Mincemeat. 

Many years ago when I was just a teenager, and newly left home, I brought the first ever issue of a new magazine called Prima. At the time it was probably aimed at ladies with families but I brought it for the patterns and recipes that gave me a glimpse of that other world, frequented by real grown ups, who baked and stitched. Over those first years I never missed a copy and made lots of things from its pages. Many of those pages still exist inbetween the pages of various recipe books or in a box file in my home. 

Prima is still in print but I no longer buy it. It’s now to glossy and  grown up for me! 

Every Christmas without fail for the last 25+ years I have made a batch of mincemeat from one of those first issues. Almost every year we all enjoy it so much I make a second batch. This year I just doubled the recipe from the start!

I used my largest bowl. It was my grandmothers and is very special to me.

In went

  • 12oz currants
  • 1lb each of sultanas, raisins and light brown sugar
  • 8oz each dried apricots, mxd peel and glace cherries. All chopped. 
  • 4oz chopped blanched almonds.
  • 4tsp each, ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • 2tsp each allspice and ground ginger. 
  • Zest and juice 3 oranges
  • 8oz melted butter.

The whole lot is then stirred well and soaked with 1/2 pint each of brandy and sherry. 

It smells more than lovely and it’s really difficult to not get tipsy on the fumes or the constant taste testing. 

After leaving it to soak over night I treat it like jam and jar it in warm sterilised jars. The recipe says it keeps for up to 2 months but this year I deliberately left one from last Christmas and it was still perfect. 

This batch was a bit wet when I went back to it so I added extra fruit. There’s no science involved, I just poured and stirred until it looked even better.

 I tried it again to be sure. Twice in fact. This stuff is good! 

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Swarm in a tree top. 

It was a lovely bright but frosty morning so I decided to pop down and check the bees. 

I have tried two hives on open mesh floors this year and until today had left the bottoms open. A week of night frost’s have panicked me a bit and today I took boards and slid one in each hive. 

As I left I just stood and realised just how many leaves have fallen since I was last there. It was at that point I noticed the pale item hanging in the tree in front.

I wandered over for a closer look and my heart fell. 

Hanging from a branch above my head was the saddest sight I have seen in my beekeeping life so far.

A swarm of bees had started a nest amongst the leaves sometime recently. The frost has caught them and every single one will have died.

It’s a good size swarm and although I think it’s unlikely, they could be mine. I closed my bees down a few weeks ago and after that I don’t reopen until the spring. This gives them time to propolis the joints and settle before it goes really cold. This year it was later than usual as it’s been so warm and I knew my hives were all full of food and bees. I worried they were crowded but had no choice. It was to late to split them and I didn’t want to give them so much extra room the hives got cold later on. 

I won’t know until the spring. There’s nothing I can do. It’s to high to bring down but everytime I visit from now on I will be saddened again. 

I’m angry with myself for not finding them earlier. I know it can’t be helped. It’s just a sad day! 

Autumn harvest. 

It’s been frosty here a couple of mornings this week and suddenly everything I have been putting off needs doing with more urgency.

It is easy to forget that winter is on its way when the garden looks so good still. There is more colour than expected for the time of year and growth is still good.

In the polytunnel although I cleared out the tomatoes I instantly started filling the space with pots of plants. These are things I either want to over winter or, as in the case of these flowers, I just want to enjoy for a bit longer. Really I should be washing the walls and digging the ground over but that has to wait for now. 

This fuchsia has edible berries. All fuchsia are edible, but I’m told these ones actually have some flavour. The plant only just survived last winter and was slow to take off in the spring so now it is slow to ripen. I must remember it’s there and water it occasionally. It apparently make a tasty jam but whether I have enough to try is debatable.

My sweet peppers are still flowering and being pollinated although by what I have no idea. The only insects around seem to be whitefly and mosquito style flies.

I have no intention of harvesting any more of this Cayenne pepper as it is just to strong especially for one so small. The sweet peppers and other chillies are definitely worth having though. 

As is the sweet potato. Grown this year for the first time. I think the pot was maybe a bit small, even though it was the largest I had at the time. The roots seem to have grown around each other which will make peeling difficult! 

I only got a few but I’m definitely going to try again next year.

As I also am with the oca or New Zealand yam. It’s been such an easy plant to grow although it has taken up a lot of room. I just hope it’s all worth it when I harvest. It doesn’t start to crop properly until after the first frost so, as the leaves have been knocked back this week, I guess that’s about now. The little red blob is the very first one, found when I gently moved some soil after my impatience got the better of me. I’ve waited so long I hope I actually like the taste of it! 

Getting ready for winter. 

It’s been very cold here in the mornings and it’s motivated me to think of my bees. 

Now they are in my village I am able to visit much easier. In fact I have become a cycling beekeeper. Monday saw Miss C and I riding across the field. Me with a bag of suit and mouseguards and her with a bike basket full of folded woodpecker cages. 

Miss C was so convinced she did not want to be noticed, even though her friends would/should have been in school, that she insisted on wearing dark glasses so she couldn’t be recognised. It’s apparently that embarrassing to be seen with a beekeeper. I would point out that I was not wearing full suit and veil but apparently my gardening coat is embarrassment enough! 

The view across the fields on an autumn day. 

The bees were sitting in full sun and a number were flying around. Even in colder weather bees will leave the hive around midday. They are tidy creatures and like to leave waste away from the hive. Neighbours of beekeepers will be well aware of the small brown piles splattered on their cars if parked in the bees flight path! Dead bees and hive rubbish is also cleared out in the better weather.

The first job was to attach a mouseguard to the front of each hive. Drawing pins in each corner secure them and it’s just a matter of making sure the holes align with the entrance so the bees can still come and go but mice are stopped from making nests in the corners of the boxes. Mice can do a lot of damage to combs and while the bees are in a huddle they will not defend the hive against them. 

I often don’t put my woodpecker cages on until later in the winter but this is a new design for me and I wanted to try it out. I used to build a wooden frame and wrap that in net but my Bee Buddy swapped to this idea as he got older and it certainly is easier to fit. 

Just small hole wire shaped around the hive and tied at the back. I hope I will even be able to lift the roof to add fondant without removing it. This will save a lot of time and inconvenience. 

Unfortunately he didn’t use landing boards quite like mine and I hadn’t taken that into account. A bit of reshaping was needed on one hive to take the width of that into account.

The hive I had to unite in September is far to big and needs a different idea. I’m still working on that but I’m sure I’ll think of something. When I first approached it all was quiet but as I attached the guard a lot of bees appeared. I am trialling an open mesh floor on this hive and am a bit worried about draught so it was good to know they are still alive and well. 

I hope the bees will work their way through the stored honey from the bottom. Moving to warmer frames higher up as it gets colder. Come the spring the idea is that the queen will then be at the top, ready to start laying in the warmest part of the hive. I can then break the hive down to a more manageable size. This queen has been amazing this year so I hope for good things from her in 2018. 
My new apiary is a mixed blessing. It’s local but isolated. Protected from weather but also from view. It’s difficult to decide whether I’m happy with it yet. There has been some trouble with organised dog fighting and hare coursing in the area and this week someone has dumped a huge pile of rubbish at its main entrance.

 I’m guessing my winter might be challenging this year but only time will tell. For now I’m just enjoying being a cycling beekeeper! 

A long overdue autumn clear up.

It’s been a while since I last posted. Partly because I have had nothing to say that I didn’t say this time last year and partly because I will been busy doing all those same things. That’s the joy of nature, it happens every year. No matter how we feel or what we are doing, outside in the ‘wild’, life just perpetually turns. 

In my piece of this wild I have an area that truly is just that. In all the years we have lived here we have tried to ignore it. Until this year, when we could leave it no longer. It was a piece of no man’s land between us and the neighbour. 20 foot high with elder trees and ivy. Piled at its base with all my neighbours hedge cuttings over at least the last 20 years. 

We started by getting a man in to top the trees to a manageable height. He carted them away as well which was a huge task and possibly the main reason we have never really tackled the area before. 

The last two weekends I have slashed and burned the rest

It’s still not pretty but we are getting there.

Today’s fire has been smaller than last week’s. Yesterday’s pouring rain made things smokier and I had no desire to upset my neighbours to much. 

It’s a work in progress but I intend creating a vegetable bed there by next spring. I’m covering a spare piece of lawn with cardboard and all spare compost/soil. I’m working my way towards the no man’s land by which time I hope to have gained another bed at least 8ft by 25ft and a south west facing boundary fence to grow a peach tree against. 

Think of all the extra veggies I’ll be growing next year. Lucky I brought so many seeds in the sales! 

A bit of a dilemma.

We’re on a quick break at the seaside. Hubby  played a gig last night and we are all staying at the site with him.
Back home I’ve been looking for sloes to make some sloe vodka so you can guess how happy I was when I noticed these bushes as we pitched up. 

I deliberated for the first day. Could I really forage right outside my own back door? Did I have anything to pick them into? Would anyone mind?

I decided I only needed a few so there would still be plenty left for everyone.

  Temptation got the better of me and with true pioneering attitude, I decided I could fit them into my tiny freezer. Therefore both containing their little rolling bodies on the journey home and having them ready to use as soon as we got in. 

I cut down a milk carton to contain them. It’s not a big space! 

We’re heading for home in a minute but that’s ok, I’ve had a great time. When I’m sipping my sloe vodka in freezing February I’ll be reminded of a very hot October! 

A week of beekeeping firsts. 

This year for the first time my bees have had a visit from the Bee Inspector. Now I should admit at this point that he did try to make an unannounced inspection some years ago and wasn’t very well received. 

Parents of young children will know how it goes. I was cooking tea. Young children decided to kill each other with the standard blood curdling screams. Very stressed mother joins the attack with threats of mild violence/confiscations/lost meals. Eldest on hearing a knock at the door very helpfully opens it as he runs past in his bid to inflict damage on much younger, but very deserving, little sister. Stressed mother rushing into hallway, after fleeing children, finds an unfamiliar man standing in her house. At his request to inspect her bees ‘as I’m  passing’ she has a minor meltdown about giving fair warning, not turning up at teatime etc before triumphantly remembering one hive had been queenless and she has only united them the day before. Therefore they could not be opened today anyway. All said while hanging onto a wiggling beast who had turned into a cherub at the thought of a visitor but who she knew would wreak havoc the second he left. The poor man couldn’t get out of the house quick enough and I’ve never been inspected since! 

This all explains why when he rang last month and chose a date when I was on holiday he sounded both relieved and unbelieving at the same time. We arranged another date and this week it arrived, as did a rather doubtful inspector. Everything went fine, his comment ‘ oh it looks like you do know what you’re doing’ was taken in the jest I hope he meant it in and as he also called my hives phenomenal and very well managed I guess I passed! 

My other first has been shown to me by my newest bee keeping friend. These bees who have been living in a barn owl nesting box in his local churchyard for the last two years.

The box is just above head height but luckily on the edge of the plot. He has wrapped it in the chicken wire to protect it against a woodpecker who was rather to interested last winter. 

I think it’s amazing the way the entrance has been blocked with propolis. Leaving just a few small holes for entrances. This will keep out rain but also helps the bees to protect the nest from wasps and other predators. 

Following on from this he took me to another local church where bees have been living in a wall for 30 years, to his knowledge, at least. 

The main swarm is on this south facing wall but over time they have obviously swarmed on various occasions and just moved into other holes. 

There are four more nests in this wall. Three to the right and one on the left of the window in this shot. Another small group are using a hole on the northern side. I guess it was all that was left! 

The picture just doesn’t do the scene justice. The air was full of bees, they were catching in my hair and walking up my arms and yet I never got stung once. 

As we were walking around the church a lady appeared from the house opposite with the biggest key I’ve ever seen and enthusiastically opened the main doors to show us the inside. The building has not been used for services for many years. It is beautiful inside and still has all its original features, except for its lead roof which was stolen just recently and replaced with a modern alternative. The reason the building is so well preserved is because of its squatters. At least two sorts of bats call it home in their hundreds and researchers monitor them regularly. An architect is visiting this week and she was excited to hear about the bees ( she hadn’t noticed them which amazed me) as another reason to keep it empty. 

Like so many old buildings it has huge monetary potential as a quirky house build but not much as a nature reserve. I’ve been asked to do a small display for future presentations and funding  bids. I also suggested setting up some bait hives next spring to try to monitor the bees. Wouldn’t it be lovely to find a native black bee strain without varroa living in my neighbouring village. Might also explain where all my swarms keep coming from! 

Autumn update

Having been away for 2 weeks the garden has been left to its own devices and needed some TLC. 

I picked everything I could before I left but still the raspberries were loaded and many had gone to waste. I quickly picked as many as I could find. 

The outdoor tomatoes, which were basically 2 plants I’d not had room in the tunnel for and had left outside. Where still in their pots they rooted into the ground and had grown like triffids before we left and were covered in lots of still green tomatoes. We came home to find them ruined by blight. 

The ones in the polytunnel look to have been protected by the closed doors. I picked 20lb of tomatoes from them and immediately squeezed as many as I could into the slow cooker to make sauce to freeze. 2 cookers full and a meal later I’m sick of the sight and smell of them! 

I missed a courgette before I left and found a marrow on my return..

My wonky Brussel sprouts still might come to something. 

Even the caterpillars have got sick of cabbage ( I hate the stuff) and it refuses to be beaten. HubB and Miss C will be happy! 

It’s good to be home… 

Following a 9 hour journey home from the holiday we had a restful day on Sunday.  Ok we did stop for lunch during that time. Can you guess where? !

Sunday morning I popped down to check on the bees. Having quickly united two hives before we went I needed to be sure all was well. 

The girls were the nicest they’ve been all year. The sun was shining and I was still in holiday mode. Miss C was at home with hubB so I had no need to rush. 

The bees are in a wonderful copse of trees. Many are native varieties and as I worked a buzzard had been cruising slow around above my head and sitting on a nearby branch and calling to me. 

The trees are very overgrown with nettles which are good for wildlife and make the area unattractive to local children, I hope. 

Many of the trees are hazels and as there doesn’t seem to be any squirrels around I decided I was allowed to pick some of the nuts which were just falling to the ground. 

It was quite difficult to get to some of them but no pain no gain. It was so worth a few stings (nettle rather than bees is novelty enough!) 

I’m very happy with my freebies. I don’t think it saved me enough to afford the whiskey at Gretna but I will almost definitely enjoy them more! 

Port Logan. 

So following on from Mull of Galloway and just around the coast is Port Logan. As we were full of lunch we decided to stop for a walk and to enjoy the views. 

This area of Scotland is amazing. The sea on both sides makes for non stop picture taking and, with the sun shining down, it couldn’t have been more beautiful. My camera just doesn’t do it justice.

In Port Logan is a place called The Fishpond which says it is a cold water aquarium. I had no idea what to expect but it had the look of education and was very reasonably priced. Us home edders love a bargain learning opportunity! 

Basically a natural blowhole in the rocks was increased in size with dynamite and hard work many years ago so that a rich landowner could keep fish for his table all year round. The tide used to rush in through an opening in the rocks to keep the water fresh but is now controlled by valves. 

The crack in the rocks now contains tanks of small fish, crabs and various other little creatures. It is very hands on.

Who knew anemones were quite so hard and spikey. Or that some grab your finger as you gently put it near them. 

The main tank is in the middle of the hole in the rocks. Apparently 8 foot deep at its centre it contains up to 60 fish. These we could feed with a disgusting mix of dead whelks/cockles or somesuch. I’m not a fish fan and had no desire to put my hands in the dirty looking greasy water. HubB and Miss C got involved with relish and I have to be fair that I was amazed by the response. 

Mullien and cod were the first to appear. Taking the food right from their fingers. 

This gurnard was quite shy but very beautiful. His fins were like little wings. 

This dog fish had an even bigger brother that is only seen a couple of times a year. It clearly took a liking to us and was desperate to be a world wide star, via my blog, but I just couldn’t get a photo. It swam around and around the pond, changing direction and coming in close but I missed it everytime. I’m no David Bailey!! 

Just outside the pond is an old bathing hut. From a time when us ladies wore full length  outfits and kept our modesty. Quite appeals, especially the fire to warm up at afterwards and the covering of the knees! 

We spent the evening in the hot tub watching the airplanes from Glasgow crossing above us and identifying the different stars. Not quite as romantic but definitely warmer than the original tubs!