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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vegetable garden update.

It's been a week or two since I last posted photos of how the vegetable garden is doing, so here they are. 

In short, everything is growing nicely, with the exception that we've noticed some browning on our potato plant leaves. If it's blight, it'd be a bit of a disaster. Fingers crossed that it's not!

Most of the work on the allotment has been carried out by Clare, who has been keeping on top of the weeding, and doing essential work such as thinning out the carrots.

Our carrot bed / jungle has gotten to the point where it needs to be thinned out, so last week we did just that, and picked a decent amount. 

We ate about half of them, and Clare has frozen the others (to be used as soup mix).

Our parsnips are getting bigger and bigger, but don't need to be thinned out - but I'm really curious to see exactly how well they've grown for us! 

I'll just have to be patient...

Our celery has been a resounding success. We've harvested a good deal of it, and Clare transplanted the younger plants into the spaces the older ones used to occupy. 

Some of the celery has grown so well that it went to seed. This hasn't stopped us using it, however. 

Clare has frozen out portions of it, mixed with the carrots we thinned out, for use as soup mix. 
Our onions are close to being harvested, but I'm inclined to give them another while longer to let them get a little bit bigger. Then we'll have to decide on where to hang them to dry!

Not really much to be said about our lettuce bed - they're all coming along nicely. Towards the front is our "little gem" variety, then chard and "butterhead" varieties.

At the back, our garlic really hasn't grown that much, but it's still alive, which is something. 

We've harvested most of our first crop of lettuces from the "square" bed, and Clare has replaced these with younger ones. Between the lettuce, spring onions are growing well.

The potato bed is also doing well, but there's still no sign of the potatoes flowering. 

Our beetroot was thinned out a while back, they've a lot of growing to do yet.

In front of them, the couple of corn plants are growing well. 

At the front of the bed, the swedes are doing just fine. 
Our peas have really come into their own, and are cropping heavily. Most of the peas are then consumed by my son Thomas, who delights in popping open the pods to devour the sweet peas inside. Next year, I'll definitely have them climbing up chicken wire, as the garden twine is sagging slightly under the weight of the plants. 

The slow progress of the bean plants continue! They really seem to be proverbial late bloomers, and are now in danger of being overtaken by the peas we planted alongside them (when we thought that the beans weren't going to grow!).

Our courgette plants are growing well, and have started to flower and produce fruit! I was delighted by this positive development, as it shows that they've taken to the soil. The flowers are lovely too, and add a dash of colour the the predominance of the green and brown in the allotment. 

The yellow courgette flower.

In the absence of purple sprouting broccoli, which we haven't yet been able to get a hold of, we've planted some chard in the bed instead.  

To the rear of the bed, the white sprouting broccoli is coming along well, but we'll need to keep a close eye on it to prevent it from bolting. 

To the right, you can see our leeks are growing well. (no photo of the bed though).
Our brassicas have grown huge in the last couple of weeks! 

As I'm missing a photo of our leek bed, it can be seen to the left of the photo. They're now substantially thicker than they were when we planted the out.

Finally, as always, a picture of how the allotment currently looks. Gone is the vast triangle of brown! 

At the homestead:
Most of this years crop of strawberries has now been eaten, either by Thomas or by slugs. The strawberry plants are now sending out runners, which I'll have to plant into soil. Next year, hopefully most of these will become established plants, increasing our crop. With Isabelle being able to eat them, we'll need the extra fruit!

Our blackcurrants have finally turned black, and while they're still a little hard, they're just about ready to eat. 
The berries themselves have grown far larger than I expected them to.

Our four chili plants have produced abundant amounts of fruit, which are eventually turning from green to red. When they do, I pick them off, to encourage more to grow. 

I then put them in a container and leave them in the hot press to air dry. After a couple of months, when they're totally dried out, I blend them into chili flakes. I've repeated this process for a few years now. 

That's it for this update. Feel free to let me know your thoughts!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rabbit hunting.

Please note that this post contains the subject of rabbit hunting, and the use of the game. It also contains pictures of butchered rabbit. If you're of a sensitive nature, it'd be best if you stopped reading now!

Yesterday morning, I was awoken by my daughter Isabelle crying at about six in the morning. It was a lovely morning, bright and crisp, so I decided to take advantage of the fact I was up, and go hunting rabbit. 

Half an hour later, I was up the fields, rifle slung over my shoulder, keeping a keen eye out for any bunnies. I hadn't been out hunting in months, as I was focused on getting our allotment up and running.

The first wildlife I saw was a fox, who slunk into the undergrowth after spotting me. I know the fields of this particular farm very well, and know the location of each warren, so I took a path along the edge of each field in turn, starting with what is, in my experience, the most populated warren. I saw another fox or two, which didn't bode well for me, as rabbits are likely to make themselves scarce when fox are about. 

Still, it was early yet, and a joy to be out for a tramp in the fields. The flower of the elder has by now hardened into small green berries. It'll be a while before I harvest them for wine. After about an hour I still hadn't seen any sign of a rabbit, which was disappointing, so I decided to lie in wait to see if any would emerge from the hedgerow. This tactic proved to be unsuccessful too - though to be fair, it's mostly dusk that this particular strategy works for me.

After a decent wait, I told myself that I'd make one last circuit of the fields, as it was getting later in the morning. It didn't look as though I'd be getting any rabbits on this hunt. As it turn out, I was wrong. As I was walking back towards my car, I noticed a dark shape on the grass ahead of me. I brought my scope to my eye to examine it - and yes, it was a rabbit! I was delighted, but cautious at the same time. Having seen only this rabbit all morning, it would be a shame to blow my chances at bagging it. 

The rabbit was sitting close to the edge of the field, along the fence. The fence posts are spaced roughly ten yards apart, so I counted how many lay between me and it. Eleven. My scope is sighted for fifty yards, so I had to close the distance. Slowly, I crept towards the rabbit, ready to freeze in my tracks if it so much as twitched. One hundred and ten yards became ninety, then seventy. At this point I was barely breathing, fearful of making the slightest noise. When I reached sixty yards, the rabbit hopped forward. I froze. Now was the time. If I hesitated any longed, my quarry could bound away. Inch by inch I brought my rifle up to my shoulder and took aim. The cross-hairs rested on the rabbits chest. I squeezed the trigger and the gun fired. Keeping the scope to my eye, I saw the rabbit drop and lie still. 

When I reached the rabbit, I saw that my bullet had hit it in the chest, and it had died instantly. To  be sure, I broke its neck. It was a healthy male, and of a decent size. 

The rabbit.  

I was delighted at my success. Any walk in the fields is an enjoyable experience, but it's nice when you're out for a hunt to come home with something for the pot. 

Bunny burgers:
Even before I had seen a rabbit, I had decided that, if I was lucky enough to bag one, I'd make bunny burgers out of it's meat. This is in stark contrast to my usual method of preparing them, where I cook the saddle and legs of the animal whole.

When I got home, I gutted and skinned the rabbit. I've no photos of this, as it's not exactly an ideal time to be handling a camera! This process takes me about ten minutes, as care has to be taken not to perforate the bowel. 
When this is done, I joint the carcass up, removing the legs from the saddle. We we expecting guests, so I then bunged the meat into a bowl of salted water and left overnight. 

Now to describe the making of the patties. I'll include photos I took from every stage of the process. 

The best joints of a rabbit.

After the rabbit had soaked in salt water overnight, I drained it off this afternoon. The photo above shows the hind legs and saddle of the rabbit, where most of the meat on a rabbit is found (I'm not an expert butcher, as can be seen from my photos, but I'm not the worst!).

My next task is to remove as much of the meat as I can from these cuts, and dice them to make them more easily processed. When I'm doing this, I'll remove as much excess sinew as I can, but not at the cost of losing any meat.

The diced rabbit meat. 

Rabbit meat has little or no fat on it, so when cooking or roasting it, it's best to add bacon to give it that essential fat and keep the meat moist. When making burgers out of it, I use pork belly, which I also had to dice. The ratio should be about 25% pork belly, so for a kilo of rabbit meat, add 250 grams of pork. 

After I'd diced all the meat, I set up my meat grinder, which was a present from my sister-in-law a Christmas or two ago. It's a wonderful contraption, which has the added benefit of cutting up whatever sinew is left on the meat. 

 My old-fashioned meat grinder.

The grinder made short work of all the meat, even the fatty, tough pork. While I was doing this, my son wanted a "go" of turning the handle of the grinder. What I was left with was a good mix of rabbit and pork.

The ground meat.

To season the meat, I added a sprinkle of devilishly hot chilli flakes (made from last years crop), black pepper and a dollop of mixed herbs. The truth is, I'm still experimenting with the seasoning of my burgers. After these were added, I mixed them through by hand. 

Burger press.

After the seasoning was thoroughly mixed through the meat, I used our burger press (another incredibly useful tool) to shape the meat into patties. I then placed them on grease-proof paper, and placed them in a Tupperware container for freezing. 

  The finished bunny burgers.

I kept one out to sample it, and had it for dinner tonight. It was delicious, though obviously my opinion is going to be biased! 

So there it is, from the field to the plate. 

I'd be interested to hear comments on this post - maybe the idea of eating a rabbit repels you, or if you have a different recipe, I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer (sort of!) growth.

Before I begin, please note that I wrote this post after consuming the better part of a bottle of this years elderflower champagne, so any grammatical or spelling errors are probably down to to that!

We haven't really had much of a summer this year - rainy month has followed rainy month, and July (by and large) seems to be no exception.

Despite this, veg on the allotment and at home continues to flourish. 

I'll begin at home. 

This really wet weather doesn't seem to suit cucumber plants, as the leaves don't look too healthy . That said, the one or two cucumbers (the actual vegetable) we have are growing well, and we've got some others are beginning to develop from flower. 

New cucumbers growing.

We've had more success with the strawberries we're growing, but this is tempered by the fact that slugs seem to enjoy eating them just as they get ripe. Because of this, we've lost some of the strawberries that are growing in pots on the ground. 

On a brighter note, now that our strawberry plants are two years old, they're producing bigger and sweeter strawberries than last year. On top of that, they're producing in greater quantities, too!

I don't have a photo of our blackcurrants, as they're still green. 

The allotment:
Even though we've finished the initial work on the allotment, maintenance work needs to be kept on top of. 
With that in mind, myself and Peter (my brother in law) yesterday headed over and cut back all the grass on the perimeter of the allotment, which had grown over a foot high. Not only was it unsightly, it was blocking the sun from reaching some parts of the vegetable beds. 
It didn't take long for us to chop back the grass and rake it up, and I was really pleased with the results. The allotment now looks far more clean and presentable.
We then spent some time weeding the beds.

Our carrots have now grown to thick and high, almost jungle like in their appearance.

We uprooted one yesterday, and they seem to be growing well, as can be seen from the photo below. 

Obviously, we'll be leaving them for another while to grow even larger. 

But having seen the carrot we pulled, I'm happy the progress thus far.

Our first carrot!

Not much news with our parsnip bed, but they're certainly getting larger. The staggered parsnips at the front of the bed are doing well too.

Celery bed, with radishes.
We've harvested three of our large celery plants. They've grown to about a foot and a half now, and each plant has grown a decent amount of shoots. 
The staggered celery is now about the size the first lot was when we planted them out. 
The radishes that we planted on at the front of the bed are shooting up too. 

The onions are all now bulbing really well. They'll be left in the ground for a while yet, though. 

Apologies for the slightly lob-sided photo of our next bed. 

To the front, the radishes have grown fully, and the staggered ones have almost caught up with the ones planted initially.
I've harvested lots of them at this stage, and love eating them as a delicious snack.

Behind them, the cos, chard and butterhead lettuce are growing nicely. 

Our garlic hasn't really grown that much in the last couple of weeks, which doesn't bode well for them.

A closer look at (l-r) our butterhead, chard and cos lettuce (grown from seed).

Our small potato bed is now fully established, I can't earth the plants in any more, so we'll just have to wait and see how productive they are. 
Alongside our potato bed, our main lettuce bed has done very well. Most of them are ready to be eaten, and we've harvested a few of them for salads. 

Between them, the spring onions are growing apace. 

The beetroot has grown to the point where we'll most likely have to thin it out soon. 

To the right of it, you can see the couple of corn plants we planted. They're keeping up well with the beetroot. 
At the bottom of the beetroot bed, the swede that we've planted has established itself well.
Next up are our climbing frames. 

Firstly, our bean plants have proven to be a slight disappointment, growing very slowly thus far. 
To cut our losses, Clare's planted pea plants between the beans. They've already started to shoot.
Our pea plants are faring better than our beans. Not as well as I'd like, but they're still growing and yesterday I was able to harvest the first few pods from them. 
(The peas were gratefully devoured by Thomas!)
Nearly all the asparagus plants have now sent up shoots, and are growing well. Not that we can touch them for another year!
Our rhubarb plant has maintained it's own at the bottom of the allotment. Not sure what did such damage to one of the leaves, but the problem hasn't progressed. 

We've another one that a friend kindly gave us to plant out yet. 
Working our way down the other side of the allotment...

Our chives are still alive, which is something, I guess! 

Not really much happening with them yet...
For the last week or two, we've had or courgettes under a cloche to protect them from the heavy rains. They're getting a bit bigger now, and hopefully will start producing fruit soon.
Past the courgettes, we've an empty bed. 

In the next bed past this one, Clare planted a variety of hardy winter carrot, which have already started to send up shoots.

These are obviously intended to keep us with a supply of carrots when our first lot are finished. 

Next up is our white sprouting broccoli. 

This takes up about half the bed, the other half we've left fallow until we can plant some purple sprouting broccoli into it. 
We transplanted our leeks out a week or two ago, and while we've had one or two that haven't survived, I'm genuinely delighted with the progress of the rest of them.

They seem to be thickening up well, so hopefully we'll end up with a good supply of them.
In the penultimate bed on our little tour, our brassicas grow. We've got the likes of brussel sprouts and kale in here. 

As with the rest of the beds, these continue to come along well. 

Fingers crossed that I get enough brussel sprouts to sate my appetite come Christmas!

Finally, our potato frame is now full of earth. My intention was to build this up, but I may be too late to do this. 

There's been a blight warning issued in the past month or so (the wet, humid weather is ideal for it to thrive), I can only hope that our potatoes haven't succumbed to it. 

Finally, the post wouldn't feel complete without a recent photo of the allotment, so here it is.
Thanks to you if you've taken the time to read this post, I hope it was interesting in it's way. As always, please feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have. 

The allotment as it looked yesterday evening.