If you only grow one thing

I returned from holiday to a garden with few crops. I knew that builders and gardening do not mix well, so I had left plenty space for the builders to expand into, thus severely curtailing my planting. However, before I left I sowed a large container (a plastic fish box salvaged from the beach years ago) with salad leaves. And now I am reaping the rewards:

A mixed crop

A mixed crop

Since I arrived home on Sunday evening I have had four meals containing leaves harvested from this box and there are plenty more to come. I chose to plant red mizuna and a red-leaved lettuce, plus there are a few self-seeded Claytonia in there. I can harvest exactly the amount I want, so my salads are always fresh.

If you want to start growing and only have a limited space, or worry that your skills are not up to it, get yourself a container and plant some seeds for salad leaves (you can buy a mixed packet). Choose cut-and-come-again varieties and you will have weeks of fresh food at a fraction of the cost of those plastic bags of mixed leaves you can buy in the supermarket. Plus the only packaging will be a seed packet or two and you won’t have unused food going to waste in your refrigerator.

This is why I garden – pesticide-free food, freshly harvested, no plastic bags, cheap and easy.

What I made on my holidays

Between gazing at the fantastic views and leaping off the boat for a wander round whatever little place we had stopped at (even if just for 15 minutes), I was very busy with hook and needles.

I completed a pair of socks for Mr Snail:

Arctic Awakening Socks: knitted in Noro Taiyo yarn

Arctic Awakening Socks: knitted in Noro Taiyo yarn

With the left-overs, Auguste got a hat and scarf set:

Noro yarn crochet hat and scarf

Noro yarn crochet hat and scarf

I made a start, and good progress, on the Bavarian crochet lap blanket that has been in the planning stage for ages. I bought the yarn (Baa Ram Ewe Titus) on my 2014 trip to Wonderwool, so it has taken me a whole year to get round to using it.

Currently it's 56cm across. The colours are Eccup, Bramley Baths and Filey

Currently it’s 56cm across. The colours are Eccup, Bramley Baths and Filey.

Plus I made a single sock in Schoeller + Stahl Fortissima Mexiko sock yarn, which is lovely to knit up (unlike the Noro, which I was not impressed with):

One less-than subtle sock with the completed Noro pair

One less-than-subtle sock (shade 9070) with the completed Noro pair

I really must make the second sock, otherwise Mr Snail will have to hop!

Since we got back, I’ve been looking at patterns for my Norwegian yarn and I thought I might try this one… these will be for me, as Mr Snail has had a pair and  half out of the holiday already!!

Midnight sunsets and fantastic fjords

Mr Snail, Auguste* and I have returned from spending 12 days on a boat travelling from Bergen to Kirkenes and back: not exactly a cruise, but a voyage on one of the ships in the Hurtigruten fleet, that constantly sail up and down the Norwegian coast, ferrying cars, local passengers and cargo as well as visitors like us enjoying the wonderful country.

So, without further ado, a small glimpse of what we saw:


* A bear who has come to live and travel with us… but that’s a story for Mr Snail to tell

When in Norway…

You may have noticed my absence – no blog posts for a couple of weeks. Originally I intended to write whilst I was on holiday, but the scenery and the knitting and crochet was all too tempting and so I spent my time gazing at passing fjords, knitting socks (three in total), crocheting a hat and scarf for Auguste, crocheting the beginning of a long-planned lap blanket, eating amazing food and strolling round a variety of coastal towns along the coast of Norway. Mr Snail kept those of you who follow his blog or Twitter feed updated occasionally, but mostly the computer remained only a slight distraction.

A small haul of Norwegian sock wool

A small haul of Norwegian sock wool

I was delighted to return to a country where knitting is such a normal part of life. On board ship I was able to observe the knitting of socks, hats, mittens and larger garments. I only saw one other person with a crochet hook, and all the knitters were using either circular or double-pointed needles. My Norwegian being non-existent, I didn’t feel comfortable approaching anyone to talk yarn, but I was delighted to discover from the lady in a fabulous wool shop in Tromsø that Norwegian yarn is much more readily available than when we visited in 2013. As in the UK, there is increasing recognition that local yarn should be valued. So, unlike last time, I was able to purchase some REAL Norwegian sock yarn… and delighted to be told that the shop will happily send me more if I didn’t buy enough. They do have a website, although it’s only partially translated into English – for which there were many apologies and a promise of improvement over the summer (oh, the shame of being an Anglophone and living in a world where there is some sort of expectation that everyone will pander to us). I now just have to find a traditional sock pattern that I like to have a go at.

Here are some examples of yarny activity on board:

So Auguste and I just had to join in…

I’ll share my accomplishments in a future post.

Loyal to the soil

The other day my friend Ann and I were discussing the fact that if she wants to become a British citizen, she will be obliged to swear  or affirm (the former involves God and the latter doesn’t – you get to choose which) an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Strangely, because I was born here, I can choose not to ally myself with the Queen and even, I suppose, to plot her downfall (in a democratic way!) but if Ann wants to be British, she can’t.

At a citizenship ceremony you affirm your allegiance by saying the following:

I (your full name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British Citizen I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to law.

I’ve quoted the non-religious version, but you can swear to God if you wish. In the ceremony, this is followed by the “Pledge of commitment”:

I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

Whilst I don’t have a problem with the pledge, I would certainly have to think carefully about the affirmation. I’m not a big fan of the royal family – they are after all just people who, by accident of birth, are able to lead a very privileged life. Although our monarch is the head of state, she doesn’t actually run the country… and anyway she has no skills to do so apart from having ancestors who were the biggest bullies in their time. And this got me to thinking about what I would feel happy affirming my allegiance to…

These ones were planted a bit later

Celebrating to bounty of the soil

I’m not at all nationalistic – I prefer to see myself as a citizen of the world and to celebrate my links to all other people, not just those who happen to occupy an arbitrary area. Don’t get me wrong – I am very grateful to have been born in a country where I can speak freely – including telling you I’m not keen on the monarchy – without fear of retribution, and where I experience no severe repression because of my gender, lack of religion, skin colour or sexual orientation. The question is, given a choice, what would I affirm my commitment to? I think the answer is not to my country or monarch, but to the land… and air and water; to the earth around me and all it’s wonderful diversity.

So, as a citizen of the earth, this is my affirmation and pledge

I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that, as a member of the human race, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the earth beneath my feet, the air that I breathe and the water that sustains me.
I will give my loyalty to the natural world and respect its rights and bounty. I will value the world’s ecosystems and work to enhance the land that sustains me – leaving it richer than when I found it. I will observe nature and be inspired by what I see, fulfilling my role as a part of the diversity life on this amazing planet.

How about you? What sort of pledge would you make?

More stealth plastic

After Mr Snail’s recent discovery of plastic in the ‘plastic-free’ Easter egg he was given, I have been thinking about ‘hidden’ plastics… you know the sort of thing – plastic coatings on the inside of cans and jar lids, plastics in your clothes and plastics in your toiletries. Yes, you read that right “in your toiletries” – I don’t mean around your toiletries in the form of plastic containers, I mean toothpaste and body washes that contain plastics. Specifically tiny plastic beads, otherwise known as microbeads.

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

Plastic-free tea

Now, as you know, I was rather upset to discover a while ago that there was plastic IN my teabags and, as a result, I have converted to using loose tea and buying it unpackaged, using my own containers. So, the last thing I wanted to hear was that there might be secret plastics in my toiletries too. When I started investigating further, I discovered that all sorts of plastics – polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethlyl methacrylate (PMMA) and  nylon – are put into all sorts of products – face soaps, body washes, toothpastes, lip gloss and nail polish. There are even plastic microbeads in some anti-aging makeup… you can fill the creases on your face with gunge containing plastic – nice!

Because these fragments of plastic are so small, they are easy for us to ignore and we might consider that this means they are not a problem, but in fact there are real issues. Microbeads don’t get filtered out of waste water in treatment plants, so they get right into the environment where they absorb toxins and are then consumed by aquatic life… some of which gets eaten by humans (poisoned plastic sashimi anyone?):

Plastic microbeads absorb persistent organic pollutants (long-lasting toxic chemicals like pesticides, flame retardants, motor oil and more) and other industrial chemicals that move up the food chain when the toxic-coated beads are consumed by fish and other marine organisms. A single microbead can be up to a million times more toxic than the water around it. (Plastic Microbeads 101)

And it’s all unnecessary! The plastic beads are used because they are slightly abrasive, but there are natural products that are suitable too – like good, old-fashioned pumice, or fully biodegradable apricot shells. Sadly, microbeads are cheap and not too abrasive, so you can be use products with them in every day (thus, potentially increasing consumption).

No microbeads in my locally made soap, or my homemade cotton wash cloth

No microbeads in my locally made soap, or my homemade cotton wash cloth

When I investigated my toiletries, however, I was able to breathe easy… my organic toothpaste was free of microbeads, as was my soap (it’s made by a local artisan, so I know exactly what’s in it, including a complete absence of palm oil). I don’t wear any makeup and I don’t have specific face wash (exfoliating or otherwise), so no worries there either. I’m certainly glad that I haven’t found another part of my life that I need to change because of stealth plastic!

If you want to make your concerns about these hidden plastics known, I encourage you to sign the petition on The Story of Stuff web site… just click here.


There is sound scientific research demonstrating the problems, including:

D. Barnes, F. Galgani, R. Thompson, M. Barlaz, Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 364, 1985-1998 (2009). In 2012, scientists found micro-beads numbering more than 450,000 per square kilometer in parts of the Great Lakes (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X13006097)

Yukie Mato, Tomohiko Isobe, Hideshige Takada, Haruyuki Kanehiro, Chiyoko Ohtake, and Tsuguchika Kaminuma, Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2001, 35 (2), pp 318–324 (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es0010498?journalCode=esthag)

Chelsea M. Rochman, Eunha Hoh, Tomofumi Kurobe & Swee J. Teh, Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress, Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 3263 (http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/131121/srep03263/full/srep03263.html)

It looks worse before it looks better

The plans for the orangery, as our builder has decided to call it, are agreed. Work will start in three weeks time and will involve the construction of a patio and a raised bed as well as the glass room itself. Before the builders arrive, however, we have to clear the area of all sorts of things: water butts, a bench, lots of pots (with and without plants), bags of compost… you know the sort of thing that accumulates around and inside a greenhouse.

And so, after a fairly lazy day yesterday, today we were out in the cool but very sunny garden. Weed-infested pots were transferred to chicken-ville to provide great entertainment for four happy hens; broken plant pots were thrown away and in tact plant pots moved into the shed or a big tea chest that acts as useful storage; water butts were disconnected; I collected old plant labels and picked up lots of bits of plastic that seem to have accumulated around the garden (more on that in a forthcoming post); Mr Snail dismantled the staging in the greenhouse and removed the  “ladder allotment” from the fence near where the building work will be happening and attached it to the fence in the waste of space area (he even used a spirit level to make sure it wasn’t wonky):

The general result looks like chaos, but I think that is always the way when major clearing work is in progress. We are left with a dilapidated greenhouse that needs the last of its contents removing, plus a whole pile of things that need a temporary home while the building work happens. I’m rather looking forward to it being all over… and the joy that will come with a robust indoor growing space.



After three full-on days teaching a diploma course, I am left feeling wiped out. Don’t get me wrong, the learners were great, the field trip turned out really well and the whole experience was both positive and stimulating, but it has left  me feeling drained and unable to do very much.

Some days should be about relaxing... Max and Mr Snail demonstrate one approach

Some days should be about relaxing… Max and Mr Snail demonstrate one approach

However, trying to lead a more sustainable life means finding the balance and knowing when it’s necessary to relax and regain your energy. As a result, today I have been gentle on myself – a stroll with the dogs and Mr Snail this morning after a trip to the post office, charity shop (two more bags of “stuff” gone) and newspaper shop. Then coffee and the newspaper (I don’t read the news bit) before some blog reading and posting a few pictures on Ravelry of my latest projects.

It’s a chilly day today, so Mr Snail suggested making lasagne – with the dual purpose of providing a delicious hot meal and warming the house whilst the oven is on. I always like to maximise oven use, so I have also made charcoal biscuits for the dogs and those are cooking along with dinner. In addition, I’ve made a start on a new scarf – this one a Welsh dragon, so the main colour is red.

Even on days when I don’t do much I always try to be creative… how about you?

The good bits

Whilst marking is the worst part of teaching, there are some good bits. Today, on our Habitat Creation and Restoration course, we spent most of our time at Cwmsymlog, an old metal mine. The sun shone, we saw rare species of fern and discussed natural habitat development and dealing with contaminated land. Every time I run a course I am inspired by my learners and I gain new perspectives on my subject, plus I get to spend happy days in the field.

And what course would be complete without cake?

Blackberry and white chocolate muffins for the last day

Blackberry and white chocolate muffins ready for tomorrow (by request!)

It’s a cover-up

I’ve been teaching all day today, so I’m out of words. However, to relax this evening I finished off the last of the covers for phase 1 of the crochet sofa. What do you think?


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