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Small sweet surprises

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It is seven months since we went into isolation. My husband and I have been at home avoiding contact with people since early March. Thousands of others, for health reasons, have done the same. We imagined that all would be well, at least, by the summer. But here we are in autumn and we are still isolating. To keep ourselves busy and give us an aim we decided, at the very beginning, that we would try and be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables. And luckily that is what we have been able to do. Today, I have made the last raspberry crumble. They are autumn rasps and normally I don’t bother with them because they are soft and squashy. But this year everything we can eat is precious and must not be wasted. Every week this month my husband has been saying – “I think these are the last of the crop.” But every week there have been more. Then, yesterday he picked another bowl full and left them in my cool utility. I didn’t see them at first, but I knew they were there by their strong rich …

An unexpected robber

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'The grass in Oak Meadow has just been cut. It is rather late in the year, you might think and you would be right. Most farmers have baled their hay long ago. But there are creatures and plants in our fields that need to prepare for winter and may need this extra time. Some of them also rely on the swathes of grass we have left at the side, near the hedges – rather like set aside.The late-flowering field scabious has only just released its seeds. The grasshopper needs time to lay its eggs deep in the soil, out of harm’s way. The blue butterfly larvae are there too and the spiders are tucked away in a dry corner. The queen bumble bees have buried themselves in deserted mouse holes, waiting for a warm day next spring. The triangular chrysalis of the orange tip butterfly is clinging on to a dried stem of Jack-by-the-hedge. A field cut early cannot always allow for this wildlife to thrive. Our hedges are also being cut just now, which again seems late in the year. It is not so many ye…

Social distancing

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‘Keep your distance,’ said the signs and ‘Keep apart’, they could have been notices in the town centre, no one would have been surprised in these COVID19 days, but they are signs on the motorway. I was travelling on the M62 and going for a short break to see family. You just don’t know these days when you will be able to go again. The times are so unpredictable we cannot be sure if there will be a lockdown. And wherever we go we must keep apart – two chevrons on the motorway and two metres when we are walking.I have been to the seaside once more. This time, now the children are back at school and it is a little cooler, some of the beaches were quiet and there were no worries about keeping apart.This was a special trip for me. I went to see my sister. I have not seen her since February. We planned to meet in a country park with wide open spaces. We hoped to take a picnic but the weather was too bad. It was raining and the wind was buffeting my car when I went on the cliff top, I felt i…

Watching and waiting

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'I am holding my breath to see what will happen next. The kestrel, hovering almost stationary in the sky, looks like a child’s kite waiting for a gust of wind. His rudder-like tail twists from side to side as he holds his position above our field. The kestrel has keen eyesight and nothing escapes his watchful gaze. Then suddenly he dives, a russet arrow drops into the long grass of Oak Meadow. An unsuspecting vole has become the next delicious meal for this bird of prey.Yesterday, I was alerted by a screeching sound, I have heard it once before, last year at this time. It is almost like a baby’s cry, so loud and urgent. I looked over the meadow to see two young kestrels dropping from the overhead wire onto the grass below. I think that they were vying for the same vole. They are competing and searching out a territory that only one can have. I was glad to see and hear them because kestrels are in decline now.They were once a familiar sight on the roadsides as they hovered above th…

Growing my own spaghetti

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Did you know that you can grow your own spaghetti? When we first went into lockdown any type of pasta was difficult to buy. My on-line shop did not have any for weeks. I suppose it is a staple food it’s easy to store and is the basis of a lot of popular recipes. But you could not get any.I had an answer. We must think differently these days. I would grow some. I don’t mean like the shop bought type, which is made from wheat and water, cut into lengths. Mine was to be from a plant that makes strands ready to cook. If I am successful, I will be able to harvest fruit about the size of a rugby ball. You scoop out the flesh of tangled threads, exactly right for a bolognese.We bought spaghetti marrow seeds. I have grown these before and they are easy. Germination was rapid, two big first oval leaves quickly grew. Then the big marrow leaves came. They were in a sheltered place in the garden and had plenty of manure. Next, the big trumpet yellow flowers appeared and then came the round fruits…

Buried treasure

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There is something in our home-made compost that should not be there. I put vegetable remains, cardboard boxes and tea-bags in. But, whenever my husband turns the compost, there is always a little pile of plastic which of course hasn’t rotted. Where does that come from? There must be plastic hidden in the packaging somewhere.I have been to Uriconium this week. (I am looking for things to do which feel safe for me as a shielded person.) It is a long time since I have seen the walls of the old baths towering against the Welsh hills. The items that the Romans dropped or threw away, like pottery, glass and metal objects, are fascinating to me.Their pieces of litter are now called artefacts and I, for one, am glad that they left them behind. I am fascinated to find that the Roman women used eyeliner tools and wore such beautiful jewellery, just like today.Even in our garden and fields we have found old things that have been discarded, which are interesting. A Shipman paste jar– do you reme…

Some things never change

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Some things are still normal. Our early ‘Discovery’ apples are ready for eating, just as they were last year about this time. They are picture book red against a blue sky, I hold one in the palm of my hand and push slightly upwards – it comes away easily, so I know it’s ready.I remember the hard-green apples of childhood, we pulled them off the tree before they were ripe, and the sourness wrinkled our faces and set our teeth on edge. We ate them all the same as we knew no other. This beauty in my hand today is such a contrast. I can smell its sweetness and its eau-de-cologne perfume. I can see its shining redness. The colour bleeds into the white flesh when I take a bite, it’s as if summer is locked in there and bursts out into my mouthWe are lucky to have this apple so early in the season, but there is a price to pay (isn’t there always?). One disadvantage is that Discovery apples do not last long. Once picked, they must be eaten within the month as they go off after that. This is no…