February 2011


I know people who find my obsession with growing our own food a little strange, but when you look at the challenges faced by farmers, and the fragility of the food supply chain it all becomes clearer.

The BBC’s Farm for the Future is one of the best programmes I’ve seen for highlighting the challenge faced by British farmers in the face of Peak Oil. It’s longer than most of the videos I share, but it really is worth taking the time to watch it – unless you could be outside, gardening:

Another of my wartime specials, this is a collection of Marguerite Patten’s recipes from 1940-1954, helping people to make the most out of the wartime and post-war rations. It ‘s full of fascinating insights as well as frugal recipes and is great at demonstrating alternatives to rationed foods. There are a lot of meat-substituting tricks, as well as recipes where the meat is padded out with cheap, easily available, extras. These are joined with a variety of amusing “mock” dishes: Mock Apricot Flan for example, where the apricots are replaced with carrots; or Mock Crab, Mock Duck,  and Mock Oyster Pie; as well as any number of eggless alternatives to traditional cookery.

It contains a good section on preserving, although I suspect it is well behind current thinking on food safety, so I’m not sure I’d use the recipes given for canning. I hope I never need the advice on stewing and frying Whale meat, but I’d be happy to try the Honeycomb toffee.

Overall it is a fascinating read for the frugal, alternative approach to living that we may be returning to. I think it’s a book to try out from a library first, and then buy if you’re enticed. I got our copy from the National Trust bookshop at Dunham Massey for less than a fiver, but if you can’t find it locally, here is the link to get it from Amazon –Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts from 1940-1954, and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

When the council started taking down some of the large trees around our estate I asked the fellers for the mulch and logs from the closest. They were only too happy to oblige so we got a huge pile of mulch – now providing paths around the garden and protection to the orchard.

The logs sat in a large pile while I asked for advice on what to use on them, and the advice came back that (beyond just a basic saw) I needed a splitting maul, not an axe as I was expecting. It wasn’t expensive – we got ours from the local Machine Mart – but it does an amazing job.

Here’s what we started with:

Here’s the result, a good pile of split logs ready for our yet-to-arrive woodburner:

Having enjoyed learning about Scott McGuire’s Experiment in Backyard Sustainability You can imagine how delighted I was to see that Peak Moment had visited him again to see the results of four years of hard work. It’s fascinating to see how his dreams gave changed over those four years, and the result of all that learning:

Now this is a bit of a quirky inclusion to our library – it’s directly reprinted from the 1940’s edition, and so is not the most up to date, but I do have a bit of a thing for wartime cooking and gardening books.

When originally published, this was the Government-supported manual designed to turn us into a nation of growers. As a result it is a surprisingly good, down-to-earth guide to becoming a productive gardener. It covers everything you’d expect: Planning crops, tools, all the different vegetables, fruit and flowers, pests, poultry, bees, and how can you resist a book with a chapter entitled “Rabbits for Flesh & Fur”.

As well as being a good basic intro to traditional gardening techniques, its extra dimension is that of thrift. In these austere times, learning how to garden frugally is a great skill, and so this book is elevated beyond novelty purchase and into a (mostly) serious part of our library. In fact I’m just off to re-read the sections on Bees & Chickens now!

I got our copy for £1 from a discount bookshop, but you should be able to get them from your local bookshop or it’s only £2.80 from Amazon – follow this link –Make Your Garden Feed You, and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

Another one of our August jobs was installing some rainwater tanks. The task was to put something in that was better than our existing “rainwater harvesting” jug, but was cheaper than the full-on rainwater harvesting systems I’ve looked at before.

The answer was 1500-litre recycled tanks from eBay – they are used once for shipping Orange juice, then they are superfluous. We got three of them for only £80 each – great value in comparison to new tanks, and they came in an as-new condition, needing just a rinse out. We had a lot of fun getting them into position, but luckilyI had some help:

Once I’d got them in place there was the small issue of how to get the water out!

Not being a plumber I was a little nervous, but the solution is surprisingly simple. Drill the right size hole, and then a garden tap – bought from your local DIY place – will screw straight in, cutting its own thread as it goes. The only hitch? Don’t buy taps with one-way valves in – they work fine at mains pressure but the lower pressure from the water tanks was not enough to open the valves. You’ll know if you have these taps – firstly, no water will come out, and secondly they have these little white valves in the ends. Either swap them, or you can lever the little valves out!

With that little wrinkle ironed out, the tanks were all ready – here is one of them hiding behind the shed:

For today’s Movie Monday entertainment I’ve got a video that I first watched years ago, but which I still think is fantastic. I really love watching people go beyond talking about things and into actually experimenting to see what works. Scott’s garden and approach to self-sufficiency is wonderful to watch – particularly as it is all done behind a house he’s renting. I always love re-watching this video:

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