Taste Test

014This is a serious taste test comparing a traditional everbearing Strawberry (variety unknown) and a Framberry, a cross between a strawberry and a raspberry which I was sent in December 2012 by Spalding Plants and Bulbs to grow and review. It has been a good year for soft fruit and each variety has produced heavy crops of berries. This morning I picked four of each for the taste test and with my notebook to hand the test was carried out in the time honoured fashion. And the result…?016

Delicious!

Currant Affairs

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I didn’t think we would ever beat last year’s soft fruit harvest but we have. The Redcurrants in particular have been truly prolific and we decided to take the covers off today and strip the bush of it’s delicious fruit before the inevitable blackbird and pigeon invasion. We only have one large bush but with careful pruning to maximise fruit production we get enough fruit for several pots of jam, jelly, sauce, pies and crumbles and still have loads left over for freezing. 020

This year we got 14 lbs (6.35 kgs) off this single bush which we find simply amazing! When they are picked over and rinsed they will be frozen on flat trays which helps to separate the currants from the sprigs.032

Truly scrumptious!

What Sort of Winter Do You Call This?!

086                                                                                                                                          Well, here we are on 21 December, the first day of Winter and the shortest day of the year. Cathy is wrapping up the last few prezzies and I have been outside washing down the paths and tidying up. The weather has been unseasonably mild and I have actually been looking for jobs to do outside rather than sitting indoors. The weather pundits are predicting a long hard winter which will delay Spring and confuse the heck out of the garden again. But, already the bulbs think it is February! The weather guys might be right though because I have never seen the trees and shrubs so laden with fruit and berries, a sure sign of a hard winter to come…..or so the old wives tale goes.Sorbus hupehensis

The little Rowan tree, Sorbus hupehensis, is bent double under the weight of it’s luscious pinky white berries and the Blackbirds are perching precariously on the spindly young branches to get at them.

Sloes

The Blackthorn tree, Prunus spinosa, is covered in ribbons of juicy sloes, so heavy that the branches are likely to snap. Already, the road beneath is stained blue with the remains of squashed fruit and I am amazed the foragers and gin-makers have not discovered it.

Wormery

The wormery, which is normally asleep by now is still active and busily taking all our tea bags and veggie peelings to turn into next years ‘special’ addition to potting compost for the very best plants. It can’t last….something has to change soon to send the worms burying for cover deep in the lower trays.036

Even the fish still think it’s summer and expect to be fed twice a day! Get down and go to sleep I say! The pump is off and the food is packed away until next year!003

In fact everything is cleaned up, tidied up and packed away. The cold frame is empty and ready for a bit of essential maintenance to the lid, the cheap plastic ‘overflow’ greenhouse is full of pots and trays..all washed and cleaned. Where is the snow? I’m ready!Leaf composter

The compost bins are full to bursting with leaves and herbaceous shreddings and, apart from a few last minute weeding jobs, the autumn clean-up seem to be finished for a change.006

All the tulips are planted and the only thing remaining to go in the ground is a tray of Cyclamen hederifolium purchased, believe it or not, from our enterprising milkman who buys them in from Pershore College. Two pints of semi-skimmed and a tray of Cyclamen please!

I hope you all have a jolly good Christmas and a wonderful and productive New Year.

Red Berry, Yellow Berry

Virburnum opulus, the Guelder Rose

Viburnum opulus

I have always believed that garden birds generally take the red berries first followed by the yellow berries, then, if they are hungry enough, the pink berries and finally, almost reluctantly, they might take the white berries.

Sorbus hupehensis

Sorbus hupehensis

I therefore found it strange that this year the pink and white berries of my Rowans, Sorbus hupehensis and Sorbus cashmeriana are already stripped bare while the Hawthorns, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha are still laden with red and yellow berries!

Macro of pyracantha berries

Pyracantha berries

The Blackbirds, in particular, relished the white berries and performed incredible feats of balance and ingenuity to get them from the very ends of the wispish branches, bending them double and often jumping from one stem to another or taking them on the pass as they descended.

I read that flocks of Waxwings are coming to Britain this year due to the poor berry harvest in mainland Europe so I am hoping to see my first one this year. We have already had Redwings, Fieldfares, Blackcaps, Jays and Woodpeckers, partly attracted by the variety of food we put out daily, but also the wonderful feast of berries in Gloucestershire this year. Incidentally, we have found that one of the favourite foods is leftover raw pastry from the mince pies and the trimmings from marzipan.

Cat-pyracantha berries

Another idea I like the sound of is an old coconut shell filled with super-saver crunchy peanut butter (340g jar is 62p from Morrisons or Asda) mixed with birdseed and porridge oats.  It’s a different take on using suet and seeds but even more delicious! Watch out for squirrels though, they love peanuts so try to make it inaccessible to them.

Suddenly it’s Autumn

Autumn colour of Kolwitzia amabilis

Autumn has suddenly taken over and there are early signs of what might be a hard winter. The dog-rose hips are especially good this year and the ivy is literally heaving under the weight of millions of tiny flowers, promising a feast of berries to come. Continue reading