3 Ways I’m Going To Be Better In 2018

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Yes, it’s that time of year! We’re on the verge of 2018 and everyone is keen to get their New Year’s resolutions out there.

Well, mine are fairly modest this year.

After a poor start to 2017, suffering from an anxiety disorder which caused me to fall behind on the allotment, I have spent the rest of the time cooking up a recipe (figuratively speaking) which will allow me to keep focussed on the plot next year. Hopefully, you will find this blog post useful too. Especially if, like myself, you struggle to keep yourself motivated in the garden. There are lots of ways in which you can manage a busy life and keep on top of the watering and weeding, and it all starts with your mind and body.

1 – Keeping myself fit

Keeping yourself active is top priority. Last year, I either walked, cycled or ran every day to beat my anxiety and increase my mood. Not only has it helped my mind focus on what is good in life, it’s also improved my memory, given me confidence and the allotment is starting to take shape nicely.

Now, combining this with my allotment makes the whole experience even better. The plot where my allotment is situated is the largest in Bristol and it’s a fantastic track to jog around. Furthermore, I’m out of the smoggy city so I’m breathing clearer air, I can practise mindfulness with the  birdsong and when I’m done, I take a big swig out of my flask and get to work on the plot.

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2 – Organising my time better

Whether it’s my mild dyspraxia or my regular day-dreaming, I can often be a little disorganised.

This extends to the allotment. Even as I write this, there are still a handful of jobs that I keep putting off. In fact, I will often look at other pictures of gardens and feel a little out of my depth – sometimes deciding to give up for the day.

What keeps me coming back however, is my dream of being self-sufficient. I remind myself that I’m lucky to have an allotment as big as the one I have. A plot that is filled with fantastic perennials and has the potential to supply me with food throughout the year. And the only way that I’m going to get to this point is by organising my time better.

This starts with keeping diaries, calendars, notes and spreadsheets with all of the planned projects and timeframes. It then moves into more regular jobs like weeding and grass-cutting. Here, my phone comes in really handy. I can set times for both jobs months in advance if I want to, and slowly but surely, I work my way into a solid rhythm. I then notice how much better my plot looks and how easy it is to do, and I keep up the pace.

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3 – Only eating homegrown or organic

Sure, I grow my own food. But I’m still a sucker for convenience shops too.

This year, the harvests have been patchy. Most days I’ve found myself picking up a tin of beans or a bag of vegetables to bulk out my supplies.

Instead, what I should be doing is going on a slightly longer walk to my local greengrocers. There are hundreds of organic, local and independent shops in cities and towns – and they’re actually pretty affordable too. I did an entire week’s shop of vegetables in my local recently for under £10 – and if you’re making an effort to keep fit and be healthy, shopping fresh and organic is a logical decision to make.

Of course, if you’re having to manage a family your options can be more limited. One thing that I will suggest, though, is that you write out a meal plan, buy and cook the vegetables that you need and then store them to whip out whenever you need to throughout the week. By doing this and shopping organically, you can do your little bit for the environment, whilst arguably saving money where you’re not impulse buying.

So there you have it. Three ways that I’m going to be better in 2018. Perfectly achieveable and affordable too. What resolutions have you made for 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy New Year wherever you’re reading this and keep up to date with all of the latest by following me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

 

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.

 

Healthy Breakfast Apple Muffins

 

How many of us, rushing to get to work, forget to eat our most important meal of the day? Porridge is a faff, cereal and milk isn’t portable enough to eat on the way to work and expensive smoothies are completely out of the question. Well, like all things in life, plan ahead and you can both perform at your best and not be eyeing up a horse by the time your lunch break arrives. Even better still, this recipe takes only an hour out of your week and you can enjoy the rewards throughout.

Healthy Apple Muffins

 

Ingredients

150g of whole-wheat flour

50g of oats

½ teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

½ teaspoon of vanilla

1 egg

75g of butter

75g of honey

2 apples grated

1 apple sliced with skins kept on

 

 

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The Cooking…

Turn the oven onto Gas Mark 5/ 180C.

Grab a cake tray and place your muffin cases into the slots.

Measure out your whole-wheat flour, baking powder, oats, cinnamon and salt and add these to a large mixing bowl. Next, cube your butter and drop this into the bowl. Using only your fingers, gently combine the butter into the flour. Once the mixture begins to resemble breadcrumbs, make a well in the centre of the mixture and add your egg. Taking your spoon, fold the dry mixture into the egg, following the figure of eight to ensure that air gets into the batter.

Next, add your grated apple, honey, vanilla essence as well as the chopped pieces of apple. Stir these into the batter carefully again, making sure that you don’t rush the mixing. When this is done, transfer your batter into the cases and slot the cakes into the oven for around 35-40 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the knife comes out clean. As the muffins cool, add a little drizzle of honey over the tops to give your cakes even more flair.

Pack into an air-tight container and the muffins should keep for a week. Enjoy as a healthy alternative ready to get you on your way in the morning.

 

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.

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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.

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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!

 

Make Your Own Vegan Burger – The Kidney Bean Supreme

As vegans and vegetarians, we have our own little culture. It might be spreading fast, but we still find ourselves in a difficult position when we venture out of our little cultures and find ourselves presented with a choice between kebab shop or a greasy takeaway. Often, things are better when they’re homemade, and this burger is no exception. Smashed kidney beans, delicious garlic and a spicy edge created by chilli flakes and paprika make this recipe the perfect batch meal ready for heating up after a night out or for work lunches the next day.

With too much meat being proven to be a bad thing both for your health and for the environment, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this meal as a meat-eater either. Students and those of us on a budget, four of these vegan patties cost me under £2.50 to make and I enjoyed them over two days (mainly because I’m greedy). They will certainly fill you up though.

I’ve added Tesco‘s own brand vegan cheese as a topping to this recipe. However, you can skip this to keep things cheaper or add cheddar instead. A little yoghurt would work a treat (vegan option also available).

The Kidney Bean Supreme

Ingredients

  • A tin of kidney beans
  • 1 onion, chopped thinly
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Three handfuls of spinach, chopped
  • 4 mushrooms, chopped into small chunks
  • A tsp of paprika/ A tsp of chilli flakes
  • 50g of breadcrumbs

Step One – Frying

Take a large saucepan and heat a tablespoon of oil. Drop in your sliced onion and mushroom chunks and fry until they begin to brown. Once they do remove from the pan and place into a large metallic or plastic mixing bowl.

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Step Two – Mashing

Into the mixing bowl, add your drained tin of kidney beans, along with the other ingredients and smash them into the onions and mushrooms. You want to make sure that the kidney beans are mashed enough that they stick the other ingredients together, whilst retaining some of the shell for a good texture.

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Step Three – Patties

This bit is messy. Turn the hob back on and heat your saucepan up again with a little more oil. Taking your hands, form your mixture into several patties and place them onto the saucepan, making sure you give yourself enough space between each to flip them over.

Step Four – The Finale

As the patties cook, take a spatula or a turner and flip them over every 4-5 minutes to ensure that both sides cook evenly. Once the patties have been cooking for half an hour or so, remove them from the heat and serve up in buns. Add vegan cheese, normal cheese, yoghurt or salsa, as well as a tomato slice extra spinach or gherkins for the ultimate burger experience.

Why not double or triple the recipe and keep the patties in the fridge for a supply of burgers throughout the week? You’ll be enjoying delicious food every day and save money too.

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Small Space Garden | Episode 1 – Building A Small Raised Bed

I’m 27 and I have a great passion for growing food. For five years I’ve been on a journey to learn about how I can get more colour, flavour and excitement into my meals. From allotments to balconies and windowsills, I’ve grown in a variety of spaces. Now, I want to share what I’ve learnt with you.

In towns and cities, space is becoming increasingly hard to come by. If you’re interested in growing your own food, but you rent a home, you don’t have a garden or you just don’t have the hours to commit, the idea of growing your own food might seem impossible.

I have great news for you though: you only need a windowsill, a balcony or a small raised bed to grow some delicious crops. In my new series, I’m going to show you exactly how you can get the most out of growing your own food in a small space.

In the first episode of the Small Space Garden, I’m building the small raised bed that I’ll be using for the project. All you need is some thick material to keep the bed together, compost, food scraps, woodchip or dead leaves and you can turn your small or paved garden into a fresh food feast.

Check out Episode One, below:

younggroundsound – #1: Paul Matson Interview

Are you interested in gardening but don’t have the first idea about how to get started?

In my first younggroundsound podcast I talk to Paul Matson, co-creator of Sow How, about his book and about just how important growing your own food is for your health. Check it out below:

Growing your own food couldn’t be easier with Sow How. You can find more information about the book here. You can also follow Sow How on Twitter, here.

 

Setting Up A Greenhouse Without the Cost

A few weeks ago I took a risk. Indtead of following sense and investing in an expensive but reliable glass, I decided to buy myself a cheap £30 model from Wilko. Yes, that’s right. Perhaps I have gone mad if I think that I can keep a plastic sheet and frame up against the wind on my exposed allotment site. Yet, £30 is a bargain against the £250+ that I would be expecting to pay for a sturdy greenhouse or polytunnel. Even a self-build polytunnel is a lot of time, energy and money – especially if you want the plastic sheet to keep the space warm.

Even as I pressed the order button, I was doubting my own competence. Surely a cheap plastic greenhouse like the one I’d ordered wouldn’t last more than a day on a windy allotment site?

Well, three weeks on from setting up the greenhouse, I can confidently say that it’s managed to stay up. Of course, it’s still too early in the year to tell whether the model will keep up throughout the rest of the growing season. However, £30 is still a massive saving on the expensive rates needed to buy a new frame, or the time and energy and transport needed to move a “free” model from a Gumtree advertiser’s home.

What kind of magic have I used to keep something so cheap up against the torrents of wind? Read on to find out more:

Dig Your Greenhouse In

Now, by digging in I don’t mean bury it like a plant. What I mean is measure out the space needed to fit in the base and dig down to around a spade’s depth. Once you’ve set up the greenhouse, slot this into the space. The ground on all four sides will both stop the wind from getting under the frame and lifting the greenhouse up. The ground will also be pushing the sides in.

Cover the Base, Push in the Sides

Once you’ve firmly placed the greenhouse inside the space, it’s also a good idea to get some woodchip or gravel and run a layer of it over the top of the base to secure it even further.

In addition to this, you could do what I’ve done and dig two wooden crates or supports into the ground either side of the greenhouse. This will add to the structure of the frame and stop the wind from getting anywhere vulnerable.

Reinforce Those Joins

More often than not, the problem with plastic greenhouses has been the poles coming out of their joins, causing the entire frame to fall in on itself. To stop this, I’ve reinforced all of the greenhouse’s joins with strong camping tape to keep everything in place. Alternatively, you could use any kind of strong tape to keep everything together. This is an important step, because the tape will also ensure that the frame has structure.

Follow all of these steps and you should hopefully have a greenhouse that also stays up. Just to give you an idea of how windy my allotment site is, even the strongest plastic polytunnels can suffer at the hands of the harsh gales. These thrifty ideas will give you that warm and sheltered growing space to start off some healthy vegetables this year at a fraction of the cost, time and energy needed to build a greenhouse or polytunnel.

How to Start a Windowsill Veg Patch

Windowsills can often be awkward spaces in homes. Just what do you do with them? Do you keep them free, or do you pack them with nice-looking ornaments?

How about a pot, some soil and some salad seeds?

It might not be the prettiest sight you’ve ever seen on your windowsill, but a container full of crunchy salad leaves or delicious herbs is a fantastic investment. How many of us have gone to the supermarket to pick up a £1 bag of “fresh” herbs and found ourselves only using half of the bag, whilst the other turns into disgusting slush?

By growing your own tasty basil, you can have a constant supply of leaves to add to money-saving recipes and to add an extra bit of flavour to meals. In addition to this, if you keep your supply of salad leaves or herbs going, you can also start saving money. I’ve been running a little experiment on my own windowsill to see just how successful windowsill salads could be. You can see my first blog post about the project here.

And, after a couple of months, this is what my mini veg patch looks like now:

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What a fantastic little production line this salad pot is. Whether you’re keen to bring fresh leaves to your work sandwiches or herbs to your pasta pots, a windowsill salad patch is definitely worth a go!