A Sustainable Life with James Strawbridge - May

Eco-celebrity James Strawbridge shows us how to make some green home improvements, such as what to do with small spaces, composting ideas and even a recipe for foraged nettles....

A Sustainable Life - Green home improvements, with James Strawbridge

Cornwall is a county where it’s easy to get lost – I mean this in the best possible way. I have found that over the last few years I have had that tremendous feeling of walking down a coastal path or down the steep steps of a fishing village and feeling like someone arriving somewhere abroad for the first time: such is the nature of this relaxed area where surfing, cooking, fishing, art and crafts are at the centre of local lifestyle.

This month I am focusing on some home improvements to make the most of your little piece of the county and discussing some simple eco-friendly tips to try at home.

Learn a new skill: scything When you think of Cornish meadows and overgrown lanes you may have a romantic image of peasants scything away in the summer sun. I have found that the skill is something that comes with practice and when you get good at it, it’s as fast as strimming with a petrol machine without the annoying high-pitched hum. My advice if you need to clear an area of land is always to have a sharp scythe and sharpen it at regular intervals (every 5-10 minutes). Take time to work on your technique as you would with a golf swing – the path of the scythe is from high to low across your body, but focus on keeping the blade parallel to the ground. The way you use the scythe definitely determines how well you can cut grass or clear brambles. Gourmet foraging Nettles are abundant on our smallholding and you can find them hiding round most of the county along cycle paths, on coastal walks and in your back garden. I regularly pick the fresh shoots at this time of year for salads, soups and sauces. My top tip is always wear gloves – and if you do get stung then pick some plantain leaves and rub them between your hands until they give off a bright green juice. This is excellent for relieving stings and perfect if you can’t spot any dock leaves. Days Out The Lost Gardens of Heligan is a restoration project that typifies the Cornish makeover. In my opinion it sums up the Cornish magic that permeates so many holiday experiences. It is home to a great collection of exotic plants, from bananas to pineapples, and these unusual plants are a result of Cornwall’s micro-climate and the extended growing possibilities. Heligan has taken years to restore to its previous Victorian glory but it is evolving and is now embarking on a series of eco-projects that are subtly taking the best of the old and blending it with the best of the new. Small Spaces Any small back garden or a shared space near your holiday flat will benefit from a bit of a make-over. I recently went to work on a part of our garden at Newhouse Farm and a couple of months later it is alive with edible treats. I recommend hanging baskets for strawberries and salads, bags or towers of old car tyres for potatoes, raised beds for easier weeding and less watering, and a cold frame to dry out seeds and bring on seedlings. Plant productive and low-maintenance perennials like a vine, a fig tree, or Mediterranean herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme. You could plant wild flowers in pots to attract beneficial insects and solitary bees. You will be amazed at how much you can achieve in a day or two because, let’s be honest, nature will do the hard work for you! Nettle velout� recipe

A velout� is normally made with flour and butter as a roux, but in this recipe I’ve used the pureed nettles to create the velvety texture. If you are a confident cook then it’s easy to adapt this into a delicious nettle soup! It has a spinach-like taste and very subtle flavours owing to the light stock. I find it’s great as something a bit different to go with seasonal white fish or chicken.

Serves 4

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Ingredients:150g washed nettles75ml light stock50ml white wine75ml double cream50g butter Salt and pepper

Method: 1 Blanch the nettles and then pur�e with a little water before setting aside. 2 In another pan, reduce the wine by half in volume and then add the stock (preferably fish stock but vegetable works just as well). Add the cream and simmer for a couple of minutes. 3 Add the nettle pur�e and a knob of butter and season to taste. 4 Serve with Cornish potatoes,