Sunday Seedling Sale

We did a seedling sale, to raise money for some straw bales for the rasied bed.

We had lots of spare plants that we sold to people who passed by our house. 

It took a long time but it was worth the effort, as now one of the raised beds is cozy under the straw.

We raised £10.75. People bought plants on their way to church and some neighbours and friends came round. 

We sold;

– winter thyme

-french sorrel

-rainbow chard

-chives

-tomatoes 

-flat leaf parsley

-chervil

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Egg Box Seed Starters

I spotted a tip on Facebook the other day, suggesting the use of old and empty egg boxes to start seeds in. The idea being that once the seedlings are large enough to plant out, each egg box section can be cut out and planted up and the cardboard sections act like coir pots, with the roots just growing right through them.

So, I gave it a go, with my own addition of some string to hang the box up in the window, to maximise available light and heat.

Stage 1: Gather materials

1. A old length of string
2. An egg box
3. A pair of scissors

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Stage 2: Make the planter

1. Cut the top off the egg box.
2. Cut a small hole in the peak(s) of the base of the box.
3. Feed the string through the hole (with a large knot on the other end, to stop it slipping through the hole).
4. Fill the egg recesses with potting compost, seed, and water.

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Stage 3: Hang in the window! Done!

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Too early to report on how well these work but I have a few now, with herbs, chillies and bell peppers starting in them, so I’ll update ASAP!🙂

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Nettle and Gorse Flower Ale

Nettle and Gorse Flower Ale

Ingredients:

1 carrier bag nettle tops
1 pint gorse flowers
Juice of 3 lemons
1 gallon water
15g Cream of Tartar
600g sugar
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 tsp yeast

Method:
Rinse foraged goodies well.
Boil nettle tops for 15 mins on a rolling boil.
Add gorse flowers and boil for a further 5 mins.
Strain must to remove vegetable matter.
Add sugar, honey & lemon juice to the must and return to the boil for a further 15 mins.
Remove from heat and cool to room/body temp.
Add yeast nutrient & active yeast. Mix well.
Cover pan with a cloth and leave for 48 hrs for yeast to get going.
Funnel into demijohn & fit airlock.
Leave in a dark, warm(ish) place until airlock bubbles slow down. Probably about 5 days.
Siphon into bottles, prime if you like or drink flat if not.

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General Update

I’ve been meaning to blog for ages, about various things. Rather than getting increasingly frustrated about the number of outstanding blogs building up, I thought a quick general update would be in order, to bring things up to date in the world of the badger’s kitchen garden and home brewing escapades.

The spuds love the weather more than I do…

So, it’s been nice weather for ducks. And for spuds, it would seem. After an initial panic that the weather was far too wet and cloudy for my seed potatoes to sprout, over the last couple of weeks; in line with drier and sunnier weather, my potato plants have surfaced, and are starting to thrive.

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I’ve now earthed up the plants (twice for some of the larger ones) and am mulching them with grass cuttings, in 2 inch stages, 2 weeks apart.

A week or so ago, I was digging emergency drainage and literally bailing out my garlic plants (right hand side at the back of the photo) but now they, to, are happy and thriving, as are my onions (left hand side).

My reuse projects are shaping up nicely…

I must make some time to get some more projects on the go, reusing waste to my benefit in the garden. I particularly want to get some water harvesting sorted, using old food grade barrels.

My two main, new for this year, reuse projects are my lolly jar salad planters:

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And my potatoes, growing in old car tyres:

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I’m really pleased with the progress of both. I’ve already blogged about how to make the salad planters. For the potatoes, I just filled the tyre with compost, planted 4 small seed potatoes in it (probably 2 too many!) and mulched with grass clippings. I lined the tyre with plastic and left enough of a skirt to add another tyre on top and also line that, once the plants grow over the top of the first tyre.

The planters are thriving. I cut the tops off the bottles once the leaf grew enough and have been regularly harvesting it since. Tilly has fresh rocket in her packed lunch nearly every day and we have had a couple of salad meals, using the rocket & baby leaf mix, along with garlic mustard, lemon balm, fennel, bitter cress & chives, all fresh from the garden.

The potatoes in tyres are now growing well. Slower than those in the ground, interestingly, and one has been completely eaten by something (not a problem, as I had planted too many anyway).

If it grows, ferment it!

I’ve been meaning to make some nettle beer ever since last Autumn, when I was introduced to it by my brother in law. Having borrowed some brewing equipment from a friend, I finally got round to making some dandelion wine a couple of months ago and that sparked off a new interest (nay, obsession!) with home brewing.

Since this time, I’ve made 1 gallon batches of ginger beer, fiery ginger beer (with chilli), nettle & ginger beer, lemon hooch & sloe wine, with plans to make a 5 gallon batch of nettle & ginger (in a pressure barrel), 1 gallon gorse wine, 1 gallon tea wine, 5 gallons elderflower champagne & some elderflower cordial and non-alcoholic ginger beer (both with the kids in mind).

I’m sure I will be blogging again, in more detail, about home brewing, but here are a couple of recipes for quick and easy, cheap brews, which are completely delicious. They both take about 10 days from start to finish but with a total input time of less than 2 hours. The result, in both of these cases, is delicious home brew. Probably about 6 – 7% (must get a hydrometer, so I can actually measure strength). The cost, per pint, works out at around 40p a pint (this cost will reduce as and when I scale up to 5 gallon batches).

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Tom’s Nettle & Ginger Beer
Ingredients:
1 carrier bag nettle tops
1 handful cleavers (/goosegrass/sticky willy – same plant)
150g grated fresh ginger
Juice of 2 lemons
15g Cream of Tartar
600g sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 g (1 level tsp) ale yeast (ideally, bread yeast will do the same job)
1 gallon water
Method:
Boil nettle tops/cleavers/ginger/lemon juice in a large pan (as near to 1 gallon as poss) full of water. Cool until okay to handle & strain off the bits, either through a muslin bag, or a large, fine mesh sieve. Add juice back to pan & add sugar/honey/cream of tartar. Heat & stir until all sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, cover with a cloth & leave until room temperature. Add yeast (started separately if required, or just floated on the top otherwise) & stir. Leave in pan for 2 – 3 days for the yeast to get going. Ideally funnel into a sterilised demijohn and fit an airlock but if you don’t have one, add to sterlised 2ltr (coke, etc.) bottles, leaving a few inches of space for the CO2 to expand into.
If using a demijohn, ferment with cloth covering top for 48hrs, add airlock & ferment for a further 3 days.
Chill demijohn for 2 days in a fridge, to deactivate and settle yeast.
Siphon beer, leaving the slurry.
Bottle, priming with 1 tsp sugar (per 500ml). Leave at room temperature for 48hrs to carbonate.
Chill to serve.
If using coke bottles, let the pressure off every day for 5 days. Leave for 48hrs without letting it off, chill for at least 3 days.
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Tom’s Fiery Ginger Beer

Ingredients:

150g fresh ginger (grated)
Juice of 3 lemons
4 tbsp runny honey
1/4 tsp hot, red, dried chilli
1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar
600g sugar
Yeast & nutrient

Method:

Mix ginger, lemon juice, honey, chilli & Cream of Tartar, in a bowl. Add mixture and sugar, through a funnel, to a demijohn.
Top up to 1 gallon with water & add 1 tsp nutrient. Shake demijohn well, until all sugar is dissolved.
Leave until liquid reaches room temperature & add 1 tsp ale yeast.
Cover with a cloth and leave for 48hrs.
Fit an airlock and leave for a further 3 days.
Chill demijohn for 2 days in a fridge, to deactivate and settle yeast.
Siphon beer, leaving the slurry.
Bottle, priming with 1 tsp sugar (per 500ml). Leave at room temperature for 48hrs to carbonate.
Chill to serve.

WARNING: BOTH OF THESE RECIPES ARE QUITE VOLATILE. USE PLASTIC BOTTLE FOR MAXIMUM SAFETY. BOTH DRINKS ARE DELICIOUS WITH NO BUBBLES, SO THE PRIMING STAGE CAN BE SKIPPED IF WANTED.

Some key dates and more recipes can be found in my calendar, in the about section.

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Spring Green Tonic

Having been out for a successful forage yesterday and having spent some time today propagating herbs in my garden, I was in the mood for making soup!

I’ve been reading a lot about the detoxifying properties of wild spring greens and I’ve known for a while that most garden herbs have many medicinal, as well as culinary benefits. I wanted to make something tasty and healthy, using as little shop-bought produce as possible.

The fruits of yesterday’s foraging session (near Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve) were a big batch of Garlic Mustard, a large bunch of Crow Garlic and some Dead Nettles (we also found Crayfish, along with Crayfish eggs, both of which were edible but the animal was a little small and I wasn’t desperate enough to take the eggs). I complimented these wild spring greens with some cleavers & nettle tops from the garden, as well as a couple of handfuls of fresh herbs. In the end, the only things I used for the soup that I hadn’t grown or foraged myself were stock, oil, black pepper, potatoes & onions (and the latter two I have growing, they just aren’t ready yet).

The recipe went something like this:

Ingredients:
5 small potatoes
3 small white onions
1 large red onion
4 bulbs/stalks of crow garlic (chopped)
1 bunch of cleavers
1 bunch of garlic mustard
1 small bunch of nettle tops
1 small bunch of dead nettles
2 handfuls of chopped fresh herbs (I used sage, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary & fennel)
Vegetable stock
Salt & pepper

As per usual with a soup, I sweated the potatoes and onions for 10 mins to start (I added the crow garlic about half way through, to start it softening, as it was quite tough). I then added the hot stock & simmered the soup for 10 mins, before adding the greens and simmering for another 10. I then blended it all up with a hand blender and I served it straight away, finished with garlic croutons (home made, of course!) and chopped chives (from the garden again!).

I liked it. I wasn’t in love with it. There was a bitterness to the aftertaste, which could be attributed to a couple of things. I left the stalks on the dead nettles, as they looked so young and green, but they may have been bitter. I have also read that Crow Garlic can have an unpleasant aftertaste, although I didn’t notice it when trying it raw. Anyway, it was nice, just not delicious and what it lacked in refined flavour, it more than made up for in heartiness and healthiness.

Still to find some Ransoms, which is what I was actually looking for yesterday when I stumbled on the alternative Allium bounty🙂

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Lolly Rosso

I’ve had some old lolly bottles kicking around at work for some time, waiting for a chance to reuse them in the garden. I was initially thinking cloches for little seedlings but I saw a YouTube video on Facebook of some guy’s hanging garden, made of  waste water bottles and was inspired to do some planting in them.

I was thinking of doing something like the hanging system in the link above but don’t really have anywhere stable enough outside to erect it, so I had to rethink.

I decided to keep the principle of turning plastic bottles into pots for salad leaf and set to work with a stanley knife.

I first knocked some holes in the lids with a hammer and nail. This was tricky, as the plastic lid was very brittle and the holes became cracks. If I had a drill, it would have been very useful at this point! I then turned the bottles upside down (lid down) and cut D-shaped windows in each side with the stanley knife.

I filled the bottles about half full,  to two inches below the bottom of the D-shaped windows, with home made compost and vermiculite. I then sowed some rocket and baby leaf salad mix in them.

Three of the bottle planters are used like normal pots and stand on my table in the garden. I had a bit of wire kicking about in my tool box, so I made a handle for the forth planter, making it an individual hanging version, which can hang on the trampoline frame.

Finally, to protect the roots of the salad from sunlight, I painted the bottom half of the bottles with some blue tile paint that I had kicking around in the shed.

With the remaining plastic above the soil level acting like a mini greenhouse,  the seeds germinated really quickly and all four of the planters are already getting full of little seedlings.

Nettles – My New Best Friend

Well, it’s been a while but inspired partly by the ever-increasing signs of spring and partly by recent (associated) foraging endeavours, the badger is back.

I thought it fitting to dedicate the first blog of the year to my new friend & many a man’s enemy, the humble nettle.

My new love affair with this tenacious ‘weed’ started over Christmas, when my brother in law let me sample his home brew nettle beer. It was nothing short of delicious. Not only that but practically free, easy to make and ready in next to no time at all (a very low alcohol content version can be ready in 24 hours and a stronger version in under 2 weeks!). I definitely intend to make some nettle beer as soon as nettles are prolific enough to gather sufficient quantities. This is the recipe I’ll use, to make a stronger beer and I may well add my own touch to the recipe by using some ginger: http://www.selfsufficientish.com/strongernettlebeer.htm

I did a little reading about nettles and found that they are a herb and have a lot of goodness in them, including more iron than spinach. Traditionally, before it was common practice to ship greens in from warmer climates over winter, nettles were a crucial and staple part of the English diet during the first three months of the year.

So, when I went out for a walk a couple of weeks ago, to see if there was anything around worth foraging, I was excited to find a patch of young nettles. On returning home with half a carrier bag of nettle tops, I found a traditional nettle soup recipe and promptly made a pan full. I used this recipe http://localfoods.about.com/od/spring/r/NettleSoup.htm which was a proper winner with both Sophie and I, although the kids weren’t blown away by it.

Since then, I have made a nettle version of saag alloo (twice – once with potatoes & nettles, once with swede & nettles) and topped a nut roast with boiled nettles with nutmeg, butter & black pepper. This last dish was really very good (if I do say so myself!). Although, to be honest, mostly due to the nut roast being over done and needing something moist!

Earlier in the week, we were turning our veggie patch, ready to plant our spuds, garlic & onions in a few weeks, and I gathered another half a bag of nettle tops, growing, organically in our patch. I decided to make another soup but this time decided to use the previous recipe as a base but try to make a version that the kids enjoyed and which used more of what I had available in the garden. Here is the recipe…

Badger’s Nettle & Herb Soup


Ingredients:
4 small onions
3 medium – large potatoes
5 cloves garlic
1/2 bag of nettle heads
1 litre vegetable stock
1 Oz butter
1 large handful of fresh mixed herbs (I used thyme, rosemary & sage)
Salt & black pepper to taste

Method:

Melt butter in a large pan. Add finely chopped onions & garlic and soften for about 5 mins on a medium heat.
Add potatoes chopped no larger than 2cm cubes. Add to onions & garlic, add a little black pepper & fry, covered, on medium still, for 10 mins.
Add stock, finely chopped herbs, salt & pepper and simmer, covered for a further 10 mins.
Blend until smooth & silky with a hand blender (or food processor).
Serve with seasoning to taste & horseradish, cream, horseradish cream (basically the first two mixed together), or creme fraiche.

It turned out that the kids did like this version very much more than the first and Sophie and I enjoyed it just as much. I had it for a mid morning snack, a light lunch and a starter at dinner all in one day! It seemed to improve each time, the best being at dinner, when I served it with horseradish cream.

So, welcome, humble nettle, to my garden and to my table. I suspect you and I will have a long and fulfilling friendship.

EDIT:

On a recent weekend break near Ross on Wye, I happened upon a huge patch of wild garlic. It was my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary and I made wild garlic & nettle soup as a starter for a celebratory meal. It went down a treat, so thought I should capture the recipe.

Re-use Record

I’ve just hit a new record for the number of times I’ve reused an item: the humble bag from a sliced loaf.

So, it went like this:

Use 1. To hold a loaf of bread

Use 2. To hold my lunch on the way to work

Use 3. To line the pot at work, where folk put their composting (tea bags, coffee grinds, etc.), which I then take home to my composter.

Use  4. To hold dog poo between garden ‘poo patrol’ and the bin.

Next challenge is to find an alternative 4th that allows a 5th, or perhaps I should amend step 4, as I think the bag is recyclable and I ended up landfilling it.

Hmmmm. Food for thought…

Slimy Assailants

I have a bit of a challenge on my veggie plot, in that it’s very wet down that end of the garden and the plot itself is immediately followed by an area of untamed madness, which I like to call ‘where the wild things are’.

The ground is quite clayey and although nutrient rich and great for holding water, it has the tendency to bake hard and crack in prolonged dry spells. So, I leave any unused areas to the weeds, until I need them, which keeps the ground as moist and manageable as possible, without actually managing it.

So, back to the challenge! Which is that ‘where the wild things are’ appears to be the capital city of slugville and my unmanaged areas are little slug hostels, along the highway to seedling heaven. Anything that I sow straight into the ground is immediately (at least once darkness falls) pounced on by tens of the slimey little blighters, as is any fruit that isn’t picked the moment it ripens.

I’ve spend quite some time researching alternatives to chemical slug pellets and the methods that seemed to have most support were crushed egg shells, coffee grounds and pine needles. Having decided to sow some rocket straight into a section of my plot furthest away from slugsville, I returned from holiday to find the seedlings coming along nicely. Other than those, that is, which had been yummed up by something slimy!

So, my war began. My first offensive manoeuvre was to source a couple of carrier bags of egg shells from the kind ladies on the breakfast bar at work. I soaked them in Milton overnight, to give them a proper wash, remove any odour and kill any bacteria. Next day I rinsed them and crushed them all up, before making a thick (4cm) line of them all around my seedlings. Next morning, another one had gone…

So, back to work I trotted and asked the nice ladies on the breakfast bar for some coffee grounds. Bless them, they obliged and back home I trotted with a big pot’s worth and a new layer of slug repellent was laid next to the egg shells that evening. Next morning, two more seedlings down…

Aaargh… what now? Back to t’interweb, who’s infinite wisdom told me to mulch with pine needles. I don’t have a Pine in my garden but I do have a Yew and decided that it’s needles were pretty spikey. They pierced my skin, so surely they would be sharp enough to bother a slug’s tender heel? Did they heck as like! Next morning, still more seedlings down to the enemy.

By now, the plot was looking a little comedy, to be honest (see below)

You may notice a rather odd looking contraption in the shot above, which looks like a bean tin with a slice of cucumber on it. Well, that’s what it is. Not a gem of the omniscient world wide web, this time. No, I decided to believe a circular email. Not something I normally do, to be honest but come on, I was desperate!! A circular, extolling the many benefits of the humble cucumber and I let it fool me into believing that it could even win me the war. Put a slice of cucumber on an aluminium pie dish or can, it said, and the slugs and snails will flee.

Next morning, 2 more gone…

So, today I gave in and put some slug pellets down! Inside the three bands of ‘repellent’, though, so I reckon if they are going to be that determined, there’s not much else I can do. I’ve also covered them with my home made poly tunnel, so the birds can’t get at them when they desist.

If anyone is reading this and has a non-chemical, REALISTIC, slug repellent recipe, please let me know! I know the one about beer and might try it but I’d rather not kill them if I don’t have to (and, of course, I’d rather drink my beer than give it to them; the little buggers are already eating my rocket, broccoli and pumpkins!)

Pilfered Perspex

Okay, so not pilfered in the sense of stealing but definitely a top freebie find.

Having spotted some huge (2m wide x 1.5m high) sheets of perspex at work, looking like they were soon to be landfill, I soon found out that they were up for grabs, so grab I did.

I managed to get 3 of them back home on my roof rack and set about making something out of them with the kids.

I’d been wanting to make a lean-to for a couple of weeks, since witnessing how much more bushy my sister-in-law’s chilli plants were, when located in one; even in the wilds of Anglesey! I’d been pondering all day how to make something useable out of huge, flat sheets, when I didn’t have any decent perspex tools. I finally managed to coble together something, by heavily scoring one of the sheets and then snapping it (roughly) along the scores. It needs some filing down to make it work properly but here it is so far:

Reclaimed Perspex Lean-To

At the moment, it has some material from an old material green house blocking off a gap at the top. I might shorten the sides and make a pespex top, instead, as the material solution isn’t ideal,  particularly in the wind.

I’ve got some salad lead seedlings, my chilli plants and some herbs that are just germinating in there at the moment. I’ve definitely noticed a real improvement in the salad leaf growth, so it must be working.

I plan to make a more airtight and funky version, probably hinged, once I can get my head round it, so watch this space:             !

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