Gardening With Kids

Well, I have been neglecting this blog, it’s true. But something has been keeping me busy. As you can see form the photo, Anthony is growing up fast! Between looking after him, working, and writing/developing other blogs my time is rather full. But as you can also see, I have not actually neglected  growing my food. And if you want to learn to grow your own food, you can never be too young to start. Anthony started right before his 1st birthday, when he learnt to walk. One of the first things he did when he could walk unaided, was to learn about watering plants. He has always liked water, but he really took to watering like, well, a duck to water I guess!

He is astonishingly strong, and can lift quite a full watering can (he’s now 20 months), after having learnt with a tiny one last year. Here, you can see him using an ancient atomiser to spray seeds we’d just sown together. We let him put the compost into the propagator trays, we put the seeds in ourselves, and we taught him how to use the old atomiser to water the delicate seeds. It’s pretty easy to get kids involved with gardending and having fun with it, as they almost without exception, love getting dirty – so anything involving soil is usually a winner! You just have to make sure they don’t eat it, rub it in their eye, or pour it all over their head 😉

Here, we sowed:

  1. leeks – Musselburgh variety, and will transplant them to the allotment at the appropriate time;
  2. tomatoes – Ildi, Red Pear, San Marzano 2, Tigerella, Orange Berry, and Costoluto Fiorentino.
We also managed to get a mini harvest from the allotment, of onions and leeks that we left on our old allotment form last year. That is one of the reasons why it’s awesome to grow a lot of leeks, because they can just stand right through the winter, and then you just pick them when you want. Onions can stand sometimes, but depends on the variety. Japanese onions are often better for overwintering.
The allotment is now just down to 20 poles, as we used to have 2x 20 poles last year, but we gave it up after I decided to go back to work 2.5 days per week. So we have just been digging one vegetable bed so far, and we planted 5x elephant garlic, 29x garlic, and 55x onions. This is nowhere near enough onions, so we will plant more soon.
Anthony loves being at the allotment, there is plenty of long grass to roll around in, and last Summer there were TONS of utterly delicious blackberries, which he adored eating. Hopefully, this year will be just as good for blackberries and our other plants will also do well. We planted 11 fruit trees in 2013, and they are not supposed to give us fruit for at least 2 years, but we did actually get ONE apple, one solitary apple last year. It was a bit weird to see just one fruit growing there, but as we didn’t expect anything at all, it was a pleasant surprise.

It’s Spring – Time to Plant Again!

The weather might’ve turned awful again, but here in East Anglia, we’ve had practically no Winter… So I’ve been down to the allotments we did manage to get our mitts on, and have been planting:
  • Garlic – Solent Wight (actually planted these in December)
  • Onions – red and white embarrassingly, I’ve already forgotten which varieties, planted in February)
  • Potatoes – first and second earlies (Winston and Maris Peer)

It’s extremely hard work. The ground is heavy clay, and it’s full of weed and grass. So, I’ve bought some phacelia, a green manure, to cover most of the allotment until it needs to be dug over.

Long Time No See

The reason for my absence!!! I had a baby at the end of August, and have since managed only to pull a few veg out of the ground, and order a few fruit trees for our (hopefully getting soon) allotment…

Will update more as soon as I am not dealing with sick, poo, wee, colic, and breastfeeding.

Gardening and Technology – Part 6 – Home Weather Stations

various symbols representing the weather
I have always been fascinated by the weather. But then, living in the British Isles, we Brits and Irish are probably the most weather-obsessed people on the planet… My youngest brother was also pretty into meteorological things and I’m pretty sure he either got, or wanted one of these little electronic weather stations you can put in your house:

I always thought they were a bit expensive, but they don’t seem to have gone up in price since way back when, so with inflation factored in, they are now kind of cheap. When compared to devices like the Koubachi wireless plant sensors that I looked at last week, or even the Lapka Personal Environment Monitors that I looked at the week before, these little weather stations seem to offer way better value for money. Even if you bought the more expensive or the professional versions (there are several different models available), I think you’d get a lot more fun and information out of it for a similar price to the Lapka… 
So, all in all, a bit of rosy-eyed reminiscing and a useful product makes me give these ones the thumbs up.

Gardening and Technology – Part 4 – Irrigatia Solar Watering and Irrigation System

solar water pump for gardens and allotments

This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a gardening catalogue. The Irrigatia really impresses me and I quite want one for when I get my allotment, which in theory is imment. Compared to last week’s and a fortnight ago’s devices, this one seems like it actually really worth getting, especially if you live in a dry area. It’s basically a little box of solar cells which is connected to a pump. You just pop it into your water butt or tank, and install the solar box on the wall. The manufacturer states that it will water every three hours, or as necessary. So, if it’s really sunny, it’ll water more often.
It comes with several drippers than can be spread out across your garden or allotment, and there is also a model that gives you longer pipes and even more drippers, if you’ve got a large area to look after.
It’s under £100, looks like it’s pretty easy to install, and is free to run thanks to the solar power! What more could you ask for?

Vegan or Vegetarian Mixed Veg Soup

Every week, I get a vegetable and fruit delivery from Riverford. It is one of the highlights of my week, purely because it’s like a surprise gift – you never quite know what you’re going to get inside. They do tell you in advance on their website, but sometimes there are last minute changes. So, I look forward to the delivery and always enjoy coming up with some kind of creative first meal from the contents.
So I am going to make a soup. It’ll be a vegetarian or vegan soup with as many of the veg that Riverford sent me as I can possibly fit into the pot. Super healthy and delicious! Here is what I made:

I already ate an egg today, so I’m choosing butter beans and ground flaxseed for protein. I have turnip tops and the turnip itself, a courgette, a carrot, onion tops, and garlic.

I put oil and butter in the pot (obv. leave out butter for vegan version) with some paprika and black pepper.
I added in cumin and turmeric. Then I basically just added in the veg, which I had cleaned and chopped up small. Just put in the onions and garlic first until they sweat down (about 5 mins), then add the hard vegetables (carrot and turnip) and cook for 5-10 mins until they start to soften. Then add the courgette for a few mins, then just chuck in everything else on top and add two tins’ worth of water. Bring it to the boil, then add salt to taste, flaxseed if desired, and your favourite dried herbs such as tarragon, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, and marjoram. Simmer for 5 mins.
If you want more protein and carbs you can add something like buckwheat kernels, but you will need to add them at the beginning, because they takes about 20 mins to cook usually, or if you’ve got some pre-cooked, just put it in after the water.
Get ready to enjoy the hell outta this!

Vegan Curried Mixed Veg with Tangy Greens ‘n’ Beans

When you’ve got colours like these, you’ve probably got amazing flavour too. So, why bother adding meat or animal products to something so wonderful? I do like meat and butter, but for me, enjoyable food is very often more about an exciting combination of vegetables. Here we have the sweet and crunchy small carrots, the nutty and satisfying flavour as well as the eye-catching  multicoloured turnips. What better to balance them than a savoury green courgette and…

a bright and cheerful, slightly sweet, slightly savoury yellow courgette? It just looks so appealing, who wouldn’t want to eat this rainbow? If only I’d had a red pepper too!

I’ve got a lot of potatoes right now, so firstly I cleaned, chopped, and put them in a bowl of water to soak some of the starch away. I find them easier to digest and less bloaty if I leave them to soak before cooking.
I threw them into a deep pan with a little vegetable oil. I didn’t think olive oil would be good because the large central gas jet I put the pan on gets really hot, so it would probably burn olive oil. When the colour started to turn to golden/orangey/brown (5+ mins) I turned to the next vegetables…
So I threw in the turnips and carrots, and left them for another 5+ mins. It all depends on the heat and the stirring, so you just want to wait until they start to soften a little or until they start to change colour slightly. You should probably put the carrots in first, as they take longer than the turnips to change colour.
Lastly, you put in the courgettes, leave for 5+ mins, then the turnip tops. I then added a selection of curry flavours e.g. turmeric, cumin, and a little paprika for a deeper colour. I didn’t want to put too much spice or suchlike into the dinner, as I find that when I use turmeric especially, I feel as though I want to add a lot of salt. I do not know why my mouth desires this, but I have been known to put a whole teaspoon of salt on my dinner, when lots of turmeric has been involved. I know, gross, but at least I stopped myself this time. Feel free to add whatever curry spices you like best instead of what I’ve done here. Perhaps some chilli powder, curry powder, garam masala, or even make a North African version with Ras El Hanout spice mix. Actually, that sounds delicious, I am going to do the latter next time…
For protein, I chose French beans, which are just utterly delicious, lightly fried in olive oil and dressed on the plate with lemon juice and a little salt and pepper, or in this case, ACV (apple cider vinegar), as I’ve run out of lemons. 
At the last minute, I decided to add shredded cabbage leaves, as I wanted more green on the plate, and I wanted something leafy in the dinner, as there were only a few tiny bits of turnip tops.

Gardening and Technology – Part 3 – Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor (Indoor and Outdoor)

wireless plant sensor device

outdoor wireless plant sensor device

Following on from last week’s sensor gadget, the Lapka Personal Environment Monitor, this week we are looking at the Koubachi plant sensors. There are two models – an indoor and an outdoor. Both do the same job, which is to:

  • measure soil moisture
  • measure temperature
  • measure light intensity
  • send you the information wirelessly
  • alert you to the plant’s needs
They connect wirelessly to an iPhone or Mac, or apparently a Windows computer according to a reviewer on Amazon, although there is nothing on Koubachi’s website about that. 
When I first saw these, I thought: ‘WOW! That is cool!’. However, as you might have guessed, I am now thinking otherwise… Although these units seem to offer a useful set of features, and would in theory help you to look after your plants, especially if you’re forgetful, you can essentially do the same thing for £4 instead of the £87 or £100 for the indoor or outdoor model respectively.
How can I do the same for £4? Well, it’s not exactly the same, but close enough: I bought a moisture sensor for £4 from Wilkinson and it measures light intensity, pH levels, and moisture. I already have a thermometer in the garden, as pretty much every gardener would do. I have a phone in which I can set reminders. So, all I would have to do is set a reminder for every day/two days/week to check my plants. If I have planted them myself, they would have probably come with instructions as to what the plant needs (and hopefully I would have kept these) so I would know if it liked a lot of water or sun or whatever. 
So, all in all, these devices are probably not worth it, given I can pretty much do the same for a pittance in comparison to the price of these devices.

A Lunch I Never Tire of

If I have ingredients like these in stock, I very often default to making this delicious soup for lunch. I am one who loves variety, but for some reason, this soup is just always satisfying, always tasty, and I never get bored of it. I just ate it for the third or fourth time this week… and it is so simple and quick, yay! The fattiness of the egg, the slipperyness of the noodles, the crunchiness of the vegetables – it’s such a great combination.
Ingredients:
Miso paste (1tsp)
An egg
Spring onions/scallions
Garlic (1 small clove, chop it up very small)
Red pepper (or something else colourful, like a carrot)
Soy sauce
A little butter or cooking oil (about half a tsp)
Chilli powder or black pepper
250-300ml of boiling water
Optional: side selection of pickled and preserved vegetables
How to make it:

Boil the water. Put it in your saucepan. Make sure it’s properly boiling in the pan. Add some soba noodles.  I use half of one of those ‘bundles’ in the packet, because I find the soba (or the half-soba-half wholewheat in this case) noodles rather more filling that normal noodles. Add the butter or oil. This stops the noodles sticking, which they occasionally do, but also adds a bit of fat to the meal, which I like. Slowly lower your egg into the water too. If you do it carefully (you could roll it down the edge of the pan with a spoon, as I do), then it won’t crack. Put your timer on according to the packet instructions (mine is 7mins). 
Meanwhile, chop up the red pepper, garlic, and scallions or whatever else you’ve got. Put 1tsp of the miso paste into your bowl, and mix the garlic into it, with a bit of chilli pepper or black pepper, according to your taste. When your timer goes off, take the egg out with a spoon and peel the shell off. You will probably need to do this under cold water to avoid burning your fingers. Cut the egg into pieces. Pour a bit of the noodle water into the bowl and mix the paste up with it. Slowly add more water to get an even mix, then just add all the water and the noodles. Put the chopped vegetables on top, and put the egg pieces on top. Pour a little dash of soy sauce on the egg. 
Optionally serve with  a side plate of pickled and fermented vegetables.
For some reason, putting the garlic in raw makes the soup taste really amazing and just like soups I’ve tasted at Japanese restaurants, even though I never saw raw garlic floating in the soup. Don’t worry about getting garlic breath either, because it’s chopped up small, you just swallow it with the liquid, it’s when you chew the garlic that it tends to affect your breath.
Finished product… I know, I know, I shouldn’t really be eating it in front of the desk, but I didn’t want to sit at the kitchen table, only to stare at the damp weather…