Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Why we're missing in action

Sorry we have been missing in action! We're still here and working away very hard both at  home and at work. I knew I wouldn't be able to do any preserving or much outside over this busy period at work, but wanted to let you know we are ok and absolutely still blogging and loving living here.
We are going on holiday for a week come Friday, so there won't be updates until I'm back on 28th.  I am really looking forward to the break, not from this place, but mentally. We are lucky to have family and friends staying here the entire time we're away so all the animals and jobs are covered.
In the mean time, Ste finished part of the sheep project he had going on. We needed hay racks for them. I've been using horses hay nets but they aren't safe for the sheep so I'm glad this jobs done. It didn't cost him a penny as he re used items we had laying around. To top it off, can you see how beautiful the day was when we took the photo?

He has put brackets on them so they can hang off the fences and we can move them around. Inevitably, where the sheep eat, they turn over the grass so it's good to be able to move them.

We've also taken ownership of 30 more meat birds, from another supplier who is lovely, so that's a bonus. Always good to have a back up.

We managed to survive the storm here. I say that tongue and cheek as it was just wind we've seen before, thankfully. I do feel for the people affected by it and hope they get back on track soon.
Below you can see we've rigged up a more permanent light in the greenhouse now. The nights are drawing in that quickly that I am checking on things in the dark! This is perfect and it also casts light on the chicken coops behind it, so I can see when locking up.

Ste also knocked up some planters out of the rest of the pallets after making th hay feeders. I'm very lucky to have him!

Finally, I'm conscious that I'm not going to get any more outside time before we fly on Friday, so I made sure I picked the squash we had growing as we will no doubt get a frost when we are away.

Some funny looking ones! Some aren't totally ripe but they'll be ok one way or another.
Thanks for reading today, I want to catch up with your blogs before I go away as I won't have internet once I leave I don't think. I'll try my hardest. Take care everyone, speak to you at the end of October.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Autumn planting and more winter prep

I had a delivery this week which I was rather excited about! The onions and shallots arrived, so today I unpacked them. The garlic isn't here yet but that's ok as I have another 2 months or so to get the garlic in. I ordered them from marshalls and they were very well packed, so I'm pleased.

We recently topped this bed up with rotted muck. It's still rotting, but we put it on the bottom half of the bed and replaced the top half with the soil that was already there. It's amazingly light in texture and crumbly, from last years muck so I am really pleased. 

For the onions and shallots, we measured the rows 30cm apart and then alternated rows of red and white onions sets at 10cm apart. We had apx 75 of each colour and it only took up half the bed! The shallots took 1.5 rows and there's still 3 rows left to fill when the garlic arrives. We covered it with a net to stop the birds picking them out after this photo was taken.

We then moved on to the next bed, I promise I did more than take the photos! The leaves you can see on the left are the comfry which I will leave to die back now, for next year. We just folded them out of the way whilst we worked.

This bed won't be used until the spring now, so we used the new membrane we had ordered and covered the bed, weighing the cover down with bricks. Hopefully it'll suppress any weeds growing!

Ste has been working hard in the barn, with more preparing for winter. Here's what it looked like this morning.

And the below photo is when he finished in there. This is the start of the sheep pen I mentioned in a previous post. We need a gate on it and the hay that's in there will soon be gone as that's the horses. We'll put a bed of straw down in there once it's ready and then it's a case of getting the sheep in, when the weather dictates!

Another thing we are almost ready for is the next meat birds. We've bought a new heat lamp as the last one we used was borrowed. It's something we're going to use a lot so a good investment I think. All this needs is the straw down and the chicks in there.

This mesh greenhouse frame has seen some different uses! 

Tomorrow is another day and we've lots to fit in. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Monday night preserves - winter tonic (elderberry syrup)

It always amazes me as to what nature offers at different times of the year. As we move into the months where people generally catch colds, feel tired and under the weather, if you take a look around you, nature has its very own remedies.  Elderberries shiny and black. Well, purple but I'm not splitting hairs.

I was worried we'd missed the boat with them as last year we did a bit and many had started to droop and shrivel. Not this year, even Ste was exclaiming at how good they looked. Tree after tree is laden with them, plenty for us and plenty for the birds.

I forgot my phone when we went out foraging, but we had a good time, even Jack who was feeing grumpy cheered up in the end.

That was yesterday, perfect Sunday! So today I'm making elderberry syrup.  I made a small batch of this last year and then didn't make more however this year I hope to make lots more to water bath and keep using until the Spring.

Elderberries have been used for years as one of the most antiviral herbs on the planet.  Highest on the list is fighting off colds, sinus (inflammation) issues, nerve pain and fatigue.  Who knows about the others but I firmly believe in the cold fighting abilities, purely because elderberries have such a high level of vitamins/anti oxidants and and such like.  Apparently during the 1995 Panama flu epidemic the government employed the use of elderberry to fight the flu. Who knew?

We harvested a large tuppawear tub full of elderberries and I set about using a fork to pull each berry off.  Soon enough I had 2 helpers who thought what I was doing looked interesting.  I can't tell you how much it pleased me to have the kids want to help in a task like this. As you can tell, we weren't dressed to look photogenic, but an honest photo at least!

Apparently you can freeze the berries on the stalks and then they come off even easier but to be honest it wasn't too much of a chore. I washed the berries and put them in a large pan. 

I covered them with just enough water and brought it to the boil. I chopped some root ginger, guessing the quantity. I put maybe a thumb size piece, skin too, roughly chopped into the pan. Boiling it for 5-10 minutes.

The recipes online mostly say to let it drip overnight or mash with a masher. As I'm always pushed for time, I used my hand held blender and zuzzed it all up.

I sieved it into a clean jug through a Muslin and I had 1 litre of liquid. I added 1 kilo of sugar and a cinnamon stick then simmered it and brought it back to the boil for a minute once the sugar had dissolved, decanting it whilst still warm into sterilised warm bottles. It's actually really nice and we'll be taking a spoonful of this every day to ward bugs off. If we're ill, you can take a spoonful every couple of hours for a vitamin boost.

This should keep a couple of months in the fridge but it won't last that long. When I make more I'll water bath them. 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Preparing for winter - outside space 

This winter we are expecting company in the form of a tup or ram as they're called. A boy sheep is coming to visit our girl sheep! He is an Oxford Down pure breed and when we get him here, I'll post a photo. In the mean time the girls aren't leaving him much grass, so we're giving them a top up of hay each day but without over feeding as we've been warned about over-weight sheep struggling to either get pregnant or to lamb successfully. I don't want to lose any of my girls from something we can prevent, so I'll be keeping a close eye on them. 

Hopefully he'll be here from November so we hope for April lambs. Of course what we expect to happen doesn't usually follow the textbook, so we'll take what we can and as long as they're healthy, that suits me. 

Once the tup comes they'll be moved onto the little paddock for a week or so as we've left that grow a bit but again, not too much of the lush green stuff or they'll have dicky stomachs. 

We are adding a frame on to our spare stable which is going to be their winter space and then convert it to allow the girls a pen each when it comes to lambing. 

We have also taken delivery of the autumn hay, 6 big round bales.This is for 2 horses, a pony and 3 sheep, I don't know how long it'll last now the sheep are involved as my old calculations were for equines only!! Ste is rather pleased as he managed to lift the bale on top of another to stack them. He used nothing but pallets and bags of shavings to help him!

As the days shorten and the night gets cooler, we're adding a bit more bedding to the poultry to use it for warmth opposed to it just being for cleaning out.

The field is becoming boggy again due to the amount of rain we've had and the horses are starting to turn it into a mess. It's time to think about getting it ready for winter. It'll need a rest and from some time in October / November when the day time temperature drops below 6C, there will be no more grass growth. I am sacrificing part of the field to allow some turn out but the rest of it will be rested. Once it gets too bad, then the field will be closed up and the horses allowed to free range round the car park area but as they've not done that before, I don't know how it'll work.

For now I am tying them up outside the barn to get them used to spending time there. The things we have to do.

The chicken and duck area is very muddy due to the rain too, so we're having to give some thought as to what we can do there as it's a high traffic area for humans and I've already fell over when moving a wheelbarrow through it.

In the veg garden, those areas that can be covered up will be and we're starting to clear the spaces that are finished with. Manure is being put into the beds to keep them topped up  and we're continuing to repair as we go along.

We'll continue to prepare for winter here, inside the house as well as outside and I'll keep you posted as to how we're getting on.

Monday night preserves - sweet chilli sauce

I remember Dawn posting about a sweet chilli sauce she makes so I checked in with her and she gave me a link. Thanks Dawn.

As it's the season for chilli and I'm lucky enough to be getting lots, I picked the mild ones and made the recipe at the suggested quantity, to be sure we liked it.

I can't believe how easy it is. I definitely won't be buying sweet chilli sauce again.

It's almost a 'throw it all in' recipe. Starting off with 2 chillis (deseeded), 3 cloves garlic, white vinegar, sugar and water in the food processor. 

I blitzed it a fair bit as my daughter loves sweet chilli sauce but not chunks of chillis. This was then poured into a pan.

Put into a high heat and when bubbling moved over to the simmering plate for 3-5 minutes.

I mixed a tbsp cornstarch with double the quantity of water and threw that in. Bubbled for another minute and then left to cool. 

I was literally jumping for joy as it can't have taken more than 10 minutes in total and I now have a new recipe under my belt that is delicious and will be staying with us as a family go to. It's great when we can share things like this on our blogs and other benefit. Keep it up Dawn, we're all learning!

I've sourced a recipe to use up some more runner beans for next week's preserves, which will hopefully keep well beyond winter. 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Mini polytunnels and seed sowing

I can't quite believe it's Sunday night even though we've packed a fair bit into the 2 days.

I'm starting to plant out the seedlings that I sowed last month. This weekend I put the cauliflower and Savoy cabbage in, put collars on them all and covered some with the 2 mini polytunnels that I bought. They aren't actual polytunnel material but I think they'll keep the the heat in all the same.

I cleared the area and raked in a few handfuls of fish, boood and bone before stomping the ground down where they were to be planted. Cabbages and cauliflower like to be in firm ground and and tredded in. The Savoy cabbages are 22 inches apart and the cauliflower were 30 I think.

You can see the the collars in both photos. They stop cabbage root fly apparently, so on they went.

The below photo shows the yellow tube Steven has started putting over the beds. As he fixes the beds, he's adding the tubing which will be a slow job but I'm sure he'll have it done before the Spring. 

Today I've sown more seeds as I like to sow more when things go into the ground. I put in some All Year Round cauliflower, Valdor winter lettuce, All Year Round lettuce, boltardy beetroot and some Raab 60 day broccoli. Most of these things will be grown under some form of protection be it the greenhouse, polytunnel or fleeces and cloches. I also put the Cape Gooseberry plant into the polytunnel ready to over winter in there. 

So many more things going on which I'll share this week when I get the photos.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Autumn planting

I have just placed an order for autumn planting garlic, onions and shallots. I've never grown shallots before. 

The garlic is hardneck Carcassonne Wight which I can plant straight away from September and crops from May.  Also I bought softneck Garlic Provence Wight. I will plant these garlic cloves from September onwards too. Apparently once lifted, will keep until January so I look forward to that.

RHS describes the difference between hardneck and softneck varieties.

  • Flower stalks appear readily
  • Fewer, larger cloves covered with a looser tunic are produced
  • It is considered to have stronger and more interesting flavour
  • It is best gathered when the foliage has changed colour
  • It stores only until mid-winter

Softneck garlic (Allium sativum) generally produces smaller, more tightly-packet cloves;

  • Does not produce flower stalks unless stressed
  • It is best harvested when the foliage starts going over
  • It has better storage qualities than hardneck varieties
  • If autumn planted it will keep until mid- to late-winter
  • If planted in early spring softneck varieties it can be stored until mid-spring
The autumn onions are: Shakespeare - for steeping in sauces and giving casseroles a real kick. British bred, autumn planting brown skinned variety that produces high yields of good sized bulbs with excellent skin formation that means it shows good storage potential well into the winter months. Red Cross which over winters well and stores for up to three months. 

Finally the shallots are: golden gourmet which are 20 bulbs. I've never grown them before so any tips welcome. 

We had a really cold snap the other night which saw the outside temp drop to 3.5c which was a shock. This weekend I'll bring in the plants that don't tolerate cold well including the lemon tree, cape gooseberry and the young fig tree just as it's in a pot. The horses had their rain sheets on as we've had lots of wet weather and foggy mornings are making an appearance again.