Tuesday, 25 February 2014


It's the last days of February and it's starting to feel like spring is in the air. We've been sowing seeds over the past few weeks and many have already germinated. I am still not convinced that the cold weather has completely passed and so as a percussion we're sowing most of the seeds in pots in the greenhouse, we have planted onions (from seed), kale, cos lettuce, tomatoes, chillies, chicory and chard. We had also planted some chard and cabbage back in November in the ground in the greenhouse, and we have now started harvesting those. We also bought a very nice looking thyme plant and have taken several cuttings and all but one have taken root and putting on new growth. This is a really good way of getting your moneys' worth. Perennial herbs like rosemary and thyme are a great addition to the vegetable garden. There are great for adding flavour to food but they also attract beneficial insects to the garden helping with pest control and they also look and smell amazing.  
Lemon thyme and cuttings 
Seedlings (Onions and kales germinated)
Purple sprouting broccoli
We've started planning what we are going to be planting in our small home garden. It's going to be mostly tender, fast growing crops like salad leaves, radishes, and cucumbers. We'll also be growing beetroot, kale, spring onions, tomatoes and carrots. Most of these will be planted once we're confident the last frost has passed. But it's been full steam ahead down at the allotment. Having this additional space is amazing. We've completely reshaped this space and it now looks like the business. We've got peas, broad beans, garlic and purple sprouting broccoli already growing and both early and main crop potatoes are chitting and will be planted in the next two weeks. I've also been attempting to stagger the seed sowing in order to avoid harvesting all at once and become overwhelmed with produce. We've got quite alot of space dedicated to growing food this season and we're hoping to grow enough food to last us the whole year. The main crops we'll be growing at the allotment would be potatoes, peas and beans, and pumpkins,  crops that store well. We'll also be growing garlic, chard, tomatoes, and anything else we have space for. All in all we'll be growing as much as we can for as long as we can. We've also created a beautiful pond and contemplating growing watercress.
Multifunctional structure
One of the problems we encountered when we first got the allotment was leaky mains taps. We found out that last season there were leaks all along the mains pipping feeding the allotment and because of this allotment holders were served with a huge water bill. The lines were cut off and now the site has no water. This is a problem, but in Permaculture we are thought that problems are opportunities to be creative. We set about working out how to create a water supply on site. We decided to catch and use rainwater. It's abundant and free. We built a structure using mostly wooden pallets and built a roof using estate agents' for sale signs. The resulting structure severs multiple functions. It's a composting bin, a dry seating area, and rainwater harvesting system.
So it feels like spring is very nearly here. The sun has been out in force over the last week and lots of blossoms and buds have shown up. Fingers cross this season will be a good one for the small scale polyculture growers.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Cider time

Chilling in my pallet chair
sipping on home-made apple cider. 

The sweet life. 
So it's that time of year when we rack off our cider. For me, cider is like bottled sunshine. In a previous post on this blog I mentioned how there was no shortage of apple in Norfolk last year. It's been an amazing year for top fruits (namely apple and pears). We've collected a large quantity of apples and made apple juice and lots of apple cider. Last week we sampled our cider and decided that it was time to rack off. It was me best cider yet. Slightly tangy but not bitter and goes down smooth. It's amazingly simple to make cider and well worth it if you find yourself with a large surplus of apples (or pears). I'll take you through the process I used to make our apple cider this time round.
Cleaning and pressing apples
First step is to collect some apples. I think the more varieties you can get hold of the better. It's said that to make good cider you need at least three different varieties of apples. A mixture of cookers, deserts and crab apples is used. Cookers for the acid, deserts apples for the sugar and crabs for the tannin. Using too many desert apples will give a bland taste. According to the experts the best blend is probably 65% cooking apples and 35% dessert apples and if possible 10% crab apples as well. The proportions we used was more like 70% deserts, 20% cookers and 10% crabs. The proportions you use would more than likely be determined by the variety of apples available to you. I honestly think that proportions are not too important if you're making simply for your and family and friends' consumption. as long as you have a few different varieties you should be fine. So we collected all the apples we would need and left them to sit on the ground for at least a week to macerate. Maceration is simply softening of the fruit. By leaving apples to sit off the tree will cause them to macerate. It is important that the apples are fully ripe to ensure the sugar levels are at their highest and soft as it is very hard work to mill and crush hard apples.
Ready for racking (re-bottling).
Fermented apple juice and syphon pump.
Once we collected enough apples and they were well macerated we got an apple press in and after crushing the apples began pressing. We used a traditional 12lt basket fruit press, and the juice went straight into demijohns for the fermentation process. The secret here is to use clean containers for the fermentation process, and if it's practical for you pass the juice through a sieve or muslin to remove any bits from the crushing. We cleaned our containers by washing them with soap very hot water. In the past I have used campden tablet to sterilize my containers but If I can avoid it I rather not use any synthetic chemicals. Washing the containers well seems to work fine. It is my understanding that the during fermentation it is important that air does not enter the container, but the gases created during fermentation should be allowed to escape. For this to happen we used an airlock on each contained. I have seen versions without the use of airlocks where you simply vent the container every few days by loosen the cork slightly then tightening again. The danger here is that if you forget to vent the container might explode undoing all your hard work. There are many ways of excluding air from fermentation but we used simple cider airlocks.
Syphon cider (L), sediment (R).
After about 4 months the fermentation stops. and it's time to rack off the cider. During fermentation the gases released causes the water in the airlock to bubble. Once this stops the fermentation process is over. The next stage is to get the liquid in the containers separated from the sediment at the bottom. The longer you wait to separate the more likely the sediment will taint the flavour of your cider. The sediment is dead yeast and all the bits of fruit that were not sieved out. The remove the liquid from the settled sediment we used a manual syphon pump. You can use a simple tube long enough to get into the container and whose outlet is lower than the inlet. The trick here is to syphon from the centre of the container trying not to disturb the sediment at the bottom. I leave about an inch or two of liquid above the sediment to ensure that I get as little disturbance as possible. I don't waste this inch of cider. I just don't bottle it.
Bottled for immediate
Once the cider has been re-bottled (racked) we cleaned and replaced the airlocks and stored the cider until we're ready to drink. I like to keep the airlocks in place just in-case fermentation starts up again. This year we managed to rack off 30lt with another 25lt to go. The cider is great and gets me nice and tipsy but not too drunk, and the best part is that you don't wake up with a hangover. I highly recommend everyone have a go at making cider. It's a great way to store and some of your summer produce. I've kept cider for two season and it still tasted as good as the day it was racked. Goon, have a go. It's simple, cheap and very rewarding.          
Bottled for storage.