It’s been a while since I posted, which means that I have not been in the garden as much as I should have been, but I have two good reasons for that. Firstly, the Olympics were a totally warranted distraction from normal life and a two week holiday in South Africa put a complete hold on any horticultural activity in Midlifegardening terms.
But, coming back from our life-affirming break, I was pleased to see that everything in the garden is doing well. The Old Man’s lettuces and carrots, beetroot and squashes have all grown immeasurably in the fortnight we were away. And our brussels, cabbages, and purple sprouting have blossomed too.
Unfortunately, alongside (or rather on top of) the brussels, the cabbage white butterflies have been busy too. TOM’s brussels had been lacerated, with writhing masses of striped caterpillars gorging themselves on the fleshy leaves, and within days, mine were showing the same apocalyptic tendencies, with leaves holed and shredded.
Since then I have spent a few happy hours picking the little blighters off the leaves and destroying them. I recall as I child I once did this with a friend and we somehow managed to throw them on a bonfire with the fierce glee of the young savage that burns within the soul of any under ten, but I decided to be more green with the destruction of these pests and even offered them to the chickens. Unfortunately the hens were not interested – which made me think that perhaps these caterpillars are toxic to birds (hence the bright colours) so crushing them under my welly heel was the most humane way I could think of to destroy them.
One thing is for certain: the cabbage white butterfly is not in danger of extinction through my random culling. There will be plenty left on the plant to maintain another generation.
Elsewhere the truly remarkable hits of the summer are the French Beans and the Runner Beans. Runners are an interesting item on the vegetable list and are a peculiarly British veg. I am not sure that our runner beans are so popular with our North American cousins. The idea of a bean that you pick whole, take the stringy part from them edge of the pod with a knife or potato peeler then slice to prepare for the pot, is not a type of preparation that some are familiar with, but it is second nature to many growers in Britain.
Last year the runner beans were a disaster for my father: they did not grow well and the harvest was poor. This year, I threw them in a well-manured trench, constructed the network of canes for them to grow and then pretty much waited. As we went away there was a burgeoning number of them getting to a good size and while we were away I think TOM was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of ever larger pods. Indeed, this summer has been declared, in true Olympic style, “the best ever” for runner beans.
The problem is one of glut: what do we do with the extra? TOM likes to make runner bean chutney, but there is only so much of that you can eat in a year before you are round to the next summer with a cupboard full of last season’s still in their jars. I think next door he probably has row upon row of chutney lined up in their years, categorized by type: “Mmmmm 2005: Classic Vintage: that’s going to be ready in 2015, while the 2011 makes an excellent Nouveau for use with lighter cheeses. The 2008 is stonking good blue cheese accompaniment: a fine body and with a hint of cinnamon on the nose”.
Or else the other means of preservation is the good old chest freezer, which, although full of dead animal has some room for runners.
So, repeat after me: string, cut, blanche, drain, cool, bag, freeze. String, cut, blanche…..