Thursday 30 June 2011

Raspberry and white currant jam

raspberry white currant jam June 11 1

I had a modest quantity of white currants and a significant quantity of raspberries so I decided to combine the two to make jam. Raspberries are low in pectin, white currants are high so this makes an ideal combination. I used equal quantities of both and boiled them together in the jam pan.

Once the fruit had boiled and broken up, add the same weight of sugar as total fruit used then reboil until it has reached its setting point.

raspberry white currant jam June 11 2

By the way, the raspberry crop on the allotment is enormous! And I haven't yet looked at the wild raspberries in the local woods.

raspberries June 11 1

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Elderflower champagne

elderflower champagne June 11 1

It's that time of year - June for me always means making elderflower champagne. 22 bottles have now been stored away in the garage, adding to the 13 left from last year (though we consumed 3 of these on Sunday.)

Later in the year I'm going to have a go at making red champagne from elderberries and blackberries.

elderflower champagne June 11 2

Sunday 26 June 2011

Saturday roundup

The rotovator was brought back into action today. Bed 4 on our allotment has not been fully used by us in the past. That has changed this year. It has now been split into 4 parts (it was a very large bed to begin with). The biggest part is the polytunnel. Next to it is the newly installed pond (on which some work is still required). What is left is a bed running the whole length of the former bed 4 which has become a new bed 4, plus the bottom end of the former bed which I am calling bed 5. (This is still covered with weeds.)

The new bed 4 was what received my attention today. Though I weeded it a month ago, I had to do another quick reweeding job today before rotovating the part that was not already in use (that part has been used to grow lavender for the past 2 years). Once rotovated, I planted the whole bed with peas. The variety is Boogie which can be sown March to June. I planted about 500 seeds on Dad's allotment 3 weeks ago and these have now sprouted so we are looking for a good crop from both allotments.

I was planning this afternoon to pick the blackcurrant crop on Dad's allotment this afternoon but the rain sent me packing. I'll try again tomorrow. Blackcurrant jam making is scheduled for this coming week.

Meanwhile, we headed to B and Q to buy some herbs. I'm setting up a herb garden but more about that on another day.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Rosemary marinade

wild boar sausage and rosemary June 11

Earlier this year I made a couple of batches of rosemary jelly, one of which did not set. It wasn't wasted however. Instead of a jelly I ended up with a thick rosemary treacle and I have been using it as a marinade. In this photo I coated some wild boar sausages with the rosemary marinade. The rosemary leaves were picked fresh from the garden. Tomorrow we are having a roast pork joint and we will marinade that with the rosemary. I'm rather looking forward to trying it out.

How to make picallili

I filmed this last year when I had a glut of cauliflowers on the allotment but didn't get round to editing it until today.

Friday 24 June 2011

Delicious strawberries

strawberries June 11

The strawberries are early this year, as are most of the soft fruits. They seemed to like the dry spring. Anyway, we have started picking strawberries and they taste fantastic.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Living on a wartime diet

When we set out to be self-sufficient, we quickly realised that the way people sourced and used food during the years of wartime and postwar rationing could give us valuable information in our quest to provide our own food. Digging for victory, cutting down on meat, ensuring every scrap of food was used - these all struck a chord with us. And as a historian myself, I decided it would be interesting to spend a couple of weeks on a wartime diet. We are planning to do this at the end of July.

Our regional newspaper, the Evening Chronicle, has already taken a great deal of interest in my decision to give up my job and become self-sufficient. And they are equally interested in the wartime diet plans. Yesterday they featured it, having spent Sunday evening with me on the allotment to take the photos. Here's the link:

Given the notoriety of Spam as a wartime food, this is an excuse to play the Monty Python classic Spam sketch:

Friday 17 June 2011

Rabbit pests

We sowed cauliflower seeds in a tray in the greenhouse in the early spring and we ended up with a good set of sturdy seedlings ready to plant out. We did the same with cabbages and sprouts. We have however an increasing rabbit problem on the allotment. As a result we took the decision to plant the cabbages and sprouts on the back garden where Bugs Bunny has no access.

In the meantime I am preparing a new bed on the still derelict part of the allotment to plant the caulis. They will be netted to protect them. We had rearranged the greenhouse to make way for the tomato plants and thoughtlessly left the tray of caulis outside. The result was a real feast for the bunnies yesterday. I think we may be able to recover them but my experience has not endeared those damned little critters to me. I am reaching now for cookery books which include recipes for game pie!

Derelict allotment bed June 11 2

This is a photo I took of the derelict, and very overgrown, bed where the caulis will be planted. I am gradually getting it back into order.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Using gooseberries

I had some gooseberries left over from making gooseberry jam recently so I used the smallest ones to make gooseberry vodka. It saved having to top and tail them. They are just too small and fiddly to do that.

gooseberry vodka June 11

The larger gooseberries were used to make a gooseberry crumble. Here it is:

gooseberry crumble June 11

Polytunnel and pond - update

At last, we have finished building the polytunnel. Here it is:

polytunnel June 11 3

We put the cover on it tonight. The next job is to plant it full of the tomatoes we have growing in the greenhouse. Well, not all the tomotoes, some will stay in the greenhouse. We've also got quite a few pepper plants to go in as well.

Meanwhile, the pond is coming along well. Most of the water has been added though we will have to raise the sides of one corner to allow for a deeper level of water. Anyway, here's the pond:

pond June 11

Saturday 11 June 2011

Tree management

I am not a fan of cutting down trees but sometimes it has to be done. Our allotment is very old - I have seen it on maps of Sunniside village from the 1890s. The hedge around it is very mature and contains some hefty hawthorn. It needs to be managed or otherwise it will reduce the productivity of the plot. Later this year we will cut the hedge back to about 2 metres in height. Two ash trees however had taken root in the hedge in the south corner of the allotment. I reckon they were about 15 years old. That meant they were seeded around the time the allotment went out of use. We came onto the plot 4 years ago when it was derelict. Once the trees - both ash - were in leaf a few weeks ago, we realised they had to come down. They were completely overshadowing bed 4 from about 10am onwards. Bed 4 is the site for the polytunnel we are building so leaving the trees up would mean direct sunlight here for only a short while in the early morning. So they had to come down. I felled them on Monday.

tree cutting June 11 1

This is me taking the branches off one of the trees. You can see how the raised bed (which will be the basis of the polytunnel) is put in the shade by the trees.

Another big tree management job is coming up. On the north side of the allotment we have some trees that are heavily overhanging the allotment. It means climbing up to lob off a few branches. Oh joy!

Rain at last

At last we have had a day of rain. And we certainly needed it. I can't recall such a long, dry period as this. I remember the drought of 1976 but that feels wet compared to what we have had over the last three months. It is not heavy rain at the moment but it is consistent enough throughout the day to penetrate the ground, unlike the bit of rain we had on Tuesday. That was a short, heavy burst but the ground was too hard to allow it to penetrate much. And once the rain stopped, much of the moisture that was left on the ground was burnt off by the sun. Rain over a longer period is better. It gets into the ground and is then available for the plants to soak up. And they certainly need it.

Friday 3 June 2011

Digging the pond

Ever since we took on the allotment we planned to put in a pond. We want to encourage frogs onto the allotment so they can eat the bugs, slugs and snails. A pond will also give us the opportunity to grow larger quantities of plants such as water cress. We grow some in a pot in a tray of water at the moment but a pond will give us much much more. In addition, when we get the bees, they will need a water source. Today, the pond digging was completed. We had dug through the top soil to a depth of about 30cm. At that point we hit a layer of thick, heavy clay (typical for this area). That's when the heavy duty work really got going. I had to use a pick axe to dig my way down.

Digging started over a couple of weeks ago and then I had to go to London to do some filming for the Horticultural Channel. The work therefore took longer than I initially planed. However, with digging completed, today we put in the underlay and the pond liner. Now comes another big task: getting it filled with water. We have no mains supply on the allotment and with no rai at the moment, all water has had to be brought over from the house in water carriers. We are expecting to take a few days to bring over sufficient.

The pond itself is 2m by 2m. The ledge around the edge is around 30com deep. In the centre of the pond is a deeper section about 50cm deep.

pond May 11
This was the start of the pond. At this point we had dug through the top soil though there was still a bit further to go before we hit the clay layer.

pond June 11 2
This is David in the pond this morning before the lining went in. He is filling in a gap with some soft earth to ensure the bottom and sides are as smooth as possible. Note the brownish colour of the clay.

pond June 11 3
This photo was taken after the underlay (it was like a soft blanket and protects the liner) and the liner were added.

pond June 11 4
Stones and bricks were added around the side to weigh down the liner.

pond June 11 5
Sufficient water has been added to fill about two-thirds of the deeper centre of the pond. At this point we took the stones off temporarily to allow the liner to settle. The water could then drag in the liner to make it fit snugly in the hole.

More water will be transported over to the allotment over coming days and we will be getting some pond plants shortly.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Horticultural Channel episode 6

This is the latest edition of the programme I co-present on Sky Channel 166. In it I make elderflower champagne and announce the winner of our latest competition.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

The Marley Hill allotment

Marley Hill allotment Apr 11 1

The above photo is of Dad's allotment in Marley Hill, the next village up the road from us. It was taken in April. Dad has not been in the best of health recently so we have agreed to run his allotment for him until he is able to get back into action. It is only about a fifth the size of our allotment.

The allotment is partly divided across the middle by a line of blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes so this neatly creates two beds which we are unoriginally calling Marley Hill Beds One and Two. I spent the whole of today in Marley Hill on Bed 1. This is what Bed 1 was like in late April:

Marley Hill allotment Apr 11 2

The rotovator came with me today though most of the day was spent weeding the bed. It took less than half an hour (and that included a tea break) to rotovate the bed once I had cleared the weeds. Here's the result:

Marley Hill allotment bed one June 2011

I haven't touched Bed 2 yet and I suspect Dad didn't use it last year. It has more weeds and, rather annoyingly, a great deal of dock. This can be difficult to dig out as it is a plant with large, thick and deep roots. We haven't touched this bed yet but we will need to clear it soon. This is what it looked like today:

Marley Hill allotment bed two June 2011

And this is what it was like just over a month ago:

Marley Hill allotment Apr 11 3

I have all of Dad's seed potatoes and onion sets. They should have been planted earlier but we will get them into the ground in the next few days and aim for a late crop. We have also bought some more soft fruit to plant there as well.

There is a large amount of mint on the allotment so I'm going to be checking out mint sauce recipes soon.

Mint on Marley Hill allotment June 11

The fruit bushes that partly divide the allotment have a good quantity of fruit on them. These are the blackcurrants:

blackcurrants on Marley Hill allotment June 11