Monday night preserves – rhubarb pickle, dehydrated Swiss chard, strawberry cordial and strawberry vodka 

I’m really enjoying using my Monday nights to do preserving. It’s a really satisfying feeling preserving seasonal produce that we’ve grown right here!
I harvested some more rhubarb tonight and hardly touched what was in the plot. The plants are doing amazingly. Using Pam Corbin’s book still, I make the spring (I know, it’s summer) rhubarb relish. It’s the first time I’ve made a spice bag up and as I don’t have any special bags, I used my imagination. A muslin cloth with a knot tied in it. After all, that’s all it needs to be right? This one contained 2 snapped cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves and a piece of bruised ginger.

The bag was placed with 500g sugar, 100ml of both cider vinegar and water and placed over a gentle heat to dissolve the sugar. Then taken off the heat for 20 mins to allow it to diffuse.
Then the chopped rhubarb and raisins go in and it was simmered for 30 mins.

Then piled into sterilised jars. Again, I’ve used some of the smaller jars that are for Christmas hampers. The other 2 full jars will be kept into the depth of winter when we need a bit of summer happiness.

I also put some blanched Swiss chard (1 minute) in the dehydrator as I want to make some green powder. Basically vitamins and minerals in a jar which I can sneak in to food that the kids won’t notice but it’ll also add flavour.


We’ve also popped some of the millions of strawberries we have into some vodka with a bit of sugar (200g per litre of vodka for my reference). There’s a bit for us to test and again, some for Christmas hampers.

Finally, earlier this week, we made some strawberry cordial. I brought the strawberries and water to the boil, crushed them a bit then added to sugar to the cooking remix, left them overnight (500g strawberries to 400g sugar and 500ml water). The sugar needed a little heating through again to dissolve and the strawberries were crushed a bit more with a masher. We strained it overnight again and poured into sterilised bottles. So easy! It’s delicious. Ste prefers this one however the elderflower still has the edge for me.

I am going to get my thinking cap on for next week as so many things are ready to harvest and I don’t want to miss capturing any! I hope someone finds these preserving nights helpful, even if it is just to provoke thoughts about seasonal eating and knowing where our food comes from.

Photos of our harvest and growing update – we’re in full swing!

I thought I’d take a snap shot of some of the things going on in the veg garden and veg plot. It’s that really busy time of year when you don’t really know if you or the weeds are in charge. One thing I wanted this year was more potatoes and so far, so good. We’re harvesting the first earlies (swift variety) when we need them and the growing space is being turned over to squash, courgettes and the like. They are beautiful and I’m very impressed.

These salad blue variety, my ‘out there’ choice of the year are starting to flower and their flowers are blue too! They look lovely against the green leaves.
The bags were disappointing. Hardly a meal from 3 seed potatoes. Next year I’m trying a different method.
The tomatoes seem to be doing well though I’m worried no more flowers are appearing on those with fruit on already. 
There’s Jersey Devil for preserving 
Marmande for BBQ burgers!
Tigrella 
My outdoor variety
The aubergine is flowering
The cucumbers are too – I didn’t appreciate how tall cucumbers grew!
At the weekend we harvested our first broad beans, more courgettes (first green), a yellow scallop, out first large tomato and a few strawberries.  I took a mental note to go back and check for more strawberries, which we did last night.
Boy we were not disappointed.  We stopped picking when the trug was overflowing and it help 4 kilograms!
 
Remember my skeletal brassicas?  Well they seem to be fighting back.  Despite the lack of leaves, we have some broccoli heads forming which may be stunted but I will take anything given I thought we have lost the lot.  They’re all coming at the same time despite planting a couple of weeks apart.  I’ll freeze them, as some seem to be wanting to go to seed.

 Grace is on nightly caterpillar watch and if you look closely you can see how many she took off just 1 plant.  Speaking of which my PSB is ready already!!  I only planted it this year so I am thrown and slightly concerned I won’t have any next year now.
Next year I am going to net and enviromesh the lot but it is a lot of money to fork out at once.
This is my bean bed.  Climbing beans in here, with more to go in and I’ll risk some direct sowing too.
I have also sown some more spring onions as I lost the first lot.  Plus I’ve some cauliflowers in, these are the all year round variety.  I’m not sure if we will manage to get any now, but we can try.

 All the rain we had followed by the heat wave has sent everything in to growing overdrive, this lettuce is nearly as big as the kids!

 The sunflowers are starting to open

More than anything, it’s been too hot to work in it for too long, so we’ve taken some time out to sit and enjoy the rays every now any again.  Although, when I looked up and saw this, it did make me chuckle.  My daughter getting a Frisbee out of the bush whilst Ste had 40 winks!



Monday night preserving – my nemesis strawberry jam

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning will remember my devastation last year when I lost a lot of my jams to mould. Some people may roll their eyes at the thought of being devastated over something like that. However when you look at the time spent growing, nurturing and tending to fruit, the cost involved for the recipe and the time taken to make it, it becomes more understandable I think!
So you can imagine what was in the back of my mind when I collected these beauties. Yes it is strawberry season again and I love it! Daily pickings from now on?

I harvested just over 1kg with some of them not making it inside as you’ve got to eat the first few stood there on the veg plot, right? Yummy they were too.
I followed Pam Corbin’s (River Cottage Pam the Jam for those who don’t know) recipe in her preserves book.
She suggested mashing 200g of strawberries with 200g of granulated sugar and warming through then adding the remaining 800g of strawberries and heating slowly until soft. So off I went.

I then added another 300g of granulated sugar and 450g of jam sugar plus 150ml lemon juice which I was surprised at but maybe that’s needed because it wasn’t all jam sugar?
The colour was changing to that amazing deep red you get from the strawberries cooking.

I brought it to a rolling boil and waited for it to get to temperature which was around 7 or 8 minutes.
In the mean time I sterilised the jam jars in the Aga and the lids on the top in a pan of boiling water.

I am really pleased with the results and will be keeping a close eye on these jars for any sign of mould. These little ones are testers for the Christmas hampers I am going to be doing.
Thanks for reading my Monday night preserves rambles. Next week is rhubarb relish and rhubarb wine.

Spring bank holiday

What beautiful weather we’ve been having, perfect growing conditions with long sunny days and dare I say it, a long wet day on Sunday! The rest of the week is looking fine so I’m hoping to see some growth on my brassicas. They’ve been shredded to skeletal remains by something! The first batch do seem to be recovering but their growth is definitely stunted and therefore I don’t think brassicas are doing as well as last year. June will be the the deciding month. I think it’s been colder this year earlier on too.

I’ve spent some great hours in the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel, though there’s many more hours needed in them. The weather I spoke of is great for the weeds too!

The tomatoes and peas are looking good though again, I don’t think we’ve as many peas as last year. Still time to sow some more of course and I have discovered just the spot for those.

Bush Tomatoes
Polytunnel peas
A while back I sowed some Purple Top Milan turnips in the polytunnel and they all went to seed, so I am guessing it’s too warm for them.  The pigs had them for their supper last night.

 In order to net off the fruit bushes growing alongside the rhubarb, we needed to harvest some more rhubarb which was fine as it’s had a rest since the last harvest.  Here’s Grace stood with some of the harvest and the leaves which were almost as big as her.

 I tried to thin the carrots out a bit more and when I pulled this one out I nearly died of shock.  I’ve never been able to grow carrots before! 

On Sunday we all went for a lovely, long, family walk out.

 The dogs could smell something but we couldn’t see anything.  Maybe a rabbit was just here.

We also netted the strawberries as they have shot up out of nowhere.

 As have the currants and gooseberries

Inspired, I then decided to have a wander round the veg plot taking snaps of how we’re doing.
Rhubarb and currant area

Onions with catch crops in between

The start of direct sowings coming through with quick crops interspersed.  Chamomile is closest here, to make tea with.

 I started planting up the bean bed.  This bed had the trenches dug in it a few month ago, which were filled with veg peelings.  I need to do that at the end of this year so they rot down better next year, but they will still retain the moisture in the bed which is needed.  here we have runner beans with sweet peas in the middle, and nasturtiums at the front.  This bed isn’t finished yet but only so many hours in the day.

 This is my pea and broad bean bed which I’m just not overly happy with.  I’ve put some borlotti’s in the edge too to create an archway if they grow high enough, linked to the next bed.  I’m going to sow more peas, but this bed is the most disappointing this year so far.

 Here’s the main crop potato bed which also has comfrey along the long side as I needed somewhere to put it.  Once it’s in, it’s in, so no going back now.

Comfrey

 This bed has the early potatoes at the top and the tomatoes I’ve just planted out in the bottom.  There’s a lot of conflicting information about these 2 being planted together.  I’ve gone with the risky view as I’ve tonnes more tomatoes elsewhere, so if I lose them, I need to take it on the chin.  The early potatoes are due to come up any time now but they’re a little behind due to the cold weather start again.

 Here we have my version of The Three Sisters which you can read about online.  It’s a method for planting your squash, sweetcorn and beans/peas etc together.  I’ve got sunflowers in instead with my squash and sweetcorn.  We’ll use the sunflowers for food for us and the chickens and also to sow as seeds again next year.

 A happy nasturtium flower which are also edible!  I’ve not tried one yet.

All in all we had a lovely family weekend together.  The kids are off for half term now and they are also off next week for 5 PD days as our school clumps them all together.  Ste and I have taken this week off too, so I hope to get lots sown, grown, harvested and made during this time off.


First whole weekend outdoors

What a beautiful weekend we had here in North East England.  It was glorious for a Winter’s day in February.  It’s due to turn cold by the end of the week again, so I’ll be sure not to get caught out.
After the usual daily/weekend jobs I started as I meant to go on and got the peas moved to the poltyunnel as they are looking nice and strong and rather big in their modules.  I know we risk losing them, but I am sowing every couple of weeks so that I can mark off which sowing date was best for me. 
I moved the strawberries that were in little pots, taken from runners, to the polytunnel too, for an extra early lot.
I also got a bin of carrots sown.  I have another bin I will put some more in but I want to add sand to that one to compare.  On the below photo, I put the bubble wrap over the top to help germination.
Strawberries planted from 2016 finished plant runners
 Once I’d finished with the polytunnel, I took a stroll into the veg plot.  The garlic is growing very well, but something has had the first few cloves away.  This line went all the way down to the bottom of the bed before.
 
I then dug a bean trench and filled it with the compost bin’s contents.  I intend to dig another bean trench to the right of this one, leaving a gap, and filling that one with rotted muck.  That one will be for French climbing beans.  I’m using muck as I’ve no more compost from the veg peeling composter.
It was a day of pondering as I worked.  I have the area where the rescue hens lived in 2016 before the lockdown.  I think I would like to bring this area back to life as a flower garden/mini orchard.  There’s already lots of things in there at the back of the grassed area.  Last year, I was adamant that anything that didn’t provide food was to go.  However I’ve since learnt the importance of flowers, bees and pollination plus beneficial insects (not to mention the decline of the bee population).

 This is the area I was thinking about putting a few fruit trees, maybe an apple off Kev, a pear (already got) and almond?  I need to find out more about the fruit trees.  The space is quite big so I was thinking maybe I could make a bed for my berries and bushes that like ericaceous soil if I don’t put fruit trees in.  We do have 3 apple trees already, would 4 be too many?  Should I get another pear (the one I have is conference, self pollinating).  Decisions….

Whilst pondering this, I remembered I needed to cover another area of the plot that was all weeds last year with membrane, to hopefully eradicate them.  This is it:
Looking up and over the fence, I then started pondering something else…so I walked out to the front of the house and took a photo of what’s there.  I could tidy up around the bridle path sign and plant some wild hedging here, like Tricia suggested.
I have a wall that runs along the front of the house which is very long and south facing.  Now I don’t want anything high, as it’d stop the view from the rooms, but maybe I could grow peas, mini sunflowers or such like along the wall?

Whilst I was pondering, Ste was actually working.  He made a new feeder for the growers.  Their normal feeder is insider this bucket and they have to put their heads in the holes to get to it.  It stops them wasting it all as this bunch are terrible for that.  These guys will be back out soon hopefully.  The ban for my postcode is being lifted shortly.

He also lined the last bed with membrane and we set about filling it with muck, so that’s now done.  I just need topsoil for them all now, which I am ordering at the end of the month.
I saw my first dandelion emerging on Sunday which is telling me things are starting to grow and I need to start the weekly weed if I have any chance of survival this year.

 There wasn’t just me having fun in the veg plot.  Grace knows how to dig up the leeks.

Jack helped out too with the last of the sprouts.

 Steven did the man thing and had a fire!  Incidentally the weed bed I mentioned is behind this fire bin, pre cover up.

As I left the plot for the afternoon, I couldn’t help but look back and get that giddy feeling that all gardeners so as the season starts. 
As always, comments, questions and advice are welcome.  We’re very much learning as we go, jumping in both feet first.