Tag Archives: eco-tips

Completely and utterly lost the plot

Today was a sad day for our adventures in sustainable living.  One of our biggest missions in self sufficiency has been to try to grow as much of our own food as possible.  Unfortunately, after nearly 3 years of struggling against the elements, I’ve finally decided to give up on my little allotment plot.

It certainly wasn’t an easy decision but it had to be done.  When we joined the waiting list I had just one child who was at school and quite a lot more free time.  By the time we’d waited 3 years for a plot to become available I’d had another (very demanding) baby, was running my own business, and we’d started homeschooling.  Although in theory homeschooling and allotments should go hand in hand, I found the reality to be quite different.

The kids love pottering around planting seeds and weeding when they feel like doing it. Dragging them half a mile down the road to battle the ever increasing jungle that was our plot 3 or 4 times a week was a completely different matter.  It stopped being fun.  In fact, on those frequent occasions when we hadn’t made it down for a few weeks (or even months) the feeling of dread about what we were going to find down there took all the joy out of growing our own.

I do think that if we’d been able to eat everything we grew it may have been different.  However a lot of our crops just vanished into thin air.  Yes I know that there are plenty of birds, mice and rats on allotments who will help themselves to your raspberries and other soft fruits – not to mention the slugs – but that’s just one of those circle of life kind of things.  When you go down on Christmas Eve to pick your abundant harvest of sprouts and find that each and every plant has been stripped bare it’s another matter entirely.  And as for the person who decided to help themselves to our asparagus in its second year, killing all of our plants in the process (asparagus needs at least 3 years to establish before it can be picked).  Well, I hope they enjoyed it because we certainly couldn’t.

It’s not that I don’t like sharing our food – far from it.  In fact in our years of plenty most of our friends have been inundated with various crops (actually, they’ve usually been inundated with lots of courgettes and rhubarb but you know what I mean).  However, I can kind of see how the kids lost interest when they weren’t actually getting to eat the things they had invested so much energy into growing.

To be completely honest, despite the occasional thefts and the moaning kids I could have put up with all of it to continue on the plot if it hadn’t been for this year’s TERRIBLE weather.  2012 being the wettest summer on record was the final straw.  Nothing grew except the weeds – everything else rotted!  We couldn’t get down there at all, and to be honest there wasn’t really much point in even trying to go.  The ground was so wet that walking on it would have damaged the soil structure.  The DPM which protects our growing soil from the arsenic (our plot was along a disused China Clay train track) ensured that the water couldn’t drain.  Even the most seasoned and experienced allotmenteers lost practically everything they grew.  It just wasn’t happening.

So today I phoned the council and handed in my notice.  Our allotment days are over.  Although I was told I could go on the waiting list again for another plot, I really don’t think the allotment lifestyle is for us.  There are too many highly specialised pests and diseases, too many chemicals, and too many interfering busybodies to make having an allotment worthwhile.

That doesn’t mean we haven’t had fun over the past few years.  There have been some really cool things about having an allotment (the winter of apple wine being one that particularly springs to mind). We’ve got muddy, we’ve had a laugh and we’ve got to enjoy loads of new foods that we’d never have even thought of making had it not been for our various gluts.  Courgette bread anyone?  How about beetroot and chocolate cake?  Omnomnom!

Now my focus is turning to creating a Vegetable Yarden instead.  We’ve got a backyard, albeit a small one and we’re not afraid to use it to its fullest.  I’ve found this amazing website called Vertical Veg which is full of tips for growing in small spaces.  I will beat the slugs that live under the decking and grow as much as I can outside my kitchen door.  This might be the end of our allotment but when it comes to growing our own, this is only the beginning…

bye bye allotment, we will miss you!

Good food for free…

I love this time of year! Not only are we starting to see the fruits of our labours on the veg plot, but there is also plenty of free food to be found in hedgerows and disused bits of land all across the country, just waiting to be picked by frugal living fanatics like myself.

I’m talking, of course, about delumptious Blackberries which have actually come into season a little bit early this year. I have so many happy memories of picking blackberries as a kid – roaming around the country lanes which surrounded the various houses we lived in throughout my childhood, and I love taking my own kids out to share the joy of foraging for free food.

We have already been out picking this year, even though it’s early August, and my youngest especially enjoyed helping herself to the scrumminess that is abundant in our hedgerows. OK we didn’t manage to bring enough home for jam just yet, too many of them went in her tummy, but if the weather holds we will have plenty of opportunities to go and get some more ready to preserve as jams, wines and good ol’ blackberry crumble and cus’.

I was, however, really surprised to learn that blackberry picking is a dying art especially in the current (no pun intended) economic climate. I can’t imagine not going out to pick blackberries during the summer, especially as they cost around £2.00 in Asda for a paltry 350g. They grow in hedgerows for Pete’s sake! Plus the ones you pick yourself taste so much nicer, and the abundant quantities mean you can make jars and jars of jam to keep you going through most of the year.

That article from The Telegraph is a couple of years old, and I’m guessing that as the recession continues to bite more and more people will be heading out with containers and taking advantage of what the season has to offer. The thing is, you don’t need to live in the countryside to take advantage of this particular crop. We live just 10mins walk from the city centre yet there are tonnes of blackberry picking sites within a couple of minutes walk from our house.

Now, I’m not going to give away my favourite spot, but if you live in an urban area then there are numerous places where you can pick blackberries. Disused railway lines, cycle paths or any bit of unused wasteland are usually full of bramble bushes with plenty of fruit, and of course they can also be found in woodlands and hedges too. I always carry some degradable freezer bags with me in a Wikaniko bag-tube so I can pick plenty of blackberries whenever I find them.

Bramble bushes grow prolifically even in stony, unfavourable ground and their branches will grow rapidly, forming a thick tangle of bushes in very little time. They are in season for quite a long time as well, as they start to fruit from July onwards here in the south.  Be warned, though. Don’t pick blackberries after Old Michealmas Day on the 11th of October. According to folklore these blackberries belong to the devil, and he marks his territory by peeing on them – nice!

Blackberries have been part of our diet and even culture since the Stone Age. Blackberry seeds were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man who was unearthed in Essex in 1911 and have played an important role in many Paganistic feasts and rituals throughout the years as blackberries were said to be sacred to the old deities. Blackberry bushes were often planted on graves to protect the deceased from the devil and they have also been used as charms to create wealth and as a cure for whooping cough, dysentery and even sore throats. (www.herbsociety.org.uk)

It seems our ancestors had a lot more common sense than modern society (no surprises there then). Blackberries are certainly a “super-food” They are exceptionally high in anti-oxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Dietary fibre and Folic Acid and have an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of 5347 per 100g making them one of the highest ranking of available ORAC foods. Even the seeds, which some prefer not to eat, are very rich in Omega 3s amongst many other essential nutrients, which is why I never remove them when I’m making jam. (http://en.wikipedia.org)

Modern thought says that you should always wash your blackberries thoroughly before eating them as they can contain various moulds, mildews and maggots. Personally I’ve never worried too much about that, I figure that our bodies will cope happily with a few little micro-organisms and you just can’t beat the joy of eating them straight off the bush. By the time you boil them up for jam most of the nasties will be stopped in their tracks. I’m not a doctor though, so if in doubt take them home and wash them first.  Before I cook with them I do put my blackberries in a bowl full of water and add a teaspoon of salt. Just leave them there for a couple of hours and the bugs should be dealt with. Blackberries are best eaten fresh but you can easily freeze them to make delicious puds at a later date.

Get prepared for foraging with a Wikaniko Bag-Tube & some degradable freezer bags from www.wikid-eco-store.co.uk and make the most of some of the yummiest free food that nature provides.

Pee in the shower & save the Rainforest!

This brilliant video comes from the Brazilian environmental group, SOS Mata Atlantica, who are encouraging local citizens to save around 4,380 litres (1,157 gallons) of water per household per year simply by having a pee in the shower.  It’s such a straightforward concept but the environmental impact is immense and I truly believe that this easy to implement eco-tip should be followed by everyone, no matter where you happen to live in the world.

Even here in the soggy UK it’s so very important to use our water wisely.  If you were ever wondering about why we need to save water when it seems to fall so abundantly then take a look at the following facts.

  • Due to the size of the UK (fairly small) and the size of the population here (really quite large and growing)  the lack of space for reservoirs means there is less water available per person in the UK than in countries such as sunny Spain & Portugal
  • When water in the reservoirs is running low we “borrow” water from the surrounding rivers, lakes & wetlandS.  This causes the water levels to fall meaning there’s less food for the fish, less room for them to swim in and most vitally, less oxygen for them to breathe – so the fish die.  Numbers of freshwater fish worldwide have almost halved since 1970, purely because of our increased demand for water.
  • Diminished wetlands means that there are not only fewer fish, but fewer water dwelling insects too, meaning there’s less food and natural habitats for a whole range of birds and water dwelling animals such as otters and voles.  Life and death situations happen every day, all because we are so wasteful with our resources.

Water is vital for our existence.  We can live for weeks with no food, but only a couple of days with no water.  That being said, we actually need very little water in order to get by.  All it takes is a couple of litres a day to keep us going.  To maintain hygiene as well that number increases to around 25 litres per person per day, yet in developed countries we actually use around 500-800 litres of precious water every single day.

What makes this even more stupid is that here in the UK all of the water that is piped into our houses is treated before and after it’s used in the home, whether we are drinking it or flushing it down the loo.  And we pay (fairly extortionate) rates for that to happen!   So it makes sense to cut back on what we use just for the selfish reason of saving money.

You don’t just have to pee in the shower; urine can be used all over the place.  Why not have a wee around your plants of an evening?  Not only can this help to keep the neighbourhood cats out of your begonias, but the high levels of phosphate and nitrogen in urine act as an important fertilizer and will actually help your plants grow.   Ideally you should dilute it with water at a ratio of 1:10 to avoid burning your plants.  You can pee on your compost heap to help the process of decomposition along or around your chicken coop to keep the foxes away.  The New York Times has even cited “Yellow as the new Green” with calls for wide-spread use of “urine-diversion” toilets to stop this precious resource from being flushed away.

Urine is sterile and can be used to treat wounds, bites and stings.  It has even been used as a rudimentary gas-mask during World War 1.  During a gas attack men would put urine soaked cloths over their faces as the ammonia in the urine counteracts the effects of the chlorine in the gas.  It doesn’t stop there.  New technology is being developed that could see urine being used as a way to generate fuel for hydrogen powered cars.  It’s a peeing revolution!

Oh, and if this is all a bit much for you, maybe you think peeing in the shower or anywhere else is “DISGUSTING!”  Just remember – If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.  Simple.

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