Dig for Victory

It has been a while since I last posted but I have started the second year of my course which has been quite intense, I have had quite a lot of writing work on with the local paper along with harvesting and storing the final bits of this years crops ready for the bits and pieces I have put in to over-winter.

Whilst sat planning for the winter, Christmas, my book and next years crops it got me thinking what food used to mean.  Years ago it was impossible to pop into the shop to pick up some vegetables.  I was told how my nan would pop to the shop each day to get that day’s dinner which would go anything up to 3 days.  For example a chicken would be for a roast, next day cold, 3rd day soup and some gravy for next weeks roast.

Money was scarce, I was told beef was a rarity because it was so expensive. My dad was born in Hull and spent much of his childhood up in Yorkshire, money was always tight so if they did have beef, the Yorkshire puddings would be made but served first.  The idea being that if you filled up on Yorkshire Puddings you would require less beef and therefore it would go an extra day or so.

Before my Dad was born WWII was a time when people really appreciated what they had or more so what they didn’t have.  Food had been rationed.  My uncle told me how my nanny would go to the local farms after they had harvested the potatoes and would be invited to take what was left.  This she would pile into a pram and share among the locals and take to the Red Cross to be given to the men fighting for our country.

Everybody shared everything they had, right down to the last crust of bread and it made me wonder whether these days would we, as a country, survive as we did then?

In 1938, Britain imported around 55 million tons of food, however during the war relying on imported food was impossible.  The only way forward to ensure everyone continued to have a supply of food was to grow at home.

500,000 new allotments were made available by the government in 1939, by 1940 that figure had doubled.  By 1945 most families owned an allotment or tended to vegetables within their own garden.  There were even some councils that claimed to provide an allotment for each household to grow their crops.

It took some planning but the government helped people ensure they weren’t going to end up with a glut of lettuce but not a sprig of winter greens.  Different crops grow better in different places so one of the old gardener’s tips is to look at your neighbours, see what grows in their garden, whether its intentional or not.  If you see loads of Azaleas and Rhodedendrons thriving you know the soil is fairly acidic which helps you decide what will grow on your land and what you need to do to grow anything else.  Also bare in mind what you and  your family actually eats.  Little point ending up with hundreds of courgettes if no one likes them.  A courgette plant can easily provide 20 or so courgettes so  you can see how easy it is to end up with nothing but courgette soup in the freezer.

Something else about this time period was the amount of women donning wellies and gloves.  Throughout the war, manpower was in short supply.  ‘Home Front’ garden pages filled with news of successful women raising families, holding down jobs as well as working several plots.  Women were keeping our country going whilst the men were fighting to protect it.  Bumper harvests covered kitchen tables, freshly-picked produce stopped the country from starving.

So what was the secret?

It was nothing more than a few key gardening principles:

Planning ahead

As mentioned before, look at what grows best in your soil, successional sowing, eg: I always sow peas every 2 weeks to have continued crop, what is left at the end of the summer gets picked and frozen. Plant in between crops, radishes can be planted at the same time as parsnips, radishes take a matter of weeks to be ready, once picked the parsnips continue to grow in the grow for a later harvest.

Crop Rotation

If you garden/plot has been planted in then you need to try and find out what was planted before and start from there. If not then it is relatively easy, you just start your crop rotation from scratch.

1st year 2nd year 3rd year
A Potatoes and other Root Crops Peas

Beans

Onions

Leeks

Cabbages

Brussels

Broccoli

Kale

B Cabbages

Brussels

Broccoli

Kale

Potatoes and other Root Crops Peas

Beans

Onions

Leeks

C Peas

Beans

Onions

Leeks

Cabbages

Brussels

Broccoli

Kale

Potatoes and other Root Crops

Keeping the soil in good heart

Farmyard manure is the preferred choice of many and was readily available around that time. Gardeners were also encouraged to make their own compost by recycling scraps etc.

Little and often

Leaving jobs to the last minute will always lead to a mad Sunday spending 12 hours trying to get all the jobs done you should have completed throughout the week. Whilst it is great spending the day down the allotment, having to spend the day there isn’t quite the same. You would be surprised at what you can complete in just an hour.

Making the most of the year

Today people love growing tomatoes and other salad veg but when it comes to planting the staples like your potatoes and green veg people get a little hesitant. This is often down to lack of space that root and green veg require but throughout the Autumn and Winter you can get bumper crops of your root veg, brassicas and leeks.

So if you make a start today, just an hour you could well be in a position that you don’t need to rely on supermarkets this time next year.

Jobs for the weekend

It is hump day so tomorrow you will be on a slide to the end of the week, the weekend is looming on the horizon and I can just see it peeping through.

So on or around Wednesday I like to make a list of gardening jobs for the weekend. It helps me stay focused and ensure I do not procrastinate which is so easy when pottering around in the garden.

Here is my list for this weekend:

Plant up Hyacinth bulbs – A very quick and easy job which welcomes in spring with a rainbow of colours.  They look lovely in garden borders when not much else has started to bloom but look equally beautiful in rustic terracotta pots on the patio.

Prune your roses – Roses should stop flowering around now, get the secateurs out and give them a good pruning ready for new growth.

Rake up leaves – Leaves make fantastic mulch in your vegetable beds. Rake them up and start putting on the allotment or vegetable patch.  Remember to save some for your bean trench in the spring.

Save your seeds – My Grandad always saved seeds at the end of the year, saves a fortune on next years sowing. See the Seed saving checklist for information.

Plant winter veg – You can start to plant out your broad beans, hardy peas, garlic, winter cabbages, over-wintering onions.

Take fruit cuttings – Fruit bushes need a good trim this time of year so take hardwood cuttings to expand your own fruit bushes or pass on to friends and family.

One final little thing I like doing this time of year when I have finished an afternoon of gardening jobs is make myself up a large mug of hot chocolate with some marshmallows and a chocolate flake, wrap myself in a blanket and sit and look at how much I have achieved this year whilst letting inspiration take me over thinking up new ideas for next year.

Raised beds?

Next year I have decided to go down the route of raised beds.

I spent this year battling with weeds after a slipped disc which saw me off my feet for nearly 3 months.  Writing out endless instructions for my husband when he went down there and dragging in the kids to help is fine short term but once they have a couple of weeks they cannot go things just go mad. So 3 weeks ago I went down there after scarcely enough time down there. Fortunately I had managed to grow loads, it was my first year growing leeks which was very successful.  It was also my first year of successfully growing peas.

Prior to this I had moaned yearly that my peas never came to much and the ones that did didn’t feed us for too long, but this year a bumper crop.

Anyway after getting down there and realising how much things had got out of hand I was quite despondent.  Yes I had grown a lot, I had a lot of fruit, an overflowing compost heap, a nice large space to work with however the weeds had got out of control over a couple of short weeks of no one getting down there.

The earth there isn’t great, the weeds love it but the root veg hate it and I have had endless crops of split and damaged veg.  So onward and upward and I ordered in the raised beds.  I spent last week putting 20 or so together and I have compost arriving Monday to fill them.  I have done a ton of weeding, covered the area with weed control and have a plan in place.

On top of all of that a nice fellow over the way came over and gave me a helping hand on the plot and started weeding an area for me. People are so kind. I still have more to finish and I will order more raised beds next week and take the collection of leaves down to put a good coverage over the top for the winter.  I will also get some manure delivered for some of the raised beds (obviously not the root veg).

Anyone else gone down the root of raised beds? Any particular reason why?

Louisa

On the hedge

Many of us will remember spending our childhood foraging for greengages, berries and other tasty treats.  My nan lived near a large hill which was edged with endless lengths of blackberries.  We would spend many a weekend visiting going to collect blackberries. My nan was quite elderly so couldn’t come with us but would enjoy our arrival on a Sunday afternoon with a bowl of fresh berries to put in a pie or a crumble. Although we all know for every one that went in the bowl, two went in the mouth.

Edible hedgingIn 1945 there was an estimated 500,000 miles of thriving hedgerow in Britain, by 1993 half of these had been destroyed in the name of agricultural improvement. My Dad remembers seeing Hop plants growing along the roads, nowadays Kent is possibly the only place you will find Wild Hops.
wpid-20140621_162414.jpg

In recent years research has shown how important hedgerows are for a successful eco-system.  Growing your own hedge supports birdlife, bees, hedgehogs and various insects bringing your garden to life and keeping unwanted pests at bay. Hedges are a colourful addition to the family and you will be rewarded with a bounty of fruit throughout the year for puddings, jams and chutneys.

A few suggestions I have to try for edible hedging are:

  • Hazelnuts
  • Blackberries
  • Rosehips
  • Sloes
  • Greengages
  • Damsons
  • Elderberries
  • Raspberries
  • Wild Cherries
  • Crab Apples

Hedging such as Blackberries, Damsons, Elderberries, Sloes and Rosehips are quite prolific on road sides in the wild but always be careful what you are picking because there are berries which can be dangerous and you wouldn’t want to confuse them and give yourself a spate in hospital.  I will cover Foraging in a later post.

Where to write?

Virginia Woolf said ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’.

I have neither so does mean I do not write or I can not write? I have a portable desk (a bit like a lap tray you get for evening meals). I have endless files and boxes, books, writing magazines however I do not have a room I can call my own for my writing.

Quite simply there is nowhere to put one. We have quite a large house, we have 4 bedrooms but we also have 3 children.  We have a living room and a dining room which are pretty much full of kids stuff, table to eat at, a mini library.  We also have a toddler so anywhere I keep my work has to be safe from her meddling.  If I used a corner in the dining room it would never last, it would become my husband’s dumping ground for the mail. My eldest would dump her Ipod, tablet on it or use it for her homework. The middle one would dump jumpers she decides she isn’t wearing, books she is reading or knitting she has started. And the toddler, well she would just use every scrap of paper she can find along with every pen and pencil she can find and draw. Once she ran out of paper she would use the chair, table and the walls!  She is a budding artist I feel.

I am contemplating using part of our bedroom as my writing area/office. This is doable once we have the shelves put up for all the craft stuff on the landing, until then our room is pretty full.  We do have an extension but is isn’t finished, it is used as a shed these days and would need a lot of decorating to make it into a living space.  Alternatively I could find somewhere for a summer house?  Great in the summer, not so good in the winter and with the chickens, bees, greenhouse, pond and kids toys there isn’t really room for a grand summer house.

 

So my question is, what do you all use as your area? Are you a portable writer or do you have a designated space you write in?

Book Launch!

After a lot of research, practical experience and learning from mistakes I will have my first book launched on 1 November this year just in time for Christmas.

It will be the first in the series to help you on your route to self-sufficiency.  By your route it means you do not have to be living on a farm with windmills for energy, the point in the book is to help you find your own route to that goal.  However small or however big your self-sufficiency lifestyle is doesn’t matter, its the fact you have found a way to do what you can to stop relying on the big brands, big supermarkets for all of your needs.  So anything from growing a few herbs on your window sill to an allotment to chickens, the book will show you how to start your road to self-sufficiency with the space and time you have.

Looking forward to people’s comments.  I will let you know once ordering is available.

Top 10 easiest vegetables to start growing

I always get looks of amazement that I manage to grow my own veg, people just cannot understand how I find the time to sow, tend and harvest while bringing up three children, running my own business, enrolled at the OU and taking care of a home.  However while you are siting there wondering when and indeed, where to start you could have already spent half an hour sowing a load of seeds.  You don’t even need an allotment, many plants can be grown in pots, dotted around your flower garden, in hanging baskets, or in pots in the house as houseplants that will feed you!

I have gathered together a least of easy to sow vegetables.  These will give you a solid starting point and once you find out how easy it is, how rewarding it is, you will be desperate to experiment with other varieties of fruit and vegetables.

Salad Leaves

salad leaves

 

Crunchy salad leaves are probably about the quickest and easiest plants to grow. In a pot, a border, a window sill, throw the seeds in, cover with a layer of compost and water well.  Most varieties allow you to cut leaves from about 3 weeks to use fresh in a sandwich and will continue growing for you to cut over and over again. To ensure you get a long harvest, sow weekly throughout the year.

 

 

Spring onions and Radishes

spring onions and radishes

 

The strong smell of spring onions and peppery taste of radish tickles your tongue in a nice summery salad.  Spring onions are great sown between your carrots to confuse the carrot fly and beetroot will pretty much grow anyway.  Again you can sow these throughout the summer to have a continuous crop. 

Potatoes

potatoes

 

You don’t need a large plot to grow potatoes, most places sell potato bags. Put seed potatoes in around February/March.  A few weeks later shoots will appear above the soil, this is where you do what is known as ‘bank up’ which simply means cover these shoots.  Make sure you water well otherwise the skins will be rather dry once harvest time arrives which takes anywhere between 10-20 weeks depending on variety. Just keep a look out for the leaves dying off which is the time you know you can hunt out your home grown potatoes ready for the pot.

 

Peas

peas
 
When I first started gardening I was told peas were something most people got their kids to sow because they were so easy, could I get them to grow?  Not a chance.  Anyway I soon realised I was allowing them to get too dry, peas like the cooler weather and need a lot of water.  Sow 3 per stick, my Grandad used to say 1 will die off, 1 for the birds and 1 for him to grow on as a pea plant.  My middle daughter loves eating them straight out the pod.
 
 
 
Mint
 
mint
 
Mint is probably the easiest herb to grow, it thrives on abuse.  However fresh mint with new potatoes is simply indescribable.  Just be warned once your Mint gets going there is no stopping it and it will pop up everywhere so better to plant in a large pot to contain it.  Mint freezes very well and if you are feeling adventurous why not try a Mint Jelly for the winter lamb dinners?
 
 
 
 
Broad Beans
 
broad beans
 
I have to admit I am not a big fan of broad beans, however my husband and dad love them so I always put in about 10 plants.  You will get quite a lot of broad beans from just one plant but they freeze really well so you can have them on your roasts all through the Autumn and Winter.
 
 
 
 
 
Runner Beans
 
runner beans
 
Runner beans are pretty much grown the same way as Broad Beans. My children love sowing them in jars with kitchen towel lightly moistened and then transplanting them out after a few weeks. Just make sure they get plenty of light otherwise they are in danger of getting leggy.  As with peas they need a lot of water.  When they start to produce regularly pick to encourage new growth.  Again runner beans freeze very well but you can always make a good chutney to use up a glut.
 
 
 
Ontions and Garlic
 
onions and garlic
 
Both onions and garlic are really easy to maintain. Pop the bulbs in to well drained soil in the spring and autumn and sit and wait.  When the leaves start to die and fall over they are ready to harvest.  Tie your onions up to dry, I have been known to eat hung onions after 6-9 months!
 
 
 
 
 
Tomatoes
 
tomatoes
 
As long as you keep them well watered tomato plants are extremely rewarding.  Once they get going it is almost like you can see them growing.  Tomatoes are also very versatile, I make sauces, ketchups, chutney’s (even the last of the green tomatoes make a decent chutney).  And nothing better than a fresh tomato straight off the plant.
 
 
 
 
 
Beetroot
 
beetroot
 
Beetroot has to be my favourite root vegetable.  Sow a line of seeds, once they start to grow thin them out.  As they grow bigger you can thin out the smaller beetroots to cook for salads and let the bigger ones grow on.  Beetroots can be frozen for winter roasts ad picked for the following summer salads.