Wednesday 31 October 2012

The honey harvest plummets

The BBC is reporting today that the UK honey harvest this year is 72% down on what would normally be expected ( As a beekeeper myself, this comes as no surprise. Indeed, "I picked a fine time to start beekeeping" would be an appropriate description for me. We got our first hives last year and this year was meant to be our first year of production. Like other beekeepers, the wet and cold spring and summer washed away our plans. We had a tiny honey crop, 3.5kg, from one hive, nothing from the rest. I am hoping that next year will be an improvement but for that we need some decent weather.

The other disappointing issue is that beekeeping is very much a cottage industry. It is based on a large number of people running small honey producing businesses. I am a great believer in self-employment (as well as self-sufficiency!) with people running micro and small businesses that supply goods and services to local markets. It is one of the routes to economic recovery after the disaster of the financial crisis. The weather seems to be doing its best to stop that recovery taking place.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Roast pork dinner

pork joint Oct 12 1

Tonight we had our first joint from our Tamworth pig. A 2kg leg joint and it tasted fantastic. The before and after photos of the joint roasted are above and below. Further down is the meal itself. Everything else on the plate was grown by us or swapped. Coming up shortly is pudding: a custard tart made with lots of our eggs.

pork joint Oct 12 2

roast pork dinner Oct 12

custard tart Oct 12

Duck update

ducks Oct 12 4

It is now a couple of weeks since we let the ducks go free range. They have taken well to the allotment but unlike the hens, they remain on our allotment rather than wandering off to other people's plots. They stick together as a group of 7 so if one decides to wander off across the allotment, the other 6 will follow. Initially they were very nervous of us, always moving away when we were around. More recently, though still keeping their distance, they haven't headed off in the opposite direction. Today, they even came on to the same bed I was working. I needed to prepared the raised bed to plant some onions. That meant weeding, manuring and digging it over. One duck in particular, the magpie, was quite happy to be at my feet, grabbing what worms that were available.

The ducklings have grown rapidly and all but one (the khaki campbell) are now fully grown. We still have only one bird laying but for the past three weeks she has laid every day except one (yesterday). We are still not sure of the sex of the 4 birds we got as ducklings but that will become more obvious as they finish growing their adult plummage.

The ducks have managed to wreck the pond. They are much muckier than hens and we have now had to install a bath tub as an extra place for them to swim and drink. It is one of those plastic bath tubs that can be used for washing dogs. It is easier to clean out than the pond which will itself have to be cleaned soon.

ducks Oct 12 3

Our first Tamworth meal

toad in the hole Oct 12

We had our first meal using meat from our Tamworth pig last night. 6 of the traditional pork sausages went in to a toad-in-the-hole. It was also an opportunity to use up one of our eggs to make the batter. We have a bit of a surplus at the moment. The milk and the flour that went into the batter was bought. I'm not sure we will be able to produce our own wheat for milling but there is a possibility we will be getting goats in the future, securing us a milk supply.

Anyway, I'm pleased to say that the sausages were fantastic.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Snow in October

Snow on allotment Oct 12

As if the wet summer was not enough, now we have a snowy October. It started snowing last night, and this morning we woke to about 2cm of snow on the ground. In typically British fashion, it was enough to ground everything.

Never before have I known snow to be so soon. I'm writing this in the afternoon and fortunately, most of the snow has now gone. That, of course, has simply added to the mud on the allotment.

Tamworth pig - the meat has arrived

Pig meat Oct 12

Yesterday I drove down to Cockfield in southern County Durham to pick up the meat from our Tamworth pig. I brought back a boot full of sausages, sausage meat, joints, trotters, offal, belly pork and cheek. I don't have the bacon yet. That will be ready for collection next week. The meat has to be cured first. That takes about 7-8 days.

Most of the meat went into the freezer when I got it back but we have kept out 2 joints and 2 bags of sausages. Tonight we will have toad-in-the-hole to use up the sausages. Tomorrow we will have one of the joints. The other joint and sausages will go to a friend who goes shooting. He will provide us with some game in return.

Our cat has been the first to sample the Tamworth. There was a sliver of meat attached to the liver which we boiled up for her. She scoffed the whole lot this morning. We got the lungs of the pig as well and that will be converted into cat food. The days of buying Whiskas are over.

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia: Early Autumn Edition

This is the latest edition of Self-Sufficient in Suburbia. After a miserable summer, autumn has arrived. The ducks are allowed to go free range, we got our first honey crop, the hens are producing lots of eggs but the tomatoes won't ripen so I end up making green tomato chutney. Meanwhile, I use rhubarb and blackberries to demonstrate the basics of jam making, use the autumn leek crop to make flans and soup and visited Bill Quay Community Farm to have a look at the pig we are planning to buy.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

How to make leek and potato soup

An autumn favourite of mine, leek and potato soup. The recipe is:
  • chop 5 medium sized leeks, 4 medium potatoes and a large onion and add to a pan with a bit of oil. Cook gently for about 10 minutes.
  • add a litre of stock and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • add half a litre of milk and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes.

How to make leek and bacon flans

Harvesting leeks is a sign that autumn has arrived. We picked all of ours last week as the ducks were starting to eat them. We have a number of leek recipes coming up and the first is leek and bacon flan:
  • chop the leeks and put them in a pan with a bit of butter or oil and heat gently to allow them to sweat for about 20 minutes.
  • chop the bacon and cook gently in its own fat for about 10 minutes.
  • put short crust pastry into flan tins and put in the leek and bacon.
  • beat sufficient eggs and pour over the leek and bacon.
  • bake in the oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes.
bacon and leek flan Oct 12

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Our Tamworth has gone to slaughter

Our Tamworth pig was send to the butchers today. I phoned them to make arrangements to collect the meat. I've drive down on Friday to collect the joints but the bacon will take longer. The meat needs to be cured and then sliced. It will be at least another week before we get the bacon.

We have bought an additional freezer but I have a nagging concern that we will be short of freezer space. The above video was filmed last week at Bill Quay Community Farm.

Letting the ducks go free range

It was time to let the ducks go free range. We had had them for a month and they had adapted well to the allotment. In the evening, they had learnt to put themselves to bed in the duck house. So on Sunday last week we decided it was time to dismantle the duck run and let the ducks go free range. Since then they have gradually explored the allotment but unlike the hens they've not gone onto the other plots.

There was only one minor confrontation between then hens and ducks. Garibaldi, one of our ginger nut rangers had a bit of a confrontation with the aylesbury. A bit of wing flapping and feathers standing up on the neck. It lasted all of 5 seconds.

How to make a duck egg sponge cake

With one of my ducks now laying an egg a day, I decided it was time to make a duck egg sponge cake. Here's the recipe I used:
  • 6 duck eggs. Weigh them unbroken.
  • Same weight of self-raising flour, butter and sugar as for eggs.
Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat the eggs and then stir them into the butter/sugar. Then beat in the flour. Put into cake tins (avoid making the layer too thick) or cake cups and put into a preheated over at 190C. The cup cakes will be ready in about 12 minutes, The cakes in the tins will be ready after about 20-25 minutes.

My confession is that the video only shows part of the story of making the cakes. In the end they turned out to be a bit of a disaster. The cakes sank in the middle because I had made them too thick. A bit of selective editing meant this disaster did not appear on video. However, watch out for the November edition of Self-Sufficient in Suburbia programme. The disaster will be there for all to see.

duck egg sponge cake disaster Oct 12

As you can see from this photo, the cakes have sagged in the middle.

Friday 19 October 2012

Our Tamworth pig

Tamworth pig Sept 12

I went to Bill Quay Community Farm in Gateshead yesterday to have a look at the Tamworth pig we are going to buy from them. At this point in our plans to become self-sufficient, we are not in a position to keep a pig ourselves. To do that, we will need to have a bit more land. We are looking for some. However, before becoming a pig raising concern, we need to learn how to deal with a large quantity of pig meat. We have bought an additional freezer just to store meat. The pig itself (see picture above) goes to slaughter in about a week's time. After about 8 days, we get back the meat.

The animal will be fully butchered. Bacon joints will be sliced and some sausage meat will be turned into sausages. We have asked for some of the sausage meat to be left for us to turn into sausages ourselves. We are going to learn how to do curing and smoking ourselves. We will not be getting back the blood (making black pudding is something for the future) or the head but we will get back everything else, including the trotters.

Bill Quay Farm is a centre for breeding rare breeds and has an ethical policy towards the raising of livestock. That, plus the fact we do volunteer beekeeping there have attracted us to the idea of buying a pig from them.

We also have an offer from friends to swap pork for some of their lamb. They have a bit of land next to their house where they keep their sheep. We will definitely be taking up the offer!

So watch this space. There will be lots of pork and bacon recipes coming up.


honey Oct 12

It was worth the wait! Our first honey crop is now in. Here is some of the honey in tubs. We do not yet have the equipment to extract the honey from the comb but at some point we will need to make the investment as we are keen to start using the beeswax to make candles, table polish and so on.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Free ranging

We took the decision some time ago to let our hens go free range on the allotment. We have a large chicken run but so many of the hens had become expert at getting out, but returning to the chicken run later that we decided our fears they would wander off and never be seen again were unfounded. Since then, they have learnt where all the gaps are in the hedge and now head off every day to wander around all the allotments in the area. The other allotment holders are happy with this at the moment. The hens provide entertainment and also get rid of bugs, slugs and snails. However, once people start planting crops, the hens will need to be confined to our own allotment as they will damage any plants. Nevertheless, anyone digging up a patch on an allotment often finds they are accompanied by a large number of hens which help them dig the patch as well. The bonus at the moment is that I am hardly having to feed the hens. They come back to the henhouses in the evening stuffed full.

Today we took the decision to let the ducks go free range. We have had them a month and they have settled in. We created a temporary duck run on the part of the allotment which turns to mud every time it rains. The run includes the pond. Today we removed the fencing so the ducks are now free to wander around the allotment. So off they wandered, always as a group of 7. They made a couple of visits to the apiary, walked past the manure heap and hung about next to the gate for a while. But their favourite site seems to be bed 3, next to the pond, and therefore next to where the duck run was. The bed still has a beetroot crop to pick but the ducks seem to like it as it catches the sun.

Meanwhile, we now have six duck eggs. I think only one duck is laying at the moment but at one egg a day, the description of the khaki campbells as "prolific layers" appears to be quite accurate.

Thursday 11 October 2012

How to make rhubarb and blackberry jam

I have never made rhubarb and blackberry jam before and I have never seen a recipe for it. I invented this one because I had some spare rhubarb, the blackberries are in season and I wanted to demonstrate the principles of jam making. Basically, you need pectin, sugar, acid and heat. That combination should mean your jam sets, subject to there being sufficient of each.

Anyway, this jam tasted rather pleasant.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Food prices and supply

One of the main news stories today has been about the poor wheat harvest in Britain and how it will affect food prices in the shops. I know quite a number of Americans read this blog and extreme weather has hit the grain crop there as well. In the US, the problem has been the opposite to here in the UK. When I was in New York in March, the key news story was the heatwave which was damaging food crops. Back home, the persistent wet weather has been the problem. The result is the same: reduced yield. Russia, another major grain producing area, has suffered a damaging heatwave as well. Food prices will, as a result, go up and some shortages will result.

So what do we do in response? I don't want to have a long rant about the wasteful nature of modern western society and our propensity to eat too much food, and especially too much of the wrong types of food. Yet, if we could cut out food waste from our lives, people would, generally, save far more than would be spent on increased food prices. This seems an obvious solution but it is too often overlooked. I suspect most people have not sat down and worked out how much food is wasted in their own homes. Furthermore, many people shop in a way that is very wasteful. They arrive at the supermarket without a shopping list. Had they worked out in advance what they need, and then stick to the list, carefully ignoring the impulse buys, they would find the weekly shop costs much less and the amount they waste is reduced.

Meals need to be planned. Buy what you need (or better still grow at least some of it). Waste nothing. Regard leftovers not as bin fillers but as ingredients for the next meal. Planning and wasting nothing are two of the key principles for self-sufficiency. Living within our means is not just about money. It's about sustainable living and using our resources sparingly and to full effect. We need a sea change in society's attitude to the way we use our wealth and resources. Unwelcome price rises could be the jolt that makes people look at what we do with food, energy, waste and resources in a new light.

Our first honey crop

Lots of awful weather this year means that the bumper honey crop we were hoping for never happened. We had hoped to get honey in the late spring but all we got instead was swarms of bees. That at least meant we expanded from 2 hives at the start of June to 8 now. The good news on the honey front is that on Saturday we were able to take honey off one of our hives. There were only 5 frames but it's a start.

Green tomato chutney - the video

This is the video I shot of how to make green tomato chutney earleir this week. Since I first posted about this recipe, people have been in touch with ideas about other recipes to try. So watch this space, I'll have a couple of old American recipes I hope to try shortly.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Our first duck egg

duck egg Oct 12

I opened the duck house this morning to find an egg. So one of our ducks has started laying. Excellent news. We have had them for nearly a month so hopefully the other adult will start laying soon as well.

Meanwhile, our ducklings are growing rapidly, though I have to report sadly that a couple of weeks ago, one of them (one of the aylesburies) died.

Monday 8 October 2012

Green tomato chutney recipe

green tomato chutney Oct 12 1

The miserable weather has knocked the tomato crop this year. I should have been harvesting lovely red tomatoes two months ago. Instead, I have a greenhouse full of green tomatoes at the start of October. They will not ripen so I will be picking them green. The same problem has affected people on neighbouring allotments. We have been engaged in a great deal of trading over the past few days. My eggs for their green tomatoes. I now have quite a green tomato mountain, and I haven't even started picking my own.

Today I used a bag of green tomatoes to make chutney. Here is my recipe.

  • 2kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 900g chopped onions
  • 900g chopped apples
  • 100g raisins
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 450g soft brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
Add all the ingredients to a preserving pan and bring up to the boil. Leave to simmer for about 2 hours, until the ingredients have reduced by half and the consistency is that of a thick sauce. I got 9 jars from this quantity (3 of them in the picture below).

green tomato chutney Oct 12 2

I filmed the making of this chutney so the video will be ready shortly. Meanwhile I'm looking around for interesting green tomato recipes. I found a very old one from America for green tomato mincemeat. I'll need to translate the measures but watch this space, I'll be making it shortly.

Friday 5 October 2012

A secret stash of eggs

eggs Oct 12

My hens have taken to wandering onto the neighbouring allotments. At this time of year, with little around for them to damage, they are causing no harm and the other allotment holders seem to enjoy having them as company and to help get rid of bugs, slugs and snails. Anyone who takes to digging up the ground however is likely to be mobbed by the hens as they race to beat each other to the worms.

Wandering off like this adds to a problem of laying out of the henhouse. The two boss hens, Snow White (a coral nick) and Atilla (a light sussex) seem to have an agreement to lay in the same place as each other, which is almost always away from the henhouse. When I know where they are laying, that is not a problem. Until about two weeks ago they were laying behind the hedge on the path leading to the allotment. And then suddenly they stopped laying there. Egg production figures were down overall in the absence of their eggs. Both are good layers, typically laying 9 out of 10 days on the trot.

I kept searching the hedgerows of the other allotments. Today I even checked under someone's shed. But there was no sign of eggs. And then Liz, on the neighbouring allotment, called through to tell me she had found where they were laying. There in her old greenhouse was a heap of 20 eggs, all but one laid by Snow White and Atilla. I gave Liz a dozen and took the other 8 back to my house to add to the egg mountain that has grown up in my absence. (I was away for 10 days last week doing some filming and photography in London and Brighton.)

I have been pickling eggs today but somehow, the number of eggs waiting to be used never seems to get smaller. I will be taking the eggs to a market a week tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll be currying them, pickling them, making egg custard, poaching them, swapping them, doing whatever I can with them.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Picking sloes

The sloe crop where I live in the North East of England has failed, a result of our awful weather. The blossom was hammered by the heavy rain in May and the bees could not get out to pollinate the flowers that did survive the deluge. I was in London over the weekend and took a walk around Crystal Palace Park. And there I found a modest quantity of sloes. It is nothing like the abundance we had last year but it was enough to make it worthwhile picking them. Our apple crop has failed as well but a friend in London also gave me a bag of apples from a tree in his office garden. So, back home in the North East and I am now making sloe jelly. Alas, I won't have enough to add any to the hedgerow jelly I make each autumn. And there is certainly not enough to make sloe gin.

Monday 1 October 2012

Interviewing beekeepers

I went to the Harrogate Flower Show in September and when I was there I interviewed beekeepers for the Horticultural Channel. We discussed the impact of the weather on honey production and why the bees have swarmed so much this year.