Thursday, 28 April 2011

Rhubarb Jam

We harvested the first of our rhubarb this week and while it was originally destined for a crumble it ended up being turned into some rather lovely rhubarb jam.

Most fruit jam is wonderfully easy to make and this was no exception, although with hindsight I might have waited till we had more rhubarb so I could double the recipie as this only made five jars which may not last long in our jam loving house.

Ingredients :
1k of rhubarb (leaves removed)
900g of jam sugar (the kind with added pectin)
100ml freshly squeezed orange juice

Method :
First, simply chop the rhubarb into smallish pieces (2-3 cm) then put the chunks into a large pan along with the sugar. Give them a gentle mix so all the rhubarb is coated in the sugar then add the orange juice and leave the pan, with the lid on, for a few hours to let the juices start to flow.

When you're ready to make the jam put the pan on the heat and slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stiring gently to avoid crushing the rhubarb too much. When it starts to boil whack the heat up to maximum and boil until it reaches setting point (approx 10-15 minutes for me but may differ for you).

Once at setting point simply leave for five minutes before pouring into seralised jam jars and sealing. Then you just need to have the will power to let it cool down and set before giving it a try...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Weeding, watering, sowing and brewing.

What a lovely four days. Amazing weather and nothing to do other than potter around the allotment and garden. It was much needed too, the list of things that needed doing suddenly seemed to be getting quite long so the chance to tackle it was much appreciated

At home we caught up on all our sowing and greenhouse planting. The tomatoes and cucumbers are now in the beds along with a second row of spring onions and radish (actual successional sowing... at last!). This years courgettes, marrows, squash and the first lot of sweetcorn were also sown as well as some basil that I'd kept forgetting about.

Up at the allotment it was a mainly a case of watering and weeding, although I did get the red onions in (at last) and a row each of beetroot, spinach and ummm argh, I can't remember (sorry), in the ground too. It was good to spend some time tidying the plot up too, it wasn't horribly weedy, certainly not when compared to past years but I knew if we didn't get on top of them now they'd shoot way at the first sign of rain. A couple of hours with a hoe though and it's all looking much nicer now, just the onions to weed really and I'll hopefully get through them later in the week.

Best of all though was that amidst all the weeds on one side of the plot I found all the asparagus we'd planted three years ago. The first spears were coming through and all being well in the next few days we'll have a mini harvest to enjoy.

It was also nice to see the first spuds I'd moaned about last week have made an appearance too, I think they appreciated the watering we've been giving them. I'll earth these up this week once the last couple are through.

The only real failure on the plot at the moment is the spring brasicas. Most have gone to seed, the Kale in particular went a couple of weeks ago, while the rest are looking pretty ropey. The cabbages may be the only things to work out, they look healthy and are showing signs of hearting up. I'm thinking of digging up everything else in this bed and planting summer brasicas there instead and seeing what happens but that's not exactly being very good on a crop rotation front...

Back at home I also had time to get some brewing done. M gave me a St Peters IPA beer kit for Christmas and I'd been waiting for the warmer weather to set it going. It's a 32 pint kit rather than 40 like the kits I'd done before, which meant I had to re-measure how far I needed to fill my fermenting bin,a bit of a pain but once it was done the rest of the brew was quick and easy. Now it's sat fermenting away in the spare room, the airlock bubbling away reassuringly.

Amidst all this work we also raided the freezer for some homemade squash soup, chocolate courgette cake, chillies, beans and parsnips while also harvesting the last few leeks and a few leaves of the gone to seed kale. There was something massively pleasing about feasting on last years produce while working hard to grow this years, it's moments like these that make you remember what all the work is for. Hope you all had a wonderful Easter too.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Catching back up

Thanks to this lovely weather, and no longer feeling like death warmed up, I've been able to get up to the plot the last two nights after work and get some work done. There's a lot of weeding to be done (although it's not as bad as I feared which is nice) but I've been holding off on that as I've been trying to get a few things in the ground that urgently needed it.
The parsnips, which had been happily growing on in their toilet rolls in the greenhouse, were the first into their new home on the plot. I've only done thirteen seedlings which may not seem much but last time we grew them each parsnip was so big they lasted two or three meals so I'm banking on then being huge again this year.
The main crop potatoes finally went in too, one row of King Edwards and another of something I've forgotten at the moment. There's still no sign of the first and second earlies we planted a few weeks ago yet which is a worry, but I think I say the same thing every year and they always appear in the end.
I also sowed a small row of beetroot and put some onions sets in. We've scaled back our onion planting this year because pretty much all our overwintering ones survived the snow (see below, just ignore the weeds) so it's really just some red ones we've needed to plant this season.
Because I forgot to take my camera with me last night I popped up to the plot before work this morning to take the pictures for this post and it was lovely to see the plot at a time of day I don't normally visit, the site looked great amidst the early morning spring haze as you can see...
The morning dew was still sitting on the blueberry's....
While the last couple of spring onions that overwintered are now producing some lovely big seed heads...
Roll on the end of work today and then four days with not much to do other than potter on the plot.

Monday, 18 April 2011

To chicken or not to chicken...

Despite our best intentions the weekend wasn't as productive on the allotment as we'd hoped. We were having my family round on Saturday night so spent most of the day tidying the house, doing some jobs in the garden and popping to the shop to get some sparkly new BBQ equipment leaving Sunday as plot day, or so we thought.

However, waking up on Sunday morning I could feel a blocked nose and sore throat had manifested themselves overnight and the familiar achiness in my limbs confirmed I was in the grip of a cold. So, Sunday ended up being a bit of a sofa and box of tissues day which was a pain, although I did pot up the last few unwanted tomato plants that I'd not quite had the heart to throw away as someone at M's work had decided she wanted them (and I was too much of a perfectionist to let her have them pot bound and half dead in their little seed modules).

Yesterday wasn't an entire waste however as it let me give some serious thought to a new project we've been circling around for a while. Ever since we started growing our own and getting interested in the world of self-sufficiency the one thing we've always wanted to do was have our own chickens. Not only does the idea of daily fresh eggs sound great but everyone we've spoken to about it says they're such fun to keep as well.

So what’s stopped us from taking the plunge you may be wondering? We'll there's two things really. First, and most significantly, is the worry that our garden isn't really ideal for chickens to live in. It's not so much a space thing, although we don't have a large garden by any stretch of the imagination, it's more that we'd not really be in a position to let them roam free at any point. We've got two cats, as have next door, and I struggle to imagine just how they'd all get on if the chickens were let out to wander the garden. It'd also be hard to stop them from fluttering over (or under) the pretty poor fence between us and next door (how high a fence do you need to keep chickens contained?) and I'd not want to annoy the neighbours too much by having to keep rescuing them.

Most of the coups I've seen for sale come with a built in run area and claim to be of suitable size to house three birds but they just seem so small, I'd worry our chickens wouldn't be very happy being kept in there all the time. Some companies offer additional run segments which may help but I still need convincing that the chickens would be happy in that kind of setup all the time.

Secondly there's the age old problem of price, I totalled up everything we'd need (coup, run, feeders, consumables, birds etc.) and it seemed to be pretty much about £500 to get up and running. Not an insurmountable amount given a few months of saving (although my damn car spectacularly failing its MOT last week has dented any possible chicken money for the moment) but not one I'd want to lay out only to find that the chickens aren't happy, which brings us back to what I was saying before...

I wonder if anyone out there can offer some advice...?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Quiet Week

Well we're home, and back at work (boo hiss), which has meant lots of boring catching up etc leaving not too much time for the allotment this week. The plan is to spend this coming weekend up on the allotment though and put some serious hours in to keep things looking as good as they were before we went away.

It hasn't all been dreary work since we got home however, we managed to get some pressing garden jobs done on Sunday which pleased M as she always thinks I focus on the allotment too much (possibly true if I'm honest). So, it was first mow of the lawns for the year, a general tidy up and finally time to get rid of the old weather beaten plastic greenhouse we bought in our first growing year. With the proper greenhouse now in its third year it was high time to pull down the plastic one and return the space to a flower border/herb garden.

We've taken the impossible to kill herb plants I blogged about a few weeks ago and given them a proper home here and we'll add few more as the year wears on all being well. We've also sown a load of flower seeds (I'll be honest, M was in charge of those and I've no idea what they were) in the same bed to hopefully turn it into something pretty in the summer.

It was lovely to spend a day pottering around at home rather than the allotment for a change, with both the cats and our parrot enjoying the warm weather with us it felt like a good time to have the first BBQ of the year too, it was almost like summer had come early.

In the spirit of all that hard work and the summery weather it seemed like a good time to try the homebrew lager I'd brewed during the winter. It was a kit brew (Coopers European Lager), I'm not at the all grain stage yet, and my first attempt at a lager so I'd been dying to try it out. It'd been maturing in the garage for 11 weeks and I'd sneaked a bottle or two into the fridge that morning in preparation so it was lovely and cold, just what we needed infact.

Looks good doesn't it! I have to say I was really impressed with it's taste too, although I've enjoyed the ales I've brewed before they've always tasted a bit 'homebrew'y' if that makes sense (quite possibly my fault as I'm still new at this brewing lark) but this lager was pretty much perfect. Way nicer than your cheapo brands like Fosters and Carling with plenty of flavour and a lovely crisp feel on the tongue. Since 11 weeks is the minimum recommended time to age it there's scope for it improving even more over the next few months too. Looking good for the summer me thinks.

Now, just one more day in the office to go then it's the weekend and time to put the work in on the plot. Can't wait!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Edwardian Farm

Well Devon has been wonderful, weather has been sunny most of the time, the only problem is we have to go home tomorrow.

Yesterday we took a trip to Morwellham Quay, the location where the BBC filmed the recent 'The Edwardian Farm' documentary series. If you didn't catch it you missed a treat. Following a year in the life of an Edwardian farm the three presenters (each experts in their field) were based in the Quay and nearby farm while they experienced the riggers of rural Edwardian life.

Visiting area as a tourist was great, there was plenty to do while the chance to visit the farm and cottage that were such a focus of the TV series was kinda cool. I wasn't too sure if they were keeping the farm as a going concern or if it had been mothballed after the series stopped filming but it was nice to see the animals we'd seen on telly living happily.

We tried our hand at rope making (not a trade we appear suited for...) and got the chance to try on some period clothes, not sure I'm suited for them either...

Today we're off for a nice long walk along the costal path, then a drink or two on the pub all being well. Then it's home tomorrow and back to the real world where no doubt the weeds have been growing...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 1 April 2011

The wonders of Freecycle

A couple of days ago I put a 'Wanted' add up on Freecycle looking for some paving slabs to use on the allotment and was soon emailed by a lovely guy a few roads away from me offering the left overs from his new patio. So, last night I popped round to pick them up and take them up to the plot.

Not a bad haul me thinks.

The plan is to use some to weigh down a couple of new paths while the rest will be needed to hold down the weed suppressing fabric I want to use to cover the horribly messy fruit area of the plot.

We started off the job of removing the old broken fruit tunnel we inherited with the plot last year, now it just needs strimming, perhaps rotovating, and then covering with something for a few months/years to kill off the last of the weeds while we save the money to build a new improved fruit cage.

After work tonight we're off for a weeks holiday in sunny (we hope) Devon, the beautiful village of Noss Mayo to be exact. We went there at the same time last year and fell in love with the place so we really can't wait to get back there again. Because of that there will probably be less updates next week, although I'm sure there will be time for a holiday themed post or two if we find anything of interest. I'll leave you with a snap of the allotment site as I was leaving last night. It all looked so peaceful...