Monday, 24 August 2015

The Frank and Ethel Collective

You know me by now, right?  You know that when I decide to do something, I go at it whole hog.  Yep, that's me, all or nothin'.  Remember last post I was poring over gardening books and planning an assault on the front yard?  Well my friends, the wheels are most definitely in motion.  It all started with sprouting mung beans and alfalfa seeds:

Alfalfa!!!  So much alfalfa.  From two tablespoons of seeds.

Mung beans!!!

Note to self: do smaller batches next time.  Nobody else eats it.

Emboldened by this success, I decided to branch out and try actual plants.  From seeds.  Because y'know, economical and all that.  Plus, a good challenge for this decidedly not-green-thumbed yahoo.  But why grow just one plant?  In one measly pot?  Oh no, no no no.  We must charge forth, arms flailing, and plant ALL THE THINGS.

It may not look terribly exciting to the average Joe, but I am quietly trying to not explode off the chair every five minutes to go and check if anything is growing yet, or worry that I really am doomed to a life of store-bought veg.  Behold, my square metre garden!

Deane built the raised garden bed for me (with plans for expansion, should everything go well), and although it looks empty at the moment, there are actually seeds (hopefully) germinating in the soil.

Here is my 'map' for this round of planting (totes not to scale):

The beans, rocket, spring onions, carrots and radishes are all planted straight into the plot, and I have the cucumber and mesclun germinating on the kitchen windowsill along with some capsicum and cherry tomatoes.  I have also planted some lavender, marigold and phacelia (purple tansy) seeds for companion plants to try and ward off any wee buggies that might eat my vege plants before they grow, and encourage helpful insects like ladybugs and praying mantises that eat the slightly less welcome guests.  Plus they'll be providing a feeding and resting spot for bees, who need all the help they can get.

Flat leaf parsley and some anaemic-looking basil, hanging out with the yet-to-sprout seedlings.

The coffee sack planters have silverbeet, New Zealand spinach, borage and nasturtium, and the big sack has desiree potatoes.  I found a tutorial for making coffee sack planters online (although they're ridiculously easy and you don't really need instructions.  It's one of those 'why didn't I think of that?' kinda things).  I got the coffee sacks for $2 from the Allpress Cafe on Ponsonby Road.  Way cheaper than crappy plastic pots or wooden planters, lighter and easier to move than ceramic or terracotta pots.  And they're biodegradable :)

Obviously nothing has sprouted yet - I only planted the first seeds a few days ago.  Let me tell you, staring at potting mix does not make anything grow faster.  However I did spy some tiny wee green bits in a few of the mesclun seedling plots.  Excitement!!  Two days earlier than expected!

I have also planted 12 strawberry plants.  I pondered briefly whether 12 plants would be too many.  Then I considered how much I spent on strawberries last summer, and realised it probably wasn't enough.  We shall see.

I downloaded a gardening diary app on my phone to keep track of my garden (although it only does fruit, veg, and herbs; not flowers).  It's neat to see the 'days to harvest' counting down!  I'm sure it'll be even more exciting when that time gets closer.  I am of course assuming things actually grow...

Also very exciting is the accompaniment to the vegetable garden - The Frank and Ethel Collective.  What is The FEC you may ask?  Why, it is my worm farm!  It currently houses approximately 2,000 composting worms.  As worms are hermaphroditic, I have named half of them Frank, and half of them Ethel.  Or maybe all 2,000 of them are called both Frank and Ethel.  I don't think they'd mind either way.

The unsuspecting 'worm cafe', aka The FEC.

Frank(s) and Ethel(s) have been settling in over the last few days, getting all cozy in their new home.  On the cooler nights I covered their box with a blanket because apparently they prefer temperatures between 10 and 30 degrees.  I don't want them to get too chilly.  Today I gave them a small feeding of worm treats (worm fattener, made by mixing chicken layer pellets, milk powder, wheat bran, corn flour, and lime or dolomite) and tomorrow I will give them their first bunch of food scraps.  I've worked out a schedule to start with (treats on Monday, feed on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, condition on Thursday, and flush on Sunday) to ensure they're well looked after.  I don't want to accidentally become a worm mass-murderer.  Maybe a little OTT...?  I'm pretty sure my kids think I've lost the plot.  Either way, I'm happy.  I'm enjoying myself.  I'm optimistic that I will be able to grow something edible before the end of summer.

I have plans to plant more things (More carrots! More lettuce! Button squash! Courgettes! Beetroot!), and am already looking forward to thinking about stuff I could plant for next winter (Asian greens! Broccoli! Soy beans!)  I have a mushroom kit ready to go for oyster mushrooms - I'm just waiting for the spawn to arrive in the mail.  And I'm even getting a bird feeder.  Roll on, summer!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

I promised you knitting...

So here we go.  Crappy self-taken pics and all!

First off, we have the chevron baby blanket, all finished:

It measures 30" x 42" unblocked (not gonna block it.  So lazy).  I added four extra garter stitches on each side, and six rows of garter stitch on the top and bottom for uniformity and to stop rolling.  Each zig-zag is 12 rows.  I used less than two balls of yellow, four balls of grey, and five balls of white.  It's knit in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (colourways were 'Cowslip', 'Grey', and 'White').  It's not exactly pastel, but still unisex baby colours, yes?

Next up, we have the Tinder cardigan, knit with Cascade 220 in 'Sparrow' (although I think the colour is more reminiscent of a mouse).  My apologies for the bathroom selfie pics, it's been hard to pin Deane down for anything these days, let alone knitwear modelling photography.

These photos don't give you a very good idea of detail - they give you a better idea of the state of my bathroom sink!  I might try to get some better pictures some time.  But in any case, the cardigan fits wonderfully, and I love it.  The collar turns down nicely, it works well with a scarf, it's nice and long, I found some cool wooden buttons to go on it, and although initially I wasn't enthusiastic about the colour, it has grown on me.  Love.  I used up most of the five skeins of Cascade 220, but there was no need for yarn chicken (this may not be the case with the current project on the needles, however).  I knit the body in one piece and the sleeves in the round, which made the construction much quicker and easier - just the raglan seaming, then picking up stitches for the collar and button bands.  A half stitch seam allowance (for the raglan sleeves) can be a little fiddly, but once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty smoothly.  And taking the time to get it right is worth the nice tidy finish.  Overall I'm very happy with this cardigan, and the pattern was really easy to follow.  Thumbs up!

I knit some yoga socks, wore them once, then decided I didn't like them.  Bare feet are so much better!  I haven't taken a pic of them yet, not sure I'll bother.  I followed this pattern though, modifying it by using 2.5mm needles, casting on 56 stitches, knitting 5.5 pattern repeats for the legs and 3 pattern repeats for the feet, and only increasing/decreasing four stitches around for the heels.

And for a breather (and to use up the rest of the fingering weight cotton I've had for some time) I knit a few dishcloths.  I didn't have quite enough for three full dishcloths, but who really cares?  They're dishcloths!  I held the yarn double to get it closer to the worsted weight yarn recommendation.

Each cloth knit up in about an hour and the pattern is hardly a pattern at all so you can memorise it within seconds.  This makes them super easy to knock out when you've got a bit of time spare.  Must get my hands on some more cotton...

Currently on the needles is a Rocky Coast cardigan.  I'm knitting it in Cascade 220 'Natural', and making the 40" size.  Although my bust is a measly 33.5" at the moment (marathon training, y'know...) the pattern recommends 4"-6" positive ease.  This means I don't have to make the adjustments for the wider arms and deeper/wider yoke and can just follow the pattern as is.  I've split off the sleeves and just have to knit down the body, but the knitting frenzy has stalled of late.  I've moved on to another distraction - vegetable gardening!  Okay, so I haven't actually started gardening yet, but I'm reading all about it and planning what I'm going to plant, where to place the garden/s or pots, where to put the compost bin, etc etc.  I'm hoping that although I have zero gardening experience and can kill a houseplant at fifty paces just by glancing at it, I might learn something by obsessively poring over a multitude of gardening books.  My current favourites are Square Metre Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (have read it cover to cover) and One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein.  A square metre garden seems manageable and I can put it out in the front yard, which appears to be the only available space on this tiny,grass-free section of ours - Deane has already monopolised the deck with a barbecue, pots full of slug- and caterpillar-ridden capsicums, and dead herbs.  The front yard is pretty shaded at the moment and I can't remember what the sun exposure is like out there during summer, but there's plenty of veg that can be grown in the shade, and the rest can go in pots on the deck.  Wish me luck!!

Obviously I will continue to knit the cardigan - the pattern book is due back at the library soon, and I really want another snuggly, oversized cardi that I can throw on in a second - but my current vegetable gardening research obsession, along with running, yoga, and study, is taking up most of my spare time.  I've also got back into the kitchen a lot more of late - I've made my first batch of soy milk, turned it into tofu (which I had for lunch yesterday - yum!!!  Success!), am sprouting some mung beans and alfalfa seeds, made my first batch of vegan butter substitute, and have been enjoying a range of tasty eats from Thug Kitchen and Isa (which are both also due back at the library soon.  Sad face).

Right now, it's time to fit in a bit of knitting and vege garden research before a 12km run later.  Here's hoping it doesn't rain again.  Stupid Auckland weather...  Have a good week!

Side note: Went to my first ever hard house rave last night.  It wasn't horrible.  Probably won't go to another one though - I'm still partially deaf...

Monday, 3 August 2015


...mmmmygosh, I've been going to yoga classes for two weeks and let me tell you, they are waaaaaaay better than trying to do your own thing at home.  Even with a phone app/DVD/whatever, it is really quite hard to be sure you're doing it right.  I found out about an awesome deal at the Auckland Yoga Academy for beginners or people new to the Academy, where you can attend unlimited beginner yoga classes for 30 days for $49.  They also have a follow-up deal of unlimited classes (any type/level) for $99.  After that, monthly membership is $139 (or $710 for six months, or $1,099 a year - cheaper than a gym membership).  Yes please!  They have a great timetable choc-full of classes, so there's bound to be one at a time suitable for you, and the teachers are lovely.  I've been in classes with six different teachers, and they've all been great.  After a week of switching between Hatha and Ashtanga, I've decided to stick with Ashtanga.  Each class is the same, so you can practice and perfect your asanas and breathing through the vinyasas.  Being a runner, I wasn't surprised to find that my hips are really inflexible, and my shoulders have always been quite tight - they're getting less flexible as I get older.  Hopefully I'll be able to remedy that with regular practice.  I've been every day so far, except for last Friday.

Last Friday I got to check out the Auckland Food Show, thanks to Green Meadows Beef.  They ran a competition where you sent in a question you would like to ask them, and the best questions won two tickets to the show so you could ask them in person.  My questions (I was sneaky and had two) were 'how long do your cows live on your farm before they go on to 'greener pastures', and are they 100% grass fed before they come to you?'.  It was great seeing the Carey boys again (they're good people, I like them), get my answers (coincidentally, I had been wondering these things already so the competition was serendipitous) and we got some free eye fillet steak for Deane and X at the same time.  Apparently that was also part of the prize, but I guess being vegan, I didn't notice that bit ;)

While we were at the Food Show, I came across a product that I think is really quite cool - eco-friendly food wraps!  Bee Wrapt food wraps are made with funky fabrics and beeswax from the company owner's own bees.  Despite my little internal battle over whether honey and other bee products are okay to use - it can be a bit of a vegan 'grey area' (I have the same internal battle over wool - there are arguments on both sides for each), I'm currently of the mind that by choosing to buy products, clothing or foods that have been ethically sourced/produced, are environmentally friendly, and for the most part cruelty free, I'm doing the best I can.  Everyone should be free to make their own decisions about what they buy and use, and there doesn't have to be any hard-line rules.  But I digress...  I didn't end up buying any food wraps on the day, but discovered another company that does much the same thing.  Honey Wraps are sold at the eco store and are made with 100% organic cotton, infused with a blend of beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin.  But what won me over was the little piece of seed paper in each wrap - you soak it in water overnight, plant it the next day, and in a couple of weeks you have some wildflowers in your garden - a perfect stopover for bees :)  Provided, of course, that you can get them to grow without accidentally killing them...  I'm hoping for the best, and am even considering attempting to grow some vegetables out on the deck this summer.  The house plant my sister gave me two Christmases ago is still alive, so you never know :)  I'm planning on getting some more wraps (from both companies) so we can ditch the plastic wrap and cut down on waste.

Other goings-on include studying two Level 7 papers this trimester - Project Management, and Policy and Planning for Library Services (only two more to go after that!); running five days a week for pre-marathon-training training (does that make sense?  It does in my head...); trying to stick to a housework schedule; and eating my way through Thug Kitchen (hilarious if you don't mind bad language) and Isa Does It.  I seriously need to buy that book, I've had it out from the library about five times now.  And Veganomicon.  And The Vegan Table.  And maybe also The Unbakery Book...  ALL THE VEGAN COOKBOOKS!!!  I love food...

I hope y'all are having a great week.  Can you believe it's August already?!?  Where did the time go?  Next post will be knitting-related, just a heads-up.  I have a finished cardigan to show off, among other things.  See you then!