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 · 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).

Life in the Countryside

What a difference a week makes

So C and I have been away for a week and J has been keeping an eye on things at home. The weather whilst we have been away has been very poor. Lots of rain and cloud and little sunshine. Now I want to preface this next sentence by saying I do love J. But he has kept an eye on the garden rather than tend to it. Not that I asked him to do any different or expected him to, after all he has been working all week too. Not that I would have done anything different to him but I know myself enough to acknowledge that I often think I would do things better. When I got back and went to have a look at how things had progressed then I was amazed at how much things had grown. I mentioned to J how large the pumpkins had gotten and he said he hadn’t noticed! Anyway, I digress. The garden has really bloomed with the much needed rain. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a bad way. 

So we have three pumpkins (one is quite a way behind the others) and they have grown so much. I need to work out some way to support them.


Some of our herbs and salad have unfortunately gone to seed with the weather.


Our baby corn is so tall now.


We have our first broad beans ready to harvest


The caterpillars have had a field day with our cauliflowers and some of them have bolted in the weather (more on that another time). 


We were able to harvest more of our beetroot as it had reached monster size.



Some of the potatoes are ready for harvest (see here to read about the excitement of harvesting). 


And the blackberries are starting to ripen. 


It really is reaching that amazing time of year when everything starts happening in the garden and our bellies are filled with homegrown goodness. 

Life in the Countryside

Missing home

So for the past week C and I have been up north visiting family and friends. We’ve mainly been based in the family caravan in Bamburgh and we’ve kept ourselves busy seeing some of the great places that the North East has to offer. I’ve loved spending quality time with my daughter away from the hubbub of everyday life where we can focus on having a good time and forget about chores. But do you know what? I’ve really missed home. J has still been at home and working during the week and when we’ve caught up via phone or text I’ve been bombarding him with questions about the chickens and the veg and what’s been happening. I should point out here that of course C and I have also missed J but given that he used to work away all week we’re quite good in some respects at being apart for short periods. It has been nice to put C to bed at 7 and then just chill for the rest of the evening. No watering or feeding chickens or weeding or washing or clearing up to do. Being able to put my feet up (I’ve massively missed having a sofa so it’s lovely to have one this week) and just watch TV and mess about on my iPad is lovely. But do you know what? If I was doing this everyday I do think I’d get bored. There has been no sense of achievement and seeing something which I’ve worked hard on being completed. And let’s face it there is a lot of rubbish on TV. If I was watching TV normally of an evening I’d also be doing a bit of knitting or something creative but in the rush to leave I forgot to pack the cardigan I’m working on for C. But in a way that’s been nice. A bit of time out has reinforced that I love our life and really want to keep on living it with my little family. I can’t wait to get back to it and J. 

Dog · Life in the Countryside

So let’s get a puppy….

As if we haven’t got enough on our plate at the minute we’re getting a puppy. Yes that’s right a puppy. Because a husband, a two and a half year old, 6 chickens and some sheep aren’t enough for one mum to look after! So where on earth has this idea come from….well obviously from J as I’m not really an animal person. When I was born my family had a dog (Ben, Golden Retriever) then we had a bit of a gap after he passed away before getting Max (can’t remember his breed but he had to be put down before he was two as he attacked my mum) and then after him there was Meg (a Wheaten Terrier who my mum still has now). However, I would never describe myself as a dog person, I think our bad experience with Max made me nervous. That said J and I had talked off and on for a while about getting a dog or a cat (basically a normal household pet) for C when she was a bit older but I had been adamant that I wanted to wait until we had the work done to the cottage. I was also adamant that we weren’t getting chickens until C was three and we all know how that one turned out. Guess I’m just a soft touch, but really who could resist this…


I’m also a great believer that sometimes something is just meant to be. A work colleague of J’s breeds dogs as a side-line and had plans to foster two from his litter of seven and sell the rest but had someone pull out of fostering due to personal reasons. Fostering basically means she is ours but she will be used once/twice to breed between the ages of two and six where she will go back to stay with the breeder. At first when J called me up and begged I was very reluctant; we already had so much on, and she couldn’t be left when I was at work, and she would cost too much, and she was too much of a tie, and I didn’t want to go through toilet training again…. But do you know what? I actually think she will fit into our lives perfectly. We are very much home-bodies and are increasingly enjoying the outdoor life. We have a good amount of land for her to roam on and working in a school the actual hours I’m out of the house are minimal. J’s dad has agreed to come over and puppysit in September and October and by then we’ll have hopefully built her a kennel and run outside or we will sort someone for comfort breaks. In truth the big selling point for me is that C adores animals (I remember her as a one year old insisting on petting a German shepherd puppy and my being petrified she would be bitten) and I know that she will love having a dog. And as any mum knows, anything that enriches your child’s life will only enrich yours further too. So we’re going to go meet her on Saturday and, if I’m honest, I can’t wait!

Craft · Life in the Countryside

Preparing for the craft cabin

So I love craft work and have over the years amassed quite a collection of paraphernalia the cabin is now constructed and the electrics have been wired in and we’re just putting the final coat of paint on this weekend before we lay the flooring. So in all my excitement I have already ordered my desks and furniture and have pulled out all my craft bits from where they have been stored (read shoved) when we moved in. Our dining room has now exploded with my junk. J had encouraged me to get excited and get it all out ready, but I don’t think he realised just how much I have squirrelled away over the years. 


I have two main ‘types’ of craft which I tend to focus on: knitting/crochet which comes with a significant amount of wool and sewing of which I have lots of bits and pieces material. I also did a bit of cross stitch when I was younger and still have some remnants of that which it seems a waste to just get rid of. 

I’ve gone for Ikea furniture for various reasons; it is simple, cheap and good quality. I have so far gone for two different shelving units – a smaller one for yarn and a larger one for material and any other crafty bits. The furniture is all white to match the white which we have painted the inside and the chair I’ve ordered is teal to give a pop of colour. I’m planning on adding in some bunting and other homemade bits to bring out different colours. 

I think it will still take a couple of months to have everything the way I want it as my ultimate craft cabin/childfree me time space but for now I’m just going to be very excited that I can start a much needed declutter and organisation. 

Life in the Countryside

Chalk table how to guide

So as I mentioned the other week I’m trying to reuse some of the ‘waste’ materials we have at the cottage as a result of the outside works we’ve been having done. The first project is complete and so here is a guide to recreate it.

Chalkboard how to guide:

Materials:

  • Old cable reel
  • Sandpaper
  • Chalkboard paint – I used this one
  • Paint for base – I used the same stuff we used for painting the cabin but any outside paint will do. 

Instructions:

  1. Sand down your cable reel. You want to smooth any rough edges and any splintered wood and give yourself a nice clean surface to work on. I also found it useful to have the reel I was working on raised above ground level as it meant less bending down.


2. With the end you want as the base facing up then paint the base and the core and what will be the underside of the top.           Make sure you stir the paint well before use to avoid any differences in consistency. 

3. Leave for a couple of hours (or preferably overnight) and repeat. You are aiming to make sure any markings from the wood are covered as best as possible.


4. Turn it over and ensure the top is also sanded to be as smooth as possible.


5. Paint the top with the blackboard paint. Try to avoid any drips onto your nice clean base! I also did two coats on here with a few hours gap to dry in between. 


6. And you’re done. I just used a plastic cup in the middle tohold the chalks and put a cloth to wipe it clean in the other gap on top. 

C absolutely loves it as do J and I. It’s somewhere she can be creative outside and I love the no mess factor. And when it’s starting to look a bit worn out I can just add another coat of paint. We haven’t found a permanent place for it outside yet but I’m thinking somewhere near the craft cabin so we can be creative together. 

Life in the Countryside

Frog

So as the paddling pool takes a long time to fill we had tried to leave it filled up and just covered with some tarpaulin. Big mistake as when we uncovered it yesterday it was all slimy and needed emptying and a good clean out. Well I think the paddling pool had also become a home for someone as I got the shock of my life when I found a baby frog on the grass. 

Great excitement from all of us and C in particular was fascinated. Although J and I moan about how much work we constantly have to do in the cottage it is moments like this when we get to see the wonderful wildlife around us that make it all worthwhile.

Life in the Countryside

Caterpillars

I was so proud the other day to have a sign of my first cauliflower head. However, today it is quite the opposite as my cauliflower has been savaged by caterpillars. I had seen some sign of leaves being nibbled before but now they have gone into overdrive. 


This is the much nibbled cauliflower.


These are the eggs which have been laid right around the cauliflower head along with a baby caterpillar.


And this is a full size grown up caterpillar.

C spent some time working on the hungry caterpillar book the other week so absolutely loved finding the caterpillar. I on the other hand was less than impressed! I’ve picked off all the ones I could find but what is the best way to rid myself of them and prevent future infestations? Looks like I need to do some more research (again), there is so much to learn about growing your own that I’m not sure I will ever know everything!