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.

Advertisements

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”.

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!

Lemons galore!

The great thing about lemon trees is that certain types, such as Cuatro Estaciones (Four Seasons), will fruit several times a year so you will almost always be prepared for friends to drop in for a gin and tonic! Furthermore, citrus trees are perfect for the mini-gardener who only has space for trees in pots. Even small trees will regularly be bowed down with copious quantities of fruit on our island where the climate is so ideal for lemons and oranges.

In general, lemons keep better on the tree than off it, so there’s no need to rush to pick them every time they turn from green to yellow. However, if they are beginning to reach their sell-by date or a friendly neighbour hands you a large bagful over the garden wall, as mine regularly does, don’t panic. There are many ways of making use of even the biggest glut and not waste a drop of that wonderful vitamin C.Image

The quickest way of using the whole fruit is to remove the outermost layer of zest with a potato peeler and leave the thin strips to dry on a plate before converting them to powder with a blender and storing in an airtight jar. A spoonful of powder in hot water makes a refreshing drink and can also be added to herbal infusions.

Juice the lemons and freeze the juice in an ice tray for use with hot or cold water. A daily dose of lemon juice improves the immune system, is great for combating skin problems and is said to aid digestion and be helpful to those who want to lose a few pounds. However, don’t overdo it as the one unwanted side effect of excess vitamin C is increased flatulence.

If you also have some fresh dill or parsley available, you may wish to fill ice cube sections with chopped herbs and then top up with lemon juice for an instant dressing to be used on fish or salads.

For easy storage, pop the lemon cubes into a bag once they’re frozen.

If you enjoy lemon curd, nothing can beat making it fresh. Any of the jars that have button tops are suitable to wash out thoroughly and reuse. So long as the button “re-seals” and is hard when the curd cools, it will keep for several months in your store cupboard. Once opened jars should be refrigerated. Lemon curd is very versatile and can be used on toast, as a filling for cakes or as a speedy cheat when making lemon meringue pie, it’s also delicious stirred into natural yoghurt.

To make about 4 small pots you will need: the finely grated zest and juice of 3 lemons (for lime curd replace the lemons with 4 limes); 200g white sugar; 115g unsalted butter; 2 large eggs; 2 large egg yolks.

Method: place a Pyrex bowl above a pan of boiling water.  Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter in the bowl. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Beat the eggs and yokes thoroughly until completely blended. Add the eggs to the lemon mixture while whisking. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon over a low heat and allow the curd to cook until it is thick and coats the back of the spoon. Meanwhile warm your clean jars and lids either in a low oven or weighted in hot water (so that the insides remain dry). Pour the curd into the warmed jars to within half a centimetre of the rim. Tighten their lids immediately and wait to hear the satisfying “pop” when they seal as they cool.

No blog on lemons would be complete for me without adding my friend, Beth’s, recipe for lemon snow. It’s been a favourite in our household for more than 30 years, for me, because it’s so quick and easy, while for everyone else it’s because it melts in your mouth.

Beth’s lemon snow has just three ingredients: A can of evaporated milk (chilled in the fridge for a few hours); a sachet of lemon jelly; 2 lemons.

Method: Dissolve the jelly in 250ml of boiling water. Leave to cool for 20minutes. Finely grate the zest from both lemons and add it with the juice to the jelly. Whip the evaporated milk until doubled in size then tip in the jelly/lemon mix and whip until fully blended. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl and chill until set.

Lemon trees require minimal attention on Mallorca. Trim out any dead wood and give them an iron-rich feed if the leaves begin to look pale in places. Although pot-housed trees require more frequent watering, once established in a garden, lemon trees only need extra water in the most extreme dry summers. Many other sites detail a myriad of ways you can employ the fruit to clean metal, negate unpleasant fridge smells and a host of other uses in addition to the culinary ones. A true super-fruit.