Friday, April 30, 2010

Foraging bags

What do you get when you cross a conference attendee's gift bag with an old tweed skirt - well a foraging bag of course.

A lifetime ago I used to attend conferences for work and these bags were being given out as you signed in full of bits of promotional blurb and pens. At the end of the conference I managed to scrounge enough bags to outfit my daughter's Brownie pack as well as her gym club, not to mention the hundreds of pencils the conference hosts donated to her school too.

Full of sewing enthusiasm after the other day's successful bag efforts, I set up my studio this morning, and got this tweed skirt unpicked and ironed flat ready to be sewn up into something new and exciting. As it was unlined and I did not have anything suitable to put with it, I took these cotton conference bags out of storage and thought I would jazz them up and turn them into foraging bags inspired by my friend's foraging basket search at the flea market last weekend.

The tweed was simply cut into panels as allowed for by the skirt pattern they came from, then sewn to the cotton bags, creating folds and tucks for useful pockets - notebooks and pens, maps, books, paints and brushes, gloves or a water bottle and some cake. I used long strips of tweed on the handles finished with a bow, some vintage buttons at the base of the straps then added some vintage lace motifs.

These will be photographed in full for listing on Etsy shortly.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back in the Studio - recycled material bags - with tutorial

When I went rifling through my lovely box of swapped clothes I found a set of tweed skirts which sparked an idea in my mind, and with studio withdrawl pangs this morning I decided it was definitely time to sit back down at my sewing table and do something to stop my palms from itching.

So I started making my series of tweedy English country garden shopping bags - the first one rolled off the production line today and was made from the lovely brown and beige striped tweed skirt you see in the photo above.  I spend the morning unpicking seams, hems and darts, then a quick iron flat.

My pattern was based roughly on a bag I had last year but with thicker straps intended for popping to the shops rather than slinging over your shoulder with your lippy and a mobile for a night out.

I just cut the rough shape with a fold line for the material out of some of the flimsy publicity material we get through the door, which is almost as light as tracing paper but has the advantage of telling you what is on offer at the supermarket.

Then using the paper template I cut two pattern pieces in the outer tweed material, using the pattern fold, and a further two pieces from the inner skirt lining to serve as the liner for the bag.  

Obviously because I am using odds and ends of material there was not enough lining to cut the bag liner in two simple pieces, I cut one, then  had to make up the second in two pieces and join them together with a seam.  So while I was cutting and sewing extra bits, I cut and sewed up a quick pocket too.  This then got attached to the lining at this early stage.

The bag lining was then pin basted right side to right side, and I sewed around the bag part leaving the opening and the handles to sew together later.
The outer tweed was then pin basted right side to right side and sewn together - as you may be able to see in the earlier photo I left a larger seam allowance for the tweed so that I could overlock it to prevent it from fraying.

With the two sets sewn up, I then put the inner lining into the outer tweed bag, making sure that they were right side to right side again.

I pin basted and sewed around the handles and the opening - remembering to sew these together in pairs, outer tweed to lining, leaving the handles open at the ends.

Then the hard part - pulling the bag inside out or right side out rather, you have to be quite tough to feed the whole bag through the small gap left at the seams of the handles, but with a bit of wiggling and pushing, the bag pops through.

I pressed the seams flat, then fed one handle into the open seam of another, and ran a double line of stitches across to secure them.
And there you have it - first one of my shopping bags completed in a day - which sounds like a long time but I was out at work from 11 to 4, so it was more of a morning fix in the studio and then back home and straight to my sewing machine before dinner.

There are three or four skirts altogther and some Prince of Wales check trousers to sew up so I had better get busy.

So very very very happy to be back in my studio - after a week of solid gardening I have missed it - or maybe my back just really needed a break from the hoe?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wednesday's finishing touches

Having got the various hats knitted up ready to go in my shop, they were just missing a few finishing touches - so today I set to with my trusty crochet hook and my button drawer and there you go.

Some simple knitted and crochet flowers, layered up and finished with a couple of vintage buttons, and some velvet elastic.

I got a few shots done ready for the listings, thanks to Thea, but the bulk of the photography will have to be done in a batch with the rest of the hats, when I have got my computer working properly again and can upload large volumes of photos, it is taking too long uploading one at a time, especially if I want to process any of them.

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For damekiri:

This is a little balsa wood camembert cheese container, which was too nice to burn as kindling.

At a flea market I found a book of stamp information for a few cents and cut it up to just show the stamps, which I stuck to the lid with PVA glue, finishing with another layer of PVA to varnish and strengthen. The lid is then edged with some garden string.

The inside is lined with a page from a vintage book and edged with string again. As the tubs are not one piece but a circle of card and a loop of balsa it leaves a gap so if you try to put anything small like beads or earrings in, they would fall through, which is way I edged and filled the gaps with string.
I think I put the rest of the stamp book in my etsy shop.

 This is another box, made from a cardboard biscuit box, covered in Christmas Quality Street wrappers, which I am using to store my denim petals in.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Home made facial toners

Whilst a lot of my make do and mend projects revolve around the new frugal way of life we have through necessity alongside the desire to lead a more sustainable green existence, some projects are pure joy and are simply better than anything available commercially.

One of those is making my own facial toners.

I don't tend to wear a lot of make up these days except on 'outings' when I do indulge myself, as applying make up remains one of my great personal pick me ups.

But first thing in the morning, last thing at night and at odd moments in the day when I have once again wiped dirty hands across my brow I do like to cleanse my face. Soap and water are great for a wash but can be very drying, and my teen daughter likes something she can keep in her bedroom for those quick 'washes' too, as well as something for those occaisional outbreaks.

I make several toners dependent on what is available in the house and the garden, later in the year I make them with infusions taken from the flower buds of chamomile and lavender, but with an absence of flowers currently I also use tea bags - green tea, mint tea and chamomile tea.

Today I replensished my bottles of chamomile and tea tree toner.

I sterilise my receptacle bottle simply with some boiling water, remembering to sterilise the cork too. Then leave a tea bag to infuse for several minutes. Empty the boiling water from the bottle, add a few drops of tea tree essential oil to the bottle then pour in the tea, shake and cork, use when it has cooled. It will keep for a while before being opened, a month or two, and once opened you are more likely to use it up before it goes off, obviously depending on the size of your bottle, I use 150ml and 200 ml bottles that last about a month.

Chamomile tea by itself is also a fantastic treatment for sore eyes from hayfever, just make a cup up, when it has cooled, decant into a little bottle or jar, then use clean cotton pieces to dip into it to soothe across tired, itchy and sore eyes. I use the same treatment for my horse when the flies congregate around her eyes and they start to water excessively.

Speaking of make do and mend - today has been a bit of a patch up project day, as well as making my toners this morning, I have also had a pile of mending to get through, but now with that cleared away, and the sun out in force, there is just enough time to get out into the garden before I have to leave for work.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Lunar planting - root veg

Following from the fruit planting weekend, the moon now moves into Virgo, an earth sign, so a perfect time for planting rooted, earthy veg.

Once back from work and after a quick lunch, I set to with my trusty trowel and a bunch of seeds.

I do not believe in planting root veg for transplanting, the roots are so delicate that unless you spend hours and hours making paper seed pots or cutting and stuffing toilet rolls which you can put straight into the ground, you risk damaging the roots and stopping plant growth.

I wait until the soil temperature has gone up to about 10 to 12 degrees, then plant straight outside when the risk of heavy frosts is over.

Today I planted parsnips - taken from seed from last years crop, carrots - an organic strain called Jeanette, beetroots, kohl rabi and onions from seed. I normally plant my onion sets a bit later, but this year having had a few onions bolt and go to seed last autumn, I thought I would try sowing some of these seeds to see how they do.

I companion sow my carrots and parsnips with my onions to help protect against carrot fly, sometimes sowing in the same row, or, as this year, alternate rows of leek, parsnip, white onion, carrots, and red onions.

I tend to sow my carrots much denser than advised, as I like to harvest baby carrots rather than thin out and waste any plants. A pinch of about 3 to 4 seeds every 10 cms gives good growth and a chance to harvest the baby carrots when they are about 10 cm in length, leaving just one carrot behind in each clump to grow on. To preserve I harvest, wash the dirt off, cut into julienne strips or rings and freeze in large bags as fast as possible to preserve their goodness, normally doing 3 large carrier bag fulls this way will see us through until the first baby carrots are ready to eat in the summer.

I sow my beetroots in a similar fashion, smoothing the earth in the row flat with the back of the rack, I then use the stave to create little depressions in the ground about 15 cms apart. Into each depression I drop about 3 to 4 seeds, water in and then lightly cover. When they start to grow, I harvest the beets when they are about golf ball size, again leaving behind just one beetroot to grow on. The baby beets are lovely roasted whole with garlic or pickled. The larger beets will be made into chutneys.

When I boil up my larger beetroots to make chutney, I wash them thoroughly then boil them whole leaving the skins on for about 45 minutes to an hour so that they soften up and the skin peels away very easily. This red beetroot water is never wasted, once drained I keep some for dying wools and cottons, and the rest I freeze into plastic pop bottles so that I have a ready supply of beetroot base for making barszcz in the winter.

With my root veg from seed sown today, that just leaves some potatoes to go in, some onion sets to get, and lots of patience waiting for the coldframe seeds to sprout and grown on ready for transplanting. April is nearly over and the garden is nearly done.
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Strangers in the midst

When we moved out to this tiny hamlet of seven houses in rural France, three and a half years ago, we harboured no illusions as to how we may be accepted by the local community.

We knew it would take years before we could consider ourselves to have integrated into a close knit, farming orientated environment, that we would be regarded with suspicion as foreign former city dwellers, that we would be strangers in the midst for a long time.

This morning as I strolled up the road with my water container, going to check on the job Milla has done of eating back the grass in my elderly neighbour's garden, singing back to the spring cuckoo and the migrating hoopies, waving to the farmer tending his cows in the adjoining field, I realised how much a part of this place I feel.

We have renovated our house ourselves, installing electricity, plumbing, a septic tank, solar panels, building walls and floors, fitting windows, and replacing the roof.  Alongside that we have established a vegetable garden that grows enough to support us as a family, growing organically and traditionally, experimenting, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. We have kept pigs, raised lamb, and have poultry and waterfowl as well as rabbits for our meat.

Brendan has built up a group of farmers who he sees regularly with their tractor woes, I work caring for the elderly and sick locally, Thea has made good friends and adapted to a non-city life wonderfully and continues to do well at school.  Sometimes it seems that three and half years has passed in the blink of an eye.

We don't feel like the strangers, we feel like villagers.  And the villagers treat us like villagers.

Sometimes it is this sort of positive affirmation that we need to make us happy, not money, not things, but a smile and a wave, a quick flurry of greeting kisses and a hug from an octogenarian.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Once upon a time ......

......let me tell you a story.....

Once upon a time in a land far far away, in a time long long ago, a woman sat in a waiting room.

Sparse cold and bare, there was little in the way of entertainment for the woman while she waited, save for some glossy magazines extolling the virtues of overpriced designer sports cars and overpriced designer clothing and overpriced designer watches and overpriced designer housewares - but wait, what is this the woman spies. She brings the magazine closer to her eyes (perhaps she is waiting to see an optician). She turns the page this way and that, and still the photograph draws her in, the glossy pages rustle with joy, she signs and turns her head away from the tantalising images before her, and casts the magazine aside.

But the image haunts her, it follows her around at work, at home, at play, at the shops, at college, during the day and during the night.

And an obssession is born.

That woman was me and one day I saw a picture that I know full well was just stage dressing but I have never been able to shake the image. It was the image of my dream kitchen.

A table and chairs, mismatched in peeling white paint, and pine, set against a backdrop of sunlight streaming through a large window framing a belfast sink, copper taps on exposed pipework, a worn wooden counter top, and an open doorway through which could just be spied the fresh green of a summer's day in an overgrown cottage garden.

The table was laid as if for a summer banquet, with crockery in every shape and hue of blue and pristine sparkling white, round heavy wine glasses jostled for space along side crystal brandy glasses, delicately stemmed roses nestled amongst a forest of tall slender champagne flutes, with antique silver cutlery as a sharp counterpoint to the vintage linen napkins.

I drool just thinking about it now.

I don't have my dream kitchen - in fact all my furniture is dark and heavy, mostly antique oak, but it is free standing and I do have a unique handmade (by my very clever other half) pine kitchen sink unit, which incorporates the only fitting left in our house when we bought it, a vintage ceramic sink.

I do have a window which has lots of lovely morning sunlight, but not an overgrown cottage garden, much more of an overgrown kitchen garden designed to feed us all throughout the year, although I do have some delicate white rambling roses growing around the kitchen window - when the greenfly allow it.

In fact of that dream image all that I do actually have is the mismatched blue and white crockery - my harlequin set.

I have been collecting this over the last few years, a plate here and a bowl there, at various flea markets and car boots, junk shops and barn sales.

The only problem is - should I ever actually try to lay the table as per my image - it just looks messy and unco-ordinated - a natural home designer I am not. Still - can't have everything.

Anyway the point of the long rambling blog entry - I smashed some of my side plates the other day. I was a little bit gutted.

But that gives me something to look for just as this year's season of markets and car boots gets going - starting today at Charroux.
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Sow your seed on the ground

Saturday was a fruit planting day according to my calendar and as it dawned bright and sunny that is what I got on with for most of the day.

I planted tomatoes in the greenhouse, I planted courgettes outside, I planted bell peppers in the greenhouse, I planted pumpkins outside, I planted chillies in the greenhouse, I planted gherkins outside.

Then I planted a few more peas and a few more beans, haricot, runner, dwarf french and my own borlotti from last year. These have kept really well in an airtight kilner jar over the winter but I hope that they germinate well too.

After the tiny amount of rain we got on Friday I found I had to weed along all the rows before planting again, our biggest problem is with nettles and buttercups - root based growth that spreads so quickly that it is hard to keep on top of it. Last year in particular we had so much buttercup and it is such a useless plant, I would much rather have a field of dandelions, at least our livestock can that eat even if we can't.

After weeding and planting, and then some transplanting of my cabbages into the garden as well, it was time for a rest and to sit back and admire the fruits of my previous plantings. 

My peas are doing really well and will soon be ready to go out in the garden, my first basil seedlings are doing well, and my re-sown thyme is also doing well.  The first seeding of cherry tomatoes are now coming along nicely,  and with the plum tomatoes I have sown today we should be about covered for eating and preserving for the winter.

While I was sitting back with a pint of squash in the sun, a lovely 27 degree celsuis - I decided that I did not want to see fluttering bits of paper with scrawled names on the ends of my canes, so this year to mark my rows I grabbed a couple of bits of broken slate tile, and some green poster paint and made some new row markers.

Being poster paint they may not last out the year but at least for now with blank looking rows they should stop me forgetting what has been planted when the fluttering bit of paper blows away.

And finally - Friday's recipe that I did not want to post until we had eaten it.

Quick and easy Chocolate mousse:

1x 200g tablet of quality cooking chocolate
25 g butter
3 eggs, separated
50 g sugar
120 double cream (not quite all of a small carton of 20cl)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. 

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bain marie (a bowl over boiling water), leave to cool slightly then stir in the egg yolks.  In another bowl whisk together the egg white and half the sugar, fold into the chocolate mixture, then whisk together the cream, the vanilla and the rest of the sugar, and stir gently into the chocolate and egg white mixture, pour out into small serving glasses, then refridgerate. I made mine on Friday, ready to eat on Saturday. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dog days

Every dog has his day, so they say. Well this little pup had an exhausting one obviously.

I was puppy hunting today - nor for me but for a client - so I went to visit some new people and their puppies.

Hard to ask for a better afternoon, it's Friday, I finished work at 1.30pm, went to play with puppies, then sat and chatted with new friends in their garden over beer and nibbles in the sun.

By the time I got home the sky had clouded over, which meant I couldn't get out into the garden, but did give me a reason to break out my new wool.

I am not sure what I am knitting at the moment, it is my own pattern which I was hoping would make a nice beret, but it seems to have ..... er...... outgrown an average person's head.

Perhaps it will turn out to be a bag instead. Its a kind of wait and see knitting pattern.

I also did some cooking, but as it is intended for our dinner with friends tomorrow night, the recipe will have to wait so as not to spoil the surprise for them.

In the meantime - here is another gratuitous puppy photo...

...... and another one.......
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Battalion of the Kelvedon Brigade

The advance guard are out in force, standing to attention and ready for inspection.

I always plant my beans and peas initially in toilet roll tubes - it is just one of the many things that I ask my clients and friends to keep in their 'Monika' boxes. Planting them like this protects them from extremes of weather once out in the garden, as well as slugs and other pests, and the toilet tubes degrade naturally in the soil once transplanted leaving lovely healthy deep roots. When planting out, leave a centimetre or so lip of cardboard above the ground this does seem to deter a lot of pests.

My cucumber seedlings are looking lovely and healthy, they are obviously enjoying  being in the greenhouse, they just need another few leaves and out into the garden they will go.

 My  little Calabrese seedlings are coming along quite well too, and I planted another few out today - I plant according to the lunar calendar and today is a leaf planting day according to the biodynamic calendar.

Moon in Cancer: This is a Water sign. It is a good time to sow Leaf plants like Basil, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbages, Celeriac, Celery, Dill, Kale, Lettuce, Rhubarb, Seakale, Spinach, Swiss Chard, but it would not be a good time to sow Fruiting plants like Aubergines (Eggplant), Broad Beans (Fava), Cucumbers, French Beans, Marrows and Courgettes, Peas, Peppers, Pumpkins, Runner Beans, Squashes, Sweetcorn, Tomatoes - taken from :

These are the spinach, sprout and additional calabrese seeds heading out to the cold frames this morning.
I have grown Swiss and Rainbow Chard in previous years but have decided not to this year, after I found two bags full of frozen chard in the freezer - we or rather I, am just not using it enough to warrant growing any more this year.

One of my favourite things in the herb garden is horseradish.  I was very lucky when my father-in-law's partner sent me some a few years ago via the postal service.  I was not sure how it would survive after a week in an envelope but I planted it out and it thrives, coming back year after year, but getting bigger and bigger every year - it just means that I have to make more and more horseradish sauce, one of my favourite relishes and one I have not seen for sale here in France.  In fact if you mention that you eat horseradish (raifort)  they look at you very strangely - they consider it a weed and mostly inedible (or at least they do in this region anyway).

My herb garden is doing well, chives are thriving, I have garlic chives too, and they smell gorgeous, mint and marjoram are taking over a bit,  but rather than pulling them up I am more inclined to expand the herb garden to accomodate them.

Our garden is approximately 12 metres by 38 metres, which is a lot of ground to cover.  By about July I have abandoned weeding completely and only keep the planted rows clear and between rows I have learnt to keep a wide space - big enough for the lawnmower - more cheating I know, but life is short - too short to weed out every tiny bit of sorrel and yarrow and many other miscellaneous and unidentified plants otherwise known as weeds.

So after a lovely morning of planting out a few more of my leafy seeds like celery, after work I headed home for a bit of rotavating.  Luckily Brendan had been up and down the garden for the last cut before the storms forecast tonight and tomorrow, so I put up my guide lines and then went over the rows with the hoe for a clean till ready for planting.

I am actually hoping that the storms arrive because the ground is so dry, in fact I had to get the well pump running this morning for the duck pond which has dried up in the last couple of days.

This weekend is one of my busiest planting and seeding times, but in addition it is also the first big car boot of the season -  whoooo hoooooo - I lurve car booting.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thank you TV chef - polenta muffins

Today's TV chef to thank is Ainsley Harriot on GMTV.

With Brendan now entering the third week of his supermarket ban I was feeling the pressure. The shopping list pressure that is. The shopping list that he spent an hour compiling last night with glee in the anticipation that I would be going to do some shopping today.

While he has been on his ban I reduced my trip to the supermarket to once a week, which still sounds like a lot but is a real improvement on once every other day.

The major problem with not shopping so frequently is thinking up things to cook and serve - we all get fed up of constantly eating the same things over and over and over again.

While watching TV first thing this morning over my cup of coffee with knitting in hand, I caught with half an ear Ainsley extolling the virtues of cornmeal muffins - cornmeal being polenta.

Now it just so happens that in amongst all the bits and bobs that were carried back and forth from the pantry to the barn and back to the pantry was a bag of polenta. Obviously something I bought in a fit of creative cuisinery inspiration (or madness) then realised that I had no idea what to do with it so relegated it to the box of assorted flours.

One quick search on the internet revealed the recipe and so for lunch (early lunch today due to work commitments) we had Polenta muffins with chorizo scrambled egg.

Muffin recipe:

225g self raising flour (or farine fluide in France)
100g yellow polenta
1½ tsp baking powder - I used one sachet of levure chemique here in France
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch salt
75g Melted butter
1 beaten egg
175ml milk

Preheat oven to 180°
In a food processor (I know I know very lazy but I was short on time), whizz up the seived dry ingredients with the wet, allowing the melted butter to cool a little, until you get a soft dough. Dollop generous heaped tablespoons into a greased muffin tray, then bake for 20 minutes.

My scrambled eggs are very simple, in a heavy pan fry a chopped onion and some chopped chorizo sausage in a spoon of olive oil. Beat 6 eggs (for 3 people) in a bowl - thank you Edith, Mama Hog, and others for the eggs, add a splash of milk, pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, teaspoon of paprika and a tablespoon of dried herbs - normally parsley for me, then pour over the fried sausage and onion, and keep stirring into the centre.

With a full and happy belly off to work I went and then spent some quality time with a friend.

I am also vey pleased to see the amount of blossom now appearing on our plum trees.  We had a disastrous year last year with hardly any fruit at all, so I am hoping that this late bloom after the worst of the frosts and with plentiful pollinating bees around mean I can get some wine on the go for Christmas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Pantry and a quick and easy fish recipe

First cucumber seedlings coming through.

Brendan has finished my pantry so I can move all that remains of my food stocks back inside from the barn - the mice were having a field day in there.

Yesterday I recovered the old shelves with a second hand vinyl tablecloth so they now have lovely and cheery yellow wipe down surfaces - very reminiscent of the 50's interior design styles.

Then today it was all hands on deck moving crates of preserves, flour, pasta and rice, not to mention all the bottle and bottles of alcohol back indoors.

Feeling utterly wiped out at the moment, and a bit blue, even though the sun is out and it has been lovely and warm for a few days.

I am not sure what I need to lift my mood (apart from some good news) so I am taking tomorrow's project to pamper myself a bit. After work I am going to meet a friend, I will change my clothes so I look a bit smarter and put some make-up on, maybe that will help.

In the meantime - after lugging jars and jars of my homemade chutneys and jams and those umpteen bottles of elderberry vodka back into the pantry I am going to make a quick and easy creamy fish dinner with some of last year's harvest of spuds and this years new growth of parsley, accompanied by a vodka cocktail.


1 generous shot of elderberry vodka
1 generous measure of blackberry syrup
Half a highball glass of lemonade
Pour over frozen lemon slices and elderflower syrup ice-cubes

Creamy fishy dinner:

Boil some spuds and set aside in an oven dish to keep warm - I do this because I like my spuds quite dry when making a delicate flavoured sauce, and I can put them in the Rayburn oven leaving me the hot plate free to make my fish sauce

take 3 fillets of a boneless white fish
add some french beans
and simmer gently in half a litre of vegetable stock, until reduced to about half the volume

when beans are tender and liquid has reduced add a generous amount of cream and stir through while it warms
finish with a couple of grinds of black pepper and a big handful of fresh parsley - mine is now just big enough to harvest straight from the garden

As a cheer me up tonight I intend to eat on my lap in front of the TV, cheering on Daphne in Eggheads!
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bean pole fun.

First few leaves of sage appearing in newly weeded herb garden.

There is something about keeping animals, whether pets or livestock, that leaves a portion of your mind perpetually occupied with thoughts of their welfare.

This morning I was pleased to see the new baby bunnies developing an interest in the world around them, their little noses twitching as their mummy ate her breakfast.

When I wandered up the road to visit Milla it was a different story. She was lay in the middle of the walled garden and did not get up as I approached. This is not like her - she likes to view everyone at eye level and prefers to look down on them if she can, to lie down and not get up is very out of character - instantly my thoughts are flitting between thoughts of illnes and injury.

She lumbered to her feet eventually and stood in her normal position for a good scratching, a hoof check and a check down her legs for any swellings and hot spots, then she walked around the garden and with a bit of encouragement broke into a trot.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I think she has now visited the neighbour often enough that she feels comfortable and safe enough to lie down and sleep. Something she normally only does in our field or in her summer field.

Panic over.

With a bit of help from Thea the official pole carrier, I got my bean poles up.

Every year I try to rotate the garden to ensure that we never drain too many nutrients from one spot by constantly growing the same things in the same place.

The normal rotation I use is :

fallow ground or first year beds = potatoes
second year = brassicas
third year = roots
fourth year = peas and beans
then a rest period if possible with heavy manure or a green manure

Such a lovely start to the day, a morning spent gardening in the sun.
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More than just Dandelions on the list

After all the dandelion recipes, there were a few more things on my list that I crossed off yesterday, including weeding the herb garden and finding my thyme and sage finally starting to grow back after thinking that the snow had killed it all off.

 I finished knitting the blue beret in the chenille wool I picked up last Wednesday, as well as weaving the decorative pocket that is to go on one of my denim pant leg bags, attaching some of the flower embellishments for my completed hats, and cutting a set of black felted petals to go on another bag.

Wow - today is Sunday, I was up with the lark at 7, now with my first caffeine hit drunk I have the energy to go let out the chickens and feed the rabbits. The sun is up and it is going to be a beautiful day.

Looking forward to crossing off the rest of the items on my list, then a lovely lunch and drinks with friends.
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Dandelion Heaven

I got up on Saturday morning full of plans for the day and before they could dissipate with that first jolt of caffeine I wrote them on the kitchen chalk board and hence had a series of plans to keep me going until wine o'clock in the evening.

First things first - Milla went up to my neighbour's house to perform her Spring chores - equine lawnmower. Thank you to Thea who helped with carrying up the fencing posts and water bucket.

So with Milla happily ensconced in grass heaven, I moved down the list, skipped the next few items and went straight to the dandelion entries.

Dandelions are one of the few weeds I positively welcome in the garden, and never weed to get rid of them as every part of the plant is useful for something.

This year I am trying out two new recipies with dandelion flower heads - dandelion oil and a dandelion version of Chartreuse.

Dandelon flower heads contain a mild pain reliever and make a good massage oil for use on aching limbs and joints.  All I did for this was collect up a good bowl full of flower heads, no stalks, then wedged them into a stoppered bottle which I pre-rinsed with boiling water to sterilise them, I topped up the bottle with olive oil, with a quick shot of vodka floating on the top to prevent any mould forming.  These bottles now need to infuse over the next month or so in a warm sunny place, then can be used as a muscle relaxant, a massage oil for joints, on rashes and to help prevent scars from forming.

Dandelion Chatreuse is a herby tasting liqueur made very easily just by gathering another couple of bowl fulls of dandelion flowers, I put mine in a jar for ease, added 4 heaped tablespoons of sugar, zest of half a lemon and topped off the jar with vodka, leave to steep for at least four weeks, then strain and bottle for a summery alcoholic base for cocktails, or drink over a couple of ice cubes with a sprig of mint.

Here are a few more dandelion uses:

Dandelion is one of the most useful and common herbs masquerading as a weed in most gardens.  The leaves and the roots are both used in medicines and the flowers have antioxidant properties and are believed to be helpful for the immune system.
1:  Collect buckets full and feed them to your chickens, geese, ducks and rabbits ........................................ too easy .
2: Young dandelion leaves are great in a salad, but the older leaves can be a bit bitter ................................... boring.
3: Dandelion cough syrup – this is particularly good for a tickly cough, just take a soothing spoonful when required – but try not to exceed 12 doses in a day.
Take 250g of good quality honey or 500g soft brown sugar, and add to a saucepan with about 25 big yellow flower heads, pour in enough water to cover, bring to a boil and then leave to simmer.  Stir frequently until mixture starts to thicken, remove pan from the heat, and sieve the syrup into a sterilised jar or bottle that has a good seal.  Leave to cool.  The syrup should keep for about 2 to 6 months in a cool place, but check for any spoilage before using.
4: Dandelion coffee – now I am not saying that this could be a replacement for that good old caffeine kick in the morning – but – dandelion root is a very effective detoxifying herb – so this is an ideal treatment for a hangover (best to prepare it well in advance though).
Gather a good selection of roots, wash well and dry them, either out in the sun, or in a low temperature oven.  Once dried roast the roots at 240°c/475°f/gas 9, for 2 hours until they are brittle. When cool, grind them up and use the powder as you would normally make your coffee.
5: Last but not least – why include a hangover recipe without any alcohol – Dandelion wine.
Dandelion flower heads (no stalks or leaves) – up to the 500ml mark in a measuring jug
2 litres hot water                              1 peeled Satsuma                            juice of 1 lemon                               
1 tsp dried yeast                               200g granulated sugar                    ½ tsp grated fresh ginger
Wash the flowers and place in a large bowl, pour over the hot water, cover and leave for 3 days, stirring occasionally.
Strain the infusion into a demijohn with an airlock through a very fine sieve or muslin cloth.
Add the satsuma piece by piece, along with the lemon juice, ginger, yeast and sugar.
Leave for three weeks at room temperature to ferment (not less than 15°c or above 25°c)
Sieve into sterilised bottles and leave for a further three weeks to finish fermenting, and drink within 6 weeks.

Taken from my article submitted to Freepress, last year.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Working on my tan ......

..... that is not really today's project but it does involve sunshine.

Having spent the morning shut in my office

- well not really, as my office is actually a bit of open plan space at the top of the stairs - so -

having spent the morning metaphorically shut in my office trying to fathom the new HMRC on-line filing pages and getting a set of accounts for an English client finalised, I decided enough was enough.

So I decamped to the garden with all my paperwork.

If I have to spend hours filling in forms and filing I may as well work on my tan at the same time.

       -ish -  it would be more blissful to be just lying around in the sun ........

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Martian Red Weed

For those fans of War of the Worlds, here is my own Martian Red weed.

This is actually a Chinese red leaf lettuce, which was sown in amongst a mixed batch of salad leaves in our first year, and it keeps coming back, in fact there is so much of it now it is taking over patches of garden and is beginning to look like red lawn.  Which would be great except for the fact that it is completely tasteless so only adds some colour to a salad.

We went to our local farmer's market today with the hopes of finding a pig, which we did from our usual supplier, this year he has some Gloucester Old Spots x Duroc piglets, but we just could not decide on one, or even whether we should get one - our freezers are still full and we have too many chickens, some ducks awaiting a cull and even more rabbits on the way.  In the end we went home empty handed and now I am not sure if I should be regreting that or not.

Once home, with the sun out and some time before I have to depart for work, I managed to squeeze in a bit of gardening, planting out some Batavia lettuce I bought at market into our salad poly tunnel, alongside the succession sowing we should have a nice steady supply of salad leaves in a month or so.  I also got some cabbage seeds into pots, and a few more peas which I am going to try growing 'The Edible Garden' ready for eating the tips in salads only.

Watched that again last night and learnt something new - I did not know I could eat the radish seed pods - I get quite a crop of these every year when I let my radishes take over.

Alys Fowler also reminded me that it was time to get my nettle fertiliser on the go, so I collected up two 5 litre plastic wine kegs, stuffed them with new fresh nettle tips and topped off with water.  For those who are going to try this, as Alys said last night - the solution absolutely stinks, but the tomatoes do love it.