Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain (note her new self-hosted web site) here are my 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 – a silly film. My friend Derrick, who lives in California sent me a link to this and it certainly made me smile when I watched it this morning:
Second, a yarn selection box. One of the ladies in the 60 Million Trebles group put out a request for 4-ply sock yarn (especially the self-patterning variety). She asked if people could send her just 10g of yarn for a special charity blanket she’s involved in making. Having knitted so many pairs of socks over the years, I have loads of odds and ends. So I got out my tiny digital scales and had fun putting together this collection of sixteen different yarns:
a colourful collection
Third, the start of the gardening year. I’m still holding on for a few days before I plant my first seeds, but I have got three varieties of potato chitting (sprouting) in the limery:
and so it begins…
So, those are 3 things making me smile this week – what about you?
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on January 26, 2017
This is a time of abundance – tomatoes are ripening every day, there’s the last flurry of courgettes, squashes need picking and there’s the potatoes to harvest. Indeed, as I was digging up potatoes this morning I thought about my successes this year and my failures, and I have come to the conclusion that I need to change my attitude in the garden. You see, my problem is that I am easily seduced.
Some of this week’s harvest that we will definitely enjoy
No, not like THAT… I am seduced by seed catalogues! I read the descriptions of interesting crops and I fall for the marketing. I’ve got better over the years at resisting, but I still succumb sometimes. There are several vegetables that I love the idea of growing even though I know that there are good reasons not to – because only one of us likes them, or because they need lots of care, or because they’re not something that thrives in our area, or just because they don’t really come out well in a cost benefit analysis (for example, space versus yield). Broad beans are good example: yes I like the flowers and the young beans are nice, but I don’t like them when they get old plus they take up lots of space for a relatively small crop… they also tend to get blackfly.
Ready for soup-making
When you only have a limited amount of space, it’s essential to prioritise, and so that’s what I’m going to do next year. I’ve been thinking about the things that I really like growing and that I’m successful with. So next year we’ll continue to grow peppers, chillies, tomatoes and melons in the limery (I may even be tempted to try something new), but in the garden I’m going to focus on potatoes, courgettes, squashes, kale, lettuce and other salad leaves, broccoli, mange tout and climbing French beans. These are all crops that I know we will eat and enjoy and that, where appropriate, I have reliable ways of preserving. I’ll also carry on growing various fresh herbs and nurturing the soft fruit.
This afternoon I will be making Mulligatawny soup for the freezer, using courgettes, potato and tomatoes that I harvested this morning. I’ll also be planting some winter lettuce seeds and I will be collecting seeds from the French beans to sow next year. And later in the winter when I’m being tempted, I’ll come back to this post and remind myself of my priorities!
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on September 17, 2016
A repair like a carrot!
I realise a whole week has gone by without a post… a combination of being busy and having a computer problem. The latter was related to an overheating power input, which was rectified with a new cable with replacement plug secured with Sugru – a cheap and simple solution, but one that took a little time because of the logistics of finding the replacement and then having to wait 24 hours for the Sugru to dry. The current obsession with excessively replacing electronic equipment is a real issue environmentally, and so I’m delighted with any solution that allows me to keep using my computer… I fully support the Restart Code, which you can check out here.
Away from the computer, the declutter continues, with five successful sales on ebay this week. I find the whole process of sorting out online auctions somewhat tedious, but it’s a good way to make sure unwanted items go to homes where they will get some use, so every now and then I grit my teeth and do a few listings. This time I sold five out of six items listed, which seems like quite a success to me.
Drawstring bags for vegetables
Reducing clutter is also taking the form of turning some of the “I’m keeping this because it might be useful” things into things that really are useful.So, I spent a while cutting up an old sheet to make cleaning cloths (more on this in a later post when I’ve finished experimenting). In addition, I made four drawstring bags from off-cuts of very thin curtain fabric to use when we go shopping. We always take our own shopping bags, but rarely remember to take individual bags to put vegetables in. I used scrap fabric and some cotton tape that had been around some clothes I bought (rather than plastic packaging), so the resulting bags really are something for nothing. So far I’ve made two large ones and two small ones, but I’ll dig out some more fabric soon and make a few more. I’ve also been working on a crochet bag using yarn oddments… more on that when it’s finished.
And then there has been the garden. Two of our raised beds have been mulched over the winter, but the other day we took the mulch (Mypex) up from one of them, netted it and sent the chickens in to clear our any pests and weed seeds.
Plenty of work to do
Relaxing in the sun
Returning home after work
They spent a few hours in there on two days and then the bed was ready for planting… just a few roots of docks, dandelions and buttercups had to be dug out first. This afternoon I planted it up with broadbeans and potatoes… fingers crossed for a good harvest.
Plants in – scarlet-flowered runner beans and potatoes
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on April 19, 2016
There was not a single day in November when it didn’t rain here, there was only one in December and, so far, there has been some rain on every day in January. This has meant that it’s been very difficult to work on anything in the garden. I don’t like walking on sodden ground as it damages the soil structure, and our poor, clay soil is enough of a challenge without adding to the problems.
Fortunately, however, the last week or so has been less wet and so the ground has dried just a little. Today there has been no rain so far, so I took the opportunity to mulch another of our raised beds. A while ago, whilst sorting through pots in the shed I came across an unopened pack of black plastic mulch that I’d forgotten I had bought. It was just the right size not to need and cutting and because it wasn’t windy today, I was able to get it in place without too much trouble. The bed had some old broccoli plants in it that needed to be removed first and a few brambles had to be pulled out, but otherwise all the weeds were covered with the mulch and should decompose under the plastic thus adding to the fertility of the soil. This is the second bed to be mulched this winter and I’m hoping it will make planting much easier in the spring.
Winter gardening jobs are often, like this one, not very exciting. Usually at this time of the year it’s all about preparation or tidying. My second job today was particularly tedious – the latest round in the battle against the brambles. We have an area alongside one fence that seems incapable of supporting any plants other than nettles and brambles… however much we cut them back and dig them up, they just keep coming back. I’ve tried all sorts of other plants in this patch, but nothing survives, so really now we just try to keep it under control and accept that it’s good for the wildlife. It would, however, without management, get totally out of control, so we attack it regularly with the secateurs.
And that was it in the garden – important jobs, but nowhere near as fun as planting. There is no germination yet in the propagator, but the left-over seed potatoes that I put in pots in November are growing, so we may have a small crop in the spring. They are currently outside, but they can come back into the limery if the temperature drops. So now, I’m just itching for spring to arrive and for gardening to start in earnest.
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on January 17, 2016
Some time back I wrote a post entitled Is it worth growing potatoes? My resounding conclusion was ‘yes’. Even though they are relatively cheap to buy, I like the fact that I know they will all get eaten, that it cuts down on our food miles and that that I can grow them chemical-free (check out my original post to get an idea of the pesticides that go into the spuds you are likely to get from the supermarket).
Tiny potato shoots – I hope they survive
Anyway… this year, construction of the limery meant that I was short of growing space and so not all of the potato tubers that I had available were eventually planted. Over the summer, the remainder sat in egg boxes on my windowsill and grew a few leaves, before starting to shrivel. Even so, they tenaciously held on and I couldn’t bear to throw them away. Finally, though, even I had to admit that I needed to do something with them. So, on Saturday when I removed the no-longer-productive courgette plants from their large pots in the limery, I decided that the remaining compost may just be able to have a second life as a medium for growing potatoes. And so, I rearranged the compost and popped the somewhat shrivelled tubers in. The pots remain in the limery and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these sad little remnants of this year’s planting will spring to life and provide us with a small crop sometime in the new year. Who knows? I could just have put the used compost and tubers into the compost bin, but I have nothing to lose in this experiment. I will be certainly be gloating if I can eat fresh Welsh new potatoes in February.
I’m also pleased to report that the limery is still proving its worth (all these pictures were taken today):
Lots of chillies still ripening
Apples being stored in the limery (Mr Snail returned with a couple more boxes yesterday)
New shoots on the orange tree
It may be the depths of autumn, but we have green shoots and reminders of summer.
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on November 24, 2015
We now have a date for the builders to arrive to start construction of the conservatory. This means that there are some jobs to be completed… one of which we tackled this morning, namely the emptying of the “rubbish bed”.
I have written several times in the past about the woeful lack of soil in our garden when we moved into our house. This was because the topsoil had been stripped away and sold off when the house was built. The only solution was for us to build raised beds and create our own soil. We did buy some topsoil in to get started, but we have also made tonnes of compost over the 15 years we have been here. Perhaps our greatest success was the rubbish bed – constructed from upended paving slabs and filled with all sorts of waste material: cardboard, shredded paper, wood-chip, moss raked out of a friend’s lawn, fallen leaves, spent potting compost, garden compost, grass clippings, wood ash, teabags, to rot down in situ and generate soil and a bit of heat for the plants too.
The “rubbish bed” in all its glory in 2013
However, this bed now has to go to make way for the conservatory, properly drained patio and a new, block-built raised bed. So, in glorious sunshine this morning, we emptied out the most amazing compost/soil (all home-made) and transferred it onto other beds and into two dumpy bags that we then planted up with potatoes. The soil that we had created was packed full of earthworms and had the most fabulous texture. It’s a bitter-sweet activity – I am so proud of what we have created from “rubbish”, but very sad that this area of garden will no longer exist (it has been amazingly productive).
Most of the site of the rubbish bed is destined to become a patio, but part of the footprint will coincide with a much deeper raised bed… which, in its turn, will be filled with new compost all created from waste: we already have two of our neighbours trained to deliver their grass clippings, and a friend has some moss to contribute.
So, farewell “rubbish bed” and thank you. Here’s to much more in situ compost making and productivity.
Emptied out and waiting to be dismantled
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on April 18, 2015
Sometimes being disorganised has its advantages.
Tayberry newly planted
On Sunday we planted soft fruit: a red currant, a tayberry (a blackberry/raspberry cross), a boysenberry (a cross between loganberry, raspberry and dewberry) and six strawberry plants. These have gone into our small front garden – the only area currently not producing food. We mulched round them with cardboard and weighted this down with some used compost. I’m not sure how many jobs this compost has done, but it includes homemade garden/kitchen waste compost, the contents of pots in which we grew peppers, some cardboard and grass clippings. Last year it was put into a dumpy bag in the ‘waste of space‘ area and had potatoes planted in it. I know that we harvested some of the potatoes out of this bag, but when we came to transfer the compost to the soft fruit, we discovered some lovely big spuds – untouched by slugs, just waiting for an unplanned January harvest. In total, there were 3kg of them!
Parsnips (planned) and potatoes (unplanned)
In addition, we had a couple more planned additions to the table: lovely parsnips (knobbly but delicious) thanks to some seedlings given to me my Kate the day we went to Wonderwool (I drove and she provided me with vegetable seedlings and eggs to bring home… what a great exchange!) and kale (that ever-welcome addition of greenery in the dark days of winter). We’ve also got some leeks coming along nicely (seedlings also provided by Kate), plus Mr Snail found even more potatoes when he was digging up parsnips (still growing in that bed although it’s a couple of years since they were planted there). We even managed to grow a parsnip in the shape of a snail:
The parsnip of happiness?
The cheese continues to be a work in progress… it is now maturing and won’t be ready to be eaten for at least a month. I managed to modify a cheese box that has ventilation in the top so that I could mature the cheese in conditions where the humidity is fairly easy to control (just add or remove the egg cup with water in it) and now, apart from regular turning, we just have to wait:
So, what are your recent harvests (expected and unexpected)?
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on January 21, 2015
We’ve had a busy day today – lots to fit in since Saturday is now the only full day in the week that Mr Snail is home. However, several of our activities have involved a zero-waste component.
First, we repurposed a plastic bottle. Now that Mr Snail is living away during the week, he needs to have two bottles of shampoo – one for each location. We buy the shampoo in bulk, so we just needed a suitable plastic bottle to fill up… this distinctive one seemed to suit (although we had to neutralise the smell first with a bicarbonate of soda solution):
You may recognise the shape of the bottle in the foreground!
Then we visited our local organic farm to buy some trays of tomatoes for bottling (they are currently having a glut). The ‘shop’ is not staffed, there are just signs giving the prices and an honesty box. Alongside the tomatoes there was a notice asking for the plastic trays to be returned once they are empty so that they can be reused:
The ‘packaging’ will go back and be used over and over
And finally, this afternoon we harvested some of our potato crop. These will be stored in an old cardboard box, although some of them will be eaten tonight, so will have had absolutely no packaging associated with them:
A fine harvest
I’m very happy with today’s contributions to Zero Waste Week.
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on September 6, 2014
I have discovered that there are a number of things that I can grow really well in my garden: lettuce, potatoes and courgettes amongst them. Tomatoes I don’t seem to be able to have much success with, but I’m a dab hand with peppers. Of course I do grow other crops and this year it looks like parsnips and shallots are going to be a roaring success, plus the runner beans are doing well, not to mention the raspberries. But so far, what we have mostly been eating is lettuce. I have delayed harvesting potatoes in order to maximise yield and because lovely local Pembrokeshire new potatoes have been readily available, but once the last kilo in the cupboard is eaten up, our own harvest will commence.
Lettuce in an old strawberry planter
This year I have grown three varieties of lettuce: Flashy butter oak (a firm favourite from the Real Seed people), Forellenschluss (which means ‘speckled trout’; these seeds came all the way from Australia) and Red deer tongue (which may become my all-time favourite as it’s prolific and so crunchy). To add variety, we also eat blood-veined sorrel (a perennial) and various brassicas (there’s a nice self-seeded mustard currently doing well and adding a kick to our salads). I’m really not keen on supermarket lettuce out of a bag, but ours is always fresh from the garden – no packaging, no food miles and no chemicals.
Potatoes doing well
This abundance has led to many of our meals in the past few weeks comprising boiled new potatoes, freshly picked lettuce and some form of protein… last night smoked trout, the night before Glamorgan sausages and one night last week simply boiled egg – seven minutes so that the white is hard, but the yolk is still slightly runny. In all cases, served with homemade mayonnaise. Until recently, I bought ready-made mayonnaise, but I have now decided to add this to the increasing list of things I will try to make from scratch. When I made it years ago I used a food processor and struggled to get it to thicken, but now I have an old-fashioned Kenwood Chef (actually I’ve had it for three years!) and fresh eggs, it turns out that I can (literally) whip up a batch in double-quick time. No only that, but I can thin it using my homemade apple scrap vinegar, so there’s an extra “no food miles” ingredient’
Anyway, tonight things are going to change as the ‘great courgette harvest’ begins… perhaps served with potatoes…?
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on June 26, 2014
Last weekend I went away to teach an Introduction to Ecology course at Karuna in Shropshire, which one of the participants is very kind about in her latest blog post.
Whilst it’s a lovely time to be teaching outdoors, it’s not the ideal time to leave the garden, so even after just five days, I returned to huge weeds (where did all that goose-grass appear from?) which really need to be dealt with. The benefit is that, on my return, I really noticed how much growth the food plants had achieved: ripe raspberries, runner beans at the top of their canes and huge courgette plants with female flowers blooming. Perhaps the most impressive plant is Costata Romanesco summer squash. I’m reluctant to call it a courgette, as it produces fruit the size of a marrow, but with tender skin and a good flavour. It is particularly loved by one of my gardening heroes, Carol Deppe, so it must be good (she does not bestow her praise lightly). The following photos carefully avoid showing the weeds… the vegetables pictured are so abundant that nothing else is getting a look in (now, that’s good permaculture design!):
Potatoes doing well
Costata Romanesco leaf
Costata Romanesco flower
Posted by The Snail of Happiness on June 19, 2014