Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Cleansing Flights

The bees have started their cleansing flights. They now fly on sunny days when the heat of the sun is warm enough to heat the hive, usually for a few hours around midday. 

It is a chance to empty their bowels after the winter and bring back water to the hive. Sitting in front of the hives, I watch the bees fly near the hives, collecting droplets of water from the wet grass. Several housekeeping bees carry out dead bees at the entrance. Not brave enough to go further in case the temperature drops and they are stranded away from the hive, which would be fatal. 

The queen will start laying again next month. This will put a strain on the hives for honey and pollen. This is the time that hives can starve. With brood to feed and few foraging bees or stores remaining and unpredictable weather, it can be a worrying time. 

I lifted all the hives today to check their weight. They still have stores but could easily use them up quickly next month. I will be checking then regularly to add extra fondant. 

I over wintered one hive in a double brood box. There is a large difference in stores and strength in this hive. I plan to move to using all double brood boxes. A single brood box just is not enough space for a good queen to lay, never mind additional stores. It encourages them to swarm and going into winter with a strong double brood box is like insurance. I know they probably have enough stores for the winter, but I can feed them anyway, just in case.

So far, I have a 100% overwinter survival rate, but it will be March/April before winter is comfortably behind them.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Raspberry Wine

I started a gallon of raspberry wine today.  Yesterday I did a post about raspberry jam and syrup. 
I decided to use some of the syrup and experiment with a fruit wine.

There was sugar already in the syrup. To make up a gallon to fill this demi-john, I used:

0.5 litre of sweet raspberry syrup
Teaspoon of yeast nutrient 
Teaspoon of wine yeast

It is bubbling away nicely and I hope to enjoy a bottle of it at the end of the summer. Country wines most certainly improve with age! In both taste and the after effect on your stomach and head!!

Six months is the minimum needed to mature, and at least a year to be truly enjoyed.

I will bottle and prim this brew in 7-10 days. It will stay in the bottle till it is to be used. I don't normally double rack. I'm okay about having some sediment at the bottom of the bottles versus the work of racking twice. The bottles are stored upright in flip top bottles, so there usually isn't a problem once the bottles are handled gently.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Raspberry Jam & Syrup

I was delighted when i was given a kg of frozen raspberries over the weekend. I defrosted them and got around to making jam and syrup today. 

I used an equal amount in weight of sugar to fruit. The sugar I used was half table sugar and half jam sugar for the pectin, as raspberries are low in pectin which helps it set.

I cooked the raspberries and added the table sugar first. When this was done, I strained a litre of syrup and bottled them. I hope to use this syrup to flavour the kombucha tea and water kefir. 

I then added the jam sugar to the pot and brought it back to a gentle simmer. I 
spooned it out into clean jam jars, sealed and labelled. Yummy with yogurt!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Kombucha Tea

I have been brewing kombucha tea for about six weeks now and I love it. It tastes wonderful and is very fizzy!

It is basically a sweeten tea that has a kombucha sponge like culture, sometimes called a scoby or mushroom. This culture of beneficial yeasts and bacteria float on the surface of the tea, like in the photo above.
A new layer of culture grows on top of the previous or mother culture after each batch. These can be gently separated to have multiple scobys to share with friends. These can even be fed to the hens if you find you have too many!

It is very economical to brew your own kombucha at home as it is just the cost of black tea and sugar. The culture feeds on the sugar during fermentation and this results in a very low sugar probiotic drink at a fraction of the price of bought kombucha. It is thought to be very beneficial for restoring gut health. 
To start brewing, find a friend or look online for someone willing to share a culture. Then make up a batch of tea and allow it to cool. Add in your scoby.
Keep the container covered with a paper towel or cloth and elastic band to allow it to breath yet keeping out flies/dust. Store in a warm place like your kitchen or hot press.

Use about three tablespoons of sugar and two tea bags to a litre of water. 
Make sure the tea has cooled down and teabags have been removed before adding your scoby, otherwise you might kill it.
The longer you leave it to brew, the stronger the flavour will be. After a month it will taste vinegar like. With experience you will know how long to brew to obtain the best flavour for your palette. 
Always add some tea from the previous batch when making up a new batch of tea. This changes the ph and gives the scoby an advantage over yeasts and bacteria that will be naturally present in your home. 

The first fermentation with the scoby can take about a week depending on the tempature. The warmer, the quicker it will ferment. Once this stage is complete I remove two thirds of the tea and replace this with fresh sweet cooled tea. This leave a third of the kombucha tea to maintain the ph in the new batch. 

I then pour the kombucha tea into flip top brew bottles and leave enough space in the bottle to add a fruit juice of my choosing. The sugar in this juice will cause a second fermentation which will produce the fizz, it also gives it a lovely flavour.
Allow the bottles to sit out for two days and then chill in the fridge ready for use. 

Word of warning: allows open your bottles in the sink with a towel over the lid. They can be very fizzy! And I have spent evenings washing down the ceiling and walls.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The new pony

A kind neighbour dropped over a (free) Shetland pony for the children this morning. 
There was a lot of excitement. He has been named 'Ginger' and will be mostly stabled. He is rather fat and has poor feet and would be prone to laminitis, so he wouldn't be getting much grass. 
I will tether him out to graze for a few hours each day until we set up a small moveable electric fence for him. 
Otherwise he will be given dry hay. I will tidy him up tomorrow with a groom and hair cut. 

I hope to bring my son (5) with me next week to compete on newcomers classes while i compete in the adult classes. 
These are a show jumping class for children. The height of the jumps is just one pole sitting on the ground and mam/ dad get to lead the pony and child through the course. It is a nice way to introduce show jumping to children in a fun and safe way.
I hope it is a sport that we can enjoy together :-)

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The end of the hens

Sadly the neighbours dog visited us today! And killed the two roosters and eight hens. 
All I found was mouthfuls of feather around the yard and one little hen dead in the garden. 
I had let them out to enjoy the January sunny day.... :-(

Friday, 10 January 2014

Seasonal Changes

I have noticed changes in the last couple of days, here at the cottage.
The birds are singing a different tune, a tune of spring coming. Starlings fly overhead in large flocks before settling in nearby groves of sycamores. 

The sky is different also. It is clearer and the sun a little stronger. The damp misty winter fog has lifted for now. The sun shines a little longer each day. 
I have been opening the windows during the day to freshen our home. There is heat in the sun, felt on glass of the south facing windows.

Soon the lambs will appear in the fields that surround us. And then the daffodils will follow.
When I see those two things, Spring has arrived! But not yet...

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Kefir Cream Cheese

I have been making milk kefir for about six weeks now. I decided to experiment with some cheese recipes. This one is for a herb cream cheese. Yummy! 
I was surprised. Removing the whey has removed the sour kefir favour. I honestly love this recipe and it is so easy to make. Truly foolproof!

I started a batch of kefir, of about two litres. I left it for two days instead of the usual one and waited for it to separate into curds and whey. 

When it looked like this, I knew it was ready. 

I strained it first to remove the milk kefir grains. I will use those to start another batch. 

I then placed a cheesecloth over a colander and poured the kefir into it. I left it for 24 hrs.

After 24 hrs it looked like this. 

I got my seasoning ready which consisted of sea salt, garlic and thyme to taste. 

I mixed all the ingredients together until I was satisfied with the favour.

The two litres of kefir produced 0.5 litre worth of cheese and 1.5 litres of whey.
I stored the cheese and some of the whey in 0.5 litre mason jars. They will hold for a few weeks easily in the fridge. I will be using the whey for fermenting vegetables during the week.

The rest of the whey made wonderful brown bread and Yorkshire puddings.  The brown bread was served with the cheese and it didn't last the evening. A great tasting combo. The rest of the cheese will be served with salads throughout the week.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Milk kefir

 Kefir is a probiotic beverage made with kefir grains ( or in some cases a powdered kefir starter culture). There are two types of grains: milk kefir grains and water kefir grains. 

Milk kefir grains can be used with cow milk, goat milk or coconut milk. Water kefir grains can be used with sugar water, juice or coconut water. 

Kefir grains consist of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship. The term "kefir grains"  describes the look of the culture only. Kefir grains contain no actual "grains".

Milk kefir grains generally contain a large number of both live bacteria and yeast, more than 50 strains are typical. The milk kefir grains feed off the sugars (lactose) in the milk. Making it suitable for people who have difficulties digesting lactose or for people wanting to improve their gut health. 

The easiest way to obtain Kefir grains is online or if you are lucky, from a friend.

You only need a tablespoon of grains to culture a litre of milk over 24 hrs. Once settled, your kefir grains will start to multiply from every batch. The excess grains make great chicken food.

Place your grains in a clean glass jar, fill it up with fresh milk. Use a piece of kitchen towel or a clean cloth and secure it with a rubber band. This will allow the gases to release while keeping out contaminates such as dust or flys. 

It can take anywhere from 12-36 hrs before your batch is ready depending on the temperature. The warmer the quicker! You will know it is ready when it has thickened and it might even have separated into curds and whey. Although many people find that it tastes too sour if left to ferment to this stage. 

Once it is ready, strain the kefir through a sieve to remove the grains. Plastic is recommended as metal is thought to have a negative effect on the grains. 
Now you have kefir grains to start a new batch and kefir to use in smoothies, cooking, cheese making etc. The kefir grains should last generations once they are fed and looked at regularly.

If you are going on holidays or want to take a break from them, you can store then in the fridge to allow then to go dormant, just feeding them every few weeks. 

We use ours mostly in a banana, honey and egg kefir smoothie. Very nourishing!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Fermented foods for the gut

'All disease begins in the gut' - Hippocrates

Fermented and cultured foods are rich in probiotics, enzymes, vitamins and minerals.  
They were used to preserve and enhance the nutrient content of the foods. The fermentation process increases nutrients  such as vitamins B,C and K2 and promote healthy gut flora. 
Probiotics are essential for optimal digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, and they help your body produce vitamins, absorb minerals and aid in the elimination of toxins. 

Fermented foods include dairy, veg and beverages. 
Examples of dairy are yogurt, milk kefir, buttermilk and raw cheeses.
Examples of veg are sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented chutneys.
Examples of beverages include kombucha and water kefir. 

It is important to realise how vulnerable your gut bacteria are to lifestyle and environmental factors such stress, high carb/sugar diet and antibiotics. 
Most people do not realize that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system, making a healthy gut vital if you want to maintain good health.

The human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the cells in the human body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species. 

The extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease is only recently began to be recognised and studied. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism.

 An unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, allergies, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Eating fermented foods is one of the best ways to fill your gut with good bacteria. Be sure to avoid added-sugar versions of these products. Instead, add your own fruit to plain yogurt and kefir, and avoid buying kombucha that has more than 12 grams of sugar in a serving. 
They are surprisingly easy and cheap to make at home although a little daunting at first to try.
There is a large amount of blogs and websites dedicated to fermented foods with wonderful 'how to' on You Tube. 
I encourage anyone interested to look up the GAPS Diet. Their website has an amazing wealth of information on gut health and is a wonderful resource. 

If anyone is looking for starter cultures such as kefir grains or kombucha scoby, I usually have some spare as they do multiple. Just email me if you are located reasonably nearby.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year !

Happy New Year everyone!

I am not one for looking back but 2013 has been a good year here. Like every year it has had it's low and highlights. But overall it has been a good year. 

But on to 2014! I have many plans.

We are looking to find a quiet pony for the children so that I can start to teach them to ride. I have got myself a horse to start show jumping this coming season. So I am very excited about this. Isn't it wonderful to have something to look forward to?

I have started making/using fermented foods and I hope to explore/improve this further. 

In the veg garden, we need to take down the polytunnel frame. It has been damaged in the recent storms and we don't intend to replace it.
We will build a glasshouse/potting shed instead and use cloche in our outdoor beds as much as possible. We are going to remove a few outdoor beds as I feel we have too much growing ground and it is too much work for me. I don't use it efficiently enough and I don't see the point in growing veg just to give away.
I will be more fussy about want we grow. Only grow what we eat! That means much more peas and no more broadbeans. 

We are also planning to buy a new cow shortly. Very exciting indeed! Hubby has the cow yard/shed almost finished and it should be ready in a couple of weeks.

We also need to buy a few more pullets as we do use a dozen+ eggs a day. We currently have eight hens, which just isn't enough. The neighbours dog has taken three young rooster over the Christmas. That sorted our excess rooster problem, but it also means that it is going to be a problem to free range the girls come spring. 

We have built up the bees to four strong hives. I don't plan to make further increases this year so we should be able to take a good honey crop off them in August. All going well, but with everything with bees, it will depend on the weather. 

The home brew has been going very well and I plan to make more country wines and of greater variety. I feel I have mastered this skill and I can produce a light fragrant enjoyable country wine and good beers/ales.

Hubby has plans to get laying ducks for the orchard and dig out a small pond for them. Again, I'm worried about the neighbours dog and the odd fox.

Our bog needs the drains cleared before we can cut turf for next winter. 

On a personal side, I hope to take piano lessons. I got a piano last year and I have started to play, but lessons would be a big help. I also started going to the gym last Oct in the mornings while the boys were in school and I hope to keep that up. Maybe not the five mornings as I have a horse to exercise now.

What are your plans for 2014?