Good Gourd!

Yes, I know it’s a terrible pun. I was told I had to use it as a title under pain of no cups of tea in the morning, a far too horrible reality to comprehend so I complied without hesitation.

As you may have guessed, I planted some gourd seeds. 24 to be precise, of four different varieties:

  • Russian Doll (cucurbita pepo)
  • Snake (cucurbita pepo)
  • Speckled Swan (cucurbita pepo)
  • Dinosaur (cucurbita lagenaria)

These were a bit of an impulse buy for Rob’s birthday. When we visited Hong Kong last year, he was really taken by the water canteens made from gourds but we couldn’t find one to bring back. “Aha!” I thought, “I’ll grow him one!”. And then those seeds (russian doll) were in a multibuy pack with the speckled swan and the snakes, and I couldn’t pass up the one called “Dinosaur” (who could?), so I got all four varieties. All the seeds look very similar so I’ll just show you the russian doll gourd seeds for brevity:

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I planted them pointed end up in 3″ pots, six to a pot expecting about two or three to germinate, and put them in a heated propagator.

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8 days later (last Tuesday), after seeing nothing poking above the soil that morning, by the time I got home the snake gourd pot suddenly had 6 shoots pulling themselves out of the soil! One shoot was visible in the speckled swan pot too.

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Those pictures were taken when I got home from work, about 6pm. By 11pm, one snake gourd shoot had completely freed itself from the soil, and there was also a shoot visible in the russian doll pot. They grow SO FAST.

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Yesterday I read up on growing gourds (a little late I realise), and found that I’d made a large gourd growing mistake. Really, I should have only planted at most three seeds per pot, and even then of those three only two should be allowed to reach gourd-dom (I had at least planted them the right way up by a fluke). When I got home yesterday evening, they had grown further with 5 out of 6 fully emerged from the soil.

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Drastic action was required and soon, before all the roots become so tangled that separation was an impossibility, so after a fortifying cup of green tea (Twinings) I did something you should never do to the six snake gourd seedlings at this stage of growth. I (very carefully) tipped them out of their too small pot. Just look how long the roots are already!

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I then (very carefully) pulled them apart into six separate plants.

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I found six pots the same size as the original pot. I compared these pots to the seedlings’ root systems, and then went and got six much larger pots. Now I faced a dilemma – what soil to use? The seeds started off in a basic seed and cutting compost (a sterilised, low nutrient compost that is very fine so the roots can push through it easily). However, because of the speed of growth, I’d have had to put them in multipurpose compost in a proper pot fairly soon anyway. In the end I compromised and filled the bottom and one side of the pot with multipurpose compost, and then layered seed compost on the same side as the multipurpose. I then lay the pot on its side and (very carefully) lay the seedling (with the help of a long, flat BBQ spoon) on top of the seed compost.

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I then (very carefully) filled around the seedling with more seed compost, gently firming it around the roots to try to avoid any air pockets, and finally packed down the last remaining gap with more multipurpose compost. I’m hoping that any roots that reach the multipurpose stuff will be advanced enough to withstand any bacteria and harsh nutrients, but we’ll see if they survive. Here are the six seedlings, each in their own home, standing in shallow water overnight to moisten the compost.

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And what were the other gourd varieties doing whilst all this was going on? That’s right, growing. Look, a dinosaur shoot has appeared! And another two russian dolls!

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I’ve probably got to repeat this whole process again for the remaining three sets of seedlings over the weekend. Not looking forward to that at all – my nerves are wrecked what with trying so hard not to damage any of the fragile roots. At least the stems and leaves are pretty sturdy. The next big problem will be finding somewhere to plant them. I want to grow one of each variety if I can, but they really do take up a lot of space. Even then, I’ll have potentially 20 plants surplus to requirements. Next year I’m sowing far fewer seeds and trusting them to germinate!

Rain! Finally! And Rhubarb!

It rained today! A refreshing, ground moistening, light, drizzly rain. I’m unreasonably excited by this. However nice it was to have strange, summery weather, I don’t want a repeat of last year (England’s “driest spring in a century” according to the Guardian). After last year’s disappointment when the cherry tree jettisoned all its moisture sucking baby cherries in order to survive the dry spell, I’m quietly hoping I that can pick my first cherry off it this year.

Anyway, despite all my moaning, I did take advantage of the clement weather and got a fair amount of jobs done in the garden. Mostly weeding jobs, but this weekend I also planted the first seeds in my veg patch! First step was to spread an organic, pellet based fertiliser over the patch (~140g/m2), raking the surface and then watering it in. Then the planting could happen! I probably should have waited for a week after fertilising rather than a few hours, but I had this feeling that if I didn’t leap into action RIGHT THAT MOMENT I’d never plant anything. I’m the world’s worst ditherer when it comes to things I haven’t done before.

First in were brussels sprouts (Evesham Special), towards the back of the bed so that they wouldn’t cast a shadow over everything (apart from the shallots, but I can’t really help that).

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Then leeks (Musselburgh), next to the sprouts, a Christmas present from Rob’s parents. As leeks apparently need transplanting when they’re about spring onion sized, I thought I could start them off in between two rows and move them before the sprouts expand their territory into leek-space.

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Pak Choi (Rubi) as a request from Rob, provided I can protect them from rampant wood pigeons…

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And finally parsnips (Tender and True) furthest towards the sun as they should be quite low growing. These I got in a “veg patch starter pack” offer from Gardener’s World. I didn’t realise how light and fluffy parsnip seeds were until opening. Internet wisdom said to avoid planting when windy, and I can see why now!

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Here they are all planted up and covered with multipurpose compost. I think this was a tip from the DT Brown booklet as the multipurpose compost is far less likely to form a hard crust over the seeds than the existing soil, and therefore the seeds should find it easier to sprout. From left to right we have parsnips, pak choi, leeks and brussels sprouts. The sun tends to hit the left hand side of the bed first and end at the right hand side.

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You remember I mentioned shallots earlier? Well, this is them in front of my small but rapidly expanding rhubarb corner:

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Yeah, they’re probably not the most upright of shallots in the world. I planted them last autumn and have pretty much left them alone until I weeded them last week. I should have done the weeding far, far earlier, something I’ll have to remember for next year. I did take a load of photos when planting which I might inflict on the blog at some point; however, that story will have to cover the broad bean tragedy and I’m not sure if I’m recovered enough to write about that yet.

The rhubarb is also a Rob request as he loves the stuff, especially raw with the end dipped in sugar. There’s a bit of a timeline to this plot and its size. Originally, I was only going to have one crown but that has rapidly expanded due to the following events:

  1. First I bought him a pack of rhubarb seeds (Glaskin’s Perpetual) as a surprise present in October last year. However, as I read somewhere that rhubarb takes ages to grow from seed and in any case the seeds should be planted in March (5 months’ time), this didn’t seem like such a good plan.
  2. So I bought him a crown of Timperley Early a few weeks later (which I literally left on the side in the kitchen for a month, not watered at all, and therefore thought had died). My Dad insisted I plant it though, and badgered me into doing so one weekend when he was down. It’s the one marked by the tall bamboo cane, so as you can see it had somehow clung to life despite all the neglect it suffered.
  3. So, believing that rhubarb MkII had perished, when Rob’s parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas I said a rhubarb crown off their allotment please. Instead they gave me TWO crowns, one of Cherry Red and one of Champagne. These went in at the end of January and are currently growing so fast you can pretty much watch the leaves expanding.
  4. Anyway, the fool that I am, about a fortnight ago I found the original packet of rhubarb seeds and as I was sowing other seeds at the time thought, “Why not, might as well plant them as a birthday present for Rob.”. Well, they have sprouted, and far more germinated than I expected. Anyone fancy a rhubarb plant? No really, I’m serious, I have sixteen mini-“Glaskin’s Perpetuals”, and I only need one! I can’t bring myself to commit mass rhubarb-i-cide. Comment if you would like one and I can legally get it to you (therefore UK people only, unfortunately).

So that’s the current state of the veg patch. I still need to sow a few more types of veg (cabbage, runner beans, spinach, some different varieties of pak choi and parsnips, maybe some broccoli if I feel adventurous). I’ve also got to construct a viable pigeon barrier fairly soon, and I’m not looking forward to that at all. At least I don’t have to contend with rabbits (touch wood)…

Adventures in lace knitting

One of my new year’s resolutions was to attempt lace knitting. I decided my first project would be Jan Eaton’s Leaf Lace Washcloth as a) it’s a free pattern, b) it’s not tooooo lacy and c) washcloths are small and therefore reasonably quick. After a false start due to a very messy cast on edge, I created this over a weekend:

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Yay! It was done using 4mm needles and Wendy Supreme Luxury Cotton DK in something like the Frost colourway. Doing the lace stitches themselves wasn’t too bad actually. I found that the hardest part was following the pattern as I kept mis-reading or skipping stitches. Coincidentally, I am now reasonably good at un-knitting (my definition of this is reversing the knitting motions to un-knit the required number of stitches until I reach the mistake. Not large scale frogging where whole swathes of fabric are unwound in an instant).

I also had my first foray into blocking with this. I pinned out the washcloth to a thickly folded towel laid on the ironing board (using the blocking pins Rob got me for Christmas!) and then waved a steaming iron over it until it was pretty damp. I then realised that I had to move the whole assembly to the sofa as the ironing board blocked all access to the bathroom – not my cleverest move. Note to self – next time lay everything out in its final position before commencing Operation Block. Anyway, it turned out alright, and I gave it to Rob’s Mum for her birthday. I haven’t a clue what she can do with it though! It’s not the most useful of pieces.

Following on from that adventure, I started on a scarf sweater for my Mum. The premise behind this is you knit a long scarf, wrap it around your top half and then sew the ends together to form a sweater. If you can believe this, it was supposed to be a Christmas present! Ahem. Hopefully I can complete it by her birthday (October).

Anyway, I must have had a brain malfunction when ordering the yarn (Debbie Bliss Rialto in light grey) as I got in Aran weight instead of Chunky. After frantically making some gauge swatches with various sized needles, I worked out that if I made the large size scarf with 7mm needles I *might* just be able to achieve the width of the small size and still have enough yarn left over.

Gauge swatch:

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When ripping back the gauge swatch I had to take a photo of the last row as it really resembled a soft, squishy caterpillar:

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Scarf commenced!:

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After measuring, it’s just under the small size by about an inch, but I think that’ll be ok as fortunately my Mum’s quite skinny. ;) I’ll post an update about this soon as the above photo was taken on the 28th January, and I’ve done a bit more since then. :) I’ve also got even better at unknitting, and even had to delve into frogging territory. I can safely say that frogging lace knitting is not my favourite thing in the world to do, but I have at least emerged on the other side relatively unscathed (bar the nightmares).

Winter Photos

I’ve been going through my photos from January and February, and just wanted to share my favourites. Sometime in January, Rob and I were visiting his parents in Hemel Hempstead and decided it was a grand day for a walk, so we went up a local lane called ‘Cherry Bounce’. According to ‘Our Dacorum‘, the lane got its name from the cherry orchards that used to be in the area. Anyway, it was a lovely day.

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We wandered through beech woods, muddy paths, dank and cold flint-lined cuttings and looked over the rolling Chiltern hills. Lovely.

Anyway, as a bit of a contrast, here are some of my favourite garden photos from February. First up, snowdrops from Rob’s parents’ garden:

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Also, flowers from their money plant, which I have just this minute found out is a crassula ovata or jade plant:

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A hellebore in my parents’ back garden:

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Crocuses poking through the snow on my front lawn (how I first found out I had more than one crocus!):

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And finally, sparrows and a blackbird grabbing spilt seed in the snow (I hang the bird feeders in the damson tree that’s in the right of the photos, and they’re messy eaters to say the least!):

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I always hope that one day I’ll see some birds other than house sparrows, wood pigeons, blackbirds and the odd collared dove, but it never happens. I think the sparrows must mob them or something.

March is gardening month!

I have done next to no crochet/knitting so far in March. However, this is because there is SO MUCH to do in the garden! Since my last post, there has been much more happening on the spring bulb front which I will post about later. But first, I weeded and extended the daffodil bed. Before:

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After:

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Looks so much better! See, there were actually some daffodils present. The bamboo canes and twine in the first picture were there to mark out the border edge, which I then went along with my trusty half moon spade (a present from the lovely Rob) to sever through the encroaching lawn. I didn’t bother cutting the twine, just left the ball by the second bamboo cane and then rolled it all back up after I finished.

Earlier that day I visited B&Q and somehow walked out with about 15 sets of plants from their sale trolley (cheapest 10p, most expensive £2). Oops. Anyway, some of these went straight into the lovingly restored flowerbed, including a hellebore (niger):

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and some snake’s head fritillaries (fritillaria meleagris), one of my favourite flowers:

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Both don’t mind a bit of shade which is good as that border hardly sees any sun. Similarly for the primroses that went in afterwards. I’ve been meaning to get a hellebore for a while now as they have beautiful flowers and are so beloved by bumblebees (proven by the bee dipping into the ones in B&Q). I’m still on the lookout for a few more, and hopefully my Dad will get me some divisions from his hellebores later this year. Fast forward a fortnight, and the daffodils are finally opening!

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Currently there’s only three daffs open, and I can only see one other bud at a first glance. Not a great number, but I think that maybe they like a bit more sun than they’re getting. Hopefully a few more will show up over the coming weeks, along with the alliums I planted there last autumn.

Valentine’s Frivolities

Let the catch up posts begin! Things that happened in February no. 1: Valentine’s Day.

Rob and I decided that we’d do a “handmade” Valentine’s celebration this year. Neither of us approve of the commercial meat grinder that has all the shops pushing red love heart covered items of all shapes and sizes at you from mid-January, so we thought we’d just do a dinner & DVD night in.

I also had a WIP on the cards for the past few months that I thought would be an ideal Valentine’s gift. Originally I’d intended to make it for our 3rd anniversary (last weekend in October), then for Christmas, but those deadlines just flew by with it in a frogged state. Anyway, it still wasn’t finished by the time I got home on the 14th, but that was ok as it turned out Rob was also making me something that wasn’t ready either! Eventually, at 11:05pm, I handed over a little Valentine’s Monster, made to a free pattern by Emma Varnam with the love heart to a free pattern by PlanetJune:

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At the same time, Rob handed me a felt plushie Super Meat Boy! All his own design as well. :D

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He towers over the little Valentine’s monster! Anyway, as previously mentioned in the flower posts, the dinner was postponed until the following Thursday. I raided the BBC website for some recipes, and decided on pan-fried duck with roasted veg pilau rice and plum-berry sauce and sautéed potatoes with lemon and rosemary for a side dish.

Whilst cooking, I came up with a novel way of displaying the recipes to free up the worktop.

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I use clothes pegs for so many things, and hardly any of them involve hanging up clothes! Anyway, 2 hours or so later, ta-dah!

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See what I did with the sauce? It really didn’t work on the other plate though, need more practise. Ok, so dinner was a bit later than usual at 10:30pm, but we had a lovely time. Rob had tidied up the dining area (this was much more difficult than it sounds) so we weren’t eating off our knees as per usual, and laid the table with giant tea lights from his camping stash and a bottle of wine. Bloomin’ marvelous! :)

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The food was delicious, especially the rosemary and lemon new potatoes! And the pilau rice was amazing, well worth the extra effort involved massacre-ing a butternut squash. The recipe (supposedly for two) made enough rice to feed us for lunch the next day. I’m not complaining though. ;) I think I could have cooked the duck a little longer than I did as it was still on the rather bloody side. Still, neither of us died, wahey! Next year I’m buying the ingredients the day before though…

29 Flowers, 29 Days: The Conclusion

Hello! I’m sorry this post is 2 weeks late – it seems crochet-ing and blogging furiously for a month means I need a mental break from both activites. It took me a week to get around to darning ends, and then another week to take photos in decent light. There’s quite a few photos of various groups, I got a little excited. ;) Please do keep reading to the bottom to find out who won the competition though! So finally, here we have them, all 29 flowers together in one place:

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Here’s the first ten flowers I made:

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Middle 9 flowers:

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Last ten (sorry for the poor quality of this photo):

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Knitted flowers (I didn’t quite manage one a week):

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A pyramid of easy, filler crochet flowers:

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All the roses:

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All the poppies:

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Flowers that most resembled their namesake:

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A bit of a diversion, but I thought I’d make a group of the flowers that are great for wildlife, as our bees and butterflies sadly need all the help they can get (not that crocheted flowers will help them much). The ones in the group are apple blossom, hellebore, aster, scabious, cornflower, borage, buttercup, field poppy, daffodil, daisy, wild rose, scottish thistle and oriental poppy. Although dahlias can be good for wildlife, it’s only single varieties that are beneficial as the double flowers have so many petals the insects can’t get to the nectar (this goes for most flowers – single, good; double, bad) and my dahlia was definitely a double one.:

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Finally, my favourite flowers out of the 29:

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YAY! It makes me so happy to see all of them together, so many bright, colourful things. :D I can’t believe I finished all those. I really do have to thank my boyfriend Rob for all his support over February – he definitely did far more than his fair share of chores during the challenge, and I’m ever so grateful to him for doing all that. Thank you Rob!

So who won the competition then? Thanks very much to everyone for all the suggestions, but in the end there were two that it was very hard to choose between: Amanda’s blanket and Erin‘s wreath. However, my house is pretty cold at the best of times, and my walls are in absolutely no condition to hang anything on (there’s a lot of decorating to be done at some point!) so I went for the blanket. Congratulations Amanda! You have won five hand-made flowers[1]. As it was so hard to choose though, I’ve decided to give Erin a bonus runner up prize of three hand-made flowers[1]. Congratulations Erin! And thanks again to everyone that suggested, I’m sorry if yours wasn’t chosen (if I get time I might send a small bonus flower your way).

Right, now all that’s done I can write some posts that aren’t about flowers. Well, that aren’t about crocheted ones anyway…

[1]The “flowers” can be any of the patterns (not just flowers) from Jan Eaton’s 100 Flowers to Knit or Crochet, if you go to the Amazon link you can preview the book to see what they are. They don’t have to be different either – if you want three of the same, that’s fine. :) Although please play nice and don’t ask for 5 bunches of grapes or something! Please send me your choices and address through Ravelry-mail (sleeperwaking) and I’ll try make them by the end of March. If you have an opinion over whether you’d like them out of acrylic or cotton, and colour choices, please let me know that and I’ll see what I can do (this is stash reliant though).