Spring Clean

Today, as the weather has been clear, I’ve spent the day in the garden clearing up and sowing a few seeds into a propagator to start them off.

All year we save the cardboard tubes from the inside of toilet rolls, they make perfect biodegradeable pots for seedlings.

I have sowed some peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. The peppers and tomatoes will grow in the new greenhouse when I’ve put it up; the cucumbers will grow outside up a trellis I’ve constructed out of old pallets nailed to the side of the log store.

Douglas the cat has been helping me today, testing out the new trellis to make sure it will be sturdy enough for the cucumbers when they are planted out.

Yes, everything seems to be in order here!

Spinach Patch

A lovely day out in the garden today, cold but sunny. Did a load of clearing up and prepared a small bed for this year’s spinach.

Last year I was amazed, I sowed a few spinach beet seeds (I use perpetual spinach rather than real spinach) in one of my main raised beds and it turned out to be massively prolific, in fact we probably had too much in the end which was a victory in itself. Self-sufficient in spinach! So this year I have chosen a smaller patch. I am even hoping that it might self-seed and so that will be our spinach patch for ever more. We shall see.

Douglas the cat has been a great help in the garden today, he has supervised to make sure my work is up to ‘scratch’, and helped me to stretch the net which will keep him off the soil. 😉

In Vinegar Veritas Est

My first attempt at making my own wine a couple of years ago didn’t go as well as hoped; I have learned since that time what works and what doesn’t when it comes to quantities of fruit and sugar per finished gallon of grog etc.

The first batch turned out a bit grim, but the cloud does have a silver lining – it turns out that this horrible brew actually makes fine wine vinegar (some would say it was most of the way there when I made it).

Turning it into vinegar has to be one of the very easiest things I have ever done. All I have been doing is pouring a couple of bottles of wine into a glass jug, adding a splash of some wine vinegar I already had, covering the top so that it is partially open to the air but flies can’t get into it, and just leaving it for a couple of weeks. Bingo! Wine vinegar.

I discovered that a really great way to store this vinegar is in those beer bottles which have replaceable tops which swing on a kind of pivot arrangement, the tension in which keeps the top on the bottle – Grolsch is one well-known brand which has this kind of bottle.

So I was forced to drink several bottles of beer so that I had something to keep my wine vinegar in!

The vinegar makes delicious vinaigrettes, and of course if you have far too much of it, you can use it for cleaning, as per Kim and Aggie. 😉

Lazy Pasta Sauce

It’s market day in Bury and I’ve just been down there to buy a pound of steak mince and some mushrooms to make a bolognese for tea tonight. No idea where the beef came from unfortunately, I have thought of asking them but there never seems to be the opportunity, they are always so busy when I go. Local grass-fed would be best, but I just don’t know.

Anyway, I will make the bolognese with my very own tomato pasta sauce. There are some really nice-looking recipes for passata and pasta sauce around the interwebs (including one at Urban Grown / Trafford Eco-House), but most of them seem to require a Mouli or passata machine, and being a backyard producer, I just don’t grow toms in sufficient quantity to warrant getting one.

So I have devised my own recipe / technique, and this is it:

To fill a big jar such as one of the ones in the photo:

– a couple of red onions
– three or four garlic cloves
– a couple of good sprigs of basil
– a jar of cheap tomato purée
– salt and pepper to taste
– enough tomatoes to make up the volume of the jar

Basically you chop it all up, chuck it into a food blender and ‘whizz’ it as Mr Ramsay would say. Pour it into the sterilised jar (I normally sterilise by pouring a kettle of boiling water into it / over it). If the mixture doesn’t fill the jar right up to the neck, pour it back into the blender and add some more toms. Repeat until the jar is full. Screw on the sterilised lid.

The next bit is the clever bit – pasteurising your sauce. This next step will cook it to release all the flavours, and preserve it at the same time. Put the jar into a large pan and cover completely with water. Bring the water to the boil (preferably using an induction hob if you have one) and keep at boiling point for half an hour. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Voilà! Your sauce should keep for twelve months without a problem. Tonight I will be using sauce I made last September (I think it was).

I have thought of trying to do without the jar of tomato purée, but it does help to thicken the sauce and the jar itself is quite handy as it holds exactly the right amount of finished sauce to use as a home-made pizza topping.

Of course I will use only a proportion of one jar of sauce in the bolognese tonight, tomorrow I will use some of it to make a cheese and pepper pizza, and I will divvy up the rest and freeze it. The good thing about making the sauce in jars is that you can store far more surplus tomatoes this way than you ever could in the freezer, and cook a tasty sauce at the same time! Plus of course if there is a power cut, you don’t lose the lot 😉

Constant Planks

Because we have a wood stove, people tend to donate bits of wood they want to get rid of for us to burn.

But quite often we will be given bits of really nice wood that it seems a real shame to just cut up and burn.

Here’s our current stack of quality timber – a pack of six posts I found just lying on a pavement one evening, apparently unwanted; a large beam given to me by a builder who often does jobs for me; and all the slats from a futon which was given to us by a friend.

No idea what to do with them yet, but I’m sure I can use them for something! The green box on the right is a lean-to greenhouse kit I’ve bought for the back of the house – some of the timber could be used to make a kind of cold frame to go next to it, together with some spare corrugated plastic I have left over from my last effort at a cold frame, which turned out to be in the wrong place and didn’t get much sun.

Hopefully I will be able to get out in the garden this weekend if the weather permits, and get it cleared up a bit for the coming growing season, and so I can get these greenhouses (greenhice?) up.

A Blank Canvas

One of the community projects we are involved in is a project to reclaim patches of waste land around the neighbourhood and plant them up for local food production.

Some of the patches of waste land are pretty vast, because a number of years ago now the council compulsorily purchased whole blocks of houses and demolished them to make way for a new development.

When the oil price spiked in 2008 and the world economy went into recession, people stopped buying houses and so the developer hasn’t had the confidence to actually start building yet.

Personally I doubt that the houses will ever be built, and our local community group has got permission to install some temporary raised beds on one of the plots.

What I am hoping is that when it becomes obvious that this isn’t just any ordinary recession, and the houses will never be built, we will be able to extend the local food scheme to the remaining plots!

Welcome to Green Cottage!

Welcome to Green Cottage, my two-up, two-down end of terrace home in Bury, Lancashire, which I have eco-renovated to reduce my environmental impact and become more self-reliant.

From solar power and wood fuel heating to growing my own food, I have crammed as much as I can into this typical Victorian terrace to show what can be done to prepare for climate change and peak oil.

I am also involved in a local community group, developing environmental projects around local food growing and the local community farm.

I hope that you enjoy your stay!! 🙂