Monday 29 September 2014

Grafting Success and Failures

I grafted more fruit trees this year than the year before and I had a fair few more failures.
This years tree nursery - a little weedy maybe...
 The apples did relatively well although I only had a success rate of around 75%, I think this is down to a number of factors: I used some "grafting pliers" for some for the grafts and the majority of these ones failed compared to the ones I did traditionally with a knife. I also stored the scion wood differently, some in the fridge (this all took well) and some in the shed, as it was much more mild than the year before, I don't think the shed was cold enough and so some of the wood wasn't alive enough to be grafted.
One of the many failed cherry grafts
 Some for the other fruit didn't do so well. Only two cherry grafts took and much the same with the plums and pears, although the two apricots I did as an experiment are both doing well. 
A successful graft with apricot wood
In total I've still got over a hundred fruit trees growing in the nursery with successful grafts and the root stocks that had failed grafts on can be used this next spring so no money lost. Next year I will trying budding some trees in the summer (although there never seems time in August) as I think stone fruit like the cherries and plums do better that way.
Has anyone else been propagating fruit trees or tried their hand at grafting?

Saturday 27 September 2014

Planting Next Years Garlic

One of the great things about blogs is the gentle reminders you get from reading everyone else's. A lot the UK blogs I follow are planting their garlic about now. I'm  never normally this early but I had a spare hour the other morning and a clear spot in the garden, so I decided to get them in.
 I was a little worried as I haven't got any muck to put on the plot at the moment but then I remembered the veg bed I weeded with the chickens - they manured it for me as well - it worked with my planting plan so I decided to plant them there. 
 I broke up three of the biggest bulbs I harvested this year and then picked out the fattest cloves.  I forked over the plot and dug out the last remaining weeds, added some blood, fish and bone and then planted them about 6 inches apart.
Hopefully planting them this early will give me some big cloves next year, if I can stop the birds from pulling them out every day! My mum is off to Malvern show today (without me - I'm too busy) so I've asked her to buy me some Elephant Garlic to experiment with in the same plot, although I need to do a bit of research on it, as last time it was a flop.
Who else has got their garlic in? Anyone else grown Elephant garlic and had much success with it? - I think you have to grow it for two years to get a good harvest off it.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Seed Saving

With my "Blogging Seed Swap" still in my mind I want to make sure I'm saving plenty of seeds this year. I've never been great at it, either leaving it too late or not storing them correctly, so this year I'm making a real effort.
Pepper seeds
On my window sill I currently have lots of pepper seeds drying. Some from my chilli pepper "Cherry Bomb" and the others from either yellow or red "Mini Bell Peppers". These are then being labled up and stored in old cod liver oil tablets containers to keep them dry.
My tiny sweet peppers - perfect for UK growing!
I've also got lots of fennel seeds to collect to use as a spice in the kitchen and some salad seeds to use as micro greens through the winter. 

How does everyone else go about saving seeds and how good are you at it?

Does anyone save seeds from biannual plants and how do you go about keeping plants separate to prevent cross pollination?

Don't forget if you want to be part of the seed swap then start saving your seeds now and in a couple of months we can start to share them out!

Sunday 21 September 2014

A Day Out - Croft Castle

We had a great day out with mum last week to Croft Castle in Herefordshire.
We did our usual thing of not going around the big house, only concentrating on the gardens - in fact when I got back I realised that I haven't even got a picture of the castle, or not the real one at least!
A great play area for the kids - I'd love to make something like this for mine!

Mini Castle!

A vineyard in the walled garden 
The veg area wasn't massive but it was well looked after
It had an old large greenhouse, beautifully restored

Tomatoes inside the greenhouse. It wasn't really very full, in fact I think I've got more tomato plants!

Still lots of untouched areas to the garden, which I really liked. I loved all the old lean-tos and sheds

This insect hotel looked great against the stone wall

We went on a walk around the grounds. Some lovely mature trees and this beautiful avenue planted for another time

It was all too much for one little girl

This one had a sleep but came back fighting!
National trust properties do make a great day out. If I had more time I'd probably become a member, but even without it's not too expensive - especially as we normally just go round the garden and grounds and bring a picnic!
I really enjoy having this shared love & interest in old gardens with my mum, there's no guessing where I got my love of gardening from! 
Is everyone else's love of gardening so easy to trace?

Friday 19 September 2014


Another unusual fruit this week! Barberries (Berberis thunbergii)
Grown as hedging and small decorative shrubs in gardens across Britain, many people don't realise these are edible. The berries are used a lot in Iranian and middle eastern cooking cooking, chucked into rice to give it a sharp pop when you eat them.
 My friend has a massive tree sized bush growing on his grounds, covered in berries, so I decided to do a bit of scrumping (with permission) to get some to try.
 I like the berries straight off the bush and so did both my children, but I can see they'd be a bit tart for some, they taste like a sweetened cranberry. I picked a small tub full and set about sorting out the berries so I could preserve them.
 They are quite a fiddly berry to pick and in the end I just picked a few bunches and then sorted them out at home, whilst trying to stop Ev from eating them all. 
I then put them in my little dehydrator and set them to dry for a few hours. It was tricky as they kept falling through the slats so I had to do it in two goes, I could do with getting some gause to lay them on as they'd dry a lot quicker if they wouldn't keep falling through. 
I managed to dry a small jar full.
When dried they taste even better, they'd be a good substitute for raisins (if you don't mind a much tarter flavour) or dried cranberries and much easier to grow as you largely leave the bush alone and the birds don't seem to affect it much. I'm looking forward to trying these in some rice and maybe scattered over my breakfast.
Anyone else eat these or have them growing in their garden?

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Cordons - Summer pruning Year 2

My cordon apple trees have put on loads of growth again this year so last week I went back through them.
 I tied in the leader and cut back any growth to a couple of inches from the cut last year. This should encourage it to branch out and form fruiting spurs. the fruit will always be close to the tree with cordons. I've had some lovely and perfect apples off a few of the trees so I'm expecting great things!
They look nice and tidy again now they've been pruned. In years to come this is going to make a great divide between the field and the garden. I think there's 24 varieties of apple down this stretch so far with space to plant a few more.
I was a little disappointed to find that at the base of a few of the trees they were showing chew marks. Some little creature has been chewing them. I think it's mice as the garden is rabbit proof, but I've done myself no favours by letting it get so weedy under the trees, giving the little critters perfect protection from predators. Next year I must stay on top of weeding them better and mulch around the trees early on, I might also put a few traps down.    
Anyone else got mice problems in the garden? And has anyone else got cordon apple trees in?

Monday 15 September 2014

Sweet Pickling Peppers

One of the goals I set myself this year was to try to grow some chilli peppers and preserve them in a way similar to my favourite band of pickled peppers, who will remain nameless. I could eat a jar of those peppers a week!
 So this year I went for broke and grew some chillies I had been told were quite similar, Cherry Bomb. They've grown well and each plant has loads of shiny red peppers on, they're not as hot as I would have liked, you can pop a whole one in your month and not feel it too much, but they certainly look the part.
Trawling through the Internet back in June I came across Dani and her amazing blog Eco Footprints - South Africa as she had a recipe for making what I was after.
 The recipe is really simple and can be found on her blog here. The pickling liquid is a mix of vinegar and sugar so it should preserve them for a long time!
Left to soak in salt water over night before the pickling!

Four jars full, they look a little too good - I can't see them lasting long!
I can't wait to try these out! they look just as good as the ones you buy in a shop. My only disapointment is how many peppers you need to fill a jar. To get enough for me to have them every day I'd need hundreds of plants. These four jars are ripe chillies off ten plants! 
Anyone else ever used a really sweet pickle?

Saturday 13 September 2014

Preserving Runner Bean - Salting

More experiments with preserving due to a too full freezer. This time it's the runner beans that are having a go.
Mum always says never to bother salting runner beans as they taste bloody horrible. Well never one to be scared away from an idea I thought I might as well give it a go as they were going to go to waste otherwise. 

It's fairly simple to do according to the books. Just cut your beans up and fill a jar with them. Every couple of inches of beans (50mm) add half an inch of salt (12mm) pressing them down as you go. 
They then produce they're own brine that they sit in and the level of beans in the jar seems to go down after a few hours as the moisture gets drawn out of them. When the level had dropped I then added more beans to top it up.
We will try these in a few months time. I've been told not to leave them to soak for too long when we're trying to get the slat off as it will make them tough. I'm sure it will take a few attempts to get it right - I'll keep you posted on how we get on with it!
Anyone else preserve veg by salting it?

Thursday 11 September 2014

Hand Powered Bench Grinder

I brought this lovely old hand powered bench grinder at eh car boot sale on Sunday. It's unusual find in the fact that it is made for a full size grinding wheel, most are made for a much smaller wheel (I have a few of them) and this is the first I have seen like this.
 My trade (carpenter) can be done without power, it was for thousands of years, I'd be quite a bit slower but you'd soon adapt to it. I do as much as I can by hand anyway, as I tend to prefer it and it suits the type of work I do. 
One thing I would struggle to do without power is to keep my tools in top condition. Chisels I hone  on an oil stone but after a number of sharpens (or more usually - hitting a nail) you need to regrind the bevel. I won't get technical about sharpening here, there are many websites and book dedicated to the subject, but a grinder is essential for this. 
In times past they'd have big stone wheels powered by hand, feet or even water. This little bench grinder is somewhere between that and a modern electric one. It's geared, so spins much faster than you turn the wheel, clamps easily to a work bench and runs on one thing - you.
It needs a new wheel, a good clean up and an oiling but otherwise it's in good condition. 
I think it's good not to be 100% reliant on electric (the prepper part of me thinks like that) and this little grinder means that even if the power is out I can still sharpen my tools.
What other hand powered tools have people got that are normally electric powered? What else should I be looking out for?

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Strawberry Tree

As you know from previous posts I have somewhat of an obsession with unusual fruit and veg. Normally I have to plant a young tree or plant and wait years before I get to sample the fruits. 
 Luckily I have a friend in the village who lives on an old estate with lots of unusual, mature trees. One of these happens to be the strawberry tree. And when I went round on Thursday last week they had a fruit waiting for me to try. 
 The fruits themselves look gorgeous, exotic even. Like a red lychees dotted all over the tree, picked out against the sun. The tree is beautiful as well, having lovely flowers and white leaves in spring and a great structure to it. 
The tree is quite beautiful though.
And how does it taste?
One word.
I don't think I'll ever bother to try one again put it that way. 
Tasteless, but the skin leaves an almost bitter taste in your mouth. Maybe there is some value as a survive food, but at this time of year there is so much else to eat I can't see why you'd choose this.
Bland tasteless flesh and a horrible skin
It does make an attractive tree in the garden and the birds love eating the fruit so I can see why people plant them but I don't think it's going on my grow list any time soon. Good job I didn't have to wait ten years to find that out!
Anyone else ever had to wait years to try something they've been growing and then been really disappointed by it?

Monday 8 September 2014

Storage Barrels

We went to a car boot sale at the weekend and there was a guy selling these 30 litre barrels in good condition for £3 each or 4 for £10. I brought 8 which was as many as I could fit in the car. I've got his number so I might go and buy some more yet. 
They have the metal band lids that snap shut and are a food grade plastic (they've been used for shipping sweets from Barcelona apparently). They're really clean inside and out and perfect for hundreds of uses. 
I was thinking that this year I could brew my cider in them, make some elder flower wine in them next spring, store bulk quantities of sugar and salt in them, store water in them, corn and other animal feed in them (although they're not that big) - even store rat poison in one to stop the rats and mice getting in my poison bags. You can even make chicken spring feeders with this type of barrel as well, just add some legs and fit a spring feeder to a hole in the bottom. 
What other uses can you think of for them? How many do you think I should get?

Sunday 7 September 2014

Preserving Sweetcorn - Drying

The Freezer is full. I long to have our large chest freezer back but we have nowhere dry with power  to keep it, so I'm having to look at other methods of preserving any gluts we've got at the moment.
Trying with five corn on the cobs to start with
 The sweetcorn is tasting amazing at the moment, We all love the stuff but I planted far more than we need and I want to catch it while it's still sweet and not gone too starchy. Ideally freezing the whole cobs would probably be the tastiest way to preserve them, but like I said we've no space for that at the moment, so I decided to try drying them with our old polish food dryer.
Blanching them for 7-8 minutes to start with

All the corn is cut off the cob and spread out to dry on the trays

8 hours later the corns have all dried up

Sealed in a kilner jar for when we next want them, they should keep along time like this
The dried corns still taste super sweet when you have a chew on them, they should keep ages like this and five cobs worth takes up very little space. I'm not 100% sure what we'll use them for, I'm guessing we can rehydrate them and use them in stews and I did read that you can make really tasty fritters from them as well. 
Hopefully next year I'm going to grow popcorn as well as I fancy having some home grown snacks, although they'll have to be some distance from my sweetcorn so they don't cross pollinate. Does anyone else grow much sweetcorn and popcorn and how do you preserve it?

Friday 5 September 2014

Guerilla Veg

When we dug the footings for the greenhouse back in the spring we made a rather large tump of soil in the garden. 
 This has then grow a large selection weeds and plants over the summer. From nettles to nasturtiums, but it did also grow some self set veg.
 A rather large winter squash plant - I'm not sure on the variety as it's not like any I've grown previously - but there are at least three massive squashes on a plant that takes up 6ft square!
 The other thing was self set potatoes. So when I went to cook tea tonight and realised that we had no tatties to go with our omelet, I decided we go and dig them all up, I don't currently bother growing main crop potatoes as they're pretty cheap straight from the farm and I can grow high value crops in their place. 
Not a massive haul but they were all good sized and involved literately no effort in growing them! Tasted very good covered in rosemary and garlic! 
Anyone else found any self set veg on their garden this year?

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Fig Jam

A glut of figs isn't something I've had to deal with before, but luckily we've got some friends in the village who have three huge fig bushes in front of their house and they don't really like figs!
 I picked a good sized bag full and then set about making some jam. I never bother looking at a recipe, just weigh the fruit once it's been topped and tailed and then add the same quantity of sugar (2 1/2lb of each). I did add a large cooking apple to give the mixture a bit of extra pectin to help it set and make it go a little further.

A Rev Wilks apple - a good early cooker
The finished bottles
It reached setting point pretty quick and wasn't a difficult jam to make. I have only tried a bit of it so far but its got a lovely subtle taste to it. It made five jars but it still helps keep our jam stocks up! 
Anyone else made jam with something that wasn't run-of-the-mill lately?
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