One of the many, many things that made us fall in love with our wee white hoose was the garden that surrounds it. It’s such a joy to be able to open the front door and be under the sky, a huge difference from the top floor tenements that we used to live in. As the months pass we’re continually discovering new things about the garden, and it’ll be interesting to see what flowers pop up as the year continues speeding on into summer. The beds that line the front of the house are currently full of daffodils, ready to burst into bloom at any minute.
Unfortunately since it stopped being too cold to work in the garden it’s rained almost constantly, and we haven’t done nearly as much as we’d planned to by this point in March (March! How the hell is it March already?!), like cutting down our ten foot high leylandii and trimming the rest of the trees, fixing the fence next to the garage and installing a new gate, clearing out the pond and pressure washing the surrounding rockery, rebuilding the barrier walls in the stepped garden at the side of the house… the list goes on. There’s a lot to do. The house had been on the market for eight months when we bought it and I don’t think the previous owners paid any attention to the garden in that time. Taken as a whole it’s a pretty overwhelming project, so we’re trying to break it down into manageable chunks. The first thing we’re concentrating on is getting our vegetable plot up and running, a major step towards our end goal of being as self sufficient as possible.
This will be the first bit of gardening I’ve done in about twelve years, since I had a herb garden on my front porch, and neither of us have tried to grow vegetables before. We’ve armed ourselves with as much knowledge as we can, via various books and copious internet reading, but beyond that we’re pretty much in the dark. We’re basically relying on trial and error, and a hefty dose of luck. It’ll be a steep learning curve.
Rather than traditional row planting we’re trying out square foot gardening, a super simple system in which a raised bed is divided into square feet with each square foot holding one type of crop. We’re starting small with a six by four bed, plus we’ll have three grow bags of potatoes and three pots of tomatoes. I’ve planned the bed using the companion planting method with our peas at the north end so the trellis they’ll eventually grow up doesn’t block the sun to the rest of the plants. If everything goes according to plan we should be harvesting peas, carrots, broccoli, onions, spring onions, leeks, garlic, parsnips, potatoes and tomatoes before Christmas.
Esme and I planted our indoor-starting seeds last week; broccoli, tomato, leek, and parsnip. The Ailsa Craig tomatoes we’re growing are super easy to germinate so I had expected them to pop up first, but when we saw our first signs of life in the windowsill propagator yesterday it was the broccoli that had sprouted. Hopefully the rest of them will follow suit in the next week or so and they’ll all be ready to go outside later this month.
I can’t wait to be able to just walk into the garden and gather veg for our tea, or indeed for baking. Carrot cake is a great favourite in our household, and despite not growing the carrots that I used to make this one it still tasted pretty amazing.
I was in a cafe last week where they charged nearly four pounds for a single slice of carrot cake! This whole cake should only cost you about a fiver to make, and it’s huge.
- 450g carrots
- 400g white sugar
- 75ml buttermilk
- 350ml vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 275g plain flour
- 150g wholemeal flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp salt
- 120g unsalted butter, divided into two and softened
- 225g cream cheese
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 300g icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line the bottom of two 9″ round springform cake tins with greaseproof paper.
- Grate the carrots (a food processor makes really quick work of this) and add them to a large bowl with the white sugar, buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Mix until just combined.
- In a separate bowl stir together the plain and wholemeal flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, mixed spice and salt. Combine the dry mix with the wet mix in the large bowl and mix well until fully combined.
- Split the batter evenly between the cake tins and bake in the centre of the oven for thirty five minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Run a knife around the edge of the cake to separate it from the tin before opening the springform clasp. Leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack and remove the greaseproof paper bases.
- Melt half the butter in a pan over medium heat. Gently swirl it around in the pan until it turns a deep brown. Decant the browned butter into a bowl to cool.
- Cream together the remaining softened butter, cream cheese and vanilla extract. Slowly pour in the browned butter and mix until fully combined.
- Gradually add the icing sugar and beat until fully combined. Chill until needed.
- To assemble, place one of the cakes on a plate and add a layer of icing, levelling out at about half an inch thick. Place the second cake on top and level if necessary. Crumb coat the cake and place it in the freezer for fifteen minutes to harden. Cover the cake with the remaining icing and smooth out using a palette knife. Refrigerate the cake until half an hour before serving.