Lilac, Lemon & Raspberry Champagne

The lilacs are in full swing, but if you’re not careful you may miss the season! These beautiful flowers span from icy white to deep purple. The different shades each have their own meaning. White represents the innocence and purity of life. Lilac represents a first love, in fact Victorian widows were often seen wearing lilacs when they were in mourning. Dark purple represents passion and happiness.

Did you know that the Celts perceived the lilac to be magical due to its fragrance? It is also believed that it is unlucky to bring lilacs in the house, something which my own mother believes to this day!

Ingredients

– 2 ltr water
– 60ml lemon juice or two fresh lemons
– Eight raspberries
– Four full blooms of lilac (any colour)
– 300g sugar
– 1 Teaspoon of citric acid
– A pinch of wine yeast

The ingredients above will give you a lightly floral, yet zingy summer drink. You can omit the citric acid if you do not have any to hand, along with the wine yeast if you would prefer a flat beverage rather than carbonated. Lilacs do not contain natural yeast, unlike elderflowers. This recipe will make just over two 750ml bottles.

As previously mentioned, when foraging for anything try not to take more than one flower steam from each cluster. Also, avoid foraging in any areas that would have been sprayed with weed killer and have a high areas of traffic.

Firstly, put the water in the pan along with the sugar and citric acid. Make sure this has fully dissolved, then add the lemon, raspberries and wine yeast if you are using it. Let this simmer away whilst you are preparing your lilac flowers, stirring intermittently.

To prepare the flowers, all you need to do is remove them from the stem (checking for any bugs as you do so). Try to remove as much greenery as possible, although a few bits here and there will not change the flavour of the final drink. Give the flower heads a quick rinse and add them into the mixture.

Once the flowers have been added, let this simmer away on a low temperature for around half an hour; stirring every few minutes. You will then need to let this sit for a few days, so the yeast has time to work and the lilac flavour infuses with the rest of the mixture. Make sure you cover the pan with a tea towel or muslin cloth. You will know the yeast has worked when the flowers have risen.

Next you will need to strain the mixture few a muslin cloth to ensure that you don’t get any flowers or other bits in your final drink.

Now all you need to do is bottle up your drink and enjoy! This will store for a few months, but why wait that long?

Many thanks to Working For the Good Life for the inspiration.

If you make this recipe, please comment below with how you get on.

Five Things You Should Do In May

The air and the soil are finally beginning to warm; seeds are germinating and growing in the blink of an eye. It is tempting to plant out your delicate seedlings, but as they say, never cast a clout until May is out – use this advice for your seedlings. You don’t want months of hard work going to waste.

It feels like spring has barely begun and summer is already fast approaching.

Harden off your seedlings

Now that the days are finally warming up, now is the time to harden off your seedlings in preparation for planting out. You can either harden them off by using a cold frame for a week or two, closing the lid at night or if you don’t have a cold frame available just leave them outside during the day and place them back in your greenhouse or polytunnel at night.


Repot and divide plants

Now is a great time to repot any plants that have out grown their pots and
become pot bound. It is also the perfect time to split any summer flowering plants that have multiplied in size. This will give you extra plants at no extra cost.

Weeds, weeds, weeds…

Back in March I mentioned that you should have weeded and tilthed your plot. Well, now is not the time to slack! Weeds will become more abundant as the season wears on. You’ll thank yourself for keeping on top of it all. This will be an on going job throughout the year. If you have a lot of dandelions on your plot, why not try making dandelion honey.

Erect your bean and pea sticks

Your peas, runner beans and other climbers will be ready to plant out by the end of the month. Make sure you have your bamboo canes, trellises and archways secured and ready for your crops.

Keep sowing

Even though we are now hardening off our earlier seedlings, there is still plenty of seeds to be sowing this month. Sweet peas, lettuce, spring onions, beetroot, carrots pumpkins, cucumbers… the list is endless. Along with March and April, May is a crucial time to get those seeds sown (directly if possible) for that perfect summer harvest.

Dandelion Honey

The grass is a awash with dandelions and has been for a few months now. Dandelions are an important source of nectar for bees early on in the season, so try to avoid picking them until other flowers are available. Now is the perfect time to give this spring time recipe a go.

Ingredients:

– One small trug full or 100g of dandelion petals
– 100g caster sugar
– 250g pectin sugar
– One orange, sliced
– One lemon, sliced

The ingredients and method will give you a dandelion honey that is light and golden, with hints of marmalade and flora and the consistency of a runny honey.

When foraging for dandelions, try not to take more than a couple of flower heads from one cluster. Also, avoid foraging in any areas that would have been sprayed with weed killer and have a high areas of traffic.

Firstly, you will want to rinse the dandelion heads and then separate the petals from the green base. The greenery can add a bitter taste to your honey. This isn’t an integral step, so you can skip it if you’re short on time.

Next, place your petals in a pan with one litre of water, the lemon and the orange. Let this simmer away for around half an hour. Next, you will want to add your sugar. It doesn’t matter which sugar you put in first, but make sure that you put it in the pan in small increments to ensure that it will dissolve. Bring this to the boil for around 5 minutes, constantly stirring whilst doing so. Once you have boiled the mixture, cover your pan with a muslin cloth and allow it to steep overnight.

Strain the mixture through a muslin cloth and place the liquid back in the pan. You’ll now want to reduce the mixture down to around half, or until it thickens. Start to bring the mixture to the boil, stirring as you do so. You will need to pay constant attention to your mixture whilst you are doing this to avoid burning any of the sugar granules. This may take a little while, so be patient.

Once you are happy with the consistency of your mixture take it off the boil an let it stand for around 10 minutes. Pour into your sterilised jars and let it rest overnight.

You can adjust this recipe to your taste. The orange gives you a slight marmalade twang, if you would prefer not to have this then just omit the orange and replace it with a lemon. You could also double the amount of dandelion petals if you want a more floral flavour to your dandelion honey.

Five Things You Should Do In April

The days are longer yet the air is still crisp. Blossom and flowers are immerging from their dormancy. Sunny, warm summer like days are quickly followed with sleet and rain, the weather remains unpredictable throughout the month and there is still a risk of frost.

Sow, sow, sow!

Much like March, April is a busy month for seed sowing. There is even more to get sown this month in order to get bumper crops in the summer. Try sowing successional crops, so that you don’t have a glut of the same vegetables. There is still plenty of time to get potatoes in, traditionally potatoes are planted from Easter and beyond. Whilst there is still plenty to get started with in the greenhouse or polytunnel, you can now get cracking with direct sowing. Beetroot, carrots, parsnips, radish and spring onions are just a few things you can get in the ground.

Get tidying

There’s nothing like a spring clean on the plot to get you ready for the new season. Now is a good time to do the jobs you’ve been putting off for a while; touching up the shed, tidying a neglected part of the plot or even a spot of DIY.

Keep an eye out for pests

With the arrival of spring, pests come out of the woodwork. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails, they will decimate any small leafy greens. We use woollen slug pellets. These are chemical free, so they are safe for any hedgehogs or other critters that may be on your plot. They also serve a secondary purpose, they act as a mulch for your young plants. Pigeons and butterflies will also be on the lookout for their lunch, so make sure to keep any brassicas covered.

Clean your greenhouse or polytunnel

You may have already done this by now, but if you haven’t now is the perfect time before you are inundated with seedlings. The days are getting longer and you want to make the most of the sunshine. By cleaning the panes and vents, it will allow much more light into your greenhouse or polytunnel.

Sort your compost

The little critters will have immerged from their hibernation in your compost bin by now, so it is a good time for you to empty your compost and sieve through the black gold you have created. Anything that has not completely composted can be thrown back into the pile and left until next year.

Here’s to spring and longer, warmer days.

Five Things You Should Do In March

As the air begins to thaw and the flowers burst into life, spring has begun to awaken from its long slumber. There is an absolute plethora of seeds to sow and bulbs to plant in March, but try not to get too ahead of yourself. The ground is still yet to warm thoroughly and there is still a risk of frost.

Get planting

This may be stating the obvious, but now is the time to get cracking. Your seed selection for March will be large, so pick the ones you want to get a head start on. Now is also a great time to transplant your strawberry runners. There is also still time to plant rhubarb crowns, although it is best to not harvest the crop in the first year as it may lessen the crop for the following years. Don’t forget to get your first early crop of potatoes in.

Weed & tilth your plot

Since turning over your plot last month, it is now time to tilth your plot and remove any weeds that you may come across. This will give any seeds you sow a great start to the season.

Protect early seedlings

If you are sowing directly in March, it is well worth protecting these seedlings with fleece or a cloche. This will speed up the warming of the soil and you’ll gain a few extra weeks of the growing season.

Prune & tie back

If you didn’t get around to cutting back your autumn fruiting raspberries in winter, there is still just enough time to get them pruned even if there are signs of new growth. You can also prune any other fruit bush, like gooseberry, all varieties of currants, blackberries and blueberries.

Plant your summer flowering bulbs

Although we have just reached spring, it’s already time to plant your summer flowering bulbs. Your bulbs will all have different needs, some may prefer full sun and others partial shade and well drained soil. Gladioli put on a wonderful show throughout the summer. If you want a continual show, plant bulbs throughout the next few months. Our last bulbs that were planted in mid summer flowered right up until October.

Happy sowing.