Not just for Christmas, Clever Cards, Sprouts are In! & Bee Flexible

Taken from Lynne’s weekly column ‘Green Scene’ for the Western Mail. 7th January 2017

Not Just for Christmas

Despite superstitions, my Christmas decorations are always packed away well before the 12th Night and my Christmas tree upcycled into a bird feeding station on the deck.  They love it and the still-green branches provide the necessary habitat for shy feeders like wrens.

Once outside, shiny baubles are replaced with fat balls, frosty icicles decorations give way to fruit slices and tinsel is replaced with strings of peanut garlands (still in their shell … good luck threading individual peanuts onto string!)

In fact, last year’s Christmas tree was only burned just before this Christmas.  After providing a respite and restaurant for the birds, it became a support for my sweet peas which rambled through its naked frame nicely.

Once the sweet peas were over, I threaded outdoor solar fairy lights through it and it was only retired really to make way for this year’s tree to do have the same journey.

It just goes to show that a Christmas tree doesn’t have to be just for Christmas!

Clever Cards

And talking of recycling – don’t forget to upcycle your Christmas cards into labels  As you take the cards down, cut out any suitable scenes from the fronts and store them with your decorations to use as labels for Christmas presents later in the year. Although recycling is still considered to be ‘trendy’, I remember my nan getting us to do this as kids … or perhaps it was just to keep us quiet!

Sprouts are In!

It’s official – sprouts are ‘in’.  Apparently they have attained the dubious title of ‘superfood’ and as such won’t be restricted to the Christmas dinner. I must admit I love the little baby cabbages (as a neighbour’s small son described them) and there are a number of ways to use them other than the traditional ‘with bacon’ dish. As a veggie, I love them sprinkled with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasted – add a little drizzle of maple syrup and chopped toasted hazel nuts, pine nuts or pecans, for an added twist. Or mix balsamic vinaigrette, brown sugar and thyme together in a small bowl, mix chopped sprouts, parsnips and red onion together in a baking dish and drizzle balsamic mixture over the vegetables. Roast in preheated oven until vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.

For something a little more adventurous, try sprouts with lentils and herbs.  You will need:

  • 75g dried green lentils
  • 1kg brussels sprouts, bases trimmed, outer leaves removed, wiped clean – not washed – this is important!
  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • Flaky salt
  • 40g mint, leaves picked
  • 40g flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
  • For the dressing
  • 1 tbsp hot English mustard
  • 50ml vincotto
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Flaky salt and black pepper

1 Cook the lentils in simmering water for 8-10 minutes, or until just tender, then drain and set aside. Meanwhile, whisk together all the dressing ingredients.

2 Cut the sprouts in half lengthways, then fill a large, deep, heavy-based saucepan a third full (no more) with the cooking oil.

3 Heat the oil to 180C/350F then deep-fry the sprouts in batches until they’re golden and crispy. (Stand back! They will spit as they fry. This is also why you don’t wash them, as it traps water beneath the leaves that can be dangerous when it hits the hot oil.)

4 Drain the fried sprouts on paper towels, then place in a large bowl and season with the salt flakes. Add the dressing, lentils, mint and parsley, then toss to coat and serve.

Bee Flexible

I can’t help feeling a little apprehensive about the weather for the next few months. We have had such a favourable run up to the end of the year, it doesn’t seem possible that the mild conditions can last. As long as they do, there is will always be something to do in the garden, and both me and my brother keep the maintenance side of the business going right the way through the year.

But if the weather does turn, it is best to have a few indoor jobs stocked up and my favourite is definitely planning the veggie beds for the spring. Gather the seed catalogues and a big notebook and enjoy planning what you are going to grow, and where. Don’t forget to utilise large tubs and troughs and even the beds and borders if necessary. I loved picking beans from the back of the herbaceous border last year – and it meant I didn’t disturb my bees who reside at the top of the veggie patch. The top two beds were given over to wild flowers for them. The year before, the guard bees would get testy if I picked beans in the early evening as the worker bees were returning to the hives – it didn’t make for a happy partnership.

And the secret of happy gardening is to work with what you’ve got – to collaborate, not to compete or contend with it.  And that, by the way, is a pretty good New Year’s resolution too, should you be looking for one!

Happy New Year to you all.

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