Friday, 5 February 2010

It's January and there's food in the garden

It's January and there's food in the garden. That is in spite of all the snow over the last few weeks.
Our journey to simple living and frugality has always invovled a flirtation with the idea of self sufficiency.
A part of me is wistful about living in a culture where that was still possible. Where you could just build a house and the local Council would not make you come and take it down again because it did not have plumbing and wiring and meet building control standards.
In one of the World Vision charity newsletters, there was lad living in an 8foot by 6 foot square brick shelter with no windows.
He had built his house with money provided by World Vision for people who had no where to live. He was 18 years old and by himself. When asked why he did not build a bigger house he simply said that as it was the first one he had built, he thought it best to build a small one! To him it was a palace. I wonder whether he would rather have my bungalow with plumbing and electricity? It means a constant drain on the finances that he will not have.
When you have to pay Council Tax (the UK's property tax paid each year based on the value of you house) and electricity and gas it can seem like there really is little chance of cutting down those bills to the point when you don't need so much money.

It is more possible than it seems though and we are a case in point. We put our efforts into making sure there is no waste. the idea is to spend no money unless it adds to our quality of life and enjoyment.

Earning a living growing vegetables in the garden may not be sustainable in Western culture. What they can do is to supplement our income somewhat. I have heard it said that growing vegetables does not pay because they are cheap and do not save much money. NOT TRUE. Admittedly if you work it out purely on the basis of how much a carrot costs it does not save much money. But here is our sum.
1. Substitute buying more expensive groceres and eat what you have in the garden. Plan meals based on what is ready and change your diet to suit. it will end up being more delicious and healthier once you can bring yourself to make the change.
2. Plan what you plant based on what you eat a lot of.
3. Plant things that are expensive to buy. For example rocket and watercress are expensive to buy. Rocket and land cress are very easy to grow and will self seed.
4. Grow small amounts of many different things rather a lot of any one thing. Then you won't get sick of it. NB no one is likely to eat more than 12 large cabbages in a year...
5. Any thing that says on the packet it is an 'early' can also be planted at the tail end of the year with the exception of parsnips. If you have any cover at all, even a bit of plastic and some old bricks, you can plant something under it to provide winter salad. (when it is most expensive to buy). You can extend the season a lot even by planting outside in August and September in Scotland so if you live farther south it is even more worthwhile. We have a 20 foot long polytunnel and get greens all winter.

6. The following are hardy winter salad crops in order of hardiness, with the hardiest first.

* Kale. This is yummy in salads as well as cooked. The trick is to pick it often and then you get lots of young tender leaves. These are sweet and not at all like the tough bitter old leaves we often think of when the word 'kale'is mentioned. And it has all those winter vitamins in it.

* Leeks. Will stand outside all winter no problem just like the kale. If I had a tiny plot I would put a kale plant and 2 dozen leeks in it for the winter.

* Winter cabbage. Great for cole slaw.

* Mooli, or White Radish. A long huge radish. The variety long White Icicle is very hardy. Grate it in the cole slaw along with the carrot, put it grated in stews, curries and soups. I once had Mooli Parathas in an Indian Cafe and it was great, so try stuffing savoury pancakes with it too.

* Early carrots planted in september - will survive well outside till December. Will survive all winter in a polytunnel or frame. If they are small, leave them and they will start to grow in February and be a good size by April.

* Lambs lettuce. will survive almost any weather even without a cover. put something over it and it continues growing all winter. Ours has an old plastic caravan window over it and has survived -13c.

* Claytonia. Will last all winter in a poly tunnel. Does quite well in a cold frame with a layer of bubble wrap inside it in Scotland. If you live south of Scotland the world is your oyster. I used to live in London and could grow winter lettuce outside till November. Claytonia is much hardier than winter lettuce.

Right now we are eating the following straight from the garden: All of the above except the carrots and mooli which are all eaten. PLUS spinach, pak choi, endives, lettuce, beetroot, parsley and a number of different herbs. A lot of this was planted in July, August and September and that is the trick. And do bear in mind we had 12 inches of snow for 2 weeks and have had temperatures of minus 13c several times this winter.

So dinner starts with 'what's in the garden', and mostly includes a salad. We use leeks instead of onions until they run out.

We are sprouting most of the time. Any green salad looks better for some sprouts. We have two of those stacking salad sprouters and keep them in one huge stack to save space. I don't keep the sprouts in the dark to start with like some books suggest. I do keep the trays tilted all the time as they drain better. Irun them under a brisk tap twice a dy.

At the moment we have a mixture of soya beans, chick peas, 2 kinds of lentils and aduki beans in one tray and alfalfa in the other. It looks really good in a salad and the first kind is ready in a couple of days. Chick peas are the quickest of all so in an emergency just do a tray of them. Red Cabbage sprouts are really tasty and colourful.

I soak all the seeds overnight in water before putting them in the trays as it speeds them up by a day or so. NOTE: next time you are in a supermarket check out the price of salad sprouts. If they have them at all they are not cheap. Grow them yourself and they cost pennies.
I take them when we visit friends for dinner as a gift and they are always appreciated.
I put the word out that I wanted the seeds for sprouting as many people have them but don't use them. In return I gave the donors some sprouted seeds.
Another tip: they also grow well in the garden and work out a lot cheaper than buying seeds that are intended for the garden. You never know what variety they are but they grow well.
The same goes for seeds sold for culinary use, such as celery or coriander. Just plant some in the garden and they will grow. I have grown all my celery like that for years.

YOu don't need to move to the country to do this. In fact please don't - it is a lot more expensive.
We used to live in the country and we know.
You will spend more on extra fuel for the car than you will save growing vegetables and it is a lot worse for the planet.

If you are not a gardener and want to do a little bit, here is a suggestion.
If you have a 1 metre plot of land, plant one potato, a few cloves of garlic from the supermarket and some rocket or a few lettuce plants this spring. Then in July put some lambs lettuce and some more garlic in and it will be ready in spring.
Next year put in a kale plant, a dozen leeks and some salad.
The year after, some mange tout on tall canes and a courgette plant.
In year 4 go back to the beginning.
It will taste like nothing else. If you don't have a garden plant a few herbs in pots on a windowsill. Try basil if you have a sunny window sill. If you have a patio or path or anything outside at all, plant one potato in a bucket.
If you don't want to grow from seed buy a pot of herbs from the supermarket. split them and put them in several pots and they will last a lot longer. The more you pick them the longer they will last, so long as you always leave some leaves on the plant. Basil and parsley work well.

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