Round and around

Most annual crop growing systems benefit from some sort of rotation, where you grow different crops in the beds from year to year so that you don’t get a build up of pathogens and a depletion of specific nutrients. Your rotation can last three or four years, and there is lots of information available on how to plan; for example the Royal Horticultural Society give  a brief outline of both three- and four-year rotations here. In practice, many vegetable gardeners either do not have the space to practice a rigorous rotation (for example not growing potatoes at all, or only growing them in containers) or simply can’t be bothered.

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

In my small garden, I could be strict with a four-bed rotation as I do have four raised beds. However, I’m not consistent with the crops that I grow, so sometimes I want more than a quarter of the space given over to one type of crop and sometimes less. Also, I like mixing crops in the same bed, which sort of puts a spanner in the works. And anyway, I’m just too disorganised. I like to be creative and spontaneous, so basically I plant what I feel like where I feel like with the proviso that I don’t plant either onions or potatoes in the same place two years running. In fact I try out new crops each year and some of the less conventional ones (like Aztec broccoli or oca) almost certainly have fewer diseases than the standard offerings  and different nutrient demands. I do try to move my beans around each year because (a) they always get a healthy dose of compost dug into their bed before planting and (b) they are nitrogen-fixers, so should help boost the fertility of the place they have been.

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it's being used for mangetout

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it’s being used for mangetout

In addition, in my garden, I do lots of container growing. I make use of loads of home-made compost for this purpose and, of course, it doesn’t just get used once.You can’t, however, plan a rotation for your pots in the same way as for land. Last year I used lots of my fresh compost for potato-growing in dumpy bags. After I harvested the potatoes, I left the compost in the bags, but folded the tops down to protect it. I don’t want to grow potatoes in the same compost this year, so that has been transferred into some big pots for growing mangetout up the fence. Compost that has had tomatoes or peppers growing in it usually gets transferred into a bed that will be used for squashes. Because tomatoes and potatoes both get blight, I try to avoid transfer of spores in compost so don’t use compost from tomato pots in potato beds.

It all sounds quite complicated, but actually, I don’t have any difficulty remembering what I grew where (especially since I always take lots of photos) and deciding where to plant. I’m sure there are some of you out there who love an organised rotation, but you are clearly not scatty like me!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

Sedate or seditious?

What does this say about me?

What does this say about me?

I’ve just come across a recent story from The Guardian with a very promising headline:

Knitting and needlework: relaxing hobbies or seditious activities?

But, on reading the article, you find quotes such as:

Wool shops now are places of luxury offering cappuccino while you browse designer, hand-dyed yarns. Knitting not as necessity, but art – for women who have just too much time on their hands.

and

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in crafts, partly fuelled by celebrity knitters such as the Duchess of Cambridge and Kate Moss

Ah, so much complete nonsense in one place! Although I have to say that the article is worth looking at for the comments at the end… us knitters are certainly capable of ‘prodding buttock’ with our pointy sticks! I was not aware particularly of ‘celebrity knitters’, unless you count people like Kaffe Fassett or Debbie Bliss, and our local knitting yarn shops would throw you out if you arrived with a coffee and they certainly wouldn’t offer you so much as a mug of instant!

I’m disappointed that our media continue to stereotype in the sort of way this article does – apparently in the past all knitters were grannies and now we are all idle middle-class women, probably knitting whilst reading Hello magazine. The only “seditious” knitters that the author could summon up were Mahatma Gandhi (who described himself as a weaver) and a few goddesses. No mention of Knit the City… or any of the other yarnstorming groups. No mention of Betsy Greer and the craftivism movement. Not even any reference to knitting for charity… not exactly seditious, but certainly generous. Nor was there a hint that many people earn a living from this ‘relaxing hobby’.

Ah well, that’s me getting wound up about the media again. I really should stop reading it… I know I’ll just toddle off and drive my Chelsea tractor to the local yarn shop, to sip designer coffee and fondle all the hand-dyed yarn…

… actually, no, I think I’ll write a blog post about yarn crafts and sedition… watch this space!

 

Flippin’ fumitory

You quite often hear that there’s no such thing a s a weed, just a plant in the wrong place. Well, in that case, today I have been “plant-in-the-wrong-place-ing”! It’s true, that botanically there is no definition of a weed, but all gardeners know exactly what they are in their own garden.

Not the best onion patch!

Not the best onion patch!

A few weeks ago, the hens got into the onion bed and had a jolly good root about. I was so fed up, that I have just been ignoring it since then, which means that nature has had its way and it was a riot of “plants in the wrong place”. The chickens had eaten most of the self-seeded red mizuna and what remained were a few spindly onions along with a little bit of self-heal, some bitter cress, a sow-thistle or two and huge amounts of fumitory.

The few remaining onions uncovered

The few remaining onions uncovered

Recently., I have been trying to add wild leaves into our salads, so I consulted The Weeders Digest* and discovered no suggestions for fumitory. I know that the chickens turn their beaks up at it, and so it is destined for the compost… not one of the large wooden bins that Mr Snail-of-happiness emptied out on Sunday, but a thick plastic compost bag for a few months to ensure that the roots are completely killed off and there’s no chance of perpetuating the plants via compost (fortunately there are no seeds yet). Green Deane (Eat the Weeds) confirms that fumitory is not edible, but notes that you can use the flowers to make a yellow dye that’s good for wool… strange since the flowers are pink and purple!

Ready for composting in the dark

Ready for composting in the dark

Both we and the hens are happy to eat bitter cress, so that won’t go to waste. Apparently we can even eat the leaves of sow-thistle (you have to cut the prickles off older leaves), but I really don’t fancy it, so that can go in the compost too. You can also eat the young leaves of self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), according to Plants for a Future,  but they are quite hairy, so I don’t think I’ll bother with those either.

I remember talking to a mycologist (mushroom expert) once who noted that just because something is edible does not mean you would want to eat it! I’m really in agreement about this, and anyway the compost needs feeding too! Never fear, though… my own plants are coming on a treat in the greenhouse:

All sorts of seeds have germinated now

All sorts of seeds have germinated now

 

-oOo-

* Harland, Gail (2012) The Weeders Digest: Identifying and Enjoying Edible Weeds. Green Books.

Happy birthday, blog

Compost on the bed in the foreground, potatoes in the bed in the background

Compost on the bed in the foreground, potatoes in the bed in the background

Well, apparently it was The Snail of Happiness blog’s second birthday yesterday. In those two years, there have been more than 25,000 visits from 118 countries; I’ve written more than 300 posts and there have been more than 3000 comments. Oh, and the filters have prevented more than 7000 spam comments appearing!

I’m not sure what the appropriate way of celebrating is, but perhaps spreading compost on the garden and planting potatoes (which is what we’ve been doing today) is appropriate for a blog about sustainability.

Some of my diploma work

Some of my diploma work

I started writing this blog at round about the same time I embarked on my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, partly as a way of sharing some of the information I gathered. It was a happy coincidence, therefore, that yesterday I finished drafting my ninth design for my portfolio. My tenth, and final, design describes my learning pathway and really just needs tidying up and rounding off as this has been an on-going project throughout the diploma. In addition, the Masterpiece blanket, and associated scrapbook, are going to form a tangible representation of my learning. My tutor, Looby Macnamara, is going to give me her square for the masterpiece at our final tutorial on 15 May. I have, therefore, decided that I won’t add any more squares to the blanket after the end of that week… so that’s your deadline if you are planning to send something for inclusion. My final presentation (assuming that all goes well with the assessments) will be in September at the UK Permaculture Convergence… where the masterpiece will have a starring role!

The end of my diploma does not, of course, mean the end of blogging, but it might free up a bit more time for the garden… which has been somewhat neglected over the past two years what with studying, family illness and voluntary work. I am hoping for an abundant summer in 2014 – lots of fruit and vegetables and lots of crafty activities, so lots to write about here. I hope you will keep reading!

A closer look

Today, I thought I would get up-close to spring by photographing some of the plants currently bursting forth in my garden. Sometimes, we don’t look closely at the beauty around us, but taking the time to do so is really worthwhile.

Alberto Locoto chilli... resprouting in its second year

Alberto Locoto chilli… resprouting in its second year

Sweet potato... this organic tuber was bought to eat, but started sprouting so I kept it

Sweet potato… this organic tuber was bought to eat, but started sprouting so I kept it

Sprouting potato tuber

Sprouting potato tuber

Lettuce seedling - variety Forellenschluss  from Kate Chiconi

Lettuce seedling – variety Forellenschluss from Kate Chiconi

Shallot

Shallot

Ashmead's Kernel apple from Karuna

Ashmead’s Kernel apple from Karuna

Blueberry flowers

Blueberry flowers

Red currant flowers

Red currant flowers

Rocket seedlings

Rocket seedlings

Seedlings of Aztec Broccoli

Seedlings of Aztec Broccoli

All these plants are edibles – who says you need to grow flowers to have a beautiful garden?

Daffodil, willow and snail

I promise that I won’t report back every time I have personal contact with one of my fellow bloggers, but I do want to share these with you:

Mementos of our first meeting

Mementos of our first meeting

A few weeks ago I travelled all of 500m from my front door to see Katy the Night Owl… fellow blogger. We would never have met if it wasn’t for blogging, despite living so close to each other. Anyway, on that first meeting I took her a bunch of daffodils (that we were kindly allowed to pick by Reena, a local farmer’s wife) and budding willow (from our hedge).

Katy was keen to make a contribution to the masterpiece and so her squares were inspired by that bunch of flowers. I went round to see her yesterday for a chat and to collect these beautiful creations. In addition, she had crocheted a tiny snail for me, that she turned into a brooch whilst we drank tea together… he’s there on the picture, but doesn’t show up very well.

I was able to take the BonBon hat over to show Katy how beautifully the yarn she had given me had worked up. Inspired, she added a BonBon to her list of things to make.

I’m still bowled over by the sense of community here in the blogosphere and the joy of finding individuals with similar interests, but I never expected to make a friend who I could walk over to have a cup of tea with whenever I felt like!

Très bon

One of the unexpected yields of blogging is coming across other people’s good ideas. Yesterday, for example, the Dorset Finca mentioned that she has been growing living stones (Lithops) and I was so excited that I immediately found out where to get the seeds and ordered some. These little succulent plants have fascinated me ever since I was a child, but I have never owned any. That, hopefully, is about to change if my seeds germinate. Without that chance reading of a blog post, I probably would never have thought to have a go at growing these little plants, despite my long-standing interest.

Other blog posts have inspired me with recipes, gardening tips and creative ways to reuse and recycle. But perhaps my favourite inspiration comes from the folks who knit and crochet and then share their patterns, ideas and links. And so, when Nice Piece of Work posted her guide to making a Bonbon hat a couple of weeks ago I was smitten and knew that I must have a go. All did not go to plan to begin with and I had one false start, but I’m not easily put off and my second attempt has been much better:

The finished BonBon

The finished BonBon

The technical bit

The yarn I used was double knitting wool acrylic blend and I worked with a 4mm hook. I followed Jill’s basic instructions with the following modifications: I increased 7 times on round 9 and 3 more times on round 12. I worked 23cm from the top before I started the brim. To make a snug brim, I crocheted front post trebles (fpt), but I missed every fifth stitch on the first round… that is on alternate ridges I only worked one stitch rather than two:

Detail of the start of the brim

Detail of the start of the brim

I worked about 6cm of fpts, which I folded over once to expose the horizontal reverse.

Finished hat

Finished hat

If I was making it again, I think I would use a slightly larger hook, perhaps 5mm, for a floppier texture (this will depend on your tension). Once you get going, it’s a really straightforward pattern and very adaptable, as this post from Jill demonstrates. It’s certainly a pattern I would use again – thank you Jill!

The value of a life

I really don't want to end up somewhere like this!

About 150,000 people died yesterday

Many people died yesterday… in every country there were deaths. Some people died of old age, some as a result of an accident or an illness, some tragically and some peacefully. In total, about 150,000 people died in the world yesterday. Of course the media cannot report all of those deaths, and we are more likely to hear of the deaths of individuals from our own country than those from overseas, but yesterday really highlighted to me how the current cult of celebrity has skewed the lives that we, apparently, value… or at least that the media values.

Last night we watched the news at 10pm on the BBC. The main story was the death of Peaches Geldof – daughter of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates. Clearly a tragic death – she was only 25 and had two young children. Probably her greatest claim to fame was her famous parents, although she had (probably as a result of having famous parents) been a model, TV presenter and written for various newspapers and magazines. The BBC web site currently features a link to a piece about the death of Peaches Geldof on its front page.

Much later in the same news bulletin last night the deaths of two British women in Tenerife were briefly reported: Uma Ramalingam and Barathi Ravikumar drowned trying to save two children who had been swept into the sea. Mrs Ramalingam was a consultant obstetrician and Dr Ravikumar was a GP. The children were rescued but both women drowned. I had to search for a story about these two women on the BBC web site today.

In addition, yesterday the Rev. Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who ‘became a symbol of suffering and compassion in the war-ravaged Old City district of Homs, Syria’ was shot dead. According to The New York Times ‘After Syrian government forces isolated and laid siege to the rebel-held Old City for more than a year, a truce in January allowed the evacuation of 1,500 people, both civilians and fighters. But Father Frans, as he was known, insisted on remaining in the monastery where he had lived for decades, offering refuge to Muslim and Christian families alike and sharing their deprivation and trauma.’ This story did not even merit mention on the BBC TV news last night… and today I only found a report on the BBC web site because I searched for the priest’s name.

And what of all those who died yesterday as a result of the conflict in Syria? At least that’s a situation we hear a little about here in the UK on the news. Other conflicts and those who lose their lives as a result get almost no coverage. The web site Wars in the World currently lists the warring hotspots in Africa as: Central African Republic (civil war), Democratic Republic of Congo (war against rebel groups), Egypt (popular uprising against Government), Mali (war against Tuareg and Islamist militants), Nigeria (war against Islamist militants), Somalia (war against Islamist militants), Sudan (war against rebel groups) and South Sudan (civil war). And that’s just one continent. There are people dying in all of those countries (and many more) and we barely hear of the conflicts, let alone the deaths.

Now, I don’t want to play down the death of any one individual, but I am appalled that our cult of celebrity gives such prominence to the passing of one young woman and pays so little attention to massacres of innocents. Perhaps our newspapers and TV stations need to remember the value of all lives and give some prominence to those who had so little chance to speak up for themselves even when they were alive.

I’d like to think that we would value every life and that the passing of each person is mourned, just as I’d like to think that each person should be valued and cherished when they are alive… whoever they are, wherever they come from and whether or not the media deems them to be ‘important’.

 

Bonbon…. or possibly pas bon

I was hoping to have lovely pictures of a completed hat to post today, but it’s not to be. Whilst awaiting the final masterpiece squares, I decided to have a go at making a Bonbon hat, as described by Jill on her blog Nice Piece of Work. Katy the Night Owl had given me some yarn that she couldn’t use and I thought it looked ideal for playing around with and making a hat:

Ready to go last Monday

Ready to go last Monday

 

However, yarn is a fickle thing and, despite what the labels say, all double knitting wool is not the same. The yarn is acrylic and wool and has plenty of stretch and I have quite a small head, so I thought that I would be able to make a hat just by following Jill’s basic instructions. However, by last Thursday when it was 22cm long it had turned into a very snug beanie hat (which I didn’t photograph)… not exactly the look I was going for… here’s what one should look like:

A Nice Piece of Work Bonbon

So, I frogged it back to the central few rounds, increased my number of increases, worked a few more rows and increased a bit again and I do now seem to have something that might be the right shape. In the past I hated having to frog my work, but these days it really doesn’t bother me so much. Jill stated quite clearly that the instructions for the Bonbon hat were just a guide and I have, so far enjoyed exploring the shape and pattern. Perhaps I’m more relaxed because I don’t need this hat and didn’t buy yarn specifically to make it; perhaps it’s because I’ve discovered the joys of the journey rather than the destination; or perhaps I’ve just got less up tight as I get older. Of course, the other thing about crochet is that you only have to pick up one stitch at the point you have to restart… a much easier prospect than for knitting. Whatever the reason, I’m having fun and, in the end, I’ll have a new hat.

So, in order to allow you to share the journey, here is progress so far…

Bonbon attempt 2... about 16cm long at the moment

Bonbon attempt 2… about 16cm long at the moment

Maybe this will work and maybe it won’t, but eventually I will know how to make a bonbon hat.

Many thanks  Jill for the inspiration and Katy for the yarn.

Seedy Saturday

Some of today's work

Some of today’s work

Today I’ve been sowing… I love putting seeds into compost, knowing that such tiny things will transform into the huge variety of vegetables that we’ll be eating later on in the year. Today I planted squashes, pumpkins, courgettes, melons, tomatoes, ground cherry, runner beans and maize. Tomorrow I’ll be focusing on leafy things and starting off some mange tout. Already in the ground are garlic, shallots and some potatoes and there will be more of the latter going in soon. And, having fumigated the greenhouse earlier in the week, I’ve now transferred the peppers and chillis out there to carry on growing.

Beans in root trainers on the left and the propagator lid on for double insulation of the more sensitive seeds

Beans in root trainers on the left and the propagator lid on for double insulation of the more sensitive seeds (it’s not plugged in)

This year I’m trying to focus on using up resources that I already have. In the pictures you can see that most of my curcurbits are planted in coir pots… I bought loads of these years ago and I think that these are the last of the batch. I’ve also done some more planting in toilet roll middles and the beans are planted in some very old root trainers, which are just about holding together… I’m very reluctant to replace them as they are quiet expensive.

What a lovely time of the year… fingers crossed everything germinates.

 

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