Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grow what you eat? or eat what you grow?

Urban self sufficiency is a myth.
We know this, right?
There are other phrases like 'self reliance' that help to diffuse the futility of my endeavours but really, the truth of the matter is that I will never produce more than a fraction of what my family consumes.

I am very lucky in that I have an allotment.
For those of you who hail from outside the UK (especially that someone who logs in regularly from Latvia....I would love to know who you are!) an allotment is a piece of land, rented from the local council, specifically for growing your own family's food.
This is mine.....
The dead grass on the left is someone else's allotment...the green grass on the right is the communal border....only the middle, cultivated section is mine.  
Allotments hark back to the industrial revolution when masses of country folk were needed to move from rural areas to the cities in order to work the mills and factories. The laws that gave poor people the right to rent a small plot of arable land remain but sadly, many of the allocated spaces do not and there are often long waiting lists.
So, where was I?
I am lucky to have an allotment and a garden. My garden is about 24 feet x 48 feet.
All of this means that I have quite a lot of growing space by London standards, and I can keep a few hens and beehive (but don't tell the authorities because neither are allowed!)

Yet despite my good fortune, if I want tomato or cucumber on my summer salad I must go and buy them because try as I might, I cannot get one to ripen before September.
I don't have room to grow wheat for bread or to make pasta (we eat a LOT of pasta).
There is nowhere near here to fish or hunt (well, you can fish but you have to throw them back and I don't really see the point)
Yesterday, I composted all twenty cape gooseberry plants which were laden with small, green fruit too late ever to reach yellow gorgeousness. 
And let's face it. London is just not the place to grow a mango.
I'm not sure life is worth living without the odd perfectly ripe mango!

We are self sufficient in eggs......but only in the summer months!
 This is entirely my own fault.
We choose our hens 
according to how pretty
they are, how friendly 
and how much damage
they do while free ranging.
So we've ended
up with a flock of fancy 
bantams instead of
year round layer

We're self sufficient in courgettes and winter squash. Impressive huh? Except that we never ate them before I grew them....and I only grew them because they were easy! Then, halfway through my first season and peering out from beneath a courgette mountain, I realised I needed a way to persuade my kids to eat the blimmin' things and so set about learning ways to cook them.

Perhaps this is the answer!
Should we alter our diet to reflect what we can grow?
I've successfully reconditioned my children to think that summer isn't summer without courgette fritters.
Broad bean hoummus and runner bean falafels (so long as no-one knew that's what they were) went down a storm.
Maybe I should convince myself that cucumber and tomatoes are no good in salad....and should only be pickled or canned for winter....nah! it's never gonna work.
I'm always going need the supermarket! 

Monday, November 01, 2010

A birthday, five pumpkins and a Unicorn cake!

The weather is getting cold and squally, the thick clay at the plot has turned to claggy, clinging mud and I am having a very busy week!
Little flower turned eight on Thursday.
I really didn't fancy a house full of squealing little girls so the week before I had suggested that she choose a friend to take to the cinema instead of having a party this year. So what if the pictures is really expensive? (the tickets alone cost £60 quid!!) It would be worth it for the peace and quiet.

Little flower seemed thrilled at this idea (which should have set off alarm bells in my head) and pootled off to make a shortlist.
The following day she confessed that, unable to choose, she had invited two friends.
The day after that, Wurzel admitted to inviting a third (via her parents) and two more to come round for tea!

 So it was that I ended up with a house full of squealing girls after all!
My mum made this amazing Unicorn cake at short notice and Wurzel rushed to the shops on his motorbike and bought all kinds of nasty junkfood for the squealing girls to eat.
And Little flower had a wonderful birthday....in fact, she wants exactly the same thing next year.

 The following day I set off to buy pumpkins for Halloween.
I am a little embarrassed to admit that my winter squash harvest didn't run to Halloween carvers but with Tescos selling at 50p each it seemed a shame to cut into the plot ones.
Blimey! look at the state of my back room!
I'm embarrassed about that anorl!

 Anyway....moving swiftly on! Wurzel's mum recently returned from a trip to Canada and brought home a book of pumpkin designs that we just had to try!

 Okay, I admit that we may have got a bit carried away!
But at 50p each I figured that five wasn't excessive.
 And they looked fantastic!

We made a huge spiced pumpkin cake (in a roasting tray) a massive stockpot of pumpkin soup and enough toasted pumpkin seeds to last until next Halloween!
There's still enough purée left for cookies and pumpkin pie!

Happy Halloween blogland!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

If I was a pioneer, I'd have starved by now...

 My potato harvest was, once again, truly pathetic!
This is the haul from eight plants.
I went to the potato fair in February and bought fancy, pretty seed potatoes in vibrant pinks, blues and mauves. Heirloom varieties that almost went extinct.
What they don't tell you is that there's a reason for that.
They're primadonna types, high maintenance and low yielding....suitable for those old geezers that fuss and nurture, not 'bung it in and hope' merchants like me!
Please someone remind me of this next February? Urge me towards the boring, bombproof varieties so that I don't find myself gracing the aisles of Tescos next November.

I have spent far too much time lately in waiting rooms.
This is, I suppose, an inescapable part of motherhood when your child has Down's syndrome (well, I say 'child'....Willow is actually 22).
But still, the enforced inactivity of endless waiting in hospital corridors irritates me at this time of year when there is so much to be done at the plot.
So I have embarked on a new project, one that is portable and convenient. 
I'm making a quilt!
I started by cutting out lots of two inch high triangles from scrap paper and junk mail.
This is the only measuring involved because I'm rubbish at it!

Then I take some triangles and some scraps of fabric, a needle and thread with me to the hospital.

While I wait I roughly tack the material to the triangle.

It's really easy, no concentration or  measuring required!

Over the last couple of weeks I've amassed quite a collection.

I especially love the 'cow' fabric and the apples. 
The red gingham is left over from little flower's school summer dresses, the flowery from the wendy house curtains and the stripes from where I took up the legs of Willow's pyjamas!

When I get home I sew the triangles together in random order before pulling out the tacking and removing the paper to use again.

I really like the way it's turning out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alien vomit!!!

There is something freaky up at the plot....
weird dollops of gooey, icky stuff are appearing all over the grass! I have no idea what they are but my best guess would have to be ALIEN VOMIT!

 There are about twenty odd blobs of the stuff....but more appear each day untill most of the grass is covered....

 ....They appeared almost overnight, this happened at around the same time last year too....

 Eventually they turn a dirty yellow colour and crust over before disappearing as quickly as they came...
(cue 'twilight zone' music)

And while we're talking of weird blobs, I found these on a piece of wood...
I was tempted to open them to see what lurked inside but decided against because a) I didn't want to disturb any hibernating, aphid eating beasties and
b) because I'm a total chicken!

And on to more normal things.....
Now, I am  a lover of squash. I love squashes so much that my mum did me a portrait of one to hang in the living room! So last night the weather was a little chilly and I figured it was time to cut into the first squash of the season.                                                   
 I decided to use this rather splendid 'Turks Turban'.
I've not grown this type before and indeed this plant was a gift from my friend Dom.
Anyway, I thought it would make a lovely risotto for last night with enough left over to make a curry this evening.

But when I cut it in half I found that the seed cavity took up almost the whole thing!
The flesh is a beautiful colour and very dense and sweet but gawd save us! by the time I took out the seeds and the peel there was very little left!
Next year I'll just have to grow thousands of the buggers...you listening Dom? 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Season of mellow fruitfulness

John Keats called this the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' and that is the very best description of English autumn I have ever heard! Today my garden is bathed in glorious, golden sunlight. The chickens are happily free ranging while our old dog dozes and Wurzel is up a ladder harvesting the last bunches of grapes from atop the pergola.

I say the last of the grapes because we've been picking them for weeks now and there were so, so many! Little flower has taken a bunch to school each day, we've given great bowls full to family, friends and neighbours. I've juiced mountains of grapes to make jellys and jams.

and of course, I hardly need say,
there is a gallon of red wine bubbling away in the kitchen.

And Wurzel is out there, picking yet more! Even the chickens are growing weary of grapes now! (They are fickle those hens, shortly before the grapes ripened they had begun turning their little beaks up at cherry tomatoes!) and we will know soon whether there is enough for another gallon of wine.

I love this time of year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Okay, here goes....in alphabetical order

Allotment, we've moved to a beautiful new allotment site bordered on one side by ancient woodland and on the other by horse paddocks. In fact, our plot was used as horse grazing for 30 odd years before we got it...it's a little compacted but should be well fertilised. This picture is taken from the bottom of our plot, The car is up the top facing the horse paddock.

We've dug some long beds (it's real hard graft on compacted London clay) and erected a shed. We built a couple of raised beds for seedlings.
This year we've had pretty good crops of tomatoes, winter squashes, beetroot etc. Loads of strawberries and far too much chard!
Little flower, who loves horses to the point of obsession, comes plotterin' regularly and can sometimes be seen riding one of the horses bareback across the grass. Willow, being twenty two now, visits occasionally..... to sunbathe. Wurzel makes the odd appearance, under duress, to do any heavy jobs that I can't manage.

But I am there whenever life allows.

I am now the proud owner of one colony of bees. Can you see the terror on my face?

I worry for the honeybee. I feel I have a duty to support them. I was very responsible, I went and did the course...I allowed myself to be stung to prove I'm not allergic. I found a great spot to put them and saved up for all the gubbins you have buy (and there is a LOT to buy) but still, they scare the bejeezus out of me!

Little Flower on the other hand, is simply fascinated (she being the short beekeeper in the photo!)
Willow won't go within fifty feet of the hive and Wurzel, bless him, is my hero! Despite not having all the gear he happily trundles up to the hive with me and does whatever I ask.
I do plan to be a confident beekeeper one day. Just not as quickly as I'd hoped.

C is for Chickens! Guinny has now sadly left us for the chicken coop in the sky but Boudicca is still going strong and now shares the garden with Racey Lacey ( a little wyandotte with very frilly knickers) and three pekins, Millie, Buffy and Tiger Lily.
They are all completely bonkers!

Right. That's enough for now, I think I'm getting the hang of it....sort of.
I've spent forever trying to post images and arrange text....I'm going to publish and see if it's worked.
Wish me luck!


It's been a while since I was here....(a couple of years actually) I guess I was kind of distracted! I'm also something of a technophobe and when the powers that be started messing about and changing things I flounced off in a huff....as you do.
Anyway, I'm back now and as soon as I've figured all this new gadgetry out I'll have another go at blogging.