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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Preparing Oak and Rosemary

Not a chore I particularly like as I am not a big fan of having my fingers so close to a bandsaw blade but it has to be done; preparing heartwood wood chunks.

Making Oak Wood Chunks
Making Oak Wood Chunks

The oak is first cut into rings on the bandsaw and then chopped into pieces using an axe. The pieces are then air dried to approx 20% moisture which is ideal for using for smoking food by placing the chunks on top of a charcoal bed. (Our branchwood chunks by contrast are generally used without any charcoal). Both heartwood and branchwood wood chunks are sold on our www.WoodChunks.co.uk website.

Today we also sent out a pack of our Rosemary ‘wood’ which is used by a restaurant customer.

Fresh cut rosemary sticks
Fresh cut rosemary sticks

The wood stalks are taken from three year old rosemary plants and are used for both the rub and generating flavoured smoke. The leaves are stripped to use fresh or dried but the oil rich stem wood is used as a flavouring on top of charcoal barbecue briquettes in a smoker.

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Wood smoking revelations

We have a new Customer.

Stuart from Southport is a new customer. Stuart has specific requirements for his 10 hour smoked brisket and he came to see if we could meet his needs. The answer is of course ‘yes’ but that isn’t what prompts this post.

Talking to Stuart made me realise that I don’t think we have ever had the same request twice… every smoker seems to have their very own ‘ideal’ as to how their wood is presented:

Logs
Split logs
Full branch logs
Chunks – bark on
Chunks – bark off
Branch chunks with brash
Branch chunks without brash
Wood Chips
Single species sawdust

Hazel wood chunks in trays for drying
Home grown Hazel wood chunks in trays for drying

Perm any of the above with the ideal length of wood which obviously varies with each smoker and then perm all the above with the degree to which it has been seasoned; Fresh cut, partially seasoned or fully seasoned.

Placing wood chunks on top of charcoal
Placing wood chunks on top of charcoal

That’s the wood sorted then. Next is how it is used… hot smoke, cold smoke, 100% selected species, chunks/chips on charcoal, mixed hardwood chunks with selected species added at half time, one burn, multiple burns, top up burn, soaked or burned dry etc etc etc.

This isn’t a problem but it was a bit of a revelation in that it became obvious that we cannot stock all permutations!

Whilst we will continue to carry stock of our most popular wood smoking chunks and chips, rather than feel guilty about never having their ‘perfect’ woods immediately to hand, what this we can do is to note our customer preferences and advise them on an individual basis when woods arise that match their criteria.

A split crate of Cherry and Oak logs
A split crate of Cherry and Oak logs

Hence, here is a crate of logs for Stuart. Half of the crate is made up of Cherry logs and the other half is Oak logs. Both are only partially seasoned and they have been cut to 10″ long i.e. Exactly what Stuart asked for.

Thank you Stuart. Your order has probably helped me more than you!

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Hydroponic Trials Update

Celeriac

Celeriac being a moisture loving plant that needs fertile, moisture retentive soil I thought it might perform well hydroponically. Our celeriac was grown from seed (rather than the recommended plugs) in 8cm pots. When roots were showing, the pots were then placed in a small NFT system. These have overwintered in a small greenhouse without heat and are doing well. Progress is very slow though.

Watercress

The Watercress trial has been interesting. In the wild, watercress grows partially submerged in running water in moderately cool climates. We trialled it in both an aquaponic system and an ebb & flood tank situated near each other outdoors.

The above photos speak for themselves (both of which were taken on the same day). Whilst the aquaponic system best mimics a running stream I suspect the nutrient levels are too high and the watercress is struggling. By contrast, the ebb and flood (sometimes called an ebb and flow or flood and drain system) tank filled with nothing more than inert clay balls and rainwater provided a great crop.

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Hazel wood chunks for smoking food

Any Hazel wood we remove from our coppice that cannot be used for walking stick shanks or other woodland crafts gets cut up into ‘Wood Chunks‘ which get used in smokers and BBQ’s for flavouring meats, fish and cheeses.

All our hazel is coppiced with a hand saw so has not been contaminated with chainsaw oil. It is processed through a ‘chunker’ where two blades come together and crimp the wood into short lengths.  The bins of wood chunks are then tipped out and spread in large plastic trays. The trays allow for really good air circulation even when stacked high.

Drying Hazel wood chunks in trays
Drying Hazel wood chunks in trays

Along with most nut woods (The fruit of the Hazel (Corylus) is the hazelnut, also known as cobnut or filbert nut), Hazel is a favourite wood used for smoking food as it produces a strong, fragrant smoke.

It is often used in the UK as an alternative when a recipe calls for Hickory. We sell our Hazel wood chunks direct from the farm gate or mail order via www.WoodChunks.co.uk

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