Peeling Spuds


Oh NO! Not spud peeling

I can easily breeze through repetitious work. Take sowing seeds and potting on cuttings for example, especially when I was growing seeds for a living. I’d sit on my stool in the tunnel throughout the cold cold winters (violins can start now) and I’d patiently pot up the plants and lay them out in an orderly fashion for them to grow on. 

This patience doesn’t end in the garden, I realise it’s the journey not the destination. For that reason I can cope with most mundane jobs in the house, washing, vacuuming and dusting.  

So can anyone tell me why, oh why do I break out into a cold sweat when I am asked to peel spuds?   From getting the first potato in my hand and starting to peel until the last one plops into the pan, I detest the process. My chest tightens up, blood pressure goes up and I feel like I need to scream. You can probably guess that I am not asked to do this very often and if left to my own devices I will always make pasta, rice or noodles. 

Less work
If I am in a shop buying vegetables I will usually go for the ones that look as though they have come out of the ground with a bit of soil on them - unless they are potatoes. Just in case for some unexplained reason that  I am asked to peel them I will go for the cleanest, biggest (that’s important too as it’s less fiddly) least recessed eyes and the ones with as little or no blemishes as possible. Less work and anxiety for me.  I don’t even look where they have been grown. Shame on me, but when my health is at stake I can’t be too careful, I won't even grow them! I think maybe my spud peeling resistance is something to do with valuing my time and thinking I should be doing something more useful than peeling off imperfections.  

Taking your time
I remember a friend of mine filling up some large flower containers using a dessert spoon to scoop out the compost from the bag and place it gently into the pot. I suggested she could do it faster by tipping the compost straight into the pot from the bag. It’d save her time I thought. “Why would I want to do that?” she said “I am enjoying doing it this way.” Maybe I ought to employ the same philosophy when it comes to peeling spuds. The only way I can cope is by throwing them straight into the oven “as is” and bake them for an hour.

It’s all about the timing
I’m very conscious of timing in the garden this year. For some reason the season is moving forward at a seemingly faster rate than usual, it must be an age thing. I’m following Klaus’s growing and planting guidelines on his seed packets and so far have planted everything he suggests to the end of April. I now have basil, peas, mange tout, kale, onions, spring onions and sweetcorn in.  I still have a lot more seeds to sow but I am taking my time, especially with the French beans, they won’t need to go in until the end of May. 

Planting Herbs
I’ve made the finishing touches to the granite set walls I built last week. It’s made a great place for the dogs to sit as the sieved soil is nice and warm for them. They can also get to look straight into the kitchen window at me longingly looking for food. As the beds are near to the back door I will be planting them up with herbs we can pick whilst cooking. I also thought a bit of lawn chamomile might go well in between the cracks in the slabs. The highly scented plants will serve a few other purposes too. They will give off a pleasant aroma when walked on of brushed past. Secondly, if the dogs insist on still sitting in the same spots after the herbs are planted, it might help to make them smell a bit sweeter. It might not come as much of a surprise but the dogs don’t half pong, especially when they have just come out of the river.

Hoarding - Collecting, it's a fine line


The on-going quest for the garden NOT to look like the backdrop for an episode of Steptoe and Son continues. Not only is the garden looking similar to the programme, I seem to be looking more like Wilfred Bramble’s character Albert Steptoe the older I get. There are a few differences, he has more hair than I do for a start and (as yet) I don’t own a horse and cart. (For those of you too young to remember the programme Google the title to see what I mean. It’s uncanny.

Granite Sets
I have made a decision to make use of some of the accumulated “stock” in the garden and found somewhere to put the granite sets and old hexagonal paving slabs. I don’t think I have mentioned the yellow slabs before. I dug them up last year when I was clearing a space for the polytunnel. They have probably been buried for 30 years but are still miraculously in one piece, they must have used strong cement in those days.  We have an area outside of the back door that would have been planted up at one time and slops down from the lawn. Over the years the ground has slipped and if anything grew in it in the past it doesn’t get a chance now as I just mow it when I cut the rest of the grass. It has only been used as a place where the dogs can site and look longingly into the kitchen window whilst waiting for either a walk or scraps of food to be thrown out of the window. It’s my own waste disposal unit.  I’ve spoken a lot about how to plant on a slope so had a pretty good idea what to do so didn’t see the need to complicate things by making a plan. I am just making it up as I go along.

Two Levels
The slope is steep enough for a couple of levels. I have a row of just two of the old slabs then a row of three high, dark granite sets. There is then a level area about three feet wide before the next level of granite sets go in. This time only two high of the lighter speckled ones. I have done a rough estimate and think I’ll have enough to finish. If not I know where there are some more if I need them. There will be a space next to the wall wide enough for the dogs to poke their noses over into the neighbour’s garden over the dividing wall. Our house isn’t the only place the dogs use their longing puppy dog eyes for food and the neighbour will come out at least once a day with something tasty for them to munch on.

Light Work
The slabs have developed a layer of gunge and greenery but I am not going to clean them up. The house and garden pathways are old and the dirt seems to fit in a bit better. You can pay a lot of money for getting things that look old so they match their surroundings – that’s my excuse anyway. The granite sets are not going to be cleaned either.  

I am not going to cement the slabs, or even put them on a level of sand for that matter. It’s such a small area and because of the shape there will be a small planting hole every two slabs where I can plant herbs for harvesting from the back door and will also give the dogs a softer seating area as I am sure they won’t be long using it. The granite sets will be free standing too as I would like the dry stone wall effect with lots of strawberry plants jutting out of the cracks.  As nothing will be secured into place I can modify, adjust or take the whole thing down when I get bored with looking at it. It’s one step away from having a garden on a pallet where you can move it around to suit. 

Oil Can
What do you do on a sunny morning at the weekend? Last Sunday I spend a few happy hours cleaning up my old rusty oil can and coating it with six layers of clear lacquer. When I say cleaning up I mean brushing it gently with a paintbrush to get rid of any loose flakes of rust and then adding the spray.  The finished effect (I think) looks fabulous and will delay the rusting process for a good few years.  I proudly showed it to Julie and asked her what she thought. 
She thinks I ought to get out more.

Boiling water on plants


There was a knock at the door today and in front of me was someone with a very sorry looking Peace lily plant in their hands. These plants tend to have droopy leaves anyway but some of them on this plant were transparent, the person held it up to my face.
“Someone in the office was looking after it whilst I was away for a week” they began “and I asked them to water it”.
“Didn’t they”? I inquired. “It’s looking a bit sorry for itself.”
“They did water it,” came the reply “but as they were in a hurry to finish for the day they used the recently boiling water from the kettle.”
These plants are pretty tough but I think that will be enough to finish it off.
“Could you do something with it?” I was asked.
My first response was to throw it into the compost bin, at least it’ll give the worms a bit of food as it rots down and you could just pop to the shops and buy a new one. But then came the story.
“I’ve had the plant for three years, it was a present from someone very special and I have become very attached to it”. The story continued. “I have it on front of me on the desk in the office and I prefer to look at this plant than out of the window. I couldn’t bear to be without it.” 

Just swap it
I’ve learnt my lesson trying to swap things in the hope that people won’t notice. Take the time I was entrusted to look after a friend’s goldfish. When it died I thought they wouldn’t notice the new one I bought from the pet shop. They did, and I am sure this person would know if a new peace lily appeared on her desk. No-one could explain why all of the leaves miraculously turned a lush green overnight. 
“Could you fix it?” said the person at the door with eyes all wet and expectant.
“I’ll see what I can.” I said helpfully.

Peace lilies are really hardy and are one of the favourite house plants of the time. One of the many reasons is that they purify the air making them ideal for offices. They also don’t really require any feeding and can withstand a bit of watering neglect. But not, I fear boiling water.
I took the plant and headed into the polytunnel to work a bit of magic whilst Julie consoled the owner. If truth be known I didn’t really “do magic” These plants are made up of a lot of smaller plants and they divide easily. I just pulled the plant apart and threw away the bits where the roots had turned brown along with the leaves. The remaining smaller plants were then bunched together and put back into the pot with some fresh bark based compost. The lilies grow in tropical woodland conditions and like a bit of composting bark.
Five minutes later I return with a slightly smaller but happier looking plant.  “Don’t water it for a week or so” I told the woman. “The soil was very wet around the roots so it’ll give the plant time to dry off. “And next time just leave the plant to dry out when you are not at work, it’ll stand a greater chance of surviving.”
One happy customer - and hopefully one happier plant.

Easy open fruit and more gardening tips
There’s a video going around on youtube on how to open a banana. It doesn’t sound very exciting but it made me realise I have been doing it wrong all of my life. I complain a lot (it’s true) that the fruit are harder to open now than ever they were. I have always opened them from the top. The video shows you how a monkey does it… from the base. It just pulls apart. Revelation. This got me thinking of a few gardening related tips.
Gently brush your hands across your tiny seedlings several times a day. This stimulates them to grow slightly slower, resulting in stronger, sturdier stems.
Soak finished compost from containers in water to "brew" compost "tea," a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used for foliar feeding or for watering plants in your garden or houseplants.
Use newspapers as weed barriers when creating a new bed. They are printed with soy ink and decompose nicely, and are simple to lay out again when decomposed. Don't use slick colored advertisements or coloured pages.
Once a seed sprouts it must be kept watered. If it dries out, it dies. If seeds are lightly covered with soil, they may need to be gently sprinkled with water once or twice a day to keep them moist.
Check moisture in container plants often with your fingers. Potting soil is often lightweight and dries out quickly.
Cinnamon makes an excellent natural fungicide. Mix in your potting soil when planting seeds to prevent damping off of the seedlings.

Natural sore throat remedies


I haven’t been out in the garden much this week. I went out once or twice to get the coal in and empty the compost bucket from under the sink, but that’s about it. Even the polytunnel seemed too far away and it’s only 20 steps away from the back door.
The reason is that the whole household (including the dog) came down with a bad cold. I’m sure you don’t want all of the gory details as you’ve probably heard them already from friends and family, but this year it was bad.
It was reassuring for me, in a very selfish sort of way to see that a lot of other people were down with it as it made me feel less alone. One of the most uncomfortable symptoms, other than the shivering temperature and throbbing head, was the sore throat.  As I was ill, I couldn’t really be bothered to make any concoctions up, even putting a teaspoon of honey into a cup was an effort I could do without.
There is a recipe for honey and lemons to be made up into a gel then stored in the fridge until needed, but I’m an optimist and wouldn’t pre prepare for anything like that as I think I never get colds. Sucking on a blackcurrant lozenge was as far as my throat easing went.  Of course, now that I am feeling a bit better I think it’s about time I delved into the natural world of pain relief and look for things that we can either grow ourselves or buy locally. This time I’ll be better prepared for the next time, if you know what I mean.

Natural Sore Throat Remedies
Liquorice Root Tea could be a start and this can be got from a health shop. We’re looking at homemade remedies. Some simple ones could be:
  • Gargle With Warm Salt Water
  • Suck Cloves
  • Drink Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Suck on Garlic

Marshmallow plant.
For the more ambitious there is the Marshmallow, or Marshmallow Root. It has been used with a fair amount of success for several centuries in North America and Europe as it contains mucilage, which helps coat and soothe mucus membranes in the throat. I grew some a few years ago but didn’t get a chance to check out if it worked. Note that if you have diabetes, you should consult your doctor before using Marshmallow Root, as it may lower your blood sugar.
Cayenne Pepper.
Drinking warm water with cayenne can actually make you feel better. Eating or drinking something involving hot peppers in any way, shape, or form down your already searing throat seems counterintuitive to helping it, but there’s a method to the madness. Cayenne (and other hot peppers) have a chemical compound called capsaicin that temporarily relieves pain, much like aspirin does. It accomplishes this by hindering something called substance P, which is what transmits pain signals to your brain. You can grow chillies on a windowsill and dry them for the winter.

Blessed with a name so tasty you just want to cram it into your mouth, Honeysuckle is one of those plants. It is extremely effective in easing coughs, sore throats, and flu symptoms. Thanks to its bacterial fighting properties, it can help ward off the nasty bugs in your system, and keep them from coming back. On top of that, it flushes toxins out of your bloodstream, and works as an anti-inflammatory to help reduce the swelling tissue in your throats. To enjoy its benefits, just brew yourself a fresh cup of piping hot tea.
Other simple drinks could be:
  • Chamomile tea, very easy to grow
  • Ginger
  • Gargle with Sage
  • Soaking cinnamon sticks

Mix and Match
The basics for experimenting with are:
1. Salt: It draws the water out of your swollen mucus membranes, reducing swelling and pain.
2. Honey: Comforting and soothing honey helps coat the throat when it is dry, scratchy and painful. It also kills bacteria. It should not be given to children under 2 years of age.
3. Lemon: Cuts through unwanted mucus, kills bacteria, and can help dull the pain in sore spots. Often used with honey.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar: It’s a major germ-buster, and while it may seem counter-intuitive, ACV can really help relieve your sore throat.
5. And one I haven’t mentioned - Baking Soda: Due to its PH levels it can help soothe minor skin irritations, and also helps rid your body of bad bacteria that could be lurking about and making things worse.
There’s no miracle cure but I have found that I get to feel a whole lot better if everyone know that I am under the weather and I have at least one person running around after me all day.
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