Thursday, 15 October 2009

Halfway there and a bit of a moan.

I spent much of my long weekend tidying up the garden, I think I am about halfway there. I Managed to do most of the things I needed to do in the veg patch. I cleared the debris off the rhubarb, dug over the empty beds and planted out spring cabbage and broad beans. This part of the year is a real time of change, it is sad to look at the forlorn leaves of the courgette plants knowing all that is left for them is the short trip to the compost heap. I felt the same as I cut down the remnants of the runner beans. However looking around the patch I still have Parsnips, Celeriac, and Jerusalem Artichokes to harvest and my leeks are coming on nicely.

One of the other jobs that I wanted to do was a bit of bulb planting. I had decided to plant bulbs under the lawn in hope over time they will naturalise. I planted a couple of hundred crocus and about 120 Tete a tete daffodils, I love these miniature daffs and I feel when I am planting them that is like placing unexploded fireworks in the soil, waiting for spring to ignite the fuse.
I have also planted loads of hyacinths along the edge of the path and in the verge outside the house, I am looking forward the scent from them.

We had a very disappointing turnout for our In Bloom' workday on the village flowerbeds, only three of us turned up. I spent 2 hours getting one of the old dogwoods out and broke my favourite spade in the process, I was not happy. But as one of the team said if people don't turn up they loose their right to complain about what we are doing.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A long weekend of gardening

This is the view from the window of my home office this morning, it's a beautiful autumnal day out there, it's just sad I am stuck in front of my work PC. I have therefore decided to take tomorrow and Monday off to garden. I have a lot of leave that needs using up and I can't think a better use for it than a bit of digging. The garden hasn't been getting the attention it deserved over the last few weeks, what with weekends away, visitors, and the mini drought in the East of England making our clay soil like concrete.
I need to get some winter veg in soon as well as some winter salad crops. I also need to replant our blueberries as the hens have dug them out of the planters ( big flowerpot = luxury chicken dust bath). The lawn needs cutting, the flower beds need tidying as does the greenhouse, our boundary hedge also needs a good haircut but at the moment it is still supplying a great crop of blackberries, so I might leave that a few more weeks. I also have a load of bulbs that need planting and will probably go down to the Monday market in St Ives to get some more. I must also start taking pelagonium cuttings before we get a frost and loose them all.

On Saturday I am leading a working party to sort out some communal flowerbeds and begin work on a wild flower meadow on a strip of land at the entrance to the village. This will involve amongst other tasks digging out 3 mature dogwoods, which ought to be fun! This is the first of our projects for the new look 'In Bloom' group, we are planning to relaunch it in the near future to something with a more enviromental based name to get away from the corporate planter/hanging basket image.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Walnut harvest and Monty Don's new book

The Walnut harvest is in full flow. every time I go into the garden I fill my pockets with the latest windfalls. Many them crack when they hit the concrete under the tree. The header picture for the blog was taken from under the tree so you get an idea of its location in he garden. These broken one are either eaten by me as I pick them up, fed to the chickens or to Boris who takes delight in crunching them open. The squirrels have also found them but unlike last year they have left it late. the result is that they are making more ripe nuts fall out of the tree than they are eating.

The rest of them I bring indoors to dry. I am going to have to start giving them away as we have far to many for even me to eat.

A nice surprise yesterday, a copy of Monty Don's new book The Ivington Diaries arrived in the post, I had pre-ordered it from Amazon and it was only published on Monday. I have already read all the way up to March. The book is a collection of extracts from his diary from when the move to Ivington. I enjoy Monty's writing, I recently read 'The Jewel Garden' in which he deals with the periods of depression that he suffers from, this struck a note with me as it is something that afflicts me. I am of course extremely jealous of Monty's garden, I wish I had a plot that required 20 tons of Mushroom compost a year as a mulch! His writing style makes you feel you not only know his garden but also feel as if you are a friend he is talking too.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Did you see the sky last night?

The sky last night was fantastic, when I took Boris out to the garden at about 11.30 the moon was backlighting the clouds. I tried to grab a photo but I couldn't really capture it very well.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Breadmaking, a follow up

It's funny how when you mention food on a blog you get lots of comments! So I thought I would expand on my bread making a bit today.

I am really enjoying the bread making, when Sharron was away in the USA I decided that from now on I would bake all our bread, partly as a way of de-stressing (kneading is a good workout) and also because it tastes better. I am not only baking loaves but also things like Pizza's, Roti and Naan. I also used some of the butter I made and eggs from our hens to make some fantastic shortbread biscuits, which went down really well at Sharron's office.

I thought I would show you some of the stages in my breadmaking and just how easy it is.

I use locally grown and milled organic flours in all the bread I bake.

This is important to me as it means not only no additives, pesticides etc, but also less food miles.

I have been using as my main reference Bread by Daniel Stevens which is No3 in the River Cottage Handbooks, this is one of the best cookery books I have read and the recipes work. One of the things I have learnt from it was to make a sourdough starter, this is a culture made from wild yeast that you keep growing and use in just about all yeast breads to get them going.

I am preparing all my breads by hand as I think this gives a much better result than a bread maker. The most important thing is to knead well and to let the bread rise well.

I place my dough in a proving basket (a split cane basket) for this stage as it lets the dough breathe better than a bowl.

Once it has risen and been 'knocked back' or gently kneaded a couple of times it is ready for it's final proving before baking. I allow it to double in size before transferring it to a baking sheet or a pizza 'peel'. I then shape it, cut the top to allow it to expand, brush or spray it with water and dust it with rye flour to give it that rustic look.

To bake it I use a pizza stone in the oven which I place above a tray of water as the steam helps keep it moist. The oven is turned up to full heat (about 250c, 450 f, gas 9-10) for the fist 10 mins then turned down to 200 -170 c for about 45-50 mins.

Allow it to cool, slice and serve with homemade butter and marmalade.


Thursday, 1 October 2009

Autumn, Walnuts and Homemade Bread and Butter

Well it's the 1st of October and autumn is really here. All the fields around here have been harvested and most of them have now been ploughed.

Every morning as I drive Sharron to the station the leaves are taking on a new hue. The long dry spell that we have had here in the East of the country should result in a fantastic display of colour.

I got excited last night as I felt a few spots of rain but it has came to nothing. the soil in the veg patch is like concrete. The forecast hints that we might get some rain by the weekend, but I won't hold my breath.

One of the best things about this time of year is the walnut harvest, as you can see it has started well. regular readers will remember I only got to eat one walnut last year due to a squirrel problem, this year the tree is laden with them (nuts not squirrels) everytime I go into the garden i pick up a pocket full.

Also in the picture is my homemade Sourdough bread and my homemade butter. I am really into baking at the moment, and am producing all our bread now. I had never made butter before, I was actually extracting buttermilk from some cream to use in some soda bread and it was a by product, it tastes fantastic.

If you want to try making butter, put some double cream in a mixer and churn it using a paddle, it will thicken into whipped cream but keep going. You will start to see yellow streaks appear, then suddenly as if by magic it will separate into butter and buttermilk. Scoop out the butter and wash it to get rid of any residual buttermilk and spread it on your toast, wonderful.