How To Make a Decorative Wreath From Wisteria Strands

Deutsch: Chinesische Wisteria (Wisteria sinens...

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Earlier this week I pruned the wisteria on the south-facing wall of my home by cutting back the whippy growths, made during the summer, to two or three buds from the main stem.  I’ll prune again in July.

After pruning, this left me with strands of pliable wisteria perfect for coaxing into a circular wreath.

How To Make

Wisteria Strands

 

I began by taking a strand of wisteria and forming a circle.  I then threaded the strand of wisteria under and over, around the circle and secured it by threading it back into itself.  Next, I took another strand and continued the process until all the strands had been threaded into the wreath.  You can thread as many or as little as your wish.

I’m presently using my wreath as a decorative circle around a hurricane lamp .  At Easter I shall use it as a table display, by threading moss, ivy and seasonal flowers from the garden into it, as well as the usual easter chicks and chocolate mini eggs!!

Good luck and happy wreath making!

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Grafting Mistletoe onto Apple Trees and Pruning Tree Peonies

One of my favourite christmas rituals is hanging sprigs of mistletoe!!!  We’ve recently acquired a small cider orchard, so this year I’m keen to grow my own!  I’ve used the mistletoe left over from christmas to graft onto my tree, but if you’ve thrown our your  mistletoe  new seeds can be sourced from www.mistletoe.org.uk

Mistletoe berries in Wye Valley

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 Grafting mistletoe is not an exact science.  Historically the seeds were ingested and deposited onto fruit trees by the Mistle Thrush.  For the mistletoe to produce berries both male and female seeds must be present.  Unfortunately, this won’t be apparent for several years depending on whether your mistletoe bears berries or not.  The whole process is a bit of a gamble but tremendous fun if it succeeds!

I began by selecting a suitable apple tree in the orchard to  graft the mistletoe onto.  I’ve used a tree that is healthy and is easy to identify later on.  I began by making an inverted T sign on the underside of the apple tree branch using a small kitchen knife

Next, I pushed back the inverted T incision and squished a mistletoe berry into the bark using the incision to secure the berry into place.

Now all I have to do is sit back for the next few years to see if the mistletoe takes.  I should see signs of preliminary growth in the next few months.  I’ll keep you posted.

The best time for grafting mistletoe is between February and March.  For further information on grafting mistletoe visit mistletoe.org

Pruning Tree Peonies

Before we moved house, I wasn’t at all familiar with tree peonies.   Alan Titchmarsh describes them as “real show stoppers, with giant crumpled tissue paper flowers” with a width span of up to 30cm!   Like traditional peonies they blossom in May.  Having consulted an expert, I’ve just pruned my dead tree peonie heads ready to bloom in late spring.

Pruning Traditional Peonies

I’ve cut my peonies right down to the crown

Before

after pruning
January in the garden
 

witch hazel

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

Daphne

winter iris

Happy Gardening!

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Homemade Sloe Gin

I always know Autumn has well and truly arrived when it’s time to make sloe gin!  It’s my husband’s guilty pleasure and is often enjoyed slurped out of a hip flask!

Earlier this week I set off with our dogs to pick some sloes from the hedgerow.  You will need approx 800g.

Ingredients

800g sloes

140g granulated sugar

1 litre of gin (plus a little more for topping up later when you decant)

Additional equipment:

 a funnel, weighing scales, and cocktail sticks, plus two 70cl old screw top bottles sterilised in the dishwasher.

Method

Tradition dictates that sloes should be picked after the first frost, but I prefer to pick my sloes when they’re plump and juicy.  I artificially recreate frost conditions in my freezer by leaving them there overnight.

Begin by taking the frozen sloes out of the freezer.  With a cocktail stick pierce the skin of each sloe and subdivide evenly into two old sterilised 70cl bottles.

Next, using a funnel, add 55g of sugar to each bottle.

Finally, using the funnel, add the gin to the sloes and sugar and place in a dark cool place.  Shake the bottles daily for the first few weeks.  As the sugar dissolves the colour of the liquid will intensify as the juices from the sloes seep into the gin.  Once the sugar has completely dissolved, the sloes have shrunk to half their size and the colour of the liquid has become more intense you are ready to decant.

Decanting

After three months pour the contents of the bottle through a sieve into a 1 litre pouring jug.  Discard the sloes and refill the bottles with the strained liquid topping up with additional gin.

We drink our sloe gin after three months, but kept in a cool, dark, dry place will keep for a few years. 

Sloe Gin With a Twist

According to my husband a “sloegasm”, champagne with a small shot of sloe gin, is simply delicious – personally I prefer my drinks unadulterated!

Good luck and happy sloe gin making!

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Pan Fried Wood Pigeon Breasts with Rocket and Mixed Salad Leaves

This simple meal takes 5 minutes to make and tastes absolutely sensational.  It’s currently in season, and one of my favourite recipes when I want something hot, nutritious and quick.  I’ve served with home-grown salad and Baby Tom Tomatoes from my garden.

Ingredients

Serves 2 as a starter or 1 for a hearty supper!

4 wood pigeon breasts (I get all my game from my lovely friends Jack and Jess Smallman at Southdowns Venison and Game).   

Plain flour and salt and pepper for seasoning

Olive/Sun Flower Oil

Method

wood pigeon seasoned and pan frying

Firstly, toss the breasts in a few tablespoons of plain flour seasoned with a good grinding of salt and pepper.

wood pigeon after pan frying

Next, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan at a high heat.  Add the breasts to the pan and quickly sear on both sides before turning down the heat.  Pan fry on each side for approximately two minutes depending on how rare you like your meat and serve.  This tastes delicious with red currant jelly and salad.

Salad Dressing

sea salt

runny honey

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

whole grain mustard

In a jug or small bottle add a few good grinds of sea salt, two teaspoons of whole grain mustard, two teaspoons of runny honey, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and dilute with a good glug of olive oil.  Taste and adjust the quantity ratios to suit your palate and stir before serving.

For more delicious game and venison recipe ideas do visit www.sountdownsvenison.co.uk

Happy feasting!

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Delicious Homemade Raspberry/Blackberry Vodka

With the nights drawing in and a definite autumnal chill in the air, I’m beginning to turn my thoughts to Christmas and making my favourite yuletide tipples – Raspberry and Blackberry Vodkas. 

They’re incredibly simple to make and taste delicious, and the perfect nightcap after a long days entertaining. Luckily, they’re always a big hit with our guests!

Raspberry Vodka

To make two bottles you will need:

300g of raspberries

330g of white caster sugar

1.5 litres of medium range vodka (Sainsburys have a good deal at the moment)

a funnel and 2 sterilised bottles (I used an old wine and gin bottle and sterilised them in the dishwasher!)

Method

First wash the raspberries discarding any mushy fruit and cut in half so they fit through the neck of the bottle.

Using a funnel, add the sugar and top up with vodka to the rim.

Shake every day until the sugar has dissolved and then store in a cook dark place for at least 3 months (my present batch is zipped up in my son’s cricket bag!!)  The longer you can leave it the better, and is often best drunk after a year or over.

Blackberry Vodka

To make blackberry vodka follow exactly the same method as raspberry vodka but remove the fruit after 3 months by pouring the vodka through a muslin, to prevent a woody taste developing.  For best results leave for a year – but I often drink mine at 3 months!! 

Good luck and happy vodka making!!!

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Growing Heavy Cropping Peas, Broccoli, Russian Tarragon, Dill And Wild Rocket From Seed

I’m a “real grown your own” fanatic, but sometimes in life things don’t quite go according to plan! 

In early May I planted broccoli and wild rocket in my veg patch and waited patiently for my seeds to burst into life.  Well I’ve waited and waited and the results are pants!! 

I’m not a girl whose easily defeated, so a few weeks ago I dusted off my seed trays and planted the following:

Peas and Broccoli

I’ve used Kelvdon Wonder Peas from Johnsons.  They’re a dwarf versatile variety, very suitable for summer sowing in June or early July for an early Autumn harvest.  This variety produces masses of  narrow, dark green, well-filled pods filled with delicious juicy peas

I’ve sown the peas in a seed tray with 5cm between each seed and have placed on a window sill.  Seedlings appear between 10-18 days and I’ve kept the soil moist to ensure good growth.  When they’re slightly more robust I’ll plant out directly into my veg patch.  For best yields pick regularly!

A picture of my Broccoli patch in Melbourne, A...

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I’ve used Mr Fothergill’s (www.mr-fothergills.co.uk) Broccoli (Autumn) Beaumont F1 seeds.  This type of broccoli is a vigorous early cropping variety, with well-rounded, quality heads of tight beads.   They also have a long growing season and are an excellent source of Vitamin C and antioxidants.

Wild Rocket

This is a great way to pep up all types of salad.  The delicious pungent, spicy leaves, are best used as “cut and come again” baby leaves.  Wild Rocket is slow to bold, cropping over a long period. 

I’ve used Johnson’s Wild Rocket seeds which can be sown from April to August.  For continuous crops sow every 2-3 weeks.  In a seed tray sow seeds thinly in rows 25 cm apart and cover with 0.5 cm of fine soil.  Seedlings appear in 7-21 days.  To harvest take a few leaves from each plant and they will regrow for up to 3 or 4 cuts or pick whole mature plants.

Tarragon and Dill

Tarragon has always been one of my favourite herbs, especially with chicken (do look up my chicken, mushroom and tarragon pie recipe!)  I’m growing some Russian Tarragon from seed.  This is a strong growing type, hardier and easier to grow than French Tarragon but with a less distinct aniseed taste.

In trays of seed compost sow thinly and cover lightly with compost.  Seedlings appear between 21-35 days.  When large enough to handle acclimatise to outside conditions.  Pick the leaves as required but note the leaves do lose flavour in winter so freeze for winter use.

dill and tarragon shoots

 This year, I’m trying my hand at dill for the first time.  It’s a hardy annual and I’ve bought my seeds from Unwins.  I’ve sowed them thinly in a shallow row and will harden off in my veg patch once they’re slightly bigger.  I’ll harvest the leaves when the plants are about 30cm high.

In my book it’s never too late to sow, even if I sometimes  end up growing things inside! 

Good luck and happy sowing!

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Hen Mauled By Fox Requires Urgent Medical Attention

Bluebell today

The Story So Far

At 7:45am on Tuesday morning, a fox entered our garden and killed Rosemary, our Light Sussex Hen.  Bluebell (pictured) was also attacked but mercifully managed to escape despite losing a great many feathers

Why I Decided To Take Bluebell To The Vets

Bluebell with fluffed up feathers suffering from a temperature of 106 C

Having carefully observed Bluebell for 48 hours I was concerned by her general lethargy, feathers constantly plumped up and poor food and water intake.  Having sought the counsel of my local hen experts, it was decided that Bluebell’s best chance of survival was a course of antibiotics.

After a thorough examination by the vet, it became obvious that poor Bluebell was far more critically injured than I’d first anticipated.  The wound to her back where the fox had grabbed her was large and bloody, with signs of infection, and was only apparent after her feathers were expertly drawn back by the vet.  Unfortunately, Bluebell hadn’t allowed me to examine her like this, otherwise I would have sought medical attention sooner.  The vet administered a shot of antibiotics, followed by a strong painkiller, and I now have to inject her night and day for the next five days.  Although she had appeared to eat and drink, she has not consumed nearly enough and the next 48 hours are critical.

box to take Bluebell to the vets

My husband is still coming to terms with the fact that I took the hen to the vets, but having nursed this hen back to health in January, I’m not about to give up on her now!  Just in case you’re wondering my vet’s bill came to £40!

Tonight, the swat team are out in the neighbouring paddock flushing out the foxes.

Please keep your fingers crossed for Bluebell.

A Happy Ending

I’m delighted to report, a month later, Bluebell has made a full recovery and so far the fox has not come back for my other hens.  After the initial attack, my husband reinforced our pen and I kept my hens in their coup and run for several days.  Due to the time of year I now only release the girls into our garden when the dog and I are present.  Luckily due to the weather and my enthusiasm for gardening this is quite alot!

No Eggs from Bluebell for a month

Unfortunately, because the antibiotics used are not approved by the Health Standards Agency we haven’t been able to eat Bluebell’s eggs for a month, while the medication works it way through her system.  I’m now counting down the days until we can do so!

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