I do love a bargain. 

Last autumn I had the idea of picking up a bag of bulbs each week with my shopping. After 2 weeks I abandoned the idea, as I hadn’t planted the first ones, and the bags got left on the side in the utility where there were promptly forgotten. It’s now January and to late for them to go in the soil so I persuaded hubB that a trip to the garden centre to buy compost was needed.

As the compost is stacked up outside the store, I just pay for what I want at the end of my visit and take the car over to put it straight in. As we walked into the store for a coffee I happily told B we didn’t need a trolley. I could carry anything we brought. Famous last words!! 

The store had all autumn bulbs at 50p a bag. 50p! They also had all Christmas stock at 70 percent off. B took one look, turned around and went for a trolley, he knows me well. 

By the time we reached the coffee shop I had this little load.

While we ate our breakfast rolls and drank slightly dodgy coffee B rang his dad to tell him about the sale ( he’s a keen gardener) and took another order. Luckily Miss C was at horse riding as she would not have been impressed to have to go back and shop again. I on the other hand rose to the occasion and picked even more stock. 

Today has been spent happily potting up the 444 bulbs. I feel pretty smug that I was able to lay my hands on washed and sorted pots and labels. Standing in my new summerhouse out of the wind and placing the pots straight into my recently tidied polytunnel. Sometimes I’m so organised I amaze myself and it feels good! 

If I’m honest the 75 litres of compost wasn’t enough and I ended up lasagne planting lots of the bulbs in one big pot. I also didn’t need the extra 160 onion sets I now have in plug trays. 

But look at the savings. I’m one happy gardener today. 

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Happy 2018

Can you believe that another year has begun? In just a few days I will be another year older. I remember, as a child, a lesson on the millennium and a task to work out how old we would be on that date. I started enthusiastically enough but when I realised it was more years than I had fingers I declared ‘ I’ll be so old I’ll be dead by then’ and stopped counting. Now we’re 18 years past that event and I can remember it like it was yesterday. Well to be honest yesterday is often forgotten to me but then I’m getting older! 

Our family tradition is to spend New Years Day at the coast. Hunstanton is fairly close to us and as the weather was fine we set off. 

It was already busier  than it often is in the summer and by the time we left, the queue into the town was a good few miles long. I’m glad we’d started earlier than most this morning! 

The beach was busy with windsurfing and a few hardy souls were even sitting and digging in the sand. We contented ourselves with a very brisk walk from one end to the other. Walking into the sun meant facing the wind and it was bracing to say the least. 

Heading back to the car we had the wind and the sun on our backs and the promise of a good lunch to haste our way. 

As we pulled into the drive, back home,  I noticed this rather lovely rose growing on the front wall. It inspired me to find some other treasures.
There’s a rather nice geranium still flowering in the summerhouse.

There’s a very brave Hebe outside the back door and a rather bedraggled marigold out the front. Nothing else has survived the almost constant frosty mornings and warm days of the last month. 

If I’m making one new year promise this year it’s to be more organised. I won’t keep it, I never do, but wouldn’t it be nice. I could start planning now but I have a good book, it was a Christmas present and it would be churlish not to read it while it’s still new. 

Happy 2018 to you all. 

How to determine a successful Christmas.

Well the big day we’d all been looking forward to and working towards has been and gone. We’ve had a typical family Christmas, great food, good presents and family disagreement. 

From my point I’m thinking that maybe I’m getting an image for myself. I think it’s a good one, well in my eyes anyway! 

It started with my mum’s present. Now every year of my life mum has brought me a calendar. A cutesy fluffy animal one. More recently I’ve donated said calendar to Miss C who fills it with very important news (toof fell out, got new shoos)  and buy myself a plain, lots of space family one. This year mums calendar has garden ideas and came with a pair of gloves. Very useful.  As was the toothpaste she also got me but I’m still considering the meaning of that!

The rest of my family also exceeded my expectations. 

Father in law brought me hand cream and a garden thermometer. Exactly what I needed. My brother and sister  in law brought me a hedgehog house ( hubB had a hand in that I believe!)

HubB excelled himself as always and I received a very handy bird feeder. I presently hang food from the trees and summerhouse but the killer cat has too much cover there for his attacks. This means I can feed in the middle of the lawn where the attacks can hopefully be pre-empted. 

He also found me a jam funnel that strains and some jam labels that dissolve in water. Both problems I have muttered about regularly over the past year. 

His treat of a pair of felco secateurs and a holster went down well. I will spend happy hours chopping things down with them. 

My biggest surprise was this wildlife camera. The copse that my bee hives are in has a number of tracks through the grass and hopefully, if I can hide it from theft, I will now be able to see what makes them. I was high hopes of badgers and deer but who knows! 

Miss C bought the present that gave me the biggest smile. She picked it totally herself but had some trouble at the checkout when she had to call for her dad. It turned out she’s not as grown up as she thought she was and still needs help to buy a dangerous item. 

I had other presents. Chocolates and books were well received. The three scarves (one of which I’m wearing as I write), two pairs of gloves and thermal socks show how cold blooded ( some might say cold hearted) I am and will be put to good use. 

So with great gifts, good food and lots of Christmas music and games, I feel it’s been a lovely Christmas. 

I hope everyone has had as good and peaceful a season.

Christmas has started. 

I love the idea of Christmas and always get sucked into buying a Christmas magazine in October and making lots of lists at the same time. By November I totally can’t wait but once December arrives, and the work has to start in earnest, I just don’t feel up to the job. 

This year hubB has been home from work ill, the weather has been wet and cold, any number of excuses have been found and my procastination has known no bounds. Most of my lists are not only uncompleted but lost to boot! 

With only a week to go we decided to join friends at a Christmas church celebration. Now I’m not at all religious and having attended another friends baptism only last month I’ve already been more this year than I usually look to. 

My friend was attending the 9.15 service and as the church in question is in our nearest city, it meant an early start. The weather was cold and frosty and at the last minute my friend texted to say her whole family were down with some horrible lurgy. We were on our own!

The first clue that the service was different came when we pulled off the main road to be met by traffic cones and attendants to control the traffic. This was no village church or small scale service, this had all the hallmarks of a full scale event. 

The entrance was full of friendly smiling people greeting us with Christmas cheer. The quantity of people wouldn’t have looked out of place at a concert. 

The hall was no less than an auditorium and it was full by the time the service started. 

Miss C was very taken by the jokes on the main screen. HubB was impressed by the full choir and live band. The mixing booth with spot lights, countdown and full crew impressed me. 

We sang our hearts out, as did everyone else there. We clapped and cheered. The sermon was more a sales pitch for Jesus than a Bible reading. The live entertainment and screen production may have been members of the congregation but they could easily have been professionals. It was like no other church service I’ve ever been to. 

I may not be taking up nightly Bible reading anytime soon but I certainly feel much more christmassy and excited for the whole season now.

I’m so in the Christmas spirit I used some of my mincemeat to make a few mince pies. 6 dozen to be correct. I’m Christmas ready! 

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! 

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!