Growing on a shoestring budget

Spring Border
As Spring arrives… sort of, between the grey and rain… I’m well aware that my maternity leave is approaching. And although I should have saved hundreds of pounds in preparation, the reality is that I know it’s going to be a tough slog getting through those months on statutory pay. So everything I’m doing now is in preparation for the leaner months, and I’m thinking about ways in which I can do things on a shoestring budget. Getting as much veg, herbs and fruit bushes in the ground now should help over the summer and autumn months at least.

I don’t mind doing things a little Heath Robinson… I remember watching The Darling Buds of May and loving Ma and Pa Larkin’s slightly rambling setup. And besides, I’m not a tidy person. Everything I do is always a little rough around the edges and that suits me – and the wildlife in my garden, I suspect – absolutely fine.

Last year I grew some lettuces in the big veg patch, and they were delicious… and weirdly enough, we had no slug issues. This year, I bought some bargain lettuce plugs from my local plant nursery and decided to pot them up by the back door in easy reach of the kitchen. I found a few old pots hanging about (who doesn’t have masses of pots hanging around?) and tried to use up as many large pots as possible. The bigger the pot, the less watering. I ended up having to use a range of sizes, but to be honest, with the amount of rain we’ve had watering isn’t my biggest issue right now.

lettuces in container

I placed them in a little spot in front of the conservatory that gets light for at least two thirds of the day in summer. It was looking completely ramshackle so I tidied it up and cobbled together a platform for the pots from some bricks and large slate tiles that we had to hand. Something I’ve learned over the years is that we can’t have anything like pots in direct contact with the ground, otherwise the black and red ants that love our sandy soil just move in.

I’m hoping to turn the slightly redundant space outside the back door and before the garden gate into a growing space. One side is really shady thanks to a privet hedge and and next door’s terraced housing access path. But I’ll just have to do a little research and figure out which herbs and plants will be fine in shade, and what I can fill up the sunny side with too. I’m quite looking forward to it, and doing it all on a tiny, almost non-existent budget seems like a fun challenge! She says. I’ll keep you posted…

Instant Pot

I’ve acquired a new gadget in the kitchen, and I’m hoping it’ll make life a lot easier once I’ve refined my recipes a bit to suit this new mode of pressure cooking.

Instant Pot

I got this Instant Pot in a flash sale last week, and despite my hectic schedule have already tried my vegetable soup and a new three-bean vegan chilli recipe in it. It’s quite an exciting prospect as it ticks a few boxes for me; plenty of scope for one-pot meals (my favourite), it uses significantly less energy than our gas hob cooker (green), easy to clean (bonus) and overall needs less of my brain power to get everything cooked to perfection (practical).

The Instant Pot isn’t just a pressure cooker – you can slow cook in it, saute (with the lid off), cook grains and pulses (from dry, in a matter of minutes), make bread and even create yoghurt. And more, probably. I haven’t got that far yet, I’m just getting used to the nuances of cooking under pressure using the manual button and having to adjust liquids to account for the lack of evaporation.

I’m not a bad cook at all – in fact, Rich says that my roast potatoes are the best (apart from my mum’s, who is a master at cooking and baking). I’m just lazy and forgetful, and with our cheap stainless steel saucepans, I have a habit of getting wrapped up in something else and burning things quite easily. I’m definitely an advocate of one-pot cooking, which is why the Instant Pot has appealed to me for a long time.

Three-Bean-Vegan-Chilli

With the baby due in August, I thought it would be a good investment. Once the cooking time has finished, the Instant Pot automatically goes on to “keep warm” mode for up to ten hours. For a busy mother, I’ve been told this is a bit of a God-send. The function has already come in useful, when I had my chilli* on and my sister called me. The IP went into keep warm mode for fifteen minutes before I got around to serving it up. Had that been on the hob, it would have been a crispy disaster.

My aim is to be able to reduce my monthly food budget by buying in less tinned pulses and more dry pulses, cooking in bulk and freezing for later. The IP means I don’t have to do an overnight soak (I really don’t have the patience or pre-planning abilities to do this kind of thing), and I can cook chickpeas (one of my main food groups) from dry in 40 minutes, and other dry pulses under 20 minutes. I can sling everything in the pot, press a few buttons and let the magic happen and allow my attention to be diverted. I’m also hoping that with more homegrown veg on the agenda this year, I’ll be able to produce bowls and bowls of homemade soups, stews, curries and more using homegrown produce. And maybe, just maybe, I might even get around to making my own bread.

For help and support with Pressure Cooking and the Instant Pot, you can join a dedicated Instant Pot Facebook group here

*I’ll post the vegan chilli recipe once I’ve refined it a bit!

Love your ugly veg

There’s been a fair amount of coverage in the media recently about wonky veg, and the supermarkets’ costly distaste for it. Every year, an (almost) unbelievable amount of “imperfect” fruit and veg is rejected, and left rotting in large putrid piles. The travesty is that it’s not about taste or nutrition, it’s all about looks. Supermarkets want model veg that only subscribes to their pre-approved ideals; weight, size, colour, and finish. They’re just effectively throwing away perfectly good food.

Trug of ugly veg parsnips

I may well have won the ugly veg award this year, as my parsnips look as thought they’ve been cast under an ugly spell. I didn’t quite get the no-dig depths right in my parsnip bed, and the dry summer and lack of form mulch gave me twizzly roots and seemingly a new breed of mutant parsnip spawn.

Parsnips washed down

But I wanted to prove a point. No matter how ugly, twisted or gnarled my veg might be, it’s still perfectly edible. OK, so I had to lop off a few rusty bits of parsnip, but I still managed to finish up with a delicious spicy parsnip soup.

Parsnip soup in the pot

If there’s one thing that growing my own food has taught me, it’s that it’s not about looks; it’s all about personality! And that even the ugliest of veg – grown for pennies organically at home – can become the tastiest dish come dinner time.