Friday, 30 December 2016

A Grandma's Lament

 One of the most powerful statements I've read in the last few years is one that I can no longer remember the source. The sentiment, however, will stay with me for the rest of my life. It went something along the lines of 'Grandma, when you learnt about climate change, what did you do to help?'

And that simple statement, a question from a child to its grandparent has changed the way I look at the world, my day to day actions and my hopes for the future. I'd like to be able to look straight into the eyes of my grandchildren (and great-grandchildren when they come) and be able to tell them with honesty and demonstrable results how I responded to the changing environment in which we live and what I did to try to reduce climate change and lessen my impact on the world.

I've always believed that we do not own the earth, but that we are its guardians for future generations. I've been cross at my parents' generation and earlier generations for willfully damaging the earth beyond recognition in some places, but also recognise that much of that damage was not understood and so was done without the knowledge of the long-lasting impact of their actions. But we don't have the luxury of those excuses now, we know more, our scientists are discovering more and more about the impact that we, as humans, are having on the planet and surely, we have an obligation to try to preserve this beautiful world for those that come after us.

Or perhaps not, perhaps it doesn't matter whether our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren and beyond suffer from the results of our actions, perhaps we should just do whatever we like and not worry about how it will impact the planet and in turn, those who inhabit it. Perhaps we, like so many animals that have become extinct by our actions, will also suffer the same fate and perhaps that doesn't matter. Perhaps.

Maybe all that matters is that we are comfortable here and now, that our bank accounts are filled with money, that our homes are filled with the latest gadgets, that the profit levels of huge conglomerates continue to rise and maybe it's more important to ensure that the richest folks continue to get richer. Maybe.

I don't usually discuss politics on this blog, anyone who follows me on social media or knows me in person will be aware that I do have political views, that I express them quietly and sometimes loudly, but I keep them away from this blog as it is about our life on this little smallholding. But sometimes I become so enraged by the actions of our politicians (of all political parties) that I just need to vent. And usually when that happens I write a long ranting blog and read it through, I sort out my own thoughts and then work out what actions I can take to do what I feel is right for the situation. Then I delete the post before it is published, so that my furious thoughts are not seen by the readers of this blog.

But I fear that the 'no politics' policy that I decided for myself has just ended. I am furious and saddened by the direction that our politicians appear to be taking.

It seems to me, a relatively uninformed and average bod, that on one hand the governments of the world have come together to agree that some things need to be done to protect our planet for future generations and on the other hand, many of those leaders are actively ignoring and denying the very existence of the problems. 

Will denying the issues make them go away? 
Will saying that evidence is questionable make the witnessed patterns of change in the weather stop? 
Will putting profits for the few before the preservation of our planet make the world a richer place for everyone in the long run?

I feel powerless to stop the politicians reversing the sensible albeit small steps that we, as a species, have started to make to stop the damage being done, but I can continue to take action in the little corner of the world of which I am a guardian and hope that enough of us take similar actions.

I hope that enough of us will think about how we will respond to the next generations when they ask us 'What did you do to stop climate change? What did you do to protect this planet? What did you do?'.

My wish for 2017 and beyond is that enough of us will be able to look the future in the eye and say 'I did something'.

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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Sowing the seeds with love

After much pouring (and pawing) over books, catalogues and manuals I have finally decided the seeds that I'll be sewing in the vegetable garden and food forest in 2017. I've ordered many of them over the last couple of months and my daughter kindly gave me several packets of seeds for Christmas to complete the seed collection.
 For many of the crops I will be planting several varieties, this way I hope to extend the season of our fresh food and if one variety fails, there may be a chance that one of the other varieties will do well.

Onion Sturon
Onion Radar
Spring Onions
Shallot Zebrune
Leek King Richard
Leek Autumn Mammoth
Leek Carantan 2

Our onion crop was a bit of a let down this year. I planted two varieties and one of them almost completely failed. Well no, that's not exactly true, if one wanted small onions about an inch in diameter then I had a spectacular crop. If however, like me, one wanted tennis ball size onions that would store well throughout the winter, then I had a fairly miserable result. So for 2017 I will be growing two varieties that have given me reliable results in the past and some spring onions and the banana style shallot.

The leeks, on the other hand, have been very good this year. I sowed them into a seed tray and then planted them in a couple of short rows where they grew on until I was ready to plant them in their final positions. I ended up with around 200 healthy young leek plants which should see us through to the end of spring. The white part of each leek isn't terribly long (about six inches), but they have an excellent flavour and texture, which to my mind is more important.

Squash Marina Di Chioggia
Squash Uchiki Kiri
Pumkin Baby Boo
Butternut Squash F1 Hunter
Butternut Squash Waltham
Spaghetti Squash
Squash Jumbo Pink Banana
Squash Blue Hubbard
Squash Delicata
Squash Turks Turban
Pumpkin Howden
Courgette Verde Di Milano
Courgette Soleil F1
Summer Squash Delikates
Summer Squash Sunburst F1

This year the pumpkins and squashes grew much better than I expected them to, given that they didn't start the season very well. 

So for next year I plan to grow as many varieties as I can find organic seeds, in the hope that we will have a greater number of winter squashes to store and use throughout autumn, winter and into the spring. The summer squashes and courgettes were a mixed bag this year, so hopefully the weather will be better next year in June and July and they will do well too. I wrote about the squashes I'd like to grow here.

Swede Lomond
Swede Best of All
Savoy Cabbage Vertus
Swiss Chard White Silver 2
Swiss Chard Rainbow
Cabbage Red Acre
Kale Dwarf Green Curl
Kale Curly Scarlet
Kale Nero Di Toscana
Kale Brussel Sprout Cross Flower Sprouts
Brussel Sprouts TrafalgarF1
Spinach Perpetual
Broccoli Sprouting Early Purple
Broccoli Sprouting Summer Purple
Broccoli Red Arrow Sprouting
Tree Cabbage Paul & Becky's Asturian
Aztec Brocolli Huauzontle

I made the mistake this year of growing January King cabbages which although very successful, we didn't like their taste. So, for 2017 I have a savoy cabbage seed and may grow the January King for the birds as they are very partial to it. I forgot to sew swede seeds this year until very late in the season and have been harvesting small, thin swedes which I've been adding to soups and stews. The chards were grown primarily for the chickens, but Mr J and I found that we liked the taste of the rainbow chard stems when added to a tray of vegetables roasted in the oven.
The kales grown this year have provided additional green leaves for both the ducks and chickens until the lockdown earlier this month, so I will grow them again next year to add variety to their diet. The tree cabbage and Aztec brocolli will both be planted in the Food Forest as will some of the chards and dwarf kale. The latter two will act as ground cover for the year.

I started to harvest the purple sprouting broccoli about six weeks ago and we've enjoyed large portions of it weekly (or more often) since then and it looks as though we should be able to continue enjoying the crop for a couple more months. By planting two varieties this year we've extended the harvesting season by several weeks and I plan to do that again next year. So far I haven't frozen any purple sprouting broccoli as I think the flavour and texture diminish too much when it's frozen.

Carrot Chantenay Red Cored
Carrot Cosmic Purple
Carrot Rainbow Mixed
Beetroot Monorubra
Beetroot Boltardy
Parsnip Tender and True
Potatoes early
Potatoes maincrop

Mr J and I have been surprised this year by some of the vegetables that I've sown. Beetroot was the biggest eye-opener for us, I have always liked beetroot in a salad, although prefer it not to be in vinegar as I find that the flavour of the beet becomes over-powered. Mr J tolerated beetroot, but certainly wouldn't have listed it as a preferred vegetable option. We've both been delighted by roasted beetroot, it seems the slow cooking with a selection of other root vegetables allows the sugars to sweeten and caramelise making them delicious. I also made a tasty beetroot and apple relish.

Our home grown carrots have been so nice that I am now slightly reluctant to buy them from a shop as so much of the flavour is lost in the time it takes from harvest to plate. We've also decided that we prefer the rainbow mix carrots and in particular the darker colour carrots, so next year I will grow more carrots and also try some Chantenay carrots too.

I grew oca for the first time this year, they were sent to me as a gift from Joanna who offered them on Twitter. I had no idea what they would be like, but they have been easy to grow and harvest and taste delicious. We ate them with our Christmas lunch and my daughter and her partner were equally impressed with them. This week I am sending some oca tubers to another gardener, who has sent some perennial nasturtium tubers.

Salad Curcurbit Melothrie
Lettuce Gourmet Mixed
Lettuce Lollo Rossa
Celery Red Soup
Radish French Breakfast
Tomato San Mazarno 2
Tomato Thessaloniki
Tomato Brandywine Black
Tomato Moneymaker
Cucumber Chinese Slangen
Asparagus Connovers Colossal
Corn Fiesta

This year I grew 12 tomato plants in the greenhouse and next year I plan to grow many more. I will plant them in the greenhouse and in the garden and rig up some sort of protection for the ones grown outside to give them conditions similar to the greenhouse and thus, hopefully, reduce the risk of blight. This year I made about 12lbs of tomato and vegetable sauce, but next year I'd like to stock the larder with enough tomato sauce that I don't need to buy any tomato puree. We also have a large bag of tomato halves in the freezer which we use for breakfasts and adding to other meals, it has been lovely to have 'fresh' tomatoes that still taste as though they've just been pulled from the vine.

Runner Bean White Lady
Runner Bean Greek Gigantes
Mangetout Oregon Sugar Pod
Pea Progress no.9
Pea Ambassador Maincrop
Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia
Broad Bean Leidse Hangdown
Climbing Bean Blauhilde
Borlotti Bean Lingua di Fuoco
Dwarf borlotto Lingua Fuoco Nana
Yellow Dwarf French Bean Minidor 

The beans were a great success this year, we had sliced runner beans with our Christmas lunch and they also tasted like we'd just picked them. I feel that this year I have finally cracked the method of preserving our food to keep the best taste and texture. I didn't manage to freeze any of the fresh peas as we ate them all (often before they got to the kitchen!), but I did freeze a couple of pounds of mangetout which I have been adding to stir fry meals and into omelettes.

So it looks like I'm going to have a busy spring in the greenhouse and if we can find an affordable one, in a potting shed. The outbuilding that was going to become my potting shed has been turned into the chicken palace because of the DEFRA enforced lockdown and now it's been converted I see little point in changing it back again as it means we are ready as and when another lockdown happens in the future.

Our move towards self-efficiency seem to be working well. We continue to eat a majority of food from the garden and are looking at ways that we can exchange our home grown food for foodstuffs that we don't have.
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Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas preparations

As with so many homes at this time of year, we've had a hectic week of preparations for Christmas celebrations. Just not for our own Christmas!  

We had decided to give a few of our ducks to our friends and family for their Christmas meals and so this weeks I've processed four ducks and a chicken (for our own use last weekend) and I've made more fudge and coconut ice.
I've also been searching through my favourite recipe books for a good recipe for Tosca cake, which is a traditional Swedish cake made with almonds. It is one of Mr J's favourite cakes, I haven't had it for years and although I will be cooking one for him, I won't be having any as I developed a severe allergy to almonds several years ago (which is probably what happens if one is greedy enough to eat marzipan straight from the block!).

On Thursday I gathered armfuls of greenery from the garden to make a door wreath for my sister. I kept it very simple, using holly, ivy and a variagated euonymous.

I made lots of small bunches of stems which I tied together with fine cable ties, snipping the excess off. I then wired each bunch on to the twiggy base using florists' wire making sure that I covered the stems of the previous bunch with the leaves of the next.

I was very pleased with the final result and so was my sister, who by now will have it hanging on the front door of her cottage.

While I had all the greenery in the house I thought that it might be nice to decorate our home with some branches of leaves, so I put a few branches around the mirrors and made a candle decoration with bunches of long cinnamon sticks tied with ribbon and dried fruit.

When my sister came to visit (with her husband) on Friday, she brought with her some more of the bedding that we use for the ducks. She buys it in bulk and with the last delivery, she ordered an additional ten bales of bedding for us. It means that we can have it at a slightly cheaper price than if we bought the bales individually. We had asked for ten bales as we thought that would probably be enough for four to six months. That was before the DEFRA imposed the lockdown of the poultry. When I built the chicken palace, we needed to add a deep layer of bedding on the floor which used up five bales of bed-rap and two of wood shavings and we refreshed the floor of the chicken condo, which used three bales. So it looks as though we will be ordering more bed-rap sooner than we expected.

Little White has now grown into such a splendid cockerel that we have renamed him Big White, this also helps us distinguish him from the younger white Jersey Giant cockerel. 

The oldest Jersey Giant female is now at point of lay and although she hasn't produced an egg yet, I am sure it won't be too long before she starts laying. Big White has certainly started taking an active interest in her which she is not entirely happy about, but also isn't running away from him.
The Australorps are down to just six in number, during the lockdown they are living in the same space as the Jersey Giants and Dieselette, who prefers the company of her Australorp friend than of any of the other chickens. I still have to choose which of the young males to keep and which to despatch. I thought that I had decided but then became unsure. I am more concerned with good behaviour traits than their physical perfection, but it would be nice to have birds that aren't too far from the standards of perfection laid out for the breed.

I suspect, although I should make it clear that I have no real knowledge, that a poultry lockdown may become a regular occurrence. If we need to protect our birds during migration of wild birds, then it would seem to make sense that there will be two periods of lockdown in a year. So with that in mind, I have been thinking about what I can do ready for next year or any future lockdown to allow me to continue feeding the birds green leaves from the garden.

Having carefully grown crops to feed to the birds during the colder months, I have a garden chockablock with lush brassica that can't be fed to them during the lockdown as it is not under cover and so could potentially have been pooped on by a sick bird. Next year I think I will create a couple of beds with a selection of brassica, chards and spinach that I can cover in early November to keep them safe from contamination from overhead. I will also grow some in pots and move them into the greenhouse towards the end of summer, then I can harvest from those too for our chickens and ducks. Then, if there is no lockdown, either we or the birds can eat the leaves and, if there is a lockdown, we'll have a good source of fresh vegetables for the birds. As I plan to grow plenty of winter squash next year, they should be able to have some of those too. If the girls have to be shut away for a month or so at a time, I want to be able to offered them a varied diet.

It's almost time for us to head out to the local shop to buy a few last minute items, like cream and milk (and chocolate!). I hope that everyone has a joy-filled and peaceful Christmas.
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