Produce, Production, and Productivity

The summer months are bit of a funny time for an academic. With the respite from the demands of teaching-related duties also comes conference season and the sense that these weeks are the chance to get done the writing and research you’ve not had time for since September.

But summers–especially hot, sunny summers like the one we’re having now–don’t lend themselves to frantic writing, at least not for me. When it’s warm I don’t feel much like writing, and since bright dry days are a relative rarity in Scotland, I feel behoven to make the most of the good weather. And there has been a lot to do in the garden.


So while this may not have been the most ‘productive’ time in the capitalist university sense (which I’ve sadly internalised to a great extent), there has been an awful lot of produce.  Here’s a pic showing our thriving bed of salad, sprouts and kale in the foreground, taken by Sue:


And a clandestine photo my mum took from the upstairs window, of me gathering peas (spot the ‘helper’ scavenging at my feet).


Last week I cancelled the veg box delivery until late August, but then today I had my doubts–‘can I really live on kale and peas alone?’ Not entirely, but nutritionally they do go a long way. I’m also doing a lot of blanching and freezing for the winter. Because I am a massive geek, I’ve been weighing most of what I’ve harvested: so far 1660g of kale, 1160g broad beans (shelled), 900g of mange tout, and 1200g salad leaves. We’re also getting raspberries and strawberries, and I can’t wait for the tomatoes in the polytunnel to ripen.

As well as growing things, I’ve been making things – much of which I took to my first ever craft fair at the end of June. The event itself was very quiet, due to the hot weather, but it’s all a learning experience. I got some helpful feedback and also ideas about what to change for the next one. Most importantly, I took the first step in putting my work out there in front of people, to start thinking of the things I’ve made as products.

I’ve been feeling very inspired by the beautiful summer scenery and growth all around me, but it’s a guilty sort of inspiration that’s not always been accompanied by immediately going and making in response to it. I amble through the woods and meadows, taking the odd picture and thinking the odd thought, but have got a bit frustrated that these pictures and thoughts aren’t instantly translated into oodles of work. I remind myself that this is the nature of the beast: it’s not instantaneous (that’s the point), ideas will come and go, like the plants and migrant visitors I’m looking at and working with; it doesn’t all have to be done now.


And looking at pictures I took today of the work I’ve made in the last couple of months, I realise I’ve been rather hard on myself. I’ve produced quite a lot, actually. And while none of it’s perfect, and nowhere near where I’d like it to be, I’ve done what I can. It’s a process, and that’s ok.


Dunnock with muscari and primroses, celebrating my garden in the early spring. There’s a dunnock I see out the window while I’m washing up most days, and while’s s/he’s unobtrusive and a bit dull-looking, s/he’s my wee pal.


Dandelions are the bane of my gardening life, but when I step back from trying to uproot the stubborn things, I realise how bonny they are.


“Two for Joy”


This one I did actually make very quickly after the inspiration of a May walk along the river through the wood known locally as ‘Garlic Wood – ramsons, blue bells, water avens, bluebells, pink purslane, and fern fronds unfurling.


Around that area I often see chaffinches: this one is felted with wool dyed with woad and buckthorn bark.


My much-beloved grandmother passed away in May. I have a vague memory that she particularly liked goldfinches (she was fond of all garden birds), and I made this one in the time between her death and the funeral.


Amphibious bistort and cranesbill, also to be seen on the Glazert riverbank.


I’m always pleaseed to see dippers bobbing on the rocks along the river, but sometimes also see more colourful river birds, such as this work-in-progress grey wagtail.

One of the more delightful encounters with birds I’ve had recently was while walking my dogs in the meadow, when a very noisy chap kept flying in front of us, perching on the reeds and hogweed, and making a noise like the sound of wings clapping. I had no idea what it was, but I took a good look through the binoculars and flicked through the bird books as soon as I got home. The sedge warbler was the most likely candidate, confirmed by YouTube videos of these curious and gregarious creatures. I’ve since seen them a few times, and always wonder how something so tiny has come all the way from Africa to hang out in Campsie.


Summer is the most productive time for natural dyeing, and I’ve been making lots of 3-ply mini-skeins (10g each) of Blue-faced Leicester wool yarn, a lovely base that makes the colours jewel-like. I’ve nearly run out of it now, and couldn’t find any more where it came from, but have got a big cone of Shetland 2-ply to try out this year’s woad, once matures enough for dyeing.

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