Archive for the ‘The veg garden’ Category

Courgette and poppyseed muffins.

Grown in abundance and easier than you imagined, courgettes can sometime become the victim of their own success. All too often forgotten amongst their magnificent leaves doomed to become the monster in the veg patch, the yummy little darlings soon outstay their welcome. It’s not surprising that, after your 20th kilo, treacherous thoughts  of  “how else can I eat them” begin to manifest.

Throughout the Summer I’ve been asked by many visitors, family and guests alike for the recipe to my courgette and poppyseed cake/muffins, so here it is at last.

You will need:

  1. 230 gr plain flour
  2. 1/4 tsp baking powder
  3. 2 tsp bicarb of soda
  4. 1 tsp salt
  5. 4 tsp lemon juice
  6. 2 tbls poppy seeds
  7. 250 ml (1 cup) olive oil
  8. 280 gr sugar
  9. 3 eggs
  10. 2/3 cups grated courgette

Mix ingredients 1,2,3 and 4 in bowl no 1.

Mix ingredients 5,6,7 and 8 in a separate bowl no 2.

Mix ingredient 9 and 10 in another bowl no 3

ADD bowl 3 to bowl 2 and then slowly mix into bowl 1.

The mixture should become more loose and wet as you mix it, this is the courgette releasing it’s liquid as you mix.

When you have a nice shinny, loose mixture, pour into a cake tin or muffin molds.

Bake at 160c for 30-50 mins, the muffins will take less time than the cake so check after 30 minutes. The best way to check if your cake/muffins are ready is to insert a knife into the centre and if it comes out clean then it’s ready, be sure not to over cook it though.

The cake/muffins will need to rest after baking, store in an airtight container and they become even more moist every day. You can alter this recipe to suit yourself, less oil for a drier cake or you can add walnuts if you like.

I always bake with olive oil as we produce our own organic extra virgin,  of course it’s far healthier than butter or margarine and makes very moist cakes and muffins, but that’s easy for me to say with over a 100 ltrs in the basement.


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I must take this opportunity to recommend this book to the novice Mediterranean vegetable gardeners, like myself who are finding it difficult to source a well presented and complete guide to growing a kitchen garden  in this wonderful climate.

This is the first book of it’s kind I have found in English and though I only received it yesterday, after a long 6 month wait for publishing and delivery, I have devoured it’s contents like a pig who has found it’s first truffle.

It is without doubt the most comprehensive guide I have ever come across and the translation from it’s Spanish origins is clear and uncomplicated.

You will find it listed in my books on the Amazon link opposite. Enjoy.

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SALADMr J and I do love our food, our favourite saying is that whilst some people eat to live, we live to eat.

Over the past few years we’ve developed a habit, which to others might seem slightly annoying, of analysing what’s on the plate at every mealtime.

Take for example this beautiful salad, prepared and eaten within half an hour of being picked from our garden. Fresh and delicious, everything except the Feta, though it is local, is our own. Not such a great feat I hear you say, it’s the standard tomato, cucumber, pepper and onion combo, but trying to be self sufficient doesn’t just mean growing veg, it’s the little details that really make the difference.

The extra virgin olive oil, lavishingly poured on top is ours, picked by our own hands from our trees and processed in the village. The purslane and parsley are fresh from the herb patch, the dried oregano was picked from the mountains by Mr J, dried and stored by myself. The black olives are from our eating olive tree,  cured and preserved in a dark, rich, red wine vinegar which I also make myself. 

I’m proud of the fact that we can claim ownership of the majority of ingredients in nearly all our daily meals. And what we can’t provide ourselves we buy locally, the red wine we drink is bought from our neighbour, the bread we eat is from the local bakery and even the sea salt we use is local.

I’d say it’s pretty impossible to be 100% self-sufficient and we’ll probably never get there, but it’s greatly rewarding trying.

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toms1Growing tomatoes organically in Crete has been more of challenge than I had anticipated, but this year, being my third growing season, I have produced the best to date.  I admit I was totally sucked in by the frequent blasé comments of   ” They’re easy to grow here, plenty of sunshine” or ” Just throw them in with plenty of Goat manure” and the most famous of all  ” No, I never use chemicals”. 

OK they do love the sun but need protection from shoulder burn when it’s too hot, yes goat manure is good but whilst it gives you plenty of nitrogen resulting in lots of lovely healthy leaf, it won’t give the plant other ingredients for the flower and the fruits.   And the chemical thing ? Your guess is as good as mine, but I was somewhat enlightened, whilst visiting a neighbour some time ago, when I was briskly shoved into the kitchen and observed the windows and doors being quickly closed because the toms were being sprayed. No problem, everybody does things differently, but when I was handed a beautiful tomato by the same neighbour a few weeks later who proudly announced ” No chemicals” I realised that not everyone’s idea of organic included pesticides but just the fertilizer, yes you guessed it, Baaaa!

I have had many failures over the past three years but basic trial and error and  ” I wonder what this will do” experiments resulted in this years bumper crop.  This is what I did…..

Firstly, with Mr J’s help we constructed six 1 mtr by 1.5 mtr raised beds, or boxes as we call them. They were placed in the most troublesome part of our veg garden, the part where even a famous brand of beer cannot reach. Poor soil, poor drainage and just plain simple bad location where we reaped little reward for our hard graft. 

The soil was rotavated and the boxes palced on top, then filled with a mixture of 1 bag compost from our heap, 1 bag of manure and dressed with a good top soil from around our land.

I then constructed a bamboo frame to support the anticipated weight of the tomatoes, planted four plants in each box and surrounded the whole frame with a green mesh, helps to keep the bugs off.  Not forgetting to place the water pipes appropriately in the box.


At this same time I started the process of making my own liquid fertilizer. I make two kinds, one from the weeds I pick in the garden and one from our Chicken poo. I call them Green Tea and CPTea, respectfully. It’s a very simple but effective method, yes they both stink but the toms love ’em. Fill a large bucket or any container half with the weeds or a quarter if using the poo as this is strong stuff and then water to the top, leave stand for about 4-6 days and then water the toms with the liquid. Discard the mulch that’s left by either digging it into an empty patch of soil, making sure it’s completely covered or the weeds will sprout and the poo will smell, alternatively just throw it onto the compost heap.

Next I make up a bottle of pesticide spray. Use an empty bottle, drop in a few cloves of garlic, a couple of chillies and a few shavings of olive oil soap or a drop of washing up liquid. Leave stand for a week or more and finally, decant into a spray bottle. This works in three ways, the smell of the garlic puts off some pests, the taste of the chillies puts off others that are not bothered by the garlic and the soap clogs up the insects pores and eventually kills them. You can use this spray on any plants, not just toms, I also use it on my hibiscus which the aphids love to inhabit. But be very careful with the soap as this will also kill your plant if you make the mixture too strong, only a squeeze of the washing up liquid or a few shavings of soap using a potato peeler, when you shake up the mixture before use you’ll see the bubbles. To be on the safe side, before you go spraying everything, I advise you to do a test spray on a leaf and wait a few days, if it looks healthy then crack on, if it shows any signs of blackening or distress then water down your mixture and test it again until your happy with the results.

I wait until the first blossom set before I administer the tea and of course only use the spray if and when needed, be vigilant, a few pests found early and  squashed with your fingers will halt a mass invasion that warrants the spray.

Finally I sprinkle a teaspoon of Epsom Salts, delivered by kind guests from the UK on a visit, again at the first blossom set and then every 3-4 weeks thereafter. Epsom Salts is magnesium and it helps my toms to grow better. I did do a test and the plants with it have stronger stems whilst the ones without are weaker. I also use it on my pepper plants.

Don’t forget to trim any unnecessary leaf stems and nip out the top when your plants have reached the desired height, this helps the plant to become sturdier rather than taller and gangly. Be careful when trimming leaf stems not to trim out too many as the fruits need the leaf to protect them from the sun and only trim the stems that have no blossoms.

Sounds like a lot of work but it’s worth it.

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Being a novice gardener, with only my childhood memories of Mam’s green fingered wizardry, I found the biggest problem I had, when trying to start my own vegetable garden in Crete, was timing.

As any good comedian will tell you, timing is………………..crucial.

After weeks of care and attention, I’d lovingly snuggle my little seedlings into their prepared bed and proudly admire their brave attempts to keep upright. I’d watch, as over the next few days , they’d dig their little roots into the soft bed and then, disaster. They’d either be too young to cope with a heat wave in Winter or too leggy to weather the winds of Spring.

A quick visit to my local horticultural expert, Kosta’s our neighbour, and I’d find the same species of plant reaching for the skies like a troop of pirouetting ballerinas, far stronger than my own. My timing was out.

Kosta’s little ones had flown the nest four weeks before I’d given my little darlings their first field trip. Inevitably, his were much more prepared.

The climate here in Crete is wonderful, long hot Summers that stretch into October, mild Autumns, short Winters and Spring is here again before you’ve had the chance to dig out your hot water bottle and sow that patch on your old jumper. 

But gardeners be ware, in January we enjoy the Halcyon days, when the north wind ceases and gives way to the warm air from Africa. Resulting in a few weeks of warm, dry, glorious weather that, whilst it cradles and nurtures your bones, will devastate your unattended plants. Halcyon comes form the Greek word for Kingfisher (αλκυονα) and according to legend the kingfisher is responsible for this warm period as she needs to calm the waters to lay her eggs in a floating nest.

In summary, Spring winds will flatten your broad beans and suck the moisture out of delicate leaves, Summer will scorch, Autumn is perfect but for the odd heatwave and Winter is welcome.

So, in the hope that my experience can help others,  I’d like to share with you my planting schedule as I’ve developed it over the past 3 years. It’s not “one size fits all” as every garden is different, but the general rule of timing applies. The table below is basically split into 4 columns, the first is the vegetable, the second tells you what season you’ll be eating it in, the third tells you when to sow it and finally what to plant it with.

I can’t stress enough that this is my personal plan, based on my experience of gardening here in Crete.

To help you fight the battle of the pests, I strongly recommend that you plant plenty of basil and marigolds in your veg patch, plus onions and garlic which  I plant around the edge of each of my planters and then my vegetable in the centre, this works as a kind of barrier or security fence around the vegetables. I’ve also very successfully, grown carrots in a huge plastic half barrel, inter-planted with garlic.

 Good luck.

  when do we when do we put what’s a good    
what ? eat it ? the seeds in ? companion ?    
cabbage   july carrots,potatoes    
cauliflower   july onions,leeks,garlic    
broccoli winter july onions,leeks,garlic    
carrots   september onions,leeks,garlic    
turnips   september onions,leeks,garlic    
onions,leeks   september everything except beans and sage
pot1   september cabbage,marigold,carrot  
broad beans   october anything apart from onions & basil
pak choi   december onions,leeks,garlic    
parsley   january tomato,carrot    
onions,leeks spring december everything except beans  
lettuce   january onions,leeks,garlic,corn  
swiss chard   december onions,leeks,garlic    
pot2   december cabbage,marigold,carrot  
garlic   december everything    
tomato   january marigolds,basil,peppers  
cucumber   february peppers,    
courgette   february parsley,tomato,pepper  
pepper summer january cucumber,    
aubergine   february peppers,beans,lettuce    
beans   march corn,aubergines,cucumbers,peppers
corn   march beans,lettuce,peppers,cucumbers
melon   february corn,radish,nasturtium  
basil   march pepper,tomato    
  autumn we’re still eating all of the above summer veg until sep/oct 
lettuce   september everything especially onions,leeks,garlic,
celery   september everything except parsley and carrot,

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beans in a bog roll


I was recently given 11 shiny runner beans and having such a small amount I did not want to lose any to the dreaded garden pests or indeed one of our free range Bantams, who occasionally break into the garden for lunch. So I decided to give them a fighting chance from the very beginning and sow them into pots.

Having seen someone, somewhere using empty toilet rolls, I saved up enough for my little experiment, filled them half up with compost, gently nestled a bean on top and then filled up the remainder with more compost. To keep them upright I inserted each roll into an old bit of cardboard packaging and then surrounded them with more compost to keep them steady. Not wanting to waste this support I threw in some Arugula (large leaf rocket) seeds for company. A few weeks and lots of watering later the above was achieved.

Looks promising don’t you think ?

They’re going into a prepared area in the garden today, I’ll insert each roll up to the top in the soil, against the bamboo supports I’ve already been using for my string beans this past summer.

bean roots

bean roots

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