Inside/outside, dealing with weatherhouse cats

Cats, as you know, are always on the wrong side of the door.

DSCN5359Here is our lovely Bella on her first ever trip outside in 2015. She has got a little bigger since then but has had to face new challenges in the battle of the doors with the arrival of Chelsea:

my mother’s cat who has had to leave her old home and her handy cat flap to come and stay with us, at least for the moment, while my mother works out whether she can manage to have a cat in her new tiny flat.

Unfortunately, these two delightful animals are not the best of friends, so we have had to devise ways of keeping them apart. To begin with we kept Chelsea inside, but now we have let her out to explore the garden:

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She seems reasonably impressed and completely at home but they still hiss and yowl whenever they see each other. So for the moment we are operating a one cat in, one cat out system, like the little couple in an old fashioned weatherhouse.  This is more or less working except at night when, generally speaking, they both want to be in.  This requires a simple system requiring a shut door and a big warning to passing residents to think before opening it:

wp_20181115_21_56_36_pro1.jpgIt has worked quite well except that cats can’t read and these two are quite clever. One or other of them worked out how to open the door, as we discovered when we were awoken in the middle of the night to yowling and hissing.  An ingenious son, left on his own to cat wrangle while I was out at work, came up with a system involving chairs and bits of rope, which worked to stop the cats from opening the door.  But it really seemed a little too uncivilised for anyone who might want to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.  So this evening I had a look through the ‘that might be useful one day’ box and found a snib for the top of the door. There were a few of these in the box because the previous owners of the house had them attached to every door to  keep dogs in or out :

wp_20181115_21_56_27_pro1.jpgFor once something from that box has been used. Let’s see if it works at least until the cats can learn not to kill each other in the middle of the night.

November sunshine

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Earlier this year I had some monstrous conifers removed from the back of the garden – here in mid-removal:

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Behind them the privet hedge is  recovering slowly but surely. This photo is from June:

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I had this idea that I would make a place to sit in the sun as this is the sunniest part of the garden but that plan was foiled somewhat by three things: the arm injury in early July (now almost fully recovered); life and work being even busier than usual and the amazing tomato and cucumber harvest in what I planned to be temporary new raised beds where the conifers used to be:

These beds have produced the most bountiful tomato and cucumber harvest that I have ever had (helped of course by the hot summer) but still:

So I’m tempted to the leave the raised beds where they are to catch the sun at its height. Today I went out to the garden to clear the beds and cover them with cardboard (to keep the multiplying cats off) and think about what to do with the space. I was struck by the beauty of the oak tree in the corner:

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It has been there, growing slowly, for about five years, after several years in a pot. It is my millennium oak, grown from an acorn collected by two very small boys in 2000 – you’ll find that story here 

Today I sat on a garden chair, bathed in the oak tree’s autumn glory, and remembered that the real value of this part of the garden is that the sun reaches it in November.

Cats, cables and upside down onions

The problem with gardening in the dark is that I may have planted some of my onions upside down. Well there are worse things in the world. Today was one of those days when I had to get into the garden and the dark came down too quickly for me to get everything done that needed to be done.  Before the onion episode I did a massive grass cutting.  What with the various distractions this summer, the grass had not been cut since August when the musicians were in residence. Two months is too much to leave the grass uncut even by my low standards so it was too long and really tough to cut.  My trusty push lawnmower really struggled and I had to stop every couple of minutes to remove the tangles of grass and clover from its innards.  I got fed up with this after a while and got out the electric strimmer,  a beast which I am very loath to use. I remembered why.  It also seizes up every couple of minutes but instead of just turning it upside down and removing the tangle, you have to go and unplug it first, to avoid strimmed fingers.  Then the electric cable only reaches half way down the garden and so you can only get at some of the worst bits of jungle.  The excitement and danger of having electric tools in the garden was enhanced by rain threatening and a complicated cat situation. My mother’s recent house move has resulted in her cat moving in with us. Her cat is lovely but so is ours and, for the moment, they are sworn enemies.  We are slowly introducing them to each other but meanwhile trying to keep Mum’s cat inside and letting Bella play in the garden so that she can retain some self-respect. But the electric cable for the strimmer has to go through an open door. Not a good way to keep a new cat inside.  Cats and electric strimmers are not a good combination either, especially when they are so fond of  playing with string:

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WP_20181103_15_45_28_Pro[1]Anyway, we all survived these complications with no cats escaping, fighting or losing tails in the strimmer.  I got the grass cut in the end but I think I’ll stick with push lawnmower when at all possible:

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And that’s why I was planting onions in the dark. Some might appear in Australia rather than Scotland but at least they are in on a relatively mild day and some hope of establishing before the cold returns. No photos – it was dark.

Winter in October

On this last day of October, here are some photos after the astonishingly low temperatures we had here on Saturday night. It was minus 3.7 degrees in my garden and the frost has killed off the stunning nasturtiums which had scrambled over the back hedge. It didn’t kill the sweet peas though – just made them extra beautiful:

WP_20181029_07_23_32_ProWP_20181029_07_22_54_ProSo that’s October over, nights seriously drawn in and November looming but the frosty flowers reminded me that there are some tiny compensations to the gloom of winter.

Another bouquet of vegetables

I had a mad dash into the garden today to harvest the last of the tomatoes before tonight’s threatened dive into zero temperatures:

WP_20181026_12_31_08_ProThis is the last of an incredible tomato harvest this year and these are lovely fat juicy San Marzano plum tomatoes which will probably now ripen indoors.  The tomato bed still has a couple of rather beautiful rainbow chard plants and some nasturtiums, which I hope will survive the deep freeze:

It was another dash into the garden as I’m still busy with my mother’s house move. So all the overgrown weedy stuff will just have to stay where it is, overgrowing happily. My mother is staying with us for a few days over the moving period and I thought it would be nice to put some flowers in her room to cheer the process. I’m not a great flower grower, and certainly not a flower arranger, but there were some lovely sweet peas, and I added some radish flowers for extra zing:

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Sky

I’ve been a little busy with work and family stuff so gardening and blogging has fallen behind a bit. To keep you all amused, here are some photos. Since my current technology is letting me down in the twittersphere, here they are on the blog instead: sky paintings on the way to work one morning:

Sunset from an evening return:

WP_20181012_18_30_16_ProDucks on a dragon boat:

WP_20181020_13_48_30_ProTomato chutney in the making:

WP_20181016_21_48_39_ProAnd finally, on a visit to my mother’s this weekend, to help her pack up and move house, some of the big trees behind her garden. You can’t see the leaves in this photo but when I looked out of the window I could see the leaves flowing straight from these trees and directly into her garden  – see post from a couple of weeks agoWP_20181021_10_56_04_ProMy father was sending us a message that the move is the right thing to do.

Yet another apple cake recipe

Thanks to the tomato, apple and courgettes gluts, there have been mutterings lately about ‘too many vegetables’ and that ‘vegetables with vegetables and vegetable sauce is not a proper meal’  at Reclaiming Paradise. So, when it came to making a start on the annual birthday cake marathon (everyone here except me has birthdays in October), I had to think of a way of making a cake that would help to use up the glut without being too obvious.  The result was Chocolate Apple Cake*:

WP_20181014_13_00_43_Pro[1](Pictured, partly hogged, complete with some birthday music)

Chocolate Apple Cake

*recipe based on one from Ruth Ward (1988) A Harvest of Apples

  • 450g apples
  • 50g raisins
  • 50g dates or apricots or similar dried fruit
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/tsp mixed spice
  • 1/tsp ground nutmeg
  • 225 g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2tsbp cocoa powder
  • 350g sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  1. Peel and chop the apples
  2. Add the spices, and the dried fruit.
  3. Stew in a little water until soft
  4. Mash up with a wooden spoon
  5. Add the butter and mix until melted
  6. Leave to cool slightly
  7. Mix in the flour, cocoa and sugar
  8. Add the beaten eggs
  9. Beat the whole mixture for a couple of minutes
  10. Add the walnuts
  11. Pour into a large greased and lined cake tin
  12. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180c

To make the chocolate fudge icing

  • 50g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder
  1. Melt the butter in a small pan
  2. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder
  3. Mix well together until smooth
  4. Add a little water to thin and mix well
  5. Spread over the cake

The cake went down well and has just had an additional endorsement from my brother, who dropped in for coffee and insisted on having two pieces. Praise indeed and it used up a few apples – only about two hundred left to go.

I didn’t feel brave enough to put tomatoes in the cake so am contemplating other possible uses. We have had a lot of tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomatoes, with tomatoes and tomatoes (not a proper meal) lately. The freezer is now full so I need to come up with more old fashioned methods of preserving them. As a birthday outing we had a little trip to Dundee. (To do this properly, I should have made Dundee cake but that wouldn’t have used up any of the gluts). We had planned to go to the new V and A exhibition but it was absolutely crammed with visitors intent on learning about design, or possibly just sheltering from the teeming rain. We avoided the crowds and went instead to visit Captain Scott’s ship Discovery, next door. We had been many times when our small people were small and we were happy to have another look. The rain continued to teem, giving the ship a certain maritime authenticity.  I noticed, as we went round the ship, that they took ‘preserved tomatoes’ with them to the Antarctic – I have just noticed that these boxes say preserved potatoes but they did have preserved tomatoes too:

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I may need to check how they did their preserving back in 1901.

 

Saving seeds

Despite today’s rain, I went along to the allotment this afternoon to see what was up. The apples have now all been harvested though there are several bags sitting waiting to be consumed. The courgettes are still coming slowly, there are handfuls of raspberries each week and there are winter brassicas waiting their turn. But most of the harvesting is now over. So today I planted some autumn onion sets and overwintering broad beans.  I did take a photo:

WP_20181007_16_43_58_Pro[1]That’s an onion bed with anti-bunny wire netting.  I admit it’s not very exciting but it excites me to think that next year’s onion crop is lurking beneath the soil and that there are broad beans in the bed next to it. There’s nothing like thinking about next year’s crop to get you through a damp dreary Sunday.. unless it’s looking at seeds:

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These are my saved seeds from the pink pea plant. This was a heritage variety – Pea Salmon Pink – which I originally picked up at a seed swap event a couple of years ago. They have lovely flowers and a very unusual growing habit, with the peas all growing at the top of the plant. Oh and the bees seem to like them too:

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You can’t buy these beauties and I was worrying about what would happen when I ran out of seeds, so decided to try and save some. Those in the picture are the result. I’ve dried them out carefully on a sunny windowsill and put them away in a labelled envelope. While I was at it, I saved some sweet pea seeds too. Crossed fingers they will grow ok next year. Now that is almost more exciting than sowing next year’s beans and onions.

Autumn tidying

Today was a garden day, it seemed like the first in months. The garden has been doing its best producing wonderful fruit and vegetables, especially plums, apples and tomatoes but, what with the allotment, and the musicians, various other family and work things, a wee trip to Norway and the small matter of the cracked bone in my arm, it is beginning to look seriously neglected.  So today I dug over one of the tomato beds, filled it with garden compost and sowed some broad beans. That sounds like it should have taken, maybe half an hour? But it took much longer because I had to do my annual compost bin turning in order to extract the compost. I have three bins – all plastic cone types and the system is very simple: pile stuff in bin 1, then when it is full, empty it into bin 2, then when that is full, empty that into bin 3. It works, more or less though there’s often a lot of soggy stuff in the process and inevitably a whole lot of uncomposted egg shells, sticks, ‘compostable packaging’, the nasty bits of plastic that come with tea bags and unidentifiable yucky things.  Today,  I found something much more exciting:

WP_20181006_11_42_30_Pro[1]This rather sad thing is a very nifty gadget for holding the tea leaves in a tea pot. It is much loved, particularly by my senior assistant gardener, who doesn’t like to find bits of leaf in his tea. It is very useful because you can use it in any teapot, meaning we don’t need to use the teabags with the nasty plastic in them. It’s been missing for a couple of months, ever since the musicians invaded. We assumed it was hidden under a piece of furniture or in a cello case or something and expected it to appear when they all moved out a couple of weeks ago. But here it is – in the compost bin, no doubt thrown in along with its cargo of tea leaves by someone not paying attention at the time. Sadly, even if we were prepared to clean it up, it is unusable now because I stuck my garden fork through it. At least we now know what happened to it and don’t need to worry about finding it, full of quietly rotting tea leaves under the piano.

In other news, I harvested another ton of green tomatoes and probably the last of the cucumbers: WP_20181006_17_24_43_Pro[1]

I’ve left a cloche over the plant just in case it wants to produce any more. My experiment with the cucumber frame has been an astounding success, with cucumbers lasting all summer. I’ll definitely do that again.  All this gardening seems to be evidence that my arm is more or less back to normal, though I still have the odd twinge when wielding the garden fork to clear out the compost bins.

It’s been a lovely day, the sun was shining, there were lovely orange clouds late in the afternoon

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And I saw a wren in the neighbours’ apple tree.

Leaves

I’ve been away helping my mother in her garden again. She’s in the process of moving house and the garden needed a little tidying up. One of the things that was needed was to sweep up some of the autumn leaves that have started to accumulate at her front door.

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There are only a few so far and it was easy to do, with the aid of my father’s trusty leaf grabbers.

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Dad was always one for gadgets and these grabbers were probably his favourite garden tools. He used them every autumn in his battle with the leaves. In their previous house the battle was unrelenting and had a particular edge. Their house had no garden, just a small, flower-filled patio. Despite this, all the trees from the neighbourhood would drop their leaves and the wind would bring them to his front door. Dad would sweep them up and the next day there would be more, piling up and making a mess. When he discovered the grabbers, he was almost able to keep them at bay, but the battle raged every autumn.

Then my parents moved to a new house, literally round the corner from the old one. A smaller, more sensible cottage, all on one level, suitable for an older couple thinking about the future, but this time with a garden and a very productive apple tree. I’ve blogged about the apples before – here. The grabbers would be useful for the apple leaves, which Dad didn’t mind so much. At least they belonged to his tree and there were apples as well.  What he hadn’t realised, was that the leaves from all the streets round about would follow him round the corner to his new front door.  He swore the winds had changed so that, instead of piling up outside his old house, they now came to the new one.  So the grabbers came out again.

My mother has never been so bothered about the leaves.  She is more of a flower person, concentrating on keeping her pots looking nice. Here’s some from last year

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So, since my father died, the leaves just pile up in the autumn until the wind blows them down the street. When I was doing my little bit of tidying at the weekend, I used my father’s grabbers and cleared the leaves from the front door. A couple of hours later, they were back.

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The wind, or my father’s spirit, is still bringing them round the corner to land at the door.  When my mother moves, I wonder if the leaves will come too.