Wild Damson Harvest

It’s that time of year when our wild damsons are just coming ready so time to risk life and limb reaching over the very deep ditch to try and hook the branches and get them harvested. Probably three quarters of the fruit is inaccessible so I don’t feel that guilty about raiding the natural larder.

Harvesting our wild damsons

Most of our share will end up as jam courtesy of mother; some sold to raise money for her charities, some for us and some for the breakfast table at Coed Cae

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Hydroponic Ginger Trial

As some will know we try and do a little trial of the more unusual in the hydroponic tanks each year. This year it was the turn of ginger.

Having read up about it I went down to our local Booths supermarket to find a suitable fresh ginger ‘root’ tuber with lots of nodules on. The reality was somewhat different, with the offerings off the shelf being very dry and even though they were all quite large (and expensive) none had more than one ‘eye’.

The best I could find was purchased and placed in clay balls with a 24hr constant pumped leaf feed circulation as (I read) that they do like moisture.

Despite being in a very small greenhouse and suffering some of the highest temperatures we have ever seen in this country it has done reasonably well although the new shoots that are appearing now that a normal British summer has returned are much stronger and healthier. I look forward to the luxury of having some fresh stem ginger in the very near future!

Hydroponic ginger
Hydroponic ginger

All in all, it looks like ginger is a decent performer in a hydroponic system but I haven’t yet had a peek beneath the clay balls to see what is happening with the ginger root but I will post an update here when I do.

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Processing Oak into wood chunks

Processing Oak logs into wood chunks for use in offset smokers

It might be Bank Holiday Monday and it might have been a lovely sunny day but all I could think was to get some Oak wood chunks split, sawn and seasoning to replace all those being burnt in BBQs and Smokers.

Splitting Oak for wood chunks
Splitting Oak for wood chunks

It is a tedious job sawing down all the oak splits but it needs to be done well in advance of demand as it takes so long to season properly and all I could think of was how much would be being burnt on a day like today.

Not a lot but at least there are eight more trays seasoning than there were this morning.

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Long Chilli Competition plants

The ‘long chilli’ and heavy chilli are relatively new additions to the giant vegetable competition schedules so growing techniques and plant genetics are still very much up for debate. I had a go last year with some donated chilli seed and had great success with the long chilli but less so with the heaviest.

Some start their seeds early February but I have not found any advantage in this so go for an early March sowing and another early April.

This year is now underway with a few plants grown from seeds selected from the best performing chilli’s of last year.

Germinating 'Long Chilli' plants
Germinating ‘Long Chilli’ plants

The chilli’s are a good ‘competition’ choice for amateur growers as they take up very little space and can be grown in a conservatory or small green house… unlike our giant pumpkins which take up an inordinate amount of room and require a lot of attention.

Let the challenge begin!

More info on ‘competitive growing :

www.BigPumpkins.co.uk
www.GiantVegetableSeed.co.uk
www.CliveBevan.com

 

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The menace of Sky Lanterns

It makes you wonder just who does not know how dangerous sky lanterns can be yet we still get them landing in grazing land.

Today’s find was of the dreaded bamboo and wire construction which landed on fields grazed by sheep.

Sky lanterns landing on grazing land
Sky lanterns landing on grazing land

I only wish I knew who had sent this beautiful paper lantern up into the evening sky not knowing (or caring) where it would come down, what it might set fire to or what unsuspecting animal it might maim (or kill) could be traced so that I could thank them in person probably by shaking them warmly by the throat.

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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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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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