Monday, 17 July 2017

Our new house: 1 year later

We bought our house last July. After many years of renting, getting the keys to our new home was a very emotional moment for both of us. Even though the house needed a fair amount of work done to suit our needs and aesthetics, it was love at first sight and the beginning of a great adventure.

There's still many things needing done, replaced or refreshed here. We have a tight budget and have only been able to do so much. But the house is definitely liveable; we have done a great deal of painting (the previous owners had painted the master bedroom blood-red; we changed it to soothing blue. The living room was 3 different shades of metallic paint; it's now all white with just 1 grey accent wall), we've replaced dark wooden blinds with light curtains, but the biggest change has happened in the garden. A big chunk of it has been transformed into a very productive fruit & vegetable garden; the pond has been removed (for safety reasons - we loved it otherwise!), the back fence has been replaced; part of the monoblock has been removed (and partially used to build a BBQ). We won't stop there - we still have a few projects in mind :-)

This was our living room a year ago (note the silver, gold and purple metallic paint):



And here it is now:




The garden last July:




And today:




We still need to replace the carpets throughout the house; hire somebody to paint the staircase (the only bit of painting we can't do ourselves); in a few years time - replace the kitchen; maybe one day install a wood burner in the living room.. I could go on. It will take us years to do it all, but it's an awesome journey and we've been loving every part of it!



Wednesday, 21 June 2017

First harvests & gardener's pride





Isn't June the most amazing time of the year for gardeners? With all the lush greenery and harvesting your first crops you can finally see all your hard work paying off. I am absolutely amazed by the miracles of nature, I still can't believe all my beautiful tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, courgettes, carrots, beets, kale, lettuces and more have all grown from tiny seeds and many of them will soon be producing fruit and seeds of their own - the full cycle.

Incidentally, June is also the busiest time at work for me, not leaving much free time or head space for anything else. I admire people who live off their own land, all the farmers and homesteaders out there. I am trying to do my best with the little land I have, and I don't take anything for granted, I remember every sore muscle, every hour and every penny spent on this garden. But oh, the satisfaction I get from it is just unreal!

I do have problems with slugs and birds, with tiny caterpillars eating my gooseberry and currant leaves, with green fly infestation on my broad beans, with unpredictable weather and all. Nothing is perfect or easy, but it's all a brilliant experience.

I am one proud gardener... I made all this happen with my own two hands (and the help of S); I nurtured these plants to the best of my ability and now I am able to feed my family with these wonderfully fresh, nutritious, organically grown crops. It's the best feeling in the world!

Here are some of my veggies...






























Monday, 22 May 2017

Garden update. Failures and successes



The garden now takes up most of my free time - sowing, planting, weeding, weeding and more weeding; first harvests and a bit of landscaping at the same time. I absolutely love my little paradise. It's far from perfect with its broken fence (hopefully getting replaced this summer), its clay soil, cold climate and lots of slug and mice visitors. But it's mine, and to me it's the most beautiful little garden on earth. 

Being in Scotland, everything seems to grow slower or start later than in the more southern parts of the country. I have seen photos of other people's gorgeous red radishes, mini green tomatoes and apples or even first ripe strawberries, while mines are only just starting to flower. The only crops I've been able to harvest so far in moderate quantities are lettuce and rocket. As a new gardener, this can be a bit discouraging, but I keep reminding myself that all I can do is make the best of what I've got. And the climate is something I definitely can't change! 

I am worried I might have problems with my garlic and onions due to the wet winter we had. I wouldn't be surprised to see some white rot. I've had a number of other failures, including:

- Nasturtiums - apparently they're supposed to self-sow and grow like crazy, but none of the seeds I planted has germinated.
- Pear tree - it's the second half of May and it doesn't have a single leaf on it. I think it's safe to assume it's dead.
- Violas - zero germination
- Comfrey - zero germination
- Mint - 3 plants bought and planted last autumn - only one has ''survived'' if you can call it that. The green growth on it is one single leaf the size of my smallest fingernail.

But other things seem to be doing well (if a bit slow) and I've already seen tiny red & white currants, miniature gooseberries, and courgettes the size of my finger. There's lots of blossom on my strawberries and one of my apple trees; the potatoes look very happy and the broad beans are growing fast - hope to see their flowers soon.

All in all, it's a very exciting time for a gardener!






Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Garden update: what I'm growing this year


As the days are getting longer and weather (slightly) warmer, my garden is starting to look promising. All my raised beds are now ready. Some things were planted last autumn, some this spring; some sown directly and some started indoors. Overall, the garden is still looking mostly bare, but every tiny little seedling feeds my imagination and gives me hope for a lush, green garden of Eden :-) 

So, here's what I'm growing this year!

Fruit:

- Red currant
- White currant
- Gooseberry
- Strawberries
- Wild strawberries (from seed)
- Apples
- Pears
- Summer raspberries
- Autumn raspberries
- Chinese kiwi
- Aronia
- Juneberry
- Japanese quince
- Goji berry

Most of these are very young plants and I am not expecting a lot of fruit (if any) from them this year. But you gotta start somewhere!



Veggies:

- Aubergine
- Beetroot
- Broad beans
- Bush beans
- Butternut squash
- Carrot
- Chard
- Chilli peppers
- Corn
- Courgette
- Garlic
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Kale
- Lettuce
- Onions
- Potatoes
- Radish
- Rhubarb
- Rocket
- Runner beans
- Tomatoes

With veggies it's a lot of trial & error, really. I expect to lose some to slugs or other pests, diseases or frost. I expect not to get great germination rate with every single one of them. But I am really looking forward to learning what works for me and what doesn't!




Herbs:

- Basil
- Bay tree
- Caraway
- Catnip
- Chives
- Coriander
- Dill
- Hyssop
- Lemon balm
- Lavender
- Lovage
- Lungwort
- Marjoram
- Mint
- Nasturtium
- Nigella
- Oregano
- Parsley
- Rosemary
- Rue
- Sage

Apart from these, I seem to have a lot of coltsfoot growing in my garden - it might be a weed but its leaves are supposed to be good for sore throat, so I'm planning to collect and dry some this summer.









Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Gardening for the soul




I recently read an article that got me thinking about how incredibly important my garden is to me, not just as a hobby or a potential source of fresh food, but as a way of re-connecting with myself and healing my anxieties and taking my worries away.

 ''I felt like the world around me was a dangerous sea and my garden was a little green life raft. I cut a new, long bed out of the grass. I worked the soil until I couldn’t find a sliver of weed root. I barrelled tons of compost and poured it all over the garden to improve the structure of the heavy clay. I sowed seeds, bought more herbaceous perennials than I could afford, and scarified the grass like a man possessed. As I worked on the garden the garden worked on me.''

[Source: Tom Smart / The Guardian / https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2016/jan/22/gardening-is-the-best-medicine-for-the-mind ]


I couldn't have put that better myself. As I work on my garden, my garden works on me. That's it.
Over the last 2 weekends S and I built two new raised beds, filled them with nearly 4 tonnes of soil, built a frame for anti-bird netting, planted potatoes and broadbeans and nurtured countless seedlings on the window sills. Most of that was hard, physical work, but it didn't just give me sore muscles. It cured a severe headache I had been dealing with for four days, it gave me a sense of accomplishment and made me feel re-connected with nature and with myself. It made me feel found, as opposed to feeling lost. I was there and then, grounded in the moment, doing something I find deeply meaningful. Getting my hands dirty and my soul clean. Healing.



Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Birthday reflections

It was my birthday earlier this month. I had a lovely day, S always comes up with the nicest surprises and this year again he made it perfect. I felt loved and soo lucky!

But birthdays are no longer just fun celebrations to me; they're also milestones and make me reflect on the past year and my life in general.

I have so much to be grateful for in my life. I have the most amazing partner, great friends and family, two gorgeous cats, and as of recently I also have my own dream home and garden. I have a job that pays my bills, I have my passions that make me happy, I only have minor health issues that are easily kept under control. 

But there's been a shadow hanging over all this, something that can easily take everything I have away from me. The current political situation in the UK (Brexit) means I've been living in fear over the past several months. As a EU citizen living in the UK I really don't like the way things are going, with the government constantly refusing to guarantee the rights of people like me. My entire life I've been building here for the past 11 years can be taken away with one political decision. People say it's unlikely that they make people leave the country - fair enough, but until there is an actual guarantee anything can happen. And the slightest risk of losing my home and family makes me sick with fear (for reasons I will keep to myself, in case I wasn't allowed to stay in the UK, my family will literally fall apart as S will not be able to leave with me). 

S was considerate enough to put music on in the car on my birthday instead of the usual radio station, so I didn't get upset listening to the news. I don't think about this all the time, I'd lose my mind if I did, but it's always somewhere at the back of my mind, easily provoked. This overwhelming fear of losing everything I've got and never seeing my family again.

I am prone to exaggeration, drama and depression, so I've been told. To me it's more about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst... Although how do you prepare for this?

Sad, sad times.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Gołąbki - stuffed cabbage leaves


Gołąbki is my no.1 favourite Polish dish. They're cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice, served with tomato sauce. The preparation is a bit time-consuming, but at the same time it's very simple and usually yields enough for more than 1 dinner. Gołąbki can sit in the fridge for a few days, and they freeze well too. Each Polish family has their own recipe - here's my take on it!

Ingredients for 12 gołąbki:
1 white cabbage - the largest you can find!
1kg minced pork
200g rice
Salt, pepper, marjoram
Optional: chopped & fried onion and garlic.


Cook the rice, let it cool down and mix it in a large bowl with the raw meat and the spices. Be generous with the marjoram, you really want to be able to taste it. Divide the mixture into 12 portions.

Meanwhile, take any damaged outer leaves off the cabbage. Put the cabbage in a large pan and cover with boiling water - set this on medium heat and leave for about 20min. This will soften the leaves and allow you to take them off the cabbage head one by one, without breaking them. You will need about 12 nice, whole leaves to make your gołąbki. Keep any damaged leaves aside - you will need them later as well.
Once you have your leaves ready, take a sharp knife and slice off the thickest bits of the stem on each leaf. This will make the leaves more flexible for wrapping and easier to eat.
Put a portion of the meat mixture at the bottom of each leaf, fold in the sides and roll it up like a burrito. Repeat until you run out of leaves and meat mixture. If your cabbage leaves are not very large, you may end up with more than 12 gołąbki.

To cook, line the bottom of a large pan with any leftover/damaged leaves you have left. Place your gołąbki in the pan quite tightly, in two or three layers. You may have to cook them in batches or use two pans at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Cover them with water, put the lid on and cook on low/medium heat for about 1.5 hrs.

Meanwhile, make tomato sauce - I made mine by melting some butter in a pan, adding a tablespoon of flour, mixing well, ten pouring in a box of tomato passata and some stock until the consistency was to my liking; I then added some herbs and spices. You can use a ready-made jar of tomato/spaghetti sauce as well.

When your gołąbki are cooked, served them hot with a good splash of tomato sauce.