Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Ah, October! How I love you!

I have noticed that I am permanently happy since the season has turned. Looking back at my previous blogs, I have found I posted so much more in the autumn months than any other time of year. There is just so much to take in! And this year, I intend to soak it all up.
We have been busy in the plot and are making some great progress at last. I awoke to the sound of my lovely husband rotivating the plot a few weeks ago. I commend his enthusiasm, although some might argue he just wanted to have a go with the shiny new (hired) rotivator!

I had previously sprayed the grass with Glyphosate. Not something I was keen to do at all – I would much prefer to avoid chemicals and intend to grow organically. But time is pressing on and although I would prefer to cover the grass with newspaper or cardboard and kill the grass naturally, that would take months, and I needed to be preparing the ground over the autumn/winter ready to go in spring.
 This did leave us free to rotivate in the dead grass, keeping all of that fertile biomass in the soil. He went over it several times at increasing depth, and we finished with a layer of manure from the heap (which is now spent!). I dressed the beds with blood, fish and bonemeal first for a slow-release nutrient boost. The patch that will grow potatoes and ‘hungries’ like courgettes and squash had a sowing of green manure seeds (field beans and grazing rye) to make sure none of the nutrients are leached out over the winter.


The Brassica bed has had a generous top dressing of ‘Warrior’ municipal compost and gypsum to try and break up the clay, but no manure or green manure as in my experience,  brassicas like a nicely consolidated soil (that has finished decomposing at least!). I turned the soil over in great sods to let the weather get at them over the winter.

The leaves are definitely starting to drop. This is very exciting as it means free leaf mould! My heavy clay needs all of the organic matter it can get, and leafmould is perfect. So I have been enthusiastically raking at every opportunity and have dedicated a compost bin for leaf mould purposes. I am the office wierdo asking the gardeners at our complex for the leaves they collect - too good an opportunity to miss.

I am really enjoying the colder mornings - walking the dog has become an exquisite pleasure, as the sun is low and golden that early and the mist thick.


The grass is jewelled and the cobwebs draped over the huge sods of the newly ploughed fields are all shimmery silver. To think these cobwebs are everywhere during the day but we just don’t see them.
Just beautiful – long may Autumn continue.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Jammin' and the Meaning of Life

It has been a blissful week this week and I have been absolutely revelling in the gentle slide into Autumn.  Every tinge of gold on the tips of branches, every time I can see my breath in the air, every moment I lean on the worktop and look out of the kitchen window at the willow leaves that gently spin to the ground from the huge tree next door, I am totally bursting with joy. I just adore autumn!

I am going to join the army of bloggers out there banging on about how good it feels to preserve things…because it does! It is totally a human instinct and is immensely satisfying. My preference is for jelly rather than jam – we just don’t eat Jam in our house, but I can get on board with a blob of jelly in a casserole, or with some cold meat at Christmas.

This feverish preserving binge began in the run up to the wedding in September. With table plans to create, bridesmaid shoes to buy and 1001 other little things to do, I found myself task avoiding by making a batch of Hedgerow Jelly and Apple and Rosemary Jelly. Our apple tree dropped early this year and I was determined not to waste a single apple if I could possibly help it.


Apple is a great base for a jelly, stretching any other fruit you have in smaller quantities. I don’t have a recipe but just make it up as I go, following the rule that for each pint of juice you end up with, you should add one pound of jam sugar.
I have suffered the misery of jellies not setting in the past. But these days I chuck in the skins from apples I have peeled for apple pie. Also, for jellies involving any kind of berry (not renowned for high pectin levels) I add the juice of a lemon or two to boost the pectin levels.

First I chop the apples, splitting them into however many batches I need to encompass the flavours I want to use. This was Apple on its own and Apple and Blackberry. I stew them – adding enough water to just half cover the fruit. If it is too dry, it won’t strain. At least if you add too much water, you can always boil it off.



Once thoroughly mashed, I strain through muslin into a large plastic tub overnight. It isn’t very rustic or traditional, but I find pegs and a Tupperware box work just fine!


The next day, I boil the liquid with jam sugar in the quantities above.

After a nice rolling boil for about half an hour, it reaches setting point (which to me means it forms a blob on a chilled plate that will just about hang upside down). I scald the jam jars in boiling water and fill them almost right up. At this point you can add rosemary or sage to the apple (for beef or pork/chicken) or whatever herb you like! Give it a stir and then a shake now and then as it sets, and the herbs distribute throughout the jelly evenly.

Last night, I went for a totally blissful dog walk, armed with a bucket, and foraged pounds and pounds of rosehips, Hawthorne berries and blackberries, which will go into more hedgerow jelly, apple and rosehip jelly and possibly some chutney.


It was amazing how much I collected in just an hour.
It was getting chilly and at about 6pm the evening light was golden, chasing me along the hedgerow as I stopped and picked. I imagined how generations of Wiltshire people had done this very same thing over the years – out of necessity rather than for pleasure.
It got me thinking about why we hark back to times of hardship, from our times of plenty (excess even). Are we any happier now that we can just go to a shop and buy whatever we want? It’s a question that is on my mind.

But for now, with pots of jelly bubbling away in my kitchen, made from ingredients that money literally cannot buy, I couldn’t be happier!