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We’ve made quite a few changes to the garden this year. Working from home again I knew I’d have more time for it, so I wanted to begin the switch to a more permacultural style of veg garden.Image

The most obvious change being the straw mulch. It performs several functions, paramount for me was water preservation, but also as it breaks down it nourishes the soil, and it suppresses weeds by blocking out light.

This has meant that ever single seedling has been started in the greenhouse this year, and that makes for more work – once they’re big enough they all need re-potting or planting out. I started them in cut-up pieces of toilet roll and kitchen roll tubes, nestled in little plastic berry punnets. So they were contained in groups by type/planting date, but the little cardboard cylinders made them easy to separate come planting time.

This year I’ve sown a greater variety of veg than I’ve ever attempted before, all from seed, with carefully planned companion planting to get the most out of everything. I’ve even developed an interest in flowers for their insect-attracting qualities and have indulged my love of herbs as an integral part of the veg garden.

So imagine the heartbreak when, each morning after planting out a batch of seedlings, I’d wake to find they’d all been eaten. Completely. Absolutely nothing left.

So the mollusc war began.

I had a terrible time with them last year, they are very at home at the end of our garden, and my main plot is very near their dark, soggy haven. But this year has been Something Else. We discussed at first removing the straw, as this was clearly keeping the soil moist for them and giving the snails somewhere to hide in the daytime. In the end, though, I felt too strongly that the advantages would outweigh this one disadvantage, so the straw stayed.

1. Beer Traps

So I have spent a fair amount of time constructing the Slug Fort. There are I think ten beer traps, six in the main plot and two in each of my big planters on the patio.

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They do work. But not well enough. I had a PLAGUE of slugs and snails. I decided to test the theory that they don’t like crawling across sharp and spiky things.

2. Sharp and Spiky Things

So I tried thorny prunings – we have the giant prickly bramble-type-weeds poking out of every nook and cranny in the garden, so I started keeping the prunings and drying them out.

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I laid them out like a fortress wall around my seedlings in two of my smaller planters. They were actually very effective while the seedlings were still small, but less so once they were established, as by then there were lots of leafy ‘bridges’ for the snails to cross. Useless on the mulched areas.

I also tried crushed nut/egg shells, which did seem to work at first, but I guess after a couple of rainfalls they got all moved around and the snails found a comfortable way across.

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3. Bran

Another trick I tried was laying a barrier of bran around the seedlings. Slugs and snails love bran, but it apparently dries them out and kills them. This sounded SO. VERY. PROMISING. at first. Well, I know for sure that they love it, I’ve watched them eat and eat and eat the stuff. Not certain how effectively it kills them though. Didn’t seem to help my seedlings much. Sigh.

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So I was getting desperate. You can see the damage on the peas above – well, I feel lucky that the plant survived at all. Not much else did. No way was I going to resort to nasty toxic slug pellets – so my last line of defence?

4. Nematodes

These are microscopic, parasitic worms that are active under the soil. They infect slugs and snails, causing them to stop feeding and eventually die. I used a product called ‘Nemaslug’. I used the smallest pack and it cost about a tenner. I tried not to get too hopeful as I watered them in.

Tentatively, a few days later, I planted out some more seedlings.

That was a week and a half ago.

Most of those seedlings ARE SURVIVING!

IT’S A MIRACLE!

Honestly, I don’t mind slugs and snails. They’re as welcome in my garden as anything else. If I lose a couple of plants to them, fair enough. They’re food for hedgehogs and other wildlife. The most ‘permaculture’ approach is to simply let the pests be, so that their natural predators can move in and make themselves at home.

Well, I gave them  two years to move in, and they didn’t. So I am very thankful for nematodes. Effective for around 6 weeks, they are an ideal solution for years like this, when conditions have been perfect for slugs and nothing else seems to work.

I don’t expect I’ll have much of a harvest this year. A lot of seedlings got rootbound in the green house while I tried to deal with the slugs, and the surviving plants all look a bit worse for wear. But I’ve had a few pea pods, and I have hope for the future!

Have you found any effective tricks for dealing with our slimy friends?

 

Disaster struck last week when the zip in my favourite pair (read: I live in them) of jeans split. To be fair, these jeans are about 8 years old and they’re doing pretty well. They’re distressing brilliantly and have an awesome skull-patterned patch on the knee cut from a favourite old tote. I’ve worn these jeans everywhere and I was probably wearing them when I met my husband. I don’t remember. In any case, I was so not ready to let them go.

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Zzzzzzzzzzip

So I thought I’d share the process of changing the zip with you, so you can save your own favourite pair of jeans when the day comes. It can be a bit tricky to get your head around, so I’ve included a LOT of pictures. And a lot of words too.

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my first handspun yarn

Ok. So it’s lumpy and twisty and probably not good for anything, but it is my first yarn.

What’s interesting is how it has become a record of the time I spent on it, not just a finished product in itself. Follow the yarn along its length and you can see how it got gradually more even, then you can see where I started to get tired and it becomes very erratic (that’s what I get for late-night spinning waiting for DH to return from his bar job).

I’m learning a new craft. Like many others, spinning yarn is easy to do – but hard to do well.

It is a skill I’ve been wanting to learn for years now. I have always had this urge to go back to the source of things, to be able to make stuff for myself. Needless to say one day I would love to own a few sheep. I learned to knit and crochet when I was about 18, and  and interest in spinning began to creep in soon after.

Or back in, I should say. One of my favourite fairy tales as a child was Rumpelstiltskin; the imp who can spin straw into gold. I’ve never quite shaken off that idea.

This beautiful book has fuelled my imagination for a few years now (it’s a shame that it doesn’t appear to be readily available in hardback – or even hard copy – anymore). But despite my intention to make myself a drop spindle and have a go, I never did. I asked my husband to make me one, and I think he started but never finished it. It’s not that these are complex things to make, really, it’s just that Life Got In The Way, as it does. Then quite recently he asked a clever man we know with a lathe to make me a darning mushroom, which is gorgeous and tactile and USEFUL and mine forever, and now he’s made me a drop spindle too. It. Is. Beautiful.

Handmade wooden drop spindle with woolen yarn

And it works.

I can see as I spin it, my first yarn is uneven and lumpy and likely not the strongest. But the process is soothing and quicker than I’d imagined, and makes me think of clever spiders spinning their webs.

I’ve been processing my first yarn today. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

upcycled skull pincushion

I feel there are some changes to be made. A little voice whispering at the back of my mind says out with the old. A desire to refine, to simplify, to live for pleasure instead of that illusive success. To upcycle the mouldiest, mustiest parts of my life into Useful and Pleasing parts. Like Renfield here.

(If you’re wondering, he was cured of being a novelty ashtray with black spray paint, two old buttons, some hand dyed scrap velvet, wool for stuffing and a little hot glue. He’s much happier now)

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Silk thread embroidery, swarovski crystals on a peace silk fashion fabric. Interlined with organic hemp-muslin. Fully boned, constructed with organic cotton thread. This is my wedding dress so far.

 

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And I was kind enough to buy a new sewing machine (my 30-year-old Frister & Rossman has become just a little too unreliable), so Dinah could have a lovely box fort.

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With more snow forecast for us this coming week, winter shows no signs of giving in just yet. Keep your hard working hands toasty in these super-simple fingerless gloves – find out how to make them below!

This is a simple one-piece pattern that you can draw up yourself with ease – I’ll show you how. These gloves are so quick to make, and they’re a great project for accessorizing a costume or repurposing old clothes.

You will need:

  • Paper (preferably gridded) and pen or pencil
  • Paper & fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine – or needle & thread!
  • Stretch fabric – preferably a fleece backed or heavyweight jersey knit (like hoodie material), or double layer an old t-shirt
  • Beads, stencil, or whatever you want to embellish with

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