Tag Archives: Resilience Garden

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.

Growing for Resilience

Now that the children have left for university and city life, the simplicity of the resilience kitchen shows through. I’ve been exploring this concept in depth recently, researching for my next book.

I’m exploring food resilience in a rapidly urbanising area. If the global food transport network became subject to frequent disruption, you might have to live on stored food supplemented by what you could grow within walking distance. Local farmers and growers would become an important part of your landscape again, in between the arrivals of imported foods at the declining supermarkets.

The erratic income of an author is well suited to such experiments. My colleague, Linda Benfield, and I acquired an allotment this year, in addition to our gardens. With the extra land, we’re quite well off for fresh vegetables now. Next season, we plan to grow wheat and tobacco!

We’re not small holders. We depend on local farms – we still have a few – for milk, eggs and meat. Potatoes, grains, sugar and spices come from the food co-operative; other supplies from the cash and carry. We can’t provide everything for our households from two gardens and an allotment, but we’re learning what else we need. A lifestyle more in tune with the unfolding seasons, more importance given to locally based food suppliers, more gardeners!

We’re resilience gardeners, cultivating survival skills, and every little helps!

potatos-in-tyre1

Buy the Resilience Handbook and support this project! Overseas customers will need to contact me directly, or buy through their local Amazon (sorry, it won’t be signed). Please let me know if you do, and leave a review if you enjoyed the book.

Happy Resilient New Year!

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….

A Resilience Adventure

One of the adventure challenges in the Resilience Handbook is ‘Visit a Repair Cafe and have a cup of tea.’ My budget didn’t stretch to a trip to Amsterdam or Germany, so I looked online and found the nearest one, in Bristol. This is held on the first Saturday morning of every month in All Saints’ Church, Fishponds.

I set off on the bus – I try not to take the car into cities – and navigated to the venue with the aid of my trusty A-Z map book. It took longer than I thought, and most of the actual repairing was finished before I arrived. There was tea though, and cake, courtesy of the church volunteers. I had a good chat with the organiser, Kate, and presented her project with a copy of the Handbook. It’s a pity there isn’t a branch of Repair Cafe nearer home!

Repair cafe banner

The networking potential of these meeting places was quickly demonstrated. Hearing me talk about resilience inspired a young lady to take me to the Feed Bristol Harvest Fair, a short walk away.

This event was so fabulous it was almost surreal! I felt as if I’d been transported into a Transition vision of a post-oil resilient community!

The Welcome gazebo was surrounded by tables of the most intriguing plants for sale – I couldn’t resist the Vietnamese Fish Mint – beyond which stretched polytunnels and plots under cultivation. Further in, excited children raced around tiny woodland paths, played in the sandpit, made paintings using mud and colourful flowers. Adults strolled more sedately, exploring the roundhouse, the herbal gardens, the tree plantings.

One could sip Fair Trade tea in the open marquee while listening to a string quartet playing in the autumn sunshine. It was a glorious day!

feed bristol harvest fair

The growing area – due to restrictions on images of children, I can’t show the actual fete, but there’s plenty of pictures on the websites

vietnamese fish mint

Vietnamese fish mint is not a mint, but does taste of fish!  And it’s very pretty.

At the Harvest Fair, I spoke with soap makers, food cooperative organisers, gardeners and teachers. The project is run by Avon Wildlife Trust; the remit is to create an edible yet wildlife friendly landscape, and it works very well. As I listened to the people who worked there, I began to realise that this project utilised the same core concepts as a Resilience Garden!

  • for use by the surrounding community
  • an emphasis on education, demonstration and experimentation
  • the abillity to produce large amounts of seed and spare plants to fast track other growing spaces in a crisis
  • creation of an edible landscape which supports a positive relationship with local wildlife, especially friendly insects and birds

Although defining a Resilience Garden is a struggle, I know one when I see it!

Areas like this should be a key feature in every housing development.

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!

Diary, December 2014

The Resilience Garden glitters with frost, which should finally put a stop to the ravages of slug and snail. The September rocket sowing bolted due to the warm weather, a November replacement sprang up with enthusiasm but then settled down to wait out the winter as seedlings, and the molluscs ate most of the spinach.

Feeding the leeks has worked, though.

Waiting for a book to get published is an arduous task. I’m using the time to develop my own Resilience Plan some more.

This has involved me in adventures with an anti mould paint based on calcium hydroxide. The resilience pioneer can study the manufacture of this and other basic chemicals in The Knowledge. Use your Xmas tokens. It’s a good ‘man book’.

I’ll be appearing on The Knowledge website as a guest writer in the New Year, covering some of the amazing projects I’ve found on my travels!

Meanwhile, I’ve been designing learning modules to go with the Resilience Handbook, exploring more strange landscapes, repainting the house….

…and working with CREW HQ to organise a series of free craft workshops next year!

These will be held fortnightly on Sunday afternoons at the Red Brick Building between Glastonbury and Street, in Somerset. The first one is to be on February 15th. We’ve been part-funded by Aster Communities, and about thirty local craftspeople signed up at the Frost Fair last month.

Traditional crafts are going to be demonstrated and visitors can learn some simple techniques on the day. You can learn to fix things, get advice on your own projects, and generally network with skilled artisans. If you’d like to talk about a Repair Cafe, starting or joining a community crafts group, building a career as a craftsperson or anything like that, do come along.

I’ll be there teaching resilience. How resilient are you now? Why are practical skills important? Try out the questionnaire and design your plan.

Best Wishes for the New Year!

Growing Rocket

Rocket leaves are good in salads. Once you are used to the slightly peppery taste, you may find ordinary lettuce too bland.

It’s this taste which makes it resistant to slug attack. Rocket is easy to grow, and can be sown any time of year for a crop of fresh leaves. These contain the essential vitamin C not found in preserved foods.

If sown in autumn, the plant will overwinter as a small form, about 20cm (8 inches) high, with many leaves. These are densely packed, providing good ground cover so that little weeding is required.

You can use this as cut and come again for winter salads. Even if covered by snow, the plant can quickly regroup to produce more leaves. If it is protected from frost, you can browse on it all winter.

When spring arrives, though, it will grow quickly, with long tough stems. Flowers, as shown in the picture, appear. The energy of the plant will be directed to seeding, so the leaves will gradually become tatty from the attacks of small pests. All parts of the plant remain edible, though, and the flowers make a pretty decoration for summer salads.

The leaves become more fiddly to collect, so once the wild garlic is out and if you can use the space for more seasonal vegetables, dig up most of the rocket at this point. Leave the best looking plants to carry on flowering. They’ll produce seed, which you can harvest when the seed pods are dry. You can use this seed to sow your next crop of rocket.

It is a prolific self seeder as well, so learn to distinguish these seedlings from inedible weeds. If you allowed any rocket to go to seed this spring, the seedlings will be coming up right now. Sowing on a different patch with saved seed can be left until September.

flowering rocket plants

This article was written to accompany packets of rocket seeds donated to the Fair Frome Food Bank in Somerset.  For more information about this project, please visit here

Not too late to grow food!

The rain has finally eased off in Somerset and the sun even comes out occasionally. The soil is saturated and the legions of molluscs are emerging from their winter caves. Yet the intrepid gardener must make the best of it and see what can be grown.

Adding some dry compost or soil improver before sowing will help to soak up the water in seed beds. Circling these with a ring of dry bran discourage slugs. Try and avoid resorting to chemical pellets, though the neighbourhood cats have probably put paid to any natural predators.

If you have windowsill or greenhouse space, start some plants off there. Don’t put them all out at once. Grow enough to have a reserve, and be careful to harden them off before planting out. Healthy plants are the best defence against pests.

It won’t be a good year for the more delicate vegetables. Potatoes can hold their own in most circumstances. Plant them around the edges. The hairy leaves of pumpkins and squash are also resistant to attack, though it is too early for these to go outside. Sow a catch crop of radish or cress in the large patch of empty space they will need later.

Remember to feed your soil. The liquid fertiliser you made last year from comfrey and nettle leaves will do just fine. Peas and beans make their own nitrogen, however, so don’t overdo it around them. Avoid treading on the soil to keep its structure intact. Keep to marked paths in large beds. Once the soil is properly aerated, the difference is obvious.

Brassicas will need constant attention this year. They’re worth some trouble for their winter leaves and the delicious sprouting heads in the following Spring. However, if they can survive the mollusc army, the caterpillars will be next. Planting nasturtiums in the same bed distracts these creatures, who will munch on them by preference.

Leeks do better in clay soil than onions. They develop slowly but steadily, requiring little maintenance apart from weeding. Root vegetables prefer sandier soil, which you can mix yourself to cultivate carrots in pots, or the larger parsnips in tyres.

Finally, don’t forget to sow some borage and marigold. The colourful flowers attract bees and make the vegetable patch look decorative. Happy gardening!

© Elizabeth J Walker 2014