Lets go brambling!

bramble n. rough prickly shrub of the genus Rubus with long trailing shoots, esp. blackberry-bush. Oxford English Dictionary.Blackerry jam and homemade bread in the croft kitchen
Is it the time of year or the advancing years that makes one prone to nostalgia?
Sunday afternoon bike rides with my Dad were always wonderful excursions into the countryside where there were always new things to discover – from wildflowers and butterflies to nettle stings and grazed knees. Whilst a bottle of lemonade with a straw and a cheese and onion cob (roll) at the local hostelry were always a treat nothing could beat going home with a basket full of blackberries and the expectation that there would be a blackberry and apple pie to cheer up washday Monday.
To this very day I can’t resist an invitation to go brambling – it immediately conjures up golden autumn afternoons, the sweet sour taste of blackberries, purple stained lips and fingers, and a magical immunity to the pain of scratches from the briars and thorns.
Blackberry and apple pie or crumble are both great favourites, but nothing is nicer than a thick slice of homemade bread and lashing of blackberry jam. I know it is full of seeds but it is still so superior to bramble jelly. It is also quicker and easier to make!
The recipe used by Himself is on the Croft Kitchen page.
On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries.
When Lucifer was expelled from Heaven, he fell from the skies into a blackberry bush. He cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, spat and stamped on them and made them unfit to eat! Old Michaelmas Day, 10th October, is the last day on which blackberries should be picked.


Techno Blues


You put which cable where and into which slot?

I am going to begin with an apology – well it could be 2 and by the time I get to the end it could be 2n-1 (lots). So first sincere apologies to everyone who made wonderful comments about my vegetable growing efforts and was left hanging in the ether because I have been in internet limbo land for the past 5 days. To anyone who lives in rural Britain this will not be an unfamiliar scenario. Super-fast broadband – hrmph! So already apology number 2 for a cynical grump.
I promised myself that I would not let this blog become a techno rant! So I will breathe deeply and sip my green tea, think calming thoughts and try not to growl.
After the last fiasco when we were abandoned in the mist by connected communities and no apology was forthcoming for not bothering to tell anyone that the engineers would be carrying out maintenance on the system and that we would be cut-off for 3 days I voted with my cheque book. I fear that the damage was to my piggy bank not connected communities as I had to pay for a satellite disk plus peripherals (why are plastic widgets so expensive?) and an engineer with the biggest array of screw drivers I have ever seen. Unfortunately the techno wizard was only available by the hour and had delicate hands so I had to dig the trench for the new cable and put in the concrete base slab! Am I getting tetchy – do I need more tea?
So eventually I pulled the plug on connected communities and lo and behold I had a satellite link – not exactly NASA (Turin actually) nor super-fast just a working connection or rather the PC in Himself’s study did. So now all I had to do was plug-in the cable from the new big box with blue flashing lights (satellite modem) to the little box with flashing green lights (wireless router which enables my PC to talk to all the gizzmos and widgets in the study). So NASA do we have lift-off? Not a four star cats chance in Hades!
Pause for another apology for ingrained cynicism and intemperance.
So when all else fails switch everything off and reboot; have a cup of tea and try again. It was at this point that Himself informed me that our high-tech eco-friendly boiler was being temperamental again so I looked for the instruction book and wondered whether its simple trouble shooting guide was another victim of lost in translation. While I was taking the intellectual puzzle solving application of scientific reasoning and logic route he did the obvious switched it off and on again and probably gave it a kick in the manifold. This had the desired effect and I thought about running away to sea.
So back to the big box, little box and assorted cables. Eventually I had to give in and phone the techno whizz kids – after hours of checking DHCP, pinging and mac cloning even they resorted to “try switching it off in this sequence and then…. At this point I lost the will to live and had a restorative wee dram.
The next day I tried the techno kids again and eventually they resorted to the standard solution “I think we have a compatibility issue and you need to buy a new little box”. So once again the Industry won and I had to part with more ££ to buy a new gizzmo when there was nothing wrong with the old one apart from built-in obsolescence. It is here that I will just sound world-weary and not start a rant about the way we are repeatedly ripped-off by both computer hardware and software suppliers because one gizzmo won’t talk to another one.
Of course the new gizzmo worked first time and I am connect again. A final apology for feeling smug because the boys from the Admiralty are playing war games this month (sorry NATO exercise Sharp Spear 89) and for once they probably can’t jam my broadband! So before they do I’m going to read the backlog of posts from my favourite bloggers, have another cup of tea and a celebratory piece of cake.

Vegetable Garden

Sugar snap peas and broad beans growing in croft garden cottage vegetable gardenThe potatoes are in sacks under the bench in the shed, the garlic neatly platted and hanging above, soon to be joined by the onions which are drying in the polytunnel. There are boxes and boxes of jam and chutney and both freezers are full to bursting point. Autumn has definitely arrived, complete with the equinox gales, and there is a feeling of contentment in knowiledge that the garden has provided us with a good harvest to see us through the winter. It is so much more satisfying to reach for a jar of home-made chutney or retrieve the ingredients for a hearty vegetable soup from the freezer or the shed than to go to the supermarket. This is not just romantic idealism it stretches the family budget, reduces food miles and will taste better than anything you can pull off a shop shelf.
This year has been our most successful vegetable growing year so far – a combination of good weather, a soil that is improving year by year due to copious applications of seaweed and well-rotted manure and a slow ascent up the learning curve. Overall the lack of rain had little effect on most of our crops but in future I will increase the amount of watering in dry periods. Enriching the soil with organic matter certainly helped but there were times when I felt that watering my sandy soil was like flinging planets into a black hole.
So here is the report card for the vegetable garden:
Beetroot – I plant plugs raised in the ploytunnel in modules and normally have a good crop. This year the growth was slow, almost certainly due to lack of moisture, but we got there in the end.
Broad Beans – I grow my plants in cardboard tubes and then plant in the garden in early May. This year I had problems in germinating the seed (my fault for using old seed) and when I eventually had some plants they grew very slowly and flowered late – so I did not expect a good crop. A combination of lack of moisture and cool temperatures. The bumblebees obviously felt the same and did not appear until June – so in the end the bees had the pollen and nectar and I had a bumper crop of beans.
Carrots – normally one of my best crops – I sow my seeds as soon as the ground is warm enough (10°C) – but this year I could not get the seeds to germinate until July! It was so dry that I could not keep the top few centimeters of soil moist enough. So a late harvest of carrots this summer. They’re still growing and will be left in the ground until required.
summer cabbage growing in croft garden cottage vegetable garden

Cabbage – I grow the summer variety Greyhound which in previous years has grown well and lasted well into the first part of the winter. This year they grew beautifully, then split, the water got in and they rotted! This has never happened before and I am more than a little puzzled!
Fortunately it ruined any prospect of making to make sauerkraut.

cauliflowers in croft garden cottage vegetable gardencalabrese in the croft garden cottage vegetable gardenCauliflower, calabrese and broccoli – oh I was proud of these even if they did all come together! Not sure what went wrong with my careful schedule of succession planting! I will probably not grow the tender stem broccoli again – a victim of its own success – it was very prolific but the spears became flowers very quickly.
Celeriac – a new crop for 2012 – it has grown very well and produced good sized roots. Unfortunately they are a little hollow – lack of water again. However still good enough to eat and I am encouraged to try again.
Chinese cabbage – this is an early and late crop – it will bolt if it gets too warm. It grows rapidly and produces enormous head of crispy crinkly tightly packed leaves. It has to be cut as soon as it is ready but keeps very well. To avoid the cabbage glut you only need to grow 3 or 4 plants at a time.
Courgettes – prolific but tasteless so most of the fruit ended up in cakes! I suspect the variety rather than growing conditions.
Florence fennel growing in croft garden cottage vegetable gardenFlorence Fennel – this is one of my most reliable summer crops and one of my favourites.
garlic and shallots drying in the croft garden cottage vegetable gardenGarlic – the quality of the crop depends on the weather in May last year it was wet and windy and destroyed the crop. Always a gamble but worth the effort to eat fresh juicy cloves.
Jerusalem artichokes – the jury is out on these as I’ve not dug the tubers yet! The plants grew well and were over 6 feet tall, so I am quietly optimistic.
Leeks – my soil is not really suitable for growing very good leeks, but if I plant early I usually get a respectable crop. In my native county they would be laughed at – “what d’you call these lass pencils?” I prefer to think of them as gourmet leeks.
Onions and shallots – a good crop of onions but the shallots were disappointing. They were rather small and a high proportion had some evidence of neck rot.
Parsnips – alas very few germinated and the dozen are so which have grown may not we worth eating!
Potatoes – a good crop despite the drought. Certainly enough to see us through the winter.
Sugar snap peas – reliable and prolific. Unfortunately they do not freeze well, but there is always a market for the surplus.
The garden is now looking rather empty and the beds are ready for their winter dressing of seaweed and manure. There are still a few crops left – the winter brassicas, calvo nero (Tuscan kale) and leeks – all covered to give wind protection. There is still plenty of work to do outside, but it is a case of dodging the showers and looking for the gaps between the gales! It may only be September but it is time to think about next year. There is nothing nicer than sitting by fire on a stormy afternoon with a pile of seed catalogues.

Islands in the mist

islands in the mist

crossing the sound

Friday 7 September:
Mist rolls in frosts the glass with tiny crystal droplets.

Hello this is Hebrides.net our offices are closed. To reach our automated system press 1 for sales; 2 for technical support:
Press 1 for network status – there are no problems on the interconnected communities network
Press 2 to test your connection – your disk is working and you have a connection, your router is working, please check your computer settings.”

We are becalmed and nothing stirs – just gannets drifting by like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross.

“Hello Tracey – do you have an internet connection?
No we’ve been off since Friday – as has most of the island.
I’d not realised it was the whole island! We’re planning to cross the Sound tomorrow and need a local weather forecast can you get a connection via your smart phone?
Mobiles are down too and everything else!
OK thanks I’ll have to rely on the shipping forecast if I can get it on either the car or portable radio”

The mist now enfolds the land like a cold wet shroud and blankets it in a dense silence.

“This is BBC radio 4 and here is the shipping forecast issued at 05.05 on Sunday 9 September on behalf of the Maritime and Coast—————-“

It is understood that if commanders of nuclear submarines can not hear the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on three consecutive days, they know it’s time to break out the codes and prepare for Armageddon.

Hello, is any on there?

The call is muffled by the mist and echoes as a whimper.