Wednesday 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

... I'll be back as soon as it's thawed.

Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2010 to all my followers!


Sunday 13 December 2009

Alliaceae in place and hibernated ladybirds too

Yesterday I spent another four hours at the allotment, and I finally planted all the Alliaceae: garlic Vallelado (plus two species Neil gave me), onion Shakespeare, shallot Vigarmor.

I have never seen so many hibernated ladybirds; actually I had never seen any in the previous two winters, so I guess that is a very good sign - they were all native as well.

The ones below were in my compost heap, but I found another four while digging - I picked three and put them on the pallets around the compost heap, for shelter, one I lost in the undergrowth. Frankly, that has put me off digging a little bit, and clearing the plot does not feel too good at this time of the year either. Obviously it is confirmed to me that native ladybirds like messy long grass and weeds - a habitat that is increasingly lost.

Will have to figure out how to keep an area in the plot that is messy enough, even when it's not by mistake like this year. This is in the interest of nature and also of my gardening finances: a pack with 25 ladybirds against aphids' infestation sells for £20+!

Saturday 12 December 2009

I made it!

I came up with the almost-perfect sage focaccia recipe, I tried it twice and both time it was good, so I can share it: was fairly easy!

Step 1: make the dough

Anything from 350gr organic flour, I mix it with a handful of wholemeal as well, a pinch of salt or two, yeast (1 teaspoon fast action yeast), enough lukewarm water, added a bit at a time, so that the dough does not become too sticky and impossile to take from your hands. It must be elastic but not wet. After kneading for around 10 mins, make a ball, cover and leave in a warm place (I leave it on the hob while the oven warms up below).

Step 2: raising

Leave to raise for a minimum of half an hour to two hours. Chop a handful of sage in the meantime, in tiny fragments and soak in extravirgine olive oil. Halfway through raising (depends how much you leave it) mix the sage and oil with the dough - it will be a bit squishy-squashy, but you make the ball again and leave to finish rising. Turn on the oven to 7 at least half an hour in advance.

Step 3: place in the oven

Find a heavy rectangular oven tray with low sides, oil it with extravergin olive oil, spread the dough with your hands, cover with more oil, sprinkle with salt and pierce here and there with a tootpick or a fork.

Step 4: cook

Cook for half an hour or so, until lightly brown. The perfect focaccia has oil-filled 'dimples'. And I managed to get some: delicious!

Updated 15 Aug 2012 with improved recipe

Tuesday 8 December 2009


The other day when I covered my herb patch I had to cut back the biggest plants, among which sage.

In my experience, when it does not die a short while after planting, a sage bush is very prolific, and so mine has been. I have dried and saved a good few leaves, more than I will ever need in one year already, so I decided to take the latest crop to the office. When a colleague said: "And how I use it?" I thought I would make a post about sage.

From a quick research online, it turns out the genus Salvia belongs to the mint family (Labiatae or Lamiaceae). Salvia comes from the Latin for "to save", to represent the belief in the medicinal properties of the herb. Several saying go back to the Middle Ages, and there is apparently an English proverb that goes: "He that would live for aye, Must eat Sage in May".

Some of the properties attributed to sage are:
  • memory enhancer,
  • mouth & teeth care (I remember being told as a child to rub a sage leaf on my teeth to whiten them),
  • loosening mucus,
  • reducing perspiration,
  • anti inflammatory.
Too much sage oil may cause epilepsy, if I understood it right, and sage is not to be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
For culinary purposes it seems to be used mainly in Italy nowadays.
Sage is used to flavour chicken and pork, in stuffing i.e. Sage and onion, and in the typical Roman recipe saltimbocca alla romana (veal with Parma ham).
Fresh sage is used to make a sauce for tortellini or gnocchi burro e salvia: melting some butter in a pan with the sage leaves (without stir frying too long or burning the butter); finish with some grated parmesan. The same sauce can be put on tagliolini or tagliatelle (egg noodles), with or without some finely chopped walnuts. These are very quick and tasty recipes.

And how could I forget sage focaccia one of the most delicious recipes of the Genoese cuisine, which I have not been able to replicate so far (but I will try again, maybe tonight).

Garden Organic also suggest to try sage flowers in pesto, salads, soups and with fish dishes. They have a milder taste than the sage leaf.
And you, do you have any recipes to help use up my sage?

Monday 7 December 2009

Finally some sun!

It was sunny yesterday and, despite the mud, I managed to do a few things, like covering the herb patch (oregano still flowering) and sow some salad in the greenhouse, where the chillies are still holding on to their flower buds. I also transplanted the last brassica seedlings: a task long overdue.

The rocket I sowed a couple of weeks ago has germinated, and the strawberries are on their way to ripening. My leek seedling are still growing too.

Very oddly, there was a bumblebee out and foraging on my borage and, in a neighbour's plot, two broadbean plants stood vigorous and in flower. Beside being the wettest period on record, it is still fairly warm, and plants (and insects) are obviously being tricked into thinking it might be spring already.

But there are signs the cold is coming: the nasturtiums were all gone and the celery sported freeze burn on the edges.

Still too wet for garlic & onions, I'm afraid; however, I will have to plant them soon before the soil goes hard.

Sunday 6 December 2009


I have done my first revision table for plant organs: starting from the bottom I chose the root, one of the vegetative organs (together with stem and leaf) as opposed to reproductive organs (flower, seed and fruit).

Very proud of having managed, when I spilled my tea on it (it's time to go to bed, but I wanted to finish at least one organ!) - it's ok, not much damage.

The way I organised it is a summary of: function, drawing of structure (with great help from an online one), organ parts, non-standard characteristics and any types or adaptations in which the organ presents itself.

Will I have rememberd the most important things? There's so much!

One thing I had no idea about and found interesting is that there are root tubers and stem tubers, both are adaptations of an organ for food storage, and they enable the plant to survive in winter under cover of the soil, but a stem tuber is a stem with buds & all... the potato is a stem tuber and the 'eyes' are its buds. The sweet potato instead is a root tuber.

Tiredness, GM, knowledge wisdom and innovation

Some three weeks ago I drafted the post below. I was reluctant to publish it, as I do not like to address a serious topic lightly, and my blog is meant to be about my allotment, anyway. However, after two years of gardening and now with the horticulture course, my knowledge of organic gardening is influencing other areas of my life.

Although the post is still half thought through, and three years have passed since I read the book I mention (so my memory might be selective), I have decided to post it all the same - A friend has been recently just about saved by the latest medical technology from a life-threatening medical condition brought about by an innovative drug. I see a parallel with my previous post, as pharmaceutical and biotech are both industries of disproportionate power, and relying on rapid innovation.

I wish we all had more time to stop and think more.

Comments anyone?

I am very tired after a few stressful weeks, and the weather at the weekend does not allow me to exercise on the allotment, so - beside not having much to talk about - all my leftover physical energy goes straight into worry-power: very unproductive.

And what I am becoming very concerned about, without having the energy to study the topic in more scientifical detail, is what I put into my mouth.

I stopped drinking milk in the office as it is not organic, and am considering cutting on the Indian takeaway and the sushi place where, when I asked: "Is the soya GM?" they looked at me as if I was asking them to solve a differential equation... The problem seems humongous and I do not want to become a campaigning fanatic: I believe in balance and skepticism... but I also feel strongly about this. The science of genetics is so new, and yet we dare mess with genes that took thousands of year to arrange themselves as they are...

It is the idea of the "silent invasion" that irks me most: the lack of control, the idea that money means power and power results in someone else making decisions for me. That I have tiny power to influence. And that the techniques of persuasion are used on both sides to make their case more appealing, rather than debating the truth. The truth...

Musing on the idea of the pressure for innovation that comes from the need of big corporations to make money, new money with new products, useful or not, healthy or not.

My profession before gardening is knowledge management, and the theorists of KM have gone through a lot of talk about knowledge and wisdom, and more recently knowledge and innovation (to put some ROI behind the theory, I guess). Most assume that knowledge leads to innovation, but I will never forget a book by a Swedish KM guru (and an economist to boot): the most 'alternative' and 'environmentalist' of KM books "Treading lightly" by E. Sveiby. I had to reflect on this book more than usual, as I was writing a review. It did puzzle me, but the more I thought of the topic, I was fascinated. It seemed to imply that wisdom (seen as conserving) may be in conflict with innovation (seen as leap of change), although they are also linked in complex ways - the book analyses stories from an Australian aboriginal society and the supposedly underlying culture - knowledge is linked with wisdom more than innovation.

It does make some sense. Knowledge is based on your experience, it comes from trying and failing and succeeding, through your coming to terms with reality. It takes time to acquire. What about innovation? Although commonly defined as ideas that do work in practice, the world moves so fast from one innovation to the other, there is no time to reflect: what does actually work in practice? Are unwanted consequences considered? And there are a wealth of political and economical considerations connected to the furthering of innovation, that might influence the reflection...

Maybe I am getting old, but I start to think that life is going too fast, and unsustainably so. I wish there was time to stop and think more.

BTW I went back on Sveiby's website to have a look, and he seems to have written an article that is spookily relevant to my thoughts on the dark side of innovation (pro-innovation bias). Did not have time to read it yet myself, but it's printed, and in my bag.