Archive for February, 2010

Edible Perennials – Siberian / Pink Purslane

800px-Claytonia_sibirica_EglintonI’m keen to try as many edible perennials as possible – I like the idea of not having to re-plant things every year, with all the work that involves. I’ve been having a great time watching “A year in a Forest Garden” from Martin Crawford at Agroforestry, and it’s been giving me lots of ideas for new plants to try. One I’ve ordered is Claytonia Sibirica, or “Siberian / Pink Purslane”.

Siberian purslane. Not from Siberia, this North American short-lived perennial grows 20 cm high in any moist soil in sun or part or full shade. The leaves are edible, raw (an excellent salad plant – beet flavour) or cooked, and the plant can be used for ground cover – it self-seeds freely. Hardy to -35ºC.

Plants for a Future have more info on it:

  • “It is in leaf all year, in flower from April to July, and the seeds ripen from June to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies. The plant is self-fertile.”
  • It seems to handle any soil and shade situation, as long as it is not too wet.
  • The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. “They usually have a fairly bland flavour and are quite nice in a salad or cooked as a green vegetable”
  • I particularly like their cultivation notes. It just sounds too good to be true – I’ll have to give it a go:

A very tolerant and easily grown plant, it prefers a moist peaty soil and is unhappy in dry situations. It succeeds in full sun though is happier when given some shade and also grows in the dense shade of beech trees. Plants usually self-sow freely. This is an excellent and trouble-free salad plant. It is extremely cold-hardy and can provide edible leaves all year round in all areas of the country even if it is not given protection.

Now I just have to sow some. Apparently it can be sown in spring or autumn, in situ. I’m planning to put it in a shady spot under the Aquaponic growbeds in the polytunnel so I’ll have to see whether their spot is ready before winter really gets going. If not, they can wait until spring – apparently they germinate quickly.

Eat Seasonably – save money and the earth

Eat Seasonable Fruit & veg

Eating seasonable fruit and veg can be a great way to save yourself money, and reduce your impact on the environment. It can be hard though to work out what really is in season now that you can get pretty much anything at any time of year.

Luckily there’s a great new website – EatSeasonably.co.uk – that tells you what to eat now, and even what to grow. It’s all presented in a great format and can be printed out and stuck to the fridge. We’re going to try it out and see!

How much does it cost to bake your own bread?

Now we’re making our own bread I thought it’d be worth working out how much cheaper / more expensive it is than just buying standard wholemeal bread.

So here’s the standard pricing of all the ingredients – I haven’t started looking for cheap bulk supplies yet so these are just from Sainsbury’s.

310 ml semi-skimmed milk 20.77p
225g Strong White Bread Flour 10.35p
225g Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour 14.85p
1 tsp salt 0.2p
3 tsp sugar 1.49p
25 g butter 7.5p
2x7g sachets of dried yeast 19.75p
Electricity 3.14p
Total 78p

So in total it costs 78p, which is about the same price as a Sainsbury’s wholemeal loaf. Cost wise then it doesn’t make much difference – as long as you’re not making a separate journey to buy your bread, as once you start your car up the cost difference would be substantial!

I’ll keep doing it because it tastes great, means we never run out, and it’s a good skill to have learnt for leaner times. I might also look for cheaper bulk ingredients.

Planting our tomato seeds

We’ve been taking (false) hope from all these false springs and started our January plantings with tomatoes. Planted them in little seed trays in an unheated propagator on January 24th on a beautiful south-facing windowsill and here’s the result two weeks later:

They are Beefsteak tomatoes “Big Boy” and Sweet Olive cherry tomatoes, and have been going really well. They survived a week of us being on holiday and a couple of days ago were ready to be potted up. I really wanted them to go straight into the polytunnel, but that is still dropping to near freezing overnight, so now we have them lined up along the windowsill in the kitchen

Before potting up:

And all the beefsteak seedlings, now without propagator lids, on a slightly cooler windowsill:

We didn’t have space, or enough pots, for the sweet olive tomatoes – they’ll have to hang on for another week or so.

Feels great to be growing seedlings again!

Baking our own bread – even better recipe!

Never happy to settle for good-enough, I’ve been tweaking our easy, reliable bread recipe to respond to a little family criticism that it could be lighter. So here’s the new result:

IMG_0391[1]

It’s about an inch taller than the previous recipe but it is not as reliably pretty:
Home-Made bread

But I’ve used the new recipe three times so far and had no failures – just great, delicious wholemeal bread. It’s significantly lighter, and now there are not even the slightest complaints! It even seems easier to slice.

Here’s the revised recipe:

  • 310 ml of lukewarm semi-skimmed milk
  • 450 ml of strong flour (I use half white, half wholemeal)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
  • 25 g butter
  • TWO 7g sachets of dried yeast

Put the milk into the breadmaker, followed by the flour. Add the salt, sugar and butter into each corner, then make a well in the center of the flour (not all the way through to the milk) and pur in the yeast.

Run it on the breadmaker’s express cycle. In our case that takes an hour, and only 0.24kWh.

Anyway, that’s enough talking about it, I’m off to slice it up for breakfast – the smell is divine.

Our Seed Potatoes ready for chitting

Another great step here at the Eco-House, chitting our first potatoes!

We’ve been collecting eggboxes for a little while now so we’d be ready, and today I took the kids out to the Hulme Garden Centre in advance of this Sunday’s Potato Day. Here’s our haul, all ready to “chit”:

I got a whole range of different ones to try, to try and liven up one of our less exciting, but important, crops:

Swift – First Early

Pink Fir Apple – Salad Variety

Maris Peer – Second Early

Setanta – Highly Blight Resistant Maincrop

Kestrel – Second Early

Sarpo Mira – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Sarpo Axona – Blight Resistant Maincrop

Salad Blue – Blue-fleshed Salad Potato



Baking our own Bread

After a lot of experimentation we’ve finally got a recipe that reliably produces delicious bread! It even looks like the real stuff, rises properly, slices nicely and tastes great. Don’t believe me? Here’s one I prepared earlier:

Home-Made bread

Now I know the recipe it takes me less than 10 minutes to prepare it, and it’s then baked in exactly an  hour. OK, you’ve guessed it, I am cheating – I’m using a breadmaker that we freecycled from my Mother-in-law. It’s a Kenwood Rapid Bake and has an express, 1-hour cycle – it uses only 0.24 kWh to bake a loaf. I have a feeling that’s less energy than it’d take for us to fire up the oven and bake it conventionally, and it does the kneading for us.

Kenwood BreadmakerHere’s the model we’ve got. Not sure how much they cost new, but definitely worth it if you can Freecycle one!

The recipe is simple:

  • 310 ml of lukewarm semi-skimmed milk
  • 450 ml of strong flour (I use half white, half wholemeal)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
  • 25 g butter
  • 7g sachet of dried yeast

Put the milk into the breadmaker, followed by the flour. Add the salt, sugar and butter into each corner, then make a well in the center of the flour (not all the way through to the milk) and pur in the yeast.

Then  just run it on the fast cycle and – one hour later – delicious bread!

As I was writing this I came across another great bread article – includign the cost of making it – have a look at it here: the only bread recipe you need.