Tagged: allotment

Dec 31

What 2014 has taught me

 

Here, in no particular order, are some things I’ve discovered in 2014:

1.

That very serviceable lotions and cosmetics can be homemade from nothing more than wild flowers, cooking oil (I used sunflower oil), beeswax and an old enamel bain-marie. Thanks to herbalist Zoe Hawes and Alice Park Community Garden for this revelation. I’m still using the Elderflower and Calendula lip-salve made at your workshop, Zoe, and it’s brilliant stuff. Homemade cosmetics and natural beauty products are definitely the way to go.

Elderflower and Calendula

Elderflower and Calendula

 

 

2.

That you can make yourself a really sturdy plant support from indigenous hazel branches and willow, provided you keep the pre-soaked willow sufficiently damp, and possibly cheat with the judicious application of cable ties. Thanks to Annie Beardsley for this new knowledge, and to APCG again.

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

Making plant supports at Alice Park Community Garden

 

3.

That you can make a perfectly functional barbecue from a large terracotta pot, a couple of bricks, some chicken wire and a discarded rack from a broken microwave. I had all these things lying around and pressed them into service on my allotment for Midsummer’s Eve. Look! It cooked chicken! 

 

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

An old flower pot, some bricks and a rack from a broken microwave.

4.

That even I can grow yellow courgettes, ruby chard, tomatoes, leeks, garlic, and sweet dumpling squash from scratch.

Grown on my allotment.

Grown on my allotment.

5.

That if you post a picture of your rear end in inside-out jeans on Twitter for Fashion Revolution Day, the sight might well collect 17,000 views. Blimey…

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans - all for a good cause.

Rear-end selfie in inside-out jeans – all for a good cause.

 

6.

That it’s possible to stop traffic on the A4 through central Bath wearing inside-out clothing. Nuff said.

 

7.

I hate to bang on about this, but I’ve found that it’s still possible to attract wolf-whistles when you’re 49. And I mean when not dressed provocatively or in inside-out clothing but, ironically, with minimal grooming: I’m down to an annual haircut, and you’ve already read about those homemade budget-beating cosmetics. This positive attention seems to be happening more of late but I suspect that some people might just need their eyes testing. Though one of my best friends has paid me the compliment of describing me as ‘like a teenager with wrinkles’. Please bear this in mind, all you TV producers; you’ll find my contact details in point 10.

8.

That it’s nice to make people happy, but that you certainly can’t please everyone so may as well stop trying. Do what you feel is right and ignore those who just don’t get it. There will be plenty.

 

9.

That if you require someone to knit a sweater for a real live Jersey cow, I’m a very good person to ask; I may not be able to do it myself but have all kinds of useful connections in the craft and making world. I was delighted to be able to connect the wonderful Send a Cow charity with the equally wonderful knitter Elise Fraser in Bristol (whom I met at the beginning of the year thanks to the Briswool project). And what a glorious jersey Gloria wore!

 

10.

That one might be asked to front a national BBC TV show, to write a book, and also to produce a regular column for a national craft magazine, but none of them may pan out for a host of painful and highly annoying reasons. Happily, I’m currently still available and open to offers, but you’d better get in quick before the rush. You might want to check out my professional website and contact me there to discuss any potential projects. I’d love to hear from you.

 

11.

That I can live without my beloved little car, the cuticle (‘cute’ + ‘vehicle’). Farewell, my little white Fiat! You are gone but not forgotten.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

The cuticle always raised a smile.

12.

That cycling is probably better for keeping me and my legs in shape anyway. And I love it, most of the time (barring uphill, or in horizontal rain, or when carrying very much). Here’s Violet, bought when I was carrying some very precious cargo: my younger son Joe in utero; he turned 15 years old earlier this month, so the old girl ain’t doing so bad.

 

Back to pedal power.

Back to pedal power.

 

13.

That, imho, my youngest son is a rather fine graphic designer already. He was aged just 14 when he sorted out a logo this summer for the Big Mend. Now studying Art GCSE. Anyone need a summer 2015 intern for an art-related opportunity? Do get in touch.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

The Big Mend logo plus coffee.

 

14.

That the ‘free’ coffee for Waitrose customers is a very useful thing indeed, and that people seem to like doing their mending in such public spaces. Thank you, Waitrose, for being so accommodating and allowing us to land on you for World Environment Day! And a big thank you to our happy band of menders! You know who you are. The Big Mend has now been going for almost 3 years, astonishingly. I wonder where it will head next?

Flash mend event

Flash mend event in Waitrose

 

15.

That if you put enough pressure on a carbon life form, it may well become a diamond – eventually. It’s been a very tough year or so and the screws have definitely been on. But I’m wondering if a ‘diamond life’ might possibly be in store for me after all in 2015. I really do hope so.

 

Thanks so much for reading my all-too-infrequent posts here on the subject of mending, thrift, textiles etc. Take care and have yourself a very happy 2015.

 

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Oct 08

Nasturtiums and pauper’s capers

 

 

Looks like it’s going to get colder, so this is my last chance to praise the humble nasturtium before the first frosts do away with it.

Nasturtiums on wicker support

Nasturtiums on wicker support

 

The leaves are already turning yellow on the rampant nasturtiums of my allotment, a sure sign that they’re on their way out. So, a last hoorah for the lovable nasturtium!

Jolly and easy to grow (thriving on poor soil and neglect), nasturtiums were the first flowers that many of us were encouraged to grow as children. I only learned this year that they’re a native of North America, brought to Europe about the time that potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco made landfall. The name comes from Latin: literally ‘twisted nose’ as that’s what the peppery taste was supposed to do to your face.

We’ve been enjoying peppery nasturtium leaves and bright flowers in salads all summer. And I’ve been dying to try a recipe for mock-capers made from the seeds held up in triple-clusters on those succulent, crunchy stalks. To that end, I’ve been collecting the nice plump green ones. If you don’t have many nasturtiums, you can gather seed in batches, storing it in a bag in the salad drawer until you’ve amassed enough to fill a jar.

 

Yellow nasturtium

Yellow nasturtium

 

Pauper’s Capers 

So, this really couldn’t be simpler.

You will need:

a cup of nasturtium seeds. Just the green ones. Avoid any already turning brown; save those to plant next year instead.

a cup of white wine vinegar

5 black peppercorns (approximately)

IMG_4869

First, collect your nasturtium seeds

 

How to:

Wash any dirt or beasties off your seeds and dry them off with paper towel.

Place them in a jar: a preserving jar is great, but any jar will do.

Heat the white wine vinegar with the peppercorns in a small lidded pan. Once hot, pour the vinegar over the nasturtium seeds.

Seal the jar and, once cooled, place in the fridge. Leave for 3 long months, or until Christmas – whichever happens to be the  soonest.

IMG_4875

Pauper’s capers. Left: freshly pickled, and right: a month on.

 

My verdict: they were tested a little prematurely after just a month. Interestingly peppery with that vinegar kick, and still quite crunchy. Not bad, though not really capers. But who cares? It’s more thrifty garden food to add to the winter store cupboard. Farewell, nasturtiums, till next year!

 

End of the nasturtiums

Nasturtiums: all parts are edible, even the seeds! What’s not to love?

 

 

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Aug 29

Upcycled spoon plant labels

 

Spoon garden labels

Upcycled spoon plant labels

 

In my continuing quest to find functional, affordable and aesthetically pleasing plant labels, I’ve been playing with old spoons.

A lick of blackboard paint and a fine white poster pen did the trick. Now I’m looking forward to planting these, handle first, on my allotment.

And planting the garlic which I bought at Hampton Court. I’ve got ‘Garlic’ on the convex side of the spoon’s bowl and the variety on the concave side.

IMG_4464

Garlic label

 

 

 

 

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Jul 05

Borage

 

The sprigs of borage in wine are of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student. – John Evelyn, Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, 1699

 

Warming to my emerging ‘thrifty edible flowers’ theme, borage (Borago officinalis) is just a small garnish after those bagfuls of havested elderflowers, but it punches above its weight in the list of summer essentials. Wimbledon would be lost without it as no self-respecting Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is complete without a borage flower or two.

I didn’t realise until this week that the entire borage plant is edible, with leaves and flowers tasting faintly of cucumber. Mediterranean in origin, it has been plopped in wine from antiquity as a remedy for mood disorders: for the nervously exhausted, the melancholic, and those simply requiring an energy boost. Crusaders added it in their stirrup cups to aid the action of their Dutch courage. But it was probably brought here by the Romans as our word originates from the Celtic borrach (meaning ‘courage’).

The Welsh name Llawenlys means ‘herb of gladness’. I‘m all for Welsh flower names and for more gladness, wherever it can be found. And, in my continuing gladness quest, I have attained a new allotment. The waiting list was long, but well worth hanging on. I’m discovering a lot of things growing there without very much help from me; besides some rather antagonising perennial weeds, there is the delightful borage.

IMG_3929

Borage gladdening the allotment

 

Borage naturalised in Britain long, long ago and can quite easily be found gladdening waysides and waste places. Almost a weed, it self-seeds readily, and one of my allotment neighbours said I might find it cropping up on its own. Lo and behold, some oval-pointed prickly leaves appeared a few weeks ago, quickly followed by a stem bearing reddish tassely clusters. From downy buds, the most beautiful pure blue flowers emerged. They are star-shaped, giving rise to another name for borage, starflower. Dickens, famed for his showmanship and theatricality, favoured borage punch, and I can imagine how those vivid blue flowers might have bowled him over. His high energy levels and productivity were legendary, so perhaps borage beverages should be required drinking at all literary parties.

IMG_3932

A cluster of borage

 

Often prescribed by herbalists to relieve stress and anxiety, borage is also reputed to cleanse the kidneys. Modern research indicates that it may also work on the adrenal gland, which would explain that association with enhanced courage. It is high in calcium, potassium and mineral salts. Its other major benefit is that it’s an abundant source of GLA (gamma-linoleic acid), useful to treat PMT, menopausal symptoms, eczema etc But watch out, because it does contain some toxins, though in very small amounts; you’d have to eat an awful lot to do you any harm.

What to do with it:

  • Freeze flowers in ice cubes to plop prettily into your Pimm’s. You might want to remove the purply-black stamens from the petals first by giving them a gentle pull. I don’t bother.
  • Use leaves in salads
  • Use flowers in salads (looks stunning with scarlet nasturtiums) or to decorate desserts
  • Crystallize flowers for cake decorations
  • Chop leaves finely and eat in a sandwich with cream cheese 
  • Use leaves as an alternative to salt (rich in mineral salts) for those on a salt-free diet
  • Use it as a good plant companion: it’s reputed to be beneficial near strawberries, legumes and brassicas, and will do very nicely under roses. Sow it at intervals throughout the summer.
IMG_3935

Red currants and borage flower

 

And finally, there’s Claret Cup, another traditional way to float your borage on alcohol, though the idea of it doesn’t really float my boat. What do you think? Here’s an authentic recipe which appeared in a Victorian magazine:

1 large teaspoonful of white sugar dissolved in boiling water, 1 glass of sherry, 1/2 glass maraschino, a thin rind of lemon and a strip of cucumber rind, 1 large bottle of claret. Let all stand for an hour. Carry to the picnic, packed in ice, and laying a sprig of borage in the cup, add seltzer water when serving. The borage should not be allowed to remain in the cup, but it will impart an aroma that nothing else can. On this account the pretty blue flowers can be had of every gardener during the picnic season, and it is grown under glass all the year round for the express purpose of flavouring claret cup.

If you want something a little lighter (maybe with fizz) there are some more appealing borage drinks over here.

I’ve donated some of my allotment borage seedlings to the new Bath WI edible garden which is currently being planted in the beautiful Bath Botanical Gardens in Royal Victoria Park. If you’re local to Bath, do go along and feast your eyes.

 

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