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