Summer 2019 Newsletter

‘Tis the season of anticipation ……….

Hammonds End in its “summer clothes”

Having almost made our way through the UK Hunger Gap we have kept the veg boxes going with purple sprouting broccoli, giant winter spinach, chard and salad and are now looking forward to our summer crops.

At Hammonds End the winter and spring crops have been cleared as the battle to prevent them from forming flowers and seeds instead of leaves to eat was inevitably lost and the remains are now being chopped and added to the compost heap.

At the March sowing day, we sowed over 1,000 seeds including: runner beans, french beans, borlotti beans, squash, courgettes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, fennel, celeriac, swede, parsnips, tomatoes, calabrese, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, leeks and cauliflower.

The cleared vegetable beds have been weeded and broadforked (instead of digging over the beds which can damage the soil structure and soil life we loosen the soil with an enormous fork). Compost has been added to the vegetable beds (thanks to the local council grant for funding and Aylett for supplying bagged compost at a great price. In addition, we have used our own “home-made” compost) and then as the plants reach a decent size they are moved from the polytunnel and planted out.

 Summer Crops being planted and the “Foodsmiles” compost
We are generally on track with only 4 more beds to go for the leeks and kale which should be planted out by the end of June.

And then it is a summer of watering and keeping on top of the weeding for as the old adage goes: one year’s seeding or seven years weeding! (I had originally written “we could still do with some rain” but after last week I’m now wishing for warmth – growers are never happy, though thankfully it’s not been as hot and dry as last year!)

 New PT2 (cucumbers/lettuce) & PT4 (tomatoes/aubergines/peppers/sweet potatoes)

The new polytunnel is completed and has already produced its first crop of rocket and lettuce and is now filling with cucumbers, chilli peppers and sweet potatoes. Polytunnel 4 is now ready for summer full of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and sweet potatoes. We are getting to grips with the new irrigation system and when it does rain have been harvesting the rain water to water the tunnels.

It is also good to see plenty of ladybirds around the site, inside and out, helping to hoover up the aphids which seem to be very prevalent this year.

Ladybird on a Pepper Plant in Polytunnel 4

The new raised salad bed built last winter is fantastic providing some great “cut and come again” salad for our weekly veg boxes.

The new raised salad bed

The plan over the rest of the summer is to install some bigger rainwater collection tanks next to the polytunnels and to look at how we use what we have learnt to irrigate the other tunnels.

At our Hixberry Lane Site we have been harvesting some new crops for the FoodSmiles members. The rhubarb that was planted 18 months ago has given two good harvests and the globe artichokes we grew from seed last year are producing so many flowers that every member should get at least one.

 Rhubarb and Artichokes at Hixberry Lane

Last autumn we took blackcurrant and redcurrant cuttings and are delighted that most have taken and are growing well. We also planted strawberry runners from the Hammonds End site that were surplus to requirements and we hope to harvest our first fruits very shortly.
Incredible Edible Russell Avenue is really coming on well and we can hardly believe it only began in January! Lots of residents and their families from the surrounding streets have welcomed the garden and are using it regularly, which is great to see, and we had an amazing 22 adults and 8 children at our last session (which was also part of the Sustainability Festival).

Incredible Edible Russell Avenue Site

The garden now boasts raised beds full of veggies and strawberries, a herb bed, a big bed full of gooseberries and currants, a raspberry patch, a flower border for pollinators and a wildlife area with bug hotel.

Incredible Edible Russell Avenue Bug Hotel

This month we will mostly be working on the woodland ‘forest garden’ area beneath the trees, where you will soon be able to pick wild garlic, wild onions, nettles, sorrel, purslanes, rhubarb, wall rocket, and many other wild (or wildish) greens and herbs.
We were disappointed when somebody dug up and stole many of the plants from our herb garden a few weeks ago, but the community rallied round and together we soon managed to replace them. If you’re out and about in town it’d be great to have your support in keeping an eye on the gardens, perhaps helping us out by picking up litter or reporting any problems, or simply just having a good look around and helping to cultivate a positive community presence there. These gardens are for you!
Don’t forget the food grown in the two Incredible Edible gardens is free for anyone to pick, and you are invited to help yourself. You can find all kinds of herbs and salad leaves in both gardens, and the strawberries will be ready soon…

Incredible Edible Russell Avenue Raised Beds

Other News: We are pleased to welcome new members to Foodsmiles many of who signed up at the Sustainable Food Festival Market Stall which generated lots of interest.

Friends of Foodsmiles are welcome to come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)! It would be great to see you so please come along and say hello - there is always plenty to do! If you are interested please contact us and we can let you know when we are working on site. You can also go on our 'active friends' list and receive our site newsletter if you wish to do this regularly (

Date for the diary: Harvest Festival at Hammonds End on the afternoon of 7th September where there will be food and drink, a chance to chat and celebrate the year. All Friends of Foodsmiles and members are welcome so please save the date. Details will be circulated nearer the time.

Finally, a seasonal recipe from Jayne, the easiest nut loaf to use up summer tomatoes, you can also add spinach or courgettes and it freezes well so make big batch and eat later.

1.5lb loaf tin                                                            4 crusts (brown bread) 110g
Grated cheddar 100g                                             400g handfuls nuts (any)
4 eggs                                                                    2 tsps Marmite
4 medium tomatoes chopped                                340g mushrooms
1 onion                                                                   1 leek
40g garlic butter                                                     Finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
  • Grease the tin then line with foil or cling film and grease generously again.
  • Put all the ingredients into a food mixer and finely chop.
  • Mix in a large bowl. Season to taste.
  • Preheat oven to 180C (fan setting). Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 mins. Remove foil from the top and bake for another 30 mins.
  • Check if it is reasonably firm and if not then bake a little longer (20 mins).
  • Remove covering foil and turn tin over large plate, carefully removing all foil/cling film. Slice and serve.

Spring 2019 Newsletter

‘Tis the season of new growth!
With spring in the air, and an incredibly sunny February, we have been making good progress on spending the grants.

At Hammonds End We have taken down and replaced one of the polytunnels which had come to the end of its life and added another 10 foot of covered growing space. We’ve had a great couple of Saturdays with lots of members on site helping out, it’s been a wonderful team effort.
We have also added guttering to another of the polytunnels and are soon to install a solar powered watering system which should reduce the amount of time spent watering in the summer months and reduce our water usage.
We have also sown the first of this season’s crops: 300 Broad Bean seeds which (fingers crossed!) we have managed to stop the mice stealing this year with a combination of solar powered ultrasonic deterrents and covering them securely with mesh.
In the next few weeks (including our spring planting day on Saturday 16th March) we will plant 20kg of potatoes, and sow 300 parsnips along with cabbage, lettuce, spinach and beetroot, it really does feel like spring is here! We have also sown 40 tomatoes, 30 aubergines and 30 peppers which members have at home to bring back to site once the last frost has gone.
Our polytunnels have provided (handsomely) for us over winter, and in recent weeks we have harvested winter lettuce, rocket, giant winter spinach and cabbage and from outside, kale, leeks, carrots, chard, cauliflower and beetroot. Hopefully we will have enough to keep us going through the UK “hunger gap” before our spring sown crops are ready. I’m especially looking forward to the purple sprouting broccoli.
At our Hixberry Lane site, we have been busy building new compost bins. Aylett Nurseries kindly donated pallets which have produced excellent bins.  The heavy clay soil at the site requires plenty of organic matter and we look forward to producing lots of compost.

We are still collecting spent hops from Farr Brew which we use as a mulch.  We are very grateful for this source of organic matter which is greatly improving the soil at the site.
We are delighted that our Incredible Edible gardens have just been named winner in the Environmental Champion category at the Mayor’s Pride Awards 2019! It was a fabulous evening filled with great stories of the positive things people are doing in our community, and we were honoured to be there.
In January we launched our new Incredible Edible Russell Avenue garden, with an amazing 24 volunteers helping out throughout the day to build our recycled plastic raised beds! Despite some difficulties with the product, everyone put in a great effort and the beds are now all up and filled with lovely fresh compost, ready for the growing season. In fact, we even have our first crops beginning to appear, as radish and rocket seedlings sown in late February start to raise their heads.

By the end of March, we hope to have planted a number of herb and fruit plants that Carpenter’s Nursery have generously promised us. We’re also grateful to Aylett Nurseries for doing us a great deal on compost and donating free woodchip for our paths, and the Hare and Hounds (Sopwell Lane) for a donation that really helped make this garden possible.
If you haven’t seen it yet, look out for our ‘Plant of the Week’ series on our social media feeds, where we feature a seasonal edible every week of the year and show what’s available to pick at our Incredible Edible gardens, as well as what’s being picked at our other sites. Thanks to the ‘permaculture plants’ we’ve used in the Civic Centre garden, there’s a surprising amount of fresh food available even in the winter and the ‘hungry gap’ of early spring, and if you visit the garden now you’ll find pink purslane and winter purslane in amazing abundance, as well as rhubarb, lambs lettuce, leaf celery, Swiss chard, parsley, and many others. Remember, it’s all free for the community – pick your own any time! It’s not just free; it’s plastic-free, it’s pesticide-free and it’s food-miles-free.
The gardens – particularly Russell Avenue – need more volunteers to help look after them and do all the planting that’s coming up in the next few months. Do think about joining us, and let your friends know what we’re doing too. Dates of all our sessions are available on the website.
Other News:
We are pleased to welcome new members to Foodsmiles and still have a few spaces so are advertising for new members – spring is the perfect time to join so if you know anyone who might be interested please get in contact.
Active Friends are more than welcome to come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)!  Our next Open Days at Hammonds End are on the afternoons of Wednesday 20th and Saturday 23rd March it would be great to see you so please come along and say hello
Other dates for the diary coming up include Saturday 13th April working party for sowing later summer crops, preparing the outside beds and planting out, and then on Saturday 11th May 1.30-4pm Sustainable St Albans HE Open Day.
Our AGM was on 12 February at the Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead (thanks Farr Brew for letting us have the room) and it was great to welcome some of our existing members to the committee. Janet stood down as Chair after 3 years having made a fantastic contribution to Foodsmiles and will be missed. The Foodsmiles Chair position is currently vacant and if you would be interested in the role please speak to one of the committee. No growing experience required!
Finally, a seasonal recipe from Jayne, for those who want to try something different with Kale:

Kale Crisps
Preheat an oven to hot, I use gas 8 so hot.
Chop kale (any variety) and toss in 1 tsp of oil (such as sunflower)
Bake until brown and crispy for about 15 mins.
I add chilli and salt and curry powder after 5 mins but this is optional.

Drizzle with olive oil, leave for 30 minutes, top with nuts/seeds and eat raw, or of course you could just steam for 5-10 minutes.

Join us!

Memberships are now available for the coming 2019 growing season! If you'd like to join us, growing vegetables together and sharing the harvest, please come to one of our open days if you can (20th March or 23rd March 1.30-4.00pm, at the address below), or email our membership secretary: More info here.

Winter 2018 Newsletter

‘Tis the season of awards, (monetary and merit) and of wrapping up (the site!) 

After a long wait, all Jayne and Naomi’s perseverance has paid off. We have now received two grants, from Tesco and Affinity Water totalling £3,700 and the official go-ahead for the second St Albans Incredible Edible Community garden (the lease is signed!).
The first working party for the latter, in Russell Avenue will be at 10am on 19 January and all are welcome - members, Friends, locals. This site is larger than the Civic Centre garden and accessible for the less-mobile. This garden will include more familiar vegetables, a wildlife area and a flower border for pollinators. Much of it is shaded by trees, giving us the opportunity to create an edible forest garden which will include wild and shade-tolerant veggies and many perennials. Please come and help us build our brand new recycled plastic raised beds and do try and encourage interest from the local community.

The following weekend, members will be at Hammonds End doing what we do best, building a polytunnel! This time we are replacing and extending one of the original structures; later in the year we intend reskinning ‘poly tunnel 3’ - the shady one that is part workshop but still produces crops for us. As far as possible, we will be incorporating water collection too!

Groundwork UK recently held their Community Awards at the House of Commons with a special tour and dinner for 180+ guests including 30 finalists. They received 600 applications for 10 different categories. Against some pretty stiff competition and inspiring projects within the category the CDA won the Community Cohesion award for the Community Garden in Hixberry Lane to which FoodSmiles is a major contributor.  

Indeed, we now have some more land to cultivate at Hixberry. For once, it has already been dug over. With this and the access we have to the poly tunnel (in which we have now built some staging), our growing space there has grown some 20%. 

‘The Farmer’, Howard Roberts, has now retired as a partner at Hammonds End Farm albeit, he will be carrying out a range of predominantly administrative duties for the business over the coming months. Stuart continues not only with the Farm but also as Vice President of the National Farmers Union. Howard is moving to Aylesbury to grow his own vegetables, attend an archaeological course and brush up on his French ready to visit the Pouilly Fume wine area.

At our November coffee morning, restaurateur Andrei Lussmann gave a very interesting, open honest talk on “Running an ethical brand whilst being financially sustainable”. His restaurants have been awarded the 2018 Sunday Times 100 best places to eat and were also 2018 Winner – Source fish responsibly, Food Made Good Awards. Having worked in hospitality for large companies for 20 years, Andrei set up a small coffee shop near Ladbroke Grove with his sister. This was a mixed area and they got held up 3 times, were treated poorly by the rich locals to whom they delivered food on bikes and made no money!  In 2005, Andrei heard about an available restaurant in Hertford, visited it and still has it in his portfolio today!  Progress towards running an ethical business had to be gradual as it was important to get the fundamental business aspects right such as consistency, nice food and staff, availability of set menus and with the exception of Mother’s Day, no special (expensive) menus. Now there are 5 Lussmanns restaurants and 110 staff to support with Andrei’s main jobs being to deal with broken staff, customers and equipment!

Sustainability is an extra layer of administration and as far as Andrei is concerned covers 200 disciplines from chemical use, fish sources, long life free range chicken, air freight, to LED lights and recycling (which they have just got to 100% but at a cost!). One of his challenges is how to communicate it to customers and maintain their interest! However, after 16 years of gradually becoming more ethical, Andrei believes he is nearly there and confirmed that it is possible to run his business ethically despite the additional costs and tighter margins and make a profit.   He is now concentrating on becoming the best employer in town!

At our recent committee meeting, we recognised that although we have 36 paid members, we only have 27 active members.  So many of our members lives are changing due to family illnesses and time pressures! As a result, we will need to advertise hard for more members in the spring and explain to all that if they need more flexible arrangements to continue as an Active Member we will be happy to accommodate them or they can be an Active Friend and come to work informally at the farm whenever they need some hearty exercise and company (and probably cake too)!  Our next Open Days at Hammonds End are on the afternoons of 20 and 23 March.
Our AGM on 12 February will be at 7.30 at the Farr Brew’s Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead. The formalities are expected to take half an hour and will be followed by cheese and biscuits and cake; these will be provided but we ask attendees to please purchase coffee or a drink.

Finally, a seasonal recipe from our friendly chef, Alex (now working at the Lower Red Lion):

Veg Samosas with A Mint Chutney


For the Samosas:
150g plain flour
35ml veg oil
3g salt
Enough water to bind
200g boiled mashed potatoes
150g leeks
100g cauliflower
100g spinach leaves
100g chard
½ red pepper
1 green chilli
2 tsp fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dry mango powder (or a splash of white wine vinegar)
Pinch of salt

For the Chutney:
1 bunch mint leaves
1 bunch coriander leaves
1 green chilli
1 lime, zest and juice
1 garlic clove
1 knob of fresh ginger
1 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt

To make the pastry heat the oil in a pan until smoking hot, pour over the flour and salt and mix in with a spoon. Add enough water to make a workable dough. Once combined, leave to rest under a damp cloth for 15 mins.

Break the cauliflower down to small pieces, none bigger than a centimetre. Boil for two minutes until soft. Drain and leave to cool. Chop the other veg and sweat off in a pan with a little oil, starting with the chard and leeks then adding the pepper, then the spinach. Finally add in the garlic, ginger and spices and heat through. Put the mix in a mixing bowl with the mashed potato, cauliflower and coriander. Stir together.

Roll out the pastry into dining plate size circles. Cut the discs into quarters. Fold the pastry quarters into samosa pockets using a paste of flour and water to stick the sides down (check out a YouTube video for ‘How to Make Samosas’ if you are unsure of how to do this). Fill the samosas with the filling and seal down the lid with more flour paste. Deep fry the samosas in veg oil until golden on the outside. Drain on kitchen paper.

For the chutney put all the ingredients in a blender with a little water and whizz up. Serve.