Saturday, 24 October 2009

Autumn Odds and Ends

It's not been a very colourful autumn here - this is the best tree I could find on my travels yesterday. Most of the leaves are simply turning brown and falling off straight away or falling off green, and today's strong winds will have removed even more of the leaves. Strong winds were a feature of the spring, and caused a chill which slowed the progress of many of my fruits and vegetables.
My activities outdoors will now consist more of walking than gardening. The time between now and March is one of rest for me, with only occasional digging and other preparation works on the plot. But before I could relax, there was one last job to do.
This morning I bottled the last of my apples and the wild pears I picked a couple of weeks before. Bottling is what people used to do before freezers, it's simple and effective. Above is a jar of apples - for this you really need Kilner jars whose lid is in two pieces; a round sealing disc which sits on top and the screw top which helps keep the seal tight. You pack the fruit in the jar, cover it with a syrup (8 oz sugar to 20 fl oz water) which is at boiling point, sit the sealing disc on top (not the screw top) and put it in a cool oven (gas 2/3) on a tray lined with newspaper. It takes about an hour for the fruit to cook through, take it out, put the screw top on so that the seal makes contact with the top of the jar. Then you wait for the "click" as the cooling jar forms a vacuum seal - it happens in a minute or two. Once it has cooled, all you have to do is tighten the screw top to ensure a permanent seal.
In addition to the pounds of fruit which went straight into the freezer, here is my collection of preserves made from this year's fruit: bottled pears, plums and apples, and lots of jam - mainly redcurrant, but also gooseberry and rhubarb, raspberry, raspberry & redcurrant, and plum. I haven't bought any jam or tinned fruit in years!

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Last Courgettes

At the weekend I picked the last courgettes for this year (above). It's been a good crop, over a few months so I'm happy with that. Also in the basket is a collection of slug-nibbled chard, which I harvested from the tomato bed before clearing it (they had self-seeded, so a completely free crop). And yes, those are my wellies sneaking into the picture.

The potatoes will also be finished this week - we've been eating them since mid- June, so have had them for four months. The onions will also finish in a couple of days, a poor crop this year, like many other gardeners in this part of the world.

So I have been back to the greengrocer this week to buy onions and potatoes from Ormskirk (a local potato). Sad, but I still have more chard, leeks, parsnips, cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli from the vegetable plot to look forward to over the coming months.

Posting here will diminish now - the work consists mainly of clearing and composting beds for the winter and though you may be a keen gardener, photos of soil are really not very inspiring! I hope to be able to get all the preparation work done by the end of November - I'm well on track. Then there are other structural jobs to do, and things like buying a new apple tree. So I may not post so often now, only on interesting new things.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Recycling and clearing

For the last few weeks, a workman called David has been replacing paving outside people's houses in the village. All the roads are unadopted so we have to pay for tarmac and paving ourselves (and yes, we still have to pay council tax despite the fact we get bugger all for it). Most of mine was done for free by United (No)-Utilities last year when they dug a trench outside my house to fix an electrical fault, let's gloss over the fact that they also cut through the gas pipe to my house twice - I did get my paving done for free. So I only have a little stretch of a few flags which needed attention and I have arranged to have it done on the cheap using recycled flags instead of the new ones others are having.

At the same time, I mentioned to David that I would happily take the broken flags for use on my vegetable plot, so here is the first pile. There will be more - he started flagging outside one house in the village, then got asked to do more and more so he's been here for weeks now. Like him, a painter called Peter got a job down here 3 years ago and has rarely had a week away since. That's the way it is here - it's like the Village of the Damned, once a workman does a good job here he never escapes!
So this afternoon I started using them at the plot - the small ones first. These are going to make a good edge to a bed which was only cleared for the first time last year, so the weeds are not yet under control. You can use wood to create beds, but the wood rots and the slugs live in it, so I favour either recycled plastic beds or stone/concrete to create a barrier to the couch grass. On the left of the stones is an overgrown path, to the right is the pea bed, with spinach, chard and hundreds of weeds.
I took out the old tomato plants today, and weeding is proceeding apace now as the weather is good. I also picked some more herbs for drying - sage and rosemary here.
And here are some fennel seeds which I have brought into the house to finish drying. More gardening tomorrow in the sunshine.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

More weeding...

Back to the weeding again - the tall weeds are now out of the leeks, as you can see. They're growing quite well for this time of year, as they are late winter leeks and put most of their growth on in January. These are in one of the beds used for potatoes earlier in the year.
Here's one of the newly re-discovered parsnips, free from its weedy prison. Most of the bed is now clear, just need to take a spade to one corner and the edges as the grass has grown in a bit.
This is nasturtium Tom Thumb - a small plant suitable for pots as it doesn't grow into a triffid. I found some of these seeds earlier this year as I was clearing out a drawer - they were years old but I thought I'd plant them in hope of some late summer flowers. A cheerful flower at this time of year.

Rain today, more gardening later this week, I hope.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Back to the vegetable plot

After the third wet summer in a row, once again the weeds have become rampant. There are parsnips in here somewhere...
The soil is good and light, so I made good progress in clearing it this afternoon. One hour of weeding is enough for my back. The freshly weeded strawberries can be seen just beyond this bed.
Of course, this is the holy grail of weeding - a clear bed with not a weed in sight (for now, it never lasts long!). Wish more of them were like this - sigh...
Purple sprouting broccoli - a thoroughly reliable vegetable which will be ready in April. The plants are big and strong now.
The "summer" cabbages are finally hearting up. Just goes to show what kind of a summer we have had when they are only going to be ready to eat in October! Note the weeds around this cabbage, the bed won't be weeded until the cabbages are finished.
There are only two courgettes left, then they will have finished. The tomato plants are suffering due to cold night temperatures, as you may be able to see from this photo. So today I took all the remaining fruit off...
most of them will ripen now when put with the apples I picked some weeks ago. If not, they go into my frying pan - I love fried green tomatoes.
The Cosmos plants are still flowering and putting on a good show. We should have a few good sunny days this week, so I should be able to get out to do more weeding later.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Back to the outdoors

After a difficult week, yesterday morning I managed to get out for an hour or so in the sunshine. All the hawthorns (above) are now ablaze with red berries and we await the arrival of the fieldfares and redwings from Scandinavia who will eat them up over winter.
My other reason for getting out was to pick these pears. There are a couple of trees growing wild near here, they don't fruit every year but mostly every two years. They are just ripening and starting to fall off the tree, so I got a big bag of them. I will bottle them after letting them ripen indoors for a bit longer.

I was hoping to get out to the vegetable patch this morning but we have had unexpected rain. Perhaps this afternoon will be fine. The runner beans have now finished, we have had more courgettes this week though, the tomatoes and raspberries are still going strong and the cabbages are finally bulking up. Now it's just weeding and soil preparation for next year.
And a final word on the subject of cats. This is Rosie, my remaining cat and sister to the cat who died earlier this week. Many thanks for your kind words of sympathy on this blog and on Ravelry.

Losing Jim was a wrench. He was a high maintenance cat, prone to anxiety and consequent behavioural problems. But I learned to manage his issues and he became a very happy cat - the time and effort required for this is probably one reason I miss him so much. He had a vast range of vocal, facial and other physical expressions which told me how he was feeling and what he wanted, which is why his death was such a shock as he gave no indication he was seriously ill, just a bit under the weather from time to time. I miss him padding into my office every morning in his never-ending Quest for More Food, which was his mission in life.

Anyway, life goes on and we are adjusting to his absence. Rosie has times when she is very unsettled, as she was earlier this morning. She spent her whole life with him, so life is very different for her now. As Jim's scent and presence gradually fade from the house into memory, she is slowly becoming the Top Cat here, and making the place her own. Changes of this nature are never welcome, but happy memories of the past are enough to help us move forward into whatever the future brings.

Monday, 5 October 2009

In Memoriam - Jim

On Thursday I posted a picture of busy lizzies and my cat Jim wandered into the shot. I didn't know it then, but it was the last picture I would ever take of him. Shortly after that, the stomach condition which had been affecting him intermittently over the last few weeks got a lot worse.

On Saturday, the vet uttered the dreaded words "stomach cancer" and arranged to take him in on Tuesday for further investigation. But on Sunday he deteriorated, and overnight became very uncomfortable so I took him in this morning. The subsequent operation confirmed my worst fears - stomach cancer which had spread to other organs, so I took the difficult decision not to let him wake up from surgery.

Despite his discomfort yesterday, he spent the afternoon and evening outside in his favourite spot where he spent many hours watching birds and bats over the nine years of his life. Despite his inability to settle comfortably last night, he snuggled up to me from time to time and I woke with him lying in his accustomed position on my feet.

I am glad that over the last two years I spent huge amounts of time with him through working at home, I am glad the illness which killed him was mercifully short and that he had less than 24 hours of real discomfort at the end.

He had perfected the "begging" look (usually accompanied by a prod with his sharp claws) when he wanted food, he used the bedpost as a scratching post, destroyed other wooden items in the house, upholstery and clothing. But he was always great and affectionate company in good times and bad, and I shall miss him deeply.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Introducing Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo

Don't know why, but the names Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo just came to mind when I looked at these pumpkins! The plants had finally keeled over, so I lifted the remaining three pumpkins today. This picture was taken in the late afternoon sun and taking it reminded that there will be no more direct sun in this window until April now. As the sun sinks lower in the sky for winter, my house gets darker. Autumn definitely here, winter on the way, but I will have plenty of pumpkins to warm me!
You may recall in an earlier post that I discovered I had a mouse visiting my shed and eating my pea seeds. Well, once I removed the peas it moved on to eating some old coriander seed. Clearly it was yummy as it's all gone, but the mouse has now become dissatisfied with the fare provided and moved on to devouring my kneeling pad. Note the lovely frilly edge it has acquired! Well in another autumn ritual - The Tidying of the Shed - I found the place it has been getting in and stopped it up as best I could. Unfortunately the whole of the bottom plank at the back of the shed is rotten so it may find its way in again. Another job to put on my list for next year...
Lots more raspberries, more to come. I also finished weeding the strawberry patch, one month after I started!
My busy lizzies and lobelia are still going strong four months on! Good value for money...