Three Things Thursday: 8 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

This week, everything is hand-crafted…

First, a new tea cosy. The old one had started to disintegrate, so I whipped this one up, complete with pompom in a spare hour or two.


Purple and a little bit sparkly

Second, lovely new (well, I’ve had them a few weeks) scissors made by Ernest Wright  & Son Ltd. The company only make scissors and they have been doing so, by hand, since 1902.


I couldn’t resist the design

Third, new purses. These were crafted by a new friend I made when I visited  London. I liked them so much, I ordered two, a big one and a small one… she even personalised the small one for this happy snail!

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?


Throwing it all away


The glorious rubbish bed in 2013

Before the limery was built, we had a feature in our garden known as the ‘rubbish bed‘. Basically this was a raised bed made and filled entirely with waste. Mr Snail had constructed it by taking up some of the flag stones that formed the patio and partially burying them on their ends to enclose an area that we filled with all sorts of waste to rot down and become a growing medium. I don’t think it contained any actual soil, but there was a lot of cardboard, grass clippings, shredded willow, spent potting compost, shredded paper, moss raked from a friend’s lawn and leaves. Most of the organic matter went in fresh and we allowed it to rot down in situ. The best squashes I have ever grown were from this particular bed.

And then came the limery. Because of our limited space, we had to shuffle things around and the rubbish bed had to be sacrificed. The flag stones were reused to floor the limery and a new much deeper bed was built in a different location. The contents of the rubbish bed were transferred to other places – some went into two dumpy bags in which I grew potatoes and some was spread on the other raised beds.


Volunteer potatoes in the new bed

Ideally, I wanted the new bed to be filled the same way, but it is turning out to be a long haul. However, I think that the end is in sight… it just requires some physical labour. As you may recall, I began by lining the bottom of the new bed with old handouts and lecture notes as a cathartic way to draw a line under my teaching career. Then, we added all the usual stuff, plus lots of tea leaves and coffee grounds and we stopped recycling most of our junk mail and put that in there too, along with the bedding from the hen house. Of course, when we thought we were getting near the top we turned our backs and everything rotted down and the bed was only 1/3 full again. Despite this, we have persisted and it’s currently hosting a late crop of unintended potatoes that we have decided to nurture, plus a courgette in a pot that has rooted down into the compost. Once these have died back and been harvested, we will be piling in the contents of the two dumpy bags (which came from the original rubbish bed), plus all the spent compost from the pots that have had the peppers, squashes and tomatoes in over the summer. And we’ll keep adding paper and cardboard and grass clippings from our neighbours so that by the time we come to plant courgettes and squashes next year, they can go in the ‘new and improved rubbish bed’ and we will hopefully have an ideal medium for a huge harvest… once again, all from material that many folks would simply throw away.

So, if you have a garden that is short of organic matter or just generally lacking soil like ours was, don’t despair…. simply compost everything and anything that can rot down, either in a compost bin or in situ, and you will be amazed by the productivity you can achieve.


Courgette in a pot but rooting into the compost in the new bed – hopefully a taste of things to come

Forward thinking

This is a time of abundance – tomatoes are ripening every day, there’s the last flurry of courgettes, squashes need picking and there’s the potatoes to harvest. Indeed, as I was digging up potatoes this morning I thought about my successes this year and my failures, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to change my attitude in the garden. You see, my problem is that I am easily seduced.


Some of this week’s harvest that we will definitely enjoy

No, not like THAT… I am seduced by seed catalogues! I read the descriptions of interesting crops and I fall for the marketing. I’ve got better over the years at resisting, but I still succumb sometimes. There are several vegetables that I love the idea of growing even though I know that there are good reasons not to – because only one of us likes them, or because they need lots of care, or because they’re  not something that thrives in our area, or just because they don’t really come out well in a cost benefit analysis (for example, space versus yield). Broad beans are good example: yes I like the flowers and the young beans are nice, but I don’t like them when they get old plus they take up lots of space for a relatively small crop… they also tend to get blackfly.


Ready for soup-making

When you only have a limited amount of space, it’s essential to prioritise, and so that’s what I’m going to do next year. I’ve been thinking about the things that I really like growing and that I’m successful with. So next year we’ll continue to grow peppers, chillies, tomatoes and melons in the limery (I may even be tempted to try something new), but in the garden I’m going to focus on potatoes, courgettes, squashes, kale, lettuce and other salad leaves, broccoli, mange tout and climbing French beans. These are all crops that I know we will eat and enjoy and that, where appropriate, I have reliable ways of preserving. I’ll also carry on growing various fresh herbs and nurturing the soft fruit.

This afternoon I will be making Mulligatawny soup for the freezer, using courgettes, potato and tomatoes that I harvested this morning. I’ll also be planting some winter lettuce seeds and I will be collecting seeds from the French beans to sow next year. And later in the winter when I’m being tempted, I’ll come back to this post and remind myself of my priorities!

Three Things Thursday: 15 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, baking cake. Today it’s a lime drizzle cake. A joy to make and to eat… do call in for a slice if you are passing later, but don’t leave it too long!


Ready, set, bake…

Second, chillies. This morning Mr Snail picked another 17 chillies from our two lemon drop plants… they are so beautiful and very tasty (if you like that sort of thing).


Lovely lemon drop

Third, mint. I love our apple mint both for its culinary uses and for the abundance of bees, butterflies and hoverflies that visit the flowers.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?


Apple season

The time of year has come to prepare for the apple onslaught. However, this year is different. Although there will still be an abundance of cooking apples from dear ‘old faithful’ from Perkin over at High Bank, I will have a few snail-grown eaters too.


Old Faithful © High Bank Cottage

A couple of years ago we planted an Ashmead’s Kernel that came from Karuna. Janta had grafted in onto a small rootstock, so it was ideal for our garden. We planted it in the chicken patch, where there would be no weed competition and plenty of nutrient input. And we waited. Last year was too soon to allow it to produce, but this year it has thrived. I took lots of fruit off early in the season and even so two branches snapped under the weight. Now we have about 15 nearly ripe eating apples. It’s not the most visually appealing apple, but all sources I have consulted suggest that it is one of the best tasting… hopefully I will be able to report back soon, once I can work out exactly when they are ripe (any tips welcome).


How small?


We met and the sun shone

Yesterday we attended a barbecue. It was arranged as a get-together for smallholders, so we felt a little bit as if we were gatecrashing (although we had been invited). However, the general consensus was that, in essence we do have a smallholding… it’s just very small! The key factor seemed to be our chickens – everyone felt that livestock tipped the balance from garden to smallholding! And, indeed livestock were the focus of the barbecue – the other smallholders provided lamb, hogget, burgers, rabbit and pork. All most delicious and all home produced, with the animals lovingly cared for (except the rabbits!) and slaughtered either on the holding or at a local small slaughterhouse with minimal stress. It almost goes without saying that there was plenty other home-produced fare too: bread, salads, egg, brawn, cake, Eton mess, brownies and, of course, our cheesecake.

It was an absolute delight to share time with like-minded people, eating good food, plus we got a tour of the host’s beautiful (full-size) smallholding – sheep, river, Edwin the dog and some fabulous old trees.

As seems to be increasingly the case in my life, this was another gathering resulting from social media contacts. It has become remarkably easy to make connections with like-minded people if you put a little effort into it. Almost everyone who attended had connected via Twitter… who would have thought that 140 characters could lead to so many good things?

So, back on our “tinyholding” today we return to harvesting and tidying up the garden and limery in preparation for the winter, but feeling that we are part of a community doing real things to make a difference to food production and leading lives that are a bit kinder to the planet.


Making food

I love this time of year in the kitchen – a time for enjoying the abundance. So today I’ve been chopping and peeling, beating and stirring, boiling and baking…

I harvested the last melons, extracted the seeds so I and others can grow more next year . Now we have a large bowl of juicy melon, which I think we’ll mix with raspberries.

I used some of our tomato harvest along with a big tray of cherry toms from one of our local organic farms to make yet more jars of passata:

I made  granola – this has become a regular make these days as I never buy breakfast cereal:

I used my excess of home-produced ricotta and our abundance of eggs to make baked New York cheesecake including some home grown bilberries and red currants. I made two – one of which will be going to a barbecue with us tomorrow:

And finally I made dog biscuits,

Now that was a productive day!

Three Things Thursday: 8 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

However, this week I’m not going to focus on my three things (briefly, they are happy friends, an impressive cake and otters)… instead I thought you might be interested in why it’s a good thing to do.

Three Things Thursday is good fun and makes me think about the positive even when I’m feeling blue… but in fact, focusing on the positive and trying to think of positives is genuinely good for you. Thinking about things you are grateful for induces your brain to produce chemicals that make you feel good:

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable …

One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex….

And gratitude doesn’t just make your brain happy — it can also create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. So express that gratitude to the people you care about.

Eric Barker

If you want to be more successful and happier in your life, there is strong scientific evidence that focussing on the positives is key rather than stressing about the negatives. I highly recommend this short and funny TED Talk, it really is worth a watch:

So that’s it for this week. Now, do yourself a favour and tell me what are you feeling grateful for.

(do watch the film, it’s about 12 minutes and you get to learn how to be a unicorn!)



It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I am always captivated by the growth of new feathers after one of the hens has moulted.

Because of the way we keep our chickens, we are happy to let them express natural behaviour (digging, dust-bathing, rooting about in leaf litter, going off-lay for a while etc) and still remain with us. Yes, we keep our old, non-layers, but then we consider that they do a range of jobs for us, not just egg production.


Anna (left) moulted earlier in the summer, whilst Tiffany (right) is right in the middle of it now

Tiffany stopped laying two or three weeks ago, lost huge numbers of feathers, and is now well on the way to having a lovely new set on her back, neck and wings, plus an entirely new tail. We collect the feathers where possible and they go on the compost heap. Hopefully she will start laying again in a few weeks, but if not, we’re getting an egg each every day from Mags and Aliss, our new girls.

Aliss and Mags - fully feathered and laying well at the moment

Aliss and Mags – fully feathered and laying well at the moment

I am a very happy chicken-keeper right now.

Back to School

Around here it’s the first day of the new school year and I feel queasy.

On social media, proud parents are posting messages wishing their little darlings and little darling’s friends well at their new school/in their new class. There are photographs of slightly embarrassed children in new school uniforms and comments saying how excited the children are. And I feel even more queasy.

In all honesty I can tell you that there are still nights I wake up terrified from a dream about trying to memorise a complex school timetable or being forced to play volleyball. Even entering a school building makes me go cold inside. The fact that our local swimming pool is on school grounds put me off going for ages.

So, on this day, I am thinking of all those children who hate school. Who, like me, will be educated despite rather than because of school. Who will wake up every weekday morning for years dreading the day ahead. Who, more than 30 years after they last walked out of their school gate, are still adversely affected by their experiences.


Even at the age of 5 I didn’t seem to be enjoying myself (fourth from the left seated, on the second row)

I don’t have children and I’m not a teacher, but if you are I urge you to remember that school days are not always the happiest days of our lives. I know that home education is not possible for everyone, but if your children have to go to school, please support them if they find it a difficult experience. And if you are a teacher, please remember that there may be children in your class who are terrified or stressed or simply unhappy; that bullying can be very subtle; that not being good at sports can be incredibly isolating; that being different can make you a victim. Children who feel this way almost certainly can’t tell you, for fear of the response of their classmates or because they simply daren’t speak to you.

We all learn in different ways, and a classroom is not the ideal place for everyone… a bit more flexibility in our education system would help. However, I doubt this is something that we will see soon in the UK. Anyway, for the moment I just want to highlight the issue and say to any children reading this who feel this way, there are people who understand… and life is SO much better once you don’t have to go to school any more.