The Masterpiece Displayed

So, Saturday was the day when the masterpiece blanket finally got to be a very public manifestation of my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. All those squares from across Britain and all over the world were on show at Gilwell Park in Epping Forest, London as I gave my final presentation before receiving my diploma at the UK Permaculture Convergence. Whilst other people choose to use Powerpoint or Prezi on a computer, or have a slide show, I decided to be low tech, but high impact and take my blanket. The main question was how to display it.

When I discovered that I was to give my talk in a marquee, I knew that my initial idea would work, namely to hang it from a washing line so it was easy for everyone to see. The joy of a marquee is that there are lots of struts to fasten your washing line to, allowing perfect positioning. Two very kind people – Katie and Nigel – actually put the line up for me, helped adjust it, and then ran around finding some yarn so that we could tie the bottom to a couple of chairs to ensure it was all visible and didn’t flap about. The result wasn’t bad considering the Heath-Robinson nature of the endeavour:

The Masterpiece in all its glory (picture: Alan Charlton)

The Masterpiece in all its glory (picture: Alan Charlton)

The feedback I received about my talk was that it went well and that the audience enjoyed it – there were lots of questions and a great deal of interest afterwards. My dear friend Alan Charlton kindly took some lovely photographs and you can see that I got quite animated:

So, all-in-all a real success, culminating in me receiving my diploma certificate from my tutor Looby Macnamara:

Receiving my award

Receiving my award (picture: Katie Shepherd)

Especial thanks to all of you out there who contributed… a role of honour to follow later.


Of course, you can't keep them like this

Of course, you can’t keep them like this

I like bottling, but it sure is a messy occupation. Today I have been busy with all those tomatoes that we bought at the weekend. Over the past two days they have been roasted and passed through my tomato mill, so that by this morning I had two big posts of puree just waiting to be bottled. It was at this point that I realised that my smallest preserving jars are half a litre (0.87 of an imperial pint or 1 US pint) which is fine, but there are times when that’s going to be too much for me (especially being on my own over the winter). So, I took a trip to the fabulous hardware store in Lampeter, D.L. Williams.  They do seem to sell pretty much everything for the home, including preserving jars. I bought all the ones that they had which were less than a litre – six 200 ml and two 125 ml. I would have liked more, but at least I now had a range of sizes to use.

I just can't manage not to spill!

I just can’t manage not to spill!

This afternoon has involved lots of bubbling tomato, water baths, preserving jars, and mess! I’ve got a big pile of washing up and still a few jars simmering away in water, but mostly I’m done. Tomorrow morning, when all the jars are cool, I will be able to test them to see if they have sealed properly. It’s looking promising since the metal tops have gone ‘pop’ on the big jars (a good sign that the seals have formed as they cool).

So, that’s another way to avoid wasteful packaging – hopefully combined with the frozen passata, all this work will mean we don’t need to buy any tinned tomatoes over the winter and all the tomatoes we eat will have been produced locally.

Jars cooling

Jars cooling

The great egg hunt

They are not backward at coming forward!

They are not backward at coming forward!

I knew that the Bluebells were point of lay when we got them – they were giving all the signals and were exactly the right age to start (19 weeks). I was also unsurprised that they didn’t start straight away, as the move to a new home would have disturbed them somewhat. But it did seem to be taking rather a long time for them to get going.

I should have known better. I had searched the fruit cage in case someone had decided that the vegetation in there would be the ideal spot, and I’d looked under the wormery, where Lorna has been known to lay an egg in the past, but there was nothing to be seen.

Then, I went outside on Thursday and could only spot one Bluebell – Tiffany. Where was Annagramma? I hunted round in all the usual places, but could not find her. I got a bowl of corn and shook it… all the others came running, but not Anna. I got some mealworms and was promptly mobbed by the rest of them, but no Anna. I peered over the fence in case she had somehow got herself high enough off the ground to get into next door’s garden… and then I heard a burbly noise from deep in the hedge. I peered in, amongst the willow, brambles and blackthorn and, sure enough there she was. So, I left her to it. Great, I thought, our first Bluebell egg.

I peeped out a bit later and she had emerged, so I went to retrieve the egg and found this:

In the depths of the hedge

In the depths of the hedge

Finding them was, however, somewhat easier than retrieving them. Whilst it was easy enough to stick a camera in to photograph them, actually accessing them was a wholly different matter. First, I had to move the old wooden chicken house, which was directly in front of this part of the hedge – leaving it in place was simply not an option as there was no other way in. And then I had to fight my way through a rather robust blackthorn, but I did retrieve them in the end.

Esme and Lorna enjoying some dandelion leaves

Esme and Lorna enjoying some dandelion leaves

So, whose were they? Well, the warm one was certainly Anna’s and they all looked very similar, but I couldn’t be sure. I watched Tiffany carefully for the rest of the day, but there were no signs of laying. The next morning, however, I opened the hen house and Lorna dashed out carrying something soft and pale in her beak… a soft egg almost certainly, although she’d eaten it before I could grab her. It seemed likely that Tiffany was responsible, as first eggs are often defective and anyway it was less than 24 hours since Anna and Esme had laid and Aliss and Lorna currently aren’t producing eggs. Later that day Anna showed signs of laying, so we locked her in the hen house. After an hour we let her out and she went straight into the hedge and laid an egg – typical!

The next day, however Tiff looked like she might want to produce something and she went on one of the laying boxes and did her stuff – a very pale egg, much lighter than the hedge eggs. Clearly all five in the Hedge had been Anna’s. And so, we have developed a routine – Annagramma lays in the hedge; Tiffany lays in the nest box. Esme is also laying on alternate days, so we have plenty of eggs – although the ones from the new girls are very small currently.

So I will finish with a brief identification guide, since I have now learned to tell the Bluebells apart by their combs (Anna on the left, Tiffany on the right):

Carpet slippers

My final post for Zero Waste Week just has to be craft related…. well, I can’t go a week without writing a post about knitting or crochet can I?

In order to reduce waste, it’s a great idea to buy good quality items that won’t wear out quickly. Yesterday, fellow blogger westywrites posted about her attempt to avoid buying new clothes for a year and the fact that her socks are wearing very thin- a particular problem because she doesn’t wear slippers round the house. She has been inspired by yours truly to attempt to knit her own socks for added durability (they do last well if you use genuine sock wool and are easier to mend, in my experience, than bought ones). However, round our house we do wear slippers because I make those too… and they certainly protect your socks.

New slippers in Black and yellow Axminster rug yarn

New slippers in Black and yellow Axminster rug yarn (with hand-knitted socks underneath)

I have been experimenting with different chunky yarns for slipper-making and my latest creations are true carpet slippers because they are made of Axminster rug yarn (80% wool, 20% nylon)! I reckon that if this yarn is sufficiently hard-wearing to make carpets from, it should be good for the slippers that walk on them. The pair I’ve just finished is for Mr Snail – now he has a different home during the week, he needed a second pair of slippers to save him remembering to take one pair back and forth each week. I asked him to choose a colour and he responded that he wanted black and yellow to match the cover of his novel (I know not why). In fact the yellow that I ordered was rather more orange than it looked in the picture on the Texere website, but it was the only yellow they had and he still seemed pleased with the end result. I made them to match part 2 of the Kindle edition of the novel, because the paperback edition is mainly yellow and white and that would have shown the dirt!

Lovely natural shades of Berber wool

Lovely natural shades of Berber wool

I was also delighted to discover that Texere sell Berber yarn (another one used for carpet-making, but pure wool this time), so I’ve bought some of that too to have a go with. If you want to make some slippers like the ones shown, the pattern can be found here and it’s free to download. It’s a bit hard on the hands if you use a really robust yarn like I did, but the resulting slippers are very warm and comfy… and they will not only save your socks, but may also help to reduce your fuel bills!

So that’s the end of my posts for Zero Waste Week – I hope you have been inspired somewhere along the line.

Repurpose, reuse and avoid

We’ve had a busy day today – lots to fit in since Saturday is now the only full day in the week that Mr Snail is home. However, several of our activities have involved a zero-waste component.

First, we repurposed a plastic bottle. Now that Mr Snail is living away during the week, he needs to have two bottles of shampoo – one for each location. We buy the shampoo in bulk, so we just needed a suitable plastic bottle to fill up… this distinctive one seemed to suit (although we had to neutralise the smell first with a bicarbonate of soda solution):

You may recognise the shape of the bottle in the foreground!

You may recognise the shape of the bottle in the foreground!

Then we visited our local organic farm to buy some trays of tomatoes for bottling (they are currently having a glut). The ‘shop’ is not staffed, there are just signs giving the prices and an honesty box. Alongside the tomatoes there was a notice asking for the plastic trays to be returned once they are empty so that they can be reused:

The 'packaging' will go back and be used over and over

The ‘packaging’ will go back and be used over and over

And finally, this afternoon we harvested some of our potato crop. These will be stored in an old cardboard box, although some of them will be eaten tonight, so will have had absolutely no packaging associated with them:

A fine harvest

A fine harvest

I’m very happy with today’s contributions to Zero Waste Week.

Zero waste coffee

I do like a good cup of coffee – the real stuff made from beans. And it was whilst preparing my coffee this morning that I realised that (at least as far as what happens in my house) it’s zero landfill waste… so on day 5 of Zero Waste Week, I thought I’d tell you how I manage it:

We buy our organic coffee beans from a small shop in Aberystwyth called The Mecca; they sell loose teas and coffees and we always take our own containers so we generate no packaging

coffee beans

coffee beans

We grind the beans ourselves (solar electricity on a sunny day) and store any not used immediately in a glass jar

all ready to go

all ready to go

The water is filtered with charcoal, which comes wrapped in tissue paper in a cardboard box:

charcoal in the water jug

charcoal in the water jug

and is boiled in a Kelly Kettle:

on the boil

on the boil

using, for fuel, twigs from pruning the willow hedge

willow waste

willow twigs

and newspaper, both scrunched up and made into ‘sticks’ as my nan taught me

newspaper sticks

newspaper sticks

The ground coffee goes into a cone lined with a heavy cotton fabric, which is washed between uses and used over and over

coffee in the cone

coffee in the cone

We pour the water on and store any excess hot water in thermos flasks for use later

steamy coffee

steamy coffee

And very quickly, there’s a mug of coffee

my coffee

my coffee

Being lactose intolerant, I drink my coffee black and I don’t take sugar.

Eventually the charcoal needs replacing, but we just put it in the soil, and the filters need replacing, as they do finally start to break down with the action of the acidic coffee and the repeated rinsing, but they get put on the compost heap, as do the coffee grounds. The cone and jug are more than 15 years old and still going strong; the Kelly Kettle was bought in 2009 and has been repaired once. So, all-in-all, about as low waste as we can manage – a great drink for Zero Waste Week.


Pass it on

It’s day four of Zero Waste Week and I’m looking up…

… at my lampshades, that is.

A few weeks ago I happened to mention to my niece that I liked the lampshade in her bedroom. So she gave it to me. Well, not there and then, but once she had got the replacement she was planning to buy anyway.

So today’s avoidance of waste has been to replace this lampshade in the hall:

In the hall

In the hall

With the one from my niece:

Lily's lampshade

Lily’s lampshade

Then take down the torn one in the kitchen:

I do like paper lampshades, but this one only lasted 14 years!

I do like paper lampshades, but this one only lasted 14 years!

And replace it with the one from the hall:

Looks wonky because it was still moving when I photographed it!

Looks wonky because it was still moving when I photographed it!

Then dismantle the torn lampshade:

Ripping it up

Ripping it up… the paper has gone on the compost heap

So that I have the metal rings to use to make a crochet lampshade:

They need soaking to get all the remaining bits of paper off

They need soaking to get all the remaining bits of paper off

Which I will have in my office, and the lampshade that’s currently in there can go in the utility room where there is no lampshade at all at the moment.

How about that for using your resources wisely and producing zero waste?

Accio wand

I have a new wand… it’s magic!

Well, actually, it’s not brand new, just new to me, and the magic thing is that it’s so easy to find such things via the internet these days. Say what you will about the challenges of using ebay, it is a great way to access people who sell useful things secondhand, in particular to source secondhand spares from breakers.



The other day, whilst Mr Snail was doing the vacuuming, yet another part of our Dyson broke… the wand this time. Sadly, it wasn’t in a place where a repair was feasible. The model we own is so old (it’s an original DC01), that not all spares are available now (as, for example when the base plate cracked). In the case of the part we needed this time, you can get new replacements (no not from Ollivander’s, but from proper, expensive spares suppliers) but you can also get them from breakers for (as it turns out) a third of the cost.

So, Mr Snail got searching and ordered. The place it came from felt it necessary to explain that the items they sell may be scuffed and could be dirty and not to complain if they are, but we were happy with that, just as long the wand really did come from an old Dyson that was no longer working. In fact, when it arrived (very promptly) the part was only very slightly scuffed and had hardly dirt on it at all (we will soon rectify that). And best of all it was fitted easily.

So, that’s one more thing that we’ve done for Zero Waste Week – bought secondhand so that we could continue to use an existing appliance rather than bin the whole thing and buy a new one. What shall I do tomorrow, I wonder?


Just in case you’re wondering about the title, see here

It’s Zero Waste Week

It’s already day two (just), but it’s not too late! I’m not a great one for signing up to challenges like this (although I know that lots of people find that they provide a good incentive), but I am particularly taken with this year’s theme: One More Thing. So, I’ve been thinking about one more thing we could do…

Chez Snail, we don’t produce much landfill-type waste – a small bag every month, perhaps. Food waste is minimal too, partly because eating fresh from the garden means that what isn’t harvested to be eaten straight away carries on growing, and partly because we don’t over-shop and we are happy to eat left-overs. But we do send quite a bit for recycling – maybe one rubbish sack every two weeks, so I’m sure there is room for improvement here.

We could cut down on the number of superfluous things that we buy and this would reduce the amount of packaging that we throw away and (in theory) reduce the amount of stuff we discard because we have a newer or better version. In practice, however, we aren’t big consumers, so trying to do this probably wouldn’t make a huge difference.

What a waste!

So, the only way forward is to buy things with less packaging… and perhaps to try to persuade manufacturers to use less packaging. I’m always irritated by things that come with superfluous layers of sealed plastic wrap… why does a dvd need to be shrink-wrapped – it’s hardly going to go off, is it? Electrical items seem to be particularly bad for quantity of packaging, something I have bogged about previously in relation to a small set of headphones I bought. Indeed, a recent purchase of a breadmaker for Mr Snail seemed to yield rather more plastic, polystyrene and cardboard than was strictly necessary (did the pan really need to be in a separate plastic bag?). I gather, however, that amongst the worst offenders in terms of packaging are perfumes and high-end cosmetics, especially those in ‘gift packs’. Since these are items that I never buy, I cannot speak from experience, but in such cases, it appears that the manufacturers consider that more packaging makes for a classier product. SIGH.

The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN – a British organisation) do produce a factsheet that explains the reasons for some of the packaging that we might think is excessive, although they also say:

But if you still think that a product seems to be over-packaged, contact the retailer or manufacturer to complain, or call 08454 04 05 06 or go on-line to Consumer Direct at so that trading standards officials can investigate. Over-packaging is against the law.

Indeed, they produce another factsheet entitled Packaging and Environment Legislation, which provides some context. Do remember, though, that INCPEN is run by manufacturers and retailers, not consumers or environmentalists. Still, it’s a start.

Too much for a set of headphones?

A few years ago there was a campaign to try to persuade supermarkets to encourage their suppliers to use less packaging. The idea was that shoppers would remove excess packaging at the checkout and leave it there for the supermarket to deal with. I’m not sure what impact it had, but I suspect that manufacturers were so far removed from the action that they hardly noticed and the supermarkets probably just cleared up without much comment. It’s probably better to contact manufacturers directly… at least that way you are communicating with someone who has the potential to do something about the issue.

And after all this pondering, what am I, The Snail of Happiness, going to do for Zero Waste Week? Well since I’m finding it difficult to further reduce the waste that goes out of the house, I think I’m going to take a look at the waste that stays in my house: the objects that are packed away unused, or simply sitting around gathering dust. I’m going to convert these things into something useful by sending them to a charity shop, or selling them or simply making use of them myself. I think some rummaging around in cupboards, drawers, the airing cupboard and the loft is in order…


Home Alone

Like many resources, time is finite. We can’t make more of it, we can only use it better and not waste it.

And so, as Mr Snail disappeared off down the road yesterday afternoon, on his way to new adventures in Reading…

Bye-bye Mr Snail

Bye-bye Mr Snail

…I began to wonder what I was going to do with my week-day evenings for the next six months.

I know that it’s all too easy to feel sad about being alone and I don’t want to focus on the negative aspects of this time, so I have decided to make a list of all the things that I want to achieve… and we’ll see in March whether I have done any of them!

Well, to start off with, there are a few pressing activities that I need to complete:

  • I've made a few more squares

    I’ve made a few more squares

    Finish Mr Snail’s birthday slippers (late already, although the yarn only arrived last Friday and his birthday was on Saturday… more on this exciting yarn in a future post)

  •  Create lovely things for the Contented Crafter to add to her danglers (keep forgetting about this, but at least I have now decided what to make her)… it really does make sense if you are in the know, just ask Narf over at Serendipity Farm
  • Make another few squares for our fund-raising blankets, as there was a call put out for more just the other day (fortunately this is easy and I have already made a small pile of them)

And then there’s some of the on-going projects to continue with:

  • Continue to work on my sofa covers (this is a HUGE project)
  • Work on my tapestry cushion cover
  • Make more items to sell
  • Finish writing up the roosting pouch pattern (nearly done) and then test it

Plus I want to make a start on the Bavarian Crochet blanket that I bought yarn for at Wonderwool.

And that’s just the crafty things… there’s also gardening to continue with and lovely activities like choosing and ordering seeds. Plus, I need to make (yet) more soup for the freezer (there are STILL courgettes to be processed), and get on with apple processing (I’m coming over soon, Perkin!)

I find that it helps to write things down like this – it feels like I’ve made a commitment to each project… which is exactly why you don’t see ‘paint the hallway’, ‘shampoo the carpets’ and ‘tidy up’ on my lists!

So, I’ve taken over the sofa with yarn and Mr Snail will just have to squeeze in next to it at the weekends!

Heaps of yarny goodness

Heaps of yarny goodness



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