An update on the garden

My goodness, my garden has been good to me this summer!

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I am more and more grateful every day for the lovely patch of land we inhabit. From giving us a space to meet family in the early days of lockdown easing, to feeding us delicious fruits and vegetables, and drying the constant stream of laundry which comes out of my house daily, the garden has nourished us.

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I’ve done my best not to waste a single gift I’ve been given. The beetroot has been pickled for winter – a sweet and tangy accent to hearty stews and stovies. The leafs have been saved for salads and a soup I’ve taken to calling ‘summer borscht’ – a mix of potatoes and beetroot leafs.

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The wilds have been fruitful too – mushrooms and berries aplenty. We’ve supped on blaeberries gathered from a woodland carpeted in plants dripping with fruit, and on peppery chanterelles, buried like gold.

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I’ve dried camomile, fennel and lovage in the sunlight that streams through the car windscreen – an impromptu dehydrator that we’re so lucky to have.

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And the peas and courgettes keep coming – dressed in fine summer mint, they make every meal feel like a treat.

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And the salads! They look like sunshine on a plate, sprinkled with petals and agate-slices of radish.

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We’ve even had hazy elderflower cordial and blackcurrant schnapps from our wonderful trees and fruit bushes.

I’m not naive enough to believe that we could feed ourselves entirely from the garden – we’ve had help from an incredible Community Supported Agriculture farm a few villages over. If you’ve not looked into this scheme near you, I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. It has totally changed the way we eat, building our meals around vegetables we’d never used before. The farm near us make YouTube videos about what they’re planting and how they’re doing it, so even my beige-food-loving child is excited to eat the things ‘seen on TV’.

My next step is to start looking into ways I can be good to my garden. I’m already composting everything I possibly can – the next step is to use this as mulch and put it to good use. Other than that, my main aims are to try and remove as much of the rosebay willow herb as I can, and to address the black spot that’s involved itself with my roses.

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…and the mystery spots on the gooseberry bush…

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…and the spots on the crab apple…

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… and finally the rather tragic pear tree…

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I hope I can find out what these issues are – I would love to be able to save these plants!

If you have any suggestions, I’d be really keen to hear them!

Beans, beans…

At the beginning of the pandemic, the panic-buying highlighted issues in our food supply chain. In response, there were so many posts online about self-sufficieny.

Whilst I’m sure most of these were well-intentioned, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that people who’ve never attempted gardening before could support themselves completely. That said, there are lots of awesome things you can do to supplement your food shopping with delicious home-grown vegetables, even if you just have a windowsill.

Before I start, I just want to say – I’m not a gardener. This is the first year we’ve tried harvesting more than some herbs, perennial fruit,  and what we can forage. We built the raised beds last November – prior to the pandemic – and have tried to fill them as best we can this season, using what we had on hand (as seeds and seedlings were hard to come by).

So, without further ado, here are the things we grew from the store cupboard.

Garlic

By putting a bulb of garlic in the fridge for a few weeks, and then planting the individual segments, we managed to start 2 rows of healthy garlic plants. When the plants start to wilt a little, I’ll cut the leaves, chop them and freeze them for a milder garlic taste that I can add to stir-fry etc. Then I’ll let the bulbs dry and store them somewhere dark, and cool, and dry.

Corriander

I have a large stash of herbs and spices, and basically anything called ‘seeds’ are exactly that (which took me far too long to realise!). I’ve been growing corriander seeds on the window ledge in the kitchen for months now and they’re doing really well.

Peas

The peas that I grow are from a packet of dried store-cupboard peas, gifted to us in the early 2010s by Husband’s Norwegian colleauge when she moved back to Norway. I couldn’t think of a way to use dried peas that anyone would actually eat, and my eldest was going through a phase of planting things so I let nature take its course with that one…. and got the most wonderful, prolific pea plants I’ve ever come across. I’ve been growing from them ever since, and even though they’re now (at least) ten years old, they still reliably germinate. In short, don’t overlook dried legumes – they’re a wonderful way to plant from your kitchen.

Beans

This one was actually a little mind-blowing (to me, because I’m a numbers nerd)…

A pack of beansprouts at Tesco (correct at the time of writing) costs 70p for 300g, or £2.34 per kilo.

You can buy a bag of dried beans for £2.25 a kilo (already slightly cheaper than the sprouted counterpart).

To sprout beans yourself, all you need is a jar, some cloth, an elastic band, and some water (and some beans, obviously). To be honest, the cloth and the band aren’t 100% necessary either.

Cover the bottom of your jar in beans. What you can see above is around 25-50g, or between 7-11p worth of beans.

Soak them in water for around an hour…

Fix the cloth onto the top of the jar with the elastic band, use it as a seive to remove the excess water and place on the window ledge.

After 24 hours, I could see the start of germination. I added a little more water…

After 48 hours, they looked like this.

After a week, they looked like the picture above! It’s amazing how they can go from just covering the bottom of the jar to filling it.

At this point, just as the first leaves are forming, I normally put the jar in the fridge. This slows growth and make them keep for longer.

The finished sprouts weigh around 200g, which means that per kilo – if my maths is correct – they cost around 35-55p. That’s a lower price per kilo than for 300g of pre-sprouted beans.

If you can buy the beans from a refillery – which I’m lucky to be able to – this results in zero waste sprouts. I use them as a base for winter salads, as texture in summer salads, in stir-frys, and on sandwiches. If you’re meal-planning anyway, it’s very little extra effort to put some ‘beans on to sprout’, and potentially save yourself a few pennies and a plastic carrier.

Even if you can’t buy the dried beans free from plastic, you’re still saving a lot of packaging from landfill. Let’s say – for the sake of easy numbers – that you sprout 50g of beans a time. This means that the 1kg back of beans will give you 20 sproutings. Each sprouting will give you around 250g (I’m saying 250g for easy maths, plus I’ve used the large example of 50g so the resulting sprouts will be slightly heavier). So that’s 20×250=5000g, or 5kg. The equivalent 300g packs of pre-sprouted beans would come in 16.6 plastic bags.

That’s effectively 15-16 plastic bags that you’ve saved from landfill, depending on whether you bought the dried beans loose or packaged.

Hhmmm… I got excited about beans there…

Moving on.

Brocolli & spring onions

Something to bear in mind while storing brocolli and spring onions:

Putting the stem of brocolli in water whilst in the fridge will keep it fresh for far longer. It is the flower of the plant, and needs treating as you would any cut flower.

Spring onions, meanwhile, usually have their roots which means they can effectively be used as ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables. All you need to do is pop them in a glass with water on your window ledge, then when you need some, cut down to the leaves, stopping as the colour begins to change to white.

I’ve heard you can do the same thing with leeks, but I’ve never tried it. They don’t last that long in my house. I’m a big lover of leeks…

Regrow?

Finally, I thought I would touch on those videos that seem to be everywhere just now, implying that you can regrow all sorts of things from food scraps. I’ve heard that lots of the ideas don’t work, so I thought I’d test them by putting a lettuce nub in the ground… I’ll let you know how that pans out…

Don’t be discouraged, though. In the past, I’ve had great success as a result of Plants from Pips – specifically with avocado stones.

And that’s all, really.

Have you tried growing anything from kitchen scraps and seeds? I’d love to hear about any successes, either here or on Twitter.

Update on the carrots…

You might remember me planting carrots a few weeks ago? I used some snotty looking gel to try and speed up the process somewhat, so I thought I would report back on how that had worked out…

Well, both the kitchen-roll method and the gel method worked wonderfully and both patches of carrots sprouted at the same time! The big difference is that it took three weeks of patience for the kitchen-roll carrots, whilst the gel seeds took fewer than 7 days to germinate. The gel and soaking really does speed things up…

That said, I think that I possibly suspended too high a concentration of carrot seeds in the gel. The little seedlings poking up are still very tightly packed.

You can just about see the little green shoots amongst the onions in the picture above.

The point of the gel method was to speed up the rate of germination, and to avoid wasting the tiny, precious seeds by planting them all and then needing to thin them out. I think if I had used more gel/fewer seeds and planted over a larger area then I would have had a lot more success with the planting.

In contrast, the picture above is the little seedlings, happily spaced from having been carefully laid out on kitchen roll. A slower start, sure, but one which results in a lot less wastage.

The gel method did nothing for the root parsley, incidentally. It’s either not going to make an appearance, or it is taking far longer than anticipated.

Behind the kitchen-roll carrots, you can see some giant daikon radishes – something that a lot of our cookery books call for but which you can’t readily buy in rural Aberdeenshire (a region once described to me as, ‘the place good food goes to die slowly’.) Behind that, you can just about make out some wisps of fennel, whilst garlic and chives are hiding towards the back. To the right, you can see the ghost of a courgette plant, stunted by some mid-May snow!  We’d been gifted the seeds at Christmas as we had expected to have a greenhouse by now, but as we haven’t had any luck in sourcing one, the courgettes were a gamble for the cold, northern soil that doesn’t seem to have paid off.

The back garden is looking increasingly green, at long last. And true to form, the plants seem to have finally realised that we’ve entered spring and are merrily growing now. Lettuces and radishes make up the first half of the closest raised bed…

Onions and carrots are next in line, then potatoes and tentative celery…

And finally there are the peas and basiccas, asparagus and beetroot.

I don’t know how all of this will work out – whether we’ll get anything worth eating, but it has been an absolute joy to watch all of these things grow and flourish, despite the strange weather.

The mystery trees from Freecycle have all grown their seasonal foliage now – all are rowan, except for the beech and holly. The holly doesn’t seem to be doing particularly well, though, and will perhaps end up being replaced by a second rosemary bush, the first having been planted a little further back in the same row.

At the front of the property, we’ve let the grass grow long – better for pollinators and small children.

The enormous branch was gifted by the farm as firewood, but the children love playing on it so much that we haven’t cut it up yet. You can also see the den they made, and the log planter in the foreground.

The herbs and flowers in the planters are growing well. I know that I’ll have to move a lot of the plants as they grow and take up increasing aounts of space, but for now, they all fit in nicely.

This is the second planter – it contains parsley and chervil, and some edible flowers from a selection of seeds we got for Christmas.

I’m also trying to reduce the number of weeds that I can’t use, by introducing weeds that I can. In the pot with the rose above, I’ve scattered camomile seeds…

And though my tea plant didn’t make it through the winter, the rocket I scattered at the base seems to be doing well.

in the back garden, up by the apple tree, there is a stump from a sycamore which had succumb to the giant polypore fungus. Too large to move, we decided to make a feature of it. If all goes to plan, these little bean plants will climb up the sides to the netting and create a lovely little leafy den on top of the stump – a perfect spot for summer reading!

We tend to be a little late to the party in Scotland, but here are some of the beautiful flowers, finally making an appearance as we march towards June…

Did you plant anything this year? How are you getting on with it? I bet your veg is further along than mine!

 

 

Carrots

I’m trying to grow some carrots this year, which I’ve been told can be difficult. I thought that as I have two different varieties (because a. I got excited, and b. I don’t know what I’m doing), that I would try growing them in different ways. This isn’t going to help me determine which method works best, or which variety suits our climate best, because there are too many variables for this to be a proper experiment, but it will let me try out a load of different things – which is excellent (see points a & b, above).

So, method one… The lady at the seed library advised wetting a sheet of kitchen roll, spacing the seeds on it and then covering the sheet of kitchen roll with a very fine layer of compost (just enough to hold it down). I have tried this with some yellow carrot seeds which I got from the seed library but there’s no signs of life yet.

But I still have some left, so I thought I would also try….

Method two… Which is a lot more involved, but oddly, seems far simpler. I basically watched this turorial and decided to try pre-soaking the seeds, then suspending them in a cornflour gel for easy distribution in the raised bed. This method was extra-welcome, because it meant I could make excess cornflour gel and let my small tag-along play with this while I did garden work.

And just because ‘why not’, I thought I would try sowing my root parsley seeds in the same way too.

First of all, you soak the seeds in water until you see the tiniest tip of a root showing, then you drain the water off and suspend the lot in the cornflour gel (see tutorial link above for gel recipe).

As to where I’m planting – I decided to plant my carrots in the same bed as my onions because I’d read that planting the two together works really well, and I decided to put the root parsley with the chives and garlic. I read somewhere once (specific, I know!) that carrots and parsnips should be kept seperate and whilst I know root parsley isn’t parsnips, I didn’t want to risk it. Root parsley is one of the husband’s favourite vegetables and as we haven’t been able to buy it anywhere, growing it is the only option. I usually get the seeds from Real Seeds, but due to the Covid 19 outbreak, the daily buying window for the site is too short and I had to buy on eBay instead.

But I digress…

The gel was really easy to make, though I feel like I should reiterate that you need it to cool before using it. If you don’t, you risk cooking your seeds before you get them in the mud. And obviously, this method uses a plastic bag as a dispenser, but there’s nothing to say that you need to use a brand new freezer bag for this – reused packagaing works just as well, it transpires.

Above is a picture of the seeds supsended in the gel. It looks… snotty…

Out in the raised beds, I lay a bamboo cane on the soil and pushed it in so I would get a line to squish the gel into. As you can see, I’m planting the carrots with the onions. The onion on the bottom right is a shop-bought one that started sprouting in the cupboard so I thought I would put it in the mud to see what happened… technical stuff…

Over in the other bed, I did the same thing with the root parsley seeds.

The next few days have rain forecast, so hopefully I won’t have to do too much watering to keep these guys from drying out.

I will send an update when I have one! Cross fingers for me!

Seed Library

THE EVENTS DETAILED IN THIS POST HAPPENED BEFORE THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS. THE MARKET IN QUESTION OCCURRED ON MARCH 7TH 2020, PRIOR TO MORE STRINGENT MEASURES TO CONTAIN THE COVID 19 VIRUS. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND.

Once a month, our little town hosts a market in the square.

I would love it if it could be weekly so I could do the bulk of my shopping there – stalls include local cheese makers, fish mongers, apiarists, pasta-makers, game butchers, vegetable growers and bakers. It’s everything a shopping experience should be – meeting neighbours and friends for a chat amongst the stalls, fresh air, local produce…

The absolutely incredible people from Deveron Projects were there too, on this occasion. And they were setting up a community seed library! The basic premise is thus; if you take seeds from the library, you have a go at growing them and then nom all the lovely food. And you return the same number of seed packets as you put in. It doesn’t have to be the same seeds – so, for example, if your crop of peas failed spectacularly because you got over excited and planted them out too early, you would be fine to send back an envelope of something else. Like rocket… just as an example…

Anyway, deeply enthused, I took home some ‘Dazzling Blue’ Kale and some ‘Jaune Obtuse De Doubs’ yellow carrots – both by Real Seeds – as well as some fine curled chervil, donated by a local.

In addition to the seed library, the group also run a community orchard and have operatd a swap shop for the past few years. But Deveron Projects isn’t the only wonderful initiative running in the town. There is also a community owned bookshop which is manned entirely by volunteers. And I could talk for hours about the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) project that is Tap O’ Noth farm, so don’t even get me started on the amazing work by Ellie and Martyn at the Ethical Gift Shop.

When I look at the amazing work that’s going on around me, I can’t help but feel hope for what’s coming next. If all of this is happening in the tiny town of Huntly, the thought of what’s afoot in the rest of the country helps to remind me that there are good people doing good work in spite of a system designed to favour consumerism.

Do you know of any amazing community centred ideas in your area? Are you a part of any? I would absolutely love to hear about your adventures! As ever, get in touch here, or on Twitter.

The Garden

I touched on our plans for the garden a long while back, whilst chatting about my kitchen. Since then, we’ve been busy scheming, and now that the new year is on us, it’s time to get to work.

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Using Allotment Month by Month, by Alan Buckingham as our main source of information, I sat down one night and tried to make a month by month plan of what we could realistically achieve within a year as total novices.

Hardback cover of Allotment Month by Month

Then yesterday, with help from our absolutely amazing neighbours at the farm, work began.

Firstly, the conifer hedge at the back of the property came out. I’m not normally one for removing trees, but I’m going to call this one a win – the maintainence of this border was getting increasingly difficult given the trees’ height, it was interfering with the farm’s electric fencing, and now it’s gone, I can plant a variety of native trees and bushes which will flower and provide food for us and various wildlife.

The plan so far is to purchase a ‘Scottish Mix’ of trees from the Woodland Trust.  This includes a holly, a rowan, a silver birch and a juniper. I had also hopes to plant a yew, however it’s potentially unsafe for grazing animals on account of the apparently toxic alkaloids in the foliage and seed-coats (if anyone knows more about this, I would love to hear from you – I’m just reading things online!) so for now, the yew will have to go on hold.

Without the constant maintainence of the hedge to worry about, we can devote our time outdoors to raised beds, which is precisely what we intend to do. Husband planned and built the containers from a mixture of scrap wood and new, treated timber, and we have – so far – filled them with a mixture of shredded branches and rotted manure from the farm up the track.

The next stage – roll on pay day! – will be buying some (peat free) compost as the top layer and planting all manner of exciting things. Because of the chippings and the manure, I shouldn’t need to bring in an awful lot of compost. Eventually, I hope we’ll be able to keep topping this up with our own from the compost bins we’ve managed to source but for now, I’ll be prioritising large sacks and recyclable plastic.

In addition to the compost bins, I hope to purchase a wormery so that the cooked food waste and dog poop can also be processed here – less to transport off site on bin-day. Obviously, you can’t use the resulting soil on food beds (because dog poop), but I’m sure this new earth would be welcome beneath the little bee-buffet I’m trying to cultivate around our deck.

At some point, we absolutely want to get a greenhouse, but as with so many other things, money is a (huge) factor. I think, to begin with, we’ll see how we go with the raised beds and assess the greenhouse situation after that, but given the climate in the north east of Scotland, in all liklihood, we’ll need glass to grow anything beyond potatoes…

I will keep you updated on our progress over the coming months. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that what I’m doing here is far from a tutorial – we have absolutely no idea what we are doing! – so please don’t copy me! In fact, feel free to comment with ways we can up our gardening game to avoid complete failure!

As ever, please feel free to get in touch below, or on Twitter, with ANY suggestions!

 

 

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips By Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell is a great little book which everyone in this house has greatly enjoyed.

Not technically an ‘eco’ book, but definitely worthy of mention for so many reasons, this little tome is a wealth of information regarding regrowing plants from the seeds in our foods.

My mum originally gifted it to my children with a view to helping them learn where their food comes from, but it’s also a great way to produce food from what is largely considered waste -imagine  homemade compost, growing seeds we would otherwise throw out, planted in recycled containers, all producing delicious things to eat with zero food miles? It doesn’t get much better than that, really. And don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions that my growing army of house plants are going to somehow tip the carbon scales back in our favour, but they’re definitely not hurting! Imagine if everyone who ate an apple planted the pips – the world would be a vastly different place…

The instructions in here are clear, concise and accurate. So far, 4/5 of avocado pips we’ve planted have resulted in fledgling trees and we’re all delighted. My youngest is so taken with the idea that he’s even started coming home from nursery with carefully gathered kiwi seeds from his afternoon snack…

There’s not a huge amount more to say about the book – in short, if you can get hold of a copy then do. It’s pretty, it’s accurate, the instructions yield results even when undertaken by two under-tens and an adult with a genetic pre-disposition to destroy plants by looking at them… you can’t really ask for more, can you?

Have you tried planting any seeds from your supermarket vegetables? Did you have any success? I’d love to hear about your results – avocado or otherwise!