HAPPY NEW YEAR

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WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM ‘THE WILLOWS’ AND HERE’S TO 2014.

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IT AIN’T HALF HOT MUM !

Welcome back once more to ‘The Willows’. We haven’t put a post out for a few weeks as we have been really busy trying to get all of our projects for this year finished before Christmas. Well we’ve managed it and we are very pleased about it all and have actually got about 5 posts to go out but we will split these up over the coming weeks.

The posts going out may be a bit topsy turvy and not in order, but I’m sure you’ll get the drift.

This post is about’ Percy the Pig’. I’ve just finished building a Pub/Gym but it’s started to get quite cold in there, well it is December after all, and I needed some heat  so that I can work out on my punch bag. I decided to make a stove out of an old rusty gas bottle.

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This is just a rusty old gas bottle.

The top of the bottle is then cut off, I used an angle grinder as the metal is so hard, ( if you are going to make a stove yourself, please remember to remove the brass valve that the regulator attaches to as there will always be some liquid gas left in the bottle and we don’t want any explosions!)

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I also wanted to make the stove out of as much recycled material as possible so I made the legs out of old leaf springs from a Hi-Lux truck. These were impossible to drill through so I had to angle grind these too so that I could put a nut and bolt through the whole lot to hold it all together. A hinge was attached for the door and the hole at the top at the back is for a flue pipe to be fitted.

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The top of the bottle that was cut off will make the door. I hammered it flatter to make a better fit and cut a hole at the bottom to allow the fire to draw. The door handle is made from a rear wheel quick release nut from an old push bike.

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After sanding it down a high temperature paint was applied and left to dry for 24 hours. You can see why we call it the pig, it has a face !

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Here it is all in position. Unfortunately I had to buy the flue ( but everything else is recycled), and I had to shape the base of the flue to fit the curve of the bottle, and this was then attached to the bottle by using 2 brackets. I found some left over tiles to place the stove on to protect the floor in case any hot ash spilled out when opening the door.

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We made a very small fire to ‘bed’ it in as the paint will have to harden further, but you can get some real heat out of them once cranked up !

Now, let’s see if my punch bag will get some more use, of course it will cos I love kicking the hell out of it !

Anyway, keep warm and enjoy.

Oh by the way, a new addition has moved in. A small white kitten turned up a few weeks ago in a very sorry state. She was skin and bone, her eyes were mattered up, and she was seriously malnourished, dehydrated and exhausted and could hardly walk. After some TLC and a dose of wormer she is now a truly different cat ! We have named her ‘Beryl the Feral’ and she now resides in the Pub/Gym alongside that new stove !! Welcome Beryl.

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‘The Willows’

THE AUTUMN FEDGEROW UPDATE

Before I get started on this subject, I have to tell you what a very , very strange, weird and exciting week we’ve had here at ‘The Willows’. We have been contacted by a major, international media company, based in London, wanting to run a story about our lives, and our way of living, because we are completely off the grid, with our own alternative energy, water supply and almost all our own food ( we are still sorting out the last one !). I had a really nice, hour long telephone conversation, with a lovely lady, just talking about life at ‘The Willows’. After a few days she contacted us again and said that even though there’d been a very good response from newspapers and magazines, and even though we are both British citizens, the papers would prefer to have had  UK based people. So, oh well, we can only wait and see if the newspapers come to their senses ! But, at the end of the day, thank you so much to Hannah and the publishing company for recognising our little story and making us both feel so proud of the acknowledgement.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.

Now, the willow fedgerow is one of our constant and favourite blog stories for the simple fact that it was this subject that started us off on our blog journey, when a couple of our friends visited us and took some photos for their own blog. www.fromacountrycottage.wordpress.com  and they received a good response to it.

Willow is so easy and versatile to use, it almost makes the perfect planting material and my goodness, it grows so quickly! With every year it grows, the more rods it produces, providing ever more planting opportunities. We have literally fenced our whole land with willow, which is why when I said that we had planted lots of trees, it really is quite impossible to count but it must be getting towards 1000, possibly more, but hey, who’s counting?

The only problem with willow is that Bowie and  Floyd, our donkeys, love to eat it, so in many areas we have had to put an exclusion zone with a wire fence as well.

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Wrapping the rods in this way holds them in place.

Willow really is so easy to use, you literally just push it into the ground, walk away and watch it grow. I would say that we have had around a 95% success rate with many sizes from 2 feet in length, pushed in to ground about 9 inches, to 12 feet that we wove into  archways ( hence our name!)

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Fallen arches. The wind will always catch anything that’s top heavy. This archway is about 6 years old and our willowarchway picture.

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This is it after a straighten up and a haircut !

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Weaving not only looks pleasing but strengthens the structure.

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This fedge is around 3 years old.020

This 100 metre long fedgerow is  6 years old and was the first fedge to be planted on our land. It goes from the house all the way down the driveway to the lane. This willow was originally sourced from the roadside and all other fedgerows on our land have been created from this  We have plans to lay another fedge on the other side of the driveway and in time we’ll join the two together to form a tunnel.

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Willow fedgeing being used to create a pathway through the garden.

Happy fedgeing, any questions and you know where we are.

Enjoy

THERE’S MORE AT THE DOOR.

Hello and welcome to ‘The Willows’ and a big welcome to all our new Twitter followers.

Even though we have a very well insulated house with the floors, walls and roof all having 4 inches of insulation, there are always little problems with the wind through the side door especially when the wind blows from the east. All of the windows have insulation tape/draught excluder, so no draughts there, but the doors were difficult to sort out. Another problem was that all of our coats, boots, etc.  were hung up in the kitchen and when they got wet ( and knowing where we live, that’s often !), and were drying, it made the kitchen steam up and the floor wet meaning more heat was needed.

So, I solved this by building something so simple and easy, that has been used for exactly these reasons for hundreds of years, a porch.

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It was built onto a raised floor to stop damp, and the window was recycled from an old property.

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It was stained with a water based stain and then with linseed oil to waterproof it. The re cycled door and window are now ready for a lick of paint.

The difference it has made is amazing, no more draughts and all of our wet clothing hangs in there so no more dripping all over the kitchen floor, this has also given us more room in the kitchen and we’re not tripping up over boots !

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I decided to put this old door in so that we can fetch fuel/wood for the range or start the generator from inside the porch without getting wet, especially once the tin roof has been extended!

Obviously the porch itself has a few draughts, but once the coats etc have stopped dripping, they can come in for a nice warm and a dry but they have to go back out there. There’s a place for everything and everything in it’s place, as my Grandma used to say . And I bet yours did too !

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It would be virtually impossible to stop every draught but as long as they are only small I think they actually help with some ventilation.

So now the house needs less heating, less heating means less waste and so less of a carbon footprint, and so less money needed to be spent.

We would like to supply all of our own fuel here at ‘The Willows’, and we are trying as we have already planted lots of trees over the years,( too many to count,) and most of the willow has been woven into fedges ( I will post more about the fedges in a later blog). Each willow will produce hundreds of rods that can be mulched into briquettes for fuel. Some people say that willow isn’t good for the fire as it has a high water content, but we dried some out for a year and it burnt well, very well, but making a compact briquette makes it burn slower, but with a good heat.

So we’re off now to plant more trees that include Oak ,Beech, Birch, Alder and of course Willow for our Samhain celebration.

HAPPY SAMHAIN !

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Enjoy.

ALL HANDS ON DECK.

Hello and welcome to all our new followers ( and of course our long time followers !), and thankyou for all the nice comments you have all sent. We do hope that you all find us helpful, informative and entertaining!

At the start of this project 7 years ago, the summer weather was absolutely fantastic. It was really hot and very sunny and we felt like we were on a permanent holiday! We had a 35 foot caravan and a dream, so we started to build the extension onto the side of the caravan. We were playing Spanish music on our little CD player and having fun together, it almost felt like we were making our own telly programme, we called it ‘House Builders In The Sun !’ One time I was making the roof and 2 Red Kites were swooping overhead, we took this to be a good omen. But as ever the weather changed ( we were still having fun !) but at the end of the day this was still just grazing land and with all the rain it started to get really boggy and just down right muddy. Ok we didn’t have any carpets to mess up ( we still don’t), but it all became hard work, slipping and sliding around the areas around the house, something had to be done to make things easier. So I decided to put wooden pallets down, that I recycled from a local business ( with their permission of course)  to make a decking and walkway, and it really did work, but as always there’s another but, after awhile they started to rot and break so we kept on replacing them but these also rotted and in the end we got fed up of trying to tip toe around the place to avoid the holes and broken ankles. So once again something had to be done, hence now our proper decking and walkway.

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As you can see instead of just making a static decking, I built it all in 1 metre square sections.

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Each section can be moved or changed at any time either because of damage, or knowing us, we just want to change the pattern. Because we can…… and probably will! Why move house when you can just change how it looks?

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The last pallet being ripped up, thank goodness ! I had to use a spade,crow bar and sheer brute force !

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The sections going down.

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The walkway down the side of the house past the herb garden.

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What a view. The decking’s not bad either !

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The whole decking and walkway is now really nice to walk on without fear of slipping or breaking something ( like a pint glass !)

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And in case you were wondering what happened to all the old faithful pallets, well they will make perfect bonfire material for our Samhain  festival, seeing as we’ve invited bigmunkeyman and his mates to hold his bigmunkeyman’s bigmonster movie mashup !

I’m sure he will have a tale to tell at www. bigmunkeyman.wordpress.com

By the way I’d like to say Happy 30th Birthday to my sister TIGGER !

DON’T ‘CHUCK BERRY’ AWAY

Well, here we are again, a new post and a new look and what better way to start anew than to talk about wine. What a year it’s been for winemaking as we had an abundance of produce. We do love our wine making as it’s creating something new that you can play around with. We started with Elderflower Champagne, something we’d never made before. It just takes 2 flower heads, sugar, yeast and 3 weeks! It starts out tasting like fizzy pop, but if you leave it for a few months then wow, it really does taste like champagne ! Because of the nature of champagne, you must put it in a fizzy water/pop bottle, as the gas has to be released very gently !

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The bottle on the right is water, the misshapen one on the left is Champagne ! You have to gently release the gas or something will go pop !!

The next wine we made was an old favourite of ours, Dandelion. We still have some left from last year and the ratio of sugar to yeast may be wrong but oh well, we have a nice Sherry, and it blows your socks off !

We then went on to black and red currants and the reason for the title of this post is because if you don’t chuck your pulp away, you can get a second brewing from it. From 4 pounds of currants you can get 2 gallons of wine by adding 1 pound of raisins and boiling water to the second pulp. If anyone is interested in the full recipe just let us know.

We did exactly the same for the blackberries and the elderberries and with using the pulp twice we managed to brew 14 gallons of wine ! The sound of all the demi’s plop plopping in the kitchen was amazing, it’s a wonder the dogs got any sleep at all! We did after drinking some of last years brew!

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People seem to think that you have to have a constant temperature to brew wine but no, not really. We have a range that goes out at night and the wine all slows down but once the range is re lit, it all starts up again, as long as there’s a temperature of around 15c it will still brew.

After a month or two, and if the ‘blups’ have slowed down, you can rack the wine off so it doesn’t sit on the ‘must’ as this can affect the taste, and then after about 6 months the wine can be bottled. We still have a few bottles of apple wine from 2 years ago and age does make it better. But it’s so hard to sit and wait for all of this good stuff to mature, so we came up with an idea. As grapes make wine, why can’t we use grape juice? So we added some sugar and yeast to a supermarket grape juice

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We heated up the grape juice to dissolve the sugar and added the yeast once cooled.

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Because we’d run out of demi’s we had to improvise by using 2 x 5 litre water bottles and drilling a hole in the lids and inserting a rubber grommet ( that I got from the motor factor’s) for the air locks to fit.

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There’s no sediment to rack off and it’s ready in 4 weeks ! And it works, we’ve just enjoyed our first bottle and it’s as good as any inexpensive wine from the supermarket ! Wait until we try the tropical fruit one !!

This was just an experiment to see if it was possible, but that’s the sort of thing we do here at ‘The Willows’ we try, we experiment, we see what works. It’s the only way.

Anyway, happy brewing and let us know what you think.

Enjoy. ‘The Willows’

LET’S JUST SHELF IT, SHALL WE ?

We’ve gone a bit mad lately what with preserving produce and making wine and beer and because half of our house is a caravan, space has suddenly become a problem. A caravan has limited space with small rooms and we’ve been wanting to extend our bedroom, which was connected to the original bathroom, and this bathroom was being used as a store room, and we were just throwing everything in there, and it got to the stage where we couldn’t even get in there without smash,clank clank ! Something had to be done.  Now, this room is north facing and is quite cool,dark and dry, so it would be perfect for a larder to store all of our produce,preserves, wine etc. After ripping out the old fittings, I decided to use half of the remaining space and use the other half to extend the bedroom. This would make an area for the larder of 6.6 feet high, 3.5 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

The finished larder.

A double door will be fitted in the next few days and we will tile the walls and shelves to make it extra cold. Also, there is a vent in the floor so air can circulate.

There’s more at the door ! We are just keeping the babies warm and at this rate I’ll be building an extension !! Think I overfilled the demis, oh well, that means more in the glass then !

Enjoy.

BLOCKHEADS

Now, this post was supposed to go out with yesterdays blog, but as with computers, it said NO halfway through and so we decided to have another go today. Computers eh? Last year one of our mutual bloggers www.earthandhearth.wordpress.com  put out a post where she had bought a Paper Log Briquette Maker. We were quite intriqued by this concept and so asked her where to buy one. Of course you can get these on line but last week we were wandering around our local thrift store and it was like a double take…. there it was waving at us, buy me ! Anyway, once home we started to rip the newspapers apart, soak them thoroughly and proceed to make briquettes. OH, I do like new gadgets !

The paper soaking.

Go on, give it a good squeeze.

Ta Da !

The start of our self sustainable fuel. They may not be perfect yet but we are adapting our technique, maybe shredding the paper so that it’s alot finer. We are also considering getting a shredder (run from our sustainable energy) so that we can use shredded willow leaves and bark from our willow wood which is being increased seasonally.

By the end of the day I had made about 40 logs, and it wasn’t a very long day at that. They are stacked up in the workshop to dry thoroughly, although a few were placed near to the range to dry quickly so that we could try them out and see if they were successful. They were.

We hope you all have a very Happy Samhain from ‘The Willows’.

IT’S A SELF PRESERVATION SOCIETY

Whilst sitting here on a Sunday afternoon listening to ‘The Kinks’,I think it puts things onto perspective on living the alternative lifestyle. It’s also strange that  a certain time of year can bring a flurry of activity. As we grow most of our food and all of a sudden you have a glut of produce, don’t have a freezer, so what are you to do with it all ? PRESERVE it !

Over the past few weeks I think that we have made a massive leap forward with our preserving and if we want to continue eating over the winter months then we have to preserve our food.

Last year we preserved our cherry tomatoes and they were very successful ( we actually opened one of our last jars yesterday and they were perfect for pizza topping) and so decided to preserve more this season, but as there were so many green toms this year ( due to a poor summer !) E found a recipe for ‘Green Tomato Chutney’ and when I walked into the kitchen (after working on ‘Bertie’ our VW campervan) all I could smell was a sweet and sour sauce. We’ve now decided to use all of our chutney as a sauce for chinese stir frys ( it tastes just the same!) and doesn’t have all of the chemicals used in commercial preserving.

And so now here are the 2 recipes to preserve a glut of cherry tomatoes. Enjoy.

First prick the cherry tomatoes with a cocktail stick and place a layer in a clean jar, sprinkle a little salt and sugar, some sliced garlic ( and a few basil leaves if desired). Layer some more tomatoes, salt etc until you have filled the jar and place the jar onto a cardboard lined baking tray, placing the jar lid on top of the jar but don’t screw the lid shut.

Place the jar(s) into a cool oven for about an hour ( our Stanley range ) or until liquid is bubbling out of the tomatoes. When the liquid has almost covered the tomatoes, remove the jars from the oven and immediately screw the lids closed and leave to cool. Store in a cool, dark place.

GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY

Makes 7-8 230 ml/8 fl oz jars

3  1/4 lb green tomatoes

1lb 2oz onions

1/2 tsp salt

3 1/2 oz  dried dates (we didn’t bother )

18 fl oz vinegar

10 1/2 oz sugar

1 tblsp mustard

1/2 tblsp curry powder

1/2 tblsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tblsp cumin

1/2 tblsp ground ginger

Paprika

Wash tomatoes,peel the onoin and roughly chop both. Salt them and leave to stand overnight.

The next day, drain off the liquid, stone and finally chop the dates. Mix them with the vinegar, sugar and tomato and onoin mixture, and bring to the boil.

Simmer, without a lid for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the mustard and spices after 45 mins. Boil over a high heat for 5 mins to thicken. Immediately fill the jars with the mixture, seal tightly and stand upside down for 5 mins. Store in a cool, dark place.

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