Friday 28 April 2023

Last few days in April

Welcome to the last few days in April.  Here in the NE of England it continues to be changeable weather, raining again as I type this, and the nights are low, single digits.  I’m longing for long, warm, “lazy” days as I’m sure the plants are too and I know the animals will be just as grateful for drier ground.  I’m trying not to panic that things aren’t as far on as my mind sometimes thinks they should be.  I know that’s a common worry for gardeners when you see other people’s updates.  There’s plenty of time yet for a lot of things, some seeds shouldn’t even be sown for my climate at this point in the year. 

April showers bring May flowers though I don’t remember so much rain and cold in April recently, however I tend to forget.  Around here, the farmer next door has had his cows out to pasture for a couple of weeks now.  

We normally time the horses going out around the same time, however not this year.  Our horses haven't been in the field at all over winter as we rest the land.  They do get out as you know, only on the hard standing outside the barn otherwise they would break a leg or ruin the land.  It's too slippery for them and us, so we're monitoring it daily, fingers and toes crossed that the rain lets up after this weekend, which the forecast does imply.

We're also consistently seeing low night time temperatures which will continue in to next week, although now quite as low as the last few nights (0-2c), they'll be around 3 or 4c for a while yet.  That's not warm enough for the plants to grow strongly and I'm waiting in anticipation for those warmer days.

Having said that, we have some strong looking brassica plants that I moved to the cold frame this week, purely to make space in the greenhouse as I must get the remainder of April sowings done before we move into May.  The courgettes, summer squash and winter pumpkins along with the cucumbers can be sown in the North East now.  You can sow them earlier, but they grow rapidly and earlier sowings mean I would have to tend to them in the greenhouse for longer, potting them on until after the last frost date which is a month away yet.

I noticed on my walk this week that the elderflowers are thinking about making an appearance.  Elderflower season is May and early June here for us and a season I love, so won't be missing that.  Back from my walk, I checked on the honesty stall, to make sure the eggs that are out are ok and the tin is there for any pennies people leave.  I plan on adding rhubarb and veggie plants there from this weekend.  All proceeds go towards the animal feed, which as I keep saying, has flown up in price.  I’m making sure we have fresh eggs every day for people.

Plans for the weekend are vast as always and no surprise the weather isn't looking too kind, however there may be just enough sun on Saturday morning for the dandelions to make an appearance, allowing me enough time to collect them and make the dandelion honey I love to make.  If we're rained off that (they only display in the sun), then I also want to process more rhubarb and make the Wild Garlic oil paste as the wild garlic is moving in to its next stage and forming flower buds, so before it does that with vengeance, I need to make the paste then will pickle some buds.

I'll plan on planting out the brassicas that are in the cold frame, though I do need to protect them from cats as they keep using my veg beds as a toilet and I'm not impressed.  I'll double up the protection so it's a butterfly protector too, saves me having to change it when that season comes round.

Let’s see what it has in store for us!  I hope it’s a good one for you.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Seasonal eating & Rhubarb chat

I continue to work towards seasonal eating as an all year round skill for my family.  A funny choice of word to call it a skill?  I think that's right though as it's something you learn to do in this day and age, when everything is available all of the time and it's almost an entitled feeling in society to have fresh strawberries in Winter.

Here on the smallholding, we aren't exempt from doing this and can buy blueberries in January and have banana pancakes that have travelled goodness knows how far on any day of the year.  Don’t get me wrong, we do eat seasonally (I’ll include using our home preserves out of season and the Winter Stores of veg in that) but we don’t have food growing 365 days of the year, which we could, given where we live in the North East of England.

After a few years of trial and error, with learning along the way, that’s my immediate goal which I am stepping up my actions to be able to achieve it.  Does that mean we won't eat bananas? No, but moving in to the remainder of 2023, I'll be aiming for the 80/20 rule in that 80% of our intake is local and seasonal.

In theory I could be harvesting much more from the garden now.  In 12 months and that sentence will be redundant ;) For now we are buying a weekly veg box from the local greengrocers which supports our local small business and more.  It's a beauty of a box.  I get the £25 one which is a bumper amount of fruit and veg.  Not everything in it is local, but that’s not an issue.  I’ve decided that although the box may be too much to get through every week, it will give us some things to preserve in small batches, if there’s a chance they won’t get used timely, which I am very pleased with.

So veg box aside, I’m starting my home grown seasonal eating mission off with the humble and potentially underrated Rhubarb.
  There’s a wealth of recipes that are out there on the interweb, some traditional, some more ‘creative’ .  From now through until June I will be trialling many of them.  I'll post on here as well as my social media channels if you're interested.

A little bit about rhubarb then.
  A rampant perennial and yes, it’s leaves are mildly toxic but perfect to compost (or use as a mulch to keep weeds down), it requires little attention once it’s got its roots down.  Don’t harvest during the first full year of growth but after that, harvest during the peak seasons by twisting the stalk at the base and pulling.  Don’t cut rhubarb stalks, twist them.  Cutting could encourage rot of the plant and make it ill.  Cutting it also leaves some of the stalk on the plant so it doesn’t know the stalk has gone and will not encourage new growth to replace what it has lost.

I plan on making the usual culprits, crumble (just has to be done), cordial / syrup as a drink, bottled as chopped fruit, poached or stewed and jarred for the winter, as a country wine, dehydrated, in pies, cobblers and muffins.  Not to forget as vinegar, in recipes like pavlova or shortcake and also as an apple sauce, where I'll puree it and interchange it with apple sauce on our roast dinners.  There's plenty more which I'm looking forward to doing.  Our rhubarb has grown rampant in previous years, so I'm hoping for the same this year!

Monday 17 April 2023

Sunday 16th April - Day 1 Eve

Quick note - going forward, some of my posts will be in the form of diary inserts, which I may or may not turn in to a podcast or book.  Other posts won't be diary style.  I'll include the date like below when it's a diary style.

Sunday 16th April.

It’s the eve of day 1 and we have enjoyed a meal cooked over the fire outside in the newly built kitchen & seating area.  Wood foraged from our own trees and food from our land was enjoyed by all.  I’ve a lot to do to get ready for Monday, tomorrow.  Starting as I mean to go on and to make the mornings easier, I try to be as organised as I can the night before.  My evening routine involves cooking the family meal, clearing away with everyone’s help before having some time to digest our meal whilst we play darts or cards, if the weather allows.  This time of year, and what this paragraph’s opening Day 1 refers to, is the turning of the page to the Spring Chapter, which amongst other things includes evening meals outside.  This year, now we have the outdoor cooking space, I will be transitioning most of the kitchen necessities to outside allowing me to appreciate being outdoors to cook and eat. 

Once we have enjoyed our meal, which as the year marches on, will include more and more produce from the garden, we set about filling the animals’ water and checking on them before bed.  The lambs, who are on bottled milk have their last one of the evening, as late as possible before we put them in the safety of a stable (whilst they’re still small).  That means someone will have to head back over to the barn to do that later.  I set about filling up buckets of feed ready to just pick up and carry to eager mouths the following morning.  Anything to make the morning’s go smoothly helps.

Today there was a nip in the air this morning, but as I wandered over to the barn to do my share of the chores, I notice the air had warmed up somewhat.  It’s been terribly cold again lately and oh my, the rain!  Let’s just not go there.  I saw my first wasp of the year today.  I wish I could say I liked wasps, but they give me the jitters, especially at the beginning and end of the season when they always seem angry and aim right for you.

Once the animals are tended to, for the second time of the evening as they have their supper around 5:30, we say goodnight to them and either sit outside some more or head in.  The pots from our own supper are seen to and returned to the outdoor space.  In the main kitchen, it’s a quick whip around to get it ready for the morning, lunch boxes out, kettle filled, ingredients set out for breakfast.  In the UK, it’s far too chilly to sit outside for breakfast at this time of the year, even for the stoic of us.  Time for a hot drink before a shower and bed.  Goodnight.

Forager's Pantry, Easter and Planning

A quick note...

For a few week's prior to the Easter holidays I've been doing weekly podcasts which are snippets of life on the smallholding.  They're fairly easy for me to do as it's recorded directly on to my phone which I always have with me.  Here's a link if you're interested.  

Alongside this I'm working on weekly garden updates on YouTube  - all things related to growing our own food on the self sufficient journey.  I'm enjoying doing those and the content will naturally develop as the year gets underway as I cook & preserve more from the garden.

My cost of living video series will come to an end as May starts, so I am giving some thought as to the type of videos we will be putting out on YouTube once that is underway.  Easter is always the start of Chapter 2 in the year for me.  The New Year, rest and recharge is the first and I feel that I have done that and am ready to emerge with the fresh Spring shoots.  Even my painful hip is feeling better :) .

As is usual, I have had 2 weeks off work over Easter, giving me time to unwind, catch up with a few things and get ready for the next 11 weeks which will take us up to early July and doing the same again for the Summer chapter.

I'm also looking to build on the foraging I started last year and create a Forager's Pantry.  The Wild Garlic is in abundance and I'll share what I do with this in a dedicated post, however it's an essential item for my pantry in preserved form just in case the garlic bulbs fail or I have a gap in stores whilst I wait for them to grow.  Dandelions this coming week too!

As well as this, I'm interested in making foraged tinctures and powders to benefit from.  Something I've never done before, so will be learning along the way.  

So as I start this next chapter, today being day 1, I'd like to wish you well and encourage you to join me.  As a side note, I'm back updating on blogger from WordPress as I couldn't justify the costs to keep my own domain and hosting after the trial had ran out.  It was also far too time consuming to use it as it needed more attention that I was able to give!

week 17 w/c 22 April Just photos :)

April 22, 2024 - Week 17