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Book Review: The Wild Life

One day John Lewis-Stempel tells his wife he will live of the land for a year and she replies with “Its very you”. So thus begins a year of foraging for hedgerow veg and fruits, shooting rabbits and birds and the occasional fishing expedition.

John Lewis-Stempel writes with humor and honesty. It is clear he has experience with shooting game and knows a lot about foraging already. I think a novice would have starved in a week.

Even he is surprised that this living on wild food takes up most of his day. After the hunting and foraging comes the cleaning and preserving. There are good and bad days and a lot of alcohol making.

Fortunately he shares his recipes which often come from very old books so we all might try out a bit of “The Wild Life

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8 Inspirational Gardening Blogs

A few years ago when I started with gardening I knew next to nothing about it. I got and get most of my information from the Internet. I want to share with you 8 blogs that have inspired and helped me and share a few blogs I have just discovered.

1. I will admit freely that I am a big, no HUGE fan of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. I can safely say that his tv series -The River Cottage- has been a big inspiration for us taking the step of buying land and live off it. Although this is not a gardening blog per se it has a great forum and amazing recipes. All in all very inspirational.

2. Gayla Trail’s site was one of the first ones I found and still love the most. At that time I had the small 2x2m2 garden and balcony and Gayla is an expert on gardening in small spaces. Being in Toronto the climate was mostly similar to ours which made it easy to copy some of her gardening habits. I got her first book (You Grow Girl: The Groundbreaking Guide to Gardening) which is full with practical, easy and budget friendly idea’s.

Continue reading 8 Inspirational Gardening Blogs

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LifeAtTheVillas – Guestblogger Bridget Elahcene

Life at the Villas

Life at the Villas sounds a bit like a book title. It’s not – at least, not yet. It’s just my name for this very happy chapter in my life that started back in 2007 when we moved to Potter Heigham – a small English village in the heart of the Norfolk Broads.

There are now so many interesting things happening at the Villas that I decided it would be selfish not to share it with people other than my nearest and dearest. One day, in my dotage, maybe there will be a book…

Our house, Ladysmith Villas, is an average sized red brick Victorian semi, named after the Battle of Ladysmith which took place during the Boer War in South Africa in 1899 – one year before the house was built. The term villa was commonly used in those days to describe a house that was free-standing in a landscaped plot of ground, as opposed to a ‘terrace’ of joined houses.


Landscaped however is hardly how I would describe our garden when we first arrived! Referred to by the Estate Agents as utility land, it bore no resemblance to a garden, having been brutally stripped of its trees by the property developers, with no trace of any lawns, paths or beds. The only evidence that it had ever been used for growing were the countless lengths of fraying orange rope and umpteen heavy duty plastic compost sacks, long since emptied, that we went on to unearth..

In fact the ground was teeming with all sorts of household waste that had accumulated over the years – bits of broken crockery, BIC disposable razors, old Sunblest bread bags, animal bones, bent and twisted cutlery… whilst on the surface grew vigourous swathes of nettles and in one corner – horror of horrors – a thriving patch of Japanese Knotweed. It was a bit of a horticultural nightmare but we had vision and it oozed potential.

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Organic Meat, Free Range and Animal Welfare

Is animal welfare guaranteed with organic food?

This question has been on my mind lately. In order for meat to be sold as organic the animals need to be fed 95% feed organically annually, it can’t be given antibiotics or growth hormones  A sick animal must be treated by a vet but can’t be sold later as an “organic” animal. And one of the most important things an organic animal must have access to the outdoors.

Eating Organic food is HOT!
So the demand for organic or free-range meat has risen as well. We all have this vision of chickens roaming around on a grassy field, happily plucking worms out of the ground, cows and sheep frolicking around in a field and pigs rolling around in the mud.

With that vision in mind we dig in that juicy steak and marvel at the taste.

But is that vision correct?

Continue reading Organic Meat, Free Range and Animal Welfare

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Purple Sprouting Broccoli

This year for the first time I sowed purple sprouting broccoli. It is a variety on the regular broccoli.

Sowing time is from March to May, the plants grow large, larger then I thought so make sure you give them some room to grow. It will withstand frosts and snow and is ready for harvest from January onward. This makes it a great choice to grow because right at that time you may have depleted your supplies and your winter veg like Brussels sprouts and kale may be gone as well.

It is very important to eat the sprouting broccoli as soon as you can after picking them, that way they stay sweet and crispy.  You can eat them raw, stir fried with chili and noodles, make an Italian dish with it, steam it, you name it! I am very much looking forward to eating them.

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Introducing Sow and So

A little overdue since I have started blogging already but I would like to tell you what Sow and So is about.


Sow and So is about gardening, organically of course because if you have ever tasted an organic carrot, strawberry or anything else homegrown you really don’t want to go back to the tasteless supermarket veg and fruits.
I have noticed that with growing your own food you can be more inspiring in the kitchen. Make your own pesto or tomato sauce instead of buying ready made in a package or jar.
Now I know that you need to put some time and effort in growing your own food. Time these days is not something people think they have a lot of. You work all day and the thought of having another hobby next to the ones you already have seems like such a burden.
With this blog I will try to let you see that it is worth it.

2000 Square Meters

First I need to tell you that I am not a garden Guru. I have started growing food in our small backyard in Rotterdam, The Netherlands  3 years ago on 2×2 m2. I made lots of mistakes and still do and I will tell you all about them so you might skip them and make other mistakes…
I now have a plot of land of 2000 m2 ( In Belgium) which I will slowly convert into a profit making vegetable garden, orchard and bee farm. For more information about our transition I would  like to refer to my “about” page.

So what to expect on this blog?

We will tell you all about the season past and the growing season to come.
We will talk about everything from seeds, sowing, growing, harvesting and preserving.
We will write book reviews on the new and old garden books
We will let you know about the newest trends in gardening
We will share our idea’s about using recycled and sustainable materials
We will share our recipe’s and

a lot more….

I say we because there will be guest bloggers.

Guest Bloggers

My friend Bridget Elahcene from Great Britain will tell you all about her backyard garden which produces food but looks amazing as well. She will tell you about keeping chickens and making wine and so much more then that.

Next to Bridget we will probably have more guest bloggers, you just have to come back to Sow and So and see.

My goal is to have an interactive blog, where readers can leave comments, questions and exchange idea’s.

Sow let’s get started!

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Bird feeders recycling style

My auntie Corrie sends me garden magazines from Holland now and then. Next to going to garden centers, buying way to many gardening books I have an obsession with garden magazines. I even buy the French magazines and try to figure out the texts with a dictionary.  So in one of my auntie’s magazines I saw a photo of bird feeders at € 4,95 a piece.  Not to bad but mine cost € 1,30 total and that is for the bird food.Bird Feeder

From the cupboard I got a few plastic bowls I wasn’t using, and looked around in the pile which was supposedly going to the recycling center and found two iron pipes. I drilled a hole in the bowls and a few small ones so the rainwater may drain out and put the pipes in the bowls. This is the result;

Bird FeederI cant wait to see how it will look when everything is covered in snow and these colorful bowls are sticking out. Now we just have to see if the birds think I did a good job. At least they will be a little safer from our cats….. I hope.



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My eight mistakes of 2011

1: Not digging deep enoughDepp Bed

We have thick clay ground here, determined to dig the bed by hand I took the turf of which we used to make walls and dug one spade deep and turned it over.
The result was that the roots of many plants could not go deep enough so the plants stayed small and produced not enough.
Solution: Deep bed digging

2: Planting out too soon

After such a great pre-spring my seedlings were growing like crazy on our veranda so at the beginning of May I enthusiastically planted them out. Then one morning I woke up to a white world of frozen grass. I ran outside, which is kind of pointless because there was nothing to be done about my dead seedlings but sigh and get the seed packages out and start all over again.
Solution: Do as your neighbours do (at least when it comes to gardening…)

3: Not protecting my plants against bugs

I read about those pesky caterpillars that eat your brassica seedlings umpteen times I went out and inspected my broccoli and brussels sprouts. After a while I got distracted and focused on other things going on in the garden and forgot to check for a few days. Result: a few broccoli plants completely covered in little caterpillars, even inside the green crown of the broccoli.
Solution: netting the plants

4: Sowing too much in one goCourgette

Enthusiastically I sowed five courgette plants at the same time which resulted in too many courgettes and for weeks we had courgettes coming out of our ears.
Solution: Sow a few seeds at a time with a few weeks between sowings

 5: Planting seedlings too close to each other

I have a tendency to do that. I did it last year and for some reason again this year. It is related to sowing too much in one go. I don’t want to waste any seedlings so put them in the ground too close to each other which produces small plants, like my brussels sprouts.
Solution: Don’t plant too many and too close to each other (duh!)

6: Not writing down which seeds are sown whereSummer garden

As well as vegetable seeds, I sowed flower seeds to attract beneficial insects.
It would have been a good idea to write down which flower seeds I had sown where because I couldn’t differentiate between weeds and flowers.
Solution: make a garden sketch or use labels

7: Not watering enough

This pre-spring we had a drought that lasted for weeks.  We didn’t have a rain barrel at that time so at one point my spinach almost started bolting right after I put the seedlings in.
Solution: collect as much rainwater as you can, it is free and there will be times when you will need to water your plant s

8: Adding too much green to the compost mix

I find composting one of the hardest things. I have read lots of books about it and know about the mixing greens and browns. Now, with our expanse of grassland I have lots of greens. So my compost heap became a stinking heap of black slime.
After searching on the net about what I did wrong, I read that it was because of too much wet grass which suffocates the heap.
Solution: Don’t be stubborn like me and put equal parts of greens and browns on the heap

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First signs of winter

It was already a few weeks ago. I had cleaned out the garden, broke down the bean trellis and sowed green manure. The garden was almost ready for winter but I wasn’t yet. Although I love living with the seasons, the cold of the winter is not my favorite even if it is so very pretty in the early morning light.

First signs of winter

The little pond I had dug in August had a thin layer of ice on it.

Pond with ice

And this is only the beginning, later in the season there will be snow, lots of snow!

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My Garden Successes of 2011


KaleMy biggest success is my Redbor F1 Kale. The purple color looks amazing in the garden. Because of the color the bugs more or less leave it alone and this time I was smart enough to plant a few plants so they could grow big and magnificent.
A few weeks ago after the first frost I made a typical Dutch winter dish with mashed potatoes.
The kale turned green while cooked and left the purple color in the mashed potatoes which gave it a unique perspective on the dish.Here is the recipe for this typical Dutch dish.


ChardThis year it was the first time for me to grow chard and what a great success it has been. The fantastic colors brightened up the garden and the growing season is amazingly long. Cut and come back again works really well with Chard.
I have used chard like I normally do spinach, or asian style stir fry it with garlic, chili peppers, ginger and soy sauce.
Another great recipe is Chard and new potato curry from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.

Early Potatoes

Potatoes CharlotteAlso this year for the first time:  Potatoes!. The bed I grew it in was not dug deep enough but the plants still gave me plenty of new potatoes until well in the summer. It was a real treasure hunt to dig for these pale golden wonders. The creamy young potatoes could be cooked with the skin on, serve with a little olive oil and butter HMMM!
Next year I am definitely planting early and late potatoes!

Continue reading My Garden Successes of 2011

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Recipe: Kale Stew


1,5 kilo potatoes
1 kilo finely cut kale
300 grams of bacon
3 large onions
200 ml cream
olive oil
rookworst ( smoked sausage – typical Dutch )


Cook the potatoes and kale in about 25 minutes, ( kale on top of the potatoes)
In the mean time fry the bacon bits in about 4 minutes, put a little butter or olive oil with the bacon and fry the onions with them until they are lightly browned. Cook the smoked sausage.
Mash the potatoes and kale together, mix the bacon and onions and the cream in it and serve it with the warm smoked sausage.
Anyone who is a vegetarian, you can fry the onions and serve the dish with a vegetarian substitute. ( recipe thanks to Marianne Oud –