Friday, 15 July 2011

Summer and the changing of the season

Okay, finally, a review of the shredder we got from Aldi last year.

This has been, without a shadow of a doubt, the BEST piece of garden equipment we have ever bought. We have tamed several massive hornbeams, by chopping them down to a manageable size, shredding all the twigs and branches (except for the very thickest, and the trunks) and fitted all the shreddings into our garden waste bin with ease. We are also in the process of taming the front garden, and again, the shreddings will be easily disposed of in the garden waste bin.

We haven't used a shredder other than our own, so don't know how it compares with other brands, but for our needs this one is fine; it is easy to use, the safety features are robust, and the chopped material is small enough to dispose of easily.

The operation of the shredder is a lot quieter than I was expecting it to be, so that was a pleasant surprise.

We have successfully shredded old/dry branches, and freshly cut green sappy ones, and the machine copes well with both, and also copes well with some surprisingly thick branches, thicker than I expected.

Overall, a big thumbs up from us.


The garden is in full swing with summer. Hubby has made me several more raised beds, and the plants are growing very well indeed. We have already eaten Salad Leaves, Kale, Runner Beans, Broad Beans, Strawberries, Peas, Carrots; and we have Beets, Onions, Shallots, Courgettes, French Beans, 3 varieties of Tomato, 2 varieties of Chilli, Cucumbers, 2 varieties of Potato, several varieties of Garlic, Kohl Rabi and Cabbages growing.

The raised beds were made from decking boards. For each bed we used two of the 2-and-a-bit metre ones from Wickes, and hubby cut a metre off one end of each board to make two long and two short pieces. He fastened the ends together simply, with battens and screws. We put cardboard down on the grass as a weed suppressant, then the decking board frame on top - cardboard will eventually rot down. Then we filled the frame with compost and watered it to settle it in, and bobs yer uncle. We could plant in them straight away but we tend to wait for a few days to allow the compost to settle down. I have a new one, built this week, ready for some winter veg sowing, not sure what yet, cabbages maybe.


Bad news about the allotment - we have given it up. Reasons below.

We were given the allotment earlier this year, but it wasn't what I would call a 'proper' allotment, it was simply a small area of land next to some houses in a village nearby, traditionally used only by the villagers. Our local borough council took over the management of the site earlier in the year, which is why we (as non-villagers) were offered a plot. We were delighted!

However, we soon found out that the site was just land, that's it, and didn't have any basic allotment facilities like a water supply(!) but we were so buoyed with the idea of actually having an allotment that we assumed that we'd 'manage somehow'. But the exceptionally dry spring we've had, combined with the dense clay soil on site, has meant that we were unable to plant what we wanted to, so we became utterly disheartened. It had become a millstone rather than a joy, it seemed that all we were doing every visit was weeding weeding weeding, and then we were not able to plant any vegetables, because the soil was so dry and unmanageable.

So we reluctantly decided to give it up. We went and collected our few bits and bobs, and I emailed the council to let them know we'd vacated the plot. They acknowledged, so we are now allotment-less.

We are still on our local parish council allotment waiting list, as they have two properly run sites with water, security, parking, and other facilities. And although the plots are smaller in our local parish, a smaller plot would be easier for us to manage. The waiting list is long, but we don't mind waiting for a decent plot. In the meantime, we will grow as much as we can in our small back garden.

We have been watering our garden most nights - so imagine how difficult (not to mention expensive) that would have been for an allotment that is a 10 minute drive away, transporting water there, and going home to fill up again... We had such big plans for the allotment, and are deeply disappointed that we were unable to continue with it. But we have made the right decision for us.


Last autumn I made a whole heap of pickles jams and chutneys, I was on a very steep learning curve as I hadn't made preserves before. They have mostly been successful, some more than others, but my major lesson learned is not to use waxed discs on jams, as they went mouldy - fine on chutneys, but not jams. I will make more preserves this year, beetroot and orange chutney was great, green tomato chutney bit lacking in flavour, pickled beetroot was FAB. Jams and jellies were also FAB.

Most of the produce I used in the preserves was grown by us, or foraged, or given to us for free. We are planning on going foraging again soon, the damsons should be more or less ready. I'll have a try of some other recipes, maybe a damson chutney as well as a jam or two, depending on how much fruit we get. I want to make more bramble jelly too as that was simply divine. We never strip the trees, but always try to leave plenty for other people, or the birds.

I use recipes found in books or on the internet, except for redcurrant and crab apple jelly, I made that one up myself because of the ingredients I had... here it is... old fashioned measurements only...

Redcurrant & Crab Apple Jelly
8oz redcurrants
8oz crab apples
2lb cooking apples, peeled and cored
splash lemon juice
white sugar (quantity depends on volume of juice)

Make sure that all equipment used is as clean as possible, and all jars are properly sterilised, and the jelly bag is scalded before use.

Put all fruit in a big pan, with the lemon juice and enough water to just cover the base of the cooking apples, about 2 pints give or take. Cook until pulpy and all fruit has collapsed.

Strain pulp through jelly bag for several hours, overnight if poss.

Measure liquid, and add 1lb sugar for each pint liquid - I had 2 and 1/4 pints so added 2 1/4 lbs of sugar. Cook in a large pan on a rolling boil until jam temp (104 degrees on my thermometer) reached. Test on a saucer, if it sets quickly/strongly it's done.

Turn off heat, and add a knob of butter to the mix, this should reduce the froth. Remove as much scum/froth as you can. Pot up into warmed sterilised jars, quickly as it sets quickly due to the crab apples having a lot of pectin. I got 4x12 oz jars full.


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