Preserving apples as dried slices

Our apple tree is so out of control that we’ve filled an entire compost bin with windfall, and still it comes. We’ve given it away at work; we’ve made apple cookies: still it drops.

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In slight desperation, we’ve turned to simply preserving them. A straightforward recipe for drying, taken from Alys Fowler’s book, involves cutting into 5mm slices, dipping in a citric acid solution (1tsp to 3/4pt) to minimize browning, and then drying; either in the sun for three days:

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Or (especially if the weather should abruptly change part-way through your drying process) in a cool oven for six hours:

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I think there were about fifteen or sixteen good-sized apples initially, resulting in three containers of dried fruit.

The proof of the drying is in the eating, of course; well?

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They’re smashing: really sweet and appley now that they’re concentrated down. The oven has slightly caramelized them but as far as I’m concerned that’s all to the good. I’ll definitely dry some more if I get the chance: but maybe do them entirely in the oven this time rather than faffing with bamboo canes and chairs. After all, the nights are drawing in….

If you like peas, then you’ll love: more peas!

Once the Latvian peas had gone over, I was wondering what to plant in their place. Imaginatively, I decided: more peas!

This has been a year of succession planting, with some of the planting after the solstice. Here are our new peas:

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I suppose a number of things can now happen to these seedlings:

  1. They get confused and die off.
  2. They grow until the first frosts and die off.
  3. They bolt, and produce flowers but not any peas in time.
  4. They bolt, and produce flowers and more peas.

It’s a little bit of an experiment, to see exactly what’s going to happen next.

In a similar vein, I planted new Lettuce Tantan and Buttercrunch, only a handful of each:

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The Buttercrunch (right) has tended to go to seed faster, whereas the Tantan (left) is still hearting up. In addition, when we’ve pulled up the blown Buttercrunch, they’ve also tended to be full of slightly bitter sap, although immersing cut leaves in water for an hour really helps and leaves the buttery flavour behind: in comparison, the Tantan seems to still be not too bitter. With this in mind, Tantan would make a good successional crop, next year.

This year, I’ve no space guaranteed untouched because of the landscaping, so I can’t really plant any overwintering crops. In their place, then, these trials are as good as anything!

Eyam well-dressing

A bit over a week ago, a few of us stumbled across the well-dressing festival in Eyam. It was the Welsh Rose’s birthday

Gwenfar has already written about the dressings, but here’s a few more pictures. There was quite the crowd, including a brass band:

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The main well-dressing celebrated a number of Eyam anniversaries, with the number of years since they happened:

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The detail is mind-boggling: the bay (or hebe?) leaves behind Peter Rabbit, and the hydrangea flowers for his smock:

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I love this cat, but I can’t work out what leaf could be used to make that black!

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The dressings were huge temporary structures: like old wooden doorframes with a classical surround. In contrast the wells were very small, but this second one was especially very much like a hole in the ground:

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Detail again:

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Like the weird guy/diorama competitions in Cotswold villages, well-dressing appears to have turned into an excuse to decorate your house with, well, whatever you fancy:

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I think that might be Kevin the secretary sat on the doorstep. Elsewhere, a maypole was being decorated:

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I can’t tell if maypole dances are more or less eerie than Ghostbusters dioramas, but luckily the cafe was calling us away.

I didn’t actually kill the jasmine

After what looks like years of neglect by the previous owners (spot a theme?) the jasmine pulled itself off the wall a few weeks ago, and collapsed over much of the front garden:

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I did try to trim it over winter, but didn’t want to do too much as it tends to flower on the last season’s growth, so any trim would reduce the number of flowers. It clearly wasn’t enough, though. Even before the Great Collapse, the jasmine had apparently invaded the old boiler through its vent, strangling it. We only discovered this when we replaced it.

Sadly, when I started cutting the plant back hard but—I hoped—selectively, it all started to fall forward, making ominous cracking noises as the remaining few wires holding it back pinged like guitar strings:

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As I found myself vainly working my way around the damaged areas, the sprawling areas, and combinations of the two, I realized the only solution was to hack it back utterly, and it was a shadow of its former self that ultimately sagged and whimpered against the wall:

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As a few more branches died off in the subsequent weeks, I’d reconciled myself to the fact that I’d basically killed it with the shock. But! only yesterday, we spotted considerable new shoots, budding off every part of it, including the old wood:

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I’m still reserving judgment on whether it will put on enough growth to survive the winter. But I now have my fingers crossed that we’ll still have a jasmine by the front door next year. And flowers in 2018!

New pruning knife, made in Sheffield by Wright & Son

I’ve been wanting to get a garden knife, for pruning and cutting, for a while now. And while I could make do with secateurs and the like, when I did finally splash out on a knife, I wanted to get one made in Sheffield, and if possible bought in Sheffield.

Here’s my purchase; the Wright & Son’s pruning knife, with rosewood handle:

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Not only is the knife locally made, but the manufacturers Wright & Son are practically on my commute to work, inhabiting as they do a tall building between the Rutland Arms and the car park behind the student union “kettles”. The very helpful staff at The Famous Sheffield Shop on Ecclesall Road told me that, on some days, you could smell “dentists” as you passed by their workshop. Those were the days they were working stag horn for handles…!

Wright & Son became internet-famous for this remarkable video of a “putter”—the old word for an assembler of scissors—doing just that:

And they’re also nearly at the end of a successful Kickstarter to recreate a classic design of scissor. Calmly, in their own way, they’re a Sheffield icon.

Anyway, I’m not normally one of those weird men on the internet that admire knives all the time, but this is a particularly lovely thing, and sits very nicely in my hand. Here’s hoping we’ll both see plenty of work in the garden together. Me and, um, my knife.

Looking less squashed now they’re tied up

The Butternut squashes on the drive and front garden have survived pest attack in their early stages, and the devastating effects of strong winds on their papery, sail-like leaves. However, being in pots means they’re starting to sprawl beyond those pots:

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I’ve never considered tying up squashes before, but this weekend I saw the tendrils starting to form on these fruiting branches, and thought it might be worth a try. I used four canes in the biggest pot, and three in the others: one cane snapped though—the last of that length of cane—and I replaced it with one of the water shoots I cut off the apple tree over winter.

The end results I think are remarkable, given the small amount of work involved:

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Suddenly they seem neater, more compact and structural, even though they’re not very much taller. I wouldn’t say it looks perfect (especially with the one substituted cane) but there’s definitely more form to the plants now.

I call this particular work “The Three Weird Sisters”:

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anyway, today I had another look at the plants, and they’ve really settled into their new verticality. I think it’s probably healthier for them—reducing the likelihood of mildew—and also lets them trap more sunlight and hence feed more efficiently. Fellow gardener Gwenfar did mention that she’s training up an unused growframe, to provide platforms for the fruit as they grow: but I’d be just happy with several small fruit that I could pick as the plants develop.

EOMV July: all still stalled

I thought June’s EOMV post showed me at my most frustrated and embattled, but I now see that I ought to have considered myself in for the long haul. Both my energy levels and the weather have been terrible since, and so I’m only just putting together a tardy July EOMV.

The landscaping of our garden and our neighbours’ is, well:

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Stalled. Next door’s nephew has ended up on another job, so he won’t be finishing their fencing any time soon. And won’t be starting our fencing until after that. If it weren’t for the politics of neighbourliness we’d have got someone else in by now, except they’d have a month’s lead time too. The Welsh rose did say she heard our neighbour giving someone a talking-to today, but nothing seemed to come of it.

Plants, on the other hand, move on: inexorably. I’ve even had to trim the privet that I hoped would be gone by now:

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It’s neither straight nor neat, and I don’t really care. In the lower photo, top right, you can see it isn’t trimmed at all; because I didn’t want to damage this hebe, which has been covered in bees the past few weeks:

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The flowers on it are starting to go over, but other plants are starting to take the place, including the buddleia and the crocosmia I’ve been intermittently trying to save from the landscaping that might never happen:

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Heaven knows what I’ll do to save that lovely, now bronzed, acer.

One thing I’ll be happy not to save is the apple tree that has almost completely taken over the garden:

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It gets in the way of everything I try to do, and blocks light from all except the few plants I have on the decking. Moving around the garden has become hazardous for someone over six foot tall:

On the other hand, the burgeoning of other plants is heartwarming. Although the Latvian pea plants are starting to go over—cheering in itself, as we have seed crop for next year—the blown chard have recovered well from the flower heads being trimmed, and our two tomatoes are starting to bulk up with their first flowers:

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Although the Lamprocapnos is struggling a little bit, my other RHS Malvern plants are happy, and the Geum “Prinses Juliana” might even throw a few more flower spikes out:

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It’s also cheering to see the Impatiens omeiana recovering more and more while undercover and away from the predators that are everywhere:

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And once I’d put the squashes out of the way of the same, scent-hidden with sage, they too have gone full gangbusters:

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Some of them probably need repotting, especially now that I’ve found limited plants suitable for potting into the bigger containers.

Although a lot of people find common zonal Pelargonium plants somewhat tacky and “bedding”-y, I can’t help but feel great affection to these few that we brought all the way from Oxfordshire:

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They’re showing the rosemary and Anthemis (respectively) just how to go about flowering, brightening up the decking and just firing off pellie scents and flowers so red and pink that they look like a printer’s error, hyperreal inks accidentally offset from reality itself.

Finally, despite an urgent and severe prune over winter—and it still managed to strangle the motor inside our boiler by creeping inside the outflow pipe!—the jasmine by our front door has flowered, and its scent is obvious every time we pass it:

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We might not yet have many plants we truly love: but the ones we do, love us back in equal or greater measure. And affection from a plant, like that from a pet or a wild animal, or your landscaper of choice, can’t be bought or sold.

(Thanks to Helen Johnstone for hosting the EOMV meme.)

Fitting an overflow to the water butt using a tank connector

Our house’s previous owners installed a water butt. Like many of the decisions they made about the house and garden, this one sounds nice in theory but has a number of practical flaws.

Here’s the water butt, on the drive:

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Ignore for a second the fact that it takes up substantial width of drive—we don’t have a car—and is mounted on a slope—we’ve managed to mitigate that through shifting and shimmying it around. With all that aside, it is:

  1. fed by a drainpipe that isn’t very well fixed to the wall, and tends to fall into its component parts during particularly bad weather.
  2. has no overflow, meaning that when the water butt is full, excess water simply empties out, splashes by the brickwork, and flows down the drive into the street.

We’ve already managed to mitigate the problems with the inflow, by adding an extra bend to the drainpipe, and propping it up on a half-brick. Once we’ve got a permanent site, it’s now close enough to the wall that we can drill up a mount.

The outflow problem is a bit trickier. Really, it needs what YouTube instructional videos (American) call something like a bulkhead fitting. It took me a lot of googling, and visiting DIY shops (Plumb Center even denied they were sold in the UK), to realise that we usually call the same fitting a tank connector (how they plumb up is also slightly different, I think, but whatever works!) But the great thing about tank connectors is that (once you know what to call them) you find they’re sold in plenty of places: I got mine online.

The following, disassembled, was advertised as a half-inch, Hozelock-compatible connector. However, the measurement seems to refer to its inner dimension, and calipers put its outer width at something like 22mm. Luckily I already had a drill bit to match. Here’s the exploded view of all components and the bit:

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From left to right: Hozelock connector; external nut; internal fitting with rubber gasket; drill bit.

Before drilling, I emptied the water butt a little, but not much. Just enough to be clear of the hole, plus a few more centimetres (but then I’ve got a history of drilling into containers holding water, so you might want to drain a lot more!) I did however need to take off the dust lid, and re-prop up the drainpipe on a different-sized brick:

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Drilling was pretty straightforward: plastic is quite soft and fairly forgiving. One point is that it’s definitely worth fishing out the curls and disc of plastic that result, any of which might one day clog up the tap or the overflow pipe:

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As the butt was mostly full, these all floated on the surface and were easy to spot.

I then re-filled the water butt with a couple of buckets of water, and was able to test its watertightness:

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It pours! And there’s no moisture underneath the fitting (what you see in the picture above is just a few dints and scratches, not drips.) You can see there’s no gasket—the rubber “washer”—in this picture, as it’s on the inside of the tank.

Until I could return to the DIY shop for the remaining fitments, I added a temporary drain underneath; just a concrete channel, really:

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Already it was an improvement, but yesterday I was finally able to connect a couple of metres of hose up. Here’s the finished system:

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Two full watering cans, with a covering to prevent the cat from drinking diluted comfrey from them sometimes; a full bucket, which I added during a brief rainstorm before the heatwave began; and our water butt with overflow and a platform underneath the tap so the cans line up properly with it.

In the interim, the barrel has dropped to perhaps only a third full, so right now the full system isn’t tested. It didn’t feel right, wasting drinking water in the volumes needed to test. But sooner or later there’s bound to be a spot of rain in Sheffield, right?

The Peace of Pilley garden

Somewhat north of Sheffield, immediately west of J36 on the M1, sits the quiet little village of Pilley near Tankersley. I was passing near this very place on a cycle ride last Wednesday, when the oppressive heat meant I’d finished all my water supplies. Along with an insatiable desire for flapjack, my need for fluids led me into the village itself.

My three initial encounters with Pilley residents were all very promising: the pair of polite, kind tween boys who saw I was nearing death and pointed me in the direction of the village shop; the shop customer, who chatted with me about the weather; and the owner, who chatted with me too but a red mist was beginning to descend as I contemplated my immediate fizzy-drink future.

But it was the welcome I received from Pilley’s small communal garden that’s stayed with me the most:

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The gardens only occupy a quarter of a circle, itself perhaps sixteen metres in diameter. But as you can see above a (edit: birch) tree with a weeping habit provided perfect shade over a bench on which I sat to rehydrate. They were created in 2004 by a team of volunteers and with (in part) EU money that they sadly might not see again now.

There are beds of Alchemilla mollis, euonymous, tiny spruces, geraniums and other plants you might expect in such a garden:

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No surprises, perhaps, but a lesson in how to build a self-sustaining public garden, with nary a bedding plant in sight! The garden was backed by hawthorns, tall shrubs, more conifers and a fruiting amelanchier (edit: thanks for the ID, @helenintgarden!):

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(Trees aren’t my strong point!)

Although you might not find it anywhere on the web, the title of this blogpost reflects the garden’s own declared name: the same poster board that detailed the garden’s own history is titled “Peace of Pilley”, and explains that the garden is both a local shared space and also a commemoration of the Wharncliffe Silkstone Colliery disaster of 1914, in which 11 local men lost their lives. This explains the sculpture on site:

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Nobody in Pilley is likely to say that the Peace of Pilley was a garden that you should go out of your way to visit; nor, probably, would they thank me for saying so! But it’s a neat, caring, sensitive use of what would otherwise be some brownfield site of rubble and brambles, and for a few minutes on a baking July day, it made me feel at home.