This weekend was The Heckington Show in Lincolnshire. As this is just a short drive from where we live we thought we would go as we have not been for a couple of years. The Heckington Show is, I'm told, the biggest village show in the UK and includes a range of rural based attractions - so lots of animals of various types, tractors, rural crafts as well as other events (such as a motorcycle display team) and fairground rides.
A visit to the sheep tent reignited our discussion about whether we should get a couple of sheep for wool.
We are thinking about getting Shetland sheep (I don't know what this one is, but it isn't a Shetland) as they are hardy and small, the idea being is that my wife could make use of the fleece. Not this year, but maybe next if we can get fencing sorted out.
The chickens on show were much better groomed than ours who are getting on a bit now and getting a bit scraggy.
Our youngest son loved the antique tractors on display - this is one of the (many) pictures he took.
Anyway it was huge and we did not see everything - and there are limits as to what you can interest 10 year old boys in. Strangely he wasn't interested in the visiting the vegetable competition tent! We ended the day feeling quite worn out and slightly sun burned, but it was a good day.
While I have been having some frustrations on the veg plot, mostly due to my destructive chickens, the fruit bushes have proven to be particularly......well, fruitful. This is just what I picked today, and there is still more on the bushes.
The question is, what to do with it all. Well some of the blackcurrants I have made into blackcurrant juice to drink which ends up tasting remarkably similar to a well known brand you find in the shops. It is quite high in sugar, but you do need to dilute it quite a lot to drink it, and it is also high in vitamin C. This is how I make it:
Wash the blackcurrants and place in a pan with 300ml of water to every 500ml of fruit.
Bring to the boil and boil for one minute only.
Remove from the heat and drain through a fine sieve or some muslin catching the juice in another pan or container.
Measure the juice and add 300g of sugar to each 500ml of juice. Stir until dissolved.
To drink you will need to dilute according to your own particular taste.
If you want to freeze the juice, simply put into containers allowing 2.5cm headspace. You can keep frozen for up to a year.
All I need now is some ideas as to what to do with the gooseberries and the loads of redcurrants I have. Any suggestions anyone?
Regular readers of A Smallholder's Diary will know by now that I am a sucker for books that are related in any way to self-sufficiency and living a more sustainable life. As I have said before, these books tend to fall into two categories; those that are glossy "coffee table" books with lots of sumptuous photography, but are somewhat lacking in useful content, and those books that are rather more basic in presentation, but have plenty of useful and practical information. The Essential Guide to Back Garden Self-Sufficiency falls firmly into the latter category.
The first half of the book covers growing your own fruit and vegetables, although also covers bottling and drying. This is described in a surprising amount of detail including tips and very practical advice for all the major crops. Some suggestions are not practical for everybody (e.g. growing your own wheat field), but these are very much in the minority. The information on saving and drying seeds is particularly useful.
There is, as you would expect, a chapter on keeping poultry. This, again, is given in a good level of detail with all the basic information to get you started. Perhaps a surprising omission is information on hatching eggs (which, from my own experience, is not always as easy as might think). The emphasis of the poultry keeping chapter and the subsequent chapters on keeping other animals is on gathering what they produce (eggs in the case of poultry, milk in the case of goats), and then, when the time is right, preparing them for eating. No sentimentality here then! Also in this chapter is a section on making cheese, butter, yoghurt and ice-cream.
The final chapter is on foraging for food from the wild, which includes information on beekeeping, as well as such things as how to make rose hip jam and dandelion coffee.
Overall, this is a book that has plenty of useful and practical information for those people who are looking to live a more self-sufficient life. However, there are (perhaps inevitably) quite a few omissions - nothing on composting, sustainable options for heating your home, making soap, for example. But then in a book like this where do you draw the line? If you try and include everything you would end up with a book that would require its own bookshelf! However, I found the the first part of the book on growing and processing food to be very useful and will continue to refer to it on a regular basis.