I am not a gadget person. And my rule of thumb is always to use physical rather than electrical means. But I am a lover of bread.
Where others have a weakness for chocolate or cake, bread is my thing. I usually have some sort of fancy loaf on the go as well as a loaf of supermarket bread for the kids' sandwiches. It's expensive, not very sustainable and an ongoing commitment to regular shopping. I made a decision to try and home bake bread partly to save some money but also to cut down the plastic bread bags. We reuse these several times over but it's still waste and something I wanted to cut down.
But we're a loaf a day (sometimes more) family, with busy evenings and I just couldn't keep up. Kneading at 11pm, staying up whilst dough is proving when your body's crying out for sleep - not good!
I've treated myself to a breadmaker. I have only one other kitchen gadget which is a stick blender that gets used on a daily basis. I've eyed it suspiciously since its arrival, mentally calculated the number of component parts and how far these have travelled, squinting at its plastic casing and imagining the oil that made it... It really does not sit comfortably at all.
So when I made my decision, it had to be right. I factored in the absence of bread bags, not having to turn the oven on for a single loaf, being able to use organic flour at a reasonable cost, not contributing to the palm oil issue by buying bread (read the labels - staggering!), minimising ingredients and cutting food miles AND having beautifully fresh bread, cheaper. I bought the best I could afford with the largest capacity. I think it makes sense.
One week in and it's my new friend. We are warming to each other. It's been used every day at least once, the kids like it, it's quick, I like it. Cheaper? Probably not. But my goodness, it's worth it for the smell!
We had a run of snow recently - a stark reminder that we are very definitely in winter!
It's tricky to satisfy the urge to grow food when the temperatures drop, but it's still possible and certainly there are preparations for the coming season that can be made.
This bed required a little TLC. I've been pulling out tenacious nettle roots, docks and dandelions, which is all the more satisfying knowing that the cold will keep them at bay for a while yet! I don't dig if I can avoid it, partly because it wrecks the structure of the soil but also because it's too much like hard work! It's really not necessary and I like an easy life. But a hand fork to loosen the roots from the top few inches is fine.
The surface I covered with a thin layer of compost. It'll provide a feed for the soil and give next year's seeds a head start and increase the crop yields. The worms will do the hard work of incorporating it into the bed; no effort by me required!
And over all of this, there is a double layer of membrane. I don't like using plastic as much as I can avoid it, but I've not really found an alternative for this. The dark colour prevents weeds from growing back, locks in moisture and when the sun eventually comes back out to play, it'll absorb its heat and warm the soil quickly. Flattened, used compost bags will do the trick over small areas too. This membrane will be reused several seasons though.
And to plant in the bare spaces? Garlic! Three rows of shop-bought cloves, pushed around an inch under the soil, pointed tip up, and covered over. The cold of winter will cause the developing bulb to split and by late spring, they should be ready to harvest. These ones will head to a school kitchen, around 20m from plot to table. As local, as low carbon as can be!
Tromboncino and Nemo
I love growing squashes. They're big, bold, bullies of plants, they have beautiful yellow flowers that attract the bees, they're easy to grow, the squash fruits are delicious and store for months, and above all, they feed a lot of people well for very little money!
The orangey coloured one is a Tromboncino, which was a first for me this year. They grow up to a metre long in a variety of twisty turny, sometimes hilarious shapes! Fresh off their vines they are limey green and taste a little like a courgette but with more flavour and a slightly tougher skin. Most of our harvest was cooked simply - fried in a little olive oil and garlic, with celery leaves and pepper, and then with a glass of water and a spoonful of veggie stock powder added to make a sauce. Dead quick, dead easy. This particular one was cured in a sunny greenhouse to toughen its skin and has now sat happily for three months on our kitchen table. I'll use it when we're desperate to remember the warmth and bounty of summer.
The other squash is a mystery. I don't know what variety it is but it found its way to my office chair yesterday, kindly donated by a colleague. He'd grown it from seeds I'd passed on, which in turn had been given to me by my old friend Alex. Alex died a couple of years ago. He was a wonderful eccentric, always rushing around, always busy, slightly obsessed with secateurs, and very missed. The prospect of salvaging the seeds from inside Nemo to grow next year has brought me cheer, more than the squash itself maybe! And reminded me what a gift seeds are. Saving seeds continues the legacy of generations of gardeners before us and allows us, rightly, control of our own food production. In such uncertain, challenging and so often sad times, it gives us, humble growers, power and control, and that provides security and happiness. Sharing saved seeds builds communities and networks, funny little bartering conversations between friends and recollections of long hot summers tending to plants over steaming cups of tea.
Seed saving is not hard. There are few who haven't, as children, grown apple pips or plum stones. There are plenty of instructions on the web and a quick search will reveal all. Try it next season. Sharing seeds is easier still. Get your seed box out and see what you can spare (ALL gardeners have more seed than they could ever feasibly use!) and offer it to friends and family. Maybe even a well thought out Christmas present. The gift of a full belly next year; what could be better?!
Happy ending huh?
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.