Tuesday, 7 October 2014

...a mini chicken salad bar

My chickens adore greens. Over the summer that is not an issue but over the winter it gets more problematic + they stay in their run more when the weather is bad and need some entertainment. For my chickens the only sort of entertainment really worth considering is food based. Other people's chickens seem to sit on swings or enjoy toys. Mine ignore these thing repeatedly making keeping them occupied and not letting them get fat from too many corn rationing toys a bit of a challenge.

I wanted to make the chickens an area in their run for ages that has mesh over it and grows plants so they have ready access to greens if they are in their run.  Problem is despite their run being quite large there isn't really room for one with the compost heap, the dust bath, the logs, the food and water oh and the chickens of course in there too!  Also it is nearly winter so nothing would germinate.

Bring on the mini chicken salad bar - a small hinged lidded cage topped box that you can put a couple of plants in. The chickens can go at them and nibble away without totally destroying them, allowing them to grow back for more nibbling. Pots in this case are planted with some clumps of grass from between some paving slabs and an old perpetual spinach plant that has gone a bit leathery (good tip for summer greens - old plants such as lettuce, spinach, mustards etc that are not producing human edible leaves will carry on keeping chickens happy for ages, put them in a pot, put the pot in the run, leaves get stripped off, take pot out after 10 mins, leaves grow back after 3 weeks, repeat). 

A couple of notes on the making. It looks shonky - it is. Amazingly we had some pallet wood (very clean used once pallet wood, I would never use dirty stuff) that was exactally the right size for the pots. Sadly the ends were a bit off square and due to my current hand situation drills & sanding ok, sawing and detailed work not ok. Doesn't explain why the lid does not fit though!! Nice thing about making things for hens is they really dont care about that kind if thing. Green = happy.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

...a couple of discoveries

It is the last day of Waste Less Live More Week.  It has been a brilliant exercise for me, blogging everyday and getting all sorts of things done I have been meaning to do for ages.  I have a happy glow of self satisfaction about the whole week.

Todays challenge is Discover It and originally we were planning to go out for the day somewhere new and exciting but we got a cold and I feel rubbish!  So I have been on two voyages of discovery today, one in my own backgarden and a trot around the wonder of the web.

As you can see from the photo I noticed all sorts of lovely things today.  One of the real joys of having a garden for me is that any day of the year, whatever the weather, I will always find something lovely that makes me happy.

As for the web, it holds a never ending myriad of information, some of it good, some of it bad.  It has taught me a tremendous amount of stuff that has contributed to the productive happiness place that is my garden.  I have had a lovely time today watching the Men's Cycling World Championship Road Race and finding all sorts of excellent sites and blogs.  Some are old friends I am revisiting and some are new to me but I found all the sites below interesting and full of useful information - give a few a visit next time you have a free rainy afternoon!

Click on the image below to save the list.  Really sorry I could not make it so you could click on the links.  Having some IT/brain function issues this week :)


Saturday, 27 September 2014

...nice tools

I have a secret garden shame.

I consider myself a good gardener.  I adore my garden.  I look after it well, I am passionately, strictly, organic and peat free, I genuinely care what impact my gardening has on the world around me.  I manage, from 66m2 to produce nearly all of our veg each year.  It is the cornerstone of what health I do have and it makes me happy. 

But I have never ever, not ever, got round to properly cleaning or maintaining my hardworking garden tools.  They deserve so very much better.  They are the reason I get all this benefit. Without them I would be stuffed.  Every year at this time I read the tweets, the posts and the articles about maintaining those tools and I just don't get round to it.


Worse still one of our spades died recently, it's head fell off.  Directly as a result of my wanton neglect.  I have never felt so guilty.  What a waste.  I will be making a dibber from it in the future but that is for another day.

So inspired by this years Waste Less Live More campaign, in honour of day 6's call to fix things I am doing proper tool maintenance.  Everything wooden has been given a sand over and the rusty spots have been cleaned off.  A coat if tung oil has been applied and they look (and smell) beautiful.   

Honestly it really wasn't that difficult.  Don't they look amazing?  I have to point here that they look like really expensive tools. They aren't.  They are from Wilkinson's.  Seriously, they do ash handled tools at a really good price. They have already lasted over five years and will for many more now my new regime is in place.  

And I hearby promise in front of everyone that I will do this every year from now on.

Friday, 26 September 2014


Piccalilli is one of my favourite pickles. It is also one of the only ones I make.  I am a confident gardener and can easily pour food into the kitchen.  Cooking, no problem, but processing food for storage seems to give me trouble.  For some reason I lack confidence in the whole jam and pickle thing, a fact not helped by the fact Dan once choked to death (seriously) on jam I made. 

However, if I am to pull off the minor miracle of making sure we have food all winter I realise that preserving things is something of a necessity.  But I got a bit overwhelmed this year by all my options.

I have a simple strategy I apply to most things.  If I am a bit intimidated by something I look for somewhere to start that I feel most comfortable with because I know I have done it before.  So, we came to piccalilli.  I have made it before so I trust the recipe, it does not have a record of nearly killing one of us and it does not need to be sterilised post jarring in scary large pans of boiling water.  Easy peasy. 

It's also one of my fave recipes because it uses up the last of the summer's produce, even the bits that aren't quite right (however hard I try this is the only way I like green tomatoes).  Easy, economical, gorgeous and that yellow is like a ray of sunshine on a cold winters day.

And as todays Waste Less Live More challenge is Share It I thought sharing my Piccalilli recipe (derived from one shared with me by my Mum) might be just the thing, so here it is...


3 Sterilised Jars (I do mine in the oven 10 mins on 120c)

100gm Salt
1ltr Water

250gm Green Tomatoes
250gm Onions
250gm Mixed Veg (cauli, green beans, peas, carrots, celery, peppers all work well - experiment with your favourites)

35gm Plain Flour
15gm Mustard Powder
4gm Turmeric
150gm Sugar
450ml White Vinegar

Chop up all vegetables into small pieces. Stir the salt into the water until it is dissolved. Soak the vegetable in the brine overnight. 

The next day rinse the brine from the veg and put them in a large pan covered with cold water. Bring to the boil to blanch the veg and then drain.

Put the flour, mustard and turmeric in a stain proof bowl and mix with a little vinegar to make a smooth paste.

Add the paste, vinegar and sugar to a pan and stir while heating gently. As it heats it will slowly thicken. Do not rush this bit or you will have a lumpy much less pleasant sauce! (It is very like making fresh custard if you have ever done that)

Put the veg into a bowl and pour on the sauce, stirring gently until the vegetables and sauce are very well mixed (do not stir too vigorously or you will put lots of bubbles in it).

Put the lumpy yellow gloopy wonder into sterilised jars, stick a chopstick Into the mix a few times to release any bubbles, seal well and keep for a couple of months until you dig in. 


Thursday, 25 September 2014

...slug collars and a stir fry bed

Day 4 of the Waste Less Live More Week is Grow It. Kind of an easy challenge for me as a garden addict who grows all our veg. I love gardening. It has been a massive part of my life for all of my life and in truth I would not like to be without it.

But I thought I would try something new for the challenge and also pass on one of my current garden experiments aimed at reducing everyone's favourite nemeses the slug and snail.

One of the things I have tried to develop over the last few years are ways of keeping the vegetable harvest going over the winter.  So here is this year's new idea to help with the aim and also to make it easy to pick food when it is cold, wet and dark.  The stir fry bed has been planted up so that if you harvest some off each plant there should be a selection of stir fry leaves about once a week.  Plus it makes it easy for someone else to pick stuff rather than me being the only one who knows which plants are ready to be picked.  Might work, might not but it is fun trying these things!!  

I am going to make a number of these patches so that when one is exhausted another will be ready.  They will be cloched over the winter and will keep producing pretty much all season, although they will slow down when it is very cold. I achieve this winter gardening magic through careful sowing times, good protection and choice of plant. Plants are multi sown in 7cm modules, thinned to about 4 plants per module and planted out when ready.  This year my beds have a selection of the following plants (*= one you can see in the photo)...

Mustard, Greens in Snow* and Red Frills 
Mizuna Greens*
Pak Choi, Green* and Red F1
Komatsuna, green and red
Perpetual Spinach
Spinach Red Cardinal

If you want to know more about winter growing by all means ask questions and I will help where I can but most of my knowledge comes from two book which I thoroughly recommend - Oriental Vegetables by Joy Larkom and Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding. 

The second part of todays post is about how to make sure you get the benefit of all your growing fun rather than it just being slug fodder.  I have been trialling, for about the last year, various slug collars.  As a seriously organic gardener I don't use pellets and I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of traps (they are gross and I get sad when ground beetles go in them). So I am always looking for ways to protect new plants from their evil little mouths.

I am trialling two basic types as you can see below, one type with copper, one with pointy bits.  Obviously using the copper means buying copper tape which is quite pricey but I am delighted to report much of my copper tape is 5 years old and has been reused many times now.

Without a doubt the most effective are the downpipe sections with copper tape on but for a good free option you cannot beat a pop or milk bottle cut up. They really don't like going over those pointy bits!

If you make any slug and snail defences I would love to hear from you how sucessful they have been and  what works best for you.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

...upcycled T-shirt

Todays Waste Less Live More week challenge is Value It. This was an easy one for me. T-shirts.

We have a couple of T-shirt issues in our house. A good example of two problems making a solution (for one of us at least).  I realised recently that I had no T-shirts without holes in them. Quite serious holes. Now in one respect this is fine, the chickens don't mind my holey T-shirts and gardening chic kind of demands a few holes, right? But I do occasionally leave the house and it is occasionally nice to have clothes without holes. I went out and bought a new T-shirt and promptly ripped a hole in it on the chicken run. Current budgeting dictates this cannot continue so, new approach needed...

At the same time piling up in my sewing corner are a stack of Dans not very old T-shirts. He is quite tall and broad shouldered hence after about 20 washes a fair number of T-shirts are already too short and look like he has grown out of them.  The upside to this T-shirt tragedy is that there is enough fabric In Dan's tshirts to make new clothes for me and he has worn the fabric in so it is nice and soft. Super!

So this is todays wardrobe rework. Dans top to my top.
1) Cut off the neck to make a new neck line. I used one of my fave tops as a pattern.
2) Cut the cuffs off & take a slice out of the arm to make them the right length. Sew the cuffs back on.
3) Cut the bottom hem off, below the seam stitching to make a lengthy piece of binding for the neck. 
4) Cut the stitching off left after cutting the bottom hem off and rehem the bottom edge. I used a blind hem foot on my serger so it has some stretch. Use a zig zag or stretch stitch on a regular machine.
Use the binding made from the bottom edge to bind the neck edge. 

Tips for sewing with stretch fabric-

-Sergers really help, theres no getting round it and they are so fast. I bought a really cheap one and its the best bit of sewing kit I ever bought. So fast and versitile.

-When using a regular sewing machine treat yourself to a walking foot. It stops the fabric puckering up which is a real problem when sewing knits

-Use ball point needles rather than regular sharps. They work much better and make it easier for your machine

-Cutting stretch fabric can be tricky, a cutting wheel is easier than scissors if you have lots to do. Use sharp scissors!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

... a sort of forest garden

Waste Less Live More week, day 2 - Borrow It

I love the library. I adore books and am able to devour them at a rapid rate of knots. When I was recovering from surgery reading was one of my favourite things to do, the slight problem being that I could not hold a book or indeed get to the library. So at the time it was audio and digital books only for me. 

And then I discovered that the public library has a digital library - a whole new feast of accessible booky wonder. Check it out. Ours in Gloucestershire is fantastic. I have borrowed countless books, fiction, non fiction, audio book, ebook. Brilliant! Try it. Free books you can have whenever you like. Whats not to love?

All you need is a library account and you can register, visit you local library or see your local council's library webpage to find out more.

I tend to read a lot about gardening. One of my main responsibilities in our money saving exercise is to provide most of our vegetable crop and eggs from our garden. We have 66m2 of available back garden to grow veg and keep chickens in, not a huge space, but this year the only veg we bought were potatoes and mushrooms and I have no idea when we last bought eggs!  With such a small area there is obvious competition for space and I am always keen to keep as much of my veg beds as possible for annual and more choosy veg.  Problem is herbs, comfrey, rhubarb etc all have different ideas and need somewhere to go.  Then my partner said "Why not use the front garden?" (a 16m2 hedge surrounded weedy, dead, unused space). 

Coincidentally at the same time I borrowed a great book by chance from the download library called Forest Gardening by Robert Hart. All of a sudden my front garden, the plants needing a home and the forest garden idea all converged. Front garden makeover! 

Forest gardening is a low-maintenance, sustainable plant-based food production system based on woodland ecosystems, using fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields that are useful to us.  Key things that stuck out when I looked into it - low maintenance, sustainable, useful to humans and as an added bonus they are beautiful. I love the idea of a more natural, interdependent garden. As someone who loves to garden but is not always well enough it is great sometimes to feel less needed!

One slight issue to start with, there are no trees in the front garden, I don't have any trees to put out there and if I did put one there there would be no room for anything else. But we do have a hedge and a shrub that came with the house. No idea what it is, red berried and the army of sparrows & bluetits love it so thats good enough for me and will have to suffice as our upper layer. In an ideal world I would probably start my forest garden with a plum tree (dreams of future garden...). So this is going to be a sort of forest garden.

The garden before the makeover ...
So today has seen phase 1 of the project, planting up a section of the sort of forest front garden. I have cleared away all the mouldy nasty bits, put a log border in (from our old tree that came out) and planted various plants from the list below.  As the perennial plants will get bigger next year but either will be dormant or small over winter I have added some short term veg to add colour and get the garden producing immediately. Swiss Chard is adding spectacular colour and green food for the chickens and I have put some Mustard, Red Frills in there as an experiment, they have been uniquely slug and snail resistant in the back garden and I want to see if the hold up in the wilder front garden.  Phase 2 includes a bit of bush moving that is a two person job so that will have to wait a few days.  Plus I created so many bags of weeds I might have to spend the rest of the week composting!

Plants going in the sort of forest garden and what they will be used for :-

Rhubarb (food)
Gooseberry (for cuttings & food for sparrows!)
Fennel (food, herb mix)
Mint - peppermint & apple mint (food, herb mix, insect repellent)
Oregano (food for us & chickens, herb mix)
Lemon Balm (food for us & chickens)
Tansy (insect repellent)
Thyme - grey, broad leaved & lemon (food for us & chickens, herb mix)
Wild Garlic (food for us & chickens) (not from wild, from my back garden!)
Wild Rocket - perennial rocket (food for us & chickens)
Chinese Celery (food for us)
1000 Headed Kale (food for chickens)
Sorrel - red veined & buckler leaved (food for us)
Perpetual Spinach (food for us & chickens)
Red Frilled Mustard (food for us)

Flowers will be added in the spring - calendula & nasturtium

(Herb mix is a dried mix of various herbs I use in my chickens bedding to keep the bugs at bay and their health tip top)

Plan of my sort of forest garden...

Monday, 22 September 2014

... Lavender Bags

It is Waste Less Live More week this week - http://www.wastelesslivemore.com - a great idea and something which caught my attention as, by necessity, we are being mindful of what we use and how we use it at the moment. 

We need to move house. Houses are expensive. We need to save astronomical amounts of money to move house. This means our resources are more valuable and stretched than ever. This week I am taking up the Waste Less Live More challenge because it's a good idea, it's good to not waste stuff and to spice things up I am trying to focus on those pesky tasks that we all have, things you know you probably should do but haven't quite got round to.  So this week the planet wins as I will be tying to impact on it as little as possible with my makes, I win because I get stuff and hopefully other people win as I will be sharing something every day to help you waste a bit less too.

Day 1's theme is Make It. So I am making lavender bags. Two reasons:-

1) We have needed moth repellers for our wardrobe for ages and much to my shame despite having the fabric & the lavender our clothes were left to protect themselves. It's a good idea when trying to save money to not need new jumpers because your old ones were moth food.

2) I saw a tutorial for making lavender bags the other day and it made me angry (I realise this seems a bit far fetched and you may think I need help). They had crafted beautiful hand stitched lavender bags from new fabric and said at the bottom that you couldn't refill them so when they didn't smell anymore to throw them away and make new ones. I mean really? Throwing stuff away wilfully is bad enough but something handmade that it is super easy to refresh is just plain wrong I tell you. WRONG!

So these lavender* bags are cute, easy to make and best of all can be refilled!!!

*Actually you can put all sorts of dried herbs in your bags if you have other herbs or don't like lavender. Bay leaves, dried basil leaves, mint, thyme, tansy, rosemary and wormwood will all help repel unwanted buggy guests.

Tutorial and the pattern for regular, butterfly and ukulele versions are below as pictures you can save and print out if needed. Sorry they are a bit dark, they will be updated in the week - IT issues :( To be honest they are not complicated patterns so have a go at designing your own!

A few notes on the waste less theme...

I used offcuts of fabric from other projects for these bags. Use something stiffish (my partner is a painter so I have a responsibility to find 101 uses for 10cm strips of painting linen). I save all fabric over a cm square -seriously I do! 

I dry my own lavender and other herbs - it's easy. Hang some lavender clipped from your plant up somewhere dry for a few weeks until it is crispyish. Leaves can be used too they are just not quite as strong.

I used a machine to sew mine as I had 2 lots of hand surgery recently and that rules out hand sewing but if you can hand sew them it would both look lovely and save a bit of electricity.

I hand drew the pattern and instructions as it saved tons of digital device time and was good hand therapy to boot ( only just been able to start writing again recently). Don't print out the instructions unsless you absolutley have to!

Replace the herbs in the bags about every 6 months


Saturday, 30 August 2014

...Storage Pots

I love terracotta pots - they are beautiful things. They have a gorgeous colour, texture and look. 

They are also fragile. Unfortunately for all around me I am somewhat prone to dropping things and have made a fine art out of knocking into stuff and consequently I break a bit more than my fair share of the world's goods. This is bad news for my terracotta pots. They end up being fairly frequent victims of my inability to walk in a straight line or see things where they actually are.

As you may by now be aware I am pathologically incapable of throwing anything away. And when it is something I broke I feel a desire to give it a second chance in life as a kind of thankyou/ sorry for its previous service in making my garden beautiful and my unacceptable behaviour towards it.

Hence broken things in our house often get stored for repurposing. I had built up quite a collection of small but broken terracotta pots and as they were on the easy craft list I decided their time had come. For such a simple process it is a great result that really brightens up the greenhouse and makes things easier to store than the mishmash of greehousey stuff i had crammed into various tubs before.

These were super easy to do for my hands and I am really pleased with the results. A real bolt of colour for the greenhouse which I think will be especially cheery when I am out there over the winter!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

... a clever garden thing

Ok, so I have not blogged for over a year. Bad bad bad. Problem is I've hardly been able to make anything for the last year due to all the hand surgery fun I have been going through and seeings as how my blog is about things I have made and not where I moan about chronic pain, surgery & the general joy of hypermobility I was left a bit short of material.  

My left hand is now recovering slowly and my right hand is very pleased it is starting to feel better after last years surgery. What I have been doing is gardening. A lot. "What?" I hear you cry, chronic pain, surgery, gardening??? Surely that's not a good idea. Having finally mastered (most days) the fine art of pacing gardening is more than possible, in fact I truly believe almost anyone can garden on some level and the benefits are truly immense.

Some things are a bit beyond me though - like writing by hand which makes labelling your plants a challenge. So I made my label coding system. Very easy, write on the board what colour represents what variety and use that colour when sowing seeds. Easy, colourful, cheery, saves work and cheap, oh my it's a win win win win win.

Possibly my easiest make ever (bit of sanding on the edge of the wood offcut, sticking on the labels & talking nicely to someone to drill the holes) but one of my favourites and I am sure the lettuces have grown better this year!