Three Things Thursday: 23 March 2017

*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*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, a new vaark for a new friend. I made this little creature on Sunday and on Monday it went in the post to make a new friend smile:

A new vaark ready for the world

Second, seed saving. Last year I saved seeds from the melons that I grew. The variety, Green Nutmeg, came from the Heritage Seed Library and so it’s particularly pleasing to have a new generation germinating this year. I have loads of these seeds, so if anyone in the UK would like some, just let me know and I’ll put a few in the post.

Green Nutmeg melon seedlings

Third, a rare carnivore. I have lots of sundews and pitcher plants in the limery, and whilst they present some challenges, they generally seem to be doing ok. The Venus Fly Traps are a bit more of a challenge, but I have three small ones. My favourite carnivore, though, is much more tricky to care for. The Monkey Cup can’t stay in the limery over winter as it’s too cold – it has to come and live in my office on the window sill. I’m very happy, therefore, to be able to return it to the limery this week and to note that it’s getting bigger and looks really rather healthy:

Monkey Cup (Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis)

So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful this week – what about you?

The Limery Awakens

We are just at the start of our second full growing season in the limery. Last year saw amazing successes with sweet peppers (capsicum) and a fairly healthy tomato crop (the last of which have on just ripened up in their box!). Now I’m starting to nurture this year’s crops (including at least one new one) and some of the carnivores are beginning to wake up…

As always, we are doing our best to reuse… the writing on the milk carton plant labels from last year has been cleaned off with meths, the padded packaging from around the new chicken feeder looks like it will make cosy trays for seedlings, none of the plant pots are new, we water the seedlings from a plastic milk bottle with a perforated lid and my dad’s propagator is doing it’s stuff for yet another year. Only the seed compost, seed potatoes and the seeds are new (in fact some of the seeds are from last year, plus we overwintered the pepper plants).

I do love the promise that spring holds.

Three Things Thursday: 9 February 2017

*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*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday…

Before I get started, though, I have to say that I could probably have listed thirty things this week, but here is just a tiny selection.

First, a mend by Alfred. One of the things we don’t have skills for Chez Snail is metalwork. However, we know a man who does. So, on Saturday, whilst I was crocheting, Alfred, who I was staying with, mended our Kelly Kettle. This much-mended item had finally got to a point where we could do no more – the rivets had failed so that water poured out and the anchor for the chain that allows you to tilt the kettle without getting burnt was detached completely. Cue, Alfred, who braised it for me and now it’s back in use.

In days gone-by this is the sort of thing tinkers did – travelling round the country mending pots and pans – now that’s a profession that could do with resurrecting.

Second, germination. Only tomatoes so far, but what a delight it is to see the first shoots emerging from the soil. Plus the potatoes are starting to sprout.

Third, the kindness of people. I know that I wrote a whole post on the get-together in Manchester over the weekend, but I’m still smiling about the fact that 31 people came together to craft for charity – between them, they covered all the costs and raised some money too. They laughed, they chatted and they created. And then they went home and shared the love on social media.

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crafting a better world

 

So, those are 3 things making me smile this week – what about you?

Investing in the future

Today I planted the first seeds of the year.

  • Two types of chillies: Pyramid and Romanian Yellow
  • Two types of sweet pepper: Corno di Torro Rosso and Sprinter
  • Two types of tomato: San Marzano and Veepro Paste

They are in the propagator and I have my fingers crossed for fabulous harvests in the limery again this year.

The labels are made from old milk cartons and are in their second or third year of use; the modules and pots I’ve owned for years; and the compost is made in England from wool and bracken.

When the rest of the world gets me down, sowing seeds always brings a smile to my face.

Making food

I love this time of year in the kitchen – a time for enjoying the abundance. So today I’ve been chopping and peeling, beating and stirring, boiling and baking…

I harvested the last melons, extracted the seeds so I and others can grow more next year . Now we have a large bowl of juicy melon, which I think we’ll mix with raspberries.

I used some of our tomato harvest along with a big tray of cherry toms from one of our local organic farms to make yet more jars of passata:

I made  granola – this has become a regular make these days as I never buy breakfast cereal:

I used my excess of home-produced ricotta and our abundance of eggs to make baked New York cheesecake including some home grown bilberries and red currants. I made two – one of which will be going to a barbecue with us tomorrow:

And finally I made dog biscuits,

Now that was a productive day!

Sow far sow good

Regular readers may have been wondering about the limery… well, now it’s time to plant seeds, the wide windowsills have come into their own. It’s lovely to know there’s plenty of space to give our crops a good start in life.

Already germinated and growing are broad beans, melons, peppers, chillies, tomatoes, oregano, parsley, sage and salad leaves (we are eating these – they are cut and come again). Planted today were leeks, courgettes, winter squash (five varieties), garlic chives, kale, runner beans, French beans and sunflowers. There are also potatoes chitting and the two citrus trees (one orange and one lime) are growing well and will be good to move outside once the risk of frost is over.

I cannot express how happy I am about all this – everyone needs a limery!

Busy hands

Somehow, I haven’t managed to put fingers to keyboard for nearly three weeks. Although I haven’t been writing, I have been “doing”. So as a gentle return to blog posting, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been up to…

I’ve finished the hoodie – several times! First, I decided it was too short. So, I put a stripy border on it, but it looked like an afterthought (which, to be fair, it was). I unravelled that and worked a new border in the mixed yarn to match. All done and worn a couple of times before Sam decided to eat the wooden toggles off it when I left it on the bed. New glass toggles bought, and attached and I’m hoping that’s the last time I need to finish it! Of course, as soon as it was completed it for the final time the weather warmed up and it’s been in a cupboard since!

With the warmer weather and all the lovely space in the limery, I have been busy with seed sowing. The peppers, chillies and tomatoes planted earlier in the year are growing, but now there’s lots of pots and trays that we’re watching with avid interest for the first signs of green shoots. Amongst other things, I’ve planted melons, broad beans, coriander, oregano, parsley, courgettes, lettuces and mizuna. There are potatoes chitting and the perennials, including the passion fruit, are growing well. The sunny days have been accompanied by frosty nights, so only a little salad has been sown outside for the time being.

On the craft front, I’ve learned how to crochet star stitch and made a dishcloth to practise; I’m working on a pair of stripy socks; I’ve made another crochet snailvaark; I’ve made several mousevaarks from old socks and given several of them away as gifts; I’ve tested out a crochet pattern from my new friend, Danielle, at The Make It Shop; I’ve sourced jute for my crochet bird roosting pouch kits (on sale soon); and I continue to add a row here and there to the crochet sofa cover.

And then, I’ve also carried on with my letter writing – using real pen and paper. If you’d like a real letter from me, send me your postal address and I will write to you (can’t promise how soon though).

And then, I’ve been doing the laundry, because I’ve finally started sorting the vintage linen hankies and other bits and bobs I’ve been given. I’ve washed and ironed some of the handkerchiefs and I’m currently in the process of describing them and photographing them ready for listing on etsy. It’s very time-consuming, but I really want them to find homes where they will be treasured.

So what with all that and the swimming and working (yes, I still do that too!), the last few weeks have just slipped away…

However, more regular blogging will now resume!

Pack up your lettuce…

For many years now we have bought much of our meat by mail order from a company specialising in organic produce. Up until out latest order they always sent a pre-paid address label so that we could return and they could re-use the insulated packaging. Our last parcel, however did not contain the label. I enquired, only to discover that the cost of postage has made return of the polystyrene boxes uneconomic. I’m so cross about this… repeated reuse of packaging is such a great idea.

Our local council do accept polystyrene for recycling, but I really didn’t want to take advantage of this unless absolutely necessary*. We thought about paying for the boxes to be returned or even dropping them off when we are over in that direction, but I’m not sure whether the company would accept them back (I will check next time). So, they have been sitting in our hallway whilst I waited for inspiration to strike – which it did on Saturday whilst I was planting seeds.

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Not the most exciting picture ever posted… compost in a polystyrene box

I had two boxes, so I stabbed a few holes in the bottom of one, chucked in some compost, sowed some winter lettuce seeds and covered it with its lid. And there was a nice insulated growing space for some winter leaves. I’m keeping it in the limery and hopefully I will have a crop from it in a few weeks time. Having decided to focus on growing, I am keeping the other box for cultivating mushrooms. I ordered some mushroom spawn (the fungal equivalent of seeds) last week and when it arrives, I’ll use the the second polystyrene box as a mushroom propagator.

Of course, I can’t find a use for a never-ending supply of polystyrene boxes, but at least the current ones are turning out to be useful. I will find out whether the meat company would be prepared to take any other ones we receive back and will return them at our cost if possible, but for now I’m satisfied to have found good uses for something it would have been all too easy to consign to the recycling.

-oOo-

* It’s generally more energy-efficient (and therefore, greener) to re-use or re-purpose than to recycle.

The big chill

Many seeds need to be free of flesh before they will germinate

Many seeds need to be free of flesh before they will germinate

As part of my PhD research, I studied the germination of various seeds – both herbaceous plants and tree species. One thing that I learned was how many species have build-in dormancy. The fleshy parts of the fruit may have to rot away before germination can take place, or be digested within the gut of a bird or mammal; the hard outer coat may need to be physically broken down (scarification); or the seed may need to have been exposed to cold (cold stratification). These are all ways to ensure that germination takes place away from the parent plant and/or at the right time of year. In temperate regions, the latter is particularly common – guaranteeing that the seed germinates after the winter rather than before. Some seeds employ multiple mechanisms and some are particularly fussy (I never managed to get a bluebell seed to germinate, for example).

In damp compost in the bottom of the fridge

In damp compost in the bottom of the fridge

All my experience means that I knew that the sludge left over from my peach scrap vinegar contains the ingredients I need to grow peach trees… namely, peach pits free from any fruit flesh. The key thing now is that they need to be exposed to cold conditions for a few weeks. So, the other day, after I had strained off the liquid that will turn into vinegar, I fished out some of the stones, washed off the last vestiges of flesh, placed them in damp compost and transferred them to the refrigerator (making use of a plastic box that had previously contained slices of tortilla from our wonderful local Spanish deli… yes, I know I should have taken my own box, but it was an impulse buy because the smell was so good). Here they will stay for at least six weeks before being brought out and placed in the limery. Even then, it could take many months before any of them germinate.

On the same subject, I received some Sarracenia seeds as a free gift when I ordered my new carnivorous plants. I checked their germination requirements and discovered that they too require chilling, so they have joined the peach pits in damp compost in the bottom of the fridge (this time in a plastic box that had contained strawberries from our local organic farm).

Sarracenia seeds

Sarracenia seeds

Whether these seeds will germinate successfully remains to be seen, but I love the optimism associated with sowing them… especially since each was a bonus as a result of another action.

Out of season

Look at any gardening book and it will tell you when you ‘should’ sow certain seeds. Search the Garden Organic website and it tells you that in August (at least here in the UK), you should be planting (amongst other things) amaranth, chicory, Chinese cabbage, kale, lambs lettuce, winter lettuce, oriental greens, rocket, spring cabbage and turnip.

However, Garden Organic were not awaiting their indoor growing space during the spring and early summer like I was. They don’t have all the facts, namely that (1) I bought a whole heap of seeds last winter, (2) Plans for the limery were hatched after purchase of said seeds and (3) I don’t believe everything I read!

So yesterday I sowed seeds… leeks, parsnips, basil and purple sprouting broccoli. Oh, and kale, which is on the list. All except the basil are in modules or little coir pots in the limery… where it’s warm and lovely. Maybe they will thrive and maybe they won’t. Maybe they will be so shocked when they are planted out (not the basil, that’s staying indoors) they will keel over, but maybe they will have had such a good start in life that they grow into be healthy plants and give us a stupendous crop.We will see.

Repotted courgette

Repotted courgette

A couple of weeks ago I planted three courgette seeds – only one germinated, but that has grown into a large plant in the limery, so yesterday that was potted up into a very large pot in the hope that, by keeping it indoors, we can have some completely out-of-season courgettes. Because of the poor germination, I also sowed a couple more seeds last week (a different variety) and both of those have germinated even though they were a year older than the first ones. The variety is large and probably totally unsuitable for indoor growing, but, again, we’ll see. I have really missed my glut of courgettes this year, so it would be lovely to have at least a little crop in order to re-live past harvesting glories.

Maybe I’m just over-optimistic, but there is such a joy associated with the transformation from seed to plant to crop to dinner on my plate that I simply couldn’t wait until the ‘right’ time!

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