What’s in your dinner?

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potatoes

At this time of year I feel particularly lucky to have access to growing space. We don’t have a very big garden and we have chosen to prioritise food production, so that means we don’t have flower beds or a lawn, just space for fruit, vegetables, chickens and compost, with some paved sitting space that we share with lots of pots of plants. We used to have more space for outdoor sitting, but the limery took that over.

My reasons are partly because I love growing food – being connected to the seasons, eating food fresh from the garden and clocking up food metres not food miles. However, I also like knowing exactly what sort of chemicals go into my food. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publish a ‘dirty dozen’ each year – a list of foods with the highest levels of pesticide residues. Although these data are collected in the US, the list is of interest wherever we live in the world. In 2015, the list was as follows:

  1. Apples
  2. Peaches
  3. Nectarines
  4. Strawberries
  5. Grapes
  6. Celery
  7. Spinach
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry Tomatoes
  11. Snap Peas (Imported)
  12. Potatoes

Closely followed by Hot Peppers and Kale/Collard Greens.

From this list, we grow Peppers (hot and sweet), snap peas (we call them sugar peas or mange tout, I think), potatoes, kale and some apples. The bulk of our apples come from friends who do not use pesticides on their trees, and the other items on the list we eat rarely or not at all. Of course you can buy organic produce and avoid issues with pesticides (and we often do), but growing your own delivers so many extra benefits.

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red salad bowl lettuce growing in a container

One of my particular favourite crops is salad leaves. I don’t think that there’s any substitute for freshly picked leaves. By growing your own, you can avoid packaging, the threat of salmonella, exploitation of workers and the use of chlorinated water for washing them – all issues that have been identified as being linked to bagged leaves sold in supermarkets (details here). And you don’t even need a garden – you can plant cut-and-come-again varieties of lettuce, along with oriental greens in pots, in window boxes, or in trays on your windowsill. Let the leaves grow up and then harvest them by trimming with scissors and allow them to grow back. If you plant a few trays in succession, you can supply yourself with a regular harvest for several months. And honestly, the taste just doesn’t compare with leaves that have been encased in plastic for a couple of weeks in a modified atmosphere so they don’t go off.

Herbs are another great windowsill crop and it’s lovely to pick your own fresh seasonings, even if you don’t have space to grow anything else.

So, however small your space, I encourage you to plant something to eat – you won’t regret it!

This one is for Tammie

It’s very easy when posting on the internet to show only our successes – the beautiful children, pristine kitchens, the perfect meal, the Shetland lace shawl, the abundant garden… ah, yes, the abundant garden.

Well, it’s true that my garden and the limery do contain lots of lovely crops. Currently there’s lettuce, piles of raspberries and the promise of peppers, chillies, courgettes, lemons, limes, red currants, blueberries, apples, mange tout, kale, broccoli, ginger and potatoes…

BUT… there are also dead bean plants, dead rosemary, rocket and mizuna that flowered before we had a chance to eat any, the world’s saddest sage plant, brassicas munched by caterpillars and huge swathes of weeds.

So, Tammie – fear not, we all have gardening disasters… we just don’t often ‘fess up to them!

And, just to make you all smile, it takes lots of effort to get all those perfect shots of a life…

Sticky

The reason that I first acquired my carnivorous plants was to keep the flies under control in the limery – a natural solution that is also fascinating. The pitcher plants, which featured in last week’s Three Things Thursday are good for controlling large flies, but when it comes to fruit flies and little black compost flies, you need a sundew or two.

The most common and easiest to grow in a UK conservatory is probably the Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis). The plants have linear leaves and either pink or white flowers, the former associated with leaves with red highlights. Mine are always covered in little flies:

And then, if you’ve got some hanging space that’s high enough so you won’t walk into it (and honestly, you really don’t want a face full of this), there’s my favourite – Drosera dicotoma, the leaves of which can reach 30cm. Mine had a bit of a set-back earlier in the year when I was on holiday, but has now grown some new fresh leaves which haven’t had much time to catch many flies, although it is capable of snaring big ones.

So, who needs chemicals or fly paper, when nature can solve the problem for you?

 

Peaceful Sunday

I was going to call this “Silent Sunday” and just post some pictures of the garden after a few days of sunshine and rain. However, I went into the fruit cage to take some photos and it was anything but silent, which large numbers of bees (not one of which I was able to photograph) buzzing around the raspberry flowers. So, rather, this Sunday is peaceful and pictureful, both outdoors…

… and indoors…

I hope you too are surrounded by peace and abundance today.

Blooming marvellous

The past two days have been lovely… visiting The Eden Project and The Lost Gardens of Heligan. It’s nearly a year since we were last here, but both gardens had different highlights. I’ll let them speak for themselves. First, Eden:

And then Heligan:

I hope you have had an equally glorious weekend.

 

Start a revolution…

Several people have asked over the past few days about what constitutes craftivism. Basically, it’s any crafted item that gets a message across – whether personal or political. Many people feel more comfortable with gentle ways to encourage change rather than being confrontational, and what better way to get your message across and gain attention than via a unique item rather than a letter? Send a felt bumblebee to your MP to make your point about conserving pollinators and they are certainly more likely to remember it than if you send them an e-mail.

Over the past few days I have been working on a message that is close to my heart. Here is my latest creation, made for our craftivism exhibition:

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Do you have a message you’d like to share with the world? Perhaps you can make your voice heard more effectively than simply shouting.

 

Sunny gardening

Us Brits are well known for being weather obsessed, so you will forgive me for telling you that the past few days have been glorious. The weather has been lovely and so this weekend has been all about planting. I had intended to complete my sketchbook contribution this weekend, but the timing of the good weather made it ideal for planting some of this year’s crops. The forecast for next weekend (when there are two bank holidays) is poor, so crafting is much more likely then.

In the past few days I have (whist wearing my new apron) potted up tomatoes and sowed lots of seeds: squashes, courgettes, a variety of purple sprouting broccoli that sprouts in the summer, chives, parsnips, asparagus peas, various lettuces, mizuna and rocket. I’ve cleaned out pots, weeded and removed brambles. From the shed I retrieved a plastic bin with a lid and filled it with nettles and water to turn into nitrogen-rich liquid feed – it gets stinky, but it’s good stuff and it’s free. And I planted a whole raised bed with potatoes and netted these to prevent Max (who I think is some sort of potato hound) from digging them up and eating them.

I’ve also been admiring the growth of other plants in the limery – lettuces, melons, lemongrass seedlings and carnivores:

The sun has gone in now, hence finding the time to write, but I am feeling very satisfied with my activities. What have you been up to this weekend?

Sowing and growing

Life is flourishing in the limery. Seeds that were sown a few weeks ago are developing  nicely into young plants – lettuces, tomatoes, sweet peppers and melons:

I sowed more seeds over the past few days, including the first ones outside. The latter is a pea variety called “Carouby de Maussane”, a mange tout with red flowers that is going to grow up the pea obelisk that Mr Snail created (I think most people use them for sweet peas, but I prefer to grow edibles). A few days of sunshine has given me the chance to weed one of the raised beds and that’s where the peas are.

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only planted yesterday, so no germination yet

 

Unfortunately one of the things that is flourishing in the limery is the cluster-fly population. I really don’t want to use chemical pesticides, but the flies have arrived before the carnivorous plants are doing their stuff. However, the recent sunshine has encouraged pitcher growth and so I’m hoping that soon the Sarracenias will be munching their way through the flies. I grew some from seed last year, so I’m especially pleased to see one of the youngsters producing a vigorous pitcher already. The sundews are also showing signs of growth; in particular the Drosera dicotoma looks like it’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in the very near future (I think of it as living fly-paper). The Venus fly traps are growing too, but never really earn their keep apart from providing interest!

Amongst my favourite seeds to plant are the squashes, but I’m hanging on for a few more days so they don’t get too big before it’s warm enough to plant them out. And then there’s beans and borage and all sorts of herbs…

A kale tale

At this time of year I start to be rather unenthusiastic about one particular crop, namely kale. It’s a great thing to grow – it provides fresh greens all through the winter from just a few plants and, when freshly picked, it is tender and delicious. But, it goes on for months and so eventually the novelty does wear off.

Yesterday, however, I was inspired. I had made bread rolls and had defrosted some of the delicious pulled pork that I cooked for the winter solstice; I picked winter salad leaves from the garden, made mayonnaise using eggs from the hens and opened a jar of sweet chilli sauce made from our home-grown chillies. However, I really wanted a bit of crunch. And then it dawned on me: kale-slaw. I shredded some kale (including some of the thinner stalks, grated a carrot, chopped the top of a sprouting onion and with the addition of some of the freshly made mayo – a tasty slaw.

 

Not much like spring

Despite the sowing of seeds in the limery, spring has not really arrived here yet and I daren’t sow any seeds outdoors for fear of them drowning! Of course the day when it was gardening weather this week, I was stuck in a training room doing a food safety course and exam. Now I have some free time it’s chilly and raining. I did manage to plant a new rhubarb root earlier, but then the rain started so I’m letting some of my little helpers get on with a bit of weeding and pest management:

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slug-hunting (I hope)

I’ve finished my editing work for the week, so I’m getting on with my first ever crochet sweater:

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work in progress

Sadly, the picture doesn’t do the colour justice… I would describe it as teal with some coloured flecks. The yarn is from New Lanark – a favourite maker for me, although this is the first time I have used their chunky wool. And, as ever, Max is keeping an eye on progress. He’s a bit chilly as he was clipped yesterday, but he does look lovely:

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Max has had a hair-do

The wet weather is forecast for the whole weekend, so it looks like more indoor seed sowing and crochet are on the cards. What are your plans for the weekend?

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