Three Things Thursday: 18 August 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 smiling at rainbows. There’s a saying that you can’t have rainbows without rain, but it’s completely untrue. If you have one of Pauline’s fantastic light-catchers, you just need a little sunshine.

Second, seeing the limery as I envisaged it… with loads of plants, crops to pick and space for us too:

IMGP0225

this is how we see it from the kitchen

Third, happy dogs. A close friend of mine has just lost one of her dogs and has another seriously ill (possibly because of salmonella or poison) and so I’m taking time to feel grateful for Sam and Max. I also want to say thank you to everyone who has a shelter/rescue dog – there are so many unwanted dogs, let’s give them all homes before we start deliberately making more.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

…and a little extra one that has happened today (I knew it was going to, but not exactly when)… I’m day 231 here and you can watch the video tutorial here

 

Finding pleasure

What makes you happy? New shoes? Going to the cinema? Champagne? A walk in the park? Diamonds?

It’s different for everyone, and it changes as we get older. These days I get much more pleasure out of ‘doing’ rather than ‘possessing’. Experiences with my friends and family give me much longer-lasting pleasure than I ever get from ‘stuff’. And being creative -making, growing or cooking – makes me incredibly happy. Of course, there are things that I own that I love and wouldn’t want to be without: my knitting needles and crochet hooks; my laptop (old by current standards); my work light; my new varifocal glasses; my mp3 player (ancient by current standards!) for playing audiobooks… But I don’t want to replace them. Newer versions would not make me happier.

Judging by what we see presented in the media I am the exception. You only need to think of the queues that form when a new i-phone is about to hit the shops to realise that this sort of thing really means something to lots of people. I do wonder, however, how long the joy lasts. Is there a constant desire to have the latest/newest/shiniest/most fashionable ‘thing’? So that as soon as they own the new thing, they are thinking about its future replacement. And there is plenty evidence (here for example) that materialism does not make you happy.

So, this weekend, when I had two days to do as I pleased,with no one else to think about (Mr Snail was away helping my sister dismantle a shed) I didn’t rush off to the shops, I painted the hallway, I planted potatoes (in pots in the limery) and me and the pups did lots of this:

The only thing missing from the pictures is the tea and biscuits!

I do need to do some shopping soon, but that’s for seeds… which you only own for a short time before they magically transform into something else!!

 

Not quite the big reveal…

I know that lots of you have been itching to see progress on the Masterpiece and I have been remiss about keeping you updated. Frankly, over recent weeks, something had to give and this was it. As a result I have lots of squares to post up on the Masterpiece Page as well as work to do on the scrapbook, although some of the pictures have made it onto the Pinterest board. However, having got my portfolio of permaculture designs sent off at the beginning of the week, I have had time to focus on some crochet.

Yarn from Karen... just starting the square

Yarn from Karen… just starting the square

All the squares that I have received are now part of the blanket and there is a gap for just one more that I’m expecting very soon. The final square that I am making myself is from wool sent to me by the lovely Karen B of Sweet Baby Veg. In fact, I had a couple of other squares already done, but when this yarn arrived this week, I just had to add some to my blanket. I haven’t decided what to do with the rest, but I will, no doubt be inspired soon. Karen was very modest about her gift, saying that it was not particularly original, but I honestly cannot think of a better parcel to arrive through the post. The yarn is made by Tavistock Tastes and Textures and is from their flock of Jacob’s sheep, which graze on Dartmoor. The colours are ‘natural’, ‘rust’ and ‘ocean’. It’s turning out to be lovely yarn to work with and speedily worked up…

Completed square

Completed square

Anyway, this is where I am at so far, with the above square and the one from Lorraine still to be incorporated and then lots of edging. What do you think?

So far, it’s got Max’s approval:

And Sam’s quite keen too:

Happy dogs

Happy dogs

These foolish things

Today is 1 April – traditionally associated with practical jokes and fools. I’m not a fan of the practical joke – it seems like a mean way to be entertained, and always at the expense of someone else. As for ‘corporate jokes’, they rarely raise much of a smile; the ones listed in this article in The Telegraph today seem particularly dull. I do, however like a bit of silliness. The world is a better place for us laughing together rather than at each other. So, rather than play a trick on you, I thought I’d share just a few frivolous things that make me smile…

Amigurumi

Worm, toadstools, slug, strawberry, Cooey the pigeon and a bacterium

Worm, toadstools, slug, strawberry, Cooey the pigeon, a cup cake and a bacterium

An unexpected gift

A lucet from Linda

A lucet from Linda

Chickens… they don’t come much more foolish than this

Lorna

Lorna

Self-patterning yarn

Doesn't look very promising in the ball, but makes fantastic socks and random hexipuffs

Doesn’t look very promising in the ball, but makes fantastic socks and random hexipuffs

The newly invented ‘slippie’

Our slippers!

Mr Snail-of-happiness and me… with toastie toes

And, finally, not foolish, but something that always raises a smile… a lovely sunrise:

Winter sunrise

Winter sunrise

So, what’s making you smile or laugh today?

Oh, and a little addition… these foolish things make me laugh too:

Max and Sam

Max and Sam

 

Companionship

This post marks the half-way stage of NaBloPoMo. So far I have written 6603 words (excluding these), posted 46 photographs and received one award – not bad for half a month! In contrast, Mr Snail-of-happiness, who is taking part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has written more than 20, 000 words, but, hey, it’s not a competition! What has been good about living with someone who is also participating in a writing challenge is the support this brings – have you completed your target for the day? If not there’s sympathy and encouragement and if you have, there’s celebration. In addition, the fact that the challenges are different means that there really is no competition, which is good for me because I’m not competitive by nature.

There are two dog beds but Max and Sam choose to sleep together in my office

There are two dog beds but Max and Sam choose to sleep together in my office

Having another person around is important to me, and represents the smallest unit of ‘community’. Mr S-o-h is not my only  companion when writing, however… often in my office I am joined by a dog or two; and they enjoy the company of each other as well. Interestingly, Sam (that’s her in the foreground) was something of a problem dog when we first got her and we were recommended to get her a friend to help calm her down. Max is a very relaxed dog, with a laid-back attitude and his arrival certainly changed Sam’s life – he has taught her to be house-trained, to eat properly and not to be scared of fireworks. As with many relationships, however, it’s not simply one-way: she encourages him to play and cleans his ears, and when we have to leave them in the house, they don’t get upset because they have each other for company. Dogs (like humans) are pack animals and social interaction with other members of their species is really good for them.

All snuggled up in the laying box!

All snuggled up in the laying box!

And they are not the only sociable creatures we have around the place. Despite having a ‘pecking order’, chickens also seem to enjoy each other’s company. I have mentioned Esme snuggling up with the others during her moult, but even now her feathers are growing back, the snuggling continues.

I think in life we all appreciate some companionship – whether a cup of coffee with a friend, a nice comment on a blog or a phone call from a loved one. By opening ourselves up to others, whilst accepting some risk, we give ourselves the opportunity for amazing relationships and experiences and we start to build communities. So, go one, do something sociable today and strengthen the community you live within!

Dog poo experiments

My inspiration - Dr Andrew Agnew

My inspiration – Dr Andrew Agnew

One of my lecturers at university, the person who inspired me to become an ecologist, was Dr ADQ Agnew. He was (and still is) the epitome of a dotty professor… one day he came in to the department wearing two ties because he’d forgotten that he’d put one on and so he donned a second before leaving the house. He would sing to us in lectures (I particularly remember a rendition of ‘I’m a Gnu‘) and deliver anecdotes… he even took us on a field trip to the Low Countries (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France and a bit of Germany) that involved him and seven female students all in their early 20s… which probably wouldn’t be allowed these days! Anyway, Andrew often claimed to have studied the effects of population density by examining dog turd predation by lawnmowers in a park… I can find no published paper on this subject (and, believe me, I’ve looked), but it may exist somewhere. I might ask him about it next time I see him.

Max - a source of pollution

Max – a source of pollution

My experimentation, in contrast, has a rather more practical bias. One of the waste products that we have to deal with on a daily basis is, indeed, from our dogs, Sam and Max. They are terriers, so there isn’t a huge volume, but even so it is something that we do not feel happy about sending to landfill.

It is easy enough these days to buy plastic ‘poop’ bags that are biodegradable and simply to throw these away with all the rest of the trash. I wondered whether it might be possible, however, to collect the dog poo this way and then just place the entire bundle on a compost heap to break down. However, some trials revealed that even after a year, the bags were still identifiable, although the content had often disappeared. Anyway, whilst trying to reduce our impact on the environment, it seems inappropriate to ‘consume’ plastic bags in this way.

What we wanted was a composting system that was contained (to avoid flies and smells) and that was separate from our standard composing bins, so that the end product could be used separately. It’s generally recommended that you don’t use humanure on food crops and I assume that the same goes for doganure (ooh look, another new word!). However, whilst I don’t want to apply it to salad crops, for instance, I see no problems with using this type of compost when planting fruit trees and bushes, or in a bean trench.

I have written in the past about my wormery, but I have become increasingly aware that I don’t really need one except for the liquid feed: pretty much all the compostable material we produce can go on a ‘normal’ compost heap and with the aid of grass clippings, we manage to get these hot enough to break down quite quickly. In addition, I’m an increasing fan of in situ composting… so that the heat generated can be utilised by growing plants. So, the wormery has become superfluous and, thus, available for use in the composting of dog waste.

Some limited research suggested that dog waste is acidic (I haven’t tested this, but perhaps I will once I can work out the best way to sterilise my pH meter afterwards) and that some means of raising the pH would be appropriate. One of the suggestions was that adding wood ash would work – something that we produce from our Kelly Kettle and that we normally add to the compost or put straight on the garden. I was inspired by Deano’s approach to this problem at the Sustainable Small Holding, but decided to use shredded paper for some bulk rather than the Miscanthus that he has access to. We collect the faeces in a bucket round the garden, but when we are out on a walk, they are picked up in paper and transported in a plastic bag before being added to the bin, complete with the paper wrapping as an additional source of carbon.

Initially, I only added the three dry ‘ingredients’: faeces, ash and paper. But Deano’s suggestion to add urine as well seems to have been well-founded: a recent agitation of the content of the bin revealed that it was very dry and did not seem to be very active, although there was no unpleasant smell. In addition, there was no sign of the worms that I had added. So, with this in mind, I have been adding urine for the past couple of weeks, now that I have a ready source. I will give it another stir in a week or two and see how decomposition is progressing.

Despite the slow composting process and the dryness, I had extracted about a litre and a half of liquid feed from the reservoir at the bottom of the bin prior to starting to add additional liquid in the form or urine. This extract has been used to feed peppers and tomatoes… applied to the soil not the foliage… and is the only feed that I have provided them with so far this year, with good results.

Although I had hoped that decomposition would be quicker than it has been so far, I am hopeful that this will turn out to be a valuable way to add fertility to the soil and will be a real case of turning something initially perceived to be a pollutant into a valuable resource. In the past urine and dog faeces were used in the tanning industry, but since this is not an option for me, I think I’ll stick with increasing soil fertility!

Confining Jurassic chicken

Anti-chicken netting... but not anti-Aliss!

Anti-chicken netting… but not anti-Aliss!

Well finally I had to admit defeat – Aliss, the velociraptor of our little flock, has proved that no amount of netting over vegetables is going to keep her out. She won the battle of the runner beans last year and this spring she has managed to penetrate my best defenses covering the oriental greens bed. So, over the weekend, we took drastic action and the garden is now split into two parts: chickenville and vegetable land. Well. three parts if you include the fruit cage, to which the hens have access at certain times of the year. The barrier across the path is temporary at the moment, but Mr Snail-of-happiness will build a gate to go there soon. On the other side of the fruit cage a more elaborate construction of chicken wire was required, as it had to go through the willow hedge and be attached to the fence between us and the field behind.

No-entry, chickens!

No-entry, chickens!

This separation of the garden into several areas follows the approach taken at Station Road… which continues to inspire me! I will carry on netting the vegetables because it keeps dogs off, but it won’t be such a problem if some of the pegs come adrift or if strong winds blow the netting about. I don’t want the chickens excluded all the time – their slug hunting and week clearing skill will be required during certain periods , but at least this way my greens will be safe!

Well-behaved terriers... it took us a while to train them to this stage.

Well-behaved terriers… it took us a while to train them to this stage.

The separation also has the benefit that chickens and dogs can be out in the garden unsupervised at the same time. Max seems to be completely trustworthy with them, but we don’t trust Sam not to chase a running or flapping hen. Having said that, all was peace and harmony when I was sorting out the contents of some of last year’s pots earlier in the week.

And, strangely, the reduction in space (they still have plenty to run around and dig in) seems to suit Lorna who, after not laying since Christmas, produced her first egg of 2013 yesterday! It probably isn’t linked to the smaller space and has more to do with longer days, abundant leafy greens over the past few weeks, and extra slugs on Sunday (found as we were moving containers around), but perhaps it has helped her to focus. I wonder if it will be another five months before we have the next one from her!

Walking the walk

Almost every day after our lunch we take the dogs out for a walk. Sometimes we go to the river, or down to the beach, but usually we do a couple of miles from the house so that we don’t have to use the car (somehow it doesn’t seem right to drive in order to walk!).

Going for a walk is good for us – we do at least some exercise every day – and for the dogs – it makes sure Max gets some exercise (have I mentioned that he is half dog-half cushion?) and gives Sam mental stimulation as she has to concentrate in order to walk properly on her lead*.

Our kelly kettle, powered by twigs collected on a dog-walk

Our kelly kettle, powered by twigs collected on a dog-walk

But as well as health benefits, our walks often have an additional yield. Usually this is just wood for burning in the kelly kettle, but we have come home with other random items: a piece of heavy-duty plastic that I now use as a waterproof mat to felt on; a piece of timber that has been tuned into a support for a shelf; aluminium cans to be recycled; a plastic spatula (as described in my 21st Century Womble post); some soapwort cuttings; some forked twigs to make into hooks for towels and yesterday, a pallet.

This last item was not our usual find by the side of the road, but been propped up outside a house. We had seen it a few days before, but yesterday there was someone in the driveway constructing a new fence. Mr Snail-of-happiness decided that it was worth a try and asked if we could have the pallet. It was willingly given, so I walked the dogs home and Mr S-o-h carried a pallet. This is a particularly good result as we are currently collecting the things for some garden constructions. We have already used two (from the local builders’ merchants) to raise the IBC up to give a better head of water, and we would like to use a few to make a gate and some barriers to keep the chickens in the vegetable-free end of the garden.

Pallets are a high-value commodity for those of us who like to make use of ‘waste’. If you don’t believe me, check out Unconsumption to see some of the amazing creations that people have come up with. I don’t think that we’re quite this creative, but we are really looking forward to making use of this great free resource.

So, tomorrow we will walk the dogs again… perhaps we will just get some exercise,  perhaps we’ll meet friends and have a chat, but perhaps we’ll come back with a treasure!

-oOo-

*If you have terriers you will understand how difficult many of them find it to walk ‘nicely’ and not throttle themselves on the lead

DIY dog biscuits

Some months ago I discussed making the dog’s diet more sustainable. In the intervening time we have started feeding them more raw meat: minced offal has proved particularly popular with them and we are able to buy it from the same place that we buy much of the meat that we eat ourselves. It is organic, and the sort of thing that the dogs like is often rejected by us pernickety humans. I have to confess that I’m not a great offal fan, so being able to feed it to the dogs makes me feel a little better.

Dogs, being omnivores, cannot live by meat alone. We are fortunate that our two are fond of vegetables. Max will happily disappear off with a cauliflower stalk or a carrot for a quiet chew under the kitchen table.

Unfortunately, we have not solved the problem of dry food yet. Max suffers from Colitis and the latest research, according to our very knowledgeable vet, suggests that highly processed protein in the form of complete biscuits is the best diet. So, whilst we do give him a variety of fresh foods, Max still eats quite a lot of commercial complete dry food. There is another aspect to their diet, however, that I can contribute to. To help calm Max’s delicate digestive system, we give him (and Sam) charcoal biscuits as treats. I have always, until now, bought these from our local pet shop, but I realised yesterday, as stocks were getting low and I didn’t fancy going out because it was raining , that I could probably make these myself and thus avoid any artificial additives and simultaneously reduce our ‘dog food miles’!

Homemade charcoal biscuits - yum?!

Homemade charcoal biscuits – yum?!

A quick survey of the interweb and I was ready: organic wholemeal flour (milled at our local watermill), organic olive oil (from Spain… few olive groves in west Wales), some ground up charcoal tablets (designed for human consumption, but slightly out of date) and water. I mixed it up to a dough, rolled it out and baked it whilst I was cooking other food in the oven last night.

And the verdict from Max and Sam? Well, see for yourself:

Biscuit time! Yum!

Biscuit time! Yum!

Waste not…

I like to be green: saving energy, growing food, cutting down on water use, all the things that crop up throughout this blog. But from a different perspective, much of what I write could be about saving money: repairing rather than replacing, minimising fuel bills, buying packets of seeds rather than baskets of vegetables from the supermarket, and so on. Whilst some aspects of our life have required quite large financial investments (having solar pv panels fitted, for example) many of the changes we have made have required relatively little, on no, money and have saved on outgoings (for example filling the toilet cistern with rainwater rather than metered mains water).

What I want to write about, today, however, is about getting the most out of the things that you buy, by using all of everything rather than just some. According to Love Food Hate Waste, in the UK

We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, costing us £12bn – most of this could have been eaten.

They say that this equates to every person in the UK throwing away, on average, 120kg of food every year. Yes, you read that right 120kg per year! I know that I don’t throw away anywhere near that, so someone is chucking out considerably more!  Actually, none of our uneaten food goes to waste here; one way or another it gets used: fed to the dogs, chickens, wild birds, worms or compost bin. So even if we don’t eat everything directly, some of it comes back round in the form of home-produced fruit, veg or eggs. And because we are not self-sufficient and have to buy lots of our food, the net result must be that the ‘waste’ should be considered a resource that increases the fertility of our land. Most of what goes to the garden one way or another is not food that could have been eaten, it’s usually peelings, pods, tops, outer leaves etc.

When we do have left-over food, we either eat it the next day or put it in the freezer for later use. I try, also, to use every scrap of food when cooking. Thus chicken carcasses are picked clean and then boiled up to make stock for use in soups, sauces, risotto, casseroles and so on. When collecting food from the garden, it’s often possible just to collect what you need, so there isn’t any waste at all. For example, cut-and-come-again lettuces allow you to pick as many leaves as you need and leave the rest of the plant growing. This also means that you get fresh leaves every time, not some that have been sitting in a plastic bag for a week. Of course, in good years, there are gluts in the garden and then preservation is necessary. But even simple measures, like sealing left-overs in a bag or container before putting them in the fridge can allow you to enjoy them a couple of days later without a risk to your health.

Scrapers, funnels and other extraction tools

However, I still like to get the absolute maximum out of the things that we do buy: I can’t bear leaving any of a product behind in the packaging. As a result I have an impressive array of jar-scrapers, brushes and scoops… if I’ve bought something (or even been given it), I am going to use every last scrap of it that I can! I also have a couple of special funnels designed so that one bottle can be held over another to allow every drop of liquid to be transferred to the new receptacle without standing around holding the bottles for an hour or so. I use these for all sorts of liquid, but oils in particular.

Bisected tube

I also cut open plastic tubes, so that I can access whatever has stuck to the side. This applies equally to food or cosmetics. About three weeks ago I apparently came to the end of a tube of moisturiser. When I cut it open I discovered that about 1/3 of the total original volume was adhered to the inside of the tube and could not be squeezed out in the conventional way, but could be accessed easily after judicious application of scissors. Call me cynical, but I can’t help feeling that the manufacturers would be quite happy for me to simply buy a new tube once no more moisturiser could be accessed through the nozzle. I guess that I’m not a good consumer from the perspective of manufacturers, even if I am a wonderful consumer from the perspective of the planet. But I know which I’d rather be!

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