Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Woodpiles & Ponies

We have been busy sorting out wood piles. Some fresh cut timber needs stacking to season and some seasoned timber needs to be brought into the wood/turf shed to dry out and be split.
We have about twenty trees that will be cut back or felled in the coming weeks if the weather improves. 
We have planted 270 willow cuttings recently and these will replace any trees that are felled. Trees are like crops, they should be harvested when they mature. Our trees are very mature at about forty feet tall and we worry about the next storm knocking them and all the damage that might bring.

It was a nice sunny spring day today. The dogs enjoyed sunbathing and our new pony 'max' has settled in. We brought him home on Saturday and our little Shetland went to a new home on Sunday. He was not quiet enough for the children or for my nerves. 
This pony is much gentler and quieter. I expect he should stay with us about eight years, by then the children will have outgrown him. 
He is eligible to compete at 128cm showjumping with our eldest boy next year. 

Our lovely neighbours dropped over at lunchtime today, a gift of five red pullets. I was delighted as we needed to replace the lost hens. Soon we won't need to buy anymore eggs!

We are cow shopping at the moment. So hopefully we will have news on that front soon.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Water kefir

Water kefir for me has been the most challenging of the fermented drinks to master. While it is the simplest and quickest, I found experimenting to find the best flavours a long process of discovery. Many, many batches were poured straight into the pigs bucket.
Beverages need to be enjoyable, regardless of whether they have health benefits. Why compromise on joy?
I will share with you want has worked for me.

Water kefir is a versatile culture of bacteria and yeast that can be used to ferment any carbohydrate rich liquid. They have the appearance of crystals and are surprisingly firm to touch.

I typically ferment the kefir in a sugar solution of three tablespoons to a litre.
Table sugar is fine but I have used molasses and malt barley extract also.

I found the molasses to greatly encourage growth and vigour of the grains but produced a liquid that I found unpleasant tasting. I feed the grains with molasses every now and again as I feel it is of benefit but I pour the fermented liquid into the pigs bucket afterwards.

I found using malt extract to produce a pleasant tasting liquid and also makes the grains very active. I use this sweetener the most often.
Table sugar is fine but I found it ferments very quickly and often the liquid produced an overly strong fermented and unpleasant flavour. Over time the grains became less active and growth slowed.

I actually thought that the unpleasant flavour produced by the table sugar just was the flavour of water kefir and I clearly just did not enjoy water kefir. But having used the malt extract, I actually enjoy the ferments and I am experimenting further with flavours.

First stage is to source some kefir grains. I always have some available if you are nearby or you may source some locally through friends, otherwise eBay usually has many listings of them. 

Once they are sourced, start a first fermentation by placing the grains into a glass container with the cooled sugar:water solution. Cover the container with a cloth and a rubber band. This allows it to breath yet keeps out dust/flys. 

After 48 hrs it should be fermented. You can taste the solution to check if most of the sugars have been used. 

Sieve the mixture to separate the liquid from the grains. Set the grains aside to use again. Pour the liquid into strong flip-top bottles. Leave space in the bottle to add flavouring. Seal and set out in a warm room for 2-3 days. The pressure should have built up now in the bottle to produce a fizzy beverage.
They can be stored in the fridge to prevent further fermentation. 

Always open bottles in the sink with a cloth over the lid. They can be very fizzy and weaker bottles have been known to explode under the pressure. We bought our bottles in a home brew shop and they were a great investment. 

My favourite water kefir flavour is ginger. It is very easy. I put a small piece of crystallised ginger into each bottle. Yummy! Just be careful to use a small piece as it will swell and could be very difficult to remove from the bottle for cleaning later. 
I also like to add cranberry juice to the kefir. I usually add a fifth of juice to flavour the kefir. You can experiment with lots of different flavours juice drinks. 

I make about four litres of vegetable juice every week. I do it in one big go and make enough for the week. I always add to the juice about a litre of fermented kefir. It is stored immediately in the fridge and holds excellently. As I store it in the fridge, it does not ferment further to produce a fizz but I am still getting my probiotics. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Feeding the bees in Feb

I am checking the bees regularly now. Feb is an important month for bees.
The queen starts to lay as the older wintered bees start to die off.
It is a critical time for them. If the queen lays too many eggs, the pressure of extra brood to rear could starve the colony quickly, but if she doesn't lay at the right time she won't have enough worker bees to replace those that are dying off now.
She wants to be at an advantage for when the first pollen sources come available next month. She will need foraging bees to work those sources, those bees will need to be reared soon.

From when the egg is laid by the queen to emerging from the sealed cell as a young worker takes 21 days.
The young bee will spend the first three weeks working inside the hive as a nurse bee, drawing comb from her wax glands, temperature regulation etc.
After the three weeks she will start to go out of the hive to foraging, she will do this till she dies, usually by six weeks.
If the queen needs foragers in six weeks time, she will need to lay them now. 

I have placed fondant blocks above the crown board. On each hive they were busy using it. I replaced any near empty blocks with full ones. I don't lift off the crown board to check them, it is too cold yet.

On one hive I was using a ashford feeder with strong syrup. I noticed that they were not using it and the hive was getting very light. So I took it off and replaced it with a crown board and fondant. 
I don't like to open up a hive like that at this time of year but needs most. I don't wish for them to starve. 
As you can see from the photo there are bees covering two frames. I placed the fondant immediately above the cluster and they started taking it down immediately. The feeder was of no use to them as they will only feed above the cluster. To break cluster would cause them to chill and die.

The hive that I wintered in a double brood box seems the strongest. I will winter all the hives next year like this. They will have twice as many frames for stores and would be at a great advantage with needing very little if any feeding. 

This worker bee landed on the roof of the hive. She used it as a chance to cleanse her full over wintered bowels and take in water to return to the hive with.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Apple Chutney

I have been looking for ways to use the large amount of apple I got from my uncles orchard. 
I have made cider, used them in juicing, apple tarts and now chutney!
And I still have loads left, the pigs might get them before I use them all up!

1kg apples
300g onions
150g raisins
300-400 ml vinegar, to taste
300-400g sugar, to taste 
Mixed spice

Add all the ingredients to a pot and allow to gently simmer for 2-4 hrs with the lid off.
Stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom. 
Once it has turned a rich dark colour and has reduced down, spoon it hot into clean jam jars and seal the lids. 
Once it cools, the lids should pop down, a sign of a good seal. 

Allow to mature for 2-3 months before use. 
It gives a yummy kick to cheese or cold meat !

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Planting willow cuttings

I set about planting willow cuttings today ( thanks Kate ).  They were partially soaking in water since I got them last week. It was well time to get them planted.

These are a mixture of basket making varieties. I planted them around the bees and along a fence line.

I am hoping they will give the bees more shelter and encourage them to fly higher in the orchard. 
As they grow, we hope to weave them into fedges, a living willow hedge/fence.
We will use the winter pruning rods for basket making.

A few more signs of life in the garden. The rhubarb has awoken as have many flowering bulbs around the garden. The daffodils and tulips are pushing up through the cold soil. There are lambs in the surrounding fields, it is spring!

I have made a start to clearing out the veg beds. The pigs are reaping the rewards of turnips, kale, radishes and cabbages that have been damaged by recent storms. 
One pigs is to go to the butcher shortly, and the other is to remain as our breeding sow. 

I need to get the veg beds cleared out and add compost to them. Maybe try and heat up the soil using plastic sheeting. There is no polytunnel for this season. It will not be worth our while to replace the plastic on it after the storms. 

My to-do list is very long. February is alway a very panicked month, as I try to get ahead of the weeding, planting, beekeeping etc.

The hens need to move back into their moveable coop. I am getting no eggs and are having to buy them. But the dogs are well feed and have a great shine from all the extra protein. I want eggs!!! We also need to replace the hens that we lost last month. 

The bees need plenty of attention from now on. I need to check their food stores every week as now is the time for them to starve, as the queen starts to lay. This puts a great deal of pressure on the colony. 

We need to buy a new cow. I miss raw jersey milk so much!!

Although I feel pressured, I am very excited for spring. The winter is a very inactive period, and I long for its rest by autumn.
 But now, I long for activity, longer days, sunshine and sandals.