What I’m going to grow in 2015

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I had a pretty successful growing year last year, but made a few mistakes with what I grew. My theme for 2014 was ‘grow stuff which is expensive in the shops’, which was a nice idea on paper.

For the sixth year running, I used an entire raised bed (50% of my growing space) to attempt pumpkins, which (for the sixth year running) grew to the size of an egg then withered away. I love pumpkins, but 2014 confirmed that we’ll never be mother and child. As a result of this, I lost an enormous amount of growing space, given that each pumpkin takes up a minimum of 1m squared.

I grew globe artichokes, which looked magnificent and tasted immense, but they look a tremendous amount of effort, for a very small return (I grew four).

Celeriac grew, and survived winter, but the resulting vegetables were tiny. This was a big shame. I did all I could for those boys, but they just didn’t deliver.

I am 99.9% sure that I am at fault for these failures, due to not watering enough/watering too much/not feeding enough/not feeding appropriately etc etc. Therefore, as the sort of gardener who stubbornly prefers to experiment, wing it and find my own way, I’ve absolutely no right to complain. I have to take what comes.

2015 has been officially named the year of frugality in our house. We’re having an extension built and are planning a trip to New York, so we’re squirrelling away, staying in and basically being incredibly boring for the next six months. With this in mind, I’ve decided that growing this year will be all about going back to basics. I’m going to grow the stuff we need and use on a daily basis. I’m going to sow monthly, to ensure an ongoing supplies of the staples. I’m going to grow in bulk, store things away in my shed and hope the mice don’t catch wind of my secret supplies.

One of the raised beds is going to be my salad bed – full of a readily replenished supply of radishes, lettuces, pakchoi and onions. In pots I’m going to have potatoes, cucumbers and tomatoes. In the other bed, I’m going to for hardy staples which can hack the colder months and keep us supplied through winter – kale, chard, leeks, broad beans and beets. This year I’m going to beat the squirrels to the hazelnuts on our hazel tree, freeze the surplus raspberries instead of leaving them to wither on the plant, and dry as many of the herbs as I can. All sounds very optimistic doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to blogging about how it all pans out.

Ready and waiting

Primed with compost and ready for good times ahead.

Battening Down the Hatches

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It’s now dark before I leave work, which means it’s late in the year, which means it’s time to hibernate.

I’m pretty good at autumn and even better at winter. Thick jumpers, clompy boots, hiding behind scarves, pumpkins, cinnamon, cloves, everything in a pot, everything piping hot. GOOD GOD, I’m in heaven right now.

I started to embrace winter when I realised that dark evenings were making me gloomy. I knew I had to start making the evenings productive. I needed to see staying indoors as a good opportunity to get stuff in order and do something creative, as opposed to feeling constrained and claustrophobic (which I used to).

A few winters ago I used the time to bake. A lot. Every night I’d be whipping up puddings, breads and cakes, to the point where I ran out of people to feed. Last year I bought a slow cooker, so I spent every evening chopping things into tiny pieces to put in the cooker the next morning. This year, I’m learning how to make chutneys, jams and homemade booze. I have no experience at all in this department, but I’m not letting that put me off. I’ve asked for a jam pan for Christmas and I’ve bought some sterilising tablets for my jars and bottles, so it’s getting serious.

Sloe news day

I’ve recently liberated a cluttered cupboard, which I plan to fill with things I’ve made for the future. At the moment I have some sloe gin and rosehip vodka in there, which have been steeping for about 6 weeks following an awesome forage I went on in the North York Moors with my mum. We spent the morning poking about in prickly hedgerows, clambering up banks and meditatively plucking berries from their stems. We were lucky enough to come across the holy grail of foraging – a laden sloe bush. Bloody awesome.

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Fruits of our labour

I think the forage was the beginning of my seasonal fascination with squirrelling away food for the future. I love the idea of picking fresh things to preserve and store away for brighter times. I just hope I do them justice.

Next week I’m going to have a go at making elderberry wine. The berries are currently in my freezer, something which has already divided opinion. One person has told it was the worst thing I could have done, another person has said its the best. I’ve never been one to worry about strict rules and the way I see it, it may work, it may not. I’m just excited to try it.

Stodgefest 2013

Aside

So, admittedly, it has been a while. There have been a myriad of reasons for this, but hey, we’re not here to make excuses, we’re here to talk about food and growing stuff.

By way of reintroduction, I’m keeping today short and sweet. And so I thought it was time I talked a bit about my garden.

My garden is not perfect and I’m sure I do lots of stuff incorrectly, but it is my gym, my 24 hour therapist and my best creative outlet. It’s also my favourite room of the house. Since we moved here 18 months ago, I haven’t painted one wall or put up one curtain. Instead, all my energy has gone into creating and landscaping my very own little paradise. It has gone from a neglected. rubble filled wasteland to somewhere pleasant to sit, with some raised beds and some fairly even grass.

Thanks to a crap year last year and amazing weather this year, summer has been exceptional for growing things. And I am still reaping the benefits, even though winter is knocking. Here’s a quick snapshot of my autumn garden:

ImageIncredible borlotti beans. I’ve made some cracking, fresh, summery stews with these fellers (both in the pod and out of the pod), and still have loads to go.

ImageThanks to a whole winter of cutting back brambles last year I’ve been rewarded with a freezer drawer full of blackberries.

ImageSome rosy red, juicy apples are now in my fruit bowl and chopped up in bags in the freezer (with lemon to stop them browning).

In addition, I am also struggling to grow pumpkins, for the 5th year running. I’ve never got past the flower stage. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong (I’ve fed them regularly, they each have 1m square of soil) – any pointers would be very welcome.

So, with autumnal veg, come autumnal eats. As of this weekend, the slow cooker has been promoted from under the sink to the the counter top, I’ve stocked up on flour for cakes, crumbles and puddings, the freezer is crammed with stock, summer greens and berries. Stodgefest 2013: I’m ready for you, the garden’s ready for you. I can’t wait.