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!

 

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.

 

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.

 

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!

The Grow Your Own Food Challenge Begins

The Grow Your Own Food Challenge begins

Yes, it’s finally here. Spring is only just around the corner and the chance to save money, introduce fantastic flavour and live a healthier lifestyle are all within your grasp. I’ve created a little introduction which can find below:

I’m challenging all of you who are reading this now to have a go at growing at least one edible plant this year. Here on my blog and on Facebook and Twitter, I’ll be posting daily sowing updates and videos, hints and tips, recipes and more to encourage you all to have a go yourselves. You don’t need a garden, you don’t even need an outside space – a windowsill is often enough to grow some delicious salads.

I don’t just want to witter on to you for 6 months though – this is a conversation that all of us can join in and come away from feeling inspired. So share your pictures, ask questions and get growing!

Let’s start this growing revolution!

Cost-cutting Curries: Sag Aloo

Don’t you just hate it when you’re craving an Indian but you only have £5 to your name?

Well, it may surprise you to know that you can make several of your Indian takeaway favourites with very little effort and without blowing the bank.

My sag aloo goes perfectly with this recipe.

Behold, my video recipe for sag aloo – one of our all-time favourite Indian sides. It takes no more than 20 minutes to make, is full of yummy flavours and will cost you barely anything. The potatoes here are dirt cheap, the spices can be used again and again and sag aloo is also a great way of using up that leftover spinach you have in your fridge that goes off tomorrow.

You can bulk make this dish eating it alongside a delicious curry tonight, storing it for a couple of days in the fridge and taking it to work with you instead of buying that meal deal.

Why not give my simple recipe a try and let me know how you get on?