Thursday 29 September 2011

Recent foraging

August to October are our busiest times for foraging for fruit and nuts. I spent a couple of hours this afternoon picking sloes and will be making a batch of sloe gin and then some sloe jelly over the next couple of days. Yesterday I picked a bucketful of hazel nuts and will be returning for more shortly. And of course there are blackberries, lots and lots of them. I've made bramble jelly (using some crab apples I also picked wild) and bramble butter.

I get the impression that there has been new growth of nettles, dandelions and dock recently. They are what I would normally associate with food foraging in spring. I may do some wild leaf salads soon.

Also due to be picked soon are hawberries. I'll be using them to make jelly. It looks like a bumper crop and the berries are quite fat so they may be good for making ketchup as well.

Eggciting egg moments

We have had the chickens for nearly a month and I thought I would show you a small number of photos from the most eggciting moments.

eggs Sept 11 3

Our first egg. Attila started laying the day after we got the chickens. We had to wait nearly 4 weeks for one of the others to start laying.

eggs Sept 11 2

This is an eggcelent piece of eggquipment. We can keep and use the eggs in the order they are laid.

omelette Sept 11

Our first meal with eggs laid on the allotment - an omelette. The potatoes and onions were from the allotment as well. The peas came from a supermarket (but we have now picked our own and won't need to buy any ready frozen produce). The bacon was bought in. We haven't yet got to the point where we are keeping our own pigs!

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Peas harvested

peas and onions Sept 11

Over the weekend we picked the pea crop on Dad's allotment. We were very pleased with it. We have a second crop to pick on our own allotment but that one is more disappointing. I suspect the wood pigeons may have got many of the seedlings there.

The peas are now frozen. One of these days I will learn to dry them instead. Perhaps a job for next year.

To freeze peas, first shell them and then boil them for about a minute. Drain them and leave to cool before putting into the freezer. Don't throw away the water in which they were boiled. Use it to make pea stock with the pea pods.

In the photo above, I'm holding some of the onions I also harvested on Dad's allotment over the weekend. They will be pickled soon.

Below, shelling peas is a good job to do whilst watching tv.

shelling peas Sept 11

Our first meal using peas from the allotment: roast duck, roast potatoes and peas.

roast duck Sept 11

Second hen starts laying

hens Sept 11 5

Another eggciting day for us. Another of our hens has started laying. That means 2 of the 3 are now earning their keep. In the photo above are Attila (the light sussex) and Kylie (the rhode rock). Attila started laying the day after we got her at the start of this month. I suspect Kylie is the one starting to lay today. Gingie, out 3rd hen, is out of shot.

The hens seem happy with the new chicken run we built them over the weekend. We have room for another 3 hens in the henhouse and run so soon we will be getting more. Watch this space.

hens Sept 11 6

Sunday 25 September 2011

The chicken run is now built

My chickens - Attila, Kylie and Gingie, love their new chicken run which we built today. The hen house, which we bought from Durham Hens, can house 6 when there is a decent size chicken run to go with it or 3 when only using the coop that is part of the hen house. Now that we have the chicken run, we will be able to get 3 more chickens. Our hens took a great interest in scraping the ground and eating bugs, slugs and insects. Useful that they turn insect protein into egg protein we can use.

Also done today - crap apples picked, floors of the hives changed, cucumber and gherkin relish started, pan on cooker now boiling blackberries and crab apples to make bramble jelly. All in all, a productive day.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Blackberry picking

Last week I picked 2 bucketfuls of blackberries last week and a half bucket this afternoon. Plans coming up for their use include making bramble jelly (need to get the crab apples for that), ketchup, vodka, crumbles, pies and jam. So lots coming up.

New queen installed

I have been away for a few days but David was home to deal with the bee hive that needed a new queen. We got one from another beekeeper in the Tyne Valley who was combining two colonies into one, leaving one queen surplus to requirement. She was added to our colony on Sunday in a small box with 4 worker bees from the old colony. The entrance to the box was blocked up with fondant. She had to eat her way out - and during the couple of days she took to eat her escape route, the rest of the colony was able to get use to her smell and feremones. David checked on the hive this evening whilst I was out picking blackberries and hazel nuts. She had eaten her way out and was somewhere in the hive.

We will need to leave it for about 10 days or so before we open the hive again and then we will have to check to see if she is laying eggs. Good news if she is, bad news if she isn't.

Friday 16 September 2011

A lost queen

As beginnings go, this doesn't count as a good one. Hive 2 has lost her queen. We don't know what happened to her and it appears that the colony has not replaced her. The hive has lots of honey in it but no brood. Our friend John looked at the hive yesterday. He's an experienced beekeeper and this was the 2nd time he has looked at our hives. He confirmed our fears.

Life however is full of coincidences. We had an email on Tuesday from Mark and Kym - on whose beekeeping course we went last year - asking if we needed a queen as they had one going spare. They are joining up a weak colony to a strong one and didn't wat to kill off one of the queens. So, on Sunday, David will go to Northumberland to pick up the queen and hopefully, if she makes herself at home in hive 2, the colony will be saved.

I'll be away over the weekend so I'll be missing the fun.

Thursday 8 September 2011

The hens have arrived

chickens Sept 11 1

I am delighted to be able to announce that we are now the proud owners of three chickens called Attila, Kylie and Gingie. One of them (Attila) has already laid 5 eggs for us. The other two are point of lay so hopefully they will be producing eggs for us shortly.

Attila (the hen) is a Light Sussex, Kylie (colourful feathers) is a Rhode Rock and Gingie (ginger colour) is a Columbiam Blacktail.

They are settling in to their hen house (we got them Friday last week) but we are going to build them a much bigger chicken run which will allow us to get a few more chickens as well.

How to make raspberry chutney

I normally use raspberries for jam making but the soft fruit crop has been so good this year that I had some raspberries left over to make a chutney. Here's the recipe:

1kg raspberries
1kg peeled and cored apples
4 cloves of garlic
50g grated fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
500ml cider vinegar
200g brown sugar

Put the raspberries and the chopped apples into the jam pan with the ginger, crushed garlic, mustard, salt and cayenne pepper and mix well.

Add the vinegar and apply heat to bring it to the boil. Simmer for five minutes and then add the sugar. Mix well and simmer for at least 45 minutes, until the mix has thickened. Then add to warm, sterilised jars.

raspberry chutney Aug 11

Friday 2 September 2011

How to store potatoes

We have now started harvesting our potatoes though most are still to come in. Storing them correctly is vital if we are to ensure they last into next year. In this video I show you how we prepare them for storage. I had an interesting comment from a Latvian viewer who recommended laying the potatoes out on newspapers in a dry location to let any soil on them dry out. The soil drops off easily. Certainly more time effective if the crop is very large though it leaves the problem of potatoes with slugs or bugs in them not being sifted out.

We took the decision at the start of the year that potatoes will be by far our biggest crop as we will be using them as a partial substitute for wheat flour. Now that the crop is starting to come in, watch this space for some new posts on cooking with spuds!

Building the polytunnel

The polytunnel has been in place for a couple of months on the allotment. We filmed this when we built it and then filmed the final scene just over a week ago to give an idea of what the polytunnel is like when it's in use.