Category Archives: Growing

From frosty leeks to hearty winter leek and potato soup

Post-Christmas we often turn to soup as a way of getting over the inevitable feeling of over-indulgence. For a home-grown homemade ingredient, this time of year is all about leeks for us in the Willow Cottage Garden. So rather inevitably soup du month is leek and potato.

This morning was one of those beautiful winter frosty mornings. Fantastic for walking the dog, but not so great for harvesting a couple of rows of leeks. I always find prepping leeks a bit of a faff to be honest, so prefer to do more han I need when I’ve got the time to do it. The frosty leaks were frozen through. They haven’t been looking so great this year either, but we had plenty for what I needed today.

Frost leeks

Frosty leeks


I use the spade to do some of the rough trimming of the roots and leaves which saves bringing any of the mud (and lumps of clay) into the house.

Leek trimmings

Leek trimmings, for the compost when I warm up


My hands were so frozen I’ve decided to leave these for when I’ve warmed up a bit and can pop them onto the compost heap.

Next up is cleaning the leeks up for cooking. I usually do this in the sink, and drop the trimmings straight into a bucket. 

Prepping leeks

Prepping the leeks


One thing I’ll never understand is how bits of mud work their way right into the leaves of the leek. It’s impo rant to get the mud out or you’ll end up with gritty soup!

Cleaning leeks

How does the mud get in here?


Onto cooking…
Ingredients (for serving 4-6)

Butter for softening onions and leeks

1 onion, diced

225g/8oz potatoes, cubed

2 medium leeks,sliced

1.2 litres/2 pints vegetable stock

150ml/5fl oz double cream, crème fraîche or a pinch of greated cheddar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Homegrown leeks and onions

Homegrown leeks and onions


Method

1. Soften the leeks and onions in a pan. Add the potatoes and cook for three to four minutes.

Softening leeks

Softening leeks. I do this in a frying pan then add to the soup pot.

2. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add seasoning and simmer until the potatoes are soft.

3. Blend the indregients together. Reheat and add the cream, crème fraîche or cheese to serve.

Leek and potato soup

Leek and potato soup, with cheddar cheese


Yum, and now I’ve warmed up, back to the garden!

Him

A tour of the garden in July

I managed to get out and take a few pictures in-between rain storms today. I thought you might like a look.

The borders are looking full and green. The roses, lavender and cosmos are flowering well.

The orchard is recovering after a hard winter. We were unsure whether the grass would come back. The chickens and ducks are enjoying the growth and if you look carefully you can see that it was actually long enough to mow a path down the middle.

Lots of change in the veg patch. That scarecrow is in desperate need of a makeover.

The spinach is already going to flower, the potatoes are cropping well and the courgettes are huge! The only thing not looking great is my runner beans.

Do you remember that I am trying to grow my runner beans along side my sweet peas? Well, so far, neither look great. They are about 50cm high and still have a long way to climb up those poles we put in! You can just see the purple sprouting broccoli plant down the middle. They are doing really well.

We have a new addition to the garden – a rather handsome rhubarb forcer.

Here’s hoping the sun shines…

Her x

We’re back in action!

Phew! Well, it’s been a busy nine months or so, but we’re pleased to be back in action on what seems to have been the first sunny and warm(ish) day of the year.

Where have we been? Well, we mentioned a while back that we were going to have some building work done. We had great plans in place to blog our summer living in the garden. We had a bit of a go, then the building work took over…

The rain finally stopped and after a few weeks house-sitting for friends on holiday and sleeping on the living room floor at the in-laws me managed an impressive six weeks under canvas in the back garden.

The builders thought we were crazy, but were very good at leaving things like a pipe for water (operated by spanner), a toilet (open to the elements) and an electric socket so we could boil the kettle or operate the slow cooker (but not at the same time).

We had some particular highlights: the boy’s 8th campfire birthday party (no toilet access for the night but a bucket covered ably); drinking wine from jam jars because we packed all the glasses; and just generally going to sleep when the sun went down with the sound of Nature around you.

Lowlights, on the other hand, were: toilet facilities (for girls in particular), washing (people and clothes) and there are only so many variations on slow cooker food that one family can possibly enjoy (crunchy rice a particular favourite).

Building work

We’re pleased with the results…but just looking forward to getting back to the garden.

Him and Her x

PS. We’ll add some posts from garden adventures soon

Beautiful berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, red currants and dessert gooseberries.

The berry patch looks like a jungle; all the rain has produced loads of lush green growth that has tangled together. The fruitcage looks like it may fall down at any moment, but  it is doing its job. The birds seem to be leaving the berries alone and despite the weather the berries  are ripening.

Picking them is not for the faint hearted as you really do need to fight your way in. During a break in the rain this afternoon, I braved the jungle and was rewarded with a fine selection of produce!

There are still many un-ripened berries on the bushes with no sign of any blueberries yet. I picked a few from each bush but the glut has still to appear.

I think the first berry crop needs to be eaten as it is, fresh and unaltered. Others I will jam, freeze, stew and jelly but these I think will just be enjoyed in the pure form – yummy! I love the taste of fresh summer berries and hope this harvest will be the first of many more.

Can you spot the glimmer of berries hidden in the bushy, wild and overgrown fruit cage?

The only pests we have are slugs! They have been having a wonderful  munch on my strawberries that I having lovingly tended all spring.  The straw surrounding them is very soggy, probably providing a cosy home for slugs and snails. Hubby suggested a beer trap – I think I will give it a try!

Her x

The cupboards are bare and the boxes are packed but we need the rain to stop before we start the building work!

It has been a hectic few weeks. We have been living our usual everyday lives as well as fitting in all the extra tasks of packing, setting up a base in the garden and liaising with builders.

We now have a house full of boxes.

…most of them packed with the contents of our cupboards.

Bare cupboards.

Empty shelves.

But the camping stuff remains in the bag. The weather is just rubbish. We have had so much rain that the builders have delayed the start of our build!

So here we are, living in chaos, ready to move into the garden at a moment’s notice, waiting for the weather to improve. Come on summer, make an appearance soon! The children are raring to start living outside, the outdoor adventure we talked about was supposed to have started by now. Instead, we are in a semi-camping state, living in our house with everything packed away.

I picked a bunch of garden flowers today, then realised I had packed all the vases. I had to make do with a jam jar, they still looked pretty and cheered up my empty kitchen.

Her x

How many chickens and ducks should we keep to provide eggs for a family of five?

We currently have 11 chickens and three ducks – they are lovely characters and have become family pets. Unlike most pets they are also useful as they provide us with a supply of lovely fresh eggs.

I often wonder if we have too many birds?

How many would be the perfect number to provide eggs for our family of five?

My hubby complains we don’t have enough and he would love to add more varieties to our collection.

An important consideration is how much space you have. Our chickens live in the orchard and share two houses. We try to keep the chickens and ducks separate at night but they will often tuck up together. In fact, the chickens love going to bed with the duck – maybe he is seen as a replacement cockerel?

The chickens and ducks live on grass and if we have too many we lose the grass and end with a mud bath. Fewer birds would ensure we always keep the grass.

Regular readers will know that I am always trying to use up eggs. We have a noticeable lack over winter and a huge glut in summer. We are not keen on pickled eggs so they all tend to get eaten fresh, baked or given away. I do sometimes sell a few at work.

I wonder if it makes economic sense to have all these extra eggs that I am trying to use, give away or sell. I make a little money but I don’t think I cover the cost of keeping them.

So, from our birds we are collecting between 8-10 eggs a day at the moment. We are eating lots but I could easily manage on less than this. As we lose hens we replace a few at a time to ensure we always have a mixed age range. This helps keep up the supply of eggs. I am wondering about not replacing any for a while so they naturally reduce their numbers.

I think 4-6 eggs a day would be more than enough. That’s 28-42 a week! I could still provide some for family and friends but at a more manageable level.

So less birds would mean fewer eggs, less cost of keeping them, less mess, less wear and tear on the garden and less cleaning out!

I think I just have to persuade the Hubby!

Her x

The packing has commenced – look out garden, here we come!

We have started the horrible process of packing up our house ahead of our garden adventure. I love my garden very much. I just hope I feel the same way after living in it for 6-8 weeks while we have some building work on our house.

Hubby and I have been planning this for a long time. We dream of more indoor space, better storage and an upstairs bathroom. Unfortunately the only way to get that without moving is building work.

We have made the brave (or stupid) decision to live in a tent in our garden for the duration of the building works.  We need to set up some sort of living space. I think we are considering two tents, a summer house and outdoor camp kitchen at the moment.

I am thinking that the long summer nights will be perfect for pottering round the garden, tending to the veg garden and enjoying the outdoors. Is this a rather romantic view of it?

So, we started the packing. We have lived here for nine years and in that time have filled the loft, every cupboard and every nook and cranny. Packing is not a job I look forward to or enjoy. Hubby is more keen, I think he sees it as an opportunity to throw out things he thinks is useless and I see as interesting.

There is actually two of my children hidden in these boxes. They developed a great technique for assembling boxes – one would wear the box on their head while the other taped it up!

Little lady was a bit sad to pack all the cuddly toys away.

Our house has been slowly filling with boxes ready to go into storage.

So far, we are one-third through the loft, kids’ rooms are packed up except for beds, books packed and under the stairs area sorted!

Still a long way to go….three weeks left until we move out.

Her x