Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Grey Days

The weather has been very grey lately. Yesterday it was dull and grey but not actually raining, the sort of weather when the washing just hangs limply on the washing line until you bring it in just as wet as when you hung it out.

My youngest has been off school with a sore throat and a hacking cough (which I am hoping he will not share with the rest of us) so the mood at home is not cheerful.

The garden still has some colour though so I took my camera into the garden to capture the little patches of brightness.

Maybe November isn't so dull and grey after all.

Monday, 19 November 2007


We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week - 19 years. Each year I make an anniversary card for my husband. As I can't draw I use photographs or magazine cuttings to make a card that depicts something we have done during the year. Usually its somewhere we have been on holiday but this time I thought we should remember this last year as "the year we got the chickens". Here are two of the photographs I used to make the card.

I would never have imagined, nineteen years ago, that someday I'd be keeping chickens!

Nineteen years isn't a particularly long time but we were talking with the boys about things that are available now that we didn't even think about 19 years ago - mobile phones, DVDs, iPods, X box, Internet, ordering shopping online, booking holidays online, cheap air travel, zillions of TV channels, blogging.

Very few people, nineteen years ago would have worried about peak oil and global warming. I didn't start thinking about fossil fuel use until around eight years ago which was the last time we flew abroad for a holiday. We went to Bali for our honeymoon and I didn't give any thought to the damage that the flight might be doing to the planet.

I wonder what changes we will see in the next nineteen years. How much will the climate have changed? Will there still be fuel available for most people to have cars? Will we still be importing food from far away or will we all have to eat local? On balance I think its just as well we can't see into the future (probably too scary!) but I am sure that there are changes ahead that we haven't even begun to think about yet.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Mini salads.

When I got my mini-greenhouse last month I decided to experiment with growing a few pots of salad leaves during the winter. After four weeks I now have a few baby salad leaves to harvest.
A tray of mixed salad leaves.

Rocket and Red Oak Leaf lettuce (not very red but that is probably due to low light levels).

A tray of Ruby Chard which has taken longer to germinate but is beginning to put up the first real leaves.

I didn't sow much of each as I wasn't sure how well they would grow but I am pleased with the results. The plants look much healthier and are less straggly than when I have tried to grow them on a windowsill. I won't get enough for a large salad but I will have a few leaves to add to filled rolls for packed lunches. A successful experiment and I can measure the distance travelled in food yards not food miles!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Winter time

The weather has turned more wintry lately. We had a frost earlier in the week and the gritting lorry went through the village spreading rock salt over the roads and pavements. All our gloves and scarves have been brought out again and sit on top of our shoe cupboard in the hall ready to be grabbed as we go out. It seems that more than half the pile belongs to me so I think I should concentrate on knitting something else this winter.

At the allotment I am harvesting winter vegetables, leeks, chard and spinach beet (my parsnips didn't germinate this year) and I am working to clear the ground of the last of the weeds. I planted half a packet of broad beans this week, the second half will be planted after Christmas. This should extend the season but I sometimes find that the second crop catches up with the first.

The beginnings of the colder weather also means that I will have to bring the water container from the chicken run into the house in the evening. The water in our small bird bath was frozen one morning so I think a metal container of water on the ground would easily freeze in a heavy frost. It will be easier to bring it in and stand it in the kitchen overnight rather than having to defrost it if it does freeze.

I'm sure in a couple of months I shall be fed up with the cold damp weather but at the moment I am enjoying the changes to the routine that this time of year brings. My favourite time of the day is late afternoon, around half past four. I have just returned from picking my younger son up from the station so both boys are home, the chickens are safely tucked up for the night and its getting dark so I can go round the house pulling all the curtains to keep the heat in. At the moment we have set the heating to come on just for three hours each evening from six to nine but if its cold we switch it on for an extra hour for a bit more warmth. The boys chat and unwind after school while I start to prepare the meal, then when my husband gets in a couple of hours later we can lock all the doors and the whole family is safe and warm at home.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Rosehip Syrup

This year the fruit harvest has been good both in the gardens and in the hedgerows. Blackberries, sloes and elderberries have been plentiful and I collected some of each as they became ripe. There are also a lot of rosehips about this year but I have not collected them since I was a child when we used to remove the hairy seeds and call it itching powder. Rosehips have twenty times the level of vitamin C as oranges and during the war when shipping was disrupted and fruit from abroad was not available, large quantities of rosehips were collected by volunteers to be made into syrup. From 1943 - 1945 the annual amount collected was 450 tons. The syrup was sold for 1s 9d (about 8p) for a six ounce bottle but mothers and children could get larger quantities at reduced prices from welfare clinics.

In the latest Permaculture Magazine there was a recipe for Rosehip syrup so I decided to have a go. The recipe in the magazine seemed to be based on the recipe given out by the Ministry of Food in 1943 and which I found reprinted in Food for Free by Richard Mabey.

The original recipe used 2lb of rosehips but I just did half the quantity.

Mince 1lb of rosehips and empty straight into one and a half pints of boiling water. It is important to put the hips in the boiling water immediately after mincing to minimise the loss of vitamin C.

Stop heating and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Then filter the mixture through a jelly bag. Put the mixture remaining in the bag back in the saucepan, add 3/4 pint of boiling water, allow to stand for 10 minutes and then filter thorough the jelly bag again.

It is important to remove all the hairs that cover the seeds as these will be an irritant if swallowed. The recipe suggested refiltering the first cupful of juice to make sure all the hairs are removed.

This close up photograph of the jelly bag showed a number of these little hairs so to be sure to remove all of them I filtered the juice through a paper coffee filter!

Place the filtered juice in a saucepan and boil until the volume is reduced to 3/4 pint. Add 10 oz sugar, boil for 5 minutes and then pour into hot sterile bottles and seal.

I didn't have any bottles so I put mine in jam jars.

The original storage instructions were to store in a dark cupboard and to use the syrup within one to two weeks of opening. I think that it would keep for longer than that if it was refrigerated as there is quite a high sugar content.

I have tasted the syrup and it does taste just the same as the "Delrosa" rosehip syrup that I remember from when I was little. Although Delrosa syrup has not been available in the UK for some years, it can still be found in some countries.

I wonder whether in the future when we need to depend more on locally produced foods, we will once again be gathering rosehips on a large scale to make this vitamin C rich syrup.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Saturday Morning

This morning I went outside to let the chickens out of their hen house at about quarter to seven. The sky was very pale blue and there were no clouds. During the week at this time I am normally up and busy, sorting packed lunches etc, ready for my husband and youngest son to leave for the train at just after seven. Today though as it was Saturday I wasn't in a rush so I took my early morning mug of tea out to the garden. Its just as well our garden isn't overlooked as I must have looked quite a sight wearing a dressing gown and wellies!

It was lovely just to sit quietly for a few minutes and listen to the birds and look at the garden. The weather was very still, no wind at all and so it made a very peaceful start to the day.

Within half an hour I was busy again, the washing machine whirring, a batch of bread started and the household waking up but somehow the calm of the slow start to the day seemed to stay with me. I don't expect to be wandering around the garden first thing every day but maybe taking a bit of time to be quiet and still at the start of the day would have the same effect.