Rhubarb cordial.

I’ve found a cordial recipe this year that is so good it has actually made me love my rhubarb plants again.

I have two huge rhubarb plants. I lift and split them regularly. A couple of years ago I offered a friend a piece and she happily accepted. We didn’t see each other for a while and the plant was already lifted so eventually we agree to swap the piece at a birthday party we both had to drop our children to. The party was at a distant roller skating rink, at night, in the winter. Two middle aged ladies were therefore seen struggling across the carpark with a huge box of earth, in the dark. Why we didn’t park next to each other I’ll never know but we still laugh about it now. Especially when either one of us is trying to palm off a section of their plant to other friends. It’s a good grower that rhubarb root!

8 1/2lb of it was harvested this morning to make my latest batch of cordial. I discovered the recipe this year and as HubB loves the stuff we’re on our third batch. I’ve so far had 43lb of rhubarb from the plants, 15 has gone in the freezer, the rest we have drunk.

After boiling, the pulp is put through a sieve.

The resulting liquid is then strained through muslin and the sieve. This could all be done in one step but it’s much slower that way.

The juice is measured, returned to the cleaned pan and 7oz of honey is added for each pint of liquid. I use leftover old honey for this. Some of it had creamed very nicely as you can see in the above picture, but some was quite wet as it was 2018 harvest.

The mixture is gently simmered for 5 minutes and bottled in warm, sterilised bottles. I’m using old coffee jars for mine. As they cool the lids draw down in the same way jam does to create the seal.

I keep it in the pantry until I open it when it goes into the fridge.

As an interesting point, 8 1/2lb of fruit made 3 1/2pt of juice and left 2 1/2lb of pulp afterwards. You can use the pulp for a pie although it looks pretty unappertising so I haven’t previously. Perhaps tonight’s the night, crumble anyone??

July update.

It’s been a difficult year across the world but for us here at the cottage it has a different meaning. Weather. Every year I seem to moan about it for one reason or another but this year I must certainly be justified.

The winter was warm. May was hot, very hot, and dry. June was wet, very wet, unless you count the week where the temperatures got into the 30’s. July has been all of that, with a predominance of rain. The plants seem to have got completely confused and decided it is now autumn and they should just give up.

The Polytunnel is slow this year, where I would usually be picking tomatoes with a wheelbarrow I’m wandering back with odd handfuls.

I’m removing lower leaves but the parsley, basil and coriander are just taking that as an invitation to fill the gaps. Will it surprise you to know that I’ve planted things to close? I have 4 varieties of tomato in here, each carefully separated at sowing time and marked properly, that’s almost a first and something I was very proud of, until nature conspired against me and dropped this rogue seed into my Yellow Delight seed packet. I don’t know what it is but the fruits are huge. If they ripen before they split or rot it will be worth seeing.

The cucumber is still driving me to distraction. Its ability to grow male flowers is unstoppable. Picking them off is nearly worth it, but as it’s in the roof almost impossible, as the fruit is lovely but again, as 4 plants are only just keeping up with us, it is slow.

A few brave melons are appearing. This is the biggest so far but hopes are high.

In the summerhouse the chillies and lemongrass are doing so well that I’ve started bringing the other peppers in to join them. I’ve had to clear more space for everything. I also have a extra gherkin in here, the outside ones are just so slow, some herbs drying in the net bags and a grumpy cat who is convinced it’s his room really.

June update.

Blogging is taking second place to so many things that I’m late again this month. The weather for June was nothing short of awful, the first weeks were almost constant rain and then we had a week of temperatures well into the 30’s.

HubB has taken a week off work and started on the cottage renovations. The cottage is a small 2 up /2 down house on the side of our main house which we hardly use and it’s been sadly neglected. When we brought the house it looked lovely but the work had been done badly and while we did up the main house it quickly fell into disrepair. This week it’s been given a new damp course and next week it gets a rewire. It’s exciting but hard, hard work. Held up by the shutdown and lack of supplies, it’s all go now.

The garden is blooming. I’ve lifted the onions and garlic and replanted the space with brassicas. I know, I said I wasn’t growing any this year but I must have lied!

The leeks have gone into last years chard bed which survived far to long as it was feeding the chickens so successfully.

The spaghetti squash in the compost bin are huge. I planted 9 in there which was far to many for the space (I just won’t learn!) and so far I’ve cut 2 which looked ready just to give others more room. The compost level has dropped significantly which is interesting.

The Polytunnel is prolific. The Yellow Delight are at the top of the ropes.

Gardeners Delight are being picked and very much appreciated.

San Mancano are new to us this year and I can’t wait to try them. They are apparently a pasta sauce tomato that is good to eat raw as well. As I freeze most of the crop this could be a very good buy.

Peppers are pollinating and full of flowers with the promise of more to come.

I have 3 melons and tons of tiny ones so I need to thin them a bit.

The drying onions are hanging above them to escape the wet weather.

The cucumber is growing well. I’m growing Telegraph, a free seed from my magazine and I’m not impressed. I not only hadn’t realised I had to remove male flowers, to stop pollination making the fruit bitter, but also that there would be so many. If I miss for even one day there are literally hundreds and the cucumbers are more than horrible if I miss one. Every meal is now a gamble, especially for the cook who has to nibble the food before serving it!

Outside the sweetcorn is short and early but I’ve never had so many cobs on each plant before, a few have as many as 4.

This is a picture of my cranberries. I’ve had the plant about four seasons and never had fruit get to ripening before. There a seven this year, the picture will probably be the only thing left by harvest time!

Spring update.

It’s difficult to remember that it’s actually still spring. The weather has been tropical and we haven’t had rain in weeks, with none on the forecast horizon either. The ground is dry with cracks appearing even in the more fertile areas.

In the summerhouse the temperatures have been silly but this has allowed me to quickly germinate and grow on some of the more unusual plants. Lemongrass is a first for me. I only tried it because Miss C saw it in a local hardware store at the beginning of the lockdown. I would have assumed it was to specialist for home growing and have never cooked with it before but it’s always good to try new things.

Asparagus peas grew fairly well in the tunnel last year but due to the triffid like qualities of my tomatoes I couldn’t get to them to harvest. Having saved the seeds at the end of the year I’m trying again.

Chinese Lanterns were also picked by Miss C on the hardware store visit. I’ve had three attempts at germinating them, including using the propagator, so this time looks hopeful.

Oca is a plant I grow every year. Small tubers, that always seem to grow, get left in random places all over the garden as well. Unfortunately we just don’t really eat it. It tastes quite nice and grows well but the tubers are tiny and very knobbly and I’m just to lazy to prepare them. This year I’m growing it for the leaves which I’ve read taste interesting in salads. We will see!

Chillies are staying in the summerhouse this year. Last year I grew a number of varieties and one mixed packet had two plants in that could only be described as killer. Brother-in-law had never been beaten by a chilli but to see him and his drunken friends on their knees crying over some tiny red and orange ones was funny but quite concerning. I freeze most of my peppers and dry the chillies. So far everyone we have tried to eat was clearly cross pollinated by the killer chillies. I’ve had to throw them away for fear of ruining any more dishes. This year all chillies are segregated and nothing has been grown without careful packet reading.

In the Polytunnel the cucumbers look healthy. I wanted to use up some free seeds from a magazine so am growing Telegraph. It has good reviews but needs the male flowers removed so that will be a challenge. I have left myself lots of space in front so that I can get to them a bit easier.

I’m hoping the whole tunnel will be better organised this year, I’ve changed the tomato layout for what I hope is easier picking. My coriander has gone straight to seed but I guess that’s not a problem when it’s seeds I’m growing it for.

Melons grow in the bottom of the plastic indoor greenhouse frame. They seemed to like the extra heat when I was growing the seedlings on so I’ve left them in there. I plan to take the plastic off next month, once temperatures are consistently higher during the night.

The sweet peppers are growing a bit better now. Having been unable to get any multi purpose compost I made my own. I used a mix with a high proportion of household waste compost. This is available for free at our local tip but it is a poor quality product and when watered it clumped together and was not free draining enough for some plants. I was able to buy multi purpose at the hardware store last week so I tipped out all the plants that looked to be struggling, teased off the compost and repotted. The chillies and peppers have romped away since so that was clearly the problem.

Squashes had no such problems with the waste compost. My spaghetti squash loved it and now seem just as happy in the top of the compost bin where they already have small squash forming.

Happy days!

Hostile takeover.

Last winter I had a hive vandalised.https://acquest13.wordpress.com/2019/11/27/apiary-disaster-part-1/?preview=trueThe bees spent the winter in my Polytunnel and became quite friendly. They were never able to store much honey though and just ate the food I gave them each week. As soon as it felt warm enough I moved them outside and although they initially started collecting pollen (a good sign the queen is laying) they never really seemed very busy.As soon as it was warm enough I opened them and gave them a check. The queen was there, quite happily wandering about and the bees were calm and busy. As they were quite small in number I moved them into a nucleus box so they had less space to heat.I hoped this would perk them up but it has become clear that the queen had stopped laying and the hive was dying out. In general at this point a beekeeper would kill the Queen and unite the bees with another hive. However, my other hives are all huge and don’t need more bees, it is nice having friendly bees flying around the garden and mainly, I like the queen. I couldn’t bring myself to kill her.I decided to leave it to nature and let them die out naturally.I had heard that swarms sometimes takeover a weak hive but having never had a weak hive I had no idea if that was true, until today.While planting a few herbs in my new raised bed I realised I was surrounded by a lot of bees. I was in the middle of the tail end of a swarm that were literally swarming into the nuc box.

I have no idea how it started, whether the original bees were evicted or just surrendered but I’m guessing my lovely Queen has been dispatched, which is sad.So now I have another hive of bees.This is 2020, the year I decided to reduce my bee numbers. The year I decided I’m to old for the heavy lifting and commitment. It’s 2 days after I sold a full hive of bees to a local new beekeeper. I now have just as many as ever, a promise to support the new keeper and a need to buy new equipment.I wanted to be a keeper for a number of years before I got bees and I can’t help feeling that I will be a keeper for a number of years after I decide to stop!

An early harvest.

It’s not our first harvest of the year. Lettuce, spring onions, chard and perpetual spinach have been picked all winter, but it is our first harvest of this years growth.

Marjoram and oregano look very similar. Its unfortunate that the labels faded in the sunshine but we love them both so I’ll try to decide later.

Thyme and savoury have also grown large enough to harvest. This is a variegated variety of thyme with some lovely white shoots. It’s got a rogue lysimachia growing through it so I’ll avoid that bit!

They hang in bags, made from Miss C’s old voile bedroom curtains, in my summerhouse to dry.

The mint is also growing nicely. We have spearmint and chocolate varieties. I’ve promised I’ll make some mint sauce this year but for now it’s Miss C who picks it all. She is happy to just snack on the leaves as she wanders around the garden, funny child.


When I was a child we lived in a city with a small garden so typical of housing estate homes. In our tiny garden we had 2 huge lilac bushes. I’ve no idea where my dad picked them up but by the time I remember them they were as tall as the upstairs windows. My mother complained about them constantly, ‘bugs came into the bedroom when the windows were open’ , ‘they blocked the light’ , ‘you have to hang out of the window to see the blossom’. It was a yearly battle but dad was the one expected to do the work of cutting them back and he never did.

Years later I left a number of pots under those same trees while I was between house moves. They sat there for some years before mum, on one of my visits to the house, gave them all back. She opened my car boot and loaded it with pots of soil, many with only a few weeds, a few with things worth having.

A few seeds had obviously fallen from the lilac and grown into saplings in one of the pots. I planted them in the wildlife garden at my house and they have been there ever since.

We lost dad, unexpected last year and it seems fitting that this is the year the lilac is at its best. The smell permeates the whole bottom end of the garden and the flowers are thick and beautiful. There are three plants, two are around 5ft tall, perfect for seeing the flowers, but one is romping ahead and stands head and shoulders over the others.

Dad must be smiling down to see that one!

It’s all go.

The garden is looking great and it’s that awkward time of year when you want to plant everything outside and can hardly wait for harvests.

Along the side of the chicken run and on the edge of the veggie beds is this long bed of flowers. It attracts pollinators, is a place for left over plants and adds colour. A grapevine grows up the run on one side of the door and, having moved the fig tree, a kiwi is newly planted the other side. 2 huge rhubarb plants also live here and by mid summer I fight a constant battle to keep them from swamping everything else. If we actually ate rhubarb in any quantity I would be justified in having such triffids but actually I mostly pick it for the compost heap, even chickens aren’t allowed it.

The melons and peppers still have extra night time protection in this plastic mini greenhouse. The tomatoes are managing with just a fleece at night now.

Herbs and summer climbers like the extra protection the cold frame within a tunnel creates.

All my cucurbits (I love that word!) sit in this tray and get dragged in and out of the tunnel each day. Whether I actually need 9 courgette plants, 7 spaghetti squash, 8 butternut squash and some pumpkins of unknown parentage is debatable but I definately do need the gourds that I’m trying for the first time this year. They will all need to be found homes in different areas of the garden as they are a promiscuous lot who are quite happy to have offspring of dubious quality.

Outside, the peas are planted, the gherkin supports are in place and the onions and garlic are fattening nicely.

The sweetcorn went outside yesterday. This is my third year of putting it out before the last frost date. It’s a gamble that has worked so far but the plastic bottles cover it at night and fleece is never far away. If it survives I love the earlier cobs, if I’m unlucky I still have time to start again as long as I can get some more seeds.

In the summerhouse, which is cooler than the tunnel, the last of the seedings are coming on or waiting to be pricked out

The cat spends hours in here, hoping to catch the rodent visitor and enjoying the heat. He’ll be on my sofa later, all covered in compost, the little pest!

New additions.

As you may remember we have had chickens here before and loved them. When we lost the last ones to old age we agreed to have a year off and take a couple of holidays. The bigger abroad sort of holiday when leaving your pets is always a worry at the back of your mind, especially if you are relying on friends to keep them safe, with all the responsibility that involves. How awful if a fox should get into the run and other people had to deal with it and let you know, or if one should fall ill and decisions had to be made.

Anyway, holidays were planned, walls and ceilings fell down and a year was spent putting a part of the house back together. Then hubB hurt his leg and couldn’t walk, let alone explore. And then the bug to end all bugs hit and holidays are now a distant dream.Last weekend, after a bit of cajoling hubB built me a chicken coop with some left over pallet toppers. He also agreed that I could get a few hens, but mainly I think because he knew they were all sold out and the site was closed. Undeterred I put my name on the waiting list and prepared to wait until summer.It was therefor somewhat of a shock to receive a text yesterday morning to say that some rescued birds had just become available in my area and was I interested.I initially thought no, I’m in social isolation and it’s an unnecessary journey. The site had some measures for this though and after a huge tidy of the chicken run, when a big pile of drying winter wood, the patio furniture and various abandoned but possibly useful ‘tat’ found other homes, I was able to send some fairly decent photos of the run and free range area and agree to have a few.The hens were collected from the farm. I met the van driver in a large garage forecourt on his route and he transfered the hens into the cage in my boot while I watched from a distance. He was wearing full face gear which must have been a fright to anyone driving alone the main road beside us. The garage was open but the only other cars there was a member of staffs and a policeman buying a pasty. In a matter of minutes we were both on our way and I had a smelly cargo on the back seat.We stopped for chicken food on the way home, visited a small local shop to stock on some emergency milk and bread and are now home for another week.The chickens are in a great condition for rescues although a bit dirty. They are clearly free range but didn’t recognise greens when given them, although have now discovered they like them! They have an obsession with legs and run over to gently peck you whenever you appear, strange creatures!

Heath Robinson.

When I was younger my dad had an expression for a job that had been cobbled together with left overs and make do. He’d say ‘well it’s a bit Heath Robinson but it does the job’. I was reminded of this as I made this cover yesterday.

My ghostly Polytunnel on a dull and windy morning. It’s cold outside but 15 degrees in here and very pleasant.

My Polytunnel is getting full and I needed to pot on the tomatoes but they still need over night protection. The small wooden frame, covered with old windows was fine for seedlings but just not big enough for the number of pots I now have.

The plastic is the old summerhouse roof. It is warped and broken in places but it stands up fine with the poles from an old gazebo. A layer of fleece, another spare panel and 2 more layers of fleece top it off.

Underneath the plants are all doing fine. Peppers, squash and cucumbers included, which can certainly be temperature sensitive.

I’m having real problems with mice this year. Last week they ate all my seeds in the summerhouse and now they have found the tunnel. These amaranthus and Spanish flags are last night casualties. They have now been moved into the tall plastic greenhouse, hopefully he doesn’t work out how to climb the bars!

I’m hopeful they will recover, as these sweetcorn have after his last visit.

The hydrangea is another resident. Its been here all winter but last week I was foolhardy enough to get carried away by the nicer weather. I pruned off last year’s flowers and popped it outside. It promptly threw a strop and succumbed to the cold.

It will survive, especially now its back in the poly, but it is a lesson that you can’t beat nature. If you are going to grow a plant you have to be able to support it until the conditions are right. I’m lucky, I have a lovely tunnel. A husband who let’s me cover all surfaces, including his office desk, with plants and lots of time and ‘treasures’ I can call upon to make my Heath Robinson creations.

I’m not particularly a worrier but in these uncertain times I’m pleased I have some options.

Stay safe people and garden.