Wayne's blog

Wayne’s Blog on Living Food Banks

25th May   Cardboard everywhere!

The successful volunteer team has made the first part of the Living Food Bank a success in getting the site tamed. A lot of it requiring cardboard after digging over Who knew you needed so much cardboard to get a living food bank going. Parts of the allotment look gift wrapped as we control the weeds.

The crops are starting to grow  despite the cold weather holding everything back.  The carboard weed control stopping so much weed seed from dropping on it – of course the weeds have not been held back. We also have managed to get the first forest garden started. So we hope to have plants, produce and seeds ready for food bank projects in all of our villages. It would be good to be able to give seeds to people come harvest festival season.

We now can think a little about other parishes and our foraging hedge idea. There are benefits as our volunteers plan and plant heritage varieties of fruit that can then be there for parishioners and other biodiversity to enjoy. If you are on a PCC expect to hear more…. and we are also going to give thanks with the allotment serivce on 4th July at 11.00.

18 April 2021  Living food Bank – blooming nicely

Planting seeds and tubers is progressing with a group of us (young people and those not so young) on an allotment in Orwell starting to create the veg beds. The aim is to produce food for the food boxes in our churches and seeds for those wanting to grow their own. As we continue to get the groundwork in with heritage seed vegetables there are so many factors that started to link in. The easy one was using food waste potatoes as a crop.

The fortunate grant from the District Council is enabling us to grow heritage seeds – helping with conservation of traditional vegetable types that produce viable seeds -so part of the crop will create the seed for following years. Who knew so many vegetables are biennial by the way? We need enough of a plot to ensure we can grow some for seed over two years – fortunately thanks to the Orwell Parish council that is possible.  Then the first link as the flowers from carrots to leeks to onions or those late flowering Jerusalem artichokes also provide food for bees and other pollinators from early to late in the year. Bee feeding plants that we can eat that also conserve.

In addition our willing band of volunteers are busy using peat free compost to grow our heritage seeds – a second link to trying to help with habitat conservation. We are planning to get compost from the local Recycling Centre at Land beach as another way to tap into food waste to condition the soil on our four-course rotation for the allotment. We are using food waste to grow some of our vegetables – see the blogs from last year on the web site. Again a link from our local plot to national to using food waste (the products of our green bins).

The plot itself has an edge that is being made into a Forest Garden. This existing hedgerow edge now has traditional apples, local plums, strawberries, and perennial veg including both sorts of artichoke (different plants but same name) with asparagus, cardoons, horseradish, and comfrey. There will also be elderberries, blackberries, currants, and raspberries.

We are also planting traditional plants such as herbs, everlasting onions, and tree onions.  In addition to these we are also exploring the exotic – germinating oca (a tuber akin to growing a potato) and quinoa. Using seeds and tubers sourced in the UK to grow staples that are a little more exotic and not reliant on supermarkets. Each offers the chance to grow and produce sources of exotics for a viable crop next year.

What we are doing is doing those things my grandparents did so well, self-reliance as they grew their own veg and maintained their own seeds. Now they link to modern issues of insect population conservation, food security and habitat loss. We can never compete with the major industries, but we can do our own bit for ourselves and others in our community.

So in addition to the fun of being with a group providing food such as working with a local youth group to grow and process fruit I’m now sitting and reflecting on how the simple act of growing inheritable crops links not just to our local food box but those big issues. By thinking locally we act a little bit globally. All leading to our own pop-up café s as the veg’s thrives. More to follow with news across the Benefice as lockdown eases.

12 Nov Locked down vegetables

Well the community garden is on hold again. The latest guidelines show that we cannot continue – reluctantly I’ve let our volunteers know, put plans to invite others upon to help on hold and retreated to the garden I have. It’s a shame as there was a feeling, we had just about got the brush beaten, or at least retreating. Now there will be a month of respite for the brambles and the others to get their reserves together. Fortunately, the time of year means we may not get a lot of growth. There is some overwintering veg planted including potatoes the addition of onion which we hope will start establishing themselves.

In the spirit of keeping things going I am now getting my seeds sorted, enveloped (paper packaging) and ready for the new year. Having said that another little tip I was given for my chilli plants. Take some plants and cut them back to the woody part of the stem. Then leave in a warm place and water every two or three weeks (or when dry) depending on the temperature of your house. I’ve also been fascinated to read about planting chilli seeds at this time of year. so, a small pot of chilli seeds is being started.

The other seeds have been dried. The coriander, one celery head, leek flower head, and final lettuce flower head are suspended in a dry shed, away from any mice, and dried (hard in the current climate). I placed large paper bag underneath them (well over them where there was sufficient air flow. The result has been a small harvest of seeds. The first thing I needed to do was sort them – old margarine tubs are a great asset for this. I did try winnowing but blew the seed away. I resorted to gently pulling seed and flower head together into the margarine tub and picking out the seed. The ones that had fallen into the envelope were less of a problem. For the wet seeds it was the same – inside of pumpkins, tomatoes, the squashy prickly pear were carefully cut open and washed. Sieves are a must but be careful – it did not want to damage the seed – to gently wash and rub the pulp off. Then dry them on kitchen roll. Beware – seeds that are wet and still pithy will stick to the towel, so I found changing them over from one towel to another until they are dry worked best. A gradual process but it worked. One thing I have found is that an old seed sprouter is ideal. I simply sprinkle the seed on the base which has small holes in it and leave the seed to dry. I also improvised a seed drier using some netting and leaving seed on it – old tights are really helpful id stretched over a margarine tub and seed spread on top of them. Then when dry careful labelling and into envelopes for next year

It has also dropped colder and the terracotta space heater in the greenhouse has worked. Of course, I sometimes forget to light the candle, so some peppers are showing a little damage. When I remember the greenhouse is noticeably not so chilled. Hope it encourages continued growth of onions (another surprise is that I can keep growing onion seeds). I’m also being told to lift a couple of carrots and beetroot to keep in sand ready to plant out for seed next year. I’m also trying to leave a couple in the ground and see if they start to grow and seed effectively next year.

Just need to get the broad beans overwintering and I can start thinking about sloe gin since the first frosts have happened.

22 Oct   Autumnal Jelly

The autumnal jobs for the garden are dull. Discussing it with our scything person they mentioned seeing it described as the equivalent of a cooking programme focusing on the washing up.

First, there is the constant idea that weeding will be finished for the winter. Of course, with the, milder weather that is not happening. The  chickens are enjoying the greens (although rats getting into the feed store for the chickens is less pleasing and required a little pest control including  making the bin of food more rat unfriendly by covering it in a fine metal mesh). Then there is the digging and enriching of the soil where the crops are being replaced. A no dig garden can get away with a top dressing but where the soil needs some improvement to help with kitchen garden crops, such as carrots, organics are order of the day. Fortunately, the compost is making a good organic mulch and will be turned over into the soil.

There is the preserving of apples, chillies, and foraged rosehips – which takes time, time, and more time. There are some brambles still left for foraging but I’m reticent of taking too much not because of the time it takes to pick them. Foraging for me involved taking just enough (in my case 100 g. of rosehips) and I’m also careful not to take entirely from one spot but spread it out. Partly because the birds are interested in fruits of the hedgerow and – well – why be greedy? It’s always a depressing sight to see the entire hedgerow or bush striped bare. Any way I took my 100g ready to make the first of the autumnal jellies (not jams). We have had a good harvest of quince this year, along with apples, but no one likes the grainy texture of the quince. Possibly as a paste but there was a real of takers. A few years ago, we made quince jelly which went down well. Then we added a 100g of rosehips to 2kg of quince. The quince was washed to remove any residual fluff, then any ‘bad’ bits cut out before chopping the whole fruit into a pan. Adding the rose hips and then a little water to boil and simmer, adding water and stirring until it forms a lovely smelling watery mush. You are trying to extract the juice but try not to mash. Just stir and watch for the rosehips to pop in the liquid.

Once you have a mush strain (we have a straining bag but a loose weave tea towel or muslin, even a bit of net curtain can improvise a bag. The trick is to leave it suspended. We use skewers thorugh the bag resting on our straining framework – an upturned chair. A piece of wood on the diagonal of two chair legs gives enough space to suspend a straining bag. The juice drips into the bowl – again we leave overnight. The juice has a pinkie hue to it thanks to the rosehips, which also give a pleasant sweet taste to the jelly. Then measure the fluid and boil up with an equal amount of sugar until syrupy. The test is to see if it gels on a metal spoon. You will get a scum as you simmer which needs to be removed. The more scum you remove the clearer the jelly. We reused jam jars, sterilised in the oven for bottling/jarring. Whatever the word is.

Not content with one jelly we added a similar one using 2kg of apples, cleaned and chopped as with the quince. The apples providing the pectin to set the jelly. There is a twist though. We have chillies so the strained juice was simmered with an equal amount of sugar with 6 freshly chopped chillies. It creates a mildly spiced chilli and apple jam.

Somehow the foraging and processing took up most of the time this weekend. With the strange times of work/ no work we live in its fairly obvious we have limited time but being able to add to a store cupboard and keep the veg patch in order to add to the larder. Led to a feeling that a Sunday night relax before the week was well earned.

18 Oct Grapes are a must

It’s been a fun time on the community allotment this week. The first lot of trench digging occurs. I was surprised to find people did not know about this form of digging that my Grandad had inflicted on me as boy. It does help the soil and leads to a lot of improvement. We would dig a spade width trench, then he would fill it with manure and place a potato on top (at this time of year), before digging the next the next trench and covering the potato and manure. The organic provides heat and moisture, covered by the soil from each trench. A great form of exercise that improves the soil quality. Trench fill it organic matter, cover with soils as you dig the next trench. Simple and effective – unless you do not have the manure. We did not but the compost from the nettle scything made some great organics to go in the trench. My enthusiasm for the worms in the soil, the fact we were feeding them the organics and the great soil we can expect as clay and organics mix showed both my age and nerd factor.

The potatoes by the way were the ones from food waste that were a little green or already chitting. Some, because of the rain, had been left in the dark and growing for some time in a darkened place. The result was a biology lesson in potato growth as some of the roots already had tubers forming. We are all interested to see how that works out.  The potatoes in the veg patch at home are growing soundly and I’m looking forward to a winter crop, with the almost ready baby fennel bulbs. The carrot succession planting is prolific and those growing in toilet roll tubes are less wonky and far bigger than expected. The turnips have even survived although it might be turnip tops going into the stews for winter. I’ve also found that people are using the leaves from getting carrot crops to grow in soups as well. Apparently still nutritious and flavoursome but needs blending.

What might or might not be flavoursome is the grape must. Having got interested in sour dough during lockdown I kept wondering where it came from. I found a reference to grape must, the white powder cover on the outside of grapes. The grape harvest this year has been fantastic, and I know the grapes have been good. The few I managed to eat before the birds stripped the vine confirmed this. So, some of these seeded grapes were rescued and I followed the instructions for making a starter yeast. I simply took the skin and rolled it in flour and then added water. Left it overnight and stirred before removing the skin. Then a careful feeding of flour and water over a week has led to a bubbling little sour dough starter. I did have the problem of the vinegar type smells but found out that is due to not feeding it enough. So, I have a home-made starter and wondered what to do as I’m feeding the culture.

I could say I went straight for bread but feel the starter needs to grow a little more. Then I found a reference to bread possibly being a by product of beer brewing – as a sour dough starter could have been the way to keep the yeast alive and produce a saisson type beer. That coupled to a reference to using treacle and nettles (instead of hops) for a country beer – it seemed I was being given a new starting point. I now have a wort of treacle and hops (I gave in to that voice in my head that said nettles were replaced by hops for a reason) to see how it works. There is slight evidence of fermentation after putting two teaspoons of my cultured yeast brew into the wort of treacle boiled with 2 oz (went imperial for this one) of dried hops. If this does work, I will try nettles but in the new year – references all say nettle tops. Might try bread for next week.

10 Oct Rain and batch cooking

Sorry for the slight delay in the blogs – the current round of wet weather lurgies has taken their toll. It’s also been an education in current Covid Courtesy and the way we must operate. These can be very confusing times and it also means we must be careful with who we are exposing ourselves to – so to speak. The good news is that work on community allotment has not been stopped by Covid but has been stalled by rain.

There has been a scything of weeds and Vicky and Pete also helped by finding a trailer for us to transport pallets for raised beds up to the site. We are also planning of the site which will include an alternaitve moisture saving gardening, using the brushings from the scrub cut back as par tof this. It’s an interesting traditional form of growing that creates a raised bed with wood at its core that rots down. Covered in Mulch the net effect is saving water. A strange thing to say in these overly wet times but this alternative is designed to capture and keep water. As we are becoming aware when its wet is very very wet but when its dry its (also) horrid.

Looking forward to getting all of these going when -bizarrely the excessive rain lets us back onto the soil. The compost heap is ready for us to make weed suppressing beds and improve the organics. They also layout neat grid iron pattern beds. The problem is the rain means saturated soil is difficult to work on. So, we took a decision to leave well alone.

Not wanting to waste time there has been some batch cooking and experimentation. Currently the Chilli glut is coming along. The seeds need to be saved but there is still some ripening to go on. The tomatoes are still cropping nicely. We also have root veg and the first lot of Jerusalem Artichoke can be eaten alhtough they provide veg in the lean early spring if left. Currently their tall flowering stalks are out but thanks to the weather they not providing a lot of food for the bees in the high wind. The bulb fennel is doing what it does best – bulbing.

There has also been some sausage making. Just mincing meat with the chillies and green peppers (cropped form our food waste seeds). We simply minced a cheap pork shoulder with a couple of medium onions, salt, pepper, paprika and two bell peppers from our plants. The debate about chillies and heat settled on two (still think it should have been three). The great thing about this was that the mincing of the shoulder with the home grown veg made the joint go a lot further. We simply made some into American style sausage patties for freezing or use as meatballs in some of the tomato passata we have been freezing and bottling (well jarring). Also splashed out on some sausage skin and filled those. One joint is making several full-blown meals – all in the freezer.

The small planters just been put to bed, but the larger ones have a fresh top up of the last of the winter grass clippings mashed in. The chitting potatoes have started to come through in some of them so I’m interested in seeing if we get a crop, and potentially moving them into the greenhouse to prolong their growing. The small pumpkins are going to be ready. They are taken off the vine and left to ‘harden’ but avoiding the wet (as we are having to do with tomatoes that are dragging on the ground now) to avoid rotting. With the majority of the crop we are making passata (essentially gently simmered tomatoes, followed by a quick whiz with a food processor to get rid of the skins) before freezing in reused pots inside bags for the freezer or putting in sterilised jars. Tying the bags can be a problem – so if reusing I am suggested an old, tried, and tested technology – a knot. Seems to work and has the advantage of no fancy zippers or seals that do not seems to work with freezer bags. It also has the advantage of reusing bags and pots (before anyone asks, plastic bags come with holes, often plastic pots without lids or a lid that is not very tight. So, I improvised. Batch cooking ready for that lean time to come.

22 Sept   Apple Cookies and garden planning

The community plot has moved on and next week we are planning a planning session with some of the volunteers. Could be fun to finally lay out a plan for the beds and plant some overwintering veg. All good stuff. This week it is the trimming and strimming session. So much of the site is covered with those wonderful friends of the garden- nettles and bind weed. Admittedly Nettles have a use as good quality compost rich in phosphates. Bind weed can make compost but it is always there.

Anyway site clearance is happening thanks to Vicky and her trusty scythe. The ground was eco-friendly cleared clear with no need for a petrol strimmer, a quiet hour on the allotment with a neater looking site as the result. Never having played with a scythe before I did not realise that the clearing up after would be much easier too. Then there is the blood circle – the arc of the scything blade that should be avoided. The name itself did a lot more for safety than any amount of talking. The scything was also mesmeric to watch – a timeless rhythm as Vicky did her thing and our trusty volunteers mounded and composted the cuttings. Vicky and her partner are also letting us use their trailer for next week’s plot surveying and laying out. We have been collecting pallets from a local building site ready to create slightly raised beds. The square planting success of the garden is being transported to the allotment to create a grid iron pattern where plants grow in the gaps of the pallets. We are intending to overwinter spinach, broccoli and add to the potential potato harvest. The first harvest from the community garden was potatoes where we were cutting the large weeds back. The volunteers gleaned a few potatoes for use later

Overwintering is the term for the next couple of weeks. I have invested a whole £1.50 in autumn onion sets planted to get a good start on the spring. The onion seedlings are growing in the greenhouse where the terracotta heater was remarkably easy to build. It was a terracotta saucer (the sort you put under pot) with a few half-broken pots strategically placed around the edge so an upturned terracotta pot could be place in them. It needed raising so there is an air flow. The air flow is critical for the candle not to go out. ‘O’ level sciences coming to their best. Simply put an 8-hour tee light on the saucer, pot over the top and leave. It does create a heat body which might be enough for mild frosts. Hopefully, that is all we will have to contend with.

The greenhouse is also home to garlic, and some will be planted outdoors to see if they over winter (overusing the over wintering but that is what this time of year can be all about). I am also harvesting chillies and selecting the four plants I want to bring into the house – for an early start at the crop in the spring. I am taking the red ones and de seeding them, the seeds are then dried in the airing cupboard before being put into paper envelopes, labelled in some way so I do not confuse them. The same will happen with the heritage tomato seeds but be warned if you try this. The flesh is awkward and sticks to any paper you dry on. A little patience to remove the seed and wash them helps in the long run. Finally, in terms of these harvest the bell peppers planted from the ‘cone’ of seeds from a shop bought pepper are doing well. Not as big as the shop bought ones but just as useful.

Off to make apple cookies for the local youth club and use up some of the apple harvest (the freezer is now full of apples). Need to explore what to do with the Jerusalem artichoke I need to cut back as it is taking over a little this year – one for next week.

13 Sept   My mushrooms have sprouted

The community plot in Orwell is starting to look okay and there will be a chance for people to come along and help. We are establishing a weekly session with our volunteers but the return to work and school has upset the rhythm of the week. The rhythm of the year is different. The veg garden at home has squares of overwintering celery, celery, and onions. The Christmas potatoes are growing ready for the festive season. The carrots and beetroot are complimenting a few Jerusalem artichokes in a nice way – roasted. The greenhouse is flush with chilies, lettuce, radish, and the tomatoes have started to ripen again. The main thing now is getting the garden beds ready. So, the order of the day is:

  1. Draw the plan for community garden, which we intend to include a forest garden edge where it joins a hedgerow.
  2. Clear the site of weeds and plant out some overwintering veg. There are broccoli and spinach in containers waiting to be planted out.
  3. Clear the scrub and weed around the existing plants on the site that we want to keep
  4. Make the raised beds – we have pallets which we will be laying on the ground, then filling with compost to plant into. The aim is to suppress the weeds and still use the ground productively

Most importantly – my mushrooms have sprouted. The homemade mushroom growing boxes have oyster mushrooms growing out of them. Not many but enough to make me feel a strange sense of achievement. I am now working out how to keep the cropping. First, they have produced lots of spores. The box I kept them in is covered in a fine white film which I am carefully brushing off onto some more collected coffee grounds. The method needs to be refined and I will take some of the mycelium of the fruiting mushrooms and see if I can get them growing on other grounds as well. Never thought that coffee grounds and food waste could produce something so satisfying. Also oyster mushrooms are great for risottos and anything stir fried.

It will be interesting to see how big the mushroom harvest gets. I am also keen to see how I can overwinter the mycelium effectively. So, one of the insulated boxes in the dark shed, one in the greenhouse and I am triyng to sneak one back into the airing cupboard. So far unsuccessfully.

Overwintering in the greenhouse is also worth exploring. The greenhouse does mean I can get a head start at the beginning of the year, but it is also extending the growing season at the back end. Radishes in the garden are not being as productive as those growing in the drainpipes in the greenhouse. I am also overwintering onions in another drainpipe to compare with those planted out. A few other spare seedlings are being used in pots. The aim is to give myself a little insurance against those in the garden not surviving. I have also been saving the plastic and paper bags from compost and chicken feed. The idea is to have the overwintering plants and cover them when the nights are getting cold in an insulating layer of paper and plastic. There are also some old candles that will be used as a heat source. Terracotta pots can be made into a simple heater. Not enough to heat a room but could make a difference to keeping the frost off. More on these next week after I have worked out the design to keep things warm without creating a fire risk.

Now to find a frying pan and enjoy the mushrooms.

5 Sept    Bees and Veg

The later time of year is wonderful for preserving. We are still pickling beetroot, enjoying carrot thinning (by the way don’t throw the leaves away – put them in the stockpot, make a great stock with bones, onion skins, and the bits of celery you don’t use. I have even put the skinning of parsnip in there. Obviously for the vegetarians amongst us leave the bones out – although for those of us who barbeque those bones make a great stock) and kale is becoming more abundant. The strange thing is that the tomatoes have stopped ripening – so we are using the old banana trick- putting tomatoes in a bowl with a banana. For the curious amongst you the xylene from the banana encourages the tomatoes to ripen. Of course, the green tomato chutney recipes are being investigated and the glut of chillies added to the recipe for a bit of a kick. I am amazed at the number of jams and chutney recipes – even the courgettes can make one. Google can be a wonderful thing! The problem we have is the glut of gluts. Looking in the store cupboard we are seeing jars and jars from previous years which need to be used up. Mainly so we have jars to refill.

The other element to the garden and growing for seed are the number of flowers we have been getting. The cardoons are now becoming thistle seed heads that the local birds are enjoying. We have Jerusalem artichokes starting to come into flower, next to the phlox and Rudbeckia are all doing that important job. They are being visited by bees who are feeding as the year draws to a close. Pollinators are key stone to the garden and bees are key to the keystone. So, making sure they get a feed is a good investment for the next year.

The fun part of the harvest has been added to by pears now. A lot of pears that, as we all know, are the most deceitful of fruit- unripe, unripe then leave them for one day and overripe. Not fun but the taste is fantastic, strongly recommended after a misting of rain. The quince is swelling still and covered in the fur that gradually is lost as they ripen.

The celery, fennel, leeks, and autumnal potato plantings are establishing themselves ready for over wintering. The experiment with slowly raising the potato bed and filling with grass clippings has worked well. We have started to harvest them and half a root, a very deep root, yielded enough potatoes for us over a week. Admittedly we did not eat potatoes every day, but the principle is there. I am also impressed by the improvement to the soil. Potatoes are described as natural ploughs breaking up the soil, with the addition of the grass clipping where we dug the soil is set for next year. We have the overwintering onion seedling getting ready for planting out so I am thinking this could be a great place, keeping the raised bed sides in place and giving them a little covering for frost protection. The grass clippings giving some protection against frosts.

On the exotics front I am thinking about which plants to start bringing in. The lemon grass and chilli plants are best overwintered in doors and have the advantage that you can keep cropping them. I’ve decided not to try and crop from the ginger but see if I can keep it growing in the house over winter. This should avoid the protracted rooting process next year. The cardamom is still small, but the anjion seeds are forming nicely along with the coriander seeds. Those will be harvested. A few kept dried for next year but the majority ready for flavouring during the winter when the herbs are dying back. Although the sage leaves are still on the bush until late, the thyme and rosemary also keep going but there is the faff of having to get the leaves off the woody stalk. Thankfully, a bouquet garni works – tie the sticks together, add to whatever you are cooking and remove. Helps a lot in autumn and winter cooking.

26 Aug     What about them apples

The winds have left a heap of apples on the lawn. A huge pile of fruit that needs to be dealt with – even the chickens were looking at them with a look of – really them again? So, I have been looking at what we can do – the usual one being cut, slice, dice and freeze ready for apple pies and crumble later. Adding a few blackberries is always a good idea. Then we looked at:

  1. Using the food processor for apple juice (discolours as it oxidises)
  2. Working towards fermenting a few in a demi john
  3. Getting the mandolin out and thinly slicing before drying a few de-cored rings of apple (spiralising and drying helps as well)
  4. Also try apple jelly – we have been known to create this clear preserve and use it on scones.
  5. Apple leather – made from pulp and honey slowly cooked in the oven. A fruit winder which always goes down well at the youth club. Pulp the apples (add blackberries) by cooking slowly. Pass the pulp through a sieve and add one fifth of its weight of honey. Then pours only a baking tray – get is reasonably thin. Dry in the lowest oven possible until ready for cutting.

Talking of which the Orwell garden started its makeover with three people working to remove the suckers from the plum tree. We also went the rudiments of making compost. Avoid the woody stuff from the suckers and keep those in a separate pile, although the pile of well-rotted bamboo sticks was added. The aim is to get a good mix of leafy and soft plant materials. We kept the sides with opening so hedgehogs might stand a chance to get into the heap. We also cleared an area and discovered a few old water butts and drainpipes. So, the compost heap is in the shady side of the small shed. The drainpipe is attached and angled, so the first water butt is harvesting water. (The ones in our garden are full and being used to hydrate our little seedlings that are growing so happily). We have also planted the seeds for over wintering onions.

The plan for the garden in Orwell changed though. In roughly weeding the end bed we found several blackcurrants bushed. So, the compost heap had to move. The grass over growing the stunted bushes is now in the compost heap. The raspberries have had the same treatment. So next week pruning and more weeding.

The opposite part of the site has the blackberries which need a quick harvest and then cutting back. The wood we found is going to make a trellis for the brambles and keep them under control. It will also give us access to the asparagus bed that is there. Once we have got the two things under control. We are planning to go with the perennial veg beds at that end. This wil include spinach and rhubarb – planted to mimic part of a woodland edge.

One final glut – chillies are ripening fast and we have a load which can be washed and frozen for use throughout the year. We have also threaded them onto cotton – tying the cotton around the stem and leaving them suspended in the airing cupboard – remembering when they are dry to take some out and crush. That way we get the seeds ready for next year. Do not throw the crushed parts away. Quick go with the food processor and you have chilli powder – keeps a long time if dry. In addition, look at any lettuce plants you have let seed, they are self-pollinators and ours are looking like little dandelion heads clustered at the top of a stalk. I have left them suspended in a bag and now finished a gentle winnowing. The seed drop to the bottom of the bag. I put them out into a box (about A4 size and gently blow the seeds. The heavy black seeds stay in the box. I am storing in a cool dry place ready for next year. The early leek has flowered, and seed heads set, so I have taken those and left them to dry in a box. A gently shake as they dry releases the seeds.

On the exotic front the fenugreek is a vine, same as the sweet potato. Also have what look like small tubers growths on the Sweet Potatoes and the peanuts have fallen over – apparently the sign of nuts growing in the soil.

20 Aug   The planning begins

The experiments for the summer are over and we are moving into a community garden for the Living food Bank project. Its not going to stop the ginger growing, my mangos leaving and the cardamom plants quietly growing. The fenugreek is thriving, and I am checking out the rapidly growing fungi in my purpose made polystyrene insulated mushroom growers. At the same time the water harvesting worked well in the recent deluge. I have got the succession planting done with the small plants ready for outside planting and over wintering. The over wintering onions are set to be sown. The benefits of planting in squares, although unconventional has made rotating and crops succession planting so much easier. So, I am taking these lessons with some of our local volunteers to the community allotment in Orwell.

This means the blog is changing as we start from scratch thanks to the support of Orwell Parish Council and the Orwell Youth club. One is letting us have an allotment plot, the other the labour to get things started (I will let you work out which is which). It is overgrown – by that I mean a small jungle of brambles and bindweed. This is something that will need to be photographed so we can show what has been achieved.

So, we have started with the basics and worked out the following:

  • Measured out the plot and worked out what we would like to keep.
  • Identified the major problems as pernicious weeds and water storage.
  • The edges and the opportunities from plants already growing
  • What is there we want to keep and enhance.
  • A great aspect as the sun rises in the east passes over the plot and sets in the west – no shadows so good for ripening

The outcome is that we have a real woodland hedge edge with blackberries and elder flower (well worth keeping). The plum tree comes with a problem. It has suckers from the roots that need dealing with – fortunately, we have a mattock and willing volunteers. The plum tree creates a shady area which we are going to build the compost heap in, using recycled pallets. A first step so we can convert the copious quantity of weeds into something good for the soil. The problem is water – but there is a small shed so water harvesting of the roof into existing water butts is a start. That is job two for the team.

At the same time, we were going to keep and work with the existing blackcurrant bushes and raspberry canes. They are suffering from the drought up there and need some tender pruning and mulching. The idea for most pruning is to do it in the autumn so we are simply going to weed around and clean up the area.

The hedge on the edge of the plot with the berry trees and bushes we intend to make productive. So, we will be exploring shrubs and woodland edge type plants we can use. There is also a load of drought resistant plants to plan for including artichokes, kohl rabi, celeriac and some carrots. In fact, root type vegetables can be tolerant but still need water.

Finally we have to consider a possible perennial veg patch with long roots so a grape vine is worth considering but we can also think about  increasing the asparagus (we have some cultivars already growing) in addition to globe artichoke and the perennial cardoon. Great with long tap roots.

Time to go with the team – get the compost heap and draw up out site plan Before that back to the glut in the garden – beetroot. All from nowhere- pickling now, slicing and frying in hot oil for crispy slices, and playing with roasted veg, making coloured pasta – easy using a puree of beetroot, flour, and an egg. Then rolling the dough into lasagne sheets.

11 Aug Basil Glut and Butterfly hoards

I have got end rot in one of my courgettes. So obviously had to put it into isolation shielding it from my other courgettes – which as it is in a container was relatively easy. Apparently its due to getting the watering wrong (too dry or too wet, but I am going for drying in the recent heat), possible calcium deficiency or soil getting too hot. You must enjoy a good web search to find the symptoms for a problem. Especially as you read the list of conditions and causes you realise that your plant has possibly got them all. Reminds me of parents looking up your symptoms in the Home Doctor book all homes seemed to have before the internet –this attempt at self-diagnosis meant my brother and I could get leprosy or bubonic plague quite easily – would the book have lied? As with the home doctor it is so easy to misdiagnose your rots. I’ve taken the sensible precautions and used one of the benefits of container growing – not just the one where you can put herbs where you want to deter pests (mint seems to work really well in among the carrots and tomatoes growing outside) it also means that plants with a problem can be properly isolated. Its strange to think that I am creating my own form of botanical lockdown here.

On the other hand, the basil is going great guns. From the plants germinated from a mixed packet and shared as part of our plant swap I have three types of basil. The Thai Basil had a lot of leaves and succulent stems (like coriander I think the taste from the stems is best). The problem is what to do with it – there is only so much basil you can use. The simple thing was a pesto using the garlic from the garden. It took no time to create a paste of basil, added oil and pummelled garlic and salt to flavour. A great paste in the fridge I am eating with the thinning from the carrots. The thinning makes naturally small crudités with decorative foliage handle for holding and dipping. A naturally bite sized snack dipped in basil pesto stuff. (Added a little cheese as well but I was feeling extravagant).

The potatoes are all flowered and being harvested. The Christmas/Autumn potatoes are planted. I am making a point of planting these around the edge of the veg bed. Simple reason is that I have raised soil and the potatoes stop the soil being washed away. They can also be harvested easily while I am overwintering cabbage, leeks and other veg in the centre of the garden. The experiment planting in squares is working. Strangely it helps me rotate the crops more easily than having them in traditional lines. When a square of something like onion is harvested, I can easily follow with a root crop. I am also told to experiment with overwintering broad beans (traditional in my book) and peas (not so traditional). However, if it was on Gardeners Question time who am I to argue?

The green house is suffering slightly. The cabbage from food waste got decimated by caterpillars. I thought we were relatively butterfly free in the greenhouse, but a stray butterfly had got in (well by one I probably mean hoard – which should be the collective noun for cabbage white butterflies). I thought I had done a good job inspecting and squashing caterpillar pests but within 24 hours a hoard of caterpillars had hatched and done their job. The trusty secateurs helped me cut and then dispatch the affected leaves and caterpillars to the chicken coop. What I had not anticipated is the benefit of having several cabbage hearts growing from the stalk – it means I still have cabbage to harvest – and I am being more vigilant about the pest removal.

The sudden heat has affected the potatoes in a pot, as well as the need for watering my end rotted courgettes. The extreme heat conditions surprised me as the perpetual spinach stated to look wilted. So, it must have been hot. The knock-on effect of the heat is the grass is not growing so I have little mulch for water conservation. It does mean that watering twice a day is sometimes not enough but watering in the heat can be harmful to the leaves so the watering can filled form the water but with water directed to the soil under the leaves is how we are doing it. I am also becoming more aware of the need to feed – again a lessening of grass clipping means my compost tea resource is limited. The banana skin tea is fine, and I have kept up a steady regular watery feed. This said there is still a problem with some plants being yellowed- probably nitrogen deficiency. The alternative to peat composts have been sprouting mushrooms (nonedible) during the year and now I have got some of this compost that seems to have nitrogen problems. I have resorted to the usual fish, blood, bone and thinking of bone meal. Trying to keep things cheap and it is a pain having to buy these in, but I am guessing needs must. I keep thinking about the need for appropriate and integrated systems- there is a place for additive and processed fertilisers where homemade fertilisers need a boost, I guess. One to discuss over another taste of the elderflower champagne we are still sampling.

30 July The 30-day challenge

Obviously, the summer crops are being harvested so we are naturally thinking of winter. So, the winter seeds are being set- obviously, lettuce, cabbage, fennel and thinking about Christmas potatoes. Before that though a small drum roll for the results of several experiments are showing how we might use food waste. Where ginger is concerned it deinfitely likes it deep not wide.  The ginger in the deep pot has grown well, the wide pot plant has given up. The sweet potato needs a lot of space though – it is a ground covering vine. I have been spiralling the vines around a large pot for weeks and it is thriving in the greenhouse. The onions from food waste work well – but make sure you divide them when they start sprouting with a sharp knife. The results have been great, as have the spring onions rooted in shallow soil. Parsnip and radish tops less of a success. Although I am now seeing if the flowers will give me the seed pods to cook with. We are harvesting cabbages grown from the base of food waste cabbages. They looked ropey to start with and I have had to keep pinching the flowering stems off and then we had hearting cabbages on the stem, four to a stem for the white cabbage. Ideal for coleslaw or a Sunday roast veg. The red cabbage less of success but I am noticing some hearting on the one plant that did not go spindly and produce nothing but flowers. Finally, mushrooms are showing signs of growing on the coffee grounds in the recycled polystyrene package pots filled and sealed in plastic bags. An advantage has been the pressed cardboard packaging for this – wrapped in a plastic bag from a loaf of bread – seems to be make shitake mushrooms mycelium incredibly happy.

The raspberries are coming into fruit and the last of the gooseberries seem to be feeding the dogs. This means we are looking at preservation apart from using the freezer. Gluts of rhubarb can be frozen or used for a nice ice cream. The mint leaves are drying for a supply of mint tea (on a sheet of kitchen towel, on a try in the airing cupboard seems to dry things best). The windfall apples are going for their traditional use as fodder and placed in the chicken’s run. As there are so many there is a larger number going into the compost bin, prompting thoughts about how many we will be left with for the real harvest. One final thought on gluts remember your rhubarb roots need to build up a supply of energy – so do not denude but leave the leaves so the roots can build up their reserves.

In terms of plants I am now looking at 30 day to harvest type plants. This means still planting radish in short spurts along the same row. It helps with succession and stops the radish glut. Lettuce would be an obvious one and possibly a sneaky courgette, but we have lettuce all over the place, including cut and come again so not really needed.  If you do not have them worth a go. I have also added a couple more celery plants for the winter. Those I have left to flower are producing seed, so I am hoping to be making celery salt soon.

With all the summer harvesting obviously, I am thinking about winter. What else is a garden for food other than a time to think of the future. Not the times when the unripening tomatoes finally ripen (I am thinking of resorting to the banana trick with some plants. Apparently, you can get more fruit if you harvest the tomatoes that are about to turn and leaving those with a banana. This means the plant then starts producing more fruit rather than its physiology focussing on ripening existing seed sacks.

My focus now is to dig over and compost the potato cleared areas and make sure the succession for winter veg is right. Where the potatoes have been removed leek, seedlings are taking over for wintering. The carrots, turnips and beetroot are still being planted out. I am still planting garlic in tubs to act as a deterrent in the green house. The final lot of broccoli seedlings are going our shortly.  I have stopped at two spinach plants- so much spinach for so few people.

23 July  Getting my butts in order

The advantage of having empty butts means you can rework the rainwater harvesting system. Remembering to get them level and high enough for the new watering can to fit under the taps. It also has given me a chance to turn some plastic containers into water butts. Simple enough as I added a tap near the bottom and have now simply to deal with the enemy of all rainwater harvesters. Not drought but evaporation. You are harvesting to reduce water waste and deal with drought. The real enemy is evaporation, closely followed by stagnation. So, I am now in the process of trying different covering for the plastic containers I am recycling. First, making sure they create a cascade with one leading to the next to the next. Each one should be higher than the last so rain will fill and pour into the next. That old hose pipe has proven useful in making simple connectors from one butt to another. Then the covering for each to deal with evaporation. I am going to try reusing the old compost bags and weighting down with a wooden cover made from scrap wood. The only purchase were some taps to put on the bottom of my butts.

Watering is critical and I am finding it that the constant watering means that I had no problem with stagnation. Last year  I did add a little bit of crushed charcoal to one of the butts which made a difference to water stagnating. However, a little tip if you have an empty butt. Clean out the bottom. The lesson learned was that over the year a sludge can form a thin layer at the bottom of the butt, and it is anaerobic – a polite way of implying it smells. This went stagnant mud went straight into the compost heap (although not that thin as I had not bothered with water maintenance for a few years). The smell was less than aromatic when it was emptied but it will make great compost.

On the plant front I have had a strange experience with the succession planting, that only affects the turnips. I have no explanation but despite the watering of the seedlings, careful monitoring in hot weather they have bleached. Fortunately, there are more seedlings growing in the greenhouse (and thriving) so there are replacements to try out again.  The greenhouse itself is starting to go into full tomato production with beefsteak tomatoes ripening ready for the barbeque later in the week. An unexpected crop is the prickly pears that have been harvested and tried. First tip – try to use a claw – or the gardening gloves. They have the most devious set of spines possible that find their way into parts of you that do not even touch the fruit. However, cut and then eaten with a teaspoon they have an acidity akin to black currants. I am told they will keep getting sweeter so monitoring that one. One extra for the greenhouse are the axillary shoots from the tomato plants. Its always good practise to pinch out the stems growing as side shoots from tomato plants. No matter how often I do this there always seems to be a few that grow rapidly. I cut those off and this year tried a little trick out. I planted them in a pot of compost. They have rooted and I now have small trusses of tomatoes forming. So, from one plant I have got an extra three fruiting vines.

15 July  Seeds and grazing

We have been grazing a lot this week as the berries are taking over from the strawberries (I’m carefully putting pots with soil under the runners to get new plants growing, then planting them in neat rows later when they have rooted). There can be a lot of fruit of one bush. Currently we have five pounds of redcurrants from one bush despite the birds best attempts to remove them. We have one other bush to go but it takes a long time to de-berry a bush unless you are a small bird who seem to do it in seconds. In the time it took me to weed the garden on Saturday morning, ensure the succession planting was done and pot on some more anjion seeds (looking forward to using them in a spice mix later in the year), sort out my mango seed and feed and water everything my partner had only just finished forking the berries. The technique is a simple one – just fork the berries off. So, no stems and a nice red bowl of berries. As with all gluts the question is what to do – we went for red currant jelly.

That is when we found that having spent all that time carefully harvesting the recipe states you do not need to do that. Glossing quickly over that –  the good news is that you can use ordinary sugar for this and no pectin as the currants contain so much. Simply boil them with a little water. Not a lot so you get a nice red liquid – then strain but do not squeeze. Squeezing your freshly boiled berries means you get a cloudy jelly. So, leave overnight in a suitable bag or cloth dripping into a bowl before boiling with half the amount of sugar to the liquid. Remember to descum your syrup –if your syrup is scummy your jelly is cloudy. When the liquid is thickening after you have simmered then place in sterilised jars and leave to set. We used the test of seeing if the jelly sets on the back of a spoon.

I have left chives and everlasting onions to seed and collected the seed heads and went for a thorough weed on the perennial bed they grow in. This means some seeds have fallen into the cracks in the soil and are growing. The seed heads with the little black seeds are now in my dry, wind free shed and falling out into my white containers. I will let them dry and place in paper envelopes ready for seed swapping and planting later in the year. I have done the same with the chives – so all my perennial alliums have lost their heads. I have cut back the plants and there are new shoots sprouting. The everlasting onion are a great alternative to spring onions, and a magnet for bind weed so weeding takes a while. I also made sure the bed was top dressed using partially composted grass clippings gently forked between the plants. I have also planted out everlasting onion plants grown from last years seed to fill the gaps from losses to drought last year.

The toilet roll tubes are working a treat for succession planting of carrots, turnip, and beetroot. It limits the numbers and I am careful to make sure there are more carrots than turnips. The beetroot is the same. I am amazed at how the beetroot are starting to swell. They are sneaky- keep an eye on your beets. Currently I have a row in the garden that is gently swelling. I know they are smug little plants. I am checking regularly as we want baby golden beet for pickling and beetroot pakoras. I also like to use them to make pasta. They need to be young and sweet and slightly more swelled. They wait and I check. It’s a  cat and mouse game that goes on and on. The trick is to catch your beetroot before it swells too far – too much swelling can be a bad thing in a beet. Larger ones are okay for roasting, but the small ones are better for pickling. We also are looking at our chilli harvest and thinking about some salting of the larger ones.

Off to do some essential herb grazing. It is important to mimic grazing if you want to maintain a crop of shoots and leaves rather than the plants bolting and flowering in dry weather.  I am regularly cutting down the coriander, basil, and thyme. I tend to have at least two pots of these so one can flower for the bees and other insects. As always, the rosemary goes rampant left in the ground as did the sage. The bushes took over and I have finally chopped it back and used the stems on the barbecue. Nice smell and woody parts are now an ash additive to the soil. Talking of smells having herbs in pots means you can move them around the garden – they can deter some insects such as aphid.

8 July Got a little shoddy

I have gone a little shoddy this week. I needed compost for potting on into larger containers and decided to go for one that is peat free and made from bracken and sheep’s wool (shoddy, parts from the fleece not used in wool making that have a long tradition of being added to soil). I needed a small amount of compost and decided to go with a farmer’s solution to convert bracken and fleeces into compost. The compost should be high in potash, it has good water retention (useful now as there has been so little rain) and provided the container courgettes and the exotics with some new growing medium.

Our recycling of food waste is not on the same scale as recycling bracken from the Lakeland hillsides but effective. I haves sprouting spring onions from the root bases cut about 1 cm from the end and planted in my trusty drainpipe troughs. In less than a week there are green shoots. As we have so many of the heritage lettuce growing around the garden green salads are a thing for us. Simply cutting the lettuce, leaving the roots in the ground, and seeing them grow again is satisfying (by the way try lettuce soup if you have an excess, well worth a sip and slurp). The leeks are also doing well after cutting the roots off about 2 cm from the base. They are growing well and more rapidly than the seedlings. We are also getting growth from onion bases in the green house, which, combined with the seedlings that now moving into plant like teenagers we have a succession that should last until Christmas. The harvest of potatoes grown from those that chitted in the fridge is tasty and prolific. Okay, they took a little while to start growing but I’m now starting to think we might plant a few ready for Christmas – although the potatoes surrounded by grass clipping are thriving and may still be harvested in the autumn or winter. The grass clipping seems to be living up to the promise of mulching and fertilising. Talking of harvesting the succession planting to replace the first crop of onions is ready to go. The toilet roll tube root vegetables carrots, beetroot and turnip are ready to be planted out, this time in squares after finding a reference to it in an old gardening book as improving crops and allowing plants to be planted more densely. Needs to be tried.

The one hack that is finally working is the mushroom growing on coffee grounds. The spore prints are growing, and I have transferred then to a small recycled polystyrene packaging box filled with more coffee ground collected over the past few weeks. I have then sealed it all in a reused plastic bag. The one hack that surprised is chopping up oyster mushrooms- that has started growing in less than two weeks. Again, I have put them in a recycled polystyrene packaging ‘pot’ with coffee grounds and sealed in a bag. Waiting to see what happens next as I have moved them outside into the shed – the grounds were getting a little smelly for the airing cupboard.

I am also mildly optimistic about the food hack for the germinating mango seeds. I had wrapped them in kitchen towel and dampened the paper. Left them in a bag in the airing cupboard (I now have my own self in there and strict instructions about not taking more space). After one week one seed has a root and possible the start of a shoot. It is now planted on its side in a pot and I wait to see what happens. Also, I have two sickly looking citrus plants from lemon seeds – being nurtured but not holding out a lot of hope. The pomegranates are thriving and the piece de resistance for fruits this year are the prickly pears. This cactus has been vying for control of one corner of my green house for years. The flowers are amazing and attract pollinators. I now have red inverted pear-shaped fruits almost ripe on some of the pads. I am giving them one more week and then its harvest time, I will also have some rootable cactus pads in about a month’s time if anyone wants to try and grow some for themselves.

There is a point where the planting is done, the succession seeds set, and the potting on done – which leaves weeding; best thing I have found for keeping on top of things is 10 minutes every day as I walk round before watering before a good go at the weekend. Off for 10 minutes of culling weeds.

1 July  Seasonal Food Waste

The food waste experiments are yielding results. My cabbage leaves on stalks are showing signs of hearting up. It taken weeks of constantly picking the flowering stems off. My radish tops are now growing stalks and flowering but not bulging at the bottom. The same thing is being tried – picking off the flowering stems. Unfortunately, the parsnips ran away with me, so I got flowers almost overnight – back to the drawing board with that one. There are better results from the carrot tops- they are growing better along with the first crop in the garden. I am wondering if there is a seasonality here with cabbages hearting and carrots growing only at certain times. I have also noticed there has been a difficulty in getting the onion roots from the kitchen to grow but now there is another spurt. It leaves me wondering if food waste growing reflects the seasons even though it’s the equivalent of taking cuttings which you would think could be done all year round (by the way pinching out the side shots on the tomatoes  has created more plants. I let the shoots grow, pinched them out and then planted them as cuttings. So, less waste and the one plants has turned into several)

Garlic growing has been easy. The first crop has been taken out and a new set of bulbils from a corm planted in the greenhouse to maintain the insect deterrent. Some of the harvested corms are being left in a dry place and used just like the ones from the supermarket. The others have been preserved, simply blanched, paper skin removed and then put in a sterile jar and covered in oil before sealing. This is one way to keep garlic over the winter, the oil is infused, and garlic is ready skinned. We have also been harvesting blackcurrants, not as quickly as the birds but we still have some. Obviously freezing is the option for the topped and tailed fruit but we also went for blackcurrant in vodka with sugar. A version of crème de cassis for the winter. The advantage is that the infused fruit can also be used for puddings or even for jams later in the year. We also have taken the last of the rose petals and turned them into an infusion for winter- made the same way as the crème de cassis, about an inch of sugar, half the bottle has petals (or fruit) and then fill bottle with vodka. Went with vodka for the rose petals as there are no other flavourings like there is in gin. We also had a lot of gooseberries – a simple thing to top, tail and wash before sticking in the freezer. I like the bags of these that are the same as buying from the supermarket – open take what you need and put back in the freezer. Another way to preserve is to make a puree and sieve to get the seeds and skins out. Let is cool add to cream and sugar before putting into the freezer to make ice cream. Bit of a faff going back every 40 minutes to mix again to prevent large ice crystals – but worth it.

In terms of planting – the leeks and celery are being planted out and will hopefully have a good growth spurt ready for winter. What I have found though is that the seedlings can be left in a pot and can grow to make micro veg. Apparently what I thought of as thinning are expensive veg in the supermarkets. Using them is great though – quite sweet. Talking of which the sweet potato has done some strange things. The stems for the vine started losing their leaves. I gave it a feed and trailed the stems around the pot. I now have several new stems growing upward so hopefully some fully flavoured tubers will start soon. The peanuts are also flowering – and seem to respond to deep pots. They have a bright yellow vetch (pea) flower so not a nut but a pea that forms underground. I was also given some mango – I have tried a different tack to get them growing – break the inner seed out its casing without damaging it. I have now placed them in damp kitchen paper and moved them into the airing cupboard. Apparently, they will germinate before next week – I wait to see.

The one hack that is finally working is the mushroom growing on coffee grounds. The spore prints are growing, and I have transferred then to a polystyrene packaging box (recycled) filled with ground collected over the past few weeks. As the growth does not start that long it given me time to collect grounds. I have then sealed it all in a reused plastic bag. The one hack that surprised is chopping up oyster mushrooms- that has started growing in less than two weeks. So, in a recycled polystyrene packaging ‘pot’ with more coffee grounds and sealed in a bag. Waiting to see what happens next.


24 June  Spicing up the garden

I’ve been spurred on after the success of garlic supressing aphid and trying another little trick – cinnamon powder. Apparently, that is another way to deter pesky pests off your plants. Currently cinnamon powder is being sprinkled on soil and pots to see what happens. As always greenhouse is better than outdoors for these things and one to add to the list of things to monitor. I also keep being told that the way to control pests is chillies – so I took some of last year’s crop, dried them, ground them up and soaked the powder water. Apparently, the bugs in the green house will not like it when I spray it on the plants. I’ve tried to use an old spray bottle out of the cupboard (suitably cleaned) and found they do not always keep working when you reuse them.

I’m also pleased with the cardoons, a Victorian perennial vegetable. Each year it grows and I have great expectations of finding the time to prepare the big leaves in the winter. Having said that five years later and I’m still trying to work up the energy. The stalks might have been much loved by the Victorian and I’m told worth the effort but it isn’t as easy as peeling a spud (although enjoying the early potato crop from the garden, where the potatoes are flowering and coming along nicely). The pleasure is the cardoon flowers are just starting to break open, and they do attract pollinators for the courgettes and other summer veg. There is also another advantage – the blackfly on the flower stakes. It may seem strange but for ladybirds and other predators’ gardeners like there needs to be some infestation of their prey. Working in the garden over the weekend I noticed an upsurge in ladybirds of varying spottiness (love the fact that there are so many variations of two spot ladybirds, some of which don’t have spots). That and sitting eating our evening meal in the sun seeing all the hoverflies and finding ladybird larvae stalking the aphid was satisfying.

I’m also enjoying the different teas from the garden – mint and lemon balm I’ve mentioned before. The brewing of ash and grass into so called teas is helping fertilise the garden. I’m now contemplating a new type of compost tea using an old aquarium pump, a bucket and fruit peel. As the apples are swelling, blackcurrants ripening and gooseberries ready for harvest obviously thinking ice cream, jam and crumbles. I did not expect to think skins, compost and tea in the same sentence. The fruits leave you with cores and skins after processing them. So, the skins in a bucket, filled with water and then aerated via the Pump is supposed to make a great foliar feed. Have visions of blackcurrant stained everything but must give it a try over the next few weeks.

It is also time to get the rainwater harvesting sorted. My butts empty too quickly so I’m looking at how to store water (plastic barrels from a building site next door are about to be converted into big blue butts for water). Conserving water measures over the hot drier period in summer are also helpful. Obviously mulching – using grass clippings at the base of raspberry canes seems to be working with the added advantage of extra organics in the soils. Intercropping as an idea – so rapid growing salad stuff is being put between rows of slower growing veg – is said to make the garden more water efficient. I’m also intrigued by the suggestion that worn out shirts can act as a mulch and weed suppressant. This got me wondering how to prevent the veg patch looking like a badly patched tie die convention. This led to me thinking of cutting circles for the base of plants and seeing if several layers lead to dampness- always a good thing at the bottom of a plant in dry weather.

The exotics are still going although the ginger needs to be kept moist and the experiment with wider or deeper pot is favouring deeper being better. The sweet potato needs some TLC- a lot of feeding. The cardamom is now four leaves big- and strange asymmetric leaves. No luck with the cumin yet. Off to brew some ‘tea’……


17 June  Seeing red with the vicar

I collected the paper shreddings and toilet roll tubes from the vicarage. I’ve been using the vicar’s shreddings, mixing with fresh chicken manure and grass clipping in the compost heap. (The results are looking promising. I’ve also decided it’s a great way to dispose of shredded documents. In a matter of days everything is starting to rot down and covered in manure and grass clipping gunk). In the process we were discussing the red leaves of the Russian Kale that we plant swapped. Both of us noticed that the birds stripped the leaves preferentially going for the red leaves. We also commented that chickens seem to like red things like tomato scraps and strawberries. I’m wondering if birds see red but not in the way I did after the pigeons had finished with the kale. One thing is worth noting – do not assume the plant is gone, the denuded plants are growing back under cover in my net casing.

Talking of denuded plants, the small border lettuces are slug rasped and eaten on the ground but those in the vertical garden are not. I did not sand the wood on the pallets and the brick work is rough. It may be deterring slugs. There is one type of lettuce that is thriving despite slugs -the cos lettuce from the heritage seed people. We planted some a couple of years ago and let them go to seed. The daisy type flower looks great, insects love them, and you get the same seed dispersal as dandelions. This means cos lettuces are now a weed in the garden. We find them sprouting up all over the place and simply leave them. These self-seeders grow in slug unfriendly places. For more careful planting we are collecting the seed heads as they open. Timing is everything and you always miss a few so weedy lettuce can still grow. Also, the heritage leeks. deliberately left for a second year, are getting ready to flower. So, the seeds will be forming shortly – although like chilli plants- be aware that varieties cross. You need to either be happy to experiment or make sure there are no other leek varieties nearby. Finally, the onions from food waste is working – some of the stems are falling over indicating the onions are nearly ready to be lifted  to let the skin set (dry) and are ready for use. I had a little furtle around the base of the stems and the bulbs are swelled up nicely. The next lot of onions are starting to grow in the greenhouse – although I’ve also planted seed and have onion sets growing on from those.

The garlic in the greenhouse seems to have grown decent sized corms. As with all home-grown garlic this is very garlicy. Judging by the rapid rise in aphid numbers over the last week outside but not in in the greenhouse it seems garlic might deter them.

I am using any garlic from the fridge that is looking like sprouting or those small ones you get and putting them in containers to see if I can get a good continuation of the crop. The carrot, radish and parsnip tops are growing. In terms of the radish top – they just bolt, the carrots are only just starting to grow, and the parsnip are all tops no bottoms now. I’m letting the celery go to seed –I want the seeds for the winter cooking store and to try making celery salt.

Over the weekend the cardamom seeds germinated. Out of three pods worth of seeds in the airing cupboard in a reused plastic bag, moist, warm, and sealed (checked every day) I now have two seedlings. Waiting to see how that goes. The fenugreek is looking a yellow – nitrogen deficiency but I’m told not to disturb the roots, but it needs a new pot. It’s now in a new pot and fed – we wait to see if I was gentle enough.

I’m enjoying Lemon balm tea (just pour boiling water over the leaves and leave) has been added to the drinks list and I am looking at lemon balm mead recipes.

9 June Hill forts do not stop pigeons, portcullises do

I’m enjoying harvesting the salad stuff, and even enjoying the rain as I weed. My construction of slug repelling ash forts is obviously not as good as the iron age builders. The problem is the ash gets washed away by the rain. So, I have reintroduced my piles of ash. I’ve also taken to slug hunting and snail snatching off leaves and just about every container that I’m growing anything in. (A tip by the way, even when it rains water your containers, helps with bulking up of potatoes and strawberries, containers soon dry out). The chickens appear to like slugs although I always thought they did not eat them. I’m resisting the use of slug pellets though – a complete soft spot for prickly hedgehogs means I don’t want them eating chemical laden slugs. Anyway, slugs turn out not to be the worst of the herbivorous predators that want to do me out of a dinner. Pigeons- I forgot to cover the brassicas so the leaves have been pecked clean. Fortunately, I have some seedlings I held back for emergencies. The plants are now covered in wire cages a sort of portcullis defence against marauding pigeons.

I’m experimenting with companion planting. The garlic in the greenhouse has definitely influenced aphid populations. I’m finding greenfly in the garden (at squashable population levels) but nothing in the greenhouse. So, I’ve moved on to companion planting basil by the tomatoes which is supposed to benefit the tomatoes. Basil has been grown in two ways- one thanks to plant swapping courtesy of Kate; the ones she grew from seeds are wonderful. It is a mix of basils that I have carefully planted in different pots. The other is from a manky looking basil plant from the supermarket. Not so good – I’ve tried over several years, and they do not like growing. Limited success came from separating the very closely grown plants into small clumps. Then cutting back the stalks so only a few leaves remained, then kept warm and moist and humid. Some plants grew but the success rate is not large. Some grow and some simply rot off. I’ve had more success the coriander growing from both bought seeds and those found in the spice cupboard. I’ve planted seed at two week intervals and have several pots. The trick is to keep cutting the plants back to stop them forming seeds. I’ve either used the trimmings to make a coriander pesto, chopped into olive oil or as a dip made from yoghurt with parsley (same tip for parsley – keep cutting it down) with a pinch of salt and lemon juice. The glut of mint is going either into potatoes or peas for cooking and the occasional mojito in hot weather. Preserving the mint is likely to be mint jelly, although I’m still looking at a mint cordial for cocktails. The excess of any herbs is either going into the compost or the chickens.

The vertical planting the experiment with pallets and making a terraced planter for a small space appears to be working. I’m amazed at how much can be planted in a garden bed that is 6 foot by one foot. I’ve put two vertical planters at each end and then planted cut and come again veg including spinach, leeks, kales, lettuce, everlasting and ordinary onions. Tomatoes and melons for a little variety. Although not what I had not thought about until doing this is planting melons at the bottom of the planters and trailing them up the side (melons from discarded melon seeds from a melon, where else?).. Now back to slug hunting.

2 June  Ash Forts and watering

I’ve tried the potash forts around my broccoli and I’m not sure about the effect on slugs in the dry weather but there is a bonus. No marauding slug or snail is knowingly getting in and also less water is getting out. Obviously, a dousing with a hose or sprinkler means the ash has washed away into the soil – part of the reason for sprinkling it here is for potash to enrich the soil. Trying to conserve water I have used a watering can and noticed the ash fort pools the water, keeps it there and more is going into the soil. Hopefully with a little bit of fertiliser as well. I’m taking that as a win and wondering if with barbecue weather around about doing this for other plants as a water conservation thing.

What I did not expect was to regret not being able to cut the lawn – the worst job in the garden. I prefer a lawn with flowers and leave the lawn for as long as possible. Mother in laws and wives do not approve preferring a short cut desert of green grass. So, we compromise, and I cut when told. As I’m using the clipping to mound up around potatoes (which is also helping with water conservation as it holds water) I’m getting frustrated as I do not have enough clippings. The potatoes are growing faster than the grass. According to most it is usually the other way round. It’s almost as though the grass is laughing at me. Although the mulching effect of grass is helping to stop plants wilting.

I’ve also started on my toilet roll tube succession planting. As I’ve got limited space I’m stuck with carrots and beetroot starting to grow and nowhere else to put the next crop. So, I’ve put a tray of toilet roll tubes aside, filed with compost and then planted two or three seeds in each. I’ve worked out that this is self-regulating. I have to wait until I have enough tubes before then next succession planting. So short of a stomach upset this could work nicely. I’ll keep you updated – on the succession planting obviously.

Moving on, my scepticism about pasteurised coffee grounds and growing mushrooms might have been misplaced. I have mushroom mycelium growing in the airing cupboard (in plastic bags, reused and on coffee grounds). The results are:

  • papers spore mould nothing,
  • plate spore moulds growing,
  • stems of mushrooms with soil on growing well,
  • stems of mushrooms no soil forget it.

Now to move onto the next phase. Thanks to the need to order through the post I’ve ended up with polystyrene packing. Not happy that I can’t recycle but if I cut to size and turn upside down, I end up with containers that I’m filling with a mixture of coffee grounds and leaf tea. When a compartment is full, I’m taking mycelium and inoculating (not sure if you plant or inoculate) the substrate. Making sure it is moist and sealing over with reused plastic (which means putting in a plastic bag). Then in a dark warm place -which fortunately at this time of year is outside in the shed. It is slow and have a feeling it’s easy to get this next stage wrong.

As the ginger is still growing and budding, the sweet potato is still invading I’m moving onto the other strange spices and also citrus. Anyone else noticed how lemons and limes have so few seeds these days? The fruit in the garden is reviving and figs, grapes and currants are coming along nicely. For the first time in years the quince has not suffered from the late frost. I’ve also germinated melons and have planted them out to see what happens – along with plants from the porch; thanks to everyone who is putting spare seedlings there. Managed to replace my slug eaten squash plant. The lychees by the way are a little inscrutable. I currently have four with green leaves. Two have a growing tip, two do not. I’ve been looking at growing cumin to go with the coriander. Went with the simple viable seed test using seeds from the spice pot. Sprinkled some into water and left for 15 minutes. Those that float are not viable. Those that sank I left to hydrate for a couple of hours and have planted – next to the fenugreek plant as encouragement. Watching them closely

Finally, a little glut recipe – we have been collecting rose petals and drying on paper towel and tray in the airing cupboard. They dry to nothing but do provide an interesting recipe ingredient for cakes later in the year. I’m also consideirng petals with a teaspoon of sugar in a vodka bottle (with the vodka) for rose petal vodka later in the year.

27 May  Hill forts as a slug deterrent?

Potash means combining me a fire and all that woody stuff that is no good for compost. Now we did look on the barbeque, a sort of surrogate heater for the evenings where we burned the sticky bits for heat. Tried it and it works but we don’t need that to happen very often. The resulting problem is we had too much stuff -so a brazier came out so I could get things done quickly. Burning the wood and sticks and leaves to get the ash was fun in a strong wind. Needless to say, it did not start out in a high wind it just happened as the flames got higher. The result is a fine ash full of woody charcoal bits – that float. I took some of the potash and filled a bucket one fifth full – seems to be the rule of thumb for making liquid feed in a bucket, who knew? Then added water and stirred to break up the ash. All the bits of charcoal floated to the top. A quick skim and I ended up with small pieces of charcoal for starting the barbecue. A sort of win-win. I’m now leaving the potash water for a week so that the ash settles, and I’m supposed to have a liquid feed. We have the clippings tea (which seems to be giving the tomatoes a good boost), ground up banana skins and the liquid feed adding to the arsenal. Problem is so far nothing has helped the test plot with strawberries in it. Still yellow. Had an inkling the grass tea has helped but now adding the full range over the next week to see what happens. Including the potash soaked in water for a week. See if that helps.

I keep seeing blogs saying the potash spread on the garden its supposed to deter slugs and snails. It doesn’t – a remarkably dry spell and dry soil deters slugs and snails. Until you water. Found a few slugs appearing as the peas were planted out. (Also have the peanuts growing away in pots. Great little hardy pea plants and watching how they grow. The pea (nuts) form in the soil so the plants grow flower and drop over). Anyway – slugs and snails deterred by spreading potash – no. So, I’m trying the next lot by creating a mini iron age fort thing. Thought about school history lessons and the mounds of earth for making a circular fort. It didn’t keep the Romans out, but I’ll see how well it does against slugs.

In terms of the food waste I’m cutting lettuce, leaving the roots intact and watching them keep growing. I’ve found radish and parsnip tops sprout and grow but still unsure how it will work out. I’ve got seedlings growing from the centre of a bell pepper and have been sharing tomato stories with Mary as we are both getting good results with planting over ripe cherry tomatoes slices. The cut and come again onions are working really well. Currently the chives, parsley, mints, lemon balm and fennel are doing well. Rosemary and thyme are growing manically. This week an Eco-Challenge to the young people in the village will be to see if they can get cuttings growing. This is part of their support for the project as an allotment is available for them to sow and grow – we will be inviting you all to be involved at some point. I’m also leaving the perpetual onions as the bees and hoverflies are loving the flowers. The seed I saved is growing well and have had requests for plants. By the way, the seedling swap as part of the food box in St Andrew’s is there for people to swap seedlings!

Finally, I’m working on a glut finish – a thought for all that rhubarb after stewing it and freezing it, Rhubarb and Ginger cordial – sugar, water, rhubarb, and root ginger. Boil, strain to make a syrup. Great in cocktails, ice cream and drinking on its own.

19th May Frosty Tops

So, the week is not working well – my figs are frosted, my grapes shoots have shrivelled. Not in the good raisin making way but, in the frost, hit hard and shrivelled everything sense. Luckily, this deep rooted denizens of the garden are likely to recover. The big disappointment is the potatoes getting all drab and dishevelled. So rather than play with wood ash this weekend (although that is going to happen) I decided to go Victorian and get mulching. Luckily, I had a lot of grass clipping that were starting to rot down and felt really warm. (By the way, the grass clipping tea is a bit mouldy. I found that after a week the water is a nice greener colour, but you have to sieve the clippings out. Also, the banana skin juice and dressing does seem to have an impact – two weeks on the yellowing leaves on a couple of tomato test plants are green). So enough of my banana juice. The main thing I wanted to do was mulch the potatoes and make sure there is some protection – so adapted an old idea. Simply make a warm grass mulch around the affected potatoes. Did this over the weekend and already the plants are looking less sorry for themselves – tucked up in a warm bed of mulch. Not content with that I also used some scrap timber to make a frame around the potatoes two planks high. I’m now slowly filling the frames as the potatoes grow taller. The aim is to get a bumper harvest from each plant. Lots of people talk about growing in tyres the same way – but no tyres but I did have some scrap wood.

In terms of a colder area the ginger plant has gone very white looking, lychees are still stalled not growing and then the sweet potato has developed a little mottling. All are recovering and thankfully I’d delayed transplanting from the greenhouse – based on the one thing I noticed about living where I do.  I’m living in a frost pocket where cold air pools and mid-May is when a frost will sneak up and laugh at me as it shrivels my growing tips. So, leave it until the last minute to plant things out. It seems to be working but I’m having to plant everything out next week.

One thing I am surprised about is the unrusty garlic in our garden. This year I took the sprouting garlic from the fridge and planted them in containers in a greenhouse. Instead of rusty garlic I’ve got healthy plants. It’s also a deterrent. The smell is keeping whitefly and aphid away (compared to previous years). Although I’ve not put any garlic near the asparagus – it doesn’t like it.  I have managed one fenugreek plant after I threw a handful of seeds in a pot after raiding the spices in the house. The problem is you are not supposed to move them. Wish I’d thought to research before I’d planted and maybe I would have gone for an eco-pot. They are a useful way to use toilet roll centres, or kitchen roll. Simply make 4 cuts at one end, as long as the diameter of the tube. Then fold them over to make a base. Fill with compost and away you go.

Finally, here is a suggestion from the PCC. The food box in the church porch – still very much open there could also be a place where spare seedling can be swapped – but please keep them labelled (by the way using plastic strip cut from cartons for this at the moment). So back to making planters and wood ash this week.

11th May Interesting things to do with a banana skin

Okay first an exotic update – sweet potatoes need a load of room; the sweet potato is giving me a little shop of horrors moment as it is going to be huge. Its in a corner slowly growing bigger day by day. Also, peanuts need a lot of time to grow and the ginger likes it moist and warm.

I have also found that the container grown potatoes are growing well and seem to enjoy the grass clippings added a little layer at a time around the potato’s stems. Based on that a new potato growing experiment has been started. I have got a wooden frame around some of the plants. I am filling this as the potatoes grow. Aiming to have two frames to see if the number of potatoes harvested does increase. Going vertical is a thing I am playing with around the garden. First – the vertical garden stuff is just window boxes on a wall – even if they are made from pallets. It looks fancy and clever but it’s just pallets and window boxes. More container gardening but this time recycling materials. I have simply done that on the side of a wall by attaching a piece of wood across the bottom of a pallet’s strips, filled with compost and will now try and grow shallow rooted lettuce in them – the seedlings are coming along. Also, we have the lettuce weed problem after the heritage seed youth project a few year ago. Lettuces are daisies, we let them flower and seed – the result are lettuces popping up like weeds around the garden.  I’ve started to place my onion bottoms in my vertical beds. Keeping them moist and seeing what I can get growing. Also a few garlic corms – anything that might be shallow rooted.

I have also done the same for my son’s postage stamp garden – but this time I have created a small set of terraces as a planter. He has a compost bin and is filling the planter using this. He has a small lawn at the front for his lawn tea (that appears to be working) and is planting out seedlings.

Seedling feeding is where the strange things to do with a banana comes in. I have been playing the the constant references to the skins being great sources of potassium for plants. I am trying three things.

First planting out seedlings I am digging a shallow trench – and putting a strip of banana skin in it. Apparently, this will give my seedling a needed boost. I have also dried some skins slowly in the oven – very slowly, then when no one was looking placed them in the blender and ground them into a powder, the stalk bit at the top goes string but that easily picked out. I have then used the powder as a dressing on tomatoes. Finally – and less easy to explain away is the banana skin in a jar in the fridge. Boiled water and a banana skin in a sealed jar left for a week makes a liquid feed – which I am mixing with the nitrogen rich grass tea. Of course, not a complete feed but wait to see what I am doing with wood ash and compost mixes next week. I am also trying to work out how to get the lychees moving on and up and give an update on my spores.

5th May Mushrooms and prog rock.

It’s obviously the small things in life. I’m being remarkably pleased with the two piece of ginger I’ve got to grow, not something I’m sure I should be admitting in public. I chose a piece of fresh ginger that had the little growing bud just starting to peek out. I simply placed it on top of a pot of compost (using the last parts of my bag to avoid infections). Then placed the whole thing inside a plastic bag – finding a reuse for the ones I’m still getting in the shopping. Then kept warm and moist – and it repsonded. I now have a stem on the larger piece of ginger (5 cm root piece in a 4 inch pot). The bud grew out and had a ring of root buds on it. I’ve covered those in soil still keeping it warm and moist which seems to be the right state for many things. This included sweet potatoes.

Not so easy a sweet potato. It’s difficult to get going. A great big tuber took forever but now I’m seeing something with leaves of a plant from the illustration of a prog rock album. I now know it’s a vine. Again, it was the same as the ginger – it responded to being warm and moist and placed on a pot of compost. Reused a plastic bag and left in a warm place. It took forever, small shoots appeared in ‘eyes’ on the side of the tuber. Now I’m growing something that that looks like it belongs on a prog rock album cover. So next stop potting on and see if I can move onto the second difficult album cover after the first flush of success- getting the shoots and roots to thrive and survive.

Anyway, flushed with success of a prog rock album I moved onto mushrooms.  I made a spore print. Again, the primary science has a use – who knew? I tried making spore prints from the large (not button mushrooms) we found in the supermarket. The spore print is made by placing the cup of the mushroom on paper for one, or on a plate for another, gill side down. Then wait – you get a black pattern over 3 days as the spores rain down. The paper one is pants – the spores on the baking parchment were difficult to get off. The plate one worked best – by putting the coffee grounds on the plate and wiping off into a recycled Ziplock bag (thoroughly cleaned to avoid contamination). Apparently coffee grounds are sterile and a good growing medium. So now sealed and in the airing cupboard. I am convincing myself there are little white growth – but it could be ordinary mould. I’m waiting and seeing.

Finally, I’m working with my son who has something resembling a pocket handkerchief for a garden in the house he and his partner rent. Just to add to the challenge, loads of shade and its covered in AstroTurf. So, his WhatsApp call saying – Dad – what do you reckon is a bit of a challenge. Already he has got two pallets and, courtesy of his sister moving to a new house, an old plastic container he has cut down to a pot and two growing rings. The herbs are planted and so are tomatoes – although these are in a sorry state ordered over the internet. I’m providing seedlings in a socially distant manner. Containers are a good way forward and have taken up little space – placing them on pallets has helped drainage and avoided soil and compost getting mixed up in the astro turf (so he will not have to hoover his lawn when they move). I’m going to see how to take him vertical gardening – more next week, along with some tips on potatoes in containers.

30th April Primary school food? Must try harder

It seems to me that a lot of this food hack stuff is just another primary school science lesson. Take a bean, soak it, put it in a jam jar, keep it moist and look at the roots grow. For the people who like an avocado – take the stone and balance it on top of the jam jar using cocktail ticks and leave to see the roots grow. Try growing parsnips, carrots or radish from the tops you cut off.

I’ve been trying all of  these with some success – a couple of tips though (found using an old fashioned book) is to cover the jam jar or glass for the beans or avocado to sprout with a card sleeve so the bit you want to root into is dark – like the soil.  I like these old gardening books, that also tell me avocados are rarely sold in supermarkets. Oh – and by the way the parsnip tops are going well, radish a close second but the carrots have not played ball. Just like those science lessons at primary school – I can see the ‘has potential’ and ‘must try harder’ appearing on the report again. Although I’m giving myself an A for the peanuts – I got two to germinate. I soaked 6 unsalted peanuts from a packet for 6 hours and planted into a pot; making sure the skin was undamaged. That’s the exotic for this week – and one I remember being asked to grow on wool in a plastic tray at school – limited success as the things never germinated, but I guess I wasn’t gentle enough with my nuts to stop the skin breaking. (Yes before someone points it out. We all know peanuts are peas not nuts- clues in the name?)

I am planning to use my own compost and have found that mixing grass clippings and coffee grounds is creating an interesting compost to play with later. I’m reading that the coffee grounds from cafetiere or coffee machines are pasteurised so relatively sterile. The grass isn’t but the compost is feeling warm. So, I’m hoping it will be a good potting on compost soon. As always its taking time! Also, not much grass in with the coffee grounds – I found collecting grounds for a week and then adding a small handful is enough. One final thought – lot of mould on this so not sure how sterile it really was.

I’ve also got a wonderful smell in the shed – I filled a bucket with a lid to one fifth with loose grass clippings poured in water until it was full and put the lid on. It smells fantastic and I’ve got a grass tea brewing that will make plant food for the potted on seedlings. Have to say this is one of the successful gardening recipes. More success than trying to get the mango seed to germinate – a little rot set in so back to the drawing board. The sweet potato vine is progressing and I’m hoping the ginger plant will carry on. Getting ginger and sweet potatoes growing – one for next week and starting on limited space gardening.

22nd April Hacking food and cabbagey bottoms

I’m amazed any of us need to buy food – the number of hacks for growing it from nothing more than a couple of leaves, a glass of water and self-generating compost seem to be everywhere. So many ways to turn waste into food and time lapse photography proves that we are just a slice of tomato or carrot top away from perpetual veg. This looks so good I had to give it a go. After all it only means a slice of tomato planted and in the time it takes to make a cup of tea you have fruit! I could just cut the end of a bell pepper off fill it with compost and have succulent crops in minutes. Would time lapse lie to me? It also suggests that there is a lot of ways to grow from cuttings. I’m still trying to get my cabbage leaves to root but they appear not to have seen the video. I’m carefully placing them in water and instead of roots it’s rancid cabbage water for me. There have been some successes though.

Let’s start with my onions. Now admittedly they did start by withering until I realised that I needed to cut them a good centimetre from the base. Then cutting so only a plug with root and the central circle of onion remained. I then planted them in a drainpipe section filled with old compost. Within days I’d got the start of a stem. Important to keep it watered. I’ve been doing this over winter and planted out my onion bed on the produce (by the way shallots are best). Unlike the video I did not get wonderful single onions. The centre of the onion can sprout two or three new plants. So, I waited, cut them into separate plants each with part of the root stock and now I have onions. Not swelling bulbous things (although I have a season to go) but I do have strong flavoured plants that I’m using in most soups, salads, stews, curries, and it is working.

The other bit of success in fridge based propagation has been bottom based. The celery which continues to thrive – makes a great soup. The other base is from cabbage (more successful than leaves). Again, it’s simple, I cut the base of the cabbage and pushed it into a plant pot, watered and waited. In the video hearty cabbage sprout from the bases. I got loads of small cabbage leaves growing. Reminding me of my Grandad’s cutting across on the stalk left in the ground after harvesting cabbages.  He always got a couple of extras from the plant that way. Anyway, unlike the hack videos I got leaves (which are tasty and easy to use) but in no time the flowering stalk appeared. So, I harvest the leaves from the stalk and cut off the flower stem to get more leaves sprouting. Small leaves but definitely cabbage.

Finally, there is my leek bottoms. Just like the onions (they are related) I cut and planted. The result is that I have leeks growing. In fact, those left in garden are successfully being cut and are coming again. Well worth a try. My final one is chilli seeds – they are doing amazingly well, even the whole chilies I’ve had in the fridge. Simply scrapped the seeds out and planted them. Now I’m transplanting seedlings – but into what?

I’m looking at grass clipping and coffee granules to make a compost – it’s supposed to be quick and easy. Coffee granules coming ready pasteurised. Trying to mix them up. Another hack that suggested great results. Too early to report. So, I’m deferring this to my tea based blog for next week.

17th April  Social Distancing and Celery

How far should we take social distancing – is a couple of thousand miles too much? As I’m researching and getting ready for our Living Food bank (known as Co-op gardening, community gardening, Victory Gardens in the US of A) I’m getting a lot of invitations to join networks and conversations (safely). The wonders of algorithms in this age of social distancing and lock down is that these ‘safe’ invitations are mainly from the US of A. I know I’m supposed to keep a good distance, communicate safely, and respect the lock down but 2000 miles plus seems excessive.

The distance extremes aside it is interesting to note that around the western world there is a shared phenomenon. All of a sudden seed shelves are empty and, compost bags are in short supply. There is also a desire to emulate the Dig for Victory campaign vibrating around us. An instinct to make sure that our communities are less reliant on long supply chains and increase our food security. As people are saying around the world – a load of veg or soup in the freezer makes you free. Interesting idea and perhaps a little overstated for my British palate, but there is some truth in this.

So socially distancing can flatten the pandemic curve, but it is the resilience from community action, local food that can take root here. I am aware of those problems for food supplies and isolation are not going away with the pandemic – they remain. With the shortages being imposed from empty seed shelves and no compost to buy I have decided to go back to basics:

  1. Toilet paper – wrap a dried bean in toilet paper and get it to root in a carton or glass. You can even use the centre of the toilet roll. It also gives you something to do with the centre of toilet roll and perhaps if you find a large amount in the bathroom perhaps share or use it up for food production.
  2. Look at that celery head in the fridge. They always look at little larger in the fridge than in the supermarket. Cut the stalks off but make sure you leave a good inch to two inches from the base. Put the flaccid looking stalks in a glass of water to perk up and use for cooking. Then simply plant the root – I put it in an old tub of compost (okay a plant pot full of compost with a dead plant removed). Stalks do start growing from the base. The stalks might not be as lush and fulsome in true supermarket fashion, but they will cut and come again. I’ve found chopping finely into soups or pasta sauces or using leaves in stock well worth a try
  3. So, mango – given the 2000 mile distancing this was a good one to keep the international flavour going. Simply take the seed out of the shell and find a zip lock bag (reusing them in the garden for seeds is helpful). Soak the seed for 24 hours. Then place it in the bag (using some of the compost from that dead plant) before placing in the airing cupboard. Check daily to ensure moist but do not seal the bag entirely.

I’m working on creating my own onion sets and cabbages for next week. There is also the compost dilemma – might see what I can do after a cup of coffee.

10th April Good Friday Potatoes

It Maundy Thursday as I write this. The day before I am going to plant my potatoes. The same every year based on something I was bought up with and it makes no sense. Makes no sense from the climate reason my Grandad gave me – plant them at Easter to avoid the frosts. I have had my potatoes frosted off after Easter – not a pleasant experience at all but I do the same thing every year. My Nan gave me a slightly more theological reason for planting parsley on Good Friday– apparently it had to go to the Devil and back before it can germinate. (I am thinking it might just be it takes an age to germinate).

Still the beds are mucked over (potatoes need a lot of feeding and moisture) ready for me to at a modern myth about not using supermarket potatoes as your ‘seed’. There is a chance they are not as sterile as seed potatoes. There are stories that you do not get such a big yield and there are problems getting these potatoes to chit due to inhibitors allegedly used on them. Lots of stories and but I am figuring this – reduce waste, plant the potatoes, and see what happens. If I suffer from small spuds so what.

I am also aware that people have limited space, so I have got an old dustbin with holes in the base and have filled the bottom with compost from the heap. I am planting in this as well. Container grown potatoes are a thing and should work. Its also a place for those extra grass clippings to go. I am planting in the base and slowly filling the bin with grass clippings as the potatoes grow. Apparently, the heat and moisture help the potatoes grow, plus the clippings provide nutrients. Again, another lot of stories to see if they work.

It is not the only type of ‘potato’ I am trying. On the more exotic front I got a sweet potato to sprout. Again, something from food waste we were given. One went mouldy and I’ve no idea why. The other did not. I found that keeping it warm (in a bag) started the delicate roots growing. Then I placed it on a pot filed with compost. Left in the warm and light I have got the start of leafy stems, covered by a bag to keep the humidity high I am hoping to move into a bigger pot over the weekend.

So, my Easter is one for testing these stories and myths. Is the frost going to take the potatoes, can you get store potatoes to crop readily, and can containers and grass clippings really work? Either way it is giving me something to try and reduce potato waste and convert it into food, create a compost (in the dustbin) and see what happens. Can I grow a sweet potato? In all cases food waste is reduced and there will be something to try eating in a few weeks’ time. Now what to do with that flaccid carrot and parsnip plus the mango seed from the last mango in the shop. That is for next week.

3rd April Food banks for the future?

Okay – in a time of lock down I’ve taken a plunge and decided to ‘blog start’ our Benefice based project – to create living food banks in each of our Parishes.

I thought, we can’t start the food bank project in lock down, or can we? Maybe this is the ideal time to start in our own home – and see what interesting things we can do with that celery stick. Maybe now is the time to see how that flaccid parsnip or carrot can create more food and not be wasted. I’m inviting you to virtually share the experience with me and share your own ideas.

The project is a response to the fact that many of us have been concerned about the increased use of food banks and the amount of food waste (although, strangely one has been feeding the other until recently). The current crisis has added to these concerns as people are finding that food can all too easily disappear off shelves. Our answer is to look at food production from seed to preservation in our homes and communities.

So, before we start exploring how we might turn hedges into food foraging places for all, community gardening to transform places into vegetable patches helping bees and other insects, or how church grounds can help provide food for the community I’m putting myself on display. Through this blog I’m about to share ideas for you to comment on. It will be a place where we can reduce waste and share our ideas and practical steps for food production at home. There will be things to try including:

  • Interesting things to do with a celery base
  • Creating new cabbage leaves from old ones
  • Making more onions
  • How to grow a lychee

We may not be successful at our first attempt. Innovation is like that; it calls for faith. So here is the invite – join me and see:

  1. What success I’m having in lock down growing food
  2. Add your ideas
  3. Make a community of food waste deniers
  4. Help create the resources for when we move from our homes to our community

With enough encouragement I might even Facebook as well – but first one action one blog at a time. ‘See’ you next week.