Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Talking about gherkins

 I grew gherkins last year in my glasshouse with great success, so this year I thought I'd try growing them outside. I started them from seed in the glasshouse and when the weather was warm in late spring I transferred them outside, to a climbing frame under the cherry tree. There, they grew quite slowly, had a few flowers and fruit form, but never really took off in the way that I was expecting. The site obviously didn't suit them well... too shady, too windy, not enough water perhaps? Luckily there was still time in the season to sow some more seeds and plant them in the glasshouse, where they grew rampantly. In fact, they are still there, still flowering and fruiting, much more to my satisfaction. Lesson learned: don't bother trying to grow gherkins outside even though there is more room and they would look so cute scrambling up a fence...

I pickle my gherkins in the microwave. Slice the gherkins if you like (cutting them in rounds means they fit in the jar better) and pack them in a jar. Add 1 tbsp dried mustard seeds and some sprigs of dill if you have it (sadly mine didn't self seed this year.) Pour about 1cm white vinegar in the jar and microwave for 1-2 minutes till hot. Pour about a cup of white vinegar (or you can used spiced if you want a chilli kick) in a microwave safe jug and add 1 tsp of sugar and 1 tsp salt (don't forget these or your mouth will pucker when you eat your gherkins!) Microwave for 3-4 minutes till boiling. Pour the boiling vinegar over the hot gherkins in the jar, then microwave the jar full of gherkins for another minute till it's boiling. Meanwhile pour boiling water from your jug over the jar lid to sterilise it. Using tea towels screw the hot lid on the hot jar. Make sure the lid seals, if it doesn't, keep the jar in the fridge. Wait six months before eating the gherkins.

That's my easy way of pickling one jar at a time which makes it easier to deal with the harvest. I'm looking forward to cracking these open in 6 months' time!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Pastel nails

 As I mentioned recently, I've been doing my nails as a bit of fun and trying out some different designs. I'm not spending as much time at home in the garden so it seems to last a little bit longer. And I also discovered nail polish remover which comes in little wipes, which makes it so much easier to remove when it starts to chip.

Recently I was contacted by Julep who are running a Spring Nails competition. They are looking for spring designs from various bloggers. It's not spring where I live, but that doesn't bother me since I love pastels and flowers all year round! So here's my take on a cute pastel flower manicure.

 I used a base coat of white, then applied dots to make the flowers using a stylus tool. The round tip of the stylus tool makes the dots perfectly round and even, it works much better than a toothpick. I used blue for three nails and pink for my ring finger. Then I used a sparkling silver for the centre of the flowers.

These pastel shades are not the easiest to photograph! They are easy to wear though and a lot of fun... I'll be wearing this again no matter what the season.

Do you like to paint your nails? What is your favourite look?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

April flowers

 Autumn is here. Daylight savings ended last weekend and the weather has well and truly turned. The long warm days of summer are behind us. The garden takes on its end of season hues... seed heads and berries in warm russet tones, fading flowers and crisp curling leaves. It's not the best autumn in my memory but as always I only have to look around to find the beauty of the season.

Clockwise from top left: Cecille Brunner rose, pink salvia, federation daisy, Irish Yew berries, hydrangea, clematis seed head, delphinium, penstemon, chrysanthemum, foxglove, dahlia, echinacea. Middle: a foraged bouquet of berries and foliage. I have a seedling rowan tree that I grew from berries like this a couple of years ago, but it will be a while before it has berries of its own.

This is the yellow flowered clematis I showed you in March's flowers post. I like these seed heads a lot more than the flowers and they've lasted much longer than the flowers did, so it could still be a keeper.

I'm linking up to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again. What is flowering in your garden this autumn/spring?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Progress on repairs

 We're nearly halfway through the earthquake repairs on our home, and things are moving along! Every time I go to the house something else has been done. Probably the most dramatic of which was the removal of all the bricks on this end. This was necessary for the jack 'n pack - basically the floor and walls are jacked up, then packed with a strong timber to level them again. Then new bricks are put back on again.

 We used the opportunity to make a couple of adjustments to this area. I'd always been frustrated with the lack of light in this room - it faces southwest, has small windows, and the previous owners had built a cupboard in the corner to house the washing machine. Convenient, but it blocked another window! So the builders have removed the laundry cupboard which will be relocated to the small porch outside our back door.

Above is a before and during picture. You can see what a difference it's made just removing that cupboard!

This is the back door. It was so badly out of alignment that we broke the lock trying to use it, and had to put this bolt on in order to secure it. After the jack 'n pack the door fits perfectly in its frame again!

 Instead of reinstalling the small window, the builders put in a lovely big window that I'd purchased beforehand. And not only that, a set of French doors! And soon there will be a deck running the length of this wall.

See how much beautiful light is coming into this room now. It's made such a difference. The best thing is that I can now see the garden out the windows.

I'm counting down the days until I'll be back home again... the job is almost halfway finished (I hope!) But I know it will be so much better when everything is fixed and improved. And, although it took so long to get started, I count myself very lucky to live in a country where we actually do get earthquake repairs done. There have been so many terrible earthquakes around the world recently, and my heart goes out to all affected.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Talking about capsicums

One of the many reasons I'm grateful for my glasshouse is that it allows me to grow capsicums. I've experimented with growing them in it and also in the garden, and come to the conclusion that it's not even worth trying to grow them outside. (If I didn't have a glasshouse, I'd rig up some kind of cold frame for them.) But the glasshouse ones did well this year.

Last year in autumn I heard that it's possible to keep a capsicum alive over winter if you coddle it, and then it will regrow in spring. I decided to try that, so I trimmed the glasshouse peppers down to a smallish stump with a few leaves still attached, put the pots in a huddle together and covered them with frost cloth. One out of six survived, despite us having the mildest winter we'd had for a long time. In spring, the surviving capsicum did regrow and have flowers and put out baby capsicums . But the six new plants I'd bought as seedlings grew faster and overtook it! So again I conclude, it's not worth the bother of trying to keep them alive over winter.

So my method of growing capsicums is to buy a punnet of 6 seedlings in spring, when the weather has started to warm up and they'll be ok in the glasshouse. (I've tried growing them from seed but they take ages to sprout while the weather warms up, and I'd rather buy seedlings so they can take advantage of the growing season straight away.) I put each one in a big pot with lots of sheep manure and compost and water well. Then I treat them the same as I treat my glasshouse tomatoes.

As you can see I got some lovely big ripe beauties this year! I've put plenty in the freezer so I'll be eating capsicum for several months to come.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Temporary accommodation

As I mentioned last time, our earthquake repairs are finally underway. It's been quite the process getting to this point - we were originally told that our repairs would start in September last year and I spent quite a bit of time getting ready for that. But that ended up not happening, and everything went on hold for a few months. 

After the big earthquake in 2011, my house was damaged along with thousands of others. In New Zealand we are lucky that earthquake cover is part of our house insurance, so it was always known that the repairs would be done, but no one realised quite how long and frustrating the process would be for everyone! I'll cut a long story short and say that thanks to my builder's determination to start the job we managed to push forward and get going on things. I'd been slowly packing my belongings into boxes (since last August!) but there was so much stuff... plus there are always the things you can't pack till the last minute... not a fun job and I'm not really anticipating the unpacking with much joy either!

I found a house to rent not too far from home. Luckily our insurance company also pays the rent for this place. It's an ok place to stay in - it's furnished and comes with phone, power, internet and Sky TV - so there's plenty of entertainment, but it's just not home! I brought all my houseplants and put them on the windowsill so that helped a bit. And of course, we brought Mr Lui. He took a few days to settle in but he's fine now, sleeping on the couches like he owns the place. And when he's not on the couches he's on my computer case, an even better bed apparently.

I miss having a big crochet project like a blanket to work on. Since we are doing a few renovation projects on the house my spare money has to go towards that, so I'm not going out to buy yarn for a new project. And my stash yarn is all packed! So in an effort to create something cheerful and colourful, I've been painting my nails. Nail polish is cheap and there are plenty of ideas on Pinterest.

So that's the update from the holiday house. There are plenty of things happening at the real house too - I'll tell you about them soon. I also have some updates on my vege growing this season. In the meantime I'll be scouring Pinterest for manicure home decorating ideas.

Monday, 31 March 2014

March flowers

Here I am with my March flowers post, sneaking it in on the last day of the month. It's late because, after being delayed for six months, all of a sudden we got the go ahead for earthquake repairs to our house, and I had to pack up the house, store the contents, organise accommodation and then move into it. It's kind of surreal... after so long it almost felt like it was never going to happen, and then I basically had a week to organise everything... well there's nothing quite like a deadline to spur you to action!

I took these photos in the first week of March and most of them are still flowering, though some are fading a bit. Clockwise from top left: autumn maple leaves, lovely scented cyclamen, an unknown clematis that I grew from seed (not sure if I like the yellow flowers to be honest), scabiosa seed head, white rose that I grew from a cutting, astrantia, penstemon Blackbird, polemonium, scabiosa, cosmos, lavatera, delphinium. In the middle is an arrangement of astrantia, roses and some flower/seed heads which blew down from a tree in the storm.

I'll be back soon with an update on the holiday house we're staying in, and some progress on repairs to our home. (I miss my garden!)

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Getting the bash from Mother Nature, again

 A week ago we had a pretty big storm here in Christchurch. Thirty six hours of rain and gale force winds quickly became known as a "one in 50 year event", and that was later upgraded to a "one in 100 year event". It was a rather eventful couple of days in the city, as rivers burst their banks and streets were engulfed in flash flooding. (Above is a small creek which burst its banks)

 All was ok at my house luckily. We had a sodden back yard, since drainage seems to be an issue after the earthquakes (my theory is that liquefaction blocked all the tiny cracks and channels that rainwater used to use to drain away), but the house and garage were safe and dry. Not so for many whose homes were close to rivers and creeks, or were just in low lying areas.

(Above is the aptly, ironically named River Road. The actual river is to the left of the trees.)

 I went for a walk in the afternoon when the rain finally cleared. I'd been lucky and stayed at home that day... I'm glad I didn't have to try and drive through this!

Debris was everywhere, leaves and branches and fallen trees. On my way home I picked up this bundle of chestnut branches that had been knocked to the ground. They make a nice decoration, but are also a reminder of yet another extreme weather event. It seems to me that these once rare, "one in 100 year" type events are getting more frequent - whether it's earthquakes, rain storms or snow storms, we seem to get something every year now! Hopefully that's it for this year and the rest of it is mild and tame... but with an ex tropical cyclone possibly going to hit this weekend, I somehow doubt that will be the case. Time to buy a new umbrella!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Mr Fox fingerless gloves

 Autumn has arrived, so I thought I'd make myself a pair of fingerless gloves. I'd had this cute fox pattern pinned since I saw it last year, it looked a little challenging and I figured it would keep me busy for a while. Once I started, I realised it was actually really easy and it only took a couple of evenings. 

 This pattern was great because I learned two new techiques... foundation single crochet (fsc) where you work the foundation chain and the first row of sc at the same time (this is so great! Working the first row of sc into the chain is always so fiddly!) and Fair Isle Crochet. Fair Isle Crochet is obviously based on the knitting technique of the same name and it's very similar to tapestry crochet, but a bit neater. It was such fun to work and watch the pattern appearing and I'm now quite obsessed with the technique! Must find more Fair Isle patterns asap.

 This pattern is from Little Things Blogged. (I added thumbs to mine for a bit of extra warmth!) I just love the fox pattern even though I know they are pests... but it still seems to me to be a magical thing to look out the window and see a fox in your garden. There's also a sleeping fox amigurumi pattern on the same blog... I have lots of leftover fox coloured yarn so I may need to make one for my windowsill.

Hopefully I won't need to wear these regularly for several weeks yet, but we had a big storm last week and an ex tropical cyclone is forecast to hit next weekend. There's no telling what the weather will do but I'm prepared with my foxes!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Summertime Patchwork Quilt Blanket - finished at last!

 Happy news this week, as I've finished my Summertime Patchwork Quilt Blanket. I started this in September 2011 and it's been a really good evenings-in-front-of-the-TV sort of project. I've worked on other things in between as well, which is why it's taken two and a half years, but I'm happy now to call this project finished. It's the last week of summer so it's just in time... and actually today a wintery cold front has blown in, so I'll need this blanket anyway! (9 degrees in February, what??)

 I used a variety of yarns. It began as a stash buster, but I had to buy a few balls as well to fill out the colour range. They are all around the 4-ply weight and I used a 3.75mm hook. For a couple of yarns which were thicker (like the blue) I used the same sized hook, but did the last round in hdc instead of dc.

I sewed the hexagons together as I worked. My method was to make about 6 or so, then sew in the ends. Then I would lay out the blanket and arrange the new pieces, and safety pin them in place. (This meant I could fold up the blanket out of the way when I wasn't working on it.) When I had a good lot of hexies pinned, I'd have an evening of sewing them in. I used my most neutral coloured thread which I decided was peach, and whipstitched them together through the back loops only. This helped give a bit of textural interest and more of a 'quilted' look.

I always knew I wanted a simple white edging with perhaps some picots. I did dabble on Pinterest for a while looking at fancy lacy borders and whatnot, but in the end I went with my original vision and I think it's perfect. I decided to make half-hexies to fill in the obvious gaps in the ends, but I liked the points on the long edges and they set off the picots nicely.

 I even steam blocked the blanket to get it to drape nicely. It was very easy and made sure that the edges held their shape.

 Here's the whole blanket laid out after I blocked it. It's a good, drapey, 1-2 person blanket, nice and lightweight, perfect for cool summer evenings.

 You can see my project page here on Ravelry.

Basic Hexagon Pattern
(US terminology)

Round 1: make a magic ring. Ch 3 (counts as first dc), dc into ring, ch 1. 2 dc into ring, ch 1, repeat 4 times (12 dc). Slip stitch into first ch 3. (2 dc in each branch of hexagon)
Round 2: Ch 3, dc into next 2 dc, dc into corner ch, ch 1, dc into corner ch, repeat around. (4 dc in each branch of hexagon)
Round 3: Repeat as for Round 2, with 6 dc in each branch of hexagon. If using a thicker yarn, do this round in hdc instead of dc.


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