07 September 2014

Apart and together

In quiet moments in the past few weeks I've been shelling my dry bean crop. There's something very satisfying about this job: popping out the beans and watching their respective piles grow. 

I'll be saving some of these to re-sow next year, but there should be a good few meals out of this harvest, too. Clockwise from the top they are Deseronto Potato, Early Mohawk, Jacob's Cattle, Hidatsa Red and Cherokee Trail of Tears.

This week I introduced the new chickens to the old ones. They are now sixteen weeks old and big enough not to be too picked-upon by the Buff Orpingtons.

The new chickens are still sleeping in a different area at night, but during the day they are now free to explore outside and it's great to see them pecking at the grass in the orchard. 

The two flocks are mostly keeping to themselves at the moment, but I imagine that will change as they become more accustomed to each other. Part of my rationale in getting more hens was to improve the proportions of males to females (which was 1:7).

One of the new Welsummers is looking distinctly male, however, so that aspect of my plan hasn't worked as expected! But with the 19 new hens, the ratio is now one male to eleven females so it has improved a little.

22 August 2014

Slim pickings

It's been a weird summer for crops. The tomatoes are limping along, producing modest amounts, but nothing like what we'd get in a regular year. It just hasn't been warm enough.

This year I've been roasting, rather than boiling the tomato crop. It seems less labour intensive. I still have to put the roasted tomatoes through the food mill to turn them into sauce, but this cuts out the food-processor stage and (more importantly) produces a richer-tasting sauce, I think.

The weather seems to have suited the beans this year, though. I think I will get a good crop of dried beans. If I were allowed to grow only one variety, I think I'd go for the Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans - they're so prolific!

My eggplants have been pathetic from the very beginning, even though they're in the greenhouse. But there are flowers coming on them now, so I might get a few before the summer is over, if I'm lucky.

The peppers have been producing well in there, however, and the Golden Marconi ones are just beginning to change colour.

Outside, only the skinny Cayenne peppers look like they'll come to anything this year. These are great for pickling or freezing - wonderful for adding a bit of kick to a dish. It would be hard to choose just one pepper to grow, but I think Cayenne would get my vote.

As for tomatoes, that's really hard to decide. I think Amish Paste would have to get my vote, from a preserving point of view. But if I'm allowed one for fresh eating too, it would have to be Gardener's Delight. Or Black Cherry. No, sorry, it's not possible. Cannot pick just one tomato!

08 August 2014

Flying visit

I took Mike's mum back to England last week and was able to squeeze in a visit to Wisley with my aunt. We had a great day and I feel like I've topped up my annual peering-at-plants requirement. Although the downside to visiting amazing gardens like this is the resulting huge sense of inadequacy I experience when I think about my own!

28 July 2014

Okra in Ontario

The coolish summer we're having has been testing for my okra-growing experiment with the 'Clemson spineless' seeds I received from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.Of the eight or so plants I put outside, only two have survived and this is the healthier-looking one. It's reached the giddy height of four inches: rather shorter than the six or eight feet I'd been reading about!

The two plants I put in the greenhouse are doing slightly better and I've picked a few okra pods from them already. They are still only eighteen inches (50cm) tall, but at least they are showing me how okra is supposed to behave.

The flowers are rather like a morning glory and, like morning glories, they only last for a single day.

 The flowers are self-pollinating - I love the velvety appearance of the stigma.

By the end of the day, the flower has shrivelled and the okra pod is ready to form.

On this plant you can see a flower bud before it opens at the top of the plant, an okra pod just forming on the right and a fully-formed pod at the bottom.

In a hotter summer it might be worth growing these outside, but I think from now on I'll treat them as a greenhouse crop.

19 July 2014


Transformations are going on all around the farm. The Easter Black Swallowtail caterpillars which were eating my dill plants a month ago are now gorgeous butterflies:

The barn swallows have fledged and are learning to fly. This morning the adult swallow seemed to be giving the four youngsters a pep talk in the barn.

Two robin broods have already been hatched and fledged in the barn this year and now there's another four eggs being incubated in another robin nest in there. I'm not sure if it's the same robin or a different one.

My chicks are growing rapidly. At two months old they look like half-sized versions of their adult selves. They enjoy running outside in the evenings after I've put the adult
chickens away.

It's interesting to have different varieties of chickens this time, instead of the Buff Orpingtons we've always reared so far. The Welsummers have particularly attractive plumage (I very nearly wrote 'foliage' then!):

12 July 2014

Works of art

I'd noticed signs for the Quilt Show around the county in previous years, but had never attended it before. With Mike's mum staying with us, it sounded like the sort of thing she might enjoy so we went along to it this morning.

I was amazed at the scale of the event - quilts as far as the eye could see, taking up the entire floor space of the arena in Wellington.

I know nothing whatever about quilting, but even as a complete ignoramus I could not help but be impressed at the intricacy of the designs and the time commitment that each quilt represents. They really are works of art and I have huge respect for the creators of these pieces. I loved the way that they varied from the very traditional to the more modern and abstract.

The vendors' displays were beautiful, too.

It was almost enough to make me want to take up quilting.

05 July 2014

Fire and ice

It's that time of year when the sky lights up with fireworks and the humidity drives people to seek comfort in iced desserts.

Today I harvested two pounds of gooseberries and turned half of them into ice cream. I have found a local supermarket that sells 35% whipping cream with no added ingredients (hurrah!) and today they were selling them at half price. I bought four pints and used two of them to make this and a batch of vanilla.

The other week I was called upon to make a lactose- and gluten-free iced dessert. I thought it would be hard, but it was quite straightforward: easier than a custard-based version anyway. I started with quartered strawberries and sugar, letting them mash for a while, then blended those to a liquid and pressed it through a fine sieve to remove most of the pips.

I used two cans of coconut milk (the highest fat one I could find) and heated them up to make sure the oil and solids were smoothly combined (they tend to separate in the can). Then I stirred the coconut milk into the strawberry mixture and froze it in the ice cream maker. It certainly looked pretty.

I melted half a cup of cocoa, a cup or so of sugar, and a bar of 75% chocolate in another can of coconut milk and then stirred in two more cans and some vanilla extract for the chocolate version.

Apparently they went down well!