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July 2015

Poorly pup

My pup was a very poorly girl today...she was sick in the night and vomited and had a couple of accidents. Today she was a pathetic poorly thing. Lethargic and flat. She wouldn't eat even her favourite treats. Thursdays are the day when she has her puppy walk with her friends. But today we had to cancel, my dog walker recommended that it probably wasn't a good idea and when pup threw up again just before 12pm, I knew it was the right thing. 

I have no idea what caused her to be so sick today. She did have a few left over veggies and a little chicken, but nothing out of the ordinary yesterday. Its funny actually (not funny haha, but funny strange), but when I was at my parents last night, my dad said she didn't seem herself...I thought she was fine and full of her usual beans. He was soooo right though. Its actually a nice thing that my dad spotted it. He loves her very much and is clearly very in tune with her to notice. 

Anyhow she had a restful day and seemed a bit perkier this evening. Hopefully she's over the worse of this...otherwise it's a trip to the vet tomorrow. 

Secret treasures on an early morning walk

Early morning walks with the dog uncover all sorts of hidden surprises. A little lane you hadn't noticed before, a rose bush growing in the hedgerow, a wild plum tree, a spot for blackberries. 

This morning, I remembered to take my phone, so I could take some pictures along the way. Although the weather has taken a downward turn over the last few days, with rain and drizzle and a drop in temperature, this morning was lovely and fresh, despite being a bit grey. 

I've been eying a lot of peoples hydrangeas this year. I don't know whether it's me noticing flowers and plants more and more, with the allotments, or whether this is a particularly good year for them. I know it's bumper year for roses...but in any case, hydrangeas are one of my favourite flowers and although I love them in blue, I'm coming to realise they are quite glorious in all the pinks and purples too. Just across the road from my house is an enormous bush of pale pink pom poms and they seem to last for ages. This picture though, is of a more purply pink one and I think it looks amazing too. I'm wondering about planting some for myself next year. But I'll have to do some research, as I think I'll need a dwarf variety. 


The other flower I've been noticing lately is the hollyhock.  There are quite a few on the allotment site and they are just so pretty. But I also recently noticed that they come in different varieties, with some of them having flowers similar to roses. I'm definitely going to plant some of them for next year. I think they'll be lovely in my garden and on plot 67. 

Although it was a grey morning, being up early and out in the fresh air is so lovely. I also caught the sun peeking through the clouds at times and sending down shafts of yellow light, illuminating the countryside beautifully. I thought I'd also add this picture of a very pretty watermill. I know it's a bit grey and is much prettier in the sunshine, but the flowers look stunning. 

20150728_062526 - Version 2

Update on 52 books in 52 weeks

I've realised that my list of books read in 2015 only shows the last 10 entries. So I thought I'd start doing a monthly update on my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I will admit I'm a couple of books behind. I'd hoped to get lots of reading done in the weeks after my operation. But the reality was I wasn't capable of doing much of anything that required focus and attention. I've been reading hard to try to catch up again and this is where I stand:

  1. The Book of You - Claire Kendal
  2. The Wolf Princess - Cathryn Constable
  3. The Mangle Street Murder - M.R.C. Kasasian 
  4. The Boy in the Snow - M.J. McGrath
  5. A Cold Day for Murder - Dana Stabenow
  6. Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
  7. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins
  8. Throne of Glass - Sarah J Maas
  9. A Breach of Security - Susan Hill
  10. The Girl in 6e - A.R. Torre
  11. Runaway - Peter May
  12. The Wolf in Winter - John Connolly
  13. The Gingerbread House - Carin Gerhardsen
  14. The Quick - Lauren Owen
  15. Her - Harriet Lane
  16. Crown of Midnight - Sarah J Maas
  17. The Third Wife - Lisa Jewell
  18. Heir of Fire - Sarah J Maas
  19. Amy Snow - Tracy Rees
  20. Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard
  21. The Lie - C.L. Taylor
  22. Day Shift - Charlaine Harris
  23. Day Four - Sarah Lotz
  24. The Murder Bag - Tony Parsons
  25. The Good Girl - Mary Kubica
  26. Do Not Disturb - Alessandra Torre
  27. Eeny Meeny - M.J. Arlidge
  28. Fall from Grace - Tim Weaver

And that's where I've got to so far. This week is book week 30, so I'm behind by one book at the moment. I'm currently reading The Accident by C.L. Taylor. I expect I'll finish it this week. I have some holiday coming up in I'm sure I'll be able to get caught up that week, if not before.

I should say that my absolute favourite book of the year so far is The Book of You by Claire Kendal. I literally couldn't put it down. It's also a really interesting topic and written in an interesting way. I highly recommend it. 

Homemade butter

For some reason, when my parents recently took a trip to Wales, they thought it would be a good idea to bring back a Kilner butter maker. At the market on Saturday, there was a stall selling unpasteurised cream...perfect for giving the new butter churn a try. 

I've certainly never made butter before...but loving this type of thing...I was very keen to have a try. It's actually not that difficult, just a little time consuming. You need to churn the cream for about 15 minutes. It's a very odd thing, you think nothing is happening, nothing is happening and you keep turning and turning. Then all of a sudden it just goes. The picture is of the moment when the cream turned to butter and buttermilk. Next job is to collect the buttermilk and put to one side. It's meant to be great for scones, bread, cakes etc. Then you wash the remaining butter with ice water to get the rest of the buttermilk out. Once the water runs clear, it's time to pat the butter and remove any remaining water. I wanted salted once the water is out, you flatten the butter and sprinkle a little salt and mix it well.

My goodness, it was delicious. You need to eat it quite quickly...more quickly than butter you buy from the shops. I guess there's nothing added in home made butter to preserve it. But that makes it all the nicer and more special. I was actually really chuffed with the results and will definitely keep making it. The butter churn is a Kilner one and I would definitely recommend it. From 600mls of cream, you get about 400g of butter, so it's a pretty decent amount.  

I am becoming more and more conscious of wanting to understand where my food is coming from. January, I decided to go vegan and I really want to make sure that what I choose to eat is ethical in how it's produced. If I eat animal products, I want to make sure the animals welfare has been considered. Making my own butter, using cream from the market where the produce comes from small ethically run farms, makes me feel good. I know where the butter comes from. I know the cows aren't badly treated. This is a big part of why I can't wait to have my own chickens. I'll know where my eggs come from...that my hens are happy and have a good life. I'm considering doing another vegetarian/vegan month very soon. I have no issues with going vegan for short periods, but actually so long as I understand and know where the animal products come from and that the animals have been treated well, I'm happy to eat eggs and dairy. 

Blackberry harvest

20150725_174233On Friday, there was no doubt that this was a "thank goodness it's Friday and nearly the weekend" day. It has been a tough week, starting from the previous Friday and I was really looking forward to a bit of down time. I actually had a few days off work, but unfortunately that doesn't mean a lot and results in cramming six days worth of work into three. There was also some drama/disaster/sad news to deal with and all the fall out from this.

Suffice to say, I was really looking forward to a relaxed weekend. Saturday morning was spent marketing. I do love wandering around markets and looking at all the fresh seasonal produce. I must admit I secret compare the veggies to my own home grown's only natural. I had some serious cauliflower envy, I can tell you. i'm lucky to get them before they bolt, let alone get anything of decent size. I think I saw some of the biggest cauliflowers I've ever seen on Saturday!!!

20150725_173921Anyhow, the afternoon was a great opportunity for a walk and a blackberry pick. We ended up with about 1 pretty much full carrier bag full of them.  I love blackberries. I can't help but remember back to foraging with my gran and grandpa with my little sister in tow. And I certainly re-employed my old picking habits - one for me and a few for the bag. Mmmmmmm, they were lovely. This first batch will become a crumble, but I want to go back and get a load to make into jam or maybe a jelly. 

Trying to fill the empty beds

Yesterday I finally managed to finish planting up the beds on plot 18. I filled the last bed with some turnips, pak choi, beetroot and rainbow chard. I ended up ordering a bumper pack of plug plants to fill the spaces. They looked pretty good little plants. I decided to plant them reasonably close together, and then thin them as baby veg to give other plants more space. 

I also have some leeks and peas to plant out...but the leeks will go into the last empty bed on plot 67 and I managed to forget the pea protection, so need to wait to plant out the peas. My first set of peas (actually purple mange tout) that I planted on 67, got attacked well and truly by the marauding pigeons. I managed to find some great rolls of chicken wire in Pound Land...obviously only a £1 each. They're perfect for pea protection. I looked in B&Q for the same type of stuff and it was ridiculously expensive in comparison. 



Sorting out the onions and garlic

20150715_115929_resizedAs I mentioned, I decided to use my parents conservatory to finish drying the onions and garlic out. Thank goodness I decided to get them in, as it's rained every day since. I was going to try plaiting them...but in the end I decided I'd just trim them and put them into net storage bags instead. There are just so many and I've never plaited onions before. I would have liked to have had a go, but I just needed to get them sorted and stored and out of the conservatory before my parents get home today. 

Here's a picture of some of them on the table. The net bags were meant to be delivered today, but haven't arrived yet...and my massive marketing bag isn't big enough to hold them all, so they are all over the window sill awaiting the bags. 

I have to say I'm absolutely thrilled at the harvest. I don't think I'll have to buy onions or garlic for a very long time. In addition, I also harvested the small amount of garlic on plot hadn't really done much in terms of bulking up, but I decided to peel it all and pop it into the freezer. I was going to use it as green garlic, but there was just too much of it. 

The only thing I was a bit disappointed about was the shallot harvest. They didn't really bulk up and stayed really tiny. I will definitely give them another go next year though, as last year's were quite good. 

Plans for the fruit harvests

Over the past week or so, I've managed to harvest quite a bit of fruit and thought I'd have a go at making some jam. I have a large quantity of blackcurrants, and a few raspberries and blueberries. I just thought I'd throw them all into a jam. In addition, I needed to harvest more rhubarb (it's such a tough life, :)). I should have split the crowns during the winter, as they really need it. Unfortunately because I was so poorly, nothing I'd hope to get done from November to March ended up happening. As a result the rhubarb is massively over-crowded and needs to be harvested quite regularly. 

For the rhubarb, I first thought of making a rhubarb jam...but to be honest, I don't really eat a lot of jam. I already turned the last lot of strawberries in to a strawberry and chia seed jam. It's actually not really a jam and just involves mixing mashed strawberries together with chia seeds and honey or maple syrup or another sweeter. The chia seeds thicken it all together to get a jam like consistency. It's a raw food jam. In any case, that's only just I'm not keen on converting the rhubarb into jam as well. So in researching other things to do with rhubarb, I discovered a recipe for rhubarb cordial. Perfect!!! I love cordial and apparently rhubarb cordial is a lovely summer drink and you can also mix it with prosecco for a refreshing alcoholic drink. The recipe I found needs 1.5kg of rhubarb. I weighed my little haul and am about 200g short, so will grab another couple of stalks when I go and water today or tomorrow. Mmmmm, I am really looking forward to that cordial.  

Chickens and eggs, but first comes the chicken run

Tumblr_lvqw3ixZ5D1qzo0l6o1_500I've been planning for chickens on plot 67 for at least a year now. I got permission from the council last summer, but just haven't managed to get the run and coops set up and built and fox-proofed etc. 

But Sunday was the day when the chicken run work began. It's still a long way off being ready, but I am hoping that everything will be set-up by the end of August. 

I'm allowed to keep between 3 and 9 chickens, and I've started researching into what kinds I would like. I have totally fallen in love with silkie bantams. They just look ridiculous and adorable all at the same time. They are also supposed to be great for a beginner and also with children.  I am keen to have three of them. I'd love a white, a buff and a grey one...but I think it's not going to be easy to source them, so colours aren't really that important. I'm also thinking of getting some ex-battery hens - maybe 3 or 4 and then 2 or 3 point of lay hybrids. Luckily I bought a second hand hen house and small run, and a new hen house, so I will be able to separate the chickens as I integrate them. The large run will go around the small run and being made out of harris panels, so is about 4m x 4m, with the hen houses being attached to the outside of it. 

I'm going to have to start creating a list of potential chicken names and I have a few people already asking to get to pick a chicken name. 


New front bed all nicely planted, plus lots of work on the plots

20150712_161244_resizedSunday was an allotment day with a vast amount of work to do. 

Ages ago, I bought a couple of roses for the front area of the plot. A beautiful old fashioned pale pink rose, with a tight head and an odd very open purple rose.  So with the front bed finally built and ready for planting...they could finally go into their new permanent home. I also had a baby barnsley mallow to go in. But apart from that it was trip to the garden centre for two lavender varieties (a white one and purple one) and another mallow with pretty purple pink flowers. I also got some herb plants and added a couple of chive plants into the front. It looks really smart now and I'm really pleased that it's tuned out so well. I need to get going with the left-hand side now, and get that side looking just as smart. 

In addition to planting up the front bed, I cleared the old artichokes out of the two front L-shaped beds and generally tidied them up and weeded. There's a lot more space now and I planted the other herbs I'd bought into some of the spaces. Two oregano and two marjoram plants went in. There's still quite a few gaps, so I'll probably put some chard in the larger gaps. I'm also expecting the artichokes to have a second flush and they get really big. 

The goji berry bushes had their first prune. They were planted last year and had been left to rampage. A bit of research told me that they need to be tamed into an umbrella type shape. I haven't seen a single flower on them no berries yet either. Hopefully the trim will help...we'll see. 

Work also started on the chicken run too...I am super excited about getting chickens, so I think that's for another post. Oh...and as it was horrid and grey and threatening rain, all the onions were loaded into the car to finished drying in my parents conservatory - they have no idea, but luckily are away for a couple of days, so will never know. :) I also finished harvesting the blackcurrants on plot 18. There are a lot. I'm planning on making jam from them all. 

Office day and cat havoc

20141124_125628I remembered yesterday afternoon that I was due to travel in to my main head office today. I'm not sure how I forgot...whether I'd been focused on other dates in July, who knows...thankfully I remembered though. 

Since the operation, the idea is to do as shorter day as possible, leaving after the rush hour and leaving before the evening one starts. The last time did not go to plan and I ended up doing a 13 hour day and being completely wiped out. Today was much more successful, but still tiring. I had hoped to grab a tablecloth from John Lewis (a wipe clean one), for the new dining table. But I was too wiped out to even consider doing that on my way back.

As I was returning this evening I spotted that the naughty monkey cats have managed to rip the net curtains in the front bedroom. Yesterday I noticed they'd been raiding a wardrobe and had knocked a lot of stuff out. I love them...but they really are little hooligans. They look like angels, but they are tiny hooligans in fluff. 

Little dinner harvest

20150707_185136_resizedTuesday evening at the allotment and this was my haul, after a bit of watering and weeding...just a nice amount for dinner...well, maybe a few too many potatoes for dinner. (I have to admit that digging up potatoes is very addictive - it's just the excitement of what you might find, how big they might be...what if there are more that you haven't found. I dig up one only to find myself digging around so much I've started on another plant by accident)

I just love being able to pop down and unearth and pluck fresh produce like this for a single meal. There's something wonderful about it. It almost feels decadent in the most wholesome of ways. And it really does give you a massive sense of achievement. 

Beetroot and my new front bed

To fill out one of new newly empty onion beds, I managed to get a tray of beetroot seedlings. In the past, I've sown my beetroot direct from seed...I know it's so easy to grow. Or some plug plants have arrived as part of a collection. But this is an empty bed emergency.

I love's one of my favourite vegetables. It didn't always used to be. I used to get beetroot in my veg boxes back before I had my allotment, and never really knew what to do with it, so it sat in the box until it looked a bit sad and I threw it out. It's amazing how growing your own encourages you to learn how to prepare and cook things, to try new recipes and find new favourites. 

Anyhow...this morning I was really keen to get the seedlings planted out. I was pretty pleased when I came to taking them out of the trays...loads and loads in each cell. I managed to plant out 96 into one of the empty beds. I've gone with quite close spacing as I will thin them as baby beets...but they are easily 10cm apart, if not more. And...out of a 12 cell tray I only used 9 cells worth of seedling so still have another 3 cells left over. I'll plant this out on plot 18 in my last remaining empty bed on that plot. 

20150707_181300_resized_1In other exciting news, on plot 67, I have a new flower bed at the front of the plot on the right hand side. My new rose bushes will go in here and I can go crazy at the garden centre to fill in the gaps with other pretty perennials. I want this is to be a low maintenance bed that provide a pretty front to the plot. Eventually I want to create another rockery style bed with alpines on the left-hand side...but that's a project for later in the year. 



Onion harvest and general plot tidying

This year/end of last year was my first year attempting onions. I had a go at shallot last year planting the set in April for an August harvest and they did pretty well. My garlic, last year was a bit of a disaster, as the plot flooded along with all my garlic bulbs.

Anyhow....not one to be defeated, I thought I'd give some garlic and onions a try on nice dry plot 67. I planted the sets and cloves last October, along with my broad beans. They sat and looked sickly for quite a while. They were buffeted by the winds and rains and I had to replant quite a few one or twice. Then about two months ago...they suddenly started to look a lot better, with a marked improvement almost daily. 

20150630_091813So last week was time to harvest them. Some of them had started collapsing and they are enormous. So they are currently drying out on the plot. At first lying on one of the empty beds, but one of my fellow allotment chums suggested using one of the unused harris panels as a drying wrack. So they've all been moved now. But here's a lovely shot of some of the harvest. . 

I wasn't really anticipating having the garlic and onion beds vacant at this point. I thought they'd be free at the end of July/ beginning of August. In addition, my broad beans were struggling with black fly and were pretty much over. So I took them all out and harvested the remaining pods.

So suddenly I have lots of empty space and nothing to plant. I managed to fit all my beans on plot 67, in the various spaces. I had set aside two beds on plot 18 for beans. So this now leaves me with the four empty onion beds and two spare beds on plot 18. So I took a trip to the garden centre(s) and managed to get some chicory raddichio, swiss chard, some beetroot seedling and fennel. I also got some more climbing french beans, sugar snap peas and more mange tout. 

Not everything is planted out yet...the beetroot and fennel seedlings are tiny are need careful transplanting. In any case, there's a lot of tidying up to do on both plots. Because of my operation last year and then this year, it was a very slow start to the year and at the last allotment inspection I got a pass, but it's still a bit of a shock that my plots wouldn't have passed otherwise. Plot 18 was a work in progress and apparently it's not cultivated to the 75%. Which surprised me, as it's a summer plot and I just hadn't finished getting everything in the beds. Plot 67 is, but would still have gotten me a "tidy up your plot" letter. I know they're not looking up to scratch, but I didn't realise they were that bad. It'd given me a bit of a shock. This autumn and winter, I will make a big effort to get everything easier to manage. Membrane and chipping down. The back of 67 needs a good sorting out and I've asked one of my site reps to let me know if one of the plots around 67 becomes available. I think if one comes up, I will move plot 18, as it's been too hard with having the plots at opposite ends of the site.