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Garden Update

So far, 2016 has been an out of the ordinary year for us, with even more still to come.

After spending the first 4 months of the year looking forward to retirement, part of which was because I hoped that retirement would allow extra time for my allotments, I found that wet weather early in the year delayed my best efforts to get an early start; however, eventually the yearned for day arrived and I was a "pensioner".

Before retirement, the weather didn't play ball, so I had been snatching time in the garden when I could; still eventually, better late than never, I managed to get the bulk of the gardens planted before we went on holiday in June (see Travels in Italy 2016).

During April I managed to get my Shallots, Onion sets and Garlic in along with the Potatoes and Broad Beans (Fig 1&2).

Figure 1 Figure 2

 

In the Greenhouse plants were starting to germinate from the seeds I had planted so things were starting with promise (Fig 3,4&5) - I was disappointed however that the grape vine was still dormant, especially given that people were posting pictures of their vines budding in Italy on Twitter. At the same time, I was harvesting Spring onions, young Garlic and baby Beet (Fig 6).

Figure 3 Figure 4
Figure 5 Figure 6

 

May saw the Cherry tree blossoming (Fig7), the Grape Vine budding (Fig 8), the greenhouse being planted out (Fig 9&10) and the Rhubarb being ready to harvest (Fig 11). The garden continued to grow on (Fig 12, 13&14) with plants still being set out.

Figure 7 Figure 8
Figure 9 Figure 10
Figure 11 Figure 12
Figure 13 Figure 14

 

During this time, I was still producing Cheeses and Bacon etc. (Fig15&16) and keeping busy with the cheese making courses I was running; however, during this period we decided that Jan should also go for retirement, we also decided we would sell our house and move to the country.

Figure 15 Figure 16

 

This decision impacted upon how we moved forward in many ways; it meant that I had to cancel any further cheese making courses. It also drew into question my commitment to the allotments, so much so, that I am now just harvesting the produce and doing no further work in preparation for next year.

To continue, June was a month of holiday, we spent most of it on holiday in Italy, but I'm pleased to say that whilst I was away, everything managed to continue growing (Fig 17&18) with me starting to harvest produce on a regular basis (Fig 19,20 &21).

Figure 17 Figure 18
Figure 19 Figure 20 Figure 21

 

That sort of get us up to date, the Onions, Shallots and Garlic are all out of the gardens now and drying, with the potatoes coming up really well (Fig 22&23).

Figure 22 Figure 23

 

We are starting to prepare to move to the country, so the next update may be later in the year and my next garden update may be about starting a new vegetable plot.

Retirement

I finally made it to retirement and, as the saying goes, "If I'd known I was going to live this long I'd have looked after myself better", but here I am, I've made it. Time to put the feet up, do only what I want to and when I want to – in fact, that's what it said on the engraved tankard the staff gave me when I left work, or words to that effect; if only it were true.

Sure, I don't have to get up and go to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week but to be honest, I don't know how I managed to fit work in; it feels as if I never stop. People always asked if I would get bored when I retired and I used to say "no, work gets in the way of my life", little did I know how true that was.

Of course, I'm no longer just the "Weekend Artisan" because, in theory, I can do things whenever I want:– one concession to retiring is, I've decided I'm going to stop doing the cheese making courses this year. It's always been a pleasure doing the course, but the setting up on the Saturday and the taking down again on the Sunday has become hard work; then there's the catering, Jan has to spend all weekend preparing the lunches, it's hard.

Also, I will be giving up the allotments, but there are justifiable reasons for stopping both.

At present my wife Jan is still working, but once she retires, we are moving away from where we live now to a more rural setting. The plan is to have a house with a bit of land so that I can have the veg plot at the bottom of the garden, get the chickens and bees back and continue with that aspect of our lives; who knows, I may start teaching cheese making again once we have settled in to our new area, but I'm not too sure, as I've said, it was hard work. I will be keeping the website going, I have no plans to close it down for the present time, so, if anyone wants to contribute with recipes etc. then please feel free. I will, of course still make cheese, only in smaller amounts and for personal consumption; also, I will remain contactable for those who want on line support with anything on the website.

I'm still working the allotments at the moment, busily setting produce; I hope to be able to harvest most of the produce before we leave the area, so no doubt I will be writing the occasional update for the website.

I have taken on the mantle of house husband because Jan is still working and as I often say to her, "I don't mind the house work, cooking and cleaning etc. but I don't find much time to sit down".

Then there's the time spent organising things, I worked for a bureaucracy and thought we were quite efficient, however, trudging through our pension system (both private and government) is so time-consuming.

Of course, because I have more time now, I take on things that I wouldn't normally have done when I was working, most of which are pleasurable. I spend more time catching up with people now and do crazy things like doing a dream drive – that was so much fun.

Jan bought me a gift of a "Dream Drive" experience for Christmas; I delayed doing it until the other day when Jan and I, along with her brother and his wife, dipped our toe into the world of the fast car. I drove an Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche around the now famous 'Top Gear' track, yes, "Gambon" and "Hammer Head" held no fear for me, despite it being a very wet day – great fun was had by all.

We recently went to Cornwall to meet up with German friends in Bude, that was wonderful, and if you follow me on twitter you will have seen we also dropped in on friends in Lostwithiel, that was wonderful too.

Jan's mother passes away in March so that was a bit of a shock and a challenging time for all of the family, she will be greatly missed; my parents are both 93 years old now and both quite frail, therefore I have to keep going back north to visit them, this is upwards of a 600 mile round trip, so all in all, I've managed to stay quite busy since retiring and supposedly slowing down.

That's my excuse for not updating the blog since January, I hope you understand.

Vincotto

As someone who dislikes waste, I am always up for recycling. Also, I have the sort of mind that says, "Oh, that sounds interesting, I wonder if I can make that?" I was watching a cookery programme the other day and they mentioned making wine syrup from left over wine. Vincotto is the Italian version of wine syrup.

The first question was; what left over wine? Later I thought, interesting, I must have a go at that. The second question was; where do I get the wine?

Writings suggest that the syrup can be used to drizzle on Ice Cream, Cake, Fruit or Yoghurt, but the part I was interested in was the suggestion that it could be an alternative for Balsamic Vinegar – now you're talking!

Some will remember that this year, again, I made "Château Allotment" red wine from the grapes grown on my allotments. This wine was only ever going to be a low alcohol table wine. Though acceptable, because we have so many good wines in our cellar, the likelihood was that I would make red wine vinegar with this product, so I took two bottles from the rack and made Vincotto with it.

Here is how I made it:

A normal 75 cl bottle of wine holds about 4.5 cups; therefore, using a ratio of 3 cups of wine to 1 cup of granulated sugar put everything in a pan and set to boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the wine absorbs the sugar.

Once the pan has reached boiling point, reduce the heat to allow for a gentle simmer; continue to stir until the mix is reduced by about two thirds and is taking on a sheen on the back of the spoon. Taste the liquid, it should be sweet.

Allow the liquid to cool and bottle and place in the refrigerator.

If you are looking to use this as an alternative for Balsamic Vinegar, I found the syrup a little too sweet for this. I therefore put a couple of drops of Malt vinegar in the bottle and shook it to mix.

However, if you are just looking for an intense, mature, adult sweet taste of grapes, leave out the malt vinegar. It will surprise your friends if drizzled over a fruit or an ice cream dessert.

The picture below is the end result of my two bottles of vino.

 

Vincotto

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