Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Preparing for a hot summer

I decided that this summer I was going to make some beer, as a reward for all my effort I have put in to my garden during the year. Beer is not all that difficult to make and has been made through time for at least 5000 years, all you need is some barley, water, and hops. Which you could grow yourself. I am getting the hops seed next week Friday at Hopsfest where I will have a chance to sample all the locally brewed beers. The picture this week is of my wheat that I planted in autumn.

Barley is a grass type plant and has an simple life cycle, when the seed sprouts it converts the stored starch in to sugar and uses this to fuel its rapid growth. The grass like leaves that sprout upwards are highly nutritious and very good for all to eat. I am sure you have heard of the wheat grass they serve at health food café, barley grass tastes similar but different and is just as good for you.

Eventually a leafy stalk appears and out of the stalk comes this stiff hairy head which takes about a month to develop. Once it is fully developed the pollen appears on the outside, which is then distributed by the wind (beware if you suffer from hay fever). About a month afterwards the seeds are ready and you know they are because the colour changes from greens to having beige tones, like in the picture above.

The seeds are a source of food to many animals especially birds, who scatter seeds while eating. If no bird, rat or mouse finds it and it gets covered lightly. All that it needs to start the process again is water, and the 4 month cycle is repeated.

When the signs are evident it is time to harvest, cut and tie the hand bundles up to dry which takes about a week, after which it is time to thrash and separate the the husks (This is so much easier on a breezy day). Once you have your barley grain sealed up in an airtight container, it can be stored until you have enough to make something like beer or bread (in summer) or just add it to your stews and soups (in winter).

Mix up your ingredient leave for a while, then add your hops which adds a lovely bitter flavour. Be sure the fermentation process has stopped otherwise you will land up with an explosive mess. There is nothing more rewarding than drinking something, you have made from something you have grown.

On the right is a picture of some hops which I will tell you more about another time

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Changing Season (part 3)

The picture this week is of one of my beetroot's that I planted from seedling last year which I have kept going during the winter period. As you can see the plant has begun to bolt (preparing to flower), which it will do every year from now on. If you have more than one of them in your garden you can selectively breed the strongest, healthiest ones together so as to improve your own seed stock.

I don't think we are going to get rain till late September early October this year and that is not going to be good for the farmers. So don’t forget to water your plants regularly.

A plant begins to bolt when the temperature rises rapidly, it is a survival feature that plants have, to ensure that the species survives. This beetroot has lived a happy life, it was fed only with comfrey tea every two weeks during last summer season and now I am feeding it with bat guano tea every two weeks. I started last week and this is the growth of the last week and a bit, and it has sent out two flower stalks. Another one of mine has twelve flower stalks, I think it is a very happy plant. Next year this will produce a lot more flower stems and flowers per stem. Do not try save a sick plants for seeds, as whatever their problem is, will be transferred to your new plants.

Breading plants to improve size, shape, flavour, texture, colour and growth speed has been done for thousands of years from the over three thousand edible plants out there. Our taste buds and palates have determined what we now see as the “norm”. Humans have used selective breeding to get plants to be like they are now, even the seeds are being bred out, or the seeds are not very productive to “protect the breeders” copyright.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops are exactly like that, and the problem with this is when nature does its thing, the cross breeding between indigenous crops and GM crops results in a catastrophe. The seeds that the small old style farmer plants next season will not perform correctly and this will result in reduced harvests and eventual crop failure. Because someone is greedy, everyone else will suffer, that is not a happy business relationship. It is just amazing how many businesses run with this kind of mission.

Applying mulch will assist you in three ways. The first is it will break down and make the soil more fertile. Two, it will shelter the ground and protect it from the sun, which prevents moisture loss. Three, it prevents weeds from germinating which is very useful if you are the type of person that does not enjoy the back breaking task of pulling weeds. Since I don't expect any rain any time soon, I have been applying aged wood chips. Your plants will be much healthier if you protect your soil.

You will find a lot more information on soil health in my Soil Health workshop from my Grow Your Own Food course.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Changing Season (part two)

As the days get warmer and longer the garden comes to life; plants show signs of new growth and the bugs that you haven't seen for a while, start coming out of hiding. Now is a good time to do your preparation to get the garden into action for summer.

Winter is the resting period for a lot of plants, not many are productive during the cold months. Plants rest during winter, because the temperature affects the their ability to absorb nutrients. During the period of winter, the plant will need to conserve its energy and that is why you trimmed your plants back during late autumn, early winter. During the winter the plant stores its energy in its lower parts, including its roots, or into a tuber or crown if the pant has these.

As the season changes the temperature rises and the plant starts to have access to nutrients and this triggers the beginning of the growing cycle. Plants start sending out leaves and flowers using the stored energy to claim the prize of the suns golden energy filled rays.

Insects also become active as each day gets warmer they too have been resting during winter, while food supplies are low. As the night temperature rises they start hatching now and will need some time to expand their population. So it is very important to watch what you leave lying around to make sure that they stay under control.

Preparing the garden for the planting season is very important, adding granular organic fertiliser, compost and mulch is a good start, so that when you sow your seeds or plant your seedlings the ground is ready to explode into growth.

Seedlings that germinate from vegetables that went to seed during autumn will be germinating around now. They normally do not germinate where you want them too, not to worry as they are easy to move . Replant these seedling where you want them to grow while they are young.

It is during early spring when you want to push start your garden into action by adding vital energy, and planning to ensure that you get the most out of your garden during summer.

By getting a few of the important spring tasks done early you will have more time to enjoy your garden, and you will be able to take advantage of a longer harvesting period. There is so much joy in seeing your seedling's first leaves emerging out of the ground, and as each day passes you get excited to taste the results of your patience.

Have a look at my Planting Time workshop the third in a series of twelve to get all the tips on planting seeds and seedling, because the beginning determines the end results.

 What should I do in the garden today? Just follow me on Twitter where I post daily tips on the planets timing for optimum results.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Changing Season

You know the season is changing when you see the little seedlings start to germinate, you are not exactly sure what is pushing through the soil but its alive and heading towards the light. Each new day you see more and more emerging, vigorously wanting the most of the resources around them, it is the survival of the fittest. Until the rain starts a lot of these seedlings will be at risk of fatal dehydration.

Since the winter solstice on the 21 of June, slowly the days have begun to grow in length, and slowly the worst part of winter fades into a distant memory as the temperature rises. Seeds have waited through the winter for the right average temperature range, and by the middle of August the temperature is just right for planting seeds. The average day temperature has risen above 23C and the average minimum has risen above 5C which means that the average temperature range is good for germinating.

The weather has patterns that it follows, and these can only be followed if you record them in a diary. Each area has a micro climate and a macro climate which you can follow, the later is easily monitored by watching the weather forecast or by getting the information form the nearest airport or using the technology offered by your cellular provider. The micro climate can only be monitored at the location of the planting site.

Beware there is always a last cold snap which seems to strike between the end of august and the middle of September. Depending on what is happening around the country weather wise, you will be able to tell when it might strike; any seedlings will be vulnerable to this cold and should be protected. This protecting is mostly from the wind so give them a blanket of something light weight which still allows light through.

It is the most beautiful thing to see when the season is changing, trees start to shoot into flower and leaves start appearing, butterflies and other insects start re-populating the plants and the food chain reactions is put into motion.

For good ideas on what you should planting right now have a look at the Plant Companions & Partnerships lesson, which is part of the Grow Your Own Food course.

Monday, August 16, 2010

In Preparation for spring

The things that we do in preparation  for spring are all important making best of the cold weather. During the winter we consider our plans for the following summer, it includes all the fun things that we plan to do with our time. The visiting of friends and the out door activities are things that make waiting the winter out a lot more bearable.

I spend winter doing the jobs that require time and attention, that I don’t get to during the summer when everything is growing wild and needs taming. I have spent some time this winter with shaping and construction of design elements for the garden, like with the branches that where  felled from trees where used to make support for an embankment around a sunken sitting area.
When making something for the garden you need to think every thing through carefully and plan for any eventuality. I always plan for maintenance because nothing lasts for ever so for these supports I made sure that the branches where one third in the ground and supported by gravel which filled the trench level to the ground. this insures that the branches don’t rot in the soil. On the side supporting the soil I protected it with plastic sheeting.

A very good product to use for protecting the branches and preserving them for years to come is a product made by Plascon called Wood Care Preservative which will seal the wood and protect it from bugs and rot. this product is safer for your environment than the old fashion creosote which did the same job but had the disadvantage that it can cause Cancer.

I finished off the area by planting penny-royal around the edges which will spread and cover the gravel and when people walk on it a lovely fragrance is released which bugs hate. On the area above I plan to plant things that like well drained soil which was created by the raised sides.

You can learn more about creating a perfect soil for your plants roots in my Grow Your Own Food lessons.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mulled Wine

It all started hundreds of years ago when wine was safer to drink than water. Unfortunately wine did not keep very long, so when the wine started tasting funny they would add spices to improve its flavour and make it pleasantly drinkable.

The process meant heating the ingredient, which was very warming in winter. Other than the enjoyment of drinking the warmed wine it seemed to keep its drinkers healthy and free of colds and flu during winter, this is mostly due to the spices that are added.

Spices have stimulating and healing effects such as cinnamon and cloves, which part with antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and antiviral properties into the hot water as it steeps, cinnamon has many other benefits. Citrus is also an important ingredient which contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Other spices can be added to adjust the flavour and to improve the properties.

The nicest recipes I have found where at lisashea.com, she has some really tasty ideas and my favourite one is the Mulled cranberry.

Check out my Grow Your Own Food lessons to find out how to grow your own ingredients which will taste a lot more flavoursome and will have better health benefits as they will contain higher nutritional content.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Things that warm you up in winter

Chillies, pepper and exercise all speed up your metabolism, layers of clothing and blankets shield you from the cold and trap body heat. You loose a lot of your body heat through your head, hands and feet so protect them. Warm food firstly warms up your tummy which feels good and then it fuels your metabolism, warm drinks like hot chocolate, soups, eggnog and mulled wine also warm you from the inside but it is more temporary than food and the most effective way is shared body warmth. Happiness also works as it is a state of mind that puts your mind somewhere warm and fuzzy so you will feel warmer when you are happy most people attribute this to the the distracted state of mind.

Something that makes the cold worse is huddling next to the heater or fire, because of the way your senses work, they will acclimatise to the change in ambient temperature over a period of days but the moment you sit by a heater your metabolism does not need to work as hard to keep you worm, and your body then does not need to acclimatise to the cold. Every time its cold or you walk away from the heat you feel the cold worse.

Alcohol is another problem you feel warmer when you have had a few because it lowers your body temperature which means there is less of a difference in temperature for you to feel.

As you get older your metabolism does not cope as well and you will feel the cold more and more. It was nice being a kid when your metabolism worked overtime, and you did not feel the cold as much.

The heater or fireplace is not the problem, it is sitting to close to it that causes the problems using a heater of fireplace to warm up your environment is perfectly acceptable, it just adds to global warming, which in winter sounds like a good thing.

Chillies can be added to almost any meal and you don’t have to add very much to get the affect, but not everyone likes chillies or pepper. Growing chillies is easy and I go into the subject of how to grow chillies in my Grow Your Own Food workshops.