Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Our freezer is stuffed with runner beans, we've been giving them away to neighbours -- and begging the neighbours who share the fence they grow against to please, please pick all they can see and reach. But next door (a Congolese family) though they nod and smile when I tell them this are leaving lots of beans that have grown huge and tough. While the harvest lasts, its overwhelming -- but as soon as a few beans have been left to grow old and ripe, the plants will stop bearing.

Nature produces short gluts -- gardening is (among other things) the art of having lots of different gluts throughout the year in more or less manageable quantities. But high summer, now, is when all the gluts come at once.

At the weekend, I tried bottling applies from our two 'minarette' backyard trees (one is definitely Lord Lamborne, the other I think is Worcester Pearmain but it may be Ashmeads Kernel) in order to clear the whole shelf of our fridge they were occupying, plus the overflow on the benchtop attended by a cloud of little gnats . My second ever go at bottling -- not very successful, only one of the three jars formed a seal, and the fruit rose in all the jars. But I have become a pretty dab hand at jam-making: the first three years I tried it, I worked very conscientiously by the book -- achieving the chemical transformation to 'jelling' point, then transferring the super-heated solution to (hot sterilised) jars and sealing them to maintain sterile conditions is pretty serious technical stuff. I probably wouldn't have dared tackle it if I hadn't, as a kid, seen my mother making jams, so I knew it is something that can be done at home and had a very vague and basic idea of what was involved. It is, of course, something you tell the kids to stay clear of as basic health and safety precaution. Now, I just launch in -- measure up for 1 pound sugar to one pint fruit or strained juice, boil up the fruit, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Wash out the jars while it's boiling up. Usually, that's as far as I get on Day 1. Next day: bring the fruit and sugar back up to a rolling boil, put the jars in the oven at 120F for a minimum of 10 minutes, after 15 minutes at rolling boil start checking the jam for 'jelling point' by dropping a spot of it onto a cold saucer -- once the surface wrinkles when you push at it, its set. Turn off the heat, and ladle into hot jars. I seal while its still hot -- waxed paper discs onto all the jars, then dampened cellophone covers. Leave to cool, then label and stash away -- we keep ours in a 'dead fridge' (which will get a separate blog entry) outside the back door.

Tomatoes just starting to ripen; mass of lettuces (Rossa di Trento) starting to go to seed down the allotment -- they've been such good growers that I'll let at least one of them ripen seed for re-sowing (and for opportunistic self-seeding).

Pressures of time: werk which advocates getting into the great outdoors, engaging with nature, physical activity and psychological relaxation/fascination creating health and well-being -- but what I do for werk is sit indoors at laptop, go to meetings, or sit in trains, stopping me from getting out there and actually doing the stuff we advocate. I can at least, werking at home, be distracted by watching the small birds at the back garden bird feeders.

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