Blow in the Bag


 Blow in the bag for freshness

The shed saga continues this week. If you remember I bought a “buyer to dismantle” log cabin from Kill in County Kildare, painstakingly dismantled it and am now in the process of putting the bits back together in the back garden. I waver between bursting into tears and jumping around for joy in admiration of my progress, depending on what stage I am at. I have spent another seven days (10 hours days) working on it and tend to forget to eat and drink, so when I am near to tears I know it’s time to stop for a rest. It’s coming along but I do need to buy a new tongue and groove floor as I couldn’t salvage the old one. It’s a hidden cost, along with a few new panels of wood and thousands of nails and screws and decking planks for the ‘veranda’. It could be bit of a money pit as I have spent a good 300 euro on replacement bits. We had some guests come to visit the other day and although they liked the new blot on the garden they did say that sheds such as this one are usually given away free when the buyer has to dismantle it. Now why didn’t they come to visit me before I had bought it? I keep telling myself that it will all be worth it when it’s up and painted. Another week should see it ready for the electricity to be wired up.

Family Party
We attended a big family party this week, just ten doors down from us and we had lots of relations up for the weekend. The gazebo was set up a couple of days before and all was well until the day of the party, when the wind decided to pick up. These cheap gazebos aren’t meant for any type of adverse weather conditions and when I say ‘adverse’ I mean a slight breeze or a few spots of rain. For the first few hours of the party family members stood by each of the corner poles to stop the white plastic cover lifting off the ground and ending up in one of the neighbours gardens. Thankfully the wind eased off and people could start talking to one another as opposed to waving and smiling at each other from the four corners of the gazebo.

We did our bit for the party food by producing a wonderful salad. I took full credit for the three large bowls of greenery but in reality, barring the stronger leaves like rocket, basil, parsley and mustard, everything else came from Lidl.  There were some trays of lettuce in the shop I have never seen for sale, it was the cut and come again leaves and packaged like cress in so far as the roots were in soil and they grew in their own containers. It was very presentable baby leaves and I had no reservations for taking the credit. “It’s all about timing” I gleefully commented, “planting the seeds 6 weeks before the party so the plants are at their best”.  There was a load left over at the end of the night though, so maybe I will admit to it not being all my home grown produce, most people went for the hot fish chowder (it was a cold day). 

Boiled Eggs
A couple of the bowls of lettuce were decorated with halved hard boiled eggs. I don’t know about you but I think eggs are harder to peel than they used to be when boiled, the membranes seem thinner. Maybe it’s just me being impatient, especially as I had about thirty eggs to do. It was time to do a bit of research and find the best method for removing shells. I found a great video on YouTube where the bloke put the boiled eggs into a bowl of iced water then showing us how the shell just falls off when cracked. He suggested we left the eggs in the iced water for at least four hours before attempting the peel. We left ours for ten minutes as time wasn’t on our side. Needless to say it didn’t work and some of the eggs looked a bit battle scarred.

I did see another video (like you do) as I was looking for the boiled egg top tip. It’s how to keep salad lasting longer. Get a plastic bag, put the leaves in and then fill the bag up with your own breath. The carbon dioxide keeps the food fresh all week. I tried it at the end of the party to save some salad but for some reason it didn’t go down too well. I think big companies use pure compressed Co2 in bottles and don’t get the employees to breath into every bag of pre packed salad on the supermarket shelves. Well that’s what my relations tell me.

What Have I Done?


I had a large “what have I done?” moment this week. I bought a shed.

It might seem a perfectly normal thing to do; I’ve done it before a few times and never had any problems. This time though I bought it off a buy and sell website. I’ve had a modicum of success buying and selling classic cars over the last while so my confidence level was high. The only stipulation, and reflected in the price, was that the “buyer dismantles”. Fair enough I thought, how hard could it be?

Van Hire
I negotiated the price and told the owner I would pick it up the following day after hiring a van to get me down to County Kildare and the shed back up to the North West. I pootled down to Naas with my toolbox in the van and when I got to the house the owner was amazed when I came by myself “It’s more of a two person job” he said. “No problem” I said smiling, I’ve got my screwdriver.
The “shed” turned out to be a 12’x12’ log type cabin with its own 4’ veranda, wired for electricity and very substantial, the images on the advert were a tad misleading.

Roughing it
Three 18 hour days later and two damp, cold nights sleeping in the back of a transit hire van; I finally got the last plank off. Dismantling the thing was an absolute nightmare, if I hadn’t paid up in full before I started I would have left on the first day. There were hundreds of screws holding the tongue and groove roof planks together; the walls that should slot together were fixed tightly with screws too large from my tiny screwdriver. And the floor couldn’t be saved no matter how careful I was, the planks all split. To make a bad experience even worse I couldn’t get everything into the van in one go so I had to do two trips to get everything up to my garage- in one night. I finally got the van back to the hire company at 7:30am on the Friday morning after a sleepless night driving 600miles on the two round trips. 

It’s certainly a case of “buyer beware” as I am quite sure the bloke who I bought it off knew exactly how much work went into setting the shed up in the first place. He didn’t say much but did mention that the 2 lads who set it up only took 2 hours to do it, yea right. He certainly saw me coming.
Now all I need to do is to set it up in my own garden, unfortunately I didn’t really take enough images of it being dismantled so I haven’t’ a clue how it all fits back together. If I’m not careful it could turn out to be an Ikea like assembly without instructions. What have I done indeed!

Cool Bread
Our family is divided on most issues; it makes for interesting debates, or a lot of shouting. This particular difference of opinion needed resolving – bread, does it last longer in or out of the fridge?
I have been convinced for years that once bread is made a chemical reaction starts and unless the bread is frozen, this process is the same regardless of the storage. Julie on the other hand seems to think that putting the bread in the fridge slows down the process. There was only one way to find out so we (I) put one slice from the same loaf in a sealed bag and sellotaped it to the cupboard and took another slice, sealed it up and placed it in the fridge.  After 10 days the results were out. We couldn’t leave it any longer than that because the blue mould in the bag outside of the fridge looked like it was going to take over the house. The slice of bread inside the fridge was still mould free and looking very smug. Of course I wouldn’t have eaten either of them after 10 days and if it wasn’t for the unnaturally high temperatures this week I’m sure the results would have been different. I’m still not convinced but am managing to still be annoying. Sore loser… me?

Get on Down


Down in the Dumps
Next time you are feeling a bit down in the dumps, get down in the mud. Its official, mucking around in the garden beds and borders can alter brain function to keep you feeling happy. It has been known for generations that the great outdoors was a healthy place. In the past, patients in institutions would have farm work, gardening, and recreation outside as a standard part of treatment. Van Gogh produced some stunning outdoor paintings while at Saint-Remy sat on a chair in the garden looking at the scenery.  Now there’s scientific evidence that to back up the theory that microbes in the soil are a natural antidepressant.

The microbes in soil tweak the same neurons that are stimulated by Prozac and other antidepressants.  The soil -Prozac connection surfaced a couple of years ago from Dr. Chris Lowry and his colleagues at the University of Bristol and University College London. They exposed lung cancer patients to a common, inoffensive microbe called Mycobacterium vaccae, found in soil. The patients unexpectedly reported increases in their quality of life, including a brighter mood. The researchers wondered if this effect was caused by stimulation of neurons in the patients' brains that produce serotonin, a feel-good chemical.

The scientists said that one might derive soils benefit directly by rooting around in a vegetable garden, or by eating lettuce or carrots picked from that garden.

Hygiene Hypothesis
The soil-Prozac connection fits with a recent idea in medicine called the "hygiene hypothesis." According to this concept, exposure early in life to the bacteria, fungi, and viruses found in common, everyday soil is necessary to stimulate our immune system. When children are exposed to the stew of microbes in dirt, their immune systems become stronger. The immune system also learns to ignore substances like pollen or the dandruff of pets, which can trigger asthma and allergies.
Researchers have shown, for example, that children who grow up in dirty environments such as farms have a lower incidence of infections, asthma, allergies, and eczema later in life, compared to those raised in urban environments in which parents try to keep them squeaky clean and bombard them with antibacterial sprays and wipes constantly.

Filth Diseases
Dr Larry Dossey wrote recently “For a century and a half we have waged merciless war on filth through public health measures such as public sanitation systems and water purification programs. These developments have been enormously successful. The increase in lifespan in modern societies is due largely to the reduction of death rates from diseases such as typhoid and cholera, which in nineteenth-century were called "filth diseases."

“We have to wonder, however, if we have gone too far in our obsession with hygiene. Throughout our evolutionary history our ancestors lived in intimate contact with dirt, and its influence, we now see, was not all bad. We evolved in the outdoors, and we are beginning to glimpse the price we are paying for shutting ourselves off from nature.”

All we need to do is go for a walk in the woods, grub around in our vegetable garden, or weed our flowerbeds, we get a dose of the good bugs simply by inhaling, so breathe deeply when you garden!

Nature deficiency disorder
Nature deficiency disorder has been proposed as a term for the problems we create when we build a wall between the natural world and ourselves. Dr Dossey is highly susceptible to this malady. “When I spend too much time indoors, I become increasingly moody and morose. There's only one cure: take a hike, go camping, or root around in my veggie garden. These activities are more than a hobby; they have become an essential part of my life and an important element in my personal health plan.”
Antidepressant medication can sometimes be a treatment of choice. It can work wonders, and in some instances can be life-saving. But if your doctor advises you to get dirty in the beds and borders instead of taking a pill to perk up your mood, you know they are on the cutting edge of the healthy gardening revolution, go with it.

Throwing Vegetables


 All mine....

I’ve always thought myself quite generous. I’d give my time doing a bit of voluntary work; I’d look for lost puppies and help the elderly across the road. I’d also do the odd bit of gardening for people, usually voluntarily again, be wary of finding a career you love, you could find yourself working just for the love of it. 

I think my days of generosity are getting very limited in the vegetable patch. Once I would have planted surplus amounts of seed and young plants and then be inundated with such a vast surplus I would be walking up and down the street with my wheelbarrow full of so much produce I would be knocking on doors asking if anyone wanted a bag of courgettes or carrots. If I had any leftover I would throw them at people on the way home in the hope they would take them home and cook them up for their tea. Not anymore.

This year I think I have mastered the art of successive planting and limiting the amount of plants I propagate. I have stopped growing root vegetables altogether, apart from beetroot.  I just eat the young fresh leaves of these plants and don’t bother with anything I can buy in the shops for 50cent a bag like carrots. 

I do have some rogue potato plants but they are popping their heads out of the compost bin so I will leave those for a while to see what happens. Potato sales are down this year by over 8% apparently. The main reason for this is that they need preparing, so it’s not just me that doesn’t like peeling.  It’s rice that is getting more popular, mainly because it’s straight out of the bag and goes well with our liking for curries. The other interesting fact is that the people interviewed in the research say they prefer rice because there is no “waste” They don’t have compost bins then with the looks of it.

Back to my vegetable saga
I have been  in the very lucky position of having ‘just enough’ growing that I don’t feel the need to oil the wheelbarrow and load it up. It’s all quality produce that would cost a lot in the shops too. Every morning I harvest a large bag of salad for the day which consists of 5 types of lettuce, mustard, mange tout, spinach, beet leaves, coriander, spring onions, basil, sugar snap peas and pea tops, nasturtium leaves and any other herbs I see. The result of the ‘pick and come again’ method is miraculous for the garden; nothing is getting out of hand or growing too large. To me one of the beauties of growing your own is that you can eat the smallest, freshest produce and not have to wait until it’s grown as large as the main growers need to do to make money on them.
The broad beans are fantastic and last for ages on the plants so there’s no rush to eat all of them at one time. The runner beans and waxy French beans have just started and are being extremely well behaved too.  I’m not sure if I will ever get a surplus this year. If I do then I might take up freezing the crop or making some sort of chutney. 

I’m afraid this year, giving bags of veggies away is fourth on the list of ‘Things I can do with surplus stock’ I will just about live with the guilt.

Get Rich- Quick!
Here’s my latest ‘Get Rich Quick’ scheme. A Chamomile Lawn Empire. I bought some genuine non flowering plants from a grower earlier in the year and have been patiently taking cuttings to increase my stock ready for selling them on E-Bay.   These Chamomile plants are related to the variety produced In the 1930s by Dorothy Sewart who lived in in Cornwall.   Her garden chamomile spread to form a low growing plant which never flowered. It formed a fragrant, neat, rich green lawn which did not turn brown in dry weather. I have a nice big patch growing and it’s lovely to walk on I must say. I’m not sure if it will catch on or not and I am not sure they will be as successful as the terracotta pots last year. I might end up just giving the plants away which might help to restore my impression of being generous with plants so it won’t all be for nothing.

Check out the stock on EBay... type in 'chamomile lawn'..... 
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