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Bringing the garden indoors

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Bringing foliage, berries, cones and seed heads indoors from the forest and garden is a tradition which sometimes gets forgotten amidst the flashing, multi-coloured lights, revolving (revolting?) Santas, talking reindeer and other “bling” which so-called Garden Centres seem to wish upon us.

Not at Nant-y-Bedd.

Seasonal seed head - allium

Seasonal seed head – allium

I like to trim our own holly trees just before Christmas to provide sprigs for a traditional holly wreath – cotoneaster berries this year as the birds have stripped the holly before I got there.

Trimmed holly

Trimmed holly

Poor postman, can't find the letterbox!

Poor postman, can’t find the letterbox!

The trimmings from the bottom of the (Grand Fir or Noble Fir, as they don’t drop their needles) Christmas Tree get recycled into a swag which hangs above the mirror in the sitting room.

Raw material for the swag

Raw material for the swag

Starting the production

Starting the production

Nearly there

Nearly there

Finished article

Finished article

And I always select a lichen and moss covered twig from Jeddah’s tree (so-called because my dog is buried beneath it), a Field Maple, to hang over the fireplace.

All lichen and moss

Seed heads are allowed to stand over winter in the garden to provide some structure and interest, as well as sustenance for the birds.  Some get bashed down by the wind, rain and snow and are harvested for both seed and for indoor decoration.

Some gardeners feel the need to adorn their Christmas windowsills with early flowering spring bulbs – narcissus Paperwhite and Hyacinths –  but I prefer to leave that until the short, dark days of January, when I’m glad to be reminded that Spring isn’t far away.

Windowsill display

Windowsill display

Christmas for me is enjoying candlelight and crackling log fires with the cedar / pine aroma of a real Christmas tree.

Add to that home-made tree decorations and it is more “hygge” than “bling”.

Home-made

Home-made

Garden booze

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It’s the booze making time of year again.  It all seems to need to be done at once, so this year I’m splitting up the cider making with a bit of grape pressing.

We have had an excellent crop of Tom Putt apples (as recommended by the Marcher Apple Network) this time round – it all depends on the weather at pollination time – but we have also been given a load of what look like mainly cookers by our friend Linda.  The Tom Putt’s weighed in at just under 100lb, though it might have been a lot more if the badger hadn’t spent every night nicking the windfalls.  Linda’s weighed about the same, so we should get around 7-8 gallons in total.  I’ve also done a small amount using just crab apples, either to blend in or as a probably very dry cider.

To do it in this sort of bulk a few bits of kit are preferable.  Firstly a press and secondly a scratter.  Many moons ago I made a wonderfully efficient press, but unfortunately it got lost in the move from Kent to here – I think it got sold erroneously at the farm sale.  So this set up is from Vigo Presses.

So first set up the scratter on the press:

The full works

The full works .. with accompanying H3 tasting vessels

In go the apples, just as they come off the tree or the ground:

...not too many at a time

…not too many at a time

Turn the handle a few (well quite a lot of) times:

keep your fingers out of here when it is going round!

keep your fingers out of here when it is going round!

.. and this is what you get

ready for pressing

ready for pressing

Apply some serious effort to the screw thread and the juice flows.

Bootiful!

Bootiful!

After the juice has finished running, remove the pomace (technical term for this stuff)..

Solids 'cakes' of apple

Solid ‘cakes’ of apple …

…  which then go onto the compost heap

No waste in this process

No waste in this process

Take the pressed juice into the house and place beside the Esse for a week or so until the fermentation  (from the natural yeasts on the skins) has died down.  Depending on quantity now bottle it or store in plastic polypins which deform as the cider is drawn off, keeping air out.

Now comes the final and most difficult bit.  Sit and watch it for a month or six whilst it clears naturally and the flavour develops.

Then, as the old Wurzels song says, “Drink up ye zider, George, there’s still more in the jug”.

Grapes go very much the same way, except for killing off the natural yeasts, which are unreliable for wine, adding fresh yeast and sufficient sugar as there is rarely enough in home grown grapes to make a sufficiently robust wine that will keep.

Another great crop this year of the red, but virtually nothing on the white again.  Its days may be numbered!

Plenty of low hanging fruit

Plenty of low hanging fruit

just over 35lbs ready for the press

just over 35lbs ready for the press

Iechyd da!

Fungus Foraging

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Saturday saw 20 or so people descend upon us for a Mushroom Foraging day.  Organised by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods and executed by Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods, we had an amazing afternoon searching among the trees and along the river bank.

Mark’s knowledge on fungi and how to use them was extensive and amusing as well as being excellent on the palate!

The throng assembles

The throng assembles

After introductions all round, Mark got proceedings underway with a quick dash of elderflower champagne and Sweet Cicely liqueur!

He explained the different ways in which fungi operate and how they work in concert with different types of vegetation and particularly with trees. Different trees have different fungi. Some, such as the highly sought after ceps are impossible to cultivate and will only grow in the wild in the exactly perfect conditions they need.

Setting off into the forest, Mark suddenly stopped and pointed out a couple of mushrooms underneath the Cedric tree sculpture.  These were Cavaliers, edible, but not a great flavour.  The difference in appearance between the newly emerged ones and a couple that had almost ‘gone over’ was remarkable and went to demonstrate how difficult mushroom ID can be.

Cavaliers and Cedric

Cavaliers and Cedric

When doing an ID there are several factors to take into account

habitat

colour

size

type of gills

smell

There are so many types that all these need to be taken into account.

Moving on we came to a big clump of what most of us recognised as Puffballs.  Seizing a couple of older ones Mark flicked the caps and released clouds of spores.  These were no good for eating, but the fresher growths, with marshmallow like interiors are apparently really good in risottos!

Mark with Puffballs

Mark with Puffballs (and foraging cat, Smudge)

As we moved on Liz pointed out various plants like ground elder and Herb Robert which have important roles to play in herbal medicine as well as being good to eat.

Mark had picked up some shaggy inkcaps on the road up to Nant y Bedd and explained how and when to eat them.  Apparently there’s a variety called the Common Inkcap which isn’t actually that common, but shouldn’t be consumed before or after alcohol as it causes a very nauseous response and has been used to ‘treat’ alcoholics!!

Deeper in the woods we found some Orange Grisette under the birch trees, which are good to eat and are often found with birch.  The physical form of the Grisette is very similar to that of the poisonous Fly Agaric, although the latter’s bright red is a bit of a giveaway.  Mark had brought some of these with him and used this as an opportunity to explain the life cycle appearance of many fungi.

Fly Agaric and Orange Grisette

Orange Grisette and Fly Agaric

Honey Fungus is another species associated with birch, among others, and is usually found as the tree dies.  Apparently edible it needs boiling before cooking.  Not sure I’ll try that!

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Heading down to the river, someone spotted a few large mushrooms by the gate under the Lawson Cypress.  Mark had to admit that he’d walked past them twice the day before when he did a recce! It pays to look down when mushroom foraging.  It was a group of shaggy parasols, well camouflaged against the leaf litter.

Shaggy Parasol

Shaggy Parasol

Heading along the river bank we were introduced to the “Native Spice Rack” with plants such as Wild Angelica, Hogweed, Wood Avens, Sweet Woodruff and Meadow Sweet (which apparently cures hangovers – the other way of course is to keep drinking!) In the Spring the very young buds and flowers of Rowan are also useful.  Various tinctures were passed around at this point but I missed most of it as I was lighting fires for the Big Bake Up afterwards.

I did get back into the swing of it just in time to find out about a fungus that may be a cure for prostate problems.  Going by the name of Turkey Tails it is found on decomposing logs of birch and can be made into an infusion.  Mark also showed us something known as Chaga, which comes from growths on birch trees in certain places and is very highly sought after.  (Memo to self: look very carefully at all our old birches)

Turkey Tails

Turkey Tails

Finally we assembled by the pond and whilst Mark and Liz got the cooking pots on the go, we were entertained by Lottie Muir, the so-called Cocktail Gardener, who explained some of her cocktail recipes and asked us to taste them – hard work isn’t it?

Thanks to Mark, Liz, Lottie and all those who came along and enjoyed an excellent afternoon and evening.  Hopefully we’ll be able to host more events like this in the future.

PS:  By an odd coincidence the RHS magazine, The Garden, has just published it’s November issue with an article on “Weird and Wonderful Fungi” with photos by Jonathan Need, who photographed our garden earlier in the year!

PPS:  One of the participants, Ian of FoodiesHeaven blog fame, has also written about the day in more detail than above.  Find it here

 

 

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

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Yes, it’s Keat’s time of year again, with the autumn fruit lighting up the misty mornings.

Depending on who you talk to this summer has been:  hot / dry / cold / damp / lovely /grotty – so it’s nice to see some real rewards despite the weather.

The early fruit did quite well, with strawberries overcoming a cold damp spell, which seemed to really suit the raspberries. Possibly the best crop we’ve had, and these were supplemented by loads of worcesterberries and gooseberries, reasonable numbers of blackcurrants and even the plums did OK down above the chicken run.  Sue has made jam from many of these as previously reported.

Now it is the turn of the later ripening species.

We now have three pear trees, which each have about 3 pears on them.  They say that you “plant pears for your heirs” and that is looking pretty much right at the moment.

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The Tom Putt apples are glowing bright red right now, probably redder than for many a year.  They are a bit of an acquired taste and go brown as you are eating them, so it will probably be juice / cider as the outcome for these.  All three trees are well covered.

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We also have two Howgate Wonders which suffer badly from canker, but one of them has a good handful or two of lovely fruit.  Officially a cooker, they are equally tasty as a dessert apple.

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The new James Grieve espalier by the garden entrance gate had two large apples this year which unfortunately got blown off before we could pick them.  Absolutely tremendous flavour though – just finishing one of them off as I type!

The crab apples are fruiting well too.  The red one behind the fence isn’t as good as last year, but even so the deep red makes it a sight to be seen.

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It’s not all hard fruit.  The alpine strawberries have been having a late spurt and often feature at breakfast (if I haven’t got to them before).  This year the birds seem to have left them alone a bit more.

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In the greenhouse the black grapes are almost ready to pick.  Not really for eating, they’ll be vinified in the not too distant future. The white vine suffered scale bug a couple of years ago and may have to be replaced.

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Finally, not specifically a fruit but something to be picked at this time of year, the sichuan pepper has had it’s best crop so far.  By the time I’ve sorted the final picking – removing and discarding the seeds from the husks – there will be three ‘spice jars’ full of aromatic spice just begging to be used in a Chinese stir fry!dscf4220

Summer success stories and (yet more) jam

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Driven indoors by a sudden and dramatic thunderstorm, I am now making jam – a satisfying September-during-a-thunderstorm kind of activity.  I should mention that jam-making is taking place on a wood-fuelled cooker so no worries about power cuts affecting the process.

Plum jam this time.  This follows successful batches of blackcurrant and blackcurrant-and-worcesterberry when those crops were harvested several weeks ago.  I never make strawberry jam:  it seems a crime not to eat them fresh (or give to friends and relatives) even though at full production we can pick up to 8- 10 lbs a day.  I seldom make raspberry jam for the same reason – although I will say that my raspberry jam is rather good.

Jam-making today, however, is less about being an efficient grower and preserver of our own produce and more about recently finding last year’s plums still lurking in one of the freezers and it is there they still lurk.  The jam is being made with this year’s gatherings.

So, fruit crops so far this summer have generally been a success, including the best crop of raspberries we have had for some years.

The summer here at an altitude of 1200′ in the Black Mountains has been cool and dry.  I spent weeks in July and August carrying water from various collecting tanks and barrels to precious things in pots and newly-planted out summer crops.

rainwater harvesting in various up-cycled baths and barrels

rainwater harvesting in various up-cycled baths and barrels

In spite of keeping things alive by watering, the low temperatures meant that some half-hardies such as Cosmos and Nicotiana never really got going.  However, not to dwell on the failures but to celebrate the successes…

Brassicas have done well – particularly broccoli and Red Winter kale (from seed I saved 2 years ago) which we have been harvesting for weeks.  Some excellent looking cabbages are also growing well.

Broccoli in the kitchen

Broccoli in the kitchen

Garlic and onions were not quite as good as last year – but last year’s were exceptionally good – all now harvested, dried off on windowsills and awaiting plaiting to be hung up in the kitchen.  As we are still using last year’s garlic I think all recipes in the foreseeable future need to be heavily laced with garlic…

2016 garlic and onion crop drying in the woodyard

2016 garlic and onion crop drying in the woodyard

I always grow several varieties of garlic on the basis that if one doesn’t perform others might.  This year Provence Wight by far outshone the others so I may just stick with that next year.  Will be buying as soon as they are in stock locally to be planted out next month.

I wasn’t expecting much from the potatoes this year because of the dry summer.  The earlies, International Kidney, were not brilliant.  However, the Remarkas, which I grow as a baking potato, when lifted today have done well.  The Charlottes are still in the ground as rain stopped play today.

Broad beans, peas and mangetout were good and runner beans are cropping well.  Spinach and chard are good and have just started using the main crop carrots. And a new lettuce mix I tried this year has cropped for weeks and still going strong.

Asolo lettuce mix

Asolo lettuce mix

The pumpkins and squashes have finally got going and several fruits have set so if the frosts hold off for another month or so we should get a crop of both.

Pumpkin Tom Fox, Squashes Turks Turban and Crown Prince

Pumpkin Tom Fox, Squashes Turks Turban and Crown Prince

The surprise success this year in the potager has been Munchen Bier radish.  I have grown this as a winter-use radish on and off over a number of years but hadn’t realised that the seed pods are edible – excellent when young and green in salads.  The chaffinches also thought they were tasty but fortunately I had harvested enough seed to sow next year before they devoured the lot.

Munchen Bier radish seed pods

Munchen Bier radish seed pods

In the floral line particular successes in later summer have been:

un-named clematis

un-named clematis

An un-named (note to self – must do better at labelling) clematis romping over a mound of cotoneaster in the cottage garden has been flowering for months.

lovely sweet peas

lovely sweet peas

The sweet peas were lovely, now finished.  We’ve removed them but kept the hazel domes for some structure in the winter garden.

lovely poppies

lovely poppies

poppies co-ordinating with the tree spinach

poppies co-ordinating with the tree spinach and cosmos

Lovely poppies popping up amongst the veggies in the potager seem to colour co-ordinate themselves beautifully with their bed-mates.

asters with cosmos

asters with cosmos

We trialled asters in the cutting garden this year.  They have provided some lovely much-needed late colour.  Will definitely include them next year. And the Monardas have been great in the cottage garden.

Monarda in the cottage garden

Monarda in the cottage garden

And I spotted the first flowers on the harebells I’ve been trying to establish on a dry grassy bank in the cottage garden.

Harebells flowering in the grass

Harebells flowering in the grass

Success with scything rather than strimming:

 

heaps of scythings adjacent to the potager

heaps of scythings adjacent to the potager

More successes with up-cycling things – my favourite this summer was 3 roof lights (thank you builder friend Gavin) turned into mini cold frames.

up-cycled mini cold frame

up-cycled mini cold frame

Success with our natural swimming pond – this summer it has been crystal clear with no sign of algae just pond skaters and water-boatmen, the Emperor dragonfly and the occasional Mabberley.

 

morning sunlight on the swimming pond

morning sunlight on the swimming pond

Our new map of the garden painted by Caroline has proved a great success with our visitors – seen here at the entrance to the potager and used for a garden guide which visitors use to navigate their way around the 6.5 acres.

 

The entrance to the potager

The entrance to the potager

Visitors have also appreciated the tea room.  One visitor wrote in our ‘comments’ book:

‘what a wonder!  Could live in the tea house!!! So many beautiful spaces in and out.’

 

the 'tea house'

the ‘tea house’

Perhaps we should start selling cream teas with home made jam in the ‘tea house’?  But that would mean more time spent in the kitchen and not in the garden…

Taking a closer look

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We have an interesting relationship with our garden and the plants in it.

Sometimes we introduce a plant – it may be a gift from a friend, seeds collected on holiday, or an impulse buy – and it loves our garden, thrives and reproduces itself and feels thoroughly at home.  Examples are Lysimachia ‘Firecracker’ (can’t remember where I got this from originally – but it out-competes ground elder so is a real winner), Acaena microphylla (thank you Sarah), wild chicory (thanks for the seeds Mick)

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wild chicory

and Monardas (at least, some of them). The red Monarda, pictured below is really happy here and spreads itself about like mad, whereas others I have planted have simply disappeared.

Monarda

Monarda

Those then come into the category of ‘plants that are introduced and then sulk and die and/or get eaten by slugs’ – but let’s not dwell on these.

And then there are others that just arrive and make themselves at home. This category includes fabulous plants like Wild angelica (positively identified by a botanist friend – I’m very nervous about white-flowered umbellifers), Golden saxifrage – swathes of it lighting up the garden in Spring, and Sambucus racemosa – the Alpine elder – where did that come from?  And teasels.

teasel in the potager

teasel in the potager

And hogweed (yes, really)…

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hogweed with verbascum, lupin and cornflowers in the potager

Here are some  close-up shots of other things which are happy here at the moment.  Some, of course, like Cosmos, Larkspur, Sweet peas and Sweet Williams need some cosseting (i.e. slug protection) but are so lovely that it’s worth it and my Summer garden wouldn’t be complete without them.

Cosmos 'the Dazzler'

Cosmos ‘the Dazzler’

Larkspur

Larkspur

Sweet William Cherry Red

Sweet William Cherry Red

Sweet pea - one of the many smelly ones I grow

Sweet pea – one of the many smelly ones I grow

And then there are the alliums which require no cosseting and en masse look fantastic but close-up look pretty good too.

Allium sphaerocephalon in the cottage garden

Allium sphaerocephalon in the cottage garden

 

With thanks to Jonathan Need for the use of these lovely photos he took when he visited Nant-y-bedd a few weeks ago.

A professional’s eye

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We all know how it is when we’re so close to something that we don’t really see it as others do.  So it was a great pleasure last week to welcome professional photographer Jonathan Need to our garden.

Jonathan seemed instantly to understand the philosophy behind the garden and the planting and has very kindly sent us a wonderful selection of his morning’s shoot.  We’ll split the shots into two blogs; this first one featuring the garden as a garden; the second some fantastic close-ups of individual flowers.

Here’s just a few of the pictures which I’ll let speak for themselves.

Looking across the "Cottage garden"

Looking across the “Cottage garden”

Winding through the borders

Winding through the borders

Colour and form on the patio

Colour and form on the patio

An alternative view of the patio

An alternative view of the patio

Outside the "Operations Room" aka the Potting Shed

Outside the “Operations Room” aka the Potting Shed

In the "Potager" - 1

In the “Potager” – 1

Looking down the runner bean arch

Looking down the runner bean arch

In the "Potager" - 2

In the “Potager” – 2

Looking back up the "Potager"

Looking back up the “Potager”

Espalier apples and old tin cans!

Espalier apples and old tin cans!

Sailing on the pond

Sailing on the pond

Through the wild flower meadow to the Shepherd's Hut

Through the wild flower meadow to the Shepherd’s Hut

Cedric, the Seed King

Cedric, the Seed King

Rose bedecked shed

Rose bedecked shed

...and yes we do, occasionally, get to sit and enjoy a cuppa!

…and yes we do, occasionally, get to sit and enjoy a cuppa!

You can see more of Jonathan’s stunning photos on his website and hopefully in print somewhere in the future.

 

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