Notcutts - Blog HeaderVisit Notcutts online

Entries in kitchen garden (6)


On the Allotment - caterpillars, potatoes & making chutney!

I have been on caterpillar patrol at my allotments for weeks now and must have cut hundreds in half with my scissors. Gruesome thoughts I know, but last year they reduced my Purple Sprouting Broccoli to lace before the plants had even started growing! The bold black and yellow larvae of the Large White Butterfly are easy to spot, but the green ones, which are the larvae of the Small White Butterflies, are well camouflaged against the leaves!  I try to spray my vegetables as little as possible and physical removal is one of the best ways to deal with these voracious eaters! What with the local pigeons and the few caterpillars that escaped my scissors for a while, some of my sprout plants look a little tattered and one or two of the broccoli as well. But with a good feed of pelleted chicken manure and hoeing to keep the weeds at bay, they are strong enough to stand the winter now.

As well as my brassicas, including some plants of Cavolo nero or black Kale, that the caterpillars were not so keen on, I have two rows of parsnips and lots of leeks. All these vegetables are perfectly hardy and will stay in the ground through the winter so that they can be lifted as we need them. Ideal if we get cut off in our village again by snow!  At least we can always make some soup and homemade bread to warm us up!

Sarpo Mira PotatoesMy potatoes for store have all been lifted now and are in boxes in the garage.  ‘Sarpo Mira’ was my choice of main crop potato. These are a red skinned, blight resistant variety. I cut the top growth off at the end of August to prevent the tubers from getting starchy and lifted them during September on a dry sunny day so as not to take too much earth with them! Blight resistant they may be but the slugs were onto them and a few had been hollowed out to shells. Mrs McGregor spent quite a bit of time sorting through them to use any damaged ones first, only storing the perfect specimens which should last us until after Christmas. By not washing them and storing them in the dark, potatoes will keep well until next spring when they begin to shoot again.

The strong winds that we have had recently have almost finished off the runner beans and they are starting to go stringy. However, there are still enough to make a few jars of spiced runner bean pickle, which was a winner last year. The last of the courgettes are coming in as well but they have been disappointing this year –I don’t really know why. Mrs McGregor loves to make courgette and walnut chutney for Christmas presents but we have only managed two small batches this year.

Now it is a battle with the weather to hoe off the weeds on vacant areas and around the winter crops as well as starting winter digging when time and soil conditions allow.


Beetroot in Jelly

Big bunch of medium sized beetroot

1 Raspberry jelly

1pt vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Gently wash the beetroot and twist off the tops. Boil in water until tender and allow to cool. Slip off the skins and cut the beets into small dice. Melt the jelly in the vinegar over a low heat and add the sugar. Stir until everything has dissolved. Pack the diced beetroot into sterilized jars and pour in enough jelly mixture to cover. Set in fridge. Once set, label and store in a cupboard for use through winter.

This recipe has been passed down from my grandmother.

Courgette and Walnut Chutney

1 ½ lb courgettes, sliced

1 ½ tablespoons salt

8oz ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped

4oz onions, chopped

3oz sultanas

1 tablespoon coarsely grated orange rind (or lemon)

1lb sugar (Demerara is good!)

12 fl oz spiced vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3oz walnuts, chopped

Put the courgettes in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Leave for 2 hours then rinse and dry. Put in a pan with the remaining ingredients except the walnuts and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer until thickened and then stir in the walnuts. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Makes about 3lb.

Adapted from the book preserves and pickles by Heather Lambert.

Mr McGregor


Interesting Article | Joe Maiden's Potatoes

I’m a big fan of the Kitchen Garden magazine; I always have it firmly placed on the side table in the lounge ready for me to read it with a good afternoon brew. It’s full of great tips and ideas; some of which I would never have thought of myself. So when I turned the page to ‘Tried and tasted ... potatoes’ I was interested to find out what expert advice would be offered and what varieties would be recommended. ‘Blue Belle’ spuds have always provided my family with good all-rounder yields, but I wanted to find out what else is worth growing on the allotment.

In the article Joe Maiden, a BBC Radio Leeds presenter took on Kitchen Garden’s challenge to see how some favourite potato varieties performed on his allotment. To begin with Joe chose some old and new varieties from earlies (Red Duke of York), second earlies (Nadine), maincrops (Blue Belle) and salads (Anya and Pink Fir Apple). He selected an area of the land that had never before grown potatoes and dug the area in November while adding in some well-rotted farmyard manure. There were some large clods in the soil, but as the winter weather would naturally break them down, Joe simply let nature take its course.

The potato sets were well chitted and the tubes were planted 35cm apart in rows 60 cm apart.

Tip: During the course of winter have a cloche, fleece or upturned bucket ready to cover the plants in case of light frosts.

The Results

Red Duke of York (early variety) – These were lifted after 12 weeks and averaged 12 tubers per plant. The Red Duke of York provided lots of small potatoes, appeared to have very little slug damage and were easily lifted as they were close to the parent plant. However, the plant formed many seed pods, which should be removed as they’re poisonous if eaten.

These are a good variety to grow as many flowers are also formed, which set seeds very quickly.

Nadine (second early variety) – these yields were lifted after 16 weeks and provided 20 tubers per plant. There was little slug damage on the spuds, there weren’t any signs of blight and they were easily lifted when placed close to the parent plant.

Joe Maiden’s notes: “A heavy cropper that stored well. Excellent show bench type in the class for white potatoes.”

Anya (salad variety) – Joe found that this variety gave excellent yields; 40-50 tubers were formed on each per plant. However, many were small in size and they did suffer from blight, but slug damage didn’t seem to be a problem.

Excellent crops for storing.

Pink Fir Apple (late maincrop, often used as a salad potato) – these red-skinned plants produced 30-40 tubers per plant. However, they did suffer from blight and there was visible slug damage. The disadvantages of growing this variety didn’t stop either; Joe found that the tubers were spread out in the soil and so were harder to find than most.

Joe Maiden’s notes: “Whenever this variety is displayed on our stand at shows it stops people in their tracks as they want to know what it is and how to prepare it.”

Blue Belle (late maincrop) – In appearance the ‘Blue Belle’ variety produces tubers that look familiarly like ‘Kestrel’, which is one of the reasons why Joe wanted to grow it in his trial. ‘Blue Belle’ produced 15 tubers per plant, but they weren’t as even as the tubers produced by the ‘Kestrel’ variety. It gets worse, there was no sign of any slug damage, but in August the dreaded blight hit.

Joe Maiden’s notes: “Since tuber size was variable it made them harder to match for the show bench. On my soil ‘Kestrel’ was better.

Purely on flavour, Joe and his family concluded that the ‘Nadine’ variety he grew provided the best taste, with the ‘Amorosa’ variety failing to impress.

Mr McGregor

Joe Maiden’s article can be found in the July issue of the Kitchen Garden magazine


Interesting Article - Cabbage Caterpillar

cabbage caterpillarAs the sun is beginning to peer through the clouds I have been enjoying myself in the garden. I have been getting my hands dirty with the planting of my bulbs and have been giving the borders a general tidy. To balance the work I have also been reading a little with a cup of tea in the direct sunlight – lovely.

I was reading my Kitchen Garden magazine and found an interesting article on the cabbage caterpillar and as my Veg of the Month is cabbages I thought this was quite an appropriate article to share with you.

When Cabbage caterpillars come out of their cocoons as a white butterfly we marvel at their beauty and love to have them around as we now know spring is finally here. However, to the kitchen gardener these are pesky creatures to have near the cabbage and calabrese crops.

The problems of the cabbage caterpillar/moth/butterfly

It is easy to spot a cabbage caterpillar attack. After their invasion small to large holes will be left in the leaves, you will find a cluster of large white caterpillars, leaves can be stripped down to the midrib, cabbages can have hollowed out centres and you can be left with dense leaved crops.

If you have a serious infestation of these pests it can leave your crop devastated; they can be stripped bare in a matter of only a few days!

The worst part of these creatures is that they get to work throughout the night as well as during the day, depending on the species (there are three; cabbage moth, large white and small white). The moths work during the night and stay below the leaves.

Crops that are in danger


There are many techniques you could use, but the best defence can only be put in place when you understand what you are dealing with and how they act. Here are a few examples I found that I thought were quite useful:

1.       Cover them with a black or clear plastic so the scents can’t reach the butterflies.

2.       Mix your brassica crop with flowers or vegetables that have different leaf shapes and sizes, this will confuse them.

3.       Mix the colours of the crops/flowers. Mated females prefer yellow/green and blue colours, so incorporate red, pink and purple hues to disrupt her eye.

4.       Keep them under fine mesh netting. This needs to be put in place from the first day the plants begin to emerge or are transplanted until mid October, which is when the breeding season is over.

5.       With the fine mesh netting, ideally you will need a cage draped with netting, this looks a bit like a poly tunnel, but with netting. It needs to be tall enough to allow the crops to grow to their full potential.


At the first sign of a caterpillar infestation you need to check your plants regularly so you squash any eggs and remove the caterpillars. There are other ways in which you can control the infestation:

  • Planting nasturtiums around your crops as a sacrificial plant. It could help lure the caterpillars away from your crops and onto their blooms.
  • Encourage predators such as birds, ground beetles and earwigs, but especially wasps. The biggest predator is the Apanteles glomeratus wasp, which can be encouraged reportedly by growing fennel.
  • If you don’t mind using chemicals there are many insect and pest control measures. 

Keep a watch out in next month or so.

Mr McGregor


Grow Your Own!

Grow your own, it’s on everyone’s lips! It all about the sense of achievement that investing in a healthier lifestyle can bring. Imagine that feeling of well being as you sit back one lovely summer evening, surrounded by all your home grown fruit and veg. Creating a kitchen garden need not be an expensive investment and can also be applied to the smallest of gardens.

For Small Gardens

If you are limited for space an important decision is what you actually want to plant. Don’t grow runner beans if you don’t like to eat them! Choose your favourites then you can’t go wrong and you will take the Kitchen Garden to its nirvana when you pick the harvest at the end of the season.

An inexpensive place to start is to scrutinise the seed aisles in your nearest garden centre. If you are to grow on a patio, flagged back yard or terrace, you may need to grow in pots and troughs. Another great idea for space saving but also giving interest higher up, would be to grow trailing varieties of tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets.

Growing in pots

•    If you want to grow carrots in a trough, try Carrot ‘Parmex’, but make sure you always plant in a sandy loam. Lumps and bumps in compost produce a very distorted and disgruntled carrot.

•    Chilli Pepper such as ‘Red Demon’ may be grown in a trough on your kitchen window and will add a splash of vibrant colour to your home. Another one for colour is the yellow tomato “Golden Sunrise”.

•    Herbs sit well in pots and troughs, but Basil is better off kept on you kitchen window, out of the unpredictable British climate and let it scent your house.

There is also a range of baby plants to choose from. If you don’t trust yourself with a packet of seeds or a teeny plug, these are an ideal alternative. However, remember that this young crop will not yet be hard enough to cope with the outdoors without shelter.

After making room for your small plot and you have finished sowing your seeds or planting your baby crops, sit back and think of all the benefits you will be receiving in a month or so. It truly is one of the most rewarding hobbies to have, not only for a sense of achievement, but also for your health.


Mr McGregor: Benefits Of Growing Ginger

Having the allotment is great, but when you are cooking and you need to put an extra flavour in the pot you can’t run down to the allotment and grab it, so I have been growing some herbs and roots in containers and placing them on the windowsill in my kitchen garden.

Mrs McGregor has been putting ginger in all our Asian meals, and what a difference it makes; your dish has a warmer taste and it makes your taste buds tingle. Spring is a great time to start planting ginger and I’ve only just recently found out that there are so many advantages of using it. It is a great digestive aid and is known for calming upset tummies as well as helping with nausea, circulation and arthritis (I will be baring that in mind for next couple of years!) Most beneficial in my opinion is that you can use ginger to help fight the symptoms of colds and allergies.   

Here are three easy tips for you to reap in all the awards fo ginger:

Step 1

Get a two-inch piece of ginger root and put it over a glass of water, submerging about one-third of the ginger rhizome. The best way to keep the in place is to have cocktail sticks in the middle of the root, then balance cocktail sticks on the rim of the glass. When roots reach about an inch in length, plant the ginger rhizome just below the surface of a rich, moist potting mixture, making sure that your pot allows for good drainage.

Step 2

I have found ginger grows better indoors, but f you want to grow it on your patio or garden spot, make sure the pot is four times the size of your rhizome. Fill the pot about three quarters with potting mixture, lay the ginger on top then cover it with more potting mixture and grow in a sunny spot. Ginger doesn’t like direct light, so after the ginger starts to appear above the surface make sure the pot is placed out of indirect sunlight but still positioned in a bright location.

Step 3

Cover your pot or seed tray with a plastic bag and place it on a windowsill, when the ginger starts to surface remove the bag and make sure you water it regularly. However if you want to grow the ginger in the garden and all signs of bad weather has pasted you can plant directly into your garden.  Again keep it well watered and make sure it is out of direct sunlight.

Ginger will grow in three to four months.

Mr McGregor