Well, exciting news. Richard was checking over the tomatoes this morning and spotted the first ear to emerge. If you look very closely you might spot that the one next to it is about to do the same (this will only work if you squint at it a lot as it is mostly covered by a leaf).
It’s been 8 weeks today since I planted my April Bearded wheat seeds in a 3mx2m plot next to VPK HQ. This is what the plot looks like today:
There has been a lot of growth in four weeks. The last four weeks has also brought torrential rain storms and long dry patches. There has been some lodging of the crop (when it falls over) as a result of the heavy rain, but it has recovered surprisingly well.
There are no signs of wheat heads emerging yet but I hope in the next week or so they will emerge so that they have time to ripen over the summer. This morning’s forecast on the telly was for warm weather for the next few weeks so fingers crossed this helps. We are watering the wheat when it needs it but being careful not to overwater. I have, of course, not kept on top of the weeds and there is a lot of chickweed growing through the wheat and I can’t bear to pull up a self-seeded poppy so they are growing in amongst the patch too.
There is a little bit of yellowing on some of the leaves. I am not sure whether this is due to a lack of nitrogen or because I didn’t plant the seeds deep enough in the first place. I am hoping it is nothing more sinister than that. If anyone has any suggestions as to what this yellowing might be due to I would be very grateful.
All in all, so far so good. There hasn’t been any major disasters yet. The dog is staying away; the rain hasn’t caused too much lasting damage. We have a long way to go to get a crop yet so please keep your fingers and your toes crossed for me.
I’ll let you know when the wheat heads emerge. I am looking forward to seeing their hairy frothiness, (at least that is what I am expecting from a wheat called April Bearded).
So it’s Day 27 of the wheat project. It is shooting up and is tillering. I wondered if it would tiller as a spring wheat and it seems it will. Tillering is when more than one shoot comes from the base of the plant (I have googled it!) and is all to do with the plant having sufficient space and light to produce more shoots. If it is grown in a tight space and is shaded by other plants it will put its efforts into growing up rather than out. I am giving it a light water each day as it has been a while since it rained here in Shropshire. But really nothing more than that. I let the chickens out today whilst I cleaned them out and they were showing far too much interest in it for my liking. They were put away again as soon as cleaning had finished.
The wheat has come up! I was nervous for a while that it wasn’t going to do anything. I was like a mother hen checking for her babies. Each time I passed the garden, which is a fair amount of times a day, I would inspect for signs of growth. Nothing. Then on Wednesday of last week I could see the first tiny shoots. Then on Thursday it looked like this:
How exciting! Then on Sunday:
(I can see from this photo that there is a rogue borage seedling in there. I will be tackling that later. If I don’t get it quick I start to feel bad about uprooting it as the bees love it so much. I must be ruthless! )
Once the wheat starts you can almost hear and watch it growing. Here it is this morning:
I am a complete amateur so I have no idea how healthy this patch looks with an experienced eye. I wonder if by broadcasting the seed I have grown them too closely together? Will the wheat tiller* if it is spring grown? Or is tillering a feature of winter wheat only? Is it too close for tillering?
I am just very happy to see it come up and grow, especially as whilst the Collie Disruption Mechanism (the poles and string) are working and stopping the dog from digging it isn’t stopping the cats from enjoying the occasional roll on the cool soil or indeed having a scratch about.
*tillering in wheat is when it grows more side shoots (I have seen it mentioned by wheat experts on twitter and I have googled it. Thanks must go to Mark Lea @GreenAcres_Farm and Edward Dickin @naked_barley from whom I am learning vicariously via the magic of Twitter).
I have had the Veg Patch Loaf Project in my mind for the last year or so. The idea is that I will plant wheat in our veg patch next to our bread kitchen. This wheat will grow, (unfettered by bad weather, pest, disease or squirrel) and at the end of this year I will bake a loaf from home-grown wheat.
Well, I have finally managed to plant my wheat seeds today. I had hoped to plant some winter wheat seeds in the autumn last year, but with life being busy I didn’t get round to it somehow. I thought that perhaps I had missed the boat. Then, I was reading the latest copy of True Loaf magazine from The Real Bread Campaign and an article reminded me of The Brockwell Bake Association and their project to encourage allotmenteers, schools and community projects to grow heritage wheat. I visited their website and was very pleased to find that I could still order some spring wheat seeds from them. I know that I am far behind most farmers and growers but this is my first time attempting to grow wheat so even though I am really hoping I will get a small crop my expectations for success are fairly low. I am just going to give it a go and see what happens.
Brockwell Bake Association sent me 40g of April Bearded seed.
Here is the planted plot and how it looks today:
The plot is roughly 3m x 2m with a path through the middle so I can get in and weed. I broadcast the seeds randomly, raked them in and then used a large piece of cardboard (a Shipton Mill delivery box as it happens) laid on the soil to tread the seed in. The canes and string are there as a collie disruption mechanism, in other words to stop our collie, Rascal, from digging up my seeds. For some reason his favourite game is to dig large holes in this particular patch.
I am an erratic gardener. I try my best every year to be better than the last. We always have a degree of success and a fair few meals from our garden every summer and autumn, but my gardening leaves a fair amount to be desired. Inevitably the weeds get the better of me. I hate pulling up self-seeded borage, nasturtiums and poppies because the bees and other pollinators love them so much. As a result our veg tends to be a little drowned out by these. Only the very strong wins through. I am going to try my hardest to be a diligent weeder of the wheat patch and I am hoping that the squirrels and pigeons give me a break when it comes to harvest time (if the crop survives that long). I will report the progress of the Veg Patch Loaf throughout the season. I very much hope I will be able to post a loaf that uses at least a bit of the wheat later in the year. Watch this space.
Just a very quick note in amongst the madness of Christmas Eve to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2018. I hope you have a year filled with happiness and, of course, real, delicious bread.
The photo above shows the dining table in Veg Patch Kitchen piled with some of the things I love about my job. The list of things I love about this job is long… and includes at the very top these things:
I love meeting new people
I love talking with (and at) people
I love teaching people that it is easy to make bread at home and then hearing from them, that yes it is and that they too are now addicted to making bread
I love feeding people
But as well as these things, teaching people to make bread making feeds my obsessions with reading and research. The books on the table are only a selection of my bread library – I have to keep buying bookshelves. I have always loved research, the finding out of new things and trying to know everything that there is to know about a subject. Bread making, whilst it is something that is easy to do at home once you have a grasp of the basics, is also something that you never stop learning about. You will always have something new happen to your loaf, you will (occasionally) continue to have disasters in the form of frisbee loaves (they will still taste good though).
My biggest investment in book form was the Raymond Calvel, The Taste of Bread. This is regarded as one of the definitive books on French bread. But, I have to say that if you have read some of the other books on the table (Hamelman and Reinhart, for example) you will already have a firm grasp of Calvel’s theories of bread making and the importance of autolyse (resting time after mixing so that the flour can fully absorb the water) for a good loaf.
There are a couple of books not in this photo that are worth a mention for their influence on my bread making. This journey towards setting up Veg Patch Kitchen would not have happened without Daniel Stevens’ River Cottage Handbook on Bread. This book with its easy to follow recipes that always work were the inspiration I needed when I was making bricks of bread. James Morton’s Brilliant Bread is another book that I would recommend for those starting out on their bread journey for its interesting recipes that always work.
But if you want to start with sourdough then have a read of Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. These will both guide you through the fundamentals to make a good sourdough loaf.
In amongst the books in the photo above is my Komo grain mill and this item is something that is driving me to do more theoretical and practical research. Using freshly milled grain is different to using flour that was milled several weeks before. The flavour is more pronounced, there has been no time for degradation of the nutrients and, more importantly it mixes differently, it feels different and it responds to fermentation differently. It makes wonderful bread. I am loving the experiments with it and showing the difference between freshly milled flour and bagged flour to my students.
For as long as I remember I have relaxed by reading recipe books. When I was a child it was my mum’s copy of The Dairy Book of Family Cookery that absorbed me, now I have my own copy and my own dinner and tea set of the crockery I fell in love with on page 263 when I was about nine years old (thanks Mum and Dad). I didn’t imagine back then that my love of reading recipe books that would lead to a passion and a career.
I was invited by Wot’s Cooking to join them on their Talks and Tastings stage at this year’s food festival at Ludlow. The Talks and Tastings was a more intimate affair than the larger chef demo stages, helping the audience to get a bit closer to the action.
The setting couldn’t have been better.
Ludlow Castle is wonderful and if you haven’t visited before and get the chance make sure you take the opportunity. It has wonderful little rooms like this one, which once you pass through that magical door is rather majestic inside. I doubt when it was used as a castle is was quite as majestic as it is now, it was probably poky, smelly, dirty and cold in there, but now, now it is majestic.
Inside were tables and chairs for about thirty people and a small stage up front for the speaker. When I arrived on the Friday I managed to catch some of the talk by the cheese monger from Ludlow Food Centre. He had bought a whole wheel of delicious cheese, which at the end of his interesting talk he used a very large knife to crack open to share samples.
While I waited for my turn on the stage I took a walk around the festival site within the castle walls. I haven’t been for a few years. Several years ago I judged the Sausage Trail for a couple of years, but it usually clashes with my eldest daughter’s birthday celebrations so it is a festival we normally miss out on. I was impressed by how many improvements had taken place. The flow through the stalls was much better than previous years and there are now several stages of varying sizes where you can take a pew and watch chefs and local food producers doing their thing. There is certainly plenty to see and do. I nipped into the Castle tearooms for a quick cup of tea before strolling back to the Talks and Tastings and managed to catch most of the talk by Our Lizzie. She specialises in teaching vegetarian and vegan food and her quinoa dish sounded delicious, unfortunately I missed out on one of the tasting pots that were handed around.
My talks and tasting was, of course, all about bread making and an attempt to help others catch the bread making bug. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope I spread the bread love.
Jon was managing the stage and took this photo of me in action – one day I hope to be photogenic…
If you join us on an all day Bread basics course you will enjoy a whole day devoted to the art of bread making. There will also be plenty of stops for tea or coffee and a delicious lunch too. We normally fit in at least three different breads, including a focaccia, a wholemeal or spelt and a flavoured loaf. I like to tailor each class to the interests of the participants, which is easy to do when there is a maximum of four people in each class.
These are the loaves made on last Saturday’s course. We made spelt loaves using 50% white spelt and 50% wholemeal spelt, a wholemeal loaf with 50% freshly milled Shropshire Soissons grain and 50% stoneground wholemeal from Shipton Mill, a white dough using Shipton Mill Baker’s White which we made into focaccia and a flavoured granary loaf using tomato paste or marmite as the flavour base with 50% white flour, 50% wholemeal and some malted cut rye and Shipton Mill’s Five Seed Blend.
A full-day course gives us plenty of time for in-depth conversations about the bread making process and we discuss the use of different yeasts (easy bake, dried active and fresh), the role salt plays in bread making, the consistency of different doughs for a successful loaf, shaping and the importance of getting a good tension when shaping, getting the best out of your oven and lots, lots more.
I love using my Komo grain mill during courses so I can share the flavour impact that freshly milled flour has. I use grain grown in fields in Shropshire and Cheshire.
There is a bookshelf crammed with books about breads, so you can browse these over a cup of tea.
You take home all of the breads that you have made, a booklet that contains over 20 pages of advice, tips and recipes and a scraper and 10% discount voucher from Bakery Bits.
If you would like to book a place on a future course visit the Ironbridge courses page to see the dates of future courses. I am also very happy to arrange a full-day or evening course for two or more people on a mutually convenient date if there isn’t a date listed that suits you. Feel free to get in touch.
The latest festival appearance for Veg Patch Kitchen was at Cosford Food Festival. I was on the Chef Demo Stage showing the audience how easy it is to make bread at home and sharing my bread making tips. I was with the lovely Wot’s Cooking team again. Here are action shots of me and Mike. I am hoping the expressions show my passion for my subject….
I love doing these demonstrations, they are a great chance to share my passion for bread.
My next festival is Ludlow on Friday 8th September. I will be sharing my love of bread at 3pm. I would love it if you came along and said hello.