Well hello! What a load of rubbish (not)

Good morning to you. And yes, randomly, I’m here again.

Of course, I’ve always been here. Just not in this online space. I’m spending more time on Instagram these days, and I can see why so many people have migrated there away from writing blogs. It’s so quick and easy to do, so immediate. I can take a photo and post it quickly and easily from my phone. Whereas writing a blog post requires more of me. More thought, more time, more energy, more planning.

I don’t even know who, if anyone, is still reading my blog when I get round to writing it, whereas feedback on Instagram tends to be as swift and responsive as posting is.

However, I made a decision to continue with the blog, and continue I shall.

Life has both moved on and stayed the same since my last post. The political situation has become even more clearly awful, with daily tales of political corruption and incompetence alongside the car crash of COP26. So I thought today I’d focus on the positives, because they’re the things that get us through.

First of all, we are fortunate indeed to live in a wealthy country where we have been able to have Covid vaccinations, free at the point of delivery. I know that we’re in a small minority across the world, and I value it.

So far as the climate emergency goes, I can only do what I can do. It’s hard to let go of the bigger picture, and I’m not someone who is going to devote my every living moment to the issue (and I know there are some of those, braver than I am) so I have to simultaneously know that we are currently on a path to disaster and know that alone I can’t change a thing. Which is why I’m constantly alert to moments in my day when I can make changes in how I do things that are consistent with my knowledge and if adopted by all would really make a significant change; and to the opportunities to share those changes. I guess if I’m honest, that mainly what drives me to write this blog: to both share and to learn how we can do things differently in our own small lives.

Looking back over the years since I began writing this blog I can see that I have made many changes that at the time felt difficult but over time became completely absorbed into my normal life and unremarkable. This has accelerated in the last two years, perhaps because Covid has provided more time for reflection and reconsideration. Here are a few that might give you some ideas of things you might do differently, and I’d love to hear from you with other solutions you’ve found.

Mains water use

Since 2011 (so over 10 years) we have reduced our mains water use by just over 30%. According to our latest water bill our average daily use is now around around 43% of the national average for a 2-person household. Yet there’s nothing remarkable about how we use mains water.

  • We keep ourselves clean just as most people do (but we don’t take daily showers, we take shallow baths, and we share the water)
  • We wash our clothes regularly (but only when they’re dirty, and in a machine when there’s a full load)
  • We water the garden (but never with mains water – I’ve installed 4 large water butts which are sufficient for any watering, and I’ve chosen drought-tolerant plants and mulch beds whenever I can)
  • We don’t let taps run unless we’re using the water, and in dry spells collect the water that runs cold before the hot comes to use it
  • We wash almost all of our kitchen dishes in a dishwasher, always with a full load

I know there is more I could do to reduce our water use still further. In particular, I find the use of clean mains water to flush toilets incredibly wasteful. I had a phase when I used collected and used water for toilet flushing, but to be honest it felt like quite a faff. However, now I have more water butts I’m planning to have a month during a rainy time drawing water from these for toilet flushing, just to see how it goes and whether it makes a significant difference. I’m looking for and open to other ideas as well. Given that we’ve already achieved so much with very little effort, I feel confident that we can achieve more. Success breeds success.

Landfill waste

I think I can count this as a definite win. We have massively reduced both what goes into our landfill bin (very little!) as well as what goes into our recycling boxes. Over the past few years (maybe 5 years?) I’ve made a huge effort to avoid bringing any new plastic into the house and garden, and this has been a great success. Although some changes needed a good deal of thought, others are incredibly simple and require no effort at all. As much as possible I’ve tried to create circular systems where we bring as little as possible into the house, and reuse whatever we can.

  • Cling film – I rarely ever used this in the past, and it must be decades since we last bought any. Instead we use containers with lids, or small saucers or plates for containers without lids. In fact, I can’t think what would induce anyone to use cling film. We have plastic bags that we’ve had for years and we reuse over and over again, but these could easily be replaced with waxed cloths for eg sandwich wrapping, and I occasionally use greaseproof paper, which I compost after use
  • Plastic food containers – there are just 4 things I still buy in plastic, and if I’m honest I could with a little effort cease to do so. They are organic carrots (I know, the irony of buying something organic wrapped in plastic! I need to find other carrots I’ll enjoy eating); cheaper cheese for cooking (I need to look around for somewhere that sells it cut from a large block, or do without); ground coffee (I guess the better option would be to buy loose beans and grind them myself – something to explore I think); and dried pasta (I like a particular brand that’s not available loose but maybe I should try some of the loose pasta available locally). That’s not to say that no other plastic food containers come into the house, but I’m only responsible for my own choices
  • Plastic milk containers – the biggest change I’ve made is in my milk consumption. When I did a count I was horrified to see how many plastic milk containers I was responsible for. I vowed to end it. The first change I made was to drastically reduce the amount of milk I use – halved from around 2 litres a week to barely 1 litre. Then I found somewhere I could buy milk in reusable bottles. As a bonus, this was direct from a local organic farm. So for the past 2 years or so I have cut out all those plastic containers. The downside was that only whole milk was available, and that’s not acceptable to all but it was a compromise I was happy to make, particularly as I now consume all my milk as home-made yoghurt. I know this wouldn’t suit everyone, and we each make our own decisions about what works for us personally. Now there’s a milk machine being installed very close to home by another small local farm, and once it’s up and running I will switch to buying my milk there. It’s in easy walking distance. The farmer drives the milk into Bath daily, a round trip of around 24 miles – but that’s all the food miles for many households
  • Plastic film from food containers – our local Coop shop now has a container where they collect this for recycling, so when we have any of this we collect it up and once a week drop it into the Coop
  • Food cans – because we cook almost everything from scratch, I use very few of these. Our biggest can consumption is tomatoes, and I think it would take quite a change to be able to move away from this. We also have baked beans, and occasionally canned fish (mackerel in tomato sauce is a particular favourite). All other beans are bought dried, cooked in bulk, then used immediately or frozen
  • Aluminium foil – this is the last remaining thing in the kitchen I’ve been reducing my use of and want to eliminate. I know it can be (and is) recycled, and we also wash and reuse it whenever possible. But I also know that making it requires a huge amount of energy, and I assume that so does recycling it. The answer is often simple: cook in a container with a lid, and take the lid off when it’s no longer needed. Duh! We have lots of oven-proof containers with lids. It’s a long time since I last used a new piece of foil
  • Paper towel – something else I haven’t used for years now. I keep a box of clean cotton cloths handy in the kitchen, and they’re there to use for any spills or wiping that needs to happen. There’s a second box next to it to pop any dirty cloths in ready for washing. Any that are too dirty to be washed can simply go into the kitchen compost bin. The cloths are mostly cotton tea towels that are past their best and I’ve cut into small pieces
  • Food waste – there are only two things that go into our food waste bin (which is collected weekly by the council). These are used tea bags (Malcolm uses these but they have plastic in them so don’t rot down in the compost. I got fed up with fishing out tea-bag skeletons from my compost…); and animal bones (after they’ve been boiled for stock and picked clean). We seldom waste any food at all – we’re good about remembering what’s in the fridge and using it up; ‘leftovers’ are generally planned for another meal rather than being truly left over. Any vegetable and fruit peelings are fed to the hens, composted, or fed to the worms in the 2 worm bins I keep in the garden. Egg shells are kept and baked in the oven then crushed and fed back to the hens (extra calcium for their diet)
  • Paper – we save clean paper (eg envelopes, bills, catalogues, magazines…) and once a month I shred it all and use it as bedding for the hens. Anything dirty can go into the compost bin.
  • Glass – again, very little goes into our recycling box. Cooking from scratch means that we don’t buy much in jars. When we do, we either keep the jars for reuse (all our spice and herb jars, and the jars I use for preserves and for storing dried groceries are ones we’ve had for years). Wine bottles with screw-top lids go to youngest son for use by the farm for bottling apple juice in the autumn. Which leaves occasional wine bottles with corks and empty marmite jars

You might think all of this is a huge faff, but really it is just normal life and mostly requires no effort at all, just a change of mindset and then a change of buying habits.

All of which goes to explain how in an average month we have around 1 small carrier bag not full of rubbish that goes into our landfill bin. It’s collected once a fortnight, but as there’s so little in it, I usually only leave it out for emptying once a month or sometimes every six weeks.

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Letting go, gently

I began writing this post early in the summer, but somehow couldn’t find the ‘umph’ to finish it. Which I’ve realised is symptomatic of how I’ve felt for much of this year, or at least the summer. I’ve failed to respond to emails, I’ve struggled to concentrate on reading, I’ve struggled with all sorts of things. I was going to say: for no reason that I can put my finger on. But as I write this, the reason has become clearer to me. It is a sense of despair that I’ve never really felt before: despair because we’re living in a climate emergency with a government that has no real intention of addressing it; we’re living in a social situation where poverty and other divides are becoming ever greater with a government that positively fosters division; we’re living through a global pandemic with a government that is determined only to enable their friends to profit from it. Aged 65 (soon to be 66), I see my years ahead diminishing, leaving my children’s generation and my granddaughter’s generation a world which is not the one I’ve strived all my life to pass on to them. And that, frankly, is hard to come to terms with. There is a disconnect between my own happy and comfortable life and what I see all around me, which I find difficult to reconcile.

This is all about my allotment, and my failure to get and stay on top of things this year. And, it’s just this year I’m letting go of, not the allotment or my commitment to want to keep it going properly.

But somehow, this year I just lost it and haven’t really ever quite got it back. It started when I was ill for much of October. I lost heart with it, and then other things in life intervened and here we are – mid June, with so much still not sown or planted out.

I’m an optimist, and not one to give up. I’m already thinking that instead of pushing myself to ‘catch up’ for this year (which I kind of know I never will manage), I’m going to focus on doing what I can with what I have, on using everything I’ve already got growing, and on preparing the plot really, really well for next year.

So my plan now is to make the most of the things I have managed to get in the ground for this summer (and especially all the fruit as it ripens – not let the birds get more than their fair share this year), and over and above that focus my efforts on getting the plot in really good condition for the winter and next year.

Weeding has got to be fairly high up on that list – the more weed seeds that set, the worse the problem will be next year and years to come. There are also some structures I want to add in, and some that need maintenance work done (a new roof covering for the henhouse must be top of that list, and some structures for protecting crops next after that). I want to paint all the woodwork black, and to add in as many perennials as I can. The fruit definitely hits that spot, and there are more vegetables I can add in as well, especially if I can find some cuttings of perennial kales and similar.

I’ve already managed to boost the amount of rainwater I can capture and use, which has made a massive difference to everything, especially in the now regular spring/summer droughts. With the hens, the soft fruit, rhubarb, the apple and pear trees, and the asparagus, I think around half my plot is now perennial, and I’d like to boost that to around 2/3. With just two of us to feed I think I can achieve making the plot less labour-intensive than it has been but just as productive.

So. A new direction to follow, or perhaps just moving further along in the same direction. But the main thing I think is to be honest with myself about how much work I both want and am able to put in to keep it all going.

And now I realise that what this post is really about is allowing myself to adjust to a new reality, which I may not have chosen but which is mine nonetheless. About letting go of the ‘what might have been’ and accepting that what is, is. Not to say that it can’t be changed, but not to pretend that it is other than it is.

Posted in 2021, Allotment, Climate change, Community, Do what you can with what you have, Growing, In the time of the virus, Reflections on life (and death), Seeing differently, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making change – reducing landfill waste (plastic)

There are so many things I’m doing now that once felt daunting and are now just part of everyday ordinary. Malcolm and I have dramatically reduced the amount of household waste we send to landfill, as well as the waste we send for recycling (or at least, we hope it goes for recycling: the reality may be very different).

Our household landfill waste is collected by the council once a fortnight, and between collections is stored in a huge bin provided to all households (other than flat-dwellers). It is far larger than we need or want, but the design meets the needs of the (outsourced) waste collection company – it fits their lorries’ emptying system. I can see the desirability of standardisation, but I regret the lack of imagination (or perhaps resources) to think about alternative measures eg the system we’ve seen in use in Dutch towns where waste is collected from local street-level collection bins with underground holding chambers.

There really shouldn’t be anything much in our landfill bin. Our council collects a wide range of recyclables/reusables: all clean paper, cardboard, glass bottles, cans, food waste, cloth waste, small electrical waste, and some (but not all) recyclable plastic. At additional cost per household, they collect garden waste – I use this for material I can’t compost at home (though as I write this, I’m wondering whether I should instead borrow a shredder from Bath Share and Repair – they have a ‘library of things’ – occasionally, and make use of the shreddings on the allotment or in the garden).

One good thing about our local system is that it is immediately obvious just how much or how little landfill waste we personally are responsible for. In our case, that’s around a standard sized supermarket plastic bag a fortnight. Not much, you might think – and it certainly isn’t much compared to many of our neighbours. But I think we can do better than that.

I’ve been educating myself about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and thinking about how we could use them creatively in the work we do at Bath City Farm. But now I realise that I could also be using them as a framework for some of the things I do in my personal life. Waste management is a good example. I’ve been looking at SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

I think the SDGs were developed primarily to be used at government and organisational levels, but I see no reason why they can’t also be useful guides for us all at a household and individual level. We absolutely should be thinking about the global impact of everything we consume, everything we decide to acquire, and consider what the broader impact is – in terms of the raw materials and their production, their impact in use, and what happens to them at the end of their life with us. For example, when we accept a plastic bag we should be thinking not just about whether or not it is recyclable or compostable, but the embodied energy (ie the energy required to produce the materials and the product in the first place as well as the energy that will be required to reuse it in some way).

An important step for me was realising that not everything in a household has to be negotiated and agreed: I can take personal responsibility for the waste I produce without expecting that Malcolm has to agree with me or do the same. Sometimes we end up in the same place; sometimes we take a different view. And that’s fine.

I’ve noticed that a good deal of what goes into our fortnightly bag is still food packaging (despite our efforts to reduce the amount of food we buy packaged, and despite us putting everything allowed into the recycling box). For years I’ve been inspired by the writing and example of ZerowasteChef, and now she’s published a book. I decided to buy a physical copy, because I find myself frequently looking up her recipes online. Reading the book is inspiring me to make more changes at home. And best of all, I found I was able to order it from our local bookshop.

I’ve set up an additional collection box so we can set aside any clean (ie not smelly) plastic waste that can’t currently be recycled locally. I’m planning to do it for 3 months, and then I can see how much or how little that is, and think about ways to reduce it.

Walking down our road on bin day can be a depressing affair. I’d love to be able to support others to reduce the amount of waste they produce. I’m wondering whether/how this could happen. I have an embryo of an idea to offer my service to help anyone who would like some support to ‘slim their waste’ (maybe in return for a small donation to Bath City Farm). Any ideas or suggestions most welcome! especially if you’ve done it or would like to do it yourself.

One small step at a time.

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May already!

So. April came and went, as it aways does and always will. I wasn’t wrong to think we had a drought – here in the UK it was one of the driest (and coldest) Aprils on record. The climate crisis is real, is here, and we have to both change and adapt urgently. May has begun to put the drought right, with a stereotypically wet Bank Holiday Monday. My newly-installed water butts are beginning to fill nicely.

It’s a long time since I last wrote here. Things have been busy – April and May are always busy for us gardeners, and this April was extra busy due to the Farm plant sale where I had a stall to sell my knitted goods. This meant lots of sewing in pesky ends, so that all the dishcloths I’d been busy working on were good to go. All the effort was worthwhile – the plant sale was a magnificent success, and I made £120 on my stall. A small contribution compared to what the plant sale raised, but a significant dent in my target of raising £500 for the farm in 2021.

On the allotment and in the garden there was plenty of catching up to do. Somehow there always is. Nonetheless, I’m pleased with what I’ve managed to do, and sanguine about what I haven’t.

In particular, I finally got round to installing two additional large water butts in the garden and replaced the leaking tap on one already there. That brings the garden water butts to 4, mostly tucked away out of sight – I suspect they’re only beautiful to us gardeners: we know and appreciate their worth. Out on the allotment, I emptied and moved the water butt by the greenhouse, so that I can level the original placement and then add yet another there. These two by the greenhouse, one in the hen’s pen, and two more large ones by the shed will save me much water carrying from the site tap, and of course save all the mains water I might otherwise have used. I just wish there was an option not to pay for allotment water when we don’t use it – it might incentivise more people to set up rainwater harvesting.

In other news it feels wonderful finally to have plans to meet up with friends we haven’t seen for so long. So far we’ve managed to meet up with one couple, and I’ve met up with a close family member I haven’t seen for far too long. Over Easter we met with both our sons and their partners/family – such a treat! We’ve even made plans to go away – a few nights in a friend’s caravan by the sea in June, and a visit to a Scottish island in September. Both plans feel outlandishly daring and exciting now even though in other times they might have felt quite modest.

Perhaps that’s a good thing from all this: a new appreciation of the truly good things in life, for those of us fortunate to have them. Checking in with someone with close family in India, where covid rages and medical services are buckling, provides a reminder if one were needed that many are far less fortunate than us. Likewise talking with people who’ve had to struggle with huge emotional and financial difficulties during the pandemic.

I hope that you and yours are well, and that you will be able to enjoy the gradual relaxations of precautionary measures as they come our way.

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Food food and food again

I’ve been thinking about what to write, picking up on the first three months of my wish to educate myself about everything food – but primarily I think it’s about the ‘food and farming system’ we have here in the UK. It’s been a lockdown project I’ve really enjoyed and I’ve learnt a lot from it. It’s also turned out to be something I can multi-task with, which of course means more knitting and crochet.

My days have panned out to have a clear pattern.

It takes me a while to get going in the morning, so I begin with breakfast and coffee and reading the paper. Breakfast is always the same: a large mug of redbush tea; a bowl of muesli and yoghurt, sometimes with some fresh or stewed fruit; a cup of black coffee; sometimes a slice of bread and marmalade. Apart from the tea and coffee, all this is either home made or bought from a local seller, but of course we don’t grow oranges or coffee in the UK, and I know that not all the various grains and fruits I put in the muesli are grown in the UK.

Then I do a few daily jobs around the house – clearing up in the kitchen, whatever washing up needs doing by hand (anything that can’t go in the dishwasher, plus a lot of re-used plastic food bags). Any food preparation needed for later in the day. Putting clothes washing in the machine, hanging it out on the line. Sweeping floors. You know the kind of thing.

Most days Malcolm and I sit down together mid-morning and have coffee and cinnamon buns. He has perfected the art of cinnamon bun making. He uses a Danish recipe. We get through a lot of cinnamon and cardamon. I should know more than I do about where these spices come from, and their history of use in Europe, tangled as it is with the history of enslavement – along with sugar of course.

After that I do something much more energetic. This will be either a long walk (sometimes with a purpose – delivering, collecting or buying something; sometimes just an exploration or a walk for its own sake); or working on the allotment or garden. At the moment it’s rare for me to do something different, though in my head I know I have cycling, running, and using the rowing machine as alternatives.

Then it’s time for lunch – always a salad or cooked vegetables, plus a couple of slices of bread and something protein (an egg; hummus; fish; cheese). The vegetables are now all either grown by me or grown locally and bought direct from the producer (with the exception of carrots, which at the moment I still buy from a supermarket and they come in a plastic bag – organic and UK grown, but so far we’ve not found local ones that taste as good). The eggs are always our own, and I make my own hummus, but other protein comes from elsewhere. Cheese is almost all locally made. I make all our bread (though I occasionally buy German rye bread with seeds, which I know is imported). The salad will usually include sat least two of: toasted seeds; sultanas or chopped dried dates/apricots; preserved lemon; caraway seeds; cumin seeds; balsamic vinegar; soy sauce and rice wine – all of these are grown/made elsewhere and imported.

After lunch I usually spend a bit of time on the laptop dealing with emails or admin, and then I tend to hit an energy slump for quite a bit of the afternoon.

All of which is a very long way round in explaining that I’ve been spending quite a chunk of my afternoons listening to food-related podcasts and either knitting or crocheting. The BBC R4 Food Programme is always interesting, as is the Farming Programme broadcast daily. I subscribe to several food policy related e-newsletters, some of which have embedded podcasts (usually interviews with food producers or academics). By chance I also came across a series of food interviews by the owners of the London restaurant Honey and Co. These have been fascinating, especially in my thinking about the new cafe we’re working towards building at the City Farm – it’s a warning to find how many of the inspiring business owners interviewed a few years back have now closed down, and not just as a result of the pandemic.

We share cooking our evening meal pretty much equally. This is our main meal of the day. Each of us has our favourite dishes to cook and to eat. Like everything else about sharing life with someone else, it’s often about compromises – I suspect we’d both eat differently if it were not for the other’s preferences. But on one thing we’re agreed – we both enjoy eating seasonally, in which the wait and the anticipation for particular foods is part of the enjoyment. We would both rather eat strawberries when they’re in season here than eat them all year round. Likewise asparagus, raspberries and (for me) apples.

Food is a thread throughout every day, and this project is encouraging me to think more (and maybe differently) about what comes into the house and what we do with it.

Posted in Do what you can with what you have, Food, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Different weeks

I decided this month was going to be a month of catch-ups. With the end of lockdown approaching (we hope…) my time is going to be more in demand and there will be less unallocated time to play with. Back in the autumn I fell behind with several projects, notably the allotment and garden. Time now to put that right.

Last week was Allotment Week. Instead of getting my exercise from walking, I worked on the allotment every single day. There were many fewer steps to count, but I got so much done. I transformed the allotment from somewhere frustrating to somewhere I’m happy to be. I even invited a friend to join me there earlier this week with our flasks and some of Malcolm’s cinnamon buns.

This week was meant to be Garden Week, but so far that has only happened around the edges. Instead, I’ve finished up a few last tasks on the allotment, and to my surprise I find I have several appointments and meetings dotted through the week. It feels as though not just spring and the natural world are waking up, but ordinary life is beginning to pick up at the same time.

I was sent an appointment for my regular 6 month lymphoedema check (so pleased – I thought I would have to chase it); I’ve attended an online session working on Bath City Farm’s 3 year strategy; I went to the Farm to collect something and for an outdoor distanced meeting with someone

We have arrangements for next week to meet individually (always outdoors) with several local family members and friends, several of whom we haven’t seen for so long. Also next week, it will become April! I feel like March has rushed away from me. As well as seeing some family and friends, I plan to set aside some time for finishing off knitting and crochet projects. I’ve arranged to have a table at Bath City Farm’s plant sale on 24 April, to sell some of the things I’ve been busy knitting and crocheting this year as part of my plan to raise £500 for Farm funds.

Lots of loose ends…..

In other news, my offer to run a Farm workshop introduction to fermentation has been accepted, so I’ve been busy planning that as well. That too will be part of my fundraising effort.

The seeds I sowed last week are gradually, slowly, emerging from the soil. Let’s hope that’s a metaphor for the rest of life.

Window sill experiments with propagation – dragon tree, tradescantia, lemon grass, Thai basil, ginger
Spring on the allotment
First forced rhubarb
Blue sky through twisted hazel

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Goodbye February, hello March!

I know, we’re already a third of the way through March. I’m late. Sorry about that.

I looked through my photos from February to remind myself where the month went. I can see I walked a lot, most days. I watched birds in the garden, every day. I knitted (a lot), and even did some crochet. I cooked (a bit). I gardened (not a lot). We had granddaughter to stay for a couple of nights at half term, to help out her parents, which was great fun. There were snowdrops and primroses, and the promise of daffodils. There were pancakes (only about 3 weeks late to that party).

And most significant of all, I had my first Covid-19 vaccination. In a very beautifully-lit venue (The Pavillion, in the centre of Bath), with its chandeliers and starry-sky ceiling (which youngest son had a hand in upgrading and installing a few years ago). I realised to my amazement that it was the first time for months that I’ve been out after dark. The session was run largely by volunteers. There couldn’t be a better reminder of what we can achieve at our best.

As I write this, I see from my diary sitting in front of me that I’m already on Day 69 of my 100 day challenge to be active. I’m pleased with how it’s gone. True there’ve been a few days when I haven’t done anything very active, but far fewer than I thought there would be. On days when I’ve had to force myself to get out and walk I haven’t once regretted it (and I think today, wet and windy, will be one of those…). I’ve been recording in the diary how long I’ve been active each day, measured using my Fitbit (based on the activity recorded as either cardio or peak) and then working out the daily average for each week. What I’m looking for is an increase in the daily average, and that’s generally what I’m seeing. I’ve nudged it up from under an hour a day to over an hour a day. I don’t include the times when I’m just strolling, which are fewer and fewer now as I make an effort to walk briskly. I’ve also nudged up my average number of steps a day to closer to 12,000. I’m encouraged by how well this is going, and optimistic that I will keep it up beyond the hundred days.

I’ve begun sowing seeds for the 2021 growing season (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, broad beans, peas for shoots, some flowers and lettuces so far. Many more to come over the next few days. I’ve been repotting and splitting houseplants – I’m developing a taste for propagation, which turns out to be so very easy in many cases. A small and very inexpensive plant bought in Lidl yielded 3 rather nice plants in no time at all. Cuttings from a red tradescantia began to root in just a few days. I’ve been inspired to re-grow celery from the stumps of two heads I bought at the market last month, and I was able to plant out the first into the greenhouse this week. I’m intrigued to see whether it produces edible stalks, but even if it doesn’t I’ll be able to use the leaves in salads.

There are things I’ve started doing since I began writing this blog that have now become routine and just part of ‘what I do’. One of these is making fermented foods. This week I’ve been noticing on my travels all sorts of examples of the sharing (or gift) economy in action, and I’ve been thinking about how I can add to that. On Monday, the first day we were able to meet up with one other person outdoors, I took a long walk to Dundas (one of the two nearby aqueducts on the Kennet and Avon canal) to meet an older relative with our flasks. While I was there I also met someone I had ‘met’ on Instagram and as arranged passed on a kombucha starter for him to take home with him. A friend originally gave me the kombucha scoby. I’ve previously given away jars of my sourdough starter. These things seem to me to embody the sharing/gift economy.

Today as I was sitting listening to a podcast interview with Sandor Ellix Katz it came to me that another opportunity for me to add to my 2021 Bath City Farm fundraiser would be to offer to do a workshop introduction to fermenting foods. I made the offer and it was swiftly accepted. So I think that will be an addition to a programme of workshops to be offered later this year – watch this space! [I’m now trying to stave off the nervousness, thinking about the Pippi Longstocking quote sent to me by my friend in Denmark – “I’ve never tried this before so I’m sure I can do it!”].

I’m very aware of my privilege and good fortune in being able to use this lockdown in creative and positive ways, and aware too that this isn’t a luxury shared by many.

Posted in 100 day challenge, 2021, Community, Do what you can with what you have, Food, Growing, In the time of the virus, Local, Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Enough! how did it go? – in the bathroom

They say a good crisis should never go to waste, and the coronacrisis turned out to be a wake-up call for me to change some wastef habits in the bathroom.

Shampoo

I’ve been wanting to ditch the plastic for a long time. I tried a bar shampoo a few years ago and really disliked it. The smell was overpowering (I had to hide it away between uses, otherwise it completely filled the bathroom) and after a short while it crumbled into pieces. It wasn’t cheap, and I was disappointed. Then in January 2020 a friend visited and was very enthusiastic about the bar shampoo she and her mother had been using for a year or so. They were ordering some more, and upped the order to include a couple of bars for me. I’ve never looked back. It doesn’t smell, it gets my hair really clean, and the first bar has lasted all year and I still haven’t finished it. I wash my hair less frequently than many people, but I have thick hair and lots of it, so maybe the two cancel each other out. Anyway, this swap is definitely a keeper.

My one reservation is that it arrives without any labelling from China (or maybe they got the labelling?), so I don’t know what is in it. There are obviously carbon costs of making and shipping, but against that there is no packaging waste (the cardboard packing gets composted or recycled) and no moving plastic packaging around. With two relatively small bars lasting over two years I’m definitely not going to beat myself up over the shipping.

So – not a perfect solution, but definitely good enough to continue with.

Soap

Over the years like many I’d drifted to using liquid soap. Not for any good reason that I can think of. The first lockdown and the lead-up to it, when shops began to run short of some items spurred me on to go through all the drawers bagsand cupboards where nice bars of soap were stashed away. It turns out we already had more than enough to last us through the year, without needing to buy any more. All those nice bars of soap people had given me or I had treated myself to over the years are now in use, and they’ve been lovely to use. There were also bits of soap brought home from holiday stays (rather than leave them to be thrown away). I now have a small bag into which all the left-over small ends go, and I use this in the shower and bath – it’s nice to use, and great for finishing off those last scraps of bar soap.

We also have some liquid soap around (not least of all because not once but several times last year when intending to buy hand gel I actually bought liquid soap). We’ll use it up, mostly for visitors, when such luxuries return. Apart from that, I’m sticking with naked bar soap. Zero waste.

Toilet paper (look away now if you’re of a sensitive disposition!)

Toilet paper became the quintessential lockdown luxury item. People seemed to be buying it as if it would disappear overnight (which of course in some shops it did, because people were buying so much. A self-fulfilling prophesy if ever there was one).

I’d been toying with the idea of moving to cloth wipes instead of paper. Then last spring I heard an interview with a woman from Cheeky Wipes on Women’s Hour and she convinced me. (She memorably described her job as ‘talking about pee poo and periods’ – if you’re still menstruating, you might want to consider those products as well).

As chance would have it, d-i-l had recently given me some surplus wipes she had been using since granddaughter was born. I gave them a try, and I’ll never ever change from them. Reader, they are so nice to use!

The cloths are pure cotton, very soft (I chose the organic cotton, to reduce toxicity in the making).

There was an investment cost to this. I bought quite a large pack of cloths, plus needed two bins (one for each toilet) – fortunately I already had bins I was able to repurpose. I also bought two mesh liner bags for each bin. The drill is use a cloth, put it in the bin. When I do a machine wash each of the two bags in use goes into the wash along with everything else (with the used cloths in it), and a clean mesh bag goes into each bin.

This was not cheap, but will last many many years. And no waste at all.

They came in 5 colours, so I’ve organised them by having two colours upstairs, two colours downstairs, and the fifth I use as cleaning cloths – they’re perfect for mopping up small spills, wiping away condensation on the windows etc.

Of course now I’m washing more things, but the cloths add little to our normal once or twice weekly machine loads. I doubt they make any appreciable difference to electricity or water use. I’m still washing at the same relatively low temperature as before (30º OR 40º). Mostly they’re line dried. Whenever possible we time doing the washing based on the weather forecast.

I know this swap is controversial. I gave some to a friend, she’s using them but definitely not for the purpose I intended! Nor is Malcolm a convert. But living happily with other people is about agreeing to differ, and negotiating what compromises are mutually acceptable. I use the cloths for wee only, and only I use them.

We still have plenty of toilet paper available for anyone who wants to use it – and that’s everyone except (mostly) me. As for years, we buy a brand that is 100% recycled paper (though sadly it comes wrapped in plastic – we reuse the plastic bag, but would still prefer not to have it).

Toothpaste

I’ve finished the last un-recyclable plastic tube. I won’t be buying that again. I tried a toothpaste tablet and didn’t like it one bit. For now I’ve switched to a brand that comes in a metal (recyclable) tube, which is ok but I’m not particularly enjoying using it (though I’m sure it’s effective). I’m still looking around for the next switch.

Toothbrush

The battery in my electric toothbrush has finally died, after many years use. It doesn’t seem to be replaceable. I’m going to see what the hygienist says about my gums when I next see her – if there hasn’t been any deterioration, I’ll stick with the hand toothbrush. And then I’ll want to find a good one that isn’t made of plastic.

And the failures…

Water. This is the one where I backslid from all my good work the previous year. With all the lockdowns and everything else happening, I just wasn’t in the mood, and once I’d lost the habit it was hard to get back into it. I’ll be looking at the bills relating to the period to see what difference it made, and then come the spring I’ll be restarting to focus again on reducing my water use.

Hair conditioner. I have thick curly hair, apt to be coarse and frizzy. I like using the leave-in conditioners I’ve been using for years, and haven’t found an alternative. Yet?

Posted in 2020 enough, 2021, Climate change, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lockdown 3: goodbye January!

Never has January had so many days. It seemed endless. But here we are, now it’s behind us. Signs of spring are with us, and the days are noticeably longer. We can get through this.

The good things (for me) have been:

  • the daily walks: discovering new nooks and crannies in our neighbourhood we would likely have gone through another few decades without noticing
  • knitting: seeing that pile of colourful cotton dishcloths grow day by day. Eventually they’ll be sold to raise money for Bath City Farm
  • being in contact with close family and friends: by phone, by text, by messages, the surprise meetings along the road. Sharing news and commiserations. Encouraging each other along
  • Instagram: I never imagined this would give me so much pleasure. I’ve found new people to follow and learn from, beautiful images to enjoy, insights into places I’ll likely never go but love to see, recollections of places visited and loved
  • cooking for and being cooked for
  • hearing about friends and family being vaccinated. A relief and a joy

The much harder thing has been hearing from close friends and family about just how tough life has been for many of them. Some directly and badly affected by coronavirus. Others suffering from life’s normal difficult times, but overlaid with the intense hardship of having to cope without the supports that would usually be available (which can be as small and ordinary a thing as a simple hug). Others who’ve been hit with a blow they could never have seen coming. I’ve been reflecting on what if anything I can do to help, with all the constraints of lockdown and necessary physical distance.

But. The snowdrops are coming into flower. At 5pm (and beyond!) there is still light in the sky. The vaccine rollout has been the most amazing demonstration of what communities can achieve when they are given the chance.

We’ll keep on keeping on (because there is no alternative).

View from Bristol View
My entire crop of red cabbage, 2020 (actually – ever!)V

Posted in 2021, Community, In the time of the virus, Local, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized, Walking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enough! how did it go? milk and plastic

And as I examine the close link between food and waste, I realise that this post could just as well be headed ‘food’.

Spurred on by observing that I was responsible for a worrying number of empty plastic milk containers going into our recycling, I decided to do something to reduce it. At the same time, I learned more about the environmental impact of dairy farming. Making significant changes to my diet began to feel more important.

The first thing I did was to find out how much dairy produce I consumed. I was drinking a large amount of milk – around a pint every single day. First of all on my daily breakfast cereal (either muesli or porridge), then in my daily morning coffee (half coffee, half milk – a very large mug). Plus added cups of cafe latte when we were out in cafes. Then there was cheese, and sometimes yoghurt. A small amount of butter and extra milk in cooking.

Over the past year I have managed to drastically reduce the amount of dairy I use by about half. I did this by completely cutting out milk from coffee (apart from the very occasional latte treat out). To my surprise, I no longer miss it. This step alone greatly reduced the number of plastic bottles I was responsible for.

The next important step came when I discovered that a local organic dairy farm had bought an on-site milk machine where customers could buy their own milk in reusable bottles. I first saw one of these years ago when we visited my cousin’s son in Germany. I was so excited to find that at last I could do the same close to home.

Just over a year ago I began buying all the milk I use there. I bought 4 glass bottles from them, and since then all the milk I use comes in these same bottles. Unless I drop and smash a bottle, I can see no reason why I won’t carry on using them forever (I bought a few spare replacement lids recently, realising that the lids may eventually fail long before the bottles ever do). At a stroke, I’m no longer responsible for putting plastic bottles into the waste cycle, and I’m supporting a local organic farm. By reducing the amount of milk I use, I’ve also reduced my contribution to the climate crisis.

I currently drive the 4 miles to the farm to buy my milk. To reduce the number of journeys I need to take to keep myself supplied with milk, last year I began making all my milk into yoghurt. This prolongs the fridge life of the milk, and I find that the 2 litres I generally buy last around 12 days or so before I run out – I may experiment with making 3 litres at a time, and see how long that lasts. I’m also considering whether I could walk or cycle there and back instead of driving. Maybe I’ll give that a go sometime soon.

I calculate that having started this drinking approximately 7 pints of milk every week, I have reduced it to just over 2 pints a week. In so doing, I’ve switched entirely to drinking milk produced locally and removed all the plastic bottles from the supply and waste stream, plus of course the carbon cost of transporting the milk (and bottles). This won’t save the world, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction.

So, in answer to my question ‘how did it go?’, I’d say really very well. Far better than I imagined when I started on this journey. These changes are definitely keepers. And I’ll continue further along this route.

Posted in 2020 enough, Climate change, Community, Farming, Food, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments