Wednesday 30 May 2012

Wild Garlic Scotch Eggs

Wild garlic scotch eggs

I made these scotch eggs yesterday. The coating is made of chopped wild garlic leaves, bread crumbs and ground black pepper with beaten egg to bind it all together. It was an easy recipe of my own creation to use up some of our growing surplus of eggs. Wild garlic is one of my favourite spring foraging foods though the time to pick them this year is coming to an end. Wild garlic grows in woodlands and goes through most of its life cycle before the trees are fully into leaf. I made some more today and filmed it so watch this space.

Pea sticks

Pea sticks May 12 I planted peas a couple of weeks ago and they are now beginning to grow. However, having seen half a pea crop disappear last year before anything even started to grow, this time I was a bit more canny about it and ensured the bed was covered in hawthorn branches and sticks. They keep off both the hens and the wild birds. Once the peas have fully sprouted and grown, they will be able to grow around the branches as support. It looks a bit unwieldly but it does seem to be working.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Weekend round up

We have had a week of lovely sunshine. Not a cloud in the sky for seven days. What a change from the wettest April in 100 years. But we have a great deal of catching up to do. Not much planting was done in April and early May as it was too wet so I've spent quite a bit of the last week getting seeds into the ground. Peas were the first to go into the ground. This is an important crop, along with beans, for those seeking to become self-sufficient. They are good for protein and vitamins. Carrot seeds were then planted. We have rather neglected growing carrots in the past, a mistake we are not intending repeating. As well as being a great source of vitamin A, it contains minerals and fibre. They also store well so we can use them throughout the winter when fresh vegetables from the allotment and foraging are very limited. Also planted are beetroot and more onions and shortly I will be planting parsnips, turnips and swedes. In other words, quite a few root crops. Meanwhile we have spent part of today sorting out the beehives. Earlier this year we merged two hives together as one had lost its queen. Today we were able to split them back into 2 hives. One will be weaker than the other to start with but hopefully will be up and running properly over the next few weeks. Our third hive was also checked but we found no queen cells in it. No chance of it swarming therefore, but no possibility of being able to artificially swarm it to create another hive. The super however was filling with honey so very soon we will be able to get our first honey crop. I'm certainly looking forward that that.

Friday 25 May 2012

Crushed egg shells

Previously I have avoided giving egg shells to the hens to eat but some of you have been in touch to tell me my fears that it will encourage them to eat their own eggs are unfounded. We have recently had a few incidents of shellless eggs and in one case, a very small egg was laid. This pointed to insufficient calcium in their diets despite providing them with lots of grit. One of the neighbouring allotment holders suggested I roast the shells and grind them in a pestal and mortar. This also gets around the problem of feeding chickens untreated kitchen waste. Anyway, the video shows all.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Using up the artichokes

I can see why people only dig up Jerusalem artichokes when they need them. They don't store too well. I dug mine up a couple of months ago but many have gone mouldy or have dried out. So I am using up what's left. Tonight I made artichoke and onion soup. The rest I will make into artichoke gratin. For this latter recipe I hope to use an old wartime recipe for mock fish pie. I hope to film this one so watch this space.

Monday 14 May 2012

Feeding the bees as a precaution

The rotten weather we have had recently, with a few okay days in between, is not good for the bees. Though our recent checks of the hives shows them to be in good health, we have decided to feed the bees. A small amount of fondant was added to each hive. I'm still looking forward to getting some some point soon.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Nettle and wild garlic flan

wild garlic May 12 Nettle May 12 2

Spring brings with it two of my favourite wild foods: nettles and wild garlic. Nettles in particular are a versatile leaf that can be used in soups, stews, to make tea or in this instance, to make flans. Wild garlic leaves can be used in salads, soup and, yes, you guessed it, flans. I made the 3 flans below recently using our own eggs. All contain nettle and wild garlic leaves. To make, role out some short crust pastry into flan dishes, put in a layer of nettle and wild garlic leaves, a modest amount of chopped onions as an optional extra, beat up sufficient eggs to cover the leaves and then put in an oven at 180C for 25 minutes. Eat hot or cold.

 wild garlic and nettle flans May 12

Saturday 12 May 2012

Checking the hives

Last week we had a break in the rotten weather and it gave us the opportunity to check our 2 hives. We were especially keen to check hive 2 as this one is actually 2 hives joined together. We joined them up at the end of March as one was weak and had lost its queen. We found that this hive is strong but not strong enough to need a super yet. Hive 3 on the other hand was doing very well. We added a super to it, complete with queen excluder. This will be the first hive from which we will be able to get some honey this year (we took a couple of frames off it in the autumn).

We had a sunny day on Tuesday and I was pleased to see that the bees from both hives were very busy. We hope soon to artificially swarm the hives so that we can add a couple more to what we have.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Artichoke and sausage casserole

artichoke and sausage casserole Apr 12

We managed to use up some of our jerusalem artichokes recently in a casserole. Included in it was some supermarket purchased sausages. These has been in the freezer for a significant length of time and, shall we say, were not from the luxury end of the market. There was probably more water in them than pork. Adding them to the casserole at least gave them some flavour.

We still have a bucket of artichokes to use up. They are beginning to dry out. It seems they don't keep well. I can see why people only dig them up when they are needed.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Pigeon pests

Cabbage attacked by pigeons May 12

The cabbages I planted in the autumn have been savaged by pigeons. Take a look at the photo above I took this morning. I am going to have to net them. They will grow back as the hearts are still there but pigeons have better watch out. I must bring forward my plans for a game pie. We have a load of pigeon breasts in the freezer we can use. Perhaps they are getting their own back.

Egg problem appears to be solved

We have had a few more shellless eggs this week. The problem had clearly affected more than one hen. We increased the amount of calcium in their diet by adding in a teaspoon of poultry spice to their mash. One of the neighbouring allotment holders told me that when he used to keep hens, he roasted the shells until they were brittle and fragile, then turned them into powder using a pestle and mortar which he added to their feed. We are trying that out now - we have a large supply of shells at the moment as we are making lemon curd and I am about to make a load of flans.

The problem however has disappeared. So far today we have had 6 good size eggs, all with shells. Nevertheless, the use of the shells in this way appeals to me as it turns a waste product into something useful and also gets around the regulations that ban the feeding of kitchen waste to hens as the waste is suitable heat treated. I had always been reluctant to feed the hens their egg shells as it could encourage them to eat their own eggs. However, turned into a powder means feeding them something that is far removed in appearance from eggs.

I remain baffled as to how the shellless egg problem started. We give the hens a very good supply of grit. Perhaps some of them felt they should just ignore it.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Jet Stream and a soggy garden

Well, it's official. We have had the wettest April since records began in 1910. It follows the driest March since goodness knows when. We have been a bit luckier than other parts of the UK. Up here in the North East it has been misty today. We had a little bit of drizzle but generally we seem to have avoided the torrential downpours that have hit the south. An expert weather forecaster on BBC News 24 put the heavy rain down to the Jet Stream moving south. I seem to recall this was the explanation for the wet summer in 2007. I remember one afternoon in June that year when I was in Sedgefield in Co Durham and the skies opened up and dumped a month's worth of rain in an hour. I managed to write off a video camera in that downpour.

I have never seen the excessive rain of that year as an explanation for the disastrous collapse in the number of bees but the two events did coincide. The bees don't like the rain and won't go foraging when its wet. So I am concerned about our hives and whether there will be sufficient honey. It's also too wet and cold to open the hives to check them. We have had advisory emails from the Beekeepers Assn to say that we may have to consider feeding the bees to ensure they don't starve.

The allotment continues to be soggy. The chicken run continues to be a mud bath so I simply let the hens out to roam about the allotment. The corner of the allotment where we are planning to locate a new bed is too wet to do anything with other than to plant it out with crops that like wet conditions. Any suggestions anyone?

At least the newts in the pond seem to be flourishing in our soggy garden.