The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Hard frost

 frosted purple sprouting broccoliWe’ve had some very hard frosts for a few days now. The grass hasn’t unfrozen before the crisp dark sky freezes each strand again with tiny shards of ice.

I am hoping these frosts will kill the blight spores that attacked our potatoes last year. The plants were black within days and the tubers didn’t last long before they softened and rotted.

Irish grown potatoes are much more floury than ones raised in England. D’s father planted earlier – mid March and lifted the first potatoes in mid July. I discovered by chance that if I left our potatoes in the ground for longer they became more floury. Danny’s Pa grew English varieties. A quarter of our kitchen garden is dedicated to raising floury spuds. Planted in March and harvested later in the season, most potatoes will be floury and store well if they escape the dreaded blight.

Danny can trace his ancestors back to the time of the potato famine in Ireland. Then the trail goes cold. Even he was shocked how quickly the blight took hold and destroyed our crop.

Bordeaux Mixture can be used to control blight and fungal growth. A weak solution of Bordeaux Mixture can be sprayed on potatoes and tomatoes in the organic kitchen garden. I am tempted to try this in the spring as, despite the recent frosts, the winter has been so mild and blight spores may well be hovering.

Last summer our tomato plants survived but only with intensive daily tending from me (I picked off any leaf or fruit with signs of blight and burnt them). The blight attacks knocked them back a lot. The day to day pickings were sparse and the final 10 kilo crop should have been at least 20-30 kilos. But we were lucky. We didn’t lose the lot like so many others.

So this morning, when I peeped through the small window on the stairs and saw the white wash of frost on the lawn, I was delighted.

I like the feel of frosted grass under my wellies. The crunch and the quick creeping chill. My daily trip down to the chicken run takes just a matter of minutes. No chance of frostbite.

Today I lingered in the kitchen garden. The broad beans are good strong plants and some garlic that I planted last spring has finally germinated and is peeping through. The parsley has died out in D’s bath, although the thyme is flourishing. When I saw the frosted purple sprouting broccoli it was hard to believe that in a matter of weeks we will be savouring the first crisp florets.

I returned to the cottage for breakfast and a started to sketch out a seed list.
Parsley, coriander (cilantro), tomatoes (a good range), aubergines, cucumber, lettuce (several), Swiss Chard, Brussels Sprouts, sweet corn, purple sprouting broccoli, potatoes, garlic, cabbage, chervil, mange tout peas, runner beans, leeks, radishes, beetroot. Squash.

And onions, spring onions, shallots and yet more garlic.

Jalopy and I drove to Saffron Walden in a happy glow until I worked out that we didn’t have room to grow all these things. I dropped the Brussels sprouts immediately.

Perhaps we could dig up some of the drive? I forgot the courgettes and marrows.

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  1. michelle sheets

    Hi Fiona,
    My pleasure! Its nice to be able to contribute, since I have learned so much from you and this wonderful community you have!

    The mustard recipe does start from with seed…

    Basil Shallot Mustard
    2/3 c apple juice
    2/3 c red wine vinegar

    1/2 c dry mustard (if you can’t find it in bulk and need to use the little jars, its 2 jars of the 1.55 oz jars)

    1/3 c water

    1/4 light mustard seed (I use dark, so it really tastes like MUSTARD!)

    3 T chopped basil
    2 T minced shallots
    2 T packed brown sugar (I use dark)
    1 t salt
    1/4 t ground allspice

    Combine the apple juice, vinegar, dry mustard, water, and mustard seeds in a glass or ceramic bowl and stir, mixing well.

    Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 4 to 6 hours, stirring occasionally. (I have set this up before I go to bed, and let it sit overnight with no ill effect.)

    Process the mixture in a food processer untill the mustard seed is coarsely ground. (I usually skip this, and grind the seed to the coarseness I want before I soak them.)

    Cook the mixture in a double boiler over simmering water, adding the shallots, sugar, salt, and allspice. Cook for 20-25 minutes. The mustard will thicken as it cooks. (I skip the double boiler and dig out my shallow roasting pan, put the mixture in there and stick it in the oven at 350 for the 20 to 25 minutes, and then watch it from there till it gets to the thickness I want. I usually am making a 6x batch, so it goes faster in the oven!)

    Pour into sterile jars, cap and seal. (I do a 10 minute water bath for “just to be on the safe side” since I give these for christmas gifts.)

    Allow the flavors to marry for 2-3 days before using. Will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months unopened. (Unopened jars have been on my shelf for 6 months.)

    I have added chopped sun dried tomatoes along with the basil and shallots for a wonderful flavor. I also do a version with dill, shallot, and sun dried tomato (YUM!) I even did a hot version for a friend with a pepper mix that I was told was heavenly (it nearly scorched my eyeballs, it was so hot.) I’d love to hear if anyone else has any ideas for a flavor combo, that I could unveil for christmas ’08.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Michelle

    Thank you so much for this recipe – I can’t wait to try it! Danny is fascinated by your home made mustard and wondered if you make it from scratch using mustard seed?

    We also checked out the website for the square foot garden. What a great tip thank you for sharing. We are planning to grow more salad leaves etc in our front garden this year and this method seems perfect.

  3. michelle sheets

    Hi Fiona,
    Pickeled Brussels Sprouts

    6 c. (about 2 lbs) Brussels Sprouts
    2 1/2 c. Vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
    2 1/2 c. water
    3T salt
    1t cayenne pepper
    4 dill heads or 2t dill seeds
    4 cloves garlic (I have more on hand so I can stuff the extra space in the jars full. The garlic is just as good as the brussels sprouts!)

    Trim the brussels sprouts and boil them untill tender. Drain off and pack into clean jars. I put the dill and garlic in at this point so I don’t burn myself later!

    Mix the vinegar, water, pepper, and salt in a heavy sauce pan, boil for 5 minutes.

    Pour the vinegar mixture over the sprouts, leaving 1/4″ of headspace.

    Cap, seal, and process in a boiling water-bath canner.
    The yield is 4 pints according to the recipe, but I have ended up with as many as 6pints.

    This is one of the things I make for christmas presents, as well as mustard, pickled carrots, and barbeque sauce. My family looks foward to them greatly!

    I was noticing that many folks were commenting about not having enough room for everything that they wanted to plant. Has anyone heard of square foot gardening? One of my co-workers bought the book, and had set up and planted that way for 2 years running and has had marvelous sucess with it. is their site, and the concept looks like a good idea to me.

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Michelle

    Your recipe sounds interesting. I’d love to see it.

    Hi Angelfeet

    Lucky you with no blight. Hope tat you escape this year too.

    Hi Rosemary

    I love the wintry weather too (as long as I have a decent warm jacket and gloves). We are going to create some more vegetable beds this year, I think. Danny’s football days are long gone!

    Great minds think alive on the fencing front!

    Hi Pamela

    I’ve only been skiing once and I loved it. Skiing in Canada sounds idyllic.

    The frosty weather is great for breaking up the soil and killing bugs

    Hi Kate,

    Moving earth is such hard work. Hope that it unfreezes soon.

    We’ve had some wonderful sunsets too.

  5. At the back of the house- facing North East- the frost just hasn’t gone for days.This would be fine were we not trying to move the topsoil from there before the builders arrive next week. Pickaxes at the ready!
    This evening we had a beautiful sunset- the whole sky pink gold and turquoise and a big,white full moon.Stunning.

  6. Although I do have plans for growing vegetables, I am on a 2 year waiting list for an allotment so I can only dream at this point as I have no garden whatsoever. Hence such frosty and sunny February days lead only to longings of being on Ski slopes, preferably in Canada!

  7. I have just noticed in your picture that you have the same fence as we have around the veg garden,it is even painted the same colour !!

  8. It was lovely to see the frost,I just love wintry weather, maybe because I was born during the worst winter 1947.I did not realize it would kill the blight spores as our crop was ruined last year too !I keep making lists of vegetables that we have not got room for,would like to dig up more lawn but my daughter won’t allow it yet as the boys still play football in the garden.So we will have to stick to potatoes,sprouting broccoli,runner and climbing french beans,salad leaves,curly kale,marrows,courgettes and small squashes,carrots,parsnips,tomatoes and cucumber in the greenhouse.

  9. angelfeet

    I’m really pleased to see the frost (although none here this morning). No blight for us last year, fingers crossed for this year too.

  10. michelle sheets

    Hi Fiona,
    Drop the brussels sprouts? I have a recipe for pickled brussels sprouts that would make you change your mind. With garlic, dill and a little cayanne, its like the best sour krout you ever had.
    I can sympathize with the tomato blight, my sister got it in her patch a year back, and she lost all of her tomato plants. It hurt me too, since I was expected to share my tomatoes with her….

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