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Friday, 27 June 2014

The calm after the storm

We had a short but violent storm while we were getting ready to go to a friend's 60th birthday barbecue party. Dave was chatting on Skype when there was a sudden wind and the garden brolly went off for a trip around the village. There was a crash as a tile came off the roof and smashed where we had been sitting earlier. The small greenhouse, full of the red onions put in there to dry, was ripped to shreds and the onions scattered around the garden. Fruit and nuts were flying everywhere and we lost a few branches too. Our bathroom window had been open and the wind took it and it smashed, scattering glass all over the bathroom and through into the bedroom. There was then a deluge of rain before it all petered out as suddenly as it came. We felt so sorry for the chap who's birthday party was ruined, Dave went over for a while and I stayed with the quivering Bonnie, bless her. She got over it fairly quickly though.
Bits of tile under the chair......

....and on the roof

Windfall apricots

Fallen sweetcorn
Bye bye greenhouse

Flattened sunflowers

So we now have no greenhouse and it has joined the leaky pool in plastic heaven. At the moment it is the pool that I am mourning most, when the sun comes out it is blistering and I have trouble picking my legs up. We have solved that problem for now by turning back to the water trough filled up with icy water from the well. I can sit on the side and cool my legs before Dave gets in and dunks himself.

On Wednesday Dave went into town to try and get some glass for the window but was told by a local that they were shut and might be open in the morning. We had a breezy night and with no window and a door catch which doesn't work, the door was being constantly blown open despite a heavy weight against it. So he took the window down next day and came back with all four panes replaced and sealed, in tinted, textured glass more suitable for a bathroom. But the amazing thing was that this window was made almost new for less than £4! Bargain! So all fixed.

A scoot around the apricot tree showed some ripe fruit just begging to be used just sitting in the grass, so the chutney pan came out again and apricot chutney is added to the store. Dave picked plums for Jordan's rakia making...they don't come into the garden because of the dogs. last year the tree area was fenced off so they came in every day to pick the plums which fall, presumably they need to be properly ripe to use for rakia. The branches which have fallen are very heavy with fruit, both from this tree and the black plum with fruit I use myself. I think the branches we lost from that tree have as much fruit on them as we got from the whole tree last year.

In the veg garden the weeds continue to grow as we are still restricted on how much time we have between rain to get down to it. We are concentrating on clearing around plants but they come up over night. The courgette plants are still growing, and although we left a good space between plants they have now merged, making it difficult to find the courgettes. The chickens and geese are getting a bit fed up of them now, as are we. I have masses of small ones frozen, I am picking them tiny but there are always the ones you miss. The French beans are the same, miss a day and they are huge! The yellow beans I am not a fan of and I will not be growing them next year, they easily go soggy and I prefer the runners and French which keep their bite while being tender at the same time. I will try making some bean chutney with the yellows...a small batch to start with. I am very pleased with the carrots. I have never grown 'proper' sized carrots like these. In the UK I grew them in bins  due to carrot root fly problems so they got used as baby carrots. These are huge in comparison, but fairly thickly planted so there are a good few babies coming up with them which I am freezing for winter stews. I have been picking at night when there are no carrot flies about, being careful to bruise the leaves as little as possible and scattering fennel fronds to disguise the smell. But Bella has found that, because of the bushy leaves of carrot and parsnip, it is a cool spot to lie when the sun comes out, I am wasting my time!

Awww Bella!

I must admit that the crop I am most worried about are the tomatoes. There have been reports of blight being a real problem this year, again because of the weather, and I really do not want to lose the mass of fruit on the plants as we rely on bottled tomatoes so much in winter. The cherry toms are still doing well in their tubs, giving masses of fruit. The cucumbers have got going again (as have the neighbours', we have been given a few already) and yesterday I pickled a good few using a recipe given to me by a friend, the lady I turn to if we have any problem with the birds. I had to adapt it slightly as I did not have any mustard seed, so used pickling spice instead. I think I should have taken the tiny chillies out of the mix though...they pack quite a punch! But a good use of excess cucumbers, very nice.
I'm saying nothing!

Ready to pickle...with our first pepper

We had our first raspberries yesterday. There were only six (after the first one last week) so being creative I made a nectarine almond tart and added the little bundles of flavour to the mix. Very tasty. We even had cream since we found little packets of UHT whipping cream in Kaufland! Lovely. The nectarines, bought from the market on Wednesday, are delicious, a real taste of sunshine and incredibly juicy, so cheap at around 80p a kilo.

While I am busy in the kitchen preparing for the car boot sale at the weekend, Dave has been sorting out the bedrooms ready to recieve some very special visitors. Dave's sister and her other half are coming for a visit next exciting. Our first visitors and despite speaking to them on Skype regularly it is not the same as a hug and chatter in person. We have tried ordering some decent weather for them and keeping fingers crossed.
Lemon curd, expensive to make but if it doesn't sell I'm sure I will make use of it....yum

We had to go for chicken feed the other day so risked a small detour to the river. We couldn't get too close as the water is still well over the banks, but we saw many white and black storks, herons and cormorants. Unfortunately, although we had both taken cameras, we hadn't checked the batteries and Dave's was dead and mine was nearly. So few photos and just typical that we saw so many birds!
The village vines shading the paths, a lovely day

The babies have grown!

The black stork hiding in long grass




The yellow of rape has given way to the yellow of sunflowers

But he took my camera with him when he took the dogs out this morning and took some snaps of recently fledged little owls. Aaaahhhh....

The chicks are doing well, Mum is a feisty one and she puffs herself up as big as she can to scare you off. She is keeping the babies inside, which is sensible given the weather, and only ventures out to get any treats which Sevi calls her to. He is such a sweetie. The other day there was Mum and babies, two laying in the boxes and Sevi in with one of them keeping company. Bless him.

The bee man called in the other day with two mini helpers in their mini bee keeping outfits. It seems everything Dave does is meeting with his approval. The frames are all in place in the hive now and the bees are busy making lots of honey. Pics coming time Dave checks them. But there is definitely honey in there! Mini beekeepers went off with little pots of ice cream, happy.

A couple of recipes. 

 Easy Lemon Curd

Juice and zest of two lemons (or one nad a half large ones)

175g caster sugar

3 very fresh eggs

125 unsalted butter

Whisk the eggs and put through a sieve to make sure there are no stringy bits of white. In a heatproof bowl which will sit on a pan of simmering water, put all the ingredients and stir until it thickens. Pour into a sterilised jar and seal immediately. Store in a fridge and use within a month. Yum.

Almond Nectarine Tart.

Line a 7 inch flan tin with shortcrust pastry (or sweet crust if you prefer) and blind bake.

Peel and chop one large or two small nectarines and scatter on pastry case. Add a few raspberries if you have them.

Make up a basic sponge mix with....

55g ground almonds
85g self raising flour
115g butter or spread
115g caster sugar
A few drops of almond extract
2 large eggs

Cream fat and sugar, add eggs one at a time, mix in extract and fold in flour and almonds. Spoon over fruit and sprinkle with flaked almonds if you have any. Bake at 160c for about half an hour till sponge springs back when pressed lightly. Serve warm with cream or cold if you can wait.

It will be quite moist inside due to alonds and the juice from the nectarine.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Counting our blessings.

It can't have missed many people's notice that Bulgaria have had a dreadful time with the weather just recently. The Black sea coast has been battered with at least eleven deaths, including two children, and at least three deaths in other areas. Our region was one of the worst hit, but we have been so lucky that all we have suffered is stunted and drowned plants and mud everywhere. Not far away a friend further in idyllic high ground has suffered repeated horrendous rain and hailstorms, her neighbours losing crops and animals which they need to survive.

There are appeals for aid but this is a poor country and a lot of people struggle. Many have no insurance, it is so sad. The sun is now out and it is very hot, but crops in the fields have mildew and are flattened so it is a bit late.


So although we are swamped with weeds and just can't seem to get on top of them with the rain, we also have planty of produce and if we knew anyone who could benefit from some of it we would gladly give our excess away. We have had to pull up the rest of the brown onions and put them to dry. Some of the stems are full of water and I have no idea how long they will last, but I have plaited the first lot and hung them in the barn to dry a bit more. Will keep an eye and freeze some if needed, and the very small ones have either been pickled or frozen for use in roast veges in the winter. The red ones are a better size and are still in the ground until we have space for them, or if it threatens rain.
The onion patch before.....

.....and after

Trying to dry some of the onion, they may be a lost cause and might end up dried or frozen

Pickled for Dave
Onions in the barn

Garlic in the cellar

The beans are going great guns and I have given quite a lot away, as well as other things, to people who were late getting thir gardens in order. The French beans, especially, seem to grow at a manic pace and we have lots in the freezer already. The runners are well on the way to being a glut and the borlotti seeds are swelling well. The ones I expected to do best are not doing too well at the moment, we are getting plenty off the yellow beans but as a local variety they are maybe not enjoying the wet weather as much as the others.

Runner, yellow and French, daily amount at the moment

Lunch for one, beans with skordalia, odd but yummy

The borlotti are swelling

Fancy squash, not sure if they are for eating but they look pretty

We have nearly finished the potatoes and will be putting more in later, but the ones Venka planted in our British neighbours' garden are totally stripped of leaf by Colorado beetle, Dave was quite horrified when he saw them and realises that picking the little blighters off was worth the effort. The cherry tomatoes in the tubs continue to give plenty of fruit and we have found that there are a lot more cherry tomato plants in the garden as it seems they have got muddled up with the 'normal' tomatoes. No problem, I will bottle some in tomato juice to use as a veg in winter. All the plants have plenty of fruit and the peppers, aubergines, okra and chillies have all recovered a bit now. The butternut squash are setting more and more fruits, we will be inundated it seems. The courgettes continue to glut and melons are forming small fruit. I have a fresh lot of beetroot growing, the ones we still have from the first batch we are using for pickling and fresh eating. I actually had to buy some beetroot to make chutney as it has taken off and I have used all my large beets. Where the potatoes were we have done a long line of leeks, they were getting so big I was thinking we will be eating them before we have chance to plant them out. The potatoes will go either in the pea/broad bean bed or onion bed.
Tasty toms


Sweetcorn, never grown it before

In the fruit line, the strawberries have thrown out lots of runners so we will be extending the bed for next year. They were a bit of a dead loss this year, plenty of fruit but mushy with too much rain. We will have to be more prepared next year and find some straw to put under the fruit. We have had our first raspberry...just the one...but the other plants are looking good with planty of flowers coming. The apricots are ripening and there seems to be plenty of usable fruit despite us thinking we wouldn't get any because of disease. The cherry plum tree has lots of fruit, but Venka can have them for rakia, we don't eat a lot and still have some in the freezer, bottled and jammed from last year. A large branch fell off the tree last week for no apparent reason, just weight of fruit and rain maybe. The black plum is shedding fruit but there is still plenty on. The small early pear has masses of fruit which are a good size for bottling, so will do a few small bottles later. The walnut is looking good. Our little Bramley apple tree is doing OK, but both cherry saplings have died. For what they cost we can buy enough cherries for years so not really bothered.
Apricots ripening

And the flower garden is still looking good. I have taken most of the poppy plants out today as they are turning yellow which is giving more room for the cosmos to follow through. The antirrhinums are continuing to give a great display with really lovely colours, the nicotianas are still flambuoyant and the sweet peas are giving just enough to keep the scent going in the house, despite being targetted by the geese. The roses are growing vigourously despite the rain spoiling the flowers. Perennials such as echinacea, gladioli, crocosmia and cannas are looking strong, but the hollyhocks have put on lots of leaf but no flowers.
This is dark red and velvety, but looks totally different with the sun shining through.

We have had to remove the self sown pumpkin, those laterals are one day's growth, far too much for the path.

Five of the oldest chicks have gone to their new home. We unfortunately have a lot more males than we thought, not sure what Dave will do about them. Today the Shumen broody is hatching her chicks (4 at time of writing) but we will not be doing any more in the incubator. If a hen goes broody we will let her have some as Cagney did a great job with her four, despite losing three to the weather and one disappearance. The ex-batts are all looking well and feathered, though Mandy has never really become sound. Dave can't tell the difference between them now as the second lot have at last grown good feathers, another reason why we might be getting less eggs if they are using their energy to produce feathers. They are a cheeky lot, always in your way. One of them sizes up to the geese still and has taken another shaking, not the brightest bird. But generally they all get out of the way when the geese are driven through to their pen. The geese look really well and are trying to get bolshy with Sevi. But Sevi comes into his own and can see all five off easily. The goose pen will now be shut off as the chicks are too small for their big feet and anyway I wouldn't trust them to not hurt the little ones. They like to taste absolutely everything...including cameras!

Also with the chooks, we have always had a problem with Chubba eating her eggs, she lays thin shelled ones which is a bit annoying as she is a regular layer of large eggs. Our most reliable in fact. But she is big and clumsy and once she realised they were good for breakfast when she broke them there was no stopping her. However, one of the ex-batts decided to have a go at her egg so Dave got his DIY hat on again and made yet another new bank of laying boxes, this time from plastic tomato crates bought for pennies from the market, built a frame so that the crates tip forward slightly and the eggs roll into a covered trench at the front, lined with a soft towel. After a slight modification (the egg was sticking on the ridge in the crate) and the addition of a piece of cardboard which seems acceptable to the ladies, there was soon a queue to give it a go. It works really well except for Chubba's egg, broken before it could roll.

C'mon girls, these aren't bad

Chubba having her say egg in the catcher (with the top open) from Milly

We seem to have a lot more birds in the garden this year. At the moment there are loads of swallows as the first of the year's chicks have fledged. Which means another battle to keep the adults from building a new nest in the chick house. We are still seeing toads, they like to live under the courgette leaves wher it is cool and damp at the moment. There are martens around, neighbours both side have had them in their gardens and I have heard them during the night. We saw one cross our lane one morning and enter a garden to an empty house. Bella lets us know when they have been in the garden, frantically searching for them, up on her hind legs trying to see over the (8 ft) wall and refusing to come in. It is a worry but the chickens have a good life and I am not inclined to shut them up in hot weather during the day. The houses are secure at night. The dogs are out most of the time so hopefully that will keep them away till lock-up time.

What a beauty

Chatter, chatter, chatter
In the kitchen, I have eventually tackled the almonds given to us recently. I have to admit I put it off as almond shells are traditionally very hard and the arthritis in my thumbs is playing up at the moment. But what a revelation they were! The first surprise was the softness off the shells, too soft for Dad's old nutcrackers but a bit hard for arthritic thumbs. While I made tea Dave took over and just used his fingers. The other surprise was.....they taste of almonds! I have always liked almonds but they never really tasted of almonds, just sweet and rather pleasant. But the flavour of these are wonderful. So thank you Wendy. They are blanched and residing in a bottle to keep them for special occasions. I was planning on using them for almond and ground cress pesto but that would have been a waste so I used bought ones instead.
Lots of lovely almonds

Ground cress

And the very tasty pesto frozen in dollops

The neighbours are trying to feed us up. In the last few days we have had two lots of food from Venka, a share of a neighbour's birthday meal and a thank you of doughnuts and ice cream from Baba Danke for Dave helping to put her hay away. Poor Dave banged his head on her gate, then came in and smacked it on a protruding branch on the apricot tree and made a bit of a mess. It's a good job there was a small table there to catch him. I think I need to cut off some leg, he is always banging it on the outside sink and the door.
Venka's famous pizza, hot from the oven. One with meat, one without

Scar-head, poor Dave

Cut that stump off!

Not happy