21 February 2013

The Plight of the Honey Bee

Yesterday, whilst reading through some of the blog posts on the many fabulous blogs I follow, I came across a new post by Brigit Strawbridge. Now some of you might remember her from a series called "It's Not Easy Being Green" where Bee, her husband Dick (of the Scrapheap Challenge and huge mustache fame) and their two children turned a farm in Cornwall into an eco house. Well Brigit is something of an eco warrior and has written many blog posts and several articles on the plight of bees, their decline and the main causes of the problem. She also gives excellent advice on how to plant your garden with plants and flowers to attract insects, in particular, bees and butterflies, into your garden. You can check out her blog here

Bees and other pollinators are critical to food production and these tiny animals pollinate one-third of all the food produced on our planet. In recent years, the serious decline in bee numbers has been attributed to several factors. The increasing use of pesticides, in particular, neonicotinoid pesticides such as Imidacloprid, invasive parasites, habitat loss and disease. The pesticides interfere with the bees ability to navigate back to the hive, and has also been shown to account for an 85% loss of queen bees being produced in the hives. When you add this to the massive decline in flower meadows and the shift from flower borders in gardens to paved patios and decking and the honey bee is in serious trouble, amounting to a total of almost 50% of honey bees being lost in the last 25 years. 


Anyway, Brigit's article got me thinking. In my field, each year, I keep a large patch of ground uncultivated. It's never mown, except to strim a path every few weeks to the field gate so I can feed my llamas, I never ever use pesticides on anything either in my field or in my garden and I encourage a wide variety of insects into the field and garden as much as I can. The reason behind this initially was that in a big wall, behind my house, we have bats. All bat species are protected and the flies and flying insects that are attracted to the plants growing in the wild patch are eaten by the bats and I didn't want to cut off the bat's food supply by cutting down the weeds and other not-too-decorative plants.

This year though, in addition to the wild patch, I am also actively going to be planting flowers and plants that are specifically aimed at attracting bees and butterflies. My local cheap-as-chips-buy-anything-and-everything store, Trago Mills, sells a huge variety of seeds that are bee and butterfly friendly and last year, my local Morrissons were selling boxes of seeds for flowers that attract bees and butterflies that you just shake onto a patch of bare earth, water and wait to see what pops up. I never got around to shaking the box last year so this year, I shall be shaking and planting vigorously and hopefully will be rewarded with swathes of fabulous meadow flowers and bees and butterflies galore all pollinating my fruit and veg plants.

On February 25th, 2013, a proposal to ban three of the most widely used neonicotinoid pesticides enters EU law, and if there is a majority vote in favour of the ban it could mean that the honey bee population may, in time, recover. Hopefully it won't be too little too late. 

20 February 2013

Getting Creative Making Cards

A couple of post ago I mentioned that I had my first ever table at my local produce market and this week I have been making some more things to sell. I noticed that the people who did extremely well at the market were the ones that had fruit and veg and eggs to sell. I'm guessing that this is because these items are needed on a daily basis so that come the weekend, people come back to the market to stock up. With this principle in mind, I decided that I would make some greetings cards. Cards are something people always need and many many years ago, I had a stall at Tavistock market selling my hand made 3D decoupage cards and I actually did quite well. 

This time, I wanted to do something a little different. I have long admired people who can do freehand machine embroidery and recently, using one of my book tokens that I got for Christmas, I bought myself a fabulous book by the very talented Poppy Treffry. Previous attempts at freehand machine embroidery were, shall we say, less than successful. Being used to the rigid feed of  normal machine sewing and the need to sew in a straight line when making cushions and things, I found it very hard to simply throw all that out of the window and move the embroidery hoop around willy nilly like a mad thing. The finished result of my first attempt looked like a drunken spider had skated all over it after having it's feet dipped in ink. Not a pretty sight and a world away from the fabulous designs Poppy seems to achieve so effortlessly. 

I am, though, nothing if not determined. Some might even say stubborn! I knew what I wanted the cards to look like but I also knew that I wasn't ready to take off the feed dogs on my sewing machine just yet ..... it's a bit like taking the stabilisers off your bike when you're a child...... very scary! So I compromised. I stitched the fabric to the cards using a basic bog standard machine sewing technique and ...... Ta da ..... cards :-)

I have to say I do like them quite a lot. 
Not bad for a first attempt.


19 February 2013

Greenhouse Envy

For well over a year now I have longed for a greenhouse and I get massive greenhouse envy whenever I ready blog posts about people planting seeds in their greenhouse or picking tomatoes from their tomato plants in the greenhouse, or simply pottering in their greenhouse ...... well you get the picture. Sadly, I have still not managed to get one because as soon as I manage to save enough money to buy one, something else comes along and I have to use my greenhouse fund to pay for it. The car breaks down or my washing machine stops working and before I know it, my greenhouse fund is back down to zero. So, for now, I content myself with looking online to find my dream greenhouse.

I love this traditional looking greenhouse.

And I think the rustic brick of this greenhouse is fabulous. Actually, I think it's my favourite out of all the greenhouses I have found. Darn my expensive tastes :-)

I found this next one in an article in The Telegraph. I think it's gorgeous. The article also came with a very useful piece on how to buy the right greenhouse, where to site it and lots of useful tips.

I am, however, a realist and I know that, short of a lottery win, when I finally get one, it will be a basic bog-standard aluminium frame greenhouse that I get. I don't mind that one bit.

I did find this one though. It was made entirely using free and recycled materials. It's gorgeous. I would be very tempted to stick a couple of chairs in there so I could sit and read a book after I had planted my seeds,  picked my tomatoes and pottered about. 

And this one is truly inventive. It even comes with a "How To" article so you can make your own. It's made from plastic water bottles. Amazing :-)


I also think this one, made from windows, is ingenious too.


Anyway, if I ever finally manage to get a greenhouse you can bet that I post plenty of pictures here on my blog but I wouldn't hold your breath if I were you as my greenhouse fund is currently, once again ...... Zero :-)

18 February 2013

Spring is Spriging ........ Fingers Crossed

Well, Sunday was a lovely day. It was sunny, bright and kind of sparkly and there was a real whiff of Spring in the air. With my washing on the line blowing briskly in the breeze, I decided to snap a few photos of what I am hoping are the first signs of spring. I really don't like winter. The cold weather makes me want to hibernate and eat stodgy, warm, comforting food, which is fine, until it gets to Summer, at which point I regret the puddings, pies and casseroles.

On my post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had planted the seeds in the lovely herb planter that my daughter Meg had given me for Christmas and last week I noticed that the seeds were beginning to sprout and the basil was just beginning to poke through the soil.

This is what they look like today. It won't be long before I will be using them in my cooking.

There are also signs of spring popping up in the garden so in good old blogging tradition, I couldn't help taking some quick photos of the spring flowers.

My rosemary, that I planted in an old enamel bread bin is beginning to flower. It has beautiful pale lavender coloured flowers. I don't know if you're supposed to let it flower but I think the flowers look beautiful so I just let it get on with it.

I also found these. They were tucked away in an old hanging basket that I had put behind the shed, assuming that all the plants in the basket were dead. It seems that they weren't :-)

17 February 2013

My First Local Produce Market

Last week, I posted about the fact that I had managed to get a table at my local produce market and yesterday was my very first one. I was thrilled and terrified in equal measures. I had spent the previous week sewing like a maniac to gather enough stock to make the table look nice and at 9.30am on Saturday morning I arrived to set up my table.

I sold sold a few things. Not a huge amount but, apparently, for a first time I did ok. I'm sure I will have to add to my range until I know what things sell well and I am positive I will have to wear at least another three layers of clothes next week because, despite the fact that it was a nice sunny day and despite the fact the tables are now inside a marquee it was freezing. I did, however, have a fabulous time. The people on the other tables were lovely and really helpful. I bought some fabulous organic free range "mislaid" eggs from the lady on the next table, some locally grown veg and some delicious coffee and walnut slices made by the lady with the table on the other side of me.

The cute little cat helping me advertise my catnip mice was made by another one of the ladies at the market. It's hand painted and she also make the most gorgeous stained glass panels.

I took these pictures before the ladies of the co-operative gave my some help with the pricing. I will definitely be going back next week with some more things to sell. Handmade cards are on the "to do" list for this week but today, I am having a day off. The sun is shining and although it's quite chilly, I am going to wrap up warm and go out and tidy my garden and maybe even do a bit of digging. 

In case you're wondering, "Mislaid" eggs are eggs that were not laid in the nesting boxes and as a result have a bit of chicken poo on them. I bought 30 eggs, all laid on Friday for £3.50!!!!! What a bargain. I will be making lots of eggy things this week starting with a quiche this afternoon for tea and an apple and raspberry crumble for pudding made with the cooking apples I bought.

There is a link HERE for the facebook page of the market and if you live near Kernow Mill in Cornwall, the market is every Thursday, Friday and Saturday and sells lots of lovely local produce. 

11 February 2013

Sewing Maniac

Well, it's been a while since I posted anything. It's been hectic here. I have been making trips to Weston-Super-Mare to collect my daughter and her cats and then to deliver my daughters cats back to her after she moved back into her flat and I have also been sewing like a maniac. About a week or so ago, I was at a local produce market, close to where I live, visiting a couple of friends who have a table there selling their fabulous wooden planters, hanging baskets and bird tables. There is lots of lovely local veg and free range eggs, a lady who paints customised hooks with pictures of animals on and someone who makes beautiful stained glass panels which incorporate shells and pebbles. There isn't, however, anyone doing sewing and I happened to mention this to my friend and she immediately introduced me to the person in charge and to cut a long story short, I now have a table every Saturday at the produce market. 

More Owl Cushions

I'm thrilled. Things have been very tough lately. Since finishing university 18 months ago, I have been unable to find a job of any description. My age seems to be an issue. At almost 48, employers seem reluctant to employ me. My degrees (I spent 4 years at uni doing a BSc and an MSc) seem to go against me and so I now leave them off my CV and although I have considerable experience in many areas, still nothing. Thank heavens for my family that's all I can say.

My First Tea Cosy

Anyway ...... I am hoping this will be the start of a little business to earn me a bit of extra cash, which will be very welcome. With this in mind, I have been sewing like mad because firstly, I had to take some things to show the committee and now, I have to get together enough stock to fill a 6 foot table. It's exciting but in order to produce enough stock, I think I'm going to have to invest in a couple of daylight bulbs so I can sew in the evenings, otherwise, it strains my eyes terribly. I am, however, really looking forward to getting started, I am loving getting creative again and I will now hopefully be posting back on a regular basis. 

A Trio of Egg Cosies 

7 February 2013

Rug Making Course

Yesterday I finally got to go on the much anticipated rug making course that had previously been cancelled due to the icy weather. It was fabulous. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The people were friendly, there was tea and cake and lots of crafty chat and I learnt a fabulous new technique using the weird looking tool below which, I think, will prove to be highly addictive. 

Maxine, the lady who runs the course is extremely knowledgeable on all things rugs and rug-related (in fact all things craft related really) and has made some beautiful pieces such as the one in the poster. When I arrived at 10am, the frames had already been prepared with the scrim fabric and there were six of us all clutching bags of wool of various colours and thickness. As I already had a tapestry frame, which I found last year at a car boot sale for 20p, I dropped my frame into the shop the day before so the fabric could be attached and the image drawn on, ready for the class. Instead of an owl, I opted for hearts. This is the fabulous design Maxine came up with.

After a quick explanation on the technique and a demonstration it was time to have ago. I have to say, it is the easiest, quickest thing I have ever done! I know the frame doesn't look very big but it's actually 11"x 22" (28cm x 56cm), so quite large and I managed to fill in all the hearts and spots in about 4 hours!!.

It's not finished yet, I still have to decide what colour to use to fill in the background. In fact that was the hardest part ..... deciding what colours to use. I was so inspired that when I came home, I sat and made a cute little lavender bag with a hand rugged front and a felt back. It's only a prototype and will need a bit of tweaking but I was so thrilled with it and it only took me about 20 minutes!!

If you live in the Liskeard area and are interested in any of the courses they run there is a link to Painters, the craft shop where they are held, HERE