Monthly Archives: April 2012

More seeds, potting on courgettes and three sisters

This week has been very busy- less on the allotment and more in and around the flat. 65 of the original 80 tomato plants have been potted on (about 10 left to go, 5 were too sickly or didn’t germinate 😦 );  the sweetcorn has germinated this week, along with an acorn squash seedling.

Tomato sprogs all potted on!

On Thursday I potted on the courgettes. They got moved from their sweet spot on the windowsill to the cold outdoors, and from lovely new shiny seed compost to last years compost and soil from the pots outside. I don’t know how happy they are about this…

.

Dude! Sweet!

'tell me about it! Windowsill life RULES'

wtf?! Since when did we live outside?!

She did this to us- I have a feeling that one day she'll eat our arms off too!

But they come in at night while we’re hardening them off until we know that the last frost has passed!

I'm so confused!

Today I also planted more seeds as one thing we’re in need of is more plants! We have a 15 pole allotment (that’s 370 sq metres!) and although 90% of it isn’t dug over, we have two big plots double dug and ready for filling. The problem is we have a potting shed but no greenhouse (we have a plastic one now to put up this year) we could have potted seedlings in the potting shed earlier but I was concerned about them getting too chilly earlier in the year. So instead we’ve filled as much of the living room with seedlings as we can but there’s still not enough. Next year we’ll start earlier and in the greenhouse!

The tomatoes are going to take up one bed in rows with whatever we can sow as groundcover (salad? spinach?) in between them, with peas at the back (if we can get a sunny weekend to do some sowing!)

The other bed we’re planning is a ‘three sisters’ bed. This consists of mounds or rows of corn,  beans and squash. The corn grows out the top of the mounds, it likes mounded soil for drainage and due to its root structure which lies close to the surface,  the squash (in our case courgettes, acorn squash and pumpkins) also likes mounded soil and grows around the bottom, shading out weeds and preventing water transpiration. Beans are planted at the bottom of the corn plants and grow up it for support- no need for canes! Also all three plants together provide a balanced diet. Let’s see how it goes, I may follow a guide like this one: http://www.reneesgarden.com/articles/3sisters.html

Three Sisters Planting

However, right now my sweetcorn seedlings and squash are really teeny!

Tiny wisps of grass, I mean, sweetcorn anyone?

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Growing in the urban environment- Self SuffiCITY!

Today I watched a really interesting video (it’s embedded at the bottom of this post) made by the Dervaes family who live on an urban homestead in California. I don’t  agree entirely with all of their views but find their story and lifestyle extremely inspiring.

Inspiring words

So the parts I’m not sure I totally agree with in the video are those about GM crops, I think maybe GM is handled differently in the UK than it is in the US where it seems to have made its way into food products and restaurants without any prior warning or openness about it or its processing that is totally wrong. We have laws stating that GM products must be made clear to the consumer so they can make the choice about what they want to purchase. Like with vegetarianism I believe if the global population doesn’t want GM foods and where GM foods lie is made known to them they won’t  buy them and then the markets will make the choice- a vote every time you buy and eat, that’s my attitude to meat too.

I do believe GM has the potential to have a good role on our planet, working with nature instead of against it for the benefit of mankind and our environment. Such as if drought resistant crops are developed that work effectively with nature then terrible events like the Horn of Africa mass starvation last year might not have occurred. Perhaps I need to find out more about GM and why it’s good or bad (please feel free to leave views here if you are more in the know than I) but I definitely don’t feel against it just because it’s ‘unnatural,’ many scientific endeavours which have brought wonderous discoveries to our world could be categorised as such- such as prostheses, robotics, medical tissues and now the wonders of grown meat which could potentially create a real impact on climate change and carbon-poor and environment leaching animal farming practices.

I think we just have to be given as much information as possible about our food, where it comes from, what’s in it and who created it. The best way to do that would be with an awesome set up like the Devraes, or like our own little plots, gardens and allotments.

The Dervaes are an inspiration. I live in Cambridge, in a one-bedroom flat, no garden, currently overrun with plants, and have an allotment plot about a miles’ cycle away so love learning more about optimising space. I would love to keep my own bees, chickens and goats and the Dervaes model of using every inch of space for water efficiency and soil quality is fantastic and looks extremely effective-  I’ve heard of this termed ‘forest gardening’ before. The idea of being self-sufficient by selling on produce to local establishments is an inspiring one, what a great idea!

Here’s  the video if you need some afternoon inspiration with a cup of tea before grabbing your trowels!

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Dinner last night…

…was Rice Noodles with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Cashew Nuts!

Super easy and covers all your food groups! I just toasted 100g of cashews and a few black onion seeds in a pan, added some sesame oil and fried 2 cloves of garlic and a chunk of ginger (grated), then added some chopped purple sprouting broccoli and 2 sliced orange peppers. Rice Noodles and a light sauce made of sesame and olive oil, dark soy sauce, dried chilli flakes, sweet chilli sauce and rice wine vinegar was added at the last 2 minutes of frying…voila!

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Spicing up your bean burgers!

When you’re really busy I’ve found the old freezer favourite, bean burgers, can make a really nice veggie or vegan supper with just a few additions. It’s great if you need half an hour to do something when you get in after work as all these things can all be left cooking together for 30 mins. This is also pretty healthy, the bean burgers we get from the supermarket are only ~240 calories each!

I bung the bean burgers in the oven at around 200C, alongside another roasting tray with some sliced onion (use half a red onion for this, and save half for the potato salad below) and a sliced red pepper,  coated with a little olive oil and covered with foil, this is more a more energy-efficient way to cook than frying the onions as the oven is on already- and it takes less effort.

At the same time I boil some whole small new potatoes (no need to chop) for half an hour on the hob (maybe set these boiling just before you put the burgers in).

In a mixing bowl, I combine some light mayo (you could use vegan mayo if you’re so inclined) and a little olive oil and black pepper.

Chill out while everything cooks for 30 minutes, then drain the potatoes, and add them to the mayo/onion mix and break them up a little with a fork. Assemble the burgers with the roasted pepper and onion on top (bun optional), add a few slices of avocado, and put the potato salad on the side along with some green salad.

Voila! A weeknight feast. I have the low(er) carb version above, and James partakes of the supersize option below.

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Seedlings, rhubarb, a hail storm and grow your own work/life philosophy

This week has been a really busy day on Murphling farm (I’m a Hickling; he’s a Murphy so you can see how we got there).

Last weekend we went up to the allotment to double dig over a second big bed, it was hard going in the traditional mix of English showers and sunshine; the squashy mud stuck to our boots like the world’s grossest platform heels and pulling bind weed roots out of the blocks of earth was much harder in damp conditions. We weren’t making much progress, worried we were just chopping up and redistributing the weed roots and finally gave up when an unexpected shower of hail and rain came. We took shelter in the shed, before pillaging as much of the massive rhubarb plants as we could for an after-dinner crumble.

Nice weather for ducks! Ice ducks?

Emergency rations!

Backpack full o' barb

We took arrival of some new seeds! We’re definitely not the first out of the box this year so are still germinating seedlings at this point- it’ll be a late harvest for us, but we like to remain relaxed about growing, fitting it in when we can, rather than make it a chore.

We’re now growing 15 varieties of tomato (just for funsies), adding Tigerella, Yellow Currant, Golden Sunrise, Black Cherry and Tomatoberry F1 to the list in my previous post. As well as some sweetcorn, Earlibird, and some acorn squash, Winter Table Queen.

New Seeds!

We realised we needed to get seeds into soil fast, and after delay due to the late evenings I work and busy social weekends James and I just turned the flat into a potting shed one night at about 9pm! It looked like a murder scene with black plastic all over the floor but it got the job done without too much mess.

Murder scene? Or urban nursery?

Indoor nursery in a one-bedroom- da jungle is massif!

Which brings me onto my question for any interested readers of this post; I was wondering if there are any bloggers/readers out there who have allotments, or grow their own food- how do you balance this with working a 9-5 (or 10-7/8 in my case)? I see loads of these blogs about people with amazing smallholdings, allotments and back gardens but it doesn’t say anything about whether they work or not and what they do for money.  Are a lot of people fully self-sufficient? If you are then maybe that’s why you all get your beans in in time when we’re still digging in April!

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Germination Station!

The flat is currently the germination station (and yes, I came up with that nifty name myself).

The tomatoes that had germinated in my last post about the allotment are now tapping on the roof of their propagators, and are displaying their first true leaves. Soon I’ll transfer them from their seedling cells to 7 or 11 cm pots in the potting shed or the plastic film greenhouse we were given.

The bell peppers (we’re growing an orange F1 variety called Ariane) have just germinated in the last two rows of one of the propagators full of tomato seedlings, and I don’t know if anyone else has tried to grow peppers or other mediterranean vegetables in the UK, but it’s a massive relief to see them germinate at all! That said, we grew paprika peppers last year and they were a huge success, with reams of beautiful red peppers which we dried and ground into spice in a coffee grinder (another post on this to follow soon).

Ariane sweet pepper micro seedlings

Strings of paprika peppers drying in the sun!

The courgette varieties we’ve planted so far have mostly germinated, we’ve planted F1 One-Ball (and yes,  that is a funny name), a Yellow round courgette, F1 8-Ball a Green Round Courgette and Black Beauty, a normal green long variety we grew last year. We also bought a variety called F1 Tristan, which we haven’t sown yet.

Courgette plants

Sadly, the 8-Balls, which we bought from SimplySeed haven’t germinated. Their seeds have been generally very good, so this is a little disappointing. We’ve had one come up but he doesn’t look too well, with splotchy sickly looking leaves:/

Sickly 8-ball

More to come- we still have to sow more tomatoes, sweetcorn, acorn squash and pumpkins and no sign of the aubergines and chilli peppers we’ve sown sprouting anytime soon!

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Asparagus Bread

 

Lots of people have signature dishes, one of mine is definitely Asparagus Bread. It’s a warm savoury accompaniment when baked fresh to go with pasta or pizza and just as good as a sandwich for munching on at lunch time the day after baking.

To make it I just make a normal 1/2 kilo white bread batch (500g flour, 300ml water, 5g dried yeast, 10g salt and a good slug of olive oil), knead, rise, knock back and shape the bread as normal and then push the dough into a roasting tray lined with baking paper, like focaccia. Rub all over with olive oil and garlic crushed and mixed with butter, then press in stalks of fresh asparagus, push them right into the dough, and sprinkle with grated parmesan (the cheap grated hard cheese in a canister is fine, the fine salty granules taste great and don’t melt in the oven). Bake at the highest temperature your oven will go (around 220C) until golden and makes a hollow sound when knocked. Lift out to cool on a wire rack…Voila!

I’ve found the best guide to getting perfect bread (with loads of great recipes) is the River Cottage  Handbook No.3 ‘Bread’  by Daniel Stevens- a beautiful and invaluable guide.

 

 

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Alot going on…

We don’t just eat a lot of veggies, we attempt to grow them too! Today was the first warm day down the allotment and there’s ‘alot’ going on (get it, allotment/alot…genius). The first blossoms are out on the damson and apple trees and the gooseberry and raspberry canes had fresh foliage. A sneaky pigeon or two were already picking their way about the place looking for any seedlings to munch on- stupid birds, we’re far too lazy to have planted anything yet!

The first signs of spring!

This year we’re planning on keeping the allotment nice and simple- we love tomatoes, courgettes, squash, corn, peppers and aubergines so we’re only planting those and flowers this year for the main crop. We also have fruit canes and trees, rhubarb, asparagus (hidden amongst the compost patch and brambles) and I’d like to get some herb planters going.

As tomatoes will take up the bulk of the room on the main plot and we LOVED growing different varieties last year, we’ve gone a bit mad and planted ten varieties of tomato:

Super Marmande

Auriga

Ace

Black Krim

Sungold F1

-Mystery seeds (we dug out of a particularly tasty cherry tomato)

Gardener’s Delight

Roma VF

Lucciolo F1

Shirley F1

We got the seeds from seedparade, simplyseed and saved ourselves

We planted 8 seeds of each last week and they’ve all germinated YAY (see pic below), when we set up the greenhouse we’ll plant a few more methinks (at first I thought 70-80 plants would be enough, and then I remembered how much digging we’ve actually done on the allotment!)

Mini Tomato Guys!

The allotment, despite being so early in the season, has already given us some tasty treats today, in the form of a good bag of young rhubarb. I used some apples and a frozen punnet of berries from last year’s allotment crop to make a tasty crumble! THANKS PATCH!

Rhubarb and apple stewing with a punnet of frozen berries added!

Mmmm!

Finished crumble ready for the oven!

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