Sunday, 16 October 2016

Beehive Parts

Yesterday was a long but lovely day, spent driving over to Lincolnshire to collect a large order of beehive parts, ready to expand our stock next year. It was an end-of-season sale, so we made the most of it (see also: Tatton Park).

A finely calibrated van-full (© Ian 2016)

There are enough parts there to expand to a dozen colonies, and we got some very good prices on some equipment while we were there, too. The metal cylinder is a centrifugal honey extractor (duly named the Honey Monster), for example, which was about a third of the normal price. We also stocked up on thirds-quality wooden flatpacked parts, which were about an eighth of the normal (firsts-) price...and less again than the assembled prices. Fortunately, I do love making things, including from flatpacks, which is just as well, as I calculate there are in excess of five thousand components in that van...

Today was quieter: making sure Honey Monster works as expected (not with honey, yet), and starting to strim the hillside. That's far from complete (technical issues), but the verges and copse are all done, and the hillside's started.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Beer, Bees, Lawn, and Painting

This weekend rounds off a week off for us, and there've been a few bits to get done. Firstly the beehives needed preparing for winter, which meant taking off the (modest) honey crop, wrapping them up with bubble-wrap for warmth, and preparing some space in the top of the hive for winter feed.

We also needed to paint the new front door, and touch up the paint on the apple walk, which is looking really good.

Apple Arch (© Ian 2016)

Having got about two-thirds of the way through the current barrel, it's necessary to start a new batch of beer, which is now glugging cheerfully to itself in the corner of the sitting room. Less excitingly, we mowed and edged the lawn...not many more times for that job left this year.

Thursday, 6 October 2016


We've spent today in Scarborough, visiting Liz's grandparents (with her parents, who have come up to see us for a couple of days). It's been a nice day, with lunch at a place outside Scarborough, and a smooth journey both ways.

While we were out, our new front door has been fitted (started yesterday, but these things can't be rushed).

The front porch early in the year (© Ian 2016)

With the raised floor (© Ian 2016)

And now with the new door (© Ian 2016)

The whole house now hangs together better! (© Ian 2016)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


For a long time, I've wanted to make cheese. There are two main reasons for this: I like making things, and I like cheese. I'm always fascinated by how things are made, constructed, created, or cooked. One of my birthday presents this year was a kit with recipes and some of the consumables needed to make several sorts of cheese: I just needed milk. We thought we'd start with mozzarella, which seemed straightforward enough, and which we like. The principles are quite straightforward: you warm the milk to 35°C with some calcium chloride and citric acid, then add rennet. After a pause, for the curds to form, you cut them up, warm the mix again (to 42°C), and let them rest briefly. The curds come out, and then you either dip them in hot water, or use the microwave to heat them to about 60°C, when they can be stretched and formed into a ball. I overstretched them, this time, so the mozzarella was a bit harder than 'normal'.

Mozzarella balls (© Ian 2016)

After that excitement, we had a wine tasting at home, with half a dozen whites, half a dozen reds, a rosé, a port, a sherry, and a creamy coconut liqueur. We may order a dozen of one of the reds; it was extremely good. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Apples and Berries

The older apple trees in the orchard (the ones planted some twenty years ago) have started ripening, and some are falling on windier days. While these don't tend to be ripe, and aren't great for eating (you can cook them: we may use some for mincemeat), they make brilliant fruit juice. Our apple juice endeavours in the past have been hard work, because before you press the apples, you have to crush them.

The traditional method, it appears, is to put them in a large vessel, and whack them with&emdash;essentially&emdash;a beam of wood. In the past, we've grated them, but that is hard and slow work. In anticipation of ever-increasing apple crops, we bought a powered scratter, which turned last night's job into a real pleasure. It's essentially a spinning blade attached to a 1kW motor, and it turns a trug (40l volume)) of apples into pulp in, oh, two minutes.

The pulp gets loaded into the press, which we squeeze down: from a 40l trug of apples, we get about 10&endash;12l of juice, which we pasteurize to 70°C, and bottle with a Campden tablet per gallon. Hopefully it'll store reasonably.

We also made our apple & vanilla Danishes, and almond pastries, today. They're delicious.

Almond Pastries, and Apple & Vanilla Rolls (© Ian 2016)

We started a batch of ginger wine, too (ginger, sugar and water into the slow cooker); tomorrow, that'll go into a demijohn for a couple of weeks. This time, Liz helped: it's not a surprise for her birthday!

Yesterday, we also started some berry cordial. This year it's mostly blackberries, with a few elderberries. They get boiled up, and left overnight with pectolase. Today, we strained them, added sugar and spice (cinnamon, unsurprisingly), and boiled that before bottling it.

Sunday, 2 October 2016


More baking followed, today. We made a batch of Danish pastry dough, for apple and vanilla Danishes, and almond pastries. They'll only be made tomorrow, though: the dough is chilling over night.

We started the day with more cinnamon rolls, of course.

Breakfast (© Ian 2016)

This afternoon, we did a bit of work on the apple arch, pruning extraneous growth. It could do with a bit more paint. Most of the trees are doing well, though there are a few missing tiers we'll need to work on. We also weeded it: it needs a good mulching in the spring, though.

Apple Walk (© Ian 2016)

Apple Walk (© Ian 2016)

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Baking and Bottling

We've taken this week off work, and have nothing 'serious' planned for at least the first five days: we're just taking them as they come, and doing what we fancy. So far, that's involved mainly food and drink.

I started a batch of blackberry brandy. I don't appear to have noted the last batch (or two, actually), which was a blackberry and cinnamon. On trying it, I'm not convinced by the cinnamon, sadly, so I'm probably going to leave the bottle to Liz to finish (who loves cinnamon), and I'll go back to making plain blackberry, which this new bottle is. I shall have to limit myself to other liqueurs until about Christmas.

This was not the extent of our cinnamon adventure, though, as we also made a batch of cinnamon rolls, using a different recipe to our last attempt. These are better, but need a little work. It's hard work, this product testing.

Cinnamon roll with vanilla icing (© Ian 2016)

Friday, 30 September 2016

RHS Harlow Carr

To mark the start of a week off, we managed to get away early from work (well, I did—Liz has been off all day, cleaning and tidying!), and drove over to Harlow Carr. We picked up a couple of cakes from Betty's, and then had a wander. It was, as you'd expect for 1600 on a term-time weekday at the end of September, pretty quiet. But tranquil and lovely for that.

Acer near the streamside (© Ian 2016)

Gunnera manicata in the streamside (© Ian 2016)

A variegated brunnera ("Hadspen Cream") (© Ian 2016)

The herbaceous borders (© Ian 2016)

Molinia 'Poul Petersen' (© Ian 2016)

Another grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) we liked (© Ian 2016)

The herbaceous borders (© Ian 2016)

Espalier trained apples in the kitchen garden: the spacing is similar to that in our apple walk (© Ian 2016)

Fruitful espalier trained apple (© Ian 2016)

Espalier apple (© Ian 2016)

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Grass and Blackberries

A quick mow of the lawn, tonight: it's only growing slowly, but I'm trying to keep it trimmed whenever conditions allow, as I can't get that many cuts in before the weathers consistently too wet, I'm sure.

More pleasurably, we started a couple of gallons of blackberry wine off. 3kg of berries, topped up to a couple of gallons with hot water. Once it's at about 35°C, I add pectolase, and then leave it 'til tomorrow before adding the yeast (a general GV3). In five days, we'll strain it into demijohns along with 1.5kg sugar/vessel, and leave it to do its thing.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Apple Walk

We spent this morning tying in shoots on the apples in the apple walk, as well as putting up the last of the horizontal wires (80% of the penultimate wire tier was there, but this meant adding the last wire, which is the last tier before the apex/ridge bar). We also weeded around the apple trees, which probably took as much time to do. They now look an awful lot neater, and the walk looks really good. They could do with a last prune in the next couple of weeks, before the leaves fall, and then I'll do a mid-winter trim (to encourage buds to break at critical points) some time in February, probably.

Saturday, 24 September 2016


For the very first time since the start of 2012, the driveway doesn't have any firewood on it. We've finally caught up, and got everything sawn, split, and stacked into the woodshelter. In turn, the woodshelter is full. Precisely. Astonishingly precisely.

An empty driveway (© Ian) 

And a full woodshelter (© Ian)

The last stack (on the left) can't be as tall or as full as the others, because I can't stack from alongside it—I have to build the stack as I work out, off the support frame ('ladder'). That seriously limits how well and thus how high it can be built, so it only contains about half as much firewood as the stack next to it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


It might be the last mow of the lawn for the year. It might be the penultimate time I cut it. It could be the antepenultimate mow. I just don't know. However, the lawn is mown.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Autumn Fruit

It's been a long time, because the blackberries have been ready in August for several years, but this year it's September and they're ready. It feels more like the 'proper' time for us both, as we remember picking blackberries in September when we were small.

Anyway, we managed to collect a number of tubs from the orchard.

Start of the blackberry harvest (© Ian 2016)

And also a number of apples. These are Yorkshire Greening, from the apple walk.

Yorkshire Greening apples (© Ian 2016)

We also spent a while sorting out some firewood, and the wood shelter is almost at capacity, which is a good point to be at.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Willow Arches

The honeybees have been settling in well, and enjoying the late good weather. We had a thorough look through the hives this morning to check on them, and tidied up a few bits of extraneous honeycomb (brace comb) they'd built. Which means it was immediately necessary to make crumpets so we could have the honey contained in the brace comb for tea.

This afternoon, we've been sorting out the willows that form the arches to either end of the pond garden, and disguise the sheds on the septic tank. They had got rather out of control, so it looks an awful lot better pruned and tied in.

The Pond Garden (© Ian 2016)

The Long Border (© Ian)

The arch from the pond up to the colour wheel (© Ian 2016)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Winter Hanging Baskets Planted

After getting the plants for them a week ago, we've now planted up the winter hanging baskets. They're hanging about on the arbour, for now, until the summer ones are past their best, when they'll go up on the front of the house.

Winter hanging basket (© Ian 2016)

We also discovered that we had a bowl full of plums on one of the Victorias on the hillside. They are utterly delicious.

Victoria Plum (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 4 September 2016


It's been a weekend bracketed by visitors: Katie and son were here Friday night, and back again tonight, breaking up a journey to the north east. Liz's parents were here for the day today, coming up for fosterling contact.

It's been good to see them all, and we've had a nice time today, especially. Yesterday was more practical, making huge progress on the workshop. We've tried to get the room sorted many times before, but have never quite got it to a point of tidiness with workspace left— there's always simply been too much stuff.

This time, though, I think we've got it under control. For one thing, this is the first attempt since the massive amount of DIY work that started in 2014 when we insulated the walls. We only have relatively small jobs to finish in the house, which means that my stocks of material and supplies have dramatically reduced. I only have a couple of cans of expanding foam, now, down from a couple of dozen. And a mere three cases of screws.

So I'm not exactly underequipped, but there's considerably less than when we had eighty-odd plasterboard sheets, rolls of insulation, dozens of timbers, cans and cans of sealants and foams, and a score of bags of plaster.

We also finally installed a wall full of shelves above the worktop that backs onto the preservatory, which is the things that's really made a difference, as it's enormously increased the storage space. There's still a number of things to sort, including a couple of the cupboards, which I think might get seriously culled. Ideally, I'd like to get the shelved workshop clear to have tools on, and the other worktop permanently clear, so that you can actually work on it. I'd really like to get a table saw, and a spindle moulder, which would enable us to make a much greater range of things. Another half day tidying, and I think we'll be in a position to decide whether that's achievable.

Thursday, 1 September 2016


We planted summer hanging baskets a while ago, and they've done well. Blue Crystal and Blue Fountain lobelia (I think), some becopa, a fuchsia. They're nice, and they've been a really welcome bit of colour on the front of the house. However, apart from (probably) the fuchsia, the plants aren't hardy, and will either die, or look rubbish as soon as it gets frosty.

Clearly, that won't do. Over lunch today, we went to a B&Q, and found a combination of foliage plants that will take the hanging baskets through the winter: a gold-edged ivy, a holly-leaved fern, a black ophiopogon, and an acora.

We've got enough of them to plant up the four hanging baskets that go on the house—we don't intend bothering with the two from the arbour for winter—and got a set of baskets so we can plant them up soon, so they settle and grow together before autumn.

Planting combination for winter foliage basket (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 21 August 2016


David and Ann have been here for the weekend, which has necessitated the consumption of baked goods, games, and much coffee. Much, in fact, as it should be. Aaaand relax.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Badminton, Bees, Babies

Today, we went over to Cheshire to celebrate friends' second child, who arrived early this year. It was a nice trip, and it was good to see them.

Newly arrived honeybee colonies (© Ian 2016)

Our long-awaited honeybees arrived yesterday. We made the platform (in deference to the sloping hillside) some time ago, but the bees were a bit delayed. They've arrived today. The far colony is slightly stronger, but both are doing well. They need proper stands, and I have a plan for strapping them down directly onto the platform.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Diamond Anniversary

We've spent the weekend in Shropshire, celebrating the Diamond Anniversary of Liz's paternal grandparents. It's been good fun, and our first chance to meet up with Liz's uncle and his family since he moved to Australia many years ago.

A walk in the woods (© Ian 2016)

The journey home, this afternoon, was not entirely straightforward, because of a crash on the A49, which sent us on side-roads. Single track side-roads lacking the capacity of an A-road. Or even the capacity to deal with two streams of traffic.

We detoured briefly, therefore, into a field, while things sorted out.

Not the A49 (© Ian 2016)

Monday, 1 August 2016


It's been a long weekend for us, including a day trip to Leeds to go bowling with my family. But we also made a trip to the garden centre on the way somewhere else, intending to pick up slug pellets.

We did manage to get the slug pellets...

A shopping trip for sundries (© Ian 2016)

...and a few other bits. It turns out that they had a lot of climbers 50% off. And we need climbers for the pergola that's going along the sides of the driveway, so it seemed opportune. No, the pergola isn't built yet. Details, details...

We also got some heavily reduced sedums (which are always good value), and some purple sprouting broccoli plugs (ours didn't make it, for some reason, and they'd be missed in the kitchen garden over winter). There was also a nice variegated Chlorophytum which I fancied, and a few ivies to plant around my new(ish) Calathea in the Victorian plant stand in the sitting room, to soften it a bit.

Anyway, the climbers: variegated jasmine, golden hops, climbing hydrangea, and a grape. No, I don't expect a crop; but the leaves are pretty, and they get good colour progression through the seasons, so it'll earn it's place.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

RHS Tatton Park 2016

Today was our fifth year going to RHS Tatton Park, and it's been an excellent day. I actually went yesterday, too, with my mum, and we had a brilliant day. It meant I'd scouted ahead, effectively, for Liz and my visit, which was quite helpful in many ways.

We may, just possibly, have gone mad on the plant buying.

How to cram a lot of plants into a Corsa (both © Ian 2016)

We came home with a lot of plants. 92 of them, in fact.
  • For the herb garden:
    • 2 Germander 'Summer Sunshine
    • 3 Black physic root (Veronicastrum)
    • 3 Winter savory
    • Chilean guava
    • 2 Calamint
    • Banana mint
    • Gold-tipped marjoram
    • Creeping white thyme
    • Chocolate peppermint
    • 4 Oregano 'Country Cream'
    • 2 Hedge germander
    • 2 Betony
    • Meadowsweet
    • 3 Ornamental oregano 'Hopley's Variety'
  • For the colour wheel:
    • Yellows:
      • 2 Inula hookeri
      • Helenium 'Waltraut'
    • Reds:
      • 3 Rudbeckia 'Cherokee Sunset'
      • 4 Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'
      • 3 Potentilla 'Monsieur Rouillard'
      • 3 Coreopsis 'Mercury Rising'
      • 3 Campanula punctata 'Alba flora'
    • Blues/Purples:
      • Campanula rotundifolia 'Harebell'
      • 3 Verbena rigida
      • Russian sage
      • 5 Scabious 'Blue Note'
      • 5 Caryopteris 'White Surprise'
      • Euphorbium 'Ascot Rainbow'
    • Whites:
      • 3 Aralia cordata 'Sun King'
      • 3 Fatsia japonica 'Spider's Web'
      • Lychnis flos-cucula (Ragged Robin) 'White Robin'
  • For the long border:
    • 4 Scabious 'Barocca'
    • 3 Geranium wallichianum 'Havana Blues'
    • 3 Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
  • For the pond garden:
    • Gunnera magellanica
  • For the quince bed:
    • Heuchera 'Cinnabar Silver'
    • Heuchera 'Grape Soda'
    • Tiarella 'Pink Sky Rocket'
There were also four climbers, to go on some trellising (next to the driveway, and next to the greenhouse): two winter jasmines (Jasminum nudiflorum) and two evergreen clematis (C. armandii and named variety 'Appleblossom').

Some other photos from the show:

An impressive, if expensive, addition to a garden (© Ian 2016)

The plant crèche (© Ian 2016)

Lovely calm planting (© Ian 2016)

Chainsaw carved Gruffalo (© Ian 2016)

Can you spot the red valerian? (© Ian 2016)

Wonderful foliage collection (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 17 July 2016


We've had a very enjoyable weekend in Cambridge, with some of our oldest friends.

Heading towards Clare College, Cambridge (© Ian 2016)

The Gardens of Clare College, Cambridge (© Ian 2016)

Pond garden, Clare College gardens (© Ian 2016)

The Bridge of Sighs, from the Kitchen Bridge, St John's College, Cambridge (© Ian 2016)

We had a lovely picnic on the backs, and spent a lot of time chatting, drinking tea, and playing games. Just as it should be.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Bee Platform

For many years, I've wanted to keep honeybees. We're finally getting round to it, partly because we discovered that a colleague of Liz's keeps them, and is set up to provide equipment and colonies. They need, obviously, somewhere to go, and we decided that one of the clearings on the hillside was ideal. However, the ground slopes rather dramatically, so we needed to create a stable and flat platform for the hives to go on, as well as stand on when working on them.

Bee Platform (© Ian 2016)

I don't like to do things by halves! The platform's about 8' by 5', which is big enough for two hives (with space for one or two more later); because of the slope, the right hand edge is only slightly above ground level—but the balustraded edge is about 4' tall. I think this justifies a construction. It's made of 100mm posts in drive-in stake/supports, with 6x2" joists and subjoists, with 6x1.5" decking, and although we need to make a set of steps, it's basically good to go. The hives will go on the back (right) edge, with the entrances facing uphill (away from the prevailing weather) towards the heather.

Cat basket/trug (© Ian 2016)

While we've been busy, Chess found a comfortable spot to sleep.