At the end of the last season, a friend kindly posted to us a few seeds from a giant pepper with a view of us having a go at growing a big one. He advised us to get them planted early January which seems incredibly early but he is the expert so today half of them got planted along with a selection of our usual chilli and sweet pepper varieties. I will plant the rest towards end March as per normal and compare the results.
The consensus on germination temperatures for peppers seems to be 80-85 degrees F so the propagator has been set to 28 degrees C.
This week has seen some lovely crisp frosty mornings which is always a beautiful sight and is a real pleasure to walk around the farm.
Our willow trials continue with a mix of biomass hybrids and traditional basket making varieties planted. The photo above is of some one year old willow whips which are ideal for living willow sculptures or making new plants.
Selected pieces will be harvested from the Hazel coppice over the winter months, mainly for sticks to make walking stick and beating stick shanks but also to make wood chunks for food smoking which gives the wood smoke a slightly nutty flavour.
We also grow some Eucalyptus, mainly to harvest for the floristry trade and making essential oils but we are also trailing some hardy snow gum varieties for firewood production. To date the results have been very impressive.
Our hedges of Holly have been pruned hard in recent weeks for wreath making but the frost makes them quite a picture.
As the seasonal wreath making draws to a close a lovely morning allowed a chance to make a start on the Hazel coppice.
Our stand of hazel was planted specifically to provide a harvest of walking stick blanks for the surprisingly large number of local stick making enthusiasts. We now use the remaining wood for crafts including wood turning and gypsy flowers, wood chunks for smoking foods and, as a last resort, firewood.
We choose not to ‘clear fell’ the hazel but prefer to selectively cut out the sticks we want and leave the remainder to mature. This practice not only maintains the fantastic wildlife habitat that has been established but it seems to ‘draw’ some good straight sticks as they fight for the light at the top of the canopy.
The annual arrival of our red mushrooms with white spots heralds the onset of Autumn. I did buy a book to identify safe mushrooms to eat but, having read it, decided against it as being ‘almost certain’ just isn’t good enough.
However, in this instance being ‘nearly sure’ IS good enough; I am almost certain that these are Amanita Muscaria which are classified as deadly.
I think of these as the classic fairy toadstool and a welcomed arrival to the woodland floor. The source of the image of fairies dancing around them might not be that far fetched as, apparently, they have psychedelic properties “if prepared properly”.
“Preparing properly” hmmm. A quick search uncovers a range of drying techniques for varying times whilst held at various angles. Perhaps the best one was the ancient shaman preparation of letting reindeer eat them and then drink their pee.
On fields eerily shrouded in mist, the 2016 Giant Pumpkin harvest has begun. All the giant pumpkins that have not been sold in advance will be listed for sale on www.bigpumpkins.co.uk/pumpkins-for-sale/
I don’t suppose many people will actually need a tutorial in how to paint a pumpkin for Halloween but it might be of interest to see the finish achieved using Annie Sloan Chalk paint. The little pumpkins are available from our pumpkin farm shop www.BigPumpkins.co.uk
I selected the Annie Sloan ‘Graphite’ chalk paint as I wanted a dark, soft, velvet finish.
The difference between wet and dry is significant so don’t be disheartened by the gloss of the paint when wet.
The dried paint was exactly the texture I had imagined but perhaps a bit lighter than I had hoped for.
One coat was probably not enough but the effect was close to what I had been seeking. Perhaps I will try another with some blackboard paint…
They make perfect autumnal table decorations for restaurants, events and weddings either as they are (they are very tactile) or can be used hollowed out as tea light candle holders. We have even sold them for use as soup bowls.
We are harvesting them to order at the moment at just £1 each.
Our making a table tea light tutorial can be found here
Our little Wood Chunks website has been selling our home grown wood for some time now to the point where our regular customers kindly bring samples of their fare which is very much appreciated (hint, hint) .
Food smoking is an art and from my experience, each ‘artist’ likes to understandably select the materials that they have found gives the best results for them.
Some want small wood chips, others want large lumps or even big logs. Then there is the debate about whether the bark should be on or off and the difference branchwood or heartwood makes to the flavour of the food.
To supplement our home produced wood chunks we have today added a range of wood chips which come in 2ltr re-sealable packs.
Graded to a size between 6mm and 12mm chip size, Apple, Alder, Cherry and Oak chips are now in stock.
Along with all our speciality wood chunks they are available to collect (by appointment – we don’t have a shop) from Hesketh Bank (PR4 6) in West Lancashire but these packs are especially suitable for mail order so it will be interesting to see how this develops.
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.
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.