until Christmas, even if it’s only for an hour or so in and around the garden, and then of course, tea and a natter.

In fact, the garden is still growing: I noticed that the onions are coming up and the chard and beetroot seedlings are doing well. We’ve also still got Verbena bonariensis growing in the tree pit in front of the station.

We’ve removed our perennial – and long-suffering – rhubarb and have divided it: both ‘pieces’ are doing well and are growing on ready for replanting in the spring. Poor rhubarb: remarkably it was growing well in a shady corner in one of our old raised beds by the wall. When we reconstructed the raised bed at the beginning of the year, we decided to build it around the rhubarb – which carried on growing at least half a metre lower than everything else. We’ll now have two rhubarb to plant in the raised raised bed: we’ve been adding old grow bag compost and the compost from our bin to raise the level. A bit of manure, and the rhubarb(s) will feel at home.

 

 

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Harvest Supper 2017

Another great celebratory dinner at the end of September! This year we held our Harvest Supper significantly earlier than usual, reflecting the much earlier harvest. Indeed, for the first time since we started in 2011, we had very little to be harvested in the station garden by the middle of September.  We’ve missed cavalo nero this year, the potatoes in bags were a disappointment and the courgettes didn’t do quite as well as in some years, but the climbing beans were great.

The star produce this year was from our mini-orchard: lots of apples and the most delicious pears. It’s been challenging storing them – some have gone squashy and had to be composted, but most ripened nicely in the dark of my garage.

So our meal this year:

Onion soup, now a perennial as onions are one of our most reliable crops. Diane made lovely wholemeal rolls to go with the soup.

Mark’s fish pie, made with greens and herbs from the garden and if our potato crop had been better and later, it could have included our potatoes. This was a delicious combination of layers of spinach, wild salmon, potato and a grated Provolone topping.

Garden beans (frozen after picking in mid-September) and Madeleine’s baked kohlrabi worked really well as sides or mains for non-fish eaters.

Garden salad – the Greek idea of chopped tomatoes and cucumber with a simple olive oil dressing and some chopped lettuce. The Sweet Million tomatoes having been producing in the greenhouse since the middle of June, and the cucumber plants, also highly productive beteween June and August, rallied mid-September to produce a final few for our supper.

Pear and apple crumble – our pears and our apples – with hints of downland blackberries and a wholemeal and walnut topping. And … a raspberry/blackberry coulis, just made from our fruit simmered down with a bit of honey, whizzed and strained.

Ending with pears with cheese, a great combination really highlighting the flavour of our wonderful pears this year.

This was our seventh harvest supper … hard to believe that the LRSP garden has been going since 2011, still with great enthusiasm.


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It’s been a while … but it’s harvest time already

All I can say is that the absence of posts on this site is testimony to the rapidity of this year’s growing season. We had a very warm spring with dry weather – watering, watering, watering. Thankfully, we now have our own water source on the platform and a super long hose. We’ve tried very hard to keep to our own harvested rain water, but the water butts ran out in May this year, and rain fall has been unpredictable. And carrying full watering cans to all our garden spaces is a real challenge with quite a few back injuries in the group. The hose has been a blessing.

The dry spring then gave way to torrential rain spells and very high winds. In June, the temperatures got up to 35C. That’s very unusual here, even on the south coast. That heat spell came just at the right time for ripening our fruit and veg, though it did require a lot of watering – thanks to Jenny and Madeleine in our group, who have become the main manipulators of a very long and cumbersome hose.

So we’ve already had beans and courgettes, the chard has been picked and is coming back, and the spectacle of the summer is our fruit trees. It’s clearly been a great fruiting year. All our fruit trees are heavy with fruit. Even the plum has come back from what looked like a terminal attack of aphids in the spring. We’ve already collected windfalls and tasted the pears: delicious. It’s true much of the fruit has been ‘shared’, i.e. there are signs that other creatures have tested it before us. But it’s a case of just cutting out the burrowed bits. Apple purée made with our perfumed Tinsley Quince apples is delicious. And even Crawley Beauty has delivered this year: beautiful dappled green and red fruit which are sweetish cookers.

Our pear harvest looks amazing – both fat Beurre Hardy and the more svelte Concorde. I’ve just been reading up on harvesting pears as it turns out it’s not such a great idea to let them ripen on the tree. Last year I think we left the pears too long and in the relative heat of my conservatory. They were mushy and flavourless when we came to make them into crumble for our harvest supper in mid October. It seems pears need to be harvested when barely ripe and kept to ripen in a cool place, not in the sun. Seems counter intuitive but here’s the source – extension.oregonstate.edu . Oregon State University who post some very detailed and scientifically careful horticultural advice.

We’re only at the end of August now, and have just experienced that rare thing: a really hot and sunny bank holiday weekend. We’ve already got our harvest supper planned for the end of September this year – at least three weeks earlier than in previous years. I think Tuesday will see us harvesting at least some of the pears. Will they last until the end of September for Jenny’s pear and Wensleydale soup? We’ll just have to see. Otherwise, it’ll be pear sorbet, pear jelly, pear purée in the freezer stored to be made into crumble. But there’s no doubting: this has definitely been the best year yet for our mini-orchard.

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Spring – renewing, restoring

It’s almost the end of March, the evenings are lighter, the days are warmer. Finally, we’ve had some dry sunny days to clear up, renew and restore the gardens at London Rd station.

The trees pits and platform planters have been really beautiful this year. Bulbs we planted last year have flowered well again, and the polyanthus have been going almost all year round.

The platform planters – particularly the middle one – are brimming with spring blooms, and the scent from the skimmia japonica we planted last year is beguiling. Unfortunately, the poor skimmia keeps getting sat on and uprooted … and we’ve had to work hard on several occasions to revive it and settle it back in the soil.

A couple of weeks back, we planted lots of new polyanthus and pansies in the shady plot and in gaps in the tree pits and platform planters. So far, we’ve managed to protect the new planting in the tree pits from dogs, cars, pedestrians and foxes.

Last week another group of volunteers from Network Rail came for a work day at the station, and we planted up a further tree pit at the entrance to Shaftesbury Place. As luck would have it, it was raining, windy and cold but we managed nevertheless to clear the weeds and get some more primroses in to brighten things up.  We also sowed some wildflower seeds from GrowWild. This week, we’ve followed up with planting some silver-leaved cineraria to fill in the gaps, and watering copiously after a couple of days of warm sunshine. It’s a tricky spot as people walking around the corner tend to trample over the tree pit, and the plants are always at the mercy of dogs, but it does make Shaftesbury Place look more cheerful.


 

 

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Stationary tales – the video

It’s been a busy 2016 and as usual I’m only just catching up with lots of admin and interesting news, now that the weather is cold, there’s evidence of frost and the gardens at London Road Station are asleep.

As usual, Madeleine has produced another lovely video over the course of this year: this time, it’s about station partnerships throughout the South East, but the LRSP, and in particular our giant leeks, feature! Lots of very inspiring projects going on up and down the railway lines.

Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPqziBuX5a0

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