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It’s been hot the last few weeks; the grass has lost its vibrant green hue and is patched and scorched by the heat. That said, the bees have been as happy as I’ve seen them; and are non-stop throughout the day, collecting pollen and nectar to build up their colony and honey stores. In the spring I spent a couple of afternoons lifting the turf from a large arc of lawn, directly in front of the hives so I could sow wildflowers there instead. They’re all native varieties, and are now, for the most part, in bloom. Not only do they look fantastic, the bees appreciate them too, especially the borage. I’ve dotted Globe artichokes throughout the flowers too. I had the young plants in the greenhouse for weeks, so I was pleased to finally find a home for them. They’ll add height and structure to the wild flower patch and are so beautifully sculptural.
The vegetable garden that surrounds my greenhouse is in full swing, and there’s simply nothing quite like harvesting your own produce. It’s so rewarding and something I always look forward too, even if it’s just a bunch of herbs. Everything seems to taste so much better if you’ve helped it grow. It’s a time of plenty and veritable abundance, but, happily, most of the hard work’s been done earlier in the year, so I’m able to spend more time in the kitchen with a knife and less time in the garden with a fork.
I’m harvesting nearly everyday. There’s been lots of artichokes (which went in the ground last spring) that we’ve been cooking in a few ways. My go-to will always be boiling whole until tender, then plucking the fleshy leaves off one by one, dipping them in warm, garlicy butter and devouring (the edible bits), until we reach the heart of the matter. Absolutely delicious!
Our rows of carrots got off to a slow start, but now we’re plucking bunches of these sweet brightly coloured roots every few days. They’re so crunchy and have such a wonderful flavour, I haven’t even thought to cook them yet. I’m happy just eating them as they are, raw and unadulterated.
We haven’t had to buy a lettuce for months. In fact, I’m able to set down a bowl of sharply dressed salad with almost every meal. But it’s not just lettuce we’re eating. I like to use a variety of fresh leaves that offer a balance of textures, a handful of your favourite fragrant herbs, and, if you can find them, a whisper of colourful flowers and petals. I'll often add peppery, barbed orientals, the rockets, and the thick, mottled-purple mustards that I love. These leaves give a salad swathes of character. I love to tumble in green herbs (coriander and parsley are favourites). I add these when pert and full of life. When they are left alone, they bloom – a distillation of flavour and fragrance in the bud and petals of the plant. I particularly love flowering fennel and chives, but coriander and chervil flowers make punchy little additions in a salad too. We also grow a few flowers for our salads; they add colour, contrast and flavour. The sun-up yellow and sun-down orange of marigold is a favourite; as are the fire-red of nasturtium, and the cloud-white and lilac of borage. There are other interesting things I like to add which I’m growing at the moment. Young kale and chard leaves, particularly those from red Russian and rainbow varieties.
Moving on from my salad musings. The courgettes are coming thick and fast at the moment (I’ve even planted some on the compost heap), and I’ve been making the most of them, including stuffing and frying the flowers until crisp and golden. There’s a recipe for a favourite way of doing this here.
My tomatoes are ripening at a rate of knots. They are one of the best things to grow in the Rhino. I’m sure, if you’ve ever eaten warm tomatoes straight from the plant, you’ll also know just how good they can taste. I like to hold them gently in my hand, they’ll tell me when they’re ripe enough to pick. I treat them pretty simply (as is my way). In many cases they come just as they are, with some good olive oil and flaky sea salt, but, obviously, they’re sensational in all sorts of guises. Lovage and tomatoes are incredible; lovage is such a characterful, easy to grow perennial herb. From time to time I like my tomatoes sliced thickly and dressed with chopped mint, red wine vinegar and capers. I love them with freshly picked crab too, served with chopped soft-boiled eggs and a spoonful of aioli. Or if I have excess, I roast them with garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil, before passing the blistered fruit through a sieve. The resulting puree is wonderful and makes the most refreshing chilled soup.
I’m looking forward to my cucumbers fruiting, there’s simply nothing like a fresh homegrown cucumber straight from the vine. Oh how the shop bought alternatives pail! I’ve dotted 5 or 6 plants around the tomatoes again this year, and they’re doing really well. I’ve been training them again, up the sides of the Rhino, along the shelving, and now they’re slowly creeping along the glass roof. Below the cucumbers and tomatoes I’ve planted two small cantaloupe melon plants. No idea how they’ll fair, we will have to wait and see.