Gill's Spring 24 Journal

Gill's Spring 24 Journal

On a rainy day in April, a van turned into the drive, here at home in Devon. It said ‘Rhino Greenhouse’s’ on the side...

I like radishes. Cold, crisp radishes, bright, broad green leaves with their burred, hairy feel. I brush off the earth and enjoy their crunch in the garden. Or I take them into the kitchen, rinse them all properly, to eat simply with soft butter and flaky sea salt – A French breakfast? I’ve tried growing a handful of varieties. Scarlet globe, Rougette, Stela, I like them all a lot, but it seems the woodlice like them just as much as me, if not more. What to do? Row by staggered row look great from a far, but then, as I draw the curtains of leaves apart, the problem becomes frustratingly apparent. There’s a real hustle and bustle going on down there. The little woodlice are causing no end of damage to my lines of pink and red spheres, and they’ve certainly been busy, determined in fact, to nibble pocks and hollows in each and every radish, save none. It seems to be their chief role in life, their single aim.

The radishes in question are outside, not in the greenhouse. I put the seeds down a few months ago and thanks to the weather (stone cold ground) progress has been slow, but steady, they are usually the first crop of the year.

Each row is roughly 1 meter long and runs from one edge of the raised bed to the other. Oak sleeper raised beds - is it then, the oak sleepers, that are drawing the woodlice in. Have they established residence in the nooks and crannies of the timber, below the earth, in the knots and grains - a wooden hotel with an ‘all you can eat’ buffet laid on for them? Perhaps they have.

I’ve been looking into my radish problem, trying to find simple ways of tackling the issue. Coffee grounds keep coming up as a potential repellent, and as this is something we do have in quantity, so I’m going to try it out.  Now, instead of dumping them in the compost each morning, I’m starting to save them up, to scatter around the radish, a caffeine force field, of sorts. I will update.

On a rainy day in April, a van turned into the drive, here at home in Devon. It said ‘Rhino Greenhouse’s’ on the side, and its occupants looked like they’d had an early start. It was true, they’d very kindly driven all the way from Norfolk, to deliver 3 of new Rhino ‘Cold Frames’ for my garden. Tea and cake were swiftly dispatched, before we unloaded these wonderful additions to my growing ‘growing’ set up.

Rhino Cold Frames

They sit perfectly down the side of my greenhouse and, thanks to the rather lovely job they’ve done of powder coating the frames, they match my Rhino perfectly. All this extra space has meant I can now sow far more seeds and bring on far more seedlings than I have done in previous years. And right now, of course, space is of a premium. There are moments when every surface is jammed solid with pots and seed trays. There are plants at all stages of growth. Propagated lavender from last year, waiting to go out, a small lemon tree just coming into bud, succulents we’ve been trying to rescue. Young tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, squash, beans, peas, the list goes on. Now I have the flexibility to spread out beyond the realms of the Rhino, into my equally favorable Cold frames. The young plants seem to be doing really well in their new temporary surrounds. A half-way house between the Rhino and the garden itself. They’ve been designed with ease of use in mind too. A simple hinged mechanism enables you to easily, and safely, open the frames. Access is graded, so you can open them partially, to allow fresh air in, or they can be opened completely to allow you to water the plants or lift them in and out as required. All in all, my new cold frames are a gardener’s delight, and already paying for themselves as I write.

Usually, I take the opportunity to bang on about my homemade compost at least once or twice in this seasonal blog of mine, but this spring it’s not all positive news I’m afraid. We barrowed, what we thought, was our finest batch of compost to date, all over our vegetable beds, Sifting it, raking it, picking out bits that shouldn’t be there. It looked just right, rich, dark, not to wet. A job well done we thought. Several weeks later and after some sun and plenty of rain, all sorts of young seedling began to germinate from within the compost. There were too many to name, but verbena and poppies were some of the main offenders. What a lot of work it was to weed out those beds. We think, looking back the compost had not aged for long enough or had not reached a temperature sufficient for killing the seed. Either way, now the beds are weeded, they look great and we will have to try and get things right next time.

This month I’ve been trying to get through all my over wintered leeks. I put them in as young pencil sized plants in the autumn and now they all need pulling before they develop that core and go to flower. The cold weather has bought me a few extra weeks grace as the flowering has been held off but I can see the scapes (flowers buds before they open) forming, (which I will eat too) on a few of the plants, so they’re coming up this week. Leek recipes have been on the brain as a result, and here is one of my favorites below, should you find yourself in a similar predicament and in need of inspiration. It’s a good one for now, as Scallops are coming into season and the weathers warming up, so we can get the barbecue going once again.


Scallops with creamed leeks

It makes me very happy to cook fresh scallops over a fire. They’re so sweet, and such a joy to eat out in the open air. Sometimes I’ll thread them on to rosemary sticks with hunks of spicy chorizo sausage and grill them like kebabs. Sometimes I like to sizzle them in their own shells with thin slivers of garlic and salty butter. The only other thing they need is a squeeze of lemon at the end.

In this recipe the scallops get seared over embers with thyme and salt and pepper, then served in their shells with silky creamed leeks cooked in some fruity cider. If I’m feeling decadent, I’ll finish the scallops and leeks with a little trickle of good truffe oil, which takes them to a whole new place. It’s not essential, but it is seriously good.

Scallops with Creamed Leeks on an open fire

Serves 2



2 leeks, halved lengthways, then thinly sliced into half moons
a knob of butter
2 garlic cloves, sliced
3–4 thyme sprigs
200ml medium-dry cider
150ml double cream
8–12 large hand-dived scallops, removed from the shells and reserved
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper



Wash and drain the sliced leeks. Set a pan over a hot fire and add the butter. When it’s bubbling away, add the sliced garlic and sizzle it for a minute or so without letting it burn. Strip the leaves from half the thyme and add these to the garlic – they will pop and crackle. Scatter in the leeks, season with salt and pepper and give them a good stir. Cook, stirring regularly, until the leeks are soft and silky. This may take up to 10 minutes. Now, add the cider and let it come up to a simmer and bubble away for a minute or two. Pour in the cream and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Season with a little more salt and pepper to taste, and keep warm.

Strip the remaining thyme from the stems and scatter it over the scallops. Season them with salt and pepper and trickle over the extra-virgin olive oil. Gently turn the scallops through the thyme and oil.

Make sure the fire is super-hot before you start cooking the scallops – you need a broad bed of white-hot embers. If this means adding more fuel and letting it burn back, then do that. The leeks can wait happily to one side. Use some tongs to set the scallops down on the grill and cook them for 1–2 minutes on each side. You want some golden color to develop before you turn them over and cook them on the other side.

Lay out the scallop shells over the grill. Divide the creamy leeks equally between the shells, then top each one with a grilled scallop. Eat hot.


Photography by Matt Austin

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