Thursday 31 July 2014

Cold Courgette Salad

Or Zucchini to the Americans!
I've been loving this salad lately, it's my new favourite and a great way to use up a few courgettes!
It's really simple, use a vegetable speed peeler to create thin strips of courgette, then add a salad dressing of 2/3 olive oil to 1/3 lemon juice (from a lemon not a bottle as it tastes so much better), chuck a bit of feta cheese and a handful of mint leaves in and mix it up. 
I couldn't believe how good this tasted. An easy summer salad!

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Climbing Squash

 My Squashes have been growing like crazy in every direction. And this year they seem to like growing upwards.

The wires for my cordon apple trees has provided a great support for them and they look great growing up with the squashes hanging under them.

I've even been eating some apples this week from the same row of trees. These are George Cave, a lovely tasting early apple that's only really any good straight from the tree. 
Anyone else started eating they're apples yet this year?
I'm sorry I haven't really been on anyone's blog the last week or so. I've been so busy with work, cutting hay, harvesting produce and having fun with the kids that time just seems to disappear! 

Saturday 26 July 2014

Edible Hostas

I first read that hostas are edible in Alys Fowlers "The Thrifty Forager" a couple of years ago. Being tight frugal meant that I wasn't going to buy plants to try something that might not taste very good. However the other day I was having a walk around the garden and noticed that there was a hosta hidden away and looking rather unhealthy in a neglected wooden planter that's holding up our patio (the patio is on the to-do list!). 
Some hostas hidden in an old planter
 I decided to dig it up and show it a bit of TLC, divide them into three plants and re-pot them. 

Dug up and having a soak before being potted up
 Hopefully they'll do well for a new bit of compost and a regular watering and then when they've recovered I'll plant them out with plans to harvest young shoots to eat in the spring.
In some pots for a bit of TLC, we'll see how they'll do.
Apparently in Japan they harvest wild hostas as a cash crop from the forests and they're called urui. A Google search gives loads of recipes for stir fries, tempura & salads. There's a few different things on it here, here and here if you're interested.
Another unusual edible in the garden, hopefully they will put a bit of variety in our diet in early spring when they're isn't much else about growing. Apparently the different varieties taste quite different so only time will tell if this variety is worth eating or not, if it turns out to not be great then I'll have to raid my mothers garden as she's got hundreds of hostas in her beautiful garden (although I have a feeling she may object to that!).
Anyone else tried eating hostas?

Thursday 24 July 2014

Back To Work - For Now!

Well my first stint of being a stay at home dad has come to an end. We always said we've give it until the summer holidays and see if it was working out for us, the children and financially.
Sharpening up ready for a summer of work
 So after three months everything seems to be okay. I've managed to do the housework, cook the tea, do some DIY & painting, maintain the garden so it produces loads of lovely veg and find plenty of weekend and evening work to help our finances.
In fact the work has been coming in thick and fast. For the last couple of months I've been working 3 or 4 evening a week from 8pm to 10pm in a house a customer is doing up as well as lots of Saturday work. 
It's been a case of making hay while the sun shines though as I doubt anyone will want me working in their house at that time in the dead of winter! I've been making preparations for winter though and I might have a workshop on the way - watch this space - so that I can keep building no matter what the weather is doing.
Now I've got lots of work until the end of the summer holidays. Then come September I'm back off again with my girls and hopefully we can keep going on like we have been.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Willow Wand - Children's Toy

My wife and children went to the village fete the other day and had a great time. One thing I thought was really nice was that there was a willow weaver there who was giving every child a hand made willow wand. 
Willow wand
 She could have easily charged for this little toy but she didn't (you can find her website here) and the children were really enjoying playing with them.
A well used toy!
It proves that a toy like this doesn't have to be throwaway plastic tat.
Instead it can be from a completely sustainable and renewable resource and when it's finished with it's completely biodegradable. What a great toy made by skilled hands! 
Anyone else have similar toys around the house?

Sunday 20 July 2014

Floating Oak Mantle Piece

A picture heavy post sorry and one repeated from my other blog.
This is our own mantle piece in our living room. It's been on my "to-do" list for quite some time!
Who says the clobbers children go bare foot! They just have to do without for a little while!
The top of our fireplace looked like this all winter, so it was time to make it look a little neater!

Plywood template made up the exact same size as the oak.
This is so holes could be accurately drilled and match up between the wall and the piece of oak

Fixing the template to the wall. Making sure it's level

The stainless steel threaded bar fixed into the wall. The holes behind are a couple of mil bigger to allow for the resin to fix the bar. 

Using a template in this way means that the bar will be in exactly the right place. I used the nut to make sure it was the right distance out from the wall.

The three pieces of threaded bar resined into the wall. The middle one is purely to locate the oak and to stop it from warping.

The underside of the two ends.
The oak is then tighten to the wall making it very strong. This hole will eventually be filled with a Walnut plug for a contrast - If you can't hide something then make a feature of it!

A good spanner had to die to fix it though, as a normal one wouldn't fit in the hole! 
The finished mantle piece

The mantle piece looks quite modern but, in my opinion, goes well with our fireplace, giving it a good mix of the traditional materials with the sharp lines of the rest the fireplace.

Friday 18 July 2014

Allium Harvest

All the alliums (except the leeks obviously) have now been pulled and are drying in the greenhouse or on slabs outside.
Some things have done better than others. 
Lots of shallots! I think I should just grow these!
 The shallots did really well this year and we've a good amount to use in the coming months and enough to save to plant again next year. I roasted some with a roast the other day and I'd forgotten how good they taste, slightly caramelised on the outside and meltingly gooey in the middle - delicious!
All the onions, a bit small but they should keep us in onions for a while
 My onions weren't so good. The rust from my chives did spread but it didn't do too much damage, but I'm not sure how well they would have done with out it.
The red onions didn't amount to much. A lot of them tried to bolt and didn't really bulb up much and some have gone soft already, I'm ready to give up on red onions and just plant more shallots next year.
The brown onions were slightly better, none of them are going to win any awards for biggest veg but most reached a usable size and look healthy so should keep well.
Garlic drying in the greenhouse
 The garlic was a big success. I managed to harvest thirty two good sized bulbs with a handful of smaller ones that we'll use straight away. I was worried that I'd planted them too close together (my usual trick) but I fed them quite often and this has paid off. 
Thirty two good sized garlic bulbs with a handful of smaller ones
I'll save the biggest bulbs to plant again next season, leaving us a good amount to use. I'm not sure it's a years supply but it won't be far off. 
How has everyone else's alliums done this year? 
How are you going to be storing them?

Wednesday 16 July 2014

First Tomato This Season

I know we're far behind many other British bloggers, but I'm still pleased that yesterday we've had our first ripe tomato this season.
 I say "we" had, but I think Ev beat us all to it really. 
She's really not been a fan of supermarket tomatoes over the winter and spring and quite often turns them down, but this one she kept saying how nice it was and "thanks Dad" the whole time! I think it was a success!

I wonder how good they are? The only trouble I've got now is keeping her out of the greenhouse! 

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Jurassic Plants & More Unusual Plants

It was no good, once I'd ordered that Blue Sausage Fruit I knew I'd have to have more unusual edibles growing here. 
I bought it from Jurassic plants and I dropped them an email to say it arrive in good condition (I believe in writing to praise as well as complain to companies - otherwise how do they know they're doing something right?) and they decide to send me a free tree, a Dawn Recdwood, which will go great in an area I'm planning to plant up with a few different conifers. This is a tree I would have got if I'd ordered through their website rather than eBay.
Superbly Packaged
I decided to have another look at what else they'd got for sale. I picked out the "Chinese Prickly Ash" or "Szechuan Pepper" it's more likely to be know as. This will produce seeds that can be used like traditional black pepper, so should be good for our self sufficient goals! Also on there (pointed out by Sandie's Patch) is a plant called a "Japanese Bitter Orange". Not a true citrus but it's meant to have a strong scent, a fruit you can make maralade with, and it is completely frost tolerant. Worth a shot!When they sent the plants they also sent me two more free trees! A couple of Chinese Crab Apples (different Latin name to our common ones so I'll be interested to see what they produce). I've potted all these trees up and they're growing really well, situated between my greenhouses. I just need to plan where to plant them in the future.I've been really impressed with Jurassic Plants and if you're interested in something a little different it might be worth having a look, plants come well packaged, good instructions and some plant food to keep them going and it's always nice to support a small nursery.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Edible Daylilies

In my quest to find and try more and more unusual edibles I decided to make the most of what we've got here on the homestead and make sure I know which plants are edible and which aren't 
Outside our front door we've got two large clumps of day lilies. They always put on a great display at this time of year although I have to keep them trimmed back otherwise they engulf the path and we can't get in! 
Turns out the best thing is they're edible! And they actually taste good! So far I've only eaten the pods raw and they taste like mange tout and are lovely and crisp.
Apparently they've been used in Asian cooking for hundreds of years and every bit of the plant is edible. The pods and the flowers are great in stir fries, the roots are nice roasted and the spent flowers are dried and used to thicken soups and stews. Even the young shoots are meant to taste amazing. 
It's a plant I want to experiment with more and try to use in our cooking a little bit. It's also one that looks amazing! 
Anyone have something growing in their yard or garden that they didn't know was edible?

Friday 11 July 2014

"Grown Up" Potatoes

My sliced, roast, rosemary and garlic potatoes have become one of the staples of my weekly cooking lately, but the other night I thought I should try and make them a bit more child friendly. Not by cutting back on the flavour though!
Cookie cutters with potatoes (in fact these are from her play-doh set!)
 I raided my little girls play-doh set and found some of the different shaped cutters in there and used these on slices of potatoes. So simple I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before! 
Both parts of the potato add a bit of interest and give more crispy edges!

Plenty of rosemary and garlic to be cut up fine and mixed with a cold pressed rapeseed oil

The finished thing
When I brought them out I got a "Wow Dad" which is always nice (even if she sometimes says the same thing when I get her a cup of water!), but I thought this idea is a fun way to get kids to eat home made cooking and, although simple, I thought I'd put it on here. 
Anyone else do something similar?

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Chicks Come Early

I'm now feeling much better - thank you to every one for the well wishes. I think it must have been some sort of 24 hour bug and I'm feeling really guilty about it, as my dad, who came to help out with the children, has now got it. No need to guess who's to blame for that one! I just hope he feels better soon and it doesn't spread to the rest of my family! 
 On a brighter note we had some chicks hatch yesterday. Two days earlier than I had marked on the calendar, so I guess she must have been sat on them in the coop for a little longer than I thought before separated her from the rest of the flock! 
 Out of seven eggs, six hatched, one chick was deformed/injured so had to be dispatched straight away (away from the sight of the children) but five chicks isn't bad really. I bet they'll all be cockerels now though! 
 The girls love them, it's going to be as much as I can do to keep Ev away from them! She's really gentle with the chicks and helped me pick up all the egg shells and tidy the nest then told her mum all about it when she got home. What a great way for a little person to learn about life and food!

Melissa seemed fascinated by them as well so hopefully I've got two budding young poultry keepers in the making!

Monday 7 July 2014


As a rule I don't get sick very often, when I worked full time I'd go years between sick days. Having children does change that a bit as they pick up everything going. So when I was rubbing my two year old's back at one in the morning while she was being sick, I wished I could be sick instead of her. 
Yesterday I got that wish, as I didn't leave bed all day except to go to the toilet. I'm still not right this morning and I think my wife is coming down with it as well (although she insisted on going to work).
I just love this picture! My wife got them done at the weekend
My dad was a star yesterday though, as Claire was off all afternoon and evening (with something she couldn't cancel) so he came to look after the children. 
I think he decided that there are many things easier than looking after two young children on his own! He assured me he wasn't going to do any nappy changes (diapers to the Americans) while he was here but he rose to the challenge and did any that came his way! Along with making their dinner and getting them ready for bed. I think he enjoyed it really!
I'll do some normal posts when I'm feeling a little better. Hope everyone else is doing good.

Friday 4 July 2014

Strawberry Growing

I'm pretty good at growing most things but I suck at growing strawberries. I'm not sure what I do wrong but they never seem to do very well. 
Working at a friends house today I think I saw the answer. 
Strawberries in guttering
 I know growing plants in guttering isn't new but I thought this was a great use of space and at "toddler" hight a great way for children to pick their own. 
Great use of space
There were loads of strawberries ready to eat and I imagine it's far easier to control any runners or weeds and watering would be straight forward! 
I might have to try this on our fence at the front of the house next year and see if we can grow a few more berries this way. I've got some old guttering saved from a job back in the winter that would be ideal for it.
Anyone else been growing in this way or similar?

Wednesday 2 July 2014

Mulching With Wood Chip

I've managed to stay somewhere near on top of my veg garden this year with weeds, but the soft fruit garden is another matter. It's full of nettles and docks. And I mean full 
There is a fruit garden here somewhere! Honest!
 So this week I've made it my job to tackle it before it all goes to seed. After a few people recommending a video I watched one over an hour long on the "back of Eden" system of gardening, I thought I'd try a lesser version of it and mulch the soft fruit garden with wood chip from my tree surgeon of a brother.
Laying newspaper down first once I've pulled the big weeds
 I laid a layer of newspaper or cardboard down first to try to suppress the weeds and then a good 4 inches or so of wood chip. I always thought that wood chip was meant to remove the nitrogen from the soil but apparently that's more when you dig it in, also you're meant to counteract it by adding manure to the surface when it's needed. Anyway I doubt it could use up more goodness that all the weeds!
Mulching the blueberries

Blueberries mulched and netted

I can now see what is fruit bushes instead of trying to find them in the weeds.
I'm about a third of the way there with the fruit garden now. There is another couple of loads of wood chip at the farm that I'm going to bring up and lay down on the rest of it. I could also do with finding a source of cardboard as I'm thinking the same system would be good with my willow coppice to keep the grass down.
Anyone else been mulching with wood chip?

First Pull

We're starting to have our first proper harvests from the garden other than herbs now.
Baby beats and broad beans
I pulled some baby beats (always sounds like a DJ) and broad beans to have with dinner on Sunday. Now is normally the time when I wish I planted double the amount so I could harvest half the crop as a "baby" one as it all tastes so good!
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