Monday, 13 November 2017

Harvest Monday and Norwich Farmshare Crowdfunder

I made up a new game today, it's called 'Find the borlotti beans'. The premise is simple - balance a tray of beans to dry precariously on top of a hifi speaker, then (whilst opening the curtains), knock them all over the place. Enjoy the next fifteen minutes searching under chairs, a wardrobe, chest of drawers, bed and so on (scenario changes depending on your furniture). Have a go, it'll keep you entertained for ages. I'm pretty sure I didn't find them all either, so more fun to be had later.

I've failed to take any harvest photos this week, but have picked chard, kale and corn salad from the allotment. Jan made a lovely big hotpot with loads of wintery goodies, including the kale and some blauhilde beans from the freezer. In the lean-to greenhouse at home I have several tubs of lush winter purslane / claytonia, so we've been adding tasty leaves to our lunchtime sandwiches.

Same goes for sweet rocket (variety Esmee).

So onto Norwich FarmShare.....
This is a fantastic community farming project, providing fresh, chemical-free veggies to people from the Norwich area. Members sign up for weekly shares (of different sizes) and can either collect from The Hub (meeting up with other members) or have them delivered by bike. Also, members spend some time helping out, which could be 'behind the scenes' type activities, helping at The Hub, or getting your hands in the dirt, actually helping to farm the food (with the two official Growers). What's not to like about that?

Since spring 2016 FarmShare has been in a transition period - the land they were farming on the edge of Norwich wasn't going to be available any longer, so the hunt began for a new site / sites. After lots of hard work and research, a couple of great opportunities have arisen. The first site is a block of several unused allotment plots to the north west of Norwich (Valpy Avenue site), which together form quite a bit of land. The focus here will be on community and educational activities (as well as growing food). The site is really lovely too, overlooking Sloughbottom Park and the River Wensum Valley. Work has begun to prepare the site (I helped a little at the first volunteer workday a while back but there's been lots more happening since then), with plans to establish infrastructure like a volunteer shelter and compost loo. That's where the crowdfunding campaign comes in, taking place over the next few weeks.

There are some great rewards for pledges, including fun ones like having your name written into a squash as it grows, and useful ones like bike maintenance sessions. I gather a whole load of new rewards are being released soon too, which I'll be keeping an eye out for. If you don't fancy any of the rewards but would still like to support the project you can simply make a donation, even a fiver would help towards achieving the goals of a fairer, healthier food system, buidling soil and building communities.

If you're interested in finding out more have a look at their Crowdfunder page and also watch the excellent video
Norwich Farmshare - crowd funding campaign from Matthew Robinson on Vimeo.

Another cool thing happening in Norwich at the moment is the film festival Conversations About Food organised by the East Anglian Landworkers' Alliance (with Norwich FarmShare). The festival presents a series of five inspirational films relating to sustainable agriculture, showcasing examples from around the world. We've had the first two (which were excellent, I particularly enjoyed Gracie's Backyard about a Swedish farm being run following permaculture principles. The second film Sustainable, centred on US examples, was good too - I think you can find this one for free online). Next up is In Our Hands, focussing on the UK, I'm looking forward to this.

Also coming up, next week at the monthly Norfolk Organic Group we'll be treated to a talk by well-known gardener Bob Flowerdew. It's all happening in Norwich eh. Thank you to all the people who are giving up their time to organise these amazing events.

That's me for the week, thanks for reading. I'm linking in with Harvest Monday kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Harvest Monday - one of those massive squashes

We were having friends round for dinner this week, so decided to crack open one of the big green butternut squashes. Here's a reminder of the size of one...
I was really interested to see what it was like inside, and cut off one end...
It was really easy to cut through, and had a lovely orange colour (more orange than the pic shows)...
As the skin was thin, I left it on for the roasting, and added a bit of rosemary from the allotment too. That section of the squash ended up making three roasting tins-ful, phew! The squash has a very sweet flavour, yummy.
Also this week, I harvested all the remaining beetroot from the allotment - I wanted to use the space to make a new strawberry bed, plus the beets might otherwise get damaged by heavy frost (apparently there was one last night). I've stored them all in the brick shed at home, twisting the tops off first.
I sorted through the beet tops and selected out the nicest quality leaves to cook up.
The colour dulled a bit after cooking in a small amount of water, but still tasted good.
Whilst tidying up the two old strawberry beds I've been removing self-sown chard plants and saving the best leaves of those too, with a couple of large bunches picked on different occasions, here's one below. I was going to completely remove one of the old strawb beds but decided to leave them both whilst the new one settles in. Oh and there are actually some strawb flowers and actual fruit on a couple of the older plants! Crazy autumn. I don't expect them to ripen though. With the chard plants, I've been snipping them off just below ground level, so that the root decomposes in the soil, feeding the strawb beds as it goes.
Jan noticed we're nearly out of chilli flakes, so rather than buy more, we decided to make some from our own fruits. I've been growing these indoors - I have two over-wintered plants and two newly sown last spring.
Not having done this before, we just used a few to begin with, in case we messed up. Jan carefully sliced them up and we baked on a very low oven (less than gas mark 1) to dry them out.
We thought they looked OK after about an hour or so
So we ground them up (and actually snipped them up a bit too). We've yet to try them, so not sure how potent they are yet. And hopefully we dried them enough but I know Dave (Our Happy Acres) is an expert so maybe he might kindly give his view? (And in fact I've just seen on his latest blog post, linked below, that he dehydrated some peppers over two days, so our one hour seems a tad lacking!).
For a bit of variety this week, we dipped into some of the freezer goodies, using a pack of sweet peppers and diced courgette, with some homemade pesto. Oh, and today I thawed out a jar of beetroot hummus to go in our sarnies, along with the salad leaves that are still coming from the lean-to.
Today was actually really sunny, so after a short gardening job I spent a couple of hours on the plot, continuing to tidy the strawberry beds. Yesterday wasn't too bad either, and we had a walk down to Whitlingham Country Park on the outskirts of the city, where there are various woodland routes and a large broad (manmade lake) to walk round. I forget sometimes that I was the warden here one summer many years ago, it's changed a lot since then. Now there's even a lovely visitor centre and toilets!
The River Yare bounds one side of the park and in a few places there are some great views to be had (my photo's not very good, it was a bit cold on the fingers). We even saw a kingfisher fly by, low over the water at one point. I heard it before I saw it, with the 'peep' call giving a heads up that it was about to fly past.

I haven't looked ahead to the weather over the next few days but it would be nice if we had a some more like this. I might try and get some pics of the plot if the light is good. Ok, thanks for reading, I'm linking in with Harvest Monday, hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.


Ooh, I've left it a bit late to mention properly the Norwich FarmShare (Community Supported Agriculture) crowdfunding launch, aiming to raise money for establishing the new site, so will do that another time. But please have a look at the link above in the meantime to find out more.


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Harvest Monday - nuts! And Science!

I wanted to try out some of the hazels from the allotment - it's been a few weeks since I harvested them and they've got a nice full flavour now. So initially, as I had half a red cabbage left (bought from Folland Organics on Norwich Market) I thought I'd try the spiced cabbage recipe from last week, using hazels instead of chestnuts. Jan dutifully started cracking hazels whilst I chopped the red onion and cabbage etc. She amassed a nice little potful...
Then I started doubting myself, whether the flavour would work as well, so instead I added some frozen chestnuts to the cabbage, and cut all the hazels in half (photos aren't very good due to poor light).
And made one of my all time favourites - toasted hazels, yum yum yum. Simply toasted in a dry frying pan, they taste so good. The stash of stored hazels wasn't dented too much, so there's plenty more of these to be made. And the catkins for next year are already formed on the two allotment hazel trees, looking good too.
The internet is awash with photos of winter squash at the moment so I didn't want to miss joining in. These were assembled together on our sofa, from their current homes on various shelves and tables downstairs. The three big, long ones underneath are the green butternuts, surrounded by sweet dumpling (stripey), cream of the crop (pointy) and blue kuri. It's hard to tell the size here but the biggest squash is about 16lb (according to my bathroom scales). So a good number of meals coming from that lot. We'll be having friends round to watch Stranger Things on tv soon, and I can see us cooking a squash meal (or two or three).
Out in the lean-to greenhouse at home I picked most of the rest of the sweet peppers, which were almost all ripe. I'd noticed some little flecks had appeared on a couple and it turned out they had grubs inside, eating away at the peppers, urgh - the flecks were their poo I think, like caterpillars leave. Anyway, I managed to salvage quite a bit of pepper flesh so lucky I didn't leave it too much later to pick them.
We're still eating nice fresh salad leaves in our sandwiches. Today I picked most of the outdoor lettuce that was left - it can't be long until the first frost and they probably won't last past that. I also picked some more coriander and dill from the lean-to, which make a flavoursome combination. Then on top, are some sprouted lentils which I sprout in a jar on the windowsill then keep in the fridge once they've got to the right size. (Though I remember reading years ago that those sprouted in the dark produce different vitamins...I'll have to look that up and see if I remember rightly). The bread is delicious organic sourdough from Timberhill Bakery, double-yum.
I've been to loads of food related events this week! Most were being put on as part of the Norwich Science Festival. There were so many sciencey events and loads were free as well, which is always a bonus.
I didn't get many photos but a quick mention - Nicholas Crane (from 'Coast' TV prog) talked about man's impact on the British landscape, which as we know includes the effects of agriculture past and present. Professor Alice Roberts talked about our history of taming species, the first covering wolves / dogs and also included the (possibly accidental) development of agriculture. They both have books out about their respective themes, so there's some Christmas pressie ideas for you. Both these talks ended with a question about where modern agriculture will go next? My view is, bearing in mind that the soils are trashed, we're losing species and increasing carbon emissions, a hastening move towards regenerative agriculture needs to be on the cards. Ecological farming and soil building, here we come (hopefully).
I also saw Helen Sharman (Britain's first astronaut) who was an amazing speaker (as was Alice Roberts). Interestingly they both shared the view that the long term future of humans will rely on colonising other planets, as for example, if a huge asteroid came along we'd be in proper trouble (not their exact words). Hopefully no big asteroids are heading this way anytime soon then.
The last day of the Science Festival (yesterday) was actually 'food and agriculture' themed (other days were Nature, Engineering, Physics etc). First I went to a talk on soils, focusing on the battles between all the microorganisms happening without many of us noticing. There is so much life and diversity in a healthy soil, it's amazing.
On a lighter topic, Tim Kinnaird (finalist of MasterChef who now runs a macaron business in Norwich), explained the science behind making the perfect macaron, which is actually surprisingly sciencey. There were some samples afterwards which I *may* have tried (very yummy).
Ironically his show (where recipes involve a fair amount of butter and sugar) was followed by one on the positive effects of eating plenty of fibre in your diet, but hey, a little bit of macaron every now and then is ok, eh. The final talk I saw described the fungal problem affecting bananas - interestingly, even though there are over 1000 banana species, there is mainly just one grown for commercial export (the Cavendish) and it grows as a clone (no seeds as they have been bred out). So there are these genetically identical plantations across the tropics, at risk to the fungus, which is spreading about quite nicely. Whilst there are methods for minimising the risk of spreading the fungus (footwear hygiene for example), the scientist who gave the talk, Dr Sarah Schmidt, is looking for ways to combat the problem. One of the methods involves identifying soil bacteria which inhibit growth of the we're back to the importance of soils again. She has a website where you can find out more if you're interested.
Also this week I've been to the pre-launch of Norwich FarmShare's exciting crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for their new site. I'll say more about that next week, after the proper launch. And tonight, this very evening, I've been to the Norfolk Organic Group's monthly talk, this time about growing potatoes.....also very interesting, and with the added bonus of taste-testing some delicious freshly baked potatoes of different varieties that members had brought in. What a lovely idea.
Finally, a shot through the larger polytunnel at Eves Hill Veg Co (not for profit market garden where I volunteer) from Wednesday. All the summer crops have now gone but look at that brilliant winter salad. Yes I still have polytunnel envy.

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

(PS I wrote this on Monday evening but then had iPad issues, so am publishing Tuesday instead)


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Harvest Monday - autumnal

Well, I was coming in late with this week's post as I'd spent yesterday evening peeling chestnuts. But then after writing the whole thing it disappeared, so this second time round I will be a bit more brief!
With all the strong winds, my remaining courgette plant looked worse for wear, so I picked the last few fruits rather than lose them to rot. The ends had gone a bit soft so I cut them off, but the rest was good.
One of my green butter nuts was later to grow and ripen than the others, and the end of it had started to rot (in the shed where I was curing it), so I cut that bit off, which still left a large fruit.
You can see where it wasn't cured properly yet, the flesh is pale at the stalk end still. It had a lovely sweet aroma though.
Yesterday I picked some chard and kale. These particular chard leaves were from plants which self germinated in the compost mulch around the raspberries. They're much more lush than other plants around the plot so just shows the benefit of a good mulch.
At home I bottled up the apple cider vinegar (simply apple peel, cores and water) that had been fermenting in large jars on the kitchen worktop. After straining off the solids, there were four bottles altogether- these two were actually a similar colour, it's come out a bit pink in the photo. They should darken over time too. The flavour is quite sweet as they were dessert apples. As you can see from the bottles, Jan has been enjoying an occasional G and T.
I'd bought a lovely organic red cabbage from Folland Oragnics on Norwich Market, so looked for recipes to combine it with sweet chestnuts, and found this one - score, roast and peel the chestnuts, slice the red onion and cabbage thinly (my own red onion), cook it down a bit with sugar and water and lots of spices, then add the chestnuts and chopped apple.
It took most of Sunday afternoon to make but luckily was very tasty!
I wanted to cook up the rest of the chestnuts yesterday and looked up an easier to peel method, and found this one - slice nuts, bring to a simmer in hot water, roast in oven and then put in a covered bowl to steam. It sounds faffy but was quite easy really, apart from all the peeling...I think the skins came off a lot easier with this method but I should have prepared them in smaller batches as there wasn't an even cook across the lot. I didn't get any photos either but the link above had some helpful instructions and pics.
Earlier in the week these peppers in the lean-to were still a bit green...
But by Saturday they'd fully ripened..
Such a nice colour...
After quartering them I sliced them and froze the slices across three freezer bags, for using later. Ideally I'd not use plastic bags but my freezer is pretty full and the bags were easy to squeeze in. I also need more of those glass tubs (well, Christmas is coming up, hint hint).
Also from the lean-to we've been enjoying winter salads, growing in the old tomato pots. The last few days we've had coriander leaf, winter purslane and sweet rocket in our sarnies.
Finally a shot of the smaller winter squashes, currently occupying the kitchen shelves...there are cream of the crop, sweet dumpling and blue kuri. Almost too pretty to eat but I'm sure I'll force myself. I'm planning on taking a pic of all the squashes together at some point, including the monsters but I'll have to shift things around. It'll be good to see them together though.

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


Monday, 16 October 2017

Harvest Monday and a trip to the coast

I only took a smattering of veggie pics this week, but here they are...first up, some curly kale and Nero kale. I'm planning on spreading a bit of compost round the plants soon to give them a bit of a feed, as they've been in the ground for several months already.
From the lean-to greenhouse at home, I picked a couple of ripe sweet peppers. There are quite a few still to pick, so I just need to make sure they don't start rotting on the plants before I get round to harvesting them all. Maybe I'll freeze some of them.
These two went into a tasty pasta dish, mixed up with some basil pesto made from some of the plants which were being cleared from the smaller polytunnel at the market garden where I volunteer.
I finally got round to sorting out the potatoes that I'd lifted a while back, giving the lounge quite an earthy aroma for a while. At least I laid down some newspaper before tipping them out of the old compost bags they'd been temporarily stored in, in the kitchen, (which wasn't a great place, it was too warm and light, so a few had even started to sprout a bit, and it's those I'll use up first). The rest are now in a big paper sack in the brick shed outside, which keeps cold but frost-free.
Other harvests include daily pickings of salad leaves for our lunch sarnies, mainly lettuce and rocket at the moment. The lettuce outside is nearly finished but the more recently planted-out leaves in the lean-to are growing away quite nicely whilst the weather isn't too cold yet.
I always look forward to a bit of chestnut foraging in Autumn. The weather was forecast to be fine for most of today so a friend and I headed off to a couple of woods not too far away, along with her little girl (13 months old, awww). Well, it seems to be a good year for them, we collected a couple of tubs each without too much problem, and enjoyed a pleasant wander through the trees in dappled sunlight (this was before Norfolk caught the very edge the hurricane this evening - it's now cold and windy).
There was quite a spectacular sunset this evening though - completely underdone in this photo. In reality it was a lovely (or spooky) orangey glow (having gone completely dark from 4.30pm, then brightened up again)
Yesterday was another beautiful autumn day, so I caught the train up to Sheringham on the north Norfolk coast (people were actually swimming in the sea, it was so warm) and then swapped to the Coasthopper bus, along to Salthouse and Cley, for a very enjoyable walk - first heading inland a bit and then back to the coast for some birdwatching at the nature reserve.
View down to the marshes and sea.
Across the marshes, looking to Salthouse
Across the pools and reedbed, looking towards Cley
A lovely sound and sight - the pink footed geese are back for the winter, flying over the reserve in mid afternoon with their gentle 'wink wink' calls.
They were headed inland, maybe to feed on the arable fields?
Anyone interested in birds - I also saw marsh harriers, black tailed godwits, snipe, ruff (winter plumage), two kestrels (one of them had a bit of a 'to do' with a marsh harrier), lapwings, little egrets, plenty of different ducks (shelduck, widgeon, gadwall etc), curlew and more. Quite excitingly, I heard a water rail on the edge of a pond (they sound like a squealing piggy) and also Cetti's warblers. Oh and saw a grey seal swimming past the beach. And turnstones on the prom at Sheringham (they're always there, so cute). Not a bad day. My top money-saving tip for this journey (or similar trips to the coast) is to buy a 'bittern line day ranger' ticket at the train station, which is only £9 and includes all your train and Coasthopper bus journeys for the day...bargain.


Back to the veggies, I sowed my Autumn broad beans this week, and will plant out the garlic soon too. I have a few last winter squashes which I put in the allotment shed to cure, to bring home as well. Thanks for reading, I'm linking in as usual with Harvest Monday, kindly hosted by Dave at Our Happy Acres.