Gentle Gardening

Before we moved to the country, we had a tiny city garden most of which looked after itself.  It was a steep learning curve having a much bigger plot to take care of with very little experience and keeping on top of all the jobs was difficult.   The garden became over run with weeds and I was looking for a quick solution to deal with the problem when I found a bottle of weed killer that the previous owners had left behind.  I read the instructions.  They were terrifying.  I had to keep it away from any humans, animals or any plants that I didn’t want to annihilate completely.  That didn’t really seem practical and I questioned the wisdom of spraying something so toxic around our garden.  So, the only other option was to pull all the weeds up by hand.  This seemed a bit arduous (it was very overgrown) but it was actually a strangely satisfying experience.  When you are pulling up everything by hand it also makes you question whether they ALL really need to be removed.  I ended up leaving a clump of nettles for the butterflies to lay their eggs on and dandelions for the guinea pigs to eat.  I now quite like seeing the daisies, buttercups and dandelions in my lawn.  The bees like them and it adds interest.  The guinea pigs have something to nibble and the kids can make daisy chains.

I don’t use insecticides or slug pellets and there isn’t any problem with excess pests.  The birds seem to do a good job of dealing with this issue which is how it should be.  I do feed the birds in Winter which hopefully keeps their numbers up and help them view our garden as an attractive place to live.

Guinea pig delicacy

We also acquired a lot of hedges with our new plot which require care and attention.  We avoid doing anything to the hedges between March and August as this is bird nesting season (it’s illegal to disturb the nest of any wild bird) and we waited until much later before we started our conservative pruning, terrified we would end up with tiny dead birds scattered all over the lawn.  When you are pruning by hand, you can discover things you might otherwise miss if you were manically wielding a chainsaw.  Our hedges have all sorts jumbled up in them.  We’d been here a year before I realised there was a small apple tree hidden amongst some hedging. 

It does start to make you question how much interference your garden should have.  Whilst clearing a small piece of land last Winter I found a small hibernating dormouse on the ground.  She (for it turned out she was a she) must have been turfed out of her nest as I pulled ivy and weeds out.  I called the local wildlife sanctuary who advised she should go back in her nest if I could find it.  Unfortunately, an extensive search revealed nothing, so she went to the centre to hibernate there.  They called me in Spring to collect her so she could be released back to the same spot I found her.  I don’t think this would have such a happy ending if I had been using a strimmer.  Dormice are a protected species but so much of our wildlife is now in decline, I think most species could do with a little consideration these days.  Hedgehogs’ reduction in numbers are well documented, I remember them being fairly common in my childhood but sadly not any more.  Even rabbit numbers have plummeted, and they are pretty good at replacing themselves!

Supercute

I’m now quite careful with my gardening and keep in mind that I could be disturbing someone’s home.  It has made me look at the garden differently.  The pile of wood I keep meaning to move has been left where it is as a home for insects for instance. Other animals such as voles and toads also use these little nooks and crannies to nest in.  I’m looking forward to having a pristine vegetable patch this summer (OK, maybe not pristine) but the rest of the garden can be a little more ‘relaxed’ and hopefully the local wildlife will thank me for a safe haven.

My Best Green Changes for January

My Best Green Changes for January

I have now completed my first month of changing to a more ethical way of living.  Each month I will do a round up of what I have achieved which will be a good way of preventing procrastination.  I’m aiming for five changes a month, some big, some small.  Hopefully by the end of the year I will have made a big difference in the way my family lives and shops.  Here are the changes I have made for January in terms of ethical living.

Giving up meat and fish

This was really much easier than I thought it would be.  I haven’t missed meat at all.  (Dry January was another matter!  There’s no substitute for a nice glass of Sauvignon).  I still buy meat for the rest of the family although they are eating less of it.  They have also enjoyed some of the vegetarian recipes and all the meat is now organic, free range and locally sourced, where possible.  I also want to cut down the airmiles of the food we are eating too.

The only thing I’ve eaten ALL month

Super composting

My sad little compost heap had been sat in the corner of the garden a little unloved.  I have been turning it and making sure I am getting a good mix of green and brown matter.  I have a Joseph compost caddy in my kitchen, so all the veggie peelings go in there and I add the shavings from the guinea pigs’ cage and give it a good stir.  I think I will need an additional bin so I’m looking at a hot composter to speed things up a bit.

Beeswax wraps

I ordered these beeswax wraps to ditch the cling film for covering food.  They weren’t cheap but they are beautiful.  The designs have a vintage feel and they can just be washed and used again and again.  Eventually they can be composted.  Definitely a keeper.

Ethical toilet paper

I have always used recycled toilet paper, but the plastic wrappers did annoy me.  I looked into more ethical toilet roll production.  I investigated Cheeky Panda toilet rolls which were made from bamboo and have paper and cardboard wrappings.  I emailed them to ask if they were suitable for septic tanks and they kindly emailed me back.  Apparently, they are but you need to use less sheets (maybe 3 or 4) so you have to be careful not to block the filter.  I wasn’t sure I could trust the younger members of the household (or indeed some of the older ones) to adhere to this so I decided against this company.  I went with Who Gives A Crap instead.  Obviously the kids are delighted that they can legitimately use the word ‘crap’ and I have now heard it approximately fifty billion times.  This company make their toilet rolls and tissues from 100% recycled paper and there’s no plastic wrapping.  They also donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need so another added bonus. 

Laundry Ecoegg

I have a child with eczema and found the eco friendly washing powders irritated this.  The only powder I could use was Fairy.  I tried soap nuts but they didn’t seem to get the clothes as clean, so my next step was an ecoegg.  No harsh detergents, does the job and doesn’t irritate delicate skin.  A good all rounder.  It also worked out cheaper than my big box of Fairy and the packaging is far smaller.

I am now looking forward to making my February changes but it’s a short month so I will have to get a move on! I am also starting to plan my garden for the year, growing fruit and vegetables and getting some chickens. Last year was a bit of a disaster due to the weather so looking forward to seeing how we do this year.

How to Beat the Winter Blues


When the excitement of Christmas is over and the days are short, the Winter blues can descend.  It starts getting dark about 4pm here and when you are quite rural your options can be limited in winter.  Make sure everyone has the right clothing for when the weather turns so you can still get outside but if it’s really grim, here are some ways you can make the most of the season.

Do your tax return – If you need to do one and you haven’t already, January 31st is your deadline for tax year ending April 2018.  I often use this time to have an overall look at finances.  Is there subscriptions you are paying for but no longer need?  Make sure they are still worth your money.  Go through bank statements and see if there are any savings you can make and organise the budget for the year in terms of big purchases or holidays.

Declutter and clean – why wait until Spring?  Come Spring you will have planting and sowing to do, the days will be getting longer, why would you then spend time indoors?  Use this period of enforced homeliness to ensure you house is organised and cleaned. 

Cosy fires – if you have a fire make sure you have logs, kindling etc.  Teach the kids to lay a fire so they feel involved, get some hot chocolate and marshmellows in.  I like to do this as a treat on a Friday after school.

Go easy on the screen time – with less scope for outdoor play, make sure all that time is not used on screens.  If you join in the board games on a Sunday afternoon even for an hour it encourages them to play on their own.

Go swimming – sounds an odd one for Winter but its indoors and a good one for blowing away the cobwebs.  The kids can put onesies on straight afterwards so they are warm quickly (always useful if you have a few children to get dressed).

Feed the birds – Help keep our feathered friends going over winter.  We have a few different bird feeders dotted around the garden so there’s not a big scrum.   There’s the RSPB Big Bird Count this weekend to take part in too.

Check out the seed catalogues – Something quite satisfying about sitting down with a seed catalogue, a notebook and a cup of tea.  Plan what you are going to grow for the year ahead and order in your seeds and plants.

Now I have lived a full year in the country and experienced all the seasons, I find I really appreciate beautiful days in a way I didn’t in the city.  We really make the most of the clear blue skies now, even if they are winter ones. 

Local Produce

Whether you live in the city or in the country there is always locally sourced produce to be found.  When living in Hackney, there was a local farmers market, local honey and locally produced beer.  Now we are living in rural Sussex, our available local produce has expanded with some real gems.  Local food cuts down drastically on airmiles, is fresher and gives a sense of community as you support local businesses.  Here are some of my local gems, all within a 1-2 mile radius.

Farmers’ Markets

These seem to have sprung up everywhere.  I have picked up unpasteurised milk, handmade chocolates and handmade soap here so not just for fruit and veg.  Try out your local one – use it or lose it seems to apply here.

Honesty boxes

These boxes are found at the end of drives on country lanes and contain the excess produce of chicken and bee keepers and enthusiastic cooks.  I love peering inside these as you never know quite what treasures you will find.  There are several near me which often have eggs, chutneys, jams, and honey for sale.  You can even start your own honesty box and make a little money from excess produce.

Pick Your Own

This is my favourite place for locally sourced food.  Not only can you get cheap, locally grown food but it’s a day out as well!  I have taken toddlers to teens to the pick you own farm all with equal enthusiasm.  Fruit and nuts are the most common fayre but its also possible to pick your own pumpkin for Halloween.  It’s best to check their website/Facebook page before you go as its obviously seasonal and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Foraging

I’ll never forget picking a tub of blackberries in my hedgerow for a crumble and then going to the supermarket to find they were on sale for £2 for half the amount.  Very satisfying.  It is possible to forage for other food such as wild garlic and mushrooms but make sure you know what you are picking, it might be free but if it kills you it’s not really a bargain.  Its also important to know what is actually ‘wild’.  Raiding your neighbours’ garden is not ‘foraging’ its stealing and not really in the spirit of things. 

Within the same distance we also have a cheese factory selling delicious cheeses made with local milk and a turkey farm for the Christmas turkey.  There might be more where you are and if you want to be really local then you can always grow your own. 

Vegan for a month or vegetarian for life?

As the December food consumption was well under way, my thoughts turned to January and whether I would join in with the ‘veganuary’ trend.  This year was the year I wanted to become greener and encourage my family to do the same so I thought this would be a good way to do it.  I wanted to live more sustainably, use less plastic, reduce my carbon footprint and generally cause less damage to the planet than I was currently doing.  I considered whether I would be able to go vegan long term.  The answer, for now, was no.  However, I did feel ready to go vegetarian and thought this was easily possible to do as a permanent change rather than a short term one.  This was something I had managed for several years back in the day when we only had Linda McCartney to rescue us from a constant diet of baked potato and cheesy beans (although a fine meal in itself, not ideal on a daily basis).  There was much more choice now and plenty of ideas for tasty meals.

The amount of resources used to produce meat in terms of land, feed, water and energy plus concerns about the welfare of many of the animals who are raised for food was the main reason for my decision.  It wasn’t really a sudden decision, I just felt tired of being part of it and wanted to remove myself from the whole process.

‘Won’t you eat fish?’ my husband asked, somewhat anxiously.  Having recently watched ‘The Blue Planet’ and witnessed how magnificent a tuna actually is, to pull it out of the sea and then squash it into a can really didn’t seem a fitting end for such a creature.  The depleted fish stocks and the depressing debris left behind by some fishing methods were also concerning.  So fish were off the menu too. 

I have to say, its been far easier than I thought.  There hasn’t been anything I have missed about eating meat as there are so many alternatives now.  I am staying away from large amounts of processed soya as I don’t think that’s a particularly healthy or green choice.   I’ve tried new recipes and I am eating far more vegetables and pulses than before.  My husband and children still eat meat and fish but they are also eating far more vegetarian meals too.  Our first family environmental win.