Category: day-to-day

a spot of interior design

a spot of interior design

The temperatures outside have fallen and made our balcony a less cosy place to spend time on at the moment. Instead we have been busy indoors, making some lamps and decorations for  our living room. Maybe this will offer some inspirations for someone of you too.

On our recent trip to Scotland we collected drift wood. To be precise, drift wood from the Isle of Skye. Already for a while Alex has wanted to make a lamp out of some sort of wood and I fancied a wooden tea light holder.

Now we are pleased to have a lamp with a body made out of drift wood, a copper pipe stand and an old fashioned Edison light bulb.

We also made a tea light holder with a drift wood body and some glass tea light holders. 

Thirdly we made a candle display with sea shells I collected from Isle of Skye.

Finally, because it is coming closer to christmas, we made a hanging christmas tree out of drift wood.

 

 

the delights of foraging

the delights of foraging

While enjoying growing our own produce and decorative plants on the balcony, we also love to go out and enjoy the surroundings: it being the countryside views, foraging for edible things or finding things we could turn into decorations (e.g. lamps) for our home.

Therefore this blog post is dedicated to the above.

During the year, we get plenty of fresh local produce from markets and ‘help yourself stalls’ with honesty payment boxes in our area. Still, the satisfaction to pick your own things in the β€˜wild’ is amazing. During the summer we manage to pick black berries around the corner from our house. They are just wild growing bushes with berries galore. As well as enjoying them fresh during the summer, we also freeze bags for our breakfasts in winter πŸ™‚

At the end of the summer we tend to look for sloe berries or more recently for bullace berries. Sloe berries are traditionally used for flavouring gin. Bullace berries: well, those we actually picked by accident one year. The bullace berry plant looks very similar to the sloe berry plant, the only difference being that the sloe bush has long sharp thorns and the bullace plant doesn’t. It only twigged to me after we returned to the same bushes the year after. Luckily (since we had already made a large quantity of gin with the bullace berries), they are also edible. Therefore we now have bullace and sloe gin in our cupboard. From our experience sloe and bullace gin is definitely best aged in the bottle, after removal of the berries (see recipe in the drinks section of my blog). Patience definitely pays off! Young sloe and bullace gin is still quite harsh tasting and becomes more mellow the longer it is kept. Therefore we are keeping several bottles from each year to keep for longer. Our oldest sloe gin is now from year 2011, when we were still in good old Scotland. 

In the autumn we look for edible chestnuts. Although the best we have found so far were in Ticino (Switzerland/Italy), we have now also found a few trees in the forest near where we live. There we managed to pick a healthy bag of chestnuts for roasting. Chestnuts, after they have been roasted and peeled are great frozen for the winter too. We use them in game stews (for thickening the sauce and adding a nutty flavour). Yesterday Alex even tried to make candied crunchy chestnut pieces, which worked very well (I will put up the recipe on here very shortly).

This year we thought we would do an exploratory mushrooming outing in the surrounding black forest. The thing is, it is meant to be possible to find Chanterelle mushrooms and Porcini mushrooms in the black forest. Both types of mushroom are highly sought after edible mushrooms. Around here one isn’t allowed to pick Chanterelle mushrooms for selling on (This is generally meant for mushroom preservation purposes), but one is allowed to pick them for ones own consumption. This explains why Chanterelle mushrooms in shops and restaurants around here tend to originate from Russia, rather than being local. We spent a day going to different parts of the surrounding forest (with different types of trees and woodland floor). We were very successful in finding many many mushrooms, but not many we thought could be edible:

Despite this, we were pretty pleased to probably have found three types of edible mushroom:

Parasol mushroom:

The parasol mushroom has a poisonous look a like but the true Parasole mushroom is distinguishable from it by its brown scaly stem. When you break the stem of the edible Parasol mushroom it remains beautifully white. Additionally, a spore print prepared on a black piece of paper turns out white (true Parasol mushroom), rather than green (for the poisonous look a like). From the photos below you can see that we saw many mushrooms which look like Parasol mushrooms but only a few with the distinctive brown scale pattern stem. I am almost 100% certain these are the edible types, but after a first mushroom hunt, we were rather safe than sorry and did not eat the one specimen we took home.

Black Trumpet mushroom:

Additionally, we are pretty sure we found the edible black trumpet mushroom. Like the Chanterelle, this is a gourmet mushroom, apparently difficult to find. Comparing a book on mushrooms and online resources we are pretty certain, especially as apparently these mushrooms have no poisonous look-a-likes.

Purple Laccaria amethystea:

We are not entirely certain about the little purple mushrooms we found, but we think they may be Laccaria amethystea. These are for sure possible to find in the black forest. The stem is very fibrous and thin and the mushroom head very small. 

What we would like to do next year is to go on a course or on some mushroom picking excursions with an expert. The German Mycological Society seems to offer these and this may give us more confidence to go out and find edible mushrooms. The key seems to be to focus on searching for and picking a select few mushroom types which have no poisonous look a likes or only a few, easily distinguishable from the edible counterparts. Let’s see whether we manage next year!

Finally, earlier in the year we were trying to decide how we could make an interesting stand up lamp for our bedroom. Soon after, on one of his runs, Alex spotted an interesting piece of wood in the forest. A few days later we picked it up as well as another smaller one and made two standing lamps from them. This was a fun little project for Alex and me:

That’s it for now…let’s see what we will find next and we hope the above may inspire some of you to go out foraging too πŸ™‚

October – end of season?

October – end of season?

End of growing season? 

Nope! Photos below!

Despite the decreasing temperatures our balcony looks pretty green still…greener than at this time last year it seems. Maybe we chose better plants to grow?

We still have red climbing spinach, celery, herbs (mostly parsley,  mint and chives, all of which are growing into a proper forest!).

Most excitingly, we have various chilli plants with hundreds and hundreds of colourful, ripening chillies! These include long cayenne, basket of fire, chiltepin sonora and an anonymous one (lost track of this one!). They are looking pretty nice and healthy as plants. We picked ripe chillies today and pickled them (sterilized in hot vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander seed, mustard seed, pepper corns).

Because temperatures are promising to drop dramatically, we spent some time this afternoon bringing the largest chilli plants indoors. It would be a shame to loose out on seeing all these hundreds of chillies ripening! πŸ™‚ And we can say: they are very spicy indeed! Success! As I have said before, the key to the strength of the chillies is to leave their soil to dry out before re-watering. This really does seem to work if you want to produce hot chillies!).

Additionally, we removed the tomato plants today (after harvesting all the remaining red and green tomatoes, both of which are good pickled for the winter).

While doing this, we stumbled across some beetroots! Yes, stumbled across them! πŸ˜‰ We had planted little beetroot plants earlier in the summer. Because we were a little impatient, and because they are very tasty indeed as part of salad, we have been eating the beetroot leaves and didn’t really think about actual beetroots growing. The ones we found today weren’t big, but all the more tasty, as baby vegetables often are!.

Finally, the Luffa Cylindrica plant is doing fantastically…with one very large fruit (40-50cm long) and quite a few smaller fruits forming. Therefore, we will be leaving it for a while still in the hope that the large Luffa fruit will dry on the plant so we can turn it into a sponge! You might have seen a Luffa sponge in a household shop before. This long sponge is often used as a shower scrub! πŸ™‚  apparently one needs to dry it on the plant and then peel off the skin, to reveal a mesh like structure with seeds in the middle. The seeds can then be shaken out, the sponge washed with soapy water and then re-dried to form the finished sponge for your bathroom πŸ™‚ Let’s see whether we manage. If nothing, the plant is providing some lush greenery on our balcony, this October.

End of August – bright and tasty balcony garden :)

End of August – bright and tasty balcony garden :)

Here are some pictures of the general status of our balcony.

Most interesting things growing this year are:

  • bitter gourd (see previous post)
  • red malabar climbing spinach
  • sponge plant
  • different chillie varieties (Chiltepin Sonora Yellow, Basket of Fire, Long Cayenne)
  • cucamelon
  • an abundance of small cherry tomatoes
  • mixed leaves (chard, beetroot, rocket, nasturtium, celery)
climbing climbers

climbing climbers

This year we are truly going for the trellis covering with climbing plants and also the hanging baskets with flowers and hanging aubergines. Nice to look at and also provide plenty of shade so that we can still sit outside on hot and sunny summer days.

Our climbers are:

  • 3 climbing cucumber louisa plants: The cucumber plants have already given us about 10 large cucumbers and are going strong still. So definitely successful and we recommend the all female cucumber plant, Louisa F1, because you don’t need to worry about pollination.
  • 1 luffa cylindrical sponge plant: The luffa cylindrical sponge plant is another one of our experimental plants. It has also grown fast and high. Fruit are yet to come, hopefully.
  • 2 climbing red malabar spinach plants: The red Malabar spinach plants are now also rocketing. We have one in a more shady spot, which is therefore producing bigger leaves and another plant in a more sunny spot, producing smaller leaves. Both good in salads and also just quite pretty trellis covering plants with their red stems and red veined leaves.
  • 2 bitter gourd plants: The bitter gourd plants are our little experiment this year…they have climbed quickly and look rather pretty with their jagged leaves. Also they are now producing their first fruits with flower. Hopefully they will be pollinated by bees, but if not I will have to go about that myself! Can’t wait to see whether we can get some fully grown spikey bitter gourd fruits (see pictures below of already spikey looking baby fruits).
  • 4 climbing cucamelon plants: The cucamelon plant isn’t new to us. We had great success with it last year so decided to have it again. In addition to our three newly planted cucamelons, we also have a resident ‘weed’ cucamelon, which decided to sow itself from last year’s fruit. It is now speeding up and first fruits are forming. These are just delicious fruits with a cucumber and lime flavor. Perfect for garnishing drinks and adding to salads. This year we may also try pickling some for the winter months. An additional piece of info I found the other day is that apparently once the plants are dying down, you can look for tubers underground (potato like swelling of the roots). These tubers can be taken and stored in some slightly moist soil over winter and then planted out early next year. These tubers apparently produce plants more quickly and give even larger and earlier crops the following year. We will try to see whether we can find some tubers under our cucamelon plants later in the year!

With all our climbers we have now resorted to clipping off the tops of the plants and also the ends of the side branches once they are long enough, since this will hopefully force the plants to put energy into fruit production rather than foliage…however nice the foliage is, fruits are in the end what we are looking forward to.

Finally we have rather a large tomato crop coming…likely about 500 or more tomatoes from the 5 plants we have. Yummy! come and visit if you want to help us eat them πŸ˜‰

Enough said: here are the pictures to show our truly living balcony πŸ˜‰

unusual inhabitants of the balcony garden

Today we did a general tidy of our balcony. Pea plants which have already produced many peas came out, since they are coming towards the end in this hot weather. And some unusual inhabitants are spreading instead: two bitter gourd plants, two red malabar spinach plants and two cucamelon plants.

On the other side of the balcony, another unusual plant is winding itself up the separating fence to our neighbour’s balcony: luffa cylindrica, the sponge plant.

All these interesting plants should climb and cover our balcony and provide some interesting fruits hopefully too. Watch this space, to see whether we succeed in not just growing nice foliage, but also some crazy jungle fruits, especially the bitter gourd.

 

balcony going green

A short one this weekend: It is getting close to a jungle now on our balcony. Power of nature: rather relaxing and cheerful with all the plants growing and climbing:

Happy weekend!

Growing green

What better way to spend the 27 degree C Sunday afternoon than on the balcony….. surrounded by new green growing plants!

Here just a quick set of photos to tempt you to grow some plants too πŸ™‚

Jungle and other uncommon seeds

This is the most exciting section of the 2017 balcony garden record! Our experimental adventure into the world of jungle and other uncommon plants.

We got inspired by browsing through http://www.jungleseeds.co.uk/index.html and https://www.nickys-nursery.co.uk/

We found some pretty interesting things to try. All of them require heat and a lot of sun, which we do get where we live. Therefore, why not try? πŸ˜‰ I will write a more detailed description on all of these soon, but for the moment a brief list below on which seeds we decided to try:

 Basella Rubra – Red Malabar Spinach (Leaves)

Cucumis anguria – West Indian Gherkin Cucumber (Cucurbita)’

Luffa Cylindrica – Vegetable Sponge Gourd

Winter giant spinach

Porophyllum ruderale – Herb Papalo

Momordica charantia – Bitter Gourd Karela

Perilla frustescens – Shi-So (Leaves)

We sowed most of the above seeds a few weeks ago and quite a few have already germinated! Exciting, since we weren’t sure how efficient germination would be.

 

 

Sowing technology

A few weeks ago the fun bit could begin. Sowing the seeds!

This year is our ‘sowing technology’ year. We decided, instead of heating our guest bedroom to 28 degrees C to facilitate germination, we would get a small, heated seed incubator. Especially the chilli seeds and some of our jungle seeds require high temperatures for germination.

Already 1.5-2 weeks after sowing many of our seeds have now germinated, most excitingly our interesting jungle seeds  (including Herb Papalo, Red Malabar Spinach, Wild Gourd and Luffa Cylindrica).  Additionally, the tomato and cucumber plants already reached a good size for potting into bigger pots just a few days ago.

Since the seedlings started looking rather spindly due to lack of light, we also decided to get a hanging seed growing light, to enhance strong growth of seedlings.