A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…

The last of the sweet peas (Aug 20)

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Harvesting honey (Aug 18)

The end of the summer means the end of the honey flow.   So last week we took the first honeycomb from the hives.   When I say ‘we’ I do mean we, as this time I borrowed Ed’s spare bee-suit jacket and hat.  Intrigue took over.   I was charged with stacking the frames which meant I could keep some distance but in the event I felt quite protected.   I did suffer a psychosomatic attack of itchiness though – just enough to keep me on red alert…

We removed all the honeycomb from the stacks at the top – 10 frames in all – and reduced down the size of each hive. Only a third of the cells on our frames are ‘capped’ or sealed over with bees wax.  Each capped cell it’s own miniature, hexagonal pot of perfect honey with it’s own lid.   Ed’s a bit disappointed about the capped to non-capped ratio – and as our  ‘bee-catcher’ sadly didn’t attract another swarm (see our First Hive – May 11) this is all our honey for this year.

To get the honey out the caps are sliced off and the comb goes into a spinning machine.  At this time of year Neil the bee-man has a honey extractor in his (apparently very sticky) kitchen.   Today is extraction day – and Ed’s returned with a bucketful of honey that we’ve just transferred into small jars…

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There are 33 jars in all which is much more than we expected so we’re delighted.  It has a very delicate, floral flavour which could be partly lime flowers, as the huge lime trees on our drive were buzzing this summer…

The bees will now hunker down for the winter and the colony will become much smaller.  They stop doing all the normal bee-type things so they live longer and the queen stops laying eggs. We’ve left enough honey inside the hive to feed them through till spring.

Ed thinks that we should be able to produce around three times as much honey next year, as the bees have now made all the honeycomb.  God knows what we’ll do with it all?   He’s already talking about farmer’s markets but I think we’ve got quite enough on our hands for now…


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This year’s veg; successes and failures… (Aug 16)

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After last year’s club root disaster (see Club foot! Aug 24, 2013 ) Ed bought resistant strains and this year brilliantly all the brassicas have come through.

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The onions were kept in pots too long before they were planted out so ours didn’t do well at all.  Luckily we are sharing everything and Mr C planted his out at the right time…

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We’ve had a glut of courgettes (we have 3 kinds) and tomatoes – they just keep on coming.   So I’ve been making batches of soup to freeze and tried my hand at ketchup as it uses up nearly a kilo of tomatoes per bottle (it turned out a bit runny for ketchup – I blame the sieve – so I’m calling it relish).

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We’ve discovered that runner beans and peas need to be picked at just the right time – otherwise the beans are stringy and the peas go powdery.

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We have curly kale and cavalo nero – the curly kale tastes a bit earthy but the cavalo nero is delicious.

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We also have house stores.  We pulled up all the beetroot which are now buried in a bucket of sand –  and all the carrots which are now buried in a box of compost.   All the potatoes – we have 2 kinds  – are sorted and in sacks for the winter.

We have more lettuces and parsley than we know what to do with.  The spinach is now coming through, as are the leeks – and the parsnips will be next.     It’s been a bumper year and now we know what grows really well the next skill to master is ‘succession’ – so we have year-round veg.

 

 


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Call the engineer! (Aug 15)

There’s a crack in the lintel of the fireplace in the old kitchen.   If you stand back far enough there’s also a slight bow.

It’s been like this for years but since we took the bricks out I’m a bit concerned it might be getting worse.   As we had a builder round today to look at some pointing on the east wall we got him to take a look.  He took unnervingly swift action (see below, you can see the crack above the left brick column) and suggested calling an engineer, which I did!

Whether the wall needs supporting or not the stone lintel still needs replacing, so excavation of the fire place is now on hold.   Next job is to find a stonemason who can source the right piece of stone for us and get it in – and until this is done the rest of the work is going to have to wait.  One step forward…

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Make-over heaven (Aug 12)

You’ve gotta love a mood board – and at last I’m starting.    One of the previous owners of the house was an architect and he rather fortunately ringed the the walls of the huge main office with large foam pin boards.  Given that we have 28 rooms, 8 different halls and several walk-in cupboards –  all of which need a make-over, these boards are going to prove very useful.   The house actually has 29 rooms but I’m not counting the wine cellar as Ed did this last year (see The most important room in the house Dec 10, 2013)

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I have of course become an avid user of pinterest so for a closer look at our plans go to…


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The tumble-down sheds (Aug 3)

We are putting my nephews to good use while they are here.  They’re working through a list of jobs with Ed that I’ve been compiling for some time.  There’s always a list.

Today it’s clearing out the tumble-down sheds behind the walled garden.  They’re full of junk; cages, bins, broken furniture, bits of old wood and metal.

The long term plan is to use them as potting sheds and garden storage but before we get that far, the back wall will need some attention – particularly above the corrugated roof (see the dark holes in the photos).    Like a lot of work here we just have to keep our fingers crossed that the hole/leak/crack doesn’t get too much worse before we get round to fixing it / can afford to do it…

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The sheds are already quite beautiful  – but in time we intend to add salvaged windows, doors and make-shift skylights;  a collection of different pieces that we’ll pick up whenever we can from local salvage yards.

For now though the boys are helping us to move things on and because they’re involved I can see that their connection to the place gets stronger with each visit.    They are becoming part of the shape of things here.   Slow progress I’m discovering has its own kind of rewards.