Sunday, July 01, 2012

The 2012 Urban Farm Handbook Challenge June: Botanicals

Firstly on a semi related subject we have got our first chickens ! Well technically first chickens for everyone but me as I sued to have them as a kids.  Five of them, three bantams and two hybrids.

The bantams are a Plymouth rock, a while bearded silkie and a black pekin. The hybrids are a ranger and a black star. The pekin and the black star have very similar colouring but are very different in size! They are settling into their new home well. The pekin being the smallest has made it very clear she is in charge and the silkie is doing her best to live up to the steriotype for her breed and has been nicknamed daft bint by Tom. Provisional names of these two are little miss bossy and little miss daft bint but the boys haven't decided what they think they should all be called yet and seem to think little miss style names is silly ! Noodles chose the pekin and Treestump the silkie but only after been vetoed on having a "cockadodoldo", a guinea pig or a guinea fowl !

So moving on to the challenge this month which all about making herbal oils, teas and tinctures which is easy as I was already making some before I even read the month's challenge.

A friend gave us some herb plants for the allotment so and when I planted them out they all got a good "haircut" so they didn't have to much leaf cover until the roots had a chance to establish. This left me with bunches of extra chives, mint, lemon balm, sage and tarragon, so what do you do with those? I already had a lot of sage drying so I decide to make vinegars and oils. Some of the chives went straight into a sort of pesto for a salad but the rest went into oil as did the lemon balm. The sage and tarragon I am infusing in cider vinegar. The mint has been drying and I am going to harvest a whole bunch more of the Moroccan mint for tea or infusions throughout the winter just as soon as there is a patch of time when it hasn't rain for long enough for the mint to be dry!!. I now have about 4 or 5 different mints which is lovely as they all have different flavours. I also have three different oregano, two of them new from my mum but the other I need to harvest to dry for pasta sauces and so on. One of the new ones is really spicy so I'm looking forward to it later once it is established.

There is a whole article on how infuse herbs and similar here and it is worth reading if you haven't done such things before because while it is really easy there are a few things to keep in mind such as making sure your herbs are dry if infusing in oil.

About the same time as I was making infusions I came across the concept of shurbs, which are a sugar and vinegar based concentrate similar to a cordial which you dilute with water to make a flavoured drink. I've been meaning to use up the last of the berries in the freezer as the blackberry bushes are covered in flowers so the berries will not be far behind. There are several different ways to make these but I like this one which uses a syrup made by cold maceration of the fruit rather than cooking the syrup so I duly put the defrosted blackberries in the fridge covered in sugar and waited a day or so then strained it out to get a syrup like this.

To the syrup I added some sage vinegar and put back in the fridge to meld. I haven't tried it yet as I've been away but will shortly. The remaining fruit is good as a pudding or cereal topping.

I also made some plantain oil to add to my first aid kit, I might make up some cream from it to and I will make some comfrey oil as well for similar uses, I like that for when my hands flare up which is normally my own fault or doing to much gardening or washing without gloves.

One of the other challenges for the month was making hydrosols which I do want to try some day but currently with our dreadful weather I am somewhat lacking in things like rose petals though I do have a new young rose which has a fantastic fragrance so hopefully later on I will be able to harvest enough petals to try with if you want to have a go then have a look at the method here.

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