Paul Waddington is a ‘wannabe’ farmer

Paul Waddington is a ‘wannabe’ farmer who lives in a terraced house in Brixton in the London suburbs. He and his wife longed to be self-sufficient. “Many of us dream of ‘four acres and freedom’ – the idyllic, self-sufficient life in which we flee the city to live in harmony with the land, dependent on no-one. For all but a fortunate few, this is now an impossible dream. Absurd property prices have put four acres and a farmhouse out of reach of anyone lacking a six-figure sum of capital. Today, only the rich can afford to be peasants”. They have 100 square metres of garden and Paul also managed to secure an allotment in South London a year and a half ago – no mean feat nowadays when there is an unprecedented demand from urban dwellers desperate to connect with nature and to at least grow a little of their own produce. His wife wanted to plant flowers, he wanted to be self sufficient – we can’t eat flowers he reasoned. Eventually a compromise, and so started an exciting botanical adventure where they had to discover everything by trial and error. Gradually they worked out the vegetables that were worthwhile for a smallholder, and those that weren’t, for example Brussels sprouts take six months to grow, as opposed to spinach which can be harvested within a month, and the more one cuts it the more it comes. Beetroot is another gem which one can eat hot or cold at various stages of growth and where one can eat the leaves and stalks also. Radishes take 12-14 days from sowing the seed. Gooseberries and blackcurrants are a delight and an apple tree can be pruned to suit the size of the garden. 

At a recent Slow Food Event at Ballymaloe Cookery School, Paul doled out lots of pragmatic advice for the 21st Century Smallholder. He warned against being too romantic and first reeled off a whole list of reasons to consider before embarking on urban ‘farming’.

1) Total self sufficiency is not really an option in a town garden
2) Won’t save much money
3) It costs a lot to get started - must buy some kit – trowels, digging fork, a propagator, and seeds. He was shocked to discover he had spent 50 pounds on ‘poo’!
4) Takes time and can become an obsession!
5) Slightly incompatible with children but you can reach a compromise.

But on the other hand - reasons to produce your own.

1) Immense satisfaction – such a buzz when you eat your first home-grown salad or freshly laid egg.
2) Fresh organic food full of micro nutrients for all the family - Conventional food has become greatly demineralised because of increasingly intensive production systems.
3) You can start with a window box, tub or hanging basket.
4) You will learn a great deal, develop new skills and become aware of the seasons

When he started a few years ago Paul hadn’t a clue when anything was in season, now he writes a weekly column for The Guardian – “What’s Good Now.”

So how much time have you got? How do you want to grow - conventional or organic?. The latter means you have to work at building up the health of your soil and start a compost heap. A productive fruit and veg garden is a nicer place to be than a desert of decking, both for you and the countless bugs and creatures that run our ecosystem. If you look after the soil you will have the nutrients you need. Urban gardeners can also have a few hens (no cockerel or the neighbours will be up in arms). Paul also has a couple of beehives, we were surprised to learn that this is a fast-growing hobby in urban areas. One of Paul’s friends with 55 hives on his roof top in Hackney, gets incredible yields of top quality mixed honey from the urban gardens. Despite the fact that it sounds dangerous, bee stings are rare. In his book, ‘The 21st Century Smallholder’, Paul gives several brilliantly detailed plans for urban gardeners, using every possible horizontal and vertical surface, fruit trees on south facing walls, others trained into espaliers or fan shapes, hanging baskets and window boxes, bulging with fresh herbs and trailing tomatoes.

Every cook should know the magic of sowing a seed and watching it growing some of their own food. When you sow a seed yourself and patiently wait for it to grow into beautiful produce, it gives one a far greater appreciation of good food, plus one is far less likely to ‘boil the hell out of it’ when you get it into the kitchen.

Paul Waddington’s books will inspire even the most reluctant urban gardener.

“21st Century Smallholder” – from window boxes to allotments: how to go back to the land without leaving home. Buy from Amazon

“Seasonal Food – a Guide to what’s in season when and why” - both published by Eden Project Books   Buy from Amazon

Globe Artichokes with Melted Butter

Whole Globe artichokes are quite fiddly to eat. First you pull off each leaf separately and dip in the sauce. Eventually you are rewarded for your patience when you come to the heart! Don't forget to scrape off the tickly 'choke'; then cut the heart into manageable pieces, sprinkle with a little sea salt before you dip it into the remainder of your sauce. Simply Delicious!
Serves 6

6 globe artichokes
1.1L (2pints) water
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons approx. white wine vinegar

Melted Butter
170g (6oz) butter
freshly squeezed juice of 3 lemons approx.

Some restaurants do very complicated preparation but I merely trim the base just before cooking so the artichokes will sit steadily on the plate, rub the cut end with lemon juice or vinegar to prevent it from discolouring. 

Have a large saucepan of boiling water ready, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt to every 2 pints of water, pop in the artichokes and bring the water back to the boil. Simmer steadily for about 25 minutes. After about 20 minutes you could try testing to see if they are done. I do this by tugging off one of the larger leaves at the base, it should come away easily, if it doesn't continue to cook for another 5 - 10 minutes. Remove and drain upside down on a plate.
While they are cooking simply melt the butter and add lemon juice to taste.

To Serve
Put each warm artichoke onto a hot serving plate, serve the sauce or melted butter in a little bowl beside it. Artichokes are eaten with your fingers, so you might like to provide a finger bowl. A spare plate to collect all the nibbled leaves will also be useful.

Blackcurrant leaf sorbet

We also use this recipe to make an elderflower sorbet - substitute 4 or 5 elderflower heads in full bloom.
2 large handfuls of young blackcurrant leaves
225g (8ozs) sugar
600ml (1 pint ) cold water
Juice of 3 lemons
1 egg white (optional)

Crush the blackcurrant leaves tightly in your hand, put into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Add the juice of 3 freshly squeezed lemons*.

Strain and freeze for 20-25 minutes in an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere. Serve in chilled glasses or chilled white china bowls or on pretty plates lined with fresh blackcurrant leaves.

Note: If you do not have a sorbetiere, simply freeze the sorbet in a dish in the freezer, when it is semi-frozen, whisk until smooth and return to the freezer again. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

If you have access to a food processor. Freeze the sorbet completely in a tray, then break up and whizz for a few seconds in the processor, add 1 slightly beaten egg white, whizz and freeze again. Serve.

Blackcurrant Leaf Lemonade

Ingredients as above plus
1¼-1½ pints (750-900ml) still or sparkling water
ice cubes

Proceed to * in Blackcurrant Leaf Sorbet recipe, add 1¼ pints (750ml) still or sparkling water, taste and add more water if necessary. Serve chilled with lots of ice. 

Foolproof Food

Roast Beetroot with Ardsallagh Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar

Serves 4
6-12 baby beetroot, a mixture of red, golden and Clioggia would be wonderful
Maldon Sea Salt
Freshly cracked pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
170g (6oz) goat cheese -Ardsallagh or St. Tola
Rocket and beetroot leaves 
Wild garlic leaves if available

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8

Wrap the beetroot in aluminium foil and roast in the oven until soft and cooked through - 30mins to an hour depending on size.

To serve:
Rub off the skins of the beetroot, keep whole or cut into quarters. Toss in extra virgin olive oil.
Scatter a few rocket and tiny beetroot leaves on each serving plate,. Arrange a selection of warm beetroot on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. Put a dessert spoonful of goat cheese beside the beetroot. Sprinkle with Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with tiny beet greens or wild garlic flowers and serve.

Beetroot Tops

Serves 4
450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops
butter or olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the stalks and leaves into approx. 2 inch pieces. Cook in boiling salted water (3 pints water to 2 teaspoons salt) for 6-8 minutes or until tender. Drain, season and toss in the little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Beetroot tops are full of vitamins and minerals and are often unecessarily discarded - if you grow your own remember to cook them as well as the beetroot. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl both in terms of nutrition and flavour. 

Kinoith Summer Garden Salad

A selection of fresh lettuces and salad leaves for example:

eg. Butterhead
Mesculum or Saladisi 
Lollo Rosso
Red Orah
Rocket (Arugula)
Edible chrysanthemum leaves
Wild sorrel leaves or Buckler leaf sorrel
Golden Marjoram, Annual Marjoram, tiny sprigs of Dill, Tarragon or Mint
Salad Burnet
Borage flowers
Young Nasturtium leaves and flowers
Marigold Petals
Chive or wild garlic flowers
Herb leaves eg. lemon balm, mint, flat parsley
Green Pea Shoots or Broad Brean tips
Tiny Chard & Beetroot leaves

Ballymaloe French Dressing

50ml (2fl oz) wine vinegar
150ml (6fl oz) olive oil or a mixture of olive and other oils. eg. sunflower and arachide
1 level teaspoon mustard (dijon or English)
1 large clove of garlic
1 scallion or small spring onion
sprig of parsley
sprig of watercress
1 level teaspoon salt
few grinds of pepper

First, make the dressing.

Put all the ingredients into a blender and run at medium speed for 1 minutes approx. or mix oil and vinegar in a bowl, add mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and mashed garlic. Chop the parsley, spring onion and watercress finely and add in. Whisk before serving.

Wash and dry the lettuces and salad leaves. Tear into bite sized bits. Sprinkle with edible flowers and petals. Just before serving toss in a little dressing, not too much just enough to coat the leaves lightly. Serve immediately.

Hot Tips 

Fair Trade – Congratulations to Bantry on becoming Ireland’s 12th Fairtrade town –

Bantry now joins Belfast, Clonakilty, Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Kinsale, Limerick, Thurles, Waterford, Wexford and Mullingar. Sales for Fairtrade products are growing by approximately 40% a year.
 Altogether there are 35 groups of Fairtrade volunteers around Ireland working to meet the criteria necessary to make their towns or cities Fairtrade Towns. For more information contact Melanie Drea, Fairtrade Mark Ireland. Tel. 01-475 3515 

Green Ireland Conference – Kilkenny Castle 16-18 June 
Branding and protection for sustainable farming, safe food and eco-tourism.
Co-hosted by An Taisce/the National Trust for Ireland and the GM-free Ireland Network.
Details on  or 

Cork Show takes place in Cork City on Sunday 18th June from 9am 
Onwards at the Munster Showgrounds, Ballintemple.
It is primarily agri-oriented, but this year will also focus on the important areas of renewable energies, eco-homes, sustainable agriculture, alternative farm incomes (organics, bee-keeping, cheese-making.....etc) and environmental issues.

Agriculture and Food 2006 – 
Teagasc is hosting a major national event at Kildalton College this summer on June 21st. Fundamental shifts are occurring across the whole agricultural sector. Now more than ever farm families need clear information on their options for the future. Agriculture and Food 06 is a key event in Teagasc’s campaign to provide clear direction and leadership on the wide range of challenges facing farm and rural communities. 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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