Category Archives: General house tips

Natural fertilisers

Bugs1If you want to go organic and steer clear of chemical fertilisers in the garden then there are a few natural alternatives.  Common nettles make a good, if smelly alternative to commercially prepared chemical versions  (another good reason to leave a patch of your garden to run wild). 

Rubber GlovesFor obvious reasons, wear some rubber or gardening gloves to harvest, tear and scrunch up enough nettle stems and leaves to loosely fill a watertight container such as a bucket.   Then weight them down, say with an old plate.  Fill the container with enough water to cover the crushed greenery and then leave to rot down.  (This is a bit smelly so you may want to place this somewhere away from the house)! 

The brew should be ready to use in 3 to 4 weeks and needs to be diluted for use – usually in a ratio of roughly 1 part Watering cannettle liquid to 10 parts water (the resulting diluted liquid should look the colour of tea).  You can keep topping up your supply bucket with nettles and water as the season progresses.  Once your flowers have finished flowering and you no longer have use for the homemade fertiliser, just tip what remains onto the compost heap.

Another alternative is coffee grinds.  Sprinkle them around plants before you water or before rain and the grinds will slowly release nitrogen into the soil.

Flower and beesCrushed eggshells are a well-known old-fashioned fertiliser and work particularly well scattered around roses because of their calcium carbonate content. (An added bonus is that their sharp edges also help to deter slugs).

If you’re lucky enough to live by the seashore then some of the best fertiliser is freely available in the form of seaweed.  You can either treat it in the same way as the nettles above and make a ‘tea’ out of it (which again needs to be diluted for use) or, if it is winter time, dig the seaweed directly into plant borders to feed and condition the soil.

Lastly, but by no means least, consider making either a compost heap or set up a worm Butterflycomposting bin.  In my experience worm bins don’t smell (I kept mine in the garage) and given time they produce wonderful, fine compost and the ‘run-off’ is a good liquid fertiliser for the garden (use diluted as above).

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Thank you

Woman in blueMy generation was possibly amongst the last to be taught old-fashioned manners, including routine acts like acknowledement of the little kindnesses that people show us with a thank you note.  Thank you notes are not only for occasions like thanking grandma for a birthday gift, they should be sent whenever thanks are due for a present, hospitality or a personal favour – basically any time when someone has shown a kindness in thinking of us or put themselves out to help us. 

We’ve all got into the habit of emailing and Twittering and it’s sad that a hand-written note is therefore becoming a rarity.  The fact of the matter is that there is no substitute for holding a note that someone has taken the time to hand-write.  Imagine that you are the recipient and you’ll know that’s true.

Thank you notes should be written promptly after an event and if you’re unsure what to say just remember the golden rule:  Keep it simple, sweet and from the heart.  A personal reference of any kind in the note will help to make the standard text come alive – mention a particular food that the hostess prepared and that you enjoyed, tell her why her gift was so special etc.

One final note: When writing to a married couple, a thank-you letter is traditionally addressed to the wife only.

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Tea, glorious tea

Freshly plucked tea leavesI’ve just written about my own addiction to this glorious drink over at my regular blog and just thought that I’d give you a quick run-down of perhaps lesser-known facts about tea because…well just because you can never know too much about something you love.

Did you know that tea, in its dry form contains more caffeine than coffee?  However, just to confuse you, a prepared cup of coffee contains higher levels than prepared tea.

Unlike coffee, tea also contains valuable anti-oxidants that are associated with preventing cancer and heart disease.

Tea is made from the leaves of a camellia plant, in this case Camellia Sinensis.  

Since tea was first introduced into Britain (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, 1533-1603) it has been credited with healing powers.  This is reflected in a few current English brand names – P.G. (which is said to stand for ‘pre-gestive’) and Typhoo (which is Chinese for ‘doctor’).

A New York merchant named Thomas Sullivan is credited with having invented the first tea bag in 1904 when he sent out samples enclosed in silk.

A nice cuppaAs a nation the British drink 175 million cups of tea daily and this consumption makes it our number one beverage.

The habit of drinking black tea with lemon was a Russian habit introduced by the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria, the Princess Royal, who was married to the Emperor of Prussia.  However the habit never caught on amongst the general British population as the overwhelming amount of tea is drunk nowadays with milk. 

‘Char’, as in the English expression ‘a nice cup of char’ (i.e. tea) is derived from the Chinese word for tea – tcha.

Finally – making tea.  There has been an on-going debate about whether to add the milk to the tea first or second.  Those who brew their tea and then add the milk insist they are right.  I say they’re wrong and now I’m being backed up by scientific evidence (there’s nothing like being smarmy is there)?!  Adding the milk after the tea has brewed precipitates the release of tanins, which tend to make the tea taste more bitter, not to mention causing worse staining of your teeth and the tea cups.  Also, the proteins in milk more easily split and divide if added to the hot tea, leading to clumping.  …And no one wants clumpy tea now do they?.

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Cooking with the seasons – Spring*

salad-bowl1To cook the best food you need to use the best ingredients, but this needn’t involve huge expense if you buy with the seasons.  Local produce is obviously the freshest and most cost effective but even food that has to be imported from elsewhere follows seasons when it is at its best, is more readily available and therefore cheaper. 

SPRING

Seasonal Vegetables 

Asparagus, Avocado pears, Beetroot, Broad Beans, Broccoli, Butter beans, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Chicory, Chives, Courgettes, Leeks, Mint, Mushrooms, New potatoes, Parsley, Peas (beginning in May), Peppers, Purple sprouting broccoli, Radishes,  Salads, Spinach, Spring greens, Turnips, Watercress

Seasonal Fruits

Apples, Apricots, Bananas, Gooseberries, Grapefruit, Grapes,Pears, Pineapples, Rhubarb

Seasonal Meat

Hare, Rabbit, Lamb

Seasonal Fish

Cockles, Crab, Lobster, Mackerel, Mussels, Oysters, Pollack, Salmon, Sardines, Sea Trout

…………………………………

*(Seasons and availability of produce obviously varies from country to country depending on geographical location.   This list is primarily based around location in the UK & western Europe).

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Sleep, Rest and Recoup

tired

Tips for a restful night’s sleep

If you’re reading this, logic tells me that you are concerned about lack of sleep.  First of all, it’s important to say that  while 8 hours is the accepted norm for a good night’s sleep, you needn’t necessarily feel bad because you routinely sleep for less than this.  Some people actually only need 4 hours (Margaret Thatcher being a famous example), while others are out for the count for a full 12 (just about every teenager on the planet).  

However, sleep deprivation, when your body is telling you that you need more rest (!),  can be both debilitating and depressing and no one really wants to resort to potentially addictive chemicals to solve the problem. There are so many possible causes, cures and herbal remedies that I thought it might be helpful to put together a whole list of them.  I hope you’ll find something here to help. 

Herbal Help

Lavender has been known for centuries to induce relaxation and can be used in a number of ways: a couple of drops of essential oil sprinkled on the corner of your pillow will help, as will  lavender oil in a cold diffuser placed in the lavender-1bedroom.

A warm bath, at the optimum time of two hours before bed, helps to regulate body temperature to an ideal level and is particularly helpful when combined with lavender products like bubble bath and body lotion.

Herbal teas can also prove useful – chamomile and valerian (which is often combined with hops) are both well-known for aiding relaxation and sleep.  While both will help with insomnia, I’ve read recently that valerian, especially when combined with ‘chaste tree’ may help with sleep maintenance. 

Extra help and accepted wisdom

Even 20 minutes of gentle exercise during the day can help to stop stress hormones from interfering with sleep.

Try to avoid heavy meals just before bed – a minimum two hour gap between meal and bed is a good idea.

art-deco-girl-11Avoid caffeine drinks like regular tea, coffee and cola in the evening.

Is your actual bed ‘up to muster’?  The lifespan of a bed depends largely upon quality but as a rule of thumb, if your bed is ten to twelve years old you should probably replace it.  (Here’s a tip: If you suffer from backache, it may just be your bed)!

Equally, do you need new pillows?  There are a huge variety of pillows out there – foam, feather, down – and it may just be that a change of pillow would help you get a restful night’s sleep.

Try to avoid sheets with a high synthetic content.  Sheets with a high cotton content allow your skin to breathe, which in turn makes the bed feel more comfortable.  (I tend to buy sheets with a maximum cotton / minimum polyester content, simply because I’ve found some pure cotton sheets can be an absolute swine to launder).

Environment

Try to ensure that your bedroom is furnished fairly simply and is clutter free.  Psychologically, a clutter free bedroom makes for a calmer and more relaxing atmosphere.

Look at using colours for walls, carpets and soft furnishings that you personally find relaxing.  Traditionally shades of blue and green evoke feelings of calm and relaxation in many people but you may have something else in mind.  (For example, I always seem to opt for gentle creams). 

Try not to watch TV or work in bed.  Your bedroom should become associated in your mind with your own haven of peace and utter relaxation.

off-to-bed1The best temperature for a relaxed sleep is surprisingly cool, i.e. 68 degrees.  Fit individual thermostats to radiators if you can so that you can keep your bedroom at this temperature (and save money)!

It goes without saying that minimising noise and light will also help – it’s strange but true that even though you are asleep you will become aware of increasing light levels in a room where the curtains / blinds allow the morning light to percolate through.

If you live in a quiet area and it is safe to do so, leaving a ‘top light’ /small window slightly ajar to let in some fresh air is a good idea.  Good sleep doesn’t happen easily in a stuffy, ‘sealed’ room with stale air.

Less obvious but worth mentioning anyway:

Airing the room each day, allowing a fresh supply of oxygen to flow through your room will keep it smelling sweet and welcoming.

Toss back the covers each morning to allow cool air to permeate the bed covers.  Even half an hour of this while you shower will keep the bed smelling fresh (not to mention keeping any mites at bay)!

Make the bed each day – an un-made bed doesn’t exactly call you to its gentle embrace, now does it?

Change the bed sheets each week (hopefully you knew that one already)!

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I really, really hope something here will be of help.  Let me know how you get on and…

Remember if this is an on-going problem and you feel at all concerned you should still talk to your doctor.

sleep-soundly

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Rose Pot Pourri

Rose pot pourriValentines Day has been and gone and by now those beautiful red roses have begun to fade.  It’s a shame to throw them away when they can so easily be dried and used for pot pourri that will last for many, many weeks, if not months ahead.

The time to turn them into pot pourri is really just as the flower heads start to droop and the petals are dropping away because once removed from the stem, the petals are still colourful and beautiful.

There are a few methods for drying flower petals, two of which require patience, one of which is quick and easy.  Here’s the quick and easy method and all it requires is a few pieces of kitchen paper, a microwave and a small bottle of rose essential oil (a scent ‘fixative’ of orris root powder is an optional extra).

Method

Gently separate the petals from the stems and scatter them in a single layer on a microwaveable plate onto which you have placed a piece of kitchen paper.  Microwave on a medium setting for 15 seconds, turn the petals and microwave again for another 15 seconds.  The petals will become a richer, darker colour but shouldn’t be brittle.  I find that I can generally do one bloom at a time like this.

When they’re all done pop them in a plastic bag and scatter with a few drops of rose essential oil, close the top of the bag and gently toss the petals in the bag.  Then preferably leave the bag shut for half an hour or so before use.  Display in pretty, open containers around the house and top up the scent with more drops of essential oil as and when necessary.

If you want to make the scent last longer, you can add approx. one tablespoon of orris root powder per cup of petals just before you sprinkle on your initial dose of rose oil.  Orris root is simply a natural fixative, derived from the root of a species of iris, and can be obtained from many herb supply outlets.

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Caring for glassware

GlasswareDishwashers are wonderful, time saving devices but unfortunately do no favours at all to precious glassware.  If you find that your  glasses are losing their sparkle and becoming cloudy it may well be because of the action of the dishwasher – a combination of the softeners that are put into many water supplies, coupled with the high temperatures and the detergent we use in the dishwasher.  

Delicate crystal or precious glassware is therefore best cleaned by hand.  If you don’t want to tackle the washing up straight after you’ve used your glasses, do at least give them a quick rinse so that wine or other liquids aren’t sitting in them for any length of time.  Wash individually in hot soapy water – ordinary washing up liquid will do – and then rinse straight away in hot clear water.  (Don’t rinse in cold water because the change in temperature may make the glass shatter).  Place on a draining rack and then dry with a lint free cloth.  (I usually dry with kitchen roll and then shine with a lint free cloth).

If you have items like narrow vases that are difficult to clean, use denture cleaning tablets to do the work for you but only leave for the recommended length of time.  Rinse and then dry.

Glassware that has a cloudy or milky appearance may be restored to a sparkle by wiping gently with vinegar on a soft cloth.  However, it’s worth saying that liquids can actually permanently etch the surface of glass, giving that same milky appearance. 

The moral of the story is simple: Never leave liquids sitting in glassware for any length of time.

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