Archives for the month of: September, 2013
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Plunton on Sunday afternoon from the veg patch gate.

The Indian Summer weather slightly caught us by surprise this weekend but as we had lots of plans was most welcome. On Saturday we went up to Lanark for the Smallholders and Growers Festival. It’s a small one-day agricultural show aimed specifically at what most farmers would describe as hobbyists – that would be us! There were really useful stalls covering everything from bee-keeping (Solway Bees are based just down the road at Twynholm and said we could pop by any time) to pigs and cattle and renewable energy. We picked up leaflets on several sheep varieties, poultry (including, ex-battery hens) rare breeds, pigs and even Dexter cattle. We’re unlikely to invest in livestock of any sort until the Spring but it was nice to ask stupid questions without feeling a fool! Perhaps most useful was the forestry talk Matt and Iris attended. The Woodland Trust will come out and do a free survey to help us plan our wood and will provide ongoing help and grants of up to 60%. We’ve asked their local rep to give us a call to see what we can do as we’d like to get trees groing this autumn if we can.

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The revamped planters (and Iris getting her sandals on)

Saturday evening and Sunday were given over to landscaping. We inherited two old Belfast sink planters with the house which were languishing by the rotten back door on the north side of the house, where they were getting very little sun and had consequently failed. I’d emptied them of their contents last week so on Saturday we moved them to the front of the house and raised them up on bricks removed from the old kitchen inglenook – they fit perfectly either side of the kids’ bench against the front of the sun room. We cleared out the clogged up plugs, filled them with crocks for drainage and topped up with compost. I’d picked up some plants at the Festival so I then planted in some spring bulbs and a mix of lavender, nepeta, a crawling sedum to drip over the front and cover the damaged rims and a small spiky grass. I’m pretty pleased with the final effect and hopefully they will do well in the sunshine and not suffer too much from the exposure. We’ll be gathering more shells from the beach to top dress them to cut down on weeds. If this weather holds out that might be today’s outing with Arthur and Kester.

Sunday saw more graft in the form of preparing a rabbit-proofed area for our veg patch. We have decided to site it at the end of the front garden against the existing boulder walls. It’s a south-facing slope and we’d already sunk the gateposts and a couple of fence posts through the week. By lunchtime we’d sunk the rest (and located a drainage pipe) and strung galvanised wire across the top. In the afternoon we fixed on the chicken wire. We have left a flap of about 30cm on the ground which we will hide under the turf to stop rabbits burrowing underneath and we folded over a similar amount at the top to reinforce it. It’s not the most attractive structure but it should work to protect our crops from rabbits and, if necessary with a bit of reinforcing, deer and the odd escaped sheep from the field. Matt is finishing off the gate as I type, using bits of scrap wood from projects in the house. The kids, meanwhile, had a ball playing in the garden in the unseasonably warm weather!

The finished fence...well, almost.

The finished fence…well, almost.

This week’s tasks – well, Matt is off to London for the day on Tuesday so there’s a logistical nightmare to sort out as he needs to drive to Dumfries for the train. I’m hoping to do more jam-making, looking into soap-making, there’s a parents’ meeting on Friday morning and a Harvest Service in the afternoon which Iris will be taking part in, which also means looking out tins and jars for donating to the local food bank and then we have a weekend off as we head to Kerry’s wedding in Alnwick on Friday afternoon and meet up with lots of old friends. Phew!

So, we’ve started to see some progress this week. Our lovely plumber came on Monday and Tuesday, partly in preparation for the shower room he’s fitting next month and partly to rid us of the dangerous old lead pipes. He’s also been talking to Dad about the electrical side of the bathroom fitting and they’ve worked some things out. He also pointed out that most of the stuff I’d ordered for the shower room was too big (whoops) but it’s all been sorted out with a phone call and the sink we bought can be used when we fix the main bathroom upstairs. Dad has also finished off the electrics so we now have more plug sockets than you can shake a stick at and he’s disconnected the old heaters. Next step will be getting the stoves put in for heating.

We’ve also started to prepare the ground for our veg patch and this weekend we will see the first livestock on our land. Not ours, I hasten to add, but the lovely Hebridean sheep belonging to Jo and Phil who live down the road in Colt Cottage. Hopefully they’ll help to keep on top of our grass in the field and provide some entertainment for Arthur who will not accept their sheep or not in fact the goats he’s been dreaming of. Jo is planning to move them in in a few days.

I would have illustrated this post with a photo of the giant cauliflower Janet dropped off today but I chopped it up for cauliflower cheese before I had chance. It was yummy!

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I stumbled across a bit of yarn bombing in Kirkcudbright today. I love the way this town seems to delight in throwing little surprises at you around each corner. There’s a lane called Tanpits Close that I often use as a shortcut through town (not that the town is all that big) and as well as coming across this bit of creative knitting, there’s also a house surrounded by bright blue pots filled with colourful flowers and enough animal-themed statuary to amuse Arthur for long enough for me to take a snap.

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I’ve also been having fun discovering more shops, both frivolous (great clothes shops like The Wee Wardrobe, The Corner Gallery and Pleat) and useful – like the joiners-come-DIY-suppliers I found on Dee Walk today.

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Bit more preserving this week at Plunton. Matt made bramble leather – a great success with the Rayburn and something we had always failed at with the regular cooker. Iris and Arthur are slightly addicted to it. He’s also got some bramble whisky steeping. The giant bucket of apples is from our neighbour, Janet. The red ones are good eaters but do not keep well, the green are sweet cookers and I suspect the apple press will be put to good use on them next week. They have already made lovely baked apples. Janet also brought a jar of damson jam and an invite to Sunday lunch with both sets of near neighbours next month. She’s also offered baby sitting services so we are in clover!

Much of the rest of the week has involved more work on the house. Dad is visiting again and has started rewiring upstairs, in fact he is finishing off the kids’ room as I type. We are off up north this weekend for great-grandpa’s birthday so he is going to do our room and the office while we are away.

I, on the other hand, have finally started stripping off the anaglypta wallpaper in the lounge. It was removed fairly readily and I am about halfway through now. Part of the reason for doing it now is that we are hoping to pick up a period fire at the salvage yard this weekend and I (correctly it turned out) guessed there would be an indication of the height of the original surround in the plasterwork behind. Not the best photo but you can see the walls are in OK condition and, as Matt pointed out, look just like the walls in one of his vintage house craft books!

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Settling in to something of a routine now, with Monday often the most productive day of the week for me as Arthur does not need taking to nursery. Inspired by the lovely bread this weekend I set to on a baking binge, making a mixed flour and spelt loaf (one for now, one to freeze) and some orange and spelt loaf cakes, as well as a veggie stew with cheese and herb scones for tea.

While the bread was rising I set to work on the flagstones in the larder. Having ripped up the old lino there were still some stubborn black patches of old glue. I also wanted to try out cleaning the flagstones to see how they came up. I made up a bowl of warm water with some detergent in it (I ended up using a tsp each of Bio-D detergent and nappy cleaner) and set to with the scrubbing brush bought at the local agri supplies business Tarff Valley. Actually, I think it might be intended for grooming horses but it’s a nice shape to hold, made in the UK and has good sturdy bristles.

This did a good job of getting up the grime but not getting off the sticky black stuff. Cue what has to be the most versatile DIY tool ever – the paint scraper. The cleaning solution combined with the scraper and a bit of welly got it off in no time. In fact, I’d done the whole floor before the bread dough had proved. There is one stubborn patch which didn’t get completely cleared as the stone in that area is quite pitted so I’ll have to think of an alternative method for there, possibly involving the sander.

Next decision – how to seal the floors once cleaned. I don’t really fancy the chemical sealants on offer and had heard you could use linseed oil but am a bit worried about that turning rancid. Suggestions and experiences of sealing stone floors or tiles much appreciated!

The final task of the day was going to the open evening at Arthur’s nursery. Iris and Matt had not seen it and Iris seemed to particularly enjoy seeing what her brother gets up to. She also saw old pictures of her school friends who used to go to the same nursery.

Our Daily Bread

Had a bit of an indoor day today so indulged in making a proper roast dinner – braised partridge (bought at Ballards, one of several great butchers in Castle Douglas) followed by a bramble jam sponge and custard.

Despite all the above being yummy (even if I do say so myself) the best meal of the day was my tea of toasted Galloway spelt bread slathered with slightly salted butter and consumed by the fire with a cuppa.The bread is made in Laurieston by Earth’s Crust bakery and we bought it on a whim at the wholefoods shop. We’ll be going back for more!

When the weather improved – and it was a lovely sunny afternoon, if blustery – we did more garden planning and dragged up fallen branches and old logs from the undergrowth. I also waved goodbye to the summer and dug out my winter wardrobe – farewell maxi skirts, hello corduroy and jumpers.

Sitting down with pencil and paper tonight to sketch out our new veg garden. We have ordered plug plants of winter brassicas which should arrive next week but first we need to fence off an area to rabbit-proof it and create raised beds to grow them in.

We’re planning to site it at the southern end of the garden, utilising the protection of the existing dry stone wall and encompassing the compost heap (which needs rebuilding) and the tool shed. The space should be sheltered and sunny but also this not-so-attractive bit of garden will eventually be shielded from view by more ornamental beds up the slope towards the house.

We’ll get the fencing at a local agricultural supplier and install it ourselves – this could be challenging as the ground is very stony. We measured out the space tonight and it’s roughly 20m by 10m, so slightly larger than our allotment.

Lots of planning on the agenda for tomorrow and maybe an indoor DIY job like wallpaper stripping as we are awaiting the first autumn storm with rain and strong winds. Fingers crossed our rickety roof and chimney stacks hang on in there!

Morning light

I’m enjoying taking the time to see how the light changes around the garden through the day. This morning a shaft of sunlight seemed to uplight the sycamores outside the kitchen, picking out the leaves as they begin to change to their autumn hue.

Glamping

Iris finally got to try out her birthday present today and rather enjoyed it. Sadly had to take it down as we’re battening down the hatches in readiness for the approaching storm.

Incey Wincey

This afternoon’s steady drizzle didn’t stop everyone working. A harvest spider had been busy weaving webs between the railings outside Arthur’s nursery. Covered in tiny droplets, they glistened in the waning sun – nature’s lametta garland.