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As some of you may remember, last spring/summer saw my very first foray into growing vegetables.  I had very humble results, and learned more from my mistakes than my successes, the principle lesson being in never underestimating the destructive power of slugs (those little dudes have got evil appetites for anything growing). 

This year I’ve been aiming to expand my repertoire a little.  So far we have 3 potato planters at various stages of sprouting; a blueberry bush planted last year looking promising for our first crop later this year; strawberry plants in a container currently flowering away; another container beginning to show the first seedlings of rocket; some overwintering onions getting up to speed if they can survive the attention of wood pigeons; beetroot seed planted but still thinking about germination; chives, mint, parsley, oregano, sage all getting going in the herb corner of the garden; various kinds of salad leaves and lettuces recently planted hopefully in an old stone sink… and in the house, courgette plants and seeds, tomato seedlings, pea shoots, basil, rosemary (bit dubious about this, managed to grow miniature mushrooms last year when I tried to cultivate rosemary but hey, can’t hurt to try and figure out where I’m going wrong).  I’ve tried not to plant anything we are unlikely to either eat/use or share, and also have plans once the weather is a bit more consistently frost -free to plant carrots, spring onions, perhaps a few brassicas, maybe sweetcorn. 

It’s exciting and ridiculously rewarding to watch tiny shoots emerge from the soil, stretching towards the sun and often seeming to grow so fast you can practically hear the squeak of stems.  I have discovered I like to get my fingers muddy (although the inadvertent touching of a slug or other unappealing beastie does induce a tendency to retch – I was never a big fan of mini-beasts, even as a child), and find it satisfying to work earth towards a fine tilth.  Actually this last one is more of a dream than a reality.  Unnurtured, our garden’s soil is a heavy clay pan, so dense I could probably spend my time better setting up a kiln and fashioning rustic pots out of the clay.  Thank goodness for the wonders of compost, raised beds and container gardening.

Anyway, all this is by way of a heads up.  Coming soon, no doubt, will be lots of rants about the pestilences inflicting themselves on my veggies, pleas for anti-slug measures and eventually some self-satisfied pictures of my first harvests of the year.  I’m so excited!

Time has once again been on my mind. 

A while back our pastor told us that the speed of God is 3 miles an hour (I am paraphrasing…), because that’s walking speed.  It’s the speed we need to travel at to connect with His world and to notice the people around us, to become aware of and attuned to our environment.

A few sermons back we heard that you can’t hurry a tomato – and I love the message of waiting and expectation that is implied.

Then at the weekend, after a rotten few weeks of being poorly, and finally enjoying being on the mend, I was excited to receive the latest edition of Jamie Magazine, Jamie Oliver’s most recent adventure in publishing.  It was full of lush photography, gorgeous recipes, and some lovely evocative articles.  My favourite was about a winemaker in Beirut, whose passion and relish for wine and for his country infused everything he said.

I loved this:

“This is my Beirut,” says Serge, in his soft, exotically accented English. “And these are my babies, they improve with age.” He waves an immaculate cuff over the six or seven million bottles of vintage Musar, that are quietly, splendidly maturing in cool damp dark cellar cut deep into the flanks of Mount Lebanon.

“My wines need time”,  [Serge] states, “Time to grow, time to mature, time to taste.  Now, ” as he eases the corks from bottle after venerable bottle, “let us take our time.”

A few weeks back I read a little filler article in the Guardian about a journalist’s one-day attempt to ‘go slow’.  It was a bit of a half-hearted effort really, and seemed to mainly consist of her getting stressed about not getting stuff done.  It made me think once again about the obstacles which lie in our way as we pay lip-service to slowing down, to relishing life.  I don’t live a crazy manic life really, but it’s very full and busy enough to always have stuff undone.  Not so unusual really, but in terms of appreciating the world I’m in (in the micro as well as macro sense) and in terms of simply paying attention to those who come my way, most of the time life is too much of a blur to be that intentional about it.  And that just isn’t good enough really.

So I’m brought to wondering if that’s the underlying blessing of being ill so often, and in particular having a really horrible bug that has floored me for the last fortnight and intermittently for the 3 weeks prior to that.  ‘Go slow, take a little time’ became a command to be obeyed, not a suggestion to be shrugged off.

And so now, as I return to ‘normal’  I look back over the last five days in particular, as I felt less ill and more on the mend.  The afternoons spent curled on a garden chair in my pyjamas and dressing gown, cup of tea at my side, unread paper on my knee as I listened to the blackbirds singing, watched the apple blossom begin to flower, saw blue tits begin making their home in the bird box on the side of the garage.  The drowsing in the sunshine, the time taken to mull over interesting articles in the paper or magazines, the long chats with friends and family on the phone.  The sowing of seeds, the gentle easing of seedlings into pots and vegetable plots.  Time to reflect, infused with the hope and promise of spring.

I like going slow.  Taking my time is my favourite thing.  Looking another person in the eye and being entirely focussed on them – “love the one” as we’ve heard in church recently – is a powerful experience and a powerful gift to give to another person. 

So as I return to life with a little less leisure, (but hopefully a lot more health) I am holding on to those thoughts, those aspirations and aim to moment by moment put them into practice.  A little time well spent.

On Sunday our pastor preached an awesome sermon.  But isn’t it funny the things that stick in your mind afterwards?…

“You can’t hurry a tomato”

Seldom has a truer word been spoken!  In the context of the sermon our pastor was basically exhorting us to live life richly, to ‘dwell’ where we are wholeheartedly.  And that one little phrase really stuck out, and came back to me again today as I was pottering about the house (got some horrible bug so have been off work for a couple of days, and am sad to note I seem to be getting worse rather than better at the time of writing.  Sigh.) and I spent a few moments admiring our daughter’s flourishing tomato seedlings that she planted just a few weeks ago at Sunday Club. 

I’m mentally planning which seeds need to be sown in our vegetable patch this year, and am already anticpating the long and (im)patient wait for the first bursts of life.  I’m a very very VERY novice gardener and had more failures than successes last year, but I enjoy the fact that so much of gardening seems to involve patience and trust.  Trust in the seeds to germinate and ultimately bear fruit, trust in the soil and the sun and the rain to each play their part.  And the long tormenting journey from seed planting to final harvest.  The torment and the joy is in the waiting of course.

There are profound and deeply resonant lessons to be learnt through planting a seed…

It’s Fairtrade Fortnight now – from 23rd February to 8th March.

Fair trade products and practices have been an area of interest – passion? – for me for a good while now.  We buy fairly traded produce at home where we can, and the origins of what we buy has become more important for us as the years have gone by.  I was given pause for thought by Fourth Space the other day when he hinted that (and I might be extrapolating here so forgive me if this is a bit of a misinterpretation) the origins of our food is a middle class concern – and perhaps even a middle class luxury.  He’s got a point in terms of the accessibility and affordability of food which is local, organic, and yes even fair trade – all of these factors can make an item more expensive.  In the case of fair trade it almost inevitably will, surely?  Because low prices for the consumer will mean less than a living wage for the original grower or maker.

So why do I think fair trade is important?  I read God 360 last night and it reflected on Proverbs 31: 8 & 9

Speak up for the people who have no voice,

for the rights of all the down-and-outers.

Speak out for justice!

Stand up for the poor and destitute”

(from “The Message” paraphrase by Eugene Paterson)

God 360 went on to reflect on the voiceless nature of the world’s working poor, and connected them with the fairtrade movement and how this enables them to form trade unions to barter for better working conditions and to get a fair price for their work.  So for me, and for so many other, fair trade is not just an ethical concern, it’s a spiritual one.  As Rob Bell says, everything is spiritual.

I have a confession to make.  I’m a heartless slug murderer.  Actually I think I might have confessed to this previously, but today I got serious and did the thing I said I’d never do.  I bought slug pellets.

In mitigation, they are (apparently) organic, not harmful to children or animals (unless you’re a slug) and can be used around both edible and non-edible plants.  But I have to admit, I feel really bad about this. 

Still, the slugs were eating all my carefully nurtured vegetables, so much so that whole plantings of seedlings have gone.  Because of slugs I have no lettuces, no carrots, only 3 beetroot (and they aren’t looking too hot), no salad leaves (we managed to eat one lot, but the second crop got chomped before we got a look in), and about 4 randomly planted, last-ditch-attempt spring onions.  Even our mini maize crop is in jeopardy as I don’t think we’ve got sufficient left to pollinate each other.  Weirdly, they’ve not made much impact on our herbs, and the cabbages, peppers and tomatoes were all planted in pots with copper tape around it, which as a slug deterrent seems to have worked.

But today I finally broke, and got the most friendly-sounding slug pellets I could find.  Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a gardener, at least not yet.  I always thought gardeners were basically gentle souls, in touch with themselves and nature.  Now I discover they must have a will of steel and an impermeable conscience.  I have a will of jelly and literally can’t hurt a fly – well, the old me anyway.  New green fingered me is, I can see, going to have to toughen up if I’m going to grow anything beyond a few potatoes.

Anyway,  still waiting for the magic (non-lethal and actually quite pleasant) bullet to get the slugs to leave my veggies alone.  Answers on a postcard…

Inspired by Knitta, on Sunday I made this:

We then went on a ‘secret mission’ with our daughter to find a space to leave it.  After a couple of preferred locations fell through (we’d noticed a gorilla’s face had been stencilled onto a lamp post near our friends’ home and thought we could give him a scarf but when we went the stencil had been removed) we chose a lamp post on a fairly quiet side street near the home of other friends, D & K from our church small group.  K is a fantastic knitter so the location was chosen in honour of her skills.  Unfortunately I don’t possess the same skills at all, but it was fun to do.  Suburban guerilla knitting?

D & K didn’t see the scarf though, so someone’s taken it and hopefully found a use for it.  Although since it’s July and quite warm, presumably that use hasn’t included actually wearing it.  Or it fell off the lamp post and is now lying all sad in a gutter somewhere…

I hope to do a few more of these types of things over the next wee while, so if you live in the Edinburgh area watch out and let me know if you see anything…

Another satisfying small-scale event was the harvest of our first few potatoes.  We took a photo of the first few I pulled out of the container when I went on an exploratory mission into it to see how the wee tatties were coming on:

 As you can see they are indeed wee tatties, but they tasted great.  I dug out the rest of that container’s crop tonight and made an amazing potato salad, using some of the chives, parsley and mint growing in our garden too.  It’s fair to say I’m not much of a gardener, but I’ve really been enjoying growing a few vegetables for the first time this year.  It feels very elemental to plant, nurture, harvest and eat.  I’m not going to espouse evangelically about the virtues of vegetable growing, mainly because I have not got a clue what I’m talking about.  But I’m so glad we’ve given it a go this year and I intend to keep at it.  It’s been good to learn something new, to get dirt under my fingernails and to have something to share with family and friends at the end.  That said, I hereby declare to the world my war on slugs (small groupers are already well acquainted with my views on slugs).  Is there a ‘nice’ way to stop them eating our vegetables though?

June 2017
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