Busy, busy but slowly.

Another part of the renovation story has started today. The chimney that takes the boiler flue is coming down. Well it’s being reduced and capped off anyway! The workman arrived at 8am and although it’s only 10.30 they are presently on their third tea break.

The scaffold is up and the top is off. The old flue is sticking out of the top in this picture but that all has to go. Following the poor fitting of the guttering after the new roof in 2017 but chimney has been letting in water and the flue is perished.

On the inside we have removed the damp plaster to reveal the extent of the damage. The boiler has gone and a number of old water pipes have also been removed. The water has been soaking into the surrounding wattle and daub wall so that has also come down, much of it totally without any help from us!

Also missing is the ceiling and all the plaster in the utility room and upstairs, the wall, part of the floor and the bathroom sink and toilet surround. The whole suite is coming out along with all its cast iron pipework on Friday.

Looking on the bright side I have got a brilliant old chimney pot that I’m sure I can plant something in and in between making the workers tea I have jarred the weekends honey. What’s to complain about!

An early start.

Yesterday I took honey from the hives. Miss C and I spent the evening extracting it and this morning the wet supers needed returning to the bees. I had started yesterday at 7am and by 9.30 when I finished it was already unbearably hot. This morning, having woken at 6.30. I headed straight out. The sky was clear and blue and the day promised to be hot.

The bees look a bit overgrown but there is a clearing in front of each hive. Unfortunately a group of local kids have decided to have a party near the hives. I just have to hope they will all be safe. By that I mean the bees, although one of my hives is so nasty that it might work either way!

Back home it’s all quiet. HubB, being a part time musician, didn’t get in until 2am after a long distance gig. Miss C still slumbers, in her quest to be a teenager (at the minute she calls 8 o’clock a lay-in but I’m sure that will soon change!) I’m sitting enjoying the bird song with a coffee.

The garden is looking OK!

Onions and garlic, nearly ready.

Celery interplanted with pak choi.

Peppers forming. As are the spaghetti squash and butternut.

During the house renovations, the panelling in the bathroom has been taken out. HubB has made me some lovely new raised beds which I instantly filled with courgettes and butternut squash.

The butternut squash are a tale in themselves. I sowed the seed, had to many, offered them to friends. Realising I had accidently, potentially, given them all away, I sowed some more. They didn’t germinate, so in my quest to be organised I sowed a third packet which instantly took off. A few days later the second packet also grew. The first plants are now at fruiting stage, the second have mostly been given away and the third are growing well. I don’t like to count my chickens, but this could be the year of the butternut. Time will tell!

A garden update.

I have had a really difficult spring and, like so many people, I have found solice in my garden. It has been all to easy to wander aimlessly outside and become captivated by a small job, which before I know it has turned into the loss of an afternoon. This has meant that I have sown, pricked out and grown on plants much earlier than usual. This has also meant that I have run out of space, everywhere, long before what would usually be considered my last frost date.

The garden has been very forgiving and if it can just hold off for a couple more weeks I think I will be able to say I have got away with it.

The sweetcorn and second early potatoes have been in the ground for about 3 weeks. I am covering the corn at night with the bottles and earthed up the potatoes for last weekends predicted frosts, but they are both doing fine.

The strawberries are full of flower and the onions look much bigger than last year. My white shelling bean had taken over the tunnel so that too has been planted out and rather cunningly covered with a tunnel of old roofing panels. They have survived a week of cold and rain so it’s fingers crossed for them as well.

This is my, supposedly, empty flower bed where I plant new seedlings every year. This winter the dahlias have all survived and thrived. Which is a blow especially as it is meant to be a zinnia bed this year. The dozens of zinnia seedlings might just have to squeeze in!

The onions and garlic are joined by carrots and parsnips. I started these in toilet rolls and planted out the seedlings. It worked fairly well last year although it probably would have been helpful if I had taken off the fleece before taking the picture. Not much to show off about if no one can see them!

The cabbages, caulis and purple broccoli are joined by only 6 sprout plants. They were such a disaster last year I vowed never to grow them again, obviously I have, but then I dropped them, both as seeds and then again as seedlings. I think I am just destined not to succeed which is fine as I don’t even eat them. They are, however, Miss C’s favourite veg.

Peas it seems, have become an obsession. These are snap and mange tout, growing through my cornus bush trimmings. Below are Alderman which apparently grow 6ft tall (although a few mange tout sneaked into the row so that will be interesting.) I have more on the go meaning to stagger them, but they are catching up fast. I’m not worried, I could eat peas at every meal if allowed.

This is my tunnel and the reason I’ve had to put so much out already. It’s hit 52°c and dropped as low as 4 over the last month. It might have been hotter but the thermometer stopped working at that point. As most would!

My very slapdash cucumber supports. Let’s hope they are good for more than a laugh! My houseplant has scale insect but a couple of cold nights outside soon sorted that out and it’s now recovering in the warm.

I’m growing my peppers in pots this year and they are already coming into flower. I’ve got them on a stand at the moment and am covering at night still.

I have pumpkins, butternut and spaghetti squash in builders buckets. The young girl in Poundland gave me an ‘are you crazy’ look when I brought their whole supply last week. I need a few more but might try a different town next time!

Some of the tomatoes are already in the soil. The rest are still in pots because the over wintered cauliflower are still taking up the room. I had this problem 2 years ago and swore never to bother trying again but I never learn!

What a difference a day makes.

The first sunset this part of the garden has ever seen.

In my last post https://acquest13.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/dont-cast-a-clout/

I was moaning about the leylandii hedge that has blighted my garden ever since we have lived here. Initially it was around 6ft but over the years it’s growth has been amazing and my patience even more so!

Yesterday the family and various workmen arrived and in one day cut most of it down. It helped that health and safety was lacking and youthful exuberance was high. The, almost gale force at times, wind added to the excitement.

Miss C kept an almost constant watch and rushed in with regular updates. She was at her most excitable when tales of bad language or imminent danger could be relayed.

The workmen are reduced to one today and he has spent the day clearing the fallen branches from next doors garden. The hardest part of the tree, the one part that could demolish my summerhouse or worse part of our other neighbours house is still there. I don’t know how they plan on doing that bit but I just hope they do. Only time will tell.

Laugh of the day goes to Miss C. She came back full of admiration to tell me. ‘the man on the cherry picker couldn’t hear them shouting at him over the noise of his chainsaw. He had a really good idea, he shouted at them to text him if they wanted anything.’

When I pointed out that he would have to turn off the chainsaw to read the text and then would be able to hear them anyway so perhaps just waving would get his attention, she looked at me scathingly and said’ why would they want to talk to each other when they could text? ‘

I think I’m better in the garden than the modern world 😉

Don’t cast a clout…

… Until May is out.

My old granny always used to quote that saying but then would shake her head over whether it was May the month or the mayflowers (hawthorn) on the bushes.

I’ve a good idea of what her opinion of all this spring weather would be if she was still around. ‘We’ll pay for it later’ would probably be her viewpoint and I’m sure she’s right but who could blame us for throwing off the winter jumper and gardening with gay abandon this last weekend.

Miss C and I spent Friday checking the bees and preparing their equipment for the new season. All hives were alive and active with lots of pollen going in. It’s a good sign but the lack of nectar is still an issue and they all happily took the fondant icing I was offering.

On Saturday hubB wanted to enjoy the great weather with us and spent the morning making me a new compost bin. I had an unexpected battle with the neighbours over the state of their hedge.

It’s not a new gripe of mine, it’s been bugging me for years but I’m sorry to say I lost my cool and a heated argument ensued. The neighbours in the style of all modern combatants managed to take no responsibility, expect me to sort their problem and undertook the whole argument while holding their phone in my face to video it. I’m now no doubt a You Tube sensation amongst their youthful friends.

The law on tall hedges is strange to say the least. They are considered too tall if they are over 6 1/2ft but you can not expect anyone to cut down a hedge to the extent that it will then die. You then have to contact the owners and attend mediation with those neighbours who clearly don’t care or they would have already cut the trees. After all else fails you then contact the local council, pay another large sum of money to them for a visit after which they contact the owners. The owners are then given time to respond and could eventually be fined for not complying. Given that hedges can’t be trimmed between March and August incase of nesting birds it then becomes another wait. The hedge has been in this limbo for 20 years, is bare for at least 7ft and will be killed by a trim. It seems like a waste of time and money to keep pursuing it.

Gardening was abandoned and a trip to the seaside for a bracing walk in the sea air took away some of my frustrations.

Sunday was spent again in the garden. Beds were weeded and hedges trimmed. The new compost bin rapidly filled and life was looking good.

The neighbours, having fetched their parent round for moral support,approached with an olive branch. Admitting my argument was right and accepted the hedge needed to come down. It helps that they are desperate to sell and buyers are put off by said hedge. They have agreed to do it in the next 3 weeks, try not to ruin my garden in the process and to put up a new fence. They also offered to pay for any damage they cause but couldn’t resist pointing out that I need to help with the work.

I’m not good at confrontation. I don’t necessarily believe the work will actually get done. I’m negative enough to fail to see how they can do the job by themselves without damage or death being involved. But I’m also just a little bit excited about all the new veggies I’ll be able to grow when my garden actually gets more light on it.

I’ve started more sowing in anticipation and hubB has had to accept seedlings in the bedroom. All windowsills are fair game!

January update.

I’m a few days late here and I’m well aware that we are now into February, but just where has the time gone. January is always a strange month for me as its my birthday and every year the numbers get higher and as my brain believes its still 30 I get more dispondant. This year I got an electric propagator for the said event, it doesn’t top the industrial sized wheelbarrow I got the other year, but it’s pretty darn close!

I started some chilli and tomatoes in it last weekend and the tomatoes sneaked up yesterday while I wasn’t looking and are already a bit leggy. It’s not a problem as I tend to prick out quite quickly so will plant them deep.

In the garden we mainly missed the snow with only a millimetre or 2 Friday night which soon went. We’ve had some sharp frosts though so that has knocked things down.

A few Hardy souls carry on. The hebe is an unexpected treat as we often loose them and usually I move any in pots into the tunnel. This one was just a bit big. The primrose spreads everywhere but usually flowers later, it does look very nibbled though so some bug is still awake. Probably the slugs who are prolific all over the garden.

Here in the tunnel I’ve surrounded the cauliflowers with ash from the log burner to keep them at bay.

The fleece is giving the impression I’ve got a huge spider in there. It’s not needed today but the temperature drops to freezing at night. The poor plants must wonder what is going on. I leave a spider plant amongst them, if that survives I know the rest have a good chance. It’s still going strong this year!

My favourite plants at the minute are this little hellebore I brought for 75p at the supermarket this week. I do love a discounted plant!

And my sarrococca or winter box. It was given to me as a tiny cutting, by a fellow beekeeper, a couple of years ago. It’s very slow growing but these few flowers smell amazing. It promises a wonderful future and will be planted near the house to be enjoyed for years to come.

2019 is looking like being a better year here at the cottage. We have upheaval to face with building work scheduled for the water damage we suffered last year and I’ve had a huge birthday that I just didn’t want, but I’m feeling positive. Funny what a bit of sunshine, a few pretty flowers and some new growth can inspire in you, if you only look for it!

How not to make cherry jam.

In England we have expression that someone is ‘cack handed’. It’s not used much anymore but it basically means clumsy, careless, not very organised or rushing in without thinking. As a child my mum used it regularly to explain to people how I’d got my latest bruise or small injury. I once explained to a teacher that the reason I couldn’t do something was ‘because mum says I’m crack-handed Miss.’ having disputed this and tried her hardest to teach me the teacher conceded ‘on this occasion I really do think your mum knows best’.

Today I struck again.

Having successfully made red onion chutney this morning I decided to make a batch of cherry jam. I found two recipes that both indicated that as cherries are low in pectin I needed jam sugar and I don’t have any. I do however have lots of granulated left from feeding the bees in the autumn and I hate spending money unless I have to, and, I live 20 miles round trip from a jam sugar stocking shop.

One recipe suggested redcurrant juice which again I didn’t have. But I do have redcurrants frozen from the summer. Remembering my good friend had used some in strawberry jam in the summer, with great success, she said, I decided to throw in a handful. That was my first mistake!

I stirred and softened the fruit, warmed the sugar and put the jars in the oven to sterilise. It didn’t smell very fruity so I thought I would try a bit.

Now jam gets hot, VERY HOT and I burnt my tongue, followed by the realisation that I had a mouth full of what felt like pea-shingle. I then remembered that the reason I hate redcurrants, and only really grew them for the chickens who don’t, is because they have pips. Lots of tiny, hard pips.

If you are a beekeeper it is at this point that you will notice that the pips look very like varroa mites and are just as annoying. Having lifted out the fruit with a slotted spoon I sieved the juice and put it back on to boil. The W. I. recipe that had sensibly suggested the juice also suggested a hard boil of that juice with the sugar before adding the fruit.

If only I had listened. It took me half an hour to pick through the cherries. Who realised that redcurrants are exactly the same size as a cherry pip and fit inside the pitted middle so exactly? I now know this!

I also know that they don’t all come out but do float to the top when you jar the jam allowing you, with the help of your reading glasses, to skim off even more. I also now know that 4oz of redcurrant pips go a long way in 4lb of cherries.

Eventually I ended up with nine jars of jam, a kitchen covered in jam, sticky hair and clothes(it’s hard to swap between normal and reading glasses while jarring jam without touching your head/jumper and various other surfaces it seems!).

Now I don’t really eat jam so if my family don’t rave about my new cherry jam and discreetly pick out any remaining pips without a fuss I well might have to gift 8 jars to my lovely friend who clearly didn’t notice the pips when she used them.

If they do like it I have at least another 4lb of cherries in the freezer. I can have another go but maybe I’ll be more organised and juice those redcurrants first!

December update.

Rudbekia in December. Crazy!

What a month it’s been. Miss C and I try to do something christmassy every day during December and this year I think we managed it. She also managed to fit in a fair bit of her maths while I sat working on a homemade present for the new nephew. We baked, crafted and made sweets. Some well and some less successfully, but all great fun.

Now the holiday is nearly over and after a couple of days of sitting on the sofa eating, drinking and being sociable hubB and I had cabin fever. We decided to cure this by going into the garden and cutting down a tree and claiming a bit more of our overgrown land. After 2 days of clearing, chopping and digging we replanted with a Hazel tree and a poor excuse of a blackcurrant I’d grown myself and not looked after enough. They should be happy here, dressed with homemade compost.

It might not look much but as well as the huge tree the ground was covered to some depth with ivy. Over the years ivy seemed a better bet than weeds but it’s tenacious and hard to eradicate once it gets a grip.

The tree trunk is stored for the log burner but the left overs were burnt on other parts of the ivy just to show how thick it all is. I determined to beat it this year. (no I’m not holding my breath while I say that!).

We have also been able to cycle down to the bees. At 14 degrees they are all flying and eating food. That’s not good and starvation will be a real threat for English bees this winter. Although my hives were all fairly heavy going into winter I’ve been supplementing with fondant. So far they have had 2 1/2lb each which is unprecedented in all the years I’ve had hives. It’s a worry but a necessary evil to feed in such warm weather. Although there’s no nectar I did see a small amount of pollen, probably Hazel, going in so there’s some good.

Here’s me adding another pound of fondant to the 4 of my six hives that needed it today. I have never had to wear a suit in December before but then I’ve never seen them fly in such quantity and over such a large area. I even took a sting to the hand, unheard of!