Wayne's blog

Wayne’s Blog on Living Food Banks

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.