Life in the Countryside · Vegetable growing

Potatoes in bags

So this year we have decided to grow our potatoes in grow bags. There are several reasons for this. Partly this is down to our potatoes from last year. Across the UK last year was quite poor conditions for potato growth, lots of wet weather at the wrong kind of time ended up with blight and slugs being more common than usual. We didn’t experience any blight but we did have a fair amount of our crop hit by slugs. It was a real disappointment to dig up our lovely harvest and find it had been damaged. We also had our potatoes in the field last year and we trialled using lazy beds which were a lot of work to set up and I don’t think they necessarily gave us the best crops. This year a couple of things are different. We now have the dog and the dog kennel up in the field. We also will be living up there in the not too distant future in our caravan as the work is completed. The area we used last year has grown over a fair bit as we kind of neglected it a bit (oops). So we decided to grow our potatoes in bags this year. Growing potatoes in bags is a great way for anyone to start growing some of their own veggies as it requires very little outside space, it could even be done on a balcony, and requires very little skill. In a previous house of ours we had grown potatoes in bags one year so we still had some bags left over but they can be bought from most garden centres or online. I’m even planning on using some of our spare recycling bags this year for our larger main crop varieties.

I always like to chit my seed potatoes, although you don’t really need to chit main crop varieties but as I buy all my seed potatoes at the same time it makes sense to. For chitting potatoes all you require is an egg box or two. Make sure that the side of the potato with the most eyes is facing upmost and leave them to sit in a warm dark place. Chitting just helps to give the seed potatoes a head start. Make sure before you start that you roll down the sides of the grow bag for ease of planting and for more sun exposure, we will roll them up again when we earth up the potatoes. For planting potatoes into bags I tend to go for 4 to 5 inches of a mixture of compost and well rotten manure and then water them and leave for 10-15 minutes or so to let it drain downwards. Then place three seed potatoes with the largest chits pointing upwards (as shown below). There are variations in the sizes of grow bags so if the label suggests to include more or less then go with that. Cover the potatoes with more compost (say three or four inches) and then lightly water again. As there have been a fair number of cold snaps (lots of snow) this year, when I first planted our early potatoes I kept them in the greenhouse to make sure they got off to a good start. If you don’t have a greenhouse then you could keep them indoors until all sign of frost has passed or just don’t plant until a bit later.

In a couple of weeks you should see the first signs of growth. Don’t get over excited and start earthing up yet, I like to wait until I have a good four or five inches of growth first time so I can be sure that they’re well established. Then cover them with compost until the tops of the plants are only just showing. Repeat as often as you can until the bags are full and then just wait. Below are our Red Duke of York earlies. The three bags on the left we planted first and are just about to have their final earthing up, the two bags on the right were planted a couple of weeks later and are due their first earthing up. I’ll update more about how to know when potatoes are ready nearer to the time.

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Caravan/travel · holidays

Caravan holidays

So during the Easter holidays we took our caravan down to Dorset for a midweek break. We didn’t take Jessie with us this time as she is in heat and it would have been a bit of a nightmare with her. The weather was forecast to be poor but we decided to embrace our inner campers and go for it anyway. Now my husband spent much of his youth in Dorset and so is really familiar with the area and since being with him I’ve fallen in love with the area as well. For our first trip with the caravan down there we decided to go for a holiday park called Highlands End which we’d visited before to use the facilities in our pre-caravan-owning stage. The nice thing about going on holiday in a touring caravan as opposed to another form of self-catering accommodation is that you can have everything unpacked and ready before you leave home. Before we set off I had already put our clothes in the drawers and wardrobe in the van. Our food was already in the fridge and freezer and C’s toys were already in her toy cupboard. This meant that when we arrived there was only the setting up of the actual caravan onto the pitch to do.

J is responsible for all the external sorting of the van and C and I do the inside. Although if I’m honest her assistance generally involves playing with her toys right in the middle of where I want to be. We are fairly efficient at setting up now to be honest and it’s lovely to arrive and feel your holiday can begin straight away. The weather whilst we were away was forecast to be rubbish rain all week so we had plans to visit the aquarium or go and see the new Peter Rabbit movie at the cinema or to visit the swimming pool on site or just stay holed up in the van watching movies. As it happens the weather was poor on the Monday night and into Tuesday morning but brightened up enough for us to head out for fish and chips in Weymouth for Tuesday lunchtime. It was even nice enough to have an ice cream on the beach. There is something about having fish and chips by the seaside isn’t there? It’s a proper British thing to do and it does taste so much better, and not just because it is inevitably fresher. Our favourite place for fish and chip in Weymouth is the Marlboro as their batter is really crispy and the fish is so delicate.

Wednesday the weather was a bit more hit and miss and we debated a cinema trip but instead I insisted on visiting one of my favourite places, Lyme Regis. I don’t know what it is about Lyme that I really like but it’s just somewhere that makes me happy. We parked in the harbour car park and walked along the front to the base of the hill and high street. For C going onto the beach is what makes it a proper holiday and she loved walking along the sand picking up stones and shells for me to carry in my pockets. She has a little bowl of shells in her bedroom at home which they will be added to. It did drizzle on and off so we had to pop into a couple of shops to keep dry, but thats part of the fun on a British holiday. C is going through a phrase where she’s really obsessed with dinosaurs so we picked up some toy dinosaurs for her and some fudge for myself and J. There are some really lovely shops in Lyme where you could pick up some nice bits for the home but given that we’re about to rip our house apart I had to resist the temptation to get anything.

Thursday we were blessed with incredible weather for the time of year which was perfect as we had plans to meet an old friend of J’s and her two daughters in Lyme. We had some fun times playing on the beach and paddling in the sea, I let J take charge of that one and I supervised from the comfort of the towels. Even though the sun was out there was still a bit of a breeze in the air but we were able to enjoy lunch overlooking the water and then a bit of crazy golf with an incredible view. I can highly recommend the crazy golf in Lyme, even though it’s not the best course I’ve been on, it is in an incredible location. That said, crazy golf was maybe a little ambitious for the two three year olds in the group. One of which had a tantrum and C only avoided a tantrum by picking the ball up and putting it directly in front of the hole before putting it in. But providing you aren’t too fussed about keeping score it’s not too bad a way to spend an afternoon. After all that fresh air the little ones were exhausted but we still had time to try out the new soft play at Highlands End which was the perfect way to end a very busy day.

Friday was time to head home after a thoroughly enjoyable few days away. It always amazes me how a few days away can make such a difference. I feel so much more rested and relaxed and we’ve made some good family memories. C in particular was sad to come home and that was on alleviated by the promise that we could do some baking when we got home. Holiday really makes you appreciate the importance of family time and the simple pleasures that spending some time together can bring.

Craft

Recent makes

Sewing has increasingly become something which I spend my spare time doing. Something which I enjoy and something which I am, with practice, improving at. Now I would certainly not consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination but I am getting to be more knowledgeable and more skilled as time goes on. I’ve made numerous items recently, many of which I haven’t photographed but some of which I have so I thought I would share some of my favourites.

This was a Mother’s Day gift for my mum (obviously). My mum tends to only have coffee once a day and uses her French Press. C painted the mug and I created the cafetière cosy. It was made using a free pattern from a magazine, I forget which now, and was my first make using heat insulating wadding. It was a slightly snug fit and I know myself that the stitching wasn’t as straight as it should have been but it suits its purpose well.

Next up is a top I made for myself using Tilly and the Buttons new sewing book Stretch. I made it using some lovely cable fabric from my current favourite online fabric shop Higgs and Higgs. It was a straightforward make and I used both my overlocker and my regular sewing machine to get what I think is a fairly professional look. It’s construction is relatively simple and the pattern gives lots of guidance at every step which is useful for those of use not well versed in sewing terminology. I paid careful attention to ensure that the cable pattern lay straight and I’m really pleased with both the pattern and the material. I can see myself using both again.

Now I know it looks very crumpled in the picture and you can’t really see the top, but this is a party dress that I made for C. I actually made it at a local sewing class and have since made another using the same pattern. I actually made this back in October time and it was one of my first forays into sewing clothes. It has a lining inside the top and a pleated skirt and a zip at the back. I made it in pink dotty fabric as C is obsessed with pink (still) and she absolutely adores it. However much I iron it she always manages to look bedraggled within half an hour of putting it on, but that is just her! I actually made her the hooded cape as well back before I had my cabin and when I was more focused on knitting. This was her on Mother’s Day when we were on our way for one of my favourite treats, afternoon tea.

I’ve made a couple more bits for C too recently. One of which is a hoody made using a pattern by a company called two stitches. Now little C hates wearing any kind of warm clothing. She is constantly taking her coat off outside at nursery and I really struggle to get her to wear any kind of warm top. I’ve knitted her a couple of really beautiful cardigans in the past and she point blank refuses to wear them unless forced. So I saw this pattern and decided to have a go at making her one, with the logic that if she chose the fabric she might actually wear it. The first was a grey number with sparkly unicorns on (I promise it looks better than it sounds), she absolutely loved it and has actually worn it loads without any objections. And the second was the blue shark material above. Both times she picked out the material herself and though I was dubious I went along with it and I have to say I’m rather pleased with how they’ve turned out. Perfect for colder days at the beach.

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

Preparing the raised beds for planting season

As you know last year my husband and I designed and built our own raised beds which proved to be a really great way for us to grow our vegetables. At the end of last years growing season we covered the empty beds with cardboard (to prevent weed growth) and just left them alone for the winter. So when it looked like it might be actually getting warm enough to plant some seeds I started to ready the beds for the season.

Two out of our six beds are occupied already with perennial crops (asparagus in one, strawberries in the other) so they need slightly different treatment but I’ll save that for another day. A good amount of the cardboard cover had began to compost down so I started by removing any large remaining pieces and then used a hand fork to thoroughly turn over all the compost to ensure it was lump free and crumbly. I’ve not added any extra nutrients to our beds this year but will probably give the crops some appropriate boosts once they have begun growing. I tried to plan out what to grow in the beds but have kept dithering about exactly what to go for so I’ve ended up starting with what we really enjoyed from our crops last year.

We’ve planted one bed so far. Just with seeds directly sown into the ground rather than trying to grow seedlings and then transplanting them. We’ll thin as required, the chickens really enjoy seedlings and we have loads of free seeds from gardening magazines. Two of our stand out crops from last year were turnips and carrots. We only planted one row of turnips last year and we found they grew really well and were delicious. We really enjoyed turnip in soups and it is a great staple roast dinner side dish. Not only that but they grow relatively quickly, freeing up the ground for more crops. The second crop was a relatively late addition to our vegetable garden last year but became a firm favourite. As a late addition (we actually planted some in the space left by the turnips last year) we only had a small crop but they were probably the vegetable where we noticed the biggest taste difference with shop bought varieties. Carrots too are a relatively quick growing crop so the pair are well matched.

So our first raised bed has two rows each of carrots (Nantes variety) and turnips (Purple Top Milan variety). If it turns out to be too early and too cold to have planted them then we haven’t really lost much more than a few seeds. Let’s wait and see in a few weeks if we have any sign of life, fingers crossed. Next week I’ll have a go at planting one of our other beds up though with what I haven’t quite decided yet.

Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Vegetable growing

Tomato bed

So our greenhouse has one side sectioned off to be used as a growing bed. This week one of my jobs was to prepare the bed ready for our tomatoes. As a family it is surprising how many tomatoes we actually use in various forms. Both C and I enjoy eating cherry tomatoes and we also use raw tomatoes in salads (I love a good capers salad). I use tomato as a base in my cooking a lot (my husband would say too much) and we also like to indulge in the odd sun dried tomato. In previous years we have grown cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets and the taste compared to shop bought varieties was incredible, so much so that J even liked them. So we’re really excited about growing so many more varieties of our own tomatoes this year. We’ve already planted some seeds and they have began to grow (with varying success) so this week I got our beds ready for when they are big enough to be transplanted out.

Now the bed down the side of the greenhouse is a really good size and was one of the reasons that we chose this particular greenhouse. We’ve filled the base of the bed with gravel. This apparently is good for helping with watering as you water the gravel and it keeps moisture in the greenhouse? I’m not really sure exactly but J has done his research and says it does. Then on top of this we have space for six grow bags, and the requisite black plastic trays underneath them. The at the end there is still just about space for our two citrus trees. Citrus trees? Yup, we have two citrus trees, one orange (I think it’s actually a mandarine to be exact) and one lime. They’re only little, although I did repot them recently, but they should hopefully give us a couple of fruits this year. They’re just starting to show new Spring growth as you can see below.

We mainly wanted the orange tree as we like to eat oranges, and, I’m not going to lie, the lime tree is mainly for gin and tonics. They will be alright to go outside in warmer weather, if we ever get any, but they will need to spend the colder months inside.

Anyhow, back to the tomatoes. So the bed is all set up, we do have everything ready for when the tomatoes need support but we’ll wait to add them as required. We have 18 slots to fill grow bag wise now and I’ve planted numerous seeds, of a number of different varieties, which are slowly starting to show promise. I’ve also planted a couple of pepper seeds and I’ll probably dedicate one grow bag to these. The flowers you can see are little C’s selection from the garden centre a few weeks ago. Like her daddy she really loves growing flowers and also has some in her bedroom, she loves stroking the petals.

Next to the flowers is our greenhouse heater which gives it an extra boost when it gets particularly chilly, which it has a lot in recent weeks! I’ve also given the greenhouse a good old tidy as you can probably tell. We have our little bistro set of table and chairs in the greenhouse at the moment and it fits quite nicely over the power supply stand. There is a lovely long work bench down the opposite side to the tomato bed which is now fairly clear and stores various paraphernalia at either end. Our seedlings are currently in the various propagators you can see. The purple thing is C’s fairy garden in case you were wondering.

Our tools are currently laying flat underneath the workbench. Not necessarily a permanent location for them yet but one which suits them for now. I have a lovely folding tray table at the very back which is useful both inside and outside, mainly for holding cups of tea at the moment but hopefully more when the weather gets a bit better. C has her own supply of gardening bits as you can see at the bottom right of the picture including her Peter Rabbit gardening apron which I made for her recently. I have plans for one for myself, although probably not with the same fabric.

So this has been a rather distracted post I know, so I shall end by bringing it back to tomatoes. Here are some of my tomato seedlings when they finally appeared. Thankfully they have grown a little bit more since this photo.

Craft · Life in the Countryside

Cabin update

So the cabin has had a few new additions since I last wrote about it. For my Christmas I received a mannequin so that I could get into dressmaking a bit more. It has proved to be a most valuable addition as my measurements usually don’t clearly fit into one particular size (in fact on one pattern my waist and bust were three sizes apart).

It is brilliant for putting partly constructed items on to check and adjust the fit and sits really nicely in the corner of my room. It generally has several partially constructed items draped across it.

I’ve also purchased some lamps so that when I’m in the cabin on an evening the light is a bit softer, especially if I’m sitting in my chair reading. I looked around for ages to find three matching lamps that I was happy with. I wanted one tall lamp for behind my chair and a small ones for two of the other corners of the room. In the end I found what I was looking for in B and Q.

However, the most exciting new addition to the cabin is my overlocker. For a while now my husband has been asking me if I want a new sewing machine. My machine was a gift of sorts from a friend of my father-in-laws who didn’t really use it. It’s a good few years old now but it is such a good quality machine and it does everything I could possibly want from it so I see no reason to upgrade it. So instead of a new machine I asked for an overlocker. An overlocker is a great machine for giving your seams a professional finish and it also enables you to stitch with more stretchy material. I’ll probably do another post in the future about overlocker but for now here is a picture of my fabulous new addition.

The rest of the cabin is pretty much as was. It is constantly in need of a tidy up, I mean if I have free time to sew then why would I want to spend it tidying? What I have found though is that we’re using it a lot more now as a family. If I go down to sew of an evening then J will often pop down for a cup of coffee and will sit it my chair chatting whilst I sew. I’ll often pop down there for an hour or so with C during the day as she has some toys kept down there as is always exciting for her to re-discover toys. C has become really fascinated with my sewing now, partially as I’ve made a few items for her recently which she loves so she’s really loved watching me create them. She’s also wanted to help several times. As any mum knows, toddler help is the least helpful kind of help. She’s “helped” me organise my fabrics, by pulling them onto the floor and using them as blankets for her and her toys. She has wanted to sew and has ended up sitting on my lap and guiding a piece of material through the machine using one of the fancy embroidery stitches. No doubt before long she’ll be wanting to make her own items which will come with it’s own challenges I’m sure. I’ll share soon some of my recent makes that I’m most proud of and some of my planned projects.

Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Forest school

Now this is a bit of a bizarre update as it has nothing to do with the cottage garden but it is something which is playing an increasing part in our lives and I think is worth talking about. For those of you that don’t know I work in a primary school and my daughter attends a nursery nearby. Both offer forest school as part of their provisions. What is forest school I hear you ask? Is it the latest parenting trend? We didn’t have forest school back when I was at school, why do we have it now? Well the truth is, in my opinion, that childhood has changed somewhat over the past few years. I worked in a secondary school for a number of years and over that time I noticed that children were becoming increasingly isolated from each other. For boys in particular this was a problem. They would spend hours and hours every day in their bedrooms playing computer games or on their phones and iPads. Alone. Inside. Not engaging with anyone else apart from online. Forest school is basically taking children outside (ideally to a forest of course) and re-introducing them to nature. Frequently there is a fire and a fire circle of logs surrounding it forming the centre of the ‘camp’. Fire based activities tend to include gathering logs (the lighting of the fire tends to be left to an adult) and various forms of cooking. I’ve seen popcorn popped (using two metal sieves attached together at the end of a long pole to hold it over the fire), marshmallows toasted on sticks as well as soup and pasta cooked in a more traditional way.

A common feature of a forest school is a mud kitchen. Now I don’t really remember having much of a play kitchen when I was younger, but that could be old age catching up with me, but we definitely did lots of making potions in the garden. A mud kitchen can take various forms. It can be as simple as some pots and utensils that children can play with or as fancy as a proper wooden outdoor kitchen. Mud kitchens have become very trendy at the moment with various companies charging not insignificant amounts of money for high end personalised ones. Children of all ages seem to really love them and a quick search on Pinterest will bring up a vast array of homemade versions. I have ambitions to create a covered one for C in our garden this summer out of pallets but haven’t finalised a design yet. I’m looking at putting it into the corner of our orchard and so far have out a base of four pallets down which I’m planning to secure together. The walls will pretty much be pallets stood on edge with some shaping and a window cut in maybe. Then I’m going to use the corrugated iron for which currently tops our coal shed as a roof. Ideally I’d like to create a kitchen bench type thing inside using our current kitchen sink and making a hob of some kind. Or at least thats the plan. I’ll start working on it sometime when the evenings start getting lighter so watch this space.

I can’t put up any photos up from my forest school experiences for child protection issues so I’ve added some of my random favourites in just to add a little colour. Forest school at a nursery level involves lot more crafty activities. Some of the ones I’ve seen include:

  • Taping a piece of paper onto a tree and using crayons to do bark rubbings.
  • Painting using mud as the paint.
  • Making a bird feeder by threading cheerios or similar onto a pipe cleaner (great for those fine motor skills too).
  • Using circles of cardboard and strips of sellotape across it to make a ‘stained glass window’. Stick leaves and twigs and other things found in nature onto the sellotape then backing it with more sellotape.
  • Using sticks to draw shapes in the mud.
  • Making faces and collages using twigs, leaves and other things found in nature.

The older children love building dens with ropes and tarpaulin and creating pretend battles. I’ve also seen children pretending to be dogs chasing each other and children digging for bugs and building homes for worms. What really stands out to me though is that forest school seems to be a place where children can just be children. Away from technology and the pressures of our society, children really relish the chance to just be children. The chance to let their imaginations take hold. Whilst it is amazing to see and be a part of, it saddens me. The fact that such activities don’t exist as part of childrens lives unless we specifically arrange it is a pity. Seeing how some children struggle to play outside without the structure we often give them just reinforces to me how much we need to keep making sure kids stay as kids for as long as they can. That they don’t miss out on being outside and enjoying the wonder that is nature. That’s my rant over. I promise my next post will update you more on what the cottage garden trio have been up to.

chickens · Dog · Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Snow days

It’s been pretty hard to avoid the fact that the UK has been hit by a storm of pretty mammoth proportions recently. All three of us had a snow day on Friday even though J did have to work from home. We’d had a bit of snow so far this winter so C and Jessie had experienced it a bit but this weekend it really came down hard. There is really something quite magical about the snow and the effect that it has on puppies and children. Even though it makes things so much harder it is just quite beautiful. That said I know that the storm has brought great tragedy and difficulty to many people so we are very lucky to have been able to enjoy its beauty.

This was the scene on Thursday night when I insisted that J and I don our wellies and walk out to the field just to look at its beauty. Jessie has absolutely adored the snow and would have spent all day out there had we let her. She has sniffed and dug and bounded all over. The funniest thing has been throwing snowballs and her trying to fetch them back.

On first seeing the snow C did ask “Can we open our presents now?” Which was pretty adorable and made me realise how much toddlers associate snow with Christmas rather than winter. I guess so many Christmas films show snow in them that the association is inevitable. The first thing C wanted to do was throw snowballs at daddy (which I strongly encouraged) and then build a snowman. It turns out that getting a toddler to build a snowman with a dog’s help isn’t as easy as you think but our garden is now proudly home to two snowmen (largely through the efforts of J but I did help).

C was so excited about putting the coal for the eyes, although we were lacking a carrot for a nose as I had just used the last of them for our roast dinner so we had to adapt with extra coal and an apple. I’ll be interested to see how long they last and I think C will be quite sad when they melt. I themed our Christmas Eve hamper this year on Raymond Briggs ‘The Snowman’ and when she watched the film she was really upset when the snowman melted.

I think the highlight of our snow endeavours for C was sledging. We already had a sledge in one of the sheds which J’s dad have over-excitedly bought a year ago when they said it was going to be a bit cold (no snow appeared that time). We don’t have any hills in the garden so C had to settle with being pulled around the field, which she adored.

In fact to get her back inside we had to bribe her with the promise of hot chocolate with marshmallows. She later described her favourite part of the day as being sledging. Being ‘trapped’ at home was actually quite nice in many respects. We had milk in and used the bread maker to keep ourselves stocked up with fresh bread. I baked a lovely coconut and raspberry sponge which was lovely still warm from the oven and even better the next day with custard. I had been running the freezer down in preparation for the big move so it wasn’t quite as well stocked as usual. However, we were still able to rustle up some lovely meals; roast dinner, egg and chips, beef bourguignon and new potatoes, Boursin topped ciabatta pizza and of course porridge or eggs and toast for breakfast. It has really reinforced to me the importance of having a well stocked freezer as a family. When we have the work done my aim is to have a large American fridge/freezer in the kitchen and two additional freezers in the sheds. And maybe a chest freezer too if we start producing our own meat.

I’m not sure how our veggies in the raised beds will have faired with the snow. We have strawberries and asparagus in there as permanent additions and our leeks which we planted back in October half term still in a bed too. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the big thaw to see how they have coped.

The fire has proved invaluable in this weather. Some of our water pipes did freeze inside the house due to lack of heat but once we put all our electric radiators on they thawed by Friday morning. We’ve actually been quite toasty.

The chickens have struggled in the weather and we have done what we can do for them but until it thaws properly it will be a bit touch and go for them. Their eglu is insulated and designed to withstand snow so they are fine in there but they really didn’t like coming out of it so we moved their water and food temporarily into their coop and are just going to have to wait it out and see how they do. We’ve still had at least three eggs everyday so they can’t be doing that badly but I’m prepared for the fact that we may lose a couple. Fingers crossed though.

Life in the Countryside · The cottage

A little heat to warm us up

So when we moved into the cottage it had a traditional open fire. A very welcome feature given that the cottage has no central heating. When we first moved in we loved the novelty of having a fire and quite enjoyed laying it and sitting by the fire on a lazy Sunday afternoon. However, last winter was miserable. Really miserable. There is a big difference in lighting a first because you choose to and lighting one because you have to. Getting home from work when it’s dark and having to clear out and re-lay and light a fire when you have a toddler demanding your attention is not an enjoyable chore. We do have some electric radiators around the house in the bedrooms etc but they don’t really warm the downstairs as well as a fire does. Not only that but having a massive hole in your living room, even in the form of a chimney, does make it a bit chilly.

The long term plan had always been to add in a log burner when we did the big works on the cottage but as we have found winters so grim in the cottage we decided to get the burner installed in November so we could get some benefit from it this year. Though I really think it was my husbands way of trying to make me less grumpy as I tended to be the one having to deal with the fire as I generally arrive home first. So we enlisted a professional to rip out the old fireplace, open it up to the original size (which is pretty hard to determine beforehand) and then (a week or so later) fit a log burner. Now we were really lucky to get some great advice about burners. Most people tend to live by the mantra of bigger is better but when it comes to log burners than that isn’t true. It is really important to size your burner correctly for the size of room. If it’s too large then the burner will overheat the room or you’ll end up using it inefficiently and it’ll cost more in fuel. A burner should be kept at a fairly even temperature in order to work efficiently. Too hot and it can damage the components or flue. Too cold and it will go out and just not keep you warm. A burner can be run for several consecutive days if used properly it just needs a bit of tended to to keep it ticking over.

Anyhow I’ve become distracted talking about burners. As it turned out once the fire was ripped out we had a lovely sized space to work with and after much research J purchased an AGA multifuel burner to fill it. It has proven to be a great little burner and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It fact since installing it we have discovered that another of our friends has the same one and also loves it. We’ve had the stone at the back re-pointed but we will get the sides re-plastered when we get the major cottage work done. It has really changed the way we look at the room and it seems so much more open now. And honestly it has really improved our lives. It took a couple of days to get used to how to use it properly but now we shut it down every night and it keeps burning slowly through the night releasing minimal heat (but still some heat nonetheless). Then every morning we just open it up, wait for it to warm back up and then add more fuel. It feels so much safer leaving it burning when we are asleep or out and it is so much more efficient with fuel. Not only that but cleaning and maintaining it is so easy. It definitely provides more heat per unit of fuel than the open fire did and leaves behind far less ash. And as the chimney is now covered it feels like there is less heat escaping from the room. The surround still looks very messy but I still love it and J loves being able to brew coffee on top of it.

Life in the Countryside

I’m back…

Now I know it has been a while since I’ve written. A long while. But something today has made me decide to start writing again. What happened to make me stop? Well a combination of things really; lack of motivation, lack of things to write about, the rubbish winter weather, but mainly life just got in the way. Now that doesn’t mean that life has got any less hectic now, in fact with the big build scheduled to start in the next few months and the Spring planting season starting hopefully soon (that is if the latest big storm doesn’t bring the country to the standstill that the news would have us believe). Now today I was off work as C was sick. She’d been up in the night so I was tired from getting up with her and generally pretty grouchy. (She’s fine by the way, I suspect it was something she ate). J had walked Jessie this morning and put her in the kennel (I don’t think I’ve written about this yet so will do a dog update soon) so that I could give all my focus to C. By early afternoon C wasn’t being ill anymore and had managed to hold down food and water. We had also watched Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs twice and she was keen to watch it again whereas I wanted to do anything but that, so I left her snuggled up watching TV for five minutes and headed up to the field to collect Jessie from the kennel.

Whilst up there I checked on the girls as there water has tended to get frozen over and collected the eggs. We’re back on five a day now after a long spell of Anna not laying. To be honest she did look like she was going to die as she lost a lot of feathers and looked rather scrawny but she’s just about back to normal now. We still have one other non-layer since the end of last summer but we have no idea who it is (one of the three normal coloured layers) so are just keeping an eye out to try and guess who that one is.

Anyhow, whenever I collect Jessie from the kennel after work I normally use the ball thrower and we spend ten minutes or so playing fetch in the field. So inevitably now whenever I get her she wants to play fetch. So we did a bit of fetch and wandered down to the greenhouse to check it out as we did so. Now the greenhouse is one of my new favourite places to be at the cottage. It has electric to it so we have a heater and a light there which provides a welcome shelter from the bitter cold outside. It has our little bistro chairs and tables set in so you can sit down and just enjoy the views of the garden. We have started spending the odd hour or so down there having a cup of tea and pottering.

It was pottering in the greenhouse today that made me decide to write again. Just less than two weeks ago C and I planted some tomato seedlings. And today to my delight I spotted the first few shoots appearing. Such a simple thing but something that reminded me why we’re putting so much time, money and effort into this place. We want to produce lots of our own food. We want to have a hobby that we can do as a family and that we can always learn from. We want our daughter to grow up running around outside instead of sat glued to her mobile phone. We want to be a happy trio. And today these little seedlings reminded me of that.