Successful Autumn harvests

On a personal level, 2015 has been difficult, sad and very challenging. One thing that’s kept me going, kept me grounded and kept me sane is my veg plot. And this year, after putting no-dig into action, I’ve had one of my most successful growing years ever. One of the greatest successes of the veg plots has been the arch.

Munchkim pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

Climbing munchkin pumpkins and Spanish Flag (mina lobata)

I’ve been growing Spanish flag (mina lobata) up and after a very slow start, they’ve been romping away with wild abandon. I’ve also weaved in the munchkin pumpkins, hoping to have a little crop later in the year. The munchkins are also a bit on the late side and have yet to flower, but I have hope that they’ll get there eventually. If not, then we’ll just have some pretty squash leaves adorning the arch too!

Spanish flag scrambling

The raspberries have been producing fruit for picking on a daily basis for the last fortnight at least, and we’ve got more than enough in the freezer ready for some jam. This year I’m going to try seedless jam so it’s a case of getting a few bits and pieces before the jam pan comes out again.

Polka raspberries

The peas came out and straight away, in went some salad leaves and leeks so I have a ready supply for some serious soup making later in the autumn. There’s nothing like snuggling down with a steaming bowl of leek and potato soup and a chunk of crusty bread on a cold but sunny Saturday lunchtime.

Knucklehead pumpkin

I’ve been digging up monster sized Picasso potatoes, but they’re not the only super-sized produce we’ve been growing at The Smallest Smallholding. The knucklehead pumpkin has grown about six metres long and is looking to produce some hefty fruit for the Autumn, with leaves about twice the size of my head. Meanwhile, the yellow courgettes have been popping out fruit for harvesting, but Rich isn’t eating them fast enough. Courgette cake may well be on the menu.

Yellow courgettes

Back to School with Organic September

Organic September

How can it be September already? This year has gone quicker than any other and already I can feel Autumn creeping in with the dewy mornings, the dawn and dusk twinkling bird song and the flutter of leaves as they start to fall from the trees. I don’t mind one bit, as I find late summer and the heat tiring, and the freshness of Autumn is invigorating… and boy, do I need some of that right now.

September has a distinctly back to school feel, and I often use this month to get myself ‘squared up’ – back on track ahead of the long, dark nights of winter. My life seems to go from a comfy plateau of bumbling along in my own bubble, to a whirlwind of work, and I often lose myself and any kind of rhythm in my life. The first thing to go is planned meals, and by ‘planned’ I mean home-cooked, healthy and hearty meals. I start eating oven food and the take-away bills add up, along with my fat, sugar and calorie counts. It’s not the way I want or like to live but it’s so easy to slip into it.

 

So I’m pre-empting the chaos, and have set myself up with a scribbled meal planner for the week. But one thing I realised is that I eat pretty much the same five things on rotation. Bean-based thing with rice/quinoa/bulgar wheat and green veggies, veg and gravy with mash/roasties, chilli, curry, lentil bake, homemade pizza (vegan, yes it’s delicious!) as a treat. I’ve become stuck in a rut. As a vegan, there’s a whole world of food out there for me to explore but I’ve lost my mojo in the kitchen a bit. I think at least once a week I need to have a ‘New Dish Day’… a day where I try to cook something interesting, tasty and out of my comfort zone (difficult, since I am a bit addicted to spice and curry). Monday seems to be the best day for this as it gives me a chance to do some research over the weekend when it’s quieter and calmer, and I can also use the weekend to get in any extra ingredients I might need.

growing organic

It’s also Organic September, so I’ll be making a point of opting for organic ingredients. I already grow a little of my own food organically, but we still buy in a lot. It seems crazy though that organic, as one of the most natural and sustainable ways to grow and farm food, should require certification. Surely, it should be the other way round? These days cost and profit seems to supersede everything, including common sense, but I’m sure that if we champion and encourage people to buy organic, it will start to be seen as the norm and demand will increase. That can bring down cost and the supermarkets should reconsider their position on adding a premium for more naturally grown food, somehow making out it’s a luxury. Organic food should be a staple in every house. But how can we make that happen?

 

Coming or going? Who knows…

Rain, sunshine, hot, cold, summer, autumn… I think Mother Nature doesn’t know if she’s coming or going at the moment. I know the feeling.

Smallest Smallholding

So much is right here, but will it be time to move on?

We’ve been wondering for a while if we need to pack our bags and move on. The problem is that there are so many things right with where we live – in the house itself, the smallest smallholding and the town – but then again, there are quite a few things a bit wrong that are starting to grate on me more and more.

Pros – we’re well connected to motorways and railways lines straight into London, so getting somewhere in the UK (or out of it) is pretty easy by average standards. We’ve got beautiful countryside on our doorstep. We’ve got a Waitrose up the road (because it’s always good to have an alternative to Tesco), dentists, doctors, hair salons, restaurants, vets, dry cleaners, gift shops, plumbers, DIY store and a big badass shopping centre all within relative spitting distance. The schools are generally OK here and the high school is one of the best in the county and region. The land we have with our crumbling down house is unprecedented in this area. We’re really quite spoiled.

BUT.

I feel hemmed in. We’re forced to listen to our neighbours’ teenage son swearing and shouting EVERY DAMNED NIGHT as he plays Call of Duty or whatever MMORPG it is that gets him so flippin’ angry and sweary. Then there’s the screaming children. The relentless screaming children and their apparently oblivious or absent parents. The retired dudes with their infatuation with power tools. The railway line. The hum of traffic. The constant and expanding building that’s making the countryside feel like that litter bit further away.

I don’t know if we’ll ever find a better option, on our budget. Rich doesn’t want to go further north (where you get more for your moolah) because his family is based down south. And that’s really fair enough. I’d love to get closer to the sea as we’re about as far away from the sea in the UK as you can get, and I’d like to have a little bit more space to myself. I’m quite an insular person with a very active imagination, so being a little bit more remote would be OK.
So what’s stopping us from moving? Well… nothing. But there are a few obstacles:

1) Cats. We have lots of them. Four to be exact. And they need their own space. So being anywhere near a slightly busy road, on an estate with piddly gardens or in a tiny one-bedroom cottage (which is pretty much our budget in the nicest areas that we’d like to move thanks to rising house prices) isn’t an option.

2) We really HAVE been spoiled and I don’t want to regret leaving this place and the land. I could live in a two-bed house on the smaller side if it meant having plenty of outdoor space to ourselves. But in East Anglia, the South East or South West, I’m not sure that’s an option. Unless we live in the back of beyond with crap Internet (needed for remote working for both of us) and no services.

3) I want to stay in a commutable distance of work (Cambridge). I currently travel an hour once a week for the office and to have face-time with my wonderful colleagues (they really are a fantastic bunch) so adding on a little extra wouldn’t be so bad. But it does limit our options as far as finding somewhere a bit rural, a bit nice, and commutable.

4) Money. Savings. Rising house prices. Ridiculous deposits.

5) I’m going off the idea of older properties, simply because we’ve had constant work to keep this 1919 cottage from falling down. The idea of a new-build is getting more and more appealing but we’ll never EVER be able to do that outside of an estate-setting (what is with estates these days?!) or with enough land. And building our own is just not an option, given the amount of savings we’d have to accumulate.

6) We can’t live too close to working arable farmland because a) pesticides and b) harvesting and cats. We know people that have lots cats to combine harvesters :(

7) Everywhere I’d like to live is just Too. Damned. Expensive.

 

How can we make it work? I spend so much time at home that it HAS to be right.