Friday, 13 January 2017

101 Organic Gardening Hacks - Book Review

Well I have been either living under a rock or the Americans have been keeping Shawna Coronado away from me; she's huge with 7 thousand + followers on You Tube, almost 3 thousand followers on Instagram and nearly 20 thousand on Twitter. That doesn't even include those who love her blog and have bought her books (yes she has written two).

She describes herself thusly...
"Wellness, garden, & foodie author. TEDx speaker, photographer, blogger, travel adventurer with spinal osteoarthritis & a passion to make a difference."

Pretty impressive already, eh? And then, I get her latest book published by Cool Springs Press (sent to me by Quarto Publishing plc to review) as it launches here in the UK. And yes, I too have fallen for her no nonsense, fun and actually do-able gardening ideas.

So above is the book, please do not be put off by the word 'hack' by the way, her publishers simply say it is a word for 'a great idea that's come to life'. I have been flicking through this over the last week and really getting into over the past two days. It is so photogenic, so cute but most importantly, I found it to be inspiring and a friendly read, with practical ideas that are actually useful and easy to replicate. 

The publishers blurb is so on point...
In 101 Organic Gardening Hacks, you'll find the top tips, tricks and solutions unearthed by Shawna Coronado. Some are practical timesavers; others offer clever ways to 'upcycle' everyday items in your garden. Every hack, however, is completely organic and unfailingly environmentally friendly!

I suggest to take a wee look at the contents page pictured below, it covers everything from the beginners needs to inspiring ideas for the allotment, garden and even unused spaces. There is literally something for everyone and nothing is too expensive. Even those with little room can't get away, there are no excuses :)

As a bibliophile, the feel, text, layout and beauty of this book makes me very happy. It's easily going to fall into a coffee table book by it's looks but honestly don't let that fool you - it's got great ideas. We are certainly going to enjoy using it. Oh, and the cover is wipe-able, which is great as I'm also the muckiest allotmenteer out there.

Of course this book is for the organic grower, which I do strive to be, but the section on pollinator hacks really got me interested as it's maybe one area were we could try harder, especially with the terrible decline in bees these days. Shawna is also an advocate for the no-dig gardening style we have adopted over the past couple of years and seems to be just as in love with composting and manure as we are, haha.

101 Organic Gardening Hacks
Eco- friendly Solutions to
Improve Any Garden

by Shawna Coronado

January 2017
£12.99 | Paperback
Published by Cool Springs Press

If you go to her blog, which I know you will - you will see those words again 'wellness author' and she truly seems to be. Inspiring in her fight over spinal osteoarthritis, a seemingly great cook and someone who sees the garden area as a place of therapy and joy. Her ideas in up-cycling see a creative desire mixed with growing food and beautiful plants. I find her quite the exciting find, even if I am way behind everyone else.

Stay cosy this weekend

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Two Allotment Afternoons

I had a good mental health afternoon on Monday and experience has taught me that I need to grab these windows and get out there. Toby stayed at home snoozing but Andrew and I went to the allotment and got started on a new year. Oh lord, how I love ripping old stuff out and seeing lovely rotted poop go on the cleared beds.
me, I was at the allotments! -

Andrew worked on 24a tiding up and mulching. He also pruned the espalier apple trees and gathered many wheelbarrow fulls of the horse manure that had been delivered to the field, for our compost bin. I was hoping to get a photo of garlic poking through the soil but we planted a little late this year and I guess we'll just have to be patient. Our garlic has never let us down in all these years so I am optimistic. Happily we also came away with some excellent beetroot from that plot. Still in the dark, damp days of winter, the allotment provides :)

We also have some parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli and kale going strong there.

I went over the terrifying-looking overgrown disaster that is 14b and began my attack. Goodness the yoga and hiking really has made a difference to the loads I can carry and the duration I can work for; it's nice to see some progress there - hopefully I'll start to tone up soon!

Anyhow, I just dived into the middle flower bed and ripped and hacked my way through it all. It was so woody that I couldn't even cut most of of it down for composting but boy did I have a grin on my face just getting rid of it all. I also cleared paths as I went and am resolute about getting some membrane and gravel down this year!

Once all the stems were removed I started on the weeds and lumps of grass that were thriving. But luckily Andrew made tea and I had a break with him just as I was getting weary and thinking how weeds are always going to be a huge problem there when you have three abandoned sites surrounding yours, grrr. Anyhow, calming lemon and ginger tea is wonderful and after it I was back and got the whole bed cleared. It was a good day for getting dandelion roots out too, the ground very friable though a little moist.

I have my plan for that bed already - sunflowers which simply last for ages and look sculptural in winter and some daisy-like happy flowers to cut for bouquets. I wasn't well enough to do the multi-flower bed last year so I am learning to live within my abilities.

Only two other couples came and quickly visited their plots whilst we were there, it seemed so funny not to see many more people, it was such a perfect afternoon for working. It was odd how Maggie's presence was strong and rather upsetting to look up and not see her. It helps to know she would have been fuming though - far too cold and wet for her, she was a sun worshipper that one :)

24a monday and horse poop -


But lo and gasp! On Tuesday I was furiously cleaning the downstairs of my house and when Andrew woke up we (actually I!), decided that for his last day off we ought to go back to the plots and continue our work. We went out for apple sponge cake and a coffee first but only so we had enough energy to attack those beds, hehe.

It was damp, that seriously cold damp that seeps into your bones and freezes your cheeks and hurts even your eyes. But damn it, I got almost all of the second flower bed weeded, Andrew pruned all the hawthorns, tided the rhubarb bed and gathered more wheelbarrows of manure and we had a goodish time.

14b -

We had tea and took a dander round our field and oh my, it was so upsetting, no, it was frustrating to see the majority of plots in absolute messes. So over grown, returned back to rumble sites covered in weeds and long grass. It truly made us think 'Why do we bother?'

Back at our plots we worked a little more but I was stiffing up now and had a headache starting. However, miraculously it started to drizzle and both of us were secretly very thankful to be 'forced' to go home to Toby and blankets and the fire. 😄

My cheeks took an hour to defrost, my nose was like an open tap, I got a chill and a migraine later on BUT it was worth it!

Carrie x

Sunday, 1 January 2017

A New Year and a Winner!

I thought it would be wonderful to start the new year off with a blog post, a sort of sign of my good intentions to write more in 2017. I also have a longing to get more in touch with my readers so I have also set up a Facebook page for the blog (I do hope you'll join me there). 
AND of course I hope I can do more giveaways!
A new year, a new day and the same horrid battle with my poor mental health. An ill brain doesn't care if you wanted to go for a cobweb blowing hike in the Mournes or a few productive hours at the Allotment. So here I am, still in my pyjamas sort of watching TV at 6pm.

I'm so lucky though as Toby has been asleep and ever so cuddlesome all day, up on the sofa with me. He stayed up really late for a pup and saw in the new year; he's paying for it now.

Andrew has declared today to be an official films and pyjamas day with much herbal tea and naps. He demands I do as little as possible. What did I do to deserve him? - he's so understanding.

And then there's my giveaway and giving gifts lifts my spirits. Thanks to those who entered!
Here we go with our winner -
Drum roll please!!

I'll be in touch xxx

Hugs and best wishes
Carrie x

Friday, 30 December 2016

Sarah Raven Journal Giveaway

So, you want to own the lovely Sarah Raven's 'Cutting Garden Journal'? Of course you do, you're only human and lo, I WANT TO GIFT A COPY TO YOU!

So sorry, this is only open to UK residents but I'm thinking selfishly about the cost of posting a lovely hardback book and I think the speed at which the lucky winner gets it it paramount - there will be planning and dreaming to do 😄

I wrote a little book review of this tome when I received it from Frances Lincoln pre-release way back in 2014. By the evil quirks of the internet the photos I included in that review have disappeared into the ether but trust me, it's gorgeous. I shall find them again on my external hard drive. I do have the text of my review and here it is in edited snippets....

"I may have fallen in lust with this fabulous Sarah Raven's 'Cutting Garden Journal'. Sarah is a goddess of all things cut flower and I just love that she has written a easy, go to book helping people like me to be more confident in her area of expertise."

"Not too much reading, gorgeous photography, plans, projects and inspiration for next year's flower patch."

"It is an absolute joy to the senses; the touch of the paper, the layout, the photography. It is sort of a cross between a coffee table book and a how to manual, so stylish but full of great know how and precise instructions."

"A guide to getting your beds right and full of exactly the right plants. Raven even tells you the best variety of the best plants to grow; how to grow them, where they'll grow best and how long the stems should be cut for the best look!"

Now it's over to you. Just leave your name in the comments section if you want to be entered. All names will be placed in a pot and one shall be plucked out (with my eyes closed tight!) to be the happy recipient. Then I would just ask that the winner contact me with an address.

Go, dear reader and good luck. The winner shall be announced on New Year's Day.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Delectable feasting

It can not be left quiet anymore - my hubby is a fabulous cook and I am so lucky to have him in my life! I wanted to shout it from the roof tops on Christmas Day but society does constrain one and the word 'mad' gets bandied about, hahaha.

It is a shameful thing to admit here on my allotment blog but, I did not go with Andrew to do our annual Christmas Eve harvest. It was cold and raining heavy and to be honest there were cute films on the TV and I was cuddling Toby - sorry but someone has to do it. Here are some of Andrew's pictures of that glorious moment....

Probably the most laughable harvest yet! The Kale was fabulous but the brussels had been attacked and we had about 3 tiny ones each and there were no carrots or parsnips - the shame. I think we're going to quit carrot growing, the disappointment every year is really too much and to be honest they are so cheap at all times of the year, it feels like it isn't worth it. * Now, I've just learnt (after publishing this post) that we DID have parsnips but the ground was too wet and claggy to dig them up!

* That is unless YOU can tell me of a foolproof carrot variety that NEVER fails.

Our Christmas Day was joyously quiet and uneventful; we started off eating porridge with chocolate drops on top and drinking 'jingle fizz' ~ prosecco and cranberry juice. Ah, there's nothing better than a day were it's socially acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast and (responsibly) drink alcohol all day.

And here was the main event - check out those brussel sprouts, they were delicious and were eaten slowly and deliberately. Plus, I would love it to be known that I didn't eat all the food on that plate - Andrew was a little generous. We did eat all the left overs on Boxing Day though.

And on Boxing Day we went for a lovely walk in Carnfunnock Park, where Toby had his 1st walk ever; this time went a heck of a lot better. There's nothing finer than getting all wrapped up warm and burning off that Christmas Pudding in amongst the trees and meeting cheery fellow walkers (and their dogs). Also, Toby got to wear his festive jumper on the journey and a very sexy red coat on the walk itself. Truly a festive walk is a marvellous activity, particularly when you stop to make tea, find mushrooms, berries and enjoy another sunset.

Today we went into Belfast which was a bit of a nightmare, so many people! Tomorrow we go for another hike in the middle of nowhere.. The allotment SHALL see us soon though, fear not.


Oh, and watch out for a New Year's GIVEAWAY - A copy of Sarah Raven's beautiful 'Cutting garden journal'. I'll only be able to afford UK postage but I hope you'll put your name in, there's every chance this hardback loveliness could be yours 
And some changes will be happening on the blog too, I need a change xxx


P.S. Tell me about your Christmas harvest and walks!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Pushing the boundary (full version)

Sometimes you really have to wake up and grab the day by the shoulders and give it a damn good shake. Saturday was one of those days, a day to be used to the max, to have an adventure and to be content, proud and a bit sore in the evening. We decided to walk the new Boundary Trail at Castle Ward (Co. Down).

We had been to the same National Trust site the Saturday before and taken Toby on his biggest walk yet - a whole 3-ish miles. Remember he's only little and he met other dogs and was attacked by one off lead (grrr) so it was a huge experience for him. (He was ok - Andrew lifted him high and I grabbed the dog by the collar, it was strong!) However that walk also included a picnic at The Temple which he loved. He was pretty wrecked after that walk but came round really fast. 

first CW walk - ~ ecotherapy blog

So.. Saturday last, well we pushed further, a heck of a lot further. Twice as far and a bit more, that kinda further. Toby walked with us for 7+ miles, what a trooper.

The Boundary Trail is lovely, a genuine surprise in its glory and varied landscapes. We didn't start down at the proper place as we parked in the main car park. So we started off with a walk we do often, down through the farm yard, along by the millpond flat Strangford Lough, up past Audley's Castle round the back of the walled garden. These are all Game of Thrones filming locations and is not rare to see fans and tours about.
by the water CW - ~ ecotherapy blog

Then we took a right turn instead of a left! Wonderful, we ended up in the farmland of rolling drumlins, the old estate boundary wall by our side and stunning views. (But I forgot to take any photos - I'm a wally I know!) There weren't any cattle about so Toby wasn't a threat and the new paths and fields are separated by electric fencing. Plus our dog was on a fecking lead!

After a good while we walked into a lovely little forest. The Mallard Plantation, the name of which doesn't make sense until the end where one sees the water and hears the ducks. This was maybe my favourite part of the walk, after all the gravel paths we were now on soft ground  in amongst the trees and ferns with light streaming in strongly only here and there.

The Mallard Plantation - ~ ecotherapy blog

After a spell on a proper road we re-entered more woodland, much more open and newly cleared for the path. By now we were really in our stride and not many photos were taken at all. Andrew had to declare tea time as I get a bit forgetful and just plod on for miles, forgetting to take a break, eat, drink, breathe. Hiking is such a beautifully passive experience were all I think about is the trail, no bad thoughts, no hurtful emotions. But I do need to look after my body, so yay! for sensible Andrew.

Right pic below : the trees on the far ridge are were the other side of the boundary wall is, we walked quite far.
halfway point - ~ ecotherapy blog

We sat on some logs, had lemon and ginger tea and a lemon cupcake. Haha, how fancy of us. Then we ate a fabulous trek bar each; they're like a meal packed with energy rich foods like prunes, nuts, chocolate etc. Toby had his kibble and a big drink.
tea time for all -- ~ ecotherapy blog

Then up and away (all rubbish came with us) and  10 minutes on we came to the viewpoint. Wow! That was pretty darn beautiful but we couldn't stay longer, the sun was going down! And it was cold, brrr.

From the viewpoint to the Mournes - ~ ecotherapy blog

More of a gorse and bushes landscape now and we were walking fast. This whole place would be heaven in the spring, there were primrose and bulb leaves all around and of course we ended up back in deciduous forest which I so look forward to going back to with all the bright greens everywhere.

Here, near the end of the mystery trail we could see the grand driveway into the estate on the left and this sunset to our right.

sunset- ~ ecotherapy blog

 Oh poop! We had to use our phone torches to walk through another forest bit and there were scary bird sounds at every turn. Wow, the world is a different place in the dark and boy it was pitch black without our specks of light!! This wood must have been evergreens as the smell was delicious and our foot steps silent.

Thank goodness for fairy lights and Santa visiting the big house. We could use these lights strung all the way along the fence to get back to the car park and see (and be seen by) the other people and cars on the road too.

the driveway with fairy lights - ~ ecotherapy blog

Toby by this point gave up, he began to heave as though he would be sick and Andrew had to carry him. What a trooper, he's never walked so far in his life and almost made it the whole way! So proud, he wanted down again after a minute and was fine again. Boy did he sleep on the way home all evening and night and Sunday 

I really wanted to take him to see Santa but it was pre-booked -  human children only - bah humbug. Haha.
So that was that, sorry I posted a tiny draft version before. We all make mistakes and let's face it I was pooped when I tried to do that post on the Sunday.

Hugs and wishes for good health and thoughts of brighter, warmer days. 
Happy Winter Solstice 
C xx

Saturday, 3 December 2016

A damp dander

Times have been tough with my mental health (not helped by these darker mornings and evenings) and the training of Toby. Oh Lord, I had forgotten how frustrating and exhausting teaching a puppy was. A few weeks ago we wondered what we were doing with this little stress maker!
...... But today (I write on Saturday evening) Toby did us proud and broke a few hearts on his second walk ever; he is adorable.

We visited Mount Stewart and walked around the lake there, it's so beautifully planted and works to please at all times of the year. Santa was also visiting but we hadn't booked to see him sadly, though a friendly elf cuddled Toby for a wee minute. I just love how the National Trust staff seem to love dogs and make all their gardens dog friendly with water bowls, free poop bags and places to tie yours up when coffee calls.

There is a micro climate in and around Mount Stewart and though it drizzled and I was cold (2 tops and 2 coats plus a fleecy lined hat) it wasn't a bad day at all. Many varieties of trees there still have their leaves or have very recently dropped them and even the tree ferns are still unsheathed.

I love the Trust's practise of using old and rotten logs as habitats for insects and fungi but this was a new sight - baby rhododendrons planted in this one. They also use fallen or storm damaged limbs/trunks as art and simple benches.

I didn't take that many photos but just wanted to say hello really and this was a good excuse...
And here's my boys :)

I'm going to the allotment tomorrow for a look around so a 'proper' post will follow......Indeed friends, I must apologise for the lack of blogging, truly had I had anything to say or indeed the health to say it I would have been writing more often.

Wishing you well,

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Wild Camping and Toby

I'm not doing too well with the old blog post writing these past months am I? Well to try and remedy that here's another catch up post, non-allotment related I'm afraid but maybe more adventurous instead :)

The weekend of 8th and 9th October, was seen as one of the last opportunities for us to get into the wilds of the Mournes and camp in our lighter tent for the night. I can tell you that this experience has changed the whole West Highland Way hike we have planned for next spring, truly it was a game changer. (I need toilets - I'm a lady!)

It all started out with us arriving at the car park closest to our destination and proceeding to hike with heavier back packs than before, across bog and squelch for a good 40 mins in the wrong direction. The wrong bloody direction! It was made pretty self evident during this time that I really need hiking boots now and my approach shoes aren't cut out for the ankle high water deposits and indeed the streams that one finds in bog land = wet feet and we'd only just begun. On top of that, I had had a horrendous week of mental ill health and had very little strength AND my double vision was simply nightmarish - somebody remind me why I was doing this!

We got on to the right track and thought immediately that this was better but lo! it too turned into a boggy, squelchy, slippery mess by the last third. I'm not really a fan of hearing my foot being sucked down into the earth, haha. But then came the start of the sunset and the sight of the stile over the Mourne Wall and our thus prospected home for the night. I am quite proud to reveal that I picked out our site and the views were beautiful, but there was no shelter and the weather turned out to be the opposite of what the forecast promised! We were in the Col between Slieve Lough Shannagh and just about on the slope of Carn Mountain.

sunsetting -

Col between Carn Mountain and Slieve Lough Shannagh with Mourne wall -
mourne wall and to the right the sunset on  Slieve Lough Shannagh
Sunset on Binnan where we had or last great summit adventure
The tent was up in a jiffy and soon dinner was on in the dark (though we had dessert first cause that's how we roll ), lovely soup with noddles added and a wee bap-  thank goodness for head torches! With this darkness came a huge drop in temperature and soon I had every extra bit of clothing I had on me and was in my sleeping bag shivering like a tent flap in a gale. Lucky I had my new bobble hat :)

tent up on the lower slopes of Carn Mountain -

the lower slopes of Carn Mountain -
pretty soft to lie on - lots of mosses, grasses and gorse
wonderful soup to warm the soul -

Saturday evening was spent playing daft drinking games and and listening to the heavy rain on the thin tent. But Lord, going outside for a pee was a deal breaker; it was so damn cold, wet and windy and pitch black with 'something' moving about out there. I returned to the tent with a tear in my eye - I'm too girly for this sort of nonsense, many nips of whiskey and multiple cups of ginger tea were needed. I think I slept, eventually for about two hours - I was a human icicle.

The next morning was cold! for quite some time but as we were packing up the tent it started to warm a bit and we heard another wild camp group down below us pitched by the lake
- a dad and two girls with their dog, laughing and chasing each other. (We later saw them on the track back to the car park and the dog had his own panniers, probably to carry his own food and essentials!)

lough shannagh
Lough Shannagh 
sparkley sun on Lough Shannagh -
Taken from Carn Mountain -   Lough Shannagh shinning bright with Doan behind it and Binnan in the clouds
Stile over Mourne Wall at the Col of Slieve Lough Shannagh and Carn Mountain -
Stile over the Mourne Wall at the Col
I took some photos and watched as around 20+ people came over that stile into the mountains at ridiculous o'clock. One guy had his crazy dog off the lead and it was worrying a sheep near to death, ggrrr, that make me so angry AND he was half way up Slieve Lough Shannagh in the other direction, completely unaware.

The way back to the car park was slightly treacherous for me due to all the rain during the night and naturally, like the clumsy fool I am, I slipped on a stone hidden in the bog and fell on my face. Oh! me knee, it was badly bruised and had lots of scrapes (still does) but I marched ever onward and sneakily changed into jeans and clean socks and shoes, by the car when no one was looking ;)

Off to find pancakes for breakfast! Lucky we know somewhere open on a Sunday morning which does excellent breakfast :P We chatted merrily about our learning curve.

But the real adventure, the life changing one, happened a few days later. It was Tuesday night to be more accurate and we drove all the way out to Limavady and found ourselves in the huge shed of a man whose dog had had puppies. PUPPIES!! And not just any old puppies -8 wk old mini schnauzer ones (like Maggie was). Eeekk!

The whole way there I was secretly hoping that I wouldn't connect with either of the two boys that remained of the litter, and I really wasn't sure I wanted a boy. But then we saw the little guys and the one in front was so bouncy and licky and excited and Andrew and I just died, died there on the spot, dead. We HAD to take one into our lives.

mini schnauzer puppies! -

And thus, drum roll please.....
We have welcomed Toby into our home and hearts.

Toby! -

An new companion, a new partner in our adventures; a wee dog that has already learnt his name, the command 'sit' and is no longer afraid of leaves. Life through a puppy's eye is magical and all is edible (he's getting better with that), he a fun, cute and intelligent little fellow and I hope he will be with us for a lifetime.

Toby collage -
From Instragram #it'sToby

Love Carrie xxx

Friday, 7 October 2016

Photo update from last weekend

'Things' have not been good inside the head of your exhausted writer, my dear friends. The debilitation of Depression, Anxiety and BPD is real, really real and I have been in my own personal Hades for quite some times now. I rarely talk to anyone or go outside and life without Maggie is still almost unbearable. So forgive me for the lack of blog posts or comments in fact, if you have a blog yourself, I just haven't been able to think properly - I am experiencing a moment of clarity and am devoting it to this space. Little dialogue but lots of photos....these were the plots last Sunday.

24a is the real producer and it was time for some constructive deconstruction (you know I love that), as the courgettes, sweetcorn and climbing french beans are all finished now and needed composting. Sadly all our leeks had bolted too so 'goodbye' (the plot smelt like soup all afternoon!)

14b is the embarrassing little sister, going through her grunge teenage years and so unkempt but beautiful underneath it all. It gifted us some lovely squashes that we are eating now and loving. Here's Andrew's gorgeous photo of them.

Anyway we focused, as I said on the finished veggie beds on 24a and got as much done as we could before I just couldn't take anymore....

I tackled the bean wigwam and weeded the whole bed .I was so happy to find this little fellow/lady? ladybird which I put in a cosy spot on it's leaf. I LOVE ladybirds!

By that stage we stopped for tea and listened to the crazy lady pheasants running and squawking about. Andrew had by this time cleared the last courgette plants (one last wee harvest first!) and all those sweetcorn stalks. The sweetcorn this year was amazing - Swift F1 as always but a great year!

Back to it and the leeks were lifted (sadly) and composted whilst I did some really quite pointless weeding of the paths which had gotten grassy and slippy up by the arch.  I also noted that the broccoli and even the purple sprouting broccoli  had bolted! What the heck!! The carrots had carrot fly *sad face*, but the companion plants were very happy...

Andrew prepared the #1 bed for mulching with our glorious well rotted horse manure, look dear friend, I know you, as a true plotter will appreciate the wonder of our manure bin....

How lovely to watch such hard work, hahaa.

Sadly we didn't get to finish the #2 bed as I needed home but! it was fabulous to be there once again (bar seeing Maggie everywhere and her bowl sitting out for her). I am thankful for the good times and my amazing hubby who never gives up on me. Let's hope we have another nice wee time to treasure this weekend.

Best wishes to you all,
Carrie xx

P.S. Apologises for the poor photos at times, these are all unedited and from my phone (apart from Andrew's one - it's perfect) x