Busy day in the sun

A very busy day making the most of the sunshine to get caught up with all the field and footpath mowing but the highlight was cutting our first pumpkins of the season. It usually gets to September before the PR people remember to think about Halloween but quite a few have been making enquiries already.

The first order was just for a few pumpkins and quite on odd mix but ours is not to reason why. I look forward to seeing the finished piece.

Cutting pumpkins in August for a photoshoot
Cutting pumpkins in August for a photoshoot

We always grow a few pumpkins under glass so they are ready for sale that bit sooner. Due to the poor weather, the outdoor pumpkins are only just beginning to set but hopefully they will be ready for the mid October harvest.

For more information on our pumpkins please visit our www.BigPumpkins.co.uk website.

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Roast Tomato and Pepper Soup

As we hit ‘peak tomato’ in the polytunnel we try and prepare as many portions of our favourite soup; freezing portions of our delicious roast tomato and pepper soup for a hearty warming meal later in the autumn.

In fact every time the oven goes on, a tray of roughly chopped tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions will be in the bottom.

Roast tomato and pepper soup ingredients
Roast tomato and pepper soup ingredients

Ingredients (Makes 3 big bowls) :
1kg of ripe tomatoes
1 large onion
4 green or red peppers
6 peeled whole cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
600 millilitres vegetable stock
Worcestershire (three shakes)
Tabasco (two shakes)

Method:
Preheat the oven to 200C
Cut up larger tomatoes to the size of a whole cherry tomato. Deseed the peppers and then cut up the peppers and onion to a similar size as the tomatoes.

Place the tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic into a roasting dish or baking tray and season with salt and pepper.

Pour on the olive oil then vigorously mix all the ingredients by hand to ensure that the oil has coated everything.

Chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers
Chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers

Bake for about 30-45 minutes until the tomatoes and peppers are just beginning to char.

Roasted onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes
Roasted onions, garlic, peppers and tomatoes

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil and add the Worcestershire and tabasco sauce. Add the roasted vegetables and puree using a hand blender to the texture you prefer.

Allow to cool then freeze in portions. Ideal for a warm welcome on a winters evening. The quantities will make three big bowls of hearty, homemade soup.

Three big bowls will serve 1 – 2 Lancashire farmers or at least 6 southern jessies.

Bowl of roasted tomato and pepper soup
Bowl of roasted tomato and pepper soup garnished with Parmesan and parsley
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Rosemary Twigs for flavour on the BBQ or Smoker

In response to a Wood Chunks Customer request I have been today been bundling Rosemary twigs for use in the smoker or on the BBQ.

Rosemary Twigs for Smoker or BBQ
Rosemary Twigs for Smoker or BBQ

As a rule resinous woods are not favoured for use in smokers but as these burn so quickly they are used to provide an instant hit of the herbs distinctive pungent flavour as soon as the meat is added.

If used on a BBQ the twigs are dropped a couple at a time onto the charcoal for a short burst of flavour.

In the past the waste from pruning our Rosemary plants had been collected by our bee keepers as it apparently makes for a very good smoke to distract the bess when going into the hive.

 

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July Poly Tunnel Update

A few snapshots of the more interesting crops growing in the polytunnel.

First tomato of the season ripening
First tomato of the season ripening

 

Our heritage Italian Cucumbers are doing well
Our heritage Italian Cucumbers are doing well

 

A mix of small squash varieties grown vertically up wire mesh
A mix of small squash varieties grown vertically up wire mesh

 

First crop of Gherkins nearly ready
First crop of Gherkins nearly ready

 

The first seed stock pumpkin 'Muscade De Provence'
The first seed stock pumpkin ‘Muscade De Provence’

 

The polytunnel grown Sweetcorn is nearly ready for harvest
The polytunnel grown Sweetcorn is nearly ready for harvest

 

Sweet peppers 'Corno di Toro rosso' are beginning to form
Sweet peppers ‘Corno di Toro rosso’ are beginning to form

 

Our 2016 harvest of garlic is complete
Our 2016 harvest of garlic is complete

 

Our Clive Bevan Giant Tomato Competition plants are doing well
Our Clive Bevan Giant Tomato Competition plants are doing well

 

Spectacular pumpkin flowers on a 'Knucklehead' plant
Spectacular pumpkin flowers on a ‘Knucklehead’ plant
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NFT and Aeroponic Hydroponic Trials

A new greenhouse with an electric supply has allowed us to trial growing lemongrass plants in some NFT and Aeroponic hydroponic systems.

We now have Lemongrass plants in a Nutriculture NFT hydroponic grow tank, some Fennel in a smaller NFT system and some ‘mother’ lemongrass plants in an aeroponics tank.

Fennel plants in an NFT hydroponic system
Fennel plants in an NFT hydroponic system

I have no idea if Fennel will grow successfully in a pot let alone in a hydroponic system but am giving it a go. I will hopefully trail some in the same system but outside as ‘bolting’ might be an issue for the fennel plants if they are kept in a greenhouse.

I also wanted to trial some hydroponic Celeriac which will definitely need to be outside but have possibly left it too late for getting seeds started for this growing season.

Lemongrass plants growing in a NFT hydroponic system
Lemongrass plants growing in a NFT hydroponic system

The bigger lemongrass plants sat in the NFT system have started to put roots beyond the pot and onto the spreader mat.

Lemongrass roots after one week in the NFT hydroponic tank
Lemongrass roots after one week in the NFT hydroponic tank

The Lemongrass in the aeroponics system has been in for a week now and the root growth through the net pots is most impressive.

Trialling Lemongrass plants in a aeroponics tank
Trialling Lemongrass plants in a aeroponics tank
Lemongrass 'mother' plant after 1 week in an Aeroponics system
Lemongrass ‘mother’ plant after 1 week in an Aeroponics system

 

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The great Chuck masacre

Two attacks over three days have seen our much loved hens have suffered badly at the hands of one or more foxes.

On both occasions, the attacks were made early evening well before dusk. Whilst the hens have enjoyed spending the days roaming around the woodland the down side is not being able to offer them 100% protection before they go indoors to roost and once Mr fox has worked this out there is very little we can do.

Our little flock has been devastated with just a handful of old girls remaining who, I suspect, had already gone to bed.

Our woodland hens - a wonderful life but vulnerable to fox attack
Our woodland hens – a wonderful life but vulnerable to fox attack

I really can’t face clearing up such a scene again so, unless we can find a cast iron method of protecting them, I think that is it. Very sad.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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