Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Free fun


I simply had to tell you about my son's latest adventure.  He wanted to play on his computer, which given the chance he would do all day every day.  Of course I don't want him to do this and although I'm sad that he would choose to spend time locked in his room instead of being outside with us, I don't blame myself for this.  Kids are kids and they're exposed to these things if we like it or not.
So on Saturday, I decided to bribe him to come outside (rather than threaten to take his technology off him permanently ;) ).
I made him a treasure map which basically was a walk around our smallholding.  We packed up a bag which included a flask and some fruit and a biscuit as adventurer's need sustenance.  He took his telescope and a spare pair of socks.  Loaded up he went on his travels and I've never seen his face beam so much.  He had 3 tasks to do on his travels.
Find an intact leaf, look for goose/duck eggs and find a daffodil but don't pick it yet.  He also did a tally chart of all the animals he found.  Slightly worrying, he found 4 sheep when we have 3, but let's move on.
He completed his adventure and found his treasure was a mini egg in the greenhouse, that his Granny had bought him when they babysat the other night.  He chose to sit in the greenhouse and ate it.  Happy days.
He didn't know I had taken this..awww
Checking off his list
Counting mole hills (he'd be there some time)
 If anyone has any other ideas for a 6 or 10 year old, free fun - I'd love to hear them :)
 

Monday, 20 February 2017

First whole weekend outdoors

What a beautiful weekend we had here in North East England.  It was glorious for a Winter's day in February.  It's due to turn cold by the end of the week again, so I'll be sure not to get caught out.
After the usual daily/weekend jobs I started as I meant to go on and got the peas moved to the poltyunnel as they are looking nice and strong and rather big in their modules.  I know we risk losing them, but I am sowing every couple of weeks so that I can mark off which sowing date was best for me. 
I moved the strawberries that were in little pots, taken from runners, to the polytunnel too, for an extra early lot.
I also got a bin of carrots sown.  I have another bin I will put some more in but I want to add sand to that one to compare.  On the below photo, I put the bubble wrap over the top to help germination.
Strawberries planted from 2016 finished plant runners
 Once I'd finished with the polytunnel, I took a stroll into the veg plot.  The garlic is growing very well, but something has had the first few cloves away.  This line went all the way down to the bottom of the bed before.
 

I then dug a bean trench and filled it with the compost bin's contents.  I intend to dig another bean trench to the right of this one, leaving a gap, and filling that one with rotted muck.  That one will be for French climbing beans.  I'm using muck as I've no more compost from the veg peeling composter.
It was a day of pondering as I worked.  I have the area where the rescue hens lived in 2016 before the lockdown.  I think I would like to bring this area back to life as a flower garden/mini orchard.  There's already lots of things in there at the back of the grassed area.  Last year, I was adamant that anything that didn't provide food was to go.  However I've since learnt the importance of flowers, bees and pollination plus beneficial insects (not to mention the decline of the bee population).

 This is the area I was thinking about putting a few fruit trees, maybe an apple off Kev, a pear (already got) and almond?  I need to find out more about the fruit trees.  The space is quite big so I was thinking maybe I could make a bed for my berries and bushes that like ericaceous soil if I don't put fruit trees in.  We do have 3 apple trees already, would 4 be too many?  Should I get another pear (the one I have is conference, self pollinating).  Decisions....


Whilst pondering this, I remembered I needed to cover another area of the plot that was all weeds last year with membrane, to hopefully eradicate them.  This is it:

Looking up and over the fence, I then started pondering something else...so I walked out to the front of the house and took a photo of what's there.  I could tidy up around the bridle path sign and plant some wild hedging here, like Tricia suggested.



I have a wall that runs along the front of the house which is very long and south facing.  Now I don't want anything high, as it'd stop the view from the rooms, but maybe I could grow peas, mini sunflowers or such like along the wall?



Whilst I was pondering, Ste was actually working.  He made a new feeder for the growers.  Their normal feeder is insider this bucket and they have to put their heads in the holes to get to it.  It stops them wasting it all as this bunch are terrible for that.  These guys will be back out soon hopefully.  The ban for my postcode is being lifted shortly.
He also lined the last bed with membrane and we set about filling it with muck, so that's now done.  I just need topsoil for them all now, which I am ordering at the end of the month.

I saw my first dandelion emerging on Sunday which is telling me things are starting to grow and I need to start the weekly weed if I have any chance of survival this year.

 There wasn't just me having fun in the veg plot.  Grace knows how to dig up the leeks.
Jack helped out too with the last of the sprouts.

 Steven did the man thing and had a fire!  Incidentally the weed bed I mentioned is behind this fire bin, pre cover up.
As I left the plot for the afternoon, I couldn't help but look back and get that giddy feeling that all gardeners so as the season starts. 

As always, comments, questions and advice are welcome.  We're very much learning as we go, jumping in both feet first.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Preserving is off to a start

After a post about summer in winter and batch cooking scones, I simply had to tell you about the marmalade I made last week.  For years, literally, I've wanted to make Seville Orange marmalade.  Now this may appear very sad to many folk, but not to me.  I never got round to it until last week.  Thankfully Tricia over on Tarragon & Thyme reminded me that the marmalade season is upon us! 
After spending weeks checking with Tesco and the local grocers if they had any oranges to no avail, would you believe that my mam and I managed to acquire some on the same day!  Typical we thought, I now had far too many Seville's to use in one go.
Apparently they are good for freezing, so I froze the ones I didn't use and will be able to dip into them as and when we need a top up.
I set about making marmalade using Louise's recipe.  Louise was very humble about it, saying it's really easy to do and I can tell she's at ease with the whole process.  I look forward to when I feel like that when it becomes second nature.
Well after using her recipe (below) I have to say she was right, it couldn't be easier.  To top it off it tastes divine!  So thank you Lou :)





 
Now I did make a mistake, I forgot to water bath the jars after using them, so I will need to use them up quicker than if I'd water bathed them. 
The simple recipe has the seal of approval from my parents, who both said they enjoyed the jar I gave them.
Shared with Louise' permission:

Easy peesey marmalade
3 oranges, not too big
zest of half a lemon
3 cups of water
half a kilo of sugar

Wash and quarter the oranges, put in a food processor, skin and all, and grind finely/to the thickness you like.
Add the lemon zest.
Boil in a a pan with the sugar, stirring now and then, for about 20 minutes.
Careful of the splatters!
Put in your sterilised jars in the fridge when cooled or water bath if you want to keep it for any time.

One thing I couldn't find was my zester, so I used a potato peeler and peeled the skin then used a sharp knife to cut into fine zest pieces.  It took very little extra time and I found it easier!
I also doubled the recipe which made the amount in the photos at the top.
So that's mango chutney and marmalade made for 2017's preserving list so far.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Summer in winter

A long time ago I came across a recipe on the bbcGF website called summer in winter chicken.  It's a really nice recipe and every now and then it pops in to my head as to how we can have summer in winter occasionally.
So the best way to do this for me, is to capture the foods we love in summer, and use them in winter.  Something I intend to do a lot of this year, and we didn't do too bad last year considering it was our first year.
There was an alcohol theme though!
I did raspberry vodka which was delicious, a really refreshing treat in a long glass with lemonade.


When the damsons arrived, I wasn't prepared!  So I made vodka with them too! I'd been given some bottles of vodka, and I don't like it, so it seemed the best option.
We decanted it at the weekend after 4 or 5 months and it really was like having a summer drink, very nice again with lemonade.
It went from this:


To this:
Isn't it a pretty colour?


Along with the blackberry scones I made at the weekend, it's really been giving us a taste of things to come for 2017. 
I intend to plant more raspberries and also get some brambles (blackberries) planted as they are non existent here in the wild.  The sloes and elders made up for that though. 
Can you feel the build up to the growing and preserving year starting?  I can!

Monday, 13 February 2017

A productive and wet weekend

The weekend forecast had one word - wet.  We decided to make the most of the rain and go to the cinema!  We rarely do this as a family, so we took the kids to see one of the kids films that is out and then went for some tea at a near by "diner".  A treat that was enjoyed by all.  Given that it was going to be raining or snowing for pretty much all of the weekend, I hadn't expected to get many outdoor jobs done.  However we managed to get a lot more done than originally thought.
Ste made me a potting bench, a counter top one so I can move it around as needed.  As usual, he used wood that we had to hand and in this instance, kept a part of the house alive using an old fireplace.  It's perfect and does the exact job I need.  So I set about to use it.  I had lots of seedlings that were getting leggy, so I pricked them out and replanted them as deep as possible, so they grow nice and strong again, like they did last year.  It is huge, the reason it looks small here is I had my glove in my hand which got caught by the camera.
Below I have kale and spinach in the left hand tray - spinach hasn't germinated yet, if at all.  Kale shot up so I won't sow these 2 together again.  Then aubergine and beef tomatoes in the bag.  They're next to my indoor peas which I sowed at the same time as the ones in the greenhouse (which are just starting to germinate so a week or 2 behind these).  The tray to the right is tomatoes, different varieties and 2 or 3 of each.
I made a bold move this weekend and binned the weaker seedlings and only kept a few strong ones of each.  I felt like I was doing something wrong throwing seedlings out!
I made a start on the plastic bottles that we had saved (Ste uses them for water in his gym) and am keeping them to use as mini greenhouses/cloches for when plants are put out or maybe for direct sowings to help germinate.  I've cut the bottom off so canes can be put through the hole in the lid, to support the bottle from flying away.

I sowed some sprouts and some flower seeds (sweet pea, cosmos) as I'd like to do my bit for the decline in bees and welcome them to my garden.  Not the wasps though, they can b****r off ;) 
A few more broad beans went in. These are the dwarf variety "Sutton" whereas the others are "Jubilee Hysor" left over from last year.  The Sutton does not need support so I will bear that in mind when planting out and just plant in blocks instead of rows.
 My bare root comfrey arrived.  I ordered 5 from ebay and to be honest when they turned up, I wondered what on earth they were!  However after a quick chat with Dawn and an email from the seller, I filled a container with damp compost, placed the roots in and covered with a touch more compost then wet newspaper.  I'll see where to roots grow from then plant them up when the weather warms a bit.

 Speaking of warming things up.  I was like a kid in a toy shop when Ste bought me this beauty for Christmas.  Now I know some people aren't fond of paraffin heaters but let's give it a try.  It was recommended by UK here we grow on one of their You Tube videos.  I got it up and running and it had it's first night on last night.  I'm pleased to say it kept the greenhouse at 6.3C.  I also got the heat bench up and running thanks to Ste, who rewired things so there is now power in the greenhouse! 
The bench heated wire works, so I will be starting to use that over the next couple of weeks.  Between the paraffin heater and the heated bench, the seedlings should do pretty well.  Just as well, as we're running out of window sills in the house !
One thing I was really excited about was the piquant seeds Dawn sent me when she offered them on her blog.  The seeds originally came from Dani on Eco Footprint South Africa and I shall be offering mine when they are ready too.  I think it's a lovely way of keeping this little pepper family going.
I have decided to try and get some batch cooking done on a weekend to start giving myself an easier life for week days.  This is my first attempt and scones in a long time.  These have blackberries in from the summer.  The blackberries were past their best when we picked them, so I froze them for use over the winter in puds and things.  They turned out really well so I buttered them and froze them individually for lunches.
After a weekend out in the cold and wet (and by gum it was both), Ste and I succumbed to a sore throat each.  Grace had a bunged up nose, but she hadn't been out in the elements, so I think it's a bit of a cold virus too.  I made Ste and I a Hot Toddy each using the following recipe from the internet:

Hot Toddy
1 shot whisky
1 tsp honey (I had 2)
2 cloves
1/2 cinnamon stick
off the boil hot water
slice lemon
lemon juice to taste

It was lovely actually and I felt fine this morning.
After lots of family time on Saturday afternoon, we watched another film last night.  Pirates of the carribean - you can see Jack with his telescope!  It was lovely to have the chill out time together.
The dogs enjoyed it too. 

I've lots more to write, but that's enough for today - I'll update you with other goings on shortly.
Happy Monday :)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Off like a rocket.

We were given this beautiful amaryllis for Christmas off my Uncle and his family.  Well, I swear if you sit there for an hour, it'll grow before your eyes.  Isn't it pretty?  It's been out of its box around a month.
The chickens are revolting.  They made a bid for freedom, knocking down our temporary accommodation, which we put back up, but they are getting wise to it. 
The ducks also made a bid for freedom and spent a good 15 minutes in the beck that runs along one side of our land, to the river.  They were ushered back in of course but accidents happen (in relation to the Avian Flu measures).
 

So between my plants and escaping animals, they've all shot off like rockets in their own way!

A day off work for Ste means a new cold frame for us all!

Not just 1, but 2!
You may have guessed from the last post or 2, Ste had a couple of holidays to use so took 2 days off.  After putting the new gate up at the weekend, he kept up the pace by working on the new veg garden that we're putting in.  I say we as he builds it, I'll grow in it.
We have the 3 raised beds that he made and filled with muck already this year. 




With more of the same wood, which we bought specifically for this job to keep things looking nice, he's made another bed which will become The Pumpkin Patch for 2017 (I always wanted one from reading about them in books as a kid!)
Taken from the other angle.
 However not only did he make another veg bed, he also made a start on some cold frames.


Not just one, but two!
 
He actually finished them but I don't have a photo of the cold frames woodwork finished as it was dark when I went to see them after work.
We need to source some glass/plastic for the top of them but have been told to be careful as certain corrugated plastic removes much needed rays from the sun that the plants need to grow? 
Either way - we're really getting ready for the 2017 and beyond self sufficient veg challenge!