Monday, 22 August 2016

Creamed Honey and a Freezer Spreadsheet

13th August 2016
Preparing for winter
Sue was with the West Norfolk Bee-keepers today, focusing on preparations for winter! Taking the advice of people with years and years of experience, she is going to combine the two weaker colonies. Between them they probably have one laying queen and hopefully they will unite and get strong enough to make it through the winter. After a difficult year, if we can get two colonies through the winter it will be considered a satisfactory outcome.

Outdoor Toms a Losing Battle with Blight
While Sue was busy doing that, I was doing my best to save a few outdoor tomatoes. Despite my best efforts to remove leaves and whole plants if necessary at the first signs of blight, I continue to have to chop the plants smaller and smaller. Blight just keeps creeping steadily forward. I'm taking tomatoes off the plants as soon as they show any signs of blush and ripening them on the kitchen windowsill. This saves them from the unwanted attentions of mice and the turkeys too! Growing tomatoes outside is a bit of a lottery. Several years ago we had pounds and pounds of outdoor tomatoes, but since then we have had very little harvest. I really must get the greenhouse up this winter so I can grow the vast majority indoors from now on.

Sow Thistles for the Sheep
Once I'd done this I moved the sheep down to the very bottom section of field where the grass is waist high and the sow thistles grow thick. The sheep love sow thistle, even if it means their fleece gets wallpapered with the prickly stems and leaves. They will knock it back in no time.
One didn't want to go and was a complete pain. At least it gave me some exercise.

Freezer Spreadsheet
Best job of the day though went to Sue, who compiled a list of all the food in our many freezers. I then put this on a spreadsheet. Now this may sound more than a bit OCD, but it's easy to lose food at the bottom of the freezers. Despite pickling, dehydrating, vacuum-packing and making preserves, many of our fruit and vegetables and most of our meat still ends up going into the freezer. At this time of year there is more going in than coming out, despite our best efforts. The spreadsheet means we can keep track of what's in there and make sure our cooking is planned around using up the oldest food first.

14th August 2016
Creaming Honey
The first honey of the year is always rape honey. It sets absolutely concrete solid. This year Sue siphoned it into large buckets with a plan to turn it into creamed honey, a much more versatile product. To achieve this, the set honey needs to be very gently warmed, so as not to destroy all its health-giving properties. The dehydrator works perfectly for this. Then it is just a matter of attaching the honey creamer to the drill and agitating for at least five minutes.

Softened rape honey

The resulting product tasted delicious. We're just hoping that it has worked and it does not reset.

15th August 2016
An Excursion into the Modern World
A trip into Wisbech. I don't get off the farm very much and a couple of pieces of modern technology caught my attention. Firstly, new gizmos at the pedestrian crossings and secondly a machine in the bank which automatically reads cheques, adds them up and issues a receipt including a copy of the cheques. It seems the modern world advances a little more each time I leave it for a while!
One thing about living in a fairly remote setting is that you can't pop into town every time you need one thing, otherwise the petrol cost would often be significantly more than the cost of whatever you are buying. So we tend to save up a list of things to do in town.
We were also meeting up with someone near Wisbech to sell all of this year's honey! (we just kept a couple of jars back for ourselves). Unfortunately Sue only collected about 50 jars this year as only one hive was consistent enough to collect from.

16th August 2016
Most of the day was spent making the place look spick and span for tomorrow's gathering of the Grow Your Own group. The grass got a cut as did my hair, for the first time in a long while. It has gone from a weedy patch of overgrown grass and sow thistles to a neatly mown lawn, without the lines - I'm talking about my hair. I don't really do things in half measures.

Royal Tern Dip still hurts
It seems that every day I get the ride-on mower out, there is a MEGA bird to interrupt proceedings. Today's news was of a Royal Tern on the west coast of Ireland. I have bad memories of Royal Tern. There has only been one record since I have been seriously twitching. It appeared at several sites in North Wales on 15th June 2009, ending up sat on Black Rock Sands beach from 8:47pm until dark, last reported at 10:32pm. I turned up in the very early hours of the morning and slept in the car. In the morning it was gone, only to reappear four days later off Llandudno beach, where it flew up and down, occasionally disappearing round the corner for short periods, from 3:25pm till 6pm, five minutes before I arrived! When I turned up I was told "It's just gone round the corner, but don't worry, it's done that a few times. It'll be back soon." Well it didn't come back. Apart from one brief apparent sighting late in the evening, that was it. Gone. That dip hurt.

So, back to today's sighting. Should I get in the car and head for the ferry to Ireland, letting down the whole Grow Your Own group, or should I be patient and see what the bird gets up to in the next day or two? Had it been this side of the water, I would have been straight in the car without hesitation, but as it was I decided to hang on. After all, I had just spent the whole day getting the place looking nice for my visitors.
The rest of the evening was a nervy one though.

17th August 2016
Well, the Royal Tern was briefly seen for a couple of minutes early in the morning and then disappeared. I wouldn't have seen it had I gone last night, so I got lucky on this occasion.

Back on the farm, there were six buzzards in the air at once today, making use of the sunny weather and the light breeze to soar and hunt the freshly harvested fields.
There were four Grey Partridges (aka English Partridges) in the field at the back of me today. These are getting very scarce indeed now, just another of our farmland birds which is in steep decline.

Grow Your Own group
In the evening I had the Grow Your Own group round. The discussion subject for today was Flowers In The Veg Garden. Top Of The Crops was Potatoes. For this, we focus on one crop, looking at how to grow it, best varieties, pests and diseases and what to do with it when it is harvested. Everybody is encouraged to bring along a dish to share and I was trying my hand at Bombay Potatoes. They turned out very nice indeed and I will certainly be making them again. I'll probably make a big batch and freeze some ... if there is ever spare space in the freezers! Others brought along an Irish Colcannon type dish, a potato, ham and cheese bake and there was even a cake which contained potatoes. All very tasty and a great evening was had by all. We even managed to sit outside and my redcurrant and raspberry sparkling cordial was enjoyed by all.

18th August 2016
Rain At Last!
A rest day today but the rain was very, very welcome indeed, much needed outside. The wind that came with it was not quite so welcome.

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