And so it begins…

First wild fruits…

Somehow I carved out time for my first foraging expedition of the season today, after a hot, busy & chaotic summer when it feels like I achieved absolutely nothing of any lasting importance. I took myself off to the drove roads and forest tracks up behind Badbury Rings, in what might or might not be the last of the summer warmth, to hunt for crab apples from the two big trees down the side of the wood. It’s early yet, but the apples in our garden are coming down thick & fast, and we’re perilously close to running out of chutney; remedial action was required! And there were some down already, possibly enough, and clearly plenty more to come. I was also keeping an eye out for sloes, elderberries, hazelnuts & blackberries, bearing in mind that we’re forecast heavy rain – not before time! – this weekend, which will probably cause ripe berries to rot off.

There’s an early-autumnal feel to the air, the cooler mornings re-inforced by the fact that many of the trees are already turning colour & shedding leaves. But apparently this is caused by the horrendously dry summer we’ve had; they’re ditching excess leaves early because they can’t pump sap up to them. And most of the passers-by who stopped to exchange pleasantries as I was berrying were keen to tell me, “Thin pickings this year!” or “Not worth bothering with, are they? They’re tiny!” I reassured them that though generally quite small, they’re full of flavour this year – not diluted & squishy as they sometimes are after a rainy summer. And a big sigh to the grandparents who tried to tempt their Harib0-clutching grandchildren to try the abundance of the hedgerows; the inevitable squawks of “Yuck, that’s horrible!” were sadly quite predictable!

Thin pickings?

There were not many sloes up there, but I do know where there are, and they won’t rot in the rain, so there will be sloe gin this Christmas. And there were so few elderberries I didn’t bother picking any, just left them for the birds. But I did get a respectable 2½ punnets of blackberries; half are in the freezer already but the other half will be cooked up with windfall apples & bottled, or water-bath canned, as we seem to be calling the process now.

Windfall apples…

Results at the allotment have been very sporadic; I lost two complete plantings of runner beans and squash plants before realising that the well-rotted horse manure I’d carefully dug into a nice trench for them was probably contaminated with a weedkiller. The poor little plants turned pale within a day or two of planting out, and seemed “blind” in that they just didn’t seem to know which way to go; no amount of gentle encouragement helped them to go up the poles. It was only when I noticed that their leaves were curling in & turning brown that I realised what had happened. But the third plantings, although late, are finally coming into full production now, and assorted plantings of French & pole beans have kept us going in the interim. Best of all, healthy runner bean shoots appeared in two places from last year’s roots, a foot away from the manured trench, which I’d left in last autumn to help build healthy soil. They are now producing lots of lovely beans, and the very late “Painted Ladies” I chucked into a spare bed in late July are flowering prolifically too. Just as many of my fellow-allotmenteers are ripping their beans out – “It’s September, they won’t do anything worthwhile now!” as my old allotment neighbour used to say. But I’ve usually been lucky enough to carry on picking decent beans until the end of October; we’re generally very mild down here.

Last year’s runner beans, this year!

We won’t mention corn-on-the-cob; there’s always going to be some disappointment. But I’ve been experimenting with growing some things at home, in 30-litre tree-buckets, and have to report great success with potatoes – mind you, they’re coming up all over the allotment anyway, far more than I actually planted! – courgettes, aubergines & even a cucumber.


And my chilli crop is magnificent, but that’s largely due to our local supermarket reducing plants on their sell-by date to 50p despite the fact that they’re laden with fruit just waiting to ripen up in my garden! 3 chillis in a plastic packet for 85p, or 15 on a slightly-wilted plant with plenty more flowers for 50p…? Don’t mind if I do! I’ll try to nurse the plants through the winter in the greenhouse, too, which I did manage to do with 3 of last years, which are also producing well now.

This year’s chillis from last year’s plants…

So despite the feeling that I’ve not managed to achieve anything worthwhile yet this year, and despite the awful, relentless economic bad news and the fact that our leaders have evidently abdicated all responsibility for us mere voters, never mind the fact they’ve completely lost any shreds of common sense they ever had & are far too busy squabbling amongst themselves to help the sick, the starving and the desperately broke, there are still some reasons to be cheerful…

From bunk beds to raised beds…

Missy, Norma & Daisy inspect the “new” raised bed

It’s been an interesting few weeks… I’d have liked to document the Covid-19 lockdown – not that it’s over yet – but somehow hadn’t the heart for it. And I’ve been pretty busy, despite not being able to do my usual markets, fairs & festivals, or visit my family; the allotment suffered a fair bit of neglect last year, thanks to my less-than-ideal health, so there was some very hard work to put in over there; I never, ever want to see a creeping buttercup again. Luckily the weather was excellent so I could just head on over there & get on with the job. And there was lots of fun to be had raising seedlings!

It was very difficult to get hold of seeds for the things I’d run out of, because after the Great Loo Roll & Pasta Panic of 2020, the next thing the general public around here did was strip the garden centres bare before they had to shut their doors. The big online seed companies didn’t seem to know what had hit them & many only “opened” their websites for an hour or so each morning, in order to try to keep up with demand. However, the gardening magazines came to the rescue with packet after packet of “free” useful seeds; not always the varieties I’d have chosen, but there when they were needed! And some of the less well-known seed sellers – smaller companies, or enterprising individuals, mostly on Ebay – helped me acquire the things I really couldn’t be doing without, like Red Russian kale & Orelia courgettes.

I don’t have a greenhouse (sore subject – I should have one, having paid for one that was allegedly in stock back in April, but there’s no sign of it yet & no word from the vendors despite many queries, although they still seem to be trading) so most of this year’s seedlings were raised in half a small dilapidated polytunnel, which was bought in a panic to house my bantams in during the Great Bird Flu Panic. The cover was in bad shape, having been cut to make roll-up “windows” to keep the birds well-ventilated & healthy during their confinement, but the frame is OK (as we’re only using half of it) & I managed to roll & tie the damaged cover so that it basically did the job.

The “half-baked” polytunnel

It’s all well & good raising seedlings to go into the allotment, but we may be unable to access our crops if we get a localised total lockdown, which I believe is a distinct possibility as the epidemic progresses. So I wanted to create some space somehow in our small urban garden, which is already pretty full of fruit & nut trees & bushes, roses, day-lilies, a wildlife pond, a 6m chicken run, bantams, a small lawn, 3 cats and all their friends, & what seems like several acres of drying washing. A small raised bed running alongside the chicken run seemed like a good idea, until I priced them up & realised that, complete with a kit to make a cover, a necessity with free-range bantams, we were looking at £150 & I still had to put it all together myself.

So – what had we got that might be press-ganged into doing the job? An inspection of the lengths of wood lurking in the garage rafters yielded 4 x 2m sturdy pine “planks” that were once the sides of our elder boys’ bunk beds, a number of rickety pine shelves & some sturdy bits of 2×2. There was half a pot of green stain to take the edge off the orangey colour of the varnished pine, and plenty of long screws & staples left over from reconstructing the Gumtree’d freebie shed at the allotment. I did need to buy some heavy-duty ground cover to line it, and some butterfly net to make the cover, plus some compost to top off the home-made & reclaimed-from-dead-pots stuff underneath, but altogether I’ve spent less than £25. It won’t last forever, but if it does us until next Spring, I’ll be happy and so will my plants. Then if we’re staying put for another year (we’d like to move to somewhere with a bigger garden) we might invest in something a little sturdier.

A pumpkin flower in a wombled cold frame, and borage for pollinators – and Pimms – at the allotment.

It’s been a while…

…because I’ve been busy. Very very busy, in fact, in the nicest possible way, because there suddenly seems to be a lot of interest in what I’m doing, So I’m taking the plunge & have rented a small workshop/shop in the centre of our little town, to open up; website to be set up over the next few days.
I’m really excited but there’s a lot of work to do; the unit needs painting & some other stuff like hot water & flooring sorted out, and I’m trying to source just about all the fittings secondhand, recycled or reclaimed, with one or two exceptions for electrical safety’s sake. There’s a side room for my VintageCraftStuff, and also some gallery space to display our own creations and those of other local crafters. There’ll be human-powered sewing machines & spinning wheels, giant knitting needles, inkle looms, spinning & felting supplies, handspun yarn, and reclaimed fabric, yarn and buttons for sale, and of course, books and magazines… open for retail Mon-Fri, 11-4 pm.
The idea is to run FREE lunchtime “craftalong” sessions – bring your sarnies, or buy something yummie & inexpensive from the Riverside Cafe next door, and sit & stitch/knit/crochet/whittle – whatever, as long as it’s creative! – for free in good company, anytime from 12-2 pm. Then 2-4 pm will be inexpensive have-a-go themed workshops, probably about £4 per person including materials (if it can be done) on simple basic stuff – cardmaking, scrapbooking, bookmaking, wet felting, needlefelting, learn to spin/knit/crochet/stiitch – and there will be expert workshops in the evenings & some weekends, with more advanced tutors. Everything will be small scale, partly because of space limitations but also because it’s nicer & easier to learn that way.
There’s a little garden space at the back to grow a few dye plants, herbs & flowers in tubs & baskets, and sit & stitch or spin in the sunshine on nice days. The river runs right outside the door, so it’s a very green & natural space for a town-centre location.
So I’m really, really busy trying to sort all the background stuff like insurance, website & fittings out right now. I’ll post again just before we open, so wish me luck, watch this space & plan to come & visit us when you’re down this way!

A good haul today…

I just nipped into the Tip in passing today, to see whether they by any chance had any last-minute Japonica quinces; I think I’ve denuded the entire neighbourhood of them now. No quinces, but there were a fair few other bargains to be had:- 

  • a wicker basket for my stall. Stuff looks far better, and is easier to transport & display, in  containers, and wicker looks the part nicely on top of my rescued red velvet ex-curtains.
  • a bag full of splendid pelargoniums to brighten my conservatory windowsills over the winter & give plenty of cuttings for next summer’s windowboxes.
  • another armful of tins; I do have enough now, but a friend is collecting up good quality kitchware to do a market stall of her own. These are very attractive, worthy of display in their own right.
  • a sturdy solid wood chopping board.
  • two intact “Bodum” cafetieres, small & mid-sized.
  • some good-quality utensils for my friend’s stall – an easy-clean garlic press, a sturdy stainless steel corkscrew, and a tin-opener that’s so good I may not hand it over! And some smooth, sturdy old wooden spoons, and a couple of rather nice pastry tins.
  • more jamjars. I know there are more quinces out there somewhere

The reason I’ve been hogging all the quinces & jamjars is that Transition Town Wimborne are doing a stall at the Charities Fair at the Allendale Centre this Saturday. My contribution will be a “preserves” tombola & taste-testing – hopefully that’ll be an eye-catcher, raise us some funds and raise people’s awareness of just how much free food is going to waste in the hedgerows & gardens all around us… as well as lightening the load on our garage shelves!

I haven’t been struck dumb…

… but my computer was. My “C” drive imploded last week and had to be replaced; we’d had a little warning but I hadn’t quite got round to archiving and preparing for the inevitable. So I was caught on the hop and had to get it professionally replaced & cloned. More expensive than the DIY option, but far cheaper than a new computer & well worthwhile, although I am now left with the job of sorting out all the rubbish that’s accumulated in my Inbox & Documents folder over the last 4-5 years, not to mention all the half-deleted games.

So my online shop still isn’t fully open, which is probably just as well as my bank have yet to divulge my business account number, which is fairly vital. But we have been recycling away in the background, as usual; I’ve just finished planting up my containers & hanging baskets, every one of which is reclaimed from the Tip. Even some of the plants have come from the same source, particularly the fuchsias; last spring I rescued 3 willow baskets full of fuchsias “past their best” which wasn’t surprising as there were up to 8 in each basket! Those that had survived were thinned out, given new soil and replanted in the baskets and elsewhere in the garden, and gave a fine show at the end of summer & up until the first frosts.  Some are showing tiny leaves again already, though others seem to have given up the ghost. As they didn’t cost me a penny, it’s easy to see losing a few as part of life’s great cycle.

This year my baskets have been lined with “dag ends” from the Freecycled fleeces I’ve picked up. I haven’t felted them first, & probably should have, but they  look amazing, especially the white ones. I gather that the fleece and its contents will nourish the plants, as well as holding moisture, rather than just holding the soil in place like traditional liners. Many of the plants are cuttings from last year’s rescued geraniums, though I have bought some new to give variety, and given some of the cuttings away, as well as growing some from seed.

Hanging baskets are wearing natural wool this year...
Hanging baskets are wearing natural wool this year...

And our container kitchen garden is flourishing; some of the potatoes are flowering and will be on our plates before long. They haven’t been earthed-up but have been provided with woolly jumpers from yet more dag ends. There are lots of herbs, and a reclaimed water tank full of beans, which I hope will be well-fed by a whole fleece that was very badly matted; basically it had felted itself on the sheep’s back & wasn’t any use for spinning.  I’ve planted out some of LIDL’s “living salads” in lovely wide terracotta pots, which the slugs don’t seem to have discovered yet, unlike my own lettuce seedlings.  All is watered by rainwater captured from the kitchen roof in butts rescued from the Tip; we’d like a big rectangular storage tank there, but haven’t found one yet, and I refuse to pay £150-odd for a new one. You can see one last bag of well-rotted horse manure, waiting to feed the autumn crops as the summer ones get harvested & their containers are freed up.

Our container kitchen garden, on the driveway...
Our container kitchen garden, on the driveway...

We’ve had guests this week and the weather was good, so evenings have been spent in the garden, toastimg marchmallows around the pot-bellied BBQ stove, fed by snippets of pallet and small offcuts gleaned from the Tip. This week I’m sure I’ve taken more down there than I’ve rescued, thanks to two of the boys swapping bedrooms and taking the opportunity to purge years of accumulated schoolwork, guitar strings (you can only re-use so many) deodorant bottles, odd shoes and outgrown holey jeans on the way. The jeans are in the pile for my next denim apron, but I parted with the rest without a backwards glance.

On the Freegan front, I’ve just polished off a plateful of Aubergine bake. Two lovely aubergines with minor dings were nestling in the bag of “unfit for humans” goodies I picked up at the market so they’ve gone into the oven peeled, sliced & layered with sliced onion, covered with a tin of chopped tomatos and a sprinkle of home-grown rosemary & topped with grated cheese and crumbs off the bread board. Scrumptious! There were also three bruised bananas which have made a banana custard for pudding (made with some of our own home-laid eggs) some watercress with little roots on which got popped into the pond and the chickens got the rest. And DH, now recovered from his bout of pneumonia,  is happily constructing fences with palletwood, to keep the chickens off his new “Nispero” (loquat) and olive trees, bought with the money we haven’t spent on everyday things, so for the moment our recycling efforts are mostly outdoor – long may it last!