Archive for the ‘VEGETABLES’ Category

It’s been long time I know. Months have passed without a whisper from me. Even the Tweets have been minimal. It has not been down to a lack of intent, goodness no. Or a lack of ideas of what to say. Instead, every second of my free time during the summer has been spent frantically working or being with my family. Time passes and some things just don’t seem to get done. It’s catch up time now and in an attempt to get back up-to-date with it all I’ve decided to do a sort of summer highlights of what I’ve been up to.

So much has happened. My attempt at growing vegetables in my new plot [found via Landshare] has kept me busy. I still pinch myself at how lucky I am to have access to this growing patch, it has been a tranquil place of escape for a few moments each day during watering/picking visits.

It has proved to be very productive despite the wet summer [but we always have wet summers here in Bolton]. I have loved the challenge of making sure we use all the produce from the plot [especially the gluts] and have bought very little veg from the shops. And it is true; everything just tastes so much better. I’m now looking forward to making the most of the plot during autumn/winter and have already set in motion an attempt to grow some veg for our massive family Christmas feast. I have rows of sprouts! Not the usual smooth green ones but the red and the pretty flower varieties. If I can catch all the Cabbage White caterpillars, then there will be hope.

I have also grown Sweetpeas at the plot. They we’re my choice of flowers for my wedding bouquet many moons ago and have since become rather special. They have been so easy to grow and have filled the house all summer, even now I’m bringing back small bunches. Inspired by all this Sweetpea picking, I’m now on a mission digging up a mini field to create a proper cutting garden. Fingers crossed, it will be something to write about at a later date.

IronMan UK [ridiculously long distance triathlon that has to be completed in no more than one second over 17 hours…or you don’t get the medal] has also been a major event for us this year. Not so much the actual IronMan D-day but the year and a half build-up of constant, full on training. I’ve now had a glimpse at what being a one parent family would be like; very, very hard work. The event itself was incredible [the mass swim awesome] and I rose to the challenge of chief cowbell ringer and ‘come on’ screamer. Yes, I was the dutiful IronWife spectator with IronKids and IronDog in tow. I loved it. It was one of those moments that puts your faith back into humanity, people’s strength of mind, body and spirit to get through the IronMan hell makes anything possible. Truly inspiring. My crazy IronMan husband crossed the finishing line in under 14 hours [he’ll be cringing once he’s found out he’s been mentioned here]. Very proud of him and all done for UNICEF.

I’ve also been finding inspiration from simply going on walkies with the dog. Ever since getting Ollie, two year’s ago now, my eyes have been opened to the flora in the fields nearby. I can’t help myself, I have a frenzy of picture taking, attempting to capture the delicate weaving mass of wildflowers and grasses.

It’s that en-mass presence that makes me swoon; similar to, but much more subtle than, the jaw-dropping prairie planting style I also love. My excitement at flora spotting in my local area was then taken to new heights when I was commissioned to do a piece on the Olympic Parkland. I had no idea what to expect and was bowled over when I visited. It is a parkland like no other and what strikes you is the way how the designers have worked in harmony with the natural, historic landscape of the area.

Instead of coming up with a randomly plucked spatial design and imposing it on the landscape, the concept has stripped the very industrialised site back to its original wetlands, reed beds, wet and dry woodlands and perennial wildflower meadows. Not a rose garden in sight. These wilder areas are cleverly blended into tamer areas of expansive spectator lawns and promenades; inspired by the Victorian and post-war pleasure gardens.

Bioswales [image above] and rain gardens are some of the features that help this blending; doubling up as a functional, innovative solution to excess run-off water.

Even the Great British garden has a contemporary, nature-inspired spin on the traditional with much more relaxed planting schemes [image above]. If you want to read more about the Olympic Parkland design, the article is still live and can be viewed here.

In terms of my gardening business, I have to be honest, this year has been a struggle. I had a devastatingly quiet winter, a barely survivable trickle of jobs through spring and a summer that’s just been crackers. I’m happy to be flat out with work now, but it’s been frustrating and I need to find balance. Plan A was to go back to graphic design [freelance] during the winter.  A sensible option but one that disheartened me; it would not give me professional development in the landscape industry. Instead, serendipity intercepted in the form of a heads up on a part-time experienced gardener position at a private residence 13 minutes drive from where I live. Walled vegetable and cutting garden. Herbaceous borders and heathland beds. Meadows, grassy wildflower bunds [man-made mounds from on-site excavations that are planted up] and areas in need of conservation. Native woodland. Possibilities of introducing prairie style plantings.

I got the job and I’m over the moon. I can now concentrate on developing one garden rather then hurtling down the motorways to spend a couple of hours here and there. Just think of the amount of diesel I’ll save. It has also focused my attentions on my garden design business, how it can be developed to attract clients that desire more nature-inspired and innovative spaces. I’m actually looking forward to the winter months now, with a sense of security, I can plan for next year…and peruse the vegetable seed catalogues.

Moving away from work, there is one more thing I just have to quickly mention… my chickens! They are such a highlight to our busy lives. Every day they put a smile on my face with their odd habits, little quirks and beautiful eggs. They are simple little pleasures, no trouble to look after and have become the soul of our garden…so thank you chickens. [I just need to re-think that planting.]

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Last month I was incredibly privileged to be invited to see how a primary school in Ipswich is embracing a kitchen garden project, supported by the Jamie Oliver Foundation. This school is not just dabbling in growing a few vegetables but is working hard to incorporate running and maintaining a real kitchen garden that provides their dedicated Classroom Kitchen with fresh produce to cook with…and all done by the children at the school. It is an inspiring project that engages children in ‘hands-on’ activities, from the obvious sowing and hoeing to expanding their knowledge about vegetables … to recognising when things are ripe for harvest and the oodles of benefits that eating fresh, home grown fruit and vegetables brings with it. All this is then followed through into the purpose-built Classroom Kitchen where the children learn how to prepare and cook their school-grown produce.

Having young children of my own who attend a lovely primary school, also trying to make growing food more integral to their teaching, makes this project very interesting to me. Squeezing in duties to create a successful kitchen garden in between teaching classes is no mean feat and I was intrigued to find out how this is achieved at the pilot school.

Linking activities involved in gardening and cooking to the curriculum seems to be key; and there is relevance on so many levels. Literacy for example: reading and following instructions on seed sowing; researching what fruit and vegetables to grow using reference books and the internet; writing plant labels. Numeracy: following instructions on planting depths and spacings in cms and inches; writing dates on labels; measuring out quantities in g/kg etc. Science: simple plant biology; the role of the bee and other insects and the importance of pollination…etc. Art and Design: sensory elements within the garden, textures, colours, patterns, creating outdoor artwork to enhance the garden/micro-climate eg murals, buntings, insect boxes…etc.

Geography: Local environment, communities, sustainable gardening, composting, compass points, fieldwork skills and recording information eg of when seeds sowed to when ready to harvest etc, charts. Even Personal, Social and Health Education…nutrition, vitamins, healthy eating, exercise…

It all makes perfect sense and gives a practical side to so many aspects of the school curriculum. It is this relevance that has inspired the Headmaster at the pilot school to dedicate one morning a week off timetable to spend on gardening, cooking and other activities. A teacher takes the role of Garden Specialist who is responsible for co-ordinating the vegetable growing and a dedicated Kitchen Specialist, supported by the Jamie Oliver Foundation, takes on the role of teaching the children to cook. Other schools in the area are also invited to visit and take part in the Classroom Kitchen sessions.

During my visit a group of eight children [aged 7] spent the morning preparing and cooking their own dinner…all being filmed for a resource video about the project by Fresh One. On the menu, home made salmon fishcakes, roasted carrots, roasted potatoes with rosemary and pumpkin muffins. It’s a long time since I was in a school cooking class… but I remember I was much older than 7, probably more like 14. It was wonderful to see such young children getting to grips with peeling and cutting, cracking eggs and weighing…and to see them all sit down, outside [the sun was shining] and tuck in to their own-made dinner! Perfect. They all tried their food [bar one who insisted he had to eat his packed lunch]…and a few did clear their plates.

Another group of children were working through the vegetable beds, weeding and creating drills to sow beetroot. The school doesn’t have expansive grounds by any means, in fact it is quite small but manages to make the most of every available space. There are lots of simple wooden raised beds, fitted in all around the school buildings. There is a polytunnel, compost area, tool shed, a sensory garden with willow tunnel, perennial borders, herbs, water rills, weather station and lots of colourful artwork…and they keep a few chickens too!

It is a remarkable project that is proving to be invaluable for the school’s learning experience. The project has already seen a positive impact on children’s self-esteem and has given them a greater sense of teamwork. These life skills have transferred to the classroom, increasing their motivation to learn and improving peer relationships making a much happier school environment. Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project has a big vision: “To get food education back on the primary school curriculum and for every child in the UK to have access to a kitchen garden project by 2022”. They are keen to work with like-minded people and organisations to make their vision happen and to help change the future health and success of our children. You can find more information here on the Jamie Oliver Foundation Kitchen Garden Project website.

I’d just like to say a big thanks to Michelle for inviting me to visit, Kate for putting up with me in the Classroom Kitchen and to everyone else at the school who made me feel welcome. Keep up the inspiring work.

In the meantime, I have myself made more of an effort with my two children in the kitchen and at our newly acquired plot. We spent the weekend sowing garlic, early peas and beetroot followed by a mammoth cooking session…we had to do the salmon fishcakes with roasted veg but followed with home-grown rhubarb and custard cake. The kids loved it.

Yum 🙂

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So why the fruit?

We all dream of a burgeoning vegetable patch with rows of lovely, pristine leafy greens, but the reality of reaching this vegetable growing equilibrium is not that simple. The pre-planning, rotating, soil warming, successional sowings and the constant care and maintenance to nurture and ward off pests and diseases does take up lots …and lots…of time.

I admit, hold my hands up, I do find it difficult to grow veg in my own garden. The best I can do is herbs and salads in pots and troughs; and potatoes in bags. My excuse? A north-facing plot on snail infested, moisture retentive clay soil is not the ideal start. Put together with a young family; running a business; and the daily routine of domestic chores simply means I find it hard to make time to do veg justice…despite the dreaming of wanting to! Reality tells me that I need something which is tougher, needs less nurturing but can still produce a tasty, and beautiful, crop… enter humble fruit.

Fruit is by far easier to grow and look after than most vegetables. Fruits generally come in a number of fuss-free forms such as perennials, canes, shrubs and of course trees. Buying them will cost more than a packet of seeds, but they are an investment as they will last and continue to produce for many years. Simply planting them in the soil, preferably is a sunny spot, will [in most cases] ensure their growth, regardless of how they’re treated [within reason of course]. In fact, [I’m putting my neck on the line here] growing fruit is easier than maintaining a lawn.

The ‘easy peasy-ist’ of the fruits has to be strawberries. To start get hold of some decent specimens from your local garden centre/nursery and plant either in containers [if you don’t mind watering] or directly into your borders. By summer you will have some delicious strawberries that are far tastier than shop-bought ones. Strawberries are notorious for sending out ‘runners’ [little stems that root into the soil and produce a new plant] which is certainly handy for expanding stocks. If you have enough though, simply snip them off as soon as they appear. The only other maintenance would be to cut back old foliage in the spring and give a good feed [which all plants will love you for].

Next on the easy list is rhubarb. Although you do need a bit of patience with this one as new [and usually small] rhubarb plants need to be left for the first couple of years to bulk up before harvesting. They also love drenches of liquid feed throughout the summer.

Raspberries. These are one of my favourites and are just as easy to grow. I especially like them as they will tolerate the more shady spots in your garden. There is a rule of thumb with raspberries as there are two types, summer-fruiting and autumn-fruiting. The summer-fruiting bears raspberries on growth done the previous year, which means you cut out just the fruited canes in the autumn and leave all the new ones in place. The autumn-fruiting is simpler, cut all canes back to the ground after harvesting as these will fruit on one season’s growth. Blackberries, tayberries and logan berries are also very easy to grow.

If you prefer to have a go at growing fruit trees, choosing which types to grow is probably the most difficult task as there are hundreds of varieties available. Go for your favourite fruit first, then look into the different qualities of the varieties [www.orangepippin.com has good descriptions of apple varieties]. The more exotic fruits like peaches and apricots will need more care especially protection from early frosts but apples, pears and plums will generally do very well.

Then there is the rootstock, which simply determines the overall size of the fruit tree. A specialist fruit nursery will be more than happy to help you choose the best one for the space you have …and if space is really minimal opt for a trained form like a fan or cordon. These are usually more expensive than young trees [between £30 and £60] but will start producing fruit earlier as they are older specimens. One last point to bear in mind is that some fruits need pollinating partners to set fruit properly; again something which a specialist nursery can help you with.

Growing fruit is greatly rewarding, its overwhelming yields and minimal maintenance make it very appealing. It is these qualities [plus the yummy puddings they can make] which have certainly won me over and is why I love to promote the growing of fruit. So, if free time is a rarity and you would love to get involved in growing your own, fruit is definitely the way to go.

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