Posted by: hencorner | June 29, 2015

What you can do, by Winnie the Pooh

‘But if there aren’t lots of bees then there won’t be any honey.’ *
*Winnie the Pooh
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Honey bees have been in the news a lot recently and, unfortunately, not always for good reasons. Our beautiful little honey bees, often confused with wasps due to their petite frame, are often ignored when they are gently flitting from flower to flower foraging for nectar and pollen to take back to the hive. But when pollination of crops is low, remember the apple shortage of 2012, or when they swarm in a public place, be that on Top Shop in Central London or onto a pizza delivery bike, the blame rests on them for our little inconveniences. Personally, our apples did rather well in 2012, as I watched the bees risk the short flight from bee hive to blossom dodging the rain drops, we still managed to make 32 pints of cider and I’m sure that blossom helped us scoop First Prize for our London Honey!
As for swarms, I appreciate that to the uneducated, they can be rather scary. I clearly remember the first swarm that I witnessed from inside the conservatory during my first year of bee keeping. It was like something from an Indiana Jones movie… Once we understand that honey bees are often swarming due to their very good health and desire to reproduce, that they usually only sting to defend either brood or food, of which they have neither babies nor honey with them when they swarm, and that they are so focussed on finding a new home for their beloved queen that they have no interest in you at all, then we can feel a bit more confident in taking a deep breath and enjoying the moment to marvel at this amazing act of nature.
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‘But I don’t really like honey…’ I hear you cry, and if that opinion is founded on tasting cheap blended honey gathered from no particular place and packaged for the supermarkets, then I don’t blame you. As for the honey flavoured cough sweets, medicine and breakfast cereals – well I could happily live without those, however, our dependence on the honey bee is so much more than to ensure we can have the occasional spoon of brown gloop. Green peace tells us that 70 out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees. 
Think of your favourite meal, mmm, lasagna, salad and a glass of wine. Sorry, try making lasagna without tomatoes & onion, the salad would be pretty bare, and as for the wine – that’s a no go as bees need to pollinate the grape flowers before they fruit. Maybe I’ll have a pear and almond tart with a cup of coffee? Nope, no pears, almonds or coffee. What if I gave you the shirt off my back? Unfortunately, if it’s made of cotton then we are relying on the bees to pollinate that crop as well, a longer list of examples can be found here.
So why do the bees suddenly need saving? What do they need saving from? Sadly, a lot of the problem is our greed as humans. Intensive farming, prioritising economics over environment, is causing many farmers to plant the most valuable crop on every inch of available land, this results in an abundant food supply for the bees during the 2-3 weeks that the crop is flowering but hardly anything else either side of that window. Organic farming encourages farmers to leave margins of hedgerow and wildflowers around their fields which helps maintain sources of food for our pollinators and wildlife throughout the year. Organic farming also restricts the use of chemicals and pesticides that could have unknown effects on our little bees. These are just a couple of reasons why our urban bees seem to be thriving better than their rural cousins as the parks, back gardens and allotments of our towns and cities often have a fabulous diversity of flowering plants available to bees throughout the year.
You may have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, from the bee keepers that I know, this doesn’t seem to be a big problem here in the UK, but if we followed the practises of other nations that regularly stack hundreds of hives on the back of a huge truck to transport them across the nation for pollination favours, often on crops contaminated with pesticides, then we may discover disoriented, stressed bees that fail to thrive in their working conditions. Another challenge for our bees, caused by our greed, is if we fail to ensure that they have enough food stores left in the hive throughout winter, especially if we have harvested most of their stored honey for ourselves. Add negligent disease management to the list and the poor bees are really rather vulnerable.
So, as a mother, food lover and bee keeper, I was delighted to see this wonderful new campaign, commissioned by Friends of the Honey Bee, part of the British Bee Keeping Association, who aim to build a better future for Britain’s honey bees and other pollinators by planting more pollen-rich environments, encouraging others to plant for the honey bees and funding research into the varroa mite and honey bee health.
If you haven’t guessed, they have partnered with the world’s most famous honey lover, Winnie the Pooh, to encourage us all to do our bit to help save the honey bees.
The 10 top tips start with how to plant a window box that provides food for bees and ends with what to do if you see a swarm…
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 There’s always so much more to learn about bees and if you’d like to spend the day at Hen Corner discovering more about ours, we’d love you to join us on one of our courses, more info here. We always finish our time with a honey tasting and you can sample both urban and rural honey from around the country, including a taste from that winning jar saved from 2012!
Full day beekeepingComing up at the Corner…

It would be a pleasure to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year. The next couple of weeks brings Full Day Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and Scones and Jam.

As we enter the school summer holidays, we have a wide range of family courses all aimed at helping us understand more of where our food comes from.

Alternatively, if you are interested in a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues. Do contact us for more information.

Other News:

  • After 4 hours of hard work, I created a net cage and covered our almond tree which is usually robbed by cheeky squirrels. Our bees have pollinated each nut and growing our own reduces our dependence on the Californian nuts relying on truckloads of transported bees
  • We’ve put another row of supers on the bee hive – this is where they store the honey for us
  • Our kitchen has finally been finished!!!! This has been a long process, but we are very pleased with the end result.

Jobs for this week:

  • Check on the bees at Kew Gardens, each colony should have a new queen by now
  • Contact local schools to book in sessions for September
  • Prepare an order of home-grown food for a pop up restaurant that loves to serve local produce

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | June 22, 2015

Talking Tomatoes…

Roasted TomatoesThe taste of any simple tomato-based salad is dependent on the quality of the tomatoes.’*
*Yotam Ottolenghi
So true, Yotam, so true, and as our last post was all about strawberries, this time we’re talking tomatoes!
These small sweet marbles must have been the first fruits that I began to grow ten years ago; I remember plucking them from the vine, squashing them with a basil leaf into a chunk of homemade bread, drizzling it with olive oil and eating it in the sunshine. I felt like Elizabeth David reincarnated, if you don’t know who she is – look her up, slow roasting them with garlic in olive oil, ready to stir through some freshly made pasta – delicious!
imageMy relationship with tomatoes hasn’t always been full of sun kissed promise, sadly, I’ve fallen victim to blight, several years in a row now and have learnt that it’s best to harvest all at the first sight of the brown fungal-like infection creeping up the plant stems. Green Tomato Chutney is a favourite here, so nothing goes to waste. Another lesson that I’ve learnt is to be careful with the watering, apparently, if there is less surface water, as from a watering can, then the roots have to reach down low to a more consistent source of moisture. I’ll never forget the summer holiday that we took, confident that the crops would thrive in the kitchen garden as I had my water sprinkler set to timer, only to return to large swollen split tomatoes that were rotting on the vine. This year, I turn to experts for help.
James Wong & Sara WardLast week, I was pleased to join a lecture at Kew Gardens given by James Wong based on his latest book, Grow for Flavour. I had heard James present Incredible Edibles with his book Homegrown Revolution a few years ago at the Edible Garden Show and was looking forward to his lively engaging talk that would captivate the audience as he dispelled myths and encouraged us to be daring as we grow our own food with flavours that will knock the socks off any supermarket specials. James took us on a journey through our desire for sweetness and sentimentality for heirloom varieties and explained how his top tips for tomatoes could deliver on the promises that we crave. Spritzing young plants with soluble aspirin, slicing their tops off after just one truss of fruit and turning the tap off to farm them dry were just some of James’ suggestions for the biggest, sweetest, fruits from your plot.
I shall read up on and try these techniques over the coming weeks, but back to the book and the pages on Persimmons, the tropical fruit that is hardy enough for our cold British climate, have really caught my eye and I’ve put my name down to buy a tree as soon as they are available in the autumn.
Perfect pastaComing up at the Corner…

It would be a pleasure to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year.

The next few weeks brings Full Day Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and some new courses, Perfect Pasta and Scones and Jam

Alternatively, we would love to plan a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues.

Do contact us for more information.

Other News:image

  • At last I managed to spend some time getting to grips with Macarons, OK, so they are not all the same shape and size – but they tasted pretty good!
  • We were very pleased to host the leadership team of national charity, Cinnamon Network, for their strategy day. After their meetings I taught them how to make Cinnamon Swirls and after lunch we tried a spot of bee keeping…
  • St Paul’s School brought their Year 6 students over to study the bees, we do love our work with schools

Jobs for this week:

  • I need to make a cage of some sort to protect our almonds from the squirrels, I haven’t quite worked out the design yet…
  • Plan September’s Urban Food Fortnight with the London Kitchen Project, maybe add in another new Battersea Cooking Class
  • Start sewing some sails to bring a little shade onto our conservatory, it gets pretty hot in there on a sunny day

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | June 12, 2015

Sweet Summer Strawberries…

Strawberry FieldsSummer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.’*
*Henry James
Like children gazing out of the window into the dark night of Christmas Eve, we wait as patiently as we can for the arrival of summer. Is it here yet? I think so; the sun is shining, the bees are flying, the fruits are swelling on the trees and the strawberries are ready!
It’s my birthday in June and I really think that it is the most wonderful time to celebrate. Usually, a day of sunshine is God’s gift to me and I am thankful for all I have been blessed with. This year is extra special as I’m now focusing full time on Hen Corner and can plan a week of lovely activities, mainly in the sunshine.
Strawberries for jamThis week, my first task for Monday morning was to set off for the local Pick Your Own Farm in preparation for our Scones and Jam course, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! Supermarket strawberries just wouldn’t do for this task; I wanted fresh fruit, picked by hand.
A top tip is not to start picking at the entrance to the field as that is where everyone else has started, scan the rows of plants and assess which areas haven’t been picked yet, this gives you first dibs at the best fruit.
What a delight to personally choose each individual berry knowing that the privilege is saving you money. Picking in the morning means that you haven’t got the hot sun on your back as you bend down to select your prize and then you can get set on jam making in the afternoon.
Fresh strawberries can over ripen within a couple of hours of picking so don’t go for the really red ones and plan to use them as soon as possible.
Strawberry JamI wanted to devise a really simple recipe that I could pass on to course guests, just three ingredients that are each easily found locally. However, I also wanted the recipe to turn out flipping fabulous strawberry jam!
Strawberry, as a fruit has really low pectin levels. Pectin, found in high quantities in apples and lemons, is needed for a good jelly like ‘set’.
My first experiences of jam and jelly making have been using the crushed apples after Cider Sunday or Marmalade with pectin rich citrus fruit, so I’ve never had a low pectin challenge before… To be completely honest, I’d never made strawberry jam before.
I found recipes that specified Jam Sugar, that contains added pectin, but I didn’t want any chemicals in the pan, I also wanted every day ingredients that you may well have at home anyway. So strawberries, sugar and a lemon it is.
The first batch was a soft set, but the second batch has a wonderful wobble – Don’t you think?
 
Our next Scones and Jam course is at The London Kitchen Project, Battersea, on Thursday 25th June
Scones and jamComing up at the Corner…

It would be a pleasure to welcome you to one of our courses that we have running right throughout the year. The next few weeks brings Full Day Bee Keeping,  Urban Hens – Keeping Chickens in London and some new courses, Perfect Pasta and Scones and Jam

Alternatively, we would love to plan a private event for you and your friends, or a team meeting for your work colleagues.

Do contact us for more information.

Other News:

Jobs for this week:

  • At last I’ve set aside time to master Macarons, it’s been on my bucket list for ages, pictures may follow…
  • Write the shopping list for the London Kitchen Project in preparation for our new Battersea Cooking Classes
  • Get ready for the Leadership Team of a National Charity who are coming to Hen Corner for their next ‘away day’

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

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