Making plans for growing

Our greenhouse has finally come to the end of its life – strong winds over the winter have torn off the vent, whipped out some of the plastic panels and subtly twisted the frame. It was time to discuss replacing it. And you might be surprised to hear that the decision was that we wouldn’t… at least not with more of the same.

A coating of gloop

No more gloop

Because of the way our garden has evolved, the greenhouse ended up in a spot that regularly floods, meaning that the crops in it are very prone to various fungal infections. Despite regular fumigation, every year we have to deal with botrytis  and other forms of rot. The area in and around it gets coated with gloopy mud, making it unpleasant to walk about out there. We have thought about a raised base, but in this windy part of the country that was something we didn’t want really.

However, we do want some protected growing space – somewhere that’s pleasant to work and will allow us to produce crops over a longer season. Our little garden does not have the space for a polytunnel and I have kept returning to the idea of having a conservatory. Not one of those that’s a glass sitting room, but one designed for growing plants in. So, finally I bit the bullet and arranged for a builder to come round and discuss the options.

My greenhouse... hoping it will breed with next-door's

The current set-up… big changes to come

Not any old builder though, one we have used before, who is interested in gardening and growing things, likes chickens and tries to recycle and reuse building materials . So, today he arrived to have a chat. And what a joy it was – he understood straight away what I wanted – not a conservatory, but a permanent greenhouse  attached to the house. We discussed the light transmission of glass, maximising growing space, drains in the floor, ventilation, waterproof electrical sockets and appropriate door placement. Not only that, we talked about building new a raised bed outside, improving drainage in that part of the garden and how we could reuse the existing paving slabs and make use of the excavated hardcore. A conversation that I had thought might be quite difficult turned out to be very interesting and surprisingly stimulating.

Of course, it’s not going to be cheap and I await the quote knowing that this is going to represent a significant investment. However, it feels like a very positive thing to do at this time when our savings earn very little interest in the bank. In addition, a better drained garden will make the neighbours happy, as they are down-slope and are on the receiving end of the water that flows through our garden.

Exciting times… I’m not looking forward to building work disturbing my life, but it will be fantastic if the plans work out and we have new growing space in the next couple of months.

Whatever happened to the mealworms?

Adult and juvenile

Adult and juvenile Tenebrio molitor… and a cauliflower stalk

Well, that was a question that I had been asking myself too. You may remember that I was having a go at raising mealworms as a source of protein-rich food for my hens (details here). I’ve been very quiet on the subject recently because I thought that it hadn’t been successful and I was looking at other options, However, I am pleased to report that the lack of success was only because I hadn’t been patient enough. I decided to tip the contents of my three mealworm tubs into a bucket last week with a view to feeding the contents to the chickens and giving up. However, disturbing them like this revealed much more life than I had thought remained.

Never having had a go at this sort of thing before, I knew little about the ecology of Tenebrio molitor, the species in question, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think I may have been wildly optimistic about the speed of the lifecycle… a salutary point about doing your research first! I’ve now done more reading:

The life cycle of Tenebrio molitor is of variable length, from 280 to 630 days. Larvae hatch after 10-12 days (at 18-20°C) and become mature after a variable number of stages (8 to 20), typically after 3-4 months (at ambient temperature) but the larva stage can last up to 18 months (Feedipedia)

All the life stages seem to be present now

All the life stages seem to be present now

So, the fact that I was not seeing large larvae as soon as I expected after raising the adults was certainly because it was too soon. My newly disturbed bucket, in fact, contains lots of mealwormlings, as well as live and dead adults, large larvae and a few pupae. They are currently feeding on rolled oats and gaining moisture from pieces of potato and cauliflower.

In addition, I discover that

Commercial mealworm producers sometimes include a juvenile hormone into the feed to prevent the larvae from molting into adults, resulting in “giant” mealworms that can achieve a length of 2 cm or greater and weigh more than 300 mg (Feedipedia)

A range of sizes of larvae

A range of sizes of larvae

Meaning that I may not be able to produce the big chunky mealworms that are available to buy from pet stores.  I don’t really mind this, because the hens are not fussy about the size of their food! And I suspect that the size issue is important for producers of dried mealworms, because they are bound to shrink with the loss of water as they are dehydrated.

During my recent research I discovered that the species is also known as ‘Darkling Beetles’, which sounds rather romantic to me. Plus, I was amused to read on one site:

Tenebrio molitor larvae are easy to culture (they are often raised on oats, and females lay up to 500 eggs), high in protein, and readily available commercially, so are a good food source for pet owners

But personally, I don’t fancy snacking on them myself!

Anyway, I will continue to care for my colony and see if I can viably produce enough to replace some of the chickens’ feed.

Back in the saddle again

I haven’t been writing recently, but I have been doing. So, as a gentle return to blogging, I thought we could catch up by means of some pictures…

I worked on Mr Snail’s scarf:

He says it's not long enough yet

He says it’s not long enough yet

I finished a blanket for the Denmark Farm charity raffle:

A bright blanket

A bright blanket

I got the lovely feather picture framed:

Feather by Anne Lawson

Feather by Anne Lawson

I bought two new (recycled plastic) compost bins to replace the wooden ones that had rotted in our very wet garden:

Two 330l compost bins

Two 330l compost bins

We emptied our dog poo composter…

Empty bin

Empty bin

the content was odourless and the only identifiable ingredient was wood shavings

more on this in an up coming post

more on this in an up coming post

I made some more scrunchies and gave a couple away (which I forgot to photograph)

Progress on the current scrunchie

Progress on the current scrunchie

I taught an ecology course… creatively

The world vegetation mixing desk

Plan for the world vegetation mixing desk

I finished another blanket for the raffle, using squares donated by Jenny from Simply Hooked

lovely lap blanket - thank you, Jenny

lovely lap blanket – thank you, Jenny

I baked cakes, made waffles, roasted vegetables, turned my cheese, walked the dogs, took another huge bag to the local charity shop, tended the chickens and did the day job (scientific editing)… and I made a difficult decision which I then acted upon. So, onwards and upwards…. normal service is now resumed!


Light as a feather

Thanks to everyone who has sent virtual hugs and kind thoughts this week – I’ve made the changes that I needed to make and I’m moving on with my life now. I’ll tell you all about it when I’ve had a bit of time to mull things over.

My week is, however, ending on a high note – I’m having a day of baking and crochet and I’ve just received the most wonderful parcel from Australia.

For months now I have been visiting Anne Lawson’s virtual shop and trying to choose a painting to buy. I really wanted one of her feathers, but I dithered and couldn’t decide which one. And then a couple of weeks ago she offered to make any of her blog readers who asked a little sketch book – how could I resist? Sending something all the way from Australia seemed a big ask, but then I realised that if I bought a painting, I could pay for the painting  and for the postage for it and cover the cost of sending the sketch book.

So, after much more dithering a I chose a fabulous feather: toffee-coloured and created with a combination of watercolour paint and coloured pencils. And this morning this arrived:

My parcel

My parcel

As you can see, I even managed to curb my excitement long enough to photograph it before it was unwrapped!

The little bundle made me smile so much. The feather picture is beautiful and simple and will be on its way to be framed in the next day or two (I have plans to decorate my work room with art and crafts from my friends from around the world), there was a lovely card with a message from Anne and there was the sketch book – hand-stitched and made from watercolour paper with some of Anne’s work already on it (including more feathers). But what about the cover? A fabulous rooster adorns the outside. What a special gift. Thank you Anne… now I just need to decide what is going to go in my very special book.

and so my spirits are lifted… light as a feather and ready for the next journey…

Seeking comfort

What with one thing and another I’m having a bit of a difficult week, but rather than dwell on it I’m going to focus on positive activities…

The weekend before last, Mr Snail mentioned that he had lost his grey woolly scarf – he’s had it as long as I have known him, so it is quite a loss. He didn’t ask me to make him a new one, he just resorted to wearing a cotton one instead. Of course, the temptation was too much for me, so last week I went to Red Apple Yarn especially to seek out some wool to knit a replacement. There is so much to tempt in there, but what I really wanted was some genuinely local wool.

Lovely local yarn

Lovely local yarn

I chose some organic Wensleydale (that’s the breed, not the location) produced in Brechfa, which is less than 30 miles from home. I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy some of this lovely, soft yarn for ages. I’m delighted by the way the scarf is turning out and the wool is lovely to work with. The colours are natural and I’ve even found a couple of tiny bits of vegetation in it… further demonstrating its close to nature credentials!

At the other end of the spectrum – to be bright and cheerful – I have been amusing myself with making scrunchies to add to my stock for forthcoming craft fairs. I must thank Narf for this idea – they are fun to crochet, use up oddments of yarn and I can make them up as I go along.



Shifting my focus

Self-sufficiency is something we have never aspired to. I like olive oil and lemons and west Wales is certainly not the place where these can be produced. However, I do love being able to eat food that we have grown or collected ourselves. Before Mr Snail departed for his latest week in the big city, we were reflecting on what we had eaten this weekend. The list of food that we were responsible for in our diet was quite pleasing:

  • Homemade chocolate ice cream topped with homemade orange curd

    Homemade chocolate ice cream topped with homemade orange curd

    Eggs – made into waffles (for breakfast this morning), orange curd, ice cream and simply fried for lunch yesterday

  • Blackberries picked from the hedgerows last autumn (frozen)
  • Apples picked from a friend’s tree (bottled)
  • Home-grown redcurrants (frozen)
  • Home-grown parsnips (fresh)
  • Home-grown squash (roasted and then frozen)
  • Whey left over from cheese-making and used in the waffles

Most of the other things we ate this weekend were produced locally or were organic imported items (olive oil, tea, coffee and sugar) and I don’t think anything was bought from a major supermarket chain.

Earlier in the week I started writing a blog post about exploitation and just found it all too depressing. When I told my friend Linda about this, she suggested that the answer is to try to keep our focus local – support local producers and growers, buy from local businesses (especially if they have an ethical outlook). That way you can do lots of good and not find yourself paralysed by how awful some aspects of our modern life are with respect to human rights and the planet. She’s right; by keeping my focus local I can remain positive… and have a delicious diet too!



Have a heart

Share the love!

Share the love!

Mr Snail and I don’t ‘do’ Valentine’s Day… as he said to me the other day ‘but I love you all year, I don’t need a special day to tell you’. Very sweet and very true – I don’t want hearts and flowers on 14 February, I want a partner who cares for me all the time.

So, we won’t be exchanging gifts specially for Valentines day – although Mr Snail sometimes brings me a little gift when he arrives back from his week working. Similarly, I am in the process of making him a gift, but I would be making it for him whatever the date. Just like resolutions, I don’t feel that showing love should be confined to a particular time of the year; and I don’t think that love should be measured on the gift scale.

So, let’s show our loved ones that we care for them every day of the year; AND let’s expand that to people we don’t know AND to the planet. If you want to do something special for Valentine’s day – do it for someone you wouldn’t normally think of. I like this idea:

… but let’s make every day ‘Generosity Day’!

The end is nigh…

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

… the end of teabags, that is.

OK, I’m lazy, but I do so love teabags. And I used to think that they were a harmless luxury because they were just made of tea and (unbleached) paper, which composts down and goes back into my garden soil, right? WRONG! They are also made of plastic. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I was shocked to discover a while back that tea bags (apart from the ones with string and a staple) are stuck together with plastic – even the organic ones.

I wrote to Clipper and they told me that yes, they use plastic in their teabags, but it’s not a problem (to them, obviously, not to me). I wrote to Jacksons of Piccadilly because I’d seen mention that their teabags did not contain plastic, but they didn’t even bother to respond… leading me to assume that reports were wrong, because otherwise they’d have been jumping up and down about their plastic-free products and we’d all have been flocking to buy them. So that left me with only one option – give up teabags. You will note that I didn’t consider giving up tea, that would be a step too far!

Tea caddy and a cosy teapot

Tea caddy and a cosy teapot

Of course, giving up tea does not equate to giving up plastic, because most tea comes wrapped in plastic packaging. However, this is not such a problem because (a) at least I can see the stuff and deal with it appropriately, and (b) I can buy my tea loose  from a local shop and take my own container (I already do this for coffee).

And so I have been gradually starting to use loose tea. I bought several different types to try and a new teapot with an infuser. There are still a few teabags in the tin, but only a few, and when they are gone I’m not buying any more. I’m still grumpy about this, but I am determined. Now I just have to decide which blend of tea is my favourite.

Oh, and let me take this opportunity to show off a new tea cosy that I received from a dear friend… and the hens’ attempt to recreate it:

There be dragons

Well, 2015 is turning into a year of dragons – two so far and a third in the planning stage (well, I have the yarn).

The first you already know about: a dragon neck warmer. The pattern is adapted from the one in the book Crochet Ever After. The person it is for was not sure about the snout, so I made some changes. This was made entirely from New Lanark wool in blueberry, black, limestone and iris. It’s all completed now and it on it’s way to its new home… it appears that it is going to be called Jan!

The second dragon (which was actually made first) has finally reached its recipient and so I can reveal it:

This is a Fierce Little Dragon, who has travelled all the way to Tasmania with a story all of his own (written by Mr Snail) to live with Fran and Steve on Serendipity Farm and be the Guardian of Sanctuary. Originally, the idea was that I would make some bunting as a decoration for Sanctuary, but it turns out that bunting is particularly uninspiring… especially when you have a burning desire to make a dragon! This is one more of my Random Crafts of Kindness and was an idea cooked up with Pauline, The Contented Crafter (see her post here)… apparently she wasn’t inspired by bunting either!!

So, after these two, the next one has to be a proper Welsh dragon…

Eggs and citrus

Frosty mornings

Frosty mornings

Despite the cold nights and frosty mornings, all four of the hens have decided that they are going to lay (Lorna had a year off – June 2013 to June 2014 – but is fully back in the swing of things now despite being about five years old). This means that we have eggs. Lots of eggs. The newbies are laying pretty much every day and the other two every few days, so that’s about 20 eggs per week. We are genuinely delighted that they are all doing so well, having lost two of our flock late last summer, it’s good to know that the remaining oldies and the new girls are happy and healthy.

Happy hens this morning

Happy hens this morning

Having had a bit of an egg famine in recent months, I had got out of the habit of using them, but I’m remembering what to do with them now and trying out some new recipes. You can always find homes for eggs, but it really is good to be able to make use of them at home; and with so many available this does require some creative thinking. This is where reading other people’s blog posts can be particularly helpful. For example, I was delighted to come across Anne Wheaton’s post the other day about making Seville orange curd. I am not a fan of marmalade, but I really like citrus curds. They only store for a limited time, but Anne’s recipe is for a single small pot and uses one egg – perfect, and adaptable for other citrus fruits too. So, on Friday I made a pot, and as you can see we have already been tucking in:

I also returned to an old favourite – lemon cake with lemon icing. This recipe is from the first Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. It’s supposed to have poppy seeds in, but I don’t bother; and this time I made it with soft brown sugar because I realised once I’d started that I did not have enough caster sugar. It’s a marvellously light cake because you beat the egg whites and then fold them into the mixture right at the end just before baking. You don’t use the yolks, but I’m planning ice-cream for later in the week… a recipe that, coincidentally, requires exactly the number of yolks I have left over.

In addition, we had bacon and egg butties on Friday and waffles for breakfast this morning… even so, I think there are probably the same number of eggs on the eggskelter as when Mr Snail arrived home for the weekend. I see omelette in my future!

Lots of eggs

an eggskelter… in case you didn’t know what one is!


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