Elderflower Champagne

After much trial and error, I have finally created a recipe for a lightly carbonated, delicately floral elderflower champagne. This should make six 750ml bottles.

– Twelve to fourteen elderflower heads
– Two medium sized lemons
– 600g sugar
– 1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid (optional)
– 4.5 litres of water plus an additional 100ml overage for any lost during the heating process.

– A large cooking pan
– Wooden spoon
– Tea towel
– Muslin cloth
– Funnel
– Ladle
– Scales
– Empty glass bottles, sterilised

When foraging, try not to take all of the heads from one bush.

Firstly, do not wash the elderflower heads. Give them a good shake over the sink to make sure there are no creepy crawlies remaining on your heads. Cut off as much of the green stalk as you can, as it is poisonous in large quantities.

Heat the water on the stove top. Once the water has begun to boil, pour in the sugar bit by bit and stir until it has dissolved. Once dissolved, turn down the heat to keep it hot but not boiling. Prepare and add in your sliced lemons and elderflower.

You can add the citric acid, but it is not essential. It adds a little extra sweetness and helps with preservation. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring in intervals. Place the tea towel over the pan and let it cool. Over the next three days, make sure you stir your mixture 2-3 times a day to activate the natural yeast in the elderflower.

You will know that the mixture has become carbonated once the elderflower has risen to the top of the mixture. It is now ready to be bottled!

The bottles will need to be sterilised. If you need advice on how to sterilise bottles, please see here. Pour the champagne into the bottles using a ladle and a funnel. Place the muslin over the funnel to ensure that no bits make it into your final brew.

Make sure that you burp the bottles twice a day for the first week. Leave the bottles to settle for another week before drinking so that the yeast settles at the bottom. Whilst this drink is called champagne, it is actually very low in alcohol due to the natural yeast.

If stored correctly it can last up to a year, but it is best drank within six months. Once opened, keep refrigerated an drink within three days.

Five Things You Should Do In June

As spring slowly fades to summer and the days get longer, the list of jobs at the allotment is ever growing. There are always seeds to sow and weeds to hoe.

Keep on top of your weeds

If you follow the no dig way of gardening, please ignore this step.

We all know that weeds are the bane of our life, it is a never ending and fruitless task that we must do in order to keep our plot and plants happy. Weeds can be quite invasive and in some cases even damage your crop.

The weed you really want to worry about is Bindweed, whilst the flower is beautiful; it is a very invasive weed and needs to be completely destroyed. We have had to dig down to almost 3ft deep in order to remove all of the root. Make sure you remove all of the vine and the root, even the smallest bit can re-root. Do not put this in your compost heap, place it in the general waste or burn it.

Whilst brambles, dandelions and nettles can also be invasive; they have some fantastic uses. Brambles will provide you with blackberries and you can even weave baskets with the bramble stems. You can make a plethora of things with dandelions; such as wine, fritters and a honey like syrup. They are also an important source of early nectar for the bees. Nettles can make a fantastic fertiliser for your plot, just be careful not to sting yourself in the process. Nettles are also high in vitamin C and can be added to many recipes.

Mound up your potatoes

As the greenery of the potatoes grows, you must continue to mound up the soil around the base. By leaving only the top leaves exposed, this ensures that light doesn’t reach the tuber below. If light does reach the tuber the potatoes will turn green [and possibly contain toxins] and thus be inedible.

Trim back your herbs

Herbs are due their annual trim to refresh the growth and provide you with an ongoing harvest of herbs throughout the summer. Sharp snippers are the preferable way to trim back the herbs, but a good pair of scissors will do the job. Any sort of blunt instrument will damage the plant and possibly stunt future growth.

You may find that some of your herbs have already started to flower, this really isn’t an issue. The majority of herb flowers will be edible and put on a wonderful display; chives especially! Plus, the bees won’t complain. Some of the herbs you have cut off may not be as flavoursome if they have flowered, but are still perfectly adequate to add to salads or for drying.

Protect your delicate crops

Our crops need help from time to time, everything is starting to come into season so now is the perfect time to take some precautions.

Brassicas are a favourite of whitefly, pigeons and caterpillars (to name a few). A brassica cage is a great way of keeping out most of your unwanted visitors. The smaller, finer netting is the best to use so that birds and other small animals do not get tangled up in the netting. You can also net your fruit bushes and strawberry patches, although this is not integral.

Straw is also a great addition to your allotment for keeping pests at bay. By lifting your fruit or vegetables off the ground with straw, this will help prevent slugs from eating them. Slugs and snails hate anything rough on their bodies. This works well for strawberries and courgettes, but there many other low lying growers that would benefit from this.

Woollen slug pellets around your crops are a great alternative to the classic blue slug pellets. Once water is applied to the woollen pellets, it forms a rough mesh that the slugs will not want in contact with their bodies. It is also chemical free. The blue pellets contain Metaldehyde and are poisonous to animals that eat slugs and snails, such as; hedgehogs, birds and the French.

Water well

I know this seems pretty obvious, but it is extremely important that you water your plants well. Make sure that you are allowing the water to soak deep into the soil so that the root system of the plant will grow further down into the soil, which in turn will ensure a strong and stable plant. If the water only reaches the surface area, the root system will be shallow and affect your crop. The type of soil you have will affect how often you need to water your crops.

I have raided my box of seeds to see what can be sown for the last time in June. Here is your last chance to sow these vegetables:

  • Garden Pea (Early)
  • Cabbage – Golden Acre
  • Cauliflower – All Year Round, Macerata Green
  • Red Kuri Squash
  • Rhubarb [Swiss] Chard
  • Cucumber – Japanese [Zipangu], Gherkin, Tasty Green, Crystal Apple and Lemon.
  • Basil – Sweet [Original] and Mrs Burns Lemon Basil
  • Spring Onions
  • Broccoli – Green and Summer Purple
  • Poppies and wild flower seed mixes [until October]

The sowing months are a general guide so please take into consideration the weather and soil in your area.

Have a fruitful month!

Slow & Steady Wins The Race

The rain has finally fallen. The ground has been terribly dry over the past month; although it has been recorded as the warmest April on record. This has made preparing the ground for planting a nightmare, as I have mentioned previously. Surprisingly, we have not needed to buy a clay breaker for the soil.

With Spring now in full swing, its wonderful to see everything burst into life once more. The greenhouse is full of vegetables that will be ready to plant out in the coming weeks. Frustratingly, a little mouse decided to devour all of my squash and pumpkin seeds. I only realised this after waiting two weeks for the seeds to germinate, but not to worry; I planted some more last week.

There are also two new additions to the planter area. A smaller tyre and a raised bed made of pallet wood. We have planted several crowns of rhubarb in the raised bed in hopes that it will fare better in there rather than in the ground. As previously mentioned, it had been attacked by a pest last year after moving it. The clay soil probably doesn’t help either, so fingers crossed for a crop next year. We have planted a few cloves of garlic into the smaller tyre, but as it has not been through a frost I’m not so sure how well it will preform. There are also plans to grow either a gherkin or a cucumber up the smaller tepee.

The bean plot is now ready and raring to go, although I definitely have more beans growing than I have sticks to grow them up and there are still more that I need to plant! Digging was a breeze due to the moisture the soil had retained from the rainfall.

Just behind the herb tyre I have planted a variety of colours of Gladioli. I thought by planting them in a line behind the planter area rather than scattered throughout the border area, it would create a more defined, uniform break in the planting areas. Unfortunately for one little bulb, I had forgotten that I had planted them and my fork when straight through it.

There are still so many seeds I need so sow and there just aren’t enough hours in the day or enough space in my greenhouse. Perhaps we need another plot…

April Showers, Where Are You?

Not too long ago, I was complaining about the plot being too wet. Well, now it is much too dry! I can only hope that there will be some showers in April. The ground takes twice as long to work, but we haven’t let it stop us from planting more seeds. Compost was once again added into the soil and worked in. Our clay soil is a bit like a crumble mix. The clay is the butter, the soil is the sugar and the compost is the flour; we need all three for the perfect sowing conditions.

The third row of our first plot has been planted with baby carrots and parsnips. We have only planted half a row of each per row to try and avoid a glut. We will plant more of these in a few weeks time to ensure a staggered crop.

Last year, part of the right side of the plot was not used and thus remained neglected. Unfortunately only two plots were planted up on the right side of the allotment; these were pumpkins and lettuce. The front quarter remained empty. This year, we have prepared some of the previously neglected right side and planted some potatoes; as they are great for breaking up the soil and did a great job of doing so on the left side previously.

We have used Royal Majesty (purple heritage variety) and some white potatoes (Cultra). Some of the Royal Majesty seed potatoes were quite large, so these were cut in half and the open end was left to dry for a few days before planting. A new skin had formed over a previously exposed potato.

Tom’s office has now become a greenhouse. The window is perfect for germination as it has sunlight for most of the day, although he is fast running out of room and there is still much more to plant! The Black Russian, Yellow Delight and Midnight Snack tomatoes are have all been potted on and will make their way to the allotment soon. All twelve Gherkins have germinated, so we will probably give some of those away. The various Chilli Peppers have also has a high success rate of germination so some of those will probably be given away as well.

Speaking of greenhouses, this was tucked away at the back of my Mum’s shed. I had been looking into getting a cold frame recently, so this popped up at the right time. It fits perfectly under the window box, the front of the shed gets the most hours of daylight as well so there was no better place for it.

Currently germinating in the greenhouse are:
– Various sweet peas varieties
– Sweetcorn “Incredible”
– Lemon Cucumber
– Crystal Apple Cucumber
– Marigold “Boy o’ Boy” (French, Orange)
– Sunflower “Valentine” (Pale Yellow)
– Uchiki Kuri
– Giant Pumpkin “Atlantic”
– Orange pumpkin (unsure of the specific variety)
– Kohl Rabi (Purple)
– Cape Gooseberry “Golden Berry”
– Green Peas (unsure of the specific variety)
– Purple Dwarf French Beans “Amethyst”
– Yellow French Beans “Polka”

The sweet peas will be planted out sometime in the next week or two. The tomatoes and various other plants from Tom’s walk in greenhouse will make their way over to the little allotment greenhouse.

The days are much longer now and I sometimes find myself spending 6 or 7 hours at the allotment. The time really does fly by, although at the moment there aren’t really many places we can go to.

I know this is still a strange time for us all, but better days are coming.
This too shall pass.

A Spring of Isolation

With everything that is going on in the world, I am very grateful to have my little allotment plot. Somewhere to relax, get some exercise and fresh air and most importantly, to stay away from people. Although really, not much in my life as changed as I am pretty anti social anyway; but I hope you’re all staying safe out there.

Spring has finally sprung. The ground has finally dried out [perhaps a little too dry!] so we can now crack on with turning the ground over and getting some seeds sown. Red and white onion sets have been planted, along with some red spring onion and some Chioggia beeetroot seeds.

Once Tom had dug the ground, I had to break down the clumps of clay between my hands and add in compost so that the soil would be good enough to sow the seeds directly into. The sets were easy enough to plant in the soil as it was, we just covered them with compost. Seeds wouldn’t have thrived in the soil as it was so we did our best to improve the quality. With all of the rain the last few months, the clay in the soil seems to have become even denser making the ground much harder to work; I think we will need to invest in some clay breaker.

The sweet peas have been planted outside, although part of me wishes I had left it another week or two as there have been a couple of frosts since planting them. They were beginning to outgrow their pots, so I thought planting them was for the best. Unfortunately they don’t look as green as they did, but they have fared better than expected. I have wrapped them in some bubble wrap in hope that it protects them from any further damage in the meantime.

The strawberry patch has now been boxed off. Because of the size of the pallet wood we had, we decided to shorten the plot but make it a little wider. Luckily only a handful of plants needed to be moved. I’m still unsure what to do with the plot behind the strawberries, originally it was going to be a wild flower plot but now I’m not so sure. The plot is quite awkward as the elder tree and brambles grow over it, any suggestions would be appreciated.

Now really is the time to get seeds planted. Tom had ran out of space on his windowsill, so he whipped up two shelves out of pallet wood to double the space. Another level might be needed at this rate!

Spring is always a good time to clean; the shed had become somewhat unruly after winter. We emptied out the shed, swept up the dirt and dust [a somewhat repetitive and fruitless task] and reorganised the drawers underneath the workbench. The back of the shed had also become somewhat askew with all of the empty plant pots and scraps of wood from the summer before. The pots were put in size order and the wood that had rotted is now in a pile to be disposed of. I freshened up the window box and some of the pallet bin with a lick of paint as well, as they were looking a little drab after winter.

Amongst all the uncertainly of current times and most places being closed, I celebrated my birthday down at the allotment. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. We managed to achieve a lot, but left some time for tea and cake.

One can only hope that allotments continue to be accessible for everyone in the coming months so people are able to enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. I know it will be a vital place for me.

Stay safe, friends.