Thursday 28 February 2013

Pickled Eggs

We've had a bit of a glut of eggs and with the wet weather a few weeks ago (couple by a lack of nest boxes) the eggs have been a little dirty so I couldn't really sell them. We've been giving them away to friends and family (which has made me popular for brief spells) but we still had quite a few left to do something with.
Boiling eggs
 Pickled eggs was the obvious choice.
So Sunday night I set about boiling them all up (once I'd cleaned the shells and tested that none float) and pickling them in clear vinegar. I had a few large necked jars spare from making chutney and other things involving pickle in the past so I used these, although I've still got to remove the labels.
Eggs pickled. Now what?
Two dozen eggs pickled. The only trouble is I'm not sure I like them. It's been years since I've tried one and I do like vinegar a lot more than I used to (I now eat salt and vinegar crisp which I used to hate) so I'll have to try one in a couple of weeks time. Maybe with a packet of crisps.
If I don't like them I'm sure I won't be short of people to give them to.

Monday 25 February 2013

Cockerel Swapping

I was going to call this post "cock swapping" but I then thought people finding it through search engines would be disappointed!
One of the guys at work was after a cockerel to run with his hens, so I gave him one of mine as I've meaning to kill them for ages and just haven't got round to it.
Off to a good life
I took the bird to work to swap him over there. The sparky said "Isn't it cruel to leave him in that cage all day?" (the cage had food and water just so you know). I said I've talked it through with the cockerel, and out of his two options and he seems happiest with this one.
Having friends who keep chickens can be handy when trying to breed from them. As you don't really want to use a cockerel from you own stock for the fear of inbreeding, so it's better to swap cockerels. I've big plans for the little Silkie cockerel I got from this guy last year and hopefully my little guy will perform for him and not show me up!

Sunday 24 February 2013

Chocolate Course

My wife got given a chocolate "making" course for her birthday last year by a friend.
Although I agreed to go on it with her (well it was chocolate after all), I wasn't holding out much hope in it being any good.
This is not sheep poo
But we went to Stratfford on Avon on Saturday and had a really enjoyable morning making truffles. We made a ganache out of chocolate and cream then used pipping bags to make long chocolate poos on a tray, before cutting them up and making the ganache into balls.
Hot hands are not great for this!
 I'm always warm, great for working outside like I do, not so great for making chocolate balls. It just kept melting in my hands, meaning I had to keep washing them and dipping them in cold water about every third truffle, whereas my wife managed to roll all of hers without having to cool her hands once (but cold hands aren't so great when she jumps into bed at night).
Some of the finished truffles
 Once we made our truffle shapes we had to coat them. The instructor tempered some chocolate for us then we coated our truffles in this before dipping them in different finishes to make them stick. The finishes were caster sugar, coconut, coco powder, icing sugar. They all looked pretty good by the end.
All bagged up and ready to be given away eaten
When they were all wrapped up I can see why people make truffles for presents, but I'm not sure how many I would end up giving away!
This is the first day out we've had together without the baby since she's been born and although I had a few "where's the baby moments" it was nice to do the course, go shopping and watch a film like we used to. Still good to get home to her though!
Anyone else attended a course to be pleasantly surprised by how good it was?

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Planting Cordons - Research

Ever since I read a Victorian Kitchen Garden I've had this idea in my head to plant and train cordons and other forms of fruit trees. I don't do anything with out doing a lot of research first (especially if it involves spending money) so I turned to some of my gardening books and the trusty old Internet.
A few of the books I used

The old books were the best on this subject as it seems to be something which has fallen out of fashion in the last twenty or so years. But even then they didn't really come up with the same information so for everything I did I took an "average" of the information I had and I'll just have to hope for the best!
The only true dwarf tree I planted
Trees to plant - Cordons and other heavily trained fruit trees need to be spur bearing to produce fruit (as the tips will be cut off). This sounds simple to find out until you start looking. Take an example of the George Cave apple tree- In the RHS book "Apples" it states that it "produces spurs freely" whereas the Readers Digest book "New Illustrated Guide To Gardening" states it a tip bearer. I took a risk with this one but hopefully my research into the other trees proves right!

Root stocks - Most books here recommend a heavily dwarfing root stock like a M9 or M26 for trained trees but some say you can use the semi vigorous MM106. From what I can understand it's also a little dependant on what your soil is like. Our is quite heavy clay so trees take a while to get established, for this reason I went with the MM106 and only used one M9 tree where it finishes the row and will need to be shorter.
The graft needs to be on the upper side to help prevent it breaking in later life.
Spacing - This was where the information varied the most. Ranging from 18" through to over 3ft between trees. I opted for 2ft as I wanted it to form a hedge like screen as well to separate the garden from the field. It looks close but these trees are going to be heavily pruned through their life.
As for the support wire spacing I did this at around 20" centres with one near the top for extra support.

Angle - One book said to start the trees more upright and lower them over the years but most said to plant them in at a 45 degrees and, if you really want to, lower them as they get bigger so you have more growing area for the apples. One good piece of advice was not to plant them below 35 degrees or they will struggle to grow. I went for the 45 degrees and I doubt I'll change this as it looks right.

The graft - When planting for cordons on an angle you need to make sure that the graft is on the top side of the tree (see the picture above). This will help to prevent it breaking in the future as if it's the other way up the weight can make it snap and split down it's length as the tree gets bigger.

Pollination groups - If I talk about apple trees people always get worried about pollination groups. I don't even bother to look any more as with over 30 varieties of trees in my smallholding and probably a few thousand trees in the orchards surrounding us we haven't got anything to worry about. Normally someone is going to have an apple tree planted near by if you live in a town or village but if your worried then it's easy to use the number each tree has and make sure they all work out.

Pruning at planting time - Well this is one I'm still not sure about. Some say prune them right back as soon as you've planted them, so then all the available budds break and you're left with no bear patches of wood, others say leave them alone. So far I haven't touched ours as they're all fairly small trees and I can't help thinking it will stunt their growth even more. Maybe I should cut one back and compare it to the others over it's first year (I'll take advice on this please).

Well that's all I've learnt about the subject so far. I'm sure I'll learn a lot more through growing them in this way - if anyone else has got any advice or tips please let me know!

Monday 18 February 2013

Planting Cordons - Part Two

Today I finally managed to plant the 22 apple trees I had waiting to go in.
Planting these trees as cordons has been more work than I thought it would be as there was so much preparation work to be done.
Bamboo canes all wired in ready
Before I planted anything I had to make sure that I'd prepared the trench by adding grit and compost to the bottom. This seems to have worked as the only water that was holding was at the very bottom of the slope (and I haven't got enough trees yet for that far down).
I then had to wire all the bamboo canes to the 4 horizontal wires at a 45 degree angle. This took longer than I thought it would, but the fence looked quite good when they were on!
The grit added to the bottom of the trench to help water drain away
 I then started planting trees. The fun bit. I had a rough planting plan, so the latest to ripen were at the top and the earliest at the bottom, but as I need more trees it's not really going to matter where they go.
Planting trees and fixing to the canes
I tied the trees to the canes using a ordinary string as I figure this will rot off before it strangles them. The only downside is I'll have to tie them back in every few years, but this method of growing is quite labour intensive anyway and this will give a good opportunity to inspect them up close.
Line of trees planted
Hopefully some interesting varieties planted
A big job but worth it
It's been a hard few days getting these trees in but I'm glad I've done it. In a relatively small space I've managed to plant 22 different varieties of apple, from claygate pearman to Crawley Beauty, with room for another 7 or 8 trees.
I'm hoping this will provide a nice barrier from the veg garden to the field as well as giving us lots of apples to try over the years!
(In my next post I'll give all the information I've managed to gleam from books and the internet about growing fruit trees as cordons - a lot of the information out there clashes!)

Planting Cordons - Part One

Planting my cordon apple trees has turned out to be a bit of an undertaking. The dry weather this weekend has let me make a start, although really its still too wet.
The  muddy strip where my cordons are going to grow

A bit of extra treatment for the bottom of the posts
 To start with I dug in my three large (4"x4") posts. These I concreted in about two foot deep, then I added another smaller post around three feet in front of it and braced diagonally off this one.
I just mixed my concrete dry as there was enough water in the holes!
 Once these posts were in I dug a trench from one side to the other (it was not easy digging I can tell you). The reason I decided to dig a trench rather than individual holes was due to the ground being so wet. I figured that if I did it like this and added some grit to the bottom it might act as a mini french drain and save the roots sitting in water, only time will tell on this one! At the end of the day there was a lot of water sat in the bottom section of the trench (it's all on a gentle slope) and not so much a the top so I guess it's working.
Adding the wire between the posts
 I added four wires between my posts to tie my bamboo canes to, although I haven't tightened them yet, I just hope the posts aren't too far apart!
Hooking eyes brought from eBay

The bottom section of trench is holding a bit of water
The next set of jobs should be more fun. I've got to add grit and compost to the trench, tie in my bamboo canes and then plant my trees - watch this space!

Saturday 16 February 2013

Planting Damsons & A Tree Monster

To atone for my sins of cutting down two trees over the last couple of weekends I planted three damson trees today.
I think these will be the only damson trees I'll plant on our smallholding as there is only so many damsons you need (although that said I know what I'm like with fruit trees!)
The three varieties of damson - Merry Weather, King of the damsons and Langley bullace

I quite like the moody sky in the background (10ft whip of a tree nearest in photo)
 Last weekend I cut down another tree. It was a horrible fast growing fir so don't feel too bad for it. Whilst cutting the branches off I noticed something furry about half way up.
Sitting pretty
 I had no idea what would sit there whilst I was hacking all around it with a chainsaw. I poked it gingerly with a stick (this was before all the branches were gone you understand) nothing. I climbed up to inspect and came face to face with this:
It made me jump when I first saw it.
Evil eyes?

I've no idea how long he's been up there but he looked a bit sorry for himself.
He's still attached to his branch even now pooor little guy didn't want to leave it - just his branch is now in the wood pile!

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Digging In the Dark

It's a good job we haven't got many neighbours. There would have been some twiching of curtains tonight if we had, as I trapes down the pitch black garden carrying a spade. I then proceeded to dig a hole in the dark.
Some Damsons from my fathers farm - It was better than a picture of me digging in the dark!
On Monday I collected the last of my trees I've ordered. A couple for my mother - a mulberry and a humbug pear, and a couple of damson trees for our little homestead here. The hole was to heal them in as unfortunatly I haven't managed to plant a single tree yet, the ground is just too wet.
When added to the other order I've three damsons to be planted in total and three different varities: King of the Damsons, Langley Bullace and Merryweather.
My parents farm (where I grew up) had a little old damson orchard and I've always loved the fruit. When I was younger my sister and I would pick and sell carrier bags full of them making extra pocket money. I still love making rock hard damson jam as well (easily my favourite jam) so I'm hoping in a few years we'll be able to make our own and maybe my daughter will be able to sell bags of damsons as well.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Saving Snowdrops

I was working on a large patch of snowdrops and other bulbs the other day and not liking the fact that I was making them rather flat from my constant walking on them.
I love snowdrops! A sign that winter doesn't last for ever just when you need it.
 When I asked what else was happening to the ground where I was working, the boss said that a drain was going to be dug in there as well and he doubted anyone would save the bulbs. So I went to the van and got a shovel (I don't carry a spade) and dug them up.
The saved snowdrops and other bulbs
I planted them here in a break in the rain yesterday. I dotted a few here, there and everywhere, under trees and along fences, in the hope that in years to come there will be small clusters dotted about the smallholding. I also planted loads in the front garden, along the hedge, in the hope that it will be covered with them in years to come.
Snowdrops dug in all along the side of this hedge. In a few years this should be a picture!
The other place I planted lots of them was our little coppice, it's already got a lot of daffodils growing there so the snowdrops will give it colour a little earlier
This is the orchard at one of the jobs I'm working on - quite the picture (even if it is taken with my phone)
I know that there are no "real" benefits to growing flowers like snowdrops, but it does make you feel better when you see them and there's no harm in making the place a little more pretty!

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Last Of The Season Pheasants - A Recipe

Three brace of pheasant were brought in for me today from last week. My friend who shot them hadn't got time to do anything to them and if he left them any longer he was worried they'd go off and be wasted.
Preparing birds in the dark
 I have to admit that I was a little lazy with preparing these birds, I was late back after doing a job on the way home from work (fitted a cat flap - exciting times!), so I just took the breast meat off these birds so I could chuck it all in the freezer quickly. Four breasts in each bag, three bags full makes enough meat for three meals.
Free meat in the freezer
I'm pretty sure I know what I'll do with some of it and that's to use my made up recipe of pheasant, chorizo and pearl barley.
I love to make this one on a Monday to cook on Tuesday and be ready for when we get home.
Pheasant - As much or as little as you've got
About 3-4 inches of a chorizo sausage chopped up,
200g of pearl barley,
One tin of tomatoes,
A large handful of dried tomatoes (supplied by Compost Woman - Thank you they are lovely),
An onion,
A load of mushrooms (cut up quite large),
Three bay leaves,
Salt and pepper,
A good slug of balsamic vinegar
Enough water to cover plus a bit as the pearl barley will soak it up (or stock is better, maybe even some red wine if you've got some open)
(you can also add carrots or other veg to this list depends on what veg you want to add in or you've got).
Really precise measurements I'm sure you'll agree!
All I do then is brown off the meat and the onions in some oil, then chuck everything in the slow cooker and leave to cook on low for about 8 hours.
The chorizo goes really well with the pheasant and because it's been slow cooked it's all really tender, the pearl barley almost makes this like a risotto - nice and warming on a winters night.
I think it's lovely to come home from a day outside in the cold to have tea ready and waiting to eat!
Anyone else got any good pheasant recipies?

Monday 4 February 2013

A Poultry Investment

The Ex caged chickens have done there job in the garden and eaten all the weeds and grass off.
The trouble is I now want to get tidying up and planting in there but the nine chickens somewhat stop this. I even tried to keep them out of the fruit section of the garden with a fence but everyday they get through (or over despite having their wings clipped).
Fencing them in
They need to be moved.
So I need to do two things: build a new coop (their current one is an old shed which will fall over if I look at it funny), and put up a fence.
For a while I've liked the idea of having some movable netting so every few weeks I can move the chickens onto a fresh bit of grass. Today, armed with a 15% off voucher, my daughter and I went down to countrywide and brought a 50m roll of poultry netting complete with posts. I've already got a fencer unit (well dad has but he's not using it) so that makes it a little cheaper, although at well over a hundred pounds we've got a few eggs to sell to make our money back!
It'll be nice to be able to move the chickens onto fresh grass and I'm sure the eggs will benefit, the trouble is I've now got to build a coop fairly quickly.
Any ideas for a quick build coop?
Also does anyone use this netting and if they do is it any good?

Sunday 3 February 2013

Tree Karma

My brother is a tree surgeon and he often says about the state of his "tree karma". That is how many trees he cut down compared to how many he's planted or saved.
Mine pretty high as I've planted a lot more than I've cut down but sometimes trees have to go.
Ash growing in the wrong place
The Ash tree in the front garden was one that I marked to come out from the first time we looked at buying the house over 12 months ago. Although it's not massive it's growing too close to the house and it's under the power lines so unfortunately it's got to go.
Spot the Idiot
 Why this came about was today some of my family came to see our daughter, my dad being a typical Alviti couldn't just come and relax.
"Lets take that tree down" He said before even going inside for a coffee.
Not how most families spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon together!
I cut all the higher branches down by hand, up in the tree, as we worked out that the tree was going to be longer than the width of the garden. We only just worked this out as we were just going to fell it in one go (good job I'm more cautious than my father and made him work it out! - He has a friend who once got it out wrong and felled a massive tree straight onto his Daihatsu truck). Some of these high branches we tied a rope to and pulled them as I cut them to keep them from falling towards the power lines.
The king of firewood won't go to waste
The light faded fast so I ended up logging it by floodlight, but at least all I've got to do now is split and stack the wood. I might even use a bit of it for a weird carving I've been asked to do.
As for my tree karma I've got 25 trees to plant when/if it drys up so I'm not too worried!
How's everyones tree karma looking?
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