RSPB Garden Birdwatch 2020

Well, its that time of year again when we sit and watch the birds in the garden for an hour or so. As ever, the weather isn’t the best and it makes one wonder why we do it now. However, whilst we didn’t see all the variety of birds that regularly come to our garden, there were more than last year:

  • Chaffinch;
  • Woodpigeon;
  • Robin;
  • Blackbird;
  • Blue Tit;
  • Great Tit;
  • Dunnock;
  • Long Tailed Tit;
  • Magpie;
  • Green Woodpecker;
  • Greater Spotted Woodpecker;
  • Crow.

What was missing from things we’ve seen in the past were:

  • Tree Creeper;
  • Nuthatch;
  • Wren;
  • Thrush.

Last week we had a flock of Fieldfares come for a short while (until I frightened them off by looking out of the window). Unusually, the Green Woodpecker spent a lot of time digging at the lawn, the ground is soft and gooey still because of all the rain. The Tits are too numerous and active to be able to count them accurately, they fly from the bushes to the feeders and then away, then back (or is a different one), then away, etc., etc.. All good fun.

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Recipe: Fish Tagine

This recipe isn’t really a Tagine but it has all the taste of a Moroccan dish. When we first made it we were nervous of the spice quantities and we reduced them from the recipe we started with and ended up with this version. We’re looking for ways to reduce the number of pans (sauce, rice/couscous, ovenproof dish) that you end up using but I think you need to cook up the sauce separately.

Ingredients (for 2)

  • White fish (we used Basa) cut into suitable sized chunks;
  • 1/2 Onion (chopped);
  • 1 garlic clove;
  • 1/2 handful parsley leaves;
  • 200g chopped tomatoes;
  • carrots (thinly sliced);
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin;
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper;
  • black pepper;
  • pinch of sugar;
  • 150ml water.

For the Marinade:

  • Coriander leaves;
  • pepper;
  • 2 garlic cloves;
  • 1 tbsp paprika;
  • 1/4 tsm cayenne pepper;
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cumin;
  • 1/4 squeezed lemon;
  • Olive Oil


Put all the marinade ingredients into a small food processor and whizz together (make sure there’s enough olive oil to make a reasonable paste).

Put the fish and the marinade into a shallow ovenproof dish, stir the marinade over the fish making sure its all covered. Cover with a lid and put it into the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 190C, put the onion, parsley & garlic into the food processor and whizz until finely chopped. Put into a saucepan on a medium heat, add the chopped tomatoes, water, sliced carrots, cumin, cayenne pepper, sugar, bring to the boil then simmer (covered) for about 15 minutes.

When the carrots are cooked, take the fish out of the fridge, pour the sauce over the fish and mix it well. Cover with foil (or the lid) and put it into the oven for about 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked.

While all this is going on cook some rice or couscous to serve it with.

We like our vegetables slightly crunchy so be aware that the carrots might not be soft (if that’s the way you like them) we were thinking we might put the carrots into the food processor with the parsley in future. We served it with brown rice which meant that we started cooking that at the same time as we were making the sauce and kept it warm for a few minutes at the end before serving. If you want, you can serve it with lemon wedges but we didn’t find it necessary.

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End of October 2019 – Review

Well, we’ve got to the end of October, the clocks have gone back and fireworks are beginning to sound in advance of Guy Fawkes Night. I tend to think about now as the end of the productive year and start to think about what should be done for next year.

Its been a funny old year, some things have done well and others badly. Always a good reason to grow a mix of things. So lets do a full review. First just to let you know how much space I’ve got. Having given up the allotment at the start of last year, I’ve now got: three raised beds (a total of about 30 sq yards); a polytunnel (20ft x 10ft); two 6ftx8ft greenhouses; 2 rhubarb crowns; 4ftx8ft raspberry canes; 2 apple trees (Discovery and one other that I’m not quite sure of). All in all not a vast space but enough for fun. So a summary of how things have done:

French Beans: (grown in the polytunnel) done well, they’re all over now and I’ve collected seeds to grow again next year. A total of about 10kg which were enough to make some chutney (probably not enough to last out the winter but enough to add flavour to sandwiches). I’ve also learned that sowing in succession works well and we picked the last beans only this week. Definitely to grow again next year. A mix of various varieties of dwarf and climbing means that they crop over a longer period of time and reduces the glut/starve that you get when they’re all the same variety.

Courgettes: (raised bed) also done well. Five plants has been enough to give us about 17kg and again the plants have been taken out this week with the very last fruit being added to a stir fry.

Broad Beans: (raised bed) they come early (I only sow them once at the end of the year – in fact I’ve just sown next year’s crop). They’re easy to deal with and come out early enough that another crop (usually courgettes) can be put into the space making good use of the land.

Lettuce: (Polytunnel & raised bed) – I try to fit lettuce in wherever there’s space and grow a mix of different varieties and colours perhaps to mix in with shop bought lettuce when there’s not enough. An awful lot of them go on the compost heap because they seem to bolt quite easily but compost is always useful and the lettuce fill the spaces and keep the ground productive.

Cabbage: (Raised bed & Polytunnel) – I grew eight cabbages from plants. I’ve always had difficulty getting seeds to the point where the plants are big enough to transplant so this year I decided to buy some plants and grow them. Too big for the raised beds, they interfered with most of the things I was trying to grow but the eight plants produced 6+kg which was pleasing. The issue (as ever) is that everything comes at the same time so these were coming when the French Beans were producing but they seemed to be OK and we didn’t end up throwing any away.

Cucumber: (Polytunnel & Greenhouse) – we grew four plants and got 12kg of cucumbers which I count as a success.

Fruit: We grow a mix of fruits. Autumn Raspberries, Alpine Strawberries, Rhubarb and Physalis. The Autumn Raspberries are from the allotment so this year was their second and we got enough for a handful with a cereal every morning from mid July until last week. Mixed with the physalis (which I like) and the alpine strawberries it adds flavour. A total of about 4kg, not enough to need to freeze them but still a success. I’m hoping that next year the raspberries will do even better. We also had about 5kg of rhubarb which has the benefit of two harvests neither of which seem to conflict with anything else.

Apples: we have two apple trees and this year both have done well. The eater (Discovery I think) is plundered by the squirrels and, no matter what I do, nothing seems to stop them. This year the magpies have joined in, damaging many of the apples. Despite this, we’ve had a good harvest of both types.

Beetroot & Swiss Chard: these are normally bankers, producing early and late crops. However, this year they were heavily infected with leaf miner and the first sowing had to be thrown out. As a result they neither did very well. The problem is I don’t know whether leaf miner live in the soil, in which case I should probably give them a miss next year, or if it was just a bad year. Decision to be made.

Carrots: the last of the things we grow outside and they are harvesting well now having been quite poor earlier in the year. The raised beds mean that the carrots are growing in decent soil so the individual carrots are a decent size.

Tomatoes: this is where I started years ago and what most of this site is about. However, this year has been the worst I can remember. I blame the weather but, I know I’m also to blame. I didn’t cut off any of the sideshoots so the plants were overproducing greenery and there was poor ventilation. From the 35 plants, we only harvested about 15kg of fruit. Even my normally guaranteed cultivars didn’t produce much. Need to look after them better next year.

Conclusion: a mixed year of good and not so good. I’m glad I gave up the allotment, the amount of time spent there wasn’t worth the effort (that’s not to say that I am against allotments per se, if there were some nearer to where we live, I would jump at the chance, but driving 20 minutes to the allotment seems wrong and walking is even worse). I’m learning what grows productively and what doesn’t but, as always, the answer is a mix. It both reduces the instantaneous glut and reduces the impact of an individual failure.

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End of September 2019 Update

So, we’ve reached the end of September and autumn is beginning to make itself felt. The days are already noticeably shorter and the temperatures are starting to drop.

The polytunnel has certainly slowed down, french beans have produced less than 1kg of beans although some of the late sowings are still producing edible beans. We’ve quite a lot of beans which aren’t edible as green beans but are OK as beans. Some of these we will hang on to to give us beans to sow for next year others we’ll eat (but not dry).

The tomatoes are still not doing well. We’ve got grey mould more or less throughout all the plants and the fruit are still struggling to ripen. So we’ve got the worst of all worlds, green fruit on plants that are dying and infecting each other with mould. So we have to pick the fruit and keep them separated so that the mouldy fruit don’t infect any that stand a chance of ripening. There are lots (ish) of very small tomatoes, many of which don’t have any seeds so we’re even struggling to get enough seeds to be able to sow for next year. September has seen us pick around 8kg of tomatoes and we’re beginning to make decisions about what we grow next year, with a view that says “very few different varieties” so that we can give everything more attention.

Courgettes and Cucumbers are also just about done (2kg Courgettes & 4kg cucumber) but there are still cucumbers setting so we have enough not to need to buy from the supermarket (yet). The lettuce have also finished, we’ve got more plants growing and we’ll put them in the polytunnel hoping that they’ll grow slowly over the winter (providing we can keep them free of slugs).

Talking of slugs, I thought I’d done well to get some spring cabbages growing (I always have difficulties with brassicas) then half of them got taken by slugs one night. Its a good job I always sow more than I need, they’ll go into the raised beds (protected from the squirrels, birds and slugs) to see if I can grow some for next spring.

Beetroot and carrots are starting to produce and I’ll be clearing the raised beds soon, leaving the swiss chard for next spring and sowing broad beans to fill the space early on.

A mixed time with fruit, the raspberries and alpine strawberries have produced enough for us to have a handful on our cereal every morning and the physalis are doing really well. Sorting them out and getting rid of split ones is a bit of a problem but it shows they’re still fun and worthwhile. However, despite the battle with the squirrels and magpies, we’ve had a reasonable crop of eating apples (Discovery) and we’ve been dehydrating them as well as eating them as one does apples. I think we’ll have enough to see us until the end of October but before then my guess is that we’ll be cooking the softer ones. I’m planning to pick the cookers this weekend. They have done better than I’ve ever seen. Each apple is bigger than 250g and there must be 40 or 50 still on the tree. So there will be a cooking activity so that we can freeze them down to eat through the winter. (I’ve learned how to make a decent crumble after all this time).

So that’s it about 20kg of things picked (excluding apples) through September and some things still producing. The next few weeks will be mainly clearing out the polytunnel and greenhouses ready for next year and the mammoth task of replacing the cover on the polytunnel which has decided to give up the ghost after 13 years. Getting a replacement cover seems to be going to be more difficult than I would have thought, the company who I bought the tunnel from back in 2005 say that Brexit is making their life too difficult.

Ah well.

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Recipe: Tomato and Bean Soup

A simple tasty tomato soup recipe which is very much like Minestrone Soup but without the pasta (although you could extend the recipe to include pasta if you wanted to.

Its a good one to use up tomatoes and very warming as the evenings draw in in autumn.

The ingredients in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (makes four servings)

  • 1kg tomatoes;
  • carrots (2 large or equivalent);
  • celery;
  • onion;
  • garlic;
  • 1xtbsp tomato puree;
  • 800ml vegetable stock;
  • 1 400g tin of beans (borlotti, cannelini or whatever)

(The quantities are not given because basically you can add as much or as little as you like).

Tomato & Bean Soup


Chop the onion, carrots, sage and celery and fry in a little oil in a large pan for about 15 minutes until they’re softened.

Chop the tomatoes and add them together with garlic paste, tomato paste and cook for a further 15 minutes (or so);

Add the stock & bring it to a boil, then cook for a further 30 minutes. You can leave the pan covered or boil it uncovered if you like your soup a bit thicker.

Blend the mixture with a stick blender leaving some lumps so that the soup has some texture.

Finally add the beans and heat it up until the beans are warmed through.

Serve whilst piping hot.

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End of August 2019 Update

(I forgot to publish this before the end of August but it still makes sense even two weeks later)

We’re now at the end of August and the Polytunnel has continued to produce reasonable quantities of various things.But first the bad. The tomatoes are well behind normal August last year saw over 15kg of fruit. This year its under 3kg. Obviously its depends upon the cultivars being grown but this year the plants have grown too much green and not enough flowers. Its largely my fault, I have tended them as well as I should and I’ve got too many different varieties. So next year (as ever) more attention to the plants and fewer unknown varieties. I think I should focus more on those that I know I like and less upon extending the number of varieties in my collection.

Whether its part of the too much greenery or just the varieties, I’ve found that many of those which have ripened are pretty tasteless and won’t be grown again. Definite no growers are Micro Tom and Giallo D’Iverno. Micro Tom has absolutely no flavour and Giallo D’Iverno is almost bitter. On the other hand Petit Moineau are full of flavour and Angelle is early, tastes reasonable and comes in quantity.

I’m hoping that the next few weeks will see the tomatoes fruiting well and we’ll end up with a reasonable crop.

At the other end of the spectrum, the French Beans have done really well. Last year August produced less than half a kilo of beans, this year we’ve had four and a half out of the same space. I grow French Beans in the Polytunnel, 14 poles of climbing and 2/3rd of a bed of dwarf. If I’ve leaned anything this year, its to pick the flat beans when they’re smaller than you think they should be. As soon as they grow large (by which I mean over six inches long) they get stringy. The pencil beans don’t seem to have this problem. My favourite remains Blue Lake. A heavy cropper of tasty beans so I grow those up seven of the poles and then mix different varieties on the others.

Similarly, this year has been a good one for Courgettes (8.5kg vs 1.7kg last year), Cucumbers (5kg vs 2kg).

Lettuce has also done well although some of the seed is getting a bit old and its hard to work out which are going to germinate.

The Polytunnel in August – Beans on the right and cucumbers etc. on the left

New this year were cabbages which have done well the problem being the space that they take up.

Failures (as ever) have been radishes, whatever I do they don’t grow sensibly; swiss chard & beetroot, both of which were badly affected by leaf miner and I’m hoping that whilst it will have affected the size of the crop I’ll still have some to pick and (in the case of beetroot) pickle. The last sowing of swiss chard seem to avoided leaf miner and so hopefully, there will be leaves to come in the spring.

The battle with the squirrels continues and the magpies have joined in. A significant percentage of the crop of eating apples has been had by one or the other although there are still lots more than last year and the eaters (Discovery) are now ripe and almost ready to pick. I’m hoping that we’ll pick them in the next fortnight or so and they’ll be enough to last us to the beginning of winter. The cookers seem to have been left alone and we have a lot more than last year.

Finally the Raspberries and Alpine Strawberries are fruiting enough to give us each a handful to go with our cereal each day.

All in all, a good August, productive and a lot less annoying that the allotment.

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Recipe: Courgette, Ham & Cheese

At this time of year, regardless of what you try to do, you get a glut or a dearth of courgettes. If its a “good year” its a glut, if its a “bad year” there aren’t enough. This year its a glut. So, you pick them small (when you can eat them almost whole) then you miss some and the result is something approaching marrow size very quickly.

This is an alternative to soup and, if you use enough courgette, a reasonable supper. It takes longer than you hope and needs time in the microwave and the oven but, is tasty.

We use tomato sauce from the freezer. Usually we have an excess of tomatoes and one way of storing them is to make a sauce of tomatoes and onions which we freeze in quantities suitable for things like spaghetti bolognese but this recipe uses one portion.

The ingredients in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (for two)

  • 2 large courgettes;
  • 1 portion Tomato Sauce
  • Sliced Ham
  • 75gm grated cheese
Courgette with ham & cheese


Halve the courgettes and scrape out the seeds, leaving a hollow to fill with the rest of the ingredients;

Put the halved courgettes into a oven- & microwave-proof dish and cover with cling film. Microwave for about 5-10 minutes or until mainly cooked but still firm.

Fill the cooked courgettes with the tomato sauce lay the sliced ham on top and then top with the grated cheese.

Oven bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese has melted and browned slightly.

There you are done, serve with whatever vegetables you like and don’t forget to use the oven to cook something else whilst you’re going (we usually make an apple crumble or something like that).

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Recipe: Courgett & Sweet Potato Soup

At this time of year, regardless of what you try to do, you get a glut or a dearth of courgettes. If its a “good year” its a glut, if its a “bad year” there aren’t enough. This year its a glut. So, you pick them small (when you can eat them almost whole) then you miss some and the result is something approaching marrow size very quickly.

Soup is always a reasonable solution, make it in large(ish) batches, eat it two days in succession and freeze the rest for another day. Alternatively if production is out of control, make, freeze, make, freeze until the freezer is full then you have to think of something else.

This recipe is good in that it makes a hearty soup and the amount of courgette you add is up to you. With large courgettes cut out the middle seedy bit which means that there’s more courgette skin and a heartier soup.

The ingredients in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (for two)

  • 1 Onion;
  • 2 Sweet Potatoes;
  • 2 large or 4 small courgettes (more if you want);
  • Vegetable Stock;
  • 1-2 tsp Garlic paste;
  • 1 tsp Ginger;
  • Oil to fry
Soup & Bread


Chop the onion & fry gently for a few minutes to soften. Add the roughly chopped sweet potato, courgettes, garlic and ginger and fry for a few minutes longer.

Add the stock, season with black pepper and simmer for 15 minutes or so.

With a stick blender whizz it to a soup.

There you are, more courgettes used in a tasty summer soup.

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Recipe: Mackerel & Rhubarb

Not one of our usual recipes but something we tried and like.

Mackerel is in season from the end of July, is a cheap and tasty oily fish so is “good for you”. We have a few recipes as well as just grilling them this one is different in that it includes vegetables from our garden.

Its very similar to another fish parcel that we use for Salmon, Trout and other whole fish with the key addition of rhubarb. Try it, we’re convinced you’ll like it.

The ingredients in italics are from our garden.

Ingredients (for two)

  • Two whole mackerel (deheaded, preferably filleted as it makes eating easier);
  • 200g Rhubarb;
  • 100g courgettes;
  • 4cm Ginger (or equivalent ginger paste);
  • 2 cloves Garlic (or equivalent);
  • 4tsp soy sauce;
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes;
  • 2tsp soft brown sugar;
  • 2tbsp cider or wine vinegar.
Mackerel & Rhubarb


Preheat the oven to 190C. Cut two pieces of foil one for each mackerel & oil them. Cut the rhubarb into pieces 7-10cm long then slice them up thinly lengthways. Lay the rhubarb in the middle of the foil and the mackerel on top of that.

Sprinkle the other ingredients evenly over the fish and put some garlic & chilli inside the fish cavity. Then make a neat parcel with the foil. Put the parcels on a baking tray (the rhubarb might create quite a lot of liquid and you don’t want that spilling into the oven) and cook for 20-30 minutes until the fish is cooked through and peels away from the bone (if cooked whole) when tested.

The rhubarb, vinegar, soy sauce and sugar make a delicious liquid slightly sweet/acidic which contrasts well with the oiliness of the mackerel.

We serve it with bean salad, other salad and a bread roll but rice and a vegetable would be just as good.

And there you have it, a cheap, tasty quick meal.

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End of July Update – 2019

We’ve come to the end of July and the garden/polytunnel are both doing well with decent harvests of French Beans, Cucumbers and Courgettes adding to the Lettuce (which are still going well). However, the Radishes, Broad Beans and Peas have finished for the year.

Whatever I do with Radishes, they never seem to be as easy as everybody suggests, they’re spindly and consumed by the slugs before they ever seem to get started. I get one reasonable early crop then after that nothing. I think I have to accept that and stop being disappointed. The broad beans and peas did okay with just about 1kg of each from the little space that I let them have. My plan with broad beans next year is to sow them in Octover/November this year and give them about half of the outside bed or a full raised bed then when they’ve finished cropping I’ll fill the space with lettuces. Peas I’m less sure about, sugar snap seem to be the best and whether I grow more than one short row is a question. They’re nice in salads but not so good cooked.

The Courgettes, cucumbers and French Beans are in the process of giving us a glut so I’ve made Relish with a picking of beans and soup with some of the Courgettes. We were away for a couple of days and as a result we had 2.5kg of courgettes from our six plants.

Late July Crop – 2 days away

We’re getting a small amount of fruit, the Blueberries are largely finished but the Raspberries are just beginning to deliver and the rhubarb is into its second flush, I don’t think we’ll get much more but enough for a couple of tarts. Even more manure next year!

The fight with the grey squirrels continues, throwing things at them doesn’t seem to be doing any good, I haven’t actually hit one yet (got close) but unless they’re looking at you they don’t notice whatever might be flying near them. Water pistol the next action. I am fed up (to put it mildly) with them stealing the strawberries and the apples. Not enough to kill them but enough to try another technique – water with cayenne pepper I think. There are plenty of apples at the moment but there are also lots of chewed remains at the bottom of the oak tree so if they keep going at this rate we won’t get much of a crop

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