Tag Archives: gardening

July Diary 2017

Things haven’t felt as hectic as they’ve clearly been, for here is the evidence in my long gap between posts!

I joined the local parish council to work on the Emergency Plan for the area.  While exploring emergency routes on my bicycle, I found this milk vending machine at a farm gate!

milk vending machine 2017

My fridge broke, I replaced it from a local independent store where there are people who can fix it if it goes wrong.  Score a ten in the Resilience Assessment!

I celebrated by freezing some of my home made elderflower cordial – diluted – into ice cubes with flower petals and mint leaves.

flower ice 2017

It’s still all about food and growing.   Someone dropped out of the Resilience Allotment project, so we lost a third of our growing area.  Maybe it was too much to manage, as the new hedge in the field needs a lot of attention.

hedge mulch 2017

We’re continuing with the cardboard mulch, which is working well so far.  The perennial weeds can’t get through it easily; eventually the trees will shade them out.  Note the edges of the holes around the saplings are pushed downwards, to channel water to their roots.

‘Recipes for Resilience’ occupies a lot of my desk time.  I’m working my way through the final selection of recipes.  Some recipes I’ve never tried before, but they illustrate important techniques in preserving, which you may need come the Zombie Apocalypse or even a few months of international trade disruption.

I thought I’d try dehydrating strawberries.  The internet confidently assured me that, on a low oven, this process could be accomplished in two hours, after which you could powder them into a jar.

It was a chilly summer evening, so I decided to do this instead of turning the heating on.  I set my cooker, which runs on bottled gas, on to less than gas mark 1, propped the door slightly open and put the strawberries in.

dehydrating strawberries 2017

The greaseproof paper was crucial, as they leaked puddles of juice, which then began to scorch.  I moved them on to a clean piece twice, which was tricky as they were very soggy at this stage.

After four hours, I had not very much of something which looked like it might keep for a few weeks, but certainly couldn’t be powdered.  All those strawberries came down to one large tablespoonful.

dehydrated strawberries 2017

Although the dried fruit was chewy rather than crunchy, the taste was quite intense.  It was more like a fruit leather than something dehydrated.

It’s not usual to make fruit leathers out of summer fruits – you wouldn’t want to have the oven on all day when these are in season.  If you were getting some of your electricity from solar power, though, it would pay to buy a dehydrator.  You could preserve your strawberries free of both cost and sugar!

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April Diary 2017

It’s been an early, dry Spring in most of England this year. Here in our southwest corner, the rhubarb is thin and the potatoes slow to come up. On the positive side, the slugs are discouraged and the seedlings are getting a good start. Watering them is a daily chore now.

Well watered rhubarb in a pot
Well watered rhubarb in a pot

Having failed to negotiate a supply of wheat seeds – it’s hard to buy a small handful – I planted some old gleanings I found in the seed box. They seem to be coming up, but look exactly like grass just now. If the experiment doesn’t work, I’ll dig over and plant out squashes, or grow a catch crop of cress.

We managed to subdue most of the really wild quarter of our new Resilience Allotment while the soil was still soft. To clear the established perennial weeds – couch grass, bindweed, dandelion and horsetail – we turned the matted turf over to a spade’s depth, pulling the exposed roots out by hand as we broke up the clumps. These went to the tip for recycling, as they can sprout again from fragments.

The rough bit of the allotment before digging
The rough bit is on the left
The weed roots we are removing
The weed roots we are removing

A layer of leaf mould covered with cardboard sheets was laid on the sections we dug over, topped with another layer of leaf mould. Holes were cut in the card and our vegetables planted through it, in a handful of compost. The thick mulch will discourage the weeds – though we haven’t seen the last of them – and give our plants a head start.

The leaf mould was free, from a huge pile dumped in the allotment car park. It’s not ideal; in this dry weather it starts to blow away, and I worry that the potatoes may not like it.

“Do not dig your potatoes up to see if they are growing” – a modern Zen saying!

There was an urgent need for a weed suppressant though, and the leaf mould was available in large amounts. Resilience gardening is about making use of local resources, in a very permaculture-like fashion.

It’s also about low maintenance. While I’m concentrating on the allotment, the original Resilience Garden is ticking over nicely. The leeks and purple sprouting broccoli are finishing now, the kale going to seed, and the new peas coming up. The wild garlic is getting a bit ragged, but other salad leaves are coming up fast. The remaining small piece of lawn takes me more effort to maintain than the vegetable patch does.

You can learn the basics of starting a Resilience Garden from the Handbook...the best way to learn is to try things out. Even a windowsill pot of herbs is worth doing!

Musing on the process of writing

When I returned from my trip to Hebden Bridge I pitched straight into completing the first full draft of my new book, on food resilience. I’ve been working on this book for some years, piecing the content together from field trips, networking events and out-takes from the Resilience Handbook. Cultivating my own resilience garden supplied me with the vegetables’ point of view!

I’ve been living on experiments for months, as I calculate exact quantities for recipes I’ve used for decades without measuring. Food resilience combines rotating your emergency stores with whatever you can forage – your own produce, special deals, community orchard fruit. This has kept me so busy that I just don’t use the supermarket any more, except to replenish heavy items in my stores.

home made marmalade jars
You can’t make just a little marmalade!

I find I become quite obsessive at this stage of writing. Once I get past 40,000 words, I encounter continuity issues, even with non-fiction. Did I write on that subject in a previous chapter? Or did I just pencil in some notes? Finally weaving all the threads of a book into a single narrative requires intense concentration on my part.

turkish style rug on a frame loom
The knotted rug pictured in ‘Diary, September 2014’ finally completed this winter

As I rewrote the ‘Table of Contents’ ready to create a master document, and reach my personal milestone – the first word count of a full manuscript – I had that indefinable feeling that it was finished. There’s still a lot of work to do – chapters to revise, recipes to refine – but the book suddenly felt whole. I can take the scaffolding away; it’ll stand up on its own!

After over a month of relentless concentration, I can relax back into my normal writing regime. The book still requires work, but not to the exclusion of all else. Spring is coming, the new Resilience Allotment is prepared for planting, new adventures await!

The Resilience Allotment
The Resilience Allotment

 

Apologies to my followers for the long hiatus! I do appreciate you, and the whole blogging community. I learn marvellous things from these windows you open into other places and lifestyles – I hope I’m giving you food for thought.

The links on this site are selected to provide stepping stones to further knowledge. Inform yourselves through many sources, and fake news will stand out like the wrong piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

February Diary 2017

It’s been a busy year so far! The astrologers say there may be a short respite in early autumn, but otherwise things promise to be relentlessly hectic.

I’ve set aside the time from January to April to finish my book about food resilience. It’s based around the seasons; it became quite disorientating, writing about the warmth of May when it was January outside.

I took a break, wrote an essay for the Nine Dots Prize then went up North on a brief networking mission. I stayed at the splendid Hebden Bridge hostel – used as a refugee centre during the 2015 floods – and spent a day in nearby Todmorden.

The Incredible Aquagarden was running a course that day, which was lucky. I caught the morning session, on soil science. It was interesting to compare the teaching styles with those of our local Feed Avalon organisation.

The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside
The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside

I met up with Estelle Brown from Incredible Edible Todmorden at lunchtime for a quick tour of their edible landmarks. The medicinal herb beds beside the canal had survived inundation, though nearby buildings had suffered badly. Pollinators’ Avenue, originally a temporary installation, was still going. The locals were fending off a planned retail centre on the site, having a perfectly good market next door.

A new mural in Todmorden
A new mural in Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
Pollinators' Avenue
Pollinators’ Avenue

Although it was chilly and getting dark, I trekked back through the amazing park to the Aquagarden for the last part of their course. This dealt with aquaponics itself; I was able to thoroughly explore the process by viewing their demonstration equipment, complete with pet fish. This aquagarden is evolving into an educational centre, unlike the one at Mark, in Somerset, which is a commercial operation.

The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden

At the end, I was presented with a set of hydroponic pots to take home – and, fortunately, a lift to the railway station. You’ve no idea what a novelty local trains are to someone from Mid-Somerset!

There was some time the next day to visit Hebden Bridge before we left. The Bookcase is open again – you can buy the Resilience Handbook there now! The comic book store is back too, though there is still a scattering of boarded windows in the main street. The water level overtopped defences based on previous floods by several feet.

At the old mill, the Archimedes screw survived, though it was a near thing. Everyone had flood stories, but the millkeeper’s tale highlighted an unforeseen hazard. Tree branches caught on a bridge just upstream, creating a dam which suddenly burst, hurling a tidal wave at their mill house. Only the window glass held back this surge; fortunately it wasn’t broken by the debris. Riverside properties in similar situations could consider adding metal grids to their flood protection strategies.

Archimedes screw
The Archimedes screw generates all the electricity for the mill building. You can see some heat exchange pipes in the water at the right of this picture, which provide some of the heating. 75% of the energy harvested at the mill is resold to the Grid.

Back to Somerset, night driving in the rain through relentless traffic. It was worse than my last visit; yet more housing was planned in the area. Is there some kind of crazy motorway Jenga going on – a game to see how much traffic you can pile into a system before it collapses?

And so back to the writing desk…an icy rain sweeps the garden as I imagine the chore of watering plants in hot summer sunshine, whilst browsing on fresh raspberries…

Worried about  global uncertainty?  Buy yourself a Resilience Handbook and start learning the power of community resilience!  We need informed debates centred  around practical, ground level solutions.

Wells Food Festival

It was a glorious autumn day, dry and sunny. The rows and swirls of colourful stalls filled the grassy spaces around the ancient stone walls of the Bishop’s Palace, spilled over into the antique Recreation Ground next door, surrounded its bandstand and carried on down the lane, where our Food For Thought marquee was.

The venue looked splendid, thanks to the lovely Laura and the Wells food group team. It was decorated with vintage bunting, lit by electric chandeliers! After an early set-up, there was a little time to wander among the booths outside admiring the huge variety of local produce on sale.

My advice – go there hungry, and with plenty of spare cash! I couldn’t resist the Gilbert and Swayne chocolates, each one a tiny work of art. Some huge chunks of fudge for another birthday present – I sampled the Marmite flavour, which was not at all awful. Then it was time for the show to begin and the 15,000 visitors to start exploring.

We were so busy that I didn’t manage to photograph the enormously entertaining Human Fruit Machine, nor even get to the cordon bleu cookery on a budget demonstrations at the far end of our tent. I spent the whole day chatting about food resilience to a stream of fascinating people. I learned that people in London still don’t have much to do with their neighbours, that mountain sheep in Snowdonia have their own culture passed down over generations. We discussed Tyre Gardening with pictures and I gave away all my ‘fourteen day stores’ recipes/ingredients leaflets.

It was a great day out, an excellent start to the Wells Festivals season!

Thanks to Sean and Elliot, the visiting chefs from the Ale and Oyster, Ventnor for the leftover pasta dough from the workshops – I managed to cook real pasta for the first time back at home!

Knowing that you have fourteen days’ supply of food gives you confidence in a situation where supplies are interrupted, or you can’t use the roads. You may not be flooded yourself, but the way to the shops could become difficult. Give the emergency services space and stay in, living well from your stores!

They’re also useful for unexpected dinner guests – and for those who suddenly announce they are vegan!

Recipe list and ingredients for 14 day food store  – download the leaflet 

For more information about emergency planning and food resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

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June Diary 2016

I expected June to be a quieter month than it usually is for me, as I’m not going to the Glastonbury Festival for the first time in many years. There’s no going against the rhythm of the seasons though, and events conspired to make this month every bit as hectic as before!

I’ve been working hard on my next book, about food and resilience…this involves a lot of experimental cooking and field studies. We finally got an allotment garden for our project; it’s quite overgrown. Although late in the season, we’ve managed to plant out the last of our seedlings, and there are quite a few food plants there already which only need the undergrowth cleared away.

Linda hoeing our new growing space
Linda hoeing our new growing space

It was the Green Scythe Fair on 12th June, which is an annual fixture for me. Strolling among the colourful stalls is like visting a future where everything has worked out fine. People gather around to admire the latest electric car on display, discuss the merits of the various tools offered for sale, consider hand made clothes or choose a pair of angora rabbits to breed for wool. The faint tap of peening scythes underscores the murmer of conversation. A woman plays her fiddle while children dance; other youngsters make nests from the cut grass.

A tremendous selection of local delicacies are to be sampled here, from crystallised flowers to venison steaks.

sea buckthorn juice stall
A stall selling juice made from sea buckthorn

You can get anything you can think of to do with honey, including a hive of bees. All the brand names, the shiny labels, are absent though. The cafe heats its water by wood-fired rocket stoves; the electrical power is from storage batteries recharged by renewables, including the lights and entertainment at night.

In the Craft area, one can see blacksmiths, stone masons and thatchers at work. There’s a stall selling hemp twine, another with leather pouches. A man haggles for an enamel basin, a woman picks a new copper kettle. The plough horses watch curiously as you pass by; yesterday they were demonstrating techniques for a land workers’ training session.

The centre piece of the event is the scything. A grand marquee is set up like a scything supermarket, with blades, whetstones, files, all the odds and ends of the craft. You are ‘fitted’ for the right size of handle, consulted about the appropriate blade and shown how to attach it. The complete novice is given a introductory pamphlet, but it’s wise to enrol on one of the day courses. Like any skill, it’s best learned alongside a master.

On the day of the Fair, however, all these craftspeople were out on the long grass in the centre, where the competitions were taking place. There were trophies to be won, reputations to be made! A sudden downpour had flattened much of the grass – how would this affect the form? The skilled scythers – men and women in separate heats – would cut their allotted square down to the length of a well trimmed lawn in only a few minutes. Assistants raked up the fallen grass while the judges inspected the quality of the job and considered points.

After the business of the day was done and the cups awarded, the music and carousing began in earnest. The stalls closed up and stole away; the families left. Only the crafters and campers were left to wind the evening up in traditional style and wobble gently home across the dark, empty fields.

April Diary 2016

March seemed to be a busy month, though I couldn’t exactly say how.  I built a new tyre garden on a derelict car park, harvesting a windfall heap of spent mushroom compost donated to the Red Brick Gardening Club.  Once there’s a few dry days, I’ll paint labels for the plants and take pictures.

Gardening was the theme – the long wet winter has delayed planting as the soil here was too cold and wet.  Seeds tend to rot in those conditions.  A greenhouse would have been useful to me; my neighbour has one they don’t use much.  The issue would be access for watering.

I gathered bags of the compost to fill up my own raised bed, made a trip to the seaside for seaweed, and finally began the planting.  Leeks and broccoli are the staples; carrots grown in large pots with extra sand.  The broccoli is from saved seed, but I’m still having trouble getting viable leek seed.

carrot seedlings in sand with a background of mature broccoli leaves
carrot seedlings in sand with a background of mature broccoli leaves

I’m planting Valor seed potatoes in the ground, and Stemster in tyre stacks.  The peas, soaked for a few days and beginning to sprout, have been buried beside their climbing frames.  I’ll buy in tomato plants and squashes this year.  They need that head start to be ready by the end of summer.  There’s only so much green tomato chutney a household can eat!

I’ve been out with the Resilience Handbook a few times too. Earth Hour in Chard was splendid, if bitterly cold.  Chard has an interesting history; industrial rather than farming, unusual for Somerset.  The Magic Oxygen Literary Prizegiving day in Lyme Regis was excellent, like a miniature Literary Festival!  I gave a talk on food resilience, which went down well.

signing Resilience Handbooks a t Chard Earth Hour Day

 

In between outdoor work and excursions, I’ve been working on my new book ‘Recipes for Resilience’, plus designing some talks and workshops.  I’ll be talking at the Green Wedmore meeting tonight.  I haven’t been out on an adventure for awhile now, so I’m planning a trip to the furthest south west – the Scilly Isles – promoting the Handbook and looking out for resilient recipes!

Diary October 2015

The Resilience Handbook has been out in print for a busy two months now. Distributing and promoting has taken up most of my time – learning to sell books from a standing start! I’m just about to go on tour, heading north through the scary urbanisation of the Midlands to Hebden Bridge for the Food Sovereignty gathering.

poster for Food Sovereignty

I’m planning to stay on and revisit the wonderful people at Incredible Edible Todmorden nearby – I hear their aquaculture project is thriving. Then, taking the North Wales Expressway which I hear so much about on the traffic news, off to explore Welsh bookshops ending up with a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. I hope the weather holds!

No wonder we obsess about the weather in Britain. I’ve had to pack for wet cold, dry cold, unseasonable warmth and days of torrential rain. I could get all or none of these during a ten day walkabout! I’m afraid I drew the line at taking a spade to dig myself out of snowdrifts, as my neighbour advised, though that may turn out to be a false economy.

Packing wasn’t the only weather challenge this autumn. There were two weeks of cold wet weather at the end of August. My optimistic crops of sweetcorn and chickpeas went mouldy where they stood. The slugs multiplied alarmingly, not even bothering to crawl into hiding during the long wet days.

Once things dried out somewhat, I had to clear up the wreckage and deal with Mollusc World Domination. I replaced the stone slab garden bed paths with oven shelves and bits of fireguard; metal grids providing no shelter for them, nor for Ant City. I’m normally quite tolerant of ants, but this year they managed to destroy an entire courgette crop and most of the broad beans with their bug farms. Chemical warfare, however, is just not on the agenda.

The elderberry harvest in early September was upset by this weather; it took far more trips to collect enough for the crucial anti-flu syrup and we may not have a full winter’s supply. Elder trees can exert a great deal of influence over their flowers. They will hold them back as buds during rainy days, then open them like sudden umbrellas as soon as the sun comes out. Much the same applies to their berry clusters.

My friend’s bees didn’t produce enough honey to see themselves over the winter, so they will have to be fed by humans. I don’t know if this was the weather. Perhaps they are on strike against pesticides.

Right. Departure delayed to let the high winds abate, but not for too long or I’ll get entangled in Rush Hour. I just have to check out Knit for the Planet – who are the Woolly Angels? – and pack some wool….

Borage and Brie Tart

The beautiful blue or white flowers of borage are a lovely feature of the Resilience Garden. They currently add colour to the patch of seeding cress, and are very attractive to bees.

cress and borage resilience garden

Borage is relentlessly self-seeding. Fortunately the leaves are edible and a regular cull of small plants yields plenty for this recipe. The other important ingredient is a chunk of cheap soft cheese – Brie, Camembert, goat’s cheese – which you’ve picked up on offer.

I found some Somerset Brie at the Farmers’ Market, and it was time for some selective weeding.

The Recipe

Collect a colander full of young borage leaves. Wash, lightly shred, and steam for about ten minutes until they are quite soft and merged into a pulp. Make a shortcrust pastry base and bake it blind. I’d use a small dish to try this out, about 8” across, which takes a mix of three ounces of fat to six ounces of plain flour.

Spread a layer of steamed borage across the cooked pastry base, between half and one centimetre thick. Now do your best to slice the soft cheese and cover the layer of borage with it. Settle for dotting chunks on the tart if you have a particularly resistant cheese; it will melt.

Bake it on the middle shelf of a medium oven until the cheese has melted to your satisfaction while the pastry edges remain unburnt. It takes twenty minutes or so, if you work while everything is still hot.

Adding Things

This is the basic structure of the borage cheese tart, to which you can add by foraging. For this one, I foraged a red onion from the vegetable basket and a few rashers of smoky bacon neglected by the lodger. These were finely chopped and fried up together, then stirred into the steamed borage. While in the garden, I’d found a couple of early courgettes. Thinly sliced, these made another layer on top of the borage.

We had the tart cold, with new potatoes from a tyre stack and salad leaves from the greenhouse next door; the meal fed three adults. Even the weeds in the Resilience Garden are useful!

How the craft workshops are getting on

It occurs to me that people may not be notified of changes to other pages, so I thought I’d just draw your attention to the progress of the free craft workshops.  We held the third of these yesterday (15th March), and there’s still another three.  Follow the link to read how things are going.

If you’re in the area – Glastonbury or Street – try and drop in.  There’s the Bocabar cafe next door; you’re welcome to just sit with a coffee and watch the crafts happening!  Although large, the Event Space is warm and there is plenty of parking nearby.

drop spindle workshop crochet workshop