Maybe it was that quirky TV sitcom from the seventies; The Good Life, that led to my hankering for a life of self-sufficiency. It’s a hankering that’s existed for the longest while and one I feed frequently with articles about growing your own fruit and veg, preserving it through the winter and stocking your own pantry with all manner of homemade paraphernalia. Of course this has never actually translated into reality. I have skirted around the edges of self-sufficiency with great aplomb, but actually living off the land completely doesn’t really sit with my very cosy suburban life.
To date we’ve supplemented our shop-bought fruit and veg with some from our own garden – with mixed results. I’m currently harvesting, shelling and freezing peas daily, which we’ll delve into during the winter months and I’m eagerly hoping my sweetcorn ripens before the season is out. I’ve been gardening for over 20 years and there isn’t a lot I don’t know about gardening but overall my experience of growing fruit and veg this year has been completely miserable. Are you ready to hear the list of casualties?
This year the birds and squirrels ate all of my
- raspberries – except 3
And the pigeons and slugs managed to devour
- 1 round of pea seedlings,
- 1 round of broccoli seedlings,
- basil seedlings,
- 2 rounds of parsnips seedlings,
- 2 rounds of carrot seedlings,
- 9 fennel seedlings,
- all of my lettuce seedling – even the ones up high,
- 5 pumpkin seedlings,
- 4 ornamental gourd seedlings
- 9 cucumber seedlings
- 4 broadbean seedlings.
My mangetout seedlings did germinate and did start producing a group but then withered away inexplicably. Also too my Alpine strawberries, which gave up the ghost in May! The saving grace was my crop of broccoli, which I started harvesting 3 weeks ago. That was until I washed one head earlier this week and discovered it infested with butterfly eggs and caterpillars. Off to the compost heap it went. Thank goodness I live within spitting distance of a greengrocer or we’d starve.
It’s really heart-breaking to list the extent of the destruction in my garden this year so I’ve decided I really need to up the ante on my pest defences. I’m already netting my broccoli and employing beer traps, coffee grounds, egg shells and organic bird-safe slug pellets but to no avail so next year I’m going to
- net all my brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, etc) with enviromesh to keep the butterflies and pigeons at bay
- fashion a fruit cage for my soft fruit using this clever bamboo frame system.
- apply Nemaslug to my garden in the spring to help reduce the population of slugs. I’ve used this previously and found that it works very well. I’m not going to tell you how the slugs are killed, it’s gruesome really. If you don’t need to protect many plants you might want to try wool pellets, which I’ve heard work very well.
- Order in a load of good quality loam to give the plants the best start. I’ve used Baggo Topsoil in the past and found him great to deal with.
- Up the production of comfrey feed for my fruit and veg patch. Just steep the plants in water for 3-4 weeks and then dilute the ‘tea’ that is created at a ratio of 10:1, water to ‘tea’. Comfrey is high in potassium and encourages flowers and fruit set. You can create a nettle feed, which will be high in nitrogen helping leaf growth.
Anyway what has this got to do with jam? Well lets face it living sustainably is not easy, as shown by my gardening trials above, so we have to celebrate those little wins and for me this week my little win was making my own jam for the first time, from free fruit! I foraged the blackberries (see above) from a spot a few yards from my house in Dublin 14 and had bramley (cooking) apples donated to me from a neighbour’s garden. And of course being a zero waster I have an endless supply of empty jars stockpiled, so all I had to supply was some lemon juice and sugar. This is my version of a recipe for blackberry and apple jam that I found on-line. The original recipe asked for 500g of each fruit but I only had 370g blackberries so adjusted it.
- 370g of blackberries, stepped overnight so that any hidden mini beasts can be identified and removed, along with any leaves, husks etc.
- 370g of bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
- juice of one lemon
- 740 g of granulated sugar. Original recipe asked for jam sugar but I’m a cheapskate / lazy so just used granulated
- Simmer fruit in a large pot with 75ml of water and lemon juice for 15 mins to soften.
- Pop a couple of saucers into the freezer to chill.
- Add the sugar to the pan and cook, stirring to dissolve. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes or until the sound of the mixture starts to change to, what I call a ‘lava plopping’ sound. Remove from the heat.
- Put a teaspoonful of jam onto a chilled saucer for 1 minute. Drag your finger lightly over the jam. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point; if it doesn’t, boil for a couple more minutes, then turn off the heat and try again with another chilled saucer. Set aside to cool for 1 hour.
- If you have greaseproof or baking paper cut some seals to put on directly top of your jam after it’s been jarred. It helps prevent the growth of mould.
- Thirty mins after jam has been set aside to cool, sterilise your jars. To do this preheat the oven to its lowest setting and while it heats wash the jars in warm soapy water. Then place the jars and lids clean and facing upwards on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Sir the jam and ladle into each jar.
- Treat yourself to a nice slice of bread with warm homemade jam!
Ps – If you’re not into cooking this freezer jam recipe might interest you.