2016 Lemongrass Plants

It’s a bit late but today I eventually got around to separating out the overwintered clumps of Lemongrass and re-potting them as single stems to make this years crop.

Overwintered lemongrass ready for repotting
Overwintered lemongrass ready for repotting

All these lemongrass stems are from a one clump which in turn was a single stick of Lemongrass a year ago. You tend to get around 25 new plants from every stem over the 12 months.

The difference between shop bought (air freighted) sticks and freshly cut homegrown lemongrass is poles apart and the fragrance given off when working with the plants is lovely.

Lemongrass plants separated out and replanted in 9cm pots
Individual stems of lemongrass potted on to make new plants

Once established, the new plants will be sold locally or potted on to make more plants for next year.



Polytunnel Progress

Growing French Beans & Tomatoes in a polytunnel
Growing French Beans, Lemongrass & Tomatoes in a polytunnel

Having caught out with the very late frost last year I have delayed the sowing of outdoor crops by two weeks which has allowed me more time to get the polytunnel better organised.

We have used reservoir trays for the tomatoes for a few years now and, by maintaining the compost moisture levels, they have proved effective at minimising blossom end rot.

For the first time, we are also trying some miniature french beans in the same system.

A tray is reserved for some Clive Bevan long runner beans which hopefully will provide a competitive entry for the longest runner bean category at the Hesketh Bank Village Show.

In the top left of the photo you can see a tray of lemongrass which has overwintered without protection in the polytunnel and is now bursting with life.


Rustic Chopping & Serving Boards

The past few days have taken place in a large cloud of sawdust as we try and catch up on a few bespoke orders for BIG chunky chopping boards.

Thick milled planks are cut to best make use of their individual natural grain patterns. All boards are marked out by hand and consequently no two boards are ever the same.

Our boards grace many a TV studio kitchen and are also used in photo shoots for an ever increasing amount of in house and retail food magazines.

Interestingly, when our chunky chopping boards leave Lancashire and travel down the motorway, somewhere around Watford they become ‘Rustic Serving Platters’ and the price quadruples!

Massive chopping board sealed with olive oil before use
Beech chopping board sealed with olive oil before use

As the trend for rustic weddings has increased so has the demand from caterers and wedding planners (professional or DIY) for these boards. Subject to availability (and enough notice) we also do log rings and slices for cake stands.

For a small additional fee, we can also personalise a board with a text message or logo burnt into the edge or surface of the board.

Thick beech chopping board with two waney edges
A large double waney edged beech serving board – a bespoke  order for a restaurant.

We can’t do ‘urgent’. We may have something suitable already in stock but if not it takes time to locate suitable logs and get them transported and milled. It then takes at least two years for the milled boards to be air dried sufficiently before they are ready for turning into our lovely rustic serving boards.



Hurrah for Cow Muck!

Cow muck is THE essential ingredient for our big pumpkins and giant vegetables.

Cow muck - the essential ingredient for Giant Pumpkins!
The 2016 delivery of cow muck. An essential input for BIG pumpkins!

The delivery of the cow muck always heralds the start of a new growing season. We work one year ahead so this muck heap will be piled up and left to rot for use next year.

The muck pile from last year has now been spread and left to overwinter on the growing beds.




Sourdough Course

Having already completed the Artisan Foodworks ‘Basic Breadmaking’ course at some time ago, the ‘Mastering Sourdough’ course was a natural follow on.

David and Julie were again the perfect hosts and the gang of eager students were a good bunch.

My haul of my own handcrafted sourdough bread made on the day was impressive:

Making Sourdough Course
Making Sourdough Course

For a novice it is an awful lot to take in but having spent a few hours re-reading the course notes and watching youtube tutorials it is now all fitting into place.

David sent us all away with a cup of his treasured sourdough starter which I have been nurturing carefully.

Flying solo, I have now proudly produced my own sourdough pizza base and a couple of wholemeal loaves and am slowly gaining a bit more confidence.

At present I am minimising variables and using the electric oven but with a view to having a go in the wood fired oven very soon. All good fun!




Our first homemade wood fired pizza

Yesterday we finally got around to making our very first homemade pizza in the wood fire oven.

Liam made 1kg of pizza dough and a delicious (secret recipe) tomato sauce and so our first pizza trials began.

The oven was lit with some dry brash and a few sticks to warm it up before it was given a heaped load of mixed hardwood wood chunks available from www.woodchunks.co.uk

The wood chunks worked very well and got it up to a steady 300 degrees Centigrade in short order. They quickly turned to glowing embers but, unlike big logs, they were much more maneuverable inside the oven and could be banked up around the edges with ease.

The oven temperature was much more stable than I expected and it was not as difficult to assess and adjust than I had expected.

Our pizza oven loaded with wood chunks
Our pizza oven loaded with wood chunks

The base on the first pizza was too thick but that was easily rectified and we quickly got some first class results.

Our first wood fired home made pizza
Our first wood fired home made pizza

We still need to work on a stand and get a proper prep table sorted out as I don’t think an old cupboard door balanced on the forklift will meet all the hygiene standards.

Makeshift pizza oven stand and prep table.
Makeshift pizza oven stand and prep table.

With the small bit of left over dough we made a few mini ‘soup loaves’ in tiny bread tins. Lovely!


Cooking sausages in a wood fired oven

Having lit some 10 fires of ever increasing size in our new wood oven in order to ‘cure’ the construction (slowly drive out all the moisture) it was nice to declare the oven open and pop in a few appropriately named ‘firecracker’ sausages from Taylors at Lathom.

At last… Dinner is served!

Cooking Sausages in a wood fired oven
Cooking sausages in a wood fired oven

Growing our own firewood

Many years ago we abandoned the idea of being able to own our own woodland as there is so little of it in West Lancashire in the first place and, of that, it is very rare that it comes up for sale.

But, rather than admit defeat, we bought some arable land and field by field planted our own energy crop; species that thrived on rotational coppicing. In the first instance this was predominantly ash which we grew on from seeds collected from some fine local specimens. As the dreaded ‘ash dieback’ or Chalara dieback of ash (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) to give it it’s proper title, gained a foothold in the UK we thought it pretty pointless in planting any more ash and started growing a wider mix of species such as willow, alder and sycamore. We also trialled a few eucalyptus varieties (from seed) to see how they compared to the vigorous growth of the hybrid willows.

Many claims about the fast growth of hybrid willow exist on the internet and we really wanted to test them out for ourselves. Having grown some willow stools as breeding stock for new cuttings we  knocked them back and vowed to document the progress each year up until they made useable logs.

I will keep this post updated annually with progress.

Hybrid Willow Trials

Eucalyptus Trials