Showing posts with label autumn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label autumn. Show all posts

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Fall Garden

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." - Cicero
Our apple tree had a great load of full, sweet, zesty apples this year.

This morning I decided to spend a leisurely forty minutes tidying up the garden. I just wanted to de-clutter the place in preparation for the winter months when everything gets blown about. 

The chicken-wire cane triangles were useful for bean support and apple-catching but just for show now

Last night I built a makeshift fire pit with the mono-blocks we got from the next-door neighbour. I just went ahead and did it, placing the blocks in the time honoured tradition of ‘This looks about right,’ as I could not be bothered getting out a tape measure, digging up turf and putting sand down to make it level. But now I can see the dimensions I know what size it should be and can go ahead and do it properly the next time (if there is a next time).

By sheer coincidence (or just because it 'looks about right') the lid is the exact size of the fire pit. Reminds me a bit of the tunnel entrances of the Morlocks in HG Wells' Time Machine

My son came home and helped me fill it with old cut-offs of wood and he seemed to like the idea of having an autumn and winter fire pit where we can roast marshmallows and sit around telling ghost stories and drinking hot chocolate. Well, that’s the plan. Alternatively we might burn down the shed and the fence erected by ‘the neighbour who shall not be named’ and that would be bad. 

With the lid on it means I can store damp wood in here to dry out ready for burning.

I guess the fire would heat up the monobocks beneath, dry out the grass, possibly scorch the ground, but I can’t see it setting it on fire. This is Scotland, not the Australian bush. I’ll keep a bucket of water handy just in case. Maybe should move it a couple of feet away from said wooden structures just to reduce concerns. Ideally I should dig up the turf beneath and fill it with sand, an area a block’s width all around. Then make sure it's level. It might also help to have one of the BBQ trays inside to catch the ash in order to ferry it to the veg plots afterwards. Because ash is good for the soil, or so I heard …

Drying the wood. Maybe marshmallows tonight

This autumn my son and I planted 12 tree seeds, compared with the 23 last year, of which only one grew into a sapling (4.3% success rate) - this horse chestnut, looking a little ragged today but has shot up to 30cm in since the spring!

1 of the 23 seeds we planted last year grew into a strapping horse chestnut sapling

I once read it takes seven trees to produce enough oxygen for one human being. If you don't have a garden or space to grow trees there are lots of other ways of giving back to the planet. I recommend using Ecosia search engine, which uses profits to plant trees around the world, or even better, as I know them personally, contact Simon & Tracey West of For a donation of just £2.50 a tree can be panted in Kenya which will not only remove a quarter of a tonne of CO2 from the air in a handful of years, but will also provide food and building materials for the locals. For four trees or more you also receive a certificate.

Ten tree seeds, comprising acorn, chestnut and sycamore

I travelled a lot in my younger years, especially to and from Japan, so I want to do something to pay back that carbon debt to the planet. Trees are solar-powered, self replicating, carbon capture-storage devices. And we find the blueprints just scattered around at our feet.

Two fir cones in moist soil. Fingers crossed!

Doing something as simple as putting fallen tree seeds in soil is one of the best things we can do for the planet. Just give them a chance, that's all they ask. Think of them as plants with potential. Grow them in pots for a few years and then plant them in a forest, give them to a friend as a present, sell them online or to a local council for £50. There are a lot of options. Apparently horse chestnut seeds need to feel the cold before germinating, so best to keep them outside.

My second vegetable plot (right) to double yield next year

I added more cardboard to the soil to discourage weeds from sucking up all the nutrients from the recently added compost. According to "How To Garden" a great book by Alan Titchmarsh.

The back hedge I planted a few years ago doing well

I think the back hedge, if I remember rightly, is 'Golden Crest'. It should grow pretty high. The top of the far left one was broken off by a falling child when he climbed over the fence to retrieve a football. I tried to help it re-root next to its body, but my efforts were in vain. Hopefully the rest of the tree will continue to grow without it. Could have been worse. It could have been the boy who got decapitated.

The front hedge I planted this summer starting to fill out

The 'bee tree' near our front door kept producing saplings of its own which my wife replanted in different parts of the garden. So I thought we could move them all to the front and make a hedge out of them to discourage pets from doing their business on our front lawn.

Red berries on green

I really believe in the health benefits of gardening. As well as being able to consume your own organic vegetables, the muscular effort involved in digging the earth, combined with the fresh air and feel-good aspect of nurturing living things, must have a beneficial effect on the soul. 

Now all I need is a library.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Cider Diaries

Day 1 – Sep 26th 2018

Apples! Huh! What are they good for? Cider!

We had an absolute tonne of apples this year compared to last year, when I actually had to supplement the apples from our tree with those bought from the supermarket. But last autumn I was careful to return the nutrient-rich mulch to the soil under the tree instead of the compost heap. I pruned the ends of the lower branches, and took care to water and weed the earth during the hot summer that brought lots of sunshine which must have paid off. I'd also heard that if there's a clump of apples at the end of a branch you take off and discard the smaller one. I wonder if that also helped.

My wife's made apple sauce and we've given a few of the best apples to her friends. I've eaten a couple too and they've been really sweet and only a little bitter - not as bitter as granny smiths. Sort of between granny smiths and the organic ones you can get in the supermarket. If it hadn't been for my sister's partner who tried one when he came to visit I don't think I'd ever have tried them myself!

The first night we washed, crushed and pressed a bunch of apples in the rain. The bucket broke after much bashing so we need to get a stronger bucket, that's for sure. I put the juice in the demijohn using a funnel, added a sprinkle of cider yeast on the top, stuck the tape thermometer on it and placed it in the kitchen on top of the fridge where it's usually quite warm, around 20-22 degrees. It then bubbled away quite satisfactorily for a few days.

Day 2 – Sep 30th2018

I washed, crushed and pressed another pint of apples and just added it in to the same demijohn. I also drank a few mouthfulls of the apple juice and it tasted absolutely great and I felt fine the next day. It was like that scene in The Langoliers by Stephen King when they return to the 'Just Before Present' and all the food is really fresh and delicious. Next time it might be worth making some apple juice as well as cider and sticking it in the fridge for a few days. Then my son can enjoy the fruits of his labours as long as I test it first.

One problem is the bruising when the apples fall from the tree. I can't afford netting but next year I could put down bubble wrap or something to cushion their fall and prevent them from getting mouldy.

An interesting thing I read was that the yeast, which is a kind of fungus, converts the sugar in the cider to alcohol producing Co2 as a bi-product, and it's this process which prevents the cider going off. The alcoholisation continues until either all the sugar is used up, or there is so much alcohol that the yeast itself is killed off.

Day 3 - Saturday 6thOctober

Well, the cider in the 1 gallon demi-john seems to have calmed down a bit now, so much that I was a little concerned that I hadn't put in enough yeast. I thought that maybe it was now just really off, dead apple juice, until I took out the stopper had a wiff and immediately detected the strong smell of alcohol. It's alive - and deadly!

I don't know what day this is in terms of a timeline. Probably it's been about a week since we did the first batch and added the yeast, then a few days later added another pint or so of squeezed apple juice, and there's still another pint's worth on the tree. I wonder if I should add that in with a little more yeast and see what happens. But now it looks quite clear with a layer of crap at the bottom and hardly any gas being emitted. It's a bit sickly looking. I'd like to try sparkling cider but I don't want to risk blowing up the demi-john. It might break into two halves and become ... a semi-demi-john?

A few days later ...

No idea when it was, but I realised I'd missed a step. I was supposed to fill the demi-john to the neck with juice and after the first bout of bubbling I was meant to wipe the crusty crap off the inside of the neck, but as I hadn't filled it up enough I wasn't able to wipe the crap off the inside of the glass as it was too low. So it started sinking into the cider and floating about. I decided to syphon off the cider into two water jugs before washing out the demi-john and returning it back in with the gas release stopper and put it in a cooler area upstairs. Again, the smell of alcohol was unmistakeable.  All I need to do now is just leave it for a year or so to mature and give it a try.

Might try last year's small bottle of cider tonight and let you know how it tastes. If you don't hear from me for a while I've died. I'd like to thank you all for reading! In the case of my death I would recommend you do not follow the above steps...