Monday 27 November 2017

Harvest Monday and a trip to Spain

So, I was away last week visiting my sister in very sunny Spain (more of that later). On returning, I was happy to find that the first of my mega green butternut squashes was still ok (we'd eaten about 2/3 of it but left the last 1/3 in the kitchen, with the cut end covered over. The cut end was fine - it was a section still of solid flesh rather than a seedy bit. I cut off a few rings and made a curry which lasted 3 meals for the two of us, not bad. But that then exposed the seedy bit, which is quite liquidy and would rot quickly.
So last night I roasted it in chunks with rosemary, red onion and garlic. This is the actual colour, I haven't edited it...very orange.
Towards the end I added some kale that I'd harvested yesterday at the plot (there was a cold wind blowing down there and I didn't hang around very long).
It's really good..The butternut squash has a very sweet flavour, though some liquid does come out during roasting. Anyway I ate a load last night and we had some of it today for lunch. I chopped and cooked a potato first to add and make into a kind of soupy stew. Oh, and also added some fresh leaves of winter purslane from the lean-to, there's a couple poking out in the photo below. Jan's got a cold and I thought a hot lunch with extra vitamin C from the purslane might help (spoiler hasn't!).
Also, a bit of an unseasonal harvest yesterday - a couple of aubergines and a red pepper from the lean-to greenhouse. They haven't seemed to suffer too much with the cold temperatures but as we've been getting some heavy frosts this week I thought I'd pick them before they were past it. I roasted the two aubergines (in a separate dish to the squash) with some tasted lovely but didn't look so good. Also, I caught naughty minxie cat on the worktop, licking the dish (after I'd eaten some), so I'm not sure if she was licking the aubergine or the oil, or both...whatever the case I'm a bit reluctant to eat the rest! I haven't used the pepper yet...I forgot today so maybe tomorrow.
One of my sisters lives in southern's so hot there - too hot for me in the summer, so we visit in the autumn. It's actually still pretty hot during the day but cooler at night. They have some land with almond trees, and this year harvested about four sacks of nuts....and so I didn't feel too guilty at cracking my way through a bucket load to bring home. It was lovely waking up and heading straight out to my nut-cracking station. People seem to have their preferred method of opening the nuts, and mine is sitting across a low wall, with a large stone with a groove in it (for the nut to nestle in), then give it a couple of taps with a stone.
My method definitely improved over the week and I managed to get most of the nuts out whole, quite a satisfying job. In fact I virtually had to be dragged to the car on our last day, getting in a final few cracks to leave some nuts ready for my sister to munch on.
This was the view from my nut-cracking station...not bad, not bad.
Back at home we're making steady progress through the nuts, I don't think they'll last us very long (I should've got up earlier each day). They're delicious on they're own raw, but even better dry toasted in a pan, and even better better mixed with a bit of honey, pinch of salt and chilli powder then toasted in the oven. I made some of these last night but they didn't make it into a photo.
I don't like to sit around too much on holiday, so if we weren't out for the day I made myself useful on the land. They have a swale (on-contour ditch for spreading out rain water) with planting pits dotted along. You can just make out a pit in the pic below.
There was a flush of wild plant growth this year after some rain, which led to masses of wild rocket germinating, so we've been clearing the dead dry plant material (grows up to about knee height) and adding it into the swale, to help absorb any rain when it does eventually come (the area is a semi-desert with very low rainfall). Within the pits they'd had broad beans, which actually did really well, they'd eaten loads fresh and I found loads more dried beans for saving. I podded them whilst sat at each pit, to chuck a few beans back in and see if they do anything over winter. I also added the dead stems and pods back into each pit, again to add organic matter.
I had some help from Beth dog. She wasn't in the way at all.
The area my sister lives (Almeria) is really diverse. A large proportion is semi-desert mountains, but we visited the Rio del Agua, which because of the water is much more lush. Unfortunately though, the whole area is suffering from over-abstraction, one of the main reasons being that the new extensive olive plantations require irrigating. As a result, the huge aquifer is rapidly depleting. We bumped into a guy who's been meeting with UN to explain the effect it's having on the ecology and people...what an inspiring man.
We also visited a botanic garden, set in the area of an abandoned gold mining town. I'm always a sucker for a veggie plot, so enjoyed seeing what they were up to. Incredibly, because of the super-long growing season in almeria they even had some new-ish plantings of potatoes, tomatoes (growing up the frames) and broad beans.
Potatoes with toms in the background.
Broad beans.
The gardens were lovely to wander around and earlier in the year would be full of colour. As it's Autumn, there was a lot of green, though still lots to enjoy. I particularly liked all the carob trees, with pods dripping down.
We had a day birdwatching in the salt lake area adjacent to the coast. As well as some cool bird spots (including flamingo and black winged stilt) there was an unexpected site....
A herd of goats coming along the beach!
Jan and I really loved the goats, they have such nice faces. We've seen them in the mountains before but not along the beach. And some started following us instead of the goat herd, so his dog had to come round them up. (I'm sure he wouldn't have noticed if we took one or two home). As well as being kept for the milk and meat, the goats in this area are taken around to graze the scrub down and reduce the fire risk.
We had such a good break, it was a bit of a culture shock to get back to a busy city that's gearing up for (dare I say) Christmas. So I'll end with a couple of reminders of the peaceful countryside there - the walking route through to their nearest town....
And a beautiful cove down on the coast...sigh.

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


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.