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.

My Move Into Garden Vlogging

It’s official! The weekly vlogging series is away.

With the arrival of 2018, a renewed sense of optimism and lots of exciting things to talk about on the allotment, I decided that it was high-time I started making more videos. Alongside regular articles and recipes on the blog, I’ll be covering everything from the whys and the hows of gardening to recipes, reviews and interviews on YouTube.

Whether you’re a gardening pro or a gardening newbie, my YouTube channel will have something for everyone. And, what’s more, I’ll be presenting the sowing, growing and cropping in a way that I hope is unique and refreshing.

There are lots of stereotypes about gardening and growing your own food. It’s time to cut those stigmas loose and open up gardening to a whole new generation.

As food prices continue to rise and food quality decreases, more and more people are actively learning and engaging with their food. Growing your own food is a powerful act. Through taking control over production, you’re helping the environment, yourself and – in some cases – your bank account too.

So, whether you’re new to the growing game or you’ve been gardening for years, join me for the ride. I want this to be a conversation though, so if you have ideas for content or suggestions for the channel, leave a comment below.

You can also find my first two videos below. Finally, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel for all of the latest updates.

Have a good week everyone!

12 Meals of Christmas – Day 8 – Stuffed Peppers

To celebrate Christmas, I’ve launched a brand new blog series covering the twelve days of Christmas with the 12 Meals of Christmas. Each day you’ll be getting an exciting christmassy recipe to help you save money and your belly for the big day.

In my vegetarian Christmas dinner, stuffed peppers are often the main event. For those of you who have never had them, they don’t sound all that filling – yet, after you’ve devoured one pepper, you’ll soon realise just how deceptive this dish can be. The beauty of stuffing any vegetable is that you can change your filling from day to day. It’s also really easy to do, making stuffed peppers the perfect dish for a midweek meal. Make batch of these and you can enjoy them right up until Christmas, saving yourself some money and time too.

Here, I’ve created a mix of colours to add a touch of extravagance to your winter afternoon. I’ve used vegan cheese to top these peppers, but cheddar, parmesan and Stilton will all do the trick just fine. If you are using dairy cheeses, pop the peppers back into the oven once you’ve grated the cheese on top and cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the cheese is properly melted.

Stuffed Peppers (Serves 2) VG (Without dairy cheese)

Three peppers, halved and de-seeded

Half of a courgette, chopped into small chunks

One onion, diced

A clove of garlic, crushed

Three florets of broccoli

A teaspoon of rosemary

A teaspoon of paprika

A couple of handfuls of vegan parmesan
or 25g of grated cheddar/crumbled Stilton

A couple of lugs of olive oil

Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 5/180C. Taking your pepper halves, arrange on a baking tray and dash over your olive oil, seasoning and a teaspoon of rosemary. Pop the peppers into the oven once it’s hot enough and then start preparing your filling.

Pop another lug of olive oil into a saucepan and turn the hob onto a medium heat. Slide in your onion first, and then a couple of minutes later slide in your courgette. Fry the vegetables until they start to turn brown before removing from the heat.

Once the peppers have been cooking in the oven for around 20 minutes, take them out and start filling them with your onion and courgette and then the crushed garlic. Slide your baking tray back into the oven for a further 10 minutes, to give the onion and courgette a good colour. If you’re adding dairy cheese, grate your Stilton, parmesan or cheddar over the tops of the peppers once the 10 minutes are up, before returning the peppers to the oven until the cheese starts to brown.

If you’re doing this the vegan way, go straight to adding the grated broccoli. You want to put the florets through the smaller holes as this will create a beautiful, slightly crunchy topping. Finally, add your vegan parmesan. This combo works fantastically with the roasted peppers and flavoursome filling.

If you’re doing it the dairy way, slide your peppers out of the oven. Pop them onto a work surface and grate the broccoli over the top as a garnish.

Serve with a simple salad and dressing for the ultimate, healthy experience. You can also add fresh herby potato wedges if you want to be naughty.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from the 12 Meals of Christmas. If you enjoyed this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with all of the meals featured.

12 Meals of Christmas – Day 4 – Beetroot Houmous and Pitta Chips

To celebrate Christmas, I’ve launched a brand new blog series covering the twelve days of Christmas with the 12 Meals of Christmas. Each day you’ll be getting an exciting christmassy recipe to help you save money and your belly for the big day.

We all love something to dip, right? And this is even truer at the weekends when we’re drinking with friends or recovering the day after. Yet, instead of jumping straight for the sour cream and chive dip and a bag of tortilla chips give my beetroot houmous and pitta chips a go. Through following this simple recipe, you can keep on your healthy road to Christmas and also indulge yourself as much as you want.

This recipe is made even easier if you prepare the beetroot beforehand. Check out the link to see how!

After becoming a houmous addict, I was desperate to try making it myself with allotment produce. However, I wanted the primary ingredient to be homegrown (chickpeas don’t grow well in the UK just yet). Doing a little research, I discovered that beetroot could be turned into houmous instead. Me being me, I had to adapt the recipe and make it my own.

And here it is! In just under 15 minutes you can have a delicious snack for a variety of different parties and meals.

Beetroot Houmous and Pitta Chips (Serves 3) VG

Two beetroot, cooked

50ml of Alpro yoghurt or dairy

A large tin of chickpeas

One clove of garlic

A teaspoon of paprika

A teaspoon of cumin seeds

Half a lemon

Seasoning

For the pitta chips:

Five pitta breads

A dash of olive oil

Seasoning

A dash of paprika

Taking your cooked beetroot, peel away the skins. With a knife, roughly chop the roots into smaller chunks before adding them to a food processor or saucepan ready for the hand blender.

Into the saucepan or processor, add your yoghurt, a tin of chickpeas, a teaspoon of paprika, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a good squeeze of half a lemon and the rind of half too. If you’re a fan of garlic, crush a clove and add this too and finish with seasoning. Now blend or process all of the ingredients together with your hand blender or food processor until completely smooth.

Once the houmous is smooth, set to one side. Tear your pitta breads into long thin pieces and arrange them onto a baking tray. Heat the oven to Gas mark 6/180C. Dash the olive oil and spices over the pitta breads before placing them into the oven for around 10 minutes, or until they just start to crisp up.

Remove the chips from the oven and serve up with the delicious, zesty beetroot houmous for some perfect Friday festive food.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from the 12 Meals of Christmas. If you enjoyed this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with all of the meals featured.

12 Meals of Christmas – Day 2 – Leek and Kale Curry

Christmas and curry: two of our greatest inventions. So, it only makes sense to combine them. In fact, curry – with it’s colour, spicy flavours, warmth and wholesome goodness – could fit into the Christmas menu very well if you can part with your turkey. This applies to those vegetarians out there who might be stuck between two big meat-eaters (I feel for you).

To celebrate Christmas, I’ve launched a brand new blog series covering the twelve days of Christmas with the 12 Meals of Christmas. Each day you’ll be getting an exciting christmassy recipe to help you save money and your belly for the big day.

See the first festive recipe here.

Using two hardy wintry vegetables, kale and leeks, in this curry makes it the ideal comfort food – with the best bit being that you won’t pile on the pounds after two helpings (a very likely outcome once you get a taste of the first mouthful).

And below, you can follow my winter-warming recipe and make your very own fantastic leek and kale curry:

Leek and Kale Curry (Serves 3) Vg

One leek, chopped

Two handfuls of kale

One chilli, chopped and de-seeded

A teaspoon of cumin seeds

A teaspoon of paprika

A teaspoon of turmeric

A teaspoon of garam masala

25ml of soya or dairy yoghurt

Seasoning

 

You want to start by grabbing a saucepan and heating a dash of oil over a medium flame. Pop in your slices of leek and fry these for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. As the leek fries, slide in the cumin seeds, seasoning and turmeric. Follow this with a crushed clove of garlic, chopped chilli pepper, the paprika and the garam masala. Fry the dry ingredients until the leeks begin to brown, making sure that you continue to stir as you go, adding a little water as you go.

When the leeks are beginning to brown, pop in your kale leaves. Drop in a little extra water, turning the hob down to a low heat and placing a lid over the saucepan. Leave the kale for around 5 minutes to wilt.

In the meantime, set up your rice to boil. Using your hand to measure out a portion, drop into another saucepan as much rice as you might need – Pour over boiling water and turn the hob onto a high heat for around 5 minutes, or until the water is steaming. Once the water is bubbling, remove the rice from the heat and place a lid over the top, leaving the grains to soften up for around 10 minutes.

Remove the lid from your curry saucepan and taking your 25ml of yoghurt, pour this into the other ingredients. Follow this up with the additional garlic, give everything a good stir and place to one side until the rice is cooked through.

Once the rice has softened, drain and serve. Be generous with your curry as it really is something!

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from the 12 Meals of Christmas. If you enjoyed this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with all of the meals featured.

 

Why Choosing the Right Pots is Important For Small Space Gardens

Do you ever get tired of eating a tomato in your salad that just isn’t quite juicy enough? Or that bland piece of broccoli on the side of your plate? When you grow your own food, you don’t have any of these problems. If you’re clever about it, you can also save money, too.

And it’s easier than you might think. For myself, two hours gardening a week is a luxury because I’m often in five places at once. So, whether you’re a single parent with barely a couple of hours free, a busy worker or a student – in my new Small Space Garden series, I’m going to show you how you can master healthy homegrown food and a busy life.

Winter is here. As you read this, I’m 100% certain that the idea of going outside and gardening is the last thing on your mind. Yet, doing all of your preparation this side of Christmas means no hassle when the work starts picking up again and the growing season is in full-swing.

So, if you’re interested in starting your very own small space garden on your windowsill, balcony or terrace, picking up the right-sized pots is a good place to begin. Check out the video below for my guide to finding the best pots for the highest quality crops:

 

Are you starting out on your gardening journey in 2018? What are you focusing on this winter? Let me know in the comments below

How To Make A Banging Veggie Roast

Us vegetarians and vegans all know what it’s like when you first give up meat, especially on a Sunday. Whilst everyone else tucks into a big filling chicken or piece of beef, you’re often left tucking into the overcooked broccoli and carrots. During my time so far as a veggie, finding a good and inexpensive alternative to the meaty bit has been tough – but I’ve finally cracked it.

This meal is the ultimate meat-free experience. If you’re looking for a vegan alternative, replace the cheese with a cashew cheese or leave it out altogether and use couscous or rich roasted tomatoes instead. And, of course, don’t be liberal with the roast potatoes!

Roasted Squash Stuffed With Cheesy Vegetables (Serves 2)

Ingredients

A large squash chopped in half with seeds and fleshy centres scooped

One onion sliced

A whole head of broccoli chopped

A clove of garlic

75g of cheese, plus extra for topping

A dash of soya or cow’s milk

A large tablespoon of cornflour

Two carrots sliced

Eight or nine baby potatoes, halved

Seasoning

 

Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Arrange your two squash halves onto a baking tray, drizzling over with olive oil, a spoonful of honey and seasoning. Place the tray into the oven and cook the squash for around 30-40 minutes.

Taking your baby potatoes, place these into a saucepan and fill with boiling water. Turn the hob onto a medium heat and keep the potatoes cooking until they begin to feel soft. Once they do, remove from the heat. Slide out the baking tray and arrange your potatoes onto one side, with the chopped carrots going on the other side. Drizzle these with olive oil, a dose of honey, breadcrumbs and seasoning before placing the tray back into roast.

When the squash is just about done, add a steamer to your saucepan and fill with the broccoli. You only want to steam the florets for 5 minutes maximum, just to get them to soften their crunch a little.

For the cheese sauce, heat up a large spoonful of butter. As the butter begins to melt, drop in a spoonful of cornflour and, at the same time, add soya or cow’s milk. Continue to stir as you add, making sure that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat once the mixture starts to thicken and then add your grated cheese.

Once the broccoli is done, slide out your baking tray and fill the squash with the florets, crushed garlic and onion slices first, topping this with the cheese sauce and then finishing off by grating cheddar over the top and sprinkling a fine layer of pepper. Add this to the oven for a further 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

Serve up on its own and be the envy of every meateater at the table, or add gravy for an even better Sunday roast. This recipe is perfect for big student roasts, family get-togethers and, with everything cooked on one tray, catering for vegetarian guests as part of a larger roast.

Want To Start Growing Your Own Food? Here Are 3 Things I’ve Learned

Winter is the perfect time to start getting your space ready for next year. Throughout the five years that I’ve been growing my own food I’ve picked up lots of advice. Here are 3 Things I’ve Learned Through My Growing Journey So Far:

1 – Only Grow Radish If You Love Eating It

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This is a really important first point. If you’re eager to start your growing journey, don’t grow everything that someone on a blog or in a book has, especially if you don’t like it.

Start small and start with your favourites.

Whilst homegrown food can make all veggies taste miles better, you’ll still end up wasting time, effort and produce because you really don’t like certain crops.

In my case, it’s celery and celeriac and all of the aniseed-flavoured vegetables. I’m still not a huge fan of radish either and can really take or leave Jerusalem artichokes. So I don’t set aside space for any of these things, instead focusing on my favourite food. Pumpkins and squash fill the plot, tomatoes and peppers grow nice and ripe in the greenhouse and the strawberries and raspberries surprise me year after year.

Every year I treat it like my first. I sit down and plan out what I want to grow depending on what I like to eat.

However, it’s also about what is going to reward you the most. As a vegetarian, I need lots of protein and iron from my food so I choose to grow leafy greens and peas and beans over broccoli. This is because I know I can get more meals out of a pot or plot of beans than I can from broccoli. The same often applies to potatoes, which take up huge amounts of space.

With Small Space Garden launching officially next year, I’ll be offering guides on some of the best crops that you can grow for nutrition as well as for quantity and ease.

2 – Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

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It can be easy, as I found out, to grow a ton of plants in the first year, yet when it comes to maintaining the plants, you’ll find yourself swamped. With only a couple of hours to spare you want to keep only a few really productive crops at first.

If you’re a single parent, work over 40 hours a week or you’re busy in other ways, most plants will cope very well with just one watering a week. Unless the weather is scorching, you can leave them in peace most of the time. With some tomatoes you’ll need to pinch the tips out and stake the stems to support and encourage fruit. I’ll be creating several handy guides for tomatoes next year, so watch this space!

3 – If You’ve Only Grown One Leek This Year, It’s Still An Achievement

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One of three leeks I managed to grow this year

Weather, slugs and poor seed stock can make growing your own a bit of a nightmare. Whilst slugs and the weather can be controlled to some extent, there is always something else around the corner. What is important to remember for any budding grower and gardener is that even the one tomato you’ve harvested from the ill-looking vine is a powerful thing.

Growing your own food isn’t just about the harvest – although that is very important. It’s also about the power and the independence. The connection with the earth and with nature, no matter how big or small. By nuturing a plant through to fruit, you have taken control of your food and you have engaged with the whole process. Trust me, the world looks like a very different place! After all, gardening is cool and growing food that you can eat and cook meals with is even cooler.

What have you learnt on your allotment, garden or balcony this year? I’d love to hear your experiences 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!

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.