Sunday 28 June 2009

Kitten Diary #7

Which I'm just going to hijack for a moment to thank everyone for the thoughtful and lovely comments on my Digression post. Rather than try to make a decent reply in the cramped confines of the comment box I'm going to mull it over for a bit and do another post in about a week, but I'm really touched and grateful for your responses.

crow in the long grass

It was kitten weighing day yesterday which task I managed to complete before I hit the bottle (hence the youtube links) and I'm pleased to report all the beasts put on a useful amount of weight. They're still growing, yay!

Rook: 4.531 kg
Crow: 3.960 kg
Raven: 3.324 kg

They're still catching stuff too, although thankfully and fingers crossed no more birds since the last diary. I was horrified to find one of them had caught a grass snake and left it on the floor in my office. It looked really gruesome, I took a picture but I don't want anyone to be ill so only click here if you've a strong stomach and a ghoulish nature. The worst is yet to come, gingerly I picked the poor dead thing up by the tip of its tail to dispose of it and it came back to life!

It didn't look too well though. I put it into the long grass by the pond and it wriggled away, I hope it found a hiding place to die in or recover (they are remarkably hardy and I've seen some with tremendous scars) where the cats couldn't bother it. It's not come back in at any rate.

raven the princess

Such terrible terrible creatures who are so soft and warm and cuddly when they're in bed with me you couldn't believe they could be such callous killers.

They all have their preferred places to sleep on the bed. Crow likes to curl up near my head, ideally with his head or paws on my hands. Rook prefers to get into the bed and rest his head on my shoulder, often putting his paws around my neck. Raven rarely gets into the bed but sits on my chest, often flopping down so trustfully that she would roll right off again if I didn't catch her. They match this behaviour at my desk, Crow sleeps on the keyboard, Raven snuggles cosily on my lap and Rook tries to burrow his way into my neck and cleavage until he feels completely safe. Funny little things.

and another one

Saturday 27 June 2009

Jake Summers

It must be the hot weather...

Friday 26 June 2009


Houseleek flowers

pretty in pink
First pods from the broad beans

A patch of purslane to be planted out

The first of the garlic harvest

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Excuse me a moment while I digress


This blog is all about the growing, mostly, and although I have a place to emote into, that's never going to see the general public. Nor do I have any publishable political views, secret lives to document or amusing anecdotes about the celebrities that I regularly rub shoulders with. What I present to the world is pretty much so many chocolate box pictures with as little hard science as I feel I can get away with.

But, just recently I've been party to events elsewhere that have led me into musings about the parts of me this blog never reaches, except passive aggressively obliquely, I'd love to tell you but I'd have to kill you sort of stuff. Cringeworthy indulgent things that I can barely bring myself to tell my (non-existent) therapist let alone a largely disinterested search engine generated audience.

Anyway, on this occasion I've decided to cut loose just a little. I've always wanted to be a writer.

There, I've said it and I don't suppose for a minute anyone is a bit surprised. This is a textual medium after all. I am writing. I'm not knocking it but this isn't great literature and every one wants to be a greatly respected author, no?

It's just that for the last 30 years or so I've been blocked. Uh huh. Yeah, right. Someone somewhere made a quote along the lines of that's not block, it's lack of talent and you should get over yourself (I have a great memory but not for details) but I'm a reader too, and let me tell you, there are respected writers out there who are crap. Where they and I differ is not in the talent but in the application. So am I lazy? You betcha, and yet I don't think it's that even that stops me writing but a finely honed appreciation of the pointlessness of it all. That's what I need to get over.

However, on to the events that led me here. I'm subscribed to something over 200 blogs and amongst them is the rather compelling BĂȘte de Jour which is the story of the sort of man I adore, insecure, intelligent and lonely, believing themselves to be fat and ugly. You just want to gather him up and give him a good hug.

He's written a book based on his blog, you can read about here or here or just go to the blog for a flavour of what's inside. And I've read it, and found myself tutting like a grumpy old school teacher. Because it's not great writing, or an original story or even terribly clever or coherent. On the other hand, it is eminently readable and accessible. It deserves to be, and probably will be, successful and Stan the author will be in the difficult situation of thinking up a second novel. Which will be passing hard, because the sort of chatty conversational style that works for a first book does not translate to 'proper' writing and the gimmick has now exhausted itself.

So much for the literary criticism. It's a good read, buy it.

There's another issue that's emerged from all this though, and that is more to do with blogging than novelising. It's this, how truthful does one need to be on a blog? Is it fiction or is it a diary? Although I've had my doubts about the depictions of some of La BĂȘte's exploits I have in my innocence accepted them as based on real events and his commentary as that of a real person. Which is perhaps naive but that's how I write my blog, because on my blog I'm not being a writer (or I'd never put finger to keyboard) I'm only being me. Should blogs come with a health warning or are they actually works of art? Are they tools for connectivity or a publishing medium? Should I have been more suspicious of total anonymity instead of dismissing it as a reasonable precaution? And these are the thoughts that are going to fill my day.

I now return you to your normal programming.

startled raven

Monday 22 June 2009

Lets talk about ... the weather


The longest day has been and gone. It's a terrifying thought, now we start the long slide back into winter and I've not even finished the planting yet. Still, the summer is most definitely here now and we've been enjoying day after day of warmth, mostly with wonderful sunshine.

Pity this means it's beginning to become necessary to water.

Today I planted out the last of the tomatoes. I hope it's in time. The early planting of Latah has been most disappointing. The plants have flowered but failed to fertilise and the spent blooms are just dropping off instead of making fruit. I can't see any obvious reason for it. The ground is moist and weedfree and the plants sturdy and well grown. Tomatoes don't usually need insects to pollinate them but even if they did, there have been plenty of bees on the adjacent broad beans. The Latah are still making flowers and will hopefully finally produce a crop but they're not going to be any quicker than the Salt Spring Sunrise that I planted out today, so they're not going to make the cut into my favourite essentials no matter how good the flavour is.

Normandy Whangaparoa Crown Prince

All the pumpkins were in by last week, still a bit late in my opinion but that shouldn't stop them cropping. Only five of about 15 Whangaparoa Crown germinated in the end but that will be enough to start selecting for a Normandy adapted strain that I can maintain. So far the plants are growing sturdily and are just starting to show signs of flower formation.

Moschata Muscade

Pumpkin Moschata Muscade is widely available but I think the two plants I have here will produce seed that can be saved without losing too much genetic variability. By restricting my choice of cucurbits to one example from each of the groups maxima, moschata and pepo I can allow insect pollination and increase the chances of retaining the variety's intrinsic diversity because all seeds will be potential new plants, not just the seed from one or two hand pollinated fruit.

Pepo Trieste White Cousa

The courgette, Trieste White Cousa, probably isn't going to be worth saving seed from. There are two other plants beside this one but they are still pot bound, waiting for a patch of ground to get their feet into and may be stunted as a result. A pity, I like the white courges best of all but should be able to start again with more seed from Realseeds.

The potatoes are doing pretty well. One benefit of hot dry weather is that the chances of blight are much reduced because of the low humidity. Even so, I have sprayed a couple of times with mixture bordelaise and will probably do so again at the end of the week, just before a change in the weather is predicted. If you are worried about blight in the UK then this site, Fight against Blight 2009 will be helpful in identifying where problems may be starting.

vitelotte noire poor growth

We do have some potato problems though. The Vitelotte Noire, started from supermarket tubers that had been treated to stop sprouting, have made a slow start and show signs of virus disease and physiological disorders. Compared to their neighbours in the picture above, Sarpo Mira on the right and Pink Fir Apple on the left they look very poorly indeed.

vitelotte noire foliage

If I was sensible I'd just have them out now and burn the lot but I'm going to keep them in the ground just a little bit longer and hope that I get a small crop. At some point in my life I'm really going to get to grips with micro-propagation and these would be prime candidates as a starting point.

vitelotte noire flower (with beetle)

Tuesday 16 June 2009



I noticed today that it's been five years since I was terminated in my last job because I'd become the scapegoat for an unpleasant and aggressive manager with his sights on the board. It's a long time to go without an income. Even now, not an experience that I'm able to look upon with any detachment, the bullying and abuse was something I was and am entirely unable to cope with. Still, that's not what this blog's about, it just came up because of something else and so I checked a calendar.

More importantly, this weekend sees a much happier anniversary, 12 years since Paul and I first got together. The elderflower champagne is fizzing and I'm hoping the sun will stay out so that we can celebrate in the warm glow of summer.

Just have to keep on moving forward.


Friday 12 June 2009

Kitten Diary #6

miss fluffy
Raven looking fluffy

It's been a while since we had a kitten diary. This is partly because I'm a bit cross with them. It's not their fault and we knew it would happen but they've learnt how to hunt.

crow looking up the pear tree
Crow watching his brother and sister up the tree

This is a farmyard and there are plenty of voles, mice and even some rats that find themselves labelled prey without much remorse, even from this vegan. If it wasn't our cats, it would be the ferals or even the owls and other birds of prey feeding on them. They breed fast and need to be controlled.

coming down
Not a great action shot of Rook coming down again.

Unfortunately it's also bird breeding season and our intrepid hunters have had, by my count, four unfortunate baby birds only one of which had a chance of survival when I managed to fight Crow away from it and settle it outside in a sheltered spot. The trouble is I'm sure it died of fright anyway.

Rook looking regal, you can see the underlying tabby markings on his coat here.

It's inconsistent to let them hunt rats but chastise them for catching birds. Still, that's the process in the hope they will settle down to hunting the vermin and leave our feathered friends alone. The worst sadness of all is to see them torment the swallows. They have raised a brood and seem to have a family of three healthy younsters but in a good year they might be expected to have a second clutch. I think they'll give it up as a bad job because of the harassment.

Crow, waiting for me to stop messing about in the garden.

Apart from that, and they're not up to murder and mayhem all the time, they are delightful, affectionate and loving little cats. It doesn't seem like they will make anything like as much as 5kg in weight, Raven seems to have settled at just over 3kg and the boys are growing still but very slowly, so they'll never be the huge cats I had hoped for when considering Norwegian Forest cats as a breed choice, but they are fit and strong and exceedingly good natured with humans.

The Princess gives a royal wave.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Housekeeping and a recipe for marmalade


The good weather went. It's been raining fairly consistently for 3 days or so now and is forecast for another couple of days drizzle, showers and storms before clearing up a bit for the weekend.

So yesterday not a lot got done. I was too miserable even to attempt any of the many indoor tasks on my list and spent most of the day slumped in front of the computer playing Bejewelled on facebook. Not at all productive, so best forgotten.

Today, I tackled a task I've been avoiding for 15 months and went to the dump. It was almost too late. One more bag full and I wouldn't have been able to get into the car with the rubbish. The man looked at me rather hard, but really the stuff I was throwing away was genuine rubbish unlike the man next to me who seemed to be disposing of a lot of unbroken plastic gardening pots (I nearly asked him for them) or the man in a van who was throwing away whole unopened reels of some sort of tape. It was just there was an awful lot of it after a year's collection.

Then I went to the shops as a reward, but there was little enough there to inspire me. Stocked up on dull stuff like bog roll and washing up liquid but did treat myself to some apricots.

This afternoon I bottled the elderflower syrup. It tastes rather good.

I used small plastic pressure bottles that had held tonic because I wanted to freeze them and have usable quantities that wouldn't go off before they were finished. In the recipe I used from Anne's Food she says her father makes marmalade with the elderflower infused lemons. It's a lovely idea but she doesn't include the recipe. This is what I did:

Pick the lemon slices out from the flowers and weigh them. You'll have about 500g if your lemons are the same size as mine. Anne says her dad chops them with a hand blender but you'll need a mighty powerful one. If you like a minced marmalade put the slices through a mincer or food processor or chop by hand. If you're lazy, do nothing and have chunky marmalade.

Put the lemons, chopped or sliced into a big saucepan, I used the pan I'd infused the syrup in to save washing up, and squeeze the flowers over them to get the last drops of elderflower syrup out.

Add 300ml of water and bring to a simmer for a few minutes. Add 500g of white sugar (for the best colour). I was using up ends of bags and found some sugar with pectin added so I used that along with some ordinary granulated but all granulated is fine.

Stir to dissolve completely and then bring to a good boil. Keep the pan boiling fast until you get a set. The usual test is to put a little on a cold plate and see if it forms wrinkles when you push it gently with your finger. Because I had the pectin sugar this only took five minutes but if you don't have that it will be about 10 minutes.

Pot into clean hot jars and cover immediately. Makes about 3 x 400g jars full.

lemon elderflower marmalade

Saturday 6 June 2009

First Potatoes and Elderflowers

the first of the season new potatoes
Epicure - first early, planted 22/04/09, first harvest 06/06/09

These Epicure went into the ground nearly two weeks later than the Swift that were our first earlies last year but the first harvest is only a week later. I don't think that the Epicure are a week quicker to mature, just that the weather has been so much better this year.

The long hot and dry spell has ended today. I spent a final few hours quickly trying to plant out the second sowing of beans, which have only just germinated in pots, the climbing cucumbers and the Madeira Vine, which is going to share a wigwam with the cukes. There was nearly 100% germination of the beans in pots which indicates there was nothing wrong with the seed, it must have been some awful disaster, a touch of frost in the night or mouse attack that caught the first sowing out and made for such a poor show. Fingers crossed nothing dreadful happens to this batch. I couldn't face trying to start them again.

Also rushed into production because of the forecast for heavy rain; the elderflower syrup. I see Niles has posted his recipe which I think is based on the Sophie Grigson one from the Beeb. I prefer this version from Anne's Food. Elderflower syrup is intrinsically Swedish to me and because this recipe uses much less citric acid, I find it's a much more pleasant flavour.

I'm going to bottle the elderflower champagne later. It's not looking brilliant, but I'm hoping the fizz will come and I have to get it off the flowers now or it will start to go off.

elderflower syrup
The makings of syrup.

Monday 1 June 2009

A dreaded sunny day


It's being summer here. It most probably is too where ever you are, unless it's not, in which case I pity you. Who wants autumn when there's sunshine to bask in?

I'm kicking myself for not getting more planted out by the middle of last week before the weather changed, the ground is baking hard already and I'm already considering taking water to the vegetable plot to help newly transplanted sweetcorn and the few beans that have germinated.

Cross about the beans too, only half a dozen of over 100 beans actually came up although the conditions seemed to be fine when I planted them. I've had to replant in pots and hope that the delay won't be too serious. Biggest loss, the Bridgwater beans; my lucky dip from the Heritage seed library. I expected them to be fine and popped all ten seeds into the ground, not one survived. The Mayflower beans nearly suffered the same fate but I held back half a dozen of those and they are now in a pot where I hope they'll give me a second chance.

Anyway, in the cool of the morning tomorrow I'm planning to set out the pickling cucumbers, the quinoa and most of the pumpkins. The surprise late germination there were the butternuts so I've decided to create them a safe haven in the back garden patch on the grass clippings pile. This has the advantage of giving them warm feet which might lead to an earlier crop (or any crop at all) and separates them from the Moschata Muscade from which I was hoping to save seed this year without having to resort to special measures.

Also started today, the elderflower champagne. I'm hoping after last year's poor show it will work as beautifully this year as it did the first year I made it, and I'm fermenting two gallons in anticipation of it.

Pictured above: the scuplit, Silene inflata, which I'm still not convinced is a valuable alternative crop, but it is pretty and it took me seven years to learn to love Good King Henry so perhaps if I wait a bit longer I'll get the taste.