This is the time of year when, provided I’ve done my bit a little earlier on, all kinds of wonderful things start to happen here in my little patch of the planet. And while I might have been a tad late (as usual) planting some of the seeds that I ordered way back in the dark evenings of winter, everything is doing its very best to catch up and to make the most of the lengthening days.
I’ve never met Jay Rayner. I have seen him a few times on television, though, and have always written him off as an opinionated Londoner who could wax lyrical for hours about the joys of the perfectly cooked scallop, but didn’t know diddly squat about where food actually comes from. Continue reading
I’m always a little bit jealous of people who work full time as farmers, growers or gardeners. Sure, the pay is terrible and they can’t put things off just because it’s raining. But they get to devote themselves to what they love. They can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, rather than putting it off for weeks at a time because other things get in the way.
I appreciate that I’m perhaps idealising the horticultural life a little too much here. I also recognise that such a career has more than its fair share of ups and downs. But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to introduce some of this ethos – of working to the plants’ timescales, rather than to my own – into how I relate to my own little patch of earth. I’ve stopped thinking of it as a tatty greenhouse and a few raised beds, and started thinking of it as a micro-farm.
I started off by making a list of all the jobs that need to be done at the moment. And I mean everything that needs to be done, not just the things I want to do. Even things like emptying the slug traps and weeding around the shed. Needless to say, it was a fairly long list. And I’ll keep adding to it as successional batches of seeds need to be sown, seedlings need to be potted up and shrubs need to be pruned. (I’ve got my list on a little A4 whiteboard, so it’s easy to keep it up to date.)
My next step has been to devote an hour each morning, as soon as I’ve got back from walking the dog, to working through some of the tasks on my list. So far, this ‘little and often’ approach has been rather enlightening, giving me a real feeling of satisfaction as I storm through the huge number of tasks that have been bugging me for ages. It also leaves the weekends, which I’d usually use to try to catch up on absolutely everything I needed to do in the garden, for larger projects, like building a new cold frame.
I’ve now got all of my seeds planted, except for the ‘sow in mid-May’ ones, which are on the list for this week. Here are just a few of them.
The courgettes and squashes are just starting to sprout their first proper leaves, so they’ll be off out into one of the cold frames soon, to toughen them up prior to being planted out into the garden.
In addition to my regular range of flowers, fruit and vegetables, I’m trying a few more exotic things. Below are dahlia seedlings, freshly pinched out to encourage them to be short and bushy rather than tall and lanky. (My garden, being long and narrow, has the characteristics of a wind tunnel.) I’ve read in James Wong’s book ‘Homegrown Revolution‘ that you can eat dahlia tubers, so I’m keen to try this out. At James’s suggestion, I’m growing cucamelons, electric daisies, inca berries, alpine strawberries, elephant garlic, quinoa, mooli and watercress, too.
I’m also trying to give my regular outdoor vegetables a bit more of a chance against the slugs by starting them off in little plugs, which I’ll plant out once they’re a decent size. And with the winter here lasting until about two weeks ago, planting out directly hasn’t really been an option. I can sow a second batch directly into the beds now, though, and can see how they compare with the plugs.
I have a slight tendency to focus on my vegetables at the expense of my other plants, so I’ve been careful to look after the non-edibles, too. For example, I’ve trimmed the dead leaves off my ferns and have potted up the little offshoots that have sprung up.
I’ve also taken the significant step of pruning the older stems off my Euphorbia rigida, a rather messy job that I’d been putting off for several months. Needless to say, once I’d found my gloves and dug out the secateurs, the pruning itself only took ten minutes. The feeling of achievement that accompanied it, though, lasted significantly longer.
Ditto for having tidied up and potted on the various Euphorbia and Hebe cuttings that I’d accumulated at the bottom of the garden. I’d taken loads of cuttings about two years ago, potted them up and then left them to go feral on the gravel between the willow hedge and the shed. I’d felt really bad about neglecting them, but clearly not bad enough to actually do anything about it. Well, now it’s done. I had to ditch some of them but the rest are looking good, even if I do say so myself.
I’ve even made seed bombs. Yes, seed bombs. I bought a book on making wildflower seed bombs (‘Seedbombs: Going Wild with Wildflowers’, by Josie Jeffery) some time ago, together with a bag of clay powder that has been sitting in the living room ever since. So one morning last week, I put on an old jumper and got my hands (and the jumper, the shed and the dog) dirty making seed bombs. (And yes, I was careful to use native, non-invasive flower seeds.) Here are some of my inaugural batch.
And here’s my first test subject, nestling into the bark chip underneath one of the apple trees by the vegetable garden. I’ve also cautiously ‘planted’ a few on some of my regular dog walking routes around town, so that I can see how well they fare. Exciting stuff.
So while I’m not a farmer and probably won’t ever be a farmer, I’m trying to bring a little of the farming ethos into my life. Nothing excessive, just a small amount of planning, a tiny bit of coordination and a little hard work every day. Welcome to the micro-farm.
I don’t want to give the impression that all I do is bake stuff and then eat it, though that does seem to make up a large part of my life. But I am particularly proud of these cheese scones that I rustled up to go with a chilli. Very tasty. And incredibly quick to make.
I’m still plucking up the courage to try my hand at croissants, but I definitely need to to something with all of the butter I have left in the fridge. Any suggestions gratefully received.
Having had a nice long weekend over the Easter break, I decided to do a bit of baking. And the logical thing to start with was some hot cross buns. So I got out some of my baking books, found a recipe that I liked the look of and got on with it. It took a little while, as the dough needed to rest after I’d done anything with it, but pretty soon I had some fairly respectable buns ready to go in the oven.
I even made a flour paste to decorate the tops. But I got bored with crosses after the first couple, so splurged a variety of letters and random shapes onto the rest. This means, I guess, that they’re technically not hot cross buns, but rather just hot buns. But I can tell you one thing: once they’d come out of the oven, they smelled – and tasted – delicious. The floppy anaemic ones we get from the supermarket quite literally paled in comparison.
Oh, and here are the finished articles…
Clearly, they’re long gone now. But, mmm, they were yummy. Even if I do say so myself. Next up: croissants. Anything that involves battering a block of butter with a rolling pin (honest, that’s what it says in the book) has got to be worth a try.