Monday, 31 July 2017

Decluttering Has It's Benefits ....

Decluttering has it's benefits in so many ways, going through one of the kitchen cupboards the other day I found a jar of blackberries steeping in whisky. 

I must have put the berries in the alcohol when I picked them last year, and looking back over blog posts I didn't post about it so I'm not sure of how long they have been steeping.  But what I can say is WOW ... the taste of both the whiskey AND the fruit is divine!!

The berries were quickly strained through first the sieve and then through a clean sieve lined with muslin so no little bits would be in the finished drink.

The whiskey was bottled up into a nice jar and will be entered into the Llanrwst Show in a few weeks.

And the blackberries were added to a basic cake mix and tipped into two lined 1lb cake tins.

We were going to have a slice each of one of the cakes after lunch ....

... but we got a bit carried away  ;-)

Sue xx

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Chickens and Apples

We went and picked up four more new chickens the other day, we needed to as we lost two of our layers last week.  Well sadly we lost three of our girls in one fell swoop but the large Black Maran's laying days were behind her.  We don't know what happened but I have a sneaking suspicion that they were stolen  :-(

The mystery started with one of our huge Black Marans being spotted absolutely flattened on the road by our neighbour as she walked back to her house after visiting us to buy some eggs.  She thought it was her black cat and telephoned asking if we would go and have a look for her as it was in a very dangerous spot near the corner.  We did and realised what it was at once thanks to the very large white legs and feet still being recognisable.

Later that day I realised that two more of our birds were missing, one of the new 'Green Girls' and one of last years 'Welsh girls'.  The mystery deepened but putting two and two together and wearing my very best Miss Marple hat ... I much prefer that to a deerstalker ... I have concluded that if I were stealing myself a little flock of hens I too would choose one black, one brown and one a nicely co-ordinating black and brown.  But I would not take such a huge bird that as I was crossing the road it would easily struggle free and unfortunately get splattered by a passing car or truck.

I am making quite light of it, I need to if I want to retain what little sanity I have left, but it's hard to lose three of our girls, especially my lovely little new girl who was the sweetest of the quartet.

So now we also have in residence over in Chicken World the 'Blue Girls' ... four more Calder Rangers.  Bringing our numbers back up to eighteen girls and Jack the cockerel .... who once again immediately set to making his newest wives very welcome. 

Also over in Chicken World, the apple trees are looking wonderful, and I couldn't resist snapping off a few photos while I was there.

The apples are turning rosy red and filling out nicely on the branches, with the occasional windfall making a very nice snack for the chickens.

The trees are literally dripping with apples, the more you look the more you see.

Lovely and red and just asking to be picked, and they are ... frequently. 
It's nice to grab one for an impromptu snack after cleaning out the henhouse or when I'm on the way over to the polytunnel.

Also filling out nicely are the cooking apples, and I can see a freezer full of apple slices, crumbles and pies coming up in the next few months after a bit of work in the kitchen.


...and Apples

Sue xx

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Royal Welsh Show

We've just got back from a few days away.

We went to somewhere we've wanted to go to ever since we moved into Wales ... the Royal Welsh Show.

It was as expected absolutely massive,  lots of stands,  lots of animals and lots of people, a heaving mass of humanity all on a ginormous, purpose built, permanent showground in Buìlth Wells, mid Wales.  We hadn't realised just how huge it was until we got there, really it would take two days to get to see everything and to be able to watch more of the animal competitions.

This time we focused on the pigs, as that is what we will probably show there in the future.  Pigs are nowhere near as common as sheep in Wales, but they are Alan's first love and what we always planned to put in our woodland.  We took the opportunity to join the Wales and Border Counties Pig Breeders Association and had a good chat with some of the committee members while we were there.

Now we're home, tired and foot weary but full of ideas.  The dogs have just been picked up from the kennels, the poly tunnel has been watered and four more chickens have just been purchased from our local chicken breeder as we lost three girls last week and numbers were down.

It's been a busy few days, so now it's time to catch our breath and get back to normal  ... or as normal as things can be with a chicken sat on the conservatory step shouting for my attention 😊

Sue xx

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Sorting the Clutter in the Kitchen

I think it was Sally that asked to see a photo of the kitchen after I had put everything back after the electrician had been the other week. So while I was in there the other day I took a few shots for posterity.

Most things went back on the now cleaned and re-oiled shelves ... they are after all in very regular use and I do like to have my bits and bobs around me.  Also all the jars of dried food had to go back because as well as looking nice they give me inspiration at teatime when, after a day in the polytunnel or out on the Veggie Patch, I come into the kitchen and stand looking blankly into space wondering what on earth to have for tea to go with the harvested veggies ... I should get back to menu planning!!

 My worktops will never be as clear as those you see in magazines because I like to have the brewing up stuff to hand ... we drink enough tea and coffee during the day to make this very necessary!!

Everything you see out is in daily if not hourly use ...  and yes sometimes that does include the toaster  ;-)

Taking a step back this is how the kitchen looks now everything is back in place.

But behind the closed doors an even more in depth sorting, decluttering and cleaning is going on, just one cupboard at a time whenever the inspiration strikes ... or while the kettle boils and the toast pops up   :-)

Sue xx

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Tour of the Plot - Part Four

Well here it is the final Tour of the Plot. 

Let's go past the polytunnel now towards the waving man in the distance ... honestly since he came back to work at home full time, every time I get the camera out he's there hogging the shot   :-)

Notice on your left the little troughs of Cosmos that I've been selling at Car Boot Sales ...

... and on your right our most recent homemade flower bed.

Back to your left is The Orchard, also known as Chicken Land.  Here we have three Damson Plum trees, three Pear trees, four Apple trees (one of them is an espalier on the top fence) and three 'Victoria' Plum trees.

Also there are two Fig bushes, protected from the chickens by posts and wires. 

Back to your right and against the fence to the manure pile is our largest Gooseberry bush. It obviously enjoys all the healthy soil from being so near that amount of horse manure.

And speaking of horse manure ... that's just what Alan is busy unloading.

Going past him and we are into the paddock, and looking into the top right corner is the fenced off area we call Nut Wood.

It's here that we have most of our nut trees along with wild flowers and areas for wildlife.

The trees we have in here are three Oak and three Birch along the fence nearest the road, and then we have two Sweet Chestnut, four Walnut trees and two Almond trees. Of course we also have the Cob Nut trees in our woodland overlooking the Veggie Patch.  Cob nuts are like Hazelnuts, so altogether we have should have quite a good selection of nuts for future use.

Deliberately placed in here are the huge rocks that we excavated from the hillside when we were building the foundations for the garage and workshop, along with some smaller rocks, all there fore the insects and wildlife to make their homes under and around.

There's also the large piece of the old oak tree that we sadly had to fell not long after we bought the house. Now as it slowly decomposes it is home to masses of insects.

The whole area is alive with insects, birds, butterflies and bees and now we have just found out we have frogs around the pond.

The main wildflower area is in the corner.  Seeds sown and plants planted and then left to their own devices for the wildlife to enjoy.  These will self seed and spread each year.

The pond is just an old plastic paddling pool that we found here, dug half into the ground with rocks and stones to make safe area for smaller creatures to get down and drink or bask in the sun.

It's amazing how lush this area has become so quickly.

The chipped wood floor is also home to all sorts of insect life and mushrooms.

The Nut trees are all young, we had a few Almonds last year and there are more nuts appearing this year, but it will be another couple of years until we see much of a crop I think.

Heading back to the house we pass the manure pile now all unloaded and neatly covered over to steam away and rot down with the help of the hundreds of worms that are in there, ready to feed our vegetable beds next year.

And lastly at the back of the house, just outside the conservatory where they are handy for picking as I cook, is the majority of our herbs.  Still planted in the old tin bath. Here I have Rosemary, Chives, Parsley, Mint, two or three varieties of Sage, two types of Thyme, some Lovage .... and a scarecrow.

In these pots are some more herbs and some edible flowers, as well as a pot of Cosmos.

So that concludes the Tour of the Plot for this year. 

I doubt it will change much over the years, but things will move from bed to bed as I practice my slightly hit and miss planting rotations,  and fruit bushes and trees will hopefully mature and give us larger and larger harvests.

The only thing I've just realised that haven't mentioned or photographed are our wonderful old apple trees, they were here when we moved in and were most likely here for generations before the people that we bought the house from moved in.  Three have eating apples and one, deep into Chicken World, has a type of cooking apple.  Every year these help fill our freezer with apple slices, our cupboards with jars of stewed apples and give the chickens and wildlife lots to eat as they drop off the trees.  Oh yes, I almost forgot, also in Chicken World are one Cherry tree and one Plum tree, pruned hard by Alan last year and this year having a rest.

So we are now into the final part of our plan ... the one that we have been working towards for the last eight years ... the one where we cut our spending right down to only buying what we can't produce ourselves, shop less and less for food and learn to live more and more off the fruits of our land and labours.

I hope you have enjoyed this four part tour, it's been good to get it on here for posterity and really good for me to slowly walk our land photographing how far we have come in the three and a half years we have been here. 

Before this it was all building work, hard construction and big boys machines, now it's time to enjoy the results of all that upheaval.  But before we say goodbye to tradesmen there was just one more job to do .....

I'll tell you all about it next time.

Sue xx

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Tour of the Plot - Part Three

Part three of the Tour of the Plot is the Veggie Patch. 

Situated above the Poly and Net tunnels it is a sloping area of raised beds and woodchip paths. We took the decision to grow in raised beds as I have found this the best way to grow vegetables.  You can feed or water specific beds without waste, dig up a bed of potatoes without disturbing another crop and I like the way it centres my mind on a small area.   I find can give each bed more care and attention than if I was faced with a large flat space.

We have four long beds each divided into smaller sections and one special bed.  Three going up the hill and one at the top going horizontal.  The special bed is Dad's Memorial Bed and is a wildlife haven, with flowers and a birdbath for all the little pollinating visitors and our feathered friends.

The woodchip paths between the beds was all given to us free of charge by our local friendly tree surgeons who have mandatory tree trimming to do each year for the local electricity companies (so the trees are not threatening all the overhead power lines).  They leave the owner of the land they are working on the chopped lengths of wood for their fires and log burners and have to come away with the chippings off all the small branches (if the person doesn't want them).  We were happy to offer to be a dropping off point for the whole of last year ... so we are making good use of the chippings.

The centre part of bed one has my new netted tents, bought in the Wyevale sale last year after a lunch with Mum, and up to now working brilliantly to protect my new Cabbage plants from all the Cabbage White butterflies that are in the area.

The first bed ... three Cabbages and a French Marigold, then a tyre with Peas growing up a support, behind them are half a dozen Tomato plants.

Under the net tents are 20 Cabbages.

The top section of this bed has the Runner Beans growing up the fixed wire mesh  and two Courgette plants on this side.

Yes, the lower part of the Runner Beans have had ALL the leaves eaten by rabbits or squirrels, but somehow the top parts are still surviving.  This happened last year and I left the roots of each plant in the soil, luckily they regrew and we ended up with a bumper crop off just two plants.

The horizontal bed at the top of the patch has an empty bed nearest to us, the mini compost bin in the centre one ... 

... a fantastic crop of Cob Nuts on the overhanging trees ...

... and a good crop of 'Estima' Potatoes in the far bed.

We have decided to use these top beds as two new Rhubarb beds and two new Asparagus beds from Autumn of this year when we will transplant the Rhubarb from the current Rhubarb patch and plant the Asparagus seedlings that I am currently growing from seed.

Going back down the hill and looking at the centre bed we have a couple more Potato plants and another tyre of Peas.

Then we have one empty bed (soon to have the Turnip seedlings) and then even more potatoes and a tyre planted with French Marigolds.

And then there is Dad's Bed ...

... a little wildlife oasis in the midst of all the vegetables. 

Lots of plants around a bird bath and  a small tree.  Salix 'Caprea Pendula' which is a half standard and this year is so lush it appears to be a big green pom pom.

Back to the bottom of the hill and we are at the last of the long beds.  The first section has six Butternut Squash plants.

The next section was to have been our Asparagus bed, but the escapee chickens last year killed all but two of the Asparagus plants, so now it has just been planted with this years Leek crop.  Which I carefully did around the ferns of the remaining two Asparagus.

Yes, teeny tiny Leeks.

The final section, has a couple of Runner Beans growing up the mesh (the rabbits ate the rest), and at either side of the wire there are some Marrow plants.

Meandering across the back of the plot to go back to the house we have a Hop plant at the top of the fence.  Hopefully one year there will be enough hops for Alan to use in his beer brewing, or at least to add flavour to his beer.

Continuing down the fence line there are the Blackcurrants ....

.... then after the compost bins the Raspberries.

All this leads us back down to the Belfast sink and round to the gateway that takes us back to the house.

The last part of this little tour will be in the next post.

Sue xx