Moving Compost

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We’ve actually got around to ‘turning’ a compost heap over.

That is quite and achievement here. We often fill compost heaps so high that we can’t possibly turn them over without creating a collapse similar if Everest gave way.

But we did it, in two hours in the rain. We kind of had to do it because, well, I needed more space for the onions and garlic. I’ve planted somewhere around 250 onions… we were given quite a few but it was good seeing as the cats have already dug some up…

But yes – back to composting – why do we ‘turn’ compost over? Why do we compost in the first place? Why not chuck it in one of those bins?

For shame.

Right, compost: organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as fertiliser and soil amendment. Compost is the KEY ingredient to organic farming. Despite the slug pellets, that is what we aim to do.

Have you ever read The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stemple? Do, its great.

You make your compost out of basically anything in the garden – that can be cut grass, leaves, old plants, some people choose not to include their weeds but I do because I like dumping them somewhere and feeling like I am recycling. You can also put your food waste in it. This might attract rodents, of course, but what about your tea bags, banana peels, veg scrapings? Those are all really good to rot down and so not worth giving to the bin man. You can put cardboard and paper on too – covering the heap with cardboard is a good way of helping it to rot down.

But why should I compost?

  1. Saves money – do you know how expensive compost is?
  2. Saves resources and reduces negative impacts on the environment by avoiding chemical fertilisers.
  3. Improves soil – it feeds it with a diversity of nutrients, improves soil drainage and increases soil stability.

Compost takes time. It can look messy. But it is so worth it for a gardner. It is an investment.

So, if you don’t know already, ‘turning over’ the compost bed is aerating it. It gives it a flush of oxygen that encourages the bacteria breaking it down not to remain sluggish. It therefore speeds up the process, sometimes by weeks.

To aerate your compost, fork or shovel the compost into a newly set up enclosure next door to it. It is that simple. If your pile isn’t as big as a mountain.

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Horticultural Charities

It seems appropriate as it was Mental Health Awareness day last Tuesday to announce that I have become part of a steering group for setting up a mental health charity that uses gardening for therapy. It is called Space 2 Grow and is set in central Farnham (UK). The charity is in its very early days but we will hopefully be up and running by next spring. For now, I’m preparing the garden with the team and planting lots of bulbs next week (we meet one day a week, the day I’m not at university). We are hoping to get a vegetable patch going which will be amazing.

 

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A photo of some of the team from last week, Space 2 Grow

 

The mental health charity Oakleaf based in Guildford (UK) and I have been communicating lately and I’m happy to say that I am sending them a donation after Mental Health Awareness Day. They are lovely people and focus of gardening as therapy and a way of employability for those who find it difficult to get a job. They are online if anyone wants to take a look.

On the same note, my book ‘A Growing Mind’ is available on kindle now. I’ve been told that it has been really helpful for others who never had a mental health problem and by those who never had an eating disorder too.

 

 

River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake adapted

I will admit it – I used to hate carrot cake. The idea of a vegetable in a cake, an orange vegetable at that, was just crazy. But, now I can  literally eat my own words. I’ve had at least three different types of really good carrot cake recently, but the best so far has been a recipe my mum made from the River Cottage Veg Patch handbook.

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Now, she adjusted the recipe a bit. She added more dried fruit, salted butter instead of oil and any extra salt, instead of apple sauce she grated a whole apple and a pear (in a food processor) because our trees have been so generous this year, she ground the walnuts up (because that’s our trick ingredient to a good homemade cake) and she made the mistake of adding the syrup that is meant to go over the top at the end into the actual cake, but it was so much better. It wasn’t sickly sweet or sticky then, it made the cake instead moister and more delicious.

It is a darling of a recipe and very good for you too!

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River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake 

(Mum’s Version)

(Serves 10)

– 150g sultanas, raisins, currants -220g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder -1 tsp ground cinnamon -1 tsp ground ginger -Pinch of ground cloves -220g light brown sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp for the syrup -116g salted butter -Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange -2 eggs, lightly beaten -225g apple and pear, coarsely grated -270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated -80g walnuts, ground -1 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a 20–22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep, with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g sugar, butter and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple and pear, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and ground walnuts.
  4. While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small saucepan with the 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Fold into the cake with the sultanas.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
  6. Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold. Store in an air-tight tin.

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Books: Fiction for outdoor lovers

It might be difficult to tell from my writing on this blog (I make far too many grammatical errors and cannot excuse myself for my bad proof reading enough) but I am and always have been a book-worm. I pretty much devour books. I read a lot of varieties but I do love old-fashioned fiction written in the style of the Brontes, Hardy, George Elliot, Jane Austen, Thackery – and I must add, I have ready every novel by Daphne Du Maurier, ‘The Hunger Games’ series a few years back and grew up adoring Enid Blyton, ‘The Butterfly Lion’ and when I was twelve, my favourite book was ‘The Book Thief’. Book-worm.

It is even more exciting when the character suddenly finds his/herself in the most gorgeous scenery or working on the land. I relate to it immediately. I have compiled a list of fictional books for the outdoors, old-fashioned, farm labour lovers on the internet, as well as recommending some outstanding reads worth trying…

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THE SECRET GARDEN – Frances Hodgson-Burnett

“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”

‘After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. She is lonely and has no one to play with, but one day she learns of a secret garden somewhere in the grounds that no one is allowed to enter. Then Mary uncovers an old key in a flowerbed – and a gust of magic leads her to the hidden door. Slowly she turns the key and enters a world she could never have imagined.’ Penguin Books

This is a lovely book sold as a children’s book but it will be a delight to all adults too. It deals with grown-up situations – poorly children, orphaned children, loneliness, charity, father and son love, the wonders of the outdoors, gardening and wildlife and finding life again – but is written in a tone that makes it gentle enough for a child to read it. This is a wonderful technique as it makes a book about serious subjects actually happy. I felt so joyous whilst reading this book. I wanted to go to Yorkshire, run on the moors and play in the secret garden behind a stone wall, weeding in the peace and quiet, be Dickon, the kind-hearted animal and plant whisperer. It is a beautiful read and will make you happy and want to live.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”

ANNA KARENINA – Leo Tolstoy

‘… taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.’

‘‘I must have physical exercise, or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,’ he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.’

 ‘He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of the scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent- shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.’

‘Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’ www.goodreads.com

It is a BIG read. Not quite as long as ‘War and Peace’ but still a chunky book. The film of ‘Anna Karenina’ focuses mostly on the relationship of Anna and Vronksy, overlooking Levin who actually takes up most of the book. He is a really interesting character. Some people say that the chapters where he is scything and working alongside his fellow farmers is the most boring part of the book. To me, it was the best. I felt a glowing excitement while I was reading it and that was the day I decided I wanted to one day get a scythe. That dream came true a couple of weeks ago. I am sure that anyone who loves farming, being outdoors, physical labour, old-fashioned tools etc. will adore this part of the book. If you don’t, then still read it as the rest of the book is exciting, dramatic, filled with deceit, death, love and hatred, family affairs, success and failure. A typical good old-fashioned read.

 ‘The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.’

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Thomas Hardy

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world is almost a palpable movement. To enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are diregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.”

‘Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.’ goodreads.com

One cannot write a list of country-worshiping fictional novels and not include Thomas Hardy in it. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ is probably my favourite but I love ‘Tess of D’Urbevilles’ (read the description of the green hills surrounding Tess and her fellow milkmaids – I wanted to be an old-fashioned milk maid living in Dorset straightaway and that was before I had even been or heard of Dorset) and I have read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, slightly less country but an exciting read and still set in Hardy’s Wessex. Dramatic, romantic, honest, tragic and sad (Hardy’s style I am afraid), I urge everyone to pick up a famous copy. Trust me, I know people who have studied his poetry at school and thought they hated Hardy’s melancholy writing, have then read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and realised that he is a brilliant story teller.

‘It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may supposed the Dryads to be waking for the season—The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations […] there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-altogether.’

‘This reminded him that if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.’

Books: Gardening

Some gardening books I recommend:

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‘Grow your own Eat your own’ and ‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’, both by Bob Flowerdew

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own’ – Bob Flowerdew: Offers advice on harvesting, storing and cooking your homegrown produce throughout the year. He discusses how to grow for your particular kitchen needs, coping with gluts and storing and preserving: drying, jams and jellies, syrups and squashes, salting, brining, fruit cheeses and butters, pickles, chutneys, sauces and ketchups, soaking and sprouting… His recipe includes handy tips of growing techniques, adopting an organic approach to gardening, includes recipes (fruity up and down pancake, cinnamon baked pears, plum sorbet, artichoke pate, stuffed courgette flowers, pickled beetroot…) and adds a little extra page on keeping poultry and bees, underlining the wonderful relationship between keeping an organic garden and livestock.

‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’: Gardening organically and how to ‘work with nature’ rather than to fight against it. A good book for organic gardening completely, not just for growing produce. Discusses making own liquid feeds and compost too.

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‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ by Charles Dowdling and ‘Gardner Cook’ by Christopher Lloyd

‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ – Charles Dowdling: Dowdling first started growing vegetables commercially in 1982 when he set up his first green box scheme, eventually selling about 200 salad bags per week. This book highlights the different salad leaves one can grow, growing hardy varieties outdoors during the winter, growing easy-peasy micro leaves and dealing with the abundant pests salad leaves attract. He is quite keen on planting and the relationship with the moon cycle. He also includes lists of what is best to plant per month, breaking down the extensive list and narrowing the sometimes overwhelming options one can have for planting, making it easier. There are also some recipes for all seasons included from his wife, Susie (e.g. June: Somerset Spelt Risotto with Sugar Peas and Pea Shoots, September: Dark Red Lettuce with Cucumber, Cashew Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds, January/February: Winter Salad with Lettuce, Winter Purslane, Apple and Cheddar …). He also divides the salad leaves into sections and discusses the different varieties and when best to plant them. For example, for lettuce, he writes about how to grow it, when to grow it, growing it outdoors/ in a container, problems, harvesting, watering, types of lettuce (hearting, loose leaf etc.), colours of lettuce (dark lettuce has a slightly bitter flavour, slower to grow than light green and less attractive to slugs, apparently) and then he discusses varieties (e.g. Loose Leaf, he recommends, ‘Lollo Rosso’, ‘Aruba’, ‘Rubens Red’ and plenty more). It is a very useful, detailed book for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient in growing green leaves for themselves or others.

‘Gardener Cook’ – Christopher Lloyd: Lloyd depicts how to grow the best varieties of fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs and how to use them in cooking, including recipes. It is divided into the following sections: Fruit Trees, Soft Fruit, Root Vegetables, Green Vegetables, Salads, Herbs. He writes information on the produce he grew at Dixter and a little history he has with the particular food item, before offering some recipes (Apple Charlotte, Spinach Flan, Potato Salad with Wine and Anchovies, Beetroot Baked with Cream and Parmesan Cheese, Rhubarb and Banana Pie, Leek and Mushroom Tart…). Included lovely photographs, too. As Lloyd writes in the blurb, ‘Growing one’s own food is tremendously rewarding… We have always grown fruit and vegetables in the garden… What could be more natural than to use them effectively in the kitchen?’

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‘RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’ and ‘RHS Vegetable & Fruit Gardening’

‘The RHS: Vegetable and Fruit Gardening’: A large book packed with information about growing all types of vegetables and fruit. Discusses types of plants briefly in A-Z order among other advice, such as crop rotation.

‘The RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’: Largest saved for last – this is a whopper of a book. It has everything technical you need to know about gardening and is a good one to refer to.

Books – Cookery

I get plenty of information about gardening and cooking from the internet, other people and clippings from my grandma’s Telegraph subscription but there is something very traditional and homey about owning a cookery or gardening book. The worn out covers and smeared pages mark your favourites and photos are always pretty, making  the gardens or the produce look alluring.

There are plenty of books I would like to share with you but I will restrict my self and start of small to make it easier to follow. I will begin with books that focus on cooking, followed by more gardening related ones and finally some wonderful novels I would recommend reading that make the outdoor life sound wonderful.

These cookery books are not garden focused but include so many great recipes for the home-grower that they come highly recommended from me.

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From bottom: ‘Puddings’ by Johnny Shepherd, ‘Learning to Cook Vegetarian’ by Rose Elliot, ‘Leith’s Vegetable Bible’ by Polly Tyrer
‘Puddings’ – Johnny Shepherd. This is a great book for anyone who loves baking or puddings but it is also surprisingly useful for the fruit-grower. Johnny Shepherd chooses fresh, seasonal fruits and offers lots of traditional and exciting recipes with optional twists that could help you use up any gluts in a tasty way, offering inspiration when you are stumped. His recipes include fools, jellies, pies, crumbles, tarts, cakes, sundaes, steamed puddings… The fruit he includes are rhubarb, strawberries, peaches, raspberries, gooseberries, plums, pears, nectarines, bilberries, apples… Think blackcurrant fool, rhubarb cake, peaches with raspberry coulee, nectarine tart, lemon meringue pie, steamed apple pudding, gooseberry suet pudding, blood orange jelly, poached pears, bilberry pie… It is a lovely book and well worth buying, for the puddings and the delicious ways of eating your fruit. I have already raved about his rhubarb fool:
His way of roasting rhubarb is the best way of cooking it I have found yet.
‘Leith’s Vegetable Bible’ – Polly Tyrer. An excellent book for vegetarians or people needing inspiration to make vegetables a central dish when they have grown a little too many courgettes, celery, potatoes etc. The book is divided into sections, some describe lentils and pulses or rice or pasta, others focus on the vegetable group, such as onions, roots, squashes. The entire book is vegetable focused and there will be plenty of options that you would not have considered before but they make them sound delicious. In each section they provide more information about the vegetables, including nutrition at the start of the book, and ways to cook them before launching into the recipes themselves. Recipes include parmender salad, Thai vegetable cakes, spiced black-eyes beans and potatoes, brown rice pilaff with Cajun vegetables, garden leaves with tomato and olives, pasta with cauliflower, saffron and tomato cream sauce, red potato bake, chickpeas and spinach curry, and plenty more.
My favourite Leith’s book by far.
‘Learning to Cook Vegetarian’ – Rose Elliot. I bought this book initially because of the title but meat-eaters should not be put off from using it too. There are lots of easy recipes using plenty of vegetables that will be tasty for all. Elliot offers nutritional information at the beginning before dividing the book into sections, like salad, vegetables, pasta, eggs, baking, rice, sauces. She includes alternatives for different needs and tastes in recipes (e.g. soya products for vegans or different ingredients in a dish, such as in her recipe pasta with courgettes, she suggests swapping the courgettes for asparagus or peas and mint). Some of my favourite recipes are pumpkin risotto, Mediterranean pasta, red bean and potato moussaka, tabbouleh, spicy chickpea ragout, her ideas for toppings on top of bruschetta are great too). Most of the dishes indulge in lots of different vegetables to inspire you when you are stumped with a new harvest from your veg patch and all are simple to prepare on a late evening.
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From bottom: River Cottage ‘Fruit’ by Mark Diacono, ‘Preserves’ by Pam Corbin, ‘Hedgerown’ by John Wright, ‘Veg Patch’ by Mark Diacono
The other collection of books I admire and use a lot for the garden as well as ideas for using the harvests is the collection of River Cottage handbooks. They are small and fit on your shelf or book pile cutely and include a stack of useful hints and tips. I am quite curious in purchasing the bread one…
‘River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch’ – Mark Diacono. The man who owns Otters Farm once worked for River Cottage and he wrote this hand book. It is small, to the point, divided into clear sections with good information about growing and harvesting the vegetables before offering some recipes (think vegetable tempura, feta and beetroot salad, leek and cleriac soup, glutney (glut chutney), turnip ‘risotto’, tomato on bruschetta…). He also wrote ‘River Cottage Handbook: Fruit’ which is another one I would recommend (recipes for those interested include gooseberry tart, medlar jelly, apricots on toast, orchard ice cream with caramelised walnuts, pear and rocket salad, strawberry trifle and plum and hazelnut cake). He does make gardening sound easy with his positive attitude but they are books I go straight to if I need some brief information on a certain plant, such as recommended varieties, where to plant them, when to plant them and how far apart and cooking advice. The other two River Cottage Handbooks I would recommend for the kitchen gardner are ‘Preserves’ – Pam Corbin and ‘Hedgerow’- John Wright. ‘Preserves’ contains a lot of recipes and tricks to preserve your harvests. It contains the usual jams and jellies as well as pesto, bottled fruits or vegetables, vinegar, pickles, drinks… Their blackcurrant jam, gooseberry jam, Hedgerow jelly, Seville orange marmalade and redcurrant jelly recipes I have tried and are excellent. I also tried their chestnut jam – very long and slightly too sweet for my liking but I am not a fan of chestnuts in the first place so that is unsurprising and I would still recommend giving it a go if you ever forage a lot of sweet chestnuts in the autumn. Other interesting recipes include family ‘Beena’ drinks, nasturtium ‘capers’, pickled garlic, Harissa paste or apple and blackberry leather.  ‘Hedgerow’ offers advice for foraging and identifying the larder growing in the hedge beyond your garden. If you care for foraging blackberries, why not try stretching yourself to try something unusual? There are lots of edible weeds out there that we tend to forget about now, same as the flowers growing in our garden (like primroses and nasturtiums). Wright splits up the book into useful sections and includes a poisonous section too. He provides information on seasons, descriptions, how to harvest and a little history too before providing a selection of recipes at the back for those with brave hearts (dandelion jelly marmalade, nettle soup, wild garlic parcels or chickweed pakoras, anyone?).