Posts Tagged Urban Farm Challenge

My Year of the Urban Farm Challenge

Urban Fram Challenge 2012

This time last year I stumbled upon a challenge that really appealed to me. It was called the Urban Farm Challenge, a monthly blog challenge encouraging a simpler lifestyle relying more on local, organic (if possible) foods and making and growing your own food, even for city dwellers. It was to be a year of learning useful house-holding skills.  I have always lived in cities but love the idea of country life and over the years have dabbled in growing my own vegetables and canning my own jams and chutneys, often from that home-grown produce! This challenge was just a step further, there was cheese making, foraging, making herbal teas and tinctures. I just loved the idea and got the book for my birthday, I love this book! Its co written by Anette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols, two of the most inspiring people!  Both have families and are trying to live without supermarkets and the book is full of tips for gardening, composting, growing, preserving, city farming. There is advice on sourcing your own food suppliers, grinding your own grains. I loved this challenge and took part in most of the challenges although I must admit I was a bit of a fair weather partaker and did less of the winter challenges. Here is my round-up of my Urban Farm Challenge over the last year.

February: The challenge was soil improvement. I was late to the challenge but quickly ordered a composting bin with hope of making my own compost. Unfortunately the bin that arrived was huge, to big for my city garden so I donated it to a friend with an allotment and looked to the next challenge!

March: The challenge was home dairy, this was the challenge that I was most looking forward to! The idea of making my own cheese was completely new to me but I dove in and made lemon cheese, ricotta and mozzarella. I have made my own cheese several more times throughout the year and am inspired to try more, I’ve found this to be an area that I really want to explore!

Mozzarella madebyjayne

April: The challenge was gardening and sowing your own seeds. Easy for me as I grow some type of vegetable each year. My Mother in law has an allotment and takes care of the plants for me, it’s an unbelievably lucky outcome for me and I’m so grateful to her for this! Among the regular vegetables I grow I also tried some different things as part of one of the challenges. I managed to seek out collard greens, not successful at all in the cool, wet summer we had,the snails got to the only tiny plant that survived! I also planted endive (chicory) another fail! The black futsu and Naples long pumpkins were much more successful as were the yellow courgettes (zucchini).


May: The challenge for May was foraging, not as easy as I thought! I’m too scared to try to find mushrooms on my own but I did make a dandelion salad foraged from my garden, I will admit that dandelion leaves are not the best thing I ever tasted but I am glad I tried!

Foraged salad

June: This month the challenge was botanicals and all about making your own tinctures, balms and herbal infusions. I made chive blossom vinegar which I look forward to making again. I really wanted to try to make my own lotions but am a little ashamed to admit that I still have not tried this, maybe that will be one of this years “to try’s”.


July: Seed saving and looking forward to winter was the challenge this month, I did not take part as nothing was in flower yet. Due to the awful weather we had last summer everything was behind.

August: It was preserving this month, something I do each summer anyway. Small batch canning, cold storage, fermentation were all available to try using summers bounty. I always make jams, jellies and chutneys and last year was no different. Here is a selection of what I made  pickled courgettespeach pie preserves (so good!) and I tried fermentation with cucumber kimchi.

Zucchini Pickles madebyjayne

September: It was all about bartering this month, and swapping ones goods for those of another. One of the possible challenges was to hold a food swap, I love the idea of this and maybe one day I will try to arrange one, I just need to find enough fellow canners and growers! I don’t mean to go on about the awful summer we had last year but due to this I found I didn’t have an abundance of anything!  I did manage one swap with a friend that had a bucket of plums for which I swapped some very large squash.

October: Protein was the theme this month, and we were free to choose our own challenges from hunting to growing your own beans. Time escaped me this month and I didn’t get around to taking part.

November: The challenge this month was about grains, using whole grains and even brewing with grain mash! This was a crazy month and despite my best intentions once again I missed this one, although using whole grains is something I try to do anyway.

December: This month handcrafted holidays was our task. With the recession this is something I have been seeing more and more of and I love the idea of this. I made my own vanilla and lemon salt to give as gifts. One of the gifts I had most fun with was to make up a basket and fill it with jam, chutney, lemon salt and vanilla I had made. This was a very successful, my friend loved her gift!

Homemade vanilla extract madebyjayne

January: This was the wrap up month, but it was extended to February which is why I’m doing it now.

I had a great time with this challenge, I loved reading the book and trying new things. One day I hope to have a house with a little land where I can fulfill my Little House on The Prairie lifestyle dream! For now I will carry on enjoying some of the skills this challenge has taught me and hopefully pick up some more. Many thanks to Annette for organizing this and all the hard work she put into it, I had a blast!


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Quick Cucumber Kimchi (from Healthy Green Kitchen)

I have mentioned before that I’m taking part in the Sustainable Eats year-long Urban farming challenge. It is true that I am a city girl, also true that I don’t much like getting dirty! Having said that there is a part of me that loves the idea of living in the open and growing my own food. Maybe a future life change but for now I make do with what I can grow in my tiny city garden and with the very generous crops that come from my Mother in law’s allotment. The challenge for August is food preservation. I’ve preserved lots,  I made Peach Pie conserve also courgette relish, dill pickles, fig jam and more. There were further challenges within food preserving such as fermentation. Lacto-fermentation is meant to have many health benefits so this is something that interests me but I have no experience of it.  Last year I made Winnie’s Pickled Cukes using lacto-fermentation and they were great so I knew where to head when I decided I would like to give Kimchi a try. Winnie’s blog Healthy Green Kitchen is one of my favourite blogs, full of healthy, delicious recipes and the photography is stunning! I chose to make the cucumber kimchi as I had a bunch of cucumbers freshly picked that morning. It’s really easy to make and no cooking is involved. I found the Cucumber kimchi to be incredibly flavourful, its tangy, sweet and a little sharp. I’ve been using it as a vegetable side dish and have really enjoyed it, I can not deny that I have also eaten forkfuls of t right from the jar!

Quick Cucumber Kimchi (using this recipe from Healthy Green Kitchen)

  • I didn’t have tamari or liquid aminos so used 3/4 tbsp of soy sauce instead.
  • I used 1 tbsp of garlic rather than 2.



Technorati code CMRMC9YZ7TMA


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Courgette Pickles

Its summer, although apart from a few nice days one would think that Summer passed us right by this year! But Summer it is and the courgettes don’t seem to mind the weather, they still keep coming! I’ve mentioned before that my Mother in law has an allotment and passes her produce onto me. Courgettes seem to be the most prolific crop, pounds and pounds of them come my way. This year trying to keep the courgette situation under control I suggested that we try yellow courgettes, just yellow ones and only 2 plants. When we got back from our recent holiday it was to find bags of home-grown vegetables waiting for us, in the bags I found a couple of yellow courgettes and surprisingly even more green ones! I’m not sure when the green ones were planted or why they produce more than the intended yellow plants but once again I found myself up to my elbows in courgettes!

These pickles are one of the courgette/zucchini recipes I had bookmarked for the glut!  I really wanted to make dill pickles with cucumbers this year but the cucumbers really did object to the Autumnal summer we’ve had, dying off after producing one mini cucumber each. When I came across this timely recipe I thought it would be a new way to use up some of my bounty, while perhaps satisfying my dill pickle craving. I really liked them, they are really easy to make and as they are refrigerator pickles they are really quick too. They have the right amount of sweet verses tart and I couldn’t help but add my own heat with some chilli flakes.

Courgette Pickles (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Judy’s Zucchini Pickles)

  • 225 grams (7.5 0z) of zucchini/courgettes sliced very thinly
  • 1 small onion sliced very thinly
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 250 ml (1 cup) cider vinegar
  • 125 gram (5 oz) sugar
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric

My quantities make one large jar of pickles, to see how to make them see here on Martha Stewart’s website

This recipe links up nicely with the August challenge of the Sustainable Eats Urban Farm Challenge that Im taking part in. The challenge this month is food preservation.


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Chive Blossom Vinegar

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about foraging and mentioned that for the first time I had used chive flowers.  I’ve grown chives for years so I’m not sure why I haven’t used the flowers before. I am in fact guilty of not remembering to use the chives very much either.  As well as the chives I am currently growing oregano, thyme and sorrel, I forget to use them all! Getting around to remembering and using my herbs is something I’m trying to be better at.  Around the same time as the foraging post I saw this post about making chive blossom vinegar by Marisa on her blog Food in Jars. With my chive flowers in bloom at the time I made it immediately and its been brewing in the cupboard since. There may still be enough chive flowers left for you to have a try, it’s really quick and easy. I will be using the vinegar I made on summer salads.

Coincidentally this project is perfect for the Urban farming challenge I’ve been taking part in this year, the challenge for June is all about botanicals, a new subject for me, I did mean to be more adventurous with the botanical theme and try to make my own lotion or balm, watch this space!

When making the Chive Blossom Vinegar as Marisa says it’s so easy you don’t need a recipe. Not knowing how I would like it I only made a small jar, using white wine vinegar. The result is surprisingly pretty, the purple hue from the blossoms colour the vinegar a lovely shade of pink and leave a surprisingly strong onion flavour, for those in the UK the taste is reminiscent of pickled onion vinegar although milder than that.  Heres what I did.

Chive Blossom Vinegar (inspired from Food in Jars)

  • I half filled a 1 lb jam jar with freshly picked blossoms.
  • Rinse the blossoms and dry, in a salad spinner if you have one.
  • Put the blossoms back in the jar and fill with vinegar, I used white wine vinegar.
  • Seal jar and store in a dark place for up to 2 weeks, after this time strain the vinegar and store in your chosen jar/bottle.

The finished vinegar, isn’t it pretty?

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Urban Farm Challenge: April Gardening challenge

I’m taking part in the Urban Farm Challenge, a year-long challenge with different monthly challenges all in the art of urban farming. April’s challenge was about gardening and the challenge was to sow seeds. This is something I’ve done for years, ever since I had a garden, even if it’s just a couple of tomato plants I will always grow something from seed. In more recent years I’ve been extra lucky as my Mother in law has an allotment. Now my husband does not get his fear of all things green and healthy from nowhere, my Mother in law eats very few vegetables. In fact as green fingered as she is she passes most of her produce on to me as she just enjoys the growing of her lovely veg but does not care to eat it! Crazy huh?

Erica at Northwest Edible Life blog  encouraged us to not only grow seeds but to grow something that was new to us, I love that idea, its suits my personality so well! Perversely I seem unable to stick with vegetables that have been reliable but have to try new varieties every year, although that’s usually different varieties of the same vegetables so this year I have chosen some new vegetables to grow from seed.  On the subject of choosing something new to me, well I have outdone myself and I am growing Collard greens, now they are something that you never, ever hear of here in the UK even though I managed to find the seeds from a UK company. Also new to me this year are chicory (endive in the US) and Kale, 2 varieties.Vegetables that I have grown before but chosen different varieties are yellow courgettes (zucchini in the US) and golden beets, long Naples pumpkins and Black futsu squash. I have chosen to grow different tomato varieties this year, a twitter pal has started a lovely heirloom seed company  The Art of Seed so I was interested to try some of her heirloom seeds,  I chose Paul Robeson tomatoes and Jimmy Nardello pepper seeds.

Some of these vegetables will stay with me in my garden where I can keep a better eye on them, others when they get big enough will travel to Kent to my Mother in laws allotment. For now they are in my bedrooms, some growing quite big but as we are having a very wet and cold Spring they can’t go out yet. Thanks to this challenge I am growing both more than usual and new vegetables! I cant wait to see how they all do!

Seedlings planted at the end of March









Some of those seedlings now!

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Mozzarella madebyjayne

Continuing with the Urban Farm Challenge and the cheese theme for March I am making mozzarella.  This is my first time making this. I was a little worried as more ingredients are needed than the last cheese I made, including the dreaded rennet. Luckily I found a vegetarian rennet.  I wanted to follow this recipe from Andrew at Eating Rules but not having a microwave I had to look elsewhere, most recipes are similar, it’s the technique that varies.

I went with this recipe as it seemed easy to follow. This recipe worked like magic, the milk thickened like yoghurt as it said it would, the curds separated from the side of the pan just it said it would. Then I ran into a little trouble, I made my mozzarella into balls and sat them in the ladle to dip into the hot whey as I was told but my cheese was slow to get to the stretch and the last ball just wouldn’t stretch at all.  I will say for a first try at mozzarella it was a moderate success.  I have ended up with cheese that is a messy mozzarella.  Mine didn’t stay in a ball but flattened out.  It has a harder texture than store-bought mozzarella, maybe I over kneaded?  However what it lacks in looks it makes up for in taste. It tastes good, mild and creamy like mozzarella should taste.  I will be trying this again and hope to improve the shape and texture. If any cheese makers can help me out with these things and advise me where I went wrong, that would be great.

Mozzarella made from this recipe at Mother Earth News

The curds separating from the whey

Mozzarella madebyjayne









Stretching the mozzarella, who knew I would own a pair of rubber gloves especially for cheese-making!










My mozzarella, slightly flat but it tastes good!


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Lemon Cheese

Lemon Cheese madebyjayne

There is a part of me that would love to live on land and be near self-sufficient.  Little House on the Prairie was one of my favourite tv programs growing up and I adored the books!  Having always lived in cities, even as a child I loved the idea of space and growing your own food, like in Little House on the Prairie.  The nearest I got to churning butter with my mother like Laura Ingalls did with hers was whipping cream with the hand-held whisk (you know the one where you turned the handle?) I remember thinking ” if I keep whipping will I get butter?” of course my hands always got too tired and my child’s mind wandered.  I still havent made my own butter, watch this space!

When I saw the Urban Farm Challenge on the Sustainable Eats blog my interest was instant! It’s a year-long challenge to help eat healthier, local food.  This is something that has been on my mind for a long time and is already part of my life but there is always more to learn. I signed up right away only to fail the first task, that was to improve your soil.  I did order a free compost bin from the council, free!  People if you have big enough gardens see if  your local council give free compost bins! The bin they delivered was huge, too big for my garden so that was that! The home dairy task for March was one  I was most looking forward to, making cheese.

The lovely Andrew from Eating Rules set a challenge with a recipe for Lemon cheese.  It could not be easier! 3 ingredients, 4 if you want to add herbs. Warm the milk,  add the lemon juice,  wait,  strain, cheese! I have made this twice now it’s so good. The first time I did not have a thermometer so don’t worry if you don’t have one as it still works. Just heat the milk until almost boiling point when bubbles are all around the edge of the pan. The 2nd time I did use a thermometer and was pleased to see that when I judged the milk to be almost boiling pretty much matched the 175F temperature the recipe states. This really is easy and satisfying. The cheese produced is not overly lemony, its creamy and perfect for matching up with stronger flavours like chutney, tomatoes. The best thing is no unwanted added ingredients, choose the best quality milk you can and you have something pure and simple that you made yourself. What could be better?

Lemon Cheese made from this recipe




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