Sunday, 28 August 2016

Seeking Inspiration

Seeking Inspiration

Once in a while I like to take on a project and last time I got inspired by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall's a Cook on the Wild Side, and specifically an episode about a Coracle boat, so I built one. That led to being inspired to build a canoe after watching a programme with Ray Mears about building a Birch Bark Canoe.

When building something I never do it the same as someone else so things get done my way, with the design evolving out of my head as I go along.

This time I'm trying to inspire myself by building another canoe only this time based upon my canvas Coracle but having the shape of a canoe. A canvas covered canoe. Nothing new, it's been done before, but not by me, and I'll be making it up as I go along. All based upon pictures of what other people have done plus by reviewing my own creations to give me the confidence to just have a go.

Last time, in 2012, I built a Coracle just to see if I could and to see if I had what it takes to start a project and finish it. Once I had proved to my self that I could do it I then moved on to the canoe. I get a lot of enjoyment out of reviewing photos as it brings back all the memories needed to motivate me. Before building the Coracle I had never made anything out of wood / material before. 

The Coracle started life as one piece of 3 or 4 mm Plywood. Cheap internal grade stuff just cut into strips and woven together to form a basket. The pieces needed to be steamed in order to bend them carefully into shape. The steamer was nothing more than one you may have seen for steam cleaning your kitchen, hand held with a nozzle that pumped out steam.

Before long it started to look like a basket. A simple seat was added.
Glued together, varnished to make it a bit more able to handle water.
Wrapped in canvas.
Painted with Bitchumen paint.
A long paddle was made and then it was tested. Very difficult to drive in a straight line but mission accomplished!

Next the canoe. A bit more adventurous, all made from 5 planks of wood sawn into strips and glued together with the basic shape made by bending the wood around "formers".
I forget how many strips where glued together but 70 or 80. The boat is made upside down at this stage.
The bottom was built up.
Heavily Varnished to make it waterproof.
The Varnish gave it a nice golden colour. 14 foot long with a front and rear deck with a little door inserted so that I could attach an electric motor should I desire.
A few more photos because I think it looks good.
My attempt at an arty shot :)
And of course the maiden voyage! It worked perfectly but the main problem was the weight. Although I could lift it above my head in order to put it on and off of the car it was 96 lb in weight and age is catching up with me hence the need to make another one but much lighter. A canvas covered one that should be half the weight.
As much as I liked it, storing it was a problem and living out doors it started to buckle so I gave it away to a friend who still uses it but has a barn to keep it in.

The canvas one will have to be a bit shorter, maybe 12ft long, without decks.

The thing that has stopped me from making a canvas canoe has been the price of water proofing the canvas with the proper stuff, the name of which escapes me, and Bitchumen paint gets sticky and black doesn't look good, but recently I've read about someone who uses exterior grade green paint to seal the canvas with which sounds like a far better alternative.

The wooden canoe took about 300 hours, many beers, but was under £120. A canvas canoe will hopefully be around the same price.

I think I've inspired myself enough now to make a start!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Large odd tomato

Large odd tomato

I've watched a large tomato ripen and unfortunately my labelling isn't up to much and the plants labels faded in the sun and I can't remember what they are, but this one has grown so much more than anything else. The fruit has grown around the truss and only one other fruit got pollinated on that same truss. The photo shows the large tomato, which has 3 lobes to it, next to (left) the other one of normal size for the plant. To the right is a large Gardener's Delight tomato for comparison.

356g for one tomato!

Admittedly the 356g includes a bit of stalk which the tomato has grown around but none the less it's huge, deformed and there's a bit of scab on it. It wasn't a beef stake type tomato.

The photo doesn't actually do the size or weight of this thing justice and the Gardener's Delight tomato on the right is a large tomato.

I don't know if 3 tomatoes fused together when they were young or whether it is just a freak single one but it's impressive either way!

It stands 8 cm tall and is 10 cm wide and although it may look like 3 stuck together you can trace a single skin all the way around, which makes it physically one tomato. You can see that the right hand side is definitely one piece and the left is joined to the right at the back.

How big and heavy can tomatoes get! The Gardener's Delight on the right is 28g.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Runner bean & fruit chutney

Runner bean & fruit chutney

With the colossal amount of Runner Beans this year we're having to find ways of dealing with them. Some we sell on the market stall, some we eat, some we will no doubt freeze but that still leaves an awful lot of beans to deal with. 

We made a dozen jars, of varying size, of Runner Bean Pickle last week. It was OK but the final texture was wrong. A bit runny, perfectly OK but rather too thin on the liquid side so this week I was determined to do better. Although the pickle was nice, and I sold a couple of jars, I wanted to liven it up a bit with some fruit.

I wanted to add raisins, but during today I had to stake some apple trees to support their branches and it became clear that some apples had to come off. They are sweet and juicy and although they are supposed to be ready in September the one I ate was perfect. This gave me another problem of what to do with them...some of them have gone into the Chutney. There was also the last few sticks of Rhubarb left in the fridge, they've gone a bit soft, and now added to the mix.

The Chutney started life as a standard Runner bean pickle / chutney recipe, the same as Judy's, but has now become Runner Bean and Fruit Chutney, although I'm torn between calling it Chutney or Sweet Pickle.

As you can see, I prefer chunky pieces rather than small and I'm rather chuffed with the texture. The Apple, Onions and Beans still have a little crunch to them and the sauce, although runny, is more of a thick gloop (technical term). It's perfect edible now without maturing and no doubt it'll improve with a few months under it's belt.

The five jars the recipe said that it would make has turned into 7 jars, 2 big, 2 small and 3 standard 1 lb jars.

I added 2 sticks of de-stringed Rhubarb, 4oz of Raisins and 3 medium apples. I never stick perfectly to a recipe and instead of 1.5 pints of Malt Vinegar I opted for White Wine Vinegar (only because I had it) which was left over from making the Runner bean pickle from last week. It's actually the juice I siphoned off of the runny batch so it already had Termeric in it as well as sugar. As for the Corn flour, Termeric and Mustard powder made into a paste, I doubled up on each because my recipe had this extra amount plus I was at the end of the Termeric jar so just tipped the rest in. 

What I have learnt from doing several Pickles and Chutneys now is that Onion, Vinegar and Sugar combined is such a powerful flavour that you can just guess the amounts and vary it enormously before you'll notice a difference. I think they are best added gradually as it all cooks and just keep tasting it and applying more to get the texture right.

There's the odd air pocket despite poking them with a needle type thing.

The size of the chunks can be seen compared to the tea spoon and the more I look at it the more I want a curry....

I still have 3kg of beans left in the fridge and what I am guessing will be another 10kg plus on the plants by the time they finish. So, more pickle or chutney variations are required if I am to deal with the glut.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Cheap Poly Tunnel

Cheap Poly Tunnel

Last year we bought a cheap Poly Tunnel. Often cheap means rubbish but in this case, considering the size and what you can do with it, cheap means excellent value for money.

The tunnel we got from Ebay, new, starts at around £200, then as they sell them, goes down in price. We got it when it was about £130 including postage. But at present it has just gone under £100. For a 6m by 3m tunnel it is incredible how they can make, almost certainly ship across the world, pay import duties, make a profit by selling it and include the postage price. They have sold thousands.

It was easy to install, definitely within the day, with most of that time taken to dig a trench for it to sit in and then bolt together.

The draw back, but I don't know how much more expensive ones cope, is wind. It doesn't like wind, but in a sheltered spot is fine.

Ours started to flap a bit in high winds, but I meant to secure it and for got and it tore, so had to replace to cover but even a replacement cover came in at only £60 approx. Secured better, and with a few wooded posts placed inside to stop it moving it has been OK since. It'll be interesting to see what freezing temperatures and snow do to it over the winter but the manufactures say take it down for winter. If you did that it'd only take half an hour to pull the cover off and another hour to put back on but I want to leave it up. If it does get damaged in the winter I think another £60 investment would be worth doing each year if necessary.

It has probably been the best very cheap thing I've every bought, especially when you consider my friend spent £1500 on one. His is far more sturdy and a bit bigger, obviously much better but is it worth the extra £1300? His doesn't have windows to open to control the heat and is semi clear plastic making it get extremely hot on a blazing hot day where as this cheap one has green reinforcing plastic strips all the way through it which acts as a little bit of shading, so I think there are swings and round-a-bouts because his probably lets in more light but at the end of the day they both do the same thing, provide a large, warm area in which to grow.

As long as you can provide it with shelter and are prepared to replace the cover once in a while, maybe add the odd wooden post for more strength, then this very cheap tunnel is worth buying.

The posts in the photo on the front left and right of the tunnel, and in the centre are so I can put a wooden bar across to stop the large door from flapping in the wind. The trellising to the right is also a wind break, but also to hide it a bit and to section it off from the rest of the garden.
  So far, I'm very impressed with it!