Three Things Thursday: 27 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, sharing plants. On a recent visit to have lunch with Sue (she comments as Coppice Learner on here), she gave us a little clementine plant (grown from a pip) for the limery… I have high hopes, although Mr Snail is worried about oranges outnumbering limes in the limery!! In the same spirit I’m currently experimenting with cuttings from our passionfruit vine* in the hope that I can share this with other gardening friends who have glasshouse space.

Second, a special mend. About 25 years ago, in the days before ubiquitous electronic gadgets to organise our lives, I bought myself a Filofax. Over the years it has travelled extensively and been used year after year. Until, that is, Sam decided that it would make a tasty treat and did this:


it wasn’t supposed to be a dog chew

Fortunately, my friend Mr Stich has been able to restore it to its former state and so now I’m back to being properly organised again! He also sent me two lovely hedgie key rings that he made recently. What a talented craftsman.

Third, Sixty Million Trebles. I’ve recently come across this project via Danielle from The Make It Shop (where I spent World Wide Knit In Public Day):

The UN at the end of 2015 estimated that there are 60 Million refugees Worldwide.  The aim of this group is HUGE.  The objective is that in the summer of next year we create a world record for the largest crochet blanket. It must contain 60 million trebles.  This blanket will then be a yarn bomb in London.  After the event the squares will be taken apart and half of the blankets will go to UK charities and the rest to Hand in Hand For Syria. (Sixty Million Trebles)

I have decided to use yarn that I have been given to make at least one large square to contribute (each donation should measure 36 inches along each side). Here is what I’ve made so far:


just a few hundred trebles so far

It’s not the need to highlight the plight of all the refugees world wide that’s making me smile, but the kindness and generosity of all those involved in doing something positive… another example of craftivism in action.

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?


* My research indicates that passionfruit can be propagated by cuttings, but different varieties require different treatments (with/without growing tips; with/without leaves; in water/treated with rooting powder), although they should all be taken in autumn. Without specific recommendations for the variety that I have, I’m starting with the simplest approaches – stems with and without growing tips in water.


Meet Liisa

We are currently in the throes of apple processing season. My usual approach is to stew all my apples and then bottle them hot before heating them in a water bath to ensure that they keep for a good long time. I used to freeze them, but we just ended up with a freezer full of apples with no room for anything else! Now, once they are processed, no additional energy is required for their storage. This year I’ve also bottled blackberries with some of the apples for a bit of variety. I love being able to preserve food like this, especially apples since we get so many given to us for nothing.

For a few years, though, we have been discussing the possibility of making a scratter and press so that we could produce apple juice. Somehow we never got round to it. And then a couple of weeks ago I was introduced to a gadget that I simply couldn’t resist – a steam juicer. This amazing gadget produces hot juice that can be bottled directly for storage. It’s really just a big steamer with a reservoir to collect the juice, which has a pipe to drain hot juice directly into bottles. All that the user needs to do is wash and then chop up the apples (in fact it works with all sorts of fruit and vegetables), place them in the steamer basket with some sugar if the juice is for keeping, fill the bottom pan with water, turn the heat on and let them get on with it. After about a pint of juice has been released, you collect this in a jug and pour it back over the fruit, but after that there’s very little to do. You obviously need to be around to keep an eye on things to make sure the bottom pan doesn’t boil dry and to drain juice into (pre-heated) bottles, but it’s a remarkably easy way to produce juice.

And the name of this glorious gadget? It’s a Mehu Liisa. And I feel I must thank Rachel (@CambridgeGoats) for introducing me to this wonderful thing. Now, where can I get some more apples…?

Three Things Thursday: 20 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, I’m always pleased when a worn-out object can be repaired or have a damaged part replaced. Who would have thought, though, that it would be possible to get a replacement blade for our 15-year-old potato peeler? In fact we were so pleased that we bought a second peeler… those boxes of apples can now be peeled in half the time.


The joy of peelers


Second, money. Now I know that happiness often comes from the little things in life, but let’s face it, being financially secure means we can enjoy the little things rather than constantly worrying about where our next meal is going to come from, how we are going to cover the rent/mortgage and whether we can afford to switch the heating on. Over the past year or so my much-repaired old computer has progressively been failing – broken mouse key, deteriorating keyboard, problem with overheating because of faulty power supply, software so old it is no longer supported, inability to open new format files for work… the list goes on. Anyway, when the power supply connecter came off in my hand yesterday I decided to finally admit defeat and, because we have money, we were able to just go out and buy me a brand new laptop. Hopefully it will last as many years as the old one and I won’t need to spend any more money on technology for a good long time. I still feel a bit guilty that I can’t keep the old one going, but it’s essential for my livelihood, so there really wasn’t an alternative

Third, I made this little chap and I think he’s rather fun. He’s made from yarn oddments and stuffed with organic kapok. He’s going off to Ludlow Library along with the Fair Isle mice from last week… and then possibly on a library tour (lucky bear)


snug bear


So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?


But is it organic?

My recent enthusiasm for local, unadulterated milk has resulted in conversations with various people and often one of the  first questions asked is ‘But is it organic?’


Fresh from the farm

It’s interesting that this question keeps arising. It’s not so many years ago that no one would have thought to ask, but now ‘organic’ has become the label that we seek to reassure ourselves of quality, ethics, sustainability… a multitude of features that may be real or may be perceived. So what is the truth and does it matter whether an item has the ‘organic’ branding?

Here in the UK there are nine approved organic certification bodies, the largest of which is The Soil Association.

The Soil Association is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use….
The Charity has a wholly owned subsidiary Soil Association Certification Limited, the UK’s largest organic certification body.  This is run as a not for profit company that as well as helping to deliver parts of the Charity’s strategy also generates financial returns that are ploughed back into the Charity’s wider work.

So the term ‘Organic’ refers specifically to legal certification… but what are producers certified for? Well, the definition is covered by EU law

Organic production respects natural systems and cycles. Biological and mechanical production processes and land-related production should be used to achieve sustainability, without having recourse to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In organic farming, closed cycles using internal resources and inputs are preferred to open cycles based on external resources. If the latter are used, they should be

  • organic materials from other organic farms
  • natural substances
  • materials obtained naturally, or
  • mineral fertilisers with low solubility.

Exceptionally, however, synthetic resources and inputs may be permissible if there are no suitable alternatives. Such products, which must be scrutinised by the Commission and EU countries before authorisation, are listed in the annexes to the implementing regulation (Commission Regulation (EC) No. 889/2008).

However, it’s worth noting that any grower can follow the organic guidance without paying for the certification; in this case, however, they can’t legally label their produce as being ‘organic’.

A little while ago I met someone who was convinced that we should only buy organic produce, but I have to say that I disagree. Many small producers simply can’t afford organic certification, and many producers whose systems are low-input don’t quite fulfil the criteria. And, of course, there’s always the trade-off between locally produced non-organic produce and organic produce transported from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

The answer? Well, nothing is simple, and if you have to shop in a supermarket, then the labels are all you can rely on. However, if you can buy from smaller shops or direct from the producer, then things are different. In these cases, you can have a conversation about the food – you can talk about the way it is produced, how far it has travelled and what chemicals have been applied.

The farm milk I am buying isn’t ‘organic’, but

  • the milking parlour (and other energy required by the farm) is produced by a wind turbine
  • as much of the cattle feed as possible is produced on site
  • the cows are not routinely given antibiotics (they don’t need to be, they are milked twice a day and any problems can be identified very quickly),
  • the food miles involved (from them to us) are very low
  • there is no packaging – I take my own container
  • I can go to the farm and see the animals and judge the standard of welfare for myself and ask any questions I want.

In a supermarket I am relying on others to evaluate the ethics of the food I buy, so certification is useful. Buying direct I feel that I am making informed choices, so the label is no longer a key issue. And, in addition, the more we talk directly to producers, the more they hear what we, as consumers, want and the more we can encourage them (including by giving them our money) to implement the approaches that we would like to see.

Creative Dying

Today I’m delighted to introduce what I think is the first ever guest blog post here on The Snail of Happiness, written by my good friend Katie Shepherd about a project very close to my heart…

I am a palliative care nurse and permaculture designer with a spiritual self deeply rooted in Earth-based seasons and patterns.  Issues relating to death and dying are intrinsic to most aspects of my life.

My experience of being with and working alongside dying people and their families is that the majority of people are pleased and relieved both to have the chance to talk about their fears around death and dying and to be supported through the process of making positive plans for the kind of death they would like.

My own observations of dying people and bereaved relatives are that those who have talked openly and honestly about death and dying – and who have planned for what they would like to happen when the time comes – tend to have a more peaceful, meaningful time at the end of their life.

Obviously, we cannot predict how, when and where we will die. But the likelihood of having the death that we want – which takes into account our needs and wishes and provides the right support for those around us – increases greatly if we make plans for it.

Most people in the UK die in acute hospitals, often having undergone procedures which are unnecessary and are wasteful of resources and human energy. Research consistently tells us that most people would actually prefer to die in their own homes, away from a busy acute medical environment. Such an environment is unnecessary anyway for the vast majority of people as they approach the end of their lives.


all sorts of resources at the click of your mouse

Creative Dying is the name of one of my permaculture designs that has gradually been evolving over the past 4 years. It’s a project about supporting people – at any time of their life – to plan and design the death they would like. Creative Dying is a solutions-focused response to some of the problems relating to how we die in the UK.

The ‘home’ of Creative Dying is a website and I use the permacultuture ethics, Fair Shares, Earth Care and People Care  to set the scene and explain in more detail how the current way we die is often at odds with these ethics

The main topics in Creative Dying are

  • Creative Resources – a frequently updated page with freely available ideas and resources to help people look at creating a plan for their own death.
  • Permaculture Design and Creative Dying – A guided tour through The Design Web, a permaculture design process, and how it can help people create their own plan for the end of their life.
  • Creating Your Own Plan – Additional Support – I offer coaching (either via Skype or in person) and workshops on any aspect of Creative Dying, plus

Creative Dying also has its own FaceBook page and Twitter Account  (@creative_dying). Currently being launched is a blog and Facebook Creative Dying Group – both with the aim of encouraging online discussion about death and dying.

Creative Dying uses permaculture design  at its centre and will appeal to the many people throughout the world already using permaculture to increase resilience and healing in other aspects of their life and work. It is aimed at anyone who would like to explore the creative, positive and unique approaches that we can take to considering the end of our lives and how we die.

Katie Shepherd is a Permaculture Designer and Practitioner

You can find out more about Creative Dying at:

Three Things Thursday: 13 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

This is UK Wool Week, so I’m celebrating things woolly…

First, I have finally finished the main blocks of my crochet flower cardigan and have begun on the flowers themselves. Currently there’s only one in place, but I do have a little basket of a couple of dozen flower centres:


One day I will have a cardigan

Second, I’m making progress on lining, stiffening and constructing a crochet bag that I made from left-over yarn from other projects. The sewing is taking way longer than the crochet did, but the end is in sight.


Eventually it will be a small woolly satchel

Third, I’m enjoying using yarn scraps to make little fair-isle mice. These are going to be displayed at Ludlow Library as part of a project by Loudwater Studio to create an Enchanted Winter Garden. Loudwater Studio is “a fantastic arts, crafts and sound recording studio for the whole community” in Ludlow. The project appealed especially because it’s in the library. Anyway, if you want to contribute too, follow the link above to see the details. The mouse pattern is by Janet McMahon on her blog Yellow Pink and Sparkly here. Oh, I’ve made a snowflake too!


Knitted mice, crochet snowflake

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

Caws Penlan y Môr

Much of this weekend has been dedicated to making cheese (caws in Welsh): a hard cheddar-style, a soft curd and ricotta.

Curd cheese is easy – simply warm the milk, add the culture, leave it in a warm place for about 12 hours and then drain it through muslin until it reaches the required consistency (24 hours, perhaps), cutting and mixing from time to time to release the whey. After that it just needs a little salt and it’s ready to eat. Mine is currently still draining, but we will be able to taste it tomorrow.

If you want to have a go at making cheese, then curd cheese is an ideal starting point – you don’t need any special equipment – just a big saucepan, a square of cloth and a broom handle to hang it on! I buy my cheese cultures from Moorlands Cheesemaking Ltd.

Hard cheese is much more involved and, because it needs to mature, you don’t know how successful it has been for several months. To warm milk, you add a microbial culture and then rennet. The curds have to be cut and gently heated to draw the moisture out, before several repetitions of draining and cutting. Finally the dry curds are salted before going into a mould and being put into the cheese press. The pressure is gradually increased, and pressing continues for a total of about 48 hours. After a short period for the surface to dry once the cheese it out of the press and removed from the mould, I wax my cheese, although you can wrap it in cloth to mature. Waxing it saves having to wash the surface periodically, and means you don’t have to be quite so careful about the humidity of the place that it’s stored.

As a result of making both types of cheese, you are left with lots of whey, but it needn’t go to waste. Heating the whey to just below boiling makes more protein appear, and this can be strained off – this is how ricotta is made:

Then there’s quite a lot of liquid whey stillleft. This can be frozen for later use in cooking – it makes lovely waffles and pancakes and you can use it instead of stock in soups. I also mix it with oats for the chickens (they love it) and apparently you can wash your hair with it (I’ve never tried, as I’d rather eat it).

I really love the apparent magic of making cheese and I do encourage you to have a go if you are interested and can get hold of non-homogenised milk… even more so if you can buy milk direct from the farm like I can. And it you are in Ceredigion, they’d be delighted to see you at Penlan y Môr… do mention that I sent you!


Llaeth Crai – my own revolution

Democracy is a great thing – we all get to vote periodically and select the people who will lead our country. And then we get to moan about them, see them hand power to unelected organisations, and basically do a bunch of things that make us unhappy.

How would you feel, however, about getting to cast a vote everyday? How would you like to make choices that would have a direct effect on the country, the economy, your community? Does this appeal to you? What if I told you that you were already doing it? Well, you are – every time you spend money, you are casting a vote. You are choosing the sort of world you want and you are choosing the businesses that you want to thrive. Most of us don’t have unlimited money and so we have to prioritise where we spend it. Unless you are living in poverty you have a multitude of choices and  encourage you to think about their implications.

Always buying the very latest Smartphone means you are supporting a multinational company that exploits its workers and plunders the earth for raw materials, adversely affecting lives and the natural world. And this is your choice – no one is forcing you to make it. Alternatively, you could keep the phone you have and use the money that you would have spent on the new one to do some good, to support ethical companies, local producers or crafts people. But  what about everyday purchases? Lets think about food…

The people who feed us are getting shafted by the supermarkets and we need to make sure that this doesn’t happen Without our farmers, most of us would not have anything to eat and even those of us who produce some of our own food would be in dire straights. Dairy farming is a case in point – in the supermarket whole milk costs 45-80p per litre, but farmers currently only get paid about 22p. This means that dairy farming is right on the cusp of being viable, and many small farms are only able to make it pay because the family effectively works for next to nothing. And this matters – it matters because these people are often at the heart of our rural communities, because these people are the guardians of our land and because they are almost certainly being forced to work within an economic model that makes no sense to them.

Milk is produced across the UK, so why is it transported hundreds of miles around the country to be sold, packaged, resold and processed? Surely in these days when we need to minimise our use of fossil fuels, the best place for milk to be processed and consumed would be close to where it was produced?

So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Several local farms in our area have started selling their milk direct, and so the other day I arranged to go to the closest one, Penlan y Môr, to make my first purchase. They sell raw (i.e. unpasteurised) whole milk in glass bottles:


Returnable glass bottles with screw caps

They will also put it in containers that you take yourself. There is no throw-away packaging and no unnecessary transport. As well as trying out the milk for general use, I wanted some for cheese-making. Apparently I am the first customer to turn up with my own churn…


My churn being filled

The cheese-making is currently underway – a hard cheddar-type and a soft curd cheese. It will be a few months before I can report on how the former turns out, but the curd cheese will be ready to taste tomorrow and I’ll be taking a sample back to the farm so that the family can taste what their milk can become.

Now that’s the type of thing I want to do to support my community and make the world the sort of place I want to live in. How about you?


My milk – positively shining in the sun!

Three Things Thursday: 6 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, we are enjoying sunny weather here at the moment. Although the temperatures are distinctly autumnal (7°C when I got up this morning), it’s still lovely to sit in the limery and see blue skies.

Second, anticipation. Mr Snail has gone off to Ludlow today and should be returning home on Monday laden down with cooking apples. I know that in a couple of week’s time I will probably be bemoaning the fact that I’m still processing the things, right now I’m very excited about the prospect of them arriving. Here are a few pictures of past apple seasons…

Third, the return of my monthly lunch-date with some of my permaculture friends. Tomorrow we are planning a blind apple-tasting (I am taking some Ashmead’s Kernel) and a good catch-up since we haven’t got together for several months. This afternoon I have baked gluten-free Parisian gingerbread to take… let’s hope it tastes good – it’s the first time I’ve tried the recipe.


Parisian gingerbread

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?


Distractions and an on-going project (still)

The wedding was weeks ago and I still haven’t finished the jacket I intended to wear for it. Note to self – be not too ambitious when selecting a pattern that needs to be completed by a specific deadline. Rather than setting it aside in a fit of pique, however, I have persisted and am rather enjoying it… here is progress so far:


At least I have two sleeves now

Soon I will be starting on the flowers that will adorn the ends of the sleeves and the open edges.

Focusing on such a time-consuming creation has meant relatively few finished objects. However, I recently realised that, to lift my mood, it would be good to make some small things, so I did: a trial pair of dragon-scale wrist warmers, a couple of hats (one for me and one for a friend) and a squash (which I now have no idea what to do with!):

It’s always good to make something when you feel glum! What do you do when the world feels depressing?

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