Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Simple pleasures

Imogen really loves talking about and drawing animals at the moment, often checking and asking how many legs, wings, etc, they have and if they have bones, etc.

Monday evening, Alex came home from work and was immediately asked about snakes whilst I was cooking tea. Imogen wanted to know if they had bones. Cue Alex getting some toilet roll inners to cut up and show how a snake moves and how it has vertebrae. Satisfied with that and checking she understood by asking me and her Daddy if she understood, she asked him if he could make a crocodile. How could Daddy refuse. Recycling the cardboard from the snake and with a bit of sticky tape ... a crocodile was created. And oh how she loved it. He has been named Snadgy.

He was played with all night until bedtime, and popped into the train set shed for the night. At bedtime Imogen shouted to Daddy "Thank you for Snadgy, Daddy". Being able to fulfil her requests and seeing what pleasure it brought her and that thank you just melts the heart.

Snadgy is still a firm friend and gets lots of play. He plays eating games with her other toys and is partial to a bit of wooden chicken. But the funniest moment had to be when he was offered a knitted Bee but got stung so spat the Bee out. Imogen laughed so much she fell all over the place uncontrollably. She tries to recreate this moment, but it's never as funny as that first time.

Snadgy joins in with book reading at bedtime and recently enjoyed reading Tyrannosaurus Drip (Julia Donaldson). I think Alex is enjoying playing with Snadgy almost as much as Imogen, he does a great voice for Snadgy in the games and was asking questions about the book.

It just goes to show you don't need expensive toys, when one made of a bit of cardboard and sticky tape can give so much pleasure.

And here is Snadgy ...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Allotment Sunday

A day at the allotment beckoned, I hadn't been up there for a while so was pleased to get up there to see how things were. Expecting masses of weeds, but was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that bad, although Alex went up before Imogen and I so had cleared some.

So, planted out some more seedlings of Swiss Chard, rocket and beetroot for succession growing.
Imogen enjoyed helping here with her dibber.

I started planting up the herb spiral - better late than never. I had hoped to plant these up before but other things took priority. This was a bit of an afterthought so I only took up a few herbs that I could carry along with some tools and a flask of coffee, etc as well as holding Imogens hand across the road. So I have so far planted in the herb spiral:
Corsican Mint
Chocolate Mint
Alpine Strawberries
Welsh Onions
more to follow ...
And it looks like this. The herbs were placed around the spiral in an area that provides the conditions they thrive in.

Some update pictures of how the plot is looking, Broad Beans planted last November are looking good and so far black fly free. The potatoes are coming up good, including the ones Alex planted last week in the tyre stacks.

The Pear tree looks great and I'm hoping for a bumper crop this year as we can give it more TLC than it has had in may years.

This bed is in need of some nutrients so we are growing a green manure - Buckwheat here - for a while and the tyre stacks are growing potatoes and have added manure so when they are dug out the whole bed can be dug over and it will be ready for the next crop after about 3 weeks.

And finally we inherited a new water butt. Alex had fetched a couple of large plastic cans of water to water the seedlings in as the existing water butt was empty and a neighbouring plot holder had noticed him. He was clearing some things as he was being evicted next week so offered his butt to us which needed emptying first and then moving over.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Change of plan

We didn't make it out into the garden, the weather was changeable and so we had a day indoors drawing, reading and playing.

Oh and Imogen did her drawing for Daddy ... very impressed with her writing, she just asked what letter was next and wrote it all by herself. Daddy thought it was great when he saw it too. He doesn't have a beard but hadn't had a shave for a few days ...

Saturday in the garden

We are off for a day in the garden today while we wait for Daddy to come home with our new car, not a "new" car but new to us. Imogen wants to draw him a picture too after breakfast and write "I've missed you" on it as he was away last night.
Pictures from the garden later ...

Friday, 24 April 2009

Wild Foods and foraging

We love growing our own food, but we are also very interested in free food from the wild. Foraging goes hand in hand with our permaculture way of gardening. The only thing we aren't comfortable with is wild mushrooms as neither of us are experienced enough to identify what is edible.

We have read some great books on the subject -
Food for Free by Richard Mabey
Seaweed and Eat it, A family foraging and cooking adventure by Xa Milne and Fiona Houston
Edible Wild Plants and Herbs, a compendium of recipes and remedies by Pamela Michael

I'm now eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book at our local library as it again looks interesting.

Anyway, so now is an ideal time to get out pick those nettles, carefully with gloves on. The young leaves are at their best at this time of the year and there are so many things you can do with them. We have made lovely nettle soup and there may be some in the pot very soon. I particularly like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe found here. There are many other recipes out there to try, the one on the Seaweed and Eat it book is also lovely and simple.

Another recipe we have used is from the New Covent Garden Soup Co - Book of Soups -

Having recently looked through the Seaweed and Eat it book, I'm tempted to make the Wild Greens Souffle which uses nettle tips, ground elder and orache. I can forage the nettle and hopefully some ground elder (must check that one out nearby) and I am growing orache. Sounds yummy and I do like a nice souffle. Other ideas are nettle fritters, nettle risotto, nettle pasta.

I'm also going to make some Wild nettle and blackcurrant leaf cordial. It's good for asthma, hayfever and eczema (we suffer them all here) and a great tonic for the immune system
To make 2-3 pints you'll need
1kg/2lb granulated sugar (preferably organic and fairtrade)
500ml/17fl oz boiling water
40g/1½oz Citric Acid
100g/3½oz nettle tips

100g/3½ young blackcurrant leaves- freshly picked(ensures maximum flavour)
Combine the water, sugar and citric acid in a large saucepan until the sugar has all dissolved. Bring to boiling point and boil rapidly for a few minutes. Add all the leaves and take off the heat. Leave in a cool dark place for 5-7 days stirring intermittently. Strain, bottle and keep in the fridge. Dilute to taste. (recipe taken from Seaweed and Eat It)

I also think this might be a good time to start experimenting with making our own beer, something we have wanted to try and do for a while but just haven't got around to. So what better than starting with Nettle Beer. We actually bought a bottle of the River Cottage nettle beer from our veg box supplier at one of their farmers markets, they have links with Hugh down at River cottage. It was quite nice so I'd like to have a go at making some of our own.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Sustainability Centre in Hampshire

I wanted to share some information and photographs of the Sustainability Centre at East Meon, Hampshire. It's a great site on top of the South Downs. It's in 55 acres of chalkland on an old MOD site. There is a visitor centre, hostel, camping and courses are run there throughout the year. This is where I attended the Permaculture in 5 days course last year run by Patrick Whitefield - a leading permaculture teacher, writer and designer and thoroughly nice man.

The building that houses the visitor centre is also home to Permanent Publications who publish The Permaculture Magazine and offer many books on permaculture, sustainability, etc and other items in a shop there or online here. There are other businesses run from there too and within the 55 acres is the South Downs Natural Burial Site which is a truly peaceful place to walk.

This year they are hosting a Hampshire Green Fair on Sunday May 10th from 10am to 4pm. We went to this last year on a gloriously sunny day and had a fabulous time. We'll certainly be there again this year.

So here are some pictures of visits we have made to the centre.
These are from the Hampshire Fair in May 2008 -
These are from another visit when we took one of Imogen's uncles with us, the weather was changeable that day.

Imogen by the herb beds outside the Sustainability Centre kitchen. Whilst on the permaculture course, our group did some work on this bed pruning and tidying it up. It was good fun although I did get sun burnt!
Imogen showing off her umbrella
The Straw Bale building shower block (unfinished at this time - August 2008)

Outdoor clay oven being built for use by campers.
(I'll take some pictures again in May to see how these look now they are finished.
View across the mini orchard, the Yurt and Teepee that you can stay in, or camp around this area, and the compost toilet (beyond the Yurt). You can also stay in the hostel they have converted which is lovely.

It's a lovely place, the people who work there are lovely and the bookshop is just too tempting to visit, especially since I found they had a sale/discount area whilst I was on the Permaculture course. I was quite restrained and only bought about 7 books but they were bargains. Anyway a great place to visit for the Hampshire Fair or even just for a walk at another time. There are also some great places to stop and walk nearby including Old Winchester Hill which has some stunning views across the Downs. Often we see people paragliding in the area too.

Here are some pictures of the nature reserve

Panoramic photo - The Eden Project

Another panoramic photograph created from when we were on holiday last Summer, and a fantastic visit to The Eden Project.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Inspired by Jacqui posting on her blogs here and here ...
I particularly like the Ancient Indian Proverb.
Here's one I like that I'll post for Earth Day, although it's nearly over for another year. Though in my eyes every day is Earth Day.

Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints.
Kill nothing but time
~Motto of the Baltimore Grotto, a caving society

Walled Garden

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Here is the panoramic photograph of the Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden at Sandwell Valley Park, looks a bit tiny here but if you click in it you can scroll to the right to get the full 360 degree panoramic effect.

A day at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary

Today we had a day out in the New Forest and went to the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. We went last September but only glimpsed a couple of Deer then as they were off in the depths of the Forest for the rutting season. We knew that the New Forest keeper fed them daily at around 2pm from April to September so thought it would be a great time to go back and see if there were any Deer to see.

We arrived and went for a walk around the Forest first as it was before lunchtime and then stopped at the picnic area for some lunch. Imogen was interested in the moss growing, and seeing if it had a smell, we were touching bark to see if it was rough or smooth, and mostly enjoyed climbing up and down the many tree stumps.

Once lunch was finished and we'd played in the Stick tee pee, we made our way over to the viewing platform area that the keepers have set up to see the Deer. We weren't disappointed ...
I counted at least 57, but as a lot were lying down and in dips in the ground there may have been more. They are a herd of Fallow Deer and we read some information about them on the information boards and in a newspaper we picked up at the keepers hut.
It was brilliant to see so many Deer so close up - they were at times very close to us so many pictures were taken. Here's a selection ...

And this one is probably my favourite picture.

Imogen was very impressed, and was venturing all around, on the platform and looking through the fence at all the lovely Deer.

We then continued to walk around the forest kicking and throwing up leaves,

picking up sticks, climbing over more tree stumps and then finding a big tree stump for us all to sit on and Imogen started driving the bus - isn't the imagination of a small child great.

It was then time to go back to the car park for a lovely New Forest Ice Cream, clotted cream flavour - yum!

Monday, 13 April 2009


For the Easter weekend we went to stay with my parents in the Midlands. Fun was had by all. We went to Sandwell Park Farm on the Saturday and had a great time looking at all the animals there. Imogen's favourites had to be the wonderful Peacocks with one male really showing off his feathers, and the piglets ... we went back to the piglets again and again and again ....

Here are some more pictures

I wish I could remember the breed of this one it was beautiful. It kept moving so took a while to get the photo.

Mommy was especially pleased to visit the Victorian Walled Kitchen garden - it was fantastic, and I look forward to re-visiting it later in the year to see how it progresses.
Imogen liked the pond in the middle and loved watching the fish.

I took a range of photos all round and tried to put them together but I can't publish it (will get some help from hubby). I think it needs a bit more work so may add it sometime. They had a great range of trained fruit.

I do like walled kitchen gardens ... mmm I sense another blog post on some kitchen gardens that inspire me.