Tuesday, 26 March 2013

As you will have noticed I haven't been updating this blog recently.

I do have a new blog at:

http://willowsprints.blogspot.co.uk/

Please join me there


Gary


Friday, 1 April 2011

Experiments in Charcuterie pt 1

I was listening to the food programme on radio 4 a week or so back when they did a review of home curing and smoking. Now like a lot of people I thought this was some mystical art done by specialists, however this is not the case, it is in fact very easy. In the last couple of years I have been making all our bread, we produce our own eggs (well the hens do!) I have even made my own butter (something else that's so simple) so now it's time to make bacon.

The ingredients are just equal quantities of soft brown sugar and sea salt (not table salt) I used about 300 g's of each and a piece of belly pork


Massage the pork in the mix, working it into folds in the meat.


Once the mix has been well worked in place the meat in a container or a sealed bag.


You then place the container in the fridge. This is our beer fridge in the bar/studio in the garden so it is out of the way of Sharron who is vegetarian and doesn't like the idea of seeing my experiment every time see gets the milk out!

You now leave the meat in the fridge for about a week, but you have to massage it every day. I will post the next stage next week.

The other thing I want to try is smoking meat/fish so over the next week or so I will put together what I need to do this and share it with you.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Some colour at last.

After what has seemed a long cold winter the garden is at last coming to life. The Hellebores that I transplanted last year to a position at the base of our walnut are looking magnificent, it is worth living all year with their untidy foliage for the display of colour in the spring.

Another star of the spring garden are these violets. Again I have been transplanting them around the garden, these are around the base of a dogwood and remain hidden for most of the year. I have a few I have picked on the windowsill in my office just for the delicate scent.



Of course the champion of spring colour must be the daffs and narcisi, I have planted these all around the garden and left them to naturalise.

The glorious weather last weekend actually allowed us to have a lunch in the garden, and allowed me to cut the lawn for the second time this year. It feels like I am beginning to get on top of the garden at last, over the winter I have been stuck indoors knowing what needed to be done but unable to do it due to the frozen ground and the bad weather. The other nice thing this year is we haven't got any major events like big birthdays so we aren't planning any big garden parties. This means I can start to develop my planting etc without the pressure to get the garden ready for a target, such as a splash of colour in early July.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Wildlife Gardening Part 3 Bee Boxes, insects and other animals


It is important in a wildlife garden to provide areas for as much wildlife as possible. The easiest and most important are insects not only are they a major part of the biodiversity in the garden but also beneficial. In the UK Bees are under a lot of pressure from agricultural processes and insecticides so we should do as much as possible to help them.

My first Bee box is this one designed to provide a home for bumble bees.

It is full of nesting material and has a small entrance hole on the front. It needs to be placed near a food source such as early flowering plants.


My second Bee box is designed for leaf cutter bees, these use small sections of leaf to line tubes in which they lay their eggs. This box is really nice as it has clear plastic tubes which allow you to view the occupants.



You can see in these photo's the nests the bees made last year


I also have these two bee boxes for solitary bees, both are placed near good food sources such as lavender




Bees are not the only insect it is worth encouraging into the garden, this is a lacewing box although it may also be used by ladybirds. Both these insects are great in the garden as they feed on aphids


The other two boxes I have in the garden are for mammals. The first is this hedgehog box, which is placed in a quiet spot of the garden for minimal disturbance by the dogs. In the autumn in bury it in leaves to make it more welcoming to any hedgehog looking for an overwintering site.

The second mammal box is this Bat box on our walnut tree. This box has been in place for several years but although we get a lot of bats over the garden sadly it has not been used yet. This is not unusual as bats tend to reuse nesting sites annually so it is only when they are disturbed that they will seek new sites.



Finally if you are interested in Bees you must vist. www.pencilandleaf.blogspot.com where you will find some beautiful illustrations of bees.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Wildlife gardening Part2 Feeders

Probably the best way to attract wildlife into your garden is to provide a supply of food. You can of course do this by planting plants that are good food sources such as Sunflowers , Teasels etc, but these only supply food when they are in seed. In order to provide an all year supply you need to use feeders.

We use several different types containing different food types tailored to the different birds we get in the garden.

The first type is the general mixed seed feeder. We have a couple of these, the mix contains sunflower seeds, corn, maize and a mix of other seeds. It attracts a variety of birds, mainly Sparrows, Chaffinches, Blue tits, Great tits and Robins. Occasionally Starlings will have a go but generally they clear up dropped seeds with the help of Collard Doves, Pheasants, Dunnock and wood Pigeon.















The next feeder is the Peanut feeder, This is a good source of high energy food for birds such as tits which will feed from it during the breeding season while providing live food collected from the garden for their young.
















This is our newest feeder and contains Red Millet, this small seed is very popular with Tree Sparrows. A friend of ours in the Village has been feeding Red Millet for a couple of years and has attracted up to 50 birds into his garden at any one time which is really encouraging for a bird that is actually quite rare in the UK.

















The other specialised feeder we have is this Niger Seed (Thistle) feeder. This feeder is specifically for Goldfinches. A word of warning about Niger Feeders, firstly the seed is very expensive, secondly the birds will empty it in a day and thirdly it makes a huge mess, we have ours over concrete so the mess gets cleared by ground feeding birds, if you put it over soil you will get a crop of thistles. Having said all this it is my favourite feeder as we get up to 10 Goldfinches into the garden at a time and they are among the most beautiful of all British Birds.

















Finally a brief note about location. This mixed feeder is at the far end of the garden close to some of the nest boxes. This has a double purpose, first to attract birds to where the nest boxes are and then to provide any nesting birds with a handy food supply.
















It is also important to place feeders in positions that are predator free and near a source of water. The other important thing is place the feeder where you can see it, I can see all of ours from the window in my office where I keep a pair of Binoculars handy to help me de stress during the day.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Wildlife gardening part 1 Bird Nest boxes

While I am waiting for things to start growing I thought I would write a few pieces about wildlife gardening. I felt a good place to start would be with nest boxes for birds, i will deal with other animals later.

I have several nest boxes around the garden, the latest I have put up is the Little Owl Box. The little owl (Athene noctua) is the UK's smallest owl and we are lucky that they are present in the fields behind the house. Hopefully one will find this box which is at the bottom of the garden facing into the field, if not it will probably get used by a stock dove or a jackdaw.
















I also have these two multiple boxes, both are used by various tits, the second one is actually a sparrow terrace designed for house sparrows that like to nest in communities. I have re sited this box this year to a position closer to the ivy hedge around the garden which is where most of the sparrows roost. We also have a good population of the rarer tree sparrow (Passer montanus) in the village many of which roost in our garden, hopefully some of them may also use these boxes.






























The other two boxes I have are designed for Wrens or Robins. Again I have placed these close to their favoured areas in the garden. The first is close to the hedge which is very popular with Wrens, the second is on one of the posts of the chicken run next to some brambles and a climbing rose, both Robins and Wrens like this spot as it has cover and the chickens are constantly exposing insects as they root about.

































When placing boxes it is important that they are in an area that is relatively safe from predators such a cats and squirrels although in practice this is often virtually impossible. They also need to be in an area were they won't be disturbed, so find a quiet spot. The other thing I do at this time of year is put nesting material out for the birds, I use all the hair that I groom from our dog's and the cat. It is also important that there is an ample supply of food and water available, but I will deal with this in my next post.

Monday, 28 February 2011

I am back.


Hello everybody, I am back. Its been a few months since my last post on this blog and I am very sorry about that. There has been a lot that has happened over the time I have been away but not a lot of it has been in the garden. The most exciting thing was our trip to New Zealand and Australia all of which we recorded on a holiday blog which you can read at: Ashes tour 2010 we had a fantastic time downunder as you will see from the blog.

Anyway so what has been happening in the garden? Well after what was a very tough few months the first signs of spring are in the air but the winter has taken it's toll. As you can see the lawn has really suffered, a combination of snow, frost and two very large dogs has wrecked, what wasn't actually much of a lawn to start with!

I am sure it will recover over the next couple of months with the help of a couple of bags of grass seed and some hard work.

On the other hand the veg patch is looking good. I dug it all over in the autumn and the cold weather did a great job at breaking most of the lumps up. The whole area gets a liberal supply of organic chicken muck from our organic chickens so hopefully this year should be productive. As you can see the Shallots and Garlic are all in.

As are the broad bean and peas, previously I have started them off early in the greenhouse but as we were away and due to other commitments I totally forgot so I have gone for direct planting this year, hopefully they will do well.


We have already had two pickings of Rhubarb this year and am looking forward to a lot more.


And finally it is always a very welcome sight when we start to get a bit of colour back in the garden, for me it is the incentive that I need to get outside and do some work.