Booze – Learning The Ways & Home Made Apple Press

We at Growblogs love our booze (in moderation, most of the time), and from the very start one of our main goals was to grow and produce our own booze. Ive always fancied the idea of homebrew, experimenting with flavours and techniques to make different wines, ciders and ales, so when I start a new project, I do what I always do and buy a good book and start reading. I already collect the River Cottage Handbook series, so the addition of the booze edition was a must. It is written by John Wright, who you will probably know from the River Cottage Series, as the foraging guy who makes booze from things he finds in hedges, and Hughs rosey red cheeked drinking buddy. They always seem to be sloshed and having a laugh so I know I will be getting good advice.

booze, apple press

With an ample supply of free apples this time of year, we decided to start by making cider. I purchased a home brewing kit with all the accessories needed as well as a couple of demi-Johns to store the cider in. I organised and collected some crab apples from my parents garden. Then when I sat down to read the process, I stumbled at the first block with the lack of an apple press. After a quick google I soon realised that a decent cheap one would cost around £70 and would take 2 weeks to deliver. I did not want to be spending that sort of money on something that would get used so little, so after more googling, I found that making my own was the way to go. Our booze filled plans are back on track.

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An apple press is a machine used to separate the juice from the rest of the fruit through the exertion of pressure on apple pulp. There are many different variations of this design online, I decided to use a bottle jack because I had one in the shed and barely used it.

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The buckets that we purchased are known as plasterers buckets, they are tougher than normal buckets and hold a much larger quantity. We drilled holes in the bucket to allow the juiced to drop down into the vessel below. We recommend using a wood drill bit when boring holes in plastic as it is less likely to crack the bucket and lives a nice round clean hole.

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The timber frame needs to be strong, we used 3” x 1 ½ “ rough timber, and bolted and screwed the pieces together to make sure that it will take the pressure of the 1 ton jack.

There are much more detailed plans to make something similar to this online if your not the most DIY minded, but I think its pretty straight forward. Hopefully this weekend will provide us with good weather and the opportunity to test it out.

booze, apple press

Winter Wildlife – A little help goes a long way.

Winter Wildlife

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Bird Feed

There’s no doubt about it there’s a nip in the air, and the media are scaring us with tales that the winter could be much worse than 2010. This means only one thing, time to tuck the plot in for the winter while trying to make it a haven for our wild animals this winter. That snug feeling of being tucked up in your superman onesie in front of an open fire (chestnuts roasting ob.), can feel even more content knowing you have done your bit for winter wildlife. If your cold and hungry imaging how that little robin at the end of your garden feels.

There are many activities you can undertake from the very simplest through to some that will take time and some expense. One of the simplest and most rewarding you can do is simply put feed out for birds. Whether you keep leftover bits of fat from bacon rinds, bread crumbs or go to the expense of purchasing seeds or mealworms you will greatly help out our feathered friends when food sources are scarce. It is also important to remember this much over looked fact, birds drink water ! And when there is snow on the ground or temperatures are below zero then this is not always easily accessible to them.

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Bird Feeders

As the days started to gradually get colder and the growing season started to run out, we started to think about bugs and small animals. There is a great abundance of wildlife up at out allotment (with most of it living in my shed), we are blessed to have seen hares, grey squirrels, all of your common uk birds, frogs and we even arrived one day to chase a small flock of grey lag geese from our neighbours salad patch. We had planted some asian vegetables late end of summer and were unable to harvest it all. Our Choy sum had started to flower and was covered in bees and hover flies. As we weren’t going to have time to gain another crop from this space we decided that it would do the bees a world of good to have that extra source of food so we left it in the ground.

 

With little to no growing on our plot the focus has mainly turned into maintenaince and improving our structures. We gave the plot a good tidy 2 weeks ago and removed some of the rubbish that was accumulating in one of the corners. There was some offcuts of wood and various logs that were sodden and probbly no good for the fire but we didnt want to disturb them as it was probbly providing home to many wonderful beasts. It can happily sit there until next year when the weather starts to pick up and nature is back to its most energetic.

The simplest things we can do can mean the difference of survival or not for our winter wildlife.

Success Failures 2016

Autumn 2016

Our wee plot !
Growblogs Plot

You can never rely on Irish (Happy Cas ?) weather in Autumn, to be consistent from year to year. But there is one thing that you can rely on, and that is the trees will put on a fiery display of orange and brown leaves, and the wind will do its best to help them to the ground.

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One thing we missed out on last year, and a great way to reduce costs and produce an excellent, helpful product is to create leaf-mould. This essentially means to make compost from the leaves that have fallen from the trees. This process is started in Autumn, naturally when the leaves are ready to fall. We will be collecting as many fallen leaves as possible and treating them like normal compost. We will be keeping the leaf mould in a large Hessian builders sack beside our compost bins, on site for easy access, and so that we can check and turn the compost when needed. The end quality of the compost will be determined by the quality and type of leaves added to the compost. The most desirable leaves are beech or oak as they break down easily and produce a good quality compost. Conifer Needles may take up to 3 years to break down completely and pine needles should be avoided as they produce an acidic end compost.

While overall the plot is starting to look a little bare, our Autumn veg are doing well. We are consistently feeding and weeding our Autumn veg to give them the very best chance of doing well.

Autumn veg bed
Autumn veg bed

Our pointed sweethearts have recovered well after an attack from Cabbage White Caterpillars, and are forming nice large pointed heads.

I have also now thinned the beetroot out to their final growing positions, allowing enough space in between plants to grow the beets to the size I desire. I transplanted some of the stronger plants that I thinned out as a bit of an experiment to see if they would take, and also to use up some bare ground.

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Curly kale

Curly Kale, is an absolute delight to grow and one of the best tasting and versatile veg in the kitchen. Kale is often at its best from late September until February, so now is the perfect time to start harvesting and reaping the benefits of this high protein and fiber rich, super food.

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Carrots

We have never really made a proper attempt to grow conventional looking supermarket carrots. The past few years our carrots have been consistently poor. Not great tasting and terrible shapes. Once again the carrots have been an after though in fact more of a gap filler. We had space at the top of the fruit bed and transplanted about 20 carrot seedlings. As yet, they havnt been decimated by carrot fly and at the surface seem to be doing well, so we never know we might get a fluke crop for our Christmas dinner.

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Strawberries with seperate runners in pots.

Our second batch of Autumn strawberries are now starting to fruit, which will give Conor a chance to place with his new birthday present a strawberry slicer ( I know.. thats what mates are for). We have also been busy potting up strawberry runners to increase our strawberry stocks as they are certainly a plot favourite.

What are you growing this Autumn ?, we would love to hear from you in the comments.

September 2016

Septembers harvest 2016

Allotment, growing, growyourown, grow, horticulture, vegetables, food, produce, harvest, purple beans, beans, peppers, pepper, aubregine, orange pepper, yellow pepper, bell pepper, courgette, yellow courgette, beetroot, kale nreo di tosca, september
Septembers harvest 2016

Whilst September may be one of the most bountiful months, often with some of the most prized and colourful vegetables, a plenty, it also has its down side. For someone who has spent as much time, planning and preparing their growing season, there is that inevitable feeling every vegetable Gardner dreads , and that is that its time to start winding up the garden for the year.

Our maincrop peas and mange tout, which excelled for us so well throughout the summer, have provided us their last pods. With the freezer full of our pea harvest, all ready for Christmas dinner, we took down the cane supports, stored for winter and composted the plants. When we had cleared all of the peas plants away, it was clear that we weren’t the only fans of our peas, and we reckon a wee mouse or two was using our pea plants as a B&B.

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Cleared raised bed

Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

When we cleared the plants away it was time to decide, do we sow green manure in preparation for next season, or do we replenish the nutrients in the ground and try and get a late crop. Ever the optimists we did a late sowing, of mixed salad leaves, lambs lettuce and pak choi, all of which are hardier and faster cropping vegetables that may well just, with a bit of help from mother nature get us a late stir fry or salad.

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Tomatoes “Gardeners Delight”

We have reduced the amount of watering in the greenhouse, to just keeping the plants moist to try and encourage the ripening of the fruits, and have stopped feeding the tomatoes and cucubrits with tomato feed completely. You would be surprised the amount of people who don’t realise that green, yellow orange and red peppers are all the same fruit just at different stages of ripening.

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My One and Only Aubergine/Eggplant
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Bell Peppers Ripening

Our courgettes, gherkins and Jack Be little Pumpkins were hit hard with what I believe to be a case of the powdery mildews. This is a white powdery coating that covers the leaved and suffocates the plants. It is a fungal disease that attacks the foliage and stems of the plants. As there appears to be no sprays or miracle cures for this disease on edible plants, and with it being too late to take the advice to mulch and thin out the plants, I decided to cut back all the major infected stems and leaved and dispose off away from our compost.

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Pumpkins and Courgettes attacked by fungal “Powdery Mildew”

 

This should give me enough time and hopefully with the good leaves left enough time to ripen, all of the many fruits on the plants. One of the bonuses of cutting back all the foliage was uncovering a yellow courgette plant that I had forgot about, which im loving the colour for cooking with. I think it might have been the climbing variety that I never actually managed to get to climb this year. So there’s the first of my next seasons resolutions, im going to have a beautiful arch of yellow climbing courgettes.

caterpillars

Our Autumn Cabbages got attacked by Caterpillars and while we are not an organic plot, I dont like the idea of spraying food that I am going to eat, so I decided to employ gorilla tactics to combat these critters. Basically they got put in a coffee cup and driven to a warehouse somewhere never to be heard off again… ill say no more. Thankfully plants are resilient and it looks like we will be eating our pointed sweethearts after all.

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Autumn Winter veg

Over the winter when the plot is going to be a bit more quiet, we plan to release many more instructional blogs, and maybe a few videos to help explain things, that we would have found useful had it been explained to us at the beginning of our growing fun. I also don’t know if its just here in Belfast, but the growing bug seems to be spreading and im being inundated from friends looking advice or help to start their own vegetable patches, and im only more than willing to help, as I know how happy our plot makes us.

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Marketmore Cucumbers

Peas out ! Growfans 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Allotment 2016

Mid August and the Allotment is in a transition period, from the dull wet summer conditions to whatever Autumn has in store. The warm and moist weather has been a perfect breeding ground for diseases and we lost all of our outdoor tomatoes to blight, across the allotment. The potato plants started to show signs of blight too, so we cut the plant of and let the potatoes stay in the ground until we either harvest them or need the space.

 

We harvested our red cabbages this month “August” “Red Drumhead” a variety that we purchased from SeedParade. They were great tasting and and had nice big heavy heads, defiantly a variety I will be trying again. We are also starting to harvest some of the produce from the greenhouse. Our sweet peppers “Sweet Romano” are now at the perfect length for sloshing with some olive oil and throwing on a hot grill.

It seems that all of our peas and beans have come good at once. We tried many different variety of varied architecture and colours all producing good and tasty yields.

These purple beans are, while not only visually striking are a firm favourite in my kitchen. We have grown both Dwarf Bush Bean Purple Teepee from Thompson and Morgan, and a Purple Climbing Bean also fromTthompson and Morgan. While the dwarf plants have produced a vastly superior yield the climbing beans when mixed with other colours of climbing bean create a beautiful structure. We have also been consistently harvesting our mangetout “Pea Kennedy” and our podded peas “Pea Ambassador” which have both been problem free and heavy yielding and both produce a pleasing white flower. Freezing individual portions of peas, helps to provide fresh tasty veg in times when its not available in the garden.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead to autumn, we decided to lift all the potatoes and replenish the ground with manure and nutrients (fish blood and bone and chicken manure pellets) and allow the worms to work their magic, while our autumn veg seedlings are growing strong roots. Brassicas are hardy vegetables and can handle the ever changing Autumn weather conditions, but its important to give them a strong head start. When planting brassics seedlings its well known the importance of firming the plants into the ground, Firm them in then do it 5 times more. We always put a collar around our brassicas to help deter root fly. This autumn we are growing, curly kale “westland Autumn”, cauliflowers, black kale “Nero de tosca”, Radicchio”Palla rossa Precoce,” swede “Gowrie,” Swede “Best of All,”

Turnip “Purple Top Milan”. Our broad beans took a battering in a wind storm last week so I think once I let what is left of the crop when the beans reach a good size I will lift the crop, and then haunt the gardening stores for something to fill the gap.

We received a warning letter for non cultivation of our plot from the council this month, this gave us a good laugh after the initial shock. Were pretty sure they have made a mistake for an over grown neighbouring plot as I think were way ahead of where we had planned to be at this time.

July Holiday Washout ! 2016

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GrowBlogs Allotment

Having my annual July holiday week, I thought I would use the good weather to get ahead of myself, and to give the plot a really good tidy up and weeding. Normally this time of year, I spend a lot of time making sure that all my crops are well watered, but this year there has been no need. It has rained everyday for the past few weeks with few sunny intervals. While not ideal at all, most of the crops are doing well, and we are recording good temperatures in the greenhouse.

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Some July Produce

July for the vegetable grower is a busy, but bountiful month. Plenty of crops to harvest, rows of spuds still nestling in the soil, hedgerows full of berries and the delightful bright red strawberries, poking from under the luscious green leaves, means that summer is well and truly upon us. There are a few gaps starting to appear in a few of the beds, mainly in the brassica bed. The romanesco cauliflower, while producing massive leaves failed to form a head. The broccoli “green calabrese” grew really well and were delicious, and we are still harvesting the kohlrabi, kale and are fingers crossed for the two massive red cabbages “red drum head”dominating the bed.

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Brassica Bed

Its time to start planning autumn and winter veg, and whats going to be on the plate for this years Christmas dinner. I transplanted some carrots “Rainbow F1”which had been started in a pot, to the bed beside the rhubarb. I also sowed some of the same seed in a deep container to compare the difference.

Something new to me and the plot, that we are trying for the first time this year is Radicchio “palla rossa precoce”. They have been described to me as a mix between a lettuce and a cabbage, with a tangy slightly bitter flavour, which grows particularly well this time of year. They are better sown directly where they are to mature. Seedlings normally show 1- 2 weeks after sowing, weather dependant, and plants normally reach maturity around 60 – 70 days also weather dependant and is harvested whole like an iceberg lettuce.

Thinking ahead and trying your best to time when to harvest your crops, and to replenish the ground and plant out new crops, is not easy but something which is important to maintain a continuous supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. To fill the gap where we were had previously grown the broccoli, I had already started some Autumn cabbage seeds “Pointed Sweethearts” that I will soon be hardening off and planting out. I have also made another sowing of Kale seeds as its been a firm favourite this year and im starting to get the room for a few more plants.

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Autumn Cabbage Seedlings
This month we sowed the last of our crops for the greenhouse, our gherkins “F1 Adam”. I started the seedlings in a heated propagator, to maintain a consistent temperature. Then when the seedlings started to form their first true leaves I potted them on into their individual pots. They are currently residing in a mini greenhouse, in my sunny South east facing bay window and are doing well.

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Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
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First tomato of 2016
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First pepper 2016

One thing that we had been lacking up at our plot was a permanent compost bin, and we were using builders sacks to store our vegetable waste and

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Gherkin Seedlings Adam F1
materials. While not easy to turn the compost over, and sticking out like a sore thumb in a rather nice overgrown end of the allotment, they had to go! So I got some long screws a few old wooden pallets and some left over wood and banged this together. Its defiantly not going to win any architectural awards or fans on pinterest , but its sturdy and serves a purpose and has tidied up, which was a rather ugly end of the plot we dont like to talk about.

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New Compost Bin
Till next time grow fans when hopefully we will be starting to harvest our maincrop peas.

Peas Out !

Pest Protection – Protecting Your Crops

Pest Protection

Net Collage

When it comes to protecting your fruit or vegetables from pests there are a few important questions to ask, before deciding on the best method.

What Fruit/Vegetables am I trying to protect, and what are the most likely pests, that will be attracted to them ?

Different crops will attract different pests, and its important to be aware when and what is likely to attack your food. Its important to have a grasp of the local wildlife, in the surrounding area where you grow your crops. If you are growing in the countryside, then you are going to face a much more diverse group of pests, than someone who is growing in say, an inner city urban balcony. I have read blogs about people In England/Wales having to defend their produce from large animals like deer, badgers and moles from devouring or demolishing crops. Thankfully the largest animal I have had to chase from the plot was a Grey Lag Goose that was making light work of my neighbors lettuce. If you have just gained a new plot and you are unsure what pests you are likely going to have to defend your crops against, then you should take a good walk around, and have a look at others peoples plots, and see what means of protection they have undertaken. You should also get chatting and talk to other plot holders, as they will keep you up to date about what has been lurking in the area. In fact just by talking to a few of the more attentive plot holders I like to call the the “PlotFlys” in the nicest possible terms, that we have a bit of a rat problem at the plots at present. By getting together and informing the council who run the allotments, and taking some precautions ourselves hopefully we will be able to eradicate the problem before the main harvest.

 

The most persistent pests that I will have to deal with can be split into 3 different animal classes – Birds, Insects and Mammals. In this blog I am going to describe the methods I am using to protect my veg, and as my plot evolves and as I start to grow different vegetables and fruit trees I will keep updating this page.

Birds will eat many different types of vegetables, ive seen ducks destroy patches of lettuce in minutes and pigeons strip strawberry plants and raspberry canes bare. One of my raised beds is half filled with strawberry plants and they recovered well after the winter and are now flowering. The other half has some rhubarb and an early crop of spinach, which when harvested will mainly be used for salad crops, lettuce, beetroot etc. The two main pests that I will need to provide protection against, on this bed will be birds and slugs. When protecting against birds the best way is to build a cage or use protective nets. There are many ingenious ways I have seen being used on allotment using many different products and techniques. Here are a few different methods that we have used, that seem popular with other growers.

  • Half Loop Method – This basically means using any materials to build an arch over a vegetable bed then draping a protective net over it. Materials often used for this product are plumbing pipe, which are ideal as the plastic pipe comes in coils and are already the correct shape and easy to cut, and will never weather as they water proof. To attach the semi hoops to the beds I simply took a hammer and flattened one end before screwing the ends firmly into the raised beds.2016-05-05 17.13.23 Its important at this stage to remember to leave enough room to allow yourself to be able to lean in and be able to work the ground. When the protective nets have been placed over the frame there are many different ways to attach and hold the nets in position, popular methods include tent pegs, weighing the nets down taught with stoned, purpose built pipe clips or cable ties, basically whatever will do the job.

 

 

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  • Cage – Well this basically means building or creating a structure and covering it with whatever material is needed to complete the job. This first cage I created I am going to use for keeping birds and small mammals from getting at the seedlings. Until the seedlings are well established and to increase the temperature and help protect them from the frost, slugs and snails I will be planting the seedlings under plastic bottle cloches. I made this from a wooden frame basically as it was going cheap and I knew I could have used it for something. It was built to the height of the chicken wire to maximize height.

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  • Flexi Ball/Bamboo Structure – What can I say about Flexiballs apart while not being the cheapest product, are very easy to work with and very time efficient. Flexiballs are designed to work with bamboo canes or metal piping. They are perfect for net protection and they provide a smooth corner for dragging the protective layer over without damaging the net, which makes them easy to maneuver and install by one person.

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There are many products that you can buy straight off the shelves that will provide protection for your crops. Some that I find useful are the prefabricated netting tunnels. I so far this year have used these to protect some broad beans from frost.2016-03-20 13.30.57 I will also use them when I plans out my peas, until they get them well established. The only real disadvantage to these protective nets is that they do cut out some of the sunlight for hungry seedlings.

Another vital tool, that I just would not be able to cope without, is slug pellets. Whilst these pellets are not the naturalists favorite product, they are essential for us who are not able to attend the plot every evening to pick slugs and snails by hand. Beer and larger traps are often advisable too, when the rain comes after along dry spell and you can guarantee, that the slugs and snails will be out in force, with hungry slimy bellies.

Have you seen any ingenious methods of pest protection around your allotment site, or are you a master scarecrow maker? Or do you just know someone, who has a face that would keep even the hungriest of gastropods of your iceberg lettuces. If so please send us a photo or email us with your ideas ?

Allotment Year One – Come Subscribe

Allotment Year One

Allotment Year One
Growblogs Plot

So its nearing the end of Allotment year one and we are loving it. I’m pretty sure it was a drunken joke followed by an email to the council. 8 years letter they returned the correspondence to say plot 8b was ours. It’s been our home from home for the last twelve months and it was a complete jungle before we got stuck in. Allotment Year One just like Romeo – Done !

I’d heard stories of people taking over allotments and being left with an almost ready to go plot. We weren’t so lucky and our first action was to dig up the entire plot and start to weed it. This was our first mistake. We soon realised the work involved and while we completed the first dig, it definitely seemed like the better option to use raised beds.

Now this project is not one we want to invest hugely into bar our time. Where we can source things frugally we will, where we can make something fit a purpose it may not have been intended for, we do. Where we can barter and trade….we will.

raised bed

Chris was able to salvage some floorboards from an old property and these became the basis of our raised beds. Speaking to some of the other allotment neighbours they advised filling the beds with a mix 50/50 mix and to date this has been our single biggest expense at £130. As you can see from the photo below, I may have made an error in my parking, placing the van where the soil was to go. The only way out was to shovel 2 tonne on my own. Cheers Chris.

allotment-blog

We’ve also sourced our “Free from the Internet” shed and have gotten it to be free standing and water tight, which has come in hand recently with the crazy rain of the past week.

After year 1 we’ve had some great successes and overall I’m extremely happy with what we have been able to grow. It’s also helped save on the cost of buying veg as well as ensuring we’re eating healthier. We’ve definitely eaten much more veg the past 12 months than ever before, which cannot be a bad thing.

I’ve honestly found the allotment to be a great stress reliever too. Horrible signal means that mobile data is a no go, so Facebook an twitter are out. Text and calls are possible. Barely.

I’m really looking forward to our second year on the allotment and hope we can share our experiences and mistakes. At least that way someone else will learn from them.

Drop us a message and let us know if we can help in any way.