The scent of Seville oranges fills the Potwell Inn kitchen.

A somewhat enforced day indoors due to the onset of a miserable cold this morning. Not man-flu, I hasten to say, but something much worse.  I’m waiting bravely for the black pustules and the final tremors.  Meanwhile, Madame had other ideas and went early to the shops to get some paracetamol for me and came back with 5Kg of Seville oranges.  By my estimate that’s enough to make nearly 40 jars, I protested, but I was not spared making the first ten pounds. The thought that I might be able to eat home made marmalade in the morning after several months of abstinence due to my not bothering to open a storage crate and read the labels, put steel in my backbone, and I soldiered on in my finest passive-aggressive manner, sneezing whenever she came near.

The oranges were packed in 1.5Kg nets which, needless to say, were made of plastic – as were all of the labels.  We haven’t done nearly enough to address the needless packaging in supermarkets. When we do have to buy veg we always buy them loose, and there’s no reason on earth why that shouldn’t apply to Seville oranges. For a start they’d be cheaper.

It’s only a minor faff, making marmalade.  Most of the work is in prepping the oranges which have a great number of pips that need to be separated out and cooked in a muslin bag because apparently they’ve got most of the pectin. Then there’s cutting up the peel. Madame and I are like Jack Sprat and his wife, in that I prefer my marmalade lumpy with thick chunks of peel whereas she prefers the peel cut very thin, and that demands a sharp knife, infinite patience and a lot of time, all of which I naturally possess in abundance.  Normally!

It’s surprising how cutting peel blunts a kitchen knife and I needed to stop and sharpen it several times. But chopping, slicing and dicing are one of those unsung kitchen pleasures that you never really understand until you’ve got the right tools.  I know I’m supposed to be lusting after some hand forged damascus steel  artisan produced (delete superlatives where necessary) knife; but having borrowed lots of these small objects of desire off my chef sons, I’ve settled on relatively inexpensive knives from Ikea at about a third the cost but which seem indistinguishable from their rich relatives.

Marmalade takes an age to make because the peel and pulp need cooking slowly to soften them before the sugar goes in, but in addition, there was the prospect of several days of harsh frost imminent, according to the weather forcast. We’ve got quite a lot growing on the allotment ready for an early start when spring gets here, and although most of them, the broad beans for instance, will withstand pretty cold weather they will be set back if they’re left exposed in a scything north-easterly for any length of time. We’ve also got onions, garlic, shallots and various beets above ground.  Covering them with fleece has its drawbacks too – although sunlight does get through, it’s much diminished and so we’re left with trying to second guess the least-worst outcome. Three nights at -3C in the offing persuaded us that fleecing as much as possible would help rather than hinder and so in a break from marmalade making we went up and got everything we could tucked in against the cold.

Meanwhile, back at the Potwell Inn there was a meal to be cooked (more Christmas week leftovers – will it ever end?) and bread to be baked, and so it was 11.00pm before the marmalade was safely sealed in its jars, the washing up was finished and the sourdough kneaded for its overnight rise.  When I woke this morning at six I could see the rime on the car windscreens outside the flat and I was glad we’d gone to all that trouble yesterday.

img_4840But a familiar feeling of being chained to the process came over me. Feeding ourselves as much as we can is a complete joy, but it comes with timetables and responsibilities that can’t be put off until a more convenient time. Bread making, potting, allotmentering and above all parenting all come with the capacity to demand time and energy you don’t feel you possess at that moment. Over thirty years ago, while I was training, we had a memorable session with a teacher called Father Edmund Wheat who was part of the Kelham College community.  He said to us that we probably thought we should be out there doing amazing things all the time and were just discovering that what we were actually doing was far more mundane.  He said to us – “Always remember that availability is an ascetic discipline.”

I feel better already!

Thank you so much!

2017-06-03 11.14.26

I was wandering around the Potwell Inn this morning, surveying the seasonal carnage, when I glimpsed into the front hall and saw a pile of letters there – thirty or forty of them.  The thing is, no-one opens the front door. It’s very gloomy, the doors are rotten and the hinges are rusted through and haven’t been used in years, –  so the front hall is a sort of improvised storage area full of junk and incomprehensible stuff with a letter box at the back marked “spam”.   Who on earth looks in letterboxes marked “spam”?  Anyway, my curiosity got the better of me this morning and I looked, and among some fairly random stuff about footballers I’ve never heard of I found a number of very supportive and enthusiastic comments on the Potwell Inn.  What a nice surprise! It seems that WordPress are so keen to preserve my sanity that they’ve been sweeping any general comments – ie not attached to a specific posting – into the spam filter.

So thanks to all those who’ve been so positive, I really appreciate it. There were also one or two questions about technical issues that I wouldn’t dare try to answer – when I get stuck I just go onlne, there’s mountains of help out there.  The visual format is one of the “off the shelf” ones that comes with the package and I took the photo of my son walking with my grandson 2 years ago – lucky shot.  Yes this is a WordPress hosted site – basic level but not free. I’m computer literate but the least glimpse of code sends me looking for the smelling salts!

As to “why Potwell Inn?” Please don’t run  away with the idea that there must have been anything so advanced as planning or focus groups (eeoogh).  I must be the only human being on earth to be inspired and radicalised at the age of 14 by an Edwardian (1910) comic novel,  so I’ve spent the rest of my life torn between looking for it and building it for myself. The reason for turning it into a blog was that the journalling software I’d been using daily for three years was upgraded without warning so that the various clapped out old machines here at the Inn wouldn’t talk to one another any more. When I looked around for an alternative I had a moment of inspiration and thought – “why not make it into a blog – there’s nothing in it I couldn’t share ? ” So the Potwell Inn became a virtual place that I already felt comfortable in.

The biggest challenge for writing a blog was the discipline to keep going – a habit which I’d already got, and more importantly, the capacity to treat setbacks, indifference and critical remarks as par for the course and I’ve had plenty of experience of that!  This is a tiny enterprise with a handful or so of regular supporters (I’m old so I don’t need to bull it up!) – so I’d be delighted if anyone wanted to share web the address with anyone they thought might enjoy it. At the moment I’m more likely to be hit by a lump of the Mars Lander than I am to get even 100 supporters.

But above all: Happy 2019 and, once again,  thank you so much.

First pickings of 2019!

Of course it’s cheating because these are the winter pickings of last season’s sowings, but it was nice to be able to take these off on the first day of the new year.  We took the last of the beetroot partly because I was reconfiguring the patch it was growing in as a raised bed this morning, but also because the weather forecast is predicting some severe weather with temperatures some way below freezing. There’s even some suggestion that this winter might exceed last winter in severity, so we dug these and they’re cooked already.

The other green vegetable aside from the savoys which are doing well this year is the cima di rapa – turnip tops with a college education. We read about them in the late summer and sowed a few just to see what they were like.  The leaves, eaten raw,  are quite mild with just a hint of horseradish like heat.  They’re most often used in a pasta dish and are apparently much liked in Italy but sadly Anna del Conte, one of my favourite writers says she doesn’t like them at all.  Still, we mustn’t be slaves to fashion. It’s rermarkable that they’ve grown steadily through the diminishing days and are just coming into flower. Once they’ve done that they don’t last long before breaking into flower.

The other main job of the day was covering any growing crops with fleece to stop them from checking when the temperature goes down to -3 or -4C.

Last bit of civil engineering for 2018

IMG_4820Is there something about New Year’s Eve that compels us all to reflect back on the year? Two years ago we were at St Ives in the campervan, being rocked and battered by the remains of a huge Atlantic storm.  Then last year we were with friends in Shaftesbury.

Last night we were at a lively gathering of neighbours next door and consequently I woke up at the usual time feeling very sleep deprived and – shall we say? – a bit muzzy. Rather too much wine, I’m afraid, but three and a bit years after we moved here we’ve made friends with most of the people who live in the street on a long-term basis. Every year we have a fluctuating population of students and temporary residents and it can be hard to tell one group from the other when you first move.

I would love to be able to say that I’d finished all the raised beds by today, but it’s been a much bigger undertaking than we ever dreamed, and apart from the expense, much of the earlier layout and borders on the first allotment have needed to be replaced and repurposed in other places. It took two years on the waiting list for us to get a second adjoining plot and so all the original rotation plans had to be changed, and it’s taken a year to bring the second plot completely into a new design so we could then move back and redesign the first one.  The bed on the right of the photograph is the foundation for the new compost heaps from which we aim to produce a far greater quantity of compost during next year. There will be three bays each capable of holding approximately two cubic metres of material, and that’s a big ask because the existing setup is so full of brandling worms it simply eats up the waste, which means that the first bay will shring to less than 50% of its original volume.

As I write this I hear Madame calling from the snug where she sits holding her glass of milk stout. (I made all of that up).  “Where are you?” ; “Writing”, I reply.  “What are you writing about?” she asks.  “The new compost heap”. “Are you completely bonkers?” she says, “- who in the world is interested in the compost heap?”

Well, I’m not sure that I know who is interested, so passing on rapidly I can say that most of any achievements on the allotment are pretty small-fry compared with crossing the North Pole on a unicycle, but for allotmenteers life is marked by a good deal of hard work and the odd moment of unexpected joy.  ‘Though I felt pretty miserable when I woke up and reflected on the many occasions during last night when I could have refused a top-up; I also knew that if I didn’t get up to the allotment and at least try to do some work I would feel much worse. So that’s what I did and I felt better after a lot of earth moving and wheelbarrow pushing and if – and I mean if – if it all comes together then next season will go well, BUT whereof I cannot speak, thereof I must remain silent – to nick a phrase from Mr Wittgenstein…. and Madame nods approvingly.

But we’ve had a good year and grown things we’ve never grown before. The extra space meant we were able to grow some potatoes which will last a week or two longer, and tonight we baked a couple of them and among other things we enjoyed our own home made tomato ketchup in a lashed-up marie rose sauce.  Earlier in the day I snacked on the remains of the game terrine between slices of my own sourdough bread and anointed with last year’s piccallili.  It feels good to write that!  This day 12 months ago the seed potatoes had already arrived and we were worrying whether we should chit them straight away. This year we’ve bought them from a different supplier who promises to send them a month later. It turns out that life’s rich tapestry is woven from many tiny threads.

Have a great New Year.


Daily bread!

IMG_4819Here at the Potwell Inn I bake sourdough bread about three times a week during the winter when the timetable of starting the sponge first thing in the morning fits best of all with our timetable, although we might have to slow the final rise down a bit (24 hours later) if we need to be at the allotment early. That’s more of a problem in the summer when it’s warm all night, and so I bake a little less often. Regularly baking bread  soaks into the warp and weft of kitchen life and becomes much more than the sum of its parts.

Although dough thrives on a bit of neglect, it also demands attention to detail.  My recipe has evolved over the years since I first tried it, but it’s unforgiving of mistakes. On Christmas Eve I was in a rush and added a bit too much salt, for instance. Salt really inhibits the dough, and although the loaf was OK there was an undertone in the flavour that diminished its appeal. Getting the right hydration can cause problems too if you don’t pay attention.  Different flours take up different amounts of water and so you can only know if it’s right by the texture of the dough. All the books say the dough should be as soft as you can manage but if you try to make bread with a dough that’s just that bit too soft, when it comes out of the banneton it will flatten out like a cowpat. I try to adjust it so it’s just – but only just – sticking to the table but pulls off easily with the aid of a scraper. If it’s too easy to knead – ie too stiff – it will be easier to handle but it won’t be able to rise to its full glory. There are other tricks I play but that’s not really what I want to write about today.

Because there’s always something else going on. Ten minutes kneading can become a meditation, with the everyday mind quietened by the purposeful movements of the arms, hands and body.  I remember reading once that religiously inclined French people would make the sign of the cross over the new loaf before cutting it. For all the visits we’ve made to France – which is a determinedly atheist country for the most part – I’ve never once seen that action, but it stuck in my mind because it suggested that, religious or not, the new loaf should be treated with special respect because it provides so much of what we need. It feeds us in the process of baking and it feeds all equally in the eating. Flour, water, salt, and a little oil along with the ferment which is a kind of gift because you can’t make it, only accept it as a gift. If I can shamelessly steal a religious concept, baking bread is a sacramental activity because the loaf becomes:

The ‘outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace”.

Which, if you think about it could equally apply to any number of activities like growing an allotment, cooking, brewing beer, writing to a friend or even darning a torn sweater!  Did you know that the familiar phrase “daily bread” is the best that all the scholars have managed in 2000 years when they attempted to translate the little Greek word ‘epiousios’?  I like to drag it out of retirement in our weary culture and translate it as relating to the things we really need in order to flourish, bread being among them but also the almost spiritual practice of making it and sharing it with friends and loved ones. It’s being fully human, there on a plate in front of you.


Turnip wars at the Potwell Inn

IMG_4815For the most part Madame and me rub along pretty well – we wouldn’t have stayed together for all these decades if we didn’t – but on some matters we do not agree. When we first married there were the garlic wars, I remember. Madame liked garlic whereas I had been nurtured on the bitter doctrine that garlic was “foreign muck” by my mother. The convergence has taken more than five decades and now we eat and grow garlic in four or five varieties and provided I don’t think about it too much and screw up my face, I’ll even eat and enoy it raw. Isn’t it interesting how different things taste once you’ve screwed your face up and decided in advance of actually tasting it that you’re not going to like it?

But turnips are not part of either of our repertoires and I can’t really understand why Madame sowed them in the first place; but she did and, predictably, they turned out to be phenomenally vigorous and have ‘blessed’ us with a crop and an argument – well, perhaps argument is too strong a word, but however I’ve tried to introduce them to the table they’ve stayed – untouched – at the side. I wrote about this problem on November 1st, or- if you want to read that post- search tags for turnips.

But I had a bit  of an experience the first time (really!) I tasted them.  I’d casually thrown one golf ball sized turnip into the steamer and when I tasted it later it was a revelation. I need to explain that in my peculiar mind, flavours are a bit like music – more especially chords in music but occasionally it’s like one unexpected note in a phrase. There’s a fundamental note – let’s say D – and then there are the others stacked around it. And it’s the ‘others’ that introduce depth and complexity to the sound.  This is all beginning to sound unbearably foodie, I know, but hang in there in case something useful comes out at the end!

So my first turnip – or as Nigella might say – ‘the first time I kissed a turnip’ the thing I noticed most was that I didn’t particularly like the fundamental note but that there were other components of the flavour that blew my socks off. You can’t really describe the ‘taste’ of the umami flavour because it functions as a catalyst for all the others, but my little steamed turnip had that quality in abundance.  Here was a prophet without honour it its own country.  Since then I’ve tried a number of ways of cooking and presenting this new flavour to the determined turnip atheist at the Inn, but nothing has worked. Boiled, steamed, sautéed and roasted have all been met with a curl of the lip and a toss of the head.

IMG_4675I just bought a copy of the Noma book on fermentation and for a brief moment I thought my turnip trials might be over but the word does not appear in the index, and so I’m on my own except for this: I Googled the question and came across a fellow obsessive on the Minitab website under the title “How Statistics Got to the Root of My Turnip Problem” . Do look it up if your relationship is beseiged with turnip haters. As for me, I’ll try lacto-fermenting the little monsters.

On the other veg that are coming off the allotment at the moment we are as one.  Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, brussels sprouts, chard, beetroot and all the other joys of winter will probably see us through for another month and then we shall have to start buying some to supplement the thin pickings during the hungry gap.  Better planning for next season is needed. I love winter veg, and I’m not one of those allotmenteers that forsakes the site in September and doesn’t reappear until March. The Potwell Inn serves food the year round.

Meanwhile at the allotment we’ve had a few days of high pressure, meaning early fog clearing to occasional sunny interludes. We were up there a couple of days ago and we were able to work until 4.15 pm in daylight. It’s happening! – although it’s getting darker in the mornings still.  By Twelfth Night the days will be stretching at both ends and with luck and a trip to the sawmill I’ll get the raised beds completely finished, along with a new composting setup.  Then, I think, a bit of an adventure in the campervan beckons.

Stocktake reveals marmalade deficiency

IMG_4420It’s frosty and there’s a lingering mist over the city that suggests it’s going to be one of those bone-chilling days out there, so we’re not racing to get up to the allotment. As ever the post-Christmas fridge is stuffed with leftovers demanding attention and bits of overbuying are ticking away dangerously like timebombs. And that’s not all, because there are things – nameless things – in the storecupboard that should be thrown away.  Old and failed lactofermenting experiments like two of the three ways of preserving cucumbers should probably be given a respectful burial. Experiment number three, which was the least  – shall we say – purist, is the most successful by far and even gained the approval of our son’s Polish girlfriend, and so we’ll mark that recipe in Diana Hendry’s book on preserving. Sadly – much as I love Sandor Katz – the first version failed mainly on texture.  Cucumbers are prone to get rather slimy and soft in pickles, and when you add tough skin to the list of properties you can see that the poor unloved jar was going to lingeIMG_4249r in the cupboard to the end of time!  The second version was so salty you’d probably have to tell your doctor if you ate more than two. But then the upside of the clearout is that there are more 2 litre Kilner jars for sauerkraut and other experiments, and we’re trialing a new variety of pickling cucumber next season. We’ve yet to try the salted beans which were inspired by a remark in her biography by by Patience Gray’s son who said he actually preferred them to the fresh ones. I can hardly believe that’s possible but we’ve done a small batch anyway.

There’s one thing we’ve been waiting for January to make, and that’s marmalade.  We ran out in the spring because I mistakenly thought we’d got loads in a box in the garage. It turned out to be ten jars of rather aged plum chutney.  January is when the new crop of Seville oranges comes into the shops and I can hardly wait.  We did buy a jar of commercial marmalade but in the end we chucked it out after a few tries because it lacked bite.  Far too much sugar and low on fruit it was precisely what you get when you favour price over value.

IMG_0452The other thing that comes in January may not appear at all this year because cod stocks are always a bit fragile and the only kind to get is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. But since I was a child I’ve always loved fresh cod roe. Most of it goes for smoking to make taramasalata As you see, the fresh stuff’s a bit in your face and it’s a faff to prepare because it needs poaching before you can do anything with it. But I love it – possibly all the more because it only appears for a brief season and often not at all so there’s no prospect of ever getting bored with it. But I’m probably among a dwindling number of people who will buy it.  It’s almost certainly one of those dishes like feijoada that can only be fully loved by those who’ve eaten it from childhood. But next Saturday I shall go to the farmers’ market where I know there’s a fishmonger who will have it if there’s any about. Poached and then sliced, dipped in egg and flour and fried, it’s really lovely with the cheapest white bread you can get and some tomato ketchup. It’s like being six again.

Self-sufficiency? – not sure.

IMG_4517On Christmas Eve I dropped into Christmas mode again and by sheer force of habit by early evening I started to wonder what I wanted to say to my non-existent congregation.  I’d ended up cooking all day  – sourdough bread, morning rolls, gammon, lentil soup, sherry trifle (well it is Christmas), and a game terrine – the pheasants were a gift from an old friend. Madame timed shopping to the last minute and came home with a piece of beef at less than half price with some fish at 1/3 usual price.  It’s a high risk strategy but it works as long as you’re prepared to countenance a thin time for a couple of days. I love this time of year, when everyone makes an effort. Then Afelia for supper with two of the boys home with partners. In fact it turned into a multi-cultural celebration of Christmas Eve because after eating our family favourite Cypriot dish, our son’s Polish girlfriend brought a traditional Polish Christmas dish – pork, sausage, dried mushrooms and sauerkraut. It was delicious.  On Christmas Day we all gathered at son number two’s house with grandchildren and assorted friends for lunch.

But why the pig? We saw this fine animal in the woods at the Lost Gardens of Heligan and I instantly thought of one of my heroes – William Cobbett whose book “Cottage Economy” ought to be required reading for every child. His other book – “Rural Rides” is a wonderful and scabrous portrait of a countryside on the skids.  If you read it, bells will ring in your head, I promise.

This year on the allotment has been more productive than I can remember for years, but I worry a bit when people talk about self-sufficiency because I can’t see how we can claim all of the credit for the success of the season to ourselves.

you may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” (Deuteronomy 8:17)

That’s not a plug for any particular religion, by the way, but it’s a well expressed thought by an ancient writer who sees how dangerous the absence of humility can be.  If thoughts of self-sufficiency encourage anyone to separate themselves from their neighbours or to undervalue the gifts of health, weather and good fortune then it’s a dangerous philosophy. At best, I think, we can share thankfully in the generosity of an earth that’s beyond our understanding and upon which we are completely dependent. If gardening teaches anything it’s vulnerability and dependency. All the horrors of ecological catastophe stem from human pride, and from an extractive mindset that asumes the earth is there simply to obey our will. So no, I don’t care for the kind of “self sufficiency” that encourages foraging wild mushrooms to extinction and I don’t want to separate myself from the rest of humanity.  We’re all part of what Francis Schaeffer called the “glorious ruin” of our nature. So feasting is fine – the pig at the top is having a wonderful time – but the very essence of feasting is that we never deserve it, it is a gift that, like water becomes stagnant and dangerous if we try to dam it up and keep it to ourselves.

Orion’s dog nights

I can’t say that these days between the solstice and twelfth night are dog days because that description is reserved to the early weeks of August when everything is hot, sweaty and lethargic.  But the dog’s in there up to his shining teeth, on clear nights when you can see Orion’s belt and track to the left and there’s Sirius in all his shining brightness.

Orion was the first constellation I learned to identify for the entirely unworthy reason that my birthday being in December, my younger self took that as an invitation to party until term restarted in January – which meant that I spent a lot of excited and drunken nights wondering at the stars and what they might mean. Sirius was Orion’s hunting dog and so I feel bold to claim that these dog nights in December and January are the counterparts of their warm equivalents in summer; a time when not much work but a lot of wondering gets done.

However, work we must, whenever the weather clears for a few hours because when spring arrives in maybe three months, there will be no time for pondering and bed building. Neither will there be time to wonder what we should be growing and where the new compost bins need to go: we need to be ready.  We’ve more plants overwintering than ever this year, and today Madame planted out the last of the early broad beans while I got on with building another path and the base for the compost bins.  The first batch we planted last week have almost doubled in size already.  They’re Aquadulce Claudia so they’re perfectly capable of surviving the winter, and when we took them out of the greenhouse the roots were searching beyond the ends of the long Root-Trainers so they were more than ready to go. The peas too (Douce Provence) are doing well under their protective fleece, and the garlic, shallots and onions are well away, although it’s winter now. The allotment feels positive – as if it’s having a good time too.

I’m loathe to use any growing space for what might be thought of as a utility area, but I’ve become more conviced than ever that we need to up our game and we finally decided on three 4’X4′ bays in the middle of the plot and with a wide path beside it. We’ll treat compost just like any other crop and give it the best conditions and constituents we can so that our production will increase to meet our demand – less buying in and expense all round.

We also moved a rhubarb plant and two fennels that suddenly seemed as if they were in the wrong place.  This is a great time of the year for moving the furniture around – a couple of weeks ago we moved another rhubarb (Timperly early) and it’s already rewarded us with some new buds.

But these short days still feel like a holiday.  The seeds have all arrived, the heated propagators are cleaned and ready to go with the earliest sowings of chillies and with working time so limited we also need to take stock, take a big breath and prepare for next season. There’s much to celebrate and we’ve learned so much this season.  Every garden or allotment we’ve ever grown has had its own personality.  There are things it does easily and others it needs help with. Soil is as various as the people that till it, and our relationship with it grows and deepens like our relationship with each other.  On days like today the Potwell Inn merges imperceptibly with our real everyday lives and it feels good. The earth is very forgiving.


What a difference in a year. The before and after shots are the second of the half-allotments. We took this one on in October 2017 and since then it’s been completely revamped and has given us excellent crops this season. If you look carefully you can see next year’s onions, shallots and garlic sending down their roots.

But today is the winter solstice and it has always brought out the pagan in me. It has seemed to me since I was very young that this still point – which will happen at 22.23 today when the north pole reaches its furthest tilt away from the sun and then begins to tilt back again is the true turning point of the year.  I don’t want to go into all the whys and wherefores of the Christian calendar, the Gregorian reformed calendar or, for that matter the argument as to whether Christmas or New Year is the more important. So far as i’m concerned as a gardener, this is a fundamental moment. Between the solstice and Twelfth Night comes the natural rest in the horticultural and agricultural year. Yesterday I talked a bit about Wassail, but in my old parishes we also celebrated Plough Monday when the local Young Farmers would carry an old Ransomes plough into Elberton church where I would bless the plough and the seed for the new season. As an aside I should say that the last time I tried to beg a bit of maize seed off a local farmer for the ceremony, she warned me not to touch it because it was treated with a systemic insecticide.  It certainly was, it was bright blue and looked (probably was) thoroughly dangerous and in its small way part of the reason for the destruction of the insects and bees. But there we are  – perhaps I should have nagged but they were good people whose farming practices were being deformed by the pressure to put profit before anything else.  Not many of their critics would have been happy to work the hours that they did for such small reward.

But back at the Potwell Inn we’re completely organic and today we shall be celebrating the solstice with our own roast potatoes, carrots, squashes, parsnips and brussels sprouts along with a piece of slow roasted beef and a glass of wine. Slow roasting is the most brilliant way of making the cheapest cuts taste wonderful.

This morning I was up way before dawn to finish off a sourdough loaf that had been proving all night.  Then a quick sprint to the sorting office to collect a delivery of seeds and then a couple of hours up at the allotment. The outbreathing of the earth is almost over and tonight the great inbreathing begins again. Strength light and hope to everyone who reads this.

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