Archive for June, 2011

Can you have too many strawberries?

Our strawberry crop is doing magnificantly.  I have been growing strawberries for 25 years, starting off in pots when I lived in a flat, and now at Buckland St Mary, growing them in our wonderful fertile soil, we have the largest strawberries I have ever grown.

My wonderful strawberries

We  have so many strawberries that it is even too many for us to eat, when we are having them for breakfast with our cereal and then again in the evening for dessert. Can you ever have too many strawberries?

It seems like sacreligious but I am going to have to make jam out of our home grown strawberries.  I have never done this before, always making jam out of fruit from the Pick Your Own.

I am starting to feel guilty about Mr Blackbird.  Having been deprived of my raspberries he is hell bent on getting into the strawberry patch.  He even made a hole in the netting and hopped through today, only to be helped out again by us.  Perhaps as we have so many strawberries I should leave a couple on the ground just for him?  But I don’t really want him to get the taste for them, otherwise we could go from plentiful supply to none very quickly!!

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Mr Blackbird is well fed up

Neil’s mate Fid arrived today to stay for a couple of days.  Neil and he set to work on putting up the netting for the fruit cage.  It was difficult getting the netting over the top of the poles to form a roof, and then tensioning it so it was equal all the way round.  This took several attempts. They then built a door in the side , which hinges to allow entry.

We could then remove the temporary netting we had had over the gooseberry bushes and some of the raspberries.  As we were sitting admiring the work, we noticed Mr Blackbird getting in a spin.  He was barging against the netting trying to get in.  Now I know who has been stealing my raspberries.  With the netting there his thieving will have to stop but he’s not happy.  He’s hopping all around the netting trying to find a way in but to no avail.

So Blackbird zero, us and the fruit cage one point!!

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Suppressing the weeds!

Whilst the soil here is very fertile and everything grows well, that includes the weeds.  We have been battling the weeds in the fruit cage area all Spring, pulling them up and putting down old carpet to act as weed suppressant sheet, and then spraying the grass with weedkiller until it looked like this below.

killing off the weeds and adding old carpet

Today we laid 100 metres of black suppressant sheet in the fruit cage area.  We cut round the raspberry canes and fruit bushes to cover the whole area, until we ran out of the black fabric.  Quickly went to Ebay and purchased another 100 metre roll so now have to wait for it to arrive before we can finish the job.

Laying the black weed suppressant sheet

A little toad came to join us in the task………….

little toad

We love all little animals here, so he was welcome to join us. 

Why don’t toads, hens, cats eat weeds?  that would make our life easier.

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Is drilling boring??

Neil wanted to drill a hole, through from the kitchenette on the 2nd floor into our loft, to put phone wires and bell wires through.  So he positioned me in the loft with the walkie talkie and he was the other side of the wall drilling.  I was supposed to let him know when the drill came through. So there I was standing there waiting, and he was drilling and drilling but to no avail.

We came to the conclusion that the wall must be thicker than his longest drill, so we contacted a local hire place but they only had a 600 mm drill bit and Neil wanted a metre long one.  We tried several places on the net, to find that a 1000mm drill bit only fits into an SDS Max drill, which Neil didn’t have, so to cut this story short, he ordered one yesterday afternoon and the new drill and drill bit arrived by courier this morning at 7.20am!!

Neil with his big drill

So this afternoon I took up my position in the loft again with the walkie talkie and waited the other side of the wall.  Suddenly I was showered with brick dust as the drill finally broke through.  Hurrah!!!  That’s an expensive hole!!

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Lovely midsummer weather!

Can hardly believe the weather at the moment.  To think yesterday was Midsummer’s Day and I was sat here in a jumper with a cardigan over the top.  Our neighbours lit their woodburning stove.  I looked out over the back of us and all I could see were the rain clouds, see below.

clouds over the hills

rain clouds on MidSummer's day

Today didn’t start much better.  It rained all morning, and about lunchtime the rain eased off and the sun peeped out for a while.  I went to a Strawberry afternoon tea at Stapley today, but luckily we sat in a marquee so were sheltered from the wind.

I wish oh wish Summer would come!!!

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Abundant fruit

The fruit bushes down in the paddock are bearing abundant fruit.  The strawberry plants we put in last year and got nothing from, have really come into their own, with enormous strawberries.  We’ve been eating them for breakfast and dinner for a week now.

The first of the strawberries and blackcurrants

The blackcurrant bushes that we got when someone was giving them away on freecycle, are also doing well. There are quite a few, enough for pudding for us two, but not masses, I expect we will get more as the bushes mature.

Our 2 red gooseberry bushes, given to us by a lady in Combe St Nicholas are also bearing plentiful fruit, this time enough for crumbles, and jam. And the raspberry canes, again planted last year when we got nothing from them, are now bearing fruit.  It is a rush to pick them before the birds get them, so we are trying to net them. When we finally get out large fruit cage net up it will save all the fruit hopefully, until then we are grateful for what we can pick.

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Ever heard of homing ducks?

Further to my blog of 15th June, lo and behold this pair of ducks have waddled their way all the way back to our neighbours where they came from.  This is about half a mile.  They would have had to cross a road (not that busy) and waddle all the way as their wings are clipped so they couldn’t fly.   All the searching for them, and no wonder we couldn’t find them if they were making their way home.  Who would have thought ducks would have a homing instinct, or did they just get lucky and head in the right direction? We’ll never know, but these ducks voted with their feet, they obviously didn’t want to live with us, so there we are.

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The lamentable tale of the ducks

Our neighbour was having problems with Mr Fox getting to his ducks and hens, so he decided to offload some of the ducks, and we agreed to take a mating pair.  They  arrived yesterday afternoon, and we set them down in the hen enclosure, with appropriate trays full of water and a little corn.  They wandered around the hen run, making sweet little cooing quacking noises to each other and we fell in love with them.  We made appropriate provision for them at night, and when dusk fell we tried to cajole them into it.  But they were having none of it, and they ran all around the enclosure and in hindsight we think they got spooked and  flew up about 2 feet and through the poultry net.  That was unforseen, that bid for freedom.

The ducks arrive

Before we could think about how to catch them, they had run, and they are quick, into the undergrowth between us and the farm below.  It’s quite a thicket and we couldn’t see where they had gone.  We went round to the farm and into the thicket that way, but to no avail.  By this time it was 10pm and dark, so we left it overnight, and thought we would have another go at getting them back in the morning.

9.30am this morning, another neighbour came over to help. She went into the undergrowth, saw them and shooed them out onto our land, but they were so quick that they just went back into the undergrowth again and wouldn’t come out.

This afternoon she brought over 2 more ducks in a cage hoping that their quacking would bring the original pair back out, but to no avail. And we couldn’t see them in the undergrowth where they were this morning, so they could have gone anywhere, maybe into the woods.

It is unlikely now that we will see them again.  In the thicket they had some protection from Mr Fox, but if they go into the woods, where there is water, they will be too open to preditors.

What a sad state of affairs.  Our 2 little ducks were only with us for 5 hours!  We will have to have a different arrangement of fencing if we get ducks again in the future, and that will take some sorting out, so I doubt it will be soon.

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NEW HOUSE SIGN FOR LODGE hOUSE

Now that it has stopped raining we have been able to put up our new house sign.  We had it made specially with hens and bees on it, to reflect what we are about. We also have had a hanging sign made, so that it is clear from a distance which is our house, which should stop potential guests from knocking on the wrong door.  It’s quite confusing here, with the first house being Lodge Cottage, next door being The Lodge and us being Lodge House. Even the postman gets it wrong some days.

Lodge House door signnew sign above the front door of Lodge House

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Elderflower cordial and Champagne

The elderflowers  have been prolific this year, so yesterday evening in the sunshine (between the showers) we gathered about 50 heads of elderflower and set to making some elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.

The elderflower champagne recipe was from River cottage, but the recipe for the cordial was from a local lady. We made some of this last year and it was really successful, so refreshing made up with some sparkling water and a slice of lemon.

Elderflower Cordial                         makes 1.5 litres.

Ingredients:            20 heads elderflowers, 1.8kg Granulated or castor sugar, 1.2 litres water, 2 unwaxed lemons, 75g citric acid crystals.

Method

1.       Shake elderflowers to expel any insects and then place in a large bowl of cold water to wash.  Drain, and shake off excess water.

2.       Put sugar into a pan with the water and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

3.       While the sugar syrup is heating, pare zest of lemons off in wide strips and toss into the pan with the elderflowers. Slice lemons, discard ends, and add slices to the pan, and stir in the citric acid. Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

4.       Next day, strain cordial through muslin (or a new J-cloth rinsed out in boiling water), and pour into thoroughly cleaned plastic bottles. Screw on lids and it is ready to use. Store in cool place or in the fridge.

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