I absolutely adore working with stone. Dry stone. As in dry stone walling or stone stacking (most definitely not the same thing, see below!) I thought, in my naivety, that I was a rookie stone balancer but after speaking with the renowned stone balancer Andy Gray, he told me that I was a stone stacker; I shall aspire to balance stones then!
I used to keep my love of working with dry stone a secret until I confessed to a ‘city’ friend a few years ago. She then took great delight in outing me and my secret and I ‘came out’ as a wanna-be dry stone waller.
Funny old thing, life. How something so abstract as stacking stones, be it in a small sculptural way or to create a dry stone wall, can totally draw you in and totally absorb you. It is called a ‘passion’, and is most definitely a passion of mine. As a kid, whilst Dad was building one of the many retaining stone walls at home, me and my brother would create small scale walls alongside him. My brother recalls pinching some of dad’s compo for his but mine were always of dry stone. Both were always knocked down in the evenings – and we would then build again the next day! Try explaining that to the ‘yoof of today!’
I have gone on to repair many a dry stone wall at home and for clients and I have even had a bit of proper tuition with two of the finest dry stone-wallers in Wales. Both are exceptional characters and rather ‘self-contained’, as you would expect someone who prefers the company of a flask of tea and a mountain top to coffee shops and crowds. And I noticed very early on, that a dry sense of humour seems to go hand in hand with the best dry stone wallers.
On my first meeting with Ken, I explained that as well as wanting to learn more about dry stone walling, I also adored stacking stones. He stared out of the rain-lashed Land Rover windscreen and said dryly, “I will teach you to build a wall, but if you want to stack stones, best you b**gar off now.”
And on that note – if you would like to learn more about the ‘addictive skill’, you can join Ken for a 2 day course with Kate Humble at her Rural Skills and Smallholding School in September www.humblebynature.com/courses-humble-by-nature/rural-skills-courses/dry-stone-walling-2-day-fundamentals
And to find out more about Stuart, who also runs courses and gives the most entertaining and informative talks, visit www.welshwaller.wordpress.com/about/
Freezer Jolly Good Jam
I have never been a good jam maker – I don’t have the patience, so I was intrigued to learn about ‘Freezer jam’. Freezer jams require no cooking, the fruit is simply crushed with sugar, lemon juice and Certo (Certo is made from the skins of pressed apples or citrus fruit which are natural sources of pectin, a soluble fibre that works as a natural gelling agent. Certo is the only liquid form of pectin and helps jam makers achieve dependable results every time, helping achieve a consistent set.) The jam is then left to set and popped into the freezer, where it will keep for a year. To use, defrost and store for not more than 3 weeks in the fridge.
You will need:
- 1 1⁄4 lb (600g) Blackberries
- 2 lb (900g) Caster Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) Lemon Juice
- 1⁄2 bottle Certo (available from supermarkets or online)
Crush the blackberries, put in a bowl with the sugar and stir thoroughly. Allow to stand in a warm kitchen for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Add the Certo and stir for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and continue to stir for 2 minutes. Then just ladle into small containers, and cover securely. Leave to stand in a warm place for 48 hours and then freeze.
Don’t forget that you can also freeze the blackberries whole, and use them, still frozen, to make healthy smoothies.
With the growing interest in edible flowers, it is very important to be specific with the name. Although garden peas, (Pisum sativum) such as English peas, edible podded peas and snow peas are edible, sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are poisonous – especially the flowers and seeds. I was surprised to find out that not many people knew that at a talk I gave recently.
My brother has grown some beautiful sweet peas in his front yard this year – it’s the ideal place to grow them as he gets the benefit every time he goes in or out of the house! (See photo).
I think he has inherited my Granddad’s ability to grow them; Nan always used to have vases of them around the house at this time of year. It has to be one of the most fabulous scents ever.
Top tips for super sweet peas include:
- Nick the seed coat of sweet pea by rolling on rough grit sandpaper for faster germination.
- Rotate your planting areas so sweet peas are only grown in the same space once every four years and do not grow in the same place where other legumes have been grown recently.
- Sow 1″ deep in rich, moist, fertile, and well-drained soil.
- Most varieties will require some support.
- Sweet peas do best in sunny spots with late afternoon shade and good air circulation.
- Keep roots cool by mulching and water regularly during the summer.
- Keep picking flowers to encourage continuous blooming. This is easy, as everyone loves receiving a bunch of sweet peas!