Monday, December 1, 2008

REVIEW: The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins

I have been reading the Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins recently. I'd heard a few things about it (but not much) and had seen it on Amazon, so I got it out of my local library.

Before reading it, I didn't have a clue what the Transition approach was, except for a foggy understanding that it was something to do with green issues.

This book is a real inspiration; reading it has changed my whole perspective on what we are doing to our planet and possible consequences of our actions. But more than that, it has really inspired me to take action, and I can't wait to get going.

The book presents strong arguments and backs them up well; although some of it does make me feel a bit bewildered, I'm sure that more research would clarify some things for me, and the Transition Handbook has loads of resources and ideas to help with that.

I like the balance struck in this book. Split into three parts - the head, heart and hands - it starts with facts and figures, some of which are depressing and most of which really shocked me. However, it goes on to share a positive vision of what the future could be like if we act now. This bit was so wonderful to read I nearly cried! Sure, there are scary statistics, but Hopkins balances these out by showing what we can do to change them.

I also like the fact that it is all about acting as a community - Hopkins clearly holds no illusions that if everyone switches to energy efficient lightbulbs we'll be all right, but neither does he trust government to sort it all out. The book has a real "power to the people" feel about it. It describes practical things you can do and after reading it, I don't feel at all powerless or hopeless.

I would reccommend this book to anyone interested in green issues, and to sceptics. It will really make you think and might even change your views. 9/10.


Here is a link to an article about my Dad's friend, Geoff Galliver, an experienced beekeeper.

Other articles of interest:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Dylan Moran

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I went to see Dylan Moran at the Anvil on Saturday and I am still laughing. V good. Go see it now.

Monday, October 6, 2008

General Update

I haven't written for ages so I've got some serious updating to do!

  • Honey harvest: our crop this year was disappointingly small. We got a fair wax crop but the bees had eaten 90% of the honey by the time we got to it, because the summer was so miserable. Next year we will probably take a spring harvest as well as an autumn one and just feed the bees really well. Even though there isn't much of it, our honey does taste divine, even though I say so myself. Things always taste better when they are home produced.


Sorting out the extractor (only cost a tenner!)


  • Unfortunately one of our hives died...probably of starvation. It was a hive we had set up this year, we didn't take any honey from it, and they had been doing so well earlier in the season. The cause was once again, that they'd eaten all their stores, and also our fault - we should have been feeding them. I was so surprised when we went up to the hive and we found out it was actually smelled like a dead animal, like a piece of roadkill or something. You wouldn't think that piles of dead bees would smell like that, but they do. Like one dead organism.

  • Visit to Wales: we avoided the Abergavenny Food Festival like the plague and instead took a trip to the lovely village of Skenfrith. Unfortunately I was unable to stop my father having a scrumping spree. There was a German film crew in the High Street, filming Unter Den Hugeln Von Wales, which apparently means Under The Hills Of Wales. Rather surreal.

  • Homemade pasta: we have got so fed up with eating endless spinach and swiss chard that we have been trying to come up with ideas of how to use the we made pasta! V. good indeed.

  • Chutney: have been making jars and jars of the stuff. We have even managed to make some sugar free stuff for my diabetic dad - the secret is to use eating apples; combined with the sultanas, they provide all the sweetness you need.
  • Cidermaking: on my sister's birthday with some of our friends over. We made seven gallons of cider out of the bags and bags of apples we have been collecting....some from our own garden, others from the wild, some were given by friends, and some were "borrowed".... we didn't just stick to cider apples - we did eaters, cookers, the lot, and it made for a really lovely juice...just hope the cider turns out nice! We've got some more apples to do now and all....we might get another few gallons.

  • Feeling arty: I've been doing loads of observation recently, and not much final pieceing. i have however taken some half decent photos of my work, and have tried out altering them on the computer...I love the effect! (NB: The following images are copyrighted).

  • Geese: the canada geese are flying in thick and fast now; I have heard them lots of times but I saw them for the first time today. I love this time of year. They are so utterly beautiful, they take my breath away.

  • Feeling the crunch: we are cutting back on everything and shopping at Lidl. One of my friends today said that he'd barely noticed it was happening! Alright for some...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crafty Crafty and a Review

Well, it is nearly the end of the summer hols, at least for my sister and dad. The weather hasn't been great this year, although we had a great time in France, and have had a great time getting crafty this holiday.

Pops and I have been doing lots of potting and spinning and weaving this holiday. I love it! We've been to the Milland Pottery about five times now to learn from Angela Carter how to make pots. It's great fun, and really nice and messy. So far neither of us have produced the perfect pot (especially when you see them next to Angela's stuff...) but for a first attempt these ones came out really well, and our later attempts are noticeably less wibbly-wobbly.

We have also been to the Willow Close studio twice, where Pops is learning weaving and I am learning to spin under the excellent tutelage of Carol Keats. I really love spinning. The whole time we were in France I just couldn't stop.

This is the first yarn I spun, a thick and thin single of natural Corriedale roving, dyed Blue Faced Leicester roving, and uncarded natural Jacob fleece. It's really fuzzy and soft, and althougn it is by no means the perfect yarn, I'm pretty proud of it all the same. I like the fact that it is all the colours of Party Rings biscuits! It crocheted up pretty nicely into a headband/strange necklace thing.

This is the yarn I produced last time. Carol did a brilliant exercise on colour with us. I used her drum carder to make up 8 rolags in various colours of Merino roving and uncarded natural Jacob fleece, before spinning and plying. This yarn is much more even than my first attempt! There are about 8 different colours gone into each of the singles. The colours came from a stunning postcard picture of a hosta, but the darker turquoise reminds me of a kingfisher.

(The yarn pictures were taken on the sill of our new double glazing...they're really nice but there is still a layer of dust over the whole house from when they were installed). (Sorry to go on about something as dull as double glazing).

Here is a small section of Poppy's weaving...I reckon she's bloody brilliant at it!

Mum came along too (for she is the Lady with the Car) and made a plate with Angela and a beautiful little woven piece on a pegloom.

The garden is stunning but I don't have any pictures yet, so I will save that for next time.
REVIEW: "iNTERTWINED" by Lexi Boeger (Pluckyfluff)
This was my holiday read and I love it. The instructions don't cover the basics of hand spinning but even if you are a beginner, as I am, this boko will be a really inspiration. It covers a load of techniques, has some beautiful patterns and some really good advice in it. It's a fun book - easy to read, colourful, and with a nice layout. There are also beautiful photographs and really clear diagrams. Above all this book is truly inspirational - the technqiues are really interesting and combined with some of the unusual materials used in the book the effects are STUNNING!! If you're a spinner, or even just like textiles and fibre, buy this book, and discover what yarn is really about.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An affliction

I think that the ferry journey on the way back from my summer hols in France has done me in a bit. It was a really awful journey: the boat was full to bursting with people, one of the engines blew up, and when my dad and sister went to the cinema it looked like they'd never come out again (the only good thing about their cinema trip was that my father managed to restrain himself from singing and dancing to the entire Mamma Mia soundtrack). I am afraid to say that motion sickness claimed me. And now I can't get rid of the blooming thing.

Motion sickness is the sort of thing that I have always thought was made up by people who wanted attention or were seriously mentally ill, along with allergies to peanuts, oranges, donkeys, etc. I assumed it was just plain moaning designed to compensate for people's weakness and stupidity. I suppose I have been proven wrong; either that or I am turning into a hyperchondriac. It could well be watching too much New Tricks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Review: Grow Your Own Veg by Carol Klein

I got this book for my birthday, and I couldn't do without it. Not only is the book set out beautifully, but it's full of brilliant advice on all sorts of things - how to choose a variety, where and when to plant, pests and diseases to look out for...In short, everything you need to know. Carol covers all the usual vegetables, and some more unusual ones. My only problem with it is that it doesn't give any advice on celery! Although I do consult other books and research on the internet too, this is always the first book I turn to; it's clear and conscise, without being too basic.

And not only do you get all this, the book is also full with Carol Klein's own thoughts and experiences, which are sure to really inspire you to get growing.

9.5 / 10.

(I got the picture from Theirs is a good price).

Friday, July 4, 2008


I have finally discovered Willow's secret. I now know how she manages against all the odds to get into my celery bed and dig a whopping great warren. She leaps! She flings herself bodily over the top of 1/2 a metre of metal net, between bamboo sticks that could impale a rabbit, through the plastic netting and voila! In the celery!!! Well, now that I know this, there can be only one outcome. I will be victorious, and she will have to find somewhere else to dig. All I need now is a plan.....

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I don't know. You give a queenless hive a lovely new Hawaiian queen, and next time you and open them up and are expecting them all to greet you by saying "aloha", it turns out that they must have stung her to death, and are making their own queen, who will of course turn out to be the most evil, angry insect ever to have waddled from frame to frame.

RIP Her Majesty

Oh well. The plan is now to set up another nuc with a nice, friendly queen and then unite the two colonies, after having squished the new grumpy queen.
The good news is however that everyone else is doing well, and most of the hives are in for a population explosion, which will be good once the summer crops start flowering. We are set for a brilliant honey harvest this year.

After Dad went to a disease recognition day with our regional bee inspector (turns out Hampshire is one of the worst counties in terms of contracting foulbrood, poo) we came up with several ways of improving our practice and ensuring that there was less chance of our hives contracting disease. These include:
  1. Keeping the ground around each hive clear and clean
  2. Removing all waste wax from the apiary in a bucket with a lid
  3. Sacrificing several frames of brood to completely disrupt the varroa lifecycle at an appropriate time in the year
  4. Checking for small hive beetle with our s.h.b trap

So far, we've forgotten all about all of these. However, we already do some good stuff, such as reducing drifting by spacing our hives far apart, using mesh floors, and disinfecting the old marigolds between each hive, not just each apiary.

We will probably be abandoning the smoker, as well, and using a water squirter instead. It has the same effect as using smoke, but instead of making the bees panic, it provokes a cleaning response, apparently. Which can only be a good thing. Also, as long as you remember to fill it up, I suspect that using the water squirter will involve fewer burned fingertips. Which would also be good.

The garden is magnificent at the moment. There is so much to eat. Whenever I go outside I head straight to the peas, becuase at the moment they are absolutely perfect; both the petit pois and the mangetout are just pure sugar at the moment. Delicious. I've planted a second crop now, so hopefully we'll have another few pods to eat in late summer. (I chose perhaps the least impressive one to take a pic of, btw).

We also harvested our gooseberries, which we beefed up a bit with some shop-bought ones. However, just being able to pick your own is so satisfying. Most of them went into a fool, but there are some left over which I may use to try out Hugh F-W's gooseberry icecream recipe. Yum.

My blackcurrants are ripening up, too, and some of them need to be picked. I can see them being mixed with some apples and turned into a crumble.

The courgettes are coming thick and fast, although the pumpkins and squashes keep falling off the plants...I think this may be lack of water or lack of nutrients, as they're all in pots. So some of them have been planted into the ground now, and hopefully that will sort them out.

Also, we have our first cucumber flower!! Hooray!! There are lots more on the way so hopefully we'll be putting our own cucumbers in the Pimms this year.

This afternoon my sister and I have been making a minestrone soup. I'm so excited about eating it tonight, coz it's full of homegrown stuff! The onions, carrots and potatoes we used in it were bought, and we used a veg stock cube instead of making our own, but apart from that everything else was grown at home. Here's a list:

  1. Homegrown celery; a bit stringy but really intense flavour

  1. Homegrown courgette
  2. Homegrown cabbage; lovely waxy dark green leaves, brilliantly bitter
  3. Homegrown swiss chard; just plain beautiful (not a v good pic, sorry)

Oh yeah, and bought tinned tomatoes. But you can't grow tins at home.

Next door's extension is under question a bit, but that doesn't stop the builders, who have broken our fence. Oh well. We won't be the ones paying for it to be repaired.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


AAAArgh!!! Doctor Who!!!!!!! No!!!!! He can't POSSIBLY REGENERATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh woe is me....................

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Feeling crafty...

Recently I seem to have lost interest in my archaeology course (although I shall persevere) and have been indulging my fibre fetish instead.

Here are some felty things I have made since getting my massive box of wool tops.

Also, a couple of months ago, Bob Flowerdew wrote an article for KG mag about alternatives for plastic baler twine, one of which was strips of phormium leaves. I just happen to have a garden full of phormium, so I tried this out and tied up some loose shoots on the espalier apple trees. It worked, coz the stuff it really strong!

After that though I thought about using phormium for other things, and so I tried weaving's the result of my second attempt.
The garden is looking lovely. I love it. The front garden (which is mostly flowery stuff, but with herbs and veggies and fruit squeezed in) is looking particularly lovely. It is a complete unorganised mess, but is so colourful that I can't help but love it.
Here are some piggies that we saw today, down at the farm shop. I have no idea what breed (Oxford sandy and blacks, perhaps? I don't pretend to know anything about pigs) they are, but they were gorgeous. There were 11 little piglets in total, all trotting around in a whopping great pack...until it got too hot, and everyone lay down for a wallow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Tomatillo That Isn't A Tomatillo

I am sorry, I have misled you.

I've written on here before that I am growing a tomatillo, but I was wrong. Same family, different species, though.

I'd been a bit suspicious as I had seen tomatillo seed packets going round garden centres and the thing on the front looked nothing like the thing I'm growing in the green house. Whereas the seed packet tomatillos looked small and bushy my one was a huge brutish monster already pressed against the greenhouse ceiling, and much taller than my mother and even my father by now. (The picture shows it when it was small and it is reaching for the skies).

So after a little research I have discovered that what I am growing is actually Physalis peruviana, the Cape gooseberry, rather than Physalis philadelphica, the tomatillo. Same family, different species.

I am slightly nervous now becuase even though my plant still hasn't show any signs of flowers, let alone fruit, I have read that they are poisonous when unripe, and that there are reports that unripe ones can even kill cattle. Picking them when unripe is just the sort of mistake that I would be likely to make, so I must be careful.

Everything else is going fine. There's been so much going on though that blogging about it just seemed like too much trouble. Suffice to say the following:
  • We now have four full sized hives on the go, having gone and caught a swarm
  • We now have a nucleus on the go
  • Two lovely new Hawaiian cross queens on the go

  • Daughter of the Grumpiest Queen Known To Man in the nuc
  • Having been to a disease recognition day with our regional bee inspector, my father is now the fount of all knowledge when it comes to bee diseases
  • We now have a small hive beetle trap to put into one of our hives, making us a tester hive (can't remember the jargony word...tester will do)
  • Mad rabbit number 2 has escpaed twice over the past week, and has decided to make a warren in my celery bed twice as well. I have no idea how she gets in, what with all my netting, staples and bamboo palisade. She may have to be locked up for good. Or roasted

Yes, she looks the picture of innocence here, but wait till her double chin is covered in the results of hours of hard work!!

  • Garden otherwise alright, millions of pea pods fattening up!

  • First courgette harvest! Small but succulent...

  • Went to Wales, spent a day out at the Gower peninsula...absolutely gorgeous!!
  • Chickens no longer broody. A brief spell in the broody coop (well, ok, it's a puppy cage really, but it worked) set them straight
  • We have at least one newt living in our pond!!!

Ahhh. It's a good life.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book Review: Scenes From a Smallholding by Chas Griffin

I found this book interesting, and quite a good read. Once I got into it (which I found a bit difficult to start was a bit wordy and the fact that it jumps backwards and forwards in time really annoyed me at first) I raced through it.

The book documents how the author and his family moved to a smallholding in West Wales, and tells of all their ups and downs, failures and successes. It is interspersed with magazine articles, too. The book is mainly anecdotal, but there are some gems of good advice nestled in amongst the stories, and it's quite funny, too.

One thing it made me realise however is that going down the route of selling produce to wholesalers and onto supermarkets or restaurants isn't something that I'd want to do, so if my family and I ever do become smallholders, we'd have to come up with a wizard idea of how to make any money. Also the fact that they started off with a cow, thinking that pigs would be too much work surprised me...I think that for me, pigs would be a large priority.

I'd definitely recommend this to any aspiring smallholder, or anyone interested in keeping livestock, growing their own veg, or renovating old houses. It's an interesting read. 7/10.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bumble Bee Action Shots

Here are some pics that I took of one of the pretty orange bumblebees we get in Brittany getting to work on the sage bush.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Manoevres...


Have just got back from going beekeeping, where we did all sorts of manoevres that we've never done before!

To start with my dad went and picked up a virgin queen from a beekeeping chum, who had pulled the queen out of her cell a little while ago. He brought it back in a cage with two workers, but didn't want to keep the workers with the queen in case their presence encouraged attack from our colony. So we did something completely new to us: we moved the queen into another (worker-free) cage. To do this we set up somthing like those containers that scientists handles radioactive materials or whatever with - a box with places where you can sticks your arms, so you can work with fiddly tweezers etc. without exposing yourself to ionising particles (except that ours was a bit less hi-tech and involved a plastic bag, some rubber gloves, and fiddling about with bees instead of radioactive isotopes).

With our queen in her very own little cage we set up the mechanism that would allow us to dangle her between two frames inside the hive. Again, it was an incredibly hi-tech solution, involving a paperclip and a match stick.

We then drove off to the apiary, all of a flutter and terribly excited. We opened up the hive and slid her down between two frames, where she was held up with the matchstick. We then mucked about with supers for a bit and then we came home.
It's very interesting though. I reckon that there were more bees than there were when we went to check last week, and they were definitely their usual grumpy selves again, rather than the calm, docile, exempliary specimens they had become when they were queenless. Also, they had almost filled up their first super, when last week they were only working on two of the frames!
This raises two questions:

1. Do they have a new queen?

2. If they do have a new queen, which queen will they choose to sting to death?

3. What sort of honey is it that they are collecting, now that the oil seed rape has finished?

(OK, so that was three questions). Hmmm, interesting........

Garden Disasters

I have just enjoyed 5 days on holiday in France with the family. It was lovely. We went on a few walks, ate lots of French bread and watched the entire first series of All Creatures Great And Small.

A beautiful Breton beach

When we first arrived, however, we were treated to an unpleasant shock. Everything was overgrown and messy; a tree had fallen over at the bottom of the garden, narrowly avoiding my young oak tree; and the veg patch was a disgrace.

Hardly any sweetcorn or sunflowers had survived; and the potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic were overrun with weeds. In fact, the weeds were taller than the onions and shallots, meaning that lots of them had died, either by rotting in the ground or from being too shady. The ones that were alive were either yellow or pathetically small. We did so much weeding in fact that by the end of the holiday, the compost bin wouldn't even close.

There were slugs and snails EVERYWHERE. Literally every leaf we turned up on the rhubarb was playing host to at least five of the devils, and they'd clearly been on the tatties and sunflowers too. Everything was munched to bits.
We started a clear up operation on our first day (squishing slugs in a heavy downpour with a non-waterproof waterproof coat on is not much fun), and finished it on our last. I didn't take a before picture, as it was just too upsetting a sight, but here is an after. We planted all the spare brassicas etc. as well.

I am not a huge organic fanatic (pay more for something that is cheaper to produce than the stuff they spray with NPK? You're having a laugh, surely!!) but I do prefer to not spray with foul eutrophication-inducing pesticides unless absolutely necessary. I have had great success with an organic slug solution called Slug Off, but the situation was so bad that I am afraid that I had to employ the use of little blue Antilimasse pellets. The pictures show what they do to slugs...they sort of melt them...eurgh. Before and after: Antilimasse melts a slug...

Most of the brassicas and all the chillis and runner beans have been planted behind our rabbit-proof rusty wire & willow withy contraption, but I am afraid that the others will just have to hold on for as long as possible.

In the end though, we got the garden looking alright again, and the fallen willow was chopped up and placed on our building bonfire.

However, we arrived back and this morning I discovered -


I have done some research and I now know that:

1. Aphids can cause leaves to shrivel, black powdery mould, white dusty stuff around the base of the plant (old insect skins or something...not v pleasant) etc etc...all the symptoms fit.

2. They must be caught early (yeech...I hope I am not too late!)

3. They can hollow out the stems of plants, and attack new growth. Therefore, they can actually kill the infested plants (oh! what a horrid thought!)

4. Some sorts overwinter on woody plants and then move over onto non-woody plants during the summer...(I suppose I shouldn't have planted them in the bed under the woody viburnum)

5. They can be treated in a variety of ways, including rotenone (aka Derris Dust), various insecticides, biological controls such as ladybirds, and by planting garlic and onions near susceptible plants.

So far I have sprinkled Derris Dust on some of the plants and sprayed the rest with an insecticide (my organic ideals go down the pan when faced with disaster, it seems). Tomorrow I may see if I can buy ladybirds in the local garden centre or I might try spraying with a foul garlicky concoction...or I may interplant with chives, as my Grandad's book on companion planting (the source of all knowledge and wisdom) remarks that chives are never attacked by anuthing, and actually moans on about how nobody seems to notice this.
I am so worried though. My little celeries! My little plants! I have nurtured them and tended them, and they are like my babies!!! If anything bad happens to them I don't know what I'll do! Collapse and weep in a corner for the next few months probably. I just hope I succeeded in getting into all the nooks and crannies where the aphids hide...

Oh well. I must not give up hope. And at least I know for next year to interplant with onions and garlic and to keep them away from woody shrubs, and everything else seems to be going OK (except for the broad beans, beetroot and garlic, which were flattened in a deluge last night): the peas are reaching for the sky and my tomatillo is taller than my mother!