Mediterranean Eating Area and Funding Finances

Tortoise the cat sitting near the house in the evening sun

Tortoise the cat sitting near the house in the evening sun

Prologue: I wrote this about 5 weeks ago and never published it. Whoops. I’ve been so busy. SO busy – very sorry for the lack of blog updates. But I will be blogging again soon. Promise.

I’ve just been on a pre-lunch potter, and discovered that in just one square metre of our pretty substantial nettle patch, there are no less than 63 ladybird larvae. I’m quite impressed by that.

It’s been blustery here in Smallest Smallholding land for a good month. In the space of around six weeks. my garlic have been subjected to drought-like conditions (despite my best efforts to water them regularly), 30mph+ winds, as well as a mixture of driving rain AND wind, and I think there may have even been a ground frost thrown in for good measure. The result is that they’ve decided to just lay down and get on with it. I’m quite sure that they’re a soft-neck garlic variety, so I’m not at all surprised. I was hoping that the bulbs underground would continue to swell and in a few weeks, offer me some fat, pungent garlic to cook with for the next few months. I love my garlic SO MUCH. Shop-bought garlic just doesn’t do it for me any more.

But no, the first garlic harvest was absolute crap. So it’s finger’s crossed that the next look (which, admittedly, look so much healthier and robust) make the grade.

In my last blog post I wrote about the chicken rescue I was lucky enough to tag along at. The good news is that the next instalment is in the pipeline, and I’m so ready for another go. Now I know what I’m doing I’m chomping at the bit to get in there and help get those girls out. Finances still won’t allow for me to get my own girls – not that keeping them is expensive, but around here, the vet bills are. The Smallest Smallholding resident white queen cat Lilla had some eye problems last month, and one vet visit, two injections and a tube of eye ointment cot us £60. Then she had an allergic reaction to an insect bite and that was another £50. We’d do anything for our cats, but it does come at a price. And at 9 years old, I don’t think we can get Lilla or her sister or my two ex-stray fat cats Tom and Tortoise insurance, so we have to lump the costs.

Money. Money, money, money. It’s been on my mind a LOT lately, as usual. Basically, I don’t have enough of it to pay off debts, save up for tax, have a life (even a modest social life), save up for a holiday for my 30th, and just pay the bills to get by. Deposit for a mortgage? Upgrade our falling apart car? One day get married and have kids? Dream on.

So it comes down to the fact that I have to make more money via my freelance, save harder and spend smartly.

Going through our bank statements, we’ve realised that we’ve been spending a heck of a lot of money on food. My Smallest Smallholding veg growing exploits aren’t yet anywhere near a level that can sustain us outside of the mid-late summer months. We shop at Waitrose, which isn’t the most competitively priced supermarket, but it’s not bad, and its ethics are generally better than the scourge of British consumerism that are Tesco, Asda and Morrisons (yes, I’m a supermarket snob, and I enjoy the superb customer service for a change!). With our Waitrose being very very local, our problem is that we shop there several times a week, often popping in to get something inane like carrots or tin foil and coming out with £40 worth of goods. There’s not much planning, and its costing us much more than it ought to.

So, as Rich and I are both on a healthy eating thing at the mo (he has lost 6kgs, I have lost 2, boo), we’ve decided to introduce a healthy wallet plan too, where we withdraw a currently undisclosed (because we haven’t worked it out) amount of money for our monthly shopping budget and stick to it. There’s something about paying in cash that makes you realise just how much you’re handing over. All to often I can pay for something by card, not think about the amount that’s been deducted from my account and then a few days later have a small heart attack at just how much I’ve spent. Ridiculous, stupid and irresponsible, in short.

So hopefully we’ll be that little bit better financed throughout the month if we get ourselves sorted out. Time and bank statements will tell.

In other news, I’ve been writing a lot (children’s/YA book, been thinking on it for about 3 years) and continuing to dig a lot. The Mediterranean eating area is coming quite close to being dug over completely. Only one small, but challenging area remains. I say challenging because it’s probably the area most densely rooted with ivy, couch grass and bindweed roots. But with two of us on the case, dare I say it but I think in a week or two, in between work and other commitments, we might have it done. The next job will be to cut back the glorious thicket of honeysuckle and clematis montana so we can extract the fallen down trellis. Then we’re going to create a mood board so we can work out exactly what we’re going to do.

I received a couple of big parcels from Victoriana Nursery Gardens, having given owner Stephen a budget, a vague description consisting of “I need some Mediterranean style plants that the bees will like” and asking him to include some rosemary and lavender in the mix. These plants give us a base to work from, and should do well in the poor, sandy soil without much need for feeding and fertilising (ie, sustainable!):

  • Lavandula augustifolia ‘Munstead’ (a dwarf lavender)
  • French lavender
  • Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
  • Phomis fruitcosa (Jerusalem sage)
  • Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’
  • Cistus ‘Anne Palmer’
  • Abelia x grandiflora
  • Lavandula augustifolia/spica – Old English Lavender
  • Santolina virens ‘Primrose Gem’
  • Phlomis Italica

I think we’ll probably bulk out the rest of the planting with lavenders and flowering/edible herbs. HOW we arrange our planting is yet to be decided.

Another Delayed Blog Post…

As I begin to write this, it’s not even 9am on a Saturday and here I am, tip-tapping away on my keyboard, ready for a day of freelance work. I’m not in the best of moods, if I’m entirely honest. We’ve had a week of battling with a sick bunny – due to a condition she’s developed, she’s prone to attacks of ileus, a life-threatening illness bunnies can come down with for a myriad of reasons. Basically, their guts stop moving, and when their guts stop moving, it’s not. good. at. all. She was in the veterinary hospital overnight on Thursday, came home yesterday and still refuses to eat of her own accord.

We brought her home because she’s had a history of refusing to eat at the hospital, but once in familiar surroundings of her home (our living room), she eventually perks up and stuffs her face. She’d had a good run since the last attack a few months ago. In fact, she’d never been better. But this one seems to be nasty. I don’t know what’s going through her little mind – if anything at all – but she’s being so stubborn and it’s making me miserable. I don’t cope with animal illnesses very well when I’m away at work, and I dread Monday morning arriving and there being no change with her.

So let’s hope this weekend sees some improvements. We’re doing what we can and really, it’s up to her.

All this bunny related stress has seen me going to bed much earlier, and it’s actually done me a lot of good. I only half look like I’m from the Land of the Dead, and together with my new green tea drinking/greater intake of water regime, my skin is finally starting to clear up. I’ve had this funny rash of red pimples across my face for a while, and I imagine it’s probably diet related. Since my back went a bit doolally a few weeks ago, my diet has been absolutely abysmal. We’re talking bread, bread, bread, take-aways, cheese, bread, chocolate, crisps, sweeties etc. Comfort eating mode. I’ve been stressed a lot. Money. Work. Money. Money. Animals. You know how it is.

Anyway, I’m trying to get on top of it all, cutting out the crap and upping veg/fruit/wholefoods PLUS the green tea & water drinking PLUS earlier nights PLUS osteopathy and hoping that I don’t fall apart in a few weeks. I’ve got a LOT of freelance on at the moment, which is a good, great, fantastic thing, but boy could I do with a holiday. It’s looking a less and less likely prospect in the near future, thanks to vet bills, normal bills and the like. So I’m hoping that the summer will be a nice one, and that maybe we might be able to slot in some camping somewhere. Preferably away from screaming children. We have enough of those around here in suburbia, where parents don’t seem to think that allowing their children to scream for hours on end is inconsiderate. Hmm!

So what’s been keeping me busy besides a belligerent bunny and stacks of freelance? Well, I’ve actually been quite strict with myself and allowed for time in the Smallest Smallholding. In the greenhouse, the kale and leeks are doing well, but the chillies and peppers, as I predicted, are taking a while to germinate. With these cold nights we’re experiencing, I think it could be a little while until they start to shoot, but I’m going to use the opportunity to finally get my last lot of garlic in this weekend. I have a feeling some of it is going to end up in pots and troughs.

I’m holding back on the direct seed sowing for now. Apparently spring is a couple of weeks behind, which suits me fine. So I think I might give it a fortnight or so before I start putting in the parsnips, carrots and countless other seeds I’ve managed to accumulate, but not accommodate (yet). I’m going to follow Monty’s suggestion from GW last night, and start off some salad leaves in trays in my cold greenhouse. I unearthed (literally) a load of perfectly good seed trays that had been dumped in a pile in the semi-derelict corner of the Smallest Smallholding, so I’ll be putting those to good use.

Speaking of which, I’ve also made a start on what will become our Mediterranean eating area. At the moment, it’s a small square in the corner of the garden that gets sun from early-mid morning in spring/summer, right through to sundown. I think it’s probably south to south-west facing, and with poor soil and fanced on two sides should house quite a few Mediterranean plants and flowering herbs quite nicely. At the moment, it’s covered in lumpy mounds of grass, which in turn sit on top of brambles and an underground network of bindweed. It’s been a dumping ground for wood, houses my original wood pile (I started another one last year in another area, so am slowly transporting the original one over), then there’s the collapsed trellis slowly being overtaken by ivy, and remnants of a wooden arch that once supported our glorious clematis montana, honeysuckle, and rose. Those three plants are still there, somewhat overgrown and rambling, but we’re hoping to reinstate them once it’s all fixed up. On one side there was also part of a privet hedge which we’ve taken out. The birds didn’t really use it, preferring the denser hedges further up near their feeding areas, and it’s opened up the space towards the mini woodland garden under the fruit trees, my greenhouse and my veg plots. So much more light.

It’s taken me a number of hours spread over two weeks just to hack everything down to ground level. I have a feeling we’re going to have to take the top layer of soil off just to tackle the bindweed and bramble problem. Believe me, I know what I’m dealing with. Bindweed is one of the banes of my life. Once all the discarded wood and dumped fence panels are removed, the second overgrown honeysuckle is taken out (it doesn’t flower) and I’ve finally chopped down the last of the BASTARD scratchy brambles that have shredded my hands and arms for the last fortnight, then we’ll be ready to start planning and designing it all properly. My starting point is that I want to keep it looking fairly natural and wildlife friendly.

In other Smallest Smallholding news:

  • We have a pair of blackbirds bringing up a small family in our ivy. Been helping out dad by periodically digging out nettles in one area and vacating for a while whilst he goes in and collects food. This is in addition to the spring/summer mix we offer all the birds, which includes mealworms.
  • The alpine strawberries are growing well in the shingle near the house. Might transplant some into the new eating area, if we choose to gravel round the edges.
  • Hedgehog poos on the lawn confirm – the hedgehogs are awake. Extra supplemental feeds will now be available on a nightly basis at the Smallest Smallholding!
I can’t write any more now. I have to get on with a tonne of freelance. Sigh!
Edit: Since writing this post Ms. Moppy is doing much better!
Edit: You can view the evolution of the Mediterranean Eating Area here on my Smallest Smallholding Facebook page.