Two little monkeys…

Sometimes jumping on the bed, sometimes trying to turn the telly over! Already, they each have their roles – Conall completes the monkey business, whilst Hal stands watch…


They know when they’ve been caught, though!


Allotment news

Here are last Monday’s photos – after a weekend of rain and sunshine, the plants went wild!

CIMG0104Alpine Strawberries – these have been great this year – a daily source of snack-time treats for the boys!

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Various tomatoes, growing and ripening at varying rates.

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Chillis and container carrots

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Naturtiums, a great addition to salads (leaves and flowers), delicious in cream cheese sandwiches for a fresh and peppery hit.


“Butterbush” patio squash plants – I’m delighted with their progress as I’ve nurtured them from seed.



Turnips in an old suitcase with beetroot, and the squash that won’t stop growing…


Borage flowers – delicious in elderflower gin and tonic, or Pimms, and the leaves and stalks are edible too!



Re-useful #1: “effervescent multi-vitamin” (Berocca) containers

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to find secondary uses for as much of my household waste as possible, and thought I would invite you to join me on my journey. My first entry in this new series is about the humble Berocca tube.

I had planned on using these to store seeds saved from my garden, but my reading suggests paper envelopes are a better choice. They are, however, perfect for storing dried herbs to use over winter once the fresh herbs are dormant. I have more than enough for this.

This week’s scorching weather has seen me offering the boys a daily dose of home-made lollipop. I usually make these from fresh fruit puree or leftover smoothies, and often wish I had another set of moulds to make some for myself…


Enter the Berocca tube. Simply fill with your flavour of choice, wrap a lollipop stick with a bit of foil or clingfilm and insert into the top of the tube, wrapping the foil/clingfilm around the top so that the stick “sticks” out. Stand in your freezer until frozen, then store in a ice-cream tub or freezer bag for hot sunny days!


On Boxing Day we all embarked on a family walk. Halfway down the drive, Dapper pointed out the roots of a huge, old tree, overlooking the pond. The tree was tilting over, and the roots starting to lift from the ground.

The tree had to come down that very afternoon – or risk ripping up the entire driveway! It was quite an exciting spectacle! It fell into the pond with an almighty splash, creating waves of water that lapped into the meadow. It was left there for the time being, and soon became a favourite roost for the ducks.

Last week, the winch finally came to lift the tree from the pond. It had disturbed the natural balance of the water, and needed to be removed, although some larger branches were left behind for the ducks, moorhens and heron to enjoy. Dragged out into the meadow, it quickly dried in the hot sun. Dapper and I took the boys out to inspect the remains.

I was amazed by just how much the dried pondweed resembled felted wool and fibres! It was utterly beautiful, and naturally, I took a bazillion photos. Here are some of my favourites!

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Posts on a theme – more gardening news!

I’m afraid the garden is more or less my life at the moment! Between the boys and the veggies I don’t have a lot of time for much else, and as I have commented to Dapper more than once, the garden is a little like children, in so far as she needs tending if you want her to thrive – even on the days you really don’t feel like it!


This photo was taken before I lost all three tomtato plants to blight. Gutted, but it happens to the best of us!

In fact, in the week since I took this photo things have gone a little nuts up top. The marrows are now in full bloom and trailing above the pallet frame I put in for them to climb. The bags of potatoes you see to my right in the photo have been harvested and eaten hot with butter (I don’t remember planting reds, but there you go!) The canes to the my left are now half-high with dwarf beans, and behind these, my repurposed gate-framed bed is green with borage and marigold, turnip, beetroot, radish, chicory, lettuce and nasturtiums.



The tomato hanging baskets and various patio veg are also doing spectacularly well – we’ve been eating red tumbling toms this week, with various other bush varieties on the vine yet to ripen. The alpine strawbs have been delicious from my hanging basket by the front door, and my first carrots are nearly ready to lift. And of course, we’ve been living on salad radish – and radish tops in salads too.

CIMG0034CIMG0080And I’ve just started preserving the produce. My elderflower gin is frankly delicious (I water mine down with lemon juice, and obviously tonic water) and following Monty’s advice last Friday, I cut back my chives to encourage a second crop, making a delicious chive and walnut pesto as a result!


My next job is to get the two large beds in and the green manure underway ready for autumn planting for my winter veg plugs. I’ve inherited a pile of fence slats and telegraph poles for this, and have a pile of pallets on the way as well. These, I’m hoping, will provide planters for my saffron crocus, an early birthday gift from Grams, and due to arrive late August!

I’m really very excited about the whole thing – the idea of being so in control of what we’re all eating appeals to my inner control freak in rather marvellous ways!

And now I’m off to read James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution, to see what wonders I can add to my patch next year…



Quick gardening update…

IMG-20140601-WA0013Progress in the veg patch – not great, but at least we should have tomatoes, potatoes, radish, lettuce, beets, turnips, butternut squash, pumpkins and marrows.


More potatoes – the first earlies I planted, in fact, all in flower this week. 


I also have strawberries in pots and hanging baskets, bush tomatoes in hanging baskets, an array of herbs, and red and yellow peppers. So we won’t starve!

I have really got the gardening bug of late. I’ve tried to grow vegetables and herbs before – even in the tiny flat in Newcastle I had pepper plants on stakes covering the window in the spare room – apparently it was rather like sleeping in Sleeping Beauty’s castle!

cheeky squirrel

The squirrel, munching on one of my strawberries. Shortly after taking this photo I retrieved an old net veil I bought in a charity shop and a broken clothes horse from the shed to make this anti-squirrel net tent!CIMG9958But this year I’m really excited at the prospect of just how much I could potentially avoid buying if I could only produce it myself. It is also proving great exercise – after a few hours in the garden I can guarantee I’ll be aching all over and sleep like a baby!

This week I’ve also been foraging for elderflowers (not much of a forage really – there’s a tree halfway up the drive!). I’ve made elderflower cordial, frozen in portion-sized ice-cubes for summer drinks, elderflower frozen yoghurt, and started elderflower gin, which I’m especially excited about!

Waste not, want not


I’m on a bit of a waste-not kick of late. I don’t know whether it’s the lack of money in my bank account (I’ve yet to be paid for a single job I have done since going freelance at the end of March) or the cost of compost for my veggie garden that has done it, but I’m suddenly aware of every single thing we throw away. I’ve started a Bokashi composting system (these guys are good, if you’re interested), so I can finally compost my leftovers, post-stock bones, and the various other food bits that can’t go into the regular compost bin or out to feed the friendly ducks that seem to have adopted us. Everything we throw away is subject to the three Qus before it hits the rubbish bin: can it be re-used? IF NOT, can if be upcycled? IF NOT can it be recycled? I have a sizeable collection of homemade mini-greenhouses for my seedlings next year, all neatly paired up with a plastic meat-tray for the base and a salad/stir-fry tray for the lid. And thanks to pinterest I have a supply of funnels, shovels and storage containers made from empty milk cartons.


The ducks, sitting on our front door step

This weekend, I bottled up this year’s sloe gin. I was left with a pile of gin-soaked sloes, which I decanted into red wine to make sloe port. Before making the port, though, I removed the stones, to make the third stage of the process, sloe truffles, easier at the other end. I was left with a pile of sloe stones, and no clue what to do with them.

Googling was not helpful. No-one was offering advice regarding how to use sloe stones after the gin-making process – most folk seem to just add them to the compost. But I did read that the stones themselves release a lovely almond flavour, if left to soak long enough. Which went a long way to explaining why my instincts had led me to add almond essence to this year’s sugar syrup prior to sweetening my gin. (I used this recipe this year, rather than my usual all-in recipe, which can produce a sickly sweet gin.) I decided to try something out, just to see what happens: I added the stones to a half-empty bottle of wine vinegar.

Anyone have any suggestions as to what this might produce? I’m hoping for a slightly fruity vinegar that I can use in winter stews. I know I might have to reduce it with some sugar after steeping to achieve this, but that’s fine! I’m going on an elderflower forage as soon as the sun comes out, then when the berries come in, I have plans to make elderberry vinegar. So if this doesn’t work out, I’ll still have plenty of fruity vinegar to be going on with…