Life in the Countryside

Saving money

So here at cottagegardentrio, we tend to do lots of things which save us money but it occurred to me the other day that we have no real way of measuring this. Yes our food shops might be smaller sometimes or our electricity bill slightly lower, but I have no real way of seeing how much of an impact what we do has. I know some gardeners will often weigh all of their produce and try to price up what it would cost in the supermarket, but I don’t feel like I have the time for this really in amongst everything else I want to do (I tried this and spent ages looking for exciting potato types at Waitrose before giving up). So instead I’ve decided on a different approach. Every time I make or use something which I would have otherwise spent money on, I’m going to transfer £1 from our current account into a specially created savings account. Whilst some of the things we do (like drying our washing on the line instead of the tumble dryer) won’t have saved us £1, some other things we do would have saved us infinitely more (how on earth do you put a value on 12 jars of organic, high fruit, plum and rum jam?) So a set value of £1 makes it much easier to manage. I don’t know how long I’ll manage to keep it up, or if the end of summer is really the time to be starting this when most things have already been harvested, but I really fancy trying it for a spell to see. 

So far my list of things I think we do include:

  • Collecting eggs from the girls
  • Growing vegetables in the raised beds
  • Collecting fruit from the trees and hedges
  • Making jams and chutneys
  • Baking cakes instead of buying them
  • Sewing and knitting some clothes/gifts/household items
  • Using a washing line instead of a tumble dryer
  • Eat in/have friends over instead of going out (we do still eat out way too much, but we keep making efforts to reduce this)
  • Shopping around online for bargains (I’m including this as it’s amazing how much you can save sometimes)

I’m sure there may be more but that’s all I can think of now. My big struggle is whether to put money in when I harvest goods, or when I use them? And do I put money in for when we collect eggs everyday? I’m going to put any money saved towards our trip away for our five year anniversary next year (as yet unplanned though we’ve had lots of ideas). Does anyone else do anything similar to keep track of money saved? Any better ways to do it? How much money have people actually found making small changes can save?

Life in the Countryside

Nothing beats a good cup of tea

I actually purchased my kettle for my cabin before my cabin was built (don’t worry it was in the planning we just hadn’t finalised who we were going to buy it through yet). Now that may sound pretty crazy but J and I are both known for getting excited and buying things in advance, but more on that another day. I knew that the cabin was going to be my me space and that I wanted to be able to make a cup of tea and chill with a magazine in my chair. Now as I was unlikely to be making more than one cuppa at a time I was quite keen to try an instant hot water kettle. I’ve heard mixed reviews about these, I think the first few models tended to give water that wasn’t actually that hot but after chatting to a few people I was persuaded to give it a go. As our water down here is quite hard I also fancied getting a kettle with an inbuilt water filter (I’m sick of having to descale our current kettle). So I did lots of research and in the end settled on this.


Although it sat in a box for a while until the cabin was actually built I do love it. Having a quick cup of tea down there has been a lovely indulgence. The filter has helped to reduce the hardness of the water, and I love that you can adjust the amount of water it dispenses to adapt to the size of cup or amount of milk room needed. 

Now I also decided to indulge myself with some new crockery for the cabin. I really like the Emma Bridgewater range and have some of her cake tins already. So I put in an order with J for Mother’s Day for two mugs, a tea storage jar and a two cup teapot. I went for seconds as they are often virtually flawless for a reduced price. I’m planning on adding to my collection with a tray maybe and some small plates once I’ve finalised where my coffee table will be (and in fact what coffee table I will have). 


I love my little set up and I’m planning on including some little touches of polka dots about the cabin to link it in nicely. The kind people at Emma Bridgewater even have an offer where if you purchase anything from them using this link then you get a free polka dot mug (like mine above but not a second) free with any order above £30. Is anyone else a huge fan of her ever expanding range? I’ve got my eye on a tray to sit my mugs on next I think and maybe some more cake tins (you can never have enough cake tins in my opinion). 

Dog

Puppy, end of week 2

So we have now had Jessie as a part of our family for two weeks now and it feels like she’s been here for so much longer. Her confidence in her surroundings is growing and with this she has become more playful and more of a scamp. She’s done really well with housetraining and we’ve had very few, if any, accidents. We still do a bit of a poo watch after she’s eaten but she is taking herself to the backdoor most of the time. We’ve not heard a peep from her during the night which is brilliant and she’s using her puppy pad in the night as required. 

With labradors, mental challenge is as important (if not more important) than physical exercise so we’ve been giving her lots of different types of mental simulation. She’s been chasing an ice cube around the floor on a really hot day. 


Doing some basic training skills; she’s already mastered the ‘sit’ command and has been working on the ‘give me five’ (or paw) which she’s pretty good at. She’s got the hang of ‘fetch’ now but she doesn’t always like to give back the thrown article and instead likes to play tug of war, more practice needed I think. Next step is ‘down’ to get her lying down which she’s quite a way off so far. I’ve got a post about training to come later this week. 

She was due to have another one of her vaccinations on Saturday but had a bit of a rash on her tummy (the vet says it’s an allergic reaction possibly to washing powder or poison ivy and she has antibiotics to remedy it), so couldn’t get them this week. Hopefully she’ll be alright to have them next week instead. As she seems to be a big fan of trying to chew everything we’ve introduced a great tip from some friends of mine. We fill her Kong with cream cheese and then bung it in the freezer (Kong do sell their own product to fill with but it is a bit overpriced). Then when it’s out the freezer it can keep her entertained for ages trying to lick it out and the coldness helps to numb her sore gums (kind of like bonjela for puppies). 

Jessie is getting better at walking on the lead in the field although we are finding that whenever we’re out with C she always insists on holding the lead as well. It’s going to be an interesting time when Jessie starts getting bigger! 

Raised beds · Vegetable growing

Baby corn harvest

This year we were very late in getting our raised beds built and filled, so we ended up being too late in the Spring to plant some of the seeds we’d originally hoped for. So on one of our frequent weekend trips to the garden centre we picked up some seedlings  that they had leftover. We went for mini pop sweetcorn. It is a baby corn variety, designed to be picked and consumed when the cobs are about 10-15cm long. Sweetcorn is a big favourite with C although she does tend to prefer the ‘normal sized’ variety. However, babycorn holds a special place in J’s heart. J lost his mum when he was very young to cancer and one of his memories of her is when he visited her in hospital and she gave him her babycorn from her dinner plate. He’d never seen babycorn before and it always reminds him of his mum now. So growing our own babycorn is something quite special for us. 

Now whilst normal corn is fairly easy to determine when to harvest (the tassels turn brown) for babycorn it seems to be a little bit more vague.  

These are the male parts of the plant, which some seem to suggest aren’t needed for mini pop but others imply are still necessary. 


And these are the tassels and indicate where each cob is.

Now all my research has said that if the tassels turn brown then they will be too far gone and will taste bad. So you have to harvest them when the tassel are still pale and you are aiming for the corn to be about 10-15cm long. Which is all very well and good, but how on earth are you supposed to know when they are that length without harvesting some? Well we decided to test one out today. We slowly peeled back the leaves (well it wasn’t really a peeling but a tearing) to reveal this.



My daughter was so excited to discover it, that is what has really made growing our own vegetables enjoyable giving her these wonderful childhood experiences. So tomorrows job is to harvest some more and then blanch and freeze them as they are best enjoyed when picked fresh on the day. I’ll be interested to see how many we get, as one doesn’t really give a meal!


Craft

Ironing table: my current set up

So in the craft cabin one of the key requirements originally was to have somewhere big enough to have an ironing board permanently set up for my sewing. Once I started looking into it a bit more I decided that ironing boards aren’t the most attractive and instead I wanted an ironing table. When I bought my three desks the intention was to have one for my sewing machine, one for my cutting mat and to turn the final one into an ironing table. I planned to cover the whole desk with iron safe material (no idea what that would be). I had a picture in my mind of what it would look like, and had seen some pictures of similar ideas on the internet so I thought it would be fairly simple to do. When my desks arrived they were a really good size and I started browsing the internet for some ironing board material (despite J’s suggestion that I might not want to permanently cover the desk as it was quite a large surface). But I just didn’t manage to find what I was after and, being desperate to start crafting I decided to get a temporary portable mat until I could create what I was after. I went for this one as it had the best reviews on Amazon (always a good indicator) and wasn’t too expensive for what I saw as a temporary solution. It rolls up nicely so it can be put away as required (although I’m leaving it out all the time at the moment).


My main concern with an ironing mat was that it would leave condensation on the table but so far (despite extensive use) that hasn’t been a problem. It also kind of matches the colour my chair will be (when that finally arrives) which is good. I also think it looks smart enough to have out all the time.


As sewing requires lots of bits of pressing seams, having a good iron set up was really important to me as when I was having to sew on my dining table I found the faff of putting up the ironing board and setting up (and then waiting for the iron to cool before putting away) put me off doing bits of sewing when I only had limited time. J wanted to me to get one of those huge steam irons to have, but as I mainly use cotton and didn’t really fancy spending £200+ on an iron I looked for an alternative. I settled on the idea of a cordless iron which would give me a bit more flexibility when needing to move about my sewing benches. Plus, the idea of dangling cords has always seemed like quite a hazard to me. I ended up going for this one, again as it had great reviews. 


When you first switch it on it needs about 20 seconds to heat up (indicated by blue flashing light) then a constant blue light tells you it is fully charged. Then you use it as normal and when it needs more power it flashed orange, it then takes less than 6 seconds to be ready again, time to turn your fabric/garment to the next position. It suits my purpose perfectly and fits nicely on my ironing table. I’m still not 100% that this will be my final set up, but for now it seems to suit. What does everyone else do about pressing when sewing? Does anyone have any suggestions for how I can improve my set up?

Fruit growing

Hanging basket tomatoes

As we don’t have a greenhouse yet, we grew our tomatoes in hanging baskets again this year. They are one of C’s favourite snacks. So far we had loads of flowers and then loads of green (unripened) fruit but they have been remarkably slow to ripen. Then after I was away for a week up north and there was a deluge of bad weather they seemed a little, well, how should I put this, a little dead. Actually scrap that. They seemed a lot dead. Well some of them do. Now for tomatoes there are a couple of possibilities when they start to look like this. It could be a lack of nutrients of some kind (magnesium apparently is the norm), the solution for this is to give them a feed of Epsom salts. It could be die back, possibly caused by overcrowding as the foliage is quite dense. It also could be blight. Blight is the worry of vegetable gardeners (or one of the worries) as it can decimate potato and tomato crops (they are the same family). It is a type of fungus (I think) which is encouraged in wet weather, so in our particularly damp summer it has been an ever present concern. 

I’ve given my tomatoes a quick feed of Epsom salts and have cut off some of the foliage and am keeping watch. We’ve had a good enough supply of fruit from it so far and the fruit are staying healthy, so I think for us it was a combination of everything (apart from blight). Hopefully we still have plenty more fruit to come. 

Fruit growing

Plums 

We have one quite old plum tree (well at least we think it’s quite old) in our garden and we’re lucky that it is a Victoria plum tree.  Victoria plums are considered by many as the Queen of plums, their trees reliably produce a good volume of tasty produce. This year it looked like we were going to have an amazing harvest when the fruits started to appear. I had planned to thin them a bit but, what with one thing and another, I never got round to it. It turns out that was a mistake. Our tree is laden with ripening plums. However, where we have had so many so close to each other we have had some go bad. And as they are so closely packed the badness spreads quite quickly. We’ve also had a number of branches snap in the poor weather we’ve had and so they need to be tended to. 


However, it is lovely to see the branches so heavy with fruit, especially as when the hang low it makes them easier to pick! 

The day before yesterday C and I picked two kilograms and made them into plum and rum jam (a favourite of ours and the one which we get requests for most frequently).


All ready to start jam making in my trusty old jam pan


The finished product, 12 jars in total with 3 kg of jam. (I need to get nicer labels, I know, but at least I’m reusing jars).


I did have a small amount leftover for us to try on crumpets, I mean it wouldn’t be right not to test it out. 

So after that massive harvest I thought we would be good for a few days, but then today C and I harvested another 3kg (and we’re still only going for the easy to reach ones. 


J has requested we make some plum crumble so it looks like that’s going to be this evenings job. 

Craft

Coaster craft guide

So now the cabin is up and running I’ve taken advantage and spent as much of my free time as possible there. Although I still have lots to do to get it finally organised, I just really wanted to make something. Anything. I’ve had so many things that I want to make but I just haven’t really been able to get my sewing equipment out that easily previously. So I just wanted to complete something simple to christen my cabin. My first project was two coasters for my cabin for when I have a cuppa down there. Ridiculously simple to make but the perfect homely touch. 


Homemade coaster

You need:

  • Material of your choice, this project is perfect for scraps you’ll need approximately 2 6 inch squares per coaster. Material should be prewashed and ironed. 
  • Cotton thread to match (or contrast if you prefer) your material.
  • Wadding – the same size to match your material, though you only need one square per coaster.

Instructions

  • Measure and cut your material and wadding to size. I prefer to measure a coaster I already have to get the size I like. Remember to add on an extra half an inch each way for your seams. You need one square of wadding and two squares of material per coaster.
  • Put the two pieces of material right sides together and put the wadding on top and using a 1/4 inch seam sew around the edge (make sure you leave a gap of about an inch so you can turn it inside out).
  • Trim the wadding and any excess material around the seams, being careful not to cut too close. Cut off the corners to enable as smooth a finished product as possible (figure one).
  • Now turn your coaster the right way round by pushing the fabric and wadding through the opening you left. This can be a bit fiddly, I sometimes use a crochet hook to help me. Pay particular attention to the corners (figure two). 
  • Now press your coaster, making sure that the gap left in the seam is lying correctly.
  • Finally sew all around the four edges, you need to sew close enough to the edge so that the gap in the seam is closed (figure three). 

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3


Ridiculously simple but I think they are very effective. I’ve also done some coasters and placemats for when we have BBQs in the garden. 

Dog

Jessie, end of week one: what were we thinking?

So today we have had Jessie home for a week. Although we would have considered ourselves prepared (I had a family dog growing up, we’d thought about puppy proofing and had bought all our supplies, we’d even read a book), we weren’t. Well we were as prepared as we could have been but nothing can really prepare you for how much your life will change. Same as having children really. We have been really lucky as Jessie has a lovely nature and has settled really well with being away from her mum and six siblings. We’ve also been lucky that C and her have bonded well and C has embraced having her join our household. J and I have been keen that Jessie has to fit in with our lifestyle and whilst we are willing to make concessions as she settles in, ultimately she will have to muck in with the rest of us. However, for this first week we have spent time working out Jessie’s needs and routine and seeing how it will fit in with our lives. So this is where we’re at with our now nine week old puppy’s routine.

J gets up at 6 and cleans out the cage, as required, and gives Jessie her breakfast. He then takes her for a couple of laps around the field, he’s currently at one with the lead so she learns how to walk well on it and one without with her walking next to him. She also normally manages her morning toileting during this, both varieties. I get up at around 7 and make us both a morning latte. Then it varies depending on what time J needs to leave the house and what time C wakes up (anytime between 7 and 8:30). We are trying to focus on several things at the moment with Jessie as part of her training/learning process. We are trying not to leave her unattended when awake (so we can stop chewing or poor behaviour immediately), if she is asleep on the floor I keep myself nearby (although I do pop to the kitchen/dining room/bathroom as required) in case she wakes up. This has provided some restrictions in what myself and C can get done but we’ve adapted alright so far. When she is awake C and I try to play with her both inside and out (when the weather has been nice enough) and have encouraged her to explore within reason. When C and I are having breakfast, or in fact when any of us are eating, then we are insisting that she is in her crate. For now we are locking the door but we’re hoping as she ages it will become a habit for her to go there when we go to the table. Why are we doing this? Well, both J and I don’t like dogs begging at the table and so want to try and make sure she leaves us alone when we eat. At first she would object when we put her in there but now she is increasingly going in there willingly and is calm and happy there. She now often goes in there herself for naps. Though sometimes just stretching out on the floor is best. 

Co-ordinating lunchtimes has been tricky as both she and C normally eat at 12, so I’ve tended to give Jessie her lunch first and then take her outside for her toilet stop and then give C her lunch afterwards. Speaking of toilet training, I’d really hoped that that particular phase of my life was over now. There seem to be mixed opinions about the best way to house train a dog. As seems to be the case with children, everyone has an opinion on what you should do. Some say use puppy pads, some say don’t; some say go down to them at night, some say never go down; some say let them out every two hours in the night, some say don’t. We’ve gone with what is going to work best for our life at the moment. That is having a puppy pad in her crate which she can use at night or when she’s shut in there. Then we let her outside at several points in the day; as soon as she’s let out of her crate (morning and anytime she’s been in there during the day), straight after meals, when she wakes up and when she’s had a big drink. That sounds like a lot but it isn’t really, she does sleep a lot and she’s getting pretty efficient at going as required. We’re also using a key word (toilet) whenever she does anything so she realises what we want her to do when we say it (in theory). We are having the occasional accident but that’s really only been when C has had to take priority. 


There have been lots of attempts at chewing so we’ve had to be firm with her. We’ve also had some distractions which have proven a godsend. My current favourite is her Kong, which, thanks to a tip from a friend, I have been filling with cream cheese and then freezing. It’s great for when she’s in a mood to chew and her teeth are getting to her. She absolutely loves it.


So although it has been a tough week and very trying at times, Jessie is settling in well and I keep thinking that it will only get better in time as she gets older. At least I hope it will. C has been brilliant with her considering how much her life has been upturned, I’ve been really proud of her. We’ve had to find different ways to play at times to avoid lots of tempting toys on the floor but it has been a rather fun adventure.

Dog · Life in the Countryside

Toilets, a puppy and a toddler

C has been toilet training since February (ish) but does still need prompting, especially if there are lots of distractions. Now I’ve been prepared for a regression for C whilst trying to housetrain Jessie and even a bit more of her wanting to go to the toilet outside. What I was not prepared for was the hilarity of today. I was trying to persuade C to go to the toilet after I realised she hadn’t gone since we had an emergency poo stop this morning whilst fabric shopping (again a phrase I never thought would be in my vocabulary pre-baby). The only way I could persuade her to go was to say she needed to show Jessie what she was doing. Cue the situation with C on the toilet, me on the floor talking to her and Jessie exploring with us. Jessie tried to lick C’s legs which caused hysterical laughing and her trying to pull her legs up, which caused Jessie to get very excitable and try to run behind the toilet. Which caused C to giggle more. And Jessie to try to run round more. And so on. There are many moments in my life when I think what the hell am I doing. If you had told me 10 years ago if I would have been happy sitting on a toilet floor with a dog running round me trying to persuade a toddler to go to the toilet then I would have thought you were crazy. But then I guess time can change what you know as happiness. At the moment there’s nothing which makes me happier than spending time with these two lunatics (and J of course).