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I must admit that although I did have time to post last night after the stinky boyfriend went to bed, I instead curled up on the sofa with a very cuddly bunny to watch recorded episodes of the Great British Menu. Borage was unusually friendly last night, and even relaxed enough to rest his chin on my arm – he even had a little snooze and did lot of eye fluttering and paw twitching…I can only guess he was running through lush green meadows in his dreams. Funny bunny.
It was only two weeks ago when I posted my April garden update and yet the garden has changed so much since then – the photos were in fact taken at the beginning of the month, but still the changes are notable. The incredibly warm sunny weather we have experienced recently has probably has something to do with the growth spurt. I realise my last garden update was pretty dull, so I have taken lots of photos this time – I do enjoy documenting the changes that the garden goes through as things sprout, grow, fruit and eventually die back.
Those delicate little lettuce seedlings that I bought and carefully protected under improvised cloches are doing really well, with gorgeous glossy leaves. You might notice I’ve suffered two losses of the green batavia (one rotted early on, and the other snapped off, but left a couple of tiny leaves which seems to be recovering well if a little behind the others):
It is becoming very difficult to resist picking these luscious frilly leaves:
The first set of radishes are starting to plump up nicely into small rubies:
These are small cos lettuces that I have sown from seed:
And beautiful burgundy coloured red oakleaf lettuce:
This is one of my raised beds. I have planted to rows of peas, and in between them rows of different salads – some baby leaf, some whole lettuces.
The peas are doing so well and I can’t wait to shell my first pod and pop the first pea into my mouth:
I adore the way they curl their tendrils around the pea sticks and twine. You can almost watch them stretching out their delicate tendrils, and wrapping their fingers around whatever they can find.
I have sown two types of spring onion – ‘Guardsman’ for salads and ‘Paris Silverskin’ for pickling. Both rows are looking healthy:
The tiny carrot’s have unfurled their frothy green foliage :
The rows of oriental saladini and baby leaf salad are starting to form their individual leaves – some round, some spiky, some lush green, others deep purple:
Enough of salads and onto fruit. My strawberry and raspberry ‘jungle’ has transformed from just a month ago:
The wild strawberries are flowering and the raspberry’s have sent up lots of new suckers:
I will certainly be netting my blackcurrant bush this summer – last year the birds got most of the fruits:
In the ‘greenhouse’ the seeds that I have sown are coming along. There are sweetcorn seedlings:
Uchi Kuri squash:
And my first cucmber seedling has sprouted:
I will leave you with this lovely shot of Mr Blackbird sitting on ‘his’ spot as he does every evening as the sun sinks, singing his beautiful tune to us.
N says I can’t write a post tonight because I’m alllllllllllllways on my blog. So the garden update will have to wait (maybe I’ll come back later when he’s gone to bed). Sorry! Stinky boyfriends.
I’m not quite sure where to start following the sad demise of my robin babies. It feels a bit soulless to tell you about the fab chip butty sandwiches we made or the lovely birthday party we had on the weekend with a group of our best friends. So showing you some pictures of the little back yard at our previous house that we rented, which I transformed from a concrete square into a jungle of edible greenery, seems like a nice way to get back into the swing of things.
We rented a sweet little red brick terraced house for a year or so before we bought our first (and current) cottage together. It was a two-up-two-down with a small yard at the back, but south facing which was a real plus and created a warm, sheltered pocket in our yard that was perfect for growing.
I’m going to practice writing shorter posts (as I seem to go on rather a lot!) and just give you lots of pictures to look at. This is what we started with:
Looking back it’s not the bland concrete postage stamp I thought it was – but really everything green you can see we put in.
N built me three of these fantastic wooden troughs, which look so shiny and new – they are much more worn and aged looking now!
I started to slowly fill in the space with pots, buckets and baskets brimming with plants. One of the first things I planted in the garden was a honeysuckle that I wanted to grow up and over the shed – you can see that it did quite well and reached the top by the time we left. N also built another larger, squarer trough that I used for growing peas and herbs:
That summer I went mad with growing – peas, tomatoes, radishes, herbs, and many many more. I also came to love spiders…at least in the context of them living in my garden…when I found this tiny miracle of nature strung between the honeysuckle:
We enjoyed our first homegrown salads (those tiny purple and yellow heartsease are some of my finishing touches on a homegrown salad):
I started my love affair with growing cucumbers. We had trays of tiny cucumber seedlings on our bedroom windowsill, which later developed into these beauties:
A colander full of homegrown spring onions, peas, pea shoots and parsley:
This was a very special meal and I won’t forget it. Everything you can see, apart from the flaked fish, was grown by my fair hands (and a helping hand from mother nature of course) – potatoes, pea shoots, spring onions, herbs, and nasturtium petals:
This final photo is taken just before we left our little rented house to move into our current house, and this was the jungle I was talking about. Everything just seemed to go bonkers (it was a very wet summer) and grow like mad. It was so delightful to sit out here in the summer, surrounded by my own jungle, with the bees and butterflies buzzing about:
Moving our garden to our new house was the trickiest part of our move, and we got some funny looks from passers by with our troughs of tomatoes that sat on our front drive for a couple of weeks. You would think that moving to a house with a bigger garden would be great, but to be honest I have felt a bit intimated by my larger garden – the little yard was so easy to fill, so easy to overflow with lush green plants and colourful blooms.
Some may think that I went a little OTT and that the yard actually looked better a little less cluttered, but I loved my little jungle.
Yesterday morning I sat at home drafting a post to tell you all about the lovely robin family that had chosen my garden as the place to bring up their brood. Friday was spent in the garden watching them busily collecting bugs and grubs for their babies that were only a couple of days old at the most. Yesterday at about five o’clock I went to the end of the garden to take a quick peek, but nothing prepared me for what I found.
The beautifully formed mossy nest had been turfed out of its flowerpot home, leaves and twigs scattered all over the pile of flowerpots on which they had built their nest. And no baby robins. My heart sunk, I felt as if my insides had dropped into my feet.
My best guess is that the fat horrid smelly stupid nasty mean black-and-white cat that we see in our garden occasional filled his belly Friday night on my precious nest of baby robins. Five tiny little bundles of black fluff that Mr and Mrs Robin had spent days if not months nurturing – collecting nest materials, hatching their five dinky sky blue eggs, diligently keeping them warm until they hatched, and in the past few days madly finding juicy insects on which to feed their young.
I had a good sob on the phone to my mom, who listened and consoled me. I am utterly gutted. The garden is so quiet today without the robins beavering about. I have stood and watched Mr Robin sing his jolly tune in the tree and wonder how he can sound so happy, to think that they will start all over again looking for a nest site, building their nest, and hatching another brood.
Below you can find the happy post I wrote yesterday morning about the month leading up to this sad day. I was so excited and honoured to have the robins choose our garden to bring up their family, and to think that they’ve all been taken in such a horrid way is really saddening. But as my mom solemnly reminded me, it’s nature, and that there’s not a lot we can do. I will be putting up some bird boxes in our garden to provide future robin families with a more secure and safe location for a home should they wish to nest in our garden another year.
If anyone has suggestions for cat-proofing a garden, or putting them off from coming into your garden I would be very grateful to hear from you.
The original post:
the saga of Mr and Mrs Robin
Over the last month we have been on tenterhooks. A lovely pair of robins have decided that our garden is a suitable place to bring up their brood. Which is fantastic.
Just under a month ago, we discovered the nest that they had been busy building. At the end of our garden is our shed, and because there is a cherry tree in the way, it’s not pushed right back up against the fence, so there’s a space where we store ‘stuff’ – the compost bin, bamboo canes, and plant pots. It is these plant pots that the robins picked as a nest location. One day, when all the birds were busy at the end of March gathering beakfuls of garden rubbish to build their nests with, I spent ages watching the two robins who were filling their beaks and then diving behind the shed. On further investigation I discovered this:
The robins had created the most delightful nest in and on a pile of flowerpots. This tiny little nest has caused us quite a bit of strife over the past month.
Firstly we were concerned of it’s location: a potentially unstable pile of flowerpots, at cat level etc. Then we discovered it full of tiny pale blue eggs. But then we didn’t see Mr or Mrs Robin for ages, and thought they’d abandoned their tiny brood of eggs. My mom is a bit of a bird boff, so she has been regularly called for advice. She told us that Mrs Robin wouldn’t sit on the nest until there was five eggs. N checked and there were five eggs. A couple of days passed and still no sign of the robins. We resigned ourselves to the fact the robins had probably seen sense and realised it wasn’t a safe place to bring up babies. Plus the fact that we’d seen the neighbours fat black and white cat at the end of the garden one night.
I was doing some gardening and went round the back of the shed to get some bamboo canes when I saw these tiny black beady eyes staring out at me. Slowly I retreated down the garden – Mrs Robin was sat on her eggs!
The weeks have passed and a couple of days ago both robins have been sighted frequently in the garden with their beaks full – full of grubs and juicy worms. At the sight of this, I have had a brief peak behind the shed to see a tiny black head and little yellow line of a beak. Mr and Mrs Robin are now proud parents!
Yesterday I did quite a bit in the garden, and every so often I would look up and see Mr or Mrs Robin sat on the fence, looking at me as if to say, “Well go on then, go away.” So I would stop what I was doing, get up, and walk back towards the house. By the time I reached the patio, I glanced over my should and they would dive behind the shed and reappear a minute later, beak empty.
Obviously, it’s still quite a nerve-racking time, with those tiny helpless little baby robins in their flowerpot nest, and the thought of the fat cat about. However, they are incredibly quiet and Mr and Mrs Robin are feeding them up well, so hopefully they will be ready to fledge in no time at all. I shall continue to do my bit and shriek and clap at the fat cat whenever it is seen nearby.
The final day of my little sister’s visit was spent in Manchester, visiting the Manchester Craft and Design Centre and naturally some more shopping. But before we left home, we made some homemade chocolate croissants. We’d all been watching Nigella Express earlier in the week and she’d made these simple looking pastries which we all fancied having a go at.
You very simply take some readymade puff pastry, roll it out (or buy ready rolled if you’re Nigella), cut it into squares, then each square is cut in half across the diagonal to form triangles. You take a chunk of chocolate – we made some using 70% cocoa (my favourite) and some with milk chocolate (little sister’s choice) – place it on the longest side of the triangle, and carefully roll it up. Once you’ve finished rolling you bend the long leggy bits round to form something like this:
Nigella’s naturally looked a lot more attractive than ours, and she made rolling them up look easy-peasy, which I didn’t think they were… You then glaze each croissant with a beaten egg and bung in the oven at about 180°C for 10-15 minutes or until they’re golden. This is what they looked like:
I can’t say I thought they tasted as good as I was hoping. A lot of pastry and not much else. We found the milk chocolate didn’t melt that well, and the 70% cocoa was too bitter. I think if we tried them again I would use a plain chocolate around 50% cocoa, and after glazing them with egg perhaps sprinkle some caster sugar over them before baking to give the pastry a hint of sweetness.
So after filling up on chocolate croissants, the little sister and I headed into Manchester. First stop was Chinatown in search of beautiful Japanese paper – the little sister had seen some in HobbyCraft but it seemed overpriced even if it was incredibly lovely. We did find some and I look forward to finding out what the little sister does with it. Next we headed into Piccadilly Gardens to the Saturday Fashion Market – we passed Canal Street on the way which looked stunning with the cherry blossom out:
Our final stop of the day, before the little sister’s train home, was the Manchester Craft and Design Centre which is situated in the Northern Quarter. The Northern Quarter is full of quirky design features, and with the sun out and air warm felt like we’d been transported briefly to a European city. The little sister took some snaps:
We found a gorgeous little flower shop called Northern Flower, which will be added to my other hobby – an online directory for natural, eco-friendly weddings The Natural Wedding Company – as they use a lot of seasonal English flowers.
The little sister and I really enjoyed our browse around the different studios in the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. From photography, to textiles, jewellery and painted tiles, there is some really beautifully handmade creations being produced and sold here. I would highly recommend a visit to anyone interested in craft, design or all things handmade. We had lunch in their cafe – Cafe Aromat – which was delicious. We both had leek and potato soup, the little sister had a brie, tomato and pesto pannini and I had a mackerel, cucumber and lemon mayo sandwich:
On their counter top were a tray of enticingly soft, unctuous looking muffins. We were eyeing them up all through out lunch, and decided that we would share one – on looking back we should have pigged out and had one each they were so good. I let the little sister pick (I wanted the plain muffin covered in Smarties) and she chose us a Snickers Muffin. I would have never picked this muffin, and was quite sure that I would probably end up letting her eat most of it as I didn’t think I’d like it. How wrong I was…
This chocolate muffin was filled with a scoop of smooth peanut butter, smeared with a toffee sauce, and topped with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. It was divine. To die for. Definitely worth going back for. The little sister said it was the best muffin she had probably ever had. I might even have to agree.
As you can see, it didn’t take us long to finish…
And that was the end of the little sister’s visit. We wandered over to the train station, popped her on her train, and waved goodbye. I really miss her, and hope she’ll come back to stay soon.
Who would have ever guessed that a blog about eating locally would have involved a post about the Trafford Centre. I am, however, only human, and I have a weakness for spoiling my little sister. For a fifteen-year-old girl, especially one from the middle of rural Gloucestershire, there can be nothing better than a trip to the Trafford Centre when visiting ones big sister.
I am not really prepared for a visit to the Trafford Centre, I find it rather crowded and overwhelming, and far too stifling. We had to refresh after a couple of hours and rehydrate with a quite good smoothie.
After a looooooooooong day, a couple of bags and quite a number of hours later the shopping part was over. N finished work and met us for dinner, which was at the request of the little sister – Tampopo. She revealed she had already read their menu online a number of times, and knew exactly what she wanted.
We shared some starters – Tempura Vegetables with plum sauce, and Goi Cuon (delicate spring rolls – not the deep fried version – filled with rice noodles and vegetables) with a soy and ginger dipping sauce. My favourite of the tempura vegetables were the green beans, but as N pointed out that’s probably because they were mostly batter :0) The Goi Cuon were so fresh and scrumptious, and by complete chance I have a book out from the library on street food which has a recipe for them – one to try soon I hope!
For mains N had Singapore Noodles – curry sauce with chicken and prawns.
The little sister chose a vegan Japanese noodle dish – Yaki Udon – with red peppers.
And I went for Chap Chai, which is Korean rice noodles with cucumber and shitake mushrooms. De-lish!
So, although this isn’t the homemade, seasonal, locally distinct food that I normally like to cook and eat, it was a fun night out and made the little sister very happy.
It’s about time to write about the lovely time I had last week when my little sister came to visit. The time went too quickly and we really needed another day or so…but homework beckoned so she had to leave.
Firstly, I must tell you that my little sister knows exactly what she wants (probably I do too), but in this case I am talking about food. Her food requests went something like this…homemade hummous, sushi, fried halloumi sandwiches, baked Camembert, and most of the menu from Tampopo.
So after picking her up from the train station on Wednesday, we headed straight for my favourite food shopping haunt – Chorlton. We found all the necessary ingredients to fulfill the little sister’s wishes, before heading to Out of the Blue (Wilbraham Road, Chorlton), an utterly fantastic fish mongers. They also have their own sushi chef, who can be seen most days in the store window busily creating the days sushi. The little sister chose the veggie rolls and I opted for the mixed rolls. The veggie rolls are small delicate mouthfuls, that include fillings such as cucumber, daikon, carrot, avocado, and red pepper – probably not authentic, but total heaven to a vegetarian country girl. Mine were pretty much the same, but included tuna and salmon.
Thursday lunchtime after a morning pouring over beautiful Etsy websites, we made some homemade hummous, defrosted some root vegetable soup and toasted some pittas.
For my hummous, I use a can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed), a clove of garlic (roughly chopped), a teaspoon or two of cumin powder (more or less to your taste), a pinch of crushed dried chillies, a generous squeeze of lemon juice (if your hummous doesn’t taste amazing, add more lemon juice), and a good slug of olive oil (add enough to create a smooth paste). I blitz all the ingredients together, and season with salt and pepper.
Apologies for not giving specific ingredient amounts, but I really feel that my taste in hummous might not be yours, so just adjust the flavourings until you get it how you like it.
Check back this week for more food adventure with the little sister, including a Snickers (!) muffin and homemade chocolate croissants.
This weekend has been a scorcher. It is wonderful to be able to tell you that I’m writing this post in my garden, with the blackbird at his post singing his evening song, the hoverflies buzzing around my head, the smell of barbecuing meat wafting over the neighbouring fences, and two lazy bunnies reclining in the sun.
After spending the morning with N digging over my soon-to-be herb bed and giving it a good feed of bunny poo, I have spent the afternoon gardening – both in my own garden and a brief stint down on the allotment. N is off playing cricket.
Having finished all the digging, hoeing, weeding, sowing, planting, and watering that I can muster for one day, I decided I would let the bunnies out for a run around the garden. They seem to have had a blissful day: Borage lolling on his back in the sun, licking his paws and thoroughly checking his long loppy ears for any rumpled hair before smoothing it out; Lovage is not a sun worshipper, and has been lying in the shade and occasionally knawing madly at the bars in an attempt at freedom.
They are a nightmare in the garden at the moment and cannot be left unattended – they eat or decimate everything, and everything happens to be new and tiny and trying hard to grow. So the bunnies have to be followed round the garden, and shooed on whenever they eat the wrong thing or look like they are hatching evil plans (Lovage) to hack new paths through my lupins.
We let them out, one at a time, and it is delightful to watch them and the silly antics they get up to. Both bunnies are very different, which we already knew, but seeing them in a much larger space really brings out they funny quirks.
Borage is just on one frantic search for the next mouthful of food. He can bearly contain himself, all these delicious green things all around him – the grass quite literally always looks greener just over there.
He is particularly partial to purple geranium leaves (I’m sure someone will tell me that my bunnies really shouldn’t be eating these as they’re not good for them, but they only get brief nibbles in and have been perfectly fine so far) and ground elder (which I am happy for him to eat by the barrow load).
Lovage on the other hand seems to be on some commando mission.
He races around, ears alert, trying to get into small dark places.
Always deep in concentration, he seems to planning his next move, whether he can create himself a hideout, or what plant has grown across a well loved secret passage. Many a new shoot or branch has fallen victim to Lovage and his ruthless trimming. Damn those irritating plants.
All photos by the little sister www.thegreenorchard.wordpress.com.
My little sister is as I type getting on a train down south – her very first solo train journey (she’s only 15) – to come and stay with us for the week. I can’t wait! I am so excited. Living about 3 hours from my family means that we don’t see them a great deal, well not as much as I’d like, and with a 15 year old sister I would very much like to spend more time with her.
I have been planning her week based around eating and shopping! Hopefully I will have some yummy food to post about later this week, probably with an Asian twist (she’s dying for some sushi!) and most defintitely vegetarian. I am also hoping that she will take some fab pictures of my garden and house as she is the talent behind the newly created TheGreenOrchard photography blog – make sure you take a look!
With the lovely warm weather and sprinkling of rain that we’ve had recently in the UK, my garden has been busy growing. My blackcurrant bush has lots of bright green leaves and pretty lilac buds forming…
While waiting for my own tiny lettuce seedlings I have ‘cheated’ by buying some plug plants. My mom has a really good garden centre near her and they always have a fantastic selection of plants and plant paraphenalia. I choose two different varieties: red baby gem lettuce and green batavia.
Because the tiny lettuces had been living in a greenhouse at the garden centre I was a bit concerned about putting them outside. So I kept them for a night in our lean-to/porch, and then managed to recycle these glass jars (that had previously had bulbs in) by turning them upside down and making them into mini cloches.
I am so looking forward to the first salad of the season. It is such an exciting time of year in the garden, plus with our new allotment we have also been busy digging, but more on that another day.