Friday, 21 July 2017

Some of what's growing and a suspicion

It's funny as when I started sowing the seeds early in 2017, I couldn't imagine them germinating.  Then when they germinated I couldn't imagine them being decent size seedlings and then when I moved them to their final resting place I couldn't imagine them filling the planting distance!  Well they grew, and filled it plus more....I did try, but I've planted some things too close again!
 
In the polytunnel we have a beef tomato plant to compare to growth with one in the greenhouse.  There was no noticeable difference.  There's swiss chard, spinach and tomatillos in the below picture, all which I would recommend growing the polytunnel again.

 
The cucumbers don't seem to be thriving in there.  The watermelon has done very well in the pot it has been in the greenhouse, so now there is a space, I've planted it in the polytunnel.

 
The last of the kale which did marvellously in here.  I've taken the rest out as the outside kale plants have caught up now.  Again, kale to get an early harvest is worth doing in the polytunnel.
I've put a couple of pepper plants that were later than the others in where to kale was and marigolds are blooming on the edges now.

 
My goodness the courgette and patty pans are leafing up quickly.

 
Oh der, I don't even like cabbage as much as this would suggest I do!  Truth be told, I labelled them up wrong and thought these were caulis.....go on, have a laugh at my expense, I am!  Looks like a freeing session and coleslaw making is on the cards this weekend.  They've grown without any fuss though.  Durham early variety - I like no fuss plants!
 
 
A little idea I had for some of the many pumpkin seeds I had was to grow the smaller fruiting ones in containers and grow up instead of across.  These guys are coming on great due to the rain we've had no doubt, so this weekend they'll be getting tied up so they don't snap under their own weight.
 
 
 
The runner beans are also no fuss.  These are scarlet emperor variety and so pretty!  I've some preserving recipes waiting for these guys!  The nasturtiums are doing their job as they are covered in black flies.


Another bush that is coming on by the day is this cape gooseberry - literally growing by the day.  It might even need to go in the ground this year and not next like I was planning.

 
Another plant I couldn't imagine taking up much room when I planted them as tiny green, flimsy leaves were the sweetcorn.  Well they sure like this soil as once they took hold, they shot up!
 
They're in with some pumpkins which are just thugs.  They at sprawling wherever they want without a care in the world.  I love it!


Controversially I am growing tomatoes and potatoes in the same bed.  Now this goes against some recommendations but on a website I use for a lot of research, it said to grow them together for a number of reasons, so I am trying it outside.  I've taken up the second early potatoes which I am really pleased with and will definitely use next year (British Queen) and I've planted tomatoes (and peppers) in their place. 
There is still one row of spuds to come up and the back section is sunflowers and more tomatoes with catch crop of spinach in there.
 
The sunflowers are reaching amazing heights - I'm in for sizing guide - I'm 5'6 (and a half ;) )

 
Considering how many tomato plants I have, I'm not getting anywhere near the amount in the greenhouse that I thought I would.  Disappointing results here so far.  I've had a couple of kilos but I have loads of plants!  Still the best thing you will taste though.
 
 
 
Now something that isn't doing too well.  My broad beans have done dreadfully this year.  At first I thought it was just one of those things and maybe the new beds with rotted muck in were too rich for them.  Then I noticed other beds doing it but again, they'd had muck added at some point.  I've made this picture larger so you can look above the nasturtiums and see the curl on the leaf.  The beans are all knarled and shrivelled too.  I asked about and the consensus was weed killer which I said it can't be as we don't use it.
 
The my sunflowers, which were reaching for the skies with bright yellow blooms, started to die.  One down right died overnight.  Weird I thought, definitely something wrong with the soil.  I was gutted.  Steven not so much as after last years broad bean harvest he didn't want to see another one again :D.

 
The leaves have done the same as the broad beans, shrivelled and died after being 100% healthy.
Hmm....I walked round my plots and started to wonder.  Is it possible that we've had drift from the farmer's pesticide?  Last year I got caught out when they sprayed and it knocked me so ill that I needed to go to bed.  Are my sunflowers and beans suffering the same fate?  Does anyone know what else it could be?
Black fly for the beans, would they make the leaves curl?
 
The peas that I have sown in the same soil are sprouting up and the farmer won't be spraying now I don't think (harvest),so hopefully we will have some late peas too.
 
I've lots more to share, but I'll do that another day.  Happy Friday!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Monday night preserves - Christmas spiced red cabbage and home grown chicken

When I think of preserving, my thoughts don't always lend themselves straight to the freezer which is crazy really as it's one of today's modern options for preserving our harvests.  This week we have switched on the new (to us) chest freezer that we were given, as we will shortly have the pigs to fill it.  It seems to be working fine thankfully, got to love a freebie.
So that got me thinking and when I wandered round the veg plot the other morning I noticed every single red cabbage was doing great and they would need harvesting very soon.
So for my Monday preserve, I decided to trial a Christmas cabbage recipe as those of you who were hear last year know I love red cabbage at Christmas!  It freezes amazingly and tastes even better afterward in my opinion.
This new recipe from BBC Good Food which is Spiced red cabbage.

I've used 2 heads of cabbage for this recipe as mine came in short of the kilo that it recommended, but not far off.  I also used 2 red onions of my own, very satisfying feeling.  Don't the cabbages look pretty?




Method taken from BBC Good Food.
Sweat 2 onions and add the zest of an orange and a cinnamon stick after 5 mins.  Give them a minute to fuse and then add the cabbage (shredded and washed), 150ml port and a dash of red wine vinegar.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for up to an hour.  It looked delicious!

 
We also dispatched our first Ross Cobb chicken at the weekend which was to see how big it was based on it's current age (9 weeks).  We're wanting to slow grow them but trial and error as to when they would be ready.  Well it surprised both of us, already weighing in as a table ready bird of 1.8kg.  I'm really pleased as this is a milestone for us, meaning we will never have to buy shop bought chicken again! 

For those who are interested we also did a cockerel, but he will be as tough as old boots I think (weighed in at 3kg, a Rhode Island Red) and we did them using our new area set up specifically for working on the poultry.  As this is a preserving post and to avoid upsetting people just looking for preserving info, I'll post about that in another post later this week.

So our freezers are now starting to fill up nicely for the leaner growing months ahead.  We're one step further onto the path of self sufficiency (long it may be!).

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Pigs, more harvests and epic fail on the redcurrant jelly

Our pigs only have 3 weeks left with us now.  They're going to work with Ste on a Tuesday and will be coming back in a different state.  I've got some reading up to do as to how we want to process them so I'll be checking out blogs on here plus my River Cottage handbook of course.


The pigs have a slap mark on their shoulder which identifies them when they go to slaughter.  It's one of the marks the vet will look for.  Think of it as a tattoo.


The farmer thinks they will be weighing in at 65 kilos.

Look at this!  A cabbage that I thought was done for!  This is one that the birds or slugs ate and left skeletal.  What a trooper this little thing is.  There's plenty more where he came from too.  At least these are doing well this year as the cauliflowers are non existent and the broccoli all bolted.


It might look strange, posting a photo of an onion but I grew this!  Yeah!  Really excited, no need to buy any more onions again I hope! 


Now to the carrots.  I have never ever managed togrow carrots before so imagine my excitement when I saw loads growing in my black bin!  I've been nursing them daily only to check on them today and discover an ant's nest.  Well I panicked and pulled them all out.  Only to be told by my neighbour that ants are pretty clean and wouldn't have eaten them.  He said they like light soil which this bin is.


Another thing I wanted to share with you is this little gadget that my friend has bought me, how lovely is it?  It's a dibber for planting out and I think it is very thoughtful of her.


The dogs like it too!!

Even after living here 18+ months we're still finding trees that we didn't know we had.  Is this one hazelnut or acorn, does anyone know?


For my records, broad beans and first peas have done dreadfully this year!  Aren't broad beans supposed to be amazingly easy to grow?!  We've had some, but not loads.

Oh and the sheep broke into the new chicken area!  Hooligans!


Also a quick update on the recurrant jelly.  It didn't work!  That's ok though, you win some and you lose some.  The overnight dripped juice only yielded 350ml when the recipe expected over 600ml.  We got 1.5 small jars when we expected 4 - 5 so something is amiss.  I think it's going to set solid, so I'll maybe try to loosen it up and add water and boil up again or if I can slice it (haha oh dear) then I'll make gravy up adding it, then I'll freeze the gravy. 



More where they came from though, we'll get there!  The 2nd lot of strawberry jam was just as amazing as the first though - wahoo!







Monday, 10 July 2017

Monday night preserving - currant cordial, toffee vodka, redcurrant jelly

What a week of harvest! It's a full time job when things get going isn't it? We harvested everything in the below photo on Sunday.
Buster is just making sure things are in order.
Now technically I don't think toffee vodka is a preserve? Regardless it is going on my Monday night slot as the quickest, simplest vodka recipe we have done so far.  Ste's Mam mentioned that she had some toffee vodka last Christmas and she really liked it.  We popped a packet of Werthers in a litre of vodka and hey presto, job done. We are shaking it twice a day until the toffees dissolve completely.
The colour isn't that attractive but we're told it's a lovely warming drink on the cold winter nights.  What I didn't realise is the kilner jar is a 3 litre one!  Not to worry, it'll be freed up soon for the next item and this won't take long to dissolve.
Next up was another alcoholic Christmssy drink.
Earlier this year I read on Tricia's, Tarragon and Thyme blog about cherry brandy and thought we have to give that a go.  We've just harvested cherries from a couple of our trees before the birds got to them so the perfect opportunity to give it a go.
Again, it is very simple to do.  We added pierced cherrys to a bottle of brandy and 300g sugar. For extra Christmas feel I popped a cinnamon stick in too. In a couple of months we will strain it all and keep the cherries for something else, no doubt also Christmassy.
Next up on the harvest was the currant bushes. Goodness me they take a while to harvest but it was enjoyable as we all sat around the currant bush and just chatted on together.
We harvested 1.6kg black currants (this time) and 2.5kg red currants. It was our second harvest of black currants, the first lot are in the freezer.
The black currants were made into a super quick cordial and some of the red were too. Recipe as follows:
Put 1kg berries and 300ml water on low heat and simmer for 10 mins. Mash with potato masher to speed things up. Don't do this is you prefer a clearer juice (you'll get less cordial for your money if you do that though). Strain through a muslin cloth and the resulting juice should be added to granulated sugar:  for every 500ml liquid add 300g sugar. Stir over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add 1tsp citric acid and stir. Bottle into sterilised bottles. It is delicious. These will be used quickly so we didn't water bath but if they were for Christmas then we'd water bath.
 
You will see I also made more strawberry jam which I've blogged about before. I'm sticking with that recipe as it's divine and I have received so many compliments for my first batch that I don't want to change a thing. On potting up, I filled these jars even more than last time, so they were virtually over flowing. Fingers crossed it is as nice and for no mould!
I've also started some redcurrant jelly tonight which I'll finish telling you about tomorrow as when I've gone to make the recipe tonight, I need to let it drip overnight.
Here's what I've done for now.
I've added 400ml to 1kg currants and simmered for 45 minutes. I'm draining this through a jelly bag tonight ready to finish tomorrow night.
 

Monday, 3 July 2017

Monday night preserving - Rhubarb wine, rhubarb vodka, chamomile tea and drying herbs!

What feels like a long time ago now....On May Day, I harvested lots of rhubarb with Grace.  We needed 3kg to make some wine with.  We got a lot more than 3kg! 

The leaves went in the compost bin, which some people worry about as they're poisonous (Oxalic Acid), but fear not, the leaves are broken down rendered fine to use as compost.  People have done it and survived and that's scientific enough for me.

After washing the rhubarb we chopped 3kg up and put it into a sterilised fermenting bucket with 2.6kg granulated sugar.  I sterilised the bucket using a powder from "The Range" which you make a solution from.  It's £1 a pack and I hope it works as we have struggled with sterilising (or sanitising) in the past.

 

The bucket was sealed and left for 3 whole days. The recipe I used was John Wright's.

We added cool boiled water to make it to 4.5 litres and added the other bits and pieces which you can find in the link. We left it for a week and it nearly blew the lid off the fermenting bucket so we moved it to the demi John after about 5 days and fit a bubble trap.

Tonight we decanted it into sanitised wine bottles. I knew we were going to need wine bottles so I sacrificed a few Friday nights and managed to drink enough rose wine to free up enough bottles for the rhubarb wine! The things I do for preserving!! It looks really good and I am pleased with the outcome. We need to get the labels off still!


For the rhubarb vodka we added 600g chopped rhubarb to a litre of vodka, 200g sugar and some orange zest. It was left for 9 weeks then we strained it through a muslin and back into the bottle it came from! You don't need to use expensive vodka, we just got a lot on offer. It tastes nice and we are going to make some more so we're stocked up for Christmas gifts and visitors plus the odd tipple night of our own!


For the chamomile tea I harvested a pint size amount of chamomile flower heads and dried them out overnight in the dehydrator.


It turned out fab. I stored the dried heads in a clip top jar and tested some out. Pouring boiling water over a few heads, left it to steep for 2 minutes then poured back through a sieve into a mug. It tastes really nice and is very good for you. I'll be keeping this one.


I did the same for the herbs I harvested, mint, lemon thyme, rosemary and lemon balm then ground them up using the food processor and mortar and pestle. The rosemary had to go back on as it just won't dry! 


The rosemary went back on with some tomatoes from the greenhouse and mushrooms (from Aldi!).

I also managed to stew some rhubarb for the freezer for later in the year to make a nice crumble as we have not had one yet this year!!

All in all a good preserving night and a base for me to work on for next years ideas.