A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Elderberry Wine

Me and Steph have recently been out collecting Elderberries to make a batch of wine. The recipe required 1.5kg of Elderberries so we had to do more than one trip to get them but luckily we have an abundance of them near to where we live. Once we had picked the berries we then had to remove them from as much stalk as possible; we managed to do this while Lauren was asleep or otherwise busy causing chaos elsewhere! Hopefully at some point next year we will have a few bottles of Elderberry and Elderflower wine ready together, here is my post of the Elderflower wine. Below is the recipe, a few photos and a bit of a method to follow if you want to make your own.

  • 1.5kg Elderberries
  • 1.5kg of Sugar
  • 1 tsp Citric Acid
  • 1 tsp Yeast
  • 1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • Water to make up to 1 gallon

Elderberry Wine
Elderberries ready for processing

Elderberry Wine
Using a fork to remove the berries

Elderberry Wine
Finally got 1.5kg of berries!

Elderberry Wine
Small bits of stalk are ok to go through

Elderberry Wine
1.5kg of sugar

Elderberry Wine
Add boiling water, about 1.5 litre (or a full kettle)
Once the water had cooled I added the citric acid, yeast and yeast nutrient, stirred the mix then covered with cling film and left for 5 days.

Elderberry Wine
After 5 days I put the mix through a muslin square and squeezed it to get more juice out

Elderberry Wine
When I had all the wine mix in the demijohn I added more water so it was a couple of inches off the top and have now left it to ferment

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Apiary Inspection 18/09/12

Last Tuesday was one of the rare occasions when I had a little time off work and Lauren was with her child minder, so I took the opportunity to brush up on my hive inspection skills with Ian.

We arrived at the apiary in the morning to bright sunshine and a bit of breeze after a heavy rain shower earlier in the morning. We could see a lot of activity around both hives as we suited up and approached them.

I inspected the hive that contains Queen Beelinda. There were about 4 heavy frames of busy and healthy looking bees; I spotted the tell-tale white dot on the back of the Queen, but unfortunately there were no stores of food. I did also find one very mouldy frame which I thought contained dead brood and pollen.

Ian inspected the other hive which has a double brood box and found much the same but with no mould and some stores.

Close up of mouldy frame

Mouldy Frame

Both hives are going to be fed now with sugar syrup (or fondant as the weather gets colder) until the spring, when hopefully the weather will be better than this year!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Vegetable Mission

My father has recently gone on holiday and left me in charge of watering his tomatoes in the allotment while he's been gone. I also took the liberty of helping myself to some of the harvest. Some of the produce is from my seeds but most is my Dad's however he always grows more than needed. Next year we aim to get more involved with the planting and weeding of the allotment.


In the above picture there are tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, spring onions, borlotti beans, beetroot and achocha. The potatoes are of the variety desiree. I'm not sure of the variety of the spring onions, carrots, tomatoes or beetroots. The beans are borlotti beans and are similar to kidney beans only not red; they are creamy white with red dashes. The spiky green things are called achocha; they grow on vines and have taken over 1 of my dads greenhouses, they are kind of like a cross between a cucumber and a pepper but are reported to have several health benefits including lowering cholesterol and anti inflammatory effects. Another great thing about them is that they are none hybrid seeds which means that I can keep the seeds and grow them every year, with hybrids there is no guarantee that your seeds will grow from year to year. 

I will be growing as much as possible next year and hope to report on my success (and failure) as well as showing what we have done with some of the veg.   

Monday, 17 September 2012

Introducing Albert’s Offspring or how to make Sourdough Bread

As you may have seen on a previous post, we are providing board and lodging to another creature - Albert, our Sourdough Starter. On this post I shall introduce Albert’s offspring or the Sourdough Loaf I made this weekend. I was very pleased with the results and (not so) secretly happy that my attempts were far more successful than Ian's. My Nan would have been proud of this loaf!

I used a recipe from the River Cottage Website which you will get to if you follow this link, but below is a summary that I have printed and added to our family recipe book. The website does show how to make a starter also, but as we have Albert this was unnecessary.

The first step is making a “sponge” the night before baking day:
The sponge left to ferment overnight.

The Sponge:
100ml of active starter
300ml warm water
250g plain flour

The night before you want to bake your loaf, create the sponge by combining the starter, warm water and flour. Mix well with your hands or very thoroughly with the handle of a wooden spoon then cover with cling-film and leave overnight.
In the morning, it should be clearly fermenting; thick, sticky and bubbly.

The Loaf:
300g strong bread flour
1 tablespoon of olive oil
10g salt

Add the extra flour, oil and salt to your sponge and combine it all with your hands into fairly sticky dough. If it seems too tight and firm add a dash more warm water; keep it as wet as possible.

Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. This takes roughly 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled cling-film, and leave to rise for a good few hours until it is doubled in size and feels springy to the touch.

Knock the dough back on a lightly floured surface. To prove the dough form it into the shape it will be for baking. Use a proving basket or a bowl lined with a lightly flour dusted, clean tea towel. Place your dough inside the basket and cover with oiled cling-film and leave to rise in a warm place this time, until roughly doubled in size. This might take up to four hours.

Preheat the oven and a baking sheet to 250˚C or Gas Mark 9. Create a steamy atmosphere in the oven by adding a tray of boiling water to the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in.

Dust the hot baking sheet with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a serrated knife.

Put the loaf into the hot oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 200˚C  or Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a wire rack.

I made this recipe twice and both times it produced a nice loaf with a very crusty outer layer. The only part of the recipe that we didn’t manage to do correctly was waiting for the loaf to completely cool before attacking it with the bread knife and butter… And I can certainly confirm that it made a great cheese and tomato sandwich for my lunch at work today!

There is just one problem with this loaf - it doesn't last long enough, not because of it getting dry or mouldy, we just keep eating it...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Introducing Albert!

Albert is the most recent living organism that we have helped into creation. He is a sour dough starter culture and he lives in a jar in the kitchen. If you don't know what sour dough is then I'll give a quick explanation but if you want to read more then here is the Wikipedia link for it. The starter (Albert in my case) is flour and water mixed together and "fed" to keep it alive. The natural air born yeasts thrive in the environment and once you have enough it can be used to make sour dough bread, which is commonly regarded as a very high quality bread. When I say it is "fed" to keep it alive this means adding more water and flour to the mix. Below is a step by step method for creating your own Albert.

  1. Put equal quantities of flour and water in a jar. I started with about 2 tablespoons of each.
  2. Mix the flour and water with your hands and set aside with a loose top overnight.
  3. The next day add equal quantities of flour and water again and mix. This time I used a spoon rather than my hands.
  4. Repeat the process for a week and at this point you should have bubbles on the surface. This shows that your "Albert" is alive and giving off gas. This also means you are ready to start making bread!
That was fairly simple. I haven't any experience prior to this at creating a sough dough starter so everyone should have a go. The flour I used was a combination of wholemeal and white flour but what I've read it doesn't really matter for the starter. Once you have a good amount of the starter you can slow down the feeding to every other day or so and even keep it in the fridge. I personally haven't put it in the fridge due to using too large a container for my starter. If you start getting too much starter you can either discard some, use some or give some to a friend and let them start making sour dough. A few days ago I noticed that Albert was getting a little watery so I tipped some out and added more flour and if I notice he's getting too thick I will add more water.

Now comes the tricky part, actually making it into bread. I have done 2 attempts and both have tasted good but have resulted in loaves that could hammer nails in with. I think I know what went wrong with it though but since then Steph has made some sough dough and hers was far superior to mine. I will let her post about that at her convenience. The method I used didn't work well enough to include a printing here so you'll have to wait for Steph to print hers or use a recipe from the internet, there are hundreds if you search for sough dough recipe.

To finish with are a few photos of Albert

Albert, Sour dough starter
Albert, born 20/08/2012

Albert, Sour dough starter
Nearly a month later, plenty of life in the old chap!

Albert, Sour dough starter
Albert is a lot bigger now!

A Buzz About Life

This may come as a bit of a surprise, especially to those who know me, but I'm getting a little bored with how my posts are going. Basically there is only so much I can say about the same thing; For example my weekly hive inspections when everything goes good and nothing out of the normal happens, they always sound more or less the same. Also when I'm making a home brew beer kit, they are the same procedure each time.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm certainly not going to stop writing as I really enjoy doing so. However I have decided to broaden the subject matter somewhat and rebrand my blog. As the title suggests my new name for the blog will probably be "A Buzz About Life" and will now include home baking, veg growing and possibly a few mentions of the chickens and anything else that relates to our version of "The good life". By doing this it will also allow Steph to get more involved as she does most of the baking (at least the successful baking!), and technically the chickens are hers anyway. This will also allow for more photos as well.

Does this mean I won't be posting about the Bees as much? The answer is no, the volume of Bee (and brewing) posts should stay the same, however the contents of the posts will be reduced to just include a quick summary. If I'm doing anything new or more complex then I will probably post as before. I hope this doesn't put anybody off reading but hopefully this will involve my family more and for those who don't know me in person will get to know more about me. By the time you are reading this post some of the visual changes to the layout may have happened but if not then they are coming soon.