‘Too much work’

I recently ran a twitter poll asking folks why they’re not growing their own food (provided they have a bit of grass to do that on. ‘Don’t know how’ was a popular choice, but so was ‘too much work’. I’ve been thinking about this ‘too much work’ thing, and what it might mean. I, too, used to think it’s so much work, and, in fact, when we bought our cottage most friends and family despaired at the size of the garden, because it’s ‘so much work’ and we’d never ‘get it done’. And we somehow internalised this, and it took us years to get over that notion. So, come with me while I try to unpick that a bit.

Our pumpkin patch on top of the compost bays. Can you spot the three large ripening pumpkins? There’s more, hidden away, too.

For us, ‘too much work’ was about a number of things: our inexperience; not knowing how to turn our shrub-and-lawn garden into a space that we would enjoy; not knowing what that space was going to be; having a notion that weeding is hard and horrible; being put off by the thought of digging; having preconceptions about what a garden should look like, and how neat it would need to be; worries about being able to commit enough time to it; worries about being out there in bad weather; not knowing when/how to cut things back/prune things; the need to buy plants and prepare space for them and tend them and protect them from the beasties. Probably more, too, that I’m not remembering. I think these notions are probably quite common for folks who didn’t grow up gardening (or those who grew up with traditional neat gardens and parents/grandparents who spend their days pottering about in them). We were also overwhelmed (still are!) by the size of our space, and not knowing where to start, or what to do. I wish I’d found out about ‘no dig’ gardening then!

One of our artichokes (in the herb bed) overlooking the carrot tyres and the three main veg beds.

Are those maybe things you’re worried about too? Well, for us ‘no dig’ really was the key to it all, for several reasons:

  • no digging required. Like, literally. Some shovelling (of manure/compost/woodchips), but no digging up the ground
  • very easy to tame ground. We put cardboard on grass, and manure on top, and in twenty minutes or so we have a new veg bed. If we don’t like the location at some point in the future we can simply turn that bed into a path, or back into grassland, or whatever, because we haven’t actually put in any structures
  • our woodchip path systems gives structure to everything, but as it’s just cardboard and woodchips and it can easily be turned into a bed at some point if we change our mind about what’s going where
  • very easy to keep relatively weed free as the weeds that settle (or come with the manure/compost) are easy to pull out
  • no need to tread carefully – the beds are very happy to be walked/sat on
  • no need to water here in the Highlands. Even when it was really sunny and hot earlier in the summer we didn’t need to water
The chickens enjoying themselves on the site of the old rabbit enclosure.

Now we don’t actually garden every day. I mean, some things need to be done every day, like feeding the chickens and ducks and changing the duck water, and watering the seedlings. Seamus does this: he tops up food and water when he lets the birds out in the morning (while the dogs get to run around the garden), and in the evening he changes the water in the duckpond and waters the seedlings (again, while the dogs run around). But that’s it for our day-to-day stuff, so if you don’t have outdoor pets and you don’t grow your own seedlings then there are no daily tasks that need to get done. None. None at all. At least if you live in a climate similar to ours, because having this kind of no dig beds means not having to water outside. We’ve not watered our beds even once this year. I try to get into the garden every day but don’t always manage, and when I do I spend 10-20 minutes doing stuff, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less, but I think that’s what it evens out as. Here are some of the things I do regularly:

  • sow seeds
  • pot up seedlings
  • plant out seedlings
  • check on the plants – walk around and have a good look at them, and see what’s ripe, what’s about to ripen, and what’s not doing well
  • weed – I’ll sit down with a plastic bucket and weed until the bucket is full. There aren’t too many weeds in our no dig beds and what’s there tends to come out easily
  • sit in the hammock and look at the garden and think about improvements we’re going to make: where do the next beds go? do any of the current beds need to be a different shape? do any perennials need moving? where is the pond going to go? is the chicken house needing to move? do we need more compost bays? what would I like to grow more of? That sort of thing

Of course, if you grow your own food and it goes well you start to enjoy the process more, too, and the more you learn about how to grow well the more it doesn’t feel like a chore. For me that was a key part, actually – it felt like work because I didn’t know what I was doing, and because I didn’t think I was any good at it. It’s worth acknowledging that to yourself, I think: it feels like hard work because you’ve not done it before. It’s no different from taking up a new instrument or learning a new language or taking up running: it’s really hard at first, but it soon gets easier, and the more you do it the more you enjoy it because you don’t have to think about every little thing.

Rocket, and a recipe for pesto

I’ve just pulled the first lot of rocket.

We’ve been harvesting it for a few weeks already, and it bolted in last week’s hot weather. That’s ok, though – lots of lovely rocket for us! I’m a big fan of rocket, both the kind you see in the picture, and the smaller stuff you get in the shops. We eat it in salads, on pizza, on pasta, and in stir frys, and it makes an excellent pesto, too. It’s really easy to grow – it takes a wee while to germinate, but once it gets going it’s hard to kill, and if you grow the other kind a plant or two will last you all season. It’ll do well on a windowsill, too, and if you keep herbs in your kitchen a rocket plant will likely thrive in the same spot (our kitchen is too dark for that though, so it lives outside).

Rocket Pesto
2 handfuls of rocket
Half a handful of nuts (you can use pine nuts, or walnuts, or cashews, or pretty much any other kind of nut)
Oil – as much as you need until it is the consistency you want. Start with a tablespoon, and work your way up from there if you’d like your pesto smoother
Lemon juice – a teaspoon (or more if you like your pesto more lemony)
Salt, pepper (chilli flakes are also fab)
Garlic – 1 or 2 cloves

Chuck everything into your food processor or blender, and whizz until it is sauce-like. Keeps in a jam jar in the fridge for a week, but I suspect you’ll want to eat it before then… Great on pasta, or drizzled over roast veg.

Also works well with other leaves – kale, broccoli leaves, cabbage, beetroot leaves. Any green that’s somewhat firm!

The difference a bit of sun makes

We’ve had a lovely week or so – 13-21C, some sunny days, mostly cloudy, but a bit of sunshine every day. It’s made such a difference to the plants, both in the growhouse and outside. The asparagus has come up – 3 stalks so far – and all seedlings have kicked into gear. Most are bursting from their pots and I’m spending my days potting up and potting out. Today I planted out spinach, kohlrabi, cauliflower, pak choi and broccoli in the third of our large no-dig beds, straight into fresh (well, old, but freshly picked up by us) manure.

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This is the patch we manured and planted today – and you can see two more beds full of vegetables behind.

The early crops have gone into overdrive, and we’re now harvesting lettuce, rocket, spinach and radishes almost every day. I think for once I got my staggered planting right: there’s new seedlings ready to take their place when these ones are done, and by only harvesting leaves rather than the whole plant we’re making sure that we’re able to eat fresh every day. The radishes were grown as clumps in the greenhouse, and whenever we pull up a big one the smaller ones grow into the vacated space. We’re also harvesting lettuce, rocket and spinach from inside the greenhouse – but the first of the outside spinach is ready, and the lettuce and rocket aren’t far behind.

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Apple blossom in front of our big pink ornamental cherry.

The fruit trees aren’t far behind. The regular fruiting cherries are on the way out, the plums are in full swing, the pink cherry popped out this week, and the apples have literally just come out. Everything is buzzing and happy, much earlier than usual – last year the pink cherry blossomed on 5th May, 10 days later than this year. Back in 2013, when we moved here, it was the 19th of May. I really hope that this isn’t it for the growing season – I’m hoping for a long, warm, summer (rather than a hot one), which would hopefully lead to a bumper apple harvest.

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Red Russian kale, overwintered garlic (or onions?), Kohlrabi.

I keep wandering round the three big beds and snacking on the brassica leaves, in particular on this sweet Red Russian kale. It has the most buttery taste and feels like it’s dissolving on your tongue – perfect for salads and stir fries, or for snacking on! I’ve got more seedlings coming up (Sutherland kale, too), but I’m not sure I’ve got the willpower to let these leaves grow big – they’re too delicious as they are.

Project Showbed: Part 1

We’ve been thinking about a little experiment: turning an uncultivated, overgrown piece of land into an area that shows off what you can grow up here, on not that much space. We’ll be keeping track of the work we put into it, the seeds we sow, the materials we need, and the eventual harvest.

This is our space. Doesn’t look like much now.

We’re building our showbed on an underused piece of land near our back door, by the shed/greenhouse, right by the side of the lane. Our lane is quiet – there’s only three other houses back here, but a decent amount of foot traffic to the little village shop. Until yesterday it had an overgrown box hedge all around it, so the first step was to remove this hedge. So far we’ve managed to cut it down and pry it out of the fence that we discovered inside the hedge! It would be great to dig it out eventually – depends on its roots. We’re not worrying about that yet – we can always cut it down again when it grows back. Eventually I’d like to grow a little lavender hedge (or, dream of dreams, stepover apples!). But that’s in the future – making this space accessible was our priority here, to let in light and allow us to start clearing it. The ground is in decent shape – the chickens used to live here, so it’s nice dug over and fertilised. There is plant mess round the outside – brambles, holly, ash trees – that we’ll need to get rid off. There’s also a rose, but it would be nice to retain this, and likewise the forsythia you see in bloom to the right. We will also need to fix our shed – we’ve suspected that it’s a bit rotten for a while now, but it was really only in removing the hedge that the damage became visible. We’re thinking of repairing that whole bottom left corner, where the glass panes are – removing the rotten wood and glass, and replacing it with fresh wood, possibly from pallets that we have. It’ll give this potting shed a new lease of life, and more rooms for us to store seedlings! We’ll paint it, too, eventually.

So, what’s our plan?

1. Clear overgrown mess around the sides of the space. Dig out brambles, and cut down everything else as far as possible.

2. Sow seeds. DONE

3. Line the new space with cardboard. We recently put a poster in the window and have already had some generous donations!

4. Add manure on top of the cardboard.

5. Plant things out.

A full tray of veg seeds for the showbed. 180 modules, 36 varieties.

I’ve already sowed a tray full of seeds for the showbed, with everything from lettuce to tomatoes. My trays have 180 modules so I sowed 36 different varieties of vegetable, with 5 seeds each (or multisowed in the case of beetroot, leek, onion, turnip, etc.). This should give us enough seedlings to fill this space, and a neat way to keep track of how much effort we’re putting in to growing a large variety of food. If we can do it, so can you! Hopefully next year this bed will be up and running with veg in it all year round, and we’ll be looking into selling packs of seedlings for different spaces.

What I’ve been thinking about this week…

Seedlings were very much on my mind this week. I’m typing this on a miserable April morning, with rain lashing the windows and wind rattling the polytunnel. But at least there’s no snow, or frost like down south. Instagram is full of picture of frozen seedlings and chickens playing in the snow this morning, and I’m grateful for my stormy but warmer version of this. Proper rain is actually quite welcome, and our hedges and walls always mitigate the worst of the rain, so I’m quietly confident we’ll emerge ok from this. Should have maybe put some fleece over last night, but too late now.

The first of a our new big ‘no dig’ beds.

At the moment, there are turnips, broad beans, onion/garlic, spinach, radishes, calabrese, and lettuces outside – most in this big bed, and another few rows of calabrese and lettuce in the bed next to it. The calabrese suffered a bit of chicken damage before we put up this fence, but I’ve got some in reserve to plant in a week or two if these don’t recover. I went to check on everything last night but haven’t been out this morning yet, but hopefully they’ll all bounce back.

So far, all seedlings adventures have gone well, with the exception of the tomatoes. I sowed them inside and left them by the side of the aga next to the peppers. There’s a big skylight and the peppers (chillis, aubergines etc.) are all doing well there, but the tomatoes just went leggy, so I potted them up and moved them outside to the growhouse. Unfortunately this coincided with a drop in temperature, and I fear most of them won’t make it. I’d planted over 100 seeds, and I think maybe 5 will survive. I’m so annoyed with myself – I usually place them in the growhouse from the beginning, but I thought as everyone online seems to be growing them indoors I’d try the same this year. Our house is so dark, though, and they clearly didn’t like it. Such a shame, and a lesson learnt. I’ve got the current batch in a different part of the kitchen, and they’ll stay there until germination, and then they’ll go outside. They might grow slower but at least they’ll grow (I hope). I’m so disappointed – particularly as I’d bought proper nice seeds this year and didn’t really have many left, What a waste of money and resources! But no point fretting – everything else is going well, and it’s no great loss in the grand scheme of things. Tomatoes are always chancy for us – it’s not really warm enough for them, and they’re fickly beasts. We had one glorious year a few years ago where they grew both inside the then-greenhouse and outside in pots, and I was really hoping for a similar glut this year.

Big bed No 2, now with calabrese, turnip, purple cauliflower, spinach, red russian kale, lettuce, and rocket. I can’t quite bring myself to cut down that flowery bush further as the bees love it. It used to cover most of this area!

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my seedlings this year – not just sowing them, and planting them out, but that in between stage – potting them up, and seeing their root systems develop. I’ve been less afraid of damaging them in the process, and I’ve been better at judging when something needs potted up. This is partially due to experience – you develop a sense for this over the years – but also because I’ve been following so many lovely gardeners on instagram, and seeing what they do with their seedlings (and when!) has been a great reminder for me to check mine. It’s really from about the second week of March that we diverge from how things are going down south – the days lengthen, but the temperature doesn’t pick up in the way it might do in Somerset, so with the soil being colder everything is smaller here. But then we’ve not had any frost or snow this week like so many other folks have had. It’s easy to get distracted into looking at pretty pictures online and then thinking that you’re behind, or should be doing things differently, but trust your instinct (and local garden friends) – and always sow more than you need and keep a few plants in reserve, just in case…

There is nothing like a (broad) bean

I love growing broad beans. They’re the first vegetable we ever managed to grow successfully, and broad beans are something we struggle to find in the shops, so that’s an extra incentive to grow them. I usually grow several lots of broad beans – one in February and one or two later in the year. The second sowing doesn’t always work out, but when it does it’s so worth it! I’ve sowed 25 seeds for our spring crop – 20 of them are now in the ground, and 5 are in reserve in case anything untoward (chickens, dog, etc.) happens to the other 20. We usually grow 10 but now that we have bigger beds I thought I’d go all out – the beans freeze well and will hopefully sustain our meals throughout the year.

The broad bean plants in a bed with a small homebuilt woven fence around them, and other seedlings in front and behind.
Happy little broad bean plants, with a row of multisowed turnips behind to mark the end of the bed, and alliums and a trial row of early spinach in front. The beans are planted quite close together but they don’t seem to mind that. The fence is temporary and built from pampas grass – it’s to keep out the chickens when they wander around.

This year I sowed my seeds in individual cardboard pots that I picked up on Homebargains. This worked well, and the plants you see in the picture who all been planted with their pots – no need to repot and potentially disturb the root. I’ve found, though, that the beans grew tap roots that penetrated the pot. They didn’t seem to mind being in mid-air for a week or two. I’m keeping an eye on which row of beans will do best – they were sowed and planted out at different times. So far the 3rd row seems to be doing the best (third row from the back, if that makes sense), but I’m pretty sure the others will catch up and they’ll even out eventually. I always sow more seeds than I intend to grow, and so far the extraneous plants are doing well in their little pots, almost 5 weeks on from sowing. The pots have not yet disintegrated, and the plants are still ok with the amount of soil in there.

The cardboard pot that I sowed my broad beans in this year. This picture was taken 2 weeks after sowing, and the seedling is ready to plant out, pot and all.

I’ve never had to cover my broad bean plants, even when it snowed or there was a late frost. If it gets cold again I might experiment with covering half of them with fleece and letting the other half fend for themselves, to see how they’ll fare. But it’s looking warm for the next week or so and the long-range forecast doesn’t mention frost so hopefully that experiment can wait another year or so! Seriously, though: these are hardy survivors, and with the amount of snow we get here on the Tarbat peninsula (no more than a few centimetres, if that) we’ve fared very well with leaving them as they are.

A broad bean seedling 4 1/2 weeks after sowing, and 10 days after planting in the ground.

Broad beans are also great for growing with kids. Not so much for the final produce (though I’d like to think fresh beans straight from the pod is a delight most folks enjoy, no matter your age), but because they’re quick to grow and really sturdy. The beans themselves are large and easy to handle even for someone with clumsy fingers or not that much motor control, and it won’t take long for a stalk to appear. The seedlings are big and strong, and grow big leaves immediately, and are easy to handle and plant out. You don’t have to wait weeks for anything to happen (I’m looking at you, chillis), and they grow so fast you can almost watch them do it. I start mine inside near the AGA and move them to the polytunnel when the seedling appears, but you could also grow them on the windowsill or in a sheltered sunny spot (though you might want to move them inside at night if it gets towards freezing). I usually wait until the first leaves are starting to unfurl before I plant them in the ground. You could sow them directly where you mean to grow them on, but I prefer to start them in pots or modules because I have more control over their environmental conditions that way – no risk of being dug up by mice or munched on by slugs when they just appear, or getting waterlogged in muddy earth. I also really enjoy watching them grow where I can see them.

Will you be growing broad beans this year? If so, which varieties? I sowed from an old packet and I don’t know what variety they were…

Chicken-keeping for Beginners

We’ve been keeping chickens for 5 years now. We started with 3, got two additional ones, lost the original 3, and we’ve just added 6 rescue chickens into our mix, so we currently have 8. They’ve lived in two different spots: behind the shed and at the bottom of the garden, and they also wander around the garden when we’re out and about. They’re inquisitive, cheerful and feisty, and I miss their silly little faces when we’re away from home. I thought it would be interesting and useful to share our experiences. Disclaimer: I’m no chicken expert, and there are lots of different ways to house/care for chickens. This is what we do, and what has worked well for us and our girls. There are links to products similar to what we use – not affiliate links, just links. Other products are available!

Our new rescue hens on their first day at home

Our chickens sleep in a wooden coop with two nest boxes. We started off with three chickens but thought we might like some more eventually, so we bought a coop big enough for 5-7 birds. We have this sort of coop, with two nesting boxes. When we had 3 chickens we found that one of our them liked to sleep on the perch and two liked to snuggle down in a nest box. Here is a manufacturer picture to show you what the coop looks like:


There’s a tray that pulls out easily (the red dots in the picture are its handle, and the living room is upstairs with a door that closes easily, shut by that metal handle. Because of our setup – we’ve not had any predators at all and the girls live securely in a big metal run – we don’t actually shut them in at night, but it would be very easy to do so. The roof and the nesting box roof both open so it is easy to clean the coop and remove eggs – our girls always lay in the nesting box. Our coop has a slightly different construction – its roof opens from front to back, rather than from the side like this one, but I can’t imagine that makes much of a difference. The roof felt came off once but it was very easy to nail it down again, and the whole thing is quite sturdy. The building instructions were a bit cryptic but we found it quite easy to assemble the whole thing, and it didn’t take more than an hour or so. I like that the living space is upstairs in our coop – that means the chickens can sit underneath when the weather is bad, and that their food is dry (our feeder lives underneath their living area). We don’t have that run bit attached anymore but before the chickens moved to their current position we simply left the run door open as we had that inbuilt run connected to a bigger run, which in turn was connected to a fenced area about 1m high.

This was our first run – it attached to the run built into the coop, and was 3m long. We fenced in an area around this run not long after, c. 1m high, with chicken wire to the sides and netting on top. These are our original chickens, Henrietta, Hillary and Harriet.

When we decided to move the chickens from near the shed to the bottom of the garden we thought about what kind of run to construct for them – we wanted to give them more space to roam and also be able to sit with them. In the end we went for this sort of thing. Ours is 3x6m as we’ve got a lot of space, and the girls seem very happy with it.

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Manufacturer’s picture again. We keep our coop under that sun/rain roof.

It’s been such a good investment, and I would heartily recommend it to you. I love being able to go into the coop to spend time with the girls – we keep old garden chairs in it, which gives us somewhere to sit and then girls can perch on them when we’re not around. One of them even sits on our lap! It was easy to assemble and is very sturdy, and hasn’t get blown over in the wind. We intruder-proofed the run by overlapping the chicken wire from the sides on the ground by about a foot. This is folded outwards and weighed down with old tyres (we get these for free from our local garage). We put cardboard underneath and then filled the tyres with compost, and we grow flowers and peas and beans in them – they climb up the structure and are easy to remove come autumn, and the chickens didn’t actually manage to eat any of it. Sweet peas were a particularly nice crop to grow – they’re so pretty growing up the trellis. We’ve also put a grapevine up against one end – the plant is outside the run but grows inside, above chicken height, so hopefully we’ll get some grapes one day – or at least shade for the chickens.

Our run in winter, with Herodotus enjoying a wander outside. The tyres have been moved away from the coop so we could lift up one side but are usually snug against it. You can still see sunflower stalks from last year, as well as our coop and garden chairs inside the run.

What else do you need? Feeders and water drinkers! We like this kind:


They’re easy to fill, easy to clean, and easy for the chickens to use. We have two of each now that we have 8 birds, though one did us perfectly well when we had 3.  There are feeders/drinkers that attach to the side of the run, but we’ve found these ones perfectly adequate. We keep the feeder under the coop to shelter it from the rain, and so far that’s worked well.

We feed our chickens layers pellets and the occasional treat of corn and fresh vegetables – they’re particularly fond of cabbages and avocados. Last year we accidentally grew a potato plant from potato scrape we gave the girls, and yummy potatoes they were, too! The chickens produce delightful manure that we use on our compost and in the garden, and they can clear any area in no time at all. They need fresh drinking water everyday, and you will need to change their bedding regularly, at least once a week, but more often the more chickens you have. This makes excellent compost. We use a mixture of woodshavings and straw for the bedding (we buy the straw but get the woodshavings for free from our neighbours who run a wood business. Your local tree surgeon might have shavings for you).

I love having chicken company when I’m in the garden. We were really worried about letting them wander around but they’ve never attempted to fly off – we don’t cut their feathers. They just wander around and scratch and nibble things, and they’re very easy to herd back into their run. They get on well with our cats and dogs – the cats are a bit scared of them and keep their distance and Archie the beardie likes to sniff them and herd them. Lulu the dalmatian is a bit too exuberant for them, and likes to run up to them and make them flap, so we tend to keep her inside when the chickens are outside. But we’ve not had any scary incidents!

Horace and Herodotus enjoying a rummage around the garden

I really can’t imagine not having chickens now. I enjoy the eggs, but I enjoy their company even more – they’re so cheerful and inquisitive, and I’m fascinated by how they communicate with each other. They’re all so different, just like cats or dogs or humans, and they’re clever, too. Herodotus will sit on your lap if you sit in her run, and Horace enjoys pecking your shoelaces. They’ll eat your slugs and your weeds and help you prepare areas for planting veg or flowers. And the eggs are fab. I’m half hoping and half dreading that all eight of them will lay every day – we might have to start selling our eggs if they do!

I hope you’ve found this little post helpful – please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to chat chickens!

Herodotus mid-moult last summer, contemplating jumping up on my lap

Make Do and Cherish

I recently wrote an instagram post on mending two holes in one of my crochet blankets, and it resonated with quite a lot of folks – I’m still receiving messages about the sentiment, so I thought I’d expand my thoughts into a longer post here.

I’ve never been into shopping as a hobby. I love the ‘spark joy’ concept from the KonMari tidying method – that’s the thrill I get from charity shop finds, and from making good hats, and from buying ridiculous clothes. Reading about it again recently – and watching the Netflix programme – has reminded me of the joy of stuff, and that far too often I shove things in corners and behind doors and onto the tops of cabinets so that I don’t have to deal with them, when instead I should be celebrating them. I know there’s criticism of her approach – how much joy does your mixer give you, or your toothbrush, or your mop? Well, quite a bit, I’d say – if you find the tool that works well for you, and you actually enjoy using it (even though the task you’re using it for might not be your favourite), then it sparks joy. It’s an approach not just to tidying and to unflattering your space by finding homes for your objects (and it’s certainly not about getting rid of things and living a minimalist life, unless that’s what brings you joy), but it’s very much an approach for letting new things into your life, too.

Like most of the insta community I follow we were fortunate to receive far more Christmas presents than we need – joyful things that we’ll treasure for years, such as a lovely print from a friend, long-awaited books from family, and a taxidermy bat from Seamus. Personally I find giving gifts as joyful as receiving them, or maybe more – I love thinking about what the recipient might enjoy. Indeed, my gift-selecting mantra is ‘spark joy’ – will this gift tickle them, will they enjoy it, will it make them smile? Even if it is something practical I try to select the nicest possible version of the thing – not necessarily the most expensive one, but the one that is best suited to their interests and tastes. It’s all about the whimsy for me – the spatula with the vampire face that groans when you press a button; the Cliff Richard calendar that’s been a staple for the last 15 years; the cassette tape of Seamus singing (when we already have the CD). It’s the whimsy that gives me joy when I choose and wrap the present, and I hope that’s what the recipients feel, too, when they unwrap it. This year we wrote little notes with our gifts explaining why we’d chosen things, and I think they were well-received.

So, whimsy and joy. But how do you preserve that feeling when you’ve had your things for a long time, and everyone else seems to have nice new (to them, or actually new) things, and their houses are immaculate? Well, that’s where ‘make do and cherish’ comes in. We use our heirlooms. Granny’s crochet blankets are all in rotation, rather than packed away safely. We use the fancy wineglasses that spent 70 years carefully cleaned and displayed but never used. We’ve broken one, but the enjoyment we get from actually using them – and remembering their previous owners and their stories while we do so – makes that ok. We don’t throw things out when they’re old/unfashionable/a bit broken – we mend, and darn, and repurpose. Our old Ikea bookcases are now raised beds in the garden, and I love seeing them because they weren’t purpose-built.

So here’s to a year of cherishing: of enjoying those old, tired, and slightly manky things and breathing new life into them. To mending our holey clothes and our chipped mugs. To using our heirlooms and to only buying things that bring joy.

Spicy Roast Pumpkin and Apple Soup

I just crave soup when the weather turns. As the light fades and the trees glow in their autumn finery, my thoughts always turn to soups and stews. This soup is our new favourite – made it for the first time this year and oh! it’s so good that we didn’t have enough left to freeze from the first batch… It’s particularly nice with crusty bread to dip in – Seamus bakes his own no-knead semi-sourdough (fancy that!) but even a toasted white loaf will do!

We tried to grow our own pumpkins this year but they didn’t flower until very late, so the fruit never developed. Faced with all the food waste going on at Halloween – and finding cheap big pumpkins in the supermarkets – we decided to roast up a big batch of pumpkin to freeze for the winter. We’d been thinking of risottos and stews, but one afternoon this week I was overcome with an intense desire for soup, so there you are. The apples used in this recipe are our own – harvested weeks ago and on the cusp of growing a bit soft, but perfect in this!


  • 500g of roast pumpkin (see below for a ‘how to’)
  • 500g of apples (cookers, if possible, though eaters will work too)
  • Vegetable stock (cube, jar, or make your own) – enough for 1L of liquid
  • Salt, chili flakes, black pepper, cinnamon
  • Herbs (whatever you have to hand – we use oregano, mint and rosemary from the garden) and a bit of oil for the roast pumpkin (we use sunflower)
  • Roast pumpkin seeds (see below – save the seeds from your pumpkin and roast them at the same time)
  • 150ml oat milk (or other milk/mylk of choice – you can leave this out but the texture is nicer with the milk in)

You’ll also need a (stick) blender, but if you don’t have one a potato masher works really well!

Roast Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds

Cut your pumpkin into long wedges, like you would a matermelon. Cut along the inside to remove the stringy bits and the seeds – set them aside in a bowl. Cut each wedge into pieces for roasting – no need to be precise here, just aim for roughly the same size for all of them. Don’t bother peeling your pumpkin – the skin comes off really easily once it’s roasted. Place your pumpkin pieces onto a baking tray or into a baking dish, and drizzle with oil. Scatter some herbs and salt. We used rosemary, oregano and mint as it was what was at hand (our herb plot is still producing!) but any herbs will do. Dried is totally fine – no need to buy fresh ones if you don’t grow your own. We actually use dried oregano and mint – we dry it ourselves and keep it in jam jars. Put it in the oven at high heat (we have an aga so it’s top oven), about 180-200C, and roast until tender. Prick the pieces with a fork and if they feel like food (as opposed to decorative pumpkin) they’re good to go. Let them cool – then they should be easy to peel. Easy peasy!

Now for the pumpkin seeds! Separate them from the stringy bits and wash them thoroughly. Their slimy goo might be quite hard to remove but you can dry them to help with that. Spread them on a layer of kitchen towel and set them on your cooker or a radiator. They’ll change colour to a lighter, off-white cream, and the slime just flakes off. Once they’re slime free chuck them on a baking tray or into a baking dish, spreading them out. Drizzle with a bit of oil and a sprinkle of salt, and bake for 10 mins at 180-200C (top oven, aga folks). They’ll turn a nice amber colour when they’re ready. Decant them into a bowl to cool and sprinkle them liberally with salt.

(And try not to eat them all at once! Save some for the soup…)

Makin’ Soup

Prepare your stock (we use cubes). Put it on a low simmer. While it heats, peel the skin off your pumpkin pieces, and add them to your soup. Grab 3 decent-sized apples and core them, removing any brown bits as you go along. Chop them into bits the same size as your pumpkin bits and add them to your soup. Turn up your cooker (or move to the left cooking plate) and bring to a boil. Season with salt, black pepper, cinnamon and chili flakes. I like my soup spicy so added rather a lot of Chili! Cook until all apple pieces are mushy. Take your pot off the heat and blend your soup – with a stick blender or a potato masher. Be careful not to burn yourself on the splashes! Once it’s all nice and blended add your milk/mylk – no need to put it back on the cooker, just stir it in.

Serve just on its own with your pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top, or – if you’re feeling fancy – a sprig of rosemary. Be sure to have plenty of bread for dipping and soaking up the pumpkin goodness!

You can store this in the fridge in an air-right container for a few days, or you can freeze it.