This Week in Suburban Surrey… A ‘Mini Adventure’

I love Minis, like absolutely head over heels in love with them. How small and adorable they are, the shape of them, the different types you can get, how classically British they are and even the way the boot opens!

When I finished university back in 2006 (shhh… it wasn’t that long ago!), I bought my first car when I was learning to drive. It was a red John Cooper original with a chequer board roof and a walnut dash. It was a fantastic car and I have some of the best memories driving it, once I managed to fit camping gear, chairs, a Labrador and 2 adults in it, and yes it still managed to get up hills! Sadly due to the work that Trusty needed (I know you should never name things as it makes it harder to say goodbye) I had to sell it, and I still wish I never had.

 

This Sunday was ‘Mini Day’ at Brooklands Museum, an event where mini owners get to show off their cars, mingle with other enthusiasts and even try their luck on Test Hill. Test Hill was built at the track in 1909, it starts with a 1/8 gradient then to a 1/5 and finally a 1/4 at the top. I’ve been lucky enough to be a passenger going up the hill and I can tell you it is exciting!

I go to Mini Day mostly for a good day out, being Brooklands Museum members means we skip the queues and can go as many time as we like during the year. I also go to satisfy my cravings, although I did have to ask my 5 year son Harrison to be my wingman and steady my hand on my wallet. I was told no less than 8 times I was not allowed to buy a mini, but everytime I saw a for sale sign my heart skipped a beat! One day…

You may ask what this all has to do with us living the country lifestyle and living the good life in suburban Surrey. Truthfully, it doesn’t really but it is a window into what we like to do for fun and a perfect excuse for me to talk about another one of my passions. You never know in the near future I may be blogging about my own Mini Adventures!

Colleen x

The Country Living Handbook ‘The Best of the Good Life Month by Month’ by Diana Vowles: A Book Review

I have sat down to write this blog in the beautiful spring sunshine with a cup of coffee in hand and my friends cat Pancake sunning herself at my feet. I am actually stealing myself a few moments of peace before my afternoon client list starts, definitely one of the perks of being self employed.

My journey on the way to the good life and semi self sufficiency is all well and good, but where the monkey do you start?! I figured I needed a little nudge and some help so I purchased a book with the title ‘The Country Life Handbook’ and hoped it did what it said on the tin.

The book is helpfully set out into chapters by month starting from January and so on. Each chapter is only about 4 pages or so long making it easily digestable and just enough reading to fit in with your elevensies. Whilst this book is not in depth or particularly technical it does mean it is informative without being overwhelming.

In each month the handbook explains what to expect in that month from the wildlife you might see to what is growing and what to look out for when you are out and about. I also like that there are suggested recipes and projects. For example in May there is a wonderful zabaglione recipe leading on from a section on keeping hens and in April there is a section on decorating Easter eggs using natural colourings from the garden which definitely warrants a try!

Throughout the book there are historical references and facts which I absolutely loved. Did you know that most of our native hedgerows were dug up in the second world war to make space for more crops to grow for food? And that in the 10 years prior to this book being published in 2006 there had been up to 6000 miles replaced thanks to charities such as LEAF. Britain has some amazing ancient woodlands with Kent being Englands number one county for ancient woodland (https://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/englandsmostwoodedregioninventory.pdf/$FILE/englandsmostwoodedregioninventory.pdf) .

I love that this book is an easy read that you can pick up and put down when you feel like it. The inclusion of projects and recipes gives a great practical element to the handbook and is a wonderful way of trying out some new skills.

Overall I really like the book and look forward to what each new chapter has in store, it is not overwhelming or taxing and is interspersed with comical writing. A wonderful addition to my bookshelf.

The Country Living Handbook ‘The Best of the Good Life Month by Month’ by Diana Vowles is available to buy from Amazon here.

Once more into the vegetable growing breach dear friends once more…

Growing your own produce is in my opinion the epitome of country life. The thought that you can provide for your family by growing your own veg, and for the more adventurous fruits as well, makes my heart sing. But in the past my enthusiasm has not matched my success. Last year (my first year growing at the Cottage) I had a really good run in spaghetti squash and raspberries and I had courgettes coming out of my ears! But the rest kind of fell disappointingly flat. However, the fear of failure doesn’t deter me as even the small harvest last year brought me a lot of joy.

Last years spaghetti squash takeover!

The whole concept can seem a bit daunting, and trust me I still feel the same every season. Whilst I have a few years of gardening behind me I am still a beginner when it comes to grow your own and I am learning all the time. There is loads of support available for budding alotmenteers and home gardeners. I head to my local garden centre for help on what grows well locally, and my neighbours are amazing at giving me tips and support. I also follow other blogs and people who share their knowledge on successful growing. Have a look on my Instagram account UrbanCountry.Project to see who I am following.

Here are a few things that I have learnt through my dabblings with growing so far:

Seed packet use by dates are relevant!

I learnt this the hard way when I planted a whole bunch of seeds that I had hoarded over the years. Apart from the courgettes, which is the only thing I seem to be able to grow with minimal effort, nothing grew. It was frustrating to say the least.

If you have some seeds that are coming to the end of their shelf life why not seed swap with some friends? Or try a seed dump in an unused area of your garden? Even if only a few things end up growing, it can be a fun experiment especially for kids.

Read the instructions

Some of us, me included, like to go all guns blazing and get stuck into our garden with gusto. Unless you know what you are doing and have been growing for a while give yourself a fighting chance and read the instructions. Seeds are like people, they all seem to like different things and in their own little way. This leads me on to the next thing I learnt the hard way…

Don’t overcrowd

The seed instructions will tell you how close together to plant out your seeds or seedlings. This is so each plant has space to grow and there are enough nutrients to go around. I once planted carrots a little too close together, the result was carrots that twisted around each other like a rope. Beautiful, but not entirely practical! (Can’t find the picture for the life of me!)

Keep it simple

I have a habit of wanting to do it all and I want it now! I have learnt that a vege grower needs to be patient and nurturing, so putting less on your plate to start with is a big advantage.

The game plan

Once the cold weather has started to die down and I can see bulbs poking through the soil my mind turns to what I am going to grow. I usually start my planning by thinking about what we eat most. Next I think about the space I have available and finally what gives you the most bang for your buck!

So here is my shortlist:

  • Carrots – a maincrop variety and purple carrots
  • Courgettes – we have a great list of courgette recipes which I will share with you all soon.
  • Spaghetti squash – These are fun to grow and easy to cook with.
  • Tomatoes – I am trying 3 varieties this year.. wish me luck!
  • Potatoes – I am most excited about growing these. Read my blog on Growing potatoes:  How hard can it be?!
  • Peas – I have some asparagus peas which look adorable!
  • Chillis – I love how these look on the windowsill and love cooking with them!
  • Leeks – This is new one for me but I was inspired by The Garden Smallholder who I follow on Instagram to give it a try! The Garden Smallholder is not only inspirational when it comes to the world of sustainable growing but is really helpful for tips about what to do in your garden and when. Find the website here https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/
  • Broad beans – This is a job I gave to my son Harry. He planted some in an eggbox and religiously sprays them with water!

                                   

  • Beetroot – I really like beetroot and I don’t care what anyone else says!
  • Winter squash – These are cute and yummy!

I am also lucky enough to have some established fruits growing in my garden including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries (these are wild by the side of my garden room… lucky me!), pears (from next doors tree), quinces and crab apples. The later two I literally don’t have a clue what I am supposed to do with them so please comment below if you have any idea!

As I look at this list I am already feeling overwhelmed, it seems a lot! At the end of the day growing your own seems to be a lot about trial and error. Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t. This year I am determined to be more on top of it all and enjoy the journey. I start the year with the understanding that it is a learning curve and the opportunity to grow in experience and most of all to have fun.

If you have any tips or ideas about where to start when growing your own or particular successes you have had please share them, I would love to hear about them.

 

Colleen x

It’s the country life for me…

Have you ever had that deep pining feeling to be in the country, live off the land, raise animals and always have a pie cooling on the window sill Snow White style? Perhaps not… But I think we all have a little bit of country in us, some more than others.

My name is Colleen, I live in suburban Surrey with my 5 year old son Harrison and our tortoiseshell cat called Toast. We live in a little Victorian terrace workers cottage built in the 1890s. It’s adorable and chocolate box and we love it!

It’s not a small holding or a ranch and the garden is not all that huge. But it’s ours and it’s ours to make whatever we want.

I have always wanted to be in the country. As a child I wanted to live on a farm, as I got older the desire to be in the countryside and be self sufficient hasn’t gone away, in fact it only got stronger.

 

                       

We may not all be able to go the whole hog and go full Laura Ingalls Wilder or get the picture perfect ranch lifestyle like Amy Fleming from Heartland (If you have no idea what I am talking about then watch the series, you will love it!), but we can make our own country dream in our own little corner of the world. I’m going to share my journey with you from recipes to gardening, successes and failures.

If you want to join me here’s what you are going to need:

  • A positive go get ’em attitude
  • A dreamers mentality
  • A pinch of crazy
  • And a notebook… always have a good notebook.

So is it possible to have the country lifestyle feeling in a busy suburb? I guess we are going to find out.