Polytunnel polyculture & spring flowers

A quick photo blog – I just wanted to share some spring pictures from my back garden!

Most of the plants in the no dig polytunnel were planted last October into beds which were mulched in May, just as the tomatoes and other summer plants were going in here: no other fertilisers were added, one annual spring mulch feeds the crops year round. The polytunnel has 1/3 mesh and 2/3 polythene doors, which ensures good ventilation and gaps above the doors are large enough for small birds and insects to enter. During the winter I recorded temperatures lower than -4°C in here so everything freezes, however the cover keeps the weather – wind, hail, driving rain – off the plants which makes a huge difference for extending the growing season and feeding my family.

Bruton where I live is in south west England, zone 8/9.

A week ago I planted Swift potatoes into one of the beds and sowed some catch-crop radish in gaps where we have harvested vegetables. I mostly grow annual plants here but there are some perennials; recently I planted an apricot tree, on pixie root stock so that it won’t get very big. Other trees – a peach, nectarine and a mystery fruit – are on unknown rootstocks, so they are growing in large tree pots. A 3 year old grapevine is established at the back of the polytunnel. The lemongrass planted in the ground may have survived the winter, it looks hopeful and other overwintered perennials are snug in their pots in side beds.

This is the flowering mystery tree. Unlike my other potted fruit trees, last year this one didn’t produce any fruit so I do not know what it is. An apricot, peach, almond?

mystery tree

The polytunnel is 12ft x 40ft. During the summer the beds are completely full but at this time of year I make the most of the dry covered space and set up a potting bench. There’s also my saw horse, a stack of card for mulching, bags of compost and lots of young plants waiting to go outside.

The lettuce on the left has just been picked. The larger lettuce is the chosen Grenoble Red plant for saving seed. I chose this one because, unlike the other lettuces, this one self seeded from the lettuce I was growing for seed last year – it chose where to grow (ok, that is a bit of a romantic notion, but I like it…) Grenoble Red is the best lettuce for overwintering here, very prolific and tasty.

Signs of spring – some of the first flowers in my garden, all outside except the apricot.

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Roasted squash and Czar bean hummus

Over the past two weeks I have been busy with our courses, my garden, picking salad at Charles’ garden and doing the final edit of our book No Dig Organic Home & Garden. We are both really happy with the way it is looks – so colourful! Signed copies can be pre-ordered from Charles’ website here. Publication date is very soon – April 10th 🙂 I have included many of my recipes in the book: for potions, drinks, preserves, cosmetics and of course seasonal food.

During the winter months I regularly make variations of this hummus for our gardening courses. The choice of squash varies – this winter I have used Uchiki Kuri, Crown Prince and Marina di Chioggia with either homegrown Czar beans or chickpeas. It is delicious – thick, rich, full of flavour and a beautiful golden orange. Later, I will use early broad beans with the last of the winter squashes to make this adaptable tasty hummus.

I’ve been asked for the recipe so many times that I promised to share it here.

The Czar beans are a type of runner bean, very easy to grow and dry.

This recipe makes quite a lot of hummus. It keeps well in the fridge; I also freeze small portions for another time. You’ll need:

2 cups cooked Czar beans or chick peas  (soaked overnight and then boiled until tender) – plus more for topping (optional)

2 cups roasted squash – a sweet, nutty variety tastes best

1/2 cup tahini

2 cloves garlic, chopped

juice of one lemon

water or reserved chickpea cooking liquid

1/4 cup olive oil plus extra for drizzling

1 tsp ground coriander seed

1 tsp ground cumin seeds

a small bunch of fresh coriander and/or parsley – plus more to sprinkle on the top (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

smoked paprika (optional)

A food processor – mine is a Magimix – or blender, or a stick blender

Put everything except the smoked paprika and water/cooking liquid into a food processor and whizz.

 

Drizzle the water carefully through the spout in the lid as the ingredients are blending, until everything is thoroughly processed and it has the consistency that you want. Some people prefer a thicker hummus, others a smoother one.

Spoon into a dish…

The hummus is tasty straight from the food processor, but I like to decorate it too. Here, I have topped the hummus with more cooked beans, finely chopped herbs, smoked paprika and a final drizzle of olive oil.

 

If you have a less flavoursome squash, add more spices to increase the depth of flavour – cinnamon, turmeric or chilli powder.

Enjoy!

 

 

How to eat more than 10 a day, in March

Growing your own really helps to make meals more delicious and exciting, offering an ever changing repertoire of amazing fresh veggies, fruit, herbs and other edibles to eat. For our no dig gardening courses at Homeacres I make lunches using, as much as we possibly can, only food that has been grown by Charles or myself. There is such variety! Even when there are several courses in a month, the choice of available plants to harvest is never the same from one course to the next.

We love sharing fresh homegrown food and hopefully inspiring people to grow as much as possible and experiment with their harvests.

Shredded Chioggia beetroot, a beautiful pink and white striped variety

To make the most use of what we grow, all of my dishes are entirely plant based, showcasing the incredible range of colours, flavours, textures and possibilities of the food we grow. People are always commenting on the colourfulness of the food and even the most enthusiastic omnivore leaves the table feeling full and happy.

In addition to freshly harvested vegetables, herbs, etc I use home stored ingredients including squashes, onions, garlic, chillies, beetroot, dehydrated tomatoes, some home dried herbs and spices and dried beans, especially Czar (a white runner bean) and Borlotti. From the larder, I use olive and sunflower oil, vinegars, spices we can’t grow (ginger, cinnamon), oranges and lemons. We have some homemade cider vinegar and our own homemade infused oils and vinegars too.

Every meal in the winter and spring includes a seasonal soup, Charles’ homemade sourdough rye bread (made with freshly ground organic rye grain, bought locally) and Homeacres salad leaves.

Charles’ No Knead Sourdough Bread

This month, the range of plants we can harvest include parsnips, leeks, cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, different kinds of kale, herbs (including parsley, mint, chervil, coriander, French tarragon, chives, sage, thyme), spinach and sprouts. Charles’ garden is much bigger than mine, but I also grow all of this – and more – in my own polytunnel, home garden and allotment. It is possible to grow a wide range of plants through the winter to eat in gardens and allotment – with good planning and crop protection! We can also forage for new nettle tops and the wild garlic is just about ready to harvest.

Although I usually have a few ideas for what I will make, the menu isn’t created until I see what we have in the kitchen.

I make raw and cooked dishes, often experimenting with different ways of using the same vegetable.

 

And also bake cakes or muffins to go with afternoon tea. The experimental vegan beetroot and spinach muffins were extremely yummy – richly flavoured, just the right gooeyness – but I made them in a rush without weighing all of the ingredients, so can’t share the recipe until I have made them again 🙂

The roasted squash hummus is always really popular; I’ll be blogging the recipe here very soon, so look out for it! Many of these recipes will be in our new book, out very soon!