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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Just in Time!

Year six!
I confess to a smug smile on my face yesterday morning when I looked out of the window and saw we had our first real frost. Why? Because, yes... my Dad and I dug up (Dad) and potted (me!) all our Geraniums and put them in the conservatory for the winter.  I think this is now about year 6 from the same half dozen Geraniums I was bought as a present - and now they total twenty seven plants and 14 cuttings (well the bits that fall off as we transplant them).

Every year we bring them in in the Autumn - usually by October half term rather than nearing the end of November, but they looked  lovely in full bloom still and so we just kept our eye on the frost forecasts. But last weekend we decided we could hold out no longer and yesterday morning it looked as though it was a wise choice.

We use old plant pots and a bit of soil dug up from the garden combined with the fabulously rich compost made in my wormery (another Christmas present!) so it costs us nothing.  Better than that though, Geraniums thrive whether the weather is wet or dry through the summer - in fact, they seem to thrive on neglect which can only be a good thing in my garden. And, last but not least of their characteristics is that they seem to be totally rabbit-proof.

My wormery

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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Gardening - It is all so much effort!

Or is it?

Well it does require some effort, most definitely, but I can't help thinking that sometimes we don't do ourselves any favours by the way we garden.

I have long associated the growing of tomatoes with the 'Growbag' technique.  Stick a couple of grow bags on your patio and plant them up with a couple of tomato plants in each and low and behold you will have tomatoes in abundant supply all through the summer. BUT probably only if you remember to water them every evening. Ughhh! Can you be bothered with that?

The thing we all know about Growbags is they dry out very quickly. So why do we insist on planting our tomatoes in them?

This year we decided to do things a bit differently.  Instead of using grow bags we planted our tomato plants straight into the ground along a post and rail fence.  If I remember rightly they got a couple of cans of water over them when they were first planted and I pulled up the weeds from round them early on but since then they've been entirely left to fend for themselves.  If they want water then they have to send out their roots to look for water. If they want to survive among the weeds then they have to be strong and be the fittest.

It seems to be working!

You want water? Find your own!

So despite the money saving (no grow bags to buy or water to pay for) and the huge saving on time and effort we are still being rewarded with lots of tomatoes and they taste wonderful.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Free Fuel

Last Christmas I was given a briquette maker - one of those metal contraptions you use to turn waste paper into 'logs' to burn on the fire.

I was mad keen to give it a go but a quick read of the instructions and a bit of common sense told me it was not a job for January. The main thing about making waste paper briquettes is that the paper needs to be soaked before you make them and then they need to be able to dry out. So... a job for the summer, it seemed.

But having sensibly put my briquette maker away until the weather was right, you may have guessed it, I never once thought about making myself some winter fuel this summer. However, on a gloriously sunny day in mid September I remembered my plan and went to survey the pile of newspapers that I'd been donated by my grandmother. It was a big pile. Better late than never, I thought, and set to work making my briquettes. By this time I had of course lost the instructions so a quick search on Google led me to this video from  What was bothering me slightly was that the newspapers I was shredding up could easily have been recycled so other than the benefit of hopefully gaining a little bit of free heat was I really being environmentally friendly turning newspapers into fuel?  As we have two wood-burners and a Rayburn we get through a lot of wood in a year, most of which we manage ourselves from a small woodland.  Chopping wood, where ever it comes from always generates wood chippings and there is lots of waste from the smaller brushwood, and other than a useful mulch for flower beds and around our new trees it pretty much seems like a waste product, so I decided to add a bit to my paper mix to see what happened.

Having set my mixture to soak for a few days I went to inspect and it seemed to be a suitably gooey mess. So I spent a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine making 36 paper and wood-chip briquettes. Are they going to dry I wondered?

I left the soggy creations on a palette in an open barn hoping that if the sunshine didn't last at least the wind might dry them out. Little did I know our Indian Summer would continue.  This morning I went to inspect my briquettes and they were nicely dried out. Here they are stocked in my shed ready for use.  I'll let you know how they burn!

TIP: I think one of these briquette makers makes a great present, but really, why buy one? - just borrow. Anyone who has one will only be using it for a few days a year!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Credit Crunch Carrots

In a mad moment we decided to dig up all our carrots yesterday.

In true Rosie style - stable door and horse bolted style - I Googled 'How to Store Carrots' after having dug up the entire crop.

Yes, I know, we always get everything wrong. And digging up the entire crop wasn't the first gardening sin we'd committed. For a start we didn't bother with thinning except when we wanted a few carrots for dinner - when instead of weeding out the weediest ones we picked the biggest. Well, if you want to eat them, then why not pick the biggest?

First sin, don't thin.

So, for my second sin, what did Google tell me about how to store my carrots? That's right! The best way to store carrots is in the ground. Ah well! Too late for that.

I continued my Googing and was pleased to learn from the World Carrot Museum - did you even dream there'd be such a thing? - that carrots will actually increase their vitamin A content during the first five months of storage. Yay! A glimmer of hope.

I decided that since I couldn't exactly plant my carrots again I ought to try to find them the next best thing, so I found two old bread crates someone had kindly left behind after a party (you see it sometimes pays to never throw anything away!)and filled them with a layer of soil from my vegetable garden. Then I sorted through my carrots and picked only the perfect ones, laying them in neat rows on the layer of soil. I then covered them over and started a new layer. My crop from one packet of seeds, which has kept us going through the summer already, amounted to an entire wheelbarrow full which turned into three layers of perfect carrots in each crate and a large number of 'rejects'.

Hopefully this way we'll get to eat more than the mice and slugs will!

The rejects have now been scrubbed and cut up into chunks (taking out any bad bits) and I'm making them into soup - one batch for now and one for the freezer. The only slight problem is, I've eaten so many carrots while I chopped I'm worried I might be tinged with orange. Oh well, better than fake tan!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Going Bananas

Bananas - lots of them - going cheap - or going to waste.  Couldn't bear it! They've been transported all this way. Bought lots, eaten lots but still I have five of them left getting blacker and blacker.

Time for banana bread! My favourite banana bread recipe is from The River Cottage Family Cookbook which has chopped up apricots and sultanas in too. That's three of my five-a-day, I reckon! This recipe calls for three large ripe bananas - but I declared mine 'medium' so opened up all five ate the least blacked one while I mashed the other four and it turned out just fine! 

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Ethical Tourism

What is ethical tourism?

People have differing ideas about what makes ethical tourism and for me the definition given by the travel website is a good summary:

They say:

"Responsible tourism can apply to any type of holiday, from a luxury beach villa to a volunteering project. Responsible tourism simply means holidays that care about local communities & culture as well as wildlife conservation & the environment."

What I'm looking for is a holiday that will enable me to benefit the local community.  Much as I'd like to say I'd volunteer in an orphanage or build a school in a remote village, that's not what I mean.  I just simply want the money I spend to go directly into the pockets of local people. 

As I started to plan this year's 'holiday with a difference' to Turkey for my family of four what I mostly had in mind was that I wanted an 'activity holiday' and that I wanted to avoid the larger hotel complexes that to me could have been anywhere in the world, and particularly the all -inclusive type holidays that are quite prevalent these days.

I have family and friends who are fans of all-inclusive and I don't deny that the water park hotels with their amazing slides and kids clubs look like paradise for young children, but my children are in their teens and were prepared to humour me in return for some adrenalin kicks at some point during the holiday.

I admit that at first I was looking for a package tour - I knew nothing about our chosen destination, spoke none of the language and didn't know where to start, and that's how I came across who are an advertising site that can provide a wide variety of holidays and explain how each is in some way benefiting the local community.

However, in the end I took the brave (or mad) leap and booked everything myself. The advantage of having looked at package tours is that I had a guide budget and that helped me when Googling for rental property and now I have flights, transfers, car hire, activities, villa for a week with a private pool, family-run boutique hotel for a couple of nights and a two day boat trip all for less than the cheapest package holiday I can find. I plan to eat in local restaurants a few times and other than that we will buy from markets and local shops. But ethical? 

Friday, 18 February 2011

Are there down sides to being green?

Well... this morning I have 44 chocolatey candles to wash.  I'd say that's a down side, but I'll just reward myself for being good with a slice of the (slightly waxy) but extremely yummy chocolate cake.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

I Hate Waste!

Those readers who know me, will know just how much I hate wasting anything. But sometimes despite our efforts it happens.  I still can't believe this just happened though!

Yesterday I gave a presentation at a conference in Paris. I travelled out the night before on the Eurostar and stayed overnight near the Gare du Nord. Rather than eating alone in a restaurant which I hate, I decided to buy something at Marks and Spencer in St Pancras station to eat on the train.  I like Marks and Spencer because their sandwich packaging is compostable. I have a weakness for their egg sandwiches and so along with some salad that's what I bought. BUT to my horror just as I was about to open it my sixth sense kicked in and my eye was drawn to the words 'single cream' in the ingredients. I'm horribly allergic to cream.

The fact that I was travelling to Paris to be a guest speaker at a conference pushed away my initial thoughts of 'oh well, it is probably only a little bit.' So then I wondered what I would be able to do with my uneaten sandwich. I decided I would offer it to someone sleeping rough.

This in mind as I walked the half a kilometre to my hotel, the offer was on the tip of my tongue when the first two people I passed who appeared to be sleeping rough suddenly jumped up from their sleeping bag beds spread on a low wall outside the post office and started assembling a tripod with some fairly nifty looking camera equipment.

So, I arrived at my hotel sandwich still in my possession.

Next morning I kept the sandwich to hand hoping to provide someone with a nice breakfast as I set off back to the metro to cross Paris for my conference. Just as I approached the platform there was a man sitting on a stretched out sleeping bag but I felt a little embarrassed surrounded by people and the train was just arriving. However, determined to execute my plan I stayed on the platform when the train pulled out.  With no one else around to judge my behaviour as weird, I went back to the man and asked him if he would like a sandwich.

"No thank you just now, but maybe next time" he replied politely nodding his head.

'Hmm,' I thought. Maybe third time lucky?

Presentation done and on my way home I did see a few more suspects, but on the opposite platform while I was still on the metro.  I retraced my journey back to the Gare du Nord and boarded the Eurostar back to St Pancras.  Maybe in London I could find a grateful recipient for my M&S Sandwich? Alas no! Between St. Pancras and Paddington and then onto my local station no hungry mouths were spotted. So this morning the sandwich sits in my fridge having been to Paris and back and awaits the moment when I cut it up and feed it to the birds. I hope they are hungry!