Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Planting for winter growth

I have just got back from the trip to our perfect destination to get the hell out this country, and I've come with  a new found desire to plant.

Well, actually, this is not really a new found desire - I've been gagging to get back into the garden ever since I moved.

So really, it was just the fact that I had the opportunity, post 10 hours of travelling, to get out and plant some of the seeds I bought the other week, in pots in the back garden.

It was good to dig out my box of gardening stuff from where I'd hidden it during the move.

The special box of gardening stuff, including seed box (left)

Three bags of potting compost, and some cloches to protect the seedlings through winter.

The lettuce pot prior to cleaning out autumn's gifts...

Seven holes for seven lettuce seeds, prior to putting said seeds into said holes and watering.

Planted, covered and watered - hopefully some winter lettuce (or if not, just a pot full of soil hah)

I am also test-planting some red onions, in the hope they may come up early next year.

And some broccoli too, I have put a few seeds in here, an will thin it out once the seedlings show (if they do) in a few weeks.

My little garden, covered lightly to protect from birds, but not yet under-cloche.

Finally, a little treat for inside the house; a citrus tree. It has produced some fruits, but I doubt this will occur again until we get it out this country.

So, there you have it. I'm back in the saddle, and there will be more updates as I plant more things over the next few weeks, and also updates of the progress of these plantings...


Monday, 29 October 2012

What now...?

So, now I have moved and I am living the reality of not having a proper garden, and having pulled up all my plants and left most of my produce behind. I've settled into the house and now I am getting very itchy fingers to be planting and growing things again.

So, what now.

My plan, up until just now, was to get some sprout seeds and grow them for Christmas, but it turns out they take about 24 weeks to grow and I'm not sure (looking at all the yule tide advertising going on already) that we have 24 weeks til Christmas. Though, thinking about it, I could be wrong; they advertise Christmas in the summer now huh.

This has prompted a burst of research into just what I can plant right now and it turns out that lettuce can still be planted, though it'll need to go under a cloche when the weather gets much colder, and I can also put out my sets of onions, cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. I can also plant some potatoes in pots (though I may hold off on this as I think the lovely girlfriend may just have a word if I have to bring them inside over the winter in the nice new house.... hmmm....) but if you do that, you can apparently get some good new potatoes for Christmas time.

Anyway, this is going to be a very short update with no pictures, but I am giving you notice that there is going to be MUCH more activity on the blog over the next few days, and over the winter.

I'm going nowhere!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Eating the parsnips

As I have mentioned a couple of times, I have moved and this has meant that I had to close down my growing and bring as much as possible with me.

I was clever enough to pack and move all of my digging implements before I remembered that I had to go and dig up my parsnips so, on the cleaning day at the house I was out in the back garden unearthing them with my bare hands. I don't say this contributed to the amazing taste, but it was a very satisfying method and helped me feel really close to the food production process.

The pity was that I have had to harvest about a month or so early, so most of the parsnips were still quite small, but I had loads and I would say this is another massive success story and I would recommend growing parsnips to all of you - they taste so much better than the ones you buy in the shop, and are very easy to grow.

Anyway, to the photographs.

The harvest; cleaned and ready for roasting; it took J about half an hour to wash all the mud off these. Sadly I'd been too busy to get a picture of them pre-cleaning.

Just about to be roasted, just a little dash of olive oil and nothing else.

And roasted. One of the parsnips was big enough to have to slice in half, which I was pleased about :)

SOOOO tasty looking!

Parsnips piled up with the last of the home grown lettuce, and roast chicken and chips and cheese :) tasty!!!

The last parsnip, about to disappear down J's throat.

So there you have it, I will definitely be growing Parsnips again and look forward to the next time I can eat my own.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Making blackberries into jam

So, the move has happened. I am no longer living in the house with the big garden where I can harvest food that I have grown, nor gather fruits from the blackberry bushes that surrounded the place.

This is quite a sad time, but I hope to be able (as I have discussed before) grow food in the plentiful pots and growing containers that I have collected and, in this way, learn a lot more about different techniques for being self sufficient.

One of the last things that I did while at the house, however, was to use all the blackberries that I had harvested last year and this to make jam. For reasons unknown even to myself, the recipe that I used is actually for Blackcurrant Jam but it has worked very well and tastes incredible so I don't think any harm was done.

The link to the original source is http://beingcreative.me.uk/blackcurrant-jam.html

This was far less time consuming than the chutney, as I did not have to chop anything, and also didn't have to leave it to mature over night. It did, however, take several hours and involved stirring the pots quite often.

One other thing to quickly highlight; I'm pretty sure I used too much water when I made it, as I thought "surely that's too little" but, people, follow the ratios!! Quite a lot of my jam actually failed to set, so I'm going to have to work out what to do with super-runny jam now.

Anyway, to the photos and instructions.

All of the blackberries, still frozen and in the freezer drawer. There were about 3.5kg here I think.

First of all I separated the big frozen blocks of fruit, and then washed them over with cold water in the colander.

Sunlight on blackberries, waiting to be boiled down.

This is the amount of sugar that is needed to make this much jam...

... and this is what that sugar looks like when it is in the baking tray ready for heating up and adding to the mix.

Water and fruit simmering gently waiting for the fruit to soften. As the instructions say, the fruit should easily squash between your spoon and the side of the pan before you add the sugar as the sugar will stop the softening process.

Adding the sugar. It is amazing how much there was, and I actually ended up throwing in another 250g because I think I put too much water in for the softening process.

All the sugar added, all ready for turning the heat up and boiling them hard prior to bottling.

Starting to get a good roil going on during the boiling process (beat poetry there, did you see it?)

I'm sure THIS wasn't supposed to be in the jam - it bubbled to the top during boiling so i hoiked it out and discarded, obviously after taking a picture for you guys.

The final boil coming to an end.

I pulled the pans off the heat a couple of times, and did the little check that is suggested in the instructions, until it appeared that the jam was ready.

The finished batch of jam - there was a LOT more than I expected as it didn't really reduce down the same as the Green Tomato Chutney did.


So there you have it. About 1/3 of the jam was totally set, and the other 2/3 in differing stages of set to completely runny when I packed them for moving.

I will get round to counting the exact number of jars and may update you. Suffice to say, the taste test on bottling was a big thumbs up.

Thanks for reading, please do comment and I'll be back sooner (as I have interwebs at the homestead now) so will be able to update midweek again.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

The end of the chillis

What with moving house, I'm harvesting everything that I want from it's current location.

The other day it was the turn of the chilli plants so every fruit, in whatever stage of ripeness, was pulled off each plant.

While I was harvesting the outside plants I found that, in the previous week or so, something had got to a number of the chillis and eaten everything from inside them.

My poor hollowed out chilli. I have visions of a slug or something eating this, then bursting into flames, as these chillis do seem quite warm!

On the advice of a regular reader, I had been leaving the plants to "get stressed" as apparently this increases their heat.

The dried up remains of the bedroom window chilli plant.

I have been using the chillis regularly so the following picture doesn't reflect the total harvest (and as observed before, a good few actually got eaten just before my harvest) but anyway:

The chilli harvest.

There you are, a short update for now, but I'm preparing a longer one about the MASS of blackberry jam that I made yesterday.


Sunday, 30 September 2012

Whisky Part 2 - Kilchoman

In the absence of anything gardening related to tell you (mainly because I am shutting this garden down preparatory to moving to the new place, I have decided to continue my whisky series with Part 2 - Kilchoman.

A little bit of background. On my amazing whisky tour with my best mate, we happened to end up at Kilchoman the week they released their Inaugural Expression. We were one tour away from being able to buy big bottles, but the LAST tour which got the opportunity to buy miniatures. This has sparked something very like an obsession where I am attempting to buy every bottle that Kilchoman releases. This has resulted in the collection pictured above, and detailed below, and is starting to become expensive ;)

Anyway, without any further ado:

Kilchoman Inaugrual Expression Miniatures. Very proud of these. They are (apparently) quite valuable now also. I doubt I'll ever drink even one of these... well, maybe only one.

Kilchoman Machir Bay. This is VERY highly recommended by myself. It has a fantastic smoky flavour, but is not too harsh for someone just coming into peated whisky. At about £35 a bottle it is also exceptional value and I would really advise every whisky drinker to have a bottle or three of this. I plan on having a cellar-worth of this when I leave, so I never run out. I drink this a LOT.

Kilchoman's Spring 2010 release. This is made with spirit that has been matured off the island, so is not 100% Islay, but is still a very nice dram. For such young whisky, Kilchoman really does pack a taste-punch past a lot of 8-10yr distillations.

Kilchoman 2006 Release. Once again another exceptional dram, I for one am very excited about when Kilchoman starts to release it's 10 and 15 yr whiskies. With taste like this at 3 years, the older they get, the more impressive they will surely become.

The inaugural 100% Islay release. This is special as 100% of everything that goes into this bottle (from growing the barley to bottling the matured spirit) takes place on Islay, at the little farm that is Kilchoman's base. This, I feel, will also accrue nicely in value (and I bought two bottle of it so eventually this will be drunk).

Second edition of the 100% Islay. Once again, every single thing is grown, malted, brewed, distilled, barrelled, stored and bottled on Islay.

Kilchoman Single Cask Release. This I own purely courtesy of the lovely Tent101 on the twitter, who was up on Islay and managed to scrag me one of the last bottles :) I am very VERY grateful that I got this.  I'm not sure what occassion will cause me to open this bottle, but it'll have to be a pretty awesome one!

I do, additionally, have another bottle of Kilchoman which is still in it's delivery packaging as I have stored it up. One of these days I may take it out and show it you.

Anyway, there you have it. I am a LITTLE bit of a Kilchoman geek and very proud of this fact.

If you want to buy any of these (well, the ones that are still available) you can go direct to http://kilchomandistillery.com/whisky-shop/single-malt-whisky-liqueur and they will ship it out to you (and no I am NOT on commission)


Thursday, 20 September 2012

Green Tomato Chutney

Today's blog is a long one with lots of pictures, but I am VERY excited about it so that is my excuse and I am sticking with it.

Let me set the scene first. My outside tomatoes, after a slow start, have over the last few weeks become very fruitful indeed. As I showed in the last but one blog post to this, I had well over one hundred fruits growing. Combine this with the fact that I am moving out of this house in a few weeks and I found myself with a massive amount of green tomatoes and no chance to leave them long enough that they may have ripened.

So, obviously, I decided to make some Green Tomato Chutney with them, combining the tomatoes with onions grown in the garden too.

I did a quick search and found the following recipe which I followed closely: Gran's Green Tomato Chutney

Without any further ado, then, let the picture diary begin.

The harvest of green tomatoes, with a couple of ripe ones (which are now sitting in the fridge waiting to be eaten some other way)

A couple of odd shaped tomatoes I found. These did end up in the chutney, but I found them interesting enough to show you. Aren't I nice

Weighing the tomato harvest. Yes, that is more than two kilograms of tomatoes (and I didn't pick quite every one)

That is what 2.16KG of green tomatoes look like

Weighing the home grown onions

I had to pull some of these in the dark and rain, as I did not have enough previously pulled onions to keep the ratios the same.

An onion about to be chopped

The same onion, chopped.

All of the onions chopped and set to one side

If you thought that was a lot of chopping, this is the first of the tomatoes I had to process..

... and all the tomatoes sliced, about an hour later with no breaks. The acid from chopping the onions (which were so strong my eyes were streaming) and these tomatoes actually made my fingers slightly sore.

The onions and tomatoes mixed together, with the salt already added, which will help the juice to be extracted, and improve the flavour (apparently)

Covered and ready to be left for 24 hours to mature.

All the above pictures were the process taken on the first evening of chutney making. I spent about 2 hours or so chopping and mixing.

The next evening the following happened.

Vinegar, sugar and raisins coming to the boil

I had decided to make a section of the batch with chillis in, so this is my chilli chopped and ready to be added to the smaller pan.

This is the tomato and onion mix after sitting for 24 hours...

... and this is most of the fluid which came out of the mix over night.

Adding the majority of the mix to the large pan ready to reduce

Stirring the chillis into the smaller pan, to make a chutney with bite

White pepper added to the chutney and stirred in before boiling

About an hour into the boiling process, the chutney is starting to turn golden brown and reduce down well

The chutney with chillis in it after reduction. This took about 1.5 hours of boiling as it was a slightly smaller amount to reduce than if you were boiling it all down in one big pan. I left the other bigger pan for another 30 mins or so

The jars ready for the chilli chutney, having been sat in the oven at 140 degrees for about 40 mins to sterilise them.

And the jars full of chutney. I had none left over out of that batch after filling these two jars, so that may give you an idea of just how much it does reduce down.

The nine small jars of normal green tomato chutney that were the product of the large pan. It is amazing how little is actually made, though these should last a while.

And finally the cling-filmed jars. I am SO rubbish at cling film, I almost wrapped myself up while trying to do this! Cling film is such a strange strange thing!

So, there you are. After a long time not blogged, I have posted a super long update for your delectation :)

Thanks for reading.