Not quite ‘good-bye’

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been working behind the scenes moving this blog over, as much as I can, to homeonthehill.org.uk The reason for the change is that I feel I’ve outgrown this free wordpress platform, and need to move to something I can promote more widely and grow my readership – not for any commercial reasons, just because I want to reach more people.

The new blog will have the same look and feel as this one, so if you’ve enjoyed following me on here, please come over to homeonthehill.org.uk and click the ‘follow’ button on the top right.

Thanks for your readership of homeonthehill.wordpress.com – no plans to delete it so it’ll be here forever.

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Potato Day and Seedy Sunday

Wow what a busy weekend – and no time for gardening!

Saturday was Heart of England Organic Group‘s annual potato day – always on the first Saturday of February if you want to put it in your diary for evermore.

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The group buy in 25kg sacks of organic seed potatoes and sell them on individually – so you can buy just as many seed tubers as you need, or a few of lots of different varieties. It helps fund the group for the year ahead, but also provides a valued service to local gardeners and allotmenteers.

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The year, 2017, was our second potato day. Last year we had lots of people queuing outside before we opened at 10am. This year was a slower start, but on asking folk, it seems that many people last had assumed that because of our proximity to Garden Organic at Ryton, our potato day would be as manic as theirs used to be. This year, they realised that HEOG were running a more relaxed affair and felt less pressure to be on time. By the end of the day, we had sold just 10% fewer spuds than last year, so more than covered costs.

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Potato Day 2017 featured a seed swap table for the first time. However, this side of the event wasn’t really publicised and actually, no-one brought any seed to swap. But this didn’t matter because I had asked Heritage Seed Library and The Organic Gardening Catalogue for donations and they both responded generously. As we were effectively giving seed away, we asked for donations to Cancer Research UK and raised £160 for this cause. Next year we need to push the ‘swap’ side of things more and get the HEOG membership engaged with saving seed and handing over all those free packets from magazines.

We also spoke to lots of interesting people and gave advice to beginners and more experienced gardeners. And had a lovely time.

Then on Sunday, I headed to Brighton and Seedy Sunday to see how it should be done. The seed swap is actually a rather small part of this large event. One hall was set aside for this purpose and the seeds organised into types – tomatoes, peppers and chillies, brassicas and so on. It was more formalised than HEOG’s little table – I guess it needs to be because of the amount of people attending. So you wondered round the large central tables picking up seeds you wanted, then at the end, either handed in an equal amount of your seed packets, or paid 50p per packet. They only accepted self-saved seed, so no commercial packets. And no seeds from the Cucurbitaceae family (pumpkins, squash, courgettes and marrows) because of the high risk of outbreeding.

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In a courtyard was a rather splendid display of making cloth from plant fibres –  linen and nettles. I spent ages here indulging my love of all things textile. I chatted for ages to a very patient man about how to make cloth from nettles. I knew it was possible but had no idea of the process. He said that when he decided to try it, he realised that’s there’s very little documentation about how to do it, so he set out to work it out. 2 years later and he can make yarn which can be knitted or woven. However it is massively labour intensive and it is quite obvious why it was passed over for the easier to process flax into linen. And wool is even easier still.

The largest part of the event was the marketplace. If you read my review of the Edible Garden Show you’ll remember that I was disappointed in the range of stuff on offer and decided I wouldn’t be going back (it’s now been cancelled anyway). Well, this marketplace was the exact opposite – almost every stall was offering something relevant to me. Well, not quite every stall – I won’t be joining Sussex Wildlife Trust or volunteering on a community allotment in Brighton, for example.

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There were lots of seeds for sale – organic and non-organic. Also some plants, but I didn’t look too closely at them because I was travelling by train. A few herbalists with lovely cosmetics and remedies, and some sellers of wildlife homes. Mostly I bought seed, but I did succumb to the herbalists wares too.

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One especially interesting stall was the Seed Cooperative – a new venture based in Lincolnshire with the intent of producing more UK grown seed for the organic market, both by growing it themselves, and providing a market for any other small-scale producers. They are selling shares in the Cooperative with a minimum investment of £100, and a maximum of £100,000. I intend to sign up to support this much-needed business – most organic seed available to gardeners is not grown in the UK. However, you don’t need to invest in order to purchase seed from them.

The final part of the show was an area for talks and there were several throughout the day. However, I was busy browsing the stalls and elected to miss most of them.

Next weekend there’s another seed swap event in Northampton – Seedy Saturday – which I also intend to go to. I think this will be smaller than the Brighton event, although they have some high-profile speakers lined up. I can’t see our small seed table at HEOG growing into an event of this size, but it’s interesting to check out how bigger events are run.

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Exciting start to 2017

I spent a lovely weekend at Graceworks on an Introduction to Permaculture course. I actually did this same course this time last year, and hoped it would lead to a full Permaculture Design Course (PDC). But there weren’t enough folk interested to make it viable. But this year there are, so I’ll finally be doing my PDC.

I say finally because, when I’m asked why I want to do this, I’m not sure I can remember! I think I first became aware of permaculture in the early or mid 90s, and have long wanted to do a PDC – but back then they were usually 2 week residentials and I simply couldn’t justify the time or expense. Now there are lots more that run on weekends, and this is the only one I’ve found within a reasonable drive. Last weekend was 2 full-on days from 9.30am to 5.30pm, so I don’t want more than an hours drive either end of that. The rest of the course is on Saturdays – one each month until October. But with 2 longer weekends in May and October. I’ve already booked leave around these dates so I don’t have to work full weeks either side of a PDC weekend.

One man on the course seemed to have fallen very lucky – he came across permaculture on a TV programme just 2 weeks ago. He googled for a course and found this one just 5 minutes from his house! And I’ve waited almost 20 years and still have to drive for 2 hours a day. There’s no justice!

But having said that, I think I’m in a better place now to take on board a lot of what is included in the course. It can be quite touchy-feely, and in the past that might have put my logical, science-minded self off a little, but I’m getting more open to that as I get older. But 20 years ago …

There’s a permaculture expression about trolls and fairies – trolls being logical scientific do-ers, and fairies being the other extreme of thoughtful navel-gazers. It’s a spectrum and I think I’m moving away from the troll end a little, and embracing my inner fairy.

The introduction weekend was pretty full-on and covered loads of things. It included a whistle-stop tour of the ethics and principles. Actually, I’m not going to go into what all this is here – if you want to know the detail check out the Permaculture Association’s knowledge base or join a PDC yourself. It also looked at a design methodology and included some practical design exercises. We wondered about in the park you see in these pictures, to practice our observation skills, and also had a tour of the Graceworks gardens in the rapidly fading January light. Oh, and we looked at their forest garden too.

You may have noticed that I changed the subtitle of this blog to ‘a permaculture garden’ about a month or 2 ago. I’m hoping to write something eventually about why I believe my garden should be called that. Finding the time to write is often a challenge for me and I feel pressure to be doing other ‘more productive’ things. I’m not really sure why I think writing this isn’t productive! Anyway, as part of the PDC we are invited to produce a design or two – I have numerous ideas for parts of my life that need some permaculture design. Keith and I are planning to plant a forest garden, so there’s that. Moving away from land-based designs, I need a writing discipline that works. I also need a design for what to write – all I currently have is an incoherent list of ideas. Back to the land, I have a space designated to be a small herb bed/garden – I think I want medicinal plants here, with the edibles in pots in the knitting garden.

So, next PDC weekend is at the end of February. Before then I need to get some more fruit trees pruned (4 done, 24 to go), there’s HEOG Potato Day and Seed Swap (the seed swap bit is my baby), and I’m planning to go to Seedy Sunday in Brighton. And I also have to go to work 5 days each week (actually, I rather like my job and don’t want to give it up but there’s so much interesting stuff to do).

 

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This blog is not my life!

I read recently on the BBC that social media can damage your mental health. The idea behind the article was that looking enviously at other people’s lives, as portrayed on Facebook etc. is bad for you as you compare your life with theirs and find it lacking.

I find this rather sad. I love social media in all forms and find the posts on Instagram, Pinterest etc inspiring, rather than disheartening. So I’d like to publically declare that this blog does not represent my life in full (nor do my Facebook feed, Instagram posts, Tweets or Pinterest pages – links just there on the right, if you’re interested). All these are heavily edited to show you only the good bits, as I imagine other people’s are too.

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So enjoy what you see. Yes, I have a lovely garden and home, but it’s not all clean tidy and neat all the time – but that’s when I take the photos and share them with you. Of course, I could share more negative stuff – but that’s not what I want to read on other blogs, and I naturally inclined to optimism and finding the glad in things.

Happy New Year!

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Christmas at Home on the Hill

Christmas is a pretty big deal round here – I know it’s not everyone favourite time of year and some people find it incredibly difficult, but I love it. A time for celebrating whatever good we can find in the world and being thankful for all we have I’m writing this as the battle for Aleppo continues and I feel the contrast between their lives and mine. I have so much to be thankful for.

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But I’m not a Christian and I try to keep Christianity out of my midwinter celebration – well, maybe the odd carole, but the tunes are mostly much older than the Christian words anyway. So my tree has a duck at the top, not an angel. And my decorations are all secular.

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We always have a real tree from a local garden centre – they are grown as a crop and help to absorb some of our excess carbon. I always compost it afterwards. This is placed in the living room and decorated with classy glass ornaments. I used to have more homemade and plastic ones when we had small children but now I indulge my adult tastes.

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Also in the living room we have an enormous dresser – our wedding present to ourselves. I decorate this too, with glass baubles, bunting and mistletoe.

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Above the fireplace is where the advent calendar hangs, filled with lottery scratch cards that we never win on. About a week before Christmas I add more bits to the mantelpiece.

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I’ve had a go this year at using some garden trimmings to make wreaths. I’m not so sure about the one on the window sill at the front of the house, but I had fun making it.

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On the day itself, we usually host for as many of the family as want to join us – we have 6 children in total and they’re all invited. We’re usually joined by Keith’s ex-partner and her partner too, and anyone else who wants to join in. The number expected this year is 14, but there won’t be any small children this year. I organise the table, and Keith does the bulk of the cooking, although I help when necessary. Other people usually provide puddings, and a vegetarian turkey alternative.

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I think the year these were taken we ate early because of the little ones (just visible on the left at the window end). It’s usually getting dark as we sit down to eat. This picture looks quite civilised because it’s only the starter course. By the end the table is laden with wine and beer bottles, plus lots of pans and serving platters. Keith cooks a turkey – free-range from Manor Farm at Catthorpe, plus roast potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts, cheesy leeks, sweetcorn, roast parsnips, mashed swede, french beans, gravy, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings. Plus anything else that people turn up with. It sounds like a lot, but there’s not much waste – some left-over veges go to the chooks, but some also becomes bubble and squeak, the left-over turkey gets eaten with chips, and made into soup and stock.

We’re generally pretty exhausted after putting on that feast so tend to spend the rest of the week pretty quietly – well, in the daytime. I think Keith has gigs and parties planned for most evenings this year.

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Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Christmas.

Donate to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal

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Autumn diary

I had meant to try and write a short post each week, including diary updates of what I’ve been up to in the garden, but I got a bit sidelined into something else important. Oh well…

So for this post here’s a quick list of what’s happened since the great garage tidy:

  • compost all turned, making room for dead plants from the autumn tidy
  • harvesting – spuds and chillies I’ve written about, plus squash, bean seeds, calendula seeds, parsnips
  • clearing of the vege patch has begun
  • greenhouse all cleared out and tidied – spent tomato compost bagged up to go onto the vege patch soon, half-hardy plants moved inside
  • Elaine has developed a new shrub border at the top of the orchard by the drive and filled it with some cheap buys and things re-homed from the chook run
  • Elaine has also tidied the naked garden borders for the winter – not too tidy, leaving stems and seed heads for the birds, but tidy enough to not look abandoned
  • tulips ordered and waiting to be planted
  • plans made for a new shrub border in the back garden
  • pergola removed and all the gravel re-homed – mostly by Keith, not me
  • holiday in Cornwall including 2 whole days at the Eden Project
  • had a letter published in Permaculture Magazine
  • put net on the top pond to stop it getting full of leaves
  • planted a Rosa rugosa in the woodland

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Part of writing this blog is taking lots of photos and I’ve been struggling to find a way to store and categorise them. The set up is that I have a rather old laptop where some pictures can be stored, but we also have a large hub drive where we store all our photos together, organised by month. Generally I take 2 kinds of photo – garden ones and band/music ones. I have been storing them all on the hub drive and using Windows Photo Gallery to tag them. But this isn’t working well. Tagging takes forever – partly because I have been categorising everything and tagging every musician I know. Also, retrieving stuff off the hub is slow. So I’m about to start again! Plan B is to store garden images on the laptop, backed up to the hub drive, but with the primary source being the laptop. I’ll point Photo Gallery at the laptop drive, and leave the music pics on the hub drive for Keith to organise if he feels so inclined. I think this will work better. Also now I’ve had a bit of a play with Photo Gallery I have a better idea how it works and how best to develop a set of tags that works for me. Still, it’s a big job so if I’m quiet for a while it’s because I’m organising my photo library.

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Chillies

After a bit of a break I decided to grow chillies again this year. This was after I was given some seeds as a Christmas gift. I haven’t bothered for a few years as I always grew far more than we used, but I am resolved to preserve them and use them through winter.

The ones I was given were Prairie Fire, and then I bought some Basque from Real SeedsIMG_1596.JPG

Oddly, the Christmas gift ones came with some composted elephant poo to plant them in – I added it to my compost and used my usual peat-free organic compost from New Horizon.

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I sowed the Basque ones in February and the Prairie Fire a little later in March, due, if I remember correctly, to space in the heated propagator being at a premium. Anyway, all went well and I ended up with some splendid plants and lots of chillies.

The Basque were described as having respectable heat and good flavour. Hmm. They seemed pretty weak to me, and have very little flesh. I stuffed some with some left-over burrito filling, but they weren’t great. I still have quite a few so will probably give it another go, but haven’t bothered to save any seeds, although I think there are still some left from the original packet.

The Prairie Fire were also disappointing, and confusing. On our holiday we went to the Eden Project, and I studied their display of chillies and the Scoville scale – the more Scovilles, the hotter the chilli. Well the Prairie Fire had seemed to me to be not very hot so I needed to use quite a few to get enough heat – and they are tiny and fiddly to chop up. So I thought I would look for something both hotter and larger. In the shop there was a display describing them as ‘really really hot’ at 108,000 Scovilles. But then right next to this were some seeds with the Scovilles at 20,000 – 30,000.

So now I don’t know what to grow next year – I will need to experiment or just choose at random. I have planned to buy as much organic seed as possible, so that will limit my choices, which may be a helpful thing. Anyway, I used all the seed I had, and won’t be saving any.

I have hung the Prairie Fire seeds up to dry on the dresser in the living room.

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I’ve read that you can grind them to chilli powder in a coffee grinder kept especially for the purpose (we don’t like chilli flavoured coffee), but this small string is all there is – seems a little wasteful to buy a grinder just for these. I will look for a second-hand one, or try Freegle, I think.

So that’s my 2016 chilli harvest – small but how many chillies does one need? Flavours are disappointing, but I will grow something else next year and try to find something just right for us.

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Potatoes 2016

I thought I’d write short reviews of the crops I grew this year and ideas of what i want to do differently next year. So I’ll start with the potatoes I harvested a few weekends ago.

They were Sarpo Mira, bought at HEOG‘s potato day back in February

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I’ve never grown maincrops before because of the blight problems that usually destroy the crop, but Sarpo are blight resistant, so I thought I’d give it a go. I usually grow just one bed of earlies because I only want a few home-grown spuds – decent organic ones are commonly available in the shops and not overly expensive. I did miss digging up afew salad spuds in the height of the summer so am thinking about growing earlies in a pot next year – a whole bed of them is too many and lots get wasted.

So I planted them on 10th April, not very deeply, in a bed that had had my home-made compost added. Then I mulched with straw and added more straw as the haulms appeared.

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They resisted the blight pretty well, but did succumb in the end. So I cut off the dying haulms and put them in the green waste bin for the council’s hot compost heap to take care of. Then I left the tubers in the ground for about 4 weeks – I can’t remember how long I used to advise people to leave them. If you do this the spores from the haulms end up in the straw and on the soil surface.  After a number of weeks, with no potatoes to live on, the spores die and you can safely lift the tubers through the soil and straw and they won’t get blighted. I am really pleased with the crop – all these from 18 tubers in a 6′ x 4′ bed:

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They’re now in a large brown paper bag (upcycled chicken feed bag) in the (newly tidy) garage. Hopefully, they don’t have blight and will keep well for a few months, as we don’t eat lots of spuds. They’re rather waxy so will probably make good roast potatoes. There are quite a few lovely big ones for baking, although floury spuds are tastier that way.

So, for 2017, yes, I’ll grow maincrops again, but only blight resistant varieties. And a few earlies in a container for summer salads.

Local folk may want to know that HEOG‘s 2017 potato day is planned for 4th February 2017, 10am – 2pm, Kenilworth Senior Citizens’ Club CV8 1QJ.

 

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Great Garage Tidy 2016

Okay, so it’s not gardening related, but it is what I did with my weekend and I thought it worth documenting for future reference.

We’ve been on holiday from work for the last 2 weeks. We had a brief break in Cornwall, but then spent 4 days (yes, 4 whole days) tidying out our garage.

We took 6 van loads to the tip:

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Actually, I’m not quite clear what we threw out! There were lots of old toys and games  – our tip has a re-use shop attached which raises money for Age Concern (or maybe Help the Aged?) so they took all those to sell on. There were rather a lot of old boxes! You know when you buy a new kettle and keep the box for a few weeks just in case? Well we still had boxes from kettles long defunct. There was too much furniture in there, but it was all upcycled anyway – nothing we had bought new. In fact, one cupboard was in the kitchen when we moved in in 1998.

So here’s some before and after pics:

 

We did find a few really useful things- some Rootgrow that had been forgotten, a lovely set of watercolour pencils, and an Eden Project guide from our first visit in 2004.

So, just the shed to sort now:

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Cuttings v2.0

Sorry for the shock – 2 blog posts in so short a time. Yep, it’s time for another relaunch of Home on the Hill. You see, the main purpose of this blog is as a bit of a diary for me – but it doesn’t fulfil that function because I tried just posting once a month, and then it seemed such a huge task, that I simply didn’t do it. So now I’m going to try a ‘little and often’ approach, taking lots of photographs (which I do anyway) and letting them do the talking. I might even manage a weekly post, but don’t hold your breath!

So it’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve knocked off a little early this weekend because we’re off to Cornwall for a few days so I need to pack. Actually, we’re back now but I held off publishing so they weren’t too close together.

My friend Elaine does the ornamental parts of our garden for us – one whole acre is just too much for folk with full-time jobs. A couple of weeks ago she told me to take some cuttings of the salvias she had planted. Now I’m not great at cuttings but I had a go. But then we had an unseasonal heatwave last week (28 degrees Centigrade in September) and they ended up looking like this (they were in a heated propagator too):

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So today I had another go:

Then I went in the house and consulted the bible on how to do these things. Maybe should have done that first because I’m not sure I followed any of the instructions well. So we’ll see if they root.

I also did quite a lot of tidying up. I’d got a bit behind with the strimming because I was at the Permaculture Convergence one weekend, then ill the next weekend. Here’s some pics of the untidy bits:

And here’s a few before and after shots to finish:

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