Herb Teas and Honey Bees

Hello again! I hope you have some time in your busy day for a leisurely scroll through our garden, a visit to a beekeeper, and a cup of tea and some knitting afterwards. Or perhaps you’re on holiday and have all the time in the world. Wherever you are or whatever your day looks like – welcome!

Today, I’d like to show you a new part of our garden. A part you haven’t seen yet – our herb patch. It isn’t very big (about two by two-and-a-half meters) but I’m very happy with it. Here it is just after we planted it mid-May:

And this is what it looks like now, two months later:

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things grow? There’s parsley, chives, thyme and sage for all kinds of savoury dishes. There’s rhubarb for stewing, nasturtium flowers for decorating salads, and ‘wild’ strawberries for enjoying straight from the plant. I don’t know what to do with the marigolds yet. I could use them to dye some yarn, but what would I do with yellow yarn? For the time being I’m just enjoying them for their cheerful colour.

And finally, there’s chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm. We’ll be making herb tea with those later. But first, let’s get some honey to sweeten it. If we hop on to our bicycles we’ll be at the beekeeper’s farm in under an hour. It’s a nice route along a canal, past some allotments, through a wood, and along a country lane.

Here we are. There are jars of honey and an honesty box at the roadside. We could just grab a jar and head back…

… but it’s much nicer to have a chat with the bee keeper and take a look at the bees. We need to put on a special beekeeper’s jacket with hood first. The bees are very quiet today, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

Do you see the line of trees the beekeeper is pointing at? Behind them there’s a nature reserve, with heather and all kinds of other flowering plants, shrubs and trees where the bees get the nectar for their honey.

The beekeeper deprecatingly says, ‘Ah, it’s just a hobby. My dad used to do it before me, and I’ve followed in his footsteps.’ But to her own astonishment and delight both her bright and her dark honey won gold medals at the London Honey Awards 2019!

Most of the bees are housed in modern beehives:

These are far bigger than traditional hives, or skeps, and it is much easier to collect the honey from them. But she also has some traditional skeps, a sort of upside-down baskets. And even a wooden beehive in the shape of a house. It looks a lot like their own beautiful wooden house:

Zooming in on one of the skeps, the bees can be seen coming in and out of the opening:

It’s that dark clump at the top left. Can you see them?

This beekeeper isn’t complaining, but behind her words I can hear her worries about the threats her bees (and bees everywhere) face. They’re threatened by the varroa mite, pesticides and the drought caused by climate change. Things like this often give me a feeling of powerlessness. Yes, it’s worrying, but what can we do about such worldwide threats as insignificant individuals? Fortunately, in this case, there are a few easy things we can do to help the bees.

Apart from organic honey in jars, this small family business also produces other bee products, like beeswax candles, lip balm, soap, shampoo and so on. There’s more information on their website.

Well, high time to cycle back and pick some herbs.

One of my favourite herb tea blends is chamomile and lemon balm. A small handful of chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves is enough for a cup or two of tea (dried herbs work just as well as fresh ones). I have a small teapot with a built-in strainer, but any pot or mug will do.

Add honey to taste and enjoy!

Next to this cup of tea is my first dishcloth in progress. I was skeptical about knitting these (I mean, how twee can you get?), but the enthusiasm of two of my knitting group members made me give them a try. And I must say, I’ve been bitten by the dishcloth-knitting-bug too!

Another favourite is mint tea. There are many varieties of mint. Wat we usually get when we order mint tea at a cafe is Moroccan mint, with a fairly mild and sweet taste. The mint in our garden, peppermint, has a stronger taste. It really is more peppery. Two or three small sprigs straight into a mug make a refreshing drink. I like it even during the very hot weather we’re currently having – I just leave it to cool first.

The blindingly white knitting on the needles here is the start of my Sideways Tee. There isn’t much to see yet, but as soon as I’m a little further along, I’ll show you more.

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for sharing a cup of tea with me!

An Afternoon in the Garden

After several rather busy days, I spent an entire Sunday afternoon in the garden. Just sitting, knitting, drinking tea and looking around with my camera at hand. Everything is growing so fast, I can hardly keep up.

Above, you can see my utterly comfortable chair. It was a present for my 50th Birthday, which seems like yesterday, but is in fact so long ago that the fabric has become quite faded in places.

Behind my chair, you can see a part of our small wildflower meadow. It took a while to get going, but now it’s absolutely glorious, with many different plant species and always something new to discover. And one of the best things about it, is that it attracts lots of butterflies, bees and other insects. Here, on an oxeye daisy, is a large tortoiseshell:

We were thrilled to see it, for it is a rare butterfly that was almost extinct in our country until a couple of years ago. Now it seems to be making a come-back. I’m really glad to be the bringer of this good news amidst all the bad news we hear and read about the terrible decline in biodiversity.

Just like the oxeye daisies, the foxgloves are flowering prodigiously this year.

We didn’t plant or sow these foxgloves. They just arrived out of the blue. The first couple of years there were just a few plants, but look at them now!

Bumble bees are buzzing in and out of their bell-like flowers. I really love their shades from purple to pale pink to white. And they have beautiful burgundy spots inside:

There are more plants in our garden that sprang up of their own accord, and we heartily welcome them (at least some of them). But we also have some that we’ve deliberately planted, like these sweet peas.

They’re growing incredibly fast. Since I took this picture they’ve grown quite a bit, and I can already see some tiny flower buds. I’m so looking forward to the fluttery flowers with their lovely scent.

Apart from plants, butterflies and insects, there is also a lot of bird activity in the garden.

There are many, many young sparrows around, flapping their wings begging for food. Two of our nest boxes are filled with cheeping great tits. And the house martins are flying to and fro to feed their young. After the eggs hatched, the birds threw the empty shells out of the nests. I found them on the ground underneath the nests over several mornings:

The speckled shells are papery thin. So fragile that I could hardly pick them up without crushing them. And so small that it’s hard to imagine a complete chick can come out of them. I’ve photographed the egg shells next to one of our own small, white hen’s eggs to give you some idea of their size:

I found the egg shells a little over two weeks ago. I read that it takes house martins five weeks to fledge, so the adults still have an exhausting few weeks ahead of them.

A good friend of mine, the blackbird, is always around too:

For weeks on end, it was hurrying around, collecting worms and other edibles for its young. I think it has had two consecutive nests. Sadly, it seems that this year just one chick survived. But that chick looks strong and healthy, and can now almost fend for itself:

Two large, noisy families of magpies, by contrast, have done very well. Maybe they’ve raised their young on blackbird eggs or chicks, who knows?. They’re notorious nest raiders. They’ve even been known to steal some of our hen’s eggs, which we briefly left unattended between collecting them from the laying nest and putting them away indoors.

I can almost hear the magpie thinking: ‘Well, how was I to know that you didn’t put them out there especially for us? You leave peanuts, seeds and mealworms out for other birds, too, don’t you?’

In between watching the birds and looking at the flowers around me, I also did some knitting. I started two new projects – both in soft shades of pink. One is a striped cardigan in a combination of yarns in different weights:

And the other is a simple shawl in two different lace-weight yarns held together:

They’re both lovely, relaxing knits. I’ll show you more when I’m a little further along.

The day I sat knitting and taking pictures in the garden, was before the onset of some Very Hot weather. For the past few days, it’s been absolutely sweltering. I’ve had to put these knitting projects on hold. The soft, hairy yarn is sticking to my hands, and both the cardi and the shawl in progress are way too hot to have on my lap.

I’m now spending my spare time reading instead, but I need to find something else to do with my hands soon. Something suitable for tropical temperatures.

I’m not much of a summer knitter, really. I often switch over to crochet when temperatures rise. But I’d like to have something summery on my knitting needles, too. Hmmm, I’ll see what I can find. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Frogging

I’ve been knitting for over fifty years and I knit almost every single day, so I think I can safely say that I’m an experienced knitter. I can’t say that everything always goes swimmingly, though. After all those years, I still run into obstacles, and I still often have to frog things.

For a long time, I was baffled by the verb ‘to frog’ for unravelling knitting. It wasn’t in any of my dictionaries in this sense of the word. I just didn’t get why people called it frogging. Until Adrienne Martini explained it to me, on page 50 of her hilarious book Sweater Quest: My year of knitting dangerously:

‘Frogging, which doesn’t involve amphibians, means pulling out large swaths of knitting at one go. You rip it. If you don’t get the association, say it out loud.’

Rip it, rip it. Ah, I finally got it! Well, I’m a frequent frogger. Take a seemingly simple shawl like Stay Soft.

I started out cheerfully, casting on a small number of stitches, gradually increasing along one edge of the garter stitch rows. Everything was plain and clear in the pattern. No need to frog anything this time, right? Wrong.

Because I had a finer yarn and less yardage than the amount specified in the pattern, I’d decided to use a smaller needle size to be on the safe side. But when I’d finished both the yellow and the striped section (i.e. after knitting about one third of the entire shawl)…

… I had an awful lot of the first yarn colour left over – almost two-thirds of the total amount. It would be a shame to waste all that yarn. Besides, the fabric didn’t feel quite right, and it looked as if the final shawl would end up rather small if I went on like this.

So, I frogged everything I’d knit so far and started afresh with the needle size specified in the pattern.

The second time around the fabric looked and felt better. I quickly re-knit the yellow and the striped sections. On the orange section I ran out of yarn after I’d knit 16 rows less than the pattern indicated, but I wasn’t really worried by that.

By that time the shawl already had quite a good size (but rather a strange shape):

Now it was time to pick up stitches for the third colour. I read through the instructions: ‘pick up and knit 5 stitches starting from the cast-on corner of the shawl.’ Hmmm, where exactly? And how?

This pattern has been knit by many people before, so I thought I’d take a look at other projects on Ravelry, to see how they had done it. I read that others had scratched their heads, too, at this point. Many of them somehow found the solution, and some people even made notes of what they’d done, but I was still a bit confused.

So I tried something, frogged it, tried again, frogged again, until I was happy with the result:

And then I thought: why don’t I write a blog post showing exactly what I’m doing, so that others won’t have to frog as much as did? So that’s what I’m working on now: knitting the rest of the shawl while taking photographs and making notes. If it works out, I’ll show you the results soon.

Note: The frog in the photo at the top of this post is a moor frog that hopped across our path during one of our recent walks. During the mating season the males turn blue for a few days. The frog may look quite big in the photograph, but it was only 5 centimeters (2 inches) long at most.

May Miscellany

In May…

…all birds their eggs do lay, or so an old Dutch saying goes. But that’s not the only nice thing about the month of May. It’s also the month the vendors at our nearest Farmer’s Market put up their stalls again after their winter break. Visiting this market is a real treat.

The singer who is always there with her guitar, welcomes us with Dolly Parton’s ‘Play a song for me, Apple Jack, Apple Jack’, and other old favourites. The music creates a great atmosphere around the twenty or so stalls.

We always buy a punnet of strawberries. These are so much tastier than the ones from the supermarket. And sometimes we buy some delicious handmade goat’s cheese, too.

New to the market this year is a lady with felt objects, like hats and scarves, as well as handspun yarns. I wouldn’t immediately know what to do with her riotously colourful skeins, as I usually choose quieter yarns (maybe combine them with a matching solid colour?), but they’re a joy to look at.

I love chatting with other crafters about the things they make, about what moves and inspires them, the techniques they use, and so on. So I asked the new lady about the ‘fleece’ hanging at the back of her stall. I’ve seen fleeces like this before, felted onto a woollen background, but always made from the wool of just one sheep.

This crafter, however, combined wool from different sheep breeds to create the fleece in the photo below. She mentioned at least six breeds. (But I don’t remember a single one. Sorry, my brain was also having some time off.) It shows beautifully how greatly sheep’s wool can vary.

Apart from the colours, ranging from white through grey and russet to almost black, the structure of the wool varies too. There are some long straight locks, some fluffy, wavy bits of wool, and some very tight curls.

Birds

Now on to those birds laying their eggs in May. Our nest boxes are often used by blue and great tits (picture below), but I’m not sure who is using which nest box this year. We don’t want to disturb the birds, so we don’t open the boxes to look what’s inside. I’ll just have to spend more time in the garden watching flight movements.

In our beech hedge there’s a blackbird’s nest – or perhaps even two. And just above our bedroom window there are two house martin’s nests. These were first occupied by squatters – two families of cheeky sparrows, whose chicks have already fledged. I’ve seen the parents feeding small pieces of peanut from our feeder to their young.

After the sparrow chicks fledged, the house martins returned from the south. They set about cleaning out and repairing their nests straightaway. I can’t look inside to see whether there are any eggs in them, but I’m pretty sure both nests are back in use.

And the winner is…

I started the month of May with a blog post about a gift of yarn from a friend. In it, I asked for your help in choosing between two patterns I had in mind, called ‘Stripe Study’ and ‘Stay Soft’. I have now counted the votes, and Stay Soft came out on top. It got an overwhelming majority of the votes: 70% for Stay Soft against 30% for Stripe Study.

Now you may think, ‘Huh, but there was only one person who left a comment, voting for Stay Soft! How did you arrive at these percentages?’ Well, many people seem to be hesitant about leaving a comment on a blog. I quite understand. I often read blogs without commenting, too. That’s absolutely fine. What I got instead were phone calls, emails and face-to-face reactions.

So, Stay Soft it is going to be. I’ve already made a start.

A funny thing that struck me, was that most knitters voted for Stay Soft, while most non-knitters voted for Stripe Study. Why would that be? We talked about this in the knitting group I belong to, and one of the members said: ‘It looks like non-knitters focus more on the end product, and knitters more on the knitting process.’ Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Thank you to all of you who helped me decide.

Simple Knits

Right now, life around us looks a bit like relay race. As soon as one person recovers from the flu the next one takes over the baton, and starts coughing and feeling headachy. And then the next one. For those of you who are reading this with watery eyes and a box of tissues close to hand: I wish you a speedy recovery!

I’m more or less back to normal, so I thought I’d give you the knitting update that I promised last week. It’s all about simple knits right now, nothing spectacular (is knitting ever spectacular?). I’m glad that I have several things in this category on my needles.

Granite

First of all there is ‘Granite’, the cardigan that I’m making for our daughter. Although I don’t feel like I’m spending huge amounts of time knitting, it is progressing much faster than I’d expected. I’d hoped to have it finished before the autumn, but if it goes on like this, she may even be able to wear it later this spring. The back, both fronts and one sleeve are done. There’s just one more sleeve to knit.

The combination of yarn and stitch pattern make for a really, really elastic fabric. As a consequence all of the pieces look very long and narrow. I mean, look at this sleeve:

Does it look like something that is going to fit? Not really. I trust that it’s going to be all right in the end, because I have knit my swatches and have complete faith in the designer, but still…

Measuring problems

Measuring the length of the pieces is quite hard, as they stretch enormously in every direction. I’ve measured the first sleeve again and again, and the tape measure indicates a different length every time.

I’ve also counted the number of rows I knit and compared them to my swatch. For the sleeve, for instance, I need to knit 40 centimeters from cuff to start of sleeve cap. In theory that is four times the number of rows of my 10 cm swatch. But in reality that looks way shorter than it should be, and that’s what my tape measure tells me too.

Well, I’ve done my best and hope that back and front, and especially the sleeves are going to be the right length.

Button bands

The button bands are knit onto the cardigan and have tiny, one stitch button holes:

I usually buy the buttons first and then adapt the button holes to them. But because I was unable to go out, I’m doing it the other way round this time. I’m knitting the buttonholes as indicated in the pattern and hope that I’ll be able to find matching buttons.

(While I was taking these pictures, there were some heavy rain showers, with sunny spells in between. The sun suddenly came out when I took the buttonhole picture, which is why it looks such a different colour. On my screen, the picture of the sleeve is truest to the actual yarn colour.)

Socks

The second project on my needles is a pair of socks. Not terribly exciting, but always nice to do. Usually I don’t mind if the two socks end up slightly different. I think it’s no problem at all in the pair below that I knit a while ago. As you can see, the sock on the right has a darker cuff and toe, and a bright pink heel, while the colours are distributed differently in the sock on the left. But overall, the effect is similar:

But the pair I’m knitting now has very prominent stripes:

In this case I do want both socks to be alike. Nowadays some of these yarns have a special starter thread that helps create two identical socks, but my yarn doesn’t. So what I’ve done is I’ve chosen a clearly recognizable part in the stripe pattern (the narrow blue stripe bordering the part with the turquoise in the middle) and started with that. I hope I can replicate that on the second sock.

Take-along project

I have a confession to make. My scarf in four colours of mohair and silk was meant to be my take-along project. The idea was that I would knit the memories of places I’d been to into it. But I’ve cheated and also knit a bit at home. I wasn’t going anywhere for weeks on end, and I just couldn’t keep my hands off it.

Apart from that, it has accompanied me on an outing with our daughter, a visit to friends in the south of the country and to my knitting group on Wednesday, where I added in the next colour, the bright turquoise on the right (I took the photo beforehand).

In this scarf, two colours are knit together in every ‘block’. This means that the scarf as a whole will be less bright than the yarn on the ball, and that the colours blend nicely together from one block to the next.

Swatches

And last but not least, I’ve been knitting some swatches in an absolutely BEAU-TI-FUL yarn.

This fairly thin yarn is soft, has a slight gleam and comes in a range of lovely colours. I hope to tell you more about it soon.

How to Choose What to Knit Next

The title of this blogpost may suggest that this is some sort of manual telling you how to choose your next knitting project. Well, it isn’t. It is a question that I’ve been asking myself lately. In reality, the question was more like: How ON EARTH am I going to choose what to knit next??????????

Going by what I see and hear around me, there are more people struggling with this question from time to time. It’s a luxury problem, of course. Our grandmothers knew what they had to knit to keep their families warm – not much to choose there. But we live in different times. Our problem is often that we have too much to choose from. Besides, a knitting project can be quite an investment of time and money, so it’s only logical that we want to make the right decision.

What I did to find the answer

I’d love to give you a step-by-step plan, but I can’t. I’m no master of choosing, and I have no idea what works for others. I can only tell you what I did to find the answer, and hope that’s somehow interesting or helpful.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I’d come to a point when there was nothing on my needles except a pair of socks. And when I’d finished those, there was nothing on my needles at all. I hated that. I felt very uncomfortable with it. And yet, I was unable to cast on something new. Why?

To find the answer, I did what I often do when I’m stumped. I took out a notebook and a pen and started to write.

In brief, my problem-solving writing process works like this:

  • I set a timer for a specific time, say 15 or 20 minutes.
  • I write down everything that comes to mind regarding the problem.
  • When the timer beeps, I ask myself: Anything else?
  • I set the timer again, this time for 5-10 minutes, write some more and put down my pen.
  • Then I read through what I’ve written and usually see a pattern emerging.

What I saw this time was that my inability to choose was an after-effect of my career switch. In my new life I have time, energy and creativity left for some more adventurous knitting than I’ve done in recent years. That’s absolutely wonderful, but it also takes some getting used to. And I can’t be adventurous all the time.

I saw that what I really needed was different knitting projects for different situations, different times of the day/week and different energy levels.

What I needed was:

  • Something simple
  • Something challenging
  • Something to play with
  • Something to take along

After I’d made this little list, it was easy to choose what to knit next. I didn’t have to go shopping for yarn, because I’m the happy owner of an wonderful yarn stash. Another luxury that our grandmothers didn’t have (and I haven’t always had either), and I’m very grateful for it. Here is what I chose for each category.

Something simple

This is ‘Granite’, a stylish cardigan, in a very simple stitch pattern, by one of my favourite designers, Kim Hargreaves. I’m going to make it for our daughter. Just the thing to knit on evenings when I crave some meditative, repetitive knitting. It is knit on small needles, so it should keep me occupied for a while.

Something challenging

I bought this yarn kit for a cardigan with a big leaf pattern in Norway years ago. This feels like a huge challenge, and I’m a bit nervous about sharing it here, because I’m not sure I’m ever going to finish it. But I am looking forward to starting it.

Something to play with

This basket is filled with some new (to me) yarns as well as some left-overs from other projects. Playing with them for me simply means: letting the yarns go through my hands, knitting swatches, experimenting with stitch patterns, and trying out some design ideas that I have.

Something to take along

Simple, lightweight, portable, this Color Play Mohair Scarf is knit in four colours of a lovely mohair-and-silk blend. The yarn is thin, but two strands of yarn in different colours are held together throughout. This is an ideal project for knitting on a train or bus, in a waiting room etc.

Oh, I almost forgot – I’ve also cast on another pair of socks. I just can’t live without a pair of socks on my needles:

Well, I surprised myself there. I’d intended to just introduce some new knitting projects, but it evolved into something more than that. Thank you for reading.

I’ll keep you posted about anything worth sharing about these knitting projects. Next time I’ll tell you where I got the ‘challenging’ yarn kit. I hope you’ll join me on the ferry to Norway.

Taking the Plunge

Hello, and welcome to my very first ever blog post! I am really excited about starting this blog, because there is so much inside of me that wants to get out. At the same time it feels pretty scary too, to be honest. It’s a big step from being totally invisible on the internet and social media to showing myself here. But I take courage from the quote on this bag I recently bought from a charity supporting vulnerable children:

‘I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that.’

The quote is attributed to Pippi Longstocking. Funnily enough, it is not something Astrid Lindgren ever wrote, as I discovered when I tried to find out where exactly it came from. Well, never mind. It is a heartening phrase, whoever said it.

On the needles

On my About page you can read that I love knitting, as well as a bit more about who I am. There’s no need to repeat that here. So let’s just dive straight in and look at what’s inside my new knitting bag.

I always have several knitting projects on the needles at the same time. Usually one big project, one pair of socks for mindless knitting, and one or two other projects that require a little more attention. 

Willapa

My big project at the moment is a cardigan for myself. The pattern I am using is Willapa by Annie Rowden. Willapa is a simple, slightly longer cardi in stocking stitch with garter trims, knit from the neck down. The yarn I am knitting with is Lamana Como Tweed, a very soft 100% wool yarn.

I chose the pattern because I could do with a warm-but-not-too-warm cardigan. And also because I wanted to knit something that I could knit on for hours and hours without paying too much attention. I fell for Willapa because of its simplicity, slim fit, pockets and shawl collar. So far, it has been a very enjoyable knit.

The sleeves looked rather narrow. But after trying the half-finished cardi on, I decided that I could live with them and knit on as per pattern. I’m now on to the front band, for which I need to pick up 386 stitches and knit in garter stitch on fairly thin needles for almost 8 cm (3 inches). I’m really looking forward to that. (Honestly! I love knitting long stretches of simple stitches.)

Socks

The next project in my bag is a pair of socks. I always have a pair of socks on the needles for those moments when I need something really simple and comforting to do.

I am using my own tried-and-tested basic sock pattern and a sturdy Regia sock yarn.

Secrets

And then there are some secret things on my needles. Presents that I can’t show you yet because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Now, what’s so interesting about all this knitting stuff that I want to share it here? That’s really hard to explain. If you are a knitter, you’ll probably understand. For me, it’s about working with materials that I am instinctively drawn to, making something beautiful that is useful at the same time and the endless possibilities of combining colours and stitch patterns. Apart from making stuff, I like looking at and reading about what other knitters make. And I hope that others will enjoy looking at and reading about what I’m making in turn.

Thank you

Phew, I did it! I wrote my first blog post. Thank you so much for keeping me company!

Today was all about knitting in progress. Next time I’ll show you a colourful finished project based on a pattern by a wonderful Scottish designer. Plus some photos of our lovely surroundings. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Afterthought

Here’s something about courage that Astrid Lindgren really did write (in The Brothers Lionheart):

‘Jonathan told me how there are things you have to do, even if they are dangerous.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because if you don’t you are not a human being, you’re nothing but a little louse,” Jonathan replied.’

That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? Nothing childish about it, although it was written for children.

I found this quote and the information about the misquote on the official Astrid Lindgren website. It is really worth a visit if you like her books.