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Monday, 26 March 2012

My first loaf of bread

This weekend I made my first ever loaf of bread! I have made focaccia and flat breads but never a proper loaf. Home-made bread always tastes so fresh and it was very rewarding to see it rise in the oven to something that looked like a real loaf! :-) This time I followed a recipe to the letter for a white loaf but I think in the future I might start to experiment with different flavours and flour combinations. It is amazing that this loaf was made from only three ingredients; strong bread flour, yeast and sunflower oil. The key to the crispy outside and moist inside was a tray of hot water in the bottom of the oven that generated steam whilst the loaf cooked. This was very effective and something I will definitely do again.
The salad plants are also doing well; they have survived  being transplanted last week. I have found that they are becoming more and more thirsty (which is not surprising considering they are growing fast and the weather has been so warm). 

 The seeds I have planted over the last few weeks are germinating well and making the most of the warm, sunny weather we have been experiencing. We have had temperature as high as 18 degrees over the last few days and it really feels like spring has settled in. The broad beans and mange tout seeds that were planted in toilet rolls filled with coir last week are coming on nicely and should be going in to the soil in the next few weeks. Planting seeds in to empty toilet rolls filled with compost proved to be very productive last year. The rolls help to absorb moisture so you have to water less often, you don't need to use as many plastic pots and best of all you can plant the seedling in to the ground still in their tube; protecting the roots from damage. All round this is a very easy way to recycle and the cardboard will bio-degrade over time to enhance the structure of the soil in your flowers beds. This technique seems to work particularly well with beans, peas, climbing plants, butternut squashes and courgettes. We now collect toilet rolls all year round with a plastic bag on the back of the bathroom door.

The ground is still pretty empty of vegetables and salad (although they are coming on) but some of the herbs are really doing well. We have sage, chives, oregano, thyme and even parsley that has overwintered on the patio.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Two new bags

This weekend I made two new bags from this gorgeous material I found last week. The bag above is for my Grandma so that she can carry her canvases to art class. It has long and short handles (for ease of carrying) and a small zip pocket for bus money (or as I suggested to Grandma the far more important cake money).

I had some material left so decided to make myself a satchel for work. The material itself is heavy cotton designed for curtains and is very easy to work with. The sides are reinforced with heavy interfacing and it is lined with satin. There is a long zip pocket on the back and a cross body strap. I was also thinking I might spray my bag with a waterproofing spray so that my stuff doesn't get too damp in a downpour. 

Quite a productive weekend I think, and since I have only ever made shopping bags before I am quite proud of the satchel. I didn't use a pattern (rather just made it up as I went along) but if I was to try something more complicated I think I would. There is a little bit of material left so I will have to think of something else to make. :-)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

A Goldfinch

Just a quick post to say I finally got around to making another drawing of the birds in our garden - this time a male goldfinch. I have started using marker pens to do my sketches because you get such a good range of colours and they are so quick. Compared to paints they are so convenient and I love that you can start a drawing and then leave it for a couple of days before you come back without having to worry about not having the same colours etc. I am still getting used to blending them (they don't always behave how I expect them to) but I think there is definitely some potential there. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Winter Salad Experiment - an update

About 7 weeks ago I decided I wanted to see if it was possible to grow salad indoors during the winter because frosts outside meant that there was a fairly limited supply of home grown veg. This week the seedlings finally looked strong enough to plant up! As you can see from the Lettuce plant above the seedlings have grown some lovely strong roots but they were starting to suffer a little from overcrowding. The most important thing when potting up seedlings is not to damage the stems (as this will kill the plant). Start by filling the pot or tray the seedling is going in to with compost and make a well in the soil for your new seedling. Support the seedlings with two fingers just below the leaves but keep the pressure of your fingers very gentle. Use a teaspoon or something similar to gently lever the roots out of the soil and then put gently in to a the well in the new pot. Carefully firm some soil around the plant so the stem is supported and all of the roots are buried. Put a few drops of water around the plant to wash the soil down and tap the pot very gently on a hard surface (this gets rid of any air gaps that will cause your roots problems). These tops that you can get for water bottles (which you can find in most good garden centres or online) are great because they allow you to drop or sprinkle water around your seedlings without the pressure being so hard you squash and break them!

 I have started using a new (to me) peat substitute called coir (the outer fibres of a cocunut shell). There are so many reasons not to use peat but finding a more eco-friendly alternative is not as easy as you might think. The coir comes in compacted blocks and by adding a few sachets of nutrients, a few litres or water and some vermiculite (and leaving for a couple of days) does seem to produce a lovely product. I will definitely be giving it a go and will report how it goes at the end of the season. One thing I like already is how little space it takes up for storage because it comes in compacted blocks. 

So the Chard, Rocket, salad plants and Spring Onions have been potted up and seem to be doing well. The Florence Fennel is also doing well and can probably be potted up in the next couple of weeks. The Spinach on the other hand has done nothing! No sign of life. So I am leaving it in the propagator for now but I think I am going to have to plant some more and see if we have more luck a second time. The salad crops can start to be sown outside soon and from that point will be planted every 4-6 weeks to provide food throughout the spring and summer.

This weekend we have also planted Butternut Squash, Broccoli and Cabbage seeds, as well as some of the annual flowers, Sweet Peas and some more Broad beans and Mange Tout. The temporary greenhouse is up and ready and the cold frame has been cleaned for the new season. It really does feel like spring is here and the ladybirds think so too; they are everywhere! :-)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Cereal box magazine files

Every year we seem to collect magazines and paperwork on every flat surface of our sitting room and kitchen. We always want to keep the stuff but it's a pain. I realised what we really needed was some magazine files but I didn't really want to go out and spend money on them. I had been saving cereal boxes for some time and realised that they were the perfect size. A few cuts later and here is the result:

A handmade magazine file within seconds and no money spent. I quite like the pattern on the box (especially in the kitchen) but if you would rather plain ones you could paint over the cardboard with white gloss or acrylic and even stick on wrapping paper or colourful magazine pages to cheer them up a bit. OK they are not as strong as the plastic ones you can get but they are so quick, easy to make and free. :-)