Planning the Pond – The Challenges We Face

There are two major projects that I really want to get stuck into this year. The first I have already mentioned – the polytunnel. The second is a wildlife pond and wooded area. The problem with this project, is that the area that I want to develop into a wildlife woodland and pond currently looks like this:

Moppy and Ozzy surveying the site where my wildlife pond will go

Moppy and Ozzy surveying the site where my wildlife pond will go

The path to the sloe bushes is covering over again and it’s a constant battle to make the area accessible. So we need to take matters in hand. Nettles are great for wildlife and I don’t want to wipe them out completely, but this is totally unmanageable… and year by year it’s getting bigger! So the plan is to come in and “gently” attack from the sides and gradually reduce the nettled area until the early winter. The nettle roots will need to be dug out (massive, horrible job) and it also gives any residents time to relocate if necessary.

The woodland path looking overgrown, leading to my elderberry and sloe bushes

The woodland path looking overgrown, leading to my elderberry and sloe bushes

My plan is to create an area that has plenty of places for frogs, toads, hedgehogs and other small mammals to live and hibernate, with a pond at the centre to attract even more wildlife in. At the side, as mentioned we already have sloe bushes growing (hello sloe gin!) and a couple of elderberries (great for birds).

Sloe - blackthorn bush

The sloe (blackthorn) bush with our biggest sloe crop yet… hello sloe gin!

There is an existing large woodpile in the corner that will remain and we also want to put in a series of silver and paper birch trees to lightly screen us from the houses that overlook The Smallest Smallholding… but the location of the trees and pond will be important as we don’t want to end up with a pond full of mouldy leaves in Autumn. I’ve been doing my research and am currently creating a mood board on Pinterest to help me landscape the area:

Pinterest

We want the pond to be a decent size, but as it’s primarily a wildlife pond it’ll need to be landscaped with shallow sides – safety first for the wildlife. We were umming and ahhing about whether to go for a pre-formed pond but I haven’t been able to find one that’s shallow enough at the sides. Hedgehogs and friends need shallow ‘shelves’ to safely drink from, so that they don’t fall into the deeper parts of the pond and can’t climb out.

So the only solution then is to dig out the pond ourselves and use a pond liner – they are durable, stretchy and using the pond liner means we can dictate the size and shape of the pond and make it work best for us and our needs. If we were on clay soil, it wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but our sandy soil means that moisture is never retained and drains away fast. I imagine we’ll be looking at around 3 x 3m area for our pond size (including some boggy bits around the sides), and possible a kidney shaped design. And the more we discuss it, the more we think we will have to save up and hire a mini digger for a day or two. So before we even thinking about pond planting, between us we have quite a few pennies to save before early winter and the ground gets too hard to work with.

So as you can imagine, I have a lot of work ahead of me this year. Have you ever dug out your own wildlife pond? Got any top tips for me?

Friends with Gluts

Veggies

I know a few people that grow their own veg either at home or at the allotment, and it seems that having a network of friends that grow their own really does have its benefits. Namely, gluts and wanting to get rid of them.

My friend Cheryl took on an allotment last year, and this year has been doing phenomenally well with her growing. So much so that I got a Facebook message virtually pleading me to come pick up some spaghetti squash from four plants she’s been madly harvesting. I arrived on her doorstep and was presented with two good sized squash, and a couple of fat beetroot. “You want some beans?!” Cheryl asked (implored). She led me to her kitchen, where she had a bag stuffed full of yellow wax beans. “We’ve had four bags like this, this week,” she said, clearly unsure of what you can do with four bags of yellow wax beans. “Here, have some. Take them!”

Earlier that day, my mum had also sent me home with a freshly picked pointed cabbage, so between my ‘free’ hauls I have amassed a load of meals in the making. I’m not a massive fan of boiled beetroot, so I may have a go at pickling it (adversely, I LOVE it pickled) or maybe grating it to make into some kind of beetroot and root vegetable-based veggie burger. One of the spaghetti squash is in the oven as I type, and the cabbage was already put to good use in our weekly Sunday Roast last night. And I’ve already rooted out a recipe for the wax beans which will make the most of my soon-to-be-harvested Cristo garlic.

Walking home with a bag of fresh produce really got me thinking… what if I knew even more people who had gluts and food to share? When my crops harvest, I only hope I am able to share out some of the goodies, although with the relatively small amount we have growing this year, I’m not sure I will. Mum has already got her eye on my raspberries for her baking. But friends (and family) with fruit and vegetable gluts are just so willing to palm off their excess, and it really helps save the pennies and the pounds. If there were more of us in the local area who grew lots of different varieties of vegetables (no more courgettes, thanks), then the sharing and swapping of the gluts would mean that everybody could benefit without having to give a penny to the greedy supermarkets.

It would be a great way to live, and to relieve some of our reliance on the supermarkets. I guess it works that way in micro-networks like allotment holders anyway, but imagine it working on a local scale, or even regionally… not a penny spent, just produce swapped and we all walk away with freshly grown seasonal veg and many meals to plan.

 

 

Thrifty Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipe – Chickpea and Sweet Potato Curry

Here’s a great cheap vegan and vegetarian slow cooker recipe to try out – chickpea and sweet potato curry, to be served with naan bread, mango chutney and rice! Despite being the height of summer right now, this hearty crock pot recipe is a great all-rounder for any time of ear, uses cheap ingredients, and can be adapted to suit your own “curry heat” preferences (just switch the curry paste for a milder version, or heat it up)…plus extra veg can be thrown in to bulk it out for the family.

Following on from my declaration that I would put my second-hand (but unused) slow cooker to good use, I set about making a curry for my inaugural slow cooker dinner last Friday evening. The recipe called for six hours of slow cooking, so I needed to get it on by Friday afternoon in time for dinner – easy to do after lunch preparations and handy as I had a really busy afternoon and early evening ahead! It’s also easy to freeze into portions.

The recipe uses North American cups instead of g/oz – I thoroughly recommend in investing in these measures for those using recipes from the internet! Using Cookin’ Canuk‘s chickpea and sweet potato curry recipe as a base, I adapted a few ingredients, bulked out the veggies but used the original recipe as a starting point. I like my curries to have a kick, so I opted for Balti paste. Here is my adapted version:

Thrifty Vegan Slow Cooker Chickpea and Sweet Potato Curry

EASY VEGAN SLOW COOKER RECIPE – VEGETARIAN CHICKPEA AND SWEET POTATO CURRY

SERVES: 4-6 portions
PREP TIME: 20 – 25 minutes
COOKING TIME: 6 hours

INGREDIENTS

  • Rapeseed/canola oil or mild & light blend of oliver oil
  • 2 medium sized onions, chopped or diced
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 2-3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 gala apple, chopped or cubed
  • 2 large tbsps Marigold vegan bouillon powder (have some hot water ready)
  • 1 medium sweet potato (around 3-4 cups)
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 3 medium floury potatoes (eg Maris Piper, Desiree, Picasso – Charlotte potatoes are also a great addition)
  • 1 x 400g can chickpeas
  • 3/4 – 1 cup Patak’s balti paste (switch up if you like a milder/hotter curry)
  • Few sprinkles of brown sugar to take the edge off the tang (or small amount of maple syrup)
  • Coconut milk (optional – I don’t use it)

Chopping sweet potato

METHOD

1.In a saucepan or deep skillet pan, sweat and brown off the onions, minced ginger, minced garlic and apple in the oil for around 6-8 minutes until soft and tender. Whilst the mixture is sweating, chop up the remaining vegetables.

slow cooker chickpea and sweet potato curry
2. Sweat the garlic for half a minute or so before adding in the curry paste. Stir throughly and continuously for a few minutes, making sure none of the ingredients stick and burn!
3. Put the sweet potato and carrots at the bottom of the slow cooker – they will cook better here. Then add in your curried onion mixture and combine.
4. Add the chickpeas, potatoes, tomato passata or chopped tomatoes, sugar and vegan bouillon powder. If using tomato passata you won’t need extra water… but you may need to dissolve the powder in a little water first before adding to the passata.

chickpea and sweet potato slow cooker curry ingredients

The ingredients before adding tomato passata – I prefer to use passata instead of chopped tomatoes for a more intense flavour and thick curry ‘gravy’ sauce

5. Season with salt and cracked black pepper, and give everything a good stir and then set the slow cooker on HIGH for six hours.
6. If the curry has retained a lot of water, drain some off afterwards and pulse the mixture slightly with a hand blender to give it a dahl-like texture. If you like a creamier curry, this is the point that you can stir in a little coconut milk.
7. Serve with rice, naan and mango chutney. Add shredded spinach, steamed broccoli or crunchy steamed cabbage for extra nutritious and taste plus points!

REMEMBER: slow cookers retain ALL the water content and juices from the food that you cook, so try to keep any extra water levels to a minimum. You won’t need to stir the curry, and if you take off the lid at any point during the slow cooking you’ll need to add around 15 minutes extra cooking time to your six hours.

Slow cooker sweet potato and chickpea vegan curry