Big pumpkin season review

Well that’s another year of big pumpkins over and, it is fair to say, Halloween gets bigger every year. The professional carvers took more than ever of our large pumpkins but the giant pumpkins remain in a very niche market. I think how difficult they are to handle is one reason but the other is that most giant pumpkins are not what people recognise as a pumpkin; the heaviest are all big flat and white/grey or at best yellow. I have been trying to select and breed giant pumpkin seed to retain the (pallet) size but round and orange and this year that came good.

Big, round and orange giant pumpkins
The challenge is big, round and orange – we are slowly getting there!

By chance, I grew enough seed pumpkins on the same cross breeding as this beauty for ‘Mark’s big orange giant pumpkin seed’ to be made available for sale for the first time. Sales have been steady but encouraging; there are obviously more people out there wanting to grow such a pumpkin than I thought!

We still did a more conventional giant (a ‘just in case’ backup) and, after it had been through makeup, you might have seen it on the Halloween episode of ITV’s Loose Women.

It was a very good size (it would have won at Malvern) and shape but, for me, lacks the colour for a good display pumpkin.

The other noticeable development this season was the exponential demand for ‘Pumpkin Picking’ where children get all togged up and select their pumpkin directly from a field. The weather was dreadful yet the demand remained constant; pumpkin picking is now most definitely on the calendar as a must do family activity when you have kids of a certain age. It is a high volume business with bigger infrastructure requirements than you would imagine so whilst we could make more of this, with Windmill Animal Farm only down the road who are geared up to offer a great pumpkin picking experience and much more, we point our pumpkin picking customers towards them whilst we stick to our specialist giant pumpkins, large carving pumpkins and heritage eating pumpkins for the foreseeable but I have a feeling we may need to review this. Selecting a pumpkin from the yard may not be enough!

More info:
www.BigPumpkins.co.uk
www.giantvegetableseed.co.uk/giant_pumpkin_seed.html

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Pond Cleaning Begins

The long anticipated cleanup of our ponds began today. Hooray!

The right machine in the hands of the right driver makes light work of what would have otherwise been an insurmountable task.

It poured down in the night so even after a couple of hours work with the digger it looks like a pond again.

Grazing Pond restoration
Our ‘Grazing Pond’ restoration

A dry Sunday morning provided a window to make a start on slobbing out the ‘Bomb Hole’ pond.

Restoration of our Bomb Hole pond
Restoration of our ‘Bomb Hole’ pond

 

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Harvest Wreath Success!

First prize at the Hesketh Bank Village Show for my ‘Harvest Circle’ creation. I’ve never done any flower arranging before but I couldn’t miss out on the chance to include logs, pumpkins and wreaths so very pleased with coming first!

'Harvest Ring' on a log slice base
‘Harvest Ring’ on a log slice base

Slices of our home grown Silver Birch made up  the base with a simple squash centrepiece with a pine cone, barley, cotoneaster and ivy decorations.

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Farmland Pond Restoration Opportunity

Ecologists wanted for Hesketh Bank pond restoration project.

Ponds and scrapes provide environments in farmland for aquatic biodiversity covering plants, invertebrates, amphibians, fishes, and mammals. Many farm ponds in the area have already been lost to modern agricultural practices.

Farmland pond awaiting restoration
Farmland pond awaiting restoration

Our own derelict ponds have now been cleared of most of the overhanging trees, scrub, scrap and general detritus and the next phase will be the digger work.  A habitat survey has been completed earlier this year to provide a baseline but if anyone is interested in following, monitoring or documenting the changes to the habitat and ecology they would be very welcome.

A drained scrape awaiting restoration
A drained grassland ‘scrape’ awaiting restoration

We are particularly keen to take a scientific approach to steering the re-establishment of these farm ponds and measure wherever possible the influence of pond restoration and management on the biodiversity in both the ponds themselves and the surrounding area. We ourselves  have no previous experience in doing any of this but have sought advice from the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group, Freshwater Habitats Trust and the RSPB.

Grants or any other source of financial assistance have not been identified but we are pushing ahead on a very limited budget rather than wait any longer.

This opportunity to be involved may be of interest to any Ecology and Conservation Management students or Geography students as a as a case study or basis of a dissertation but the offer is also open to local amateurs / enthusiasts to have an input or just people who might be interested in volunteering as and when a bit of help is required. Please email mark@ohanlon.co.uk with your contact details for more information.

Overgrown Farmland Pond
Overgrown Farmland Pond

Please, please share this post with anyone individuals or organisations who you feel might be interested in getting involved from the outset.

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Cutting Silver Birch Display Logs

The dreadful weather this morning put paid to any outside jobs which was bad news for the pumpkins but good news for one of our local florists. She has been patiently waiting for a selection of premium Silver Birch ‘display’ logs to use in wedding features and flower arrangements.

Silver Birch Logs For Wedding Feature
Silver Birch Logs For a Wedding Feature

I’ve cut many more than she will probably need to allow her a good choice. Any rejected will probably end up as blanks for the kids to paint up as log Santa’s or table numbers for restaurants or weddings.

 

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Beech Logs and Chunks back in stock

It has been a while but beech is back in stock. Some will end up being sold amongst the mixed hardwood firewood but the bulk of this tree will be used for serving boards & platters, logs and heartwood wood chunks for smoking food and walking stick handles.

Rings from a freshly felled Beech tree
Rings from a freshly felled Beech tree

The bulk of the branches have been processed into branch wood chunks for use on BBQ’s and smokers but we have kept a few of the more interesting naturally formed branches for our stick making friends.

Naturally curved beech branches
Naturally curved beech branches

More info: Wood Chunks: www.WoodChunks.co.uk
More info: Walking sticks, staffs, handles and blanks: www.Woodlandcraftshop.co.uk

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Polytunnel Update – End July

A quick update from the polytunnels:

Giant Pumpkins

Over the last few weeks the main vines have achieved the most desirable length for the production of a giant pumpkin and the selected female flowers cross pollinated with it’s carefully chosen suitor. A couple of pumpkins have now set and are definitely on their way to becoming a massive pumpkin for display or carving.

Giant Pumpkin 2017 - MB1582
Giant Pumpkin 2017 – MB1582
Giant Pumpkin 2017 MC1474
Giant Pumpkin 2017 MC1474

Rosemary

Rosemary is in demand not only for use in its conventional form but also as a flavouring for outdoor cooking on BBQ’s and Smokers. The sticks are placed directly onto the fire and the resulting smoke flavours the food whilst the skewers are used instead of bamboo and (supposedly) imparts some flavour whilst cooking.

Freshly cut Rosemary skewers
Freshly cut Rosemary skewers
Rosemary Sticks
Rosemary Sticks

Beans

We have stuck with our favourite beans ‘Ferrari’, a dwarf French bean which produces a good crop of tender beans and keeps on doing so for such a long time.

Dwarf French Bean 'Ferrari'
Dwarf French Bean ‘Ferrari’

Tomatoes

Our polytunnel tomato plants are a mixed bag this year with the stalwart varieties ‘Shirley’ and Gardener’s Delight doing really well, ‘Roma’ is just about OK with ‘Grande’ looking a bit under the weather.

I was asked to try and germinate a very old pack of seeds with a view to redistributing fresh seeds at the end of the season. The unfortunatly named ‘Cow’s Tit’ plants are doing well (a heritage paste variety) so we should have some to send back at the end of the year.

Tomato 'Shirley'
Tomato ‘Shirley’
Gardener's Delight tomato plant
Gardener’s Delight tomato plant
Tomato 'Roma'
Tomato ‘Roma’

 

Grande Tomato Plant
Grande Tomato Plant
Cow's Tit Tomato Plant
Cow’s Tit Tomato Plant
Cows Tit Tomato Seed Packet
Cows Tit Tomato Seed Packet

Peppers

We have cut back on the number of Jalapeno plants this year to make way for having a go at the large (competition large) pepper plants grown from some very rare seeds kindly given to me. I have no idea how big these things will get but there are a couple that are presently as big as the largest found in a Supermarket. I have removed a few and they taste good as well so it isn’t all for show!

Large Pepper Plant
Large Pepper Plant
Jalapeno Pepper Plant
Jalapeno Pepper Plant

Cucumbers

Our favourite ‘Socrates’ cucumber is again performing well and providing a very stable harvest of first class fresh cucumbers. This year we are also trying cucumber ‘Poona Kheera’ a variety originally from Poona, India. Described as an unusual cucumber which matures into what looks like a large russet potato with the smooth-skinned fruits turning from white to golden-yellow to russet brown. I have to admit to trying one at the golden yellow stage and it was really crisp and crunchy. Very nice and, I suspect, would lend itself to being thinly sliced and pickled.

Cucumber 'Socrates'
Cucumber ‘Socrates’
Poona Kheera Cucumber
Poona Kheera Cucumber
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Oklahoma Joe’s Offset Smoker

Like many other things I have been meaning to build an offset smoker for so long, have collected many bits and bobs in readiness but never got around to it.

When I saw ASDA selling of the highly reccomended Oklahoma Joe for the price of a cheap tin replica I jumped at the chance. It was delivered two days later and having watched a few Youtube videos of suggested modifications it was put together with all joints sealed with black high temperature silicone sealant (from Screwfix).

Today was the day to ‘cure’ the beast in readiness for cooking. The book suggest two hours but we will give it an eight hour burn just to be sure.

Our new Oklahoma Joe Offset Smoker
Our new Oklahoma Joe’s Offset Smoker

It will be a good way to learn more about the differences between the flavours that our www.WoodChunks.co.uk impart.

The first item out of the smoker is our home grown garlic. Two hours at 225f on mixed hardwood  wood chunks left the garlic bulbs perfectly finished and flavoured.

Home smoked garlic
Home smoked garlic

I think Joe and I are going to get along just fine!

 

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Event Props: Achtung Minen Sign

A request for a wooden Achtung Minen sign for use as a prop at an event is not an every day request but I have learnt it never to be wise to be asking too many questions.

Wooden 'Achtung Minen' sign
Wooden ‘Achtung Minen’ sign

Whilst waiting for it to be collected it has been pressed into active service sending a not so guarded message to our errant local dog walkers. We’ll see if it makes any difference.

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