After wind, plants need some love

After all the wind the island has experienced during the past ten days, I noticed many of our plants and trees had leaves that looked dead around the edges. Although we’ve enjoyed some refreshing rain, large shrubs and trees become dehydrated far quicker by wind than by drought, and unhappy leaves are a sure sign they’ve been affected.Image

So, in spite of the rain, most of my garden (apart from the vines) has been treated to a little extra water plus a good dose of copper spray on their leaves (including the vines).

Copper spray acts as a general fungicide so plants that are susceptible to black spot or mildew will benefit from regular use. Citrus trees and avocados, in particular, seem to become glossier almost over-night following treatment. When you visit your local garden centre you may see tell-tale bluish-brown dollops on plant leaves. This reveals that they’ve been given their strengthening medicine recently.

If there are late heavy rains, after vines and trees have already produced dense leaves,  the risk of mildew is increased. This problem ruined all our grapes a couple of years ago. After this experience we discovered that a thorough copper spraying could have saved both leaves and fruit before the problem became acute. It’s also useful on pear and apple trees if you see any evidence of fire blight disease. This is when the tips of leaves and shoots blacken and droop into crook shapes. Remove and burn any black parts and then spray the whole tree with copper spray, reapplying in a fortnight if the tree is still looking poorly.

Although copper spray is certified for use by organic gardeners, if you wish to go even further down the green road some gardeners claim that liquid seaweed achieves much the same results. This is said to work by boosting beneficial fungi which then counteract any bad ones.

Pesto Paradise

Finally it’s warm enough for basil seeds to germinate outside. With the first glimpse of their little green heads, every spare pot in the house has been filled with compost and pressed into action – to say we love pesto could be an understatement.

For me, the smell of basil brings a smile, it’s an aroma that conjures up everything that’s relaxed about summer.Image

Anyway, to get down to the business of growing it: in my book, the classic large-leafed basil is the only way to go, however, if you have a passion for a more aniseed flavour buy the slightly crinkly-leaved variety. One seed packet can easily provide sufficient for pesto and salad usage throughout the summer, plus 20-30 packets of frozen pesto stacked in the freezer so that pesto-addicts need never go without.

Fill your pots with compost and sprinkle the seeds over the surface before covering with a thin layer of compost and gently firming down. Keep the compost moist, but not drenched, until you see a haze of green shoots. When the plants have produced their first crop of large leaves, pinch out the top shoot to encourage them to expand sideways and stop them from going into their seed-producing stage too quickly. As with lettuce, the trick is to keep harvesting the leaves as you need them, letting the plant rest and produce some more while you harvest off other pots.

I thought this was what everybody did until a friend of mine asked to take some basil home with him at the end of a barbecue.

“Sure,” I said, beginning to turn to go into the house for a bowl. Before my jaw even had time to hit the floor, he had snapped off four or five plants – he was a chef, not a gardener! Guillotined basil doesn’t live, but had the plants just had their leaves removed they would have continued to produce for one or two months more. While I may not talk to my plants – at least not when anyone’s within earshot – I do advocate being kind to them, it keeps them alive!

Try to remember to water your plants a couple of hours before you intend to pick leaves, then they are nice and plump, bursting with flavour and at their best for eating.

Personally I don’t like too much oil in my food which is why I always freeze pesto rather than keep it in oil in jars. Small bags take up very little space and make an easy instant meal with a bit of pasta and salad. If you are unfreezing your home-produced pesto in the microwave, do watch it carefully as it unfreezes very quickly and isn’t nearly as good if it’s “cooked”.

To make one bag (enough for about 400g of pasta)  I put a clove of garlic, small handful of pine nuts (or since they’ve become so expensive, almonds), and some ground black pepper in a small food processor. Top this with basil leaves until they’re at the top of the container without being pressed down. Place 3 or 4 chunky slices of parmesan on top of the leaves and drizzle with a little olive oil. If the mixture is too rough add some more olive oil until it is the consistency you like. Either use it immediately, or scoop it into a small freezing bag and keep for later. For variation, pop in a few dried tomatoes to the mix, it makes the flavour even “warmer”.

Mint with pasta – great until basil comes along

Mint with pasta - great until basil comes along

It’s still a little too early for mounds of lush green basil and my store of frozen bags of last year’s pesto is now very thin. However, mint is in abundance and can make a wonderfully refreshing pasta sauce in the interim. Boil about 350g of pasta according to packet instructions. Take a large handful of fresh mint sprigs, strip the leaves into a food processor, add 3 or 4 good lumps of parmesan, a tub of creme fraiche and a good grind of black pepper. Wizz it all together and then add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to loosen the mix. Add either a couple of handfuls of peas, or some asparagus to the pasta a couple of minutes before the end of cooking time, or add some cherry tomatoes directly to the sauce. When the pasta and veg are cooked, stir in the mint sauce and eat!

All herbs are perfect for the mini-gardener who only has space for a few pots on a terrace, and good herb pots make a greater impact on your cooking than anything else. Try to keep herbs together that like the same conditions, for example put mint, parsley and chives in one pot and keep it in an area of partial shade, while putting oregano, thyme, marjoram and basil in areas with plenty of sunshine.

The Kiwi Killer

I love kiwis and innumerable articles tell me I should be able to grow them here in Mallorca. Admittedly most writers caution that it takes time and patience to establish these plants, but I can be patient when it comes to green things.

I planted my first kiwi close to the house where I would see it regularly and respond quickly to its every need. It died. I tried a couple further down the garden, on a different terrace, thinking the soil might suit them better. They died. I tried another beside a sheltered wall. It died. Finally I got serious, asked my husband to build a pergola for my flourishing kiwi farm to climb over and bought three male and five female plants. For three years I gave them the utmost dedication, they grew around the pergola engaging in sporadic bouts of energy which got me tremendously excited but never resulted in a flower let alone a fruit. Now, they’ve died.

“Cut your losses and plant some runner beans,” my husband suggested last week. So, although I feel it’s late in the season to start beans I put a few in a pot and within 48 hours they erupted through the soil and are looking healthier than any kiwi plant that’s ever graced my garden.Image

I promise to stop murdering kiwi plants forthwith and the pergola will finally become a useful garden object for runner beans and then climbing Borlotto beans – which you can dry and then use throughout the year. Sometimes a gardener has to accept defeat!

… However, if anyone has some tips that can guarantee long life and heavy fruiting, I might be persuaded to have one last try!

Not perfect, but very tasty

Not perfect, but very tasty

They wouldn’t meet EU shop beauty standards, but carrots fresh from the garden taste great. Even thinnings can often be used in salads or my daughter’s favourite soup. Just give them a good scrub if they’re too small to peel.
Spicy carrot soup: 25g butter; 600g carrots; 1 large onion; 1 clove of garlic; half tsp cumin and nutmeg; quarter tsp paprika, turmeric, ground ginger and ground corriander; 1 tsp brown sugar; 900ml vegetable stock; 150ml milk; seasoning.
Method: Dice the vegetables and saute gently in the butter for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute before adding the sugar and stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Purée the soup then add the milk and season to taste. Feeds 4 to 6.

Revel in Radishes!

Revel in Radishes!

They are quick and easy to grow – planting to eating is about one month; they’re happy in anything from a pot to a field; the seeds are big enough to handle easily so there’s no need for wastage through thinning, and a single packet will provide sufficient seeds for many months of sowing, but the best thing is that when they travel directly from earth to salad bowl they retain their natural fiery flavour which is generally so absent in shop-bought radish. Remember to eat them before they become too large and woody – there’s always plenty more where they came from!