Sunday, 5 October 2014

Why Quinoa's going to be a mainstay on my allotment

It's the second year I've been experimenting with growing Quinoa.

Last year's green house quinoa
Last year, I grew it at Winterbourne Garden's, Urban Veg garden in the green house and a little bit outside.  To be fair it was planted out very late and the quinoa grown in the green house was better than those grown outside.

Previously, I thought it was heat that helped but after growing it again this year I think it might have been the rich compost in the green house versus the soil outside.

I didn't get a huge crop from last year's attempt, about a jam jar's worth.  I used some of these seeds to grow this year's crop and cooked with the rest.

This year, I've grown some of the quinoa in compost in tomato bags and the majority of the quinoa on my work allotment (about 10 metres away from where I grew it last year!)  They've grown OK in the compost tomato bags but they've grown amazingly well on the allotment - I'm so glad I planted the majority there!  They're well over a metre high and loads of grains on each plant.  It looks like my first proper bumper crop of quinoa.  I love store cupboard food growing in abundance!  They've grown much higher than they did in the green house.  The conditions on my allotment are a very nice loamy soil that I feed with compost each year and a sheltered sunny south facing spot.  Although we did have a great growing season in the UK this summer, I think it's the condition of the soil that has made them shoot up this year.

This year's allotment quinoa
I've started to crop the ones that have fallen over already - they're drying in our outbuilding, but I've yet to crop the majority that is still growing on the allotment plot.

And it's such a versatile thing to use in the kitchen.  You just store the dried seeds in a jar and use a few handfuls when you fancy.  What could be easier?  NB: Just before you use them you must thoroughly rinse them until you don't see soap suds as they contain saponins.  

You do need to get to grips with removing the seeds from the flower heads.  There's some really good instructions on  I work mine out of dried flower heads when I'm watching TV.

Earlier in the season I used some of the leaves in salad and they were delicious as a salad leaf with a few small oca leaves to create a flavour mixture.  They are a very close relation to fat hen, which also grows really easily in our gardens and especially on my allotment - so maybe if the fat hen's found my plot maybe I just have all the right conditions for growing quinoa and I should just not over analyse it!

If you've been inspired to try growing quinoa, my original seeds were Rainbow Quinoa from Real Seeds  I sowed the seeds in trays in early May.  As it was mild enough already, I kept these outside until they were ready to plant in early June.

Are you growing quinoa?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A visit to the Handmade Fair, Hampton Court

Last weekend I took the long trip to Hampton Court for the Handmade Fair, well it's not that far from Birmingham when you stop in Earlsfield en route!

I went a long with my friend Miranda and started our day at the Super Theatre with a Mollie Makes Mashup between Benjamin Wilson and Sew Over It's Lisa Comfort  A really entertaining start to the day.  Benjamin was making a tie dye slashed tshirt and Lisa was making a dress - both had to make their garments in 45 minutes - no pressure!

We then had a little walk around for 30 minutes and then learnt to make pompoms with the new pompom making contraption (I now want several in different sizes!) and contributed to the guinness book of records attempt for the longest line of pom poms.  Rosy Nicholas was also very entertaining, especially with her suggestions of what you can use pompoms for!

We had a really delicious lunch and took a little breather. The food on offer really was excellent - very impressed.  Had a little wander in the tents, bought tshirt yarn for my huge rug for our hallway and a Sew Over It 50s dress pattern and then watched a pompom making demo on a contraption that looked very similar to a bendy wire hanger - looked a bit advanced for me - I'm still wanting the plastic contraption with the arms we saw in the pom pom making tent.

We kept walking past lots of people I recognised from Mollie Makes Magazine - the Tea and Chat bit.

The afternoon session was our skill workshop - Upcycling furniture.  Jay from Out of the dark was our expert.  He taught us how to paint furniture to a high quality and gave us a step by step guide.  He not only taught us to paint but gave us great advice on how to do it as economically as possible.  I was so inspired by the session that I'm going to upcycle a boring white ikea wardrobe we have in our bedroom.  I will paint it (with my hubby's help) with a wallpaper print on the front of the doors and front of the drawers.  The wall paper is already on order, I just need to go shopping for paint and I think it will be a bright turquoise.

I had a great day at the Handmade Fair.  I came away brimming with ideas.  I loved the workshops.
 I've been to craft shows before but usually they are a mass of stands with some experts doing talks, but this was really hands on.  Everyone who attended had to have a go at trying something.  Brilliant idea!  The only thing that we were missing - it would have been great to have experts we could go up to with questions as we had a dress pattern problem and didn't find anyone to talk to.  Maybe it was there - we just didn't know where to find it with so many things going on.

This really was a great day out, hugely inspiring, really positive vibe, workshops were fantastic - looking forward to next year's fair!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Summer Time Crafting

Often in the summer months, crochet, sewing and other craft projects take a back seat until the cooler darker evenings draw in but this summer the projects have been rolling on.  It's what I do when we're watching TV in the evening (I try and stop myself from doing them in the day or I wouldn't get anything done!)

I must admit with all the lovely weather we've had this summer that the allotment plot did get plenty of attention and I've got some cracking crops to show for it, especially the 1.2kg Ram's Kodu Squash.  But I'm sure lots about them will feature in a gardening post.  

The biggest project I have on the go right now is a crochet rug being made out of T-shirt yarn and a 10mm hook.  I'm spending a fortune on eBay for the yarn - I think it'll be about £100 in materials by the time I finish but it will be the cosiest rug we've ever had when I finish and I'm not far from the finish line.  Hubby will be happy as he wanted me to make it for a more draft proof hall this winter.  It's been a long project and I've found the best place to crochet it is on the bed as it's so big, bulky and heavy now.  It is 64 stitches wide and will be about 2 metres long when I finally finish.  As long as it's finished by October we'll all be very happy.  It's the first time I've tackled Tshirt yarn as a material - you need muscles for it and there's a fair bit of yanking involved!   My other big project is the crochet mood blanket.  If you're into your crochet and have an Instagram account, chances are you will be taking part in or will have heard about the crochet mood blanket.  The idea is to make one granny square a day for your blanket and by the end of the year you will have a crochet mood blanket.  Some people crochet a colour depending on their mood - I started to do that but quickly gravitated to crochet the colour I was most drawn to and which went with the other colours nearby the best.  

I visited a lot of friends London way over the summer so train journeys were fantastic to catch up on my mood blanket squares.  I'm mostly behind (I'm currently a week behind on schedule) but it's a lovely project and my bedroom will be so full of bright colours when I finish.  
It started making me thinking what other things I can make with lots of granny squares. Our household may start filling with brightly coloured cushions in the same style as the crochet mood blanket.
In between all the crafting and gardening, we managed to squeeze in an 8 day trip to France to visit my 91 year old grandmother.  She was very chuffed and found it curious that I wanted to see pictures of my great grandfathers.  My curiosity was sparked with all the talk of the first world war and I wanted to know what my great grandfathers that fought in the war looked like as we never get to meet that generation.                                  As we were passing through villages in France there were a few that were decorated for village festivals.  I will definitely take some inspirations from these.  They look like they were made with paper tissues.

There was a wedding over the summer and one of my colleagues got married.  I just didn't know what to make as a wedding gift. Pinterest came to my rescue, I googled lots of coaster images until I stumbled onto some pictures which inspired me to make these.  I think the picture that inspired me was from  If you like making flowers these are easy to make. It's all based on trebles and experiment until you find the right amount for the row and the space.  So for example, the first row is trebles (I think about 20).  The second row is two trebles a chain or two chains space (depending on what yarn you are using).  The next row is 3 trebles and a chain or two space and the fourth row - I experimented a bit to get the flower effect with half treble, treble, double treble, treble, half treble.  There is a slip stitch in between petals.  


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Plot inspired dinners

Yesterday I had quite a haul from the allotment.  A large Ram's Kodu Squash, a golf ball sized turnip and about 100g kale. I was so proud of my allotment's contribution, I showed my hubbie what I'd grown and brought home for our dinner.

So last night's supper was chopped up fried sausage, chopped squash, onions, tomatoes fried together for about 20 minutes.  I added kale cut into small strips in the last 5 minutes.  I also added some left over tomato salad dressing as the sauce and some chillie flakes (from home grown chillies that I grow on our bathroom windowsill) and just before serving I add turnip peelings - as an alternative to pasta.  I just stirred through so it soaked up the sauce for about 30 seconds and then served.

Turnip peelings sounds like a waste product but it really isn't.  It's one of the most yummy things you can do with turnip!  First peel away the top layer of your turnip in the usual way and disgard this bit (I feed this bit to my rabbits).  Once it looks all white carry on peeling your turnip but save these peelings to eat yourself.  It's great in salads or in the fried veg dish I cooked last night.

Today, Sam and I went back to the allotment at lunch time.  I got a bit of childish excitement wondering what I'll be going home with today.  I'm a bit short on veg this week as we haven't bought veg for the last few weeks due to lack of planning with our shopping.  So today's haul has been enough salad potatoes to make a potato salad - I'll make home made mayo to go with this.  Also, as I cut back the rat tail radish bush an envelope's worth of rat tail radish for tonight's salad.

I've noticed I'm starting to plan what I'll cook next based on what I'm likely to be able to raid from the allotment and the home veg patch!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Seed sowing in July/August

Last week, I took a day off work to clear the soil on the new side of the plot.  I had some help from a great friend who dilligently sieved the soil.  It is now perfect to sow some seeds. 

Whilst at Hampton Court Flower Show a few weeks back Alys Fowler's advice was that now is the time to grow oriental veg.  So I went through all my seeds looking for the orientals and anything that can be sown now for Sam (my new fellow allotmenteer) to grow.

I gave her a full assortment of everything we could possibly sow right now in my possession. 

Here's a picture of the full selection she chose: turnips, white radish, rocket, beetroot, salad leaves (now that we've passed mid summer the hope is that these will not bolt) and mizuna.  I think we're pushing the sowing window for turnips and beetroot but we'll see. You never know - autum might be mild.  I would also like to get some kohl Rabi and some Kai Laan in the ground before it's too late - I love the sweets stalks of Kai Laan!

When I sow seeds on the plot I also do a second sowing at home in modules just in case the pests eat the emerging seedlings.  On the plot the battle is with slugs, lots of birds, mice, squirrels.  Some allotmenteers have had what looks like badgers dig up their potatoes.  I always garden organically and I've often found when sowing seeds I often don't see them emerge so now I sow things in modules at home, make sure that the main stem is sturdy and then plant on site. 

On the new section, I've also been populating it with seedlings I had ready for growing: leeks, quinoa, chard and orache.  I've also moved some globe artichokes to the plot as once they are established this will be a much better site for them than my cooler home garden.

From my side of the plot we have quite a few things cropping: last of the broadbeans, chard by the bucket load (Fiona, these are the seeds you gave me for Christmas - thank you!), kale and radish pods.

The sweetcorn and squash plants are growing well so a bit more comfrey feed and I think we'll be eating summer squashes soon. Although a pest does like chopping the sweetcorn down so we may not get to eat corn on the cob, but we'll see.  

Please, any suggestions you have with dealing with the pests organically would be very much appreciated.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My visit to RHS Hampton Court Show

Last Sunday I trekked down to London for the RHS Hampton Court Show.

It was really interesting to see the variety of gardens on display this year. There was a clear theme of meadow gardens. Perhaps that's the brief the RHS set for the competitors. The garden that had this most down to a tee for me was the Jordan's garden which not only featured the meadow flowers mixed with tall grass in seed but also the grains that go into their boxes of cereals. This is a great message and something that is brilliant to educate children/adults with - just after the garden display there were complementary pots of cereal with a dollop of yoghurt - not only beautiful but educational too. See your food growing then eating it!

Other gardens I really liked was The Flintknappers Cottage - A story of Thetford.  It featured flint and products from the area such as hops and other useful plants.

For me, my top favourite garden was this one, pictured here with the recycled metal drums used as plant containers and metal artwork.  There were productive plants like nasturtiums and beans to name but a few.  There was a guy playing a guitar (I think there were several guys who had guitar shifts!).  The garden was called A Space to Connect and Grow.

After the show, you couldn't buy the plants from this space as they were going to dismantal it and set it up in Peterborough at a youth group (by the cathedral I believe if you ever want to track it down).

It wasn't just the edibles in the display that I loved but the thing that was so brilliant for me was the use of the recycled rusty old oil drums with a new life as a plant container.   Brilliant!

This year I didn't find so many gardens that combined veg, herbs, edible ornamentals and pretty ornamentals.  These are my favourites - I love productive gardens. So I was disappointed not to see these.  I would have also liked to see garden displays that would be achievable in a city garden making good use of space with edibles and ornamentals mixed through.  Something I hope they touch on in future years is the use of recycling water such as combining water catchment with clever designs and maybe renewable energy.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Teddy Bear Garland

I made these for my newest niece (just a few months old) but I think my 2 year old niece liked them the most!

Baby Brogues

Here's the latest gift I learnt to make, these were for a colleague who is expecting twin girls.  I've made a few since.  Everyone seems to be having babies!

The Work Allotment has just got BIGGER!

For the last year, I've been sharing half a plot with a neighbour who shall we say last summer was a fair weather gardener.

When I first took on the plot, I would have preferred a whole one but the soil was so rich and it was a very sheltered sun trap that I thought half an exceedingly good plot was better than a whole really bad plot.  I had to remove the weeds which was a lot of hard work, but now I have a really lovely half plot where I am trying to grow the 3 sisters combo of sweet corn, french beans and squash.  I also have strawberries, rat tail radishes (for radish pods), broad beans, abundant chard and kale.  It's all going great but whilst I've been doing all that hard work on my side, my neighbour hasn't been to tend their side since last summer.

I was biding my time till there was no more work to do and then I was going to ask if she was ever coming back and if I could take it over.

This week a colleague needed a break from the office and asked if she could come along with me to my allotment for lunch break.  She loved the allotments so much that she was really enthused and wanted to grow veg, but she hasn't grown it before.

That gave me the push to actually find out if the neighbour was coming back and the good news is she'd abandoned it.  I just wish I'd asked the question sooner!  My colleague will garden my plot with me and I'll share all my growing knowledge with her as we work the plot.  It'll bring back my Master Gardener days with Garden Organic, when I was a South London Master Gardener.

So far I've lent her my veg patch book with post it notes on all the pages of veg we can plant in September.  We've still got half a plot of weeds to dig out but I'm sure it'll be easier this time sharing the hard work.