Tag Archives: frugal living

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!


Birthdays the Frugal Way

Wow it’s been a really busy couple of weeks at the My Borrowed Planet house and the icing (literally) on the cake was both my girls having their birthdays this week.  Quite a few people have expressed their surprise (OMG!) at the fact there is only one day between each of their special days.  Yes family planning was not my strong point, but one thing I know is that birthdays don’t have to be expensive.

I guess I am lucky in a lot of ways.  My girls don’t expect a lot in the way of gifts – even my eldest who I must admit received far more presents in the 6 years before her little sister came along than she ever has since.  In fact, my 10 year old is now soo anti-corporate it makes me smile. She can often be heard exclaiming “How much? What a waste of money for a load of plastic rubbish!” when she sees adverts for the latest must-have toy on the telly.  My youngest is just happy, pretty much all the time.

I have what I consider to be a reasonably large budget for their birthdays of around £40 each.  Their gifts tend to be a mixture of new and second hand and naturally include a lot of the home school resources we will use over the coming 6 months such as games, puzzles and books.  By that time its Christmas of course so having their birthdays so close together actually works out pretty well.  Our extended family and friends also tend to give gifts that will enhance our play based learning curriculum so I’m really grateful to them too.  Crystal growing kits, flower presses and art materials are the perfect gifts and the girls are looking forward to a trip out to a rare breed’s centre where they will get to feed wallabies with their granddad as an extra special birthday treat.

The only downside to having two birthdays so close together is the slight overload of cake, but to be completely honest it’s not really a hardship.  Their dad made some amazing creations this year (he’s gotten so into baking since he’s been unable to work) and made the TARDIS console for my eldest and a pink Dalek for the littley.  They cost less than £3 each and tasted awesome (I must post some pics).

Of course, we should really be getting back into our normal homeschool curriculum today, but to be honest we’re all suffering with festival flu and are absolutely exhausted.  The weather outside is rubbish too so I thought I’d catch up with some blogging and let them spend the day playing.  After all, isn’t that what play-based learning is all about?  I will go and join them in a minute, just as soon as I finish this post.

I’d be interested to know, however, what you think of our low cost birthdays.  How much do you spend on birthdays and what do you get up to?  Do you think I’m an old meanie for keeping things simple or is it a refreshing change in today’s increasingly hectic (and expensive) lifestyle?  Please leave your comments below! x


Sod the Recession – Let’s Play!

Since the government announced we’ve gone back into recession in the UK, I’ve now reached the point where I really couldn’t care less.  It seems that no matter how hard I work we’re still going to be hard up so it’s time to stop worrying about it and start embracing everything we’ve got.

Like most working families, the last few months have been pretty tough for us – even before George Osborne announced his crippling budget earlier this April.  My partner had an accident at work in October, crushing and dislocating his right hand.  He’s still waiting for scans and despite the fact he’s in pain every day, he’s had no treatment at all for over 6 months.  It’s forced him to close his recycling business as he can no longer drive his truck, do any lifting or any other work for that matter.  I mean, can you think of ANY job where you don’t have to use your right hand? If you can let me know, we’d love to find out!

I’ll admit that I kind of panicked.  Money was already tight and we’d now lost quite a bit of our income so I started writing for another client to try and boost the money we had coming in.  For a couple of months I was working every hour I could for an extra £20 – £40 a week.  Every little helps, right?

Well yes… and no.  All my other projects (including this blog) started to fall by the wayside and oh my gosh I was so stressed out!   It started to occur to me that producing high quality work for less than the minimum wage was not helping me, my family or the economy in the slightest.  In fact, I finally realised that if we all start working for less than we are worth the implications are phenomenal.  It drives the value of our work down and creates a never ending spiral of giving more and receiving less in return for all that hard graft.

I was snappy and irritable and even started to experience anxiety attacks whenever I left the house – it was getting absolutely ridiculous and I knew it had to stop.  I have so many good things going on in my life.  My business was starting to blossom and I didn’t have the time or energy to invest in it, not to mention the fact that home educating the girls was meant to be a joy rather than a worry.  So I stopped.  I took a deep breath and I started to look at everything we still had.

My partner was home full time for the first time in a decade and we could finally start spending time together as a family.  I LOVE having a house husband – he’s a bloody amazing cook, fantastic company and the girls are just over the moon at having him around.  I’ve been freelancing with a reputable SEO company for the last 18 months and I’d rather increase my workload with them than get ripped off by some new kid on the block.  We’ve got some amazing opportunities open to us now, and I fully intend to take advantage of everything on offer.

At the end of the day there will always be someone who is prepared to do the same work for less money and that’s fine with me.   I have finally started to appreciate my own worth.  As a mum, as a business women and as a lover of life with all of its ups and downs.  It doesn’t matter how hard I work, we’re still going to be skint, but that’s the reality of life for millions of families in Britain today.  Money isn’t real, it’s just numbers on a screen or on your bank statement.  There are never enough of them, but somehow we survive.  Living life to the full is what really counts and that’s what I intend to do.  Sod the recession – let’s play!


Hippies Hedge Jam

I hope you’ve been taking advantage of all that free food!  As promised, here’s our really easy Blackberry Jam recipe.

You will need:

  • BLACKBERRIES
  • Sugar.  The same weight of sugar as the weight of your fruit
  • A squirt of lemon juice
  • Clean empty jars

You can also add a couple of cooking apples for increased pectin to help the jam set, but I find our recipe works fine without them.

1.  First you need to sterilise your jars.  This can be easily done in the dishwasher if you have one.  Just stick them on a hot wash and they’ll be ready to use.  We don’t have a dishwasher so we sterilise ours by giving them a good wash in soapy water, then sticking them in the oven at 110°C / 225°F / gas mark ¼ for 45 mins.  Once the time is up, simply turn the oven off and leave them there until you are ready to use them.  Hot jam needs to be added to warm jars, otherwise the glass may break.

2.  Wash your blackberries and put them into a large heavy bottomed saucepan.  Turn up the heat!  Your jam needs to get hot, really hot, so make sure the pan isn’t too small.  You don’t want it to boil over.

3.  Mush the fruit and let it boil.  Lots.

4.  Heat your sugar.  It’s really important to warm up the sugar before you add it to the fruit.  If it’s cold it will cause the temperature to drop, resulting in sub-standard jam.  Pour your weighed out sugar into a roasting tray and put it into the oven for 10 mins at the same temperature as you sterilise your jars.  110°C / 225°F / gas mark 1/4

5.  Once the sugar is warm you can add it to the fruit.  Keep boiling and keep stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.

6.  To check if your jam is set, remove it from the heat and drop a small amount onto a cold saucer (it helps if it’s been in the fridge).  If the jam is ready it will form a skin which wrinkles when you push it with your finger.  Happy days!  If it’s still runny then return it to the heat and boil it up some more.

7.  Once your jam is achieving a good setting consistency it is done and ready to be bottled.  Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool a little by allowing it to stand for 10 minutes or so.

8.  There will most likely be a lot of foam on the top.  Now you don’t have to remove it, but I find that your jam will taste better if you do.  Take a large spoon and gradually skim it off.  Be careful not to burn yourself!

9.  Now your Blackberry jam is ready to be bottled.   Make sure those jars are still warm, you don’t want them to crack.  I find it easiest to ladle the jam into a Pyrex jug before pouring it into the bottles – it makes much less mess.  Label and date your jars and you are done.  Easy Blackberry jam!

Now you can eat it straight away, but it usually tastes better if you leave it 2 weeks to settle.  Once opened it’s best to keep your jam in the fridge, but we find it gets eaten so quickly it’s not too much of an issue.  It’s delicious on toast, in rice pudding or on homemade Soda Bread.  Happy jam making!


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.


Greener Alternatives That Don’t Cost The Earth – Soap Nuts, The Natural Way to Do Your Washing.

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees, especially in these tough economic times.  Soap Nuts, however, do and they are an effective and economic alternative to conventional laundry detergents.

After writing about some of the nasties which are lurking in many laundry products, I thought I should take the time to tell you about the awesomeness of Soap Nuts.   Soap Nuts grow on the Soap Berry tree and have been used for centuries in India and Nepal.  Like many plants (such as the chestnut tree & soapwort) they are naturally high in saponins, or soap.

Why would a plant need to produce soap?  Well, the saponins act as a natural defence against fungus, bacteria and pests, helping the tree to grow in less than favourable conditions.  (As an aside you can use them to make your own eco-friendly pesticide sprays, multi-surface cleaners and even head-lice repelling shampoos but more on that later).

So the tree isn’t particularly bothered that its anti-fungal, anti-microbial berries are also incredibly useful for us when it comes to washing our clothes.  It’s got its own reasons for producing them, which we humans have been taking advantage of for centuries in many parts of the world.  The soap is released when the berries are put into warm water, producing mild bubbles which keep even delicate fabrics naturally clean and fresh.

For washing clothes I pop about 6 soapnuts into an old sock and tie a knot at the end so they don’t escape.  I put the sock in with my clothes in the washing machine drum and let them do their stuff.  Washing at 30° is fine for most things.  You get more bubbles at a higher temperature but they won’t last for as many washes.  That’s right, my 6 soapnuts will do at least 3-4 washes which means they cost less than 10p a wash!  Compare that to the prices of a conventional non-bio, even a non-ecofriendly one, and you can see straight away how they benefit your wallet.  Oh, and as they leave your clothes naturally soft there’s no need to use fabric conditioners either which saves you even more money and makes them perfect for washing towels and re-usable nappies too.

So Soap Nuts can save you money on your household expenses, but how are they at saving the planet?

Really rather good, as it goes.  Firstly they grow on trees.  Trees absorb CO² and release oxygen so Soap Nuts are a truly renewable primary resource.  The trees are hardy thanks to their natural defences, and grow well in many tropical climates. They grow to around 20-30 feet and will produce berries for about 90 years providing much needed income to the rural communities that live in these areas.  Local farmers collect the fruits as they fall, dry them in the sunshine using no chemical processing whatsoever, before packing them and shipping them to their destinations.  Try comparing that to the pollution caused by the production processes of the conventional SLS laden washing powders which make huge profits for big multi-national corporations.  I know what I’d rather put in my washing machine, especially as the anti microbial properties of the waste water they produce even helps clean out the drains in an environmentally friendly way.

Soap Nuts are a great alternative to conventional detergents for sufferers of eczema and psoriasis and have actually been used for years in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for these conditions.  They are hypo-allergenic which makes them particularly good for people with sensitive skin, especially babies.  The lack of chemicals means that they keep your colours brighter for longer, however don’t expect your whites to come out “Persil White” if you use Soap Nuts on their own – they’re only berries for Pete’s sake!  Not to worry, though.  A teaspoon of Soda Crystals or BioD Nappy Whitener in with your wash will give them a sufficient boost to keep your whites white.  For dark and coloured washes they are perfectly good on their own and are a completely natural and organic detergent which keeps your clothes soft and clean.  And that is why I am nuts about Soap Nuts.

If you’d like to try them for yourself take a look at Living Naturally Soapnuts!


The Hidden Danger in Charity Shop Clothes…

Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to clothes shopping I’m much more into charity shops than high street shops.  Let’s face it, charity shops are one of the most environmentally friendly sources of clothing you’ll ever come across, and they’re bloody cheap too!  As long as you have a good idea of what clothes suit your body shape and a reasonable knowledge of decent clothing brands you can come home with bundles of lovely new(ish) outfits for under a tenner.   And if they don’t fit quite as you’d like it’s  much easier to get the scissors and unpicker out to remodel them into something more flattering when the garment in question has only cost you a couple of pounds.

Just recently I’ve been running into a spot of bother with some of my charity shop finds.  I bought a gorgeous Wallis jumper for just 99p and (foolishly) decided to wear it that day.  It smelled fresh and clean and I just didn’t think.  Even when the burning rash spread up the left side of my face it didn’t occur to me that my lovely new jumper might be to blame.  I just slapped on some aloe vera gel and let it settle down.  It wasn’t until I put on the jumper a couple of days later (guess what, it still smelled lovely and fresh) and my face flared up again that I made the connection.

The thing is, laundry detergents and fabric conditioners contain some of the most toxic chemicals in the home but for some reason modern thinking (i.e. what the box in the corner of the room tells you) has decided that if your clothes don’t have a strong fragrance then you aren’t clean and acceptable. However there is a vast amount of research which shows that the VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which make up these products are having a profound effect on health.  In fact, recent studies have shown that the air quality inside the average home is WORSE than it is outside, regardless of whether you live in the countryside or in the heart of the city centre.  Is it any wonder that there’s been a sharp rise in allergies such as eczema and asthma in the last few decades?

Now I’m a smoker, so I’m not going to lecture anyone on the dangers of airborne chemicals.  Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t take some risks, but where the health effects of smoking are well documented, the health risks of fabric conditioners, laundry detergents, air fresheners and cleaning products are nowhere near as widely recognised by the vast majority of people.  The general opinion seems to be that if it’s on the shelves at the supermarket then it must be safe.  Sadly the reality is that detergent manufacturers have no legal obligation to even disclose all the ingredients they but in the box or bottle, let alone test them all and how they react with all the other airborne chemicals which are in the home.  If you look at some of the ingredients that are disclosed, the results are pretty scary.

•    Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer

•    Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

•    Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

•    A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

•    Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list

•    Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

•    Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

•    Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

•    Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

Wow!

Some of the other health effects that come from using these kinds of conditioners and detergents include:

•    Headaches

•    Nausea

•    Vomiting

•    Dizziness

•    Blood pressure reduction

•    Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract

Yet we wear clothes that release these chemicals all day before settling down to sleep on pillows and duvets that are infused with them.  It’s just crazy!  Not to mention the effect these chemicals are having on our waterways and wildlife.  Do you suffer from headaches, fatigue or skin problems?  Maybe you should re-think what you are putting into your washing machine?

As someone who has used only green products for the last decade or so, I realise that I’m probably quite over sensitive to the chemicals found in non-eco brands.  I notice the smell on people in the park, and the next door neighbours washing line regularly has us begrudgingly heading indoors.  Like anything, we get used to what surrounds us so I guess that’s why detergent manufacturers come up with ever more inventive ways to get those fragrances out there.  “Keep your clothes huggably fresh, even after 12 hours” says one well known brand which comes with “state of the art scent release technology”.    I just don’t get it.  They make my eye’s water and my skin flare up and my kids hate them too.

Even after washing again without softener, these chemicals stay in the fabric which makes them even more hazardous for those who have sensitivity to them.  I’ve been known to wash hand-me-down clothes which have been donated to my kids up to four times to get rid of the smell and even then it can malinger.  There are many individuals who have unwittingly put a new brand into their washing machine, discovered they are allergic and then been unable to rinse the fragrance out of their machines and keep suffering from the allergic reaction long after they have stopped using the product.

So what are the alternatives?  BioD is a UK based company which uses only safe and natural ingredients in their products and they’re nowhere near as expensive as Ecover (which isn’t actually as green as they would have you believe).   You can get Eco-Wash Balls from a number of different manufacturers, with varying results its true, but I can vouch for the fact that the one Wikaniko sells works and works well.  Soapnuts are another fantastic detergent.  They are so natural they grow on trees, keep your clothes soft and have the added advantage of being completely compostable once you’ve finished with them.  As for fabric conditioners, I just don’t use them.  I’d much rather smell of nice organic perfume and put pomander bags in my drawers.  Old fashioned I know, but so much nicer than the smell of “Black Diamond & Lotus Flower”.  What does a black diamond even smell like anyway?

Anyway, I’ve learnt my lesson about charity shop clothes.  No matter how much I’m itching to get into my latest treasure, it’s not worth the risk of itching all over and having a rash for the next two weeks.  Won’t stop me charity shopping though, got to love those brand new second hand clothes.


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