Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Garden Catch Up

Sorry, been slacking on the blogging again. I've been getting out and about more with the sproglets ,thanks to some different painkillers, so not as much time in front of the PC ;)

Here's what's been happening over the last few weeks...

We've removed the hydrangeas from the front garden and replaced them with blackthorns. We just didn't like the bulky hydrangeas so we swapped them for something we can make sloe gin with ;)



The herb bed is starting look busy again.


The hops are starting up again. This year, there will be beer! Oh yes!


We've done lots of erm essential lawn maintenance ;)


Wonderhubby has made a raised bed from an old pallet. I'll do a seperate post with a how-to for this soon.


We've put together another compost bin that we were gifted from freecycle. We're up to 3 bins and a green cone now.


I've bought two teeny tiny barganous lime trees. They're living on the kitchen windowsill at the moment :)


We've been going out for lots of walks to find puddles to splash in :)


The ladybirds are waking up :)



We've been gifted a lovely swing seat from freecycle. It needs a bit of repair work, but we're enjoying it :)


Lots of nommy purple sprouting broccoli to nom on


Lots and lots of seed sowing.


Good job I've got a little helper.


We hav giant bees! This one was rescued from the greenhouse (it had to be rescued from there because I didn't dare go in till it came out) *shudder*


Three little goji berry plants, these have already doubled in size.


So there you go, all up to speed. I'll be doing some more detailed blog posts soon so watch this space :)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Lavender and Hops Pillows

The original idea for these pillows came from the TV series and book Grow Your Own Drugs. We decided to have a go at growing and drying our own hops and had lots of fun doing that.

We are going to use the hops to brew our own ale in the future, but for now I'm using them as an insomnia cure. I suffer with night waking, and tend to only get 2-3 hours sleep a night. The hops and lavender are both said to aid restful sleep, and I have to say they do seem to help.

We dried both the lavender and hops using our dehydrator, this really speeds the process up and means we can get them stored and safe quickly.

Making the pillows is really easy to do, as you can see below.

Take a muslin square. I use one muslin cloth cut into quarters.


Add a sprinkling of dried hops. The lupulin in them is still really sticky and smells very strongly.


Add 3 tablespoons of dried lavender.



Tie up with a ribbon. I recycle these from Lush gift boxes and other things.





Place under your pillow, and sleep deeply :)

Mo' Honey Mo' Mead

This is the third, and possibly final tweak on our mead recipe. The last two batches have been half honey/half sugar solution in an effort to cut down on costs. However, we thought we'd give a full honey recipe a go and we have to say on first looks alone we're going to dump the sugar and keep going with this tweak.

It tastes divine already, and the brewing will only enhance the flavour :) If this tastes as good as I think it will then I'll be making this regularly and putting away bottles to mature ready for gifting :)

I'll try and work out a cost per litre too at some point, not today though as I need coffee before I can brain.*I has coffee and brainz, costings at the bottom of the post*

N.B. All amounts shown are imperial, not US.

To make 2 gallons-;

Assemble all the ingredients;

  • 14 x 340g jars of honey.- I used 13 x Sainsburys basic, and 1 x Taste the Difference Clover honey.
  • 3 medium oranges
  • The zest of one lemon
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 10 cloves
  • 2 heaped tsp of yeast - I used champagne yeast for it's higher alcohol, can use any type
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 x fermentation buckets or demijohns. They need to be airtight.


Lots and Lots of Honey.


The not very secret spicy things


Wine Yeast


Our kitchen was really really cold, so to persuade the honey to come out of the jars easily we warmed them in a hot water bath for a minute or so first.


Lots and lots of honey being poured into our gallon stock pot.


Gloopy lovely honey


It was really quite pretty to play with


Adding the posh stuff


The colour variation is really quite striking



Add some boiling water to the jars to get the last of the honey out of the bottom


Pour all of this into the gallon stock pot.


Add your sliced oranges


And the lemon zest


Throw the spicy bits in, cardamomomomom


and peppercorns


The bayleaves and cloves seem to have escaped being photgraphed, but you know what they look like ;)

Top up with boiling water to approximately a gallon, leaving a little room so you can stir. Leave the mixture to simmer gently for a few hours, stirring every now and then to make sure the honey is blending in. Leave to cool for 30 minutes.


Place a sieve over your fermentation bucket and pour the mixture through into the bucket.


This leaves you with a bucket full of mead, and a sieve full of spicey bits.


Empty the sieve into a muslin and tie it securely.




Keep your bag'o'spices to the side for a while and fill your bucket up to the 2 gallon mark with cold water. Test the temperature, if it's still quite warm leave it to sit with the lid on for a while. You need it to be at room temperature before adding the yeast.



Stir in 2tsp of yeast (1tsp per gallon) and place the spicy bag in. Close the lid securely.


We then continued with the same process as the last two batches. I'll copy paste it here so you don't have to go trawling :)

Place somewhere warm and out of direct light or drafts. Ours lives under the sewing table in the front room (although from the amount of root beer, ginger beer, mead and brewing paraphernalia on the table it may be due a name change at some point ;) )

After 48 hours, lift the lid and check that the yeast is active. There should be frothing and some fizzing. Don't worry about the smell and cloudiness at this point, it does tend to smell a bit funky.

If there has been no frothing, fizzing, or the lid of the bucket hasn't 'domed' then it may be worth adding 1 more tsp of yeast and giving the whole mixture a good shake. Leave it for another 48 hours and then check again. If it's still not active, then your bucket may be in too cold a spot and will need relocating. Yeast needs to be at room temperature to be at its most active.

Once the yeast has been active, remove the muslin parcel and dispose of it then close the lid and leave for 4 weeks. Completely leave it, no poking, prodding, testing, touching, sniffing....nothing.

After 4 weeks, rack the mead into a different bucket. To 'rack' means to syphon the clear liquid away from the sediment at the bottom. With our first batch, we didn't have a second bucket so racked it into 2 litre pop bottles instead, this worked fine and was useful for checking the sediment at the bottom.

After 2 weeks, gently pour off a little taster snifter and be proud of yourself ;)

(We started drinking our first batch mead at this stage, because it is so very nice)

After another 2 weeks, rack off into another bucket again in order to leave the last of the sediment, leave to settle and then bottle up.

The flavour of the mead develops nicely if the bottle is thoroughly chilled before drinking.

Enjoy :)

ETA: Approximate costings, rounded up where needed. Some ingredients were purchased from other shops or were from our garden. Sainsburys used for comparison pricing only, other supermarkets exist and may or may not be cheaper/better/whatever ;)

13 x Sainsburys basic honey @ 68p = £8.84
1 x Sainsburys posh honey @ 3.99 = £3.99
Wilkinsons / Youngs Wine yeast 60g @ 1.68 -approx 1/4 used = £0.42
Sainsburys Cinnamon Sticks @ £1.47 - approx 1/5 used = £0.30
Sainsburys Cardomom Pods @ £1.19 - approx 1/10 used = £0.12
Sainsburys Cloves @ £0.77 - approx 1/10 used = £0.08
Sainsburys Black Peppercorns @ £1.36 - approx 1/10 used = £0.14
Sainsburys Bay Leaves @ £0.88 - approx 1/5 used = £0.18
Sainsburys Lemons x 4 @ £0.88 - 1/4 used = £0.22
Sainsburys Oranges x6 @£1.00 -1/2 used = £0.50

Total cost of ingredients = £ 14.79

Approximate cost per gallon (14.79/2) = £7.40
Approximate cost per litre ( 7.40/4.5) = £1.65
Approximate cost per pint is (7.40/8) = £0.93

Other equipment costs;

Fermentation Bucket - Wilkinsons £9.99
Wilkinsons Strainer/Sieve - £1.75
Muslin Cloths - Ebay x 12 £8.91