Sunday, October 25, 2009

Putting the Bees to Bed

Today Dad and I went and visited all 11 of our hives. At the height of the summer we had 15. A couple were very weak splits and didn't make it or were united back. But luckily our current 11 all seem to be doing really well! I was so surprised by how big the populations still are and how much stores they have. Luckily October has been very mild so far. But today we went and put the girls to bed - I will miss them so much this winter! We fed them some sugar syrup and have just about closed them up. I'm sure we'll go and visit again soon but our summer jobs are over now and soon it will be too cold for them to even venture out. So onto the winter and building endless frames etc!

Last weekend we spent forever making up our own sugar syrup. It was meant to come out as fondant, and this required a very long and tiring process. When I went into the kitchen it smelled like Dad was making chutney, but it turns out he had added vinegar to the sugar mixture to "invert" the sugars. I haven't researched this yet but it's something to do with unlocking fructose from the sucrose or something. After that came a lot of heating it to an exact temperature, cooling it down to an exact temperature, and then whisking it until the electric mixer died! After that we put it in bottles ready to feed the bees. It isn't quite thick enough to be called fondant but it's so much thicker than simply boiling up sugar and some water!

After tasting my Grandpa's delicious tomatoes I harvested all ours, even the green ones. I put them in the airing cupboard to ripen - this must have been ages ago now - and forgot about them. Then when we were doing more de-cluttering yesterday we found all these ripe tomatoes in the cupboard! Unfortunately the Brandywines were a bit mushy but the Roma were divine...but even the mushy ones wills be great in my Mum's tomato sauce!

Mum's tomato sauce

Mum used to live in Italy. She's always telling us stories about her old landlady who hid Italian Jews in her attic during the war, strange past Italian boyfriends who had nose jobs, ridiculous superstitions about odd numbers of nuns...English people just don't seem to know how to cook Italian food, putting cream in their carbonara and god knows what in their tomato sauce. Don't do it! This sauce is only 5 ingredients and it really doesn't need anything else! Use it on pizza, with meatballs, on pasta, with chickpea croquettes...anything. Makes 1 quantity.

1 x tin plum tomatoes (whole, not chopped)
glug of olive oil
pinch of salt
good grind of pepper
a clove of garlic, crushed
and you can add a couple of basil leaves or a pinch of dried oregano or marjoram if you like ^^

Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the garlic for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes. Break them up a bit with a spatula. Cook until it starts to thicken slightly, perhaps for about 20 minutes. It will smell wonderful. Add the seasonings if you want them. Savour.

Thanks everyone for all your comments recently! I'm really interested to hear what you all think about the plastics - maybe one of us will come up with a cunning plan and save the world! See you soon ^^

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Recently we've started having a huge clear-out. We've been living knee-deep in pointless clutter for ages and it was starting to get us all down, so we are taking steps!

We've tidied up and rearranged the garden a bit, and have got rid of lots of the pots we don't use. Inside the house I'm in the process of going through all my textiles and crafts items and chucking out the stuff that I don't use any more. We're getting rid of a few books here and there and I'm slowly redoing my bedroom too (hopefully going to be using reclaimed timber furniture!). But until now I have never really realised just how dependent we are on plastics.

Everything we use is plastic. I always thought I was quite careful about avoiding over-packaged goods but everything we eat and buy comes in plastic, from crisps and oven chips to health foods and fruit and veg. Even the stuff packaged in metal, glass or plastic is still printed in a plastic-dependent process or stuck together with plastic tape. I've been rifling through plastic beads, acrylic yarns, nylon pipecleaners and even the bags I use to store them or throw them away in are plastic.

We have always reused our plastic shopping bags and use "bags for life" but even then there is always the odd occasion when you've forgotten a bag and so have to use a new one from the shop. We buy a lot of stuff from the co-op in the High Street, and they use only potato-starch biodegradable bags, but is it really better to use food crops for plastics? I worked at the nursery on Thursday when I had a day off from college and Jim showed me some new very expensive pots he was trialing. He says he wants to give up plastic pots, and these ones were made from rice. He insisted they were made from by-products such as husks etc. but I'm still sceptical: one of these days, we will have a food crisis, and if there's no rice, he won't be able to buy any rice by-product pots either.

The fact is that we are utterly dependent on plastics. The things we use that are not made of plastic are more than likely produced in industrial conditions, and guess what - those industrial conditions rely on plastics. Everything from our cosy jumpers to kagouls and wellies, windows, furniture, and our food packaging is made from plastic. It's pretty scary to wonder what if we woke up tomorrow and all the plastics had gone or had never been invented. We wouldn't have anything.

But I'm also sceptical about the alternatives. If we justs topped using plastics, what would happen to all those plastic goods that are already in existence? They'd either be incinerated (can we really capture all those harmful gases?) or put to landfill. I like using natural fibres in my textiles work, but would it really be better to rely on wool for our clothing, house insultaion, etc? And could we really put precious land down to fibre plants without struggling to produce enough food, and would many of them grow without petrochemical fertilisers? Would, for example, rice by-products really be a realistic option in a world without plastic parts for aeroplanes, ships, and machines?

I'm still not sure what I think about all this but I think the best thing we can do is continue to use plastics, just not make so much of them. I think we're in too deep to stop using plastics, and look at all the good things they do for us - medical supplies, for example. I think we just have to reuse and recycle all the plastic we can. So I'll be trying to throw away as little as possible during this big clear out. Someone out there on ebay or Freecycle will have a use for all my junk, and hopefully that will keep it out of landfill.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Hello everyone! Sorry I haven't blogged for a long time yet again, and I can't believe how much I've missed on my favourite blogs!!! Things seem so buys round here that I haven't had much time for gardening, and we haven't seen our bees for a month! But this week is our catch-up week and thankfully the October weather has been kind to us so far...long may it continue!

Today we went up to see my Grandpa and Grandma and Grandpa gave me a tremendous gift - the first ripe Brandywine tomato from the plant I gave him earlier in the year! It was a whopper and I've cut it up for our supper's first course, along with a couple of Grandpa's other tomatoes (I expect Ailsa Crag - he's always recommending them to me, and Alicante too) and some of ours too: our Alicante, Gardener's Delight and Sungolds. I've had a little nibble and many big flavours on one plate! I love tomatoes! I literally just cut them up and put them on a plate - no salt, no oil or vinegar or herbs - they really don't need it.
^ My Brandywine tomatoes still ripening up

Yesterday we went to the Farnham Food Festival. We didn't stay long because Pabi Bach didn't feel well but I managed to buy some proper baklawa! Baklawa is a Middle Eastern sweet full of delicious things such as pastry, nuts, sugar/honey,'s absolutely delicious and one of my favourite indulgences. I have two other treats that I look forward to and those are greengages (a cousin of the plum) and chestnuts. I literally get a tingly feeling when it's the season for these! I didn't get any greengages to eat this year but I still remember the ones we ate on a beach in Brittany on the only sunny day of summer 2008...and the chestnuts are just beginning to fall now! I went for a weaving lesson with Carol on Wednesday and she has a chestnut tree opposite her drive and they all looked very small and weedy...but hopefully when we go to France around Halloween the French trees will be faring better.

My Style Challenge didn't fare so well in September so to make up for it I'll be making TWO style-related projects this month. I think I'll try making a cosmetic of some description and maybe get going on the cheong-sam dress I've been meaning to make myself for a while...first of all I've just got to persuade my sewing machine to relearn the art of winding bobbins correctly!

We have something like 15 gallons of booze fermenting away now and soon I'll be collecting rosehips to make soothing rosehip syrup with! I've also found that our homemade green tomato chutney has quite a good effect on a sore throat.

Anyway. Supper tonight is our lovely tomatoes followed by my Moroccan chickpea soup with rosemary focaccia and some crispy sauteed potatoes. I leave you with some pictures of how the garden's looking and hope to talk to you all again shortly!