Archives for the month of: September, 2014

This weekend we had visitors from Glasgow, always welcome, especially when they bring a Glasgow curry. The main activity of the weekend was a visit to our neighbours’ orchard to pick their damsons and red apples (later speculation confirmed they are Katy). We then took a walk down the road towards Borgue and picked brambles and sloes as we went. Here are Matt, Iris and Arthur pausing at the bridge looking down the burn into the field.

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This year’s crop of both has been a fine one and the freezer is packed with brambles. We’ve quite a few bramble crumbles to get through before we have room for the pigs after Christmas.

Our guests are keen fruit pickers and allotment holders so we had a fine time in the orchard and hedgerows. The final products in our kitchen was damson jam (slightly toasted, but tasty nonetheless), sloe vodka and damson vodka. We chose vodka instead of gin because we had it in the house, Matt’s hedgerow booze book uses it a lot, and Laura is a bit funny with gin. In keeping with tradition, we keep the second cheapest in the shop for this kind of occasion.

Meanwhile, WWOOFer Lucie has been walking part of the Southern Upland Way. She’s a serious walker and spent the night under the stars (drizzling clouds, cough), when the bothy she planned to stay at was occupied. She didn’t fancy staying the night with five Ayr rowdies, a carrie oot, a dog and a gun. Can’t say I blame her.

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I do love a before-and-after post and this is a fun one. The first room we’ve redecorated upstairs is Iris’s bedroom, so for the first time ever tonight Arthur is sleeping in a bedroom alone. We’ve spent most of the summer working on this room, albeit in fits and starts and mostly at night.

When we moved in, this room was empty and it is the smallest of the full-size bedrooms upstairs. The window faces west and overlooks the copse and dell that floods in winter. It also has a nice view of the herb garden and is mostly above the kitchen. As the room is directly underneath one of the chimney stacks, the chimney breast and ceiling had been damaged when the chimney stacks began to fail, so there was a large damp patch, peeling paint and a few cracks to be dealt with. We have had the chimney stacks fixed so these issues shouldn’t recur.

Here's the most damaged area at the top of the wall.

Here’s the most damaged area at the top of the wall.

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As ever with decorating, most of the hard work was in the preparation. We stripped the wallpaper (in a heatwave), plastered and filled the damaged walls, cleaned and sealed the damp area, then repainted the walls. We also repaired the window so it opens, repainted the woodwork and carried out simple draught-proofing. This involved installing beading around the base of the existing skirting boards, sealing gaps in the floorboards with a mix of sawdust and glue and installing a chimney balloon. We’ve painted the floorboards white.

Most of the work was completed in time for iris’s birthday but we had to eave the floor to cure for at least a week before moving in the furniture. Here’s how the room looks now. We still need a curtain (found the perfect fabric but it’s a touch too expensive) but in the meantime she has shutters to keep the light out.

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This year we tried a sunflower fort (an enclosure made from sunflowers for the children to play in). It didn’t go very well; the sunflowers were spindly, slugs ate them, and they didn’t flower all at the same time.

In contrast, the sunflower seeds from the bird feeders dropped by the birds flowered beautifully in the gravel next to the house and in the drive. Next year we’ll know better and sow those rather than packets bought specially.

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As well as the sunflowers, the flower border is putting on a fine late summer display and the sweet peas are still great.

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It has been another stunning Indian summer day today with warm, yellow-gold sunshine and a misty haze at dusk and dawn. The leaves on the copse in the garden have begun to dry and fall, a constant background murmur like water running over stones. The country seems to be expectant, gulping in the last gasps of sweet summer air before battening down the hatches for winter. I’ve always been a sucker for autumn; there’s something about cold mornings, blue sky and the sound and smell of decadent decay that seems to distil the essence of the year, for good or ill, in its prime.

As a Yorkshire lass, and the child of a teacher, September is also as much associated with new beginnings as it is the settling of the year into its pomp. And so, at Plunton, September is also the start of a new adventure, in the form of two beautiful saddleback pigs. Bramble and Bracken arrived from Port Logan today to become our lean, mean weed-munching machines. Shy at first, they’ve already started nibbling away at some of the tangle of weeds in the field.

Their new home is a 0.4 acre patch, about 25m from the garden wall, and bordered with electric fencing. We’ve filled their sty with dried bracken, made a wallow in the bottom corner and weighted down an empty plastic tub for water.

The farm who supplied and delivered them, on their way to a show in Cumbria, declared that they will love it in our small square of mud and weeds. They certainly seem to be enjoying playing hide and seek in the bracken. They still seem more piglet than pig and make a lovely, low grunting noise which sounds disconcertingly like the Jaws theme.

Officially on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watchlist, British Saddlebacks are good all-rounders, providing great pork and bacon and, crucially for us, are robust rootlers so should start to get on top of all that bracken. We only have the space to keep one in the freezer, so if anyone fancies some outdoor-reared pedigree pork for Christmas, let us know.

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