Veg: A Snow Day

Veg: Part 2 – vegetable growing diary

Read previous veg blog

Week 3 and the weather has got the better of us, cutting the Urban Veg workshop short for a week – to be continued in full post snow. But who wants to be out in the freezing cold anyway? Vegetables certainly don’t want to germinate yet, and if our poorly (but on the mend) chicken at home is anything to go by we’re all better off in the warm for now.

Watching the snow swirl across the garden from the second floor of the beautiful Winterbourne House, instead we put pen to paper to glean as much knowledge from gardening expert Alys Fowler as possible. This time we learnt about planning our organic vegetable plots, what to grow and where, and how to arrange the rest of the garden for composting, wildlife ponds and rainwater collection.

Back home now, I’ve decided I’m going to have a reshuffle in our back garden. We’re moving the chickens to a new piece of ground to make way for the veggies on the manure rich soil. The beech hedge that overhangs it is of little edible use to us, and has always caused a lot of shade restricting our veggie growing. So I’m thinking of doing something radical and either giving it huge hair cut, or replacing it with fruit bushes (let’s hope our neighbour and Tom agree). We can then make a ‘dead hedge’ pile with the cuttings to attract some useful wildlife to eat our pests. Cunning.

Tom and June the chicken
Once upon a time we had beautiful grass, now we have manure rich soil thanks to our chickens.

As our water butt is already full, the hoarder in me has already started collecting snow melt-water as it drips off our roof.  I’m also hoping to add guttering to our shed and the shelter over our winter forlorn earth oven (remember the good old bread making days of Loaf at home, anyone?). My challenge is then to keep collected water from spoiling. Apparently young seedlings can suffer from ‘damping off‘ and wilt if too much bad bacteria grows in the water, so this water may be better used directly on the garden in warmer weather.

Snowy wood-fired oven at the original home of Loaf
Adding guttering to collect rainwater from the roof of Loaf’s original wood-fired oven.

Indoors, my seedlings are struggling a bit already. Whilst my salad leaves on the kitchen window-sill seem to be ok, my chillies never came up (airtight seed storage next time). I’m told it’s too late to replant chilli seeds now, so I’ll have to try again with plugs. Next week we’ll be in the Urban Veg poly-tunnel, so I’m saving up loads of seedling questions until then.

In the meantime, I’ve succumbed to a rare purchase and going on Alys’ recommendation I’ve bought Joy Larcom’s Grow your own vegetables (2002), apparently a ‘go to’ book for veggie gardeners. Fingers crossed it works on me.


Read previous veg blog

Joy Larcom - Grow Your Own Vegetables
Joy Larcom – Grow Your Own Vegetables

Urban Veg

Veg: Part 1 – vegetable growing diary

Whilst I spend most of my time promoting interesting social stories and sustainable projects as the Marketing Manager at both Loaf and Northfield Ecocentre, and as a freelance photographer, it’s rare that I roll up my sleeves in the kitchen or garden and get my hands really dirty. Being Tom’s wife, most people think I share his bread knowledge and skill. But leaving the baking mastery to him, it’s growing veggies and looking after our chickens that I love.

Veggie Love

So, my little bit of extra-curricular self-indulgence has been to enrol myself on a six-week gardening course at Urban Veg at Winterbourne House and Garden. Led by Guardian gardening columnist Alys Fowler, I’m learning “How to get more from your urban veg patch”, which in my case is our little back garden and an allotment shared with our Loaf baker Dom and his wife Vic.

Tom at Allotment
Tom at our first ever allotment back in 2009

I’m a novice at gardening. I dabble, planting seeds, growing on window-sills, and talking to my plants – much to Tom’s amusement.  Sometimes the results are amazing and at other times – well – let’s just say a lot of it comes down to luck.

Week one and two at Urban Veg grounded us in soil science and the art of composting, without which everything, as i’ve discovered is mostly down to chance. Knowing my soil type, understanding native and invading pests (watch out for the Spanish Stealth Slug), and feeding my soil with as much as I can from my home and garden (chicken poo, veggie peelings, friendly weeds – and even old receipts and human hair) is key. Aly’s infectious love for the environment and organic principles seems to make sense when it comes to growing.

The next four weeks of the course are a mystery, but if they’re anything like the last two my garden to-do list will continue to grow, as I experiment. I’m looking out for pallets to build a second compost heap, cardboard for lasagne gardening, saving hedge clippings for a bug hotel and leaves for leaf mould compost, and vow never to store my seeds over winter in the shed again (Sorry, Alys).

Nancy, our wonderful administrator at Loaf has signed up for an Urban Veg course too, and Dom wishes he could! I sense a little bit of gardening jealousy – and maybe even a veggie growing competition on the horizon!


Gardens Where People Grow

Just thought I’d quickly share a lovely little film about community gardens in Birmingham – it’s been made by Martineau Gardens, and was commissioned by the NHS. You can find out more about the wonderful Martineau Gardens and this film on their website, and check out the film below


Shed 2.0

This is not really a food related post, but I’m a man who’s proud of his new shed, so I couldn’t resist telling you why. In a bid to get organised for the growing season ahead in the garden, we decided to sort out our dilapidated shed that has had a leeky roof for two years (oops!). It was a toss-up between knocking it down and buying a new shed, or repairing this old one and giving it a refurb. Under the guidance of our friend and all round wood-man Fraser Lewis, we decided to choose the eco option and pimp our shed. First of all we emptied it of all the junk, and turned it round ninety degrees, which was not easy. Then we called in Fraser and helped him take off the current leaky roof:


Next Fraser put in a new ridge pole to give the apex of the roof a lot more strength:


We asked Fraser to turn our shed into a saltbox shed, so that we could store logs on one side of it, so he put in some rafters which extended an extra 2ft on one side of the shed:


We adapted some pallets to keep the logs off the floor and allow the air to circulate around them:


We then put on the roof which consisted of a layer of under felt stretched over the rafters, then a sheet of plywood, then top felt tacked onto that.  The log store saltbox was covered with featheredge board:


The following day I built some shelves inside the shed to help us keep it more organised. I spent £9 on the wood for the frame, and used odds and ends of wood lying around for the shelves – bargain.



Then of course, we filled it back up with stuff!


Hopefully now we’ll have a clean, tidy, and dry shed, which will help us to have an organised season of gardening ahead. We’ve saved a bit of cash too by refurbing our current shed, as new sheds aren’t cheap. We also used lots of reclaimed wood, so the timber costs were pretty low  – quids in!