Holiday harvest

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I’ve just been away on holiday… Look what was waiting for me! It’s the second year I’ve had this runner bean plant and it just keeps producing more and more.

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Growing veges all year long

Globe artichoke

I wish this was mine… but it’s at the inspiring Capital Growth garden in Regent’s Park

I went to a super interesting course yesterday at Capital Growth about growing winter veges. We always have to work a season ahead, so we need to plant now for harvesting throughout winter, starting in the first week of November, this is when growth stops because temperatures are too low. 

So we’ve sown our seeds, and hope to kick start our poor allotment again. It’s been suffering from a PH imbalance in the soil and all the rain has resulted in a lot of snails, which loved our seedlings a bit too much.

For harvest in early spring

These veges we can get started now, then they pause over winter and are ready for harvest early spring:

  • Carrots, 
  • Peas (Ordiman), 
  • Leaf lettuce, 
  • Parsnips, 
  • Broad beans (don’t worry about black fly), 
  • Garlic, 
  • Soft fruit (transplant at the beginning of winter)

For harvest throughout winter

The following plants we grow now for harvesting throughout winter. They can just be harvested from under the snow:

  • Leeks
  • Pak choi: Ruby – autumn harvest, White – winter harvest
  • Cavalo Nero (kale) – harvest from bottom, they keep growing up.
  • Swiss chard (silverbeet) – cut leaves from the bottom, won’t regrow but nice and fresh in winter.
  • Curly leaf parsley
  • Lettuce: need cloches. Can germinate at 1.8°. Sow every 2 weeks, keep sowing and harvesting.
    • Valor,
    • Winter density,
    • Rouge grenobloise
  • Any leaf beet.

They should just be raised in the same way as Spring veges: in seed trays, transfer to pots and allow to mature to a fair size before moving them to the allotment. 

Green manure

But you don’t want to leave any bare soil over winter, so you can sow green manure in the gaps. It can even go around plants – just fill up any gaps. Some good green manures are:

  • Kent wild white clover,
  • Crimson clover,
  • Phacelia tanacetifolia.

In spring,  just dig in to the top layer to feed the soil. Allow it to rot for a week before putting in spring seedlings. 

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Is cycling the best way to see France?

I love my bicycle. It’s my favourite way to get around London: far quicker, easier and a little bit cheaper too. I’ve also been fascinated with cycle travel. I know some people that have cycled around Ireland and cycled along the Rhine for their holidays, it sounds amazing.

On the road to Paris

At work, we had the opportunity to cycle to Paris in return for fundraising towards our amazing project in Africa – a business skills training centre for teenagers who have been affected by war (sometimes displaced and orphaned, almost certainly with little formal education). I loved the idea!

In France

I quickly realised my little 8km commute would not cut it as training for 4 days and a total distance of 442km.  Every weekend I have been going out cycling and it’s been leaving me pretty tired. But I got fit, and was confident I could handle the distance.

On the way to Paris

The ride itself was amazing! I made it to Paris, wasn’t too tired, wasn’t sore, and did something I dared to dream of. It’s a really long way from London to Paris! Being on the bike meant we saw a few things you wouldn’t spot from a car and we stopped for water and lunch in some pretty amazing places. I did well on the fundraising too, smashing the minimum target of £700 and managed to contribute a decent amount towards our project.

France

But: I did discover something about myself. I love cycling, but I don’t love cycling that much. It’s an amazing way to get around, the perfect commute. But at the end of the day I’m just not a sporty person. I really enjoyed the ride for the scenery and the experience,  but you won’t find me doing loops around Richmond Park again any time soon!

So is cycling an alternative way to have a trip away from home? Yes, but I wouldn’t say it’s a holiday!

We passed a lot of wheat fields!

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Yarn stashdown… getting hatted out

My previous project was a super simple, typical hat – so for this one I wanted to explore a new way of making hats. This hat is knitted from the front, to the back (not bottom to the top) and the shaping for the head is made at the beginning and end of rows.

Red hat for baby

It worked out really easily and looks quite nice – I think a hat is a good use for such a bright, varied yarn. The details matter so much; I was really lucky to find a winning combination of button and embroidery thread to go with the yarn, and to make the hat still gender-neutral.

Button detail

I’m only 3 projects in to my yarn stash down, but I’m already getting phased with the prospect of making so many baby hats… really, is there nothing else I could make?

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Hat for a newborn

I had most of a ball of yarn leftover from my leafy sweater I made last year. It’s a really nice soft green, in a very soft cotton and bamboo mix.

Simple newborn hat

Baby hat! It’s about all you can do with this much yarn. This was super quick and super easy to make, and it looks really sweet too.

Top view of shaping the hat

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Living simply… by knitting up spare yarn!

I’m going through a yarn de-stash at the moment. Ideally, I’d love to say it’s all about living simpler, wanting less, consuming less, and all of that fantastic stuff I believe in – but to be very honest it’s been brought on by the prospect of moving house near the end of the year, and who wants to move more stuff than one has to?!

Loopy baby soother

I’ve ended up with all of this spare yarn because I struggle to know what to do with the odd ball left over from a project or that I couldn’t resist picking up in a charity shop. Really, all that’s left to do is baby hats and accessories, and I don’t have a baby to knit for right now. But I do have a friend who will be exhibiting her new range of baby clothes at her local playcentre, and I can include my knitting for sale in that.

Fabric side of the baby chewing blanket

So my first project is something I guess babies like to chew on, nice and bright and soft. Not only did I use up a spare ball of cotton, but also some excess fabric and random ribbons I had. I really enjoyed using up all of these odds & ends, it feels so good to make something out of stuff right at your fingertips!

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Honey for the bees

I’ve signed up to a local beekeeping course! It’s being run in a local park and gives an intro into beekeeping, so that by the end I should get a good enough sense of it to decide whether or not to do it myself one day. Bees are super complex creatures, but I was really surprised how docile they are – they let us open up their hive, pass them around and take a look at their complex and amazing home. It’s very expensive to start up but artisan honey sells well in London and the hobby pays for itself in a couple of years. I think if I too could have such placid bees it could be another step towards sustainability in the future.

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An impromptu bit of sewing

Peg bagI had a sudden urge to sew something. looking thro my fabric box I found some nice thick cream linen – 2 rectangles and a long piece. It gave me an idea to make a bag. A bag specifically for our dear plastic pegs which perish in the sunshine when we leave them out on the line.

5 minutes later and we have a peg bag (well, my housemate thought I said pig bag – annoying kiwi accent!). I used some Suki iron-ons to name it. I’ve never really been able to master these iron ons, they tend to come out fuzzy and dim, but at least it looks antique, everyone is into rustic chic right now!

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Easter special – Hot Cross bun recipe

Every year while I was growing up my dad would make fresh hot cross buns on Good Friday. Since moving out of home I missed the lovely smell of the fresh buns so have done the same. I like making them with chopped dried apricots and prunes instead of sultanas. Making your own is healthier for you and is another step down the road of self-sufficiency – after all, who wants to visit the supermarket over Easter?

fresh home made hot cross buns

Here is my dad’s recipe :)

  • 1 Tbsp dried yeast
  • ½ cup warm water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 50g butter
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 4 cups standard white flour
  • 3 tsp cinnamon (or more, to taste)
  • 3 tsp mixed spice (or more, to taste)
  • ½ cup currants, sultanas or mixed dried fruit

Mix half of the sugar and lukewarm water in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the yeast, gently stir, and leave the mixture to stand for a few minutes until its bubbly.

Gently melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the milk, heat until it is lukewarm (you should be able to hold your little finger in it and count to 10 with it feeling hot or cold), then stir in the remaining sugar and the salt. Put the flour on a roasting tray and warm it to body temperature in the oven.

Add the warm milk to the yeast mixture, then sift in about 2 cups of the warm flour, the cinnamon, the mixed spice and the dried fruit. Mix well with a wooden spoon, then cover the bowl with a plastic bag and stand it in a sink of lukewarm water until it is twice its original volume.

Add more of the warmed flour until the dough is not sticky, but keep the dough as soft as possible. Turn out onto a floured surface for kneading. Knead thoroughly for 4 to 5 minutes until it feels springy when you push your fingers into it. Using a sharp knife cut the dough in half, half again, then into thirds; giving you a total of 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Put them on greased trays around 1cm apart, leaving space for rising but so that when they rise they will touch each other. Cover lightly and stand in the sun (the trays, not you) or in a turned off slightly warm oven until they have doubled in size.

Meanwhile mix 2 tablespoons of flour with 1 tablespoon of oil and about one tablespoon of water. Put this in a small plastic bag, or a piping bag if you have one. When the buns have risen, cut the corner of the plastic bag (I poke a matchstick through) and squeeze a cross onto each bun. If the buns are lined up you can pipe one long line across several buns one ay, then one line across several the other way, rather than do each bun individually.

Bake in a hot oven at 220° C (425 F) for 10-15 minutes until tops are brown.

While they cook, warm two tablespoons of sugar with two tablespoons of water until the sugar disolves. Brush this over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven. If you don’t have a pastry brush, roll up a paper towel, fold it in half and use the open end as a brush. Better than nothing, but only just ;)

Enjoy while they are fresh and warm!

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Signs of Spring

daffodils in a vasedaffodils on the side of the roadAren’t daffodils the greatest sight ever? Even after such a mild Winter it’s still wonderful to have them signalling the warmer months ahead.

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