In a pumpkin pickle

The whole world is carving pumpkins – or so it seems. Nothing wrong with that , except the staggering amount of pumpkin pulp that ends up in landfill every year. That makes me sad when there is absolutely NO NEED for it. So how do we deal with this little pickle?

Teach your children to be responsible. At the very least pop your pulp on the compost heap. If you don’t have one, start one. You’ll find plenty if advice here.

Just one postscript to the ideas above – if you’re leaving it as a snack for squirrels or birds, pop it off the ground. Hedgehogs will suffer if they munch on it. And if you’re lucky enough to have a hedgehog visit your garden, you’ll want to look after him or her.

We usually make pumpkin soup with plenty of ginger and chilli to cut through the gloopiness of the pumpkin. A warming treat on a dreary day and uber-freezable too. Recipe below.

You’ll need
1 tablespoon olive oil, 50g butter a small pumpkin, peeled, de-seeded and diced, 2 onions, diced, 3 cloves garlic, crushed, 1 red chilli, finely chopped, a thumb-sized piece root ginger, grated, 900ml vegetable stock, 50g coconut cream, pinch coriander leaves to garnish.

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a pan, then over a medium heat sweat the pumpkin, onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the chilli and ginger, then cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add the hot stock, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the butternut squash is soft.
  4. Blend in batches until smooth.
  5. Reheat gently before adding the coconut cream. Season to taste and serve garnished with a few coriander leaves.


The Turning of the Year


The year turns in September for me and not in January. It’s rooted in my agricultural genes and reinforced by my career choice. Little has changed since yesterday in the garden. The signs of life – snowdrops, crocus and narcissus poking through, buds bursting forth on the Daphne by the front door, herbs, kale and leeks to harvest were there yesterday. And yet, there has been a turning of sorts today.

January 1st is the day when I turn the compost – unless, like last year it is raining hard. In fact half of it was ready to use to mulch the beds. So I did. Now that I have no allotment I’m thinking of investing in a double compost bin. One ‘cooking’ and one ready to use. We certainly generate enough garden waste and there’s something inherently satisfying about turning waste into a thing of beauty and purpose.

Contrary to popular belief there is nothing remotely difficult about making compost. Here are my five top tips to get you started if you haven’t already joined the green army.

  1. Don’t include cooked food.
  2. Include a mix of greens (annual weeds, grass cuttings, soft pruning, veg peelings, dead flowers) and browns (shredded paper, cardboard, egg shells)
  3. Don’t pack it down too tightly.
  4. Chop everything up as small as you can to speed up the process.
  5. Cover your compost to prevent it getting too wet and keep in the heat.

There are all sorts of other tips and tricks, umpteen types of compost bin, toubleshooting techniques and tools but if you start with my top five tips, you won’t go far wrong and it will save you a fortune in bought bags of compost.

A few hours in the garden today was time well spent. A female blackbird has moved in over Christmas; next door’s cat has stopped using our plot as a toilet (perhaps she’s in the cattery?) and most of the autumn leaves have been bagged up and stashed round the back of the shed to make leaf mould.

All’s right with the world….. until I have to do battle with my feline nemesis.

A Recycled Christmas


I know of people who take down their decorations on Boxing Day. I am not one of that breed. But there is an urge post-Christmas to use up leftovers, fill the latest bag for the charity shop and work out which day the bins are going to be collected.

We haven’t generated too much rubbish this year – experiences have featured highly rather than ‘stuff’, the young men of the house have large appetites, the Christmas tree is already booked in to be collected for chipping in January in aid of the local hospice and we have no sparkly wrapping paper, having decided to wrap our gifts in brown paper, string or ribbon, cinammon sticks, dried orange slices and greenery from the garden. All of this can either be reused, composted or will light and fragrance our log fire.

It’s good to start the new year without rubbish and clutter even though our decs will remain up until Twelfth Night.

Tulips, books about compost and the start of Summer.


It’s May Day. How did that happen? I’ll tell you how. In between all those trips to the hospital with the member of the family with the smashed elbow and the frenzy of mothering, writing, teaching and allotmenteering which is my life, the blossom unfurled, tulips blossomed and slugs munched happily on new shoots. I admit to being a little out of kilter when it comes to seasonal preparations this year as a result. My seed sowing was late; the Simnel cake got its marzipan covering on Easter Monday five minutes before tea and a flurry of family birthdays were handled with military precision at the last minute rather than in my usual, relaxed way. And now it’s the start of Summer – at least if you’re a Celt.

Beltane, May Day, Calan Haf – whatever your take on this time of year, know that my ancestors and probably yours were bedecking themselves with flowers and ribbons, dancing round the Maypole and driving their cattle out to Summer pasture through the smoke of bonfires lit to bring health and fertility to their crops and livestock in the coming year. In this house we are celebrating with a working oven which should bring health to the cook in the household as the stress of living in an episode of Butterflies was all too much.

Talking of stress, I can’t recommend enough growing tulips as a crop in trenches as opposed to spending hours placing them in groups in your border, only to see them open, flop and look messy in the blink of an eye. It took me half an hour to plant loads on the allotment. They looked a picture and I have brought bucket loads home to place in vases round the house and to give to friends. We picked up a couple of bags for next to nothing at the Sarah Raven sale and popped them in a trench bed at school (as you see above) and have sold them to parents on our Friday afternoon flower stall. I’ll never plant a tulip any other way again.

My second stress buster has been turning the compost. I’m evangelical about compost as you know and was delighted to find out recently that another Wiltshire resident is equally committed to getting the compost message out to the next generation of gardeners. Ben Raskin is Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association. He’s written a great family friendly book about making great compost. Kids will love the format and parents will find the information useful. If it doesn’t have you getting out your hammer and knocking a bin up from old pallets, nothing will. Ben was kind enough to talk to me about the background to the book and his own experience of gardening as a child and as a father of two. You can read the interview in full here.

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