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…


Leave a comment

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…

IMG_2562

IMG_2567

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…


Leave a comment

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

IMG_2494      IMG_2496

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.

_MG_0234      IMG_2506

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…

_MG_9995      _MG_0228

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).

_MG_9901      IMG_2503

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.

IMG_2491      _MG_9997

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

_MG_9897      IMG_2641

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.

 

 


2 Comments

Uncovering the secrets of the walled garden (Jul 16)

When we first moved here just thinking about the amount of work that needed doing to the walled garden was overwhelming.  See – The Walled Garden (Easter Weekend – Mar 30, 2013).     The old vegetable patches hadn’t been tended for years, the green house was filthy and many of the glass planes broken, the orchard looked like it had never been pruned and that winter, before we arrived, the north wall had been seriously damaged in a storm.

Below – the back of the north wall. The repairs were meant to have been carried out by the previous owners…

IMG_0374

 Nearly all the garden was rough grass

IMG_9245

April – and Ed gets started on one of the 2 overgrown vegetable patches…

IMG_9243

The unloved orchard surrounded by mole hills

IMG_9242

Despite the daunting task ahead, we were smitten – and one step at a time, our secret garden is starting to bloom.   Ed has worked a year of magic on it and walking up the winding path to the garden door is now more exciting than ever as there’s such a treat in store…

IMG_1160

We now have 4 impressive plots of burgeoning green; fruit as well as vegetable patches.   This is our main veggie patch

IMG_2504

The green house has had a total make-over and is currently the happy home to 5 tomato vines

_MG_0127

At long last the north wall has been properly fixed with stone and lime mortar; a massive job that the previous owners eventually paid for…

_MG_0122

The moles hills have also gone, the apple trees have been fed and pruned, and the meadow patches are underway – and there’s so much more to come; hedges and paths, flower borders and a DIY summer house, restored railings and replacing a section of ancient tumble-down wall with old barn doors as gates (the search is on…).   It’s a vision of loveliness.   We are one year in and it’s already taking shape.


Leave a comment

Wildflower meadow patch update (Jul 5)

Hot off the plane from our holiday… I go straight up to the walled garden to check on the progress of our wildflower patch.    Visions of poppies and cornflowers dance in my head – but I’m sad to say  it’s not good news.

Something – mouse? rabbit? dog? –  has dug up nearly all of my lovingly planted seed beds.  Now just 3 out of the 18 perfectly formed little plots remain. Oh dear…

_MG_0150

“That’s gardening for you!” is Ed’s reaction which is wonderfully encouraging.

He’s suggesting that I plant some knapweed (thistle family) seedlings he’s been nurturing in the greenhouse instead – but right now I haven’t the heart.   I’m downing all tools while I reconsider my fledgling gardening career.