The Green Man

L’homme vert, der grüner Mann, el hombre verde, an fear glas

I came across this natural moss portrait along the Sturt River / Warriparri in Coro this week – the Green Man enjoying watching the world go by from the trunk of an ash tree on the bank of the creek. The child in me is always seeing faces and characters, human and otherwise, in tree trunks and rocks, and this was a wonderful encounter, especially at this time of year.

The ash (and willows, etc.) are non-native and considered weed species here, but I still love seeing them everywhere. The smell of the greenery and the water (when the creek hasn’t dried out for the summer) brings back memories of summer in England. There’s often a heron to be seen, as well as families of ducks and all sorts of plants. The local council has just extended the linear path even further and has provided picnic tables along the way. It’s a great place for walking doggy.

There’s some more info on the Green Man as well as an interesting poem about him on this website.


A tale of two chillies

Un conte de deux piments, eine Geschichte von zwei Chilis, Historia de dos ajís, Scéal faoi dhá chillí

Well, more like ten chillies. This season I’m growing: rocoto canario, pusa jwala, cayenne, bishop’s crown, lal mirch (generic Indian variety; cayenne?) and hari mirch (large green chillies that you can buy from the Indian etc. greengocers) from seed. With the canario, I already have two large bushes, but couldn’t resist the temptation to grow more from seed. The cayennes were grown from fruits that had been left on the bush too long last winter. They were supposed to be Joe’s long cayenne, but there’s nothing longer about them than regular cayennes. The hari mirch were grown from a purchase where among the green fruits I was choosing for stuffing, there was a redder, riper, wirnkled fruit that looked like it might yield something fertile. It did.

So how did they do? I took some of them to work in small punnets (which are now hard to come by, and expensive when you do) and grew them on a sunny windowsill. Even though the windows are tinted, the seedlings still got a fair amount of light and warmth. They did quite well, except for the pusa jwala. Only three out of ten or so sprouted and looked rather poorly. However, they have now recovered and look healthy, just a few weeks behind the others. Maybe they just needed more heat? The canario seedlings are unsuprisingly larger, and the bishop’s crowns look like they were meant to grow in our climate.

I also bought a plant each of padrón, pasilla bajio (chilaca), ají limon and poblano. Couldn’t resist. In for a penny, in for a pound. And in this part of the world at least, the Central and South American varieties don’t get much of a look-in. Having said that, I’m going to try the canarios in an Indian-style curry. Even though last season’s harvest wasn’t big, I still have a bag of them quartered and frozen. Have to try them stuffed next time.

Some of the seedlings with the papalo in the middle.

Do I have room for all those plants? Some have gone into the vegetable beds which next year will be reverted to garden (non-veggie) beds. We bought two raised beds and have finally filled them with soil and planted them up, but these are for the sweet corn, French beans, courgettes and cucumbers. Why raised beds? Our soil is nutrient-poor, sandy and often rocky. I remember a character in a French movie explaining that if you’ve got poor soil, adding things to it won’t make it good soil. That’s debatable and depends on so many variables, but when it comes to growing veggies, I’m trying the raised beds and growing more things in pots this season to see if they fare any better. I’m hoping to become self-sufficient in both chili powder (we’ll call the deviation in spelling “code switching” here) and frozen/dried, too. Having said that, I’ve just found a bag of frozen green ones (a self-sown variety, green, thin and “medium hot”) underneath the bag of frozen canario segments. No danger of running out of frozen ones for a while…

Talking of adding things to soil, about half of the chillies have distorted leaves. A little research suggested that they may need calcium, so they all had a sprinkling of gypsum. It may be insects sucking on the new leaves, but the gypsum shouldn’t do any harm. Even the worst looking ones have buds, so I’ll leave them in.

Anything to go with the chillies? Yep – tomatillos and papalo. Actually the latter is Porophyllum ruderale / quillquiña, but more or less the same as papalo except for the leaf size. This produced seeds in abundance a couple of years ago, but didn’t self-seed. However, the ones I saved had a good germination rate.

re tomatillos: one source stated they should be surface-sown. I tried this and also sowing them with a light (but not sparse) covering. It made no difference to the success rate, which was good. Let’s see how they do in the garden.

Friend or foe?

Ami ou ennemi? Freund oder Feind? ¿Amigo o enemigo? Cara nó namhaid?

The kaka beak (Clianths puniceus) flowered even more impressively this year, to the point where I wasn’t so much wow-ing the display, rather thinking that this was what had been expected all along. Impressive nonetheless. As usual, after the flowers came the signs of chewed leaves, only this time the culprits were to be seen…

I haven’t been able to identify them yet, but I think they’re moth larvae, maybe the peppered moth. With some species I turn to biological control, if they happen to be a non-native species, but with these something told me that they might actually be useful.

I’ve planted a couple of seedlings of New Guinea bean – Lagenaria siceraria – and have previously noticed the flowers open at night. Pollinated by moths? The larvae have since disappeared, and as they were so well camouflaged, I’m hoping that it was because they moved on to their next stage of development.

Yellow rocoto chilli

Capsicum pubescens, piment rocoto, Rocoto, manzano, chili úll geal

There’s no doubting the botanical name, but after that things become a little debatable… Some sources hold that manazano and rocoto chillies are the same, whereas others state that they are different varieties of the same species. Are manzanos the squatter ones and rocotos the longer ones? Either way, the ones I’m growing are yellow. One thing that is definite: although they grow on a large shrub, they aren’t “chile de árbol”.

What makes these different to other chillies I’ve grown are that 1. they’re perennial, 2. they grow on a large shrub 3. the type of heat and 4. their preference for the cooler weather.

Hmm… two shapes on this one… (unripe fruits)

I bought a plant a few years ago, and it never came to much, even when I put it in the shade house. It grw tall, but not bushy, and produced a solitary, small fruit. Persistence has paid off, as well as planting them (I grew another from a cutting) down the side of the house which is shadier.

Trying a green one – the first that came to any size – there was no spice to be had. Ni nada. Then, a few weeks later, they started turning yellow. It was as though I could feel the heat enveloping my fingers when I cut into one. Tasting it produced a look of, “Ayayay! These ones are HOT, mamacita!” apparently. I think that would sum up the feeling of total mouth burn.

About 20% of the total expected harvest. Small, but it’ll last.

Yes, a different type of heat that doesn’t just affect the part of the tongue that comes into contact with the fruit, but the whole mouth cavity. One alone in a feijoada was enough to provide spiciness without feeling you were eating a mutant vindaloo. And no five-minute tears, either. Yep, I like my spice, but not chilihead contest levels.

The seeds are very dark and the walls of the fruit are quite thick; I read that they are difficult to dry. These will be sliced and de-seeded, then frozen for later use.

re the spelling… I’ve left chilihead with one ‘l not because it’s Christmas, but I believe the expression came from that side of the Atlantic. Also, the Irish name is my invention. As always, I’m open (gratefully) to correction.

Pearl and rose fibre

fibres de perle et de rose, Perlen- u. Rosenfaser, fibras de perla y rosa, snáithíní péarla is rós

It was rose fibre that initiated this blog, or rather the lack of information about it on the internet. Wondering why nobody had written anything led me quickly to the conclusion that someone has to be first, of course. That was a few years ago and there is now more information on this and other regenerated fibres (cellulose-based) to be found. While the pearl fibre is described by most sources as “pearl-infused cellulose fibre”, there doesn’t however appear to be any clear description of the rose, i.e. are the fibres chewed up, spat out and spun bamboo-style, or is the process more along the lines of “infused”?

So why has it taken me so long to write anything myself? I mislaid the 100g of rose fibre that was part of a birthday present and didn’t want to buy any more in the meantime. I since have both bought more and found the original – more to play with!

Pearl (top) and rose; laceweight, 2-ply

The rose fibre is very silky and slippery and spins into a a soft yarn with plenty of shimmer and drape. The second lot of fibre produced a yarn that was also a little golden in colour a bit like tussah compared to mulberry. The first is a lot whiter. It was bought from one of my favourite shops, but at a time when they seemed to have changed ownership; I wasn’t happy with several parts of the order, but as none of it was fondled/spun for some time, it was too late to return. I just hope that the original is indeed rose. Fun to spin with, anyway, and the feel is the same. And the shop? The current owners are fantastic and provide top customer service, ’nuff said.

The pearl fibre has a more cotton-like feel and appearance. It affords slightly more grip, so would be easier for a beginner. The yarn is soft, but not as sleek, and doesn’t reflect the light as much. Still worth having/using? Certainly! Both yarns were spun on a 15g Turkish spindle and plied on a larger one.

As with other regenerated fibres, I reckon both would blend well with natural fibres on a pair of carders. Depending on where they’re purchased, they can cost significantly less than silk, with the rose especially offering a similar effect and feel. My intended use? Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath)…

There were two in the shed…

Possum2I’ve got used to the possums now – both mother and baby – sleeping in the shed behind the dyepots. Even when they’re on the next shelf down when I go to grab something, I don’t jump as far backwards or gasp quite so loudly.

They’re not doing much harm, although there is plenty of evidence of chewed shelf. And all the pooh… we thought it was rat pooh, but maybe it was mum after eating all those harvested plums in the shed and leaving the stones in a neatish pile. That makes sense – I doubt a rat or even two could eat that many plums.

possums3It wasn’t until I was looking for a storage box that appeared to have some stray balls of yarn in it that I found their latest nesting place. Now, before you all shriek and wonder if they can get out (you’ve probably already shrieked in the time it’s taken me to type), there’s an entrance/exit in the back that they managed to chew, and also a crack in the side of the box where it no doubt gave way when they were getting more comfortable. Entrance, exit and ventilation. They’re not stupid, you know!

A few weeks ago, the younger one came down the tree and sat in the fork where I sometimes pose the yarn for photos. It sat looking at me, almost at eye level, and I could have tickled it behind the ears. One thing I tell my students is not to touch possums unless you fancy your fingers bitten, but this one looked so friendly and clearly wanted to communicate. But wild it is, so I resisted the urge to make close interspecies friendship and tried to encourage it back up the trunk so a certain puppy wouldn’t try to overwhelm it with the same close interspecies friendship.

They were in the tupperware (it isn’t the real deal, but you grow up with a certain vocabulary…) again today, so I guess it’s their winter hang out. Touching the side of the box, it was snuggly warm. The condensation in the photo only appeared after they’d stirred. My bad!

A decent pair of socks to last

des chaussettes résistantes, dauerhafte Socken, medias duras, stocaí diana

Here I will gladly welcome any feedback re the translations of the title!

Inspired by a fellow Guildy’s endless turnout of groovy socks in an impressive range of fibres and breeds, not to mention colours, I decided some time ago that it was time to try this for myself. The Tough Socks Naturally project provided yet more encouragement. Who needs nylon?

My first pair of socks, made from commercial yarn, were way too big and flimsy. The second, using the madder-dyed yarn (see previous post) were more fitting, but still too big. These were however knitted from the smallest size (for my size 12’s) to this free pattern on Ravelry. Thanks, Kieron!


The yarn was handspun Black Welsh Mountain plied with Grey Suffolk (that apparently may or may not be Suffolk).

The toes (and heels? Can’t remember…) were the Suffolk plied with Zwartbles. All the fibre was from commercially prepared slivers.

Why these breeds? The Black Welsh is just one of those fibres

(for me) that you instantly take to and just spin for the joy of it. It’s a classic down wool – shorter staple, bouncier and… well, groovy.

The socks are just tight enough so that they won’t stretch out of use, and promising to last a long time. They’re not the gentlest, naturally, but not so scratchy, either. I fortunately don’t have a problem with wool, so can appreciate their hardiness. The “fabric” is soft enough in all.


Tanacetum vulgare, tanaisie, Rainfarn, tanaceto, franclus

When I was a kid, we used to call tansy “cat’s muck plant”. We didn’t know what it was at that time, we had a pet dog, and the plant stinks; it was OK to say “muck”, but not “wee” or “pee” in those days. Nowadays I don’t find tansy half as stinky, but maybe that’s to do with the climate here? Maybe the milder temperatures and higher rainfall in England made it more… juicy? pungent?

And the name? Some of the more common and acceptable names in other languages demonstrate its many uses, e.g worm plant or its appearance and niche: Rainfarn – “fern growing in the dividing strip between fields”; the name is similar in most North Germanic languages, although the word Farn becomes fann and fana, with the latter meaning something different to fern? Just a linguistic adjustment rather than a complete translation?

Back to the dye…There’s plenty of information on yarn/dye blogs on dyeing wool with tansy, and some show an impressive green colour. Definitely one to try! There is also discussion on using the plant fresh or dried, using the flowers alone or all aerial parts. I went for leaves, flowers and leaves + stems, all fresh. Quantities were generous, thanks to the strong growth of just two plants. These will need to be moved next season so that they can have their own space and not crowd out the echinacea. Also, they are to be kept away from cabbages.tansy

The photo shows a great range of colours, but swapping between phone and camera, flash and no flash still didn’t give a totally accurate representation of the tones. Asking for too much? Yep! Think brighter and more in focus…

So… the samples on the right are all mordanted with A/CoT; those on the left were unmordanted. Top to bottom in both columns are in groups of 3 (leaves, flowers, leaves + stems): no modifier, alkaline modifier, acid modifier, Fe modifier.

The mordant clearly brought out deeper shades all round, with the alkaline brightening the yellows and turning the greens to sulphur/chartreuse. The iron modifier brought out khahki on the mordanted samples; on the unmordanted yarn it produced more generic grey tones (less blue than the photo). I think future projects will make more use of the chartreuse, but all the shades obtained would qualify for a tapestry palette.

Coreopsis grandiflora

Coreopsis grandiflora Early Sunrise, Mädchenaugen

A quick search and it seems that apart from the English tickseed, only the Germans have another name for this plant, and I know which one I prefer…

An attempt at growing C. tinctoria from seed (from two different sources) came to naught last year, so I bought a punnet of grandiflora seedlings. They survived the hottest days well with a constant display of cheerful blooms, and have started layering themselves so that I should have double the amount next year. I’ll still give the tinctoria seeds another try or two.

cosmosThe result of the dyepot were to be expected, and after getting so many muted shades from eucalypts, the bold oranges and red were a welcome change – and not unexpected, either, from this plant family. Different to dahlias? I’d say about the same. As for production, I’d have to wait until I had an equal amount of both plants, but that’s not what it’s all about at present.

Phragmites australis

Common reed, roseau commun, Schilfohre, carrizo, giolcach

I’d read about dyers obtaining a green colour on wool from the common reed, so was naturally eager to give it a try. The past two years I’ve missed a very short flowering season due to high temperatures, but this year managed to harvest some in its second flowering (the weather has been up and down like a yoyo).

On the way to a spot where it grows abundantly (and will need thinning very soon if it’s not to take over the shallows of the artificial lake), I started thinking about greens… Greens from purple… The local variety don’t have purple flowers, maybe a slight tinge, but nothing like I once saw in Englphragmitesand. As a child with a thirst for natural history (is it still called that?) and a small but highly informative collection of nature books, I stood gaping at this tall grass with purple flowers – all very exotic. If memory serves correctly, I took a couple of flowering heads home, but the purple didn’t last. I can’t remember where it was, but have a lot of fond and grateful memories of day trips in to the countryside where there was always a new discovery.

So, back to Australia… some sources say the plant is native, others an introduced species… but it still lacks the purple. Well, at least I’d get a yellow or beige out of it, I was sure.

On the far left, the unmordanted yarn is very close in colour to its mordanted neighbour. The third from the left is mordanted + bicarb modifier – slightly more yellow in real life as was to be expected. On the far right is mordanted + Fe modifier. A useful experiment? Yes, and colours to add to a palette.