Help make Brighton & Hove Pesticide free!

Want to help end Brighton & Hove Council’s use of toxic pesticides? Local organisation PAN UK have launched the Pesticide-Free Brighton & Hove campaign ahead of city-wide council elections on 2nd May. The campaign asks candidates to pledge to end the Council’s use of toxic pesticides in our public spaces including parks, playgrounds and pavements and around hospitals, shopping centres and schools.

Urban pesticide use is unnecessary. It’s bad for human health and the environment and there are plenty of councils in the UK that have already switched to non-chemical alternatives.

You can help make Brighton & Hove pesticide-free by taking (and sharing) this easy online action. It’s for anyone who lives, works or studies in the city and won’t take more than 1 minute: http://www.pan-uk.org/brighton-and-hove/

Foraging Series: Herbs of the High Street

BHOGG have called on the talents of writer-forager Craig to walk us through some foraging basics over the coming year. Craig will be covering some of the culinary highlights to be found around our highways and byways, as well as a few suggestions on how to cook with them. Over to Craig:

For my first post, I’m sticking firmly to the city to consider some of the hardy herbs and little gems we regularly find in gardens and green spaces, even if not on our actual high street. So, if you are walking down (or up, or along) the street, take a look at the plants poking out from front gardens or parks, as its likely you’ll be trotting right past some of my favourites: Rosemary, Sweet Bay and Wood Sorrel.

Rosemary

For many, this will be an easy spot as rosemary is so common and abundant. But the thing about rosemary is its variety. Having been cultivated for thousands of years, it offers a vista of experiences to the plucky picker: Lemony astringency, dusky spiciness and heavy, oily camphor are all on offer in different plants, so don’t pass up the opportunity to investigate something so common. It might just surprise you.

Sweet Bay

The Sweet Bay is a member of the laurel family, and it is important to note that some of its cousins are poisonous. There are two ways to definitively spot Sweet Bay (on my right in the photo above). The first is that the leaves are brittle and feel like thin, stiff paper. The second is its wholesome herbal freshness on the nose. Cup some leaves into your palm and inhale deeply. Do you think of the tang of stew and Autumn? Then it’s Sweet Bay. Does it smell of almonds? Then it’s one of the inedible laurels – DON’T PICK IT!

Wood Sorrel

Lastly, there’s this less common little plant. Wood Sorrel is not closely related to common sorrel, so presumably gets its name due to the similarity in taste: A citrus sweetshop wallop in the mouth and a very pleasant one too! Normally, I treat it as a snack and pull out a couple of stalks and nibble them from the bottom toward the leaf. While these leaves are edible and of a similar flavour, their texture is not as firm and refreshing as the stem, though I’m not that fussy and usually eat the whole thing. If you happen upon a good bunch of wood sorrel, I’d recommend steaming them in a little water for a few minutes and then blending them up with a drop of honey or golden syrup. You’ll get an intense little sauce that’s great over coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream.

Craig Jordan-Baker has been a forager of urban and wild spaces for about ten years, even foraging for nibbleable nuggets for a restaurant to mix into marvellous meals. Please ensure you follow responsible foraging guidelines when you’re out and about foraging. Check out the Woodland Trust’s guidelines.

Weald Community Allotment: Starter Bed Scheme

Alan gives us a flavour of volunteering life on BHOGG’s Weald Community Allotment.

There is a fresh buzz on Lottie each March and this March was no exception as the days grow longer and the warmth in the soil heralds new growth. The rhubarb is “popping” from its crowns and reaching its leaves out towards the sun, while the sweet, tender brassica shoots thank us for our winter’s work.

A new set of individuals, families and friends join us, many of whom have hurried to join our “Starter Bed Scheme” on a ‘first come first served’ basis with 22 initially registering. Novice allotmenteers participate in our communal gardening each Sunday and, when they have built up some hands-on experience, they cultivate their own bed organically. This year 10 people have joined us to discover the delights of gardening surrounded by bird song and beautiful vistas. They work and learn from our evergreen team of regulars enjoying breaks and picnics together.

Infinity Foods have donated a magnificent community shed to replace the small dilapidated hut that had no door, whose portal we ducked under on our way in and cursed when we banged into it on the way out. Its construction was a true community effort with Barbara, Pete, Nigel, Phillipa and Alan spending many hours preparing the foundations with our newcomers preparing the surrounding path. Thanks to Viv for her fundraising too. It all went swimmingly, so watch out for the opening of the Infinity Shed soon with eye-level views to die for.

April will be an exciting month as the seeds are sown, the asparagus rockets ever upwards and the potato shoot herald the taste of summer salads and a new season ahead. Come and join our evergreen allotmenteers every Sunday at 11 am, garden and then chill out in the peace.

Alan

A personal quest: Can organic farming grow enough to feed the people?

Pat is interested to find out more about whether organic agriculture can grow enough to feed the people. Pat will be pursuing this question, producing some pieces for BHOGG members along the way and asks you to join her on her quest for answers.  Here’s what she writes this month:

This is a subject I’m interested in finding out more about. Meanwhile, I came upon a discussion of a piece of research into whether or not organic, small-scale farming in India could match the wheat yields of industrial agriculture. The result was that small farmers’ yields were lower.

Writing about this, Vandana Shiva pointed out that it was only the wheat that was measured. Other foods growing in the margins of small farmers’ fields were not counted. There are many green plants – ‘weeds’ – growing around the fields that are eaten in different seasons. They add a precious variety of nutritional elements and flavours to peoples’ diets but because of their variability and seasonality this contribution can’t be measured. These plants are not exactly cultivated, but encouraged. They are, of course, wiped out by industrial farming with its larger fields and chemical inputs.

Thinking to learn from this, I have encouraged (and am currently eating) ramsons and sorrel, alexanders (stalks) and the leaves of salt-bush growing around my allotment. These are rampant characters and need to be harvested to keep them from taking over. There’s also land cress and lambs’ lettuce that seed freely and make excellent winter and early spring salads.

And there’s the bonus – they look after themselves.

Further Reference: Vandana Shiva has lots of books out. For ‘weed’ recipes I recommend Robin Harford’s website www.eatweeds.co.uk for recipes and inspiration.

Rhubarb Season: A trio of recipes

This trio of recipes come to us from Weald Allotment Community bed starter scheme volunteer, Saskia.  Thanks to her also for images.

Hooray!  Whether forced or left to grow naturally, rhubarb is now unstoppable. There are so many ways you can enjoy it, let me tell you about my 3 favourites:

1 – Bake It!

Wash the rhubarb and as always, make sure you cut the leaves off, plus a bit of stem at the top and never eat that. Cut the stems into inch long pieces; if they are very thick, slice them in half. Spread them out on a non metal baking dish, quite full but not overflowing. Sprinkle on some brown sugar, (infused with vanilla if you have it), or some cinnamon and sugar, or white sugar or honey – and then squeeze over it the juice of any old clementine or orange. Bake at about 150-180 Celsius (gas 5-7) for 15 minutes and then leave the oven on but the door shut. If you filled the tray up a lot, bake it a bit longer.

The pieces will shrink and become very soft and delicious, still sour, also sweet. I put them on my muesli or eat them like little treats.

2 – Juice It! (and make crumble, the two can go hand in hand)

Put the washed and chopped pieces into a saucepan and, if you have any and want to, add apple pieces (or pear, or oranges or frozen berries). If you want more juice, also add some apple juice and a small amount of sugar (or none). Cook for a short while. Pour the juice into a mug for drinking. Pour the fruit into an ovenproof bowl.

Use the same saucepan you just had without cleaning it to make the crumble mixture by melting some butter or margarine or oil in it. You can use the same hot plate that is turned off if you have an electric cooker, it will still be warm enough. (The amount of oil depends on how calorific you want this to be.) In a separate bowl mix 1 measure (e.g a cup) of rolled porridge oats, 1 measure of flour and 1/2 a measure or less of sugar. Once the oil is melted, put in the dry ingredients and stir them with a wooden spoon until it all comes together like breadcrumbs. Pour those on top of the fruit and bake in the 180 Celsius oven until it is bubbling and a bit brown. Usually no more than 20 minutes.

Enjoy with your choice of cream, custard or ice cream! This recipe works with any fruit if you don’t have rhubarb later in the year.

3 – Jam It! (I call it Magic Jam as nobody ever guesses what is in it)

Ingredients

  • 700 grams of rhubarb
  • 300 grams of raspberries (frozen at this time of year)
  • 500 grams of sugar
  • vanilla
  • a sachet of Doctor Oetger 2:1 Gelfix – if you can get one you often find it in Polish shops. This powder helps make sure jam sets perfectly with half as much sugar as fruit. Alternatively use pectin.

Method

Cut all fruit small, place in a big pot with most of the sugar (but not yet the sachet) and leave to steep for a few hours. Then add the sachet mixed with last of the sugar, stir and boil and stir for 4 minutes only. Have 4 very clean jars ready to pour it in while hot and you’re done. Put the lids on and if they seal (you’ll hear the lids ‘pop’ as the cooling jam creates a vacuum), the jam will last for a long time. Once open keep in the fridge.

 

Cleavers & Nettle Spring Tonic

This recipe comes courtesy of Ruby Taylor, artist/ maker & teacher of Native Hands – a wonderful programme of ‘wild’ crafts, including basketry, pottery and fire making. Ruby’s courses are held mostly outdoors in woodland and have evolved out of a love of making things in nature using natural materials.  Find out more on her website/ blog.

Ruby says:

Cleavers grow abundantly in gardens/allotments and any marginal area. Also known as goose grass and sticky willie, it’s the one that you can throw at your friend’s back & it’ll stick there without them feeling a thing. Cleavers and nettles make one of the best spring tonics (great for the lymphatic system & full of nutrition). This is one of my very favourite things to make as spring arrives. I’ll be having a glass of this every morning for the next month or so. Cheers, all!

Method

Gather a small handful of the young leaves of each plant & crush in a pestle & mortar with half a glass of water added. Strain & keep the juice, Repeat the crushing & straining, to get a glassful of juice. Drink straight away while it’s vibrant green.

Images credits: Leonora Enking & Ruby Taylor

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – keeping it simple

PSB servedPurple sprouting broccoli is a welcome spring crop, and is worth the long growing season if you have the space. It is nothing like its broccoli or calabrese cousins and is often considered the equal of asparagus; prices in the shops may help you make the decision to find the room to include this brilliant brassica.

If, like me you are waiting keenly for the first pick of home grown purple sprouting broccoli, or if you’re already reaping an early harvest, then you’ll love this fresh, simple recipe.

Ingredients:

  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Sesame Oil
  • Soy Sauce or Tamari
  • Toasted Sesame Seeds to garnish

Method:

  1. Rinse the broccoli and cut off any hard stems
  2. Heat the sesame oil in a wok and add the broccoli once the oil is hot – it should sizzle
  3. Cover the pan allowing steam to cook the broccoli
  4. Just before the broccoli is cooked (still with a ‘bite’), add soy sauce
  5. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds

How To…Sow Seeds

Welcome to our latest ‘How To…’ guide.  Things you will need for this: seeds, compost, pots.

1 Things you need

Seeds can either be sown directly into the soil where they will grow, or raised in posts first to give them the necessary protection for a head start on the growing season. Once you’ve decided what seeds you want to plant, the technique for sowing is pretty similar for all seeds. Remember to read the seed packet to make sure you’re giving your plants the best head start.

Step 1. Choose a growing medium. You can buy organic seed compost from a number of suppliers. It is not essential to use seed compost, but because seeds contain all the energy needed to germinate, they don’t need a high nutrient compost to start off with.

Step 2.  Choose suitable pots or seed trays in which to sow your seeds and fill them with compost. Make sure you leave enough space for a covering layer of compost or to make a hole to plant the seed. If the seeds are very small (such as brassicas) you may want to sprinkle them thinly (broadcast) over a seed tray rather than into individual pots or modular seed trays (ones with multiple sections joined together). You can use a variety of containers to plant seeds, as long as they have drainage holes in the base. If you are keen to avoid plastic, then why not try making your own paper pots from newspaper. These can be planted out without the need for transplanting and disturbing roots.

Step 3.  Sow your seeds. As a rule, seeds should be planted twice the depth of their size. For very small seeds, a fine layer of compost to cover is sufficient. For larger seeds, use a piece of cane, a pencil (or your finger!) to make a hole the correct depth and drop the seed in. Try and make sure you only use seed that is in date. Some seeds store better than others and should be kept cool and dry. Some seeds have extra needs to help with germination. Some need an ‘artificial winter’ and will need to be kept in the fridge before sowing; some will benefit from soaking overnight. Check the packet for any tips and directions on this. A good tip: don’t forget to label your seeds; I always think I will remember what things are, but I don’t.

Step 4.  Water in. The best way to water seeds is by standing the entire tray or set of modules in water and allowing the compost to draw up the moisture until the surface is just wet. Don’t use rainwater for seeds and seedlings as it can contain fungal spores that can lead to a common cause of seedling death: dampening off, whereby the seedling stem withers away.

4 Water in

Step 5.  Raise seedlings. For indoor sown seeds, keep the trays somewhere with constant temperature and good light. Make sure the compost doesn’t dry out, but don’t overwater. You can put covers (or cloches) over the seeds to help maintain the temperature, but you should remove these as soon as the seed germinates to allow good air circulation and prevent moulds from forming. For outdoor plants, you will be more at the mercy of the elements, but you can use covers to help minimise overwatering from rain, damage from wind and fluctuating temperatures.

5 Finished pots

Step 6.  Thinning out your seedlings. As cruel as it seems, it is important to thin out seedlings where you have broadcast sown to ensure that the remaining seedlings have optimum conditions to become strong plants. You can always use seedling thinnings as a topping on salads, or pot them on and give them to friends and family.

Step 7.  Growing on your seedlings. Some plants, particularly those with larger seeds, will need to be potted on to larger containers as they outgrow their seedling pots, but this is not recommended for the brassica family as they dislike having their roots disturbed. If you do transplant seedlings, only handle them by their leaves and roots; try not to touch the stem as it is easy to damage it. Pot on into organic potting compost where the young plants will benefit from a higher nutrient content.

Now you can sit back and daydream of warmer spring days when you can plant out the seedlings after risk of frost has passed. Don’t forget to harden off tender plants by leaving them outside during the day for a few days, then over night before planting in the final location.

For a quick look guide on how to plant different types of seed, go to our seed sowing table.

BHOGG’s Starter Bed scheme at Weald Allotment site

INTO8

We are pleased to confirm that the Organic Starter Bed scheme operating at the Weald Allotment site has the green light from the Allotment team at B&HCC to continue in 2019. Read on to find out more about what the scheme is and why it has been so successful

In 2014 the Organic Gardening Group (BHOGG) worked in cooperation with the City Council’s Allotment officer to pioneer a project enabling 6-8 people on the Weald allotment waiting list to spend a year cultivating a “starter bed” and gardening on the organic community allotment. The scheme has been in place ever since, with great outcomes from a survey of users covering the period 2015-2018.

24 people were involved and responses were received from 16 with all 16 rating the scheme at “very good” on a scale of ‘very bad’ to ‘very good’. What participants loved: hands-on gardening experience outdoors, use of equipment, learning from each other and access to a breadth of gardening knowledge, sense of community engendering friendships and sociability.

All participants believed that the scheme helped them prepare effective for their own allotment or to continue as a volunteer on the community allotment to gain further experience. As one grower noted:

“It’s been really useful for learning what crops I would like to grow, how much work will be involved and what size Allotment might be manageable for me”

Of 14 people who have gone on to have their own allotments, 12 have successfully cultivated their allotments and we only know of 2 people who have given up. This appears to be a very low drop out rate compared to the allotment strategy figures for allotment holders generally.

There were no notable problems reported, and in fact participants suggest that more sessions and communal events be held. Unexpected benefits were reported, such as the impact of the plot on wellbeing for volunteers:

“Although I joined BHOGG to learn about organic gardening, I found it also had massive benefits for my mental health (I suffer from anxiety). The effect of going once a week has been very noticeable I i.e. I notice a change in my mood if I don’t go”.

In conclusion, there seems to be much to recommend this scheme, and support from B&HCC and from sponsors Infinity Food have made the project possible. It would be great to offer the scheme to a larger number of people and on other allotment sites.

“In my view the project is a wonderful community enhancing, educational and healthy living inspiring network and activity. People are helpful to each other, there is a good balance of personal accountability and group responsibility, co-ordination is brilliant despite that task being obviously akin to herding cats. I have personally enjoyed making new friends, the fresh air and exercise and feeling much more prepared for my own allotment when that time comes.”

If you are interested in becoming involved in the scheme, offering some volunteer time on the BHOGG Weald plots or in helping support the work of BHOGG generally, please do get in touch with us.  You can read Alan’s full starter bed scheme report here.