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A record of our adventures between Pipit and her successor...

2021 End of year update

29th December 2021

A spectacular sunset, a result of the same phenomenon that causes the Northern Lights

Once again seven months have gone by since our last update so, as usual mainly for our own records, here is a recap of this year's activities.

Late spring

Spring was very late in coming so planting out seedlings or sowing directly into the veg beds was done later than last year but overall our harvests were pretty good. We've learnt more about how much to plant or rather how much not to plant as, although we have a large amount of freezer space between the kitchen fridge/freezer and the auxiliary freezer in the workshop, both have been full to capacity with various blanched veggies, soups and tomato sauce. Particular crops we had excess of, and those we'll cut down on next year, included the mangetout and rainbow chard.

We fitted netting over the brassicas which did a great job of keeping the cabbage white butterflies away but the cabbages were rather ravaged by slugs, so next year we'll be trialling some environmentally and food safe slug deterrents. We did manage to harvest our home grown Brussels sprouts on Christmas Day to enjoy with our feast and there are still several left on the plants to allow us to harvest more in the next couple of weeks.

Cabbage white protection for the brassicas

Kept in place with handy clips

We'll also plant more things in succession so that we get more regular harvests without the gluts. We grew sweetcorn for the first time which was a great success, fantastic on the barbecue either then eaten straight off the cob or sliced off and mixed into salsas or salads. The broad beans weren't infested with blackfly as they were last year, but we got a very poor harvest from them.

The nasturtiums we planted as sacrificial plants (to keep the blackfly away from the broad beans) last year have, however, self-seeded prolifically so we'll need to remove most and the seeds they drop but whilst they were still flowering (right through into November!) we hadn't wanted to remove them as the bees and other pollinators were still enjoying them. They nearly took over the bed where the potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes were growing but as they have shallow roots, didn't affect the harvest. They've gone over now, so part of the tidying job to do on the veg beds over the winter.

We had good crops of new potatoes (Rocket variety) as well as the later King Edwards, harvesting the last of those and having to start buying potatoes only from late November. The Jerusalem artichokes grew like crazy too and we made some nice soup, a few pots of which are still in the freezer. We tried to store the rest, cleaning off the excess soil and letting them dry before packing them loosely in paper bags in a kitchen drawer but they subsequently started to go mouldy, so had to go.

Nasturtiums rather taking over the potato and Jerusalem artichoke bed

Crab and avocado salad decorated with nasturtiums

A couple of sunflowers also sprung up in one of the veg beds seeded, we assume as we didn't plant them, by a bird having fed on the seeds at the bird feeder.

A bumblebee enjoying the sunflower we didn't plant

The tomatoes and chillies in the greenhouse gave much better harvests than in the previous two years and we have several bags of chillies in the freezer plus some tomato soup and sauce. The roasted tomato soup is particularly tasty and made in a few easy steps:

Step 1: Tomatoes harvested, buffalo steak and moneymaker

Step 2: Ready to oven roast with red pepper, onion, garlic & herbs

Step 3: roasted

Step 4: Blitzed with some extra veg stock

Step 5: Two pots for the freezer and one for the fridge for lunch the next day

Another tasty use for our tomatoes, fennel and roasted tomato risotto

In past years, we've made some tasty chutneys from our tomato harvests but although we like a good chutney, we don't eat much so we're always on the lookout for good tomato recipes. One we've cooked before is a risotto with fennel topped with a tomato roasted with garlic, herbs and olive oil - this time with our home-grown fennel and tomatoes.

Bumper chilli harvest, jalapen͂o, Serrano and basket of fire

The colder spring also meant we didn't get the barbecue out and fired up until the 29th of May. Very late compared to last year when our first was on the 10th of April. We did make up for it though, totting up a total of 54 delicious barbecue meals over the summer with the last, due to the mild weather, on the 21st of September. Before you think we're a bit obsessive with the counting the barbecues thing, there is some logic - it allowed us to work out, from the first gas bottle, how many barbecues we could expect to get out of a bottle, so have a good idea when one is going to run out! Turns out, just like on Pipit, that they run out only when you are using them...

Although our summertime barbecues are often later in the evening, the extended daylight means there's no issue in Andy being able to see his sausage as he sizzles it, but we installed a spotlight to allow us to keep using the barbecue into the autumn when the nights begin to draw in.

First barbecue of the season

Late evening in July and a spotlight on a sausage or, in this case, Stilton stuffed Portobello mushrooms and giant spring onions

Operation Gin Deck Shed Repair

We decided to keep the children's clubhouse which was on the plot when we bough it, not only because we're able to enjoy the far reaching views over the top of the house from the seat on it but because it would be a very useful additional shed. Although for the most part, it was extremely solid & structurally sound, the roof and floor were pretty rotten. We knew it would be a fairly big project to remove the old and replace with new but, as is often the way with these things, it took longer and required more work than originally thought. The reason for the floor being rotten was obvious as it was untreated plywood with the end grain exposed to the elements at the back. We were, though, always perplexed by the fact that the underside of the roof was rotting, but the roofing felt on top of it looked in almost new condition. When we stripped the felt off, we discovered why... The original plywood roof must have been starting to rot when we presume the then owner decided that rather than removing it, simply screwed sheets of OSB onto it and put new felt on that!

So we had two roofs to remove. The OSB came off fairly easily but the plywood, as the screws fixing it to the roof joists were rusted, required quite a lot of 'persuasion' by Andy wielding a crowbar. Several of the rusted screws that resisted any attempts at unscrewing were cut off with Andy's new multitool. The floor was removed with a little more ease and less 'persuasion'. We'd already decided that the replacement roof and floor would be treated T&G as that would be more weatherproof and also easier for us to fit. We found a local source of treated timber and ordered enough T&G for the roof and floor plus some other timber for some of the roof joists that looked a little soft and one floor joist that seemed to be missing. The interior was lined in plywood, the back panels of which were a little rotten at the bottom but Andy managed to cut that away extremely neatly, another win with his new multitool.

Then it was onwards to put the new roof on with 630 screws after which, despite using a garden kneeling pad, left Andy's knees aching a little! Felt onto the roof, then assembling the floor, a coat of light paint on the interior plywood lining and, after a total of about 6 days work by both of us, we have a 'new' shed which was quickly filled with the excess timber from the repair and myriad other things that had been cluttering up the workshop. All in all, a great success even if the increase in building material prices meant it cost us many hundreds of pounds. Still, cheaper than a whole new shed and saved having to destroy and dispose of something that could be made serviceable for many years to come.

All of the timber was supplied & delivered by a local firm, Penstraze Sawmills, who were very helpful and offer good prices. There's enough timber left over to build several planter troughs as well as the framework for the outside sink, two projects on the list for next year.

Feel free to skip past the following photos, they're mainly for our own record!

Floor removed

Rotten underside of roof

OSB coming off, that's the easy part

Rotten plywood roof beneath the OSB

Andy 'persuading' the plywood roof off

Floor, roof and some of the roof joists removed

New roof joists

Roof planking nearly complete

Back section of internal lining neatly removed

New floor planking going down

'New' storage shed!

Re-installed weather station

It was a over month before we had the time and weather to get a skip to get rid of all the rotten timber and old roofing felt from the Gin Deck shed and we had enough space in the skip to also finally lose some of the last of the debris from the house build and other rubbish like a stack of non-safety greenhouse glass which was among some of stuff that was on site when we bought the plot. We could, of course, have taken it all to the tip ourselves, but that would have been difficult due to the weight of some items, and would have taken several trips and quite a lot of time to load and unload the truck, so it was a relief to get all that taken away in one fell swoop. There is still some lighter-weight rubbish to clear, but we can do that in the truck in one load.

Incoming, just squeezing through the gates

Loaded and ready to go

Wildlife Watching

We're still seeing lots of wildlife although there have been fewer rabbits, thankfully for us but unfortunately for them, due to an outbreak of myxomatosis. There's a badger set in the field next door (to our north) so we've had numerous nocturnal visits from one who snuffles up any bird feed that has dropped to the ground under the feeder and, when we've left peanuts in the tray on the feeder pole, we've been entertained by the videos of a 'pole-dancing' badger as he/she stands on hind legs to reach the nuts. We've also had the occasional visit from a fox.

I'm not sure who was more surprised as I spotted this rather handsome fox through the kitchen window when I went upstairs to make the morning coffee

Bath time in the pond for Mr blackbird

One of the jays collecting nuts

A rather fuzzy photo of a juvenile jay, feathers still forming so looking a bit of a fluffy mess

Sitting at the kitchen island for morning coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner, we have a perfect view of the bird feeder through the (west) kitchen window. One Saturday morning, just as we were having our lunch, a sparrowhawk dropped in for his/hers. Bacon sandwich for us, collared dove for the sparrowhawk. It stayed long enough that I could take a few photos before it flew off over the hedge with its takeaway lunch. A stunning bird of prey and an impressive feat as the collared dove must have been about ½ the size of the sparrowhawk.

Sparrowhawk dropping in for a takeaway lunch

The plants in the pond are growing well with the water lilies and in particular the irises giving a stunning display this year. We still get a variety of dragonflies and damselflies. We've also had two emergent dragonflies which we've spotted resting on the plants in the pond after having shed their exuvia (their external skin which they shed during their metamorphosis).

Andy named this one 'Tiny', because he says he's my newt...

Newt larvae

A pair of large red damselflies

During some of the hot spells in the summer, we had occasions for a '3BD' otherwise known as a three-bifold day when we had all three sets of bifold doors open. One day a chaffinch flew in and went the length of the house before crashing into the lounge window. The poor thing looked stunned but uninjured, so I kept an eye on it for a while before carefully popping a piece of kitchen towel under it, or rather under its back end, just in case the shock caused any unwelcome excretions. When Andy came upstairs, he successfully picked it up and put in on the decking outside so that it could continue recovering, which it did, before flying off to a tree over the hedge.

A '3BD'

A stunned but seemingly uninjured chaffinch

A seat at the table

After having ordered the new dining table and chairs last October and the dining table arriving in March, the chairs eventually followed - in June. A long wait, but we're very pleased with them and with their oak legs and black metal leg struts, match our 'modern industrial' look just as we'd hoped. They're also super comfy!



We stopped work on the Friday of the week before Christmas, allowing ourselves a total of 17 days 'off'. We've not actually had a holiday, apart from a long weekend in Suffolk, for nearly 5 years (although of course we spent the whole of the previous 5 years 'on holiday') and have achieved all we have done since then whilst still working full-time. That, coupled with an extremely busy end of year work-wise, encouraged us to have a longer than usual Christmas break and it has been most welcome!

We enjoyed our traditional smoked salmon & scrambled egg breakfast accompanied by English sparking wine prior to finishing preparations for our Christmas lunch. We went traditional with a feast of turkey crown with all the trimmings (and Pinot Noir), preceded by a delicious starter of homemade paprika-spiced crab (Cornish of course) pâté (and a dry Greek wine).

I made what I think are (there are still six in the freezer) my best mince pies ever, using the frangipane topped recipe as usual, but mixing the quality mincemeat with dried cherries that I'd soaked in Tentura (a Greek liqueur spiced with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg & citrus fruits) and warmed on a low setting in the microwave to soften the cherries.

Andy picking Brussels sprouts, parsnips to follow, for Christmas lunch.

Table extended, dressed and all set for Christmas lunch

After a lunch of more crab pâté, Boxing Day dinner was gammon, glazed with marmalade and served with leftovers from Christmas lunch. We saved steaming the Christmas pudding until the day after Boxing Day and having had the last of the crab pâté for lunch, all we needed for supper was the cheese course.

The New Year

So having enjoyed some relaxing time off, our thoughts are now turning to jobs & projects for next year - still mainly in the garden, but also some indoor ones have risen towards the top of the priority list. So until then, Best Wishes for 2022!