Monday, 13 November 2017

Monday night preserves - souper mix

This is a preserve that I've wanted to do for ages but haven't pulled my finger out and planned it well enough.

Souper mix is the second attempt I am having at using home made stock. This recipe, along with my pork stock, will keep us in flavoursome food for a good while I hope. There's another one I'll try soon too, so between the 3 recipes we shouldn't need to buy stock cubes again.

Now according to Pam Corbin, the queen of preserving, you would use the following ingredients for this recipe:

250g leeks

200g fennel

200g carrots

250g celeriac

50g sun dried tomatoes

2-3 garlic cloves

100g parsley

100g coriander

250g salt

Part of the reason I haven't made this yet is I've never had those ingredients to hand together. Instead of another week passing where I don't make this, I've decided to use the following, as Pam advocates changing to what you have in stock. I'm all for that, adapt and move on.

The ingredients I used are leeks, carrots, garlic, sun dried tomatoes, red and green pepper and swede. I used the same amount of salt as it's the preserving ingredient. 

Roughly chppping the ingredients up I blitzed them all in the food processor.

I used mixed herbs and added it all in. The end result was fairly wet and I'm pleased with it.

As I use stock pretty much daily, I didn't put this into sterilised containers as it'll be gone quickly. If I wanted to keep it I would and then it'd be ok for 6 months according to Pam.

The benefit of this is it takes up a lot let space than the freezer stock from bones. Next week I have another version to try and then from the 3 options I will choose the best and use that version next year.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

November update plus over wintering seeds and planning for 2018 sowing

Now Autumn is half way through, it’s got me thinking more and more about seasonal sowing and growing.  As well as preparing the ground for the next season (bean trenches and manuring) I’m also thinking about what I can over-winter, that will give me extra early harvests next year. 

This year (2017) my broad bean harvest was abysmal.  I don’t know what got to them, but it just did not work for me.  variety that can be planted in the Autumn here in the UK is Bunyard's exhibition.  I've purchased some from Victoriana Nurseries and have been sowing them.  As I live in the North East, to grow these over winter, I feel these plants would need some protection to get through so once they start to show, I cover them with a small cloche tunnel of some description. 

Broad beans are part of the legume family and as I follow a 4 year crop rotation, they are to be planted where the onion and root family were the previous year.  The broad beans I have sown directly are 2cm deep in double rows.  The double row is (about) 23cm apart and the space between each double row is 60cm to allow me to get in and harvest the beans.  A double row of these Autumn planted beans will be followed by double row in February, March then April. That should see us through.  Depending on how prolific they are, these plants will hopefully be cropping well into July and August and therefore once the seeds are sown, that bed will be unusable for anything else until the plants are spent.
Other legumes that I have decided on for 2018 growing is a climbing pea called Victorian Colossal.  I’m really excited to grow this variety based on research I’ve done.  According to Victoriana Nurseries, this pea also does well when grown on a trench, so I’ve dug a trench where the peas will grow next year too.  This variety doesn’t seem to be an over-winter one so in the meantime, I looked into what variety would be good to try and over-winter.  Douce Provence comes up regularly and I grew this in my first year here which was a good crop. 
If you recall, I ordered my Autumn planting garlic, onions and shallots in mid-September which I’ve now received and are mostly planted out.  A few garlic are left to do.  These all come under the 'onion and root' part of crop rotation (along with leeks) and need to be planted where the potatoes were.  Next year, the legumes will follow on from the onions and roots meaning I might be able to get a late summer crop but I’m getting ahead of myself now.  They are coming through spectacularly, especially the shallots.

We've also got a visitor for a couple of months.  The guy over the river, who helped us with taking the pigs to slaughter, offered us a tup for a couple of months to hopefully cover the girls, giving us April lambs.  He seems nice enough so far, though sometimes they can get aggressive when they are with their girls.  The kids have been told not to go near him just in case.

 Steven and I had a child free morning today, something we never have, so we headed down to the area where the pigs had been, to see how many weeds have come through.  Not too many to be fair.  No more should grow now as the day time temperatures are consistently below 6C I would say.  We've some exciting things planned for this area next year.

I've also given the greenhouse a further tidy, binning another few plants that were done for.  Sadly, the courgette plant which serviced us so well has gone to compost heaven.  It was a golden zucchini variety - a freeby from the GYO magazine and I will definitely be growing them again next year.

Things are slowly returning back to normal here after our busy times.  I'm looking forward to a normal week at work, Monday night preserves tomorrow and bring you updates on the meat birds which are growing at a steady rate.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Monday night preserves - stock from bones 

When our pigs went in August, we processed as much as possible at the time. We kept some bones back and I threw them in the deep freeze as I didn't have time to process them all at the same time. I now need the freezer space! So although this isn't a true seasonal preserve, it is to me.

I got the bones out on the way to work and left them to defrost (do bones defrost?) in the sink until I got home. There's still some bits of meat on the bones which is perfect for making your own stock. I roasted them for 45 minutes on the floor of the roasting oven whilst I set about with some other tasks. It is supposed to improve the flavour.

They came out with a good colour on them.

I moved them to the huge stock pot which I picked up in Aldi a couple of years ago and then deglazed the roasting tin.

This was all added to the stock pot along with a few chopped carrots, 3 onions, celery, garlic bulb halved horizontally, a sprinkle of fennel seeds, a few peppercorns and some bay leaves. 

That's to simmer for 5 hours or so. I'll leave it overnight and then it can cool tomorrow when I'm at work.

When cool I'll strain it through a muslin and freeze in portions (that will take up less space than the bones!). It will be used in any recipe that calls for chicken stock. With Christmas round the corner, that will be plenty!!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Monday night preserves - basil infused olive oil

I wouldn't expect to be saying in October, almost November that I had basil growing in the greenhouse.  In fact, I'm pleased that I managed to grow any basil at all.  I'm having one of those realisation moments when I think about how far we have come.  We hadn't successfully grown anything before we moved here and to think I am preserving regularly and enjoying meals from the veg plot is a really satisfying feeling.  Preserving in general is a great feeling for me, be it shop bought, gifted or grown items and I hope that even if just one person could be inspired to preserve as a result of these posts then that would be amazing.

The basil I grew are green and red.  The red one came free with the Grow Your Own magazine that I subscribe to which send seeds with each order.  I also grew standard green basil which just loves to grow and I plan to fill my window sills with it next year!

Tonight I started to tidy up the greenhouse and brought the basil indoors.  The kids picked the leaves off for me and they did a great job.  Grace washed the leaves and put them in the salad spinner for me.

I put both red and green in together so I hope they will work out.  I sterilised a jar and packed the leaves in.

Once full of basil leaves, I filled with olive oil and put some cling film under the screw top. 

It's now on the preserving windowsill with the plum wine (which is going 2 different colours randomly).  It'll stay here for 2 weeks before being strained and rebottled in time to go in the Christmas hampers.

A really quick, but hopefully tasty preserve.  I'll use this to cook with and also as a salad dressing to remind me of long lost summer days :)

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Back into the swing of things - runner bean trench

We're back home and had a lovely, much needed, relaxing holiday.  We were back in the UK Friday night, at home by 3am and back out on the smallholding to open up at 8, which is a bit late for a weekend but I think we were allowed! We felt fully refreshed and raring to go!  I noticed the drop in temperature overnight though, it was very chilly at 3am!!

So now autumn is well and truly here, many vegetable plots may be slowing down in terms of production, however there's still plenty I want to be getting on with in anticipation of keeping food coming into the kitchen through the winter and to ensure we have a cracking year in 2018. Not to mention the repairs, pruning and more preserving that's on the cards.

Kicking things off is my decision to make a traditional runner bean trench.  I first heard of this on the blog notjustgreenfingers which I love and was so sorry to see the lady close it down.  I hope she will be back one day. I made a trench for 2017 runners, but I didn't start it early enough, so I am making sure I don't make the same mistake for next year.  Runner beans do not have to be rotated like many crops do.  They'll quite happily grow in a spot that is convenient for you.  They do prefer a warm, sunny spot though.  According to the RHS "This kind of position also benefits pollinating insects, which are essential for the beans to set pods".

To ensure the soil is constantly moist, it is also advised that one way to achieve this is to plant them in a previously dug trench.  I.e. Dug the previous year, so that's what I started on Saturday morning and boy was it a task.

Dig a spade depth down or 2, where the beans will be planted and start to fill it over the winter with veg peelings, spent tea bags, fruit etc. 

It was super hard work, but it is done now.  I'll start filling it tonight.  I dug over and tillered the rest of the bed.  I must say, my Christmas present from last year came into its own when I was doing that.  Some people don't tiller/rotivate but I'm all for anything that makes my hectic life easier.

Once the bed was finished, we covered it with ground membrane which will keep the weeds down and that last bit of heat in the soil I hope.

In January or February or whenever it is full, I'll cover it back over with soil until mid-Spring when the peelings have rotted into a lovely compost ready for the beans to thrive in.  This does mean that part of the bed will be out of action until then however I can use it to plant quick crops such as lettuce and radish early in the year so that when they come out, the runner beans can go in.

Thinking ahead, I'll start the beans off in April indoors and then plant a later crop outdoors in June.  Hopefully that will keep the store cupboards full and the preserves flowing.

This year's runner beans are coming to an end and today I picked a trug full.  I am going to pod the biggest ones and use in stews, which I didn't know you could do until I watched Monty Don on Friday.  We're one of the only countries that eat the green outer, most places use the beans!  I didn't know that.  I'll keep you posted as to how I do this.

Today I also dug the Jerusalem artichokes up which is a bit early I think, however they'd all snapped in the wind.  They're drying off a bit ready to be roasted or frozen.

Steven brought a pallet out to the veg patch and I didn't know what he was doing until I saw this:

The tools will go away over winter, but this is a great interim solution.  I might turn them the other way so no one gets their eye poked out though!  I also dug up the potatoes which I cut the tops off a month or so ago as they had blight.  I'm pleased to say the ones I used to make today's soup looked healthy enough, let's hope it isn't just a one off.

They made a lovely onion, pea and potato soup or witches broth as I called it today.
I also noticed the cranberries are coming through from the plant I bought this year - I'm so pleased.
Rodney is pleased to have us back.  He hasn't left my side, even snoozing on Ste's trainer whilst I pottered.

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.