Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Sunlit vegetables in winter

After I had let the chickens and ducks out of their houses into their covered enclosures, I spent a pleasing half an hour in the vegetable garden lifting the last of the oca tubers that I am going to harvest (as I'm leaving some in the ground to see if they will over-winter). The weak winter sun was warming my back and making the vegetables look beautiful and it occurred to me that although the vegetable garden has the potential to look rather dull in winter, it is actually filled with contrasting colours, shapes and textures.
 This red cabbage is ready to harvest, I will braise it slowly with apples, cinnamon and nutmug and it should make a delicious accompaniment for several meals. 
 I planted eighteen red cabbage which I thought would be plenty to see us through until summer even if we eat it is once or twice a week. My daughter loves braised red cabbage, so I will freeze some for her too. The glossy leaves of Swiss chard planted next to the red cabbages are a nice contrast to the matt purple of the cabbage.
 The young purple sprouting broccoli plants should give a crop in early to mid spring and follow on from the purple sprouting broccoli that I am harvesting now. 

I've been picking these delicous flower heads for about six weeks and now there is more than we can eat with a meal, so I will pick it and freeze it to use later.
 I planted three different varieties of leeks to ensure that we had a constant supply throughout the winter. We've been eating them since September when I harvested them at a little thicker than a pencil. Now some of them are nearly to two inches across and packed with flavour.
 I thought that the parsnips hadn't done very well, the foliage didn't grow very high and although I thinned them, I suspected that they were still too close together. Having lifted some of them, my suspicions about spacing has been confirmed. Where I didn't thin enough, I have small, almost baby size parsnips, but where I have given them more room, we've enjoyed large, tasty, sweet parsnips. Lesson learnt for next year, thinning really does make a big difference.
 Storm Angus flattened the tall kale plants but they are still growing new leaves and also they are providing some shelter for the January King cabbages. On the left of the photo are some hollyhocks that I tucked into this bed to grow on. I will plant them into the food forest next spring in their permanent positions. 
 The January King cabbages are huge and very strong in flavour. They are actually too strong in flavour for either Mr J or I to enjoy very much and next year, I plan to grow a savoy cabbage instead. But they aren't going to waste. During this month of lockdown for the birds, I need to supply them with more greens than I usually give them as they aren't getting their usual diet while locked inside under cover, so these huge cabbages are proving very useful. Even the ducks who are very often picky about which vegetables they eat are now racing to eat the cabbages and other leafy greens offered to them.
 Likewise the purple curly kale is being enjoyed by the birds, I grew this for them so that they'd have fresh leaves throughout the year. I am not a kale fan, I wish I was because it has grown very well. I have, however, enjoyed it regularly as I've looked at the dew, rain and frost on the leaves.
 The Cavolo Nero kale has grown very well. I like these structural plants that give shape and form to the garden and stand up to the cold. They've been a little battered by the wind, as has everything in the garden, but they seem to cope.

These little lettuces have been a lovely surprise, they've grown from seeds that were broadcast when I pulled up a lettuce plant that I had let go to seed. I didn't expect them to germinate this year, but they have and they've coped with the frosts so far. I've lifted a few of them and planted them in the greenhouse and covered with them horticultural fleece as a precaution in case the weather becomes much worse.

Now the oca has been lifted I need to wash it and leave it on the windowsill to sweeten for a few days before using it. It has a gentle radishy-lemony flavour and is nice boiled and mashed or sliced and used in stir-fry meals. But before I wash the oca, it is time for a cuppa!
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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Monty and Tabitha move in

It has been a full year since we lost Archie, our much loved cat (you can read a blog post about him here) and we are ready to have a new cat share our home with us. As it turned out, we found two cats that needed rehoming via Bristol and Wales Cat Rescue. They have clearly been well cared for and loved, but their last owner had died and they need a new place to call home and we jumped at the opportunity.

On Sunday morning we tidied up in the boot room and put a new coat rack. Last week we'd bought some coat hooks and I had screwed them to a piece of wood. Mr J drilled some holes in the wood and the wall and once he'd fixed the rack to the wall, we transferred the coats. After a year of using a child's cloakroom rack, it was lovely to get our jackets and coats hanging up high and clear the space on the floor below them.

We moved the child's cloakroom rack to on top of the units in the boot room, stored our scarves and gloves in baskets on it and I vacuumed the floor in readiness for our new arrivals.

Then we drove to Bristol to collect Monty and Tabitha. They are pedigree British Short-haired tabbies and we were supplied with their pedigree paperwork when we collected them. Splendid as that may be, to us they will just be 'the cats', our feline friends.

When we got home, we showed them the litter tray and their food and water bowls in the boot room and they responded by running under the boot room cupboards and staying there for most of the day.
Monty is braver than Tabitha and by early evening on Sunday Monty had decided it was safe to come out and explore his new surroundings. 
This included being fussed and given a tickle under the chin. Tabitha is more shy and nervous, she spent a full day hidden away and only came out to eat when we weren't around.

Monty had a good look around the downstairs of the house and then settled on my lap on the sofa. Each time I moved my legs (which were going numb under his weight) he would hop off the sofa, only to return a moment or two later. 

 As has happened all week, I fell asleep on the sofa quite early in the evening and when Mr J woke me around 10pm to go to bed, Monty was still stretched out on me deeply asleep. So I think we can say that he has started to settle in.

On Monday afternoon Tabitha started to venture out from under the units and from the boot room. She was much less adventurous to start with and has taken her time to explore her new environment. 
However, once she started she wanted to explore everywhere. Under cupboards, behind curtains, on top of tables, she's inspected the waste paper baskets and even the inside of my slippers.

When we sat down at the kitchen table to eat our supper, both cats appeared and attempted to make themselves appealing, presumably in the hope that they would receive tidbits from us as we ate. Feeding animals at the table is not something that either Mr J or I approve of and the cats, realising that they weren't going to receive any tasty treats, wandered off to find the wood burner and flopped in front of it.

We shut them into the boot room again overnight. Once they are allowed to go outside, they will be coming and going via the cat flap that is in the boot room door, so getting them used to being in there seems a smart move.

By this morning (Tuesday) they were feeling settled enough to run out and greet me when I opened the boot room door. Their food bowl had been emptied over night and the little tray filled, so they seem to have got into a good routine.

As I type Tabitha is wandering around the house, sniffing and rubbing against everything while Monty seems to have found a quiet spot in which to curl up. 

I need to head outside and unlock the bird houses, the chickens and ducks still have at least three weeks of being confined under cover while wild birds are migrating. The ducks have had their space restricted, their feed, water and pond covered and can no longer access beneath any of the trees. We have ordered a large walk-in run for them, which we can cover with tarps, this will keep them under cover completely and I am hoping that this will arrive in the next 24 hours. We will keep this up permanently and remove the tarps once given the all-clear by Defra. Then next time we have to confine the birds we will have all the infrastructure in place.

But before I do the morning chores, I think there's just time for a cuppa!
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