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Red Salad

18/1/2021

In the present scheme of things, today was a busy day, or at least today was one of the few days that had something written in the calendar! The 18th January was the date of my three-monthly tinnitus appointment with the specialist hearing therapist. I enjoy these appointments as the therapist, a lovely Irish lady, is good ‘crack’, as the saying goes. I have been a lot better at carrying out my daily 10 min relaxation exercise prescribed by her than previously, but unfortunately, my tinnitus is more pronounced at times. She suspects this is stress related and pointed out that music teaching ‘online’, where you have to listen very carefully due to the limitations of Skype, particularly with students taking advanced grades and requiring aural training, is actually far more stressful than teaching face to face. This makes sense as although my online teaching timetable is a fraction of what my normal teaching hours would be, it does leave me quite drained. I will be relieved to return to normal.

I do get outside to my pumpkin patch and manage to finish the clean-up operation by about 5pm, by which time it is practically dark and very cold. The next stage will be placing 10 paving slabs where I wish to place my ‘faux lead’ Tudor planters and then I can transplant the box plants that have been living in two raised vegetable beds for the last few years. Then the exciting process of deciding on topiary shapes can commence. I think the designs will need to be at least partially dictated by the present shapes of this rather motley collection of ‘left-over’ box plants, so it will be intriguing to see where we end up. That leads to walking around the vegetable garden deciding on dinner tonight.


I was surprised to come across some radicchio plants that have survived the weather. I pull one out, resolving to make a ‘red’ salad this evening…brightly coloured plants, particularly bitter flavoured ones such as radicchio, are very healthy. I collect a small red cabbage to include in the salad, which will also have red onion, beetroot and maybe apple and feta cheese. This salad will accompany lasagne, which on this occasion will be using mince. I also plan to add some butternut squash to the lasagne sauce and some colourful chard leaves in the layers of pasta. I am always on a mission to include as many seasonal vegetables as possible!


The Simple Life


19/1/2021

Today was windy, rainy and full of worrying flood warnings for certain regions of the country. One of the few advantages of this unpleasant weather is that it would give the newly cleared polythene that covers the pumpkin patch a good wash. As the weather was so unpromising, I decided to start hemming my curtains. I knew this would take some time as I would be doing it by hand. I do possess a sewing machine, which I inherited from my mum, but the last time I used an electric sewing machine was in domestic science when I was about twelve. Predictably, I approached using a sewing machine in a similar way to using gears on my bike or trying to drive a car…very nervously with fairly disastrous results. I only used the gears on my bike once, also aged about 12 and the chain fell off, so I continued cycling for many years without using gears! I did eventually learn to drive but I now drive an automatic which I find much easier than a manual. I suspect I do have a problem with co-ordination, which I have dealt with over the years by avoiding things that cause my brain to freeze…microwaves, mobile phones, computers etc. As a result, I inhabit a rather strange, old fashioned world where it is perfectly normal to do jobs manually, this suits me very well. It was extremely peaceful sitting on the sofa, with a cat, stitching the curtains…I didn’t finish them before my ‘online’ teaching but I can finish them tomorrow.




In Search of Succession


20/1/2021

Today is a really miserable day; rain, wind and low light levels. I will work inside today and finish my curtains… but there is always something to do outside. One of my morning jobs is opening up the polytunnel, at this time of year I open one end only. This ventilation is important to keep the plants inside healthy. I would only ever keep it shut if the temperatures were very low and the tunnel is shut up when the sun goes down. In the tunnel, the succulents have to be uncovered. I put fleece on them at night and check to see if any general watering is required.

The side bed, which is full of winter salads and greens, needs regular watering and is coming on well. This bed is a vital link in the chain of succession that I work so hard to maintain. Trying to keep up a supply of vegetables throughout the year is not easy and we are heading towards the ‘hungry gap’. Ironically, January and February, although rather bleak, are not the worst part of the year. There are still quite a lot of vegetables, particularly brassicas, in the ground outside and there is a reasonable stock of produce in store. The problem of supply arises in Spring and early Summer, when last year’s vegetables have finished and newly sown vegetables are not ready. This is when my polytunnel bed fulfils its vital purpose. In this tricky time of the year, it will hopefully provide various Chinese greens, mustard, dill, parsley, several varieties of lettuce, spinach, Chinese spinach, cabbage and Kale. It is at that time of year that space in the tunnel becomes a big issue. I need my side bed full of vegetables and salad but very quickly, the 42 feet planting bench will be full of seed trays and the central bed will be full of the overflow of seed trays. Then overwintering tender plants and auriculas will move out to the cold frames. Considering the quantity of what I want to sow this year, I could do with more space…I must try and muster up the troops to start digging out the ‘earth sheltered’ green house!

Before returning to the house, I dig up a few leeks (which are now nearly all gone) and collect the latest batch of butternuts that need using. Sadly, I discover one large butternut, still standing, but completely rotten. I carefully pick it up and sadly transport it to the wheelbarrow to go for compost. This is the first squash of the harvest to be completely lost. I do think it is quite funny that I go to all of this effort to grow these lovely vegetables and we are usually eating the grotty specimens in order to reduce waste. As a result, it is quite difficult to take a decent picture of our harvest for dinner, people would think – “Surely, they’re not going to eat that!”. You certainly couldn’t take these crops to market, no one would buy them. However, with slimy leaves removed and rotten bits cut out, the remaining vegetable is perfectly fine and delicious. It makes you realise how disconnected we are from the realities of food production. Organically grown vegetables, which have been sprayed with pesticides and aren’t treated with preservatives become messy and damaged. However, an untidy, slightly unappetising vegetable, is not going to kill you but the unwitting consumption of a cocktail of chemicals on your vegetables and salad just might.

On a more cheerful note, it was very sweet to see Meave making her first pastry last night, assisted by Aideen as they tried to put the rather crumbly results into a pie dish to create Meave’s first ever pie. This was a very tasty beef and potato pie and the pastry was lovely, well done Meave.



A Pumpkin House


21/1/21

The weather looks brighter this morning but it is still very windy and quite cold. Aideen is keen to go outside and I come out to join her. We collect 10 old paving slabs (not in one go!) to take out to the pumpkin patch to position as bases for the new ‘faux lead’ topiary planters. It is amazing how useful a selection of recycled paving slabs can be…these are a perfect size to lay under the new planters. We decide where to position them and try out a few planters to see how they look, we are both very happy with the effect. We will now wait for Patrick to level the slabs with a bit of sand and cement, he is a good leveller! Aideen and I then go to empty the big green barrow, it’s easier with two people!


On arrival at the compost heap she comments that a large pumpkin has rolled to the ground in front of the heap. When I lift it up to throw it back on the heap, I realise the underneath is completely hollowed out and it is sitting over a hole/burrow of some sort. It is clear that an enterprising rodent has tunnelled up under the pumpkin, which has provided a very useful food source and a nice pumpkin shaped house/shelter for the hole. It is good to see everything being made use of, so I carefully replace the pumpkin ‘lid’ and quietly retreat. Aideen decides she will try to burn some of our big pile of scrubby/twigs filling the third compost bay. This needs to be cleared in order to start this year’s new compost heap. Our present pile (2020) needs to be allowed to rot down undisturbed and I need to start using 2019’s compost. The ash produced by burning the scrub can then be used to mulch the fruit cage.

I return inside to start assembling a quilt/throw which I am making out of the curtain offcuts. I intend to combine these with an edging border of crazy patchwork. The crazy patchwork will be a form of ‘memory quilt’ made from remnants of material saved from fondly remembered things made by my mum (a proper needle woman), bits of old clothing that have special significance from when the girls were children and bits that belong to Patrick, Grandad and myself. I have always wanted to make a ‘memory quilt’ and I hope that the smaller scale of these border sections will be manageable for me.

Normally I would never have the time for such a project and I also have only basic skills in this area, however, inevitably, I do have a book on the subject!

Tonight’s dinner is also experimental, it will be carrot and butternut squash roasted in honey and garlic, kale cooked with bacon and prawns in a sweet chilli sauce and potato scones...or at least that is the intention!


Signs of New Life


22/1/2021

Today was a spectacularly beautiful day, there had been quite a heavy frost and the sky was clear and bright blue with brilliant sunshine. I started the day by walking around the kitchen garden and I am delighted to see the first crocuses coming into bloom in the mini orchard. Quite a few of these beautiful flowers have opened together, mainly yellow and purple. The crocuses in the mini-orchard have been put in over several years, so they bloom in succession. These early blooms were probably the first ones to be planted and it is really early to see crocuses. I continue around the garden and it was a real treat spotting new life springing forth all around. The Edgeworthia and Viburnums Are both blooming, they both produce beautifully scented blossom but they are too frozen to catch the perfume. The dark red cornus stems looked fantastic behind the painted organ pipes and the terrace beds of the mount are erupting with bulbs.



One conundrum presented itself, this was a bed planted with garlic which previously housed the lingonberry bushes. This bed, because of its perennial planting, had unfortunately become infested with grass. I had attempted to dig this grass out when I cleared the bed, however, new grass seedlings are now popping up all over the bed…it will be an interesting job weeding this bed, trying to distinguish between grass and garlic shoots!

There are lovely new cardoon leaves…could this be the right time to try eating this heritage plant, whilst the leaves are young and tender?

I climbed up on the mount, now accompanied by Minxy and looked at each aspect of the garden and I felt very proud that even in January the views were lovely and full of interest. Yesterday, Patrick had mentioned to me that there was a big pile of compost that had been dug out of the church compost bins and left at the side of the church car park. We are good friends with the gentlemen who maintain the church yard and they always tell us to take the compost if we can use it. The compost is made from all the dead flowers from the graves, leaves and grass cuttings and it is excellent compost. I decide that it will made an brilliant mulch for the new forest garden bed. The only problem is transporting it! I make a start on the job myself…it was 365 steps to the church compost pile from the forest garden bed – 730 steps as a round trip! Also, pushing the barrow on the return journey was largely uphill and very heavy. As I was about to start my 4th trip, Patrick popped out of his office and asked if I needed help…silly question! He then joined me with the big green barrow, shortly followed by Aideen with a normal barrow. Patrick managed three trips before almost expiring, the green barrow was taking double the amount of a normal barrow. Diane then took over from Patrick until we were all exhausted. It is great compost and well worth using but a hard job to move it. Like all these things, it is great in theory but tough in practice. However, it is good exercise and it is a beautiful day.




Black Cat, Green Feet!


23/1/21

Today started incredibly misty, which looks unpromising but inevitably turns into a beautiful, sunny day.

The first job of the day will be to finish collecting the church compost and because it is Saturday, everyone is here to help. When I got outside, Patrick had already collected the first barrow of compost and was already very out of breath. Unfortunately, cold, misty weather is the worst weather for Patrick’s breathing, not that it stops him working harder than anyone else. We were then joined by reinforcements…Patrick went down to the heap to fill the barrows, which meant he didn’t have to walk backwards and forwards which was much better for him. James, Aideen and Diane and belatedly Meave, pushed the barrows backwards and forwards and I raked it all out on the bed, removing plastic debris as I went. Because the compost is made of dead bunches of flowers or arrangements, there are plant food sachets and bits of artificial flowers amongst the compost.

Amazingly, I just about managed to get the compost to cover the whole bed which is quite a large area.


After this, we all had a cup of tea and then I went into the tunnel to paint the wooden plant labels (about 60 of them) for the forest garden bed with sage green paint. I was then joined by Pip who walked straight across all the newly painted plant labels, leaving muddy footprints behind her and acquiring sage green paw pads!

The others went off to have another go at starting a fire in the compost yard and after a while, I was called out to the pumpkin patch by Patrick. He had a barrow of cement to use to level the 10 slabs where the new planters will stand and needed assistance. By this time, it was getting decidedly chilly, apparently, it is due to snow tomorrow. Poor Patrick is feeling very stiff, so getting up and down is difficult. I act as his ‘gofer’, fetching what he needs and moving the barrow. I also fetched a padded kneeler and a warm hat which I popped on his head. Patrick always has to be encouraged to use a kneeler which is silly considering his aches and pains. Sorting out the slabs is a bit hit and miss but they are much more level with his involvement than if it was left to me. Reading a level correctly poses the same problems to me as working a sewing machine or parking a car. It does sometimes feel as if my brain works backwards and it is best that I remain in an assisting capacity in these jobs. When the slabs are done, I finish painting the labels which Pip walks over again for good measure and then I come inside.

Later in the day, we are disturbed by joy riding motorcyclists ploughing up the field next to the kitchen garden. They quite deliberately speed through the field in plain sight of the extension windows, gesticulating as they go. I don’t think I’m the only one whose brain isn’t functioning correctly!

After preparing tonight’s dinner, chicken dopiazah, Meave and I are called out to join the others by the fire (about 8:45pm). They have completely cleared the third compost bay and there is a splendid, warm fire. We sit on the bench with mugs of tea, reminiscing over what we’ve done in the past year, there’s nothing like looking into a fire to inspire reflection.



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