Category Archives: Growing Your Own

We want ugly veg!

Image credit: PropogandaTimes on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image credit: PropogandaTimes on CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I just finished reading a report on the amount of food wasted globally from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The report has been featured in the press because of the stomach-churning statement it makes- that up to 50% of the worlds food goes to waste!

In the third world and newly developing nations this is largely due to inefficient harvesting and transportation, in late-stage developing nations spoilage and poor infrastructure present problems (its well-known that India wastes up to 1/3rd of its food) and in developed post-industrial societies, where transport, storage and processing facilities are efficient, food is wasted through retail and consumer behaviour.

For some reason this type of food wastage is especially appalling, because it is not accidental wastage but behavioural, intentional waste. The report states…

“Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. For example, up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of such practices. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.”

Up to 30% of our veg gets chucked away because it’s ugly?! Not even ugly, but perhaps the wrong coloration, size or shape, or have blemishes, scratches or are in the wrong stage of ripening.

So who’s to blame here the UK supermarkets or us British consumers? Surely the supermarkets wouldn’t reject vegetables unless we wouldn’t buy the imperfections? If we have to pay 70p for a pepper, and one is half the size of the other than that lack of standardisation will leave the little pepper unsold and the supermarket out of pocket, the little pepper wasted anyway. But for items sold by weight this theory holds little traction and even in the pepper scenario if stocked correctly someone would pick that little fella up.

Previously the supermarkets could hide behind regulation; EU restrictions on appearance and varieties of fruit and veg were in place. But with the EU restrictions lifted in 2009, why haven’t we seen more wonky veg? I recently visited an Italian supermarket it was great to see the knobbly peppers and varying sizes and shapes of aubergines.

Also I just don’t believe as consumers we’d reject the ugos.

In 2012, after our crummy weather and terrible harvests, Sainsburys accepted some of the misfits.  Director of Sainsburys food Judith Batchelar even said that consumers were definitely Pro-ugo…

“This may mean a bit more mud on peas or strawberries that are a little smaller than usual, but our customers understand and love the idea.”

So why not all the time?

I think we’d actually enjoy a bit of variety as consumers, I’ve never known anyone to waste their time rifling through tomatoes for that perfect sphere of light red and last year we grew “Black Krims” (possibly the world’s ugliest tomatoes) on the plot.

“Black Krims” are heirloom tomatoes, originally from Crimea. They are a green/purple/brown colour and grow with a folded appearance, sometimes even engulfing their stalks, and have characteristic splits in them, yep, splits and scars on their skins.

Here is quite an attractive Black Krim courtesy of Marshall Astor on flickr….

5096764148_1773a234e8_b

CCSharealike license

So, you get my drift, these tomatoes ain’t pretty, but they’re so sweet and tasty, we loved them and we’re growing them again this year.

I think consumers would buy ugos, like Krimmy above, and American supermarket ‘Wholefoods’ has embraced this philosophy, proudly displaying their bounties of heirloom tomatoes and even blogging about them, their scars and their imperfections.

So the next time you’re in the supermarket pick the most misshapen carrots you can find, maybe over time the straighties left in the pallets will force the supermarkets to stock more wonky ones, or just lament the wastage and celebrate your own ugly veg, like mine…

My yummy "ugly" veg :)

My yummy “ugly” veg 🙂

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Micro Salad!

It’s January, and it’s been ages since my last post. Last year’s harvest was pretty pitiful due to the bad weather in the UK, a couple of  kilos of tomatoes, a few onions, a sack of new potatoes or two and (admittedly) endless courgettes and marrows (courgettes are immortal…I swear).  Hence the lack of posts in 2012!

This year we’re going to put up our plastic greenhouse and try to grow a few plants which can cope with the weather, I wanted to get started nice and early, with some plants to grow indoors!

I was wondering what to do with a whole bunch of seeds left over from the last couple of years, some of which are, apparently, “out of date.” I didn’t want to risk them not germinating in a spot up the plot, and I’ve bought new varieties this year so I decided to plant a whole bunch in a seed tray as “micro salad.”

Micro salad is basically cress from seeds which are more expensive than mustard cress seeds- think celebrity cress.

Here’s some fancy food with a “micro herb salad” atop it

CC image by Michelle Muirhead (flickr.com)

CC image by Michelle Muirhead (flickr.com)

Micro salad can really be created from any plants which will have tasty young foliage.  But popular varieties, selected for their taste and colour are:

-Mizuna

– Radish

-Carrot

-Coriander

-Purple Basil

-Beetroot

-Chives

-Endive

-Chicory

-Land Cress

-Pea Shoots

-Kale

-Radicchio

-Red Mustard Frills

-Celery

Called micro greens in the US, this trend seems particularly popular in the states, with a number of shops selling portions of these posh cressies online, and some UK firms even following the trend, and seed companies cashing in on micro equipment and seed varieties.

So this seemed like a great way to use up my old seeds and get a teeny crop to add some class to my dinners in just days.

So I got two old vegetable containers (no drainage holes, easy peasy), filled them with seed compost and sprinkled the seeds on top (I used lemon basil, mooli radish, spinach, beetroot, carrot and onion seeds), covered with a little more soil and kept moist and just a few days later look what peeked out-

Amsterdam, wills wedding, xmas 143 Amsterdam, wills wedding, xmas 146 Amsterdam, wills wedding, xmas 148

The green shoots are spinach, the red beetroot, I actually took these pics a few days ago and I know have some cresses ready to cut- a great idea if you need a few sprinklings of greenery for your daily sarnie but hate watching bags of salad mould away in the fridge, or if you have a posh dinner party coming up in a few weeks.

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A tiny harvest

The pots outside our one bedroom flat (which is without garden 😦 ) are flourishing with potato, courgette and tomato plants today (the few that survived the awful beginning of the summer we’ve had that is).

Tomatoes,squash, courgettes and some scraggly peppers and dwarfed aubergines- using every square inch makes plants flourish!!!

Tomatoes (which need some shoots pulling out)

Maris P’s in a pot!

Also, our allotment, despite not being tended for about 4 weeks has produced some lovely courgettes to join the couple from our pots: F1 Tristan, Black Beauty, F1 One Ball and F1 8 Ball.

Our first harvest for the year is a small bundle of these lovely fruits!

8 ball courgette! YUM!

What a handful!

A tiny harvest

We celebrated our crop, and the lovely (short-lived) weather, with a barbeque (or two) at the allotment…pure bliss!

Chopping onions for the veggie burgers

Our homemade BBQ- a shopping basket, some bricks and coals- with halloumi kebabs and Quorn best of british sausages- nom nom

Quorn burgers, Quorn sausages, frying onion in tin foil, and halloumi and veg kebabs!

Marshmallow anyone?

Despite the poor weather these few barbeques and relaxed times have made me feel very summery indeed. To make everyone else feel a little more summery and satisfied in their agricultural endeavours in the city, you may enjoy this farm and town paper animation set to Vashti Bunyan’s Diamond Day- what could be more summery?

By the way, we used the tiny harvest to make up the layers in a delicious vegetable lasagna, where instead of a layer of bechemal sauce I make a creamy layer of courgettes cooked  in garlic, herbs and cream cheese to place in between layers of quorn mince, passata and basil.

Colourful courgettes

YUM! Part of the tiny harvest cooked

Creamy courgettes in lasagna!

Finished lasagna, topped with ricotta and spinach, then gran padano and breadcrumbs for a twist

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Sprouty ‘taters!

Arghh!

 

Look at these monsters I found at the back of the cupboard last weekend, and yes I did actually once intend to eat these potatoes at some points and yep, I did just totally forget about them-gross! My cupboard stock-rotation skills aren’t up to much it seems!  Here’s my foot (and pajama-ed leg (sorry about that)) in next to the sproutiest one for scale.

 

 

So I’ve never planted potatoes before so I looked on some forums online about this to see if these cupboard ‘head-starters’ were worth planting. The answer seemed to be ‘yes.’ I also found out that potatoes will pretty much grow out of any potato remnant with an eye on it, and people have even had successful potatoes grow out of peelings chucked in their compost patch.

 

Peel us and we will multiply!! Mwahaha!
(Image CCAL Dag Endresen)

 

It seems with these sprouties you can plant the potatoes with the sprouts lying down sideways or sticking up into the mound away from the potato, or you can knock the sprouts off if you’re worried they’re too big and will get damaged and they should grow again in the soil. If they poke out of the top they’ll soon green up. I went for lying down sideways as this seemed the most likely to be supported by the soil and not break. I put sprouties (with antlers intact) into pots about 1.5 feet deep x 1.5 feet wide. I laid 2 in each pot half filled with compost then added more compost to the top.

Here’s hoping they do OK. They’re growing in the same compost I had tomatoes in last year, and I’ve heard you shouldn’t of that but we didn’t have any blight last year so I’m risking it (MAVERICK!)

I’m so excited about my potatoes I had to listen to the potato song in anticipation-

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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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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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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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Council Allotments and other options

Whenever people ask me how I got a fifteen pole plot after just under a year of waiting in a busy city where growing vegetables is popular,  they seem surprised there are other options available than just sitting on a council waiting list.

Britain’s councils provide a lot of our allotment space and are usually really good at handling their waiting lists. Due to the amount of people who apply for council allotments the plots are usually small and you can wait a really long time for a plot near you.

Here’s a great guide to applying for a council allotment from DirectGov: Council Allotments Guide

But remember independent allotment bodies exist,  which is how I got my plot. Also they are completely reputable; my allotment has been very well maintained (other than all the overgrowth teehee) and is on even ground, with fruit trees, asparagus, rhubarb etc etc and a shed!!! So you won’t be left with a worse plot if you go independent!

If you aren’t aware of your independent local allotment society search around on Google, they likely have a website, or ask your council, as they get a lot of overflow on their waiting lists they will be aware of the local independent societies to direct people there, also ask around on forums such as allotment.org.uk. Remember there’s no rules against being on every waiting list you can be at once!

Another option is Landshare, which puts people with too much space in touch with growers who need some- everything from a busy mum who can’t keep her veg patch in line and is willing to share produce and growing with someone else, to farmers and allotment soceities with messy plots of land which need taming in exchange for growing space.

Don’t give up hope, waiting lists can very rarely be avoided, but you can sometimes find speedier ones! 🙂