Monday, 30 January 2012

Seedy winter activities

When it is too cold outside, the soil is frozen and there are only few signs of life in the garden, the (not so die-hard) gardeners (or the one's without heat in their garden house) retreat to their warm homes. Not to hibernate, no, to prepare the seedlings for the coming spring, empty the supply of summer vegetables from the freezer, or make a planting scheme. This is what we are working on now, but we do a few other things as well, which deal mainly with seeds.

A bit late, but today we sorted the seeds we gathered from our garden and other places. These are now ready to replenish our seed stock for this year. 

We have a fascination for extraordinary plants, but the only way to get those seeds is to buy them from specialist shops. A disadvantage - or in some way an advantage - is that these seeds come in large quantity packages. Seeds are perishable and we do not encourage mass production. One way to deal with this seed abundance is to grow them into sprouts. In this way they are extra nutritious, they grow even in winters, they have an explicit taste and they are perfect for decorating a dish, and to spice up sandwiches or salads. Just put some seeds on a wet piece of toilet paper, and in a few days they begin to sprout. Make sure to keep the trays moist, but don't let the seeds float. The one's we are growing now are amaranth, spinach and chía sprouts.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Extreme makeover: garden house edition

This picture reveals the original state of the garden house, uhm shed, that we took over from the previous owner. In the summer of 2011, when we had kick-started at least a part of the garden, it was time to renovate the house. 

We had to wait some months and then we did not receive a permit from the municipal authority to build a new house. Therefore, we bought a second-hand garden house in Brabant and used it together with the existing material to upgrade the house on the existing foundation. This second house already had a ready-made porch which we could place in front of the house (after breaking it down to transport it, and build it up again). Unfortunately, the roof was in bad condition and couldn't make it to the other side of the great rivers, so a waterproof roof had to be placed anew. 

We also included a larger window in the left wall for more light, and replaced the plastic windows with glass ones. A following step was to measure and saw the remaining timbers to make the second half of the house. 

The back part was then divided in two: one as a shed for tools and the other half would be transformed into a little kitchen. To finish the outside of the house, we painted it to protect the old wood against climatic influences. At last we added rain water pipes and connected it to our 1000 liter water tank.

Then it was time to finish the inside of the house. It was painted in bright - what turned out to be quite psychedelic - colours. With the many windows it was now really a fine little house, instead of a shed.  

The kitchen also became just perfect; light, cosy and everything that is needed to make a nice meal, fresh from the garden. We collect the drinking water from a central tap about 300 meters away, which allows for quite a workout when carrying a full can. The water outlet from the sink is filtered in sand at the back of the house, from where it drains back into the soil.
Special thanks goes to Karel, Thea, René and Piet, who spent many days of work to make this all happen.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Christmas soup

On this year's mild Christmas day, we went to the garden to see its autumny (even though it was winter) condition. We warmed ourselves with a nice cup of soup, made from the remaining vegetables in the garden. These were spinach beets, leeks, celery and some herbs. The spinach beets have a very explicit taste, somewhere between earthy beets and the freshness of spinach (indeed, as the name suggests). These were accentuated by the grandma-soupy taste of celery and leeks. In the meantime, the last preparations were made for the winter. We covered the garden with shreds to protect the soil for the coming months (also known as mulching)

Recipe - Here is what we did: bake some leeks so the flavours will be released. Put some pimento or other spices with it. Then put the vegetables (approximately 50/50 leek and spinach beets, and three pieces of celery) in a pan with hot water and add lemon thyme, laurel and whatever you like. Don't forget to rinse the baking pan and add the remaining flavours to the soup as well! Let it cook for some minutes corresponding to the softness or crispiness of your taste. A perfect winter soup!

Our very first harvest

And there it was: our fresh, juicy harvest! To be honest, the green beans were quite covered with slimy black louses, but hey, that is just the outside. To mention more garden troubles, our apples were eaten by caterpillars and the carrots didn't sprout. However, our harvest was pretty good for first-year gardeners!

We baked and cooked pretty dishes, one of it is rhubarb-apple pie, and stored the rest of the harvest in the fridge. 

The garden in June was prettier than we expected, even though only half of our 200 mwas taken on by us. 

Our last major project this summer was the renovation of the garden house. Thanks to handy family and neighbors we now have a little kitchen, a porch, a shed and an extra window! 
And even still, pretty surprises came out and brightened up the garden. And us.

Friday, 13 January 2012

From grey to green

In March 2011, we had created the basic outline of the garden; used more than half of the found material; added extra soil, dung and shred; and we had put some of the remaining plants in place. It was wonderful to see little greens and flowers coming up after looking at this flat, grey moonscape for months.

Because the garden was left to nature the last couple of years, it was full of ranking weeds that had to be stripped as soon as possible. In the meantime the plants that were already present in the garden came up, such as chives, rhubarb, lovage, blackberry and all kinds of small flowers. The magnificent willow and pear tree started to flower, and our planted veggies begin to grow in the open soil.

In May, the transformation into a fruitful green garden showed off tremendously, after sowing flower seeds, planting a plum tree and all kinds of berries, creating a bed of herbs. Also, the vegetable square was filled with sprouting greens. 

Little paths and beds created from the recycled artifacts made a lovely look. At the same time it is necessary to be able to reach all places for sowing and harvesting.

At the backside of the garden, next to the water ditch, we stored the remaining tiles as embankment, flattened the ground and created a little Mexican milpa with beans, pumpkins and coloured maize. What followed was the recipe for harvest: water, weed and... wait.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The first couple of months

And we are one year on. In October 2010 we bought our allotment in Delft. It was abandoned, neglected and overgrown; so we took the daunting task to transform this barren wasteland into a beautiful and fruitful garden.

At the one hand frustrating while in the same time interesting, we found a collection of curiosities underneath the plants and buried in the earth. From gnomes, deer antlers, plastic flowers (who needs that in a garden anyway?) to steel spikes, asbestos and other serious demarcations we soon found ourselves in what seemed as excavating a herding paranoid's squat. A talk with the neighbors revealed that the second last owner of the plot was an 80-year old woman who brought a stone a day to the garden, slowly paving it. The last owners almost never came, so for the last two years nature had a chance to overgrow the stone desert.

Next to the rubbish we found usable recycling material such as potsherds, roof tiles, ceramic sewer pipes and over a hundred paving stones. Making use of the stones we could outline our project; making partitions and plant beds.

In early spring it was more or less time to start filling the garden with greens. Broad beans were the first veggies to be planted in the garden.