Sunday, 17 April 2016

April Garden

April so far has been a real mix of weathers here in the UK, and in our corner of west Norfolk, we've been enjoying some beautiful sunshine and real warmth (when you're standing in the sun!) along with real chill, and plenty of rain. In fact we had heavy sleet yesterday and some folks even got snow! So we aren't out of the woods yet.

However, it has been good enough to galvanise us into really making big changes in the garden. What used to be a damp dark bottom corner, where Jim's "Fishing Lodge" i.e. man shed, was, along with a thick hedge and fence, has now been opened up and is a very sunny spot now. How about that white picket fence? I painted that; I thought it would be good to have a visual separation between the top garden and the bottom bit where all the work is going on now.

An over-all view of what I'm calling the pottager (for want of a better word!) showing the large cold frame and the raised beds Jim built. Right at the bottom is my little Square Foot Garden which started everything. Jim had been very reluctant to use raised beds, as our garden soil is brilliant - it's been dug over and nurtured for over 20 years by him, with no nasty pesticides or fertilisers, other than our own home made compost and regular feeds with comfrey juice he makes in a large bucket from the comfrey plants he grows. However, reading more about the raised bed system, and acknowledging that the soil wouldn't be wasted, convinced him that we could probably try it, and he set to in his usual manner, and quickly made up the brick bed and the two wooden raised beds, also building the large cold frame which replaces the small greenhouse, given away when we were preparing the ground for the summer house.

In the brick bed, I've got three red-veined sorrel plants, rows of radish, rocket and spinach. Later this month or in May I shall put fennel bulbs in the remaining space. I've got a variety of salad leaves growing in those small troughs.

Here in this wooden bed, I've planted long stem broccoli and red cabbage. At the bottom of the bed we made a trellis and I planted two outdoor variety cucumbers which I hope will scramble up the trellis.

The view from the garage looking up the garden. In my square foot garden I've sown Chard Bright Lights and White Chard, red beetroot and beetroot chioggia, which has red and white concentric rings. Also in this bed are spring onions and lambs lettuce. To the right you can just see the four sacks containing early new potatoes. Much simpler planting them in sacks and they take up much less room too. In the second wooden bed, I've got some shallots and some red onions, and at this end I shall plant some squash which I'm growing from seed in the cold frame at the moment. I've no idea how the squash will do… but until you try you never do know!

The cold frame has all sorts of seedlings coming up - chives, parsley, coriander, nasturtiums, anemones, stock…other flowers…  and some veggie seeds I can't remember what Jim sowed! We probably get as much in here as we did in the green house, and the tomatoes are in a covered planter just to the left of this photo.

In December 2014 I was saying "all I want for Christmas is a potting shed!" well, I never did get one, and we have no room for one but I DID get a potting table yesterday! We painted it and here it is in its glory - I love it! Don't laugh at my dinky trowel and fork… I love the colours!

On the right-hand side of the garden you can just see where Jim has planted some cauliflowers and round -head cabbage. How about my pink planter, hey? This used to be a white tray set-up I used initially for my craft fairs, but it was never a very good idea and I abandoned it. So I painted it pink - Jim just raised an eyebrow when I told him my intentions, but he does now agree it looks fine against the sage green summer house wall.  Here I have lavender and a load of herbs waiting to go in….. somewhere else….more of which another time! Beyond the covered caulis and cabbage Jim has  prepared the veggie garden for further sowing and planting.

Up on the patio I dumped these uprooted muscari (grape hyacinth) which I moved out of the old sink planter from the rockery area just outside the window.

This sink had become totally overrun by muscari. There are a few tulips, violets and ground cover plants which I can't remember the names of; they've been there for so long! I'm going to replant the muscari in the two tiny strips of soil we laughingly call the front garden.

We have many more plans for the garden, some of them quite revolutionary, by our standards. But it all takes time. I am amazing myself with this new -found enthusiasm for actually getting into the garden and getting my hands dirty, as opposed to footling around with my herbs and doing little else out there. I think I always felt the garden wasn't my place. Not that Jim was possessive about it, but it was always just a place where the veggies got grown, and I just used the patio and grew a few herbs. Since the com ing of the summer house we have revised our ideas of what the garden should be, and Jim has encouraged me to really get out there and garden. I know by the standards of my long-time gardening friends, and those who have gone even further and rented allotments, and installed polytunnels, we do very little, but everything you can grow for yourself is a step away from reliance upon an increasingly and worryingly prescriptive food industry. Also, we need to sow and plant and confound the plans for the global seed industries who are even now trying to force through legislation forbidding us to save and share seeds. You couldn't make it up, and I'm not. There are states in America where they are forbidden to save their rainwater. If any of my American readers can enlighten me as to the reasoning behind this I'd be grateful ! The so-called 'doomsday seeds' are not a conspiracy theory construct, Monsanto and other GM producing seed companies intend that their seeds are purchased which will mean that they will have to continue to be purchased as they are one-offs, you can't save seed from these crops, they are sterile. Hence eternal reliance on these mega companies. And they market themselves as the saviours of the Third World poverty problem!

Anyway, continue to do your bit and enjoy all the other benefits working in the garden brings to you!  I'm loving it! Must go, that muscari won't plant itself!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Four Plant pots and a Wedding

OK, the Four Plant Pots is a bit of a literary device, but you catch my drift! The wedding of which I speak is that of Blanche and Chris. Blanche invited a group of Burwell Bashers to join in the celebrations and to provide some musical diversion in the evening. Isn't this the loveliest photograph? Those of us who are more used to seeing Blanche at Burwell wearing cropped jeans, tee-shirt and trainers were a little gobsmacked to find out just how well she scrubbed up! 

The wedding was held at Gravetye Manor Hotel, in West Sussex, a 16th Century manor house standing in wonderful grounds - do google and have a look, the gardens are quite famous. 

                 Just one part of the gardens, in front of the original 'front' of the house.

I WISH I had managed to zoom in for this, but didn't really have time. Jayne played Blanche in with that lovely old Irish tune "Give Me Your Hand". So beautiful.

       Blanche and Chris cutting the cake. Is that a beautiful wedding dress or what? SO elegant!

Ah, now this is me, having just had a master class from Melanie Morris (BurwellBasher) on how to smile for the camera - something which I have never been able to do; I end up looking like I am either grimacing or saying something off-colour out of the side of my mouth! Not sure there is much improvement to be honest!

My old friend Sam Pirt - how lovely to meet up again with him - he and Blanche are long-time good friends. It was such a treat to share a platform with him, what an accomplished player he is.

Well, here we are, fitted and working and now part of the cottage; I'm getting used to a very different manner of cooking from the Rayburn, but loving having a gas hob again. The griddle is a brilliant piece of kit. Cooks marvellously, drains off the fat and even fries eggs with no more fat added. We love it!

April view of the rock garden - I'll have to do something about those muscari - I love them but they are just one big tangle now in the old sink. I've re-done the alpines so it looks a bit bare in there at the moment.

     Overnight, another chook took up residence, so that is one happy rooster we've got here now!

The chard which was evacuated from the square foot garden has resurfaced and not doing too badly - I've had quite a few leaves off the white chard plants; the rainbows need a while to recover.

The Willow Bird found its final placement and is enjoying the pink ranunculus - how I love these flowers! I've got a load of corms planted up for next year.

This purple collection is largely waiting for final resting places. I have wild violets coming up all over the garden and I'm trying to transfer them to where I want them, when the top half of the garden plan is up and running. (More of which another time) The French Lavenders will stop in the buckets for now, but I'm planning on having a collection of lavenders - there is a place which sells herbs over towards Dereham which we want to go and visit, I can buy a variety from them.

So, for a chap who was vehemently against raised beds… Jim bought me the square foot garden if you remember for Christmas 2014 and it never really did much. Now I have sown two types of chard,  two types of beetroot, and spring onions, with space in the centre for something else. He also built the brick raised bed for me, which has red veined sorrel you can just see, and under the fleece spinach, radish (two differently timed sowings) and rocket, with bulb fennel going in next month. AND he has just shown me a surprise in the garage (no, not the woodshed!) - another raised bed all waiting to be safely treated AND he says there is enough wood for another smaller one, so that entire space will be raised beds! And I never even asked! So with other plans up our sleeves for the rest of the garden things are looking quite exciting - and I say that as someone who has never raised a trowel in anger in her life!

Just to re-establish my credentials as a stitcher, here is the latest crochet offering, a slightly more muted version of my Caravan Granny Blanket - which has actually gone to the caravan! This will fit in better with the existing ripple and granny/treble blankets in the living room. Just a few more rows, sew in the ends and maybe add a border… what do you think? The original inspiration for this blanket was of course Lucy, at Attic24 blog.

And, just because, a photo of my favourite chair, next to the dresser, covered in colourful blanket and cushions of all persuasions! This collection cheers me up every time I glance at it.

So, there we are, a few plant pots and a lovely wedding. There are loads more wedding photographs but I've already shared them on Facebook so wasn't feeling like trotting them all out again. I hope you are enjoying some of this lovely spring sunshine - in-between the showers and high winds! Catch you next time!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter Sunday

I'm writing this post on Easter Sunday, in a beautiful hotel in the West Sussex countryside, Gravetye Manor. We are gathering together tomorrow to attend the wedding of Blanche and her man Chris. Blanche is a long-time whistle and flute player, a friend from my Burwell Bash times. They have invited a noisy crowd of Bashers to celebrate their special day - folk music is assuredly going to break out tomorrow night! Jim and I arrived today as I didn't know how long it would take, and to give us a relaxed start to the day. I'm sure there will be some photographs in my next post! 

Meanwhile, here's what we've been getting up to at Church Cottage this month.

March has been a really lovely introduction to Spring here in Norfolk; it has been chilly, certainly, but we've had so much lovely sunshine it has even made ME get out there in the garden- actually DIGGING and getting my hands dirty! I'm not a gardener, apart from always having grown and used herbs; I've never felt the garden was one of "my" spaces, but now we have had a bit of a seismic shift in our attitudes and we've been really happy spending time together, pottering around outdoors.

Jim built a large cold-frame to replace the greenhouse which went to make room for the summer house. We've both been sowing herb, veggie and flower seeds to go into the garden and raised beds.

Some plants have already gone into the soil…. the garden is waking up!

Of course there's been ongoing activity indoors too, all the kitchen upheaval, painting, heaving out the Rayburn, digging out the concrete plinth, re-arranging the units and installing the new cooker. The bowls, jugs, plates and other kitchen equipment has been in and out of the living room and been washed and re-washed several times!

The kitchen feels and looks lighter and brighter now, and we had new lighting installed yesterday so the motley collection on spotlights which never really worked has gone and the new lights are SO efficient! I'm loving the light in the cottage now, it was so dark and dim before.

The new trolley is just the job, and snuggles alongside the NEW COOKER!! Yes, all fitted and working very nicely I have to say!

 I painted the high book shelf and the little window frame and sill and the new spice shelves Jim built for me.

                     The summer house is sneakily taking on an additional role as potting shed!

Do you like my tin chickens at the top? I know, I know, they are a short step away from garden gnomes, but we can't keep chickens - no room, so they go some way to make up for it! I love 'em!

Right, I need to dress for dinner, I don't think my short brown tunic and brown Doc Martens will cut it in the hotel dining room, somehow! Then a quiet evening - during which I'll have time to catch up on my favourite blogs,  and we'll be looking forward to the festivities tomorrow. It's going to be so good to meet up with some lovely Burwell friends!! Catch you soon!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Spring in the Kitchen

Although I am agog with excitement and impatience for the arrival of my new cooker, I am in a strange way rather enjoying the challenge of turning out not just 'make-do' meals, but the kind of dishes I'd be producing had I several burners, an oven, and a properly functioning kitchen. So we aren't going without, by any means!

 Meatball prep: minced beef, chopped coriander and chorizo, and breadcrumbs, chopped onion and      garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and an egg.

However, the actual production of meals is curiously hesitant; I'll tell you what I mean, if you'll bear with me.

Meatballs browned, a sauce of grilled red peppers (from a jar!), tinned tomatoes, basil, some passata, salt and a pinch of brown sugar.

When I'm cooking up a storm, I think of myself as engaging in a dance. When you move between the various store - prep - cook areas (even in the smallest of kitchens) naturally and repeatedly, it becomes almost choreographed, a dance.

                                              Meatballs gently simmering in the sauce.

At the moment, with no cooker as such, being short of a permanent place for my herbs, spices and condiments, and my utensils being parked where they wouldn't normally be, I'm constantly checking myself, going to the wrong place, having to retrace my steps to find an item which wasn't where I'd expected it to be!

                                     Giant (Israeli) couscous and chopped pak-choi bubbling away.

I love being in my kitchen. I find it simultaneously comforting, calming and stimulating. I'm so pleased to have even this make-shift arrangement to work in after the four days of culinary chaos while the Rayburn was removed, and new pipes and boiler installed. We aren't there yet, though, and my time in the kitchen is governed by a temporary new, and awkward, rhythm; I am dancing to a different tune, a little discordant and unfamiliar.

                                  The finished dish - lunch for two and lots for left-overs!

The important thing is - I am still dancing!

I hope you are thrilling to the rhythm of your own dance as you go about the things you love to do! Catch you next time!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Kitchen Re-Furb (1)

Another even more photo-heavy post! Three years ago we had new kitchen units installed. This was the first time we've ever had a "proper" kitchen, as until then Jim had built all our units - and very good they were too! However, I'd been desperate to have a pantry, despite the kitchen being too small to make room for one, so we decided to push the boat out and buy some units from a well-known DIY store. I've spent many happy hours creating meals here, but lately the Rayburn has not been cutting the mustard for me - when the wind is in the wrong quarter it frequently blew out leaving us not only without a cooker but no heating as well. Also, I was really missing having a gas hob. The Rayburn was 20 years old, time for it to go.

Getting it out of the kitchen after the gas man had disconnected and drained it, was a major undertaking. We are eternally grateful to my niece Dena, her husband Stephen and their son Jack who all worked like Trojans to get the Behemoth out of the kitchen and into the garage.

The living room took on the look of a junk shop! I kept forgetting where I had temporally put things I urgently needed!

    The single induction hob came in very handy for keeping the meals coming!

Jim and I cleared the kitchen- mostly into the living/dining room - and set to work moving units, painting and waxing shelves, painting walls and preparing for the cooker to arrive.

I painted the shelves and plate rack pale blue, as I've got a colour mix going on in the kitchen, greeny/stone units, green and pink and blue bits and pieces… kind of a miss-mash really, but I like it!

We moved the unit (which Jim made years ago) from the left to the right hand side of where the cooker will be and I'm waiting for a trolley to go in its place. While we wait, I've got a work top balanced upon two (washed!) "workmates" which Jim brought up from the garage.

All my spices and dried herbs will be going on a big spice rack which (ahem) I'm designing and Jim will build for me. It will be placed on the little window-sill which looks into the dining room. Until then, this worktop is a trifle cluttered. The jugs containing utensils will be going on a shelf behind the cooker.

So, I have a functioning kitchen - sans cooker - which is amazing compared to how we've managed the last four days! You will have to wait for Part Two, as the cooker is made to order, apparently, and will take 4 weeks. Ah well, good things come to those prepared to wait!  See you next time!