A Homemade Christmas Wreath

How to make a Christmas wreath with a wire ring

My budget is always tight these days, but I don’t want to miss out on some of the festive fun at Christmas. I enjoy decorating the house – those little LEDs lend a certain warmth on the cold, dark, grey December days – and it’s great to see twinkling lights and wreaths appearing on my neighbours’ doors.

As we have a lot of shrubs and foliage growing in and around the Smallest Smallholding, I thought this year I would give making my own wreath a bash. I’ve seen wreaths selling for upwards of £15 – £30 in the shops, and I do not have that kind of cash to splash. So I visited my local craft shop and bought a reusable metal wreath ring for £2.50 and some florist wire for 60p.

Foraging for foliage for my Christmas Wreath

Next, I set about collecting lots of foliage that I could use in the wreath – dense conifer from the bits that overhang from next door’s tree, two types of variegated ivy, some pyracantha (although I’ve realised since that this wilts really quickly), holly and even a few sprigs of olive (felt a bit more biblical and gorgeous texture!). I was planning on using any extra bits that we cut off the Christmas tree (Nordmann Fir) but in the end we left it as was!

Here’s my quick guide to making a wreath:

Homemade frugal christmas wreath

What You’ll Need:

Wire Frame
Florist Wire & Scissors
Moss
Foliage

How to make a homemade Christmas wreath on a metal ring

1. Take the largest, densest pieces of foliage (fir, spruce, conifer etc) and lay them out over the metal frame so that they fan out as they go around in a circular fashion.
2. Secure the foliage with florist wire – the more secure for this ‘base layer’ the better
3. Start adding in the long pieces of ivy – use several pieces and attach to the base layer and frame at both ends of the cutting and in the middle to help the foliage bend with the frame.
4. Keep going around, adding ivy and any bushy bits of foliage so that the wreath is as symmetrical as possible. You can tuck any stray bits in behind other ivy leaves and use the leaves to also hide the florist wire.
5. Once your ivy has been added all the way around, start putting in the “interesting accents”… bits of foliage like holly and olive that add colour and texture. Try to space these out evenly but it doesn’t have to be mathematically correct! You can start pushing these sprigs in without securing with wire if your ivy is dense enough.
6. Once you’re happy with your wreath, turn over and pack the back with moss to help keep the foliage moist and prevent wilting. If the moss hasn’t been freshly picked you can spritz it with some water.
7. Cut a small length of garden wire and create a loop for your door, securing the loop to the wire frame on the back.
8. Hang your wreath and enjoy your handywork!

We’re getting set for Christmas here at The Smallest Smallholding – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Ozzy and the Christmas decorations

Smallest Smallholding bun bun Ozzy enjoys the warm fire

A Vegan Christmas – Easy Tasty Mincemeat Slice Recipe

Vegan mincemeat slice

Christmas is just around the corner so it’s time to get thinking about a few festive treats! As a vegan, there’s a limited selection of Christmas treats to enjoy in the supermarkets and shops… but that’s OK, because homemade is always so much better anyway!

First on my Vegan Christmas list are these gorgeous crumbly mincemeat slices. They’re quick and easy to make and can be frozen so you can double your batch sizes and keep rolling out the goods in the run-up to Christmas Day!

Vegan Mincemeat Slice Recipe

Ingredients
310g/11oz Self-Raising Flour
225g/8oz Pure sunflower spread (or dairy-free “butter”)
50g soft brown sugar or golden caster sugar
2 tsp mixed spice
400g vegetarian/vegan mincemeat (around one jar)
Flaked almonds (optional)

Method
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180C/350F and prep your tray bake tin (11″ x 7″) by greasing and lining.
Crumble the fat and flour together into breadcrumb with your fingers, or pulse in the food processor until your mixture has the texture of breadcrumbs. Then add the sugar and mix thoroughly.
Divide the mixture in half and use one half as your base – press firmly into the tray.
Spread the jar of mincemeat over the base evenly.
Add the mixed spice to the remaining breadcrumbs mixture and spread evenly as the top layer over the mincemeat. At this point you can also add the flaked almonds if desired.
Bake in the oven for 45-55 minutes on the middle shelf.
Remove, dust with icing sugar if desired and slice into squares or rectangles… and enjoy with a cup of spicy mulled wine!

Planting Blackcurrants – More Soft Fruit!

Blackcurrants - grow your own

This year my jam, albeit only a few jars, was a stonking success. I’ve decided that I definitely need more soft fruit in my life so I’ve been busy clearing a few overgrown patches to make way for some more bushes.

At the moment we only grow raspberries, but I’m a big fan of blackcurrants, so thought I would opt for currant bushes. Not too many, just a few at first to see how I get on. I’ve been reading that redcurrants and white currants are less fussy than their black (blue/purple) counterparts, but as I don’t currently have the space I’m going to test myself a bit and go for the slightly more “difficult” option. Let’s be honest though, currants in general are pretty easy to look after – well draining but fertile soil and a sunny position (they will also tolerate light shade) and you’re good to go.

CLEARING A SPACE FOR THE BLACKCURRANT BUSHES

Despite it being December, the soil is still warm so pulling out the tap roots of the self-seeded Alkinet, the nettle roots and bindweed without any dreaded breakages was relatively easy. We then raked over the earth and left it to rest. The next job will be nourishing our poor soil with organic compost before planting in and mulching the bushes before Spring. With a spread of around 120cm (47″) we’ll need to ensure that there’s plenty of space for the bushes to grow without having to compete too much.

BEST BLACKCURRANT VARIETIES

Already I’m thinking ahead to the growing season next year. Generally it can take up to two years after planting for the best yields to appear, but I’m always optimistic for a little harvest! And if I do have a successful crop of currants I haven’t decided whether I’ll be opting for jam, cordial, jelly, fool, cheesecake… or all the above! At the very least, I’m researching the best varieties for my needs, and there seem to be some frontrunners:

Ben Hope – the most popular variety of blackcurrant now grown in the UK. High yielding, great flavour and a significantly reduced susceptibility to gall mite

Ben Lomond – the leading blackcurrant for many years after its introduction in 1975. A heavy cropper that fruits late in the season and fairly frost-resistant.

Ebony – a super-sweet ‘dessert’ variety that can be eaten straight from the bush. An early cropper (around July) and excellent mildew resistance.

I think I might opt for one of each of the above. Ben Lomond’s mildew resistance is lower these days than when it was first released in 1975, but with plenty of air circulation around the bushes, hopefully this shouldn’t be an issue. And not having to add masses of sugar to the Ebony blackcurrants will be a much healthier option for me, especially if I’m aiming to make desserts, cakes, bakes and puddings! That can only be a bonus.

And you know what else is a bonus? Blackcurrant flowers are great for wildlife (and I wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of my fruit crop with the birds either!).