Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spring is here

After all that cold weather we enjoyed a fantastic few days in France, walking along beaches, working in the garden, and mostly in bright sunshine.

Spring is well and truly under way here in Hampshire too - the garden is full of beautiful snowdrops, daffs and crocuses; we're feeding our bees some runny sugar syrup; I've already seen bees, butterflies and a hoverfly; the birds are clearly very twittervated and Willow the mad rabbit is excavating a warren of epic proportions for her non-existent young.



(Lilac buds)

(The first frogspawn of the year)

(Perennials hardening off outside after overwintering in the greenhouse )

(The picture of innocence)
For Christmas we bought Dad a sausage making machine - it's basically a heavy duty meat grinder with attachments that allow you to put the ground meat into sausage casings. Our butcher very kindly makes us up a pack of meat with right proportion of fat to meat and hog casings. At first we used cellulose casings but our latest attempt saw us trying out natural hig casings, i.e. pig guts. It was slimy work but the finished product was well worth it! So far we have made two flavours of sausages - sage, onion, apple and cider and one with chestnuts too. Both were truly delicious, though I think it's fair to say that they looked better cooked than they did raw!

A while ago I started off our first veg plants of the year - tomatoes, sweet peppers, chillis and aubergines, all of which do well when they have a long growing season. This weekend I will be following that up with some okra and things such as parsnips and turnips. This year I'm really going to try my hand at successional sowing and companion planting to try and get the best out of our food crops.

(Sweet pepper seedlings)

The perpetual spinach and swiss chard stayed in leaf all through the winter and are now off to a flying start - I like eating the really soft baby leaves in salads.

(Overwintering leeks and kale with perpetual spinach)

I have already sorted through the seeds we have left over from last year, and divided the ones that are still viable into Sow Now, Sow A Bit Later and Sow Late categories. I have bought some of the seeds that we need to buy in new. My tips for buying seeds would be:
  1. Always buy seeds that are viable for at least two years after you buy them, so that you can use them again next year too.

  2. Always buy packets with limited numbers of seeds. There's no need to grow 500 carrots at once - it's better to grow too little than too much.

  3. Go with a list of all the sorts of veg you want to grow that year and can find space for.

  4. Research varieties etc. before you go, or refer to your own notes about which varieties work for you.

  5. Try and find alternatives for F1 varieties - yes, F1s are pretty reliable and heavy cropping, but the seed doesn't come true , so you won't be able to save the seed and grow the same thing from them next year. This year I'm trying a Heritage tomato variety - a Brandywine - to see if the old and endangered varieties are worth growing.

  6. Buy from reliable seed companies! I won't name names, but some companies are what I can only call bloody useless. Or check out places such as Lidl for seeds at really low prices - if they don't work, you won't have spent very much at all.

  7. Try saving your own seed for next year and swapping with friends and neighbours, especially with annual flowers. F1 varieties don't come true, but could still produce some yummy veg - give it a go!

Our bees seem to be having a good start. All the hives survived the winter, and don't seem to have minded being moved to a new out-apiary either. This year we are planning a massive requeening programme - all our hives need requeening and we'd like to breed our own new queens from one of our older but friendly Hawaiian crosses. All the hives are bringing in pollen and judging from the number of stings I received this morning they're feeling pretty active!

This winter has seen us brewing away like mad. We've made all sorts of homebrew, from beer kits to sloe gin, blackberry and blackcurrant wine and cider from the apples we scrumped in the autumn. So far there haven't been any failures - even the haw wine, which started off smelling of bacon, has turned out to be very drinkable. We'll be carrying on into the spring, making wine from gorse and elderflowers, and also our jam store. We don't eat jam any more and so to avoid wasting the jams and jellies we've laid down over the years we are turning them into wine too. I'll see if I can get a recipe up here soon.

(Demijohns of deliciousness)
I have discovered two textiles techniques: the first is Indian braiding, or finger weaving, which allows you to make really colourful braids. I'm still pretty slow at this technique but have learned how to weave three different patterns. The picture below shows me wearing a thin chevron braid in simple pure wool DK knitting yarn that I finished recently.

(Double chevron pattern - work in progress)

I have also discovered a technique that supposedly outdates weaving! It is called sprang and you can find a fantastic website about it here, in English and Dutch. These people also have some brilliant demonstrative videos on Youtube under the name of Denblauwenswaen.

Pottery is coming along nicely - I can now make lids, throw off the hump and all sorts. Spinning is good too - I haven't done any for a while but in my last lesson I learned worsted spinning, which I really enjoyed. Even better though was using my teacher's Viking combs - seems like the perfect activity to do when you're really angry, as you really have to bully the fibres!

And lastly, I plan to open an etsy shop soon, selling little gifts made from my handmade felt and reclaimed fabrics. Watch this space!