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! 

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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! 

Mull of Galloway. 

Having finally experienced Scottish rain in full force, we were stuck in the cottage yesterday. Today we decided to venture to Scotlands most southerly point. It’s miles down a single track road with last night’s rain pouring off the fields and running down the road beside you. Miss  C was acting typical teenager, the sky was low and oppressive. The morning looked doomed. 

We pulled into the car park beside a coffee shop and, with the bribery of cake on the way back, we set off. 

By the time we reached the point the sun has broken through. 

I bet these cliffs look lovely in summer but the flowers are over now. 

There’s a tiny RSPB building. We met a lovely man called Dennis and even Miss C had to brighten up under his enthusiasm. A live feed showed a seal in the bay above. Binoculars showed an island covered in gannet poo in the bay and Miss C won a puffin bookmark on the raffle. Dennis couldn’t have been more friendly and hearing of Miss C’s love for puffins was able to show her photos of him ringing babies last year in Northumberland. Miss C was enthralled. 

On the way out she found this rather dodgily painted stone all the way from Yorkshire. Part of the rock painting craze she keeps meaning to get involved in and she intends moving it to our next destination. 

The morning finished with a very good lunch in the Hallie Craig coffee shop. Happily we head to our next adventure. 

The view of Ireland from my table. Even the sun’s come out. Does life get any better. 

A change of scenery. 

I’m in Scotland on the holiday that nearly didn’t happen. More about that another time! 

Last week we stayed in Buchlyvie in the Loch Lomond area. We had an old barn conversion. Tastefully and very thoughtfully converted into a beautiful and quaint 2 bed cottage. 

This is the view from the garden. There were a lot of mountains and sheep. 

This week we are in Dumfries and Galloway. The area is still mountainous but the views are different.

This is the view from the bathroom window. The bedroom has similar but being a velux window I have to stand on the bed to see that! 

Stranraer. Where industry meets nature and nature wins. 

Scotland is just the knobbly bit on the top of Great Britain. It’s easy to forget how big and diverse it really is. I’ve been to the Highlands a few times but never to the bottom west before. It’s a beautifully county and very friendly. It’s scattered with gardens and I’m making it my mission to visit as many as hubB and Miss C will let me. 

In between I’m laying in the hot tub and going wrinkly. It’s a tough life! 

Unexpected bounty. 

Hubby visited a friend last night, who has recently moved to a lovely barn conversion with a walled fruit and veg garden many of us dream of. He returned with a carrier bag full of peaches. 

Now I have to be honest at this point. I hate peach. I even find the smell of them pretty off putting. Let alone the floral scented taste. Hubby ate one instantly, declared it lovely but admitted he couldn’t eat them all. I unpacked the rest of the bag and finding most to be over ripe decided jam was needed and quickly. 

This morning found me frantically searching the internet for a recipe that didn’t involve canning. It’s a skill I don’t have, would like to learn, but not today! 

I found a honey apricot recipe that looked fairly simple so I started with that. Boil together honey, water and sugar. Add sliced fruit. Boil a bit longer. Put into jars. After lots of chopping and peeling I only had enough for one jar so I gave it a go but wouldn’t recommend it just yet. 

I was however then left with a big pile of pieces that looked jam perfect. 

I also found quite a good Peach and raspberry conserve recipe in this book. I didn’t have the pectin or jam sugar it insisted I need but I do have raspberries. In my garden! 

I rushed out to pick some but not before measuring the fruit and adding an equal quantity of granulated sugar. The recipe said less sugar and to leave over night but I only needed a guide so I decided to ignore that! 

2lb each of peach and sugar. I left it while Miss C made some flapjack and we had some lunch. Gave it a good stir and added 1/2 lb raspberries, which was all that were ready in the garden. I then heated it gently until the sugar dissolved while Miss C wandered in and out commenting on how good it smelt and I tried not to sniff at all. 

It dissolved fairly quickly and I soon got it boiling but it did take a good 20 minutes, and quite a lot of scum, to get to the point I felt it was ready. 

I put in a knob of butter to disperse the scrum and, having heated my jars in the oven, started to jar it up. I must admit at this point that I don’t have a jam funnel but this one, that came with the dishwasher to fill the salt dispenser, works a treat! I hate having two utensils in the cupboard when one will make do. I’m tight like that!

The book suggests conserve only keeps for 6 months but as I made it in a jam style I don’t think I have to worry about that. 

If I’m honest I put the left overs in a small bowl in the fridge to try later. Later has arrived and even I can see a certain appeal to it. I think keeping it for any amount of time could be the real problem. 

It’s very summery tasting. I might even enter a jar in next month’s village show, which is high praise indeed from someone who hates peaches! 

Beaten by the pollination. 

My poly tunnel is like a jungle this year. Everything is growing and fruiting. 

I have 4 melon plants and every day we find another young fruit hanging enticingly on the nets. 

Today one looked and felt ripe enough to harvest so with great excitement we brought it into the kitchen and laid it on the surface to await our teatime treat. 

It didn’t smell very ‘melony’, so I did wonder, especially as our cucumbers have tasted horrible this week. However we carefully cut it in half.

At that point it was obvious that it wasn’t the galia melon I’d expected. The flesh is to pale and the seeds to small. It tasted disgusting, bitter and sharp. 

Clearly my melons have been pollinated by the cucumbers and the cucumbers are being pollinated by the melons. 

It’s all got a bit muddled in the poly tunnel. Part of me is very disappointed. We have at least a dozen melons growing and lots of cucs. Part of me laughs at the power of nature. You just can’t beat it!! 

Finally it’s harvest time. 

At last, after what feels like a long wait, the crops are coming in. 

The onions and garlic are lifted and dried.

The cucumbers in the poly tunnel have been cropping for ages but the tomatoes, although they’ve grown so well, have been a long time ripening.

Now there are more every day although the Money Maker is a bit mushy and bland which is disappointing. They are cooking down well for the freezer though so they won’t go to waste. 

I’m not inundated with courgettes, which having seen some of the posts on social media I’m quite pleased about, but we have enough. There won’t be any chocolate courgette cakes or strange courgette soups and for that I’m happy! The peppers are the same, slow but steady. Some to eat and some to freeze for later, just as I would hope for. 

The last bag of potatoes has been tipped out. We’ve had a few meals out of each bag which is better than last year. I’ve been reading up on growing them and next year I intend planting them nearer the top of the bags. Apparently they can get lost if they go in to deep

The new apple trees have a very small crop. I think I should have taken them off really to help them establish better but  I didn’t and it’s to late now! 

The bollotti beans turned out to be a dwarf variety. ( I should have read the package more closely) and are going over much quicker than last year’s. I’m picking them plant by plant as they die. Not enough for a meal yet but at least they will keep without taking up freezer room. 

The raspberries are much later than last year but there are lots to come. The blueberries are coming in steadily, some fall off as I approach the bush and have to ripen on the windowsill but that seems to be working ok. This years crop is much improved on last year. Not least because with no chickens we have been able to keep the bushes in their old run away from feathered thieves. 

The bees have had a late surge of honey production. Usually I don’t extract after early July but this year the hives are overflowing and I needed to reduce the size of them for winter so it had to come off. This last batch is very thick and was much more difficult than usual to spin from the frames. 

The difference in colour and style from the different crops is amazing. The jar on the left is probably more lime and field bean, it’s runny and rich tasting. The jar on the right is predominately oil seed rape, it’s solid and very sweet. 

Today while shopping in Morrison’s I brought this magazine. It’s got an exclusive to Tesco label on it which made me smile, as did the quantity of free seeds it contained. I may not have started my Christmas shopping yet but I’ve started my spring veggie shopping and that’s even more exciting.

I’m planning bigger and better next year and I can hardly wait!