digging out potatoes grown in sacks

Here’s ten great tasting varieties of potato for you to try.

First earlies take around 80 days to mature, second earlies around 100 days and maincrop potatoes take on average, 130 days.

Ratte are one of the best tasting new potatoes and highly prized by top Chef’s such as Raymond Blanc. A second early planted at the end of March and harvested in early August. Good salad potato for boiling.

Vivaldi is a second early potato with a respected flavour coming first in a taste test for Gardeners World. A good all rounder for boiling and even jacket potatoes.

Swift, as the name suggests are fast growing first earlies with a great taste when boiled. If left in the ground, the potato turns floury which is good for mashing and roasting.

Pink Fir Apple is a maincrop potato which is prized for its taste. A French variety with an elongated shape.

An excellent maincrop, all rounder (boiling, chipping, roasting and mashing) is Maris Piper. A very high yielding potato, easy to grow and will definitely do well in grow bags on the surface.

Anya is a long thin tuber with an especially good taste. When boiled, they are a top quality salad potato. The taste is “nutty” like Ratte.

A potato that is recommended by many gardeners is Lady Christl a first early variety. It has been awarded the RHS award of Garden Merit too. A potato for boiling, salads and chips.

Edzell Blue is a great tasting floury potato useful for mashing, roasting and baking. A second early potato.

One of the best potatoes for taste is King Edward good for mash, chips, roasting and baking. Maincrop, not great yields and expensive in the shops, but that’s no problem for amateur growers looking for top quality.

British Queen is a second early floury type potato which is particularly good for mashing. Good for roasting and baking too. Winner of RHS Award of Merit.

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Making your own pasta is a great way to use up eggs and if you have your own flock laying daily, that means a lot less wasted eggs and a lot more delicious food for the family.

Kneading the dough by hand is time consuming and can be hard work, not to mention messy. The solution, is to make pasta dough in your bread machine. If you don’t have one, you can usually pick them up at charity shops for a few quid (mine cost £10 from Bolton Hospice Shop). The bread machine works every time and gives consistent results. The following recipe will make enough pasta to feed eight people.

2 Cups of strong white bread flour
2 Cups of semolina
Eggs as necessary

Place 2 cups of strong white bread flour in the bread machine followed by 2 cups of semolina and add 3 eggs.

The bread machine needs to be set to “dough” and started up.

Once all the eggs have been incorporated, add another eggs and repeat until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the dough. The idea is to end up with a firm, not runny, dough. I use a pasta machine to process the dough and if it is too stiff or runny, the process becomes an absolute nightmare.

When the paddle stops turning after about 20 minutes, the machine will start to heat up the dough and we don’t want that, so remove your dough at this point and place it in an oiled plastic bag and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Don’t leave it in the fridge much longer than a couple of hours or overnight. The dough tends to deteriorate after a while so one hour is OK but over two hours is not.

The dough is ready to process after refrigeration as it loses its elasticity and the cooled dough is easy to work with.

I also have a video of me messing about with my pasta machine here.

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French Bread made at home

When you take on your allotment, your questions revolve around how to grow food. You dig, you weed, you dig, you weed, you plant, you dig, you weed, you harvest and then you throw most of your “harvest” on the compost heap. The fact is, until you embrace a no dig, low maintenance system, this cycle will probably repeat until one day the question is “why am I even bothering with this?”.

Once the penny has dropped and you have cleared your allotment ready to lay down deep beds of shop bought compost, you have taken the first step towards a new question “how am I going to eat all this food?”. A GOOD shop bought compost (like Clover for example) will increase yields ten fold. Netting and spraying with horticultural soap solutions will keep bugs away so that your harvest is edible. Growing potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables in polysacks on the surface of your allotment will keep slugs and pests to a minimum and edible food to a maximum.

Take my chickens for example. I have six at the moment. They have just started laying and I have way too many eggs, so I need to be knowledgeable. I need to research “egg recipes” on the internet. You can make ouefs en cocotte as snacks, scrambled eggs in the microwave take seconds, eggs are an ingredient in home made pasta, eggs are needed in cakes. Do you like egg fried rice? What we’re talking about here is the ability to incorporate eggs into your everyday cooking and it will be the same for your first harvest of vegetables under a no dig system.

While researching cooking, I have discovered an interesting fact. In the sixties and seventies (and obviously before that too), convenience food was practically non-existent. Buy some cook books written before the eighties and you are into a world of French provincial cooking making use of eggs, butter, herbs, and vegetables. I was asked a while ago “why bother making your own pizza?” But once you have cracked the recipe the question really is, “why bother buying soggy tasteless pizza from the shop or takeaway?” There is a world of difference between fresh, homemade pizza and shop bought. The same is applicable to pasta. Making your own can be a pain, but the difference is striking. Semolina, Strong bread flour and eggs turns into a magical thing when run through your pasta machine. Boiled for four minutes and covered with your special homemade tomato sauce, there is nothing quite as wonderful. Homemade pasta can be frozen too, as can your tomato sauce.

The old chefs and cook books promote vegetables in a big way. Take “au gratin” for example. Asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, calabrese, cabbage, kale and even potatoes turn into something very special once cooked “au gratin”. A steak cooked on the barbecue, asparagus au gratin and boiled new potatoes with a knob of butter has to be better than soggy burger and chips from the local takeaway. But the takeaway is ever present today. It is convenient. We can afford it. Can’t we?

Once upon a time when people laboured on their own land, meat was a rarity. Soups and home baked bread was the staple. Eggs were consumed daily. Meat was a treat. Many today moan about their weight and/or their health, while shoveling large quantities of empty calories into their mouths. Bread? Bread was the staff of life, but that bread was wholemeal and very nutritious. Today’s “refined” bread has had the goodness stripped out and leaves the consumer wanting. Here’s a tip, buy a bread machine. I got one for £10 at the charity shop. Wholemeal bread doesn’t rise well and can be a disappointment, but, if you substitute one third strong white bread flour for one third of the wholemeal, you’ll find that you bread does rise and it is a lot more nutritious than white only. You can also mix your pasta dough in it too.

People working their own land needed nutrition. They got it from fresh salad leaves, wholemeal bread, soups and stews. They ate a lot of fresh vegetables. Even today, the “Mediterranean diet” is hailed as one of the best for a long life. Once you have cracked the art of growing your own food AND have learned to cook like your granny did, you will start to feel the benefits in your weight and your health. But convenience food will be so tempting. Taking on an allotment means turning away from convenience. Your allotment will produce huge amounts of vegetables that must be eaten to justify your hard work and that means embracing cooking. You are going to need to love cooking your own meals and the more you learn, the more you will enjoy your new found skills.

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allotment in winter

My allotment is 285 square metres and I have a chicken run, a greenhouse, a shed and a cloche/small chicken run. The system I use to grow food is a no dig system whereby I lay compost onto strimmed soil to make beds. These beds are around 4 yards long by around fifteen to eighteen inches wide. I can also make a bed up from six growing sacks placed on the surface of the soil. I estimate I have 24 beds to plan for the coming season.

It is a very good idea to choose food that you will actually cook and eat as opposed to food that sounds nice or appeals to your sense of the exotic. For example, last season, I grew scorzonera (black salsify) which is a black root vegetable described as tasting like asparagus. I found that the scorzonera I grew was tasteless and hard to prepare. I won’t be growing it again. Likewise, sweetcorn. When space is at a premium, growing something that you eat every now and again isn’t wise. At harvest time, I was left with a large glut of corn cobs most of which were fed to the chickens.

So, I have devised the following plan for the 2019 season based largely on food I actually ate in 2018…

Onions (sets, including shallots) – 3 rows
Carrots (seeds planted into sacks. Chantenay and early Nantes) – 2 rows
Cabbage (spring and autumn) – 2 rows
Kale (Nero di Toscana) – 1 row
Calabrese – 3 rows
Potatoes (early, new types planted in sacks) – 3 rows
Courgette – 1 row
Beans (bush type) – 4 rows
Squash (Crown Prince) – 1 row
Peas (Kelvedon Wonder self supporting and mange tout type) – 3 rows
Lettuce (Little Gem) – 1 row

In addition, I’ll grow salad leaves, peppers and strawberries in the greenhouse and I’m hoping to clear a space for my polytunnel so that I can grow a few tomatoes and maybe cucumbers.

I’ve already planted two rows of onions, one row of potatoes, two rows of peas and a row of carrots.

no dig onions planted into compost

No Dig, planting onions into compost


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