Thursday, 16 June 2016

In the garden

For purely selfish reasons I've decided to try and do a post, probably every couple of weeks rather than every week, about the garden. Purely selfish because it will be a good record, in so many ways, for me to look back on - of what has or hasn't worked, of how well certain things are developing, even just where I've grown particular vegetables from season to season. I've found myself this year wishing that I could look back on photos from last year to see how, for example, my sweetcorn compare at this precise time or whether my cucumbers were already flowering last year by now. So I do apologise if you're not interested in seeing my garden, and there are lots of prettier, more interesting gardens to look at on the internet so I can completely understand why you wouldn't be interested! Please just skip over these posts if that's the case, they're really for me more than anyone else!

So last year I started making slight inroads with our veggie patch. Around this time I'd just built one raised bed, and then later in the year I got a further 2 beds built. I found these quite manageable throughout the growing season, and come Autumn they were still in a good state and even got properly put to sleep for the Winter, weed free with a layer of leaves all over them. So we hit Spring this year in a pretty good place. But I was also keen to reclaim more areas of the veggie patch and build further raised beds. And that plan has been going well - I've got another 5 more raised beds built in fact.

It's still not looking pretty out there, and there's still loads to do but it is getting quite productive. And we've been harvesting a few different crops already - which is hugely satisfying. But maybe enough on the written history, and I'll just skip to a photographic tour.

I think I might have posted photos of this first little patch earlier this year. An ancient wheelbarrow turned into salad planter, and a now unneeded wooden gas cylinder shelter turned upside down which has become a strawberry patch.

We've been thinning out the lettuces into our salads and the strawberries are coming in dribs and drabs now, I've netted them but I've been meaning to get some straw around them all week and that hasn't happened yet.

They're right next to the fairly battered greenhouse, in which we have tomatoes, cucumbers and an intriguing 'cucamelon' plant - I'll let you know if we get anything from that.

Here's the first new patch I dug and built this year, and this is the one which took the most time.

I was lucky enough to have a lot of waste wood - old joists etc - from the barn end of our house which we converted for my parents a couple of years ago. These have been great for building all my beds - they're not aesthetically perfect but they seem to fit the purpose well enough.

I really should have taken some 'before' photos to compare here. It's now choc full of earthed up new potatoes, but back in March it was an enormous mound of nettles, brambles and bindweed. The soil in this area, though riddled with weed roots, was amazing - incredibly rich and loamy and loaded with worms. I think it was probably the site of an old compost heap, and because it was a large mound, there was enough of the soil to fill another bed as well. So clearing it was time well spent - although if I'd realised how long it would take me I might not have tackled it!

Here's one of the beds from last year, with broad beans, onions and garlic all doing well.

This bed has blackcurrants to the right, which are just starting to ripen and need a good weed, and gooseberries to the left - ditto to the ripening and even more so to the weeding, the poor gooseberries are almost submerged. There are raspberries further down too which are also fairly much submerged, these areas of the garden are mainly 'inherited' and are the ones I find hardest to stay on top of.

We've had several meals from the broad beans, and still lots more to come. So much better than shop bought.
Here's another of last year's beds. This one has peas, parsnips, a row of carrots which are just starting to emerge and then spinach, which I'm already picking regularly.

You can see quite a few patches of brown, dead looking vegetation around some of the beds - we've not been experiencing drought like conditions (ha!), everything generally is incredibly green and flourishing,but there are a few areas in between beds where I've been very bad and put weed killer down, I'm planning on putting a weed suppressing liner down in these 'paths' and then hopefully covering it, most likely with bark chippings from the sawmills down the road. 

And the last of the existing beds. A row of parsnip thinnings - I'm terrible at thinning out anything, I hate to throw away perfectly good plants, so they all got replanted in various places. I wasn't sure they'd cope with being transplanted but they are mostly holding their own. Then quite a few tomato plants, which I think have grown enormously just in the couple of days since this photo was taken, and which need staking. And there's now a row of carrot thinnings at the far side - see comments re parsnip thinnngs! I'm not so sure the carrots are going to handle their transplantation so well though, they're looking a little wilted at the moment, despite how much rain the garden has been enjoying this week.

The second of the new beds...

Here it is from the opposite,onion/pea side.

Onions, my earlier sown peas (just starting to produce some pods which are delicious eaten whole, although these peas were grown for the actual peas inside), another, slightly later, sown, row of broad beans, a few purple spouting broccoli plants, more parsnip thinnings (!), a couple of courgettes - one massive one dwarfing the other, I'd forgotten just how much room these need, although I spotted a baby courgette on it today so it's hard to be annoyed with it, I think I may have to find a new home for the smaller relation though - and a few cucumber plants.

New bed number 3...

This one is dug out, lined and built, but the soil was not great here and I'd run out of my good supplies from elsewhere in the garden and really couldn't afford to buy in enough soil to fill this. So I've done the same as last year and planted in bags of compost - this was an idea I read about on 'Faith, family, food and fabric' here. It worked really well last year, especially with a combination of sweetcorn and pumpkins so I've done that again (with some cheeky carrot thinnings in a few spaces!).

Pumpkin flowers already
 I'll hopefully build up the soil in this one gradually with things like local manure, the almost mature contents of our wormery, leaf mould compost etc, but quite possibly I'll be growing in bags again next year as this happens.

New bed number 4...

This one was an unplanned addition. My Dad has always liked gardening, and does potter around with various bits and pieces still, but I think his biggest pleasure now is buying plants! He came home one day with about 20 more strawberry plants which he'd seen and felt were too much of a bargain not to buy. I found another ancient wheelbarrow at our nearby recycling centre to repurpose, and that's up near his end of the house with some of them in it, so quite manageable for him to look after. But the rest needed a home so another bed had to be built. There's room in this one for the strawberries to spread quite a bit, and it's amazing how many runners they're already starting to throw out, but for this year there are also some extra tomatoes in here and another little row of parsnip thinnings! The strawberries themselves are ripening nicely, and getting picked daily.

Again I've been meaning to get some straw around these.

I'm keeping reasonably on top of pinching out the side shoots on my tomatoes this year, and we already have quite a few flowers, I think the tomatoes. perhaps more than anything else, are loving the wet weather we've been having this week.

I seem to have completely missed taking any photos of new bed number 5, possibly because it's a strange, long thin bed just for asparagus and it's not very easy to photograph. So that will have to wait till next time, especially as this is already so long! There are a few tyres scattered throughout too, some large tractor tyres...

More purple sprouting broccoli - one of these plants has been producing snacks for children for a few weeks now, not quite enough to cook really not that I get the chance!

Some runner beans, also enjoying the rain and just starting to make the dash for the tops of their poles...
Blueberries in smaller tyres in the background here.
There's another large tyre with carrots and a few extra peas, which also didn't get photographed, and then quite a few smaller tyres. These mainly have cucumbers, with just one odd squash. There were 2 originally, but I think I was a bit quick to plant them out and one sadly died.

These tyres have a thick layer of old cardboard beneath them to try and help keep them weed free.

A couple more missing tyres with gooseberries and quite a few other bits and pieces I could mention - lots more blueberries all doing well, loganberries and tayberries almost ready, sweet peas squeezed in mainly in pots here and there, a couple of honeyberries which look amazingly healthy but have no berries - perhaps they need to be a little older before they bear fruit? - there is just so much going on out there and so much to do! And I haven't even mentioned the tree chopping, coppicing and pruning which has been taking up huge amounts of garden time, but in the process providing us with excellent stocks for the wood burner next year.

I'd like to think that future garden posts will not be anything like so long! In fact I guarantee they won't be! But before I finish I must add a couple of last photos, of something we've never had any success with previously - sunflowers!

Happily our sunflower seeds (like pretty much every seed we planted this year in fact) did really well, and we have around 15 sunflowers standing reasonably tall already. Including several with very exciting buds...

They won't be long now!


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Sea Glass Tic Tac Toe

Birthday making for Maria is hotting up, a few bits and pieces underway this week, but just a flying post to catch up on a small birthday finish from last week.

I've seen quite a few fabric tic tac toe bags dotted around Pinterest recently, and have been wanting to get round to making one. The happy combination of a birthday coming up and a need to find ways to make use of a much too large collection of sea glass made it happen (and yes, I know, too large is impossible really when it comes to a sea glass collection!).

Just some ribbon/trim sewn onto a simple, lined drawstring bag

The ones I've seen have generally had buttons or pieces of fabric as the 'counters', but I think the sea glass works perfectly.

And then it just stores away easily.

I think Maria will appreciate this one. And thinking ahead, Venetia loves checkers - that would use even more of the sea glass!


Friday, 3 June 2016

Ninja Cushion with a Shakespeare Quote!

Maria's birthday is just around the corner and I've been feeling slightly short of inspiration on what to make for her. So far I've fallen back on my predictable and not very imaginative fail safe of a cushion!

But this cushion is at least very individual to her and I think she'll like it.

Ask Maria what she wants to be when she grows up and she is very clear. She wants to be a Ninja. It will be interesting to see at what age, if any, she decides that this might not be the most worthwhile pursuit. But at nearly 7, that's her ambition. And I do prefer it to something along the lines of: 'I want to be a Princess', even though I'm really not sure where her Ninja genes come from, perhaps it's just something to do with being the youngest of 4 children, and also being quite petite for her age.

So anyway, the cushion has a Ninja bandana - made from scraps left over from her quilt last year. Maybe Maria can be the first 'Patchwork Ninja', I think that has a good ring to it!

The eyes were cut out from the bandana - so basically reverse applique style.

And the bandana continues round to the back where it ties.

If you're a regular reader you might know by now that I have a bit of a soft spot for quotes. And this quote (from A Midsummer Night's Dream) was a very obvious one - to fit well with the Ninja theme but also to fit well with my little Maria. It's one which springs very readily to mind, to all our minds, when thinking of Maria. She is thoughtful, affectionate, kind, generous, incredibly friendly, funny and cute, but right up there with all of those and more...

Linking up with Crazy Mom Quilts again and hope you all have a wonderful weekend.


P.S. Talking of Shakespeare, I've heard lots of interesting bits and pieces on the radio recently, all to do with his 400 year centenary. I especially love hearing things about his use of language, about all the quotes and words he created which are now part of our everyday speech. But another little treat from the 400 year celebrations was this short video clip...

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Take 5

Take 5s always tend to be my way of catching up, covering the smaller things going on or the things that don't necessarily fall into a strict craft/sewing/quilting remit; but I haven't done one for ages, and to be honest it feels like I could do a 'Take 20' now! Sadly though my computer is far too slow to try and load up photos for 20 different things so it's going to have to just be a slightly random Take 5.

1) We're enjoying a beautiful, sunny half term holiday at the moment but this first catch up goes all the way back to our last school holiday around Easter. I took the girls off to a lovely, local pottery place, Tarka Pottery, as a very late birthday treat for Venetia. She was really keen to try her hand on a potter's wheel and they do a wonderful Potter's Wheel Experience there to create your own bowl. The girls both absolutely loved it, and if anyone local is looking for an idea for a present or birthday treat I'd definitely recommend it.

They got to decorate and paint their bowls too...

And then a couple of weeks ago, after lots of nagging, I finally got round to collecting the finished and now fired bowls...

They were very happy with them!

2) My incredibly organised advance Christmas present sewing has stalled a little over this past month, but the idea for a gift of hair accessories turned into a useful birthday present idea for a young friend.

A mixture of hair bands and clips, with a pretty draw string bag in which to keep them.

I think the addition of a storage bag really makes a gift that extra bit special.

 3) You saw Venetia's first finished crocheted blanket the other day, but she has lots of other crochet projects on the go...

And you might remember that I was trying, a while back, and have tried several times in the past, to learn to crochet myself. Something which wasn't coming naturally to me, which I was finding very frustrating, something which I'd given up on several times in the past and something which I was only persevering with because the tables were turned on me and I had Venetia encouraging me and reminding me that it took practice and patience. It was kind of impossible to stop trying without losing far too much credibility in my more normal role of being the wise, patient, experienced grown up (!) - even though I quite wanted to snap my hook in two, hurl it across the room and shriek 'I just can't do it' at times! So, I have practised and tried, and have kept on trying again and again, with Venetia smiling kindly at me after each attempt and sometimes managing to come up with some tiny sign of progress with which to encourage me.

Despite all my practice, up until this week, I didn't have a lot to show for it. In fact here's the sum total of hours of work!

Not quite as pathetic as it looks. I did start countless 'chains' for several weeks and then just undo them and start again and again and again before feeling like I was getting anywhere with it. When I got to this version it was starting to feel slightly more natural, reasonably even and extremely boring! But I was still painfully slow with it and not very good at creating the same number of stitches in each of my rows, so this teeny strip has a bit of a 'frill' feel to it rather than lying smooth and flat. Basically I was still feeling like a complete failure at crochet, but Venetia decided that I was ready to progress on to something else. And yesterday she taught me how to crochet a granny square - which is in fact the thing I've always wanted to be able to crochet. And just look at what I managed to do, all by myself!

My very first crocheted granny square! It's not perfect, but it does properly look like one and I actually felt like this was a huge crocheting break through for me. I think lots of credit is due to the patient and clear instruction from Venetia! But now I'm really excited to make more and actually be able to create something practical, and hopefully pretty, with this completely new skill. And after finishing this one, Venetia gave me a big hug and said: 'I'm very proud of you Mummy'! Our role reversal is complete!

4) So many photos I could include to catch up on happy times over the past couple of months, mostly involving the sea or rivers, we're well into wild swimming season for both round here. But after struggling to decide which photos of which children to include I decided that was impossible and have gone with photos of seals instead.

We were lucky enough to get to see two rescued seals being released back into the sea last week.

There is something incredibly special about seeing a wild creature heading back out into the wild.

And it felt amazing to be there to see it.

5) As well as getting behind with blogging in this space, I've been getting behind with reading other blogs these past few weeks. So I've been trying to have a big catch up on that too and it's felt like catching up with lots of friends. One particular post has really stuck in my head for the past couple of days, over at 'Handmade by Amalia'. Amalia creates beautiful embroidered and crocheted pieces, but she also writes sweet, funny and very clever little poems to accompany her makes or her photos. And I just loved the poem in this post, it's about a very wise bird trying to decide on her favourite season. It's quite short so it won't take too long to read, and I think it's hard to read it without smiling and feeling happier by the end of it!