Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Saturday, 19 December 2009
Much to Philippa’s delight, the snow finally reached our western location. She’s been complaining about clear sunny days whilst the rest of the country has been under the white spell, there’s no pleasing some people! We’ve decided on a duvet day today, the fires on, the Sloe Gin is ready and Footy Focus is on, I’m in heaven :)
Before the snow came we managed a walk up on the hills behind the house. After following our trusty OS map we ended up in a farmyard with a very large dog who seemed intent on supplementing his lunch. Luckily the owner came out, and rather than brandishing a shotgun, was very friendly and escorted us through his property. It was nice to see the house from above.
In this picture you can see the large barn infront of our big yellow house, the new soft fruit patch, the fenced off veg patch to the right, and the polly tunnel through the tree’s, with my green shed at the back.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
It’s mid-December and yet I’m harvesting apples, pears, plums, strawberries and, most surprising of all, lemons and peaches. No, climate change has not swapped our Welsh winter for a Mediterranean summer. These are the fruits of my addiction to Farm Town. Not content with my plot in the corner of Ceredigion, I bought myself a slice of online real estate courtesy of Facebook. Virtual mud is never waterlogged, frozen or jam packed with rocks. The same could not be said for the very real mud in which our new orchard – 6 apple, 1 pear, 2 plum and 1 damson trees - and soft fruit patch – 31 raspberry, 6 blueberry, 2 blackberry, 2 loganberry, 6 red currant, 2 black currant and 4 gooseberry plants - had to be planted.
All that effort and it looks more like a stick farm! But they’re specially selected sticks, not any old sticks. Plants have to be hardy to survive on our exposed site, so we bought all of the plants from Welsh nurseries. We’re especially excited about the trees as each is an historical Welsh variety – the damson is a graft from a 200 year old tree growing at the Bangor University college farm site (where Dave used to potter around as an agriculture student); the Denbigh plum is a variety that dates back to 1785 and is the only surviving native Welsh plum; the Welsh Cox grew in the garden of Bangor’s first motorised milk lady and the original parent tree is now buried under the A55.
But none of that impresses Charlie, who considers the entire plot to be one big cat latrine.
The planting is not the end of the story. If the raspberries, blackberries and loganberries are to do their thing next year, each needs to be trained up and along a set of tension wires. Tension wires need fence posts. Fence posts need to be buried deeply. Deep burial needs deep soil. We have bed rock at a depth of 9 inches. Tonight we watched with envy as Countryfile demonstrated a lovely bit of tractor kit with which we could smash a post through the bedrock at the flick of a switch. If we had one of those we could have all the posts up and still have time for a spot of painting before the mid-morning coffee and gingernut break. Instead we had wheezy Dave and puny Phil knocking in posts the old fashioned way with a metal spike, the trusty postknockeriner and a hammer. The highlights for me were discovering that pinging tension wires makes a sound like a light-sabre (cue bad re-enacting of scenes from Star Wars) and waving at the Chinook helicopter as it did a fly past (cue bad re-enacting of scenes from The Railway Children, but without the trains).
Mean while on Kittenwatch, Stephen & Nessa took their first steps outdoors this week, ate their first blades of grass, climbed their first tree and stalked their first birds. And yet neither of them can use any one of the 3 cat flaps leading from hallway to utility room, utility room to boiler room, and finally from boiler room to the outside world. Unless a flap is propped open with a pencil or held open by a piece of string tied to the door handle, Stephen is baffled and Nessa is confused, and watching Charlie flip-flap in and out a hundred times a day still leaves them none the wiser. Maybe they’re special needs kittens.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
Nearly a year has passed since Dave made our house habitable by installing central heating and fitting the kitchen and bathroom, but since then little to nothing has been done by way of renovation or decoration. Before moving to Banceithin permanently I had a plan to work on the cottages by day and spend my evenings decorating my own home. There was no way I’d be able to put up with the tatty state of the place! The reality is that I quickly acquired Dave’s ability to turn a blind eye and accept the flaws as part of the character of a 100 year old house. There was, however, a room at the back of the house the state of which irked me on a daily basis.I don’t care if Nigella Lawson’s pantry, with its shelves stacked high with pleasing packages and tempting treats, is a TV-land creation purposely designed to make suckers like me green with pantry envy, I wanted one too.
In Dave’s optimistic opinion we could convert our musty, cobweb strewn store room into a pantry in a weekend. Before Dave could lose all enthusiasm for the project (and knowing there was no time to waste if the job was to be completed before Chelsea v Arsenal kicked off at 4 p.m. on Sunday), we set about the task of clearing out the room and stripping off decades of manky old paint and chunks of decaying plaster. The unexpected arrival of 10 bare root stock maiden whips (being my orchard-to-be and not a Madam Whiplash starter kit) threw me into a bit of a tizzy and we had to down decorating tools, grab spades and start digging the field. So by the end of day one, I had a new orchard, a house full of paint & plaster dust but no pantry.
For days two, three and four I was busy priming, undercoating, glossing and generally throwing paint around. By the end of day five I was the proud owner of a shiny red pantry. I just love red walls. Something Freudian about wanting to be back in the womb or some such nonsense. Or, in Dave’s view, useful because the blood won’t show up when he slaughters the livestock! There’s no way that’s happening in MY pantry.
On day six I could contain my excitement no longer, the shelf stacking had to begin, and to hell with waiting for the floor polish to dry.
Excitement reached fever pitch when I realised that a new pantry needs new storage baskets, jars and drawers, that the shelves would need labelling and the kitchen and utility room cupboards would now need to be re-organised. I’m in pantry heaven!
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Now for those of you who know Philippa, you may be mistaken by the title of this entry. This isn’t about a rather heavy night up the Cross Inn, but is related to Phil’s side business of preserving our produce and making a variety of pickles and chutneys which she hopes to sell to our guests (if I don’t scoff them first!).
She is also on a mission to bake our own bread, it’s one of the main staples that we still buy, so last weekend, following our trusty ‘River Cottage’ bread book, Phil kneaded, prodded and proved and came up with 2 small loves and 4 rolls. The first effort was pretty tasty but a little heavy, but we’ve deduced that we didn’t let the dough prove long enough, and we whipped it out of the oven a little too soon (as we were desperate to fill our faces).
I decided to get in on the act, but was less adventurous. Pickled onions were my limit on the preserving front, but I started trying to tackle our largest domestic expenditure, namely Baccus’s favourite tipple.
It does seem that having a huge wood burning boiler does provide ample heat for the initial fermentation process, but during the night of day 2, it was obviously slightly too warm (it needs to be between 20 and 25 deg C), as in the morning we were greeted with a red wine splattered Bertha and the air lock full of wine. Hopefully it won’t be spoiled, but there’s no way of knowing until we try it (3 months time!!).
If this does work we will need to up our production as one Demijon only gives us 6 bottles.