The big chill

Many seeds need to be free of flesh before they will germinate

Many seeds need to be free of flesh before they will germinate

As part of my PhD research, I studied the germination of various seeds – both herbaceous plants and tree species. One thing that I learned was how many species have build-in dormancy. The fleshy parts of the fruit may have to rot away before germination can take place, or be digested within the gut of a bird or mammal; the hard outer coat may need to be physically broken down (scarification); or the seed may need to have been exposed to cold (cold stratification). These are all ways to ensure that germination takes place away from the parent plant and/or at the right time of year. In temperate regions, the latter is particularly common – guaranteeing that the seed germinates after the winter rather than before. Some seeds employ multiple mechanisms and some are particularly fussy (I never managed to get a bluebell seed to germinate, for example).

In damp compost in the bottom of the fridge

In damp compost in the bottom of the fridge

All my experience means that I knew that the sludge left over from my peach scrap vinegar contains the ingredients I need to grow peach trees… namely, peach pits free from any fruit flesh. The key thing now is that they need to be exposed to cold conditions for a few weeks. So, the other day, after I had strained off the liquid that will turn into vinegar, I fished out some of the stones, washed off the last vestiges of flesh, placed them in damp compost and transferred them to the refrigerator (making use of a plastic box that had previously contained slices of tortilla from our wonderful local Spanish deli… yes, I know I should have taken my own box, but it was an impulse buy because the smell was so good). Here they will stay for at least six weeks before being brought out and placed in the limery. Even then, it could take many months before any of them germinate.

On the same subject, I received some Sarracenia seeds as a free gift when I ordered my new carnivorous plants. I checked their germination requirements and discovered that they too require chilling, so they have joined the peach pits in damp compost in the bottom of the fridge (this time in a plastic box that had contained strawberries from our local organic farm).

Sarracenia seeds

Sarracenia seeds

Whether these seeds will germinate successfully remains to be seen, but I love the optimism associated with sowing them… especially since each was a bonus as a result of another action.

Twisted thinking

This is a warning about the perils of certain blogs… you start reading them, you get sucked into the cosy descriptions of yarn bombing and steeking and then the insidious side of things appears. Descriptions of delicious yarn with pictures and links to fantastic collections of temptation; you find yourself drawn in with the chance of winning a skein of your very own. But, of course, you don’t win.., and by that time it’s too late, you are hooked*.

And so, thanks to The Twisted Yarn, I found myself a member of the Burrow and Soar sock yarn club (15% discount with a code from Twisted’s blog). Every month for six months I will be receiving a skein of hand-dyed yarn to fuel my sock-knitting addiction. The first one arrived yesterday, along with a few extra goodies and I thought that you might like to see the loveliness that is my yarn “prize-winning pumpkin”:

The theme this month was ‘harvest home’ and I think Fran who dyes the wool has captured the colours of winter squashes and pumpkins so well. To be honest, this is well away from my usual selection of palettes but I’m rather pleased to explore something rather different,  Next month, however, the theme is ‘behold the sea’, which will probably fit right in with my usual colour choices.

Twisted, you are a bad influence – thank you!


* well, at least you are if you crochet

More carnivores

I’ve rather fallen in love with the carnivores in the limery… not so much the Venus fly traps (which I expected to be very exciting, but are, in fact, fairly dull), but the Sarracenias (pitchers) and Droseras (sundews). These amazing plants are thriving – they have all grown since their arrival and have been working hard, with the sundews being particularly effective at catching small insects and the pitcher consuming the larger flies (houseflies, horseflies etc).

Unfortunately we have had rather a lot of flies indoors this year because the field behind us has had livestock in it for the whole summer. So, despite the pitcher doing its best – with a little help from the Nepenthes tropical pitcher, which needs to be kept in a vivarium to maintain high humidity – we still have rather too many insects for my liking. Which has given me a great excuse to get some more plants (it was always on the cards once the limery was finished). So, let me introduce the four newbies:

Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea - Purple pitcher plant

Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea – Purple pitcher plant

Sarracenia flava - Yellow pitcher plant

Sarracenia flava – Yellow pitcher plant

Sarracenia catesbaei - S. flava x purpurea

Sarracenia catesbaeiS. flava x S. purpurea (hybrid of the two above)

Cephalotus follicularis Albany carnivorous Pitcher Plant

Cephalotus follicularis Albany carnivorous Pitcher Plant

The Sarracenias are bigger plants than the one I originally bought and are in 9cm pots, but should grow significantly bigger. The Cephalotus is very small as yet – only a few centimetres across – but also should get much bigger.

The structure and morphology of all these plants fascinates me. I could spend hours simply looking at them in wonder…

I now can’t remember which of the builders it was who suggested carnivorous plants, but whichever one it was he truly sowed a seed for me…

Deluding myself

Once upon a time, I thought I had found the holy grail… plastic packaging-free coffee. I used to go to the little local tea and coffee shop, they weighed out 500g of organic beans from the glass jar onto the scale pan, then tipped them into my (reused many times) container. In my mind, the coffee arrived at the shop in Hessian sacks, like I’ve seen on the internet. In my mind there was no packaging involved that could not be composted or reused.

And then, one day, I decided to buy 1kg of coffee beans and my illusions were shattered…

Oh no!

Oh no!

The glass jar did not contain a whole kilo, so the shopkeeper went into the storeroom and emerged with a sealed 1kg plastic bag of coffee (silent sob). I restrained myself and suggested that rather than open the bag and weigh out the contents, I’d just take the whole bag. And so I came home with some single-use plastic (which I carefully recycled) and something to think about.

And this is the thing… just because you don’t see the waste, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I consoled myself with the fact that I had used less plastic than if I had bought a smaller amount and had it weighed into yet another single use bag (the shop uses paper/foil/plastic combination bags) and that I had recycled the packaging rather than just sending it to landfill.

It does tick all sorts of other boxes

It does tick all sorts of other boxes

It’s very hard, if not impossible, to track the whole life of any product that you use. Often there is no information about waste, and what information there is has to be taken on trust. However, this is not going to stop me trying to make a difference and reduce the amount of waste I am responsible for. I was, therefore, very pleased to come across PALL: Plastic A Lot Less. Michelle’s idea is to think about consumption and try to reduce it, but not to beat ourselves up if it’s not possible. Just think how much the earth would benefit if we all took this approach. So, next time you’re making a buying choice, think about whether there is a ‘less’ option (for packaging, transport, or whatever) and make a real difference.

Poorly pup

Sometimes, when you are feeling under the weather, the only thing to do is to snuggle up in a fluffy jumper (that’s a sweater to all you US readers) and snooze the day away. So, when Sam woke up this morning with what appears to be a pulled muscle in her neck (the result of sleeping precariously balanced on the small blanket box at the end of our bed, we think), the only thing to do was wrap her up and send her back to bed (a proper dog bed this time):



I am not, in fact, a great fan of dogs in clothes, but Sam does feel the cold and so a few years ago I did make her this mohair coat, which she wears to sleep in on cold nights. It appears to be just the job for a muscle strain too. Fingers crossed that this will mean a trip to the vets is not required.

Oh, and Max feels some company is required and is helping out by snoozing alongside:

That's what friends are for

That’s what friends are for

Let us grow lettuce

These were planted a couple of weeks ago in a planter measuring 40cm x 60cm

These were planted a couple of weeks ago in a planter measuring 40cm x 60cm

In the past I have extolled the benefits of growing your own (gyo) lettuce, but now I’m even more convinced that if you want to eat the stuff (and I’m not saying that you should) it’s a great idea to grow it yourself. I read a piece in the Washington Post today outlining some reasons NOT to eat lettuce (and other components of salad), but to me they are just reasons not to eat commercially produced lettuce:

  1. It occupies land that could be used for more nutritious crops.
    But if you gyo, it takes up hardly any space – grow cut-and-come-again varieties in progression in containers and you can have fresh salad leaves from spring to autumn (or longer)
  2. Weight-for-weight it has little nutritional value compared to other vegetables because it contains so much water.
    No matter if you gyo, you will be getting fresh green stuff on your plate whatever space you have… it’s a challenge to grow broccoli in a windowbox, but no problem to grow lettuce.
  3. All that water makes it delicate to transport, requiring refrigeration and packaging.
    So transport it a few metres from your garden/balcony/windowsill to your plate and there’s no need for packaging or any special treatment.
  4. All that water makes it expensive to transport (calorie per calorie) relative to other vegetables and uses relatively more fossil fuels.
    See 4.
  5. Salad is the top source of vegetable food waste, apparently accounting for 1 billion pounds (weight) of waste globally each year*.
    Again – gyo, pick what you need and nothing goes to waste except that which keeps growing and photosynthesising and can eventually be composted to turn into more lettuce next year.
  6. Green leaf vegetables (of which lettuce is one) accounted for 22 percent of all food-borne illnesses in 1998 to 2008*.
    Freshly picked leaves washed and served straight away will have had little chance to pick up many nasties and certainly won’t be covered in chemicals to make them last longer or ensure that they don’t have bugs on them. If you gyo, you know where they’ve come from and what they’ve been in contact with. Yes, soil contains all sorts of pathogens, so make sure you wash your salad leaves.

On top of all these things, having started, it’s now impossible in our garden not to grow things that go in salads (although not necessarily lettuce):

Growing like weeds... Calendula (petals look very pretty in salad) and Blood-veined sorrel (yum)

Growing like weeds… Calendula (petals look very pretty in salad) and Blood-veined sorrel (yum)


* According to the article in the Washington Post, although the link to the source of this figure did not work, so we’ll have to take them on trust on this!

** Again this is from the Washington Post article and although the link did work it just took me to the Centers for Disease Control web site and I couldn’t be bothered to search for the actual page that would confirm this figure.

A Welsh Dragon

I’m swamped with editing work at the moment. So, in lieu of writing, I thought I’d share a recently finished object:

He’s made with wool from West Yorkshire Spinners and a pattern from the book Crochet Ever After by Brenda Anderson.

Out of season

Look at any gardening book and it will tell you when you ‘should’ sow certain seeds. Search the Garden Organic website and it tells you that in August (at least here in the UK), you should be planting (amongst other things) amaranth, chicory, Chinese cabbage, kale, lambs lettuce, winter lettuce, oriental greens, rocket, spring cabbage and turnip.

However, Garden Organic were not awaiting their indoor growing space during the spring and early summer like I was. They don’t have all the facts, namely that (1) I bought a whole heap of seeds last winter, (2) Plans for the limery were hatched after purchase of said seeds and (3) I don’t believe everything I read!

So yesterday I sowed seeds… leeks, parsnips, basil and purple sprouting broccoli. Oh, and kale, which is on the list. All except the basil are in modules or little coir pots in the limery… where it’s warm and lovely. Maybe they will thrive and maybe they won’t. Maybe they will be so shocked when they are planted out (not the basil, that’s staying indoors) they will keel over, but maybe they will have had such a good start in life that they grow into be healthy plants and give us a stupendous crop.We will see.

Repotted courgette

Repotted courgette

A couple of weeks ago I planted three courgette seeds – only one germinated, but that has grown into a large plant in the limery, so yesterday that was potted up into a very large pot in the hope that, by keeping it indoors, we can have some completely out-of-season courgettes. Because of the poor germination, I also sowed a couple more seeds last week (a different variety) and both of those have germinated even though they were a year older than the first ones. The variety is large and probably totally unsuitable for indoor growing, but, again, we’ll see. I have really missed my glut of courgettes this year, so it would be lovely to have at least a little crop in order to re-live past harvesting glories.

Maybe I’m just over-optimistic, but there is such a joy associated with the transformation from seed to plant to crop to dinner on my plate that I simply couldn’t wait until the ‘right’ time!

Have your say

Increasingly I discover people who read this blog, but who never leave a comment. Hello to all of you!

A good spread

Come and join the party!

I know that one of the issues is that, to comment, you either have to have a WordPress blog or give some of your details, and many of you don’t want to do this. So, as an alternative, I have set up a Facebook page for the blog (and perhaps more). In theory, a link to each blog post should appear on the page as soon as it is published. If you have a Facebook account, you can leave any comments there. I also have a Twitter account (@thesnailofhappy) and links to all my posts automatically appear there too – and can be commented on (briefly). To follow me on Twitter, simply click on the link on the right.

If you want to join in with the conversation and already make use of one of these forms of social media, where’s no need to share your details with WordPress.

I really hope this means that I’ll hear the thoughts of more of you out there.


Not entirely plastic-free

Not entirely plastic-free

I am really trying to reduce the amount of waste for which I am responsible and so it was with a sense of dread that I realised I was approaching the end of my current jar of moisturiser. I don’t use many cosmetics, but I do like to have face cream. Last time I needed to buy some I searched until I found an organic one in a glass container, only to discover, when it arrived, that the lid and the pump were hard plastic and it was packaged in completely unnecessary cardboard. So, as I get close to the end of that product I started some research. A particular source of inspiration for all sorts of ways to reduce the use of plastic is the website of Polythene Pam, Plastic is Rubbish. And it was there that I found inspiration… why not make my own?

Here's the kit

Here’s the kit

Actually I was a bit intimidated about this, so I decided to heed Pam’s advice and buy a starter kit from a company called Aromantics. This kit came with some plastic packaging and some small plastic pots in which to keep the end-products, but compared to the amount that would be associated with the equivalent volume (five litres with a few additional oil purchases) of face cream, it’s tiny.

And so, this morning I made a whole litre of moisturiser. The process was really easy and it made me wish we’d done this sort of thing in chemistry classes when I was at school!

It’s plain and unperfumed currently, but I can add whatever essential oils I like to small batches of it. And this was all the plastic I ended up putting in the recycling (it includes the bubble-wrap that was round the thermometer and the glass bottles):

Waste plastic

Waste plastic

So, a quick test confirms that it’s a lovely moisturiser, and I’m looking forward to being able to add various different essential oils to small amounts of it (for which the little plastic pots are ideal)… I rather fancy orange to begin with.


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