Spring planting

IMG_8200IMG_8201Spring is supposedly in the air but Scotland doesn’t seem to have noticed yet! This year for my vegetable growing I’ve tried to be infinitely sensible. Instead of starting seeds on the 1st January, when they have no hope of developing into beautiful healthy crops, I waited. Then I waited some more and some more and then the snow came…

It has been the most snow that Scotland has seen since 2008 and it keeps on coming. Everytime I think the weather is turning another flurry of snow or icy winds comes in from the East. It’s driving me crazy! It’s also making growing challenging.

This is the year that I am trying to be more organised in my growing. I’ve completed a garden plan so I know where all my crops are going. I just need the ability to clear the space. Currently my vegetable patch is a riot of roots, bulbs and far too much heather that is smothering everything. I need to dig it all out and then start warming my soil. This is where the weather is killing me, I can’t even see the ground for the snow. Even if I could it’s so frozen that it’s not worth trying to pull anything out. Now I know I should have put my garden to bed at the end of the last season. Unsurprisingly I didn’t, I just left it because I wasn’t organised at all last year so now I pay for my sins by trying to eek an hour here or there digging.

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I’ve also started my seeds much later. I sowed my first batch just over 2 weeks ago which should have been the perfect time. They however are also thwarting me. Only about 50% of the crops I’ve sown have sprouted. Some of the veg hasn’t done anything at all apart from mock me with its bare brown soil. I know that a lot of this is due to temperature. My poor chillis and aubergines want the tropical climates to get themselves up and going and all I’m giving them is a weak bit of cold sunlight and some artificial heat every few hours. It’s just not good enough for them.

I will not be defeated in my quest to have a glut of veg this summer though. I was up with the dawn again today to sow my second batch. I’ve currently planted basil, autumn sprouting broccoli, peas, aubergines, cucumbers, patty Pan squashes, onions, garlic and Rosso peppers. I’m also going to get my potatoes in bags and boxes before the end of the month I hope. I planted them all again today and I’m trying a couple of different things. I’ve tried planting them in smaller pots to start off, see if I can get some heat in them. I’m going to cover the tops of the pots with warming fluff to incubate them and put them further into the house where the heat lingers until the first leaves poke through. I’m also trying to cloche some of them off and watering with lukewarm water to get that soil going. I hope to report success in the next week or two and continue with my planting schedule. C’mon weather- give me a bit of a break please!!

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Forward February fantasies! (Hopefully realities)

IMG_7259For a new challenge in February (and onwards) I want to try and reduce my plastic usage. There are so many things that I didn’t even consider had plastic in them. I definitely haven’t made enough of an effort to reduce my usage in the past and I want to rectify it. I’m not currently looking to cut out all my plastics, my aim is to reduce just now with a long term view of eradicating most of them.

I did a post last year on making beeswrap, it has been really useful for carrying my sandwiches to work but I have also still been using clingfilm! I’ve just used less than I would have because of the beeswrap. I think that if I make some more and invest in some resin for this lot then I’ll be happier that I can keep all of my foods protected when in the fridge or my lunchbox.

I’ve been reading through some articles and I’m amazed at some items that have plastic in them. I’m also guilty of not even thinking about some of the plastics I use because they’re such a ‘norm’ in my life. For instance I never even considered the fact that my toothbrush is made of plastic! It seems ridiculous but it just never consciously entered my mind. I also tend to make things from scratch for meals so, again, I just didn’t think about the fact that my passata cartons are coated inside with plastic lining, my cherry tomatoes come in plastic tubs and of course bin bags are plastic as well…

Some of these things I think I can make changes on quickly and easily. For others it’s going to require more research and shopping around. I’ve decided that the things I’ll change just now for definite are:

– switching to loose leaf tea instead of tea bags
– Buy all condiments that I can in glass jars (including my passata etc) and then keeping the jars for future storage
– Make the change to non plastic handled toothbrushes
– Try and source shops where I can buy pulses etc in bulk and by taking my own containers
– Experimenting with different non plastic wraps to go on the freezer

The non plastic wraps for the freezer may be my biggest challenge. I use my freezer as my main way to store our food. We buy meat in bulk for husband and I portion and plastic bag or clingfilm it before putting it away. It means a lot of waste when I take it out as I won’t wash and reuse a bag that chickens been in. I’d be too scared of contamination! We are also looking to get our chest freezer up and running which will mean even more space where I can store goods. I want to get a handle on the plastic usage before that happens.

If anyone reading has ideas or ways they’ve reduced their plastic usage then I am all ears!

The other thing I definitely want to do in February is to start costing our meals per portion. I’m feeling a bit stagnant when it comes to our meal budget. It costs me ¬£30 per week to feed two of us for all meals and some light snacking! It has been at that level for a long time though. I also already use fillers like lentils (much to husbands dismay) to stretch our meals further. I watch a lot of the money saving programmes for families whose spending and waste is out of control. We don’t really ever waste anything if I’m honest with food so I’d like to do a per portions spend. I think it’ll give me a new lease of creativity and budgeting- well that’s the plan anyway ūüôā

I’ve done my first meal today which was a really warming curry. It’s vegan and made with squash and lentils, chickpeas, butterbeans, sweet potato and tomatoes so full of nice things. I’ve costed it out to 54p per portion. If anyone wants to know an actual recipe then you can let me know. Alternatively if you have any great and cheap recipes then please also let me know!

 

Beeswrap 

The phenomenon of beeswrap is one that I’ve only come across very recently. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to become a more ethical buyer and more environmental as well.I have a passion for marine mammals and this has led me to research more and see the damage that is done to them through our waste. I have noticed more and more the abundance of single use plastics and have started to cringe when I need to throwaway clingfilm.

Up until recently I, perhaps stupidly, didn’t realise there was a simple alternative. I heard about beeswrap and wanted to get my hands on some! As with most areas if you buy it pre made then it seems to be expensive but you can make your own for a reasonable cost. 

I’ve followed a very basic ‘recipe’ for my first attempt which is made just using beeswax and cloth. When I’ve looked into it further a lot of recipes seem to add pine resin and jojoba oil. From what I can discern this is to give added flexibility and anti-fungicidal. However plain beeswrap seems to work just as well but is perhaps slightly less long wearing.

I bought myself some fat quarters of cotton (mainly because I wanted pretty patterns) and had previously purchased beeswax. You are best to use pinking shears to cut the fabric as this stops it fraying. I couldn’t find mine so scissors it was! For my first lot I followed online and grated my beeswax. That does though take a long time and a lot of arm power. I made a second lot and for that I just cut the beeswax into small thin strips to lay it on. Just lay your fabric on a baking sheet, sprinkle with beeswax and put in a low heat oven. You wait a few minutes till the beeswax melts and then use a clean paintbrush to ensure the wax has coated the cotton evenly. Then just hand it up for another 5/10 minutes and voil√† you have beeswrap! 

I will continue to experiment as I am sure there is a more efficient way to wax my cloth. I’m trying to figure out the best way to just melt the beeswax and spread it on with the paintbrush. This would make it far easier to achieve a uniform coating and also to make larger sheets of the wrap. 

I have been using it successfully since making it though and want to make myself a bigger stockpile. If anyone has made it and can give me tips then I’m all ears!
K xx

Old skills, new skills, lost skills…

This year I’ve been dwelling on skills that I would like to have that I don’t. Now that encompasses a very wide array- from metal working to speaking another language- there’s loads of things I would like to be able to do. My problem is always just picking one thing. When I get in the mood to learn something new then I start trying to do it all! As you can imagine this very quickly descends into me learning nothing.

I’m also fairly terrible at teaching myself anything. I’m not one of these glorious people who can turn their hand to anything. In fact I’ve yet to find a single thing in my life that I have been able to quickly pick up. Anything I learn is hard won and normally encompasses endless hours of extra practice compared to anyone else and a book or five on the subject to understand the theory of what I’m doing. This means that when I’m trying to pick up something I have to try and find a teacher. For me a YouTube tutorial just won’t cut it, I need someone there to hold my hand.

Now that’s not to say that I’m stupid or that I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing. However in reality I like to be able to ask many many incessant questions and write notes (on paper as well, I don’t do well with typed notes) on the steps I should be taking. As well as being able to watch them do the thing first and then copy it.

This is in complete contrast to the wonderful husband. I have never met someone more hands on and practically minded than he is. Also he is one of these blessedly annoying people who picks everything up quickly and makes it look damn easy doing it! In fact this idea of him is so ingrained in me that I now find it difficult to believe if I ask him to do something practical and he tells me he can’t. (On occasion I do think this is just because he doesn’t want to do what I’m asking…). This is a man who taught himself to wire our house, plumb in our bathroom and heating system, has built garages and kit cars and many other jobs mainly¬†by watching a couple of videos on it and then getting started. It’s a skill I envy and admire and one that I definitely do not have!

I’ve also found that the older I get the more I feel I should have a certain skill level. I can do the basics of life: cook, clean, washing etc but I want to be able to do more.

Based on all that, I wanted to pick a skill for this year to get to grips with. To me, out of my long list, the most useful skill I could acquire was how to use a sewing machine. This is a totally foreign area to me. I was ill for most of my childhood so I didn’t do home economics classes and have never been near a sewing machine in my house either. I do however love the idea of being able to make and alter things. The opportunity to take it up seemed like a good choice when I saw a Singer machine on offer in the local supermarket. So I bought it and went from there.

Now for the teaching part. As I said I can’t teach myself so I needed to rope someone in to teach me the basics. That’s where my mother in law comes in. I’m extremely lucky and I get along really well with my MIL. I’m also lucky that she has all the skills of a perfect 1950’s housewife and is willing to pass them onto me! So we’ve currently started lessons- just basic using my machine, threading it, different stitches, adjusting tension etc. I was duped by her into making a cushion cover as well. (This was stressful as it’s to go in her room, I thought I was working on a practice one with spare material, it turned out that it was the good one- not impressed!). It’s now time for me to try and make an actual legitimate item from start to end though…

Yesterday was a day of shopping. For the first time I bought a pattern and fabric- yay. This was a myriad of complications though that I didn’t know about. For a start I didn’t realise that you look through a pattern book and then take a number up to the counter to actually get the pattern. I had assumed that you would just have all the patterns hanging on a wall and pick from there. That’s not the case I see! Then there’s all the numbers on the pattern- I still don’t know what they mean. Due to my MIL knowledge we seem to have come away with the right pattern but who knows?! I also got far too overexcited in the fabric shop. I’m just making a basic pair of jogging bottoms but that involves boring coloured, plain jersey fabric. Whereas what I actually want to make clothes out off is all the material with tiny pirates, fabric that is super soft and looks like dragon scales or is off a completely lurid pattern involving giant flowers or little stars… ¬†I got dark grey jersey material though as is appropriate for the moment! So now I just have to get on and make it. I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going once I get started.

When I was looking at skills though it did make me think a lot about the potential for skills to be lost. I don’t know many people my age who can use a sewing machine, knit, make jam, make home remedies, grow their own food or re-purpose and re-use what they own. It could be that I just don’t know the right subset of people for this but I do have a broad range of friends. To them I am viewed as a practical person and someone who can do a lot and has a lot of ‘old’ housewife-esque skills. This is blatantly untrue but it’s because they buy everything and would never consider making their own. It makes me even more determined to master what skills I start, I want to help carry these on for new generations. Hopefully that’ll give me enough incentive to learn new things each year.

Are there any skills that are in danger of dying that you know? I’d love to hear about them.

Kimmy x

Sewing Machine

Sourdough and mushrooms update…

Its been a while since I posted, just a lot of things going on at once! That doesn’t mean we haven’t been working on our projects though.

First up our sourdough… Our wholemeal starter has taken off nicely, it has that recognisable sour smell and is very bubbly when we feed it. We also used a bit of this starter to make a white flour sourdough as it is usually all white bread we eat. 

Now these are photos from this morning when I fed them. (Top photo wholemeal and bottom photo white flour). You would think from looking at them that the white is the better off the two, or I would anyway, but that’s not the case. No matter how I adjust the feeding our white one always seems on the edge of too watery  and doesn’t give our bread the rise we want. It also doesn’t make nearly as tasty a loaf in my opinion. 

The wholemeal on the other hand seems to be getting better as the weeks go on. Its given us tasty bread but only when mixed with white flour for baking. I am currently sitting waiting to put a full wholemeal loaf in my oven but as it has barely risen, I’m not expecting great things!

Here’s how our loaves have differed from the first attempt to the most recent.

Our first attempts. We followed an online recipe meant to give you two free form cobs. Mine is the top loaf which I think looks like some sort off weak clawed wolverine has attacked it after sitting on it..  Lovely husband’s is the bottom and he clearly has a much better slashing method than me! (Should I be worried?! Lol). Both were incredibly tasty but almost as flat as a pancake. You also needed more upper arm strength than I possess to saw through the crust which felt like it was made from brick. I managed to saw my fingers as my loaf went flying over the kitchen worktop, no bread tastes better with added blood… Minor injury only though, I still thankfully have all my digits.

Week two could have been our piece de resistance if only we’d known a few things. As you can see we abandoned the idea of free forming our bread. That’s a level of creativity that we’re just not ready for clearly! Instead we used the same recipe but whacked the full mixture into a loaf tin. Now this had the advantage of stopping the loaf being a pancake but it did mean I just had to guess as to the baking time- problem one. Husband (having been designated official bread slasher) performed his job admirably as you can see and gave the bread room to rise. That’s when I encountered problem two- my oven shelf was too high. Our poor loaf was doing as asked and rising up magnificently only to be stunted as it hit the top of my oven. I had to take it out ten minutes earlier than I wanted too as it was starting to burn from contact with the hot metal. This meant that the middle wasn’t as cooked as it should have been. It was a hundred times better than the previous week though.

Then our first loaf using the white flour starter. It just didn’t rise as much as it should have, there was also a big gap in the side where it decided to split in the oven. It was alright but in both looks and flavour I found it a bit lacking.

Finally today’s loaf-  I don’t know how that is going to turn out yet so will keep you apprised of the situation! Overall im currently counting our starters as a success but our bread making skills a work in progress.

Then we have our mushroom kits. We bought three of them and all three have produced some mushrooms for us. I’ve been amazed at how quickly they go from little pinheads to full blown mushies. One night they completely exploded up!

After the initial harvest though most of the growing seems to have stopped. We’ve also found that our mushrooms are only growing at the uncovered edges of the kit and not all over even though the mycellium is everywhere. I’m currently looking for methods to transfer the spores to a more sustainable habitat and hopefully get them growing again. There’s a glut of information online but I’m struggling to wade through all of it to see what’s best.. All advice as always is welcome!
Kimmy x

Sourdough and Mushrooms!

Its been an exciting week – our seeds have arrived for this seasons growing!! I am also off work this weekend so will have time to plan out where we’re going to plant everything. I want to start most of our seedlings at the start of February. The other new thing we’ve begun this week is our first ever sourdough starter.

This is definitely a year of firsts for us and trying new things in terms of growing and self sufficiency. I’m sure most other people have tried a starter at some point in their life but we hadn’t. This naturally means that I’m like a new proud parent and have been taking photos of it each day! 

Day 1- we started with a wholemeal flour and if it works I’d like to keep a wholemeal and all purpose flour starter going. 

Day 4- this is what it looks like today! I haven’t ever been so pleased to see bubbles in my life. The mixture is bubbling away nicely and has taken on that tangy scent since last night. 

I wasn’t confident that our starter would actually take off so I haven’t spent much time looking into what to do with it.. Until today. I have so far seen recipes for crisps, Pitta’s, waffles and pancakes. I want to try a foolproof recipe first though so will probably just start with a bread.

The other thing we received this week was our mushroom growing kits. We go through a ton of mushrooms in a year. I rarely cook a meal without them. They do however seem to be a bit fickle to grow. So for this first attempt we ordered some mushroom kits. They arrived on Friday and are currently progressing nicely through the first stages. Tomorrow should see the next step for growing them as we’ll cover the spores.

I’m excited to see if these will work however, unless they give an amazing harvest, it wouldn’t be financially worth it to grow them from scratch this way. Does anyone else grow mushrooms? Or have any tips for foraging them? I would love to be able to forage for mushrooms but I am terrified I will poison us! I’ve read a lot of articles and books on it but I still get worried when it comes to going out and getting them. This will maybe be the year to try it.

Anyway that’s what the adventures that the Arnolds have had this week =) its just going to keep getting busier we hope! X

My 5 things- trying to minimise!

This year husband has set me a challenge- to choose five things per day that I can give away or get rid off. Both of us have hoarding tendencies so its one of the hardest things he could ask me to do. Its also one of the best! I’ve agreed on the proviso that he do it as well.

We had a bit of a false start with him trying to convince me that a half empty water bottle counted as one of his five… There was also the simple fact of starting, its one thing to say you’ll do it and another thing to actually do it. 

It’s a simple fact for me that, much like a child, my possessions have never looked so appealing as when I’m contemplating giving them away. I have items that have been in a box since we moved into our house three years ago. When I take them out though all of a sudden they’re the most interesting thing I own. This means I’m spending a lot of time putting things in the charity box just to take them back out again. 

I’ve started asking myself these three questions: 

1- Have I used it recently?

2- Do I need it?

3- Would I want to pack it and take it to our homestead? (when we get it!)

Its the last one that’s the real driving force. I need to get away from being materialistic. All that will happen if I keep it up is we’ll spend our money on things and never pay off the debt. So I figure if I get better at giving my possessions away then I won’t want to replace them. 

Here’s a selection of what I’ve picked out so far. I’m currently part of a bartering group so for a lot of the stuff I’ve put it on there to see if anyone else can make use of it. In return I’m asking for goodies for my store cupboard- beans, tomatoes, puree etc. Its marginally easier for me to give things away if I can see they’re going somewhere they’re appreciated and useful! 

The hardest thing for me to even attempt to give away is books. I love books. I also own quite a few of them. Some I haven’t even read but I can’t bring myself to give them away. I would adore having my own library and want to include a reading nook/room when we get round to building . A lot of the books I now own are digital which has helped but you can’t beat having a real book in your hands. The books in the picture above are the only ones I’ve been able to give away so far.

As the days go on its getting both harder and easier to do. Its therapeutic once you start to give things away. I have found myself looking in drawers and cupboards that have been untouched for other items I can put in my pile. Its getting harder though because obviously the longer we go on, the more attached I am to the possessions I’m looking at. I gave up all the ‘easy’ things in the first few days so now I am onto the ‘what can I live without’. A very different question to what I actually need to live…

I think I’ve made a good start but my pace is slowing, I’ve exhausted nooks and crannies and I have to start giving up items I want!

Any tips on not being such a hoarder?! How did downsizing go for everyone else?