Sunday 31 July 2011

allotment report

Pea season in full swing after not getting off to a very quick start with the dryness in April. Most peas free from maggots thanks to an organic garlic barrier spray.

Blackberries now in full flow - freezer can't keep up!

Loads of courgettes, and as usual you start to run out of ideas for cooking them! Our favourite way is to shallow fry them with garlic and maybe some italian seasoning. I find they taste a bit bland just on their own, although they are nice in curries, stir fries etc.
For more ideas, and the feeling that you are not alone, try this book - What will I do with all those Courgettes!

bacon and eggs

Today the kids wanted me to build a fire and cook something! Now, I have never been very good at building fires, more especially getting them to stay lit! But after success last week - toasted bread and one very overdone jacket potato, I decided to get some bacon and cook that. The photo is taken in our back yard, as this was more sheltered than the front garden. Back bacon - the leanest sort - unless you particularly like lots of fat then it is the best cut to go for.
Anyway, successfully cooked 6 slices of bacon although had to get the fire going again mid way through as the embers were cooling down too much for cooking on, and then popped two eggs in and my kids and a friend of theirs ate their way through bacon and fried egg butties!

summer pruning

Now I don't know about you, but I find pruning just a wee bit complicated! I mean, what does a basal cluster look like! (I do know now, but when presented with a 4 page guide from Ken Muir fruit growers
to looking after your fruit trees it all seems a bit baffling at first.

Now, just now I am summer pruning the top growth from the little minarette fruit trees with have. This year a late frost did not get the blossom and I think the long hard winter we had did a world of good in killing off the nasties (it also killed a lot of nice-ies like owls but that's another topic!). So we have very much laden apple trees and a reasonable number of damsons.

Back to the pruning, and the damson was fairly easy, 12 inches from the root of the branch of non fruiting spurs chop off the rest of the branch. The apples, well I am going to leave those for my wife to do, it's the basal clusters again and rather than me advise you in a way that totally ruins your apple tree you would be as well to consult the Ken Muir guide or the internet!

Now, when we had a rabbit, he would happily much fruit tree trimmings, as well as blackberry and raspberry leaves, or of course you can shred them to use as mulch or burn them - putting the ash onto the allotment of course.

The raspberries are pretty straightforward as well, it's easy to see which is the old wood that has fruited and which is the new wood. Chop to the base of the old wood and leave the new canes for next year, tie them up if you wish although ours tend to grow freestanding now.

Friday 22 July 2011

Food for Free

Just re-reading Richard Mabey's well known Food For Free book, of which I have got the Collins gem pocket edition - just handy for putting in your pocket or rucksack when out in the countryside.

The book itself, after a little bit of blurb about the author and his reasons for writing (and updating in 2003) this book, gets on with descriptions and pictures of easily recognisable plants, mushrooms and seashore life that are edible either raw or cooked. Quite a few cooking tips and recipes as well, along with a bit of history of how these foods were used in the past.

What have I found and tried? Well...

Beech Nuts - dried, salted and roasted in the oven for 20-30 minutes or so, they taste a little like salted peanuts but are  a bit more crunchy.

Dandelion root Coffee - dry out some really long dandelion roots, clean up and peel. Again roast in oven until crisp and brittle. Then grind up. Can then be used in a cafetiere or in a small tea bag as an infusion. Tastes ok, though don't expect it to taste of coffee or tea!

Acorn Coffee - collect ripe acorns and dry out. Peel and then leach in water for 24 hours, and then again. This has the effect of removing quite a bit of the tannin which is not good for you in large doses. Then dry and roast and grind etc as per dandelion coffee.
This is "ersatz coffee" used in the Second World War - tastes better than dandelion but I am told it's not a good idea to consume large doses of it as there is a very small trace of cyanide in acorns!
However I am still here!!!!
Tastes better than dandelion. more mellow flavour not unlike the "Camp" coffee you got once upon a time...

Goose Grass seed coffee - dry and roast and grind as per dandelion. Need a lot of goose grass pods to make a decent amount. Worth a try to see if you like it....

Sweet Chestnuts - most people I am sure will have had roasted sweet chestnuts from a city street vendor at some point. Now, two things which we have found out the hard way....
1. Make sure you slit or prick your chestnuts before putting them in the oven!!!! A long time ago, long before we had this book, we tried some. Shoved them straight in the oven. After the appropriate amount of time, we opened the oven door, and had small hard missiles firing out all over the kitchen!
2. Don't rely on the one unslit chestnut you put in as a guide to see if the rest are done. If it doesn't pop you don't realise they are ready!

Fat Hen - doesn't taste very nice raw but apparantly tastes like cooked spinach when boiled.

Saturday 16 July 2011

waste not...

Just a few tips on how things can be re-used:

1. Yoghurt pots - for seedlings, particularly beans - the best ones are such as the Ski or large Muller Rice or Longley Farm (the latter probably the best yoghurts on the planet i.m.o.! and I am not paid to say that!)

USe as slug traps as well, fill with cheap beer - don't tell the assistant as I did that their cheap own brand supermarket beer was going to be used to entice slugs! they get a bit upset!

Don't use for putting paint brush cleaner in - although it si quite interesting to watch the bottom of the yoghurt collapse over the few days as the substances react!

2. Plastic bags - re use as bin bags, compost bags in the kitchen, wash out clear freezer/food type ones and use again and again, use these also to cover propagating plants

3. packaging - bubble wrap for reuse in parcels, again as covering propagation, the big bubble ones - beside being excellent to jump on and scare people out of their wits - can be used as insulation around outdoor plants. Boxes for storage, for doll's or Sylvanian houses, for potato storage - we put cardboard dividers between each potato to stop any contagion if one goes off - you can't check in a sack...

4. Plastic bottles - cut ends off and use as cloches or slug traps or protection around brassicas etc. John Seymour ( has these linked together with hose to produce a basic hot water system for an outdoor shower.

5. Paper - re-use as scrap paper if not printed both sides, put newspapers under pets in hutches and then compost these and the hay, droppings etc, use shredding for packaging.

6. Water - now again John Seymour and indeed in many other similar books have ideas around "grey water" i.e from baths, sinks, washing etc, these require systems in place and filters to run back into certain parts of the house water system. We use the water from washing vegetables on yard plants and pots. Diluted wee can be used for plants that require a more acid feed - I have taken the potty up to the allotment, diluted the contents with rainwater and used it for the blueberry bush, or it can be added straight into the compost heap as an activator.
One of the old chaps that used to have an allotment near ours said about someone that "they emptied (the) piss-pot over t'turnips and they were champion"

7. Material, old clothes etc - first of all - mend socks, sew buttons on, use jeans/trousers with holes in the knees as shorts etc. But if they've had it, then material can be used for coverings, dolls clothes (our daughters loved the Barbie dolls dressed in clothes like theirs!), patchwork blankets, pomfets etc. Take un-needed ones to clothing banks or charity shops, or sell any decent ones if you need the money at a car boot or on ebay.

8. Goes without saying really - vegetable peelings, fruit peelings and cores onto the compost heap or feed to chickens or pigs if you have them. Some local authorities have collection bins for all food waste and there are small anaerobic digester units you can get for the yard.

9. Waste wood - dolls house furniture and toys - my wife has made Barbie wardrobes, a bath and sink, chairs etc out of scraps of wood. They will last probably longer than I will! And they are unique, not mass produced in the Far East etc. Fuel if you have the means to burn for heating/cooking etc. Borders of raised beds.

10. Tyres - plant pots, compost heaps, weighing down clamps of potatoes

John Seymour and self sufficiency

This is the updated version to an earlier book from a pioneer of the whole self-sufficiency movement. John Seymour practises what he preaches and also teaches these skills on week long courses.

Although for city-dwellers and indeed those of us who don't have a spare acre or two, some of the topics are perhaps beyond our reach , but the subtitle on the cover says it all!

However, allotments are covered and indeed on a smaller scale. Alternative power, tool care, building and mending skills, resources etc are all given very thorough treatment.

My favourite comment, and one which we could all aim for is "The dustman should never have to call".

The book is available in the UK (as well as in the US via the link above), see below

All in all it is a very good read and there are lots of practical tips and good practice for everyone wanting to reduce their consumerism, being more self-sufficient, and particularly for larger scale projects and acreage

first potatoes this year

We have our first potatoes this year, red ones - I think they were Duke of York. Now, I know they are supposed to be new potatoes but everyone apart from me seems to like them with a proper skin on so we grow them on a bit