Monday 10 October 2011

Preserving frenzy

Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but I've dome two lots of prserving in the past two days which seems like quite a lot to me! Firstly over the weekend I made elderberry and apple jelly. Haven't tasted the proper jelly yet but did clear round the saucepan with a teaspoon. It was quite a strong flavour so prob should be used sparingly. Weirdly, the cooled 'scum' from the boiling liquid had a much fuller (and more pleasant) apply flavour. May be something to do with the air bubbles. The recipe was from Wild Food by Roger Philips.

Tonight I'm midway through making tomato ketchup based on a Jamie Oliver recipe. It's reducing as we speak so I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch on a bit of blogging. Tomatoes, coriander seeds and basil are all home grown. Let's hope it tastes good. Have to sieve it now....

Monday 29 August 2011

Syrup & Shed

Elderberry Syrup

I made a batch this weekend, after harvesting the berries from trees on scraps of council land round near we live. Very satisfying - no effort went into growing these at all!

The recipe is really easy too - You need elderberries, sugar, cloves, water

Remove the berries from the sprigs (you can use a fork to speed things up but I always end up pinging the berries round the room by accident), wash them (freeze them at this point if you don't have time to make the syrup straight away), put in a pan and just cover with water. Simmer for about 30 mins until the berries are soft. Strain out the pips and skin and measure how much liquid you have ( Save on washing-up by straining straight into a big jug, or even better, a pan with measures up the side). Put the liquid back in a pan and then add the sugar and cloves - you need 1 lb sugar for every 1 pint liquid and 10 cloves for every 1 pint of liquid. Slowly melt the sugar, then leave the liquid to cool ( I leave it overnight but cover with a tea towel). Remove the cloves.

Lastly, pour into sterilised screw-top bottles (I then keep these in the fridge, just in case), or you can also freeze it. It's great with hot or cold water and is meant to be good for preventing/getting rid of colds. Good for hot toddies too, with a little bit of whisky.

The shed

Here's our lovely shed. Small but beautiful. It's now a bit darker in colour as the other weekend I treated it with Ronseal eco woodpreserver. Haven't made much progress with sorting out shelving etc yet but there was a skip out the front of our house recently, from which I scavenged some shelf brackets. A project for the autumn I think.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Stormy Wednesday

Well, I was expecting to go to the plot tonight and slug(!) several wateringcanfuls (I think I made that word up) of water around the neediest crops but an unexpected storm came along. Ok, so it was due now (10pm) but arrived at about 6.30 instead. The blackberry picking will have to wait for another night.

I harvested the first winter squash yesterday, as it was looking a bit tempting for light-fingered 'visitors' to the site. I would have preferred to leave it for a while longer on the plant but hope it'll ripen more in the lean-to at home instead. Two of the squashes are planted through black plastic so despite the storm I'll probably give them some water tomorrow as the rain doesn't really get to them.

The shed is now in place and looking great! I'll post a pic soon. I bought some Ronseal Eco shed and fence preservative (water-based instead of solvent-based) on Friday and gave it a couple of coats over the weekend. A couple of fit friends from work helped move the shed last Weds. The ingenious suggestion from one of them made things a lot easier. After lifting the 'shell' off the floor and base, we levered the floor and base out of the ground (it was set in the ground on metal legs) and flipped them over to take out the screws and remove the legs. Some of the screws were stuck fast so the guys just broke the screw heads off. So then we could move the base and floor. That was the easy part.

Moving the shell (sides and roof) was a lot harder than I was expecting, I think because the weight is in the roof making the structure a bit unwieldy. First attempts at moving it involved sort of sliding it along planks which kind of worked but was difficult. Then came Ed's suggestion - lifting one side of the shed on to a wheelbarrow (with a plank across it to support the full side of the shed), which I wheeled backwards whilst the guys lifted the other side. It worked! And altogether the whole thing only took about an hour. Phew!

Now I'm trying to work out the best way to store things/put up shelves. It's quite a small shed (just under 6x4ft) with a lean-to type roof so will be quickly filled!

This week my best harvest has been crystal-lemon cucumbers that I'm growing in the glass lean-to at home. I've been having one a day, taking it into work as a refreshing snack. Yum. The skin's tough, so I peel the whole thing with a trusty penknife. There's another 3 fruits ready, so snacks for this week are sorted! Interestingly, the crystal lemon plant in the back garden has pretty much died without even growing much at all, so just goes to show the difference a bit of protection and extra heat makes.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Good news, bad news

Bad news first - someone has been stealing veg and fruit from our allotment site. Today I heard reports of a man having been seen wandering around the plots. I think it started about 3 or 4 weeks ago and seems most people have had something pinched. How selfish! I've had some carrots taken, which doesn't sound like much but these were going to be my best carrots ever. Last year I thought they were going to be good but then the carrot fly got them so this year I've had them covered over. Also as I try and sow successionally, he took all my carrots that were ready now. I was really looking forward to those!

I don't think there's really much we can do unfortunately. We've reported it to the city council and police. I've put up a sign saying 'please don't steal our veg' etc in the hope that using the word 'steal' might actually make them realise it's not a nice thing to do. and guilt them out of doing it again. Unlikely but you never know.

And onto the good news...after four and a half years I'm finally getting a shed - yes! A couple near me are giving up their plot (have said they don't have the time to look after it) and I'm buying their shed which is only two years old. I also get to keep everything in it including lots of bamboo canes, two folding chairs (JB is particularly excited about this), a tub of chicken poo pellets, two bags of manure and a few tools. Although it's quite small ( about 4x6 ft) I reckon it's a bargain at 50 quid. I've cleared the area where it's going and have put some slabs in place. It's currently set on metal legs (which have led to it becoming wonky) so I'm going to take them off. The only way to do this is by getting underneath the shed and unscrewing them so I need to prop it up really well before starting! (Don't really fancy getting squished by a shed). Should hopefully get it moved on the next couple of weeks, with help from some friends. (I did actually use it today to shelter from the rain, sitting on my 'new' chair (which took up about half the shed)) . Soon it will have a new home on my plot.

And a pleasant surprise today - I noticed quite a few french beans were ready in the back garden so they were a welcome addition to tonight's roast veg (including home grown potatoes, onions, garlic, courgettes, and one small aubergine). Yum

Monday 30 May 2011


Been away for a few days and eager to get on the plot to see what's been happening.....but RAIN stops play. Hurray for the rain, strawberries will have to wait. Hope the slugs have left some for us.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Rainy (ish) Wednesday

I was going to spend a bit of time of the plot tonight but, it's well, RAINING! Yes! We've had so little rain recently that it's a good reason to miss the plot this evening. It seems to just be a bit drizzly but still it's better than nothing.

The first pea pods are forming so shouldn't be too long til we get to enjoy them. Yummy yum. We've had a lot of radishes and some lettuce thinnings. The chard from last summer is still cropping a bit too. The first little row of spinach will be ready to start picking soon aswell.

Some of the potatoes got frosted which was a shame but seem to have recovered. It was strange how the frost effects were quite different across the plots at our site. Must be due to microclimate differences I guess.

I'd decided to leave some leeks to flower but at the weekend noticed that they were riddled with leek-moth holes and I even spotted a crysalis. So in the end I consigned most of them to the compost heap but left the few that seemed to be ok, squishing a few of the maggoty caterpillars on the way. I did consider going through and squishing all of them but nobody else on the site seems to bother controlling them so doesn't seem much point. I have now buried the composted leeks under quite a lot of grass cuttings though. Plus they'll start composting and might not be habitable by the caterpillars for much longer.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Peaking potatoes

My earlies have broken through! I earthed them up straight away though, just in case of frosts. This year I've planted Amorosa, so we'll see how they get on. I've been pretty bad at keeping records of how varieties have done in the past, so this year I'm going to change my ways! Particularly as some varieties have definitely been better than others...but which ones!? Fresh start from here.

Talking of potatoes (as I often do), I also put in one lot of the late mains (Isle of Jura). Another lot of late mains to go (Setanta). The bed needs clearing of PSB (purple sprouting broc) before that and giving it the ripped cardboard/chicken pellets/horse poo combo. I think my horse poo supply isn't going to last all summer, sigh!

And talking of peaking...the asparagus is also just breaking through. I was at the plot this morning and then went down late eve to water and I'm sure they'd grown by about half a cm in one day. Better keep an eye on them this week. Mmm this will be the first year of harvesting.

Lots of action now on the plot including red currant berries already forming, loads of flowers on the black currants and gooseberries. Also lots of weed-action and grass-path growing so will have to try and keep on top of that. JB helped with some weeding this evening which was much appreciated.

I've been sowing lots of seeds at home too including the pumpkins and other squashes, brassicas, chinese cabbage, lettuces and basil. Some seeds only took about 3 days to germinate...whooosh! You could almost hear them grow.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Funny time of year really, so full of potential. Work on the plot has been a bit slow, I'd have liked to have spent more time down there recently but nevermind eh.

I've sown a couple more short rows of parsnips, intercropped with spinach and lettuces (the spinach and lettuce will be harvested before they start competing too much with the parsnips, plus as parsnips grow down and leafy things grow up, they don't get in each others way. Well that's the idea anyway!)

My early potatoes are in. I dug a trench and added in a load of ripped-up cardboard, horse manure and chicken manure pellets, and watered the trench before filling it back in. I let it all settle for a week or so and then dug individual holes for the seed potatoes. This weekend I'd hoped to put in one lot of main crops but ran out of time.

These are some of my garlics. I grew most of them on at home first, in toilet roll tubes as I didn't have the ground ready earlier. On the plot I'm keeping them covered up with old net curtains to try and avoid the leek moth problems of the past couple of years. It doesn't look very pretty but fingers-crossed it'll help avoid problems (though the wind does keep whipping the curtains off every now and then so there's a chance they might not be fully protected).

This is one part of the plot, with two dwarf apple trees in the foreground, underplanted with strawberries (new this year). There's a bed of leeks in the background, which're still pretty small but tasty. I gave them a sprinkling of chicken maure pellets the other week which seems to have helped them get a bit bigger. I guess they might start bolting soon so will have to eat them up shortly. More softened leeks on toast with blue cheese mmmmm. (we did make leek and blue cheese pizza at the weekend too).

Thursday 17 March 2011

Seeds n stuff

So far I've sown some toms, peppers, aubergines, a few brassicas, and some peas and leeks. The onion sets are in (didn't bother with autumn onions this year as only about half survived the previous winter and then they got leek moth so didn't do so well), as are the garlics. Oh almost forgot, have also sown a couple of short rows of broad beans and parsnips.

I keep getting a guilty feeling that I should really sow some more though.....the box of seeds keeps looking at me. I need to have a major pot-washing session though before I can get on, which is a bit off-putting. Maybe this weekend?

I've had a few portions of purple sprouting broccoli from the plot, which have been REALLY tasty. Tonight I had some with feta cheese. Mmmm. And there's still more to come. Trouble is I need to start clearing them away for the potatoes. Hmm I think the pots will just have to carry on chitting a while longer!

Sunday 2 January 2011

2011 already?

Visits to the plot have been few and far between over the past couple of months. When it hasn't been covered in snow it's been damp and soggy, so although there's plenty of weeding and other jobs to be getting on with, they'll have to wait til the weather picks up a bit.

We're still getting the odd bits and bobs off the plot and today I dug up a few little leeks to have on toast with cheese for our lunch. They were pretty tasty, size isn't everything!

I also dug up a few parsnips which JB is making into a hotpot with our own potatoes and garlic from the shed along with other hot pot staples that we haven't grown ourselves.

Last but not least, harvesting a red cabbage required hacking away at its stem with a hand fork (forgot to take any cutting implement!) and was pleasantly surprised the cabbage had survived the weather quite well. The outer leaves were a bit manky but the innards are alright. I'll cook it in the slow cooker (only used it a few times so fingers crossed it'll turn out alright).