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How to grow garlic

When the weather is grey outside there’s no better time to be thinking about delicious summery garlic. In this How To guide I show that it’s possible to sow a crop of garlic indoors or in pots (if the soil is waterlogged) and provide tips for growing outdoors….

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Peat-free compost myths - busted!

Peatlands take thousands of years to form, locking in carbon and providing valuable wildlife habitats  – so choosing peat-free compost over peat can be one of the easiest but biggest impact actions you can take to benefit the climate. So let’s shatter some myths…

Myth 1: “Peat-free compost is hard to get hold of”


Peat-free is becoming much more widely available – but don’t settle for poor quality, cheap knock-offs. If we don’t demand good-quality peat-free, garden centres and shops won’t stock it. You can buy peat-free direct from Melcourt, who produce Slyva Grow, DaleFoot Composts and Fertile Fibre – and tell your garden centre or supermarket you want to see these composts on its shelves too. Also look out for the ‘hidden peat’ in pot plants – and demand the horticultural industry start to use peat-free.

Myth 2: “Peat-free compost is too expensive”


Peat-free compost is good-quality compost that takes time to make – and we should be paying more for it. A lot of expertise goes into a bag of peat-free, whereas a lot of climate-damaging air miles and habitat-destroying ingredients go into a bag of peat. What would you prefer to pay for? If you club together with friends, neighbours or a garden and allotment group, you can buy in bulk from many suppliers – cutting the cost of shop-bought bags and benefiting from bigger discounts.

Myth 3: “Peat-free is not as good as peat compost”


This is not true. Dozens of trials have been running across the country, which show peat-free performs as well as peat – and sometimes better. The National Trust are using it across its estate, many award-winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show medal winners swear by it, and Monty Don loves it! Ensure you choose a good-quality peat-free over the ‘pile-them-high’ cheap bags, which are dusty and nutrient poor – and experiment with different types until you find one that suits you, your garden and your conditions. For peat’s sake – it’s as simple as that!


Want to take the peat-free pledge? Join in with the new Peat Free April campaign on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, which is calling on the public to go peat-free in 2020.

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How to use up pumpkin leftovers

Don’t dump your lantern leftovers this Halloween – try these creative ways to use up everything in this week’s pumpkin carving fiesta

Grab your pumpkins and get carving this Halloween!

1. Puree for cakes and bakes. Chop the flesh into tiny pieces and roast for 40 minutes drizzled in a little oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Stir into savoury pancakes, breads and cakes and even hummus – or try in a smoothie mixed with banana and coconut milk.

Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes

2. Roast the seeds. Wash the gunk off the seeds and boil, then simmer, in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and dry and spread onto a baking sheet and drizzle with oil and a little salt and roast for 5 minutes at 180C. Remove and stir about and toast again for 5 minutes, until golden. Take them out and check they’re done – the outer shell should be crispy but easy to bite through. Experiment with flavourings such as paprika, fennel, chilli or cinnamon.

You can roast seeds and create stocks and soups from the flesh

3. Create a stock. Nobody wants to eat the gooey pulp from the middle of the pumpkin, but you can still make the most of its flavour and vitamins by boiling it up in a stock alongside onions, celery, garlic, ginger, vegetable stock and salt and pepper.


4. Skin it. Peel the skin off the pumpkin in long thin slices and sprinkle with salt, leaving it for 10 minutes to absorb. Toss in 2tsp sesame oil and bake for 30 minutes in a hot oven and use the skinny crisps as dippers.

Pumpkins are great for facemasks – not just the ghoulish ones!

5. Make a facemask! Pumpkins are not just good for our insides; they’re great for our outside too. Packed with Vitamin A, C, E and zinc, a pumpkin puree mixed into a thick paste with honey, olive oil and a splash of almond milk can nourish dry skin.


6. Grow a new one! Scoop the seeds into a jar and cover with water. Stir and store your mixture in a warm room until white bubbles appear on the surface and then rinse thoroughly several times through a sieve and dry out on a tray. Store for up to a year in a envelope in a cool, dry place.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for Halloween pumpkins. Message me @allotmentalice on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.

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Three 'snip and scoff' veg
to sow in autumn

Sow some tasty cut-and-come-again salads and quick-growing shoots in containers to see you through the autumn

Salad leaves, pea shoots, coriander, chard and more will grow happily in containers outdoors right through September and October – and, if the weather stays mild, into November

Salad leaves

Cut-and-come-again salads are a cinch to grow – and coming in lots of different shapes, sizes, colours and flavours, a homegrown crop is sure to impress dinner guests (or a fussy child in a lunchtime sandwich)!


At this time of year, you can grow things like wild rocket, spicy mustards, baby pak choi, Chinese mustard, crimson veined Kale, American land cress and mizuna (which could see you into the winter as it copes with temperatures as low as -15°C). 


Take a pinch and broadcast thinly over moist peat-free compost in your container, covering with 1cm of soil – no more! In a few weeks you can snip the top leaves and let the baby leaves go for a second flush. As one tray or container of leaves shoots up, sow another one so you can get continuous crops. Make them portable and you can take them under cover when the weather turns colder.

Cut-and-come-again salads can be given a haircut several times for fresh pickings during autumn

Pea shoots 

Lots of seed companies sell chunky pea seeds in glossy packets, but you can save cash by buying dried peas from the supermarket or health food store and soaking them for 24 hours before sowing.


They can be sown into trays or pots, covered with a little soil, and cut after three weeks. Harvest the first three or four true leaves – these are the leaves that look like pea leaves, rather than the seed leaves.


They are utterly delicious, intensely pea flavoured and, because they’re picked fresh, are packed with vitamins. The question is, will you get yours back to the kitchen or snaffle them on the way up the garden path?

Pea shoots have all the flavour of a pea and bags of vitamins too 

Garlic leaves

Another fun crop is garlic – grown at this time of year for its leaves rather than scapes or bulbs.


These are a great alternative to chives, stirred into scrambled egg, with a mild garlicky hit. It’s a good way to use up old shop-bought cloves, which are no good for growing into full bulbs. 


Simply pop into pots of peat-free compost so just the tip is showing and grow on. Keep cutting the tips until you exhaust the clove.

Garlic tips are more leafy than scapes but have a lovely mild garlic flavour for snipping into salads, eggs or pesto

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas for September crops you love to grow. Message me @allotmentalice on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.

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How to Bust Your Gluts!

Whether you’ve grown too much fruit and veg (or bought too much at the supermarket), here’s some nifty ways to use up your surplus crops…

“Maybe we’ve grown too many courgettes this year, mummy?”

There’s always a moment in spring, when us gardeners sow or plant too much. The courgettes or runner bean seedlings haven’t done quite as well as we thought, so we’ll sow another batch ‘just in case’ – and maybe another one just for luck. Before you know it, by August there’s dozens of courgettes-come-marrows and giant beans all ready to harvest at the same time. Here, I asked gardeners, chefs, cooks and food bloggers to spill their gluts on their favourite recipes and ideas.


1. Pickle it

Onions, beetroot, cauliflower and courgettes all lend themselves to pickling. All you need is sterilized jars and a vinegar-based pickling brine to dunk them into. “For many years I would groan at the news that we were having runner beans for supper – that is until I tried them pickled,” says cook and food writer Alexandra Dudley. “It was a completely new experience – tangy and flavourful with all the stringiness gone – and absolutely delicious! 


“Simply blanch 500g runner beans (chopped into 2cm lengths) for 2-3 minutes before plunging them into ice cold water to retain their crunch, and drain on a tea towel. Place 1 finely chopped chilli, 1tsp sugar, 1tsp black peppercorns, 1/2tsp coriander and 1/2tsp fennel seed, a pinch of chilli flakes, 2 bay leaves and 1tsp salt into 200ml water into a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Place the beans lengthways into your jar and pack tightly. Pour over the brine so the beans are covered but the brine is 5mm below the rim. Seal and leave to marinade for two weeks before enjoying.

Green beans harvests often come all at once even with the best intentions

2. Share it

Sign up the Olio app, and you could divide you surplus harvests among local people or charities looking for some homegrown flavour. Or, why not develop a ‘glut hut’ at your local allotment or school where spare produce can be picked up for free.

Could your shed become a Glut Hut?

3. Ferment it

“Cabbage is often overlooked and under appreciated but it’s actually super versatile, cost effective and delicious – and the base for my favourite ferment,” says Niki Webster, founder of vegan recipe blog Rebel Recipes. “Wash and slice 1 cabbage into small pieces and massage 1tsp salt into it, to soften. Make a kimchi paste by adding the following to a food processor and blitzing: ½ chopped red pepper, 1tbsp minced ginger, 3 cloves garlic, 1 sliced spring onion, 1-2tsp chilli flakes, 1tsp smoked paprika, 2tsp maple syrup, 1tsp sea salt and 1tsp miso paste.


“Mix into the cabbage and firmly pack into a sterilised jar. Add any brine from the mixing bowl and make sure the cabbage is completely submerged, allowing for a couple of inches at the top of the jar. Secure with a lid and store away from sunlight for 2-3 days. Remove the lid once a day to allow gasses to be released. Ensure the cabbage is always covered (you can add a little water). Ferment for at least 4-5 days. The taste gets stronger so keep testing it until you like the flavour. It can be so stored in the fridge for a few months.”


4. Dip it

Blitz veg with cheese, nuts and oil and you can turn it into hummus. Chef Christopher Trotter, author of a series of glut-busting cookery books Beetroot, Courgette, Kale, Carrot and Cauliflower, says he likes to use courgettes in dips.


“Blitz 20g dried apricots with 7tbsp rapeseed oil and 2tbsp lemon juice in a food processor for 2 minutes,” he says. “Add 1 large courgette, 1 clove garlic, a pinch of sea salt, ground black pepper to taste, 1tsp pomegranate molasses and 1tsp cumin and blend until smooth.”

Courgettes can be added to cakes chutneys and dips, or even spiralised to make pasta

5. Blend it

Space-saving soups are a great way to blitz lots of veg in one go, and they can be stored for long periods. Kitchen gardener Kathy Slack, food blogger at Gluts and Gluttony, and host of seasonal supper clubs and cookery classes in the Cotswolds, says a glut makes her more inventive.


“I love growing veg because seeing something grow from nothing is magical – but mainly, I love it because I’m greedy and it means I’m never short of something to cook!” she says Kathy. “I make ‘tomato water’ as a starter or pre-dinner snack – and best of all, it uses around 600g of cherry tomatoes, or halved larger varieties. Put them in a food processor and pulse until you have a lumpy mush, then line a fine sieve with a clean muslin cloth and set it over a large bowl. Very gently, pour the mixture into the sieve. Leave to drip slowly through for a few hours. (If you go too quickly, the juice underneath will go cloudy).


“Pour over ice into glasses and serve immediately, or serve warm with a few ravioli or tortellini floating it. You can also put it in the freezer, roughing it up with a fork every 45 mins as it freezes to create a delicious tomato granita.”

Tomatoes are fantastic in a summery gazpacho 

And if you’ve ever had the misfortune of collecting a punnet of raspberries at the allotment, only to find them mushed up once you get home – this Raspberry Bellini from Alexandra Dudley is for you!


“Make a puree by placing 200g raspberries in a small saucepan with 1tbsp caster sugar and a splash of water, and simmer until broken down,” she says. “Run the cooked raspberries through a sieve into a bowl, discarding the seeds and chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Place 1tbsp of the raspberry puree in the bottom of a tall glass and top with Champagne or sparkling wine. Finish with a frozen raspberry.”

Chard stems can become thick and chewy as they grow larger – but farmer and ex-chef Ross Geach has the answer

6. Think outside the veg box…


Chard can easily produce thick stems or go to seed over the summer – but sixth generation farmer and former Stein’s head-chef Ross Geach has come up with an inventive way to use it. “Rhubchard! This recipe started off as a joke between me and Jack Stein, but I promised him it would work!” says Geach from Padstow Kitchen Garden in Cornwall. “You think you are eating rhubarb but there isn’t that tart flavour, instead it’s slightly more earthy.


“Place 750g of chopped chard stalks into a medium-sized saucepan with the zest and juice of 1 large orange, 100g caster sugar, 2tbsp water and 2 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes until the chard is soft and cooked but still holds its shape. Add a handful of sweet garden herbs such as mint or lemon verbena and stir. I’ve served this with a lemon verbena possett, yoghurt and ice-cream. Use more liquor and store it in Kilner jars as a preserve.”


Can you beat this? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Message me @allotmentalice on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

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Five tips for using edible flowers

Edible flowers are pretty and pratical – here’s how to get the best out of them…

Flowers such as pansies can pep up your summer salads

Tip one: Pick your petals before the sunshine dries them out. Early morning is when the perfume and all the essential oils are at their peak.


Tip two: Put your foraged flowers in a sealable container as soon as you harvest them and chill in the fridge for up to two days. 

Store flowers heads such as borage (above), in a sealed container in the fridge to keep them fresh

Tip three: Ditch the stems and stamens of your flowers as these can have a stringy texture. The petals are the tastiest parts.

Borage buds can also be frozen into ice cubes for use in mocktails and cocktails

Tip four: Borage is great in cocktails, thanks to its delicate cucumber tang – and is often used in Pimms. But you can also make it into a syrup for mixing and muddling. Over a medium heat in a small saucepan, disolve 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water and slowly bring to a boil. Add a handful of borage flowers and leaves and stir. Reduce the heat and simmer for around 15-20 minutes, then take the pan off the heat and steap for a few hours. Strain through a fine seive and pour into bottles. It should keep for up to two weeks.

Tip five: Some flowers such as pansies and violas are beautiful crystallised and will keep for longer this way. Crack an egg white into a bowl and use a small paint brush to coat the flower head. Sift a fine layer of caster sugar on top and leave to dry, face down, on greaseproof paper for 24 hours. 

Cornflower petals add a confetti of colour to salads

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Grow your own pesto greens

Think outside the basil box when it comes to pesto and grow and make your own from other garden greens…

The gorgeous colour of homemade pesto made with homegrown greens

Why get in a basil rut? The word pesto is actually a generic term – coming from the word pestâ or pestare, which means ‘to pound’ or crush’. It does not refer to the greens at all. So in many parts of the Mediterranean, you’ll find parsley pesto with capers or pesto made with garlic scapes (great served with eggs). There’s pesto ‘rosso’ made with sun dried tomatoes too and in Germany, Grüne Sosse. This is a kind of salsa verde made with herbs such as sorrel, chervil, or even borage, with sour cream and vinegar.

Homemade pestos blended with rocket and pistachio, basil and almond and chard and walnut

While there’s still debate on the right quantities of garlic, salt and cheese needed for pesto. And whether it should be smooth or speckled with green. Or for that matter, what kind of nuts to use. The main ingredient can be freely tweaked depending on what’s to hand in the vegetable patch.

Basil can be hard to grow in our unpredictable British climate

Spoon it into spaghetti. Mash it with potato. Spread it on a pizza base. However you use yours, here’s five ways to pep up your pesto…


1. Radish Leaf & Almond

Not just good for roots, radishes can be used for their young leaves too. Sow regularly until the end of August, 1cm deep, and they’ll germinate in as little as four days. Grab two good handfuls and remove the stems, placing them in a food processor with 2oz hard cheese, 2oz almonds, 1 clove garlic and the juice and zest of half a lemon. Add 2tbsp oil, or more depending on the consistency you like, and season with salt and pepper.

Think outside the box and throw radish leaves into the mix

2. Chervil & Pine Nuts

Sow March to August in 1cm deep rows or in pots. (Remove the flower heads or it will self-seed everywhere!) This tangy pesto is perfect mixed with goat’s cheese for a dip. Combine 2 handfuls of chervil with the same ratio of cheese, garlic, lemon juice and oil as above, and add 2oz of pine nuts.


3. Coriander & Pumpkin Seed

Sow thinly in pots or trays from June to September. (Sow in autumn and you can pick sparingly over winter.) Fabulous with roasted squash fresh off the barbecue, this Mexican-style pesto combines 2 good handfuls of coriander leaves with 1oz toasted pumpkin seeds, 2tbsp lime juice, 2oz hard cheese, 1 clove garlic and olive oil. Season to taste with lots of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.


4. Broccoli & Walnut

Sow in spring indoors in pots, then transplant outdoors once all frost has passed – planting so the baby leaves are flush with the soil. Give them a bit of elbow room – around 30cm between plants and harvest from summer through autumn depending on the variety. Boil one head of broccoli florets for 5 minutes and add to a blender with the same ratios of cheese, garlic, lemon juice and oil in Recipe 1, adding 2oz walnuts at the end. Season with salt and pepper to taste and blitz to a smooth or chunky paste, depending on how you like it! Stir this mean-green pesto through beans, rice or pasta.  


Nasturtium leaves make a peppery pesto – and you can use the flowers in salads and pickle the seeds like capers

5. Pea shoot and cashew

Sow pea seeds into a seed tray filled with soil (you can even used the dried ones sold in supermarkets). Water and place somewhere warm and bright. Snip the heads as they reach 2cm high – and keep sowing for tasty shoots all summer. Blitz three good handfuls of shoots with 50g cashew nuts and 3tbsp olive oil – and add cheese and seasoning as above. 

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How to root herbs in water

Popped into pasta, snipped into salads and infused in teas, herbs are one of the kitchen garden’s most versatile plants. Here, I show you how  to grow them from cuttings…

If seeds are a step too far and plants too expensive, then ask a friend or neighbour for a herb cutting. You could even use culinary herb plants from the supermarket. 

To get started, cut a length of stem about 4-6 inches long, just below a leaf joint. Cut on a slant and use clean scissors. You want to give your little cuttings the best start. Take off the lower leaves and pop your snippet in a vase of water. Now go and make a cup of tea…

Ensure you change the water every few days to avoid bacteria build-up. In a week or two you should see small white roots creeping out of the bottom of the stem. Once these get to 1-2 inches long, plant into a small pot. Your herb will also grow happily in water, but you’ll need to top up with fresh water regularly.

Rooting in water works best with soft-stemmed herbs such as basil, lemon balm and mint. You can use woody herbs such as rosemary and sage too. Just make sure you cut from the lush, green new growth not the brown, older stems. Happy herb growing!