When we moved to Bramble Cottage in December 2012 we set about planting apple and pear trees, currant and gooseberry bushes, rhubarb and strawberries in that first winter and dug over a large area for vegetables. We also erected a polytunnel for summer tomatoes, chillies and peppers. Now, eight years on, the garden is very productive.
Eating seasonally is really important for us and we try to find ways to use a glut of fruit or vegetables, storing what we can in a cool dark shed or bagging up for the freezer. We make ice cream and jam, chutneys and pickles along with wine and cider that keeps us going through the winter and early spring months until the season is underway again.
Summer fruits pureed and made into ice cream is just fab…we use strawberries (obviously) raspberries, blackcurrants and last autumn collected enough blackberries from the hedgerows for a batch, the colour was a deep purple, excellent with a chocolate brownie!
Jam is another favourite for winter puds, I make lots each year with whatever fruit has done well. The figs were amazing last summer and I had enough to try a fig jam recipe, it didn’t set particularly well but is perfect for mini jam sponges on a cold winter’s evening.
Wine and cider making is something I leave to my husband Andy. He started making wine years ago and now we usually have some sort of homebrew bubbling away on the side. This is where a freezer comes in handy as again the glut of fruit during the summer months can be frozen and then used over the winter to top up supplies! The best wines we’ve found are made from rhubarb, gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants.
The winter fruit garden in February can look very sparse. I’ve just finished pruning the currant bushes and given them a handful of blood, fish and bone as a feed, the branches look very bare as does the raspberry patch and the rhubarb is just beginning to poke through, but for me this all holds so much promise. It won’t be long until everything greens up and starts to grow fast as the warmer weather comes with longer days.
The polytunnel gives us a good crop of tender veg and as we eat a lot of tomatoes through the year we grow a number of varieties. Italian plum tomatoes are really good for cooking and they produce a good crop and the round Alicante tomato is very sweet. Cherry tomatoes are a must for summer salads and I eat them like sweets when they first ripen, so delicious! Any green tomatoes towards the end of the season can be used for chutney and last autumn I made a green tomato ketchup which turned out really well and has stored for months in the fridge once opened, it’s great with chops or sausages.
Over the last few years as the fruit trees started to produce more apples and pears that we could eat we decided to press them for juice. Andy built a press and after a few false starts he made one that was big enough and strong enough to work really well. We don’t grow cider apples as such but the eaters gave a nice sweet juice which then fermented to a decent cider that kept well over the winter.
Growing fruit and veg can be a bit hit and miss at times, some years certain crops do really well and others struggle depending on rainfall and warmth. Last year the red cabbages were really good, sometimes they don’t make a good tight head but these were great for sauteeing or for coleslaw salad. We also got a good crop of butternuts which stored well in our cool dark shed and sweetened up for soups and stews through October and November.
We have a high water table here in Congham which makes watering less of a headache We don’t use chemicals on the vegetables or flowers, and we do accept the failures in with the successes. Our strawberries proved very popular with the local squirrels last year despite the large fruit net we rig up over the soft fruit, the squirrels discovered they could use it like a trampoline and grab the fruit through it. So this year we will be setting the net tighter and being vigilant at chasing them away!
As the growing season really gets underway look out for more posts on our fruit and vegetable garden here at Bramble Cottage.