New diary post

Right well, I’ve dithered about this for long enough! I’ve thought about writing an explanation of why I’ve been away so long (again), but thought better of it, opting instead to just WRITE SOMETHING!

It’s long been my intention to write diary pieces following each weekend with time the following week to write. And this is the first such weekend.

I had Friday off this weekend too, so it was a long one. Mind you, I had a hospital appointment on Friday morning so didn’t get any lovely things done. That left me feeling a little delicate (nothing serious though, and all fixed now) so I didn’t get to the garden until Sunday. I spent Friday afternoon and most of Saturday sewing. I’ve been working on a Christmas project for Keith, of which more nearer the time. But then, inspired by all the lovely pics of Sonya Phillips from 100 Acts of Sewing‘s Dress Number 1 I decided I could make one of these without the pattern. Here’s Sonya’s version:

 

 

I have a knitting smock from Tall Yarns and used this to make a pattern. I grabbed an old sheet and started to make a muslin. It’s going so well I’m going to finish it and use it as a petticoat. It fits really well, and I’ve edged the neckline and sleeve holes with blue bias binding. I’m planning to and pockets (because all petticoats need pockets) and a fancy blue edging stitch around the bottom.

I really love this look and have lots of plans. I have a pattern for yoga pants, which I can use to make some trousers like the ones above. I already have one pair in a great vegetable themed print, so I plan to start by buying some orange/deep red/burnt ochre kinda fabric (linen maybe) and making a tunic dress. I have lots of accessories which will match including a brown February Lady Sweater and a cool Gudrun Sjoden top. Would be good to get this done for New Year, but that may be hampered by the kitchen project. I know I haven’t mentioned the kitchen project, but I’ll come back to that when it’s done and I have some pictures of a lovely new kitchen to share, instead of pictures of a wreck of a kitchen.

It’s worse than that now!

Right, gardening. Felt less delicate by Sunday and the sun was shining so I headed out. Swept Catalpa leaves off the back lawn – not so much for tidiness but to make sure the lawn didn’t suffer from them rotting in situ. Definately not to be tidy, as I left lots of other leaves that weren’t in danger of damaging anything in order to prioritise other jobs. Anyway the Catalpa leaves added to the leafmould pile.

Next up was dahlia mulching. We planted quite a few this year to add to the display for Sorrel and Alex’s wedding. But digging them up is such a pain, and I’m never confident about storing them through the winter. So I mulch them with straw and hope for the best. They’re on a south facing slope, so I should get away with it if the winter is not too harsh.

Then on to planting tulips. I had already planted 4 pots with colourful cornus shrubs and tulips underneath in the style described by Monty on Gardeners’ World. Monty added Ophiopogon grass too, but I’m sure the garden centre saw me coming and put the price up, so I don’t have those. But I still had 7 pots left to do. these are now planted and in situ waiting for spring. I chose white tulips this year.

There, I’ve done it, I’ve broken the blogging block. Let’s see if I can keep it up!

Posted in Crafts, Diary entry, House, not garden, Organic gardening, Ornamentals, Sewing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Has it really been that long?

I was quite shocked when I sat down to write this post to realise I haven’t posted since Easter! I know I’ve been busy but Easter was ages ago – and the garden has grown so much that the plants in last post’s pictures look very small.

I’ve been planting seeds – some of them twice because the slugs appeared to have had a party on one particularly rainy day! And potting stuff on. And weeding.

The fruit is coming on nicely and the Naked Garden is looking very good, thanks to Elaine’s hard work:

Jethro and Hannah planted up their small vege plot with beans, peas and courgettes – hope the slugs don’t get them!

We’ve also planted 12 trees in the forest garden. I spent ages planning it all out properly and deciding carefully where each tree should go. But then when I took the trees to the plot, there were a few things I’d overlooked – trees in adjacent spaces that will grow and cast shadows that I hadn’t allowed for, and areas that haven’t been cleared of scrub yet. Maybe we bought the trees too early, but we were full of enthusiasm! So we went about in our usual organic, thinking on our feet fashion and adjusted the plan to suit reality. So I’m struggling to design in a proper by-the-book permaculture fashion, but the trees are in and mulched:

I’m going on a Forest Gardening Course with Martin Crawford next week, so that should help me plan the next few layers a little better, I hope.

Speaking of permaculture, there have been 2 weekends of my PDC (3 days in total) since I last posted. The first was about water and had lots in it to think about – when we think about saving water we think about washing our clothes less often and taking shorter showers, but most of our water footprint is embedded in the things we buy – like cotton bedsheets and beans imported from Africa. There was a really fascinating session on humanure – I’ve long intended to add a compost toilet to the garden, down in the forest garden for those times when I’m too lazy to stomp back up to the house. This session made me want to do that even more – just need more days in each weekend! Actually what I need is a permaculture design, including an implementation plan.

We also looked at aquaponic systems. Can’t say I fully get this – while I can see a use for it in disaster recovery situations, I really don’t understand it’s usefulness in UK gardens. We don’t have a culture of eating freshwater fish – I’ve never tried them, but am inclined to think we would have that culture if they tasted good!

The second permaculture weekend was spent camping at The Inkpot in Lincolnshire – a regenerative agriculture demonstration farm, plus forest garden and straw-bale field shelter cum classroom. This was totally inspiring! While I can’t ever see myself as a farmer with sheep and cows, that part was interesting. But the inspiring part was the perennial vegetables and forest garden. I have a tendency to feel over-whelmed and tied by the garden – like I’m always behind and it’s never quite good enough. But Hannah espoused a philosophy of ‘no guilt, no judgement’ and I really connected with that. I need to give myself a break! What we do here is pretty damn good considering we both have full-time jobs, and Keith has almost a second job as a musician. Since the trip, I’ve been looking at the garden differently and wondering what I can do differently – more perennial veg for one thing. Hoping to pick up more tips and suggestions on my forest gardening course next weekend.

So that’s it for now. I’ll try not to leave it so long until the next time!

Posted in Farm visits, Fruit, Organic farming, Organic gardening, Ornamentals, Permaculture, Planning, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potato planting at Easter

The main event of the Easter weekend was a party for a friend-relative’s #itscomplicated 65th birthday. Because we have a house with large rooms, and the huge garden, family parties often happen here. This meant Friday was taken with some garden tidying. Saturday preparing for the party. Sunday Keith was out all day gigging, and I was plain knackered! So Monday I actually got into the garden and planted the spuds. On Saturday I did pick some garden flowers and bring them in for the party. I was quite pleased with how they looked:

This year I’m growing Sarpo Mira again as they were so good last year – excellent blight resistance and keeping qualities. At Potato Day in February I also bought 6 Charlotte tubers to plant in a pot (or rather broken ex-council recycling bin) in the greenhouse. I think for best results I should have planted the Charlotte some weeks ago, but I’m behind with everything this year.

Planting some spuds in the ground sounds simple, but I elected not to do it on Sunday becaus it all sounded like too much work! I had to remove the still growing beetroot and chard from last year – that all went to the chooks. Then some lemon balm had self-seeded in the bed, so I moved it to the new medicinal herb bed – looking a little lonely as yet:

Then I removed the straw mulch from the potato bed and add 3 barrow loads of compost.

Then I was ready to actually plant the spuds. I am relatively no dig, but I did bury these a few inches into the soil because a cold week was forecast and I wasn’t sure the straw mulch would be adequate protection as I didn’t have much of it.

I also got some more seeds sown in the greenhouse – sunflowers, celery and herbs. Potted on some geraniums that had arrived from Parkers, and planted the sweet peas in the new bed in the back garden. This bed is starting to look quite interesting now – Elaine has planted the box hedging, and a japanese maple that was unhappily residing in a pot. I’ve added sweet peas, up wigwams made from the hazel trimmings. I have some hydrangea to go in there too, although they’re on the small side right now. The plan is to add sunflowers at the back, to be looking good in time for Sorrel and Alex’s wedding in early September. Must take some pics of this space at the weekend.

Final weekend job was supposed to be ordering more seeds, as I’ve run out of lots of stuff that needs planting directly into the ground – carrots, parsnips etc. But my internet connection was broken so that didn’t happen until late on Monday. But the Seed Cooperative were incredibly quick and the seeds arrived on Wednesday, so I’ll be sowing them next weekend.

Actually, didn’t think I’d done much, but that sounds like a respectable list 🙂

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Spring sowings and stuff

I’ve been back at work a week and a half now and the holiday seems like eons ago. Got lots done though, including

  • set up new veg plot for Jethro and Hannah – now growing them some plants to put in it later in the season. Not sure I’ll make gardeners out of them as Jethro came round to sow some seeds, but got bored after about 10 minutes! Their veg plot is tiny, but better to start small and want more space than be overwhelmed

  • confined chooks to half the run and re-seeded the other half. Not really sure where I’m going with this as lots of reading seems to suggest chooks will eventually wear any pasture to nothing. Will probably put them on this new grass in Spring 2018, then re-seed where they are now

  • finished pruning the orchard – must start earlier next winter and refuse all daylight social engagements until it’s complete
  • coppiced hazel – but still stacking the poles
  • weeded the onions and garlic that got a little weedy over winter
  • day 4 of permaculture course

  • lots of reading
  • potted on loads of tomatoes and chillies

  • Plants arrived from Parkers and were potted up – my step-daughter is getting married in September and the party is planned in our garden, so have been buying dahlias and rudbeckia to make sure it looks good in late summer
  • day out to Whichford Pottery and The Straw Kitchen

Other stuff has been done since then:

  • seed sowing – beans, herbs, flowers, salad
  • already harvesting salad leaves

  • shredded lots of willow and hazel offcuts
  • started spring strimming routine
  • bought new chooks – currently being integrated with the old ones

  • made a cleavers tincture – trying to make more use of herbs from the garden, this is supposed to be useful post-viral tonic

And on the ‘to do’ list:

  • plant out spuds – some for a vege plot space and some to go in a container in the greenhouse
  • seed sowing outdoors
  • more indoor seed sowing including sunflowers for new shrub bed in back garden
  • finish shredding willow
  • more plants to arrive will need potting on
  • party this weekend for Rob’s 65th, Kyle’s birthday and Dot retiring – glad it’s a 4 day weekend because the garden needs a tidy up, the marquee needs erecting and taking down, so that will eat up quite a lot of time
  • plant forest garden trees, hopefully by the end of April
  • plan next layer of forest garden, but no big rush for this and it may be my main design for my PDC
  • day 5 of PDC at end of April

This is such a busy time of year, but at least the evenings are lighter and stuff can be done after work.

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Since Seedy Sunday

So it’s high time I did a diary update. As mentioned last time, I’ve been down a bit of a techy blogging rabbit-hole. But I’ve still been in the garden and out and about a bit.

Following my trip to Brighton Seedy Sunday, I also went to the more local Northampton Seedy Saturday the next week. This was a much smaller affair than the one in Brighton, and seemed to be rather quieter – but I didn’t get there until late so that may be an unfair review. Anyway, there were plenty of seeds still in the swap, plus a few plants and some interesting display stands. And a lovely cafe with everything on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. One of the main attractions of this event is the quality of speakers – they had Nick Hamilton (the late Geoff Hamilton’s son) from Brogdale Gardens, Russell Atwood, and Jonathan Mosley, the florist from the Great Allotment Challenge. I only managed to catch Jonathan’s talk, but it was very good. Very entertaining and he seemed to throw together gorgeous bouquets of flowers while he talked – something that would take me hours, if I could achieve it at all. At the end, he was giving away bits of foliage as cuttings. I managed to grab some Muhlenbeckia and it is rooting well in my propagator in the greenhouse.

Which brings me nicely on to what’s going in the garden. I’ve almost finished pruning the orchard – just 3 trees to go. I have next week off though, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Then I need to coppice the hazel (which I usually do as soon as the orchard is done). This only takes about an hour though. I planted a small hedge of about 15 trees, about 6 years ago now. Each year, I coppice every 5th tree and use the cuttings as bean poles and support for sweet peas. Speaking of which, the sweet peas are coming on well in the greenhouse, as are the tomatoes and chillis. I’ll get some pics next week, and a list of the varieties to share with you.

In late February I went to day 3 of my Permaculture Design Course, where we talked about design tools – ways of thinking, rather than actual physical tools. I definitely need to practice using some of these. The month has gone quickly, because day 4 is on Saturday – that’s what happens when you go down rabbit-holes!

The final achievement to note is that I sorted out my seeds ready for sowing next week. I always feel like to need to go out and buy more, but after the 2 seed swaps I have plenty. My son Jethro is planning to start a small veg garden this year (we’ll be helping him get started next week) so I’ll probably need to grow plants for them too as they don’t have a greenhouse.

So what have you been up to in your garden? Is everything going to plan?

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Welcome to the new Home on the Hill

Hello and welcome to the new Home on the Hill.

If you’ve followed a link from the old site, the new place to subscribe is just there on the right —>

And if you’re finding me for the first time, welcome to you too.

It’s been a while – I went down a bit of technical rabbit-hole as I sorted out moving this blog from wordpress.com to wordpress.org – I won’t bore you with any more detail. Suffice to say that I seem to have succeeded in moving most of the content across – I think there’s a few images missing on some very old posts. But I’m here now and all ready to start again, which seems apt as the new growing season is just getting into it’s stride.

The reason for the move was simply to enable me to have more control over how it all works and how I promote the blog. Technically, I’d outgrown the free wordpress.com site.

I’ll not say any more for now. But I will be back next week (well, that’s the plan) with a new piece about what I’ve been up to in the garden, when I haven’t been blog-wrangling.

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Potato Day and Seedy Sunday

Wow what a busy weekend – and no time for gardening!

Saturday was Heart of England Organic Group‘s annual potato day – always on the first Saturday of February if you want to put it in your diary for evermore.

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The group buy in 25kg sacks of organic seed potatoes and sell them on individually – so you can buy just as many seed tubers as you need, or a few of lots of different varieties. It helps fund the group for the year ahead, but also provides a valued service to local gardeners and allotmenteers.

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The year, 2017, was our second potato day. Last year we had lots of people queuing outside before we opened at 10am. This year was a slower start, but on asking folk, it seems that many people last had assumed that because of our proximity to Garden Organic at Ryton, our potato day would be as manic as theirs used to be. This year, they realised that HEOG were running a more relaxed affair and felt less pressure to be on time. By the end of the day, we had sold just 10% fewer spuds than last year, so more than covered costs.

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Potato Day 2017 featured a seed swap table for the first time. However, this side of the event wasn’t really publicised and actually, no-one brought any seed to swap. But this didn’t matter because I had asked Heritage Seed Library and The Organic Gardening Catalogue for donations and they both responded generously. As we were effectively giving seed away, we asked for donations to Cancer Research UK and raised £160 for this cause. Next year we need to push the ‘swap’ side of things more and get the HEOG membership engaged with saving seed and handing over all those free packets from magazines.

We also spoke to lots of interesting people and gave advice to beginners and more experienced gardeners. And had a lovely time.

Then on Sunday, I headed to Brighton and Seedy Sunday to see how it should be done. The seed swap is actually a rather small part of this large event. One hall was set aside for this purpose and the seeds organised into types – tomatoes, peppers and chillies, brassicas and so on. It was more formalised than HEOG’s little table – I guess it needs to be because of the amount of people attending. So you wondered round the large central tables picking up seeds you wanted, then at the end, either handed in an equal amount of your seed packets, or paid 50p per packet. They only accepted self-saved seed, so no commercial packets. And no seeds from the Cucurbitaceae family (pumpkins, squash, courgettes and marrows) because of the high risk of outbreeding.

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In a courtyard was a rather splendid display of making cloth from plant fibres –  linen and nettles. I spent ages here indulging my love of all things textile. I chatted for ages to a very patient man about how to make cloth from nettles. I knew it was possible but had no idea of the process. He said that when he decided to try it, he realised that’s there’s very little documentation about how to do it, so he set out to work it out. 2 years later and he can make yarn which can be knitted or woven. However it is massively labour intensive and it is quite obvious why it was passed over for the easier to process flax into linen. And wool is even easier still.

The largest part of the event was the marketplace. If you read my review of the Edible Garden Show you’ll remember that I was disappointed in the range of stuff on offer and decided I wouldn’t be going back (it’s now been cancelled anyway). Well, this marketplace was the exact opposite – almost every stall was offering something relevant to me. Well, not quite every stall – I won’t be joining Sussex Wildlife Trust or volunteering on a community allotment in Brighton, for example.

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There were lots of seeds for sale – organic and non-organic. Also some plants, but I didn’t look too closely at them because I was travelling by train. A few herbalists with lovely cosmetics and remedies, and some sellers of wildlife homes. Mostly I bought seed, but I did succumb to the herbalists wares too.

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One especially interesting stall was the Seed Cooperative – a new venture based in Lincolnshire with the intent of producing more UK grown seed for the organic market, both by growing it themselves, and providing a market for any other small-scale producers. They are selling shares in the Cooperative with a minimum investment of £100, and a maximum of £100,000. I intend to sign up to support this much-needed business – most organic seed available to gardeners is not grown in the UK. However, you don’t need to invest in order to purchase seed from them.

The final part of the show was an area for talks and there were several throughout the day. However, I was busy browsing the stalls and elected to miss most of them.

Next weekend there’s another seed swap event in Northampton – Seedy Saturday – which I also intend to go to. I think this will be smaller than the Brighton event, although they have some high-profile speakers lined up. I can’t see our small seed table at HEOG growing into an event of this size, but it’s interesting to check out how bigger events are run.

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Exciting start to 2017

I spent a lovely weekend at Graceworks on an Introduction to Permaculture course. I actually did this same course this time last year, and hoped it would lead to a full Permaculture Design Course (PDC). But there weren’t enough folk interested to make it viable. But this year there are, so I’ll finally be doing my PDC.

I say finally because, when I’m asked why I want to do this, I’m not sure I can remember! I think I first became aware of permaculture in the early or mid 90s, and have long wanted to do a PDC – but back then they were usually 2 week residentials and I simply couldn’t justify the time or expense. Now there are lots more that run on weekends, and this is the only one I’ve found within a reasonable drive. Last weekend was 2 full-on days from 9.30am to 5.30pm, so I don’t want more than an hours drive either end of that. The rest of the course is on Saturdays – one each month until October. But with 2 longer weekends in May and October. I’ve already booked leave around these dates so I don’t have to work full weeks either side of a PDC weekend.

One man on the course seemed to have fallen very lucky – he came across permaculture on a TV programme just 2 weeks ago. He googled for a course and found this one just 5 minutes from his house! And I’ve waited almost 20 years and still have to drive for 2 hours a day. There’s no justice!

But having said that, I think I’m in a better place now to take on board a lot of what is included in the course. It can be quite touchy-feely, and in the past that might have put my logical, science-minded self off a little, but I’m getting more open to that as I get older. But 20 years ago …

There’s a permaculture expression about trolls and fairies – trolls being logical scientific do-ers, and fairies being the other extreme of thoughtful navel-gazers. It’s a spectrum and I think I’m moving away from the troll end a little, and embracing my inner fairy.

The introduction weekend was pretty full-on and covered loads of things. It included a whistle-stop tour of the ethics and principles. Actually, I’m not going to go into what all this is here – if you want to know the detail check out the Permaculture Association’s knowledge base or join a PDC yourself. It also looked at a design methodology and included some practical design exercises. We wondered about in the park you see in these pictures, to practice our observation skills, and also had a tour of the Graceworks gardens in the rapidly fading January light. Oh, and we looked at their forest garden too.

You may have noticed that I changed the subtitle of this blog to ‘a permaculture garden’ about a month or 2 ago. I’m hoping to write something eventually about why I believe my garden should be called that. Finding the time to write is often a challenge for me and I feel pressure to be doing other ‘more productive’ things. I’m not really sure why I think writing this isn’t productive! Anyway, as part of the PDC we are invited to produce a design or two – I have numerous ideas for parts of my life that need some permaculture design. Keith and I are planning to plant a forest garden, so there’s that. Moving away from land-based designs, I need a writing discipline that works. I also need a design for what to write – all I currently have is an incoherent list of ideas. Back to the land, I have a space designated to be a small herb bed/garden – I think I want medicinal plants here, with the edibles in pots in the knitting garden.

So, next PDC weekend is at the end of February. Before then I need to get some more fruit trees pruned (4 done, 24 to go), there’s HEOG Potato Day and Seed Swap (the seed swap bit is my baby), and I’m planning to go to Seedy Sunday in Brighton. And I also have to go to work 5 days each week (actually, I rather like my job and don’t want to give it up but there’s so much interesting stuff to do).

 

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This blog is not my life!

I read recently on the BBC that social media can damage your mental health. The idea behind the article was that looking enviously at other people’s lives, as portrayed on Facebook etc. is bad for you as you compare your life with theirs and find it lacking.

I find this rather sad. I love social media in all forms and find the posts on Instagram, Pinterest etc inspiring, rather than disheartening. So I’d like to publically declare that this blog does not represent my life in full (nor do my Facebook feed, Instagram posts, Tweets or Pinterest pages – links just there on the right, if you’re interested). All these are heavily edited to show you only the good bits, as I imagine other people’s are too.

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So enjoy what you see. Yes, I have a lovely garden and home, but it’s not all clean tidy and neat all the time – but that’s when I take the photos and share them with you. Of course, I could share more negative stuff – but that’s not what I want to read on other blogs, and I naturally inclined to optimism and finding the glad in things.

Happy New Year!

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Christmas at Home on the Hill

Christmas is a pretty big deal round here – I know it’s not everyone favourite time of year and some people find it incredibly difficult, but I love it. A time for celebrating whatever good we can find in the world and being thankful for all we have I’m writing this as the battle for Aleppo continues and I feel the contrast between their lives and mine. I have so much to be thankful for.

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But I’m not a Christian and I try to keep Christianity out of my midwinter celebration – well, maybe the odd carole, but the tunes are mostly much older than the Christian words anyway. So my tree has a duck at the top, not an angel. And my decorations are all secular.

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We always have a real tree from a local garden centre – they are grown as a crop and help to absorb some of our excess carbon. I always compost it afterwards. This is placed in the living room and decorated with classy glass ornaments. I used to have more homemade and plastic ones when we had small children but now I indulge my adult tastes.

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Also in the living room we have an enormous dresser – our wedding present to ourselves. I decorate this too, with glass baubles, bunting and mistletoe.

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Above the fireplace is where the advent calendar hangs, filled with lottery scratch cards that we never win on. About a week before Christmas I add more bits to the mantelpiece.

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I’ve had a go this year at using some garden trimmings to make wreaths. I’m not so sure about the one on the window sill at the front of the house, but I had fun making it.

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On the day itself, we usually host for as many of the family as want to join us – we have 6 children in total and they’re all invited. We’re usually joined by Keith’s ex-partner and her partner too, and anyone else who wants to join in. The number expected this year is 14, but there won’t be any small children this year. I organise the table, and Keith does the bulk of the cooking, although I help when necessary. Other people usually provide puddings, and a vegetarian turkey alternative.

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I think the year these were taken we ate early because of the little ones (just visible on the left at the window end). It’s usually getting dark as we sit down to eat. This picture looks quite civilised because it’s only the starter course. By the end the table is laden with wine and beer bottles, plus lots of pans and serving platters. Keith cooks a turkey – free-range from Manor Farm at Catthorpe, plus roast potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts, cheesy leeks, sweetcorn, roast parsnips, mashed swede, french beans, gravy, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings. Plus anything else that people turn up with. It sounds like a lot, but there’s not much waste – some left-over veges go to the chooks, but some also becomes bubble and squeak, the left-over turkey gets eaten with chips, and made into soup and stock.

We’re generally pretty exhausted after putting on that feast so tend to spend the rest of the week pretty quietly – well, in the daytime. I think Keith has gigs and parties planned for most evenings this year.

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Wishing you all a peaceful and happy Christmas.

Donate to Oxfam’s Syria Crisis Appeal

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