Monday, 1 August 2016

We're Going To Need A Bigger Basket

26th July 2016
I woke up two hours after the alarm went off! I could hear reverse warning beeps and thought they might have started harvesting the field next door, which could scupper my plans for a second coat of paint on the garage (dust).
I checked my phone only to see that I was already 15 minutes into a one hour time slot for a parcel delivery - to be more precise, 100kg of wild bird food. There have been 6 tree sparrows recently. This much food will do me for about a year and is well worth the investment. I get many hours of quiet satisfaction watching the birds visit the feeders.
No, it's not a new ride-on mower.
As it happens they did turn up to harvest the field too. It is rape this year so we shouldn't get the invasion of vermin that happens when they grow wheat. We normally have a lot of wild birds when they grow rape. In the past it has hosted sedge warblers, yellow wagtails, whitethroats and blackbirds. I don't know what is different this year, but these birds have been absent from the crop. I would guess they have managed to spray just about all insect life out of the crop.
We're going to need a bigger basket!
With the kibosh on plans for painting, I instead turned my attention to my own harvest. The redcurrant bushes are dripping with fruits and it took me quite a while to harvest them. The first bush alone filled a basket.

Next came the cherries. The trees are still very young so I only got a handful, but they are a real treat. Then it was on to the raspberries. They need picking every other day and I get a good few punnets worth. These are my favourite fruit.
On to the vegetables. A couple of courgettes, a few handfuls of peas and enough broad beans for dinner and a batch for the freezer.
Today's pickings
I also may have discovered the culprits for plundering the last of the gooseberries. There were some dodgy characters hanging around there today.

27th July 2016
A Welcome Return
Sue has been away on a well deserved break away in Amsterdam with friends - her first time away from the smallholding since our honeymoon almost two years ago. She is due back tonight, so I spent the day tidying! I cleaned out the chickens too, a level 2 clean today.
With time left, I moved the sheep to the next strip of grazing. I always like the moment they realise they can access the lush green meadow alongside which they have been feeding. It reminds me of the The Billy Goats Gruff. I like the fact that they eat as much and as fast as they can for about half an hour, then all sit down to digest.

28th July 2016
You're going to need a better net, Abbey!
Two ignored emails, being left on hold to an empty extension and an 18 minute phone call obviously was not quite enough effort on my part to get hold of two spare belts for the rotavator and a spare blade for the mower, despite the fact that I had bought both these machines from the very same company, Abbey Garden Sales. Six days after that last phone call and two more emails, still no response, so I made yet another phone call. Apparently my query had 'slipped through the net', even after I had politely pointed out all the company's faults last time! I think the net may need fixing. Anyway, we have moved another step and the parts are now ordered.

With that 'sorted' I gave the end of the garage a second coat of paint. Literally five minutes later it started raining. Fortunately it was just a shower and the main rain held off just long enough for the paint to dry properly. Then it bucketed down, which was most welcome.

Steam Juicing
Inside, I blew the dust off the steam juicer and set about juicing a pan of redcurrants and raspberries.
The steam juicer is basically a large metal steamer with the addition of a central section to collect the juice. This section has a pipe attached so the juice can be siphoned off. As the steam rises up through the fruits, it breaks down the cell walls and releases all the juices.
Tomorrow I plan to turn the juice I collect into cordial. The pulp that is left I hope to be able to turn into a fruit leather using the dehydrator.

Aldi Price Comparison
I then left the farm for the first time in five days for a trip into Wisbech with Sue. I had booked us to go see The BFG. It was a bit of a risk, not the usual thing we would go to see at the cinema, but it proved to be an inspired choice, a truly delightful and magical story which every child, (even the 50 year old ones) should go to see.

On the way we stopped off at Aldi and I couldn't help but price up my harvests. At Aldi price, I reckon to have harvested about £40 worth of redcurrants! The cucumbers, though, are only up to £1.11, but there are plenty more to come and they are home grown and picked fresh off the plant.

29th July 2016
I ended up with about 2 1/2 litres of pure redcurrant and raspberry juice.

I added 1.5kg of sugar to 2 litres and heated it up to boiling. I added in the juice of 1 1/2 lemons (carefully leaving the juice of the other 1 1/2 lemons on the side, forgetting to put it in). Then it was all decanted into sterilised wine bottles with screw caps.
I've no idea how well this will work, what it will taste like, how much to dilute it, whether it will last. There were no definitive recipes to be found anywhere so I just amalgamated all the recipes I'd read.
I plan to try one bottle in a week's time, one in about 3 weeks and one in a couple of months to see how it fares.

With the last half a litre I added just a quarter cup of sugar to drink as juice. This is rather an extravagant use of a precious harvest, but that's the delight of growing your own.
Finally I put the pulp from the juicer through a mouli to experiment using it to make a fruit leather. Waste not, want not.

The afternoon was spent general weeding and hoeing in the veg patch, though there were many interruptions today - plasterer, conservatory man, deliveries...

Ragwort Removal
Ragwort - pretty and a food source for Cinnabar moths,
but needs removing as it is poisonous to livestock
Come 6 o'clock I decided to do a spot of ragwort removal. I headed off to the far end of our land, the final area of very long meadow which the sheep will feed on next. The ragwort is in full flower now, so very easy to spot. This makes it a very good time to uproot it, for the plant has just put a lot of energy into making those flowers. I use a special ragwort fork which gets most of the roots out, otherwise the plants just regenerate and come back stronger. I had waited for rain so that the root did not simply snap off in the dry soil. The trouble with pulling ragwort is that you just keep spotting more plants. Some three hours later and I was finally finished. What looked like a quick and easy job had turned into a rather strenuous task!

I had narrowly avoided a thorough soaking as a storm skirted round, but was regretting my choice to wear shorts. The long grass and sow thistles can get rather itchy and scratchy. It is good to spend so much time in the long grass and the young woodland. I observe things I wouldn't otherwise notice, the insect life, the variety of plants, the young hawthorns colonising and the growth of the woodland trees which I planted just over four years ago.

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