A bit of a mixture for this last March blog post - ranging from my fascinating visit to the first 'Edible Garden Show': very busy, where I discovered a rhubarb forcer and offer you a recipe for using it (the rhubarb, not the forcer!), to working in the garden, progress in my potager and the imminent start of BST. I was just one of over 10,800 visitors who converged on Stoneleigh near Coventry last weekend. Apart from assessing all the stands, I was able to gather much useful information from vendors and organisations which will feature in forthcoming blog posts over the next couple of months. Even if you couldn't attend, you can still listen to 'Gardeners’ Question Time' which was recorded from the showground on the opening day with Eric Robson and the GQT panel – Anne Swithinbank, Pippa Greenwood and Bob Flowerdew. The programme will be broadcast this Friday, March 25th and again on Sunday, March 27th.
forced rhubarb is sweeter and more tender than when left to its own devices; cover with an upturned dustbin - or purchase a proper rhubarb forcer, as shown below
Stewed or Poached Rhubarb may not be to everyone’s taste, but if cooked as follows (and given the more genteel name of compote!), it is rich and syrupy and entirely palatable when served with thick cream or custard and sweet sponge cake. To poach 500gms (1lb) rhubarb, first prepare a heavy syrup: in a Teflon-lined pan over a low heat, dissolve one cup of granulated sugar in one cup of water; bring to the boil and boil for 3-5 minutes. Into this syrup place the young forced rhubarb, washed and cut into short lengths, avoiding any stringy stalks. Cover the pan and over a low heat bring very slowly to simmering point. Do not stir or you will finish with a ‘mush’; allow to cool.
I spotted this terracotta rhubarb forcer at 'The Edible Garden Show' - perfect to bring forward a crop of early fruiting stems. Incorporate plenty of organic matter into the soil, similarly once you have finished cropping for the season, to allow the plant to regain strength. (Don't crop in the first year of planting and, when harvesting, pull and twist the stem rather than cutting it - ignore the leaves which contain oxalic acid and are poisonous).
You probably cannot wait for the start of British Summer Time (BST): the clocks go forward at midnight on Saturday and thereafter, we can snatch time in the garden after work. Lucky are those like me who work freelance from home and no longer have to commute. You have to be self-disciplined, and not sneak into the garden to sow and plant whenever you feel like it, though admittedly, a huge advantage is that you can check the greenhouse or cold-frames at lunch time, or during coffee breaks. There's always something needing attention, and maybe because one only has to step outside the door; essential jobs are ignored. "I can always do that tomorrow!" And so I don't, but take pen and paper instead, walk outside and begin to write.
Potager Progress: not been able to do anything for over a week now, but have observed much bird activity. Breakfast with a cup of coffee and you'd see me ticking the species off on my hand-made bird-chart - I always record the date I first see any bird for the first time each month. But my new raised beds have arrived, and with these lighter evenings, I'll be outside again, and should have so much more to report.
Click on this image to enlarge the pages so you can read them more easily; not so long an entry this week as I haven't been in the garden for the last seven days, other than to feed the birds, and the hens.
I'm taking a break from posting for a couple of weeks whilst I help the Dobies team with the next e-newsletter, due out in a week's time (meanwhile you can see the last online edition here) - you can register to receive every monthly edition. Please come back to the blog the following week; we have lots in store for you in the coming months.