30 June 2011

a double barreled draw

Sunday the 26th July. Now I'm pretty sure I should be doing something.

I'll just have another 15 minutes in the sun and then maybe tidy up those strawberries...hang on...somethings coming through...no...it's gone.

Something to do with gardening? *checks pots on patio*

Something to do with lunch? *makes cup of tea and wanders upstairs to find cat*

What are you doing in here? *removes incredibly hairy cat from between pillows on bed*

Why have I put books in bubblewrap? *facepalm*

In the spirit of Blue Peter (but with a little less sticky back plastic), I promptly scribbled names of the entrants onto some scrap paper...

...swirled them around in a mixing bowl...

...and pulled out two winners...

...both with double barreled names.

Initial intelligence implies that neither appears to own a pony, nor half of Shropshire.

Congratulations to Francesca Light-Wilson and Cressida Stanley-Williams, who will each receive a copy of Giles and Sue Live the Good Life, courtesy of Giles Coren.

Anyway, I'd love to stay and chat, but lunch is drawing to a close and I have some important colouring in to do.

27 May 2011

Win: Giles and Sue Live the Good Life

The urge to blather on, is as alway strong. To tell you all about how many exciting things have happened in the last two years. To regale you with tales of comedy and tragedy, of loves lost and found. But it's a Friday, the bank holiday weekend is so close that you can taste it and I know that you're not really in a reading mood.

So, to business. (I didn't even bother with a witty title...)

Last week, after nearly two years of writing this blog, I achieved a bit of a milestone, 1000 of you had read some or all of it.

I wanted to thank you. And to get a few more of you on board. But how? I didn't know many of you. I had no way of contacting you individually. And most importantly, I had nothing to give you.

I had a cup of tea whilst I thought about this.

Then something that my Grandmother used to say popped into my head, "If you don't ask, you don't get" (she also used to say "better out than in", wise woman).

A few tweets back and forth with Sue Perkins and Giles Coren, an arranged drop off, a ransom by the staff of The Bull and Last, some ginger biscuits, a journey into NW5 and a rather lovely compliment later saw me with two copies of Giles and Sue Live the Good Life in hand.

Now the temptation to keep one is strong, if for the comedy photos of Giles and Sue, being Tom and Barbara alone - but I am a man of my word. They are both up for grabs.

To win one of the two copies, all you need to do is Like the Elevated Agriculture Facebook page, then send an email entitled "I like Elevated Agriculture", including your name as it appears on Facebook to elevatedagriculture at gmail dot com (terms and conditions apply*).

I was dragged up proper, so I would like to say thanks to both Sue and Giles for responding to my tweets, to Giles for providing the books and to the staff at The Bull and Last for eating my biscuits - you are all wonderful people. Thanks.

Now what are you waiting for? Go Like me!

Terms and Conditions
1. The competition will close on Friday 24th June 2011 at 12 noon (BST).
2. Two winners will be drawn at random, each to receive one copy of Giles and Sue Live the Good Life.
3. Entries are open to residents of the United Kingdom only (sorry kids but I can't afford international postage!)
4. The competition is open to all existing fans of the Elevated Agriculture Facebook page, you just need to send an email in and be a UK resident.

5. The winners will be notified no later than 5pm (BST) Sunday the 26th June.
6. I can't enter.

Privacy Policy
Your contact details will never be given, sold or otherwise passed to a third party.

26 May 2011

Strategic gifting leads to strawberry goodness

Now some of you will look at me blankly (liars), others will try not to make eye contact, but the really honest ones will be nodding and grinning slightly sheepishly.

The Bourne Identity box set given to your Uncle on Christmas day in an attempt to avoid Dad's Army re runs; the over engineered enclosed headphones for your sibling who thinks that the whole world wants to hear *boom tish boom tish boom tish* emanating from their iPod; or the Nigella Lawson cook book given to your other half in the hope that you will awake at 3am to find them scantily clad and eating chocolate mousse straight from the fridge...

At one time or another we've all indulged in a little strategic giving...come on don't give me that look...fine, ride that moral high horse, but the rest of us know better.

Now I've never had much of a fondness for terracotta, but when I spotted that foot high urn, with strawberry plants poking out of the various orifices, I didn't exactly fall in love, but certainly wanted to take it home, feed it, care for it and then eat every last bit of delicious juicy strawberry goodness it could provide.

Being the kind well mannered son that I am, I thought that it would make a great Mothers day gift, my Mum being not particularly chuffed with cut flowers but very keen on things that are still alive.

So it spent the summer of 2009 in the garden, the strawberries were large, juicy, plentiful and shared out with anyone who happened to turn up at dinner time. As the colder weather set in, the Terracotta cracked, flaked and split, whilst the plants slept, indifferent to the charms of the British Winter.

Come Spring 2010, the plants were prized from what was left of the terracotta and redistributed around the flower beds - where they did what strawberries do best and spread out as much as possible, whilst the urn became a B and B for the local arachnid community.

A year on and the garden is being redesigned, overgrown beds cleared, hedges cut down to a more manageable height and strawberries corralled back into pots.

Now don't get me wrong, they were doing fine in the beds, but spending more of their time being eaten by ants, wasps, birds and our particularly stupid tabby cat than by me. Obviously things had to change.

All of the plants were surprisingly shallow rooted, clogged up with dead leaves and stems and hanging on to a good handful of stones...a quick fork/shake/trim brought them back into shape...and into my planters.

Biodiversity was never really a strong point of Elevated Agriculture, space being somewhat confined, but I now find myself with strawberries everywhere and no room (or at least no more pots...) for anything else.

Given my maxim that you should only grow thing that you really want to eat, is this a bad thing?

Answers on a postcard, or even better on our Facebook page.

19 May 2011

lost and found

It finally happened, I'd lost the plot.

I remember taking it all out of the van in August and putting it in the back garden...from there though it appears to have migrated during the Winter.

Now this is not a problem encountered by your average agriculturalist. Plots don't just wander off. Pots on the other hand...

So after a bit of digging around under the drifts of beech and oak leaves that had enveloped the patio, planters, pots and troughs began to emerge.

Things weren't looking good for the potatoes, but then again if I'd done my job properly there shouldn't have been any left in the bag...slacker.

The lettuce was long past its best, having gone to seed and then been ignored, on the upside the root structure looks pretty cool.

The plants that have once again won from being totally ignored are the strawberries. A little bit overgrown and tangled but most definitely none the worse off for a winter under some nice dry leaves.

It would be easy to just leave them to it, but the grow bag was starting to look a little bit tight for the 3 extra plants that had self seeded and knotted together. The soil from the lettuce troughs was well sieved, all the bits of root structure removed and then put right back where it came from, before the strawberries were settled in their new spacious accommodation.

Don't get too comfortable you juicy little b*stards...

15 May 2011

Off to market...

Now, on the face of it, the link between possibly the biggest farmers/growers/foodie markets in England and me growing things in pots is somewhat tenuous.

Realistically we only go through the often physical, sometimes emotional pain (come on we've all been there "why won't you just grow?!") of growing our own because we want to eat fresh delicious fruit and veg.

The lovely people at the Real Food Festival very kindly sent me a pair of VIP tickets for the Earls Court event, at this point it would have seemed down right rude not to go, so I kidnapped @TheUrbanDryad and shlepped off to Kensington with an empty stomach and my extra deep pocketed trousers (yes I'd love a sample...or 12).

Now this is where my memory becomes a little bit blurred...I remember a lot of olive oil, cakes, Turkish delight, a delicious hazelnut ice cream, some startlingly hot mustards and a cacophony of smells delicious enough to have driven the Lost Boys crazy (bangerang!).

The VIP tickets gave us access to a tent, which on the face of it doesn't seem that exciting, but there were cocktails and the Real Food Cookbook (food porn).

From there we discovered; the joys of oysters...the consensus being that they taste something like the sea and have the texture of bogeys (aphrodisiac? really?!); the weird but wonderful @Teapigs Matcha Super Power Green (thanks Hannah); and last but not least, possibly the best sausage I have ever tasted courtesy of the Whole Foods Market, long established in the US but just sneaking over the pond with four Markets in London and one in Glasgow.

There were also chickens. No, I don't know what it wants either....

At this late stage of the day, it was time for a confession, the One Pot Pledge team were on hand, offering up the challenge to grow your own and giving away free pots of chard, sidling over I admitted that I had signed the pledge last year, but not quite got round to growing the potatoes they had given me (mine were already well established at that point...so I had grown some potatoes...just not theirs).

Fortunately they are a very friendly and forgiving bunch, so I signed up again and came away with four little pots of Chard seedlings in lovely rich organic compost.

Now where did I leave my plot?

6 April 2011

biscuits don't grow on trees - part 1

It started off as some gentle banter, a little bit of bragging over who bakes the better biscuits, when before you can say "grease up the baking tray" I find myself shaking hands with Ms. Baker (potential advantage?!) and agreeing to an office bake off.

How, I hear you ask does this have anything to do with growing stuff?

Since the beginning of time, I have had the ever persistent Ms. White of Voodoo Motorsport pestering me to grow a "Cookie Tree" given that we are English, I shall assume she means "Biscuit tree"; irrespective, no logical argument seems to be able to make her see sense. So, whilst I was baking, I thought she could be started off on the straight and narrow; a little bit of education in how biscuits are made and exactly what goes into them...

On this subject, I would like to introduce bis-quit connoisseur and chief cat hunter Ms. K. Burrows, to whom ginger biscuits, their recipe, preparation and eating, have become an ever so slight addiction....its ok though...shes a vegetarian and unlikely to bite you....hard.

The recipe is now close to perfection, but is a little bit "freestyle" - in fact no two batches ever taste quite the same, but hey these biscuits are home made, not the generic/geriatric supermarket stodge filled offerings.

So here's what you need to make around 36 KBCM Ginger Bis-quits:

1 pound of self raising flour
4 ounces Demerara sugar
4 ounces dark brown Muscovado sugar
4 ounces of margarine or unsalted butter
1/2 jar of ground ginger
2 teaspoons of  ground cinnamon
pinch of dried/ground cloves
1/3 jar/tube of liquid honey
2 tablespoons of black treacle
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
2 teaspoons of Maple syrup

1. If you have a fan assisted over set it to 160*.....that's gas mark something or however many degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, break down any lumps of flour and sugar and try to get the same consistent colour through the mix.

3. Then add the margarine/butter (I prefer margarine), and and this point you need to get your hands dirty, working the margarine into the flour until you get a crumbly breadcrumb texture. The mix should feel nice and loose, with no lumps or soggy patches.

4. Now add all the syrups and the honey and mix through the dry ingredients until you have a large ball of slightly gooey biscuit mix.

5. Grab a bit of kitchen roll and use some margarine to grease up a couple of backing trays.

6.  Break the mix off into lumps, golf ball sized gets you a biscuit a little bit larger than a digestive, roll them in your palm and then flatten out so they are about the same thickness as your fingers.

7. Put them into your nicely preheated oven on the top two shelves for 12 minutes.

8. It's only been 8 minutes, mitts off that door handle!

9. When you take them out of the oven, they will be soft to the touch, let them cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before sliding off onto a cooling rack.

10. Now go do the washing up. Seriously, no nibbling until the kitchen is back in the state you found it in....or cleaner than that if you are a student.

11. Put on the kettle, make a nice strong brew and dunk those little suckers!

So, now we know what goes into a ginger biscuit, it's pretty clear that they can't grow on trees...but could their ingredients be grown on the plot?

Oh and the bake off? It was a draw...although those ANZACS were pretty darn tasty...

to be continued...

15 February 2011

War, huh yeah What is it good for?

This is where Edwin Starr and I disagree a little. Yes, he makes a good point it does cause destruction of innocent lives, it does bring tears to mothers eyes for sure...

But war can give life...to vegetables at least.

During World War II there were approximately 1.4 million allotments in the UK [source] which at peak were producing around 1.3 million metric tonnes per year [source]...that's a whole lot of life by anyones standards Edwin.

So where am I going with this?

Those of you with long memories (or who are new and have been going through the archives) may remember by my lust for the rather wonderful greenhouse that featured in the IWM's Ministry of Food exhibition, which I was promised I could go and visit.

With one thing and another, I nearly didn't make it, but finally on the 27th December, thanks to an extra length Christmas break, I dragged along a few friends and my little brother to have a butchers.

Now this is where I hit a bit of a difficulty, I would love to tell you in detail all about the exhibition, to regale you with buckets of informative nuggets, to insist that you must go out tomorrow and visit the wonderfully helpful people at the Imperial War Museum and their beautifully executed exhibition.

But I shall do none of these things.

No don't cry, here, have a cup of tea, relax and I shall explain...

Now the exhibition was wonderfully informative, masterfully laid out and very easy to absorb, but our visit was nearly two months ago, and I challenge any of you to remember in detail a museum visit 2 months down the line.

To compensate for this total loss of data, I do have lots of pictures, a fair few of the greenhouse for the garden hardware perverts amongst us.

These can be found in the Ministry of Food Gallery on the new Elevated Agriculture Facebook page, please have a nose around and if you like what you see, then why not like the page too?

And finally, why am I not sending you off into the arms of the curators of the IWM in Lambeth, so that you can see this wondrous exhibition for yourself?

For no other reason dear reader, than it ended on the 3rd of January 2011.

You should, however still visit the museum.

Yes, war is horrible. No, tanks are not of interest to everyone. And yes, you may well end up buying a multi coloured rubber in the gift shop.

But the permanent exhibitions are well thought out, detailed, interesting, moving and very importantly for students, families, the young, the old and everyone else who is feeling the pinch, free.

If you would like to learn more about the Ministry of Food exhibition, the companion book is on sale now and the IWM's blog pages are still live.

Now what are you still doing here? Go out and catch some hedgehogs!*

*elevated agriculture takes no responsibility for injures, illness or litigation sustained as a result of trying to catch hedgehogs.