Vegans, Colds, Making Time and Wish Lists

The second week of January is coming to a close, and after a brief spell of disconcertingly mild weather, we’re all set for a bit of sleet and snow next week. So back on with the multiple layers of jumpers, out comes the kindle and wood for the fire once again, and no doubt my winter bird feed bill will once again rocket out of control.

I’ve also been battling with a cold of the virus kind. I’m entering my third week of being a snot-ridden, sneezing, haggard mess, and I’m not particularly happy about it. All plans I had about being ultra-organised and back into a routine have gone out the window as I struggle to get a decent night’s sleep, to feel energised or motivated at all. This one’s a stubborn hanger-on, and unfortunately there’s nothing I can do but wait it out. And moan occasionally. As you do.

But it’s not all doom and gloom here at The Smallest Smallholding – I’ve started clearing out the borders of last season’s detritus of dead organic matter, ready for digging over and replanting. Next on the list, after the next bout of cold weather has come and gone, are the veg plots. Still haven’t got the garlic in, but it’s on the To Do List. I managed to get my hands on some Cristo garlic bulbs again this year, and I am already almost salivating with anticipation at the thought of using those gorgeous, aromatic, juicy cloves in the summer.

I’m also slowly accumulating a wish list of wildlife-friendly border plants/seeds to buy and sow in the spring, and so far have added sedum, cotoneaster and salvia to the list, all the while dreaming of longer days, warmer climes and the sight of fresh, green buds. I find the long nights between January and February to be the most laborious and tedious, but it’s always heartening to know that spring will be on its way, and in the meantime I can spend my time scheming and dreaming of all the things I want to achieve in the coming year (without the inevitable disappointment of never quite getting around to those tasks).

This year though, I had a mini epiphany. An stupid epiphany, really, seeing as it’s just blatantly obvious. Whenever I don’t get anything done, I’ve always said “… but I never have time! I’m always so busy!”. Nuh-uh, that’s the wrong attitude. I’ve got to *make* time for my Smallest Smallholding. Otherwise, I’ll never have time to do anything that I want to. I have to think about it as crucial to my sanity and well-being, and it’s something that I *have* to schedule into my diary. Yes, better organisation of my working life and all things adult-y like housework will help to create extra time, but essentially, it comes down to the fact that if I never make time, I will never have enough of it. So there.

The other good news is that the one solid New Year (month) resolution that I set myself is also going well – dairy free for just the month of January. To be honest, it’s going so well that I can see myself extending it for several months… then perhaps indefinitely. Like I said before, I’m not sure if I’ll ever go vegan, but I need to make any commitment in that direction in small steps, to make it sustainable. This is where many people fail, I think, when it comes to going veggie or vegan. So I started with dairy – formerly a big part of my life (particularly mature cheddar cheese sandwiches, and ice cream), and now, not so much. OK, so I haven’t been faced with a situation where the only foodie options are lush, creamy cakes and such, but I’m doing well, with relatively little cravings. My chocolate cravings are fixed with a bit of Oatly chocolate milk (and the surprise package of Booja-Booja vegan raw chocolate truffles from one of my besties Amy), almond milk is gorgeous, and for now, I’m doing OK without cheese! It’s making me plan ahead a bit more, rather than lazily stuffing my face every lunchtime with a big cheese roll. I love pizza, but I’ll work out an alternative, I’m sure, and all the rest is just food that I can’t have, and I accept that. I feel like the whole exercise has had a positive impact on my diet, and I’m happy enough to just go along with it, for now. I would encourage anyone to do the same. A bit of change, a little bit of hardship (to be honest, if you know where to look, it’s really not that hard) and some lateral thinking are good for us all, I think. It also makes sense for me, as a person looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle, to consider dairy. It’s something that I cannot grow or produce myself, so cutting back makes absolute sense. I still think it’s important to support the smaller herds in Britain, and if you’re happy to continue eating dairy (like my other half), then I would implore you to do so. It’s hard to take the control away from the supermarkets, but as consumers we have so much more power than we’re ever led to realise, but we’re far too influenced or hoodwinked by the profit-driven big guns. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or make your voice heard.

The Cold Battle Commences

I’m sitting here wrapped in a blanket with the heating on, my thin socks proving pretty inadequate at keeping my feet from feeling like ice blocks. Last night, the BBC weatherman forecast the first real beginnings of that winter chill, with northerlies set to blow across our little island from next week. Snow, he said, was a real possibility. In the Highlands of Scotland, but still – snow. Gosh.

It feels as if the past few mild weeks have lulled me into a false sense of security – I find it difficult to remember what living with months of cold can feel like. I love many things about winter, but ultimately it does become a bit of a challenge. I mean, aside from the fact that when it gets colder, my nose turns perpetually rudolf-red, and my rubbish circulation leaves me with purple-blue fingernails and iceblocks for feet. In late autumn and winter, the longer nights need to be filled, the bitter cold penetrates through every nook and crevice in my window-rattling but endearing half-renovated house, and then there’s the prospect of gargantuan fuel bills, as well as an increase in bird food funding.

Around this time every year, it becomes a battle of wills – me vs. the cold. I try hard not to switch the heating on between until at least November, but I’m sad to say that it currently seems to be a losing battle on my side. Despite the fact that I’m still waiting for the first frosts (after which time, I’ll harvest my squashes), the heating has been on several times (even in the day), and my environmentally-aware conscience sits on my shoulder, tutting and pursing its lips in disapproval each time the button is switched to ‘on’. Oh good grief, it’s not a major major issue, I know. And let’s face it, I’m lucky that I have a roof over my head, a lovely warm bed and the option of heating my house up to practically sauna-like temperatures, if I had the urge to do so. Clearly, I do not.

My rather rambling point is that with fuel prices set to keep on rising, I don’t want to keep on having to pay increasing heating bills year upon year. Then there’s the ‘ethical’ issue that my old Edwardian house is so flippin’ inefficient when it comes to retaining heat. Our loft conversion (and roof) has little insulation, and the wooden sash single-glazed windows throughout the house are probably the worst offenders, letting in a steady stream of cold air and slowly chilling the house from the outside, in. The one exception, apart from our double-glazed conservatory (which, in winter, offers little more warmth than the outside air temperatures, and in summer, frequently hits the 90F mark), is the wooden-framed double glazed window in the bathroom. It’s stupendously good at keeping that room like a light-filled warm sanctuary.

I haven’t heard any long-range weather forecasts this year, so have no idea as to whether we’re in for a mild winter, or another season of record-breaking temperatures and major weather-related travel disruptions. But what I do know is that I have to take this fuel thing in hand. We can’t afford to double glaze the entire house, so we’ve got to make efficient changes elsewhere.

We have been rather naughty and haven’t had our chimney swept in at least 5 years – extremely stupid really, when you consider that a chimney needs to be swept at least once a year. Our open fire gets a lot of use in the autumn and winter, so this is definitely something that needs seeing to.

We’ve also been throwing around the idea of installing a wood-burning stove, as we have an empty fireplace in the adjacent open-plan dining room. It’s located in the centre of the house, and seeing how quickly and efficiently my mum’s log-burning stove heats her house, we feel as though installing a stove there would be a good investment, as over a number of years we could save a lot on our bills. But as ever, money is the main issue. Not with the stoves themselves; second-hand woodburning stoves seem to be reasonably priced, and if we set some funds aside, eventually buying one wouldn’t cause too much discourse with our finances. What we don’t think we can afford right now is the cost of actually installing the thing. More research required here.

The third thing I need to consider, is the fuel itself. We have gas central heating, and when we have a fire, we use coal and wood. Two out of three of these fuels are not (currently) sustainable. One or two years ago I alluded to the idea of growing some of my own fuel at least. I mean, in my eyes, that would be the most environmentally-friendly option. We’d need just enough fuel for our one fireplace, and I imagined we’d switch off the heating, and huddle together in the lounge on cold winter evenings, before retiring to crawl under a mountain of blankets and quilts at bedtime. A somewhat rosy, romantic view, I feel! I have experienced the reality of living in this house in the winter without hot water or heating for several days in a row (during which time, our gas cooker provided some salvation) – and I can tell you, it ain’t no fun mister.

But back to the fuel. Hazel wood. I was going to being by starting off a little coppice, for kindling at least, and to serve as a kind of wildlife area too. At the moment, my designated tiny area is full of (spreading) dogwood and nettles, so that is going on my autumn/winter projects list too. Big job. Not really looking forward to dealing with it, if I’m honest.

Then there’s curtains. This house needs more curtains. Nice ones. Roman blinds and wooden slatted blinds are about as useful as a sheet of toilet paper when it comes to keeping the cold out, and fuel bills down. My mum tells me car boot sales are a good start. Either that, or I need to get the sewing machine out and start learning how to use it properly.

Finally, I need to invest in some more thermal underwear. If I don’t feel so cold, the house doesn’t need to be heated up so much. Of course, there’s always going to be my blue-tipped fingers. But for now, I need to stock up on thermal vests (yes, I already own one, am currently wearing it, thoroughly recommend), thick socks and slippers. Or slippersocks.

Oh, almost forgot – am also making sloe gin. Great for internal warmth and external glow. Recipe coming soon.

What about you? How are you planning to battle the cold this year?

Germination – colds and seeds

I’m going to have to keep this one (relatively, for me) short and sweet, simply because I’m still not well and seem to have had a second wind with this cold. Or whatever it is. Bleh.

Firstly, thanks to each and every one of you that commented on my last post. I should have replied personally to each of you but, to be honest, I’ve lacked the energy and mind space to much at all lately. I’m just wiped out, especially this morning, having had about 2 hours sleep. But I have read, re-read, read aloud and read once more the comments thoroughly and taken heed. Believe me. I really have.

So as you’d imagine things have been going at a somewhat more leisurely pace here at The Smallest Smallholding. In the evenings, after work, I’ve been doing a little weeding whilst we let the bunnies ‘free range’, mostly because I’d either sit there and brood, or eat. So it’s a good time to do something constructive. Little bits and pieces, where I can.

If I feel any better this afternoon I might try and plant a few lavenders in, but I think today is a bit of a sofa day. I really thought I was getting over this cold/infection/thing but yesterday afternoon it came back with a vengeance. Is that normal? It just seems it’s been about 3 weeks in the making and then not a fully fledged cold, just a bit glandy (new word), tired, snotty on and off.  Now I’ve just got one of those really awful dry hacking coughs that make you gag, because I’ve been breathing through my mouth all night, a (literally) streaming nose and burning eyes. Joy. And then add to that beautiful picture a few spots (thanks in part to office-bought Krispy Kremes, NOT my idea), and rapid weight gain, and you have a truly stunning sight to behold.

Blergh. I’m no good when I’m ill. I was hoping to get over it a lot quicker so I don’t feel so down in the dumps all the time. It certainly hasn’t helped. And yes – I am dosing up on every known natural cold/immune system booster/remedy known to man.

Sooo rather than moan and relay all my symptoms to you (isn’t it boring), let’s talk fruit and veg.

My polka raspberries are sprouting now. despite Moppy’s attempts to eat all of the newly shooting leaves, so I’m hoping I’ll have a few healthy bushes to marvel at by the summer. My garlic and onions are doing well, as always, and the Charlotte potatoes are IN.

And my chillis and peppers are starting to germinate, despite not being in a propogrator – wahey! Well, not all have germinated quite yet. The jalapenos and cayenne peppers are yet to make an appearance, but I’m hoping once the conservatory starts to reach a suitable temperature, they’ll show themselves.

So I’m sort of on top of my planting, but there’s still a lot more to do. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going to put everything this year. The onions and garlic alone (along with a line of raspberry canes) has taken up my biggest plot. I have a small bed dug out, reading for composting before I plant my salads. I figured a smaller bed for cut-and-come again salad leaves would be easier to manage and protect than big, long rows. I have one remaining vacant bed and I have to find room for cabbages, runner beans, a few varieties of squashes and goodness knows what else that’s lurking in my seed box. Hmm. Need to work out some space-saving solutions…

Either way, today I’m going to take it easy, and not feel guilty about it. I even had a relaxing bath at 6am (due to lack of ability to sleep due to feeling crap) with my copy of Country Living and a hot honey & lemon.