Results for category "Fruit Growing"

Juicing Weekend

Saturday morning was soon upon us. Immediately after breakfast we concluded the bottle cleaning activities from the previous day. Milton was used to sterilize the bottles, so they were completely ready to hold the combinations of the sixty or so varieties of apple which are grown in the orchards, before they were moved up to the “juicing” shed.

Crate after crate of apples including Russets, Sunsets, Bramleys, Ashmead’s Kernels and Edward VII, were pulled onto the grass next to the chopper and sorted by variety. Apples can vary greatly in the length of time they can be stored, the general rule being the later in the autumn the variety is ready, the longer they will last. Many of the first apples in the orchard need to be eaten/sold within a week of being picked, whereas other varieties, which are harvested later, can last and indeed sweeten, throughout the winter.

After a little more organizing and sorting, we were ready to begin the processing. The first step is to pulverize the apples in the chopper, creating a juicy pulp. The pulp was then transferred into the press, taking two of batches of pulp to fill the press. After a couple of press tightening sessions, the juice would finally slow and eventually cease, ready to be bottled and the pulp to be cleaned out.

The bottles are filled just into the base of the neck and then inserted into the cooker to be heated. In order to pasteurise, the juice must be heated to at least 72 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Once this is completed, the bottles can be cleaned up and then capped for storage and future sale at the market. Fortunately, this year the pressed pulp won’t go to waste either. A lovely treat for pigs, it will be picked up later on Monday by a local pig farmer and customer at Rob’s Market store.

Batch after batch of amber bottles appeared out of the cookers and the boxes of empty bottles were replaced by full bottles of various custom juice blends. As dusk approached, R cared for the birds, while K continued to work the press. After a few more batches, almost all of the bottles were full and ready to be pasteurised.

With only 27 bottles being able to fit into the cookers at a time, they had become a bottleneck in our process, (no pun intended). Earlier in the day there was great hope we could finish everything on Saturday, however, we would need to resume the next morning with the pasteurisation of the rest of the bottles whilst pressing the last of the apples for a batch of cider that Rob and Diana are keen on making. We had pressed 10 batches of juice already, with the pulp bagged for pig food to prove it.

After everything was rinsed of apple pulp and juice and stored back into the shed, we headed out into the night for our Pyworthy walk. As we sat in our little caravan after enjoying another lovely evening meal, we looked forward to the possibility of a Sunday afternoon walk to be the capstone to our weekend.

Sunday morning brought a slightly later start to the day, being the only day of “rest” for the week that our crew would have. After breakfast, we set about completing the task before us, the rest of the apples to be pressed and bottles to be filled and pasteurised.

Six more batches of pulp pressed, we were finally through all of the apples. The last of the bottles had all been filled and 56 litres of juice remained in fermentation jugs, two 20 litre jugs left to become cider and the third jug of 16 litres would become vinegar. We had bottled 203 bottles of juice over the weekend, as well, all together requiring a total of 17 presses.

Pleased with all that we’d accomplished, we sat down for a brunch meal just before 2 with plates full of egg, beans, tomato, veggie sausage and toast. Afterwards, we headed out on a slightly longer walk through the country lanes, about 4 miles round trip, although as we returned and dusk was falling we found ourselves longing for an an even longer walk.

All in all, it was a full weekend and Monday was coming all too soon. After our evening meal of homemade pizza, oven chips, salad and coleslaw, we settled into the caravan for some precious down time before the work week began again.

Fresh Bread and Farewell

Our final day WWOOFing at Lynch Mill has arrived and we are saddened to be leaving this place full of lessons and lovely walks.  In the morning after our regular chicken duty, we needed to put the beds to sleep that had been laid with manure in days past.  This entailed cutting out sheets of black plastic tarpaulin to be laid over the top of them and placing bricks along the edges to avoid any slippage.  Once this task was completed on the four beds of various sizes from previous days, we moved back into the kitchen for a lesson in bread making!

First Mo outlined the basic needs for bread: yeast, flour, a bit of oil and sugar for the yeast to eat – today, honey.  She also explained why we were using strong flour, or bread flour, instead of “regular” all-purpose flour.  When kneaded, strong flour creates gluten strands to enable leavening of the bread, whereas standard flour doesn’t react in the same way.  Here are the steps we went through:

1. Place 500 grams of flour, measured out to exact weight, in a mixing bowl.

2. Place one big tablespoon of honey, or 2 normal sized ones, into a small glass.  Add hot water to halfway full and melt honey until completely dissolved.

3. Next, add 2 1/2 teaspoons of quick yeast and stir.  Foam indicates the yeast has been activated.

4. Now, make a well in center of the flour and add a pinch of salt and about 2 Tablespoons of oil.

5. Begin mixing starting from the inside of the well and working your way outwards, adding a little flour at a time and also adding warm water, as needed, to mix in all of the flour.  The dough should be only slightly sticky and the flour all well incorporated.

6. When ready, turn out the dough onto a floured board.  We moved to using wheat flour here.  Wheat flour is from a much tougher grain, which means it takes more work to form the dough and longer to knead the dough to form the gluten strands.

7. Knead the dough by pushing outwards with your palm and then folding the dough back onto itself, turning the dough a quarter turn and repeating.  Regularly flour the board, as needed.  Continue until the dough stops sticking to the board and your hands.  It should be a bit glossy and recover itself when poked or pulled, rather than breaking or separating.

8. Place dough back into the bowl and coat with a little oil.  Cover and leave to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.

9. Turn dough out onto a floured board and punch out the excess air.  Here, our host made her dough into a loaf of bread to eat with lunch – yum!  We moved on to create apple cinnamon pinwheel rolls with it.  So, we sprinkled flour onto the top, as well, and then rolled flat.

10. We then each spread 3 jars of the apple cinnamon jam made in the post Making Jam While the Sun Shines over the surface of the dough, leaving an edge free of jam to seal the bread to itself, and rolled it up so that the jam swirled inside.

11. Finally, we cut the roll into pieces about an 1 1/2 or 2 inches wide and laid flat into a baking tray.  Once they rose again to almost double their size, they went into the oven to cook.  When golden brown and only very slightly cooled, they went right into our mouths for a taste test.  Jam approved!  Bread approved!  Apple cinnamon jam pinwheels, fantastic!

After our lunch of garden soup, fresh hot bread and more apple cinnamon jam pinwheels, we headed back to the polytunnel.  We spread manure and laid black plastic tarpaulin with brick placeholders onto the two side beds that were now empty of plants and weeds.

At the close of our final day at Lynch Mill, we went for the evening walk that we’ve become accustomed to over the last couple of weeks. As we headed along the cliff tops overlooking the small village of Porlock, we appreciated for one last time the rugged beauty of the English Coastline and reminisced about our experiences learning from Mo and Guy, our kind hosts. We returned to a dinner of vegetable lasange that Mo had cooked especially for our final evening’s meal and after enjoying a delicious third helping, trundled upstairs to begin preparing for the next stage of our adventure.

Tomato Haven

The day began in marked contrast to the previous day’s bright sunshine. Horizontal rain and strong winds greeted us as we made our way to the chicken pen finding our feathered friends huddled beneath the handily placed solar panels. After unblocking the chicken feeder, which had become a little damp, it was time to make our way to the polytunnel to complete the work removing this year’s tomato plants.

Mo grows three types of tomato and after much experience is particularly adept at creating the right conditions for her plants to flourish, having very successful crops for the last few years now. Tomatoes in general are quite hardy plants, but to get the best results there are a few things to keep in mind. To illustrate these things, Mo provided some background on the plant’s anatomy and tips and tricks she had learned in her years. For starters, she said that being overly careful with the seeding isn’t really necessary with tomatoes, because of their hardiness and because they will root from any place their stem touches the ground, which means that you can remove a side shoot and plant it easily. So, she said for seeding, just put a layer of compost in a tray followed by a thin layer of soil and finally the seeds themselves, and some of the seeds will definitely grow into plant stems and break through the soil. In theory, you could have only one plant and then replant it’s side shoots; these would be planted as new plant stems to take root.

Once the plant starts to grow and the side shoots start to flower, they will either drop, or fruit. If they fruit, she removes the side shoots up to that shoot, allowing the plant to focus on the fruit and not on greenery. This is a specific tip she gathered from a local who grew tomatoes in large volume in the 1960s quite successfully. Although it doesn’t seem to be current practice, she said she gets 8 times the amount of fruit this way, as compared to conventional methods she had previously used.

Tomatoes are nitrogen hungry, so she feeds them with a seaweed-based fertilizer twice a week. They like to have water, but not be overly watered, a bit finicky here. So, with the watering system in use in the polytunnel, outlined in the post Day One at Lynch Mill, they water about twice per week, as well (although not on the same days as each other!). Mo shared that they have not had any problems with blight affecting the crop since they stopped growing potatoes and that the conditions inside the polytunnel nurture the tomato plants in order to produce the best possible yield of tomatoes each year.

We removed the last of the tomato plants running along both sides of the middle bed and weeded the bed around the sweet potato plants. The sweet potatoes won’t be ready to harvest for a couple more weeks, so we needed to be careful not to disturb the plants while we removed as much of the chickweed, thistle and other weeds that had found their way into the bed as we could.

By the afternoon, although still cool, the sun was now shining brightly as we made our way to the Water Wheel garden to finish some autumn tidying. The afternoon passed quickly as we pulled and trimmed at plants and soon it was time to finish for the day. After another beautiful evening walk in the surrounding hillside it was time to settle down for the night, resting and looking forward to our final day at Lynch Mill when Mo will be showing us how to bake our own bread.

A Day of Harvest

Looking out of the window to see a ray of light cutting through the swirling autumn mist Mo informed us that today would be harvest day. Tomorrow she will show us how to make apple and blackberry jam/jelly, but first a little preparation is required – someone needs to gather the fruit. First the Apples! So, buckets swinging in the morning sun, we made our way to the orchard.

The morning passed quickly as we bent, stretched, jumped and engaged in a few postures that might make a qualified yoga teacher jealous, or maybe just wince, as we collected all the apples we could from the trees and surrounding wall garden. Although, for the most part, commercial tree fruit production in the UK is limited to areas such as Kent, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, where the combination of soil and sunlight makes growing fruit trees on a large scale viable, the gardener or small orchard owner has much more scope. These growers can benefit from the fickle climate which, perhaps surprisingly, makes the UK one of the best places for growing fruit trees to maximise flavour. So for small-scale growers and gardeners, seeking to grow tree fruits with the best possible flavour, much of the UK is very suitable.

The main challenges to producing good quality tree fruit in the UK are unsettled weather during spring, which can damage blossoms or discourage pollinating insects, and indifferent summers with too little sunlight. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, winter cold is almost never an issue for growing fruit trees in the UK – most fruit tree species evolved in far colder regions than the UK. Thus, even in a bad winter, trees should easily survive in most parts of the UK, although in a bad summer they may not produce much fruit or the fruit may fail to ripen. At tea break, Sam, a local and adopted grandfather for the family, informed us of the local bumper crop of apples and told us many apples were going to waste.

After lunch it was time for the second main ingredient. Blackberries! This time armed with a large plastic bowl and wrapped up well, we made our way towards the beach looking for the most succulent specimens.

Not much sums up a British Autumn better than a wander along blackberry-filled country lanes with red-stained fingertips (and possibly around the mouth too) clutching an old plastic tub and provided you’re not trespassing, it is a great way of sourcing lots of free fruit. Indeed, not only do blackberries grow in abundance in hedgerows across the UK, they are not restricted to rural areas being found along canal paths and across even wasteland in towns and cities.

Fruits should be shiny and firm when picked and seem to vary in flavour from place to place with seasoned blackberry hunters often having favourite bushes whose harvest they prefer. You can, of course, taste as you go, making sure to avoid the ones which may have been “watered” by passing dogs! Once picked they will normally last only a couple of days, although one can always store any excess in a freezer.

After a long afternoon in the chilling wind we found our way back to the Mill, and with plenty of warm drinks and a filling dinner, looked forward to tomorrow’s day of preserve making.

Loving Simplicity