Archive for the ‘Growing stuff’ Category

This really matters…

November 13, 2018
IMG_2010

Allotment-grown goodies…

Get Food, Growing, Cooking & Nutrition on the School Curriculum

OK, I’m back! This little petition request (above) popped into my inbox this morning, and really lit a fuse under my still-somewhat-sluggish mind. It’s a subject dear to my heart and woven throughout the fabric of my life; food, and the production thereof, is THE most fundamental factor in our collective health after clean water. Even above sanitation & the miracles of modern medicine; if you are healthy & well-nourished, you stand a far better chance of fighting back effectively should misfortune strike.

But what people seem to lack today is the power to make sane & sensible food choices, because they have no basis to make those choices except advertising from the manufacturers & purveyors of junk foods. Thanks to the steady downgrading & elimination of Home Economics, Domestic Science and the like from our school curriculum (subjects that enabled people to stand on their own two feet at home and often went far beyond that) many people actually seem unaware that they do have choices apart from what’s in front of them on the supermarket shelf, no matter how devoid of actual goodness it may be. Not to mention the fact that they usually have no time to spend pursuing more sensible (and usually more delicious) choices, or actually cooking them, or experimenting to get the best out of them. And many people lack the space & time to grow their own.

How can small local food businesses, selling decent produce, survive in a marketplace dominated by giant supermarket chains unless people know there are other choices available? How can farmers stand up to the ever-growing pressure to reduce costs by cutting corners if we don’t care enough to reward them?

How can children appreciate good food if they’ve never tasted it? We all know the battles we’ve been through to get reluctant children to try something new, something that their friends perhaps don’t eat, but we also know that mostly, with persistence, that battle can eventually be won. I have fond memories of administering a “green box” scheme, where the farmer delivered to & the customers collected from my doorstep; one of my sons, then aged four, would prowl up & down surreptitiously to identify the customers who didn’t like kale, then happily inform them that, actually, he did. Nine times out of ten, thanks to his big blue eyes, we’d end up with extra kale to stir-fry to crispy with garlic & soy sauce. Naughty boy! But he still loves kale now, aged twenty-six and halfway through a PhD…

It doesn’t just come down to money, although time is definitely a big factor. We all know people who eat well & thrive on a tiny budget, and people who have plenty of money but are suffering from all the ills that modern society can inflict on them. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely do not have enough money or resources to eat well, or at all, much to our collective shame; there are far too many, for far too many different reasons, mostly not self-inflicted. But for the vast majority of people whose weekly trolleys are laden down with junk, it’s lack of awareness that there is another way that’s hammering them, from both the health and budgetary angles. Or lack of confidence to at least try… and that’s what could so easily be addressed at a young age, if the political will to act is there.

To put it in terms that even a politician could understand: people cannot make sensible choices if they are not aware that there are choices…

It’s no good insisting that this education should take place in the home, when many young parents have never learnt themselves to cook or budget. This is not necessarily a new problem; witness my poor mother‘s experience. (Luckily for us, my “aunt” Ethel was a good & dedicated cook…) The lack of importance given to this subject for many years, the downgrading of domestic knowledge and inspiration, the idea that domesticity equals drudgery have all played a part in crippling us. As has the idea that seeking to make the best of the resources available to you is somehow “cheapskating” rather than just plain sensible.

Personally I think the time has come to get angry about this; we are all, or have been, suffering because we don’t know any better, or we’re not confident enough to try – and we could be, so easily…

DSCF1352

Home-grown tomatoes, home-made preserves…

Advertisements

A little bit of self-discipline…

September 22, 2018
DSCF1351

Making the most of the season!

…wouldn’t go amiss! Those of you who frequent the Old-Style MSE forum may have noticed that I’ve gone way over on my grocery budget this month, and I’m actually at a bit of a loss to explain it. That probably means it’s a combination of factors, starting with me not paying proper attention to what I’m buying/growing & cooking. There’s also definitely an element that basic foodstuffs have been steadily creeping upwards in price, downwards in quantity and in some cases vanishing altogether from the easily-available supermarket shelves.

Anyway, one of the best tools I have for keeping costs under control is the meal-plan. I used to plan the week’s meals on a Friday morning, when I did the main grocery shop at our local market, but things have changed; some stalls have gone altogether, and some no longer trade on a Friday but others only then, so most weekends I’ll need to pay more than one visit to the market. And of course I work a number of weekends, through the warmer months. So it’s all got a bit chaotic and I need to impose some self-discipline after we had a number of large bills to pay this summer, mostly on the motor & moggy maintenance front.

So I’m going to try to post my weekly meal-plans up here, along with my usual ramblings, and stick to them! Most of the time now I’m just feeding four adults; two omnivores and two pescatarians. The girls will often cook a “main” dish for themselves, though they’ll usually share our vegetables & any carbs, but I try to make sure there are resources available for them to make things with. “HG” stands for home-grown, “HM” stands for home-made, and I’m only planning to list the “mains” – puddings are mostly yogurt or fresh fruit, lunches are HM soup or salad, or poached eggs on toast (though our chickens are currently in the moult, so we’re getting one egg a day out of 10 birds) and breakfasts might be pancakes with fruit, porridge with HM apple butter or crab-apple jelly, or toast made with “good” bread – I’m working on a new & hopefully more palatable sourdough starter right now, thanks to Sharon of Learn Sourdough.

This week’s plan:

  • Saturday: lamb or sweet potato tagine (using leftover lamb) with bulgur wheat, HG beans, carrots & courgette.
  • Sunday: roast chicken/roasted veg with roast potatoes, broccoli and HG carrots
  • Monday: Macaroni & cauliflower cheese & baked beans – beans possibly HM., lots of HG tomatoes to use up!
  • Tuesday: Baked potatoes, sausages, eggs (if any!) & stir-fried HG veg
  • Wednesday: chicken curry/lentil dahl with rice – frozen veg? Depends…
  • Thursday: Sausage/bean casserole with any potatoes I can lay my hands on, HG or otherwise, hopefully HG beans & carrots.
  • Friday – fish dish of some kind, depending on what the market fishmonger’s got at a good price, and whether the boats have been out. Trout sounds good!

I’m hoping to do some more preserving, if the weather plays ball and I can get out for some more blackberries & crab apples. Looks to me like a few more jars of jelly/apple butter would come in handy to get us right through to next summer, but then I’ll move onto chutney. So – will I be able to keep to my self-imposed budget in October? Watch this space…

HGveg

Home-grown beans, courgette and two colours of carrot!

The Gumtree shed…

October 11, 2017

When we got our allotment, it didn’t take long to realise that a shed would be an enormous asset. The site is just under a mile away from home; close enough to walk up there, but not to run home to escape a shower. And that’s quite a way to carry tools; if we didn’t want to drive up there all the time, we needed somewhere to store them. In true Permaculture style, it would fulfill other functions, too; where we planned to put it, it could act as a partial windbreak, as we are in the southwestern corner of the site, where the wind whistles in over the river meadows, partially screened by a blackthorn hedge, but partly exposed. The roof would be a raised surface for capturing rainwater to store in our (wombled) water-butts, too.

shed5

New allotment with an “open aspect”…

The maximum size we’re allowed on site is 8′ x 6′, on a slab base; no concrete, no decking. But we didn’t really want to give up that much growing-space, as our plot is an odd shape; triangular, with the hypotenuse facing south-west into the prevailing wind. We don’t have any power tools to store, just secondhand manual tools, so security wasn’t much of an issue. So an 6′ x 4′ wooden shed would be plenty big enough.

But a new shed would cost at least a hundred pounds, which kind of negates the money-saving aspect of allotmenteering, even if it’s a one-off investment. So I started looking round on Gumtree, allowing myself a budget of around £30, thinking there’d almost certainly be money to be spent getting whatever I found up to scratch. But most were far too big, and I kept missing the smaller ones that were offered. Except one, which was offered FREE as “might suit someone for firewood!” Half of one long side was missing, replaced temporarily by the door, but I went to see it anyway as it was only a few hundred yards away. Not great, but surely, salvageable… The lovely young couple giving it away had decided to replace it with something intact and also bigger.

shed

The Head Gardener surveys a pile of potential shed…

So we hauled it across town, the end bits, the door & parts of the framework inside my van, and the sides lashed to the roof-rack of the Head Gardener’s estate car. It sat for a week or so in a heap, beside where it was going to be put back together again, whilst HG laid & levelled the slabs. Then we spent a merry afternoon puzzling out what should go where, and screwing it all together; it had previously just been nailed. Some bits are a little rotten & have been replaced, and the roofing felt needed replacing altogether, and our allotment just isn’t quite the same shape as the ground it sat on before so the roof just wouldn’t quite sit properly, but hey! we have a shed, all screwed together firmly, and it hardly cost us anything!

Shed2

Oooh look, a shed!

It just so happened that a friend had recently had her conservatory roof replaced with something more permanent. It occurred to me that a piece of ex-roof triple-wall polycarb might just plug the gap in the wall and make a rather good window; Head Gardener moved the remaining slats down to the lower half, I cut the polycarb to the right length and lo and behold! it just slotted over the slats perfectly. Screwed into position gently, the windward side that looks towards the water-meadows actually lets the light in now.

The structure was probably never the sturdiest, and strong winds might have been an issue, exposed on the edge of the site. But HG had a stroke of pure genius; why not use some of the pallets that I’d wombled to make composters to brace the shed, inside the structure, instead? So there are three strong & heavy pallets resting on the floor slabs, screwed to the wall supports & each other, and acting as shelf supports & tool racks.

Shed4

A pallet serving as a brace and a tool-rack

There’s a triangular shelf made from pallet-wood at the end for all the things you might need a work-surface for, like potting, or making a cup of tea, and two shelves running across the end over that for all those little pots & tins of stuff we seem to need. Like biscuits…

Shed3

Pallet-wood shelves, and conservatory-roof window!

There’s a shelf at the bottom of the window; whilst it doesn’t let full daylight in, I think there’s enough light to start the odd window-box propagator-tray of seedlings in there. There are hooks and nails to hang small things like trowels, string, netting and dibbers, and I’ve even cobbled together a somewhat flimsy welly rack from an old curtain pole and a spare bit of wood. It’s not “finished” yet, in that we have yet to trim the roof felt, put up the “bug box” and add the guttering; in fact I’ve yet to source some of that. And it’s far from luxurious, and there are no gingham curtains or bunting (yet!) but we haven’t found a single drip of rain inside, and it’s stood up to winds that have brought branches down elsewhere in town. So, so far, so good!

 

 

 

Full of (very tough) beans!

October 7, 2017

So, it turns out that if you wander off on holiday for the best part of 3 weeks in September, your runner beans get very, very stringy & tough. The plants are still flowering, and the bees are still dancing round them, so I’m not ripping them up just yet, but I think they were basically under the impression that they’d done their job – loads of rock-hard stringy pods full to bursting of plump pink beans!

I had a “Bag For Life” full of them. I asked one or two experienced gardeners what I could do with them, but they shrugged; once you’ve saved your seed for next year (if you want to bother) all you can do is chuck them on the compost heap, apparently. But I was convinced there must be something I could do… so I brought them home and Googled like mad.

A couple of chutney recipes came up. I’m not a huge fan of chutney, but the household does contain one, so I made a big batch. Which used up nearly a quarter of the bag, and a whole evening; those pods really were very tough and razor sharp.

runners1

Three-quarters of a bag of stringy beans!

This morning I woke up with a little revelation running through my mind; the pods might be beyond all sensible use, but the beans themselves might not be… So I spent a merry hour this morning shelling the beans, which was not as hard as I’d expected. If you pull the “strings” off, you’ll see that one of the resulting grooves in the side of the pod is deeper than the other. Sometimes you can split it open just with your fingernails; if not, run a sharp knife down that side & you can pull the pod open and remove the beans. No worse than shelling peas, or broad beans.

runners2

I ended up with 2 pints of beans:

runners3

I popped these into the slow cooker, along with 4 cloves of garlic, chopped up with two medium onions, half a large sweet potato, a quince, about a quarter of a very large courgette/zucchini, and a pint of vegetable stock. Two teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout, one of salt, a sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a heaped spoonful of coriander leaf/cilantro seemed about right for seasoning.

runners4

After two hours on “High” I turned it down to “Low” for the rest of the day. On tasting it, I added some tomato passata, a dash of Worcester Sauce and some more salt; just before serving a sprinkled a little more veggie stock on it, too, as there still seemed to be a little something missing.

runners6

I also mashed it a little, which seemed to absorb some of the stock, but left many of the beans intact. I have to report that it went down very well, with at least one “customer” coming back for seconds. I’m hoping there’ll be enough left to freeze some.

The pods have indeed gone into the compost heap, but not all of the beans made it into the casserole. Although I already have some seed saved for next year, and have bought (on offer!) another pack of the same seeds I used this year, it seemed unfair not to save a few more, after all the plants’ hard work!

runners5

So hopefully we’ll be off to a flying start next year, and I’m not worried about producing too many now I know there’s something different I can do with them.

And for my next trick: finding something tasty to do with several giant, and I do mean giant, chemical-free pumpkins…

Busy again…

August 22, 2017
IMG_1948

New allotment!

I know, I know, I’ve been rather quiet for rather a long time… but I’ve been busy! I moaned to a friend that I don’t have any space to grow veg here at home; we grow a lot of fruit & herbs, not to mention being almost self-sufficient for eggs, but there’s no space left for veg. And the two Offspring left at home are both pescatarians, surviving mostly on vegetables. Turned out that she desperately needed help with her large kitchen garden, her Other Half having gone walkabout. So I volunteered to help, and got stuck in.

But I’d also sent my annual “any chance of an allotment?” email to the Powers That Be. You could have knocked me down with a feather when I actually got a reply, not as usual reminding me that there’s a 20-year waiting list, but in the affirmative. They were opening a new site in town at the end of the week… so I went & inspected a plot, and with my Other Half, agreed we’d like to take it on.

Two plots, separated by a couple of miles, neither of them very close to home, is too much. Other Half doesn’t want to help with my friend’s garden, as he thinks we might lose it all at a stroke of a lawyer’s pen. Added to which, my elderly mother has been unwell, necessitating lots of visits – not that these are begrudged! – and waiting in for doctor’s phone calls. And the usual day-to-day dramas of a busy household, and my attempts to declutter after 25 years of large-family life, and the necessity of earning some money…

So now I’m desperately behind with everything! And I can only apologise to my friend; the weeds are galloping away up there & I’m failing heroically to keep on top of all the things that need doing . But we are eating well; better than we have for years, and I have her to thank for that, as the allotment is only just coming into production. There’s a recycling story to tell in a day or two, but in the meantime, here’s a pic of our beans 6 weeks down the line…

20170822_150947

And some of the gleanings from my friend’s kitchen garden…

IMG_2010