2012 – The Year In Dirt

Rain, wind, mud, rot, rain, wind, mud, rot… that was the veggie gardening theme this year! The summer was so wet and miserable and we went batty trying to stay on top of the weeds. Combined with a bit of slackarsery on our part, it was pretty slim pickings…

Remember those humungous parsnips of 2010, of can-sized diameter? 2012 yielded just 1.2 withered specimens.

Parsnips

Our beetroots came to nought and the salads didn’t do much either. We had another go at pumpkins but left it too late in the season, and there just wasn’t enough sunlight for them to do anything. But they were slightly bigger than the micropumpkins of 2009 so I’m counting it as progress!

Pumpkins

The leeks didn’t seem to mind the quagmire – we’ve got quite a big haul of those. Hard to believe that a tiny, tiny seed could turn into something so huge. I’ve got my eye on Jamie Oliver’s Leek and Turkey Pie for Boxing Day.

Leeks

One thing that really thrived was the rhubarb. I hacked it all back and stewed it up for the freezer then it came back again, so I made rhubarb and apple chutney. After three months in the jar it’s really deep and spicy and will be killer with leftover Christmas ham. Woohoo!

Chutney

Remember my in-laws’ wild and woolly allotment? It’s been tamed after many many hours of labouring. We grew our leeks up there and my in-laws grew flowers, delicious potatoes and also raspberries and strawberries. They even put up a shed with Birds of Britain posters inside; it’s all very civilised!

On the left is November 2011 with the 3ft-deep weeds, and on the right is October 2012 (the weedy path has since been taken care of!).

Allotment

After the diabolical weather this year I reckon the 2013 tactic will be to not bother with anything but the most grim, hardy and dull veggies that don’t mind a frequent drowning! I’m going to give a few kale varieties a proper go too – it’s meant to be robust. Anyone had much luck with that?

Happy holidays, lovely people! Hope you have a relaxing one and thank you gazillions for stopping by!

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Hello! I’m over here!

Does weeding burn calories? It better bloody burn calories. We spent three hours weeding the allotment the other day then went back last night to plant out some onions and it was totally chockers with weeds again. I just threw my hoe to the ground and yelled, "THIS IS FUTILE!".

I need to add another item to my Why gardening is like weight loss analogy listit never ends. You dig and dig and dig but you can't stop digging! For there is always more digging to be done. If you don't dig everything will get wild and weedy. Sigh. But hopefully you'll be rewarded with an onion or two, eventually.

I wanted to say that I'm posting more regularly on my non-fat blog What's New Pussycat. This blog actually pre-dates Dietgirl by eight months. It's weird to be able to read what I was thinking about during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Clue: the same thing as London 2012 – handsome blokes in Speedos!

Sometimes when I'm only writing Dietgirl posts it feels like the state of my lard is the only important thing about me; that my worthiness/interestingness is dependent on the size of my arse. There's a lot more to life than that, and a lot more to me. So I'm having fun waffling on about random things!

I know some folk may only be interested in the lard-related rambles, that's cool! I'll update on that soon. But if you fancy reading about a wider range of topics, I'm over at What's New Pussycat? too. You can subscribe to the feed or I link to the new posts on the DG Facebook page.

Here are some recent posts:

Smiley Wiggo

Hope you're having an ace week!

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The trouble with blogging…

… or rather, the trouble with my inept slow-arse brand of blogging, is that I spend days and days dithering over an angsty post and by the time I get my words together, I'm in a completely different (non-angsty) frame of mind. So I don't want to publish it because then that slab of derangement will sit at the top of the blog until I get around to writing another one!

I was feeling truly crazy at the start of this week, but I got out of my head by getting into the garden then on the spinning bike. I hacked at the earth with a fork (very theraputic), planted some beetroot seeds, then sweated away to the finale of Biggest Loser Season 11.

Hannah-and-oliviaWatching old episodes of Biggest Loser is my favourite guilty pleasure. I love the pointlessness of getting enraged about and/or enamoured with things that happened on television many years ago.

Hannah and Olivia have now usurped Tara Costa as my favourite contestants ever. They're sisters, they banter wittily and they're the same age gap as me and my sister Rhi… so I just fell for them bigtime.

When I'm on the bike I love to daydream about being a contestant. It would be vintage Loser with Bob and Jillian. If slimming Black was unavailable, I'd be on Team Purple coz it's probably the best of those lousy colours with my ginger tones. I'd totally do as I was told and I'd never fake-puke into a bucket. I'd flog the Jennie O turkey with a knowing twinkle in my eye. I'd be charming and jovial and inspirational. Except for about one week per month when I'd be a loathsome, whiny twit.

See that's the problem with The Biggest Loser. Unlike blogging, you can't just go AWOL during Crazy Week. Your hormonal rantings are captured by the camera and presented to America! I think I better stick to the blogging.

Image credit: ViralFashion

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Can you dig it?

My parents-in-law recently got an allotment. I'm not sure if that's a universal concept so here's a wee definition from allotment.org.uk:

"In the UK, allotments are small parcels of land rented to individuals usually for the purpose of growing food crops."

(See also Wikipedia for difference between an allotment and a community garden)

They put themselves on the waiting list about a year ago as they don't really have space for veggies in their own garden. Finally their number came up, and it turned out to be one big mofo of an allotment so there's plenty of room for Gareth and me to join in. We've always wanted pumpkins but don't have the space to give them a proper go – remember the micro pumpkins of 2009? I hope to grow a shitload of kale too.

But first, we must dig. The plot is absolutely choked with weeds. Layer upon tangled layer of weeds, about a foot deep. Like a giant stinky weed trifle. With occasional wooden planks, old potatoes, plastic bags and a 6-foot piece of guttering thrown in for flavour.

Edit: I totally want to try a kill mulch to snuff out the weeds, as suggested by the lovely Debbi!

I think it's going to be the ultimate metaphor. For lard-busting. For life.

It takes ages. It feels like you're getting nowhere. Just when you finish one bit you turn around and see metres and metres of un-dug space and you want to cry.

Some days you are in love with it. The pissweak November sun warming your brow; the promise of a sandwich at noon.

Some days you hate it with a passion. Surely we'll be done soon? It's only been twenty minutes.

Some days while you're wrestling with a particularly stubborn weed, some smart arse will shove a pile of grass down the back of your jeans.

Some days you can't stop smiling from the simple pleasure of hanging out with loved ones. Some days everyone gets on your nerves ("Can I just make a small suggestion?") and you long to whack them over the head with your garden fork.

But then you remember it needs time. And consistency. And there is pleasure to be had in the process. Just gotta keep on diggin'.

Allotment

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Beetroot Baby

For me a big key to not eating when not hungry seems to be keeping busy. But not just any kind of busy. When in the throes of Workplace Busy, my brain still reserves a sector for perhaps this would be better with chocolate thoughts. No, the most effective kind of busy is absorbing, interesting, hands-on busy.

Yesterday afternoon I got home in a munchy mood, ready for some mindless spearfishing in the fridge. I was interrupted by Gareth needing a hand with a ladder (a gutter was blocked). It was pouring rain and miserable, but once I was out there it felt good after zombie-ing at the computer all day. I splodged on over to the veggie patch and saw that the beetroot and garlic were ready to harvest. Next thing an hour has passed. I was covered in mud but had a big pile of veggies and no d'oh feeling for eating a bunch of food I didn't want/need. Instead I felt relaxed and calm. And just a little bit proud of this fella…

222. Homegrown beetroot! :)

On Saturday night I was full from dinner but could not stop thinking of biscuits. I thought I'd try a distraction technique. I'd been asking Gareth for about seven years to teach me a bit of bass guitar and he always said When? and I'd say I dunno. Righto then. No time like the present!

Three hours later I was slowly, paaaaiiiinfully plonking out about five notes from each Smells Like Teen Spirit, Everybody Hurts, Seven Nation Army, Walking On The Moon and Day Tripper* thanks to Gareth's improvised Bass for Dummies curriculum. Sure it sounded bloody terrible but the time flew and it felt so good to exercise the brain instead of the outer limits of my stomach.

Of course it's not possible to spend all day every day doing absorbing, interesting, hands-on things. You gotta scrub the loo and pay the bills. But I reckon making time for things that make you feel happy, alive, challenged, busy… there's less room for mindless eating. Interesting!

* That one was my request and proved too much for the Dummies curriculum. Hehe!

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Parsnip Extraction Day

Nine long months after chucking the tiny seeds into ground, today we finally got to meet our parsnips.

"Just like having a bairn, but better… it's cheaper and you can eat them!" said Gareth.

The parsnips were buried under a couple of inches of ice from the late November snow plus some fresh powder from last night. I was worried they'd have rotted away but they were just waiting patiently and getting extremely large!

I'll spare you the three minute epic video of Gareth grunting and swearing as he wrestled this baby from the earth and fast-forward to the moment of triumph instead:

Snip-with-g
Snips
They are very weird and gnarly looking. Some have three legs from their attempts to burrow deeper into our crappy soil. But I still love them too bits. Did I mention they are freaking HUGE? Here I have used a 400g/14oz can of coconut milk for scale. The can is about 10cm/4 inches tall so you can get an idea of the height of them. Some of the tops have a bigger diameter than the can.

Snip-haul

It just blows my mind that for nine months while we've been working, eating, sleeping, angsting, travelling and running around like idiots, these beasts were just growing growing growing like mad under the ground.

I made this parsnip and ginger soup tonight and it was bloody tasty. Still have gazillions of snips left for Christmas Day too. Happy days.

Today's other highlight: watching this pigeon refuse to let a snow shower interrupt his dinner.

Edp-snow

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2010 – The Year In Dirt

Summer is over – the days are shrinking and we're huddling under the duvet when watching telly coz we're too stingy to turn on the heating. A good time to look back at my second year of novice gardening!

Potatoes – the Grow Your Own Carbs experiment worked a treat. I wholeheartedly endorse the tatties-in-a-bag method for lazy gardeners short on space:

  1. Fill an old compost bag or some sort of container with potting mix
  2. Bury the seed potatoes
  3. Wait four or five months (watering when necessary – here in Scotland you rely on the sky for that)
  4. Empty bag
  5. Eat your glorious tattie bounty!

I tell you what, if you can't afford skydiving there are cheap thrills to be had in growing potatoes in a bag because that suspenseful MOMENT of ripping open the bag and wondering if there'll be anything inside… that's gold, baby!

Spuds
Silverbeet, a.k.a. Swiss chard – this tiny crop was my favourite of the whole summer. Every man and his dog seemed to grow it when I was a kid in Australia, but you rarely see it in the shops around here. It has a really iron-y kind of taste that makes the best pie with feta. I only chucked a few seeds in a pot so ended up with about half a cup of cooked silverbeet but it was so good. I could quite happily dig up the whole back yard and grow nothing but silverbeet.

Baby carrots – Another "chuck seeds in a pot, cover with dirt and wait" effort but somehow yoinking that first carrot out of the grown was so freaking triumphant you think we'd tended them daily, played Mozart and massaged their leaves. You can see them here for with one of the two strawberries we managed to grow.

Silverbeet-carrots
Brussels sprouts – FAIL! Poor Dr G had been nurturing these babies from seed since New Year and once planted out they soon shot up well over four feet high… only to be gnawed to bits by the evil spawn of cabbage white butterflies. The butterflies has managed to infiltrate the mesh fortress he'd built around the plants, the bastards.

Spring onions – grew about a dozen of these from seed… seemed like an awful lot of faff for 12 bloody spring onions but of course we convinced ourselves they were the most mindblowing onions in the world EVAH. Shown here with a bar of chocolate for scale, wtf.

Sprouts-springonions
Blackcurrants – turns out that Ugly Brown Stick Thing I was threatening to rip out last December was a blackcurrant bush! By the time I remembered to pick them they'd started shrivelling up, whoops.

Butterhead lettuce – grew two in a pot and two in the ground. Slugs liked the ones in the ground but were too lazy to munch the potted ones. The lettuces had big fat tasty leaves perfect for rolling things up in. Generally food type of things.

Blackcurrant-lettuce
Chillies – I grew two pots on a sunny windowsill indoors. The tiny wee Habaneros got chomped by some weird bug but these Hungarian Hot Wax fellas are doing well.

Buttercups – we didn't grow these deliberately; they just appeared in the lawn. But I have to tell you what Gareth said to me one day in June: "Do you know if you hold a buttercup under your chin and there's a yellow reflection on your chin it means you like butter?"

"What kind of bullshit is that?" was my elegant reply.

"It's true," said Dr G, "Well. We used to say it when we were kids."

"You did not say that. I know you're making it up and I'm not falling for it!"

"I am not making it up!"

"But it is completely ridiculous! It means you like butter?!"

"You're just mocking because you probably didn't even have buttercups in your barren Australian homeland. You probably said instead, If you hold this dry stick under your chin and there's a brown reflection it means you like… dirt!"

Turns out he wasn't making it up, it is an old wives' tale. It's still ridiculous though!

UPDATE: From your comments it's evident that everyone but me has heard of this bloody buttercup thing. Dr G is probably right with his theory of my ignorance – we didn't have any buttercups where I grew up… but lots of brown dead stuff :P

Chillies
Leeks – this is where I just can't get over the wacky magic of growing stuff. I mean look at that tiny, tiny seedling… it was barely 2 centimetres high. Somehow those spindly little seedlings turned into big fat leeks. They were incredibly tasty… I dunno if it's coz they were good leeks or because I braised them in white wine, thyme and butter. Hehe.

Leeks
Here's a leek fresh out of the ground, with a pint glass for scale. And on the right a pint of Dr G's homebrew, which would no doubt be the highlight of his summer!

Leeks-brew
Now all that's left are few parnsips in the ground, but apparently you have to wait til after the first few frosts before they're ready. Soon it will be all bare branches and grey skies. But it was a great summer at Crooked House with some yummy food without too much fuss! Next year I think I'll have a go at growing some flowers.

Any gardeners out there? How was your summer?

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How to grow pea shoots

I've been busting to tell you about the quickest, cheapest and easiest-to-grow salad leaf ever – pea shoots!

Pea shoots are simply the young leaves of a pea plant. Normal garden pea plants take months to grow and require more space and effort that my garden and enthusiasm currently allow. But pea shoots take just 2-4 weeks, and with minimal effort you are rewarded with delicate, juicy and tender leaves and tendrils.

home grown pea shoots

I'd seen pea shoots in restaurant dishes or in expensive plastic bags at the supermarket and thought they must be a bit posh. But when the most excellent Alys Fowler recently demystified them on her show The Edible Garden, it looked so foolproof I had to give them a bash. She has red hair and you have to trust your own kind.

You start with a bag of ordinary old dried peas from the supermarket. This 500g bag cost about 60p and I've sowed six batches from it already.

dried marrowfat peas

If you're lucky you might come across these daggy Leo brand dried peas, just like the ones Alys used on her show. These were 51p for 250g so you are paying for the retro packaging.

Leo Dried Peas

Grab a container of choice and some potting compost (potting mix as they call it in Australia. What do you call it in the US? Is it all the same? Help me, proper gardeners! I guess I mean some nice healthy brown stuff? I use peat-free). You're only after the shoots here so you don't need it to be very deep – I use an inch or two.

Now scatter over some dried peas, then lightly cover them with some more compost. Water them gently – don't get too carried away like I did otherwise the peas will float to the top and you'll be cranky.

sow your dried peas

Leave them outdoors or on a sunny window sill. Water them whenever the soil looks a bit dry. If the sun is blasting hot move them into a shadier spot so they don't wilt. Not much of an issue round these parts :)

While you wait for the pea shoots to grow you can observe the loony squirrel across the street that climbs up to a second-floor window ledge then can't figure out how to get down.

stuck squirrel

Honestly he sat there for two hours. At first I thought he was asleep but then I zoomed in on his little face and it was a genuine "how the feck did I get into this mess?" expression. We were just about to head across the street with a ladder when he finally scrambled down.

Squirrel descends

So here's the first batch of pea shoots. I went completely overboard with the dried peas so it was like a pea afro. Once they're an inch or two high you just head outside with your scissors whenever you want a salad and snip off some leaves! Or just stick your face right into the plant and nibble like a rabbit.

Pea afro

They taste best when they're young and crisp – here in Scotland it's taking about two or three weeks. The flavour is delicate and fresh and faintly pea-some. After that the leaves start going a little flimsy.

Uses for pea shoots: Salads (especially when feta is involved!), stir-fries; garnishes for soups. Maybe stick them in those green smoothies. I like just munching a handful of shoots by themselves.

Peas6

Growing pea shoots is so easy and perfect if you're short on space. They grow in pretty much anything – I'm using old yogurt pots and those dishes that mushrooms often come in – just punch some holes in the bottom for drainage.

So if you love your greenery and resent paying £2 for a plastic bag of weeds down the shops, why not give them a go?

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The Forbidden Eclair

Highlights of the past few weeks:

Soda-bread

Kicking off a mission to bake 50 different kinds of bread before I leave this earth.
This is brown soda bread, which is like Bread for Dummies since you just use baking soda – no faffing with yeast. It was bloody beautiful, especially dunked in Reassurance Soup.

Kids

Looking after the kids.
It’s still a “shove random things in pots and cross fingers” approach because gardening books and websites just make me scream in confusion after awhile. But it’s all looking green, so rock on!

Scruffy

Watching Scruffy, my new favourite Eating Disorder Pigeon, potter round the yard.
Maybe he got into a brawl or a cat tried to take him out. He was pretty much ignored by the other EDPs…

Scruffy makes a move

… but recently began to pursue a pretty little bird.

Scruffy in love

A week later and they’re inseparable, guzzling seeds and wandering side by side down the rows in the veggie patch. Until Dr G yells out the window, “Oi! Get arf my parsnips!”

Metallica

Dr G and I also spent a couple of days in Belfast and saw a Metallica gig.

Eclair
And Dr G ate a chocolate eclair the size of his head.

(I had a custard tart with berries on it but the photo was blurry; hands shaking from anticipation)

Gareth is usually indifferent to sweets so I was surprised when he said, “Oh man, I’m having that eclair!”

“Really?” I said.

“Oh aye. I always wanted to have a chocolate eclair when I was a kid and Mum never let me have one so now I’m going to have one!”

“Dude that’s a slippery slope,” I joked, “I spent years eating all the stuff my mother never let me have when I was a kid and I’m still paying for it!”

He only got halfway through before threw down his spoon in defeat, saying that maybe his Mum had his best interests at heart after all.

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How to grow your own sprouts

Sprouts I've had some emails asking how I went about growing mung bean sprouts. Sprouts have to be the easiest way to get some homegrown greenery in your life so I thought I'd share what I've learned so far.

What is sprouting?
Sprouting is the fine art of soaking, draining and rinsing seeds and beans until they germinate, or sprout.

The most common kind you see supermarkets are alfalfa and mung beans but there's gazillions of sproutables, such as adzuki beans, broccoli seeds, chickpeas/garbanzos, hemp seeds, lentils, quinoa seeds and sunflower seeds.

Why should I grow spouts?

  • They're dead tasty – they're magic on sandwiches (my favourite chicken, alfalfa and avocado) and have a magic way of pulling a salad together. Try the Leon superfood salad if you need convincing!
  • They're cheap – a little bag of alfalfa costs £1 in my local supermarket and I get a maximum 3 salads out of it. 100g of alfalfa seed is £2.70 and you can grow piles more.
  • They're good for you – see below.
  • They're easy greens –You don't need a garden. You don't need dirt. You can grow them any time of year. They hate direct sunlight so they're perfect if you live in the dreary north.

What you do need is…

  • Water – as they need to be rinsed twice a day. So if you live in Australia or lived there for a long time you'll have to deal with great stabs of guilt every time you rinse.
  • A decent memory – it's so easy to forget to bathe the little fellas!

Why are they so good for you?
I don't know. I just like how they taste! Allow me to cut and paste some information from the internet.

Sprouts are highly nutritious because "they contain all elements a plant needs for life and growth." This is from World's Healthiest Foods:

“In the life of a plant, sprouting is a moment of great vitality and energy. The seed, after having remained quiet for an often long period of time, becomes more and more active and begins its journey up through the topsoil and into the open air. When it sprouts, a healthy seed activates many different metabolic systems. It converts some of its sugar content into vitamin C, to act as an antioxidant in the new open air environment. It also begins to synthesize a variety of new enzymes… On a gram for gram basis, sprouts are richer in vitamin C than the older, more mature plants they eventually become, because this moment in their lifecyle calls for a high level of vitality. For you to get the benefit of healthy sprouts, the sprouts need to be very fresh, and carefully refrigerated and handled.”

Now I shall quoth lazily from Wikipedia:

“Sprouts are rich in digestible energy, bio available vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, beneficial enzymes and phytochemicals, as these are necessary for a germinating plant to grow.”

What do you grow them in?
You can be as cheap or as fancy pants as you like. Sprouts will grow in a simple glass jar or in a made-for-purpose sprouting vessel, like a tiered plastic one.

Where do I get the seeds and beans from?
I got my first packet of radish seeds from B&Q, a popular hardware shoppe here in merry old Britain. I later Googled "sprouting seeds" and ordered more from Living Food, a Cornwall company. The seeds are organic which is great because according to Wikipedia, "with all seeds, care should be taken that they are intended for sprouting or human consumption rather than sowing. Seeds intended for sowing may be treated with chemical dressings."

Now how does one sprout?

  1. Soak your seeds in a little dish for time period that is correct for your chosen sprout type – it will usually say so on the packet. I just soak mine overnight whatever the type.
  2. Drain the seeds into mesh sieve, rinse and drain again.
  3. Transfer to your clean jar or sprouting container. Spread them out evenly.
  4. Cover the container (with muslin or cling film or a lid) to prevent the sprouts from drying out. (Note: Most instructions I've read have this step but my three-tier sprouter doesn't have a cover. The top layer of sprouts seem to be working okay without being covered)
  5. For the specified number of days, rinse and drain the sprouts every morning and evening to prevent mould forming. I do this by emptying the contents into a fine mesh sieve, rinsing, draining then shaking thoroughly then putting back into the jar/sprouter.
  6. After the specified number of days your sprouts are ready for ‘harvesting’. Rinse the sprouts with fresh water and transfer to a bowl.
  7. Eat immediately for maximum nutrition or store in the fridge for up to a few days.

Note: Let me know if any of the above makes no sense or seems grossly inaccurate, as I woke up at 4am today for no good reason and my brain is mush!

Now here's some photographical evidence.

Soaking
This was my first ever batch of radish seeds, in for the soak

P1010636
After a couple of days they were coming along nicely…

P1010641
… until disaster struck. Mould!
Okay it was an entirely preventable disaster. I kept forgetting to rinse them.

Despite this setback I'd seen it was possible for those little puppies to grow even during the miserable armpit that was February 2010.

Keen to try other varieties, I took the plunge and spent £20 on a three-tier sprouter.

P1010829
Radish, mung beans and snow peas all soaked and ready to go

P1010874
Snow peas after about five days

P1010876
A mix of mung beans and snow pea sprouts, ready for scoffing

IMG_0588
Alfalfa on a salad. Sure it looks kinda hairy but it tastes great!

P1010894
This is a resident Eating Disorder Pigeon, flopped on the needs-a-mow grass having just munched all the Brussels Sprout seedlings in the veggie patch. Moral to the story: Stick to indoor seed sprouting and you'll never know such heartbreak!
 

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