Monday 30 December 2013

Storm damage

I am back in London for a few days and have taken the liberty of going for a walk around Crystal Palace Park. The recent storms have taken their toll on the trees with a number blown over. Despite the gales and heavy rain of recent days, I am continuing to find evidence of just how mild the autumn and winter are.

The following are a couple of examples:

This is an oak tree in Crystal Palace Park. Notice how there are still green leaves on the tree. Below is some gorse I found flowering near my house in Sunniside in the North East.

There are more storms on the way. The weather forecast is for more gales and heavy downpours. The ground on the allotment is waterlogged so more rain means lots more mud. It's a good job I got the drainage channels dug in March. At least that will alleviate some of the problem.

Friday 27 December 2013

Ducklings on the move

The 2 ducklings that hatched in late November have outgrown the brooder box in which they have been for nearly a month so yesterday we moved them to the greenhouse on the allotment where they will acclimatize to being out of a centrally heated house. Once they have become fully grown (in about a month) they will be released fully onto the allotment. In their place in the brooder box were the 2 ducklings that hatched last week. They too will follow the beaten path to the greenhouse in about 3 weeks time.

Monday 23 December 2013

Artichoke soup

I made this soup recently as a way of using up some of the huge crop of artichokes we have. It was quite a basic recipe with nothing elaborate going into it. It was a bit of vegetable stock and chopped Jerusalem artichokes, celery and onions with a few fresh herbs.

Greenery and blossom

I know I said in my last post that the weather is bad. Nevertheless, we have had a period of mild weather this autumn which has resulted in a few odd things happening to trees, bushes and so on. I had to drive down to London on Saturday and I spotted gorse flowering near the A1. Here in London I have found green leaves on the elder in Crystal Palace Park, and nearby I've found trees starting to blossom.

Back home I have spotted blackberries still ripening. There are dandelions still growing (I pick them for the hens and goats) and there are still green nettles. We have only had 2 days of frost and though I have had reports of snow falling yesterday back in Sunniside, it was too wet for it to lie.

So it seems we are having yet another season of unusual weather.

Taking shelter

I took these photos on Saturday just as the bad weather was picking up. I had wanted to walk the goats around the allotment site but they had taken shelter in the goat house and weren't keen to come out. I could hardly blame them. The hens as well were taking shelter. They have found a patch next to the shed where, no matter how hard the wind blows, it remains sheltered. Many of them have taken to clustering there when the weather is bad.

I'm in London at the moment. David is home looking after the animals but I will be home tomorrow. It seems however that the weather is set to get worse before it brightens up on Christmas Day.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Sold out of honey

We had our last Christmas market of the year on Saturday 14th December. It was in a marquee in Whickham, the small town just down the road from Sunniside, the village in which we live. I am part of the group that ran the market. Lighting Up Whickham was set up to raise money for Christmas decorations in Whickham and to help boost the business vitality of the shops there. My job was to book the stall holders, get the tables from Marley Hill Community Centre (where we run the community cafe) and promote the event.

In the photo above you can see my preserves and honey on the left. The stall holders told me they had a good day. I certainly did! I sold out of honey. That's it til the summer of 2014 when we get in our next harvest. There is clearly a big market for locally produced honey so next year we will be looking to increase the 8 hives we currently have.

We have a small bucket of honey left at home for our own use. There's not much in it but we will be trying a few honey recipes soon. We also have a large amount of squeezed honeycomb which we will process. One by-product of this will be the water we use to wash the honeycomb which will be used to make mead.

Left to right: George Craig, Lorena Dayson, Cllr Peter Craig and me - we helped run the Christmas market. It raised £415 for future Christmas decorations. This was the first Christmas market the group has held, but we are likely to make it an annual event from now on.

Rosemary jelly

This is one of the preserves we made for the Christmas markets - rosemary jelly. The apples and rosemary used in it came from other allotments and were part of a trade. I think we used some of our honey to pay for them.

This is a good jelly to use with roast lamb. We did not skimp on the rosemary so the flavour is quite strong. We have a bit of lamb left in the freezer which we got last year as part of a swap for some of our Tamworth pork so I'm looking forward to using it up.

Pumpkin chutney

We've so far used the giant pumpkins we have to make soup, pie, jam and curry. More recently, we used some in a sausage and vegetable casserole. The video for this is being edited but in my eagerness to eat what we produced, I forgot to take photos! And we have made pumpkin chutney. The video for that is being edited as well. I'll post up the recipe on another day but it came out as a slightly tart preserve. This was quite useful as at the same time I made a sweet apple chutney and a hot marrow chutney. It meant we had an interesting range to offer as swaps, Christmas presents and to sell at the recent Christmas markets.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

More ducklings

ducklings Dec 13

This is not the best of photos but I snapped it on my blackberry this evening after taking these two ducklings out of the incubator. One hatched last night, another this afternoon. There are 4 eggs still in the incubator but I can hear no activity from three of them and the 4th I have my doubts about. But at least we have two ducklings to replenish our stocks after the setback on October and November when we lost 5 ducks.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Skinning and gutting a rabbit

A friend borrowed my air rifle to go rabbiting over the weekend and as a thank you, he gave me one of the animals he caught. I skinned and gutted it and carefully saved the pelt. At some point I will have enough to make a fur coat - by which time I will have learnt how to treat the pelts.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Christmas cafe and lights

Marley Hill Xmas Dec 13 9

Mayor of Gateshead, Jack Graham, was in Marley Hill (the next village up the road from Sunniside where we live) on Sunday to switch on the Christmas tree lights at the front of the Community Centre. This was the first time we had had an outdoor tree at the centre and the first time we have run a Christmas event like this. My job was to organise the day, run the craft market and, of course, the Allotment Cafe and generally make sure the whole thing held together.

We put the play equipment out at 9am to keep the kids occupied. Whickham Wind arrived at 3pm to play Christmas tunes and they were a particular hit with the children. The mayor did the switch on at 4pm. The whole day went very well. It looks like this will be an annual event from now on.

And as we were running the Allotment cafe throughout the day, people brought in produce to swap for our preserves. We got a good supply of apples, onions and leeks.

Marley Hill Xmas Dec 13 7

Marley Hill Xmas Dec 13 2

Marley Hill Xmas Dec 13 1

Thursday 5 December 2013

How to make hawberry jelly

There were lots of hawberries in the hedgerows in November and as they are full of pectin, they make a good jelly. There are still berries to be picked so they will probably me made into a ketchup.

Sunday 1 December 2013

artichokes galore

artichokes Nov 13

It looks like we will have another bumper crop of Jerusalem artichokes. Last week we recovered a large number simply by pulling out the dead stalks. So watch this space for artichoke soup, artichoke gratin, roasted artichokes and any other artichoke recipes we can think of!

Polytunnel troubles

polytunnel Nov 13

We have been suffering from wind recently. No, I don't mean we are enduring the results of eating too many beans or artichokes! Instead, we have had a couple of storms that have bodily moved our two polytunnels. The one above was literally picked up by the wind and carried over the allotment and deposited on top of the greenhouse. The photo was taken after we had moved it over on to its side. The second was caught in a 2nd storm a few days later and ended up in the neighbouring allotment. It has been damaged and we will have to decide how to use it in the future.

The first polytunnel to fall victim to the storms is pictured below after we moved it to a new location. As you can see, we have removed the cover. Fortunately, the damage to the frame was rather minor.

polytunnel Nov 13 2

Meanwhile, the freeing of the plot next to the goat paddock where the first polytunnel previously stood has given us the opportunity to extend the goat paddock. We will do this shortly. We have decided that instead of using the additional site we have taken on for the goats near our existing allotment, they will stay where they are but with a much bigger paddock. This makes sense in terms of the fencing. The new site is a long plot what would have needed a huge length of fencing. Extending the existing site therefore makes more financial sense and it means we can get the new milking goats sooner. The photo below was taken after the storm blew the polytunnel onto the greenhouse. The goat paddock will be extended to include at least the area of the henhouses, if not more.

goat paddock Nov 13

Saturday 30 November 2013

Pan haggerty

pan haggerty Nov 13

Pan haggerty is one of my favourites and is simple to make but, sadly, is a meal I don't often have. So, in an attempt to break with that tradition, we had pan haggerty last night. To make it, slice some potatoes and boil them. Then, in a deep pan, put in a layer of the boiled potatoes, then one of chopped onion and then a bit of grated cheese. Keep putting in layers until all the ingredients are used. Put on a low heat for about half an hour. Cover the pan whilst cooking. this helps to cook the onions and stops the ingredients drying out.

The potatoes and onions were locally produced. Alas, we had to buy the cheese as we are not yet into milk production.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

One more hive

Our most recent check on our hives, earlier this month, led us to believe that two of them had died. One of them was dismantled and put away. The other was left to be dealt with later. Another warm, sunny day today brought the bees out. And I spotted that the hive we thought was dead was, well, very much alive. It has been an odd hive as it had a queen that was laying only drone eggs. A colony only producing drone brood is under a death sentence so its apparent death earlier this month was not unexpected. Today I saw workers flying in and out of the hive. It could be that the previous queen was killed off by the hive in time to replace her with a new queen or it could be that the existing queen has sorted herself out and has started laying correctly. We will inspect the hive soon so we should be able to get a better picture of what's happening.

A good day for trading

On Sunday we held another of our community cafes at Marley Hill Community Centre. We call it the Allotment Cafe and we encourage people to bring in their produce which they can swap with our preserves, eggs, honey and so on, as well as have a meal in the cafe itself. We try to use as many locally produced ingredients as possible so it is often the case that what people swap with us finds its way into the meals we provide. Sunday turned out to be a good day for swapping. By the end of the day we had trays of apples, a fresh trout, a bag of blackberries and lots of parsley. We had to turn down the offer of Jerusalem artichokes. We already have an embarrassingly large quantity of them. And today we were given a large bag of apples from the back garden of a house just up our street. We can never have enough apples. We use huge quantities of them in making chutneys and jellies.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

How to roast teal duck

We swapped some jam and cake for a couple of teal ducks and pheasants recently. I this recipe we roast the teal stuffed with apple sauce.

Monday 25 November 2013

A happy end to a not so good week

ducklings Nov 13 1

We have had a rotten week with the ducks. Last week, the older group of ducks suddenly decided to stop using their duckhouse in the evening. That meant they would be out on the allotment overnight and vulnerable to foxes. No matter what we did, we couldn't get the ducks to reoccupy their house. Sure enough, next morning two of the ducks had gone and a day later another went as well. Our second group of ducks, which we hatched in the spring, had stopped using their duckhouse over two months ago. They spend nights on the pond and for six weeks they survived the foxes until, last month, two of them fell prey to them. At that point we put another 6 duck eggs into the incubator. And then, last week, there was a terrible accident and the incubator was knicked off its stand. 4 of the eggs were smashed. It was all the more frustrating as the 28 day incubation period had only 5 days to go.

Yesterday however the remaining two eggs hatched. Last week we put another 6 eggs into the incubator rather than wait until today, after the more recent hatchings, to start them off. Hopefully there will be more ducklings just before Christmas.

And finally, the two groups of ducks on the allotment have now merged to form one. This is almost certainly because the dominant drake in the older group was one of the birds caught by the foxes. Previously he chased away the younger birds. Now the younger drake is filling the gap. A united group of 5 now spends night times on the pond, giving some protection from foxes, and we have succeeded in netting the pond each night, helping to keep the foxes at bay.

ducklings Nov 13 2

How to make pumpkin jam - the video

My latest video, how to make pumpkin jam. As pumpkins have no pectin, I used appled to set the jam. Use equal weight of apple and pumpkin and sugar used should equal the total weight combined of apple and pumpkin. Add a bit of water after the pumpkin and apple has gone into the preserving pan, enough to stop any burning whilst the fruit heats up and boils. Then add the sugar and boil until the setting point is reached.

We still have three very large pumpkins to use up so watch out for our forthcoming videos on bread, pies, chutney and pancakes and anything else you can think of.

Monday 18 November 2013

2 hives down

We did a check on the hives over the weekend and fed them with sugar syrup. Alas, two of the colonies had died though frankly this was expected. One was a swarm from June and it was always weak. The other was an established colony. In the summer we found it contained only drone brood. That was effectively a death sentence for the colony. We are now down to 8 hives but have hopes of expanding further next year.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Vegetable curry

vegetable curry Nov 13

I had been planning to use up some vegetables in a curry recently so I made this curry the other evening. We are having the rest tonight. It was a useful way of making good use of vegetables that were not going to survive for much longer. My confession is that the sauce was made from ingredients we did not produce ourselves. In an effort to use up all the surplus stocks of food in our cupboards that were accummulated during our rat race years when we bought our food from the supermarkets, I found a jar of curry paste. I added a few spoons of it to the vegetables along with the milk of two coconuts. These were part of a gift from Jimmy the greengrocer who was in the BBC programme I did in September on self-sufficiency. At the filming of the BBQ I hosted, he turned up with 2 boxes of tropical fruit. The coconut milk was a good addition to the curry (thickened with some supermarket purchased cornflour). The hens polished off the flesh which was a bit past its best.

Thursday 14 November 2013

How to make pumpkin soup

This was the first recipe we tried when faced with the mountain of pumpkin to use up last month. We also make pumpkin soup for our monthly cafe at Marley Hill. I was rather pleased with the results and our customers also enjoyed it.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Chick magnet

hens ducks Nov 13

This morning I decided to remove the wire netting that had been keeping the hens and ducks off a bed on the allotment. The bed had been used for rhubarb, horseradish and runner beans. We are continuing to dig up horseradish roots but there was no longer any need to keep the poultry off the bed. Within moments of removing the wire netting, there was a group of duks and hens sifting through the leaves and soil. It was a great magnet for them. They even abandoned their pellets and wheat to search for bugs instead.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Beeswax candle making

I have a large quantity of honeycomb that went through the honey press in the summer and early autumn sitting in a large honey bucket. I also have a reasonable amount of bits of honeycomb we have collected whilst managing the hives over the past couple of years. The reason I mention this is because of a meeting I attended this evening of Haxham Beekeepers' Association. The speaker tonight gave a demonstration of candle making. We are planning to make beeswax candles so this was a useful meeting. I also learnt that I may be able to make mead from the honeycomb - or rather from the honey that is in it.  Basically, I need to wash the comb in water before we put it into our wax extractor. The water should be drained off and this is what we can ferment to make mead.. I need to do some more research on the details of what is required but I am hoping to try out a recipe in the next couple of weeks.

Elderberry and runner bean wine

elderberry and runner bean wine Nov 13

This seems at first to be a bizarre combination - elderberry and runner bean wine. We saw the recipe in our ancient Boots the Chemist wine making book and thought we'd give it a go. Our freezer is full of runner beans and we still have lots of them on the allotment which will be a bit too stringy by now to eat ourselves (though the goats like them). So an experiment in bizarre wine making was not going to eat into our food supply.

The recipe is the same as the one we used to make the elderberry wine last week except, for obvious reasons, the addition of a half kilo of chopped runner beans to every kilo of elderberries. They should be boiled and simmered in the preserving pan with the elderberries and then strained before the juice is added to sugar and yeast. Apparently, the runner beans give the elderberry wine more body and makes it smoother. I'll tell you what I think of it in a few months' time when it's been bottled and we start drinking it.

Meanwhile, the hens got the elderberry and runner bean pulp. Waste nothing!

Sunday 10 November 2013

Bees and ivy

Ivy flower Nov 13

The mild autumn we are experiencing means that the bees are still active and leaving the hives to forage. Fortunately, there are flowers there for them to use for nectar and pollen. Ivy is the last of the flower crops of the year and it looks like it is doing well. The above photo is not the best in the world. I took it with my blackberry whilst precariously balanced on the top of our hay stack the other day. There is actually a bee in the photo! What I found was that the ivy had lots of bees all over it.

Though I say it is a mild autumn, we did experience quite a sharp frost this morning. My toes felt it at 11.30am today after taking part in the Remembrance Day parade in Whickham!

Another stash of eggs

eggs November 2013

We are experiencing a low yield of eggs from our hens at the moment. Part of this can be explained by the onslaught of shorter days, some of it to moulting. But the rest of the apparent low yield was explained the other day when I found 9 eggs in a nest in the hedge. And then I found 2 duck eggs under the hedge. A bit of a bumper day for eggs!

Elderberry wine

elderberry wine Nov 13

We are now well into our wine making session. Our latest from the Chateau Sunniside stable is elderberry wine. The two demijons above were set away earlier this week but we topped them up yesterday. We found the recipe in an old wine making book from Boots the Chemist. Boots used to be one of the biggest suppliers of equipment and ingredients for making homemade wine. I think they abandoned this activity years ago so their books are, I guess, possible collectors' items. The one we are using was printed in 1973 and has belonged to David for 40 years. He got it as a wine-brewing teenager!

I have converted the measurements into metric from imperial to make more sense of them. Add 1kg elderberries stripped from their stalks to a preserving pan and simmer in 4.5 litres of water for 20 min. Strain onto 1 kg sugar and 2 tsp of citric acid crystals. Then add 200ml red grape concentrate and a couple of tsp on yeast/nutrient. We left all this to stand overnight and then added them to the demijons.

We'll let you know how we get on but I can report they are fermenting well.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Cucumber relish

cucumber relish Nov 13

That's all our cucumbers now used up - and our gerkins and courgettes. I chopped them all up, added a very large chopped onion and added them to some boiling spiced, sweetened vinegar. Leave them to simmer for about 5 minutes and then add to hot sterilised jars.

Monday 4 November 2013

Teal duck roasted

teal duck roasted Nov 13

Last week a friend who goes shooting dropped off a couple of teal ducks for us (in exchange for a cake and a jar of lemon curd). Yesterday I plucked and gutted them and we had them roasted. It was an interesting recipe. I stuffed them with stewed apple and basted them in red whine vinegar with 25g of melted butter, half a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper. The birds were roasted for half an hour.

We have them on a slice of fried bread with runner beans and fried potatoes. An enjoyable combination.

Soap story

soap homemade Nov 13

Self-sufficiency is not just about food. We need to consider other goods we need as well. Soap is one of them and our produce can be used by soap makers to make bars of soap. One of the stall holders at one of the markets where I sell my jams and honey is a soap maker and we are now in the process of swapping our produce. I recently gave her some Tamworth pig fat and she is curing the soap made from it now. On Saturday she gave me the four bars of soap which included some of my honey. There will be more soap coming my way soon (made from the pig fat) and in her direction will be herbs and honeycomb. This is all part of the trading system I want to encourage people to develop.

Friday 1 November 2013

Moulting hens

moulting hen Oct 13

The egg yield from our hens is minimal at the moment and part of the cause of this is that a number of them are moulting heavily. In the photo above is Houdini, one of our maran copper blacks. In September she came 2nd in a local allotment show hen competition. It was good timing. Had the competition been a month later she would have been in the middle of her moult. You can see on her neck the stubs of the new feathers growing through. She is like that all over her body though it is less obvious as she still has a covering of feathers that hides the new growth. The hen houses are filled with feathers each morning. Whilst they moult, they put their energy into growing new feathers rather than into egg production.

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia September edition

The goats have arrived, we enter the jam making competition at the Bowes Agricultural Show, the tomatoes are picked, the elderberries are made into jelly and the runner beans are pickled. It's September and it's our second month when we buy no food from the supermarkets.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Pumpkin lantern

pumpkin lantern Oct 13

Halloween today and a steady stream of trick or treaters came to our door. We put the pumpkin lantern on our garage roof. It got noticed! Tomorrow I will remove it, break it up and feed it to the hens and goats. Waste nothing!

Pumpkin and apple jam

pumpkin and apple jam Oct 13 1

Making jam was a useful way to use up the mountain of pumpkin flesh and a batch of apples from our garden in London ensured we had a supply of pectin to set it (though the jam emerged as a soft set).

Peel, core and chop the apples and put into a preserving pan with the same weight of chopped pumpkin flesh. Add a bit of water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the fruit is soft. Add sugar - the same weight as the total of pumpkin and apple. Bring back to the boil and keep on a rolling boil until the setting point is reached (put a dollop onto a plate, let it cool and check to see if it has set). Then put into hot, sterilized jars.

pumpkin and apple jam Oct 13 2

Don't waste the apple peel and cores - boil them up to make a jelly.

Wednesday 30 October 2013


acorns Oct 13

Acorns - at this time of year there are tonnes of them (excluding last year when the rotten weather ensured there was little of anything). The oak is one of our most well known trees, not just here but throughout Europe and North America. Despite that, the abundant crop of acorns is rarely used as a food source. There was a time, hundreds of years ago, when acorns were fed to pigs to fatten them up in the autumn, though generally, pigs were released into woodland to feed on a variety of nuts, fruit and roots. We don't have any pigs but we have goats so I fed them a handful of acorns this morning. Seconds later they spat them out.

So, having failed to use them as a feed for livestock, my next aim is to use acorns in cooking. There aren't many recipes about but in the past I have had a go at making acorn flour to use in bread baking. I'll give that a go again but I am on the outlook for other acorn recipes. Any suggestions?

Monday 28 October 2013

A return visit from the fox

We lost 2 of our ducks to foxes earlier this year. We therefore decided to hatch some of our duck eggs. The result was 5 ducklings, all of which grew rapidly into adulthood. More recently they started laying. Alas, they had also stopped used the duckhouse at night. No matter what we did, they would not go inside. So we accepted that they would be outdoors through the night, leaving them vulnerable to foxes. What surprised me was that there were no fox incidents for nearly two months. Unfortunately, that ended on Friday morning. Two of the ducks hatched this year were nowhere to be seen. There were no feathers or body parts left behind as evidence of the fox's activities but there can be no other explanation for the ducks' disappearance. So, we are going to hatch more eggs. They go into the incubator tonight.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Pumpkin pies and soup at the Allotment Cafe

pumpkin lantern Oct 13

On Sunday we will be running our monthly Allotment Cafe at Marley Hill Community Centre and with Halloween coming up, pumpkins will be featuring on the menu. We will be serving up pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie as well as our usual Tamworth pork burgers, full cooked breakfast (which includes our Tamworth bacon and our free range eggs) and sandwiches. And today I found a local baker who is bringing along her Halloween cakes, sweets and chocolate apples.

pumpkin soup Oct 13
(Pumpkin soup)

pumpkin pie Oct 13
(pumpkin pie)

The pies and soup above were made from one pumpkin which weighed 22kg. We have used only a small amount of the pumpkin flesh and we still have another three pumpkins of a similar size to use up. I suspect we will be having lots of pumpkin curries, cakes, soups, pies and just about anything else you can think of over the coming weeks and months!

pumpkin Oct 13 3

Friday 25 October 2013

Pickling tomatoes

Lots of tomatoes to preserve. Pickling them in a brine and vinegar solution is one way to ensure they are preserved.

How to make elderberry jelly

Lots of elderberries and another bucket of them picked yesterday. So, making elderberry jelly (using some of our windfal apples as the pectin source) was a logical way to use them up. We will also be making wine and cordial from the berries as well.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Goats at Marley Hill

This was filmed last week when I took our goats up to Marley Hill Community Centre where they could make a start on eating the weeds and grass on the unused land we want to turn into allotments and gardens.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Crystal lemon cucumber

crystal lemon cucumber Oct 13 1

I bought some crystal lemon cucumber plants from the Hurrocks Allotments in Swalwell, Gateshead, earlier this year and grew them in one of my polytunnels. Here are the results. They are like no cucumber I have ever seen before! The taste was no different to other cucmbers though the texture was good and crisp. I'll probably grow more next year.

crystal lemon cucumber Oct 13 2

We picked most of our cucumbers recently so I'll be dusting down the cucumber relish recipes shortly.

Monday 21 October 2013

Goat update

goats at Marley Hill Oct 13 2

We took our goats up to Marley Hill Community Centre, in the next village up the road from us, last Friday. I am a trustee of the building and I have a plan to turn the unused land to the side and rear of the building (of which there is a large amount) into community gardens and allotments. The land has not been used for years and is overgrown. We have many hurdles to jump and hoops to get through before we can properly proceed with the plan but plan or not, the grass and weeds need cutting back and that was a job my goats were very happy to carry out.

goats at Marley Hill Oct 13

Meanwhile, we have given the goats a mineral lick. Hopefully this will stop the goats licking my forehead whenever they get the chance!

goat lick Oct 13

Curried crisps

crisps Oct 13

No need to throw away your potato peelings! We turn ours into crisps. We sprinkle them with curry powder and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes. They need to be eaten quickly once they come out of the oven as they tend to go soggy quickly - as I discovered a couple of years ago on live radio when I was asked to come in to talk about wartime foods (this is a wartime recipe). Discovering live on air that crisps are not very crisp 3 hours after they have been made was an interesting experience! Nevertheless, these are an excellent snack without all the fat that comes with commercially produced crisps.

Fish soup

fish soup Oct 13 1

This soup was the result of another of our clearing out sessions, this time in the freezer. We had some kippers and some white fish that had been frozen some time ago. Time to create badly needed space in the freezer. The other reason for making the soup was to use up the stock I had made from the fish bones, skin and head from the trout we had the other day. There was no room in the freezer for the stock so it had to be used up immediately. It had set well, as you can see from the photo above. The vegetables added were potatoes and leeks.

fish soup Oct 13 2

Vegetable korma

vegetable korma Oct 13

This vegetable korma came about because of a need to use up some fresh vegetables from the allotment and clear out the cupboards at home of the food we got from the supermarkets from the days when we went shopping. The korma sauce came in a jar (which will be reused for our jam making). We will be making more kormas in the future but the plan is not to buy the sauces but make them ourselves.

Friday 18 October 2013

Pickling tomatoes

pickled tomatoes Oct 13

A large number of ripe tomatoes needed to be preserved so I opted for pickling them this evening. The tomatoes were pierced with a skewer so that the pickling solution could penetrate them. They were then packed into pickling jars. The pickling solution was 400 ml water, 400 ml white vinegar, 2 tbs salt, 2 tbs sugar, a few cloves, peppercorns and coriander seeds. They were boiled for about 3 minutes and then poured hot into the jars. We'll use the tomatoes over the winter.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Nasturtium omelette

nasturtium omelette Oct 13

Some feral nasturtiums were growing on the potato bed until Saturday when I stripped them out. Instead of putting them on the compost heap, I took them home to use in cooking. Nasturtium leaves have a peppery taste and are good in salads. However, I discovered that they are great in omelettes. The extra peppery taste goes well with the eggs.

The wine is brewing

wine brewing in demijons Oct 13

The wine we set away recently is now brewing well in demijons. It will be a few weeks yet before we can even consider the next stage in the process. We also found an old can of blackberry juice specifically manufactured for making into wine. It was part of a wine making kit so we have set it away as well. And this afternoon I picked another bucket of elderberries which will be made into wine shortly (after a period spent in the freezer as I am too busy over the next few days to do it straight away).

Tuesday 15 October 2013


This is one of my best examples of trading our surplus honey, eggs and jam for others' allotment surpluses. The pumpkins will be used later this month as we approach Halloween.

How to pickle runner beans

I recently pickled runner beans rather than freeze or salt them. It will be a few weeks yet before we try them. In this video I show you the recipe we use. Since then I have made more pickled runner beans, this time using more sugar and spice in the vinegar and chopping them into 2cm long slices. They went into jars this evening. I'll give them a few weeks as well before trying them.

Monday 14 October 2013

Clearing the polytunnel

hens in polytunnel Oct 13

One of our polytunnels was used this summer entirely for growing tomatoes but recently I picked all the fruit, green or red and stripped out all the plants. There was no likelihood of new fruit growing and the green tomatoes could be ripened in a tray in the greenhouse. The space created will be used for planting autumn and winter crops.

In the photo above, work is just about to start and the hens have been allowed in. Below, the final bundle of tomato plants is removed.

polytunnel Oct 13 2

And finally, the green tomatoes ripening in the greenhouse:

green tomatoes Oct 13

The extended run

ducks Oct 13

I mentioned earlier that we have temporarily put up a bit of fencing on one of the neighbouring allotments to give our hens and ducks extra room. For my neighbour, there is a gain - the land will gradually be cleared of weeds and fertilised. Of our two groups of ducks, it is the younger one that spends more time in the extended run. I even found that one of them had laid an egg there yesterday.

Digging up the spuds

clearing the potato bed Oct 13

We are picking our potatoes late this year, but there again, due to the late end to winter, they were planted late as well. On our main allotment, we planted a large bed with potatoes but to keep the hens off, we covered the bed with hawthorn branches. This worked well but it meant we could not get on to the bed ourselves. The result - lots of weeds! So this weekend, the process of digging up the potatoes started with the removal of the branches and weeding the patch. For the hens and ducks it was as if Christmas had arrived early (I may avoid using that term next year as we are planning to keep turkeys!) There was a feeding frenzy as worms and bugs came to light.

Most of the potatoes are still in the ground. Today has seen the wettest weather for some time so digging will have to take place later this week.

Taking the goats for a walk

Goat Oct 13 3

A couple of times recently we have allowed the goats out of their paddick. On the first occasion we took them for a walk - as far as the next allotment! One end of the allotment is currently unused so the tenant of it has allowed us to fence off part of it for a few weeks. We walked the goats there on tethers recently and allowed them to enjoy eating the weeds.

goat Oct 13 2

Yesterday I tethered the goats to the tree beside the shed on our allotment. They thoroughly enjoyed being able to climb over the fence onto the small strip of wooded embankment that leads down to the neighbouring gardens. The big test comes shortly when we take them to Dad's allotment where we want them to eat the brambles that have taken over one side of the plot.

goat Oct 13 1