Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience

Leave a comment

Rik’s note

Making a welcome return to our salad mixes this week are claytonia (winter purslane) and corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce. However, there is a very pleasing aspect to their appearance from the gardener’s point of view. The plants yielding those succulent and healthy leaves were not planted directly by ourselves.

They have occurred in polytunnel 2, amongst the cucumber plants. Here we grew claytonia and corn salad during last winter, and late in the season the plants flowered and set seed. Those seeds have lain dormant in the soil throughout the spring and summer period, during which time we cleared those winter salads, manured and rotavated the beds, planted the cucumbers, watched them grow until they were ready to harvest. Now the cucumbers are about finished, soon to be cleared to make way for winter crops, and the seeds of winter purslane and lamb’s lettuce have come out of dormancy, germinated and grown in thick, luscious swathes of green.

I must confess they look healthier than their parent plants did, and are producing loads of quality leaves for our salads. This is the beauty of self-seeding plants; The progeny of the plants that you originally set can come back to give you the sweetest of pleasant surprises. No doubt natural selection is in operation here and the fittest plants have made healthy seed and returned fitter plants for the new winter season. Had we adopted a more ruthless approach to weeding, this happy accident would not have occurred.

Soon the cucumber plants will be cleared and we will prepare the beds for planting of winter salads. But we will be sure to work carefully around these wondrous gifts of nature, and keep them alongside this year’s cultivated plants.


Leave a comment

Rural Care’s Update, by Alistair Vorster

We are lucky to welcome 2 new student nurses, Craig and Ade, to Rural Care this week. They have arrived for a month’s placement in their First Year whilst studying Learning Disability Nursing at Hertfordshire University. We have found in the past that student nurses really value the experience they get here on the farm, especially as it is very different to a hospital or residential setting. We hope Craig and Ade find this too and really enjoy their time here with us.


This week we have been busy as we draw closer to the Christmas period. New gravel has been laid around the paths near Rural Care, helping to keep the area looking neat and tidy, whilst also improving wheelchair accessibility. One of our school groups from Greenside have made the first of many Christmas wreaths, whilst the first Christmas trees have been dug up, potted up and put outside the Farm Store ready to be sold. The trees proved to be very popular last year and we hope to sell many more this year over the festive season.


Leave a comment

Sausage and Broccoli Pasta

I had the most stupendous dinner last night, it was a variation on a simple and staple dish from my student days. When you are poor and hidiously under nourished like the majority of students were at my university (all self inflicted of course, this is by no means a reflection on parents or educational bodies), anything involving anything green was a real boost for brain and body. So, on treat days, I bought broccoli!

Broccoli, a treat??? Believe me ladies and gentleman stranger things have happened. Broccoli stir fried with chopped up pork and leek sausages, and then stired into a big bowl of cheese smothered pasta. Whats not to be happy about?

Today, there are all sorts of broccoli that you can get your culinary mits on. Formerly known as the ‘five green fingers of jupiter’, varieties such as Purple sprouting, tender stem, and calabrese (which is the big headed bulbous thing that we all know and love) are now a common sight in markets. There is even a broccoli that looks like a cauliflower!

It is the quintessential green veg, very good for you, anyone under the age of twelve is bound to turn thier nose up at it, and its always part of a sunday roast. We Europeans have been blessed (or cursed) with the broccoli since the 1500s, and today there are many delicious ways to cook it beyond simply boiling it to death and slapping it alongside the cauliflower and carrots. You can use broccoli is Asian cusine, in soups, stews, pasta dishes, in all sorts!  It keeps really well too, just make sure it goes in the fridge as soon as you receive your box and it will be quite happy for about 4 days.

So, my dinner, that I am going to share with you all is as follows.

  • 1 pack pork and leek sausages
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced
  • 1 hot chilli, chopped
  • a head of calabrese or any other type of broccoli, florets halved for quicker cooking
  • 3 leeks sliced
  • about 250ml creme fraiche
  • teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
  • handful of chopped parsley


Fry off the chilli and gralic in a little olive oil, and chop the sausages into meatballs into the pan. Cook on a medium heat until the sausage balls are browned. Add the broccoli, and keep frying for about 6 minutes, stirring to keep all the sticky goodness from the bottom of your pan and coating the veg. Add the leeks and fry for another couple of minutes. Mix the mustard into the creme fraiche, and add to the pan, stirring to melt the sauce and coat all the ingredients. Add the parsely and stir for a final minute. Serve with spaghetti and top with parmesan cheese.

Can’t get much easier really can you, and it tastes great. Enjoy!

Fry off the garlic and onion in a little olive oil, add the bacon and brown. Dice the swede and carrot and add to the pan with the thyme leaves (strip them from the stalks) and season. Add the stock, and simmer for around 10 minutes or until the veg are tender.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in a pan of salted water, when al dente, drain and mash with plenty of salt and pepper. Transfer the veg mix to a pyrex pie dish, and add the mash topping. Sprinkle with cheese, and grill until the cheese has melted and is golden brown. Delicious!

Leave a comment

Creamed Leeks

Its cold, its miserable, its muddy…On top of that we all have some flu like disease which is leaving the vast majority of Church Farm staff in a state of zombification. We all need some hearty nutritious comfort food to warm the cockles and cheer the heart. Leeks are one of my favourites from the allium family. Like all alliums, they are so versatile, so easy to get hold of, and so tasty! You can’t beat a giant bowl of gut busting sausage and leek stroganoff; make sure you get good quality sausages, and add a big spoonful of paprika and lots of lemon juice to your sauce. A-ma-zing.

But today, I am going to showcase the leeks as this is the topic of today’s conversation. The recipe still involves a white dairy based product as the base of the sauce, but instead of crème fraiche, we have double cream. Oh yes ladies and gentleman, this is not one to try if you are watching those waistlines!

This is originally a James Martin recipe, and normally I wouldn’t tamper as I think he is a great chef, but over the years it has become my own just a little bit. You will need:


  • 4 leeks sliced relatively thinly
  • A few shallots diced
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 150ml white wine
  • 10 tablespoons of double cream (very precise I know, but cooking with cream and milk scares me, so I haven’t had the nerve to estimate so that I can just chuck it in yet!)
  • A big mix of grated cheddar and hard blue cheese
  • Small handful of chopped parsley
  • 1 beefsteak tomato thinly sliced


Melt some butter and a little olive oil in a pan, add the leeks, shallots, garlic and thyme and cook until softened. Pour in the white wine and bubble away for 5 minutes. Add the double cream, season with salt and pepper and gently simmer for another 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to an over proof dish and leave to cool. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C. Once the leeks have cooled, scatter over most of the grated cheese. Lay the tomato slices over the cheese to form a layer, and scatter over the parsley, followed by the rest of the cheese. Bake for around 30 minutes.

This is a side dish, but to be honest, who is going to judge if you curl up in front of Doctor Who with just this and a big spoon. It covers most food groups, and is delicious. When you receive your leeks in your boxes, they will store quite happily in the fridge for the week, but might be a bit bendy come next Friday! Enjoy!

Leave a comment

The Terrifying Events in Caravan Land

Now, its not every day that you settle for your after work pint with your buddy Liz, and the first words that pop put of her mouth are: “I discovered a bear in caravan last night, scared the life out of me it did!”

In all fairness her language was slightly less suitable for public viewing, but anyway, needless to say she was pretty shaken up by this ‘bear’

Now, bears aren’t known for their regular forays in Hertfordshire. I am ignorant of the existence of any lesser spotted Hertfordshire black bear, or greater spotted, or any variant on the theme. If I am wrong in my assumptions do let me know!

Turns out this bear was a huge fallow deer. What it was doing there we don’t know (nor does Liz wish to find out), but the story certainly provided much entertainment (especially the part when she realised that she was just in her underwear). Caravan land was full of hoof prints, and tree damage, and based on it being compared to a bear we can probably safely assume that it was a boy deer and not a girl. So, we have a stag in our midst!

We have a lot of fallow around the farm. They are extremely attractive animals, and large herds look particularly impressive as they run across the stubble fields on cold autumn mornings. Introduced by the Romans, they are now a naturalised species to the UK, present across much of England and Wales. They are possible the most difficult to identify for the non deer expert, as their coat colours range from pale to very dark, with or without spots (hence the confusion between deer and bear).

Unfortunately for the farm, fallow deer can cause quite a lot of damage. As well as terrifying employees, they browse just about any young shoot they can get their mandibles around, and have the tendency to crash through fences and the like.

But they are extremely elegant animals, and have played a huge part in our history. Wherever fallow deer have been introduced (and they have been taken everywhere since Neolithic times), they have ‘altered the physical and psychological landscape’. This is a quite from Dama International, a project investigation fallow deer in conjunction with the University of Nottingham. The researchers believe that the distribution of fallow deer over the centuries is a direct record of human migration, trade and behaviour. The cultural data on humans that is thought to hide in fallow deer could be huge; this is a species well worth taking an interest in! The project aims to combine archaeology, history, geography and anthropology with genetics and other sciences that are beyond me, to examine the impact of this species on human across Europe.

But the main moral of this story ladies and gents is this: don’t step outside your caravan to investigate a noise at 2:00am in the morning, in nothing else but your underwear. It’s just going to go wrong.

Leave a comment

Rik’s note

Another new and unusual item coming soon from Church Farm are Chinese artichokes, also know as crosne (pronounced crone). This little known vegetable comes from a perennial herb grown in our kitchen garden. On the top, the leaves and flowers look very much like mint, but these have no particular aroma or flavour. Under the soil, though, hides the treasure of curious curly white tubers. These have a delicious flavour, despite their odd appearance; slightly nutty with a crisp texture. They can be eaten raw on their own, or in a salad, otherwise they may be cooked briefly by steaming, boiling, frying or roasting. It is better to prepare them by scrubbing them clean rather than trying to peel them, as this will prove to be a rather fiddly task.

The new planting of strawberries in the kitchen garden got off to a great start this year, yielding loads of exceptionally large fruits, and also sending out lots of runners. This is how the strawberry plant propagates itself naturally. The runners have so called “adventitious” roots at each node which will grow if they make contact with soil, and thus develop into a new plant. This year’s plantation was made through a tough woven mulching fabric. The purpose was to control weeds of course, but also to ensure that the runners don’t establish in the soil around their parent plants. If allowed to do so, the planting would rapidly develop into an untidy sprawl, impossible to harvest from without treading on fruit. Instead, we have taken some of the runners to create new plants at the propagation tunnel. The rooting part of the runner is separated with a short piece of stem still attached. This stump is used as an anchor to hold the nascent plant upright in a pot of compost. Large leaves are removed and smaller ones reduced to force the young plant to concentrate its energies on rooting.

So far a good majority of these runners have taken successfully, and these will ultimately be planted in the kitchen garden to increase the quantity of fresh fruit we can provide, or alternatively the plants may be offered for sale to our customers at the farm store.

Leave a comment

Autumn at Rural Care, by Alistair Vorster

We are very lucky at Rural Care to welcome a group from the YMCA this Friday, who are starting a regular fortnightly programme on the farm. Children from some of the local schools in Stevenage will be attending the farm as part of the group. They will be testing themselves out on the Church Farm scavenger hunt this week, and hoping to join in with the regular group activities, such as growing vegetables, in the weeks to come. The YMCA is the largest and oldest youth charity in the world and there are 121 YMCA’s in England, each offering support and accommodation for young people to live independently, grow and help contribute to the local community.

Rural Care has also been getting used to the change of seasons and the approach of the colder winter weather. We have been firing up the wood burners and also helping our animals with the wetter and colder conditions. This includes providing them with fresh straw and ensuring they have enough food, including hay for the pigs and cows. As winter sets in keeping our animals happy is very important, whilst we also look forward to the coming of Christmas and the chance to get all crafty over the festive season, with wreath making and all sorts to come!