Friday, 28 February 2014

Summertime Patchwork Quilt Blanket - finished at last!

 Happy news this week, as I've finished my Summertime Patchwork Quilt Blanket. I started this in September 2011 and it's been a really good evenings-in-front-of-the-TV sort of project. I've worked on other things in between as well, which is why it's taken two and a half years, but I'm happy now to call this project finished. It's the last week of summer so it's just in time... and actually today a wintery cold front has blown in, so I'll need this blanket anyway! (9 degrees in February, what??)

 I used a variety of yarns. It began as a stash buster, but I had to buy a few balls as well to fill out the colour range. They are all around the 4-ply weight and I used a 3.75mm hook. For a couple of yarns which were thicker (like the blue) I used the same sized hook, but did the last round in hdc instead of dc.

I sewed the hexagons together as I worked. My method was to make about 6 or so, then sew in the ends. Then I would lay out the blanket and arrange the new pieces, and safety pin them in place. (This meant I could fold up the blanket out of the way when I wasn't working on it.) When I had a good lot of hexies pinned, I'd have an evening of sewing them in. I used my most neutral coloured thread which I decided was peach, and whipstitched them together through the back loops only. This helped give a bit of textural interest and more of a 'quilted' look.

I always knew I wanted a simple white edging with perhaps some picots. I did dabble on Pinterest for a while looking at fancy lacy borders and whatnot, but in the end I went with my original vision and I think it's perfect. I decided to make half-hexies to fill in the obvious gaps in the ends, but I liked the points on the long edges and they set off the picots nicely.

 I even steam blocked the blanket to get it to drape nicely. It was very easy and made sure that the edges held their shape.

 Here's the whole blanket laid out after I blocked it. It's a good, drapey, 1-2 person blanket, nice and lightweight, perfect for cool summer evenings.

 You can see my project page here on Ravelry.

Basic Hexagon Pattern
(US terminology)

Round 1: make a magic ring. Ch 3 (counts as first dc), dc into ring, ch 1. 2 dc into ring, ch 1, repeat 4 times (12 dc). Slip stitch into first ch 3. (2 dc in each branch of hexagon)
Round 2: Ch 3, dc into next 2 dc, dc into corner ch, ch 1, dc into corner ch, repeat around. (4 dc in each branch of hexagon)
Round 3: Repeat as for Round 2, with 6 dc in each branch of hexagon. If using a thicker yarn, do this round in hdc instead of dc.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Talking about corn

 My corn has done really well this year. I planted it in mid spring, and didn't coddle it too much aside from some sheep manure and a few waterings with comfrey tea while it was young. I planted it in a block and it seems quite happy, basking in the sun and the leaves shushing in the wind. Now it's ready to harvest, and while some ears either didn't develop properly or have gone to seed, most of them are plump and ripe and full of lovely pearly kernels. This variety is Honey Pearl.

  The tops of the corn are in the perfect spot to catch the early morning sunbeams. I can see them from my window as I have breakfast, which always makes it look like the perfect summer morning.

My favourite way to cook fresh corn: Trim the cob at top and bottom but don't remove the husks. Put the cob in the microwave and cook for one minute. Cut the top and bottom off the cob, peel away the husks and there is your fresh, sweet, beautiful corn. It's easy to run a sharp knife down the side of the cob and slice away the kernels if, like me, you don't like getting it stuck in your teeth.

I've also read that you can freeze corn by putting the unpeeled cob straight in the freezer. I'll probably try that with the rest of the harvest, but that's only if I get sick of eating it fresh!

Monday, 24 February 2014

How to install a water feature

 Recently it was my mum's birthday, the big six-oh. My brother and I were wondering what to get her, and decided a water feature would be an ideal gift. They are pretty expensive to buy as a kit, so we thought we would DIY one. There are plenty of instructions online if you google 'Pot Fountain', and we also watched this video which was really helpful!

Here's what we did to install our pot fountain water feature.

 You will need:
-A pot. Ours is about 800 mm tall. We bought it from Pottery International who were super helpful, and also had it coated with "ponding" - a waterproof coating to help protect it and prolong its life.
-A length of PVC pipe to go up the inside of the pot, approx 20 mm diameter
-A length of flexible tubing (we used hosepipe)
-A connector to go in the base of the pot and connect the hose and PVC pipes together (shown in the above picture attached to the hosepipe)
-Plumbers' kneadable waterproof putty
-A pump (1500 litres for an 800 mm tall pot)
-A large plastic bin with lid
-Bricks or concrete blocks
-Pebbles or decorative stones
-Power drill

Here is a rough diagram I made showing how everything fits together. It's pretty simple, all you have to do is put it together!

 This is the bin we used for our reservoir. It's a 52 litre plastic bin with a lid. (Use the bin to transport a bit of sand for lining your hole!)

 Dig a hole the size and depth of your reservoir. Line it with the sand - this helps to level the bin without having to keep digging.

 Put the reservoir in and make sure it's level. Fill in around the bin with sand and soil.

 Put some bricks and/or concrete blocks in so they line up with the top edge of the bin. You might need to experiment a bit to get the right height. These will support the weight of the pot and stop it toppling into the bin.

The concrete block on the bottom had a bit missing out of one end which was handy for leading out the pump cord - otherwise it would need to come out between the 2 bricks.

 Cut the PVC pipe to fit within your pot, a couple of centimetres below the rim. Here's a close up of the connector fitting we used - we found it in the plumbing section at Bunnings. You jam the pipe into the connector then screw the blue piece onto it. We removed the blue piece from the bottom (where it connects to the hose) but left it on the top piece so there would be something to stop the pipe from slipping through the hole in the pot.

Put the pipe inside the pot, making sure the connector goes through the hole at the bottom. Apply the plumbers' putty in a ring around it and smooth it with your fingers to fill all the gaps. Use more putty if you need to. (It's a good idea to check before you buy a pot if you can reach in with your arm and reach the bottom - otherwise you'll have a lot of trouble with this step.)

 The plumbers' putty dries really fast, so I made a collar out of a piece of cardboard to hold the pipe in place, nice and central. Then go and have a cup of tea.

 After about half an hour the putty inside the pot should have cured. Wedge the hose pipe into the connector on the outside, then cover it with putty. Hooray, it's easier on this side!

 Cut the end off the bin lid above where the pump will go. (This is so you can access the pump without having to dismantle the whole thing later.) Make sure the cut end rests on a brick so it doesn't sag and fall in.

Make a hole in the centre for the hosepipe to pass through. Then make it bigger to fit the lump of putty you just put around it. Drill holes in the lid for water drainage.

 Connect the hosepipe to your pump. Our pump came with three different sized connectors which could screw into the pump, so we chose the one that best fitted the hose. Put the pump in the reservoir - its cord comes nicely out the gap in the lid.

Then, fill the reservoir with water and test the pump. You might need to adjust the flow to make the fountain more or less splashy. 

Once it flows to your liking, cover the reservoir lid with stones. Then sit back and enjoy!

Pumps don't generally come with very long cords, so we had to run an extension cord. It's hidden in the bushes to the right of the fountain. An electrician will probably be required at some stage in the future to put in an outdoor power point, but for now (since it's summer) the cord is tucked up in a waterproof plastic bag when not in use. We made a waterproof case for the connection of the pump plug and the extension cord out of a plastic lidded container with small slots in the sides for the cords to come out. It's hidden away under the ramp so it's protected from the weather.

 Tip: check the water level after you've had the fountain running for a while. We were surprised at how much water it went through after running all day. You might want to get into the habit of topping it up with a watering can after each use. It would also pay to check the water level if it's been several weeks since you've last used the fountain.

I'm looking forward to installing my own water feature one of these days!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Talking about spuds

I harvested some potatoes today and was disappointed with my crop this year. I grew Heather and bought a bag of seed potatoes just the same as I usually do, and put them in the same spot at the same time as usual. They aren't diseased, just small. The foliage is dying off and usually when I harvest them at this point they are whoppers, not this time though! Such a pain since peeling potatoes is one of the kitchen chores I hate the most, and small ones are extra fiddly.

I've read that you shouldn't grow spuds in the same spot two years in a row, so next year I might have to find somewhere else for them. Maybe a no-dig method, either in a pot or under some pea straw. Has anyone tried no-dig methods - does it work for you?

These were my 'maincrop' so I planted them in later spring for harvest late summer. My early crop was Laratte, an heirloom variety given to me by my mum's neighbour. They were ready in early summer. They turned out well and seemed to be of an ok size, so I saved a few to plant again next spring.

Small or not I'll still happily eat these homegrown potatoes. Probably as wedges with their skins on!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

February flowers

 This has been an exciting month in my garden, because several plants I've grown from seed or bought as tiny plantlets have flowered for the first time. Among them are astrantia, which I was starting to think might never flower, but I'm so glad it has with its delicate feathery bracts. There's also a frilly pink poppy which was part of a seed package from Trade Me, and a dusky pink foxglove I grew from seeds from my mum's garden. My roses are having another flush, so things are looking pretty bright around here!

Clockwise: monarch butterfly on echinacea Hope, white astrantia, Claire Rose, hydrangea, cosmos, Peace rose, liriope muscari, purple petunia, cactus dahlia, dusky pink foxglove, pink peony poppy, Sexy Rexy rose. Middle: Moody blue summer posy of hydrangeas, lambs ears, scabiosa and polemonium seed heads.

 In other exciting news, I got a snowberry bush! I'd been trying to track one down after seeing them in the Flower Recipe Book but the nurseries didn't have any. One even told me that "no one wants it anymore". Luckily the nice people at Portstone Garden Centre got it in for me and I'm very grateful - especially since it's recently started flowering! This means I'll have pretty berries this winter.

If I didn't have the berries to look forward to I'd pick these flowers - aren't they sweet? Perhaps I'll have to get another bush!

I'm scheduling this post in advance as I'm at an important birthday event today! When I next get to my computer I'll be linking to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Hope your garden is treating you well this weekend!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Crochet trim pillowcase

 I am SOOO close to finishing my hexagon crochet blanket. All I have to do is sew in the last half-hexies, then I'll be onto the edge! So naturally, with the end in sight I had to do another project instead.
I've got several vintage flowery pillowcases that I've thrifted with the idea of adding a crochet trim (in the style of Rosehip) - in fact I made a pair last year. It's a great quick project that you can finish in an afternoon and feel accomplished!

 Remember my lavender - here is one of my sweet dreams bags. Just a simple little organza bag filled with dried lavender. One day I'll make a little trim for it too!

 The scallop trim is the easiest and arguably the prettiest.

Hydrangea, scabiosa, lambs ears and polemonium seed heads. A pretty little late summer posy.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Summertime Iced Fruit Tea

 On a hot summer weekend I love having a jug of iced tea in the fridge. It's great if you're having guests around and it's just too hot for tea or coffee, and makes a nice alternative to overly sweet fizzy drinks. I like to make it the night before so the flavours have time to mingle.

Makes about 800 ml

6 fruit flavoured herbal tea bags (I like strawberry, blackcurrant or cranberry, and you could even throw in a couple of a tea you're trying to use up like apple and camomile!)
Juice of 3 oranges + 1 orange for garnish
3 tablespoons of lime juice or syrup
Honey, to taste (I use about 2 tbsp, briefly microwaved to be liquid, but you may want more if you are accustomed to sweet drinks)
200ml water (soda water if you want to be fancy)
3-4 sprigs of mint

Make the tea with about 500ml boiling water. Leave to steep for 5 mins then remove the teabags and cool in the fridge.

If serving immediately, chill your jug and all ingredients in the fridge. Squeeze and strain orange juice, then add all ingredients to the chilled jug and stir. Chop up your extra orange and add to the jug. Any in-season fruit like berries or sliced apples also makes a good garnish! Don't forget to eat your oranges and other garnishes - they taste great once they have soaked up the tea flavours.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Picking roses in the summertime

 One of my favourite things to do on a weekend day is go around with my trug and secateurs, picking flowers. What's in bloom today? Some beautiful roses. Snip, snip. The last three stems of gladioli. Snip, snip, snip. Gorgeous maroon penstemon, snip! Then later I find my big glass vase and spend some happy time arranging the stems. No help from a book this time - they seem to stay where I want them to.

A big, in your face, summertime arrangement.

These are my Queen Elizabeth roses. The apples are thinnings from the Baujade tree, and this is camomile and apple tea. It didn't taste as good as I thought it would...


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