Compost Matters

IMG_20180420_181119.jpgFinally got on the allotment on Friday in the early evening sunshine. Soil is still very damp but most of the standing pools of water seem to have disappeared. The day’s task was to build my first compost bin.  I’d intended to build a suite of bins from pallets – and think I have found a source of these for about £2 each. However, I jumped the gun and bought a kit online at ManoMano which I managed to get for £18.99 (allegedly reduced from £50.99 although definitely not worth anything like that). It slotted together fairly easily – a rubber mallet might have helped but tapping each board down to ensure it was properly slotted together was easily done with another board. (Although have to confess I did break one slightly when I leaned on it too heavily!)

I wasn’t entirely sure where to site it – it’s not quite where it appears on my allotment plan. There are still some brambles to remove at the back of the plot – and contractors may need access across my plot to rotavate a vacant half-plot next to mine. So I just plumped for a spot near where I think the right hand edge of my plot is adjacent to what may be a path!

Once built I started to add some content – started with some brown material (cardboard & dried twigs) followed by green (grass clippings from my neighbours) and then more brown (a bag of partially decomposed compost – actually this looked like it might have been from my worm bin and could have gone straight into one of my beds). Now I need to find more material to add – not sure how much I will find on my plot itself as I’m building my beds on top of weeds etc. So will be reliant on kitchen waste (via my bokashi bin or worm bin) & anything I can scrounge or find locally.

Community Composting

Both my front and back gardens are hard-landscaped – and lawn mowing was never one of my favourite occupations so I’ve no intention to install any turf anytime soon.  But it does mean that I don’t generate any grass clippings to add to my composting process. But a couple of my neighbours do have lawns, so when I spotted one mowing in the sunshine on Friday after first sympathising about the hot and sweaty task I asked what she did with the clippings. They usually ended up at the tip so she was more than happy to let me have hers and her neighbours – a bag full was left in my garden when I got home.  Next time I walked down the road I suddenly heard my name being called and there was my neighbour hanging out the window so she could offer me her vegetable peelings too!

So I’m now having hers, her sister’s (whom I’ve never met) and another neighbour’s too.  I have a bokashi bin in my kitchen and a worm bin out in my shed but it takes me a while to fill either as I don’t generate much waste – I don’t peel most of my veg and my dog eats any meat or fish scraps.  So having some extra ingredients will help me fill my bucket quicker. But I am slightly shocked at what my neighbours are throwing away – a perfectly good head of celery, half a white cabbage and lots of broccoli stalks (the best bit!) in addition to peelings of parsnips, carrots and potatoes. I’ll see how it goes before I ask any other neighbours for their contributions…..

And to help in my composting I found this Urban Composter bucket and a full compost accelerator sitting on a wall nearby.  Having just filled a bokashi bucket (with the help of my neighbour’s leftovers) I’m going to start using this bucket and spray and see how it compares with using the bokashi bran.  IMG_20180421_102309.jpg

My main quest though for the past two weeks has been to find a source of manure – the allotment holders all use a guy called Ron who has stables but he appears to be very elusive. I’d left two messages and phoned innumerable times. I was advised he ‘was a bugger to get hold of’. But to my surprise he answered the phone the other day – appararently due to the bad weather he hadn’t been able to move his horses or get at his manure but the weekend weather should enable him to do this.  He knew I’d left messages – as had several other allotment holders – but as he said about himself he’s ‘a bugger to get hold of!’

So I’m still not sure when I’m getting my delivery but hopefully sometime this week – I’ve no idea how much a trailer load of well rotted horse manure looks like or how many of my beds it will fill.

I have been searching Gumtree & Freecycle for manure (& other allotment requisites) but not found anything as cheap as Ron’s – £25 per trailer load delivered.  I did however respond to an ad for 35kg of chicken manure for £10.  I collected it yesterday and not sure I’ll make a regular habit of it! It’s very smelly (so slightly uncertain about transporting it in a car club car!) and its also not very well rotted so will need to be very careful how I use it.  I put a little bit on the compost heap but think I will leave the rest in a heap until its broken down – and even then will use sparingly.

And that’s it on the compost/manure front for now – will write more when I finally get some manure and can start filling my beds……


Seedling success

I sowed my first seeds on 29th March, anxious to get going once I knew I was definitely having an allotment plot. I’d been saving toilet roll tubes since I moved house last year – hoping I’d find a use for them somehow in the garden. I cut some in half and left others whole, the latter I’m using for tomatoes although ten days later I can’t remember what my logic was in this! Anyway as you can see from this box on my kitchen window sill I have been getting some germination. The largest ones in the foreground are courgette (Verdi di Italia) and you may just be able to make out some spindly seedlings in the bottom left corner – these are Claytonia. The tomatoes (Green Zebra) have just started to emerge but are not yet up to the top of the roll.

I have been using other reclaimed items too that would have otherwise gone into my recycling bin: tin cans, plastic veg trays, and egg boxes.

But I soon ran out of those I had available so have also bought some peat free fibre pots and peat free growing pockets (made of coir & wood fibre). Peas & mange tout in coir pocketsThe latter I have used for sowing some peas and mange tout as they don’t like being repotted. I’ve also planted some peas into a drainpipe but havent managed to find anywhere particularly warm I can put this so not sure how effective it will be at getting them started earlier than if I planted them directly outside. But the ones in the pockets are just starting to emerge after just 4 days and these are in an unheated shed.

I’ve now utilised all the space on my kitchen window sill and a set of shelves in my shed. The shed does have a window but doesn’t get a huge amount of light so I’m moving some of them outside into my lean too on sunny days. Not sure how many I’ll want to keep moving on a daily basis so they may have to take turns.

Once I’ve cleared vast amounts of cardboard out of my shed to use on the allotment both as a mulch and in my compost heap, I should be able to get at some more shelves and be able to continue sowing. I’ve concentrated on getting a small quantity of lots of varieties sown initially and will then make further succession sowings of some of them. I’ve been assiduous about labelling and dating everything but have slightly lost count of exactly what I’ve sown and when. I need to spend an hour or so setting up a recording system so I can keep better track. I’m using  Garden Planner to plan my plot and so I get reminders sent of what I should be sowing and planting every couple of weeks – but I don’t think there is a way of recording on the plan that you’ve actually done it.

As I’m just starting out I can know if a seed packet is open then I’ve sown it (somewhere!) but that won’t be much of a guide over the months – and years – to come. There is a facility to add notes on the garden planner to each variety so I may try to see if that is a good way of doing it – if not a simple spreadsheet should do the trick.



A Daunting Task


Well this is it! IMG_20180407_143352.jpg

My new plot –  a weed-ridden boggy site covered in weeds. What was I thinking? Well, I’m told it will eventually dry out and as I’m going to practice no-dig gardening in raised beds I’m telling myself I don’t need to worry too much about the weeds.

I’m trying to keep my costs down as much as possible and so looking for free or cheap materials. Having spent a long time researching the various ways of constructing raised beds I came across the idea of using pallet collars. I’d not come across them before but they are designed to be used as additional protection for goods transported on pallets. The UK standard size is 1200 x 1000mm and 195mm deep (approx 4ft x 3ft 3in x 8 in deep) They are hinged at each corner so they can be stored or transported flat as shown in the photo, and the metal hinges protrude on one side and this enables them to be stacked on each other when opened out; so you could put them together to make deeper beds.

I was lucky enough to find someone locally offering pallet collars at £5 each on Gumtree. In fact my neighbour was also interested in them to replace her old raised beds built with scaffold boards some years ago, so I placed an order for 30  (18 for me and 12 for her) and cheekily asked for a discount – so got the 30 for £130 including delivery making them £4.33 each.  I also found some on ebay listed at £4 each but they were further away in Dudley and delivery was quoted as £55.


So here are the first two in situ. I’m pushing two together to make an 8ft bed and then will leave a path about 2ft wide before placing the next 8 ft bed. This will be the central path up through the plot and allow space for getting a wheelbarrow through. On the long sides I’ll leave about 1ft or maybe 18 inches just to allow space for my feet and access to either sides of the beds.

Although I wasn’t intending to do any digging I did do a bit to even out the level of the ground underneath. This section of my plot appears to have some earlier raised beds although there’s no evidence of any wooden sides but there are definite peaks and troughs. So I did slice off the tops of the peaks and turned the clods over into the troughs. I did this using my new toy – a Chillington digging hoe (sometimes known as an azada) – you can see it in the picture. This worked perfectly for this job and with no strain on my back – so very happy with it so far. The advantage of doing even this bit of digging was that it allowed me to have a bit of a closer look at the soil. And I was encouraged by how soft it appeared to be despite being very wet still – and also by the number of worms I saw.  Although I will be adding compost & manure and planting in the raised beds I expect that roots of plants will also be reaching down into the soil below the beds too. And I may also be digging a little bit of soil out from in between the beds to lower the paths slightly (I’ll be adding bark chippings eventually) and this will be mixed with compost in the beds.

As I lay each pallet collar in place I will immediately layer damp cardboard at the bottom to cut out the light. This will immediately start working as a weed suppressant whilst I await delivery of manure etc hopefully be next weekend.

My current plan is to cover about a third of the allotment with raised beds, leave a third for shed, compost bin and some plants not going into raised beds and cover the remaining third with black polythene to suppress the weeds. A request on freecycle for black polythene yielded a result and this is now also in situ. I had a bit of help from my son Aidan in getting it there and laying it out.

So a daunting task but I’ve got a plan, have made a start and hope that by working steadily one step at a time I’ll make progress and it won’t be too long before I can actually get some plants and seeds in the ground.

Seed porn

IMG_20180328_115203.jpgHaving been offered an allotment plot last month, even before I had seen it I indulged myself in poring over a multitude of seed catalogues, both on paper and online.  I drew up a wish list of the (mainly) veg and herbs I wanted to grow and then looked for interesting varieties. After all there’s not much point in growing varieties that are easily and cheaply available to buy. My focus is on growing for taste – and to a certain extent appearance. I don’t mean that I want all uniformed shaped and sized veg but that I like a variety of colours eg red and green lettuce, purple beans and a mix of tomatoes.

I did look at all of the major seed companies and was on the point of making an order when I came across the Real Seed Catalogue and having read about their ethos it all made sense to me. They eschew F1 hybrids in favour of open-pollinated seed that will breed true and enable saving of seed for future sowings. Although the catalogue includes many heritage varieties they also have new varieties where they produce better flavoured results and imported plants such as Oca which they have trialled to see if they do well in UK growing conditions.

Their website has no particular bells and whistles but is easy to navigate and provides an image, detailed information about each variety, and notes on their culinary use.  I easily put together an order for about 30 packets of seed which arrived within a few days. Each pack includes basic growing details and further notes included cover how to harvest seeds from each for planting next year. 1p of the order cost goes towards membership of the Real Seed Club. This membership enables the company to supply seeds that are not on the EU official list of vegetable varieties.

Although Real Seed do include a range of herbs in their catalogue I found a greater variety (and cheaper!) at More Veg who specialise in selling small packets of seed for home growers with many costing only 50p. I bought over 20 packets of seed for about £15!

And to add to my supply of seeds my neighbour today handed me about 20 packs of seeds that she had spare – mainly freebies from gardening magazines over the last 12 months or so.  They may not be varieties I would have chosen but I’ll certainly try and give some of them a go if I have time – and space.

My kitchen window sill is already full of seed trays (mainly old egg boxes and toilet roll tubes as I’m not buying any new plastic trays) so I’m waiting for the weather to warm up so I can start more off in my garden shed, and fairly soon on the allotment itself once I have some beds set up. That’ll be a job for this weekend – pallet collars are arriving on Saturday so now its time to order a trailer load of manure….

It’s all gone quiet over the winter….

I somehow don’t seem to have found the energy or time to post anything over the winter – which still seems to be hanging on interminably.  But I haven’t given up my foodie interests so above are a selection of snaps from odd occasions.

I’ve continued to have weekly deliveries from Abel & Cole including the salad recipe box. With only a couple of exceptions I have been very pleased with the recipes which all feature seasonal ingredients and provide me with at least four meals. Some are better than others for a main meal, some are more suited to an accompaniment. I’ve learnt to use less garlic than suggested – and also less rocket as I’ve really gone off the really strong stuff.

In January I did a Dosa making workshop at Loaf in Stirchley – a really fun evening and the results were great to eat, especially the gunpowder chutney which was new to me.

In Feb I visited my son up in Leeds and he treated me to a meal out at Stew and Oyster as a birthday treat. And he was persuaded to try an oyster for the first time – heavily laced with tabasco 😉  We also visited the Wakefield Rhubarb festival – and stocked up on a range of goodies including some excellent smoked salmon and chocolate, plus of course some forced rhubarb and a rhubarb crown to be planted on my new allotment.

And it is planning the allotment that has been taking up much of my headspace over the last few weeks – just off now to sign the paperwork & become a real allotmenter.  Watch this space…..


Autumnal salads from Abel & Cole – Review

I’ve been trying out Abel & Cole’s organic Super Salad Recipe Box for the last 6 weeks now so thought it time to write a review.  At £15 per box it contains the recipe and ingredients for two seasonal salads which it claims will feed two for two main meals or provide side dishes for four at a time.  I’m living on my own so unless I’ve been entertaining I’ve been cooking the recipes for myself.

My delivery day is a Monday and as I have generally been making one of the dishes for my that day’s supper and taking the second portion with me as packed lunch the next day. The second recipe I cook later in the week and again use the 2nd portion for lunch. With many of the recipes I have actually also had enough to use a 3rd portion as an accompaniment to maybe a chicken portion or grilled fish.

At £15 I don’t think it’s a cheap option but as I’ve had about the bulk of 6 meals from each box its certainly not extortionate.

But are the recipes tasty and good to eat? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. I have followed the recipes fairly faithfully although on occasion have reduced the amount of particular ingredients eg red onion and rocket in today’s Italian Roast Sprout & Parsnip Salad. Both of these are strong, even overpowering flavours, and I think the balance was better with only small quantities of these. The recipes are varied so very little repetition and combine ingredients in interesting ways some of which I wouldn’t have considered before.

The idea of ‘salad’ seems on occasion stretched a little far from the dictionary definition of “A cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients.” Many of the recipes can be served immediately they’re cooked although most are also fine cold – or my preference at room temperature. The only one I didn’t fancy cold was Rosemary Roast Potato & Mushroom salad.

Eating alone much of the time it can be hard sometimes to shop for small quantities of ingredients or to find the inspiration to cook outside of a limited repertoire of dishes.  This box provides exactly the right quantities for the dishes, so limited waste, and no frustration of thumbing through cook books trying to find a dish that you have all the ingredients for. And as each recipe only takes 30 mins from start to putting on the plate they fit in well with a busy life-style.

As with all the veg I’ve had so far from Abel & Cole the quality of the ingredients has been high and all fresh ingredients have lasted well for several days if not been cooked on day of arrival.

So all-in-all a thumbs up to this box and I shall definitely be continuing with it for the foreseeable future.


My first Super Salad Box from Abel & Cole

I’ve never tried recipe boxes before and despite my reservations about the cost, I thought I’d give the Abel & Cole Super Salad Box a whirl.  They are designed to provide the ingredients for 2 main course seasonal salads for 2 people (or enough for 4 side salads). In my delivery were the ingredients for a Grilled Fennel & Leek Salad with Olives, lemon and buckwheat and also a Caramelised Purple Carrot, Chickpea & Chilli Salsa Salad. The box contains exactly the right amount of ingredients for each recipe with the exception of salt/pepper & oil.

I first tackled the fennel and leek salad and carefully followed the enclosed recipe leaflet. It gave an estimated prep/cooking time of 30 minutes and this was about right. I dutifully griddled my veg and boiled my buckwheat and whilst they were cooking chopped parsley, garlic and olives and mixed them together with lemon juice and the tablespoon of wholegrain mustard supplied in a little packet. It looked good – very similar to the image on the recipe leafet. But then came the moment of testing – yeuch!

It was really unpleasant as a result of the harshness of the mustard dressing and I very nearly didn’t eat it. I was so disappointed with the result – and of course had used all the ingredients and so had enough for another portion the following day. I was sorely tempted to chuck the lot in the bin but instead packed the remains into my lunchtub for the next day.  However, whether by accident or subconcious design I managed to leave it at home the next day and so was forced (!) to buy a jacket potato with tuna mayo for my lunch.  But in the evening it looked reproachfully at me from within its tub and being averse to waste I decided I would have to eat it as an accompaniment to my pan fried trout.  So I steeled myself expecting the worst only to discover that the flavour had completely changed in the intervening 24 hours.  The harshness of the dressing had mellowed and there was no pungent acidity as there had been. The resulting salad (served at room temp) was actually rather tasty and the mustard dressing simply gave a bit of an oomph to the flavours of the veg and the buckwheat.  If I were to make it again I would taste the mustard first and blend it very carefully with the other strong flavours of garlic and lemon.

The other salad I made as an accompaniment to a veggie chilli I made for a few family and friends who gathered in my new house to wish my daughter farewell as she headed off to India for a couple of months. I roasted the carrots and chick peas the evening before the gathering which would have been fine had I then not forgotten I had left them on a baking tray in the oven.  When I heated the oven for something else the following afternoon I suddenly remembered they were there. They weren’t black but they were definitely well done and the chickpeas a little scorched.  I hesitated about serving them but I’d already chopped and mixed the coriander with the carrot tops plus garlic and chilli and oil so I threw it altogether and put it in a bowl on the table at the same time as serving up the nachos.  I have no idea what it tasted like as before I had found a serving spoon in the kitchen the guests had piled into the nachos and had their hands in my carrot salad and were eating it with their fingers! It was declared a success despite the overcooking = so will definitely give this one another go.