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)
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)
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!
A recent e-mail from Foodcycle, a National campaign to limit food waste, has requested recipes for a cookbook to be sold to raise money for charity (image 1). Below is my contribution that I discovered recently as a means of using leftover hard cheese rind (always seems such a waste!), although this isn't strictly vegetarian as requested I tweaked it a little and left the cheese as optional. Bread and tomato soup: From the Tuscany area of Italy this is a great recipe for using up a few leftovers such as old stale loaf bread, fresh or tinned tomatoes, cut herbs, and even hard cheese rind. Though it is an hour cooking time you can walk away from the pot for large chunks of time while the smell fills your kitchen! Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour Serves: 4 Ingredients: 400 g of ripe tomatoes (peeled, de-seeded, and coarsely chopped; or roughly 1 tin of tomatoes) 1 celery stick (chopped; or substitute with 1 small white onion, chopped) 1 garlic clove (chopped) 1 tablespoon olive oil Salt and pepper 2 slices of stale bread (cut into small cubes including the crusts; although not sliced white packaged bread!) A handful of basil leaves, or alternatively flat leaf parsley or coriander (torn, at end of cooking) Recipe: Add the tomatoes, celery stick, garlic, olive oil and 1.2 liters of water to a pan with a pinch of salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer with no lid for around 30 minutes (adding leftover hard cheese rind here if using), then add the bread and simmer over an even lower heat for 30 more minutes with no lid. Note that at this point you essentially have a tomato soup you could just go ahead and eat, but it's also a useful way to use up bread. Taste and season to your liking then serve in warmed soup bowls topped with the punchy herbs, tear these by hand at the last moment so that the oils aren't lost on the knife blade. Notes: To easily peel whole tomatoes gently score a knife across the bottom and top in a criss-cross fashion and place in boiling water for 20 seconds, wait for them to cool then peel away the skin. You can add leftover hard cheese rind at the simmering stage to add flavour (e.g. parmesan or pecorino, buy vegetarian or only use rennet-based cheese for non-vegetarians).
After much deliberation - my challenge? To increase my food efficiency! Over the next few weeks I want to try and streamline my shopping and cooking experience by limiting waste, expense, and food miles, as well as increasing the nutritional efficiency of each meal. Being conveniently located in Bristol - a city that prides itself on local food supply, food recycling, and city farming - I'm sure this won't be too difficult, but I'm anticipating an interesting and informative journey. I keep a blog (http://www.jenandjulia.tumblr.com/) in any case that keeps track of good recipes that I find or tweak myself, and photographs that help me keep track of what I'm eating. Mostly my job involves science outreach and talking about the brain, so writing about food consistently will be a brand new experience and I'm very much looking forward to it. Over the next while I hope to write about our brand new garden compost heap and how we limit food waste before it simply gets thrown away, our vegetable and kitchen herb growing, home-brewing including where our hops come from and where our grain waste goes, how you can increase the nutritional value of your food and why this is a good idea, where to buy locally supplied foods and whether this is a consistently viable option, as well as the practicality of making your own version of shop-bought foods like bread and pasta...but for my first post? Well, macarons of course!