Winter 2017/2018 Newsletter

Welcome to our winter 2017/18 Newsletter. Our good intention is to issue these on a quarterly basis in order to keep you up to date with FoodSmiles St Albans’ activities and ensure you are part of our Community

As I take a break between festivities, I look back over the last 3 months’ at FoodSmiles with satisfaction. Peter kindly wished us all Happy Christmas and described us as a ‘can do’ team. I certainly endorse that view and enjoy our members’ positive approach to often mundane tasks. Some people like and choose to weed as a clear bed gives them satisfaction.  Anthony has been drowning bad weeds; he says “It is a very stinky job - I’ve been double gloving it (plastic disposable gloves under grippy gardening gloves) because the smell takes forever to get off my hands”.  Others like construction, tidying up or watering. Well, it takes all sorts!
Team work. Can you spot the Christmas pudding?
October saw our first ever cauliflower harvest and mighty fine specimens they were too

Our St Albans site in Hixberry Lane is the main development for 2017. Well done to Hilary and her team of regulars; many of whom are working over and above their contractual hours to make this expansion to our growing area a success. The Community Development Agriculture organisation presented us with a poly tunnel kit and a hope that we would construct it.  I have been amazed at the speed with which this has been erected over the last month or so. What else is there to do on the 23rd of December?
Construction of the polytunnel frame
Polytunnel with skin added but not yet tightened
Completed polytunnel with drum tight skin and moveable staging table
This time last year we were successful in gaining a Postcode Local Lottery grant to fund the purchase of a strimmer and the introduction of solar power to our Hammonds End site. Whilst the project was delayed, the last stages were completed over the Christmas period and we now hope to run a fridge, inside and outside lighting and charge up tools. Let’s hope it’s a sunny 2018!

Whilst because of the weather and the panto season, little is happening at our new Incredible Edible Civic Centre site until the 27th January working party, the site looks tended and has smart plant labels made from recycled spoons and the path marked out ready for some wood chippings (anyone know of any sources?). Do go and have a look.

Incredible Edible garden at the St Albans Arena
Jayne has been successful in her application for a £2000 grant from the Lottery. This will help fund raised beds and compost for this community site.
We had a great parsnip harvest with eight in each member’s Christmas box!
Alex has been working hard at No. 23 so we have relieved him of his recipes duties this time. Here is what I made with some of the parsnips. I used the nests for canapés and they formed a tasty crisp surround to beetroot, cranberry and goat’s cheese.


For 12 small nests using fairy cake tins or individual yorkshire pudding tins:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and julienned
  • 1 beaten egg
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C Fan/Gas 6.
  2. Heat oil in a frying pan.
  3. Add parsnips and s+p and fry for a few minutes until wilted down and slightly softened.
  4. Leave to cool completely, then mix with the egg.
  5. Grease the tin and heat in the oven.
  6. Strain parsnips and divide them between the cases, pressing down the centre and pushing up the sides to make nests.
  7. Bake for 20 mins, or until crisp and brown.

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Autumn 2017 Newsletter

It’s the day after our monthly Committee meeting. I still can’t believe we need them every month, nor that we still struggle to finish before 10pm! There is so much to do and a lot going on. The big news items are that we finally have the go ahead for our Civic Centre Community Garden and we have drunk beer made from our own hops!  But it’s all worth it when we harvest our crops:

In September, Hixberry Lane harvested the hops from our ten hop plants and delivered them to Farr Brew.

Each plant owner enjoyed three pints of beer as part of the brewery’s Hop Collective scheme. Much of this was drunk at the Hop Party at the Fighting Cocks as part of the St Albans Food & Drink Festival!

We have been regularly collecting spent hops from Farr Brew to help Hixberry’s heavy clay soil; just look at the result!

If only I knew how to cook them!

We shared our Harvest Festival with Friends and members children who gave us an excuse to update our scarecrow.

On 7 October, all Naomi’s perseverance paid off and FoodSmiles launched its Incredible Edible Civic Centre garden as part of St Albans Food Festival's 'Sustainable Saturday'! Some new faces came along to help us start turning this neglected bit of land into an abundant food garden right in the town centre. If it’s as successful as the Skip Garden I came across just north of Kings Cross station, we’ll be opening a FoodSmiles café soon!

The garden is right next to the main entrance to the Alban Arena so do have a look and perhaps join in our fortnightly weekend sessions.
The promised donations have now been received plus we are applying for grants.  We have already received £240 from Waitrose Community green disc scheme. All help is appreciated and if you'd like to get involved and/or make a donation towards setting up the gardens or if you know someone who might sponsor us, please get in touch:
Non-monetary donations would also be useful from compost, woodchip, stakes, battery operated tools, buckets to old tents. Please think outside the box and contact us if you think you have something useful or a contact who does. Thank you.

Our Incredible Edible site at Russell Avenue is on track to start next spring.

We recently hosted a talk by David Miveld, a local bee keeper, at the Courtyard Cafe. It was fascinating. Did you know that a hive can contain as many as 50,000 bees, and a large swarm could contain around 25,000 bees all of whose purpose is to protect the Queen?  

Our publicity activity is high. Andrew delivered a short presentation about Food Smiles as part of Sustainable Saturday at the Courtyard Café and Janet was on the radio again. Maybe this is why we are enjoying an influx of potential and new members. This is very encouraging and should mean we reach our 35 target by the end of the year. Hopefully, they won’t be too put off by the amount of weeding we are having to do as it’s so much better doing it with others!

...and to finish, here’s Alec’s latest seasonal recipe:

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Bourbon

500g Pumpkin
200g White Onion
400ml Vegetable Stock
Splash Olive Oil
25ml Double Cream
½ tsp Smoked Paprika
¼ tsp Grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Salt
Parsley for Garnish
Bourbon to taste

Roughly dice the onion and start to sweat off in a pan with the oil. Peel, de-seed and dice the pumpkin and add to the pan. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for 5 mins. Add the spices, cream and bourbon and use a hand blender to blitz the soup to smooth.
Serve with a swirl of cream and a sprinkle of parsley and paprika on top.

Date for your diary
All our members (this includes Friends of FoodSmiles) are welcome to attend our AGM on 1st February 2018. We would love to see you.

Forest Gardening

Our Incredible Edible Civic Centre garden is off to a flying start, with lots of plants in the ground already, and we've been delighted with the number of people helping out and showing an interest in the garden. But a surprising number of people have been rather shocked at the idea of us growing food in such a location. "You can't grow vegetables under trees," we've been told! "You're doing it all wrong!"

Yes, traditionally the veg patch goes in the sunniest part of the garden. Traditionally the soil is plied with compost and manure until it's rich and bursting with nutrition. Traditionally vegetables are grown in neat rows and square beds. But this is not the only way to grow plants, and those traditional vegetables are not the only edible crops out there... There are more than 50,000 edible plant species! How many do we find in the supermarket or in the traditional veg patch?

Forest gardening is a sustainable and low-maintenance food production system that mimics a natural woodland ecosystem, to make best use of space and resources. It's a permaculture approach, designed in harmony with nature to benefit both nature and humans. Nature has been growing plants a lot longer than we have, and much more efficiently - there is plenty we can learn by looking at how it does things!

Imagine walking through a woodland. The tree canopy above casts dappled shade and sunlight, which changes throughout the year. Between the trees there are shrubs and bushes, and either side of the path a mix of medium-height herbaceous plants and low-growing groundcover weeds. Ivy and other vining plants climb a few of the trees. Everything grows in harmony and plants sustain themselves and each other for many, many seasons without input from any human. There are no straight lines or squares, there's no digging or manure, there's a rich mix of plants growing close together in endless combinations. Now imagine every plant in this woodland is edible...

Diagram by Graham Burnett

Forest gardening has much in common with agroforestry, which is gaining popularity in many parts of the world. Trees are planted in rows between and across fields of more conventional crops, to provide habitat for predatory insects and birds, reduce evaporation, reduce soil erosion and run-off, provide shelter from the wind, provide an additional fruit or fuel crop - and the list goes on. By moving away from conventional industrial farming towards something that looks a little more like nature, farmers are taking better care of the earth and getting more from their land.

Our new garden will contain lots of tasty and nutritious edible plants that you may not have heard of before. Many are perennials (which last through winter and go on for many years), others spread by dropping their own seed to come up the next year, and we will sow just a few 'crowdpleasers' from seed each year. Some are native wild plants that you can actually find in the forest or woodland (wild garlic, wild strawberries, various purslanes). Some are traditional crops and herbs that have fallen out of popularity because they're slightly less tasty or efficient somehow than their modern counterparts, or, more likely, don't keep as well on the supermarket shelf (Good King Henry, sorrel, lovage). Some aren't that unusual at all; many familiar berries and leaf crops can thrive in partial shade. All are chosen to tolerate the shady environment under the trees, and to provide a harvest that's easily shared by many people (no cauliflowers or giant pumpkins!). Planting them jumbled together instead of in rows brings all the benefits of companion planting (attracting a variety of insects, being less vulnerable to pests, using different nutrients from the soil etc.) and means crop rotation isn't necessary. And between them, they'll provide food all year round, and create a richly diverse and interesting garden where there's always something new to discover.

Oh, it won't be perfect. Not every single plant will thrive here, and a few are bound to need some extra nourishment along the way, and I can't promise we'll get the minimal input/zero waste thing right from the word go. But it will find its balance, it will be educational and it will be bursting with good food.

Our plant labels are designed to help you learn about the different plants in the garden, with a picture to help you recognise it, a few basic details, and for many, a code to scan to take you to further details on the plant in the Plants for a Future database. Plants for a Future is a charity with the aim of "researching and providing information on ecologically sustainable horticulture, as an integral part of designs involving high species diversity and permaculture principles" and is a wonderful source of information on over 7000 edible and medicinal permaculture plants.

For more on forest gardening, read this in-depth article. For more on permaculture try this excellent free ebook by David Holmgren.

- Naomi Distill

Join us for our Autumn 2017 Open Day

7 October 2017  2-4 pm  Hammonds End Farm, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 2AY

Come along for a free tour of our little farm in Harpenden. Refreshments provided.

At FoodSmiles members grow organic veg together, sharing skills and learning about growing, we share the harvest once a week.  Our main working parties are on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday afternoons.

Paths are uneven, please wear strong shoes.

Come and Grow - Incredible Edible launch!

At long last, we'll be launching our Incredible Edible Civic Centre garden on Saturday 7th October, as part of St Albans Food Festival's 'Sustainable Saturday'! Please come along 11am-2pm to help us start turning this neglected bit of land into an abundant food garden right in the town centre - or if you're not ready to get your hands dirty this time, just to pick up a flyer, take a look, see our plans and find out more. You'll find the garden right next to the main entrance to the Alban Arena.

Anyone who lives, works or plays in St Albans is invited to pick food from the garden, and to help out. We hope that it will bring local people together, provide free food for anyone who would like it, enhance the town centre, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and enable us to teach and share growing skills and promote the benefits of growing-our-own. The garden is small, but will have a rich mix of berry bushes, rhubarb, vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.

If you have any questions about the garden or would like to sign up for more news about both our community gardens, please email us at the address below.