Monday, 30 June 2014

Two Batches Of Elderflower Cordial

About two weeks ago I made my first ever batch of elderflower cordial. Once we tried it I set about making another batch a few days later - it tastes so good!
No Elder flowers on our plot this year so we had to go to a friends house and pinch some of theirs!
I picked a bag full of elderflower heads, grated three lemons and then left the whole lot to infuse over night by pouring 2 litres of boiling water over it.
The next day I added the juice of the lemons and added a table spoon of citric acid and a kilo of sugar, I then heated this up in the saucepan until it boiled before adding it to some Kilner bottles that had been sterilised (and warmed) in the oven.
I also made some ice lollies out of the mixture which should be nice and refreshing on a summers day.
 I've read that this will only keep a couple of months but I doubt there's much chance of it lasting that long. I'd like to try and pasteurise some cordials in the future so we could keep them a lot longer without freezing them and maybe reduce the number of the ones that we buy. I thought this might last longer than that due to the sugar content. If I see a Berco boiler at a car boot sale it might be worth me trying it, I think you need to heat it at 70 degrees for a few minutes to kill all the bugs. 
Blackcurrent cordial next I think! Anyone else been making cordials?

Friday, 27 June 2014

Building In Extra Storage

The other weekend I had a bit of a frenzy on putting in shelves and extra storage. After being at home in the week full time, I could really see where we were lacking storage and where it might make life a little easier.
More storage in the airing cupboard - somewhere to keep all the towels. They all come out easily if I need access to the tank..

Not the prettiest shelf above the fridge but it doubles the storage for all our Tupperware and tins

A shelf across a window that we never use. A better use of the space we think!

Shelve above the door. A shelf that only I can reach! (Man that wall needs some more paint)!

Tins and jar storage (the bottom shelf was added recently the others added when we moved in)
We don't live in the biggest house, but I like to think we're making the most of the space we have. When we build the extension hopefully we'll be able to incorporate some clever use of space and storage for essential things like food and linen.  
Anyone else been adding storage in random places lately?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Blue Sausage Fruit Tree

James Wong has got a lot to answer for in our house at the moment. After reading his book I've been doing my research to try and buy a few things from it, so we've got a few things to eat that aren't "run of the mill".
 The Blue Sausage Fruit or Dead Mans Fingers seemed to fit the bill perfectly. They have edible fruit in the autumn that looks like a blue broad bean pod filled with edible flesh. I found a small plant on eBay quite cheap and order it.
It came from Jurassic Plants and was really well packaged with good instructions and even some plant food for the first six months. If I'd ordered it straight from their web site I would have gotten a free tree as well but never mind - there's always next time!
I potted the plant on into a much bigger pot to give it room to grow, the tree isn't huge but buying it small like this saves me some money as I'll just grow it on until it's big enough to be planted in the ground and not need too much attention. 
Only time will tell whether this tree is worth growing or not but I'm intrigued to say the least. If the fruit isn't tasty it still has attractive foliage and might make a nice tree in the garden.
Anyone else got any interesting and usual fruits I can look at growing over here in our climate (we get quite heavy frosts in the winter)?

Monday, 23 June 2014

Cheap Outdoor Fun For Kids - Blackboards

With a tin of blackboard paint ordered off eBay and some ply offcuts left over from a few jobs, I decided to make some blackboards for the children to play with outside.
Playing with the blackboards
 I've been planning on doing this for some time but the other day I had a brainwave about doing a blackboard in the shape of a little girl. So on a sunny afternoon I set about making them.
Helping me draw the outline
Dead simple to make, just draw an outline on some 3/4" ply and cut it out with the jig saw.
Cutting the shape
  I then sanded off any rough edges and gave both sides two coats of blackboard paint.
Applying the paint

She seems to love it!
 I made three blackboards, one large square one and the little girl one for my girls to play with and a small square one to have as a "to do" list in the garden (to be filled with jobs that will never get done!).
For an £8 tin of paint and some ply off cuts it's a cheap way to keep the children entertained and make sure they're enjoying our outside space even more.
Anyone else have any other ideas of cheap things to build children to play with outside?

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Temporary Cold Frame For Cuttings

On Thursday I had a bit of a frenzy on taking some cuttings. Trying to increase my stocks of rosemary, sage, bay, blueberries, goji berries and a few others for free. 
Quick fix cold frame
I've no idea if they will all work or if it's the right time for all of them, bay for one I'd imagine would be better in the autumn but it's worth a shot as I'm doing others and had everything set up.

A gritty sandy mix for the cuttings (I mixed up an ericaious one for the blueberries)
Rosemary cutting with the bottom leaves stripped away
Once I'd finished with the cuttings I needed somewhere to keep them. Most books say a plastic bag over the top or a cold frame out of direct sunlight. I decided that a cold frame would be better so I found a few sheets of old corrugated perspex saved from a job and set about building a temporary one on our north facing patio.

All the cuttings under my temporary, quick fix cold frame.
This turned out to be a little bit simple, even for me. I stacked the quarry tiles that I've got saved for when we build the porch and then added one of the sheets on the top and front weighted down with a few more tiles.
Temporary cold frame
Hopefully this should work well, it's easy for me to water them and as it's by the house I should be more inclined to keep an eye on them. One day I'll get round to building some proper cold frames, with brick sides and glass tops, but that's some way off yet!
What else should I be taking cuttings of at the moment? Anyone else built a temporary cold frame like this?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Lawn Problems

Although I love gardening, I've never enjoyed mowing the lawn. 
To be honest although we have a big garden here, it's not a job that's too bad because of the second hand ride on lawn mower that I brought a couple of years ago. Well when it works that is. this year it has given me an endless list of problems.
Stored in my shipping container to keep it nice and dry.
It's stored in my shipping container to keep it in the dry, which is awkward really as each time I want to use it I have to set up some ramps to get it in and out but it doesn't seem to appreciate this love and rewards me with breaking down at every opportunity. 
Here's a list of the problems so far this year:-

  • Slow puncture on the front left wheel - replaced the whole tyre as it couldn't be fixed.
  • Battery wouldn't hold charge - replaced the battery.
  • Pipe from the petrol pipe to the engine split, spilling petrol on the floor - replaced pipe (a bugger to fit as I had to take loads of the casing off, steering wheel and the fuel tank.
  • The mower blades seized up - oil and grease then "persuaded" to move with my hammer.
  • Slow puncture on the front right wheel has now appeared - Just live with this for now.
  • Shredded the belt that drives the blade whilst halfway through mowing the lawn - belt on order now!

When you've got young children like we have, a lawn is an essential thing to have as it gives them space to run around, enjoy the outside and be children. But the way my mower is performing I'm tempted to let it grow and cut it for hay! Maybe I should get the scythe out on it!
Anyone else have constant problems with machinery - no matter how big or small it is?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Canning Jars

I was a little rash on our trip to Dunelm on Sunday when I saw that they had 20% off all their kilner jars.
A good selection of jars and bottles
I love these jars at the best of times and already have quite a few, we use them to store pasta, rice, cous cous, different salts and other foods. But lately I've been seduced by Pinterest and many different blogs (mainly Americans ones) where I've seen pictures of pantries full of canned produce waiting to be eaten when fresh fruit and veg are scarce and I've been determined to have a go. 
I did have success with my pears in syrup last year, we've been eating them the last couple of weeks and they've been great, but I'd like to try proper canning so I need the right jars for the job. That's my excuse anyway and I think if I build my collection of these jars "little and often" then the cost won't come as such a shock.
How do others build their collection of jars for canning? I've seen pictures where they have litery hundred of them and to buy new it would cost a fortune. I've got loads of jam jars that everyone now saves for me, but  canning jars are a bit harder to come by.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

A Lovely Fathers Day

My third Fathers Day of me being the father this year.
We spent it in a fairly relaxed way. Phoned my dad first thing then a bit of gardening in the morning, cut short by rain, so we then decided to continue to sort the mess that is the spare room, to inch us closer to the girls having a room each and kicking Melissa out of ours! 
What could be better than being woken up by these two trouble makers?
 We took a trip to Dunelm in the afternoon to buy blackout blinds and a few other bits before coming back where I was overcome with the urge to put up shelves. We have shelves in every place we can think of to increase our storage as much as possible. It's hard work though as the girls go a little mental every time I start the drill up and cling to their mum as if their lives depend on it! It doesn't make me very popular I'm sure.
A great gift from my girls
And after I've finished writing this I'm going to settle down with my father day gift and bookmark all the weird and wonderful fruit and veg I want to grow in the future. I think owning this book might be dangerous for me! 
I hope everyone else had a good fathers day where ever they are.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Flowers On The Homestead

Before we moved to our property it had been rented out for thirty years, so perennial plants were lacking. There's plenty of trees but not many flowers. Some daffodils, two clumps of day lilies and a couple of hydrangeas was the sum total. 
 I haven't added loads yet as I've been concentrating on edible plants, but I have added lots of snowdrops and other bulbs and each year I plant lots of annual flowers in the veg garden for the bees and salads.
One perennial plant I did add was a rose bush that was growing at our old place. it was a present from my mum and it used to grow so fast and flower right through to the first frost. but when I moved here I had nowhere to plant it, so I shoved it in the chicken pen and forgot about it. 
The neglect I've shown it doesn't seem to have affected it much as it's got loads of huge beautiful flowers blooming at the moment, I'm not sure the chickens appreciate it though!
I plan to add some clematises this year to go on rest of the old tin sheds we've got here. But I think more flowering plants will have to wait a little bit while other things get established, as there is only so many things I can keep on top of.
Any other flowers that readers have that are thriving on their neglect?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Nettle Sting

How do you know your nettle soft fruit garden has got too many weeds?
When your arm looks like this after half an hours weeding! 
Think I need to wear a long sleeves shirt next time. I'm must be used to it though as it I could barely feel them stinging (hence why it happened so much) and just had a warm sensation in my arms afterwards.
Anyone else used to nettle stings?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Tying In Cordons

My Cordons (see here, here and here for how I planted them) are looking good this year. They've already put on quite a bit of growth and many have apples on so I'm quite please for their second year.
 They haven't taken much work to look after, so far, weeding around them takes a bit of time (I've been mulching with straw as well which helps) but you only have to prune them once, in the summer, and thin the fruit if they crop to heavy.
The other job is to tie them back in. I just use string to tie them in so that it rots away and doesn't strangle the trees as they grow. These means that I have to tie them back in to the bamboo canes every year. It doesn't take long, even with 27 trees, and gives me a good opportunity to make sure each tree is doing alright.
Anyone else have cordon fruit trees growing?

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Sowing Swedes

Or to Americans Rutabaga, which I think I almost prefer! 
There's not many things we can sow this late and get a good crop but I always sow my swedes in June to hopefully follow on from something else.
 The trouble with them is they come from that ultra high maintenance group - Brassicas. The footballers wives of the vegetable world. 
You can't do enough for them! They need plenty of well rotted manure, careful sowing away from pests, slug protection, netting from birds, netting from cabbage white butterfly, collars to stop the root fly, the list goes on. 
Cabbages and purple sprouting in the ground
Your winter plot looks pretty bare without brassicas though! And I do love the humble old swede. Mashed with butter on the side of your roast or mixed in with your stew after you've been working outside in the cold all day it takes some beating! The girls seem to love it as well so I'm planning on putting plenty in this year. 
Does everyone else have this love hate relationship with all the brassicas (not just swedes?)?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Chive Rust

A little gutted the other night as I discovered rust on my chives. This has come on suddenly and spread through the whole boarder of chives that surround my herb bed, the week of wet weather hasn't helped I guess. 
Rust spread through the whole patch


The chives are no more!
Evalyn loves picking the flowers when we're in the garden together and the bees go mad for them, but I've too many other alliums growing to risk leaving them in. I'm not looking forward to seeing her reaction when she sees they've all gone!
 I don't want it to spread to my garlic, onions, leeks and shallots so I pulled them all out and put them in my burning barrel. The chives are no more, it's a shame as they made a pretty boarder around the herbs and everyone said how nice they looked.
Anyone else have experience with rust on their chives or other alliums? Am I doomed to loose my onions as well due to them?

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Scythe Over Strimmer?

The road to self sufficiency is built on a slippery slope.
You start looking at everything a little differently after a while. And when trying to start my strimmer I thought there must be another way and took a step back. 
I don't do huge amounts of strimming here, but I do like to knock back the clumps of nettles and docks on the edges of the fields rather than using sprays if I can help it. to replace it I'd still have to buy a fairly professional machine if I was to get another one (one that would start and work every time), as it's far more than what the average person needs in their garden. That's more money than I can justify. What's the self sufficient alternative? 
A Scythe!
£10 - bargain?
Spurred on by both Sunnybrook Farm and Vera at Snippets From Labartere, who use a scythe frequently, I decided to give it a go. I got mum to look out for one at a flea market and she came back with this little beauty for £10.
Handles are completely adjustable to wherever you want them
It's an Elwell one so I know it's good quality (I've a few old axes of the same make and the steel is top notch and holds an edge great), its got fully adjustable handles and the blade has four settings depending on your height.
Elwell stamped on the blade, so its a good old make.
The blade has four slots for adjustment depending on your hight.
The blade needs a lot of work to get it back cutting well, but for the moment it knocks down a patch of nettles in the same time as a strimmer does. 
Patch of nettles before...

And after!
The only difference is I can do this at 10 o'clock at night and not upset the neighbours! It uses no fuel, oil or strimming wire, hasn't got an engine to start or keep running, I can wear my shorts and I don't need goggles or ear muffs. A lot going for it at the moment!
Although when I think about sharpening it I do keep thinking back to my geeky teenage years and the Terry Pratchett book Reaper Man - 
"thinking he might fight back against the New Death, Death (Bill Door) sharpens a scythe blade. First on a grindstone, then on an oilstone, then on a steel. It was too blunt. Miss Flitworth supplied, from her rag bag, satin, then silk, finest white silk, never worn (from her wedding dress). It was still blunt. Then it was sharpened on cobweb. Then on the breeze at dawn. Finally, on the light of the new day"
Anyone else secretly turning into a Luddite? Sometimes things designed to save us time cost us more in the long run.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Cocktail Kiwi

I promise this is the last part of my order from Suttons (you can see what else I ordered here and here)! 
I've wanted to grow a kiwi fruit for a long time but I've never had anywhere to grow it against and my mothers kiwi has never fruited (or even flowered) so that has put me off as well.
As usual a well packaged plant and a good size as well
 Then I read on the internet about the "cocktail" kiwi (or kiwi fruit "Issai"), from Siberia, hardy down to minus 35 and a mature plant can produce over 1000 fruits in a year, they're the size of grapes, with no fur and dry to make kiwi sweets. Sounds like my kind of plant! I just needed somewhere to plant it.
Our "beautiful" shed that we inherited when we brought the place. Although it does face south west...
 I kept thinking about where I could grow a climber like this but struggled to find somewhere that wasn't on my plans to be knocked down or moved. I then decided to stop thinking so long term, sometimes you can be thinking too far into the future and not utilise what you've got now. The old tin sheds in our front yard are going to come down at some point, but not before I've built the extension and a barn, so that means they're going to be about for at least five years and they're blinking ugly as you drive up to our house!
Hopefully the kiwi will soon fill this trellis
 I found some old trellis up the field at my dads and wired it to the shed, dug a good sized hole and filled it with soil and compost before planting the kiwi and training it up the timbers.
Already some little fruits on it.
Kiwis grow quite fast so hopefully it will begin to cover this old shed and produce some fruit in the meantime, there's already some little fruits on the plant. I've got a little more trellis for the other side as well, so there I'm going to plant a clematis for a bit of colour.
Anyone else keep thinking long term and not using what they've got now because of it?
Also anyone else grow kiwis and have much success? Any tips?
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