Category Archives: Gardening

A Friday facial? Yes… why not!

Unfortunately, it is not in a high end spa.  Today, I have done the glamorous task of defrosting the freezer.  It is one of the worst tasks of housework I think… next to oven cleaning.  And ironing.  Instead of whining about it and feeling miserable, I cracked on with the job, getting it done as quickly as I could.

domestic goddess

As an aside, can I totally recommend using a steam cleaner for the job?  Obviously it will work better if it can be detached from the mop bit… but luckily, mine can be.  45 minutes later, the glacier from the last ice age which had taken residence in my freezer is no more, and the freezer contents actually has some breathing room.

In addition, my face has been steamed, just like in a spa.  But, you know, with less glamour.  Sopping wet towels from the run off and kneeling on a concrete floor contorting yourself to get the icicle hanging at the back of the freezer is not really the scene I would like to have when opening my pores.  But I will take it!

spa steam

So, it got me thinking what sort of facials I could whip up at home, using natural ingredients and maybe herbs from the garden.  Off to my friend Google to see what I could find.  And of course it came up trumps!

mint 2

As it is summer (although the weather seems to have lost that memo entirely), I found several really good refreshing face masks.  The first one is made of fresh mint leaves (which are growing like crazy in my garden at the moment).  If you take a good handful of them, along with enough luke warm water for them to be blended to a paste, and then add a pinch of turmeric powder… you will have an antibiotic and refreshing face mask.  Leave it on the face, having avoided the eye area, for about 10 minutes and then wash it off with cool water.  Be careful only to use a pinch of turmeric as it is known for dying what it touches a nice shade of orange.  Just a warning there… though the antibiotic properties are more than worth it!

from bigoven.com

from bigoven.com

If you have a cucumber lying about in the fridge looking sorry for itself, you could peel it and mash up the flesh along with 1tbsp of sugar.  The flesh needs to be kept a bit chunky though as you don’t want a liquid.  Mix in the sugar well and then apply to the face and leave it for 10 minutes.  Wash it all off and pat dry and you will have brighter and refreshed skin.  It is really cooling for those hot, hot days, especially as you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge.  It is also extremely good for sensitive skins.

lemon

Another really summery recipe requires strawberries and lemons.  I would be inclined to add the lemon to a cool drink of water and the strawberries straight into my mouth, but if you can bear not to eat them, mash them together into a spreadable paste.   You need about 2 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 tbsp of yogurt and 1 tbsp of honey.  Mix it all together, apply to the face and leave it to dry.  Then you can wash it off and pat it dry.  Strawberries have salicylic acid which is great for calming acne outbreaks and lemon juice tightens the skin to refresh it.

If you use any of these recipes, you will have to let me know how they turn out… I think I might whisk up some of the cucumber sugar scrub and add some mint, to see how that works out!  Watch this space!

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Bindweed…. Bane or Boon?

If you are of a vaguely horticultural bent, your instant reaction to the that title is most probably… BANE… of my very existence.  Well, read on… because it might change your mind.

Lawn stripes

It has been the perfect day for getting out into the garden today, and as it has been nearly two weeks since the grass had stripes in it, due to a marquee being in the way as well as terrible weather and the painting of the kitchen to be done, the grass was seriously due for a cut.  We had begun to lose small garden birds in the grass growth, and it was looking untidy.

As I wrestled the green monster (our lawnmower) around the back garden I happened to notice that there was a significant patch of bindweed doing its level best to strangle the columbines and other plants in my prime site flower bed – just outside the big greenhouse.  Now this bed has always been prone to a bindweed infestation, but this growth?  Wow.  It is rivalling Japanese Knotweed!!  I continued to put my stripes in my lawn (diagonal this time, if you are interested!) and mused about whether there was anything medicinal or beneficial about bindweed.

bindweed

When I came in having exerted some order over our outside space, I decided to Google bindweed and see what I could come up with.  And would you know it…!  It is actually useful!!  I have been studying herbalism and plant based medicines for over 2 years now, and I am still gobsmacked at how useful everything seems to be, even those plants we moan about for being weeds.  Bindweed is exactly the same.

Apparently, it is well known that Convolvulus arvensis (Bindweed to you and me) has purification properties.  It is well known that bindweed can really lift the heavy metals and other chemical which might be hidden in over used agricultural land.  It can also act as a nitrogen fixer and restore the fertility and balance of the soil.  It is a fabulous detoxifier – not just externally but internally too.  It is apparently a rich source of all kinds of compounds too which are mostly used in anti depressive drugs.

The roots of bindweed, assuming you can find them, act as a purgative – so basically vomit inducing.  I would seriously avoid making homemade preparations with these effects.  Native Americans used the leaves as an antidote to spider bites.  At the moment there is some serious research going on with extract of bindweed to see if it helps to halt the growth of tumours.  In addition, bindweed seems to exhibit a lot of similar actions to anti-diabetic drugs.  Again, I issue the health warning.  Please do not make homemade preparations and use them as an alternative to drugs that your doctor may have given you.

pink bindweed

The flowers of bindweed, which can be either pink or white, also exhibit antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and there is evidence that they work on E.coli, Salmonella and Candida.

My research did throw up one thing that just made me laugh and laugh though.  Apparently Bindweed is great for treating stress to soothe and calm the mind and nerves.  The irony is that most gardeners who find a huge patch of it will react precisely the opposite!!  I am sorry, but that made me giggle.

So… why have I posted a second blog in as many days?  Well, partly to keep my hand in and partly because I had the inspiration, but also because I am not going to be around tomorrow, which would be my usual posting day.  I am off to White Post Farm, a local children’s attraction with my Godson and his family!  It is going to be so much fun.  We are packing a picnic and everything!  I hope you enjoyed it and I plan to be back on Friday, if I get any more inspiration.

A day for celebrations!

When I woke up this morning, I was pleased to see that it had dawned bright and sunny with a brisk breeze.  It is absolutely gorgeous out in the garden.  A perfect laundry drying day, which is just as well, as I have two loads out there flapping around getting dry.  I also just noticed that it is the first of May.

laundry on the line

May Day is traditionally a day for much celebration. Not just because Spring has definitely sprung, but actually the date is associated with celebrations for many thousands of years.  The Romans honoured their flower and fertility Goddess, Flora, at the end of April and beginning of May. They would celebrate with dances, processions, games and sundry merriment.  They also used to make sacrifices to the Earth Goddess Maia.  Not much is known about this, other than the sacrifices were made in the name of Vulcan, the God of Volcanoes, and apparently Maia’s significant other.  I do find it intriguing that Maia is the reason we have the month of May – she gave the month her name.

maypole

Celtic Druids has the feast of of Beltane, also on the 1st of May.  They lit bonfires to honour the sun, leading animals between the bonfires, as well as people who were suffering a spate of bad luck.  The Maypole tradition probably started with the druids as well, the pole allegedly being a phallic symbol for fecundity.  In England, the Morris Dancing season starts on May Day as well.  If you have never seen Morris Dancing, google a video or two.  I think it is probably a reason for the English to be considered charmingly eccentric around the world!

morris dancing

The first of May is, in the Catholic Church, the beginning of one of the Marian Months.  Often, Catholic Churches will have crowning ceremonies of their statues of Our Lady, and will have Marian hymns at Masses through the month as well.  In addition, today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St Joseph the Worker.

I have a great devotion to St Joseph.  What a guy.  It is not everyone who could take on the job of being the Adopted Dad of the Creator… and he did it with such aplomb.  It really doesn’t get bigger than that, does it?  The major thing I like is that although he was from the line of King David, he was a working man.  A hard working labourer, working with his hands.  He was deemed worthy of teaching and raising the incarnation of the Divine, not some fat cat financial whizz, or a highly qualified professional of some sort.  I love that.

workers day

So, it is quite appropriate that May Day is also the International Workers Day.  I remember seeing the military parades in Red Square with all the rocket launchers and tanks and soldiers, when I was a youngster, watching the news with my Dad, but I never really understood the link to the workers of the world.  Obviously now I realise that the Soviet Union was supposed to be the workers paradise if the paradigm of Communism actually worked in practice, but unfortunately the reality didn’t match the theory.

And finally, the last thing to mention about May Day, is how it is connected to a call for help.  Well, that is about the corruption of language.  May Day as a call for help, is a corruption of the French “Venez m’aider” which means come and help me.

So, today, I am going to be working in the garden to cultivate my floral tributes to Flora and Our Lady, helping people when and where I can, and doing hard laborious work to mark the day.  Have a great weekend, and public holiday, if you are lucky enough to get one!

Bad blogger… bad bad blogger…

I am so sorry to my loyal readers… I have been having a fortnight from hell and I have not been able to get onto my computer to crank out a blog post.  I do apologise… however, there are good reasons for the lack of communication.

gardening fun

First of all, it is the time of year when there needs to be a lot of work done in the garden.  This year, being our second growing season in this garden, we have more work to do than usual!  I have been planting up a storm since January and I am now taking care of the baby plants the best way I can.  There are some which are already out in our little lean to green house, hardening off before they get put out into the soil, and then there are the ones I am trying to germinate.  They are currently in the conservatory, and they seem to be doing okay in there, soaking up whatever sun there is!

veg patch

We have taken out an old box hedge, we have painted the shed and the big greenhouse, we have taken possession of the big greenhouse and are planning what we are going to grow in it and we have begun to dig what will be the vegetable patch.  We have raised beds to paint, we have dwarf fruit trees to plant, we have strawberries to revive and plant, we have raspberries and other soft fruit to fertilise and weed around.  We have a compost heap to sort out as well and the flower beds all need weeding and getting sorted for the annuals and bulbs to show off later on.

frazzled owl

Are you tired yet?!

Well, add into the mix of this,  that the Adoption is beginning to get tricky as well.  Not with the actual process… that is meandering about the way it does.  But my patience is wearing very thin indeed.  I needed to think very carefully about whether I wanted to continue with the process and what was I going to do if it didn’t work.  Although everyone thinks that there is always a payoff of a baby when you go through the Adoption process, the facts are somewhat different and it is in no way guaranteed.  Our process has already been so long and so difficult (and out of the ordinary – of course… I never do anything the easy or the ordinary way!) I am not sure how much more I am going to be able to take.  It has been quite stressful and difficult as I am sure you can all imagine.  There wasn’t much other head space for anything else, let alone sorting out blog posts.

All I can promise is that I will try and do better after Easter.  I will even try and sort out some blog themes and interesting things to post about… and I need to get back to my studying.  I haven’t done any lessons for weeks.

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to everyone, and see you on the other side!

Biodynamic Gardening and the effect of the solar eclipse

First, I must apologise for silence this week.  It has been hugely busy all week, and the days I would usually write a blog have been taken up with dealing with gas men quoting for boilers, delivering Easter treats to Godchildren and then trying to catch up on the chores which have been left alone while doing the other things.  This madness is not going to let up over the weekend, but I thought while I wait for the next gas man to arrive, I would write a blog post.

eclipse

As I am in the Northern Hemisphere and in Europe, as I type, we are in the process of experiencing a solar eclipse.  The last time there was such a visible spectacle was in 1999, and I remember being part of the awed crowds watching the process (through appropriate methods to safeguard the eyes, of course).  As far as I can tell, if you have seen one eclipse, you have seen them all, so I am not that concerned about the whole process (though it is interesting watching the birds and the squirrels in the garden – they are very confused indeed!) but one thing that did get the old grey cells exercising was whether the solar eclipse would effect biodynamic gardening methods.

veg patch

You may not know about biodynamic gardening, but it is a subject that is really peaking my interest at the moment.  I am not sure if I am going to pursue it, but I want to know more, and so I have been doing a bit of digging around on the internet.   I found a really interesting article in the Daily Telegraph (interestingly, printed on my birthday in 2009) which detailed the writer’s experience with biodynamic agriculture.  It was an enlightening read (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/6202917/Why-biodynamic-gardening-makes-sense.html) .

This form of gardening was promulgated in 1924 by Austrian Rudolf Steiner, and is effectively a process to deepen our understanding of the life forces that underlie nature’s processes in order to produce food of the highest quality.  I can’t help thinking that it is gardening on the same basis that healing using herbalism is for medicine.  Supporting the life force in order to get the best result.  I guess that might make me sound supremely “crunchy” but it makes sense to me.

lunar planting

Most people are aware of the organic principles of natural sustainability and not using any chemicals.  Biodynamics requires a very strong basis of organic husbandry combined with a few practices that “normal” gardeners might find to be a bit odd, including planting according to a lunar calendar, preparation of the soil in particular ways and clearly,  very open mind!

I recall that the Royal Horticultural Society did some field trials using chemical, organic and biodynamic methods and the results were quite remarkable.  Biodynamic planting, according to the lunar calendar, really made a difference to the health of the plants and the yield they produced.  Something definitely works then even if we aren’t sure what.

What about the solar eclipse?  If the moon moving through various constellations has such an impact, what about the moon moving across the sun, obliterating it from sight?  From my research it is considered sensible to leave all gardening alone for a while – though to be honest, a lot of the sites I found were less than fullsome in their explanations.

biodynamic books

I think that I need to do a good deal of research into the methods of biodynamic horticulture before I decide whether to make my vegetable and herb patch a biodynamic experiment.

Mind you, if I could find a method of biodynamic pest control which meant that slug and squirrels went elsewhere for their snacks, I would be on it like a flash!    I would also be more than happy to be called “loony”.

Going a little crazy(er)…

Not at the moment… I have too much going on to be going crazy really. Not only are we waiting for a match for the adoption, but I have a humungous pile of jobs to do in the house and the garden and then there is the whole #NaBloWriMo thing into the bargain.

crazy

However, I am aware that in some regions where this blog is read, they have had the first snowfall. I always think of getting cabin fever when I think of the first snowfall. It only happened to me once, but once is more than enough.

 

What is cabin fever? Well, the idiom was only coined in 1918, but the term can cover all levels of things from feeling like you want to hibernate and being a bit grouchy to having a totally claustrophobic reaction to being kept in the house and not being able to go outside.

 

My book of reference for this month “Home Remedies from a Country Doctor” reckons that it is probably a form of SAD, which I have written about recently. However, my own personal experience, and what my research has turned up is a definition which encompasses a much deeper and more visceral reaction to having to stay inside due to inclement weather.

cabin fever

Symptoms of cabin fever are a need to sleep more than is usual, to sort of enter a kind of hibernation state, extreme irritability, restlessness, even paranoia about the people they share a living space with, an urge to go outside regardless of the weather, just to escape. It is understandable that people might associate this with being snowed in, but my experience was in the depths of summer.

 

I was living in Woking at the time and had been struck down with a fever and vomiting bug. I was living on my own in a bedsit which was painted purple (I loathe purple on the walls, and especially the dirty purpley sort of colour, purely down to that place). I was cut off from everybody and everything for 3 days. By the end of that 3 days I was climbing the walls. As soon as I got out of the place though and took a walk up and down the road (because I was too weak to go far) I immediately felt better.

raking leaves

That is one of the suggestions of how to cure cabin fever. Get outside. Obviously, dress for the weather. No point going outside in shorts and a t-shirt when it is 20 below zero with a 10 degree windchill, because you are asking for trouble. And frostbite. But getting into the weather appropriate garb and getting out there to top up the Vitamin D is worth the fuss.

My reference for the month also suggests putting fluorescent lighting in the rooms you spend most time in, finding company in some way (thank you social media and book clubs), and even working creatively inside can really help matters.

It is interesting.  I think I suffer from cabin fever a lot more than I thought.  The best medicine for me is to go out and get the gardening done.  On that note… I am off to sweep up more leaves!

Bee and Wasp Stings and how to deal with them…

This might seem to be an odd topic to write about in November, but this year’s autumn weather has been so weird, I saw a wasp yesterday still flying about and looking distinctly energetic.  More energetic than it ought to at this stage of the year.   Plus, this sort of information is useful to have at any time of the year.  Just in case.

Bees

We all know that stings are unpleasant and can sometimes be painful, depending on where the sting is.  However, there are some people who are allergic to stings.  The insects that can cause irritation and allergic reactions include the honey bee, the bumble bee, the yellow jacket, the yellow hornet, the white faced hornet and wasps.  If you are allergic then generally you already know, but if this is the first time you have been stung then you need to watch out for a few signs.  If you get ANY of these, then get yourself to a doctor, and if the allergic reaction is severe enough, get to the hospital.  Fast.    You need to look out for a large part of your body itching, you have hives, you are getting a tight feeling in the chest or throat and that is causing you to have issues breathing, if you are dizzy, or sick to the stomach, or if you have had a mild form of one of these for 72 hours or more.   If you think you might have anaphylaxis (and you will know the difference from a mild reaction to a big one) then do not be silly.  Get an ambulance.

 

Now, for those of us who don’t have allergic reactions to the insect venom, then you first need to get the venom sac and stinger out.  The venom sac looks like a tiny bag.  Don’t squeeze or smash it because you will inject more venom into your body and we are trying to avoid that.  So, you know that credit card in your wallet?  The one you should never leave home without?  Yeah… use that to scrape and flick away the sting.

venom sac

Now the sting is out… you are going to need to relieve the pain somehow.  You can put an ice cube on the spot to numb it, or if it is itching, put your antihistamine of choice on it.  You can use ammonia to counteract the acidic sting.  You can use baking soda, or toothpaste as well for bee stings.  In the ultimate irony, putting honey on the sting can help as well.  Just put it on there for 30 minutes and then wash it off.  Or you could put lavender essential oil on the sting as well.  If you fancy driving vampires from the scene, you could crush some garlic and put that on the spot as well.

 

Of course, the best thing to do is to avoid being stung in the first place.  Wear non floral prints in the height of summer.  Avoid wearing yellow, red, orange or green.  Apparently bees are attracted to those colours.  You can wear pink, white or blue which are colours the beasties avoid.  I also like to set honey traps (in the non spy novel James Bond sort of way!) so they head for the jar or sweet water and don’t bother coming out.

 

And to end, here is a graphic to explain the difference between bees and wasps.  (It made me smile)

diff between wasp and bee