How to make Red Wine Vinegar at home

Vinegar from aboveI’ve had some success with brewing my own ‘Hedgerow Red’ Elderberry & Blackberry wine for the past couple of years, but a few months ago I wondered whether it is possible to easily produce your own vinegar at home. Of course, this being the age of Google – I found the answer very quickly… basically – yes. But before I tell you how I did it, let’s start at the beginning. You might save yourself some Googling…

What exactly is vinegar? Well, it’s acetic acid – usually about 5% (the minimum strength required for pickling) and water and a few other trace elements. You probably know that alcohol is produced by encouraging yeast to convert sugar into alcohol, well vinegar is produced by converting ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid using another handy micro-organism. Acetobacter in this case. This bacteria, like its fungal co-dependant yeast, occurs naturally in the wild and can be airborne – or carried by insects like the nemesis of homebrewers – the fruit or vinegar fly. Continue reading “How to make Red Wine Vinegar at home”

Saving your own seed

I have been pondering this recently, as I just got an allotment (more on this later). How did we cope before seed companies?

40 years ago most people would be saving the seeds of their favourite crops to reap the successes in subsequent years.

I came across this text on the Real Seeds site today, which sums up my thinking better than I could put it 😉

Why Save Your Own Seed?

Until recently, every gardener in the world saved their own seed. And every gardener was, therefore, a plant breeder. They simply saved the seed of the plants that did best for them, and which they liked most. Although simple, this was efficient.

Each gardener was maintaining a slightly different strain of each vegetable, and this made for a huge living genebank that was very resilient against disease or climate change. If things changed so that your cabbages didn’t do well, someone down the road had a slightly different one that would cope.
This has worked very well for the past 11,000 years. That includes the Bronze Age, the building of the Pyramids, the rise and fall of all the major empires. Every year, without even thinking about it, millions of people added to the achievements of their ancestors to maintain and improve the previous years’ varieties. Because their seed was real, open-pollinated seed, every seed was a bit different, so it was widely adapted, but also adaptable – it could cope with all sorts of change.

Now, we have thrown this all away. In the past 40 years, almost all these adaptable local strains have been lost. Gardeners have forgotten how to save their own seed. They are sold hybrids, where every seed is identical, in every packet, year after year – no adaptability for different soils, or for changes in climate over time.

And because these hybrid seeds are all the same in every field in every country, people have to bludgeon the environment into some sort of ‘standard’ growing medium with fertilisers and chemicals, to grow their standardised seeds. Should the climate change, or the supply of cheap oil (to make all these chemicals) dry up, then these hybrids will do badly, and there will be no real seeds left to breed from.

Profits for the seed companies now, but disaster in the future . . . real farming is a project that has been ongoing for millennia, but now in the height of our tiny period of cheap oil, we think we know better and have turned it into just another industrial process. Peoples food should represent stored sunlight and water, but 90% of its calories come from oil these days – for the ploughing, spraying, fertiliser, transport. When the oil runs out, who will have the real seeds that can grow without it?
Seed-saving is easy. You’ll get better seed, better food, and help preserve 11,000 years of work for the future! Continue reading “Saving your own seed”

Nommo’s Elderberry and Bramble wine

1685g Elderberries
700g Brambles (Blackberry)
2kg Sugar
6l water
1 Tsp ginger
2 tps Pectin Enzyme (pectolase)
2l pure grape juice (I used red and white)

Destalk and wash the elderberries and brambles. (Note random amounts! I used what I had but documented it for the record… you do need somewhere around 2kg of fruit in total – you may prefer it more fruity & less ‘tannic’ in which case put more more blackberries in than elderberries).

Add 2l of water to fruit in a large pan and warm gently, mashing with a metal potato masher.

Remove from heat at about 80 degrees C. Add sugar and mash/stir some more. Once cooled add Pectolase (mix it up in a cup of water) and stir some more. Leave overnight.

Add to fermentation bin, mix in the rest of the water cold, add the yeast (leave it on the surface for 15 mins then mix in) and cover with a tea-towel or other fine material and use an elastic band or similar to hold in place. It should be bubbling away in a few hours after pitching the yeast.

Leave to ferment for 5 or 6 days giving it a mash/stir every day with the sterilised potato masher. Strain out the pulp through a tea-towel – it helps if you have a 2nd bucket/bin as there is a lot of pulp – a jam strainer would also probably be handy. I tried straining directly into some home-made demijohns (5l water bottles with a hole drilled in the lids for the airlock) and was mostly successful 😉

Don’t leave it to ferment on the pulp for too long, the fruit breaks down too much & leaves more particles suspended in your wine requiring more racking or fining.

I divided the liquid into the two DJs and topped up with the grape juice – screwed the lids on and primed the airlocks.

Left it for about 6 weeks and then racked into another couple of fresh water bottles and put the normal lids on. I also syphoned off a glass full to taste. OMG! It’s like – red wine! Proper bouquet, vanilla and berry… can’t wait to bottle it and mature it. My wife is in shock that I didn’t make vinegar.

A definite success considering it was a made up recipe.


EDIT: at second racking I added a crushed camden tablet and some another heaped teaspoon of pectolase – it wasn’t clearing up as much as I would have liked and everyone adds a camden at this stage (helps prevent oxidisation and prevents further fermentation apparently) 🙂

Plan Bee

Plan Bee logo

Bees pollinate a third of the food we eat. They are essential for farming and if we wanted to do the pollinating work ourselves – it would take a workforce of 30 million. And that’s just for food – bees also pollinate most wildflowers.

In the United States over a million hives have been lost since 2006 due to Colony Collapse Disorder – a very mysterious condition. Apparently, we don’t have it in the UK yet – but even so, 2008 was the worst year for bees in the UK – with up to 30% of hives not surviving the winter.

I can’t begin to imagine a world without bees. Or some of this stuff:

Alfalfa, Allspice, Almonds, Apples, Artichoke, Asparagus, Avocado, Blackberries, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Cacao, Cantaloupe, Caraway, Cardamom, Carrots, Cashew, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Cherries, Chicory, Chives, Cinnamon, Citrus, Coriander, Cranberries, Cucumbers, Currants, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Gooseberries, Kale, Leek, Macadamia, Mango, Mustard, Nutmeg, Onion, Parsley, Parsnip, Passion fruit, Peaches, Pears, Plum, Pumpkin, Radish, Raspberries, Squash, Sunflower, Tangerine, Tea, and Watermelon to name a few. Not forgetting honey and beeswax of course.

There are things we can do – the Co-op has taken the initiative and set up a campaign called Plan Bee, along with a website that provides lots more information, and a couple of videos if you prefer to watch than read. (hopefully they will enable embedding at some point)

I applaud what they are doing, and attempting to do, and strongly encourage everyone to see what they can do to give the bees a hand whenever I can, so I thought I would take this opportunity too 🙂

Through Plan Bee:
1. The Co-operative Food will temporarily prohibit the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides on own-brand fresh produce. These are Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Fipronil, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Thiacloprid and Thiamethoxam. To find out about The
Co-operative’s market-leading policy on pesticides, please see our latest Sustainability Report (p.95).

2. £150,000 will be made available to support research into the demise of the honeybee, with a particular focus on UK farming, pesticides and gene-diversity. This is the largest ever private contribution to bee research in the UK.

3. Over three years The Co-operative Farms will trial a new wildflower seed mix that will be planted alongside crops on our farms across the UK.

4. The Co-operative Farms will invite beekeepers to establish hives on all our farms in the UK.

5. The Co-operative will engage our three-million members in a campaign to protect and nurture the bee population in the UK, with advice and tips featuring on our website.

6. Members were invited to attend one of 40 screenings of a special preview from a forthcoming film that addresses the decline of the worldwide bee population and the significance of the bee in food production. In addition, The Co-operative has also commissioned a new bespoke documentary on the decline of the bee population in the UK.

7. The Co-operative will partner with RSPB’s ‘Homes for Wildlife’ team and empower members to garden in ways that are honeybee-friendly.

8. An initial 20,000 packets of wildflower seed mix will be distributed to members free of charge at membership events throughout the UK.

9. Bee boxes are being sourced and made available to The Co-operative members at discounted prices. Find out how to get hold of a discounted bee box.

10. The Co-operative will support our members and colleagues to find out more about amateur beekeeping and will encourage links between local beekeepers and members. Find details of your nearest beekeeping association.

Also – there is a documentary worth watching called “Who Killed the Honey Bee” showing on BBC4 starting on Thu 23 Apr 2009 at 21:00, with repeat showings. It will also be available on iPlayer.

Fossil fools

I am sure I am not the only one who found last nights episode of Natural World – A Farm for the Future incredibly important and somewhat frightening.

If you didn’t see it – do have a look – it is available on iPlayer (for those in the UK at least) until 7:49pm Tuesday 17th March 2009.

You may recall the name Rebecca Hoskins? She was the wildlife documentary maker (one of only three female wildlife documentary film makers in the UK!) who went to Hawaii and was moved to tears by the impact our carrier bags are having on the marine environment. She came back and became the ‘bag lady of Modbury‘.

In May 2007 she convinced all the 1,500 residences and traders of her home town of Modbury to stop using plastic bags in favour of more sustainable long lasting alternatives. This made Modbury the first town in the Europe to become plastic bag free.

Here’s the synopsis from the BBC:

“Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key.

With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realising that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.

Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.”

Are we really going to bury our heads in the (oil) sands right up till the day where we are 9 meals from anarchy? I really hope not.

There is still a chance of turning it around, but we won’t find the answer at Tesco – or even at Waitrose!

Be very prepared for change. It’s just a question of whether we can make the steps to transition before it is too painful.

The Age of Stupid

The Age of Stupid: final trailer Feb 2009 from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

I often have ideas, that I mull over and never get around to doing anything about (man cannot live on ideas alone!), but in this case I am glad somebody else did it first 😉

I was thinking… somebody (perhaps me?) should write a book, a screenplay – a full blown movie even, set in the future when the shi-shi has truly hit the fan, and have someone look back to the present day… and ask why.

A lot of societies glorify ‘the ancestors’ – if not worship them. I think our generation (regardless of ‘culture’), will be the first bunch of ancestors that are reviled and hated, if not cursed, for the legacy we are leaving for our descendants, not because of crimes against humanity, or for starting wars or stealing land or people, but because we are destroying the future of the human race and many of the other flora and fauna that we ‘share’ our precariously spinning space rock and its resources with…

I am looking forward to seeing the film – but just like blog readers dislike being berated, I get the impression that the movie watching public would generally prefer to watch movies where the hero is a superhuman and from another planet/time or something… as opposed to a movie saying “it’s up to you! fix it! it’s your fault! it IS your problem” – but I hope that being proved wrong about that is part of our transition, nay paradigm shift, to becoming honourable and respected ancestors 🙂

How civilised

I just saw this video which was referred to on Keith’s ‘Unsuitablog

I love this video – and it pretty much sums up why I feel so uncomfortable with the level of greenwash that we are subjected to on a daily basis. The whole ‘civilisation’ game is a very finite game and is defined by how long we can get away with unbridled over consumption, relentless extraction of resources and exploitation of labour. Industrial civilisation is pretty much doomed to be no more than a blink of an eye in terms of how long it will be around in the history of Homo sapiens but it could well be the very last chance we get. In our haste to convert everything to liquid assets and to extract every last drop of energy we can dig out of the ground – we are probably going to royally fisk it (it being earth) up for our unfortunate successive generations who will be forced to deal with our incredible short sightedness.

Today, some of our main arguments are whether or not it is worth our while to turn off domestic appliances when not in use, or whether we should eat food flown in from the other side of the planet, or whether wind-turbines have a place in our countryside…

If we carry on asking stupid questions like those, in the future the big question will be whether we reproduce to preserve the human race or whether not to bother in order to preserve the rest of life on earth and quite possibly the solar system and universe at large!

Time to start honing those self-sufficiency skills?

Here’s a Ferengi quote for Trekkies:

Quark: I think I figured out why humans don’t like Ferengi—
Sisko: Not now, Quark.
Quark: The way I see it, humans used to be a lot like Ferengi: greedy, acquisitive, interested only in profit. We’re a constant reminder of a part of your past you’d like to forget.
Sisko: Quark, we don’t have time for this.
Quark: You’re overlooking something, Commander. Humans used to be a lot worse than Ferengi. Slavery, concentration camps, interstellar war… we have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you… we’re better.

Give me your favourite quotes

I have been using a great little WordPress plug-in called ‘Quotes Collection‘ on this blog – it’s great for grabbing those quotes you see popping up over the web and adding them to your blog. It is my favourite aspect of my own blog actually – I like being inspired, challenged or reminded of important concepts and values by great thinkers.

You can get a sample of them by clicking on ‘Next Quote’ over there on the left- it doesn’t need to reload the page due to some javascript trickery (and you should see a non-javascript degraded version if you you don’t have js turned on).

Anyway – I want your quotes! What is your favourite quote? What makes a good quote?

If you have a favourite quote that covers anything in the category/tag cloud – please post them here and I will add them to my quotes collection… and others can grab them too.

Mind the gap

I am not the only one fretting about over-specialisation it seems. I was pointed to Sharon Astyk’s ‘Casaubon’s Book’ blog by this Eating the Seasons post, which mentioned the book Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front.

The post that I thought might be of interest is this one about the ‘gaps’ in our self-sufficiency skill set. It is an interesting challenge, and one I am already engaged in constantly! Not necessarily because of peak-oil, but perhaps more to do with John Seymour and maybe Felicity Kendal.

For the past couple of years I have been trying to grow stuff (I have an allotment now even, but need to get a bike and somewhere to store tools & shelter me from the rain.. look out shed alert!).

I recently fixed my daughter’s bike which had suffered a horrendous chain tangling accident (involved the use of a chain link removal tool!).

I have wrestled with basic plumbing (I can plumb in a dish washer or washing machine, replace washers in taps, unblock drains etc), I sweep my own chimney, split logs, make kindling and light a fire without a firelighter (i do want a firesteel though and must have a go at friction fire lighting).

We make our own compost, I collected seed from some of the veg and herbs I grew this year, and we have eaten stuff I grew (just not as much as I know we can).

My wife has always been a great cook, but she has been whipping up some delicious veg box meals, and has recently become a bit of a compulsive masterbaker! She can now pretty much cook any recipe, but her cakes and cookies and sweet treats are better than anything you buy in the shops. I am a competent cook too, just not as dedicated, or perhaps committed…

That was quite cathartic, we/I have made progress. But here is my list (to be expanded upon and hopefully crossed off):

  • I many have gaps in my DIY skills – we need to decorate (we know how to do that – we just enjoy sitting down after work ;)) and erect many, many shelves and stuff
  • Lots of room for improvement in the horticultural field. I just need to get out there more. Weeds, slugs, spider mite, blight and cabbage white butterflys are on my hit list – I generally want to grow gluts, cancel the veg box and learn to preserve
  • I want to learn how to use a chainsaw and more tree related stuff (I have been planting tree seeds recently – want to go collect some acorns, but also want to learn how to fell and coppice etc)
  • I want to learn to play an instrument – one that doesn’t need plugging in
  • I always loved chiseling and whittling wood as a kid – I want to rekindle that and turn it into something useful (like a breadboard or a wooden spoon)
  • I want to learn more bushcraft and foraging skills

I have an abundance of diverse technical skills and I blame that for my lack of diversification and competence in more practical skills, but at least it is doing something tangible to help – it is paying the rent and putting food on the table, and giving me a lot of job satisfaction, as I have managed to combine my geeklust with an environmental job. So I am sorted there really – I could go on for ever learning this scripting language or that OS but I am slightly less obsessed now I have a fairly good grounding I can plug most gaps one way or another.

That’ll do me for tonight!

Anyone else feeling gap aversion?