Monday, 19 March 2018

Harvest Monday and starling murmuration

It's been a funny old week of sun, rain, snow, wind. I managed to get a couple of allotment sessions in, and finished weeding the beds where my onion sets (variety Sturon) will be planted and broad beans (Eleanora Express) will be sown. I also made a nice harvest of leeks, Nero kale, corn salad and chard, but somehow only managed to photograph the leeks.

The leeks have such a good flavour, not too overpowering. I use the dark green part of the stem as well as the white bit, so although they're not huge you get a decent amount of edible material from each leek. Interestingly there's not any rust on the plants, which usually makes an appearance at my plot. Maybe as the soil is (hopefully) more healthy now, it makes the plants more healthy and more likely to fight off problems. These leeks were planted out where I'd had broad beans earlier in the season, and I left the bean roots in the soil when clearing the plants away, that could've helped too, feeding the leeks as the roots broke down.

The kale and leeks went into a few dishes including a noodle soup one-pot (I love saving on washing up).

Jan was out for a meal one night so I made a quick tea for just me of softened leek and kale with fried egg on toast,  drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar, mmm. (Also just using the one pan, hooray). It was so good, I made it again for the two of us the following night!

Jan made us potato pizza one night - the base is boiled potato with flour and butter. It sounds odd but is really good. You may recall she made us one a few weeks ago too. A nice thing about pizzas is the variety of toppings which can be incorporated (last time included sliced beetroot). This time round, the homegrown elements were chard from the allotment and a tub of roasted tomato / pepper / garlic / onion mix from the freezer. I think it was the last one which is a shame, but it was put to good use.

Last night we had a curry, using up the last of the leeks, kale and chard, plus a bag of chopped French beans from the freezer. There's only one or two bags of these left now but they've been really handy over winter, so I'll try and increase the amount grown and stored this year. I've got a couple of different varieties to try as well, including a yellow waxy one. We had two mini naans leftover, so I made another curry tonight. The fridge was a bit bare of veggies so I used the third last acorn squash and a couple of bought carrots (plus am still eking out the last of the stored onions).

In the lean-to here at home I have some coriander still growing from a sowing last August, so used a bit of that for some greenery. The coriander looked very droopy after the first lot of cold weather recently but recovered well, which really surprised me.

And of course I couldn't not have sandwich photo, so here we are with self-sown corn salad from the allotment. I've also defrosted a tub of broad bean hummus from last summer, so have been enjoying that with home-sprouted shoots. In the lean-to I've cut back some of the winter purslane plants completely - they had lovely big leaves but had started developing a sort of mould where unfortunately aphids have been munching on them. So hopefully I removed a load of the aphids along with the leaves. I need the ladybirds to wake up and starting eating the aphids instead. Sadly, since the snow storms a couple of weeks ago we haven't seen the wren which had been visiting our garden and lean-to (and eating aphids I think).

But the last three evenings (at least) Norwich has had some lovely avian visitors....starlings. I haven't seen a big starling murmuration in Norwich for a couple of years, but the very cold weather must have brought them all together. Late on Saturday afternoon I happened to spot a huge murmuration from our was over the area near County Hall of the south eastern edge of Norwich where there are woods with big ivy-clad trees. It was soo cold and windy we decided to just enjoy the stunning aerobatics from inside, but last night we headed over to that area to see them. There was only a smallish murmuration, so we figured maybe as the weather was calmer they'd not formed such a huge flock. It was still enjoyable to watch  but then as we walked back towards home Jan spotted the mega murmuration - it was further west than before, huh! We had some good views of them swirling around until they suddenly swooped down to roost, mainly into thick ivy growing up through trees alongside the Lakenham Way (disused railway which is now a foot- and cycle path). We took a walk along the path - the starlings were so loud, clicking and clacking to each other, and moving between trees. It was like walking through a tunnel of starlings - pretty amazing.

So tonight we took another walk (well, 5.30pm-ish seems about the right time), and found them again. It was in a very similar area to last night but a tiny bit south west, where there happened to be a handy place with open views to enjoy them. The photos as usual don't really do the experience justice, not capturing the vastness of the spectacle, and so I didn't take many. Interestingly, the starlings don't seem to call to each other during the murmuration, the only sound is the subtle whoosh when they fly close over head, or a sort of clatter when landing in the trees. But as soon as they're in the trees the chatter starts, catching up on today's news no doubt.

I'm not sure what the weather's meant to be like tomorrow but I may have to go on another starling hunt!

Thanks for reading this week, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Harvest Monday and Wonderful Woodchip

I missed last week's Harvest Monday because I was away for a couple of days at the beginning of the week....more on that later. In the meantime we've been having all sorts of diverse weather, including absolutely masses of snow last week...I popped to the plot this afternoon and was pleased to see the broad beans survived  (the snow mostly melted away in Norwich a couple of days ago when we had a day of rainfall). They look a bit flopped over from the weight of the snow, but I think most of them will be ok.

In terms of harvests and using up stored crops, I made a big curry thing with the last of my sweet dumpling squashes (below). They were still in good condition and could've kept for longer but it felt like the right time for them. Their flavour is very sweet and the skins can be left on too, which is handy as it involves less cutting, and also means there's more to eat. I still have three squashes left, all the cream coloured acorn style, which again are still in good condition but I'll use them up sooner rather than later.

We've continued to use up goodies from the freezer...I have several bags of sweetcorn which are great to add into different meals, adding a 'pop' of texture and sweetness. I'm growing the same variety this year - Sativa early. This pasta meal also included some kale from the allotment. I harvested a load more today actually...fortunately the enviromesh covers protected them from pigeon damage. I had a wander along the main path through the allotment site after I'd finished today and saw kale plants on other plots completely decimated...such a shame.

Before the big freeze last week, I picked a nice selection of rocket from the lean-to greenhouse for our sarnies. Over the course of the cold week, the plants looked very droopy and sorry for themselves, with very low daytime and nighttime temperatures. I thought there might be some casualties but actually most of them have recovered, so that's good news.

As we couldn't really pick any fresh leaves last week, we focussed on home-sprouted beans and lentils, enjoyed several times on open sandwiches, to use up homegrown/made beetroot hummus which I'd thawed from the freezer. Last time I got a jar out we didn't use it up fast enough and it went mouldy so I didn't want to waste any this time.

The weekend before the freeze, it was time to start sowing things...exciting! As these stay indoors for a while I wasn't too worried about it being cold outdoors, and they live on top of a set of drawers near the radiator so they get extra heat from that. I also wrap them in bubble wrap (over and under the trays) for extra insulation which then gives a warm enough temperature for tomatoes and peppers etc to germinate.

So Jan helped with this, which was great...much less fiddly than just me on my own. We sowed tomatoes, sweet peppers, aubergines and onions. We're not bothering with chilli peppers as I have four plants that have over-wintered indoors, one even has some flowers on it at the moment. I had to move them away from the windowsill to make way for the trays of seeds though so I hope they're not too grumpy. The tomatoes and onions have already started germinating though, so that's a good sign.

My seed order has started arriving, hooray. It's coming in dribs and drabs for some reason. I'm hoping the onion sets and early potatoes arrive soon as I usually plant these out at the end of March. I'm trying a new variety of maincrop potato this year called Linda, and have put the seed potatoes in the lean-to to chit.

So last week I went to a seminar at Tolhurst Organics (near Reading) with a couple of friends from Norwich. Luckily we made it there and back safely in the snowy conditions, so a big thanks to Joel for his careful driving. Joel is setting up an organic market garden just outside Peterborough to supply salad and veg for a new farm shop which has just can follow his journey on Instagram under @RodkersJourneys or Facebook at The Market Garden at Harvest Barn Shop.

The seminar was titled Wonderful Woodchip and organised by the Organic Research Centre. Wow it was a great day, the main crux being how to obtain, produce and use woodchip. Tolly (Iain Tolhurst) has been honing the use of woodchip on his organic farm over the last few years. The farm is stock-free (no animal inputs) and uses a combination of green manures and woodchip to improve the soil structure / life etc. The woodchip adds carbon to the soil and improves its microbial / fungal health. 

The majority of the woodchip at Tolly's is brought in by a tree surgeon, to whom the woodchip is a waste product.

Composted woodchip has many uses...if left to compost for long enough it is even fine enough to use as a medium for raising seedlings. In the photo below, the woodchip in the large sack has taken two years to break down into a soil-like medium. Whereas most bought seed composts will be relatively sterile, the composted woodchip is full of life.

The large bits are sieved out and vermiculite (to aid drainage) is added (1:4 vermiculite:compost I think). 

Very healthy seedlings. Interestingly they have tested composted woodchip from different species and by the time it is composted there is very little variation in its make up. It was suggested that it's best to not just have solely conifer species, and to mix them with others. Also, don't use walnut or larch (I forget the reason!).

In the polytunnels uncomposted woodchip is added to the paths as a thick mulch, which breaks down over time. The chip acts to both suppress weed growth and improve the soil as it breaks down. The roots from plants in the beds grow out into the paths and benefit from the improved fungal conditions in the paths. Composted chip is also added onto the beds themselves.

Here's a relatively fresh pile of chip recently delivered by the tree surgeon. Tolly highlighted the importance of knowing what is coming onto the farm (e.g. As mentioned above, walnut and larch are not wanted). 

Tolly composts the woodchip in rows (oldest at the end) but it can be done in piles if that's all the space you have. Turning it speeds up the composting time...his takes about a year but could be speeded up if he turned it more. Also it's quicker if you're composting on the same area as previously compost has been made, because the beneficial soil organisms are already in situ.

Here's some of the older chip, really starting to break down. Tolly also adds in some vegetative matter produced on the farm (e.g. Stored potatoes and squashes that are past their best). My iPad memory was full at this point so the rest of the photos from the day are on my camera and difficult to get off, but we went on to look at the field-scale crops where a seven year rotation incorporates green manures, with the composted woodchip being added to the soil surface after the green manures have been growing. 

So that's a brief run down of the seminar. We also learned about setting up hedgerow management plans for your land (for example to identify different wood chip sources), which was interesting....I used to do a lot of practical habitat management and it was great to touch on this subject again, combined with food growing objectives. Oh and I haven't even mentioned ramial woodchip (produced from branches), or agroforestry but I'll leave it there for now.

I'll finish with a snowy shot of the garden. We made sure to put out extra food and fresh water each day for the birds, which encouraged a few new visitors as well as the regulars.

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in a day late to Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Harvest Monday - February - time's a-flying

I had a coldy-flu-cough thing for a few days last week so didn't think I'd have much to write about this week. I was especially annoyed to be stuck inside during some sunny days. But hooray, towards the end of the week and over the weekend the sunshine continued and I spent a happy few hours pottering around on the plot, clearing weeds and laying out homemade compost. I try to disturb the soil as little as possible, so after hoeing off annual weeds I just put the compost on top of the cleared soil, easy peasy. For any perennial weeds (like the dreaded couch grass, which I've mainly got rid of already), I just loosen the soil with a fork and pull the roots out, without turning the soil over. This means that all the fungi highways moving nutrients throughout the soil remain largely undisturbed, the soil structure isn't damaged, the soil doesn't dry out as much and all the wee microscopic organisms can live happily, making a lovely nurturing environment for my veggies to grow nice and strong. 

Talking of which, I harvested more kale, leeks and mizuna this week. I'm really impressed with how well the mizuna does over winter without any protection. One thing I wish I'd checked on though is my purple sprouting some point recently the chickenwire mesh I had them covered with had been blown off by the incredibly strong the local wood pigeons a tasty feast of PSB leaves, darn! So I covered them back over and fingers crossed they grow back again....they should do, plus I don't need that bed for ages so I'm not in a rush to remove the plants.

The last two nights we've had a surprisingly tasty saucepan-meal with the leeks, onion, garlic, kale, French beans (from the freezer), red lentils and tinned tomatoes, with mashed potato. As ever, it tasted better than it looked...

Whilst Jurrasic World was on TV the other night (I do like a dinosaur movie), I thought I'd be productive and crack open the rest of my hazels from the allotment. There's a nice big bowlful, which I'll toast in the oven next time we put it on...I love their flavour, it's so good.

And I figured it was time to use up the stored apples from the shed. Most have kept pretty well, wrapped in newspaper. I chopped these up and cooked with some mixed berries from the freezer - gooseberries, raspberries, black currants, and sweetened with a few spoonfuls of a previous year's elderberry jelly. That's breakfast toppings sorted for a while.

I haven't sown any seeds yet but today I brought in a trayful of compost to warm up....(and covered it with another tray so it doesn't dry out). I'm planning on growing some onions from seed this year, as well as from sets. I'll also start off some tomatoes and peppers in the next few days.  But most crops don't need sowing for at least a month or two so I'm not panicking just at the moment.

After a sunny few days, the weather took a damp turn today. It's off out to Eves Hill Veg Co volunteering tomorrow (community market garden) when apparently the drizzle will continue unfortunately but at least it's not the predicted minus six degrees coming later in the week! 

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Harvest Monday (erm...Wednesday) - early February

Well I've been very tardy this week...where has the time gone? So now it's Wednesday but I can just about stretch the old memory back to last week (listening to the cogs whirling).

I had a nice little harvest of kale, leeks and corn salad. Some of the kale plants have started to look like they're bolting a bit so I cut the whole top of these plants off, rather than just harvesting individual leaves. With any luck the stalks left in the ground should put out a few new leaves as spring progresses. Mind you, I still have quite a number of kale plants growing along ok, so we'll not be going short just yet. The leeks are ok too, continuing to bulk-up with the lengthening days. Harvesting alternate leeks where possible gives the ones left behind more space to grow as well. The corn salad is dotted around all over the plot as I let it self seed (it also has really lovely little flowers, so worth leaving some just for that too). 

Over winter I've stored some of the my beetroot from the allotment in the brick shed in the front yard. It's kept quite well but some of the smaller beets had started to go a bit soft. So it was time to cook them all up.

I was using-up some old seeds left over so had a few varieties, including the beautiful chioggia. However! I actually prefer the flavour of the deeper red varieties (controversial). 

Jan made a delicious potato pizza for tea on Saturday (which was a nice surprise to come home to after I'd been out all day). The base is made with potato and flour, which sounds weird but is really nice. Anyway, she used some of the beetroot for the topping, sliced thinly, and some rocket growing in the lean-to greenhouse. Jan, you can definitely make that again (hint hint, if you ever read this).


I also made a salad with roughly chopped beets, corn salad and sprouted lentils. The beets are quite sweet so I didn't bother with a dressing.

The corn salad looks nice when it's washed but beforehand was a bit grubby - all the rain we've had splashes soil up onto the leaves, and the small leaves are a bit fiddly to clean...but they're worth it for tasty fleshy goodness.

The last few photos are of future-food....Autumn-sown broad beans doing ok on the allotment (the sticks were to stop cats using the area as a toilet)

Borlotti bean seeds I saved last year. I actually froze these in a jar for a couple of weeks recently because the previous year when I'd also saved some seed, they got ruined by bean weevils, which emerge from the seed, munching holes everywhere. So popping them in the freezer kills off any beasties that may be lurking inside. It's important to freeze them in a jar because it keeps moisture away from the bean (plus make sure you thaw them out whilst still in the jar too).

And catkins on one of my hazel trees on the allotment, fortunately still hanging in there despite the strong winds of late. I've seen lots of catkins on the floor in other places so am lucky to have these on mine. If you look really really closely you may be able to see the tiny red female flowers on the tips of some branches - I tried to get a close up but they were so small the camera wouldn't focus. Well, hopefully I'll get some hazel nuts later in the autumn anyway, as catkins + flowers = nuts. I've got some still left from last autumn in a tray, they're so nice lightly toasted...mmm a real treat.

It's lucky I hadn't planned to go to the plot today - we woke up to snow on the ground, followed by some chilly rain. Though yesterday at Eves Hill Veg Co (where I volunteer) the snow didn't put us feet got a bit cold though, I need to get better insulated wellies!

Thanks for reading and sorry for the lateness. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted again by Dave from Our Happy Acres. (Thanks go to Michelle at From Seed to Table for hosting last month). 

Monday, 29 January 2018

Harvest Monday

Last night (Monday) I went to a Norfolk Organic Group talk about butterflies (really interesting), but by the time I got home it was getting on a bit for finishing off the blog post, so I'm coming in late again for a Harvest Monday....

This week has been pretty busy with various foody bits n bobs, but not much allotment time. 

We had friends round on Friday night, so Jan made roasted butternut squash pasties again, incorporating some of the last green butternut plus caramelised red onions. We had the pasties with mashed potatoes - the stored potatoes have started to produce shoots due to the intermittent mild weather, so I'll try and use the rest up soon. There were enough pasties for leftovers at the weekend, and we shared one for lunch, with truly delicious salad, freshly harvested from Eves Hill Veg Co (not-for-profit market garden where I volunteer), grown in the polytunnel overwinter.

Earlier in the week we'd been continuing to eat-up my own winter salads....a load of corn salad from the allotment - 

And mizuna, also from the allotment. It seems to do well despite frosts. I'm glad I sowed it back in late summer - I wasn't going to bother as the seed was quite old!

Here's the kale and the 'random brassica' leaves that I harvested last week - the random brassica leaves (unidentified self-sown brassica) are massive compared with the kale. Mind you, I've been harvesting from the kale for months, so they've done pretty well.

Another from last week - a tasty quinoa meal with the green butternut squash and dwarf French beans from the freezer.

Another freezer-inspired meal tonight, using up diced sweet dumpling squash and courgette, with blauhilde beans  (the bean itself rather than the pod) and those mega 'random brassica' leaves. It turned into a bit of a gloop but tasted good, with noodles, onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and turmeric. It's great just grabbing bits from the freezer, already prepped for cooking / heating - quick n easy. I've still got some onions in storage (variety Sturon, grown from sets), so hopefully a few more weeks before we need to buy any.

We've had lots of other home-grown meals too, though they were even less photogenic than the ones above! 

I was back out at Eves Hill today (prepping new salad beds) with other volunteers, so that's the third time in eight days - an extra visit on Saturday for the monthly community day, which despite being soggy had a great turn out. This was followed by a showing of In Our Hands, a film by The Landworkers Alliance about regenerative small farms - well worth a watch if you get the opportunity.

I'm cutting it short again tonight, feeling sleepy, so will say good bye for now, and hopefully have some better photos next week, maybe some of the plot and Eves Hill (which was lovely and sunny today...I need a good session like that for the allotment).

Thanks for reading, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted this month by Michelle at From Seed To Table.
PS sorry if any email subscribers received a fairly empty post last night, I'm using a new app and accidentally published it live...oopsie.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Harvest Monday - rainy days

Well, after a couple of days trying to get photos to upload (even buying another blogging app), we've not managed to work out why it's not working, so here is Monday's blog post, sadly lacking any pics.....
It always seems to be rainy on the days I have free so I haven't made it to the allotment much, and I haven't got many photos this week either. I did pop down today briefly to check for wind damage, after the bad weather last Thursday morning (Norwich and Norfolk lost lots of trees, with loads of roads blocked too. We were watching the huge tree in the alley behind our house swaying around at 5.45am - it was a bit worrying but fortunately the tree stayed put, phew). Luckily as I don't have a greenhouse on the allotment, there's not too much that can be damaged, so just a few bits and pieces had blown around. And the shed was still upright so I'll count that all as a win.
I harvested some kale, leaves from the random brassica, corn salad, mizuna and rosemary. I wish all my brassicas did as well as the random. It grew from homemade compost I used as a mulch, so the compost must've had some good nutrients etc in it. In fact, that's on my list of jobs to do - weed the rest of the beds and mulch with compost or leaf mould.

We broke into the last of the green butternut squashes. It's much smaller than the two mega squashes that grew but even so, a meals worth used about a quarter of the squash, so we've still more to go. Jan roasted this with some homemade chilli flakes
We mixed the roasted squash with onion, carrot, mushrooms (not homegrown), and green beans from the freezer. It was nice! And there was enough to last two days so we had leftovers tonight

From storage, I'm also eating up the last of the dessert apples. There's a couple of trays of cookers left as well. And that reminds me, there's a tray of beetroot which needs using up too, the beets are starting to go a bit soft. Apart from that, we've got plenty of fruit and other goodies in the freezer including sweetcorn and courgette.


A couple of interesting items arrived in the mail this week - the diary from My Harvest (for recording allotment visits) and the Organic Gardening Catalogue. So hooray I can now sort out my seed order (that's a job for Weds as I'm volunteering at Eves Hill Veg Co tomorrow), and I must fill in the allotment diary with today's visit.


And excitingly, the little wren has been flitting around again in the lean-to greenhouse at home, picking off tiny insects from plants. I got a really good view of it yesterday, I was standing right at the window with it just a couple of feet away. It's helping with the aphid problem too, so is welcome any time.


That's me for now, thanks for reading. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted this month by Michelle at From Seed to Table.


Monday, 15 January 2018

Harvest Monday - mid January already

In last week's post I mentioned that some of my sweet dumpling squashes had started looking a bit oozy, so I'd roasted them up. Well, not long after, a couple of the blue kuri were going a bit mouldy on the outside - I didn't have time to cook them up, so instead I cubed them for the freezer, ready to use another time.
Whilst I'm on squashes, we used up the final chunk of the mega green squash in some yummy pasties made by Jan, which also included caramalised red onion (grown on the allotment from sets last year). I have one medium sized green squash left, which I'll probably crack into next, and which will then leave just two acorn squashes and three sweet dumplings (that I'll keep a close eye on for any mould developing - well that's my intention anyway, whether that actually happens is another matter!).
I had a couple of hours on the allotment on Friday, before it got too cold. We'd got some cardboard boxes that a nearby supermarket kindly let us take, so I flattened them out and laid them over a couple of my grassy paths (weighed down with bits of wood from my old raised beds), to cut out the light and help kill off the couch grass - I have quite a lot of paths, which take time to manage and also the couch grass creeps in to the beds from them, so I'm gradually getting rid of the smaller ones but keeping a main network through the plot. Mind you, it takes a surprising amount of cardboard, so I'll be making several visits to the supermarket.
I also made some harvests whilst I was at the plot - kale, chard, corn salad and this unidentified brassica. It grew out of some compost I'd used as mulch around a fruit tree, and is a big plant now, and as I'm not sure what it'll develop in to I thought we may as well eat some of the massive leaves.
They've got quite a full flavour, we had some tonight along with the kale as a side dish to home made falafels. It was a bit of a mish-mash meal - literally - mashed potatoes (grown on the allotment), some leftover red cabbage with chestnuts (foraged in autumn), and some gherkins I grew / preserved a few years ago. There are several jars that I'd forgotten about in a kitchen cupboard - they were a bit of an experiment as usually I ferment gherkins, but this time just used cold cider vinegar and spices. They're actually surprisingly good, a bit soft but lovely flavour, sweet and sour despite not adding any sugar.
The corn salad was nice too, a welcome addition to lunchtime sarnies. I tend to pick a few plants at a time and then prep them altogether, keeping the washed leaves in a covered bowl in the fridge - it saves faff each time you want to use them. I'd planned on getting some more from the plot today but it's been too rainy, bah.

I've been hoping to order my seeds for this year but apparently the main catalogue doesn't come out until the end of January - usually I order my seeds in Autumn (from the Organic Gardening Catalogue) so I've been very tardy this season. Still, it's a bit early for me to be sowing anything, so I'm not too worried, apart from whether the seed potatoes I want will be in stock by then. Some people like to start their chilli and onion seeds off around now but that's mainly if they have a heat source and 'grow lights' to support the early seedlings, which otherwise would get leggy in the weak winter light. I usually sow my tomatoes and peppers around mid-February and will try and do the same this year too.


Thanks for reading this week - apologies about the poor photos, the light in the house is not good for evening pics! I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted this month by Michelle at From Seed to Table.