Into the swing of spring – strawberries recovering

Cambridge Favourite strawberry plants

Despite the late, late frosts last month, I’m pleased to see that my tatty strawberry patch is recovering nicely! I picked out the damaged black-eyed strawberry flowers, and crossed everything that the remaining buds weren’t damaged. And although some of the Cambridge Favourite strawberry flowers have opened with black centres, it seems most are A-OK. Phew!

I’ve decided to help my strawberries along a bit this year. Last year I was terrible, neglecting to water or tend to the plants until they pretty much shrivelled up in protest. This year, I’ve started as I intend to go on, giving the plants a little more TLC in the hope that they will flourish… and I’ll get to enjoy a decent crop of fresh, ripe, sun-soaked(!) strawberries.

Growing a successful strawberry crop

Firstly, I can tell you that I will NOT be putting out any kind of slug pellet or slug trap. I’m a live and let live kind of gardener. The only “pellets” I would consider are the wool pellets, but current budget dictates that we’ll have to rely on other wildlife keeping slug numbers at a manageable level! We incur a few losses, but I think we’ve got a good balance here and we don’t have a massive slug or snail problem at all.

Let there be light
It’s said that the best, sweetest tasting strawberries are those that have been sun-soaked. It’s serendipitous that my no-dig strawberry patch gets sun from early morning through to late afternoon. So it’s up to the flighty British summer to sweeten those fruits now.

Mulching & weeding
As we’re currently experiencing some much-needed downpours, the setting fruits will need lifting off the (well-draining) soil, so a mulch of straw should do the trick. You can protect your fledgling fruits from birds with well-pegged down, tight and VISIBLE netting (add CDs or streaming ribbons to aid visibility), or if you’ve a few pennies and saved away, build a fruit cage (again, ensure the netting is visible to wildlife).

This year, with no budget for any kind of fruit cage, I shall be counting on the good grace of my feathered friends, and the fact that there are bird feeders all over the garden… e

Mulching and regular weeding will also encourage healthy, vigorous growth, and the plants can be fed an organic liquid potash (potassium rich) feed (like tomato feed). Organic liquid seaweed feed might also help too, but watch the nitrogen content… you want it to be low. It’s also been suggested that homemade dilute liquid comfrey can help boost flavour of the fruits (1 part comfrey liquid to 15 parts water).

I’ve got a general organic kelp mix that I’ve been feeding weekly all over the veg patches, flower borders and fruit cages. The trick is to NOT overfeed or overwater your plants – just a little helping hand can do wonders.

A Smallest Smallholding view on beautiful food

To tie in with the launch of their new range in collaboration with House Beautiful magazine, I was recently nominated as Carpetright‘s ‘foodie advocate’ to celebrate beautiful food. I’ve never been one of those foodie architect types dedicated to spectacular presentation. As a grow-your-own advocate raised on wholesome home-cooked meals, it’s safe to say that my food is more hearty, colourful and flavourful end of the spectrum than the delicate, refined stylised associated with gourmet and fine-dining. But that’s not to say it’s lacking in its own kind of beauty; growing a little of my own food and cooking nourishing, honest and scrumptious dishes has allowed me to enjoy the beauty of food throughout the seasons, as nature intended and with all the boldness and nuances in colour, taste and texture. I just believe that beautiful food begins with beautiful ingredients.

Grow your own raspberries

For me, creating beautiful food is not just about aesthetics; beautiful food is an experience. In my opinion, the most beautiful food is grown organically in tune with nature, enjoyed seasonally when it’s at its best (think supersweet parsnips after the first frosts, jewel-like tart berries in summer and autumn, crisp but juicy apples enjoyed straight from the tree or creamy, fluffy potatoes, slow-baked in the oven or freshly harvested head of steamed purple sprouting broccoli).

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Growing even a tiny fraction of your own food can provide a treat for the senses and really bring a dish to life. A freshly picked side salad, zesty homemade pesto or serving of homegrown roasted vegetables can add so many new dimensions of flavour or hue to even the simplest foodie favourite. I’m a huge fan of soups and stews – the presentation of these dishes might be less than impressive, but again, it’s about the experience; how the slow-cooking gives that mix of flavours time to mature, develop or blend. It’s about the accompaniments too, the side notes; the perfectly cooked rice, the cracking of the crust of a freshly baked cob with a chunky homemade vegetable soup, tangy dips and mellow marinades. That, to me, is simple but beautiful food.

Here's one I made in our home-made dutch oven earlier!

Here’s one I made in our home-made dutch oven earlier!

Growing your own or buying seasonally also offers up something different for the palette throughout the year. In spring, we can enjoy the vigour of crunchy salads, the earthy melodious flavours in homegrown beans and the zing of the first alliums and punchy garlic bulbs of the season. In summer, it’s about rich and full flavours, juicy tomatoes, a time of plenty with plates piled high with produce straight from the field or veg plot.


A season at its peak, where the intensity of flavour changes and develops as the earth soaks up the sun. From tender baby vegetables and the unbeatable freshness of homegrown asparagus in early summer to rich summer berry desserts mid-season.

Homegrown asparagus tip

Autumn brings a deeper, lusher palette – root vegetables, pumpkins, squashes, autumn berries. Cinnamon-laced baked apple pies. The first bottling of decadent festive drinks, like the deeply smooth and sumptuous notes of sloe gin.

Sloes for gin

And winter is a time to enrich meals with dark, leafy greens, sweet root vegetables and intensely zany winter onions. Mouthwatering rhubarb crumbles served with lashings and lashings of custard. There is always something to enjoy, to cherish and look forward to.

I have to admit, that I could grow a lot more at home than I do. I’m hoping to put up a polytunnel this year (finally!) and extend my growing season and repertoire, but sometimes life just gets in the way. Although a large allotment or veg patch could feed a family for a year, inevitably modern life and time restrains can and do put a limit on just how much we can grow in our own backyards or plots. That’s why I would encourage anybody who doesn’t have the capacity to dedicate some time to growing their own to perhaps swap the supermarket trip for a visit their local farm shops, farmer’s market (organic is always best) or just your simple weekly market.

I love taking my wicker basket down to our local farm stall on a Saturday morning. We plan a few meals ahead in the week, write a little list and then spend time picking out what we’d like, and seeing what’s new and in season. As a vegan, fresh fruit, legumes and vegetables are intrinsic in everything that I do. We love piling in the veggies, popping into the local bakers and thinking up new dishes to try our locally sourced goodies in. Somehow, it means we have more of a connection, an understanding and appreciation for the food that we buy, prepare and eat.

If you’ve been inspired to trying growing a little of your own food, I thoroughly encourage you to have a go at no-dig gardening, and have a little read up on permaculture principles. The results will be stunning, because these methods are not only easy and mean less weeding and watering, but also work in line with nature– a win, win! Visit Charles Dowding’s website for more information on why no-dig gardening is so successful and such a no-brainer, and there’s plenty of information and articles to chew over at the Permaculture Institute if you’re new to this sustainable gardening concept.

You can also check out Carpetright’s new HouseBeautiful range right here, and enter their competition to win £700 worth of vouchers or a selection of other prizes here, including a year’s subscription to HouseBeautiful magazine and a Riverford recipe box. Good luck!

Successful Autumn harvests

On a personal level, 2015 has been difficult, sad and very challenging. One thing that’s kept me going, kept me grounded and kept me sane is my veg plot. And this year, after putting no-dig into action, I’ve had one of my most successful growing years ever. One of the greatest successes of the veg plots has been the arch.

Munchkim pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

Climbing munchkin pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

I’ve been growing Spanish flag (mina lobata) up and after a very slow start, they’ve been romping away with wild abandon. I’ve also weaved in the munchkin pumpkins, hoping to have a little crop later in the year. The munchkins are also a bit on the late side and have yet to flower, but I have hope that they’ll get there eventually. If not, then we’ll just have some pretty squash leaves adorning the arch too!

Spanish flag scrambling

The raspberries have been producing fruit for picking on a daily basis for the last fortnight at least, and we’ve got more than enough in the freezer ready for some jam. This year I’m going to try seedless jam so it’s a case of getting a few bits and pieces before the jam pan comes out again.

Polka raspberries

The peas came out and straight away, in went some salad leaves and leeks so I have a ready supply for some serious soup making later in the autumn. There’s nothing like snuggling down with a steaming bowl of leek and potato soup and a chunk of crusty bread on a cold but sunny Saturday lunchtime.

Knucklehead pumpkin

I’ve been digging up monster sized Picasso potatoes, but they’re not the only super-sized produce we’ve been growing at The Smallest Smallholding. The knucklehead pumpkin has grown about six metres long and is looking to produce some hefty fruit for the Autumn, with leaves about twice the size of my head. Meanwhile, the yellow courgettes have been popping out fruit for harvesting, but Rich isn’t eating them fast enough. Courgette cake may well be on the menu.

Yellow courgettes