Tomatoes Maison BleueThis winter’s extreme cold would seem to be ushering in a summer that may break heat records in the planet’s hottest year on record to date. One of the benefits of mid 30 degree temperatures in September was an early start to tomato growing. Having successfully hot-housed tomatoes to avoid frosts and achieved early crops of Roma tomatoes last year, this year a new way to boost their pre-planting growth was their placement on a ledge of our double glazed north facing living room window. The results were spectacular with plants growing rapidly and two more varieties were added, plus pots of basil. With late frosts over, their planting out a few weeks ago has seen them establish in their new garden beds and fruiting already. One can never have too many tomatoes.

Our WWOOFer Vicki spent some spare time helping the major weeding and veggie bed refurbishing that preceded recent planting of multiple seeds and home grown lettuce seedlings in the warm soil. The benefit of growing large amount of seedlings is that thinning can allow for gifts and exchange with other gardeners – how many kale, mizuna, rocket, fenugreek and giant red mustard can you use?

Another part of the seasonal preparations was removal of the huge amount of nettles that were flourishing in the chookyard. Currently romanticised, the edible and highly nutritious nettle is undergoing a renaissance, mainstream acceptance being indicated by their presence on the menu at our local pub. I say romanticised as the bucket full I processed for eating, stripping leaves and blanching and steaming prior to making a hearty nettle pie ( see recipe), took quite a while and despite best efforts left my arms covered in nettle stings. Luckily we have dock growing and it provides a remedy. The remainder of the nettles removed were put in a barrel and topped with water and have broken down into a marvellous smelly nettle tea that is providing beneficial minerals to the veggie garden. Nettles have a long history as a herbal remedy for varied application from treatment of rheumatism to a traditional hair tonic. They are also high in protein, iron, beta carotene and Vitamin C. Once I’d removed them all, I was able to call on the help of the lawn care specialists I’d found at to come and give the grass a new lease of life. I’m determined to find ways in which I can use this too.

Five varieties of rubarb will also provide for swapping and gifts throughout summer, as we await the tomatoes. It will provide for experiments in preserving and fermenting to add to the repertoire at Maison Bleue as plans develop for workshops on preserving the bounty of the summer garden in 2016.

Maison Bleue tomato growing