When lockdown first kicked in, Hari Berrow pottered out into the great British institution that is the allotment, along with family and friends, to get her fingers a bit greener. But while sustainable food growing still isn’t a walk in the park, the rewards can be deliciously satisfying – and she’s gifted us a recipe to demonstrate…
Since 2020, my mother, my partner, my best friend, and I have been growing our own food. My mother shared two allotments with my next-door neighbour, but after his sudden death in the early part of the first lockdown, I decided she wasn’t up to the challenge and bullied the boys into getting involved. I had done some seeding before; I had helped Mam do some pruning. I had no idea of the challenge we were about to take on and the passion for nature and ecology that it would instil in me.
Over the last three years, the allotments have changed a lot. We’ve put down raised beds, taken raised beds up, and grown more different types of radishes than I can count. We’ve taken on another plot and gained an extra member of our allotment team: that’s four families to feed and counting. One of the things that has become a particular preoccupation of mine is how to garden to feed ourselves (one day I would like to achieve self-sufficiency) while also serving the wildlife around us.
“Bug hotels,” you might say. Okay, well, yes, bug hotels. But do you mean bee hotels, ladybird hotels, or lacewing hotels, because they all need different things? Those big bug hotels might look nice, but they can spread disease and bring predators and prey together. Okay, lots of little bug hotels then, with logs with holes for bees, lots of sticks for the lacewings, and pine cones raised off the ground for the ladybirds.
“Grow organic,” you might say. But then everything gets eaten – which is nice for the animals but not so nice for us. My pak choi is full of holes. We can’t put neem oil on the plants because it harms bees that rest on them. We shouldn’t get rid of all the aphids because the ladybirds and other beneficial predators eat them. Spraying isn’t an option, but neither is doing nothing. How about companion planting? That way, you can plant things that the bugs like to eat next to the things you want to eat yourself, and they’ll be distracted by the feast you make for them.
If you plant basil next to tomatoes, it apparently improves their flavour. If you grow nitrogen-producing plants like peas and broad beans next to nitrogen-loving plants like sweetcorn and spinach, the plants can help each other grow. If you have a polyculture (to get technical about it), the bacterial and fungal networks in your soil will improve, and your plants will grow better. But having everything everywhere is a bit messy and hard to manage, so let’s do potager beds where little rows grow close to one another.
I don’t write any of this to put you off. A small effort towards sustainability is better than none. Even if you can get a bird feeder and use soap and water to wash pests off rather than spraying them, that’s a start. Growing ecologically has been one of the most rewarding challenges I’ve ever undertaken, and I’m not even good at it yet…
Hari’s allotment-inspired recipe: Gardener’s Ramen
This is the perfect fast and easy meal for after you’ve been out on the plot. You can swap out one of the parsnips for a carrot (I didn’t because I had a giant parsnip from the garden that needed using up), and if you don’t know anywhere to forage wild garlic, you can always just use normal garlic. This amount is enough for three servings, and the broth keeps well in the freezer.
Prep time: 5-10 minutes. Cook time: approx. 20 minutes
- 1.5 litres of stock
- 2-3 parsnips
- 1-2 onions
- A handful of wild garlic
- 2 teaspoons of dried parsley
- 1 dried noodle nest per person
- 2 teaspoons of soy sauce (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar (optional)
- Spring onion for garnish
- Chop the parsnips and onions into cubes. Loosely shred the wild garlic.
- In a soup pan, fry the parsnips until they begin to soften and brown. Then add the onions and do the same. Once both are soft, add the wild garlic and fry for a minute or so until wilted.
- Add the stock. Once it starts to boil, throw in the dried parsley and then reduce the heat.
- Simmer for 15-17 minutes.
- After this time, put the dried noodle nests in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave them in there for three minutes and use a fork or chopsticks to separate them as they soften.
- Optional – if you want to add a little more salt or umami to the broth, add the soy sauce. I recommend adding sugar to balance the saltiness. Adjust the amounts to your taste preference.
- Drain the noodles and put them in a soup or pasta bowl. Ladle the broth over the top.
- Garnish with chopped spring onion and serve hot.
words HARI BERROW
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