Thursday, December 31, 2009
I had the sensible idea of setting out the middle fruit bed centrally first, then to put the second bed between that & the front bed already built.
It's a jolly good job that I did, as something has gone very awry with regard to the measuring & my spreadsheet plan of the plot - five beds of 8' by 4' with a 20" walkway between each one fit nicely on the plan, but there is no way that they will fit on the plot. How odd.
I'm still not entirely sure why, but no matter - a bit of rethinking on the hoof means that I will have four beds of 8' by 4' & a central 4' square bed, all with nice even 20" wide paths. Brilliant.
I pegged, levelled & fixed the second bed, & then roughly laid out the other three beds - all I need to finish these is some more wood for fixing stakes & I'm one length of 8' short too. To see it laid out is great though - very satisfying.
I drank coffee & walked round the plot admiring my handiwork, then packed the tools away & did a bit of community duty by emptying the delivery of manure bags from the stables into the manure skip.
It was an enormous pile of bags & I was only going to do about half, but once you get into the swing of it you might as well carry on - it was dusk once I'd finished sweeping up & neatly packing the fifty-one empty bags away ready to be collected & refilled.
Reeking from wallowing in a skip full of manure, I headed home feeling virtuous - had to strip at the back door & head straight up to the bath!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
This 'crying wolf' by the forecasters is extremely annoying - I know people will complain if they are caught out by bad weather, BUT when weather warnings of 'only travel if absolutely necessary' turn out to be red herrings, it does devalue the entire system.
Of course, I still can't do anything useful at the Hill - it's too wet - today I ventured outo Wickes to buy a pack of wood for the fruit beds. I also started to sort out a sowing plan, sorting the seed packets into months in which to sow.
I thought that I'd sorted excess seed packets out quite recently, & put any spares into the GYO Grapevine seed swap parcel, but I still found twenty-six packets of flower seeds and six of vegetables & herbs to offer out to anyone who wants them - & I haven't started on the peas and beans yet...
Friday, December 25, 2009
Christmas lunch waits for no man though - whatever the weather - so there were parsnips & leeks to be dug out of the frozen earth, so a trip to the Hill couldn't be delayed indefinitely.
Once I'd found the parsnips under the snow, they weren't actually that difficult to dig out despite the first couple inches of soil frozen, & the leeks were easy, as they were the ones that I'd relocated a couple of weeks ago.
They both tasted wonderful along with homegrown roasties with the Christmas dinner - shop carrots & Brussels sprouts this year, though.
Aim for next year - full Christmas fare from the plot.
Aside from the turkey & pigs in blankets, perhaps...
Sunday, December 20, 2009
The weather has gone from 'quite bracing, but then it is December' straight to the Siberian ice fields in a blink, & has stopped there for the duration.
Clearly this has been no weather to be outside messing about constructing wooden fruit beds at the Hill - in fact it was all I could do to venture out to choose a Christmas tree from the garden centre.
I chose a 'Norway spruce' as being a pleasing shape, a nice height, within the budget & - as a bonus - it was the same sort of the tree that I remember having when I was little.
When it was delivered the next day in its net & left a tiny trail of needles through the hall, I also remembered that it is these trees that we had in my childhood which are all bare branches by Boxing day.
What we know now, though, is that Christmas trees are thirsty & as long as you put them in a natty tree stand - such as the one I have - which incorporates a reservoir of water, they will keep their needles that much longer.
Until I was ready to put it up this weekend, it's been sitting in a bucket of water in the courtyard garden. I didn't account for the severity of the cold weather, however, and when I lifted it out the bucket to bring in the house, I ended up holding a very, very big ice lolly with the tree as the stick.
If I had left it to thaw by itself, I'd not have had a Christmas tree up until about March, so I gave it a big series of whacks on the flags which cracked the ice & released the trunk - & apart from having to vacuum up the trail of needles from the courtyard through the kitchen & hall into the lounge after I'd finished decorating the tree I am very pleased with the result.
It's Christmas day on Friday - I'd rather planned to have leeks, parsnips & maybe a few Brussels sprouts from the Hill as part of lunch, so I'm hoping that they are not frozen solid...
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Only Reg-next-plot was there braving the cold, doing some digging. He came over as I started screwing the bed sides to the batons & asked “what’s going in there?”
“Fruit bushes,” I replied, “I might move that blueberry bush across, or dig up the red & blackcurrant bushes for this bed.”
He nodded encouragingly, “that’ll give you a good run in the main beds for your vegetables then.” It’s always good to get the approval of an experienced hand – I don’t always agree with his growing methods, but he does grow cracking veg.
Talk turned to whitefly, caterpillars, other pests & netting, & Reg said “I’ve been reading an old book from the 1800’s when they didn’t have all these insecticides & sprays, & I’m going to give some of them a go this year – like boiling up rhubarb leaves & the like.”
Well, knock me down with a feather! I’ve always had Reg down as the allotment equivalent of Chemical Ali in terms of his robust approach to crop husbandry – typical advice from Reg starts with ‘first sterilise your soil to get rid of all the bugs’.
I pondered on this new green leaf being turned as I finished fixing the batons & levelled & firmed the path by the new bed to my satisfaction. I can't start on the next fruit bed until I get another pack of 8' lengths of wood, so that's the first job for next weedend.
Then I dug a couple of SWEDE (virtue) & came home to warm up.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
The Grape wine seems to be going well - the fermentation stopped after about two weeks so I put in some stabiliser & a couple of campden tablets as directed, & now it is upstairs starting to clear in the cool attic room.
Meanwhile, I've started a batch of wine with the last of the apples from the garage. I had to chuck out about half of them as they were distinctly brown looking, but still had enough to make up a batch of Apple & Redcurrant wine with a couple of pounds of redcurrants from the freezer, & it's now bubbling away like mad, which you can see if you look closely at this rather shaky video clip.
Although the second & third batches of Apple wine are gradually clearing after their pectin haze troubles, the first batch of Apple wine has not done anything besides look murky despite sitting upstairs supposedly clearing for the past couple of months - something had to be done.
So I siphoned off a little sediment from the bottom, returned it to the cleaned demijohn & degassed it by shaking the demijohn vigorously. Then I added wine finings, gave it a stir, and we'll see what happens now.
I also tasted it (very sweet indeed), & measured the SG - I think my notes must be up the creek, as I've surely not made 21% strength wine...
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The weather has put me off going to the Hill - I'm firmly tucked up in front of the fire at home, & only ventured out briefly yesterday to mum's church's Christmas Fayre. I didn't win the 'guess the number of sweets in a jar', or a prize on the tombola, but I did spy this little book on the bookstall, & snapped it up for 10p.
It's called Adam the Gardener and dates from 1974 - it's the collected weekly newspaper gardening columns from the Sunday Express.
I'm not keen on some suggestions (November jobs include 'treat soil with a fumigant such as naphthalene'), but there are some interesting ideas in there, such as digging up the roots (or tubers) from runner beans & keeping them overwinter for replanting.
Although they are still just as frost tender, they will apparently romp away quicker than seeds sown next year. Now I wish I'd kept a few back as an experiment rather than sticking the whole lot on the compost...
Thursday, November 19, 2009
The main – & most welcome – difference this year was that the meeting was not held in the small back run of the clubhouse, but it the main bar.
This was an enormous improvement on last year as the number of plot holders, family, committee members & others crammed into the little room last year was extremely claustrophobic.
The meeting clipped along at a fair pace with entertaining & informative reports from neighbour Ted (in his role as deputy chairman), secretary Hayden, Scottish George as show secretary & treasurer Mike then committee members were elected or re-elected as appropriate.
Pride of place of the cups & awards was the cup awarded the Hill for the best allotment in Birmingham – so a collective pat on the back there. I was delighted that I was singled out for a mention in the show report, & Jane & I were proud to collect our ‘most improved plot’ cup.
We left after the buffet, reflecting how odd it was to see my fellow plot holders in ‘mufti’!
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
An example of weather warnings from the Met Office being rather over the top. Yes, it wasn't very nice weather, but as it is the middle of November, I wouldn't have expected to be able to have a picnic either.
The way the forecasters had it earlier in the week, we should all have been cowering under the bed praying that the roof didn't fall in.
In the event, although it was damp underfoot, & not the nicest of days, I did get to the Hill for an hour or so yesterday without any other mishap that to get caught in a shower as I was loading the car to come home.
I dug myself up a PARSNIP (guernsey), which was full of canker; a few LEEKS (mrs d), which were full of the little brown leek moth grubs; & a perfect SWEDE (virtue) before moving on to bed-shortening duties.
In order to bring bed d1 into line, I needed to move the blueberry bush across a few foot - rhubarb Brian had very kindly planted it out in the plot for me whilst I was away & he certainly earned himself a pot of mock lemon curd for that kindness, & next year a pot of blueberry jam too.
I made short work of whipping out the screws from the bed sides & end, then took the 4' lengths of 'side' & stakes away & refixed the 4' end to reduce the overall bed length from 20' to 16'.
I moved on to bed d2, hoofed up the COURGETTE (golden yellow) which has given up the ghost & tidied up the swiss chard. I'm going to have to move this - it's really in the way of shortening this bed, but I'm not sure how it will react to being moved. I guess it has two choices.
The final bed for shortening will be bed b2, which currently has about 30 leeks growing in it at the end I want to work on. I'll try moving these too, I think, by digging them up & heeling them into a trench.
Then I can get stuck into constructing the beds for the permanent crops. It looks like there is room for 5 beds which will be 8' by 4' (for strawberries, raspberries, redcurrant/blackcurrant, asparagus and A N Other which I haven't decided on yet) but I want to level the whole area before I start to put these in, as the ground is all over the place at the moment.
So plenty to be getting on with next weekend - if we don't have storms...
Monday, November 09, 2009
Whilst I had the wine gubbins out, I racked the apple mk III into a spare demijohn.
Actually, I racked into the same demijohn once it was cleaned out due to the fact that when I was cleaning the spare one, I foolishly did the final rinse with water boiling from the kettle which resulted in a bloody great PING & it shattering.
On the plus side, once the apple wine was safely in an intact demijohn (SG 988), I had a taste & it is extremely promising...
Sunday, November 08, 2009
This was very difficult indeed.
The good news is that I do still have the requisite number of fingers & the operation did give me a comprehensive upper body workout, although the air was turned quite blue.
Once the squash was chopped & steamed, I thinly peeled the lemon rind from 10 lemons (careful use of the potato peeler here), juiced the lemons & blitzed all this up in the food processor.
I put this into the maslin pan with the butter & sugar, simmered for half an hour & potting it up.
I ran out of pots when I got to 19 & the last bit had to go in a soup bowl to be eaten up first. That's a lot of mock lemon curd.
In fact, more than enough to eat at every single meal for the next twelve months, I think - even allowing for giving away as Christmas gifts to virtually everyone I know.
And that's not all.
As this was the smallest of the three olive squash, lovely as it is, I can't possibly make more - so what on earth shall I do with the others...?
Saturday, November 07, 2009
By the shed, JB had very kindly left me a 5 gallon brew barrel containing a demijohn (fab - I have none spare at the moment), bungs, corks, filters & a number of other brewing bits & bobs - brilliant!
I set about taking down the bean poles - the bean structure has worked well, & I'll do this design again.
It was a right fiddle taking it down though - because the thin horizontal wires I used to help keep the canes in line were not robust enough, they snapped in a number of places & had to be repaired during the late summer, which made the whole thing a bit of a jumble. Lessons for next year, I think.
I persevered, & stacked the canes to bring home to store, unfastened the end supports, put the dead stems in the bean trench, rough dug the bed, then shortened the bed by 4' in line with the other beds, which will enable me to build permanent crop beds in the space left towards neighbour Ted.
This side still has three beds to be shortened - I need to eat the leeks in bed b2, the swiss chard in bed d2 before I can finish this job, & then level the ground and decide whether the new permanent beds will be 4' or 8' by 4'.
There's no rush - it's this year's Winter Job, and I enjoy the planning of it too.
Home to get 6lb of grapes out the freezer ready for wine making, now I have a demijohn to ferment it in...
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
I'm trying to work out just how many jars I'm going to need to pot it up, and thought that if I put the quantities down with the method, then some bright spark might be able to advise.
My squash weighs 11lb as it is, and according to Xanthe Clay's 'It's Raining Plums' (which my big sister Helen bought me for Christmas and is excellent) a squash yields two thirds of it's weight in usable flesh, so we'll call that 7½ lb, and to that I'll need just less than that weight of sugar, half as many again lemons as squash, and an eighth of the weight of squash in butter.
So with a bit of rounding up and down for convenience - and also adjusting after consulting Nic's blog, here's what I'll be making.
Mock Lemon Curd
7 lb 8oz peeled, seeded and cubed squash
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Of course, country wines are generally made by extracting the juice of about 3lb of fruit (or veg), adding water & sugar to make a gallon or so, then fermenting from there, but if you were in a vineyard, you would be extracting the juice from grapes (think feet here), adding yeast, & off you go.
The problem is that I only have about 6lb of grapes when you need 12lb to 14lb grapes to get a gallon of grape juice.
But I do have apples in the garage & redcurrants in the freezer.
So - I'm really not sure whether to treat the grapes as any other fruit, adding water & sugar to the juice OR to say that I have enough grapes for half a batch, so a couple of pounds of the other fruit (with water & sugar) would make up the other half to make - say - grape & apple wine.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
It’s the end of the allotment year at the Hill with renewals due & some new faces, & - it would appear - a game of musical allotments going on whilst I’ve been away.
Ian at the bottom who was behind JB has now moved up to somewhere near the clubhouse; Butterfly Bula has moved from the tree-shaded front of plot 10 to Ian’s old plot, & then there are new people in at her old plot – & all of this just on our bottom half of the site.
And then there are the proposed committee changes which will be voted on come the AGM in November.
All that chit chat wasn’t getting anything else done & my time was limited, so I went up to the top & collected my prize pumpkin from the polytunnel where Jason (behind retired Maureen) had kindly taken it up for the weigh-in the other weekend. At 31lb 12oz in weight it didn’t come anywhere near Treasurer Mike’s winning 77lb monster, but not a bad effort. Anyway, it was bloody heavy to carry back down to the car.
A couple of frosty nights have done for all the squash foliage, leaving all the fruits like beached whales, so I cleared the vines from the bed & put them on the overfull compost bin, & collected up all the squash & put them back in the back of the car too. Much more Mock Lemon Curd in the offing, I think.
Before I headed off, I picked some CALABRESE (Waltham), a CABBAGE (kilaxy f1) & a huge LEEK (mrs d).
With the clocks having changed this weekend putting paid to any after-work trips to the Hill for the next few months, weekend pickings will have to provide enough fresh veg for the week – but with swede, leek, sprouts, parsnip, cabbage & kale all in the ground, that shouldn’t be a problem, I hope.
Friday, October 09, 2009
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
No such luck - the basmati rice I used (as I'd run out of risotto rice) was gloopy & startchy, I forgot to add a little salt to the pan, & the peas that I added to were undercooked and mealy.
In fact, the best bit was the added spoonful of Duchy Original's onion marmalade ...
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
So, I took a portion of curried pumpkin soup out of the freezer - which was made by chopping & roasting pumpkin, then adding it to a pan of gently fried onion & garlic with a spoon of rogan josh, adding some stock & gently simmering for ages.
Then I added this to a some risotto rice & a little more stock & put it into a buttered dish & cooked it in a slow oven for an hour.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Sunday, October 04, 2009
For example, I've always thought that he spends forever banging on about whys & wherefores of testing the specific gravity (SG) of a wine - & I equally always thought that it was easy peasy just to test a sample of wine at whatever stage, & read the number off the hydrometer, which in turn allows you to measure the alcohol content of the wine.
Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment as to why what I'm doing isn't exactly accurate...
When you start off with your 'must' in a bucket, it comprises fruit (which contains some natural sugar), extra sugar (&/or grape concentrate) to bump the sugar level up to give the yeast something to feed on & water making a total of about a gallon (or so), & then you measure a sample of this which gives you the starting SG.
What you are measuring is how sugary the 'must' is - the more syrupy/sugary/gloopy the 'must', the higher the SG reading will be. Water measures 1.ooo - a nice sugary must will be somewhere in the region of 1.100.
As the yeast scoffs the sugar it converts it into lighter-than-water alcohol meaning that the wine because less heavy & sweet, & more light & alcoholy, & the SG falls. The yeast eats sugar until it runs out & starves, or it has produced so much alcohol that it poisons itself, & dies (a lesson to us all, I think!).
At this point the fermentation has stopped, & the alcohol level in the resultant wine is the difference between the start & finish SG divided by 7.36.
But - & here's the rub - the volume of liquid that you measure the SG of must be the same at the first & last readings or else you have changed the goalposts & the final reading will not be accurate. I always have less wine at the end than I had 'must' at the beginning because every time the wine is racked you leave some behind (with the settled out 'yuk'), so the overall volume falls.
So where does that leave me? I have settled on making each batch of wine = 4.75litres - I've measured and marked the demijohn with the level. When I siphon it off each time & lose a bit, I'll make the bit I've lost back up to this volume with water, then measure the SG (you should keep some of the original must to one side to make up any shortfall, but life's a bit short).
The wine should taste the same - slightly diluted will just mean it's less lethal - & this way I'll always be able to produce six bottles per batch - with a bit left over as 'perks' - but the label on the front showing the strength will be rather more accurate...
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Of course, part of my efficacy was due to the fact that it was extremely cool & blustery - I forgot my woolly hat - & it was not a great day to be outdoors, which did encourage me to get on with it.
I picked all of the FRENCH BEANS (cherokee trail of tears, blauhilde, birds egg/barlotti, emperor of russia, delinel, talisman, triomphe de farcy & fortel) - all in separate bags with clear labels.
Then I picked a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless) & the remaining SWEETCORN (tender & true f1) & dug up the plants.
Then I came home.
Friday, October 02, 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Admittedly, they won't thank you for sitting forever in their own dead yeast, but a week or two either way isn't going to be critical.
Alternatively, if you see sediment on the bottom of the demijohn & you have a spare half hour, then you can siphon the good stuff into a bucket (leaving the 'yuck' behind), see what the SG is currently at, have a taste, then bung it though back via a funnel into the cleaned demijohn.
Pop the airlock back in & nod in the satisfaction of a job well done.
This I did with apple mk II last night - it's still fizzing very slightly, but I thought I'd rack it off so I could measure the SG. I found it to be an astonishingly desiccated 984 - so I added 4oz of sugar which raised it to a more drinkable SG of 994, & will let it get on with it for a few days...
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
"I wish you'd take them all off my hands, blooming big wotsits," grumbled the assistant, but I only wanted the clear one really. I was glad of my decision when she charged me £1.99 for the one - well over the going rate in my view! That made me feel a bit mean - perhaps you shouldn't begrudge the money going to such a good cause. But the last ones were only 50p each.
Anyway, with that prize in my grasp, it does mean that I can get another batch of wine underway - I'm rushing though as many batches of apple wine as I can, as there's still quite a boxful in the garage & it would be such a shame for them to go off.
I set about Apple mkIII, chopping 6lb of apples & simmering in water for 15 mins then straining onto 2 1/2 lbs of sugar & the rind of a lemon. It's cooling now, & I'll add concentrate, lemon juice, yeast nutrient & yeast when it has cooled tomorrow.
There's about 4lb of apples left in the box, so maybe apple & redcurrant wine for the next experiment - then I think that is quite enough for the time being!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Although I was quite sensible in planting total different varieties side by side down each side of the bean frame, so I could easily tell which variety is which, I wasn't quite so clever in making sure that totally different varieties were grown opposite each other.
Some of the beans sneaked up their opposite counterpart's poles - which is fine when you have two sets of beans like 'polish' (heavy black streaked pods) and 'pea bean' (greeny-yellow pod), as they are easy to tell apart when picking.
But if they are very similar varieties - like 'bird's egg' & 'climbing barlotti', well they are pretty indistinguishable inside and out. I can't be sure I've kept them separate so I've bunged them all in together.
They'll still taste as good, I'm sure, & if I do want 'proper' seed for next year I'll worry about it nearer the time - it's not like I'm short of varieties to try...
Monday, September 28, 2009
Then it struck me that it me that although he said that he loved lemon curd - & the marrow cream tastes like lemon curd - I can't see him & his family tucking into marrow cream with quite the same gusto.
Given the amount of squash I plan to use for this purpose, & given it tastes great but has an unattactive name - I think I need to give it a re-brand. All suggestions as to what as, are most welcome...
Sunday, September 27, 2009
- Simmer beans, bay leaves & cloves for an hour & a half, drain & discard bay leaves & cloves
- Dilute treacle with water & mix in flour made into a paste with the milk
- Add basil & seasoning
- Put beans in greased casserole dish cover with tomatoes & the sauce & bake on gas 4 for an hour.
Finally, Veg Heaven commented the other day that the 'polish' french beans looked similar to the 'bird's egg' variety.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
In the event I didn't do any of the latter items, but I did get more than I bargained for bean-wise.
I picked a carrier bag each of FRENCH BEANS (birds egg, cherokee trail of tears & black turtle beans) & as I finished this, indomitable Fran, cup in hand, called over. "Here's a cup of tea for you, & would you like to help yourself to as many as you like of the seed from our climbing beans?"
Fabulous on both counts, obviously.
"The beans are a flat yellow bean - not sure what they are now, might have been 'hunter'." All of the beans were very dry & the pods rattled - I picked a good carrier bag full, & found that the seeds are quite small - but I was thrilled when I started to pod them later to find that they are a beautiful pure white haricot - can't wait to start cooking with those.
I then took the netting off the brassicas and picked about a million caterpillars which are intent on scoffing the cabbage, sprouts & calabrese - one of which had a small head forming with I cut for tea tonight.
I took a couple of SQUASH (red kuri), SWEETCORN (tender & sweet) & a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless) down to John Badger at the bottom for his hamper that he will be raffling at the club house tomorrow, along with a pot each of runner bean & beetroot & jerusalem artichoke chutney, then came home.
I shelled the driest of the various french beans, then set about turning the beans which had been soaking overnight into baked beans. They need ages to cook, but it's an easy recipe & taste is cracking - bring on the beans!
Friday, September 25, 2009
Of course I've always looked at beans as being a bit of padding with not a lot of taste, but vegetarians have to eat something & they're OK if you like that sort of thing, but give me a steak any day.
I do give them their place with sausages, or in a stew or to make mince go a bit further, but it's only now that I come to look at some recipes, that I have rather more enthusiasm.
By chance, I caught the end of a Jamie Oliver programme C4 this evening & - damn me - if he wasn't cooking barlotti beans too in a delicious looking dish which I must have a go at too.
Wonder if I've grown enough beans...?
Thursday, September 24, 2009
So I popped to the Hill this evening - just for half an hour, it's pretty much dusk at 7pm now. I was right to be concerned about the beans - although some stalwarts still have tender pods for eating (notably the FRENCH BEAN (purple giant) so I picked a few of these for tea), others are dry & rattly & more that ready for harvesting.
So I started to strip some of the varieties of FRENCH BEANS (polish, early warwick & pea bean), then picked some sweetcorn cobs (which I've frozen), COURGETTE (golden yellow & all green bush) & a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless)
The beans are spread out upstairs on newspaper for the pods to dry further (these are some of the drier ones podded - polish on the left, pea bean on the right), then they can be podded & stored in jars ready for all those wonderful winter casseroles.
Pretty, ain't they?