6 September 2010

Charcoal and other edibles

As the summer draws to a close, so technically speaking does the BBQ season, with this in mind it was time to get a few mates round for a bit of charcoal and other edibles.

Given that this years crops were pretty non existent except for the potatoes, I had to resort to some shop bought bits and pieces but decided to knock together a home brew potato salad.

Potato salad is a bit of a free style dish as far as I am concerned, other than the potatoes and mayonnaise you can put pretty much whatever you like in and it will still taste awesome; I do however have a recipe that I like to use which you are more than welcome to pinch, claim as your own and hopefully delight your friends with.

Big Chris's Potato Salad


2 x large red onions
3x cloves of garlic
1kg new potatoes
big enough lump of butter to fry the onions and garlic in
several large serving spoons of full fat Hellman's Mayonnaise
ground dried chilies


1) Bring a large pan of water to the boil (make sure its big enough to take the potatoes and that you haven't put too much water in).

2) Don't bother washing the potatoes. A bit of dirt never hurt anyone and if you've been growing them organically there should be no worries about nasty pesticides.

3) Any small potatoes can go straight into the boiling water, use your judgement, but anything larger than a golf ball could probably do with cutting in half.

4) Boil for about 20 minutes, a few more wont hurt, you just need the potatoes to stay in one piece.

5) Drain and leave in a colander to cool.

6) Chop the onion and garlic however you fancy, I tend to go for small diced sections as it spreads the flavour a little further, but some people do like a nice crisp chunk of onion in their salad.

7) Melt the butter in a frying pan, chuck in the onions and garlic and fry until they start to crisp and caramelise.

8) With the potatoes cooled a little, put them in a large bowl, chuck in the onion/garlic mix and then cover in as much mayo as you fancy, stir it all together and sprinkle in the ground chilies.

9) Stick the pans in the sink to soak and go eat!

10) Take a picture of your mates at just the wrong moment...

Thanks to (left to right) Steve, Kelly, Cameron and Anna for acting as Guinea Pigs and for not only trying out my home grown/home brew creation but also saying nice things about it. Much Love.

Now go try this yourselves and post up how you get on...otherwise I just feel like I'm talking to myself...Guys? Guys?!

12 August 2010

Gone but not Forgotten

Look, I'm really really sorry OK? I didn't mean to neglect you, I've just been a bit busy what with moving home and the resultant Ikea major engineering works that followed, but fear not, I'm settled, the furniture is never coming apart ever again and the allotment has made it too.

As mentioned last time around, it does seem a bit weird to be moving an allotment, but with some huffing, puffing and only a tiny bit of swearing, Cameron and I managed to get it all downstairs and into the van.

With this done, I took the opportunity to give the galvanised a bit of a clean and take one last look at the truly stunning vista I had across HP13. Stunned aren't you?

The next morning however, I woke up in the WD3 to the sound of Koi in the pond, the breeze gently rustling through the 150ft Beech and Oak trees at the end of garden, and the light of 6am on a Sunday morning, because without the nightly presence of the sodium glow as expereinced in the HP13, some daft pillock didn't bother to close the blind.

As you can see, it's going to be tough, but I'll muddle on through somehow...

31 July 2010

time to say goodbye

From the first tentative offerings of tomatoes and strawberries, right up to the recent crops of potatoes and fresh lettuce leaves, we've had some good times here on the balcony - but all good things must come to an end.

The weirdness of what I am about to do was only brought home in the week whilst talking to a friend, I used the term "relocate the allotment" in conversation...which is bloody odd...allotments are set plots in a an enclosed space, not something you move - but this is how I have come to see the balcony, a little spot of quiet seclusion to grow.

So today will see the flat and by association the balcony emptied of my possessions, which any removal man will tell you can be a bit of a pain at the best of times, although I would expect that very few of them are asked to shift 200kgs of compost and veg down a flight of stairs - well volunteered Cameron!

With only the sale of the flat and a divorce 18 months or so away before things are really done and dusted, a rather tempestuous chapter of my life is drawing to a close, and in these hard times a little bit of perspective can go a long way - On this day in 1941 Adolf Hitler issued the command "submit to me as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative material and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question." thousands lost their lives, I just lost 3sqM of corrugated steel.

See you in the WD3.

22 July 2010

Feast or Famine?

It was always going to be a bit hit and miss with the potatoes, I could tell that right from the start, the knowing looks, the sniggers, the more experience gardeners just rolling their eyes.

But I did what all novice gardeners and I am coming to learn the more experience ones do too, I made the soil as good as I could, followed the instructions on the packet and tried my best to keep them fed and watered.

My best however was pretty rubbish. The end result being shriveled stalks, yellow leaves and the plants not making it quite to the flowering stage.

In short; it looked like there wasn't going to be any homegrown potato salad this summer.

So with nothing else left to do, I decided to get my hands dirty. And was rewarded with something that can only be described as a potato.

Further digging around netted nearly a kilo of these little (in some case more pea than potato) beauties.

For those that are about for the BBQ on the 31st August, you may well get to see just how good they are when combined with mayo, garlic and red onions - for those that aren't or that I just don't actually know, here's an arty photo instead.

21 July 2010

The Great Plague of Indolence

"On that same night I will pass through Elevated Agriculture and strike down every firstborn - both vegetable and fruit - and I will bring judgement on the lazy sod that promised to look after both the fruit and the veg and to write at least one post a week, but instead totally against all previous behavioural traits decided to go running, join a rugby club and get a social life . For I am the unpredictable and at times scorching British Summer Time, more fool he that tries to predict when or even if I'll turn up!"

Vengeful Agricultural God ch.1 v.1

So, yes. I erm haven't been paying much attention to the rapidly yellow contents of the balcony and as a result things appear to be dead or at the very least quite seriously maimed.

The potatoes failed to flower and moved straight from big green and bushy, to yellow wilted and slightly mushy. I have been warned/reassured that potatoes might or might not be a success the first time out, but only getting my hands dirty and digging around in the compost will tell.

After the previous glut of strawberries things have gone a bit wild in the little yellow planter bag, with tendrils feeling their way out and over the edge, and rather a lot of brown curled up leaves and dried out fruit lingering in the muck. Rest assured that a clean up effort shall ensue forthwith.

Looking best of the bunch (from a distance at least) are the cos and delight lettuces, but closer inspection shows a few well munched leaves and rather more dried out yellow husks around the otherwise healthy hearts.

All in all a bit of a mess, but after an hour outside things are looking a whole lot better...but that is a story for tomorrow night!

30 June 2010

Bringing home the Tupperware

Will they come out at full strength and meet their potential, or will they crumble and fail? Is red really the colour of success? Will Fabio want to cover them in cream? The whole nation has been on tenderhooks and as of Sunday we have all the answers.

Yes they have. No they haven't. Yes it is. And apparently he was busy with some sort of sports thing.

All three of the rescued plants are now doing well with some small green fruit slowly ripening, a fourth self seeded plant has dried out and died, despite recieveing the same care and attention as the others - regular watering, cutting back of excess folliage and as yet not even a drop of Organic fertiliser.

Here is the first eleven of the Elevated Agriculture stawberry patch team (you really couldn't make this up), picked on Saturday morning, these slightly misshappen crimson beauties were boxed up and transported to The Motorwerks for a taste test by Laura, Elie and the other lads lurking round the 'shop.

And no Laura, I can't grow Foxes Tripple Chocolate cookies on the balcony...

16 June 2010

Got any Polygonum Tinctorium? Sorted!

Of all the baggies passed illicitly in Hertfordshire Pubs, this one probably contained the most unlikely and in my eyes, most exciting of contents; 12 little black dots floating around in the bottom of the clear plastic square. I'm given some instructions on their use, warned about the side effects and promtly stash them in my wallet for a later date.

Wind forward a few weeks. I'm stood in the office of my employer, a fortune 500 company with a zero tollerance drink and drugs policy when the not so innocent looking baggie drops out of my wallet. Arse.

Thank goodness that www.wildcolours.co.uk label their bags well. It's not easy to explain away that I grown plants on a balcony at the best of times, and probably harder when being confronted with a mysterious baggie.

The item in question contains Polygonum Tinctorium, thats Japanese Indigo for non latin speakers and was slipped to me by "The Birdman" as part of his Ma course...I got out easy, he was looking for someone to grow flax!

The indigo will be planted before the end of the week, once I have scrounged an old seed tray and finely sifted the compost, which the seeds will be placed under a very thin layer of.

Demanding little sods...

9 June 2010

you messed up my mental health, I was quite unwell...

Gardening is considered by some mental health care professionals to be a great tool on the way to recovery from all sorts of psychological problems...you're out in the fresh air, concentrating on new life and new opportunities, the sun is shining.

The reality for me though has been that for the most part, actually going outside to plant something that I know I will either be eating alone, or will not see fully matured on the balcony has been too much.

Those of you that know me personally, through Twitter or on Facebook will be aware that my marriage has fallen apart; there is no longer a Mrs. M to share the crops as they come in or berate me for leaving the door open and treading compost into the carpets; and as a result the flat is for sale and I will be relocating, vegetables and all to the leafy idyll that is Chorleywood.

In the last week or so it became clear that I was moping, afterall, whatever I start here can come with me, I have lots of you now reading along, apparently well prepared to put up with my drivel, and the added bonus that between my parents and the occasional visits home from my brother, everything will get eaten and appreciated.

So from here on out, I am guaranteeing you at least one post a week (they may not be long and wordy, but they will be here), that all the pots will be filled with at least seeds and hopefully nice mature plants and that I will continue to grow edibles organically above ground even when I have access to a garden.

Thanks once again for listening to my nonsense (plant based or otherwise).

Much Love.


1 June 2010

Neither Red nor Dead

I'm unsure whether Strawberry Fields are forever, forever is afterall quite a long time, but I can say that the previously abandoned/unloved/rescued plants are in fine fettle.

Not quite red, but definitely not dead, the remainder of last years plants are now flowering nicely and entering the transition from flower to fruit.

I'll hold off the bulk purchase of clotted cream, but might have a dig at the back of the cupboard for some organic fertiliser, which along with a decent daily watering will see lots of lovely red fruit ripe for the picking.

Surely Eton Mess is only a mater of weeks away...if only you could grow meringue...

15 May 2010

budget window ledge lettuce - Part 3 - off the ledge...

It was all so well intentioned. A few empty tins, some compost and some seeds...then the compost started to get a little surface mould on it, so the pots went out on the balcony. Where they have sat for a good 2 weeks...ignored and unloved.

In this time, the Delight has sprouted nicely, the Dynamite has failed spectacularly and the Cos is slightly indifferent.

Given that the delight has done so well, I separated out 6 of the seedlings into two of the concrete troughs using a teaspoon, there is a "proper" tool for doing this, but we're on a budget damnit!

Having plucked them out with a little clod of dirt still attached, they were transferred into the loose warm compost, gently patted down and given a little water.

So, the intent is the same "budget lettuce" but the location has changed.

Everday is a school day, and the lesson learned here is that tins/pots on the window ledge are a great place to start seeds off, but not always the best place for them to stretch their legs!

2 May 2010

It's a Kinda Magic!

It would appear that "some David Copperfield Shit" has been occurring on the balcony, not in the literal sense of course...well I hope not but you can never be sure with Magicians.

Going Underground on the 28th April the potatoes looked a little spindly, small and unpromising, but a bit of water and some organic feed was applied, fingers were crossed and magic words uttered.

The magic seems to have worked, as this morning the potatoes were doing their best to make a break for the sky.

I may have lost a few "man points" but at this point I went and read the instructions on the packet, and promptly dumped a load of compost all over the tatties.

A bit of a brush with the palm of my hand and a gentle packing down of the new soil around the stalks will be the cal of the day as they grow, I think I'm going to stop at yellow line...that should give what are in essence little potatoes plenty of room to grow.

Steak and potatoes are now a near certainty...if only I can work out how to grow steak from pots of dirt...or chocolate chip cookies...

27 April 2010

budget window ledge lettuce - Part 2

10 days on and the lettuce seeds are nicely settled in their ClipperTeas tins and are starting to sprout, well most of them are, the exception being the Dynamite seeds of which all but one is refusing to germinate...a few stern words may be needed!

As you can see I was a bit more ham fisted than normal whilst sowing the seeds and the Delight especially needs thinning out.

Some carefully plucking of those seedlings that were very close to other stronger ones has freed up a bit more space to grow...and created the worlds smallest compost heap/bowl.

Another 10 days should see the lettuce ready for its finally thinning with some obvious candidates to carry on to full lettucehood - anything that looks like it might survive may well find itself out on the balcony in one of the troughs.

17 April 2010

budget window ledge lettuce - Part 1

As an elevated agriculturist, space is always tight, so using up any ledge, gap, nook or cranny that things will grow in is a must.

This week, whilst pondering washing the dishes and getting dazzled by the glare off the window, it became clear (unlike the window) that what the ledge needed was some salad.

Now growing salad leaves has to be one of the simplest and most rewarding crops that flat dwellers can grow, all it asks is a bit of dirt, a bit of light, a bit of water and a little tiny bit of TLC. In return you can pick leaves as you need them and avoid spending out £1.50 a time on the deep chilled offerings from Tesco.

With the budget/beginner theme in mind, I've tried to keep this as cheap and simple as possible. For those under the age of 18 and the terminally clumsy, you may want to get an adult to help you. Here's what you will need to join in:

  1. Tins or pots with removable lids that can be used as drip trays. I've used some rather handy Clipper Teas Promotional tins.
  2. A grow bag - this is the cheapest way to buy compost/soil, approx £1.50 for a 33litre bag.
  3. Some seeds - I've decided to grow three varieties (cos/delight/dynamite) which will cost you about £2 a pack, but these will generally last for 2-3 years or could be shared out with your green fingered chums.
  4. A skewer to put some drain holes in the tins/pots.
  5. A chopping board (safety first).
  6. Your hands - for compost scooping and drilling.
  7. Some water - no need for Perrier, tap will do.
Now your ready to go!

Clipper are rather good at promotional freebies, unfortunately (or fortunately) I drink a lot of tea, so didn't have much need for 4 tea caddies - fear not however, they have a use! With easy to remove lids that can act as a drip tray and a good solid construction, they are ideal for window sill growing.

  1. Start off by removing the lid from your chosen container, I had to carefully pry the catches open, and then smooth them back into shape (no cut fingers ta).

  2. Flip the container over on the chopping board, grab your skewer and firmly ease it through the base, ideally you want 6-8 holes depending on the size of your container.

  3. Repeat until you've done all your containers.

  4. Time to get dirty. Give the growbag a bit of a shake to get all the compost at one end, then cut open the other - the great thing about growing in old tins/tubs is that they can be used as a scoop.

  5. Once all your containers are full, you will need to draw a drill down the middle of them, I used a dibber, but you can just use your finger, you want to go about as deep as the first joint (13mm for the pedants out there).

  6. Sprinkle some seeds down each drill - Although it is tempting to just do it from the packet, you will have much more control if you put the quantity you need in your hand and go from there. I've gone massively OTT, but they will need to be thinned as they sprout so don't panic if you do the same.

  7. If you have used different varieties (and you care) now is a good time to label your containers, I've used some seed markers made from reclaimed oak scraps, but old lolly sticks are a great free alternative.

  8. Do the washing up.

  9. With the dishes done, you can now put your containers in the sink and give them a water. I used a wine glass, pouring about 1/2 a glass into each. Once your done, the lids can go back on the bases to catch any drips.

  10. Stick them on the window sill and see what happens - if they look to be drying out in a day or so add a little more water, but don't be tempted to flood them - too much is just as bad as too little.

    Here ends lesson one. If you have found this useful, please leave a comment, tell your friends or even have a grow yourself!

14 April 2010

riddle me this

It is a well known fact that gardeners are drawn to tools, gadgets, gizmos, books, magazine and garden centres as their subconscious does all it can to keep them from the garden.

Fear not though my dear gardening chums, I have made it into a garden centre, bought something and made it back out again!

Even more unbelievably, I bought only the thing that I went in for!(no pink crocs, grow your own drugs books or hand painted pots here)

So I have a riddle, basically a wide holed sieve for getting sticks, stones and quite possibly a few bones out of your soil.

With all my soil/compost having come bagged up it is quite heavy on the wood chips and also contains the remnants of last years crops.

With these banished, the coil is now my smoother, softer and ready for some seeds - just in time for the weather to turn.

6 April 2010

2010 - UN International Year of Biodiversity

Biodiversity is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of balconies, but a few pots of compost, some seeds and a little TLC can work wonders.

Last year saw tomatoes, dynamite lettuce, delight lettuce, spinach, plum tomatoes, chives, mint, basil, 3 types of strawberries, Romital hot chilli pepper and Kuros sweet peppers; which is about as diverse a group of plants as your likely to find 15 feet in the air on a sheet of galvanised steel.

Is Elevated Agriculture Bio-Diverse?

Well, that I'm not so sure about.

Do I do anything to encourage or accommodate wildlife?

After much head scratching, I have come to the conclusion that I'm a pretty great kinda guy and am perhaps the king of balcony based biodiversity.

Ok, so I'm not providing a home for the Steve the Urban fox, or Dave the neighbourhood badger, but the pollen found on the pepper and tomatoes flowers were rather popular, has attracted plenty of smaller creatures.

With this in mind, I have chosen to add Borage to this years offerings.

"What's borage?", I hear you ask, according to the Duchy Originals packet, it's bright blue flowers are attractive to bees and its leaves have a crisp cucumber flavour which are great for salads - so edible for me and also for our struggling British honey producers. 'triffic.

In a shock development, one of my chums who we shall henceforth be referred to as "The Birdman", has approached me to grow some dye producing plants for a top secret project, one of his four chosen crops (yet to be divulged) will soon be joining the edibles.

Its a small contribution to the food chain, but the flies attract spiders, the spiders attract birds...well, you get the idea.

All that's left to do now is sit back and wait for Ban Ki-moon to call...

28 March 2010

Going underground

Its been a month and shamefully only 3 posts since I first prized the seed potatoes out of their packet, balanced them in an egg carton and hoped that through a mix of faith, luck and magic they might start to sprout a bit.

You'll like this. Not a lot, but you'll like it (it's not the same without Debbie McGee is it?).

Fan Dabi Dozi!(very much the same even if no grown women are dressed as schoolboys)

So now they're all sprouty and green, best stick them in some dark moist soil.

Advise on the packet says put them 10cm deep, but given the ongoing mixed weather I decided to go an extra 5cm down just to be on the safe side.

As they start to surface in the next few weeks, I'll shovel some more soil into the grow bag, try my best not to over water or ignore them and see if I can get Paul Daniels over to magic some potatoes appear out of the soil.