THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED
As summer draws to a close, with social media and gardening magazines crammed with rightly-proud displays of plentiful produce, we’re already starting to think about next year’s sowing and growing.
We’ve certainly enjoyed the fruits of our labours this year – especially the luscious tomatoes! We’ve been inspired by delving into our copy of ‘The Creative Kitchen’ by Stephanie Hafferty, a gorgeous book packed with inspiring recipes for beautiful, tasty meals in which the veg is the star. It’s a cook book with a difference, as there are also ideas for beauty treats, household products and anything else that can be given a lift by the addition of a few select sprigs from the garden – yes, including gin!
As well as a fabulously creative cook, Steph is also a gardening guru. Co-author of ‘No-Dig Organic Home and Garden’ with Charles Dowding, she runs the kitchen garden at the prestigious Hauser & Wirth gardens and gallery in Somerset. Steph has for some years been a great advocate of the no-dig approach to gardening, and we wanted to hear a bit more about it.
We thought we’d catch up with Steph to get the low-down on everything plot-to-plate – and we managed to get some goodies for another great gardening giveaway, too!
How old were you when you got into growing? Did you come from a gardening family?
My great grandad had an allotment and my grandad grew strawberries and vegetables in the back garden of his council house in Bradford, so I always knew that growing food was a thing we could do. It wasn’t what you’d call a gardening family, though. I had cacti on my windowsill as a child and into my teens. Aside from the cacti, I have always been more interested in growing edibles. In my later teens discovered a battered copy of a home brew book in a local charity shop, which opened up a world of making your own booze. So I started to grow some veg at home, and forage in the lanes nearby – to make wine!
Tell us more about your no-dig approach to growing.
I’ve been no-dig for 11 years. Before that used to dig my allotment because that’s what Geoff Hamilton did (my first veg gardening book was his). I started working with Charles Dowding 11 years ago at his market garden. Learning the benefits encouraged me to stop digging and all of my gardening has been no-dig since then.
In a no-dig garden, every year I mulch the soil with a little compost (about 2-3 cm) which feeds the soil biology. This in turn creates the right conditions for plants. Digging breaks up and harms the essential mycorrhizae fungi; no-dig leaves the fungi to thrive. The single mulch is enough for a whole year with no other feeds, even for aubergines, melons and squash. I usually grow between 2 and 4 crops in each bed, each year. It saves time, with fewer weeds and creates fantastic soil. The compost can consist of composted anything. Homemade, manure, wood chip – as long as it has composted down, all is good.
Which came first, the cooking or the veg?
I got into experimenting with cooking when I was a student; as well as needing to feed myself, it was a cheap way of socialising. When I was a student in Bristol I only had the opportunity to grow the odd pot of edibles on the windowsill, but once I was renting properties with gardens, I started to explore growing more food. As I grew more, I naturally started eating more seasonally (obviously not 100% seasonally!).
Foreign travel and reading recipe books opened up so many possibilities, so the range of food I grow and cook has very much developed at the same time. For example, my Dad has lived in Thailand and Singapore for the past decade, where I discovered so many new flavours and varieties that I now grow in Somerset – Thai herbs, lemongrass, long green aubergines, etc.
I love writing and developing recipes which use as many home grown ingredients as possible - plus oil, citrus, vinegar and spices of course. I always make sure the quantities are such that if the recipe calls for homegrown czar beans (a white bean), one can always just open a tin of butter beans instead, and that everything can be bought in regular shops, so they are for everyone, not just people with allotments or polytunnels.
You currently look after the kitchen garden for the Roth Bar & Grill at the high-profile Hauser & Wirth gardens and gallery in Somerset.
Yes, I’ve been involved in the kitchen garden at H&W since it was created around 4 years ago. In the first year I advised their gardener who was learning how to grow veg, and then took over from them.
Prior to this I ran the kitchen garden for Sir Cameron Macintosh whose estate is nearby, and before that worked on other kitchen gardens, so I’m known locally as someone who grows veg.
What crops do you plant every year, without fail? The go-to essentials you wouldn’t want to be without.
Aubergines and Brussels sprouts! And tomatoes and basil, of course - the tastes of summer.
What are your top tips for getting more out of your kitchen garden?
Try to keep on top of weeds by regular hoeing. This means that all gardening jobs are so much easier, as you don’t have loads of weeds to deal with first. It doesn’t always work out this way – I am sure weeds wait for me to go away for a few days and then sprout!
I grow almost everything in modules or pots first. This means that I have the next crop already growing and ready to pop in as the previous one is finishing. This saves so much time and means that you can grow much more – ideal for those of us with normal-sized gardens and allotments.
I rarely turn my compost heap because I have osteoarthritis and can feel a bit creaky sometimes! So my heaps are usually set up to compost naturally over 9-12 months. I make sure there is a good balance of materials for composting, “greens” and “reds” and use a mixing tool to stir everything up every now and then.
How do you cope with common kitchen garden pests like slugs? What are your favourite companion planting pairings to encourage pollinators and pest predators?
The best way to control slugs is to reduce habitat, making sure there is nowhere for them to hide near the veggies. I have wild areas in my garden to increase biodiversity and have a good balance of pests and predators – a pest to us is lunch to a wild creature!
I grow a lot of companion plants for wildlife, many are also good to eat or drink. My top companion plant tip – allow some brassicas to flower year round, as much as you can. This provides forage for all kinds of insects including bees and encourages predators of caterpillars and aphids to your plot. And of course, never, ever use herbicides or pesticides.
Steph’s Divine Beetroot Soup
To give a flavour (geddit?!) of 'The Creative Kitchen', Steph's kindly given permission for us to feature a recipe from the book. This soup looks and tastes special, with jewel-like colour and a rich flavour. Protect your clothes while making this – the beetroot will stain!
- 1kg (35oz/7 cups) beetroot, peeled and diced (or equal quantities of beetroot and carrots)
- 1 litre (35fl.oz./4.25 cups) stock
- 270g (9.5oz./2 cups) onions, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1-2 chillies, chopped (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp root ginger (according to taste)
- 2tsp coriander, cumin & fennel seed blend (dry roast the seeds, cool and grind to a powder)
- 3 oranges, juice & finely chopped zest
- 2 tbsp olive or other light oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh coriander, chervil or parsley to garnish
Pour the oil into a large soup pan and add the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli (if using). Cook over a low heat until the onions are softened. Add the spice mix, beetroot, zest, orange juice and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for around 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
Remove from the heat and carefully(!) puree using a hand blender. Alternatively, serve without blending, so the soup has tasty beetroot chunks. Pour into bowls and garnish with freshly chopped herbs and vegetable crisps. Serve with crusty bread.
Perfect for an autumn evening! It can be made without the oranges, it you don’t have any – just add a little extra stock when cooking.
To find out more about Steph, her gardening and her creative cooking, visit her website at nodighome.com. 'The Creative Kitchen' is available from the usual online outlets and from many shops. What's more, at the moment you can get 10% off the RRP of 'The Creative Kitchen' and 'No Dig Home & Garden', and there's a special price for buying the two books together. Head over to Steph's online store to find out more.
THIS GIVEAWAY HAS NOW CLOSED
We have a very special signed copy of Steph’s ‘The Creative Kitchen’ book and a copy of her book with Charles Dowding ‘No-Dig Organic Home and Garden’ to give away, together with a Paper Pot Maker and a large trug, the essential harvesting accessory!
In total the prize is worth £89, so enter now to win this glut of grow-your-own goodies. From sowing seeds and creating your garden, to harvesting in style and serving up super suppers, you’ll have next year’s GYO journey off to a great start.
How to enter
To win this prize and get started on creating your plot, all you need to do is leave a comment on this blog. Scroll to the bottom of this page to comment (your email address won't be published). You’ll also need to be a subscriber to our monthly email newsletter to be a winner, so if you're not already signed up, fill in your email address in the grey band right at the bottom of this page. You can unsubscribe at any time if you don’t enjoy our monthly updates.
Here's the small print:
‘Creative Kitchen’ prize draw, 2019