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.


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