Allotmenteering ‘vs’ Orienteering

We’ve had ‘the letter’! You know, (or perhaps you don’t) the letter from the Parish Council that tells you your allotment needs a good tidy up or you’ll be evicted… Yes, that one. Admittedly, we’ve had a very busy few months and not paid nearly enough attention to our beloved patch. Lets just call it a fallow moment….

We’ve not gone to wrack and ruin through a lack of interest, love or thought for our allotment, just a serious lack of time. Allotments, as any gardener will know, are time consuming places, especially when they’re not on your doorstep. We love gardening (sowing seeds, watching our food grow and then cooking with homegrown produce is awesome) and we’ve not lost that passion, we’ve just gained another – orienteering! And we love this too. That’s all of us, three children, two adults and one dog.

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The Simple Things – Working with Nature

Will and I (and the children, chickens and dog) are delighted to be featured in this months issue of The Simple Things magazine. We’ve written an article about the joys of allotmenteering, growing organic & biodynamic fruit and veg and the tasty pleasures of cooking up a feast with our own homegrown produce.

There’s a moon gardening & biodynamic factsheet on The Simple Things website for your perusal, or better still, get yourself a copy of the magazine, read the whole article and take a peek at some luscious pictures of our patch!

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The Green Goddess

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Leafy green veg like kale and chard are some of our favourite winter crops – incredibly easy to grow and brilliantly versatile in the kitchen. There’s a great thrill in gathering an armful of kale on a frosty morning  or heading down to the allotment with a torch to find some chard for dinner! Big armfuls of curly kale and black ‘nero di toscana’ are destined for a batch of kale crisps and a very tasty green juice, our so-called ‘Green Goddess’. Full of homegrown green goodness and a real kickstart to the day….

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The Simple Things – Keeping Hens

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If you’ve ever fancied keeping hens and need some fluffy-bottomed inspiration, then you might like to take a peek at an article I wrote for one of my favourite magazines, The Simple Things. I was delighted to be asked to share my experience and our adventures with our quirky little flock of allotment garden hens – Dotty, Bean, Sweetpea, Bluebell & Squash. There are lots of tips about choosing chickens, coops, fencing & food and some very tasty recipes for cooking with their amazing eggs.

To read the article in full and for a copy of the recipes you can still buy the June issue of the magazine or have a look at my hen keeping factsheet on The Simple Things website. Keeping chickens is such a joy, surprisingly simple and great fun…

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‘G’ is for Garlic

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We love garlic and use it pretty much every day in the kitchen, so ‘G’ just had to be garlic in our ‘Allotment A-Z’. Last year we had great success with some very tasty garlic called Spanish Roja (an over-winter hardneck variety that packs a huge flavour punch), so we decided to grow it again this year!

We saved some bulbs and planted out the biggest cloves last autumn and now, here we are in spring, and the garlic is looking good. I’m loving the great circle of life…

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‘F’ is for French Bean

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Not only do they taste great, French Beans also make a brilliant fruit & veg ‘creature’ for the local village show! They were one of the first things we grew on our allotment and remain one of our superstar favourites – there really was no competition when it came to choosing ‘F’ for our ‘Allotment A-Z’. We love French Beans!

There are loads of fabulous ways to use these beans in your kitchen –  delicious raw in a salad or dipped in houmous, lightly steamed on the side, baked in a slow-cooked stew or juiced for breakfast, the versatile french bean is also a doddle to grow. We’ve grown green ones, yellow ones, mottled ones and a gorgeous purple one that looks amazing, tastes great and stores well. Can’t ask for more than that!

‘F’ is for the fantastically flavoursome French Bean…

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‘E’ is for Elder

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Creative Commons Photo Credit: Jean Mottershead

I hope you don’t think I’m cheating by including something in our ‘Allotment A-Z’ that doesn’t actually grow on our allotment, although it does grow just beside our allotment fence! I thought about ‘eggplant’ (aubergine here in the UK) and endive, but I honestly find our elder tree more useful than both those crops, so here we are…

The elder tree or shrub is one of my absolute foraging favourites and can be found growing pretty much anywhere in the UK. It has distinctive frothy ‘sprays’ of creamy-white flowerheads in spring and bunches of dark purple-black berries in autumn. Both the flowers and the berries are brilliantly useful in the kitchen.

‘E’ is most definitely for Elder…

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Runner Bean Chutney

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A homemade and healthier version of an old homegrown favourite! We’re just finishing off the runner bean chutney that we made last summer and are really going to miss it. Especially good with cheese or ham, our chutney is free of refined sugars, very tasty and a fantastic way to make the most of your bountiful runner bean harvests.

I love making chutney in a slow cooker, but this recipe also works brilliantly on the hob. You’ll be dreaming of summer whilst eating your runner bean chutney in the depths of winter. Yay!

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‘D’ is for Dill

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This was a tricky one! We don’t grow damsons, daikon or dragonfruit on our allotment. We grow lots of daisies, docks and dandelions and seriously considered ‘D for dandelion’ (so tasty in spring salads), but in the end it was the dainty and delicious dill that got the honour of being included in our A-Z of favourite allotment fruit and veg. Hooray!

We grow dill as a companion plant and edible herb – its fresh, zesty flavour and versatile seeds make it a brilliant addition to salads, soups and chutneys and an excellent defence against caterpillars! It’s well worth saving a space in your garden for a lovely little patch of dill…

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‘C’ is for Cabbage

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Such an underrated veg, the plain old cabbage is anything but plain, especially in colour! I love growing this ‘Red Drumhead’ variety because it looks fantastic and makes the prettiest coleslaw (as well as an awesome natural electric-blue dye!).

Easy to grow and simple to cook, cabbages come in loads of different shapes, sizes and colours and can be grown all year round, so you need never go without a tasty homegrown cabbage in your kitchen! Definitely worthy of their place in the ‘Allotment A-Z’.

‘C’ is for cabbage! Yay…

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Marinated Halloumi & Beetroot Salad

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This is one of our favourite meals for eating al fresco down at the allotment garden. We marinate our halloumi, get the little allotment stove going, pull up a couple of fresh beets and away we go. Really simple, really good for you and really tasty. Yay!

Fantastic served on the side or as a main, the herbs and spices bring out the amazing earthy flavours, the nuts and seeds add protein and extra crunch, whilst the cheeses are deliciously creamy… and it’s a spectacular colour too!

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‘B’ is for Beetroot

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Two down and twenty-four to go in the ‘A-Z’ of our favourite homegrown fruit and veg! This was a tricky one, because there are so many lovely fruit and veg starting with ‘B’. Broccoli, broad beans, blackberries, brussel sprouts and blueberries to name just a few, but when push came to shove it was beetroot that earned its place in the allotment garden ‘A-Z’. So many different varieties, so easy to grow, so many different ways of eating it, juicing it, grating it, baking it and masses of health benefits too…

‘B’ is for the beautiful, bountiful beetroot!

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Natural Henkeeping: Ill Health

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Our little flock are completely at home on the allotment and seem to live a pretty carefree, free-range life. We’ve always been drawn to a more natural way of keeping chickens, as close to their wild environment as possible, including an open coop, a large run, lots of fresh air, natural shade, dust bathing, fresh water and fresh food. All of this helps to maintain their overall health and happiness, but things can go wrong… it just happens.

Parasites, mites, scaly leg, colds, prolapse, low egg production and excessive moulting are all possibilities, to name just a few. This post starts us off with the delights of parasites and prolapses – lovely! – and some ideas for supporting your flock with natural remedies, herbs and some alternative thinking!

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Gardening with children

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A gardening post – hooray! There have been a lot of food posts lately with the release of our new book ‘Energy Bites’, but we’re still getting our hands dirty in the garden and on the allotment, if only to feed the chickens!

It’s mid-winter, pretty soggy and definitely cold out there – the perfect time to plan for the growing season to come. It’s also got me thinking about gardening in general and what I love about it…

There is a lot to love about gardening, but gardening with children has to be a huge highlight. Our gardens at home and on the allotment are a family affair, with everyone mucking in, tending their ‘patch’, digging, weeding and growing.

Being outside is always a pleasure and getting your hands dirty is definitely fun, but watching a seed turn into something that you can eat is absolutely magical!

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Quinoa Kedgeree

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We were back late this evening after a hectic day and threw together this amazingly quick and delicious meal! Nipped down to the allotment to gather some fresh homegrown veg (peas, spinach and onions), collected the eggs and then felt inspired by the pretty jar of tri-coloured quinoa on the kitchen shelf! Quinoa is quicker to cook than brown basmati rice and a serious powerhouse in the protein department. Perfect….

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Natural Henkeeping: Health & Happiness

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The health and happiness of our little flock is top priority to us. I think our girls live a near perfect free-range life in the allotment garden – they’re free to come and go from their coop whenever they like, there are lots of different herbs growing in the run for them to peck at, there’s lots of space, lots of greenery and big bushes that offer protection from the sun, wind and rain. If I could speak chicken, I think they’d tell me that they’re very happy….and happy hens lay happy eggs.

Happy hens are healthier too. In our experience there are a few simple things that can make a big difference to your hens health – fresh water, fresh food and a spot of ‘dust bathing’!

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In Print – Small Beginnings

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My photo of our weird and wonderful ‘Addams Family’ carrots is in this months issue of Good Food Magazine. Woohoo! Hardly a 10-page spread, but we’ve all got to start somewhere…

I’ve got my fingers crossed for some bigger, straighter homegrown carrots this year, although wonky or straight, they’ll still taste amazing! We’ve sown 3 varieties, including some purple ones(!) and this time they’re in a deep, raised bed, so we shall see… These ones went straight into the juicer to make our awesome ‘allotment juice’. Very yum.

Carrot happiness!

Green Tomato Chutney

I bet that someone, somewhere in the world is picking some homegrown green tomatoes right now! This is my recipe for an amazingly delicious and much healthier version of a traditional allotment chutney that contains no refined sugar.

It’s late-Spring here, we’ve just finished our last jar of chutney and the tomato seedlings are getting big. I can’t wait to make some more in a few months time…

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Creating a Garden Pt 4: Sheds and Rhubarb

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I’ve always had a bit of a ‘thing’ about sheds! Apart from being a great place to store tools, shelter from the rain, hide Easter eggs or hang a mirror(!) they can also add structure and shape to a garden design. Sheds can be practical or pretty (preferably both), ramshackle or brand new, but they are always a useful bit of garden ‘furniture’.

Our allotment shed was central to our garden plans and had to be in just the right place – easy to get in and out of and lovely to look at. But we had a fight on our hands. It was shed ‘versus’ rhubarb….

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Late-Spring Gardening

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Spring is in full swing on the allotment right now and it’s a massive understatement to say that we’re pretty busy – lots of sowing, weeding, sowing, thinning out, sowing, hardening off, sowing, planting out and sowing…..busy, but loving it!

The chickens are loving the new grass, the dog is loving watching the chickens(!), the children are loving getting their hands dirty and I’m loving the sun on my back and the prospect of some delicious homegrown fruit and veg!

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Nettle Fertiliser

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Despite their weedy, stingy reputation, nettles are actually a really useful addition to your garden. Yes, they can be a pain to get rid of (and certainly painful if you get stung!), but they’re also jam-packed with nutrients like iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

You can add nettles to your compost heap to boost vitality or make potent fertilisers that your plants will love. The minerals in the nettles will encourage super-strong, healthy growth, making plants less susceptible to disease and definitely less attractive to pests. Hooray!

Here’s how to do it…..

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Root Soup

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Our first ‘al fresco’ allotment meal of the year! Such a treat to be eating a big bowl of hot soup in the fresh air – I’m sure it tastes better! This colourful pot of deliciousness is packed full of root veg and decorated with freshly picked pea shoots.

We used some of our winter-stored homegrown veg, but I love the thought that someone, somewhere could cook this soup with freshly pulled and dug homegrown roots…the fresher the better! Beetroot is really good for high blood pressure and liver health, whilst fennel and leeks are great for digestive health, even the humble pea shoot has masses of Vitamin C! Really yum and really good for you…..

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Mid-Spring Gardening

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By mid-spring most of the seedlings have made the big trek down to our greenhouse, which is now absolutely rammed with fresh new growth. I usually feel like there’s not enough time and definitely not enough space at this time of year….

This is the second in a series of posts about the joys of springtime gardening on our organic allotment. Sowing new crops, hardening off, planting out and the first harvests. Life is good….

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Creating a Garden Pt 3: Raised Beds and Fencing

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Having planned out the space for our allotment garden and cleared most of the weeds, we were now ready to tackle the beds and fencing. Luckily our children were on hand to help…

Raised beds: To raise or not to raise, that is the question?! We knew right from the start that we wanted to build raised beds, mostly because our allotment garden sits on a heavy clay soil and raising the beds would help with any drainage issues, but also because they’re easier to weed, there’s less bending over (slightly!), watering is more efficient and we could fill them with top-notch soil to get our growing season off to a flying start. Although raised beds would be an extra expense, we knew we’d also get a longer growing season and that eventually the outlay would repay itself in homegrown veg! Plus they’re really fun to play on….

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Biodynamic Gardening Book

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How exciting is this! Last year we were approached by publishers Dorling Kindersley and asked if our allotment garden could be featured in a new biodynamic gardening book. And here it is…..

We spent 6 months working closely with the publishers and other hugely inspiring biodynamic farmers and gardeners to produce a simple yet comprehensive book about the wonders of biodynamic gardening.

It covers all sorts of fantastic topics from the principles of ‘BD’ gardening to specific planting tips, teas and tinctures, sowing guides, compost heaps, preparations, tree care, natural pest control and more. Practical step-by-step instructions make the book very easy to follow and the photos are brilliant! The book is available in bookshops, on Amazon and the Dorling Kindersley website.

To celebrate its release, we’re giving away one lovely copy of the book. For your chance to win, simply leave a comment on this post. I’ll put your names in a big hat and draw the lucky winner on the 11th April 2015. 

Results will be posted on my blog and Instagram account, so remember to check back with me then! The competition  is open worldwide.

Best of luck and happy gardening…..