I am in awe of those people ~ and I know a few ~ who draw up beautifully detailed planting plans for their vegetable gardens every year, with a clear idea of what and how much they intend to plant where. Somehow, I’ve always lacked the organisation or motivation to do that myself, so instead I rely on a hastily-written planting calendar based on what’s in the seed basket and a retrospective sketch at the end of the season to remind me what grew where. Since there will have been successional cropping in several areas, my drawing ends up with a lot of overlapping scribbles squeezed into tiny places but I usually manage to decipher it and if not, then trying to puzzle out what hieroglyphs like autcal and savcab actually meant is good brain gym. This year is no exception so as always, I am making things up as I go along; I have earmarked a few places for specific plants to go but otherwise, the garden will slowly develop and evolve through the seasons as seeds are sown, plants put in and foods harvested. Some plants will thrive while others struggle, there will be tiny helpings of this and copious gluts of that but in the end, as Roger likes to say, something will happen . . . if nothing else, then hopefully a plentiful supply of fresh goodies from the garden.
I smiled to read again recently a reference to the rebellious nature of growing your own food (thank you, Marita!); how strange that what would have been considered completely normal activities not so many generations ago can now be regarded by some as subversive. It brought to mind a recent video discussion I saw that suggested modern capitalist governments prefer citizens to lead mundane, predictable lives: go to work, earn money, pay taxes, stack up debt and ~ most importantly ~ spend, spend, spend. As long as leisure time is focused on screens and social media, trips and treats, fast food and fashion and people are dependent on others for providing both services and stuff, then we can all focus on the ubiquitous mantra of ‘growing’ the economy. Well, sorry but I’d rather grow food . . . and what about growing friendships and relationships, communities, co-operation, sharing, ideas, creativity and a whole host of other things which are crucially important to the experience of being human? I’m not naïve: there’s no getting away from the need for money in our society and although I am a great fan of bartering, I doubt I could pay the council tax bill with veggie boxes or a few hours’ gardening labour ~ more’s the pity. I’m not going off on a political rant because that’s never been what my blog is about (and there are plenty of others who do it far better than I could) but I simply wish we could shake off this insistent need for ‘more’ and think about ‘enough’ instead and in so doing, develop a little more independence, resilience and yes, imagination, particularly when it comes to what we eat.
One definition of rebellion is ‘the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention’ so how can that possibly apply to this particular unapologetic crazy woman pottering about with a few vegetable seeds? (As an aside, I’ve always planned to grow old disgracefully, so if this is rebellion then vive la révolution, I say.😂 ) It’s all very simple: I wander down to the garden and gather a basket of ingredients for a meal, grown in healthy soil enriched with our own compost, watered by rain and warmed naturally by the sun in an environment that is teeming with biodiversity; there are no pesticide residues here, no artificial fertilisers, no need to douse with chlorine washes; it’s a short walk requiring no need for transport, food miles, burning of fossil fuels, packaging, labelling, advertising, marketing, refrigeration or ‘best before’ dates. It hasn’t been handled by anyone else, can be harvested minutes before use and is fresher and more densely packed with flavour and nutrition than anything I could buy. In short, it is a total antithesis of accepted practice, an act far removed from the world of conventional consumerism. Even better, it’s food for free: saving seed, making compost, collecting rainwater, creating natural fertilisers from materials on site and using integrated pest management cost us nothing at all in monetary terms. Yes, there’s a lot of work involved but we don’t charge ourselves too much per hour of labour. 😉 Anyway, it’s worth every minute of effort to enjoy such an incredible and diverse abundance without being beholden to anyone else.
I think the point I’m trying to make is that it isn’t set in stone that we have to be sheep and toe the line simply because that’s what’s expected of us; even the tiniest change in lifestyles can bring about huge rewards to health and well-being without rocking the boat too much and I think it’s high time that society acknowledged that fact and gave people permission to dabble in simpler, more meaningful lives or be different without being labelled as alternative. Personally, I don’t give a stuff if people think I’m weird because I’d rather have soil in my hands than a smartphone and enjoy talking to seedlings and bees, or because I don’t go to the hairdresser or wear ‘fashionable’ clothes, can’t name any celebs or tell you what’s ‘on trend’ but I know that’s not for everyone. Each to their own . . . but I’ll happily stick with eccentric for now, especially if it means I get to watch a wren building her nest or blue butterflies on the holly or eat homegrown asparagus. 😊
I broke every rule in the book with that asparagus and just look at it now! Perceived wisdom says we shouldn’t even think of harvesting it until next year. Yeah, right: with 30 plants all pushing up multiple spears, I think we can afford to enjoy a few feasts this spring without causing them any harm. I also somehow doubt the asparagus police will come calling. If growing our own food is indeed subversive (especially refusing to follow the rulebook) then perhaps the polytunnel should be named our Den of Vice: so much ready-to-pick food, so many crops to come . . . how disgraceful!
If the second photo gives the impression of everything being tidy and organised, it’s only because the rows of radish seedlings and lettuce transplants are relatively new in the ground and the space this side of the lettuce is being prepped for a courgette plant ~ which basically means I’m keeping it well-watered and throwing coffee grounds and chopped comfrey leaves on top of the soil to join the mulch of compost and donkey dung that went on earlier. The reality in the tunnel is that nature tends to be given a free hand, especially as most of what appears unbidden is often edible or useful; those ten lettuce plants are a case in point being tiny volunteer seedlings I lifted from another area. Give it a few more days and there will be other little bits and pieces popping up amongst them. The peas are just about ready to start harvesting but underneath the plants there is a wealth of self-set edible ground cover including ruby sorrel, parsley and calendula (I can see there’s a thistle, too, but I’m really not too worried about that).
Much of the tunnel space is nothing short of a jungle as the increased warmth produces a huge surge of growth in the overwintered crops before they all go rapidly to seed. This space needs clearing before the indoor peppers, aubergines and melons can go into the ground but there is still much good food in there to be enjoyed plus I want some of the plants to set seed to collect for next winter’s crops. It’s all a bit of a juggling game at this time of year, especially as the tender plants ~ which are spending all their time in the tunnel now night-time temperatures are in double figures ~ have outgrown their bucket cloches and would love a bit more space. Well, they will just have to be patient, especially those destined for planting outdoors which will spend the next couple of weeks being carted outside during the day to harden off.
One of the wonderful things about having a garden full of food is that our meal plans start with what’s out there and ready to eat, rather than any set ideas or recipes. We have a shelf of cookbooks, many of them much-loved and well-thumbed, but ours is a different way of working: instead of choosing a recipe then going out to source ingredients, we start from the point of, “What can we do with such-and-such?” This leads to a fair deal of creativity and innovation in the kitchen, most of it successful ~ Roger currently has a purple sprouting broccoli flan in the oven which smells delightful ~ and I like the way that many people who share recipes these days suggest lists of ‘swaps’ for some ingredients so that recipes can be tailored to personal dietary requirements or preferences and to what is on hand. We’re not self-sufficient so obviously we have to rely on shop-bought foods to a certain extent but when the bulk of what we eat is home-produced, then small amounts of store cupboard goods go a long, long way. Storing and preserving our harvests in a range of different ways also reduces our dependence on commercial products so for example, we preserved enough tomatoes last year (either cooked down into rich sauces and bottled or simply chopped into pots and frozen) to last us until now in the kitchen, and this year I’m hoping to do even more. I wouldn’t buy fresh tomatoes at this time of year anyway, but the tinned ones are something we usually find useful so it’s good to not have needed a single tin since last July.
It’s fun to push the boundaries a bit with fresh ingredients and experiment with different ideas, perhaps trying ingredients in unusual combinations or applying alternative cooking or preparation methods; if we have decent crops or gluts, then we can afford to be inventive as there is plenty to play with. I love Jerusalem artichokes roasted in olive oil with garlic or a few herbs and spices so that they caramelise to a sweet, sticky pile of gorgeousness or else made into a creamy soup; however, Roger’s take on a rosti ~ grated chokes mixed with crème fraîche and fried in olive oil or butter ~ is heaven on a plate. They were a complete revelation, as were raw artichokes grated into a winter slaw and stirred through with a piquant mustard and yogurt dressing. Cooking doesn’t need to be dull! It doesn’t need to be difficult, either, and while I have nothing but admiration for the incredible dishes served up by chefs (and as a quick aside, anyone who makes sponge cakes like skyscrapers as mine have always had a bit of a pancake thing going on; thankfully, it isn’t too much of a problem as I’m not a huge fan), a few simple skills in the kitchen can lead to the creation of some wonderful meals. We don’t have to rely on commercially-produced dishes: let’s take pizza by way of an example.
If you like pizza and you’ve never made your own, then I urge you to give it a go. In fact, if you don’t like pizza then the same applies because I would argue that a homemade version could change your opinion altogether. Pizza appears on our menu on a fairly regular basis for a number of reasons:
- It’s simple to make ~ don’t be scared of bread dough, it’s as easy as mixing four basic ingredients (flour, yeast, water, salt) together.
- It can be tailored to personal tastes ~ you are in control of the ingredients so there’s no need to put up with foods or flavours you don’t enjoy. We often make a ‘half and half’ version if, for example, Roger fancies some spicy chorizo and I don’t. You can make individual smaller pizzas, too, so everyone gets to choose their own topping.
- It can be seasonal ~ in summer, we love grilled aubergine slices on top, this week it was a celebration of the first spears of asparagus. Fresh basil is a classic choice of herb in summer but why not turn to thyme and rosemary in the colder months?
- It can make small amounts of ingredients go a long way ~ it’s amazing what you can achieve with a couple of tomatoes, a few herbs, a small onion, a handful of olives, a scrap of cheese . . .
- It’s economical ~ yes, you need to use an oven but we tend to make two pizzas at a time to fill the oven, then freeze one for future use (you can freeze an untopped base in the same way). It’s surprising how ‘less is more’, too: if you’re creating your own delicious base and using good quality ingredients, then there’s no need to pile in with a dozen different topping ingredients, just let one or two things be the stars.
- It’s a crowd-pleaser and ideal for sociable cooking ~ all hands on deck then tuck in!
Now, I’m not Italian or a trained chef so I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone else how to make pizza: if you want to create the most authentic, perfect versions then there is no shortage of expert advice available. All I will say is that we have broken many rules such as using the ‘wrong’ type of flour, not leaving enough proving time, using a rolling pin, making rectangular versions (more efficient use of baking tray space) . . . hell, we’ve even been known to slice rather than tear mozzarella. We don’t have a wood-fired oven or a pizza paddle or a pizza stone, neither do we subscribe to a particular style (New York? Neopolitan?) but somehow we manage to produce something totally delicious (and different) every time. If you’re up for a bit of culinary fun then you can have a great time creating what is basically fresh bread with a tasty topping and if some of those ingredients have come out of your garden or pots on a windowsill, how wonderful is that? I once heard a pizza ‘aficianado’ expressing their disgust at the idea of a goat’s cheese, pear and walnut pizza but personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that if it makes someone happy; let’s face it, it can’t be any worse than ham and pineapple, can it?
Of course, rebellions generally require some degree of struggle and the food-growing revolution is no exception: it’s all very well looking at those summery pictures but at this time of year, it’s the weather that causes us the most problems. It’s lovely to have bright, sunny days but hard frosts overnight are not very helpful where new growth or tender plants are concerned. As I work my way through the planting list, more and more pots appear that need protection, either in the tunnel, in the house, in bucket cloches or under fleece; it’s a bit of a pain trekking backwards and forwards with buckets of plants or covering in the evening and uncovering again in the morning but losing our future harvest to a cold night would be so much worse.
As we move through the year, there will be other hazards, too: we’re not doing too badly for rain so far, but a drought is always possible, as is severe summer heat; there could be die-off from diseases, blight being the most likely offender, and then of course there are the beasties. Everything we do in the garden is designed to help mitigate against these problems: saving rainwater, adding organic matter to the soil and applying mulches to aid moisture retention, nurturing our plants so they are as robust and healthy as they possibly can be and selecting seed for resilient qualities are just a few tools in our rebellion kit. Using integrated pest management (or as I like to think of it, asking nature to help us with nature) is another biggy, to which end I’ve been sowing nectar-rich flowers amongst the vegetables this week as well as plants like buckwheat which are so attractive to beneficial visitors like hoverflies. Increasing biodiversity is such a key aim for us and I’ve been delighted this week to add Red Mason bees and Common Carder bumblebees to my list of identified species along with a host of tiny solitary bees, several different ground beetles, a rash of ladybirds and butterflies and the first hoverflies. We also have a wider range of birds and more pairs of several species building their nests with us this year and the red squirrels are definitely back in town. I’ve yet to see the first grass snake of the year but I don’t suppose it will be too much longer and as the pond starts to take on a more established feel, we should see a rise in our amphibian population, too.
During our recent UK trip, our daughter Vicky showed us an aerial photo of the Welsh smallholding where we lived for twelve years before leaving in 2012. While we lived there, we planted around 3,000 trees including an orchard, woodland and several native hedgerows; every November would see us outside at weekends in all weathers, planting slips of bare-rooted native trees on a steep hillside or finding new homes for a wide range of fruit and nut trees. We’ve planted trees like this wherever we’ve lived and I think it’s surely the best legacy possible but sadly, they’re not always appreciated; we know for a fact that in some of our former homes, young woodlands have been pulled out and turned into paddocks, gardens removed and ponds filled in. Of course, people are free to do what they want on their own property and I’ve never been one to look back once we’ve moved but I have to admit I felt myself welling up with sheer joy to see that the house where Vicky and her siblings grew up seems to be disappearing into a woodland. What’s more, it stands out as a green oasis in a patchwork of over-grazed fields and ~ zooming out ~ an ever-increasing number of industrial chicken units that make me happy not to live there any more. I’m happy about those trees, though. Over the moon, in fact. 🤸♀️
It’s cherry blossom season here again and the local landscape is drifted with their delicate snowy blossoms. I could add photos of blossom in abundance, including some of the trees in our coppice and garden, but instead I’ve chosen something small but hugely significant: this is the first blossom on a cherry tree we planted two years ago, then not much more than a bare twig. Despite everything the weather has thrown at it in the intervening period, it has survived and is fast becoming a beautiful tree, almost as tall as me now. Here is a harvest for the future, for us and the life we share this patch with. This is what we are about. Rebellion? I don’t think so, this just feels like the right way to live. 😊
15 thoughts on “Rebellion”
Spring looks beautiful in France. I know it is technically spring here in Alaska as we have so much daylight now and spring birds have begun their migrations north (I participated in a science outing this past weekend on Golden Eagle Migrations and we saw 4) but it is currently snowing and the winter snow is still over knee deep in the woods.
I am so ready for the smell of soil!
I loved reading this reminder of how growing our food is indeed a rebellious thing to do. Take care!
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We haven’t had any snow here at all over winter so the idea of it still snowing and being so deep with you seems incredible. I would definitely struggle with the lack of green and there is something very special about the smell of soil, isn’t there? Hopefully you won’t have too long to wait before your growing season (and the rebellion!) can start again. That is wonderful about the golden eagles, what a treat. 😊
There’s always so much to look forward to! Here in Vermont, my chives have arrived, so I have my first crop of something green and it couldn’t come soon enough!
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There’s nothing like those very first fresh herbs, is there? 😊 I would like to say the same about rhubarb but it has been hit so hard by frost, it’s going to a very late ‘first’ this year!
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Ah! I can’t wait for the rhubarb!
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I know a young man who would LOVE to make pizzas with you come October! 🥰
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We’ll see what we can do! 😉
A very entertaining and interesting post Lis! Loved it! I reckon I know what savcab is but what about autcal?! It is entirely ridiculous that gardening and living how our great-grandparents did is considered a rebellion against the norm and government expectations. You are absolutely right – we are expected to work, pay taxes and spend! How depressing! Local governments still put controls on water collection around here. The newer developments are expected to tap into bore for all water use and if they attach a rainwater tank it can only be used on the garden! Blasphemy!!! I just love your old home in Wales – instead of looking like new growth, it looks like a remnant of ancient woodland somehow saved from the progress of time. Lets hope your quiet rebellion sweeps the world! The majority just can’t see how good it could be,
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Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Paula, I know how busy you are! It’s lovely to be back in touch and share ideas and insights. That aerial photo came at just the right time, I’d been feeling a mix of despondency and frustration at the ways of the world but it gave me a real sense of hope again ~ if we could achieve that in a couple of decades with just a few bundles of tree whips and a spade then what possibilities there must be on a bigger scale! When we sold the property, one viewer said it was like a ‘pagan paradise’ which thrilled me no end considering we had started with the same bare over-grazed grassland that surrounds it. I think we’re on a similar mission here, creating a green oasis in an area of increasing industrial agriculture where small traditional pastures with hedges are making way for huge prairie-style fields of monoculture better suited to huge machinery . . . so on with the rebellion, I say! 😊 It was autumn calabrese, by the way ~ well, I think, anyway! Probably need to do something about my handwriting . . . 😂
Rebellion, convenience, time-consuming… all things one could interpret completely differently. I find it rather time-consuming, hence less convenient as well, to go to the supermarket. There’s nothing more timesaving and convenient than walking into your garden and bringing the ingredients back to the kitchen. True thing is that the garden dictates the menu, but that’s only a good thing in my opinion.
I was recently given permission to use another plot of land right next to our house. It’s full of young oak trees and I was thinking of transplanting some to the area that was burned last year. Do you think that’s a good idea, would that work?
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That’s my approach completely, it’s nothing but a nuisance to have to leave our property to source food. 😂 Tonight there was asparagus with peas and purple sprouting broccoli and we have no problem with making ingredients like that our starting point for a meal, especially as they are a million times better than the bought equivalents. I see no reason why those young oaks can’t be transplanted, it’s possibly not the best time of year but if they’re lifted with plenty of soil attached and you can keep them watered while they settle in, I think they will be fine. It’s a lovely idea . . . and how wonderful to have another plot of land, I bet you have lots of plans? I’ll look forward to hearing about them! 😊
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Thanks for your reply.
The new plot already has two new beds on it. I’m trying out the Ruth Stout method this time, once I have a bit more feedback about how the soil and plant are responding I’ll write a post about it. But first I have to finish the sauerkraut post which has been hanging around in my head for too long now 🙂
In regards to the little oak trees, I’ll wait for the transplanting till autumn.
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I’m really interested to see how you get on with the Ruth Stout method, has the ground already been cultivated or are you piling hay onto vegetation? I’m trialling a few potatoes that way this year, on top of a lasagne bed and under hay ~ just hope they have been protected enough from the recent frosts. Mmm, sauerkraut; there’s a post to look forward to! 😉
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I am getting worse when it comes to technology…I wondered why I hadn’t seen any posts from you in a while…turns out WordPress have changed the APP… reader is now on something called jetpack? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it doesn’t seem to apply to technology but I studiously ignore all messages to update!! I am also a consumer rebel…my lap top is 11 this year
missing keys but still going. Once I retire properly, it will be consigned to a cupboard!!! Loved this post, and I now use your Web address to find your writing! We are having a very dry spring, a bit of a worry but the huerto has continued to produce chard, peas, broad beans, lemons, herbs , onions and more all winter. Our summer planting of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, lettuce, more onions! and squash is all underway. I am still teaching on line , ironic given my allergy to IT, so getting out in to the garden or huerto is essential for my crazy brain. I will keep searching out your posts but may be tardy in replying! Have a wonderful spring.
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Ah, don’t get me started, Yvonne . . . some of my favourite blogs have disappeared off my reader for no apparent reason over the last few months. It’s very frustrating, especially as I have a separate email address for everything WordPress which I seldom look at so email notifications aren’t much use to me, either. There’s a reason I don’t have (and won’t have) a smartphone! 😆 We’ll manage to find each other somehow and I’m really pleased to catch up with news of your huerto, it sounds like you have been enjoying a good harvest with plenty more to come. Yes, garden therapy is definitely the best! I’m glad to say we are making up for the huge rainfall deficit here, everything is looking so much happier this spring but we are still copping very cold nights so I’m having to be vigilant with the tender plants, even in the tunnel. Still sowing far too many seeds, some habits die hard! Enjoy that lovely Murcian warmth. Hasta luego. 😊 xx