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Archive for the ‘frugal living’ Category

bee1 I like to garden alongside nature – in a way that does minimal harm. So I am delighted at all the wildlife living around the place, we have frogs and newts, and a resident hedgehog. I saw a deer in the fields.  It’s worth fighting the slugs off my veg without the use of chemical warfare.bee2

This year, I’m doing it alone, and have my new veg beds – I thought if I got one up and running that would be a win, – I managed last year but was on autopilot, now I am about seeing how viable it is and how well I can do it.  As it goes, I wheel-barrowed compost from our heaps, up the lane, and into the garden and have beansmanaged to establish Three beds.  The beans have never looked finer – I have managed to fight the slugs off with nightly collections, and all plants survived.  I did notice the flowers weren’t setting, which was odd, as we have bees.

Then the plant really took off and were covered with red flowers….only in one day they all vanished.  Gone.

I established it is the sparrows.  Once in decline, we have loads of them around here.  I have never had a problem with bean flowers being scoffed by sparrows before – if you have the solution, let me know.  I was despondent for a couple of weeks, then realising each time a new flower appeared, it was swiped, I decided to try to net them – problem is the flowers will grow through the netting, and the plant leaders wind thought.. we may never get the net back.. if we get beans we may never reach them – slugs are safe in there, weeds are 20170714_144831growing… it’s all not ideal.  I may have to rethink it for next year.  Or not have runner beans.  Which I cannot imagine…

In other news, the rest of the gardening projects appear to be working, the courgette mountain is upon us – despite strong winds snapping one plant in two – the usual – sowing more courgette plants than we need, planting them all out – well I had space in the new flower cutting bed, so I bunged them in.  A glut is never actually a problem.20170715_120351

We have had lots of raspberries – despite the raspberry bed being completely overgrown, we should get lots of blackberries (ok I perhaps ought to cut the brambles out of the flower beds…) and despite me fighting those dang sparrows (shakes fist) nature still seems to like my garden – Whilst taking a peek at how the compost heap was doing – it is very satisfying to observe waste being turned into lovely compost….(ok maybe that is just a nerdy gardener thing…) I found a clutch ( .. is clutch the right word?) of  grass snake eggs – well I am pretty sure that’s what they are as the UK’s only egg laying snake, and we have found grasssnake shedded skins in the area.  I’m quite pleased, so carefully tucked them back in – as the snake lays them, then abandons them, depending on the heat of the composting to do the work.  Kind of OK about not seeing them though.

I mentioned above my new venture – a cutting garden.  Because flowers bring me joy, but hot house flowers flown in do not, so best to grow my own – so far I have only planted a few plants and harvested gladioli, sweet peas and marigolds – and have been experimenting with some of the established perennials I have growing in the garden. I plan to set aside an area for growing spring bulbs too.  It’s been hard to actually cut the flowers…. as they look nice in situ – but having an area meant for this means I don’t see it as ruining a flower bed, but harvesting a crop20170720_082545

and the flowers do bring me joy.

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I have decided, if I am going to justify my habit of buying fabrics, hoarding clothes that need a little alteration, and such, then I need to make some actual time to do some sewing.

The idea fits in well with the fact I am on a bit of a budget, I like recycling and well.. I may have mentioned it… I like fabric….

So, the plan is to carve out that time, and actually get on with.

To kick start me, an easy project, un-beiging a beige jacket.  It’s a perfectly good jacket, light-weight, ideal apart from… it’s beige.  20170628_160829I don’t know why I bought it… ok actually I do, I was brought up with the idea  that buying ‘neutral’ colours was a good choice, as then the item will go with everything..  Good idea.. apart from the fact that I like colour. So I have a tendency to put down the colourful thing in a shop, opt to buy the sensible, then never wear it because it is…sensible.

See how neutral it is? I took this picture inside the greenhouse (it was a rainy day, ideal for project) and it blends into the stone wall…..bleuh….

So to resolve this issue, I decided to dye.  Studying the label I established that the main outer of the jacket was cotton but the faux fur, lining and zip  (and maybe the stitching.. that can go either way) were synthetic and would not pick up the colour. So I had to choose a colour that would go well with the faux fur etc. I went for dylon emerald green.  (cos you know… I do like green…) Then I weighed it and tried to estimate how much of weight was in material that would pick up the dye… Then shoved it into the washing machine.

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And it worked, I like the contrast with the fur and buckles, the stitching does show but it’s fine.
I love my ‘new’ jacket 20170703_092833

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31082842545_932e299d28_oI’m going to give a go at growing veg in a different way. Mostly, I  wanted to break the growing areas up into manageable bits.  It’s a visual trick really, but I figured it was all so much less daunting if you could see it as one small bed at a time, rather than a massive unmanageable area. OK so the beds aren’t that small but still…

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With this in mind, I researched various gardening set ups and am planning on dabbling with the no-dig method.

I have always ignored it as a method, because  quite frankly the do-dig method works very well.  There I said it.  Furthermore, I’m going on to say both methods appear to work. Controversial of me, I know – as usually people have to choose a side and laugh at the other.  With the ‘old allotment boys’ laughing at the folk who “think they don’t have to do any work” and the no-dig gardeners rolling their eyes at the ‘old allotment boys’ and sighing “at what cost to the soil” and stating that the old method doesn’t work… and “why do work you don’t have to do?” and so on.

It’s ignorance that is the problem – no-dig doesn’t mean no work – seems to me there is a lot of time spent moving compost about and mulching and weeding.  And the digging method does work, because you know….people have been using it all this time. I really dislike the snorting and laughing at the other camp – it doesn’t matter – do whatever works for you. I particularly dislike being told by anyone without successful experience…

Anyways, most of my experience with veg growing has been by trial and error – this is true for most gardeners and different things will work with different climates and different soils etc.

As I read more about it, it turns out that some of the things we just naturally arrived  at doing, fit in with the no-dig way – for example I try to start as many plants as possible as modules in the greenhouse  – they just do better.   And I haven’t fed my tomato plants  in years … well.. forever. Because we always replenish the greenhouse with compost from the compost heap.  And as it goes I always put the wood ash from the fire on the heaps so there is no potash shortage, and have always had good tomato crops.  Also when adding compost to the veg beds before planting out the hungry plants – like squashes beans and sweetcorn, we have just added a layer of compost on top.  These are all part of the no-dig method, and I have been doing it all along.  Who knew.

There are lots of calls on my time in other areas of life, and a certain amount of stumbling about trying to find my feet in difficult times… so no promises. But these new beds are inspiring, and doing things differently suits.

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So, it’s tweaking my veg growing habits into a slightly new but actually not that new way.  And venturing back out gradually, one smaller bed at a time.

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Untitled//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsIt’s juicing time of year again, and this year the apple juice is pink Untitled//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This is because we have had our first harvest of the variety ‘redlove’.  It make for  good garden apple tree as the leaves are dark the flowers dark pink and the fruit dark red. As a juicing apple it is interesting as the flesh and juice are also red, and only a little added to the press makes the juice a beautiful shade of pink.

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As usual, we pre froze the apples, and in this picture this is how they look once defrosted – a little sad, but it does help with the juicing, you can practically squeeze them by hand after a brief freeze.  The other variety of apple we use is an unknown apple that the previous owner grew from a pip. We call this variety ‘bejeezus’, as we have found it is not particularly good for eating or cooking, but ideal for juicing resulting in juice sweet enough to drink without added sugar, that is also good for making wine and cider with too.  This year we shall probably have it as juice, as the cider stocks are still high.  Why we call it ‘bejeezus’? because once we realised we were going to freeze and press these apples, less care is needed when picking, and our method is to hook the shepherd’s crook around branches and shake the bejeezus  out of the tree, resulting in apples raining down hard, (and sometimes painfully) – making a fast harvesting process.  Mr CIG was a little surprised the first time I did this, and hadn’t shared my plan with him, but  he ducked fast…

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Bertha produce
They say when God gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Personally, I would opt for limoncello, but we live in a cool climate, and don’t have a lemon tree… but when what was left of hurricane Bertha swept through last month, she gave us windfall apples, lots of them.  We picked plums early to take the weight off the branches, and that was highly successful, the pale plums finished ripening indoors, albeit all at once, but the apples were not ready and had to take their chances, and many were blown down and bruised before their time.

I hate waste, but we don’t have pigs at the moment, and the chickens will only eat so many… I made apple jelly, blackberry and apple jelly, apple cheese and started a batch of apple and blackberry gin.

Jelly making is an ideal way to use windfall apples as you can use the bruised fruit, and it is an easier than peeling hard unripe apples.

apple jelly

1.8 Kg/4 lbs apples – no need to peel or core, bruises are fine, but cut off any bad bits and wildlife

1.7L/ 3 pints water

sugar

Chop up the apples and place in the pan with the water, cook gently until the apples are mushy. Strain overnight using a jelly bag (no squeezing!).

Next day, measure the liquid and add the same volume of sugar.  Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then boil and bring to setting point 104 C on my thermometer – but you can also judge by watching how the mixture drops from the spoon. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

I use this apple jelly in cooking mostly – although it is nice as a jam, but works well in a steamed sponge pudding, or as a glaze on tarts and everywhere that calls for apricot jam under icing etc.  It can be stirred into casseroles and sauces.

Blackberry and apple jelly is the same recipe, substituting half the apples for blackberries.

Now the apples are ripe and we have picked the remainders – juicing the sweeter ones, and the bramleys are in the cool of the shed waiting to be cooked and eaten.

 

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apple crushing
This time of year is all about preserving the harvest, and some of that is the making of chutneys and pickles.  I have stocked up on supplies of malt vinegar, something that the village shops run out of quickly at this time of year as others are  doing the same, but this made me consider making our own vinegar, and I have been tuning into various mutterings over vinegar making on the net – in particular Andrea at Casalinho wrote a very interesting post on making vinegar from fruit scraps.

However, we have plenty of apples – not so many as in other years, but plenty, and more than we have freezer space, so the obvious thing to do is make our own cider vinegar…and for that we need cider, and before that we need apple juice.
apple pressing
We freeze and thaw the apples before pressing them (yes I know I said we had no freezer space – this space is already prebooked, we just borrowed it for a couple of days) as it makes crushing and pressing them so much easier. Then the crushed apples are pressed.
apple juice
Interestingly the first juice is white and cloudy – it goes orange as it oxidises, but as the pressing continues you get clearer juice. It’s all delicious.

 cider start

It’ been a while since we pressed our own apples, and today we have been kicking ourselves as the juice was so lovely.  How much makes it as far as vinegar remains to be be seen – we have already drunk a lot just as juice, and saved more back for that… then I might just drink the cider. Hopefully we will get as far as making our own cider vinegar too.

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belly slices on the bone

Monday saw us loading the pigs and taking them on their final journey. The reality of their end is masked by some angst at this time. By this stage they are no longer cute piglets, but two hundred weight of young boar. And having boar weaners is a first for us, they matured at an alarming rate and we worried about the possibility of boar taint. So getting them booked in, then the stress of trying to persuade that much pig into the trailer.. then the unloading at the other end all adds up to angst. Actually they loaded easily, came out of the trailer easily, and didn’t miss their appointment….
Only after that do we miss them, and we do. But this is part of the deal.
Today the pigs came home again, as pork, and we spent the day cutting them into edible portions. The meat is free of taint, and not too fatty at all, probably the best pork we have raised to date.

We strayed from the basic cutting plan and cut the middles close to the eye of meat, leaving a bigger belly slab, which himself cut into belly slices, on the bone,for meaty rib eating.  Meanwhile I boned out the loins/racks and cut the meat into many many steaks, and we cut a small joint from the side runners / hock and hands from under the spare ribs, which just seemed too lean and lovely to cut up for mincing. So now we have an abundance of pork steaks, roasting joints, tenderloin, trotters, ribs/belly slices, and mince.

Totally shattering day, but rounded off nicely with a trip into town; we sat outside under the canopy of a riverside bistro, a small group turned up and started playing swing and with pint in hand and the rain teaming down on the canvas,  it gave us that camping/festival feeling.

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