Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Photos of our harvest and growing update - we're in full swing!

I thought I'd take a snap shot of some of the things going on in the veg garden and veg plot. It's that really busy time of year when you don't really know if you or the weeds are in charge. One thing I wanted this year was more potatoes and so far, so good. We're harvesting the first earlies (swift variety) when we need them and the growing space is being turned over to squash, courgettes and the like. They are beautiful and I'm very impressed.

These salad blue variety, my 'out there' choice of the year are starting to flower and their flowers are blue too! They look lovely against the green leaves.
The bags were disappointing. Hardly a meal from 3 seed potatoes. Next year I'm trying a different method.
The tomatoes seem to be doing well though I'm worried no more flowers are appearing on those with fruit on already. 
There's Jersey Devil for preserving 
Marmande for BBQ burgers!
Tigrella 
My outdoor variety
The aubergine is flowering
The cucumbers are too - I didn't appreciate how tall cucumbers grew!
At the weekend we harvested our first broad beans, more courgettes (first green), a yellow scallop, out first large tomato and a few strawberries.  I took a mental note to go back and check for more strawberries, which we did last night.
Boy we were not disappointed.  We stopped picking when the trug was overflowing and it help 4 kilograms!
 
Remember my skeletal brassicas?  Well they seem to be fighting back.  Despite the lack of leaves, we have some broccoli heads forming which may be stunted but I will take anything given I thought we have lost the lot.  They're all coming at the same time despite planting a couple of weeks apart.  I'll freeze them, as some seem to be wanting to go to seed.


 Grace is on nightly caterpillar watch and if you look closely you can see how many she took off just 1 plant.  Speaking of which my PSB is ready already!!  I only planted it this year so I am thrown and slightly concerned I won't have any next year now.
Next year I am going to net and enviromesh the lot but it is a lot of money to fork out at once.
This is my bean bed.  Climbing beans in here, with more to go in and I'll risk some direct sowing too.
I have also sown some more spring onions as I lost the first lot.  Plus I've some cauliflowers in, these are the all year round variety.  I'm not sure if we will manage to get any now, but we can try.
 All the rain we had followed by the heat wave has sent everything in to growing overdrive, this lettuce is nearly as big as the kids!
 The sunflowers are starting to open
More than anything, it's been too hot to work in it for too long, so we've taken some time out to sit and enjoy the rays every now any again.  Although, when I looked up and saw this, it did make me chuckle.  My daughter getting a Frisbee out of the bush whilst Ste had 40 winks!



Monday, 19 June 2017

Monday night preserving - elderflower cordial

After a crazy week of work, we had a fabulous weekend with friends and family letting our hair down. More about that during the week as tonight is all about preserving for me.
June is the month of the elderflower here. We've been patiently waiting for the flowers to open and be fresh and healthy, before they go over and we wait patiently again for the elderberries that follow. The weather of the last few days has been perfect for picking elder flowers. We are lucky to have loads of elder trees around here which we found last year.
So as usual, off my little family trooped and gathered enough heads to loosely fill 2 carrier bags. Classy or what?

No one else ever comes here for any foraging, not a soul in sight.
Back home we shook off any bugs and put them in a large saucepan with the zest of 2 oranges and 4 lemons then poured just boiled water over them until covered.

I left the saucepan overnight with a fly cover on to keep it clean whilst it cooled. Then I strained it whilst I sterilised the bottles in the usual way of washing in hot soapy water and drying in the slow cooker.

For every 500ml of liquid we added 350g sugar, a teaspoon citric acid and 50ml of lemon juice. I simmered it at 90c before cooling and straining it again once cool enough. We made enough for 4 litres of cordial.
Now interestingly, the cordial colour was nothing like last years. It looked almost black in the pan and I think that's because I used a pan and not a bucket. However if you make it and it looks dark and awful, stick with it as it came good in the end.
I water bathed those which I will keep to Christmas gifts.

They turned out great and it tastes delicious!

The rhubarb wine is now in Demi johns bubbling away so once I decant it into bottles I will do the post about it.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Monday night preserving - my nemesis strawberry jam

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning will remember my devastation last year when I lost a lot of my jams to mould. Some people may roll their eyes at the thought of being devastated over something like that. However when you look at the time spent growing, nurturing and tending to fruit, the cost involved for the recipe and the time taken to make it, it becomes more understandable I think!
So you can imagine what was in the back of my mind when I collected these beauties. Yes it is strawberry season again and I love it! Daily pickings from now on?

I harvested just over 1kg with some of them not making it inside as you've got to eat the first few stood there on the veg plot, right? Yummy they were too.
I followed Pam Corbin's (River Cottage Pam the Jam for those who don't know) recipe in her preserves book.
She suggested mashing 200g of strawberries with 200g of granulated sugar and warming through then adding the remaining 800g of strawberries and heating slowly until soft. So off I went.

I then added another 300g of granulated sugar and 450g of jam sugar plus 150ml lemon juice which I was surprised at but maybe that's needed because it wasn't all jam sugar?
The colour was changing to that amazing deep red you get from the strawberries cooking.

I brought it to a rolling boil and waited for it to get to temperature which was around 7 or 8 minutes.
In the mean time I sterilised the jam jars in the Aga and the lids on the top in a pan of boiling water.

I am really pleased with the results and will be keeping a close eye on these jars for any sign of mould. These little ones are testers for the Christmas hampers I am going to be doing.
Thanks for reading my Monday night preserves rambles. Next week is rhubarb relish and rhubarb wine.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A week off work

Sorry I missed Monday night preserving last night, normal service resumes Monday coming. There's a few reasons for this. We've taken a week off with the kids this week as mine are off for two weeks at this time of year, due to the way the schools schedule the PD days. Also we're out of sync as it's been Jack's 7th birthday and Steven has been in hospital. So a real mix of events!

My mum made a cake for jack. We celebrated over 2 days so I made one and she made the other. A lucky boy! He had a lovely day.
Ste managed to hurt his back, so much so he was taken to hospital in an ambulance on Sunday morning. I'm pleased to report that he is ok enough to be home and up and about now. He's been instructed to rest, which isn't in his vocabulary but he knows he has to. He's got an MRI to go to and exercises etc to do. As he isn't allowed to lift anything heavy, he should be taking next week off work too under doctors orders. I'll keep you all posted.

Today we harvested our first courgette. Now it would have been our second but the slugs got the first one! We made an omelette with onion, courgette and cheese which was the best omelette I've ever had. We used goose egg which I really think makes all the difference. I much prefer goose egg over duck eggs.

The pigs are turning the parcel of land over that they live on, though it's taking them longer than I expected it to. We're going to start looking at feeding them more home grown veg and cooked potatoes as they're costing a fortune in hard feed. It's all learning. They are growing rapidly and must weigh around 50kg now at 16 weeks old.

On Saturday a local village held a dog show, a fun one. We went along to show support as it's fund raising for the local community. The kids won a second prize for best under 18 handler. It was a nice couple of hours with some lovely well behaved dogs.
My first tomato is turning red! These are an outdoor variety called Garden Pearl I think. I'd need to double check.

We've got some funky shaped terracotta garden pots lying around the smallholding. Ste had a great idea of using them for some of the herbs, so I've started doing that here.

The Swiss chard in the polytunnel is doing amazingly. The peas and beans in the polytunnel are just not worth it, nor the potatoes if I'm honest. So next year I'll do more kale, spinach and chard in there as the kale has been decimated outside by slugs. My strawberries are doing well in there but then they all got eaten in the by ants. It's definitely ants as I've caught them in the act.

This is a patty pan which are all starting to swell up now.

I'm over the moon with the amount of bees we've got visiting our area on a daily basis. I managed to get a snap of this little guy, looking so pretty on the broad beans.

We've also emptied and refilled the duck pond as the IBC tanks are full. The pond takes a full tank and with the amount of rain we've had and are due, we thought it was the best time to get it done. Tomorrow it's going to be windy but dry. I need to get out and do some weeding as it's turning into a jungle out there!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Maximising our outside space

When we were looking for a smallholding, I wanted as much land as possible.  When we moved here, initially we were pleased that we hadn't got as much land as we'd originally set out to get.  Now, 18 months later and feeling like we have lived here forever, we're hoping to get more land at some point.  That's another story, but my point is, when we were looking for a place, we attended River Cottage Summer Fair where we met Tim Maddams.  A lovely chap who we got on talking to about our hopes and dreams.  He couldn't believe the price differences in what we could buy in North East England, compared to "down South".   We too were shocked.
We also stayed at a working farm for 2 nights, whilst we visited River Cottage and met a lovely family who we also got on talking to.  It was calving season and as we stood watching a mother give birth to twins (which I didn't even know cows could do) the farmer was telling us that it's a lot harder to manage 4 acres than it is 40 acres.
We looked shocked and he said, 'land management - it is all in the land management'.  We need to make sure we rotate, rest, harrow etc etc as and when we can.  It's easier said than done, as we don't have the tools that farmers do, so we make do and mend.  (I rolled my field using the tyres on my fiesta for example!).
So part of what we have is the area knows as Chickenville.  Not surprisingly, this has housed our chickens since we moved in.  They've done a great jobs of killing the weeds and the floor is now just mud.  So these chickens have now been given part of the little paddock.


Chickenville was a dense and dark area when we bought this place.
 
Little by little we have chopped the trees down and turned them into fire size pieces ready to keep us warm in the following year's winter.

 
This is double depth to the wall and one of Ste's favourite places!
So back to my original point, of using your land wisely.
This is how Chickenville looks today.  What a cracking space.  Now the chickens are out using the little paddock, we're wondering what we could use this space for.  Time will tell, we're not in a rush to make any mistakes.


 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Monday night preserving - dehydrating fruit

A quick preserving post tonight with it being Bank Holiday. We've had a lovely family day and are back to work tomorrow.
We recently bought a Andrew James dehydrator and have been using it to preserve different things but it's all just trial and error for now. 

Now most of the slicing and dicing requires a thinner cut than I can achieve with a knife. Safely at least! So we decided to trial a food slicer. It was £28 from Argos and we hope it'll be a good addition to the preserving tools we're building up. Of course there were really expensive models of the dehydrator and food slicer but we decided to go for budget on both and see how much use we get of them. Then it'll help us decide in the future if we ever have to replace them.
So today we've used it to slice fresh pineapple which it could do to a thickness of 5mm and I was very impressed with it.

We dried it out for the recommended time and it came out a treat and it's absolutely delicious. The dehydrator takes 4 pineapples so we know this for next time they're on offer.

We will use it for snacking on instead of biscuits and also if I need to add it to any recipes. Healthier too!
It's not seasonal, which is what I intended to use the Monday night preserving slot for, but it's on offer and I feel the two things go hand in hand as pineapple isn't something I've managed to grow yet!! Not to mention that there are no additive or preservatives in this, which there are in the shop bought ones.
Next week i will be posting more about rhubarb. We're fast approaching June and the season will be over shortly after that as I'll let the plants rest and restore themselves for 2018 season! Incidentally, we're moving the rhubarb when it is dormant later in the year, as we've had an idea to use some space at the front of the house.