Bonsai – What a grower should do in winter

bonsai 2

I know the true GIYers out there will roll their eyes at this post, and argue that there is plenty to be doing outside, even in winter. They would say that people should be out pruning bushes, mending fences and building compost bins, and that there are even some vegetables that do best if they are left over winter. But for me it’s just too bloody cold and wet. Yes, you get those rare bright sunny days in November or December, but they are still freezing cold, and once dismal dank wet January rolls in, well you can just forget it, I’m battening down the hatches until March.

So, what to do instead? My solution plant a forest. A bonsai forest.

Bonsai trees are very expensive to buy, because they take many years to grow into strong plants, and take attention to cultivate a beautiful form, however the seeds are incredibly cheap, and as I’m not really doing anything else for the next thirty years, I thought why not give it a shot and grow a little forest.

The first thing to know about bonsai is that it is a way of growing plants, rather than being a strain of plant, so you can grow bonsais from any tree seeds. As I intended to keep these trees indoors, although in an unheated porch, I thought I would look for trees that like a warmer climate. I like the idea of bright colours so I chose the Japanese Red Maple, which has a light bark but a bright red leaf.

Standard advice states that the best time to plant these seeds is in autumn, because this way you follow nature’s time schedule and the young seedling will have a full summer to grow after germinating in early spring. However, I felt this advice was for people growing trees outside, and as I had my handy porch, I decided to ignore that advice and plant the seeds I had anyway. I planted in December.

The process at this stage is much the same as the germination process for any seedling. I got seedling compost, put it in a pot with drainage holes, put the seeds in 2 inches deep and covered. Then the waiting game starts. Will they sprout? Did I buy dud seeds? Have I over watered them? Have I under watered them?

Eventually, what felt like an age later, I started to see little stems poking green shoots out of dark moist soil. I got very few to propagate, in comparison to my usual ratio of dead seed : seedling. I think this is because I left them in the porch. My reasoning for doing so was that this is a bright, well-ventilated area that is also sheltered from frost. However, in reality the temperature here fluctuates wildly in the winter, in a way it does not in spring or summer, or even autumn. The glass means that on those bright, sunny winter days the porch gets very warm, but then at night the temperature plummets, not to freezing, but really not much higher than the outside temperature. And although there is no frost or worse snow, this fluctuation in temperature is not good for propagation.

So I am going to try it again. And I think I will again ignore the standard advice (probably to my peril). My instincts tell me that the best time to plant seeds, given my set up, is spring, because then the porch works well as a little incubator: the temperature is a little warmer than outside, but the fluctuations are not as great. I am also going to try with more locally sourced seeds or native trees, to see if I have any more success with climate appropriate trees. I am also fascinated to see if I can get these trees to go through the process of shedding their leaves and re-growing them in spring, so I am going to get some deciduous trees, maybe an oak or an ash.

I also do realise that this is an ancient art-form, that has been much studied and documented, and that there are even courses that I can go on to learn how to do this properly (The Bonsai Shop, Powerscourt ), but I like the trial and error and discovering what works for myself in my situation. Besides what’s a few months spent tinkering when compared to the next thirty years of growth required?

As always, I will keep you posted on my progress.

The Lesser Spotted Stealth Hen

cathy chicken

When I was new to haggling (the act of keeping hens for eggs, for those down the back), I was continuously amazed by how thick hens really are, and how they managed to lose each other in such a small 2mx1m space, so quickly and so completely. I seriously think that, as well as the miraculous ability to lay eggs, some of them might come with the ability to procure parts for a personalised cloaking device. We had two in particular, Foghorn and Leghorn, whose antics reached notoriety in our small neighbourhood.

Without fail every morning Foghorn would wake up early, shout to be let out of the coop, fall down the ramp backwards and run straight for the feed – mind on the job; focused like a ninja. Leghorn slept on. Because it was 5.30am. Then panic set in for poor Foghorn – Leghorn was not beside her. The calling and the squawking would start, much to the neighbours’ delight, as its now about 6am. Foghorn (aptly named as it turns out) would run up and down that 6ft run desperately trying to find Leghorn.  Leghorn, I swear, sat up in the coop out of spite, watching that stupid bird run up and down below it, plotting the revenge the rest of us so desperately wanted. Eventually when it actually sounded like Foghorn was going to have a stroke with the panic, Leghorn would saunter down the ramp and present herself, at which point Foghorn would promptly forget she was ever missing. They reminded us a little of Pinky and the Brain and Foghorn was certainly not the Brain.

Every so often when the events of the day were dull, Leghorn would wait until mid-afternoon (when anybody with small kids would be putting them down for a nap), and as soon as Foghorns back was turned for a moment, Leghorn would disappear as if by magic. It may seem difficult to do this in a 6ft coop composed solely of a run downstairs, a ramp and an empty roosting box on top, but just like in the Shawshank Redemption, that hen would disappear into thin air.  And then the siren that was Foghorn would go off;

“Leghorn.” “Where are you, Leghorn?” Leghorn?” “LEGhorn.” “ LEGGGHHOOOORRNNN.”

Hearing the distress, as a show of companionship and solidarity, most days all the dogs in the neighbourhood would join in, barking and howling and calling and squawking and generally creating a total rumpus (much to the delight of our ever tolerant neighbours, the Neighbourhood Watch Committee and the Residents Association) until one of us went out to look for Leghorn. After a little more searching than should be necessary in such a small space, we would locate Leghorn and the two would be reunited side by side, calm returning.

Although never proven, the deep suspicion was that Leghorn had a secret workshop somewhere in that coop, that she hid in and used to prefect the stealth generating field that hid her each morning.

Foghorn, now happy that everyone in the Big Coop was where they should be, would wander into the nest box to lay an egg (it has to be said she laid really big, nice yoke-filled eggs – yum!). And you just know what is coming next, yes, Leghorn would wait until Foghorn was about half way through her business and then pull her own bizzerker attack. Usually this would only last a minute or two, just to make the point, upset Foghorn and put her off the work at hand. That hen was positively Machiavellian.

That went on all summer. We talked of putting Foghorn in the pot, or returning her to the farm from whenst she came, but somehow we couldn’t seem to separate them. Then one morning I woke up at 7am, my alarm clock going off. I hadn’t heard that sound in 4 months and knew it was not a good sign. Sure enough, we went down stairs and opened the coop; Foghorn was dead. Of what appeared to be natural causes (although with Leghorns advanced scientific qualifications I guess the true causes could remain obscured).

A week or two later we got Leghorn two new buddies. We toyed with the idea of getting just one new hen and calling her Foghorn, the way soaps just get a new actor, but instead decided to get two and call them Maude and Hildegard, names which were not interdependent – allowing any disruptive newbie to be removed. Zero Tolerance, that was the way forward.

Actually though, they settled into a peaceful and markedly quieter existence (so much so that the Residents Association even invited us to the Christmas social). While life is better with those extra two hours sleep in the morning, every so often I catch Leghorn peeking out from the coop upstairs, glaring as the other two hens wander around the garden, clearly annoyed that nobody noticed she was missing for hours or caring that she finally perfected her cloaking device. It’s like watching Q without James Bond.

Turkeys for Christmas

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There is no denying that times are definitely hard when you are planning to put two of your pets in the oven for Christmas dinner. The recession changed many things about me, but when those two handfed lovelies hopped out of the boot of my car, trusting in me implicitly as their provider not to lead them astray, and followed me to the shed where they would be slaughtered, my heart hardened a little in a way that can never be undone. But let me back track a little and explain how we got to this point.

It was October, the allotment was on the wind down, the chickens were settled in and I was ripe for a new challenge. We were also tightening our belts and looking for ways to save a few shillings, when I was hit with a brainwave; what about raising turkeys for Christmas? We could buy two and give one to each of our parental homes as Christmas presents, the cost of turkeys as chicks being a fraction of the value of a fully grown hand-reared organic turkey.

John said No; it was coming into the winter months, when nobody wants to be out doors; turkeys die really easy and as he was in charge of all things deceased in our home, he was not opening the door to two more potentially dead things. No.

I decided to ignore him and arranged with my favourite organic farmer to come down and pick out two poults (I had googled the word for turkey chicks so as not to sound like a total novice).

Now I have to admit to you, in October, I was late to the rodeo. Most people get their poults in July to fed up for December, but in actual fact it was to our advantage that we got the birds older as they were much more robust than they would have been as very young chicks, and therefore their survival rate was much higher.

When I got to the farm the first thing I noticed was that these young turkeys were not small, at about seven weeks old these things were already about the size of a fat domesticated cat, and they were already bigger than our hens at home. However they did not know the power of their size and were some of the most timid farmyard animals.

Two were selected (the easiest to be caught), money changed hands (e8 a pop – total mates rates as they were half reared) and they were put in a box in the boot of my car, with a strict reminder to feed them organic feed. Sorted.

Meep. Meep. The cutest noise I heard every time the noise of the car engine subsided.

I got home, backed up the car boot to the side gate, took out the box (meep. meep. meep.) and put it in the backyard inside the chicken hut. It was already dark by the time I got home so I decided to leave them there until the morning.

The next morning awoken by squawking chickens, I went out to get the feed sorted, only to discover two baby turkeys huddling in the corner of the chicken hut while one pushy chicken (its mate was asleep upstairs) strutting in front of them clearly giving a detailed lecture about who was in charge and who was very much not. It was like watching fresh meat in a jail house.

I put down some chicken feed and took the turkeys out of the chicken hutch. I had always intended them to be fed separately; the chickens staying on their organic layers pellets and the turkeys getting some nice fattening organic turkey meal bought in Ballinahown, Offaly (we bought it as we were passing; it is certainly not the closest place to Dublin in which it is stocked). Turns out however that turkey meal must be nicer than layers pellets because that chicken went berserk at the idea that the fresh meat was getting better treatment, and got her mate out of bed to help with the protest. I gave them a little to shut them up – I know, soft touch – but it actually resulted in slightly yellower yokes, so silver lining.

The next thing to come was the sleeping arrangements. In my innocence I assumed, as the cold October nights were creeping in, that two chickens in a roost built for 6 would welcome the extra body heat two young turkeys would bring. Well not on your life. Those two aule boots sat on the roosting bar at the top of the ramp and pecked any turkey that tried to go up. Bii-atches.

My little darlings shivered at the end of the ramp, seven weeks old not knowing what to do (can you already see the dangerous level of attachment to this source-of-future-dinner creeping in?). So I put them in the shed for the night to keep warm. And gave them a tomato each as a treat, assuring them tomorrow would be better.

The next day I went down to Woodies to look for something that would improvise as a turkey roost – not wanting to invest in anything too substantial or expensive for three months – and came up with a small dog kennel. Not perfect, more expensive than I wanted it to be, but would suffice. In hindsight I actually think that dog kennel was one of our best investments. We locked the front door and access was through the removable roof. Each night John rounded up the turkeys (they quickly became too heavy for poor little me to lift, particularly when it was raining, because I am just a delicate l’ickle girl – poor John) and put them into their nice, safe and warm kennel, meaning they were not wasting that much energy heating themselves, which translated into more energy for growing.

Over the next couple of days another problem presented itself; what would we do if one died and the other lived – whose family would we give it to? Or what happened if one was substantially bigger than the other? Not willing to play favourites we got two leg rings; one red and one blue. The Clarkes were getting the red and the Gibboni (plural of Gibbons) the blue – no changes, no swops.

The next seven or eight weeks proceeded with a certain rhythm; the turkeys had free rein of the back garden (yes, they are dirty and poop everywhere they go, but it was winter, so it’s not like we were using the garden for anything anyway) while the mean chickens stayed confined to the chicken-hut. The turkeys soon found and roosted on the old motorbike parked up for the winter in a position it turns out was perfect to catch the mid-day sun. They happily sat together on that for hours like latter day Easy Riders. They grew and grew (while still making that incredibly cute meep noise, a little like roadrunner) until they were too heavy and big to be lifted into the kennel at night.

Then it came. The first week in December. A call from my favourite farmer, to see when I would be bringing them down for slaughter. Two weeks’ time I said, guiltily trying to put it off for as long as I could. I was really enjoying owning Butch and Sundance (that was not their names, they didn’t have names, because that would make them too hard to kill, you are told clearly not to name them, so the names we did not give them were Butch and Sundance. I know – soft touch.)

Some notes about slaughtering;

1. There are all sorts of how-to guides on the internet, there are all sorts of people who trot out nonsense like “just break the neck” “my granny showed me how to do it, I’ll teach you” etc etc. To be honest I find the whole idea really repulsive. It’s one thing to raise animals for meat, that is a fact of the life, but I firmly believe if you are going to do so, it is your duty to ensure not only does that animal have the best possible life, but also that the death is as quick, painless and humane as it is possible to make it. In my opinion the only way to achieve this is getting a professional to do the job. This is no time for rookie mistakes that inflict agony on a poor bird.

2. In addition to specialised training, the government state that you need an abattoir licence to lawfully kill animals on your land. Even Enda doesn’t think this is an area for DIY.

3. It is not ok to wuse-out of killing the turkeys once December arrives. Having fattened them since birth, they will soon become too heavy for their legs to bear their weight (think of horribly obese humans unable to leave their apartments without calling the fire brigade) and this becomes another form of cruelty. Before getting the birds, you need to have considered by whom and when they will be slaughtered (as this is what they are being raised for), you commit to an action plan at the start and so at d-day you man-up and follow through.

4. In addition to slaughtering the animal, I also asked for the innards to be removed, the bird be plucked and made oven ready as it’s a specialised skill, which at the moment, I was not ready to learn.. I am open-minded about a rookie getting involved in this point of the proceedings, as the bird is already dead, but I personally declined, mainly because I thought this bit would be really gross and I am still a city-girl at heart.

So there I sat in the farmer’s kitchen, chatting to the family, eating yummy homemade cake, having a great ole time, while outside two souls I had nurtured were ushered to the next world (guilt laying on my shoulders as a heavy burden). After really a short period of time the farmer returned with two things that more resembled dinner (thank god for mental compartmentalisation or I would have starved that Christmas), and the rare but so-satisfying nod of a job well done. I had a 16 and an 18 pounder – quite the result for a first timer. Feeling very pleased with myself I dropped them off to their new homes (aka kitchens) to be prepared for Christmas.

After Christmas we did a cost analysis on the whole project (showing we still had our leaving-cert accounting skills). The tangible cost (because no real value can be put on the darkening of my soul) was a total of about e40 for both; e16 for the turkeys, e20 for the feed, and a nominal cost of e4 for the use of the kennel which we were sure to use for other projects in the future.  The value of shop bought organic turkeys of equal weight; e160-200. Result: a total success that we would definitely repeat in the future. I may even learn to pluck.

Entertaining on a Budget

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Someday I will have a house built for entertaining. That is what I covet in a house, a lovely open space for the throwing of dinner or cocktail parties and a kitchen with a very big cooker. I remember a scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Tom Hanks is dealing with a client (he is an architect if I remember correctly) and she is a little freaked out as her kitchen may not accommodate a fridge big enough to take platters if she was throwing a party. I think we are meant to take Tom’s side in this scene and find the lady a wee bit mad in her pestering of poor bereaved Tom however I know where she is coming from. That is the only scene in that movie that struck a chord with me, I too have known the pain of trying to fit too many things into a tiny fridge. Fridge Jenga I call it and it is a pain.

When you live in a rented house with a tiny kitchen and small rooms entertaining can be difficult but it can be done. Forward planning is the thing. I have managed to squeeze 12 people in to my wee dining room and feed them with great success.

The first thing to do is make a guest list. Sit down and think how many people you can realistically fit in your space. If you can’t fit everyone around your table then think buffet or drinks and nibbles.

Then plan your menu, be realistic about your budget. Do not go broke feeding other people. You should also be realistic about what you can cook in your kitchen. You don’t want guests arriving at your door to find a host seething with suppressed rage because you have spent all day in a hot kitchen goddammit and everything has gone awry. Look at cooking times. See how many rings you will need on the stove, how many things will need to go in your oven. Time everything, if you are planning slow cooked pork but you also want roasted vegetables will this work if you only have one oven and you need it at a low heat for the meat. I am deeply envious of my Mum’s three oven range and her five ring hob, I could go mad in a kitchen like that but I have to work with what I have and what I have is a 50″ wide single oven.

This might seem elementary but you should also look at your cooking equipment and your serving dishes, cook with what you have for what you have. If you have one pot and one frying pan then choose your recipe accordingly. The thing to remember is that your guests, if they are right thinking people, will be happy to have been invited into your home and given a meal, they are more likely to be interested in the conversation and the craic than in the actual food. I am not saying don’t try to impress to the best of your ability but you should not make yourself miserable by trying to produce something amazing that while not beyond your capabilities as a cook is beyond your current resources.

Invest in a few things. I have been buying plain white plates and side plates from Dunnes Stores over the past few years. They are cheap and as they keep the same design, easy to replace if you smash one. You don’t need to have matching plates, mismatched plates can look great on a table just make sure you have enough for all the guests. The other thing I invested in was a €50 folding picnic table, this little gem slides neatly in behind our couch when it isn’t being used. Our actual dining table is small and round and just about fits four people but it does fit the dining room. When it is up the picnic table takes up the whole room but since it is only for a few hours it’s grand.

Instead of investing in a proper tablecloth as these can be ridiculously dear I went in to The Woollen Mills, now alas closed, and invested in a few yards of fabric. I got a very inexpensive length of cotton gingham that could be boil washed in case of wine or food spillages for less than €10. Folding chairs are always useful if you have the storage space. Never be afraid to borrow from people if you know they have a few bits you can use. Just make sure to return everything in good nick. There is nothing worse than loaning something only to have it returned damaged or worse still, not returned at all, do not be that person.

Use your imagination and be creative with what you have. I have quite the collection of glass candle holders and yogurt jars that I have carefully cleaned and now use for deserts. A friend kept bringing fancy lemonade in pop top glass bottles when they visited and these have also been scrubbed clean of labels and I use them to serve water. Any interesting jar is kept for flower arrangements. I will gratefully accept things I like when people are doing clear outs, I am not too proud to take used things, one man’s rubbish is another treasure.
Make sure your house is tidy before you start cooking. Once you are deep in dinner prep you will not have time to hoover or mop floors. Clean your bathroom, for the love of all that is holy please do this, put out clean towels, light a scented candle and put some flowers in there. People will be in and out of that room all night so make it a nice place to be.

Clear your entertaining space, move stuff in to bedrooms if needs must. People should feel free to move about without fear of tripping over clutter. This will also make your room look bigger. Set up a drinks station so people don’t keep wandering in to your tiny kitchen, you will need all the space in there for cooking.

Do buy some flowers. Virginia Woolf got the opening of a book out of the importance of getting flowers for a party. Don’t break the bank but go to Aldi or some other reasonably priced store and buy a few bunches of flowers and then break those bunches down and fill a few jars. Raid your garden, if you have one, for some foliage. Dress your table, light some candles put on some music and create the mood.

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It isn’t important to have the most expensive cheese or wine or the best plates and crystal. Good food, well cooked, even if it is just a bowl of pasta and whatever wine was on special offer that day, served picnic style on your sitting room floor will make your guests happy as long as you present it with confidence and grace.

Mary Flahavan’s & Cathy Clarke’s Flapjacks

C35. Flapjack 2

Following the tour de force that was my recreation of Mary Flahavans Oat Biscuits, I thought I would give her flapjack recipe a bash. However, with my new found confidence, I thought I would get a little creative. Now, far be it from me to correct an accomplished baker of many years, but the recipe Mary proposed looked a little bland, so I thought I would add cranberries and plain chocolate to spice it up. Worked a treat in my opinion and here is how I got on:

To adapt these for a Gluten Free Diet simply substitute certified Gluten Free Oats for the Flahavans Oats and check the packaging on the other ingredients to make sure they are suitable for a GF diet.

 

Ingredients

  • 175g Flahavan’s Processed Oats
  • 175g Flahavan’s Jumbo Oat Flakes
  • 200g Kerrygold Butter
  • 100g Tesco Brown Sugar
  • 100g Tesco Dried Cranberries
  • 1 bar Tesco Plain Cooking Chocolate
  • 2tbsp Honey (Mary called for golden syrup, but this is not something that we would have or use in the house so I swopped for honey, because the rest of the jar can be used for sore throats and the like.)

C35. Flapjacks 1

Process

  1. Preheat oven to 150oC
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the sugar and honey. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves
  3. Stir in oatflakes and cranberries
  4. Line a long flat tin (22cm x 33cm) with grease-proof paper
  5. Tip in mixture and flatten with back of spoon
  6. Bake for 30 min until golden brown.
  7. While that is baking, melt chocolate in a glass bowl in a saucepan.
  8. Once baked cut into squares while still warm.
  9. Cover each square with chocolate and leave to cool

 

These flapjacks are the perfect little snacks. They are healthy enough to be eaten for breakfast, and sweet enough for a midday snack. Plus they are quiet filling. All round success, even if I have to say it myself.

 

 

Secret Garden Part 2: The Reckoning

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If you are in rented accommodation please do check in with your landlord before carrying out any work like this.

 
So the weather this spring was not entirely conducive to gardening. There were one or two days of sunshine where I dutifully weeded the bricked patio area only for the weeds to come back in full force when the rain came. Weeding is a true Sisyphean task and standing by the window listening to suitably sombre music while watching the rain pour down I began to feel like this garden project was never going to see a result.

 
However the forecast for this last long weekend was promising so last Friday evening after work Dave and I made our way out to B&Q courtesy of Dave’s Mum, thank you Angela, and picked up two rolls of weed control mesh and four bags of bark chip. The bark chip was on special offer so we got four bags for €25 and the mesh was €7.40 a roll.

 
I wasn’t exactly sure what my plan for the garden was but I had some vague ideas and one of these was to give up on the idea of pretending that the collection of weeds, buttercups and thistles could ever be tamed into anything resembling grass. Even when we have trimmed this right back the stalks are too tough to make sitting on a blanket comfortable. As I want the garden to be a comfy space my idea was to get rid of the weeds and replace it with bark chip. I love idea of creating a fake woodland area and bark chip is cheap which fits in with my very low budget.

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I was afraid of seeking out too much advice in case wiser heads would tell me this was a bad idea but I did run it by my Mum and her thinking was that as long as we dug down deep when we were turning over the sod we should be ok. This is a temporary solution as we may not have this house next year but if I owned this garden I would definitely put more planning in to the project.

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Saturday morning dawned glorious so we were out early to start. We cleared out some rubbish from the garden, found the corpses of three old Christmas trees and again I cursed Dublin City Council for getting rid of the tree collection point that had been conveniently right around the corner from our house. I had a fork and Dave had the shovel so while I broke the surface and loosened things up he turned over the sods of earth and weeds. Let’s just say we were naïve about how much work this would take and by the time two thirds of the garden was turned over and evened out ready for the mesh and chips we were wrecked. Kneeling on the ground and spreading out the chips was almost too much for us.

 
When we were done for that day, collapsed too tired to move we each clutched a well- deserved beer ( thank all the gods for the ready availability for GF beer in my area) and surveyed our work.

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We still have one third of the garden to deal with and Dave is trying to persuade me to leave a little wilderness area between the trees / giant overgrown shrubs at the back so I am trying to figure out a way to make that work. The next step will be a wee bit of planting, possibly in planters rather than making beds in the garden. It feels good to have made a start as now we are committed to seeing it through rather than leaving it moulder for another year.

Define Self-Sufficiency

define self-sufficiency

We were recently followed by a blog called the Self-Sufficient Snail, and it got me thinking about self-sufficiency and what it means to me.

 

Like DeValera I consider self-sufficiency to be an admiral goal and something everyone should strive for. Now please do not misinterpret this statement. I am a happy and active member of the twenty-first century. I do not have survivalist tendencies; there is not a steel press in my kitchen ready for Armageddon with canned foods and long life expiry dates, I am not hoarding shot-guns to stave off a zombie attack and I am not secretly building a bunker that can withstand a nuclear attack. I more mean that I identify myself as a fiercely independent person, who relies on their own means and abilities and feels very controlled when others try to do for me what I am capable of doing for myself.

 

I think it is partly to do with the way I was raised. On the rare occasion that my Grandma or her sisters would read us a bedtime story, the plot usually developed an unusual subtext.

and the fairy princess met her prince, who was equal to her in every way; just as pretty and clever and ambitious. And after an appropriate amount of time dating, the two moved into a beautiful castle, which both their names were on the deeds of because no marriage vows were to be taken until they were sure they could live happily together (divorce not being an option in those days). And although the prince was fabulously wealthy and happy to provide for the princess, the fairy princess kept up her little job and had her own bank account and contributed equally to the household. Then one day the prince asked her to marry him and be his queen and having already established equality in the relationship she agreed and they lived happily ever after.

Most of it floated over the heads of me and my sisters as we drifted off to sleep thinking of all the pretty dresses the fairy princess must have, but these were not intended as fairy stories but cautionary tales from hard working women of the inner city who, although for the most part had very happy relationships themselves, had witnessed up close the devastating effect poisonous and abusive relationships could have on women who had no means to escape. They were not going to fall into the trap, and they were determined to do all they could to ensure the future generations of their line did not either.

 

Although much of their dating advice was largely ignored until we became teenagers, it instilled in us a determination to provide for ourselves, which was backed up by an expectation from our family that we would provide for ourselves. Although that is not to say we were cast adrift at 18. We were told when we got to college that we better get a job or else we wouldn’t have any money for new clothes or going out, and so we all got part time jobs. But in actual fact, I know I was bought coats and boots and jeans and slipped the odd £20 for a special night out, I was certainly not out there on my own as generations before me would have been at that age, but the principle remained strong; if I wanted something I went and got it myself.

 

It is that principle which I hope I still bring to my life today. Life is expensive and I have discovered I have costly tastes and aspirations, which I have to be creative to obtain. My wedding invitations are an example: is making the invitations yourself the cheapest way? No, sending out a Facebook invite or email from somewhere with free Wi-Fi is the cheapest way because it doesn’t cost you a penny, but I was certainly able to make much higher quality invites than I would have been able to purchase. So it’s not that I saved money, it’s that I brought my skills to the table and was therefore able to spend my money much more wisely.

 

The same stands for organic food, am I able to totter down to the supermarket and fill my basket to the brim with organic food? Well, yes, maybe, but I won’t be able to pay for them at the checkout. I am however able to get organic hens and feed them organically, I am able to plant seeds and wait for my crops to grow, and then I am able to take the money I save in these areas and buy better quality meats.

 

This for me is a form of self-sufficiency. Am I self-sufficient the way DeValera would have liked? No. If war came tomorrow could we survive on what food we make in the house? Absolutely not. But does that mean that I am not self-sufficient in the current context, in the environment of our present? I don’t believe that self-sufficiency necessarily means I must follow an isolationist policy. I know what I want, and I know how and where to get it. Yes, I strive to stand on my own two feet, but I also take advantage of all the tools at my disposal. It is not possible for me to interact with society in a normal and happy way if I try and run a farm in the middle of a suburban housing estate, but by doing the little bits that I can do (GIY, crafts and earning money) and taking advantage of all the tools at my disposal (a huge supermarket, quality butchers and craft suppliers), I can achieve roughly the same as what would have been the output of that farm, except I also get happy neighbours, less trouble with animal welfare and branded Kimberly biscuits, a reward in anyone’s book.

 

So GIYers and Home Crafters – what are your thoughts on self-sufficiency? Are you striving to grow and make all the food and clothing required by your family from your home as the Pioneer Women would have done before us? Or are do you feel your achievements are not compromised by nipping down to Tesco’s during the hungry patch?