If I was honest, we’ve neglected it because we have been so busy and found no time to spend out there. As a result, we’ve had interesting things growing (without any help from us I hasten to add) but we haven’t really had any veg or produce from the ground behind our home and I miss that.
There is nothing more tasty, satisfying and relaxing than harvesting a few salad leaves, tomatoes and courgettes for your supper. Especially after the rigours of a long and stressful working day.
Our fence desperately needed replacing recently so on the back of that, and a bit of welcome good weather, we decided to revamp the garden and do things a bit differently this time. The mess and damage that the new fence inevitably made was the prefect excuse to tackle things differently and set it up in a new way.
We’ve tried things in certain spots, we’ve tried things in pots and we’ve tried a raised bed but my sister bought me Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Gardener which I love. I then bought her Edible Garden book which has so inspired me and talks about exactly the kind of gardening I have been looking for and didn’t have a name for it……
It just makes so much sense.
We don’t want regimented lines of carrots really (although we have done that) and we don’t actually have time to manage that kind of garden anyway. Plus we don’t really want to see great swaths of precious tasty soil left with nothing growing in it when the weather is rubbish and you are stuck in doors looking out waiting for things to change.
So what is polyculture?
In the true sense of the word, it means ‘growing multiple crops in the same space’. The best example is how the native americans used to grow corn that had beans climbing up the stems and courgettes growing around it’s feet. The three plants develop and produce at different times so the space is very efficiently used to great benefit.
Perfect for a small victorian terrace garden in London.
Alys Fowler follows these principles but not to the letter and the result are stunning and very productive.
Aside from the sight of it being wonderful, the advantages are numerous and there are many publications that explain this.
So with that in mind, we have started out with a nearly blank canvas (I couldn’t bear to uproot my rhubarb and herbs etc so they stay put) and will see what we achieve be it successful or otherwise.
There will be some mistakes and I am already undecided about a few plant combinations but it’s very exciting and it has got me making lists, sketching out plans and scanning all my back issues of Country Living for more plant ideas.
I have expressed my desire to learn more about identifying fungi before and I still haven’t done the course that was a present from hubby christmas 2011. I really must! If only to broaden our menu and save us from inevitable tummy ache.
It hasn’t, however, stopped my foraging this week. There is a field where we walk at the weekends that has a small but productive crop of enormous and delicious horse mushrooms. I haven’t seen them there before but they are certainly there now and boy are they tasty looking.
The fields are still very green and the bright white beacon of deliciousness that these wonderful wild food sources are is clear to see in the middle of the field.
I couldn’t help but notice them and after clearing it with the farm I collected only those that had been knocked off their stems by the ponies in the field. Each morning, though, the ones that were tiny the day before had become monsters and so I couldn’t resist and picked some of those still growing.
Picking them properly is important (always use a sharp knife and cut off at stem, never pull them out with the whole stem) and you should never harvest an entire field.
Always leave plenty behind. There may be others who want to enjoy natures larder too but it is also important to maintain the crop to ensure they grow another year.
There are lots and lots left that will come to maturity over the next few weeks so we should see them again next year.
Preparing them is nearly as important. Never wash them. Clean off any dirt or insects and then brush the outside clean. I’m a great believer that a bit of muck and interest adds to the flavour but if you prefer, the skins can be peeled to remove any possibility of unwanted flavourings (whatever form that might take!!).
I love mushrooms. I love their meatiness which makes them a great substitute for meat in a vegetarian dish. I especially love risotto, chicken and mushroom pie and I particularly love fried mushrooms on a thick slice of thoroughly toasted wholemeal or artisan bread.
What a wonderful autumn gift.
We had Chicken and mushroom pie on Saturday night but we ran out of time for any other mushroom dishes this weekend. In order to continue to enjoy the taste and waste nothing, I have gifted some, dried some and preserved some for later when the crop has finished. Loving them fresh as I do, I have held back a few of today’s harvest to go into a mushroom based dish (whatever it ends up being) that I will conjure up later in the week.
The dried ones have a much stronger smell now they are jarred and I understand that drying enhances the flavour. I can’t wait to use them in a nice juicy dish in the middle of the winter when they are no longer available.
The others I have preserved in oil and vinegar from a recipe in the preserving book I bought some time ago. The flavours in the oil say to me that they should be eaten straight from the jar raw but we will see as I have never used mushrooms in oil before. New things are great!!
The smell of freshly picked wild mushrooms is amazing. It is rich and earthy and reminds me very much of being a child. We always came home with field mushrooms or something edible and free when we had been raking around the open countryside for as much of the day as we could squeeze out of it.
It brings to mind people like my grandparents and my gran particularly who loved a bit of free food and a forage. I’m sure it is her tasks to us kids to bring home something tasty that fuels my interest in hedgerow eating. I realised the other day when I looked at a photo of me holding the mushrooms that I picked that I have her hands…. almost identical!
This weekend of blistering temperatures and the threat of summer actually arriving, has reminded me of a weekend we were lucky enough to disappear on recently.
It was a gloriously sunny and fun weekend in the peak district to catch up with friends that we haven’t seen in far too long.
We booked a cottage that catered for all our needs, that was in a rural location but also close to the amenities of a little market town called Wirkworth.
We did brilliantly well with our choice and the cottage was amazing. Recently converted from a barn just next to a very pretty public footpath, it afforded us quite a lot of privacy but the occasional distraction from passers by; especially since Max decided to greet each and every one with his big bark!!
It was just what we all needed. We went with absolutely no expectations and found it completely charming and far better that we could have hoped.
We had good weather, gorgeous surroundings, great company and enough beer to kill a man. What else do you need?
Everyone mucked in, there was lots of booze drunk, rubbish spoken and food eaten and it couldn’t have been better.
Mostly we just chilled out at the gorgeous, gorgeous and perfectly appointed cottage. We played cards around the garden table or set up tennis (for the more energetic amongst us), we read, we chatted (a lot!!) and thoroughly relaxed.
When we did venture out (we were very tempted to stay put but really felt that we had to see more than the wonderful view from the barn garden), we were just as happy with what we found and some of it came as a complete surprise.
We had briefly passed through Matlock Baths on the Friday night as we arrived, so we decided to go and wander through this sleepy little ribbon town on Sunday morning. We would grab a coffee, maybe an ice cream and enjoy the peace and quiet of the riverbank walk and it’s pretty shops. It should be pretty quiet leading up to lunchtime.
I think we were the only people in the whole county who DIDN’T know that every Sunday, Matlock Baths is overrun with bikes and scooters of all shapes and sizes as well as the diverse collection of people that ride them.
Every single parking space along the length of the village has 2 wheels parked in it and even the station car park was struggling to accommodate the 4 wheels that had chosen to visit at the same time.
JC got some cracking shots of some of the bikes (clearly someone’s pride and joy) and the irony of the huge, seemingly out of place, ‘think bike’ sign wasn’t missed on us – you really couldn’t help thinking about bikes since it was practically all there was as far as the eye could see.
Once we thought about it, it made sense that this funny little place couldn’t sustain about 8 fish and chip shops a greater number of cafes and 2 bike wear shops without something spectacular like the sunday pilgrimage to contribute to the coffers.
Everyone was clearly happy and there was a nice vibe.
Not remotely what we had expected but quite wonderful all the same.
We eaked out as much of the weekend as we could and didn’t leave until the latest possible (our booking was until monday am but we all had to get back for work!! boohoo) with another walk to check out the local station of Wirkworth and the sweet town centre itself.
These small towns are clearly affected by the out of town supermarkets and the change in our shopping habits but it is hanging on in there. Like all small market towns, it has it’s problems but it is surviving. It has retained its charm and there are a handful of brilliant little retailers as well as decent pubs and I hope it lasts.
We are going to make this little weekend an annual event now because we were so taken by the place and the surroundings. We’ll be booking it well in advance so we aren’t disappointed.
I’m looking forward to it already!!
These gorgeous flowers are sadly finished but they lasted amazingly well.
They are peonies and just about the most perfect choice of flowers for me; they are pretty, not formal looking, they are simple and they are white.
They came as a thank you from V for having Agnes for the day while they were away.
They have been beautiful and lovely to see every day but they were completely unnecessary as having Agnes was so much fun and we’d do it again in a flash.
The flowers kept their form and colour and only started to droop 2 weeks or so.
I think I am going to treat myself to a vase of these every week or so from now on, I love them so much.
I was reading the UK handmade magazine summer 2013 (which I would highly recommend – you can read the online magazine or you can buy the download pdf)
And as I came to the end and page 81 presented me with a lovely image of a bug hotel project for your garden, I suddenly realised that our recent DIY project (more to come about that) had unwittingly provided us with the building blocks of the bug house and we pretty much had everything we needed around and about.
After a riffle through the recycling, chopping some lengths of bamboo up, selecting some nice short logs from the log pile and steeling a length of waste pipe from the garage I was all set to assemble them along with the slate and bricks into our own recycled version.
It won’t pass the inspection of even the most laid back structural engineer and the hotel inspector would be aghast but as Bug Hotels go, I think it is pretty fantabulous.
I’m very pleased with it and have stuck it in a little corner that does’t have much happening in it but it has been earmarked as our wild corner so couldn’t be better sited.
Fingers crossed for some creepy crawly guests :o)
One of my favourite birds is the Wren.
This gloriously sunny weekend was very welcome and so was the sight of a Wren while we were out on a walk.
We were severely chastised by this particular Wren who I suspect is trying to build a nest near to where I had chosen to sit.
I love these pretty and perky little birds, not just for their size but how their size is completely disproportionate to their bravery.
We are vast mountainous creatures compared to a Wren but there is little, if any hesitation when it comes to telling us off .
If we have had the temerity to step over the invisible line that surrounds and protects her little haven, we will be subjected to a barage of chipping and chatting that comes with an urgency and tone that leave little doubt that she is cross!
I wasn’t disappointed.
It is completely hilarious and quite disarming. I hope she settled back to the job in hand none the worse for having to stop what she was doing to tick us off for getting too close.