this week in the garden

IMG_4872 (800x600)I harvested enough food (just) to make an entire (very green) meal. I’m very excited about this.

But in case you were thinking I was some kind of growing genius (unlikely, I know), here is some kind of bug actually growing inside the leaves of my perpetual spinach (NOT included in the above meal, I hasten to add!)…

IMG_4869 (800x600)… and a whole array of dead and dying houseplants.

IMG_4875 (800x600)Ah well, some you win…

at the seaside

IMG_4773 (800x600)Oh, I do so much love being at the seaside!

Whitley Bay this time, just for a few days, and the grey mist lifted just in time for us to leave. But what a glorious morning it was! Our room, at the top of the hotel and right on the corner, felt like a lighthouse.

IMG_4856 (800x600)We walked miles, around Newcastle town centre, and along the seafront. We ate well and paddled in the sea.

IMG_4784 (800x600) IMG_4855 (800x600) IMG_4847 (800x600) IMG_4814 (800x600) IMG_4803 (800x600) IMG_4800 (800x600)

IMG_4742 (800x600)I was quite taken with our hotel, which was engagingly grand and shabby, with many staircases, and proper old fashioned sheets-and-blankets beds.

IMG_4771 (800x600)(We were slightly less taken with the nightclub on the ground floor of the hotel, mind you).

On the way home (well, if you count a 70 mile detour as being ‘on the way home’) we stopped at Barter Books, a huge and fabulous second hand book shop in an old train station building in Alnwick.

IMG_4860 (800x600)I wanted to move in immediately, but instead settled for eating lunch and buying an armful of books.

IMG_4859 (800x600)We were only away three days, but both feel like we’ve had some kind of seaside rest cure. There’s something about being by the sea which makes everything seem right.

Mind you, the world felt pretty ok sitting in the garden when we got back too.

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Hulme End 2 (600x800)We’ve not been out for a proper walk for ages, so yesterday we pulled on our boots and went out to the peak district for a wander.  Hulme End 6 (800x600)It was a funny sort of a day. Hot and muggy, bright, but with a grey overcast sky that makes taking decent photographs (for someone like me) almost impossible. I’ve made it look quite gloomy, but it wasn’t really!

We picked a route from a book of natural history rambles that we’ve had for years but never used. It was six miles, and said to allow 2 hours – we allowed more as we planned a picnic stop in the middle.

After an hour of walking uphill, I’m afraid we were hot and a little bit grumpy. The ground was dry, but had clearly been very wet and trampled by many cows, so it was like walking over craters on the surface of the moon. In one field the grass over the footpath was above waist height.

Hulme End 7 (800x600)We stopped for lunch by an abandoned cottage, and over boiled eggs and potato cakes we contemplated what it would have been like to live here, with no neighbours or roads.

Hulme End 8 (800x600)Our flasks of tea weren’t very warm (oh no!) and seeing that we still had well over two thirds of the route left, we decided to take an alternative route back to the car.

HUlme End 9 (800x600)I love this part of the country, and haven’t at all done it justice with these pictures. This is the western peak district, the white peak, and it feels somehow more friendly than th neighbouring gritstone dark peak. It’s criss crossed with dry stone walls and full of sheep, not the ‘natural’ forests of ancient times but beautiful anyway, and very much a working landscape.

Hulme End 11 (800x600)Our route took us high above the Manifold Valley, an old railway line which has a cycle trail running along the bottom. We followed a little-used path through nettles and brambles right down to the river.

Hulme End 10 (800x600)HUlme End 12 (800x600)HUlme End 13 (800x600)Hulme End 14 (800x600)By the time we got back to Hulme End, I was rather hot. We stopped at the cafe and I had what was possibly the best glass of fizzy pop I’ve ever tasted, in the glamourous surroundings of the car park.

Hulme End 15 (800x600)Only four miles, but we felt like explorers, and slept very well last night.

I wonder why walking feels so much harder than running sometimes??


radish (800x600)So many of my recent posts have been about growing food. I didn’t mean it to be that way, but it does seem to take up much of my brain these days.

This week is all about garlic. Well, that’s not strictly true. This week has mostly been about Le Tour, running, visiting jumping nephews, and four day weekends.

But there has also been more garlic around of late.

unpromising garlicThis was my garlic patch last week. A sorry sight, all dried and flopped over. I blamed myself – I planted it under a tree, where it gets little sunshine and probably even less water. In my defence I planted it in the winter, and the tree didn’t seem quite so overwhelming then, but I should have known.

A few weeks ago wind whistled through the garden and my upstanding garlic all fell down. And down it stayed. I even condescended to water it a little, but nothing would revive it.

I dug down a bit and found that it did look a little like garlic, and today I figured it wasn’t going to grow any more so I might as well use the space to kill off some other type of plants instead.

garlic 1And so I harvested the garlic. All 35 bulbs of it. Some teeny tiny little bulbs, and some that look rather more like what you’d buy in the shop, but all recognisably garlicky, in looks and in smell.

Looking back I see I planted 40 cloves, so that’s not a bad success rate for me!

Apparently it needs to be left to dry for a few days, preferably outside. My stalks are brittle and I don’t think they’ll stand up to being plaited in a pleasing fashion to hang in the kitchen, so these will have their roots and stalks chopped off and be stored in mesh bags.

Despite their unpromising looks, I’m pretty excited. This is the first thing I’ve had an actual crop of. I don’t think this is going to last us an entire year, but I’d say certainly a few months.

And most excitingly, the equivalent shop cost of all that garlic was £10.50. It’s starting to look like I might just break even in the garden after all…

elderflower cordial

elderflowers - CopyEvery year I miss elderflower time. I keep reading Fay’s post about making cordial, and when we visited last year we got to taste some of hers and it really was just marvellous, yet each year I forget until it’s too late.

Not this year though!

Although I confess it wasn’t the happy-skippy, carefree summery experience I’d imagined. I spent quite a lot of time battling with nettles and brambles and long grass, reaching and jumping to find the best flowers, and feeling very glad I was wearing trousers rather than the wafty floaty skirt I’d imagined picking elderflowers in.

IMG_4500 (800x600) - CopyI went on my way home from the community allotment, and had forgotten to take my basket (as well as a wafty skirt, I always imagined picking elderflowers with a basket…). But no, I had to make do with a pink string bag. Perfectly cheerful, although quite difficult to get elderflowers into and out of… Basket next time I think.

IMG_4501 - CopyThey really are ever so pretty. Such teeny tiny delicate flowers, and such a glorious summery smell.

IMG_4502 (800x600) - CopyI followed the same instructions as Fay, leaving out the citric acid (I didn’t have any). Having a bit of a mooch around the internet it seems there are two main ways of making elderflower cordial – you can either make a syrup with sugar and water first, then plonk your elderflowers in it, or plonk the elderflowers in water, strain, then make a syrup out of the elderflowery liquid.

I did it the first way round – boiled up sugar and water while I sorted the flowers and encouraged the beasties to leave (I did that bit in the garden). I wasn’t too particular about removing all the stems, as you can see (I much prefer low maintenance activities).

IMG_4503 (800x600) - CopyNot quite so pretty once everything was bundled into one pan together (and you can see I also followed Fay’s advice not to bother zesting the lemons first). I did add an extra lemon because I’d missed the citric acid.

I left everything soaking in the pan overnight with a teatowel over the top, intending to strain it the next day, but then I was poorly so it all got ignored for another day.

Last night I tried to strain it through the tea towel – except the weave was too small and the cordial too thick and it just sat there and wouldn’t soak through at all! I tried just an ordinary seive, which left me with cordial full of bits. Much experimentation and pouring later I had no clean tea towels left and was sticking to the floor (and the table, and my clothes) but I had three lovely bottles of shimmery, summery goodness.

elderflower cordial (800x600)(It looks much better in real life than in that picture, I promise!)

It’s FAR too sugary even for my sweet tooth, and I suspect it would have been rather better with the citric acid… I’m not sure how much I’ll drink as ordinary cordial…

Fortunately I have many other plans, and will be stirring it into my gooseberry jam, pouring it over ice cream, and drinking it with gin and tonic for a start.

Have you made elderflower cordial? How did you do it? Was it a success?

a mini adventure

IMG_4508 (800x600)This was an adventure I didn’t even realise I was going to have. An invitation to L’Eroica Britannia, and I confess I very nearly said no because I’d never heard of it and wanted to tidy up in the garden.

IMG_4509 (800x600)But I don’t often pass up the chance to go to one of Peter’s gigs, and this was in Bakewell on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I figured if nothing else I’d get an ice cream out of it.

IMG_4513 (800x600) Well, I did get an ice cream, and a deck chair, and an afternoon of old bicycles, fabulous frocks, 1950s hairdressers, gin and fabulous moustaches.

IMG_4506 (800x600) - Copy (800x600) IMG_4510 (800x600)Such fun.

IMG_4514 - Copy (800x600)I even got to lounge in a deckchair in my summery skirt and watch the band, sandals cast off and basking in the sunshine.

IMG_4525 - Copy (800x600)Kind of made up for spending the next day off work sick with a stomach bug really…

(Don’t worry, I’m fine now!)


permaculture 5 – use and value renewable resources

Red geranuims (800x600)At the beginning of last year I started writing about each of the permaculture principles in turn. A lot of what’s written about the principles is about land use, since that’s where permaculture has its origins.

I’ve been trying to relate them to my everyday life. Having recently embarked on my own permaculture diploma, this is even more relevant.

You can read what I wrote about the first principle (observe and interact), the second (catch and store energy), third (obtain a yield), and fourth (apply self-regulation and accept feedback)

The fifth principle is use and value renewable resources. This one feels a bit more familiar than some of the others, especially to those of us used to thinking about ‘green’ things more generally.

The Permaculture Association website says

we need to understand the renewable resource we are using to ensure appropriate use, e.g. how many trees can we take from a woodland without damaging it?

A good question, and one I hope someone does know the answer to at least, even if it’s not me.

The Permaculture Principles website says

make the best use of nature’s abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.

It then goes on to talk about using horses for logging, and milking your own cows – commendable activities but not things I have much need for in my tiny city garden.

Now, if there was a decent use for climbing slugs, I reckon I’d be on to something.

circus slug fiend (800x600)I’ve been pondering how to think about this principle in a less land-based way, one that’s more relevant to my own life.

Energy use

The obvious thing to talk about for this principle is energy use. A few years ago we switched to a small company, Ovo, and a 100% renewable electricity tarrif (we also get our gas supply from them). I like their company ethics (and no, they didn’t pay me to say that!). Every customer automatically sponsors an acre of rainforest, they only have three straightforward tarrifs to choose from, and they have lots of simple, nifty graphics making it easy to compare your energy use to last year, or to others in similar houses. I can see, for example, that we use a lot less electricity than others, but a lot more gas – a result of our ancient inefficient boiler, no doubt, and something to work on in the future.

Green tarrifs are still a little more expensive than others, but I do strongly believe that if you’re in a position to, you should use your cash to support your principles (something I don’t always manage myself, of course, but it’s nice to have goals…).

In the home

In the home, perhaps it’s easier to think of renewable in terms of things being non-disposable. This week I’ve been making flannels (face cloths) and cleaning cloths from a couple of old towels.

Making flannels 1 (800x600)Very simple – just cut the shape out with pinking shears, fold over once and sew a seam. I suppose you don’t even need to do that if you’re using them for cleaning, but I do rather like the neatness.

Flannels 2 (800x600)It does help to have a sturdy sewing machine (mine can sew through eight layers of denim in one go and is pretty indestructible).

We don’t use paper towels any more, because we always have a fabric cloth to hand to wipe up spills and clean surfaces. I think I’ve said before, I even use cloth sanitary towels sometimes.  We’ve yet to give up plastic carrier bags completely although we really have no excuse – Fay over at The Wind and the Wellies blog hasn’t used one for six months and she’s managing just fine. That might be next on the list.

In the garden

The best example in the garden is the compost. I do buy in potting compost for seedlings and to top up containers, but mostly our soil is enriched by our own compost, made using food scraps. A useful resource from a ‘waste’ product – doesn’t get more renewable than that.

compost out (800x600)We also have two water butts that collect rain water from the roof, meaning we don’t need to use valuable tap water in the garden. This has the added benefit that more seedlings survive, as the water is already in the garden, meaning I don’t have to lug it out from the kitchen.


What I keep coming back to with these principles is that they require time and skills, both things that people often think they don’t have.

But perhaps it’s useful to think about it in terms of redistribution of time. Yes, it takes time to sit and observe before acting, but if it stops you from acting unwisely it’s time well spent. It takes time to plan meals, and cook in bulk, but this saves time (and potentially money) later, usually when it’s most needed at the end of a busy day.

As for skills, well, you can’t make your own clothes if you don’t know how to sew, and making your own clothes might not be on your agenda at all. But it’s useful to be able to repair holes in things, and that requires only basic sewing skills – threading a needle, tying a knot, having a go.

I’m often surprised at the number of people willing to help you learn. People are all over the internet, sharing their knowledge for free, and I’ll be there’s people living near you too. We now have a Repair Cafe where you can take broken things and people will help you fix them, and we also have an organisation that will hold your hand as you build your own computer from scrap!

Is there anything like a Repair Cafe near you? What do you use that’s renewable or non-disposable? Did you make it yourself?

(As an aside, I don’t know what I’m doing to my photographs lately, they all seem rather fuzzy. I’ve been resizing them as I’ve now used nearly 75% of my space for this blog, but I don’t like the blurriness. Any tips, other than a less shaky hand??)