Posts tagged ‘vegetable gardening’

March 21, 2014

Book: The Ivington Diaries

Books about learning to garden can be a bit repetitive. After all, there’s only a handful of ways to sow seeds. Books on gardens, however, are wonderful. This example from Monty Don, has captured my attention and really made me want to learn more and visit more gardens to understand planting on a larger scale. It’s written as a year’s worth of diary entries, but with the years ranging over roughly a decade, so for example January 1st 1999 is followed by January 4th, 2004 and it’s utterly captivating.  Monty writes so engagingly he makes you want to walk around the acres of garden (sections have names;  spring garden, jewel garden, white garden) and take a peek into the potting sheds. He writes of practical matters, mulch being a favourite, and of the joy and artistry of creating a beautiful garden, not to mention the work that goes into creating such a garden from scratch and his words are accompanied by lush photography so you get a good overview of the different parts of the garden through the year.

The book format (even down to the paper and font choices), reminds me very much of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diary which is an absolute favourite book of mine, so if you liked that, imagine a similar book set in a garden, and you’ve gone some way towards capturing the feel of this book.

The garden in question is at his home, Ivington, where he and his family moved following the collapse of the family business and the death of his mother. The house they bought and the creation of the garden seems to have brought their lives back together and in his own words ‘rebuilt’ him.  He writes with such love, attention and humour and, because the book is written as short diary entries, it’s really easy to dip into and read whenever you’ve got a free minute. I really recommend it, and think it would be a wonderful gift for Mothering Sunday…

The Ivington Diaries

October 25, 2013

A month without supermarkets.

Last month, I had a bit of a meltdown in the local supermarket. I’ve written before on the paradox of choice and how, sometimes, when faced with too many options, I go into some kind of paralysis. When forced into a supermarket, I often find myself wandering aimlessly round  as though drugged, then like the proverbial deer in the headlights, standing in front of an entire aisle of soup, unable to drag myself away, nor make a decision about which to buy.

And that’s precisely the reason that I’m quitting them. That, and the knowledge that half the world doesn’t have enough to eat and the other half, well, me at least, is deliberating over what seems like an endless variety of food.The balance is quite clearly off and it makes me uncomfortable. I want to have a better feeling about my food than I do now.

So. What to do? Well, I’m about to move to a new area of Leeds which has an array of small independent shops. I’ve just started getting a weekly veg box delivery again. And I’m determined to make the most of my allotment produce. All of these things add up to one answer. Stop going to the supermarket. See what other suppliers are out there; the Leeds Bread Co-op that delivers locally, the farmers’ market, Leeds City Markets, Handpicked Food Hall, and a myriad of other folk. I want to know where my meat comes from, try raw milk, eat seasonally, cook more, meet the people who produce the food that I’m buying and eating. I don’t want to be that person that I become when I’m in the supermarket, making choices like a zombie. This isn’t about me being a ‘foodie’. I don’t really understand that term anyway; surely everyone who eats is a foodie? This is about making more sustainable choices, being comfortable with what I’m eating and enjoying myself. Fewer, better options feel better for me than the vast warehouse-style supermarkets that just make me uncomfortable.

It’s also not an exercise in deprivation. I’m no Jamie Oliver with his unthinking ‘ buy ten mangetout from the market’ type comments. I appreciate that this is going to take more time and is likely to cost more money. I also know how completely fortunate I am. Believe me, if I worked awkward shifts or had a very tight budget, I would stay in the supermarket, without question. I am grateful that I can make this decision.  I’m also hopeful that perhaps I’ll waste less food, use less packaging and appreciate what I’m buying, cooking and eating a bit more.

So, my statement of intent: For the whole of November I  will make sure I don’t step foot in a supermarket. I’m very hopeful that my lovely boyfriend will join me in this challenge. I think he will. As long as we find a decent beer shop! Who am I kidding, I shall need that too. At this moment in time I can only think of one problem. I need fishfingers. So, I need a non-supermarket place to buy or a great recipe to make fish-fingers. Otherwise my lovely, incredibly fussy, four year old boy will starve. Any ideas on that?

During the month, I’m going to blog about the places I find along the way. I’m also doing the Blog Every Day in November Challenge with Rosalilium, so November is going to be a busy old month on Margot & Barbara. If this month works out well, then the plan is to keep going to the end of 2013. And then, who knows. Can we get through the whole of 2014 without Tesco? Sounds good to me…

 

Bloggers: Fancy joining in? Let me know, and we can link up. 

Readers in Leeds, are there any places I should try? I’m thinking of independent food growers, producers, shops, markets etc. Let me know! 

September 4, 2013

Three Good Things: Week 7

Welcome to this week’s edition of Three Good Things! 

Here we go…

One: Hugh’s loo roll creations!

My first good thing this week is a rather special one. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will remember that last week, I posted photos of cardboard owls that I’d made with my kids out of loo roll inners. Later in the week, I got a tweet from the lovely Rachel (@textilesteacher) saying that her young son, Hugh, was busily rootling around in the recycling bin looking for loo roll tubes to make his own owls.

Then, a bit later, she tweeted me these photos! How wonderful. It really made me smile. One of the nicest things about blogging, and indeed, about Twitter is the sharing of joyful, uplifting things and making new friends. I LOVED that Hugh had been inspired to make his own owls, and then he went one better and made Despicable Me minions. This was a genuine highlight of my week. Thank you Hugh, for your wonderful creations, and thank you Rachel for sharing them with me.

Hugh's wonderful creations! (photos credit: @textilesteacher)

Hugh’s wonderful creations! (photos credit: @textilesteacher)

Two: My sweetcorn.

The second thing to make me very happy this week is my long-awaited sweetcorn! Last year, the birds treated themselves to a feast of it, and so I didn’t get any to eat, but this year it’s amazing. Big, plump kernals, all the way round well grown cobs. And all with the minimum of help from me!  It’s been a tricky year on my allotment this year (and I’ll share more about this with you in another post) but this is a lovely success.

Sweetcorn

Three: A special birthday card.

Three Good Things is about celebrating the small things in life that make everyday worth smiling about, and yet the third thing to make my list this week isn’t small at all. For the past few years I have sponsored a small boy in India called Kishan through Plan and it’s soon to be his birthday. And so my third good thing this week is a birthday card. Written by me, and containing some drawings by my children, it will be on the way to India now. That my children know about Kishan and why we send money to help support him, his family and local community, is really important to me, and without wishing to sound like a spoilt cliche, now that my children are getting a bit older I hope that it helps them to understand a bit more about the world, the people who live in it and how important it is to share with those less fortunate than themselves. Kishan (who is only seven) goes to school now, instead of having to work in the local textiles factory. If that’s not a good thing, then I don’t know what is.

What are your good things this week?

October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

It’s finally Halloween, though it feels as though we’ve been celebrating it here for about a fortnight already. The kids have been dressed up at every available opportunity and we’ve already celebrated at school, at the local sweet shop and on Primrose Valley with crafts from Wyke Beck Valley Pride, an environmental project happening locally.

But now is the day itself. Happily, we managed to grow a pumpkin to carve this year. It was supposed to be Atlantic Giant, the large orange ubiquitous pumpkin. Clearly, it is not orange. It’s not round either, but that might be because we rested it on something to keep it away from slug damage. I cannot decide if it looks like this because we did something wrong or if it was a rogue seed from a different pumpkin variety that found its way into the packet. Either way, it is suitably scary, and with a bit of imagination from my daughter and carving from my husband, it now looks like this…

I will be dressing as a Mexican sugar skull for our family party, so if you want to see what I look like,  follow my Instagram feed, because it’s sure to show up! I’m Margotbarbara on there too. If you’re celebrating Halloween, I hope you have a great time. If you’re not celebrating, I also wish you a lovely evening, and hope you’re not disturbed by pesky trick-or-treaters…

July 11, 2012

Allotment Gardening: A Fresh Start

I wrote last week about the struggle to keep our allotment going and my decision to ask my Mum to be our partner. This week was our first session on the site together.

The first thing Mum said once she’d agreed to help us was that we had to tidy the shed. Although my inner teenager rolled her eyes and prepared to stomp around about it, my outer adult agreed with her. This photo, taken once we’d got everything out of the shed, proves she was right. Never argue with my mother!

Note the really useful contents: A ride on car, our Christmas tree stand, an England flag and a roll of old carpet…

Clearing out the shed feels like a winter job really, but the weather this year has been so troublesome, and today felt distinctly autumnal anyway. Plus, the after photo shows that it’s actually tidy now and will be much more practical. No more wrestling with a tangle of netting every time I want to take a fork out of the shed! There is also now quite a lot of unused space in it that we can put to good use later on.

Once the shed had been sorted out, we spent a bit of time digging over an empty patch of the plot that should have been my flower cutting patch but has gone horribly wrong and then pulling up the onions. These have been in the ground a bit too long and so are enormous. I just hope they don’t rot.

After an hour’s worth of work we set off to the garden centre to pick up a few things and make plans for the autumn – although it feels early to be thinking of the next season, the summer has been a bit of a washout. Rather than focus on what has gone wrong, I prefer to look forward to what’s next. This feels like a bit of a fresh start for us all, and I’m more enthusiastic about the promise of the allotment than I have been for ages. Clearing out the shed, although in itself quite a dull job, felt like an announcement that we’re serious about it once again. Working with Mum was really companionable, because we get on so well and it was easy to see how much difference an extra pair of hands working with us regularly will make.

I’m excited to see what we will manage to produce over the next year. Needless to say my plans for the place have expanded in an enthusiastic fashion!

July 2, 2012

Allotment Gardening: A Change of Plans

This year my husband and I have really been struggling with the allotment. Despite best-laid plans and use of the Half Hour Allotment book, the combination of the weather and our other responsibilities has worked against us. The beans and peas have mysteriously disappeared, despite following exactly the same processes as last year (and protecting them in the same way) the apple set has been disappointing because of the rain and half of the plot is wildly out of control.

When we get the time to spend down there, instead of being ruthlessly efficient we stand around aimlessly trying to work out what job will make the most difference in the time we have available. It’s all a bit dispiriting. Instead of being a joyful experience, if I’m honest, it’s just becoming a bit stressful. Not that we haven’t been here before. When Eve was born ten weeks too soon, we spent a whole Winter sitting in a neonatal unit instead of sorting out the soil on the plot. We’ve had two babies, and I’ve had two caesarian sections, loads of other life responsibilities, and through them all, we’ve managed to juggle the allotment alongside everything else.

It feels different now. One of the reasons stress becomes real distress is when you can’t see an end to the situation you’re in and we’re in this situation for a long time. Full time work and small children just don’t leave enough time for it. We need to remember that it’s supposed to be fun. A hobby that might just provide some of the food on our plate. It’s really important to me, but I don’t want it to just become another thing to worry about. After all, the upside of a job is a salary with which we can buy the food we need. It’s more than that though. I want the kids to enjoy being outside. I want to share with them the happiness that growing some of your own food can bring, and the knowledge of where that food comes from. As well as that, they’re also learning about living alongside nature and I love to watch them exploring and playing on the plot, even though their presence reduces the amount of actual work I can get done!

Our feelings of stress about the situation are not helped by the new allotment neighbours. An army of them work the plot and in a few short months, it looks like they’ve been there longer than our six years. It’s making me miserable. I know the competition is only in my head, but we still look like the weakest link on the site and I don’t like it! We talked about giving it up recently. It broke my heart as I know that we’d never be lucky enough to get a plot again given the popularity of allotment gardening these days, but we also need to make sure that our holding onto one is legitimate and not depriving anyone else who would do a better job.

In order to make it work, I’ve taken a leaf out of my neighbours’ book. I’ve resisted this before, because I didn’t want to relinquish control over the plot, but all that  has done is leave me with no time and little food for my hard work. People are stronger as a community.  So, I did what I always do in times of crisis.

I called my mum.

We’re going to share the work in return for sharing the rewards. Even sharing, I’ll end up with more food in the first place because of the extra work being done – and Mum gets to grow the vegetables she cannot grow in her own, often waterlogged, garden. I already know, obviously, that we can work as a team together and our knowledge and skills will complement each other. I’m really excited about it. Of course, she might have said yes because of the payment up front I offered. A share in my one and only fabulous crop of this year. Here it is…

March 29, 2012

The Half Hour Allotment: making the most of every visit.

The worst has happened. I have new allotment neighbours. Ok, that’s not the worst that could happen. Far from it. In fact, it’s perfectly fine. I just have one tiny problem with new allotment neighbours, and that is their sheer bloody enthusiasm. They all turn up with bags and bags of the stuff. Not to mention, in this case, a small army of people who turn up to dig. Now, I’m all in favour of calling in a few extra hands when the plot requires it – such as ‘Dig In Day’ when we brought our whole family to help build some new raised beds. But my new neighbours seem to have an endless supply of people. On Sunday, we had a lovely family time pottering about in the peaceful sunny afternoon, when up trooped about ten people to start work on the plot next door. Bringing all their noise and chat and capable manual labour with them. We left them to it shortly afterwards.

I’m all too aware that this is making me sound like a horrible person. I’m sorry about that, but there is worse to come.

The other thing that new allotment neighbours do is bring out my competitive nature. I’m not hugely competitive (pub quizzes excepted) but there is something about a new, enthusiastic allotment holder to bring out the worst in me. I hate the thought of someone new having a better plot than mine, when I’ve had mine for years! Since the start of Spring when they arrived and did all their digging and raised bed building, I’ve been on the allotment almost every day. Every day. I’m aware that this is ridiculous, because firstly, its not an actual competition, and secondly, even if it was, there is no way that we (with our helpful five and two year old diggers) could compete.

Thankfully, in order to make the best use of this new found competitive spirit, I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Half Hour Allotment’ by Lia Leendertz  which I recommend for anyone with an allotment and a busy life on top.

A few pointers from the book:

  • Grow the fancy, expensive crops you love to eat – so you get more for your money and work.
  • Buy plants and seedlings where it makes sense to do so,  instead of trying to produce everything by seed yourself – something I’ve already started to do.
  • At the end of every half hour session on the plot, take a couple of minutes to work out what job is the next on your list – then, when you arrive the next day for your half hour stint, do that job, instead of spending loads of time procrastinating! This continues day after day, obviously.
  • Invest in some perennial crops (such as fruit bushes) that take less looking after.
  • Prioritise and plan your time – certain times of year you might only be able to water and harvest your crops in half an hour, so the plot might be untidier than you’d like, but some jobs have to stay at the top of the list. There is no point having a pretty plot if you’re not harvesting the food you have grown.

All of this means that you can get some great results from working just for half an hour each day (for five days a week) leaving you the weekends to bask in the glory of your achievements – or, more likely, dash about with an endless list of other things to do, but safe in the knowledge that your plot is fabulous!

Now, I just need to invest in some heavy duty hand cream. All this extra digging has given me blisters…

March 14, 2012

Allotment update: Seeds or Seedlings?

It is rapidly approaching April and yet again, Spring has caught me off guard. This happens every year. I spend rather too long each Winter, happily reading through my seed catalogue and deciding what I want to grow, and then suddenly there is a mad rush and the proliferation of seed trays all over the house, on every spare shelf, available windowsill and all over the porch. If it’s not compost filled seed trays, then it is row after row of carefully saved loo roll inner tubes, each filled with the requisite pair of bean or sweet pea seeds.

There are several problems with this. Firstly, I look a bit like a crazy person, with my loo-roll-inner filled house. Secondly, the kids are very interested in what is growing and cannot resist a bit of poking about in the compost, which usually ends with half of it on the floor. Lastly, and probably the most important in terms of actual growing, seedlings that are grown in a rush tend to be a bit poor. They’re often leggy and weak, especially the climbers like sweet peas.

Still, it’s always been a matter of principle for me that I grow from seed, because that is what allotment gardening is all about…or is it? As more and more allotment holders are younger people, with jobs or small children – and in my case, both – perhaps I need to approach it differently. After some deliberation, I have decided that there is no shame in buying in seedlings where it makes more sense. So the plan is now to buy seeds where they are to be directly sown into the ground, and buy seedlings of the things that I usually have in my seed trays.

So here is my new list:

Seeds:

Dwarf French Beans. I grow ‘Rocquencourt’, ‘Purple Teepee’ and ‘Cobra’, which are direct drilled in thick rows in a raised bed. Each variety is a different colour (yellow, purple and green, respectively) which pleases me enormously.

Borlotti Beans: ‘Lingua de Fuoco’. I’ve decided not to grow runner beans this year because we just don’t eat them, but I love these beautiful red beans and a climber always adds some great structure to the plot.

Carrots: Early Nantes’ and the beetroot ‘Candy Stripe’ will be sown together in a raised bed. I LOVE this pale pink beetroot variety. Despite being a huge fan of the taste of beetroot, I loathe the bright pink staining it leaves everywhere and this variety removes that problem. Growing carrots in a raised bed will help remove the carrot fly, as will growing them mixed with other roots and anything from the allium family, so they’ll go in the raised bed next to my onions, which are already in the ground.

Peas: I’ll be growing both a maincrop pea (‘Hurst Green Shaft’) and the ‘Sugar Snap’ variety for eating whole. Hopefully I’ll get better results this year. I do struggle to grow a brilliant crop of peas but they are one of the vegetables that are so much better eaten straight from the plant, that I cannot give up trying!

Leeks: ‘St Victor’. I love the purple tinged leaves of this leek variety. Although they do have to be grown in a seedbed, they’re not urgent so I’ll manage it.

Potatoes: Slightly different, obviously, but the varieties I’ve chosen are ‘Charlotte’, which is a second early variety, and ‘Cara’ which is a late maincrop. This will give me a successional cropping, rather than a great big potato glut.

Dahlia: I’m going to get corms here, not seeds, and grow three different bold coloured varieties for cutting. ‘Happy Halloween’ is a small, bright orange decorative type, ‘Hillcrest Royal’ is a cerise pink cactus type and ‘Downham Royal’ is small ball type in a dark purple. Together, they will look amazing!

Seedlings:

Sweetcorn: ‘Sweet Nugget’ variety to grow in a square block.

Pumpkin: ‘Atlantic Giant’ – this is for Halloween, rather than for eating, so size is everything here! The pumpkin and sweetcorn will be grown together in a variation of the traditional ‘three sisters’ approach, where tall thin sweetcorn plants, climbing beans and sprawling-on-the -floor pumpkins are grown together. It makes the best available use of space, and it looks ace.

Sweet peas: A selection of varieties; ‘Lord Nelson’, ‘Prince Edward of York’ and the original sweet pea, ‘Matucana’. This is the Harlequin Sweet Pea mix from Sarah Raven.

Any other annual flowers I choose for the cutting garden will probably be bought as seedlings too. I am still to decide what else I want to add in.

In addition to this, I want to get some new strawberry runners for Eve’s little garden, if there is time this year.

Although the colours of the vegetables I grow don’t generally have any impact on their taste, the way the plot looks does matter to me. I like it to look pretty! Which is perhaps why I’ve always grown climbing varieties, different coloured beans and peas, flowers and pumpkins. I’ve chosen tried and trusted varieties this year, (all from Sarah Raven, purely because I like the company ) that I’ve had previous success with, as the year is too busy for experimentation, although it will be interesting to see if I get significantly better results having bought seedlings in, rather than growing my own.

Now I have a plan, it’s time to get to work…

October 11, 2011

An Autumnal Sunday.

I love a lazy Sunday at this time of year. This Sunday in particular, summed up what I love to do.

After a breakfast of Pimhill porridge (thank you Abel and Cole) with a drizzle of maple syrup courtesy of my lovely friend who lives in Canada, I pulled on my boots and went off to the allotment, leaving the kids in their PJs to spend a little time with their Dad ( and to have a lovely bit of peace and quiet myself!)

At this time of year, it’s time to take down the beans of the summer and get ready for autumnal planting of garlic and over-wintering onions.

Dwarf French Beans

In truth, I should have taken down the bean frames a while ago, but partly from sheer laziness and partly because I know that the beans fix nitrogen into the soil, I have left them there to dry up before pulling them out. I’ve grown runner beans every year on the allotment. They’re really easy to grow and I love the way they look, scrambling up their bamboo wigwams, but really, I’m not very fond of eating them. I much prefer the more temperamental and difficult to grow French bean, which this year, I’ve had more success with than previously.  I sowed three different dwarfing varieties directly into one of my new raised beds and they grew like mad, so next year I think more French beans and fewer runner beans – if I bother to grow any at all. A lesson of allotment gardening – grow what you like to eat!

So, the beans came out on Sunday morning, then I did a little digging to get the ground ready for garlic (Thermidrome) and onions (Radar), which have just been delivered from the lovely people at Tamar Organics.

Onion sets and garlic for planting

After a little digging (not too much, the joy of raised beds) and some lunch it was time for one of our family ‘Nature Walks’, which we like to do every so often to get everyone outside, away from the TV and enjoying the outdoors.

We are lucky enough to live near several large green spaces, including Temple Newsam estate, which has woods and parkland as well as formal gardens, a playground and the all-important team room! We walked through the woods, looking for sweet chestnuts, conkers and acorns and walking through the rustling autumn leaves, although it wasn’t long before the kids decided they were tired so I cheered them up with a few sweets each, then we set off for home. The trick to the family Nature Walk is knowing when they’ve had enough, and for my kids who are only 2 and 4, that’s obviously not a very long time!  Little and often feels like the best way to keep their interest. That, along with a bit of imagination to help make up stories, a bit of knowledge so you can answer questions about what they have found and a bag of sweets…

For dinner I made my very first cheese soufflé, for one of my 35:35 Challenges; more on that next time. Then we spent a quiet evening curled up on the sofa with a pile of books and magazines, and a spot of TV. A lovely way to spend a Sunday.