Browsing Posts tagged food

Phew! 13/04/13

That’s about the only thing I can say about today.

Loads of volunteers -even given the lousy weather, loads of visitors, and surprisingly, given all the visitors, loads was achieved!

I arrived well before ten to get stuff ready, but mainly to get the first pot of tea on.  I’d run out of tea bags at home, so unsurprisingly, I was pretty desperate!

I’d just got our friend Kelly the Kettle merrily brewing, when we had our first couple of visitors -Julie and her brother, Mick.  We stood chatting up by the top gate until Jon arrived and could let them in -my gate key doesn’t work!

Of course, our Honorary Vice ChairCat, Mitzi was soon on hand to welcome the pair of them, and luckily, they both love cats, so little Mitzi was in her element, bless.

New volunteer, Shaun, arrived pretty soon afterwards, and he quickly changed into his boots and sawed up the masses of holly Ian (no relation) and I had feverishly cut down last Sunday.  The larger branches are now just the right size to feed into the pizza oven, while all the smaller stuff has been safely carted down the the fire pit on the Children’s Plot.  We’ll burn this as soon as we can.  Yes, holly looks great, but that’s at Christmas, and those sharp prickles play havoc with wheelbarrow tires!

Julie and Mick stayed for nearly an hour, as more and more volunteers arrived and got on with their tasks for the day, and were pretty impressed as I showed them around.  They’d been past many times in cars or on buses, but never actually seen The Plots ‘up close’, and were particularly impressed with our bees.  This was just as well, because the weather this morning was pretty warm, so there were loads of them out, bringing in nectar and pollen.

As they were leaving, Jon said that he was leaving early this afternoon, and did we want to inspect the hives and possibly feed them?  Obviously, that was a ‘Yes!’

Our two remaining hives looked in pretty good shape.  The centre one had taken all its feed, and on inspecting the small ‘nuc’, we decided to feed that some syrup as well, as per Charles’ instructions.  Charles will be making a couple of visits this week, hopefully with a couple of new queens, and I’ll remember to charge the camera so I can take plenty of shots.  (Like a chimp, I’d forgotten it today.  Sorry!)

Pretty soon, Sara arrived, then it was time for lunch.  I’d been up to the local supermarket on my way over, and had loads of bread and cheese for everyone to share, of course over a couple of cups of tea, and we were discussing what needed planting in the greenhouse. Sara very kindly volunteered for this job, and we now have an entire packet of broccoli, and entire packet of white cabbage, and four trays of Savoy cabbage, all happily planted and watered in.

In a few weeks, if the weather continues to improve, we should have literally hundreds of seedlings in there, so we’ll have to have the beds ready for them all to go in!

Meanwhile, Gary and new volunteer, Shaun, were busy with the long bed by the metal shed I mentioned a few posts ago.  This is very slow work due to all the bindweed and other perennial weed in there, but they made steady progress.

I tackled a bed on the Children’s Plot, as Carol is thinking we should get some of the many pot-bound herbs in there.  We’ll see, but either way, it certainly needed weeding, and I have the nettle stings to prove it.  I also had to fight a load of dock plants with their massive tap roots, but since working on Area 34 last year, this was familiar work to me.

I was only a few minutes into my weeding when our favourite welder, who lives nearby, came down.  He brought his sister and brother-in-law, so I had to show them round, and as his sister and her husband are keen bee-keepers, they were very interested in our bees and the trauma we had a few days ago losing that hive.  They themselves have thirteen hives, but have lost seven of them over winter, so as I previously said, we’ve been pretty lucky this year only losing the one!

Matt popped in today, but he had stuff to do on his own plot, so didn’t spend much time with us.  Gerry, likewise had stuff to do -he didn’t even stop for a cup of tea!

All too soon, it was gone five o’clock, but luckily I’d finished the bed on the Children’s Plot, so we wearily packed up and made for home.  Not before I’d finished the last of the washing up and tidied up the top shed, though.

Depending on the weather tomorrow, I may just pop over to see how things are, but officially, I’m now ‘off-duty’ while next Wednesday.

Well, I say ‘officially’, but in actual fact, I’ll hopefully be seeing Diane on Monday, and any spare time in between, I’ll be working on iButtons and electric bikes.

So, Dear Reader, I’ll leave you for now, tired, but happy!

(P.S.  The other day I was browsing eBay (as you do), and came across ‘Hive Tools’.  A hive tool is a strip of stainless steel you use to crack open a beehive when you need to inspect.  Hives tend to get clogged with propolis, which is tremendously sticky.  Of course, I ordered one -I still can’t find the ‘official’ LEAF hive tool, so I intend to get mine stamped with at least my initials in it -just so we know whose is whose.  Of course, after getting a hive tool, I’ll need a bee-keeper’s smock.  Then a smoker.  Then a ‘nuc’.  Then my own bees.  It’s only a matter of time…)

I’m sorry for the late arrival of this little piece, but last night as I got in, I just had to work on the iButton -so I did that, and blogged about it accordingly.

The weathermen had been promising a fine and bright day for yesterday, and they weren’t wrong.

In truth, it was probably the warmest and brightest day of the year so far, and down at LEAF we were blessed by many volunteers who took the opportunity to get out and get some fresh air in their lungs.

Gary carried on digging over the beds that in a few weeks will have masses of different types of runner beans in, while I tended our ‘best friend’, Kelly the Kettle. Ian (no relation), meanwhile, had plans for the orchard.

Now Ian has been fully trained as a tree surgeon from being a very young lad.  His dad taught him, and in fact he regularly works on quite a few trees belonging to other plot holders down on our site.

Due to various factors though, he’s never worked on our orchard trees.

Until yesterday, that is!The orchard.

As you can see from this hasty photo before he began, it was a bit of a mess, to say the least.

When these trees were first planted, the volunteer who advised on them was into ‘permaculture’, that is growing stuff around the bottom of the trees.  Consequently, there were all manner of other ‘things’ growing all around them, and with them being in ‘dwarf’ stock, and therefore very low to the ground, it meant that any fruit was almost buried by the surrounding ‘mess’ of overgrown foliage.  You couldn’t even get to the trees because of all this other stuff around them.  If you did manage to see a nice piece of fruit, odds on it would be riddled with slug holes and have maggots.

Not good.

Soooo, Ian, who has been planning this assault for weeks now, very carefully cut back most of the overgrown and overhanging branches, and in doing so has not only opened the trees up, but has ensured that if not this year, then certainly next year, we’ll have proper fruit trees, bearing proper fruit.

Also, we’re having a policy over the picking of fruit.

In the autumn, after a hopefully long and glorious summer, we’ll be having fruit-picking sessions.  We’ll be asking volunteers to actively pick the fruit from the trees, rather than leaving it all to drop into the ever-open jaws of the slugs and other nasties on the ground below.

I’ll be doing a very short ‘Sunday Sesh’ today, so I’ll get some more photos of this work-in-progress, and you’ll certainly see the difference!

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, we had loads of volunteers yesterday, and they all seemed to bring food.  Gary was in heaven!

Barry and Sairah brought young Adam and even younger Thomas, so Barry wasted no time in lighting a fire and burning a load of rubbish that needed to go.  Meanwhile, Sara, who’d brought some rather yummy cheese and a chocolate cake was alternating between he plot and ours, while Matt, who’d brought some awesome hot cross bun treacle tart was doing the copious amounts of washing up.

I was working on clearing out more of the metal shed, and managed to get one set of shelving out and fully clean, ready to be transferred into our ‘new’ top shed.

Jon arrived, of course armed with his mug, and over a brief cup of tea, we both agreed that we’d get suited up and have a look in the far hive. We were both concerned that while the centre hive and right hand ‘nuc’ were buzzing, there was no activity from the left one.

But, Dear Reader, you’ll have to wait for my next installment, all about our bees, to read about this.


Oh, we happy, happy few. 09/03/13

Last night, the weather for the next few days was set to be awful, and for today, at least, it really was awful.

BUT, this didn’t bother us!

I mentioned last post that I’d get some photos of the inside of the top wooden shed, and today there was loads happening in it, so I’ve got the photos.Eating in the shed!

But in all the excitement, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

This morning, Jon very kindly gave me and the ‘Box’ for TradeBase a lift over to The Plots, and we arrived well before 10.00.  While Jon went down to his own plot, I opened up the sheds and got the trusty Kelly Kettle out for the first brew of many.

I set up the Box and wired up a few lights in the top shed, then Ian arrived, soon to be followed by Gary.

Gary had been threatening to replant the saddest of all sad pear trees from a horribly tiny little pot into a bed just cleared on the Orchard Plot, and you can see it in its new home here.New home for the pear tree

The light brown ‘dust’ you can see in this photo is the blood and bone meal fertilizer that he spread on the ground after planting.  Of course, he put a good few trowel fulls in the hole he’d dug for the tree.  As this is ‘slow release’ fertilizer, it should give the tree plenty of food for at least a season, possibly longer.

Meanwhile, Ian found a wicked-looking billhook with which to attack the huge honeysuckle that has been threatening to take over one of the top Plots for years.  Gary soon joined him, and the pair of them spent well over an hour carefully hacking away to remove a couple of vast brambles and some well-dead rose bushes.

The result?  Check this out:-Honeysuckle no more!

Don’t worry, though.  Ian and Gary have four or five ‘runners’ that it had sent out, and these are now safely, temporarily healed in in a spare bed nearby.  Yes, I know it looks like this area has been devastated, but give it a couple of months and some sunshine, and this will be back to a much more manageable size, and as I said, we’ve got those runners to plant along some chestnut paling further down near the greenhouse.

As promised, Matt had brought one of his fabled stews today, so we thought we’d all properly eat up in the top shed where we’re meant to eat.  This is rather than shivering out on the benches getting slowly drenched by the ever-present drizzle.

Sara had bought some fresh bread, so as you can see by the first photo, after a hard day’s grafting, we enjoyed a proper meal, all sat round a table, inside whilst listening to Classic FM on the radio.

I’d also moved the gas bottle and regulator over from the metal shed, so for the first time in forever, we had a gentle heat in there to keep us warm.  Just how civilised is that?

Afterwards, over the inevitable cup of Plot Tea, Sara commented that all we really needed were duvets and pillows, and we could have a sleep-over.  Well, we had everything else, even a cat!

All too soon, it was time to call it quits for the day, but not before we’d found every tool we’d used outside, put everything away, and I’ve brought the dishes home to give them all a good washing.

Still, having said that, even after all the tea and drinks we’ve had today, both of the vacuum flasks were still full of piping hot water.

More on Wednesday evening…


Not A Big Lot of work done down our Plots today, and what little was done was in preparation for today’s ‘main event’ which was for the first using and cooking with the pizza oven in its 99.999% finished state.  I say 99.999% because Matt wants to add a taller chimney, and of course when its all cooled down, we need to patch yet more cracks in the outer layer of clay.Aaaargh!  Cracks in the clay!

As I arrived today, Ian (no relation) was busy by the oven, at work building a metal stand for use inside it to sit dishes on.  This would be to lift them off the extremely hot bricks and ash, allowing a ‘cooler’ airflow to cook dishes more slowly.

In theory.

To make this stand, he used a very old plastic and metal chair, some heavy-duty wire meshing we had, a hacksaw and a lump hammer.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this yet, but I’ll get some next time I’m down.  We were too busy using it today, and I kind of had my hands full with the oven which at it’s ‘peak temperature’ we reckon hit more than 400°C.  You’ll agree, just a little hotter than your average one at home!

As you can see up to the right here, when I arrived, it was ‘Crack City’ across the top and sides, but we weren’t worried in the slightest!

I can vividly remember the first time we ever fired this oven up ‘In Rage’ last year for the open evening in Autumn and we’d just finished that first layer.  If you check back on the photos, you’ll see we just had the single layer and by the time I first lit it, it wasn’t even dry!

Now we have not one, but two layers of clay and clay and straw beneath this top layer, there’s no chance whatsoever it will collapse -as I feared that first evening last year.

As I started to fill up these cracks with some clay we had left over, I was joined by Jordan, Shaun and Matt.  Pretty soon we were all happily patching away as Ian worked nearby,  his stand now finished, working on a tool to easily get to trays and dishes while the oven is hot.

When we’d done most of the serious cracks, I lit it (…more to keep warm than anything else.  It was freezing today!..), and we carried on patching the smaller ones.Quickly up to temperature.

To the left here is less than an hour after we’d lit it.  If you click on the image you’ll see those two great chunks of wood I’d thrown in less than a minute before I took this shot.

Because it was just so stinking hot in the oven, when I put these two pieces in together, I timed it before they caught fire.

On a ‘normal’ fire, when you put pieces on like this, only the parts actually exposed to the flames burn straight away, with the ‘outer’ parts taking much longer to catch.  With these, less than a minute after they’d gone in, they totally ‘lit’ with flame licking all over them.

Yes.  That hot!

While these two great lumps of wood were burning down to hot cinders, Ian was busy making the afternoon’s first ‘dish’.  This would be a ‘starter’ of potatoes cut into largish chunks, parsnips, shallots and cloves of garlic, all roasted in heavy-duty tin foil with oil and herb seasoning.

Using Ian’s newly made baking tray to stand the packets on, these seemed to cook in no time at all.

Of course, they were delicious!

By this time, Sara had prepared the pizzas.  Using dough she’d made up earlier and left to ‘prove’ at home (…Awesome!..) and vegetables that Matt had been to the market for and some tomatillos he still got left from last year (!!!), Sara then invited LEAF volunteers to make their own pizzas for me to cook in the oven -much as we’d done so successfully last year and we plan to do a week on Wednesday for the Environment Weeks Open Evening.The year's first pizza.  Quickly, before it all disappears!

This seemed to work really well.  By allowing people to put their own toppings on, they were guaranteed to like everything that had gone on the pizza!

We made about 9 pizzas in total today, each one decorated and topped by a volunteer or Plot Kid, and everyone agreed, they were much better than the ones you buy from the supermarket.  Obviously.

By now, the oven had ‘simmered down’ a little, and Matt had brought a pie he’d prepared last night.  It was made with the year’s first rhubarb from his plot, a little sugar and he’d made a crumble topping.

The crumble just before it went in the oven.To the left is a shot of the raw crumble just before it went in the oven.

Now, when Matt makes one of these at home, it takes about forty minutes at a medium heat to cook.

I didn’t properly time it, but it certainly took less time than that in our oven.

At first, we put it in without a tin foil covering, and the top started to burn slightly, but I took it out and wrapped it, and kept turning it through 180° every few minutes to make sure both sides were cooking.

In not time at all it seemed, when I turned it round, the side that had been exposed to the full heat of the oven was already happily bubbling away.

It was soon cooked, but before I’d even had chance to get my camera out, it was being dived into by volunteers eager to taste it.

All I ended up with was this:-Whoops!  All gone!

Those two bowls were for Diane and Jon.

Needless to say, just like Sara’s pizza, Matt’s pie was ace!

Unfortunately, there’ll be no ‘Plotting’ tomorrow.  Diane and I have a Big Lot of paperwork to catch up with, and before that I have an important date with the electric bike and the PIC programmer back here at Wardian Towers.

But, the weather is set to improve greatly this next week.  Hooray for that!  We (…and our bees!..) love the sunshine and warmth.

It kind of makes you feel happier inside when the sun’s shining, I think.

Oh, and talking of ‘Happy’, I presented Matt with his new camera today after I’d fitted the new screen to it.

And yes.  He was happy!



Strawberries: OUT!

I arrived on time last Saturday, and was very quickly put to work.  Many other volunteers had turned up earlier than normal, so it was only a very quick cup of tea during which we were ‘given our orders’.

Derek carried on with painting the top shed, Ian (no relation) carried on chopping wood, but I as given something infinitely more enjoyable.

Diane asked me if I’d like to rip some old and very woody strawberries out of the long bed on the top plot?

Does a bear wear a pointy hat in the woods?!Th strawberry bed before I started.

To the right here you can see the bed that had been started by PXI Nick and colleague the previous Thursday, and as you can see, they’d managed about half of it.

Well, I took to it like a man possessed!

You’ll also note that the sides of this bed were collapsing with rot, but as we have a load of second hand scaffolding planks to use for the sides, I didn’t have to be too careful in my work.

The only ‘thorn in my side’ was a young ash sapling that had grown right by the top edge of the bed.  If you check out this photo, you will just make it out in the centre of the shot.A young ash sapling.

Diane said it could be removed, but I had quite a job taking it out.  In fact, in all my pulling and digging I twisted my back, but as soon as it happened, I stopped and did a few stretches, then as soon as I got in, I ran a scalding hot bath and gave my back a good soak.  It seemed to work, because the following day, apart from a few ‘twinges’ when I’ve moved wrongly, it seems to be okay.  Hopefully no permanent damage done.

Anyway, I did permanently damage this ash tree! Its now sitting on a compost heap waiting to be chopped up for firewood -ash makes excellent burning material.

In the afternoon, I went down to my own plot -and you’ll be able to see all the fun I had very shortly over on the ‘Area 34′ blog.

In the early evening, I went back to LEAF and lit a fire for roast potatoes, some of Matt’s excellent home-made soup and some of Sara’s  exquisite home baked apple pie.

So, in short: A great day, lots done and marvellous food shared with good friends.

Who could want for more, eh?


Wow!Meet Mr Frog.

Well, after a day like today, that’s all I really can say.

Like a ‘normal’ Saturday, it all started off kind of slow and easy with just Diane, Ian and myself over a cup of tea, then I went to do a load of watering, and people just turned up.  Then more people arrived.  Then more people.

By the time I left tonight it was heaving, with folks everywhere!

Anyway, this chap on the right here is Mr Frog who turned up as David and Andy were clearing behind the gooseberry bushes ready for autumn.  Diane came down to the fire area with him on her arm, excitedly showing him to me, and he was pretty cool about having his photo taken, don’t you think?

Wasps nest.The ‘flying things’, came in the shape of this:  The biggest wasps nest I’ve ever seen!

It is down on another plot (…thankfully!..), and Matt came up to excitedly tell me about it, and ask if I wanted to see it.

Errrr…  That was a cautious ‘yes’, but luckily, the new camera has a rather fine zoom facility on it, so even though it looks like I’m right up by the nest, I was actually quite a safe distance away.  Discretion is the better part of valour, especially at this time of year when wasps are starting to get a little ‘grumpy’ -probably aware that their own existence is drawing to a close.  I very carefully and quietly closed the door and bid a hasty retreat.  Getting ‘nettled’ is bad enough, but having a couple of thousand bad-tempered wasps out to get me is not something I’m particularly keen to experience.  Let the next tenant on this Plot have the fun!

And so to the food…

Inspired by the stunning pizzas last Thursday, it was decided that I’d light the fire and we’d have our home grown baked potatoes.

Ian (no relation) and David had earlier dug up the last two mini-beds of potatoes.Potatoes just dug up.

To the right here you can see them, and this year, we’ve been amazed at just how many we’ve dug up.  Tonnes!

Still, the rate we eat them on a Saturday, these won’t last any time at all.

So, potatoes it was, but as a ‘bonus’ Jon brought up his wok and Danny tried his hand at stir-frying, and the results were delicious.

Danny stir-fries our vegetables.As you can see, he did quite a large pan full, but this went very quickly, and as I left tonight, there was still some debate as to whether more veg should be picked to do another.  None of this ‘I’ll just pop down the shops then…’.  It was all around us!

So this evening before I left, I made a little announcement.  I told everyone that we will be making a pizza oven in the coming few weeks and that it will be ready for ‘Allotment Soup’ which is less than two months away.

A polite round of applause, exit stage left. (…Thinking: “Now you’ve REALLY done it.”)

Absolutely no problem!The LEAF Bike Train.

But first things first, and today was the first major outing of the ‘LEAF Bike Train’.  As I’d said yesterday, we all met for 10.00 down at The Plots.  Matt, Kyle, David and myself had all brought our bikes with ‘Fresh X Nick’, Gary, Pam and of course Diane all choosing to go by car.  Just as well, for there was quite a bit of stuff that needed ferrying over to SAGE Greenfingers for our lunchtime pizza session.

We ‘Bike Boys’ set off first, and with it only being a couple of miles away (…okay, with a couple of wicked hills in between!..), we arrived long before the rest, and wasted no time in finding the oven and setting to work.The SAGE Greenfingers oven.

Here you can see it before we started.

As I said yesterday, I was in more than a little trepidation of this beast.  I’d never fired one up before, let alone cook edible food for nearly twenty people!

Now as I figured it, cooking in one of these would be completely different from my previous open-fire experience, and I guess I was right.

The trick I found was to get the fire going in there as quickly as possible -the same as I do on an open fire.  This cuts down the amount of smoke.

When the fire is going well, you have to pay particular attention to the bricks on the floor of the oven, making sure they get as hot as possible as quickly as possible.  The first few minutes after the fire has caught should be spent stoking it up with as much dry wood as you can get into it.Stoke it up!

Here you can see it in ‘full flame’, and notice how little smoke there is.  This was quite important for this site because locals have complained about smoke on previous attempts to fire it up.  Today, we were lucky that the wind was at least blowing in the right direction, but even if it hadn’t, there was nothing to really complain about.

Now, we’ve been checking the ‘net for ‘how-to’ guides on wood-fired pizza ovens, and they said that the oven can take up to three hours to get hot enough.  Today, from first lighting it to putting the first pizza in took a little over an hour and a half.  That’s more like it!

When the oven was hot enough, I pushed the hot embers out towards the edges away from the central cooking area.  This left the central baking area clear for the pizza.Pizza before cooking.

Here you can see one that Pam masterfully crafted.

When cooking with this oven, thick gloves were essential to stop burns.  Also essential was one of those long things with a large round flat area on one end to move the pizzas in and out of the oven, but as we didn’t have one, a garden spade sufficed!

Also to note is just how quickly these things cook!  In a domestic oven wound up to maximum heat, you’re looking at about fifteen to twenty minutes.  In one of these things, you’re looking at between 90 seconds and two minutes.  Yes.  Fast!

You also have to turn them through 180° about half way through cooking as the front of the pizza nearest the centre of the oven cooks the quickest.Done!

Taste?  Well, Dear Reader, I could tell you that yeah, they’re kind-of okay, but nothing compared with shop bought pizzas.  I could say that they really aren’t worth the effort.

But then, I’d be completely lying.

Okay, as the ‘Head Pizza Chef’, you get hot, sweaty and dirty; and you’d better have plenty of water on hand to drink because its really dehydrating, but boy is it worth it!Fancy a piece?

So in short:  Today- Complete Success!

Of course, the question on everyone’s lips as I left was; “When are we getting one?!”

Soon, Dear Reader!

There’s a Big Lot more reading to do from the ‘net, then we have to decide exactly where its going to go and how big it will be, but when that’s all done, then my answer is:- “As soon as possible!”

Watch this space for more details in the coming days and weeks.

LEAF will have a Pizza Oven!

You can see all the day’s photos taken with my camera here.

The Environment Week Bash Poster.

Simply click once on the image above and select ‘Print’ to your printer, and you have your own poster to put up to display.

We hope to see you then!

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