I love Middle Eastern food in all shapes and forms. Nothing satisfies me more than tucking into a mezze platter of falafels, domla (or dolmades), homous, olives and pita bread served up on a bed of salad leaves with perhaps a salsa dipping sauce on the side.
However, nearly all the ingredients have to be flown in from half way across the world as none of them are really suited to grow in the UK’s climate.
I’ve been experimenting with wild food for sometime now, coming up with different dishes using food I’d picked just a stones throw from my home. However I only put two and two together recently and realised I’d actually made all the food on a mezze platter using UK ingredients. The only thing I’m yet to try is the ‘olives’ made from unripe sloes and it’s too late this year to find unripe ones. I have however made a very acceptable caper from nasturtium buds, and I hear you can do the same with daisy buds (Bellis perennis)
So lets begin with the substitutions before I go into the recipes.
Dock Dolmades or Dolma
Serve it all with pita bread and seasonal leaves (i.e. chickweed, wintercress, sorrel in the autumn/winter)
They’ll take over your garden
They’ll grow like the wind
Plant them just once
And they’ll grow again and again
Old English Rhyme – written by Dave Hamilton Sept 2008
Nasturtiums are often over looked as a food source but in a bad year on an allotment they can really come into their own. The flowers and leaves can be used in salads the buds can be blanched then pickled in vinegar for use as capers and as I’ve found the leaves can make quite a tasty pesto.
140g Nasturtium leaves – blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed in cold water
7 tablespoons of Olive oil
3 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
25-50g- Parmesan (optional)
2-4 cloves of garlic (depending on taste)
In a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar grind the toasted pine nuts and garlic
Place the resulting mixture in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients and mix!
Put it in a sterilized jar or use it straight away on pasta etc. I have experimented with this by not blanching the leaves and it means it’s slightly harder to mix but still makes a perfectly acceptable pesto.
Regardless if you believe in climate change or not you cannot deny our weather is becoming more unpredictable. In the past we could rely on steady spring showers watering all our newly planted seedlings. Nowadays the spring can be one of the driest months of the year and without vigilant watering newly planted crops can suffer. For the busy (or even the lazy) gardener this is a real bind as they may have to make special trips to an allotment site far from home or spend time watering when they have other things to do.
This problem is not a new one, the first recorded garden, the famous ‘Hanging Garden’ in Babylon, had to have a complex irrigation system to water plants on continued terraces.
Thankfully, gardeners and allotment keepers need not install a complex ancient irrigation system as there are much simpler alternatives.
Starting with one of the most expensive, yet effective systems, those with a bit of cash behind them could install a ‘leak pipe’ system. The leaky pipe system is the most common method of irrigation used large scale greenhouse and polytunnel growers. Some garden centres and field growers use the same system and scaled down versions are available for the home grower.
The leaky pipe consists of a hose pipe running the length of a bed, the pipe is attached to a regulator and a measured amount of water will ‘leak’ out of holes along the length of the pipe. This method is great for those on a water meter as it delivers the water right where they need it, minimising losses from evaporation.
I’ve used these in a polytunnel and found them to be very effective for salad growing. They are easy to put in place and you can sow or plant at the same spacing as the holes which deliver the water.
You can shop around for these and like anything else you usually get what you pay for. I have come across second hand systems for sale as sadly during these times many growers are going out of business and selling off cheaply all kinds of things they would have spent and are and a leg on. Look on ebay and in the local newspaper for auctioned off systems – you may just pick up a bargain.
Homemade leaky pipe
A similar system can be rigged up at home at a fraction of the cost of a true leaky pipe system. It consists of a length of PVC pipe with holes made at the same spacing as the plants you wish to sow or plant. The pipe is laid on a bed alongside the crop – a hose is then attached to one end and the other end is either blocked or it is attached to another length of hose which then in turn is attached to another PVC ‘leaky pipe. If enough of them are attached together then a whole garden can be irrigated this way. When you need to water the garden the tap is simply turned on, the garden is watered and the tap is turned on again. Even simpler methods can be made by placing a hose pipe where it is needed and cutting holes in the pipe – the down side to this method is it will permanently damage a hose and it is more inclined to be knocked and disturbed than a fixed PVC pipe.
In the hose or PVC pipe method effectively you act as the regulator of water but again as the water is being delivered where it is needed your water bill should be reduced.
Similar systems can be rigged up to work on waterbutts rather than mains water. These tend to only work if there is enough water pressure present.
Wicking beds are very well known in Australia, especially in permaculture circles. Their theory is very simple – plants tend to ‘wick up’ water through their roots so, having a water source from underneath will theoretically be more effective than watering from the top down.
A wicking bed will have just such a reservoir of water for a plant to draw on which should minimise the watering time for the gardener.
It is no surprise it was Australians who adopted the wicking beds system it is thought to be most useful in warm dry conditions. In the UK we have high rainfall across most of the country so wicking beds would might not be necessary on a large scale outdoors but small beds may well be worth experimenting with.
This method of irrigation holds the most promise for container growers and those growing under protection (such as greenhouses or polytunnels) as plants can all too easily dry out in these conditions.
The ‘reservoir’ consists of a agricultural (porous) piping or similar improvised homemade pipe covered with absorbent material such as coir or compost. This sits at the bottom of a bed or container and plants are sown into soil or compost above.
A step by step guide is as follows -
Step by step
Plastic bottle irrigation
When I first saw plastic bottle irrigation on an allotment site it confused the hell out of me. There in the middle of a bed on someone’s plot was a half submerged plastic bottle – at first I thought it was some kind of slug trap. After much head scratching an equally confused allotment neighbour said to me, ‘She pours water into to’ and added, ‘she’s got loads of them’. The plot holder emerged before the end of the day and filled us both in to the theory behind the plastic bottle irrigation system.
They are an adaptation of much early method using an unglazed clay pot. The theory is a submerged vessel is filled and will gradually leak water into its surroundings.
As unglazed clay pots are quite hard to come by outside of rural Africa the next best thing is to use a plastic bottle. The plastic bottle turned upside down with the base (or top as it is upside down!) cut off and holes pierced in the lid. The whole thing should resemble a semi submerged funnel. Plants are planted or seeds are sown in a circle surrounding the semi-submerged bottle and the bottle/funnel is filled with water.
This directs the water where it needs to be and prevents plants getting a big soaking at once.
Plantings around the plastic bottle can include a ring of smaller plants such as salad leaves and radishes or you can put single ones in place for larger plants such as tomatoes.
Plastic bottle irrigation systems may be suitable for container growing and might help regulate watering if you need to go away for a long weekend.
Plant pot irrigation
An adaptation of this method involves semi-submerging a flower pot half filled with gravel or vermiculite. Seedlings are sown around the pot in the same way and the gravel or vermiculite gradually releases the water to the thirsty roots of your crops.
When irrigation is not needed
If we continue to have summers similar to those we have been having in the last few years there will be little need for any of these irrigation systems in outdoor beds. However, during the lead up to summer dry conditions have prevailed in the UK in recent years and if this is set to continue, an irrigation system of some kind will be paramount to ensuring a good harvest. Like most growers this year I will pray for rain but pray most of it comes at night!
Here’s another very old article I’ve decided to resurrect, some of the links go to the old website and may look a little dated now!
The garden in May can be a busy time for the organic grower. A word of warning do think before you plant out those tender vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers; there is still the threat that it will get cold especially in Northern regions. If you do happen to get caught out, water you plants with ice cold water at first light. This might just save them!
Bread can often go stale before you get a chance to eat it all. If you see patches of mould growing on the surface it is a good sign that the bread is no-longer edible and should be thrown away or composted. If on the other hand it is just gone hard it is still perfectly edible and there are many things you can do with it. I have found in some houses the crusts of the bread are ignored as food and left to go off in the bread bag. To avoid wasting this it can be frozen and used at a later date as any of the following -
On of the easiest things you can make are croutons. Simply cut the bread into squares anywhere between 1-3cm big. Place the bread squares in a frying pan with a little oil, a clove of garlic (finely chopped) and fry on both sides until crispy. Serve on the top of soup.
Bread Crumb Topping
If you have a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar break up a slice of bread into a few pieces and grind it up for a few seconds (longer for the pestle and mortar). You can then use the breadcrumbs on top of gratins, savoury crumbles, in burger mixes and in stuffing mixes for both meat and vegetable dishes.
Bread pudding is a really simple way of using up all your stale bread. It was a firm favourite when Andy and I were growing up, my mother would serve it to us warmed up with a bit of cold milk or custard – delicious!
Many thanks to our latest guest blogger Mandy Allen, aka Millymollymandy, one of the longest standing and most loyal selfsufficientish forum members. She lives the good life in over in Chateau Moorhen, France and is a prolific gardener, nature lover and blogger.
Pollinating insects such as bees, hoverflies and many other flying insects are absolutely essential to the reproduction of much plant life, to such an extent that if they disappeared then so would many types of fruit, vegetables, flowers and even some arable crops. For pollinating our fruit and vegetables which are not wind- or self-pollinated, it is predominantly bees which are our main allies so it’s these insects we need to encourage into our veg patches.
Bees are attracted to the nectar and pollen in flowers and gather pollen on their legs and bodies to feed to their offspring. Whilst flying between flowers of the same species drinking their nectar, pollen grains transfer from one flower to another as the bee moves around, allowing pollination to take place and the plant to reproduce by producing seed.
In an ideal world we would all have large gardens full of the kinds of flowers that attract the pollinators and the habitat that they require for survival. The reality is that many people who are interested in growing vegetables have neither the time, inclination nor space to grow flowering plants which attract these insects, or prefer to use all available space for vegetable growing.
So, one of the best ways to ensure that pollinators visit your allotment or garden rather than your neighbour’s is to allow a bit of space for flowering plants which are also useful to you. The plants I’m talking about are herbs, many of which are attractive plants in their own right, and which of course go hand-in-hand with vegetable growing, as the flavours will enhance those lovely dishes you will be preparing with the fruits of your labours!
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but just a few suggestions to provide nectar for as long a period as possible. These plants can all be grown in tubs if ground space is not available, and require minimal attention, mostly just needing a haircut after flowering to tidy them up. Some will even repeat flower.
Main flowering time around April/May, then repeat flowering afterwards, bees will be attracted by the flowers. Don’t put all those flowers in your new potato salad, leave a few for the pollinators!
Whilst the first two are undoubtedly among the top culinary herbs for all sorts of flavourings, sauces and pizzas, lavender can be used in many ways, from the traditional lavender bag to flavouring bread and biscuits with the dried flowers and perfuming home-made toiletries. All three are adored by bees, which are attracted to the thousands of tiny flowers produced on each plant; a bonus with the first two is that butterflies love their nectar too, and there can be nothing more relaxing than just sitting awhile beside a patch of these herbs listening to the buzz of the bees as they go about their business and watching pretty butterflies flitting about.
This is an annual with beautiful sky blue and pink flowers which is an absolute bee magnet. Although it can be quite a large, sprawling plant, the beauty is that it flowers for months on end and self-seeds easily. Due to the large size of the seedlings they are easy to hoe off, or you could leave another plant to grow to take the place of the original, and have two crops in the same year – effectively giving you flowers for about six months of the year as it can survive light frosts. The added benefit to you is that both the leaves and the flowers are edible, and the flowers look especially attractive decorating a salad or floating in a summer drink.
Now you may well be thinking of your annual courgette and runner bean gluts, and saying that you have never had a problem with a lack of pollinating insects before, and also muttering that the last thing you want to do is encourage cabbage white butterflies into your garden. Well, cabbage whites are going to find your brassicas whether you grow nectar-rich flowers or not, but bees and other pollinating insects need our help, because their numbers are declining due to the loss of food and habitat, use of pesticides and herbicides and, in the case of honey bees, disease and parasites. Every little thing we can do to aid and encourage them by offering them food for as many months of the year as possible will help them, as after all, they are a gardener’s best friend.
Growing in a small space means you not only have to decide carefully what you want to grow, you also need to make the most of it come harvest time. There are very simple choices you can make such as growing cut and come again lettuces rather than ones which are cropped in a single cut. Harvesting just a few leaves at a time will prevent the lettuce from bolting as it will take longer to receive enough energy to do so – giving you a lot more to eat than one single cut.
However some crops will also have dual uses, or parts of the plant you may not consider as food can be eaten rather than wasted. For example any vegetable scrap can be used in a stock pot for soups and stews, including leek tops, onion skins and the tough stalks and ribs of cabbages. I’ve put together some more uses of common plants, some of which you may have heard of and some you may not – if you have any more then please do leave a comment below.
Broad beans and Peas
Broccoli and Brussel sprout leaves, Turnip tops
The easiest way to cram a lot of plants into a small space is to grow them in pots on weather-proof shelves. Cheap(ish) plastic garden shelving can now be bought from major retailers. However, in my experience these are a false economy as they only have a limited life span – the plastic doesn’t seem to hold up to extremes in temperature and in time they become brittle and start to break. This is no doubt a ploy by the manufacturers to get us to invest in a new set when they start to deteriorate!
For a very similar price you can buy metal shelving units or if you are a regular visitor to a recycling centre/tip/dump, like me, you may come across metal shelving units for as little as £2 ($3 US, $3.40 AUS). The shelves should allow some air circulation and water to drip down from one tray to the next. Mine contain large perforations (a number of holes punched at regular intervals) but slated shelving should also do the trick. The shelves also need either tying in place and/or weighed down by placing heavy objects on the bottom shelf. Clay pots full of soil are sometimes adequate or if the bottom shelf is used for storing heavy items such as bags of potting compost.
Using UV stable plastic covering on your shelves is a perfect way to avoid seedling becoming etiolated (long and leggy) as they reach for the sun on a windowsill. I’ve found (again) the cheaper shelving units with plastic covering to have a short life span as the zips break and they tend to shrink. Finding scrap clear plastic from damaged poly-tunnels or again at recycling centres can be a cost effective way to cover your shelving.
As I don’t currently have a plastic covering for my shelving, I use them early in the season to harden off my seedlings slowly swapping them for pot grown summer crops in the warmer months (tomatoes, summer salads, herbs) and winter salads (rocket, mini iceberg lettuces, land-cress) later in the year.
If the shelves are south facing all the crops should get enough sunlight but it might be worth placing tall sun-loving plants on the top shelf (tomatoes, aubergines etc) and shade tolerant plants such as lettuce, parsley and salad greens lower down. You may find that lower plants do struggle a little but you can always move them up and down in much the same way you would a Sunday roast in the oven.
The different systems of crop rotation are as varied as the people who employ them. Some will have a four year plan and others will rotate every three years. Some will always start with potatoes and others will prefer to start with fertility building plants, such as edible legumes, usually peas and beans or green manure legumes, such as clover and vetches. Some examples of crop rotation schemes are as follows -
• Potatoes, brassicas, legumes, and roots
• Legumes; onions, carrots and tomatoes; and brassicas
• Heavy feeders, light feeders, and soil builders
• Roots, brassicas, and all other crops
• Fertility building (grass, clover, vetches), Brassicas, Legumes, Carrots and beets
• Big feeders (cucurbits, solanums), Legumes and alliums, Brassicas and salads, Root crops
All methods of crop rotation share a number of things in common – no crop is grown on the same piece of land year after year, crops are grouped into their plant families and quite often, smaller rooted crops follow larger rooted crops.
The different depths of root means the crops are obtaining nutrients from different layers – a healthy soil structure is also maintained by having shallow roots follow deep roots.
Not planting a member of the same plant family on the same piece of land year after year is for two main reasons. Firstly it ensures that pests and diseases don’t build up such as club root in Brassicas or carrot root fly in the carrot family. A pest specific to a plant family will find there is simply not enough to eat in the three years between its finding its favourite food.
Secondly each crop needs different balance of nutrients and in some cases, especially with the brassicas family, a different pH level. Rotating what goes into each bed and when necessary adding lime, manure or organic matter will ensure each crop gets the nutrition or pH it needs.
Nettle Haggis is perhaps one of the cheapest recipes I’ve ever made (especially if you leave out the bacon) and one of the first to feature on Self-Sufficientish back when the site started in 2004. It’s particularly good in the Spring with fresh new nettle along with a good handful of wild garlic leaves.
Mix all the ingredients together and pack into a muslin bag or clean tea towel and tie the ends. Boil for about an hour and serve with gravy. This recipe is adapted from Richard Mabey’s, ‘food for free’. I have cooked this without the bacon using a tea towel. The end result was slightly sloppy but after placing in the fridge overnight it became a lot more solid and was very tasty (before and after). If you’re going to omit the bacon you may want to add some butter or margarine, or even some fried aubergine .