Friday, 30 July 2010

Broad bean trials: results from 2010

This was the broad bean patch a couple of weeks ago. I planted four varieties of broad beans this year. I planted two patches of Super Aquadulce in the autumn, one on the allotment and one in the garden at home. The allotment beans were comprehensively nibbled by rabbits or deer when they sprouted, so only a few survived. In the spring I planted Sutton Dwarf beans (in the left hand bed in the photo above) and in my main broad bean bed, one row each of, from left to right, Super Aquadulce, Witkiem Manita and Bunyards Exhibition varieties of broad bean. I wanted to see how each dealt with the conditions of the allotment.

I got Super Aquadulce beans from the autumn-sown seeds as early as May. I was delighted with that. The rest of the beans started to be ready in (I think?) June, with the Witkiem Manita being the first to be of a useable size. There was a notable difference in the size of the pods, as well: Super Aquadulce had a smaller pod than the other two standard varieties, with Witkiem Manita having very thick pods and large meaty beans and Bunyards Exhibition having long pods with more beans. Sutton dwarf were of course, the smallest of all. All varieties were very tasty and produced on average 6-8 pods per plant, which isn't bad for unfertilised soil and a very dry spring.

Super aquadulce in the foreground, Witkiem Manita behind.

One thing that I noticed was that as the long, dry summer went on, some of the taller bean plants lodged. I'm not sure whether that was due to the plant falling down because of lack of water or whether they were trampled by a dog. The super aquadulce were the first to go down, followed by the Witkiem Manita. Bunyards Exhibition were the longest lasting of the standard varieties, with Sutton dwarf being the longest-standing of the lot. In the image below, the dwarf varieties are still standing, but just to the right of the shot the taller plants have been slashed and laid on the bed to be turned in. I've left the roots in the ground to rot.
When I harvested, I selected a few pods that were ready when they were still young, and picked just enough for a meal when I fancied them. Then I got 3 kg of pods from the 25-each plants of Super aquadulce and Witkiem Manita plants (with perhaps a few of the Bunyard Exhibition thrown in) and another 2.5 kg of pods from the Bunyards Exhibition and Sutton Dwarf. In all, I'd say I got 6.5 kg of pods from 120 plants. 3 kg of those are now in the freezer. We love broad beans, so I plant to plant even more next year.

This year we've had fresh broad beans from mid-May to mid-July. I'd like to achieve that again next year, but splitting the varieties. Reading I've done suggests that Sutton dwarf are weather-hardy and so like Super aquadulce, they're suitable for autumn planting for an early summer harvest. I'll plant some of them this autumn as they're fabulous for early summer recipes calling for small, tender, shelled broad beans. My crop rotation calls for this year's onion bed in a friend's back yard to become a bean bed next year, so I'll fill that with autumn-sown broad beans when the onions come out, and plant only Witkiem Manita and Bunyards Exhibition in the spring, as I think they make a better showing than the other two varieties from a spring sowing.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Seasonal eating: very courgetty pasta sauce

This is one of my solutions to too many courgettes. You slowly seethe lots of courgettes with a few other ingreditns in olive oil until they are a mush, then toss through pasta for a delicious and very wholesome meal. Although I call this very courgetty pasta sauce, the puree takes on a rich flavour unlike that of fresh courgettes. The dish focuses more on the vegetables than the pasta. The sauce takes a while to cook, but requires minimal supervision. I think I'll make some of this to preserve, to remind me of summer flavours in the depths of winter. Don't be afraid of the large amount of garlic in this dish, as the slow method of cooking mellows the flavour in the same way as roasting.

Very courgetty pasta sauce
(for four, takes up to an hour to cook)

2-3 tbsp olive oil
6-8 medium to large courgettes
1 tsp small capers packed in salt (don't bother to rinse them)
6 cloves garlic
1 large or 2 small chillies
200g baby plum or cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup white wine
1 handful basil leaves, torn
200g long wholewheat pasta, such as spaghetti or fettucine: fresh or dried both work well

Cut the courgettes lengthways and then thinly across into half-circle slices. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large frypan over a medium-high heat and add all but one of the courgettes. Fry, stirring occasionaly, until the courgettes brown, soften and start to break up into a mush. This will take 20-30 minutes, depending on your heat. Be careful not to let the courgettes burn, and add more oil if they start to look dry. When the courgettes are starting to soften and break up, add the remaining courgette, garlic and chilli and fry for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives and white wine and continue to cook until the mixture resembles a thick paste (see picture below). Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to directions. When cooked, toss the pasta through the sauce with 1/2 to 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss the basil leaves through and serve immedaitely.

A thick sauce, ready for the pasta.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sustainability Mondays: yeah, I know it's Tuesday

Thinnings from the onion patch, complete with volunteer potatoes, curing in the sun for a day

I took Monday off to enjoy a day in the garden! There were a number of jobs that I felt I needed to catch up on, and hadn't been getting around to while surrounded by people. I had a whole pile of time on my flexi-time at work, and decided to put it to good use. I even had a happy hour's weaving for the first time all year, when it was too hot to work outside in the middle of the day.

1. Plant Something -
  • Sowed spring onion seeds.
  • Repotted all of the tomato, chilli and okra plants that needed to go into bigger pots or growbags
  • Repotted several of the other potted plants
  • Turned in the barley chaff and manured that bed, in preparation for it to become a permanent artichoke bed.
2. Harvest something -
  • spinach
  • broad beans (4 kg)
  • onions (see picture above)
  • potatoes
  • lettuce and salad greens
  • baby carrots
  • lots and lots and lots of herbs
  • lots of courgettes
  • beetroot
  • chillies
  • turnips
  • eggs
  • the very last of the garlic
  • runner beans
  • French beans
  • cucumbers from a neighbour
  • orange cherry tomatoes
  • the first red sweet pepper
  • small yellow wild plums
  • the very first blackberries, as a mid-morning snack
3. Preserve something -
  • Cured onions and potatoes for storage
  • Froze several kilograms of broad beans
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • The usual things
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Nothing this week
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • The usual
7. Eat the Food
  • Broad beans in a rich tomato sauce for a light supper and later for a mezze supper
  • Caramelised courgette salad: delicious!
  • Intensely courgettey pasta sauce (recipe to come)
  • Smashed and roasted new potatoes
  • Lots of salad with greens, baby carrots, radish and beetroot
  • Used the preserved mini olives from last year's crop on our tree (and I do mean mini in some cases, see below) to make an olive bread with chopped fresh garlic, chopped herbs and a wonderful oak-smoked, malted wholewheat flour. We ate it two evenings in a row: the first, with stuffed portobello mushrooms and several salads; the second night as part of a mezze supper. It got rave reviews.

8. What I bought:
Avocadoes, stone fruit and portobello mushrooms.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Taking the steps towards self sufficiency

A delicious weekend brunch, almost all from the garden.

Although this blog is called "Steps Towards Self Sufficiency", I don't always talk enough about how I go about doing it, in my passion for the food I grow and eat. But I think about ways to take further steps in my own life towards self sufficiency every day. So that's what I'd like to write about today.

I loosely follow a permaculture-based approach to the way I organise my life. While permaculture is often viewed as a way to grow food, the movement created by David Holmgren and Bill Mollinson in the 70s is more than that. It's about looking at your lifestyle and environment and trying to arrange things in a way that is effective. About reducing stress, and effort. About working with nature and your surroundings, not against them. About making problems solutions. You can do this, regardless of where you live, regardless of your lifestyle circumstances.

First, pay attention to what you do in your life. Observe the things you normally take for granted. What are the important things to you? What items in your house do you use the most? What do you buy the most of? Now, how can you make those things rather than buy them? This can cover food, clothing, utensils. When I first started my UK veggie garden, I thought that I would like to have a wicker basket with which to place harvested vegetables in. I couldn't find one in the local shops. That was when I realised that I had a willow tree in my backyard and two hands that worked. So I looked up instructions on basket making on the internet and made a basket. Total cost to me, three hours of enjoyable time. We were looking at garden edgings yesterday and decided we'd weave some out of willow rather than buy anything.

Second: keep a diary of your observations. Do you know how many potatoes you eat in a year? How often do you buy garlic? When were your first/last frost dates? It's important to understand the size of the problem before you try to make big changes to your life. I can tell you just how much we eat of most vegetables in a year, because I try to plant to cover that consumption. But remember that your eating habits will change when faced with fresh veg and you're more likely to eat what's available.

What are your time constraints? Do you work full-time? Are you willing to dedicate one hour each day to self-sufficiency? Do you find you have some social obligation in early May every year, which may prevent you from finishing the spring planting? Do you always take a holiday in the summer school holidays, the prime summer vegetable picking time? Will you come home to giant beans and marrows? Plan your planting accordingly.

Third: make changes slowly. I can't emphasize this enough. It's all very well to plant out 200 runner bean seedlings in May, but come the height of summer when all you're doing is weeding, watering, picking and giving away a glut of beans you'll wish you hadn't. Start growing a few veg in pots, or grow one small garden bed of vegetables in the first year. Next year, or later in the summer, when that garden bed is working well, expand it. Add a few more vegetables, try new varieties. That's the fun. Although I grow a variety of vegetables always, I try to make us completely self-sufficient in one new vegetable each year, and then I maintain that self-sufficiency. Last year it was potatoes. This year it's garlic and we'll have a decent number of onions (although not enough to get us through the year). Next year we'll have more artichokes, enough onions to eat year-round, we'll be growing more grain crops and we want to grow peanuts, for fun. Think about the fertility of your soil. Compost. Mulch. Look after the soil and it will look after you.

Don't try to do too much too fast. If it becomes a chore you're not going to enjoy the experience and are less likely to be effective. How much money are you really spending on those home-grown veg? If it's not value for money, it's not sustainable. But on the other hand, don't be afraid to invest. A few hundred pounds or dollars, spent now on fruit trees and other permanant crops, will yield dividends for years and possibly decades to come.

Think about what you eat year-round. Anyone can grow most of their own veg at the height of summer. The real challenge is to have enough of a variety of vegetables year-round to keep you interested, able to eat seasonally, and not tempted to resort to the shops. Conversely, remember that there's something to be said for keeping the local economy going. There are an increasing number of people in my village who sell their gluts sporadically on tables at the end of their driveway, and I make an effort to buy from them whenever I can. If I buy enough, I may put some up to store for winter. I'll be buying cherries from a neighbour this week for just that, because I ate all of mine fresh.

This is a big one: try to plant something, harvest something and eat something out of your garden, at least once a week, every week of the year. I now try to do this every day, and manage to plant/harvest 4-5 days each week. It takes about 1/2 an hour each time.

If you don't own your property, don't let that stop you. I keep most of my fruit trees and shrubs in pots. I've had crops of cherries, blueberries, artichokes, currants, strawberries and soon plums from pot-grown plants this year: many from trees bought last year. I've grown potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, grapes, kiwifruit, even a passionfruit in pots. Growing in pots can be a great way to start slowly, work in restricted space, and they can be moved around the garden to suit.

If you do have restricted space, think vertically. Grow climbers up walls, grow veg in hanging baskets. Plant low-growing plants around the edge of beds with taller veg. But if you take this approach, be mindful of how much sunlight your plants are getting.

Forget about the idea of wasting food. Wasting food only counts if you've bought it from a supermarket. There is no waste in a proper self-sufficient system. Are all those radishes too woody and going to seed? Feed them to the chickens, or put them in the compost. They'll increase the fertility of your soil. Or let some go to seed, and save the seed or let them self-seed. I have self-sown parsnips, parsley, amaranth and kale all over my garden. The only way waste counts is if you're throwing food away in the summer when you could be preserving it for winter and are resorting to buying your food in in winter.

Think about your consumption. Each time you want to buy something, stop to think whether you can make it for yourself. If there is a reason you can't, is this something that can be fixed? Will a little time/patience/training allow you to be able to make your own linens, baskets, garden fencing, what have you? If you can't make it right now, is there some way you can work towards being able to? Do you really need eight different types of cleaning chemicals, when you can do most cleaning with soap, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar? Do you need a plastic bag? Are you buying things for the sake of having them? I barely ever walk into a shop these days, mostly because they offer so few things I want.

There's no one answer to how to move more towards a self-sufficient lifestyle, because everyone's life is different. The best thing you can do is to pay attention to your own rates of consumption and use that as a guide to where gradual changes can be made painlessly. Little changes, made often and maintained, are what build habits and a lifestyle. It's so much more rewarding to use items you've provided for yourself.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Sustainability Mondays: the lazy edition

It was more of a social than a sustainable weekend this weekend, with a house full of people. So there's not a lot to report this week.

1. Plant Something -
  • Sowed swedes, turnips and white beetroot seeds.
  • Planted out sweet pepper plants
2. Harvest something -
  • spinach
  • broad beans
  • peas
  • onions and onion thinnings
  • garlic scapes (found a few more)
  • lettuce and salad greens
  • pak choi
  • baby carrots
  • lots and lots and lots of herbs
  • strawberries
  • the last few morello cherries
  • zucchinis
  • beetroot
  • chillies
  • eggs! I always forget to mention them. Lavender gives us roughly four each week, which is enough for the two of us.
3. Preserve something -
  • Plaited up the garlic
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • The usual things
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Bought 20 more kilner jars to have them on hand when needed
  • Bought a deeply discounted hand-cranked flour mill
  • Did my tri-weekly bread baking (not with the new flour mill, which hasn't arrived yet)
  • Mr. G. filled and rotated our "emergency" jerrycan of diesel (we live some drive away from the nearest services)
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • The usual: blogging about it and talking about it obsessively to anyone who'll listen
  • Provided lots of veg gardening advice (possibly whether wanted or not) to two veggie gardening newbies
7. Eat the Food
  • Made pad thai with everything from the garden except for the rice noodles and sauces
  • made fresh salsa and poached eggs in it for brunch
  • Used some of the preserved apples from last season, and Grand-Marnier soaked dried fruit and nuts from the "to make fruit cake" stash, to make an apple and minced fruit tart. Absolutely delicious and very popular with said guests.
8. What I bought:
  • Nothing. I've bought no food at all in the past week.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

St Swithin's Day

It's something I'd never heard of before moving to the UK, but today is St Swithin's Day. Historically, the weather on St Swithin's Day will dictate what the weather will do for the following 40 days:

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mair.’

It seems there is some scientific basis to this tale: often in mid-July a weather front will sweep in and settle over the island for the following six weeks. You may remember that I was begging for rain on Monday because we've had a month of hot, dry weather. I got it yesterday. Today? It's windy and showery with long sunny spells. I've had a phone call from my village to say that it's been bucketing it down. If we get that for 40 days, colour me delighted! I've dug out all of the crops that would be affected by a wet soil already, and have a lot of plants in the ground that will be happy with low-mid-20C temps and showery weather.

My mad sowing jake has paid off hopefully, we might even see bean seedlings next week. I went down to the land last night and sowed a pile of pak choi, turnip and swede seeds and the last of the soya bean seeds as well, for autumn and winter eating. I harvested thinned baby carrots, the last of the peas, some turnips and a couple of courgettes. There are lots more coming on.

With this rain, I'd better brace myself for a courgette glut.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Sustainability Mondays: dryly

The elephant garlic was truly impressive

It's been drought-dry here lately, and we were supposed to have a big thunderstorm in the wee hours of this morning. So our whole weekend was planned around trying to take full advantage of the rain that was to come.

1. Plant Something -
  • Lots. Lots and lots.
  • Sowed the last of the bean seeds - runner beans, purple teepee, dwarf cannelini, Eva and Blauhilde climbing French beans. Sowed more kohl rabi turnips, swedes and radishes. Sowed spinach, radish and pak choi seeds in the home garden.
  • planted out soya bean seedlings and some bell peppers in the allotment and potted on purple sprouting broccoli, white cprouting broccoli and chilli plants.
  • Planted out the next lot of flower and herb seedlings into the mixed bed.
2. Harvest something -
  • spinach
  • new potatoes
  • broad beans
  • lots and lots and lots and lots! of garlic
  • shallots
  • onions and onion thinnings
  • garlic scapes (probably the last now)
  • lettuce and salad greens
  • pak choi
  • baby carrots
  • lots and lots and lots of herbs
  • strawberries
  • morello cherries (almost the last
  • zucchinis
  • artichoke
3. Preserve something -
  • Drying garlic to plait and store
  • Preserved some more lemons
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • The usual things
  • Trucked water to the allotment to keep the greenhouse plants alive
  • Prioritising eating the tofu before it hits its use-by date
  • Used the end bits of various cheeses on pizza
  • Keeping the brassicas in pots until the ground is more amenable for their reception
  • Sorted the seeds, filing the ones I've done with for the year back in the month-by-month sowing box, and pulled out the ones for sowing now. Started to think about my autumn seed order.
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Started to lay in garlic and shallots for winter
  • Priced more kilner jars with intent to buy soon
  • Laid in 2 kg of wholewheat pasta while it was on special
  • Froze the left-overs of last week's curry for a future meal
  • I'm not buying much food for the store cupboard at the moment because we're not really eating much out of it.
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • The usual: blogging about it and talking about it obsessively to anyone who'll listen
7. Eat the Food
  • We were going to have broad bean and pesto pasta for dinner on Saturday night but after I'd made the pesto and shelled the beans we decided it was too late and we weren't really hungry. So I snacked on fresh broad beans dipped into fresh pesto - yum!
  • lots and lots (and lots!) of garlic: in everything.
  • pesto and the last of the garlic scapes on pizza
  • Lots of green leaves in lots of salads and on rolls
  • pak choi and other chinese greens with tofu in stir fries
  • our fruit fresh as fruit salad or with yoghurt on muesli
8. What I bought:
  • lots of fruit: pineapples, melons and grapes because they were on special and I love fruit. I've tried not to buy imported fruit but I end up buying a fruit salad in a plastic cup if I don't take some to work.
  • avocado and lemons
  • peppers because mine are still small and green
The rain? It didn't come. It's hit many parts of our region but not us. I'm really disappointed. :(

I've just looked through the list of jobs I set for myself for the weekend though, and I'm pleased that the only jobs on it I didn't do are the ones I've tactically chosen to put off so they can be done better.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Around the garden: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

The broadbeans standing proud.

It's officially the dryest start to the year in the UK since 1929. And I live in the dryest part of the country, so while many areas have had some rain, things are starting to get dire where we are. We put in a 1,000- litre water tank in the spring but it's not had a chance to fill past 6 inches or so. Despite being frugal I emptied the last of it last night, so we'll be tanking water down to the allotment from today on. It's going to be a very hot weekend and the tomatoes need water. I don't water the allotment garden itself, but the plants are surviving. The clay soil of the allotment has turned into concrete and I've put off all of the mid-summer sowing and planting out until I know we'll get some rain to support it.

There's a thunderstorm and a couple of inches of rain predicted for Sunday night/ Monday morning, and I'm planning to have a sowing and seedling planting frenzy over the weekend, then cross my fingers firmly for rain.

The wheat, which showed such promise all the way through winter and spring, has had several setbacks. This should have been a stirling year for wheat but we've suffered predation. The image above shows the wheat two weeks ago. It had already had some predation before that photo was taken, when one of the horses from the neighbouring field jumped the fence and had a lovely day nibbling on the tips and pulling plants out.

Last weekend, the wheat looked like this:
You can see where it's been flattened in the middle of the bed and crushed to the ground. When I looked more closely at it, I realised that the grains had been eaten individually off the stalk, in some cases leaving the chaff behind, so I suspect pigeons. Even though it wasn't quite ready I harvested what was left, to try to salvage some of the harvest. Lesson learned: we'll sow wheat again in September, and I'll net the wheat after it's flowered next spring.

It's not all bad news though. Some of the comfrey roots we planted around the edges of the allotment have come up and are doing well. There are enough. We'll divide them a bit further next spring. The plan is to have a wall of comfrey around the edge of the allotment, to keep the weeds from encroaching.

The runner beans are flowering and the french beans are coming away nicely despite the lack of water. In the foreground is a mix of borlotto, venezia and brown rice beans. The netting is to cover my green leafy veg and protect them from pigeons and rabbits.

The onions/carrots/parsnips/shallots/radishes (left-hand bed) are thriving despite the pack of water. We sowed onions, carrots and radishes together in each row as they have different lengths of growing time. I've pulled out almost all of the radish now and have started to thin the carrots where they're sown thickly and are large enough. By the time the onions are bulbing and need the space the carrots will be mostly out - and the smell of the carrots and onions confuse the respective pests of each. The right-hand bed is the potatoes, which I hilled up for the final time last weekend. I sowed those with the early spuds at the front of the bed and the later maincrops at the back. I've started to harvest the first earlies at the front of the bed. The garlic, at the back of the onion/carrot bed (where you can see the fork handle) has been the big success story of the year. I intend writing more about the garlic and the broadbean trials next week.

This weekend, I shall be:
  • Harvesting some more new potatoes
  • Sowing the leek seedlings in the space left by the harvested potatoes
  • Hoeing the autumn-sown onion bed at the "far allotment" (in a friend's backyard)
  • Bending over the onion tops so they concentrate on making bulbs rather than making flower heads
  • Picking the flower heads out of the pak choi to increase its lifespan
  • Digging out the last of the garlic at the allotment before the ground gets too moist - the garlic in the back-yard veg garden can stand to wait another week or so
  • Plaiting the garlic harvested last week and hanging to finish its drying (post to come)
  • Planting brussel sprout and cabbage seedlings in the space left by the garlic
  • Watering! Lots of watering. And giving the tomatoes their weekly feed.
  • Sowing more french, borlotti and venezia beans, as well as more spinach, chinese greens, swedes, turnips and other root veg for autumn cropping and planting out some soya bean seedlings
  • Planting some advanced aubergine, tomato and okra seedlings into grow bags
  • potting up chilli plants
  • Painting a room at the flat (Sunday afternoon when it's too hot to work outside)
  • Hopefully mowing the tall weeds on the land (job potentially delegated to Mr. G)
  • Sitting back in a deckchair in the garden at some stage with a book and a cold drink, to just enjoy it
And despite how long that list of jobs looks, I intend spending most of Saturday enjoying attending my local spinning group's meeting!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Seasonal eating: chilli tofu, pak choi, onion flower stems and garlic scape

Do not adjust your screen, there are two plates in the above image. I'm pleased to say that all of the veg for this dinner last night came from the garden. Stir-frying is a great way to enjoy garlic scapes and onion flower stems. This is a variation on a Chinese-Singaporean dish, and serves 2-4, depending on how hungry they are!

Chilli tofu, pak choi and garlic scape

300g tofu, cut into small squares
2 tbsp groundnut oil
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 thai chillies, (or 8 larger cayenne types), filely chopped
4-6 garlic scapes and/or onion flower stems, sliced on the diagonal to about 1/2"
2-3 pak choi, sliced across about 1/2" thick
the tops of 2-3 shallots (or green onions), sliced on the diagonal to about 1/2"
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
fish sauce to taste (optional)
1 egg
2 coriander plants, roots and all, finely chopped

1 cup jasmine rice, to serve.

For the sauce:
1 cup water
5 tbsp tomato puree (or 2 pureed tomatoes)
1 tbsp hoisin sauce or black bean sauce
1 tsp dark soya sauce
1/2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp palm sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat and add the tofu. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the tofu crisps and browns evenly - this will take up to 20 minutes. Add a splash more oil as you go if required. Add the garlic and stir fry for 1 minute, then add the chilli, garlic ramps and onion flower stems and stir fry for 1 minute more. Add the sauce, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes until thickened slightly. Add the pak choi and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until wilted. Add the lime juice and rice wine vinegar, then taste for seasoning. You can add some fish sauce to add salt and savouriness at this stage if you think it is required. Crack the egg into the sauce and stir in so that it creates little strands of egg in the sauce. Remove from the heat, stir in the coriander and shallot tops, and serve with jasmine rice (see note below) and a coriander garnish.

Jasmine rice: I like to microwave my rice in a microwave rice cooker. You get great steamed rice with little mess. Put the cup of rice and 2-and-a-bit cups of water in the cooker, and put in the microwave for 10 minutes just as the tofu is crispy and you're ready to get on with the rest of the recipe. This gives it a couple of minutes to rest. The slight stickyness of the jasmine rice makes it perfect for pressing into a mould such as a coffee cup, to make a pretty rice cake to go with your meal.

An unexpected visitor

While watering the plants in the greenhouse the other night, I found this very sleepy little fellow on the ground by the water butt.

It was very sleepy indeed. I gently nudged it with a stick (obviously I didn't want my scent on it) to ensure it was alive, and all it did was shake me off and tuck its beak back under its wing. It's a juvenile green woodpecker, obviously just out of the nest.

Just look at the strength in that tail.

A quick google revealed that green woodpeckers leave the nest at about 3 weeks, and this fellow was definitely mature enough, being almost adult size. I could hear the parents being vocal (not at me, but encouraging the youngster) as I was working in the allotment, so I left it to its nap and went on my way.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Even Sustainability Mondays are getting late!

But I do have an excuse, as I spent all day yesterday in a meeting. So, without further ado as it's been a quieter week for me, this week's summary:

1. Plant Something -

  • spinach
  • transplanted some gifted sweet corn and planted out the walking stick kale, assorted chinese greens, Romanesco broccoli and the last of the winter pumpkins
  • potted on sprouting broccoli and pak choi seedlings.
2. Harvest something -
  • spinach
  • white radish
  • red breakfast radish
  • turnips (Rapa de bianca)
  • new potatoes
  • broad beans
  • peas
  • lots and lots and lots of garlic
  • shallots
  • the first onions, albeit a little early
  • onion flower stalks
  • garlic scapes
  • sorrel
  • lettuce and salad greens
  • the first thinnings of carrots
  • lots and lots and lots of herbs
  • strawberries
  • morello cherries
  • Almost - almost! the first zucchini, but decided to leave them another couple of days
3. Preserve something -
  • Nothing this week aside from drying garlic to plait and store
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • Composting kitchen waste
  • Feeding all green leaves from used veg plants to chickens
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Started to lay in garlic and shallots for winter
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • Blogging about it
7. Eat the Food
  • Gently wilted spinach, onion, garlic, tomato and chilli in Huevos Motulenos for brunch on the weekend (home-grown eggs, of course)
  • broad beans, peas, new potatoes, garlic, sorrel and lots of herbs and salad greens in salad
  • Lots of green leaves in lots of salads and on rolls
  • Radish and turnips in chickpea, radish and turnip vindaloo
  • Onions in a Sri Lankan sambal
  • Caramelised garlic tart
  • pak choi and other chinese greens in stir fry and a Thai soup
Eating seasonally from the garden really makes you think about what you cook. I've always been a pretty creative cook, but you have to be even more creative when what you have for dinner involves tofu, garlic, radish and turnips! Consequently from now on, I'm going to add another category. This one will be "What I bought", and will be an admission of failure of sorts. It will include groceries that I should have grown myself, but have given in and bought, whether I haven't enough or am buying out of season. I'm hoping it will shame prompt me to think more carefully about how I plan my planting and purchasing.

8. What I bought:
  • 6 eggs from the man at the end of the street, because Lavender hasn't been laying them fast enough in the hot weather
  • figs, mushrooms, lemons and tomatoes
  • onions because I'd like to caramelise a big pile

Friday, 2 July 2010

Lavender and rosewater liqueur, part 2

After less than a week, I decided that the flowers had steeped enough, so last night I drained the liquor. What I'm left with is some very bland-looking petals (compare to previous post!) and this lovely red-brown-slightly purple tincture. The smell is wonderful. I've left the petals in the jar for now as there's still more liquor to drain out of them, and I didn't want to press them in the strainer.

So far it's a success. At worst, I have a multi-year supply of lavender-rosewater for cooking!

I really want to try a pure lavender version now. I'll have to buy another bottle of vodka.