Monthly Archives: November 2015

in with the new….

DSC_0520The first significant ground frost of late autumn arrived overnight.   Some of the garlic made it into the ground yesterday but rain stopped play.

This year we are planting some new, (to us), varieties.  This is not by design.  By the time I had got round to ordering the garlic from T&M they had sold out of all the usual suspects.  The options left included ‘Arno’; ‘Garcua’; ‘Garpek’; ‘Sultop’; ‘Sprint’ and ‘Thermidrome’.  Whilst the more familiar varieties had been snapped up early, I could be onto a winner with the lesser known.

First up ‘Arno’  – has the RHS AGM, so a good start, and is described as ‘an attractive softneck garlic with ivory-white skin covering pink cloves which stores well’.  I’m loving it already.

‘Garcua’ and ‘Garpek’ are varieties which were bred by PLANASA, a huge multinational plant breeder.  ‘Garcua’ is a softneck, white variety, with high yields and good storage capability.  ‘Garpek’ is a hardneck, purple garlic variety, also high yielding, early with an ‘intense aroma and flavour’.

‘Thermidrome’ is a commercial French, white variety and is tried and tested.  Reliable, producing big fat heads.

‘Sultop’, a hardneck, a white skin covering red skinned cloves.  Said to have an intense flavour.  A hardneck variety won’t store as long as the softnecks, so one to use up first.

Finally, ‘Sprint’, which was certainly living up to its name as it had already sprouted.  A white bulb with violet streaks. Again this is a hardneck variety and so won’t store, but it will be ready to lift a number of weeks before the rest.

For the first time this year we will also plant some cloves from the garlic heads we harvested this summer.   Usually we avoid this, preferring to plant certified virus free stock.  This includes cloves of Elephant garlic, Allium ampeloprasum,  (not really a garlic – rather a relative of the leek); last year these produced large monobulbs; if the season is long enough we may get the single cloves to split into more like the garlic, though we could also leave the bulbs in the ground for another season to make sure of forming heads.

DSC_0522We shall see how these cloves fare alongside the bought in cloves.  I’m looking forward to next summer already!

woolly weather…

The OH tells me that on his last venture out to work on small-holdery projects he was wearing 4 layers of clothing, (tee, shirt, jumper and jacket) plus woolly hat, (I’m assuming pants and trousers were in evidence).   The temperature outside is dropping.

We have wood burning stoves which we use as our main heat source.  Yes, yes the oil price has plummeted and we could turn up the thermostats from their frost settings to kick the oil fired, underfloor heating into life, but we don’t because but nothing beats a wood fire, and we’re not alone in  loving a wood fire. In the last year 200,000 wood burning stoves have been installed in Britain.

DSC_0513The OH has accumulated a significant stash, and even I, in the aftermath of the storms Abigail and Barney, was looking at the downed tree limbs and thinking ‘wood….’.

DSC_0506The ash in the shelter belt is coming along but it will be a good while before we can do even a first thinning.   In the meantime we acquire wood from a variety of sources.

… and the best bit? Coming down in the morning and putting a bit of scrunched up paper and twigs in the embers of last night’s fire and ‘hey presto’ a new fire bursts into life.




a perfect pear….

pear bowlWe have a number of pear trees which are planted along the piggery wall.  They should have been fan trained on wires sometime ago. They will be, they will be.

The varieties we have are: William Bon Chretien; Buerre Hardy; Doyenne du Comice; Beth; Conference; Concorde and Invincible.  All except Beth have produced a reasonable crop either this, or last year.  I’m keeping my eye on the Beth specimen.  In theory the variety is meant to be easy to grow and reliable.  It certainly is a vigorous specimen so perhaps I need to concentrate on a July prune to develop more fruiting spurs or somehow stress the tree.

french flagThe Doyenne du Comice and Buerre Hardy trees gave good crops this year.  Originating in France in the 19th century, both produce utterly delicious dessert fruit though, at this precise moment, the Buerre takes top spot because the flesh is so juicy, sweet and, yes, does have a ‘melting’ quality.  The Comice needs to ripen more.

It is notoriously difficult to judge the exact point of ripeness of a pear on the tree so we picked all the pears in October and then placed them in a fridge housed in one of the outbuildings.  A period of time in cold storage seems to help to ripen the fruit.  We take them out a few days before eating.

pear storeIt is a real treat to eat a properly ripened pear rather than munching through a hard green Conference, the beloved variety of the supermarket, though the sweetness of the fruit marries perfectly with the salty creaminess of blue cheese and the crunch of walnuts, drizzled with some of our elderberry vinegar.  A delicious lunch, rustled up in minutes.





on a (jelly) roll…

autumnThe medlar trees are displaying glorious autumn colour.

This is the third year we have picked medlars; each year the trees reward us with a bigger crop.  Last autumn I made a foray into making a soft set, cinnamon spicy conserve.  This year I’m having a crack at producing a jelly.

A few weeks ago we picked all the fruit and then left them to blet in the cool of the utility room.

bletting medlarsThe medlars are now at various stages of ripeness.  Reading through a number of recipes I’ve discovered that having a combination of ripe and unripe fruit is a good thing, as the medlar is a low pectin, low acid fruit.  Mixing bletted and hard fruits will hopefully ensure we get a wonderful depth of flavour but also a good set.

A few days later and the lovely OH set to and made the jelly.  Mindful of low pectin, apple cores and lemon juice were also to the fruit at the start.  In the end we probably could have dispensed with these as the set is too hard for a jelly – we have decided that we have produced a delicious medlar cheese!

The cheese sits happily alongside the one precious jar of quince jelly and the rowan preserve we made a few weeks ago.  None of the jellies is ‘perfect’  in set and clarity but the taste of all 3 is delicious – and in the end that is what counts.

LtoR Rowan; Quince and Medlar Jelly

Left to Right: Rowan; Quince and Medlar Jelly

end of an indian summer

DSC_0424The morning mists are still here in late afternoon.  Last month these would have lifted by the afternoon, now they linger.  We have started cutting back and clearing ground to make space for new crops – garlic and autumn onion sets.  The bean support frame has been broken down.  Pots and canes are collected and stored away until next year.  The polytunnel is cleared of all the tomato, cucumber and melon vines.

DSC_0405Unripe tomatoes always remind me of the film ‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe’.  One day I might even try making a batch of them.

Until then, green tomatoes make an excellent chutney.   I prefer one made with light muscovado sugar and a restrained hand with the spice so that the fruit shines through.

DSC_0441Even with dedicated chutney making we still had a significant pile of unripe tomatoes that ended up on the compost heap.  At least the excess will eventually be added back to our ground to bolster the nutrient levels, so I’m not too fussed.  Even so I’ll be tuning in tonight.

Hugh is back, waging war on our throw away culture, (BBC1 9pm)…. check it out.




sour grapes…?

This summer a Japanese chef paid 1 million yen, (around £5200), for a bunch of 26 grapes.  I have to say the fruit does look lovely.

roman red grapes The Ruby Roman grape is grown exclusively in Ishikawa.  The variety was bred about 14 years ago and the fruit first went on sale in 2008. An extraordinary level of care is lavished on every single grape in the bunch with strict controls on size, weight and sugar content.

Here on the holding we have a muscat grapevine that I bought a few years back for a couple of quid.  The muscat variety is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, known named grape.  I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t lavished any care on the vine, let alone the grapes, and it shows.

DSC_0422In fact I was amazed to see that the vine did have a few bunches.

DSC_0423The woeful neglect is due to ignorance on my part – I just haven’t, as yet, got to grips with pruning a grape vine.  So this winter the muscat will be cut back hard,  lifted and replanted next to the polytunnel.  The roots will be placed outside the tunnel and the vine trained, according to the rod and spur system, inside.    Whilst I don’t think the growers of Ishikawa will lose any sleep over the quality of our grapes, I’m hoping for a bigger, sweeter harvest going forward.