Sunday 27 September 2009

This gardening lark is harder than it looks

If it was 1942 and we were reliant on the produce from our garden to get through the lean rationing years, then I think we'd starve. This has been a far from successful year for my gardening. I'm not sure what I did wrong, although I'll make some guesses. Feel free to contribute.

The onions and the garlic

At the start of March, I bought a bag of 100 onion sets. I planted out 50 in April, which was a bit late but it was the first weekend when it wasn't raining. By mid August, the "flags" (the onion leaves) had fallen over and died off, so I unearthed them. Out of 50, less than half survived. Of those that survived, the majority were smaller than a golf ball. I really don't know what I did wrong - they were watered every night that it didn't rain.

The garlic were cursed from the start. I bought three starter-bulbs (what do you call them?) at the same time as I bought the onion sets. I had to bin most of the cloves before I planting out - they were covered in mould. Instead, I planted out some sprouting garlic that I had in the veggie basket. From 12 cloves, I have just unearthed 5 marble sized bulbs of garlic.

Did I plant the onions and garlic out too late? Was that the problem? Or didn't they get enough water, even though they got 2-3 watering cans worth every night?

Broad Beans

I know I planted the broad beans out too late. From the first batch of seeds in April, I got one seedling. The seeds were old. So in early May, I started again and planted them out 3 weeks later. In early June, we got the big invasion of black fly - at the first sign, I got online and ordered ladybird larvae.

The larvae arrived over a week later. From the look of things, most were dead before they got here. We carefully decanted them onto the broad beans, but the damage had been done. We got maybe a dozen beans from the crop. (Two years ago, I planted out the same number of bean plants and got a couple of pounds of beans.)

I'm going to try potting up some broad bean seeds now and over-wintering them covered in fleece. Maybe that will work and beat the black fly?

The courgettes

I mentioned earlier in the year that only one courgette survived (the other was snipped off at ground level by some nasty bug). For a long time, I thought the plant wouldn't survive. It just sat there for weeks with two or three small leaves and didn't get any bigger. Finally, it came good but unlike the first time I grew courgettes when they started cropping in June, this one didn't commence cropping until the start of August!

The sweetcorn

Eight corn survived planting out and grew. Six of them formed cobs. I managed to harvest three. I caught a fox eating the rest!

The potatoes

I had high hopes for these. We finished earthing up at the end of June and they had a healthy crop of leaves growing until a couple of weeks ago, when they started dying back. Tonight, DH and I unearthed our crop. Twenty potatoes. None larger than the palm of my hand and most of them smaller than a golf ball. What did I do wrong?

Fennel and pumpkin

I thought I got the timing for the fennel spot on, since I planted it out the day after they told me to on Gardeners' World. From two 18-inch drills of seeds, I got two seedlings and, nearly three months later, neither is more than three inches high.

The pumpkin is even worse, so doesn't deserve a section on its own. [sigh]

- Pam (So what did I do wrong?)

Friday 25 September 2009

Showing off the shopping from I-Knit London Weekender

There is a new love in my life - Blacker Designs Blue Faced Leicester 4-ply. Isn't it pretty?

OK, this is the True Confessions Time where I 'fess up about what I bought at the I-Knit-London Weekender.

I didn't set out to buy yarn, really I didn't. My shopping list was a copy of Alice Starmore's new book, a swift and a ball-winder, if I could find one. (I succeeded.) I was quite happy wandering around looking, touching and not buying. And then I stumbled upon the Blacker Designs booth. Blacker Designs are also known as The Natural Fibre Company (when they spin yarns for others). Earlier this year, they very kindly sent me 20-or-so 2-gallon ziplock bags, which are virtually unobtainable here. So when I saw the stall, I popped over to say "Thank You" in person.

I was chatting when the Blue Faced Leicester caught my eye and wheedled its way into my stash. Earlier, when I was queuing to get in, I'd been chatting with a staffer from The Knitter Magazine, who showed me a preview copy of Issue 10. The Blue Faced Leicester spoke to me and told me that it would be perfect for the cover sweater.

I dashed off to find the girl from The Knitter and begged her to tell me the yarn requirements for the cover sweater (called Virginia (rav-link)). The pattern said 10 x 50g balls plus 2 for the beret. Back at Blacker Designs, I told my contact "I'll take 14 balls. The pattern calls for 12, so I'll have two insurance skeins". The yarn diet was broken.

Of course, once you've broken a diet, you binge. Don't you? I was enchanted by Angel Lace by It was soft and silky and they had a beautiful stole on display made from it. Next thing I knew, it made its way into my stash together with a copy of the Jessica Stole pattern.

My final purchase is all Annie Modesitt's fault. I know she didn't deliberately do it, but Annie is a Yarn Pusher. In class, we had to do a provisional crochet cast on. Annie provided the scrap yarn, a yard or so of Fiberspates' Scrumptious in a gorgeous charcoal colour. Yarn lust gripped me. I had to have some.

I left the show soon afterwards, before any more damage could be done.

- Pam

Saturday 19 September 2009


It's all Ted Egan's fault.

Or maybe you could blame Howard. He gave me a copy of The Dish for my birthday, which I watched with DH and was stunned when I discovered that DH had never heard Russell Morris sing "On the Wings of An Eagle" before. That lead to me buying the movie's soundtrack as a download off Amazon, which lead to a further "I wonder if I can find...." session, where I looked for more obscure tracks. It was then that I purchased Ted Egan's A Town Like Alice album.

Maybe you can lay the blame further back, on the shoulders of the coach driver who played A Town Like Alice constantly on the school Central Australia trip, all the way from Port Augusta to Ayers Rock and then on to Alice Springs.

Me? I'll stick with blaming Ted.

Anyway, there I was driving back from Site a couple of weeks ago, when Ted Egan began singing about John McDouall Stuart dying at his sister's house in London, a few miles from where I sat stuck in traffic. Stuart is one of Australia's greatest explorers, the man who successfully mapped the route south to north across the heart of Australia, from Port Augusta in South Australia to what is now Darwin. Apart from the highway named after him, I knew nothing about him until I sat listening to Ted. If you asked most Australian school kids of my generation who mapped the route for the telegraph, they'd tell you, wrongly, that it was Burke & Wills. In fact, it was John McDouall Stuart.

Consumed with a sense of sadness that Stuart died unappreciated and forgotten, miles from his beloved Australia, I decided that the only thing to do was to mount a pilgrimage to his grave. On Saturday, I dragged DH down to Kensal Rise Cemetery to lay a branch from a gum tree on Stuart's grave.

It was the best that I could do. You can't get wattle, or Sturt's desert pea, or bottle-bush around here, and a European flower just wouldn't have been fitting.

We stood there silently for a couple of minutes, paying our respects. I hope, somewhere, Stuart knows.

- Pam

PS: When doing my research to find Stuart's grave, I was pleased to discover that some people haven't forgotten him. The John McDouall Stuart Society ensures that he isn't forgotten.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

I-Knit London Weekend

How do you distill two busy days into a single post? I've been asking myself that since Sunday. Friday and Saturday, I spent at the I-Knit London Weekend at the Royal Horticultural Hall in central London. Since Sunday, I've tried to make sense of it all.

In summary: I did 5 classes; met a couple of very nice teachers; spoke to several very nice knitters; walked across St James' Park in the dark; blew my budget; fondled a lot of yarn; purchased a ball winder and swift; blew my budget; bought a couple of books; broke my yarn diet; bought a multi-size pack of Knitpicks DPNs; and (did I tell you?) blew my budget. So, where to start?


I did 5 classes: two with Annie Modesitt, two with Alice Starmore and one with Marjan Hammink a.k.a. Yarnissima.

Alice Starmore is a lovely, soft spoken, gracious Scottish lady, with an innate sense of colour and an appreciation of the history of her craft and her people. Alice's first class was about fair-isle knitting techniques, but it was far more than just learning how to knit two colours in the same row. We talked about fair-isle garment construction, changing colours, using both your right hand and your left to hold different colours of yarn. Alice showed us steeking and discussed techniques for setting a steek, picking up stitches from the steek, and finishing off the cut edges. The choice of yarn is one key to success - the traditional wool is soft, springy and felts a little when it is first washed.

Alice's second class was about her design influences. She talked about the history of the Isle of Lewis, including her own family history, and her love for her island and her craft. She talked about her own design history, the patterns and the yarn line that she now runs (both of which can be brought directly from her website). Next birthday, I want my present to be one of her kits.

There is a core of steel to Alice Starmore - she is a fierce defender of her land, fighting to protect the ecology of the island from developers. However, she was very gracious to me and to the rest of my class, signing copies of her books (including my pre-publication copy of her Book of Fair-Isle Knitting) and posing for photos.

(Me and Alice Starmore.)

Thanks to the Yarn Thing podcast, I've listened to Annie Modesitt talk about designing and book publishing several times. each time, I've found myself nodding along in agreement, so I was curious to meet the person behind the voice. I am very impressed. Annie is lovely: warm, friendly and very welcoming. After six hours of teaching, she was still as interested in her subject and her students as she was at the beginning.

I learned so many techniques, I'm not sure I could list them all. Annie is an amazing teacher and a thinking knitter's knitter. She didn't tell us to "do X because that gives you Y", Annie explained why X works and what would happen if you chose to do Z or T instead.

My world is richer for the six hours I spent in her class; I hope that I get the opportunity to take another Annie Modesitt class one day.

(Me and Annie Modesitt.)

The final class I did was Socks from the toe up, with the sock designer Marjan Hammink/Yarnissima. To put it bluntly, if you get the opportunity to take one of her classes, don't bother. After Alice and Annie, I was so disappointed. Yarnissima didn't teach us anything; she just handed us a worksheet to knit through. She barely spoke to us as a class and never spoke to me in person. There were no explanations of why you do something or tips and tricks to make toe-up socks better. We weren't even taught a cast-on for toe-up socks - I had to rely on the knitter next to me to cast on for me.

In 3 hours, I learned nothing from Yarnissima that I wouldn't have picked up from following a randomly chosen toe-up-sock knitting pattern. It was so bad that I've written to Gerrard and Craig, the guys behind I-Knit London, and told them exactly what I've just told you. (I also thanked them for a lovely weekend and raved about Annie and Alice.)

I haven't got time to talk about the rest of the weekend, right now. It's after 11pm here, I'm really tired and I need to go to bed. Can I leave you with a one word summary? It was brilliant!

- Pam

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars

Well, not quite, but that was one of the more memorable advertising jingles from my childhood.

Being an Australian, life is all about sport. I love this time of year: the cricket season is not quite over; the English Premier League (soccer) season started a month ago; the NFL season starts tomorrow (go Pats!); and the Aussie Rules season has reached the semi-finals (Come On the Bulldogs!). All my favourite sports are being played and I'm lapping them up.

Today, I used the BBC's website to follow the progress of the One Day International cricket match, England vs Australia at the Rose Bowl in Southampton. The Aussies outclassed the English at our "national religion" and are now 3:0 up in the series. Revenge for the English winning the Ashes at the end of last month.

Tonight, I watched England qualify for the World Cup in South Africa next year. They beat Croatia, 5:1, in a match at Wembley. They played better than I have seen them in a long time (until recently, England played as a collection of prima-donnas; tonight they played as a cohesive team). The Aussies have already qualified, so look out world! When we take a game seriously, we don't stop until we are world champions.

Also tonight, DH and I finished picking our teams for a fantasy NFL game. I've chosen several New England Patriots players so that I have someone to yell abuse at when they play at Wembley next month. That's the entire logic of my team.

Heaven! Now, if only I could find out the date for the annual Australian Rules Exhibition Football Match at the Oval, I'd be really happy.

- Pam

PS: The guys I work with can't quite believe that this girly-girl who knits is a sports fan.

Apologies if you're eating, but...

I needed to get this rant off my chest.

I work with one of the most disgusting women alive. I don't know who she is, but she regularly blocks one of the toilets in the main Ladies Loo in this building. It's been going on for years. We call her "The Phantom Toilet Stuffer". Of course, she doesn't report the problem to Establishment so the first they know about it is when someone finds it and phones them. (We aren't sure if she's the same woman who used to leave the toilet seat layered in toilet paper, or not. That phase only lasted a month or so.)

She isn't subtle about it, either. Frequently, there is "debris" left in the toilet bowl. Today was the worst yet. Faeces everywhere. EEWWWW!!!!

How can someone live like that? Surely she must know the mess that she's leaving behind? AARRGGGHHHH!

- Pam (Used to work on the Bowel Ward and never saw anything as disgusting as this.)