Buy Seasonal, Buy Local and Ditch the Plastic

Buy local and seasonal

Support your town markets and buy local

We don’t grow enough vegetables. Yet. I’m hoping that will change this year when we finally get the polytunnel installed. But for now, I’m having to rely on buying in a lot of our fruit and veg, trying to keep it as seasonal as possible.

I’ve become more and more aware of the plight of farmers and the cruel, money-grabbing ways of supermarkets in driving down their costs from their suppliers, and just the sheer amount of waste that goes on due to changing orders, the pursuit of perfect looking veg and more. Supermarkets are not our friends, not really. Having read Tescopoly (definitely a recommended read) and recently watched yet another documentary about the marketing games supermarkets are playing with us, I have become thoroughly disillusioned with how our food shopping is going in this country.

And the thing that has really got to me recently is the ridiculous amount of packaging that fruit and veg is supplied in. I mean, even if you buy it loose at the supermarket, you still HAVE to put most of your semi-fresh produce in a little plastic bag (which can be reused but ultimately ends up in landfill). I would refuse to put my baking potato, leeks, etc in a plastic bag at the supermarket, but when you’ve got a dozen onions, it’s hard to control them all rolling around in your shopping basket.

I would get to bin changing day and just look at the number of plastic non-recyclable packets in our bin and feel bad. Really bad. We’re avid recyclers and we don’t put much in our bins, but lately all that seemed to be in there was plastic bags from fruit and veg. They end up in landfill and somehow a ridiculous amount of plastic ends up in the rivers, oceans and in the bellies of birds and sealife.

So I decided enough is enough. I don’t want to be a part of that problem. No more excuses.

Growing my own veg is one solution to the problem, but it’s a slow burner and I am nowhere near a self-sufficient level of growing yet. So where I can’t fill the gaps myself, I’ve decided to ditch plastic, ditch supermarket plastic-wrapped veg and start doing my veg shopping at the local farmer’s market every Saturday.

I take my wicker basket to fill and carrying everything home in that, as even the farmers put everything in a big non-recyclable carrier bag for me unless I tell them not to. There I have a selection of some homegrown farmers’ veg (their broccoli, leeks and parsnips are clearly pulled straight from the ground and brought to market) and some things from much further afield (cheekily bought some bananas from goodness knows where), but ultimately it’s a fresh selection, no packaging for the most part) and if you eat seasonally, it’s much  more likely to be local. And tastes better, anyway. The leek soups and roasted parsnips I’ve been making lately have been so superior! And it’s all down to fresh, seasonal and local produce.

leeks and shallots

Leeks and shallots from my local farmer’s market

I wish I could find an organic veg stall, but for now, I’m just having to wash and peel everything as I would with supermarket fare. And I’m definitely saving money – I haven’t spent more than £8 for all my fruit and veg for the week for two of us, and it’s more than enough.
So my point is this – if you can, please consider ditching the plastic too and heading on down to your local market, and grow a bit more for yourself. You’ll reap the tasty rewards.

A Homemade Christmas Wreath

How to make a Christmas wreath with a wire ring

My budget is always tight these days, but I don’t want to miss out on some of the festive fun at Christmas. I enjoy decorating the house – those little LEDs lend a certain warmth on the cold, dark, grey December days – and it’s great to see twinkling lights and wreaths appearing on my neighbours’ doors.

As we have a lot of shrubs and foliage growing in and around the Smallest Smallholding, I thought this year I would give making my own wreath a bash. I’ve seen wreaths selling for upwards of £15 – £30 in the shops, and I do not have that kind of cash to splash. So I visited my local craft shop and bought a reusable metal wreath ring for £2.50 and some florist wire for 60p.

Foraging for foliage for my Christmas Wreath

Next, I set about collecting lots of foliage that I could use in the wreath – dense conifer from the bits that overhang from next door’s tree, two types of variegated ivy, some pyracantha (although I’ve realised since that this wilts really quickly), holly and even a few sprigs of olive (felt a bit more biblical and gorgeous texture!). I was planning on using any extra bits that we cut off the Christmas tree (Nordmann Fir) but in the end we left it as was!

Here’s my quick guide to making a wreath:

Homemade frugal christmas wreath

What You’ll Need:

Wire Frame
Florist Wire & Scissors

How to make a homemade Christmas wreath on a metal ring

1. Take the largest, densest pieces of foliage (fir, spruce, conifer etc) and lay them out over the metal frame so that they fan out as they go around in a circular fashion.
2. Secure the foliage with florist wire – the more secure for this ‘base layer’ the better
3. Start adding in the long pieces of ivy – use several pieces and attach to the base layer and frame at both ends of the cutting and in the middle to help the foliage bend with the frame.
4. Keep going around, adding ivy and any bushy bits of foliage so that the wreath is as symmetrical as possible. You can tuck any stray bits in behind other ivy leaves and use the leaves to also hide the florist wire.
5. Once your ivy has been added all the way around, start putting in the “interesting accents”… bits of foliage like holly and olive that add colour and texture. Try to space these out evenly but it doesn’t have to be mathematically correct! You can start pushing these sprigs in without securing with wire if your ivy is dense enough.
6. Once you’re happy with your wreath, turn over and pack the back with moss to help keep the foliage moist and prevent wilting. If the moss hasn’t been freshly picked you can spritz it with some water.
7. Cut a small length of garden wire and create a loop for your door, securing the loop to the wire frame on the back.
8. Hang your wreath and enjoy your handywork!

We’re getting set for Christmas here at The Smallest Smallholding – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Ozzy and the Christmas decorations

Smallest Smallholding bun bun Ozzy enjoys the warm fire

Friends with Gluts


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.