3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower

Allotments are daunting projects. You arrive onto a plot that’s usually filled with weeds as tall as your head. Dig a fork into the soil, and it’ll either be compact with couch grass roots or clumpy clay – or you could have beautiful, fluffy soil (grr…).

The best course of action for a really compact plot is to dig out bigger weeds, mulch with cardboard and manure and then wait until the following spring – however, if you’ve walked onto a plot in March, April or May and you want to have a go at some vegetables – here are 3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower.

Now, with very well-established weeds, you’ll need to make sure that your plots are mulched with a mix of either cardboard or newspaper, then layers of leaf mold (rotting leaves), compost or manure. Once the bulk of the plot is covered, you can use parts of the space to grow very early crops.

I should add that the harvests won’t be huge. You may have a few troubles along the way with your soil as it hasn’t had a good year of feeding and nurturing. You’ll also need to keep on top of the weeds every week as they try to come through (do 10 minutes or so – they will eventually lose their energy and die off after a few goes). However, these crops will still be tasty, and you’ll have grown your first allotment crops!

Potatoes

Whenever I’ve tried to tackle a heavy and clumpy plot, my first vegetables that I turn to are plants with strong roots. Potatoes, in particular, are a great starter vegetable – this is because they break up that solid soil as they go, and – if you go for first earlies like Maris Bard or International Kidney – you may even have time to plant a June crop of beans.

How I start my potatoes off is either at home or in the greenhouse. Potato plants grow through the chits, or sprouts (those little bits we find on their surfaces when we come to peel them). Knock off the eyes until you have around five all in the same area, face the spuds with the sprouts directed at the sun and keep them warm and dry.

Once the sprouts are the length of your finger, and the danger of frost has passed – check here for your areayou can plant them outside. Now, as the soil hasn’t been well-fed, either locate comfrey leaves and lay them along the bottom of a trench or pick up vegetable feed from any garden centre or DIY store.

When mulching your plot, make sure that you leave room for a trench a spade’s-width. Plant your spuds into the space 30cm apart and 50cm between rows if first earlies or 38cm apart and 75cm between rows if they are maincrop potatoes like Picasso and King Edward. Fill the trenches with a mix of compost and your dug earth and then water well throughout the season.

You will find that the weeds come through, but – so long as you do 10-15 minutes of uprooting every week, they shouldn’t cause too much bother.

Courgettes

Another vegetable that will work well in a mulched bed. Before you sow your seeds, grab a couple of bags of compost or a heap of manure, several sheets of cardboard and newspaper and any vegetable waste you might have. Dig over your weedy soil lightly and remove the biggest plants and roots.

Soak your sheets of cardboard or newspaper and throw down. Cut or leave a hole about 50cm wide (this will be your spot for your courgette). Now layer up the plot with your composting material and leave the worms and microbes to do their work as your courgettes grow.

Start courgettes off in a warm, well-lit house or greenhouse around mid-April/May. Sow the seeds pointy-end up and cover to the top of your pot with soil. Make sure that the pots are moist.

Once your elephant-sized plants have three or four leaves and the risk of a late frost has pased, it’s time to plant them outside.

Where you marked out your courgette spaces, dig down a spade’s depth. Fill this with vegetable scraps and comfrey leaves before topping up with manure. Now take your courgette plant and an extra plant pot. Lay the courgette over the manure and the pot beside it. Slowly fill in the roots of the courgette with the de-weeded topsoil and an extra layer of compost. Firm down and water thoroughly weekly, using the plant pot to get deeper down to the roots.

Strawberries

Get this – you can grow tasty strawberries pretty well in clay soil. As above, mulch the area you’ve set out for your strawberry plants. Again, insert plant pots next to each plant as these will make sure that water reaches the roots!

Strawberries are easiest to grow when they’re bought either online or from the garden centre. As we want delicious strawberries this year, we’ll go for the garden centre potted plants.

Taking the pots, pop them into a large tub of water and leave them to soak for around 10 minutes. Use this time to dig out the holes you’ve marked up in your beds.

Removing the plants from the pots, place each one over a layer of well-rotted manure and then fill until the roots are buried. Firm down and water well and feed with tomato feed throughout the season.

You can enjoy allotment strawberries in no time!

Taken on a plot this year? What crops have you gone for? If you’ve been growing your own for years, I want to know what edibles you started with. Let me know in the comments below.

Here’s a Way to Help You Keep the Weeds Down

I would be lying if I said that I was an organised gardener. My allotment certainly takes on the “wild” look and this also extends to the piles of pots and lost tools that I spend endless amounts of time trying to find. As an unorganised gardener, I also have a big problem with weeds and slugs and, if you’re reading this, I imagine you must do too.

I would love to have days and days to spend neatening up my allotment plot, but the reality is that other things like work come in the way. If you’re young or you’re new to growing your own food, seeing an entire plot of land consumed with weeds is not motivating – particularly if you only have a couple of hours a week to spare gardening.

So how do you deal with weeds and more with so little free time?

I’ve been asking myself this question for months. If you don’t get rid of the weeds, your delicious crops lose all of their energy, the slugs have a place under the weedy growth to thrive and decimate plants and, if they even survive all of that, growing so close to these dominating neighbours will result in harvests that are tiny and sad.

But now I have a plan, and you should try it too

By taking out my phone and timing myself on one patch, I discovered that it only took 10 minutes to do what was a couple of square metres of earth. My allotment is big, but by multiplying this time by the ten or so plots I’ve created on the allotment, I worked out that I could get the entire stretch done in well under 2 hours. And this is clearing weeds that have been allowed to establish for months!

Granted, much of the weedy growth on my plot has been killed back by placing cardboard, newspaper, manure and veg waste thickly over the greenery in the past three years. However, even a tougher job, when broken down into a specific time, looks much more achievable.

Now, moving forward, I can plan to do anywhere between ten and twenty minutes of de-weeding a week. Furthermore, I can be sure that next year’s crops will grow and flourish the way that they are supposed to, without bindweed clambering, grass sprouting and brambles clinging.

This isn’t a ground-breaking new technique to get the whole plot done in less than a second (although please let me know if you do manage to do this). Yet, like almost everything about gardening and growing your own food, it’s all about changing your mentality and making life easier.

If you’re working on a new garden or allotment this year, or you’re struggling to keep on top of things – remember – it’s far better to break large jobs into smaller chunks than attempt to do it all at once.

Do you have any tricks for managing weeds and juggling a busy life? Let me know in the comments below!

My Budget Greenhouse, Six Months On

Back at the beginning of the year I decided to run a little experiment. You see, I wanted to buy a greenhouse, but I had neither the means to afford a proper glass one or the means to transport it up to my plot, so I settled instead on a plastic model. The trouble with plastic greenhouses is that they aren’t nearly half as durable as their glass counterparts. One strong gust of wind, and the frames end up in a mess or the material covering the house is ripped up. You could even find your greenhouse caught up in a nearby tree.

After choosing the Wilko Greenhouse for around £30, I had to work out a way of ensuring that this wouldn’t happen to me. My plot is quite exposed and even if I could only keep the greenhouse up for a year, so long as the growing season was done I could at least take something away from it.

I decided that digging a trench for the base was one of my safest bets at keeping it secure. Once this was done, I filled the entire square with earth and woodchip to help anchor it down. Wilko do supply you with guide ropes, which I made as tight as I could. Yet, having a compost bin on one side and some fencing on the other guaranteed that the structure wasn’t going to blow off in a hurry.

I can safely say that, six months on from setting the greenhouse up, it has yielded some fantastic results. My tomato harvest has increased to triple the amount I had last year out on the exposed balcony. I’m picking countless hot chilli peppers too. However, the biggest achievement for me this year has been successfully growing aubergines.

tomatoes, tomato, grow your own, grow your own food, food blog, recipes, lifestyle, living, urban garden, city garden, urban gardening, greenhouse, wilko, budget, eat, cooking, allotment, aubergines, how to grow, how to, build, cheap, save money
Just some of the delicious tomatoes I’ve picked this year.

It’s not just inside the greenhouse that I’ve reaped the rewards. Providing yourself with a growing space that’s warmer than the outside during the winter and gives plants shelter to grow at their own pace means that you can have several strong vegetable crops ready to plant a little earlier than those you’ve had to grow at home. They’re also cheaper than garden centre varieties, too.

In the five years that I’ve been growing my own food, I have attempted aubergines three times now. On only one of these occasions have I managed to get any fruit. Picking my two long fruits earlier in the year, they made a fantastic base for curries and veggie Bolognese.

tomatoes, tomato, grow your own, grow your own food, food blog, recipes, lifestyle, living, urban garden, city garden, urban gardening, greenhouse, wilko, budget, eat, cooking, allotment, aubergines, how to grow, how to, build, cheap, save money

Whether the greenhouse survives some of the winter storms remains to be seen. But the overall picture is very promising indeed. In fact, I am so impressed by the results of my experiment that I will be erecting another greenhouse just a metre away from the original to house more of my seedlings next year.

So, if you’re hesitating about buying a plastic greenhouse over a glass one ready for next year, don’t overthink it. There are plenty of ways that you can keep your greenhouse secure, and the crops are worth it too.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Kale and Red Onion Soup

When the days get colder and shorter, there is nothing for it. It’s time to bring out hot soup. And no, that doesn’t mean picking up a ready-made tin from the supermarket. This is the proper stuff.

This butternut squash soup only takes an hour to make, and most of that is spent roasting. Grab yourself some tasty bread and get dunking.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Kale and Red Onion Soup (VG)

2 servings


Ingredients

Half of a butternut squash, de-skinned, with the seedy flesh in the centres removed

Two red onions, chopped

Chilli pepper, chopped

Two big handfuls of kale

Seasoning

Dash of paprika

Vegan margarine

A vegetable stock cube


Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6/200C. Take your squash halves and slice into smaller chunks. Lay these onto a baking tray and drizzle over a little olive oil. Next, scatter over salt and pepper, as well as the dash of paprika. Place the squash in the oven for 40 minutes or until the skins begin to brown.

Take your squash out of the oven and set to one side. Into a saucepan, drop in your vegan margarine and gently heat until it melts. Pick up your onion and add to the pan. Stir the onions for around 5 minutes, or until they’ve absorbed the margarine and are looking softer.

Grab your baking tray and pop the butternut squash pieces in with the onion. Stir in your chopped chilli and stir the vegetables for a further 5 minutes. Boil a kettle full of water and top the saucepan up with this, so that the water just covers the vegetables. Before covering everything with a lid, add a vegetable stock cube. Leave the vegetables to simmer for around 10 minutes. Just before you remove from the heat, add the kale and push the leaves into the vegetables for 2 minutes or until the edges begin to soften.

Remove the pan from the heat and, taking a hand blender, blitz the vegetables until almost smooth, with some texture still remaining. Serve up into bowls and enjoy with some fresh bread for that perfect curl-up-sofa-TV-feeling.

 

Recipe: Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash

If there’s one crop I look forward to the most it has to be squash. Pumpkins, courgettes and butternut squash are all fantastic vegetables and they can be used in a whole host of different ways. Although the initial preparation of slicing the squash into smaller chunks and removing the skin can be a little difficult, it’s worth it for the tasty orange flesh.

For vegetarians and vegans, pumpkins and squash have become suitable replacements for meat, and this recipe I’m bringing you today is no exception. If you are vegan, replace the milk cheese for a vegan equivalent, or leave it out and use houmous instead. The possibilities are endless. This is why, if you have a garden or allotment, it’s such a great idea to grow your own pumpkins and squashes. They don’t take a lot of caring for and you’ll get some fantastic results!

Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • One butternut squash, halved
  • A lug of olive oil
  • A teaspoon of paprika
  • A teaspoon of chilli powder
  • Seasoning
  • 100g of peas
  • One onion, chopped
  • A couple of handfuls of spinach
  • Block of Stilton
  • Fresh chives

To start off, turn your oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Place your butternut squash halves, with the middles carved out, onto a baking tray and lightly cover them with a good lug of olive oil. Next, season with salt and pepper and top everything off with the paprika and chilli powder. Slide the tray into the oven and bake for around an hour or until the squash starts to char on the sides.

In the meantime, make your stuffing. Take 100g of fresh peas, or tinned equivalent, and pulse together with a handful of chopped fresh chives, the chopped onion and a little ground black pepper. Set aside until the butternut squash begin to soften.

Once the squash is soft, take a large spoon and press the stuffing into the middles. Place the squash halves back into the oven for around 10 minutes. Once again, remove the tray from the oven and this time place fresh chopped spinach leaves onto the stuffing, finishing with some generous pieces of Stilton, or a vegan topping of your choice (houmous, breadcrumbs and seasoning, couscous or vegan cheese). Cook the squash halves until the cheese has melted. When this is done, serve up and enjoy with a hearty summer salad.

If you’d like to know more about how to grow your own pumpkins and butternut squash, why not drop me a line on the contact page?

Building Your Small Space Garden and Other Things to Consider

Raised beds and pots are great for growing your own food without a lot of time. If you’ve only got a couple of hours spare a week, planting strawberries, kale and other plants into containers means no risk of unwanted weeds, slugs are easily kept at bay and pots can be moved into the shade or into warmer areas if the weather changes.

Renting? Just because you can’t dig up your garden or you can’t guarantee that you’ll be living somewhere for a long time doesn’t mean that you can’t have a go at growing your own food. By choosing smaller vegetables and planting them in pots, you’ve made your garden portable – meaning that it’s super easy to transfer from home to home.

When choosing pots and containers, a general rule of thumb is to establish your small space garden in pots between 30cm and 60cm deep. You also want to be careful of overcrowding, keeping only two medium-sized plants per pot at a maximum. It might seem like a lot of fuss, but you only really need a couple of kale or tomato plants to enjoy the benefits of homegrown food. Unless you want to build your own small-holding on a terrace (which you may be tempted to do once you get the bug) you shouldn’t have a problem.

Here’s the balcony garden I had last year. I enjoyed some tasty tomatoes and potatoes from this little space:

tomato, plant, food, green, city living, city garden, balcony, terrace, pots, plants, grow, grow your own, gyo, lifestyle, living, recipes,

Looking to go a bit bigger? The best way to approach growing food on an allotment or in a garden is to set up cheap and easy raised beds. I’ve done a little video to show you how you can achieve this in half an hour, which you can find here. Wooden pallets are readily available and make sturdy sides for a raised bed. However, corrugated metal, bricks, tiles or anything solid that you have to hand can also create a perfect raised growing space.

Soil-wise, getting your hands on manure and leaf mold is essential for strong, healthy soil. If your raised beds are on top of existing soil, layer manure, rotting leaves, food scraps and newspaper over the surface to encourage composting. If you’re building raised beds on a patio or concrete, ensure that the boxes are deep enough (between 60cm and a metre is perfect) and fill them with a mix of manure, top soil and easily degradable things such as coffee grounds and banana peel.

Once this is done, you’re ready to go.

Plants For Small Space Gardens?

Strawberries

strawberries, fruit, small space, how to, grow your own, grow your own food, food, food blog, food blogger, garden blog, garden blogger, lifestyle, healthy, environment, living, urban garden, urban gardening, raised beds, pots, container gardening, containers

Care-free plants. They keep on giving too. Plant a handful of these into a raised bed and, so long as you feed and water deeply one day a week, they should produce a bounty of delicious fruits. The plants also produce runners (little clones of themselves) which you can peg down into the ground and develop into new plants in the next year. Strawberries are popping up online and in garden centres for fruiting next year right now, so get them quick.

Blueberries

Blueberries are expensive in the supermarket, so why not grow these delicious berries at home? The only thing the plants need is acidic soil – so use Ericaceous or rhododendron compost for these. The first year might not give you much, but the following years will bring you a bounty.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

Get a slightly larger pot and you can enjoy fruits straight from your terrace. When you’re looking for the fruit trees you want to include in your plan, make sure you’re selecting dwarf rootstocks. I’ll be covering this topic in the next few weeks so stay tuned for more information.

Kale

Kale is super. It’s also a pretty care-free vegetable. When you plant your kale, make sure the soil around the bases is pressed down firmly. Give them a good dose of chicken manure or coffee grounds to boost the nitrogen at the beginning. Net against birds and set up beer traps in the garden (pouring beer into containers) to stop the slugs from feasting on the leaves. Take a pair of scissors and give the newer leaves in the middle a snip to harvest. Make sure that you leave the larger, older leaves to keep the plant producing new foliage ready for your meals.

Salad Leaves

Create little dips in the soil with a fork or spade and scatter the seeds lightly over the top. Cover gently with a light sprinkling of soil. Remove every other plant (in the case of large-leafed spinach) when they’ve grown their second set of leaves. Leaves such as lettuce and rocket can continue to grow. Same as above for harvesting.

Beetroot

Sow the seeds thinly in drills and cover lightly. Prick out every other plant when they’ve developed their second set of leaves. Harvest once the bulbous roots have swelled to the size of a small fist. Grab the leaves and stalk and gently tug the beetroot up.

Tomatoes

meals, eating, cooking, cook, eat, save money, budget, thrifty, student, herbs, pumpkin, fruit, courgette, tomatoes, grow your own, grow your own food, urban garden, small space, balcony, balcony garden, city garden, small garden, pots, containers, how to, food blog, blog, blogger, recipes, recipe, delicious, homegrown, young, busy, working, healthy, health, wellbeing, environment, lifestyle, mental health

Plant two plants per pot for cherry tomatoes and one per pot for larger varieties. Remove the clusters of leaves which develop in the angles between the main stem and the leaves to stop the plant from vining. Tie to a stake to stop the plant from falling over. Feed once a week with tomato feed.

Peppers

Same as above for planting. Water regularly and feed once a week with tomato feed to encourage more fruits to ripen.

Potatoes

Plant two or three potatoes at the bottom of each potato bag. Cover them entirely with earth each step of the way as the plants begin to appear until you reach the top of the pot. Harvest the potatoes once the plants have flowered and have begun to die back.

Peas and Beans

meals, eating, cooking, cook, eat, save money, budget, thrifty, student, herbs, pumpkin, fruit, courgette, tomatoes, grow your own, grow your own food, urban garden, small space, balcony, balcony garden, city garden, small garden, pots, containers, how to, food blog, blog, blogger, recipes, recipe, delicious, homegrown, young, busy, working, healthy, health, wellbeing, environment, lifestyle, mental health

Plant a seed next to each stick or, in the case of peas, obelisk or frame. Tie the plants up as they grow. Nip out the growing tips for broad beans. Harvest peas when the pods begin to swell. Broad beans can be harvested once the pods have begun to droop and appear glossy.

How to Start Growing Your Own Food

Last week I talked about the ideas surrounding growing your own food and attempted to throw out some of stereotypes we often have with gardening. The image of a retired person tending to their flowers is hard to shake, but growing plants for food is a highly practical and sensible thing to do and it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, busy or not, there are so many ways that you can grow your own food.

So, you have your terrace or balcony ready or you’ve bought a spade ready for turning your garden into a productive space – what next?

Before you start carving up large areas of your garden, building beds or buying pots – grab a cup of something hot, settle down and spend a few minutes writing down what you want to grow/achieve with your new growing space. It’s so tempting to jump into the thick of it, but spending a little time drawing up these ideas will aid you a great deal later on and organisation, as we all know, is essential if you don’t have a lot of time spare.

Things to consider when you’re drawing up your plans:

What Do I Enjoy Eating?

Sounds obvious, but myself and my fellow garden bloggers have grown a variety of veg that we don’t like eating. Vegetables such as radish and Brussels Sprouts might fill traditional vegetable patches, but that doesn’t mean that they have to fill your space. If you want to turn your garden into a pumpkin farm, go for it. If you want to grow several types of tomatoes, you don’t have to diversify. By choosing a couple of vegetables that you enjoy for next year or by choosing some fast-growing salads that you really want in your meals to grow this year, you’ll find it easier to keep motivated.

meals, eating, cooking, cook, eat, save money, budget, thrifty, student, herbs, pumpkin, fruit, courgette, tomatoes, grow your own, grow your own food, urban garden, small space, balcony, balcony garden, city garden, small garden, pots, containers, how to, food blog, blog, blogger, recipes, recipe, delicious, homegrown, young, busy, working, healthy, health, wellbeing, environment, lifestyle, mental health

Do I Want To Be Self-Sufficient?

Traditional food growers can be split into two categories; there are those who grow a couple of squash plants for the fun of it and there are those who turn every inch of their garden into a foodie feast. One of the main reasons I got into growing my own food in the first place was because I couldn’t stand rising food prices and poorer quality any longer. This spurred me onto my journey, starting with tomatoes and taking me right up to pumpkins and other delicious crops.

Being self-sufficient – growing food for your table all year-round and not having to rely on supermarkets – is very hard. However, don’t let that put you off. Whilst I’m not self-sufficient yet, I have a couple of months where I can rely on my own fruit, a couple of months of pumpkins for soups and throughout the winter, I harvest tasty salads to cut out the regular food shops. I find it better to see the idea of “living off of the land” as a goal and not necessarily as an end destination. The point is that by adding more and more of your own harvests to your plate, you’ll be helping the planet and your wallet out too.

If you’re going to grow a variety of different vegetables, check out their planting and harvesting times. Organise it so that your pumpkin, with its longer season is allocated that space, but that it is intercropped with lettuce and radish which only take a couple of months to mature, if that. The other fantastic way that you can get the most out of your vegetable patch is by using the growing habits of plants to their advantage.

By taking a pumpkin, with its low-growing habit, and marrying it up with tall vine beans, you can get twice as much food out of one space. We’ll be looking at this in more detail later on. Yet, good pairings to consider are: pumpkins and beans, peas and lettuce, fruit trees and strawberries, leafy greens and tomatoes. The list goes on and you can find more information on intercropping here.

pumpkin, fruit, courgette, tomatoes, grow your own, grow your own food, urban garden, small space, balcony, balcony garden, city garden, small garden, pots, containers, how to, food blog, blog, blogger, recipes, recipe, delicious, homegrown, young, busy, working, healthy, health, wellbeing, environment, lifestyle, mental health

Should I Add Fruit Into the Mix?

It might seem like a huge effort to grow your own food. Yet, the only thing that you need is patience. Fruit trees are brilliant when they really start to produce fruit. However, this can take them a couple of years or potentially more depending on the fruit. By planting your fruit trees in pots, though, you can create portable plants that can travel with you should you move home. Putting your trees and other vegetables into pots makes everything so much easier later.

I often leave my fruit trees alone now, and they thrive. Aside from the odd prune and feed, these plants are better built than shorter-rooted vegetables and there are a lot of advantages to this.

How Can I Make Things Simple and Easy?

Raised beds bring the height of your plants up, making it easy to de-weed. Potted plants are great for gardens where you need to move things around a lot. And, by sinking plastic bottles cut in half or old plant pots into the soil around your plants, you can save on watering. Slugs and snails find it harder to eat plants grown in raised beds, yet coffee grounds around the bases of your plants and beer traps (make by pouring beer into plastic containers and sinking them into the ground at the lip) will ward off most of these slimy fiends.

Now that you’ve made a note of the things that you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve them, you can start building your productive patch. Late summer is the perfect time to get things together for the next year, so knock together wooden pallets for raised beds, invest in some hangers to grow small veg and strawberries vertically or go for the old-fashioned route and begin breaking up the top layer of soil and mark out your new plots.

Next week, we’ll be looking at easy time-light ways to get rid of weedy ground, buying the right sized pots and talk about that all-important step of getting the soil right.

 

An Introduction to Growing Your Own Food and Working Full-Time

You’ve finished work for the day, you’re on your way home and you suddenly realise that you have no food in your cupboards. Heading to the local shop, you pick up the easiest stuff that you can find. Tins of beans, instant noodles and ready meals fill your basket week in and week out. If you’re feeling a little more gourmet, in goes the pasta sauce. But you want to live healthily and you see those garden programmes and all of the people on them look so happy.

In your dreams, right?

What we would’ve considered to be the normal way of life even within the last century has become something of a “hobby”, or the Good Life. That essential life skill of finding and growing our own food isn’t needed anymore what with supermarkets and fastfood chains. Yet, what we find in supermarket foods – sugar, salt, fat and more fat – hardly does us any good. We’re not meant to eat such processed meals, and the environmental impact of mass production is another problem altogether. With more and more mouths to feed, our food is becoming less nutritious and more expensive. Yet, it’s all well and good me preaching this to you. The reality is that you have a 40 hour a week job and not much time in between. Why would you want to grow your own food?

It’s not as complicated as you might think. Like anything, you can go as deep as you like with gardening and those who do sometimes alienate the rest of us. What’s important to remember is that most of it is unnecessary for the average grower. Even I don’t have the time to do half the stuff that others do. And you probably struggle finding the time to tie your own shoelaces, let alone reading up on all that there is to read on starting an allotment. But by following some simple steps and bringing little veggie additions to your patio, balcony, windowsill or room, you can improve your food and your wellbeing immensely.

Every week, I’ll be bringing you a new little guide to help you become a boss at growing delicious food, whilst still managing your 9 to 5. If you’ve tried it and failed before, I’m here to motivate you. If you’ve never done it, but something’s switching you on – I’m going to help you achieve it. All you need is a pot, some compost, a plant and about fifteen minutes of your life a week.

Now, I won’t take up any more of your time. Next week, we’ll be looking at setting up your quick and easy garden. Stay tuned for the first of my guides!

 

Dark Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

At some point in our lives it’s likely that we’ve tasted a carrot cake. When you first hear the words “carrot” and “cake”, something sounds off in the brain. Surely these two foods can’t mix? But, unless you’re eating a really badly done cake, the match is almost perfect. I say almost: I have to sell this cake to you so I’m obviously going to put it above the carrot cake. Besides, this chocolate and beetroot cake recipe really celebrates that current trend of combining sweet and savoury (what’s with putting garlic in smoothies? Garlic!?)

You’re going to have to source some raw beetroot – or, even better, you could grow some and keep this recipe handy. A bit of pre-prep: pop all of your beetroot into tin foil, wack the oven onto gas mark 4/ 180C and place the beets onto a baking tray. Cook them in the oven until a knife goes straight through them. Then, when you reach this point, take a knife to the beets and carefully take off the skin. Trust me, it’s worth it and you get some delicious fresh beetroot for pizzas, salads and more.

Onto the main event:

Dark Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

Ingredients

190g caster sugar

250g cooked Beetroot

135g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

200g butter

5 large eggs

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

200g dark chocolate

Step One –Making the Cake

Begin by preheating your oven to gas mark 4/180C. Take a cake tin, line with greaseproof paper and run a little butter around the sides of the paper. Next, take your beetroot and blend in a food processor.

Heat up a saucepan of water over a medium hob. Pop a glass bowl over the top and into this melt your dark chocolate. Remove your chocolate from the heat and stir in your butter until soft.

In a separate bowl, sift your plain flour, baking powder and cocoa powder together. Move to one side.

Follow this by separating the egg whites from their yolks. Combine the dark chocolate and egg yolks in with the beetroot.

Whisk the egg whites until you have solid peaks (it helps if you have an electric whisk handy, otherwise give it a good beating by hand). Carefully fold this into the beetroot mix, adding a quarter of the whites first and then following with the rest.

Finish by making a well in the centre of the beetroot and pouring your plain flour mix in. Steadily fold the flour in, taking your spoon out from the outsides of the bowl and into the centre. Whilst you do this, make sure you’re adding some air by doing a figure of eight.

Step Two – Baking the Cake

Pour your mixture into your prepared tin and place it into the oven for around 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake bounces back when pressed at the top.

Place onto a cooling rack, get your clotted cream or double cream at the ready with some fresh strawberries and devour the lot.

chocolate and beetroot cake, recipe, recipes, beetroot, vegetables, chocolate, dark chocolate, food, food blog, blog, blogger, allotment, grow your own, homemade, homegrown, delicious, yum, yummy, cake, baking, cooking, allotment, carrot, carrot cake

 

Don’t Let the Weeds Bring You Down

Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re either a very neat and tidy grower or you’re a messy one like me. Yes, contrary to the professional (cough, cough) pictures, my allotment is more on the wild side than it is the Gardener’s World side. The site is big; I’ve inherited a whole batch of great plants – yet I’ve also inherited a very well-established hoard of bindweed, which is nigh-impossible to get rid of.

On a typical trip up to the allotment in mid-summer, I can often come away feeling disheartened. Even if I get on with a good bit of de-weeding, the grass stands wild and tall and the pesky weeds dominate the plots once more. In the end, I’ve come to the realisation that I should simply embrace it.

Young Growers – Don’t Give Up Over Weeds

I’m appealing particularly to my generation of young gardeners here, as it’s with first-time gardeners and growers that weeds win.

Across my youthful allotment site, I often compare younger gardener’s plots to older people’s. What I find is that, where there had been good intentions – growing a range of tasty, organic fruit and veg – what instead happens is the manured beds and cleared edges become perfect breeding sites for thick weedy growth.

Many of these people give up their plots after a short while and abandon the idea of growing their own food completely.

As a passionate advocate for growing your own food, and as someone who has his fair share of weedy worries, this makes me very sad. So, I want to tell you something:

Weeds Will Always Grow Because Nature Has More Time on Its Hands

You can’t stop weeds entirely, so move that thought aside. When you see pristine allotment plots, notice the little tuft of grass near the bed’s corner or the creeping vine – no one is perfect and no allotment is either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to improve conditions, though.

By mulching your growing beds heavily in the late autumn with leaf mold, horse or cow manure and things like newspaper or cardboard, you can kill off a lot of weeds by starving them of light. Then, when the few sprouts begin to surface, book yourself in for a weekly de-weeding session that only needs to last 10 minutes. Do a quick scan of your beds and pull a handful out here and there. By keeping this consistent (use a phone calendar if you need to) you’ll have more time to focus on your veggies.

By raising the soil up, you can also stop the weeds from spreading. The trick is to smother and starve any unwanted plants underneath. Then, once your growing beds are ready you won’t have to worry about weeds. So long as the weeds aren’t growing or creeping over any growing vegetables, just keep them a little managed.

It’s also healthy to let the grass grow. Remember that lots of wildlife relies on tall grass for coverage, pollination and much more. So you only need to give that a cut once it reaches your anywhere before your knee. If the grass is going to seed, it’ll likely spread across your beds. Don’t worry though – as long as you keep up a little bit of weeding each week and learn to embrace the messiness of nature, you’ll do just fine.

Whatever you decide to do – remember this: if the weeds are too high, don’t give up. It’s nature’s job to grow – and you just have to work with that. What’s more important is that you get something out of your garden or allotment. You know, there are even professional gardeners and veg growers out there who use weeds and permaculture to make their crops better.