Categories
loop gardening

Our Allotment: April-May

This is the second part of our Allotment Diary. If you haven’t read part 1, read it here!

April

Easter was a busy time for re-potting, planting in the polytunnel, growing more module trays (Dill, Vervain, Sunflower, Hemp, Cardoon, Parlsey, Mullein, Sage) and hardening off. Some of the first module trays were now strong enough to fend for themselves in the polytunnel. No slugs or snail attacks as yet although a mouse ate all my newly planted out peas on the 8th April..

Early Polytunnel

On the 10th we planted out the potatoes in trenches, sowed parsnips inter-cropped with radishes and planted out the different Mints we had received into large pots. Leanne also had a mouse attack (RIP Peas) and the horseradish we’d planted out in the wild came a cropper.

A visit by another Cordingley family member for a few days around the 17th April meant we could get some more beds dug and the weather was unseasonally warm (although April is now known as the Welsh summer). We dug a perennial bed which would soon be home to asparagus, jerusalem artichokes and sorrel.

DSC_0159

The 19th was a special day as we harvested our first salad of the year – 42g of lettuce, mizuna and turnip greens and a solitary leaf of mustard. Very tasty it was too!

First Salad

As an experiment we built an outdoor salad bed about 1.5m square to Charles Dowding’s specifications. We didn’t want any nasty weeds in the bed so we dug all the soil out, put slate around and then added horse muck, riddled soil, rock dust, grass clippings, compost/soil mix and then a bag of compost in that order.

Salad Bed

By now everything was getting a little stressful as we were counting down to our wedding as well as gardening. During that days before we left we germinated loads more seeds, transplanted spinach, moved lettuce and beetroot to the outside bed as well as planting radishes and lettuces outside. Then on April 28th we set off for the Peak district for our wedding. Leaving the plants to fend for themselves (with some grateful help from others in the community).

May

We arrived back on the 4th April for a brief visit before leaving again on our honeymoon. We were amazed how everything had grown; the salad outside was great, no nibbles. We picked loads from the polytunnel for dinner: rocket, mizuna, turnip greens, dill, coriander, spinach and radishes. Lovely! We did a little weeding, repotted tomatoes and chillies and disappeared again for 10 days.

Growing

Despite some hard frosts in our absence, the fleece came to the rescue and saved the potatoes. The outdoor salad was untouched by slugs and growing really well. Everything in the polytunnel was growing almost too well, some things going to seed. There is more salad to eat than we know what to do with!

Polytunnel May

DSC_5627

Our Scarecrow also found her home outside too.

Scarecrow

But the gardening continues. Leeks were planted out (some bought in/the home grown were a bit of a failure), more module trays of spinaches, lettuce, chard, mange tout, basils, coriander, parsley.

The potentially last frost took place on the 27th, we planted cardoons outisde with cloches to stop the rabbits eating them. Leanne harvested nearly 100 outdoor radishes and made a Kim chi out of them, I made a radish top soup which was very green and very tasty. The parsnips have popped through. We still have too much salad to eat… The compost was restacked with hot grass clippings and seems to be working, I dug the final bed which will also be a Charles Dowding-esque bed with slates and no weeds…

Radishes

We left for the Dark Mountain with a carrier bag full of salad (having given 3 carrier bags to other people!) – we might turn into a mizuna plant in our next life…

June

June 3rd – I write this on a sunny June morning. Outside the onions and leeks are slowly growing, the new potato plants are looking vibrant. The carrot, parsnip and beetroot seedlings push tentatively towards the blue sky above. A mole has tunnelled under the jet black compost of the outdoor salad bed, disturbing the roots below but hopefully not destroying the lettuces, spinach, chard, beetroot, radishes and rocket that will be filling our salads and sandwiches in the warmer weeks ahead.

The perennial bed has rhubarb growing and asparagus stalks which look like fragile miniature Christmas trees. Neither can be harvested this year, we wait for the years to come to be able to enjoy their bounty. The newly planted sunflowers, courgettes, peas, beans and sprouts are starting to grow whilst the scarecrow tries to fend off the onslaught from birds, mice, rabbits, moles and chickens…

It’s been a very good start to our first growing year.

Categories
loop gardening

Our Allotment: December-March

How time flies! It seems like only yesterday that we were unpacking the transit van into our new little flat in Llanidloes with the wood burner firing away. Now the sound of screeching swifts fills the air, the front door is ajar and the summer pollen is wafting through the window. (OK I wrote this last week, it’s now raining!) This post is about how we have started to learn how to feed ourselves. We make no pretence of being anything like self-sufficient; but would we like to self-reliant-ish. This is the start of an exciting journey, every minute we spend reconnecting with the soil rather than blogging and looking at facebook means more empowerment in our own futures. We want to learn important life skills and that isn’t how good you are at powerpoint presentations or conference calls.

We moved here with hopes to grow some vegetables but arrived too late to really get anything growing over the winter. For that you need to have planted veg earlier and it was probably a good idea that we didn’t try as last winter was one of the longest, hardest and coldest of the last 50 years. This two part blog post is a little update of what we’ve been up to over the last six months.

December

We spent the winter months preparing our beds. When I say “beds” I mean grass. And not just any old grass; grass on a slope incorporating such delights as couch grass, dandelions, bindweed and nettles. Oh and sticky damp clay soil too!

Grass

On the 10th we attempted to design some beds optimally for the available space. We had wanted to make raised wooden beds but for now we just raised the level of the beds and lowered the paths. You don’t want to be stepping on your beds ever! Then hopefully we can just add organic matter to the top each year and never have to dig them again. Joy Larkcom recommends soil paths wide enough for a wheelbarrow to pass through the main area of the plot with little side paths maximising the space available. So off we went with a tape measure and some string and measured it all out. We ended up with something that looks a bit like “211”.

Then we had to dig it all out. We took the top layer off and stacked it all next to the fence to create a turf stack. The idea being that all this would be covered for 1-2 years leaving the stack to rot down; the weeds to die and eventually end up with a nice pile of top soil. Luckily a bit of frost made it much easier to slice off the top layer of grass/soil. Once most of the top layer was gone, we covered the beds in cardboard, and then added a layer of manure/grass clippings to the top and then covered it all with compost. In hindsight I wouldn’t have done this again as we just ended up picking out chunks of cardboard when we came to remove the weeds. On the 18th the ice came and winter was thrust upon us. We left the beds hibernating for the winter, the carpets suppressing the weeds and left winter’s icy fingers to break everything down for us….

The beds

Turfstack

On the shortest day of the year we prepared the polytunnel by removing all large stones, riddling the bed and adding a good layer of leaf mould. We did this as the snow drifted down from a white sky and settled all over the garden.

Snow

January

Not much happened outdoors during January. The winter evenings were spent wrapped up on the sofa in front of our wood burner flicking through the Real Seeds catalogues and imagining the taste of all the vegetables we were going to grow in the year ahead as the temperature outside plummeted to as low as -20c.

February

More digging. We didn’t think it was going to be easy and part of our philosophy is to use our own muscle power rather than relying on machines. Digging the ground for a couple of hours on a crisp winter’s day is actually very enjoyable, costs nothing and beats the soulless fitness centre. We dug over each bed twice to carefully remove any perennial weed roots. I can’t pretend that this was that much fun! And despite all the work we put in, we still keep finding dandelions, thistles and buttercups creeping up amongst the vegetables. At least we’re learning what baby perennial weeds look like in the wild..

Digging

We riddled the polytunnel further and added manure at the back to break down for cucumber planting. We also took a trip to Machynlleth to the annual Seedy Sunday – a good chance to swap seeds and listen to seed saving talks.

Not much life yet, just the potatoes chitting away in egg boxes on the window sill.

March

With dry warm weather during the day, we began to improve the paths and slightly terrace some of the beds using slates from the old house roof and large branches. We are eager to progress with actually growing things but the cold nights and short days forced us to be more patient! Next year we should have lots of overwintered oriental salads and brassicas but for now we’ll just have to buy them from the shop.

Beds

A most welcome visit by Leanne’s Dad and Elaine on the 9th of March allowed us to build a new 2 bay-compost heap. We used old pallets, nails and managed to build a passable bin in the space of an afternoon. One bay was filled completely with annual weeds, food, manure and left to rot down. Compost is the ultimate building block of the garden, we have had to buy in compost this year but with 14 acres of land, one would hope that we could produce enough good quality compost for the whole community, not just our beds…

Compost

The top herb garden was cleared down and rearranged, this took 4 of us nearly 2 days so a lot of weeds were extracted from the soil. Still in maintenance mode we cleared leaves (which should have been done in the autumn) and filled the leaf mould bins.

Herb Garden

By the time of the Spring Equinox, the daffodils were starting to come into blossom. I followed the advice of Charles Dowding’s Salad Leaves for all Seasons book and planted two module trays of seeds that should be good for late Spring eating. These included lettuces, spinach, sorrel, pea, coriander and dill.. We also sowed our first row of land cress, rocket, turnip green, mizuna, radishes directly into the polytunnel.

Salad in polytunnel

Meanwhile Leanne built a cucumber frame, planted out some mange tout, peas and beans as an experiment in the polytunnel as well as radish, rocket and carrots. Leeks and celery were sown in seed trays and more beans and peas in toilet roll tubes. Her other plants included Lupin, Sweet Peas, Parsley, Calendula, Nasturtium, Giant Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Dill and Chilli.

Polytunnel

By the end of the month things were starting to sprout; we hadn’t really thought things might actually grow so it was exciting to see all the trays coming to life.

It was also about this time that a new visitor turned up in the house, befriended Leanne, and asked if they could hang out in the allotment on a permanent basis. Who were we to refuse such a request…

Visitor

You can read Part 2 here.

Categories
loop news

Loop goes to Loaf (Part 2)

Apologies for the delay in bringing the second part of this article to you but there was the small matter of a wedding and honeymoon to deal with. Now we are back in Llanidloes with our heads buzzing with ideas and lots of potentially exciting things happening. Anyway back to the post!

You may remember from part one we had taken a break for a fabulous home-laid egg and home-made ciabatta lunch. We didn’t stop for long though as burnt bread doesn’t taste good or sell very well either. So we took the final load of rye bread out of the oven and then took some time to reduce the washing-up mountain that had formed.

DSC_0088

It was now time to bake using the outside oven. Although specifically designed for making pizzas in, it can also handle a few loaves although any remaining fire needs to be completely scraped out beforehand. It’s also crazily hot, so a good idea to quickly bake some roll or batches first to make use of that heat.

DSC_0095

From proving basket to oven you have to be really quick. With a flick of the wrist, Tom turned the banneton over to expose the jelly-like dough to the peel; and with a quick slash of the knife the dough was thrust into the oven.

DSC_0097

We put three loaves in and kept an eye on them however they still cooked a little too quickly; it’s really hard to monitor the internal temperature of the oven so it take a bit of guesswork to find out when they are done. However we ended up with some very good looking loaves and presumably some very happy customers who collected them later the same day.

DSC_0109

And that was the marathon baking session over. I headed back to Llanidloes on the train with my head full of ideas about how this could be replicated across the border in Wales.

I’m at a slight disadvantage in that our kitchen is a lot smaller than Tom’s but I’m sure there is a way around it all. My kitchen has just been passed by environmental health so I can now start making bread. I already have a few potential customers and the locally run community shop in Llani will take loaves off me. Watch this space for more info in the next few weeks (with no wedding to distract me either!)

Time will tell if the community bakery idea takes off but there is a growing national movement as shown by the Realbread campaign. Demand “Real bread” at every place you shop and let’s make this thing a success. No longer should the British public have to put up with tasteless, expensive supermarket bread. And as Andrew Whitley says “Le pain se lève”.

Finally, thanks to Tom at Loaf for giving me such a great insight into the life of a community supported baker! It certainly gave me lots of ideas. Loaf also run a cookery school with great bread, pasta and wild food courses. Check them out if you are in the Birmingham area.

Categories
loop news

Loop in the Idler

We are delighted to announce that our article “A WWOOFer’s diary” has been published in the latest edition of the Idler #43 which is jam-packed with a range of articles focussed around the theme “Back to the Land”.

In the article we talk about our experiences with WWOOFing (Working on organic farms) over the last couple of years which culminated in us moving to Llanidloes where we now live in a housing co-operative.

The book is available from all good bookshops or the Idler bookshop and more information can be found on the Idler website.

Categories
loop news

Llani Seed Exchange is go!

Today is the launch of the Llanidloes Seed Exchange. We want people to swap their extra seeds and stop giving the seed companies so much money! Take a look at our Seed Exchange page for more information. Or just pop into the Resource Centre in Llanidloes and get swapping!

Categories
loop news

Loop goes to Loaf (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I (Andy) took the train over to Bourneville in South Birmingham to visit the social enterprise LOAF. As well as running cookery courses, running a local food directory and blogging about real food in Birmingham, they also run a community-supported bakery.

DSC_0032

Every Friday LOAF director Tom bakes loaves in his kitchen for 15 subscribers. These folk invest a certain amount each month and get a loaf baked for them which they collect in the afternoon. This benefits the small baker as they get a guaranteed income to buy the ingredients for the month and the investor gets a fabulous loaf each week. Tom bakes sourdough with a choice between a white or a rye loaf as well the appearance of an occasional guest bread .

I arrived on the Thursday afternoon for the start of my mini baking apprenticeship. I have been baking bread myself for the last year or so (before that it was with the aid of a bread machine) and feel like I have made progress from the first heavy loaves that came out of the oven as I have become more proficient with the bread making process. There is a real art to each stage; from choosing the best flour, measuring quantities, kneading, proving and baking. Things can go wrong (and have done) at every stage of the process and I’m only making a couple of loaves. Mistakes only make you stronger though and you don’t make the same mistake in a hurry.

So coming to LOAF would give me a chance to see a slightly larger operation at work, being run from home with conventional kitchen equipment, with a view to possibly replicated the scheme in Llanidloes.

The evening was spent talking about bread (I think myself and Tom will readily admit to our bread-geekery), looking through bread books and chatting about the state of bread in the UK (generally bad but with a smattering of incredible stuff happening) and how it could be improved (first steps are taking a look at what the Real Bread Campaign is up to).

Pizza Oven

We also took a look at the wood-fired oven he has built in his back garden whilst Tom chopped a bit of wood in preparation for Friday morning. Finally we made a list for the plan of events the next morning. It seemed like military precision was going to be needed to bake 40 loaves.

DSC_0014

Tom keeps his rye and wheat sourdoughs in the fridge all week and takes them out on a Wednesday to allow them to get to room temperature and allow them to bulk them up in time for making the dough on late Thursday. Having calculated how many of each type of bread he is going to bake, he works out how much starter he is going to need using a spreadsheet with all the baker’s percentages programmed in. A nice way of keeping track of everything. So late on we were able to bulk up the last of the rye sourdough ready for the next day and also just before we went to bed, we mixed the wheat dough, kneaded it and placed it into large boxes to prove overnight.

DSC_0019

I’m not used to being up that late or having to get up at 5.30am either. So by midnight I was asleep, dreaming of light fluffy ciabattas and fields of wheat blowing gently in the breeze.

Before I knew it the alarm went off and it was time to get up to bake lots of bread! It was a dark drizzly morning outside but we got the fire going, had a cuppa, folded the sourdough into thirds, made a ciabatta dough (for lunch) and mixed the borodinksy rye mix up. All before 6.30am…

DSC_0023

Over the next couple of hours we gave the Ciabatta dough a couple of folds in thirds to stretch out the gluten and make it more airy before moving onto the rye mix. I’ve made a couple of ryes before but here we were making it in batches of 4kg! The spreadsheet was used to get the correct consistency. As Rye is a wet dough there isn’t any kneading involved but this means it is a tricky thing to handle. You have to get everything wet and shape it into a loaf. Bit like handling a wet fish I expect.

DSC_0066

By 9am we had done 3 batches of rye and shaped the Ciabatta. When you are doing this much bread in a small space you really need to be organised, there is a lot going on at once. The check-list was very very important. And it worked really well. We even had time to have a few cups of tea and some bread and butter (of course!)

The oven was warmed (with a big chunk of marble inside to keep the radiant temperature warm) and we started loading it with rye loaves, 6 at a time, not something my oven at home could handle. Whilst doing this we were busy shaping the wheat sourdoughs and placing them into bannetons. Doing each 4kg batch with 30 minute breads meant that we could stagger the proving and put them into the ovens at this time difference later on. The ciabatta also came out the oven looking lovely and light.

DSC_0050

DSC_0064

The smell of all this freshly baked bread was too much by 11.30am, hunger had struck hard. So we had an early lunch with the still slightly warm Ciabattas and fried eggs from Tom’s chickens outside. Simply devine.

DSC_0075

I’ll write more in part 2 about the afternoon bake in the outside oven and more about how community bakeries work later in the week.

Categories
loop news

Loop is slowly coming out of hibernation

It’s the 1st of February and slowly but surely the days are becoming a little longer; the light peeps timidly through the curtains when we wake and spring feels almost within reach. Almost but not quite. The ground is still hard and thoughts of home grown vegetables and warm summer evenings are still but a mere thought in the back of our mind.

The loop project team have been hard at work during our winter hibernation. We may be sleeping a lot and using the long nights to restore our mental and spiritual energy but we have had the fire stoked day and night, the seed catalogues have been read and re-read and preparations are being made for an allotment onslaught once the frosty fingers of winter are pulled away.

We have also been busy in the kitchen making breads. The oven has been full of Apple Cider Vinegar muffins, maize baguettes, white milk loaves, borodinksy rye and scottish morning rolls. Soups with seasonal vegetables from the organic shop in Llanidloes such as Borscht and other warming soups have kept us going during the harsh winter of 2009/2010.

Fermenting is the most exciting thing that is happening food-wise in Loop HQ. We have been busy reading a great book by Sandor Ellis Katz called Wild Fermentation. In it he has detailed fermentation processes from across the world, bringing back processes and techniques that have long been forgotten in some cultures. We started out with a simple sour beet recipe and have also made yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and there are dozens of other things we can’t wait to do. It seems like culture and society were built on fermented foods. Without them humans couldn’t store and process food – nowadays we just stick food and drink into the fridge or freeze. However I really think knowing a little about fermentation could benefit us all. Just think about what is fermented in your normal daily diet…

Plans are also being made for the Summer months. We have bought tickets for our first festival, The Dark Mountain Festival up in North Wales. Then there are plans to help at Sunrise Celebration at the end of May.

We are also starting to realise just how much goes on around Llanidloes. The Loop Project have found a very good place to call home.

Categories
loop news

The Loop Project is go!

After many months of planning, thinking (maybe almost too much thinking!), designing, writing and general web site designing, we are pleased to announce the launch of theloopproject.co.uk.

This is one of the ways in which we are starting to transition our lives for a low-carbon (or no carbon…) future. Before we were both working 35 hour weeks, spending most of our waking week working for the man (or woman). The little time we did have to ourselves in the evenings was just not long enough! Then during the weekends and holidays we spent the money we had earnt on stuff we probably didn’t really need (well some of it was useful I suppose!).

We realised a while ago that we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives living this way and slowly we decided to go it alone. The first step was quitting, and perhaps that was the most difficult bit. Once we were out everything seemed different, exciting and liberating. The world still turned and we didn’t end up living on the streets. The last year has been incredibly enlightening and we’ve started to learn new skills which we hope will see us good for the rest of our lives. We’ve also learnt it’s pretty easy to live without 2 salaries especially when you live out of a rucksack. But perhaps it’s just the mental changes that we have made which have simplified things. Strip away the thin capitalist veneer of 21st century living and there is a lot of good simple living to be had on this planet we call home. And luckily for us life is amazingly great fun.

However we realise we still need to earn some hard currency as you can’t barter for much these days. This website is a way for us to use our computer based skills (web and graphic design amongst others) while we learn to do things which don’t require the use of a PC (or a Mac shouts Leanne…)

So take a look around, read about what we’ve been up to and perhaps look at some of the book and web recommendations we’ve carefully selected for you.

And if you do happen to have any work that we might be interested in, get in touch and we’ll get things moving.

TLP

Categories
loop projects

TLP2 – Pisco Presents “Summer Fete” Poster

This poster was designed to promote the first of a series of nights promoted by Sheffield promoters, ‘Pisco Presents’.

PISCsummerfete

The brief was for a simple but instantly recognisable retro style, reflecting the theme of the summer fete.

The night was a great success, the gig completely sold out on the night.

Comment from the promoters,

“We gave the guys a simple brief – create something striking that really encapsulated the ethos of our event in a simple and eye-catching way, but at the same time relating key information to our audience clearly and succinctly. What they delivered exceeded our expectations and we believe it was a key contributor to the success of the event. We have since used them again and look forward to enjoying a strong working partnership together for years to come” Ed, Pisco Presents

Categories
loop projects

TLP1 – Picnic on Hoxton Square

DSC_3209

And so it began…

Just over a month ago now, on the Summer Solstice of 2009, a group enthusiastic picnicers gathered on Hoxton Square, London, under the red and white flag that was the symbol of the first event, “A Taste of Things to Come”. An anarchy symbol morphed into a picnic bench to spell out the intention – no longer were we fools to the robbery of overpriced bars and restaurants serving up expensive drinks and salads of limp lettuce and unripe tomatoes. No longer will we be slaves to the supermarkets. We won’t eat your pre-packed out of season processed food and snacks. We will reclaim the power of good, simple, local, seasonal food and show it off in fantastical picnic extravaganza!

At least that was the idea. As the man at the local offi pointed out after questioning the significance of our lovely little red badges, our choice of lubrication for the event was arguably off theme, “Ah a picnic to promote local food! Excellent idea… I see you have chosen 8 cans of Jamaican Red Stripe to compliment your food”. Hmm.. seems we still have some way to go. “But it goes with the colour scheme” is not a valid excuse.

DSC_3200

The choice of the longest day for our first picnic was obviously a good move. A beautiful sunny day was spent lazing in the park and the long hours of sunlight encouraged us to stay out well past the intended 4 pm finish time until long after the sun had gone down.

DSC_3214

So what was on the menu? Aside from the small oversight on the booze, the local food theme went pretty well. An impressive spread was enjoyed by all including some fantastic spicy green-bean salad, fine cheeses, homemade chutney, standard picnic-issue (but top quality!) egg and watercress sandwiches, and fresh, still-in-the-pod peas. Lovely jubbly. The bakers had been hard at it too – homemade too pretty to eat strawberry cakes and cherry topped buns with tea (not coffee!) icing both went down a treat.

DSC_3206

Entertainment for the day was unexpectedly provided from travelling performance artist Nicola who joined us for a few hours and treated us with an outing of her “Dream Coat”. The coat has many individually decorated fancy pockets, each containing a dream. You choose a pocket, take out the dream and swap it for one of your own which then gets passed along. Fantastic. My plane crash dream was eagerly swapped for a story of a horse running and bizarrely I haven’t suffered any more terrifying plane crash dreams since. Magic. Should I feel guilty for the poor soul who will soon be treated to recurring dreams of planes exploding mid-air? Perhaps, but you’ve got to take your chances in the dream world. You never know what might happen.

DSC_3199

There was also face painting and an impressive BMX (with basket) stunt display!

DSC_3239

DSC_3233

DSC_3261

So as you can see “A Taste of Things to Come” was not just about the food. It was also about was getting together in a free space, to share good times and stories. It was great to see friends we’d missed so much while we’d been away. And while our main aim of promoting local, seasonal food may have slipped into the background of catch up chats and Jamaican lager one thing shone through – that is that spending many hours loafing in parks with good food and good friends is simply a great thing to do. This kind of thing should be part of our day to day lives, not a once a year only if it’s boiling and you’re skint event. No more rushed dinner hours! Take your time over lunch every day. Sit in the park, chat to a stranger, offer them a sandwich. Don’t spend your weekends in shopping centres, go to the woods, sit by a river, pick wild blackberries and enjoy being outside. It doesn’t rain as often as you think it does.