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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sowing seeds on the allotment

The middle of February is starting to feel like Spring so I’m getting things going, BUT, all my work could be undone if we have a harsh March with snow and heavy frost. If you feel it best to wait till the clocks go forward that’s OK. But I feel it’s worth taking a chance now, so, here goes.

Last season, around March 2018, I planted potatoes in 70 litre sacks. Mainly early potatoes like Rocket & Charlotte. I found that these are still edible after digging a few out earlier this month (February 2019). All in all a very successful result and I can recommend growing your spuds in sacks above ground using compost.

digging out potatoes grown in sacks

End of Season Potatoes on the Allotment

So, after rooting the potatoes out I now have quite a lot of usable compost and I’ve started off some onions and peas by making beds from around 100 litres of used compost and planting into it. The compost still has a reasonable level of nutrients, but this can be supplemented with a liquid feed made from urea, water and comfrey which I keep mixed in a 200 litre water butt on the site.

As with all my no dig beds, I spread the compost over the ground making a bed around fifteen to eighteen inches wide and having a depth of two to three inches. Pat down to firm with the back of a spade and plant into the bed. My beds are around four yards long and I can plant roughly a hundred onion sets into each bed. I get about forty peas into the same size beds and I’m using Kelvedon Wonder as they don’t grow too tall and can be supported with short canes and string around the perimeter.

no dig onions planted into compost

No Dig, planting onions into compost

I’ve also used the spent compost from the potatoes to start off my carrot seeds (Early Nantes). I first mixed the compost with building sand at a ratio of one third sand to two thirds compost. I then placed the compost into the 70 litre sacks, filling to a suitable depth for the carrots (about six to eight inches should suffice). Then I sprinkled carrot seed on the top (sparingly), covered with some more compost and watered in. Last year, I tried sowing carrot seeds into the beds as described above, but they were too crowded and suffered from carrot fly and slug damage. I think sowing into the growing bags should work this season, but that remains to be seen.

Sowing carrots into sacks

No dig carrots sown into sacks on the surface of the soil

Now is a good time to start off some seedlings in the greenhouse. I’ve just started peppers, chilli’s, kale, cabbage, leeks and bedding plants too (Marigold’s and Petunia). I mostly sow in cells which will be planted on, into “six packs” or small pots. I’ll need at least 144 bedding plants for my two “living walls” I have in the back yard. I’ll make sure I take a few photo’s when I start those off in late May or Early June.

sowing seeds on the allotment

sowing seeds on the allotment in February

I’ve also decided to grow a few strawberry plants in the greenhouse too. I usually grow them outside, but they suffer from slug damage and the birds like to feed on them. I dug up a few of the newer plants from the allotment and planted them in Clover compost in medium pots. I’ll keep them fed with a nitrogen feed until the fruits start to form when they’ll need phosphorous for good growth. Use a good tomato feed to get large juicy strawberries.

greenhouse strawberry plants

Strawberry Plants growing in the greenhouse

 

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