Friday, October 28, 2005

A different use for a pumpkin this weekend

Been out to play this afternoon and here is the end result.

I put a bowl inside the pumpkin upsidedown and wedged it with cellophane paper.

I laid another piece on top overlapping the edge and wedged in an oasis block sliced in half.

Then I just went wild! This is an undulating flower arrangement in a real green pumpkin that I grew myself. The foliage and sedum and rudbeckia seed heads are home grown too.

It is supposed to be interesting inasmuch as the flowers and foliage are all at different heights and angles and textures so are not uniform as they usually are. I was the only one that turned up with a real pumpkin - everyone else had posh bowls!

But I love it. It is full of the memories of all those hours chipping it out and the funny failure of my first attempt. I think it was worth it do you?

When I look at these photos in years to come I will remember getting up early in the morning doing all that cutting, chopping, roasting, mashing, and pulping of pumpkins!

The days are getting better all the time - so much good news.

bJust had a nice chat with Mrs M who is responsible for the allotments. She is happy for me to keep my chooks up the lottie, so wait until next summer! Her daughter has just bought some so Mrs M is going to find out where, and she knows where to get the food from - now there is a lovely lady. It is great living in a village!!

My new neighbour sounds like he will be good, as he works as a groundsman for a nearby council. As he is at work, that will explain why I haven't seen him yet - evenings and weekends, and we need a dry sunny weekend, but not forecast for this one, so I will have to be patient!

An advert is going into the Parish magazine advertising the vacant lotties, and also to remind all the lottie holders to keep theirs in good order and to pay their rent on time! No harm in that, is there, it is only right and proper after all? So next year should be good. Wouldn't it be wonderful it they were all being cared for and growing veggies etc.

By now you will know that I can see things through rose tinted glasses, with a romantic optimism that is not always realistic, but you never know do you? It only takes a bit of interest and enthusiasm for it to rub off onto others!

It is going to be great. So if someone out there lives in a village not far from Attleborough, Wymondham, or Watton, and wants an allotment....check out your parish magazine or the village notice boards, because it may be your village and you could have one or part of one and get to meet me! Poor soul!

A bit of useless information that I read a number of years ago.

Women use far more exclamation marks than men! I bet it was a man that wrote that! And what is wrong with it !!!!! huh? I have no hangups using them!!!

It is probably because the men can't find where they are!!

So for all of those lovely guys who call out,'Have you seen where the ! is?'

I am going to shout back and tell you

'IT IS OVER THE 1' !!!!!!!

Yes I did use more of them on purpose just to make you smile

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A perfect day for working up the lottie

It has been the perfect day for being up the lottie. The sun has been shining, there has been just a light breeze and it has not been too cold. So it was just my luck that I couldn’t go up there. My only compensation is that the soil would still be soaking wet so I would not have been able to do much, but knowing me I would have found something.

My youngest son phoned up just now, and Pat said, ‘Do you want to speak to the pin cushion; she is right next to me’. So my laughing son said, ‘I take it that you have had acupuncture again at the physio then.’ What with that and other torture, I mean treatment, and the flu jab this afternoon, it is sedate tasks for me today.

Things aren’t looking too good on the pumpkin front. That one I scooped out to use as a container for my flower arranging project on Friday is looking a bit floppy. A lady who used one last year, said that hers went mouldy, so I thought that I would attempt to dry mine – logical don’t you think? So I put it in the plate warming section at the bottom of my oven for a few hours to dry it. When Pat came home from bowls last night, he said that it felt o.k. like a football, so he put it back in and closed the oven door. This morning instead of being dried, it looked a bit sort of cooked! After all that hard work getting the middle out and all the cooking as a consequence - I just don't know what to do with it now!
And talking of which, I feel a bit of a fool. I was looking up on the internet at a seed site that I use a lot, and choosing my seeds for next year. I read up about seed saving for pumpkins amongst other things (wish I had got that far in the Vegetable growing book I am reading) and it said that pumpkins and squashes cross pollinate, so if you save the seeds you will not get what you are expecting. So that was a total waste of time and effort as I had saved hundreds of them from several varieties, particularly the butternut squash ones as they were such a success. So another job I did today, was to collect all the sheets of kitchen paper on which rows of clean and saved seeds lay and threw them in the compost bin!

I have bought all the flowers for my flower arrangement - the supermarket had just had a delivery so at least I had a bit of choice for a change. I have been gathering foliage from around the garden, and have to collect some more from somewhere, so I might have to take a walk along the lanes. I did that last year, just before Christmas and an old chap shouted out at me as I was cutting some common wild ivy – not from anyone’s garden, just along a hedge. I chatted to him, and said that I was only cutting a few bits for a Christmas present and that they wouldn’t be missed as there was literally miles of the stuff. I also remarked about his allotment (which is where mine is), he hadn’t recognised me in ‘normal’ clothes, and in the end I had to ‘tear myself away’. He turned from Mr Grumpy to Mr Friendly – and there really is not a problem with pruning a bit of wild common and garden green ivy from a hedge covered with it. Especially as it gets chopped off each year when the hedges get pruned! I think that he might have thought me to be a tourist!

Oops – gone of the beaten track as usual. After getting back from town, we decided to have egg and chips – well our version and a real treat after all the ‘healthy’ food we eat. Mind you this is just as healthy really as we opened a new sack of potatoes – oh decisions, decisions as to what variety to use next. We chose a sack of the sorted medium sized Cara, washed and gently rubbed them with a plastic pot cleaner, cut them into wedges, and put them on a baking tray on the highest heat in the oven for 25 minutes. I retrieved the tomatoes from the airing cupboard floor, (the shed being too cold for them), and chose a dozen to have with the chips and a lovely big egg each. I still can’t get over the flavour of tomatoes grown outside – even though these last ones had to have a helping had to finish ripening! You should try home made potato wedges with their skins on, they really are yummy. You can brush them or just the skin edge with oil if you want them really crunchy.

Some of the tomatoes were just about to go soft, so I picked out all the good ones and decided to make a cauldron of tomato soup which is bubbling away nicely as I speak. I think that it tastes too strong, and want to dilute it, but Pat says that it has got 'guts' (a new culinary term?) and that he likes it just the way it is. I shall be having a dollop of cream in mine when I serve it. But for now it is going to be frozen. I know how a squirrel feels now with all the food storage I have been doing this year!

It is such a shame that we have just eaten the last of our fresh tomatoes – I ate a few more raw as I was preparing the soup, just so that I can keep that memory with me all winter. I do not intend buying salads or tomatoes from the shops this winter, I want to eat only seasonal foods so it made eating those last fresh, sweet, juicy raw tomatoes even more of a treat.

Chatting about eggs at lunchtime, I mentioned that I was so looking forward to getting my chickens and that I was being really good for a change and not rushing off impulsively to buy them, but I was finding it difficult not to do so. Pat must have been feeling sorry for me, as he said that if I was sure that I wanted them and that the ‘flu’ thing was alright, I could go ahead get them anytime. I feel that I do still need to talk to my neighbours first, just to make sure that they won’t object to me keeping them in my garden over winter. I should not think they would, as we both have fences and there is a 6ft conifer hedge all the way around – but in this climate of ‘pandemic’ speak I feel that it is only fair. If they do object then I shall keep them up the lottie over winter and just go up there every day to visit.

I have been emailing the company that I am getting my little hen house and run from, and they say that as the run is fox proof, there is no real need to lock them up every night as they go in to roost by nature. The run would have to be protected in the winter, by carpet or something on top of the run near where the hen house is to prevent draughts though. It will not be the same as looking out and seeing them running around in my garden will it? Not long now, I will find out one way or the other next week.

Off to get the flu jab now.

Hope you enjoyed today as much as I have.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Stepford Wife is alive and well and living in Norfolk - Well almost!

Do you ever get those days when you get up early because you can’t sleep and do not quite know what to do with yourself?

Well I had one of those today. I finally gave in to it and got up at 6am, quietly shut the bedroom door, and turned off the alarm (keeping fingers crossed that I had not disturbed the sleeping ‘lord of the minor’) – no that is not misspelt, our home would fit into a manor’s sitting room!

First stop my little ‘office’ to check my mail. I just love that expectant feeling you get when you click on your inbox and you see New Mail in red letters – it’s always a nice feeling – not as good as years ago when you heard the letter box rattle and there was a handwritten letter for you – but the next best thing I guess.

I hurriedly type in the password and click to see how many messages I have. Luckily I do not get SPAM as I have managed to automatically block them out, but if a stray cheeky one gets through it goes straight into the bin without me even looking at it. I just wish the junk mail through the post that I get each day would automatically do the same!

I had a mail from Richard of Down the Lane fame – if you haven’t yet visited his website, you are probably one of the few. Click on my link after reading my drivel – for some seriously good information. I read a couple more mails and wrote a few before writing a bit of blog.

Then I did what I said I would, and went out in the rain to the garage to get in the big trug of carrots and my witch’s cauldron. It took me almost two hours to rub the mud off, top and tail them, peel them and slice them, blanch them and bag them – after all that I got 7lb of prepared carrots which went into 20 bags. It did seem a lot of hard work for a 20 meal return. But boy do they taste good, I would probably had another bag full if I hadn’t kept nibbling them.

When I updated my allotment diary later I noticed that I had cooked and frozen a lot of carrot, parsnip, and potato mash, and of course I have been forgetting all the thinnings that we have been eating and the ones I have given away. I still have a row of Fly a Way too, if the slugs do not get there first, so I haven’t done too badly for about £3 of seeds

After breakfast I started reading more of – Grow your own vegetables by Joy Larkcom. Pat laughs at me as I read it like a novel – alternating it with my murder mystery that is my bedtime reading. I am reading it from start to finish even all the introductory pages. I was tempted to skip some of those, but for some reason I didn’t. I now have read all about composting, manuring, liming, mulching, fertilising and all that side of things – with the hope that some of it might have sunk in. How much is practical or relates to me (how to build a breeze block compost bin for example) I am not sure of, but you never know do you?

I would have liked a few colour pictures dotted here and there just to brighten it up a bit, but I guess it is designed to concentrate the mind more. I stopped at the green manure charts, and decided that Chapter 4 could wait until later.

My next task was to hollow out a big green pumpkin for my flower arranging workshop on Friday. Easier said than done. Pat carried it in for me as it was too heavy and I set about it with a big carving knife stabbing through the top trying make a circle. Trying to pull the top off was the next challenge. Ten more minutes of cutting and hacking and I got a hole, a bit lopsided but it was a start. There followed an hour of removing the seeds – putting some of them to one side to save for seed sharing and the slow process of hacking it all away a bit at a time. This took a lot of patience on my part, and I soon had a huge pile of pumpkin chippings and some big chunks which I reserved for lunch.

(The next time you see this it will have flowers in it.)

It was the first time I had grown this green variety (well not surprisingly as this is only my second year!)

The first thing I noticed is that the flesh is a lot paler than the Hokkaido orange pumpkin. I used the flesh to make a cauldron of pumpkin soup, with the addition of onions, black pepper, stock and the last couple of bags of last years frozen pumpkin. I fried off the onions in some olive oil before adding the pumpkin and stock and left it to simmer whilst I cooked lunch. Roasted legs of free range chicken with a dusting of garlic salt and dried herbs, which took the same time to cook and on the same baking tray as the pumpkin chunks, with steamed French beans and carrots of course.

The roasted pumpkin turned a deeper shade of yellow and tasted wonderful and the leftover chunks were added to the soup cauldron. It was moister than the Hokkaido variety and virtually melted in the mouth, so I shall definitely grow them again next year.

The sun came out and it was difficult for me to restrain myself from going up the lottie, all that was needed was a good excuse – and the trug full of kitchen waste was just the one I needed.

Pat hadn’t been up there for a few weeks so decided to come with me so we were able to load up his car with the grass cuttings as well which was handy.

The muddy track was really soggy and slippery with all the torrential rain we have had. It was so windy almost as bad as ‘Wilma’. There was a cacophony of sound as the sheets of corrugated iron, played their individual tunes as they rattled against wood and metal posts. The clouds were whizzing by like one of those nature films which is fast forwarded over a period of time. I love it when that happens, you can tilt your head back and stare up at the sky, rocking in the wind and it makes you dizzy.

I can not stress how windy it was, it is an open field site and there is almost always a breeze even in the height of summer. The wind had blown lots of things around, and lifted the corners of the black plastic sheeting I was using as a mulch until the frosts set in. I had weighted it down with old metal pipes, a wheel barrow, and all sorts too lumber. Those barrels I got from the fish farm the other week came in handy and soon got filled up with water and used as even more weights. I filled up 6 big plastic milk bottles with water to weigh down the fleece homemade cloche covering the January King cabbages, as the wind had ripped the fleece away from the tent pegs.

Pat ‘inspected’ the site, and commented on the remains of my bonfire and told me how I should have done it and what to do next. (He thought I had made just the little pile and not noticed that I had burnt 80 or more 6-7ft branches that I used for my rows of climbing beans.

The broad beans are really romping up now, and the Japanese onions too. I might have to rig up some sort of cloche to protect the beans if we get a hard winter. Oh well, I will know not to sow them until November next year.

I took a photo of the next three plots to record the ‘before’ photos – I will take a few of the progress and give them to my new neighbour as a surprise. Pat remarked jokingly, ‘He hasn’t done much has he? You were up here working the day you took yours over!’

I expect that he will get one of the chaps up there to just go over it with a tractor and plough it all in – just the right time of year, but a bit too soggy at the moment.

The wind was so fierce that we had a job closing the shed door; it really took my breath away. Reluctantly I had to come home, I would have loved to have stayed longer but there was nothing I could do apart from cutting some dahlias and Rudbeckia seed heads.

I have to bag up the pumpkin soup now before going to bed. I mashed it and gave it a go with my hand whizzer and it is a lovely pulp. I’ll bag it up with labels reminding me that I have to add a bit more water and milk before using as soup. Hmm I can imagine eating that in the conservatory in the winter, looking out onto the snow covered little lawn (and if I am lucky 2 chooks) – a bowl of steaming pumpkin soup, with melted cheese on top and a doorstep chunk of thick granary bread – Anyone for lunch?

Oh and the reason I was a little Stepford wife for a while today. It is physio day again tomorrow - and I have that dread you get when as a child, knowing that you are going to be grounded, rush around and cram in as much as you possibly can before you are told to sit down and behave yourself. I usually spend most of the day up the lottie, on a Tuesday each week,but am trying a different tack to see if that makes any difference.

I really must bag up that pumpkin soup.

Sweet dreams.

I have just bagged up 6lb of pumpkin soup pulp which will make about 40 servings when water and milk are added when defrosted. That was from one green pumpkin and half a dozen home grown onions - now that was achieved with very little nurturing all summer. Off to look up the name in case you are interested.

HOT GOSSIP - Yippee!

I braved the wind and rain again to go out last night for another 'Scrapbook' workshop. But you probably don't want to read about the 12 of us having a great time in a tiny village hall tucked down a remote twisty turny lane in the middle of nowhere (it probably isn't so bad in daylight, but it sure is the back of beyond on a wild October night).

Get on with it woman I hear you say!

Mrs M phoned whilst I was out last night with the news that the person who took over 3/4 acre next to me for the past two years and left it to grow prizewinning mammoth weeds, has decided to give it up! Yippee. She thought that I might have already heard the gossip on the village grapevine she said apparently. But as I am not one for gossip, I hadn't.

There are now two further 1/4 acre plots available, which can be let in reduced sizes, so I am thinking of volunteering to write up something for the village magazine to get some really interested people up there.

If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
If you're happy and you know it and you really want to show it
If you're happy and you know it clap you hands!

No apologises for spontaneous outburst of joyful singing and hand clapping. I am so looking forward to meeting my new neighbour and sharing a chat over the 'garden' fence. They call our allotments 'gardens' in these here parts of the wild east.

(I wonder if he would keep an eye on my chooks when I go away, I could have even more then. Pat did say 'so long as I don't have to have anything to do with them and they don't interfere with us going away')

Hmmm - Pause for thought!

I will be able to show you the progress over the next year of both our lotties and can compare notes.

It is 6.45am and I am off to peel those carrots - I never did get around to it yesterday.

Clap clap Clap clap Clap clap Clap clap Clap clap Clap clap Clap clap

La la lala la la lala la la lala la la lala la la lala la la lala la lala

Monday, October 24, 2005

Torrential rain on a Monday causes a bit of philisophical thinking - Surprised?

I was reading a blog about 100 mile diet early this morning. A lady, living in Canada and some friends, decided to try and feed themselves on organic food from within a 100 mile radius of where they live. (They did not grow it for some reason), which reminded me of an article in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago, I was horrified to learn the distances that our basic foodstuffs travel to get to the supermarkets. I am sure that most of you reading are well away of similar news articles. Often things in the paper are exaggerated of mis-reported, I am well aware of that, but this information was actually true. Including in the list of items were things like potatoes, that are imported during our traditional growing season, ditto peas and strawberries, tomatoes – the list went on - which seems crazy.
I knew that exotic fruit and vegetables were obviously imported, but not the distance, and also vegetables out of ‘season’, but the rest was quite a shock that the average weekly shop would have travelled 10,000 miles!

The article appeared on a week when I was rather worn out from the never ending work up the lottie, as much as I love it my body was protesting. I was also feeling guilty at driving my little car the mile there and the mile back, thinking that it was not a very eco friendly thing to do. I understood that I always take a car full of stuff up there and often bring back more than I can carry.

I am usually also ‘fit to drop’ and a rather bedraggled scarecrow by the end of my toils. The thought of walking through the village looking like that without an explanation sandwich board on my front and back saying something like: JUST SPENT 2/3/4 HOURS WORKING IN POURING RAIN/SEARING HEAT/SNOW/WIND, SHIFTING PIG MANURE, DIGGING WEEDS, etc to justify my appearance filled me with horror. It wouldn’t be such a problem living in a town where you might walk right through it and not see anyone you know. But village life is different.

I am digressing a bit, but it brought to mind an incident that happened a few years ago. I used to go on four mile circular walks on the lanes outside the village every morning come rain, snow or shine. Of course you have to dress up in proper walking clothes in the winter to help protect you from the elements. These include proper walking boots, waterproof trousers and jacket on top of several layers of clothes, trousers tucked into socks as it is easier to wash mud caked socks everyday than waterproof trousers. Unbeknown to me, a ‘neighbour’ who lives farther up the lane must have observed me on these occasions.

I remember going as a visitor to a meeting in the village hall some months later to hear a Speaker that I was interested in. This ‘neighbour’ was chairing the meeting and she announced in a loud voice, ‘Doesn’t ‘lottie’ look nice for a change. What a difference ‘lottie’. (not my real name) Needless to say that I was both embarrassed and hurt, blushing down to my toe nails my sense of humour kicked in and I replied, ‘It has been said in the past, that I scrub up well’. In hindsight I think it is hilarious and something that would be perfect for a sitcom. - I still have the same hair colour, but my figure has change bit!

Living at then end of a lane without passing traffic, some people only see me when I am just going up and down to my lottie or walking the lanes. I take a different route to the village centre. But in all areas of our lives people see us in different mode don’t they? I had just forgotten about that part of life after I retired.

Anyway, back to the distance our food travels. After reading the article and finding out the true cost to grow, and transport the food, in terms of the environment – fuels for providing heat, manufacturing pesticides to spray them with, the packaging, vehicles,ship,planes and all the rest of it – completely freed me of any guilt at using my car! I would like to avoid any food that travels many miles, but realistically it is virtually impossible unless you have a small holding and have orchards and livestock.

I now appreciate my home grown food even more. Not just for it’s better taste, but when I look at my plate I think, ……that has travelled a mile, the eggs a couple of hundred yards (soon to be feet when I get my chickens after Christmas all being well). It is a nice feeling I have to admit growing your own food, despite the ‘learning curve’ and failures. I have a freezer full of vegetables to last us to next harvest. O.K. there are shortages, of peas, no Brussels this year, but someone will have grown them, not many apple windfalls, or peppers, no aubergines, or cauliflower, but I can live without most of those, or just buy some.

My biggest gap is fruit, we eat lots, apples, pears, bananas, but I think I can justify buying them, even though once the British Cox’s are not available and the apples will be flown all the way from New Zealand – but we can’t give up on everything we love can we?

So as the torrential rain beats down incessantly and I can't get out and do what I want to do, I shall be donning my old coat - on top of my designer clothes - and trudging 10 yards to my garage for more of those orange things. So think of me, slaving over a kitchen sink in pink marigold gloves that will probably clash dreadfully with the carrots and give me a headache - but it will take my mind off thinking of anything other than this lovely Victorian carrot man. It will be a shame to slice him up and freeze him but it will make my chore more interesting!

Keep your fingers crossed for sunshine this week or you'll not know what turns up in this blog - neither do I come to think of it!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

I keep seeing orange!

It was a cold day on Saturday here in Norfolk, and the ground was soaking wet from all the rain, but as the sky turned a lovely shade of blue and the sun started to shine, I just knew that I had to go up the lottie.

Just an hour to pull out those annual weeds around the parsnips and carrots and leeks, then back home to cook lunch and do other more urgent things the rest of the afternoon.

There was not a soul up the site, even the chickens on the top plot were quiet. But I wrapped up warm, donned my West Ham hat (mercifully without a bobble, and which I wear back to front for obvious reasons), strapped on my knee protectors, filled up the wheel barrow with everything I might need, and headed off into the wind.

Once I was down on my hands and knees with my trowel it was not so bad. I knelt on some of the black plastic beside the row of parsnips – big mistake. My knees made an indent and water drained off from elsewhere on the sheeting and created pools, which my knee pads soon soaked up! Won’t do that again - and added to the learning curve list! I tramped back to the shed and after a rummage around I uncovered my old kneeling pad – so back to basics again.

I had asked Pat to phone me after an hour as I have a habit of getting carried away and not knowing the time as I do not wear a watch.

It was hard work weeding the two 30 foot rows of parsnips and then the big space in between the rows which once had onions planted there.

It was whilst I was doing it that I contemplated making grass paths down this 'all veggie' section to create definable beds. When looking at other peoples’ websites I am envious of their lovely plots with raised beds and proper paths, but alas, finances and not being able to make them myself prevent that and size of site of course.

The men up the allotment prefer just to have a long plot that they plough up and rotovate every year. "Raised beds you can’t rotovate or plough" came with that knowing look again when they saw my three inherited ones. – I can see their point, it is easier trundling along on a tractor and then with a big beastie of a rotovator which digs all the weeds in etc.

After making the grass paths down the flower end of my lottie and seeing the results – definable spaces that seem psychologically more manageable for me, as I can look at a bed knowing that I can manage to plant or weed it in one go. But faced with a huge area, I find it a bit daunting and sometimes overwhelming, but it is more fiddly.

So what is easier do you think, mowing lawned paths or leaving a 3ft path that needs rotovating to keep the weeds down? Please leave your comments on this.

I was jolted out of thinking about this conundrum by the phone vibrating in my pocket – I could not believe it when he told me that an hour had passed already, and I still had three more rows to do! I managed to get an extension of an hour, so booked another ‘wake up’ call and went back to work.

Of course it is not only the digging out of the weeds by hand that took the time, but the many trips emptying the big plastic trug which I would just about lift and like an 18th century washer woman balanced it on my hip as I walked lopsidely to its final resting ground.

The carrot row I started on first were the Fly-A-Way variety. I have been rather disappointed with these, I have to say. Their germination rate was not as good as the Keratene seeds that I had which were left over from last year, and also they had not grown so well. I was also puzzled to see that some of them were almost papery with hollowed out middles!

Next came the Keratene row. These were huge in comparison, which was surprising, as both rows were planted on the same day, with rows of onions on either side and between them. They were more overgrown with annual weeds, and I found quite a number of the brightest and biggest slugs that I have every come across. They were the colour of the carrots and totally orange, not just around their ‘skirts’. I didn’t have my camera with me otherwise I would have taken photos. At first I thought that they were orange pieces of stone or worn bricks, and I cringed when I made the discovery that they were in fact HUGE slugs. As I came to them I picked them up and hurled them over the fence as far as I could into the middle of the acre of weeds next to my plot. (In hindsite I should have thrown them over my left shoulder and made a wish, after first accidentally spilling some salt onto them - hey, it might have worked, you don't know if you don't try it!) Only joking by the way, I couldn't waste the salt - I need it for the Caterpillar Cafe.

Further along the row I was flabbergasted to see a slug, with the barefaced cheek to be eating the top of a carrot! I never knew that slugs ate carrots. It was at that point that I decided that this back-breaking and aching weeding was a waste of time, so I turned my attention to digging up all that row of carrots and leaving the weeds.

A further phone call surprised me yet again that another hour had passed so I packed up and headed off home with a big trug of carrots filling the little boot of my car, which I now have to wash, peel, slice, and blanch to freeze. The alternative was to leave them at the mercy of the slugs and I didn’t spend hours on my hands and knees all summer to let those thugs eat them!


In this picture you can see on the left the Keratene carrots. These are the smallest and average size some of them are quite a bit bigger. They are on a sheet of kitchen paper so that you can gauge the size. On the right are the biggest of the Fly-a-Way carrots.

Now these carrots do not look like the ones in the supermarket or in the pictures in the seed catalogue of smooth uniform carrots.


So my question is, are they ‘normal’. They have grooves in them, but those do not go deeply as a rule, but they need peeling because of them. They have been grown in an open ‘field’ without being watered, just left to nature, but we do have flint in our soil which can cause distortion. Have I left the Keratene in too long do you think? They are the most strongest tasting of keratin carrots that I have ever come across, you just can’t beat the flavour and if you have a juicer – then wow – they are fantastic. The Fly-A-Way carrots on the other hand still have the same grooves but the crop have mainly been so small the ones in the photo are the bigger ones. The harvest from them has been very poor.

Can you tell me if I am doing something wrong or if this is usual?

I spent the afternoon roasting pumpkins – Hokkaido – and I mashed 6lbs of them and frozen them in containers. The rest, a further 9lbs I have bagged up to use in stews, curries, mixed mash potato ‘cakes’, soups, cakes, or just defrosted and warmed through to have as an accompanying vegetable.

We used just three pumpkins, washed them cut them up and removed the seeds, and cut them into chunks, (with skin still on) and roasted them with a touch of olive oil until they just started to caramelise, so that when they are thawed it gives me the opportunity to roast them for a few minutes for a browner colour or to use them as they are.

I am still doing lots of research on chickens and am keeping up to date with what DEFRA have to say on the subject. Seems o.k. so far. I think that with a couple of chickens, kept away from wild fowl (or parrots) are not considered a risk, and the worst scenario would be that they would have to live in a shed – as a last resort, so I think that I shall bite the bullet and get some – after Christmas, as they won’t be laying over winter I do not think.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Recipe: Red Snapper - Please laugh with me not at me when you read this!

I am having one of those days!

I took photos with my digital camera of all the stages for the following recipe. From the assembled ingredients to the finished cooked fish in my old green salmon fish dish you can see in a previous recipe BLOG.

Each time I turned the camera off it came up with a message but I did not have my reading specs to hand and it usually says something at that stage. We were just about to eat the meal when Pat said, 'Don't you think you should find your glasses and read the message?' 'O.K.' I said reluctantly, as by this time I was fed up with impersonating David Bailey and wanted to just get on and eat it.

Guess what the message said – No Card in Camera!

So the photos attached are just a couple of quick ones before we ate it. Sorry about presentation there was parsley garnishing the fish in cooking dish in the first photos!

You will see from my Thursday 13th October BLOG, we bought quite a bit of fish from the farm in a neighbouring village, hence quite a few fishy recipes appearing here, but there will be other recipes as we go through the winter using my home grown veggies and store of chicken and anything else that takes my fancy.

I am not one to plan what I eat, although my husband asks me every day, I just say ‘Whatever you fancy’ so he gets fish or chicken out of the freezer and if he forgets I do a vegetarian.

Then unless I get inspiration for a slow cooking dish, I just rustle something up about half an hour before we want to eat.

Here is today’s offering.

The tomatoes were ripe so I used the last of those that had been sunbathing in the conservatory (more in drawers in the shed to check on!).

Baked Red Snapper


2 fillets of Red Snapper or (4 or if you are doing it for more people)
*Juice of a lemon
*A few Glugs of Olive oil – say 2 tablespoons
*1 chopped or thinly sliced clove of garlic – mine was a juicy thick one
*1 tsp dried Oregano (I was not going out in torrential rain for fresh, but use 2 fresh.)
Tomatoes – nice and ripe, slice, chop or quarter – whichever looks pretty to you
S & P to taste, but I never use salt. Fish swim in it all day don’t they?


Wash the fish and pat dry and give them a couple of twists of freshly ground pepper.

Put everything marked with a * into a bowl and mix well. In an appropriate sized baking dish or tin (shallow sided, not casserole dish) pour in the liquid reserving a spoonful for each fillet. Lay fillets flesh down in juice whilst you cut up the tomatoes. Turn them over and coat them well with the juice and leave flesh side up. Arrange the tomatoes around and coat in juice too. Put a couple of slices on each fillet and spoon over reserved juice.

My snapper took 15 minutes to cook on 200c in a fan oven. Conventional oven to need to preheat and check the equivalent temperature.

To go with it I washed and dried one of my small butternut squashes. Cut off the stalk, cut it into quarters lengthwise, scooped out the seeds, drizzled a little virgin olive oil over it and baked it on a metal baking sheet for 10 minutes before the snapper went in, (so for a total of 25 minutes) for a lovely caramelly, soft, buttery, flavour. I did not remove the skin and you would never have known it - as it just melted in your mouth.

We mopped up the gorgeous juices with a chunk of granary bread from the Bakery.


I love garlic but I only used one clove as an enhancement to the lemon juice, you don't want to overpower the flavour of the Snapper. The flavours of lemon, garlic, oregano, and tomatoes worked really well. I should think that you could use a tin of tomatoes instead in the winter, but I will use my roasted tomatoes. I would also serve this with potatoes, and steamed veggies - mange tout, green beans, carrots, that would look attractive on a plate wouldn't it?


I labelled my courgettes, squash and pumpkins using old washed lolly sticks, with a permanent marker pen. The tops of the sticks grew tiny toadstools – honestly – and the marker pen writing ended up illegible.

The butternut squash plants got mixed up with the courgettes and shared the same bed. I was cutting them as tiny courgettes all summer, until one we had a week of rain and they got bigger and resembled butternuts. But having only bought butternut squash from the supermarket that were peanut colour I was a bit confused and thought that these must be courgettes as they were green, so carried on using them like that, leaving about 10 near the end of the season to get a bit bigger as I was swamped with courgettes and not many people wanted them as freebies ad they didn’t eat them.

I cut them at the end of the season, and put the on the window ledge in the conservatory and they are going supermarket butternut colour now.

I really am a beginner and this years learning curve is HUGE!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Physiotherapy confined me to barracks but a few dozen apples a day........

The after effects of my trip to the physio meant that I had to take it easy this afternoon. Which is usually difficult, but not on this occasion!

After making lunch and having a rest, I got itchy feet and needed a distraction so decided to enlist Pat’s help to sort out the bag of windfall apples we were given a week ago.

I peeled and he cut out the bad bits and cut them into chunks. Sitting here typing this I am imaging the reader thinking ‘Why on earth is she going to all that trouble? Why bother, why nor just throw them in the bin?’

Quite honestly I do not have a sensible answer to that. It comes from not bearing to waste good food – must be in my genes. To make something out of ‘free food’ that would otherwise have gone to waste is very satisfying. Usually I would have walked the back lanes and gone blackberry picking and added them to the apples, but I could not manage to do that this year.

On tasting the apples I found that they were dessert ones, so added some raisins and gently cooked them in a pan with the lid on tight so they just steamed. The raisins absorbed all the apple juice and the result was a light fluffy apple mixture, just right for apple strudels, pies, or crumbles. We could not resist having some just warm with hot custard, for tea though, and you’ve guessed it, the rest is destined for the freezer.

I had to give in and have a lie down for an hour this afternoon, but once up I typed up the blog, and also searched for and found a template for seed packets. I was really thrilled with this as I am drying some of my seeds and intend giving them as little presents. Probably popping them in with the Christmas cards.

I make my own cards too; although not cost effective given the time and effort and materials used, compared with the cheap boxes readily available in the shops, but I get a lot of pleasure from it making a card with a particular person in mind, and knowing that however it turns out, it will be original, and the recipient will not be getting another the same. Often at Christmas we get several cards identical, I expect you do too, and there is nothing wrong with that at all, I just like to imagine the surprise when my card is opened.

Ditto cards for every occasion.

This is one that I made for friends - the couple were American and French, and I themed it to suit the interests of the bride. It is a copy of a Victorian picture, which I pasted onto lovely card that had a silver shimmer to it and was the exact colour of the shading on picture background. I framed the picture with very old lace, highlighted it and the couple with silver here and there to accentuate it. The picture I had made into a 3D decoupage by printing it out four or five times and layering it. I then wrote the messages in both French and English on paper inside which I had cut the edges to look like lace and tinted them with silver too, finishing off by tying it together with silver thread. It took me hours, but I probably got more pleasure out of doing it than the bride and groom did receiving it - and again, it is original. If you click on the card you might just be able to see the detail.

So when I have finished most of my allotment work and I am trapped indoors with the weather, I shall be making my Christmas Cards, and seed packets. And after Christmas I will be saving all my cards to cut up and change and transform them with other embellishments into totally different ones.

Having run out of things to say – for a change- I want to end this blog today, by thanking everyone who has been logging on to have a look.

I am exceedingly surprised and delighted as it was just really done for me and a few friends and family to see what I had been up to, and I never dreamt for one minute that I might get a ‘following’. I am tickled pink that so many of you enjoy the ramblings of an ordinary middle aged lady, in the Norfolk countryside, learning how to grow vegetables.

Thanks too for all the complimentary feed back.

From Scarecrow to Paltrow

So here I am again, to continue where I left off on Tuesday – gosh was that only yesterday, I seem to pack so much into each day that I sometimes can’t believe it!

I arrived home and had just enough time to metamorphose from scarecrow to Paltrow before Pat came home. O.K. perhaps the Gwenyth Paltrow bit is a hyperbole, but viewed in the mirror without my contact lenses in, I can easily see myself as a supermodel or scarecrow!

I had just started to prepare lunch, and as always got a bit carried away – that will go on my epitaph but not for at least 45 years or more God willing.

My intention was to do salmon with a simple ratatouille with some of the vegetables I have picked over the past couple of days. But of course, as you are probably getting to realise I am easily sidetracked.

From my last lottie BLOG you will see that I had completely forgotten about the 30lb of green tomatoes that were languishing in a chest of drawers in the garden shed.

It was with great trepidation that I went out there. I hesitantly opened the bottom drawer, withdrew the sheet of newspaper to reveal…… another arc of my learning curve. Yes there were lots of lovely red tomatoes mixed with the green…that is the good news. The bad news was that I left them on the vine – well you always see these adverts in the supermarket and the paper about the tomatoes being so much better left on the vine don’t you, and I never read anywhere about not doing so. DON’T DO IT! What I did not realise was that the vines go mouldy, must be the moisture in them or something, but they were like furry triffids. The tomatoes were fine though. I picked all of them off the vine, replaced the paper and put back the green ones. I did the same with the next two drawers and came away with a huge washing up bowl heaped to the top with ripe tomatoes.

SO, I thought that whilst I was doing lunch for just the two of us, it would be just as easy and more economical as the oven was on, to do a bit more and freeze it. I ended up using a large amount of the tomatoes, the leeks from yesterday, a few big onions, all the peppers I picked, 4of the cucumbers – deseeded, one of the small pale green pumpkins you can see in an earlier blog, half a butternut squash (we had the other half the day before) a jar of roasted peppers from Lidl (£1.89) because I wanted to add a bit more colour, I think that was it I put it all in my giant plastic bowl with some glugs of virgin olive oil just to give it a shine, mixed it all up with my (clean) hands; I just love the feel of that bit, and poured it all into two big baking trays. You can see the results in the photos. If you click on the photos to enlarge the picture, you can see that in the baking tin the ratatouille is cooked so that everything is just tender. This is so that when frozen, then later thawed I have the option of microwaving it to eat as a side vegetable, I can throw in some curry powder or herbs and make an almost instant curry or mediterranean dish, I can lay fish on top and roast it for 10 - 15 minutes and it will have that lovely caramally roasted look, turn it into a soup, or add it to a stew or casserole - the list of things to do with this is endless, so I won't go on about it your imagination will do the rest.

In this photo of my fish dish, I used more tomatoes, and some small diced up chunks of butternut squash, lots of dried basil (my fresh has run out) and some freshly ground pepper and some olive oil. A feast for two in one dish - less washing up! This photo is the 'before' one, we were ravenous by the time it was cooked so didn't stop to take a photo, but trust me, we ate the lot!

This is the 9lbs of ratatouille to freeze for winter use.

Doesn’t it look lovely and pretty?

I love colourful food. Don't you?

This year up the lottie has been worth every minute, when you sit down on a wet and miserable day and get to eat summer food.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Recipe: Quick Pepper Pesto Salmon


Salmon steaks or fillets.

Pepper Pesto – any make.

Sliced yellow or orange peppers (optional)


You can cook this in the oven, under the grill or in a frying pan.

Spread each piece of fish with pesto sauce on both sides to taste – like spreading a slice of bread.

If you have time, leave to marinade for half an hour before cooking for a stronger flavour.

To grill: Place fish in a metal dish, arrange the peppers around making sure they are coated with the pesto.

Cook on medium heat turning once.

To fry: As above but place everything in a frying pan and cook on medium heat.

Oven: In a baking tin with peppers on top of the fish. 180c fan, 350f, Gas 5, 200c Takes about 10 – 15 minutes depending on thickness of fish.

To Serve: Place on a warm plate, arrange sliced peppers on top if using, pour over juices.


Serve with salad, wholemeal bread, rice, or pasta. Works well with tuna steaks.

Tuna only takes a couple of minutes to cook in a frying pan. do not over cook it or it makes it dry. Tuna is delicious cooked 'medium rare'.

Recipe: Salmon on a bed of runner beans

4 salmon fillets or 4 salmon steaks (about 8oz or 225 grms each)

2 medium onions (thinly sliced) – red are nice for the colour, but any will do (optional)

8 streaky rashers of bacon – (or slice up back bacon)

A big handful of pine nuts – I love them so use a big handful (optional)

1 or 2 lemons quartered

1 clove of garlic

2 big handfuls of sliced runner beans (about 1½ lb or 700 grms)

Vegetable or Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper – just lightly, don’t overdo it ( I don’t add salt to anything it is more healthy but you can add a sprinkling once it is cooked if you feel you need it. But try it first)


Warm up the oven on a high setting first. Gas 7, Fan 200c, 425f or 220c

You need a suitable roasting tin that will take all the ingredients comfortably.

Start by spreading the runner beans and onions (if using) on the bottom and then sprinkle the garlic and pepper on top, coat the beans lightly with oil and toss those all together with your hands.

Snuggle the fish pieces into the runner beans, then sprinkle on the pine nuts, tuck the lemon pieces prettily around, and finish off by drizzling a little more oil over the top.

Protect the fish pieces with a bit of kitchen foil for the first five minutes then remove it.

Check after a total of 15 minutes cooking to see if it’s all cooked. (Don’t over cook the fish).

Serve on warm plates.

That’s it, you don’t need anything else.


Variations on the theme: Add fresh tomatoes and omit the lemon. Add thinly sliced peppers. Just experiment. I do. It also works with frozen runner beans, and cod. Oily fish I found were too strong so don’t try it with those.

I just throw it all in the tin measuring by the handful, you don’t have to be strict with the weights. My recipes are based on what I have to hand so you can be quite versatile and substitute similar things to experiment – but they have to cook in 15 – 20 minutes

Great fun making balls

Last night I went to a nearby village for a workshop on making Christmas Tree decorations. I had a great time, and everyone was very friendly. It was put on by the NAFAS Flower Club that I belong too. Each month we see a professional demonstrator doing flower arrangements and it is great. This month we did something different.

Silly me forgot all about it as I mentioned in yesterday’s BLOG, so unusually for me, did not do any preparation work.

For the project we need to cover a dry foam ball with tissue paper before the workshop.

To make the balls we needed material, braid, ribbons, anything to decorate the ball with, plus of course glue, pins, scissors etc.

I had hurried looked though my junk box of bits and pieces I saved for card making and luckily found a piece of red material, some bits of ribbon (but not enough as it turned out) and little glass bits.

Those who did the proper preparation bought all sorts of materials, tassels, beads, sequins, and ribbons.

If any of you want to know how to make them – just get in touch with me via the comments box, with your email address, and I will type up how we made them, and scan a template in for the material. They were great fun to do and look very professional.

I bought five more balls so that I can make all different ones. I have a blind penfriend and thought that it would make a nice present – using different textures, like velvet, silk, and maybe different beads; at least it would be original. I might even spray it with perfume or try drops of aromatherapy oil.

This is the one I did out of odds and ends but I haven't finished it yet. I will add a tassle and some more glass bits.

The photos do not do the balls justice actually, as they really look good and sparkle in the light. My camera flash has blotted out the rich gold textured strips, the thick braid ribbon that is covered in little gold and pearl beads, the red and gold glass diamonds have a mirror type effect too. Not bad for a first effort I thought. Will look better finished.

Ging Gang Gooley Gooley...........

When I write my BLOG it isn’t always easy – like now – I am sitting here in front of this white blank page and think what shall I say? As I am typing this I can hear Pat outside giving the lawn a bit of a mow before the rain starts – which looks like any minute, bless him.

It was really cold here today and even colder up the lottie with the wind blowing fiercely. But as long as it is not raining, you can be sure that I will spend as much time as I can out of doors before the real winter weather sets in.

For once I did not have a definite plan, my head was too full of chickens! I was out before Pat went to golf and up the lottie by 10.00am. On the way I saw Geoff on his cycle, so stopped for a chat. He said the wind was in the right direction for a bonfire. It has to be blowing away from the pig farm – so as not to panic the pigs naturally, away from the new houses – built a couple of years which back along the first allotment. We also have to be extremely careful about the field at the bottom of our allotments, as if a spark flew across in dry conditions the field would go up in smoke. And right up the top, they can’t have a bonfire at all, as it is right next to the hay barns. But I’m not at the bottom, and I’m not at the top, so now you know why, it is my favourite spot! -As usual I have digressed!

Geoff told me about his bonfire, and I said I had some stuff to burn, then remembered that I did not have any matches, so he gave me his box to borrow, as he was just off for a cuppa.

My first job was to get some newspaper out of the shed and to start the bonfire of dry bean sticks. I had used these for a couple of years and they would not last a third. They were tree prunings – like big pea sticks – and they make a good framework for climbing beans as they twist not only up the main stem but also on the branches, so they are more spread out, let the air circulate so less prone to blow over in the wind, and are easier to pick. Pat is usually the bonfire boy whilst I do the donkey work while he plays. But whilst the boy’s away, I got to play (I haven’t broken the bad news to him yet). It was great fun; took me a time to get it started though as the wind was really strong. It burnt through so quickly, and I needed to slow it down as I had another two rows of bean supports to dismantle and burn. When Geoff came back he came over for a chat and to give me some advice on bonfire making, he added some damp rubbish from my neighbours plot and that damped it down a bit. From then on I looked like I was doing a Benny Hill speeded up walk as I rushed backwards and forwards up and down the allotment with arms full of branches, and debris. I even burnt the old stems of the Romanseco and broccoli. I can see the attraction of bonfires, it is a bit like painting isn’t it?

Once you start you can’t seem to stop. I managed to find all sorts of little bits of old wood here an there that I thought might come in handy for weighting down the nets and winter protection, but now I have the barrels from the Fish farm, I had no use for them and was able to burn them all. I was watching it burn, and went into day dream mode. I could smell the aroma of wood ash, and cooking broccoli and thought that if I had brought a couple of sausages and potatoes I could have had lunch up there. (I was in the Girls Life Brigade as a child but always wanted to be a Girl Guide as they got to go camping, and all we got to do was march up and down in parades on Sundays after church. Or so it seems 45 years after the event!)
My intention was only to stay a couple of hours and not to overdo things – but you know how it is once you get involved you soon get carried away. Geoff went home for his lunch and I ended up being there another two hours. Four hours in total!

I had the bonfire on the bare piece of ground where some of the potatoes had been, and I left it that way so that I had somewhere to have them over the winter. Now that the lottie is tidy and organised there was nowhere else. I had taken a rake with me to drag some of the debris onto the fire in a neat pile, and whilst keeping an eye on it, I checked out the Japanese onions, which seem to have settled in now and are sprouting nicely. I also noticed that the broad beans were up, so as I had the rake with me I earthed them up a bit as I don’t want them too tall for the winter. Well, actually that makes it sound like I know what I am talking about – which I don’t. The reason I earthed them up was in a panic. I bought the broad beans and read a book which said to plant them in early Autumn, which was when I planted them, on 3rd October, at least I thought it was early Autumn as the weather had turned. Since then I have read some articles which have said late October, others say 5th November and some that say on the shortest day. Geoff said I should have planted them on 11th November as that is when one of the other chaps always plants his and they grow well over winter! So when I told him when I planted mine, there was a scratching of head, and that ‘look’, which I can’t really describe, but it involves slowly shaking the head, pursing the lips whilst sucking in the cheeks, and the look which suggests that you have a lot to learn, - if you have experienced it you will know what I mean. So as soon as I saw they had poked two little leaves out of the ground, I quickly covered them with soil as I was embarrassed that they had germinated already – the weather having turned warm. In the book I was reading it said that the temperature had to be low for them to germinate. So now I do not know if they will survive the winter, if I will have to cover them with a cloche or what. So if anyone can give me the answer can they leave a comment please.

I picked some raspberries, just a yoghurt pot or so full, but they will cook nicely with the windfall apples my neighbour gave me last week. (Haven’t had time to peel and cook them yet, but that is on the ‘to do’ list for tomorrow after I have been to the physio).

Further up the lottie walking back to the shed to put my things away, I stopped to cut a couple of Romanesco heads for lunch tomorrow, then further up still, in the raised beds I picked a carrier bag full of salad leaves, and ate a ripe strawberry which was 'wicked' - strawberries in October? I never knew it was possible. Geoff had shouted out that I had better pick the strawberry as we are due a week of rain, -had I already spotted it and planned to anyway, if it hadn’t already been nibbled by slugs, which it hadn’t.

The next raised bed contained the tomato plants which need composting, so I started to pull some of those up which was fiddly as they had ties all up their stems to attach them to their supports. I discovered a dozen or so little ripe tomatoes, and ate some and took the rest home. I was getting pretty tired by then so I only did half the bed, the rest will wait for another day. (Cripes, I forgot to look at tommatoes in the drawers in shed, so much for the 'aide memoir' I wonder how long ago I wrote that. Another job for tomorrow.) I even managed to get sidetracked doing the tomato plants, as I spotted some more peppers had grown, yellow, dark green, and my VERY FIRST red one, so I was cock-o-hoop about that. Especially as Pat had heard on the radio on Friday an ‘expert’ say that you can only grow peppers under glass, so I am feeling quite a clever clogs as I just grew them under the sky!

The next raised bed had had the courgettes in interspersed with some leeks. Now that I have cleared the bed of the foliage, a few of the leeks looked a bit leggy and were on the hough, so I pulled them up to cook, as I couldn’t be doing with earthing them up too.

By then I was almost on my hands and knees, I had been working flat out for over four hours. Adrian had dropped off some more horse muck over the weekend, but left it neatly stacked in bags. I realised why – I had put all the bean foliage in the big compost bin on top of the horse manure, so he must have wondered if he should put it in the bin of top of it.

At that stage I packed up and came home, stinking of smoke, which somehow lost its appeal once I was away from the wood smoke and the novelty of the bonfire.

I just had the energy to have a shower before Pat was due home.

I am finishing this now, as it is getting late, but I have more to tell you, so will do it tomorrow.

So check back to see what I got up to last night – I will download some photos, and write about it too.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Sun, sand, rabbits, chickens and compromises - works every time!

It feels like I have just got back from having a holiday at the seaside, and sitting here it is hard to believe that it was only yesterday that we went to Hopton on Sea. We had glorious sunshine and it was nice to be beside the seaside albeit it the wind was a bit fresh. It is a lovely sandy coastline on that stretch of Norfolk where it joins with Suffolk. We could just walk from our accommodation across a nine hole golf course and we were right on the beach, with a choice of walking along the low cliff or on the sand. The tide was in and I fancied being childish and walking along the beach playing 'chicken' with the waves, as they were quite frisky with the wind. But I had my sensible husband to stop me misbehaving so we had a romantic walk along the cliff.

There was plenty of time to relax, read the papers, and chat before our Gala Dinner followed by a fantastic show which had me rocking and rolling to the great groups. (I did not show myself up, I hasten to add), as everyone was encouraged to dance. Being up on the huge balcony with seating areas and bar, there was room to dance your heart out without the scrutiny of being on the dance floor. My aches and pains today are in muscles not used up the allotment!

After a lavish breakfast, and relaxing walk in the glorious sunshine we were back indoors within an hour. The sun went in when we got here, but who cares, we are in fragile mode anyway after our late night.

It just so happened that I managed to slip the subject of chickens into our conversation last night, and hey presto I got a result.
So long as the chickens do not stop us from going away when we want to, and Pat does not have to have anything to do with them, then I can have them. He did ask what we are going to do with all the eggs, and I said give the surplus away, which baffled him even more as to why I should possibly want the expense and trouble of having chickens predominantly as pets. I will be getting them to earn their keep up the lottie by doing some weeding and pest control for me, as I intend having a portable unit and run, so that I can bring them back home over the winter in the garden so save the twice daily trips in bad weather. I have compromised and agreed to have just 2, and not the 4 in intervals over the year to fatten up for the freezer. Only because Pat is convinced he will be roped in to help gut or pluck them.

He had a memorable experience once with a rabbit that has put him off anything like that. He had a worse one with a bonfire, mind you, and that hasn’t stopped him having those! I did suggest that I could keep rabbits instead - I refrain from publising his comment!
I used to get wild rabbits and pheasants here and there from farming friends, and skinned and gutted them myself. As my bones got more painful, I had a job pulling the skin off over the feet of the rabbits, until my window cleaner told me of an easier way. You just make a cut in the skin across the middle of the back, (around the waist area if bunnies had waists). One person holds one side and another holds the other, then you both just gently pull and it slips off like taking off a pair of trousers and jacket. I equipped Pat with rubber gloves and got him to help. He couldn’t bear to look for some reason, so turned his head sideways and yanked with all his might, nearly pulling my arms out of my sockets. I couldn’t stop laughing as he had tugged so hard he had pulled off not only the ‘jacket’ but the head as well! When he saw what was dangling in his hands, he made choking 'urgh!'noises and was not at all amused at my tears of laughter and teasing. He left me too it, muttering under his breath that I was not allowed rabbits or pheasants that needed gutting any more. He is a townie bless him, and doesn’t have the stomach for such things. But my reasoning is that if you are going to eat meat, you should face up to the fact of how it is prepared before you eat it, not just get it in a neat plastic tray ready prepared - or a lovely cooked meal!

So now I shall be watching the news closely regarding the bird flu situation, before I spend money on chickens as I would hate to have them put down soon after I got them.

I now have to leave this blog to catch up on lots of things before going out this evening for a craft workshop, which I had completely forgotten about, so I shall be frantically running around getting lots of things together which includes covering a dry foam ball with tissue paper!


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Jekyll and Hyde, Chicken, Beans, Aching Bones and the Rent

The sheer joy of living here in Norfolk is that just one mile away I am up my lottie in the middle of a field in the countryside, and just twelve miles in the same direction I am in the city centre of historical Norwich.

One day I look like Worzel Gummidge and smell of farmyard manure, and the next I am in high heeled boots, dressed up to the nines smelling of Chanel No.5 – shopping and lunching in a beautiful city. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure that it is not a dream. It’s great being retired!

Today was a wonderful day too. I spent the morning jointing and freezing five chickens, and losing the battle in persuading my husband that keeping chickens would be fun. I thought I would have allies in friends who have chickens on their farm, but no such luck – maybe they don’t want to lose my custom of the odd box of eggs now and again.

Any of you out there that keep chickens who can provide me with more positive arguments to win the day? I wasn’t going to get them until the spring, when hopefully the chicken flu scare will be sorted one way or the other.

My reason for keeping chickens is not a logical one, I know that, but does life have to be logical all the time?

We don’t eat many eggs, due to health reasons, but we do eat a lot of chickens, (not from supermarkets), fish, fruit and vegetables, ditto those too. So I thought that I could be even more self sufficient by keeping a few chickens up the allotment for the freezer (sorry any vegetarians) and just a couple of chickens at home in a purpose built little henhouse and run. That way I would not have to go up the lottie in the depths of winter twice a day to let them out and put them to bed, as they would already be frozen. Good compromise I thought. We don’t go away much, so I don’t see that it would be a problem getting someone to look after them on the odd day or so, and they are apparently all right if you leave them two days with plenty of food and drink etc. And I have seen a really neat looking all in one unit that is so easy to keep clean for the garden, and a bigger metal one for the lottie. I am told by those in the know, that if you want to keep chickens to fatten you have to keep them in a shed, as free ranging ones burn off all the fat by foraging, so would not get fat enough to eat. Enough of that though.

This afternoon I went up the lottie for four hours. I did so much work, but it doesn’t look like four hours worth as you can see from the before and after photos. I decided to do some seed saving and as it was a lovely sunny afternoon it was a good time to do it.

The bean frame in the picture had runner beans and Blue Lake climbing French beans. Both were so prolific and tender and stringless that I left some to seed. It took ages collecting and sorting them. (The photo shows just a few, it was overflowing by the time I had finished and I had another bucket of mixed beans from the other bean frame.)Then I had to untangle and cut off the plants, untie the bean sticks and canes, make four trips to the compost bin at the far end with all the spent foliage, remove the chicken wire fencing and untangle the foliage from that and the string fencing, and roll up and store everything. The bean sticks I have piled up on a spare piece of ground that I left uncovered for where we can have a bonfire. I am debating whether to cut them down and use as peas sticks as they won’t last a third year for beans with the strong winds we get up the lottie.

Once done, I then removed all the pumpkin plants from the forefront and had three barrow loads of those to compost, so there were lots of walks to and fro along the ploughed edge of my plot. Further down the allotment was another framework of climbing beans and the Cherokee Trail of Tears pods that I saved had turned a wonderful deep purple, there were runners and a flat French bean (the names of which I will have to look up on my seed list) and I got a basket full of those, so there will be some to share amongst friends, and the remaining seeds are great in winter recipes.

I removed the frost bitten cucumber foliage that grew at the foot of the above rows and discovered not one but 12 cucumbers which was a surprise.

By the time I had packed up, I didn’t have the strength to even pick the Autumn fruiting raspberries.

I managed to get home and showered just before Patrick returned from bowling at 6.15pm so he was spared the farmyard odours and got the Chanel one!

A day off tomorrow, we are off to see Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans and the Complete Beatles, should be good.

And the rental cost of my little piece of heavenly allotment – just £8 a year – brilliant huh?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Allotment Lady’s Plot

(With apologies to A.A.Milne and Kermit the Frog)

Halfway up the field is my little bit,
There isn’t any other place quite like it.
It’s not at the bottom, and it’s not at the top,
But right in the middle is my quarter acre plot.

Halfway up the field isn’t up and isn’t down
It’s next to the pig farm, it isn't in the town.
There are flowers, herbs and roses, an asparagus bed,
Rhubarb, currants, berries, and varieties of veg.

Halfway down the field is my favourite bit
There isn’t any other place quite like it.
I’m not at the bottom, and I’m not at the top,
I’m in absolute heaven on Allotment Lady’s Plot.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

To continue where I left off with Tuesday’s blog…ending with answers in an email please.

I didn’t get to mention that the bottom field had been harvested and there was a tractor out cultivating the soil already. I had to zoom in to get this shot, and the sun is glinting on the tractor’s window. This land is all part of the pig farm.

After talking about all the things I missed when away from the lottie, I was surprised when there was not a squeak out of the little piglets, not a sound from the school playground as there was not a breath of wind, I only saw the tractor pass once, and I was too far away to see if there was a wave back, and apart from the usual odd screech from a disturbed pheasant, there was not a sound. I think that maybe the high temperature had a lot to do with it, anyone with any sense would be relaxing in the 78-80f temperatures. But then I don’t have a lot of sense! Oh and when I went to take a photo of the purple elderberries and red hawthorn berries, they had all be eaten! Hence the photo of the field being cultivated.

After my site inspection I had to prioritise, and mow the lawns and paths. It was only last Wednesday that I gave them all a crew cut after being without a mower for a few weeks. I had to repeat the process of mowing it all once on a high cut and gradually going over it again and again until I got to a lower one. Most of the grass has been sown this summer so I don’t want to rip out any of the precious roots. I am still flabbergasted that in less than a month the last grass path I sowed has formed a thick thatch – you can see in the previous blog where it still has all the bird scarers. A week ago there were just a few little green whiskers here and there! I am glad now that I did not leave it until March as I was planning to do, and took a gamble on the weather conditions, but this has surpassed all my expectations. It took me well over two hours to complete the lawn mowing, but in the summer with regular mowing it would take half the time or maybe a bit more, but in comparison to the time it would take to weed the areas and keep them clean it was worth the investment, and looks so nice. And will look even better next year when I cut out proper border edges. Some of the cuttings I planted look like they have taken, in fact they all look healthy, but I have to be patient until spring when the new leaves grow. In between mowing, I got out my new best friend, my little Mantis and set the blades to weed mode. I thought that I would do half the mowing, have a ‘tea break’ with bottle of water and an apple, do a bit of weeding, then go back to mowing etc, to ensure that it would not get tedious.

I put the Mantis in my barrow and then attached the tines, went through the routine of shifting a huge long heavy plank of wood that holds the netting down in front of the Caterpillar Café. Removed the corner bricks and hooked up all the excess over the prop to get the Mantis in. I then spent the next 10 minutes trying to start it – filling up with petrol first of course, checking the oil, adding a bit more oil ‘just in case’, looking at the spark plug. I then gave up and went on mowing, thinking that I might have flooded it. It took three attempts before my pain –wracked brain worked out that I had to turn it on first!! Doh. Once I had flicked the on switch it started first time like a dream as always. A week away from the lottie definitely is not good for my brain cells – that and a dose of flu that I had. (Excuse accepted?)

So now I have beautifully mowed lawns – well up the allotment at least. Pat has to be gently coerced into mowing those at home for me. There is not a weed or dead leaf in the broccoli cage, and only a few around the third row of parsnips. This has to be a record.

Beans were picked for lunch yesterday (Wednesday) when Pat finally got his roast chicken with every one of the 7 vegetables fresh from the allotment – I still get a lovely feeling of achievement when I see and then taste them.

It is amazing how quickly the five hours flew by and I had to get home by three to get cooking.

Another fabulous day – albeit a hot one – I went home with the windows and sun roof open, the boot full of pumpkins (there are still 3 up there that I can not lift), and French and climbing beans, parsnips, carrots, lettuce, and other things, but I forgot the lonely cucumber under the frost hit leaves.

Yesterday was a wet day, so I spent the afternoon surfing websites about Stoats, Weasles, and Ferrets, and searching for information from other allotment sites.

I still have to look for a course on Website building and get my proper site up and running, but that is on hold until the weather prevents me from working up the lottie.

Today, Thurday, it has done just that, but I am busy researching something else to the sound of torrential rain battering the roof of the conservatory.

I did make time to visit our little village library for a book on my new hobby – creating a memories book for my grandson due early December – I went on my first workshop last night and it ran from 18.30 to 22.00 hours and in my poorly head I thought that we finished at 8pm - similar timings to adult education. My poor husband was going demented with worry and just about to go out to search for me - not easy down narrow and pitch black country lanes on a windy and rain lashing night not knowing where exactly I had gone. When I enquired of the time (9pm) and borrowed a phone to call him, having left my phone at home he was frantic. A bit like you get with children when they give you a scare, you don't know whether to tell them off or just be relieved they are safe! When I cheekily asked him when I got home, and he had finished the lecture, how did he intend to find me when he didn't know exactly where the village hall was that I was going to, he replied that he would just ask someone. (a) that would be an all time first to stop and ask for directions, and (b)if you have ever been to rural Norfolk to you will notice a lack of lighting, footpaths, pedestrians, and houses, added to that the time and the weather! But I am sure that he would have found and rescued me despite all obstacles. - and I mean that sincerely.

This morning we also made time to visit a village a couple of miles from here to a fisherman’s farm that is now a thriving fish business, with fresh fish, and their own Smokery to replenish our freezer. Not only did I buy large quantities of fresh tuna, salmon, sea bass, and red snapper, far cheaper and fresher than you can get from any supermarket (if there was one closer than the farm, which there isn’t), I also spotted some plain black plastic barrels with screw tops, that are the size of those barrels you get on water fountain machines in offices etc These ones had had cleaning agents in them, that they use for cleaning down all their stainless steel surfaces. The barrels were next to the waste skips. I asked if the barrels were destined for the tip and was told yes, so guess where they are now, and what they will be used for? Yes, filled with water they will make nice weights for the winter protection sheeting being used as a weed barrier – and if I go back to the farm in a month’s time, there will be some more for me, so the days of weighting everything down, with lumps of old wood, defunct wheel barrows, will be over. I can now wash the barrels out, fill them with water over the winter from the tank’s overflow, and can weigh down all the netting, fleece, etc simply, and they can be stored out of sight behind the fruit cage when not in use, the water being poured onto plants before moving of them course so that I can carry them!

A year ago I had some of those white polystyrene fish boxes, and I used them as mini cold frames – for my little plants; the white really reflecting the light, and the polystyrene keeping them warm. They were strong too and hold quite a lot of pots and are easily transportable being both light and stron. There were a few complaints from Pat about the car stinking of fish for a few days though, but it was worth it, and the boxes soon lost their fishy smell, which was not in any way detrimental to the plants I grew. I grew other things in them too instead of grow bags. It worked out cheaper buying the compost, and they were easier to work with and water, and I could place them in areas up the lottie that would not get used, for instance in front of the pig shed by the track and next to the water tank which worked really well. I might try other experiments with some more next year. Any one got any ideas please?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

St Michaelmas Day - A New Allotment Year. When is a stoat not a stoat? And lots of surprises on the estate!

I was awake early this morning, and just had to get up and peek through the curtains to see if the weather forecasted yesterday would really come true. It was soon after dawn, so it was difficult to tell, but it was promising as there had been no rain. I slipped back into bed for half and hour, but just could not stay there, my mind was whizzing trying to picture the changes up the lottie. (How sad does that make me sound huh? But do I sound like I care???)

It was still really nippy in the conservatory when we had breakfast, but that was fine with me, even snow would not have stopped me today – but phone calls delayed me instead. I don’t usually get a lot of phone calls, but today there was one after another! -All good!

I got a lovely one from the lady that is on the Trustees committee responsible for the allotments. None of those that run the charity have an allotment – but more of that another time.

On or before St Michaelmas Day our allotment rent is due – in arrears would you believe! I had popped around to her house several times to pay it but hadn’t managed to catch her in, so typed up a letter and put it through her letterbox with my cheque. Guess how much I pay for my 1/4 acre piece of heaven. (I will let you know after I have received your guesses at the end of the week.)

She very kindly phoned me and left a message whilst we were away this weekend, and then phoned me back first thing, In my letter I had mentioned what a wonderful time I had had this year, and inserted ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of my plot – the after photos being those taken on the day of the letter. I also asked permission to plant a little orchard in my garden at the bottom next to the field hedge, and also for information about the history of the Charity. (Instead of keep calling her ‘she’ I will call her Mrs M from now on) who told me that being so impressed with my letter and photos felt compelled to take a look for herself, and that she could not believe the transformation – and her husband so was impressed he said that it put his garden to shame! Mrs M had also got a copy of the Charity Commission detailing those relating to the allotments, and offered to loan it to me to copy. I am going to get it copied tomorrow – they are A3 sheets so too big for my scanner, and I intend to write up about them some time in the near future – when there is not a lot to write about work wise. Mrs M arrived just as I was finishing loading up the car, and I offered her some produce, having confessed to never tasting butternut squash, I was happy to be able to let her have one to try and some parsnips – so we were both happy bunnies. Talking of which, back to the lottie news.

At 10.45am I was finally up the allotment. The sun was shining and the temperature was heading for 70 degrees F. JOY O JOY. What is the saying……. The sun always shines………

I saw Geoff pottering about on his plot, and after unloading my car, and getting organised he came up to see me – good timing! It was nice to have the time for a leisurely chat – Pat was going off to golf so I needn’t be home until 3pm to prepare a meal! We talked about the usual stuff, then Geoff told me that he wished I had been up there on Sunday. Geoff has an area at the bottom of his allotment that is two allotments wide (66ft) and about 100ft deep and has been left for many years to just go wild. It is like something out of a story book and reminded me of the story of the Gingerbread House, or going into a creepy forest. – I have mentioned before about my imagination haven’t I? He has two allotments side by side, and they had been in his family for years. When you go into this wild area there are tall apple trees just left to do their own thing, and each year Geoff puts down straw that he gets from the pig farm to catch any windfall apples (the trees being too tall to harvest the normal way). There is a plum tree too, and other self sown trees. It is a tangle of weeds, and old sheds, truly just out of a story book. Piles of wood, and other stuff squirreled away that will ‘come in handy one day’ but that day often never comes. The rabbits love living in there and there are lots of birds and other wild life. Ooops I have digressed as usual.

On Sunday Geoff was standing near the edge of the area talking to someone when out of the ‘wilderness’ appeared a stoat. Geoff said that he was rather nervous of it, so he just stood stock still. They both stopped talking and it came towards them and it stood on it’s hind legs and ‘eyed them up’. Geoff said that he was glad the other chap was there as he feared that it might think he was a tree and scramble up him. (He said this with all seriousness, bless him). He also said that luckily the other chap started talking and the stoat ran off. Dear Geoff, he is not tall and willowy like a tree, and unless the stoat had distorted vision, I doubt that he would either have climbed up him or attacked him. I should have loved to have got a picture of him (the stoat) though. Maybe the stoat committed the mole murder on my allotment? After writing this I am going to search the web for information on both stoats and ferrets. It could have been a ferret of course and not a stoat, I should have thought a ferret is far more likely considering the rabbit population in his wilderness. I shall keep you updated on any further developments.

I will not go into detail on the rest of our chat or it will take as long as it did in reality and I want to get on with what I did today in case you are interested.

Well, you will now know I am notorious for making plans beforehand as to what I want to do on a particular day, and today was not different. I try not too, but it is so difficult isn’t it. It is not until you get up allotment that you get sidetracked, and today turned out to be no different to those other days when plans get changed.

Next came the moment I had been waiting for – the walk around my little estate!!!

Firstly K the young lad who has the allotment adjoining mine, had gone over his plot again with his tractor and cultivator and pulled more weeds down to the bottom third of his allotment. The tractor has now gone, so I presume that it is back in storage somewhere for the winter. I made the right decision fencing in the bottom end with the corrugated iron sheets as at the bottom all his weeds have gone mad and all the rubbish is down there; the rubbish and his big trailer prevented him from clearing that end. The fencing at least makes a boundary and helps to keep it all out, and now that I have created ‘gates’ all the way through the inner part of my lottie I no longer have to fight my way through the weeds with my wheel barrow – which would now be impossible anyway.
The grass had grown long in just a week and needed mowing, so that was a surprise addition to my previous plan. I seriously thought the haircut I gave it a week ago would be the last of the year as the weather had turned cold and we had had an overnight frost!

So, walking down from the top end from my pig hut. On the right hand side, the huge pile of pig muck in the equally huge compost bin made out of corrugated iron sheets, had sunk quite a bit, ditto the horse manure in the next two ‘bins’.

The foliage on the big pumpkin patch had been hit by frost and started to die back, so that needs composting, but the remaining pumpkins sunbathing on the metal sheets looked good, but need to be brought home before another frost. Behind the pumpkin patch the runner bean and climbing French bean foliage has suffered the same fate, but there were still beans to pick, and I had left a number of the large ones to get fatter to keep for next year.

The rabbits had left me some ‘currants’ just to warn be that they were still hatching a cunning plan, but hadn’t managed to get through any of the netting on the three raised beds, so the leeks, lettuces and salads, remain intact, and they are not particularly interested in the skeletal tomato plants now bereft of all but one or two fruits. [Aide Memoir – check the 30lb of green tomatoes in the drawers in the shed!]

A peek in the fruit cage and all looks well. I still have to finish a little bit of weeding where docks have craftily crept out of holes where the currant bushes were planted. And the raspberry canes need tying up too. The leaves are turning brown, but have not fallen yet thank goodness, so I hopefully have a week or so before I have the leaf collection expedition – another compost bin to create – now where can I get a scrap of chicken wire?

Next through the ‘gate’ to Fort Rabbit Knox. I empty the kitchen waste into bin 3, as the others are full to the brim and haven’t dropped down as much. I see that Adrian has paid a couple of visits and my long horse manure bin that runs alongside the fruit cage is heaped up high again. The bean sticks on my left have suffered the same fate as those up the top end, but the pods I left look lovely and fat, so I should really pick them soon to dry out and store for seed saving. There is one cucumber left under the frost-bitten leaves, so I ought to pick that too.

Turning the corner and walking right down the grass path with my rows going widthways along to the left of me, I squint in the sunshine to see that the romanesco has sprouted some more for me to pick – but not today, I won’t have time to do the meal Pat is expecting – roast chicken with all the trimmings!

The next two rows of parsnips are still weed free and have huge serrated leaves so the roots must be big too. Next the row of Keratin carrots that I thinned out, are looking good, but they can be dug up all winter like the parsnips, and they don’t need weeding again just yet. The late sown parsnip row, where a row of onions were between the carrot rows, are growing surprisingly fast, and the chives are still looking good, but I need to move them to a permanent site really as they will get in the way of rotovating next year. A couple more rows of carrots that do need a bit of hand weeding, just annual weeds that I had hoped the frost would have killed, but no such luck, so I will be on my hands and knees later in the week, weather permitting, doing that chore. The next area that I covered in black plastic and weighted down with plastic containers of water, is doing its job and together with wood and an old wheelbarrow, are winning the battle against the wind, but it is early days yet.

The Caterpillar Café – or sprouting broccoli cage – shows signs of caterpillar damage, so I enter for a further inspection. There are a few very large, but cold looking blighters that I pick off, and the leaves are well chewed to a rather attractive holey pattern, but the plants are a beautiful dark green with lovely purple stalks and leaf veins, and I smile to myself as it reminds of the famous poem…..When I grow old I will wear purple….. I am at that age and stage now! The cage needs a bit of a weed, not too bad though, and the yellowing and fallen leaves need collecting to prevent disease.

Some crafty dock plants have grown up through the area where the pea cage was and which I had rotorvated and then covered in pig muck ready for the potato crop next year. I might have to sweet talk Pat to come and dig them up for me, as my shoulder is not up to the big digging jobs.

The jostaberry cuttings that I have grown in the next area, I am debating whether I should prune them a little. The main stems are not thick and the branches have grown long which is making them top heavy. To prune or not to prune? If I prune them back a third, then perhaps they will not suffer wind damage in the winter, but if I do will it affect a crop. I was hoping for some berries next year – can anyone help me on this?
I walk alongside them to the end of the row to inspect the Autumn fruiting raspberries, and pick and eat those few that are ripe as the crop is virtually finished. I do feel a nano-second of guilt as I should really share them with Pat, but hey, who does 90% of the work up here? A few more raspberry canes to tie up and I could do with another couple of tall posts, but I do not have them, so might just chop the tops down a bit….Again advice needed please. I have been covering this area with grass cuttings mulch to keep the weeds down, but plan to add some manure overwinter.

Through the next ‘gate’ and on my left the little baby asparagus plants seem to be settled in nicely. The perpetual spinach is coming into leaf and has not been nibbled yet by rabbits, so things are looking good. The little blackcurrant cuttings are getting bushy and if not next year, then the year after I should get a good crop. The rhubarb is looking a bit frost bitten so I will have to read up on what I do with the leaves. Compost them or use them as mulch around the plants?

Oh goodie, even more horse manure in the big bin at the end of the row.

The strawberry runners have settled in and the wind has dried the soil here so that it is really hard, now that is a surprise. And yet another surprise, a lovely big ripe strawberry has appeared on one of those plants I moved from the fruit cage – and not even a nano-second of guilt as I pluck it from the plant, dust it down on my (clean) white shirt and pop it into my mouth – hmmm heaven.
By now the sun is really hot and I have a sun hat on and sunglasses, Pat’s old white long sleeved shirt to prevent me from burning, but I still feel my face glowing, I never thought to put on sunscreen this time of year!

Despite my bird scarers – albeit sparse as most were commandeered for grass seed sentry duty, the birds have had a real game with the Japanese onions and thrown them about. Those that escaped have anchored themselves in and started to sprout green at the top. Was it the birds or a cheeky leprechaun – there are a few ‘planted’ upside down! There are no rabbit currants around this end either, so perhaps they have given up tunnelling, or maybe they have found an easier target.

The surprise of the day was the germinated grass seed, as you can see in the photos. Amazing huh? I can’t believe it has grown so much in a week, the rain and sunshine must have been perfect.

It is getting late and I am rather tired, so I will have to type up what I actually did tomorrow and add the photos.

It is physio at 9.30am and that usually puts the kybosh on any work the rest of the day, and heavy rain is forecast, so I can catch up on this tomorrow afternoon – there I go again, making plans. So best to just wait and see.


The temperature reached almost 80f by the time I left the lottie at 2.45pm today!