Food Connections flew by but I did manage to give my allotment quite a lot of love. Admittedly keeping the grass on the paths and under the picnic table down is a job in itself at this time of year...but we also got squashes and brassicas planted in, and dahlias and welsh onions a neighbour gave me. We have been protecting seedlings that are coming up (including spinach and amaranth, beetroot, asparagus peas, munchen bier, salads, kohl rabi, chard and brassicas) from the wind, rain and slugs..and from weed competition. Our indoor seedlings, including celeriac and purple sprouting are now toughening up outside a bit and we have built a mini cold frame in the garden for our tomatoes, tomatillos, mouse melons and chillies. I have even got round to reading up on succession planting and can add in a bunch more crops to my yearly planting plan. Everything is looking set for a productive year.
I confess...I haven't made it down every day. Well you've seen some of the wind and rain we've been having! I went down this morning to check on the seedlings I planted. The wind has pulled off some of the fleece I put over them but mostly they are looking good - not too wind swept or slug eaten, though some of the salads have had damage from what may be flea beetles. I have used bits of flexible plastic edging material to create rings around some of the brassicas and courgettes to give them a bit of protection against the wind. On the plus side the rain has made everything grow really quickly...my rhubarb is bursting out of the chimney pot I use as a forcer, all my early potatoes are up now, and seedlings are putting out their first true leaves (making it easier to tell them apart from the equally enthusiastic weedlings)
I’ve tried blackberry leaf tea twice now. Adele in Nozedar in The Hedgerow Handbook suggests that this is best made with fresh young leaves gathered in spring, so I took home some of the tender new growth I saw on my Downs walk yesterday and brewed them up that afternoon. And today I cycled to the wooded area near Kings Weston House to sit outside with a book and a sandwich. I’d brought a flask of hot mint tea with me, which I’d brewed from some mint leaves I’m growing at home, but it wasn’t very strong. So I thought why not add some blackberry leaves from my immediate surroundings. The tea has a pleasant ‘green’ taste and is said to have a soothing effect on a sore throat. You can also dry the leaves to make tea and I’ve read that you can ferment them as well, which causes them to exude a floral scent. I’m intrigued and want to try this!
So far so good! Definitely averaging over 1hour a day on the plot so far and Chris has been helping too. To add to the productivity I have also found takers for my spare seedlings - Incredible Edible planters on Dame Emily Park and an allotment holder on Windmill Hill. I have planted in my kale, brussels sprouts and cabbage seedlings and a couple of larger courgettes and now its stopped being so windy I've put some other seedlings outside in my garden to harden off. The beds are starting to fill up with their planned crops, so now I need to get busy working out what I can plant inbetween them, and after them, that won't get in their way. I've found resources of Charles Dowding's website really useful: http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/learn/articles/ especially his growing timeline which tells you when to actually plant things (as packets can be so vague!)
I'm going to plant my beans in pots today because the wind is a bit chilly still and Charles says I should! But I've also soaked some in water to germinate in a glass so I can see which of my saved bean seeds are the most vigorous. That's what passes for fun in my house :) I've also be sprouting my onion bottoms to grow new scalions...interesting but a bit smelly. Crops we are eating from our plot this week: kale, spinach, lemon balm (in drinks), mint, onion shoots (instead of spring onions)
I went out on the Downs today – where I was in full sun one moment and under sprinklings of rain the next - and gathered a selection of wild edibles. I assembled these into a mini salad which I plan to add this evening to some locally grown leaves from The Severn Project. I’ll add a scattering of sunflower seeds and walnuts and a vinaigrette dressing, mmm! Here is the list of wild salad makings I collected: daisy leaves and petals, dandelion leaves and petals, violet leaves and flowers, very young plantain leaves, blackberry buds, yarrow leaves.
I recently went on an inspiring urban foraging walk in the heart of Bristol. Despite considering myself a bit of a seasoned forager, marking each spring with bundles of wild garlic, the summer with the perfume of elderflowers and the autumn with the juicy tang of blackberries, I discovered that there is a lot more wild food all around us in the city than we might expect! This has set me off on a bit of a wild food kick and I thought it might be a fun challenge to see how many different foraged foods I can make use of in the kitchen during the Food Connections Festival. Last night I started off in a very, very local way by adding a few dandelion leaves from the garden to my fish stew. They added a delicious bitter bite that went really well with the fish (pollock) and other flavours in the stew (potatoes, garlic, onion, carrot, a handful of chopped spring greens and a splash of creamy milk). I used organic veg and washed everything down with a bottle of locally produced ale!
I want to see how much wild food, foraged from right here in the city, I can make use of during the Food Connections Festival in Bristol, 1-9 May 2015.
During the first Food Connections festival, I looked at trying to minimise my non-recyclable food packaging. I've maintained a few good habits from last time around, but the cat has not! - she's back on the single cat food sachets, environmental challenge that she is. Anyway, this time around, I'm going to be looking at minimising what I end up chucking in the compost bin. I'm pretty bad at finishing-off the last bit in the jar, and at buying odd ingredients only to use them once, or bargain veg which then turn into compost of their own volition. I think the first step is to audit the contents of fridge & larder.
May is a great month for getting things going on the allotment...beans and courgettes can be planted and other seedlings that have been brought on can be planted into the soil. I'm going to challenge myself to spend at least one hour on my allotment every day, come rain or shine, during the Food Connections Fesitval in order to get every bed as productive as possible.
I went to Avon Organic Group's talk with Charles Dowding on Monday and was inspired by some of the tips he gave on no-dig growing. It's all quite common sense really but he gets a lot of produce by feeding his soil with compost and planting second crops after the first ones are done. So as well as planting in my seedlings and beans I'm going to spend a bit of time planning which seeds I can plant after the crops I'm putting in now and forecasting the feeding and rotation of my beds.
I like growing things I can't get in my veg box as well as things that stand will into winter like brassicas and every year I try some experimental things. So far in my allotment plan this year are runner beans and Cherokee Trail of Tears climbing beans, purple mange toute, asparagus peas, munchen bier aerial radishes, kohl rabi and other radishes, spinach, chard and amaranth, first and second early potato, Jerusalem artichokes, beetroots, parsnips, celeriac, red and yellow onions, strawberries (4 sorts - yum!), rocket, radicchio and other salad leaves, skirret, salsola, green and purple sprouting broccoli, 2 types of cabbage, Brussels spouts, kale, courgettes (3 sorts, including yellow ones), Turks turban squashes, coriander, parsley and basil, tomatillos and 5 types of tomato.
Plus there are all the perrenials - apples and pears, asparagus, rhubarb, herbs, horseradish, red and black currants, raspberries and blackberries, ransoms - and a few edible and decorative things like hosta, fiddlehead ferns, dahlias and day lilies.
So I really do have a quite a challenge to get all that in order over the 9 days of Food Connections! My next challenge after that will (hopefully!) be working out how to process and distribute it all so none of it goes to waste!
This summers brilliant sunny weather has made the blackberry season a bumper crop, so i picked more then my fair share of the berries and got stuck straight in with the baking! I have made 2 blackberry upside down cakes and more blackberry muffins then you can shake a stick at! my family love the muffins, it was probably just my baking, but the batter made a good, stodgy muffin, and in my family, a stodgy cake, is the BEST cake! they were made with fairtrade sugar and eggs from our ducks :)