A Spring of Birds, Dandelion Puffs and Wool

Hi all! Can you believe we are already in mid May? The past weeks turned out bleak with women’s reproductive rights being taken away in America and with it we add another grim chapter to a series that has been really sad and depressive already. I’m pro choice and will stand with women whatever their choice is and I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that a sizeable group wish for the opposite. I’ve been grieving for the world and where we are and with everything going on it’s hard to think of much else but I shall try to bring some light to this post.

Everyday life is full and everything is going by in such a flurry that I feel if I blink I’ll miss spring and we will be in summer. The weather here has been so sunny and warm that is doesn’t feel far off. I thought it was time to do another general post about my spring crafts, wanderings and pottering to get you up to date with what I’m working on. These posts -like most of my posts- hover on, ahem, the long side, but I’ve given everything headers so you can just skip what doesn’t catch your interest. If the rottenness of the world has gotten to you as well these weeks I can reveal there are baby bird photos in this post so if anything you can scroll and have a look at those and be reminded that not everything stinks (even though it sometimes hard to remember that with everything going on). Let’s go!

Spring had an odd start here. Pretty much all of March was mild, warm and very sunny; at times in my apartment you could be fooled thinking it was June instead of March! We had no rain in March either…nothing, apart from the new records that came raining down; record amounts of sun, temperature records, and drought records. You would think that the mild weather would have urged plants to grow and bulbs to blossom, but because of the draught it turned out the opposite, in the wild at least. We even had our first, small, but nonetheless extremely early and alarming wildfires. Then April rolled around and we were back to the freezer with snow and cold and a bit of rain. It didn’t last though, it’s been extremely dry again and it doesn’t look like the end of May will be changing things up. This amount of dryness – with summer yet having to start – is worrying and I hope we see some rain yet before the truly hot weather kicks in.

Anyway, this explains why most of spring the forests were bare and dry and looking for woodland wildflowers was like an Easter egg hunt, except the person hiding the eggs had called it good after placing 1 or 2 and then buggered off. Now the greenery has returned; trees and shrubs have steadily coloured greener and greener by the week, puffs of pink and white blossoms have come and delighted and everywhere birds are singing. With the windows open it’s a pleasure to have a constant concert of bird tunes accompanying your every day. With the sunny weather I’ve spotted lots of pollinators; peacock, comma and brimstone butterflies were the first butterflies I noticed waking up from their winter snooze. I’ve since seen lots more butterflies; like the speckled wood butterfly you can see in the photo below.

There have been lots of bumblebees as well and the overwintering solitary bees have broken free from their winter slumber in our insect house and mason bees have started laying next year’s generation. Our two insect houses are so crowded already that we are going to endeavour to find spots for a few more so the summer visitors will have some space still! The first dandelions were late with coming on here (they are one of the best bee food flowers around!) but now they are springing up everywhere and turning to seed heads, as well as daisies, mayflowers, vetch, and lamiums. Spring is well and truly here and I’m relishing being surrounded by more and more greenery everyday.

Knitting

My previous post shows that I finished knitting the Selbu mittens I started last time I spoke to you about my projects in progress. I felt a bit ridiculous when we had nothing but extremely mild weather and sunshine in March while I was making this but then April rolled along with a freezing encore and vindicated my mitten needs.

It seems that with the Selbu mittens my knitting inspiration returned because I cast on a new project the day I finished these! This is a familiar project, not just because it’s a lopapeysa knit with Icelandic wool, which has been sort of my comfort knitting since way back when I was an infant knitter, but it is actually a lopapeysa I have knit before and am revisiting. It’s the Afmaeli jumper that I knit many moons ago and until this day is my very favourite and most worn lopapeysa. In fact you can sneak a peek at the jumper in recent action with my Shetland coat below! I had the idea not so long ago to someday make another version of it but didn’t anticipate I would act on it so soon! The eagle eyed among you will spot that the colouring is very different on this one. I don’t have all the colour choices fixed yet and I’m working from stash yarn but the idea for this one is tree inspired colours, with the rich brown being the bark, and the plan features a dark contrast colour for the main motif. Excited to see if it will all work together as it does in my head.

Sewing

As you could read a couple of posts ago I finished my Shetland duffle coat in March. After finishing two winter coats back to back, I felt a bit adrift in my sewing and took a few days to see where the mood would take me for my next project. I found the answer at the end of April when I felt like starting a new quilt and started cutting up some blocks from a pile of fabric and leftovers and scraps I have been saving for this occasion. Perhaps you will recognize some of the scraps from previous sewing projects! My second quilt will be a lot smaller than the first one I made, but the blocks will be more complicated so we’ll see how that goes! I’m planning to hand quilt it, like I did with the bed sized quilt I finished last year. Admittedly I haven’t done a lot of work on this project yet, but I’m relishing working on a quilt again and that seems like a good sign.

Embroidery and Spinning

With my embroidery I have been working on a communal garden scene. I actually started this is in winter but hadn’t touched it over the dark months much. In part because my craft inspiration and energy in general was, with the earth, in hibernation for a bit. However with the awakening of nature and green shoots springing up I’ve been reaching for it more. It’s so nice to see the hoop grow with my own seedlings in the window sill and our plants outside. Perhaps having a hoop with a garden scene will help me tide over somewhat whilst I’m busy pining of a garden of my own some day.

I haven’t been spinning a huge deal the past months; in part again because my craft energy and inspiration in general was low and perhaps also because I was using what little craft stamina I had to learn how to weave. Now I’ve more of a handle on my weaving and my craft life also seems to sprout up like the shoots outside are doing I found myself sitting on my wheel and twirling my spindles more often. On my spindles I’m finishing up a project I had on the go already but on my wheel I’m testing new waters. I started spinning this astonishingly beautiful natural coloured fleece. It is fleece from the Karakul sheep breed that my person got for me at a local-ish farm. It feels pleasant to handle and I cannot stop marvelling at the depth of colour in this one fleece; different brown shades, greys and golden tones. I’m really looking forward to see how this will look in a finished yarn.

The Cards, The Cards, The Cards Will Tell…

One of the big personal projects I started over Spring is “Project Analogue Queue”. I had been looking for, trialling and miserable failing in finding and settling on a system for myself in which I could gather all my various crafts plans and ideas. The search came more to the forefront when Ravelry handled the new website and accessibility issue the way they did, which I honestly found severely lacking in a lot, not the least empathy and respect for those affected. Anyway, I trialled alternatives like airtable etc but even after a full year it never really clicked or gelled with me. I found the things I built there more confusing than inspiring which defeated the point. Then in late winter the idea of making an analogue queue came to me, and when that seed was planted I found it hard to shake off. Given the success of my craft journal it feels a bit silly that after all that tugging on alternatives it only hit me now.

Anyway, the idea is that for each project idea I have I make a card; on the front I draw the project and on the back I write some key details and information as well as modification ideas. I use cards instead of a book so I can be flexible with it, re-order it however I like, set cards aside etc. The big pro for me is the freedom this system gives me. I can tailor it to my preferences, my key information en my style. I can also integrate all my crafts and making in it; knitting, sewing, spinning, weaving, quilting, natural dyeing, new crafts and projects I want to try but also less straightforward things like garden and house projects, drawing and painting ideas etc. I also like that in this way I can be very fluid in how I log a project; it can be a specific pattern but it can also be a more general idea like “Selbu mittens” instead of a specific pattern, or “Quilt with Star Blocks” without having to commit to a single pattern especially when these are projects that pull from multiple patterns and sources anyway. The elephant in the room is of course that drawing and writing all these things is a lot of work, especially the initial set up, that’s why I’m seeing this as a long term project and want to have fun with building it over time. The finished cards will live in a narrow shoebox I covered with a decorative fabric, a bit like floppy disks or Pokemon cards, except I won’t go up to people asking if they want to fight me or trade cards! So far I’m really happy with this choice, I think it fits me well and I think it helped reigniting my craft inspiration and motivation in recent weeks.

Baking

In late winter we started baking more sourdough bread again and baking more things in general. I’m not sure if it was the looming of spring and all things green or just a general progression of how things in life go but when it happened it happened with a bang and baking has been an ongoing thing again since then. With the sun drenched days we’ve been had in spring the want to turn some of that sunshine in baking sprung and we have been experimenting quite an bit with sourdough focaccia. While eating garlic and tomato infused focaccia in the sun of our south facing window, if you squinted your eyes but a little as to not see the barren trees, you could be fooled, if for a moment, in thinking it was a midsummer’s day instead of late March.

Spring Balcony

The garden is our main overall focus this time of year. Almost everything we grow each year is grown from seeds so our home gets transformed into a seedling nursery that starts out humble and unassuming at the end of February and slowly but steadily grows and takes over every window space available over the following months. This year we are focussing on a wildlife balcony; prioritizing flowers and dye plants over vegetable plants. More specifically: prioritizing plant species that are native to this area to help wild bees, butterflies and other pollinators in this region. This is not entirely black and white as we also grow some non native or acclimatized/introduced plants that are known to be good for pollinators but you get the point.

A lot of these plants often are considered weeds and not garden plants and I don’t know who made that distinction at some point (capitalist motives, no doubt) but it’s stupid as they are brilliant for pollinators, well suited to the climate, often edible and medicinal to humans as well and have just as much beauty and joy brining capacities than any other blossom you can find in more conventional garden plants. Some of them have long histories of being used as dye plants or were used to make fibre from. Before agriculture got so intensified and the use of pesticides wasn’t yet so prevalent many of these flowered among and alongside cultivated crops in farm fields but now these places are essentially monocultures that are useless to most pollinators. In other areas too these plants struggle and therefore wildlife struggles. In any case this year, with so much heartbreak about the war in Ukraine, women’s rights being taken away, and our planet being destroyed by bombs as well as climate change I’ve felt so powerless about everything and with the destruction of our nearby wildlife meadow in mind, I’ve really felt compelled to try and make our little space matter to our surroundings.

A focus on wildlife and pollinators also meant more than ever a focus on where my seeds, bulbs and plants come from. It’s mind blowing how widespread the use of toxic pesticides are in gardening. It’s really depressing when you start to look into it and realise the scale of it and how pesticides spread via the seeds, compost, plants, bulbs etc we use in the garden and poison our earth and pollinators with it. I also feel a lot about this is super vague and not widely known and I hate to think how I and many others unwittingly contributed to it because you only know the scale of this stuff when you start looking in to it and you already have to have more than base level interest in something to go an do that. It worries me how normalized it is and how difficult it is to subvert it. I mean I live in the world’s bulb nation… and do you know how difficult it is to get pesticide free bulbs here? Whereas for the “regular” (i.e. with pesticides) well… there’s more than you can shake a stick at in any store. In any case this year I made sure all my seeds where organic or pesticide free and mostly non hybrid. All of them come from small companies, and in the case of a lot of the native plant species, the seeds where grown and harvested with care for nature in fields in this country. I’ve also gotten interested in seed saving and open pollinated seeds, it’s wild to think how a handful of companies produce the vast majority of seeds (and thus food) in the world and the implications that fact has. I’m definitely going to dedicate more time to seed saving this year, and perhaps get more into seed swapping with like minded people this year and hopefully by doing this create more resilient plants but also as an act of resistance.

Another thing that has happened is that at the end of winter we finally signed up for the waiting list of an allotment. Things are so dire here in allotment terms that there was an actual two year long waiting list to even get on the actual waiting lists. Honestly, since being put on the “official” waiting list we’ve communicated a few times with the space there, which, ahem, has been very reinforcing of the bad stereotypes about these places. They’ve been very rude in the process, which hasn’t been very hopeful (I know not all allotments and people in these places are like this, but so far this place seems to be a good example of how not to be). I’m saying this here not to be a grumpy nut but because I want to be honest about these things and not add to the idealized, but untrue, dreamy imagery noise that you already get enough from in other places. Anyway, I guess when the point comes we will be assigned a place (which won’t be for years) unless we have access to another place we will just have to suck it in and deal with it.

Some hopeful things we have been doing apart from the allotment sign up (which as you can tell was a mixed bag in terms of hope giving capacities) is sign up for a weekly organic fruit and veg box. We used to have one for years at our old place and when I was a student but not in recent times and since we moved. Anyway we started looking for a new place and found a local organic farmers collective. Apart from fruit and veg this collective also offers organic bread, meat and dairy products, which you can sign up for individually as you please. We don’t eat meat and only very occasionally use dairy but it’s very cool the option is there for those who do. So far the experience, dealings and communications with them has been wonderful and the general vibes and values couldn’t be more different (and are much more in line with our values) than what we found at the allotment. So this has been very good.

We have also done more guerilla gardening this year. Whenever I do this I always make sure to do so responsibly meaning in cities/places where people live and not in actual nature where it could get in the way of plants that already live there. I also always use seeds from plants that grow in this country in the wild and that don’t have pesticides. We don’t live in an ideal neighbourhood for these types of things and many efforts, even legal ones with the support from local municipality are not exactly welcomed here by our neighbours. Even initiatives from the local government (like the wildflower meadow) were opposed. It’s a shame, especially when compared to our neighbouring neighbourhood just a few streets further where there are beautiful community initiatives and where I see many a wildflower growing in otherwise unused ditches and roadsides. Still we found some spots to sow some seeds anyway, not as much as we would like and on more unassuming places where it’s more out of the way and cannot be destroyed by people who… apparently just hate flowers in the summer? It’s really odd how aggressively opposed people can be at the idea of free flowers- that someone else cares for and invest time in- in their neighbourhood. Again, not saying this to bring the whole crowd down and I am and always will be proponent of these sort of initiatives, but sometimes when I see people talk about community wide local initiatives and how they picture it I wonder how many they actually participated in. Because I have done neighbourhood clean ups, seed sowing, plant planting etc and they are not always welcomed the way some people think they are (not even the literal garbage clean ups) and kindly and clearly explaining what you are doing does not always mitigate unprovoked aggression. Again I am in favour of these projects and will continue to do them in some way, I just don’t think it serves anyone to picture them different then they are. That said I look forward to see the native poppies, cornflowers and other flower friends pop up in places I sowed them and share knowing smiles with them.

Another thing that has been bringing me joy is seeing plants growing in spots they “shouldn’t” be, like between between the tiles on the pavement, in cracks in walls or in between woodchips on a playground. This spring my phone has steadily filled with photos of dandelions, mosses, grasses, wildflowers and the like growing in such places and seeing them has been bringing me lots of cheer. I don’t believe they are evidence that “nature will always win” or whatever as it is really just chance and resourcefulness and the luck of not being trampled on too badly and being missed by the local maintenance service. Regardless seeing them grow despite all of that has been making me happy and I wish many a dandelion, shepherd’s purse or your local variety of those greeting you in between the cracks of the pavement on your next outing!

Balcony Wildlife

Amazingly we got a couple of Eurasian Blue Tits nesting on our balcony this year! I mentioned how in the autumn we had hung a birds house for our balcony birds to shelter in during the freezing winter nights. Well, late March there was one day in which we saw our blue friends inspect it with some more interest and then they started building a nest the next day. It was super cool to study their behaviour and to see them fly on and off with bits of moss, grasses, feathers and unidentified flooff which in one case was probably some of my cat’s hair (not stolen from the back of my cat as my mum thought when I told her, but picked out from one of the plant pots). In case you were wondering, my cats aren’t great hunters (don’t tell them or the neighbourhood mice we said so) and haven’t made more victims than the odd stuffed cat toy. Just to be sure though, we are not letting them out during this time. At the start of April the blue tits laid their eggs and in late April we heard the first faint chick calls from the house! Such a wonder and privilege to experience it all from so close.

Originally, I wrote a few lines about how we calculated the chicks would probably fly out somewhere between May 10th and May 14th, but then life got in the way and I didn’t manage to finish this post when I thought I would, and guess what: they flew out the 10th! The delay means you get to see blue tit chick photos though, so I’d say it’s definitely a win-win. Seeing them clumsily stumble, fall and fly out of the bird’s house into the apple tree and on our balcony in between the pots and plants was so beautiful and endearing. It was also stressful, as even when they fly out they can’t fly that well so they mostly really struggle in that period but that is all part of it and the parents were always around so apart from the odd worried look we kept out of it. They had lots of spots to hide in on our balcony as well as different sizes of pots, plants and tools, to use as hopping platforms and stepping stones and I think that was helpful for them. I saw one of the little ones fly all the way from our balcony into a big tree across the car park of our building (this was accompanied by lots of cheering and whooping from the hidden spot in my apartment I was watching it from). They have all made it out though, and looked healthy and active if a bit frumpled and miffed at the whole ordeal of flying out and the prospect of learning to be a proper grown up bird in the next few weeks. From what I’ve seen they look like a resourceful lot though and I think and hope they will do well in this next phase. Their parents did an amazing job and I wish them all the best out there in the big world!

Between the balcony birds visiting us and building a nest here and our solitary bees seeking us out it shows what just a tiny plate of elevated concrete can mean for wildlife in the city. Makes it even more poignant to try and make it even more wildlife friendly this summer. With that in mind my partner came home the other day with two berry bushes. They were tiny at the time but they have already grown a lot which has been amazing to witness. The idea is that apart from us enjoying the fruits in the summer it will be a nice food addition for our balcony birds. Both our bramble and apple tree have also grown new leaves. I wasn’t sure if our apple tree would flower this year with her illness in autumn fresh in mind but she seems to have recovered well as she had quite a display of beautiful white blossoms. Since her illness we have been working on her soil quality and I hope that will help keep her strong and healthy this year.

Our worm bin has been getting more active again with the weather warming up after their winter semi hibernation. My mum and dad got one too a couple of weeks ago! They have a much bigger garden and already do regular composting but in an ongoing effort to diversify ways to compost and with our positive experiences in mind they decided to give this a go. From what I heard it’s going really well and they had their first worm tea harvests already, which is much sooner than we had when we got them, so good good signs! Excited to see how our second and their first year as worm herders will go!

That’s it from me. Hope your craft projects, seedlings and gardens are growing along steadily! See you next time!

2 thoughts on “A Spring of Birds, Dandelion Puffs and Wool

  1. Weer een mooi lente overzicht verslag met een overzicht van de veelzijdige project. Het is waar dat het een vreselijk onrustige en beroerde tijd is. zeker de witte mannen die de rechten en vrije keuze van vrouwen willen terug draaien. En de onbewuste of bewuste domheid van mensen de aarde de nek om te draaien. Het gaat langzaam maar ik zie, net als je vertelde mooie initiatieven om me heen gebeuren. Gelukkig vrolijk je ons op met je mooie verhalen over je projecten. super het kaartje systeem dat je nu bent aan het bijhouden. Ik herken de blijheid van het zien van bloemen en kruiden op lege plekken tussen de stenen of hout of aan de voet van bomen. ik zag vandaag een hele straat waar onder de bomen rij in de straat inheemse bloemen volop stonden. hier word niet gemaaid. Zo zie maar. mooi je nieuwe quilt project. dank en veel groeten Margot

  2. Weer een mooi lente overzicht verslag met een overzicht van de veelzijdige project. Het is waar dat het een vreselijk onrustige en beroerde tijd is. zeker de witte mannen die de rechten en vrije keuze van vrouwen willen terug draaien. En de onbewuste of bewuste domheid van mensen de aarde de nek om te draaien. Het gaat langzaam maar ik zie, net als je vertelde mooie initiatieven om me heen gebeuren. Gelukkig vrolijk je ons op met je mooie verhalen over je projecten. super het kaartje systeem dat je nu bent aan het bijhouden. Ik herken de blijheid van het zien van bloemen en kruiden op lege plekken tussen de stenen of hout of aan de voet van bomen. ik zag vandaag een hele straat waar onder de bomen rij in de straat inheemse bloemen volop stonden. hier word niet gemaaid. Zo zie maar. mooi je nieuwe quilt project. dank en veel groeten Margot

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