Where there’s Muck

Years of following a haphazard compost cycling routine has resulted in two full heaps of uncomposted matter.

20140511-133055.jpgI was always supposed to fill one side of my pallet compost system, before flipping it all over into the other side and starting the process again. This disciplined rotation would result in an annual harvest of beautiful, crumbly, loamy compost but somewhere along the line I got confused (or lazy) and chucked my kitchen waste into alternate sides.

Faced with nowhere else to tip my waste I had to face my rubbish mounds head on.

There followed a morning of complex muck juggling. Trying to balance piles of manky brassica stems and steaming grass sods until I could unearth some good stuff from the bottom of pile number 1.

I was rather pleased with what I uncovered. There was indeed some real composted stuff at the bottom of the heap and it was ready to be transferred to the squash bed.

With the first forkful I released a remarkably shiny silver teaspoon but the second fork filled me with joy.

20140511-125356.jpgThe removal of the second forkful revealed my long lost Messermeister Vegetable Peeler.

You may not have heard of the Messermeister peeler. For some unfathomable reason they are unavailable in the UK. I had to acquire mine from the US. They are by far and away the worlds best peeler. I brought this one rather tentatively into my new relationship. It’s the sort of gadget you can’t risk losing and I was sorely tempted to create a pre-nuptial agreement to ensure that the peeler came with me in the unfortunate instance of a relationship catastrophe.

This particular peeler went AWOL about two years ago but now has returned and I am so happy.

20140511-125409.jpgThe handle appears a little worse for wear. The soft outer coating appears to have decomposed rather successfully but the blade is as sharp as ever. A little TLC and this peeler can reclaim its spot in the kitchen drawer ready to see us through our dotage.

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Hitting the Water Table

We made a flying visit to the plot this morning to deposit the kitchen compost and to rescue the last few Brussels.

Compost has become a bit of a cottage industry at our house. I have a production line that starts by the kettle with a little repository for tea bags, moves down to the lovely silver caddy on the kitchen floor and then out into the back garden where it can go one of 3 ways.

In the garden we have a large galvanised dustbin, two bokashi buckets and a multi-tiered wormery. I haven’t quite worked out the optimum route for all our waste but the initial plan was to send everything to the bokashi buckets for high speed Japanese fermenting and then on to the wormery for compost production.

I hoped the worms would produce enough soil for me to replace the bank that has slipped into the neighbours garden but they only seem to devour at the rate of 1 lettuce leaf per week.

That’s where the galvanised bin comes in handy and in truth I may as well be bypassing the bokashi and the wormery and ditching all our waste into it.

Anyhoo, we waddled on to the plot with bin and bokashi buckets in hand and I decided to dig trenches to tip it all in. That way I could plant my summer squash into a moisture retaining environment and hopefully grow championship worthy whoppers.

It’s hard to imagine that the soil would need assistance with water retention. I hit the water table at one spades depth and found myself stuck, steadfast in a squelchy clay puddle.

We considered ourselves lucky though as our neighbours on the opposite side of the plot have had to return their usual seed order and panic purchase rice.


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Port and Sloe Gin Production

Most of the sloes had gone by the time we got our foraging heads on. We had to endure multiple blackthorn puncture wounds in order to get deep enough into the hedgerow to secure some berries that the birds had missed.

I still bear the scars from that day and the experience has left me wanting to squeeze the very marrow from my hard won sloes.

20131222-163812.jpgThey initially went into bottles for the traditional sloe gin but now two months later I am decanting the gin and don’t feel the sloes have reached the end of their useful lives.

Thankfully Permaculture magazine has provided me with the perfect recipe for semi-sozzled sloes. Sloe Port.

I bundled an approximate dollop of sugar and healthy slug of cognac into the drained bottle of gin soaked sloes and topped up with a bottle of bargain basement merlot. In a couple of months I should be rewarded with a very interesting bottle of port.

Either that or a bottle of pink salad vinegar.

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The Importance of Labels

Salmon and Rhubarb JamWe ran out of tartare sauce today.

I don’t know what you are supposed to do in that situation. If I run out of lager I’ll substitute a bottle of Merlot but I don’t have a ready made substitute for tartare sauce.

With salmon on the plate, I had to think on my feet and I went down the chutney route.

I raided the fridge where all the unlabelled, half-eaten jars reside.

I polished off the last remnants of the best beetroot relish ever! And then experimented with the unknown – the small gifted jars that either came from my family or the in-laws. The distinction is important. Lynn’s family do jams. Mine do sour chutneys and marmalade.

Neither family do labels though.

In the end I “enjoyed” salmon with rhubarb jam.

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Cavalo Nero Kale Crisps

This is the first year of growing Kale.┬áIt’s taken me about 40 years to acquire the taste but I’ve now found the recipe that boosts this brassica into top spot – Cavalo Nero crisps.

I force fed the vegetable loathing teenager a crisp, hoping to recreate the last force feeding photo opportunity, but it totally backfired. She actually loved my crisps and now I have to share them!

Here’s the recipe:

  • Chop leaves into 1 inch strips
  • Cut out the vein out as it helps the leaves dehydrate without burning
  • Toss with olive oil and a bit of sea salt
  • Lay out on the microwave plate and cook for 3-4 mins

Cavolo Nero Kale Crisp Recipe

Kale crips

I opened the microwave after 2 mins to let some of the steam evaporate but its a fairly forgiving process – the leaves dry out well without much fuss.

They crisp up amazingly well and store for an age in a tupperware box. Not that I’ll need to keep them for long, my current problem is trying to keep them away from the teenager.

I’ll be planting an extra row of Kale next year.

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A Room of One’s Own

20121103-203537.jpgI’ve always considered the allotment shed to be a home from home but the recent crop failings and resultant low morale has led it to be more of an irregular holiday home and our lack of attentiveness became apparent today.

Opening the shed I discovered my boots had been used as a rubbish receptacle, I tried blaming Lynn but further inspection revealed the worrying signs that squatters had moved in – the Rich Tea biscuits had been half inched, the coffee whitener nibbled and a row of unappealing black deposits lined up on the supplies shelf.

It appears that a mouse has declared my boot a room of his own.

20121103-203626.jpgI’m quite impressed with his interior design. A veritable cornucopia was packed deep into the toe recess, including two real ale bottle tops and a large handful of plum stones.

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In Search of New Hobbies

I feel like I have this entirely unsatisfactory hobby where I spend hours each weekend, weeding and tilling and planting, just in order for an army of soft, squishy critters to gorge themselves silly on our lush organic produce.

Next year I may try out a new hobby of browsing the veg aisles in the local Lidl so that I too, can gorge on some vegetables.

Broad beans have been the only success this year, in fact they were so successful that I can barely close the freeze door without bursting an over stuffed sack of beans.

20120721-175743.jpgEverything else?

Absolutely everything else is a complete flop.

Here’s the pitiful reward for digging an entire row of spuds in heavy and claggy clay.

The second row was no better, in fact I unearthed more slugs than potatoes.

The runner beans are nothing short of an embarrassment.

20120721-175756.jpgThe mountain goat species of snail has been up and down each wigwam, decimating each and every plant.

I’ve jumped from foot to foot squishing them in a furious war dance, done to the tune of much swearing but I am still a little unimpressed with this gardening hobby.

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The Air was Blue

There were some ripe utterances on the plot this morning and for a change it wasn’t me doing the cursing.

One of my latest crazes is woodworking but beyond whittling a wooden spoon and purchasing assorted hand tools I haven’t really progressed the hobby much further. I’ve sharpened one of many vintage chisels and have hacked at a sticking door frame with a blunt Stanley plane but it has hardly been an intense or successful apprenticeship.

So when we arrived on the plot and it became clear that true joinery skills would be required, I skulked off to deal with the tricky weeding and left Lynn to handle the construction tasks.

Cue much swearing….

I’d requested a second compost bin for the plot so that we can turn the contents of the bins from time to time and speed up the decomposition. Having spent a week scouring the neighbourhood for discarded pallets we had acquired enough to start the build.

The pallets were pretty much indestructible and Lynn wielded that hammer for a good hour before the blocks would loosen sufficiently to be able to fashion a sliding door for the front of the bin. I busied myself with the camera and tried to stay out of reach of the swing.

Looking back at the photos now its hard to see quite what my contribution to the day was, it even appears that Lynn completed the transfer of the compost between bins despite the very real threat of vermin attack. I can confirm that I did dig one bean trench and made a cup of tea. I would have made a bacon butty for the worker too but I’d managed to bring slightly past its best bacon and thought it best not to poison her.

We left the plot satisfied but a little hungry.

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