Taking the pith!
You may have noticed that in the promotional photos for Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs I’m wearing a pith helmet. It’s actually the genuine article (made from real pith!) and makes a wonderfully efficient sun hat. Its brim shades your eyes, and the breathable materials keep your head nice and cool. It’s a bit ostentatious for the beach/ shopping however, and the light colour means it would quickly get grubby in the garden.
Fortunately, Dickies have come up with a more practical range of gardening clothes. Widely known for their work wear, Dickies have put their expertise into designing sturdy and hard-wearing clothes for gardeners, from boots and gloves through to trousers, shirts and fleeces.
The Mooreland Quilted Gilet is an a lightweight bodywarmer, 100% polyester with an easy-fasten press stud front. It’s a handy thing to have with you so you can pop it on when our changeable weather leaves you feeling a bit chilly.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, because I’ve teamed up with Dickies to give one of these bodywarmers away. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is leave a comment below, telling me what you like to wear when you’re gardening! Keep it clean, please, you don’t know who might be reading ;) (UK-based entrants only, please.)
The competition is now over, thank you for all of your comments! I have used a random number generator to pick the winner: Jessica Powell. Jessica, your prize will come directly from the promoter, so they should be in touch soon.
Posted in Blog on Jun 8, 2015 · ∞
Last modified on Jun 15, 2015
Colouring leaves are a joy in store for October
Despite the lovely weather, September is drawing to a close and we can expect a more autumnal feel to be around the corner. There’s still time to do your September planting if you’re going to be joining the Glutbusters this year – and there will be a new issue published on 1st October.
There’s also still time to enter Write Club 2014, but only just – entries close at the end of the month, and I will be picking our winners. So far we have three entries to choose from:
- Gardening with a disability
- Moving beyond potatoes for more calories in a small space
- Lavender and Oregano Salt: A recipe of Sorts
Don’t forget to vote for your favourite by using one of the social media buttons or leaving a comment – one lucky commenter will receive a copy of Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs!
And I’m working on the next chapter in our choose your own space blog adventure – you voted for finding out more about how ‘homegrown’ silkworm pupae can be added to astronaut’s diets!
What’s on your agenda for the last days of September?
Posted in Blog on Sep 26, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Sep 29, 2014
Today’s Write Club 2014 entry is a recipe from Beth Tilston of the seed blog. You can also find her on Twitter.
You can vote for this post by using the social media buttons in the sidebar to like it, and by leaving a comment.
The other day I noticed that the pots of herbs which sit outside our back door were giving me clear signs that they were about to give up the ghost for the year – and the lavender, which a month ago was humming with bees, was now beeless and gone to seed. Time for the final, and biggest, herb harvest of the year. I cut them all back and put them on trays on a high shelf to dry out, ready for use in the winter.
With some of the herbs, oregano and lavender, I made what has become known in our house as ‘special salt.’ Now I’ll admit that the idea of herbed salts might seem a first to be a little, well, unnecessary. After all, what is wrong with straight up, common or garden normal salt? Isn’t lavender and oregano salt a little bit aspirational? A little bit… Pinterest? It may very well be, but the fact of the matter is that this salt is magic. By magic I mean it takes food from, “These potatoes are nice, Beth” to “Wow, these potatoes are amazing! Wait, is that… lavender?”
3 teaspoons dried lavender
9 teaspoons dried oregano
9 teaspoons peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
250g quality salt
The process of making ‘special salt’ is so easy it can barely be called a recipe. First, cut your herbs a few days (or more) in advance and let them dry out in your preferred manner. I had good results with just putting them on some paper on a tray. Next, put all of the ingredients except for the salt in your pestle and mortar (actually, put them in your mortar, the pestle is the club bit – thanks Wikipedia!) and grind until the peppercorns and coriander are broken up and the oregano is in small flakes. Because of the lavender, your kitchen should be smelling like a perfumiers by this point. You must be ready to remove any scoffers and naysayers from the vicinity – they’ll change their minds. Now add your salt and mix it all together. If the salt is in particularly big chunks, you might need to grind the whole concoction a bit more. Spoon into a receptacle with a lid and allow to infuse for a week. I’ve never done that because I am weak-willed and can’t stop myself from using it, but you might do better…
Posted in Blog on Sep 22, 2014 · ∞
Tags: competitions & food.
Jeannette Bedard is our next Write Club 2014 contestant, with her guest post on productive potatoes. Jeannette blogs at tangent ramblings.
You can vote for this post by using the social media buttons in the sidebar to like it, and by leaving a comment.
At times, usually when I supposed to be doing something else because I’m a grad student and procrastination of some form seems to be part of the gig, I find myself planning what plants I would include in an imaginary biodome on a inhospitable planet many astronomical units away. Imaginary biodomes are one of my favourite thought exercises – to me it is the perfect fusion of my love of space exploration and my attempts to grow as much as my own food as I can in my small backyard.
Purple potatoes blooming
Right now, one of my food-growing issues is producing enough calories to feed my family of three. I have no problem growing plenty of nutritious food to eat year round, but this food is generally low in calories. I understand that the most calorie-dense food one can grow is the potato. Fortunately, I love potatoes, so I devoted an entire bed (of 6 beds) to them. On St. Patrick’s day I planted all my potatoes and by the beginning of August they were ready to dig up. I thought it was a great harvest (at least he best I’ve had so far), yet now in September it’s clear my potatoes will run out in October.
I have parsnips, salsify, carrots and beets on the go, all of which are more filling than kale (a staple here) but not enough to feed my family for long. I’m glad we live in an era where we aren’t at risk of starvation – the grocery store is only a short walk away. I’d just like to do better with my calorie production.
Since I’m already thinking about next year’s garden, producing more calories is at the forefront of my mind. This gives me an excuse to do more research on the enjoyable topic (for me) of biodomes for space exploration. From checking out what has been successful in biodomes, the following has made my list of calorie-dense foods to grow at my latitude:
Jerusalem artichokes – I’ve grown them in the past and they did well. Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan, not because they taste bad but because they don’t taste like potatoes. I’ve since found some new recipes, so they are worth trying again.
Dried beans – I grew bush beans for drying a few years ago and got a modest harvest for the space I committed. This time I’m going to try the vines. I’m generally quite successful at growing green beans (my hens feasted on green beans for weeks while I had a glut last summer an no time to pickle them). There seems to be a huge number of choices to experiment with. Has anyone tried lablab (hyacinth) beans?
Sweet potatoes and peanuts – I like both of these and I have a cunning plan to build a shelter for next summer which makes both of these a possibility at my latitude. I just have to figure out how to grow them.
Amaranth and quinoa – I read once that five square feet of wheat is required to make one loaf of bread, assuming I would need more than one loaf of bread this is more space than I can commit. But amaranth and quinoa appear to productive in a small amount of space so are worth a try (I don’t have any actual statistics to compare their productivity to wheat).
There are some food-stuffs have been used in these biodome experiments that I could grow/raise, but I doubt I could bring myself to eat. For example, in a recent biodome experiment conducted in China, they ate mealworms. My husband and I have successfully raised mealworms to feed our pets but I’d have to be in an apocolyptically dire situation to even think about feeding them to my family. Silk-worm pupa have also been suggested as a food source, which disgusts me just like the mealworms do.
Azolla growing in an aquarium
Azolla, an aquatic fern, is another potential food source. It has been used as animal feed for eons, is easy to grow and grows exponentially fast in shallow water. Eating it doesn’t gross me out like the bugs do, it just doesn’t seem appealing. I did recently acquire some azolla which is multiplying in my aquarium. My plan is to feed it to the hens as the recipes in the azolla cookbook I found were much less appealing than a walk to the grocery store.
Of course I’ll grow potatoes next year, probably giving them an entire bed. And after doing research on biodome space plants for m garden, I once again have a list of more things to grow than the space I have – plenty of fodder for another thought exercise.
Posted in Blog on Sep 19, 2014 · ∞
Tags: competitions & space.
Angela Moore kicks off Write Club 2014 with her guest post on gardening with a disability. Angela blogs at Garden, Tea, Cakes and Me and is on Twitter as @daisyangel1.
You can vote for this post by using the social media buttons in the sidebar to like it, and by leaving a comment.
I have scoliosis, which is no surprise if you are a regular reader of my blog Garden Tea Cakes and Me, I have written about it previously particularly to highlight Scoliosis Awareness Day. Scoliosis has recently featured in the media due to the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in a social services car park in Leicester, confirming that he had Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. I have a curved spine I also have a garden, but how do I manage gardening with my wonderfully curved spine.
I love gardening, the nurturing of an inert seed into life giving you something wonderfully green, colourful and scented or maybe a fruit or vegetable that supplies sustenance. But for me there is a certain acceptance of compromising in the garden – what I want to do and what I can do physically is not compatible. I cannot stand for long periods of time, I can only kneel for a very short period. I cannot raise both my arms above my head, not that it matters being only 4ft 6 inch tall means I cannot reach most things anyway. Fortunately for me there are no light bulbs that need changing in my garden, though it can be problematic picking fruit off trees or pruning shrubs.
That in it self has taken some time for me to accept, but there is still lots I can do in the garden. There are just a few rules I have follow: –
- Let someone else do the heavy work – that someone for me is my sister, who adores gardening and is more than happy to do the digging, reaching and lifting. My sister is the one with the ‘Under Gardener’ mug; mine of course reads ‘Head Gardener’.
- Knowing when to stop – not to keep going until the garden task is competed, stopping helps to prevent me from over doing things, difficult when I like things completed straight away. I regularly set an alarm on my phone to remind be to stop grab a cup of tea, sit and enjoy the garden for 15 minutes – something we should all do more often!
- Getting the right layout – I have some amazing raised beds not your average one plank of wood high mine are two foot high. This means no bending down on to my knees, minimum bending of my back, they make for much easier gardening, and more importantly high enough for my carrot crops to avoid carrot fly!
- Being Patient – I may not be as quick as some gardeners, but tasks do get completed I just have to allow a little extra time.
The greenhouse is the centre of my gardening world, it is here I get to enjoy what I love the most – sewing of seeds, potting on seedling and taking cutting. Apart from the everyday gardening tools in the greenhouse I also have, a footstool to reach the higher staging and a stool to sit on as I have said previously standing too long is my enemy. The failures the successes in the greenhouse all make up the challenge and enjoyment that is gardening. I may have never successfully grown Squash, my seedlings do not survive longer than a few weeks, but that does not mean I will stop trying. However my Agapanthus seeds I planted six years ago are now thriving and healthy Agapanthus plants, my tip I ignored them at the back of the greenhouse for nearly three years!
I feel I need to explain the photograph above as I do not normally dress so smartly for gardening. This photograph was taken when I had just popped out to pick some raspberries having returned home from an event where I met the Duke of Gloucester – ooh get me!
I am sure in the years to come I may have to make more adjustments to how I garden, but one thing for sure I will always enjoy it.
Posted in Blog on Sep 7, 2014 · ∞
September is fast approaching, and whilst I haven’t got a date for moving yet, there are big changes on the horizon. I’m getting a new home, and a garden, and the website is getting a revamp – more on that later, but I’m hoping that will be in October. The new design is clean, clear and very modern, and works very well on mobile devices. It will also be a lot simpler to navigate, for me as well as for you!
Whilst I’m otherwise engaged working my way through that lot, I thought we could re-run a successful event from 2011: Write Club. Write Club is my guest posting competition, and for the month of September I am opening up the blog to guest posters – anyone who feels they can write a post on a relevant topic is welcome to enter. (I am not going to edit your posts (which wouldn’t be fair), so I suggest you get your spelling and grammar in order before you send them :)
There are five rules:
- Blog posts have to be 1000 words or less. They can include photos if you own the rights to them and send them in a suitable format.
- Your topic has to be within the gardening/ environment/ sustainable living genre, but feel free to write about things I don’t normally cover, because that’s part of the point.
- Do not be rude. No swearing, no libel, no inflammatory comments. This is a friendly place, don’t upset people. It will be me that has to deal with the fallout.
- Carrying on from 3), I reserve the right to refuse to publish your submission. Hopefully if that happens we can work on an acceptable version together, but at the end of the day if we can’t then you don’t get to play.
- If you’re submitting a guest post to this blog then it has to be your own work, and it can’t have been featured anywhere else online before (Google frowns on duplicate content). DO NOT COPY other people’s work; I will be checking for plagiarism and pre-existing work before I accept your entry.
Write Club is as much about blog readers as guest posters, and it’s the public that will pick the winner! I will determine the most popular post, based on the number of comments, Facebook Likes, Tweets, and Google+ mentions it receives (based on the information displayed on the social media counters on each post).
The prize for the most popular post will be a £20 gift voucher for the gardening company of your choice (or the equivalent in your currency if you live outside the UK).
Every reader who leaves a comment on one of the guest posts during September will be entered into a draw to win a copy of Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. One comment per guest post per person will count as an entry into the draw.
As the voting system relies entirely on social media you can promote your own pieces to your heart’s content – which does leave the competition open to a bit of abuse, but I reserve the right to disqualify entries that resort to unfair tactics like tweet robots. Fortunately you can’t vote down other entries – a negative comment will count towards the final total in just the same way as a positive comment.
Whether you submit your piece at the beginning of September or towards the end is up to you – you may feel there’s an advantage in it being online longer, or that a sprint finish would suit you better. Your choice – I will be posting each entry in the order they are received, one a day unless I am absolutely inundated!
To enter: Email entries to email@example.com with the subject line “Write Club”. Submission of an entry does not guarantee publication on the blog. If you have any questions then ASK! You may find it helpful to read the entries from 2011, and/or the writing prompts I suggested back then.
Posted in Blog on Aug 28, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Sep 29, 2014
Thirty years ago, Ethiopia’s Antsokia Valley was known as the “Valley of Death”. 15-20 people died every day, in the midst of the worst famine the world has ever seen. Ethiopia was in the midst of a drought, and Antsokia was a wasteland.
Today, the picture is much brighter. World Vision’s relief work in the region turned into a long term development effort. They provided local farmers with seeds, tools and livestock. They planted more than 22 million seedlings, may of which were fruit plants. They brought bee hives, training and new infrastructure: flour mills, veterinary clinics, roads and irrigation channels.
Traditional Ethiopian crops including sorghum and teff now grow here once again, but they are mixed with novel crops that bring multiple harvests every year. Mangoes, papayas and oranges hang from the trees, and are joined by bananas, sugar cane, tomatoes and cabbages in the fields. More productive agricultural techniques, such as organic fertilising and crop rotation, mean that over 99% of the children here are now classed as ‘adequately nourished’ by World Health Organization standards. Life here may not be easy, but the people in the Antsokia Valley can live without the feat of hunger.
Elsewhere in Africa, the outlook isn’t as rosy. World Vision’s Grow Hope campaign is bringing orange maize seeds to vulnerable people in Zambia. Although maize (sweetcorn, Zea mays) is a staple food for over a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the varieties commonly grown are lacking micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), such as vitamin A, that are vital for health.
But maize is naturally high in genetic diversity, and varieties exist that are high in provitamin A (converted to vitamin A by the body when the maize is eaten). Conventional breeding has created Orange Maize – agricultural varieties that are naturally high in provitamin A.
A field of orange maize. Image credit: HarvestPlus Zambia Country Program
Look out for World Vision’s Grow Hope show gardens this summer – they’ll be at BBC Gardeners’ World Live from 12-15th June and RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show from 8-13th July. (If you’re lucky, you will already have seen their Chelsea show garden!)
And if you register for more information about the Grow Hope campaign, World Vision
will send you a free pack of Calendula (pot marigold) seeds and some freshly ground Ethiopian coffee as a thank you gift. And if you sign up via this special Grow Hope link, you’ll also be entered into a competition to win two tickets to the Hampton Court Flower Show!
Posted in Blog on Jun 10, 2014 · ∞
Last modified on Jun 10, 2014
Tags: competitions & ethnobotany.
September has come to a close, and with it the inaugural Write Club competition. I am sure you will all agree that the quality of entries was very high, and that every single guest post was worth reading, so lets have a virtual round of applause for all our entrants:
Thank you to everyone who expressed their appreciation via a comment, FB like, Tweet or Google+. I can finally reveal that the winner of the public vote was…………………………….. Tom Carpen, with his Season’s Bleatings!
Carl Legge was a very popular runner-up and I know that many people will be enjoying his recipes for years to come.
From all the comments that were left I have used the random number generator to pick one winner, and it chose Catofstripes, who will receive a book from my shelf. I will be in touch with both winners shortly to arrange delivery of their prize.
It only remains for me to say that I have enjoyed Write Club 2011 immensely, and I hope you have to and that you’ll join me next year for Write Club 2012!
Posted in Blog on Oct 2, 2011 · ∞
Reading about Bolivian families in the excellent World Vision greenhouse project, inspired me to write about the work of our sister charity, Social Change and Development (SCAD), in Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu is in India’s south and roughly the same size as Great Britain. Just under half of the 70m population make up the rural poor where the average wage is just under £250 per annum.
It’s a dry, arid place and people living there are experiencing the effects of climate change with prolonged droughts, erratic monsoons and the resultant food security fears. Food prices run at about 30% inflation throughout the state.
This is why part of SCAD’s work focuses on the management of the land so that people, animals and the environment all benefit in the three districts in which it operates.
I spent six months out there last year and I would see organic kitchen gardens growing in villages everywhere. The scheme was started in 2002 in order to answer the need for accessible nutrition for everybody, especially mothers and babies.
This is how SCAD operates. It is a community-led approach, where help is only offered once a village has identified what problems it wants to solve first. Support is normally given through the network of 2,500 women’s self-help groups and this is how the kitchen gardens have rapidly grown to around 1,500 in total.
Villagers attend courses organised by the women’s groups on vegetable growing and composting as well as watering techniques like harvesting grey water. They are also shown how to secure their gardens with fencing to protect their produce from the local wild pigs.
Every year thousands of packets of seeds, purchased by SCAD, are sold for small amounts of money; those who can’t afford to pay are given some for free.
Two years ago a five-acre demonstration garden was set up at Anbu Illam – SCAD’s school for 75 differently-abled children. Along with training, the garden provides food for the children who are also involved in growing vegetables. Another 104 schools have kitchen gardens so a new generation is now growing up learning about the importance of food production and healthy eating.
Pictured above is a woman from Sivaloor village who poses with her harvest – bottle gourd, ridge gourd and radish – all nutritious and popular staples in the local diet.
The photo here is of Guru Lakshmi who is harvesting some okra in her kitchen garden. If there’s a glut or a good harvest then some of the villagers will sell their produce to make a little extra cash.
The women’s groups also spend time promoting the cultivation and education of other indigenous plants such as the Moringa or Drumstick Tree. Most gardens will have at least one of these species growing somewhere and the leaves, trunk, flowers and fruit are highly nutritious and help to increase haemoglobin levels.
Of course these vegetables are suited to tropical climes so hard for me to grow now I’m living back in London. Have you tried growing anything of these vegetables or a Drumstick Tree in your garden?
If you’d like to look at more photos then please look at our Flickr set.
Posted in Blog on Sep 29, 2011 · ∞
Last modified on Aug 31, 2014
Tags: competitions & unusual.
Sara is telling us about her autumn flowers for Write Club 2011 entry. Find her on Twitter as @hillwards; she blogs at Hillwards.
If you like this post, leave a comment or ‘vote’ for it by tweeting or liking it on Facebook.
As September draws to a close, our garden has suddenly seen an unexpected flush of late flowers alongside the ongoing performance from cosmos, antirrhinums and sweet peas.
From repeat bloomings on established roses – here the yellow rose by the shed
and the pale pink rambler along the front fence
- to the first late flowers on new plants raised or acquired in the past few months, most of which have only been in the ground for weeks.
A handful of flowers have sprung up from the Geranium ‘Orion’ plant that my mum gave us, which went into the ground about six weeks ago; with their long stems they nestle into the foliage of the cosmos behind. This should be spectacular next year, once it has found its feet.
Nearby, one of the clumps of Geranium sanguineum that I split and transplanted from the building rubble of the front garden earlier in the year has produced a single vibrant flower; its magenta petal edges seem to be lined in bright blue.
This pretty two-tone scabious was concealed beneath the leucanthemum, where it must have been blooming quietly for several weeks. It was the only plant to germinate from a packet of mixed seeds, and once planted out at the edge of the leucanthemum was quickly swamped beneath their rampant display.
Other plants are not quite so far advanced, their flowers still forming in a battle against the seasons.
This Eryngium planum ‘Blue Glitter’ was planted out as a small plug a couple of months ago and has grown tall through the summer and formed dozens of green flowerheads: will there be sufficient sun in the coming days to turn them blue before the frosts come?
One of the Gypsophila paniculata, raised from seed in the spring, is covered in tiny buds just beginning to burst open.
This tiny delphinium (one of 5 Delphinium grandiflorum chinese ‘Blue Pygmy’ plugs that arrived mid-summer and languished in pots before planting out ) has survived the slugs and is also budding up – will it bloom before the frosts?
The cardoon, meanwhile is also still holding its buds closed; another race against time.
I am thrilled by each new arrival, and anxious as to which of the remaining will fulfill their promise before the cold weather draws in, as we sit on the cusp of the seasons. But then, gardening is full of surprises and promises, both of which hold us in thrall.
Posted in Blog on Sep 28, 2011 · ∞
Last modified on Sep 27, 2011
Tags: competitions & flowers.