Sunday, 26 July 2015

Worst time of the year

Worst time of the year

It's the time of the year within the garden that I don't like. Rain, warmth, end of many flowers, coming to the end of soft fruit, long grass going to seed and falling over and weeds doing their best. Things have built up to almost unmanageable proportions.

The rain stopped me from spending time outside, we've had a few days going to fĂȘtes and  vegetable shows plus we bought a Minibus which took another day out and I started a new part time job, losing me another day. A wet week with another few wet days to come has stopped me from harvesting seed from the parsnip, chard, spinach and beans and there is a manure heap that was delivered that needs moving. The long grass needs cutting and all this needs to be done this week because we are on holiday the following week, which brings another problem - watering the green house, so I need to get the automatic drip watering system set up and working as well. All this at a time we need get the camping equipment out of the sheds, dusted down and tested.

I don't know where the time is going to be found but it's going to be a very busy week and here I am wasting time writing about it rather than doing it!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Alford Country Market

Alford Country Market

The Local Country Market in Alford, Lincolnshire, is part of the nationwide Country Market Co-op.

The market is setup to allow home producers to sell their goods, from food to crafts. We have only recently started to sell some of our spare produce there but it is an excellent place to buy genuine home produced goods made by micro businesses and individuals. The stalls (tables) are arranged so that similar goods from multiple people are sold on the same table with a generic Country Market branding. There are no individual logos and the people operating each stall / table sell their own and other peoples produce without favour, there is no pushing your own produce over someone else's. A small commission is taken. 

We aren't going to become rich doing this as our own turn over, although increasing each week, is still counted in single or ten's of pound. £20 for the week would be maximum so far but it is only for one morning a week. The Country Market in Alford is just open from 9:30am to 12pm. A very informal and friendly bunch they are too.

The pictures just show the fruit and veg stall. These photos include produce from several home produces.  There is also a craft stall, a flower / plant stall and a cake and jam stall as well as a few tables and chairs for coffee and snacks to be bought and consumed.

Often a small selection of samples is available for people to try before buying.

The Market is located within the Church Hall next to the Church.

The market is an excellent place to obtain items that you can't buy anywhere else or that are hard to obtain, or items that have been produced with absolutely no chemicals. For example, fresh Broad Beans, Globe Artichokes, Dairy Free Cakes, Wooden Chopping Boards, Traditional Strawberry Jam.  

There is also the ability to ask one of the producers to bring in something specific. 

There is also no reason why you can't ask someone to grow a particular vegetable or fruit or even make a wooden item just for you, that you can't find anywhere else.

It is also a great way to support your local community or even to get advice on how  to grow or make something yourself. If you simply want to know exactly where your food comes from and know exactly how it was produced or are worried about what you are eating then the Country Market is the perfect place to source some of your food. Pricing is similar to main stores but the idea is not under cut other local producers.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Drying Strawberries

Drying Strawberries

We have dried strawberries before but this time, because we have so many, I am experimenting by having bigger slices, and trying to dry whole ones. Reading up on the subject it shouldn't be a problem and just takes longer to dry. 

Drying strawberries should be done around 135 and 140 degrees F. Depending on the size will take around 7 to 36 hrs with large whole ones taking the full time and thin slices taking considerably less. Any less temp and mould has time to grow, any more and they will harden too much....apparently.

The thin slices last time were very nice and the taste gets really concentrated. Super sweet, super tasty but a little like eating very tasty chewy cardboard. I'm hoping the larger slices will have a better texture for being thicker.

Obviously it's best to dehydrate fruit when the humidity of the air is quite low, ie, a dry day.

Two trays (so far) of small to medium size strawberries sliced into 3.
1/3 of a tray whole strawberries. I did end up filling this tray I thought I'd just test some but then read whole ones will be fine.
Ideally each tray should have exactly the same size pieces but realistically they start as different size strawberries and it's too much effort for me to select similar size one or change the size of each slice. I may have to pull some out before others and spend more time extracting them.

We have harvested over 17 kg of strawberries so far, some sold, many eaten, some frozen and some into jam so this is just another way of preserving.

As mentioned on Simon's blog, fruit leather is another thing to try, which I think I will try later today.


...and that was exactly what I did.

3.7kg of strawberries heated and mashed in a pan to pasteurize, added some brown sugar (most recipes call for it)  and then added some lemon juice. Both lemon and sugar added to taste and not measured. I don't know why you add sugar to such a sweet fruit, nor the lemon, but it did make the taste a little smoother and perhaps it also helps to bulk up the liquid which will dry leaving very little. Perhaps without the sugar too much would evaporate. Anyway, well find out soon enough.

3 baking trays filled with about 5mm depth (ish) with a plastic grease proof paper under the liquid were placed into the dehydrator. The liquid was forced through a sieve directly into the trays for the first 2 trays.

I thought that the liquid and some of the thicker liquid forced through the sieve last may not have mixed very well in the first two trays so I forced all the liquid pulp through into a container and then mixed it thoroughly before finally pouring into the tray. We'll see if the 3rd tray is better after drying.

I have no idea how long it will take and will have to check every few hours as one website says it takes 3 hours at 135 deg F but personally I can't see it drying that quick so will wait and see.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Mushrooms, Seedlings and Harvest

Mushrooms, Seedlings and Harvest

Today 1st July 2015 the mushroom spawn has started to grow. Only a tiny bit though. The temp is 21 deg C inside the box and it has had a mist spray of water most days. It reached 26 deg C outside so the box is cooling things down in the sun. I still need to take a temp reading at night and compare inside and outside box temperatures.

The Swede seedlings in the new bed germinated and started showing on the 27th of June, 7 days after being sown. Yesterday, 30th June the Dwarf French beans started to show along with the carrot, which is 13 days to germinate and show and today, 1st of July, the normal French Beans started to show along with the Leek, and Spring Onions which are 14 days since sown. Unfortunately the slugs have started to thin the Swede already, which is fine if they stop now :)

A mole has decided to pop up in this bed. Not too bad, but a little disappointing. Also I have placed the potato plant leaves around the end of the bed to slow down the slugs.

Harvesting has been frantic but is so much better this year and for once we are getting organised and picking in batches, freezing or processing as soon as the produce is there.

The gooseberry bushes are full and I have picked about a 3rd of them to see if they ripen off of the bush, just in case the birds got hungry but also with the intention of turning these into jam.

We are up to about 14 kg of strawberries. A few kg frozen, many kg eaten or sold and around 3 kg turned into jam.

Both pictures of strawberries are about 1.5 kg each which is roughly the amount we are picking each day at present.

The first batch of jam is more of a preserve, we kept the strawberries in big lumps with the second batch they were much more mushed up. The first batch I think will be something that will be put on ice cream rather than bread as it is rather over the top and luxurious. This batch also didn't set quite as well as the second batch which will suit ice cream.

There were about 12 jars of strawberry jam as well as 7 red currant. Plenty more jam still to be made.

 Slowly melting the sugar.
The Red Currant jelly from the other day. We deliberately left the frothy stuff on the top...waste not want not :)

Big pieces of Strawberries - that's how I like it! Some of the jars aren't up to selling standard - note the old label :)

The second batch of Strawberry jam is more traditional.

About 1kg of Gooseberries. Some red and some green. When fully ripened these are very sweet. Not bad even now when not quite ripe though :)

Destined for jam.
Stella Cherries. About half the crop. Very nice. These were sold on Alford Country Market.

Red Currants.

Pentland Javelin Potatoes - most of these were sold. Some eaten. They represent a tiny fraction of the whole crop.

The Globe Artichokes that we were selling end up as wonderful flowers. I'd never seen one before this one.

I was quite pleased with the garlic crop this year. Not as many as I now realise that I needed but they were a decent size. These fresh Garlic were on sale today at the Alford Country Market with a bigger one which sold for 50p. I have a couple of dozen of these plus a load of smaller ones and some still to harvest.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Calculating time spent in the garden

Calculating time spent in the garden

I don't note down how much time I spend working in the garden, but I do have a pedometer in my pocket all hours of the day. The pedometer shows how many steps I make each day / week and month along with the calories burnt, miles covered and hours physically moving my legs.

All year I have been trying to get my exercise levels up and maintained as high as possible, nothing strenuous, but being as active as possible. I walk where ever possible.

The end of this week will be 6 months of monitoring and I'm rather pleased with my levels of activity.

The graphs shows the number of steps per week, and the mean value along with the 4 week moving mean.

It shows that I do an average of 101,000 steps per week, or 14,500 steps per day (roughly 6 miles a day) and that I average 18 hours of exercise / walking per week. It works out to be about 2,200 miles per year!

From this I have tried to work out how much time I spend working in the garden. I've ignored the first 4 weeks, because I did very little in the garden and spent most of my time bush beating.

After removing the time for January I spent about 17 hours per week exercising. Of this 6 hours per week is walking the kids to school and back and another hour walking into town for shopping. That leaves 10 hours per week. I then take off Fridays from the equation because I am walking to work and then walking at the local Wildlife Trust. Fridays are about 3.5 hrs of exercise which leaves 6.5 hrs per week on average that I spend in the garden. I guess that time spent doing other things might be about 1.5 hrs per week, leaving 5 hrs.

This 5 hrs of exercising is just the time my legs move. It takes no account of me standing watering the garden, or kneeling while weeding and sowing etc. Some guess work and a little experimentation suggests that 30% of my work in the garden is moving and 70% is when my legs are static, so the hours spent can be trebled plus a bit. 16.5 hrs per week. Of this 16.5 hours a certain portion isn't working in the garden but walking around and enjoying. I guess that 25% of the time must be non work related, leaving 12.5 hrs per week in the garden actually working.

Obviously an average of 12.5 hrs means none some weeks in the winter and 20 hrs on odd weeks in the early summer. 

In order to get it any more accurate than this I'll need to write down the times, like a time sheet, which in all likelihood isn't going to happen :)

It's a very rough figure to work out how productive and time consuming the garden is and things don't quite add up because I haven't taking into account days off visiting people etc etc so this has to be an absolute maximum figure. In reality it has to be less than this but it's a good starting point. I just have to wonder where all the other hours go in my life !