Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Bursting into life

Tuesday's are my really busy day work wise so when I stole 20 mins to check the veg and fruit gardens, I couldn't resist getting some photos for a super quick blog update.

This is the little pumpkins (jack be little) growing on the trellis. I've tied them up so I hope they grow upwards tho I fear their pots may not be big enough for how greedy they are. Still, a pumpkin is coming!

Despite the other sunflowers failing a few had pushed through and brightened up my day. Such a happy flower.

Around Christmas 2016 I received some piquant pepper seeds from Dawn in a little parcel and I was thrilled as it was a peek into the growing season ahead. If memory serves me right, these came from Dani and travelled a long way, so when dawn kindly passed them on I couldn't wait to get going. They germinated the best out of all of the peppers and are growing steadily. I have no idea if this is what they should look like,but I'm thrilled either way.

I also spotted this beauty hiding at the back. I almost missed it!


The eating apples in the orchard have swollen up beautifully. Presumably from all the rain we've had?


Well that's it from me tonight, I'm going to go through my comments on the last 2 posts as I'm playing catch up and then try to sleep. So many ideas flying round my head though! It's hard to switch off. Goodnight!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Monday night preserves - Onion Marmalade

The onions which we planted towards the end of last year were harvested a few weeks ago and have been happily drying in the barn.  Now every single one of the red onions bolted and tried to go to seed.  The white ones are fabulous though.  They were planted as sets which my old next door neighbour told me are more prone to going to seed, so I'll bear that in mind for the next lot.  With this in mind, the red ones need to be used up first.

So I picked a recipe from Pam's book that used some of these onions and the redcurrant jelly that I'd thought was done for.


2kg of onion went into the food processor to be finely chopped.  They were put on a low heat with 100ml of olive oil and cooked down for 40 minutes.  Then I added 200g of demerara sugar and 150g of redcurrant jelly and left it on the low heat for another 30 minutes, moving it to the higher heat for a few minutes at the end.
The colour wasn't exactly inviting at this point!

I took the pan off the heat for a minute or two and added 350ml of cider vinegar and 50ml of balsamic.
 
It cooked on a higher hear for another 10 minutes and when I could scrape the pan clean in one pass of the spoon, it was ready.  This made 5 good sized jars (which I didn't take the labels off as I was sick of trying). 


This will be used with cold meats and cheeses, toasties and pork pies and the like but one jar will be kept for Christmas to have with the Christmas ham.
Most importantly to me it's used the jelly which I thought would stay in the pantry forever and 2kg of our own onions. Perfect seasonal preserves!

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.