Friday, September 25, 2009
Last year they stripped the orchard bare of cherries, plums, apples and pears before we'd taken any fruit.
I am now their natural enemy.
However, I understand why they are here and that we'll never get rid of them all. The hedges around Stonecroft around about 70% hazel and in August, as the nuts start to ripen, the squirrels come from miles around
I don't mind them getting the hazel nuts but we'd like a few ourselves so my daughter and I duly gathered a basketful.
I don't know yet what we'll use them for but first we've got to shell them and that, I recall from previous years, will take forever and a day. The mere thought of it is putting me off from starting.
Surely there's a quicker way than a simple pair of nutcrackers? How do they do it on an industrial scale? Is there some device I can buy?
Help, please before I go nuts!
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
It's a very busy time of year but with the great weather we've had over the last seven days, you've got to take time out to smell the roses - to enjoy the good life.
This spring we built a large pond, about 39 feet by 20 feet and up to 4 feet deep. It's going to be a wildlife pond but I need more oxygenating plants in it - at the moment it's a bit green - but that will come. I'll try and get it sorted out this winter.
However, the wildlife is already arriving with all sorts of insects in and around the pond, and the most spectacular of all are the dragonflies.
I've seen four different species of very large dragonflies so far. The most impressive is the Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator) - with green thorax and sapphire blue abdomen.
The Brown hawker (Aeshna grandis) is almost as large. The female is brown with cream slashes along the side of its thorax and abdomen.
And the Common hawker (Aeshna juncea) is similar but the slashes are light green.
All three have been around almost every day (apart from the wettest) over the summer - but I've never seen more than one at once. They fly up and down patrolling an area that extends over the pond, under a large oak tree, around some grassland and into the orchard.
The fourth was a species I haven't yet identified. It's one of the reddy-orange abdomed Darters (the Sympetrum genus) and it was around in the same parts of the garden earlier this summer for several weeks.
There are plenty of insects for them to prey on, especially under the oak tree. They do fly over the bee hives too and are said to eat bees, though I've never witnessed it. Tonight I saw the Brown hawker catch a crane fly in mid-air, then carry it off to eat. They're welcome to them!
I'll try and take some photos as the opportunity arises but it's tricky - they need to be settled, and dragonflies, more than damselflies, fly for long periods without resting. Add to that, it's late in the season, so it may have to wait until next summer.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
In fact I harvested Beth's entire crop this evening as I scared off a squirrel who left a half eaten pear beneath the tree. And I'm not going to lose another fruit to these pests.
The rounded fruit are thankfully ripe - still a little crisp and tasty but just about ready to drop. I've got about two dozen in all from a tree no taller than five feet. A reasonable crop
So now I'll need pear recipes too.
The original apples in the orchard were bought mail order from a "reputable grower". The order for each of the four varieties we bought (plus a ninth tree free) was to have them all on MM106 rootstock which should have produced a mature tree between 10 and 13 feet tall.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Eat a few, give a few away and store the bulk of them for the months ahead, when there is no fruit around, that's what.
Consider the statement "eat a few" - it is important, for three reasons; first, they're full of vitamins and minerals and so very good for your body; second, they're gorgeously flavoursome and so good for your soul; and for thirds, we focus on the word "few". To put it another way, eat too many and they'll interfere with your digestive tract. You'll not want to go more than 50 yards from a toilet for a couple of days.
The most interesting part is storing them. In their raw, ripe state they won't stay fresh for long so you have to do something to preserve them.
The first two methods are effective but a bit dull to write about. Try freezing them (here's the process I use) or try bottling them. I've not tried it before but here's the the method I'm using.
Much more interesting, however, are cooking them and fermenting them. Here we go!
First cooking. There are plum recipes all over the net but I was interested in plum pies and plum sauce.
For the pies, I ended up improvising. The pastry on each, by the way was simple shortcrust pastry with a little sugar sprinkled on top.
Having lost most of the gages to mould after they were weather damaged before ripening, I had just about enough for one large pie filling. Here's the original recipe, credited to celebrity chef James Martin.
I had a bigger pie dish than he was using and my gages wouldn't quite fill so I took a few Victoria plums and halved them, adding them uncooked to the Gages which had been pretty much stewed before putting them into the pastry. I'm hoping I might get a bit of difference in flavour between the two as well as a bit of difference in texture.
But I won't know yet because it's gone straight into the freezer. Looked and smelled good though!
I had (have) far more Victorias though, so I whipped up a Victoria Plum pie based on the same recipe but with absolutely minimal pre-cooking at all, just to see what the difference would be.
The plums were halved and less then 100ml of water and around two tablespoons of sugar to the approx 1kg of plums in the pan and brought to the boil quickly, with the lid on. I let them boil for around two minutes, lid still on to steam all the fruit. This way they kept their shape.
I suspect this pie will be terrific - the juices tasted both sharp and sweet - but once again it went into the freezer. We'll actually be eating it an a couple of days time, so I'll let you know.
The plum wine I embark on first thing in the morning. I'm going to make a dry wine using this recipe (plum wine 1). Again, I'll let you know how it goes, but it may not be until this time next year as plum wine is notoriously slow to clear. So here's to the future.
As for giving a few away, it's easy - especially in a bumper year like this one. I've made plum pies, I'm making plum wine, I've frozen a few and bottled a few. My wife's also made 16lbs of Plum jam (it's delicious). But I've still got half the fruit left on the tree, so why not?