Julia and Tony were great hosts for an autumnal evening where we discussed food preserving. With the World Cup Rugby final disappointing the next room, we enjoyed ourselves; listening, discussing, tasting and also marvelling at Steve’s gadget (of which more later).
Ross brought along dry-stored runner beans prepared with garlic and chilli. Karen brought along dried pears and a traditional German Rumtopf, summer fruits stored in rum with sugar, whilst David B brought along some slowly dried apple slices.
Susie showed us how she bottles tomatoes and roasts peppers in oil. Steve’s masterpiece was his apple-corer, an impressive piece of hand-cranked engineering which peeled, cored and sliced apples in a spiral.
John talked to us about his wealth of experience in keeping vegetables over winter, whether carrots and turnips in sand or leaf mould, or Swedes, parsnips and artichokes which can be kept in the ground. He also brought along some pressed apple juice and cider. David B amazing us with the fact that he had pulped 300lbs of apples in a garden shredder! David S brought along some of Sue’s chutneys, together with his final red and white wines from the vines at Malthouse Lane.
We then enjoyed our preserved delights together with cheeses, meats, breads and salads. A lovely cake went down particularly well with the homemade raspberry and sloe gins!
Thanks to Katie for choreography, Julia and Tony for their convivial reception and thanks to everyone for sharing their experience in an interesting and fun evening!
A fantastic turn-out of 19 people came along to an inspiring afternoon visit hosted by Tom Ingall. The Canalside Community Food Project has been set-up in a corner of Leasowe Farm where Tom has lived with his wife Caz for four years. The farm is undergoing conversion to organic methods and the project is in its first year. The aim is to involve the community in the production of their food by selling shares in the produce from the land, enough to feed 80 families. The project has three polytunnels growing a variety of vegetables including a wide range of tomatoes. They have had a difficult year with rabbits and the floods which both washed away the top-soil and encouraged an army of slugs which would have destroyed the crops were it not for a derogation from the Soil Association to use mild salts.
Tom has discovered that some of the Heritage varieties are actually tastier and more resilient than the commercial hybrids, for instance his Mexican Blue Sweetcorn had the best yields despite the wet weather. After they have distributed food shares to the members they do sell surplus through shops such as Gaia, although the extra requirements for regularity mean it is more labour intensive.
The ground will be managed to a ten year rotation with two sets of brassicas, five years apart. We also saw the ground where this year’s pig club had been; sixteen weaners which had entirely cleared their patch of couch grass! Tom also walked us up into the farm where the family are investing in nut trees, following an interest in using perennial plant foods rather than always using intensive annual plants.
As we walked around the vegetable plots John Sargent’s natural instinct to help shone and he bent down to pick up a few weeds! After the walk we had tea, biscuits and scones (thanks to Susie and Rosie) before thanking Tom for a wonderful and informative afternoon. We need to thank to Katie and John for having organized the trip. Whilst all this year’s vegetable shares are now sold, you can contact the Canalside Community Food Project to join as a supporter.
We all remember the dark and damp days this summer. As always it was, however, a wonderful fine day on Sunday 8th July when we met for our cycle ride and organic picnic. I suspect the shock of the fine weather and the fear of lycra-clad luvvies meant that whilst we had a relatively low turn-out, the enjoyment of the riders and diners firmly proved quality over quantity. Some riders had traveled from as far North as Castle Donington and as far South as Cubbington in order to join the fun. As you'd expect from an organic group, there was rather more cotton than lycra!
Two groups started out, one from Kenilworth and one from Fen End, meeting at the Case is Altered in Fiveways, Hatton for Real Ale refreshment at the halfway point of the outward journey (see picture). The Kenilworth group got off to a bang, quite literally. Malcolm pumped up Katie's tyre to such an extent that it popped before it left the drive! Katie duly borrowed Karen's fold-up bicycyle for an interesting and even more rewarding ride. The lanes of Warwickshire were peaceful and undulating, giving quite a surprise to those of us who normally pass by this lovely countryside in our cars.
We arrived at the Stratford Canal basin in Lapworth and sprawled on the bank in the sun to enjoy a feast of homemade organic sandwiches, salads, bakes, dips, cakes and fruit. Such a pity about the need to ride home!
Allotment Walk, Thursday 21 June
We walked along the banks of the Finham Brook (called the Odibourne for this stretch) from Abbey Fields along the back of Kenilworth’s old School Lane. Whilst the path was created by the developers of new housing, it has been very successful in attracting wildlife and the local authority manage the small meadow well, cutting the grass back only in summer.
It was a clear evening as we wandered around the allotments, seeing a number of fantastically maintained gardens (as well as my Plot 3!). On the return we looked at the small private gardens opposite Lower Ladyes Hill which, whilst individual, were recreated as a community effort led by local gardener Mark Reeder.
As the rain finally began to fall we found ourselves a few tables in the wonderful Old Bakery Hotel on New Street which has set the smoke-free standard for some time and keeps great real ales! Thanks to John and Katie for the quick thinking which gave us an enjoyable evening at short notice!
Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Edgbaston, Sunday 20 May
We really were spoiled to be shown around by head gardener Edward Skinner, who after eleven years at the gardens had plenty to offer and could easily answer all of our questions. Edward described the original choice of site in the 19th century by JC Louden, at a time when many other botanical gardens were being established, funded by subscription. Some of these gardens failed financially and Birmingham avoided this by finally allowing the public to visit.
The recent history of the gardens includes the new glasshouse in 1988 and the visit of the G8 leaders in 1998 (the table plan is still on display). The glasshouse contains many tropical and sub-tropical plants which have been important in the development of world trade such as rubber and papaya. Others, such as wild banana, may yet be useful again, as commercial plants become prone to pests and disease. An original Wardian case was used to carry plants back on sailing boats, and sailors used to hate the plants as they were cared for with precious fresh water!
The new Japanese garden includes the National Bonsai collection with its 260 year old Omiya Chinese juniper tree. Outside Edward showed us changes he had made and also changes being planned well into the future.
The collection of slug- and pellet-free hostas (left) demonstrated just how important frogs and the right location are in the garden. The new British Woodland is a real oasis of calm. Edward had removed some of the rhododendron and introduced the Trafalgar Oak from the Forest of Dean to create this magical corner just one mile from the Bull Ring.
As we returned to the café for afternoon tea Edward talked about how the small £1.5m turnover of the gardens means that they live just two months away from failure – but have survived like this for 175 years!
Our thanks go to Edward for an interesting tour, and to Katie for organising this wonderful afternoon!
AGM, Wholefood Supper and Seed Swap, Kenilworth, March 3rd 2007 The Annual General Meeting is not normally a crowd puller so we were all quite surprised when sixteen people turned out for an evening of community contribution, seed swapping and gorging!
The seed swap included a great range of catalogue seeds with the additional temptation of John's Jerusalem artichokes, Tony's raspberries and David's extensive tomato collection. In the meeting the committee were re-elected, the membership fees retained and the decision taken to affiliate the group with both HDRA (Garden Organic) and the Soil Association.
The fastidious among you can ask to see the minutes. David and Sue kindly hosted the event and ensured that the supper was the usual satisfying mix of dishes, with David's home-grown, home-brewed, home-bottled organic wine providing an extra bonus!
Organic Wine Tasting, Saturday 27th January
She introduced us to some great wines ranging a refreshing Austrian Pinot Noir Frizzante rosé to a gorgeously rich Italian Amarone. We learnt how the oakiness of the wines depends not only on the length of time the wines spends in the barrel, but also on the age of the barrel. Prices ranged from around £6 to £20, which sounded surprising value when Sarah described how few bottles were prepared on the estates. At half-time, we ate a great spread of bakes, breads, pizzas, dips, cakes and scones with the carnivores devouring roast beef! At full-time, the audience of sixteen gave a round of applause to Sarah for the entertainment and Julia and Tony for their hospitality!
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