Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Looking Back - I think everyone does this post!

The last year has seen some major changes around our place. We’ve only been here 18 months but we’ve made it feel like home doing up quite a bit of the house. The garden is another matter. We’ve pretty much started from scratch this year with everything other than the lawn area (the only area that looks worse due to the addition of chicken digging up the lawn!).

Me taking down one of the old sheds

As you can see by the photos I started with a fairly bare, weed riddled plot but in a short space of time managed to build all the raised beds (planting them up the second they were finished as time was against me), remove an apple tree (although I’ve planted and apple and plum to replace it, and I got given an apple and pear tree for Christmas), build the greenhouse and give it a nice blue brick plinth, replace 100ft of fencing, make a good start on my shed, plant fruit bushes, build an arc and keep chickens and best of all grow plenty of vegetables to keep us well supplied nearly all year long!

Building and planting the raised beds

The raised beds finished just as spring was begining!

Full veg plot in Summer!

Greenhouse built and full of tomatoes.

Some happier ex-battery hens!

All in all I feel pretty happy with how this year has turned out, but I’ve got some big plans for next year!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A Merry Christmas Had By All

With all the merriment and visiting family and friends almost over it was nice to spend the day in the garden having a quite tidy up and to start to use some of my presents!
I’ve been quite spoilt this year and I’ve had numerous things for the garden – a posh dibber, some mushroom growing kits and two old fashioned rhubarb forcers amongst other things. The one forcer has gone straight onto the garden (although I know it’s too early, it looks so nice!).
I’ve also had some lovely books and mum managed to find me an old copy of John Seymour’s self sufficient gardener, as she knows that his guild to self sufficiency is one of my favourite books. As well as this I got a copy of the old 1980’s series of the Victorian Kitchen Garden on DVD, as ever since I was given the book from the series and read it cover to cover I’ve been hinting I want to watch it. (got lots of other none garden related presents as well but I wony list them here as there is far too many!)

I’ve started one of the mushroom kits today - white button mushrooms - so we should have some in a few weeks time. I wonder if I can save the spawn from some of these mushrooms to start a new batch when this one gets worn out – I’ve got a book on it somewhere I’m sure! As well as this I’ve planted some onion and radish seeds in the greenhouse, not sure how well they will do but its worth a try to get some veg a little earlier.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The shed to end all sheds

I’ve had a patch of concrete down since the end of last winter, but with doing the house up and the garden I haven’t had time to start on my big project - the shed!
I’ve just had a weeks holiday (got to use it up before Christmas) and I’ve managed to get the wall panels made and on Friday we had the big erection (if you pardon the pun).
My brother came round and in a day we got all four sides up and fixed. It’s a monster! 4m by 6m – the neighbours don’t mind as its sitting where two very rough sheds were before. It should make a nice workshop to do some carpentry in, I’m going to make sure it is fully wired and I might even get the inside plastered (as it will be insulated and heated) so that it will be a selling point when we want to move on from here (a summer house or gym for someone).
Over the Christmas holidays I plan to get the roof on and windows in (weather permitting).

Claire does think I'm building a bungalow at the bottom of the garden though!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

I’m Not a Pheasant Plucker

I’m not a pheasant plucker,
I’m a pheasant pluckers mate,
I’m only plucking pheasants because the pheasant pluckers late!

My brothers’ girlfriend got given a brace of pheasants at the weekend and she wanted someone to dress them for her. They had been hung for a week and were ripe enough for cooking.

I’m a bit rusty at dressing game birds, and my brother wanted to learn on one, so they’re not going to win any prises for looks, but they didn’t take too long to do and should taste pretty good.

I was a bit worried when my brother stuck his hand inside the bird and then smelt his hand - he was almost sick! But what did he expect the week old guts would smell like! My bros bird did look like road kill when he’d finished though as he pulled off a big patch of skin by mistake.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Frosty Mornings

It’s been nice to be at home when it’s light. I hate having to get up when it’s dark and get back when it’s dark again, so I've been looking forward to the weekends even more lately.
Managed to catch up on a few things, cleaned out the chickens and had a good tidy up. As my parents came over for Sunday roast (with five vegetables out of the garden!) we spent the afternoon planting spring bulbs in the flower boarders and by the cob tree, should add a bit of colour in a few months time.

Also managed to do a job I’ve been putting off for sometime (because it’s not garden or outside related), I’ve added another layer of insulation to our loft! It’s a job I hate, dirty, dark and horrible, but it should save us some money in the long run. I’ve also managed to catch one of the mice that are keeping me awake in the night, so I bated all the traps again to try and catch his mate in the loft. I think his mate is the one that wears lead shoes and likes dancing on the little bit of ceiling above my head!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Fruit trees and mushrooms

I spent a nice Sunday on my parents farm pruning the fruit trees in the new orchard with my brother. After doing the pruning course last week and the fact that my brother is a tree surgeon, I felt quite confidant. It was a cold day and we had to wait for the trees to defrost before we started, but we soon had the 3 and 4 year old trees pruned to size, we should hopefully get a bit more fruit off them than we have up till now, they’ve been slow getting established and we’ve only had about 2 apples so far. The plum, gage and damson trees will get pruned in the spring to prevent silver leaf.
After a warming roast dinner we braved the cold again to use up the dowel mushroom spawning kit that had been sitting in my fridge since the spring. To do this we drilled holes in some freshly cut logs every 6 inches, knocked in the inoculated dowels and then sealed the tops with wax. We then found a nice dark corner of mums’ garden to store them in where they won’t dry out. Hopefully in about 6 to 12 months time we should have some Shiitake mushrooms to eat.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Fruit Tree Pruning

I’ve had an excellent day at Hanbury Hall learning how to prune fruit trees. The course was run by Pershore College and covered everything from standard trees to espaliers and fans.
The course started with a bit of theory, in the polytunnel they used as a classroom, and then moved out into the orchard to prune the trees ourselves. They took a lot more off the trees than I thought they would, but in doing so showed us the shape we should be aiming for and how to manipulate the branches that are left. I’ll be pruning the trees in my garden tomorrow so long as it doesn’t rain! I’ve also got about 24 fruit trees on my parents farm that I planted four years ago to have a go at, so that should be good practice!
We were given so much information in just one day, I think I’ll book myself on the advanced pruning course in March to make it sink in better (and maybe the summer one as well).

Parsnips from another Planet

Pulled the first few of our parsnips earlier in the week and they look like something from another planet! I knew they’d fork as I planted them next to the potatoes, which was on heavily mucked land, but at the time it was the only space I had! Don’t think it should alter the taste though!
I think these are destined for a spiced parsnip soup on a cold night and maybe to go with the last of the turnips in a stew.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Rainy Weekend

What a wet week so far! Been soaked to the skin loads of times at work but never mind!
At the weekend Claire and I tried to pick some sloes when we went for a cold walk across the fields. Unfortunately there was none about at all; they’re related to damsons and plums and it’s been a bad year for those as well. The frost must have got the blossom back in the spring.
We didn’t manage to pick more than a handful so we decided not to bother and to strain some sloe gin that’s been sat waiting for about four years instead!
We strained it using a funnel and some filter paper which took a while but the resulting liquor tastes amazing!
I don’t think it will last long, its the perfect winter warmer after being in the cold all day.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Butternut Squash Soup

Well today I made the worst soup of my life. Using the squahes out of the garden I made a roasted butternut squash soup in the same way as when I make tomatoes soup, but I think I got the thickness wrong because it ended up like baby food with a bland flavour and nearly made me gag. The croutons were nice though.
Anyone got any better recipes for this vegetable as I don’t think I’ll be making soup from it again in the near future.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

What the fig?

I brought myself a new fig tree at Malvern show the other day as a nice addition to our patio. Since getting it back it seems to be dropping its green fruit which I thought was meant to stay on till next year.

Does anyone know why this is and what I can do to stop it?
(poor picture but you can see the bottom fruits are just starting to go bad)

Monday, 13 October 2008

Another great weekend

We had really beautiful weather this weekend so I thought it was time to dust off the old shotgun and go shooting on the farm.

I decided to go pigeon shooting first with decoys and then lamping later for rabbits.

I made myself a lovely hide, in a field that hadn’t long been harvested, and sat there for a few hours. This was fruitless and I didn’t see a single pigeon let alone shoot one, but it was lovely just to sit in the field and watch nature go by.

At one point a buzzard came within 10 feet of me and almost went for one of my decoys before realising they weren’t real pigeons! I really loved watching it fly off and land in the old half dead oak tree across the field, it seems we have so many birds of prey now and I can remember when there was none about on our farm, now we have buzzards, kestrels and sparrow hawks all around.

The lamping was a much greater success. This is essential pest control and since leaving home the rabbit population has exploded since I'm the only one who shoots, so it’s good to come back and have a bit of a cull once in a while. Also provides some tasty meat, although I won’t be keeping the rabbits this time, instead my boss at work wants them for a stew so it’s a nice (free) gift to give him.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Pickled Eggs

Managed to pickle some eggs tonight, but a load broke when I was boiling them so we’ve got egg sandwiches tomorrow as well!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Green Tomato chutney

After picking all my tomatoes on Saturday we decided to make green tomato chutney on the Sunday and soup for dinner with the red ones.

The chutney was quite easy to make, but quite labour intensive.

3lb of green tomatoes (skinned, this is what takes the time)
12oz onions
12oz of cooking apples
12oz of brown sugar
¾ pint of ready spiced vinegar
A little salt
(Sorry about all the units being in old money, it’s from an old recipe book)
1. Soften the onions in a pan with a little vinegar.
2. Simmer until nearly soft
3. Add the chopped apples, chopped tomatoes and salt with just enough vinegar to stop it sticking
4. Cook until all soft
5. Add the rest of the vinegar and the sugar
6. Boil slowly until the mixture is thick
7. Bottle it, seal it and label it
8. Leave to mature before eating

I did catch the bottom of the pan a little so hopefully this won’t affect the taste too much, when I tried some it had a real punch to it but tasted good.

Other than that, I managed to plant my garlic out in a raised bed I’ve cleared and some flower bulbs in the borders. I also managed to grease band the few fruit trees we've got here at home.

The chickens are still laying a couple of eggs a day and we’ve got quite a few stored up so later in the week I think its time to pickle a dozen for eating in the winter.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A Busy Autumn Weekend

Apple picking again! This time I’m picking for storage.
The Norfolk Royal is absolutely laden with apples this year, but to pick some more I’ll need to use the tractor and loader, so maybe next weekend (i've already been told off for standing on the shed roof!). The Norfolk Royals' waxy skin helps it keep well into winter with the correct storage, but I’ve only got baskets to store them in – when I’ve built my new shed I will create a proper apple storage area so they’ll keep longer. I also managed to pick Bramley apples as well as all the pears that are left on the young trees.
As well as this I’ve decided to pick all my tomatoes, red and green, for soup and chutney. I’m making the chutney today so might post it later on. All my chilli peppers were also picked yesterday and put straight into the food dryer.
Like a fool I tried one of the dried fruits this morning and then spent hours with my tongue under the tap! I made them into flakes but placing the fruits in a freezer bag and lightly hitting them with a hammer, this should make them easier to add to stews and things. They should keep a long time sealed in a jar and they'll be good for warming us up on cold winter nights!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Malvern Autumn Show

Mum invited both Claire and I to Malvern Autumn Show at the weekend. This turned out to be a great day out with gorgeous sunshine, the show was packed and everywhere there were all the countryside stalls and attractions you could want, from fishing to flower pots to ferrets.
My favourite was the vegetable exhibition hall, particularly the large vegetable collections; there were leeks as tall as men and onions like footballs, not to mention pumpkins that had to be brought in on forklift trucks! I’m going to have to try harder with mine next year (although I’ve a sneaking suspicion that some of them weren’t grown quite as naturally as others)!

As well as this there were some great show gardens in the “Plot to Pot” section, I particular like the “dig for victory” garden set out like the old wartime poster. Local school children had helped build it and a lad of about 8 could name all the herbs used, showing what a good education it is for school children teaching them where their food comes from.

The food hall was also really good this year, with the collections of apples and perry pears nestled at the back. I’ve always loved perry pear trees as my parents farm has loads scattered about the place, one of them being about 60ft tall and dominating the farmyard. The perry pear collection was quite impressive but still didn't have the type of pear thats on the farm!

Fruit drying

Some of the early eating apples we got from my mum and dad’s don’t keep very long, so before they go rotten its time to get the fruit dryer out from the cupboard.

We brought this fruit dryer from Poland when we went on holiday there last year as it was only £30 compared to nearly £100 in this country.

To dry the apples I peal and core them before cutting them into slices and lying on the drying trays.

Then with the food dryer on I leave them for 24 hours until they’re crisp and seal them in kilner jars.

Kept in a cool dark place I’ve kept apples like this for a year and they’re great for snacking on.

As you can see in the pictures I also dried raspberries and blackberries. The raspberries are lovely and nice on cereal with milk but the blackberries went like burn currants and I wouldn’t recommend them (make sure they dont go in the compost either or you might as well plant brambles!).

My chilli peppers will be then next thing to have the drying treatment to make my own chilli flakes.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Crab Apple Jelly

Being back on Mum and Dad's farm the other day we decided to pick some crab apples from the small damson orchard, along with some other fruit.
The idea was to make loads of crab apple jelly when we got back home. I’ve made jam in the past but I’ve never made a jelly and thought it would be interesting to try.
After looking through what seemed like hundreds of cooking books we decided that it was best to adapt a recipe to what we had at hand.

Making the jelly
We first chopped the apples into quarters and chucked them into the largest saucepan we own (it only held three quarters of carrier bag full and even then it boiled over!). We added enough water to cover the fruit and then boiled it for an hour.

We then mashed the fruit up and put it into a jelly bag suspended over a pot.
We left this bag to drain through for 24 hours (we had to go to work!). We didn’t squeeze the bag as we’d read you get more jelly but its cloudy and wanted ours to be clear.

In the end we had about a pint of juice, this we put in a sauceepan and started to simmer. We then put the same amount of sugar into a bowl and warmed it in the oven before adding it slowly to the juice.
Once the sugar was dissolved we brought it to a rapid boil until it reached setting point (this didn’t take long), and we poured it into freshly sterilised jam jars out of the oven.
Then we put wax discs on top and plastic lids before licking the saucepan clean.
The jelly set rock solid, had a really nice apple taste to it and was very clear. It only made three small jars though!

What else can I do with crab apples?

I have planted some crab apple seeds to make my own root stocks to graft some dessert apple branches on but I’m still not sure how to do it.