Friday, 25 October 2013

The Precious Olive

On a recent trip to Andalucia visiting my wife's aunt we were amazed at the numbers of olive trees stretching off into the distance. This site made me reminisce about times I enjoyed when I worked in Greece. 

Back in the late 90's I worked on a gold, lead and zinc mine in Greece. We were based in Halkidiki and I lived just outside a small coastal village called Ouranopolis. I can remember waking up to a sea of olive trees outside my bedroom window each morning. Olives were harvested in the winter months of November and December long after the tourists had flown home. It was always an honour to be given a jar of olives and some olive oil from local friends who owned a number of olive trees.

The olive is an evergreen shrub and is part of the Oleaceae family and among others is related to lilac and ash trees.

The trees thrive in the Mediterranean and North African regions where they have a high drought tolerance. However, they are not too keen on temperatures below -5C.

With a really productive tree a farmer may expect to get about 40-60kg of olives per tree. It takes about 1,000 olives (4-8kg)to produce 1 litre of olive oil. An olive fruit can't be picked from the tree and eaten as it would taste very bitter. Olives are normally cured in brine, water or oil.

Can you grow olive trees in the UK? we have all seen them in pots growing in someones garden or outside a trendy restaurant but don't expect to get a harvest from these. It appears you can get fruits in the UK if you have good growing conditions and put a lot of time into growing and harvesting. Follow these links for olives in Devon and olives in a greenhouse near Chichester.

Once the olives have been harvested they have to be mashed and pressed in order to extract the oil. The traditional method is to use no heat during the extraction process, hence the name 'first cold pressed'.

Extra virgin olive oil - The highest grade you can buy. It can be called extra if it has not more than 0.8g per 100g of free oleic acid present (free acidity). In addition it must pass chemical and sensory tests to qualify.

Virgin olive oil - no more than 2g per 100g of free acidity.

Ordinary virgin olive oil - not more than 3.3g per 100g of free acidity.

virgin olive oil >3.3g per 100g of free acidity is not considered fit for consumption. This is termed Lampante virgin olive oil.

Olive oil - is a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils.

Olive-pomace oil - is the residue oil extracted by chemical solvents and must be highly refined to remove chemical impurities. This is normally enriched with virgin olive oil prior to sale.

The diagram below taken from Australian Extra Virgin sums up the different grades quite well.

I prefer to buy the extra virgin olive oil all the time because its taste is far superior to any oil that has been refined.

Furthermore, we live in a world where a whole host of chemicals are used to manufacture our food and I would rather not have someone interfering thank you very much!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A Beachy Birthday..

 It was my wife's birthday the other week so friends and family headed off to the beach at West Wittering for a Sunday afternoon of October sun and fun. The beach is located about 8 miles south of Chichester and has a lengthy sandy beach, sand dunes and salt marshes.

The wind was just strong enough to get the kite out and the sand was definitely sandy enough for Jake the Spaniel to become a walking sand pit.

Sand was also something that Merryn found fascinating, so much so that she couldn't resist the temptation to see what it actually tasted like.

When she realised that it was actually not good to have a mouthful of sand in her mouth and water was gratefully accepted, it was time to head off to the sea for a bit more fun.

October can be a strange month because the days are getting shorter and cooler and life is starting to wind down in the garden but every now and then we are treated to a day of amazing sunshine and warmth to remind us that summer hasn't let go just yet.

With the sun low in the sky and Merryn landing safely back in my arms it was time to turn back and head for home.

Walking past the marram grass along the sand dunes gave me an idea for a microscope post but I didn't collect any on this occasion. Next time I go down I will. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Spanish Breakfast...

Trojillos is a small village about 45mins north of Granada in southern Spain. Sarah's aunt owns a house that looks directly down a valley and into the olive groves that stretch as far as the eye can see.

At about 0830 every morning a van drives past with its horn blaring and it's the local baker! He sells a whole range of pastries and breads. We were in the middle of the Spanish countryside and completely off the tourist trail.

The patio was flooded with the early morning sun and we were grateful that we had such a relaxing start to each day we were there. Don't get me wrong, life is tough in this part of the world but our Mediterranean friends have got something right because everyone was so laid back.
Morning coffee was provided by Mozzo Coffee a company based in Southampton that is on a mission to play a positive part in the positive transformation of the coffee industry. It supplies to many companies in Hampshire but also to leading London hotels and the National Theatre.

Sitting back and taking in the view of all those olive trees made me think about another post - the humble olive and its part in the history of the world!

A Spring Get Together

Looking back at the year, I realised just how grateful everyone was when spring had finally sprung...
It had been a cold winter for Hampshire, however, some crisp mornings were stunning. Spring though is a wonderful time of the year when life is literally about to explode. The different coloured greens on trees and plants show everything is still young and fresh. The spring flowers give a sneak preview of the explosion of colour that awaits us all.

So what better thing is there than to have a truly British celebration in the form of a garden party with family and friends in your garden..

The aromas emanating from chicken on the BBQ fill every corner of the garden..

Pudding of home made scones, magda biscuits, a victoria sponge placed on a table decorated with the first bluebells and wild garlic flowers, was all washed down with a refreshing cup of tea while we admired the sun going down over the trees.

I like to be part of my garden and feel that I belong in it. Us Brits are renowned for our gardens but recent research has shown that we don't spend nearly as much time as we would like in them. On average we spend just over 1/2 hour in the garden every day, rising to one hour for the over 55's.

A lot of us are lucky enough to have one, don't just admire your garden, be a part of it. Think about how your garden can reflect the type of person you are. Think about your favourite parts of the garden, sunny and shady areas, activities you enjoy in the garden - entertaining or having fun with the children.

Once you have the concept in your head make it a reality and really start to be at one with your surroundings. You never know you may find that you start to spend more time in your gardens and have a 'get together' for each season.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Guardians of Life...

Walking the dog through the fields the other morning at 0430 I looked up and saw a clear star filled sky. It then made me remember that my wife had called me a geek for arranging glow in the dark stars on the eldest daughter's ceiling according to the northern hemisphere constellation map!! That took me a while to do but I am proud to say that it has worked and her ceiling is now twinkling away each night!!

Anyway back to the walk...I picked a maize leaf because I wanted to photograph its stomata. Now these things are basically microscopic pores but like all those tiny things they play such an important part in ensuring the continuation of life on our planet.

Can you make out the small oval shapes in the photo below? These are the stomata.

Here is one in more detail. Given it was dark outside and when I took this photograph the stomata were closed.

Two cells called guard cells surround each stoma. These regulate opening and closing and control the exchange of gases between the leaf and the atmosphere.

Oxygen involved in respiration (getting energy to live) and carbon dioxide involved in photosynthesis (making food) enter through stomata. During the day you would normally see the stomata open letting in these two gases. The byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen and this is released through the stomata to the outside world.

Water is also released through stomata via a process called transpiration. This is how water is able to travel freely through tiny seedlings to massive redwoods. 

So how does it work? Well without becoming too technical it is just the movement of water into and out of the guard cells. Water goes in and the guard cells become turgid and open, water goes out and the guard cells become flaccid and close. This is all controlled by the amount of light, carbon dioxide and a number of chemicals and hormones that the plant produces.

The classic study is to paint clear nail varnish onto a leaf's surface, peel it off and then view it with a microscope so keep a look out in the future for more posts.

So the next time you go out into the garden or look at a pot plant indoors, just give a thought to the the multitude of guard cells that are working non-stop to ensure your plants keep on growing. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hollyhock's Sticky Pollen

or Vice Versa?

I noticed recently that the bumblebees were smothering the hollyhocks and really getting covered in pollen. We have a south facing brick wall and grew our hollyhocks from seed last summer and overwintered them on top of the outdoor boiler. We planted them out this spring and after a slow start they relished the warm weather and towered. 

Looking at the photograph I could see a lot of large round pollen had stuck on the bee. 

I thought this would be a great start to viewing pollen and other plants with a microscope.  I collected some pollen, soaked them in ethanol and then stained them yellow.

Turning the lamp right down gave the the orange effect from below and because the pollen was stained yellow it turned into a lovely green colour when viewed with a high power microscope.

Each pollen grain then revealed its beautiful design. A round grain with a number of spikes. The pollen is quite sticky anyway and with spikes probably ensures that it sticks to any insect that cares to enter the inner sanctuary of the flower.

I find it amazing that nature has so much beauty and has evolved in many different ways to ensure the survival of many species we see around us.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What do you do with a load of tomatoes freshly picked from your poly tunnel??

You fire up the wood oven and make your own Roasted Tomato Passata! We used the recipe in River Cottage Handbook 'Preserves' by Pam Corbin

Chop the tomatoes if they are a bit on the large side together with your shallots shallots and put them into a roasting tin.

The first picture shows an assortment of 'Yellow Perfection', 'Chocolate Cherry' and 'Dolce Vita'.

The red tomatoes in the second picture are the amazing 'Country Taste', a really meaty and juicy tomato.

Sprinkle a load of herbs on such as marjoram, rosemary and purple basil. Splash a good load of olive oil and toss the tomatoes so that they get a good covering.

Put your trays into your wood oven and don't forget the odd aubergine or two for company. Don't ask what the temperature is as I go by the look of the bricks and feel of radiating heat!!

We were going to cook pizzas after this so the dome and floor was going to get pretty hot. The bricks in the background have started to go white and that tells me that the oven is getting the right temperature.

See the black soot on the bricks on the left? that part needs to get hotter so after the veggies cooked I stoked the heat up.

After about 40 mins with a turn every now and then the tomatoes looked like this.

They were then whizzed up in a food processor, strained through a sieve and then poured into sterilised kilner jars.

Result - a lovely smokey taste to the passata.

We also reduced some passata to make tomato ketchup.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

It's a bee's life

Honey Bee on Sedum
Well this is the first post of hopefully many! I hope you enjoy reading about The Gardeneur!

I am still trying to work out how blogging works! Now a 38 year old who has grown up with a bit of technology should know better and hopes that his two daughters who are 2 1/2 and 1 don't catch him up.

So to get things started - Out in the garden the other day I noticed that our Gooseberry Fool Sedum that we planted earlier on in the year had attracted a large number of honey bees and bumble bees. It's great to see them at work, especially as though they all had such a bad start to the year. I am sure those icy cold mornings of cycling down to the station to catch the 0557 lasted a lot longer than normal!!  

Our garden is literally full of wildlife at the moment and that includes the girls 'looking after the veg and flowers'.