Rhubarb wine part 3

So… the wine has been blobbing away in the demijohn, turning all that yeast and sugar into lovely alcohol. It slowed down a bit, which I gather is normal, but at the weekend, disaster struck. The wine stopped fermenting!

Now I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that the process isn’t complete – it’s not been in there three weeks. In a slightly mild panic, I decided to consult Dr Google. The word on the street is that the wine is ‘stuck’ (boo!), but it is entirely possible to kick start it again (hurrah!).

To do this, I took about a cup full of the wine out, and added some sugar, a sachet of yeast and a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast nutrient. Before I added these magic ingredients, I had a sneaky slurp to see what I was up against. To my absolute surprise – and I don’t know what I was expecting – it tasted of wine and the rhubarb notes were coming through. (Hark at me – I’ll be swilling it round and spitting it out next – actually I WON’T – what a total waste!)

The wine and yeast starter will sit on the kitchen worktop until it’s fermenting well. At that point I’ll reintroduce it to the mother ship in the demijohn.

Fingers are well and truly crossed!

Rhubarb wine part 1 and part 2 also available…

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Heritage tomatoes

Last year, we were lucky to whiz off to France to visit an old friend of mine. Well, she’s not old exactly… just we’ve known each other for ages.

A good few years back, she made the leap and had a house built in the Dordogne region – and has never looked back. When we arrived, we could totally see why. The region is stunning – Chateuxs  and vineyards galore, and totally unspoilt countryside.

Anyway, enough about that (though I could wax lyrical for a good while more). This post is about tomatoes.

During a barbeque at my friend’s partner’s house, he served us a tomato salad. Just a simple dish of tomatoes, onions and a dressing – but I tell you now – it was TO DIE for! Complimenting him on the dish, he replied that he’d grown the tomatoes himself, and ushered us out in the garden to have a look.

There in the vegetable plot were rows of tomato plants, and they had to be one of the ugliest things I’d ever seen. Big, knarly and knobbly, hanging on the vines; if you came across them you wouldn’t give them a second glance. But, my word they were tasty!

Thierry explained that his family had saved the seeds of this particular variety for over 100 years, and asked if we would like some. Of course the answer to this was a resounding “Yes please!”

Back in the house, he took one of the tomatoes and sliced it in half. He then scooped out the seeds, washed and drained them and sealed them between two sheets of kitchen towel. We had strict instructions to keep them like this, then dampen the kitchen towel to release them at planting time.

This, we duly did, and I’m delighted to report that the plants are thriving and growing well. I’ve even gifted a few to friends, so we can share in the beauty of these age-old fruits. I can’t wait until we’re tasting them again!

Heritage tomato plants

Heritage tomato plants

 

Rhubarb wine part 1

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it’s all been mega busy here at Chook Cottage. What, with finishing the book, juggling work, training for my 5k inflatable run (which, by the way I’m super excited about – what fun!) – AND tending the garden – time has been a tad stretched to say the least.

But… I’ve managed to grab a couple of minutes to tell you about our latest project. We have a rhubarb plant in the garden which, I have to say, has gone a bit bananas. All through the summer, we get a prolific supply of the stuff, and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to use it up.

Last year I made rhubarb gin (lovely!), rhubarb vodka (equally as yummy!), rhubarb jam, rhubarb and ginger chutney – as well as the usual crumbles and pies.

Rustling around the internet for some new ideas, I came across a recipe for rhubarb wine. Well, we like wine and we like rhubarb… what could possibly go wrong?

Gathering together our hit and miss collection of winemaking equipment, I located a fermenting bucket, an airlock and a demijohn. The demijohn is currently on the patio full of fairy lights, but that can soon be sorted.

Following the recipe, I put 1.5kg of rhubarb in the sterilised bucket, along with 1.3kg of sugar. This has to be left for three days, so that’s currently in the pantry stewing. Once that bit’s done I’ll have to mash it up to extract as much juice as I can, then strain it, ready for the exciting fermenting stage.

I’ll keep you informed!

Three years on

Hard to believe that I’ve lived in my little house now for just over three years. Yesterday, on facebook memories, this photo popped up…

Garden - May 2014

Garden – May 2014

This was literally how the garden looked when I moved here. A scrappy path, a rubbish lawn and not a plant to be seen. I remember sitting on the step, gazing out on it, and thinking, “What the actual flip am I going to do with it?”

Well, this is the garden, exactly three years on, and I’m feeling pretty chuffed – it’s now a little paradise in the centre of town!

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Garden - May 2017

Garden – May 2017

Turf wars

My lawn has been the topic of much discussion over the past couple of years. When I first moved to Chook Cottage, the garden was nothing but a scrappy bit of grass with a horrible path through the middle.

how it looked then

I swiftly got rid of the path, but then I had chickens for a while. And they absolutely trashed the lawn… so much so that the only thing to do was to dig it all over and start again…

Right hand side - flattened

Right hand side – flattened

This even prompted one of my fans to comment “Is that it? How much can you write about a bit of bare earth and patchy grass???… well, read on, ‘dan@dansworld.com’… and stick this lot in your pipe and smoke it!

The area was reseeded, but it never quite looked like the lush area I had in mind. This was highlighted when lovely chap brought along his man beast of a mower, which promptly destroyed everything in its path that wasn’t completely level.

So we decided to start again.

First job took A LOT of sand to level it out

Next job was to re-surface the whole thing. After humping all the rolls of turf into the garden, we set to work. Well… I say ‘we’… my job was mainly watering the area to lay, making sure there was turf nearby and general fannying about. HIS job, on the other hand was laying it all down, whacking it and levelling it. He worked like a demon!

Here are some before and after pics… I think you’ll agree it looks tons better. Roll on the summer… I predict many garden parties out there now!

Turfing the lawn part 1

Turfing the lawn part 1

Turfing the lawn part 2

Turfing the lawn part 2

Turfing the lawn part 3

Turfing the lawn part 3

The cheat

Remember a week or so ago… I dusted off the heated propagator from the shed, excitedly whizzed it upstairs, and planted my first crops of the year: Kale and Tomatoes.

For it was February. Spring is on its way. And these crops can be started early.

Alas, I slightly cocked up on this one. Yes, it’s February, yes, Spring is on its way, and yes indeed, Kale and Tomatoes can be started early. Only not really… You see, there’s just not quite enough natural light yet. The seedlings all popped up, but as soon as they saw a sniff of the window, they scarpered off towards it.

Spindly seedlings

Spindly seedlings

So I’ve ended up with comically long and spindly seedlings that have little or no chance of forming a second set of leaves and growing into healthy, bushy plants.

An executive decision has therefore been made here at Chook Cottage.

I am going to CHEAT!

I know, I know… we all hate a cheater, but needs must. The vegetable plot here is more of a hobby – we’re not trying to live off the land – we just want a couple of fresh bits and bobs to harvest.

So this weekend will find me at the garden centre, snaffling up a couple of trays of veggie plants where someone else has already done the hard work. These will go in the beds, leaving me much more time to chillax in the garden and admire the fruits of my..’ahem’…labour 😉

Kale

Whoopee! Great news!

The kale seeds only went in the propagator on Sunday, and THEY ARE GERMINATING! We absolutely love kale, and get through bags of the stuff… to be able to pick straight from the plot will be an absolute treat.

I can’t express how excited I am to be growing stuff again.  Spring is most definitely just around the corner, as the mornings and evenings are growing gradually lighter – I love this time of year, as it seems to tingle with anticipation of the start of a new season.

We just need the pear tomatoes to pop up their little heads now… I will be watching them intently!

Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Level lawn

The work has officially begun in the garden. Our chap came and built us a decked area earlier in the year, and I dutifully rescued the plants that were in its path… all forty of them! Last weekend we set about replanting these (happy to report there were no casualties) and levelling the lawn.

Decking area

Decking area

The lawn has been a bit of a problem since I moved in. It started life as a scrappy bit of grass with a god-awful slab path chucked down the middle. I got rid of the path and created some borders – but the lawn has always been a bit uneven. This was highlighted when lovely chap brought his man-sized petrol mower over. The beast just tore up anything that was slightly on the lumpy side. He’s not happy about this and seems determined to have a bowling green.

So… off we went to buy sand… a lot of sand… to bring the lawn up to the same level ready to turf in a week or so. A better shape was cut into the lawn while we were at it, and I’m pleased with the result and can see that the garden will look amazing when everything starts shooting again.

Levelling the lawn

Levelling the lawn

Next job was to put some horse muck into the raised bed compartments. The veg in there was pretty much an afterthought last year, but we have big plans for this year. A trip to our local farm later, and a bit of shovelling and raking later, and the beds were ready for the first house guests. 50 onions and 25 garlic plants, which were popped in this weekend.

Last up, we fired up the heated propagator and we’ve planted cherry tomato seeds and kale.

Bring on the spring… we’re ready for you!

Pergola

A couple of weeks ago, I was gazing out of the back window, and uttered the fateful words, “A pergola would look nice out there”.

Without further ado, Lovely Chap was out there, measuring, sketching and rubbing his chin in a sage-like manner. The next day, a delivery of wood arrived, and we set to work.

Staining the pergola

Staining the pergola

 

The pergola was to be attached to the house wall, and provide a frame for plants to grow over on the decking. A frame was quickly assembled and he set to work staining it up. In his shorts. In the freezing cold.

Once that was done, all we needed were lights. I searched around online, and ordered 100m (yes… 100m) of fairy lights for outside use. I reasoned that if you were going to have lights, you may as well have lots of them.

Despite the initial setback of detangling the things – HOW can something brand new, never out of the box BE so tangled up?! – they were soon attached to the pergola and they look brilliant. We’ve got a heater that can be quickly attached to the frame, and the last job is to make some gold voile drapes to frame the sides. A perfect little place to sit and admire the garden from.

Pergola with lights

Pergola with lights

Deck the halls

In the week running up to Christmas, when most were decking the halls with boughs of holly… we were decking.

Seating area

Seating area

When I first moved to Chook cottage, my friend helped me build a seating area at the bottom of the garden, as this was a perfect place to soak up the very last rays of sun for the day. Last year, many an afternoon was spent out in the garden, lounging, listening to music, chilling out and enjoying the odd glass of something cold and crisp. It became apparent that although the seating area was lovely and quaint… it was just a tad too small – and they say that size doesn’t matter 😉

So we decided to replace it with a more robust chill out area, which would be great for hosting barbecues and having friends over. So, last weekend we set to work dismantling the old seating area, and I have to say, we worked like troopers. I was chief gravel shoveller, and lovely man was chief gravel redistributor. Not one piece of the old area went to waste… the slabs will be relaid into a small entrance path, and the gravel smartened up the side entrance a treat.

Garden cleared

Garden cleared.

I’ve been busily digging up plants to save and replant in the spring – current count I have about 45!

Base for decking laid

Base for decking laid

This then left the area nice and free for our chap to come and work his magic. Just two days later, and what a transformation. Yes, the garden looks grotty at this time of year, but that’s par for the course.

 

Hang on in, and you watch how lovely this will look later in the year when everything comes back to life!

The finished decking

The finished decking

Happy with that 🙂

So, another job out of the way, and it’s officially time to hang up my trusty trowel until the New Year. Have a fabulous Christmas, everyone 🙂