A novice's guide to producing his own food


Bees take a working holiday

Four hives in the back of the car, ready for the short trip up to their new home

Four hives in the back of the car, ready for the short trip to their new home

This happens every year — spring arrives, the clocks change, and all-of-a-sudden I find myself crazy busy. Having had a week’s holiday in late March certainly helped me get on top of stuff, but the big issue this year was the realisation I need to assemble loads of bee equipment.

I was completely delighted (and extremely surprised) to find all my of my hives (four nucs and four full colonies) made it through the winter. But then I was suddenly struck with the realisation that I’m going to need lots of extra equipment — eight nuc boxes for dealing with swarms, and eight supers for all the honey.

With the clocks changing I’ve been hammering away almost every evening until it gets dark, making up dozens of frames as well as constructing nuc boxes. On top of this, there’s still digging to do at the allotment, and seeds to bring on at the greenhouse.

At one point last week, I suddenly got quite stressed with the urgency of it all — and then, just a couple of days later, things peaked and I suddenly saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Five nuc boxes had been assembled, and the greenhouse tables are covered with young seedlings. Relief!

I’ve also decided to move my bees to a more rural site to avoid the potential hassle of swarms invading local chimneys. A local farmer was generous enough to give me a spot. It’s a little windy, but there is a vast field of oilseed rape just a 100 yards or so away. It hasn’t flowered yet, but when it does, I’m confident the bees will go crazy for it.

At first I moved two nucs up, just to see how they’d fare. I was a little concerned that they might not find enough to forage, surrounded by barren fields. But they seemed to find something (there’s a village about a mile away).

So, yesterday I took another four hives. Remarkably the flit went smoothly without a single bee escaping in to the car.

So, with two more hives to go, I’m almost all set for the oilseed rape harvest.

My first glass of Muntons Oak Aged Ale. Just perfect

My first glass of Muntons Oak Aged Ale. Just perfect

Two other things to quickly share. I planted my potatoes this morning. They are always the first thing to go in the ground in the spring, so it felt like a bit of an occasion.

To celebrate (and this brings me neatly to my second point), I sampled my second batch of home brew (Muntons Oak Aged Ale). I should have left it for a few more days, but I couldn’t wait. And, to be honest, I didn’t need to. It was sensational.

Incredible dark (providing you don’t do what I did and also pour in some sediment) with a nice head, it was almost chocolatey in its richness with a bitter after taste.

It was how you’d expect a beer like that to be, and to be completely honest, was as good (if not better) than anything you can buy from the supermarket.

I’ve read a lot that home brew kits have vastly improved over recent years, well, I can confirm that’s the absolute truth. There was nothing “home made” in the way this beer tasted. It was just spot-on.

(As you can probably guess, I’ve had a few bottles while writing this, so now’s probably a good time to call it a day and head for bed, a contented man.)

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Here’s to new venture

39 bottles from a kit that was supposed to only make 36. Oh, well

39 bottles from a kit that was supposed to only make 36. Oh, well

Here at we like to start a new venture each year. We’ll keep adding stuff until we burst (which is soon). So what’s it to be in 2015? Buying a boat and catching our own fish? Growing a field of wheat? Although both (and, in particular, the first option) are things I want to do eventually, I’d thought I’d stick to something simpler and cheaper — home brewing.

I must admit, it has fascinated me for a while. I do like something that’s quite esoteric and takes knowledge beyond the ken of “normal” people (Call me a snob, if you like, but I prefer the term “elitist”).

The reason I’ve put it off for a while is two-fold: 1. the cost of equipment seems ridiculous (£60 for a bucket and a few bits) 2. Sue said the process would smell. Well, she’s no longer living in this house, so what does that matter?

The cost factor was overcome when I visited my local Original Factory Shop (also, a great place for wild bird seed). They had Kilner home-brew starting kits at £20, reduced from £60. At that time  I was counting pennies, but I realised I wouldn’t get a better offer than that. I needed to get bottles as well. However, I was delighted to see that Tesco had 25% off all their homebbrew equipment. So I got 96 plastic PET bottles for under £25. A bargain. Total outlay: £45.

The reason for so many bottles is that can have half fermenting away, while the other half is ready to drink. A constant supply of cheap beer!

I decided that before I go down the route of growing my own hops etc, I thought I’d better start simple — with a kit. One that caught my eye was St Peter’s Golden Ale. Unlike a lot of kits, you can actually buy the real deal, all bottled and ready to drink, from your supermarket. And it’s pretty good. At £23 for 36 pints (Lakeland), it wasn’t the cheapest or the strongest, but it had the potential to be tasty, which, when all is said and done, is more important than strength.

Following the instructions was easy-peasy, and within  a few days I had 39 half-litre bottles. The kit said it would make 36 PINTS. A pint is just over a half-litre, so that explains the discrepancy. Besides, I didn’t fully fill each bottle due to a fear of explosions.

Now all I need to do is wait. The instructions on the box says two weeks, but some folk on the home brew forums (whom I feel I should make my buddies) say give it six weeks.

I’ll let you know.