Sunday 03 February 2013

I just been looking back at my blog post “Fruitilicious” last year, it’s about how I don’t really have any success with soft fruit or any fruit for that matter!

I was looking back because over the last week I have tied up the raspberries & Tayberry bushes. I have summer and autumn fruiting raspberries and they have to be treated different, as summer fruiting varieties produce there fruit on last year’s new growth and autumn fruiting varieties produce there’s on this year’s growth,

So summer varieties have to have the fruiting stems removed from last year and the new shoots from last year left. How can you tell the difference this time of year?? I hear you all shout… Well I have a simple system really, I tie a peace of garden twine loosely round the stem of the new growth that appears throughout the fruiting season and these don’t get the chop whereas all the others do, you can also tell the difference as the stems that are older don’t look as green but instead look much more woody.And my Tayberries are also treated like summer fruiting raspberries and the old growth chopped back.


        Before                                                             After

The autumn fruiting varieties are a lot simpler to sort them all just get chopped back every year.

2012 was a funny year for my raspberries as they were not producing fruit when they should be; I have 6 varieties of raspberry’s ranging from Very early to very late giving me a long season. Indeed I was picking raspberries in mid-November last year! But the season didn’t start when it should in fact all the raspberries were a good 5-6 weeks later than they should have been my first raspberries were not ready until mid-July I had quite a good crop though except from the very early variety’s as I think it was just too cold for them to do anything.

My Tayberry was a big flop though I just had 1 berry but my, it was a big juicy one. I am hoping this year will be better.

My strawberries were absolutely brilliant last year the best I have ever had I would say I had 5-6KG in total and that’s being conservative! I put it down to the preparation I put in the year before I dug them all out and dug in a load of my homemade compost (with my chicken’s poo in it)then put them back only selecting the healthy plants and the young plants also. And I netted them from the start to stop the birds.

I had no joy also with my new pear tree I planted it was looking magnificent in early April but we had a cold snap and all the blossom fell and thus no fruit! Hopefully this year will be kinder to us allotment growers.

Oh dear what a mess! I have been sorting out the guest bedroom ready for some work to be done in there by Compostman. This meant that lots of "stuff" got put in the Study. It got to the point where I could not easily get to my computer, so I decided I had better have a sort out and de clutter of  the Study as well. The Study is a large room, where both Compostman and I work and with lots

Saturday 02 February 2013

As you all know we have a lot of compost bins of assorted make and style and we make a lot of compost.
 My favourite bins are the "New Zealand" style wooden, slatted bins, so easy to put together and so easy to dismantle and re errect, as needed.

Mine are all from The Recycle Works and I got the first 3 bins as part of a discount offer from my local council, back before I was even a Master Composter or anything - I think in 2003... certainly it was well before Compostgirl started pre school in 2004
And now some parts of those original compost bins have reached their use by date...and need replacing.

The ends have rotted away  from some of the planks

Some of the centre posts have broken up


And generally they need a bit of tender loving care and some new parts to restore them to splendidness.


  Now, the good thing about these compost bins is that you only have to replace the damaged bits! You can buy the individual posts and planks from The Recycle Works so it is very economical to repair them

So today we started to dismantle the compost bins, so as to see how many parts needed replacing.  This, of course, meant moving the finished compost from out of them, so we could take them to bits.  Which meant I had to find a place to put all the aforementioned finished compost...
Fortunately I had a cunning plan...I had a waiting raised bed which needed a lot of compost putting in it, to fill it up, ready for planting potatoes in the next month or so.

As we dismantled the compost bins we found some of the centre posts had rotted where they touched the ground

And some of the boards had rotted through or lost their end plates.

As always, we had company while we worked, both of the feline

and the chicken sort! The chickens were going mad to get to the worms we were exposing.

We got the bins dismantled and the area cleared, ready to sort out those planks and posts which could be re used and those which were too far gone and would need to be burnt.

The wood is not treated, apart from a paint on water based, animal, insect and bird friendly stain, so I think to survive being buried deep in compost for around 10 years before finally rotting a bit  is impressive indeed.

Today was cold but gloriously sunny and we really enjoyed being able to get outside and do something

More tomorrow  as we put the new planks and centres together and re fill the bins - fingers crossed the weather holds out.

The Recycle Works have two special offers on this weekend - 

Two Very Special Brief Offers
This week our Brief Offer is all about protection! 
Offer One: Buy a Big Square Compost Duvet for only £13.99 instead of the normal price of £18.99 saving you £5 on each one you purchase.
All you need to do is enter the code BIGSQUAREDUVET in to the discount code box when ordering and your savings will be automatically applied.
Offer Two: Buy our Frost Protection Fleece at a special price. Buy one for £6.60 or buy two for £12.99.
To take advantage of this offer you just need to give us a call on 01254 820088 and we'll sort our your order for you!
Love Your Environment! Love Your Protection!
*Terms & Conditions Apply. New orders only. No other discount code can be applied with this offer. Free Delivery applies to Mainland UK* orders over £50. 
Brief Offers Available Until Midnight on Sunday 3rd February

Friday 01 February 2013

Imbolc blessings to you all. May yours and mine seeds be fertile and all our crops and livestock grow in abundance!

I always plant the first of my pepper and tomato seeds today or tomorow, and I make sure to get outside and work in the garden and the polytunnel, regardless of the weather :-)

I also gather a small bunch of snowdrops and bring them inside. These are some of the many patches we have flowering in the garden and the wood. Lovely! \I love snowdrops, so cheerful and make me feel spring will soon be here.

More about the Festival of Imbolc


Thursday 31 January 2013

The snow has finally gone and the month has gone with it. This time tomorrow, I'll have flipped over the page on the calendar and all of a sudden it is February. February the 1st is a special start to the month for us though because it is Amy's birthday. We're still not sure what we are doing yet because our minds are all over the place for varying reasons. Unfortunately Amy's Mum is currently in hospital and we don't think she will be out for another week, it's nothing too serious I must hasten to add but it is a shame she won't be there to celebrate Amy's birthday with her in the way she would have liked.

Aside from not knowing what we will be doing tomorrow, I have a few plans for the rest of the weekend and for Monday. I'm not going to give away too much, but I'll share the results with you all on Monday, that is for sure. However I will give you a clue.. It involves allotments and a lot of hard work. No matter what the weather is like, I will be getting things done nonetheless!

So not only is a small bit of excitement around the corner for me, but also for all of us gardeners. I went in to the garden centre on the way home from work yesterday to buy Amy a birthday present and I could feel the smile on my face at pallets upon pallets of seed potatoes, onion sets and even small tomato seedling. Still a bit too early to be thinking about the latter in my opinion, but it certainly won't be long. End of February maybe? Crikey! That's only 4 weeks away! Time certainly does fly.

It definitely is time to get a piece of paper and a pencil and start making a physical note of my plan for the allotment this year. I have said previously that we are changing the layout of the allotment slightly. Last year we created 5 beds with nice easy to use paths, but after all of the vandalism we are reverting back to the traditional row of vegetables. It really knocks your mentality when something so severe happens, and we don't want to waste hours again for it to be destroyed. But anyway, it may be a less aesthetically pleasing layout but we will actually gain a lot of growing space thanks to the elimination of the paths. I'll be sketching that out tonight I am sure, and I'll share the plans with you over the weekend.
Anyway, I hope you all have a good weekend, no matter what you are doing.
Thanks as always for reading,

Wednesday 30 January 2013

I have abandoned crochet in favour of my seed packets today and am in the middle of an on line order to The Organic Gardening Catalogue/Chase trying to be restrained, here...!

I get most of my seeds from them - as a Garden Organic member I get 10% off and they have a lovely range of seeds.

I also use MoreVeg for some seeds - they sell seeds in smaller quantities and also sell a few that The Organic Gardening Catalogue don't stock so are good for the varieties where I don't need so many seeds - they also sell some wonderful very early cropping tomato varieties which means I get to eat tomatoes from the polytunnel  from the start of June right through until October.

I have also sorted out all my seed packets, and put them the order I want to sow them.

Some seed potatoes arrived today :-)

In other news, it must be nearly Spring - it was still light outside at 5 pm! And we even had sunshine!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Look at these beauties ~ popping up all over the place to banish the winter blues! I love the way …

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Monday 28 January 2013

With being housebound due to the snow most of last week, my preserving instincts started to rise again. It does become a bit of an obsession with me and one that sometimes I do have to control. I think it must be a deep rooted urge to store ( a bit like a squirrel) and to nurture and provide for my family.

This morning there were three punnets of raspberries looking at me when I opened the fridge at breakfast time ( the other punnet was eaten last night for tea and delicious it was too!)
and being very mindful of the recent report about throwing away and wasting food I though I had better do something with them promptly.

Working out the quantity of  sugar needed!I resorted to my trusty cook book - the internet!. Actually I often spend hours perusing my cookbooks and the recipes I have collected over the years but today I thought I would see what the world wide web had to offer:

I loved Leda's story about her father who kept her potted gifts for something special- this is such a lovely story and actually struck a note with me. In my early days of preserving I found it difficult to disturb and open my jars and loved having a full cupboard. Now I would rather they were opened and enjoyed as I know there are more recipes to try and I need more space to make more!
I love my French copper jam pan!
I love recipes that have a bit of history to them or at least an anecdote and so I thought I would share these posts with you. In fact I used a combination of  recipes from Very Berry handmade's Aunt Kath's recipe and Sofya's recipe .  Sofya is from USSR but is now living in Winconsin America. You can find Sofya's recipe here

So how did I get on:

Well firstly I didn't read the recipe properly - I should of heated the raspberries in the pan on the hob whilst the sugar heated in the oven- thats what happens when you try to rush things- I don't think it made to much of a difference. Although I would choose to heat the raspberries next time. Also I used jam sugar -which has pectin added and I did get a good set. Sometimes I like a runnier jam.
The raspberries as you can see were not the dark sweet juicy ones of summer/ autumn and so inevitably the taste isn't quite up to the jams of the later season. Finally I didn't wait for the jam to cool for a few minutes before bottling- as you can see the jars on the left of the pictures - the fruit has floated to the top where as a few minutes later the fruit remained evenly through out the jam!  All in all I  achieved what I set out to do and I have a lovely jam to have with my tea today!

Next time I  want to try this raspberry and jalopeno jam - it sounds very intriguing!

At the end of  the day on Friday last week I happened to be passing thought the market in my local town and spied some fantastic fruit and vegetable bargains:
This salad box was going for a fiver:

Not sure what I will make with the aubergines - possibly a pasta dish or may be a dip?

These seville oranges _ were £2 for a bowl -on weighing when I got home- there was over 4kg- that equates to £4 for just over 4kg- guess what I'm making this week? Oh and I can use the lemons from the salad box too!

These raspberries were four punnets for £5- as they were the last of the day! We have eaten one lot with meringues and cream for pudding and the rest I have made into jam- more about in my next post!

and last but not least these satsumas ( still with their leaves attached!) were only a pound!

As the saying goes these are only a bargain if they are eaten or used ! I think I will be glued to the internet looking for new recipes this week!

Sunday 27 January 2013

The snow, that is! It had mostly gone yesterday evening

And we woke up to green grass and a bright blue sky this morning, and virtually no snow..

We had a brief few hours of beautiful sunshine, here    ...but now it is raining and hailing and gloomy and dull.

I was meant to be driving to Ryton to volunteer at Garden Organic's Potato Day but decided it would be a bit risky with the dodgy weather forecast. Shame, as I love doing my Master Composter/Master Gardener duties and I love visiting Ryton. Still there will be many more chances to go during the coming year.

Looking out  over the garden it is good to see the snowdrops flowering and the daffodils showing through as green spikes. I am a bit concerned about possible flooding though, as the ground is already covered with standing water in places from the snow melt. Hopefully the rain will not last!

Have done my Big Garden Birdwatch for 2013 - must file it at the RSPB website. I will post about the results tomorrow.

One bonus to the rain - I looked out of the study window by my desk at the most beautinful rainbow. The end of the rainbow is apparently just across the road from me...wonder if I can find a crock of gold?

Welcome back to Hen Corner! Featured in Country Living Magazine I do I like them Sam I am… When my son, James, was very young I used to poach eggs in food colouring to serve him a lunch that reflected one of his favourite Dr Seuss books, but now our Columbine hybrid hen has started [...]

This is the story of seven dwarfs (Doc, Sleep, Dopey, Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy and Bashful) who hadn't been skiing ( well some of them ) for several years and who felt the need of an adventure in the Alps.
On top of the GlacierAs times were hard, their wives allowed them their adventure but with the proviso that it had to be on a budget. So they planned, booked and set off on their intrepid snowy adventure in the early hours of a dark and very snowy morning.

They were truly magical dwarfs - in order that the families didn't miss out - they even arranged for it to snow at home for the time they were away.

 I am very glad to say that these dwarfs kept to their word and were very good with their budgets. They took it in turns every evening to cook their evening meals cooking delights such as Penne arabiatta con chorizo, Chicken fajitas, Chicken tikka marsala, Saucisson avec lentilles and a very impressive Tartiflette made by Grumpy. A similar recipe can be found here.

 It was unfortunate that Snow White wasn't able to travel with them to the Alps ( she was still in the coma after eating the Wicked Queen's poisoned apple ) and as a tribute to her each dwarf  would wear Snow White's apron whilst cooking.

Many lovely meals were cooked, many hours and kilometres of skiing were done - travelling over many valleys and covering several glaciers. They were very intrepid, hard skiing and dedicated dwarfs who made daily visits to "The Office".
At the Office
 They had such a wonderful time that on the last day they took Snow Whites apron out for a tour - each dwarf having their turn wearing the apron. The apron went everywhere that day- on the slopes, up cable cars, into cafes and on chair lifts, with each dwarf having to ski at least two runs with the apron.


 A great time was had by all and if by magic - they arranged for snow at home to turn into rain, so that they were able to return to their loved ones with out a hitch! So they headed home making plans for possible future trips.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Tomorrow  is  Holocaust Memorial Day and on BBC Four TV at 8 pm is a most wonderfully moving programme - Holocaust - A musical memorial film from Auschwitz

It was made for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and reflects on the shocking fact that the Nazis used music as a psychological tool in their machine of death.

I saw this film when it first came out and it  moved me so much. I cried so many tears, of sadness at what happened but also at the wonderful music.

It is well worth watching.

Thank you for reading x

Friday 25 January 2013

We had very cold nights the last few days and the snow froze solid, which made walking around tricky! The sunset on Thurs was amazing - I just caught the end with my camera

But by this evening it was obvious that a thaw was on the way.

I am pleased, but a bit concerned about the soggyness of the ground already - where will all the melt water go?

Has the snow gone where you are?

This is for Mrs Thomasina Tittlemouse who kindly requested the recipe for the Blackberry Gin my Dad  made for Christmas this year. As explained to Mrs T, my dad is not known for his culinary skills - in fact  he has to look up the recipe to boil an egg!However he was absolutely delighted to have been asked for his recipe-  Its more of a general method rather than a detailed recipe-so here goes!My Dad's Blackberry Gin
Ingredients:Blackberries - enough to fill 1/3 of containerWhite or unrefined sugarGinMethod:Take your quantity of blackberries and remove stalks and debris. Place in a bowl and lightly squash with a potato masher. Poor / transfer into a sterilised demijohn or glass bottle and fill to one third of the container. Add approximately one sixth of the container of sugar and top the bottle up with gin. Close container with lid or cork.Swirl gently and leave in a cool dark place. Swirl bottle gently a couple of times a week for several weeks and then leave to stand.  The resulting concoction will the need to be decanted after two to three months depending on how quick you want to drink it!To decant- the mixture could be strained through a sterilised jelly bag, or just poured through a coffee filter paper and funnel as in my previous post ( boiling water  having been poured through first to make sure it was clean) into your chosen sterilised bottle. Although in the coffee filter method you would need to be careful not to pour the fruit pulp into the filter.  So as not to waste anything -the alcoholic fruit base could be frozen if so desired and eaten with ice-cream at a later date. Beware this could be headache inducing!
The sweetness of the liqueur can be adjusted at the bottling stage. I quite like mine to be not too sweet and have found this level of sugar to be right for us
 Having decanted and of course taste tested the blackberry gin I thought I would check on the allotment ( on foot of course!)On the way there- watercress beds on the right
Add the entrance
The snow is starting to disappear !

At the entrance of my wild plot

My lovely blue shedMy lovely blue shed looks as if it needs some repair work- Mr H looks after the building and structural work- so once the snow goes I think he will be looking to repair the roof_ pretty please!

 It all looks so very pretty in the snow- disguising all the weeds etc!

 My lovely friend's shed - itsnt it pretty - I hope one day to get my girls painting flowers on my shed  so that mine is pretty too! Maybe I will just have to paint  mine in stripes for now!
 And at home the snow is disappearing - I hope the cyclamen and primulas recover

The snow is going!I'm off to look at my seeds and next time hope to show you some I bought this week! See you then!

Wednesday 23 January 2013

I have had a few interested questions about why we have a generator and prepare for bad weather as much as we do. So, thought this might be an interesting post for you to read.

We live on a very minor, rural lane and can get snowed/iced in. Sometimes our lane floods ( not near us) and we can't get through to the main road. Even in good weather it is quite a distance to the nearest shop, garage, post office etc. So it is not easy to just " pop out" to the shops sometimes!

We lose power quite often and as we have a bore hole and septic tank here, both of which need power to run, we are in trouble if the power is off for too long. Likewise we have a lot of home grown produce stored in the freezers, which we don't want to spoil.

When we moved here, we realised we needed to build up stores of food, water, fuel, medicines, animal feed etc. We had lots of food, wind up torches, lamps and candles, a battery and a wind up radio and could cook on the Aga and woodburner (or even using the Kelly Kettle, outside, if all else failed!)  if the power went off for short times or if we could not get out of the lane.Obviously we also had clothes, bags, etc ready in case of an evacuation situation.

We thought that was enough. THEN we got caught out big time in Autumn 2002 when we had no power, after the terrible Oct storms, for more than a week.

We lost the entire contents of 3 freezers, which meant all the organic meat, home grown veg was lost- all of it apart from what we could cook and eat during that week and cook and freeze in a friend's freezer - but we still lost a lot of good food, which was very expensive to replace . (We also lost the Polytunnel cover in the gales - but that is another story!).

And without water or sewerage here (both of which need power to run) we rapidly used up the tank in the loft so no showers, no drinking water or washing water and as  Compostgirl was in washable nappies back in 2002 it all got a bit dire here! We could flush the toilets with a bucket of pond water, but even so it was all a bit difficult.

We didn't starve or go cold   - we had lots of food, bottled water, fuel, lamps and candles and could cook on the Aga and woodburner or camping gas ring , but rapidly realised we needed a higher state of preparedness than we had previously thought.

So we saved up and invested in a generator, and over the next few years we re arranged things so it will run the freezers for some of the day, the central heating can now be run off the genny as can the water and sewerage. We can also run the microwave and some lights off a circuit in the kitchen so by swapping what is plugged into the generator we can cook, have heating in upstairs at bedtime, keep the food frozen and get water and sewerage sorted. We can even watch TV or use a computer! It has taken a lot of thought and planning and re arranging though.

Another thing people forget nowadays with mobile phones is that they need power to charge up again - and  modern land line phones rely on mains electricity as well, whereas old style phones can still use the power coming down the telephone cable! So, we have made sure we always keep an "old" style phone to hand, ready to plug in, just in case . We just bought another one to replace our very old BT phone which died after 25 years of faithful service.

We also keep a stock of 5 l water bottles just in case - if all else fails I use them in the wood for drinks for people on my woodland courses. The bottles get re used for wine making and eventually recycled.

I also now dehydrate a lot more of the garden produce for storage, rather than using the freezer.

But with the increased renewable energy products we have added to the house comes a new set of "issues" - the solar thermal tubes are wonderful at providing free hot water BUT if the mains power goes off on a hot day the liquid inside the tubes can boil and tune into gloop - which would require a lot of work to flush out and make good again. At the moment if the mains power goes off  on a sunny day we would have to get the generator out to keep the system running - so Compostman has a scheme to make sure that the solar thermal system will still run even if the mains power goes off, so that is hot water in the summer taken care of.

We also don't get any electricity from the pv's if the mains electricity goes off - we would need an off grid battery system and a lot of side by side wiring systems to be able to use the electricity generated by the panels if our mains electricity went off and frankly it is not something we have got around to doing, yet.

I would love us to have battery back up from the pv's ...maybe next year?

Obviously all these stocks need to be checked , used up as their use by dates are reached and new stocks purchased to replace them.

I am sure we could do much more to be prepared for emergencies but that is what we have done so far, here. I am always on the look out for more ideas to do more.

What do you do to be prepared? Any of you have stockpiles, alternative or back up energy arrangements or such like?

Whilst the snow has stopped play (well the digging of the allotment in particular) I have been using the time to make plans for the growing season.

 I had earlier in the month purchased some First early seed potatoes . Unfortunately in my haste to purchase the most delicious and productive variety I forgot to mark down which variety I choose in the end. All I know is that they were described as being tasty and a good cropper- what more does a girl need to know!

 I have put them out to chit being  very mindful of the very cold weather - they will be kept in our utility room which proffers lots of light, coolness and frost protection! For those of you new to chitting, the potatoes are placed so that the little mark where the stem was previously is placed facing downwards (i.e. underneath the seed potato ) and the eyes ( the little sprouty bits) upwards.

I tend to use egg boxes  to place the potatoes in and  learning from past experience write the variety on in pen so that when I move them around I know which ones are which!
 I haven't bought my second earlies yet - I will go for Charlottes- they always go down well at home. In the past I have grown a number of varieties . In fact I have grown too many potatoes and not left enough room for other crops. So this year I think that will be it - in the hope that I will grow some more exciting things instead.

The Hampshire potato day is being held this weekend in Whitchurch and is well worth going to if you like growing your own. There are lots and lots of varieties of potatoes ( they didn't have Charlottes tho' the other year :( ) and you can buy them singly if you wanted! Beans and peas and shallots are all available loose. Seed suppliers also attend for example Thomas Etty who supply their seeds in little brown packets with a vintage style print and picture.  All items are  offered at a good price!

 If you are not in this neck of the woods, there are other potato days around too. You may be able to find a day near you here

Tuesday 22 January 2013

As promised I am going to have a go at reinstating my "five good things" posts - so here it is for the last week

  • We have enough food for all the family ( furry, feathery and human) to last for several weeks, even if it does snow like mad and stop us getting out.
  • The hens have started to lay again  - hurrah! fresh eggs.
  • We are all reasonably healthy - human, furry and feathery.
  • The days are lengthening :-)
  • It is time to start planting for the 2013 growing season :-) I am sorting through seed packets and awaiting deliveries :-)
What are your 5 good things ?

    Monday 21 January 2013

    We've had a little snow in Birmingham. Actually, we had rather a lot of snow last Friday, and a fair bit yesterday too. I do love snow, it covers things which are ugly and is a great leveller of scenery, everything looks better with snow! If you've been following my...

    Hello, all :-)

    The Hens finally ventured out today, they were slightly mollified by my leading them to a patch of green grass ( I cover up patches of ground when it snows, so I can uncover grass especially for them!)

    But then they went and sat grumbling in the Barn for an hour.  Ungrateful girls that they are, they jumped into a wheelbarrow of used bedding and flung it out all over the floor of the Barn, for me to find and clear up later.

    And then they all trouped back inside the Mega Hen Pen and sulked.

    I think they don't like the snow :-)

    I also found that the netting on my netted Kale bed had collapsed with the weight of snow, damaging quite a few plants :-( so I picked off the broken tops and we will eat Kale for the next few days - the tops are deliciously tender and the side leaves will be turned into a kale, potato and chorizo soup tomorrow I think. Hopefully the side shoots will re grow on the stems still in the ground.

    As there has been a slight thaw Compostgirl went to school ( both the school and the school bus obliged!) and we managed to get our car out of the drive and out of our (very icy indeed) lane onto the (clear) main road and into Ledbury to do some bits and pieces of shopping at lunchtime - I went to a charity shop and nearly got a lovely cashmere jumper, but someone else just beat me to it :-(

    The pavement was very icy in Ledbury and lots of people were walking on the roads - dangerous but understandable I guess.

    More snow forcast for here tonight so after chores we sat inside by the fire watching "Father Brown" and drinking hot chocolate. Anyone else watching "Father Brown" (on BBC1 at 2.10 pm) Really good!

    Stay safe and warm, everyone.

    Omlet Cartoon