Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Royal Welsh Show

This week saw the annual event that is the Royal Welsh show. Having gone last year for the first time there was no question that we would return again this year.

The show is a chance for farmers, smallholders and enthusiasts to showcase their hard work and dedication. With almost all areas open to the public it is a real insight into so many breeds of different animals all in their prime and all looking to impress the judges.

With a full schedule over the four days there is plenty for everyone to see. Although the show is largely livestock orientated, in the main arena throughout the day there were motorbike shows, horse parades, falconry displays and machinery demonstrations, along with much more.

Of particular interest to me were the poultry competitions and the vegetable and flower tent. I can only dream of growing vegetables to this standard at the moment but I can certainly appreciate the time and effort it must of taken to produce such perfect specimens.

Inside the permanent buildings were foodhalls, markets and stands showcasing the very best of Welsh artisan produce. These were very popular and are a great way for small businesses to showcase the fantastic products they have to offer, some you will find nowhere else and some you will not find better than anywhere else.

With the amount of stalls throughout the showground it would be nearly impossible to see it all in a day, thousands of people camp for the week with huge parties going on long into the night both in the showground and on the campsites. 

With demonstrations and classes going on wherever you looked there was something to entertain the whole family throughout the day.We managed to fit in a picnic whilst watching the eighty foot pole climbing competition. A feat in itself with the climbers making it look easy by completing in a matter of seconds. In the afternoon we relaxed and watched the junior sheepdog handler championships, a true skill and something which takes months if not years of practice and companionship between handler and dog. This was followed by a pair of spitfires spinning and twisting over the showground, something which I would never get bored of watching. 

With hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout the week the town comes to a standstill with horses bathing in the river and tourists filling the shops. The park and ride service to the showground was faultless with constant buses going to and fro, the staff around the show were equally enthusiastic from beginning to end despite the relentless heat, which we are not quite used to here in Wales.

Every week from now until the end September there are local shows in the surrounding villages. We'll be attending as many as we can and hopefully even entering some produce in one or two.  

Monday, 7 July 2014

Pick your own

With the veg garden now in full swing and summer fully upon us there is an abundance of fruit and veg just waiting to be picked. At the moment we are enjoying a glut of early courgettes in the polytunnel and lettuces, broad beans and radishes from in the garden. Over the next week or so our early potatoes will be lifted and on the veg patch the pods of peas are quickly filling up with the runner beans beginning to blossom and squashes of all varieties starting to show.

However the real star at this time of year is the Great British strawberry. This year my eyes have really been opened to the huge number of different varieties available and also the huge difference in taste that comes with them. The outstanding taste of eating something that is truly in season is second to none.

Despite all this home grown veg some plants are still maturing. My strawberry patch was only planted this year and apart from picking and eating the odd strawberry on the way past there's not too much on offer. Luckily for us there is a fantastic pick your own farm just ten minutes away. We passed last week and saw signs for strawberries and raspberries, of course we had to go.

On arrival this week strawberries and raspberries were still available but newly in season were gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and potatoes.

We came away with 1.5kg of strawberries and about half of that in gooseberries; Of course plenty got eaten on the way round choosing the ripest and juiciest ones for the basket.

All of this came to ten pounds which for locally, hand picked and chosen fruit is a bargain. Some of them are up there with the very best strawberries I have ever had and others were completely new tastes to me.

So what do you do you do when you've been eating strawberries all day and still have a mountain of them left? Make jam of course!

A quick browse through some cookbooks brought up some recipes for both strawberry and gooseberry preserves. Being my first attempt at jam making like so many other things I have done since I have moved here the guidance was greatly appreciated. It was remarkably simple and took no time at all. As yet they remain untasted but they seem to have set well and certainly look the part.

We're already planning to make another trip next week to supplement the veg patch and make the most of these glorious fruits while they are in season.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Trial and error

Throughout the spring and early Summer I have been experimenting with different sites for different plants, seeing which ones grow best in what position.

As this is my first year in this garden, I'm still finding things out about it all the time. For example all of my vegetable beds seem to differ in soil quality and texture. In the main vegetable patch I have been lucky enough to inherit an rich, fertile soil and most of the plants there are thriving. The south facing bed next to the polytunnel, which I had high hopes for, does not seem to be as productive. The rhubarb failed miserably and a large gooseberry bush so far has only a handful of berries on it. Tomatoes plants also in this bed seem to have been scorched by the sun following a shower, testament to the ever changing weather we have up here.

I planted some courgette plants in the polytunnel back early May and some in the main vegetable patch at the same time. The difference is quite astonishing and has certainly extended my cropping season.

I have been harvesting courgettes from the polytunnel for the past few weeks. A welcome early harvest before a lot of things have really got going.

Once these have been exhausted the plants outside should take over, giving me some fantastic courgettes over a period of around four months.

This is also my first year using raised beds and something I didn't consider was how quickly they dry out compared to the ground around them. This has led to my Leeks bolting and my shallots look to be trying to flower early too. The flower stems won't go to waste though, they will be great in a stir fry or chopped finely in any number of dishes.

Meanwhile in the vegetable patch, as expected during the summer my brassicas have been under attack. Nightly slug patrols have really made difference to the amount of damage sustained but they still seem to be getting nibbled by something. Butterfly's haven't been as much as a problem as I had expected with just the odd caterpillar having to be picked off. This is perhaps due to how exposed we are up here. Worst effected have been the red cabbages, they have targeted the hearts which is annoying, if just the outer leaves had been eaten I wouldn't mind too much. I'll persevere with these though, the plants should now be big enough to grow on a develop a good heart despite the slugs.

On the other hand the kale planted alongside these cabbages are looking really strong. They haven't been bothered by any pests and should be ready for harvesting a few leaves from before too long.

I have already started planning for winter sowing broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts and swede in seed trays ready to plant out at some time in August. I'll do some more in another a couple of weeks to go out in early September.

Also in the raised beds where the radish has been harvested I've sown some spring onions directly in their place. Successional sowing and overlapping crops was the idea when we started the garden and now we can really see this coming to fruition.

Still on the subject of food, we have had the chickens for four weeks now and they have more than doubled in size and are looking very healthy and happy.

They do a great job of clearing a patch of weeds, at the moment a rough idea is to either overwinter some more in the polytunnel or on the veg patch, keeping it weed free and adding goodness to the soil at the same time.