Monday, 31 July 2017

Monday night preserves - not tonight!

I feel bad but there's been no preserving done tonight, however for good reason! We've been busy at work meaning tonight was the only night we've managed to sit down and write out what we want to do with our pigs that are off to 'market' tomorrow as the nursery rhyme goes. So we will be back with next weeks Monday night preserves showing what we're doing with them. This is our first time doing this so I hope it goes well. Tonight they had their last evening meal with us and enjoyed some home raised veg with their feed.


They've done a grand job of turning the area over. They'd need fresh ground if they stayed longer so the timing is great.


Fingers crossed the are good loading and transporting! 

Friday, 28 July 2017

Growing all year round? Let's have a go...a new weekly task.

It's been on my mind that I've planned and planned for all of the bounties we are harvesting now and what is still to come through the summer, but I've not done quite as much for Autumn and Winter. 

So I've decided to put these thoughts into action and for the last couple of weeks I've been sowing more things.  I plan on sowing something new weekly for the next few weeks, which I'll share with you along with their progress.

Lettuce, winter leeks, winter cabbage, basil (red and green), chamomile as I'm curious to see if you can grow them in winter (for gifts), pak choi, autumn cauliflower (not had 1 yet this year!!!), beetroots and spring onion.




 The reason I am starting everything indoors is the blinking slugs or mice, whatever it is.  Pretty much everything I'm sowing direct is not getting chance to take as strongly as I'd like so I'm going to suck it up and transplant anything that can handle it.  The peas have done well on this round interestingly.




Now for a confession, my greenhouse is a tip! 


I must get in this weekend and give it a tidy out.  I don't have a photo of the back section, which is just as well as all the pots have fallen over and water's dripped through from watering, there's boxes with boxes and who knows what else!

So this weekend I promise I will tidy out my greenhouse!  I'm in there ALL the time and I work happily in there, people actually come to visit me in there like Grace is below.  So I need to give it the attention it deserves, after all, this is where it all starts!



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Baking for my family - chocolate courgette cake and new machines!

I've decided to start doing a weekly baking session to as one thing I always used to dream of before we moved here is cooking and baking for the family. I started off well but it dwindled the busier we got. I always cook from scratch and I'm trying to fill the freezer with good, honest food but that doesn't seem to be baking these days. Unlike me, the kids can eat sweet stuff still without it affecting them on the waistline within 0.02 seconds of eating it. So last night saw me making the seasonal cake Courgette Chocolate Cake.
Ingredients.
120g softened butter
120ml sunflower oil
100g caster sugar
200g soft brown sugar
3 eggs
130ml milk
350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
4tbsp cocoa powder
450g courgettes, grated
1tsp vanilla extract
Method
Line a baking tin, mine is apx 20x20cm. Ovens to be heated to Gas 5/190c.
Grate your courgettes, peeling first.
Beat butter, oil and sugars until fluffy.
Beat in the pre beaten eggs and milk.
Sift the fry ingredients and fold in. Stir in the courgettes and vanilla.
Tip into tin and bake for 30/40 mins. I have a 2 oven AGA so I put it on the bottom shelf with the cold shelf above it and it took about 45 mins for mine.
It came out lovely and is very moist (I hate that word!).  The kids have eaten it and have no idea there's courgettes in there. Ste likes it too but his work friend wasn't too keen (not sweet enough but he's a sweet toothed guy!).
All in all this is a lovey easy cake using ingredients I had in the house and veg plot. Perfect for a family as it produces a large amount however you'd be able to freeze too. Definitely one I will be doing again. 
We've also been getting in some new gadgets, the first one we've tried is a vac pack machine. Tonight we cooked a ham and tried out the meat slicer we bought some time ago. It worked a treat and the vac pack machine did too. I'm really pleased with them both. The only thing is the vac pack sucks all the juice out of the item and can affect a seal if there's too much. I guess things need to be partially froze to avoid that? 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Processing home reared chickens for the freezer - be warned!

If you do not want to see the process of putting chickens from plot to plate then read no further.  This post shows how we slaughter our home reared chickens.
 
As always, I'd like to point out that our birds have had free range lives, been protected from the evil supermarket conditions and have thrived living in the countryside.  We know we've kept them happy and that we can say we've raised healthy and happy meat.
 
As I mentioned last week, we're proud to be producing our own meat now and will no longer have to rely on shop bought meat.
 
Steven's been researching new methods of plucking which he was very pleased to read involved having to make a fire.  What is it with men and fire?
 
The Ross Cobbs are all at our desired weight now, so over the next few weekends we will be processing 5 or so at a time.


Steven stole my comfrey tea making bin!  I must admit it is just the tool for the job though.  We needed a large tin suitable for a heavy load of water that could sit on a fire.

He built up the sides from the zillion stones we have lying around the smallholding and got a good fire going.
 

The idea is to get the water up to a temperature that makes the birds easier to pluck... I'll explain.
He set his butchers apron, knives, gloves and steel out.  He also stole my stool to sit on ;)



Meanwhile the birds were not let out of their coops (he did this first thing) so they weren't eating filling up their crops (we don't normally worry about this as he's careful and doesn't pierce them on butchering, but this breed eat so quickly it was safer to withhold food and do it early).  The heaviest looking birds were gathered up and kept quiet in a box as the water was now at the desired temperature of 147F.

The birds go upside down straight into the "kill cone" which is just a large roadside cone, upside down and screwed to something solid.  The cone has the bottom cut off which allows the bird's head to come out but not its body.
Using the sharpened knife, to ensure a quick dispatch, Steven removes the entire head in one go.  The reason we do this is we feel it is more humane and is our personal preference to ensure they go as quickly as possible.
The heads go into a bad and the birds drain in the cone for a few minutes into a bucket that's below.  It doesn't look nice, why would it, but it's part of the process.  I've included a photo from before the first dispatch rather than after.

Once the birds is drained, a few minutes, it's removed by it's feet and plunged into the hot water for a few seconds, removed, shook and repeat maybe 3 times.  Wearing gloves (friction) test a few feathers for ease and if they come out quickly, proceed, if not then do it again.
As you can see, the kids know exactly where their meat is coming from.

If we have a few to do, they are all dispatched together and hung up until they're ready


As soon as you dunk them in the hot water and the feathers are starting to free up, use the gloves to rub your hand over the skin and the feather literally peel off in your hand.  Ste was cursing that we had sat there for hours previously plucking the dry feathers by hand - you live and learn though right?


He got rained off outside and moved into the polytunnel - no letting the weather stop play around here.



Once plucked they were hung up whilst we did the rest.


The birds were gutted outside this time to keep the mess all in once place.  I kept getting photos and telling Ste to smile!  The organs that we keep were bagged and froze ready for pate or terrines that I make nearer Christmas.

They then had a rest inside for 24/48 hours, covered up in the fridge before being labelled and dated and put in the big freezer.  They all weighed in at slightly over or under 2kg.


Also we did ducks the same way.  The water method does work but takes longer when dunking as the feather obviously repel water.  The below photo isn't the ducks we did this way, but I'm pleased as punch with them all the same.


We'll be using this method moving forward.  Incidentally, we also used the big metal tin to boil up potatoes for the pigs by the 25kg sack full and it worked a treat plus again kept the mess outside.


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!