Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Sorry Andrew, I take your humane arguments on board but it's in my actual house, it's a fire hazard, a vector for disease, and I don't feel any qualms about getting rid of it in the most effective and efficient way I know how. In fact it was my husband Ed, a strict vegetarian, who bought the traps and set them. Maybe now I can persuade him we should get a cat.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The craft fair was very wisely under shelter, and the marquees were packed with people waiting to see if the rain would clear. It didn't. But we bought a wooden pop-gun for Sam, a wooden dolly for Eleanor, a plastic dinosaur for Tom (there's always one). I treated myself to a knitted tea-cosy. I've been meaning to make one but I just haven't got round to it. And I also bought a home-made chocolate cake for dessert when we got home.
Then in the evening Ed and I met up with my sister Lindsey and her husband Andrew to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (it was a dog's breakfast of a movie but I had a fun night out anyway). So we had a great bank holiday, despite the weather.
Monday, May 28, 2007
In a huge pan of boiling water, add some tagliatelle (I use about 100g per person, judged by eyeball). Bring it back to the boil and wait a few minutes before adding broad beans, asparagus, garden peas, spring onions and whatever in-season fresh green veggies you can lay your hands on. In another pan, gently warm some crushed garlic with some cream (or home-made yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream, fromage frais, smetana or any other creamy stuff you happen to like or have available. Don't over-heat cultured milk products or they could separate, but if this happens you may be able to rescue them by quickly stirring in a spoonful of cornflour). Drain the pasta and vegetables when cooked, and toss in the cream. Add freshly ground black pepper, and serve with salad and chilled white wine. Eat outdoors if you can manage it, with a red checked tablecloth.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
Hedgewizard raised an interesting point in response to this month's challenge.
The electricity companies' implication is that if you're on a green tarriff, they input as much extra renewable energy into the grid as you use (making your use effectively "green"). But this isn't the case. In reality, the companies generate as much power as they can sell to the grid at any given time, period. So your decision to go on a "green" tarriff makes no difference to the power generated - it's still 4.2% renewable, and nothing has changed unless the supplier is bringing new renewable plant onstream with your money. And there's the key; most of the companies offering "green" tarriffs aren't doing that. They inherited renewable plant when the industry was privatised, but they're just maintaining it.
... and he quoted some figures from an article in the June 2005 issue of The Ecologist. I've found the whole article online. I recommend you read it, it's very interesting.
We currently produce 34 per cent of our power from coal, 22 per cent from nuclear, 37 per cent from gas, yet only 3 per cent from renewables. This balance has to be dramatically shifted. The only way to do this is to build more renewable energy sources so that when old coal and nuclear power stations get decommissioned over the coming years there is enough renewable electricity being generated to replace them.
So if you want to change your electricity supplier because you're concerned about climate change, it's important to choose a supplier which invests in new renewable energy projects.
Fortunately there is a website to help you do just that. It is http://www.whichgreen.org/. I have included the latest figures from them as the image in the top left of this article. As you can see, Ecotricity comes top of the league by a long way.
The Ecologist article goes on the examine all the green energy suppliers in the table, and finds that most of them are guilty of greenwashing (claiming to be green without really doing very much about it). For example, nPower spent more on new renewable energy than Ecotricity, but then again their customer base is vastly bigger so the spend per customer was much less. Also nPower is part of the group which owns Thames Water, which came top of the Environment Agency’s list of most polluting companies in the UK last year.
Personally, I want my money going to a company completely committed to building renewable energy, not one which is just a small, clean part of a much larger, dirtier whole.
I'm with nPower, but after reading this I'm seriously thinking of switching to Ecotricity. And that seems to be the "take home" message of the article. It's not enough just to switch to any old green energy supplier. If you want to make an impact on climate change, you need to switch to a supplier that is serious about building new renewable projects, and that seems to mean Ecotricity. Sorry to the six Bean-Sprouts readers who already voted in the poll to say they switched this month, I hope you picked the right one! If not, I believe you have a "cooling off" period when you are allowed to change your mind.
Finally, I found some interesting advice from the National Energy Foundation:
If you are really concerned about this, then there are two other things that you could do:
Install some electricity generating capacity on your own home, for example through adding a photovoltaic (PV) panel; or
Buy shares in a locally based renewable energy scheme, such as the community wind projects at Baywind or Westmill Farm.
You should also remember that even if you are buying green electricity, it is important not to waste power by being as energy efficient as possible - a kilowatt not used is the cleanest kilowatt of all!
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Weed tea is easy to make. Fill a container (we used a huge plastic drum that was left on the allotment when we took it over) with weeds - leaves, roots and all. I used a bunch of big dock roots and couch grass roots, as well as a trug full of leafy weeds such as cleavers, good king henry, bindweed and dandelions. Then I added as much comfrey as I could gather. Comfrey is fantastic stuff, and I always make sure I leave a clump somewhere on purpose (that's what I tell people anyway. The truth is it's a bugger to eradicate even if you wanted to). It has a deep root system and draws up nutrients from deep in the soil. As a result it is rich in the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) nutrients that plants need. It is a great addition to your compost heap, you can lay the leaves around seedlings as a mulch and feed combined, or you can use it to make cheap top-quality plant food like this. I'll also bring some chicken manure from home to add to the tea next time I go to the allotment. You could add nettles, manure (sheep, cow or horse - not cat, dog or human). You can put in grass clippings, seaweed, even perennial weeds like horsetails, bindweed, even japanese knotweed! Anything you've got a lot of, heave it all in, and cover it with water.
Now you need to cover it tightly because once it begins to ferment it will smell like the devil belched. Leave it a few weeks, then put on gloves and a gas mask (I pull my jersey over my nose and mouth) and ladle some into a watering can. Dilute it with clean water until it's about the colour of tea, and feed it to your plants. Tomatoes love it, so do courgettes and pumpkins, cucumbers, all those hungry crops that take a lot out of the soil. I'm told it's also good for flowers, and I'm prepared to believe it. The stuff is liquid gold and every gardener should have some on the go at all times. What's your excuse? Haven't you got enough weeds?
When you've used it all up, tip the foul black gunge that's left over on the compost heap and start another batch. See, even weeds have their uses!
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
What makes you green? What is your proudest carbon-saving achievement? Tell Friends of the Earth in 300 words or less for your chance to win. The competition closes on May 31st. For more details see: http://www.foe.co.uk/living/competitions/green_stories/index.html
We are inviting amateur and professional filmmakers, animators and designers to submit their one-minute green films by 20th August. In September, the public will vote for the People's Choice Green Film and our panel of experts including Oscar-winning David Puttnam and Film Producer Andrew MacDonald will review and award Best Green Film from a short list of 25 films. All films will be hosted on Friends of the Earth's You Tube channel http://www.youtube.com/friendsoftheearth. Early entries will qualify for summer showcases and screenings. A range of fantastic prizes include professional editing software and free post-production. More information at: http://www.foe.co.uk/greenfilm or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-q2exNdrwA
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Happy Birthday to you,
Raw umber, burnt sienna,
And vermilion (hue).
Monday, May 21, 2007
It's an old Native American intercropping technique. You plant sweetcorn (which grows very tall) and runner beans (which climb up the corn stems) and squash (which trail around the ground) all together. Apparently the crops are slightly less than normal for each crop individually, but much more per unit area than you could otherwise achieve. I'm dying to see how it turns out.
The potatoes look amazing. The weather has really suited them and they've gone berserk. So I'm pretty sure we'll get eelworm or blight or something horrible, I just can't believe how well they're growing, it seems too good to be true.
The soft fruit is a bit mixed. The strawberries are doing well considering it's their first year, and if we can get them before the slugs do we should have ripe strawberries to eat fairly soon. Some of the raspberry canes we planted at the end of January haven't taken, but some of them have. Everything else looks pretty healthy and bunches of little green currants are already developing on the mystery soft fruit bush, so we might get to find out what that is.
I planted Japanese onions last autumn and they've grown well. They should be ready for harvesting in a few weeks. I pinched out a few flower heads today that were trying to develop, and they smelled great, really oniony and fresh.
The weeds are really getting ahead of us now, so I'm determined to go to the allotment every fine day and pull as many weeds as I can. There's a lot more to plant as well, successions of lettuces and radishes, peas, beans.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
My husband and I are looking into getting some chickens for the backyard but we are worried about what we would do with them in the winter. Any tips?
Your chickens should be fine through the winter as long as they have somewhere cosy and dry to go, and have access to water that isn't frozen solid. You need to check them every day, so if you get deep snow in your area you'll want to put the henhouse close enough that you don't need to dig a 100-foot-long path to get to them. They will stop laying when the days get short. You can put artificial light in their henhouse if you want year-round eggs. but last winter we didn't bother. We just used fewer eggs for a couple of months, and the eggs we did need we bought from the shops.
When I told people we were thinking about getting chickens they often said "You can't do that. They smell." Well, they don't. Like any animal, if you leave their manure until it builds up six inches deep, the house will smell. So don't do that. I pick up all the bedding from the hen house every couple of weeks, dump it on the compost heap and put down some clean bedding. And every month or two I give the house a more thorough clean with a shovel and stiff brush and a hose. The henhouse is right by our kitchen door, and there is no smell and no flies.
Good point. If you live in a high-rise flat then chickens aren't for you. There are other circumstances where it's just not possible to have them. But I didn't realise just how little space they need. My garden at home is tiny (about 10 yards square) but the hens fit in a little corner of it very happily. Per chicken, allow at least 2 square feet in the henhouse and 4 square feet in the run. That's really not very much space.
Our chickens live in a converted wendy house with checky red curtains. All we did to turn it into a henhouse was:
- nail a long stout dowel about 18" off the floor for them to perch on
- Add a nest box (we use an old washing-bowl filled with hay)
- Add a layer of bedding to the floor (hay or straw or even shredded paper)
You'll also need to provide some water. We bought a plastic chicken drinker a bit like this, and a feeder which is similar. You can top them up once every week or two and then forget about them. I think I paid about £2 each for them.
We originally intended to let our hens run free around the garden but we found two problems with this. One was that they tended to escape and get into neighbours' gardens or out onto the road. We soon get fed up of rounding them up. The other problem was that they did a lot of damage to the flowerbeds, eating plants and digging them up in the search for insects. So we decided to build an enclosed run. We cobbled this together from some timber we had lying around (actually the framing of the stud wall I ripped out of the kitchen), and some chickenwire that was in the garage when we moved here, and some wood preservative left over from another project. It's not a thing of beauty but it keeps the chickens in and so far it has kept the foxes out.
[At this point in the text it should have said "I'll discuss where to get your chickens in tomorrow's article" but since I published the three parts out of order, I already talked about it yesterday]
Links to Part 1 and Part 3
Saturday, May 19, 2007
IYou can buy your chickens from the Omlet people. They sell those groovy-looking Eglu henhouses, and you can buy a whole package with henhouse, chickens, feed, and everything else you need with just a few clicks of your mouse. They'll even deliver it all to your door. Compared to getting everything you need to keep, say, a large dog, it's not that much more expensive. But if you want self-sufficiency rather than an unusual pet I think it will take you a long time to recoup the cost in eggs. If you have the money available, though, this option has the advantage of being the simplest.
Another way to get your hens is to rehome ex-battery hens. This is a feel-good way of getting chickens, but it will require patience to get these creatures back to condition. However I've heard that they lay very well once you have settled them in. The Strawbridge family from It's Not Easy Being Green and Richard from Down the Lane are both examples that I know of.
If I needed to buy more hens I think I'd look in the adverts of a smallholding magazine. My dad very kindly bought me a subscription to Smallholder and there are several columns of small ads in the back of each issue for poultry suppliers. I'd have a look before I bought, and I'd be ready to walk away empty-handed if I didn't like what I saw. If you choose to get your chickens from such a supplier, ask for point-of-lay hens. That means they're young and haven't started to lay eggs but they will soon. That way you get all the eggs - a chicken's useful laying life is only 2 or 3 years so if your hen is already an old lady she might not repay your investment.
My girls are "hybrid layers", that is they're not pure breeds, they're mixed breeds which have been selected to lay plenty of good-sized eggs. Alternatively you could go for a pure-breed layer. Just make sure that if you're after eggs you don't accidentally buy a bird bred for meat, or because it has a whacky looking pom-pom on its head, or any other reason. Know what you want before you go shopping.
I get my feed from the local pet shop. I live in a rural area (the pet shop seems mainly to deal in horse-related paraphernalia) so they keep layers pellets in stock, but I order organic ones especially. Before you get your girls sort out how you are going to to get their food.
Finally, other sources of information. I mainly use three books:
- Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski
- The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour which has several pages devoted to poultry
- Food From Your Garden by The Readers Digest which also has a few pages about backyard chicken keeping.
- Down The Lane which has pages devoted to keeping chickens in a suburban setting
- Self Sufficiency In Style which has information about keeping chickens for eggs
- Self Sufficientish also has an article about keeping eggs, as well as a friendly forum where you can ask any questions you have
- Downsizer.net which also has a helpful forum as well as articles on the topic
Links to Part 1 and Part 2
Friday, May 18, 2007
what about noise? are they loud? we have a backyard but we have lots of close neighbors. i don't want the chickens waking everyone up (though i don't know why i care...my neighbors have no problems letting their dogs out at 4am to raise all hell).
Nope. Cockerels are noisy, but you don't need one unless you're planning to breed your own chicks. Hens are pretty quiet, they just make this soft clucking occasionally which is very charming. Incidentally, if you have loads of space and you do want a cockerel, you can still eat the fertilised eggs. As long as you collect them promptly and don't let the hens sit on them and incubate them, they're indistinguishable from unfertilised eggs.
You might have heard that eggs with a spot of blood are the fertilised ones? Nope, that's a myth. Some eggs have spots of blood that's all, whether fertilised or unfertilised. Really, there's no way of telling fertilised from unfertilised eggs unless you have access to a lab.
Uh, you forgot the number one reason (which is a huge oversight given you repeat reasons to make a "top ten" list), which is that they eat all your kitchen scraps and turn them into eggs.
Actually in the UK it is illegal to feed catering waste to farmed animals. Catering waste is defined as any food which has been in a human kitchen, including domestic kitchens, and vegetarian kitchens. Farmed animals are defined as any animal which is normally farmed, even when they are kept as pets.
So if you feed carrot peelings to your free range backyard chickens you are a criminal. But if you keep thousands of chickens in a warehouse with no windows but with electric lights on 24 hours a day, each one in a box the size of a sheet of A4 paper so their feet dissolve from their own shit, and cut all their beaks off with a hot wire to stop them pecking each other to death, that's perfectly OK.
You wait until one falls ill and you take it to the vets and it costs you twenty quid and dies anyway. . .
That never happens with guinea pigs does it?
Then there is the tears when the fox gets one. Then you breed and get seven cockerels. . .
I know we have foxes in our area because I've seen them. A guy down the road feeds them. They've never taken any of our chickens yet (touch wood). But I expect they will one day, c'est la vie. When that happens I'll decide whether the mess and upset makes it not worth carrying on. But from a economical point of view the hens have already paid their way, so even if I had to replace them once a year due to fox losses it would still be worth it.
I'm not breeding them and I don't recommend you breed them either unless you know all about it and have a plan for what do do with all the cocks. I'm talking about keeping backyard hens for eggs. Breeding, showing, preserving rare breeds, and rearing for meat are all very different operations. That's not what I'm talking about.
Guinea pigs are much less trouble and several times more intelligent than a chicken!
You'll get no argument from me there! But you don't get the eggs, do you. I'll stick with my chickens.
There were more questions and I'll deal with them in the next post. In the meantime you might want to look at the Omlet website. I found it very helpful for answering my questions and allaying any fears when I got started. The Omlet products were too pricey for me, although they look good quality. We cobbled our own henhouse and run out of materials we had to hand, which kept the cost to almost nothing. I'll cover that in a future post as well.
Links to Part 2 and Part 3
Thursday, May 17, 2007
- You get eggs
- They're no trouble. You top up their food and water occasionally, clean out their house occasionally, collect the eggs and that's about it
- Honestly, they're no trouble at all. A lot less effort than having a dog or even a cat. About the same as having a guinea pig or a rabbit, I'd say
- The eggs are cheaper than buying them because the food costs, well, chickenfeed
- The eggs are much, much nicer than shop-bought eggs, even free-range organic ones
- When they stop laying you can eat them if you like, as long as you haven't got sentimental about them
- They eat garden pests such as slugs, snails, leatherjackets etc.
- You can put their bedding plus the manure on the compost heap. It's excellent activator and will improve your garden or veg plot no end
- Even free-range eggs are often produced in conditions you might not expect. The hens must have theoretical access to an outdoor run but in practice they might never get there. They're less crowded than battery hens it's true, but still their living conditions won't be a patch on your own pampered hens, and that's why your own hens' eggs taste better (see point 5)
- You really feel you're living the good life when you have chickens in your back garden
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I like to picture it this way: The National Grid is like a great big reservoir of electricity, like a reservoir of water. There are lots of different electricity suppliers pumping electricity into the reservoir, and lots of users (like you and me and businesses and industries) taking electricity out.
All electricity is the same so it doesn't matter if it all gets muddled up.
You can choose whether you are a customer of "Dirty Old Coal-Fired Electricity PLC" or whether you are a customer of "Nice Clean Wind Energy Inc". But either way you take electricity out of the big reservoir (the national grid). The difference is that your chosen supplier will measure how much electricity you took out, and they will put the same amount back in, either from a coal-fired power station or from a wind farm (or nuclear power station, hydroelectricity farm, or a number of different options). Then they bill you for what you used.
This is an oversimplification but I don't think it's a bad one. I'm looking forward to being corrected by your comments, though!
Just to make things a bit more complicated there are a few different green energy schemes you can sign up to. Some use your money to buy 100% renewable energy from existing schemes. Some will use your money to invest in new renewable energy schemes. Some don't give renewable energy at all, but make a donation to the RSPB on your behalf. But don't worry, if you go to uswitch.com they explain it all very clearly.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
On the plus side, 8 people have voted in the poll to say they are already on a green tariff. That's encouraging to me, and I hope it encourages some of the waverers to make the switch. Go to http://www.uswitch.com/ and spend a few minutes changing your supplier.
Only one person voted to say they didn't want to change because they were already on the cheapest tariff. So what are the rest of you waiting for? At least go to uswitch and investigate. You can plug in your typical energy usage (dig out a couple of recent bills) and it will tell you how much green energy will cost you. We actually saved money when we switched to green because it turns out our previous supplier had been quite pricey.
If you're still unconvinced, I'll write a bit more tomorrow about what "green energy" actually involves.
Monday, May 14, 2007
- Create your own nettle patch
- Try Lady Ridley's Nettle Soup
- Take part in the Garden nettle patch survey
- Make nettle manure
- Or participate in the Comma butterfly survey
Who knows - maybe if you be nice to nettles, nettles will be nice to you?
Sunday, May 13, 2007
But the hands-on session was brilliant. We all went out to some hives and watched as the demonstrator opened them up and took out the frames covered with bees. We passed them around so we all got a chance to handle them. And we saw the honey and pollen stores, and all the stages of the bee lifecycle - eggs, larvae, capped cells containing pupae, and adult workers and drones. We couldn't find the queen but I'm sure we will in a fortnight when I go back for the second part of the course.
So apart from the hands-on part with the hives I think my favourite thing I learned all day was a tip about how to avoid conflicts with your neighbours. You get an (empty) hive and put it in a conspicuous part of your garden for a few weeks. If your neighbours are cool with it, well and good. But if someone comes and complains loudly that they've been stung, you can show them that whatever stung them didn't come from your hive - your hive is empty, see? After that they'll feel so foolish you won't get any more complaints from them after you do get your bees.
I'm dying to get started with my own bees. I'll have to go back to the local association and see if I can get any good second-hand equipment and a nucleus (that's a queen and a few workers, just enough to start a new colony).
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Friday, May 11, 2007
And the grass grows by itself.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
... if we're trying to be eco-friendly, shouldn't we be trying to do this to all our furry friends, not just the pretty ones?? ... please please please save all the envirmonment, not just the cuddly bits!!
I think Andrew his the nail on the head when he said:
I think we also need to remember, with our ever increasing urban sprawl, that it's us that have invaded their environment, not the other way around.
If rats tried to set up home in a fox's den, would the fox deal with them humanely, or would it just kill them? Obviously, in nature when two species clash the matter is resolved swiftly and mercilessly. But it's different when it involves humans for two reasons. First, we are just so much more effective than other animals at what we do. No other species has ever had such a massive imapct on the planet and every other organism in it, because of the technology we have created. And secondly because we are intelligent, we ought to be able to predict the outcome of our actions and behave in a way that does not lead to irreversible damage and destruction, if only for selfish reasons: we want out own species to be able to survive.
So where does that leave me and my rat problem? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Update: I've figured out why it only has an inch or two of water in it when there have been a few good downpours - the tap was left open. Doh!
Monday, May 07, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
So we took the new car to Colwyn Bay in North Wales. The children played on the beach, paddling in the sea, digging and collecting shells. They ate fish and chips and ice cream and had a great time.
Friday, May 04, 2007
I've included the Environmental Impact charts so you can see how much "greener" the Polo is compared to our old MPV.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
How about switching your energy supplier to a green provider? It's easier than you think and might even save you money.
You can compare all the different energy suppliers at www.uswitch.com Get recent electricity and gas bills, because you will be asked for your postcode, your current suppliers and typical usage, and some details such as the number of bedrooms in your house, and how well insulated it is etc. Then you can ask for either the cheapest or the greenest electricity tariffs.
The site will tell you what you would pay with the new supplier, and how well they tare for customer satisfaction. You can even change online, although you will probably be sent a form by your old supplier confirming that you want to change. I even think you have a cooling-off period of about a month when you can change back easily, but I'll have to ask my personal domestic energy expert to confirm that one.
So how about it? Will you switch to a green energy tariff?
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
But now the kids just need booster seats rather than baby seats, so they can fit in a much smaller car. And we have realised we can always hire a big car on the one or two occasions a year we really need it, such as going on holiday. It's time to trade down to a smaller car.