bean tops


A thunderstorm passed through a few hours ago, you wouldn’t believe how dark it got in the kitchen about 6pm.

But now it’s the calm after the storm, there is a softness in the earth and bird song.

Sometimes walking in the garden I think I can see things growing, like the turnips and lettuce.
It’s all in my imagination *he said to make himself sound sane to anyone reading*  but it’s such a soft day now that you know the vegetables and herbs are soaking it all in, the rain and nutrients and whatever else makes things grow.

I pinched the tops off my broad beans, they books say to do this when they come into flower so that the energy goes into making the beans. It was as nice task because broad  beans smell lovely. A few books suggest to cook them if they aren’t over run with blackfly, which they weren’t so I made a risotto.

It looked better than it tasted truth be told, not because of the bean tops but because I haven’t yet mastered the art of making onions soft and transparent without letting them get brown. The crunchy onions ruined it for me, though it still tasted nice. It ruined it because I was kicking myself for not getting the oni0ns right. In my defence I was distracted by counting the time between flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder, calculating that the thunderstorm must be directly above Barna now or out in Galway Bay. It was also pitch black.
If you don’t cook much you’d be amazed how often the recipes tells you not to let  onions brown. It seems like a simple thing but my oven hobs are crazy and want to char anything that touches them, even at the lowest setting.

So there you go, pay attention to softening your onions and don’t throw out your broad bean tips.

we plough the fields and scatter

I have to admit to getting a bit annoyed when churches think that having a Harvest Thanksgiving Service is something from a bygone era that has no relevance to people today. (Not that I’ve heard of any church doing this, it’s maybe just in my imagination).

It especially irritates me when urban churches think like that because it seems to show a lack of awareness, thankfulness  or insight of where the food they had today in the town or city came from.
It doesn’t matter if you live in a bustling town without a cow in sight.  Somewhere on planet earth your food was planted. More than that, your future meal is either growing or being stored in a tiny seed for future growth for us to eat..
We are all dependent on the marvels of the soil and humus which if you are of a Christian persuasion God created just as much as he created you or me. Which has implications.

We usually sing the old harvest favourite

‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand’

Yet that isn’t quite true. I can see this from growing the few things that I got the time to plant this summer.

The soil here was tired, rocky and dry from bushes and shrubs that had grown the last 20yrs. So I had to take the bushes out, make a small bed and throw in some well rotted compost to try and improve the soil so that the lettuce and leeks would grow more healthily. In fact, one of the neighbourhood cats did his business beside a few leeks and they are noticeably larger than the other leeks.
Humans have to be custodians of the soil and sometimes add fertilizers, manure and other things if they want to keep on harvesting food from the land year after year. In one sense the soil is fed by humans as well. That is why gardeners keep compost heaps or try to get their hands on some well rotted manure.

Or during the heat wave the ground got scorched  dry and my lettuce started to bolt so I had to water the soil by going to the tap with my watering can and adding lots of water. Humans might have to irrigate and water their crop and plants, especially in areas of low rainfall.

So what I think about those lines in the hymn is that   they underplay the role that humans (all humans?) have in looking after creation in that we have a bigger role in the harvesting of our food than those lines suggest. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t all ultimately come from God, just that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to look after it.

I wonder if those line also have filtered down to how we understand how the climate works? It seems to be the attitude with a lot of Christians that we shouldn’t get our knickers in a twist about climate change because God is in charge of the weather patterns and sends the weather, not us.
Which might be be a problem as we think that what we do can’t effect what is going to happen with the weather patterns so we might as well do what we want.

I find the whole thing about climate change and scientists puzzling.
Obviously years ago scientists discovered that smoking or passive smoking is bad for your health, so people and the Government took that on board and outlawed smoking in public places etc. Yet not many people seem to go around being skeptical about what the scientists say there but when it comes to climate change nobody seems to want to trust the scientists.
When it comes to climate change nobody wants to take it seriously. So it is going to happen and that means that our harvests are going to become more unpredictable. For example f there are heatwaves in places that used to be reliable places to grow wheat then there is going to be less bread. If there is more wet weather in areas that used to have reliable rainfall then harvesting crops is going to be more expensive. And all that is going to happen as the population of planet earth continues to grow.

So I think that we have extra reason to be thankful for every harvest we have as well as repenting of not treating the world around us of respect.
It’s like that old chestnut that I used to get about having wear a suit to church as ‘If you wouldn’t wear jeans to meet the Queen, how much more important is it to wear respectful clothes in meeting with God?’

If you wouldn’t trash Buckingham Palace or wreck a van Gogh painting in an art gallery why would we treat the world God created with so little respect?

urban farming

I have been clearing out an old USB stick this morning and found a folder called urban farming with links to various things that at one time or other I’ve found interesting.

The Vegetable Gardeners of Havana


Urban Homestead

Fallen Fruit

Your Backyard Farmer

Window Farms

Urban Farming

Spin Farming

Guerrilla Gardening

Green Roof Growers

Making a self watering container


There are probably more important resolutions to make for ’12 (learn to drive, stop biting my nails, find a decent job etc etc)  but the one that sticks in my head is to grow large quantities of coriander (and larger quantities of parsley).  So many recipes seem to call for it, particularly curries and the like and there is always regret that I have none to hand or that I am being a charged a small fortune for it at the supermarket.

Another reason for trying to grow some at home is that it doesn’t keep well and turns  into a sloppy, slimy blackened mess at the back of the fridge before too long.

My final reason for growing coriander is that my brother-in-law, the Spanish seed salesman tells me that it is easy to grow. He laughed in fact at my inability to grow the stuff. So in order to restore pride to the canal ways household it is time to grow coriander.

alternative Castle Gardens, Lisburn (again)

I couldn’t contain myself yesterday and ended up dandering past Castle Gardens, Lisburn looking over the town (sorry, I mean city)and tried to imagine what it would look like with some poly-tunnels for a mini-farm over the various terraces. Above is a quick rough sketch of what I had in mind. I’m not sure it would work, but the terraces below the main part of the park seem to me to be nothing but grass and walls.

Here’s where my imagination sometimes takes me.
If you are going to let Tesco, Dobbies, Sainsbury, M&S and John Lewis build huge stores on the outskirts of town fine – but charge them an environmental tax. Maybe that is included in the rates they pay to the council already etc, but my thinking is that if people should have to pay parking fees for the centre of Lisburn to cut down on congestion in the town centre, why shouldn’t they also pay to use car parks round the Sprucefield site which is often congested?
Or else drop the parking charges in town centres so that its not one rule for the big boys and another for the small retailers.

With the money raised through the environmental tax put a roof over Market Square and turn it into a proper sheltered market, like St. George’s Market so that you can have a market with shelter from the Northern Irish weather. Make this space an independent area with fair rates, not crazy over-priced rates.
Also build a little farm on Castle Gardens, so that it can supply good healthy, organic food in the area (maybe a vegetable box scheme?) to places like the Island Centre, Lisburn College, the schools. Maybe the college could run courses in conjunction with the farm and kids from local schools could come up and learn about growing vegetables, keeping chickens or looking after our dwindling natural resources. You could have cookery classes and a small cafe/shop supplying Fairtrade, organic things. You would need farmers to grow things so it would give a few people work. They could sell the produce down at the market as well.