Wednesday, 12 December 2012

New projects for the (forthcoming) New year ...

I love the approach of a New Year. Since I love making lists, I always enjoy thinking over what I have acheived in the last year....and what I want to do next.

One thing I am determined to do in 2013 is to slow down more and spend more time in the outdoors really seeing what is going on around me. I have read some wonderful books over the last 12 months, and I can't help noticing a common thread emerging... and that is my interest in other people who have slowed down and really look at the natural world, or their everyday lives.

Recent examples of this are - Otter country by Miriam Darlington, which is the year long account of a woman who is fascinated by otters. It is beautifully written and truly observant. A second book, which is one I've gone back to many times is Better off by Eric Brende. This is the story of a young couple who go to live for a period in an Amish type community, without connection to the grid, and many modern conveniences. This calls me back time and again, because this gives them more time to observe the world around them, and appreciate the everyday.

These are things I want to achieve in my own I keep reading, hoping to be inspired.

A thought that came to me yesterday was that I could start to keep a photographic record of my walks along the river. I walk there at least two or three times a week with the dog. This could be a start, an exercise in observance.

So today....



 We took a chilly winter walk. No frost or snow...but we found ice, forming swirling patterns on the ponds; the last remaining Hawthorn berries on lichen crusted branches; and low winter sun shining through the trees on our return.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

..and today back to work..

The sun continued to shine this morning, so I got to work in the garden. I've started with clearing the two beds in front of the polytunnel...the left hand side one needs some brambles/couch grass and Buttercups digging out as I'd foolishly left it to it's own devices for too long.

The seeds I sowed before we went away have all come through. These included some modular sown Boltardy Beetroot and Snowball Turnip. I will simply plant these out as clumps. I tried this last year and found it worked very well. It seems to be less work overall than sowing and then just need to plant out the clumps a little further apart.

I'd also sown a pot of Salad Leaves Speedy (from Thompson & Morgan). They seem to be a mix of Mizuna (red and green) with other Oriental leaves. These will probably not be terribly long lived at this time of year....but I'm hoping to get some salads from the plants and then no doubt the hens will enjoy them too. They have now been pricked out into a modular tray.

Sweet Aji Peppers, Red Russian Kale and Little Gem Lettuce have also been pricked out into a modular tray. This year inspired by Charles Dowding I'm planning to use modular trays more...and to use trays with more modules per tray. I noticed while reading his new "Vegetable Course" book that he seems to use these smaller modules with perhaps 60 to a tray to get plants to planting out stage. I'm guessing by doing this you get more plants from a smaller amount of compost. This has got to be a good plan. Cheaper overall...and anything to save lugging heavy stuff about!

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the blossom on the Peach tree in a friends greenhouse...

Spring holidays

Yesterday we arrived home after a week's holiday on the Northumberland Coast. Amazingly the sun shone every day - so we didn't go very far - we made the most of the sunshine just enjoying the beautiful beaches around Bamburgh.

The cottage we stayed in looked directly onto the sand dunes....

and from there it was a five minute walk to the beach....

looking toward the Farne Islands......

and Bamburgh Castle........

There are plenty of interesting rocks...

...and rock pools for us all to explore...

I think Becky enjoyed herself!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A frosty day and Apricot preserves

Very cold this morning - as was yesterday - woke to a hard frost, that didn't shift all day. We went for a walk up the hill to one of our favourite woods. Beautiful and bright - but we were glad to head for home and home made Lemon Cupcakes after a while.

After lunch I was happy to settle down in the kitchen, warmed by the woodstove and get on with some preserving. I bought 1 kg of Apricots in the market for £ I've been wanting to try a recipe for Apricot Jam.

The recipe starts by preparing the fruit the night before. Halve and take out the stones, which need to be reserved. I then cut the apricots into quarters and mix them in a preserving pan with the same weight in sugar. Then leave overnight for the juices to be drawn out.

Today I put the pan on the heat and let it simmer until all the sugar had dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil for about 20 minutes. While that is happening use nutcrackers to remove half of the kernels from their shelss, then pour boiling water on the kernels. After a minute or so sking them and cut in half and add to jam.

Test for setting point and when the jam is ready take it off the heat and leave for 15 minutes to settle. Then pour into a jug, and fill your scalded jars.

I paid around £2.50 in total for ingredients. £1 for fruit, 25 p for Lemon, and £1.25 for sugar. I wouldn't even have got two good quality jars for that price I'm very pleased with the results....which taste absolutely delicious and were literally childs play to make....and they the colour is gorgeous in the winter sunlight.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Purple Sprouting and maintenance work

It was a beatiful afternoon here yesterday. Blue sky and sunshine. Fairly mild too, almost feels as though Spring is on the way. A batch of polytunnel repair tape I'd ordered arrived during the week, so I got the ladders out and repaired the plastic, where it was beginning to tear.

This cover has been on the polytunnel for 11 years now and looks as though it will see out the coming season too. We bought the tunnel from a firm called Citadel and they I must say though it was expensive we've never regretted it. (see )The size is roughly 30 feet by 20 feet, and as it has straight sides all of that is usable space.

I can't imagine living without all that covered growing space now....especially here in the often chilly North East of England.

Inspired by the mild weather I sowed some Lettuce in a modular tray when I got home, Morton's Secret Mix (Real Seeds) and Little Gem (Wilkos). For now they are sheltered inside a plastic bag in the kitchen window. To move to the polytunnel as soon as they emerge.

After a good day's work we enjoyed some Purple Sprouting Brocolli for our dinner, curtesy of a neighbouring allotment holder.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day work

As usual we went for a walk along the river first thing - well we walked and Becky ran and swum and ran some more! While my other half kept her entertained with that I sawed up some drift wood to bring home for the wood burner. I'm not sure why but I really love this job - the inner peasant I guess! It pleases me to get some free wood and when we mix it with the wood our neighbour gave us when he chopped up a diseased fruit tree it will make our load of bought wood go further. But it's not just the thriftiness that pleases me; it's using a local product and working in the landscape too.

After lunch I went down to the allotment. I wanted some more "stuff" to put in the hens run and I'd spotted a good pile of dried leaves in the tunnel where the footpath goes under the railway. A sack of that has given me and them a bigger area of dry ground to walk on and they are loving scratching through the new material.

I have two plastic composting bins on the allotment - the sort you get from the local authority. To be honest I've never had great success with them in the past. But, when I emptied one of them out today it was a lovely well rotted crumbly mix. Over the last few months I've done my best to put in a good mix of green waste from the kitchen and garden, along with newspapers/poultry droppings from the hen house....and it has done the trick. I've spread the resulting goodness over one of the raised beds and I'll plant squashes there next year. I'll empty the other one over the next week and spread that too....and then start the process of re-filling them. If I get round to clearing the polytunnel this week then the spent tomato plants etc will get chopped up and go in the bases.

I feel like I've made read progress with this life over the last year. I've produced lots of food; good compost; learnt more about caring for hens; made more good preserves; found a local source of wood shavings to use in the hens run; found a local source of grass cuttings to use as mulch; got involved with the local produce stall; bought more of my clothes in charity shops; collected drift-wood for the fire; had double glazing installed to give us a more energy efficient house;and most of all I've enjoyed every bit of it.

I'm going to put my feet up now and relax with a book. Urban Homesteading :heirloom skills for sustainable living by Kaplan and just have to see the pics to be inspired!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Simple inspiration

It was my birthday yesterday, and as always, books are one of my birthday treats. This year it's Money secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker and a book on Homesteading which hasn't arrived yet.

Although it isn't the best written book I've ever come across, Money secrets of the Amish is very interesting. It discusses how they try to make do and mend rather than buying new. The author talks about finding ways to solve problems, without spending your way out of it.

With that in mind when faced with a problem this morning - the chickens run which was turning into a mudbath after all the rain - I thought how can I solve this for free with what I already have? Last year I bought a load of wood chips, which worked for a while...until they disappeared into the ground, which is turned often. Mainly it was an expensive solution. So what did I have, well newspaper which is hopeless when it's so wet. I also had wood shavings from a joiner friend which I use in the hen house. It might help a little, but is too wasteful of a great free resource. So, I went to look round the allotment for inspiration....and found some dried out plants - Ammi Major, Cosmos, Cornflowers etc - that I'd left in place, planning to use them to provide cover for the beds over the winter. Just the thing. Strewn over the hen run they provide something dry for the hens to stand on if they want to avoide standing on very wet cold mud all well as something pleasanter than mud for me to stand on while feeding them. Not only that, but the hens immediately set to work searching for bugs and seeds on the dried up plants, keeping them entertained too. Something to remember at the end of next summer.