What I did and didn’t do this summer (garden, allotment, kitchen update)

As ever, lots of good intentions, and the expectation of a quieter, simpler summer this year.  Wherever did that idea come from?  Life has been as busy as ever, and punctuated by three unseasonal cold/flu viruses.  All reasons (not excuses, ever) for not managing to achieve everything I intended (hoped) for this season.  And yet, I’m really pleased with what I did achieve and what I learnt.

My garden (back and front of the house) has really started to come together and has begun to resemble what it looks like in my head.  I gave myself a shock when I explained to someone that I’m finally getting the front garden together, and the question came “oh, how long have you lived there?”.  When I realised that “since 2001” wasn’t the expected answer in 2019, it made me think it’s time to just get on with it.  And I have.  Several times when I’ve been out there working people have stopped to compliment me on it or ask questions about some of the plants.  Not something that would ever have happened before.

Getting the fences back and front replaced over a period of several years has been the spur to redesigning and replanting the beds.  Now I know where the gaps are, and how I want to fill them.  I know which plants don’t work for me where they are at the moment, and which  ones thrill me each time I see them.  I have bought a few key plants, but mostly have been able to spilt existing ones from one garden to plant in the other.  I’ve only used shrubs and perennials, to keep costs down.  I will add some more spring flowering bulbs this autumn, and I also plan to plant two fruit trees in the front garden, probably apples but maybe pears.  If I can figure out how to get it out of its current pot without smashing the pot, a bay tree will also be planted there.  I will post some photos as I go.

I’m now eating my crop of Chilean guava fruits (ugni molinae) – some each day on my breakfast cereal.  These are small fragrant berries with a taste unlike anything else.  I love them, and have a good crop from the three bushes I planted in the front garden.

On the allotment I’ve been scaling down and reconfiguring, reflecting the fact that we are now mostly only two (and one of our sons and his family will shortly be moving to a community that grows much of its own produce, so I will no longer be giving home-grown food to them).

I’ve reminded myself that it’s only ever worth growing food that we’ll actually pick and eat (obvious? you’d have thought so but……); that we can only eat so much even of those things we love; that we don’t both love the same things; that while I can preserve some things, there’s still only so much we can eat.  My plan is to continue to grow a smaller amount of a wider variety of things we enjoy eating.  Also to plant more top fruit and reorganise the soft fruit slightly.

There’s a iittle bit more glazing to do before it’s finished

The first weekend in October was picked as the one for oldest son and his partner to come over and help us move the greenhouse from a place in the garden where it gets almost zero sun to the allotment, where it will get full sun and be more productive.  That in turn has release the perfect space in the garden for some storage and increased rainwater harvesting (an important part of my drive to reduce my mains water use).  I am thrilled with the result, and can’t wait to get out there and start planting and sowing seeds (first off will be my autumn-sown broad beams, which gave us a great crop this year).  My plan is to use the space to grow winter salads to begin with.

 

We visited several gardens, which as always provided ideas for next year.  Walled gardens seemed to be a particular theme.  Heale Garden is a favourite, and somewhere we try to visit each month during the spring and summer when they’re open.  Malcolm goes around the garden photographing and making videos, while I sit and knit or crochet and contemplate in the kitchen garden.   This year we also visited Forde Abbey, where the kitchen garden was superb.  We had a brief visit to Barley Wood Walled Garden near Wrington, which was a revelation.  Finally, going to Charles Dowding’s open day was both a delight and an inspiration.

The glasshouse with gourds at Forde Abbey

Apple arch with bench, Heale Garden

View from the Walled Garden at Wrington

In the kitchen I haven’t managed to find the time/energy to do much preserving, despite my best intentions.  I made a small amount of jam (strawberry, raspberry), but truth to tell we’re still eating jam from last year (and the year before….).  I didn’t get round to bottling anything.  I have frozen a lot of raspberries and I know that we will really enjoy eating them.  I hope to collect some apples from the community orchard in the middle of our allotment site and preserve some of them – as puree, and as dried apple rings.  If I do so, I may also have a go at making some apple vinegar along the way.  Although we don’t need this for food use (yet), I would like to try using it for cleaning purposes.  Again, I’ll keep you posted on any progress.

One thing is for sure: life is change, and change is life.  And just in case you needed a reminder why all this growing and earth care is so important, here it is.

Extinction Rebellion climate emergency demo, Bath (September 2019)

Posted in Allotment, Do what you can with what you have, Family, Food, Growing, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving and receiving

At different times in our lives we both give and receive.  Sometimes one dominates.  This felt particularly true for us when our children were young adults starting to find their way in the world at the same time as our surviving parents all needed a considerable degree of help at the same time as our working lives were demanding and stressful (and I was  struggling with health issues related to menopause).  Just writing this, I struggle to find time to breathe.

Overload aside, often giving feels far more comfortable than receiving.  Yet if we are to give, others must receive.  We need to learn to both give and receive graciously and thankfully.

Earlier this month we were in the fortunate position of being able to take our closest family (including the adorable granddaughter) away on holiday – a trip to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary and postponed from last year.

With my Farm trustee hat on (figuratively speaking – I don’t do actual hat wearing), last week I found myself taking part in the Licensing service of the new Team Rector for two churches near the farm.  My role was to make a presentation of a basket of Farm produce to the new Rector, towards the end of the service, symbolising our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth.  It was a pleasure to do so, and something new to me as (I imagine) the only Jewish person present.  It was also a pleasure to be there alongside representatives of several other local charities embedded in the community.

This weekend Malcolm and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary.  Or more accurately, we would have done so had I not received the dubious gift of a flu/tonsillitis bug that laid me low.  Instead we simply exchanged cards, and I gratefully ate a delicious meal Malcolm prepared, agreeing to postpone the rest of the planned celebrations until I’m properly recovered.

In his card to me was a photo he’d taken recently of a boat on the Avon between Bath and Keynsham.  He recognised the name of the author as the writer of the book ‘The Making of a Counter Culture’ (Theodore Roszak, 1969) which he had read many years ago.

Is it a poem? is it prose? does it matter which?  I don’t know.   I saw and read it as a poem, and it feels very poetic to me.

I find the sentiment expressed a moving description of a mature relationship, and I was (am) very touched.  I think (hope) we both strive to treat each other this way.  I hope you too might enjoy it.  

In these troubled times, maybe we could do with extending this way of approaching others.

Posted in Community, Family, Inspirations, Poetry party, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Resist!

I don’t normally do overtly political stuff here, but these are desperate times.  We have an unelected Prime Minister, a ‘Government’ stuffed full of unprincipled people, and now Parliament has been suspended.

Regardless of your views of Brexit, I hope you would agree with me that in a democracy Parliament is the body to thrash things out and find a proper way forward.

If you haven’t already, and if you’re a UK citizen (regardless of where you live), I hope you will feel able to sign this  Parliamentary petition.

I have signed, I have written to my MP, and now I’m looking for a demonstration to join.  I will not sit quietly by while a small group of privileged people sidelines democracy and Parliament, under the guise of ‘taking back control’.

I am as angry as I have ever been, and more fearful than I have ever been of where this is leading.

And now it’s down to us, the people, to do something about it.  What irony, practically on the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre.

Posted in Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized, Whatever next? | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Plastic-free July – what I did (and didn’t do)

Reading various blog and twitter posts on ‘plastic-free July’ spurred me on to complete several things I’ve been meaning or trying to do for a while. Small changes, but like everything else, if we all make small changes the cumulative effect is great.  So in July (and August) I:

  • knitted my dishcloths while away on holiday.  Such a brilliantly portable project.  They have now replaced the microfibre cloths we’ve used for years

  • began buying milk in glass bottles instead of plastic.  I drink a lot of milk (too much, but I’m finding it hard to cut it down. Still trying….).  The saving here is easy to compute: 2 large (4 pint) bottles each week, so 104 of these each year.  Scary.
  • found and fitted a refill converter for my fountain pen, instead of using plastic cartridges.  Oddly, having searched fruitlessly for one that would fit my pen, I literally found the right one in the waste bin in our house.  You would think that Malcolm and I never speak to each other (not true!): at the same time I was looking, he found one he’d had for years and never used, and put it in the bin.  As I already have 3 (glass) bottles of ink, this will last me a long time.  I don’t use ‘disposable’ pens (other than to use up those already in the house), and I carry a refillable pen with me at all times.
  • What I didn’t do was – get rid of plastic from my life for the sake of it.  I am puzzled by people who use ‘plastic free’ as an opportunity to buy more stuff, when they already have plastic things that do the job perfectly well.  They already exist, the damage is done: let’s use them till they can be no longer be used.
  • What I didn’t do was – buy any more acrylic yarn for crochet.  Much as I have loved using this (somewhat to my surprise), continuing to buy it isn’t consistent with my commitment to taking steps to counter the climate emergency.   I will use what I already have, along with any additional oddments I am given.  I have switched for now to using only natural fibres (though I will continue to use sock yarn with some percentage of acrylic in it – this makes the wool content much more hard-wearing, important for socks).

 

Posted in 2019 goals, Climate change, Do what you can with what you have, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Making community

Community doesn’t just come about by itself.  We have to make it happen.

  • We make it happen every time we say hello to a neighbour (whether or not we already know them).
  • We make it happen when we take the trouble to make the public surroundings to our home look good: our gardens, our balconies, the road verge by our home.
  • We make it happen whenever we pick up litter (even though we may never drop litter ourselves).
  • We make it happen when we show up at a local event other people have taken the trouble to organise.
  • We make it happen every time we volunteer with a local organisation.
  • We make it happen when we offer something we no longer need (or want)  to someone who needs (or wants) it.
  • We make it happen when we use a local small shop instead of a supermarket.
  • We make it happen when we use our local library, or bus service, or rail station.

This year’s Micron Theatre production on our local allotment field (organised by the Residents Association)

Terraced house in Weymouth. No garden, but they’ve created one all the same

We make it happen.  We are our community.  Not them.  Not someone else. No point in waiting till someone does it/starts it/says something.  Just do it.  DIY.  With a friend, or on your own, or with a stranger (who’ll maybe soon become a friend, or maybe won’t).

“Help yourself” – box of surplus apples left on wall of someone’s front garden

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  It can be as simple as chatting to the person sitting next to you on the bus.  As simple as inviting someone to meet you in the park for a picnic. As simple as sweeping the pavement outside where you live.

As I thought these thoughts, by chance I began reading the book I had set aside for holiday reading – Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space, by Jan Gehl.  Jan Gehl is a Danish architect who was very influential in transforming Copenhagen (and many other Danish towns and cities) from being car-dominated to being far more people-friendly.  It was originally published in the 1970s; this version is a 2006 update.  It gives a fascinating insight into what features of the built environment promote or work against positive uses of outdoor spaces.

What did you do to make your community a better place this week?  what will you do next week?

Posted in Allotment, Community, Do what you can with what you have, Inspirations, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Ditching the plastic: cotton dishcloths

Good marks for us for always using reusable dishcloths, not ‘disposable’ one.  Bad marks for us that until recently all of them were made of synthetic microfibres, which we now realise release microscopic plastic fibres into the water every time we use or wash them. I have continued to use them for a while, waiting to decide what to change to.  But now they have reached the end of their life (wearing out), so….

Time for a change.

In years past I knitted all our dishcloths from cotton yarn, and that’s what I’ve begun doing again.  At first I just used up oddments of cotton yarn I already had, and I found/developed a few simple patterns I enjoyed doing.  Now I have bought some more pure cotton yarn, and have developed another (rather zingy!) pattern that I’m loving making.

I was looking for a compact, easy (no concentration needed) project to do on holiday, and now I’ve found it.  I’m making us a replacement set of different coloured cotton dishcloths, enough for a clean one every day and a few in the wash.  I’ve bought a pack of cotton yarn with lots of different colours and I’m having fun playing around with combinations.

Two ‘problems’ solved with one solution.  I now have plenty to occupy my hands while I’m on holiday; and at the end of my holiday I will have a full set of new cotton dishcloths to use.  I may even go on to knit some to sell in the City Farm shop.

Here are a couple of simple variations, in case you’d like to have a go yourself.  These will work with any 4 ply or double knit yarn (choose natural plant fibres though).

Pattern one: the zigzag – you could simply use one colour, or as I have done here, two colours.  I’m using 4 ply yarn, with 2.5mm needles (I managed to find a double ended needle just the right size in a charity shop – perfect for someone like me who often drops and loses one needle!).  For a looser finish, use a slightly larger needle.  Play around till you find what works for you.  I find these each use about 30g of yarn, give or take a gram or two either way.

  • Cast on 72 stitches (or any multiple of 12).  I’m using the 2 needles cast on for these.
  • Every row is knitted the same: *K5, k2 tog, k4, k twice into next st.*  Repeat * to* to the end of the row.  Turn and repeat.
  • Start with a dark colour.
  • To achieve the zigzag stripe effect, change colours after two rows.  You will find that the new colour is waiting there for you.  If you hold the old colour taut at the back for the first few stitches of each new stripe, you’ll find the colours weave neatly along the side without any looping.
  • Complete 38 stripes plus one extra dark stripe to finish.  Cast off all stitches.  Sew in the ends.

Pattern two:  the corner-to-corner – this  is so simple, it hardly merits the description of a pattern.  But I have no shame, and will include it here.

  • Cast on two stitches.
  • Knit each row the same, until you feel the dishcloth is big enough.  I find that keeping on till there are 74 stitches is about right.  Then start to decrease instead of increasing.
  • Increase row:
    • K2, yarn on needle, knit to end.  Do every row the same as this (in effect you’re adding a stitch in each row, 2 stitches in from the edge)
  • Once you feel it’s big enough, start to decrease.
  • Decrease row:
    • K1, k2 together, yarn on needle, k2 together, knit to end.  Do this every row until you only have two stitches left.  Cast off.

 

Posted in 2019 goals, Climate change, Frugal, Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Zero waste: so you think you don’t like turnips?

My friend gets a weekly veg box delivered, which includes whatever the farm has ready at the time.  She and her husband really don’t like turnips, which is how two lots of turnips found their way to me.  I tolerate turnips rather than like them.   Definitely not a favourite vegetable.

Or so I thought before I remembered the pickled turnips that are served in Lebanese cafes alongside the mezze.

Taking inspiration from oldest son, I looked up the recipe and found they couldn’t be easier to make.

Day 1

I washed, peeled and cut up the turnips, pulled a beetroot from the allotment and did the same with that.  Didn’t have any celery leaves, but I have lovage growing on the allotment, so I added a couple of leaves.  Marinaded all the prepared veg overnight with some salt (for this I used the slightly lemony salt left over when I pickled the lemons).

The peel, tops and tails went into my compost.

Next morning I packed them all into a jar and covered them with a mix of salt, vinegar and water.  Shook them a little, then left them to stand for 4 days.

Day 2

Day 3

They are rather delicious.  I’ve been cutting up pieces to add to my lunchtime salads.

You can’t really see the pickled turnip here, but I love the colours. The red stripey bits are raw grated beetroot from the allotment

Sometimes all we need is to let our imagination run and wait for inspiration to hit.*

*In this case it would have been better if inspiration had hit sooner, because the first batch of turnips had become a little woody by the time I pickled them.  The second lot were fresh and crisp, and in future I will be sure to use really freshly picked turnips for this quick pickle.

Posted in Do what you can with what you have, Food, Frugal, Growing, Local food, Seeing differently | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments