ASPARAGUS SOUP





If you love making home soups, but get a bit disappointed with the flavour sometimes – then you are going to love this one. I never intended to use this site for recipes but this soup is soooo full of flavour I just had to publish it.

This recipe for asparagus soup is about as simple as it can get, but it isn't just a gourmet starter, try it cold straight out the fridge on hot days too. All you need to do is add a touch of lemon juice - Serves 8

INGREDIENTS

800g asparagus with the woody ends removed
50g of salted butter
2 medium onions
2 sticks of celery
2 leeks
1 tablespoon of plain flour
2 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
150ml of double cream or crème fraishe
1 tablespoon of lemon juice – for serving cold soup only
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a sprig of thyme

Remove the tips from the tops of the asparagus and put these to one side for later. Next, roughly chop the asparagus stalks. Heat up a sauce pan, adding the butter. Chop the onions, celery and leeks then add to sauce pan – gently fry for around 10 minutes until they are soft and sweet. Keep the temperature in the pan low to prevent the onion from colouring.

Sprinkle the tablespoon of flour over the mix and then stir it in so that it can soak up the juices.

Now add the chopped asparagus stalks and stock and simmer for a further 20 minutes with a lid on the sauce pan. Remove from the heat and puree the mix until it is silky smooth using either a hand-held blender or in a liquidizer.

Season the soup bit by bit - this is important - with salt and pepper until it tastes just right.

Finally, stir in the double cream or creme fraiche and the reserved asparagus tips. Re-heat gently for 3-4 minutes until the tips have softened and serve very hot in warm soup bowls garnishing with the sprig of thyme.

If you are serving this dish cold then thoroughly mix the tablespoon of lemon juice into the soup. Cool and chill thoroughly before serving in chilled bowls.

WHAT IS AN ORCHID?





Despite their exotic sounding name, orchids occur in almost every range of habitat apart from deserts and glaciers. The great majority are found in the tropics, although there are a few species that can be found above the Arctic Circle. They are also one of the largest plant families on the planet consisting of over 25,000 species – second only to the aster family ‘Asteraceae’.

Although its name may sound exotic, the word orchid comes from the Greek word Orchis – meaning testicles! This unfortunate label arrived because it described the two rounded tubers that were commonly found on many of the native European orchid species.

As you can imagine orchids come in many different shapes and colours. The characteristics that they all have in common however is that the male and female parts of the flowers (the stamens and pistol) are fused together to form the column.

Other characteristic include the arrangements of the flower. There are three similar petals and three petals. The third petal - known as the lip or labellum – is different to the other two and usually the most eye- catching. The lip has evolved to attract the pollinators which – depending on the species – can include ants, bees, wasps, gnats, butterflies, moths and even birds!

All orchids are classed as perennial herbs and lack any permanent woody structure. They can grow according to two patterns:

Monopodial: The growing stem is formed from a single bud, with the leaves being produced at the apex of the apex. As more leaves are produced, the stem grows longer accordingly. The stem of orchids with a monopodial growth can reach several metres in length, as demonstrated by examples in the Vanda and Vanilla species.

Sympodial: The plant produces a series of adjacent shoots which grow to a certain size. Once in bloom the shoot will stop growing, however the orchid will continue to grow in size by producing a new shoot. Sympodial orchids grow will laterally rather than vertically - following the surface of their support. The growth continues by the development of new ‘leaders’s which have with their own leaves and roots. These will be found sprouting from - or next to - those of the previous year, as noted in Cattleya species. While a new lead is developing, the rhizome may start its growth again from a so-called 'eye' - an undeveloped bud found at or near the base of the plant.

Although many orchid flowers are indeed spectacular, most varieties produce seeds are in fact tiny – approximately 0.5mm in diameter, although some species can produce seed as big as 5mm!

While the seed produced is generally small, orchid plants make up for this in sheer quantity of seed produced- so much is produced that it can look like thousands of dust particles floating on the air!

Strangely for such a successful plant, the seeds of many orchid varieties cannot germinate or grow on their own. Research has shown that these seeds have a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with specialist fungi so that they can receive the nutrients required to germinate. This is because the seed lacks an endosperm - the tissue found in other seeds which provides nutrition in the form of starch.

Advances in horticultural production techniques have now advanced to such a point that they are able to germinate far more seeds than would otherwise happen in the orchid’s native habitat. This is why orchids are now commonly available in supermarkets and retail plant centres.

HOW TO GROW COMFREY




For any gardener who wishes to grow their plants by using strict organic principles, modern fertilisers can often be a bit of a sticking point. However, help is at hand from the native European herb Comfrey – otherwise known as ‘Knitbone’ as it was once used as a traditional remedy to help heal broken bones.
.Comfrey has a naturally deep rooted and extensive root system and acts as a dynamic accumulator by extracting a wide range of nutrients from deep within the soil. These nutrients naturally accumulate within its fast growing leaves - up to 4-5 lbs per plant when cut.

Because comfrey leaves lack fibrous tissue they can quickly break down returning their nutrients to the soil surface making them more readily available to cultivated plants. In addition there is little risk of nitrogen being ‘locked up’ during decomposition when comfrey is dug into the soil as the carbon to nitrogen ratio of the leaves is lower than that of a well-rotted compost. Comfrey is also an excellent source of potassium - an essential plant nutrient needed for flower, seed and fruit production. In fact comfrey leaves contain 2-3 times more potassium than most farmyard manures.
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To begin growing you own comfrey you are best off using the cultivar known as ‘Bocking 14’, a special strain which was developed during the 1950s by Lawrence D Hills - the founder of the Henry Doubleday Research Association. Bocking 14 is sterile, and therefore will not set seed (an advantage over other cultivars as it will not spread out of control). Because of its sterility, this cultivar is normally propagated from root cuttings of ‘off sets from the parent plant.

To produce your own ‘offsets’, it is best to choose mature, strong healthy specimens with no signs of disease - such as rust or mildew - to act as the parent plants. Drive a spade horizontally through the leaf clumps about 3 inches below the soil surface. This will remove the crown, which can then be split into pieces. The original plant will quickly recover, and each new offset can be replanted with the growing points just below the soil surface. Once established these offsets will quickly grow into new plants.

TIP. When dividing comfrey plants, take care not to spread root fragments around, or dispose of them on a compost heap. Each piece can easily re-root, and comfrey can be a very difficult plant to get rid of.

Comfrey will prefer to be planted in full sun although it will tolerate partial to near full shade. It is not so keen on thin, chalky soils, but you can give it a helping hand by dig deeply to break up the subsoil. Light sandy soils will benefit from organic matter, and being a fleshy plant it will require a decent amount of watering.

Comfrey will grow very densely and can be difficult to weed, so before planting, dig the soil over and remove any perennial weed roots. Luckily, it will tend to shade out most weeds once established. To get your comfrey off to a good start it is also well work adding any fertilisers or well-rotted manures before planting – just fork it into the top 6 inches of the soil.

Do not cut in the first year, but once established you can harvest the foliage four to five times a season. Harvest by cutting the plant down to about 2 inches once the plants has reached at least 2ft in height.

HOW TO MAKE LIQUID FERTILIZER FROM COMFREY



For any gardener who wishes to grow their plants by using strict organic principles, modern fertilisers can often be a bit of a sticking point.

However, help is at hand from the native European herb Comfrey – otherwise known as ‘Knitbone’ as it was once used as a traditional remedy to help heal broken bones.

Comfrey has a naturally deep rooted and extensive root system that acts as a dynamic accumulator by extracting a wide range of nutrients from deep within the soil.

These nutrients naturally accumulate within its fast growing leaves - up to 4-5 lbs per plant when cut.

Rich in nitrogen, comfrey is also an excellent source of potassium - an essential plant nutrient needed for flower, seed and fruit production. In fact comfrey leaves contain 2-3 times more potassium than most farmyard manures.

Making a liquid feed from comfrey is relatively simple. In fact, it can be no more difficult that adding comfrey leaves to a bucket of water.

They will need to be weighed down to keep the leaves submerged, but wait 3 to 5 weeks – depending on how warm the weather is – and you will have a wonderfully rich liquid feed by the end of it.

Although the comfrey solution is already mixed with water it is worth diluting it down further to prevent damage to the root systems of plants that it is applied to. Consider diluting the solution at a rate of one part concentrate to 3 parts water.

Unfortunately, liquid fertilizer made from comfrey stinks to high heaven so you may wish to use a more sophisticated system for its production. A small water barrel would be ideal as it will come with a lid (to keep the smell in) and a tap at the base so that the liquid fertilizer can be drained off when needed without the risk of splashing the foul smelling solution over yourself!

TIP. Consider placing the leaves into an old sack before submerging as this can help to prevent taps from being blocked.

Alternatively – and far cheaper than the cost of buying a water barrel – is to use any a large plastic container that comes with a lid. Drill a hole - ¾ inch in diameter - in the bottom of the container and then place it on a stack of bricks. Position a wide-neck bottle under the hole, and then after a couple of weeks you can expect to see a dark liquid trickle out of the container and into the bottle. Once collected, the liquid can be stored in a cool, dark place.

The nutrients in this liquid are highly concentrated and will need to be diluted with water before it can be applied or it can damage the root systems of any plants you try to feed it to. The liquid must be treated as a concentrated liquid feed, so dilute it at a rate of one part concentrate to 10 parts water. This solution can be applied at every watering should you require.

ORGANIC CONTROL OF CATERPILLARS
Sacrificial Planting

HOW TO SOW AND GROW ZUCCHINI FROM SEED INDOORS





Although considered to be a vegetable, zucchini - otherwise known as a courgette - are actually the immature fruit of a marrow squash – more specifically, the swollen ovary of the female flower. Zucchini can be yellow, green or light green, and generally have shape similar to a ridged cucumber, although there are a few cultivars available that can produce a rounded or bottle-shaped fruit.
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Like all summer squash, zucchini can trace their ancestry back to the American continent, however the varieties of squash typically known as ‘zucchini’ were actually developed in Italy - many generations after their introduction from their country of origin. The first records of courgettes in the United States date back to the early 1920s - almost certainly brought over by Italian immigrants.
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In order to achieve an early crop - and yet have protection against late, spring frosts - zucchini can easily be started off indoors. Zucchini seed can be sown any time from mid March through to late May. Using a good quality soil-based compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’, fill 3 inch pots to within ½ inch of the top of the pot. Sow two seeds per pot – on their sides - placing each seed ½ an inch deep.
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Temperature is important when it comes to germinating zucchini seed and so once they have been watered in they will need to be placed in a warm, bright position at a temperature of between 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternatively they can be placed in a heated propagator.
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Once the seedlings emerge, the weaker one can be removed from each pot. Harden off the young plants by putting the first sowing into cold frames at the end of May. Plant them out after about two or three weeks once the risk of late frosts have passed.
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Remember to water the pots well before planting out, and avoid holding the plants by their stems as they are easily bruised causing irreparable damage.
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If the weather is cool, cover each plant with a cloche for the first week or so, to give them a little extra warmth and protection. Alternatively, use half of a clear plastic 5 litre mineral bottle. Cut the bottle into two halves in order to make two excellent cloches. The top half - whilst giving good protection against the weather – will also allow air and moisture to circulate through the neck of the bottle.
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TOP TIP. To prevent flying insects entering through the neck of the bottle, cover with a small piece of fleece and secure it in place with an elastic band.
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