And home again.

Since I was away I’ve been very busy putting together different things for my fibre shop (amongst other things, the Shipwreck Build a Batt Box and Tea Garden collection I posted about recently). But I’ve also been doing things around the farm and home and attempting to get on top of the weeds and general jobs!

If I stop and think too much about all that needs to be done I start to panic – at this time of year you never really manage to get ahead of yourself (well I don’t anyway!) so you have to prioritise and work out ways of combining things to make the best use of time and energy. But I’m all too aware that I’m on damage limitation standards mostly; the garden’s heavy clay soil is productive but the runaway growth from the sun’s warmth and the soft rain and long daylight hours means the thuggish elements have the upper hand and cultivated plants are no match for pernicious weeds.

I had a real “down” moment a few weeks back; nothing I had sown seemed to be germinating, several batches were required of some things that I normally have no trouble growing. Perhaps it’s old seed, perhaps the new compost we’re using isn’t as good, perhaps the weather was tipping things away from my favour. Or perhaps I’ve lost that “green-finger” that comes from concentrating your attention on what you’re doing – perhaps after all I’m trying to squeeze too much in…

Happily some plants seem to grow no matter how little TLC they get. Potatoes and tomatoes will self seed where they fall or have been left and the ones you plant do just as well even if you forget about them. So although it’s been dry the Cara and Charlotte spuds I planted around Easter are coming up nicely. And I’ve decided to bring permaculture into play and solve two issues with one problem and mulch with the clippings from lawn mowing to keep the chickweed down that compete with the potato plants!

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It feels as though I might have gone a little overboard planting tomatoes this year… Somehow I have to find enough room under glass/plastic to fit the full grown plants in!

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Although two successive batches of French Beans have come to nothing and I am going to admit defeat on my favourite bean this year, these runner beans shot away and are now safely planted up in one long wigwam of canes.

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and the courgette plants are also now in their final positions – the slugs and the high winds are making them look rather pathetic just now but I’m hoping with the “sheep tea” washings from soaking fleeces for spinning they will start to root and romp away.

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My super long sweet pea tunnel last year took a huge amount of time just to pick and the winter storms have battered it beyond redemption but I have just a few sweet pea plants I grew this year on a far more modest scale – far too late, they should have been planted out by now so this is a job for this week to find a corner to squeeze them in with a wigwam to grow up.

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I struggled with two sowings of both my much-loved coriander and also leeks – third time lucky and so as with other plants, ridiculously late. Normally by now I’ve been eating coriander for weeks and it’s bolting uncontrollably. Not at the seedling stage… :0(

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At least there are now plenty of leeks but they’ll be like spring onions come autumn/winter if I don’t get them grown on fast now!

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Happily, the alpine strawberries I grew from seed last year seem content in their bed and are flowering nicely. I hope to get a good amount of berries this year, I love them for breakfast – going out to pick them first thing whilst the dew is on the grass and put them straight in my breakfast bowl. Nom.

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And the larger strawberry runners I took are also growing albeit still young because, yes, again, I was late with planting these out too!

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Some things just grow. No matter what. Thankfully the scented shrubs round about can be relied on at this time of year just to do their thing so evenings in the yard and patio are very sweet just now with not just the heady honeysuckle scent but also the lilacs

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and the first roses like this Gertrude Jekyll in such a fabulous shade of pink.

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I adore scented plants; my dream would be to plant up a garden full of scented shrubs and flowers. Not sure which life that will be in, it’s probably not this one though! ;0)

The grass grows like wildfire too. When it comes to lawns and rough ground this spells hard work for mowing large areas and strimming where you can’t mow. Sometimes this feels like a waste of time and resources but it has to be done – at least I’m using the clippings to mulch the weeds now! And it does look so much better once it’s had a “haircut”. However I can tell the grass is growing in the pastures too; the sheep spend so much of their time resting in the sun, snoozing peacefully and cudding.

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When the grass is short and nutrition low in late winter they spend a lot of time nibbling hungrily to get the most from the grazing. I know when they’re stretched out lazily on the ground like Alfie in the picture below that they are happy with full tummies and all is well in their sheepy world.

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They all need shearing soon. I winter shear my sheep so as to obtain the best wool for handspinning. But the wool grows again and at this time of year it “rises” – the natural pause when the growth stops and in primitive breeds, the sheep sheds its fleece and is when most flocks of sheep in the UK get shorn (albeit not for handspinning but for welfare reasons). This means that my Gotland’s look like they have stuffing coming out of them just now as the stubs of old fleece I left behind has felted into clumps and then peels off as the new years’ growth pushes through. When enough of it has risen I will shear them clean of the waste wool to leave the body clear for the new fleece to grow.

I’m not sure when I’ll find time to do it, luckily it’s not as critical as the first shearing is for me; they aren’t as uncomfortably hot as they would be in full fleece so they don’t overheat like most sheep do at this time of year and the good wool has been taken so I don’t worry about this fluffy felted waste left behind (more weed mulching material!!) But it does need doing and so somehow this is a few days work that I have to shoehorn in somewhere.

I’m playing catch up at the moment however. I took advantage of the lovely weekend to wash and dye the last of the fleeces I sheared earlier in the year and get on top of other jobs. On Friday our local fish and chip shop reopened after a year or so of being shut. I don’t normally like fried things; I admit to having a sweet tooth and I love food generally but greasy deep-fried stuff does not appeal so fish and chips is a rare occurrence for me – I much prefer “clean” tasting foods.. But after a very long day and being on my own for a while as mum was away I decided to check out the new management as a special treat for working hard. It’s 4 miles away so you have to really want chip-shop chips to make the effort! I was a little dismayed at the queue snaking out of the chippy door and down the street but I knew they were offering free chips all day so it was reasonable enough that so many people would be happy to see it reopen and want to try it out. More worryingly the line didn’t seem to be moving but having driven there I thought I may as well join in. Sometime later a friend queueing inside turned round and saw me through the window, waved and then text me to say she’d been waiting for 45 minutes already…

At that point I should probably have walked away but I’d already been there a bit, surely they’d speed up soon etc etc and by the time I’d waited half an hour, driven back home, found something to eat… It would be a waste of the time I’d already spent being 28th in the line. Or so the reasoning went.

Just over an hour later I finally left with a rumblingly empty stomach clutching my small warm paper parcel of mini fish and chips and headed back home. They were nice. But probably not worth waiting an hour for!

So yesterday evening I hunted for a duck breast I knew I’d bought and put in the freezer as a treat for sometime when I was eating on my own. It’s not something I ever have (I like our friendly ducks far too much to go round munching them!) and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cook it. I prefer a light touch when cooking meats; I am a fan or “rare” and “pink”. So I opted for pan-searing it with shreds of ginger, spring onion, sesame, lemon and a splash of tamari and our own honey.

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I had noticed whilst cutting the grass that the Swiss Chard I had left in over the winter was bolting – the new seedlings are doing well but not ready to pick but the old leaves were growing sky high but still tender. I also found a rogue coriander plant in the polytunnel path so I went and gathered some of each and served my tangy duck breast on some noodles with wilted chard and sautéed cherry tomatoes.

I found it strangely comforting that despite my “fail” on the veg plot this year that there are still things out there to eat despite my best (worst) endeavours and that they are tasty, nutritious… and conveniently close to hand. I noted how long it took me to cook this meal from scratch – 18 minutes. Which when I think of the time I spent queueing for my fry up and driving there and home it was no contest really. In future I think I’ll save fish and chips as a treat for eating beside the sea with the wind in my hair and salty spray whipping my cheeks. There it belongs and seems right; with buckets and spades, ice creams and stripy windbreaks and the ceaseless crying of gulls.

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This though; from the garden – this is my kind of fast food!

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