Friday, 27 January 2012
I'm really pleased to invite you to the Gardeners' Social and Seed Swap which will take place on Sunday, February 19th from 3-5pm at the Laxey Sailing Club. I along with officers from the other allotments on the Isle of Man have planned this fun afternoon of meeting other gardeners as well as giving you the chance to take home some new seeds for free. The text in the above image is a bit small so I'll post it below. If you have any questions whatsoever please leave a message on this post or email me at the below address. Please spread the word to family and friends who might be interested in attending and feel free to print out this flyer to post on community boards.
Gardeners’ Social & Seed Swap
Sunday February 19th, 3-5pm
Whether you’re a hardy allotmenteer or grow flowers and
veggies at home, you’re bound to have a few extra packets
of seeds lying around. The Gardener’s Social is your chance
to trade some of those seeds, sets, crowns or shoots for
ones you might fancy a bit more. This is an opportunity to
save some money and maybe try something new!
Even if you don’t have seeds to swap please join us
for a an afternoon of meeting other gardeners and
chatting about all things green and growing
How it works:
1. Show up with seeds to swap (labelled in envelopes/bags)
2. Move around the room and swap your seeds directly with other
gardeners. If you don’t have something to swap, make them an offer.
3. Have fun and feel encouraged to try new varieties
A raffle will be held to support the costs of the event. You
can help by purchasing tickets and/or bringing along a small
item as a prize. We thank you in advance!
To be held at the
Laxey Sailing Club
On the Quay, Tent Road
Laxey, Isle of Man
...with plenty of parking
along the promenade
Hosted by the IoM Allotment Forum
For more info please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, 22 January 2012
In case you hadn't realised, it's that chapped and cracked lips time of the year again. With more and more of us venturing outside to potter around in the garden it's likely that lips will become sore, flaky and even erupt into sores if they're stressed too much. You might be tempted at this point to go out and buy another lip balm since you can't find the other dozen you bought last year but why not try making your own? It's simple, effective, inexpensive, and best of all fun to make.
Another reason you might want to make your own lip balm is that you get to choose the ingredients yourself. Depending on your own philosophies or health needs you might want to avoid using things like petroleum jelly, nut oils, and animal products. The best way to ensure that you do is be involved in the creative process and make your own lip balm.
Herbal Lip Balm
Makes approx. three 10ml containers
1 tsp Hard oil - Such as Beeswax, Soy Wax, or Cocoa Butter. You can buy this online, from a local beekeeper or from a health food store.
4 tsp Liquid oil - choose one with conditioning properties and a mild flavour such as Grapeseed oil, Rice Bran oil, or Sweet Almond oil.
Contents of one tea bag - this adds a subtle flavour and scent and could also provide additional skin protection. Choices could include Chamomile, Peppermint, Calendula, and Green Tea. Alternatively, use 1.5 tsp of your choice of any dried skin-safe and edible herbs or flower petals.
Containers - any small tubes, pots or jars you have on hand. Reuse containers that may have already had lipstick or lip balm inside but make sure that whatever you choose is both clean and completely dry.
Optional - three drops of an appropriate and skin-safe essential or natural flavour oil. For example Peppermint oil with Peppermint tea or vanilla with Chamomile. This will add extra scent and/or flavour.
1. Place your oils and herbs into a small double boiler. Double boilers are essentially pans placed into another pan of boiling water. It's a way to melt and infuse ingredients without exposing them to direct heat. Simmer the water in the outer pan and melt the oils until they are both liquid. Leave the oils simmering with the tea for 30 minutes. Add your optional essential or flavour oil at this point and stir.
2. Pour the herb-infused oil through a fine mesh strainer placed over your lip balm container. Once all the liquid has passed through you'll have a lump of tea leaves sitting in the strainer - use a finger to squeeze all of the oil out and then discard.
3. Allow the oils to solidify and cool - this may take up to an hour. After this stage you can put the tops on the containers and your lip balm is ready to be used.
* If you'd like your lip balm to be harder then use less liquid oil and more hard oils. And vice-versa if you'd prefer a softer balm.
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
It's been quite a bit colder over the last couple of days - around 6C/44F - but it looks like it's going to be warming up again by tomorrow. It's bizarre to think that this time last year we had snow on the ground and wind blasting the house. Today we have lawn daisies and primroses blooming in hedgerow and my container of spring bulbs should be blooming within weeks. Whether this unseasonably warm weather is due to climate change or the heat of the gulf stream flowing around the island is up to debate. What is clear is that if we've been given some early sunshiny days, we shouldn't waste them by being indoors.
So it was in good spirits that my muddy wellies walked me up to the allotment on Friday, with a battery powered radio, a thermos of green tea and a garden fork in hand. I spent a good part of the afternoon digging over a couple of beds, checking the compost heap and dividing one of my rhubarb crowns that was getting out of hand. It was wonderful to be outside enjoying the spring-like air. How could anyone have the January blues when the birds are singing and the sun is on your back?
Winter is really a slower time in the garden - more for tidying up and getting on with construction projects than actually growing. So while I was digging over my last bed I amazed to see tiny celeriac seedlings hidden under the shadow of my purple sprouting broccoli. I'm sure they must have sprouted late last summer and have been hiding out ever since. That just goes to show how mild our winter has been so far! I gently dug up the seedlings and moved them over to another bed to see if they'll grow on to nice juicy roots this summer. Though it could all be in vain since celeriac is a biennial and so goes to seed in the second year.
As far as veggies ready to harvest, I still have several rows of green onions weathering it out in addition to a couple of kale and brussels sprouts plants, purple sprouting broccoli and two rows of kohlrabi. The kohlrabi are fairly hardy but I decided to bring them all in last week since their bed needed digging. There are a few bigger ones which I'll dice up and roast but the others are smaller and more tender so I'll look for other ways to prepare them. I also took home some green onions which will be going into our supper tonight.
The most strenuous tasks of the day was dividing up one of my rhubarb crowns. They're only two years old but have gotten a big big for their bed already. The crown on the downward side of the bed receives quite a bit of nutrient-rich runoff and so was particularly large. It suffered from its success last year and instead of producing fewer large stems it popped out masses of stems about the diameter of a 5-pence piece (the same size as an American dime). These tiny stems and masses of leaves crowded each other out and caused quite a bit of rot under the plant. By dividing the crown in two and moving one half elsewhere on my plot I hope to rejuvenate it. The rhubarb wine I made last year turned out to be quite a hit so I'll be using all the surplus I can spare to make even more this summer.
Dividing rhubarb is done in the winter and generally when the crown it's about five years old. Rhubarb is divided in order to make the plant smaller and to give it more space, thus encouraging new healthy growth. You literally wrench the crown apart either in two or three pieces and then plant them back into the ground in different areas. If you don't want more rhubarb then there are usually people who would be happy to take a bit of crown off of you - if you don't know anyone directly, try giving it away on Freecycle or to a local gardening group.
To divide the crown you first dig it out of the ground which is no easy task and will result in quite a few of the rhubarb's great roots breaking. Don't worry about it though since the plant can withstand quite a bit of harsh treatment. Next you set the crown right side up on the ground and thrust two garden forks into the centre of it, back to back. Push the forks apart and the levering action will rip the crown in two. Do it again for any larger pieces and plant the individual chunks up in their new areas. As long as there are some reddish buds at the top of the crown it will survive and go on to grow another large plant.
I probably won't be spending that much time up at my plot in the coming week since there's really not much to do now. Instead, my husband and I will be focusing on building four raised beds in the back garden and filling them with compost in time for spring. I'm SO looking forward to having some convenient space at home for herbs, lettuces and other bits and bobs that I can nip out and pick when needed. I'm also organising an island-wide seed swap event for next month and am really looking forward to meeting up with the heads of the other allotments on the island for a planning session and chat. Gardeners need a meet-up every now and again to get all geeky about growing :)
So how about you - are you working on anything in the garden at the moment? How have the temperatures been for you this winter? I'd love to hear from you :)
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
I can't believe that I spent today sowing my first seeds - it's so exciting that the new gardening year has begun! It's only January but it's been so warm that we've been working with windows and doors open and even my early flowering bulbs have been tricked into thinking that it's Spring. Though this weather is a bit worrying, considering that a cold snap could easily happen in the next couple of months, I decided to chance starting a few seeds a bit early. But by keeping them all snug inside the conservatory I hope they'll thrive and not be set back by any forthcoming wintery weather.
Some of the seeds I sowed today were inspired by a competition I entered last year, the Eastern Young Farmers Show. Though I was pleased with my performance, seeing some of the entries of massive leeks and onions got me to thinking. I bet I could give these farmers a run for their money! Since then I've spoken to several gardeners as well as done a bit of internet research. What I've found out that it's not how you grow your vegetables but also the varietie you choose to grow. For example, your run of the mill onions may plump up and attain decent size, but if you're growing for competitions it's best to grow an 'Exhibition' variety such as 'Mammoth Improved'. You also need to start your seeds very early - the onions I sowed today could have even been sown last month but I put it off while we were celebrating the holidays. I've never started seeds this early before so fingers crossed it all goes well. I also hope that these giants taste as good as they look...I'd hate to devote even a little bit of space to them if a paper award is all they're good for.
In addition to the exhibition leeks and onions I also sowed a small tray of 'Golden Bear' onions for strictly culinary use. If my onion seed experiment is a success, I'll invest in heritage variety onions next year and attempt to save seed from now on.
The last seeds I sowed were two small pots of Melons 'Emir' - aka Cantaloupes. I attempted growing them last year but our growing season was short and wet and they weren't able to deal with the conditions outside. I hope that by starting them extra early, and by repotting them on to larger and larger pots, that I'll have at least one strong and sizable plant to put out in early summer.
The last thing I planted today was Ginger - something I haven't considered growing before now. But it was too good a growing opportunity to pass by when I spotted the rhizomes for sale at B&Q yesterday. Though it's possible to grow the plant from ginger purchased at the shop, it's more than likely that the root has been sprayed with an anti-sprouting agents to discourage growth. Quite a few 'Fresh' vegetables, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, shallots, garlic and onions are sprayed with this chemical so watch out if you're trying to reduce toxins in your diet. It's also something to consider if you're attempting to use vegetables from the shop to grow in your own garden. Though sprayed potatoes can sprout and grow, there is a chance that the actual plant will be weakened and not perform very well.
Planting the ginger was easy enough - the instructions called for potting it up under 2cm of multi-purpose compost and allowing it to grow indoors at least until summer. During that time, green leaves will shoot up and the rhizomes will begin to grow roots. Though they advise that it will be possible to then transplant the entire thing outside come warmer weather, I think I'll just grow it on inside in a large tub. Growing it in a tub will make harvesting the rhizomes a lot easier and it actually looks like quite a nice plant to have indoors.
So now I've got onions, leeks, melons and now ginger tucked up in compost in our conservatory. I'll be eagerly anticipating any visible growth in the coming weeks and also be out preparing the garden and allotment for spring. I've got so many plans and ideas and can't wait for truly warm weather to return!
Friday, 6 January 2012
I love flavoured liqueurs...Baileys, Tia Maria and Kahlua are all among my favourites. The only thing I don't like about these creamy, tipsy, girly drinks is their price - they're all about £14 a bottle now. Five years ago I wouldn't have batted an eyelid as I popped them into my trolley and swished my way over to the till. But times have changed and sometimes if I want to enjoy a bit of luxury without feeling guilty then I have to figure out how to make it myself - and on a budget.
What I've found out is that most food and drink can be made easily, cheaply and a heck of a lot more wholesome than anything you can find in the shops. Now I'm not going to proclaim that a boozy treat like Kahlua could ever be wholesome but it is so easy to make that a five year old...err 18 year old...could do it. And by varying the ingredients slightly, you can customise it to suit your own taste - more or less sugary, alcoholic, vanilla or even coffee flavoured.
Once prepared, Kahula can be mixed with milk and ice for a delicious and boozy kind of iced latte - I'm currently enjoying the one pictured above so please excuse me for any spelling mistakes ;) You could even go the full mile and make your own Kahlua, Baileys and Grand Marnier and layer them for probably the best B-52 you've ever MADE. Or why not plan on preparing a few bottles in time for a party? In any case you'll be saving quite a bit of money while having a load of fun!
Makes almost 3 - 75cl bottles
4 cups Boiling Water
2 cups Dark Brown Sugar
2 cups White Sugar
1/2 cup Instant Coffee - Regular or Decaf depending on your preference
1 Vanilla Bean
3 cups Vodka - this is about an entire 70cl bottle
3 clean and sterilised bottles - old wine bottles with screw tops are perfect
1. But your sugars into a heat-proof bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Stir the mixture until all the sugar is dissolved then add your coffee. Stir again until this is dissolved then cover your bowl and allow to cool until it reaches room temperature.
2. Once cooled, slice your vanilla pod and scrape the gooey insides out with a knife and place it in the bowl. Pop the rest of the beans into your bottles.
3. Pour the vodka into the mix and stir gently. Then, using a funnel, pour the coffee liquor into the bottles and seal. If any of the black vanilla is stuck to the bottom of the bowl just spoon it out and into the bottles as well. Store your homemade Kahlua in a dark place and ideally you'll want to wait about two to three weeks before drinking it. This is to give the flavours, especially the vanilla, time to meld before drinking it. But if you absolutely can't wait that long it's fine to drink immediately ;)
PS - Remember how I mentioned that a bottle of Kahlua costs about £14 at the shop? If you make it at home you end up spending about £4.50 per bottle.
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
After our long Christmas holiday I decided to venture out and do a bit of grocery shopping and errand running this afternoon. Now though the weather was windy, the temperature was warmer than usual and the sea didn't seem as rough as on stormy days past. Even so, the local amenity site, where I'd hoped to drop off all of our holiday recyclables, was closed due to the weather. As I performed my three-point-turn to perfection I wondered why on earth a little bit of wind would be any reason to close the site. It's not as if there weren't a nice cosy office there for the recycle guys to sit in and enjoy a nice cuppa. Pulling back out onto the road I then remembered that a friend of mine told me that this morning's Steam Packet ferry crossing had also been cancelled due to the weather. This is probably the tenth time that this has happened in the last six weeks and it's really been a pain for people travelling back and forth as well as for businesses who rely on shipments of goods being brought in on time.
A bit peeved off over not being able to offload a boot full of empty bottles, cans and gift wrap, I headed up to Shoprite to pick up groceries. Though it was fortunately open, on closer inspection all was not as it should be. While stocks of most tinned and dried foods were plentiful, some items such as fresh herbs, milk and cream were conspicuously missing. Then walking to the back of the shop I was shocked to find the bakery area nearly devoid of fresh bread, pastries, muffins, scones and everything else you'd expect to find there. Sure we've had some holidays recently and sure a single ferry had to be cancelled today but the items that were missing were mainly products produced on the island!
Shortly before the holidays, Manx Radio's Talking Heads show hosted a discussion on this very topic: Food Security on the Isle of Man. Ironically enough, I was listening to it while driving back from another dead-end amenity site trip. Due to nearly a week of cancelled ferry crossings, the community was in the grip of panic buying. Our single Tesco was mobbed and emptied of fresh produce, and milk, meat, bread and toilet paper was also in short supply. Even I who keep a well supplied kitchen was a bit concerned - though we grow quite a lot of our own veggies we are by no means self-sufficient when it comes to the bulk of our diet. What on earth would we do if we couldn't buy goat milk or holiday sweets?! ;) Well, there was a bit of hysteria going around at that time and I'd say most people were getting wound up over having a lack of food choice rather than lack of food. Even so, some very important issues were raised:
1. Bread wasn't able to be made because yeast shipments hadn't come in for the Ramsey Bakery. Say again? The main bakery on the island that 80% of the community relies isn't yeast sufficient? It's possible for bakeries to replenish their own stocks of this ingredient every day from their own product and I'd have thought that it was cost effective as well. Bread is the Staff of Life and if we rely on outside shipments of yeast for its production then the food security of this island is dire indeed.
2.The main dairy enterprise on the island, the Isle of Man Creamery, relies on shipments of plastic containers for dairy product packaging. If the ferry is cancelled and the containers don't come in on time, it means that milk can't be distributed to the shops. Considering this, wouldn't a permanent packaging solution be more efficient as well as beneficial to the goal of island wide food security? Why not bring back glass milk bottles and put in place a system for them to be cleaned and reused time and again? Deposits could be paid on the initial bottle(s) and as long as you returned your empty ones with you when you shopped then you could get away from any additional bottle costs. Heck, maybe the bottles could be produced on-island, thus creating more industry.
3. There is a thriving beef and lamb industry on the Isle of Man but unfortunately many of the animals are shipped off-island to be slaughtered and processed and then shipped back to be sold. This is due to the high costs of using the Isle of Man Meats Plant, our local government-subsidised abbatoir (slaughter house), and the fact that it has no competition on-island. Though it's unethical to stress the animals out with a sea voyage of doom, it's shameful that the local abbatoir isn't serving the needs of the farmers - thus forcing them to have to ship the animals away. Interestingly enough, I was supposed to be part of a group taking a tour of the abbatoir in November. On the day of the tour I received notice that it had been cancelled then a few days later while inquiring into the cancellation I found out that all the Directors had been sacked. Considering this as well as the fact that plans for a new abbatoir have been submitted we might see some positive changes in this industry the years to come.
4. Stocks of food are kept at minimum levels. This is true of shops the world over but it's especially critical in a place that is reliant on food being brought in on a boat subject to 'acts of God'. What you see is what you get when it comes to what the supermarket has on sale. It's worrying to also learn that Manx livestock are subject to the same issues as people - most of their grain is sent in from abroad and shipments are affected by the same weather conditions. Wouldn't it make more sense to create secure stockpiles for people and animals both? Fresh food obviously is affected by long term storage but stockpiles of grain wouldn't be a bad idea in my book.
There are plenty of positive things to say about food production on the Isle of Man but it's during times of stress that these enterprises come under scrutiny. A few missed sailings is really nothing to worry about in the long-term but it does bring up the question of what could happen if we run into greater challenges. Some people choose to put their heads in the sand on this matter but I think it's a really precarious way to live your life. The saying goes that the average nation is three meals away from revolution. And while a single person might not be able to do much about the food security of an entire country, they are very much able to do something about it within their own family and local community. Learning to cook the essentials, connecting with others who produce or just keeping a couple of weeks supply of food at home can help. So while I can't say that I grow and mill my own wheat (yet!), I can say that because I bake my own bread that I won't need to join the crowd of people scrounging for that last loaf on the shelf today.