An Interview With Nick from The Thirsty Gardeners

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We recently caught up with Nick, one half of the Thirsty Gardeners – planters and home brewing extraordinaires who spend their time planting veg and finding interesting flavours to make alcohol. Read on to hear Nick talking about his top tips for what you should be doing in your garden this summer. 

It’s clear both your childhoods played a big part in getting you where you are today. From memories of stirring your Gran’s elderflower wine, to parents who grew the family diet in the garden. Would you say this was the main reason why you got into gardening and home brewing?
I guess so, yes. I think both gardening and home brewing have a mystery and magic to that’s appealing. Planting a small seed and watching it grow into something much larger that can be eaten can be a fascinating thing for children, and is something I still find fascinating today. Turning offensive looking and smelling liquids into something deliciously drinkable has a similar appeal – especially when you throw in the mesmerising effect of gas bubbling out of an airlock. Science and nature in action!
You sound like you have a quite busy schedule – how do you have time to fit in gardening and brewing alcohol too?
Sometimes I don’t know how we fit it all in! We’re both self employed, which gives us a bit more flexibility than we would have if were tied to offices. As it’s a hobby which is ever changing and developing we still very much enjoy brewing and gardening, although the latter does often get neglected in favour of the brewing!
It is believed that although a large proportion of the UK has access to an outside space, on average we only use it for 1 – 2 hours a week. What advice would you give to gardening novices to turn an unused outdoor space into a loved one?
People need to consider what they want from their garden and how much time they have to devote to it, and then decide what to grow from there. For example, some crops, such as potatoes, take very little effort and quickly cover an area of neglected land. But as potatoes are readily available at a sensible price it might not seem there’s much point in growing them yourself. We’ve been through this process and decided to grow heritage varieties of potato which aren’t available in shops and have now moved on to a very similar Andean crop called ‘oca’. Just as easy to grow, uses up space in the same way, but much more rewarding results.
With more people renting these days than buying, leaving us with much smaller living spaces, what top tips could you give to turning a small outdoor space into a useful one?
Select smaller veg which can be grown in space saving containers and crop over a long period of time. The classic answer to this conundrum is ‘herbs’, and they genuinely are a great option. As with the above potato debate there are herbs available that you can’t easily find in shops, making the exercise even more fun – we’ve been growing a herb called ‘sculpit’ this year which has the bonus of unusual and attractive flowers so it’s worth letting a few plants grow on.
What veg is in season right now and what should we be looking to plant in the coming months?
The next few months are mainly about harvesting, so there’s plenty of veg in season. Beans, courgettes, tomatoes, chillies, potatoes, carrots – most of the staple ingredients of our diet are in abundance! Harvesting these crops inevitably leaves gaps in the garden which can be filled with new crops. This is as probably as late as you can sow carrots, beetroot, French beans and lettuces so it’s worth scattering a few seeds in those gaps and protecting them with fleece if an early frost arrives in autumn. I’m also a fan of ‘turnip greens’, a quick growing mustardy leaf crop which can be sown now.
Regardless of season, what are some of your favourite things to grow?
Many of our favourite things end up in the brewing shed. Apples are an obvious favourite – we planted out a few unusual cider apple trees a few years ago and are looking forward to a first harvest from them this autumn. We’re also big fans of rhubarb. It tolerates some of the laziest gardening behaviour you can give a plant, yet still rewards you with armfuls of sticks, saving a fortune from shop bought rhubarb. It makes one of our favourite country wines and is also great for liqueurs. We’ve even made a very tasty rhubarb beer.
What advice would you give for maintaining wooden planters in gardens or allotments?
As with most things in the garden, the right preparation is key. Treat your wood before it gets used and you’ll immediately increase its life span.
Are there any resources/tools that you would recommend for any budding gardener to improve their knowledge and skills.
If you’re growing veg from seed then the best source of information is on the packet! It’s amazing how many people search the internet looking for answers that are already on the product they’ve purchased. Blog sites from fellow amateur gardeners can often be more useful than the professionals. Sometimes advice can be so thorough that it makes gardening off-putting. Unless you’re growing for show or want a career in gardening then keeping it simple is usually the best way to get the most enjoyment out of it.
There seems to have been a home brew revolution over the last few years, do you think it’s something that anyone could give a go?
Absolutely. Take cider as an example. It is, quite simply, made by allowing apple juice to naturally ferment. Nothing more complicated than that. So all you need are apples, a way of turning them into juice and a vessel to ferment them in. There are loads of unused apples all over the countryside, so getting hold of them is easy. Unless you’re interested in making huge batches of cider you can use a kitchen juicer to extract the juice. And go to a few car boot sales and you’ll soon find yourself a cheap demijohn to ferment it in.
Most of our drinks are made in our small kitchens and it’s even possible to follow beer recipes that only take a few hours to make and use basic kitchen equipment, with the beer being ready in just two or three weeks.
Congratulations on the book launch for 2015, any sneak peeks of what’s going to be in there?
Thank you. It will be packed with our favourite recipes including traditional country wines and liqueurs, a range of interesting beers and ciders, besides some fun and unusual recipes from around the world. I’ve just tested out another batch of a Mexican pineapple based drink called tepache – perfectly refreshing for the hot summer.
What’s in the pipeline for the future, will we be seeing your home brew in our local farm shops one day?
There are no grand plans other than continuing to grow things, make booze, and see what happens. I think Rich quite likes the idea of a range of Thirsty Gardeners drinks, whereas I’m more interested in exploring the world for more unusual beverages to make.
For more useful gardening tips check out the Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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