Monday, 21 July 2014

Ha (pea) (pea) daze

A bunch of home grown flowers and veg sent virtually for the ex-cellist over in New Zealand on her adventures. Why not. Nothing says I love you like the attention to detail which involves not one, but, two types of peas. And, the first courgette of the season. I'm good to that gal. Even if I got the Z backwards to begin with. I blame the fushia.

Who needs interflora?

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Hey honey, I cut down the tree....

Now for a while I've been pondering the heinous crime which is that of actually cutting down a tree. Having lived in the lands of Orkney for a goodly while, its become inherent that love them or hate them, trees live and should not be cut down. If they've survived the climate I'd say they're welcome to a long happy life. So its been a while in the mulling and a long heartfelt ponder that's lead to the current crime scene. This tree whilst not yet dead, is certainly muchly reduced in height.  (Above tree height currently, below tree height not too long ago.) The Laburnum appears to be about 60 years old, if my ring counting is correct.
Why you ask would I be so cruel as to cut down a tree enroute for its pension at 60 years? Its honestly NOT because I have a wood fire fettish (although we know that's true). Its not that I have an underused chainsaw either.  Quite simply unfortunately for it, poor soon to be ex, rather short tree, it was merely the wrong type tree in the wrong type of place. Hardly a crime I hear you cry. Nope its not a crime but unfortunately this poor tree was a Laburnum anagyroidies.
These trees are one of the most toxic you'll find in any garden the whole plant is very toxic, more so the tiny seeds, even I washed my hands after handling, its that horrid. We all grow poisonous plants and don't get me wrong I'll live with heart stopping foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) and the wolf killing Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) because I can avoid eating them. I admit I try and keep my temper with toxic plants especially when vexed, its not clever to kill loved ones with flowers, even if you really feel like it at the time, it generally passes, its true, I've experience of this. And, dear hearts, they always look to the gardener first in the classic case of a poisoning. However, with something as toxic as a Laburnum, living with it is fine if you've a spot under which you don't use and no children lurking about who might try and eat the seeds.
Potting shed and Laburnum flowers, not a great combo.
My children never ate anything toxic in the garden, lets face it sometimes its a struggle to get kids to eat peas never mind tiny black seeds. But, I'd never recommend it in a family garden that's for sure the whole plant is incredibly toxic and the toxic chemical is uber concentrated in the seeds of the tree. If you've got one and live with it in relative harmony, good on ya but its certainly NOT on the list for children-friendly gardens. Yellow also clashed with my shed and its bunting. So not cool. I'm not a fan of yellow plants, never have been and quite frankly you can't make me either. Give me a guady purple any day than yellow. Remember the poor senecio bush, its long gone too, its only crime, yellow flowers. Its long gone.
Manchild in apple tree. Teenager and garden as one.
These days, with one child in New Zealand (yes my cooking is THAT bad) and one permanently usb'd into his computer (or sometimes making it as far as the family hammock), I'm not too worried about the 'kids' eating the seeds. I'm not too sure they know what 'outside' looks like or how to 'interface' with it either. However, this garden whilst ample is in dire need of a decent sized chicken run. The most logical place for it is under the Laburnum tree. Chickens, whilst adorable are not the most clued up in Botany 101 so they'll have no clue that the seeds are toxic, just that there are plenty of them unfoot to scoff. Can you see where this is going?  They can't live on the terrace, whilst its ample and they'd be delightful as LinneW has mentioned previously the chooks in my life have a tendency to come indoors. And if they were on the terrace, I'd be inviting them to have a seat a while on the sofa. Probably not that helpful to them or me.
So, honey with a sad heart, I cut down the tree. It still hurts me to think of cutting down such a lovely specimen but it went and quietly limb by limb not even a tear did it shed. The debris is half way through being cleared up. I'll have to remove all the foliage and get rid of it elsewhere as its not even very easy to compost. I certainly don't want to be spreading the seeds about the garden. So slowly but surely each branch is defoliated, by hand. Unless anyone has a 'laburnum leaf stripper' they can lend. No? I'll crack on then.
So the leaves and seeds head off to the local amenity site where their hot composting processed will likely kill the toxic chemicals. In most frugal (absolutely insane) style - I've stripped each tiny branch off and chopped those to dry as kindling. I know I could buy kindling, that would certainly be easier than hand stripping a tree but lets face it this stuff is free and that leaves my pennies for fruit trees to replace the Laburnum.
The larger branches I'll keep for some jousting, or similar pastime. Caber tossing I think might be a bit too much for them if we have our own mini-highland games.......there's a thought. Toss the Laburnum. Has a nice ring to it don't you think?
The larger limbs will be stored, dried and split into logs..........
I've started on that, but most of the larger branches are still 'under leaf and seed' so the pile will increase slowly. Why bother you ask. Why not ship the lot to the skip. Well, wood is wood, seeds or not. So if I have to get rid of the vegetation, so be it. A wee task before we can stoke up the stove, but worth it. And the wood of Laburnums is particularly good for burning, so at least its final use will be a productive one.
Laburnum seeds are the source of a chemical so chemically close to nicotine that a derivative of its seeds are used as an anti-smoking drug. If I'd a mind I'd whip up a cure to smoking in the potting shed using the seeds and probably an old demi-john, some garden hose and a paraffin heater. I mean how hard can it be to make drugs in your shed....... However, I'd rather do this type of smoking instead, the one in the cooker which helps feed us.  Today it made sausages. I like a cooker that provides home made sausages don't you?
Photo: Home made sausages for brekkie! Hands up....
So the trees down, sad times but onwards to the new chicken coup and fruit orchard which they'll live under. This is to be a productive garden after all. Sad that a tree is down but we'll plant plenty to replace it. First though a lot of debris to clear up. Chooks are quite excited. Yes really that's Rose's excited face. Three weeks, 91 eggs later, the girls are guaranteed a place 'somewhere' in the garden! And, who ever heard of a chicken laying yellow eggs, no I tell you, they're safe.
Photo: Mrs Rose needing a few more chest feathers then shes pucka.
Did the hounds help too, I hear you cry?  Aye right. They know better than to interfere when I've a chainsaw in my paws and they don't actually do 'manual' work. Bad for their nails. Guess I'm on my own then. Although I see him plenty when the stove provides sausages, what's that all about?
Photo: Honestly could he be anymore chilled? Peedies weekend begins.
Peedie staying 'safe' and guarding the homestead whilst the tree was chopped.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

On time, productive or otherwise. And, a pyramid.

How do you spend yours?

Your time? 

Do you count the productive hours of the day as the ones at work (£/$ for money work) or do you deal those 'productive' hours up between home, work, family and life? The old 'work/life balance question I guess. I've been pondering this a while. Recently having moved and downshifted my working hours considerably, I've been thinking of what's acceptable and productive and what's just perhaps seen as outright indulgence. Those tasks which are helpful like gardening, or reading or reflecting, but don't give you hard cold cash and quite frankly you can do without, if you're honest. For those lucky enough, like me, to be starting a new phase of life, in a new place. Are these 'pastimes' a halfway between holiday and real llife change. The corridors between old lives and new realities? Or is the real change a mindful move to reducing the 'paid' work hours and upping the 'unpaid' working day, which is often equally as productive. Providing food, comfort and support to yourself and those around you, aren't these equally as productive activities?

Or are these, the haiverings of a self indulgent wifie. Probably, but why not, I'm an epic haiver-er.

So having moved a wee while back now, I'm trying to work out how I fit into my new life. I'm still self employed and opportunities are presenting themselves regularly, so fear not, we'll not starve. But should I get a full time job and contribute significantly to my home and society? Is the graft that I do at home, in the garden and throughout my family's life maintenance productive and contributes positively to us all, it is just as valuable?

Is some part time work (however that manifests itself) and volunteering outwith my home a way to stay a firmly attached and contributing human being in my community? Or is it just a pseudo-mid life crisis type indulgence and I should get off my bottom and find a stimulating productive full time job to help solve something, hopefully significant, even on a small scale? I like work, I do, a lot. But, if I had the choice to shape my life in the way I'd like from here on in, how would it look?

I currently work around 2-3 hours a day for cold hard cash. I enjoy my work but I don't want it to take over my life. I work in the garden for a good couple hours, if not more. As we're establishing a productive (bonnie) garden, this should eventually be productive too and reduce the spends positively. I help/aid the family with chores, admin tasks and hope to make the home we have a happy, comfortable one. I write and I research, often for my own pleasure, but its productive and will eventually 'help' others to grow and produce their own food. I walk and cook every single day. Lets not pretend we're a family that eats everything from scratch but we cook every single day, for most meals, its just how we live. My days are full to bursting.

Am I productive, or a wannabe 'good life' cliche? Or do I value my own time properly and see the benefits of establishing a routine which supports those around me. I know I'm lucky in my circumstances, and value that everyday. But, is a financial contribution the most important one always?
I wonder if many folk wonder, like me, wonder how they 'contribute' equally if they don't earn enough (money) to pay a full share of the mortgage/rent/bills in their home.  Is their time still as productive as 'paid' time?

After all, once times spent we can't get it back. 

So I still ask myself, 'what is productive and useful'. I know we need a balance between money to sustain life and a standard of life to sustain our souls. Maslow's hierarchy of needs published in his 'A Theory of Human Motivation'  in 1943. Having our most basic of 'needs' met, maybe striving for some balance isn't so unexpected. [The subtext to that last sentence is of course, at my current 'middle' age.]

As my family sit down to tea, in a comfortable homey space, I hope I'm as productive as they seem to be. I certainly feel very motivated by this life.

I'll endeavour to get more figured out tomorrow.  I'm heading out to do some paid work later. I've an appointment to do some voluntary work later on next week. I guess I slowly need to adjust to my own 'new' life and make sure the choices I make suit us all. I've no issue with working full time if the right job comes along but I know it will need life to juggle a bit if I do. Which won't be so bad either. I guess its all about choice and balance.

Any thoughts? Life, work balance. How's that panning out for you?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Tropeolum speciosum

Chilean Flame Flower rampaging through Yew. Alistair wouldn't be without it. Maybe I need it too? 
Progagation is simple.
Two inch root cutting crossed in the bottom of a 9cm pot, cover with compost and wait. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

So, we moved the shed. And other gardening adventures.

So, the weathers been kind and we've been beseiged (in a good way) with visitors and family and folks popping by, often with their pj's in their sticky wee mitts. All great fun aside twisting my back and leaving me just sitting here 'looking' rather than doing. So I thought I'd do a bit of reflecting before a proper update later on the garden. Today I can only look and fondly ponder things to do 'out there' rather than have a garden adventure of my own. Folks often ask how often 'to' garden, I think that however long suits you. OK so 15-24 hours a day suits me grand, its not for everyone. Just please yourself! 
This weeks star in the garden has to be Crocrosmia (Monbretia) 'Lucifer' one day a mere bud opened, the next FIREWORKS. Even Haggis, who's not much of a fan of herbaceous borders, was impressed. He's more of a 'arboretum' kinda dog (more squirrels to chase) and we all know you don't get many squirrels in your average herbaceous border.
And speaking of impressed. The foray into 'fishbox madness' seems to be working well. The mixture of perennials and edibles, annuals and climbers all rampaging together appeals to my entrophic nature. The sun has shone and shone so that's helped too.  As these tubs and pots are largely the veg plot for the summer, there's not much in the way of weeding either. All good.
Sweetcorn alley, has been a grand wee experiment. Can you grow corn outside here, it seems so. Whether or not it will actually fruit is another thing. 
But it's big and beefy and seems to be putting on a fair flower or two. The chilli's, peppers, bush tomatoes and salad leaves look on in awe at its gigantic form. They can only dream of reaching such giddy heights. As, dear hearts, do I.
I happen to think green toenails suit the colours of the garden too. One of my favourites (lets be clear I have quite a few favourites) is the Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) and that's favourite flower not toe-nail colour although Calendula Orange should be a toe nail polish colour*. Should be so garish in colour but its sunny nature wins out and it can be, as those clever Romans who named it thought, be in flower every day of the year if you're lucky. Fingers crossed.  I could so do with a bit of its cheerful colour everyday of the year. 
Oh we also splurged all of the remaining wedding money on a garden table for scoffing on. Scoffing is big in our family, so a table to do it outside seems to be a grand idea. OK, we have limited funds for grub but hey we'll be able to share it outside. Peedie of course, supervises from the shade. He is not sure of the ecclectic mix of window boxes, fish boxes, annuals, herbs, flowers, vegetables and general horticultural chaos which eschews. But, he'll give his opinion when it suits him, in good time. Being head horticultural hound, he tells, means he has great responsibility. However, he is, he tells me NOT a fan of the chooks. Even if they are prolific in egg laying and are gaining more feathers by the day.
He likes that they're rescued and happy. Unfortunately, they now get any scraps and treats, previously often destined for the mutts. Therefore, he's thinking of plans for their escape and talking to the unions. Not a happy [starved] canine.

The house has been a busy one with birthdays for Rock Gods and the steady stream of fans (erm sorry I mean FAMILY). The terrace art has been well blessed with many talented up and coming artists.
More on that another day. So its been a busy wee hoosey for the last wee blink (while) and its been grand to see folks. Next time though, if you've a mind to come and ask what needs done, fear not, we moved the shed.
When an unexpected call and 6 end up at the dinner table, life's always fun. Nicely they asked if they can help with anything, I pondered and counted. One, two, three, four, five, six pairs of arms. How many folks do you think it takes to lift a shed on a late Saturday, two, three, four, five, six. Six I was informed was perfect. So guess what we did?

OK, so the quick clearing of the bed was a challenge, but who's going to miss an opportunity to move a shed to a prime location when it presents itself. I'm afraid (she giggles) that awful Senecio got axed but various shrubs and climbers got moved nicely out of the way of an impending shed rehoming. Its far better up there under the honeysuckle and hiding by the fushia than plonked on the terrace. We all agreed and retreated for a cold glass of something in front of the fire, chores done a bit of Grannies Chicken roasting in the oven, just the thing for the hungry workers.

Visitors here are ALWAYS welcome. We'll feed you well, but if you've a mind for a quiet sit, there'll probably be a wee job first if you don't mind! I've a wee idea to make an orchard at the back where the chicken coup will move into......busy?

Whilst its not how I hurt my poor back, I'm appreciative of being able to move freely and get jobs done with friends to hand.

Thanks guys. Pop back anytime always jobs to do and always an empty table to fill with grub and chums! And there are of course two gates to put up lovlies, when are you coming......

*I seriously think that nail polish manufacturers are missing a trick by not thinking of botanical colours for their horticultural audience. Just saying. Cerinthe purple, Cosmos pink, Lucifer red, Courgette yellow and Calendula orange - would so work.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Elderflower Cordial, is there any other kind?

So last night we continued a bit of elderflower harvesting from the local hedges. We love our elder cordial in this wee hoose. We take only enough flowers to leave the tree and other folks happy and take them carefully. If in doubt of identification, don't collect flowers, that's just silly, LOTS of things look like elder. Be careful! Happy to ID via a photograph (If I can) on the Wellybook page if you need! But there's a great 'How to ID an Elderflower' link here thanks to Gemma Garner for such an informative post.

Elderflower Cordial - short version
2lb sugar
1 pint water to a handful of lemon (in my case frozen sliced lemons unused at xmas and bagged up for a later use).
Heat up and make a syrup, then cool. 
35g of citric acid (add when mix is cold) 
10-20 elder flower heads (shake to remove bugs!). To each lot of syrup (cold syrup or they're rank and go brown) 
You just need to steep for 24-48 hours and then seive, put into a sterilised vessel. 
If you don't have citric acid you can increase lemons, but it can be added afterwards (up to a year we've found)

Multiple batches or large batches seem to work well. Old lemonade bottles can be used to store and you can strain after storage into a nice glass bottle if you've a mind.

Its so easy and we're still using last years (2013 batch) up, so we must be doing something right. We also had this as the toast in our forest wedding and as a non-alcoholic option for our party. Its fabulous. Yes we COULD make wine, but we prefer the cordial, I think its much nicer and such a 'summer' fix in the cold months.

Various supermarkets have sugar at 68p/kilo, so given the price of the cordial in the shops, this recipe WILL endeavour to save you a fortune. But be prepared for it to be one of the only cordials the family favours.

A more haiversome version of this recipe and on collecting flowers is here
You've been warned, its haivertastic with bells on. Happy cordial making people!