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.

Daily pinta

Today's pint

Today’s pint

There used to be an advertising slogan in the UK ‘drinka-pinta-milka-day’… being lactose intolerant rather puts the kibosh on this, but currently I am picking  a pint of raspberries every day. It’s turning out to be a very good year for berries, so each day I go out to the garden with a plastic pint jug (that’s a UK pint, so 20 fluid ounces) and fill it with raspberries. Once it’s full, I come back in and don’t pick any more – it’s enough. Every day I have raspberries for breakfast with my homemade yoghurt and homemade granola… what a joy, especially if they are just picked, still sun-warmed from the garden. The remainder are being put into the freezer for a delicious taste of summer in the winter.

Yesterday's courgette harvest

Yesterday’s courgette harvest

And raspberries are not the only abundant thing in the garden… the courgettes (zucchini) are prolific. I picked a kilo and a half yesterday, despite the fact that the day before I had turned a kilo of the things into soup. I probably shouldn’t have planted six plants, but that’s what I’ve got! It’s quite early for a glut, but the weather here in June was so good that the plants have just romped away. Never fear, though, they do not go to waste. Apart from soup and courgettes fried in olive oil with garlic, we will be enjoying courgette moussaka (replace the aubergine with courgette), courgette risotto, roasted vegetable sauce… just not courgette cake – Mr Snail will not eat any sort of cake containing vegetables! What we don’t eat straight away will be turned into either soup or simply roasted in chunks and frozen. I love to have a freezer full of soup for use in the less abundant months – it’s so good to be able to defrost a block for lunch on a chilly day. So much nicer than opening a tin and I know what all the ingredients are.

On the horizon are runner beans, mange tout and shallots. All of these are grown without the aid of chemicals and from traditional seed varieties. I just want to remind you, though, that my vegetable patch consists of an area measuring 4m × 6m, with an additional 2.5m ×1m plus some pots and a 1.9m × 2.2m greenhouse, then I have 3m × 4m for fruit and herbs. So, it is possible to grow a significant amount of your own food in a really small space… you don’t need a farm. And all these crops help me control what I’m eating and cut down on food miles, to say nothing of making me feel a connection between my food and the seasons, the soil and the sunshine.

The growing season

Last weekend I went away to teach an Introduction to Ecology course at Karuna in Shropshire, which one of the participants is very kind about in her latest blog post.

Whilst it’s a lovely time to be teaching outdoors, it’s not the ideal time to leave the garden, so even after just five days, I returned to huge weeds (where did all that goose-grass appear from?) which really need to be dealt with. The benefit is that, on my return, I really noticed how much growth the food plants had achieved: ripe raspberries, runner beans at the top of their canes and huge courgette plants with female flowers blooming. Perhaps the most impressive plant is Costata Romanesco summer squash. I’m reluctant to call it a courgette, as it produces fruit the size of a marrow, but with tender skin and a good flavour. It is particularly loved by one of my gardening heroes, Carol Deppe, so it must be good (she does not bestow her praise lightly). The following photos carefully avoid showing the weeds… the vegetables pictured are so abundant that nothing else is getting a look in (now, that’s good permaculture design!):

And the results are in…

An early harvest of Colleen

An early harvest of Colleen

This year I decided to keep a record of some of the crops that I harvested from the garden (not all of them, I’m not that much of a garden-geek). Really I wanted to demonstrate to myself that I am making a useful contribution to our food consumption, and to show that it is possible to grow a significant amount of food in a relatively small space. The two crops that I recorded were courgettes and potatoes. Since the potatoes were all dug up some weeks ago and the courgette plants have now been finished off by the cold weather, I have the full season’s results.

Prolific courgettes

Prolific courgettes

In total, from an area of approximately four square metres I harvested just over 12kg of courgettes. Of these 7.3kg were from ‘ordinary’ courgettes (two green bush and two Trieste White Cousa) and 4.8kg from three Costata Romanesco plants. We ate the majority of these over the summer, but some of them went into soups that are currently frozen for winter consumption.

Colleen and Valor in a raised bed

Colleen and Valor in a raised bed

The total harvest of potatoes was an impressive 41kg. They have been feeding us since about June and we still have quite a lot stored. We grew these in approximately five square metres of garden plus three dumpy bags* and one small growing sack. The most prolific variety in the dumpy bags was the first early variety Colleen which yielded just over 6.07kg from one dumpy bag filled with grass clippings. garden compost and shredded paper and planted with 9 tubers. In comparison, six tubers planted in a soil-filled raised bed gave us 5.73kg. The main crop varieties Milva and Mira did less well, only yielding 3.5kg from their dumpy bag (I mixed them together). Valor (a second early) did particularly well in the raised bed containing soil, yielding an astonishing 12.7kg  from 6 tubers.

Potatoes in dumpy bags in the 'waste of space' corner

Potatoes in dumpy bags in the ‘waste of space’ corner

All varieties of potato did better in soil in beds than in dumpy bags. I think this is actually related to water availability: we had a very dry summer and the vigorously growing potatoes in the dumpy bags wilted on numerous occasions even with daily watering, whilst those growing in the garden never wilted. Despite this limitation, the dumpy bags were a great success – they increased the growing space available and added significantly to our harvest. My favourite potato has to be Colleen – they grow really well and provide the first potatoes of the season, but I liked Valor too. I think these are the varieties we will focus on next year.

Costata Romanesca - delicious fried with garlic (each of those slices is 5-8cm across)

Costata Romanesca – delicious fried with garlic (each of those slices is 5-8cm across)

The Costata Romanesco courgettes are a favourite of Carol Deppe and she recommends using them for drying. This is something we didn’t get round to doing this year, but I will have a go at next year. The plants are big and start off as bushes, but then get to sprawling around. Whilst not prolific in terms of fruit, those they do grow can get really big but still remain very tasty (unlike marrows) and tender. However, I do like the more normal courgettes, especially for their joyful abundance and will continue to grow them every year.

All in all, it’s been an interesting experiment to weigh our crops. And what’s the most important thing I have learned? Next time make a proper recording sheet, because trying to decipher all those scribbled notes on several tatty sheets of paper is quite a challenge at the end of the season!

-oOo-

* I have been experimenting with growing in containers in a previously unused bit of space. There are several ‘waste of space’ posts if you are interested: here, here and here

Call me Eve

As I mentioned on Sunday, I had an unexpectedly free weekend because a course that I was supposed to be teaching was cancelled. I  filled my Sunday with a fabulous felting course, but I dedicated much of Saturday, in contrast, to the kitchen – baking a couple of cakes (one to take on the course) and making dog biscuits as well as processing apples.

An abundance of apples

An abundance of apples

Some unexpected visitors arrived as I was up to my elbows in apple peelings. Mr Snail-of-happiness made them coffee and entertained them whilst I continued with the apples, and gave them lemon drizzle cake still warm from the oven. They did spend a little time with me in the kitchen, and seemed intrigued by my mountains of apples. ‘Do you really need all those apples?’ one of them asked. A question that rather took me aback because it wasn’t something I had really thought about. I answered ‘Well, they didn’t cost me anything and when I have them I eat them every day for breakfast’.

IMGP1596On reflection, however, this seems like a rather lame answer. It is true that I find it hard to turn down free, healthy, fresh food and that I like cooked apples, but this only brushes the surface. I could have talked about all the food miles we would save by making use of this sort of resource; about these apples not having been exposed to pesticides; about the joy of sharing an abundance; about the value of home-produced food; about the way it is possible to preserve a harvest without industrial processing and the use of artificial additives; about the satisfaction of opening the dresser to see rows and rows of bottles and jars packed with delicious food; of the exchange of plants and seeds and crops that these apples are linked to… I could go on. But, perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t inflict this sort of evangelism on a friend – I think it might have been off-putting… and we all know the trouble that an enthusiasm for apples can cause! Perhaps simply saying that I’m saving money by using free food is all most people want to know! And perhaps that’s one of the answers that would encourage others to enjoy this sort of abundance.

Gratitude

I was reminded earlier today that having the opportunity to grow at least some of my own food is something that I should be grateful for: thank you Shakti for your comment.

So much to value in the garden

So much to value in the garden

It’s easy to moan about the slugs and the rain (or lack of it), to despair when something doesn’t grow, or the chickens eat it, or because I don’t have enough space to plant all the things that I want to, But that simply doesn’t get you anywhere in life… as Johnny Mercer once wrote you should ‘accentuate the positive‘! So I thought that I would make a little list of (a few of the) things that I am grateful for in my garden:

Having space to grow some of my own food

The joy of eating crops that I have just harvested

Collecting warm eggs that have just been laid

Knowing that what I’m eating has not been exposed to pesticides

Feeling close to natural cycles

Knowing my hens are happy

Eating strawberries straight off the plants, still warm from the sunshine

Storing potatoes and squashes for the winter

Feeling the soil on my hands

Composting… making waste material into something useful

Leaving the soil better than when I found it

Being able to find fresh herbs even in the depths of winter

There are so many I could add, but I’d like to hear some from you…

Pass the passata

A trip to one of our local organic producers the other day yielded two bags of squishy tomatoes.  I occasionally manage to get some of these and am really happy when I do. Because they are too fragile to be taken to farmers’ market, they are only available direct from the farm and because they are not premium produce, they are always cheap. To me, however, they are perfect for making passata… especially since I don’t tend to have great success growing tomatoes myself.

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

I could bottle (can) them, but my preferred method of preservation is to make a concentrated passata and then to freeze it**. The approach is inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, namely that I roast the tomatoes first and then pulverise them. The roasting does two things – first it gives them a nice flavour; second, it reduces the water content, so I’m storing tomotoey goodness rather than liquid, which I can always restore later, but don’t need to keep in my freezer!

My tomato mill

My tomato mill

In fact what I do is much more simple than what Hugh suggests. I cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a roasting dish. Then I drizzle them with oil (olive or sunflower, but whatever you like is fine) and I roast them in the oven until they are cooked through – soft and possibly slightly browned. If I’m doing them on their own, I’d set the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and cook them for about 60 minutes, but I often roast them when I’m cooking other things, and the temperature is flexible and the time can be adjusted accordingly. I used to sprinkle them with seasoning and perhaps garlic or herbs, but these days I tend to leave them unadorned for a more versatile end product.

Cooked tomatoes in...

Cooked tomatoes in…

Once cooked, I leave them to cool in the tin (often overnight) and when they are cold I run them through my tomato mill – a magic machine that separates the the pulp from the seeds and skin. It’s hand cranked, so doesn’t take any electricity, but is a bit of a pain to wash afterwards. If you don’t have one of these wonderful items, you can simply sieve the cooked tomatoes, but this takes much more effort.

... passata (in the bowl) and skin + seeds (in the tray) out

… passata (in the bowl) and skin + seeds (in the tray) out

Finally I separate the passata (i.e. tomato pulp) into small containers for freezing. The little pots I use were sold as containers for baby food, but they are ideal for making small blocks of tomato. When required, you can defrost as many of the blocks as you require – one for a pizza or four for a bolognaise sauce – and enjoy the taste of summer through the winter.

Ready for freezing

Ready for freezing

-oOo-

  • Update November 2015: These days I also bottle it in 250ml Kilner jars, to avoid the need to buy another freezer!!

Costata Romanesco

Today I harvested one of the big summer squashes from the Costata Romanesco… it may not have been rumpaging (they have a fairly bushy growth form at present), but that weight on the scales is in kilos:

Yes, that does read 1.855kg

Yes, that does read 1.855kg

Now, I just need loads of courgette recipes, because they are tender like courgettes and not watery like marrows.

Rumpaging about the garden

A couple of days ago we called in on a friend who had been the recipient of some Boston squash plants earlier in the summer. She complained that they were ‘rumpaging’ about her vegetable garden. She showed me them progressing up the bank adjacent to their bed and along into the courgettes. Not a bad bit of rumpaging, but mine are doing better: across the patio, over the butterfly netting, into the potatoes, up the greenhouse and well on their way up the willow hedge… they obviously like the conditions:

Over the netting

Over the netting

Supported by the blue plastic piping

Supported by the blue plastic piping

Through the willow branches

Through the willow branches

Up into the hedge

Up into the hedge

Through the potatoes and over the greenhouse

Through the potatoes and over the greenhouse

And all the while, producing fruit (I think this is Oregon Homestead)

And all the while, producing fruit (I think this is Oregon Homestead)

And this is Boston - the original 'rumpager'!

And this is Boston – the original ‘rumpager’!

 

Fingers crossed for an abundant crop that will last the winter!

Return to Karuna

Nothing is too good for Karuna's ducks!

Nothing is too good for Karuna’s ducks!

I haven’t posted for a few days because, once again, I’ve been teaching an introduction to permaculture course at the Karuna Permaculture Project in Shropshire… three days focusing on how to design robust, resilient and sustainable systems based on the principles and processes that we find in natural ecosystems. The sun shone on us (most of the time), Merav cooked lovely food for us, much of which was grown on site, and we were able to see examples of the things we were discussing all around us, with the opportunity to spend lots of time chatting to people who had created the place and who live there.

Sculptures nestle amongst the trees

Sculptures nestle amongst the trees

In general, I like teaching, but I particularly enjoy it when I am in an inspiring place – and Karuna is one such venue. The project is an amazing series of forest garden areas with surrounding meadows, developed by a single family, with the help of WWOOFers in the summer and occasional other volunteers. It’s hard to describe the diversity of the site, with its fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, specimen trees and  glades, plus a mass of butterflies and birds. In addition, there are some beautiful sculptures to be found as you explore.

The trees around this sculpture were only planted seven years ago

The trees around this sculpture were only planted seven years ago

It’s a young site (only seven years old), but that is hard to believe when you look at it and consider that, apart from some large trees on the edge of the original fields, it was just grazing land when the planting started in 2006. The incredible growth of the trees can be attributed, at least in part, to increasing the fertility of the site and suppressing competitive grasses by mulching around the trees with straw soaked with urine… you see, I told you it was a good source of nitrogen! It’s even more impressive when you discover that the site is at an altitude of about 300m… so it’s not exactly in a sheltered lowland area.

We run a permaculture course there once a year at around this time, but Karuna is a demonstration site as part of the LAND network, and there is a variety of interesting courses run during the summer and early autumn… how about Earth Bag Building (in early September)?

So, here are just a few pictures to tempt you to visit Karuna… perhaps to do a course, to volunteer there, or to book it to use as a venue for an event you are organising…

Camping next to a forest garden area

Camping next to a forest garden area

Vegetables and herbs in abundance

Vegetables, flowers and herbs in abundance

A guided tour

A guided tour

Cucumbers in the polytunnel

Cucumbers in the polytunnel

Exploring the forest garden

Exploring the forest garden

Oh, there’s also a Karuna blog on WordPress here, and a Facebook group here

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