I would like to deliver on a promise. I posted some pictures on Twitter yesterday of an olive and prosciutto pizza I made with Bacheldre Mill’s Organic Stoneground Oak Smoked Flour. It was a 30cm (12 ins) deep pan style – the base was a great fluffy texture with a nutty taste. The topping was redolent of hot Venetian afternoons outside looking at Vaporetto…I received a very nice reply from Jethwa asking if I’d mind sharing the recipe. Of course, I’m happy to do so, here it is…
The bad weather had prevented the planned pruning of trees so far. It’s important to wait till the winter when the trees are in their dormant phase and the sap is down. However, we didn’t want to start making cuts in trees when things were still freezing. However, we’ve got a lot of pruning to do and we wanted to get started to ensure everything gets done before the sap starts to rise in the summer. It’s a perennial (sorry!) tension between going with what nature gives you and getting the jobs done. Natural in tension with the managed. The few days just past gave us a weather and time window that was ideal to get started.
We’ve alot to to. We have about 100m (330′) of double rowed willow of various types along with ten fruit trees and a dozen hawthorns which have to be pruned. In addtion we’ve loads of gorse and other hedgerow species that need to be maintained at some stage.
According to my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary ‘Chit’ comes from Middle English chithe, to shoot or sprout, corresponding to the Old Saxon kith. So the word has roots (sorry) that go back 1200 years or so. Certainly, it wasn’t a new concept even then.
Chitting is a form of ‘pre-sprouting’ of seeds before you plant them in a growth medium such as compost or soil. Most gardeners are familiar with doing this for ‘seed’ potatoes which are, of course, tubers.
Anyway, we first stumbled across doing this for other seeds when experiencing the normal frustrations of getting parsley to germinate in pots or in the soil. We decided to grow them on kitchen paper towels to see which ones germinated and get an idea of germination rates. We could then assess whether the seed was bad or whether the germinated seed were dying later on. To our surprise, we got nearly 100% germination. Here’s a box of chitted basil seeds 12 days after ‘sowing’.
What’s cool about chitting is that you can see what’s going on and then plant into compost etc. It also avoids the need for thinning out. The downside is that the sprouted seeds are very fragile and easy to damage and you have to keep an eye out so the seeds don’t go too far. The more growth they put on the fragile roots grow into the paper which makes them difficult to get out safely: as you will see…The basil seeds above have gone a bit far.
So that’s what I did this morning, plant on chitted seeds of lettuce leaf basil, coriander and curly & flat parsley…
We did things a bit different for this coming season. In the past we’ve bought seed from one or more of the bigger seed suppliers. Their service has been fine so nothing to complain about there.
We wanted our small purchases to say more about what we valued and supported so we’ve changed our approach this year. Our criteria were:
- support smaller companies who are family run and/or are organic or sustainable specialists
- spread our business around
- seek out varieties more suited to our area.
In addition, we wanted to start saving seed so we didn’t have to buy so much in future. This would be more sustainable and would allow us to choose plants with characteristics that suited our conditions. As a result, we decided not to buy any F1 hybrids as these do not produce true.
I’ll update you about germination and quality as the year goes on. So for now, some comments about the customer experience.
The chosen few…
Nicky’s Nursery is a Kent based, six-person firm. We bought 12 items from them, mostly salads for autumn planting and also a chilli collection. The web site is reasonably easy to navigate and order from. Their delivery service is excellent.
The Real Seed Catalogue is a Wales based seed ‘collection’. In the EU we have some dodgy laws about what seed varieties can be sold. I’ll blog about the stupidity for biodiversity and sustainability of this at another time. This means that Real Seeds get you to join their club for a penny and then you can buy seeds held in the collection.
They advocate and encourage you to save seeds. It’s run by Kate & Ben who have a small network of growers working for them. We never actually got the catalogue they promised, but the web site is easy to use and order from. Delivery was great and the seeds come with instructions for how to save seeds. We’ve got some interesting tomatoes from them too – so more of that later.
The Organic Gardening Catalogue is the commercial arm of the Henry Doubleday Research Association. They’ve now rebranded as ‘Garden Organic’. I’d be interested to know whether the expense of the rebranding is justified by the increase in business… They’re not a family business like the others, but they’re not corporate giants either. And the ethos they espouse is just up our street, so they are the place to go.
The web site is the swishest and is easy to use. They were the slowest to deliver of all the companies, so much so I had to phone to find out about delivery. Not all the items were in stock so we have some on back order.
We’re also members of the Heritage Seed Library which is part of the HDRA. Because of the EU laws above they can’t sell some varieties. So you become a member and then get to choose up to 6 varieties of seed from their heritage library which you can grow and save seed yourself. This means that old varieties are saved. We’ve applied to be ‘Seed Guardians’ who look after some particular varieties and supply the seed back to the HDRA to keep the bank alive. More on this later.
Finally, there are the fine people at Seeds of Italy. They also supply in other countries including the USA and Australia – the link I’ve given takes you to a page of there international web sites. The company is run by the delightful Paolo Arrigo – a London Italian. It’s a true family business. The web site takes getting used to – and not a problem once you’re familiar with it.
Delivery was quick and the seeds are beautifully and instructively packaged. They are also packed in huge quantities – so we share with friends.
There was a mistake with the order – a carrot variety had been transposed with another and Paolo’s recipe book that I had ordered two of, only one arrived. The real test of a company is how they deal with mistakes…
I called, Paolo answered. Good start, the boss (and author) answers the phone. I asked Paolo if he wanted my order number to trace it. He said: “We’re Italian, we don’t deal with numbers we deal with people. What’s your name?” He remembered my order and I explained the problem. He apologised and explained how most of the items are ‘one’s of’, and how the carrot picking had been a mistake – he’d send the right one straight on. I explained that the book was intended as a Christmas present and so it was important that I got it soon so I could send it on. Paolo said: “No problem I’ll send it straight away, would you like me to sign it for you with Buon Natale?” I did, so did he. Perfect service, ‘Grazie Paolo!’.
I planted some turnips in August closely spaced to give us some young turnip tops for salads. They were yummy with a bitter, mustardy taste – as you’d expect from a brassica. As they got older I used the tops as a green veg with olive oil and garlic and stirred through pasta sauces. Now the tops are a bit too bitter and so I’m successively thinning them out to use the gently swelling bulbs. Having fixed on the turnips (navets if you’re feeling Francais about it) I needed the rest of the meal…
Lamb and turnips are a perfect partnership. The sweetness of the lamb compliments the slighty bitter touch of the turnips. And lamb and rosemary are made in foodie heaven. Fortunately, I’d picked a half leg of Welsh Anglesey Lamb (nice and local) from the supermarket close to sell by date. A 12GBP hunk reduced to 3GBP – bargain. So I had the skeleton of the meal. I picked the ingredients outisde so what happened next? Read on…
Hi there! Time for me to un-lurk and join the blogosphere. I’ve decided that now’s the right time for me to join the party and contribute some ideas. A bit of giving back if you like for all the good information and advice I’ve gleaned over the years from the generosity of others. Also, I hope that any comments I might stimulate will be ideal feedback to ensure I record and reflect on our progress. I’m sure to learn more from whatever comments people make. My team here have also been on at me for years to write down the recipes I create, so I’ll do that too. So what about us? We’ is my wife of 20 years Debs,our son JJ and me. We look after 3 acres on the gentle slopes of a small mountain on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. We also currently look after 5 Light Sussex chickens who produce our eggs and Sian our collie cross dog who produces, well – you can guess.
We’ve been keeping chickens for the last 12 years, daunting to start with and a joy now. We used to keep chickens, ducks and geese for meat too. We stopped doing that because of the level of work involved in processing. My dodgy wrist took a hit four Christmasses ago and has finally (!) just been diagnosed with torn ligaments and arthritis. We may go back to doing it, perhaps on a smaller scale than before. We so much more prefer seeing what we’re going to eat growing and having a fun life before the end arrives We have a brilliant aspect facing south and west so we make the best of the sun. The peninsula is warmed by the Gulf Stream so our climate is a bit gentler than the rest of the UK. Although at the time of writing we’re in a white out. Only the fourth serious snow fall in the 12 years we’ve been here. Part of the land is a little wooded area with ancient beech, coppiced oak and sycamore, ash, hawthorn and goat willow. We’re extending that area with pioneer alder and silver birch and Japanese larch. The middle bit of the land was described by the estate agent as ‘water meadow’ for which read ‘boggy marsh’. It’s a great habitat for all sorts of animals. Some of the more unusual are grasshopper warblers (locustella naevia),adders (vipera berus) and glow worms (lampyris noctiluca). We’re planting willow in the boggiest bit to harvest and use for structures and to sell. The top bit of the land has a nascent ‘forest garden’, bee garden, ‘orchard’ and the home farm where we grow our fruit and veg and keep our animals. The forest garden and bee garden are in their early stages and there’s lots for us to think about and decide over the coming months and years. Our veg is grown in six raised beds about 1.2 metres (4′) by 9 metres (30′) and we’re about to open two more beds 1.4 metres by 7 metres (23′). This gives us 20m2 separated with paths covered in landscape fabric and 20mm (3/4″)gravel from the local quarry. We also have a 3.7 m by 1.8m (12′ by 6′) polytunnel which is in use throughout the year.
As you can see, at the moment we have in the ground cabbage, chinese cabbage, mibuna, kale, sprouting broccoli, leeks, turnips, swede, garlic, parsley. We’ve got fencing all round this lot. This is to keep the local rabbit population away from the crops. More of that story later perhaps! The polytunnel has various salads over wintering along with pak choi and peas for salad shoots. Looking forward to telling the story as it unfolds – feel free to let me know what you think.