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Saturday, 28 January 2012

Bringing a table back to life

We have a table that is perfectly functional but has lost a little of its former charm. The main problem is that it has been moved one too many times and has started to chip. It wasn’t an expensive table in the first place but it seems a shame to chuck it out if we can still use it. So I decided to come up with a way to bring it back to life. We could have just painted it but that seems a bit boring. The curtains in our sitting room are made from some lovely material featuring flowers and birds and I thought it would be nice to produce something to match.

I found come lovely wrapping paper that was in the right colours and had some nice shapes. Having cut out the individual plants etc. I used some permanent adhesive spray (you can get this in any good craft shop) and sprayed the table. The spray should hold the paper cutouts in place and due to it having less moisture doesn’t create the bumps and wrinkles you would get using PVA. Then I stuck the cut out wrapping paper in place. This was harder than I had envisaged (as these things tend to be) as I kept sticking my fingers to the table instead, but eventually I got there.
When I get around to it (or Nick gets fed up of tripping up over it every time he goes to the fridge) I will apply a layer of varnish over the top. This should seal the table so that we can use it again. This is a very cheap way to update a piece of furniture – just some adhesive spray, some wrapping paper and some varnish. Instead of wrapping paper you could use old glossy magazines and make beautiful mosaics or just random swirls of colour. If you are using thick paper you can usually get away with PVA but for anything thin it is best to use adhesive spray.

Top tips:
  • Remember to clean your table carefully first – dust caught in the glue is generally not a good look!
  • Lay your design out before you start so you know where things are going.
  • Shake the adhesive spray well and don’t hold the can too close to the table (it is a good idea to experiment with the spray first so you can get as smooth a result as possible).
  • Seal your final design in some general furniture varnish (any good craft shop or DIY should stock varnish).
And in other news ....

The winter garden experiment - an update

We have the first signs of life :-) - the rocket, spring onions and salad are just starting to show. Pots that started in bags need to come out as soon as any seedling come up but if you are using a propogator then leave them be. The soil needs to be kept slightly moist (but not wet!).

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Winter Salad Experiment

So it is winter and the garden isn’t really teeming with vegetables. The frosts have arrived and although I love the swedes, parsnips, leeks and cabbages coming out of the garden I miss those summer salad crops.  But is it impossible to grow salad in the United Kingdom in the winter? The scientific part of my brain has decided what is needed is an experiment. I have included general instructions - but as with all experiments I can't promise a successful outcome! We are lucky enough to have a small room at the back of the house which has several windows and enough room to fit some shelving (but a windowsill or greenhouse would also be worth a try). This is where we will germinate seeds for the garden in spring but at the moment the space is empty and this seems the perfect place for my experiment.

I have started with some spring cleaning. The last thing you want when growing plants indoors is mould. Unfortunately this is exactly what we had in the chilli plants housed here until recently – partly due to my paranoid over watering! So I have learnt two useful lessons already – keep the place you are growing in as clean as you can and don’t over water! I have got some containers - in this case washed food containers cut to size and with some holes put in the bottom for drainage. I am trying juice cartons cut down, butter tubs and some of the trays that mushrooms come in from the supermarket. They have been filled with soil and left indoors for a week to defrost and warm up – I’m not joking it was actually frozen in places and seeds don’t like the cold!
Today I planted the seeds – I am trying fennel, spring onions, lettuce, spinach, chard and rocket. If these work then I might try some more things.  Each pot has a few more seeds then the number of plants it can support – this means that even if not all the seeds germinate we will get something (hopefully). If we are lucky enough to have all of the seeds germinate we can thin the seedlings out later. The soil should be damp but not wet (and you should not add any more water until the seeds have germinated). In order to keep the soil as warm as possible and to keep the moisture in, the pots need to go in to a propagator. If you want to try this experiment and had all the kit up until now – don’t panic! Instead of spending money on a propagator you can use a sandwich bag for each pot. Put your pot in the bag and tie the handles together (leave as much air in the bag as possible so that there is a gap between the top of the soil and the bag).

Now is the most nerve racking part of the experiment - walk away and wait to see if the seeds will germinate. Your packet of seeds should tell you how long they will take to germinate (but since we are doing it out of season it is worth leaving it a bit longer for good luck). As soon as there is some sign of life the plastic bags need to be removed. Once you have some green showing you need to keep the soil damp to the touch (but not wet). Fingers crossed there will be another post on this subject in a couple of weeks when we have some seedlings!

Monday, 2 January 2012

A year in the garden

We spent yesterday in the garden tidying up the last of the annuals and trying to dig out all of the stinging nettles before the bulbs come up (a losing battle but I keep persevering). We live in a rented house but were lucky enough to find one that had a garden and a letting agent who was happy for us to use it! Anyway, whilst I was stood in the rain and had stopped for a break (having just banged my head on the bird feeders again - why do I never remember that they are there?) I tried to remember what the garden looked like just a year ago.

 This is what the garden looked like in September 2010:

Essentially a lawn, a dead apple tree and some paving slabs (oh and of course some stinging nettles). Over the winter we dug some borders around the edge of the lawn and bought some plant pots for the patio. We also made a cold frame to bring young plants on. We don’t have a greenhouse but luckily there is space in the house to germinate plants. Once established the seedlings can be moved to the to the cold frame (to make space for the next lot). The frame is made from wood and sterling board and the lid from polycarbonate sheeting.

This was very much a joint effort and we are still learning about ways to improve it. The frame needs some ventilation in calm weather (hence the lid being lifted by wood in the picture), it however needs to be closed in windy weather as the plants inside get damaged otherwise. Also we need to paint the inside white in order to allow more light to be reflected in to the frame (although tin foil stuck to the inside walls worked quite well as a temporary solution this year).

We had grown Lupins, Hollyhocks, Aquilegia and Delphiniums from seed at the end of 2009 that were still sitting in pots. So once the beds were dug in November (a little late but they seemed to take ok) we planted them out. We also started to buy seeds so that in the spring we could grow on our veg and flowers. It is much cheaper to grow plants from seed and we now had room to bring the young plants on.

Almost everything in the garden was grown from seed or cuttings and some of the plant pots are from recycled food containers. We grew the seedlings in cardboard toilet rolls to save on the number of plant pots we had to buy.

By June this year the garden was really flourishing:

We grew herbs in red IKEA waste paper bins and to our surprise this was a massive success. For some reason the slugs and snails did not seem to climb the pots so despite neighbouring pots having regular problems the herbs were ok! I don’t know whether it was the bright red colour or the slippery sides but even the Basil flourished with no slug problems at all for the whole summer! We will definitely do this again. Aphids became a huge problem in the summer demolishing the Lupins and Nasturtiums but my mum suggested spraying the plants with soap flakes diluted in water and this made a huge difference - thanks Mum!!!

The vegetables did quite well, well except for the butternut squash plants that grew about 3 m long and then died in a storm! L I think perhaps next time we need to plant them in a more sheltered spot. The carrots were huge and even at the end of the summer when we came to clear the bed there were about 1 kg of carrots left. We tried Florence Fennel for the first time and have discovered a new vegetable – so good in salads or griddled in some olive oil. The marrows just rotted on the plants but apparently this was a general problem this year. We had beetroot, spring onions, lettuce, rocket, chard, mange tout, broad beans and spinach consistently for several months having planted new seeds every couple of weeks or so. We will definitely grow these again because they were so easy to grow and it meant we had fresh vegetables all summer long.  

It has been so nice to watch the garden develop. Looking back at the photographs that we took when we moved in has reminded me just how little there was just over a year ago. There is still so much to do this year (if we can stay here – always a problem in a rented house). I am determined to try and get on top of the stinging nettles!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Sorry I know it has been a while since we last posted. This is partly because we have been away visiting relatives over the Christmas period, but also because we have been finishing the Christmas presents we were making. It was a close run thing but we did get them all finished in time! Here are a few pictures of some of the things that we made:

The presents include homemade beads strung on to ribbon to make necklaces and bracelets. Some paper stars made in to earrings and a bracelet. Shopping bags made with curtain material and lined with satin. Picalilli, Chilli Jam, filled spice grinders and the hampers mentioned in a previous post. We also finally finished the baubles (we managed to make 6 whole sets although there were unfortunately a couple of disasters (a new method for sticking needed I think)). I also found some really cool buttons in a local material store which I attached to ribbon to make bracelets. There were some other bits and pieces but I forgot to photograph them - oops but I think you can get a good feel for what we have done.

It was so much fun making them all but such a relief that we managed to finish them all in time. Hopefully the coming year will be filled with new projects to write about! We wish everyone a happy New Year - and hopefully won't leave it quite so long until we post again.