Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A walk around my garden after the hailstones of yesterday

Four hours hard labour - but wait until next year - it will be worth it.

Have you ever felt that you have worked so hard, you can not move another muscle? Well that is how I feel right at this moment after working up the allotment for four hours, non stop.

The hail-stone storms have now shredded most leafy plants, leaving them with lacy looking leaves.

The squash, pumpkins, and courgettes seem to be tough enough to withstand the onslaught even if their leaves are damaged.

Most of the flowers too, although their heads are still bowed and their leaves are damaged, with a bit of sunshine they will soon recover.

The rows of runner and French climbing beans looked rather a sad state, but again, mainly leaf damage – there were plenty of bees buzzing around the surviving flowers, and I picked half a dozen meals worth of runner beans – which are now vacuum packed and in my freezer.

Pat came with me today, as he couldn’t get on the golf course – it was fully booked. He dug up another row of Robinta early potatoes, a nice red waxy variety, that is a favourite of my family for use in curries. Judging by their hints, we thought it was time to dig some more up!

We still have four rows of the maincrop potatoes that will stay in the ground for a good few weeks yet.

The chickens were hampering Pat’s digging up of the spuds, but he didn’t complain too much – and took great delight in describing how KoKKo swallowed huge great worms whole – should have very tasty eggs in the days to come then.

I was down the far end of the allotment which we spent a lot of time weeding over the weekend. I spent even more time today – fours hours in fact – preparing four new paths and sowing the grass seed. As we are due lots more rain in the coming week, it seemed like a good time. We should have lovely green lawn paths for next year.

The beds we have covered for the winter months. Not very attractive, but we get fierce winds blowing across from the fields and we need every weight we can get to keep the plastic sheeting from blowing away. I still think that they look better than the waist high weeds of all the other plots - and underneath they have been dug over and are clear of weeds, so that is one less task to do until next spring.

Because as sure as night follows day, if I leave them open to the elements there is still time for the weeds to grow and new crop - and a nice empty place for the thistle, dock and goodness knows what else invading weed seeds to land and get settled in. So this is by far the best option for me.

Next year, the paths I have sown with grass seed will be nice and green and wide, and the beds will be easier for my crop rotation system. I can leave one fallow if I wish and plant a green manure too, or if it all gets too much, I can just leave a bed covered and weed free until such times that I can plant it up.

I think that I will do the same in the main vegetable enclosure too. It takss a tremendous amount of work and grass seed, but will be worth all the effort now.

Next on the allotment agenda is to weed the strawberry bed, and finish weeding around the last four rows of potatoes.

I did make another for the bantams run - they seem to like it. It will keep out the bad weather and create a nice warm draught free place for them. In the winter all the chickens loved sunbathing as the first bit of sunshine really warms it up.

I am trying to summon up the energy to make some more pots of jam, so had better finish here and get peeling those apples or maybe not!

New Day, New Challenges

Up early today as this is the only day for the next five days that we will get dry weather - so the powers the be say.

So off to survey, repair, recover and weed up the allotment. It is so very wet, but needs must.

I also have to get back and make a new rain cover for the bantams run, as theirs is ripped to shreds. So it will be a busy day.

After vacuum packing and labelling my tomato puree mixture last night,it was getting late so I just flopped on the sofa, put a relaxing CD on - Dire Straits - and read my book. A rare treat for me. Pat was out bowling, so no television, and I got the whole sofa to myself - bliss.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More hailstones put paid to my plans

Oh dear – not very good news from up the allotment today.

We had a really bad hailstone storm yesterday evening, and when I went to my plot today it was very evident. Apart from the ground being awash from the rains that followed, leaves were shredded, tomatoes were battered, and flowers were flattened.

I let the girls out to run free, and gathered some more blackberries. I have been harvesting them every other day, and manage to pick between a pound and a pound and a half each time – so more jam making tonight.

My priority was to right, the fallen over tomato plants and canes, remove the shredded leaves and damaged tomatoes, and to salvage what I could of the crop.

If I had had half a dozen plants it would have been a total disaster – but with more than 70, it was an upset, but damage limitation means that I will still have enough if they ripen.

It took me well over two hours to sort it all out – resulting in a huge bag of tomatoes for the compost heap, a pile of ripe, but damaged ones for the chickens, and a few pounds of different shades of colour and ripeness for us. I saved ones that I could cut the damaged part off – so long as it was only half the tomato. I also saved half ripened ones and some of the green ones that had been knocked off to the ground.

I did some hand weeding whilst I was in there – all the above jobs were mainly on my hands and knees. Whilst tidying up the plot the heavens opened again, torrential downpours and I got soaked. I gave up after almost three hours, - I didn’t even have to call the girls, as they had hotfooted it back inside their run and were tucking in happily to some apple cores, tomatoes, and grapes, so I just had to lock them in.

By the time I got back to my car, another hailstone storm was upon us complete with thunder and lightening – so I gave up for the day.

Hence the lack of photographs – it was just too dangerous to be up there in that weather. I was drenched to the skin – so dived in the shower as soon as I got in. Pat came home from golf having not had a drop of rain – and he was on a golf course only 8 miles from the village – but they could see the black clouds and thunder and lightening hovering over here!

After this second storm today - who knows what I will find tomorrow. It hasn't stopped raining since, otherwise I would have ventured up there to see.

I have already cooked two large oven trays of tomatoes, baked with garlic cloves and a little olive oil and now pureed and cooling ready to vacuum pack for the freezer. These will be uses as bases for all sorts of sauces, including the most obvious – for pastas.

I usually make a nice spicy one for fish and poultry which I will do when I get more ripe tomatoes later on – fingers crossed.

So that’s about it for today – apart from showing you the damage that the hailstones did yesterday to the cover on the banties run. I was going to replace it when I got back – but the storm prevented me. Just as well really, as that cover would have been ripped as well.

On no - Pat has gone to play bowls and anothe hailstone deluge has just begun.

How will my plants and veggies survive this?

For Mrs Nesbitt

In answer to your question regarding F1 hybrids.

Crossing specific parent plants produces a hybrid seed (plant) by means of controlled pollination. To produce consistent F1 hybrids, the original cross must be repeated each season. As in the original cross, in plants this is usually done through controlled hand-pollination, and explains why F1-seeds are so expensive.

It also means that if you save the seed you have no control of what plant will develop. So they only grow true to the variety you have bought the one time - as the parent plants have to be cross pollinated by hand each year!

Seed Saving

Thanks for all the interest you have shown in my Free Food post. It is great to hear that some of you have 'inherited' seeds from parents and grandparent.

Not me alas - didn't have any.It is sad that growing your own food gradually 'died' out when families began to prosper. Of course I am pleased that times did improve but it did mean that so plant life was lost.

As F1 hybrids have been developed over the years, the older varieties of vegetables in particular have been lost. That is why, when I do buy seed, that I haven't or couldn't save. I like to try and get the hertitage varieties. I can't obviously have all heritage, but even if I grow some of them, it makes me feel good.

For a few years now I have been saving Cherokee Trail of Tears climbing beans, and have given them away to dozens of people and put them in any seed swap 'chains' that I have joined. So many people had never heard of them, yet when they grew them they were amazed at the taste, colours, and sheer adaptability of the little climbing beans, in all weather and soil conditions. When I give them as presents I always include the story of how they came to be, and a link to a site with more information on the trail of tears in general.

I know some of you will think me soppy and sentimental - and the regulars readers will know that I am - but each time I hold one of those speckledy seeds in my hand, I hand help but remember how it came to be there, ready for me to plant - a living reminder of all those people all those years ago.

If we can get hold of even one heritage seed, and keep the 'life line' growing each year, we are continuing part of history. Who knows, some day we might be very very grateful indeed for doing so, if the 'man made' hybrids fail due to desease.

Our 'old' heritage seeds should be so strong and desease resistant they should stand the test of time.

Busy day today - so best get going.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Free Food

Free food – who can resist a freebie?

Have you every sat and thought how much food you can get for free – and with a bit of imagination – and work – you can turn it into delicious things to eat.

Those of you who grow vegetables already realise, that from one seed – for example a runner bean seed – you literally get dozens and dozens of free food – and if you let a few pods grow large and save the seed – then you get next year’s crops for free – ad infinitum. So seed saving should be high on everyone’s list at this time of year.

I try to save the seed from peas, and beans, but often other seed is hard to save as the plants do not always come ‘true’ unless you have them isolated of course.

I have left one plant at the end of this row of my first to crop beans for seeds for next year.

This is a later sowing of beans, and I am leaving one plant in the middle that has unusual colourings for seeds too. That is the fun - wondering what will grow from them.

The pea and bean family seeds are so easy to save and keep over winter for next season, but I have never been successful with salad seeds. Onions are a good one to try, but the inclement weather often means that you lose them to the wind or rain unless you keep them covered. Pumpkin and courgette seeds are others that are easy to save – but are notorious for cross ‘breeding’ so you won’t know exactly what you will get until they grow – which often doesn’t matter.

Today I have been very industrious and have been on the hunt for free food – well fruit in particular to use to make jam.

My horoscope yesterday said that I would be getting a windfall – a large sum of money from a long lost uncle of aunt (a bit difficult as I don’t have any) but it did make me laugh.

Instead I got windfalls of a different nature – apples – bags of them, which I have been peeling and packing for hours.

Coming back from a visit to town, I notice a lady walking along a lane with a carrier bag.

‘That lady has got a bag of apples’ I said to Pat. ‘How do you know that it has apples in it?’ he said, ‘it could be anything’.

‘It is definitely apples, as she never walks from that direction – there have got to be windfalls along there somewhere’

He laughed disbelieving me, but good humouredly he took the next left turn past the windmill and along the lane – driving slowly (there wasn’t any traffic) whilst I scoured the front driveways for the tell tale box or bags – to no avail. But I was convinced that there were apples around there somewhere. So we did a U turn and went towards the mere and lo and behold we found a stall outside a house. Carrier bags with windfall apples in for donations to a local charity – out I jumped and donated for three bags.

When I returned home, in the porch was a bag of apples – windfalls – a neighbour had been given them. She had taken a few out to make a pie and had left me the rest. I rewarded her with half a dozen eggs and a jar of jam.

Another friend called me to say that she had a bag of apples for me, and got her husband to drop them off in the porch too!

I was mindful of the saying ‘one good turn deserves another’ and felt incredibly grateful for people’s kindness – and told them both so. But they reminded me that since I have had my allotment, I have deposited a lot of ‘free food’ on their doorsteps too – but I didn’t do it for any reward – I did it for the pleasure I get from seeing their faces and knowing how much they appreciate fresh grown veggies.

So fast forward to this afternoon – when we had hailstones would you believe – and I was sat in my conservatory with a tray on my lap, bags of apples to my left, and a huge bowl to my right, and a recycle bin in front of me.

After cutting out all the bruises, and ‘dodgy’ bits, I still ended up with 13 pounds of apples. I have 11 bags prepared and vacuum packed in the freezer, I made Pat (and me) a huge blackberry and apple crumble (which we will be having a little of each day.

I made another batch of blackberry and apple jam – which turned out brilliantly, and I still have half a bag of cooking apples left. So I shall be raiding the freezer for frozen fruit to make even more apple & jam combinations.

My windowsill has a row of ripening squash (mini pumpkins) on it, and a butternut squash that narrowly escaped decapitation by the lawn mower as it had broken out of it’s enclosure, together with others and was growing across the lawn, hidden under some huge leaves.

From a few seeds, I have dozens of pumpkins and squash – free food in my mind as one seed replaced itself hundreds of times.

In the coming days, I hope to gather some hips, haws, and berries, to make some more concoctions – together with some windfall apples too.

I can afford to buy apples, etc. but when I buy from a supermarket, I can not be sure that they have not been radiated to prolong the life, or waxed to improve their looks, or been transported thousands of miles, sometimes from the other side of the world, or sprayed with any chemicals.

The windfalls might have the odd maggot hole, and some had earwigs in them (I can hear some of you say ‘yuk’and shiver.) But those creatures have just been living in the core of the apple – not munching the whole lot! And you can be sure of one thing – it won’t have been treated with anything nasty or they wouldn’t be there!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

My oasis in a huge field of weeds.

I had been feeling rather despondent about the way the bottom end of my plot was looking lately. Purely because of the rapid growth of the weeds in my flower beds and ‘resting’ beds. (Resting because I had not been well enough this year to accomplish all that I had hoped for- due to the silly shingles.

Because of the heavy rain falls we have been having too, the paths and lawn and meadow had not been cut for about four weeks. An all time first for me. Whilst the paths made it look quite tidy, I hated having the weeds in the beds as it looked scruffy – even though I am surround by plots full of thistles, docks, Fat Hen, and all sorts so of nasty things scattering seeds to the winds!

I had a mind to leave it as it was, after all, come winter they all die down anyway, but pride got the better of me. Especially as my vegetable end is tidy.

This is the 'before' photo.

Two hours later when I had weeded it - this is the after! There is even a sunflower in the foreground.

Cordalines, crocosmias, hostas, and zebra grass and a big rhubarb at the end. I think that whilst it is bare and not planted up in the middle, I shall buy a big sack of mixed daffodil bulbs and plant them, before I put any more plants in. I will really need to pack them in to keep the weeds out. The sowing of annuals was not a success after all. The drought saw to that! I shall do some propogating by division from my garden and add more to this bed.

I went on to weed these two beds too next - and then mowed the paths again and the top end of the plot where we park the car and where the squash bed is next to the compost bin and pig hut. That had to be done three times too.

I was on my hands and knees most of the time weeding - but I still need to dig the beds over, the girls were jumping all over me to get at the insects and worms, and then would rush back to where Pat was working digging out the resting bed, to see what was on offer there.

Yesterday you read how we made a start on that end – and the difference inspired us to finish if off today.

Luckily it was a dry day, with rain forecast, so we got stuck in to do as much as we could whilst we could.

What a difference a few hours make – well 14 hours of hard work actually over two days.

Weeds removed from around the covered 'resting' bed, and beyond, unfortunately, an over zealous Pat weeded the new lawn path that I had sowne - admittedly it was dotted with weeds and bird scarers, but never mind - I can re-sow. Pat pulled out a weed, and was surprised that it had some potatoes on its roots - yes that area was the potato bed last year!

I mowed all the paths and meadow three times over, but it was hard going, the grass was wet, and I was left with a rather ‘hippy’ type haircut on some of the paths and meadow. I didn’t trim the edges – prioritising was the order of the day, and a job like that can wait!

We worked for four hours each today and three each yesterday, and this is what we achieved. Do bear in mind that this part of the allotment is about 150 feet long!

I feel that I have got it all under control again. It was so rewarding for both of us seeing the difference that removing those weeds made.

Despite the 'tweaking' left to do, it now looks like a nice garden.

At one point I was so worn out that I lay on my back on the damp newly mown grass and just looked up at the blue sky - to rest my aching back.

The chooks were 'bok bok bokking' around me, pecking seeds off my green wellies, the grass smelt wonderful and there was the scent from the mint next to where I was lying.

I lay there for a few minutes - and marvelled at my little oasis in the middle of a field full of weeds - and if I could bottle that feeling and sell it, I would have more money than anyone else in the whole world.

But who needs it - I have my very own feel good factor for £8 pounds a year - soon to be £10 pounds. And despite the rabbits, deer, mice, moles,parasites, bugs, neglected plots, failed crops, stony ground, and 'challenging' weather - I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world.


Fed up with Fat Hens rampaging on my allotment - something had to be done

I have had another exhausting time up the allotment – but what a way to spend a dull miserable day huh?

It was difficult to summon up the energy as my back is aching from the different exercise of spending a whole day cooking and yesterday jointing the chickens and doing other things – so it was good to give it another work out.

Pat came with me today, to tackle some weeds on a bit of unused land. It was weed free 4 weeks ago, but the heavy rains meant that the weeds had really taken off.

I planted up the raised bed that I repaired and weeded the other day. It is an experiment - the plants I have put in.

Early in the summer I had some little Brussels sprout plants which the rabbits nibble right down to the ground. I was left with about a half an inch of stem. I potted them up to see if they would re-grow from that little tiny piece – and they have. It has taken weeks min you, but that too was just an experiment.

So it is these that I have planted. They will have no chance of getting Brussels sprouts on them by Christmas, but I rather like Brussels tops so even if I get some of those I will be happy. Otherwise it will be chicken feed.

Once finished that job, I decided to tackle one of the flower beds that was really weedy. For some reason we have got an invasion of Fat Hen weed this year – and I am sick of it. The plot next to mine (young tractor boy’s) is totally covered in it, with the exception of the patch the hedge end which did not get ploughed and ploughed and rotorvated. That bit is waist high in thistles and docks, and nettles. They get me as I walk down the outside path to the meadow to let the girls out. I keep cutting them back, but they just flop and where you cut them – on one stem they sprout about 5 new bits – you should see my arms today!

Talking of young tractor boy, the village grapevine finally reached me – and apparently the reason why the plot has been abandoned all summer again, is because he has discovered the delights of having a girlfriend – so an allotment plot, tractor, giant trailer, and all sorts of machinery, doesn’t even compare with the having a girl friend.

Still, despite me saying that I wasn’t going to bother, I decided to kick the Fat Hens into touch. After all the rains and the rain in the night, it meant that I could pull it out (holding it with both hands mind you) which is what I did for two and a half hours.

I still have to dig the bed over and dig out a few more dock roots, but it is nice to see the plants again.

The mint was gorgeous and smelt lovely. I wondered if I had done a silly thing planting a bit of mint in the bed as it can be rampant – but it hasn’t rampaged over into the grass path, and not too much on the flower bed – and it did keep the weeds off that patch, so I am going to take cuttings from my different mints at home and fill the rest of the bed with it – so it will be a lovely aromatic mint bed.

I have quite a few varieties in pots. It should look rather good, as the irises flower early on, so too do the delphiniums, then the mint will take over, and it can flower its little heart out and keep the weeds down. I would sooner have mint as weeds than Fat Hen any day. It smells nicer for a start, and looks prettier.

I picked blackberries two days ago, and we have had a day of heavy rain, and sunshine yesterday – and I managed to get another punnet of berries today.

I wanted to make some more jam, but dear-heart is desperate for a crumble, they look so big and black and juicy. So out the window goes the weight loss programme (joke), but it will be just a very small crumble – and he does deserve a reward for his three hours work up there with me today.

The chickens kept him amused and company whilst he was pulling up weeds on the bed he was doing, and then when I arrived to do mine they came to me. Then when I stopped to take some photos, they went back to him. Pat called out to me, as KoKKo had eaten whole a great big beetle that he had turned up out of the ground. He was amazed as she was so quick that the beetle disappeared in a flash.

They even followed him when he called tham, and he put them away for me!

(The three girls up the lottie and the others back home have certainly won him over – despite him trying his hardest to dislike them).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Squash Burger Recipe

You can find my squash burger recipe on the Simply Living site - link on the right

It is posted in the Recipes Section - see list on site

Forgot to mention that it is just as tasty if you substitute curry powder the spices - more spoonsful the hotter it will be.

My Phormium

Earlier in the summer I mentioned that my phormium plant had started to grow a spike - well this was the end result - it has gronw to about 10-12ft, it is too tall to measure, but it towers above us.

These photos were taken a month ago with my old camera so not as clear as with my new one.

From a distance they looked rather dull and insignificant but close up they are womderful, with lots of tiny dark red flowers topped with a yellow frill

I am not sure whether to cut the spike off one the flower has set seed, it is really thick and you wouldn't be able to do it with secateurs. I think that I will leave it until the frost hits it, then remove it.

It really has been quite spectacular - the first time it has every flowered.

A bit of a hiccup with the squash burger recipe - the gremlins are definitely out and about here.

I weighed and wrote down all the ingredients on a card as I worked in the kithen and it has disappeared.

It was there yesterday! Another mystery. I can remember what I put into them, but not the exact weights, so I might not post it today after all.

I jointed all the table birds I got yesterday. I find it hard work, but it is very rewarding when you can go to the freezer and pick out a joint. Since eating the chicken recipes here, the family comment that no other chicken tastes as good, so now they have some off me too. At least it makes room in the freezer.

As usual we used the Orved vacuum machine, which has saved up so much time and effort. I joint and Pat bags up. No need for labels anymore either, we can see exactly what is inside them. I ordered another 300 bags yesterday, there is one size that is just right for chicken legs, breasts, long runner beans and so on.

I am also using it now for other things - which I am now doing - packaging my some of my crafts - home made soaps, herbs, dried flowers, dried veggies, and shrink wrapping things for posting in parcels - it is amazing how much less room they take up and how easy they are to wrap!

Breakfast is beckoning me. If the rain holds off I will spend a few hours up the allotment this morning, if it doesn't I shall be making more jam with fruits from the freezer - I have a few more jam jars now!

As usual the girls got to play in the sunshine all day - whilst I was slaving away at home - I know where I would rather have been!

The rhubarb has really grown again with all the rain, so I might cut a second crop off the plants - when will I get time to cook it I wonder.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I have managed it - of sorts!

Well after a lot of hits and misses - more miss than hit - I have managed to add the counter back in. I don't particularly like the style or where it is, but I will sort that out another day.

Been an exceedingly long and busy day so I won't post a proper page tonight I am simply too tired - but will over the weekend.

And of course add the recipes requested.

Please bear with me on this! Normal service will soon be resumed.

Having all sorts of problems with other machines - phone etc, so must be one of those things! I hope the car doesn't go on strike!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What a day! Weather wise and other wise.

I have just spent two hours looking for something that I have put away safely so that it did not get damaged, and I can not for the life of me find it. It is so irritating. We only have a small home – and I keep it tidy too – so why can’t I find this package. Grrrr

Best get my detective onto it tomorrow – maybe he has moved things around!

Well as the most horrendous weather stopped any outside work, I set too on doing things that kept me mainly indoors.

I am pleased to announce that the courgette mountain is now well and truly finished – but the squash mountain is in full swing.

Too good to waste – too many to eat right now – we would be sick to the teeth if we had them every day!

The solution – to make veggie burgers – a variation of the Greek recipe I featured earlier.

As usual I did a bulk amount using, different varieties of squash, potatoes, green tomatoes, onions, carrot, and seasonings, flour, rusk instead of breadcrumbs, and eggs.

We had some for lunch to try them out as you can see. (Two each is far too many, we could hardly move after eating that plateful of homemade sausages and freshly picked beans too). No potatoes - they are in the burgers, we are trying to eat sensibly. I also roasted them instead of frying them and it worked a treat. I had a big dollop of tomato ketchup with mine - just for the colour combination of course - it did look pretty though. I like colourful things to eat.

If anyone wants the recipe let me know and I will post it. I weighed things this time, instead of just throwing it all in!

I tackled a pile of little yellow pear tomatoes – cut them in half, removed the seeds, then put them in my food drier which is out in the studio.

I want to make some jars of sun dried tomatoes for presents – what else?

When I went back in to check on them earlier this evening, the room smelt just wonderful of tomatoes in the sunshine – now there’s a surprise. I think that for ones as presents I should wait and use the bigger varieties. In olive oil, the yellow ones might not show up so well. So the batch that I have done, I put on for a bit longer and got dried tomatoes. I am going to dry some green ones too – the big ones – so they will take up less space and I can use them not only in all sorts of recipes, but also to make some stock bags with some other veg – another idea I had – whether it will work or not I have no idea.

In between doing all the above, I made two batches of jam totalling 8 lbs. That may not sound like much, but it is when you are preparing it, and standing stirring and watching it, then bottling it. Worth all the effort though.

The first batch I made was a mixture – again one I threw together – as so long as you have the right ratio of fruit to sugars, then it doesn’t seem to matter which fruit you use – and if they are low in pectin you can just cut up a lemon and add a tablespoonful or so of juice.

First off was elderberry, blackberry, and apple, spiced with cinnamon. I read about it last night and posted the recipe on The Potting Shed forum (link on the right). In the book it was Spiced Blackberry Jam, but again, the ratios apply to that as well.

I have to say that it smelt wonderful, and reminded me of a trip to USA with some friends which coincided with my December birthday. We of course went to a shopping Mall, to get Christmas presents for everyone, and the smell of ‘Christmas’ spices wafted out of a fantastic little kitchen craft shop. They had all sorts of Christmas food for sale, and were dishing out hot drinks. (Nice how an aroma can transport you back to somewhere or remind you of someone.)

I bought a pot stand which was a hand made craft item. It was a ‘sausage’ of Christmas material filled with something like bean bag filling and wrapped into a Cumberland sausage shape to form a flat mat. It had Christmas spices in it, so when you stood something hot on it, the air was filled with the spicy smell. I still have it actually – and it is still doing it’s stuff.

- Off on a tangent again! Now where was I – ah yes the spiced jam. I made four pounds finished weight, and put some into those little jars you get in hotels at breakfast. Someone gave me half a dozen and I knew they would come in handy.

My son and daughter in law and baby are off to Japan later in the year, and her parents like the preserves I make, so I want to do a variety of small jars of all sorts; large jars being too heavy and liable to break.

This afternoon I made just over four pounds of blackberry and apple jam. I made it so that the blackberries appear all through the jam, some whole.

Poor Pat thought that the ones I had left were for an apple and blackberry crumble! Tish – we are supposed to be losing some pounds. (Don’t tell him that I sampled the jam from the preserving pan, just before I washed it.) Well I had too didn’t I? – I couldn’t risk giving it away untested now could I.

That is how I know that the spiced jam is wicked!

Sandie's Tote Bags - Aren't you just envious of me?

I can't remember if I have mentioned it on my blog before, but I hate carrier bags and try not to get them. My family save me ones they get their shopping in, which I recycle. I have a couple of old beach bags that I use on the rare occassions that I shop, and we get a cardboard box from Lidl if we fill up our bags, or just put the things from the trolly into the boot.

So to receive these gorgeous bags - was just the most perfect gift - together with the pinnies and material scraps.

Don't you think that Sandie could make these for a living? Mind you she might not want to be 'tied' to a sewing machine day in and day out.

Thank you so much Sandie - you hit all the right buttons.

My personal Rooster Booster bag. The straps are lovely and long so I can use it as a shoulder bag - actually it has been used already and very comfy it is too.

Here is the other bag that Sandie made for me - gorgeous - isn't it amazing that she has such wonderful material and so 'just me'- my battles with the bunnies are famous! It makes me so happy looking at all her materials.

If anyone knows where I can get my hands on some of these or similar, I would be eternally grateful. My mind is buzzing with ideas for original Christmas and birthday presents. And maybe doing some for charity - if I get good enough.

This is the pinny pocket on the cream apron - it brings a smile to my face just looking at it. I must be the best 'dressed' 'cook' in the lane!

Close up detail of my apron with gardening theme - it is so 'me'. I just love it.

Look at this wonderful stash of material. My jam pots are going to look pretty spectacular aren't they?

This is one of the pieces of material Sandie sent me - isn't it gorgeous. I will cut each piece up individually I think and use it as applique - now that Sandie has inspired me. I will make a template of one of the aprons she made and of the bag and have a go myself. I might, just might, have a go at a small patchwork some time.

I am off to town to get some apples and lemons and to make another batch of jams. Torrential rain, black skies, the most miserable of days - but you can bet your sweet biffy that I will be a very happy 'bunny', in my 'chicken' pinny filling the little kitchen with jam and bread smells.

Have a good day everyone - and if you are feeling down because of the weather - take another look of the lovely things above - they can't fail to make you feel good.