Veg Growing Part 3

Veg: Part 3 – vegetable growing diary

Read previous veg blog

Tom and I spent the Easter weekend down south at my parents. They are enviously ahead of us with the growing season with their dusting of snow now long gone. Whilst ours is still lingering, we started preparing the garden anticipating warmer days.

Last weeks ideas have come to fruition and we have moved the chooks to new ground, pruned our side of the hedge (it’s not ours to remove), created a second compost heap, and used the hedge clippings and dry beech leaves to start a ‘dead hedge’ for insects, and an extra leaf mould compost bin. Very rewarding. Thanks to the chickens the fertile patch we moved them from has become an extra veggie patch – lucky veggies.

Our new leaf mould bin and dead hedge
Our new leaf mould bin and dead hedge

Our garden feels like it’s getting closer to becoming more of closed little ecosystem, with the intention of bringing as little in from outside our garden as possible. Making our own compost, collecting water, relying on chicken manure and building welcoming habitats for helpful insects and wildlife is a good start. We’re yet to test our soil for pH so that we can understand how to give our plants the best start, but it’s up there on the to do list.

Week four at Urban Veg and we’re one step closer to growing outdoors, understanding techniques for sowing seeds in the gorgeous warmth of the poly-tunnel. Being honest I often fall at this first hurdle so i’ve picked up some new tips. Fingers crossed.

Transplanting seedlings
At Urban Veg – transplanting seedlings by supporting the roots, and holding the first leaves.

Here’s some reasons why my seedlings may not have made it in the past:

  • Over-watering once germinated – poor things may have drowned, lacked enough oxygen or developed ‘damp off’ from bacteria growth.
  • Surface watering – the roots don’t grow deep enough and became susceptible to temperature change.
  • Damaging on transplanting – handling the fragile parts of the seeding (stem and secondary true leaves) instead of the first leaves that grow (cotyledons). Not supporting the roots on transplanting.
  • Not enough light – causing seedlings to become ‘leggy’ (searching for more light). I’m re-potting them up to their necks in compost to encourage the stem to become a root.
  • Too much light – scorched! I’m currently searching for the right windowsill for the job.
  • There’s plenty more reasons… and the experts like Alys could tell you more.

I’m also starting to mix my compost with garden soil as i’ve discovered seeds don’t need such rich food to start, saved for later when transplanting hungry seedlings. It always baffled me why you could buy various different types of compost. Now I know why.

And as disgusting as it is (I hate this bit), i’ve come to terms with the fact that culling slugs has to be done or my veggies will have no chance. After last year, I have less sympathy for them so boiling water and burying it is.

Warming the soil
Warming the soil before growing with old compost bags in our little back garden

Maintaining consistent warmth for our seedlings is still an issue for us as we’re growing on windowsills with sporadic central heating, dependent on when we’re at home. Must be confusing for a seedling. Oh to have a poly-tunnel or greenhouse. We can only dream of a bigger garden (and more time). Given the cold weather, i’m giving the first seedlings a helping hand by warming the veg patch a few weeks ahead of planting outdoors. It’s a hotch-potch of old plastic bags, but should keep some of the anticipated Midlands rain from adding to the snow melt too.

And we’ve even seen a glimpse of some sun. Maybe there will be a rainbow next week.

Read previous veg blog

Seven brand new courses: Kitchen Essentials

2013 should be a fab year for Loaf, and we’ve decided to kick it off with a great new series of short workshops called Kitchen Essentials. Taught by our talented baker and chef Dom Clarke, these workshops are aimed at improving your basic cooking skills and helping you to be confident and efficient around the kitchen. Priced at just £30 each (except for cooking meat which is £40) they’ll make a great Christmas gift for a loved one, we’ll even print you a voucher with a personal message on if you wish. You can find the full details of the workshops in the shop along with online booking, but see our brief outline of the courses below:



Kitchen Essentials One: Knife SkillsTuesday 22nd January 7-9pm
Don’t know your julienne from your chiffonade or your paring knife from your boning knife? This is the course for you!  From the basics of choosing the right knife for the right task, to keeping your knives in tip-top condition, and chopping our way to some delicious dishes along the way!

Kitchen Essentials Two: Stocks and SaucesTuesday 29th January, 7-9pm
There are as many sauces in the world as there are chefs, but this Stocks and Sauces workshop will give you an introduction to the building blocks of some of the classics. We’ll explore both Asian and Western sauces and share some delicious treats throughout the evening.

Kitchen Essentials Three: Eggs – Tuesday 12th February, 7-9pm
Eggs are one of natures most simple yet beautiful foods, incredibly versatile but surprisingly difficult to cook right. On this two-hour workshop we’ll whisk, scramble, omelette, poach two ways, turn into delicious sweet tarts and a classic egg-based sauce.

Kitchen Essentials Four: Cooking VegetablesTuesday 26th February, 7-9pm
Vegetables are the delicious encapsulation of sunshine. For too many years they have played second fiddle to meat, but no more!! On this fantastic Kitchen Essentials: Cooking Vegetables workshop you’ll learn how to bring out those fantastic flavours locked up inside veg, and put them out front on a pedestal, where they belong.

Kitchen Essentials Five: Flavour Geography – Tuesday 12th March, 7-9pm
Lamb and rosemary, tomato and basil, peas and ham, ginger and spring onion, duck and orange. There’s a reason why some flavour combinations have stood the test of time and are now considered classic. On this educational two hour workshop you’ll learn the origins of some favourite combinations, cook some fantastic dishes from around the world, and gain the confidence to improvise with flavours in your own kitchen.

Kitchen Essentials Six: Beans, Pulses & Grains – Tuesday 19th March, 7-9pm.
So versatile but so often overlooked, this Kitchen Essentials workshop will teach you how to make the best of beans, pulses and grains. Perfect for these austere times, beans and pulses are cheap, nutritious, and if you cook them well, absolutely delicious.

Kitchen Essentials Seven: Cooking Meat – Tuesday 26th March, 7-9pm
Meat is an increasingly precious foodstuff in todays world, it’s becoming even more important to eat less but better meat, and cook well with it, wasting as little as possible. But what to do with it? Roast, braise, griddle, fry, steam, barbecue, or grill? Low and slow or hot and fast? On the bone or off the bone? Our fantastic two-hour Kitchen Essentials: Cooking Meat workshop will answer all of these questions and more.

We’ve Started Growing!

After an inspirational visit to a relative’s garden in Hampshire at the weekend, the vegetable growing season has started with a vengeance here at Loaf HQ (a.k.a. my back garden). We’ve built some raised beds and moved the chickens:

raised beds

We’ve planted some seeds including four types of tomatoes, fennel, beetroot, turnips and lettuce:



We watered them with a specially adapted water bottle (in the absence of one of those funky mini watering cans):


We’ve popped them in propagators on a sunny windowsill, and now we just have to keep our fingers crossed and water them. These will be thinned out to individual pots in a few weeks probably. In the meantime we have some donated seedlings to care for :