That’s a whole lotta ‘lottment

So, I signed up for an allotment earlier this year.

Thanks to delays getting it prepped, I didn’t get my hands on it until the weekend before Easter, when I was going to London to visit friends.  Then there was Easter itself, when I travelled North to visit family.  Then I got a stomach bug (apparently all the rage), which wiped me out.

So I’ve managed three visits to it since handing over a cheque – in the middle of what should be the planting season.

IMG_3480
A whole lotta ‘lottment

It’s big.  Around 120-feet-long big.  About a tenth of that wide.  And it’s been ‘fallow’ for three years, for which I think we can read ‘neglected’.  It was ploughed and rotivated before I got my hands on it, but that mostly means they’ve buried and broken up the weed mat and roots that were on the surface.  Still, I’ve found evidence of dandelion, bindweed, docken, nettle and some sort of really persistent grass with long, tough, wiry roots.

And parsnips.  I think we can say that the previous tenant really liked parsnips.

This thing is going to be a challenge.  Still, the potatoes are in.

…the letter ‘C’ and the colour orange

Another long-overdue issue of the Sustainability Sundays series…

The garden has been much-neglected this year, firstly because Yarnscape was such an all-consuming business to run full time, and secondly because the return to ‘regular’ full-time work has been a bit of a shock to the system.  Besides, it was too late for many crops by then, anyway.

I did get a few plants in the ground this year, though:

  • Potatoes, from last year’s seed.  I’d intended these to be our salad/new potatoes for summer eating, but since our ‘summer’ never really arrived, they’re mostly still in the ground.
  • Jerusalem artichokes.  Not only did I specifically plant on some of last year’s tubers, it seems that every single one of the ones I failed to dig up from last year’s patch has sprouted and thrived.  I think they’re going to be one of ‘those’ plants.
  • Beans.  I had really poor germination of my pole beans for some reason, but the few plants that made it have produced well.  I’m not going to harvest any more for eating green; I’m allowing the rest of the pods to produce seed and/or big beans for drying now.
  • Carrots.  Oh, boy!!

I wanted to grow both carrots and parsnips this year, but I was late ordering seed (and doing just about everything else), so I decided to sow my old carrot seed instead.  As it really was pretty old, and I didn’t know how viable it was, I decided not to sow rows, but just ‘broadcast’ it over a bed about 1.5metres per side.

I think that carrots are one of my personal tests for a garden soil.  If it can grow good-sized carrots that are not bifurcated, twisted, lumpy or otherwise deformed, then you’re doing something right.  And it seems that my garden soil has now reached that level of maturity.

I’m also pleased to say that we seem to have been remarkably free of carrot fly this year; it’s plagued us in the past, and is supposed to be endemic to this area in general, so I’m even more pleased that I don’t have to deal with nasty little maggoty holes in my produce.

Again, most of the carrots are still in the ground.  They’ll keep just fine there, and will even get sweeter with a frost or two to encourage sugar formation (it’s natural antifreeze for plants, you know!) – but I’ll have to be sure to dig them up before the ground freezes hard, or – horrors! – gets covered in snow.

The Pizza Test

J and I made pizza for dinner the other night: garlic bread to start, followed by a tomato/mozzarella/capers pizza, and our go-to favourite: Blue and green pizza.  For those who haven’t had pizza at our house, Blue and green includes the following toppings:

  • a schmear of tomato sauce (not too much or the whole thing gets soggy);
  • A layer of sauteed greens (beet tops or spinach beet with onions- make sure to squeeze out excess liquid, or again: sogginess);
  • A scattering of blue cheese chunks (we usually use Roquefort or Gorgonzola; something creamy seems to work best);
  • A handful of walnut pieces, and, optionally
  • An egg cracked in the middle.

If you are lucky enough to have them, six quail eggs can be used instead; one for each slice.  Putting one large chicken’s egg in the middle makes for messy, if enjoyable serving.  For chicken’s eggs, I also recommend separating the egg, so the white goes on at the beginning of the cooking time, and the yolk just shortly before the end – unless you like your yolk cooked hard.  For the record, I am still utterly gobsmacked that J likes this pizza so much; he is a confirmed carnivore, and ‘hates greens’.  Oh well – no complaints from me!

But!  The point of this blog post is not to make you hungry or jealous.  It occurred to me that this meal might be a good baseline for our efforts to eat homegrown as much as possible.  I will try and revisit it yearly, and see how much of it we can call ‘homemade’ – or at least local.

The dough
This is a yeasted dough, made in my breadmaker.  The texture is a good one once cooked, but difficult to handle: loose and light.  We’re working on the skills for that. Ingredients are as follows:

  • Flour is purchased, but from a local company (Glebe Farm).  I don’t think we’ll be growing our own wheat any time soon, though I’d love to give it a try.
  • Olive Oil is purchased, and not even vaguely local.  I do have a small olive tree in a pot, but I think I’ll be retired by the time it yields an appreciable amount of oil.  (Besides: olives!  Yum!!)
  • Salt and Sugar are purchased, and likely to remain so!  Though I suppose honey might be used instead of the sugar, and we can certainly find local honey.
  • The leavening is yeast.  I’d like to work up a good sourdough version, but J is so far resistant to sourdough in all its forms.

The garlic bread

In addition to the dough, this includes:

  • The garlic is from our last year’s harvest.  It’s not at its best any more, but I’m delighted it has lasted this long!
  • We’ve augmented it with garlic scapes from this year’s garlic crop, sauteed very gently in butter.
  • The butter is purchased.  Again, I’d like to make at least some of my own butter, but I don’t see the point (apart from once or twice as a fun experiment) unless it provides a significant sustainability advantage.  This would most likely involve me buying or trading for very local milk, though in the fullness of time (i.e. years away!!) I think I’d like to try keeping goats.
  • Rosemary.  We do have rosemary in the garden, but this was some dried, purchased stuff that needs using up.

Tomato/mozzarella/capers

We score very low on this one, but with great potential to improve:

  • The tomatoes were tinned, and not ours.  It isn’t too big of a stretch to imagines that we might grow enough to make our own tomato sauce in future years, though I made a conscious decision not to grow any ‘matoes this year; we had a huge blight problem last year, so I thought I’d give the land a rest.
  • Mozzarella is purchased and not local; my thoughts on this are very similar to those for the butter, above.
  • Capers are also purchased.  This is something I would very much like to make for ourselves; pickled nasturtium seeds are supposed to be an excellent substitute.  The caper bush itself looks like it might do fairly well against a southern-facing wall or two in our garden – except it is frost sensitive, so maybe not.
  • A scattering of fresh basil leaves once the pizza is out of the oven.  Yes!  These come from our own windowsill.  Finally.

Green and blue

Probably the hardest to improve on, but still potential:

  • Tomatoes – as above
  • Greens and the accompanying onions came from our garden last year.  I sauteed loads of these and froze them in small portions for this very use last year.  I’m glad I did, as neither cabbage nor spinach (available in local groceries/supermarkets) would be the same.  I have no beets or kale in the ground so far this year, though, so I must try for an autumn/winter crop of at least one – or we’ll run out!
  • Blue cheese carries all my previous caveats for dairy products, plus the requirement for a specific culture (and more complex cheesemaking techniques).  I have questions about how sustainable it would truly be for me to make this myself, even if I did have my own milk.
  • Walnuts are purchased.  I’m pretty sure I should be able to gather some locally if I try – possibly even for free.  Must investigate this possibility.
  • Eggs are also purchased, but locally.  At least, usually.  A lot of people in the village put eggs out for sale, and I buy from them when I can.  Longer term, I’d like a few chooks of my own, though.  Or possibly even the aforementioned quail!

Overall score
Out of 18 ingredients, 5 are homegrown and 2 locally purchased.  I think that, with moderate effort, I could raise the score to 9 homegrown ingredients; longer term, I could probably add 4 or 5 more ingredients.  That leaves only a few that I don’t think it is reasonable to provide for myself: salt, olive oil, blue cheese…  What do you think I will score on this scale for next year?

And Kita says…

That all smells dreadful.  Would you like me to dispose of it for you?

54) Not more sustainability, surely?

Though really, can you ever have too much?  I will admit, a catchup on the rest of my life is definitely in order, but it's been one of those months.  And the backlog has reached the point where it is, frankly daunting.  These posts are at least structured, and scheduled (even if I *am* late again).

Anyway:

 
1.
Plant Something –

  • Bush beans, peas.
  • Started a new batch of beer (not really 'planting', but definitely 'starting')

 

2. Harvest something –

  • Broad beans
  • French beans
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach beet
  • Beetroot leaves
  • Beetroots!
  • The very last garlic scapes
  • New potatoes
  • Mint
  • Broccoli
  • The first blueberry! It wasn't 100% ripe…

3.
Preserve something
    Nothing this week

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Saved peas from the last of the mange tout crop for next year's seed
  • Racked 'dormant' wine from demijohn into storage

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

    
Nothing this week!

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

  • Shared seeds
  • Educated folks on making yoghurt (it's easy! It's good!)

7. Eat the Food

  • Spinach beet on pizza
  • Beetroot leaves in chicken soup and in stir fry
  • Garlic scape butter on garlic bread
  • Last year's summer squash, roasted with sage and olive oil
  • Pizza bases made with sourdough
  • Yoghurt and yoghurt cheesecake (coffee flavour was good, but runny)
  • Beetroots, roasted with rosemary and salt
  • New potatoes
  • Bush and pole beans (our go-to veg this week)
  • Wine and beer.  🙂

8.What I bought

  • Bread
  • Onions
  • Wine

9. Looking forwards

  • Aubergines still flowering! No fruit set yet…
  • The tomatoes are setting really well; some are nearly ripe, and lots more are visibly ripening.
  • All my onions are lying down.  Why?  Are they failing??
  • Blueberries are actually starting to ripen.  Ye gods, but they're slow!
  • The last of the broad beans will be ready very soon now; need to save some for seed
  • The various squash plants have finally started to grow properly, and might even set some fruit one day soon!
  • One of my chilli plants has baby chillis!
  • Garlic needs harvesting, but I'd rather it was dry.  Oh, the irony…

53) Sustainability Sundays: The Neglected Blog edition

Good grief; this is my third Sustainability Sunday post in a row, which clearly means I'm not posting anything else.  Must rectify.  Anyway:

 
1.
Plant Something –
   
Nada, despite my fit of organisational activity last weekend.  Should probably check the seed box and see what's due…

 

2. Harvest something –

  • Broad beans
  • French beans (both pole and bush.  I think I'm a bush convert, though I love the way poles look.)
  • Mustard greens
  • Spinach beet
  • Beetroot leaves
  • Garlic scapes, and…
  • The first garlics.  Sadly, they had an intruder-cat-meets-defensive-dog incident over the weekend, and I decided to pull them rather than leave them in the ground – which was rather wet at that point.  This may affect their keeping qualities – we'll have to see.

3.
Preserve something

  • Two batches of yoghurt (one will become cheesecake very soon now).
  • Mashed and froze overripe bananas
  • Blanched and froze broad beans
  • Cooked spinach beet for pizza toppings (J will eat it!  In fact, likes it!  Indeed, requests it!! Yay!)

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

     As well as the usual, I've been trying to establish better habits in the shower (minds out of the grimy gutter, you lot).  I have a bad habit of leaving the shower running whilst I'm shampooing my hair, shaving my legs – you name it.  And there's no need to.  It keeps the shower area warmer in the winter, but that's it; and it's not winter.  So I've been reducing water wastage by shutting off the shower unless I'm really, seriously using it, right that second.

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

    
Nothing this week!

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

    
Nothing this week!

7. Eat the Food

  • Broad beans in various incarnations.  This has been the week of the broad bean (I think that's fava beans to American readers, btw).
  • Beetroot greens on pizza
  • Spinach beet in risotto (nom!!)
  • Garlic scape butter used to make risotto (definitely nom!)

8.What I bought

  • Bread
  • Onions

9. Looking forwards

  • Harvest seed peas and pull up the old plants
  • I think the raspberries are just about done.  It's their first year, and the very hot conditions have not been too kind.  I think our neighbour has also treated her garden with something noxious, right on the other side of the fence that the rasps live against.
  • Aubergines are flowering!
  • Must remember to feed the tomatoes…
  • Peppers are doing really well in my mini greenhouse.  Lots and lots of fruit have set and are growing well!
  • Some of the broccoli needs harvesting before it actually flowers
  • I think the dwarf peas I planted out last weekend died.  They're so ridiculously quick to crop, it'd be good to get some more in the ground ASAP.
  • Must investigate what's actually inside those funky little chick-pea pods.  Are they ready to harvest, or not?  I have no idea…
  • Blueberries are actually starting to ripen.  Ye gods, but they're slow!

52) Sustainability Sundays: the very quick edition

OK, so it's only a few days since my last post on this topic, but let's get back on track with the days, hmm?

 
1.
Plant Something –
   
No new seeds have hit soil, but I have planted out dwarf peas, bush beans and soya bean plants this weekend, along with beetroot and other brassica seedlings.  I don't like planting out when it's so hot and dry, but it's long overdue for these plants anyway, so they're going to have to live with it!  – or not. 

   I've also had another quick scan through the seed box and arranged it for the next few weeks, so the after-midsummer planting can commence next week…

 

2. Harvest something –

  • Raspberries
  • The last few mange tout.  I might get a few more pods off these plants, but they're basically Done, baby.  I expect to be pulling them out next week…
  • The first of the broad beans!

3.
Preserve something

     Nothing this week.

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

     Just the usual –
composting etc.

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)~

    
Nothing this week!

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it

7. Eat the Food

  • Raspberries and yoghurt on my breakfast
  • Broad beans, straight from teh pod.  Nom!

8.What I bought

  • Bread.

9. Looking forwards

  • Beetroots are looking very healthy and getting to a good size; start
    eating the greens!
  • Broad beans harvest
    will ramp up during the week;
  • Harvest seed peas and pull up the old plants
  • Raspberries will be harvestable over the next week or so
  • Aubergines are flowering!
  • Tomatoes are abundant, but still green.  Must remember to feed them, and keep an eye out.
  • Peppers are starting to set fruit!

51) Sustainability Sundays: the very late edition

Over a week and a half late!  I've been more than fully booked for both days of both the past two weekends.  I've had an awesome time, but the blogging has definitely suffered for it; I have so much to catch up on!  I keep taking photographs of the garden, but they're out of date by the time I get them uploaded and/or the blog post written.

Before I start this post, I should mention that Geodyne has also started doing these posts.  She's far more committed, hardcore, organised and invested in this stuff than I am, so if you're enjoying my gardening exploits, you really should check hers out!  She's also adding another section to her reports: things she bought which she *could* have provided for herself.  I think that's a great idea, so I'm going to add on the same, and yet another section, too – looking forwards.  I'm aware that the garden is about to start its really productive season, and also that I do best when I'm working to a pre-prepared plan, so I'm going to list my thoughts about the week (or, in this case, four days) ahead.

 
1.
Plant Something –
   
Nothing in the last two weeks!   Mostly lack of organisation here, I think.

 

2. Harvest something –

    Loads!

  •   Strawberries (and the first few raspberries):

DSC04869

  • Mange tout (I think these are just about finished now.  I've let a few pods develop fully for next year's seed, so fingers crossed that works out).
  • Garlic scapes

DSC04864

  • Broccoli (I'm particularly smug about this, because last year, caterpillars got the lot):

DSC04882

  • Spinach beet
  • Various herbs
  • The very first of the new potatoes

3.
Preserve something

  • Mange tout blanched and frozen
  • Greens sauteed and frozen

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)
     Just the usual – composting etc.

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)~

    
Nothing this week!

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it

7. Eat the Food

  • Strawberries and yoghurt on my breakfast
  • Broccoli!
  • New potatoes
  • Sauteed greens on pizza (with blue cheese, walnuts and egg.  Fabulous!)
  • The garlic scapes became garlic scape butter.  This made an awesome garlic bread thing (although J did ask if it was broccoli pizza!), and last night was also used to pan-fry some thin-cut pork chops, which I finished with lemon juice and black pepper, and which were totally delicious with our first new potatoes.

8.What I bought

  • Green beans.  My pole beans aren't producing yet, but the bush beans (which went in later!) are starting.  I think I'd have been able to pick fresh green beans this week, if I'd started the bushes earlier.
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Broccoli. We've harvested enough for about one meal for one person so far; we eat way more than that!
  • Mushrooms.  My mushroom growing experiments haven't really worked out so far; more investigation required.

9. Looking forwards

  • Beetroots are looking very healthy and getting to a good size; start eating the greens!
  • Broad beans are growing fat and the first should be ready to harvest within the week;
  • Soy beans, dwarf peas and the next round of bush beans **really** need planting out.
  • I need to review the seed box and start planting for the next section of the year, now that midsummer is past.

48) Sustainability Sundays: the ‘Want Not’ edition

Very little has happened on the sustainability front this week.  It's been a strange, long, busy week, and I seem not to have stopped.  Last Saturday, Leigh asked commenters to consider what (and how!) they would eat if the electricity went out over the whole region for three days straight.  As well as no electricity in your home, that means no buying anything from the shops – they can't open with out power.  Parts of my answer ran thusly:

I'm lucky: my cooker (both hob and oven) is gas,
so I could cook. If the mains gas gave out too, we have
bottled gas and charcoal for two different bbqs.
I keep a
rolling pantry of dried and canned (shop-bought) goods, and the freezer
is pretty well stocked.  The
things that would cause problems are:

  • milk, which is the thing I'm
    most likely to buy midweek.
  • the microwave, which I use to cook some
    veggies and to defrost things.

The
freezer will keep food safe, if left closed, for at least 24 hours; the fridge, less so. Asuming you don't know how long the power would be out, my strategy would be:

  • use room-temperature goods for the
    first day, to maintain the fridge/freezer temperature as low as possible for as long as possible;
  • cook/preserve what I can from the fridge on the second day;
  • ditto
    the freezer on the third day/late on the second

It would be
important to start using the fridged/frozen stuff in preference to the
dried goods once it became clear we were in it for more than 24 hours; I
have no canning apparatus, and have never canned, so use up what will
go off, and don't eat too much of the things that will keep!

What
could I change to be more prepared?

  • buy and freeze milk. It's not
    an essential in our diets, but it's certainly nice to have (and works
    like an ice block to keep things cold without power, too)
  • get a canner and learn to use it.
  • the microwave's not really a problem;
    just a case of forward planning and other methods.

On a side note, I'd hate to be without my dishwasher again!  I've become really used to not having to perform that particular chore…

1. Plant Something –
   
Nothing this week!

2. Harvest something –

Mange tout

3.
Preserve something

     Nothing this week!

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Re-using 'grey' water from the kitchen
  • Composting vegetable peelings
  • Net the strawberries

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)~

     Nothing this week!

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it

7. Eat the Food

  • Yoghurt on my breakfasts
  • Mange tout

43) Sustainability Sundays: the ‘Harvest Something’ edition

Wow!  Back to Sunday again already.  Dammit, I'm so not ready for another week of work; weekends are way more fun.

anyway, I thought I might beef up the Sustainability Sunday posts by adding in a few ramblings about the things I find difficult, or fun, or particularly important, or just interesting about each point, in turn.  This week, it's been all about 'harvest something'.

I haven't harvested much this week.  I could have harvested salad greens, but, in all honesty, I had some left over from the organic veg. box the week before, and I didn't want to harvest stuff that would just 'go off'.  The result?

DSC04792

My rocket, and some of the other greens, have bolted (aka flowered, or gone to seed).  This is partly due to the hot spells we've been having, but cutting it back would have helped enormously.  It's still mostly edible, but tougher, more bitter, (less fun!) than it would have been – and the odds are that even if I cut it back, the plants will now die back, instead of remaining as wonderful little cut-and-come-again larders just waiting to be used.

The point is that if I'd harvested, I would have gotten more, even if this lot went off in the fridge, than if I didn't harvest.

Peas (including my mange tout) are the same.  If a pea plant feels it has successfully made seed (i.e. peas!) to ensure the success of the next generation, it will stop working so hard.  That's why (flowering) sweet pea plants work best if you keep picking the flowers.  So this year, I'm picking off the mange tout when they are the Right Size, even if there isn't enough for a meal yet.  There will be more along soon enough, and they keep for a few days in the fridge.  Even if there weren't any more right now, I could use the picked ones as part of a mixed veg side dish, or in a stir fry.

My other weakness with harvesting is greed.  I tend to leave everything on the plant just a little too long, so it will get bigger.  What really happens is that mange tout get stringy, squash get tough, tomatoes drop, and soft fruit gets eaten by birds.  The moral of the story?  Pick it when it's ready, even if you don't want to use it yet.

1. Plant Something –
Loads this week! 

  • dwarf peas, soy beans, bush beans (all late, but hoping to extend the cropping season)
  • broccoli, kohl rabi, beetroot, rapa senza testa (successional stuff)
  • komatsuna (Japanese kale – a new variety for me!)
  • carrots (late again – somethign got the first batch)
  • various herbs

2. Harvest something –

  • Mange tout

3.
Preserve something

     Nothing this week!

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Used Pampas grass flower stalks and actimel pots(!) to build a frame for the blueberry bush net
  • Re-using 'grey' water from the kitchen
  • Composting vegetable peelings
  • Straw-mulch the strawberries (cos feeding strawberries to slugs is
    wasteful)
  • Net the blueberries (cos feeding blueberries to birds is
    wasteful)
DSC04794

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

  • Bought and froze marked-down meat at the co-op
  • Bottled and re-started kombucha system

6.
Build/support Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it
  • Buying from the local butcher – with an awesome discussion/rant on animal welfare, buying local, and assorted other topics.

7. Eat the Food

  • Yoghurt on my breakfasts
  • Mange tout

39) Sustainability Sundays, the yoghurt edition

It's been an interesting week in the garden; the successional planting plan has thrown up an unusual gap, and although lots of things are just about ready to harvest (especially the mange tout, which are flourishing), nothing has been quite there.

Instead, this week has been all about yoghurt.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned making my own, but apparently I didn't make it clear quite how *easy* the Easi-yo system makes it. Seriously – if you use the Easiyo packets, the procedure is something like:

  1. Put yoghurt mix and cold water into yoghurt pot, and
    shake well
    .
  2. Pour boiling water into incubator.
  3. Put yoghurt pot into incubator.  Leave for 8-9 hours.
  4. Refrigerate yoghurt.

Notice that you don't have to plug the incubator in to anything, or mess about with thermometers or anything else; water is 'cold' or 'boiling', and It Just Works.

If you want to use milk and a yoghurt culture, then you replace step 1 with:

1a. Heat milk to just below boiling
1b. Cool milk to around room temperature
1c. Add yoghurt culture and mix well.

Then, you just pick right up from step 2 in the other method.  It's really that simple.  And tasty.  The only things you have to pay attention to are making sure that the cooled milk is cool enough not to kill the culture, and not letting the milk boil over whilst you heat it (because that is *stinky*).

1. Plant Something –
No seeds have hit the soil this week, but I have been planting out some seedlings, particularly:

  • cauliflower and cabbage seedlings
  • herbs
  • amaranth seedlings

2. Harvest something –
Nothing this week!

3.
Preserve something

  • Excess milk made into yoghurt

4.
Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Mashed and froze over-ripe bananas (great for smoothies, even better for cake!)
  • Re-using 'grey' water from the kitchen
  • Composting vegetable peelings

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

  • Bought and froze marked-down meat at the co-op
  • Bottled and re-started kombucha system

6.
Build Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it
  • Teaching friends to make their own yohurt.

7. Eat the Food

  • Yoghurt on my breakfasts
  • salad greens
  • Yoghurt cheesecake!