About 6 months ago a colleague forwarded an email from the Environmental Society at work, looking for people who were interested in purchasing a wormery.  I’ve had my eye on one for ages, so I leapt at the chance, looking forward to converting my kitchen waste into high powered vermicompost for the allotment.  The ordering process took a long time, but finally, just as the weather’s getting colder and the allotment’s about to slow down for the winter, I find myself in possession of both wormery and worms, much to the amusement (and shuddering) of my colleagues.

It’s not, to be honest, the greatest moment to be trying to get a wormery up and running.  After all, the worms don’t really like the cold and the nighttime termperatures are dropping fast.  With that in mind, I set it up in the shed, where it’s a little more protected, and I’m planning to add some additional insulation to try and keep the worms going.

I set up the wormery on top of the freezer, added some coir to the try and then came the moment of truth.  I opened up the bag, and peered inside.  Well, all I could see was dark soil.  So I picked up the bag, and turned it upside down.  Out fell a bundle of soil mixed with shredded papers and plenty of wriggly worms, who wasted no times in exploring their new habitat.  For all those who have been curious about the size of the worms…. well, they’re pretty standard worm size, which is to say 3-4 inches long.

Now to see if I can keep them alive though the winter.  I’m guessing that the post room at the office wasn’t overjoyed at receiving a couple kilos of worms!

Biologisch Goed

The subject of what we eat, and where our food comes from has been on my mind a lot recently.  I try to eat a healthy diet, and I greatly prefer not to buy prepackaged or preprocessed food, but the reality is, I hate shopping, I’m not very organized, and especially on Fridays and Saturdays when I have little time, I tend to go to the train station supermarket and grab the easiest thing going.  Even if my choice is healthy, it usually comes wrapped in superfluous packaging, all of which makes me wince when I tear it open and dispose of it.

I’m still hoping, of course, to start eating home grown vegetables again soon, but at the moment the weather and the slugs aren’t giving me much hope.  The potatoes are doing ok, though not as far along as the plot next to me (ahem, and some of them I bought and planted on a whim, far too late!), the peas are slowly taking off, but are miles behind my neighbours, and my great plans of overwintering vegetables didn’t get me too far.  The plot is slowly coming into order, but I have a lot to learn before I manage to have something available more or less year round.

In the meantime, then, I need to fill all my requirements at the shops.  I’d prefer to do that by frequenting small, local stores, but with working full time and singing every other Saturday, I rarely manage it.  It’s nice to go to the Farmers Market in Amsterdam, but I rarely manage to find the time before rehearsal for evensong.

I was delighted, therefore, to discover an online store last week – www.biologischgoed.nl.  It’s a co-operative of 4 farmers, all in the province of Zuid Holland, where I live.  Their aim is to supply, so far as possible, locally grown organic food within our province.   Their range isn’t limited to locally grown, however, they also sell produce from the rest of the country, imported items such as avocados, and non-perishable staples.  With every listing on the site, information is provided telling you where the produce has come from, and in some cases, suggestions on how to use it.

Whilst a part of me thinks it would be great if they only sold local produce, I think they’ve done a good job of putting together an offering which reduces food travel, and supports local businesses, whilst accepting that people are always going to buy additional items, and therefore giving them an opportunity to buy everything under one roof.  The one proviso, however, is that they only deliver in Zuid Holland.

Full of enthusiasm, I placed my first order last week.  Some local cherries and strawberries (for someone that’s never been fond of fruit, I have a strange craving for it the last few days), goats milk and goats butter from a farm in Noord Holland, sheep’s yoghurt from Overijssel, plenty of veggies including a huge bag of beetroots, half of which I’ve spent the afternoon converting into borscht, and some cat food, which the boys are studiously turning their noses up at.  I guess we can’t expect everything to be a success!

homemade cherry crumble, made with goat’s butter and served with sheep yoghurt.

Probably one of the best features, and the one that makes the system most usable for me, is that the groceries are delivered to your door, and if you’re not able to be at home to receive them, they will happily stash them away somewhere for you.  I left instructions on how to get to my back garden, and without any fuss, my two crates of goodies were taken around the back, and put in the shelter of my shed, an added detail taken on the initiative of the driver, with which I was most pleased.  The crate containing all the dairy was insulated, so I didn’t even need to worry too much about it sitting outside for a few hours, although not knowing what to expect on this first occasion, I also arranged with them that they’d give me a call when the groceries were delivered, so I could nip home from work over lunch and take everything inside.

Additionally, they provide an option to deliver to a shared location (a service which any individual can provide) and which incurs a lower delivery rate.  They work on a simple system of delivering once a week, on a Thursday (perfect for me, since I tend to have an empty fridge going into the weekend, just when I need it the most), and all orders placed up to lunchtime Monday go out in that order, giving them two days to go to the individual farms and collect everything to put the orders together.

All in all, I’m very impressed by the service and will definitely use it again.  It’s more expensive, of course, than the main supermarkets, but in my view, also a far better direction to spend my money.  Plus, having groceries delivered to my door with no hassle of having to be at home to receive them is probably the best way I’ll find to ensure that my fridge stays better stocked.  A better stocked fridge and some work on preplanning means less money spent on takeaways, train station foods or unsatisfying grabbed lunches on the days that I do sport or go to the allotment during lunch, which these days are most days.

Pasta sauce

Sometimes accidents work out for the best – in this case, the unexpected self seeding of some tomato plants in my greenhouse.  Left to myself, I wouldn’t have bothered growing any tomatoes, now I’m pretty sure I’ll have some next year too. Not only do they make good gifts, but they can also be turned into fantastic pasta sauce.

The recipe, such as it is:

slice tomatoes in half, and put it roasting tin with an onion (chopped in quarters) and some garlic cloves.  In the other half of the tin, put some chunks of zucchini.  Add salt, pepper and olive oil, and roast for 45 minutes or so in a 170C oven.

when nicely roasted and before everything is burnt to a crisp, take out the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and puree it up with a hand held food processor, or similar.  Then add the zucchini and some fresh basil.

of course, it’s all the better if the tomatoes, basil, zucchini, garlic and onion are all home grown.

Destruction and Construction

What better way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon than demolishing things?  A week ago when I went down to the allotment I discovered that one of the fences had come down in the storms.

Since the whole fence was looking pretty rotten, today I went back down and finished what the storm had started.  As most of the screws that were holding it together were rusted in place, I ended up going for the ‘stamp and yank’ approach to pull apart the planks, and detach them from the chicken wire which was stapled along the whole fence.  At the end I used the chicken wire to form a temporary barrier until I get around to building a replacement fence.

Final job of the day was to put together my new workbench – birthday present from Jen.  Just what I need for fence and raised bed building work.

My friend, Peter Rabbit

Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books form part of my earliest memories, and I always remember thinking that Mr McGregor was very unreasonable in chasing him out of his vegetable garden.  Times have perhaps changed.  Much as I hate to admit it, the signs do seem to point to rabbits as being my leek-eating culprits.

When I went to the allotment today to pick my stunted little leeks, I thought I was going to have a problem finding them, as the whole allotment was covered in a thick blanket of snow.

As it turned out, it was an easier job than I expected, thanks to the fact that someone, almost certain one of the local rabbit residents had been there before me, and scuffed up all the snow around the leeks.  Poor guy, I guess he was disappointed, as all the green bits of the leeks have been eaten already, and it seems that the white part of the leek is just a bit too tasty for a rabbit.

I took pity on him and his friends though, and put out the remaining endive plant for them.  What can I say, I’m a soft touch!  Next year, looks like I need to use some netting though…

All things green and garlicky

It may be turning colder, but things haven’t come to a complete standstill yet at the allotment.  The tomatoes are over, but the leeks are still just about holding their own (despite coming under attack),

and I still have a few surprises, such as these radishes growing in the greenhouse.

The first lot of garlic is also planted for next year, though I’m still slightly dubious as to how it will fare – I used some normal supermarket garlic, which may not be hardy enough to survive our winter, especially given how keen it’s been to grow so far.  Bit worried it’s going to freeze to death over the winter.

I’ve been preparing the first plot for serious vegetable growing next year, and had a go at constructing my first ever raised bed on the weekend.  As befits a test bed, it’s rather small – shipping planks around without a car isn’t entirely practical, so I wanted to test the principle out first.

Once I got the planks first home, and then on a separate tram ride, to the allotment, the actual construction was pretty quick and easy.  I was a little hampered by the crappy job that the boy in the hardware store did of sawing up the planks, so the corners of the final bed reflect the skewedness of the edges.  I’ve since manage to find a smaller hardware store which has a sawing machine that can also be used on timber (and delivers!) so hopefully the next set will go better.  Now I just need to decide on the final layout and clear out the final corner of the bed.

The plan is to house some ‘officially destined for growing over the winter’ garlic here, and some ‘officially destined for growing over the winter’ onions, if there’s some room left over.

As far as the choice goes for using raised beds or not, opinion seems to be decided.  I decided to have a go, since there seem to be more plus than minus points, and one of the main minus points usually cited is the DIY involved, which I didn’t find too off-putting.  Since I’m in the position where I’m trying to clear up existing flower beds, it also seemed a good way to get some of the plot in use, even if the rest wasn’t ready.  And did I already mention that I like wielding a power drill?

Closer to home, I also pruned the rose tree in my back garden within an inch or two of its life a month or so back, and whilst doing so, decided to have a go at taking a cutting from it.  To be honest, I didn’t expect great results, so I was pretty astonished the other day when I took its little housing off to see that it actually seems to be sprouting lots of new leaves.

Looks like I made a rose!


It’s official!  I got the keys to the allotment this morning.  We also picked our first produce – two giant courgettes, which have taken advantage of the limited attention they’ve received recently to grow to mammoth proportions.

The previous owner had had the allotment for about 40 years, and originally also used it for growing vegetables.  More recently it’s been converted to a flower garden, and I’m going to have some work getting it ready for serious vegetable growing again.  Should be a lot of fun.

Vegetable Madness

During my week in York, my vegetables have been growing wild. I came back to find that the rucola and the courgettes were practically taking over the garden. The fennel is growing onwards and upwards (I should really admit defeat and pull it up now) and the new beans I planted are taking off.

Even the corn looks like it’s progressing, despite the fact that checking in my vegetable growing bible (Carol Klein’s Grow your own veg), I discovered that really corn should be planted in a square of at least 4 x 4 plants (not the paltry two survivors that I have) if they are going to successfully fruit. Ah, well, we’ll see.

Reading on, I have also discovered how to sex the courgette flowers. Not a subject I had previously given much though, but it turns out to be ridiculously easy – flowers with a courgette on the end are female (photo on left), the others are male (photo on right).

Finally, because I know Arie has been waiting for it all week, here is my first ever carrot! Perhaps I could have left it in the ground a little longer, but despite (or perhaps because of) it’s small size, it was very tasty indeed! I think I’ll wait a little while longer before I pull up the other two.

The grapes are also progressing nicely, by the way.