Where growing, making & good living come together

Taking Stock – May 2015

Posted by on Thursday 28 May 2015 in growing, making, meta | 2 comments

*cough*

*taps mic*

“Is this thing on?”

Ahem.

(Hope you’re all fine and dandy.)

—-

I’ve been spending a lot of time at the allotment recently and to make myself feel better about its still somewhat weedy paths, I wanted to look up the “before” pictures – from before I started reclaiming the plot last summer. Wow, I have come far! Still a long way to go and everything but cor, go me! ;)

While I was here, I noticed a Taking Stock post from just about a year ago and was surprised how much is the same! I thought I’d update that as a catch-up!

What I’m…

Growing: oh so much! My greenhouse has been full of seedlings for ages, but it’s only been this week or so that I’ve been happy to start planting things out. About 40 sugar snap pea plants went into the ground on Tuesday at the plot, along with a handful of runner beans & a couple of courgettes at home.

At home, I’m pretty much restricted to container growing for annual veg so it’s a lovely novelty to have beds. In typical fashion, I had to wait nearly five years on the waiting list to get my first plot – and then was offered a second* about four months later! (* We’re only allowed one plot each so the new one is officially John’s). The second plot is on the same site and is also a small one, so I’ve just over a full plot all together – maybe a plot and a third. The second plot has lovely big beds, with better soil, and lots of well established fruit – rhubarb as well as the usual berries & currants. I hadn’t planned to grow any broad beans this year but the soil was so welcoming when I went to turn it over last October that I had to plant a load – and how they’ve grown. This picture shows them against the spring sown addition.

broad bean plants

All my broad beans have been spindly in the past so I planted them close together – regretting that now!

I also overwintered onions and garlic, and sowed some early round lettuces which are nearly ready to harvest.

It’d take too long (and would be boring) to list everything I’ve got growing in the greenhouse ready to go to the plot – but if we get a mediocre crop from half of it, we’ll be very happy and swimming in veggies!

Cooking: Fancy dancy meals! Our lovely neighbours have been trying one of those not-at-all-frugal delivery services which send you exactly what you need for, say, three meals for two people – I think they’re aimed at people relatively new to cooking (though that doesn’t really describe our neighbours), to show people how easy fancy food can be. Anyway, due to a timing mishap, our neighbours had a box they couldn’t use so they gave it to us – we never say no to free food! We have most of the ingredients in the house already but it’s been fun putting them together in slightly different ways.

Away from that, I think I might have to make up a big vat of “Polish sausage and dead veg soup” at the weekend – a delicious way to clear out the fridge ahead of a shop :)

Learning: I’ve continued taking ceramics classes at a local pottery studio. I’ve been focused on decorative clay techniques this year – taking courses on a full range of techniques, then another course specialising on glazing and most recently, I’ve been learning about Coloured Clay and associated skills like inlaying and laminating. You never stop learning with ceramics!

Also, over the last few weeks, I’ve also been pressing ahead with a bit of language learning. I discovered Duolingo in the depths of winter and got stuck into learning German and refreshing my long neglected schoolgirl French. That went by the by as spring and other fun hobbies kicked in, but I’ve been pressing on of late – though focusing on the French more now. French at school was mostly focused on vocab and simple grammar – Duolingo is somewhat the reverse, focusing on sentence building, which I find more useful and I find the independent learning/gamification a lot more acceptable than the rote learning/being picked on to answer in class.

Making: Pottery aside, in typical Louisa fashion, I’m about 80% of the way through a few projects. Last month, I crocheted all the granny squares for a blanket and have whip stitched about half of them together – I need to finish the joining and edge them. Sticking with crochet, I’ve another ripple stripe blanket that has been sitting at about 80% since New Year – I’m procrastinating because it’s a variegated yarn and I can’t decide if/how to edge it. I also need to finish the last few leaves on a Jacobean crewel embroidery project.

Jacobean crewel project

Wanting: it to be a bit warmer and sunnier (just a little) – I’ve got washing on the line and the grey clouds aren’t inspiring me to head out to the plot for a cheeky session this evening.

Looking: at all the seed packets around my desk. Everything was super organised at the start of the year and is now .. not so organised.

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Taking stock – June 2014

Posted by on Tuesday 3 June 2014 in meta | 3 comments

first-carved-bowlsLike last time I did one of these, I’m totally copying from SwirlyArts ;)

What I’m…

Making: a crochet blanket very much like this one; a stitched memory map of the dog walks we take around our local woods; and amongst other things at pottery, a pair of ceramic wall planters (because my plastic one fell about 12ft and broke) and a series of carved terracotta pots.

Growing: not much veg wise this year – just courgettes, runner beans, green beans and cucumbers so far (I did have some lettuces but between slugs and a cat-related mishap, I doubt we’ll see many of them) – but our perennial fruit plants/shrubs/trees look to be doing well. (We added new plum and cherry trees to the garden over the winter – we won’t get any fruit from them this year but they’ll be adding to the harvest next year). I’ve kept to my long-ago decision to fill nearly all the beds with perennials so the garden is still well stocked and productive even if I can’t be bothered doing m/any annuals – I’ve added more flowers than I thought I would but this plan seems to be working out. Also, excitingly, I’m apparently at the top of the allotment waiting lists – it only took four and a half years! – so I think I’ll be grateful for a slightly lower maintenance garden when that finally comes through!

Cooking: Nothing at the moment … for dinner though, I want something packed with pulses and veggies – maybe a daal.

Drinking: Orange and mango squash

Reading:The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides, and re-reading “Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America” (the Parks & Rec tie-in book)

Wanting: my camera battery to recharge: I got all set up — lighting, fabric backdrop etc — for taking some nice pictures of the things I’ve made in the last 18 months and the battery died after one picture!

Looking: out of the window, at the trees that need to be cut back – if the holly bush was trimmed, I could see down the hill into the woods, which is currently dabbled in sunlight and rather pretty. Wish I could see that rather than something that reminds me of a prickly chore that needs doing!

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Taking stock: a ‘what I’m up to in my absence’ meme

Posted by on Wednesday 28 August 2013 in meta | 4 comments

Inspired by Lynsey.

(For those not following me on Twitter, a few bits of news might be pertinent for understanding some of these. Firstly, our lovely old man-cat Boron died in June, which was sad but expected, and we got three new rescue kittens at the end of July – Matilda, Kaufman and Strange. They were 18weeks-ish old when we got them so they’re just under 6months old now so they’re hardly little kittens any more but they’re still very playful and very amusing. Second, I left my job at the theatre [teaching drama] in July – it was officially only a few hours a week but it took up considerably more time than that, both at the theatre and at home, and was crowding out my time & energy for other things — fun stuff and other work stuff. I’m now trying to decide what’s next.)

strange-blanket

Making: a couple of blankets for the kittens – Tilda particularly like kneading blankets so I’m making some tiny ones for their beds. Strange is showcasing the first one above – it was very much a quicky (mostly made in a few hours while chatting and no blocking, hence the wiggly sides), made from leftover yarn
Cooking: with stuff from the freezer – there isn’t enough room for ice cream so we need to clear some space!
Drinking: too much tea but also water through a straw – I’ve discovered I drink far more water if I use a straw
Reading: after re-reading a few fiction favourites recently, I’m currently reading some books about treating anxiety and “In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor” – it’s surprisingly endearing (all from the library).
Wanting: um, surprisingly very little at the moment.
Looking: at the animals dotted around the room – we’ve just given them their spot-on flea treatment (the kittens for the first time with us) and they’re giving us the stink eye back!
Playing: I played old school Tropico while I was ill after finishing drama (my usual post-production slump) but I think I’m done with it for now
Wasting: the last few weeks of summer in the garden – I had a really good handle on it until my crazy busy fortnight in July but it got overgrown while I was busy and now I have little enthusiasm for reining in the annuals. I’ll deal with the shrubs and perennials when the annuals die back.
Sewing: an embroidery of some tomato plants that I started back when my now triffid-like tomato plants were tiny seedlings – sewing has taken a backseat to crochet in the last few months but I think it’s very nearly finished
Wishing: for those around me to have a better next few months than the last few
Enjoying: having a little breather between commitments
Waiting: for my pottery and sewing courses to start in September
Liking: watching the kittens exploring the garden. I thought they’d go off on big adventures in the woods straight away but in their fortnight as inside/outside cats, they’ve mainly stayed in the garden — hiding behind big courgette leaves or amongst the strawberry plants to jump out on a passing sibling, bouncing between the different levels like it’s one big cat tree, and in Kaufman’s case, watching Chicken-TV from on top of the run.
Wondering: what I’ll be doing a year from now. So many possibilities!
Loving: how well our old Carla-cat and Lily-dog have coped with the new arrivals – there were a few awkward days but by and large, everyone has slotted together wonderfully. The picture below was taken at the weekend, a month after the kittens moved in – it’s Carla, Lily and Strange. Strange was the hardest to integrate – Lily would ignore the others but try to chase Strange and Strange hissed at Carla whenever they bumped into each other. As you can see, they got over the initial grumpiness. (Kaufman loves Lily the most though: he’s always going up to her for headrubs and tries to sleep next to her whenever she’ll let him. He even tried to feed from her once, which confused Lily no end!)

lily-carla-strange

Hoping: Lily-dog will sleep tonight – she’s had a few bad nights this week (not uncommon in older dogs) and that’s meant I’ve had a few bad nights too. I was wandering around the garden with her at 2:30am this morning and it was probably nearer 5 before I got to sleep for the first time — and that was on the sofa in the office
Marvelling: at how organised and on top of things I seem to be at the moment – it’s a new thing! I’m not expecting it to last (especially if I remain sleep deprived) but I’m enjoying it in the meantime!
Needing: a few hours more sleep! Also, to do my daily chicken chores and get some work done.
Smelling: … animals smells. The flea stuff on the back of their necks, the litter tray… nice!
Hearing: the chickens clucking and next door’s little dog whining – because I just took the latter into her garden for a wee, which excited both her and our chickens!
Wearing: a boring black tshirt because due to the inclement weather over the last few years, about 90% of my tops have long or three-quarter length sleeves and I have a dearth of nice short sleeved shirts for actually warm days – this is one I use for my backstage “blacks”
Noticing: the timing of our local fruit this year- the cherry plums are late (and very sparse) and the blackberries are early. (Also, like Lynsey, I’ve noticed a lot of butterflies around this year, and lots of bees as well. I’d like to think I’ve made a more wildlife friendly garden and this is my reward but I think it’s just a coincidence!)
Bookmarking: lots of things on Pinterest and Ravelry, which has the unfortunate side effect of making me constantly want to do the next project rather than the one I’m currently working on. Also lots of things which may or may not be useful depending on which of the million paths I choose to pursue over the next few months.
Opening: all the doors and windows at all times – making the most of the weather before autumn kicks in and to make up for the stifling days during the last weeks of the heatwave, when we had to keep everywhere closed up to prevent the kittens escaping.
Giggling: at finding kitten teeth marks in odd things
Knowing: very little but
Thinking: lots of things!
Feeling: momentarily tired but content

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The financial pros and cons for building up a food store/pantry

Posted by on Thursday 11 October 2012 in Featured, frugal, meta, personal finance | 9 comments

Writing about my “I’ll keep a store cupboard in case zombies attack!” paranoia yesterday (ahem) reminded me that I wrote something for a personal finance website last year but for some reason, didn’t get around to sending it over. I’ve re-edited it to make it suitable for here/now but have kept it purely about the financial side of things. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

Over the last few years, we seem to be experiencing more and more cases of extreme weather and natural disasters. This year in the UK, we’ve had an unusually wet summer, leading to flooding, and elsewhere around the northern hemisphere, it’s been too hot, which has caused fires. There have also been unseasonal hurricanes/tornados, and while we’ve been comparatively lucky so far this year, 2011 was horrendous for other natural disasters such as the earthquakes in New Zealand and the earthquake/tsunami in Japan.

There’s no question that having a small supply for food and water is essential if bad weather is predicted and it’s important to maintain emergency supplies in case an unforeseen disaster strikes. But I’ve recently been considering the financial pros and cons of keeping a larger store pantry.

Why it makes financial sense to keep a large food store at home

Aside from the security of having emergency supplies when needed, the largest day-to-day benefits of maintaining a large store at home are the financial ones. Many people with large food stores grow and/or preserve a lot of their own food when it’s in season so have put-up supplies that are a lot cheaper than it would cost to buy them ready-made in the shops/out of season.

Certain items (such as sacks of wheat berries, dried pulses or rice) can be bulk bought, resulting in a cheaper cost-per-serving, and in many places can also be bought direct from the producer or through a not-for-profit co-op, cutting the price even further.

Having a well-stocked store and list of “store-cupboard recipes” should also reduce the amount of times/frequency with which you visit your local supermarket. When you shop your own pantry, you’re not going to get persuaded to part with a few pounds on unnecessary temptations and treats. Depending on how far you are from your local shops, that may also save a considerable amount of money in fuel/public transport costs too, as well as time.

As well as saving money directly and indirectly in the first place, a large pantry is also essentially a saving scheme. In the UK interest rates on savings accounts are considerably lower than the rate of inflation so our bank savings are actually shrinking in real terms while food prices are rising. Items bulk-bought a year ago will have been cheaper in both ways: the sticker price will have been less and our actual money will have gone further too.

When keeping a large food store at home can cost you money

However, while our bank savings may be slowly shrinking, at least they’re not risk of going stale, mouldy or being eaten by rodents (or at least I hope not). Of course, those risks can be minimised with good stock rotation and appropriate storage containers – but purpose-bought storage containers can be expensive. Admittedly they’re reusable and you should get years of use from them but there is still an initial start-up cost. In fact, every aspect of creating a store cupboard involves upfront spending that some people may not be able to afford while living hand-to-mouth. It also requires ongoing maintenance and attention, time which might be better spent saving money elsewhere or increasing the household income someway.

In places with very hot summers and cold or damp winters, extra care has to be taken about where the store is located to avoid spoilage – in practical terms, that generally means in air-conditioned/heated parts of the house rather than in an outhouse or garage. There are plenty of clever tips to “hide” bulk-bought items around the home but your heating/cooling bills may increase if you have to control temperature for the sake of the food when you’d ordinarily be out of the house (eg, during the day or on holiday). Food stored in freezers is obviously less affected by seasonal fluctuations but has a year-long power cost that should be considered: new, efficient freezers in suitable locations in the home are pretty cheap really but older, less efficient freezers cost far more to run. We usually keep our freezer well-stocked, with batch home-cooked “ready meals” and direct-from-the-local-farmer organic meat, which we buy in bulk but is still pretty expensive. If the freezer broke or we lost power for an extended period of time, we’d lose (or have to use ASAP) meat which represents a considerable amount of money. (Our household insurance would cover it, but with our excess, it wouldn’t be worth claiming.)

Aside from spoilage worries, tastes also change (especially in children) and dietary issues/allergies can develop, which could result in a lot of food you can no longer eat. If the food is still good, just no longer wanted, you could sell or barter the excess for something you can still eat – but there is still a chance that you’ll be left with money locked up in food that’ll ultimately go in the bin.

Are there any financial pros/cons on building up a food store/pantry that I’ve missed? Do you have any tips for setting up/maintaining a larder from a financial point of view?

(Can photo by CWMGary)

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Is it weird to keep a well-stocked larder?

Posted by on Wednesday 10 October 2012 in meta | 9 comments

Karen (hi Karen!) commented on my last post (Winter IS coming) saying her main winter prep concern now is stocking up their larder. She lives somewhere rural and they regularly get snowed in so having a well-stocked food store is critical.

I often feel a little silly keeping a packed larder here though. While estate agents might claim the woodland and numerous fields of cows close by make our area “semi-rural”, it really isn’t. There are two decent-size supermarkets within less than five minutes walking distance and while our road is rarely cleared of snow, the nearby main road is kept gritted so we can still get about (even on public transport) quite easily. And yet… Last time I was unpacking a big shop, I remarked to John how it soothes me to know the cupboard is full of beans, and tomatoes, and pasta, and whatnot. It’s not like I’m anxious all the time when it’s empty, I just feel better knowing that stuff is there.

Around this time last year I wrote a list of our store cupboard “essentials” and I think that list is still the same now, with the addition of extra tinned fish and pickled/in oil roasted peppers. Like many things on the list, those items aren’t “so we don’t die” essential but would allow us to maintain a relatively varied diet in a strange situation (which would help keep our immune systems perky) or means that we will use up the stores in our normal rotation. I don’t know how we’d be manage if the fit really hit the shan but I think we have more than enough to last through a normal-abnormal situation, if you know what I mean, be it related to the weather, illness or a financial hiccup.

But, for me here with my supermarkets and main road & mains gas, it still does feel silly to keep a pantry full of (almost entirely) shop-bought items. It feels like I’ve been reading too many of my post-apocalyptic books again, or I’m paranoid, or I’m expressing some mental unrest issue through hoarding behaviour. It felt silly admitting to John that I had, no matter how small amount, felt anxious about the more-empty-than-usual cupboard and it feels even sillier admitting it here, even though I know from the post last year that many of you keep stores too. The photo is not our larder, I wish it was – I can understand “putting up” your own, that makes sense – but buying stuff from a supermarket to store it “just in case”…? I know about crop failures and “just in time” logistics so the rational part of me knows how fragile our food chain is but still, it feels robust enough to make me feel silly for keeping a store at home.

But for all of human history up to, what? 20? 30? years ago, keeping a well-stocked pantry was the norm so it also seems silly to think it seems silly. ;) It’s very odd.

Does anyone else know what I mean or is this me being strange again? Have you had funny reactions when people find out you keep stores or do you feel a bit weird about admitting it? Should I start a “pantry-keepers anonymous” group? ;) Or, on the other hand, do you think it is actually silly to keep a stock of food at home when you live in an urban/supermarket-adjacent area? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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The end of May already? Gosh!

Posted by on Tuesday 29 May 2012 in chickens, growing, house, meta | 6 comments

I disappeared again, didn’t I? Thanks so much to the people taking the time to check on me in comments/via Twitter/in real life etc – I am fine, just been busy and then being lazy ;) I have been keeping up with other people’s blogs (reading if not always commenting), just not getting around to writing anything myself :)

What have I been up to since I was last writing regularly in February? (Cor, that was ages ago!) Here’s a quick recap for FutureMe and anyone else who might be interested (hi Mum!) ;)

Growing

Due to the aforementioned busy-ness and laziness, I decided to go for a less-is-more approach with my growing this year. Then about half my seeds rotted in the soil (thanks for the sudden winter-temperatures in April, Weather, really thaaaaaaaanks) so it turns out I’m doing a very-much-less-is-more thing this year ;)

I’ve got a handful of courgette plants (three varieties) and a few pattypan squash/pumpkin plants too — not a huge amount but I think I’d struggle to find room for many more in our garden (silver linings and all that!). I thought all my tomato seeds were going to rot in the soil so asked for half a dozen plants from my dad (who always grows too many tomato plants) — but at the last count, about a dozen of my seeds made it too so again, I’ve got enough plants for my small growing area. I’ve also got broad beans & runner beans in decent quantities, and a few other things such as a few cucumbers, some chilli plants, some new-this-year herbs and misc salad. It’s not going to feed us throughout the summer but it’s better than nothing — and I’ve very much enjoyed not being overwhelmed by having to pot on stupid amounts of seedlings etc. Everything seems a lot healthier too since I can lavish attention (and other resources) on the few, rather than spreading it around the many.

The thing that led my initial less-is-more idea was a decision I made a couple of months ago to switch all but two of the garden beds to being perennial fruit or herb beds: I’ll grow veg in the remaining two beds and in all the containers I have around the place (and continue to make), but if I don’t get around to planting a lot of veg one year then we’ll still have a garden that is relatively productive and looks quite nice too (compared to bare soil anyway). With the exception of a couple of strawberry plants that got attacked by chickens (thanks chickens, thaaaaaaaaanks), all the fruit planting I’ve done this year seems to have gone well – I bought more cheapy fruit bushes from Aldi in the winter (2 more blackcurrants, 2 more redcurrants, 3 more raspberries), which have all taken, and various strawberries to fill out the soft fruit harvest throughout the summer. None of those will really produce much this year but last year’s cheapy bushes, not so cheap bushes & trees and strawberries are all producing some fruit, and we’re hoping that John’s apple trees will also start producing in earnest too.

Chickens

The fluffy cluckers are doing fine – producing eggs like billy-o at the moment, nearly a 100% lay rate over the past few weeks which isn’t bad considering they’re all over 2 years old now. No sign of any broodiness yet this year, even in the hot spells, which has so far put any hatching plans I might have on hold. Maybe next year.

They seem to have liked all the dry weather of late – their run was a bit muddy in April but now the dry earth is perfect for scratching and dust-bathing in. They like the rest of the garden for the same reason – hence me losing some strawberry plants.

Goals for 2012

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