22 October

What a determined bunch of #wildflowerhour members you are. Storms and the shortening days couldn’t stop you from finding so many beautiful blooms in Britain and Ireland.

Tonight’s star image is from @wikiping.

We also had our first week of our winter challenge to find ten plants in bloom, and you embraced this with such enthusiasm too. More on that tomorrow.

Here are the highlights from a really lovely Sunday night. Thank you.

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from #wildflowerhour http://www.wildflowerhour.co.uk/blog/2017/10/22/22-october/

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Give us some wild flower power

#wildflowerhour has been going for two years and is just one of the best things about social media. But because we started really by accident and have ended up being fabulously accidentally popular, like one of those evenings when you think you’re staying in but end up staying out until the small hours, we need a bit of help.

At the moment, we have two volunteers running this site and the social media mayhem that takes place every Sunday, with a lot of help from the wonderful Louise Marsh at the BSBI, who has done more to grow #wildflowerhour than anyone else.

But to make #wildflowerhour even bigger in 2018, we need some more hands on deck.

Some of you have already offered help with social media work, and this is brilliant. If you think you could help compiling ID requests, answering questions and encouraging new people, then we’d love to hear from you.

But we are also looking for:

  • People who fancy curating certain pages, such as our orchids page, our verges campaign page (which supports Plantlife), and any new parts of the site that they can suggest.
  • Volunteers with a passion for admin: namely, working out rotas of those who can help each week (we will recruit them so it’s just a case of having that special fun with a spreadsheet that only admin fiends understand);
  • Technical whizzes who can offer ideas on how to grow the site and tools to improve it;
  • Ambassadors, which is just a posh name for people who know how to get the word out about #wildflowerhour so that we are enticing more and more people to look forward to Sunday night and getting more and more people to realise how wonderful our native flora is.
  • Thinkers, which is a posh name for people who have clever ideas about how they think #wildflowerhour can grow, but don’t have much time beyond filling in a form.

Basically, whoever you are, we want to hear from you. #wildflowerhour will always be non-profit, it will always promote the work of BSBI, Plantlife and the Wildlife Trusts (and anyone else who wants our love), and it will always need enthusiastic volunteers who just love plants to help.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if not only did #wildflowerhour trend every Sunday night as it does, but it brought botany to an even bigger audience and made more and more people realise the joy of plants.

If you can help, fill in the form below:

from #wildflowerhour http://www.wildflowerhour.co.uk/blog/2017/10/22/give-us-some-wild-flower-power/

How to dry chillies – 3 easy ways

I’ve just learned how to dry chillies Italian-style.

If you stroll round the ancient hilltop towns of southern Italy in October, you will see strings of chillies drying everywhere.

We’re all growing more chillies now, and ‘Chilli Festivals’ are the fastest-growing horticultural event in the UK. But, like all homegrown fruit and vegetable, you do suddenly get alot of chillies at once.

Dry chillies by stringing them

Many houses in this hilltop town have chillies hanging to dry from the the windows.

Preserving your homegrown fruit, vegetables and herbs is an art form in Italy. Nothing is wasted – and the southern part is poorer than the north. Preserving is frugality made beautiful.

Chillies hanging out to dry outside many houses

More chillies hanging out to dry. The owners of the house may have grown these in pots, or bought them in big branches from the local greengrocers.

My sister-and-brother-in-law, Penny and Peter, have just moved to a small hillside olive farm in Puglia (the heel and instep of Italy’s ‘boot’). Their three room cottage – or casa di campagna – is filled with bottles and jars of Penny’s home preserved and home-grown goodies.

Homegrown and home-dried chillies

Penny’s home-dried chillies.

There are strings of dry chillies – or drying chillies – hanging both inside and outside the house.

Last year I froze my spare homegrown chillies. All I got was a soggy and tasteless mess (although chillies are supposed to freeze, so I must have done something wrong.) So I asked Penny to show me the Italian ways of drying chillies.

The super-easy way to dry chillies…

If you grow your own chillies, then the easiest way of drying them is to dig the whole plant up, shake the earth off and hang it upside down in a well-ventilated place.

Dry chillies by hanging the plant upside down

Penny and Peter’s casa di campagna has attractive green windows. Penny has used the bars to hang a chilli plant upside down to dry.

Penny’s Italian neighbours told her to dry chillies out of direct sunlight, but we saw several strings of chillies drying in quite sunny spots. So I think it’s a question of trial and error.

You might try a greenhouse, a kitchen window or even a warm airing cupboard.

Dry chillies in a light, well ventilated place

Hang your chillies in a well ventilated greenhouse, potting shed or at the kitchen window. The UK is more humid than southern Italy, so keep an eye out for rot or mould.

It’s really not much more complicated than that, although you do need to pick the leaves off.  And snip off any chilli that is bruised or rotting. Penny advises you to turn the bunch every few days, giving it a gentle shake to shed any remaining leaves.

The temperature at Penny’s, incidentally, ranges from 12-25C/50-73F in October, getting quite cold at night. When we were there, it was roughly the same temperature as Kent (UK), although we were having a bit of a late heat wave!

How to create beautiful strings of dry chillies

A string of chillies is called a ristra. This method is good if you grow your own chillies or buy big bunches of chillies, still on the branch, from farmers’ markets. It’s also good for drying peppers.

Italian greengrocers

Dry chillies on strings

Strings of chillies hanging outside a house in town. Choose a spot with good air circulation.

Cut the chillies off the branch leaving a longish stem – around 3cm is good.

You need a strong, fine thread – raid the sewing basket, or use fine fishing thread. If using cotton thread, use a double thickness.

Tie a knot at the end, so the chillies can’t slip off. This needs to have a bow, so you can hang the chillies.

Then thread the needle through the cap of the chilli, where it joins the stalk. Don’t pierce it too far up the stalk or it will split.

Threading chillies

The thread goes through the ‘cap’ of the chillies.

Gently work the chilli down to the knot. Repeat. When you have threaded the whole string, spread the chillies out as much as possible, so that each chilli faces a different way to the one above.

Alternate chillies to dry them quicker

Make sure that each chilli faces in a different direction from the one above.

How long do the chillies take to dry?

How long is a piece of string threaded with chillies? Seriously, though, it’s a question of how warm and dry the weather is, and how much ventilation your chillies get. Some people suggest that chillies dry in the open air in three days, but I think that’s optimistic, especially in October.

Chillies ready to hang

All the chillies strung up, ready to hang.

Check the string every few days, turning it upside down and hanging it from what was the bottom. Remove any rotting chillies. When the chillies start to rattle with a noise like scrunched-up tissue paper, they are ready. You can cut them up and put them in jars. Or leave them hanging in festive strings.

How to dry chillies in the oven

This is quicker but less beautiful.

Penny has dried some of her chillies flat in the sunlight, but I suspect that there isn’t enough Northern hemisphere sunshine to make this workable for many of us. We will need to turn on our ovens (very low – around 40C). The warming oven of an Aga is perfect, too.

Dry chillies in the sunlight

Chillies drying on a chair in the sun in a street in Puglia. We probably don’t have enough sunlight for this method in the UK – but if your chillies ripen early in August, you could try it. Otherwise it’s the oven!

Spread the chillies out on a piece of baking paper in a flat or roasting tin. Put them in the oven and check them every 30-45 minutes to make sure they don’t burn. This can take 3-6 hours, depending on your oven temperature and how big your chillies are.

In Puglia, people use chillies instead of pepper, adding a little chilli to most dishes.

Homegrown basil pesto

Penny’s pesto is made almost entirely from homegrown nuts and basil. She’s added a little chilli instead of pepper.

Pin for reference

Three easy ways to dry chillies - hang your chilli plant upside down, make a festive chilli string or oven dry your chillies

 

The post How to dry chillies – 3 easy ways appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden http://www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk/how-to-dry-chillies-3-easy-ways/

Challenge: The Winter Ten

There’s plenty of rubbish out there about how the nights are drawing in and the worst season is coming along. Yes, yes, winter’s coming and all that, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop botanising. It’s just a different sort of challenge.

Every week in the spring and summer, we’ve been running different #wildflowerhour challenges to encourage you to go looking for new flowers, in new habitats and in different ways. But though the meadows are turning russet and ochre, there are still flowers out there to find.

So our weekly winter challenge is #thewinter10 which is to find ten different wild flowers in bloom each week. Once you’ve found them, work out what they are, and post them for the rest of us to see.

You can do this on Twitter using the usual #wildflowerhour hashtag, but adding #thewinter10, and numbering your tweets so that we can see that you reached 10. Or you can post all 10 at once in our Facebook group.

This will give us a picture of what’s still flowering as the days grow colder and shorter, and encourage all of us to get off the sofa and get out into what remains the great outdoors all year round: the only difference is that you’ll want to wear a coat and gloves.

from #wildflowerhour http://www.wildflowerhour.co.uk/blog/2017/10/20/the-winter-10/