L is for…

Mr Snail-of-happiness learned to knit so that he could contribute a square to My Masterpiece. Like everyone else, I asked him to write something to go with the picture of the square in my scrapbook. This is his contribution:

a special contribution

a special contribution

I’m just finishing off the scrapbook… photos to follow.

Open for business

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a new link on the right hand side of the page… yes, my Folksy shop is open for business. It’s not fully stocked yet, but I thought I would make a start. So far there are just a few string bags (bling and otherwise) and a roosting pouch, but there is more to follow.

Listing is quite time consuming and I still have items to photograph, but at least it’s up and running. I would especially like to thank ItwasJudith who bought a rainbow string bag off me the other day and thus provided the seed funding to start the shop… she also reminded me about washing instructions!

Anyway, I’m feeling pleased to have made a start.


Stealth vegetables… and not so stealthy ones too

I’ve already bemoaned the sneaky courgettes that hide under leaves so that you only discover them after they have become monsters, but they are not the only devious vegetables in the garden. You would think that Boston squash, being bright yellow, would be easy to spot, but they aren’t always:

And green vegetables are even more of a challenge. We had completely overlooked this shark’s fin melon despite the fact that it’s hanging over our garden bench:

Some of our squashes are being more helpful, but they are the exception:

Out in the open

Out in the open

And I don’t even want to talk about the deceptive runner beans!

Jute the job

A while ago, I saw ‘roosting pouches’ for sale… little pockets of woven natural fibre that birds can use for shelter in the winter and may choose to nest in in the summer… and I thought ‘I could crochet something like that out of jute’. Jute is a natural fibre from plants in the genus Corchorus, which is related to the mallows. You probably know it best in Hessian or burlap. So, over the past few days, whilst stressful things are happening elsewhere in my life, I have been playing around with this idea. I started off with a weaver bird nest in mind:

"Weaver Nest" by Tu7uh - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weaver_Nest.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Weaver_Nest.jpg

“Weaver Nest” by Tu7uh – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – click here for link

What I created on my first attempt was this:

First try

First try

It’s a bit wonky, but I thought it was a good start. However, I’m never going to be as skillful as a weaver bird, so my second attempt was more cylindrical, but came out rather larger than I had planned:

Second try

Second try

My third attempt is a better size, but the top was rather a fiddle to make:

Third try

Third try

Here are the first and second together so you can see the size difference:

Two and three together

Two and three together

And this is my latest:

Fourth try

Fourth try

I think it’s rather stylish and I’m sure a bird would consider it a good place to roost.  I think I will make some more for sale, plus I’m going to write up the pattern for #4 and sell that too… I couldn’t find anything similar currently available on Ravelry.

It turns out that jute is quite pleasant to work with – I thought it would be tough on my fingers but, in fact, it’s not too bad and I have worked with wools that are rougher. So, I’d better get to work on some for the shop…


Tiffany and Annagramma do some exploring

New hens are always nervous, so it’s best to give them time to get used to their surroundings and the folks who feed them. Most of the time Tiffany and Annagramma are remaining in a relatively small run with their own house. I don’t want to risk proper free-ranging yet as they are rather flighty and would be difficult to catch, but today I gave them a chance to move about a bit more in safety by putting them in the fruit cage. As it turned out, they enjoyed some fresh grass, but didn’t explore further than a few feet away from the gate… which made them very easy to catch when I wanted to return them to their usual run. Here they are, being regarded by the oldies:

The bluebell girls

Following the sudden demise of Perdy (one of our younger girls), we decided that we needed to boost our laying power and so yesterday I arranged to collect two new point-of-lay ladies from Pentwyn Poultry to join our flock:

The bluebell girls

The bluebell girls

They are a little shy at the moment, but I’m sure that they’ll soon get used to us. Being the new girls, I thought I should name them after a couple of the younger generation of Terry Prattchett’s witches, so they are Tiffany and Annagramma. Just as in the books, Esmeralda has been eying them up and making herself look big and important:

Don't mess with Esme!

Don’t mess with Esme!

Lorna and Aliss, not being responsible for the flock, have been ignoring the new arrivals. We’ll keep old and new separated by the mesh for a while until they get used to each other and since we still have the old wooden chicken house, they can sleep separately too for the time being. Last time we introduced newbies we tried to get them together too soon, but now we know better and we have the space to allow a gradual introduction.

Currently, my only problem is that I can’t tell the newbies apart… I’m sure they will distinguish themselves soon  though. And, since they are 19 weeks old, we should have eggs from them imminently. So I’ll just leave you with a few pictures:

A change of plan

For ages now I have been telling you that I’m going to set up an etsy shop; or, rather, that I’m going to stock the etsy shop that I set up last year. The time has finally arrived for me to start doing this, but… I’m not going to!

Rainbow bag

This will be in the shop

Prior to embarking on the work needed to create a good shop, I decided to do some reading round (here, for example) and as a result I discovered that etsy is no longer the platform it used to be. Originally (as I understand it), it was set up to act as a marketplace for craftspeople – a one-stop-shop on the internet where you could go to sell your lovingly-created items and where buyers would understand the ethos and value. Alas, this is no longer the case. You can now sell anything on etsy, even acting as a third-party seller for cheap mass-produced stuff. So, rather than a forum for crafters, we have another ebay just without the auctions. It appears that many genuine crafters have seen a significant drop in sales as a result because buyers are swamped with choices and find it difficult to distinguish between the origins of the different goods on offer as well as the discrepancy in prices.

A bowl of bath puffs!

There’ll be bath puffs too

I acknowledge that my products could be considered expensive when compared to what you can buy in the supermarket, but generally my buyers understand why this is… from the raw materials to the time taken to design and make the items on sale. I can’t compete with Superdrug on the price of a bath puff, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. So, I turned to Folksy – a British website specifically dedicated to handmade items. It has lower ‘footfall’ than etsy, but at least visitors will only be comparing like with like. Thus far I have set up the shop, but not stocked it. This weekend, I will be photographing my stock and hopefully there should be items for sale by next week… ooh it’s all rather exciting.


Apple time

How can they escape your notice when they are so big?

How can they escape your notice when they are so big (1.3kg)?

It’s good to make plans, but in life sometimes you just have to respond to the situation. This seems to have been particularly so this year in the garden – our warm winter followed by an early spring and hot July seem to have combined and delivered us to a premature autumn. Currently there are blackberries to pick and apples to harvest. Normally I would not expect to have to deal with bags of cooking apples until September, but mum gave me the first bag from her tree on 10 August and so the great apple processing event is underway, whilst still having to deal with mounds of courgettes/zucchini (I found the one pictured snaking its way under its parent plant out of sight, attaining a weight of more than 1.3kg/2.8lbs before I spotted it). I’m waiting for a sunny day to do some more courgette dehydration.

The first bag of many, I'm sure!

The first bag of many, I’m sure!

Although I know I can do dried apple rings, I love bottled apples and so most of the harvest is likely to be preserved this way… I have loads of Kilner jars, so am able to store litres of the stuff. Over the weekend I made two big pots of courgette and carrot soup, some of which we ate, but most of which went in the freezer for delicious lunches on cold winter days. So preservation is proceeding apace even if it does seem to be happening somewhat earlier than usual. Now I’m expecting a message from Perkin to tell me to come and collect apples from their fantastic tree too. I do love this time of literal fruitfulness!

However, life does throw all sorts of things in our paths and so, whilst I am busying myself with gardening, preserving and cooking, Mr Snail of Happiness is preparing to go and work away from home for at least the next six months. A phone call 10 days ago offered him a big contract with a company he has worked for before that was too good to turn down. As a result, in the past week, we have bought a second car and done a lot of on-line property hunting. We collect the new car tomorrow (a tiny one with very low carbon emissions and fuel consumption and no car tax) and he’s off to view a couple of flats on Thursday. Thus, this winter I will be ‘home alone’ during the week… which may result in much more blogging and crafting. In the mean time, bear with me because we have a lot of packing to do and finding all those things that we stored  after his last contract away from home, more than four years ago.

Forget Tasmania, where is the snail of happiness?

I’m pleased to announce that Tasmania, at least the one that I was talking about in my last post, has been found. It is safe and well in my sister’s living room! Yes, the jig-map of my childhood is still being enjoyed by members of my family… we are all squirrels!

However, you may have been wondering where the snail of happiness has been for more than a week now. You have, perhaps, spotted one of my little minions here, and I got a mention here, but as for me there has been silence. I know, I didn’t warn you, but I thought that I was going to have time to blog and it turned out that I didn’t.

Last weekend we had a garden party to celebrate my dad’s life. The sun shone (mostly), we had lovely pictures of dad around the place to encourage people to share their memories of him and there was lots of tea and cake. In fact the only sort of cake he really liked was fruit cake, but we made up for that with a lovely spread including scones, lemon drizzle cake, Victoria sponge, coffee and walnut cake, sticky toffee cake and fallen chocolate truffle cake to name a few. What do you think?

Our cake table

Our cake table

And then I went to spend a few days at Chestnuts Farm… a rather interesting set up comprising a number of separate parcels of rented land with sheep, goats, poultry, a horse, a pony, vegetables and a hay field. I got a real picture of the challenges faced by tenant farmers who have no security because their tenancies are only for, perhaps, three years. How do you make plans for the land you work, when you don’t know whether you will still be on it in five years time? Without longer tenancies, there is little incentive for such farmers to invest in permanent buildings, expensive fencing and planting trees, or anything else that they may not be able to get a proper return on. Since small-scale producers play a valuable part in food-growing in the UK, it seems important to give them security if they do not own their own land.

Would you brave that beak to steal my identity?

A young Perdy

During my visit, I particularly enjoyed seeing the poultry; my favourites being the bantams. However, in my absence, one of our girls, Perdy, went into a very rapid decline and died before my return. She stopped laying about six months ago, but appeared quite healthy up until the final couple of days. Now we have to decide whether we want any replacements… if there was somebody local with bantams I would be sorely tempted!

The other loss this week was the mealworm farm… the colony was, I thought, safe and sound in the greenhouse. However, a bird found its way in and has consumed not only the adult beetles that were thriving, but much of the oats and bran that they were feeding on. I’m annoyed that I hadn’t kept their container covered, but I really never expected the wild birds to venture into the greenhouse. I think the culprit was a juvenile robin. I have ordered a fresh supply of mealworms and will start again, bearing in mind the need to ensure better protection!

Where is Tasmania?

This blog post has nothing to do with gardening, cooking, craft or sustainability but, because I have so many readers in Australia, I thought you might like this little memory.

When I was a child we were kept amused by a range of activities. One of our favourite pastimes was jigsaw puzzles. The really big ones were constructed on pieces of painted hardboard that my father salvaged when he replaced the boxing below the banisters with fancy wrought iron scrolls. These boards were slid under the sofa when we were not working on them (an ideal way to mislay pieces) or sometimes placed on the dining table and covered with a cloth so that we ate our dinner off them. I don’t really remember many specific puzzles except for the Jig-maps: jigsaw puzzles in the shape of countries/continents, so no straight edges, with pictures representing iconic scenes or objects from the different regions.

Australia... Tasmania has clearly gone on its travels!

Australia… Tasmania has clearly gone on its travels!

I don’t know how many of these we had, I only remember the British Isles, New Zealand and Australia. The two former countries held less interest for me than the latter for some reason. I was fascinated by Australia, particularly the pictures of the windmill, the koalas, some big train, a boomerang and the Sydney Harbour Bridge; but more than anything by Tasmania. You see, in the version we had, Tasmania was a tiny jigsaw in its own right – not attached to the main continent. I loved making up the representation of this apparently wee island and placing it wherever I liked around the coast of Australia. My favoured spot for it was off the northern tip of Queensland, but I was happy for it to move around on a whim.

And so, all these years later, despite now knowing exactly where Tasmania belongs, to me it will always be a magical, untethered island, free to circumnavigate Australia. I find it hard to believe reports from Narf of cold winters as, surely, it should just migrate north to warmer climes; and when it’s too wet – why not go somewhere drier?

More recent versions of the jig-map appear to have Tasmania fixed in one spot… it’s just not the same!


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