Saturday, 27 April 2013

bottle babies

As well as the gardens at work, there is a small farming operation on the estate. We have sheep, pigs, cattle and a ragbag mix of poultry. Occasionally at lambing time we end up with a few bottle babies - usually a weaker twin that gets left behind when a ewe doesn't have enough milk. It's been a very tough year for sheep farmers in Wales - the late snow caused huge stock losses, and the grass has only just started growing.

Earlier in season I introduced my Twitter followers to Poopsie the lamb. Here is a very fuzzy pic of me warming Poopsie up under the hand dryer in the bathroom at work.

The name comes from the fact that they usually scour a bit (get a runny bottom), when they start to have bottles instead of their mum's milk. This lamb shat all over my leg the first time I fed it - hence Poopsie. The farmers think I'm mad to name them - they also won't let me knit them sweaters or dye them green for St Patrick's day!

Sadly Poopsie didn't make it (she was extremely poorly). But today I would like you to meet Poopsie II - doing well and nearly ready to go back out into the field and join the other lambs.

Thanks to Mr Asparagus Pea for the video editing tech support. He likes a good acronym, so has dubbed himself Senior Head of IT and Entertainment. We're thinking of getting an 'I'm SHITE'  T-shirt made for him!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

reasons to be cheerful

I took this picture of damson blossom in the orchard at work on Saturday morning - I was planning to write a post about bees and pollination (bandwagon?.... moi?).  But even as I headed off towards the beehives to work out whether I could get a decent picture without getting stung to death, something evil began to stir.  We have had a bit of a stomach bug doing the rounds in our house and it was about to be my turn.  I nearly made it to the end of the day before succumbing to the overwhelming desire to go lay down in the long grass.

Now it's Tuesday and I have finally emerged from my swamp pit - a few pounds lighter and feeling like a breeze might blow me away. Here are some things, (no more than 500m from my bathroom door), that have been cheering me up today...

new shoooooooooes! (arrived by post this morning from here)

the easter cactus that my friend Lisa gave me is blooming

leftovers from the easter egg boxes that I made for my gang of boys, chocolate long gone

Mr Asparagus Pea has started playing the piano again

I am a complete numbnuts when it comes to music, but the boys in this house can do about half an orchestra between them.  It never fails to impress me, and I love that they have something they all share.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

ready, steady, go!

I've spent the last month fiddle faddling about because of the unusually cold spring we've been having - now suddenly the weather has turned and I'm trying to do everything at once to catch up.  Outside in the veg beds I've been planting potatoes, making seed beds (mmm tilth!), and sowing peas and beans. The little greenhouse that I use isn't heated, so I usually start my tender stuff off in trays and modules on a window ledge.  Doesn't matter how many times I do it, I always get a kick out of sowing seed, then watching and waiting for it to germinate.  It's such a hopeful thing to do - there's some special kind of alchemy...

a handful of seed

a misty propagator lid on a sunny window ledge

and a little patience

et voila!

First out of the traps this year is this pot marigold - not at all tender or in need of such special treatment, but I'll be growing them on in modules for my lovely friend Sian to use for her bee activity in May.  The seed for these really does look like something you might have swept up off the bathroom floor after a pedicure session - but a bit of water and warmth is all they need to spring into life.  Magic!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

two peas in a pod

Today is my first wedding anniversary*

Take a look at these two cuties:

We scanned and printed a whole bunch of our baby/tortured teen pictures to decorate the hall for the wedding reception.  Thought these two were especially sweet because we kind of match!  Separated only by four years, 12,000 miles and a different mother tongue - we were clearly destined to be together.

Happy Anniversary Mr Asparagus Pea!

*Never say never, huh?

Saturday, 13 April 2013

tudor time

Spring finally showed up this week, so I have been getting on with some seed sowing - it feels so good to finally get my fingers in the dirt again.  Lots is written on the subject of the correct soil temperature for seed germination - lord knows I've been banging on about it myself in relation to my hotbed.  But forgive me, it's my first time - I've been like an over anxious parent checking the temperature of the baby's bathwater with a thermometer.  As everyone knows, the best thing to do is roll up your sleeve and dip your elbow in.  Same with soil, although not your elbow - get your hands in it.  If it feels like a warm and inviting place to be, (imagining of course that you are a seed*), then it's the right time to sow.

One of the areas in my care is the garden for a Tudor longhouse. The timbers of the house have been dated to the 1500's so we try to reflect that with the look and contents of the garden. It has wooden raised beds based on images from woodcuts of the period, and the seed is broadcast rather than sown in rows**

 I grow a medieval broad bean...

martock beans

...and a pea that gets a mention in 1660...

carlin peas

...some texts talk about sowing seed as mixtures, so I'm trying a mix of carrots, turnips and parsnips.

carrot, parsnip and turnip mixture

Not sure how well this will work - the turnips and parsnips might be too muscly for the carrots.  Will let you know how I get on with that.  It's only a titchy garden, but I'll also be growing some leeks, garlic (already in), and a bed of coleworts and collards.  These loose headed kale-y things are much older in date than the ball shaped cabbages we grow today.  Maps of the period sometimes have gardens marked as 'kale yards'. 

There's also a herb bed that's in the process of renovation, so I'll be growing some more stuff for that this year.  But more of that another time....

*This takes me way back to the first few weeks of my degree with a bunch of very self conscious 18 year olds in our first drama workshops. "Be a tree.... Don't just be a tree - be what a tree means to you..." ?!?! 

**Sowing seed in rows is first mentioned in gardening texts of the late 17th century, soon after the invention of the farmers' horse drawn seed drill.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

fossils and foraging

The weather has finally eased up a few degrees, so today we decided to go down the coast for a walk followed by lunch in a pub with a log fire.  Sunday bliss!

One of my favourite beaches to go to round here is Monknash - it disappears at high tide so you have to time your visit right if you want a decent walk.  The hedgerows on the way down the hill are fabulously ancient and have a real diversity of species.

It's always fun to hunt for fossils on the beach there as it's part of Wales' 'Jurassic Coast'.  Once you've got your eye in you start spotting them everywhere.  Sometimes you see fantastic ammonites in the  rock platforms - but you can never find them again when you go back.  The whole place is constantly pounded by the sea so there's always something new to find.  Here are the best of today's fossils:

My foraging target for today was Alexanders.  Having walked here for many years I knew there were a few good size clumps by the wayside.  This would be a good moment to remind everyone not to eat anything gathered from the wild unless YOU'RE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS.  This is especially true with things that get generically referred to as 'cow parsley' - some of them are good to eat, others are highly poisonous things like hemlock, and they all look very similar.

So - having scared the bejasus out of Mr Asparagus Pea with that little lecture, I then set to gathering some wild greens for our supper.

Hungry now, huh?

Alexanders are identifiable by their bright shiny green leaves and yellowish green flower heads.  You'll also be finding them early in the season before everything else has got going, be within about a mile of the sea and probably within spitting distance of an old monastic settlement.  The car park of the Plough and Harrow at Monknash ticks all these boxes perfectly - the buildings date to 1383 and were a 'grange' (farm established by a monastery to provide food).

It's the stalks you're after.

I steamed them for five minutes and served them with some butter and black pepper.

Verdict:  You need to get them young as they're a bit stringy.  The texture of these was okay but I wouldn't want them any older without peeling the stems.  The taste is quite strong - you need to like celery.  As with a lot of foraged stuff, the joy of these is that they're off the starting blocks very early in the season and deliver a welcome punch of springy green long before the annual veg in your garden begin to make it on to the plate.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

room to grow

Even though it's still head-shrinkingly cold here with a raw wind coming in from Siberia, my little seedlings have been growing away nicely in the hotbed.  Today I thinned the rows of brassicas so that each individual little plant has a bit of elbow room to develop.  If they were in open ground I would thin progressively to allow for potential losses from slugs and other lurking dangers; dustbathing birds, pooping cats, passing herds of schoolchildren etc.  In the safety of the hotbed I thought I would cut to the chase and give them enough room to get to transplantable size in one go.  It looks a bit drastic when you first do it, but they will reward your bravery by growing on quicker.


And despite my tendency to rant at the telly at the merest mention of the word 'microgreens', I do have to say that the thinnings make very tasty additions to any salad bowl.

The gardens that I tend are open to the public so there is always a balance to strike between harvest and display.  It's easy with stuff that you can pick without removing the plant, like peas, beans, rhubarb etc.  The difficulty is with things that are gone once you pick them - with one row of leeks I could maybe feed 20 people or educate/inspire 650,000 (our annual visitor figures). It's a tough choice.

lovely leeks

But the moment arrives when I need to start getting the space ready for the next crop.  Today I cleared a handsome bed of leeks so I could prep the soil for spring sowing. They were still in good condition so I trimmed, washed and bagged them up to sell in the staffrooms.  The money that we raise this way supports the work that we do in the gardens.

cennin is Welsh for leek