Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Apple Harvest

Its just been announced today that due to the wet spring and hot summer, Britain is about to have its best crop of apples for years - a bumper harvest of fruit is starting to hit the shops now.

This is great news and most of our greengrocers and supermarkets are embracing this and supporting UK growers.  I'm not sure how true this is, but I was informed recently by someone in "the apple business" that our largest supermarket gives preference to importing its apples from countries as far away as Australia and China to stocking up from UK growers at a time when they are in season.  This does not make sense either economically, ecologically or even from a quality point of view.  However, Sainsbury's and Waitrose are currently doing a lot to promote British apples so I know where I'll be shopping!

Now is the time to try out some of the less familiar varieties as some of them are little gems - I got to try a Zari last week-end for the first time and it was crunchy, tasty and one of the juiciest apples I've ever tasted.

We also called in at an animal rescue centre last week-end and they were selling bags of cooking apples for just £1, so I simply had to buy some!  So far, the chickens have been enjoying them - they don't seem to mind the tartness of flavour - but this week-end I'll be cooking them up into something for us (am thinking maybe spicy apple muffins, although I suspect Mr Cocopopia will be hoping for an apple crumble ...)

So, I urge you to support your local orchards/growers this week-end (or whenever you next go shopping) - try some new flavours and enjoy this year's super harvest....

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

An Assortment of Wheels

Visiting Bentley Country Park made an interesting day out because not only is there the Woodland to explore, but its also a wildfowl reserve and has its own motor museum.  Everything in the museum sits together in one large space and its not as big as some museums, but the collection is really well put together and full of interesting contrasts.

There are the pre-motorised vehicles - the pedal cycles.  I loved the little kiddies' tricycles - especially the little blue one with its own "boot" at the back

And a fine collection of motorbikes - the British 60's Butler Spitfire looked perfectly at home sitting next to the Italian 80's Moto Morini.

There were some very old cars

Such as this Alldays and Onions (what a brilliant name for a car manufacturer!)

But you probably would have needed one of these to keep warm ...

(early car heater foot warmer - "fill copper cylinder with boiling water and place of floor of car")

There were also some racy little numbers, such as this very macho looking specimen

Some of the cars are on loan to the museum and get taken out now and again by their owners when there is an event on, so its nice to know that some of them still get some use.

If you're ever in the area and fancy a day out, I can definitely recommend Bentley Country Park.  Here's a link if you're interested in finding out more: Bentley Country Park

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Woodland Adventures

One of the nice things about Autumn is the smell of wood fires, and there were plenty of those at the Bentley Woodfair we visited today.  Described by the organisers as "a celebration of trees, woodlands, forestry, timber, woodcrafts and much more".  

There was a lot to see and do, and we spent most of the day there.

There really was something for everyone - wood tools and equipment, wood crafts (including trug making, wood turning, chainsaw sculptures, wooden jewellery, wildlife houses, bushcraft equipment, education courses, volunteer groups, ancient skills and crafts, a miniature railway (yes, we went on that!) and plenty of food and drink available.

I particularly liked these large wooden fish sculptures which were hung from above and twirled around in the breeze - they worked really well as a group

We met Tobias, a "forest horse" who was happily eating his hay

We also learnt about foraging for fruits in the woods, such as the ones above (blackberries, rosehips, nuts and apples - all in season now).

The final thing I learnt though, was that my wellies were in a very poor state and nolonger able to do the job of keeping my feet dry.  They will not see me through another winter and so I do believe its time for some new ones ....

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Autumn Jewellery

My jewellery making has now taken on an autumnal twist as I feel drawn towards warm, golden, earthy colours.  This bracelet is made from mookaite nuggets.  This is a wonderful looking type of jasper, only found in Australia and, not only that, it is only found in a specific area of Australia (Mooka Creek in Western Australia).  It is actually a sedimentary rock which has been formed from the skeletal remains of tiny creatures deposited in an ancient sea a long, long, long, long time ago.

After I made the bracelet, I took it down to the beach to photograph it and was amazed at how many colours from the pebbles on the beach could also be seen within the bracelet.

This bracelet is now for sale in my online shop at Folksy

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Accidental Alpine

Quite a few years ago, when we were trying to sell a small but empty looking house, we bought a large yucca plant and a "six pack" of mini cacti plants which we placed in little green pots and arranged around the house - the injection of greenery and plant life were to give the property an additional "zest" and help it to sell.  The property sold very quickly, but whether that was to do with the plants or not we'll never now.

However, with not having a lot of window space for plants, we were then left with the problem in our new house of what to do with 6 cacti plants, so I grouped them together in a shallow terracotta bowl containing some soil mixed with lots of gravel for drainage.  As it was summer, I placed the pot in the sunny and sheltered area outside the back door.  However, when winter came, I left the pot outside and that's where it stayed.  Some of the cacti thrived and some died.  I filled the gaps with other little plants which had been given to me as part of other arrangements, so didn't really know what they were but they did turn out to be either alpines or succulents. 

I also added some pebbles to the pot and a piece of broken terracotta from an old pot which I had previously painted in a speckled blue, to add extra interest.

Alpines are plants that originate from an alpine climate so they are used to growing above the tree line and are tough little things, being able to withstand extremes of cold and sun exposure.  However, because they grow in rocky terrain, they don't like getting their roots waterlogged.  That is why they work so well with succulent plants, which also thrive in harsh, dry climates and survive by storing water in their leaves.

Many people grow these plants as rockery plants but they look particularly good arranged in shallow pots, old sinks, troughs or other recycled containers. The key is to keep their roots reasonably dry, so a shallow and well drained gravelly soil is best.

Visiting RHS Wisley recently, I noticed they were growing them in wooden troughs, like window boxes.  But they also had some in the alpine house, growing quite happily between some rocks.  

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Living in this country, I love the variety of weather (I'm one of the few people I know who actually likes the rain!) and for that reason I love that we have four distinct seasons.  Each season has its merits and I always focus on the positive aspects.  So, with the nip of autumn in the air, before I go into autumn mode, here's a look back on some of my favourite images of this summer ...

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Insect Hotel

No, I'm not referring to a strangely named place we have recently booked in to for a night's stay, but am talking about looking after the beneficial insects in our gardens by providing them with a home that will support them throughout the winter months.  As we approach autumn, now is the time to think about providing insect hotels in our gardens, they can be very simple and low cost to make and the smaller ones so subtle you wouldn't even know that they are there.  Having said that, some of them are quite attractive to look at anyway - for instance, we have a solitary "bee house" tucked away in a sheltered area of the vegetable patch.

Earlier this year we visited the West Sussex Wildlife Trust and were impressed with their (quite large) insect hotels built from recycled materials.  Apart from being wonderful for the insect world, they are works of art in themselves, with their 3-D abstract designs.

Different species have their own preferences - there's lots of information here from The Wildlife Trust if you'd like to know more or would even like to try building one yourself - its so easy to do and you would be helping out the beneficial insects in preparation for next summer.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Cute Little Cucamelons

Having been given James Wong's Home Grown Revolution book for Christmas last year, I decided I would get stuck in and try growing some more unusual plants this year.  The cucamelon looks like a melon in miniature (its about the size of a large grape) but has a cucumber taste with a hint of lime.  It is a pretty little plant - grows as a vine, with yellow flowers before the fruits appear.  Although originating form Central America (known in Mexico as Sanditas de Raton - which means "little mouse watermelons"), it has been easy to grow here on the South coast of England - although I have to admit, it has been a hot and sunny summer so that must have helped.

Once the plant starts flowering, there is a constant stream of fruit.  They can be eaten in the same way as cucumbers, although they have more "bite" and are quite tangy - they are great sliced into salads, they can also be chopped and added to salsas and they are also suitable for pickling.

Because these little gems are so beautiful to look at, they look really good on cocktail sticks, decorating summer drinks - especially a lime-based Mojito or a Martini.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Plane Talking

I love it when its the annual airshow at the local airport as, if we're lucky, we can see some of the planes from the house if we peer out of the upstairs windows!

However, it is particularly exciting during the grande finale in the afternoon when its possible to sit in the garden with a cup of coffee watching several of the old classic war planes fly around together and, if you're lucky, they may even choose the airspace above your garden to do a bit of circling ... oh, I'm such a plane spotter!!

the two winged object in the lower part of this picture is an alarmed bird, rather than a strange plane!