Saturday, 29 August 2009

The Weekend Adventure...

Well, we had the trip to the farm on Saturday and had the second bloke come to look at the house and give his opinion on the woodworm and damp proofing. He took a look in the roof space (the first person to do so) and found that there was signs of wood worm up there to, this means that we will also need to get this area sprayed as well. The problem is that the roof space hasn't even got enough space to allow someone to crawl in, as a result the spray would be difficult to apply from this one roof access panel. We are going to get another hole cut to allow access as well as a few more gaps to allow the eaves to be reached. We had the choice of just 'making do' or doing it right, so we are going to go with the latter, seems sensible.

It looks like the whole house is going to need sprayed for woodworm just to keep it all safe and sound. He certainly seemed like a good bet, he explained everything and is going to give us various different quotes based on the different options we have available. It will be interesting to see how this guy's quote compares to the one that we already have.

At some point we will have to return and get the rooms measured up so we can start planning the kitchen layout and the electrical sockets that we need. Perhaps we will head over tomorrow...

In terms of the electrics, the whole house looks like it will need to be re-done to bring it up to regulation. We are going to make a map of all of the rooms and mark where we want any sockets or other outlets. It was good to speak to someone who understands the process although we are probably going to get another company in to do the actual work. Although our friend can do the work he is not at a level that can provide the required paperwork, and obviously we want to get this done right! So he is going to advise us but we are going to get some quotes from companies for the actual work.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Weekend Plans...

So, what is going down with the new property. We went out to see it, as you know and came up with a whole host of ideas as to what we should do to make it the house of our dreams! (How cliched is that!). We certainly had plenty ideas and there are definitely some ideas that we are going to talk through with an architect when the time comes but up until then we have some work to do on the house...

This weekend will see us getting a second quote on the damp proofing and woodworm (see previous post). The last guy told us one thing as a verbal quote then by the time we got the written quote he had upped it by a quarter again! Hadn't budgeted for a random increase so we are, quite sensibly if I do say so myself, getting another quote. Particularly after my mum's discussion with her local builder who nearly died when we explained the issues and told him the quote! So this Saturday sees the coming of the Builder Man. He will hopefully give us a more reasonable quote and may be able to get started on the work whilst we are away (my parents are house sitting both properties and the guinea pigs, caravan in tow). That would be great if we could come back to a house ready for stage two: decorating.

I am very much looking forward to decorating, I always feel it is the best way to make your mark on a property. I particularly liked the fact that below the existing carpets the floor boards look amazing, so I am really keen to get them on show, bit of sanding a nice polish and voila!
We are also having a friend (electrician) in to look at the electrics and to give us some advice on what needs to be done and his idea of the cost. We aren't sure about actually getting him to do the work, not becasue we think he can't do it, but there always seems an added risk with hiring someone you know to do something like electircs or building work as what if it does go wrong? Do you want to cause arguments about it? Obviously, you would hope both parties saw the problems as 'purely business' but it is bound to cause some issues. I think asking families in to help is different, don't mind arguing with them!! LOL

But hopefully by the end of this weekend we will have some idea as to the cost of everything and perhaps even a time frame... or maybe I am being too positive (is there such a thing?)

I have decided to add a new category for all you category followers: House Renovation. Say Hi! As there will be so much to do on the exixsting property and eventually into the extension I felt this bad boy deserved it's own topic! Hopefully I can pull my finger out and get a nice button made for it too!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

How to Grow The Perfect Mini Herb Garden

I found this great article by Tyler Jaysen, and thought I would share it with you all.

If you want to have some herbs readily available for you, you might want to think about growing a Chia herb garden. A Chia herb garden will allow you to have fresh herbs in your home year round. Add zest and flavor to your cooking, and enjoy the fun and benefits of indoor gardening. The herbs can be grown in clay pots, plastic window boxes or even containers of a suitable size and shape. Just be sure to make drainage holes on the bases of the containers. What you should grow in your kitchen garden depends on what you like to eat.

However, you do not need perfect sunshine, sea mist or even a never-ending summer to successfully grow mini herbs like rosemary. In fact, more rosemary plants suffer from too much attention than from too little. All you need to get started, is a smaller galvanized bucket (6" high x 5.5" tall) with all the necessary ingredients to grow fresh and fragrant culinary herbs right in the pail. And this size will fit right on you windowsill! The ultimate in indoor greenhouses are what are sometimes called growing racks. These look like a typical size set of shelves, but they typically have some type of plastic covering that will help keep the temperature and humidity more constant.

Mint grows like a weed, and you will be fortunate if you are a lover of mint infused teas. Select where you would like to grow your mini herb and vegetable garden. When selecting area, don't forget to read any pre-printed information inserts. Certain herbs and vegetables grow best in either full or partial sun. Chives also do well by clipping their flower heads; and the more you harvest the more chives will grow. Thyme has many growth habits and is a low maintenance plant, making it perfect for every herb garden. Once you have decided which herbs to grow you can focus on designing an herb garden to best accommodate each of the plants. Planting an herb that likes the direct sun in a shady location will not result in a successful garden.

Some herbs, such as basil and thyme, need maximum sunlight and so do best on a south-facing windowsill. Here you could group together individual pots of basil, chives, oregano, thyme, and salad burnet for year-round snipping. Who wouldn't want a selection of fresh basil or cilantro to cook with! These mini potted herbs would be a great parting gift for your wedding attendants, and would add to your venue. Actually it's not for breakfast at all, really, don't eat it - though harvesting your parsley and basil crop is of course deeply satisfying.

If your rosemary plants live outdoor, they can become up to two meters, but if you are growing rosemary indoors, it is recommended that you cut the top now and then. It will prevent the plant from growing very tall, and will give you a fuller and bushier rosemary plant. Planting the herbs in neat rows will accentuate the formality and allow for tidy maintenance procedures to be carried out. Tip: One of the most common causes of indoor plant problems and diseases is due to over-watering not under-watering.

About the Author:

Tyler Jaysen is an herb expert. For more great information on herb gardens , visit

Article Source: - How to Grow The Perfect Mini Herb Garden

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Wanna See In My Abode....

Well, it is finally here I can show you pictures of MY house! I am still grinning about it, until I think of all the work that needs doing, then I pause briefly, think 'Good Grief!' then grin again because it'll be so good seeing it all come together!
First a brief look at some of the out buildings:

Let's Tour the house:

I haven't taken pictures of the two smaller bedrooms. But there are in fact three bedrooms. As you can see there is some fabulous wallpaper on the stairs!! *cough*

I really love the fireplaces, as far as we know that they are all working (definitely the ones in the bedroom and the first sitting room do).
Now we have much work ahead and have already begun planning all that needs doing..

Monday, 24 August 2009


So, after a long period of uncertainty and a great deal of 'oh for crying out loud', we are getting the keys. I am not getting the great task of going to get them, however, a task I was actually looking forward to. The sellers have a solicitor in the big smoke and as 'To Be Farm Guy' works there, it is easier for him to go and get them.

We are most certainly going to be heading out there tonight, as we were going to be doing on Friday night, so we can have a good look around what is now, 100%, no question, OUR HOUSE!!!

Watch this space...

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Brace Yourself.... It's A Big 'un'...

Are you SEEING this!! Impressed aren't you! This is what I call a haul of garden goodies! LOL

Well, I guess it's not going to feed us over winter but the beans represent the first wave of beans from my three, pot-bound, bean plants. I never expected much but there is, I reckon about 4 times this still on the plants. So these little beauties have been prepared, blanched and frozen to await their bush bound buddies!

We never intended to have much this year, just wanted some plants to stave of the 'I Wanna Grow Stuff' urges.

As for the blackberries, well, they are pretty sad looking, but there are plenty more. As you can see our tub of strawberries has yeilded one strawberry ready for picking today. This tub however, I was using to try and recover my plants (rather than grow fruit) that I was terribly cruel to last year, stuck them in a pot and forgot them (oops!) They looked mighty sad the beginning of this year but are now looking great and are all prepared for to be put into the new veg/fruit patch... whenever that comes along!

I said I was making a celebration cake for getting the keys to the house, and even though we never got the keys. Fingers crossed for tomorrow, I made it anyway.

It is a Cream Cheese Loaf With Berry Swirl, and I discovered it on this great blog - The Bewitchin' Kitchen so if you fancy a shot please check it out. My swirl didn't swirl quite as it should have. but by gum it was tasty! (And it let me use up some of the left over strawberry jam I had).

Thanks to everyone for your comments about not getting the keys. It was a bit of a blow and I have to admit made me quite upset. We have been waiting to do this move for several years and thought we were managing to take the first big step on Friday. It is only a few days more, and the visit to the farm on Saturday really helped, but with all the build up for Friday...

But now tomorrow is the day and I can now look forward to it all over again, not often you get to do that twice so quickly after each other!! It should go through fine as it is literally just a case of swapping money and keys and then HURRAY!!!

Revealing the House!!

This isn't Saturday! I know, but yesterday ended up SO busy that I just didn't have time to get all the photos up. Today I shall give you some photos of the outside of the property, I will save the inside until we actually get the keys! Mainly because I currently don't have any of the inside! Okay, are you ready to take the farm tour?..

The front of the property

If walk up the drive way...

Let's go stand by that little hedge and turn around...

We'll walk further down till we reach the gate of the field
and take another look back at the house.

Please, turn around and take a look at the field
On the right here, you see the side of the hay shed, let's walk down past it.

Now, if we walk down past the hay shed and turn around...

Turn to your left, yes, we bought a nettle patch!
See that little telegraph pole, between the trees?
Let's walk over there and chcek out the byre.

There we are there's the Byre, old dairy and that little lean to is a stable. Hey, there's 'To Be' Farm Guy!
(By the way, that fence, isn't going to to be there, we actually own more land beyond it so that will need to get changed!)

Just thought we could take a closer look at the side of the old dairy. You can see the house peeking over the top. I am thinking that a greenhouse might look good just there on the left..

And to finish the tour lets go through that little gap and take a look at the little front garden.

Needs a bit of tidying but we already have plans!

And here endeth the tour, we have gone full circle. The byre and dairy are attached to the side of the house and currently have permisson to be turned into a second house. We are hoping to change this and simply convert it into more living space! That's the plan.

If I can get the hang of the camcorder I may get a video tour of the barns at some point, or you'll have to put up with another photo tour.

Here's a 'great' little plan of the area, impressed with my MSPaint Skills?!

Friday, 21 August 2009

It's Friday.. But I Ain't Got That Friday Feeling...

It's Friday, people. Friday the 21st of August 2009. The day we are getting the keys to our new house.

Spot the mistake in that statement... did you get it? If you said it was the date, then you are wrong (unless you are in another time zone in which case, please pick another mistake!). Do you need keys for a house? Yes, yes I am afraid you do..

Did you pick this sentence:

The day we get the keys to our new house

You were correct!! Well done!!! It should read:

The day we were getting the keys to our new house.

Yes, its true, thanks to some truly masterful time wasting and eloquently put yet completely confusing discussions between one lawyer and the other, we passed the time for the bank transfer of the money and now have to wait until Monday! There are words for how I feel and what I think of all involved but I am too polite to say them!!

The problems are stemming from, yes, you guessed it, the septic tank outflow. Because that now involves another set of people with another set of solicitors it is causing problems. Basically, the new set of people were given about 2 days (max) to find a solicitor and get everything sorted. Which they tried to do but seemed to have failed. This was compounded by the fact that neither our solicitor nor the sellers seemed to know who it was that was supposed to be contacting this third solicitor to find out what needed to be done. We thought it was them as they will be paying the fees, they thought it was us as we want the piece of paper. So no one did anything until it was to late. I feel you can fill in your own opinions about that!

My mind thinks this could have been solved a lot more smoothly if both seller and buyer could have just sat in a room about two months ago this could all have been sorted!

We are still going up to the farm tomorrow, we have been on the phone to the sellers, who appear as equally irritated that this has happened. She basically phoned up as she was annoyed at their solicitor's handling of things and wanted a moan! Yes, it has come to that, buyer and seller chatting away while solicitor's muck us about! Anyway, they are going to let us have a look around as we had planned to do anyway, so I will be able to supply you with some nice photos and tales tomorrow.

I even had a celebratory recipe to share with you guys, I may make it anyway. I shall share that on Sunday after it has been test tasted tomorrow!!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Not Long Now...

So, it's Thursday.. that means tomorrow is Friday! That means it is key pick up day!!!!

We are sitting fingers crossed that all proceeds as we expected. We were told yesterday that they are sure it is a septic tank on the property. The problem now is where the run off is, is it still in the grounds of the property we have just bought or on part of the land that has been sold to another person. If it isn't on 'our' land then we have to ensure that we have right of access to it! We aren't sure how this will affect the key date. We are assuming that this will be taken up by our solicitor with the new owner ofthe piece of land, although there was some talk of withholding some of the payment for the house until it is sorted... sigh.. I just want my house!! All the papers are now signed however, and all the money, from both us and the mortgage people is now with the solicitor, our team is ready to go, just waiting for Team Seller to make their move!!

The orchard that we are planning on will hopefully be around 6 - 8 trees and I am wanting a mixture of apples, plums, pears and cherries. I am ooking for something that is going to be useful in the kitchen but also just a nice place to be!! I am also imagining that this area will be fenced so it is possible that the chickens, that are on the cards will be in this area too. Although they will be able to fly out if they want, hopefully it will contain them slightly. Although I don't think that containment is going to be too much of an issue. A problem we are going to have is finding the right trees for our area, it being Scotland and we are a little exposed on top of our hill but there should be something suitable. I can't wait to go tree hunting!! Orchard is definately number one on the list!!

Monty, the star of yesterday's Wordless Wednesday, has made another appearance, seeing as he posed so nicely for this photo. Beyond his own egotistical desires to be internet famous, his photo serves no other purpose... well, it does make me smile!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Countdown Continues..

3 Sleeps to go!! I am excited but I am trying not to be, I am still not convinced!! There is still some outstanding paperwork yet to be provided by the Sellers and until I know that that is safely with our solicitor then I am not wanting to get my hopes up too much!!

But it is certainly difficult not to! I have so many plans for what we can do and what we can achieve at this place! I am looking forward to sharing some photos when we get the keys, holding off until then, have a grand unveiling. There will be a lot of work required to make the place achieve it's full potential but I have a vision!

First thing after all that work on the house, or in fact probably during it, is my orchard. I am really keen to get that in the ground and under way. Not entirely sure where I will find the money for it... what with all the renovation work and having to pay two mortgages! (Still haven't sold our current house) but Hey! Ho! I will get it from somewhere... as I say "you can always earn more!" There has been some talk that the hay that is currently in the field may still be salvageable and sellable, so maybe the money from that we can use to buy the fruit trees! Just a thought!

Also looking forward to getting a few chickens too!

Doubt I have mentioned it before but we decided that there wasn't enough on our plates at the moment so we are going on Holiday to Florida in September!! What, I hear you gasp! Well, we already had it booked, we had no idea our dream house would arrive so quickly and hadn't expected there to be an issue, let alone an overlap!! So, we will get our house, then jet off and leave it to my parents!! Perhaps it'll all be done and sorted by the time we get back... current house sold.. building work done.... extension built... perhaps not! And anyway, part of the fun of the destination is the journey!

Couldn't resist, had a trip to Google maps, here is a rather crude attempt at an overhead shot taken from there!

Chickens.. The Road to Self Sufficency?

Chickens. By now you will be pretty much aware that I am all about the chickens (it’s even in the blog title!). So I thought that in preparation for getting my own ‘brood’ I would take a delve into the life and times of the chicken and hopefully learn some great info along the way..
join me.. “puuu cuuukkk” (that’s a chicken noise! Well, you spell it!)
In 2003 there were 24 billion chickens in the world, more than any other bird in the world. So getting into chickens shouldn’t be too hard, we should be falling over them! When and where chickens were domesticated is under a bit of dispute but they have been reported in Greece, India and Egypt over 10, 000 years ago. It is believed that chickens originated from Junglefowl: our little feathered friends are jungle critters!!

Choose Your Chook
There are a great many varieties of chicken out there so you should first decide what kind of chicken you would like (what you are keeping them for, meat, eggs or just a pet) then look through the various breeds available. Look around your area for any farm shows this is a great place to see a variety of chickens and chat to breeders and owners about what is best for your needs and what each breed can offer. You can also pick up great care tips and tricks! If you are intending to breed your own little flock then a cockerel is a must, bear in mind, however, that he will be noisy and some can be aggressive. It is possible to have the little ‘McNuggets’ without a cockerel, you can buy fertilised eggs and either purchase an incubator and become a mother hen, or if you have a particularly broody hen she will sit on them for you. Hens will accept chicks from breeds other than their own (and even the chicks of the likes of Guinea Fowl) and are usually excellent mums.

With a rise in people wanting to ‘do their part’ by raising their own chickens why not go one step further and rescue a battery hen? There are many charities around that are looking for loving homes for ex-battery hens. These charities will get your birds for you and give you all the help and advice you need to care for your new (probably bald) chicken. How to encourage them to ‘be a chicken’ and how to ensure their feathers grow back successfully. These birds are usually available for a donation each to the charity in question. These hens may not lay as regularly as ‘normal’ chickens but you will still get a good egg supply, think of them as being about half as regular as a non-ex-battery and you should be fine.
So you have your chickens, now where do you keep them? There are various methods of keeping chickens depending on your space and the closeness of your neighbours. The housing of your chickens is the most important thing you will need to decide upon, for both you and your chickadees. They will rely on you to ensure that they are kept safe from predators, even a town house can get a visit from Mr Fox. But you will also need something that you can manage and maintain in the time you have available.
For town livers you may be looking for something small, compact and easy to look after. If kids are involved, and a chicken is a great pet to teach responsibility but also where food comes from, then fun coops can be found like the Eglu. This funky coloured coop comes with attachable run to keep your chooks safe and, perhaps importantly for the town dwellers, in your own garden. The Eglu Company will supply everything you need from the coop to the food to egg-boxes to the chickens themselves! They will also come round and install your coop and give you the 101 on chicken keeping. There are a variety of colours and designs depending on your needs. These coops are easy to clean but are quite heavy and if left on a lawn they will need to moved regularly which is a two man job! They also have a lack of proper roosting bars although there slats but are possibly not a great substitute for the real thing. The Eglu is a complete kit but can be costly so if money is an issue then perhaps…

The more traditional looking chicken experience would be something in wood. There are many, many companies online that would be able to supply you with your chicken coop check online. Also check out your local garden or DIY centre as many of the bigger names are beginning to stock up on a small selection of coops. These coops also lend them selves to being for free range or run enclosed birds. Either have no run fitted at all or allow them freedom from the run when you are happy that they can. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there are existing sheds then perhaps the way to go is a shed conversion. Ensure that the shed is secure and draft proof, although some ventilation is necessary to prevent respiratory problems. Add a chicken sized door and a ramp if needed and some roosts. Plans for converting sheds can be found online once again and should supply you with everything you need to know about what your chickens require from a coop. There are also available plans to build your own coop from scratch so if you are handy with a hammer then this could be a great way to save money!

Remember plastic is more expensive than wood but wood will need to be treated to make it weather proof. Wooden coops tend to be cooler in the summer and are simpler to repair, but plastic models are better in the fight against Red Spider Mite.

When choosing a house try to find coops and runs that have

  • good access, preferably from both ends
  • nest-boxes with their own external access to allow the removal of eggs
  • consider shutters to prevent birds using the nest-boxes to sleep in at night
  • if you need to move the coop make sure it has sturdy carrying handles and/or wheels
Useful Links

Monday, 17 August 2009

Things Move Forward.... So SLOWLY

Well, the cont down has begun! Only five sleeps to go! Tonight sees a vist to the solicitors with "The Cheque"! And that should be us all ready to go payment wise. There are still some outstanding issues with regards to paperwork that we want them to provide but they are trying to avoid providing but nothing that is too show stopping. We were after a detailed plan of the land in order to register with the land registery office (or something) but they didn't supply one as detailed as our solicitor would have liked. And there is a question about whether it is mains sewage or a septic tank which still needs clearing up, no one seems to know!! Even the people supposedly in the know!

But all is looking good in the long run and we look set to get the keys, as planned on Friday! So fingers crossed people!

And to clear up some questions that have arisen from my post comments below:

Woodworm: Woodworm is a little beetle thing that eats through wood. It slowly munches its way through joists and beams and things. You need to get a house that has them 'treated' with woodworm killer so they don't much away you're whole house. - Hope that clears it up FrugalMom :)

Damp Proofing: In soggy Scotland we get problems with damp rising through the foundations of the house and up into the walls, thus destroying your walls (and foundations). So to prevent this most modern houses are built with Damp Coarsing, a protective layer built into the brickwork of the foundation that prevents the water rising. In older properties, many don't have damp proofing as they are too old, so this needs to be added after the fact. This is usually done chemically by injecting a kind of resin stuff into the wall. In does in some cases (and in ours) require that the plaster is taken off the walls first which creates a right mess in your house.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Start of My Preserving

The Pear tree wasn't giving much effort (make taht zero! effort!) this season but I still managed the 2 kilos I needed for my jam: and I only had to stand on the chair for the last few!

The pears were a bit hard still but I find that they cook that little bit better than ones that are close (or over ripe). I made a nice selection of Pear and Lemon Jams (with enough to give to my parents). The jam rule in our house if you return to jar then you get it automatically refilled. My mum has worked out a good scheme too - claim you lost the jar you were given and then say 'but I have another instead' - which I notice is slightly larger than the original!! Good Planning.

I am keeping my actual recipes on my other blog, with a nice little link, this is so I can A) Keep them seperate and B) let people subscribe to just the recipes without all the 'Dream' stuff mixed in!

I hope that everyone's preserving is well under way? I have to admit I really enjoyed making this jam, if you give it a shot it has a maramlade x jam quality, sharpness of the lemons but with a sweetness running through, I think you'll enjoy it. But it left the house smelling really great, one of the best parts of jam making!! I am not going to have much to preserve this year, what with the 'we are moving' garden that we have at the moment i.e. one without much veg beyond what we can eat. I am noticing that the blackberries are starting to ripen though which should be great when they are ready, had one today, still a bit sour!!

Friday, 14 August 2009


Flowers from my Man

Today is our 1 year anniversary! 1 whole year ago, today we got married in the grounds of Guthrie Castle in Angus. We are going to celebrate with a trip to Loch Leven! And I even get a day off work!! Life is great. With so much to look forward to in our new house, with a new house as an anniversary present how are we going to top that next year!!

Our Wedding Day


We had a great, if not wet two days, up at Loch Leven and Fort William. We did a bit of waterfall baging, I love a good waterfall and also went up Ben Nevis! It was blowing a gale and pouring with rain, but we did it!

A Waterfall - The Grey Mares

Lunch at 650 metres

Another Fall - have no idea the name!! But it wa in Glen Coe and we had to stop at the side of the road and jump out (into the rain!)

How we got up Ben Nevis (you think we walked!!)

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Day Approaches

Well, you may have thought that I had forgotten ALL about moving. You'd be wrong, nothing could be further from the truth. We are still in discussions about buying the new property and trying desperately to keep our house tidy for potential buyers. So far we have had 0, count 'em, 0 viewers to the house but in a way we are happy as this will give us plenty time to move when the time comes.
It is still supposedly the 21st that is the key handover date so I am thinking positive that we will get in then. I don't want it to be much longer than that as I have Orchards to plant!!! (Gotta have things prioritised!) What about the woodworm and damp proofing? What about them? I have Orchards to plant!! But we do have some work needed on the house before we move in, we have had a quote for the work already which, once we regained consciousness, we have decided to get a second opinion! basically the house needs:
  • Treatment for Woodworm
  • Partial Damp Proofing
  • Possible new wiring
  • Shower room fitted (or change to existing bathroom)
  • Kitchen

I still haven't posted any photos of the house although I am dying to! But I still don't want to jinx it, even at this late stage!! (Although some people might be able to find one I sneaked in!). But a brief re-cap of the property: 3 bedroom farmhouse, attached Byre (with planning for another house in it, but we will just extend the existing house), various outbuildings and garage, 14 acres of field (yes, one stonking big field). We will have two neighbours: a Dairy Farm over the road and a new build bungalow next door. Apart from them and us there is no one else, perched on the top of a hill in Central Scotland! HURRAY!!!!

I hope you have been enjoying my new 'Let's Talk...' Series. I am hoping to continue this with as we progress through our endeavour and hopefully you might get a little something out of them too!

It is great to see all the wonderful comments that have been being left and hello to any new Subscribers, great to have you along.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Preserving... Extending the Bounty

Well, one of the things that has always concerned me about self sufficency is what to do with all this glorious produce (see how optimistic I am!) that you grow over winter? How do you look after it? How do you make it last? What should you expect to be able to serve on Christmas day? So with that in mind I went on another fact finding mission.. and so was born the second in the 'Let's Talk...' series.
There appear to be two basic sides to preserving: The whole thing as it is or making something preservable out of it. And the methods of doing this seem to be immense. I intially thought, naively that it was pickling or bust! But there is so much more.

Preserving as a Whole
By this I mean keeping the fruit or vegetable as it is, or close to it.

Freezing is probably the most obvious option as this allows you easy access when needed and most people have a freezer available. I know a Deep Freeze is on my list of goodies when we move. Freeze soft fruit by spreading on a tray in the freezer first before transferring to bags for storing. Many vegetables, such as peas are a case of shelling, bagging and freezing, nice and straight forward. Some vegetables, such as runner beans will require to be prepared first, topped and tailed, and then par-boiled before freezing. This partial cooking will stop the beans from becoming hard and tough in the freezer.
Herbs can be chopped and placed in an ice cube tray, top up with water then freeze. To use just pop a herb cube straight into your dish.

This is obviously most useful for such garden produce as herbs. Blanching the herbs first will make the drying process better. Drying can be down the 'traditional' way, upside down, outside in the sun, but it is also possible to dry your herbs in the oven or even in the microwave.
Remember that produce such as garlic or onions also benefit from drying and can also make a great display if you plait the stems for hanging. Check out here for instructions on how to make your own garlic plait.
Making fruit 'leather' is a fun way to store soft fruit by drying, this doesn't quite fit in the 'keeping it whole' section but it is about drying! Check out here for the old how to's!

Outside Storage
Some produce such as parsnips and carrots can be stored in the veggie patch in the ground, just dig them up as you need them. Although some people may prefer to dig them up. If you do choose to dig up any root vegetable allow it to dry in the sun first (dig on a sunny day). If preparing potatoes don't leave for too long as they will turn green and eventually become poisonous. Then ensure that any veg that has signs of disease or bug attack are removed. The remaining veg can be stored in a double thickness paper bag or in hessain sacks. As with everything, keep them cool and dry.
Fruit such as apples should be kept individually wrapped in a dark cool place and they will last several months. The fruits must not touch each other, hence the wrapping, if you want the longest life from them.

Pickling and Bottling

Obviously the most common way is pickle or bottle (in syrup, sugar or brine) any vegetables you may have left. As a quick recipe for preserving in sugar.
Sterilize bottles or jars. Add the fruit of your choice and sugar (4oz of sugar per 2 pint bottle). Stand the bottles in a pan of cold water and ensure that they cannot knock into each other. Ensure that the water is up to the necks of the bottles. Heat to the boil and then simmer until fruit has reduced by 1/3. Allow to cool. Seal with airtight lids and store.

Preserving as a Product
This section shows ways you can turn your produce into something that will store better that the fruit or veg would store alone.
Jams, Jellies, Curds and Chutneys
This is probably the most obvious ways of preserving your fruit and some veg. In the coming posts I will reveal some of my own recipes for the above items, to keep you until then here is a great recipe of mine for strawberry jam.

Or a tangy Pear and Lemon Jam

For those unaware, jellies are essentially jam without the bits. You would need to seive the jam mixture to remove the lumps and then allow to set. The left over pulp could be used for fruit 'leather', see above. Jellies are good for seedy fruits, rasps and grapes of pips aren't your thing.
Fruit Butter
Now this was a new one to me, someone left a comment on the blog about making apple butter so I had to find out what that was all about. It appears it is like curd but without the extra ingredients. Essentially the fruit is slow cooked and reduced and reduced over several hours. Some recipes appear to add spices to the mix. Once the mixture is fully reduced the producted is bottled, cooled and sealed and then 'Ta Daa' - fruit butter! I have never tried it but it is now firmly on my list of 'To Do's'!

Cordials and Other Drinks
Finally on my short investigation into Preserving there is the cordial. This sounds like my kind of thing. There are loads of recipes out there so I won't post any here, but I may post my own in the future. Cordials are made from water, sugar and your fruit, and in most cases very little else. They keep for a good while and can be great for a variety of uses.
Never forget the advantage of fruit juices (and remember the pulp for your other receipes) and Apple juice can be taken one step further and turned to cider at very little effort, as too can pears.
With so many options out there for preserving my bounty I don't think I should worry about my fruit and veg not making it through the winter.

Monday, 10 August 2009

A Tour of Our Garden

Well, we have had some horrible weather recently so I thought I would brighten the day with some pictures of the flowers around the garden.

The sweet peas all came out blue, even though it was supposedly a 'mixed' bag!

We were trying to help out the bees this year so we added a Bee Pot and got some fabulous colours and they have just kept going. They all were flowering in relay!

I am a big Lily fan so I was so happy when these managed to bloom, and by gum they bloomed! I didn't think they would manage as the flower bed is not the best! But they managed big style. They smell wonderful, especially in the evening when I go out to put the girls (Guinea Pigs) in for the night!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Orchards... Beautiful and Practical

I have just finished reading an article about the decline in British orchards. I was quite surprised at how many different species of apple can be grown in Britain, and used to be grown in abundance. The number of species now grown for the ‘commercial’ market has dropped significantly with lots of once common varieties disappearing completely from the shelves. Apparently, out of 2000 species of apple being grown in Britain only 30 of these are for commercial reasons, the rest are just for 'pleasure' growers. Orchards in themselves are diminishing at a great rate and it is said to be due to the commercialisation of apples and the requirements of supermarkets for the 'perfect' fruit. Although tasting good the British apple can be less than attractive leaving the market open for ‘prettier’, more uniform fruit growers. Although it is still possible to obtain any of the British species some are more popular than others as we are only exposed to what is in the supermarkets. So I suggest we all head down the local farmer's market and get trying some varieties we have never heard of! Bring back the British apple!!

All this talk of apples and orchards has got me thinking about this new place we are buying (yes, we still are and keep an eye on the 'Upcoming Events' for more info!!). We should be inheriting a huge field and it occurs to me that part of this could be given over to a nice little orchard. By little I mean about 6 trees! But I always have a vision of country life that includes an orchard, covered in wild flowers and some little white ducks running around in it, so with that image firmly in mind I decided to investigate.

I have read that one only requires a minimum of 5 trees to be considered an orchard, so that shouldn’t be too hard to get! The number of different fruits that can be grown in Britain surprises me (today is a day to be surprised by fruit!). From apples to plums to pears there is a wide variety of fruits available to the British climate. But being in Scotland, albeit a warmer part we will need to be careful we pick something hardy enough.

Apple Trees
I would defiantly be looking for apple trees and due to my love of cooking I think that a cooking variety and a eating/dessert variety are on the cards. Now some of these require two or more trees each to ensure pollination but there are some varieties that are self-pollinating, these could come in handy. Self-pollinating plants do better with a pollinator partner but should be pretty self fertile. Obviously there are many varieties that are possible but who require the help of another of the same species. These include:

Self PollinatorsRequire Pollinator
· Sunset
· Royal Gala
· Scrumptious
· Braeburn
· Laxton’s Superb
· Golden Hornet
· Bountiful
· Discovery
· Bramley
· Katy
· Howgate Wonder
· Sweet Society

This is obviously not a definitive list, if anyone has any favourites, let me know and I can add them to the table!!
I have found that there are many varieties that can stand the Scottish climate so I don’t think that I will have a problem finding the perfect tree for me. Currently liking the sound of the Sunset, as I have had first hand reports from friends that this not only grows and survives but it also bears fruit!

Found For You
On my travels around the web and the magazine rack I have found a nice little company that will supply you with ‘Orchard in a Box’ (my name not theirs!) it consists of basically 5 trees that will fruit the following year to planting: you’d get 2 apple trees, 1 pear, 1 plum and a greengage. They also stock a wide range of fruit trees and a whole heap ‘o’ help. If you want to check them out go to

Other Fruits for an Orchard
I think that I would want something other than apples in my little orchard. And the list seems quite bountiful. There are the obvious pears, but also cherries, damsons and plums all grow well in Britain and are excellent partners in the orchard for apples, and excellent partners in the kitchen too! Maybe some of each are in order for our slowly expanding orchard plan!

I am hoping to grow some fun fruits like peaches but I’ll save that for another post. I hope this has inspired you to take a look at growing your own tree. Keep in mind that dwarf varieties of most of these plants are available and can easily be grown in pots or containers; you don’t need an orchard to be growing your own!

Useful Links

Apples and Orchards Project
Trees in Pots
Fruit trees for Scotland

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Corn Story..

So, how is the corn experiment going? I can hear you all crying from here! Well it is going better than we expected! We are certainly feeling confident about trying to copy this on a larger scale when we move. As you can see the cob is starting to emerge, we currently have three of these on our three stalks. The poor stalk that snapped was unsaveable.

I don't think we are going to make out fortune in corn this year but we are looking forward to trying our first ever corn produce!

And just to finish the post here's another daft cat!