Sunday, 15 September 2013

Cider making

A couple of days spent with friends. Some good old hard work. And at the end of it, 4 gallons of cider and ten bags of apple pulp for the pigs.
An orchard dripping with apples.
Here's the story in photos.

Easy picking

And the next day...
Just a few apples to pulverise
Pulverise (proper word, scratting)




The whole operation

A  well deserved break

The next day...

Should be ready to drink by Christmas!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Two Turtle Doves... Not Likely!

What to do?
I'm already running five minutes late and it's only my second day working in a new school.

But just what was that bird which flew up into the ash tree as I was heading back to the farmhouse from giving the chickens their morning feed?
It was similar in size to a Mistle Thrush, or even a Little Owl, yet something just wasn't quite right for either of those birds, both which I see in that very same tree on a regular basis. Maybe it was the length of the tail or the shape of the wings, maybe just the way it flew, but something was nagging me to go take another look. For the bird that came to mind was turtle dove, that beautiful, diminutive dove which graces our shores for the summer  months before heading back to West Africa.

Not too long ago, in the right habitat, I would have expected to run into a few turtle doves during a days birdwatching. But they have undergone a serious and rapid decline, to the extent that it is now a notable occurrence.
Across the whole country, turtle dove numbers have gone down by 93% since I were a lad. In fact, there is a very real chance that they will disappear from this country within my lifetime and that would be a great shame indeed.

Now we'd like to blame those nasty foreigners for this and it's certainly not helping that, as they undertake their annual migration across Europe, they are regularly blasted out of the sky by hunters in countries such as Malta. And surely something must be going on in West Africa? What are they doing to our lovely turtle doves?
So research has finally begun to try to find out why we are losing our little doves at such an alarming rate. All a bit late really, but at least it's happening. And the findings don't surprise me one little bit. It turns out that the number of breeding attempts per year has reduced significantly, almost certainly because of lack of enough wild seed. The figures show that this fact alone could account for the decimation of their population. But hang on a minute! Surely that can't be! Turtle doves breed here. But that means... that means it's our fault! We can't pile all the blame on those nasty foreigners.
Surely it couldn't be anything to do with the fact that our farmers persist in obliterating all nature that stands in the way of their crops and their subsidies?

Now I'm sure that other problems on their migration and in their wintering grounds aren't helping the matter, but the fact is that we have to look closer to home. Not that most of us care. We'll only be happy when every square inch of this country is covered in concrete or sterile farmland maintained by chemicals and poisons. Just as long as our food is nice and cheap.

For me, the cost is just too much.

So, back to this morning. I should really head straight for work, but if that actually was a turtle dove that flew up into the ash tree it would only be the second I'd seen on the farm in three years.  It was a no brainer. I grabbed my binoculars and headed for the garden. And there it was, the beautiful scalloped back of a turtle dove sat right out on a branch.
It flew down into the field edge to forage for seed, then back into the ash tree, before being harassed and chased off by a blackbird.

Aha!! Maybe it's the blackbirds to blame.

Or maybe the blackbird was just not used to seeing turtle doves.

Anyway, I really did have to head off for work now. But it would be a better day after my brief encounter with a turtle dove.
In the car I wondered how many more times I'd see a turtle dove in an ash tree. For it seems that our ash trees are about to experience a drastic decline too.
Probably more chance of encountering eleven pipers piping.

And as for a partridge actually sat in a pear tree. Well, just as turtle doves aren't in this country at Christmas, partridges don't sit in pear trees. And, thinking about it, it's well over a year since I saw a grey partridge around these parts too.

I wonder why that is?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Nasturtium Capers

There are five reasons I can think of to grow nasturtiums.

One: They look beautiful
Nasturtiums come in all shades of yellow, orange and red
Two: They provide ground cover
Parasol leaves provide excellent ground cover,
shading out all the weeds
Three: They attract blackfly and caterpillars away from more important food crops

Can you spot the caterpillar in this picture?
Four: You can eat the flowers and leaves in salads. Very peppery

Flowers and leaves a peppery salad addition

Five: You can make your own capers.

The seed pods can be pickled to make
nasturtium capers

The last of these is exactly what Sue has been trying her hand at this week. For nasturtiums produce fulsome seed pods in profusion. It didn't take long to gather the 100g needed for the recipe, collected whilst still plump and green.
These were then soaked in brine for 24 hours, dried off and packed into sterilised jars.
Nasturtium seeds being dried after a soaking in brine

She then covered them, one in cider vinegar, one in tarragon vinegar. A couple of bay leaves, lids on and wait a couple of weeks before using.
I've got my eyes on a recipe for lamb chump with a parsley and caper sauce. I'll let you know how it goes.
And if anyone can think of any more reasons for growing nasturtiums, please do leave a comment!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

What to do with cabbage white caterpillars

The sign says it all.

New Public Enemy Number One.
I love insects. They come in so many shapes, sizes and colours. They're like miniature alien creations. But they're not all welcome in my garden.
It's been a great year for butterflies and this pleases me greatly. Who could not marvel at the sight of butterflies fluttering by?


A group of five cabbage whites cavorting over (and under)
the netting which is supposed to protect my greens. 
In the year when I have put more effort than ever into growing my greens, nature has put more effort than ever into eating my greens! Those scraggy butterflies have found impossible ways of getting themselves on the wrong side of my netting. In fact, when I show people round I joke that the netting is there to protect the butterflies and their offspring from predators.
And therein lies my dilemma. I have to net my brassicas or else every leaf would be reduced to a skeleton by caterpillars and pigeons, but in so doing I deny access to the ducks who would be more than happy to help with caterpillar clearance.

So instead I have a new fixation - hunting out the caterpillars.
They're not always as easy to find as these two were.

 And I have a new entrepreneurial idea. Caterpillar racing!
However, before I find this too depressing, let's remember that I should still get an ample crop for the two of us.
OK, they may need a soak in salty water to coax out any extra creepy-crawly protein, but for the first time I am producing our own calabrese, kale and cabbages.
Hopefully cauliflowers and sprouting broccoli will come, and maybe even some sprouts for Christmas.

Let's remember, too, that not every insect is bad. Which is why I don't just aim to kill everything that comes near my crops.

One of the friendly bugs.

As for those cabbage white caterpillars. Well they're currently being put to good use too.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The last piglet

The last piglet
On Sunday we sold half of our last piglet, which was the reason for my visit to the butchers on Monday.
In fact it was one of the most pleasurable sales I have made as the buyers are potential future smallholders and we invited them for a look around our little venture. We seem to be getting a lot of visitors lately! I hope they were suitably impressed and inspired.

The sale of half a pig does, however, leave us with a not so small problem... the other half of the pig. To be more precise, the freezer space for half a pig. We certainly need to make sure that most of the four lambs get sold before they go off in late October, otherwise it'll be like trying to squeeze the whole of Noah's ark into a dinghy! Meanwhile we are trying to eat away a suitable space in the freezer but I keep appearing with armfuls of veg to be processed too. Fifteen portions of courgette and mint soup went in yesterday, though Sue did manage to turn the rest of the courgettes into a rather tasty chutney.

Not to worry though. We have a master plan.

Winging its way to us is a Weston burger press, for we plan to get our half of the pig mostly minced so that we can get creative with burgers.
These will provide another outlet for our pork, but more importantly they will be much more space-efficient than oddly shaped legs, shoulders and bellies.

Unless, that is, anyone out there wants the last half pig? If anyone is interested, you'll need to get in contact in the next three weeks. For I reckon it'll be at least a year before we get any more piglets in.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

A new camera

Aside from a rather too floral short-sleeved shirt which I purchased about three years ago and have never worn, my two worst purchases of recent times have been my Mountfield ride-on mower - poorly made, flimsy, unreliable and not at all up to the job (and that's the replacement one!) - and my Canon Powershot S95 compact camera which wasn't cheap and has been about as robust as a china cup in a bullring.

So two nights ago I did some research and have hopefully fixed the latter problem with a new camera. I haven't spent a fortune, as unless you spend about a grand these days (and considerably more if you're talking ride-on mowers) it seems to be the norm that things are cheaply made in the Far East and not expected to last.
I've plumped for a camera somewhere between a compact and a DSLR, what is known as a 'bridge' camera.

Biggest attraction for me is that it has a 26x optical zoom and, at the other extreme, a 1cm macro facility. Now either of those extremes would be impossible with a proper camera so there are obviously compromises to be made, but for what I need it for I'm hoping that my Pentax X5 will serve me well.
It also has a tiltable viewing screen which helps greatly with those awkward angle shots or when the sun is glaring.

It arrived in the post this morning, but unfortunately I had to make a trip to the butchers - more on this later - so I only had about 20 minutes to play with it. Anyhow, here's what I managed in that short time.
I think there'll be a lot more photos on my blog in the future.


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