22 July 2017

Mean Summer Rain

 

The summer holidays have started. And they have started in a very traditional English way - with rain. Sneaky rain, though. Hot and warm morning that tricked me into a sleeveless top, skirt and sandals, only to turn into downpour whilst we were in the supermarket picking up food for the week to follow. In hope, we went to my in-laws, thinking it might stop, but after getting wet and trying to garden under a family-sized umprella (yeah, naah, not possible) I gave up and retreated into the house to read some gardening blogs instead - in the same summery clothing, only with the addition of fluffy socks and a warm cardigan. 


Even though I really wanted to do some gardening (my plan was to sow some green manure in the gaps where the plants died or I harvested them to enrich the soil with nitrogen), the rain was quite a pleasant visitor, I only wish it announced itself. A couple of days ago we received a leaflet from our local watter supplier stating that "After months of low rainfall, water resources are below average". Well, not in our garden. Both of the water butts are full of rain water (and flourishing colonies of mosquito larvae) and there is always enough water for the plants. I only wish we had rainwater supply at our flat, so that I didn't have to water my many plants with water from the tap. I am sure that if it becomes a big problem, we'll find a way around it though. 

So - how did your holiday start?

20 July 2017

Waiting List

Purple mangetout 'Shiraz' grown from seed in my current garden

I can barely contain my excitement today! After a short string of emails to various allotment societies I am now officially on a waiting list for an allotment! I spent most of my waking hours fantasising about a sunny spot of land with a little shed where I could grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables for us and food for Rocket, meet new people, drink hot tea from flask and enjoy being outdoors.

I love the place where I garden now, because it is where my husband works and where his parents live, but it is shaded by many trees and overgrown by their root which absorb a lot of the moisture and many plants don't do very well there. Having a little plot somewhere else would be a dream come true, even if it was just rented.

The waiting times for allotments vary but can be as long as two years - even so, all that time to prepare! My mind is buzzing with ideas for interesting crops to grow and ways to encourage wildlife to come and help with it.

How about you? Where do you garden? What do you grow? Do you have any experience with allotmenteering? Please share in the comments section.

01 July 2017

Legging It


This week Rocket has been proving that not only she doesn't need me on our walks outdoors, but also that if she wanted, she could disappear really easily. For some reason running was more important than eating and she kept on trying hard to get lost in the little neglected jungle of ivy, bindweed and brambles next to our building.

People imagine tortoises as these slow, heavy and stupid creatures, but they couldn't be further from the truth. A healthy tortoise is incredibly agile and can cover quite a distance before you realise it is missing.


As a child I had a Horsfield tortoise called Puťa. We used to take her to the cottage. My Gran has been watching her, but seeing that she was preoccupied by digging a hole next to a gazebo leg, she went in to do the dishes. Mistake! After fifteen minutes of frantic searching we finally found the tortoise - eating a fallen apple under a tree about twenty metres away (she had a sweet tooth)! Lesson learned : tortoises are fast!

Making a run for it.
Digging in.






25 June 2017

Mini Harvests - June


Pretty and edible nasturtium (Tropaeolum) flowers and some fascinating purple poded mangetout "Shiraz". These are some of the crops that make the garden colourful and interesting.

June has been incredibly warm. This week was probably the warmest one of year so far. Even though the garden is only about eight minutes uphill from our place, I don't go there much, except for the weekends. When I do it is just to check that everything is ok, fill up the bird feeder and give the plants a thorough watering. 

Ours is a small-scale garden, it doesn't feed us much except for potatoes but it keeps me entertained and outdoors and I am thankful for it. Occasionally I get to pick something that wasn't eaten by birds or slugs and I do a bit of jumping around with joy and then a bit of eating :)

My first actual harvest of gooseberries! They are ripe and sweetly tart as they should be. My last year's crop got eaten by birds. I believe this year's one survived because of my neglect - the bush was overgrown with weeds and nettles and not so visible to the hungry birdies. I bought the bush from Poundland just to give it a try and it worked out!

More mangetout Shiraz. The youg flay pods can be eaten raw or steamed or it can be shelled and eaten like normal peas. I think the mature seeds will go purple as well, because the original dried seeds from the packet wee very dark. 

More nasturtium and mangetout. You can never have enough (especially if they are this tiny :)) Both of these ended up in my afternoon salad.

The lavender bush is gradually producing more and more flwoers. I dried a small batch for our living room but kept the rest for the bees.

18 June 2017

Simplifying

For the past couple of months I have been realising more and more that life is somehow unnecessarily complicated. There was too much stuff, actual physical items (the books I have read and will never do again, the "hobbies" that I have abandoned yet the clutter remained, the still unpacked things that I brought with me when moving but never really found place for) and also the thoughts in my head, the feeling like I want to take better care of me, my family, my surroundings and want to live in a place that promotes joy and happy thought and is comfortable and where I could do my work without thinking "oh, I must do the dishes" or "that corner really needs sorting out".

So I decided to start simplifying by changing a few small things.

  • I have closed down my Etsy shop. Occasionally someone would buy something and it would make my day but overall financially and time-wise it wasn't worth it. And I hated the thought that I am making my hypothetical living by creating items nobody really needs and using up resources and then the finished projects just sit in a box and wait for someone to buy them. With the rules changing so often I am a bit hazy on what they are at the moment and then the email saying that if I want to keep my status as a seller, I have to update my payment method to direct checkout/Etsy payments otherwise my account will be suspended, the best thing to do was to just let it go. It didn't make me feel unhappy at all, which means it wasn't really important to me.
Knitting a blanket for my friends' baby. Knowing that I am making it for someone seems more purposeful.

  • Changing the way I blog. It can be so time consuming! Especially editing all the photos (which believe it or not I was still doing in paint). I decided to watermark my photos (I am using free software called uMark which allows you to watermark photos in batches) rather than add the border and signature by copying and pasting. It is much faster and hopefully will encourage me to blog more often because it makes it so simple. And who knows, I might start experimenting with some simple collage apps in the future and make the most of what is available out there. That way blogging will not be cutting into my personal time.
Sorting out yarn bits. Turns out takeaway containers are great for this!

  • Having a massive sortout. I have a whole board on Pinterest called "Organising and De-cluttering" where I have collected ideas for a cleaner and more organised home and office. I have already organised my craft supplies, seeds and electronics (chargers, memory sticks, headphones) in 9 litre Really Useful Boxes that I got from Hobbycraft and used a shoe organiser (which already came with useful hooks) to put our cleaning products into order. Some of these have been here when we moved in and really need using up. This way they are all in one place and we know exactly what and how much of it we have.I also organised my work resources in a similar way and it is amazing how much space it freed up - not only in my classroom but also in my head.
The much needed organising.

  • Gardening without getting frustrated. Our garden has it's own life. Not everything grows and the things that do vary in harvest from year to year. It is shady and full of weeds, slugs and voluntary plants. Last years tiny forgotten potato tubers are now growing - through the nasturtiums, through the peas, amongst tomatoes and broad beans... You know what? I gave up fighting it and I embraced it. It gives the place a rather permacultural mixed-up vibe. I also like the fact that you have to be there and interact with the garden in order to get to know it. I garden because I love it - so what's the point of getting frustrated? 
The nasturtiums while they were still on the windowsill. Now they are growing
in the garden, winding their way around some potato plants.

  • Mindfully enjoying the little things. They are what makes life so great! Whether it is a cup of tea, good book, cool breeze in the middle of the day, sun shining in through the window in the morning, having a short chat with a neighbour or a new leaf growing on a pot plant, they are all worth being happy about. Discarding them as too small and unimportant makes days gloomy. Little things can bring a lot of joy.
Homemade bundt cake made with eggs from my friend's chickens and a cup of hot coffee. Isn't it joyful?

31 May 2017

Exploring the Lawns - Rocket's First Walks Outside



In the last week I have turned into a tortoise shepherd! Yes, you are reading correctly. There are many differing opinions on whether or not young tortoises should be out in the garden or not with regards to foraging on weeds, exposure to natural UV light,but also possible exposure to parasites, predators, chemicals etc. Rocket is by no means a hatchling, but she is still tiny! (weighs 132 grams and is 8.3 cm long precisely -  I just checked!) 

However, based on Tortoise Trust and their online booklet "Taking Care of Pet Tortoises" young tortoises can go out in suitable weather and should not be kept exclusively indoors for the first four years (which is what I was told). 


Once I got her out onto the lawn (where no chemicals or fertilisers are being used to help it grow - I checked with the site manager), I realised how much happier she is when she is outside. She immediately went for it and started eating, walking, eating, exploring, then some more walking and eating, simply foraging, which is something she cannot really do in the tortoise table, even though we try and spread the food out for her as much as possible. She really looked content.


One thing that I was worried was the temperature - tortoises cannot regulate their body temperature and when in full sun for too long without any opportunity to hide in the shade they can overheat. That is why I took my non-contact digital infrared thermometer with me. The recommended basking temperature is 90F. When Rocket's body temperature got to 96F she retreated into the shade as a good girl.


Being out and watching her makes me happy and also reminds me of all the times I have done this back at home when I was a kid with my Horsfield tortoise. It is simply a time to sit back and enjoy being outside whilst watching the little amazing creature (and you have to watch her because no matter how content she looks munching on that little patch of plantain, she will leg it and disappear when you least expect it). Life slows down for a moment and that it exactly what I need.


Eventually my aim is to build Rocket an all-day enclosure in the garden which will be planted with all sorts of weeds she can eat. However, that step would involve some serious moving up the property ladder and so for now whilst we live in rented flat, these little walks will be making sure that she doesn't get bored or unhealthy.



video

29 May 2017

Saturday Weedwalk

The town side of Willow reach. It doesn't look like much, but the further in you go, the more magnificent it gets.

I love Saturdays. They are the only day of the week that we don't set an alarm. Waking up is something that happens rather than someing an alarm tells you to do. It feels nice, even though we usually wake up barely an hour after we would during a weekday, it still feels like a treat. It is a lie in. Followed by breakfast and whatever else we want to or have to do, but the mornings are always slow.

Last weekend my husband needed to work on a piano he is rebuilding, so I was at home on my own. After briefly considering going for a park run I eventually decided to go for a weed walk instead. What is a weed walk? Well, it's this thing that many tortoise owners do - going out and picking weeds to feed their tortoises.

There are many weeds in the UK that a mediterranean tortoise like our Hermann's tortoise can eat and I am learning how to recognise them one by one. One of them ribwort plantain can be fed to tortoises every day and is very easy to recognise.

And I knew just the place to find them. Willow reach, a new development quite close to where we live. It sits on the stream in the amazing Hoe Valley wetlands.
One of the ponds/wetlands. An amazing piece of nature and yet you are still within the dight of houses.

I have forgotten how nice it is to just go somewhere into the unknown with almost no people around and just discover the secret trails and little hiding places. I felt like being in the wild, yet always within sight of the buildings. The fresh air and playful wind, the smell of earth and water was gentle but somewhat overwhelming to the senses. Such a refreshing walk!




Rocket's daily meals were enriched by ribwort plantain and dandelion leaves for a whole week and I can't wait for the next opportunity to go and take the hubby round as well.

This bumblebee was just getting out of the wet grass
after a quick summer shower of rain.

I found myself a little place to sit down and eat my biscuit snack.
This duck couple was particularly friendly, maybe because I kept
"accidentally" dropping crumbs.

13 May 2017

Little Houses under the Castle

Stara Lubovna castle

This is a very late post about our August trip to Slovakia, which I took with my man. My parents took us to many places, as they wanted to introduce the nice bits of the country to the foreigner :) We saw this open air museum on the same day as we rafted down the Dunajec river on the border between Slovakia and Poland. The open air museum lies right under the Stara Lubovna castle, which overlooks it from the hill.


The little houses were brought from different parts of the republic, so they looked different on the outside and even more different on the inside.


Some had gardens and there were really nicely arranged flowers in the windows. If you like finding those little details, you would be thrilled here.


The houses were also decorated for certain big life events that the people celebrated in very traditional ways, such as birth of a new member of the family, weddings or deaths and pre-funeral preparations.





The Owlets

These little birdies are the latest additions to my little family of crocheted animals. They are small, soft and cute. They don't have owners yet, but I don't think finding some will be a problem :)



Growing Seedlings in Toilet Paper Rolls

After last year's disappointment I decided that I will not grow sweetcorn again. The garden at my in-laws doesn't have enough sunlight, the soil dries up very quickly because of all the trees around it and cats and foxes digging up the seedlings did not help.

However, something changed my mind this year. Did you know that maize leaves, unlike the actual corn on the cob, are safe to feed to tortoises? Apparently so, as it is a grass (my information is from The Tortoise Table). That meant that as long as there are some leaves growing, I cannot be disappointed. And neither can Rocket.

After browsing ideas on Pinterest I decided to try growing my seedlings in toilet paper rolls. I have temporarily turned the bathroom into a planting area and started working on it. I cut the bottom into four flaps and folded them to create a little "pot".

It worked very well. As the plants grew, the roots found their way out of the bottom and I ended up with many healthy looking seedlings :) 

14 April 2017

Maundy (Green) Thursday with Nettle and Mushroom Quiche


Back in Slovakia Maundy Thursday is called Green Thursday. There are many traditions linked to "Green" Thursday. One that I tried to keep since I was a child is to eat something green in colour. This year I decided to use the green garlic and nettle tops from our garden to make a refreshing quiche.

My pastry is a variation of the pastry from foodlover.cz, which is a blog from which I learned to make quiche and since then made it many many times, although I must admit that I rarely measure out all the ingredients, I just throw things together and add flour/water depending on the dryness/stickiness and thickness/runniness of the pastry.

For the pastry you will need:
  • 350 g of plain flour
  • 185 g of unsalted butter (if you use salted to easier on the pinch of salt)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
You can roll it out and then place in the tin/baking dish or if you are - like me - reluctant to get another piece of equipment messy, just push it into the dish with your fingers. It looks less pretty and neat but tastes exactly the same. Bake for about 15 minutes on 180°C. Some recipes suggest covering the top of the pastry with ceramic baking beans to prevent it from rising but I find this step is unnecessary and the pastry doesn't rise that much.

My quiche is quite massive, so you may want to halve the amounts and masses above. Alternatively make two quiches or one regular quiche and a lot of mini quiches in muffin cups.


For the filling you will need:

  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 3 eggs (plus the two whites that you did not use when making pastry)
  • 3 spring onions, bulb and leaves, chopped
  • grated cheddar (or any other hard cheese you like)
  • nettle tops, steamed
  • 150 ml single cream
  • 5 green garlics, bulb and leaves, chopped (to be completely honest here, my garlic wasn't traditional green garlic, it was garlic that survived the winter, thenw as given summer to grow and survived another winter and was still minute, so I lost my patience with it and pulled it out and sowed lettuce leaves in its place)
  • optional - salt and pepper to taste


METHOD:

1.  Steam the nettle tops until they wilt and stop stinging.
2.  Prepare and bake the pastry.Take it out of the oven.
3.  Lay out sliced mushrooms on the pastry


4.   Lay the steamed nettles on top of the mushrooms


6.  Add the chopped spring onions and garlic on top of the nettles.


7. In a bowl mix the eggs, single cream and half of the grated cheese (you can add more salt or pepper to taste). Pour the mixture over the raw ingredients.


8.  Return to the oven and bake until the top starts getting golden and crunchy looking, but do not overdo it! (It usually takes 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness of your quiche.)


9.  Cover the top with the remaining grated cheese and return to the oven for 5 minutes until all the cheese is melted.


10.   When you like the look of it, take it out of the oven and serve with your favourite salad and a bit of vinaigrette.


I love what a versatile dish this is, you can add any vegetables you have in your fridge or freezer and it will keep in the fridge for several days. It can be eaten cold or warmed up, with salad or on its own. It is great for using up seasonal vegetables and I would imagine it freezes quite well, too (although I haven't tried yet as I never have anything left over :) )

I made a version of this quiche for my family when they came over for our wedding. Stressed out as I was I forgot to add the cream! And - it was still delicious and nobody noticed anything!!! A very forgiving meal :)
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