Monday, 20 February 2017

Harvest Monday - kale and Eves Hill Veg Co

With some lovely sunny weather recently it definitely feels like spring is on the way. Mustn't get too carried away though as we can still get some heavy frosts (and even snow) before spring is properly here. But it's nice to have the sun on your face while getting down to allotment work.

 

I've had a couple of sessions this week, mainly continuing to weed the couch grass from around my fruit bushes, trying not to damage the roots of the bushes in the process. I'll mulch around them soon with homemade compost and then I think I'll cover the mulch with several layers of newspaper (weighed down) to help prevent the couch grass coming back. Every year I cut down one of my three blackcurrant bushes completely (on rotation) to manage a supply of medium-aged stems....I did this to the oldest bush yesterday and...mmmm....the blackcurrant scent was delicious, I can't wait to start drinking blackcurrant leaf tea again, and enjoying the juicy berries later.

 

I noticed that the kales are starting to develop a flowerhead in the middle of each plant, so have begun harvesting the entire tops, which should encourage some more side shoots to grow from below the snipped-point. Although small, the top leaves are nice and lush, with a soft texture.

Rather than faff with cutting off the leaves and trimming out the stalk (which is particularly fiddly when they're small), I pinch at the base of each leaf and pull up either side of the stalk, which neatly removes the leafy part you want to eat, leaving behind the tougher stalk...easy! I also pinched off the developing flowerheads to eat too.
Whilst slicing each stalk in half to make it compost quicker, I noticed the juicy flesh on the inside. Being someone who eats broccoli and cauliflower stalks, I thought I'd give these a go too. They were actually really yummy raw....a nice fresh flavour, even a hint of spiciness?
And quite a nice amount of greens, despite the small leaves.
Back on the allotment plot, the two hazel trees are dripping with catkins...could be a good year for them? I spied lots of the tiny red flowers too.
I mentioned last time that I'd started volunteering at Eves Hill Veg Co (not for profit market garden). I had to skip a week because of a tummy bug that was doing the rounds but had a good day out there last Wednesday. Three of us mainly focussed on trench-digging, which will help secure the cover of the new polytunnel....which is a big 'un.
The edge of the cover has to be buried to keep it in place. I can imagine the wind whipping it away easily otherwise. A secure cover helps prevent rips too.
It's strangely satisfying to finish off a nice long trench!

I'm not sure what the plans will be for this Wednesday...I'll look forward to seeing the polytunnel progress that's taken place over the week anyway.

 

And back home, I think I'll sow my tomatoes and peppers this week...exciting. I sowed some peas in the lean-to recently...for pea shoots. I think there's a rogue slug or two on the loose in there though, so will have to keep an eye out, especially when the peas (hopefully) germinate.

 

Righty-ho, thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres - check it out to see what other people have been harvesting this week.

 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Harvest Monday and Eve's Hill Veg Co

I'm rather lacking in my own harvest photos this week, but have been mainly using up stored goodies from the freezer....fruit, leafy greens, green beans.
 
I've also started saving cardboard loo roll tubes for sowing sweetcorn and a few runner beans into, as usual (I also direct-sow runner beans into the ground but like to sow a few at home as back-up). The loo rolls are handy to use for long-rooted seedlings, and seedlings that don't like to be disturbed, as they can be planted straight into the soil, gradually breaking down over time (and they're free!). I've brought a trayful of compost inside from the lean-to for it to warm up a bit before sowing tomato, peppers and aubergine seeds in a week or so....I'll then keep the trays of sown-seeds indoors for quite a while to germinate and grow-on, before moving them into the lean-to later after potting on. If you're going to be growing tomatoes outside, it's probably a bit early to be sowing, but mine stay in the lean-to so get extra protection.
 
My one harvest photo is of a black radish (I hadn't heard of them either). The photo doesn't really show the size of it, but they're pretty big. This is one I sliced the bottom off...aaw. Anyway, although I harvested this, I didn't actually grow it...it's from Eve's Hill Veg Co, a not for profit farm I've recently started volunteering for.

The farm has been going for less than a year, but Hannah, who runs it along with a band of volunteers, has done an amazing job of transforming two acres of former arable field into a thriving veggie plot, focussing on regenerating the soil after years of conventional agricultural use. The owners of the main farm (mainly arable and cattle, as far as I'm aware) are really supportive too, which is brilliant.

It was a bit misty the day I took these photos, but you can see some of the lovely winter salads, some beds prepped for later sowing and heaps of different compost piles in the background. It's a 'no dig' system, so there's no treading on the beds, which would compact the soil (I do this on my allotment too). The idea is to protect the soil and build up nutrients, trying not to leave it bare at any time, for example by sowing green manures and adding other natural soil improvers (such as the municipal compost that local councils produce from green waste recycling). The municipal compost is completely sterile, so is good for topping-off the beds (no weed seeds will germinate) and adding organic matter which improves soil structure for holding onto water etc, with the long term aim to increase the biodiversity of life in the soil, on a microscopic level as well as loverly worms etc.....whilst weeding the beds we have been finding quite a lot of worms, and spotting mycelium forming (mushroom roots) which is very encouraging. Hannah also has a supply of donkey and horse manure, as well as two big heaps of compost generated from the site itself.
The paths are lined with cardboard, then topped with woodchip (that a local tree surgeon provides free I think).
In the polytunnel...really good winter salads (no of course I'm not jealous, ahem).

Yummy. About an acre of the site is in active use at the moment (which is amazing when you think it was still a corner of an arable field this time last year), with another acre around the perimeter that's currently being left as a wildlife corridor, whilst the focus is on regenerating the initial acre. Long term plans include tree / hedge planting too I think. I'm sure there's loads more in store for the farm...building soil, building communities, improving the area for wildlife and of course growing delicious organic food. A second polytunnel is in the process of being put up too (of course, I'm still not jealous, ahem.). I'll try and take some more pics next time, there's loads more to see.

 

Thanks for reading this week. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday, hosted again by Dave at Our Happy Acres. Big thanks to Michelle at From Seed to Table, who hosted throughout January.

 

 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Harvest Monday and allotment peep

I'm just back in this evening from a really interesting talk on hedgehogs, given to the Norfolk Organic Growers group, which I joined just before Christmas (I was lucky enough to get a gift membership as a Christmas pressie). The talk was given by a lady who volunteers her own time to run a rescue centre for these lovely little creatures....and she even brought in one of her current lodgers....so cute. Anyway, there's a lot that we can do as growers and gardeners to help these vulnerable mammals, so I'd encourage people to do a quick internet search to find out how.
 
Back to veggies, this week I've managed a couple of trips to the plot and have even brought some goodies home. I lifted a few leeks, picked some chard and snipped some corn salad.
Jan used up the chard and a lot of the corn salad almost straight away, making a delicious pizza. She also added some homegrown purple basil pesto, which I found another jar of in the freezer, in a place I wasn't expecting it to be - a nice surprise.
So as the chard had been eaten quick-smart I popped down again today to get a bit more greenery - first some small leaves of Nero and curly kale -
And a lot more chard - I leave some chard to go to seed so it pops up all over the place (and can easily be transplanted if it's in the way). I also got some more corn salad but didn't take a pic.
Talking of corn salad, here's the main bed that I have it growing in - I let it self-seed too - this bed originally had my maincrop potatoes in, with the corn salad germinating later - I also transplanted some clumps from where they'd germinated on top of the hay mulch which I had over the potatoes. They germinated on top of it because I'd laid some dried corn salad stems on top too.
Yum. I tend to snip off the bigger plants at soil level, and leave the rest to get bigger.
The Nero kale is still looking ok - the top leaves are quite small but picking from several plants gives a reasonable yield.
The autumn-sown broad beans (super Aqua-dulce) are looking healthy so far. I took a bit of inspiration from Sue Garrett of Our Plot on Greenlane Allotments, and sowed double seeds in some spots, because I had a few spare seeds after filling the bed. If I recall, Sue sows double at each station and gets a good crop. I'll see how my doubles do this year and maybe extend it across the whole bed next time. I'll be sowing a bed of spring beans too (Eleanora Express).
The garlic looks alright. This was planted in two sessions, so the ones at the back are only just coming through. I used broken-up bulbs from the organic veg stall but I think next time I'll buy a proper variety suited to our climate more. On the surface of the soil you can just make out the dissolving chicken-poo pellets I scattered when planting out the garlic. I'm wondering if it's better to scatter these in November or spring, as maybe some of the nutrients will wash through the soil over winter (or maybe it doesn't make much difference).
Still a few leeks to harvest. They're not very big but I try to harvest alternately-ish to leave space for the remaining leeks to grow-on.
And a shot across the main rotational beds on the plot (The two in the foreground are strawberries though). I have a lot of weeding to do! but am prioritising weeding under the fruit bushes, so the birds can get in and eat any overwintering pests in the soil. Plus I don't want to leave the soil bare as the nutrients will wash through otherwise. I've weeded and then covered the beds with large sheets of cardboard in previous years but I don't have any at the moment.
Oh, I've started volunteering at a community veg farm (Eve's Hill Veg Co) and will hopefully share some photos next week.

So that's it for me. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted this month by Michelle at From Seed to Table.

P.S. Am posting a day late due to technical issues yesterday

Monday, 16 January 2017

Harvest Monday - extending the stored goodies & a freezer peek

I often find that around mid-January to February the stored veggies start needing a bit of attention (especially as we've had a lot of mild weather again this winter....despite a bit of snow this week).
 
I store my potatoes in thick paper sacks in a brick shed in the front yard, which faces north, so they keep pretty well in there. But they started sprouting recently, so we decided to use some in a big pot of mashed potato, to then freeze in portions.
 
Similarly, the carrots (stored in plastic mesh trays lined and covered in newspaper) have started shooting too. For these I prepped a whole load of them and am storing in a big jug of water in the fridge. (These were reject carrots saved at one of the gleans back in November).
And with another batch I'm having a go at fermenting in a brine solution. They've been going a few days so far and the bubbling has eased off, but they haven't developed a sour taste yet, so I guess I'll just leave them longer and see what happens.
I've continued to sprout seeds this week, which go nicely in sandwiches and added to noodle soups right at the end of cooking. These are alfalfa on the left and green lentils on the right.
And a mixture including mung beans and chick peas. They have a really good crunch. Sprouting your own beans etc is way cheaper than buying sprouts from a shop, and it's easy too. There are expensive kits you can get for sprouting seeds but actually just an old jar will do, as long as you can rinse the seeds out effectively.
Before Christmas I grew mushrooms from a gift kit which uses spent coffee grounds as the growing medium. They produced a lovely crop and were tasty too. The instructions said it's sometimes possible to get another crop from the same kit, so after leaving the grounds to rest for a couple of weeks I got them going again recently....ta dah....not as many as the first time but they were very tasty again.
I thought we'd have a quick peep in the freezer to see what's left. I've been using up bags of frozen sliced green beans, chopped courgettes, tubs of stewed fruit and tubs of partially cooked greens (chard and kale). Here on the top shelf are some glass tubs of mashed potato plus leftovers and green beans. I'm trying to use less plastic and was kindly given the tubs for my birthday (just the sort of pressie I like). They have a glass base with plastic top.
Second shelf - mainly tubs of greens and leftovers.
Third shelf (drawer) - mainly bags of fruit plus a big tub of stewed fruit. When I've used up all the tubs of stewed fruit I'll make up some more batches using a mixture of berries plus apples that I've got left in the storage shed.
Bottom shelf (drawer) - more fruit.

Hmm it's not a bad little stash altogether. Plus on the plot I still have kale, chard, corn salad, with purple sprouting broccoli to come too. I'll try and get down the plot tomorrow to harvest some more goodies.

 

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted at the moment by Michelle at From Seed to Table.

 

 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Harvest Monday - a new harvest

I didn't think I'd taken many harvest pics, but looking back through the week has surprised me....I'd forgotten these from only a few days ago....
 
My first (and possibly last) Brussels sprouts. Quite small but very tasty....Jan even said how nice the flavour was. I just cooked them quickly in a little bit of boiling water, to keep in the flavour and goodness. They didn't need many outer leaves taking off either (which is good as there wouldn't have been much sprout left!).
I used up the last butternut squash this week, cubing and then roasting
I added some pumpkin seeds and freshly ground cumin seeds towards the end of the roasting too, yum. We had some of the squash as a side dish and made the rest into a soup with Nero kale from the plot....
....along with some of these chestnuts which I'd also roasted (shown here before roasting). I didn't get a photo of the finished soup but it was really tasty, all whizzed up. These were the last chestnuts, but they kept pretty well and we got several meals from them altogether.
I harvested quite a bit of kale from the plot this week (dwarf curly kale and Nero kale), and some more leeks, but didn't get any photos. I slow-cooked the leeks for a few hours with red lentils, a tin of tomatoes, onion, garlic, grated carrots and spiced with cinammon and ginger, adding in a small bag of purple basil pesto from the freezer towards the end...the last of the pesto too I think. Even before adding the pesto, the stew had turned a lovely dark colour. As with a lot of my meals it didn't look so good once it was dished out but sure tasted nice!
 
The corn salad did look good though...I still can't believe how easy this is just left to sow itself around the plot. I literally have carpets of it in places. My harvesting technique is to snip off whole plants just above soil level, (avoids disturbing the soil) then wash them all en masse, as it's a bit fiddly. I tip them all into a bowl of water, then swoosh each plant through the water a bit and then pinch off the bottom of the plant (which removes the lesser quality leaves and base of the plant where all the leaves meet, where the soil is hardest to clean out). This also separates each of the leaves, which I then keep in a glass bowl in the fridge so we can dip into it over the course of a few days making sandwiches etc.

So it seems to have been a week of some 'lasts' but also a first (Brussels sprouts)....what will this coming week bring (some very cold and rainy weather by the sounds of it!).

 

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Michelle at From Seed to Table, over in California, for a few weeks.

 

Monday, 2 January 2017

Harvest Monday - a new year

I hope you've enjoyed the festive season - normally we'd make a special meal with homegrown veg over this period but we were away for a few days and then at friends' for different occasions so haven't made one (yet?).
 
A couple of weeks ago I cleared the final Lipstick sweet peppers from the lean-to....there were just a few plants which I'd left to grow-on, but hidden underneath the leaves were a number of small fruits. After picking them I'd actually left the fruits on a shelf in the lean-to, then forgotten about them what with all the travelling and visiting. So today I spotted them on the shelf and luckily they were still in a good condition, thanks to the cool weather. I think they'd even ripened a bit. I used most of them tonight in a noodle soup (a handy quick one-pot meal)
I'm continuing to sprout seeds, mainly alfalfa in one jar and green lentils in another because they take different times to sprout (alfalfa are very quick). Here's a jar of green lentils, which we've had in sandwiches and added at the end of the noodle soup. I keep forgetting to rinse them twice a day but hopefully now the busy visiting time has calmed down I'll get back into a routine.
A couple of days ago I had a trip to the allotment, harvesting a few leeks, sprout tops, Nero kale and some nice corn salad. I was going to take a few photos down there but my fingers were too cold after snipping off the corn salad leaves - the leaves were wet but it was too fiddly to wear gloves, making very cold conditions, especially with a slight breeze.....the lovely leaves were worth it though.

Tomorrow I'm probably going to make a slow-cooked stew with the leeks and kale, plus red lentils, carrots etc. I still haven't harvested any Brussels sprouts... So maybe that special meal will come along soon after all.


Here's a few piccies from our trip to Jan's parents over Christmas....we managed to get out on some nice walks including this visit to RSPB Old Moor, which was particularly beautiful (and rather chilly) at sunset.

We had wanted to visit SWT Potteric Carr again but it was closed whilst we were in the area so we'll have to save that for another time.

 

Also just to mention that I really hurt my leg at the allotment in the week before Christmas....I'm not really sure how it happened, I was kneeling on a pad, weeding couch grass in between the rows of raspberries...and was probably leaning in at a funny angle, putting pressure on one leg. I didn't notice any problems at first but walking home I started getting a pain in the hip socket when stepping on my left leg. Of course, rather than resting it I walked over to some friends' on the other side of the city, hoping to exercise it off....big mistake, ending up with two days laid-up on the sofa not being able to put any weight on the leg at all (I couldn't even get up the stairs but luckily our loo is downstairs) and it being touch-and-go whether we'd be able to travel for Christmas. Oops.

 

I guess the lesson here is...listen to your body, change positions regularly when carrying out even simple tasks, especially repetitive ones in the cold...and don't be as silly as me.

 

So on that note, I hope you have a healthy and productive 2017, full of tasty homegrown produce...cheers!

 

I'm linking in with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted for a few weeks by Michelle at From Seed to Table.