10 Things That Grow In Clay And Frost.

If you’re anything like me, you love to DIY as much as possible.

Which means that growing food in difficult soil winds us up continually.

Here are 10 things that survived clay soil and frosty winters year after year here, making garden food easy to grow and maintain.

1: Potatoes.

Adored worldwide as a staple, potatoes survive almost anything. Normally by early Spring the leftovers of my Winter harvest has begun chitting (technical term here, no laughing!] and I can plant them out. But even when I didn’t my potatoes reseeded themselves from the tiny spuds left behind last year.

Literally any time a potato grows shoots, plant it out and see what happens.

Just don’t plant out chitting potatoes straight into frost. Plant out clean ones early, green ones later. The shoots can be devoured by frost and you will waste good potatoes.

2: Woody berries.

Woody berry bushes like blackberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries all do great in our soil and even through frosts. They thrive in hedge areas.

3: Parsnips.

Our parsnips reseed themselves every year, although I will often let a single ‘snip become fully mature and harvest all the seeds to keep over Winter, to minimize crop loss. They do great and are actually tastier once the first Winter frost has nibbled them.

4: Brassicas.

Not great at reseeding themselves in our soil, but they are persistent. Still got three broccoli bushes from two years ago. They have never floured, so I never picked them, but I gather the leaves in Winter and they dutifully regrow in Spring.

5: Marjoram.

Cut back and dry out your marjoram over Winter, leave it alone over Spring and Summer to regrow. It’s a beautiful, fragrant herb that does well pretty much anywhere.

6: Strawberries.

I always thought strawberries were fickle plants that keeled over and died at nothing at all. Apparently only the leaves are. I planted our strawbs out where they can be guarded by weeds and parsnips and they are thriving. They just need a bit of foliage around them to help retain enough water, a wall against late frosts and a little sunshine and they produce berries even in the harshest soil.

7: Mint.

Mint grows everywhere and will dominate your whole garden.

8: Rhubarb.

Rhubarb is not at all hard to grow. Just make sure the roots don’t get choked by grass or weeds as they get established, pull the stems out instead of cutting them and clear up after Autumn is over. They will grow back.

9: Chives.

A little like mint, established chives will regrow year after year without a problem and slowly creep across your garden.

10: Raddishes.

Never had bad luck with raddishes anywhere. Sometimes not had particularly good luck and this soil is awful for them compared to milder, softer soils. But they still grow here. Sow them out, wait, and they will rise up for you to eat all through Summer and Autumn. They don’t really reseed, though, as we eat them before they flower.

And those are 10 plants that survive our garden. What troubles does your garden have? Got any gardening staples?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.
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Wine Sauce For Braising Steak (or anything, really] in.

Just a simple recipe for a red wine sauce. We used it on steak, but you can probably use it on anything.

Ingredients:

  • 2 glasses red wine
  • 1/2 glass vegetable stock
  • 2tbsp black pepper
  • 2tbsp sage chopped
  • 1tbsp chives chopped
  • 1tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 cups of mixed vegetables, shredded (peppers, onion, beansprouts are a must, go wild with the others]

Utensils:

  • 1 small pot and wooden spoon

Recipe:

  1. Put the wine on to simmer. Slowly incorporate the stock, herbs and seasonings.
  2. Simmer until much reduced.
  3. Fry up the vegetables. Seal the meat in the same grease used on the vegetables.
  4. Add the wine sauce.
  5. Add whatever meat you plan on braising.
  6. Slow cook.
For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

Eating all the pig!

Because yum!

I am still blending vegetables to create sauces and am considering writing a short recipe booklet on blended vegetable bases for pasta, rice and dipping sauces. Who wants? 😀

Ingredients:

  • 400g pork and beef mince
  • 300g chorizo
  • 3 pork sausages or 200g bacon
  • 150g black pudding (optional)
  • 300g dried turtle beans
  • 500g carrots
  • 500g parsnips
  • 1 aubergine
  • 100-300g assorted vegetable scraps and end bits
  • garlic, salt and pepper to taste

Utensils:

  • pot for soaking
  • chopping board and knife
  • large pot
  • blender or food processor

Recipe:

  1. Soak the turtle beans in hot water. Rinse and put on to boil in fresh water until soft.
  2. Chop the vegetables and boil them until tender. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Blend the vegetables in the water until smooth. Season.
  4. Chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and add it all to the vegetables.
  5. Bring to the boil, then simmer until thoroughly cooked.
  6. Serve with beans stirred in or on the side.

I’m loving blending all these vegetables into our weekly sauces. This one looks like there isn’t a veggie in sight, tastes awesome and yet hides a few less favoured vegetables, like aubergine and cabbage. Chances are I will go back to regular stews soon enough, but I’m going properly crazy with this, trying all sorts of combinations. Got any suggestions for a blended vegetable sauce?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

Ugly Turkey Stew.

It’s ugly. The stew, not the turkey. Turkey mince is ugly and tomato based stew is ugly and cabbage is ugly. But it’s delicious and it’s high protein and low carb, so no complaints. Well, at least not since I managed to get Jon to put on surplus fat with a bulking diet (I knew he wasn’t an alien!) and he wants to lose it.

So here’s our current staple, with herbs and spices as needed.

Ingredients:

  • 500g minced turkey
  • 800g chopped or pureed tomatoes
  • 400g cabbage
  • 400g peppers, aubergine and courgette
  • 2 large onions
  • 100ml chili sauce (10% chili, so around 10ml concentrate or paste)
  • 10 large leaves of sage
  • 1tbsp smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

Utensils:

  • chopping board and knife
  • pot and wooden spoon

Recipe:

  1. Rinse and chop the vegetables very finely.
  2. Tear the sage leaves.
  3. Mix the tomato, chili, paprika, sage, salt and pepper together and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the vegetables and turkey mince.
  5. Keep simmering until everything is cooked through.
  6. Serve up with baked garlic, jalapeno sauce, mustard or all three.

Not very pretty, so no pictures, but it’s yummy, warming, filling and low carb, so it wins all round.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

Belated WWW.

Sorry it’s so late. Just getting back into the swing of things and working around a new puppy, improved nutrition for when we’re TTC (around February or March, wish us luck!), new students and loads of writing, I’ve not had much time for recipes or fitness posts.

However I have completed my Beginner Homemaker book and got the timetable mostly in order, so regular recipe and fitness updates can return.

Recipe 1: My best pie crust.

Between a music festival and lots of jam to get through before berry season, I’ve been making many pies and I think I have worked out my best crust recipe yet.

Ingredients:

Makes enough for over one pie, so freeze or make snacks with the rest.

-2 cups plain flour

-3 eggs

-150g butter

-5tbsp sugar

-1tsp salt

Utensils:

-mixing bowl

-fork

Recipe:

1: Mash the eggs, salt and flour together.

2: Fold in the butter and sugar.

3: Knead until uniformly yellow. Fold in half, stretch and fold again at least 10 times.

4: Place in the fridge.

5: Bring to room temperature before halving the dough. When you roll it, roll it out nice and flat.

Recipe 2: Chicken pan stew.

Another new staple, can be mixed up with different seasonings but really makes for a wholesome and tasty dish on its own.

Ingredients:

Serves 4-6.

-6 deboned chicken thighs

-200g bacon

-2 onions

-2 carrots

-400g pureed tomato

-400g presoaked lentils

-400-800g presoaked butter or cannellini beans

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: Chop the carrots and onions finely.

2: Place in a pan with tomato and lentils and bring to a boil.

3: Once boiling, turn down to a simmer and add the chicken and beans. Let both rest on top.

4: Turn the chicken once cooked on one side.

5: Once both sides of chicken are cooked, lightly salt and pepper.

How To… get your garden started!

As I mentioned in Welcome Spring, a part of Spring I love is gardening. I love planting everything out as the weather warms, watching the baby rabbits try and invade my lettuce and cabbage patches, harvesting the fresh fruit and vegetables.

And April is the time when most of my gardening happens.

Now, the first few steps I have actually already done! I prefer to turn the soil in late Winter, when it is frozen hard enough to turn in huge lumps, but soft enough to get a shovel into. I like starting my seedlings early in case the first lot don’t take. And I would rather have the garden ready by the time I’m planting out. But you can do all of this now and get your garden started a little later and you won’t miss out on much.

Step 1: Decide what you’re doing.

No point lifting a finger until you know what will be happening. Go into your garden and draw a sketch of it. It can be as detailed or as simple as you want. Just make sure you draw out your current beds, your grass and any areas you can’t dig or plant on (for whatever reason).

Next, take a standard soil sample from your garden. Take note of whether there are very different soils in any areas of the garden and make sure you get samples of them too. You can go back inside now.

First test the soil samples and make sure they aren’t too salty, clay, sandy or full of bits and stones. What soil you have is very important to what you can grow.

Free test:

Pro test:

Once you know what soils you have, make a list of the different plants you want to grow and where they can grow.

Use your map to decide where you will plant everything and what you will plant on its own or together.

Step 2: Prepare the beds.

Now that you know what you will be planting and where, start turning the soil everywhere it needs it. Make sure soil is enriched where it needs to be. Add woodchips where needed, supports where needed. Basically get everything ready.

Step 3: Plant the seeds.

Plant your seeds following the directions. Be warned that most seeds do better in pots or planters indoors to start out with, even if this isn’t recommended.

For plants that you want to be abundant or for leafy greens, just sow the seeds out and see what happens. For plants that will bear fruit or delicate flowers, plant indoors at first to guarantee a greater number.

Make sure indoors plants are by a window, away from drafts and heaters, where they get plenty of light, some shade and not extreme temperature changes.

Step 4: Weed, plant out, protect.

Once your seedlings are ready to plant out, first harden them to insects, wind and weather by placing the pots outside during the day. If there are still frosts, bring them in every night until the frosts subside. Then, leave them out at night. If you spot insect damage, keep moving them to different areas and check on them throughout the day. Encourage natural insectivores to visit and use natural insect deterrents.  After a few weeks of this they should be robust enough to survive if planted out.

Weed the surrounding area well to ensure no roots remain that would choke your plant. Dig a pit big enough for the entire pot or around a fist if you’re planting out smaller plants from shared pots. If it’s a single plant in a pot, ensure the soil is dry and turn it over with your hand supporting the soil and the stem of the plant between your fingers. This way you ensure minimal root damage. Turn the plant the right way around and place it, soil and all, into the hole. If it’s in a shared planter, use a trowel to dig deeply all around it, making sure not to damage the roots. Use the trowel to lever out the plant and place it in the hole.

Use clear plastic tubs, bean nets or whatever necessary to shield the plants from the elements and wildlife for a few days as the roots take hold.

Step 5: Keep an eye on.Watch your plants closely without disturbing them. If one succumbs to disease or parasites, remove it before the others are affected. Make sure they don’t get too dry or soaked. Keep larger pests away from them. If they are taking, new buds will appear within a week or two. If there are no new buds or leaves after a month, the plant may be struggling. Add extra nutrients to the soil to encourage solid root growth. After a month of no growth the plant will often die. Don’t worry about this unless all of them are dying. Some plants will always suffer root damage or not take to new soil. As long as most of them made it, you did well.And that’s how to get a garden going!What is your garden like? Are you an avid gardener with advice to offer? Or a novice with questions? Either way, feel free to start some discussion in the comments!TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How To… cook with cheap vegetables.

I am a big advocate of doing everything as cheaply as possible. On the other hand, anyone who ever bought 40 avocados or 5kg of broccoli because it was cheap can confirm that sometimes we buy cheap food and make a dog’s dinner instead of a meal.

Too many avocados!

Too many avocados!

Here is some step-by-step advice to help you buy and use cheap vegetables.

1: Learn the warning signs. There is nothing worse than buying a load of cheap mangoes, only for them to be fibrous and inedible. Learn how to sniff the produce and smell the freshness, how to press the skin or tap the shell to gauge the ripeness, how to check the colour and texture for assessing quality. A few bruises, a soft patch or even a dot of mold can be cut off. Stone-deep rot, dryness and hollowness aren’t usually fixable. Have a good search for the favourite or most expensive produce in your home and how to tell when it’s perfect to eat.

2: Look out for reduced sections. Supermarkets will mark down produce long before it’s overripe or going off, so buy that. Vegetable stalls and grocers aren’t quite so kind, so have a good look at anything you buy. Usually it will just be a little “ugly”: soft apples and dry cabbage being good examples. But sometimes you won’t be able to work with it.

All reduced price.

All reduced price.

3: Only buy what you can realistically use. A family of 5 may be able to eat 10kg of tomatoes in various forms over a week, but don’t push it to 20.

4: Plan ahead with whatever you’ve got. When I come home with tomato, aubergine and courgette, I want to know I can prepare more than one or two variants on meals with it. Ratatouille, mince and rice, salad, vegetable bake and curry, in this case. If you’re not sure, sit down and write out a list of recipes until everything would be used up.

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5: Once you’re confident checking quality, finding cheap produce, buying to suit your family and meal planning, try only using cheap plant foods. It saves so much money and even saves time to have an amount of perfectly ripe fruit and veg around the house.

6: Learn to store the produce. Slice and freeze fruit and vegetables. Make vegetable base for stews and freeze or can them. Make jam and chutney and pickles. Make a load of pasta sauce and leave it in the fridge. Dry fruit. Anything, just learn to store it so that when you find an amazingly good deal you can buy it all. We have salad leaves we freeze and use in stir-fries, jams in jars and sliced fruit in the freezer. Be creative.

Pie with home-made jam.

Pie with home-made jam.

So that’s how we find, buy and use cheap produce. I hope it’s reasonably enlightening. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.