Sunday, 30 May 2010

Polytunnel Progress

Finally, after more than a month of intermittent work on the polytunnel, it's being used! We've planted the tomato plants in giant pots, with supportive twine up to the crop bars. The pepper plants are growing exponentially too, alongside the toms, and the various squash plants (cucumber, courgette, patty pan, amongst others) are now planted out with a good portion of well-rotted manure beneath their roots. We still have plenty of work to do in the tunnel - not least digging a pathway down the middle, and holding in the beds down the sides with scaffolding planks, but it's a relief to have so many plants growing in there. The basil plants want to establish themselves in there too - my favourite herb in the world! - I just can't wait to start eating everything! :D

Monday, 10 May 2010

Ginger Biscuits

It shouldn't be a mammoth task, making a batch of biscuits, but somehow it became one.

Firstly, we don't have an oven. As we are planning to go off-grid in the coming few months (alright, it might take a bit longer!), we are loath to buy an appliance which will only be used for a short time. My parents have a little worktop electric oven/hob, and so I borrowed that. It was very heavy, and my impatience meant that I had to carry it myself, squidged against my bump. I won't be doing that again. How stupid - to risk a baby for a biscuit!

Secondly, the work on the polytunnel (Phil and my folks were down there) came to a point where everyone started losing perspective. The problem was that the instructions had not really talked about how to deal with the armfuls of spare plastic at the ends around the doorways. I mean, it was obvious that it needed to be carefully pleated to account for all the extra material coming over the hoops, but how had other people done it so that it look presentable, instead of crumpled and bunched up? That was the question being asked. As the oven heated up, I went down to the field with my laptop to quickly show some pictures of polytunnels I'd found online. They looked tidy, but when you looked closely you could see that every one of them had chosen a different style of pleating and folding. So as long as we did it nicely, it would be good. It took three of us to get the job done, and at least an hour. Needless to say, the oven was nicely warmed by the time I got back to the house.

Thirdly, the recipe asks for golden syrup, but I had none. So I used the equivalent of honey, and when the 'dough' didn't seem to be getting less crumby, I added a couple of tablespoons of water. Not knowing how the dough should feel for this recipe, I wasn't too confident, but must admit that the results are delicious! :)

Fourthly, and finally, the recipe made enough dough to make thirty eight walnut-sized balls and therefore thirty six biscuits (ha ha, just kidding, I ate two before they had a chance to cool!) which somehow meant that the baking tray went into the oven four times. It's a very small oven, and an even smaller tray!

If you'd like to try the recipe, you can find it here. I added a handful of finely chopped crystallised ginger, but next time would add two or three handfuls, and remove the ground ginger altogether. I'm so pleased to not only have the time to make treats like these, but also to have reduced my stress levels so much that I can now easily read a recipe - it may sound stupid, but for a long time I simply couldn't follow them, no matter how simple - now I'm much better!

But then, everybody knows that biscuits make everything better, right? :P

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Seedling Saturday

Me and my mum went to Seedling Saturday at the school in Machynlleth, but didn't bring any seedlings home. We were hoping for some brassicas - especially purple sprouting broccoli, kale, and cabbage (due to the fact that ours have all mysteriously shrivelled up) - but somehow we must have missed them if there were any. We went to two of the talks, Adam gave a talk about hedgerow biodiversity, and there was a talk by the folks who run Incredible Edible in Todmorden - both were very inspiring! Regarding the latter, I didn't realise that guerrilla growing had become so popular, or indeed that it could work on a large (town-sized) scale. Have a read about what they're up to - it's brilliant! - they've established vegetable beds all over the town, and with the help of the locals (as well as some enthusiastic volunteers in some cases) are growing and offering free food to anyone who may wish to help themselves. They've even got the council on their side now that they've shown themselves to have such a positive effect on the townsfolk.

The day was enhanced by the fact that I bought a raffle ticket at the last minute and won what I reckon was the best prize: a little colourful envelope with a handwritten "Hello!" on the front, which contained a £15 voucher for the funky Eco Deco shop in Machynlleth (can't find a website for them, unfortunately)... I can't wait to see what I'll find in there! Maybe some eco clay paint to decorate Squiggles' room?

We returned home enthused, and lo, we did look upon our own seedlings, and we saw that they were good.

And we thought to ourselves: all we need now is a number of weed-free deep beds to plant them out in, and a finished polytunnel for the tomatoes, peppers and squashes...

We'll get there...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

An Unsettled Week

The last week has been an odd mixture of satisfying, energy-filled days, and listless days where it feels like nothing is achieved. The weather has been changeable for a start, which hasn't helped, and our focus has become somewhat fragmented. Or at least, mine has!

On Saturday, Phil and I enjoyed being here on our own (my parents were out for the day) and it felt good to be pottering around on our own little projects. It was "a day off" really, and I was really pleased to finally get around to making these ultra-simple cards (just a bit of cutting and pasting!) which have been sitting around for at least two or three years:

Phil couldn't understand why I would bother, but I think that some of the designs from tea boxes are just too beautiful to throw away. There's something sort of retro about them, like those old enamel advertising signs you see in some tea rooms and pubs.

I made a really tasty, "last minute" cous cous dish for lunch which I recently discovered on the back of a pack of sultanas (!?) and which has quickly become a staple.

Crazy Jack's "Last Minute" Couscous (Serves 4)

1. Using a vegetable stock cube, make 400ml of hot stock and pour over 200g of couscous in a large bowl. Add a knob of butter, cover and leave for 5-7 mins.

2. Meanwhile, chop and dice one tomato, one onion, one carrot, a chunk of cucumber and a red pepper. Mix together in a bowl with a sprinkle of sultanas.

3. Blend the juice of half a lemon with 2 tablespoons of good olive oil and a pinch of salt. Using a fork, stir into the couscous. You could add a crushed garlic clove at the same time.

4. Stir vegetables into the couscous.

5. It's ready but, if you have any fresh herbs - mint, basil, or coriander, chop up a really good handful and mix it in.

I have been using whatever vegetables I can find in the fridge, but olives are particularly good in this recipe. Crazy Jack forgot about them.

After the vegetable garden's recent rabbit invasion we have been especially careful to protect the young plants from nibbling teeth. We have had to be inventive! Here you can see some of our makeshift cloches - it's very Blue Peter, but it seems to do the job - not only do these bottles and the corrugated plastic tunnel protect the seedlings from hungry visitors, but they also create a comfortable microclimate which will help the plants to grow. There's some spinach in the tunnel, and individual lettuces in the bottles.

And finally, Squiggles has been growing exponentially, so the point where my tummy has been filling ready to burst. It feels a little less tight today, so I'm wondering if it was Braxton Hicks contractions I was feeling for the last few days? I keep calling them Brixton Hacks, which is very wrong... This isn't a great picture, and I look like I'm wearing a sack, but it's all I have right now!