Cider making and Gardening

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Wow! Just wow

Today I’ll be bottling up my first batch of the season.  About 5 gallons worth of the most glorious golden scrumpy.  It tastes tart, appley and delicious.  When there’s a bit of a fizz in the bottle from the sugar lumps I’ll be adding (brewers glucose in lump form) the golden nectar will transform into an absolute classic.  Can’t wait!

2013 looks like being a great cider year

We had loads to apples to press this year.  My garden shredder was no long up to the task (what with going rusty and being so badly cared for) so I invested in one of these from ebay.  Wow did it save a lot of time and because it mushed the apples up so much it increased our production massively.  We made about 12 gallons, but could have made even more if we’d been able to pick all of the apples from our trees (it got very windy in September).   I racked off recently and now we’re about a week away from bottling up.  I also bought some Coopers sugar pills to make the secondary ferment a little more consistent.  If you want a good range of equipment both Amazon and eBay seemed to have picked up the home brewing bug big style and both now stock (through their market sellers) a whole load of great supplies and equipment.

Saving the Bees – becoming a gardener

Articles like this make me despair.  They really do.  It makes me despair because it is here the scientific method starts to fall down.  The government is not supportive of a ban on Nicotinoid systemic pesticides because the case in unproven that these chemicals are killing the bees.  So it wont ban the chemicals for gardeners.  Now here I’m going to get a little one-sided.  If you as a gardener need to spray anything, absolutely anything in your garden with systemic pesticides then You ARE NOT a gardener.  Categorically, undeniably NOT a gardener.  You have no right, permission or privilege to call yourself one.  Let’s look at that word systemic for a second.  These are poisons that find their way into the plant itself.  They don’t get sprayed on the leaves to be washed off.  They stay in the very blood (sap) of the plant.  Washing your salad won’t work, a quick splash under the tap wont cut it.  You are making your plants into poison factories for every critter that uses it for good or all. Sap, pollen, leaves and roots.  Dripping with poison.  So if that’s what you need to do to make your garden grow then quite frankly you’re doing it wrong.

How strong is the case for banning these poisons once and for all?  Well when the bees go, we’re done for.  Really; I mean it.  Done for.  No pollination for fruit or veg for so many of our crops.  The very foundations of our food chain ripped out by self interest and blind profit. Personally even if we’re still not sure I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.  It reminds me of the old smoking days when people were still not convinced of the causality between smoking and lung cancer.  Causality is such a tricky concept for many people (including scientists) to get their head around it leaves enough wriggle room for many people’s opinions.

So what should you do?  Well first of all do everything in your power to learn to grow plants in your garden that don’t need to be converted into chemical weapons to survive the onslaught of insects we have in the UK.  Get yourself a good book on organic gardening and read it.  Reflect on what it means to be a gardener as opposed to spending time in the garden spraying chemicals with abandon or planting seeds coated in poison.

Getting stuff done

My Passiflora Icarnata have been top dressed, as has the schizandra chinensis.  I’ve now got two of these elusive vines in cultivation.  They make runners very freely so if you are having trouble growing them from seed then see if you can find someone who has a well growing vine – there should be plenty of plants in there.  The potatoes are finally bedded in with plenty of food and my melons, chillies and tomatoes are all growing well.  All in all a pretty productive month so far.  BTW if you have blueberries in pots make sure to absolutely soak them with rainwater right now.  They get very very thirsty at this time of year.


So I treated myself to a smoker.  A cabinet with an electric element that heats a bowl of wood chips or wood dust.  You can cold smoke food with it or more easily hot smoke food.  There are plenty of websites going into the ins and outs of smoking food but as it is not as straightforward as it seems I started on something safe like Salmon, just to get the hang of how it works.  Suffice to say that after I had experimented on some hapless Mackerel to get the process right my pecan smoked side of salmon was absolutely gorgeous.  I bought a side of salmon from Asda, cut it down the middle lengthways to get two pieces and then brined these pieces for over an hour to draw out the moisture.  You can flavour your brine with whatever takes your fancy.  Start simple and then experiment.  YOu also need to dry the fish out after you have brined them.  They need to be bone dry and crusted with what is known as a pellicle to get the best effect.  Anyhow, cook em in the smoker between 60 and 90 degrees centigrade for between and hour and 90 minutes depending on the size of the meat and the heat.  It is real trial and error and gut feel but you’ll get the hang of how long should be needed.  You’ll love the results.

Why I’m growing loads of beetroot this year

We all love beetroot in our house.  Well at least the adults do.  We eat it in salads, roasted with the sunday lunch and grated into Coleslaw.  Most of all though we juice it.  I would certainly attest that it makes me feel so much better and I drink it before I work out and also in the mornings as part of my breakfast.  Such a simple food that we’ve eaten for years in this country.  This article from the BBC just goes to show that the next wonder food is not always the one found on the side of a himalayan mountain or in some jungle in South America.  Get those seeds in now.  Rich soil and plenty of manure will make leaves but it will also help make lovely big juicy roots.  PLenty of water as well – they dont like it dry in my experience. But don’t flood them

So Spring is finally here

April just arrived out of the frost and starting blessing the garden with sunshine.  Rush rush rush to get everything out of the deep freeze and winter and into a state to start growing.  Tidied up the compost heap, sorted out the greenhouse and filled a few rows with some salads and roots.  I’ve finally got some peppers and tomatoes on the go.  I really hope that we’ll have caught up nice and soon so everything can get back to normal.  In fact the extended dormancy combined with (fingers crossed) no more frosty nights and we could be in for a fantastic growing season.  Here’s hoping.

Rain, rain go away… no wait come back!

This summer has been sodden so far.  What started as a drought after a dry winter has become a lush weed fest.  Its fascinating to see that in a dry summer you get completely different weeds from a wet one.  Seeded poppies are sprouting where there were none before.  You have to admire the opportunism of weeds who bide their time for the conditions to be just right.  In a dry summer we get a lot of deep tap rooted weeds like dandelions that can take advantage of the lack of competition from more drought prone weeds.  The damp crumbly soil does make weeding easy and if you can get the weeds out before they form seeds you can soon make a nice rich pile of compost heat accelerant that twins very nicely with the chicken poo and straw from the chicken house.

Likewise the vegetable patch has its winners and losers.  My potatoes, kale, broccoli and leaf crops are all having a whale of a time.  I cant wait to dig up the rest of the potatoes; the ones I’ve already pulled up look fantastic.  My soft fruit are doing really well (raspberries, loganberries etc) as well as the apples but the plums and apricots are just empty.  The warm early spring made them blossom so soon there were no bees to pollinate.  No bees = no fruit.  That greengage jam will just have to wait til next year.

The motto or lesson here is that if you have a diverse plot there will always be something that will take advantage of the prevailing conditions.  You can make either work in your favour.

A very big thank you!…

To all the newts, frogs, hedgehogs and other creatures that keep my lovely lettuce patch so bug free.  It has been the wettest summer in some time and articles like this just show that without our invisible support it would make organic vegetable growing (especially of the delicious salad munching type) nigh on impossible.  Come later in the year when the slugs have grown in number I have to wash unwelcome meal additions out with the addition of vinegar into the water i wash my salad in.  In the meantime our salad harvest is fantastic.  Cheap labour paid in slugs; you can’t beat it.

Well they had a good innigs

Our chickens were killed by a fox a few days ago.  Not really pets but certainly much loved for their funny winsome ways.  We’d had them for three years and they were just slowing down the egg laying production and my wife and I were just starting to discuss what to do about the drop in production.  Well the dicsussions were cut abrubtly short on monday when a fox got in the run and slaughtered each and everyone of them.  We had taken to letting them run free in a part of the garden to get some space, grasss and just to scratch around.  Well our kindness killed them ultimately.   I can’t begin to say how much I hate foxes; urban or otherwise.  They should not be living in the town.  They should not be predating on suburban chickens.  Above all  dimwittedd suburbanites should not be feeding them.  They are vermin in the same way that rats are.  Nothing we do should intentionally be promoting their reproduction.  I would shoot them if I could.