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MAKING THE GOOD LIFE EVEN BETTER! P R AC T I C A L

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I N F O R M AT I V E

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INSPIRING

AUGUST 2015 | ISSUE 89

THE MAGA ZINE FOR HOME GROWERS, MAKERS AND PRODUCERS

FOODFEST!

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DELICIOUS JAM, PICKLE AND CHUTNEY RECIPES

Bottle It!

Fab Figs

STEP-BY-STEP PRESERVING IN JARS

YOUR GUIDE TO GREAT GROWING

PLUS

COST-CONSCIOUS CHICKEN KEEPING

DIY Tunnel BUILD Y

Birds on a Budget

R OWN OU

MAKE A LOW-COST POLYTUNNEL

£3.95

CAFFEINE – WE INVESTIGATE WHAT’S IN YOUR CUPPA WATER DIVINING – THE ANCIENT SKILL OF DOWSING


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EDITORIAL

Hello

WELCOME W

elcome to the August issue of Home Farmer – the one where we always do a Preserving Special, and this year is no exception. Talking to many home farmers at events, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag this year, but things are by no means bad, with many of you looking to a decent harvest. Hopefully, you will derive inspiration from our recipes and ideas, but don’t forget that it’s not restricted to your own home-grown produce – we are out to cut down on all food waste, and this should be nothing short of a crusade. On markets and in stores and supermarkets there will be some fantastic bargains, and when it comes to enjoying a chutney or a jam in February, where it came from can be less important than the fact that it is there when needed. Having mentioned events, let me say a quick hello to all the people we have met up and down the country, both long-time readers and new ones. As always, it was great getting your feedback, and there are already a couple of new ideas set to become articles over the coming months as a result. We have certainly done more shows this year than in other recent years, and hope to increase this further in 2016. As a final thought on shows, and our Preserving Special, too, for that matter, the real value is the spotlight they place on a particular activity – in this case produce – and there is a renaissance in growing, with

Home Farmer Magazine PO Box 536, Preston, PR2 9ZY Tel: 01772 633444 Publisher: Ruth Tott ruthhomefarmer.co.uk Editor: Paul Melnyczuk paulhomefarmer.co.uk We welcome feedback and questions. Please email: ruthhomefarmer.co.uk Subscription enquiries Tel: 01772 633444

MARK ABBOTT-COMPTON

Mark, a keen kitchen gardener, is now a regular contributor. Mark’s style is down to earth and very ‘Home Farmer’. His numerous videos on YouTube and his website (learn-how-to-garden.com), are a useful resource.

many younger people coming into the sector, bringing with them fresh inspiration. However, regard any knowledge and ideas you might pick up as a stepping stone, and make them your own, then better them wherever possible. That’s all the person you got it from probably did. I love chutneys, but if I come across one I really like, I don’t regard it as the final statement – I use it as inspiration. As a final, final thought, it was with sadness that I heard Cuadrilla had been given an initial go-ahead for fracking in Lancashire. The final decision comes from councillors next week, after this magazine has gone to press, but if it is a ‘yes’, then many other areas will be opened up too, and I have to confess it will be a real concern. Lancashire is not a place for extracting dirty energy; it is a place for tourism, agriculture and people, and, at least for the moment, it is still a beautiful place in which to live. PAUL MELNYCZUK Editor

Contributors Claire Waring, Dave Hamilton, David Winnard, Di Appleyard, Dot Tyne, Elizabeth McCorquodale, Gaby Bartai, Heidi M. Sands, John Butterworth, John Harrison, Kate Collyns, LizzieB, Val Harrison, Mark Abbott-Compton, Seren Evans-Charrington, Michael Wale, Terry Beebe. Our thanks go to the ACS Distance Education team for their article on larders (page 77). For a list of their courses, go to: www.acsedu.co.uk/courses.

Advertising Ruth Tott – Tel: 01772 633444

CLAIRE WARING Editor of Bee Craft magazine and an active member of The British Beekeepers’ Association, Claire travels around the world championing the bee-keeping cause and is the founder of Bees Abroad, a charity set up to help communities in developing countries to expand their own bee-keeping activities.

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Copy Editor Phil Offord – Tel: 01257 270512 Design Pica Media Ltd. Tel: 01689 857043 Print Precision Colour Printing Tel: 01952 585585 Distribution Select Publisher Services Ltd. Tel: 01202 586848

VISIT THE WEBSITE: WWW.HOMEFARMER.CO.UK AU G U S T 2015

KATE COLLYNS A warm welcome to our newest contributor. Kate is author of the book, Gardening for Profit, and last year she won the Best Local Grower award at the Bath Good Food Awards. Follow Kate’s blog at www. growngreen.wordpress.com.

When you have finished with this magazine please recycle it or pass it on to a friend!

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If you are ha ving any diff iculty locating Hom e Farmer pl ease call 01772 6334 4 4 an d we will rush yo u a copy!

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CON T EN TS

WHAT’Ss uINSIDE? e contents August is

03 THE EDITOR’S BIT Paul ponders…

06 NEWS AND EVENTS Home Farmer related news and events. 10 IN THE KITCHEN GARDEN With harvest time upon us, John Harrison looks at blanching and freezing your produce. 14 NATIONAL ALLOTMENTS WEEK Di Appleyard celebrates British allotments and those who work them. 18 GROWING UNDER COVER We build a low-cost COVER STORY DIY polytunnel with Kate Collyns. 22 A FIRST-AID GARDEN Elizabeth McCorquodale creates a medicinal garden. 26 GROWING FIGS Mark Abbott-Compton COVER STORY looks at easy-to-grow, sweet, exotic fig trees.

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Subscribe

30 THE ROYAL LANCASHIRE AGRICULTURAL SHOW A northern tradition returns after a long absence.

82 DRYING YOUR PRODUCE Seren Evans-Charrington converts an old fridge into a dehydrator.

36 SEASONAL FORAGING A saddle-sized mushroom is just one of David Winnard’s finds this month.

46 COST-CONSCIOUS POULTRY KEEPING Keeping chickens needn’t COVER STORY cost the earth. Terry Beebe considers low-cost options.

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55 PRESERVING SPECIAL Our traditional August COVER STORY preserving guide – with expert advice on making jams, pickles, chutneys, conserves, curds, sauces, ketchups and a section on bottling the harvest. 77 CREATING A TRADITIONAL LARDER The ACS team’s essential tips on creating a traditional larder.

32 A CLIMATE CHANGE TRIAL RUN Michael Wale checks out some post-climate-change agriculture in the Emirates.

41 A SMALLHOLDER’S DIARY The Tyne family finish lambing and attend the Royal Welsh Spring Festival.

51 POLLEN Claire Waring looks at pollen from a bee’s point of view.

86 CAFFEINE Does caffeine do us good COVER STORY or harm? Dave Hamilton investigates.

SAVE OVER 25% Take out a 12-issue UK subscription to save money and receive a FREE COPY of Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes.

90 DOWSING FOR WATER Dowsing probably COVER STORY pre-dates civilisation, but how does it work? 94 REPAIRING A WOODEN FLOOR When wooden floors go bad, John Butterworth comes to the rescue. 99 NEXT MONTH

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“BOTTLING INVOLVES THE APPLICATION OF HEAT TO FOOD IN A CLOSED JAR FOR A SPECIFIC LENGTH OF TIME”

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GABY BARTAI RECOMMENDS THE UNDERUSED TECHNIQUE OF BOTTLING TO OPEN UP A WHOLE WORLD OF PRESERVING POSSIBILITIES PAGE 64

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HOME FARMER NEWS & EVE NTS

CLIMATE MESSAGE COMES TO WESTMINSTER APPROXIMATELY 9,000 members from a wide range of different interest groups, including farmers, bee-keepers, environmentalists, snowboarders, surfers, priests and doctors, recently gathered on the embankment outside Westminster to demand action from their elected representatives on the issue of climate change. The event, arranged by The Climate Coalition (www.theclimatecoalition.org), and called ‘Speak Up For The Love Of…’, had invited all 650 MPs to the event, which was designed to give amateur lobbyists a crack at the nation’s decision makers, rather than the usual slick, well-funded and often sinister mob found hanging around the House of Commons. With world

leaders set to sign a series of new agreements on climate and sustainable development, those attending took the opportunity to make clear their views on ending coal power by 2023, holding back CO2 emissions and creating a cleaner economy. In total some 330 MPs attended the event, including Green MP Caroline Lucas, several prominent Labour MPs and former Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, who said the lobbyists had “such an important message”. Her views were echoed by Welsh farmer, Bernard Llewelyn, who said: “Climate change is a big issue for farmers. I’m joining this lobby because I’m concerned about the impact it will have on our family farms and the

beauty of rural Wales,” adding, “If we act now, we can provide a positive future for Welsh family farms and farmers worldwide.”

ROBIN’S TOP

BADGER VACCINATION TRIAL SUCCESS A four-year-long badger vaccination programme run by the National Trust at its Killerton estate in Devon has made considerable progress, slashing the cost by almost half. The trial, involving 18 National Trust farmers, has so far vaccinated 539 badgers against TB over an area of 20 square kilometres. Initially estimated to cost about £80,000 per year, the cost actually came down to £45,000, while the number of badgers vaccinated rose from just 80 in the first year to 186 in 2014 – a cost of just £242 per badger. This compares with an official estimate of £3,350 per badger killed in the cull, although charity, Care for the Wild, estimates the cost

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to be closer to £5,000. However, National Trust Environment Conservation Manager, Alex Raeder, while confirming that the trial had shown vaccination to be quite practical, and effective in reducing TB in the badger population, was more cautious about the prospect of reducing it in cattle, adding that you would need a far larger study to understand the implications. In order to do this, the Trust will be calling on the government and other interested parties to work with them on future studies. The National Trust will use Killerton as a

With even Pope Francis now onside, perhaps more politicians will have to listen.

MORE THAN 224,000 people voted for their favourite British bird recently, and the robin flew ahead with 34 per cent of the vote. The barn owl came in second place, with the blackbird in third, followed by the wren, the red kite, the kingfisher, the mute swan, the blue tit, the hen harrier and finally, the puffin. national training school for farmers and landowners who wish to trap and vaccinate badgers, using trainers from the Animal & Plant Health Agency. National Trust Rural Enterprise Director, Patrick Begg, said: “Whatever the conclusions about whether the pilot culls are effective, vaccination needs to be part of the mix of measures needed to tackle bovine TB.” You can see a National Trust video on YouTube by keying ZWoy-3_84UE into your search engine.

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Left: The Lancashire countryside today.

DIRTY ENERGY… DIRTY TRICKS FRACKING MAY WELL begin in Lancashire shortly, with planning officials backing an application from Cuadrilla to extract shale gas for the first time since the process was banned in 2011, following earthquakes in the area. The application now only needs the backing of the county’s councillors, and they will usually follow the advice of their planning department. Fracking remains a highly controversial process, and is often referred to as ‘dirty energy’; yet it is often the politics and activities around the industry

which create even greater concern. The government’s recent heavily redacted report is just one example, with sections on the impact of fracking on house prices, rural businesses, and local services all removed from the text. In fact, 63 entire chunks of text were removed, and it is only now, after a year-long campaign for transparency by Greenpeace, that the UK’s transparency watchdog has finally ruled that the government must publish the full version of the report. Greenpeace has urged the government to

make the report available to councillors who will be involved in the forthcoming decision to grant the application. Given the government’s track record on the matter, this is unlikely to happen. Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner, Daisy Sands, commented: “The government’s stubborn refusal to publish this report in full is totally indefensible. By cherry-picking which evidence is released, ministers are misleading both the public and local councillors as to the real impacts of fracking.” There is also uncertainty over the North West Energy Task Force, a body funded by Cuadrilla and Centrica, the owner of British Gas, and which acts as a major lobbyist for fracking in Lancashire, and on the Fylde coast where

the applications are being made. The organisation boasts 343 small-business supporters, but only 149 are based in Lancashire, and of those, only 14 are actually based in the Fylde. In fact, some supporters even seem to have multiple memberships, and one is a fishing lake in North Wales and another is a private residential home for the elderly in Yorkshire. The North West Energy Task Force has called the anti-shale gas lobby hypocritical for raising this matter, as it gathers evidence and support from abroad, in countries where fracking takes place, but those are the only areas where people’s experiences will be relevant in giving a rounded account of the industry. And in addition, Lord Browne, a part-owner of Cuadrilla through his involvements with Riverstone Holdings, has served as an adviser to both Labour and Conservative governments, while the fatherin-law of Chancellor George Osborne, Lord Howell, is an active lobbyist and campaigner for the fracking industry, which has received very generous tax concessions from the Exchequer – you may remember him as the chap who confused the North East and the North West in a House of Lords speech. Perhaps the government could level the playing field by making applications to frack subject to the same right of opposition as wind power – then we could see if it had any actual public support!

FRENCH SUPERMARKET WASTE BAN FRENCH SUPERMARKETS ARE to be banned from throwing away or destroying any unsold food, and will have to donate it to charities, or send it away to be used as animal feed. The vote for this legislation in the National Assembly was unanimous, with both the Right and Left being supportive, and any stores covering 400 square metres or more will be required to sign a deal with charities or face imprisonment or a fine of €75,000. Nor will stores be able to deliberately ‘spoil’ food, with bleach in the past poured into containers. The stores claimed this was done to avoid people getting food poisoning, but there were also suggestions that it was

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done to discourage the poor, the homeless and students from foraging. The new law will be introduced together with a new education drive in schools and businesses to halve waste by 2025, with official estimates revealing that the average person in France throws out between 20kg and 30kg of food each year, 7kg of which remains in its original wrapping – a combined national cost of up to €20 billion. In the UK there is a voluntary agreement between government and the grocery and retail sector, designed to cut back on both food and packaging waste, but the UK does not believe in a legislative solution.

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SCOTLAND’S ALLOTMENTS SECURED The Community Empowerment Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament, and Part 7 of the Bill protects and enhances Scotland’s allotment communities, with all concerns raised by the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society (SAGS) being addressed. These included: ❋ Statutory protection of allotments – local authorities will now need to consult with ministers before closing a site and will have to provide a replacement if there is demonstrable demand. ❋ Plot size – 250 square metres

has been defined as the size of a standard plot, with the flexibility that people can ask for a smaller plot if the standard size is too big for them to manage. ❋ Time on waiting lists – local authorities are now required to maintain a central waiting list of people wanting an allotment, and must take reasonable steps to increase provision if numbers are greater than 50 per cent of the existing number of plots, or if someone has been on the waiting list for 5 years or more. ❋ Fair rents – allotment rents must be set at a rate that reflects both the level of service

NEWS IN BRIEF

provision and the plotholder’s ability to pay. These amendments were described as having been brought about by the dedication and hard work of hundreds of SAGS members who emailed, lobbied and generally persuaded their elected representatives to take allotments seriously as a valuable resource for food, health, environmental quality and human happiness. Please turn to page 14, where we celebrate National Allotments Week with The National Allotment Society.

READER RECIPES

US TRANS-FATS BAN THE U.S. FOOD and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that most trans-fats are no longer to be considered safe and must be removed from manufactured foods. In addition, it has taken the more unusual step of calling for the elimination of them from the global food supply, due to being linked to heart disease, cardiovascular disease and numerous other chronic health problems; in fact, the World Health Organization described a ban as “one of the most effective

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ways to prevent some of the world’s biggest killer diseases”. Trans-fats are used to extend the shelf life of a range of food products, and are produced by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil. They have been labelled in the US since 2006, and consumption decreased by 78 per cent between 2003 and 2012, although there is concern that it is still too high. Manufacturers will be given three years to remove trans-fats from their products or petition for exceptions.

DURING JULY AND AUGUST we want to know all your favourite recipes, and we shall be running a £50 cash prize draw at the end of each month, with automatic entry for anyone who has uploaded a recipe to the site. The process is simple: first sign up at www.homefarmer.co.uk/ contributor-registration – this is designed to deter spammers – then, once the account is activated, gather up the details, including weights, quantities, times, temperatures, a photograph, and a little bit about yourself (if you wish), then upload the info and submit it… and who knows – you may be the month’s winner of our £50 prize and possibly an appearance in a future Home Farmer. Please visit https://homefarmer.co.uk/ about-reader-recipes/ to find out more. With your participation it should become a fantastic resource for anyone hunting down an evening meal with a difference.

BEYOND GM Campaign group Beyond GM called a recent Panorama programme advocating GMOs “blinkered and narrow rather than panoramic and selective”, consisting of “myths, deceptive assertions and inaccurate statements by pro-GM lobbyists”. With Lord Whittingdale as Culture Secretary, the BBC is clearly fighting for its survival. EVENT The 10th anniversary Open Farm Sunday on 7th June attracted more than 250,000 visitors. Annabel Shackleton, Open Farm Sunday Manager at Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), called the turnout a “fantastic celebration of farming and food”. APP TRIAL Working with food redistribution charity, FareShare, Tesco is trialling an app, which will allow store managers to communicate how much food is left over at the end of each day. CLEAN-UP The Marine Conservation Society urgently needs volunteers to clean up the nation’s beaches on 18th–21st September. In 2014, nearly 5,349 volunteers cleaned 301 beaches, and for every kilometre surveyed, a record 2,457 pieces of litter were found. Visit www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch, or phone 01989 566017 to find out more. ROUNDUP REMOVED Monsanto’s best-known product, Roundup, has been banned from over-the-counter sales in France due to the active ingredient, glyphosate, being classified as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by the UN.

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PROTECT MORE BEE SPECIES

WELCOME BACK THE BITTERN, A type of heron, officially became extinct in the UK at the beginning of the last century, then rose to around 80 ‘booming’ males – a reference to the male’s distinctive foghorn-like call – but dropped back to just 11 in 1997, which created alarm over a possible second extinction. This concern generated a concerted conservation programme, and this year 150 males have been recorded in

THE ROYAL LANCS SHOW AFTER A LONG absence due to some seriously bad weather a number of years ago, The Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show has been given a new lease of life, and will take place at Salesbury Hall, Ribchester, from 7th to 9th August. The event, which dates back to 1767, has only been brought back to life by the passionate efforts of local people. It’s Home Farmer’s local show, so we will be there for the duration, and look forward to seeing you there. Visit www.royallancs.co.uk to find out more and for updates. For anyone reliant on a satnav, the postcode for the event is PR3 3XR. See page 30 for more details of the event.

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England and Wales, with numbers now greater than at any time since the early 19th century. The bittern prefers sizeable tracts of wet reed bed during its breeding season, which had become scarce in the UK in recent decades, but thanks to some major habitat restoration projects, and with significant funding from the European Union Life Programme, the bittern’s success is now going from strength to

strength in both East Anglia, with some 80 booming males, and in Somerset, which has around 40. These sites are now protected under international law by the Birds and Habitats Directive, which is sadly at present under review by the European Union, which led Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, to talk of, “potentially disastrous consequences for many threatened species”.

NSTG 2015 THE 9TH ANNUAL Norfolk Smallholders Training Group (NSTG) Annual Show and Market will take place on 2nd August from 10am till 4pm at the National Trust Sheringham Park. It is a lovely little event set in superb grounds and offers everything from livestock, feed and equipment to gardening essentials, traditional crafts and top-class local food. In addition, there will be a full range of exhibitions and demonstrations, and an opportunity to see all the great and worthwhile benefits the NSTG has to offer members, from courses and equipment use to chances to socialise with some great folk. As usual, Home Farmer

ALTHOUGH JUST 2 per cent of the most common species of bee pollinate nearly 80 per cent of all crops, protecting a number of less common species will “provide an insurance policy against future ecological shocks, such as climate change”, according to scientists at Reading University’s Centre for Agri-Environmental Research. According to Professor Simon Potts, the species upon which we currently rely are unlikely to be the same as those we will need in the future, but with a diverse bee population we will be able to call upon the services of those best suited to the task. The study, based on a review by international scientists of data on pollination by wild bees from five continents, and published in the journal, Nature Communications, put the global value of the work done by pollinating bees at £1,900 per hectare, and at £1 billion in the UK. Professor Potts likened the situation to a football match, saying: “We need a large and diverse group of species on the substitutes’ bench, ready to join the game as soon as they are needed, if we are to ensure food production remains stable.” The view was supported by Dr Mike Garratt, also of Reading University, who suggested that focusing our efforts solely on wild bees with a financial value for today’s agriculture would be a mistake.

will be present, and any visitors are guaranteed a warm welcome and a fun day, with much for children in the main ring, making it a wonderful day out for the family. For anyone reliant on a satnav, the postcode for Sheringham Park is NR26 8TL. The event is free to NSTG members and just £5 for non-members, with children under 16 gaining free entry. Parking is also free, and the cost includes access to the park. Visit www.nstg.org.uk to find out more.

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IN T HE K ITCHEN G ARDEN

F ON OF THE

PLOT in August

With harvesting in full flow, and gluts to deal with, John and Val Harrison go into preserving mode as the kitchen becomes a temple of blanching and freezing

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ith a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, August should see our plots heaving with produce for harvesting as our kitchens turn into food-processing factories as we refill freezers and store cupboards to see us through another year. Freezing revolutionised food storage, even more than canning and bottling did a century before, especially for home growers and smallholders. However, it’s ironic that now we near enough all own a freezer, a lot of people are still disappointed when they try freezing their own produce. Hopefully, this article will save you from disappointment. Freezing keeps food in an edible condition by stopping decay – the microbes that cause it are either killed or put into suspended animation at low temperatures. There are, however, also reactions produced by enzymes that cause flavour and appearance to deteriorate over time; these reactions are slowed down but not stopped by freezing. The best way to slow down this enzyme action even further is by blanching.

A kitchen set-up for a blanching session. Right to left: A pan of boiling water to blanch in; a first pan of water to cool things down; a second pan of iced water to further lower the temperature; colanders for draining.

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BLANCHING 1 2

JOHN & VAL’S TIP! Before you start blanching, clear the kitchen. It’s not a job to do with small children or pets underfoot, as you’ll be using large pans of boiling water.

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To blanch vegetables, prepare them as you would for the table. Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil and, using a blanching basket or an old-fashioned chip basket, plunge a portion of veg into the water. Don’t do too much at once, the water should return to a vigorous boil within 1 minute. After the blanching time (see GUIDE TO BLANCHING/ FREEZING VEG) has elapsed,

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remove from the boiling water and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process. After about 1 minute, remove from the cold water and drop into iced water to further bring down the temperature. Once cooled, remove from the iced water, drain and pat dry with a tea towel, then place the vegetables in the refrigerator until you are ready to pack them.

BAGGING Use good quality freezer bags for vegetables and pack them in meal-sized portions, and once bagged, press out as much air as you can, then seal with a wire tie. Airtight packing prevents freezer burn and makes a big difference to the quality when defrosted. After using the vegetables, you can then turn the bag inside out to dry and reuse it the next time you freeze. Finally, label. Use a specific freezer label, as ordinary ones tend to fall off in the freezer; or write the contents and date directly on the bag with an indelible pen.

SPEED The trick that Clarence Birdseye – not Captain Birdseye! – discovered, was fast-freezing. As you freeze, ice crystals form, and the faster you freeze, the smaller those crystals (which damage the cells) are. Vegetables that are frozen slowly come out like mush when defrosted. Most freezers have a super-freeze setting,

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which cools them below their normal operating temperature, and the lower you get the temperature, the better, so switch to super-freeze at least three hours before you start. Don’t put in too much at once or the temperature in the freezer will rise and you could damage foods already frozen by partially defrosting them. As a rule, reckon on 10 per cent of the freezer capacity as the absolute maximum. Pre-chilling in the refrigerator helps a lot.

TEMPERATURE To keep frozen food in good condition, the ideal temperature is -20°C. Some freezers run at -18°C, which is OK, but commercial cold stores run at -20°C. It’s worth investing a pound or two in a freezer thermometer to check your own freezer temperature. Storing food at lower temperatures than -20°C has no benefit and simply uses more power; above -18°C, storage life is drastically reduced.

STORAGE LIFE Food kept at -20°C will remain safe indefinitely, but it will gradually lose flavour and appearance, so use the oldest first. Vegetables, properly processed, will easily store in excellent condition for a year – we only noticed significant deterioration after three years. You can get away without preparation if you’re only storing for a few weeks.

REFREEZING Once food has been frozen and defrosted you should not refreeze it. The microbes will have come back to life, and because of cell damage from ice crystals, shelf life will be greatly reduced. Use food quickly once defrosted, and preferably immediately. If, however, you defrost raw foods and then cook them, they can be safely frozen again.

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GUIDE TO BLANCHING/FREEZING VEG This guide covers the most commonly frozen vegetables. In our book, How to Store Your Home Grown Produce, we go into greater depth on home freezing and various methods for freezing fruits, as well as traditional methods of food storage, such as drying, salting and bottling. FRENCH (GREEN) BEANS Most varieties freeze very well, but the waxier types are better cooked from fresh. Wash, top and tail, and then blanch for 2 minutes. RUNNER BEANS These freeze well. Prepare as normal and blanch for 3 minutes. BROAD BEANS Mature beans actually seem to benefit from freezing, which softens them if they’ve become a little tough. Younger small broad beans also freeze well. Just shell and blanch them for 3 minutes. These beans tend to turn the blanching water brown fairly quickly, and if you dry them on a towel before freezing they may stain your towel. Use an old towel or paper towels if this is a concern. BEETROOT Large beets are normally stored as for root crops, but we like the convenience of being able to simply take a small young one ready prepared from the freezer for a salad. Wash it well and rub the skin off after blanching. Small beets up to 7.5cm in diameter need blanching for 10 minutes. Freeze them whole.

BROCCOLI, CALABRESE AND CAULIFLOWER Trim off any woody parts and large leaves, then wash in salted water, and cut into small sprigs. Blanch thin stems for 3 minutes, medium stems for 4 minutes, and thick stems for 5 minutes. Cool and drain well. The thick, woody stems and leaves will work well in a soup, which can be frozen. With cauliflower, add lemon juice to the water to keep the florets white. BRUSSELS SPROUTS Prepare as normal and blanch for 3 minutes. When defrosted, they’re effectively cooked enough, so just toss them in melted butter with salt and black pepper until they’re warmed through, prior to serving. CARROTS Young, early carrots can be prepared ready to serve, either cut into strips or diced, before blanching for 3 minutes. With damaged maincrop carrots that will not store well, you can turn them into a carrot mash, which freezes well. LEEKS Prepare as normal, then slice them fairly thinly (less than 2.5cm). Blanch for 2 minutes, or sauté them in oil. They will be soggy when defrosted, but they’re fine for adding to casseroles or soups.

PARSNIPS Treat them as carrots, or cut into chips and blanch for 2 minutes. PEAS Process them quickly after picking because the sugars begin to turn into starch as soon as they come off the plant. Shell and put them into a pan of cold water. Any pea-maggots will float and can be easily fished out. Blanch for 1 or 2 minutes at the most – shake the basket to ensure the heat is evenly distributed. We find it easier just to drop them loosely into the pan and then fish them out with a sieve, as they go through the holes in our large blanching basket! MANGETOUT (SNAP) PEAS Trim the ends, blanch for 2 minutes, then cool, drain and pack. SWEETCORN Corn is one vegetable that is unbeatable when really fresh, but it will store fairly well for up to 1 week in the fridge. If you are not going to use it before that, then it is best to freeze it. Remove husks and ‘silks’. Blanch small cobs in plenty of water for 3 minutes, medium ones for 4 minutes, and large cobs for 5 minutes. You can freeze them whole on the cob,

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SPECIAL BOOK OFFER or cut off the kernels with a sharp knife after blanching and freeze them in bags, in meal-sized portions. SPINACH True spinach, as opposed to beet leaves or perpetual spinach, is another crop that tends to arrive all at once. Luckily, it shrinks an awful lot when blanched, so doesn’t take up much room in the freezer. Select young leaves, wash very thoroughly under running water, then drain. Blanch for 2 minutes in small quantities, then cool quickly and press out any excess moisture. Pack in rigid containers or polythene bags leaving just 1cm of air space. TOMATOES – WHOLE Just pop them into a bag and freeze, but use within 6 months. They’re only useful for cooking after being frozen, but there is a benefit in that the skin comes off very easily when they’re defrosted, which saves time when preparing. TOMATOES – PURÉE Skin and core the tomatoes, then simmer them in their own juice for 5 minutes until soft. Pass them through a nylon sieve, or, easier still, liquidise them, then pack in small containers when cool. Rather than just freezing a purée, you may find it more time efficient to freeze a tomato sauce base.

John Harrison

Any keen grower will end up with gluts – it’s the key to self-sufficiency during winter and the hungry gap in early spring. The planning is simple: just make sure that they are the things you like to eat, and then preserving them by freezing, drying, salting, canning, or making them into chutneys, pickles and jams will be a treat – and a lifeline in January and February. John and Val Harrison have written two highly regarded books on preserving: How to Store Your Home Grown Produce (£6.99) and Easy Jams, Chutneys and Preserves (£6.99). Both prices include p&p, and each book comes with a collection of seeds worth £9.00. John is one of the best-respected names in UK veg growing, so why not tap into his many years of experience to make sure that none of your valuable veg goes to waste when it could be served up as delicious meals in early 2016. Visit www.allotment-garden.org/book/ to find out more and to chat online and exchange growing tips with other like-minded home farmers everywhere.

TURNIPS Use small, young, white summer turnips. Trim and peel, then cut them into small dice. Blanch for 2 minutes, then cool, drain and freeze. Like carrots, turnips can be fully cooked and mashed before freezing them. What a book!!! From the time it arrived I haven’t put it down! I’ve never made jams, chutneys etc. before but can’t stop now. This book makes it so easy. Takes all the fear out of jam making. Oh and not just jams ... but that’s for you to find out when you get the book. SAMANTHA COLLETT – writing about Easy Jams, Chutneys and Preserves

What a useful book. Full of information to help me to get the best value from my home grown produce. L. J. WILLIAMS – writing about How to Store Your Home Grown Produce

WWW.ALLOTMENT-GARDEN.ORG/BOOK/ VISIT THE WEBSITE TO DISCOVER A WORLD OF GROWING ADVICE

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NAT IONAL AL LOT MEN TS WEEK

AfPLOT or all ages! National Allotments Week runs from 10th–16th August this year and celebrates the opportunities an allotment provides for all ages within the family. Di Appleyard explains

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his year The National Allotment Society has themed National Allotments Week ‘A Plot for all Ages’ to emphasise the opportunities allotments offer families to grow their own food and spend time together outdoors, enjoying the seasons and the contact with nature. The National Allotment Society would also like to use this week to help communities to take steps to preserve allotment sites for even more generations to enjoy. Contemporary allotments do much more than provide food: the healthy lifestyle they encourage helps to combat several of the challenges facing 21st-century populations – obesity, inactivity and mental health problems resulting from social isolation cost the UK economy billions of pounds every year, with £9 billion spent dealing with adult depression alone, and obesity now costing the NHS £5 billion annually. For the last ten years the Society has encouraged member sites to bring out the bunting, tidy up their plots and open their sites to the local community with open days, summer fairs and plant sales during National Allotments Week. The Society also provides a poster and publicity guidelines, and advertises the events on its website; if you would like a poster, please get in touch by emailing natsoc@nsalg.org.uk with details of your event. To start the week this year there will be a Pop-Up Allotment opening on Monday 10th August in Plymouth; for details see http://www.theplymouthshow.co.uk/. And on Sunday 16th August,

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representatives from the Society will be at Barnsdale Gardens, in the East Midlands, for a Summer Vegetable Weekend, complete with an information stand and activities for children. Earlier this year the Society also asked the greater allotment community to tell them about the wide range of people who garden on the nation’s allotment sites, and to let them know about the councils who have been working hard to develop their sites and provide a decent allotment service to their citizens. For example, Chorley Council received a special mention for the efforts that they have made to provide new sites, either on land they own themselves or in partnership with others, but they are by no means alone; councils across the UK who appreciate the contribution made by allotments to the health and well-being of their citizens are endeavouring to provide plots where they are needed.

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e mor uch healthy m do e ents food: th e helps m t o e g l Al rovid encoura ctivity p n tha le they sity, ina lems. e y b lifest bat ob alth pro m e o h c tal to men and

We also asked about the oldest site – the majority of the local authority allotments we use today were created in the 20th century in response to food shortages during the two World Wars, but allotments were originally intended as a way of giving a means of growing food to the labouring rural poor, who were suffering as a result of the acceleration of enclosures of common land in the 18th century. However, the oldest allotment site is still being debated: academic, Jeremy Burchardt believes that it is at Long Newnton, Shipton Moyne (on the Gloucester–Wiltshire border), and dates back to circa 1795; but that is being challenged by another Gloucestershire site: the now endangered Coombe Allotments, which claims to date back to 1763. Many families wrote to us about taking their children down to the plot: Eva Coverley from Flitwick learnt to walk on her parents’

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“AN ON-SITE ASSOCIATION CAN ORGANISE EVENTS AND PROJECTS THAT HELP TO GAIN THE SUPPORT OF THE LOCAL COMMUNITY� plot, and may well be the youngest co-worker; 8-year-old Emily Bradley from Chestergate Allotments in Bisley, Gloucestershire, is pictured here with her delicious radishes; and Wilfred (2) and Toby Phelby (5) have just stopped for elevenses after a hard morning helping out their mum Kate on the same site (see overleaf). The Graham family at Holgate Allotments in York have rented their plot since 1906, and John Graham is still gardening on it at the age of 93; while the Stevens family took on plots in Bisley around the time of World

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War I, and Rob Stevens, together with his 8-year-old son, Archie, still grows food there today; and Frank from Lilford Allotments in Leigh has worked his plot for the last 60 years.

As a reward, everyone who has kindly been in touch to provide examples of how allotments have served both individuals and the greater communities over many generations will be entered automatically into a prize draw for Home Farmer magazine subscriptions, tickets to The Edible Garden Show, and sundries from Kings Seeds. However, there is a serious message behind the festivities of National Allotments Week, and anyone who reads the press or watches social media will be well aware that many allotment lovers are asking the question, Left: Emily Bradley with her radishes. Far left: Eva Coverley gets stuck in!

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NATIONAL ALLOTMENTS WEEK “How much longer will our towns and cities be able to offer ‘plots for all ages’ if councils and other landowners bend to the pressure from developers and continue to dispose of sites?” Although the Society recognises that local authorities do need to retain the flexibility to reconfigure their allotment provision to respond to local need and the changing demographic of their citizens, there is also a finite amount of land in our congested towns and cities, and we cannot go on moving sites and plotholders around indefinitely. At the time of writing, the final decision about the disposal of Farm Terrace Allotments in Watford still had not been made after two years of campaigning and three applications by the council; and a number of private sites have been sold or change of use is planned; and the pressure on councils to identify potential sites for new housing has resulted in proposals to move several allotment sites. So, what can we as a group of people passionate about our plots do to ensure that future generations can continue to have access to all the benefits allotments bring to both plotholders and the wider community?

Above: Frank from Lilford Allotments in Leigh. Right: Toby and Wilfred Phelby.

YOU COULD: ❋ Join The National Allotment Society: there is always strength in numbers, and they provide initial legal advice and support to threatened sites, together with guidance and support to ensure effective site management, and also a number of other benefits such as horticultural advice, discounted seeds from Kings Seeds, and bespoke allotment insurance from Shield Vantage Insurance. Visit www.nsalg.org.uk to find out more. ❋ Form an association: an on-site association can organise events and projects that help to gain the support of the local community. The Society can offer help to any sites wishing to form an association and/or become self-managed. ❋ Ensure allotments are mentioned in the Local or Neighbourhood Plan: if a site does come up for disposal, the National Planning Casework

Unit will assess any contradictions between the council’s intention to dispose of allotment land and other council policies, particularly in local or neighbourhood plans. Have a look to see if there is a group in your area addressing local planning and make your voice heard! ❋ Register as an Asset of Community Value: if your site is registered, the registration listing lasts for five years, and if, during that time, the owner wishes to sell the land, they must inform the council and the group (which requested the listing) of the planned sale. The group then has six weeks to confirm that it wishes to be treated as a potential bidder; if it does so, the group has six months to raise the finance. This tactic offers no guarantees, but does give a bit of breathing space and room for negotiations.

JOIN THE NATIONAL ALLOTMENT SOCIETY: THERE IS ALWAYS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS… 16

❋ Campaign: we need to get allotments on the agenda and influence the people who make decisions, so don’t wait until your site is under threat; invite your local MP and councillors to your NAW event, or write to them, and tell the world if your site is in danger; learn from the Craven Vale and Farm Terrace campaigners, who have gained a lot of popular support by using twitter and facebook to such great effect.

FURTHER INFO Di Appleyard is a co-ordinator with The National Allotment Society. Visit www.nsalg.org.uk to find out more about the Society and how you can work to make the movement stronger and help to preserve allotments for future generations. Thanks to plotholders at Deepdale Allotments, Preston, where the allotment photos were taken.

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UNDER COVER G ARDENING

A DIY polytunnel

Polytunnels don’t have to be expensive, or fit a certain design plan; you can even make your own! Kate Collyns creates an affordable polytunnel to raise young plants and grow food all year round

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teel polytunnel frames and greenhouses are brilliant, durable structures, but they aren’t cheap. If you just want a small, warm and protected place or space to raise some seedlings, keep some plants (or animals) cosy, or grow some salad in the winter, it’s worth thinking about making your own polytunnel. Although you will still have to buy UV-stabilised polytunnel plastic to cover it (which is not very expensive, at around £90 for a 7.3m × 9m roll to fit a trenched-in 3m × 6m tunnel), you’ll be making huge savings on the pricey frames and extras. Plus you can design your own size and shape of tunnel.

FOUNDATIONS AND RIBS Scaffold end tubes (around 0.5–1m) make excellent ground tubes for polytunnels, and scaffolding companies are usually happy to sell these tubes for just a few pounds each. We used eight matching tubes for our home-made propagation tunnel, and buried them about halfway into the ground, 1m or so apart – the closer together the tubes are, the stronger the structure will be, since the tunnel won’t bow in between ribs. The tubes can be whacked into soft ground using a large wooden mallet, or you can use a heavy hammer to drive the tubes in, by placing a piece of scrap wood on top to protect them. Rigid LDPE water pipe with a diameter just a fraction wider than the outside diameter of the scaffold tubes makes great ribs. Our pipes were around 5cm in diameter, and they slotted beautifully over the ground tubes; we kept the pipes at the height we wanted

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by fastening U-bolts onto ground tubes just above ground level, to stop the pipes sliding further down the tubes under pressure from the plastic skin.

RIDGES AND DOOR FRAMES Once the ribs of the tunnel were all in place, we used a long piece of wooden batten to make the long ridge-pole at the top of the tunnel, to stop the ribs moving. These were simply lashed in place using tough string or rope, with extra lashings at the ends to stop the ridge-pole eventually poking through the plastic skin over time. Our tunnel was only around 2m × 3m, and with four, thick, rigid ribs in place, it was very strong, so we didn’t need to worry too much about bracing. However, triangles employed around the ends will help add strength, so extra bracing using batten connecting the end and penultimate ribs together on each side, and on each end (so four in total), can also be lashed on. To make the door frames you’ll need sturdy wooden batten lengths at least 30cm longer than the height the polytunnel doorway will be. Don’t forget, too, that the lintels to go along the tops of the frames will need to be wide enough to accommodate you and your tools – so if you want to use a wheelbarrow or rotavator in the tunnel, allow enough width for that. Fix the long batten to the lintels with long nails and metal plates, then dig the end of the long

Above: The ridge tied securely to each rib gives the tunnel real strength.

batten into the ground where you want the frames. Make sure the frames fit snugly into the ends, just about squeezing under the end ribs, and fasten them in place with sturdy rope and nails, or more U-bolts. If you haven’t used triangles elsewhere for bracing in the tunnel, it’s a good idea to put some here at the door frames, to stop them and the end ribs from collapsing into the tunnel: simply skew-nail some more sturdy batten into the frames about halfway up each side, and dig the other ends into the ground.

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MAKING DOORS YOU WILL NEED

❋ Steel tubes from a scaffold company or scrapyard (all the same length and diameter) ❋ U-bolts (car repair shops sell these as exhaust clamps) ❋ Wide diameter, rigid water pipe lengths ❋ Anti-hotspot tape ❋ Polytunnel plastic ❋ 3cm × 5cm wood for door frames ❋ 2cm × 3cm batten for doors ❋ Scrap thin batten for skinning

windless day!), then pull it over the ribs and secure in place by cutting rough horizontal holes at the ends just below the lintels, then roll up the excess plastic with thin batten, and tack it in place on the lintels of the door frames. Once the plastic is taut along the top of the tunnel, dig in each side edge in a pre-dug trench along the length and width of the tunnel – a spade wide and a spade deep, but it’s not necessary just in front of the doorway. Starting from the middle of one side, put Left: A simple door made using polythene offcuts from skinning will do the job adequately. Sturdy triangles will prevent the door frames from eventually collapsing into the tunnel.

SKINNING Light-reflective and padded antihotspot tape (it comes in varying thicknesses) is pretty cheap to buy at just a few pounds per 9m roll, and it will help make your plastic cover last longer by reducing the heat absorbed and given off by the ribs, as well as the friction, and will cover any odd stickingout bits. Smooth, light-coloured duct tape could also be employed, but the proper tape will most likely work better. To skin the tunnel, roll out the entire length of plastic (on a warm and

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As you are in charge of the design, you could have doors that open in a number of different ways.

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UNDER COVER G ARDENING one foot on the plastic in the trench and pull the end of the plastic with one hand, keeping it tight against the rib using your foot in the trench, then backfill with earth to keep it in place, and continue to the end. Repeat on the other side of the tunnel, pulling against the dug-in side until it is as tight as possible, then finish the remaining half of the tunnel. For the ends, fold in pleats to accommodate the extra plastic, cut off the large amounts of excess, then roll up in sections around more thin batten, and tack in place to the door frames. Keep the pocket parts of the pleats on the outside

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of the tunnel, so water and debris doesn’t collect on the inside.

DOORS There are a number of door styles you could use, or you could even leave the tunnel doorless. A basic door can be made simply by stretching some excess polytunnel plastic from the cut-off ends over a simple wooden batten frame, attached to the door frame using sturdy hinges. A straight door bolt at the top, which fixes into the door frame, is a good idea to keep the door shut in windy weather, as is a cane bolt screwed to the bottom of each door to keep it closed or open. You could also make a door partly from plastic and partly from net or mesh, in order to improve ventilation.

OVERWINTERING SALADS August is the time to start thinking about sowing your overwintering, slow-growing (i.e. not brassicas) salad leaves, such as chicory, radicchio, endive, lamb’s lettuce, chard and other winter-hardy lettuces. You could also sow some annual herbs for picking over the winter and early spring; as long as they have a month or so of good growing time, they will keep you going in the darker months. The shorter day length now will also mean that they won’t bolt quite so rapidly as in summer. Sow under cover in modules or seed trays and prick out when the first true leaves appear. Plant in the ground at the end of September (watering well if we get a hot sunny autumn) and harvest as needed

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– some varieties won’t like coming back if the whole plant has been picked, so picking just larger leaves as they are ready is a good idea. Mildew can be a problem over winter – ensure good ventilation, and don’t let plants get too wet and cold. Cover with fleece if any prolonged cold spells are forecast, but be aware that slugs and mice will enjoy the protection, too (mice especially like chicory stems). Thickerleafed cos lettuce can be a great winter comfort, as are ‘Markant’ frilly endive, ‘Rossa di Treviso’ radicchio,

baby chard, ‘Bull’s Blood’ beetroot leaves, claytonia, lamb’s lettuce, parsley, chervil, coriander and dill.

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MEDICINAL HERBS

FIRST AID n e d r a g r u o y m fro

Gardens can be a source of immense pleasure, but they can also be a source of well-being. Elizabeth McCorquodale considers the essential herbs to include in a medicinal garden

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ith lavender for bee stings, mint for tummy aches, and thyme as an antiseptic, it is no real surprise that the garden can be a source of a wide range of tried and true remedies to use against the everyday aches and pains of normal life. In fact, plants have been used as medicines for thousands of years, and about 50,000 of them are still used today. It can take a good deal of research to discover which of these many thousands of plants are truly effective, but unfortunately history isn’t a great help in sorting out the facts from the fables of medicinal plants: there are as many quack remedies among the pages of the venerable old herbals as there are plants with true pharmacological worth. The magisterial subtitle of ‘ancient healing herb’ could just mean that the plant in question had been used to absolutely no effect for hundreds, if not

THE HERBS PEPPERMINT (Mentha × piperita) While all mints contain menthol, the peppermints are particularly rich in this compound. In all its wonderful forms, peppermint is very effective against trapped wind and for aiding digestion. I particularly like chocolate mint, as it has a lovely rounded flavour that is soothing and comforting. THYME (Thymus vulgaris) With antiseptic and antibacterial properties, thyme

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thousands, of years. That said, there are many, many plants that have gone through laboratory tests and been proven to be effective treatments. For interest’s sake, but not for consumption, you could consider dedicating a little corner of your garden to plants that are currently used in pharmacology: plants such as Digitalis lanata, the woolly foxglove, used to regulate heartbeat; or the wonderful little Madagascar periwinkle, Catharanthus roseus, used to treat childhood leukaemia; or even opium poppies, the source of morphine and codeine, as well, of course, as opium itself. There is, of course, a world of difference between plants that can be transformed in the lab into a valuable medicine, and those that can be harvested straight from the garden. Digitalis, for instance, is deadly poisonous and should never be self-administered, self-administered, and

makes a good addition to teas or tinctures aimed at soothing sores in the mouth or throat. It can also be used as a bath for cuts and grazes. ECHINACEA (Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida, E. angustifolia) Grown for its roots and its leaves, echinacea is one of the current darlings of the herbal medicine cabinet. A tea made from the dried leaves or a decoction of the roots is used to lessen the length and the severity of colds. FENNEL (Foeniculum vulgare) Like its cousin, dill, fennel has long been used

in gripe water to ease the cramps and pain of colic, and it is still an excellent treatment for windiness and stomach cramps in both adults and children. Chew the seeds or make a tea for almost immediate relief. LAVENDER spp. This is a calming herb, and while the scent can be overpowering if it is too concentrated, at the correct strength it is soothing: calms the whole system and promotes sleep

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and relaxation. Lavender tea can be used on grazes, spots, minor burns and stings to soothe and promote healing. LIQUORICE (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Surprisingly hardy, and a soothing remedy for coughs and colds, liquorice has anti-inflammatory properties that make it ideal for treating sore throats. The root, made into a decoction and taken as a tea, is recommended for the treatment of stomach disorders. CHAMOMILE (Matricaria recutita) This is a tried, trusted and gentle curative.

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Use chamomile tea to treat inflamed skin, sore eyes and upset tummies, as well as to soothe the nerves and promote sleep. POT MARIGOLD (Calendula officinalis) A tea made from the flowers will effectively treat the painful cramps that accompany monthly periods (combine it with peppermint for best effect), or made into a lotion or poultice it can be used to soothe and promote the healing of minor burns, cuts and spots.

FEVERFEW (Tanacetum parthenium) Despite its name, this pretty little daisy-like flower is mostly prized for its ability to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. The downside is that the leaves (the active part) don’t taste very nice, so combine it with other flavours to disguise the bitter taste. Use the yellow-leafed variety for extra impact in the garden. EVENING PRIMROSE (Oenothera biennis) The oil made from the pressed seeds of this plant is well known for treating the symptoms of the menopause and PMS. Sadly, we would need to grow rather

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MEDICINAL HERBS nor would it be a wise move to try and extract opium from a poppy, nor a cancer cure from your yew hedge, but it is still a fascinating and different way of looking at garden plants. Together with these lifesavers, there are numerous gentle remedies that we can grow which have been used safely for years, and growing them is a pleasure, not least because many of them are attractive garden plants in their own right. The history and the science behind the cures, not to mention the beauty of the individual plants, all combine to make it a very satisfying endeavour. You can grow your first aid plants all together in a formal, geometric affair, complete with labels and advice, or as a jumble of plants in a cottage garden border, or simply dot them around the garden wherever they fit in.

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ea can b nge of n e d ar e ra the The g of a wid against s e e sourc dies to us and pain s reme ay ache d y r . e e ev l lif rma of no

PHYSIC GARDEN In Britain, the oldest dedicated Physic Garden was opened in Chelsea in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, and the Chelsea Physic Garden is still providing research, resources and inspiration to thousands of visitors every year. Some of these herbs can be taken internally, drunk as a tea, tincture or syrup, and others can be made up into a salve or ointment by combining the concentrated tincture with Vaseline or a solid vegetable oil such as coconut, or they can simply be laid on the skin by soaking a clean cloth in the tea of your chosen plant. Use fresh leaves and flowers when at all possible, which have

too many to even think of making evening primrose oil at home. However, what is less well known is that the flowers, leaves and roots are not only edible, but tasty as well. ARNICA (Arnica chamissonis, A. montana) Well known as a very effective antiinflammatory, and is used to relieve bruising. Use it only as a topical application on skin that isn’t broken, and don’t take it internally. LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis) Another delightful herb

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Digitalis Ianata – the woolly foxglove.

that has several curative properties: it has been shown to reduce the severity of cold sores (and may even prevent reoccurrence in some people), has antibacterial and antiviral properties, and reduces anxiety and induces sleep. The yellow variegated variety is just as well endowed with essential oils as is the plain green variety, and is much, much prettier. HOPS (Humulus lupulus) When taken as a tea or dried and stuffed into a pillow, hops have sedative properties that promote sleep. Hops also have the reputation of lessening the symptoms of the menopause.

HOUSE LEEK (Sempervivum tectorum) Long used to treat minor cuts and burns, this lovely little plant can be plucked and the sap gently applied whenever a soothing, cooling, natural gel is required to press on cuts, stings or minor burns. VALERIAN (Valeriana officinalis) A bit of a cure-all, but it will never be

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been picked when the sun has warmed the essential oils and dried the dew on the leaves. If you are picking for drying and storing, dry your plants as quickly as possible out of direct sunlight, then store them in sealed jars. Most plant material will keep for several months in a dark place, but dried herbs will never be as potent as the fresh plant. Many herbs can be taken as a soothing tea or infusion made by steeping the leaves, fresh or dried, in boiled water. Allow them to steep for 10 minutes before straining and drinking, then add honey, sugar or other flavourings, if necessary. These teas can also be used as skin washes, applied as poultices or dabbed onto the skin with cotton wool. Seeds, bark and fruit are usually made into decoctions by putting the required amount of plant material into a saucepan and boiling it in water for 10–15 minutes. A decoction is really just a tea made from anything other than leaves or flowers. To make a long-lasting tincture, fill a wide-mouthed jar with the chopped and bruised plant material of your choice, then fill the jar with vodka or any other

Above: A tincture. Right: A herbal infusion.

flavourless alcohol, ensuring the plants are submerged. Tap the jar gently to allow any bubbles to escape, seal and allow to stand for 1–4 weeks, then strain and set aside until needed. Syrups are made by boiling up your bruised and chopped plant materials in a sugar/water solution until it has thickened, then it is strained and stored in sterilised jars. For cough sweets, simply add more sugar to the syrup

TAKING A WISE APPROACH ❋ When using herbs as medicines, always exercise a degree of caution, and the best starting point is to ensure that you begin with the correct plant, sourced from a reputable grower. Always consult a doctor before taking anything new… all plants can cause allergic reactions in some people, and any plants may have the potential to interact with over-the-counter or prescription medications. ❋ There is an old adage that goes something like, “I will watch you grow it, watch you harvest it, watch you prepare it and watch you eat it, and if you are still alive and well tomorrow, then I will sample it”. This is a pretty good maxim to follow with any sort of herbal medicine.

the darling of the herb patch because it has a rather strong and acrid odour. That said, the smell is irrelevant if you take it as a concentrated tincture, and it is a reliable remedy for soothing and calming the nerves and inducing sleep. VIOLET (Viola odorata) A wonderful diuretic, and a tea made from it can successfully treat all sorts of lesions and will also calm

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angry skin and soothe eczema and other skin conditions. ALOE (Aloe vera) Well known for its soothing qualities, especially when used as a direct application to skin to soothe sunburn, skin rashes and eczema; simply pick a leaf and squeeze the gel-like sap onto the skin. Aloe taken internally for various conditions can be tolerated by some people, though others find its laxative effect rather too pronounced!

and boil for longer, then pour out the hardening syrup onto an oiled baking tray, wait for it to cool, then break it into pieces. From all the dozens of pretty, interesting and effective herbs that are begging for a place in the first aid garden, we have to tease out which ones to include and which to leave out. The plants below are all sun-loving, hardy perennials, except for the annual Calendula and the tender Aloe, which must be brought inside during winter. They will all tolerate part shade, if necessary, though you must ensure they get at least 6–8 hours of full sun, and all of them will thrive in a rich, welldrained soil topped by a good mulch every spring. Water them in prolonged periods of dry weather and deadhead all plants except those from which you wish to gather seed.

FURTHER INFO For more examples of Elizabeth’s photography and articles, together with the books she has written, visit www.elizabethmccorquodale.com

If you want to design and plant a really comprehensive medicinal herb garden, you could also include horehound vulgare cowslip (Marrubium vulgare), veris (pictured (Primula veris) ( left), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis yarrow (Achillea officinalis), ( millefolium), plantain (Plantago major and St John’s wort lanceolata, P. major) perforatum as they are all true (Hypericum perforatum), essentials of the herbal medicine chest. However, where space is at a premium this lot can be easily left out, as all of them are abundant and easy to collect from meadows and hedgerows, and along roadsides.

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FIGS

FIG TREES ! d e n i a t n o c m e ’ Keep

When you think figs, you perhaps think of southern Europe, but figs have grown in the UK since Roman times. Mark Abbott-Compton looks at the requirements and best varieties of this delicious fruit

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igs are both exotic and sweet, and perhaps the essence of a warm summer for many, yet they are also surprisingly easy to grow in the UK. They were originally introduced into Britain by the Romans, but to show just how well they can fare here, some ‘White Marseille’ fig trees were planted in 1525 in the courtyard of Lambeth Palace on the instruction of Cardinal Pole, and they are still growing there today. There was even a commercial fig orchard producing fruit in west Suffolk up until the late 1950s, so they certainly have a long history of successful cultivation here in the UK. Figs can be grown in the ground outside against a wall, and will do extremely well fan-trained or in the border of a large greenhouse, but in my opinion they are really best grown in a pot or container. This is principally because their roots are slightly restricted this way, and consequently they produce less

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growth and more fruit, and they can also be conveniently brought indoors during the very coldest months of the year. When growing your fig tree in a container, the best shape to aim for is either a bush or a half-standard one.

SIZE MATTERS I always start a fig tree off in a 30cm pot, then move it up over a number of years to a 60cm pot. You could, of course, go even larger than this size, but you then give yourself the difficult prospect of lifting a very large and heavy container, so I would advise against this unless you have a mechanical means of moving a very large pot, such as a forklift truck, or you have a large number of willing friends who might pitch in and help move it whenever necessary. Long term, terracotta pots are better than plastic ones, as they have thicker walls to protect plant roots from rapid

changes in temperature, which can be destructive. They are generally warmer in winter, too, but keep the roots cooler in summer, and they provide better conditions for the tree by allowing oxygen to enter the soil and aerate the roots. They also have considerable weight, so they do not blow over quite as easily as some plastic pots, which, with a large-leafed plant like a fig, can be a problem even during the spring and summer months. Once you have your container ready, place a single crock (a broken piece of terracotta pot) over the drainage hole in the bottom. It’s a common belief that increasing the amount of crocks will promote better drainage, but all it in fact does is to reduce the total amount of growing area available (see Elizabeth McCorquodale’s Garden Facts and Fables article in the June 2015 issue). Always use soil-based compost, such as John Innes No. 3, mixed with some

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! y r o t s i H

trees he ig f ’ t e rseill 1525 in alace, a M P e in ‘Whit planted ambeth ng i L e wer yard of till grow s t r cou hey are t and today! e ther

“A FIG WILL NOT RIPEN OFF THE TREE, AND NEEDS TO BE PICKED AND EATEN AT JUST THE RIGHT MOMENT – WHEN THE FRUIT IS NO LONGER PERPENDICULAR TO THE TREE, BUT HANGING UNDER ITS OWN WEIGHT, AND POSSIBLY EVEN WITH A TEAR OF ‘HONEYDEW’ AT THE EYE” AU G U S T 2015

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FIGS leaf-mould, if you have it, which is a perfect addition to the mix. Place the fig roots in the centre of the pot and fill it with compost until the soil level is 5cm below the rim of the pot, then firm it down with your fingers, as figs dislike loose, open conditions.

BIG DRINKERS The 5cm gap at the top of the pot is simply there because figs like to be watered well, and it’s always much easier to give them a good soaking in hot weather if you leave sufficient space for a large amount of water to be held by the pot. Watering should be done weekly from March onwards, and daily at the height of summer. Fig trees, however, don’t like waterlogged soil, so you’ll have to get the balance right. Once fig trees are growing contentedly, feed them each week with a weak comfrey or tomato fertiliser, and to achieve maximum growth you could in addition feed them once a fortnight with some seaweed extract.

PRUNING Ideally, you should prune a fig tree in March before it actively begins to grow, in order to remove any dead wood. The figs are produced on thick branches, so remove any thin ones; although if your

Left: For no visible reason a branch may suffer from die-back.

fig is growing well there may not be too many of these. Sometimes figs can suffer from die-back, which means that for natural reasons a branch may no longer be alive and will require removal at the source of the dieback point (see photos). When pruning any branches that have died back, simply cut back to healthy white wood. When shoots are growing actively on your plant, you will need to pinch out the tip of the branch once you have got four or five leaves established on it. As a result of removing this growing tip, the remaining wood will have time to ripen, meaning that the outside of the stem can harden properly and mature. Any wood created after this time would normally

RECOMMENDED VARIETIES As regards varieties of fig tree, the one always recommended for use in the UK is ‘Brown Turkey’, which both grows and produces well in containers. The figs that I grow are: ❋ BOURJASOTTE GRISE Produces a large and very lovely syrupy fig, and it grows happily in a pot. ❋ PETER’S HONEY Very sweet, and is probably my own personal favourite – in fact, I have never actually got one to the kitchen yet.

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❋ ORPHAN Produces a good, very sweet fig, but can be harder to get hold of. I also have to keep it in the polytunnel to ripen the fruit. ❋ ROUGE DE BORDEAUX Will give you two crops a year if you keep it in a polytunnel or greenhouse. It’s the darkest and most classic looking of all the figs I grow. ❋ BRUNSWICK Does very well, even in the north of the country, and fruits in August

or September. The fruit is delicious and sweet, and its naturally vigorous growth benefits from being constrained in a container.

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Extra

❋ Figs are produced on last year’s growth, not on new wood: new wood = no figs.

❋ Always place your fig tree where it will get maximum sunshine – they can look particularly spectacular on a patio, as they are wonderful architectural plants. ❋ When your figs are ripe, simply pick them from the tree. They will be soft and succulent, and may even have a tear of ‘honeydew’ at the eye. They will split if gently squeezed. ❋ Generally speaking, you will get a single crop if your fig tree is outdoors, but some varieties will actually crop twice if grown in a polytunnel or greenhouse. ❋ One of the main pests that affect figs is red spider mite, but misting with water can help this. Like all berries, young figs are also a magnet for birds – the only effective remedy is to net them until the figs are larger. ❋ Once your fig trees become established, it is very easy to propagate more plants from cuttings, or by ‘layering’ (a portion of an aerial stem growing roots while still attached to the parent plant, which is then detached as an independent plant).

Above: Dead wood – this particular thin branch will need pruning back. Right: It is not really the colour which indicates a fig is ripe, but rather the way it hangs.

not have sufficient time to ripen. I tend to get this job done by the longest day (summer solstice). Figs tend to produce fruit near the tips of their branches, so cutting back too hard could easily remove all your future fruit for the forthcoming year. Consequently, you will need to exercise caution – this is the single most common cause of figs not producing, in my experience. In autumn, once the leaves have fallen off your fig tree, it’s important to remove

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any figs larger than a small pea, as they won’t ripen, and could be a potential cause of die-back. There is a saying, which goes, “If you haven’t tasted a fig warm from the tree, you haven’t tasted a fig”, and it’s absolutely true. I can wholeheartedly recommend growing fig trees; the resulting home-grown harvest is superb and really versatile for cooking and preserving, or for just eating fresh, straight from the tree.

❋ Place your fig trees in a frostfree environment in winter, and keep the compost just moist. A frost-free shed or garage would be ideal, as they don’t need light when they have no leaves growing, which will free up valuable space in the greenhouse.

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T HE ROYAL L ANC ASHIRE AGRICULT UR AL SHOW

WE’RE BACK ! n i a g a s e d i r e RLAS Th

Announcing the return of an old and familiar Lancashire favourite

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ike all things of character, The Royal Lancashire Agricultural Show has ‘history’ behind it. Many locals still remember it being held in Blackpool in the 1950s, but then the land was sold to Blackpool’s Stanley Park Zoo, which replaced farm animals with different sorts of animals altogether. Since then it has been moved around the area, with shows held in Chorley, Blackburn and Ribchester. Since an initial meeting of the great and the good farming folk of Lancashire in 1767, the show has had to be cancelled a few times – most notably in 2007, when torrential rain stopped play at many shows up and down the country, and also when, following four years of

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cancellations, the Society finally decided it would have to hang up its bowler hat for the last time and call it a day.

FURTHER INFO THE ROYAL LANCASHIRE AGRICULTURAL SHOW 2015 Salesbury Hall, Ribchester, PR3 3XR August 7th, 8th and 9th, 2015 Advance tickets are now available; visit www.royallancs.co.uk, or phone 01254 914362 for details.

But fast-forward to 2015 and, in true Lancastrian style, the show is back… and with a vengeance. The return of many agricultural show firm favourites will be supported by a wide range of activities, making it a ‘proper’ family day out. The line-up will include The Adrenaline Tour stunt riders, who will be running in stark contrast to the more gentile Farming and Countryside Village, which plays host to dog and duck demos, as well as crafts. There will also be a real Lancashire foodfest, and some of the very finest livestock, too, and if you still have energy to burn, try testing your stamina against the clock on the Show’s army assault course.

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AGRICULTURE orrow for tom

Michael Wale reports from the Emirates on how the region’s agriculture is coping with conditions which we may one day encounter if current levels of climate change continue

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lack of fresh water and climate change are challenging the entire future of food production – a fact that is already getting the detailed attention of those behind agriculture in the Emirates. Already, the use of, and even research into, GMOs is banned on environmental grounds within all seven states that make up the Emirates, which was created in 1972. It is effectively a totally man-made tourist and business centre, visited each year by threequarters of a million Britons – that number is growing year-on-year – and the weather in the summer months reaches 50°C. Needless to say, the city’s demand for water is astronomical, especially in Abu Dhabi, the principal growing area, providing an ideal site to test out the growing requirements for a wide range of crops in extremes which we, too, may eventually have to contend with if climate change is allowed to continue and water shortages become even more acute. The government of the United Arab Emirates has backed the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, with its slogan ‘Agriculture for Tomorrow’.

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It is based a few miles outside Dubai, which is where I met Dr Rachael McDonnell (pictured above), who came to do research here from an academic post at Oxford University seven years ago. Fittingly, she is now a visiting professor in the opposite direction at Oxford, but perhaps unlike many people in her position she is actually a farmer’s daughter brought up on a 120-acre mixed farm at Launceston in Cornwall. Dr McDonnell is currently doing research on crops watered with treated

water, saline water, greywater and salty water, working out exactly which crops can grow with salt water, and in what quantities. In Oxford, she has set up a Master’s Degree based on water use, and she says, quite pointedly: “In politics you don’t have rational decisions made about water.” Abu Dhabi had been ruled by Sheikh Zayed, an environmentalist, until his death in 2004. He had trees planted everywhere, and every street seems to have date trees so the public can pick the dates and eat them for nothing. It is a comparatively green city, and there are large notices around it imploring the public to ‘Shorten Your Shower. Save Water’. Sheikh Zayed’s son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is now continuing the policies of his late father. The research centre is based on a 100-hectare site given over to the experimental growing of plants, with particular attention paid to the measurement of water required, with electronic probes plunged into the earth at various heights around particular plants to record the effect of watering, which transmit the information back to a computer in a nearby small shed. More importantly, the plants can

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Quinoa (above) and asparagus (right) growing at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture. Top right: Corn – one of the very few crops able to thrive outdoors.

be fed with water of varying degrees of salinity, some of it brought in bulk from the nearby sea. Various strains of barley are among the different plants currently being studied in these practical experiments, but the two most successful plants, which can actually thrive in almost pure salt water, are asparagus and quinoa, currently the favoured ingredient of many a fashionable London bistro, and the single greatest success story so far in these trials. Quinoa has a very high level of salt tolerance, and can germinate, grow and produce in salt concentrations close to seawater. The average seed yield varies from 500 to 1,000kg per hectare, but with better management, yields of up to 5,000kg per hectare could be achieved, together with almost 5–10 tonnes of chaff per hectare for the feeding of livestock. It also tolerates drought and has very low water demands. Quinoa seeds are highly nutritious, too, with 13 per cent protein and a more balanced amino acid content than wheat. Indeed, the figures produced so far by studies of quinoa have led to it being considered

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as perhaps the crop destined to provide food security in the coming century. Asparagus, which can also be grown in salt water, and is regarded as the most salt-tolerant vegetable, is among the top ten vegetables for nutritional value. It can be grown either in open fields or under protected conditions, and once established can be productive for up to twelve years. Another favourite, the sunflower, is second only to the soya bean as an oil crop. It is regarded as a premium Below: Salad crops growing in one of the tunnels.

source of oil due to its high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, but the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture has also found that the sunflower can thrive in conditions that are too dry for many similar crops. It has a very low requirement for water, and can be grown as both a winter and summer crop. In addition, it has a moderate tolerance to salinity, and in seed trials sunflower growth and seed yield were not significantly affected when plants were irrigated with a certain amount of salt water. Dr McDonnell emphasised the fact that we are currently losing “millions of hectares a year going into salinity. Tomorrow, in many parts of the world, agriculture will be marginal and using saline soil”. She added that this will affect everyone – even those living in the UK, where she forecasts that there will be more droughts and floods, alongside land that has already been affected by increased salinity. As incomes rise and the population gradually becomes more diverse in the United Arab Emirates, a recent university survey found that the area is hungry for organic food. Consequently, it seemed appropriate that I should

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E X T REME HORT ICULT URE

visit an organic farm some twenty miles outside Abu Dhabi, and enveloped by the extensive desert which covers much of the region. Walid Hijazi, the farm’s general manager, said that setting up a farm on land that had previously been desert had not been the easiest of tasks, with very few crops grown outdoors – corn on the cob is one of a number of notable exceptions – and the farm is dominated by seventeen immense tunnels, which are far more robust than any of their UK counterparts. Walid explained that the season is currently curtailed, omitting the three hottest months of June, July and August when temperatures outside can easily rise to 50°C and above, with a water-table of just 30cm. However, he commented on a common misunderstanding

! w e Ph

in ure t a r pe e tem he thre ly e d i u t outs ates in June, J e h , r T sily Emi nths the st mo can ea ve. e , o hott August nd ab a and h 50°C reac

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The organic market in Dubai.

about plants and water, with people usually believing that more is better when it comes to irrigation, but that’s not the case, as many gardeners are well aware! Compost is also a very important factor, and the farm is now actively producing its own. The farm has introduced a revolutionary method for cooling these tunnels, called ‘evaporative cooling’, which reduces air temperature through the evaporation of water into the airstream. As water evaporates, energy is lost from the air, causing its temperature to drop. The system reuses water, keeping the quantities involved to a minimum, and guards the internal temperature from outside influence with double doors. The tunnels produce huge harvests of tomatoes, lettuce and other salad crops, and there is great demand for home-produced food in Abu Dhabi, and even more so in Dubai, where there is a regular massive organic market on a Saturday.

The farm originally brought in a German organic grower for monthly visits as they experimented with precisely which crops would flourish in the tunnels, and Michel ten Duis was brought in from Holland as business manager to market and sell the produce. In the pack-house, he showed me some small bananas grown from plants imported from Costa Rica, and also cabbages and cauliflowers, and a highly successful potato crop that had also been grown. No less than forty-two different crops were experimented with in the farm’s first year alone, but this number is being reduced as commercial growing now takes over. However, the operation has proved such a success that 240 further hectares are to be added for conventional growing.

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SE ASONAL FOR AGING Cultivated salad burnet.

FORAGING t s u g u A e m o s e Aw

David Winnard finds two to use and two to avoid, while letting off steam over the case of Manchester United and some missing belladonna

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y Home Farmer foraging faithful, you all know the story of how I originally got into foraging and wildlife – my grandma paid me 1p for every common species of mushroom I found, 2p if it was uncommon, and 5p if it was rare. Well, what you might not know is why I was even at my grandma’s on a Saturday afternoon… the reason was football. When I was growing up, my family were all football mad (Oldham Athletic, since you ask), and I just rebelled against it. I got fed up of it from an early age, so while the rest of the family went to matches, grandma and I went out into the woods; with hindsight and looking at Oldham’s current performances, I think it was probably the right decision. So, where is all this going, you might ask? Well, the one thing I did inherit from my footballing family is a love of hating Manchester United, and all these years,

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whenever they play, I really do hope they lose. They have never actually done anything to me personally that might make me hold a grudge, it’s just one of those things you’re told at a tender young age, and you just do it by conditioning… well, until now that is. I wanted to photograph deadly nightshade for this particular article (and for an upcoming book I am working on!), and the only known site in the county for this species is next to the Bridgewater Canal, across from the Old Trafford stadium – the home of Manchester United. For years it has been there and thrived, but when I went to photograph it last week, it had gone. In fact, many unusual species that occurred along the old towpath have disappeared to make way for

a very expensive-looking new towpath, which goes straight through one of the best colonies of bee orchids I have ever seen. Where the deadly nightshade once stood has now become the patio for a Manchester United supporters’ lounge. To be clear, the towpath and the patio are two completely separate things, and I do not think for one moment that it has

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been done maliciously, but rather as a result of ignorance. So, I am afraid the photos of deadly nightshade you see are not mine – I will have to wait for another day to get my picture, but I am determined to find it somewhere in the county again. It would be a shame if such a plant has been lost for the sake of a patio, but this is unfortunately the reality for many of us foragers in urban/suburban environments; places that we love to go to with unusual plants or something very tasty can suddenly get built on or destroyed, so we must make use of them whilst we still can. So, this month, I want everyone to go for a walk and appreciate all the fascinating plants you have on your doorstep, edible or otherwise, and enjoy them and hope they will remain yearon-year! This month we are splitting our finds down the middle: two to use and two to avoid, together with a hope that whenever you might see Manchester United play, you will forever feel my suffering at the loss of this rare deadly nightshade.

DRYAD’S SADDLE (Polyporus squamosus) Once you have seen this particular species growing in the wild, you are unlikely to ever confuse it with anything else. It can grow huge, and some specimens could even be used as an actual saddle. If I say that many I have found have been at least the length of an arm (shoulder to fingertips), then I would not be exaggerating. You don’t, however, want to pick it at that size; you want them young and fresh and when they are very tender – if you can cut them easily with a knife, then

Left to right: Dryad’s Saddle, Dryad’s Saddle cap, and Dryad’s Saddle spores (Polyporus squamosus).

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they are fine, but if you struggle, you should leave them be. Dryad’s Saddle grows on trees, usually sycamore, and is often found from late spring right the way through to autumn. The stem is chunky and usually consists of more than one fruiting body, and the cap is light brown with darker ‘scales’, while the underside has pores. Its sheer size should be the real giveaway, though. There are a couple of species that look like miniature versions, but these are small and generally grow on smaller wood, not on the trunks of mature sycamores. As usual – if in doubt, leave it be! Tender growth can be cut up and cooked in a pan, or you can batter them. They are really lovely to eat.

SALAD BURNET (Sanguisorba minor) Salad burnet is a species that is becoming much more common, as it is often used in wild flower mixes; wherever someone has sown some wild flower seed in parks or by the edges of paths, etc., you can often find this species. Typically, in the wild, it does prefer slightly alkaline soil, and is frequently found where the soil has been disturbed. Now, you can often find it in the herb section of garden centres – its leaves give a lovely and fresh cucumber-like taste, and it makes a great addition to most salads. Interestingly, it has male, bisexual and female flowers (who said plants were boring?), but we won’t go into which is which here. Instead, go and look for yourselves and seek out the leaves, which are relatively small but with slightly toothed edges. It is really a small- to

Right: Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor).

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SE ASONAL FOR AGING Salad burnet leaves.

DEADLY NIGHTSHADE

as what to pick, so you are fully prepared. It is a lovely plant, though, and likes disturbed ground, path edges and riversides. In fact, most of the sites I know for this plant are near to habitation and at the side of paths. It’s probably one to discover really close to your own home!

medium-sized plant, in most cases growing perhaps no taller than 46cm. Its much larger relative, the greater burnet, which grows to around 1m in height, should be avoided.. The leaves are larger, each leaflet is longer, and it does not smell of cucumber when crushed, like salad burnet does.

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• NG

GREATER CELANDINE

S

U

POI

(Chelidonium majus) This is not related to the well-known SO spring flower, lesser NO celandine, and the fact that they both have yellow flowers is probably where the similarity ends. Greater celandine is poisonous,, and whilst it is a plant that you can usually expect to find during summer, it is not one that I would call common – I perhaps tell a lie here; it grows as a weed in my garden, but it’s uncommon in the wild. The plant itself contains alkaloids, which you do not really want in your body, but the unusual property of this plant is that if you break the leaf or stem it oozes an orange liquid that can cause skin irritation. Indeed, it is said that witches would use it to burn off warts. You are unlikely to be picking any other plant that you could mistake it for, but you know me; I think it is equally important to know what to avoid picking as well

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(Atropa belladonna) Everyone has heard of this plant, but it is not common (and certainly not in my area, now!). Whilst it is very toxic and should never be ingested, a study in Switzerland revealed over twenty-nine years that there were fewer than two poisonings a year from this plant, and no one had actually died. They did, however, eat the very shiny and tempting-looking berries, and not the root, which is said to be the most toxic part of the plant. The black berries are owned by the Devil (and that’s a fact!), so if you eat any, then prepare to meet him. Scholars actually argue over how many you need to eat for a fatal dose. Some cases quote a boy who ate just half a berry and died by the road, while others quote a case where a

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) .

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! e r a Bew

ge is lar lf e d a h se ights y pass it in a n y l il Dead ould eas growing c o t s to d an pota belong a s it a – off erow ily! hedg me fam a the s

S NO

U

POI

SO

• NG

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Above and left: Deadly nightshade and the Devil’s very own black berries! (Atropa belladonna).

boy ate twenty or thirty and survived. Either way, just do not eat them! The plant is large and could easily pass itself off as a potato growing in a hedgerow – it belongs to the same family – but it is not until you see the dark flowers and the black berries that you know you have found belladonna. John Gerarde, who wrote The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes in 1597, actually said that we should banish it from the garden and from around the house, as children and women couldn’t be trusted not to eat the black, shiny, enticing berries. It is undoubtedly a plant to learn so you know just what it looks like and how to avoid it, but I disagree strongly with Gerarde. Education is always a better answer, but if you agree with Gerarde and are planning on getting rid of some, please let me know and I will happily take it off your hands.

IN CONCLUSION… So, there we have it: two wonderful edibles, which should be relatively easy to find this month, and two to definitely avoid. Next month, I want us to be prepared for what will hopefully be a fantastic mushroom season, with some essential ‘dos and don’ts’, as well as a few different suggestions for preserving all your fungal finds. In the meantime, Happy Foraging! ❋ For reasons of impartiality, Home Farmer expresses no preference between Oldham Athletic and Manchester United. Other football teams are available.

FURTHER INFO David Winnard runs foraging and wildlife photography courses. Visit www.discoverthewild.co.uk to find out more about his activities.

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V IABL E SEL F-SUFFICIENC Y

A WAY OF LIFE y r a i D s ’ r e d l o allh A Sm

Dot Tyne’s May diary entries include the final late lambing, the Royal Welsh Spring Festival, a visit from the AI man, lots of planting, and no water as the tank springs a leak 1ST MAY

Several late-lambing ewes gave birth overnight. Spent time updating flock records and making sure everything was listed as required. Tim collected the rotavator, which has at long last been serviced and repaired. Mucking out in the top shed ready to buy-in some calves to bucket-rear, as Buttercup and Bluebell between them produce far more milk than is needed for their own calves and the house. The crow that has been causing trouble with newborn lambs is still hanging around every ewe that gives birth, so Tim’s been taking his gun up to the field with him. No luck so far – crows seem to spot the difference between a gun and a shepherd’s crook from about a mile away!

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2ND MAY Spotted one of the heifers bulling this afternoon, so we need to call the AI man to get her inseminated in the morning. Made a batch of beetroot and ginger chutney – we need to use up the last of the beetroot before it runs to seed. Also made cranberry cookies, baked bread, churned butter, and made yoghurt, chocolate ice cream, and cooked pork curry for dinner. 3RD MAY The AI man came first thing this morning. He used semen from a Limousin bull, as this breed is easycalving, but it also gives a calf with good conformation. The weather was rather wet and dull

initially, but it brightened up later on, so we brought in the second group of ewes with twin lambs. Tattooed and ear-tagged them, gave a worm dose, administered a mineral drench, applied Spot On and weighed them, then moved them to fresh grazing. Made curranty cakes this evening and had rabbit casserole for dinner. 4TH MAY Had a day out at Nefyn Show. Tim and Llinos were judging the Badger Face sheep classes, and Tim also judged the Rare Breed and Primitive sections. Rhian took the kayak that she made last year and entered it in the handicraft section, which caused a few headaches for the organisers over table space.

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V IABL E SEL F-SUFFICIENC Y It was worth it, though, as she won a trophy for best exhibit. Finished the day with a rare takeaway. 5TH MAY The weather was wet and nasty. Doing the chores seemed to take ages after our tiring day yesterday, and the weather didn’t help. Bluebell was bulling today, but it’s too soon to put her in-calf, so we made a note of it so we can keep an eye out for her next time around. Brought in a group of ewes with single lambs and did the tagging, tattooing, dosing, etc. Got held up initially, as the dosing gun was being temperamental, so Tim took it all to bits and cleaned it before we could start. Took this batch of sheep to the mountain, where they will stay until shearing time. Baked a batch of ginger and chocolate cookies this evening. 6TH MAY Spent much of the day working on our application for the Single Payment scheme. We submitted the form online, and once we had actually worked out how to register for the service, we made decent progress. We didn’t quite get it finished, though, so will have to have another go at it soon – the closing date is approaching fast! 7TH MAY Did some preliminary work for our stand at the Welsh Sheep event in about ten days’ time. Also did more of the Single Payment application. One new calf arrived today, courtesy of a local livestock dealer – a Limousincross bull calf, so should match our two home-bred calves quite well. Having trouble with lambs getting out of one of our rented fields. It is tricky when this happens, as we are not responsible for the upkeep of the fences, but obviously we can’t just ignore the wanderers. Made temporary repairs to the fence, which, hopefully, will be enough to keep the lambs in.

One of our neighbours is having trouble with them in his silage fields, so if we can get a few meals out of it, it works for both of us. 8TH MAY Gathered the last group of ewes with twins and did their tags, tattoos, dose, and Spot On. Turned them out with all the other twin lambs. There was a flurry of activity with the late-lambing ewes today, so only a couple left to go now. Potted on the cucumbers, which are growing quite quickly. Also placed the nasturtiums in their final pots. I like to have these in the conservatory – they are so colourful and have the added bonus of being edible, too. Sowed lettuce, summer cabbage and French beans. Tim went to a farm sale this evening. He had his eye on a couple of things that would have been quite useful, but they went for too high a price. Working on arrangements for the Welsh Sheep event this evening. 9TH MAY Checked the sheep this morning and found a dead lamb. This is the first one we have lost since turn out. No obvious reason, although the weather was filthy last night. Tim got some fertiliser this morning, ready to spread on the fields that we will cut for hay and silage. Did some hoeing in the garden, then spent the rest of the afternoon tidying up the home-bred ram we are taking to the Spring Festival next weekend. The last ewe lambed, so all done and dusted, thank goodness. Tim went rabbiting this evening.

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10TH MAY Washed and brushed the second ram in preparation for next weekend. Did more work on the Single Payment application – the closing date for submissions is the end of this week. 11TH MAY Tim fetched a load of feed, then spent time sorting out the ewes with young lambs that are still in the shed. Did some halter training with the ewe and the yearlings – they are all pretty bad. It’s a pity there is no prize at the show for the worst-behaved sheep, as I am sure we would win it hands down! 12TH MAY Brought home a small bunch of ewes with singles and went through the tagging routine with them. There were only ten in this group, so it didn’t take long. Took them up to the mountain. Had a trip out to Porthmadog to buy a tent. We need a new one for the show at the weekend, as the tent we bought when we were students has finally given up the ghost Had a cooking session this evening – made bread, cookies, choc yum, chocolate ice cream and butter. Iestyn had his driving test today… he passed! 13TH MAY Did some show preparation with two of the yearling ewes. Designed a banner to have printed for the Welsh Sheep event. Good job these things can be done online and delivered quickly these days, as we’ve left it rather late. It should be delivered on Friday. Tim spread fertiliser on the two silage fields and also on the hayfield.

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14TH MAY Did more show preparation with the home-bred ram – he does look smart! Tim put up a back fence behind the cows to make more efficient use of the grazing. We’ve found a buyer for our autumnborn heifer calf, so we took her to her new home this evening. Started sorting out the stuff we need to take with us to the Spring Festival. Made butter, ice cream, two bakes of bread, biscuits, and had toad-in-the-hole for dinner. We were fairly early to bed, as we have a very early start in the morning.

he was very pleased about. Entered our sheep in both the Group and Single interbreed championships, but didn’t get anything. The standard was pretty high this year. Plenty of things to look at and good company, too. Managed to get away fairly early, so we were able to get a meal on the way home. Got back about 10pm, unloaded, and went straight to bed.

15TH MAY Up at 5.00am to get the sheep washed and brushed ready for the show. We got the morning jobs done, then packed everything into the Land Rover and trailer. Left home about 1.00pm. Iestyn is staying home to look after the animals and revise for his A levels. It felt really odd leaving him behind – we have never been to this event without him before. However, he might be able to come down for the day on Sunday, now that he can drive himself. Arrived in good time, got everything unloaded and sorted out. Looking forward to tomorrow. 16TH MAY Swept the board in the show classes, but to be honest there was not a lot of competition, as we were the only exhibitors in our section. Need to work hard to get more people to come next year, otherwise we will lose the classes, which would be a great pity. Tim did demonstrations throughout the day. 17TH MAY It was the second day of the show. The ‘have a go’ class Tim organised in the Sheep section was a success, which

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18TH MAY A fast turnaround for Tim, who went off with the sheep to the Welsh Sheep event, which takes place near Newtown tomorrow. It’s a biennial event and well worth a visit, although it’s inconvenient that it is always two days after the Spring Festival. 19TH MAY Tim was away all day – plenty of interest in the sheep and the performance recording. With luck it might translate into additional demand for our rams in the autumn. 20TH MAY Potted up the biggest of the tomato plants, but couldn’t do them all, as I didn’t have enough compost. Also sowed another batch of Brussels sprouts – rather late I know, but the slugs seem to have got the first lot. Also sowed runner beans, and planted out a second double row of broad bean plants, some summer cabbages and a few lettuces. Finally got around to rotavating the spud plot.

We are running very late with the garden this year, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for good growing weather to give things a chance to catch up. 21ST MAY Snowdrop was bulling again this morning, so she obviously didn’t hold to the first insemination. Brought her in and got the AI man here to give it another go. Rather a nuisance (apart from the cost), as we now won’t be able to move her and the other heifer to the mountain for at least another three weeks. Could do with getting them away from home to give the fields a bit of a rest. Planted some of the spuds. Tim went out rabbiting again this evening. 22ND MAY Finished putting the spuds in the ground. Did the tags and tattoos, doses, etc. for the last bunch of lambs from the main lambing group. We had planned to leave them where they were, but the grass won’t last until shearing time, so had to take them to the mountain. Not sure how they will do, as there are now quite a lot of sheep up there, and not a great deal for them to eat.

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VIABLE SELF-SUFFICIENCY Acquired two more new calves to bucket-rear, as the cows, particularly Buttercup, are really churning out the milk – Tim says she’s giving about six gallons a day, which is an awful lot for a small cow. 23RD MAY Went to the garden centre this morning to get more compost and growbags. Also bought a few packets of seed and more seed potatoes. With the cucumbers and tomatoes potted on, the conservatory is now firmly in summer mode. Rhian started tidying up in the lean-to area of the big shed, as she and Tim are hoping to finish building the third kayak, which they started last summer. Tim went out after rabbits this evening, but came home emptyhanded. 24TH MAY Planted the extra seed potatoes that I got yesterday. Planted out sweet peas and calabrese, and spent time hoeing. The girls’ ferret, Fuzzy, is in season at the moment, so they took her to meet a neighbour’s hob ferret in the hope that they might get some babies. Left Fuzzy there overnight. Spotted water dripping through the kitchen ceiling this evening – it looks like the hot-water tank has had it. Not good! Not much greenstuff left in the garden, so picked and cooked some nettles to go with our dinner. 25TH MAY Checked the sheep on the mountain and put out a lump of rock salt for them. Spotted five of our yearling ewes in the wrong place, so Tim went back to fetch them. He managed to get four of them, but the fifth was totally mental and jumped over the wall and ran off into the distance. Brought Fuzzy the ferret home. Tim did some strimming around the yard and the garden – I wish that the grass in the fields would grow as quickly as the stuff on the lawn. 27TH MAY Bluebell was bulling again today, but it is still too early to put her in-calf – we don’t want her to calve until late April next year. Had a plumber/builder here to look at the hot-water tank. It is definitely in need of replacement. He drained it in an

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effort to stop the leak. This means we now have no water, hot or cold, upstairs or in the kitchen, and we have had to turn the Rayburn off, so can’t cook. Despite having turned off all the water, there is still a steady drip coming through the kitchen ceiling. Hopefully, the insurance will help cover the cost of rectifying any damage caused by the leaks. Had a takeaway for dinner – the insurance ought to pay for that too! 28TH MAY Had the insurance assessor in today, and she has confirmed that it is OK to go ahead with repairs once we have a quote. Unfortunately, the builder can’t come until Monday. Put up the strings for the plants in the conservatory. Sowed winter cabbages, winter cauliflowers, purple sprouting broccoli, summer cabbage and swedes in trays, and radish, pak choi, radicchio and mixed salad straight into the soil. Also planted out French beans and calabrese. Brought in the stock rams and Tim sheared them – a physically demanding job, as the rams are strong and don’t really bend very well. Took them to some fresh grazing.

Tim and Rhian were working on the kayak until late. They are hoping to get it finished in time for the Barmouth Paddlesports Festival in early June. Another takeaway this evening. 30TH MAY Did more rotavating in the garden. Tim says he’s had enough of takeaways, so Llinos cleaned up an old barbecue left here by a friend some years ago. Got it clean enough to cook on, so had sausages for dinner. Also used the barbecue with the lid shut to bake a loaf of bread. The flavour and texture were interesting to say the least, but it kept Tim happy! 31ST MAY Working in the garden today – tidying up after rotavating. Weeded the strawberries, which are now flowering freely. Tim sheared the yearling ewes we took to the Spring Festival and turned them out. Took more sheep to the mountain in the little trailer, but the wheel-bearing went on the way back, so had to abandon the trailer (in a safe place) and come home without it.

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POULT RY

CHICKENS on a budget Terry Beebe looks at ways of reducing the cost of keeping poultry without compromising either the health or welfare of your flock

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hen you first decide to keep a few chickens, it probably all seems to be relatively simple, which of course it is, but then, as you become more involved, the actual cost of setting up your new project gradually dawns on you as the bills mount up. But don’t worry, there are quite a few ways to budget and save money, and most of them are quite straightforward. The highest initial cost will obviously be the poultry housing – always the most expensive part of the project, and rightly so, as it’s a matter of welfare. There is some very good housing on the market, and for what you actually get it is not particularly expensive, whichever material you opt for, but the alternative – building your own housing – can also be costly in terms of buying timber, roofing materials and the essential wood protection products, and can be time-consuming, too, if you’re not a carpenter. The cost of a ready-built coop varies considerably, depending on the manufacturer – they start in the low hundreds of pounds, but rise to as high as you are prepared to go. It is very easy to spend in excess of £1,000 on housing, but for most of us this is neither realistic nor affordable, and in truth it’s really not necessary, either. One problem for many potential chicken keepers is negative thinking: getting into the

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mindset that you really can’t afford to do it right now undoubtedly prevents many people from starting up and enjoying the pleasure of keeping a small flock of chickens. Some people probably never return to the idea when they have a little more cash, depriving themselves of an immensely

rewarding hobby. But there are many ways of keeping down the costs, including using a shed you already own (or an old, children’s Wendy house) and converting it into a chicken coop. Building your own using second-hand timber is also a possibility, or you may be lucky enough to buy new timber that is not quite up to the standard required for a timber supplier to be able to sell it at full price – wood that is slightly out of line and with knots, which may not be good enough for a joiner, but will still be ideal for making a coop, and any faults will certainly go unnoticed by your grateful flock, which only require shelter from the elements. Go to your local timber merchant’s and ask if they have any seconds; you may be pleasantly surprised and find exactly what you need. You also see lots of wood thrown into skips, and much of it is actually useful timber, but be careful – you must ask the owner’s permission (the person hiring the skip) before you start to remove any items from it. Most builders will certainly let you take away any offcuts or waste material, but again, make sure you always get permission. You could also visit some local recycling areas, where someone else’s rubbish could be ideal for your poultry project, or you could check out websites such as Freecycle, which bring together people with unwanted items and others for whom

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! r e b m e m e R

n hrow l t d sefu woo the tually u ask f o c h Muc kips is a u must n s o y o int er, but ermissio tems. i b tim wner’s p ing any o v o the e rem r befo

“…IF YOU BUY SECOND-HAND, MAKE SURE YOU THOROUGHLY DISINFECT AND CLEAN ANY ITEMS BEFORE USING THEM, JUST TO PREVENT THE POSSIBILITY OF PASSING DISEASE ON TO YOUR FLOCK” AU G U S T 2015

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POULT RY those unwanted items are just the ticket. Converting an old shed, dog kennel or other similar outhouse can provide a very suitable house for poultry, but make sure there is plenty of ventilation; many sheds are designed to store tools and equipment, so ventilation would not have been a priority. You will also need a pop-hole, which should be easy to fit, and nest boxes can be made or bought ready built, although many existing boxes could probably be used with only minor amendments. This will all save you money, but will of course take time. One of the most costly items when building poultry housing is wire mesh – a good source of ventilation in warmer weather – but keep an eye out for any seconds at your local supplier, or use second-hand materials if you can find any. As an alternative, chicken wire is considerably less expensive and will work well, too, but the best wire is undoubtedly weld mesh, as it is stronger and will last for many years without problems.

TERRY’S POLITE TIP! Always be pleasant and polite, and be sure to smile, when asking for something cheap or for free – it’s amazing how far a pleasant approach can get you, and how little can be gained from being brusque.

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Poultry equipment can also be quite costly, so try to buy at auction, especially farm sales, or from eBay, as there are some very good bargains available, including second-hand items. However, if you do buy second-hand, make sure you thoroughly disinfect and clean any items before using them, just to prevent the possibility of passing disease on to your flock. Bedding for the inside of the coop can be quite expensive, and it is certainly always best to use dust-free shavings or a similar type of bedding, as this is less harmful to your birds’ respiratory systems over time.

Many woodyards will sell it to you cheaply, or it can be bought ready packed in large wrapped blocks. Do not buy the small packages from pet shops or supermarkets, as they are far too expensive for use with your chickens – they may last a small rodent for many months, but your chickens will need regular ‘cleanouts’ and lots of new bedding every week. Using shredded paper and straw is a cheaper alternative, but they are not really recommended, as they retain moisture and will soon become badly soiled, with both straw and paper going damp underneath, although they may still look fine on the surface – this will cause respiratory problems for the birds and act as a breeding ground for many parasites. Sawdust is a possibility, but is very dusty and can irritate the eyes and also create respiratory problems. If you do feel that time is more affordable than cash and decide to use these materials, make sure you change the bedding very regularly – and on a much more frequent basis than with dustfree shavings – to prevent problems. Using a disinfectant such as BioDri under the bedding will also help to prevent infection and disease, and will be a worthwhile outlay to reduce the risk of keeping down other costs. There are certainly many ways to cut down on the cost of keeping poultry, but when it comes to feeding your birds, do not cut down on the quality of the feed – this will harm them and will cost you more in the long run because of the increased number of vet’s bills. You can feed your birds

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POULT RY occasional treats – not leftovers from the kitchen – but always remember that any treats are unlikely to help with egg production. A proper diet of layers’ pellets or mash with the odd treat of either wheat or corn in the afternoon should give you top production from your hens, but cutting back will be detrimental, as it will slow down or even stop the egg-laying process. A treat from the garden will do no harm, especially offcuts from any home-grown veg, but keep it confined to an occasional occurrence, as birds may reject formulated pellets in favour of treats and therefore miss out on vital nutrients.

BUYING BIRDS Once the housing and run are organised – and this should, of course, be done before you acquire any livestock – it is time to add some birds to complete the picture, and this is yet another expense that can be reduced, but only with great care. Buying birds at auction can certainly save you money, but it can be a risk; unfortunately, many birds in an auction are there for a good reason, so take someone with experience of poultry with you to ensure you get healthy birds of good quality. The best way to get your birds is from a local breeder who can show you his flock and supply you with really good stock and any advice that is needed with regard to keeping them. Always be on the lookout for warning signs – avoid buying birds that look unfit, droopy or have any signs of illness, as these can, and will, cost a lot of money to bring them back to a healthy condition, and they can also spread disease and infect other birds, again adding extra expense that could have been avoided with a little care. ISA Brown hens are ideal beginners’ birds and, dependent on where you source them, are usually reasonably priced and should provide you with lots

of eggs – they were created solely as an egg-laying bird – and are also one of the easiest types of chicken to manage, both socially and with regard to potential health problems. You can buy most birds described as ‘POL’ (Point Of Lay), but take into account that many of these will only be sixteen or seventeen weeks old, and will not actually come into lay until around twenty-one or twenty-two weeks, so point

of lay does not actually mean that you will be eating fresh eggs for breakfast on the following day. If you are looking to keep chickens ‘on the cheap’, then remember that one of the greatest costs for any keeper is the vet’s bills, and cutting costs unwisely will certainly come back to bite you. Health and welfare are the two really critical requirements for good husbandry, but there are ways of cutting back the cost of poultry keeping without compromising either. Housing that is less than perfect will not be a problem for your birds, as long as it is dry, warm and well ventilated – whether it can be described as ‘executive housing’ is less important. And as long as they have fresh food and clean water supplied in appropriate containers, and protection from predators, they should live a long and happy life, and you can pat yourself on the back for being a responsible poultry penny-pincher!

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BEE- K EEPING

POLLEN Bees need it!

Claire Waring takes a look at pollen, pollen but from a bee’s point of view

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n summer, sufferers from hay fever know all about pollen, and they curse those microscopic grains that are carried up their nostrils as they breathe in. But even if you are a sufferer, stand back for a moment and see just how important those tiny grains really are.

PLANT REPRODUCTION Pollen, which is produced by the anthers, is the male part of a plant’s reproductive system. The anthers are mounted on the filaments, and the combination is known as the stamens. For successful seed production, pollen must be transferred to the plant’s female part, the style. This is

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Pollen is not just yellow; it can also be white, black or orange.

supported by the stigma, attached to the receptacle containing the ovaries, which house the ovules (seeds). Under a microscope you will be amazed at the different shapes and sizes of grains from different flowers. Each is covered with a hard coating, the exine, under which is the intine, a tough but soft layer. When a pollen grain lands on the stigma, it grows a pollen tube through a small aperture, and this grows down the stigma, eventually reaching the ovary. It enters through a tiny hole, and the male sex cell on the tip of the tube fuses with the female sex cell in the ovule. Fertilisation is then complete; the plant is now pollinated and the seeds will ripen, ready to produce the next generation.

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BEE- K EEPING Pollen also comes in a range of colours. It is not just every shade of yellow, but can be grey, red and even blue, depending on the flower source. As we know, one of the ways a plant ensures the dispersal of its seeds is by surrounding them with palatable flesh. Thus pollination also provides us with a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

FERTILISATION Plants have two options for effecting fertilisation: self-pollination uses pollen from the same plant, and often the same flower; crosspollination requires pollen from one plant to be transferred to another of the same species. This is achieved in two ways. Some plants produce copious amounts of very light pollen and rely on the wind, with the chance that some will land on another suitable flower. This is a risky strategy, although it does work because wind-pollinated plants such as hazel would have died out long ago if it didn’t. The second method is less risky, in that pollen is carried from one plant to the next. This requires a third party – the pollinator. Bees, beetles, butterflies, moths and flies are the primary insect pollinators, but birds, bats and other mammals also perform this function. However, our particular interest is the honeybee.

HOW DO BEES USE POLLEN? Why do bees provide this service? What’s in it for them? They say there is no such thing as a free lunch and, even though bees might see it that way, they are actually ‘working’ for their food. As we saw last month, they are attracted to flowers to collect nectar, which they transport back to the hive and turn into honey; this consists of sugars which are carbohydrates, providing energy. Honey is consumed by adult bees and is also a constituent of brood food. However, man cannot live by bread (carbohydrates) alone, and this is also true of bees. They need protein, and this comes in the form of pollen, which also contains minerals, vitamins and enzymes that the bees require. Large amounts of pollen are consumed by young worker bees so they

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Above: In spring, honeybees will collect pollen from top fruit, such as apple. Above left: To move the pollen into the pollen baskets, a bee rubs the pollen brushes on its back legs together, forcing the pollen through the leg joint and into the pollen basket. Left: When the worker returns to the hive, she easily drops her pollen-loads into a cell. These are then packed down by house bees.

can produce food for the developing brood. Pollen is also part of the food fed to the queen and to young drones, as it is vital for the development of eggs and sperm. As the larvae develop, their diet changes to include small amounts of pollen mixed in with the brood food. Protein is important for building up the fat bodies in worker bees, which enable them to survive the winter.

COLLECTING POLLEN Bumblebees are known for being very furry; but look closely at a honeybee and you will see that it, too, is very hairy. These hairs are branched; as a bee visits a flower to suck up nectar from the nectaries, its body brushes against the anthers and pollen grains stick to the hairs. Sometimes a bee will emerge absolutely plastered in pollen – one

flower I can think of where this happens is mallow. The bee could just fly back to the hive covered in pollen, but the problem of removing and storing it in the hive remains. Honeybees have, therefore, developed a clever mechanism for collecting the pollen and taking it back home. On her rear pair of legs, a worker has two structures called the corbiculae, or pollen baskets. To pack in the pollen, the bee uses stiff hairs on the inside of each leg as brushes to clean herself. The front pair cleans the head, and the middle pair the thorax. Often you will see a bee with pollen in the middle of her thorax – bees find it hard to reach the middle of their back, just like us! The pollen is mixed with a little nectar and then passed back to the last pair of legs. When the bee rubs her back legs together while in flight, or hanging from the plant, the brushes work to push the pollen through the leg joint and into the pollen basket on the outside of the leg. A fringe of hairs around the edge of the corbicula serves to hold the pollen in place, and it is stabilised by a single large hair in the centre.

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Above: Female bumblebees also have pollen baskets, which they use to take pollen back to the nest. Right: This solitary bee on a corn marigold has hairs all over its back legs, which are used to transport pollen.

Some bees are more efficient collectors than others. I have often been fascinated when watching bees with pollen-loads so large you really think they should not be able to fly. Back at the nest, the pollen-loads are knocked off into one of the storage cells around the brood nest. This ensures pollen is readily available to nurse bees, which need it most. The forager returns to her task, and the house bees pack the pollen into the cells, ready for when required.

SOLITARY BEES AND BUMBLEBEES

Different species of solitary bee have different methods of collecting and transporting; some have lots of hairs all over their back legs and the pollen is pushed among these, giving the bee

the appearance of wearing yellow breeches; other solitary bees have special hairs on the underside of the abdomen, called the scopa, into which pollen is packed. If you want to see how solitary bees work and unload pollen into the brood cells, watch the video made by Team Candiru at http://www.teamcandiru.co.uk/ – you will be amazed at the lives of these small insects. Solitary bees provision each cell as it is constructed, then lay an egg and seal it up. The subsequent larvae are then on their own. They consume the pollen and nectar, then form chrysalises over winter, during which time they undergo metamorphosis, emerging in spring as the next adult generation.

PLANTS FOR BEES A colony of honeybees uses about 20kg of pollen per year, so workers will

“A COLONY OF HONEYBEES USES ABOUT 20KG OF POLLEN PER YEAR…”

As a quick aside, solitary bees and bumblebees also collect pollen. Bumblebees have pollen baskets, just like honeybees, but back at the nest they put the pollen into a large pollen pot, rather than lots of different cells. Right: Both the bumblebee and the solitary bee are covered with pollen. The solitary bee is packing it into the hairs of her scopa on the underside of the abdomen. Below: Large pollen-loads going in at the entrance in spring indicate that the queen is present and laying well. Below right: Snowdrops are an early source of pollen.

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BEE- K EEPING

Facts Above: Heather provides a very useful source of late nectar and pollen, meaning that bees can prepare for winter. Left: Pollen in early spring, when the brood nest is expanding rapidly, can be provided by planting male pussy willow.

HUMAN USES FOR POLLEN

also be seen deliberately collecting it, particularly in spring when the brood nest expands rapidly. Bees will chew at the anthers to release pollen when they really need supplies, making us realise how important it is to the success of the colony. Supplies are vital in early spring for the young larvae, and also in late autumn when worker bees build up their fat bodies for winter. We can therefore help bees by planting early-flowering bulbs such as snowdrops, chionodoxa and grape hyacinth, and also by growing male pussy willow (Salix). At the other end of the year, important sources are heathers, ivy, golden rod, echinops, Sedum spectabile and Michaelmas daisies. If you are shopping for snowdrops and Michaelmas daisies, buy the single varieties – the double flowers may be attractive, but if you are a bee, getting inside to collect nectar and pollen is a nightmare!

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Many articles on the Internet and in magazines claim that pollen is a superfood – it is said that it improves endurance and vitality, extends longevity, aids recovery from chronic illness, adds weight during convalescence, reduces cravings and addictions, prevents infections such as colds and flu, and regulates the intestines, amongst others things. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind about such claims and whether you think that eating pollen will help your health. To collect pollen, traps are placed at the hive entrance, which knock off a proportion of the pollen-loads from returning foragers. While this does not do the colony significant damage if the traps are only in place for a couple of days, leaving them on permanently will definitely damage the colony’s health and chances of survival. Pollen gets mixed in with honey and can be used to determine whether it is what it claims to be. Unscrupulous dealers have been known to mix cheap honey with rarer, more expensive ones, and label it as being from a specific source to sell at a high price. Analysis of the pollen content

❋ Flowering plants became the dominant species some 145–65 million years ago, so now archaeologists use pollen grains to date various finds and soil layers, helping to understand some early human activities.

❋ Forensic scientists also use pollen in their investigations, as grains on a victim can identify the location of a crime, because all woodlands have a characteristic ‘fingerprint’ for the pollens within the area.

identifies which flowers were in the area where the bees were foraging. Hence, if the ‘expensive’ honey does not contain pollen grains from the specified flower, or contains lots of grains from one that is not found in the area, the honey can be shown to be bogus. So, pollen is useful to plants, bees, other pollinators and humans! Who would have thought that something so small and seemingly insignificant was such an important material.

NEXT MONTH We will look at other things that bees collect and use.

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22-PAGE SPECIAL GUIDE

PRESERVING THE HARVEST and making the most of your shop-bought bargains


PRESERV ING THE HARVEST

PRESERVING THE HARVEST ns ai rg ba t h g ou -b op sh r ou y of and making the most

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have pantry envy, and a larder would be great, too. We have ‘converted’ our rather awkward understairs space into a shelving overspill (which also doubled up as a cheese cave last year). Well, when I say ‘converted’, what I really mean is we cleared out all the ‘nowhere-else-to-putit’ clutter and replaced it with a slightly rickety, ‘it’s-seen-better-days’, three-tier wooden shelf for holding jars, tins and a bread bin – you get the picture. Like everybody else, we’ve stored boxes of our preserving stash under beds and in the back of cupboards, and even used relations’ cupboards when required. It all makes for strange looks when telling somebody to go and get the jam from under the bed.

Storage of precious preserves is indeed a real issue for many of us, which is why, alongside our annual preserving

pages, we have also included an article on how to create a larder (see page 77). Time, or trying to find it, is yet another factor – you have to build in the time to create all these fabulous pots of preserves, to prepare your fruit for the freezer, or to get your vegetables ready for storage. This is not a five-minute job and, like so much else, you have to plan well ahead, holding back all those jars from the recycling bin, and sorting out the recipes you will use, including ones for all those blessed courgettes. Our thanks go to Gaby Bartai, LizzieB, and John and Val Harrison for providing us with their treasured recipes, alongside plenty of preserving know-how and insider tips.

CONTENTS 57 AUGUST CROPS Courgettes and Marrows Spinach Turnips and Kohlrabi Runner Beans Cucumbers Plums, Damsons and Greengages Cherries Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots

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58 CREATING A RUMTOPF 59 COURGETTE AND CHEESE RISSOLES 60 GREEN BEAN PICCALILLI 61 MIXED PICKLES 62 PLUM CHUTNEY 63 BLACK CHERRY CONSERVE Plus – Jam, Chutney and Pickle Tips and Tricks 64 BOTTLE IT! Plus – Fruit Syrup and Tomato Passata recipes 68 BLACKBERRY CURD BLACKBERRY CREAM SHORTBREADS NETTLE PESTO

69 STRAWBERRY AND ROSE PETAL JAM 70 MINT CHUTNEY MINT SYRUP MINT LEMONADE 71 LAVENDER JELLY 72 PUMPKIN CHUTNEY 74 PLOUGHMAN’S PICKLE BROWN SAUCE 76 COURGETTE CHUTNEY GOOSEBERRY KETCHUP

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AUGUST CROPS Gaby Bartai shares her tips and techniques for making the August harvest last

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n August, the focus of the home farming year starts to shift from garden to kitchen. It’s not so much about growing, now, as about making good what you’ve grown. And making the harvest last is what distinguishes properly serious home farmers from merely dilettante kitchen gardeners – so it’s time to adjourn to the kitchen and earn our stripes.

COURGETTES AND MARROWS Sliced courgette doesn’t freeze that well, whether raw, blanched or cooked – but grated raw courgette can be frozen: just put it into small plastic tubs in the quantity that you will want for recipes. Given plenty of flavouring, both courgettes and marrows make a very acceptable cream soup, which can then be frozen – though that’s hardly the most economical use of freezer space at this stage of the year. Personally, I think courgette chutney is one to avoid, but you can make a good relish by salting diced courgettes, red peppers and onions and then simmering them with dill, mustard seeds, chilli, turmeric, sugar and vinegar. Marrow flesh is sometimes used to bulk up chutneys and jams, although I wouldn’t do this myself, and nor would I even consider marrow wine; there are limits as to what I’ll

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research in the public interest. Marrows can, of course, be stored as they come; simply leave them on the plant until the skins have hardened, and they should then store for a couple of months in a cool, dry place. Courgettes that get away can be allowed to grow to full size, and can be treated in the same way, but they aren’t likely to store as long as any varieties that were actually meant to be marrows.

SPINACH You don’t really need to preserve spinach – by growing a range of varieties and sowing little and often, you can harvest it fresh from the garden more or less year-round – but freezing is the answer if you have a glut or foresee a gap in your harvest. Blanch the leaves for one

minute, then press out the excess water, let them cool and then bag them up. The leaves will freeze into a solid lump, so only put into each bag what you will need for one meal. Another way of doing it is to pick up handfuls of the blanched spinach and squeeze them into balls; open-freeze these on a tray, then bag them up. To my taste, defrosted spinach lacks the texture to be acceptable as a vegetable on its own, but it is fine for use in many recipes.

TURNIPS AND KOHLRABI Neither summer turnips nor kohlrabi last well in the ground, as they quickly become woody, but they will keep for two or three weeks

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in good condition in the fridge or a cool room. If you want to keep them for longer, chop them into chunks and blanch them for two minutes before freezing them, or cook, mash and then freeze them.

RUNNER BEANS Runners freeze well: slice them, blanch them for two minutes, freeze them on trays, then bag them up. You can dry the beans inside any pods that evade harvesting; let any outsize pods yellow on the plants, then cut the plants off at ground level and hang them up indoors. Once the pods are brittle, shell the beans, dry them on trays for a few more days, then store them in an airtight container. The other option is salting, which was the traditional method of preserving green beans before the advent of the freezer. You need one part salt for every three parts beans, by weight. Layer beans and salt into large jars with non-metallic lids, starting and finishing with salt. When, after a few days, the beans have shrunk down, top up with more. Salted beans should keep for a year or more. To use, rinse them well, soak in warm water for an hour, rinse them again, then cook in unsalted water. Runner beans are a regular addition to piccalilli, and if you have more runners than anything else, you can make a piccalilli in which they are the main ingredient. They also make a surprisingly good addition to a tomato chutney recipe.

CUCUMBERS Gherkins, or cornichons, make excellent dill pickles – that’s pretty much the point of growing them – but there is sadly no storage solution for full-size cucumbers beyond a week or so in the fridge. Recipes that start by salting the cucumber are your best bet for using up a glut – you can get through an impressive quantity of cucumber once you’ve removed the water and the crunch. Alternatively, be generous to family and friends and convert your surplus harvest into social credit.

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CREATING A RUMTOPF A classic Central European way of preserving fruit, a rumtopf is traditionally started in summer and eaten as a dessert at Christmas. You can use any sort of soft fruit, plus succulent top fruit like cherries, plums, apricots and pears, and the beauty of it is that you can add small amounts of surplus fruit as they become available. You will need a large, wide-necked jar or pot with a lid. Smaller fruits can go into the jar as they come, but larger ones should be peeled, if necessary, and sliced. Mix each addition with half its weight in sugar, then put it into the jar, cover with rum or brandy, put a weighted plate on top and replace the lid. Once the jar is full, leave it to mature for at least a month (although it will keep for several).

These should then keep for several months.

CHERRIES Sweet cherries aren’t the first choice for jam making, as they contain minimal pectin, but black (morello) cherries make a wonderfully indulgent conserve. They’re also a superb addition to a rumtopf (see above). Cherries can be frozen fresh (stone them first, as it’s even more of a fiddle once they’re defrosted) or cooked, and they’re a good candidate for bottling.

PLUMS, DAMSONS AND GREENGAGES Plums and their kin make very good chutney and excellent jam (cracking a few of the stones and adding the kernels to the pan helps with the set and improves the flavour). They can be frozen fresh or – better still – cooked, and are also good bottled. If you have the patience, you can crystallise small plums by repeatedly coating the fruits in sugar syrup and drying them in a very slow oven over two or three days, or in a warm place over a week, then finish them off in the oven.

TOP TIP! You can dry cherries to create alternatives to cranberries, or add them to muesli or a fruit loaf for an interesting change. Go to www.homefarmer.co.uk/dry-cherries.

PEACHES, NECTARINES AND APRICOTS These fruits are much better bottled than frozen. Apricots can also be dried successfully, and they make excellent jam and chutney, but peaches and nectarines can’t really be improved upon.

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COURGETTE AND CHEESE RISSOLES

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devised this recipe in my Somerset days, when I had an acre of garden and a flock of very free-range chickens. In August, any recipe which could tackle the courgette glut and the egg glut simultaneously was a godsend. As a bonus, this recipe also uses up stale bread. These rissoles freeze very well, so they really do get in under the ‘preserving’ bar, in my book, and I make them in bulk for ‘ready meals’ later in the year.

INGREDIENTS

MAKES 20 3 tbsp vegetable oil 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

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140g dry bread, crumbed 140g courgette, grated 100g mature Cheddar, grated 70g mixed nuts, coarsely chopped 2 eggs ½ tbsp yeast extract ½ tbsp dried mixed herbs ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

METHOD 1

2

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic gently for 5 minutes. Put the fried onion and garlic into a bowl with the breadcrumbs, courgette, Cheddar, nuts, eggs,

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4

yeast extract, herbs and pepper, and mix everything together thoroughly. Pick up ‘golf ball sized’ lumps of the mixture, shape them into balls and flatten them with your palms. Put them into the pan, then flatten each one further with a spatula. Fry the rissoles over a moderate heat using the remaining tablespoon of oil for about 5 minutes on each side, until they are golden-brown. Don’t let the heat get too high or the outsides will burn before the centres have a chance to cook. Store in the fridge for 2 days, or box them up and freeze straightaway once cool.

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GREEN BEAN PICCALILLI T

his recipe was given to me by a friend who has corridors of runner beans. I have to admit that I had my doubts – just because you can preserve something, doesn’t mean that you should – but it’s actually very good.

INGREDIENTS

MAKES 4 × 454g JARS 450g onions, peeled and finely chopped 550ml malt vinegar 600g runner and/or French beans, trimmed and cut into 2cm sections 4 tbsp cornflour 1½ tbsp mustard powder 1 tbsp turmeric 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 450g soft brown sugar

METHOD 1

2 3

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Put the onions into a large pan with 200ml of the vinegar, then bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Steam the beans in a separate pan for 5 minutes or until they are just tender, then drain. Put the cornflour, mustard powder and turmeric into a bowl with a little of the remaining vinegar and mix them to a smooth paste.

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Add the rest of the vinegar, the beans, the cornflour paste and the garlic to the onions. Stir until everything is well mixed, then let it simmer for another 10 minutes. 5 Add the sugar, stir until it has dissolved, then simmer for a further 10 minutes. 6 Put the hot piccalilli into warmed sterilised jars and seal straightaway.

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MIXED PICKLES

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he technique for pickling is the same for most vegetables, so there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one type per jar.

INGREDIENTS

MAKES 4 Ă— 454g JARS 800g vegetables (prepared weight), made up of any of the following: Small onions or shallots, peeled and halved or quartered as necessary Cauliflower, separated into small florets Gherkins, halved or sectioned as necessary Courgettes, trimmed and diced Small green tomatoes, whole or halved Red peppers, deseeded and diced French or runner beans, trimmed and cut into sections Salt 850ml malt vinegar 4 tsp pickling spice

METHOD 1 2 3

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Spread the vegetables on plates in a single layer and sprinkle generously with salt. Leave in a cool place for 24 hours. The following day, tip the vegetables into a colander, rinse thoroughly under cold running water, then drain. Put the vinegar and the pickling spice into a pan, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and leave the spices to infuse. Once the vinegar is cold, strain it through a fine sieve and discard the spices. Pack the vegetables into sterilised jars, pour enough vinegar into each jar to cover them completely, then seal the jars.

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PLUM CHUTNEY

P

METHOD

lums are not made into chutney nearly as often as they should be. I started out with my favourite recipe for plum sauce here, and reworked it into chutney form.

INGREDIENTS

MAKES 3 Ă— 454g JARS 725g plums (prepared weight), stoned and chopped into small pieces 225g sultanas 2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 1 Ă— 2.5cm cube of root ginger,

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3 peeled and finely chopped 1 mild red chilli, finely chopped 2 tsp pickling spice, tied into a piece of muslin 1 cinnamon stick 2 star-anise 1 tsp salt 600ml red wine vinegar 450g soft brown sugar

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1 Put all the ingredients, except the sugar, into a heavy-bottomed pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 2 Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved completely. Increase the heat slightly and let the mixture boil steadily for 15 minutes, or until it has thickened to a suitably chutney-like consistency. Let the chutney cool slightly, then remove the bag of pickling spice, the cinnamon stick and the staranise, before spooning into warmed sterilised jars.

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BLACK CHERRY CONSERVE

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conserve is a jam containing whole pieces of fruit. It can also double as a pie filling or a topping for desserts, so if you don’t want to go down the bottling route, this is an alternative way of preserving fruit in a very versatile form.

INGREDIENTS

MAKES 2 × 454g JARS 650g ripe black cherries, stoned (weight after stoning) 525g sugar 3 tbsp lemon juice Stones from the cherries, tied into a piece of muslin

METHOD 1

2

3

Put the cherries and sugar into a pan, mix them together and leave to sit for 3 or 4 hours. Add the lemon juice and the bag of cherry stones, then bring the mixture to the boil, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved. Boil steadily until the conserve reaches setting point. Test for this by letting a few drops of the syrup cool on a chilled saucer. If the cooled surface wrinkles when pushed with a finger, it is ready.

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Remove the bag of cherry stones and leave to cool until the syrup has stiffened slightly. Stir to distribute the cherries, then spoon into warmed sterilised jars.

JAM, CHUTNEY AND PICKLE TIPS AND TRICKS ❋ To keep well, a finished jam needs to contain a minimum of 60% sugar by weight. To achieve this, recipes generally start out with equal weights of fruit and sugar (remember that the fruit itself also contains sugar). With most recipes there is a little leeway if you prefer more fruit and less sugar, but if you reduce the proportion of sugar significantly, be aware that it won’t keep like a normal jam. Store it in the fridge and eat it within a couple of weeks, or you could freeze it or bottle it. ❋ Other good fruits for conserves are plums, apricots, pears, figs, rhubarb, strawberries, loganberries and tayberries. Conserve recipes cook the

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fruit with the sugar in order to keep the fruit whole; the trade-off is that you therefore can’t use fruits with tough skins, like damsons and gooseberries, which need to be cooked before sugar is added – as in a jam recipe – for the skins to soften. ❋ In a chutney, both the sugar and the vinegar act as preservatives, so while you can (and should) customise recipes to taste, it’s important to keep the ratio of sugar to vinegar to vegetables/fruit the same. If you do significantly reduce the proportion of sugar and/or vinegar, keep the chutney in the fridge and use it within two or three weeks. Bottling isn’t a safe option for chutneys

with dubious keeping qualities, but they can be frozen. You should then defrost the chutney a few days before you want to eat it to give the flavours a chance to develop. ❋ When making pickles, if you want the vegetables to be crunchy you should add the vinegar cold. If you prefer a softer pickle, then add it hot. The type of brine you use to salt the vegetables will also affect their texture: use a wet brine (100g of salt dissolved in every 1 litre of water) to produce softer vegetables, and a dry brine (just salt) if you want them to stay crunchy.

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BOTTLE IT!

Gaby Bartai recommends an underused technique that opens up a whole new world of preserving possibilities

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y Damascene moment came fifteen years ago in a West Highland croft house as I stepped into a pantry laden with bottled fruit in jewel colours. I’d been headed in the home farming direction for quite a while, but it was those jars that really clinched the deal. Sadly, bottling produce is something of a declining art – arguably superseded by the freezer – but if its feel-good factor isn’t reason enough to revive it, there are also a number of practical reasons. Some crops, notably pears, peaches and nectarines, don’t freeze well, but are good bottled. Bottling some crops also reduces competition for freezer space, and lets you store more without additional energy consumption. And it’s also a more realistic option for bulk quantities of products like tomato ketchup and apple sauce, where freezing a year’s worth isn’t really going to happen. Bottling involves the application of

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heat to food in a closed jar for a specific length of time. This does two things. Firstly, it kills bacteria, yeasts and fungi, and halts the activity of enzymes which, if left unchecked, cause decay. Secondly, it removes air from the jar. This creates a vacuum, which seals the lid so there can be no reintroduction of spoilage organisms. Bottled food can safely be kept for several years. You can bottle any sort of fruit, though berry fruits are generally better frozen. Bottling is also ideal for fruit products where the proportion of sugar or vinegar is too low to act as an effective preservative if you jar them up in the normal way: low-sugar jams, jellies and conserves; fruit juices and syrups; fruit coulis and sauces; and fruit vinegars made with very juicy fruits. These are all ‘high-acid’ foods – defined as those with a pH value below 4.6 – and this is crucial, because it means that they can be safely bottled at boiling point. ‘Low-acid’ foods – which include vegetables,

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meat, fish, seafood and milk – need to be processed at a higher temperature, using a pressure cooker, in order to destroy botulism bacteria. Botulism is not an issue with high-acid foods, because the toxin cannot develop in an acidic environment. Using a pressure cooker is a whole different ball game, and most home preservers – myself included – take the view that it’s altogether simpler to stick to freezing for low-acid foods, and to reserve bottling for high-acid foods, which can safely be processed at boiling point. Happily, tomatoes are sufficiently acidic to count as a fruit for bottling purposes. More cautious sources point out, however, that some tomato varieties do have a pH slightly above 4.6, and recommend that you play safe by adding lemon juice to tomatoes at the rate of one tablespoon per 600ml. It is also suggested that you do likewise with figs, which have a pH slightly too close to the borderline. Recipes containing a mixture of high- and lowacid ingredients are likely to have a pH above 4.6 – which, sadly, means that tomato sauces containing additional vegetables aren’t suitable for bottling at boiling point. Some salsa and hot sauce

MAKING FRUIT SYRUPS Use very ripe, juicy fruit; good choices are apples, apricots, blackcurrants, cherries, damsons, loganberries, raspberries, rosehips and tayberries. Simmer the fruit for the shortest possible time with as little water as possible. Let it drain through a muslin bag until no more liquid drips through, but don’t squeeze the bag or you’ll get a cloudy syrup. Add sugar to taste. Heat the juice and sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then put it into jars.

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recipes do get in under the 4.6 bar, however, as does tomato ketchup. The many provisos about bottling can be a source of anxiety, but as long as you use instructions from a reliable and up-to-date source and follow them to the letter, it is both safe and straightforward. However, process times vary depending on the type of food, the jar size, and how the food is prepared, and there’s insufficient space to cover all the variables here, so if you are changing any detail (or if you want to pursue the alternative method of processing jars in the oven), consult another source for accurate information; do not guess!

EQUIPMENT Bottling jars are often referred to as Kilner jars (in the UK) or Mason jars (in the US), though there are other brands. There are two types: one has a flat, selfsealing metal lid held in place by screw bands, while the other has a glass top secured by metal clips, and uses a rubber seal. The jars can be reused year after year, but the flat lids or rubber seals need to be replaced each time. You also need a large, lidded pan, at least 7cm deeper than the height of your jars and wide enough to hold three (or more) jars without them touching one another or the sides. The jars also need to be protected from the heat of the base of the pan; you can improvise with a pad of cloth or paper, but I’d recommend buying a metal pan rack, which also provides a stable surface – the thrill of rescuing capsized jars wears off after a while. You can also buy jam jar tongs, which let you manoeuvre jars in boiling water safely. Boilingwater canners – pans specifically for bottling, which have an integral rack with a handle – have long been available in the US (where bottling is referred to as ‘canning’), and these can now be obtained in the UK from Amazon.

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STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BOTTLING FRUIT 1 STERILISING THE JARS Put the jars into a pan of water, bring to the boil and let it boil for 10 minutes. Put the lids into a separate pan, bring the water just to simmering point, and let it simmer for 10 minutes. 2 PREPARING THE FRUIT As always, harvest produce in peak condition and process it quickly. Discard anything showing signs of disease or decay, and cut away any damage. Peel, trim, core, slice or dice your fruit, as appropriate. Put sliced apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and apricots into a bowl of water to which you have added lemon juice, so that they don’t discolour before you get them into the jars.

TOMATO PASSATA Quarter some really ripe tomatoes and put them into a pan. Simmer until they have reduced to a pulp, then push this through a sieve to remove the skins and seeds (or use a passata machine to do it mechanically). For safety’s sake, add 1 tbsp lemon juice for every 600ml of passata, then add sugar to taste to offset the lemon flavour. Add salt to taste if you wish. Reheat the passata to simmering point, then put it into jars.

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PREPARING THE SYRUP Fruit can be bottled in sugar syrup, fruit juice, water or alcohol. The usual choice is syrup, which gives a better colour and flavour than juice or water. I use 100g of sugar per 600ml of water (which makes enough for 4 or 5 jars), but you can adjust the proportion of sugar to taste. To make the syrup, heat the water, add the sugar,

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Bring the water to the boil and keep it boiling for the number of minutes specified for the fruit you are processing (see PROCESSING TIMES). At the end of the processing time, lift the jars out of the pan – ladle some of the water out first if you don’t have jam jar tongs. Leave the jars to cool at room temperature for at least 12 hours.

stir until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 2 minutes. 4

5

FILLING THE JARS Best results are obtained by putting the fruit into the jars hot. Add the fruit to the pan of syrup and bring it back to the boil. More robust fruit can be simmered for up to 5 minutes, but very ripe or delicate fruit should be taken off the heat as soon as the liquid returns to the boil. Spoon the fruit into the jars, then top up with syrup, leaving 1.25cm of space at the top of the jars. Slide a non-metallic utensil around the sides of the jars to dislodge air bubbles, and make sure that the rims are clean. Then place the lids on the jars and fit the screw bands, but leave them very slightly loose – this allows steam to escape during processing. If you are using jars with clips, fit the rubber seals, secure the clips, then move the clips slightly off-centre. PROCESSING THE JARS Put a metal rack or a pad of cloth or paper into the bottom of your pan. Place the jars into the pan, fill it with hot water until the jars are covered by at least 2.5cm, then put the lid on the pan.

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6 CHECK THE SEAL Remove the screw bands or unfasten the clips and lift each jar by its lid. If you can do this, you have a good seal. With screw-band jars, you can also check by pressing the middle of the lid: if it springs up when you release your finger, it hasn’t sealed. If the jars have sealed successfully, replace the bands or refasten the clips. Tighten the screw bands fully, without using force. Clips should now be moved to the central position. Label and date the jars, then store them in a cool, dark cupboard. If any jars fail to seal, repeat Steps 5 and 6 within 24 hours, replacing the failed lid, or using a new rubber seal, as appropriate. Alternatively, freeze the product, or put the jar in the fridge and use the contents within a few days.

PROCESSING TIMES FRUIT CROPS These times are for half-litre or onepint jars, using the method described here. Do not use these times for bigger jars, or if you are putting produce into the jars cold, or if you are processing the jars in the oven. ❋ Apples, apricots, damsons, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums: 20 minutes. ❋ Blackberries, blueberries, cherries, currants, gooseberries, jostaberries, loganberries, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries, tayberries: 15 minutes. ❋ Figs (acidified with 1 tbsp lemon juice per jar): 45 minutes.

❋ Rhubarb (stewed): 15 minutes. ❋ Tomatoes (quartered and simmered for 10 minutes, without any added liquid, and acidified with 1 tbsp lemon juice per jar): 35 minutes. FRUIT PRODUCTS These times are for half-litre or onepint jars, processed in a pan. Fill the jars with the hot product, leaving 6mm of headspace. Fruit juices: 5 minutes. Fruit syrups: 10 minutes. Fruit coulis and sauces: 15 minutes. Jams and jellies: 5 minutes. Tomato juice (acidified with 1 tbsp lemon juice per jar): 35 minutes. ❋ Tomato passata (acidified with 1 tbsp lemon juice per jar): 35 minutes. ❋ Tomato ketchup: 15 minutes.

❋ ❋ ❋ ❋ ❋

FURTHER INFO The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Complete Guide to Home Canning provides exhaustive information on techniques and individual crops, together with safety-tested recipes. It is downloadable from http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/ publications_usda.html. SUPPLIERS ❋ Kilner (jars, accessories, pan racks, jam jar tongs): www.kilnerjarsuk.co.uk ❋ Lakeland (jars and accessories): www.lakeland.co.uk ❋ Seeds of Italy (jars, accessories, passata machine): www.seedsofitaly.com ❋ Amazon (boiling-water canner): www.amazon.co.uk

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NEW TWIST ON TR A LizzieB has had to return home from her Grand Tour, as it’s time to preserve the harvest. This month she prepares some traditional favourites, but with her own unique trademark BLACKBERRY CURD A wide variety of fruits can be used to make curds, like passion fruit, plum, and of course lemon, but one of my own favourites is blackberry. This is a great way to preserve a batch of freshly picked blackberries, and once the curd is made it can be used in many different ways – try it simply spread on toast and as a cake filling, or you could try another one of my personal favourites… Blackberry Cream Shortbreads (see below).

INGREDIENTS 150g blackberries, washed 1 large egg 1 large egg yolk 55g caster sugar 55g butter

METHOD 1

2

3

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Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water on a low heat and add the sugar and butter. Stir occasionally until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Whisk the egg and separate egg yolk well in a small bowl, then add to the melted butter and sugar, whisking continuously as you do so to avoid curdling. Keep stirring vigorously and stir in the blackberries. Turn the heat up to medium

4

until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon – you’re aiming for a custard-like texture. Remove from the heat, strain into a clean, sterilised container, then seal and leave to cool completely before storing in the fridge.

It will keep for 2–3 months unopened, or up to 4 weeks once opened.

BLACKBERRY CREAM SHORTBREADS You can create a really quick and elegant dessert by taking some freshly baked shortbread rounds, topping them with a generous dessertspoon of Blackberry Curd, then topping them again with some freshly whipped cream and crowning them with some freshly picked blackberries.

NETTLE PESTO Pesto is a tasty mix of blended vegetables or leaves, herbs, spices, cheese and nuts, and can be made with a wide variety of garden produce. It has many uses, although its main use is as a coating sauce for pasta, but it can also be used as a topping for fish or chicken. Nettle Pesto is based on the traditional green pesto, and replaces the majority of the basil with nettles, offering a milder-flavoured sauce – just because it grew by itself is certainly no reason not to preserve it!

INGREDIENTS 3 generous handfuls nettle tips, washed 1 handful fresh basil 50g Parmesan, freshly grated 50g pine nuts Olive oil (for blending)

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R ADITIONAL TREATS

METHOD 1

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Place all the dry ingredients into a food processor (or blender) and blitz whilst gradually adding enough olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. If you like thick, chunky pesto, only blitz it for a short while, but if you prefer thin, smooth pesto, blitz it for longer. The finished pesto should be moist but not wet. Place in a clean, sterilised jar and pour over a little extra olive oil before covering and sealing.

TOP TIP! For a quick and tasty lunch, place 50g of dried spaghetti per person in a large pan of

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salted water, then boil for 8–10 minutes. Drain, then return to the pan over a low heat, and stir in 1 generous tablespoon of the pesto for every 50g of pasta. Mix well to coat the pasta, then cook for 2 minutes to ensure it is heated through before serving immediately.

INGREDIENTS

STRAWBERRY AND ROSE PETAL JAM

1

This has to be the quintessential taste of an English summer in a jar. Sweet and juicy strawberries combined with the delicate scented flavour of rose petals make it a truly delightful treat, but it tastes even better if the strawberries are wild alpines or collected from your own garden or allotment.

650g strawberries, washed and hulled Pink rose petals (from 1 rosebud – about 4g), washed 650g sugar The juice of 1 lemon A few drops rose water

METHOD

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Place the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a large, heavy-based pan and heat over a low heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil, then continue to boil for 10–15 minutes or until the temperature reaches setting point (if using a thermometer).

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PRESERV ING THE HARVEST

3

4

Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before stirring in the rose petals and rose water. Ladle the jam into clean, sterilised jars, then label and seal.

It will keep unopened for up to 6 months, or in the fridge for 3 weeks once opened.

TOP TIP! For an extra-special, indulgent jam, add 20ml of champagne along with the rose petals and rose water at Step 3, then continue as above.

MINT CHUTNEY INGREDIENTS

Not to be confused with an Indian mint chutney, which is more of a mint/yoghurt mixture, this is a lovely, light, fresh and summery minted chutney, which makes the perfect accompaniment to cold meats, especially lamb, and Mediterranean cheeses like feta or halloumi. This is a really quick and simple method to make a very light and flavoursome chutney.

1 part mint leaves, ripped* (not chopped) 1 part caster sugar 1 part boiling water * Tearing or ripping the leaves, rather than chopping them, keeps more of the natural oils intact for infusing.

METHOD

INGREDIENTS 1 courgette, finely diced 1 aubergine, finely diced 2 small red onions, finely diced 1 large eating apple, finely diced 1 large handful chopped fresh mint 1 cup white wine vinegar ¾ cup caster sugar

METHOD 1

2

3

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Place the sugar and vinegar in a large, heavy-based pan on a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chopped fruit and vegetables and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer over a medium to low heat for 25 minutes until almost dry and the ingredients have softened. Add the chopped fresh mint

4

to the pan and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and ladle into clean, sterilised jars, then label and seal.

It will keep for up to 4 months in a cool, dark place if unopened, and up to 2 weeks in the fridge once opened.

MINT SYRUP A great way to preserve a bumper batch of mint is to make a tasty sweet syrup. This syrup can then be used to add to drinks (it makes a great mojito), cakes and ice creams. There are a number of complicated and time-consuming ways to make a syrup, but I prefer to keep things quick and simple.

2

3

1 Place the mint leaves in a heatproof container and add the sugar and boiling water. Stir well, then cover and seal. Leave to infuse for a minimum of 3 hours, but overnight would be ideal – shake or stir the container occasionally. After at least 3 hours, remove the lid, sieve the liquid and discard the mint leaves.

If left unopened, it will keep for up to 3 months in a well-sealed container stored in a cool, dark place, and for 3 weeks in the fridge once opened.

LIZZIEB’S MINT LEMONADE To make this refreshing summer drink, simply add 1 part Mint Syrup to 5 parts lemonade and then garnish with fresh lemon slices, ice cubes and mint leaves.

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LAVENDER JELLY This fragrant jelly packs a real punch and makes a pleasant change from a more traditional fruit-based jelly. It is a perfect accompaniment to cold meats, especially red meats and game.

INGREDIENTS 3 apples, peeled and roughly chopped 1 lemon, roughly chopped Fresh lavender (about 15 heads) Caster sugar Lavender (for decoration)

METHOD 1

2

Place the chopped apples, lemon and the lavender heads into a heavy-based pan, then cover with water and simmer on a medium to low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly before straining through a jelly bag or sieve lined with muslin

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into a separate heavybased pan. Leave the liquid to drip through; don’t be tempted to force it through the sieve, as this will make the jelly cloudy. Measure the strained liquid and use the basic rule that for every 600ml of liquid you add 450g of sugar. Stir the required amount of sugar into the liquid, then place on a high heat and bring to a brisk boil. You may need to skim the pan occasionally. 4 Continue to boil until the temperature reaches

5

setting point (if using a thermometer), or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon without dripping and wrinkles when touched. Remove the jelly from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. Sieve the mixture for one final time, then stir in some fresh lavender buds. Pour into clean, sterilised jars, then seal and leave to set.

The jelly will keep unopened in a cool, dark place for at least 6 months, or for up to 4 weeks in the fridge once opened.

TOP TIP! You can adjust the amount of lavender as you wish: for a lighter, more subtle flavour, use less than the above amount; and for a rich, intense and powerful flavour, add slightly more than stated. Remember to ensure your lavender is food grade and free from chemicals.

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PRESERV ING THE HARVEST

THE VEG PRESER V John Harrison is well known for his allotment knowledge, but together with his wife Val he becomes a preserving dynamo, as these chutneys, pickles and sauces will confirm PUMPKIN CHUTNEY INGREDIENTS 1.4kg pumpkin 450g ripe tomatoes 450g onions 2–3 cloves garlic 570ml malt vinegar 112g sultanas 2 tsp allspice 2 tsp ground ginger 2 tsp coarse-ground black pepper

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1 tbsp salt 675g soft brown sugar

METHOD 1

Peel and chop the pumpkin and tomatoes, peel and finely chop the onions, then peel and chop or crush the garlic.

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R VATION SOCIETY! 2

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Place the chopped pumpkin in a pan along with the onions, garlic, tomatoes and sultanas and cover with half the vinegar. Place on a low heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft. Add the spices, pepper and salt, then simmer for a further 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar and the remaining vinegar, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until thick. 6 Allow to cool slightly, then pour into clean, sterilised jars and seal.

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PRESERV ING THE HARVEST

BROWN SAUCE This recipe was sent to us by a friend who emigrated to the USA and couldn’t face life without his beloved HP Sauce when US Customs confiscated the food parcels his mum sent him. It is complicated, but turns out remarkably like HP Sauce.

INGREDIENTS 250ml white wine vinegar 250ml water 125ml orange juice 56g pitted chopped dates 1 small onion, finely chopped 1 apple, chopped 2 or 3 cloves garlic, crushed 2 tsp mustard powder 1 × 2.5cm cinnamon stick, ground ½ tsp ground cardamom ½ tsp ground cloves ½ tsp ground black pepper 2 tsp salt 200ml dark treacle 200g tomato purée (from a tube) 200ml cider vinegar Cornflour (to thicken)

PLOUGHMAN’S PICKLE This is probably the most popular pickle in the UK, and is well known under the Branston brand name, although the exact recipe of Branston Pickle seems to be a closely guarded secret. There are numerous variations on this particular recipe, and we would certainly encourage you to experiment with the ingredients to achieve the result you like best. If the colour seems a little pale, you can add a tablespoon of dark treacle.

INGREDIENTS 285g carrots 285g swede or turnips 2 medium onions (about 225g) 2 medium cooking or dessert apples (about 225g) 15 small gherkins 150g dates 6 cloves garlic 250g dark brown sugar 500ml malt vinegar 4 tbsp lemon juice 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 2 tsp mustard seeds 2 tsp ground allspice 1 tsp cayenne pepper

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1 tsp salt 4 cloves, crushed

METHOD 1

METHOD 1

2 3

4

Cut all the fruit and vegetables into 0.5cm (approx.) cubes, then crush or very finely chop the garlic. Place all the ingredients into a large pan and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer until the carrots and swede are soft – usually anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours! If you simmer too vigorously and the pickle begins to dry out before the vegetables have softened, add a little water as you go along. Pot into clean, sterilised jars, then cover and seal. It usually only takes 1 month for the flavour to mature.

2 3

4 5 6

Put the white wine vinegar, water, orange juice, dates, onion, apple and garlic in a pan and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Push the mixture through a sieve, or use a hand-blender in the pan, to remove any lumps. Add the mustard, ground spices, salt, treacle and tomato purée, then simmer for a further 40 minutes. Add the cider vinegar and return to a simmer. Strain through a sieve and discard any pulp. Continue simmering until it thickens, but if you find it is staying too thin, then 1 or 2 teaspoons of cornflour will correct this. 7 Pour into sterilised bottles.

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PRESERV ING THE HARVEST

COURGETTE CHUTNEY INGREDIENTS 1.5kg courgettes Salt 250g cooking apples 250g shallots 250g sultanas 1,120g brown sugar 600ml vinegar 15g bruised root ginger 2 tsp pickling spice

METHOD 1

2 3

4 5

Peel the courgettes if the skin is tough, then cut into cubes. Put them in layers in a bowl with a generous sprinkling of salt and leave to stand overnight. The following day, drain, rinse thoroughly and then put the courgettes into a pan. Peel and chop the apples and shallots and add them to the courgettes along with the sultanas, sugar, vinegar and spices (tied in a piece of muslin). Bring to the boil very slowly, then simmer gently until cooked and the chutney is thick. Pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal immediately.

GOOSEBERRY KETCHUP INGREDIENTS 900g gooseberries (slightly underripe) 3 large cloves garlic 1 tbsp salt 1 tsp cayenne pepper 1 tbsp mustard seeds 855ml white wine vinegar 335g demerara sugar 112g sultanas

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METHOD

THANK YOU Our thanks go to John and Val Harrison for allowing us to use these recipes, which have been taken from How to Store Your Home Grown Produce and Easy Jams, Chutneys and Preserves. Both books can be bought from their site at www.allotmentgarden.org.uk/book/ – a huge and invaluable resource for anyone growing and cooking their own produce.

1 2 3

4 5

Chop the gooseberries in half and squash them down in a pan. Crush the garlic and add it to the gooseberries, along with all the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until the fruit is very soft and has flavoured the vinegar. Strain through a sieve and pour the liquid into hot, sterilised bottles, then seal.

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L ARDERS AND PAN TRIE S

‘LARDER’ than life!

Larders and pantries are no longer commonplace, so this month the ACS team consider the requirements for an effective and traditional place to store your food

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arders were common in British homes before the widespread use of mechanical refrigeration in the 1960s. They then fell out of favour and all but disappeared by the late 1980s. Most people who grew up before this time will have some recollection of larders, but what were they really like? Larders were typically a cool, ventilated room adjacent to the kitchen, about the size of a very small bedroom, with floor-to-ceiling shelving on at least one wall. More shelving would be scattered throughout, with a bench top usually somewhere to be found. This may have been a cold slab of slate stone or granite, but was often simply a wooden surface. A cupboard or two would complete the scene. There would be a single doorway, and usually just one small, inwardly opening window covered with a mesh screen on the outside to keep out insects if it was opened. Before the widespread adoption of refrigerators, most households were unable to store perishable goods.

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Some may have owned a meat safe, but these were largely the privileged few. Perishables were bought as and when needed, with regular trips to the butcher, greengrocer or fishmonger – everything else found its way into the larder.

WHAT CAN BE STORED? Larders were used to keep anything from jars of pickles and jam to tins of condensed milk and containers full of dried pulses. They were also used to store vegetables like potatoes and other root crops, cabbages and sprouts – things with a relatively long shelf life. Fruit, including apples, oranges and bananas could also be kept in them. Dairy products like cheese and eggs would remain cool there, and cured meats such as the odd flitch of bacon may have been hung in them. Sometimes they were also used to store partly prepared foods such as yoghurts whilst they fermented, or cheeses whilst they matured. Larders were often a place of wonder

– especially for children, who were rarely allowed inside. They were believed to be brimming with goods – and treats if they were lucky. The larder was a wonderful resource. An ingredient could always be found to complete a dish or conjure up a meal for unexpected visitors. It’s perhaps not surprising that they are now sought after, especially with many people looking for somewhere to preserve the excess food they grow at home. Whereas once they were converted into utility rooms or used to extend a kitchen, now many people are reinstating them as larders, or looking for properties with a larder.

TYPES OF LARDER These days many newer houses just don’t have the space for a designated larder room. Living spaces are much more compact (a trend unlikely to end anytime soon). But there are many ways you can ‘have’ a larder. For instance, manufacturers of free-standing larders

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L ARDERS AND PAN TRIE S have seen a boom in trade. These are a little like a shallow wardrobe with double doors which open out to reveal an array of shelves within. They may not be as cool inside as a traditional larder, but they are a great way to de-clutter a kitchen and store non-perishables. Others may be built in as part of the kitchen cabinetry in new kitchen designs. Although they are usually ventilated, they remain exposed to the heat of the kitchen and the heating of the house, so they are not as cool as the larder of the past. But a larder doesn’t have to be in the kitchen; any small cool space could house one. You could build one under the stairs, or if you’re fortunate enough to have a cellar, that would be an ideal choice.

WHERE TO PLACE IT Suitable places include: ❋ A ventilated cellar. ❋ A cool basement. ❋ A cupboard under the stairs. ❋ A cupboard you can insulate and vent (fitted or free-standing). ❋ A room off your kitchen. ❋ An unused small room with an outside north-facing wall.

PRACTICALITIES The important elements for any larder are insulation, ventilation and darkness. Make sure that the larder is sealed off with a well-fitting door, and the inside is insulated with the right materials. For walk-in larders, this includes the roof space. You will need to install vents to keep the larder cool. A single vent is not enough, as it won’t pull the air through

the larder to cool it. Instead, there should be two vents: one high up on a wall, and one low down nearer the floor. As air warms inside the larder it rises and passes out at the top vent, and cold air from outside is sucked in to replace it. Place the vents on an external wall – a north-facing wall that does not receive sun is best. If the larder is on a south-facing wall, you would be better installing vents on a north-facing wall and connecting them to the larder using ducting placed under the floor and in the ceiling. Having suitable ventilation also helps to avoid draughts running through the house when the larder door is opened; they stop cool air being pulled into the house. Vents also help to regulate humidity in the air, and high levels of humidity will make your produce

deteriorate more quickly. It’s worth considering installing an extractor fan in the higher vent to help with air exchange. Make sure there is no access for insects to gain entry through the vents. Most staircases have space beneath which could provide a perfect place to install a larder. Once again, you will need to ventilate the area, either through the floor or through an outside wall. However, if such a cupboard has to have a low door, you really may not wish to get on your hands and knees every time you want to retrieve something from your larder.

NEW BUILDINGS If you’re building a new house, it could be an ideal opportunity to include a bespoke larder. If the larder is not going to have an outside wall you will need your builder to install underground ducting to the external vents, and this will need to be insulated to prevent condensation. Also, the wall and ceiling lining should not absorb moisture, so normal plasterboard won’t do, but plasterboard with a moisture barrier is perfect for the job. If the larder is in a bungalow, you should also insulate the ceiling with normal housing insulation such as rolls of mineral wool and insulation boards. External double brick or stone walls will remain nice and cool. Internal walls may need extra insulation. If possible, also line the door with a moisture barrier such as polystyrene, over which you can add a thin layer of moistureresistant MDF. You can then paint over it to improve the appearance. For existing buildings, a further possibility is to build a small room on an outside wall of the kitchen to use as a larder. Ideally, this should be a wall that doesn’t face south.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER ❋ LIGHTING A larder needs to be well lit when used. Modern LED lighting that switches on when you open the door is the perfect solution. Above: Create extra shelving between shelves. Left: Use rows of steps, so food at the back is higher than food at the front.

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❋ ELECTRICITY A wall socket inside the larder may be useful if you also wish to use electric kitchen gadgets inside.

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Above: Use labelled glass containers so you can see the contents and labels of those at the front and those at the back. Put the labels higher on taller ones. Right: Put items in well-ventilated baskets which can be pulled out when required. This makes it easier to find things, and is more convenient when cleaning.

❋ WATER Some larger larders may have a sink and water connected. Avoid hot water, though, because it will increase the heat and humidity. ❋ SHELVING There are many options these days, including ‘lazy Susan’ rotating shelves for corners, pull-out shelving on wheels, or just plain timber shelves. Make sure that they are not too deep, because you will tend to lose things at the back. Spice racks on the backs of cupboard doors and U-shaped shelving can maximise available room.

GOOD DESIGN Many foods (fresh or preserved) will deteriorate faster if exposed to light, high temperatures or humidity. Foods can also be contaminated or eaten by insects, rodents or other pests. Good design will minimise all of these food storage problems.

BUILD IT YOURSELF If you have some basic carpentry skills you can probably create a larder yourself; and if you don’t, why not learn? You can then save money, not to mention time having to wait for a tradesman every time you have a small carpentry job.

“SOMETIMES THEY WERE ALSO USED TO STORE PARTLY PREPARED FOODS SUCH AS YOGHURTS WHILST THEY FERMENTED, OR CHEESES WHILST THEY MATURED” HELPFUL HINTS ❋ If possible, position the larder

❋ ❋

FURTHER INFORMATION The authors of this article run a great, self-paced, online course on carpentry and much, much more. Visit www.acsedu.co.uk to find out more.

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on the north-facing side of the house, as this is the coolest area. A larder should be ventilated – this keeps it cool and controls humidity. A larder should be reasonably dark when the door is shut. It should be easy to access, and items should also be easily seen, to prevent things being hidden in the dark recesses – narrow shelves will help prevent this. It should exclude vermin, flies and insects. It should have easy-to-clean surfaces, and be kept clean. A stone floor or ceramic tiles will help with cleaning, and will be a lot cooler than timber.

❋ A marble or slate stone

preparation bench is a bonus (it helps to keep things cool). ❋ Oak is also useful for shelving, as it, too, stays cooler for longer than less dense woods. ❋ Vents and external windows must be covered with insect mesh.

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HOME DRYING

HOME & DRY r o t a r d y h e d a Building Seren Evans-Charrington describes her project to turn an old fridge into a dryer, and she provides tips and advice on drying your summer fruit, veg and herbs

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reserving food by drying is an ancient technique, and one that probably carries an accidental pedigree, as it is highly likely that this important form of preserving was initially discovered by someone seeing fruit falling from the trees and withering in the sun, and this natural process was then developed and cultivated. From these chance beginnings developed this important form of food preservation – after all, without food-drying techniques there would be no sultanas for your fruit cake! The principle behind drying food is simply to remove a large proportion of the moisture so that bacteria, yeast and moulds cannot grow. To dry foods successfully you need low humidity, a source of low heat (50–60°C) and air circulation. When it comes to drying fruit and vegetables, it is possible to use an ordinary domestic oven as the heat source, leaving the door open for part of the process to provide the ventilation.

Above: The empty shell. Right: A lamp holder and a bathroom extractor fan.

The optimum temperature for oven drying is 50°C. My main issue with using the oven method is that it involves sacrificing the

STEP-BY-STEP HOME-MADE DEHYDRATOR 1 Make, or utilise, a wooden box, completely sealing any existing cracks, crevices or holes. 2 Make a door (if it doesn’t already have one) to allow you to place your fruit and vegetables in it to dry. 3 Drill some ventilation holes along the top and bottom of the box and install a heat source – a 60W light bulb gives the right temperature for a 75cm × 45cm × 45cm box. 4 Any trays slotted into the box as shelving will need to be perforated or made from wire to allow effective ventilation and good drying results. If using mesh, stretch cheesecloth over the wire shelf and pin it in place to stop the metal mesh from marking the produce. Always wash and dry the cheesecloth before using it, otherwise it imparts an unpleasant smell and taste.

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use of the oven for five or six hours, and as I am a keen cook with a growing family, being unable to use the oven for that length of time is not a practical option, so using a dehydrator is my preferred method. There are many excellent dehydrators available to purchase, but where is the fun, or indeed challenge, in purchasing a purpose-built dehydrator? Plus, when I inspected friends’ dehydrators, I found some of the commercially available models were a little on the small side – I wanted a dehydrator that was capable of dealing with bumper crops of fruit, so when my faithful old larder fridge decided it could no longer perform its duty of keeping food cold, I set about converting it into a dehydrator, embracing the now fashionable trend of upcycling. With the help of ‘him indoors’ my old fridge was stripped of its icebox, compressor, and all other internal and external workings so that it became a mere shell. After undergoing a thorough clean and evicting my children (they were using it to sit in), it was fitted with a bathroom extractor fan at the bottom (where my vegetable tray used to sit), and a lamp holder housing a 60W bulb was added at the top.

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g dryin t a h by ely t ly lik iscovered alling h ig f h It is nitially d ng fruit hering i i it e s e w wa one s and s e e m e r so the t from sun. e in th

“THE PRINCIPLE BEHIND DRYING FOOD IS SIMPLY TO REMOVE A LARGE PROPORTION OF THE MOISTURE SO THAT BACTERIA, YEAST AND MOULDS CANNOT GROW” AU G U S T 2015

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HOME DRYING

Above: The extractor fan in place.

The original fridge shelves were utilised to act as drying shelves for larger vegetables when draped with muslin, and as shelves for holding fine-mesh trays for small fruit and berries. A small cooker thermometer placed in the base of my upcycled dehydrator recorded a consistent temperature of 38°C, and despite the scepticism of some of my friends, it has to date successfully dehydrated mangoes, apples, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, mushrooms and onions. Mushrooms and apples have successfully been dried overnight in my fridgeconversion dehydrator, whereas soft fruits have taken up to two days to dry fully, depending on their ripeness and juice content. If you don’t have an old fridge to hand that is ripe for conversion, but still fancy making your own dehydrator, then the instructions on the previous page, taken

from my book, The Pleasure of Preserving, will tell you all you need to know to make an effective little dehydrator that yields very good results, too. The great thing about drying your own fruit and vegetables at home is that you can take advantage of bulk buying and bumper crops, whilst ensuring that the pantry is always full of storecupboard staples. Dried fruits, in particular, are great, healthy snacks and don’t contain any preservatives or added sugar like many of the commercially produced versions, and dried vegetables make a useful addition to casseroles, soups and stews. Not only should food drying be embraced for its long history and for economy, but a dehydrator also provides a good way to prepare food at temperatures below 46°C, which is regarded as the threshold temperature

TOP TIPS FOR DEHYDRATING FOOD ❋ Start with fresh, high-grade fruit and vegetables – only the best is worth preserving. ❋ Always check food for spoilage or bruising, and if damaged, discard the affected food. ❋ Remember to slice food uniformly and thinly for even dehydration, as smaller foods take less dehydrating time. ❋ For steady dehydrating, it’s a good idea to place the food an equal distance apart on the trays. ❋ Blanching certain vegetables, including carrots and string beans, before placing them in the dehydrator

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will help fight bacteria, preserve colour and maintain flavours. ❋ To preserve apples and pears, you should peel, core and slice them into rings and then dip them immediately into a mild brine solution – one dessertspoon of salt to 4.5 litres of water. A quick dip is sufficient, followed by drying with a clean cloth. This process will help them retain their colour and help them remain crisp. ❋ Turning food and rotating the trays whilst the food is drying is a great way to ensure that food is evenly dehydrated.

❋ When drying mushrooms, you will find that the stalks do not dry particularly well, so it is best to remove them and put them to other use in the kitchen (for soups etc.).

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where enzymes and nutrients are maintained, so in terms of retaining optimum nutrition, dehydrating food is a real winner.

ADVICE ON DRYING HERBS The summer sees an abundance of herbs growing in the garden and the wild, but drying ensures that the flavours of summer can be available in year-round culinary endeavours. ❋ Pick young leaves in their prime, on a bright day, after the morning dew has dried. ❋ Strip away any coarse or damaged leaves and discard them, before tying the herbs into bunches. ❋ Place each bunch of herbs into a paper bag in order to keep dust and mould at bay, and hang them in a warm, dry spot to allow them to dry naturally.

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❋ If you immerse the herbs in boiling water for just a few seconds before beginning the drying process, they will keep their colour. OR ❋ Simply adopt my personal favourite method of drying herbs, which involves bunching the herbs, as in the previous method, before placing them into stockings and pegging them on the washing line on a dry and windy day.

BEST PRACTICE ‘Always gather the herbs you intend to dry on a warm dry day. Avoid very hot days as the sun will evaporate the essential oils, and wet days as this will increase the drying times and can increase the risk of mould developing.’ From The Pleasure of Preserving by Seren Evans-Charrington.

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C AFFEINE

! a p p u c a in

Dave Hamilton looks at the effects of caffeine – something many of us rely on as a daily boost, but an item that many now seek to avoid

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any of us find it hard to function without that coffee or tea to get us kick-started first thing. We often rely on it for the postlunch slump: that little something to help us through the day. Today, even socially, we are just as likely to go out for a coffee or a cuppa with a friend as we are to go out for a stronger drink in the evening. Such is our habit, that in 2014 there were over 18,500 coffee outlets in the UK, with a total turnover of a staggering £7 billion.

A coffee plantation in the highlands of Western Honduras.

CAFFEINE QUANTITIES FOOD/DRINK

AMOUNT OF CAFFEINE PER SERVING (mg)*

Chocolate-coated coffee beans Brewed/filter coffee Latte or mocha Yerba mate tea Leading energy drink (with taurine) Espresso Black tea (very weak to strong) Diet cola Leading energy drink (without taurine) 100g of dark chocolate Cola Green tea Chocolate cake

336 95–200 63–175 85 77 47–75 14–70 23–47 46 43 23–39 25 6

* To quantify a typical serving of such diverse items would be difficult, so we have used what the manufacturer would refer to as a ‘typical’ serving.

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But our love of this stimulant doesn’t stop there – in the last ten years we have seen a huge rise in the consumption of so-called energy drinks such as Red Bull, which contain large amounts of both caffeine and sugar. Caffeine has also been put into chewing gum and sweets, and it is, of course, present in cola-based drinks and chocolate. In fact, no other addictive substance is as widespread or as freely available as caffeine – you can even buy caffeine tablets! There is also no lower age limit, and some children are allowed to consume caffeinated drinks before they can even walk. But should we be concerned or thankful that this drug is so easy to get hold of? Does caffeine do us more good than harm, or should we be looking to regulate our intake?

WHAT IS CAFFEINE? Caffeine is not a manufactured drug, and appears naturally in many different plants, typically those in tropical regions. These include tea leaves, coffee beans, cocoa beans (made into chocolate) and cola nuts (made into cola drinks). Caffeine is poisonous to a number of different insects, and certain plants have actually evolved to use it as their first line of defence against insect attack. For us humans, though, in small doses, it is not poisonous but has a stimulant effect, although this could be described as an aspect of the plant’s toxicity. However, anyone who has given up caffeine and gone cold turkey will also know caffeine is at least mildly addictive.

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“…NO OTHER ADDICTIVE SUBSTANCE IS AS WIDESPREAD OR AS FREELY AVAILABLE AS CAFFEINE” AU G U S T 2015

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C AFFEINE

Freshly picked coffee prior to roasting.

AMOUNTS OF CAFFEINE Caffeine appears in widely differing amounts in many different products, and there are a lot of misconceptions about how much is found in popular foods and drinks such as chocolate, and tea and coffee. The chart on the previous page shows the amounts of caffeine in various different products, starting with the greatest. It perhaps comes as no surprise that coffee products generally rank higher than a humble cup of black tea. However, there is an exception (or in this case, perhaps an ‘expresso’) to every rule: a strong cup of tea, brewed for five minutes or more, can actually be stronger than a weak espresso. It is also perhaps surprising that diet cola drinks often contain more caffeine than their non-diet equivalents. We also tend to identify green tea with caffeine-free herbal teas such as redbush and peppermint, but although low in caffeine, green tea still has 1/3 –1/2 of the amount found in a normal cup of tea.

POSITIVE EFFECTS OF CAFFEINE As an addictive drug, caffeine could be viewed as a bit of a pariah in terms of our well-being. It seems counter-intuitive that an addictive substance could be good for our health; yet, recent research has shown that small amounts of caffeine may well have some positive health benefits.

❋ WEIGHT LOSS As with chillies, caffeine has been shown to help increase body temperature by stimulating a process known as thermogenesis. Research is

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event. Unfortunately for any habitual tea and coffee drinkers, there is absolutely no improvement in sports performance by consuming caffeine before exercise.

❋ AS A DRUG

by no means conclusive, but there is some evidence to suggest that this may help to burn fat and help anyone trying to lose weight. Alongside this ability to help us burn fat, caffeine may also act as an appetite suppressant; however, caffeinated drinks, such as cola and energy drinks, are often also quite high in sugar, and some coffees are made with cream, and are therefore also high in fat.

❋ SPORTS PERFORMANCE Some sportsmen and sportswomen use caffeine to enhance their performance, and it has been shown that anyone who does not regularly consume caffeine will benefit from taking about 300mg about an hour before taking part in an endurance

Caffeine is classed as a stimulant and can keep you more alert on the morning drive into work, and can also help to get you over that afternoon slump. This could reduce the number of accidents on the road and possibly boost overall productivity, although proving this would be difficult.

❋ SOCIAL BENEFITS Above and beyond the physical benefits of caffeine, there are also many undeniable social benefits of this drug. A shared experience can be a bonding one, and social bonds have been shown to increase our general well-being and improve our sense of self-worth. Sharing a cup of tea or coffee with a friend may well have health benefits that are unquantifiable, but catching up with a friend you haven’t seen for ages over a shared coffee will strengthen social ties and can give anyone feeling socially isolated something

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❋ WITHDRAWAL AND QUITTING CAFFEINE As an addictive drug, there will always be some side effects when giving up caffeine. These can include feelings of irritability, depression and anxiety, along with fatigue and occasionally quite severe headaches. Giving up your ‘fix’ may also affect concentration; however, withdrawal is definitely not as severe as experienced when quitting other readily available addictive substances such as alcohol and nicotine, or illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine. For anyone wishing to either cut down or give up caffeine, it is recommended that they wean themselves gradually off the drug rather than end it abruptly. For heavy consumers – usually anyone drinking 5–10 cups of coffee a day – it is recommended that they cut down by a single cup each week. Alternatively, a switch from coffee to tea will drastically reduce caffeine intake, as will a switch from black or normal tea to green tea.

❋ ANXIETY AND INSOMNIA

to look forward to. In fact, coming in for coffee after an evening out may also be the start of a long-lasting relationship with a loved one.

NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF CAFFEINE Although caffeine is essentially considered safe in low doses, it can actually be lethal in high doses, although you would be unlikely ever to consume such amounts, as 10g would be the equivalent of around 50 of the very strongest cups of coffee, or 30 portions of chocolate-coated coffee beans. However, recent studies have shown that anyone with kidney problems should limit or cut down on their caffeine intake.

CAFFEINE AND INSOMNIA Standing at 43mg, only just below a leading energy drink, dark chocolate contains a significant amount of caffeine, so for those who may have had trouble sleeping, that evening bar of chocolate could well have been the cause.

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It is not just withdrawal that can cause problems: high caffeine use can lead to increased anxiety, nausea and insomnia. Studies have also shown that habitual use may lead to high blood pressure and nervous complaints. It is said that cutting down caffeine intake to a safer daily limit may benefit anyone suffering from anxiety. An additional side effect of excessive caffeine use is insomnia. Hardened caffeine consumers can happily drink tea or coffee right into the late evening, but for anyone sensitive to the drug, this can cause problems with sleeplessness. For those who have trouble sleeping, it is recommended that they don’t drink or consume any caffeinated products after 2pm. Others stretch this even further, claiming that it is advisable not to drink any tea or coffee after midday.

Facts

❋ The first coffee house in England opened in Oxford in 1650 and was advertised as “a simple innocent thing, incomparable good for those that are troubled with melancholy”. By 1730, London had 500 coffee houses. ❋ In 1674 The Women’s Petition Against Coffee Houses alleged that, “coffee makes a man barren as the desert out of which this unlucky berry has been imported”.

SAFE LIMITS The accepted safe daily limit of caffeine is 300mg – roughly the equivalent of 1½–3 cups of coffee or 4–8 cups of tea (depending on the strength). This is, however, not a recommended intake, like five fruit and veg a day, but the upper amount that can be consumed safely with little or no side effects. In addition, caffeine is not recommended for children under 12, and children over 12 should be restricted to 100mg a day – less than a single typical energy drink and a 100g bar of chocolate.

THE LAST WORD So, is caffeine bad for you? Well, the short answer seems to be both yes and no. For those with anxiety problems, kidney problems or a predisposition to high blood pressure, it seems that it might be best if they either avoid caffeine altogether, or at least cut down drastically on consumption. On the other hand, it is a form of social glue that helps stick together British society – we instinctively put the kettle on when we have visitors, we offer tea to the distressed, and at the end of a romantic encounter we may seize the opportunity to continue further by offering a cup of coffee. Without this social code we could be left with the rather uninviting, “Do you want to come in for a glass of water?” Water may indeed be better for us, but let’s face it, I doubt that many marriages began with an offer of H2O!

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DOWSING

water

Many ancient arts don’t hold up to scientific investigation, but the fact that they have survived with the respect of many suggests they should be taken seriously. Heidi M. Sands investigates water divining

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ater divining is an ancient art that still interests many of us today, and there are times in our lives when we might wonder how exactly we could go about doing it. So, what is water divining, what equipment might we need, and how should we go about trying to do it for ourselves? Divining – also known as ‘dowsing’ – is the searching with hand-held tools for that which can’t readily be seen. Most often it’s used to locate water, but it can also be used to find other things such as underground archaeology, minerals (including oil), tunnels, and other underground features. For our purposes, divining is confined to the search for underground water – underground streams, springs, lost pipes or drainage (including field drains). For the more rural homeowner, being able to divine for water may be a useful skill. I’ve used it to find old and unmarked water pipes to the house, and also the outfall from the septic tank, as well as the direction of flow for underground drains. In years past, wells were

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sometimes located by divining, thus enabling homeowners, and sometimes villages, to access otherwise inaccessible water. Today, we may use it for finding water which we can use for filling garden ponds, pools and water features, or for livestock to drink. We can also collect this ‘free’ water to water our gardens or under cover crops in polytunnels and greenhouses. Whilst there is little scientific evidence as to how and why water divining works, many people, including country dwellers and farmers, continue to use it, and children and young

people can be particularly adept at it. Some schools of thought propose that there is an electromagnetic field present in flowing water that the muscles of the body can react to through the divining tool. There are also those who can instinctively divine for water, and, on the other hand, those who, no matter how hard they might try, simply cannot do it. Is it perhaps that you can try too hard to water divine? Possibly… a more relaxed attitude and perhaps an ability to tune in to nature may help – after all, many animals certainly have an instinct when it comes to the search for water, so why not some humans? There are several instruments or tools that can be used for water divining. The most recognisable of these is the forked branch. This can be an actual branch or similarly shaped twig taken from almost any kind of tree or hedge (willow or hazel are recommended), or it can be something you make up yourself from any springy material, such as garden canes or even plastic. Held lightly in the palms of the hands, the single fork should face away from the diviner and move earthwards when water is located. L-shaped rods, one held in each hand, are also used to great effect. These are usually made from bent wire, such as plain fencing wire or old metal coat hangers. The shorter arm of the ‘L’ is held in the palm of the hand, with each rod carried facing forwards.

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Extra

Anyone uncertain about the credibility of dowsing or divining may be reassured by the fact that it has some very credible support, including the American Academy of Science, the Academy of Sciences of Paris, the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture, the British Academy of Science, the British Army, the Smithsonian Institution, the US Marines, the former Soviet Union, the Government of the Netherlands, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and many private and public utilities workers throughout the world.

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as known hing o ls a ( rc g Divinin g’) is the sea for that ls in o ‘dows nd-held to e seen – a b with h an’t readily c which water. y usuall

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DOWSING The rods should be parallel to each other and the ground, and when water is located they should swing across each other. Alternatively, a single long rod can also be used. Known as a ‘wand’, this is held in one hand, can be made from almost any material, and will move in a circular motion when water is found. Less well known than rods is the ‘pendulum’. This method is most often used to divine from a distance, usually over maps, plans or similar. It is usually in the form of a bob of some sort on a string, and can react in a variety of ways. This technique may be more difficult for the novice diviner to master and is sometimes employed by those with more experience. All of the above methods have their own individual regional variations,

N O I T C A E R E S TH E M I T E S M L O O S O “ T G N I IN , C I T A M OF THE DMIV A R ST D O E B N A C SE S A C E M O S AN D I N VIOLE N T ” A L M OS T some of which go back centuries, and individual diviners, too, may well have their own preferred method of operation. If you are finding it difficult to effect results on your own, it may be possible to get a more experienced diviner in your area to teach you the basics, or perhaps to come in and do the divining for you. When divining for the first time, pay special attention to your own particular frame of mind. Try to relax and clear your mind of any unwanted thoughts, rather as you might do when meditating, then take a few deep breaths and ensure that the ground you are going to be divining over is clear of any hazards that may cause you to trip or fall. Take your chosen divining tool – a forked branch or L-shaped rods are easiest to begin with – and hold it lightly in your hands, then slowly begin to walk over the area in which you suspect that there might be water. It is very important not to grasp the divining tools too tightly or they simply won’t be able to move freely once water is discovered.

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Divine!

ientific evidence There is little sc r divining wate to show why any people works, but m ren) are (including child at it. ept particularly ad

A home-made pendulum or bob can be most effective in the hands of an experienced diviner.

Pass over the area you wish to divine in several directions – this is paramount, as you may well pick up feedback or vibes in one direction or the other, depending on which way the water beneath your feet is flowing. If you don’t get any reaction from your divining tools, simply move on a little and repeat the practice. If you do get a reaction through your branch or divining rods, it can come as something of a pleasant surprise. Reactions, however, can vary from the almost imperceptible (in which case you may wish to go back and check in another direction), to those that are clear and obvious. Sometimes the reaction of the divining tools can be most dramatic,

and in some cases almost violent. Whatever you do, don’t be persuaded to water divine with your eyes closed. Walking along with hand-held tools in front of you without looking where you are going could be quite dangerous. And remember, too, that children should be supervised when using such tools, and even if they are home-made they should still be kept out of the reach of young children, if only because pointed ends can cause considerable harm. If nothing else, water divining is a pleasant way of occupying yourself for a few hours in the summer, but if you become proficient at it, it can be a most useful skill to have around the garden, orchard, allotment or smallholding.

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FIX ING ST UFF

LAYING floorboards Home Farmer ‘fixer’ John Butterworth replaces some wooden floorboards using tongue-and-groove timber

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ore ‘Fixing Stuff’ this month, and it’s a hayloft floor that needs fixing. I could tell it was time, because my foot went through it – as you can see by the hole (pictured far right) – and the brown powder you can see through the hole is the surest sign that woodworm is still ‘live and kicking’. The woodworm was quite extensive, though it hadn’t yet got into the underlying joists and beams, so new floorboards of some type were needed. You have a choice of what type of material to use: proper timber floorboards or tongueand-groove (T&G) chipboard; and there are several ways to fix it down, so we’ll take a look at the options first.

WHAT TO USE?

Above: Holes are a further clear sign of woodworm.

Chipboard is commonly used for domestic lofts, and it’s cheap at about £7.26 per square metre for 22mm T&G panels (Wickes), but for a hayloft, or any floor in an unheated farm outbuilding, I just wouldn’t use chipboard, as I’ve seen a floor in a newish barn wrecked when it got wet. Our barn gets snow through the roof (I hope to get that fixed, too, this spring, with a new roof!), as do many old barns, and if you keep animals inside, especially cows in winter, they give off gallons of sweat; all in all a poor environment for chipboard, even if it claims to be ‘moisture resistant’. So, although it’s relatively cheap, and the large panels are easy to put down and lock together pretty well, I’d avoid it. Timber tongue-and-groove floorboards can be purchased from any decent timber merchant, and it’s worth ringing round to get the best price before you turn up. I’ve just calculated the floorboards I got per square metre coverage, and it comes to about £20.50; a lot more expensive, but at least it’s fit for purpose, so needs must.

Right: Chipboard tongue-and-groove.

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Far right: Woodworm destroying a floor.

Assuming you are fixing an existing floor, you’ll normally want to replace like for like, and my floorboards were about 20mm (¾in) thick, but that’s not what you order from a timber merchant. Oh no! Timber is usually sold as though it was the size before it was planed. So, for instance, a 150mm × 25mm floorboard is actually, in real life, about 145mm × 21mm – just one of those infuriating things that we have to live with, like call centres. Who cares how big it was before they planed it, any more than how tall the ruddy tree was? If in doubt, take a piece of the original board with you to show the merchant. The width of old floorboards is very likely to be different to the new stuff, by the way, as the old stuff was always measured in imperial, whereas the new is in metric. It’s also sold per running metre, not per square metre, so rather than fry my few remaining brain cells trying to work out how much I needed

for the whole floor, I just got the best price for 150mm × 25mm boards and picked up as many as I could get in my trailer, laid it out in the loft, then figured out how much more I’d need to complete the job!

FIXINGS My floor had been nailed down using very old-fashioned nails called ‘brads’ or ‘cut clasp’ nails (see bottom far right). When new, these are very strong and hold the timber more firmly in place than modern round ‘wire’ nails, but in a hostile environment like a farm building floor, they eventually rust away – mine had pretty much disappeared, so the boards simply lifted by hand as though they’d never been fixed down. If you don’t mind the screw heads showing (and ‘cut clasp’ nail heads would show), screwing the boards down is very fast and secure. My builder friend swears

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! e r a Bew

wire nails. I’d have preferred to use galvanised oval nails, as, ‘secret’ or not, the bright wire nails will eventually rust, but no one seems to make galvanised ones any more.

oards floorb ew ld o f the n idth o The w different to as e w may b he old stuff imperial, t in – stuff measured tric. e s alway new is in m e but th

LAYING THE NEW FLOORBOARDS It’s a good idea to acclimatise timber for a week or two in the place that it’s going to be used, to allow it to swell or shrink, as the case may be. I laid out my boards and gave them a thorough spraying with a fluid to treat woodworm and dry/ wet rot, then I let them acclimatise and dry out. There’s no point putting new timber anywhere near live woodworm – they’d just think it was feeding time – so spray all the existing timbers while you’re at it. There’s a right way up for T&G floorboards: the tongues and grooves are cut such that there’s a very slight gap on the underside joint, allowing the top one to be pushed up tighter, in theory. In practice, I managed to lay the first section the wrong way up – no surprises there – but to be honest I can’t see any difference in the gaps! Still, you may as well learn from my mistakes. When I lifted the old boards, I used an industrial vac to clean the underlying beams and joists, then gave them a really good spraying with the evil fluid. My strain of woodworm seemed to much prefer floorboards to either beams or joists (the smaller supporting timbers that fit into the beams), so the latter were almost completely ‘un-nibbled’, but there’ll never be a better chance to give the whole floor a dose of preserver. To get the boards nice and tight together, whether screwing or nailing them down, I used a short offcut of floorboard and a

by ‘Reisser Cutter’ screws, as they countersink their own holes, after a fashion.

A TOP TIME-SAVING TIP! The mystery gizmo, centre left in the picture on the right, is a DeWalt ‘Drill Driver Bit Set’; it has a pilot hole drill/ countersinker at one end, and a Phillips screwdriver bit at the other, and it locks into the drill adaptor below it. You can drill and countersink a hole for the screw, then quickly reverse the tool to drive the screw in. It saves a huge amount of time. Lastly, you could use a ‘secret nailing’ technique, which is to nail through the tongue of each board at an angle – this means that the groove of the next board covers the nail, and nothing shows when

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the boards are all in place, hence the name. I did one side of the barn using 50mm screws, and the other side I ‘secret nailed’ with oval 50mm bright Right: A very large ‘cut clasp’ nail – too big for floorboards, but you can see what I’m talking about.

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FIX ING ST UFF Right: Woodworm and rot fluid. Below right: Spraying the loose new boards. Below far right: Boards the right way up. Far right: Vacuuming the joists.

heavy rubber mallet – the offcut fits perfectly over the tongue, so it won’t damage it, and you can bash the offcut hard with the mallet to force the boards up tight. You’ll eventually wreck the offcut, at which point just use a new one. You can buy a metal device called a ‘tension iron’ for pulling the boards together, as shown below, and it’s invaluable when you get to the edge up against the wall, but for the majority of the floor I found the ‘offcut and mallet’ technique worked better. When it comes to cutting floorboards to length, you can’t beat a trusty compound mitre saw for both speed and accuracy. It’s worth the risk of a hernia to lift it into the loft and use it in situ rather than taking dozens of boards to the saw.

SCREWING It’s a fairly straightforward job – start at a side wall, leaving a 10mm gap to stop damp striking across from the wall to the floorboard. If you hammer the boards tightly together, as described above, they should stay parallel with the wall as you progress across the floor. If your floor is fairly small you may be able to obtain boards of sufficient length to avoid any joints at all (just ask your merchant what lengths they’ve got), but if you have to use

more than one length, always measure and cut it to make the joint central over a joist. Stagger these joints, like brickwork, to avoid getting a long line of them along the same joist, which looks bad and makes for a weaker structure. When screwing the new boards in place, use two screws in each

joist, offsetting them to make the fixing a little stronger (see the photo top right). You can’t do that where there’s to be a joint with the next board, as joists are too narrow and there’s a risk of the screws splitting the board, so always drill and countersink a pair of pilot holes for the board ends. In practice, even though the Reisser Cutter screws reckon to cut their own countersink, I found it much neater to drill and countersink every hole, not just the ones in the board ends.

Above: A compound mitre saw. Far left: Tapping the boards tight. Left: A tension iron.

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If you’re doing the entire floor, rather than just fixing a section of it, you’ll get to a tricky bit when you reach the far wall, as it’s hard to ‘secret nail’ because the wall gets in the way. I’d revert to screws again for that last plank, or even the last couple. Align the tongue in the groove, then push the boards flat so the tongue locates properly in the groove, and use the ‘tension iron’ to hook over the edge adjacent to the wall, and tap the boards tightly together.

AND FINALLY… Above: ‘Secret nailing’.

NAILING If you decide to go for ‘secret nailing’ rather than have visible screws, here’s what you’ll need – the drill/countersink bit and a nail punch, plus lots and lots of time! Starting at the wall and leaving a gap as before, the first board needs screwing down on the wall side to hold it in place, or it will move as you try to tap the nails in. Countersink these screws fairly deeply, then you can use a bit of filler to hide them. You can see where the ‘secret’ nail goes, relative to the tongue. Oval nails shouldn’t split the tongue, but they sometimes do, so it’s better to drill pilot holes for the nails if you can be bothered – it’s very laborious. Tap the nail almost in with a hammer, then drive it in flush using a hammer and nail punch. If you drive it in too far the tongue will split, so just flush and no more. Then just work across the floor as with the screwing method, making sure any joints are directly over the centre of a joist, and not always the same joist, but

Left: Lining up a joint.

staggered. For any nails near the end of a board, always drill a pilot hole, or, again, the tongue will definitely split. The picture (bottom far right) shows the new floor and the old, with the beam and joists exposed, so it reveals a bit of everything. Leave the old floorboards in situ as you work across the floor, just pulling up enough to give you space to lay the new ones – it’s far safer. If you don’t trust sections of the old floor – if it was perfectly sound you wouldn’t need to replace it – use sections of chipboard, and only step on those. As long as they go across two or more joists, and the joists are sound, you can’t fall through.

If you want to do a really professional job, and/or have loads of flooring to do, it’s worth investing in a flooring nailer. From personal experience I’d recommend a ‘Bostitch Ratchet Multi-blow Flooring Nailer’. It does ‘secret nailing’ using brads in a cartridge inside the tool. You align it against the floorboard, then hit it hard with a large mallet, at which point the impact pushes the board tight up against the next one and drives the brad through the tongue at the same moment – a terrific bit of design. I bought one to relay a very ‘gappy’ oak floor in the house, and it worked a treat. Then I thought, “That’s it, I won’t need that again” and sold it. It was very shortly afterwards that I put my foot through the barn floor. The lowest price I’ve seen for them is about £144 on eBay.

Below: Drilling a pilot hole near the end of a board. Right: A Bostitch nailer.

Above: Approaching the far wall. Far right: New meets old.

AU G U S T 2015

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HOME FARMER DIRECTORY

O C I AT I O

ASSOCIATIONS

NOT JUST FOR SMALLHOLDERS! Smallholder Associations are a great way to meet like-minded people, share ideas, gain access to training, and in some cases share equipment. In almost all cases you don’t have to be a ‘smallholder’ to become a member. Membership can be anything from £10–£20 a year. Please note: WHERE POSSIBLE WE HAVE INCLUDED TELEPHONE NUMBERS. However, phone numbers are not always readily available – this is not because the organisations do not want you to contact them, more it’s because the role is voluntary, with the people often doing a full-time job elsewhere. If any group listed below does have a phone number and we’ve not listed it, please email ruth@homefarmer.co.uk with a membership contact number so that we can include this in the future. Although these are smallholder groups, most of them welcome anybody with a genuine love of the countryside. Our thanks go to Richard Thompson for the listings. Please follow Richard’s blog (Small Plot, Big Ideas) for inspiration http://smallplotbigideas.co.uk/. Please remember to mention Home Farmer when contacting these organisations. Many thanks. BASH – BIGGAR AREA SMALLHOLDERS A group of like-minded people all of whom work the land in some way. The smallholdings they run are diverse: some are small, others quite large; some grow only vegetables, others have significant amounts of livestock. www.bashsmallholders.co.uk. CENTRAL SCOTLAND SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION The CSSA are a group of aspiring and existing smallholders who get together to share knowledge, experiences, and to socialise. www.smallholders.webs.com. CHESHIRE SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION A dynamic and enthusiastic group of small-scale and hobby farmers, horse enthusiasts and countryside lovers. www.cheshiresmallholders.org.uk. (CASP) CORNISH ASSOCIATION OF SMALLHOLDERS AND PRODUCERS This is a group of smallholders and craft producers in the south-west with the aim of bringing support to each other and a shared outlet for the fine produce and crafts that are produced and sold locally to ensure quality and fair prices. www.cornishassociationsmallholdersand producers.co.uk. For membership enquiries telephone 07886 839785. CORNWALL SMALLHOLDERS GROUP A group with members mainly in the Western half of Cornwall, with interests including all forms of livestock, orchards, veg and soft fruit, woodland, and the cooking and processing of produce. Meetings are held monthly, usually on the first Thursday of the month, with talks and discussions in winter and visits to members’ holdings and elsewhere in summer, with home produced food and drink a key feature! Website is undergoing a revamp. For further information contact 07794 978693. CUMBRIAN SMALLHOLDERS A facebook group which provides a place to meet other smallholders, share information, advertise stock for sale and appeal for items wanted. www.facebook.com/groups/ cumbriansmallholders. DERBYSHIRE SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION Derbyshire Smallholders’ Association was formed by a group of like-minded people with the aim of providing the opportunity for fellow smallholders, and those with just an interest in smallholding, to network and to pass on skills and information. www.derbyshiresmallholders.co.uk. For membership enquiries telephone 07871 189889.

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DEVON ASSOCIATION OF SMALLHOLDERS (DASH) DASH was established in 1986 to serve the needs and interests of smallholders and those planning to undertake any kind of country living. www.devonsmallholders.co.uk. DYFED SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION Est. 1986, the DSA is open to anyone in S.W Wales who enjoys a rural way of life. Monthly mtgs covering a wide range of topics + soc. events, farm walks, workshops & support from fellow members. www.dyfedsmallholders.org.uk. EAST ESSEX SMALLHOLDERS’ GROUP A group of micro farmers who operate different size ‘smallholdings’; some of them have a few backyard chickens, maybe grow a few fruit or vegetables, while others may have a pig, small herds/flocks, sheep or even a cow. www.eastessexsmallholders.org.uk. EAST RIDING SMALLHOLDERS’ SOCIETY A society of smallholders, ‘home’ farmers, small-scale agriculturalists, horticulturalists, self-sufficiency enthusiasts and country crafts people who have rural interests or are motivated to make productive their own small portion of the Earth’s surface. For membership enquiries please telephone 01757 638155. FENLAND SMALLHOLDERS’ CLUB The Club was originally started as a goatkeepers’ society in the early 1970s and has gradually transformed over the years into the more general smallholders’ group it is today. We have regular monthly meetings and a wide range of interest/training groups, including Gardening, Craft, Pigs, Home Butchery and a Blokes’ Baking group. Our membership is mainly drawn from the geographical area of Fenland encompassing North Cambridgeshire, West Norfolk and Lincolnshire, but also includes members from the wider area. www.fenlandsmallholders.org.uk. Tel: 01945 773929. GUERNSEY SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION The Guernsey Smallholders’ Association is a practical and social club, which forms a network of people who can offer each other advice, support and help, and which also facilitates the exchange of produce, skills and ideas. www.guernseysmallholders.weebly.com. HERTS & ESSEX SMALLHOLDERS AND GARDENERS The group holds informal friendly meetings once a month, and members have a wide range of expertise on smallholding and gardening issues. www.hertsandessexsmallholders.org. Tel: 01279 815044.

KENT SMALLHOLDERS The group was formed in 1987 by Hadlow College, to whom they are affiliated. They hold monthly meetings at the college with like-minded people who enjoy the countryside and the rural way of life, which is their only criteria for membership. www.kentsmallholders.co.uk. LINCOLNSHIRE SMALLHOLDING AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY CLUB The purpose of Lincolnshire Smallholding and Self-sufficiency Club is to bring together like-minded people within Lincolnshire who are interested or involved in any aspect of smallholding or self-sufficiency. www.lsssc.org.uk. Tel: 01205 290829. MONTGOMERYSHIRE & DISTRICT SMALLHOLDERS A friendly group of like-minded people who meet on a monthy basis, with guest speakers on a variety of subjects. New members and visitors are always welcome. We meet at Cobra Rugby Club in Meidod (Sat Nav SY22 6DA). Tel: Barrie 01691 648406 Email: mmrjd£btinternet.com NORFOLK SMALLHOLDERS’ TRAINING GROUP NSTG was set up in the late 1980s by a group of volunteers and now has members all over Norfolk (and beyond). www.nstg.org.uk. Tel: 01953 483734. NORTH SHROPSHIRE AND BORDERS SMALLHOLDERS’ GROUP A friendly group with varied interests – from window boxes to acres. Welcomes new members to their monthly meetings. www.northshrop-smallholder.co.uk NORTH YORKSHIRE SMALLHOLDERS’ SOCIETY This group was set up to help the smallholders of North Yorkshire and the North of England. www.smallholder.org.uk. NORTHUMBRIA SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION A group of like-minded people from the north-east of England who enjoy the countryside and all that goes with it. The group formed following a smallholders’ course at Kirkley Hall College. www.northumbriasmallholders.co.uk. ROMFORD SMALLHOLDERS’ SOCIETY They run a very large and popular allotment site in Romford and have been providing allotments for over one hundred years. www.romfordsmallholders.wix.com/ growyourown.

SCOTTISH SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION The Scottish Smallholders’ Association has been established for over 15 years. They are a small group based in the south-west of Scotland, and their aim is to share knowledge, experience and ideas about smallholding, and they welcome anyone with shared interests. SEVERNVALE SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION A group of people whose main interests are: flora and fauna, the environment, conservation and organic growing. www.severnvalesmallholders.org.uk. SHROPSHIRE SMALLHOLDERS’ GROUP A non-profit organisation providing members with information and mutual support on all aspects of smallholding, including animal husbandry, growing fruit and vegetables, and general smallholding interests. www.shropshiresmallholdersgroup.org. SMALL FARM TRAINING GROUP The Small Farm Training Group (SFTG), based in Sussex, aims to enable members to learn better farming, smallholding and horticultural skills. Members are enthusiasts who want to know how to care for land, livestock and equipment in an efficient and professional manner. www.sftg.co.uk. SOMERSET SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION The association was set up more than thirty years ago to bring together folk who have an interest in rural activities. Whether you have a flowerpot or a farm, you are welcome to join this friendly group of Somerset-based working smallholders. www.somersetsmallholders.org.uk. Tel: 07758 827869. SOUTH WEST WALES SMALLHOLDERS A facebook group page for all those who have a smallholding in SW Wales. You can advertise items for sale, or appeal for wanted items. www.facebook.com/ groups/218380055007087. STAFFORDSHIRE SMALLHOLDERS’ ASSOCIATION A small but lively group of families and individuals who share an interest in the small-farming way of life. www.staffsmallholders.info. Tel: 01889 881377. SUFFOLK SMALLHOLDERS’ SOCIETY A non-profit group of like-minded people interested in smallholding, self-sufficiency, allotments, fruit and vegetable growing and animal husbandry on a small scale. www.suffolksmallholders.co.uk. Tel: 01449 711178. WEST SUSSEX SMALLHOLDERS’ CLUB A friendly smallholders’ support group serving West Sussex, East Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. www.westsussexsmallholdersclub.org.uk. Tel: 01293 863508.

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Ne xt Month ORANGES AND LEMONS Mark Abbott-Compton looks at how to grow and care for citrus fruits.

COMPOST MASTERCLASS New Home Farmer contributor Mick Poultney from The National Vegetable Society discloses his recipe for making great compost in just four weeks.

HEALTHY TRAY BAKES LizzieB creates healthy but delicious tray bakes that taste good on the lips but don’t necessarily go straight on the hips.

CRAFTING A CABLE HOTTIE Crafter Liz Aitken shares her pattern for making a cable hot-water bottle cover.

WILL IT GROW? We look at foods you can regrow from kitchen scraps, and show you how to do it.

HARD CHEESE As a prelude to our new series on making hard cheeses, we build a simple cheese press.

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