The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


sunflowerThis monsoon weather is finally getting me down. I am beginning to feel like a character from a W. Somerset Maughan short story that one knows will be slowly driven mad by the rain the moment they clap their hands and order another G and T.

The cottage is pretty damp in places and usually dries out in the summer. This morning, I was gloomily dressing downstairs in our musty sitting room and by chance looked up. This sunflower, in a vase in the kitchen was facing me. Vibrant, sunny and so full of hope that I had to smile.

So many fruit trees in the garden are loving the rain. The newer ones suffered last year without enough water. The pears and the quinces split and spoilt on the branch. This year the small pear tree, planted on Titus’ circular grave, is so heavy with fruit that it has almost formed a natural arch. Titus, my sister’s black pug and a dear friend, died about nine years ago. This year is the first decent crop from Titus’ tree. I will be making a large batch of Belgian Pears, this recipe is dazzling, delicious and the jars of pears keep for at least a year.

Our plums are nearly ready to harvest and the branches are laden with fruit. We have our own plum trees, helpfully planted by mice who buried the stones in the front garden and then moved on to greater things. We didn’t realise that this mini copse was a grove of plum trees until last year, when I examined them and discovered five plums. Like my mother, the plum trees in our neighbour’s garden overhang our south facing back garden fence. These are the ancestors of our plum grove. Dark purple plums – an unknown but now popular variety in these parts. These are the plums that inspired D to suggest that we made chutney. In fact the I believe that wild plums are best for chutney. They are more tart and are packed with flavour.

The autumn raspberries are beginning to ripen. I want to try making raspberry jellies (tiny dessert jellies – packed with fruit) as well as the usual raspberry gin and hopefully there will be enough left over to make raspberry wine. I have read that this wine is exceptionally good. We are in our third year of raspberry growing and the canes are beginning to shine. We will also have a bumper blackberry harvest. I have already started picking and freezing them to make a batch of blackberry wine.

The scented geraniums are loving the monsoon. I couldn’t find any on the garden centre shelves in May and then found a couple knocking about on the floor. Rather small and tatty. I bought them anyway. They have shot up and are now at least two feet tall and have had to be staked. They are planted in a giant pot that stands beside the cottage back door so we brush against them when we step out into the garden and their leaves release a heady rose and citrus scent. Just magical, even in the rain.

This morning on the way to Saffron Walden a flickering wave of swallows suddenly swooped over a hedge and were darting along the road, barely a foot from the ground, hunting for low flying insects. They whirled swiftly out of the range of Jalopy’s thundering wheels but returned to hover and flick around the car for a good minute or so. It was heartening to see swallows so close although they must be suffering too. Flying insects cannot venture out in the rain. And what happens to them when they can’t forage?

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Lynn,
    Thanks for your award. Much appreciated. I’m so pleased that you enjoy my blog.

    Hi Kate(uk)
    Sun waivered through the clouds at 16.50 in Saffron Walden yesterday. I felt so buoyant driving home and seeing shadows rather than mist.

    A glorious day here today. Lovely to feel the sun on my back again!

    Hi Rosemary,
    Isn’t it wonderful to gaze at blue sky again.

    Glad to hear that the swallows have the midges and mosquitoes to feed on.

  2. Rosemary

    Has the monsoon passed for a while ? It’s a beautiful day here 73F,our pear tree is also like an arch but a lot of pears and apples blew down this week as the winds were very strong.We have two families of swallows who nest in our neighbour’s stable but always fledge on the electric wires which cross our garden.There have been plagues of midges and mosquitoes in the garden all summer and the bats come out in force at dusk to feed on them.

  3. Kate(uk)

    I’d agree that tart plums make the best chutney- made some with sweet dessert plums last yaar and it was just too jammy!I know I offered Fiona my winemaking demi-johns, but if Joanna is near Reading she’s probably also near me, so she might like some of them ( plenty to go around).We have sun today ( Friday) amazing!

  4. Fiona, I’ve just read in your reply that you received an award from someone else? I nominated you for Nice Matters! Well, if you have 2, I guess that only means that we love you 🙂

    You are a very entertaining writer and I agree with the Creative Award!

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Catherine,

    Thanks for dropping by. Raspberries are my favourite fruit. We made elderflower and lime jellies earlier this year and they were divine.

    You have some fabulous photos on your site!

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