We went on a little shopping trip yesterday. Yes, I really did have J & E being enthusiastic about shopping! To be fair it was to a town in East Anglia that we don’t have much call to go into – Huntingdon, so there was a fair bit of pretending to be explorers going on and the fact we were potato shopping to get excited about.
Unknown to us (until last year) there is a Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group which holds a potato day every year. Unfortunately, we only found out about last year’s event the week after it happened, but this year, I found out the night before, so off we tootled.
It was fab, with everyone being really friendly; a café; childrens’ activities (although E only had eyes for the potatoes – no pun intended); a seed swap and about 50 different varieties of potatoes and some varieties of shallots to choose from. We were given some paper bags at the start and told to go round the tables picking as many or as few potato seeds of any variety we wanted from the boxes and then at the end they would be weighed to work out the cost.
OK, I admit that E is only just starting to learn to read, so we had to read all the details to him & (within reason) he got to choose which type of seed potatoes we bought, which we’d buy & put them in the bags. With such a huge choice & E treating it like a game, it appears he resorted to the amateur gambler’s method of choosing – which had the most interesting names. So we’ve ended up with Duke of York; Sharpe’s Express; Nicola (all earlys) and Merlin (main crop) potatoes – total cost £1.16 (as all potatoes were £1 per kilo) . Now we just need to use up enough eggs to house them for chitting – I can feel a few baking sessions with E on the horizon lol.
Our purchased potatoes- Sharpe’s Express (top left) Duke of York’s (top right), Merlin (bottom left) Nicola’s (bottom right)
On a different subject, our new house plants are doing well. E is taking his responsibilities very seriously and ‘Honk’ is doing so well under his care, it’s growing! Due to the pinkness of the new sections of plant, E is convinced they are new flowers growing and won’t be swayed on the subject. Sometimes it’s better (and saves your sanity) not to try to correct a little one, but just let them find out they’re wrong on their own lol.
It’s got to be genetics!
With B still ill (but on the mend, thankfully) there has been little gardening getting done since our return from holiday. It also doesn’t help the weather is freezing, so getting a fork or spade in the ground is nigh on impossible. So there was me thinking I’d have nothing to say this month, but E had other ideas.
Our house has a complete lack of plants in it (when it isn’t seedling season) and I decided it was time to change that. We’d been lucky enough to go on holiday to Florida and go to the amazing Kennedy Space Centre. It was the highlight of the holiday for me, as I’d always loved physics & dreamed of being an astronaut. It also pointed me towards getting a Peace Lily, as per NASA’s experiment for cleaning the air of removing all three of most common VOCs — formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. It can also combat toluene and xylene. So, on the basis what’s good enough for NASA is sure good enough for my clan, E & I went in search of our first home plant in over a decade.
Taking a toddler just before Christmas to garden centres is not something I would recommend, unless you have ages on your hands (and some earplugs). We had to keep stopping to look at displays and then the huge amount of sweets & chocolate on the approach to the tills & at the tills is a meltdown waiting to happen with most children. Luckily for me, at the first center we went to, the only Peace Lillies they had were huge (so not suitable for us) but next to the discounted plants. E, it appears like me, cannot resist nursing plants back to health and promptly asked if he could have a plant to look after as well. All the plants were 50p, so on him agreeing to take care of whichever plant he chose & him understanding what that entailed, I agreed to buy one of his choosing. Of all the different plants there (quite a lot were beautiful miniature roses) he chose a Christmas Cactus.
I love cacti, but hate those & Easter Cacti, for the fact my Mam, aunties & my Gran (when she was alive) have filled their houses with them and, although they are good lookout posts for plastic army personnel (as long as you don’t knock the flowers off), their ability to multiply and take over every windowsill and then, when too large for the sills, invade playing space with coffee tables (which were not to be knocked etc) made them the bane of my energetic childhood. Offers of cuttings have been politely declined for my entire adult life.
Yet here was my little angel wanting one. Stupidly I’d agreed to the terms before realizing he had cornered me into buying the hated plant. You have to admire the negotiating skills he has for a three year old, even if they are used for evil purposes. I gave in –it’s better to pick your battles for important things (and hope the plant was beyond help and this could be a Darwin lesson to him). It did mean that he didn’t give the sweets etc a glance there or the second garden centre (where we found a suitably-sized Peace Lily) and the visit to the second centre was a rush to get back to the car & check on “Honk”.
E has named it Honk because it’s flowers remind him of Mr. Tumble’s nose. My plant has been christened Antsy, which E thought was a new word that he had invented, so I corrected him (much to his annoyance – he’s determined to invent a new word at the moment) – maybe in future years he will see the irony in the name, but his love of plants (even if they are that type of Cacti); negotiating skills & a love of words leaves me with no doubt he’s a chip off the old block(s).
Real-life Heroes Exist & Spring has sprung (for the bulbs anyway)
28/11/2014, 10:07 pm
Filed under: Flowers
I had one of those awful parenting moments the other day. E, B & I had gone to feed the ducks and E overextended himself whilst throwing food and went in the water. Not an experience I’d recommend, having a wet toddler [freaking out about getting his brand-new shoes wet] and a dog fretting over him, whilst at least 20 minutes away from home on a freezing cold day. Luckily for us a lovely lady who’d been walking her dog saw what happened and took us to her home that was less than 5 minutes away to dry E off and then drove us home. It’s nice to know such heroes still exist out there.
I know nothing could really show our gratitude, but to attempt to, we decided to give the lady a gift and the only thing that we had to hand, was some spring bulbs that we had recently planted up. So I prettied up a decorative bucket and then went out to pick up the potted bulbs. Little did I expect to see rather large green shoots coming from all the bulbs.
The finished product
I’d potted a mixture of Alliums, Dutch Irises, Chionodoxa and Muscari Armeniacum and they’d decided that spring had sprung a little early to say the least. I’ve not grown the bulbs before, so not sure if this is normal to have a growth spurt before the winter, but it does leave me worried that the frosts will damage the bulbs.
Not had a lot of time lately to garden, as B has been seriously ill & my back has been playing up. So with a sorry heart, I’ve had to pass my gardening gloves to J & E, who’ve had a whale of a time getting muddy together. It does mean that I haven’t got many photos (amazing how they forget things when they’re playing lol). Anyhow, last week they went up with the intention of harvesting the last of the year’s crop, as they had the week before. It didn’t happen (again) as J decided the huge Butternut Squash were still a bit too green to pick, but they did bring back three Pumpkins.
B with some of their bounty
It’s the first time I’ve grown Pumpkins and I have to admit, I only did it for E, but blimey, I’ll be growing them next year for myself. They are nice to peel (even peeling with a potato peeler instead of having to chop at it with a large knife like a Swede); taste lovely (especially in a slow cooker veggie stew); are quite dense with little of the interior taken up by seeds etc. (each 3 kg Pumpkin can make 3 meals for a family of four); and keep really well (even when cut, just wrap in cling film and it can last about a fortnight in the fridge).
Even when cut, they keep
To top it all, E loves the taste so will happily tuck into any meal with it in, so it’s a definite winner in this household
Making Glut Wine Whilst the Sun Shines (Part 2)
Or as E would say “the start of the toilet takeover” (as our downstairs toilet is where the demijohns live when brewing & is out-of-bounds lol). Please bear with me as I had to do this whilst E was at pre-school & J was at work so it was impossible to get all the photos I wanted to – action photos were a no-no as the heat or sheer volume of items meant that I couldn’t do the necessary work and take photos at the same time.
So, in the last instalment the must had been put in the food tubs and had to be left for 3 days (with a crushing of the fruit, by hand, on the 2nd day). It smelt lovely when I did the crushing & the orange & ginger really sang through when I lifted the lid on it at the end of the ‘3-day stewing period’. I lifted out the bagged ingredients (which had done a fantastic job of holding the ingredients in and saved time on straining) and twisted them to get as much liquid out as possible.
Washing bag a success
At the same time, I’d been cleaning & sterilising the demijohns and airlocks. I find it much easier to use a combined cleaner and steriliser than separate ones as it takes less time and, as I clean them straight after use, they don’t need much cleaning – just 10 minutes with vigorous shaking every couple of minutes then a rinse three or four times to be sure and it’s done.
Still more cleaning etc.
Also at the same time (yep, you have to multi-task), I heated 1.7 kg of normal granulated sugar with 450g of malt extract and filled the malt extract jar with warm water twice & added that so as to get as much of the sticky loveliness that is malt extract out as possible (can you tell I love the stuff?) and help dissolve it.
For me, yummy :)
Next, I mixed the sugar syrup with the juice. As to how, changed the second time around. First time, I added the syrup to a small amount of the juice and whilst stirring, added the remainder. However, in the second batch I just added the syrup to all the juice at once. Either way the mixture mixed and was cool enough to proceed to adding the other ingredients straightaway. Just don’t forget that until it is added to the juice you are dealing with a very hot sugar syrup and should be treated with caution.
Little by little
I should point out that it looks a bit odd at this stage with clumps of white bubbles on top, which is normal.
Odd, but OK
Next step was adding the last ingredients. In my first batch I added the tannin (1 pinch), pectin (1tsp), yeast (1tsp), yeast nutrient (1tsp) and lemon juice (1tsp) to the mixture once I’d put it in the demi-johns and gently swirled them (mainly because I forgot lol). For the second batch I added the rest of the ingredients whilst still in the food tub (and doubled their amount as it makes 2 demijohns)
2nd batch method
and stirred it with my silicon spoon (very helpful tool to have as it helps to get as much of the ingredients as possible and good for finding any sugar granulation). Straightaway I started getting a reaction and more bubbles.
So once mixed and all in the demi-johns [having left room for any bubble expansion, which can be fierce to say the least – if you try it, don’t worry about oxidization from that space, once the bubbles slow in about a week later, just top up with cooled, boiled water to about an inch under the cap and it’s fine] I added the bottle tops and airlocks.
Room for reaction
I personally find the little straight airlocks easier to clean and do the job just as well as the bubble type, which looks more the part, but is impossible to clean properly if the wine bubbles up into the airlock. I’ve also tried filling the airlocks with alcohol (as some books suggest) but just plain cooled boiled water works just as well. You don’t need much liquid in the airlocks, because you need to leave room for the bubbles and you don’t want the liquid being pushed into your wine or out the top.
Not so pretty, but better in every other way
Now it’s just a case of waiting for the bubbling to slow down; all the foamy yeast to fall down to the bottom and be sediment so it can be racked (i.e. decanted into another demijohn) and mature for about 6 months until it’s ready for bottling.
Making Glut Wine Whilst The Sun Shines (Part 1)
I’ve been having fun here this weekend. The Sunday morning balloon flight we’d booked (which J had won in a raffle) was cancelled at 11pm Saturday on the basis of potential cloud cover. I wouldn’t have minded, but on pulling back the curtains Sunday morning the sky was clear, apart from some high up wispy clouds and a singular hot air balloon. Typical! So our first attempt at letting someone else babysit E (as under 8’s aren’t allowed to go balloon flying) & him being ready to get up at 5am were all for nothing. Humph.
Still, it did give me a day when I could have J look after E for a while, whilst I got on with things that I could potentially need him for (without a little assistant lol). First (and last) on my list was wine making. I hadn’t planned on making any more wine this year, as we’ve made Rhubarb Cordial (AKA Pink Ice) and we’ve now got a glut of wine (although the Strawberry has been disappearing quickly lol) from previous years. However, our two surviving Courgette plants have been growing more than we, our neighbours and friends can handle and the Rhubarb seems to have taken the Pumpkins’ growth as competition, so after the usual cakes, crumbles, handing some to passing strangers etc, I admitted defeat and the need to use up the remainder in a wine. To try and use up the most (and get some room in the freezer for the batches of lunch components and slow cooker meals now it’s back to school and inevitably bad weather) I decided to try and make a wine all of my own – Glut Wine lol.
I had looked through my wine making books for a similar recipe, but no luck, so I decided to marry a Marrow recipe with a Rhubarb one by taking the ingredients I fancied from each. Not very scientific, but it might be brilliant or a big ol’ mess. Anyhow, I decided to make this a long blog for those that think wine making sounds hard/mysterious. It’s not really; you just need to have a few free hours on different days.
To start, you need to make sure you have everything to hand – there’s nothing worse than realising it’s 6pm on a Sunday when all the shops are shut and you haven’t got enough of something you need straightaway. That being said, you can substitute some of the brewer’s ingredients with other things (e.g. use strong tea instead of Tannin, or Lemon Juice instead of Citric Acid). You can use Baker’s Yeast (which some supermarkets with in-store bakeries will just give you if you ask) but I’ve found you do get better results if you use the correct Brewer’s Yeast and you can use a general yeast available at some Tescos / Wilkinsons / Home Brewer’s shops (and there’s some cracking internet shops, such as Biggerjugs.co.uk – I’m sure there must be others, it’s just I haven’t tried them yet). Once you’ve got everything together it’s a lot of washing and sterilising of all the equipment, cleaning & preparing the produce you’re using (and cutting out any bad bits) and off you go.
For my Glut Wine I used my mandolin slicer to quickly cut up 2.5kg Courgettes into thin julienne strips and 2 oranges into thick slices. The 2 inch piece of frozen Ginger I sliced by hand (leaving on the skin), as it wouldn’t go through the slicer. Freezing helps to break down the fibres, so I always make sure ingredients such as Ginger or Rhubarb are frozen, even just overnight, before using as it helps getting the best yield from them.
A Mandolin Slicer makes it easier
I then put these inside a large [sterilised] washing bag & then inside a large food tub (5 litre). I’m trying a washing bag for the first time as I’ve heard it makes it a lot easier to strain all the juice off in a few days. If you like, you could use muslin bags, or nothing & just use a sieve and a slotted spoon later on (as I’ve always done before lol).
Courgette, Ginger & Orange in the food tub
To the bag, I added 2kg of frozen chopped up Rhubarb
Frozen Rhubarb added
Then I zipped up the top (so none gets out to make straining harder) and topped it up with water until all the ingredients are covered – well, if you push them down, as they float to the top lol. I made sure I put the top on well as I don’t want anything contaminating all my hard work or spilling it over the floor.
Cover with water
I’m now leaving them for a couple of days and then I’ll open them to crush the Rhubarb with my [clean] hands, put the top back on and leave it for one more day before doing the next stage. As you can see from the photo, I made lots of room in the freezer by making two lots. I really, really hope it tastes OK lol.
Add a lid & make two for extra freezer space
August Almost Gone
30/08/2014, 6:34 am
Filed under: Beetroot
Wow, this month has been a bit of a whirlwind! Not only weather-wise, but for the stuff we’ve been up to. Starting with a trip to the vets and staples in B’s leg & camping at a folk festival (getting to sing on the main stage whilst E slept through it –typical!!!) and going on holiday to the Brecon Beacons, so we haven’t had much time to spend at the allotment.
Luckily, the brown paper & mulch has been slowing down the weeds brilliantly, so on my trips up there the weeding hasn’t taken up all of my time. This has meant I’ve been able to enjoy picking the produce with E, B & J. Talking of produce, E has surprised me by picking Raspberries and not only bringing them home, but freezing them so when we had enough, we could make jam. That’s some breakthrough considering he’s doesn’t like to allow them to get off the allotments! Once we had collected enough from our visits, after finding the easiest recipe I could (as I’d not attempted to make jam before) I set about making jam under the watchful (and very safe distance away) eye of toddler management. Sure enough nothing much happening until I looked away to check on a cake I was making and it erupted out and down the front of the drawers. Lovely!
Determined Toddler Brings Home Raspberries!
Apart from masses of Raspberries, the French Beans have been doing well, Blue Lake in particular, whilst the Borlotti Beans have been fabulous, but I’ll wait until they’ve dried out a bit before I take any off the plants as I like to keep them for dried beans. I hadn’t expected the Squash to take over quite so early in the growing season though, which has meant the Dwarf Beans have been swamped. After starting so strong, they’re now dying from lack of sunlight. Ho hum, one day I’ll manage to find a part of the plot they thrive in.
My Beetroots have been fantastic and I was surprised when J declared (as a lifelong hater of even their smell, let alone touching one) that he would attempt to eat a roasted piece. He did and “didn’t mind it” which is high praise in J language and even went as far as eating another piece the next night. I think I’ll have to keep to the Boltardy variety now he’ll eat it as it’s only taken 18 years to get this far lol
Dug up treasure
The Jemmer Courgettes have bloomed really well and are even growing into marrows in the space of a week (as have the Cucumbers), but sadly something has taken a liking to eating the Ambassador variety and left me with nothing but rotting roots. It’s a shame, because they’d grown stronger and faster than the Jemmer variety at home, but obviously must smell nicer or have tastier leaves to a visitor to the plot. The nice thing about the Jemmer variety is that they stick out against the leaves (being bright yellow) so E can tell if any are ready to pick as soon as we get to the plot and ‘manage’ me picking –a very important job if something is too prickly to pick yourself.
Spot the Jemmer :)
At home, my Jalapeno Chillis have been surviving in the greenhouse throughout our absences amazingly well, considering I expected them to die off without constant pampering. I just watered them well before we left, closed up the greenhouse, left a full watering can in there with them and they’ve fared well enough to produce a second batch of chillis. I’ve put the first batch on a cooling tray and placed them in the airing cupboard to dry out in readiness of being crushed and added to casseroles etc. That should keep J happy. I wonder if there’s a chilli borscht recipe I could make him……….
Who ‘news’ if it’ll work
22/07/2014, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Weeding
The last time I blogged I was fighting the mysterious allotment weed and I’ve continued to do so. With my new job leaving me with rather thick brown paper every week, it inspired me to give smothering a go just to keep the areas in between the plants a tad freer of weeds (or at least make it easier to deal with). So with the brown paper and old newspapers for the bits when I ran out, I started to fill in the parts of the beds that were not in use and to keep them from blowing away, I used the free compost I’d got the other week.
I have to say it hasn’t stopped it totally, but it is easier to deal with and cuts weeding down to a minimum around the courgettes which I hate being unexpectedly spiked by. It’ll definitely help to paper the beds for winter just to keep the work to a minimum in the spring and with the added bonus the paper and the compost will condition the soil.
Sweetcorn bed in progress
Less prickling this year
Beans & Squash happy
Name that weed
So at last the time is upon me and E has started pre-school. He’s loving every minute, I can’t get use to the quiet and not having one of my constant companion by my side & B is missing her little brother with a passion and has taken to guarding his toys for him until he returns. Going to the plot is a lot quicker and I stay a lot drier without E watering Mummy to get me to grow a bit taller, but I have taken the first load of Rhubarb to make the first Rhubarb crumble of the season and start making E’s pink ice – Rhubarb Cordial.
I was lucky enough to find a jam making set in the discounted section of the supermarket a couple of months ago, so now have an alternative to using my clothes horse. It can sit on my worktop and doesn’t get in the way in our kitchen, so a lot easier when waiting for the juice to drain.
As well as making pink ice, I popped into the school the other week for an hour to get the little ‘uns gardening. As you can understand I couldn’t take photos, but armed with a variety of recycled milk cartons; yoghurt pots and mushroom boxes; compost; and my leftover seeds I had a whale of a time with very excitable toddlers. I’d only taken seeds that would be interesting for little ones (such as Squash, different coloured French Beans, Borlotti Beans and Giant Sunflowers) and we set about planting away. Needless to say everyone wanted to help with the watering the seeds, which was interesting with a very large watering can, no rose and lots of enthusiastic babs trying to tip it up, but now there is a fence decorated with lots of different types of plastic containers. It was so nice to hear them getting excited at the idea of growing something and cute comments like ‘I’ve just planted a Dragon Bean’ gives you a whole new outlook on Borlotti Beans. For 3 & 4 year olds, I was quite surprised at the high level of sharing of seeds & equipment, listening to instruction and consideration gardening brought out in them. It really was enjoyable to be a part of and hopefully given them the gardening bug lol .
I’ve been taking advantage of the nice weather today to go up to the plot. My, how quickly weeds can grow and if only veg could grow that quick, I’d have gluts all year round!!
Seriously though, I am getting tired of weeding a particular weed that loves my plot and I wonder if you readers can identify it for me. It grows along the ground, twists around everything and has deep straight roots, which break off too easily. I’ve spent years trying to weaken it by keep digging it out, but to no avail. I’m even considering weed killer, but if you folks know of a eco/toddler/dog/veg friendly way, I’ll try it.
Name that weed
Name that weed
What a difference a week makes
18/05/2014, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Beetroot
We’ve been on holiday in lovely Cornwall last week so before we went, E & I were at the plot for most of a day, planting most of the things that have got too big or could die in the greenhouse (and we need the room for the next lot of seeds). Four hours is a long time for E, but he has taken to going to the water tap, filling up his toy watering can and watering the whole of the plot. It keeps him occupied for ages.
So before we went, we had one bed with Sweetcorn (both Minipop and Early) in it;
Sweetcorn version 1.0
One bed with Cabbages (Red Drumhead & Pixie which are covered by fleece as it was the only thing I’d got to hand to protect them from the Cabbage White Butterflies that kept flying over), Turnips, Parsnips & Radishes;
And one bed with Chives and Beetroot in, along with half the overgrown Red Cabbages from last year (which I’m having to leave in until the Courgettes are ready, or the Council complains the plot isn’t being utilised enough).
I also planted some Sweetpeas which I’ve managed to germinate from some seeds that must be at least 5 years old. I honestly didn’t think it’d work, but did it to humour J.
All got watered in by my fine young assistant with the hose, so we went off with fingers crossed that there would be no frosts for the rest of this Spring.
At home, we re-potted the Chillis before moving them into the greenhouse and planted some Cucumbers (Masterpiece & Bush Champion F)1 and Courgettes (Ambassador F1 & Jemmer F1). I gave them a good dowsing with water and shut the greenhouse door hoping that it wouldn’t be too hot & sunny either, so they’d have a fighting chance.
So after a lovely holiday I got back all anxious over my plants as there had been conflicting weather reports for back home, depending on which TV/internet weather channel you used. Some said they’d be a hard frost and others said there’d been none at all, so it wasn’t until we got back that I could find out how they’d faired.
The only ones that looked a bit ropey was the Sweetcorn at the allotment, so we’ve planted some more at the same time as our Borlotti Beans and Blue Lake French Beans.
Beans & Sweetcorn the Sequel
At home someone had been eating the Giant Sunflowers, so I moved them to a different part of the garden, after re-potting them.
The Courgettes and Cucumbers had come through nicely and as we’d got room, I started some Squash – a couple each of Autumn Crown F1; Winter Waltham Butternut & Gold Nuggett. Here’s hoping they come through like the Courgettes.
Some of the Courgettes & Squash settled in nicely