Growing up a storm

What food did you grow, or attempt to grow, so far this year?

I have grown:

  • Strawberries
  • Tomato
  • Peas
  • Runner Beans
  • Chillies
  • Carrots
  • Peppers

I have been quite successful so far this year, though the start of my growing season was pretty shaky. This has been my first proper attempt at trying to grow some of my own food. Some of the plants I have listed are still to yield any produce, some of them have surpassed anything that I could have wished for and some I’m not sure will yield at all.

So the big hitters for me so far have been the peas and the runner beans. The peas produced almost a kg, I had no problems with these and I’ll be growing more plants next years I was really happy with the yield and they taste delightful, so sweet.

The runner beans have gone native, the season started late and being inexperienced I planted the younglings out whilst it was still a bit too cold. The leaves kept getting blown off and at one point most of the plants only had one leaf. I persevered and now they’re really coming through. Off the seven plants I have I’m getting enough yield to feed four people for two meals a week. The plants still produce and are going strong. I reckon they’ll keep going until mid September. Again I’ve been very happy with these and will plant the same number again next year.

My carrots grew really well, I’d never had a carrot fresh out of the ground, all I can say is wow. The flavour was so, intense! I didn’t grow very many of these this year. I probably had about 30 carrots all mature at about the same time, I wasn’t sure if I still had enough time left in the season to grow more so I transplanted some chilli and pepper plants into their place. Next year I’ll grow more, start a little earlier and try and spread the yield out over the season. I didn’t have any problems with pests either. I guess that’s because they were grown in a planter, about three feet off the ground.

My tomato plants have a lot of fruit on now, all in varying stages of growth. I think that some of the fruit shall ripen in short order, however I think my lack of any kind of warm shelter for them has limited the yield. Next year I’ll attempt to get a small green house to grow them on a little earlier and hopefully allow them to flourish. I also had a similar issue at the start of the season as I did with the runner beans, the cold really affected them.

Chilli and peppers are just starting to come on. I have a few decent sized chillies and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on them. I’m going to attempt to pickle them as I love pickled foods. The peppers are flowering but as of now I have no fruits on them. I think this is possibly an issue with needing to keep them a bit warmer, a’la the tomato plants, again I’ll try again next year and place them in the green house.

Strawberries were a good producer this year, though it was a short window. About two weeks of fruits. Short and quite literally sweet. They were heavenly. I will be keeping them in next year.

On the whole the summer season has been good. I shall be tidying up some other areas of the growing patch so that I can make space for more plants. I’d quite like to grow some other veg, purple sprouting broccoli and maybe some asparagus. I also need to start planning out what will be going in over winter. Garlic will be in for sure. If any readers have suggestions of low maintenance veg that will produce during the winter month, please let me know.

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Operation E-book (Progress 3)

Unfortunately this past week hasn’t allowed me to spend much time writing. I started the week off well, working new ideas in, editing and rewriting scenes in an attempt to  create better flow. I also felt that a lot of what had been written previously had no grounding in the environment it was being played out it so I spent a little time rectifying that.

On the whole, the time I did spend writing, I felt was productive. Spending time to realise and act on my issues with what I had written previously, in my opinion, was time well spent. Now that I have a proper plot laid down, with character profiles, I’m more confident in achieving something people may enjoy actually reading.

So as I said, I didn’t get in nearly as much writing time this week and that was down to some other good news. I have been promoted in my day job! It was a little out of the blue and took me by surprise. So I spent most of the week in a daze and celebrating a little. The promotion will allow me to cut down a on my overtime and will allow me to dedicate some of those overtime hours to writing.

The week ahead I’ll be focussing on getting the first chapter outlined and then the following week I’ll spend editing and begin on the opening to the second chapter. I think the Christmas deadline is still realistic so that isn’t changing.

Cheers

Operation E-Book (Progress 2)

So this is the second e-book progress post as a follow on from Operation E-Book (Progress 1). Unfortunately I haven’t had much time to spend on my writing this week, which is a bit of a shame. I have been having more ideas that I think would work well though, so I’ve been noting them down to see if I can work them in.

Now, the time I have actually spent on my E-book hasn’t seen me progress in real terms. I have fallen foul of the three P’s. (Piss Poor Planning). I read through the first two chapters I had written and lets just say I wasn’t really feeling it. I mentioned in my previous post that I thought I needed to plan out a little more where I wanted the narrative to go and how I wanted the characters to be presented. Unfortunately I didn’t spend any time doing so. This led to two chapters of; in my opinion; extremely mediocre writing.

So I’ve gone back to the drawing board. I’m planning out a clear narrative, fleshing out character profiles and working on my introductions of locations to give a clearer and hopefully a more immersive read.

I hope to have some better progress news for you all next week. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time though. I see this week as laying the foundations to a better story.

My Debt Reduction Plan

I’ve been meaning to write a follow up post to my debt emergency for a while now. Well ever since I published that blog post. I want to talk about how I planned and put into action my debt reduction plan.

I feel like I know myself well; that’s probably the most important thing when creating something that you’re going to need to be able to stick to, because you need to create a plan that will keep you hooked and motivated. I know that if I can’t see some kind of progress towards a goal then I’ll get demoralised pretty quickly. For me that’s when I’m most likely to quit; or put that particular goal on the back burner. So my plan needed to have a way of me being able to measure my progress. It didn’t have to be some highly statistical spreadsheet but I needed something simple.

I needed to consider the duration of pay down. It was interesting trying to work this out as around this same time I was reducing outgoings as much as possible, so I was finding that I had more money in my account than I was used to. I eventually worked out that it’d take me about 8-9 months at a steady pace, leaving me enough room to save and also spend some money. Again I was much more likely to stick to a plan that didn’t hugely restrict my life.

So that was the overview. I’ll now explain in a little more detail how I put my plan into action. Firstly I gathered up all of my account statements. Bank accounts, credit cards, finance agreements; they all came out of the woodwork. I then set about calculating the total amount of outstanding debt I had. This stage required some more legwork though, as I had to ring up some of the finance companies to get the up to date balances owed.

The next step was the easy part, adding all those balances, overdrafts and finance agreements up. That done, I moved onto planning a strategy that would pay off the debt. It had to fit into the time frame I had in mind and allow me to clearly track the progress I was making. I decided to go for a strategy of putting a little money towards each debt each month.

Now I know that this isn’t mathematically the most efficient way of killing debt. However the critical point for me was to just see each debt reducing, this would improve the likelihood of me seeing the plan through to the end. With my plan in mind I created myself a simple spread sheet in Google Drive. If you’re interested here is the link to my Debt Reduction Forecast [1]. It did just what I needed,  I could see at a glance how much I was chipping away each month. I was then able to play with the payment figures to have the debt gone in the time frame I specified.

I also started looking into replacing my credit card with a 0% interest card. I did eventually do this, making sure that the balance transfer fee would not exceed the amount of interest I was to pay if I stuck to my current situation. Doing this helped cut expenses even more by reducing the cost of servicing the debt.

Finally I created a small chart that would then show me my debt reducing; my savings increasing; and finally my net worth growing. This was probably the best thing I could have done as it allowed me to see specifically, the point at which I would enter positive net worth territory.

If you have a debt emergency and you want to tackle it you need to tailor a plan that takes into account your character. This is going to give you a high chance of success because you’ll hopefully build into it things that will keep you moving towards the goal of being debt free. I still have a couple months left but I’ve already crossed the threshold of negative net worth to positive.

I wish you all good fortune in getting free of your debt chains.

[1] Unfortunately it’s not the original as I ended up making some changes as I went a bit crazy at one point and made it a bit confusing.

Operation E-Book (Progress 1)

So this is my first follow up to the post I made regarding my humble attempt at publishing my first ever E-Book. You’ll be pleased to hear that the writing is actually going well. I’ve written about 6000 words already and the ideas are coming thick and fast.

It hasn’t really been too difficult to keep up the momentum and I’ve spent a few nights now getting my ideas down. I do feel like I need to plan out in a little more detail what I want to achieve with the characters and where I want the story to go. A couple of times now I’ve meandered off in a direction that came to a juddering stop.

I also forgot just how difficult it is to write creatively. It’s hard to not get tunnel vision whilst writing. A few times I’ve read content I’d written and realised that I had been very repetitive. It’s also difficult writing dialogue to express a characters feelings. I’m making a mental note though of each and every one of these mini challenges and I’m consciously trying to improve them. I’m also ploughing on with the knowledge that I can do this if I put my mind to it and that the more I practice my general and creative writing, the more I shall improve.

I’m enjoying this so much now that I’m considering ditching my original idea of a series of short stories and going for a series of full length books. The downside to ditching the short story series is that it takes much longer to get a “product” to market. This then extends the feedback loop which I feel is going to be really important and another facet of improving my writing.

So far I haven’t really considered the technicalities of actually publishing the E-Book or pricing. The latter point is something that I’ll be wanting to get right, as eventually I would like to receive a small amount of passive income off of them. I’ll begin researching this more as I come closer to completing part of the series. I’m going to set myself a target of getting the first story out by Christmas. So four more months. If you enjoy post apocalyptic, zombie survival stories then keep checking back for more updates. I may start posting snippets for your perusal.

Cheers people. Keep on reading.

P.S If anyone would like to be a huge help and proof read when it’s at a publishable stage that would be awesome.

The Beauty of Biking.

A mountain bike

My local transport option

Get physically and financially fit with a bike. Pre MMM I used my car to go everywhere, I had a clown like car habit. In a busy month I could spend up to £120 on petrol alone. On top of that there is also the cost of insurance, maintenance etc. I was astonished when I worked out a normal month of petrol usage wasn’t any less than £80. I was literally burning money and all because I never considered the cost of what I was doing.

When I did get round to considering what I was doing, pretty much as soon as I read this other awesome post by MMM, I bought a bike. You can see it above, it’s pretty. I didn’t buy a second hand bike, it was new, but it does get a lot of usage and it’s something I’ll be using for years to come so I thought it best to get something of good quality.

When the bike arrived in the dark, cold depths of winter, the first thing I did was start to cycle the 14 miles round trip to work. In the snow, the rain and the gale force winds, over the Humber Bridge. I’m not going to lie I felt pretty hardcore but I knew if I could keep it up through the horrendous weather I would have no excuse during the finer weather. Doing this 2-3 times a week I shaved off about 170 miles of car driving a month and it kick started quite a bit of weight loss and the development of some pretty bad ass thighs. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it my workplace moved closer to home so now I only have a two mile round trip not quite as hardcore but short trips are even worse for car driving, so I quit the car shopping trips.

A rucksack

My shopping bag

I stopped using my car locally for trips to Aldi and Lidl, these were technically some of the most expensive trips as they are very short distances, 6 miles maximum round trip, never giving the engine a chance to heat up. This meant I had to come up with a way of carrying my shopping. Most people use panniers but I had a big rucksack that I used for backpacking in Europe. It was perfect. Plenty of space to carry bulky items and it’s padded and comfortable.

So since incorporating more cycling into my daily errands and commuting I rarely spend more than £40 a month on petrol. Even on busy months. Where I might have done 600 miles a month I now do no more than 320. I also changed my driving style and began experimenting with hyper miling but that’s a different post. I have lost weight, saved money and recently the reduced mileage I now do has cut my insurance premium by 50%.

I would also say I now have a much better understanding of my local area and I can get most places locally on my bike in about the same time I used to get there in my car. Another upshot, you get to learn and appreciate how diverse a place you live in, when you actually get out in it.

Can you afford not to bike? I don’t think I can now I’ve seen the benefits.

Caramelised Onions

onions

These bad boys are packed full of flavour…. Get some.

So I don’t like throwing food away. If I can use something up, I will. I’m going to share with you all an amazing, flavour packed way of transforming some onions that might be on the turn.

This isn’t a measured recipe, because, well I just did whatever but the general gist of the recipe is this.

Ingredients

  • Some onions that are getting on a bit
  • Olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Peel your onions (I did about six medium onions)
  2. Slice your onions
  3. Put just a splash of olive oil in a frying pan on a low heat. You don’t really want to fry the onions. You want them to be dry enough to caramelise the natural sugars and the brown sugar you may add. To much oil wont allow that to happen.
  4. Chuck all your onions into the pan, add the salt and brown sugar (I added 2 pinches of rock salt and half a tsp on brown sugar)
  5. Leave the onions for about 10 minutes to soften up
  6. When the onions start sticking to the pan give them a stir, you don’t want them to burn but you need them to start browning (caramelising)
  7. Keep allowing them to stick, stir em, rinse and repeat for about 25 minutes. You can do this for longer but I was happy with the sweetness at this point.
  8. Eat em.

You’ve just turned something that might have gone into the bin, into flavour packed strands of sweetness. You’re probably asking yourself though. What do I do with them now?

Well. Because I’m trying to be a frugal god I started making lunches at home to take to work, it saves so much money and I can actually control more easily the stuff I put into my body. Making lunches raises some issues though because I really enjoy food and I hate when it gets repetitive. When it gets repetitive that’s when I’m most likely to fall off the wagon and nip to the supermarket to buy an expensive sandwich. I found that if I switch flavours up it makes lunch something to really look forward to and keeps it interesting.

I’ve made some epic (even if I do say so myself) sandwiches out of my home made bread but it’s sometimes a struggle to make something appealing, that doesn’t use extortionately priced ingredients, for example it could cost you almost £2 for a small jar of the bad boys we just made! The caramelised onions are going to be just the ticket to pack tons of flavour into my sandwiches this week and all for the cost of around 45 pence. I’ve already used some on sausage sandwiches for a Sunday breakfast and I have enough for two decent sandwiches.

If you have any simple recipes like this, that add a whole new dimension to something so basic, let me know. I’d love to know how you use up your leftovers.