Follow us on www.self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.
No. 1 - Autumn 2010
In 2009 I gave up my job to become self-sufficient. My partner and I have taken on a derelict allotment in Sunniside, Gateshead, the village where we live. We also forage for wild foods. You can follow us on our blog (see address above).
Self-sufficient in Suburbia
Autumn brings a number of important wild crops for food foragers. And there is an abundance of wild fruit in our local woodlands and hedgerows which is well worth picking.
Hazel is a wonder food for us. It is high in essential oils and minerals but it is the protein that mosts interests us. We do not yet have any livestock though we are planning to get chickens and rabbits. We occasionally swap jam for wild pheasant and duck to keep up our protein supply. Generally speaking however, going selfsufficient means less meat as part of our diet. We simply don’t have the space for pigs, cattle and sheep! And we don’t have the space to grow the fodder for them either. So we are always on the outlook for local supplies of protein. Hazel is very high in protein so is vital for our diet in th eautumn and winter. We use them in nut loaves as well as eating them raw or roasted. Another important wild crop for us in the autumn is rosehips. Go back to the war years of the 1940s and the idea of the fruit of the rose plant being an important food does not seem so odd! Then it was made into rosehip syrup. Rosehips are packed full of vitamin C. When Britain’s supply of imported fruit, especially oranges and lemons, was reduced by the Battle of the Atlantic, we had to turn to native supplies of vitamin C rich food. Rosehips suddenly became one of the super food of the 1940s. We have so much to learn from our grandparents’ generation and I’ve been looking through the history books for frugal recipes. We’ll be trying them out over coming months. Hazel nuts picked in local woodland are an important source of protein.
The moment we set out to become self-sufficient, we realised above all else that one issue needs to be at the front of our minds at all times: waste. Food waste is treated almost as a crime by us. We put a great deal of effort into growing our food or foraging for it and the last thing we want to do is waste our efforts. But what often appears to be waste can produce new meals for us. For example, making stock from waste vegetables and bones. We thinned out the leaks on the allotment recently. The thinnings themselves were used in a soup but the leaves that would otherwise be thrown onto the compost heap went into our stockpot, as did the bones from a recently consumed pheasant and a duck. Topping up the stock were bits of vegetables that had seen better days. We used the stock to make a soup which gave us our main meals for 2 days.
On the allotment
Whilst most of our crops are now in, the allotment is still providing us with some fresh vegetables. Parsnips and leeks are picked as and when we need them. We still have swiss chard growing on bed 2 though I haven’t checked it since the frost we had in mid November. We also have some cabbages still to come in though they have been under attack from rabbits recently. We have two crops still to come in however that we’ve never grown before. Jerusalem artichokes are growing on bed 3 and have plenty of stalk and stem above ground. Quite what they are like underground is still to be discovered. I’ve found an old wartime recipe for artichoke gratin which was meant to be a mock fish pie. I may give it a go. The other crop still to come in is another root one - horseradish. This will be made into sauce and we’ll be making a video about this - watch this space. And now for the bad news. Our winter potatoes, planted in bags next to the greenhouse, have been a complete failure. The stems have been eaten by bugs. And our sprouts have done nothing. I suspect we planted them out too late. Since I love sprouts and we had a great crop last year, this is something of a disappointment. We are however planning for next year. It is important to get this right. We have learnt by trial and error that running the allotment cannot be done by simply throwing a few ideas together at the last moment. Plan ahead and you get the most out of the work you put in. The next crop to be planted will be the winter garlic. We bought the bulbs recently and the ground is being prepared. Remember, if you are planting crops, avoid growing the same crop on the same bed two years running.
The Horticultural Channel
The Horticultural Channel will be launched on 6th March 2010. It will be aimed at amateur gardeners and will be presented by amateur gardeners. I’m pleased to report that I have been recruited as one of the presenters! My focus will be on what to do with the food once it is grown or picked wild. “Frugal Foods” will aim to show that producing or foraging for your own food is fun, a great healthy activity and leads to great recipes and interesting meals whilst saving money. The creator of the channel is tv producer Sean James Cameron. He said that many gardeners want a programme that concentrates on basics rather than country estate gardens. “We will offer practical advice on a budget for the allotment-holder, home gardener and balcony grower,” said Sean. Other presenters include Geoff Wakeling who has worked on ITV’s This Morning programme, and Claire Burgess who has her own YouTube gardening channel. The Horticultural Channel will broadcast on Freesat channel 402 and Sky Channel 166 at 9am on Sundays with repeats on Fridays at 8.30pm.
New videos ready for viewing
We’ve filmed a few more videos about using produce from the allotment or foraged wild. The following are now available on our YouTube channel (see above). Cooking with cauliflowers If you have an allotment, you have to learn how to deal with gluts. This year with had a big crop of cauliflowers so we have filmed 5 videos on how to use them up. Two are edited and are now on YouTube: How to make cauliflower cheese and How to make aloo gobi. (Forthcoming videos not yet edited are cauliflower and stilton soup, picalilli and green leaf soup (which uses cauliflower leaves). Jam and jelly making One of our biggest activities in the autumn is jam and jelly making to preserve all those autumn fruits and berries. We’ve now posted up the following videos: How to make blackberry jam, How to make hedgerow jelly, How to make crab apple jelly and How to make lemon marmalade (using lemon skins left over from jam making). Pickles Gherkins and cucumbers were also a bumper crop this year. So we’ve put up two videos on pickling them: How to make a sweet gherkin and cucumber relish and How to pickle gherkins.
Hedgerows are great sources of wild fruit and berries in the autumn. Over the past couple of months we have picked blackberries, elderberries, sloes, rosehips, crab apples and hawberries. We’ve included on this page a couple of the recipes that make use of these wild crops. If you are just starting out as a forager, always stick to the golden rule: if you are not sure about a wild berry or fruit, don’t pick it. Better safe than sorry (and ill). As I write this in mid November, you will find that the blackberries and elderberries have virtually all gone (the crop this year was abundant but early.) There are however still plenty of other fruits available.
I find the best hedgerow jellies are those containing soft fruits such as blackberries and elderberries. They provide the juice you need in which to boil the other fruit. However, as the autumn moves on, the blackberries disappear but you can still make hedgerow jelly with berries and fruits such as hawberries, rosehips, crab apples and sloes that can survive into December. Put all your berries and fruit into the jam pan. Add water if you have no or little soft fruit (you may need to add water if you use a large amount of crab apples as they have a tendency to soak up juice.) Bring the pan to the boil and simmer for about two hours. Then strain overnight. Measure the liquid and put it into the jam pan. Bring to the boil and then add sugar - 1kg for every litre. Bring back to the boil and keep boiling until the setting point is reached. Then add to warm, sterilised jars.
Use the pulp to make fruit butter
Don’t throw away the pulp that is left after the straining stage. Add some water to it and reboil it for a few minutes then press it through a sieve. Measure the resulting puree and put this in the jam pan to boil it. Then add sugar - 1 kg for every litre - and stir regularly until the setting point is reach. Then add to warm sterilised jars.
If you love ketchup but cringe at the thought of buying the mass-produced commercial stuff, try making your own. We have made tomatoe ketchup to use up gluts of tomatoes but in this recipe we show you how to make hawberry ketchup. Hawthorn is one of our most common hedgerow bushes. In the spring it is covered in small white flowers which from a distance make hedgerows look like they are covered in snow. It is likely that this led to hawthorn’s alternative name of “mayflower”. In the autumn, the branches sag under the weight of vast numbers of small red berries. To make 300ml of hawberry ketchup, you will need 500g of hawberries, 300ml white wine vinegar, 300ml water, 170g white sugar, a pinch of salt and ground black pepper to taste. Put the haws, water and vinegar in a pan and apply heat. When you reach boiling point, turn down the heat and simmer for about half an hour to 40 minutes. The berries should be soft and the flesh should come away from the stones easily. Press the mix through a sieve to separate the puree from the stones and stalks. Return the puree to the pan and add the sugar, salt and seasoning and reheat. Boil for about 5 minutes and then add to a sterilised bottle. We gave a bottle to a relative who rubbed it into a leg of lamb before roasting it. We’ve not tried that yet but we are planning to make potato floddies (another wartime recipe I have found) to which we’ll mix in hawberry ketchup.
The to-do list
What’s on our agenda as we try to become self-sufficient
Our allotment is more like a small field so getting it into shape after its years of dereliction is rather challenging. So forthcoming jobs include removing the rubbish that was left on the site. We are likely to get a skip. Running the car down to the dump will take forever, given the quantity of rubbish that needs to be removed. Then we need to get the half of the allotment not yet used ready for cultivation. Expect us to be reporting in future editions about back breaking digging and a decision to invest in a rotovator. And expect soon to hear about the arrival of a few tonnes of manure.
The trees may be losing their leaves at the moment but that means a vital resource is ready for collection. Fill bin liner bags with leaves, tie them up and store them in the cormer of the allotment or garden for a year. The result is a good quality leaf mould that is well rotted down and can go onto beds as a soil conditioner.
Chickens and rabbits
We had planned to get the chickens this year but didn’t get round to doing it. So winter is a good time to get the run and hen house set up. The chickens will go into our back garden rather than onto the allotment. For the first time ever I saw a fox on the allotment recently. I don’t want to give them a free meal! However, they can eat all the visiting rabbits they want. Talking of rabbits, we are also planning to get some. They are useful for converting kitchen waste into protein. We need to get rabbit hutches set up this winter.
Polly tunnel and raised bed
We put a raised bed on the allotment this year and then rather neglected it. This coming year we need to get it into production. We’ve already added compost to it from the potato bags. We’ll top it up with more home made compost and manure shortly. The raised bed is designed to take a polytunnel so we need to sort out purchasing and installing this. Basically our greenhouse is too small and a polytunnel will act as an extension to it.
Digging the pond
We’ve got the latest fashions as worn by the best beekeepers. All we need now are the bees!
We have been planning to put in a pond on the allotment and as with so many other things, we haven’t got round to doing it. We want the pond installed to encourage frogs to live on the allotment. We have some already but want more as they eat the bugs.
We have been on a beekeepers course and have bought some of the gear and bits of equipment. We’ve also joined the Hexham Beekeepers Association and go to their monthly meetings. Next job is to get a couple of hives and some bees.
Keep in touch
We live in the village of Sunniside in western Gateshead in the North East of England. Our allotment is on the edge of the village and we are surrounded by countryside where we forage for wild foods. We send this newsletter by email to all those who have expressed an interest in our plans to become self-sufficient. If you would like to receive our newsletter by email, please send a message titled “garden subscribe” to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact us on that email if you have any questions. You can also follow us at: www.self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.com Thanks Jonathan Wallace
Printed, published and promoted by Jonathan Wallace, 7 Laburnum Grove, Sunniside, NE16 5LY