New snail on the block

The escargatoire (yes, believe it or not, that is the collective noun for snails*) has grown. I think our new recruit will, henceforth, be known as the Snail of Persistence, to acknowledge the decades that it has taken me to learn to crochet.

Introducing out latest addition: the Snail of Persistence

Introducing out latest addition: the Snail of Persistence

There is no stopping me after last week’s course: as well as my usual knitting (a cardigan at the moment), I have made the snail and a pair of fingerless mittens. Finally, I can have a bash at all those crocheted amigurumi that are out there.

Sam, helping me to model my fingerless mittens

Sam, helping me to model my fingerless mittens

As I’ve said, I love to learn a new skill.

-oOo-

* Actually, there are three collective nouns for snails – an ‘escatgotoire’, a ‘rout’ and, bizarrely considering their anatomy, a ‘walk’. I’m not sure which one I like best.

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!

… and sewing too…

Although sowing (actual and metaphorical) is an important part of being sustainable, I think that sewing is too…

I was mulling this over yesterday as I repaired the curtain (drape for my US friends) that covers our front door. I say ‘repaired’ but perhaps ‘reassembled’ might be more accurate

If only this was all she did with the mail!

If you don’t have terriers, you may not be aware of their propensity to eat the mail as if comes through the front door (yes, we have letter slots in our doors here in the UK, not those box things on posts that seem to be the norm in the US). Maxwell does not participate in this activity, but Samantha makes up for his lack by being particularly exuberant. This means that if the curtain is open, the mail is grabbed and shredded if no one is around, or simply grabbed if someone it there to yell at her. If, however, the curtain is closed, she grabs the mail through the fabric. This means that the weight of a fairly hefty terrier is taken by the curtain on a regular basis. The result being that the curtain fabric had become progressively detached from the rufflette tape (that’s the stuff that you draw up to make gathers at the top of a curtain).

The curtain is made from a very heavy fabric, selected for its insulating properties and its ability to take the weight of a dog. The thread used to stitch the components together, however, turned out to be less robust. I bought the curtain from a company who sell fabric made only from natural fibres, so it was a surprise to discover that it had been stitched together using nylon thread. The problem with nylon is that it’s slippy, so once it starts to come apart it tends not to stop. But, with my trusty sewing machine (a 16th birthday present, so it’s lasted well) I was able to reattach the tape and lining to the curtain. Each seam now has three rows of stitches, so I think that it should stay in one piece for some time.

A skill like sewing is, in my opinion, greatly undervalued. Too often these days sewing seems to be considered either too old-fashioned to bother with or to be a frivolous hobby… fit only for creating fancy items. I was taught to sew by my mother, my grandmother and an old family friend, but we also had classes at school. These days, media studies and computing seem to be deemed more useful… shame. Wouldn’t it be great if all our kids grew up learning how to create and mend real, not just virtual, things? I learnt to make clothes as well as to do embroidery, needlepoint, darning… you name it.

The ability to repair an item like a curtain provides a way to save money, but is also a valuable addition to our sustainability toolbox… in the same way that Mr Snail-of-happiness can repair electrical items such as my radio. You will often hear exponents of things green talk about the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle, but I think that we should add a fourth: repair. And, in our house at least, this is what we are trying to do… sewing the seams of sustainability, perhaps!

Cat chat

We used to have a cat… she was the most unlucky cat you can imagine . She got her tail damaged and had to have it amputated; she developed pyometra after a bungled spay at the rescue centre we got her from; she disappeared for weeks and came back like a skeleton; she got entangled with her collar and ended up with a huge wound under her front leg (twice), which got infected; she had all the skin scraped off one side of her legs (goodness only knows how – strimmer?), she got an abscess on her neck… the list could go on. We finally lost her when she (at the age of about 12) got hit by a car. She was very expensive to run and when she died we made a conscious decision not to replace her.

Muffin the cat – taking a rest from rodent control and warming the soil up

But I do miss her – I don’t miss her bad temper, nor the fact that we didn’t dare feed the birds or put up a nest box in the garden for fear of the carnage that might ensue. I don’t miss the vets’ bills or the fur balls expelled noisily in the night. But I do miss her ability to keep the shed and greenhouse free of mice. We now keep the chicken feed in a metal bin and the bird seed in the house so that we are not feeding the local rodent population, but this season I have had a variety of seeds and seedlings excavated, eaten and simply chewed up. The first evidence was the jumping bean incident, but more recently I started finding holes dug into the large pots in which I had planted mangetout and the newly emerged shoots chewed to pieces but not consumed; in addition several sweetcorn seedlings were uprooted and chewed and then several more had disappeared completely over the next night and there were holes dug in the compost. Some plants seem to be ignored – melons, squashes, tomatoes and sweet or hot peppers – but how long they will be ignored I don’t know. The mangetout have now been moved to the no-longer-waste-of-space, the sweetcorn are on the ladder allotment and the beans are happily climbing their poles in their place in the raised beds so perhaps other things will have to serve as mouse food.

You would have thought that owning two terriers would keep the rodent population down, but I think that a mouse could walk over Max and he’d probably ignore it and, whilst Sam is great at alerting us to the presence of other animals, catching them seems to be beyond her. SIGH. So, surely the neighbourhood moggies should do the job? Perhaps the presence of the dogs and chickens puts them off (chickens give them a severe talking to if they come in the garden), but whatever the reason they have not caught our mice.

Another cat is definitely not something I want, so I guess that from now on I will have to start looking for mouse-proof covers for my seeds… some sort of fine metal mesh seems like the best option. Or perhaps there’s something that repels mice… pepper perhaps or chilli…?

Doggy dilemma

 

I’d like you to meet Sam and Max:

Canine companions

They are quite big part of my life.  In my quest for sustainability, perhaps a PMI analysis is in order…

Pluses:

  • They help me to keep fit
  • They keep me company when Mr Snail-of-happiness is working away from home (and vice-versa)
  • They don’t answer back (usually)
  • They keep the foxes away from the garden (directly and because a terrier-proof garden is partially fox-proof)
  • They eat scraps
  • Sam makes an excellent hotwater bottle replacement
  • I like them

    Sam guarding against fox incursions

Minuses:

  • I have to feed them: they do eat scraps, but I also buy commercial dog food… a drain on the earth’s resources and supporting some multi-nationals that I don’t really like
  • Max is hairy and has to be groomed – a financial cost plus the use of energy and chemicals
  • They have to be vaccinated and have other medical care… chemicals and multi-nationals again
  • They produce ‘waste’
  • They can be really irritating (especially at 5:30 am)

Interesting:

There are possibilities on the draught excluder front

  • Max helps support a local business (Tina the groomer)
  • I might be able to make felt out of their fur
  • They are both rescued, so I didn’t support puppy breeding
  • I have finally trained them to leave the chickens alone

    Max sees a chicken for the first time in his life

    I’m definitely keeping them! But perhaps I’ll review their diet and at least buy their food from the local pet shop to make them a bit more sustainable.

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