Welcome to our plot!

I'm Hazel, and in Nov 2006 my friend Jane and I took on a half plot at Hill Allotments, Sutton Coldfield - we want the satisfaction of growing and eating our own fruit and veg, and to improve our diet (and fitness!).

This is the story of what happened next...........

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wine Combo?

I'm in a bit of a conundrum with regard to the grape wine that I've planned to make with JB's green grapes.

Of course, country wines are generally made by extracting the juice of about 3lb of fruit (or veg), adding water & sugar to make a gallon or so, then fermenting from there, but if you were in a vineyard, you would be extracting the juice from grapes (think feet here), adding yeast, & off you go.

The problem is that I only have about 6lb of grapes when you need 12lb to 14lb grapes to get a gallon of grape juice.

But I do have apples in the garage & redcurrants in the freezer.

So - I'm really not sure whether to treat the grapes as any other fruit, adding water & sugar to the juice OR to say that I have enough grapes for half a batch, so a couple of pounds of the other fruit (with water & sugar) would make up the other half to make - say - grape & apple wine.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Communication Breakdown!

When I went to the Hill on Sunday, John Badger again asked me to pick the grapes on the vine in his greenhouse so I can turn them into wine. I again said that I'd be glad to when they are ripe.

"But they've been ripe for ages - if you don't get a move on they'll be over!" he insisted.

"But they're still bright green - not a hint of purple - nowhere near ripe," I puzzled.

"What are you talking about? They are really ripe & sweet - they are GREEN GRAPES, you daft beggar!"


So I cut all the bunches of grapes into a big bag & then back home I picked & sorted all the grapes & have put them in the freezer for the moment, a wine session pending.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All Change!

To find out what’s been happening at the Hill in my absence, I headed straight to the bottom of the site this morning where I found John Badger, returning allotmenteer Christine & rhubarb Brian all enjoying a cup of tea in the autumn sunshine.

It’s the end of the allotment year at the Hill with renewals due & some new faces, & - it would appear - a game of musical allotments going on whilst I’ve been away.

Ian at the bottom who was behind JB has now moved up to somewhere near the clubhouse; Butterfly Bula has moved from the tree-shaded front of plot 10 to Ian’s old plot, & then there are new people in at her old plot – & all of this just on our bottom half of the site.

And then there are the proposed committee changes which will be voted on come the AGM in November.

All that chit chat wasn’t getting anything else done & my time was limited, so I went up to the top & collected my prize pumpkin from the polytunnel where Jason (behind retired Maureen) had kindly taken it up for the weigh-in the other weekend. At 31lb 12oz in weight it didn’t come anywhere near Treasurer Mike’s winning 77lb monster, but not a bad effort. Anyway, it was bloody heavy to carry back down to the car.

A couple of frosty nights have done for all the squash foliage, leaving all the fruits like beached whales, so I cleared the vines from the bed & put them on the overfull compost bin, & collected up all the squash & put them back in the back of the car too. Much more Mock Lemon Curd in the offing, I think.

Before I headed off, I picked some CALABRESE (Waltham), a CABBAGE (kilaxy f1) & a huge LEEK (mrs d).

With the clocks having changed this weekend putting paid to any after-work trips to the Hill for the next few months, weekend pickings will have to provide enough fresh veg for the week – but with swede, leek, sprouts, parsnip, cabbage & kale all in the ground, that shouldn’t be a problem, I hope.

Friday, October 09, 2009

If You Can't Beat 'Em...

...join 'em!

So tonight I gave in and had fish & chips from the chippy - yum yum!

I'm taking a break from the blog for a little while, but I'm sure that I'll be back before you know it!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

...And Some You Don't

Bouyed up by last night's fabulous curried pumpkin risotto, I thought that I'd enjoy it again for dinner tonight.

No such luck - the basmati rice I used (as I'd run out of risotto rice) was gloopy & startchy, I forgot to add a little salt to the pan, & the peas that I added to were undercooked and mealy.

In fact, the best bit was the added spoonful of Duchy Original's onion marmalade ...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Some You Win!

Sometimes you cook a nice meal, sometimes you cook a great meal, & every now & again you cook an absolute corker - & all the better if it is unexpected and made from all your own home grown ingredients - and tonight was such a night!

So, I took a portion of curried pumpkin soup out of the freezer - which was made by chopping & roasting pumpkin, then adding it to a pan of gently fried onion & garlic with a spoon of rogan josh, adding some stock & gently simmering for ages.

Then I added this to a some risotto rice & a little more stock & put it into a buttered dish & cooked it in a slow oven for an hour.


Monday, October 05, 2009


I nipped to the Hill this evening in the dusk to see if there were any grapes to pick from John Badger at the bottom's vine - I've promised him I'll make wine from his grapes if he wants me to - but there were none ripe, so hopefully he's been picking & freezing them (or eating them!).

I have about 3 good size bunches to add from my vine here in the courtyard garden - red grapes, pippy, but sweet.

I picked all of the FRENCH BEAN (contender) whilst I was there, & the pods are now drying with the myriad of others up in the spare room - I'm podding them as they dry and soon will have jars of black, red, speckled, indigo, creamy white & mauve beans, some to swap and grow next year, more to eat over winter.

I think that I've picked the last of the courgette - they have been brilliant - I must have had 20 off each plant, & they've cropped from the middle of July until now.

I came home & picked all the red tomatoes from the six plants in buckets - there are maybe two dozen more green ones which I will pick soon to ripen on the windowsills - & knocked them up into a ratatouille with the courgette, homegrown red & white onion, garlic & basil.

That's destined for the freezer for a taste of summer in the cold winter months...

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Complicated Wine Workings...

CJJ Berry's First Steps in Winemaking has been a most useful reference & recipe book - if at times a bit hard going with the theory.

For example, I've always thought that he spends forever banging on about whys & wherefores of testing the specific gravity (SG) of a wine - & I equally always thought that it was easy peasy just to test a sample of wine at whatever stage, & read the number off the hydrometer, which in turn allows you to measure the alcohol content of the wine.

Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment as to why what I'm doing isn't exactly accurate...

When you start off with your 'must' in a bucket, it comprises fruit (which contains some natural sugar), extra sugar (&/or grape concentrate) to bump the sugar level up to give the yeast something to feed on & water making a total of about a gallon (or so), & then you measure a sample of this which gives you the starting SG.

What you are measuring is how sugary the 'must' is - the more syrupy/sugary/gloopy the 'must', the higher the SG reading will be. Water measures 1.ooo - a nice sugary must will be somewhere in the region of 1.100.

As the yeast scoffs the sugar it converts it into lighter-than-water alcohol meaning that the wine because less heavy & sweet, & more light & alcoholy, & the SG falls. The yeast eats sugar until it runs out & starves, or it has produced so much alcohol that it poisons itself, & dies (a lesson to us all, I think!).

At this point the fermentation has stopped, & the alcohol level in the resultant wine is the difference between the start & finish SG divided by 7.36.

But - & here's the rub - the volume of liquid that you measure the SG of must be the same at the first & last readings or else you have changed the goalposts & the final reading will not be accurate. I always have less wine at the end than I had 'must' at the beginning because every time the wine is racked you leave some behind (with the settled out 'yuk'), so the overall volume falls.

So where does that leave me? I have settled on making each batch of wine = 4.75litres - I've measured and marked the demijohn with the level. When I siphon it off each time & lose a bit, I'll make the bit I've lost back up to this volume with water, then measure the SG (you should keep some of the original must to one side to make up any shortfall, but life's a bit short).

The wine should taste the same - slightly diluted will just mean it's less lethal - & this way I'll always be able to produce six bottles per batch - with a bit left over as 'perks' - but the label on the front showing the strength will be rather more accurate...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Yep - Definitely Autumn

Another surprisingly efficient morning at the Hill today - I had a plan & stuck to it - brill!

Of course, part of my efficacy was due to the fact that it was extremely cool & blustery - I forgot my woolly hat - & it was not a great day to be outdoors, which did encourage me to get on with it.

I picked all of the FRENCH BEANS (cherokee trail of tears, blauhilde, birds egg/barlotti, emperor of russia, delinel, talisman, triomphe de farcy & fortel) - all in separate bags with clear labels.

Then I picked a CUCUMBER (tasty burpless) & the remaining SWEETCORN (tender & true f1) & dug up the plants.

Then I came home.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Changing Seasons

Although still very dry, it is starting to feel quite autumnal, with the leaves changing colour, the conkers from the tree at home rattling down meaning every trip to the garage is made under fire, & the nights becoming noticeably cooler.

I nipped to the Hill with mum tonight, who hasn't been to the Hill for some weeks - I picked a few FRENCH BEANS (bird's egg/barlotti) whilst mum commented on the sparseness of the pansies at the front of the plot, & the size of the squash (olive) & the prize pumpkins.

I dropped her off home & took the opportunity to raid the dry pods from the salmon flowered peas that she's had growing in her little patch. I did well there - it's only because she's been away that the plants were left to die back - she's a tidy gardener & had she been home, they'd be long gone!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Wine Wisdom...

I do like the fact that wine making is such a relaxed occupation. If you are too busy & don't have time to attend to your wines, then no worries - they will look after themselves, bubbling away, clearing or maturing until you have time to see what they are up to.

Admittedly, they won't thank you for sitting forever in their own dead yeast, but a week or two either way isn't going to be critical.

Alternatively, if you see sediment on the bottom of the demijohn & you have a spare half hour, then you can siphon the good stuff into a bucket (leaving the 'yuck' behind), see what the SG is currently at, have a taste, then bung it though back via a funnel into the cleaned demijohn.

Pop the airlock back in & nod in the satisfaction of a job well done.

This I did with apple mk II last night - it's still fizzing very slightly, but I thought I'd rack it off so I could measure the SG. I found it to be an astonishingly desiccated 984 - so I added 4oz of sugar which raised it to a more drinkable SG of 994, & will let it get on with it for a few days...
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