Finding The Joy In January

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Watching Lapwings against blue skies along our beach.

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Savouring the final winter crops of sprouts.

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The texture of chunky teal-coloured aran.

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Feeding hungry winter birds from the birdtable (a gorgeous Christmas gift from my brother)

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Baking Aunt Bev’s Country Seed Bread with my little boy.

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The first British daffodils in a Cornish jug.

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Adventures with family in the Yorkshire Dales- Settle Station.

Ten Tips For A Zero Waste Garden

All too often gardening is seen as nothing more than a quick trip to the garden centre filling our carts with plants, plastic bags and compost and assorted ‘sundries’. Arriving at the checkout the bill frequently comes to far more than we’d imagined. By the time you arrive home and unloaded the car it’s a wonder if you actually have the energy to plant what you’ve bought! The following are some ideas for making your little patch more sustainable, they’re not exhaustive by any means, but it will make it a lot more pleasurable to garden !

1. Source second hand tools- finding ‘pre-loved’ tools in second-hand shops or backyard sales usually means that you can equip your tool shed for very little money; often older tools are far better quality that their newer versions and have that lovely aged look.

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2. Begin farming- worms that is….our wormery was bought from a company which only sells wormeries which are made from recycled computers and bottles. If you have access to the large polystyrene(Styrofoam) coolers or some old plastics boxes you could build your own for no money at all. Wiggly Wigglers have clear instructions on how to do this. www.wigglywigglers.co.uk/make-your-own-wormery

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Our wormery yields a surprising amount of compost as well as producing ‘worm tea’ an organic liquid fertiliser which you dilute in your watering can. Harvesting the ‘black gold’ is easy in our wormery as you simply rotate the bottom tray which by now if full of compost to the top and begin to fill with your kitchen and garden scraps. Compost with peat is very bad news for the environment and comes in plastic bags- why not just make your own ( with the help of your new wriggly pets)

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3. Begin collecting your rainwater- because our garden is small we have a slimline water butt plumbed in to our garage downpipe, it collects several gallons during rainy spells (frequent where our little house is situated). You don’t have to buy a special vessel, any large container will do- my father has plumbed a large former chemical drum to his shed which belonged to my grandfather- a pair of old tights stretched over the top will prevent it from becoming contaminated with leaves and insects.

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4. Start plants out under cover- a bright windowsill, conservatory or greenhouse ensures that you get the most produce from each season. (Where we live in the north of the UK this is essential for growing plants such as tomatoes and peppers.) It also means that you can do some gardening indoors during the colder weather.

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5. Plant herbs- a great start to beginning a productive garden is to begin with herbs since these will happily grow in the tinniest of containers. Herbs are easily harvested by cutting a few leaves or stems from the plant with a sharp pair of scissors. You can also dry herbs in a warm spot in the house to ensure that you enjoy them in the winter months. Ordering from an on-line catalogue gives you a much greater choice and saves on that car journey to  buy seeds.

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6. Build your own vegetable bed from scrap wood- CC used offcuts from the garage for ours. Our little vegetable bed measures just 2 foot by 5 foot and it yields enough vegetables during the spring and summer to ensure that we are self sufficient in vegetables. Happily we often yield enough to have some to freeze as well. Growing potatoes in planters and herbs in pots also helps to expand our harvest.

7. Collect your own seeds- our grandparents saved the seeds from their gardens but our generation seems to have lost much of this skill, simply let your chosen flower, herb or vegetable produce a seed pod and leave to ripen on the plant. Take a sharp pair of scissors and cut the stem containing the seed pod and leave to dry in a moisture free place. For plants with very little seeds, (such as the leek), place the seed head in a paper bag and hang upside down in a dry place. Harvest your seeds when the pods are completely dry and store in a labelled envelope.

Growing your own plants from seed guarantees that the plant has not been grown in peat-rich compost( unlike many garden centre plants) and is a thrifty and sustainable way of growing your garden the following year.

8. Use a push mower if you have a lawn- We have a lovely lightweight model which lifts effortlessly from the garden store and make cutting our tiny lawn a pleasure -(there’s something extremely therapeutic about the gentle thrrrrr, thrrrr sensation) Lawns are not a great choice for the environment in more arid areas but we have more than enough rainfall to water our lawn, we don’t spray anything on our lawn and have two very sweet rabbits who rely on the grass cuttings to supplement their diet as well as enjoying regular play-time on the grass.

9. Encourage lodgers – beneficial insects which eat the larvae of pests and pollinate flowers are provided with accommodation rent free. Planting lavender, nasturtiums, poached egg plants and many more gives your little workers plenty of food and a home- made insect box ensures cosy beds for the night.

10. Deal with unwelcome guests in a sustainable fashion- most garden pests can be discouraged by using netting, regular patrols and keeping a beady eye on problems before they become a major infestation. Caterpillas an be prevented by using netting ( old net curtains will do a great job) or picking the eggs off your plants before they hatch. Slugs are another matter altogether in a wet climate which generally has mild winters. I have waged war with the steely determination of an army general after slugs ate all of my first vegetables. Copper tape and barriers work very well for containers, but vegetable beds are another matter. This is the only occasion where organically permitted slug pellets ( iron phosphate- which is harmless to pets and wildlife if used as per the instructions) are really an essential.

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Just a few minutes per week should ensure that you have a garden you can really enjoy and be proud of. Don’t forget the last step – relax and enjoy !

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Inspiration

During our Easter holiday CC and I went to stay in a beautiful converted barn in Cornwall. Cornwall’s stunning coastline, beaches and gardens made for a wonderful holiday and the steep coastal paths ensured great walking.

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The Eden project took our breath away- a converted china clay quarry transformed into a beautiful eco-project.

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The bio-domes contained a Mediterranean landscape and a rainforest – as well as landscaped gardens surrounding the domes – created by terracing the steep sides of this disused quarry. The most impressive thing though was the overwhelmingly positive environmental message of regeneration.

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This sculpture is called WEEE man – made from the amount of Waste Electical and Electronic products the average UK citizen throws away in their lifetime. A stunning visual motivator !

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Other educational displays included this display about the greenhouse effect – in a greenhouse.

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Even the cafe was Zero Waste – and the food delicious .

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As fans of Doc Martin we also had to go and see ‘Port Wenn’ – in real life Port Issac.

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Other hi-lights included The Lost Gardens Of Heligan – amazing gardens from a long lost estate – reclaimed and restored.

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….and Stonehenge

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…..as well as seeing Tintagel – said to be the birthplace of King Arthur.

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Snowdrops and Sunshine

We are finally beginning to emerge from the darkness of our winter and the days are longer. Moods are visibly brightened as the sunshine finally makes an appearance and thoughts turn to enjoying the outdoor again. The snowdrops at Lytham Hall were a much-needed display of green, signalling the return of longer days and the promise of the re-awakening garden.

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Spring Cleaning

*   ‘The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.’ (The Wind In The Willows- Kenneth Grahame – 1908)

*     There is something in the air at this time of year, a discernible change in temperature, the beginnings of the scents of spring narcissi and the sounds of birds working industriously nest making, when one will suddenly wake with the urge to sweep away the dust and grime of winter and throw open the windows to let the sweet new air blow through the house. Our Easter holidays have seen us taking time to clean our little nest. 

*    First the windows inside and out to let in the spring light. Use a large bowl of soapy water and dry with newspaper. I recently saw an advert for a Karcher window washer; what a waste of time and energy !, Newspaper is by far a better method and leaves windows looking beautifully clean.

*   Next an overhaul of the utility room, repainting the dresser and hanging some jaunty bunting.

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*      A really good scrub down of all surfaces with a spray of vinegar solution and a paste of sodium bicarbonate.

*    And finally some spring propagation of tomatoes, courgettes, marigolds, sweet peas using our rather lovely paper pot maker. This is particularly useful for peas and other legumes that don’t like to have their roots disturbed as they can be planted directly into the soil and will bio-degrade naturally.

*   Although the weather started with Arctic winds sweeping the country, the weather pattern has changed direction and the sea frett has begun to move over the land, bringing with it the warmer, damp air and the smell of the sea in our coastal village. This has meant the opportunity to begin our little garden once again.

*   I was inspired by the planting in Kirby Lonsdale ; where every little house really made the best of their outdoor space.

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*   Followed by the obligatory cream tea – this time at The Royal Hotel on the main street.

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*   This beautiful old building welcomed us with a roaring fire and squashy settees.

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*   Making the most of the time left of the Easter holiday we visited an old favourite – The Hazelmere Bakery and Tea room in elegant, Edwardian Grange-Over-Sands.

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*     A beautiful walk from Kents Bank along the shore line to Grange – crossing the railway and up through the town and finally the reward of what we think is the best afternoon tea in England !

*     Yesterday saw us enjoying the food market at Parrox Hall- a medieval house which is across the road from our little terrace.

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*   Then making a large pot of soup with the vegetables we bought.

Recipe For Simple Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

Splash of vegetable oil

Knob of butter

A selection of root vegetables in any quantity

A tin of tomatoes ( optional)

2 Litres of Vegetable or Chicken Stock

2 or 3 bay leaves

– Chop your vegetables roughly; (you could use a food processor but sometimes I like to chop by hand and listen to Radio 4 .)

– Heat your oil gently and add a knob of butter.

– Gently sauté your vegetables for around 2 minutes, then place a lid over your saucepan and let cook until your vegetables begin to soften ( about 10 minutes)

– Add the stock and tomatoes ( if using) and simmer gently for around 20 minutes.

– Remove from the heat and blend using a hand blender ( or use a potato masher to squish the vegetables to a rough pulp)

Delicious !

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Autumn Pleasures

*   Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year here, the chance to have cosy nights by the fire, the abundance of hedgerow fruit for picking and despite going back to work, the chance to have lovely long walks enjoying the scent of the leaves and the smell of wood smoke. We began our month by bottling the Sloe Gin we had left ‘steeping’ in our cupboard, the addition of cinnamon has given it a lovely amber colour; we’re hoping to give these as Christmas gifts this year and as they’ll need at least three months in the bottle I hope they’ll be ready ! We’ve had a little tipple and it tastes lovely.

Our First Sloe Gin

Recipe For Sloe Gin

1 lb Sloes- wash well

1lb caster sugar (I’ve used 8oz because I don’t like very sweet things)

0.7 litres of cheap Gin

Cinnamon sticks

Sterilized bottles

(Makes two  0.7 litre bottles)

1. Thoroughly wash the sloes, removing any bits of branch. Place in the freezer for at least a week.

2. Fill a larger Kilner jar with the sloes, add the gin and then mix in the sugar. Add the cinnamon sticks to the mixture.

3. Place the jar in a cupboard or larder. Swirl the contents around every few days or so.

4. After two or three months sieve the contents through muslin a few times until the mixture looks clear.

5. Pour into sterilised bottles and add a pretty label. (I’ve used my lovely Cath Kidston ones CC bought for Christmas last year)

*   CC has also been enjoying the Good Life and has made a beautiful woodstore for our logs from a recycled pallet I found in school. He thinks it’s a bit wonky but I’m delighted ! It should ensure that our wood has time to season and dry before we burn it.

CC’s wood store

*   After spending three weeks away this year sadly my vegetables did not stand a chance against the caterpillars and slugs and a wet summer ensured that the slugs have bred bountifully ! It was quite upsetting to see a garden full of plant skeletons where all my lovely vegetables should have been. I was cheered enormously by a very generous gift which came right our of the blue from friends of our who stayed with us at Easter – they’ve sent a lovely selection of goods – including COPPER SLUG RINGS !!!! , I’ve been wanting to try these for a while and I will now use them to sow Bok Choi in my planters – I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. THANK YOU so much guys – a wonderful gift.

*   On the brighter side apparently it has been a very poor year for butterflies so I can console myself believing that my little garden became a temporary wildlife oasis. The meadow in miniature is now fully grown and Gerry and Flo have been let loose for the first time yesterday to munch to their heart’s content , they were extremely excited !

*  My brother has been spending weekends here and we’ve had some great days out together as a family . I finish with some pics of last weekend.

High Days And Holidays

*   It’s been a wonderful month, beginning with our local gala day. We hosted our little afternoon tea party and watched the colourful floats go by our door.

*   Snowy has been keeping CC out of mischief…..she makes an excellent alarm clock for CC, jumping on him in the mornings to wake him up.

*     The vegetables are doing well with a tasty, albeit late crop. The meadow in miniature is definitely starting to look a little greener and I was delighted to find our first wildflower.

*   A lovely day out at Sizergh Castle to look at the progress of their veg garden and a wander through their medieval barn and orchard….

*     Reports are finished, development plans submitted and the long summer holidays begins….bliss!

Jubilee Jaunts

A brief summary of June….

Our tiny meadow is slowly turning our little yard a lush green…

*   Shockingly Awful Jubilee weather, but in true British form we had a picnic on Reeth green during our holiday and enjoyed listening to the band. Blowing a gale and a temperature of 10 C did not deter the picnickers !

*   The cold unseasonable weather gave us a great excuse to use our new cosy fireplace….wonderful!

*   We had a truly lovely holiday in the Dales with my parents. Hi-lights for CC and I included this special church at Bedale, the light from the side altar was simply stunning, I’ve not seen anything like this before as traditionally altars in England tend to be topped by stained glass. The light filtering through the chapel felt other worldly and sacred.

*   The church also had some stunning early medieval frescoes , this one of St. George being particularly striking.

*   As long -time James Herriot fans we also visited the house of Alf Wright ( James Herriot), and we so thrilled with the authentically presented 1930-40s period rooms of the time.

*    During our time in Reeth CC and my family went to a piece of open air theatre set in the grounds of Richmond Castle, part of The Swaledale Arts Festival, the piece included the most fantastic choir and dialogue as well as extraordinary sounds and images projected on to the keep. The experience of being in the castle with hundreds of people all listening through huge headphones was extraordinary. What a treat!

Swaledale Festival - Theatre Richmond Castle

*   Today was Father’s Day , always a great excuse for a pub visit ! Today the weather vastly improved our spirits , the light filtering into our little hall cheered us immensely.

*   After a rather dark and dreary month, today I wrote my post, inspired by the weather.

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Moments in March

*   Sadly we lost Mr. Rupert last week, our black lop eared rabbit. It seems such a short time since we were collecting the two brothers from the rescue centre and welcoming them to their new home. He will be very much missed by CC and I but especially Mr. Gerry his lovely brother. We have been spending as much time with Mr. Gerry as possible, eating breakfast in the garden and taking tea in the rabbit run.

My lovely boys

*   On a more positive note, CC and I visited the gardens at Sizergh castle and were so inspired by the kitchen gardens there. The snowdrops were a welcome sign that Spring is finally here and we spent a very pleasant hour exploring the vegetable patches and the formal gardens. Although the house is not open yet, the gardens are definitely worth a visit and the sunshine made the trip so very enjoyable.

*    Inspired by this kitchen garden and determined to grow more of our own food this year we made an early start on our little vegetable patch . This year I am declaring war on The Evil Slug! Every year we have tenderly raised our vegetables from seeds in our propagator, carefully transplanting them into the vegetable beds , watering diligently and waiting expectantly. In my naivety I believed that it was only fair to let our garden ‘visitors’ have some share of the garden goodies only to have them behave like the worst guests at a party, gleefully eating their way through every single seedling and leaving only a messy trail and a row of  sad-looking stalks behind. The butterflies have mocked my valiant ‘organic’ efforts by conducting what can only be described as an orgy in my Brassica patch, copulating at every opportunity and leaving us to raise their ravenous offspring on our little rows of carefully cultivated cabbages and broccoli.

*    This year will be different, we have launched a determined offensive with netting, egg shells and ( I’m ashamed to say) organic slug pellets. Every year my parents have dried our tears over our lost vegetables and brandished the tub of pellets, only to have us determinedly refuse and place more beer traps and up our nightly warfare. This time I’ll be taking their advice, the Evil Slug has had his last feast in my garden !

*   As today was Mother’s Day, we made a brunch of buttermilk pancakes, bacon , sausages and eggs for my Mother and walked off the substantial meal through the farms and along the sea shore.

The Definition of Hospitality

Resolving to see more of our suroundings in 2012, we made an early start to our good intentions with a fell walk around Grange-Over-Sands. Despite a what would be euphemistically known around these parts as a ‘bracing’ wind ( gusts of up to 100MPH on peaks) we hiked to the hospice overlooking Grange. The hospice was built by some inspiring Victorian gentleman to provide shelter for fell walkers and is suitably (and not a little eccentrically) equiped with stone seats, poems and a lookout post boasting a rather ingenious rotating wooden arrow pinpointing local landmarks via a key.

As keen (if not infrequent) walkers we are suprised on many occasions to find the most wonderful conviences in the most inconvient to build places. On a recent holiday in the Isle of Skye in Scotland, we were grateful to seek shelter in a ‘Bothy’. Perched atop one of the most wind-swept and challenging gradients was the best equiped shelter we had ever found, it boasted full glazing, chairs, rugs, a fireplace, shovels, first aid kit and bunk.

Inspired by the philanthropy we had enjoyed , CC and I decided to be hospitable to our little feathered friends and made some pinecone feeders for them to enjoy.

How To Make A Pine Cone Feeder

– Tie a length of string to the large end of your pine cone.

– Melt some far in a double boiler (a mixing bowl over a large saucepan of boiling water will do)

– Stir in some wild bird seed and dried fruit.

– Allow the mixture to cool a little and the press into the spaces on your pine cone. Finish by rolling in extra seed.

– Cool the cones before hanging them outside.