Cooking with our tiny balcony garden produce!

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Wow- look what turned up in the window box! Our 3 chard plants are still producing, outlasting the spinach. The handful of beans we were given for free at a local plant sale are now producing a few offspring of their own, and the spring onions we grew in an old ice cream tub with a few drain holes punched in the bottom.

Now it’s properly summertime here, our teeny balcony is producing loads of herbs for cooking, fresh teas etc and rucola for salads. I plan to do a new wave of planting before I go back to work in a couple of weeks. In the meentime the focus is on creating homemade ice teas and enjoying the summer weather :)

Garden produce, finally! Plus new knits

intarsia starHello one and all! I’ve been a bit quiet the past couple of weeks, as there’s been a crazy amount of decisions and ups and downs going on here. Now we are on an even keel of sorts, it’s time for updates!

Our balcony garden is thriving, and now that we know we will be away for some time in the summer, the question is will it survive? I have come across ingenious self-watering systems during my desperate trawls through the internet, and I’m more than open to suggestions to those of you who have farms or gardens of your own. The balcony garden has given some surprises so far, and I’m certainly learning a bit more about which plants work as sustainable small-space crops, and which don’t. The stars so far are without doubt our bucket of pak choi plants, which are supplying us with lots of lush leaves for stir fry’s and the like. It’s so nice to be able to just pop out on the balcony and pick a few! Also doing well are out bean plants- no flowers yet, but climbing all round the railings. I’ve had to pinch out some of the lower leaves to give the sweet peas a bit of a breather, but otherwise they look great and are basically looking after themselves.

We do have a couple of disappointing plant stories alongside the successes though. Our spinach has bolted (started growing flowers and going to seed) already. I read that this can sometimes be due to changes in temperature or dryness (Of which we have had both) and also more unexpectedly that the longer days can have an effect. Apparently if spinach is planted once the days are starting to shorten again, the plants decide to keep going for longer, so I might sow another batch after midsummer. Also surprisingly, and embarrassingly, we have failed to grow radishes! (yes, RADISHES). Everything I have heard tells me radishes are the easiest things in the world to grow, but not for us. After weeks of waiting, they have now been taken up to make room for more rucola in the mini hanging basket.

One of the things about living in the city, having grown up in the countryside, is that I really miss being out on the land. Some people really thrive in the city, but I definately need some country air from time to time. We had the chance last weekend to go and volunteer at Ananda Gaorii farm outside Copenhagen, and had a great time with a small team of international volunteers laying permaculture paths for a forest garden, eating together and meditating outside by the lake on a blissful summer’s day. There was a warm feeling of community spirit and I havn’t felt so relaxed in ages, despite carting wheelbarrows full of bark up and down for the paths. Luckily we got back home to Copenhagen just before an enormous rainstorm turned the sky into a power shower.

Our plans for moving to the UK have slowed somewhat, and we are just waiting and seeing right now for the right opportunities to come at the right time, something which sounds (and is) simple, but is a test for the impatient side of us. In the meantime, I am looking towards making my life sustainable where I am right now- for me this is not just in terms of what I eat, choose to buy etc, but also in terms of my choices around stress and what I choose to do with my time. It is still a challenge to say no, especially when I want to help or am carried away by a great idea I don’t really have time for, but it’s getting easier.

One thing that definately continues regardless is knitting projects. I am going slowly slowly with a cardigan, alongside which I found a fantastic pattern for a patchwork blanket on ravelry. It’s got a link on there to patterns for all sorts of squares, so I’ve been learning some new techniques like intarsia, as well as practising using cable needles a bit more- you can see the results in this week’s slideshow- enjoy!

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Moving House: Is Faith Realistic?

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I get angry when I realise I can’t control the future. In last week’s post, I talked about my and Mads’ decision to move back to the UK after 3 years in Denmark, and the role intuition played in my move abroad.

This week, our  initial excitement and positive enthusiasm for our house moving journey has entered the awkward second phase. Fear and doubt around the “reality” of our situation has led to arguments, anger and tears every time we have tried to reach a consensus about our next steps. We are in agreement that we would like to find a residential work exchange in a community to begin with, but suddenly, something that seemed so simple became fraught with responsibility. When should we give notice on our flat? Did we have the time and resources to visit communities? Could we find new jobs if we could only work to the end of the year, or should we go in the summer? What about all our belongings? Etc, etc. Both of us believe that we can create our desired futures through trusting the universe and positive action, but when it comes down to it, what does it mean to put this into practice? Can a human fear of change, and my compulsion to control the future through perfect planning, really co-exist with a leap of faith?

Despite my deep inner knowing that all will be well and we will be guided to the right path, I’ve found myself ranting angrily about “being realistic” whenever my poor husband as dared to suggest that the power of trust might be a good thing.  “This is the first time I’ve heard you say it’s not possible” he told me. It made me sad to hear that, but it also made me realise how much I was allowing fear to take over our exciting plans. Time to step back a little and take a breather.

We were both pretty knackered after all this drama, and we had no answers to the millions of things to consider, so we decided to stop the struggle and to wait and see instead. This turned out to be the perfect balance of faith and realism. With this space, we have had time to let our thoughts and emotions settle. Now we can organise what we need to more effectively, communicate calmly, and reconnect to a sense of faith. Hooray!

What I am learning, I hope,  is to try to be open to our current state of change on a day to day basis. Trying to shape a full and complete plan at an ideas gathering stage, without flexibility,   feels a lot like trying to make a castle from dry sand. We can struggle all we like, but the wind is just going to blow in with a new idea or change of heart when we least expect it. We need to be patient and wait for a little rain to make it work.

Moving House Frugally and Intuition

© Rosie J.P. Madsen

© Rosie J.P. Madsen

I often wonder how the hell I managed to move to another country with no savings, job or knowledge of the language. It was summer 2010, my husband and I were newly engaged and I was enjoying living and working at the Findhorn Foundation,Scotland in the communications department, while he looked for oppourtunities to stay in the country. When one such oppourtunity fell through at the last minute, and with no savings on hand, Mads felt he had no option but to temporarily return to stay with family in Denmark.

We were sitting in one of the guest bungalows in The Park, the community’s main site. It was a warm sunny summer morning, and we both fully expected to be seeing each other regularly for the next few months, if not exactly living next door to each other, but suddenly it wasn’t to be. Alarm bells started ringing in my head and I felt fear coming up as well as some anger. Was this the end for us? Well, of course not. We had already been through a fair few challenges and knew we would work it out somehow. But how? “I’ll move to Denmark then” I said.

For a long time, before we met, I had the feeling that I would be living in Scandinavia after Findhorn, but I didn’t have a clue as to how this might happen. Saying yes was easy because I had no doubt that it was the right decision, but practically it was, inevitably, very very hard. We were apart for 6 months, both staying with family, before I moved over to Copenhagen, where Mads had found us a room in a shared house.  Financially it was tough, and I learned some tough lessons through my naïvity. Mads taught me the joy of living frugally, (though I’m not sure I’d eat a packed lunch outside in the depths of winter again). Our room had a cracked window and i fondly remember having to wear a hat in bed during the winter. Ahh memories!

Over time, and blessed with support from friends and families, and with a lot of tears and panic, we started making our home in the “real world”, finding our own place, jobs which supported us just enough, and started settling a little. But we are still not settled, because our intuition is now prodding us, telling us we should be back in England. Wow! It feels right, for practical reasons as well as intuitive ones, and we even feel a little relieved. But the big question remains…how are we going to do it?

We have the intention to move at the end of the year, when our tenancy comes to an end, and we are looking to start next year with a long term work exchange in a farm-based community while we figure out our next move. Some days, I wake up excited and positive about our next steps, and other days fear comes up and I wonder if we are just making things worse for ourselves. But we are committed, and like our move 3 years ago, we have no idea of the challenges, joys, and lessons in store for us. Each new development is an oppourtunity to balance practical organisation with surrender!

As a start, we have put the message out to friends and family, and are contacting potential places through the Diggers and Dreamers website. We are also considering long-term House Sitting. We are excited about living in a community where we can learn and work with permaculture and farming a bit more as this is our dream for the future. I’m starting to look at a free online 40 hour permaculture course  to learn more. I imagine that moving back to community will be a big change for us, both socially and with all the challenges of living closely together, but at least we have a little experience under our belts to negotiate them. There will certainly be a lot to write about here!

I’ll leave you with an update on our beautiful home grown tiny balcony veg patch (can’t wait for those veggies!). Here you can see the pak choi (awaiting a bigger pot), spiralling beans and sweet pea shoots, and the spinach getting it’s first “proper” leaves in the window box. The chard is recovering well from the move outside (something symbolic there about moving)…many more developments on the way in the coming weeks with spring onions and rucola newly planted. Enjoy!

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How to: Knit a Dishcloth!

As far as creative home projects go,  a knitted dishcloth probably isn’t the first thing that pops into people’s heads. It may not sound or look like the most exciting thing in the world, but It can be a good place to start as a beginner knitter or to experiment with stitch design as someone with more experience. For me, a knitted dishcloth has a nostalgic allure I guess, and makes me think of a granny having a stash of them in the cupboard, except I don’t think that ever happened in my family (did it in anyone’s?). In any case, a pretty-looking hand knitted cloth also beats a good old smelly jay cloth hands down. It’s durability means it will last longer than an ordinary cloth, which of course means it saves a little money (in the long run), as well as saving on the waste and packaging of disposables.

“But I can’t knit! /It’ll take ages! /I can’t be arsed!” I hear you cry. Well..firstly, if you dont know how to knit don’t let that put you off. If you want to have a go as a beginner, there are loads of knitting tutorials on youtube . The second bit of good news is that this is the ideal first project- as long as you make it from cotton yarn and there’s something resembling a square by the end, you can still use it with pride, even if it does have a load of holes (just say you were going for a lace effect!) If on the other hand you are knitting already, dishcloths can be quick projects for making samplers of different stitches and combinations.

I made the cloth in the picture with cotton yarn for size 3 or 4mm needles. Cast on 48 sts  A spaced out garter stitch for the edges, and an alternating pattern for the middle like so:

Row 1: (k6, P6) to end

Row 2: (P6, K6) to end

Repeat rows 1 and 2 twice more (6 rows total)

next 6 rows: start with row 2 instead

next 6 rows: starting with row 1

Continue in this way until it’s looking almost square, then switch back to garter stitch (every stitch a knit stitch) for the last few rows. This makes a cloth roughly 11″ square.

For a beginner I’d recommend just knitting all the stitches on all rows to make a garter stitch cloth- this also looks lovely and will be my plan for the next one! It did take me a long time to make but I love the look of it and also the eco ethos behind it. The yarn can also be very cheap to buy, and you can make it extra ecological by using organic cotton if you so desire.  There are also loads of free patterns on ravelry if you want some more inspiration.

It’s worth noting that when it’s first made, the dishcloth will probably feel and look “too nice” to use, but it will start getting more dish-cloth like after a wash. It did feel a bit weird to start with (a bit like doing the dishes with a wooly jumper), but after that the fibres settled down. Still looks great, and you can make them in different colours/ patterns to brighten the washing up experience!

Tiny Balcony Veg Plot- Beginnings

The radish seedlings in their new home-soil recycled from last years herb pot
Our edible garden is starting to sprout on our tiny shared balcony, which we hope will provide us with some extra food through the year. For our plot we’ve chosen seeds that are easy to grow, vegetables that are expensive in the supermarket, or those we have a liking for and know we will use. Thankfully the neighbour we share the space with is easy going and seems interested in our project. His side of the balcony has a table and 2 chairs. Our side has half bag of compost sholved under an upturned box, last years herbs struggling back to life after the winter, and hopeful seedlings.

Each day it’s a joy to come home, peek out and see what’s happening in the pots. While I’m out, the newly planted seeds plan new surprises, and so a little piece of our no-space vegetable garden unfolds. In the space of 12 hours, something that was a whitish nub is starting to curl upwards towards the light and become visible.  With the sun warming the soil just a little more the last few days, some of the shyer shoots are starting to emerge, including land cress (having played dead for a month next to the slow-but-sure pak choi seedlings) and chard. On the EMS Facebook page I mentioned a possible alpine strawberry plant finally coming up, but it’s still so small I’m holding out on that one.

Although we have about a meter of outdoor space to work with here, in reality this means trying to imagine where everything is going to fit, with each plant getting enough sunshine or shade to make it happy. As the seedlings grow, they will need thinning out and re-planting to give them more room to mature into proper plants, so we will see how the garden develops as we do this. But for now, here’s a little tour of our small plot in progress…

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Fairtrade or Local?- Everyday Dilemmas

Whether we’re buying food or clothes, we now face a million ethical dilemmas as consumers. Organic, biodynamic, fair trade, or just generic sustainably sourced, the list goes on and on. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great thing that sustainable products are becoming more available, but I notice it’s often a question of choosing one over the other. A fair wage for workers, or pesticide free? Animal welfare, or affordable?

This was going through my mind the other day as I attended a talk given by Guðrun Rógvadóttir of GuðrunGuðrun (the Faeroese designers behind Sarah Lund‘s The Killing sweaters). I was intrigued to learn a bit more about their business and ethics, and especially intrigued to learn how they had managed to create a successful business from “slow clothing” principals.  As a hand knitter and weaver, I know how long slow clothing takes (answer: a bloody long time, but at least we can sit down. Knitwear designer Hélène Magnússon, at another recent talk, described how, in olden-days Iceland, knitters were required to work every spare second, including while walking between farms).

So, how does slowness work when so much of fashion is fast these days? It seems a tricky business, but as Guðrun talked about using local, by-product wool and  the customer waiting lists for hand knit sweaters, I was inspired just knowing it was possible somewhere. I love the feel and look of hand knit sweaters. While not everyone has the time or patience or will to knit, I wish there could be more knitting co-ops, local producers and people knitting clothes for themselves or their families instead of buying fast fashion (myself included).  I was impressed that Guðrun & Guðrun manages to keep production local, employing 40-50 hand knitters on the Faeroes. I was beginning to envisage a world in which people would come together at a local level, with pensioners, unemployed craftspeople and others taking up the knitting needles and looms of their forbearers. Unfortunately though, I found my heart sinking when Guðrun began talking about outsourcing part of the company’s production  to Peru. Peru! But I thought you guys were local!

There is good news. Alongside local Faeroese production, the company outsource production of hand knitted clothing to fairtrade women’s co-ops in Peru and Jordan through their Women Empowerment project (strangely barely mentioned on their official site, but described in a recent interview here.)  This seems the best choice a sustainable company can make if they’re looking to outsource production overseas. Plenty of companies don’t bother to make so ethical a choice. I guess it’s just when a company makes such a huge deal about being local, supporting their community etc etc, outsourcing production to the other side of the world seems completely at odds with those values. Why not expand closer to home, if employing locally is working already? Surely it means less CO2 if nothing else.  At the same time, wouldn’t it be possible for companies to support the start up of other, locally based craft co-ops and businesses in other parts of the world?

Flea market season (or loppemarked, in Danish)  is upon us here in Denmark, which of course means cycling around at the weekends looking for bargains. There is a healthy recycling/ yard sale culture here- we can often find free furniture or household stuff given away by our neighbours, or people leave items with a notice or honesty box outside their house. The flea markets are sometimes happened upon, or otherwise listed in local papers. Today before heading out to a flea market at a group of allotments, we headed down to our local library where we heard there was a plant swap. Not having anything to swap with, we headed down there anyway and came away with a handful of broad bean seeds, a pretty climbing plant and something else we couldn’t remember the name of when we got home, all for free! At the flea market we picked up 3 small wicker hanging baskets for 15DKR, which look great and will be perfect once we start planting out the seedlings. Of course all of our new “friends” as my husband Mads calls the plants, need a good deal of water, so I’m now looking at what we could do to collect rainwater or clean shower water to use for watering. Got any ideas?