From Tower Block to Four Acres: Summer 2014

Originally published in UK Handmade magazine.

Summer in the garden is the time of abundance. The reward for the labour of earlier in the year is paid off when the crops are ready to harvest. Peas and beans pop up all over the place with leguminous joy. The vine crops of tomatoes and cucumbers hang heavy and ripe turning the greenhouse into a jungle, and courgettes practice their camouflage skills hoping to hide and grow into big, fat marrows. At the height of summer I need to harvest every day, whether that be salad crops, peas and beans, tomatoes or those prolific courgettes, masters of disguise.

It's so lush and tropical seeming in the top mobile glasshouse right now. Cucumbers and tomatoes reach to the ceiling and nasturtiums sprawl and spiral round the poles.

This abundance is something that I find amazing about the garden. We harvest and it gives us more. And more, and more. The generosity of nature is wonderful. My role as caretaker of the garden is to make sure that the plants have all they need, to be their primary carer as it were, but they give back so much – food to eat, and plants and herbs for medicine. Peppermint for digestion, lemon balm for headaches and chamomile for hay fever to name a few common ones.

And all this abundance starts from a tiny seed. My purple sprouting broccoli plants were one of my greatest teachers in the garden in my first year. Those plants took a whole season to grow – I sowed the seeds in March, transplanted the young plants in July and then nurtured them throughout the autumn and winter. By February they were five feet tall – only a few inches shorter than me! And then they produced their delicious purple sprouts. I’d had no idea that purple sprouting broccoli could grow so tall or took so long to come into fruition. Of course, there are other, quicker, earlier cropping varieties, but I feel that I learnt a lot from that plant. And the fact that each of those huge plants came from a tiny seed that is about a millimetre – the size of a pin head – is amazing.

Anyone want some rainbow chard? I just harvested 6kg! #nofilter

I think it’s really important that we remind ourselves that all our fruit and vegetables come from seeds. One way you can do this which is fun for you and your children to start rebuilding the connection is to save the seeds from vegetables that you have eaten and enjoyed and plant them up the following spring. Next time you have a lovely squash from the farmers market save the seeds and pot them up. It really is that simple. When I’m planting my crops it makes me smile to remember that a pea seed is, well, a pea! The pea is the seed.

Last summer the grass in my main field grew so high that my niece and nephew ran around with their Mum playing “Epic Hide and Seek” for hours. This year they’re not as lucky because I’m not letting it grow so high. But another benefit of their epic hide and seek was that they spread about the seeds from the leeks which had flowered and gone to seed. So this year I’ve got a bunch of leeks in the field which have self-seeded and I’ve not had to do anything to them.

Now they're in the main field!

Sometimes we can worry too much: have I done this right, is this planted in the right place, in the right conditions? We need to let go more, turn life into an epic game of Hide and Seek and wild sow a few seeds at the same time.

And talking of epic games, here’s a suggestion for the champion of epic hide and seek – the courgette, and its friend the pea seed: Courgette, pea and mint risotto.

Courgette, pea and mint risotto
Risotto is a regular meal at Oakcroft. It’s so simple and tasty and can be adapted to include all manner of vegetables which makes it a handy basic recipe to have in your repertoire. The risotto can be made in four simple steps and you can mix and match the vegetables and herbs to your own tastes and what you’ve got in the fridge.

The recipe below makes two generous portions and is easily doubled and halved. It only takes about 25 minutes to make from start to finish.

160g Risotto rice
½ litre vegetable stock
1 small chopped onion
20g butter
Small glass of dry white wine (optional)
1 Medium Courgette, chopped
Handful of peas
Few sprigs of mint
Freshly grated cheese

  1. Melt the butter and sauté the onion until soft. Add the courgette and sauté with the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften and brown. Add the rice and toss it around the pan to coat it in the butter and vegetable mixture.
  1. Add the wine if using and stir until it evaporates. Add a ladleful of hot stock and simmer until all the stock is absorbed. Add the peas and stir. NB: if using fresh peas add these towards the end of the cooking time as they won’t take as long to cook as frozen.
  1. Continue adding the stock and waiting until it’s absorbed before adding the next ladleful. This is the trick to making a really tasty risotto. Don’t be in a hurry to add all the stock at once and don’t have the heat up too high as you don’t want it to stick to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to medium high and reduce it if necessary. Keep stirring to prevent it from sticking to the pan. After about 15 minutes or so the grains of rice should be tender, creamy and soft but still firm in the centre.
  1. Stir in the parmesan, test for seasoning then cover and leave for 2 minutes.

Veganise it: This recipe is very easy to adapt if you’re vegan or don’t eat dairy. Just use a non-dairy spread instead of the butter in step one and skip the cheese in step four. You could also sprinkle it with some chopped pine nuts or almonds for added flavour if you like.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with a large green salad; baby salad leaves, rocket and sorrel is a particularly tasty mix. And how about sprinkling over some chive flowers for a pretty and oniony boost to your salad as a change from spring onions.


Lisa Margreet | designer | writer | teacher | farmer | image