Let us Grow Lettuce

I gave this a go recently out of sheer desperation. We had a big hole in our garden ready for autumn/winter planting and an inspection looming just a few days away. With nothing left in the garden centres we were racking our brains how best to quickly fill up the mini plot to make sure it looked like we weren’t just needlessly making a big hole in the garden. As it turned out, they didn’t even look at what we’d done to the garden, but at least it gave us a solid push to get our stuff sorted for the year!

I was trawling through the supermarket and there it was… a pack of lettuce. But not a cellophane wrapped cut lettuce head or ready to eat bag mix, it was those “still growing” fresh varieties that are all the rage right now with force grown lettuce jam packed into a small container of thin soil that last just a few days longer than normal if you get them home to sun and water quickly.

Not this one but something just like this (from the mysupermarket website):

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The lettuce is tiny and delicate – and that’s good if you’re into that but it you want something substantial you should think about replanting it. Yep, turns out that this little tray of lettuce has so many seedlings in it, a third of this small tray produced two packed rows of lettuce on my mini plot. They toughened up in no  time with a temporary poundland polytunnel which lasted just long enough to prepare them for their new outdoor life (about a week – not worth the pound).

This is the little beauties a week later after I removed the destroyed polytunnel.

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Not only did they survive, but they have grown very well, given a new lease of life they took to the new average soil very well no doubt starved of nutrients long ago in their little tray and have become good sized plants. I am now just a few weeks later cutting leaves off for my salads without much thought. The leaves are still also relatively delicate and they aren’t tasteless, tough abominations.

Considering this tray of lettuce cost me £1 (from the reduced section) and I easily have more than 10 lettuces out of a third of the tray I’d call that excellent value for money and a great fast turnaround for the vacant autumn plot. I’m definitely recommending this trick for anyone in need of fast lettuce or looking to get some lettuce seedlings out of garden centre season.

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What to do with the odd one out tomatoes

It’s the beginning of tomato season.. and only one or two tomatoes are ripe while the rest wait patiently to ripen in little clusters of reasonable quantity.

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The very first tomato that ripens you will probably eat and comment on how amazingly sweet your tomatoes are compared to the shop standard. But what could you do with the small clumps afterwards? They aren’t enough to make a meal just yet so you’d be forgiven for keeping some shop tomatoes in the fridge still.

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Well this year I’ve decided to dry a few in my dehydrator. It’s sunny, so for fear of flies I didn’t want to leave them out in he sun – but if you have good weather and appropriate netted racks this would be ideal. You can also choose to pop them in the oven on a low heat.. say around 50 degrees c and this will do the same job as your dehydrator.

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Cut the tomatoes at least once to expose the gooey centres and line them up on baking paper. It helps if they are all roughly the same size as this provides an even drying process.

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Make sure they are thoroughly dry throughout to prevent spoiling later on. When completely dry, you can store them in jars and keep adding more as and when they ripen.

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These dried tomatoes are full of flavour and make great additions to soups, risotto/paella, tapas, sauces and more. You can use them up now, or wait until tomato season is over to get a bit of extra seasonal milage out of them.

How to Make your Own Real Tomato Sauce

Do you have a thriving tomato plant in your home, garden, polytunnel or conservatory? Great! Then by now you are no doubt getting handfuls of tomatoes from it and looking at more unique ways of serving them up. This is a fantastic way of preserving the tomatoes and gaining a tasty sauce you don’t need to feel bad about adding to your dishes. This sauce keeps for up to 12 months sealed and 6 weeks once opened (if stored in the fridge when open). It tastes great too!

Ingredients

  • 2.5kg tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tsp ground black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ginger (ground or juiced according to taste)
  • dash of chilli according to personal preference
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
  • 250g white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

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Method

Roughly chop the tomatoes and onion, and place in a large pan with all the spices. Add the vinegar and bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add the sugar and stir until dissolved then bring to the boil. Once boiling point is reached reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour.

When the sauce is thick and pulpy blend or sieve the mixture according to your preference and store in an appropriate rubber sealed bottle.

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Yarrow

Name: Yarrow

Location: Grassy areas, short grass or long

Months: All Year Round

Edible Parts: Leaves, flowers

 

11233555_10153264774586774_8925260634467739934_nWhile this is a picture of Yarrow on my allotment, I can assure you this plant grows everywhere and you are as likely to come across it as you are to find docks or dandelions. Often hidden in short grass the plant Yarrow can appear to be horizontal for most of the year only revealing itself by a few well trodden on curls of leaves in parks and pathway grass. However, at this time of year it also starts to grow upwards as it attempts to throw out some flowers and it can get very tall in the right location.

The leaves and flowers of Yarrow are used in salads and yarrow oil is also used in shampoo. Some people chew on yarrow to relieve toothache. In the garden it makes an excellent compost activator. Medicinal uses include easing the symptoms of fever, colds, gastrointestinal issues including IBS symptoms and to induce sweating.

 

WARNING: Do not consume excessive amounts, may contain thujone, cause drowsiness and increase urination. For some people, it can also cause a skin irritation.

Borage

Name: Borage

Location: Grassy areas, plots, gardens, forest floors

Months: All Year Round

Edible Parts: Flowers, Leaves

WARNING: Not to be confused with Foxglove and Comfrey.
Foxglove – feel the leaves, are they soft and fur like? If so then you probably found foxglove before it flowered which is poisonous.
Comfrey – Flowers are purple instead of blue. Comfrey is the perrenial version of borage which is annual.

 

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Borage works much like Comfrey in the compost bin as a brilliant plant stimulant for leafy growth. However, it is also considered an edible herb with tasty crisp leaves (if a bit furry). Some report they taste liek cucumber but I am less convinced. The flowers are also edible and as such make a brilliant garnish and addition to salad mixes.

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Collected leaves and flowers from the borage plants on my allotment. Many garden shops now sell borage seeds to grow yourself and they excellent plants for attracting bees.

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Borage leaves and flowers used to boost the contents and appearance of Elderflower cordial. I found that in this mixture the leaves slowly turn neon pink from the tips inward creating a pleasing and pretty drink garnish.

Straw Bale Planting

There are many reasons why you would want to go down the route of planting on straw bales. My reasons are as follows:

  • I don’t have to bend down to reach the plants. (also very helpful idea for elderly/disabled/bad backs)
  • I don’t have to do any digging in that area (my plot is full of brambles and tree roots so this is a bit of a relief to cut down on as much digging required as possible)
  • The plants I am choosing for the straw bales are Squash and Pumpkins. These large heavy fruit will be easily kept away from the ground, supported by the bales,  and stay dry and in good condition in whatever weather.
  • At just £3 per bale of straw, it’s cheaper than compost and as it breaks down natural goodness is still released!

Make sure you get your straw bales put into your chosen position in advance of plating out. You don’t want to plant your seedling directly into the straw bale as soon as you set it on the ground. I recommend a minimum of 15 days with the straw bales “out in the elements” and to make sure you visit them regularly and soak them in water whenever you can.

You do not need to add extra compost and nitrogen fluid but it does help if you can do so. I intend to use chicken manure saturated water on the bales to soak them in extra nutrients before planting.

11057339_10153208050226774_3212869578303713884_nIn addition to this, think about what plants you are going to have near it. I chose a row of Borage right next to the straw bales. I waited for them to get big enough to not be bothered about the shade, this is a big hardy plant that is useful in many ways. In addition, Borage is reported to be a good companion plant for almost anything but in particular squash and strawberries. The straw bales on my plot are destined to have squash and pumpkins on them and in addition I have strawberries filling my fruit bush and raspberry bush area which is right next to the bales. This therefore seems like a match made in heaven!

Why is Borage Useful?

 

  • Companion plant for most plants. Strawberries – increases yield and improves flavour
  • Deters tomato hornworms and cabbage worms
  • One of the best bee and wasp attracting plant
  • Adds trace minerals to the soil and improves compost
  • Increases resistance to pests and disease for any plants next to it
  • Perrenial – plant once and never worry about it again
  • Flowers are edible!

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To plant the borage, I dug a long trench alongside the straw bales, and then placed the borage evenly along it.

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Remember the Pop Bottles?

On Day 3 of going over the allotment to prepare it for cultivation, we made a small handy pop bottle structure for planting along the fence by the pathway. This is known by many as vertical growing.

We didn’t plant anything at this time – it was totally out of season, but now I have a bunch of Spinach seedlings with no home and I decided this would be a great spot for them.

It’s important to note that I do not know if spinach really will be okay in these bottles. It’s shallow, its warm and it’s dense. However, I gave a handful of seedlings to my partner Alan for his standard allotment so I know either way I will still have Spinach on the table.

 

I added a handful of fresh compost to each of the bottles and planted a spinach seedling in each one. Then I watered it heavily and stood back to admire my handiwork. I will keep you updated how well this goes.. Just check out our sustainable life facebook page for allotment updates.

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Re-use old Seeds

Some seeds are healthy and bursting full of flavour – just add water! This week we had a big clearout of some of our older seed packets. These can become unreliable or you may just have decided that these seeds weren’t a great turnout for you and they have been phased out.

Check to see if the seeds can be sprouted or turned into micro-greens and use them up as part of your all year round salad.

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To sprout seeds:

  • Place in a clean jar full of water overnight.
  • Empty the water out and leave in the jar on a windowsill
  • Rinse with water every day until sprouted
  • Ready to eat!

To grow Microgreens follow our handy tips on making juice box seedling containers.

 

Turn your Juice and Milk Cartons into Seedling Trays

It’s easy to turn your leftover Juice Cartons and Milk Cartons into seedling planters. Not all cities recycle this material so if you are stuck in a place that won’t recycle them like us, it’s a great idea to try to re-use them instead.

Cut out a rectangle shape on the top of the carton (keeping the lid tightly screwed on still. Do not cut all the way to the edge of the carton – you will need a cm roughly around the edges to keep the carton stable with the weight of the soil inside.

Then simply fill with seedling soil and plant your salad seeds. Place on a windowsill and harvest as and when you desire! The easy compact design of these cartons make them the perfect size for windowsills and the cartons are naturally leak proof and certified food safe.

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Saving egg shells

Egg shells: whether you have chickens or not chances are you get through quite a few eggs in your household. Don’t throw those egg shells away though! Egg shells have good stuff like calcium in them which you or a friend may find very useful!

 

I grind up my egg shells and portion them out into small resealable bags For my chickens, as giving them back the calcium helps them create new eggs again!

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Bear in mind – don’t give chickens whole eggs to eat, or you will teach them to eat Thier own eggs.

 

But it’s not just chickens that benefit from egg shells, here are a few more ideas for reusing egg shells:

  • If you keep snails in a fish tank (to eat algae) or pond, try adding some crushed egg shells when they have baby snails. The calcium supplement of egg shells will help the baby snails to grow big and hard shells and protect them from fish as they grow up.
  • add egg shells to chicken feed as an extra supplement to Thier existing diet.
  • Instead of using salt which can harm plants, sprinkle egg shells instead (crushed) and this will also keep snails and slugs away due to the sharp edges.
  • Add the egg shells to your compost as they are rich in good nutrients to help your plants.