Saturday, 31 October 2015

From Vines to Wine

 About 10 years ago during our honeymoon we visited Three Choirs Vineyard they had some surplus vines for sale. So I decided to purchase one the one I chose was a Sauvignon Blanc variety it grew well in our old house. So when we moved to where we are now I did not want to leave it behind it had been left to scramble up the fence so was difficult to dig up. Cuttings was the only way of bringing it with us so I took several hard wood cuttings they all rooted this was 5 years ago. As soon as they where big enough to plant out in the new house I set up a frame for them to grow up. But for the last few year they have been all leaf and no fruit until this year when they where covered in lots of bunches of shiny green grapes.
So we decided that we would have to go into wine production now I have never made wine before so had not got a clue. How to get from shiny green berries to the best wine in the county (or at least that is the plan) So after many hours searching on the for recipes and £35.00 on equipment. I looked and sounded like a seasoned wine maker I now own a hydrometer and use words like oxidation and fermentation which I never would have before.

 After several hours of crushing, testing and adding sulphates and sugar we had what looks and smells like wine. I had to leave it about 10 days in the fermentation bucket testing the sugar levels several times towards the end to see if it has stopped fermenting. Once it had stopped fermenting we had to decant it into a demijohn with a air lock on to prevent any bacteria getting in the wine but any oxygen can get out. Now we just have to wait several months before we can sample our hard work and see how good or may be not so good our first attempt of making wine has been.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Time to plant the Garlic out again

The nights are getting longer and the temperature is plummeting so a lot of folk would not consider it a good time to be planting in the garden. But now is the time to get your garlic in if you want a good crop next year as the bulbs need a certain amount of frost to encourage the bulb formation under ground.
I am going to grow two variety's this year the first is Elephant Garlic although it is technically a leek but it will always be know as garlic. The other variety is Red Duke from Marshalls Seeds I grew this one last year and it produced a really good crop with good flavour as well. It is a hard neck variety which is ideal for planting now if you have any soft neck variety's you are best waiting till February before you plant them out.
Plant them out 15cm apart about 3cm under the soil this will stop the birds pulling them up and the bulbs tuning green in the sun.
Don't forget you can also plant out your over wintering onion sets in over the next couple of weeks so you get an early crop next year.

Pallets the gardeners new best friend

Pallets have become one of the gardeners new friends in the garden and every allotmenter will go week at the knees at the sight of a pile of pallets. Pallet wood can be turned in to so many products and the best bit is they are freely available and most end up in skips so are free. You just have to get them home then the fun begins taking them apart to get some nice planks.
But the whole pallet can be to some great uses as well put four together forming a square and you have a great compost bin. They make great vertical gardens just fill in some of the gaps so the compost dose not fall out bolt to the wall and plant up there are loads of great ideas to be found on the internet. It is amazing what folk have turned old pallets into from sun loungers to houses there is not a day when some one posts a picture on Facebook of something they have made from pallets. After all once you have taken the pallets apart it is just a plank of wood that can be turned into almost any product your imagination can up with.
I have been searching the internet a lot recently looking for pallet inspiration and there are some amazing constructions out there. I have a new project I am just about to start and it is all about pallets i am going to construct a new potting shed in the garden. I have been collecting and raiding skips for the last couple of months and hopefully I should have enough wood now to start construction. The aim is to produce a shed made from all recycled wood and cost as little as possible hopefully just the cost of the screws. Another main part of the shed is going to be a green roof or I should say an edible roof as I want to grow vegetables on it so none of the garden is lost to the new shed.

As soon as I start construction I will keep up to date with how I am getting on with the building of it.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Self Sufficient - wild food foraging

It was a lovely day to day so we decided to go for a walk and forage some wild autumn fruit. We headed down to the canal I always like to come hear at this time of year as there is always loads of fruit to be foraged. Learning to forage in the wild for food is an essential part of living a self sufficient lifestyle as once you know what you are looking for. There is almost a unlimited supply of food out there just waiting t be picked and of cause it's all free just the time it takes to pick it. But best of all you can get to be out in the countryside for a walk with the family.
Blackberry's are always the first one that most folk go for and I must admit that there juicy black shiny fruits are hard to resist. We always do bring back lots of them as they are such a good fruit as they make such good pies, jelly's and puddings. They are also great for freezing so you can make use of them all year round just wash them clean let them dry and pop them on a tray in the freezer them bag up once frozen. But there are so many other delights to be had out of the hedge rows at this time of the year.
Elderberry's everyone is keen on Elder flower and there is always a rush to get the best flowers in there short season in June. But the berry's tend to be ignored and left to the birds but they are just as versatile as blackberry's in the kitchen I don't know why they are not as popular.
Rose hips are hardly picked these days but during the war they where picked by the sack load to turn into rose hip syrup. Which is high in vitamin C and was used to make up for the lack of fresh fruit as we have plentiful supply's of fresh fruit the need for the rose hip syrup had diminished.
Hawthorn berry's again are not that popular and I can understand why they are fiddly little things to pick that is without having to navigate all the thorns. Plus you do need an awful lot of them to get a kilo but they do make great haw jelly so they are worth the time.
Slows every gin drinker will know these slow gin is a traditional British winter drink they are a bit like a small plum. They are easy to spot with there shiny purple fruit about the size of a grape so I feel a good batch of slow gin is going to be made this week for Christmas.  
We did manage to get a few Hazel nuts the squirrels always seem to get most of the good ones first so they where gone by the time we had got back to the car.
But even if you don't find anything to pick it is always good to go out for a nice walk on a nice sunny autumn day.
Just bare in mind if you have never been foraging before and are not sure what to pick get your self a good book to help you know what you are picking. Or go on a organised foraging course there are lots of them going on around county all the time so there will be one near you. But the best rule is if you are not sure what it is do not pick and certainly do not eat.
Happy Foraging

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Malvern Autumn Show 2015

It was the Malvern Autumn Show last weekend so I had to go and have a look to me it is one of the highlights of the Horticultural calendar. Especially for the amateur vegetable grower this has one of the best shows in the country and always attracts growers from all over the country.

It was another great show as always there was rows and rows or perfect vegetables and flowers as far as the eye could see. In the Harvest Pavilion this is where amateur growers from all over the country come together under one roof to battle it out to see who wins the sort after red cards.

 One of the bests exhibits for me was the British Trug Championship it is amazing how many vegetables you can squeeze in to a trug and defiantly deserved the title of reserve best in show.
The National Vegetable Society's championships was also taking place in the Harvest Pavilion and the collections of vegetables where superb and showed some almost perfect vegetables.
Over in the good life pavilion not only was there lots of great talks and demonstrations through out the day. It was also where the 20th giant vegetable championships where taking place and there was certainly some big vegetables on display. Three new world records where broken the heaviest leek weighing in at a staggering 10.6kg that's a lot of leek soup grown by Paul Rochester from Sunderland. A 12.9kg cucumber the Queen would only need one of these to feed her guests cucumber sandwiches at her garden party and still have cucumber left over.

But the world record I do not understand is the longest beetroot in the world 7.21m long the reason I do not understand it is that only the first 2 foot is actually beetroot and the rest is just fine root hair. But putting that aside it is very impressive to grow a root to such a length and get it out the ground with out breaking it. 
There was also a few flowers too but it is the vegetables that I am really interested in but there was lots of fantastic flowers on display.

 As well as lots of great fruit it would not be Malvern without the fruit and hops on show.
Can not wait till next years Malvern Autumn Show 24th - 25th September 2016.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Deep fried Courgette Flowers

I know that it's getting a bit late and deep fried courgette flowers are normally a summer harvest but we have suddenly got a new flush of courgette flowers. So I thought we could have a little lunch time snack with them best to pick newly opened flowers and do give them a rinse under the tap just to wash any insects that are hiding on them.
 Then mix yourself up some batter
125g plan flour
1 egg
pinch of salt
175ml water
place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them all up until there are no lumps have your sunflower oil in a pan heating up till it gets up to about 180oC.
Test the oil to make sure it's ready to fry dip the flowers into the batter then carefully place them into the oil. fry them for about five minutes turning occasionally until they are lightly brown and crispy place on some kitchen towel to soak up some of the fat and eat while still warm. 
 There are many other alternatives adding spices to the batter or stuffing the flowers with spinach and ricotta cheese. But they are also fantastic just on there own they are a great way of using up all those male flowers. But if love eating courgette flowers then Seeds of Italy sell a variety just for flower production called  courgette Da Fiore which mainly produces male flowers with just a few female flowers. So will keep you in a constant supply of fresh flowers through out the summer months.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Self Sufficency - Saving seeds for the future.

One of the main aims of being self sufficient is being able to produce as much produce as you can and being able to produce all the resources needed to do that from your own land. So there is a continuous cycle with very little, if no input form the outside world. So to continue the vegetable garden cycle we need to produce as much of our own seeds as possible. This is not as easy as it sounds as there are many problems that you can come across such as cross pollination from similar crops.
So you need to do a bit of careful planning to prevent similar crops flowering at the same time but there are some crops that don't cross with other plants. Such as peas, beans and tomatoes there are couple of good websites that give lots of information that will help you a lot and . Real seeds are a great seed company not only do they only sell open pollinated seeds they are the only seed company that encourages you to save your own seeds. Instead of buying seeds from them every year and they also have some great variety's that you can not buy anywhere else.
In the planning you also have to take into account the fact that some are biennials and some are annuals. So they could take up space in your garden for two years where as the annual variety's grow flower and set seed in the same year. Another alternative is to grow some crops in pots that way you can move them around the garden you can also put them in the greenhouse to protect them at the beginning of the year and help them dry out at the end of the season.
I have left lots of plants in the ground this year so I have lots of my own seed to sow next year just one or two plants left to go to seed. Will produce more than enough seed for your own needs and still have lots of seed left to give or swap with your friends.
One point I have not mentioned yet is the fact that you can not save seeds of F1 hybrids, well you can but you will not get the same plant as you grew. This is due to the way they are bred to start with one other point I should make is that F1 Hybrids are not GMO'S which I hear occasionally. They are bread using natural pollination the only different is they are carefully selected and crossed in controlled conditions. This guarantees you get the same shape, size and colour every time and they also tend to harvest at the same time as well which is not what the home gardener really wants. 
Beans and peas are one of the easiest seeds to save they do not cross with other peas and beans so you can grow lots of variety's and get pure seed off them. All you need to do is leave some of the better pods to grow on the plants to mature and dry on the plant.
Dry all your seeds well after harvesting them to make sure they are completely dry then store them in paper bags/envelopes. Making sure you have labelled them with the date of harvest and store them in a dry place and depending on the variety will keep for a couple of years.

The italians know how to grow fresh veg

I have recently just got back from Italy from a nice family break spending the first 4 days in the mountain above Lake Garda. Then we moved south down to Tuscany for the weekend before heading home there where no mobile phones no computers so it was lovely and quiet. As we travelled about the country on thing I noticed was that nearly every house had a vegetable patch of one sort or another.
 Not to mention all the fruit trees growing every where figs, pomegranates, peaches and olives as far as the eye can see. Food plays such an important part in Italian culture especially locally produced food and  you can not get more local than growing your own.
 The size of vegetable plots varied a lot from a few pots of tomatoes on a balcony to great big plots growing a wide range of produce. But all the produce they grow they grow it for the flavour not a watery bland tomato in site just big meaty flavour packed fruit.
 It would be great to see more gardens in the UK like these I am sure it will come in time but I feel that most British folk have fallen out of love with food. It is just something you need to survive and not a pleasure to prepare and eat with the whole family. But unfortunately I feel that the ready meal will remain king for many years to come.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Preserving your produce for winter use

It is that time of year when there is more produce in the vegetable garden than you can possibly eat fresh.
It dose not matter how well you plan your garden you always end up with lots of one crop at certain times of the year. Mine at the moment is courgettes and runner beans I just cannot keep up with them and you end up being a bit fed up of eating them. So my new preserving bible is Keep it Fresh which came free from DT Brown seeds it is written by Rachel Cole. I keep this book in the kitchen now as I use it so much at this time of the year when I have so much produce coming in from the garden. I am not sure if it is still in print any more I can not find it on there website but it may be worth contacting them to see if it is still in print as it is such a good guide. I want to preserve as much as possible for use through the winter when there is limited fresh vegetables in the garden. I would not normally recommend frozen veg but the veg you freeze your self is so much better than any you can get from the supermarket.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Selfsufficient update

At the beginning of the year I set my self the challenge of going self sufficient and producing at least one piece of food every day of the year. Well how has it been going, very well especially now we are producing more than we can eat so there is lots of freezing and jamming taking place. Usually late into the night don't no why but Jam making always seems to start at about 9 o'clock at night. Probably because it is dark outside so no gardening and the girls are in bed so peace and quiet. We spent the spring building raised beds and levelling up the slope in the garden to make it much easier for us to garden. We filled them up with lots of compost, manure and soil from the levelling of the slope which has made a great growing medium for our vegetables to grow in.
One of the problem crops this year has been onions they have not performed well at all lots have gone to seed or not reached a very good size. Which is a shame as last year not one went to seed and it was the best crop I have had for a long time they also lasted until late June which is great. The other problem I have had is the peppers and aubergines just have not wanted to grow as the nights have been so cold. The other night it dropped as low as 4oC which is ridiculous for the end of July and no surprise that the more tender crops are struggling to grow.
But forgetting all the problems as it would be very boring if everything went well every year and gardeners do like something to moan about other than the weather. When growing your own it is always difficult to get the right balance of quantity's of each crop not having too much all at once. Yet again I have far too many courgettes than I know what to do with. The problem is I always end up with lots of good plants at the beginning of the year and never want to put them on the compost heap. But there are always lots of friends and family who are always happy to take a bag home with them.

So the challenge is going very well but to carry on the challenge on in to the autumn, winter and beyond. So we have been constantly sowing every time we clear an area a new crop is sown in that space so there is never any bare soil. which also means a constant supply of vegetables I have learnt that it is better to have lots of different vegetables in small quantity's rather than large quantity's of a few vegetables. Except vegetables that can store well such as onions, garlic, shallots etc. also there are some crops that stand well in the ground such as leeks, celery, parsnips and carrots etc. You can harvest them as you need them especially through the winter if they have a bit of protection. All in all it is has been a success and we will defiantly be carrying on with the experiment it next year.

Making the most of your hedge clippings

It's that time again when we have to get the hedge cutters out again and trim up our hedges depending on the type of hedge you have. You may have to cut it more than once during the year and each time it produces piles of woody clippings. Most folk reach for the council's green bin to dispose of them in but that way you are wasting so much great composting material. Your main problem is that it is bulky and woody not easy to compost as it is so I spread it out over the lawn. Get my mower out and mow it all up as it goes through the mower it all gets chopped up in to tiny pieces and dumped into the collection box.
Now you have some great woody material that will rot down well especially when mixed up with all your grass clippings and kitchen scraps. It's always best to try and compost as mush as possible from your garden as good garden compost is one of the gardens best friends. It is also a great method to use when cutting down your perennials and any shrubs you are giving a prune.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Church stowe early flower show

Yesterday I had the honour to judge Church Stowe early flower show which is a small village show that takes place in the old school rooms.
There was some lovely flowers unfortunately there was only two soft fruit entry's as a lot of soft fruit is still not ripe. But the roses where out in force and you could smell them as soon as you stepped into the room.
 There was some lovely blooms on show but it is not just about the roses there was some lovely sweet peas as well as Delphinium's, foxgloves and mixed perennial's.
It was a lovely little village show I am already looking forward to judging there show in September.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Elder flower season has arrived

June means the start of the elder flower season it has to be one of the most useful flowers there is I would not want to miss out on them.
Hedge rows and waste land up and down the country have burst into frothy white bushes even the dullest bit of waste land is brightened up by them. They have such a wonderful sweet delicate scent That seems to be intensified by the heat of the sun. It is this wonderful scent that you are wanting to capture when making elder flower cordial and that is what we did today.
 Best to pick your flowers when they are full open ideally within 24-48hrs of them opening fully and on a dry day. You will need 12 large or 24 small flower heads after picking give them a good shake so any insects fall off. Best not to wash the flowers as you will wash all the pollen off them place them in a large pan cut three lemons and one orange in half squeeze the juice out. Then add 4.5 litres of cold water cover and leave for 24hrs after 24hrs take the flowers and fruit out of the pan and strain through a muslin cloth to remove any bits. Add 1.5kg of sugar stir in and bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes keep on stirring.
Have your sterilised wine bottles ready to pore the cordial in using a funnel be careful as it is all very hot ask for help when filling the bottles if you don't have a steady hand. Screw the top on tightly and leave to cool over night the bottles may need a wipe as they can get sticky when filling and store in a cool dark cupboard.
 The cordial will last for many months if stored well or you could always use plastic bottle and freeze so you can have cordial all year round. Dilute to your own personal taste with cold water or lemonade and enjoy on a hot summers day.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

From ruff to smooth

Being a man's man I would not normally publicly admit to the use of hand cream but when I was contacted by Gordon Castle in Scotland. They started to explain to me how the cream is made using ingredient's grown in there own walled garden in Fochabers up in North East Scotland.
 The walled garden is over 8 acres big and is one of the biggest in Scotland they are currently restoring the walled garden back into full production. Garden designer Arne Maynard has drawn up a contemporary design for it's restoration which is on going at the moment.
Gordon Castle have launched a range of products inspired by the produce produced in the walled garden. It's a great project the products are produced from the garden and the funds raised from it's sales go back in to help restore the gardens for the future.
 I have used many hand creams over the years but never found any that really do a good job i.e. get my ruff old hands soft I may have found a cream that dose the job. The Hand cream contains Comfrey, Geranium and lavender grown in the walled garden at Gordon Castle. I first put it on of an evening just before I got into bed it soaked in over night when I got up in the morning my hands where lovely and soft. I now use it regularly and don't suffer with ruff hands that where more like sand paper at times.

The hand cream is available either direct from or through and costs £6.85 which is a bargain as it dose the job if it can get my hands soft if will get any ones hands soft. 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

When Nature Fights Back

Every year many trees up and down the country get blown over and most quickly get cleaned up but some are just left to be reclaimed by nature. Most shrivel up and are taken over by fungus's that slowly decompose the tree back in to the surrounding soil.
But some want to fight back just because they have been blown flat on the ground it dose not mean that their time is up. I was out for a walk this morning and came across this blown over in the corner of a field. The daughter thought it was great a great big natural climbing frame that she wanted to bring home and put in our garden.
But what amazed me was the tree is full of leaf and also covered in blossom just as good as the surrounding trees. This horse chestnut is showing no signs of going to tree heaven just yet it just goes to show the power of nature it will always fight back.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Wordless Wednesday

A lovely Wisteria covered cottage in Nether Heyford, Northamptonshire.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Great Chelsea Challange.

With Chelsea just around the corner the BBC have come up with a new series to wet your appetite before the main event.
The Great Chelsea Challenge 2015 where six amature garden designers go head to head to win the prize of getting to build a garden at Chelsea flower show.
Starting on Monday 11th May at 8pm on BBC 2 this new 4 part series where the amateurs are mentored by Jo Swift as they build there show gardens over the four days. In several styles including cottage gardens, formal gardens and conceptual gardens on a very tight budget.  The finished gardens will be judges by RHS Judge James Alexander Sinclair and a Gold medal winning garden designer Ann-Marie Powell. With the winner winning the ultimate gardening prize a chance to build a garden at Chelsea Flower show The Great Chelsea Challenge was filmed at several locations RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Sudeley Castle, Painswick Gardens and RHS Garden Wisley. The contestants taking part where selected after several hundred keen amateurs applied to take part they are Gillian Potts, Jo Manfredi-Hamer, Paul Harris, Rob Dawson, Sean Murray and Steph Humes.
It will be interesting to see who is crowned the winner and what there garden will be and look like at Chelsea 2015.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Greenhouse is beginning to get full

It is at this time of year it dose not mater how much greenhouse space you have you never seem to have enough room for everything. Especially now that the weather has turned cold again can not even put stuff outside for fear of it getting wind burn during the day.
As we pot all the plants up into bigger pots we get to bursting point where there is just no more room. I can not even sow another seed so weather please hurry up and get a bit wormer so we can get planting outside.