Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

travel, interiors, photography, home, crafts, personal style

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14 Oct 2021

Song Of Seasons Autumn Styling and Gifts

Welcome Autumn with all your warm brown and russet tones which I've been incorporating into my studio setting for our Song of Seasons prizes this month. I've styled them up with a newly painted and sponged wall using Annie Sloan paints to create the background and foraged for ferns in the forest to bring a woodland theme indoors.  

There will be several good books coming your way over the next few months and two of them from our good Instagram friends Circle Of Pines and Hill House Vintage.  Pictured here is the romantic, slow living book "Little Stories of Your Life" written and photographed by  Laura Pashby from Circle of Pines, lots of beautiful whimsical nature shots and words about story telling and creativity. I will feature Paula Sutton's book soon, which is a perfect coffee table fun book with lots of styling, recipes and glamour. 

A real favourite for us at Song of Seasons are the candles from The Smallest Light, who for autumn have a few seasonal smelling candles and room fragrances like this one called Falls Gold. Cinammon, clove and vetiver create this cozy soft warming scented candle and you can get a subscription from them too so that you always have a scented candle delivered to your door to suit the changes in nature.   

You may well wonder why I'm all dressed up sipping cocktails in an evening dress, well it's because Ostens Official perfumiers are inspiring us to 'return to glamour' with their Impression Cedarwood Heart perfume, taking the transition from the summer Jasmine to the wooded notes of patchouli and moss this is reminiscent of a bygone age. There's a full review of this in my previous blog post and if you want to try a few of their exquisite blends then how about trying a mini library of testers, a great stocking gift too. Their perfumes really are of the highest quality and a perfect luxury gift for a loved one. 

Ellie Warburton cakes sent us two free sample boxes of their new range of fresh cakes delivered to your door and they will also send out a box of four cakes to one lucky winner. I've styled them here with the reversible napkins made in William Morris fabric by 'Winifred J'who will be adding these and Christmas stockings to her shop soon and also letting us have one for a prize on Song of Seasons for December. 

Cosy autumn days wouldn't be the same without a snuggly pair of wool or alpaca socks that are hand dyed by Jules Hogan Knitwear in natural botanical shades of subtle muted tones. Jules also makes stunning wraps and ponchettas to complete your winter style. These socks are perfect for keeping your toes warm around the house or teamed up with boots.

Our November to December prize list is growing longer every day, and we hope to make it double as a gift guide too as all these products can be bought directly from the makers or good book shops. We have a candle holder, scarf, book, Jigsaw, Soap, Christmas card set and Christmas stocking. All from our favourite accounts and makers on instagram. More to follow on that soon and over on the gram. 

Please join us with your photos of Autumn over on instagram by tagging us #songofseasons - theres more information on our dedicated account about how to enter and make us aware of your interest in winning a prize.  All the best Janice 


13 Sept 2021

Favourite Small Makers - Beauty and Candles

Continuing with the theme of scent I thought I would recommend two tried and tested favourite small businesses that I personally always have in my home, smell divine and are also sponsors of gifts on our Song of Seasons hashtag prize.

First up is Magic Organic Apothecary, I first discovered the Fortifying Green Bath Potion when a bottle was included in a goodie bag at an event. I was hooked from the second I put it in a bath. The scents from this bath oil waft around the whole house when you add this to hot running water and my personal reason for loving it is that it really helps to alleviate headaches (especially sinus pain) as it's designed to relieve aches and pains.

With decongesting, refreshing peppermint, detoxifying fennel, purifying fir needle, calming yarrow and sweet birch to help tone and ease achy muscles. Once immersed in the water, relax, breathe in and let the organic essential oils clear the airways and lift your mood.

I promise you I'm not being paid to say this, when not receiving a bottle as a PR package I have bought it for myself over and over again for years now.

Charlie who founded the MOA brand decided to make something for her child's eczema using only natural products, mostly they feature yarrow and other herbs but the newest product is a face serum based on  a night flowering cactus, rich in anti-oxidants, to help restore the skin’s natural moisture content. Aloe vera, harked as the plant of immortality by ancient civilisations leaves the skin full of vitality.

Easily absorbed Prickly Pear Seed Oil contains supremely high levels of anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids to deeply calm and nourish, whilst Evening Primrose and Avocado Oil help to promote soft supple skin.

It is of course Vegan and cruelty free, the night serum Queen of the Night smells lovely and is a highly relaxing essential for your night time routine. 

Second up is Smallest Light candle maker these are hand poured in Wales by Laura and also contain only natural and essential oils. I think we've all tried perfumed candles that end up not smelling of anything after the first burn or smelling like some cheap toilet cleaner instead of soothing and calming your mood.  We received a candle from Laura for our Song of Seasons summer hashtag as her candles change with the seasons to suit the time of year so this fitted perfectly with our seasonal natural theme. 

The Autumn candle is called Falls Gold, and The Smallest Light have a few ways to buy your seasonal products so please do have a look at their website. The Falls Gold candle is a blend of Cinnamon, Vetiver and Clove, a soy wax candle (and that's important), as soy is so much better at carrying the scents of essential oils. My research shows that Soy candles are non-toxic since they are made of vegetable oil, produce negligible amounts of soot, and release no known carcinogens into the air. Compared to paraffin candles, soy wax candles are much healthier for humans, pets, and the environment.

As mentioned before, both these are being gifted through our Song of Seasons hashtag so hop over there on instagram and join along with your seasonal photos of nature changing where you are. We endeavour to find really top quality products and hope that these two examples show the difference between a genuinely small made business rather than someone sticking their label on a cheap import.

I hope you like my photos of these two great products and if anyone would like me to photograph for them in a similar manner please do get in touch for a chat about what I could do to fit your budget.  

The background wall in these photos is painted by myself using Annie Sloan chalk paint. One of the walls is a sponge effect using tester pots of Coco, Honfleur, Primer Red and white, and the top photos are blends of colours with Olive green. 


4 Aug 2021

Inspired by Perfume with Ostens

Summer Breeze makes me feel fine, blowing through the Jasmine in my mind...... That beautiful atmospheric song by the Isley Brothers has long been a favourite of mine, often appearing on my summer playlists of perfectly evocative music for the season and like this song, I find that certain perfumes also bring back memories from throughout my life. It's a scientific fact that smell reaches the brain more directly, going straight to the area responsible for memory and I think it's a much neglected area of our mental wellbeing. 

Impossible to photograph or touch, aroma has to be the most magical of all our senses, it appears to exist only in our imaginations and minds, yet the alchemy of making a real perfume is still as authentic as it was when the silk road brought the exotic East to the rest of the world.

My photos this month are being influenced by fragrances, a project that has been sparked and fuelled by a collection of fine Eau de Parfum's from a company I haven't explored before called Ostens who have gifted me these products. I'm always looking for different things to inspire my photos and I've never done a series inspired by smell before. 

We begin with their Impression Jasmine Absolute as it's our prize on 'Song of Seasons'this month. I loved this fragrance immediately, and was pleasantly surprised to be honest. I say that because normally I would gravitate to anything with Patchouli, If I had only read the ingredients I probably would have opted for a different one,  but I'm glad I tried this as it's incredibly uplifting and it really has converted me to the fragrance of Jasmine. I expect the excellence of the perfumer responsible for such an interesting blend has had a lot to do with this sophisticated take on a well known flower. Not cloying or sickly, this has Pepper and Violet Leaves with a hint of Gardenia in the top notes.    

They use a light Egyptian Jasmine and I could detect the Ylang Ylang notes on first smell, with other elements like Peach and Sandalwood keeping it grounded and mellow, these lower notes developing over time.  I was immediately transported back to a Maharaja's palace in India where I stayed with my father on one of our Indian holidays. One evening we came down to dinner and the cooling evening air blew a breeze along the old corridors taking with it the scent of flowers that were in vases on the side tables. It was then I first discovered tuber rose and ylang ylang's heady scents, I could have stopped in my tracks standing still smelling that air for hours, a memory purely triggered by smell alone.  

More than any other sense, the authentic aromas of different countries will always be the most memorable things to recreate your first and lasting impressions of places visited. Have you ever noticed when the doors to the airplane open on the tarmac, the smell of a hot climate, the air so different from that you left behind. The aroma of a Moroccan market place with piles of spices, of an Egyptian Souk with it's perfume shops full of Gardenia and Amber oils. The ozone smell of a seashore, a French lavender field, a pine forest or a Spanish orange grove in blossom, just close your eyes and these scents can take you straight back.

I have a strong affiliation with Egypt as my father worked there for several years and would bring me back different souvenirs over the decades, little delicate perfume bottles still decorate my bathroom, collections of tribal jewellery set with semi precious stones and incense burners and intricately etched Persian silver vases and boxes on display around the house to remember him by.

The Egyptian Jasmine combined with the other notes in this Ostens blend, reminds me of happy times travelling with my father throughout my life.  It takes me to English gardens with fragrant archways, a shop with Sandalwood carved boxes and bottles of oils. 

Impression Jasmine Absolute really is a mood lifter, calming, fresh and exotic all at the same time. This is summer in a bottle, somewhere warm and relaxed, exciting and sensual. They have used a Jasminum Grandiflora from Egypt as it is known for its fresh, natural scent versus the Jasmine Sambac from India which is much headier. 

The collection from Ostens has a wide and complex range of fragrances combined with each base scent. 

Growing up in the sixties and seventies you couldn't get away from the smell of Patchouli.  Often dark and sticky, no self respecting hippie would be without it, permeating into your cheesecloth shirt and afghan coat. No other scent says my youth more than this. I love that Ostens have taken this as a base for two of their perfumes for those who like a heavier, heady aroma, with memories of incense filled rooms they have made this a sophisticated earthy scent, a very grown up version of a teenage favourite. There are two Impression Patchouli Heart blends, the second being reminiscent of churches and slightly darker in tone and spicier than the number one version which has more lavender floral notes. 

I couldn't really tell you what I thought Impression Cashmeran Velvet would smell like but my first reaction was a really good mellow Sandalwood, and as it develops an incredibly warm Vanilla. It's a restful but sexy little number, with wood notes that are perfect for men and women, although I can quite easily see my husband dipping into any of the Ostens range with glee, and with a slight patchouli undertone I think the old kaftan wearing hippie in him would really love this perfume. So I asked the good people at Ostens and learned that Cashmeran Velvet is a trademark fragrance from the raw materials supplier LMR Naturals /IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances)a fantasy ingredient that doesn't come from a tree or root but is a synthetic 'blonde wood' perfume combining musk, spice and powdery smells. The perfumer has taken these fantasy fragrances and combined with natural essences, yet despite the many different elements, one can still detect singular scents coming through.  

I soon started to realise that perfume is a science, there's an alchemy in the way that one smell expands and changes another and is probably a more complex art that one I can explain or understand but like any other product you may use, the quality of the ingredients is absolutely key to why it is so good. 

There's a few things to know about Ostens and in discovering how the company was formed you can also learn about the history of perfume making, the extraction of essences and the purity of products that are ethically sourced. With a starting point of using the IFF for sustainable raw ingredients and synthetic replacements of animal products like ambergris, the IFF company has over its long history of previous incarnations, investigated into mood, the distillation of essential oils and aroma science. The purity of the ingredients also means that these are smells that stay and develop even with the tiniest amount.

With each fragrance you get a small bottle of the 9ml Preparation oil of pure Egyptian Jasmine, and for clarity the perfumes don't have fancy names but literally do what they say on the bottle. The small bottle of single ingredient oil can be worn on it's own or under the Eau de Parfume and it explains the starting point that the perfumer worked on to develop the blend. This is such a great idea, it makes the whole process so much more interesting. 

Just when you think you've found your favourite Ostens scent, bang, suddenly you are in love with another, the Impression Cedarwood Heart was a total shock. Assuming from its name and woody contents, I thought this would be a man's classic, however, it has some really interesting top notes, and if I told you that Galbanum is a persian gum resin and Oris a fragrant Iris root, then you are getting close to where this can take you to. Maybe a cool room at Raffles hotel, with leather club chairs, polished wood and a faint smell of tobacco, stirred up by glamorous ladies with freshly powdered noses. I can see why Ostens describe it as nostalgic.  

Rose Oil Isparta should not be written off as an older ladies english garden, it's far from that. The rose is Turkish in nature, a middle-eastern interpretation is how it is described and definitely how it smells. Tunisian Rosemary mixes with blackcurrant and Ceylon Cardamon for a really interesting twist on a classic. If you know someone who loves rose scented products then this is for them, it's soapy and clean while warm and earthy and the scent develops on the skin in many interesting ways. I have many girlfriends who I would happily gift this to but then again, I might want to keep it for myself. 

These exquisite fragrances have got me thinking about the perfume industry in a way I hadn't considered before. Often thought of as a purely luxury item, it isn't until you fall in love with perfume that you see it as part of your identity, your heritage, your history. I for one have certainly neglected this area of late, my world being dominated with the smell of hospitals largely, my self care being consumed with more life threatening thoughts, I had forgotten how scent can lift your mood, build your confidence, remind you of yourself at other times. While we could probably live without it, smell is an important part of food and taste and creating our image as much as makeup and hair dye. It can make a home smell welcoming or hostile, it works with mood so intrinsically. 

The starting point for developing the Ostens range began exactly as it should have with a visit to Grasse in France - the world capital of perfume, and the company LMR Naturals, who responsibly source the best quality sustainable raw ingredients. 

I had previously learned of Grasse through two fictional books about Perfume both of which are favourites even if slightly sinister in story, both 'Perfume' and 'Jitterbug Perfume' place aroma in a life altering place of importance, these cult classics do not underestimate aroma as a life force. I wish Jitterbug was on audible, I must revisit that as I still have a few old copies of it lying around. 

Grasse in France is on my bucket list of places to visit, and in August, rather appropriately, there is a Jasmine festival, The Fete de Jasmin or La Jasminade is the 3-4th August and decorated floats drive through town with women throwing flowers into the crowd. Garlands of Jasmine decorate the town and even the fire department sprays the crowd with jasmine water. In May they have an international exhibition of Roses and this area of France, has the perfect climate for flower growing making it the centre of the perfume industry since the end of the 18th century. 

Jasmine is a key ingredient of many perfumes, and like many essential oils, it was brought to Southern France by the Moors in the 16th century. Today 27 tonnes of jasmine are now harvested in Grasse, so it stands to reason that one of the signature perfumes from Ostens is Impression Jasmine Absolute, designed for those of us yet to visit the town during the festival maybe.  

For the full range and all the information please go to https://ostens.com 
If you get the tester discovery set there is a discount on your final purchase and I thought it interesting to note that the prices vary on the full size bottles depending on the cost of the ingredients. I would recommend this tester set as I was quite surprised by the ones I preferred and the range is varied enough to lend itself to different occasions and times of day. 

At Song Of Seasons we are giving away a bottle of Impression Jasmine Absolute and all you have to do is follow us and Ostens on instagram and post your photos with our tag following the photography prompt of Summer Breeze ... There will also be two discovery kits as second prizes. 

Conditions of entry:

  1. You must follow @song_of_seasons and @ostens_official

  2. Tag a fragrance friend who might like to enter the competition in the comments below the instagram post.

  3. Post a photo to instagram before the end of August with a theme loosely based on the song ‘Summer Breeze’ or the phrase ‘Summer in a bottle’. Feel free to interpret the theme in any way you wish - the more creative the better! In order to enter the competition,the following three hashtags must be added to your post #songofseasons #ostens #forthecurious

(This month the winners must be UK based)

I'm so happy we have discovered this range and be reminded of how special a perfume can make you feel, it's a deeply personal experience, totally unique and a much needed indulgence. The natural scents connecting you to nature in a totally different way, close your eyes and be transported to the most beautiful places in your memory and imagination. 

27 Feb 2021

Song of Seasons

Hi there everyone, long time no see, I've been micro-blogging daily on instagram instead of posting here but decided to put a page up about a new hashtag community I've formed with Rachel of Foxglove And Ivy. 

Over the last year the world has changed enormously, dividing our life experiences like never before. As last year started to drag into more lockdowns I became aware of how many people like myself, were quite isolated except for social media to get them through the day. As the summer weather changed to autumn and gardening became redundant, I found the need to connect even more on instagram. 

Hashtags are, in short, a search mechanism for a topic. They are a great way to build a community of like minded people. By adding the hashtag #songofseasons and clicking on it you are taken to two lists of other people who are joining in with the fun and putting that hashtag on their photos. Instagram divide it into one list for the most popular posts and the other for the most recent posts. Within no time you are building a gallery of images that have a theme and thread posted by people with similar interests. The hashtag can inform, inspire and connect. It's how people find other instagramers and companies. 

To make the hashtag even more enjoyable we give prizes from small companies and makers, who send a gift to the winning photo. We call them our sponsors, or prize givers.  

The reasons for doing the hashtag initially were simple, to cheer up some people with gifts while in lockdown and to introduce the followers of the tag to new products they may not have known before. 

It's a simple idea, to spread awareness for the sponsors, (particularly small independents and sole makers) and create some joy in the process. All our winners so far have been over the moon with their gifts and many sponsors have formed new friendships. The sponsors therefore, will be reaching the followers of three instagram accounts plus shares by participants, and in so doing, raise brand awareness. We see it as a building block in a marketing campaign where we open up a dialogue for the brand. 

We teamed up last December for a hashtag themed with Christmas Carols and it was so engaging and well received we have decided to continue for the forseeable future. Under the main hashtag #songofseasons we will create different  themes each month, starting with a Musicals theme for our Spring to Easter Tag. 

We divide the month into four photo prompts, asking our followers to post a photo loosely based on that prompt with the tag #songofseasons. The prompts/themes are a way of starting a conversation with our followers about different subjects. The conversations will be different on each of Rachel and Janice’s feeds as we naturally will also be interpreting it in our own ways and talking about our own interests and daily lives, it’s not a photographic competition per se. At the end of the week we choose our prize winner although we also share participant photos in our stories and on our dedicated tag page, @song.of.seasons 

Prizes are given at the end of each week by small independent businesses that we call our sponsors, who post to the winners directly. We look to work with like minded, community first, ethical independents of all sizes and do our best to share their page/posts during the week they are gifting a prize" 

Above are the cashmere gloves gifted by Swedish sponsor Wilma & Louise
who posted a pair to Janice to review and photograph

I'm a great believer that photography can help with mental health, without trying to use too many photographic analogies, the camera is a great tool for focusing the mind on the small and beautiful, a way to slow down our observations and put emotions into visuals. Photos can tell a story, suggest a mood, share an experience and prompt a conversation. With everyone now having a camera in their back pockets its not going to be about the technical aspects of professional photography, but as a communication, story telling, community building tool. I am always happy to give advice about the more tech side of how I take my photos although I'm not crazy about the hardware, like some, I prefer to just learn what I need to know.   

Above there are products gifted to Janice to review and photograph
from Seep a company making eco cleaning cloths and scourers.  They sent the same bundle to the winner. 

The changing of seasons is at the forefront of this hashtag, it's something we can't get away from, and whatever a persons surroundings they can observe the world around them from their own unique perspective, whether its their walk to the shops, or something happening on their table. With fun photo prompts we open up an engagement in the community for all areas and topics. We like our prompts to be loosely interpreted in any way the photographer wishes.

The above photo was taken to illustrate how Janice has repurposed 
china tureens into planters 

The photo above contains gifted wood fuels from Lekto 
who regularly supply Janice with products to photograph in her fireplace, they have gifted many bundles as prizes to hashtag participants. 

Myself and Rachel both love a themed hashtag and really enjoy coming up with the concepts. As we started with songs we thought we would continue with them for now. Our list of prompts/themes will go on the dedicated @song.of.seasons instagram account, probably saved in highlights as well. We also love it when the winners photograph their prize and share it on their insta account, it creates a snowball effect for the sponsor and the photographer.  

Heres a photo Janice took of her Duvet Hog delivery before 
she tried it out. Duvet Hog also sent one to a hashtag winner 

Rachel and Janice are not paid for their time, the intention is to build a community over competition. Our aim is to help people connect.

I hope this helps to shed some light on the why's and wherefores of hashtags on instagram. If anyone would like to be a prize giver please contact Rachel or Janice on our instagram pages. 

I really hope you manage to join us with this new project. The list of photo prompts for the first month are taken from four Musicals - The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Easter Parade and My Fair Lady.

The song choices from those musicals are on the dedicated @song.of.seasons page saved in highlights. 

I hope to be back here next month with more information about the next theme and how it's all going. There will be some photos of our prizes here too. 

Thanks for reading, see you soon. Janice


18 Sept 2020

Home grown from Old Suffolk Cottage

Greetings from the Old Suffolk Cottage. As I've said before, lockdown was a very productive time for me and the husband, and I'm not pretending for one minute that we didn't drive each other up the walls but there was one project that became a resoundingly successful joint venture and that was the vegetable patch.

Luckily for us our best friends and neighbours are a few more years ahead of us on the 'moving from town to country' game so we had good advice and inspiration from the start. When we saw the fenced veg patch at our friends old farm we decided to do the same. You need to put some fencing round your raised beds in the country as the deer and rabbits often wander in and have a nibble, it's probably advisable when planting out new shoots and seeds to also string up some kind of bird scarer, I just strung old bunting across.

It has most definitely been a learning curve and I will do things differently every year as I discover what works and what is a waste of time. 

Not only do we have three raised growing beds but we are also surrounded by mature hedgerow so on top of the chosen vegetables and fruit trees we also discover bonus things growing. Having only moved here two years ago we are still finding what is growing around us as we clear the weeds and let in light to some overcrowded trees. Also some fruit trees only produce every other year so that's possibly why we didn't notice them before.  We were surprised to find a plum tree amongst it all and had just a small bowl of edible plums this year, so we just ate them straight from the tree. I also found what I thought was Sloes only to discover they are wild damsons neither of which should be picked until about October so I shall hang on a bit to use them in Gin.

hedgerow blackberries also a contender for crumble

For the raised beds we didn't dig up the grass but just laid layers on top of it. First we made a wooden frame the shape of the bed. Then laid cardboard down on top of the grass inside the frame. On top of that we put a layer of mushroom compost bought by the digger load from a local mushroom farm. The final layer was normal garden compost bought in bags from the local garden centre. Charles Dowding gives good advice about the 'no dig bed'.

I started a few things off in the greenhouse, like pumpkins, fennel, artichokes and tomatoes. The rest was small plants found on honesty stands and donated by friends because the garden centres were still shut at that time. I ended up with far too many tomato plants but thought I'd always do something with them and generally I just reduce them down in batches for pasta sauce which I add other things to. I tend not to freeze it but just eat it over a few days and then make another batch. We are a bit crazy for the spelt pasta from Waitrose so I just do different variations of sauces to go with that. 

The courgettes were the biggest surprise of all. Not only did I have a huge success with them, most of them grew into marrows of enormous proportions, with one 'courgette' being enough to feed a large family for a week. One type were particularly gorgeous and tasty, a very nutty flavour, and that was Romanesco courgette. It's ribbed in shape and slightly prickly, and I can't say that with a straight face. Anyway, sniggering aside, I had to find some good recipes for the courgette glut of 2020. Other than just frying them and adding to the tomato pasta sauce I also found a Riverford recipe for reducing a large amount of just courgettes into a thick sauce with creme fraiche stirred in at the end, oh my word it's totally delicious. 

Another great way to use up the courgettes is in a soup with peas and basil. This recipe came from the Ottolenghi Simple book.

Aside from the tons of tomatoes and courgettes we have had massive cucumbers too and luckily our friend showed up this fantastic pickle recipe from Riverford which is slightly sweet and makes a perfect accompaniment to tuna, cheese and cold meats. It's not a recipe that takes hours of boiling either and I was really quite surprised how lovely it is. 

I was all over the place with the tomatoes, I did do a bit of pinching out of side shoots, but to be honest, there was so much watering to do and I didn't want to risk pinching out the wrong thing. So it ended up being a tomato jungle which, once the fruit was getting large, I took all the foliage off so that they would get maximum sunshine to ripen. In the process of doing this a lot of green tomatoes fell off and so I needed to find something to do with these. This time I opted for a chutney, I just googled up one that suited and this is now all jarred up and ready for Christmas. 

Another tree which has suddenly born fruit out of nowhere is an apple, tucked away down the side of the house and there's only one thing for it - crumble. I could eat crumble every day and yes, sometimes I really do cheat and buy the ready made bag of crumble topping so that I can have it ready in just ten minutes. 

I'm saving the pumpkin story for another post as these have triumphed and grown out of their enclosure and currently making a bid for freedom down the garden. Now I know how well them climb I will be doing something different with them next year.

The beetroot I planted directly just never really came to anything, and the fennel is producing great feathery tops, but as yet, I've no idea what is going on below the soil. The artichokes looked to be doing well in the greenhouse then I planted them out and it's not looking great for them. Lettuce was a huge success, I grew these from small plug plants from a garden centre, again, we had too much of these for just two people and I soon realised I much prefer rocket to lettuce anyway. I've been growing rocket from seed and had some success with that although I think I planted it out too late. I will try harden with the rocket next year and not bother with so much lettuce. The rhubarb was another monster plant which takes up so much space I might change it's position next year and also learn a bit more about when to pick it - it's another great contender for crumble! 

I've also had a few peppers growing in the greenhouse but they haven't produced enough to warrant taking up so much space and needing to be watered every day. I actually don't like peppers and would rather have a crop of garlic so now I have to look at the time to plant these out and get into a year long plan of what happens when. Because we started all this growing during lockdown and because garden centres weren't open I've been playing catchup a bit, having said that I consider it a resounding success so far and my diet has never been healthier if nothing else. 


10 Sept 2020

Wood Burners - A Beginners Rough Guide

It's been a funny old year hasn't it? I haven't been able to face blogging or taking photos for many months now. I have been one of the people considered to be at high risk from Covid due to having had chemotherapy which reduces the immune system. The panic of yet another life threatening illness was too much to deal with. So we locked in and built a vegetable patch and grew our own food over the months. I hope to blog about my learning curve of that another time.

The summer seems to have flown by, and suddenly there's a definite change in the air. I have to admit to lighting the wood burner once already and it got me thinking that perhaps I should just share a few basic pieces of knowledge that we have discovered since it was installed just before lockdown.

I always found it odd that when you are looking to buy a house they make a big deal out of it already having a wood burner. Now I know why. 

Firstly there's the cost. Not just the stove itself but in the installation which is likely to be more than the cost of the stove. It's really worth getting a lot of quotes on both the burner and the installation as these varied enormously. It's also worth asking around on local village forums for recommendations as the I discovered a better deal on both and neither had come up in google searches. 

When you go looking at stoves they will want to know the size of the room because then they can work out what size you need in terms of heat output. We basically got the biggest one you can get because the inglenook is so massive. We also chose the one with a large glass door because this is easier to clean than one with detail on it. You can get an eco fan to stand on top which blows the air out of the fireplace and I might get one of these to get the heat moving around the room. The fan is driven purely by the heat of the stove and is free standing and needs no power. 

Try to get the installation done during the summer months because as it gets cold these guys are super busy. Also the installation may bring up issues with your chimney so it could have a knock on cost as they have to put a liner inside your chimney so that it doesn't catch fire. For safety reasons they have to put a metal liner in your chimney, and a cap on the top of it. 

I discovered after one year of an open fire, that most of the heat goes up the chimney and not into the room. A wood burning stove is made of a heavy metal which itself becomes very hot and therefore radiates heat. They can be bought made of two different materials, the older ones being of cast iron, but the newer ones are just as effective.  The burning of logs becomes much more efficient as the stove has the ability to increase the heat and control it. You have sliders on the front which increase the pull of the air so when you first light the fire you have it so it pulls the flames up more fiercely and once going can be turned down. 

Having this extra heat source which keeps the chill off the room can save a lot on your central heating especially if you only need the one room heating at a time. It still feels like sitting around a cozy fire but much cleaner. There is only a small amount of ash with each burn and the stove works best when you leave about an inch of ash in the base. It is so much easier to clean out than an open fire too, plus you don't get the black dust and soot landing around the room. 

So let's talk about fuels. A log is a log isn't it? Well maybe you would think that until you try to burn damp ones. The reason that the log sellers make a big deal about them being 'kiln dried' or 'extra dry' is that this makes a massive difference. In an emergency we picked up some logs from a roadside chap and wondered why they took ages to get flaming and the burner just didn't heat up. The stove should become so hot that you can't touch it with bare hands, hot enough to boil coffee pots on, so if your logs aren't heating it up then chances are they are green, or damp. There is now a law against burning green wood I believe in the UK.

I find that a combination of fuels works the best and all of these can be delivered from one company - Lekto Wood Fuels 

I really like their firelighters and hardwood heat logs for getting the fire going with one match super fast. You can break the hardwood logs (the compressed round logs with the hole in the middle) by tapping them on something like the fireplace edge, and when in smaller pieces this helps to catch the flame quicker. Then there's their Extra Dry Easy To Light wood logs, always look very attractive piled up next to the fire too. For overnight they make a compact night brick. 

It's a worthy investment if you plan to stay in the same house for several more years as the installation cost will be spread out. The ashes gather inside and are contained in the bottom. I always clean my glass window with a specialist cleaner so that the flames are visibile and not hidden behind a thick layer of soot.

I hope this helps if you are trying to decide to take the plunge. Don't forget - get lots of quotes and  buy only kiln dried logs. 

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