Diary of an atypical smallholding
It’s been hard hasn’t it, these last few months? We were so relieved to have the cold winds, and clearer skies to dry out the muddy, drowning grass and let us get into the woodland for next year’s firewood. But mid-March with more cold weather on the way feels like enough already! The poor daffs don’t know what to do, the watercress has been burnt by the frost and the Gunnera leaves that were looking so strong have gone brown. This time last year we were basking in 20 degrees on the beaches! Still, those easterly winds and the high tides have brought us a great harvest of seaweed and we have been making the most of the dry weather to get the quad-bike down to Port Mellon and Gorran Haven beach to fork up mounds of the stuff. Some has gone straight onto the asparagus and artichoke beds; a good idea? We weren’t sure but have gone for it anyway. Adam the Gardener says in MARCH First Week – profitable asparagus bed that while sandy soil is good for drainage, a dressing of salt in April is good on an established bed. And seaweed ticks all those boxes! Apart from that, we have layered the seaweed liberally in the compost bins and also laid it on the newly cleared ground for future veg beds and covered it in Mypex to mulch and enrich the soil.
Lesson in healthy soil: we are organic here at Cotna but not officially so – in fact, organic produce can be as depleted as any other, it just means that there are no added chemicals on it. What healthy fruit and veg really need is a high mineral content, not just for abundant growth but also for the real health benefits, as well as delicious flavour. Seaweed contains ten to twenty times the minerals of land plants and an abundance of vitamins and other elements necessary for our metabolism – in particular iodine, calcium and iron as well as Vitamin B12. It therefore follows that plants grown in seaweed will absorb these minerals and we in turn absorb them from the lettuces, other veg and fruit grown here. So seaweed is the best thing that can happen to our gardens really!
We have also been piling on layers of nicely composted leaf mould (many thanks to William and Arlene Fullerton at Cotna House.) This will improve the structure of our soil, and with the vital help of the micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi that are in this compost the plants roots will be able to absorb all those lovely minerals. Nutrient rich, alive soil is what we want and first to benefit will be the onion sets we are planting out as I write.
Other jobs have included planting out new apple trees and right now we are knocking willow cuttings into the ground to extend the range of coloured willow and dogwood around the place. Last Sunday was our first event of the season; Willowcraft for Gardens with Sian Hill, a great introduction into weaving trellises and obelisks for training up sweet peas, beans and other climbers. Hopefully she will be back to do a basket-weaving course soon. Other events to follow will be the popular Forage Cook and Dine on Sunday 7th April with Rachel Lambert, and a Dawn Chorus Birdwatch walk with bird expert Martin Rule on Saturday 20th April, followed by a legendary home-produced Cotna breakfast – free range eggs, sourdough bread and other such delights! If you would like to book on any of these or future events please keep an eye out for our posters around the village or have a look at our website, mail us or give us a call.
Does it feel like spring in the air, or is that just me being hopeful? Somehow the birds seem more birdy & I’m spotting the shoots of bluebells in the woods. And we all seem busy organising stuff for the summer … yurt bases, compost bins & even some great courses. Looks like there are some good wild food foraging courses coming up with a nettle day, cooking with spring plants like alexanders, wild garlic and pennywort. And then a Dowsing course with Alan Neale from tamar dowsers in May – how cool is that?! If you’d like to know more, just have a look at our events page!
Sevilles are here again, not exactly local but certainly seasonal! Every year I forget which recipe she used but this year I reckon I have worked out the perfect combination to make the best marmalade so far! So see what you think of the recipe below. Apart from that, we’ve been cutting willow & starting to make baskets again, mmm tasty. Oh and big digging works down in the woods, thanks to Dom & his digger & us helping out a bit. Billy’s favourite thing 🙂
Tangy Seville Marmalade
At risk of repeating myself from last year, January is the time my mind turns to making marmalade. So here is what I have worked out as the best recipe so far to make our favourite marmalade! By squeezing the juice & adding it toward the end of the cooking you keep the lovely tangy, citrus taste.
3lb seville oranges
3 pints water
5-6lb sugar (depending on taste)
Squeeze the juice from the oranges & set aside. Scrape out the pith & seeds with a spoon & put aside for tomorrow to be used as a pectin boost. Thinly slice the orange rind & soak in pan with the water & half the juice overnight to tenderise the rind.
Next day boil the rind slices & water for 1-2 hours, along with the pulp you set aside, tied up in a muslin jelly bag. After 1-2 hours, allow to cool slightly & remove the jelly bag & squeeze out all the sticky juice (hmm, messy!) add the orange juice, plus juice from 2 lemons for extra tang & the sugar. Bring to boil & cook at rolling boil for about 20 – 30 mins. Do the setting test by a) using a thermometer & b) putting a plate in the freezer for a few minutes then spooning some marmalade onto it. If the surface crinkles it’s ready! Cool a little & fill about 7-8 sterilised jars. Keeps until at least the same time next year, if not longer 🙂
We’ve been having some good winter down-time, but we’re back in action now – laying some hedges. Man, they’re prickly those blackthorns but they laid well with the hawthorn & the occasional elm & oak. First you chop at the base with a sharp billhook until you can split off the main stem with some bark and cambium still attached. Then you untangle all the tangly twigs at the top and lay the pleacher over. Then you re-tangle it all, so it all makes a nice sideways wave. Some nice bits of log for Billy & Kuti to chew. Thanks for the help guys, the bees will love it!
We’re definitely feeling all autumnal here, all misty & mysterious. The blackberries have been replaced by thousands of hawthorn berries, and those sloes!!! There’s never been a season like it, at least not in my memory! Some say that this shows we are headed for a cold winter, but it was also such an amazing spring for blossoms. So we have been stocking up on the sloe gin for years to come, & also making delicious spicy haw ketchup from all the hawthorns. Also it’s been a record cider apple season. We have made 35 gallons already & are hoping to make some vinegar vinegar next for all our chutneys & pickles. So, busy harvesting & preserving times for us before the cold winter arrives 🙂
Loving this sunshine, in the school holidays too 🙂 and hoping the high pressure is here to stay for a while so we can go to the beach again. The outdoor shower is definitely usable at last, thanks to the Barkers great efforts, & Rees your handrail is amazing! The veg garden is at its best with all the beans, peas, artichokes & great beds of salad leaves, better-than-organic of course. Charis is helping Matteo loads with the endless weeding, and there are a few mice to dig out here & there, which keeps Billy & Kuti busy. Our visit to Heligan’s incredible jungle inspired us to get planting in the Chilean pond slopes & bog-garden – Jesu, we have a Myrtle you will be pleased to hear 🙂 Missing our yoga sessions with Vasu, but hoping he will be back next year for a yoga retreat, yay!
Yoga Rocks says Rees, our Wwoofer from Wales 🙂 He’s actually only been to one class so far, but loads of other people have been loving doing Vasu’s awesome classes. Kuti is pretty good at the dog stretch & Billy is working on the frog – but we all especially enjoy the mint tea & chat afterwards. Vasu came all the way from Varkala in Kerala where they do Shivananda Yoga, & we are really hoping he comes back next year for a yoga retreat. This time he is staying an extra few days too, yay! He cooked us biriyani today, mmm 🙂
Wow, so good!! (Matteo, Italy) We’ve been here 4 years already! We celebrated with a huge bonfire, cracked the elderflower champagne and Kuti sacrificed another little rabbit though nobody was that interested … The Chileans finished their work on clearing the pond & Carlos unveiled his masterplan of Cotna now & in the future, very cool 🙂
It’s all happening at Cotna! The main things we are looking forward to are the Wild Food Walk this Sunday, and THEN the Vasu our fantastic yoga teacher from Kerala is coming to stay! He will be doing yoga classes twice a day, morning & evening, from Fri 15th July in the barn, or in an Indian marquee in the garden if it’s bright & sunny 🙂 He’s fab, so inspiring … so do give us a call or mail if you are interested. Apart from that, busy busy with all the Latino wwoofers clearing the pond, building, picking the lettuces etc … phew!
It’s all very exciting here … we now have 3 wwoofers, lovely Jesu & Carlos have arrived from Patagonia, Chile. Kuti & Billy have tried very hard very had to impress them by their baby rabbit-catching routine :-/ Matteo is back from Glastonbury now so we’re gonna get MASSES done this week, like planting out the brassicas, digging up the onions & garlic, building an outdoor shower & resurfacing the drive. We’ve made elderflower champagne & are loving our basil pesto. And oh so many veggies to pick now, like broad beans, peas, courgettes, pink fur apple potatoes … yum 🙂