Friday, October 28, 2011

Pleased to meet you

At my allotment I like to: weed the beds, sow seeds, plant out, provide protection, lie on the grass, have picnics, chat to neighbours, take photos and harvest. I enjoy looking at tadpoles, grasshoppers, slow worms, dragon flies, and ladybirds with my son.

Last week we had an allotment meeting. Quite a number turned up and a new committee was formed. We are a mixture of young and old, men and women with a few kids and dogs too. One elderly man said he thought the site looked awful. Years ago it was neat and tidy. But years ago they were spraying it with every chemical going to keep it neat and tidy. Maybe it's time to change our idea of what a 'good' allotment is.

Cleared earth isn't good for the soil. Neither is constantly digging it. Long grass attracts insects and wild life. Does a family need rows and rows of runner beans? And we don't need to grow the most giant onion really do we? A few edible plants, fruit, herbs, perennials mixed up with some flowers in soil that is rarely bare and is fed regularly is a healthy allotment. A plot that has some wild areas, log piles, homes for bees, ladybirds and bugs is a 'good' allotment.

When I was last there I rescued a lizard from a bucket of water on an abandoned plot. It was a good day's work.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Blood red tonic

I've had a rotten virus all week. I always get them this time of year when I should be out shovelling manure onto my beds before winter sets in. The gardening books never allow for chills and energy zapping bugs when they list the year's tasks do they? So instead I put on my witches hat and brewed myself a beat those bugs tonic.
Into a pot I threw a handful of frozen mixed fruits (from the supermarket), a handful of blackberries (from the allotment) and a handful of frozen elderberries (foraged). I added a couple of tablespoons of local honey (you can use sugar, add it to taste), some mixed spice then a good few glugs of orange juice (from concentrate). I let it brew away until the kitchen was filled with a sweet, spicy aroma. I then whizzed the lot up with my hand whizzer. You can sieve it to get rid of the seeds and pulp but I couldn't be bothered. I just poured and drank.
You can serve it warm with a splash of brandy or whisky, chilled with sparking water or wine. Make a large vat for a kid's halloween party with floating eyeball sweets frozen in ice cubes. Whizz it with milk for a healthy milkshake. Elderberries and blackberries have been used in herbal remedies long before the development of the chemical industries. Blackberries are high in vitamin C and elderberries are good for treating catarrh. So down spades and join me in a large glass with a generous splosh of whisky.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chile verde to die for

  • Cook time: 3 hours
    • 1 1/2 pounds tomatillos
    • 5 garlic cloves, not peeled
    • 2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
    • 2 Anaheim or Poblano chiles (optional)
    • 1 bunch cilantro (coriander) leaves, cleaned and chopped
    • 3 1/2 to 4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Olive oil
    • 2 yellow onions, chopped
    • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
    • 2 Tbsp of chopped fresh oregano or 1 Tbsp of dried oregano
    • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
    • Pinch of ground cloves
    1 Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut side down, along with 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a grill for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. Remove from oven, let cool enough to handle.
    If you want the additional flavor of chiles other than jalapenos, you can add a couple Anaheim or poblano chiles. Either use canned green chiles or roast fresh chilies over a gas flame or under the grill until blackened all around. Let cool in a bag, remove the skin, seeds, and stem.

    2 Place tomatillos, skins included, into blender. Remove the now roasted garlic cloves from their skins, add them to the blender. Add chopped JalapeƱo peppers, other chilies (if you are using them), and cilantro to the blender. Pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed.

    3 Season the pork cubes generously with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat and brown pork chunks well on all sides. Work in batches so that the pork is not crowded in the pan and has a better chance to brown well. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, lift pork out of pan and place in bowl, set aside.

    4 Pour off excess fat, anything beyond a tablespoon, and place the onions and garlic in the same skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until limp, about 5 minutes. If your skillet is large enough to cook the entire batch of chile verde, with the sauce and meat, then add the pork back to the pan. If not, get a large soup pot and add the onion mixture and the pork to it. Add the oregano to the pan. Add the tomatillo chile verde sauce to the pork and onions. Add the chicken stock (enough to cover the meat). Add a pinch of ground cloves. Add a little salt and pepper. (Not too much as the chile verde will continue to cook down and concentrate a bit.)

    5 Bring to a boil and reduce to a slight simmer. Cook for 2-3 hours uncovered or until the pork is fork tender.
    Adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Spanish rice and warmed flour tortillas or freshly made corn tortillas.

    Yield: Serves 8. (recipe from the lady got it from her Acapulco friend).

    Sorry for no photos when it was finished. We were too busy eating! We had the chile verde in wraps with black beans, rice, spicy tomato salsa, cheese and sour cream washed down with cold beer. It was so delicious and the perfect meal to share with friends. I love Mexican food and it was really exciting to use my own home grown ingredient for an authentic Mexican meal. 

    (chile is the Mexican spelling I've discovered)

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    My new discovery

    I love to try new plants at the allotment and for the first time this year I grew the tomatillo, or husk-tomato from Mexico. I sowed just a few seeds which resulted in three plants. Two went to the allotment and one stayed in a pot at home. The one in the pot produced beautiful flowers and looked stunning but there was no sign of fruit. I then discovered you need two plants for proper pollination. The two plants at the allotment grew large and bushy and produced lots of fruits. The seed variety I sowed is called tomatillo violet, producing dark purple, sweet fruits. I love these sliced up in salad. I also harvested a lot of green ones (many had fallen off the plant) and with these I made chili verde (recipe to follow). These plants are so easy to grow, look pretty and exotic, need very little care, don't suffer from blight like tomatoes, are not available to buy in the shops and will make a delicious meal that you can't buy in any local restaurant. This is why I will be growing lots more next year.

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Charles Dowding

    I emailed Charles Dowding to let him know that I used his book as a guide for setting up my new allotment and the community garden. He replied:

    Hello Lorna

    Many thanks for this, it is encouraging to hear you have done all that with just the book to help you! It makes all the writing worthwhile, to have feedback like this.
    Funnily enough I am just doing a piece for Amateur Gardening on the virtues of no dig and the lead photo is something like in your piece:

    best wishes

    Look at the incredible salad beds on his homepage!

    PS: I have just gone 'public' with my blog now that I have a little more time with my son starting school. So if you like what you see, please follow, share, get in touch if you like. Thanks!

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Take Your Time

    Sunflower and romanesco calabrese flowers.

    Calendula (pot marigold).

    Calendula seed head.

    Teasel seed head and french bean and borlotti beans.
    As I lie on the grass at my allotment, eyes closed feeling the warmth of the sun on me, I can hear the earth being attacked with spades and forks all around. This is the time of year when everyone panics and start frantically clearing patches of land that have become busy with weeds during the summer. Someone will proudly announce, "I've got my onions, broad beans and garlic in". Like they've just run a race and are waiting for a prize. It makes me smile. There is a lot going on in my plot. The badgers have been having a good old munch on my sweetcorn. The slow worms are preparing to bed down for the winter. Seeds are being scattered in the wind. Pods are drying to a hard crisp shell. The worms are mixing in the manure for me. There's no rush.

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Kids Go Nuts in Summerfield Woods

    In 1966 the Council declared that the 14th October would be 'HASTINGS DAY' to mark the Battle of Hastings 1066. By the 1980s it had become a week long celebration of community based events culminating in a spectacular Torchlight Procession, bonfire and fireworks display. Hasting's 'Green areas' are open to all during the week. The Rangers and Hastings Museum organised a family event in Summerfields Woods; making environmental art and learning about the wildlife and history of the woods. I made the owl, Chris made the Green Man and Brendan age 4 made The Creature. Woodland sculpture by Joc Hare.

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Loving apples

    Wouldn't it be lovely if all our parks and empty fields were full of different varieties of apple trees. And instead of grabbing a plastic bag filled with sweaty red apples from the other side of the world, we would instead go out on a sunny day to reach for fresh fruit with the finest blushed skin.
    Illustration by Chris Watson. Visit The Fruit Tree Project.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Friary Gardens

    It has been a year since I last visited Friary Gardens where people with disabilities are given horticultural training and participate in a wide range of gardening and crafting activities. I noticed many improvements to the site. There are two large polytunnels, one of which is heated, plant propagating units and a "mess" hut with amenities to make hot drinks and eat lunch. Old farm buildings are used to store materials and equipment, as well as housing a toilet block. There is a small project office and a shop. One walled garden incorporates display flowerbeds and a large vegetable growing area; the second walled garden is down to grass and is currently used for recreational and sporting activities. Last year the vegetable garden was left fallow which means no seeds were sown and nothing was planted. The benefits of this include rebalancing soil nutrients, re-establishing soil biota, breaking crop pest and disease cycles, and providing a haven for wildlife. It has obviously paid off because the crops this year are flourishing.

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    The Bohemia Walled Garden

    Hidden away amongst the trees in Summerfields Woods is a beautiful walled garden. In the last couple of years it has slowly come to life with the help of a group of amazing, dedicated people. Inside the 100 year old walls was a wild tangle of brambles, nettles and debris. This has been cleared to create plots for local community members and two primary schools. A visit to one of their open days is well worthwhile. There is a heritage border bursting with plants that would have been grown when the garden was owned by Wastel Brisco and his family; a nature border to attract bees and butterflies; a bee hive; a composting area which demonstrates a number of methods to do this and pretty vegetable plots. We sampled courgette cakes and cupcakes from 1066 Baking. I also picked up some handouts about moths and how to identify them. The garden is open 10am - 12 noon on Wednesday and Sunday. Further information and historical photos at The Bohemia Walled Garden Association site.
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