Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vegetarian Supper

Recently I've turned vegetarian-bordering-on-vegan, due to a number of reasons:
  • Animal welfare. I don't really see anything wrong with eating free range local meat, especially if you're supporting local business at the same time. However it's just so easy to use chicken stock cubes etc. which of course use the cheapest possible chicken. And I don't want to eat animals that haven't ever seen the sunshine.
  • Disgust. For some reason the idea of eating animal products disgusts me. Pork chops turn to dust in my mouth, eggs I can't stand (unless they're in chocolate cake or something ^^). I've always been fussy but recently I've just really gone off animal products, even my mum's shepherd's pie and my dad's butter chicken! I still eat honey though, of course.
  • Health. I lost 2 kg in my first week of being veggie!
  • I like it. I just like lentils and beans and veg!

Anyway, last night I had what can only be described as a vegetarian feast:

  • Okra with lemon, my dad's recipe
  • Mixed veg curry
  • Rice
  • Fresh peas
  • Fried mushrooms
  • and the others had a pork chop each as well.

So here are some recipes!

Dad's Okra with Lemon

I just love okra, and I think it's in season at the moment. My plants haven't done anything yet but who knows what August may bring? The ones we used yesterday were from Thailand (eek, food miles!) but I just can't resist okra, the minute I see it any green principles fly out the window I'm afraid.


  1. Add a bit of oil to a large pan and heat. I used organic rapeseed oil.
  2. Top and tail the okra, and wash. I used 2 smallish packets to feed 4 of us.
  3. Add the okra to the hot oil and move around the coat them in it.
  4. Continue moving the okra around the pan for around 15 - 20 minutes. They'll release a sort of clear goo. Keep cooking until the goo stops and the okra have gone soft. They should still be green but the smaller ones will be tinged with brown in places.
  5. When the okra are cooked, add the juice of half a lemon to the pan, and stir. Chuck the squeezed lemon half into the pan too, for extra flavour. Cook for another couple of minutes to infuse the okra with the lovely lemony-ness.
  6. Serve nice and hot. I think something crunchy, e.g. toasted sesame seeds, would be nice sprinkled over the top.

Mixed veg curry

We just used whatever was in the cupboard, fridge and garden yesterday! You can use any sort of veg you happen to have lying around. This is how we made last night's version:

  1. Chop an onion fairly finely, and crush a clove of garlic.
  2. Heat a glug of organic rapeseed oil in a hot pan, and add the onion and garlic.
  3. Chop up 2 carrots and a couple of celery sticks - not too big and not too small. Add to the pan.
  4. Add French beans (topped and tailed) and runner beans (topped, tailed, de-stringed and sliced) chopped in half widthways.
  5. Add some fresh tomatoes straight from the garden.
  6. Add some tinned tomatoes too.
  7. Tip in a can of chickpeas.
  8. And stir in a sachet of curry powder,
  9. Leave to stew until everything is soft and lovely, but hasn't lost its colour.

And another of my favourtie vegetarian foods:

Sweet Potato chips

  1. Chop some sweet potatoes into thin chips. We use 1 tuber per person (though I could quite happily munch on more, to be honest!).
  2. Add some oil to a deep roasting tin. Tip in 1.5 tsp of cumin seeds and 1 tsp of black mustard seeds, or the herbs and spices of your choice.
  3. Heat the roasting tin in a hot oven (200 - 220 degrees, I reckon) until the mustard seeds start to pop.
  4. Bring the tin out of the oven and tip in the sweet potato strips. Mix around a bit to coat them in the oil and spices.
  5. Put back into the oven and cook for around 20 mins or until soft and just beginning to char and caramelise at the edges.

There you have it! Sorry there are no pictures, but there's never any left for me to photograph!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

2 Grey Weeks Later...

We've had about a fortnight of rotten weather. I'm just hoping it clears up by the weekend so that I can practice taking a sample of adult bees in a match box in preparation for my Basic exam on Monday 27th!

Luckily I have now learned how to get the smoker going: DON'T USE THE RIDICULOUS HESSIAN SACKING WE WERE USING BEFOREHAND. I have never been able to light the smoker so I was doing some practice the other day. I used our spare smoker in case the main one was broken, and it had a roll of cardboard in there already, so I used that and I lit it FIRST TIME. So fuel choice is important, and thankfully I'm not completely incompetent! :-)

There have been bees out and about but it's mostly bumbles - most of the time it's been only just warm enough for honeybees to venture out, and way too wet. However, we did get some beekeeping done at the weekend, and it was fantastic!

We only inspected 2 apiaries out of our 3. In the first one we have 2 hives and 2 nucs. Everyone is getting on amazingly well over there. The nucs need to go into full sized hives ASAP - they're building up so quickly, despite the weather. We also harvested our FIRST EVER FULL SUPER! We haven't done anything to it yet but we'll be getting our extractor cleaned up etc. soon.

In the 2nd apiary we have the hive that we collected from that barn wall (see the video blog, http://alittleisland-tv.blogspot.com/) and they're doing OK. We thought that they might have EFB, but have seen no signs of that on second inspection. However, they're now quarantined and we'll call the inspector in the moment we see signs. In the mean time I may buy in a tester kit just in case. We now also have separate hive tools for each apiary, and a new record-keeping system, all of which should help us to avoid diseases like that from now on.

The new record keeping system is one that I devised myself. It's basically record sheets where you tick the boxes, e.g. queen seen, tick. Eggs seen, tick. etc. etc. You can buy record cards from beekeeping shops but making your own has several advantages: a) you can design your own layout, e.g. I like to have room to jot down notes and draw apiary layouts as well as tick boxes, b) you can just print out more as and when you need them and c) you don't have to pay for them! I might put mine on the net available for download, not sure yet, but I'll let you know if I do :-)

Chicken news: just over a week ago we unwrapped Cleo's bandaged leg and found that her infection had got much worse. It smelled bad, and it looked worse. There was no way she could have survived an infection like that, so we put her out of her misery. We disposed of her last night, and this River Cottage forum snippet should explain how: http://community.rivercottage.net/users/NJ/forums/poultry/viewtopic/topic_id:462
Since the last post we've harvested our first couple of runner beans and first handful of French beans...they were absolutely gorgeous!

My American corner has gone absolutely haywire, especially the Delicata squash (actually an Italian variety) climbing up the bronze elder bush. There are now some small sunny yellow fruits on there. And my Blue Hubbard squash is fattening up nicely, I just can't wait to eat it!

^ Delicata squash; below, the American corner

In the latest edition of Permaculture Magazine (essential reading!) there is an article about Warre beekeeping, an alternative beekeeping method that claims to be more bee friendly. I'm really interested in non-conventional beekeeping methods, such as top bar hives etc. so this was really interesting to read about. One principle behind the Warre method is leaving the hive sealed up all season...I'm really not sure about that. The theory is that bees leading a more natural life get fewer diseases, but I'm a paranoid beekeeper and like to know what's going on with my bees, so I won't be doing that just yet! However I was interested to read how they add more boxes to the bottom of the hive instead of the top, something to do with airflow and maintaining the temperature...now that we're converting to OSBs (One Size Boxes, aka Rose hives - another alternative beekeeping method where supers and brood box are all the same size - just such a common sense idea!) this is something that we could experiment with too. If you're interested in finding out more about these beekeeping methods I've put some links at the bottom of the post.

Did I tell you that I've got a job at a bamboo nursery? It's only part time but it's really good fun! Boss is nice, pay is terrible but we do get some perks. In fact to date we've had 7 perks at the least...FREE PLANTS! The nursery doesn't just do bamboo, it's also other exotic stuff, but now the boss has a website so he's branching out into other stuff too. The things is though that if a bamboo etc. isn't big enough to be saleable after he's had it a while then he just THROWS IT AWAY. Perfectly healthy plants, just too small! I think he should have a discount section on the website and sell them to other silly sentimental people who don't like to think of sweet little plants being confined to the scrap heap, but in the mean time it means that fairly often we rescue poor little plants (and not always little at that) and get to put them in our own garden! So we now have a garden full of hardy palms, bamboos, bottlebrush bushes and a North American trumpet vine. None of them have been planted out yet but have been given a little TLC. Today we were moving citruses too, and they were in flower and they smellt just so WONDERFUL, so I'm secretly hoping that he neglects them so I can take a few home ;-)

^ Bottlebrush flowers

^ Campsis radicans, American Trumpet Vine flowers

This is an exciting week for our family. It's my Grandma's birthday on Thursday, my Dad's birthday on Friday, and my auntie should be giving birth around the same time! I'm really excited and hoping to have lots of delicious home produce for my Dad's birthday meal...I dunno what yet but I'm sure I'll be able to dig up something!

Anyway, I leave you with the promised links:

http://warre.biobees.com/ Warre beekeeping

http://www.worldgardenplants.com/ and here's the nursery's website.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Garden Update

The garden is in full flood. I'm really behind on jobs to do, there are just so many! (Especially now I work at a bamboo nursery 3 mornings a week - I get pretty fed up with watering). Here are some pics I took this afternoon.

^ The alliums are slowly but surely coming out.

^ Fennel flowers.

^ Lovage and purple verbena flowers.

^ Lilies.

^ Himalayan Balsam flowers. This stuff is apparently a real nuisance, blocking up the UK's waterways (it's what Boris Johnson was clearing when he fell in a river recently. Personally I think we should conserve clumps of it purely for that reason). It grows along the Usk where we go in Wales and although it's a pest it's beautiful walking through a forest of it! Bees love it. I think that providing you can keep it under control (admittedly difficult, as the seed pods pop and the seeds go everywhere) there's nothing wrong with this lovely plant.

^ Tomatoes ripening up.

^ Honeybee on a pretty borage flower.

^ My "New World" corner: squashes, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, sweetcorn.

^ First French bean!

^ Pretty bean flowers.

^ Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco pods, fattening up...

^ Blue Hubbard squash...I'm really excited about these ^^.

^ Greenhouse: cucumbers and you can just see the loofa. They're getting so big I couldn't fit them all in one photo.

^ Aubergines and a couple of peppers, just beginning to put on flower buds.

^ A flower on one of the okras?! This seems a bit odd as the plant is still only 5 cm tall...it's the first time I've grown okra though so I don't expect it to work! But I'm not complaining!

And finally I leave you with:

Gardening Tip:

Members of the curcurbit family (i.e. anything remotely courgette-like, including cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes, melons, loofas, etc.) tend to be very prolific, producing lots of fruits in even a short growing season. Often you'll find however that some fruits rot on the plant, particularly at the beginning of the season. This is because these plants produce more fruit than they can ripen. Some fruits inevitably have to drop off. This shouldn't stop them from going on to produce a bumper crop! I occasionally remove a fruit or two if a plant seems covered in rotting ones but otherwise, as you can probably glimpse in the photo of the squash above, I just let the plant do the work!

Poultry Problems and Tortoise Trouble

A brief blog about animal care and the problems we've had so far this year!

We keep a range of animals, mostly for fun. If they make eggs or honey that's a bonus! Our menagerie consists of 3 chickens, 2 ducks, 1 budgie, 2 rabbits, 1 tortoise, assorted fish, wildlife and of course our bees. Most of our animals are free to wander around our garden which I think makes for a very happy life.

Earlier this year though our tortoise, whose name is Alfie, was losing weight and being very inactive. He'd stay burried in his sleeping box all day and wouldn't eat at all, even when offered his favourite, dandylions, and treats that he wouldn't normally have, such as strawberries. We took him to the vet who told us to keep him warm and give him plenty of baths in nice warm water, but this didn't seem to make any difference. We trimmed his beak (it overgrows) to make sure that he actually was able to eat, and fussed over him daily, to no avail. It looked like he was going to die.
However, for a few months now, Alfie has perked up. The reason is, I believe, simple: tortoises just aren't designed to weather our cold climate here in the UK. The weather just wasn't warm enough to induce him to move around or eat, and his heat lamp could only do so much. My advice, if you find yourself in a similar situation, is to take your tortoise to the vet, and if nothing seems to be the problem, give him baths at least twice a day in hand hot water, leave food out for him just in case, and just give him all the love and care you can. Hibernate him well in the winter as this keeps his body clock ticking over, and keep an eye on his weight just in case. But apart from that, just make sure he rebuilds his strength over the summer and keep him otherwise healthy. Alfie perked up as soon as the sun started shining. He now eats every day and is often allowed out in the garden where he chases the chickens.
Now then, this week I spotted something really concerning. One of our ducks seemed to have broken a toe. She was sitting very still and determined to keep her foot off the floor, but when the chickens came a bullied her and she had to move off, she was limping really badly. Pops and I examined her closer and it seemed that one of her toes had broken - it was bent out of shape. The picture doesn't really show it, but it was pretty clearly snapped.
We had no idea how she'd done it or what to do, so Mum emailed the breeder, Nicki Janaway from the Warrawee Duck Farm, for advice. Nicki said that as long as she was eating, drinking and preening we shouldn't worry and should just leave her. Sure enough, within a day, she was on the mend, and limping much less. I think just the act of walking clicked the bone back into place. So, if your duck has a similar problem, just make sure she's taking care of herself, keep an eye on her, but don't worry too much.

And finally a problem with one of our chickens (yes, we named them. The chook in question is Cleopatra). Cleo, unlike her sisters, has two stumps on her legs which we assume are the remains of the spurs that I guess her ancestors had. For a while now she's had a lump on her leg. We think she may have damaged her spur stump and it may have got infected. At any rate, it looks as if it went haywire when it tried to heal herself as she now has a large lump on her leg. It doesn't seem to affect her very much - she's still top of the pecking order and bullies the other two a fair bit! But obviously we are concerned that it may get worse and seriously damage her health and happiness, so we've been trying to make her better.

I expect that other people (with more sense and money, I expect) would have killed her or got the vet to chop it off but unfortunately we can't bring ourselves to do the former and we can't afford to do the latter. We've been treated her leg therefore with surgical spirit and antiseptics. They seem to do the trick . We treat her every day and the lump began to crack off and the skin began to start healing not long ago. Thankfully because we've been doing it every day for a while she seems to get quite comfy and stays absolutely calm throughout her treatment.

Last night however we went outside to treat her and discovered that she was pouring blood. The lump must have ruptured, got snagged on something or just cracked off a bit more. Anyway, we bandaged it up (and no, we didn't pull the lump off. It was pretty loose and she was healing in some places, but I think we would have just made it worse doing that). We managed to stem the flow it seemed, and she still seemed completely unflustered! However we were worried that her health might have declined and that she might be dead by morning.

I'm pleased to report that Cleo seems fine so far. She's been limping a bit today - whether that's because of the lump or having a huge bandage round her leg I don't know, but she's still been bullying the other two and seemed well enough to try and eat my courgette plants! We're not out of the woods yet, but our plan is to keep the bandage on for a few days to give her time to heal. Eventually the lump will break off and the skin will heal. We'll keep treating to make sure the infection doesn't come back. So she seems to be doing OK, so far, I'll post again to let you know how she progresses.