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.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

November colour in the garden

I took some photos on the 5th to capture all the colour in the kitchen garden in early November. Better than a fireworks display as far as I'm concerned. Of course the recent mild weather has helped....but much of the colour at this time of year comes from Kales.

But there are also a few flowers - the last of the Pot Marigolds -
and a few heads of Phacelia -

I use them both to attract beneficial insects and to cut for the house.

About the same time I did some work on sharpening up the central path - giving it a short back and sides which should look good when we get some frost.

Over the winter I need to weed the edge where some couch grass infiltrates itself from the paths around the allotments.....and finish giving all of the beds an eiderdown of grass cuttings and compost. A few of the beds still have a good cover of green manure at this stage. This will protect the soil and keep feeding all those good creatures living in the soil. Below is some Yellow Trefoil still looking good.

...and finally a splash of colour from the last of the Beets.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

November 2nd and the sun is shining

I had a day off today and the sun was we made the most of it with a walk up the hill to enjoy the golden autumnal light.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Inspiration and community food projects

Yesterday I went to our local library - which handily for me is pretty much across the road from us - to collect a book I'd ordered The thrifty forager by Alys Fowler. After a busy day of cooking and working at home I settled down on the sofa to read...and a couple of hours later retired to bed hugely inspired and excited.

The first section of the book covers Alys's own foraging experiences and community projects that encourage people to forage for what is available around these cases not so much wild food but locally growing fruit and intentially planted veg, herbs and fruit at Incredible Edbile Todmorden.

This is a very exciting project I keep reading about and seeing on tv and online and must visit for myself one of these days. Alys talks about how it developed and where they are now, with people taking on the care for and explaining the produce in particular areas.

I don't have time to work and do a community project I had thought...and yet....our local library developed a produce stall for allotment growers to take along their surplus...and people take what they fancy and leave a donation for the library. I've been taking things along - like tubs of whitecurrants, red cabbage, primrose yellow french beans, and trays of multi-coloured cherry tomatoes with a sprig of basil in each. I loved preparing them....and it gave me such a lift when they were admired, and when I bumped into someone I know and they said they'd had some of my curly kale...I felt so proud. Yesterday, a lady who works as a volunteer in the library asked if it was me who brought along the trays of tomatoes...and told me she thought they were so beautiful she had taken a photo of them. I was thrilled...and it made me realise how life-affirming this is.

One of the growers in Ays's book is an Englishman who lives in Norway and has researched an amazing number of edibles, and created a fantastic edible landscape in his garden ...

Another is Fallen Fruit in the US - who have mapped fruit that is available...and have public jam making sessions to encourage people to get to grips with it!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Preserving goodness for the store-cupboard

I've still got lots of cooking apples to use so today I made another batch of Spiced Apple Chutney - after trying some with a veggie burger and a bun at lunchtime to make sure I was happy with the spicing and the thickness. The conclusion was that it was just right.

While we were out for our morning walk I also picked some Haws - only about 250g as I didn't spend too much time on it, but enough to try a half quantity of Saucy Haw Ketchup from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook.

The most fiddly thing about it was taking some of the stalks off the berries - I must admit I didn't take all of them off. Then they are simple simmered with water and white wine vinegar for 30 minutes.

The resulting panful of soft fruit is pushed through a sieve and then put back in the pan with some sugar, heated gently to dissolve the suga,r and then cook for 5 minutes.

I put the resulting gloriously coloured sauce into a jam jar ready to squirrel away.

One of the reasons that I was so keen to try this was that Pam Corbin suggests that it is very good with Nut loafs....and I fancy trying it with our Christmas Parsnip and Cashew Nut Roast. I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Back to Balcary Bay

We've just had a week's holiday in Balcary Bay in Scotland. The weather was a bit patchy, with a lot of blustery wind, but we still had a lovely week.

In the kitchen again

One of the lovely things about coming home is being able to work in my own kitchen. You don't realise how much you have tailored it to your own needs until you are away and don't have your own utensils and pots! Not to mention all my cookbooks, the store cupboard and the kitchen garden.

When I got home from work last night I set to work and made some bread and some Roasted Tomato Soup for our lunch today. The bread is coming good. At the moment I use -

1 lb of Tesco Strong White Flour
4 oz Shipton Mill Three malts & sunflower flour (described as being the colour of speckled hens - who could resist that?)
1 sachet dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp sunflower oil
warm water

Mix all the ingredients. Kneed for 10 mins and form into ball. Cover and leave to rise until double in size. Heat oven to 200 c (my oven is a fan oven). Slash top of loaf, and put in oven on metal tray. Cook for 10 mins. Turn down heat to 180 c, and turn loaf round in oven to cook evenly. Cook for futher 20 mins, then turn over to cook base for 5 more mins.

Leave to cool for 1 hour.

As I've got lots of tomatoes in the polytunnel I decided to make some Roasted Tomato Soup at the same time.
Simply fill large roasting tray with halved tomatoes. Add 2 onions cut in half. Add 3 or 4 cloves of garlic. Splash of balsamic vinegar. Season with black pepper. Drizzle over olive oil. Cook in oven at same time as bread, on shelf below it.
When mixture is cool, take skins off tomatoes, onions and garlic and then blitz in blender with some water to reach consistency you like.
Serve with drizzle of basil oil and toasted pine nuts.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

New territory ...

It was our 16th wedding anniversary while I was on holiday too. We would normally do something special on the day.....but due to other plans we took our special expedition the day before while the sun shined.

We decided to walk toward a hamlet called Settlingstones....a walk we have done many times ..

...but now we have a dog I didn't want to walk over the fell home - as I knew there would be cows with calves instead we walked to Newbrough along quiet country lanes. This is a part of the area we've not really now I'm looking forward to exploring this new part of our territory over the autumn and winter when it's a better temperature for long walks with a dog.

Trip to Yorkshire

While I was on holiday I had a few days in Yorkshire visiting my sister. It was a lovely relaxing weekend as ever and here are a few pics from my visit.

The walk over the top from Haworth to Oxenhope on Friday afternoon.

Visit to Grassington on Saturday -

The pretty shopfronts of Grassington -

and home to cakes baked by my sister....

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Salad bowl

I have a new salad planting in the cottage an old metal planter that we found when we moved here. I put in a few spare Lettuce plants that I didn't have room for in the polytunnel....and they seem to be doing well...and are very handy for the kitchen!
Allium Christophii is flourishing in the cottage garden too and has begun to spread itself around.

Spring trip to Bradley Gardens

I treated myself to a trip to Bradley Gardens recently when I had a few hours free. After some tea and orange cake to revive me I had a relaxing wander.

Including the working area which has it's own fascination.

Localism and marmalade

A produce stall has recently been started outside our village library. The idea is that allotment holders can take their surplus plants and produce along and put them on the stall. Then, people can help themselves, leaving a donation in the honesty box for the library.

Yesterday was my first chance to go along, so earlier in the week I potted up some Bronze Fennel seedlings. I put those out, and then took my pick. This week I was thrilled to find an Aubergine plant, a Pepper plant and a tray of frilly Purple Kale that I just couldn't resist.

I'm really excited about this project as its a great move toward more local food supplies, and building community.

The afternoon's project was maramalade making. Sweet Orange Marmalade in this case .... as I wanted a change from the Three Fruit Marmalade I normally make from oranges, grapefruit and lemons.

10 jars were produced and it was very satisfying to stock up my preserves cupboard.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A bunch of Lilac

This is my beautiful present - a thank you for looking after a friends hens while they were on holiday. I am absolutely thrilled with it....they smell and look heavenly and remind me of the lilac bush in my Grandmother's garden when I was a child. A real treat.

Finale to the holiday

... for us was a walk up toward Hadrian's Wall. The weather was perfect again - warm sunshine and a breeze to stop us getting too hot as we walked uphill. We reached the military road, but then decided to head for home....spotting these Jacob lambs on our way home..

Monday, 25 April 2011

Enjoying the fine spring weather

I had a lovely walk yesterday - and enjoyed all the best of spring - lambs playing in the fields, a bluebell wood and bees out and about round the hives.