Planning ahead

September is when I generally start thinking about admit that I’m thinking about Christmas! Sorry, I said the C – word. Some people can wait until December 1st to even consider it, but for me (and I’m sure many other crafty types), late September is the ideal time to start working on those handmade gifts and planning others. 

I usually try to make a bag of homemade food items for friends and family to add to their (often) shop bought gift. This year I hope to make many more presents than usual, alongside the usual food ‘hamper’ – wish me luck! 

  I’ve started with a couple of jams and jellies that have Christmas spice flavours, such as an apple jelly with cinnamon and cloves and a plum and mulled wine jam. The former has worked well and looks great in the little jars, but the jam hasn’t set properly and I think I may have burned it a little. ? I’ll have to try again I think. I’d like to find another recipe for something similar with Christmas flavours to make a trio of little jars to give. I’ve also started a gin flavoured with blackberries and apple. That was very simple to put together in a jar and needs to be left for about 4 weeks to infuse the flavours before bottling.

I’ve recently taught myself the basics of knitting and have a tutorial for a basic fingerless glove that I have tried so that’s probably going to be a gift for a sister in law or two (or three)! I learnt to crochet a couple of years ago, although never really made it past making blankets or other very simple projects. There are some great ideas out there on the Internet for crocheted gifts so I’ll probably look at those again. 

 I think I’ll be getting my little sewing machine out before Christmas too!

Cards are something else on the handmade Christmas to-do list. I started making my own greetings cards a few years ago and for a couple of years made all birthday, anniversary, Christmas and other celebration cards. For the last year or so, I’ve found it far too time consuming to make all of my own Christmas cards and have just made a few for immediate family members. These days I seem to really struggle for inspiration and motivation to make cards and have used a lot of shop bought birthday cards this year. But I will make the effort this year to make as many Christmas cards as I can; a few more elaborate cards for immediate family and I think I’ll try to come up with a fairly simple design that’s easy for me to replicate over and over for more distant family and friends.

I think my biggest challenge this year is going to be actually finishing all the projects that I start. I have a terrible habit of getting distracted by a new project halfway through the last, and ending up with five half finished things!  

Do you have any ideas for handmade gifts? What would you like to receive as a handmade present?

September on the allotment

Leeks are looking lovely on the allotment in September

Things are still looking quite good on the allotment. As you can see, the leeks are doing well and I think that some might even be about ready to use. Unfortunately, the wind has been a bit too much for the sweet peas and they are all at quite an angle! But they are still flowering well, so I will keep picking them! Last weekend, Ashley and I made 2 new beds, we will let them sit over winter and start planting in spring. We dug up the first of the vegetable bedsparsnips to have with our Sunday roast – I was expecting them to be a bit small still but boy was I wrong! They are absolute beasts! And very difficult to dig up as they have grown down into the packed earth under the shallow bed – I think I’ll put them in the deep bed next time! I have heard that parsnips are better tasting after frost, but these were delicious! There are still plenty of runner beans to be eaten and they are going down well in all manner of meals. The summer fruiting raspberries are finally booming (although only getting 5 or so ripe ones at a time).

As my kale seedlings were completely neglected whilst we were away, I bought some ‘ready made’ to try out. I also got some cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli. A few of each of these have gone into the top middle bed and promptly covered with fleece as the cabbage whites are very active still.

Next on the ‘to-do’ list is sorting the poly tunnel for winter planting. I would love a raised bed (or two) in there to keep some more tender plants going over the winter, and the shelving needs organising to make it more productive. Ashley has also mentioned making me a cold frame at home, so he has plenty to be getting on with!

Blackcurrant jam

Earlier in the year, we enjoyed our best yet blackcurrant crop and so of course I┬ámade jam! I love blackcurrant jam made into a hot drink or simply spread on toast. Blackberry JamAs the blackberries were ripening at different rates, I picked them as they were ready and froze them until I had enough. Freezing them in a single layer on a baking tray before bagging or boxing them prevents them from all sticking together – not sure it’s really needed for jam making, but that’s the way I like to do it! I found a simple recipe on the BBC food website which was easy to follow for a newbie jam maker such as myself. I made the jam in 2 batches, just in case I made a mistake – I didn’t want to ruin it all! As it happened, I overcooked the first batch. It’s still perfectly useable and doesn’t taste burnt, but is rather solid in the jar! The second batch seems just about perfect. The smaller jars quickly found their way into my Mum and Grandma’s cupboards! I’m now looking forward to the blackberry jams and jellies and other hedgerow delights available at this time of year!

Hello September!

Well hello there! I must apologise for my absence but it has been a busy old summer! I have been looking after an unwell Grandmother (who is much better now, thank goodness), had my brother, sister in law, nephew and neice visiting, then a week away in the Lake District for our first holiday in 7 years! I have been doing allotment visits in between but unfortunately not nearly often enough and have been quite unmotivated to write about it. But here’s to a new month and hopefully a more productive one.

I think that September is one of my very favourite months of the year. Once the school holidays have finished, the weather inevitably cheers up and Cornwall goes back to being a relatively peaceful place! The evenings are still relatively light and I can still enjoy being out in the garden. There is plenty of veg to be harvested (assuming I have bothered to tend to it!) and more to look forward to. My absolute favourite thing about this time of year is the wild berries that can be harvested for free. I popped out for a quick wander with Ashley earlier this evening and was gutted that I hadn’t taken a bowl to pick blackberries. I wanted to go back out as soon as we got back but unfortunately the rain started – I will be out there tomorrow picking them I think. Last year I made blackberry jam and I like to make a few blackberry and apple crumbles for the freezer. I like to add a bit of cinnamon for a really warming flavour on a cold winters evening. Nearby, there is an apple tree that I have picked apples from in previous years, but it is quite tricky to get at!

After our week away, one of the first things we did was, of course, take a trip to the allotment to see how things were doing. We were greeted, unsurprisingly, by lots and lots of weeds and about 6 giant marrows. I gather there was a fair amount of sunshine and rain whilst we were away so the courgettes grew and grew! The heaviest weighs nearly 10lbs!

┬áThere were no runner beans to speak of (only the tiniest start of beans) a few days before we left and I have since picked a bag full of good sized beans and a couple of super long ones, over 30cm in length! I’ve never grown runner beans before and have to say I’m very pleased with them. I have blanched and frozen some and kept a few fresh in the fridge for the week. There will be plenty more to harvest in the weeks to come. The peas have been cropping fairly well, though I haven’t stayed on top of picking them as much as I would have liked. There are some pods that have started drying out on the plant, so I will leave them to dry and save them for seed next year. The swiss chard is still going strong, though I’ve long run out of ideas to use it up! Our harvested onions have dried well and should keep nicely, I wonder how long they will last us – I use quite a lot of onions. The leeks are looking fabulous! I’ve only tried growing leeks once before, and the neighbours cat sat on the seedlings and killed them. I can’t wait to get using the leeks, I’m not sure if I can start using them now but I think most need a bit longer to grow. Next year I must plant them a little deeper and maybe earth them up a little to blanch (i that the correct term?) the stems a bit more. I like the green bits on leeks though, so I’m not too worried about that. Unfortunately, whilst we were away the cabbage whites got to the brocolli and brussel sprouts and have done a fair bit of damage. We might still get a bit of brocolli as the heads have started developing on a couple of the plants, but I fear that the Brussel sprouts may be past it. I planted out some dwarf french bean plants (that had been started in the greenhouse) before we went away – these haven’t done much. The sweet peas are going strong and I think we will have quite a lot more flowers before the end of September.

I have started planning for winter and next year at the allotment. I should have already sorted seedlings and young plants such as Kale, but I haven’t so I’ll be keping an eye out for small plants being sold locally. If I don’t see any for a reasonable price, I’ll leave it until next year and try to be better prepared. I would like to get the blackcurrant bushes from our back garden moved to the allotment soon, then I might actually have some flowers in my garden next year! I’m thinking about having quite a few flowers at the allotment next year too – you can never have too many pollinaters! Next year, I need to make some proper fruit cages as the temporary netting around the raspberries isn’t big enough – the plants are outgrowing it and it’s quite difficult to get at the ripe berries. There will be blackcurrants to protect next year too. I need to re pot my patio plum tree soon, it has grown well this year and needs a much bigger pot already. We have mulched an area big enough for 3 medium sized beds so they need creating this winter, and all of the beds already there need a good layer of compost and/or manure. We are very fortunate to have a ready supply of fresh and rotted manure and we have 3 compost bins on the go with the chickens doing their bit too! We also found out that well known coffee shops such as Starbucks (other coffee shops are available) will give you bags full of used coffee grounds for free and this is a great addition to a compost heap.

So plenty to be getting on with and plenty of lessons learned as we near the end of our first summer at our allotment.