Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

July 10, 2011

Beyond lettuce

by growingpeople

Lettuce and lettuce-type things are among the easiest edibles to grow in containers and small spaces, but too often we stick to unadventurous species of Butterhead and Looseleaf, ignoring the multitude of more unusual (and better looking) leaves and flowers that can be used to make a salad.

Herbs, too, are frequently seen as simply a garnish and added in minute quantities that can barely be detected – but if chosen correctly, and combined with milder flavours, I believe that they can be a main ingredient. My favourite salad ingredients, container-grown in my Hackney garden include chard, parsley, chives, golden marjoram, nasturtiums, borage, baby spinach and lovage.

The selections below are all suitable for containers, can be sown now and taste much better than an iceberg.

I recommend Real SeedsWild Garden Seeds and Suffolk Herbs for sourcing seeds.

Lactuca sativa var. romana “Little Leprechaun”

 

Levisticum officinale (lovage)

Celery-like shoots, but a milder taste. The young leaves are one of my favourite salad ingredients.

 

Malva sylvestris (mallow)

The young leaves and flowers can be eaten raw. This is hardly worth growing as you can find it everywhere this time of year (Hackney-dwellers, try the marshes -there’s enough to feed the borough there).

 

Rumex acetosa (garden sorrel)

This perennial herb is mild enough to be eaten raw as a salad leaf.

 

Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)

As the name suggests, the leaves taste of garlic and mustard, are delicious in salad if you like that sort of thing, and grow in abundance in Hackney Marshes.

 

Allium ursinum (wild garlic)

One of my absolute favourites, growing abundantly in British woodland in February and March. Use the leaves and flowers in salad – they taste strongly of garlic, so use in addition to a milder leaf.

Trapaeolum majus (nasturtium)

Adds colour to the smallest of garden, grows in the poorest of soils and the leaves and flowers are delicious.

Advertisements
July 7, 2011

July

by growingpeople

Thanks to Naomi, not only is my garden not dead after three weeks away, it also has new additions: golden marjoram (Origanum majorana) and golden feverfew. I’ve never grown either of them before, but I remember learning about feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) on my permaculture design course and loving the name (it’s good at reducing fevers, the story goes).

We’ve finally been able to eat things besides lettuce and radishes – broad beans, carrots and potatoes have all been pulled up and despite not making a full meal, have made additions to a big salad to split three ways. And fresia, verbena, anemone and sunflowers have bloomed, tomatoes are appearing  in abundance and everything’s  making me optimistic.

Things to do now 

Sow fennel, courgettes, marrow, cucumber, french beans, marigolds and wildflowers.

Peel the bottom yellowing leaves from your tomato plants, shred them up, and place them as a mulch around the base of the plats – the potassium rich leaves are needed for fruiting. Stake tomato plants.

Dig up potatoes and carrots. Use the vacated pots for a succession of lettuce and radish.

Re-plant anything that has outgrown its pot into a bigger space.

Keep picking herbs like basil, parsley, lovage and chives, pinching at the base to encourage new growth. Don’t allow them to flower (bolt), or in any case pinch out the flower as soon as it appears.

Plant out broccoli or cabbage seedlings still kept indoors.

Weed and water generously.

My second round of "Paris Market" carrots, perfect for containers, growing to roughly the size of a cherry tomato

 

"Costoluto Genovese" tomato

 

 

June 21, 2011

This week I like

by growingpeople

Digby Road, Homerton

This new-build 14-storey residential project opposite Homerton Overground station takes its undulating triangular shape from that of the previously derelict site it sits on.  The building will aim to operate on 20% renewal energy, is entirely clad in heat-retaining terracotta, boasts a continuous garden roof, two external green walls, (visible from all over Hackney), community garden, playground, rain water recycling system and there are plans in place  for a biomass boiler community heating scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottle-cap gardening

I don’t actually  like  this, because the idea that you would pay £1.22 plus postage for soil or that there’s even a market for this is completely depressing, but corporate bandwagon aside, this is a cute way of illustrating that you can grow stuff anywhere, and it would be a fun project to try with my students  (using soil from umm, the ground , and not mail-order from Japan).


Whirligro | vertical plant grower

These are great, although the £80 (plus £20 postage) price tag is a little OTT and I’m sure there must be a way of making one yourself. But for those who can afford it, they combine good design and space saving for both indoor and outdoor gardening.

June 15, 2011

Feasting

by growingpeople

We’ve spent the last three weeks in Morocco, where Safi met her huge extended family for the first time and we gorged on tajine, watermelon, almonds, bekkoula, oranges and pots of mint tea.

I was familiar with the Atlas region and the arid south – Marrakech, Essaouira and Agadir, where the landscape is dotted with the endemic Argan (Argania spinosa) tree – cultivated for oil and home to armies of climbing goats – but this time we stayed mainly along the Atlantic coast in the north of the country –  an incredibly productive area, rich in crops as varied as peanuts, bananas, potatoes and purslane, not to mention a range of non-cultivated edibles which grow freely in the wild.

One of my favourite things to do (anywhere) is to explore markets, and here both my eyes and belly were truly spoiled – the frenzy of colour and the abundance of produce (all local, very little needs to be imported) were a veritable feast before even getting anywhere near my plate.

Supermarkets and convenience stores are very slowly creeping into the suburbs of bigger cities like Rabat, Casablanca and Kenitra, but on the whole the Moroccan respect for good food, properly produced and with nothing going to waste means that the daily trip to the market (souk) remains an intrinsic part of family life, particularly in the smaller towns of the north which are fed by such fertile land.

(above) Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows freely as an urban weed but it is also cultivated and sold as the principle ingredient for rejla, purslane stewed in olive oil and flavoured with cumin and ginger.

(above) marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaves are used for making bekkoula – similar to rejla in preparation but with a more acidic taste. We bought shredded and boiled marshmallow leaves from the huge tubs that ladies brought to the market and added oil and spices to them at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(left) purple bindweed (Ipomoea), a close relative of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batata) and (right) oranges growing happily in Tangier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(left) limes growing in Larache and (right) the barbary fig, or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) grows widely throughout the country, producing a sweet, bright red fruit after its yellow flowers.

(below left) mint grows everywhere and is combined with green tea and sugar to make the Moroccan staple, thé a la menthe. (below right) bananas ripening in a Casablanca car park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 18, 2011

Vertical gardens

by growingpeople

I’ve spoken a lot about space saving vertical vegetable gardens already, but I’m coming across more and more ways of creating them that I’m eager to try. The beauty of these is just how many plants they can hold without encroaching on any of your limited floor space.

First, the recycled shoe storer by pippa5 on instructables. The pockets are deep enough to plant salads, spinach, flowers and herbs, but also tomatoes, strawberries, radishes and chard. The only way one of these ugly things should ever be used.

Next, the upright pallet garden by life on the balcony. The sides, back and base are lined with landscape fabric – a black porous materials made from natural synthetic fibers and available from garden centres – and the pallet is then filled with compost before being planted up. Leave the pallet lying flat for a couple of weeks to allow rooting to establish before positioning it upright.

I’m not sure about using this tin can garden for edibles as the metal may leach into the soil but these are perfect for planting flowers to attract beneficial insects. Punch a small holes in the bottom of each for drainage and staple-gun or nail them to a wooden fence.

And finally, not strictly vertical, or particularly productive for that matter, but oh so pretty, are Japanese artist Kochi Kawashi‘s “Manga Farms” – beautiful little sprout gardens inside recycled and water soaked comic books. You won’t get a massive crop out of them but such a novel way to grow a leaf or too. Kawashi has tried it with radish, buckweat, broccoli, rocket and basil.

May 15, 2011

growingpeople goes coastal

by growingpeople

My mother, my daughter and I spent a few days this week on the Hampshire coast, where we spotted a whole lot of familiar and some more unusual edibles, among a host of wild flowers and natives. A welcome change from Vicky Park.


Armeria maritima (sea thrift), a small perennial adapted to coastal environments.

Ulex europaeus (gorse), an evergreen shrub adapted to extreme dry conditions. The flowers are edible, high in protein, and could be used in salads, or made into tea. This recipe for gorse flower cordial is really making me wish I’d brought some home with me, as is this one, for gorse flower wine.

A young Pteridium aquilinum, or bracken – commonly cooked as a vegetable in Korea, China and Japan, but thought to be responsible for the area’s high levels of stomach cancer, so not recommended.

Silene vulgaris, or bladder campion, is a common ingredient in Spanish cooking, where the leaves, known as “collejas” are used in salads or added to stews.


(left) Equisetum arvense, or common horsetail, is rich in calcium and its tips can be eaten as a vegetable. It is a diuretic and can be used to treat kidney and bladder problems. (right) Cirsium palestre, or marsh thistle, has edible leaves and stems which can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked.


Rumex acetosella, or red sorrel, is a spreading perennial, whose tart leaves can be used in salads and garnishes, or as a curdling agent for cheese.

(left) The flower buds of Leucanthemum vulgare, or oxeye daisy can be used as a substitute for capers, Trifolium pratense (red clover) is made into a tea to treat symptoms of the menopause. (right) Plantago lanceolata, or ribwort plantain, can be cooked as a vegetable or brewed as tea, and its seed husks, known as Psyllium, are sold as an expensive dietary fibre in whole food shops.

(left) The berries of Sambucus nigra, or elder, are used to make jams, the flowerheads to make infusions and elderflower cordial. (right) Anthyllis vulneraria, or kidney vetch, was traditionally known as the “wound healer” and used to soothe skin.

(left) Brassica napus, or rape, is high in essential fatty acids and is heavily cultivated for oil production. Here it grew in the wild on the cliff tops. (right) a field of thrift, red sorrel and rape.

(left) Aquilegia (right) Lupinus beans are pickled and served as a snack similar to olives in several Mediterranean countries, and used in a similar way to soya beans to make tofu.

(left) Silene dioica, or red campion (right) Glechoma hederacea, or ground ivy, is a member of the mint family and can be eaten in salad or infused for a vitamin C-rich tea.

May 13, 2011

May

by growingpeople

After February and April comes May (we skipped March, sorry, but it’s essentially the same as the other two), and things are getting interesting in the edible garden. Perennials like lovage and echinacea are coming into growth after a winter below ground, and the leaves of the Salix alba and Akebia quinata are back. The seedlings that were sown indoors in the earlier months can now be re-potted and moved outside permanently and the seedlings sown outdoors are now growing vigorously.  You’ll probably find that as soon as you re-pot or plant out, the plants have a growth spurt, as their roots have been constricted for the past few weeks. My tomatoes need a cane to lean on now that they are over 30cm tall.

There’s much to do in May as the more tender plants including fennel, green beans and courgettes can be sown now that the danger of frost has definitely passed. These should all be sown indoors and planted out as soon as the seedlings are strong, perhaps with the exception of fennel, which could be sown out now. I’ve also just sown a purple radish, the Hilds Blue, which is slightly more tender than its common red counterpart.

carrot seedlings sown too close together

Thinning out is vital to ensure the growth of crops including radishes, carrots and lettuce. Look at seedlings and pull out any that are growing too close together – imagine the size of a fully grown carrot and remember that each seedling will need that amount of space if it’s going to reach full size. Don’t be tempted to leave in more seedlings than the space can hold, as they just won’t grow and you’ll end up with nothing at all. Runner beans can be sown now – plant in pairs and pull out the weakest plant as soon as they start to grow, and provide support for them from the very beginning. Climbing plants, including runner beans and peas will grow towards the support provided, and without any, will flop and die.

Potatoes should have masses of leaves by now, and will need to be earthed up – simply bury the lowest level of foliage by adding compost to ensure that the tubers aren’t exposed to any light as they break through the soil (this results in green potatoes that you can’t eat).

The first radishes planted back in April should be ready to eat now – keep sowing as you pick them (the same goes for lettuce) to ensure a continuous supply from now right through to the autumn. The radish leaves are edible too, and delicious sautéed in olive oil or added to soup (they are a little too tough to eat raw, although this recipe for radish leaf pesto is a great way of getting around that).

Beneficial flowers like nasturtium and calendula can still be sown this month if you haven’t done so already – I’m finding the nasturtiums particularly helpful at luring black fly away from my broad beans.

And although it sounds obvious, it’s vital to water a lot, particularly if you, like me, are growing in pots. Most plants can survive on just a little water, but need plenty more water to produce the flowers which will eventually produce fruit in the coming months. In this weather, I’m watering at least every other day, and leaving a plate under each pot to minimise the water that drains away.

Keep on top of weeds, again particularly if growing in pots, as plants already have a limited amount of space and nutrients and the weeds only add to that competition.

May is the month to enjoy watching things grow, as it will all happen in quick succession between now and June – I continue to be amazed at how suddenly the flowers have appeared on the broad beans that were nothing more than little shoots only weeks ago, and how quickly the tomatoes develop from skinny seedlings to thick, strong plants.

Finally – because this is what it’s all about, after all – here’s what’s growing in my garden this month, as well as potatoes, chard, beetroot, Anemone coronaria, spinach, calendula, foxglove, rosemary, fennel, runner beans, parsley, chives, sweet pea, radish, Schisandra grandifloraAkebia quinataSalix alba, sweet pepper, Verbena bonariensis, basil, jasmine, iris, lavender and Myosotis (forget-me-nots).

broad beans and nasturtiums

Philadelphus, raspberry, tomatoes

strawberry, borage and nasturtium seedlings

tomatoes, sunflower, carrot

Echinacea, Potentilla, lettuce

tomato, oca

lovage, thyme

borage, squash, mint

May 5, 2011

Foraging for food in Lower Clapton

by growingpeople

Back in January, I discussed the virtues of the Silverberry, or Elaeagnus x ebbingei, one of the only berries I know of which is ripe in the early spring. The one I walk past every day grows within the gardens of a residential care home, and  is now fruiting heavily. So this afternoon, after weeks of waiting for the berries to ripen, we went and picked a bucketful.

I’d been on the look out for suggestions of what to do with the berries for ages, but the only thing anyone seems to be doing with them is making jam. Until I came across this recipe on the fantastic Gardenbytes, (the owners of which “explore everything from foraging to formal gardens” in NYC) where the bright red berries are blended to a pulp (use a hand moulis with large holes so that the seeds are left behind) and baked into bread. You can also try these as a coulis, sweetened with honey.

Many thanks to the staff of the Median Road Resource Centre for letting me come into the gardens and strip the bushes bare!

April 4, 2011

April

by growingpeople

Spring is here. I can say that with conviction because I’ve worn sunglasses and flip flops for 3 consecutive days (granted, I’m cold blooded) and because I took the tomato seedlings outside for a sunbathe on Saturday. And Reda has started cycling to work again, which, as those who know him will vouch, can only mean one thing.

 

sunbathing tomatoes

...and Safi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So.

Technically there could still be some late frosts between now and the end of April so hold off on moving tender seedlings like peppers, aubergines and tomatoes out permanently until early May, but the vast majority of your seeds can be sown outside this month. That includes carrots, radishes, fennel, peas, beetroot, spinach, kale, chard, lettuce, turnips and spring onions.  I recommend starting kohlrabi, cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli off inside and planting them out in May though, when they are roughly 8cm tall.

Potatoes and other tubers can go into the ground now if they aren’t already.

You can also sow a huge range of edible or beneficial flowers around this time, including marigolds, sweet peas, borage, nasturtiums, chamomile. Sunflowers should be sown indoors for another few weeks.

And parsley, dill, sage, chives and coriander can all be sown outdoors sometime this month, while the more tender basil should be started off indoors and planted out in May.

Hold off on beans and courgettes – these are two common vegetables which really need warmth and which you need to wait until June to sow.

Have a look at these pages for ideas on what to plant together – particularly if you’re lacking in space or using containers.

March 1, 2011

February

by growingpeople

Several of my friends have asked me recently what exactly they should be doing now in the garden to be sure they have vegetables growing or ready to eat by the summer. So here’s a guide to what I’ve been doing the last few weeks (and should be done sometime before mid-March).

Sowing seeds

Tomatoes, peppers, aubergine and summer squash should be sown in February and March and kept indoors on a warm window sill until the end of April or beginning of May. Sow seeds in shallow trays of clean compost (don’t use soil from the garden, as seedlings are very susceptible to fungal infection – the first lot of tomatoes I sowed in the beginning of February were all killed by damping off, a blanket term for a range of soilborne fungal infections that affects seedlings soon after they germinate, causing them to darken, weaken and topple over at the base). Once the seedlings are 3 or 4 centimeters tall, move them on to individual pots, where they’ll live until you plant them outside in the spring. At this point you can be less fussy about the soil you plant them in as developed plants will be less susceptible to minor diseases.

healthy tomato seedlings
seedlings killed by damping off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pruning

Pruning trees and shrubs is made to sound so complicated by bodies such as the RHS that most people assume it’s a dark art. Plants are categorised into over 20 pruning groups depending on when, how and where they flower, and each group has its own very specific set of pruning times and methods. Just to make it even more fun, not all organisations group them the same way, so one man’s pruning group 6 may be another man’s group 17. On top of that, several plants, such as Clematis, are subdivided into their own pruning groups because the many different species of Clematis all need to be treated so differently. To learn it all (I’ve tried) completely exasperated me, until I realised that in the fruit and vegetable garden, you really just need to follow three basic rules (and always making a downwards sloping cut, just above a healthy bud). Hoorah.

1) If it flowers before June, it’s spring-flowering, flowering on the previous season’s growth, and needs to be pruned as soon as the flowering has finished. For example, Akebia quinata.

2) If it flowers after June, it’s summer-flowering, flowering on the current season’s growth, and needs to be pruned in February or March (do this now). For example, Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender).

3) If it’s a fruit tree , it needs to have its branches shortened in August, and then again in the Winter (sometime between December and February) to stimulate Spring growth. Fruit is produced on two or three year old wood, so providing you don’t prune too far down, there’s no danger of losing your  fruit-producing wood.

Weeding

You’re going to need weed-free beds to start sowing seeds in very soon, so now is the time to hand-weed, dig out or smother any unwanted weed growth. Skimpy weeds like Stellaria media can be pulled out by hand or trowel, Taraxacum officinale will need deep down digging. Ideally, last winter you would have covered your beds with thick carpet or cardboard and smothered them all – if not, give it a go this winter.

Buying

From March and April, you will be sowing the bulk of your seeds so now’s the time to buy them. Also buy some mesh if you plan to grow cabbage – it’s the best way to protect it from the cabbage white butterfly, and is also great for protecting lettuces from slugs and snails.

Chitting (or not)

Before potatoes are planted in about a month’s time, they need to be chitted. Chitting is just another way of saying “leave them in a dark cupboard for a few weeks to shrivel up and start sprouting shoots”. I’m also looking forward to growing Oca this year (thanks Naomi!), so they and any other tubers you plan on planting will need to be given the same treatment.

There’s actually a big debate among gardeners at the moment on the need to chit, which Emma Cooper sums up nicely here.

chitting potatoes

chitting oca

%d bloggers like this: