No fidgeting at the back

images

In a mere nanosecond my first ever online lecture Edible Gardening Made Easy will be up and running over at MyGardenSchool, a buzzy new online tutorial hub of all things gardening from design to photography. My course Edible Gardening Made Easy is for all those who yearn to grow their own fruit and vegetables but don’t know where to start. It takes you through a whole year in the edible garden from scratch, telling you the best crops to grow and best way to grow them. No jargon, no show-offy technical stuff, no unnecessary heavy lifting – just no-nonsense advice to make a great fruit veg garden, however small your plot and busy your schedule. With two small children, book writing and an addiction to Twitter to maintain, I know how important it is to find a way to grow delicious crops without spending every available hour outside, trowel in hand. So expect lots of time-saving tips.

I’ve written and recorded the 4-part lecture, which has loads of images and zingy graphics. And there’ll be homework, so no gossiping at the back.

Click here if you want to find out more or book the course…

Wild about Greenwich

Now, I’m the first to admit I am an edible gardening obsessive, nay bore – I can spot the difference between a Gardener’s Delight tomato plant and a Sungold at 10 paces and am boffinishly discerning about the type of kale I will grow in my little London garden (Cavolo Nero best with sausages, Green Curly Kale prettier in soups). But when it comes to wild flowers – those I can’t eat anyway – I’m a dunce. I love looking at them, obviously, we all do, but if it’s not Buddleja growing out of railway siding wall or dandelions on a sports field I’m not too confident.

So when I came across this blog post by Dusty Gedge of Green Roofs UK fame, I got a bit excited since this patch of new ‘meadow’ is minutes walk from my house and I’ve often walked by it without a moment’s distraction from my takeaway latte/toddler screeching down the ramp into the path of incoming cars.

I intend to go down there later and gaze at it purposefully and then return throughout the summer. Maybe, ‘owning’ this little patch of wildflower meadow will be the beginning of a new love for wildflower spotting. At the very least, walking past a woman with a notebook might prevent the daily wave of homecoming Greenwich commuters from bunging their Evening Standards into the grass.

What to do in the edible garden in March

seedpackets

Oh March, so full of promise, so full of false starts. The minute John Humphrys says ‘Good morning it’s the 1st of March’ it’s all I can do to restrain myself from leaping out of bed and into the garden with an armful of seed packets and broadcasting them beardy parable-like into the wind.

This would be silly. Most of them would sulk and rot in the cold soil. For spring is a temperamental animal. We want it so badly we conveniently forget it happens slowly, not overnight. One day it might be all sun, buzzy bees and blossom, the next you’d swear it was mid winter with a Tupperware sky, relentless drizzle and a night frost. So I hide the back door key and, instead, settle for indoors sowing in plug trays on the kitchen windowsill – aubergines, sweet peppers, tomatoes, basil.

apricotblossom

Once the apricot blossom has come and gone, I deem it’s safe to sow direct into garden soil. The traditional maxim is, if you can sit on the ground in your pants (for which, American readers, read underpants) without leaping up in shock then it’s warm enough to sow into. I have no intention of sitting on my garden soil in salopettes let alone pants so the apricot blossom test works for me.

lettucesonions

So what can you sow direct into the soil outside in March?
Radishes, spinach, chard, peas, beetroot, carrots, broad beans, lettuce, wild rocket, spring onions. And don’t forget you can now plant your potatoes too.

chitt

And what could you be sowing inside in a heated greenhouse or sunny windowsill?
Tomatoes, sweet peppers, chillis, aubergines, basil

tomms

And now for some things about sowing I wish someone had told me when I started so I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes…

1. Tomato, chillis, aubergine and pepper seedlings need to be in a really warm place while they’re germinating (inside the house works best), but once they’re up they’re surprisingly happy in an unheated greenhouse as long as they have some bottom heat. A heated mat is a great investment – I set it to about 15-18 degrees C and all my seedlings seem fine (as long as I remember to check the compost doesn’t dry out). Outside they get plenty of light so won’t get all weedy like the ones you raise inside the house. And the added bonus is they won’t take up every available surface and window of your house turning it into a dimly-lit horticultural Miss Havisham’s.

showercap

2. Hotel shower caps make great mini propagators (above). Pop one over a plug tray of germinating seeds. And it’s recycling, people. Note the comma there – I wouldn’t recommend actually recycling people.

3. Most germinating vegetable seeds – with the exception of parsley and lettuce –don’t need light to germinate. But the minute they’re up, take off any propagator lid and get them into the lightest spot you can find.

3. A fleece tunnel is another useful bit of spring kit – pop it over rows germinating seeds outside to keep the soil a bit warmer and the neighbourhood cats off.

4. Growing Success Advanced Organic Slug Killer. Changed my life.

Eat up your greens!

another try

On April 7 I’ll be breaking out the champagne – or at least a sunflower seedling salad. It’s the publication day of my book The Edible Balcony (Kyle Cathie) for people who want to grow delicious fruit and vegetables in tiny spaces even if they live several storeys up. You really don’t need garden soil to eat your own home-grown crops when you can grow lettuce on the wall, tomatoes on your windowsill and strawberries in a basket hanging from your railings. Even in the heart of the city you can have your own little sky allotment – hang herbs from your balcony railings and let cucumbers and squashes clamber through them; and you don’t need to spend money either – bicycle tyres make great planters for strawberries and old hatstands the perfect home for climbing runner beans.

From New York to Mumbai to a teeny balcony in Tufnell Park, the book’s full of awe-inspiring edible roofs and balconies and easy growing projects so you can turn your space, however teeny, into an edible Eden in the sky.

Beans are good for the heart

Today has been dubbed Blue Monday – a date of such irretreviable gloominess and abject awfulness that you might as well pull the duvet back over your head or sink into a puddle on the floor in front of Murder She Wrote. It’s dark, it’s raining, you’re too fat, you feel ill, all your family feels ill and you haven’t done your tax. The days might be getting longer but they also seem to be getting darker.  What’s the solution? Get on a plane, of course. But if you can’t do that? Sow something. Anything. Sow your gardening gloves if you have to.

I sowed broad beans, oo, eons ago – probably late November – a collection of loose seeds I found at the bottom of my bag, helpfully tipped out by toddlers and probably years old. Rather than throw them away I checked to see if they were still ok by putting them between damp kitchen roll until the good ones sprouted. A surprising amount did.

bbeansgerminating

I popped the sprouted ones into pots in the greenhouse and now look at the little troopers. I’ll plant them out in a couple of weeks but for now I just want to stare at them. Every time I feel miserable I tramp outside and gaze through the sliding door like a tramp looking through a television shop window until I’ve had my fix. In a few weeks I’ll plant them out. Until then, they beat going for a run or looking at a light box. They don’t hurt and they don’t make my eyes ache.

broadbeanseedlings

To maintain my “Oo, look it’s sprouted” fix, I sowed some sweetpeas yesterday, also in pots in the greenhouse which give me an excuse to include this. If you still feel glum after looking at a photo of sweetpeas then there’s nothing for it, you will have to get a taxi to the airport. Tenerife’s very nice this time of year.

sweetpeassmall

‘Don’t swear, Jerry. And don’t bleed in the sink. I’ve just cleaned it.’

imagesLet’s face it, the real star of The Good Life was Margo, a suburban colossus in a silk kaftan forever gazing over the garden fence in wincing disapproval. But Tom and Barbara were all right I suppose.

images-1

Now Sue Perkins and Giles Coren (above) are recreating the sitcom roles played by Felicity Kendall and Richard Briers in BBC2’s Giles and Sue Live The Good Life, it seemed a good excuse not only to talk to Sue about making cheese in old tights and dodging the ‘bum Maltesers’ of goats for The Sunday Telegraph, but to find some real life suburban smallholders – namely Ruth, Jason and their colourful menagerie. So, is it all pigs running amok and knit-your-own jumpers? Let’s see

In a right pickle

nasturtiumbowl

Since my garden is the size of a children’s bucket I have become used to dividing every recipe that calls for a home-grown crop by at least five – then phoning the local takeaway an hour later because we’re still hungry. I suspect a lot of grow-your-own types have to do this, and if they don’t then frankly I suspect they’re supplementing their ingredients with Mr Ocado or live on a remote Shetland Island.

nasturtium

But bravado clouded my judgement today. I’m not sure why I suddenly decided I had to pickle my nasturtium seed pods Right Now. Partly it’s because I love the idea of getting more than one use out of every crop I grow – steamed broad bean tips, pea shoots, coriander seeds, potato missiles to lob at the children…  But mainly it’s because I had actual work to do, work that would pay me, hence needing a self-indulgent distraction activity. Once there, the prospect of pickles was so delightfully New Victorian, so domestically aspirational and so flour-siftingly, home-made buntingly wholesome that I was powerless to resist. Especially when horticultural pals on Twitter emailed me a recipe – bad Twitter pals.

And so, undeterred with Twitter comments such as ‘I tried them and they were like wishy-washy capers’, and remembering to avoid the big ones since ‘they taste like cardboard’, I headed out to the garden in the darkening drizzle in my Parka with a Tupperware in my hand and hope in my heart. Only to discover that among this sea of nasturtiums that are clothing every bed, clambering through the kale and strangling the rosemary was 26 seed pods. This may make a tartare sauce for two.

I know, it’s possibly the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard. And I only have to wait a month to try them.

With thanks to Pam Corbin for writing the recipe in her by all accounts fabulous book River Cottage Handbook no2: Preserves… and to Alex and Simon for emailing it to me so I didn’t have to leave the house to go to the shop.

Nasturtium Capers

makes 2x115g jars

15g salt
100g nasturtium seed pods
A few peppercorns (optional)
Herbs, such as dill or tarragon sprigs, or bay leaves (optional)
200ml white wine vinegar

Make a light brine by dissolving the salt in 300ml of water.  Put the nasturtium seed pods into a bowl and cover with the cold brine.  Leave for 24hrs.

Drain the seed pods and dry well.  Pack them into small, sterilised jars with, if you like, a few peppercorns and herbs of your choice.  Leave room for 1cm of vinegar at the top.  Cover the pods with vinegar and seal the jars with vinegar proof lids.  Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating. Use within a year.

To make nasturtium tartare sauce, simply mix 100g mayonnaise with 2-3 finely chopped spring onions or 30g finely chopped white part of a leek, 1 tbsp coarsely chopped nasturtium capers, 1 heaped tbsp finely chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Boris bigs us up!

boris_thumbs_upStartlingly nice news today that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has given a glowing endorsement of the Greenwich Podcast (wot I present) as ‘part of the new digital media age that is increasingly important in this area and I congratulate everyone involved in it’. See here for more/actual aural evidence in case you don’t believe me. Am currently basking in a pleasant blond floppy-fringed haze.

gp_logo_w1

And you think your garden’s small?

Last summer, while working on my book The Edible Balcony (out April 7 next year published by Kyle Cathie, folks), I discovered a tiny balcony in north London that rather blew my mind. I’ve always thought I had a small garden – 50 foot by about 15 – and constantly whinge about the fact to anyone within earshot, but this 9 x 6 foot ledge is positively Lilliputian. With a heady dash of Heath Robinson thrown in.

As someone who struggles to bend a coat hanger into a different shape sucessfully I find the fact that someone has managed to rig up a self-watering system from their roof via bathroom piping, an old olive oil barrel and floorboards found in skips completely dumbfounding. The micro gardener on high is Mark Ridsdill-Smith and his recent announcement that he’s grown £669-worth of food there seemed bonkers enough to be worth talking to him about. So I coaxed him away from his microgreens for half an hour for this piece in last week’s  The Sunday Telegraph – just don’t mention the runner beans.