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Freeze mint ready for mint sauce

Freezing mint ready to make mint sauce later in the year.

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There’s nothing like fresh mint sauce, made with freshly chopped mint – and freshly frozen mint is almost as good.  If your mint bed is is thriving, now is a good time to pick some and freeze it.  Just chop it and seal it in plastic bags.  You can do the same with parsley ready for parsley sauce.  I also freeze small quantities of basil, oregano, marjoram, coriander and tarragon for adding to meals like spaghetti bolognese and curries.

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I have two varieties of mint in my garden, apple mint (on the left) and peppermint (on the right).

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I find apple mint is the best variety to add to early potatoes to get that ‘new potato taste’ and to make mint sauce.  Peppermint leaves are delicious with Pimms, mixed with lemonade, lemon slices, cucumber slices, strawberries and ice.

To make mint sauce:

Mix together in a jug:
1 tblsp chopped mint leaves (fresh or frozen)
1 tblsp malt vinegar
hot water (ideally cabbage water)
1 tsp sugar

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Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

June is a delicious month, a time of strawberries, new potatoes flavoured with apple mint, and the first broad beans melting with butter.  And the gardens are alive with colours – yellow flag irises decorate ponds, azaleas brighten up patios, rhododendrons mist the hillsides with a purple haze and poppies startle you with their brilliant red blooms.

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Butterflies and damselflies flex their wings and the heady scents of honeysuckle and wild roses fill the hedgerows.  Bees are busy investigating every single foxglove flower and the buttercups dance their golden heads in the summer breeze.

The bird table is alive with hatchlings, families of blue tits and great tits vie for space on the feeders – and the swallows return from far off places, wheeling and diving across our skies.  Alas, gone are the times when the cuckoo called across our fields and the skylarks sang high above our heads – we need to go further into the wilds of Wales to hear these birds now, but we get more visitors to our bird table – goldfinches, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers love peanuts and sunflower seeds.

June is also the time to make elderflower champagne (not really champagne – and in fact not alcoholic at all if you drink it soon enough – but it tastes delicious).  Iced elderflower cordial is the perfect complement for summer lunches – these traditional recipes were handed down to me by two elderly aunts – handwritten on yellowing paper, now immortalised on my website:  visit www.barbararainford.co.uk/recipes

So quite often, you don’t have to go very far for Today’s Treasures, you can always find something new in your own back yard – a blackbird’s liquid notes heralding the dawn, daisies opening up their petals to the sun’s rays, a glimpse of the first wild rose, the sweetness of strawberries, or honeysuckle’s saturating scent – stimulating all our senses.  As our very own Shropshire A.E. Housman said:  “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  Take a moment to enjoy Today’s Treasures.

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Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

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New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

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I had the most wonderful day on Sunday. All 12 baby rabbits went to new homes and will become breeding rabbits.  One breeding trio (one buck and two does) will be going to Portugal with their new owner in September.  Brendon was telling me about his smallholding and how much he is looking forward to retiring there – and he will be taking Eny and Holly’s babies with him.  He said he has had to build a really strong fence to protect his livestock – the foxes are bigger there – and there are golden eagles and otters that eat rabbits and poultry.

This is the first time I have had two litters from different parents so they can be sold as breeding pairs – but I discovered it’s quite complicated working out the best way to pair them off.  It sounds simple but one breeder wanted one buck and one doe and Malcolm wanted two bucks and two does (from different litters) to increase the number of wild white rabbits that visit his Manor House garden.  He realised that my rabbits would not be used to being outside so he has built a pen for them as an interim stage to ‘going wild’.  It was so lovely to see them hopping about on the grass.  My breeding bucks and does live in pens outside most of the time but it’s too dangerous for the babies.  All sorts of things eat them – not least our cats – Lunar and Sooty – who are the same size as my bucks and eat wild rabbits for fun!

Eny and Holly are both due to have new litters next weekend.  If everything goes as well as last time, I shall be delighted.

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Eny’s babies 10 weeks old

 

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Eny

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Humphrey the Scarecrow

Humphrey The Scarecrow

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This year I decided to make a scarecrow.  We lost our little Betsy dog last year – she was always with me when I was in the garden and I was feeling a bit lonely.   I thought a scarecrow might offer some company – at least I wouldn’t be talking to myself!  I was quite pleased with the result – an old mop was perfect to start with and, at first, he looked so real that he kept making me jump.

I’ve called him Humphrey – and, amazingly, he works!  I usually have to cover my baby peas with fleece to stop the pigeons eating them but Humphrey has proved to be an excellent deterrent.  The peas are bigger now and protected by privet twigs so I have moved Humphrey to the strawberry bed to stop the blackbirds pinching my strawberries. So far it seems to be working.  But, strictly speaking, Humphrey is a scare-pigeon or a scare-blackblackbird!

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Elderflower Champagne

Midsummer – time to make Elderflower Champagne – which is not champagne – or alcoholic – at all – but, according to my family, is every bit as good as champagne:

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Elderflower Champagne

4 large elderflower heads
2 lemons – rind and juice
2 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 lb 8 oz of granulated sugar
7 pints cold water

You will need 2 large clean buckets – one to make the champagne in and another to strain the champagne into.
Remove flower petals from elderflower heads (just rub the flowers off the stalks – it’s not critical if some stalks get in as well) and put in a bucket with rind and juice of 2 lemons.
Add water and vinegar and stir well.
Leave for 2 days, stirring night and morning.
Strain through a stocking held over a sieve or colander into the second bucket.

Add sugar and stir well.
Leave 24 hours then bottle in screw top bottles.  (Plastic pop bottles will do fine.)

It should be ready to drink after about a week.

If not drinking straight away you will need to release the tops of the bottles regularly so they don’t explode – or you can use old port bottles with corks.

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Balloon Flights over Shropshire

Sailing across Shropshire on a sultry September evening.

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Hot air balloons are surreal and it’s lovely to watch them drifting over the Shropshire fields but they are so silent they can be right above you without you knowing. We used to have a Jack Russell terrier who would bark like mad when he saw a balloon but he’s gone now so I have no warning. Totally engrossed in weeding the vegetable patch the other evening, it really made me jump – creeping silently across the sky and then the burner suddenly roaring just above my head!

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Butterflies love Buddleia

Every garden should have a buddleia bush.

 

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Butterflies and bees – and other insects – absolutely love buddleia and I’ve spent many hours in the August sunshine simply watching the different butterflies – this is a peacock which is one of our prettiest but our buddleia attracts red admirals, tortoiseshells and commas as well as speckled woods and cabbage whites. The common purple buddleia is quite vigorous and needs a lot of cutting back so choose a calmer variety if you have a small garden. Keep cutting off the dead flowers and it will continue flowering through September.

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Speckled Wood butterfly on potato leaves

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Our Wildlife Pool

A pool attracts all sorts of plants, animals and insects.

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It’s difficult to believe that when we originally dug out this pool and lined it with local clay it was just bare soil. I was told by our local farmer to pull out the trees when they were just saplings – should have listened – now we are having to cut them down.

I also didn’t believe the farmer that bulrushes would take over the pool – I was so delighted to have my own bulrush that I left it and, within a few years the pool was full of bulrushes and not much else. Then it dried out one summer and the next year the bulrushes had almost gone but yellow flag irises were taking over and the water lily was looking decidedly peaky. So you do need to maintain a pond to keep the balance but it’s worth it – we get lots damselflies and dragonflies as well as frogs, toads and newts.

Impossible to believe that the picture below was taken from virtually the same spot in May 2006!

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