Meet Gemma & Chez.

Some of my bestest pals. They are a great variety of human.

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THP: Introduce yourselves.
G&C: We’re The Cherry’s. Chez is a freelance photographer who loves pallets, humous and wearing shorts. Gemma is a barista in a rad local coffee shop who loves Le Parfait jars, peonies and applewood cheese. We have been married for almost 2 years and live in Stafford.

THP: If you’re not at the allotment where would we find you?
G&C: Chez would be in lycra, cycling around Staffordshire. Gemma would be in a thrift store looking for bargain furniture.

THP: Why/When/How did you start growing?
G&C: Why – We started helping out our friend Matt on his allotment in France. Chez loved being outdoors; digging, chopping, burning. Gemma loved being able to walk out of the kitchen and onto the patch to pull up a lettuce for dinner. There was something about the whole process of seed to table that made us slow down, look at the bigger picture and work out our place in the changing seasons – both physically and metaphorically.

When – One of our first priorities once we had moved to Stafford a year ago was to start growing something – anything!

How – We picked up a load of seed packets from Wilkinsons, bought soil from Asda and stole tons of broken seed trays from a friends shed. We had such little expectation, hardly any spare money and no gardening ‘infrastructure’ so figured we had nothing to lose. Gemma planted out the seeds and put them on every windowsill in the house and Chez managed to pick up some pallet collars on the cheap. We stuck the raised beds in our tiny front yard and when the seeds were big enough, planted them out. We came back from a few weeks away and had more courgettes, runner beans, rocket, lettuce, beetroot and mint than we knew what to do with (the tomatoes and chilli’s totally failed). We were amazed and from then on, completely sold on the idea of growing our own veg.

THP: What are you growing at the moment & Where?
G&C: This last christmas we were given an allotment, all 100sq. foot of it. We were a bit overwhelmed so just covered it in carpet (rookie error #1) and left it until spring. By April we had gathered a few friends who were interested and we all took on the allotment as a bit of a community project. Matt and his wife (from France) co-own it with us which is a massive blessing as they know what they’re talking about and a bunch of friends rock up sporadically to dig, plant, build and drink coffee. We have a massive weed\grass issue but things are growing and we love being down the patch, hanging out together.

Currently in the ground/greenhouse are parsnips, potatoes, broad beans, runners, celeriac, gooseberries (inherited), raspberries, onions, spring onion, ‘erbs galore, rhubarb, cardoons, peas, carrots, pumpkins, butternuts, courgettes, beetroot, chard and most excitingly – Chez and Bex are halfway through their beekeeping course so we will have a hive, bees and HONEY on the patch soon!

THP: What is your biggest growing disaster?
G&C: Because we are such novices we only have one years worth of potential disaster which was definitely the tomatoes. We were so happy that everything else grew though that we didn’t really care that much!

THP: Your biggest success?
G&C: Courgettes. We planted about 8 courgettes plants in one tiny little raised bed (rookie error #2) so they were busting out the box but all the plants were super healthy and fruitful. We had so many tasty courgettes and it was really nice to be able to give them away to friends.

THP: Your 3 favourite things to grow?
G&C: Our rosemary plant has taken about 8 months to grow beyond being a tiny little stick in a pot so we love seeing him sitting happily on our kitchen sill every day. He’ll go outside soon enough. Other than that, we both love seeing the beans climb their wig-wams and having some fresh fruit  (raspberries) to eat on the patch looks like it’ll be fun.

THP: Give us your best 3 growing tips. 
G&C: 1. Just go for it. Have faith that those little seeds will do what they were destined to do – grow!!
2. Invest in raised beds if you’re starting out (either in your yard, garden or allotment) – much less intimidating than a huge patch of grassy/weedy soil.
3. Get friends involved and make time to enjoy your ‘growing space’. Essential ingredients are a pallet bench, aeropress and homemade chocolate brownie.

Thanks Gemma & Chez!

Meet Charles.

Charles Dowding is the poineer of the ‘no dig’ organic gardening method. I’m currently making my way through his book ‘ Organic Gardening – The Natural No Dig Way’. The Hopeful Plot chatted to Charles to find out a little bit more……..

Charles.

THP: Introduce yourself.
Charles: I have been growing organic vegetables all my life, using a no dig approach, on market gardens of eleven acres in the eighties and now a quarter acre of fertile beds, producing year-round salad leaves and vegetables for local shops and restaurants. The garden also grows experiments, such as comparing plant growth on dug and undug beds, and beds with different composts. I have distilled this experience into seven films and seven books on vegetable growing. I write articles for national and local gardening publications, give talks home and abroad, and run frequent courses at Homeacres and elsewhere. The theme is simplicity – how to grow more, with less effort, see http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk

THP: How/Why/When did you start growing?
Charles: I wanted to grow and sell health and found it fascinating to explore the potential of food plants.

THP: What are you growing at the moment & where?
Charles: All vegetables, of which mostly salad plants for leaves, flower borders, fruit trees and bushes, at Homeacres near Castle Cary in Somerset.

THP: Your 3 favourite things to grow?
Charles: Lettuce, garlic and broad beans.

THP: What is your biggest growing disaster & triumph?
I sowed a half acre of carrots in 1987 after rotating the soil, and lost the whole lot to rampant chickweed. That confirmed my feelings that no dig is my path!
Creating a market locally for salad leaves has been fun and helping customers to appreciate the amazing flavours and colours of home-grown leaves, then teaching that in books and courses.

THP: Give us your 3 best growing tips?
Charles: 1.Get on top of weeds with a year of mulching. If you use compost as the mulch, you can grow at the same time. I did that here in 2013, converted weedy pasture and sold £13,000 of produce while cleaning the soil.
2.Disturb soil as little as possible, this means you have many less weeds to hoe or pull, visitors are always amazed how weed free my garden is.
3. Sow in season for healthier plants and longer periods of harvest, also keep sowing veg in June and July for autumn harvests, then august to early September for winter harvests.

carrots Sweet Candle & FlakeeThanks Charles. You’ve saved a lot of tired arms by opening our eyes to the ‘no dig’ way.

Meet Alice.

Alice is a farmer at Growing Communities in Daggenham and has written a badass book about growing – Do Grow Start with 10 Simple Vegetables (which I wrote a little review about here). The Hopeful Plot asked Alice a few questions……

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THP: Introduce yourself.

Alice: I am Alice Holden and I grow the veg at Growing Communities 2 acre farm in Dagenham, East London.

THP: Where would we find you when you’re not at the farm? 

Alice: At the moment I am at the farm all the time trying to keep up with Spring.  When things are less busy I like heading to Hampstead Heath swimming ponds or even better, West Wales, to the sea.

THP: How/Why/ When did you start growing?

Alice: I grew up on a carrot and dairy farm for most of my life, though it took me a while to realise that I could make a career out of it.

THP: What are you growing at the moment & Where?

Alice: At the moment we are planting out our tomatoes. I have around 25 varieties and about 2500 plants so it is taking a while.

THP: Your 3 favourite things to grow? 

Alice: I am pretty fond of tomatoes which is partly why I grow so many. I like growing lots of things- I would get bored if I had to grow just one so I am glad our varied seasons change what is appropriate to grow month by month.

THP: Your biggest disasters & triumphs.

Alice: I have lots of failures but each year learn a bit more about what works when and where. I rely on variety to give the farm resilience. In this way, if a crop fails there are always plenty of others.

THP: Give us your best 3 growing tips. 
Alice: 1.Compost, compost, COMPOST in order to look after your soil and cycle organic waste,
2.Experiment with mulches. They can help keep in precious moisture and keep out weeds.
3.Smash up your soil as little as you can- rotavating and digging destroys soil structure and soil life. I realise that In the past I have completely cleared and dug beds with my main incentive being that I wanted to keep everything tidy. Now I try to minimise damaging the soil, as healthy soil will grow healthy crops. I recently attended a talk by Elaine Ingham, a soil scientist. Soil, at least on earth, is really the final frontier. We know relatively little about it and yet we so intrinsically rely upon it.

That’s a heck load of tomatoes!!!! Thanks Alice!

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Meet Sarah.

Sarah has a lovely instagram (@foxglovecottage) full of flowers, veggies and bumble bees. You’ll deffo feel inspired after perusing her feed! Here’s her interview with The Hopeful Plot 🙂 Enjoy.

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THP: Introduce yourself.
Sarah: My name is Sarah, I’m 25 and I live in a little red brick cottage on the border of England and Wales in rural Herefordshire.

THP: Where would we find you if you’re not growing?
Sarah: At my work as a biomedical scientist, or just sitting in my garden.

THP: How/Why/ When did you start growing?
Sarah: My parents were definitely my inspiration for gardening. When I was growing up, my parents were keen gardeners. My dad won several prizes at the village fete for his leeks, and my mum created beautiful gardens in each of my two childhood homes, which she used to open for the national gardening scheme once a year. My mum would often send me out to the greenhouse to pick some tomatoes  to have with our tea, often having to come and look for me sometime later, to find me happily munching tomatoes straight from the vine and with none in the bowl she had given me to collect them! So it seems fitting that the first thing I grew seriously once I’d grown up was tomatoes, which I’ve been growing for about 6 years. Starting with a tumbling tomato in a pot on my patio to the 10 (mostly heirloom) varieties I’m growing in my greenhouse this year.

THP: What are you growing at the moment & Where?
Sarah: In my greenhouse currently there are Purple French Beans, Borlotti Beans, Artichokes, Courgettes, Butternut Squash, Munchkin Pumpkins and outdoor Chillies. On my windowsills I’ve got chillies, sweet pointed peppers and tomatoes. Already planted out are garlic, elephant garlic, and lord Leicester peas, and we’re just coming to the end of the purple sprouting.

THP: Your 3 favourite things to grow?
Sarah: Tomatoes, Beetroot & Butternut squash.

THP: Your biggest growing disasters & triumphs?
Sarah: My biggest disaster was last year, I got a little over excited and sowed a lot of flower seeds, but didn’t have the time or space to grow them on, so most of them died in their seed trays. My biggest triumph of last year has to be the butternut squash, I had lots of generously sized delicious specimens. I think this success was due to a liberal application of rotted horse manure a few months before planting.

THP: Give us your best 3 growing tips. 
Sarah: 1. Only grow the things you like to eat! If you aren’t a huge fan of cabbage, they probably aren’t worth the time and space required to grow.
2. Keep your tomatoes consistently moist but not too wet to prevent blossom end rot and fruit splitting. To help with this I use quadgrow self watering pots from greenhouse sensation.
3. Grow for flavour! The difference in taste between different varieties of fruit and vegetables is amazing. I like to grow as many varieties as possible and try something new every year (and grow my favourites from previous years also).

Sound advice I’d say. Thanks Sarah!
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Meet John.

John Perkins is Southwold Allotment Holders Association’s secretary and a darn good Dahlia grower. He’s the man you need to know if you want an allotment in Southwold. Here’s what he has to say about growing…

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How/Why did you start growing?
Like many people after the end of WW2 ,my father had an allotment which was used to grow food for the family. I used to accompany him there on Sunday mornings and I guess that’s where I caught the bug . I’ve had allotments since wherever I have lived although I now grow mainly flowers rather than vegetables.

What are you growing at the moment & Where?
I have a large allotment on Rope Walk in Southwold where I grow mainly dahlias for exhibiting at local shows . I also grow what I call “old fashioned “ garden flowers such as Lupins, delphiniums , gladioli , Sweet Williams and Canterbury Bells .

Your 3 favourite things to grow?
Obviously dahlias. My allotment is between two public footpaths on the edge of Southwold Common and when the flowers are in full bloom people often stop and take photographs because its  rare to see so many dahlias growing in the open like that . They are the perfect allotment plant because they are  easy to grow   and cheap to produce. You can take cuttings from the previous year’s tubers and make yourself a dozen new plants at virtually no  cost apart from a little heat in the greenhouse to start things off .I also know of no other flower with such a range of size and colours from small pompons to giant “ dinner plate” dahlias !They will continue flowering for several months from  late July through to the first frosts in November or December . Second favourite is Sweet Peas  which I also exhibit.There is nothing to beat  their scent .Third favourite surprisingly is a vegetable- new potatoes. I can think of no better taste than new potatoes lightly boiled and served with butter. The variety  I grow is Arran Pilot which is an old variety which does well  in most soils.

Your biggest growing disasters & triumphs?
Biggest disaster was last year when I had what I thought was a prize winning bloom to enter  into the big Norfolk and Suffolk dahlia show .On the morning of the show I carefully cut it, put it into  a bucket with water  and loaded it proudly into the back of my  people- carrier ready to drive to the show venue . Without thinking I slammed down the tailgate and snapped off the head of the bloom which I hadn’t  pushed far enough back into the boot !

Biggest triumph- also dahlias  -winning the Biggest Dahlia in the World contest at the Oulton Broad  show a couple of years ago .It was giant called Sir Alf Ramsey after the former Ipswich and England  football manager  . It was also special because I beat my fiercest rival – a local grower from Aldeburgh – into second place by a mere I cm.

Give us your best 3 growing tips.
On an allotment it’s better to do little and often rather than try and do everything at once. I’ve lost count of the people who take on a plot and then get disillusioned because they suddenly realise there’s more work to do than they thought. Best to take it steadily and do a bit at a time .

Use plenty of farmyard manure  but make sure it’s well rotted .Fresh manure is too strong and will scorch plants –and sometimes even kill them .

Keep weeds down with regular use of a hoe- the most under rated tool on the allotment.

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Thanks John! Hope you don’t chop any of your Dahlia’s heads off this year.

Super speedy salad.

We got given some Mixed Leaves seeds & sowed them at the beginning of February under cover. They didn’t take long at all to germinate & were soon big enough for planting out. However we thought that it was probably too cold for planting in the ground because we didn’t want to the frosts to get the leaves before we did. So we planted them in the greenhouse & about 2 and a half weeks later we had our first harvest of salad. We thoroughly enjoyed it & couldn’t believe how super speedy it was. We pretty much eat salad with every meal so it is a must for us to grow at the allotment. We’re going to be trying some winter varieties this year too to keep us going all the way through the colder months. Let me know which ones have worked especially good for you.

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Since then we have had 2 more harvests. I strongly recommend growing mixed leaves. They are really easy to grow. You get lots of different flavours, textures & colours from one crop. They just keep on growing back & at a rapid rate too. Give it a go.

Radish Pasta.

IMG_2511We have radishes coming out of our ears at the moment! They have been going crazy with all the amazing weather we’ve been having here in Southwold (rain and sunshine in equal measure). We’ve been chopping them up and adding them to our salads and our compost has been pretty happy with all the leaves.

However, I thought there must be a way the leaves can benefit my tummy as well as the compost heap. I didn’t know whether radish leaves were edible or not because they have little spikey hairs on and I thought surely this is gunna hurt. My pal pointed me in the direction of The Bless Kitchen where they tried a Sarah Raven recipe from her Garden Cookbook.

Ingredients:
25 radishes with their leaves.
350g pasta.
3 tbs olive oil.
1 onion, chopped.
1 garlic clove, finely chopped.
75g pine nuts, toasted.
75g parmesan cheese, plus more to serve.
Method:
– Cook pasta.
– Heat oil in pan.
– Sweat onions for 3 -4 mins.
– Add sliced radish, chopped leaves, garlic & pine nuts and cook until the tops wilt and soften.
– Remove from heat and season.
– Drain pasta and add radishes & parmesan.

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We really loved this pasta. Super clean and fresh tasting. It only took 10 minutes to make! And I was super chuffed I got to use the whole plant. We added some fresh oregano from our plot and I decorated it with rosemary flowers.

If like us you have a radish glut going on at the moment this one is definitely worth a go.