Thursday 30 April 2020

Elderberry and blackberry vodka

elderberry and blackberry vodka Apr 20

I had an online pub crawl with friends on Saturday. The pandemic lockdown is generating some odd consequences - I haven't been on a pub crawl since I was working on my PhD at Newcastle University in the early 90s so it was odd to be joining in one now, even though I didn't have to leave my house. Anyway, I brought to the online gathering a bottle of elderberry and blackberry vodka I made back in 2018. My friends appreciated my thoughtfulness in bringing along samples, even though no one yet has invented online sharing of alcohol!

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Rhubarb jam

rhubarb jam Apr 20

More jam making yesterday: 8 jars of rhubarb jam. We have a large rhubarb crop which we would normally sell to the farm shop that sells our eggs. As it is closed at the moment, we have to turn all of it into preserves or put it into the freezers (which are all nearly full with other foods!)

Backbreaking work on the grass

sacks of grass Apr 20

The grass is growing well so we can pick it (lots of it!) for the goats - 4 sacks a day to be precise. After a few weeks of doing this, my back started to feel the pressure. I've had back ache for 3 days now. No heavy lifting for the near future.

Hedge growing

rowan whip Apr 20

In the winter we planted up 200 metres of hedging using mainly blackthorn, rowan and wild rose. I'm pleased to report that the whips we planted have survived and indeed are growing well. It will be at least a couple of years yet before they are noticeable but hopefully we are on our way to having a new hedge down the eastern side of the smallholding. There will be gaps in the hedge which we will fill with soft fruit bushes, especially gooseberry.

Chickening out at the compost bin

chickens in compost bin Apr 20

We have a compost bin at the bottom of our nearside plot (the one in which we keep the animals). We haven't added anything to it for at least 2 years so it is now well rotted down into a rich compost. We've started to use it as we have lots of soft fruit cuttings to plant up. The chickens of course love it as they can kick through it looking for bugs and worms.

Sunday 26 April 2020

Checking what's growing wild

Don't forget that food doesn't just grow on the allotment and garden. There's lots out there that grows wild. Last week, for one of my once-a-day lockdown permitted walks, I checked out Lotties Wood, near our smallholding, to see what wild crops will be available later this year.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Rhubarb chutney

rhubarb chutney Apr 20 1

My first rhubarb crop of the year is nearly ready to pick but in the meantime I was given a few kilos by a friend. Half has gone into the freezer, the other half was made into 9 jars of chutney. The recipe is:

  • 1 kg rhubarb
  • 100g sultanans
  • 500g sugar
  • 2 onions
  • 500ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
Chop the rhubarb and onions, then add all the ingredients to the preserving pan, bring to the boil and simmer until the volume has been reduced by a third and the consistency is that of a thick sauce. Then add to hot, sterilised jars.

rhubarb chutney Apr 20 2

Monday 6 April 2020

Introducing the goat kids to grass

We took the kids to the main field of the smallholding on 19th March to encourage them to eat grass. We are starting the process of weening them. Sadly, any idea of having them permanently on grass at the moment have been put on hold for the time being because of the pandemic. The lockdown means the timber merchants aren't open and we need 100 fence posts. So all the goats are staying put at their current locations until such point as the pandemic is over and we can get the timber we need.

Saturday 4 April 2020

Settled in

Barnvelders Apr 20

I'm pleased to be able to report that our Barnvelder chickens have settled in well to their new home in the nanny goat paddock. We were hoping to have moved the nannies out of the paddock and down to our main field but the pandemic crisis has stopped us buying the fence posts we need to ensure the goats don't wander off! So the nannies are staying put for the moment. We were planning to get some turkeys (as an experiment) but that plan is on hold at the moment due to the pandemic. The nannies' paddock would be used to house the turkeys so until they move, the turkey plans will remain an aspiration.

And if we do get turkeys, it will mean moving the Barnvelders to a separate run as we can't keep turkeys and chickens together.

Chopped marrows and pumpkins

marrow Apr 20

We had a couple of supersized marrows and a pile of pumpkins from last year that needed to be sorted. So recently I chopped them up and added them to storage boxes which have now gone into one of our freezers. They will be used to make curries and soups. I'm also in search of a good pumpkin pie recipe.

Marrow and pumpkin chopped Mar 20

Caterpillars in March

Caterpillar Mar 20

We have just gone through one of the mildest winters I have ever experienced. During the season, we experienced ice on the water bowls and butts on only an handful of days, even then it was only a thin layer. We had snow only once. It fell during the night and by midday it was washed away by rain. I noticed trees starting to come into leaf in February, 2 months early. Last month I found this caterpillar. While I expect to see lots of them from May onwards, I've never seen them in the winter! Climate change is happening! The issue we have to address is how to slow it.

Houdini the hen

Houdini the hen Mar 20

This is Houdini, and at 9 years, she is our oldest animal. The photo was taken last month. She was part of the first batch of hens we bought back in 2011 and she continues to lay eggs. I never expected a chicken to live so long! And long may she continue!

Thursday 2 April 2020

BBC Radio Newcastle interview

I was interviewed by BBC Radio Newcastle this morning about self-sufficiency under the lockdown. I talked about the small things people can do as a first step to growing your own food - such as growing cress and mustard and bean sprouts on your doorstep of using shopping bags to grow potatoes. I also touched on wild food foraging.

You can listen to the interview on this link. I'm on at 1 hr 39 min and 50 sec and 2 hr 48 min and 25 sec. The BBC have invited me back next week!