Saturday, 12 June 2010

Garland Gift

My friend Kellee at Yellow Lamp has been spreading her magic again, this time with a Garland Giveaway. These beautiful, soft and colourful felt garlands have been handmade with love, and I was so excited to receive one of my very own through the post! I am thinking about incorporating the delightful string of bright circles into a mobile for baby Squiggles (though it's lovely on its own!) - if it works out, I'll post pics when it's done.

It's amazing how exciting it is (even at the age of 32!) to receive personal post (ie., not bills or bank statements) - a handwritten envelope (decorated in this case!), a letter, maybe something else... I have always loved to write and receive letters and plan to be doing it a lot more often now that I have more time. Though I suppose once the baby's arrived, my time may disappear once more! Anyway, thanks Kellee! :D

As evidence of my passion for handwritten correspondence, I have collected several bags full of letters over the years, some of them must be over twenty years old by now. I've never found it easy to let go of these personal symbols of love and friendship, so they have multiplied and started to weigh upon me... During the dark, rainy days earlier this week I managed to go through most of them, reading them one last time before putting them aside to recycle. Or burn, I'm not sure I want anyone accidentally coming across them and reading them! It felt strange to be getting rid of love letters from French exchange students dating back to 1991, but what need do I have for them now?!

Ah... I feel lighter already!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

May Smallholding Update

A summary of the month is in order!

The House Situation: After a very quick sale, we moved all of our furniture and boxes of STUFF out of the house in Machynlleth and over the mountain road to the smallholding. The job took two days, and we were very fortunate to have my parents there to help. My dad helped Phil and my friend Martin to carry the heavy furniture and boxes out of the house, and did a great job of loading the trailer. My mum cleaned the house from top to bottom and offered much needed moral support! The first trailer load was fine, but the second resulted in a tire blowing up, so the process became much more long-winded than it should have been. It was strange to find that my attitude towards many of my belongings changed dramatically as soon as I tried to fit them into our much smaller home. In the house in town, I had found it really difficult to get rid of so many things, but once they arrived at the smallholding I saw a lot of it as excess weight, and the lightening process was incredibly easy - enjoyable even. Phil and I are starting to feel the stress of the house sliding away, selling it has relieved us of a huge burden of responsibility and anxiety.

The Vegetable Garden: It's been a little slower this month in terms of creating new deep beds. Partly because I can no longer help with the digging (due to the fact that my heartburn has been getting worse and worse, and kicks in the minute I bend over, then lasts all day and night), but also because the grass and (more specifically) the docks are growing so quickly that they make the job much more difficult. Last month I found myself taking loads of "before" pictures, hoping that soon we'd be looking at a veritable jungle of healthy greenery, and I'm glad I did as the beds are really starting to fill out now. It's so satisfying to see progress! My parents have done a great job getting the raspberry canes into what must have been the most nightmarishly weed-bound, root-clogged area we've come across yet, and they have been cracking on with more vegetable beds. We now have 13 fully planted beds, containing: onions (white and red), shallots, potatoes (earlies and main crop), broad beans, runner beans, climbing beans (rare Native American Indian 'Trail of Tears' and 'Lazy Housewife'), lettuce (various, including a number of Chinese salad leaves), spinach, parsnips, beetroot, peas, celeriac, kale, and purple sprouting broccoli. There are another two unfinished beds. As of a couple of weeks ago, we've been getting all of our lettuce from the garden - with a little more available every day, it's very rewarding, and unbelievably tasty! :D

The Orchard: Some of the baby apple trees had mysteriously been losing what few leaves they had, and at first we thought it might have been some kind of insect attack. Later it was discovered that a very bolshy lamb had been getting in through the slightly rickety fence which divides us from our neighbour's land. The little scavenger was coming in whenever he felt like it, and helping himself to our goodies! So my dad fixed the fence. No more naughty lamb.

Pests: Incidentally, (touch wood!) we've seen no more evidence of rabbit activity in the garden - perhaps they were put off by the fleece we laid down to cover the parsnips and beetroots, and the cloches and chicken-wire frame we used to protect the lettuces. Perhaps they've heard the rumours about the two black and white killing machines which steal their young and show no mercy. Our cats (especially the female of the two) have been quietly decimating the local rabbit population, regularly bringing decapitated baby rabbits into the house and eating them whole - fur, feet and all - bar the very bitterest organs. Slugs are starting to appear amongst the leaves, so we're going to leave a sharp pair of 'slug scissors' down in the garden. I hate killing things, but in this case slugs are The Enemy.

The Polytunnel: Once the polytunnel was declared fit for use, we avoided it for a week or two - it just looked like it was going to be so much hard work trying to open up the compacted earth, not to mention somehow enriching the pale, lifeless soil. Eventually we realised that we needn't expect miracles of perfection this year, but would make do as best we could. We would make the most of the protected space and awesome heat (the thermometer was recording a reading of 50 degrees most days). We now have plants in pots, as well as some in the ground (planted on top of a generous bucketful of well-rotted manure) - these are all in the left hand side of the tunnel (which is pretty much full), the right hand side has yet to be worked on...

In pots:
Tomatoes (10)
Basil (17)
Peppers (6x Hungarian Hot Wax, 4x Marconi Rosso)
Aubergines (5)

In a bed:
Cucumbers (3x Crystal Lemon, 4x Marketmore)
Courgettes (3x Gold Rush, 1x Cocozelle)
Squash (2x Custard White, 4x Butternut Squash)

Here's a picture of my wacky cucumber supports, three were made out of spare sections of trellis, the others are clearly an experiment in bamboo canes and binder twine, ha ha!

Water: There is a trough set up in the polytunnel with the option of water from the borehole or the stream. As explained before, our borehole water is very alkaline, whereas the stream water is acid, so we fill half the trough with one and then divert to the other - though the results may not be perfectly pH neutral, at least it's an attempt at a compromise!

Plant Feed: Next to the polytunnel we have a large bucket of comfrey "tea" - made by stuffing comfrey leaves into an onion net, then throwing them into a covered bucket of water where they "brew" for a couple of weeks. When the smell becomes disgusting, the tea is ready! We dilute a mugful of the liquid in a watering can of water from the trough and feed the plants as we water them. Our tomatoes are fed every day, but other plants have the tea once or twice a week.

Wild Food: As the trees came into leaf, and then into blossom (some of them, at least!), we were excited to find that we have an elder tree quite close to the house - I can't wait to make elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne! And later in the year the berries are great in crumbles and puddings. There's a suspected wild damson tree down by the river as well, and some other as yet unrecognisable fruit trees dotted about the land... We shall see what they are in due course. The oyster mushrooms have not returned, though I try to check the log by the stream every time I go to collect the post.

The Baby: We're at the 30 week stage, so only 10 more weeks to go! Squiggles is growing so quickly, and loves crashing about in there - it's quite amazing to see the kicks and squirmings. I have started investigating washable nappies and other essentials: we have been given a number of different types of nappies, now I just have to get my head around them and make sure we have everything we need! The hormones have been up and down, as one might expect, and I've been struggling with depression, but I'm optimistic that once Squiggie is out and in my arms I'll feel a lot better :) Phil and I are both very excited (and a little nervous!) about the future, but I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic adventure!

Here's a pic of my friend Martin and I, after we'd cleared most of the house: it serves as a good bump update! :D

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Birthday Sock Rug

I have fantasized for a long time that when we're established on the smallholding, we'll have the time to make each other birthday and Christmas presents instead of buying expensive tat. My mother's birthday was on the 30th May, and for the whole month I found myself sneaking away to secretly sew and get excited about making her a sock rug. A fair number of the (holey) socks which make up the rug came from her originally, so the idea was that the colour scheme would be to her liking.

I took about eight or nine pairs of old socks, and snipped them into one or two-inch wide rings (throwing away the heel and tips of toes), then played about with them for a bit to decide the order in which the colours would appear. Knee-length socks should generally come towards the end, as they are longer and provide more rings, which in turn makes a longer section (needed for the wider circumference). I looped the rings together to make a snake of some meters in length, before starting to sew the snake into an even spiral... There's something meditative about watching your mini rug slowly emerge. I must admit that I enjoyed the process, and not least because I was putting love into a handmade present which is so much more personal than a bought one.

The finished sock rug takes several hours, but provides a cosy and funky insulated layer to put between the cold chair and your bottom. It also makes an unusual hat, as my mother discovered, ha ha!