Growing Microgreens: An Edible Experiment.

I have already written a few blogposts about my efforts to grow vegetables in our back garden and the somewhat disappointing results of my endeavours. These experiments in cultivation were particularly disappointing because I very much want to be the sort of person who effortlessly grows buckets of potatoes and carrots and things in their backyard and spends most of the year feasting on the produce. I have since come to the conclusion that this lofty goal might not be as easily attainable as I had imagined, particularly bearing in mind my almost total lack of knowledge and experience. This does not mean that I have given up, however. I still want to try and grow vegetables, even if I no longer expect anything much to come of it.

A couple of weeks ago, we attended a microgreens workshop, run by someone who has his own side business selling microgreens to local restaurants. The workshop was organised by the Tool Library, which hosts regular workshops and classes to teach people skills such as carpentry and sewing, as well as providing a lending service for DIY tools and equipment. The man who ran the workshop informed us that the two fastest growing microgreens (producing ready-to-eat leaves in 10-12 days) were peas and sunflower seeds. He provided us with trays and pea seeds to take home, so we could try growing some for ourselves. If anyone else has had similar failures with growing vegetables and is about to give up hope of ever growing anything edible for themselves, microgreens are the answer. I was astonished at the speed at which they grew, the amount of flavour packed into the leaves and the fact they needed very little assistance – a tray, some pro-mix soil, a bit of watering and sunlight was pretty much everything they required. You do have to soak the seeds for 24 hours before planting them – the ones we were given at the workshop were pre-soaked so we didn’t have to do it this time round – and you can also place them in a special cleaning solution before soaking them if you have hygiene concerns, but really, the process of growing them is for the most part extremely simple. Did I mention how fresh and delicious the microgreens taste? I don’t even like salad-y stuff that much and I was quite happy to eat them raw, with no dressing or anything.

I’ve included some photos below, so you can see how fast they grew. We actually sowed the seeds during the workshop, which was on 28th January. The man running the workshop said it would take 3 days for them to sprout and I think it probably was around 3-4 days for us. These first three photos were taken on the fifth day.

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You can see they were a bit yellow to start off with, because they’d been placed on top of the fridge (the warmth aids germination), where there was less sunlight available. In two days, they’d greened up nicely!

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By 9th February 2018 they were almost getting too big – when they start sprouting tendrils to try and climb, you need to start eating them quick or they’ll taste too “woody”! We thought they still tasted great at this point though.

At this point, we demolished the lot over the next two days. They then started re-growing (apparently you should only let them re-grow once, because there isn’t enough energy left in the seed for them to grow again after that. If we want to grow more after this, we need to put fresh soil in the tray and start again with new seeds. I think this is something we will definitely be doing – this edible experiment, at least, has been a resounding success!

17th February 2018

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The Bliss of Solitude

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go to my favourite local beach cove for some alone-time. Most of this summer has been spent either working or in a whirl of socialising and while it has been a lot of fun, I also realised that I needed to take a bit of time to just sit quietly by myself for a few hours.

It is a clear, bright and sunny afternoon when I arrive at the beach carpark. I am pleased to see that there are plenty of spaces empty, as this means that it is easy for me to park and also that the beach will not be too crowded. Along the edge of the carpark runs a small river with steep banks on either side. On the carpark side the bank is covered with wildflowers and bushes, but the opposite bank is full of trees. As soon I as I step out of the car, I am distracted from my intention of heading to the beach and find myself crouched on the ground, gazing at some yellow snapdragon flowers, some of which appear to have ants trapped inside them. I wait for what feels like ages to see if the ants emerge on their own and when there is no sign of them leaving of their own accord, I gently lift up the top part of one of the snapdragon flowers and see the ant inside move as if to seize its chance and escape. But then it turns around and goes right back in again. I let the flower close up and leave the ant to go about its business, guessing that it probably knows its own way out.

There are several large rocks marking the boundary between the carpark and the riverbank. I sit on one of these and gaze down at the lower slopes of the bank and the river bubbling past at the bottom. Above, the sky is clear and cloudless. I hear grasshoppers or crickets rasping away in the bushes and the sounds of other visitors arriving or leaving in their cars behind me. I see cabbage whites flickering to and fro and what might be red admirals delicately perching on flowers and slowly opening their gorgeous wings. When their wings are closed, they seem to vanish and it takes considerable focus to keep my eyes on them until they choose to open them again. There is another type of butterfly I don’t know the name of, even bigger than the red admirals but with similar colouring – and their large size makes it even more startling when they, too, vanish and re-appear again moments later. I wonder whether there are fish in the river. This is later confirmed when, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a fish flipping over and flashing its belly at the surface, several metres downstream. I notice purple fluffy-headed thistles next to the rock I am sitting on and spot raspberry bushes further down the bank in front of me. I am only a few dozen metres from the beach, but I can’t hear the waves at all, only the murmuring of the river as it flows over and around the large stones wedged into its bed. The sound is so gentle, it feels as though the river is deliberately keeping its voice down, so as not to unduly disturb the peace.

I decide to move further down the river to see if I can spot more fish and end up sitting on another rock, right next to the water’s edge. The water is so clear, I am able to spot a fish flicking round in the shallows near the opposite bank. I look up at the bank and notice an enormous scarlet butterfly on one of the flowers. It occurs to me that I should be more bothered about my lack of knowledge regarding plant and animal identification, but I am too content to just sit and observe them to let this worry me. I hear male grasshoppers or crickets tentatively chirruping in the undergrowth nearby, with a pause in between each sound, as though they are not quite sure whether they really do want to attract a mate. I see bees buzzing round the thistle flowers beside me. There seem to be two types, one has a few black and pale yellow stripes on its thorax and a black abdomen, which is trimmed with a barely-visible fringe of golden hairs. The other type has thick black and yellow stripes on its thorax and many, thinner stripes on its abdomen. Their quiet buzzing is both echoed and overpowered by the throaty roar of a car engine from the nearby road and later by the flat drone of an aeroplane. I realise that, if I’d come here sooner, I could easily have spent all day here, just sitting and observing. Despite being the sort of person who uses social media frequently throughout day, out here I am somehow not in the least bit bored.

My girlfriend phones me to tell me that she will be home soon. I decide that I should probably get down to the beach for at least a few minutes before I leave, so I climb back up the bank and walk down to the shore. There are several groups of people spaced out at intervals along the beach – older couples, parents with their kids, people walking their dogs. I sit down close to the sea and then lie back on the pebbles. They are pretty hard and unforgiving, but I wriggle my head and back until I am nestling between, rather than on top of, the sharper stones. I pick up a couple of pebbles and feel their warm, comforting weight in my hands as I close my eyes. I turn my head towards the sun and see an intense whiteness behind my eyelids. It occurs to me that if I fell asleep here and then awoke suddenly, I could unwittingly be blinded. This thought prompts me to sit up again after a minute or so, as I am well aware of my propensity to fall asleep anywhere I am vaguely comfortable. I watch a man skim a few stones along the water and am tempted to do the same, but it would require standing up and carefully selecting stones and it frankly feels like too much effort right now. I idly throw a few pebbles in the sea, deliberately trying to create the biggest “splosh” possible. There is something enjoyably pointless about returning a handful of pebbles to the sea. I listen to the rhythmic clinking of the pebbles as the sea pulls them back towards the water and savour the feel of the warm breeze on my skin, well aware that soon this balmy weather will be over, not to return for another eight or nine months.

Just before I leave, I  take out a slim notebook from my rucksack and write a few notes, hoping this will help to embed the experience in my memory and not spoil it by over-thinking things. Later, when I realise that I somehow only took one rather poor-quality photo the whole time I was there, I will be very grateful for these rough jottings, which allow me to re-experience the afternoon and ensure that it will not be forgotten.

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#30DaysWild in Newfoundland

This year I joined in with #30DaysWild for the first time. It’s a celebration of nature that takes place every June and although it’s based in the UK, anyone, anywhere can join in. The hashtag allows people to share their photos and posts with others on social media and it’s fascinating to see such a huge range of wildlife being featured, from fungi to trees and from insects to orcas.

I had started to feel somewhat disconnected from the natural world, seeming to spend most of my time studying for the last year or so. I spent most of my childhood reading books and climbing trees, so it felt like I had lost something through this disconnection. #30DaysWild seemed like the perfect excuse to get more involved with nature again – and learn something about the wildlife around me. Now I live in Newfoundland, I have to learn new animal and plant names – although they do still have much of the same flora and fauna as the UK. I made it a goal to take at least one photo a day, which turned out to be a fairly reasonable and realistic goal – even if it did result on a hasty photo of the moon at 11pm on at least one of the days! Scrolling through my Camera Roll in preparation for this post, I noticed that I only missed one day – 17th June. Participating in #30DaysWild this year was so rewarding and I would highly recommend it to anyone – particularly anyone who has kids, as this is a great way to get them more engaged with nature.

Over the course of the month, I found that I became a lot more observant. Because I was actively looking for things to photograph, I slowed down and paid more attention to the petals on a flower. I noticed spiders lurking in a tree-bark cave and snails hiding in a flowerpot. I found mushrooms growing halfway up a tree and began recognising local birds. And on a few occasions, I went out to the back garden at 11pm and watched various creatures going about their nocturnal business under torchlight.

Here are some of my favourite photos from my #30DaysWild experience. Almost all of these were taken in my back garden or within a twenty minute walk from our house – proving that you don’t need to go hiking in the wilderness or forking out for fancy wildlife-watching tours in order to see some truly fascinating creatures!

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Iceberg-hunting in Newfoundland!

Newfoundland attracts tourists for several reasons, one of which is the annual appearance of icebergs, particularly along the north-east coast, around April-May. A small town known as Ferryland (about an hour away from the main city of St. John’s), recently hit the headlines because a giant iceberg had parked itself just offshore. This year, the icebergs around St. John’s have been fairly small and not particularly photogenic, so a few days ago, when the weather had brightened up a bit and the temperature climbed to a sultry 9 degrees, a few friends and I decided to go to Ferryland and see the famous iceberg for ourselves.

 One of our group has lived in Newfoundland for several years, so took on the role of navigator – and also notified us of a restaurant in Cape Broyle (a town about 10 minutes before Ferryland) that provided fish and chips, so naturally this became an integral part of our itinerary for the day.

We set off from St. John’s at about 12pm and arrived in Cape Broyle about an hour later, ready and willing to consume significant quantities of fried food, which was very tasty. I would definitely recommend the Riverside Restaurant, for anyone else headed out that direction on a similar trip.  We then drove the final 10 minutes or so to Ferryland, stopping on the way to take some photos of the pack ice that was floating in the bay.

 

As you can see, it was a gorgeous day, with perfect, clear blue skies. We still needed hats and coats, but it was definitely warmer than it had been. On arriving at Ferryland, we discovered that the iceberg had moved further down the coast and was so far away that it barely showed up in our photos!

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We planned to walk to the Ferryland lighthouse to see if the view was any better, but soon decided to head further down the coast to try and get a bit closer to it.  We drove a couple of coves further down until we reached Port Kirwan, where a helpful local told us that if we drove up a dirt track and then walked a bit, we would get very close to the iceberg. We have a normal-sized car rather than the monster trucks that you often see here, so I was slightly concerned about navigating this steep dirt track, but we made it through and parked the car at the end of the track, where it became a trail. Several other cars had also parked in the same spot and we saw several people coming back down the trail, one of whom told us that the iceberg was about 15 minutes walk away. The trail was extremely muddy – luckily none of us were wearing trainers or Ugg boots, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to manage it without sacrificing our shoes! We weren’t really walking so much as hopping between slightly less boggy patches.

 There were two points in the trail where it split into two paths. At the first split, we were lucky and chose the right path. The second time, we went the wrong way and wasted 5-10 minutes before we realised our mistake. We came upon other iceberg-hunters who had already found it and another person told us the iceberg was only 15 minutes away. Seeing as we had now been walking for about 20 minutes, the first person had already been established as a deceiver, so we had our doubts about this statement, which were confirmed when it took us about another 30 minutes to finally bring the iceberg in view. But at last we were able to get a good look at the iceberg – and it was magnificent! One of our friends informed us that she had heard this iceberg was bigger than the one that sank the Titanic!

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We kept on walking till we reached the top of the hill (appropriately named Bald Head) and sat for a while, admiring the iceberg – and recovering from our hike!

On our way back, we timed our descent and it took us about 45 minutes in total – a fact which we were careful to relay to any walkers heading up the trail who asked us how much further it was!

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To round off our adventure and restore our tissues with vital nourishment, we drove back to St. John’s through Mount Pearl and got ourselves some ice-cream at (where else??) Bergs.

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It was an excellent day and we definitely made the most of the good weather! If you are ever in Newfoundland during iceberg season, make sure you head out to find some, they are a pretty amazing sight!

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From Disillusioned Unemployment to Therapist-in-Training

I seem to have writer’s block when it comes to this blog. There are several things that I want to write about, and I have even started a couple of blogposts, but somehow what I’ve written so far isn’t capturing what I wanted to convey, so they’re just gathering dust in my Drafts folder, waiting for me to have the confidence to go back and finish them. I used to write blogposts a lot more frequently and I know that this was partly because I had more time, but I was also less intimidated than I am now, which seems silly, because I don’t think my writing skills are any worse. Perhaps it’s just that I’m now spending more time absorbing content than producing it – even on Twitter, I rarely write my own tweets anymore, but instead spend most of my time on there RT-ing other people’s opinions. I am not happy about the fact that I seem to be more self-conscious about my writing than I was before, but I am hoping that my goal of writing four blogposts this year (which sounds pathetically low) will make it easier for me to come back to it. The first rule of Behavioural Activation, for those who are feeling unmotivated and lacking in confidence, is to set very small, easily achievable goals, so you can meet them without too much difficulty and boost your confidence. I am therefore going to follow this advice, which I have handed out to my clients several times – on the basis that if it’s good enough for me, then it’s good enough for them.

So first, a quick update on what I’m doing now. I’m currently in my second year of a doctoral program in clinical psychology. If I get through the program, I will be able to get a job as a clinical psychologist and start my career as a therapist. It has taken me a long time to get here. I completed my BSc in Psychology at uni nine years ago and had no idea what I wanted to do after that. I mucked about for a couple of years, travelling a bit and volunteering, before finally deciding that I did want to do more studying. I completed a masters in Mental Health Studies, which was advertised as being a good stepping stone to a clinical psychology course. At this point, I was considering clinical psychology, but did not feel particularly confident about my chances, because it is extremely competitive to get into the PsyD program and I didn’t think I was ambitious and dedicated enough to do it. However, it was something that really interested me, because I liked the idea of being a kind of GP for mental health – meeting, assessing, diagnosing and treating people with all kinds of mental health issues. The biggest barrier to making it onto a clinical psychology course is work experience. You must have at least a year’s worth of work experience (this is a bare minimum) as either an assistant psychologist or a research assistant. Most of these jobs are advertised through the NHS. Some idea of how difficult it is to get these jobs can be gained from the fact that every time one of these positions was advertised on the NHS jobs website, the application would close within 24 hours due to the sheer volume of applicants. One recruiter I spoke to said they had received over 300 applications within that 24 hour period. I even applied for positions that were unpaid (like psychology internships), but after receiving feedback from one recruiter that I needed more volunteer experience (to get an UNPAID position!) I gave up and applied to work as a teaching assistant in a primary school instead. This was a really low point for me. I had no experience with children and no particular desire to work with them, but the recruiters were looking for people with psychology degrees to work one-to-one with autistic kids and I figured that at least this would give me some experience that was vaguely related to psychology.

In contrast to the psychology positions, I heard back from three TA recruiters within 24 hours, which tells you a lot about how desperate they were for teaching assistants, bearing in mind that, as I mentioned earlier, I had precisely zero experience working with children. I got a place at a primary school and quickly realised that I was way out of my depth, with absolutely no idea whether I was doing okay or fucking up on a fairly monumental scale. No one ever actually took me aside and told me that I was doing things wrong, but I never really felt comfortable in that environment and although I did gain some valuable experience and enjoyed working with the kids on a one-to-one basis, I never felt like I learned how to handle even a small group of them on my own. The child with autism that I was assigned to was an absolute sweetheart and needed much less support than I had anticipated, which meant that I actually spent more time helping other kids in the class who were struggling to keep up with the work. I definitely don’t regret the experience, because I learned a LOT, but I do wish that I had received more support and feedback on my performance, so I could have known for certain whether or not I was doing an adequate job.

Fast forward two years and I am now in a PsyD program in Canada and enjoying it very much. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and I get pushed out of my comfort zone on an almost weekly basis, but I’m also learning a huge amount and feel incredibly supported by the faculty, my supervisors and my classmates. I don’t honestly think I could ask for better support and encouragement. Last week I went to my first ever conference and presented some data relevant to my thesis project. My thesis supervisor helped me choose what data to focus on, edited my abstract and made suggestions for my presentation. I probably wouldn’t even have been accepted for the conference without her advice and support. I am coming to the end of my first placement now, which has involved me learning how to conduct therapy, honing my clinical interview skills, how to facilitate a psychoeducational group, how to do a diagnostic assessment and how to write up case notes. I have been given every opportunity to try new things and develop new skills, whilst still feeling nurtured and supported by those with more experience. In addition to developing important clinical skills, I also feel that I am growing as a person. After feeling stuck and stagnant for so long when I was unemployed, it’s amazing to finally feel that I am making progress and doing something meaningful!

I am hoping to write a couple more posts talking about my experiences on the program, for the benefit of anyone who might be considering clinical psychology as an option and also for those who are curious about what psychologists actually do.

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Gardening Update – A Few Hits and Several Misses.

Wow, so this is my first blogpost for a while! It’s another gardening update –  but I do plan to write some non-gardening posts in the future. I just felt that, in the interests of honesty and openness, I should talk about the results of my first attempt at gardening. I should also probably admit that I put off writing this update because things did not go as well as I had hoped and I was kind of embarrassed…however, as I said in the first of these posts, I feel that it is important to document the failures, as well as the successes, because too often people omit to mention – or gloss over – the disappointments and it all seems suspiciously easy.

Overall, my first foray into proper horticulture  was not really what you would call a success! The plants that did the best (as in, provided the most produce) were those that required absolutely no intervention on my part, i.e. the raspberry bush and the redcurrant bush. In contrast, the plants I actively put effort into cultivating failed pretty miserably. My carrots were minuscule – if you combined the whole crop together it would probably have just about made one normal-sized carrot!

The zucchini (courgette) that I had such high hopes for also came to nothing – as I mentioned in my last post, they were unfortunately devoured by slugs, along with the radishes! However, up until then, they were doing well, so I think I will try them again next year and be more wary of any slimy visitors.

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I made the difficult decision to remove all of my strawberry plants and try re-planting new ones this spring – I already have a contact for someone who might be able to sell me some, so I am also hopeful for these, although I may not get much of a crop from them this summer. The raised beds are currently covered with snow, so nothing much will be happening there for a few months, at least.

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The only other plants that did well were my indoor ones. The basil is still going, although I discovered today that there were some tiny flowers on it, which unfortunately means that the basil leaves won’t taste as good any more, so I may find a new basil plant and make sure I pay closer attention to it this time. I also want to get a couple of other herb plants, possibly rosemary and parsley, but maybe others too – although I am running out of space on our windowsill!

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The mystery plant that I thought was mint is starting to look more and more like basil and is also still growing, but it’s now very tangly. I’m not sure whether to just give up on this – I’ve already tried thinning it out, but it just got tangled again. My friend has recently given me a tiny mint plant that he propagated, so I might just focus on that one instead, especially since I know for certain that one is mint!

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My pepper plant is also doing very well – the green peppers finally changed colour and are now a bright cheerful orange! I’m not sure whether to pick them now or wait and see if they change to red…I think I may try growing more this year, but perhaps choose hot peppers rather than bell peppers this time.

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Finally, I also attempted to grow new celery from a celery “butt” left over from a bunch we bought at the supermarket. This has done pretty well and in fact needs harvesting soon – and also should be moved to a bigger pot. I love that it was so easy to re-grow the celery, and although it hasn’t produced proper big juicy stalks, the leaves will make a nice addition to our next pot of stew!

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In conclusion, I am somewhat disappointed with my gardening attempts this year, BUT I am still feeling fairly optimistic about the coming year, with several ideas of things to grow and also a newly-acquired compost bin, which will hopefully help to enrich the soil and promote better growth.

If you haven’t tried gardening but want to have a go, I would recommend starting with a few herbs, perhaps re-growing some celery and maybe a pepper plant or two. These don’t take up much space and brighten up your home – and can also be kept going through the winter, which is important when you live somewhere like Newfoundland!

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Gardening Blues

This is my third gardening update and I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to forgive the slightly pessimistic tone of this blogpost because my horticultural endeavours are Not Going Well. I was away for almost the whole of July and despite having some lovely people come round and water the plants/feed the pets while we were on holiday, the garden now seems to be struggling a bit.

I planted out my 4 zucchini plants in between the rows of spring onions in one of the raised beds before we left, but it seems that some hungry bugs have been munching on them because the leaves have all but disappeared on two of them and the other two are also looking a bit disheveled. I had high hopes for these, seeing as they grew so quickly in the pots, but it looks like we might be struggling to get any zucchinis this year. Perhaps if I buy some slug pellets or other type of bug repellent, they might do a bit better, but I’m not feeling terribly optimistic.

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The carrots, on the other hand, are still growing nicely – they seem to be the only outdoor plants that are thriving right now – which is odd, because I thought I had read somewhere that carrots were not ideal veggies for beginners. Having said that, I know from previous experience that they might be green and bushy on top without having much going on below the soil, so there may still be a distinct lack of actual carrots later on!

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The small tub of radishes I planted also didn’t make it, which is rather disheartening, because I had read in several places that radishes are super easy to grow, but it might be that the containers weren’t right and perhaps didn’t have enough soil. I might try them again if I have some seeds left – and this time, lavish a bit more care and attention on them!

The most disappointing of all, however, are my strawberry plants, which seem to have developed a fungal disease called Leaf Scorch. Apparently this can be caused by “overhead watering” which I think is what I’ve been doing, as well as overall damp conditions. The soil hasn’t seemed overly damp, hence me watering them on a regular basis, but perhaps I’ve been watering them too much. Apparently thinning out the plants, ceasing overhead watering and re-planting with new, unaffected plants after the season is finished can help to control the disease, so that’s my plan for now. If anyone has any other tips or suggestions, please let me know! Its a particular disappointment because the poor plants were doing so well up until this point; they were flowering and ready to produce fruit, but now they all seem to be dying. Ah well, this is as much, if not more, of a learning experience as growing healthy plants would be, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

My indoor plants are doing somewhat better – especially the hot peppers, which are now enormous. However, they are now a problem, because I had to re-plant two of them in bigger pots that won’t fit on the windowsill, but I also can’t put them outside because it seems to be too windy, even in the somewhat sheltered porch! I did try it, but after a day the plants were actually losing leaves because of the wind, so I brought them indoors again. I guess I need a mini greenhouse or something, so they can be outside and absorbing sunshine, but protected from the wind.

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My spearmint is also FINALLY growing – still very slowly, but it is at last making progress. So it’s not all doom and gloom!

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My plan for the next couple of weeks is to start again with the radishes (in a more suitable container with lots of decent soil), maybe buy some slug pellets to protect the zucchinis and perhaps remove some of the strawberry plants that look like they’re too sick to recover. Hopefully I’ll have better news in my next update. Onwards and upwards!

 

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