A record of our adventures between Pipit and her successor...
Before & after - courtesy of Google
Another seven months seem to have slipped by since our last update so, although we post regularly on 'soshul meedja', we thought it time to document here, mainly for our own records, what we have been up to.
We intended to get some more work done in the garden during the Christmas break, but the weather was so cold and/or wet & windy that this didn't happen until well into January. So we'll start this update with some pictures of our culinary triumphs during the winter months. No points for food styling and few for presentation, but we'll work on the latter.
Anyone who knows us knows that we love cooking, experimenting with new flavours and ingredients and enjoying eating good food. We were reminded that we haven't added any new recipes to our website since those we did on our Yacht Pipit site which were copied onto the Recipes page of this site, so we've now added a new one for our favourite hake dish and will try to add others more frequently.
I (Ann) also make batches of spice pastes, pop meal-sized quantities into small pots (empties from our Spice Mountain spices) and put them into the freezer. Currently, we have several pots of Thai red, Thai green, Madras and Jerk paste in the freezer.
Thai red and Thai green spice pastes ready for the freezer
Andy makes a mean nasi goreng, well-taught by his mother
Grilled hake with chorizo, cannellini beans, spinach & tomatoes - recipe here
Pan fried salmon fillets in broth with broccoli, spring onions, chillies, carrot shavings & rice noodles
We do miss Greece but between the pandemic and having too much to do in the garden, we won't get back there this year. We do, though, visit 'culinarily' and here are two favourites from our time in Greece:
We are trying to expand our repertoire of vegetarian and vegan dishes and new favourites include an adaptation of a recipe with smoked tofu from Ching-He Huang on Saturday Kitchen and a spiced cauliflower roast with the most delicious salad made with spiced roast chickpeas mixed with red onion, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, mint, coriander and parsley, topped with a feta and yogurt dressing and drizzled with pomegranate molasses. The salad on its own will be a great accompaniment to summer barbecues.
The smoked tofu (bottom right) didn't look that appetising but, in the finished dish, was quite tasty!
Smoked tofu with cavolo nero & Portobello mushrooms
Spiced cauliflower roast
The single purple sprouting broccoli plant in the garden which survived the cabbage white infestation finally produced just enough for a tiny snack but the leaves were quite tasty and went well in stir fries. The last of the parsnips made some great soup as did the Jerusalem artichokes.
Final harvest from our summer 2020 crops
Chicken pie with an indulgent suet crust pastry and the ceramic blackbird Andy remembers well from his childhood
One of the last marrows, stuffed with sausage mince with fennel seeds, chilli flakes and oregano
Another hake dish, this one pan fried with crispy skin, served with clams and artichoke hearts
We finally found a dining table (extending) and chairs in October that suited our décor and delivery was estimated to be November for the chairs and sometime in December for the table. We hoped that might mean we'd have them in time for Christmas dinner. The pandemic, ships and containers being in the wrong place, a ship jammed in the Suez Canal and/or who knows what other reasons delayed their delivery, but our table finally arrived in February and now, in mid-May, we're still waiting for the chairs...
Nice table, but no chance to play musical chairs here
Christmas seems a long time ago, but we did enjoy a roast turkey will all the trimmings on Christmas Day and a delicious roast gammom on Boxing Day with plenty of leftovers for grazing on the following days.
Crisp but relatively bright Christmas morning
We had a dusting of snow on New Year's Eve which settled by the morning. Lovely, as we kept toasty and warm with the log burner going.
Gammon glazed with orange marmalade and oranges studded with cloves
New Year's Eve dinner - beef wellington, made with homemade pancakes & mushroom duxelles, (although we cheated with ready made puff pastry and paté)
Once we'd eaten that lot we did get out in the garden:
One of the first jobs we did once the weather warmed up a bit was to create a new border on the south edge of the lawn, and transplant two rock roses from the terrace border - one has taken rather better than the other, we hope they both survive their move. We've also divided and planted the asters into this border.
As usual we gave the greenhouse a good wash inside & out, and assembled, Meccano style, our new staging, giving us more space for seedlings and young plants, as well as providing support (with the slats removed) to tomato, cucumber & pepper plants later on. The staging is from Two Wests & Elliott, manufactured in their own factory here in the UK.
Phase one, cleaning the greenhouse inside and out
Cleaned, staging assembled and ready for planting the seeds for this year's veg crops and flowers
We dug over the veg beds and forked in more soil improver, another delivery from Bosbigal Landscape Supplies, to top up the beds and began planting some crops directly into the beds and others in seed trays which have been kept in the kitchen until the weather warms up. Between the underfloor heating and the west-facing bi-fold doors in the kitchen, the seedlings have done very well!
Many of the seedlings have now been potted on with some put back in the kitchen and others in the greenhouse.
Amazingly, the chard from last year is still producing and after every time we cut some for a meal, more leaves grow so we're not sure we needed the half a row we planted this year!
The tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers have now been planted into grow bags, the aubergines into pots and all seem happy enough in the greenhouse.
We've grown some gazanias, geraniums and lupins from seed which have now been potted on but we'll wait until they are a bit bigger before hardening them off in the greenhouse and eventually planting them out into the garden either in pots or in the borders, subject to finding a way to deter or control the bunnies...
Freshly dug over with additional soil improver
Substitute for a heated greenhouse, our kitchen
We wish they would; what started out as a cute furry amusement has turned into a complete nuisance - we have no way of physically stopping rabbits entering the garden even though we are surrounded by Cornish hedging; they can climb these with ease, and various deterrents (blood fish & bone, vinegar, ultrasound) have no effect at all. Although our chicken wire protection of the raised veg beds was moderately successful last year, it was awkward to tend & harvest them, so we have now fenced off the whole vegetable garden:
As the ground is quite rocky - this is, after all, Cornwall and in the middle of mining country - we knew digging out for and concreting in large posts for the fence and its gates would be difficult so, on the grounds that this fencing is still experimental in terms of its rabbit-proof capabilities, we opted for 'road pins' to support the chicken wire fencing with tree stakes used for the gate posts. That meant that we were able to, with a few exceptions requiring a bit of digging and stone removal, just sledgehammer in the pins and posts. We figured that hanging gates from 1" square posts would mean they probably wouldn't be very robust, so came up with a method where sections of wire mesh as gates drop into L-brackets across the gate sill and onto hooks toward the top of the gateposts. Easy to lift on and off for access but we can't imagine how a bunny would manage to get through them. As we say, it's all a bit of an experiment, so fingers crossed.
That leaves us with the problem of how to stop the bunnies eating shrubs & bedding plants in the main garden - we didn't have this problem last year, but it seems they have been breeding like, well, rabbits this year. So we are now investigating humane ways of controlling these furry pests...
In the autumn, we'd planted quite a few bulbs, most of which came up and looked lovely and although most have now gone over, the later flowering ones, being the irises and aliums are just starting to come out now. We had to put chicken wire over the aliums as the bunnies munched away some of the leaves early on, but we're hoping to remove that now they might not be so tender. The bunnies also ate all the little 'glory of the snow' bulbs we planted under the dwarf palm as soon as the leaves came out, ditto the crocuses we planted in autumn 2019 along the edge of the path leading up from the drive.
Cute at first
Not so cute now, every crocus munched
Tulips on the bank at the edge of the pond
Daffodil 'Pipit' - second year of flowering, thank you Ian and Gill!
No landing lights on the 'runway' but we do have some Daffodil 'Fowey' in a trough at the end of it
We have now (nearly) completed the last remaining path, completing the circular route around the garden. But before we started that, we had to tackle the elephant in the garden - A.K.A. the pile of old railway sleepers - we've known for over 3 years that one day we would have to shift a stack of old greenhouse glass and the sleepers from one extremity of the plot to the diagonal other in order to get rid of them. The glass was heavy - for safety (in case either of us slipped on the slope - the glass is not toughened) we transported them, 5 panes at a time, in soil dumpy bags kept from last year specifically with this task in mind. The sleepers were even heavier - with a capital 'F' - the good news is that we have already found a taker for them, to be used for constructing a raised bed.
They've got to go!
The trolley made it possible for us to move the sleepers on our own
Down the side path and...
Stacked and ready for collection
Once the sleepers were moved, it was time to tackle the last section of the path leading from the drive up to the greenhouse. The hedge had become a little overgrown so, whilst we want to retain its 'wildness' for the flora and fauna, we did need to trim it back a little so that we could lay the path.
Step 1: Strimming
Step 2: Terram starting to be laid
Step 3: Stepping stones down
There was a bit of a delay in obtaining the gravel as our supplier found that the quarry from which he sourced the 'Dorset flint' had closed. He found another quarry but the gravel arrived a much darker colour than that from his previous source. When we had a chance to check a sample, we discovered the gravel itself was actually very close in colour to the gravel elsewhere in the garden and the darker colour was because it was covered in a sandy sticky clay. Once washed off, the colour is a reasonable match for the rest of the gravel we have. That being the case the best option, once spread, was to pressure wash the gravel.
Step 4: Gravelling
Step 5: Nearly done, just the pressure-washing to do
The weather this winter & spring has been unusually cold - not extremely cold, just significantly colder than the norm for an extended period. April had been extremely dry; the water level in the pond was the lowest it had been since we filled it and, because we'd had no significant rainfall for weeks, our water butts were also are empty so we couldn't fill it from those. We use rainwater to fill the pond, not just because we are on a meter, but also because it's better for the plants and beasts that dwell there.
We were grateful for the dry weather which allowed us to oil the decking. We can't believe that last year, we spent 6 back-aching hours on our hands & knees doing this with 4 inch brushes - this year, the best £15.98 I've spent in a long time on two decking kits (pads on poles) - 1 hour per coat and as easy as mopping a floor - thank you Mr Harris!
The dry April continued through to May when, finally, we've had some rain. The pond is now filled as are two of the water butts and the rain has been a great benefit to the garden, or more accurately, our water bill! It has still been colder than normal for the time of year with daytime temperatures generally only around 10-14℃. We haven't even got the barbecue out yet, let alone lit it - last year we had 7 firings in April alone!
Whilst we wait for the weather to warm slightly, we've prepared a netted cover for the bed into which we'll be planting our brassicas. Last year's crops were pretty much devastated by cabbage white butterflies or, more accurately, the caterpillars which hatched from the eggs they'd laid on our broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and, to a lesser degree, the cabbages.
Andy, two ponies and, hopefully, no cabbage whites!
We continue to be amazed and feel extremely fortunate to see such a variety of birds on our feeders. We had a good mix when we did the Big Garden Birdwatch including our first confirmed sighting of a blackcap, who visited regularly until the last 'Beast from the East' cold snap in February, so sadly we fear he or she may have perished. We also haven't seen the nuthatches since sometime last year but do have multiple daily visits from two pairs of bullfinches which are apparently not that common, a pair of great spotted woodpeckers (we had a juvenile visit last year, so hoping the pair will breed again successfully this year), numerous greenfinches, goldfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, coal tits, robins, blackbirds, wood pigeons, magpies and sparrows. Most recently, we've also begun seeing a pair of siskins and a pair of jays. Some of the photos aren't as good as we'd like, resulting from a combination of fast moving feathered friends and photographing through the kitchen window or bi-fold door.
Mr & Mrs siskin - I hadn't realised the female was there as the feeder was spun around a bit before I took the photo, hence her beak is cut off in the shot
Two male bullfinches
Male great spotted woodpecker and a great tit
Mr & Mrs jay
I'm particularly proud of this shot, quite clear despite being taken through the kitchen window and zoomed
Which appears to be a Mrs Tufty, possibly with little tuftys tucked away somewhere or due soon!
Next month it will be two years since we moved in - it's easy (for us) to forget just how much we've achieved in the garden, whilst working pretty much full-time - restored a potting shed, built a herb garden, built four raised veg beds, dug a pond, turned scrubland into lawns, created about 50 metres of pathways, erected rabbit fencing and completed myriad other smaller jobs.
Our next project is to construct an outside sink unit, the plumbing for which has been ready since the house was built. We did get a quote for a commercial stainless steel unit, but as this came in at close to £600 we've decided to make it ourselves. The second project will be to replace the floor & roof of the 'gin deck' and add guttering - the structure itself is chunky and in good condition, on solid foundations, but the roof has reached the end of its life and, because there is currently no guttering, rain has run down the back wall and seeped into the floor, rotting the back half of it.
As well as those jobs, there is all the planting out to be done, so we'll be busy during the coming weeks & months.
One more food photo, this one of last night's dinner. What to do with excess rainbow chard from the garden? Make dolmades! OK, not the traditional (grape) vine leaves, but the blanched chard leaves wrapped around the minced lamb, rice, onion, garlic, mint, parsley, dill & tomatoes then cooked in a herby tomato sauce were delicious.