Saturday, 16 September 2017

Recipe: Warming spicy squash and lentil soup

We recently harvested our Crown Prince squash. I really enjoyed growing the squashes and pumpkins vertically and I was pleasantly surprised by how well they climbed but I do wonder if the fact that they were growing up rather than out was responsible for their poor crop. That or lack of pollination perhaps? Because I did have multiple fruits start to swell and then keel over and fall off the vine. Either way, from three massive Crown Prince vines that dominated one of my four raised beds, I got just one fruit. It was a beauty but scarcity made me spend a few days wondering what to do with it. In the end I went for a simple hearty soup. I always batch cook soup and freeze portions for later and this one was a classic, like autumn decanted into a cup. Enjoy!
Crown prince squash: look at that bright flesh!
- One squash (I used crown prince), about one kilo in weight
- One cooking (strong) onion
- One head of garlic (I like a strong taste but do use a couple of cloves if you prefer it to be milder)
- A thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger root
- Half a red chilli
- Two handfuls of red lentils
- A heated litre of stock (I tend to use vegetable or chicken)

1. Finely chop the onion and sweat on a gentle heat for five minutes in some oil (I prefer rapeseed)
2. Whilst the onion is cooking (until it is translucent, but don't let it brown), finely slice and chop the ginger root, half chilli and crush and chop the garlic. Rinse the red lentils thoroughly in a sieve until the water runs clear.
5. Add the garlic, chilli, ginger and lentils to the pan, stir thoroughly and continue to sauté gently on a low heat for another five minutes, stirring every minute or so.  
5. Chop the squash into small cubes a couple of centimetres square. Add to the pan and sauté for a further five minutes. 
6. Add the hot stock, bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer. Season to taste and allow to simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes (until the lentils are soft). Remove from heat, whizz in a food processor and enjoy!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

A change of scenery: from edible borders to flowery raised beds

We have a new project on the horizon. It's not absolutely certain yet but we're pretty sure we're going ahead. All will be revealed anon but until then I thought I'd show you what that means for the garden. 
The squash and pumpkin vines were so lousy with blight that they looked just dreadful and were dropping rotting leaves everywhere. So once I'd harvested the squashes I decided to cut them right back down (leaving a couple of squashes still to develop). I then pulled up all of the remaining root vegetables from the raised beds which looked dreadful after a month of neglect during our holiday. So I found myself with a couple of empty beds and as our new project is going to mean a total change in lifestyle, I realised that I had to plant them up with easy to maintain flowering bushes and perennial herbs. They look much neater now but I think it's so sad. I'd so much rather be sowing winter cruciferous vegetables and more roots than lavender. Don't they look boring by comparison to the edible opulence of before?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Give that pumpkin the best seat in the house!

Pumpkin before
I've been generally pleased by the way that the pumpkins have grown vertically on a cane support in the garden. They actually haven't fruited that much but that appears to have been down to poor pollination as I've had loads of tiny pumpkins develop and simply rot on the vine. Our tiny urban garden is a lone patch of green in a patio-clad part of South West London and I suspect that there just aren't enough insects to do the work, although I've really enjoyed watching them frolic in the plants. Those of you that follow me on Instagram will know how proud I've been of this one giant pumpkin. I discovered it quite by accident when it started to outgrow the wall herb planter that it had sneakily colonised. It's been getting bigger and bigger and has been pulling my planter off the fence so today I decided that we need to give it a bit more support. That's not easy in such a tiny garden, so as it's late August, I made the decision to go for broke and put all of my hopes on that one fruit. So we removed the three canes that the vine has been climbing and leaned the plant over sideways to sit the pumpkin on a chair where (hopefully) it can continue to grow and swell in the sunlight. I do think it's funny that the pumpkin has a sort of muffin top where it was sitting in the wall planter! I'd actually be happy with the size the way it is but I think it can get a bit bigger, I'll give it until mid-September and then cut the pumpkin free to eat.

The pumpkin throne

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Entering a vegetable competition at the Lambeth County Show

We've always been big fans of county shows and try to attend a couple every year. To be completely honest, our local on in Lambeth isn't usually on the list, but I've always wanted to try my hand at a vegetable competition so I thought we'd try it. 
Pulling Yellowstone, Purple haze and resistafly carrots
I had entered six categories (with encouragement from my lovely Instagram followers) but to my disappointment the majority of what I'd planned to show (tomatoes, peppers, chillis etc) was still unripe and so I had to scramble to find a few entries. I pulled up almost my entire root vegetable raised bed to find enough to enter a few classes. 
The majority of the produce from my "root vegetable" raised bed
I chose to enter six carrots, three round beetroots, a cucumber and a three herb vase. I was a bit nervous as I polished my various entries but it was actually lovely arriving early in the produce tent and setting out my entries with the other competitors, some of whom have clearly been competing for years. The other competitors were very friendly, discussing all of the entries and there was a real sense of bonhomie. 
My "small but perfect" cucumber in situ at the competition
We returned to the fair later that day to find out how the judging had gone and I couldn't believe it when my husband pointed out a "Highly commended" card by my cucumber! I didn't place in any of the categories but I was still walking on air. It's been years since I've won anything and I was thrilled that I'd been able to produce something good enough in my minuscule urban patio garden. Bring on next year, I'm going to enter every class!
Hurrah! Commendations!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Recipe: Healthy lemony basil pesto pasta with courgette and broccoli

This is a really easy and tasty seasonal dish using home grown basil from the garden that I often make when I"m short of time. We are ardent carnivores but tend to eat vegetarian food during the week and this dish is absolutely delicious. We eat unholy amounts of garlic and so that sauce packs a powerful kick, do reduce the amount of cloves you put in if you'd rather go for a less intense flavour. But I find this is a lovely low calorie version of pesto that really zings and it's all ready within the time it takes to cook some pasta.


For the sauce
- Four handfuls of washed basil leaves
- 250g fat free natural organic yogurt
- Three peeled garlic cloves

For the pasta
- Two large courgettes
- Large broccoli head
- Small brown onion
- A head of garlic
- Rapeseed oil
- Green pasta (I use a spinach infused organic version) 
- One lemon

1. Put water on to boil
2. Place all of the sauce ingredients in the blender and whizz them until smooth. Set aside. I use a lot of garlic raw in the sauce because I like it to have a real kick but do lessen this if you prefer subtlety. 
3. Wash and slice the courgettes and chop the broccoli. Finely chop the onion and sauté on a medium heat for five minutes until soft, but don't let it brown. 
4. Put the pasta in the water and cook according to instructions. 
5. Add the garlic to the onion in the pan and cook for another three minutes. Add the courgettes. 
6. Five minutes before the pasta is finished, add the broccoli to the water. 
7. Strain the pasta and broccoli and stir in the onion / garlic / courgette mix. Stir in the sauce, squeeze some lemon juice on top and serve immediately. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

How to make sugar-free strawberry ice lollies for children

I've always tried to incorporate our own produce into my cooking but there are times where what we get from our tiny garden sadly just isn't enough for any one project. Take, for example, strawberry ice pops. I like to make homemade ice lollies for GarlicBoy so that I can let him eat his fill without worrying about his teeth but to do that we needed considerably more strawberries than I could get at home. So we after picking the three ripe fruits from our own plants, we headed to our local "pick your own" farm and spent a very enjoyable afternoon filling punnet with fresh strawberries before coming home to turn them into delicious cooling treats.

You will need:

- Strawberries (we used a kilo and this made    about three moulds full)
- Ice lolly moulds (I've picked various up over the years in supermarket sales)
- 100g Low fat organic natural yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon honey

As always I’ve used the directions [ADULT] and [CHILD] based on what I did with my son. However you know your child best so please think about their own capabilities before embarking on any of our projects. Never leave a child unsupervised. And please do tag us on social media if you post photos of your projects, we’d love to see how you get on!


1. [BOTH] Go and pick the strawberries, ideally in your garden or a local farm. I found that even a very small toddler had marvellous fun trying to find the ripe strawberries in the plants. 
2. [ADULT] Put the strawberries in a colander and your [CHILD] at the sink and set them to washing the hulled strawberries. 
3. [CHILD] Place the strawberries in the blender and add the natural yoghurt and honey. [ADULT] Whizz until as smooth as possible and pour into the moulds. Freeze overnight and enjoy!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Herb management

Overgrown herbs
Scarily shorn herbs
I've found it so rewarding having a large herb garden outside and have started to plan our weekly menus (because that's the kind of geek I am) around what might be ready to use in the garden. The herbs have also acted as a lovely lure for all kinds of wildlife. I was hoping for a couple of bees but the massive variety of butterflies and bees that have made our garden a regular stop has really delighted me. The herbs have been a big part of that. I was initially frustrated when my thyme kept flowering regardless of how much I took away but it appears to be the hip new neighbourhood eatery for a wide variety of butterflies, moths and bees so I let it keep going rather than replacing it. I did have to give the rest of the herbs a drastic shearing though as the flat parsley, curly parsley and coriander had shot up out of control and were starting to tear the cat netting at the top of the fence. They also flowered at a rate of knots so I compromised with the insects - they could keep the thyme flowers and I'd cut everything else back to within an inch of its life to ensure some fresh tasting new growth. It looks a bit severe but new sprouts are already shooting, thank goodness. 
A day flying moth or (maybe?) a chequered skipper

Monday, 12 June 2017

Monday harvest

It astounds me that even my tiny little garden is providing quite this much produce. I harvest at least one "thing" a day, whether it's a small handful of strawberries or a bunch of herbs. In fact, it's only because I hadn't realised how much was ready to eat that I haven't been working out a menu around it. All that changes here. But in the last week we've had strawberries almost every day, herbs and lovely salads filled with pretty nasturtium flowers. How lovely it is to eat food that tastes that fresh and that I actually grew. Watch this space for much more than the below next Monday!

June 5th - Strawberries (£1.80)
June 7th - Strawberries (£1.20)
June 8th - Bunch chives and nasturnium flowers (85p and £1.43 respectively)
June 11th - Strawberries (£0.60) and chives (£0.85)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

How to grow more in a small garden: Building a mobile growing rack

This is a DIY that not only doesn't take long, it doesn't involve any tools at all and so is something I'm really pleased with. I'm always looking for new spaces to grow things in my garden but short of tine hover boards being invented in the next couple of weeks, I've always despaired at the lack of vertical space on which to hang things. I have a whopping 44 wall planters and hanging baskets and to be frank, I've run out of space to hang them (having been reduced to hanging them from sticks). I don't want to fill the small patio we have with heavy pots because my toddler GarlicBoy needs somewhere to play and we need somewhere to sit. So I started thinking. What if I put some pots on skateboards and just wheeled them about into the house whenever I needed the patio? The idea wasn't entirely ludicrous but it clearly wouldn't be worth the effort for just one pot. And that's when it hit me. A hanging rail! A heavy duty one would provide me with a considerable amount of growing space in the form of four hanging baskets, two large herb planters and a large trough planter and best of all, I could wheel it out of the way in seconds when I needed to use the patio. I think there's space on the market for a proper one of these (I call it "The Germinator", patent pending of course...) as they'd be very useful on balconies as well I should think. \

You will need:
1 heavy-duty hanging rail (check the weight limits) Mine is 3ft long

Heavy duty chains and some steel rope
Various hanging baskets
Two large wall planter bags
One balcony trough planter (designed to sit on a rail)

How to:
1. Put the hanging rail together and, using the steel rope, tie the hanging baskets to the top back to back
2. Slide the chains in between the bags and over the rail so that they hang down and hook the hanging basket hooks through both sides of the chain
3. Put the trough on the base and secure it well (I used electrical tape) to the rail so it doesn't slip off
4. Fill the bags, trough and baskets with whatever you want to grow
Herb bags secured to top of hanging rail

Hanging basket hook threaded through two chain links
I chose to use three of the baskets for hanging tomatoes (something I can never get enough of) and the trough has a couple of dwarf bush cucumbers in it. One of the baskets has a bunch of sacrifice French Marigolds (and another sneaky cucumber) in it and the two huge herb bags have basil and various types of mint respectively. I love growing herbs (hence my vertical garden for them) but I didn't want to use a whole raised bed for mint or basil. This means I get a large enough supply of both without losing a bed I could use for things like squash. 

A side note: the hanging rail is obviously carting quite a lot of weight so do be careful around pets and little people. When our garden is open, my rail is securely wedged in next to the playhouse where my toddler and/or cats can't get to it to pull it over on themselves.