Friday, August 31, 2007

Dealing with plastics

Check out Tim Minchin's video on You Tube about canvas bags
Yesterday was a focus on avoiding using plastics and bringing them into the house, today my focus will be on reusing and recycling plastics.

Reducing Plastics - bags and containers

There was a mention of banning plastic bags in the UK, and some supermarkets have taken this on board. The first step, if you are shopping in a supermarket, is to check whether they offer bags for life, or bring your own plastic bags or alternative way to store your shopping. There is nothing preventing you bringing in storage baskets and putting your shopping in that, that I know off!

The Body shop will accept their own containers for recycling and Ecover provide a refill service for their products in various locations. The ecover site enables you to put in your postcode or county to find the nearest refill centre.

Move from plastic bottled milk to a milk delivery service with glass bottles.

Re-using Plastic

If you have a local convenience store, ask whether they are willing to take your plastic bags to reuse them when people shop in their local store.

Plastic bags can be reused as bin liners, a way to store soppy swimming kits and sports kits and as it is plastic, you can wash them and hang them out to dry to use again.

Look in second hand stores for baskets or check out your local basket maker and get one made to fit either the boot of your car, your local shopping trolley or bike or whatever you use to transport your food items in.

Recycling plastic

Does your supermarket take plastic bags back for recycling? If not, check with your local recycling centre whether they have a designated bin for plastic bags and if not, ask for one to be installed.

Little plastic is recycled presently because there are dificulties involved with that and because there are many types of plastic . Most plastics have a sign at the bottom of the bottle and it is worth checking with the recycling centre what they take.

The plastic bottles left over can be recycled at your local recycling centre, and to put more of them in your box before you take the trip, consider crushing them. The plascan can do this for you easily.

Products made with recycled materials can be checke dout at, lots to browse and look for.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

10 ways to reduce rubbish

Plastics for the Home
Plastics for the Home

Admittedly, I have been plastics kid. Who would be without plastics, as a child of the sixties. My barbies were out of some sort of plastic. Gradually the stuff appeared everywhere, wrapped in plastic, I even had a plastic coat in its heyday to ward of the rain, plastic shoes, plastic cutlery, plastic lampshades in bright orange. ( OK you can guess my age now).

Honestly never gave it a second thought, it was normal to have everything around in plastics, they made everything from it and everything was great. Up until now.......

1. Check what is in your bin

Get scientific and check what exactly you are collecting that needs to be thrown out. Record what you throw away during a week and think about how you could reduce this. By avoiding disposable products and reusing, repairing and recycling where possible you will be amazed at how much waste can be avoided. Check your local council website to see what can be recycled and where.

2. Separate your rubbish into items that can be recycled and those that cannot be recycled.
There are 5 groups of waste that can be recycled : paper, glass, aluminium ,steel and cans, and organic waste. Find out where your local collection points are and recycle where you can rather than putting them in your bin with the rest of the rubbish. have a go at reducing your rubbish bin contents by 50%.
3. Encourage those around you to recycle and reduce. Think when you are out shopping what you are bringing back and how you will have to deal with the waste created. Check the services available in your area and if they are not available, write to the Council and ask about better services.
4. Avoid products that cannot be recycled, so avoid plastics if at all possible. Find out from your local council what they are doing about reducing plastic waste. Re-use plastic bags and use permament shopping bags and baskets while out shopping.
5. Avoid fast food and its packaging. The energy used to produce and pack convenience foods is high. Avoid food packaging that is foam packaged and covered in plastic. If you do eat fast food, check with the manager how and what they recycle of the packaging on offer. If they do not recycle, question why not and decide whether ethically you want to support this sort of business.
6. Reuse as many household goods as possible :old cotton sheets have been turned into choir cravattes in our village, but can make good dusters, floor cloths, baby bibs, cushion covers, patchwork, wheatbags and so on. Charity shops will take clothes and goods and many community groups are open to receiving your stuff with open arms. Freecycle the rest. We pass on clothes, toys and books to other families in our area, as we have generously received in the past. Think before you buy, we have been successful in finding a drumkit and offered storage with free usage for it while the owner has no room to store it. The result is free use of a drumkit that will be returned at a later stage.

7. Dispose safely of your waste, do not just burn it in your garden. Check with the council for safe waste disposal of motor oil, paint chemicals and other toxic materials.
8. Compost, use a wormery or bokashi bin, or all three.Check whether your council has a scheme where compost bins are provided free of charge. Bokashi and wormeries are available from wiggly wigglers. If you have no garden, find someone who has or take on an allotment.
9. Use recycled paper products when possible. Make notepads from scraps of paper, reload your computer with sheets that have bene printed on one side, reuse envelopes and buy address labels to stick over envelopes so they can be reused.
10. Use the mail preference service to have your name removed from mailing lists which will reduce your energy consumption too and give you more time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

a bit idle

Summer Evening by Childe Hassam
Summer Evening

I am feeling decidedly not like doing too much at the moment. Its been a busy week with thinking about moving but the main ingredient for my doing very little is the fact that the sun is shining, every day now for a week and I am basking in it.

Many of us have been taught to believe that we are valued for what we do, not just for who we are. ‘Doing’ is important, but to keep life in balance, we also need time to just ‘be.’

Henry David Thoreau expressed this so well in Walden Pond:

"There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand.

"Sometimes, on a summer morning, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller's wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time.

"I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been."

Ahhhhh the summer evenings, to be enjoyed because when autumn heralds winter and colder weather, we need the memories of summer to carry us through.

My head seldom stands still though...I am working on a few more articles to do with 80% reduction.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sweating the small stuff

Home Is Where One Starts by Caitlin Dundon
Home Is Where One Starts

With a purchaser for our house at the ready, the organising hat has been put on. This is a stressful time because so many things could just as well go wrong, and we could end up not selling. Anyhow, we are on the road of uncertainty to somewhere else, which means that my head is full of things to do, plants to save, pots to water, etc.

I phoned around a few removal firms to ask them to give us a quotation to move us from A to B and one of them commented:
Actually, you have very little stuff to move.

Music to my ears. One of those eureka and satisfying moments, when a downshifter realises that indeed, it is noticeable that there is little stuff about. A few months ago my Aunt visiting commented that you could see the house was for sale, it was so tidy and nothing much on show. There is not much to show really, a life without stuff is very liberating. When the man checked the inside of my wardrobe he was shocked.........that will fit in one special box. We are now unusual I guess, not very much stuff but when you have little stuff you do not need to store it, service it, insure it, clean it, move it, look at get the picture.

You might now think how it is possible to live a satisfying life with little stuff. I dare you to try it, give some of the stuff another home, reduce your needs, reuse your stuff or give it away to someone who will appreciate it.

The only challenge I have at the moment is how we are going to move the food larder and the jams......the removal man assured me that he was quite capable of handling jam jars with kid gloves, food had been moved and stored before.

We are going to be radical this move....we will not be moving out and moving in on the same day. Who really needs that kind of pressure. It is a luxury we have available, Time. We will be moving slowly, out one day, then the small stuff will go in storage for a week or so while we clean the house we leave, hand it over and then move into the new house, when we have cleaned it, opened the windows and looked at it with fresh eyes.

We will technically be homeless or in between homes for a while, and as where it would have scared me in the past, I know that I can do without the stuff, I am who I am and as I cannot take it with me in the end, I have come to realise that I have an identity without my stuff. My life may well be in boxes in the next few weeks to come but when it comes down to it......there is very little I need on a daily basis. ( The food larder is giving me headaches still though, shall I can, shall I wait......)

Friday, August 24, 2007


Hurricane from outer space by Scott Berner
Hurricane from outer space

Even beautiful storms can create immense damage, showing the power that nature can harness and that brings us into a realm of uncertainty and a place where as individuals we have little power.

The last few months seem to have brought fires, floods and storms ...all over the world. Yes they bring destruction and they create disorientation, and yet after the storm, the air clears and you can look at what really matters. After a fire, a phoenix can rise from the ashes. In the middle of a hurricane in the eye of the storm, there is silence. Eery maybe, but silence....listen out for it, you are not to do anything but listen in the silence and in its centre,you will find.....your heart pounding, you will feel alive just for a second... That is the most precious thing, to truly feel alive in the moment and be able to respond, to be responsable. To connect through a musical note, through a split second when everyone gasps at a football game, to feel truly one with nature and the universe, to be in awe at the beauty in the middle of the ugly storm. In the essence, on the edge, there is only one thing that matters, this moment of feeling alive and being engaged in it.

Against that is the headline that a boy of 11 was shot in the back of the neck on his way back from playing football, a senseless loss of life ......a different storm is brewing.

"Wise men say nothing in dangerous times." ― Aesop

Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer has flown by

End of Summer by Sherry Masters
End of Summer

The signs are there, the swallows swarmed high in the sky a few days ago and have left.....about 3 weeks earlier than last year. Again, this was followed by spiders seeking refuge in the house, being a sure sign at our cottage that summer has gone. ( did it arrive I did we miss it?) At lunchtime I could smell the smoke of the first woodburner keeping a cottage warm and I reached for a warm sweater. The outside temperature dropped to about 17 degrees and the colour of the sky is looking autumnal. It is August, next week is known as the summer bank holiday, a last holiday weekend in which families usually go and seek out a picnic on the beach before school starts again.

In the polytunnel, the zucchini and butternut squash are rotting on the stems; a sign that the humidity and temperature are too low. The tomatoes are gradually turning red but 90% are still green. The plums are not yet ready and the apples are falling from the tree. The plums are late and the apples early. Beans are trying to produce but lack heat and the cabbages are being ravaged by caterpillars. All in all not a particularly productive year in the garden. I have no beans set by for winter like last year and tomatoes depends on what happens otherwise we will be having a lot of green tomatoe chutney. The plums will become jam. At least there will be jam , bread, cheese and chutney over winter. As a result I expect food prices to rise, and not just locally but globally. We have been used to regular patterns of sowing and harvesting as nature has played along with us, now I am not so sure. I shall continue to monitor one year with the next but take a gamble on when to sow the seeds for next year, as April was very hot here and it appears to me that we have shifted 3 weeks forward.

On a larger scale, fires, storms, floods.... Nature does seem to be reacting to something.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rainy day activity

Not far from our cottage, the hills rise above on the horizon. At the start of spring, the moment when colour exploded into new greens of a variety of hues and depths, I explored the possibility of creating a shawl to capture the colour variations. I am working on creating fibre related items that reflect the place I live in, the local environment, using locally sourced fleeces.

The yarn is forest green handspun. The timescale for the project has been 8 hours spinning and 32 hours knitting. There will only be one of these, as I would not be able to absolutely recreate the exact pattern variations caused by the spun yarn. It has been untouched by robots and has been lovingly created in beautiful surroundings, feet up with cup of tea to the side, using time unavailable for gardening during the ' wet summer of 2007'.

Friday, August 17, 2007


The difference between a mechanic world and an organic world is demonstrated in food producer's inability to produce the ' perfect' apple, potatoe, cucumber etc. As consumers we demand a perfect apple, we expect it to be all the same size, because after all that is what we can buy in the shops. Because we buy the ' mechanic' apple in the shops, the supermarket argues that that is exactly what the consumer wants and therefore puts pressure on the producer to create an apple that is of a certain type, certain volume, mass, weight etc. There are practical considerations for this arguably, in that the ' perfect' apple will sit amongst other perfect apples in a space that has been designed in the perfect box leading to perfect transportation, perfect condition, optimal temperature., perfect display and perfect get the idea. Question : Does the perfect apple meet your tastebuds expectations.

Notice my amazement to be given a basket full of organic apples. They come from the same tree yet, they are different sizes, some have blemishes and some are looking decidedly wonky, off centre as if they have been grown on branches and in some way had to compete. ( I am being sarcastic).

Perfectionism takes effort, huge effort and energy.
Perfect produce expectation sets the producer and consumer up for continuous rejection and self-putdowns--and deny peace of mind--because demanding perfection usually results in failure. And even if the producer achieves an exceptional result, chances are that the supermarket will still be unhappy, as they will find additional reasons for the produce not being good enough. That's the destructive nature of perfectionism and that's why it destroys self-esteem and enthousiasm in producers.Nothing is ever good enough. The supermarkets however will say that this is what the ' perfect consumer' demands. Is that you?

Remember, being a perfectionist may paralyze our future chances of success and variety in the produce available locally because producers and growers eventually fear taking any new actions that might produce an imperfect result. Preventing perfectionism begins by saying no to unreasonably high demands that produce failure and self-contempt. The new way of thinking requires producers to choose goals that are easier to achieve and are within the realm of local possibilities. Moderating expectations--stopping a focus on faults and flaws--and instead looking at variety and locally produced food enables producer's performance and self-esteem to soar.With that comes the fact that a relationship between producer and consumer can be restored.

I came to realise that the voice of the supermarket saying I demanded the ' perfect apple' cost me a choice in a variety to my tastebuds so now, I try not to judge the apple by its colour and shape only but to deliver my final verdict when I have given it the ultimate consumer test : when it hits my tastebuds, when I can enjoy its flavour, its scent and its taste. Even a smaller size apple which initially may not seem perfect, can reach parts of my tastebuds that others in their perfection have eroded. An apple that has ripened on the tree and is picked fresh and bitten into is an indescribable experience which could become the norm. Lets turn perfect on its head, lets say no to the mechanic apple and embrace the challenge of looking at an apple and thinking, wow, I wonder what it tastes like instead of going on looks alone.

Briefly describe one purchase or part of your life in which you would like to be less perfectionistic. What are some specific ways that you could moderate your goals in that particular situation/area? What consequences might follow from such changes?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

digging for diamonds

A Man Looks Down the Valley with His Feet Hanging Over the Cliff Edge, Zion National Park, Utah by Taylor S. Kennedy
A Man Looks Down the Valley with His Feet Hanging Over the Cliff Edge, Zion National Park, Utah

Your diamonds are not in far distant mountains or in yonder seas, they are in your backyard, if you but dig for them. Russell H Conwell

Since starting this blog I have been working on decluttering and creating an authentic life, a simple plain life. A few months ago we reached a cross roads where we made some decisions as to a different future with some of the following criteria:
  • a smaller house
  • no commuting
  • a smaller garden
  • using less resources
  • investing in the community
  • working together to reduce our footprint
  • no more holidays abroad
  • ethical living

They may seem like sacrifices to others, but we have got used to a more localised life; a reduced life does not mean a less rich one in many ways. At every step we check why we do what we do, and we are faced with questions at every turn that not always provide a comfortable answer. This is a journey of discovery and having achieved our garden plans we have realised that it is possible to produce a large amount of one's own food in a small space. We are about to do it again in an even smaller space.

Today we negotiated on the sale of our house and thus, the broccoli that I am planting will be harvested by the next person enjoying the beauty and special place we have lived in. Houses and places can be special, this one has been in my life as it has been a playground for a larger vision. So I invite you to step with me in the unknown for a second time, to walk with me and see what can be achieved with less. Step one has been to agree the sale. That feels like standing at the edge of a cliff and taking flight. Fly with me and see what is over the horizon. If you are starting out on the downshifting path, we are about to start all over again in about 3 months time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Deforestation in a Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington State, USA by Panoramic Images
Deforestation in a Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington State, USA

What exactly is money and why is it important? Is it actually important.
What is the difference between commodity money, flat money, credit money and money supply?
A few evenings ago, we had a really fantastic conversation with DS1, who asked questions about money, onto economics, politics, plundering, and finally onto resources and global markets. A little overwhelming I have to say but one thing just led to another and in between the conversation in which we tried to make sense of it all, we felt a bit overwhelmed, by its importance in our lives and how we had got there.

How did it get this way?

Who has told us about money and how do we educate the next generation about resources, how precious they are and the likelihood of greed and erosion of those resources. How do you tell a 13 year old starting to make sense of the world what a mess it is in, and which role we have played in it, how do you look your child in the eye and claim ignorance. After 2 hours of interesting and challenging , uncomfortable debate I had to admit to myself that I had not always been responsible with money and resources and that I was trying very hard to make changes.
Just because you can does not mean to say that you have to
....a phrase I heard about eating meat but it can apply to anything we consider doing. Just because you can go out and buy something does not mean that you have to. And whatever you buy as a commodity, will have a price, not only in monetary terms, but has an impact on a global scale. Once you understand that, that you do not live in isolation and are part of a community, then you can feel a certain repsonsibility for it. We adults reflected on the fact that when we worked in the service industry, we had relationships with buyers and sellers, we had conversations and were quite open about the impacts of our decisions. Now, we have moved from an organic, holistic way of doing business to a mechanic, virtual, robotic way which ressembles closer to plundering than respectfully exchanging sums of money in fair terms for the goods we receive. We may be able to order online for our items, but we have lost the wonder and the connection with how, why and who made it. With that we have lost a sense of responsibility and the value of the items and their relationship with money.

Having explained about the acts of plundering in history to my son, I became acutely aware that that is in fact what we are doing to the earth's resources.....we are plundering violently the best we can, we have lost a whole generation of skills and sense and although the past is exactly that, the future is full of opportunities.

Instead of discounting what surrounds us, we are trying to open our eyes and find ways to use what is in our vicinity. The wonderful peacock butterfly would not be able to exist in my garden without some presence of nettles, and nettles would not be available to make soup out of in the beginning of spring. When I look at my surroundings in these terms, I realise that I have not even begun to explore what grows in my area and how it can best be used.

More and more these days I find myself pondering how to reconcile my net income with my gross habits."
John Nelson.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Be the change

Be the Change
Be the Change

We are all on a life-long journey. It is a search for who we are and why we are here. It is a journey that expands our consciousness.

There is an urge within each of us to move forward in life. It is an urge to become more whole, to find more meaning, and eventually to help others. It is human nature to strive for a sense of well-being.

We all go through the same growth cycles, though our experiences may appear entirely different. By understanding the process of personal and spiritual growth, we can work more effectively with the process, instead of fighting and resisting it.

“We can learn to be the catalysts for our own change.”
Sarah Ban Breathnach

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Garden update

I am still on the lookout for blight as it has struck many of the surrounding gardens in my area, resulting in disappointed gardeners. I am keeping the doors of the polytunnel open at night so that air can circulate as much as possible and have heavily pruned the vines leaving just the green tomatoes exposed to the sunlight. Higher up, there are still some leaves where the last fruits are forming. Hopefully this will save the crop this year.
We pulled the onions out of the ground yesterday for 2 reasons: it is dry at the moment and they stand a better chance of drying off in the polytunnel heat and secondly, we need the bed for the broccoli plants.

The daily round includes spotting white cabbage fly larvae and squashing a variety of caterpillars ( or else no broccoli next year). I garden as organically as possible and have never been very good at growing cabbages. This year I am stepping up vigilance and dealing with the larvae before they become hairy caterpillars. On the back of the leaves, white spots become small colonies of yellow dots and then progress to very small caterpillars. Might show you tomorrow through a magnifying glass if I spot any more. If left to their own growth process you will find spikes of cabbage skeletons in your garden. Slugs also are out to attack cabbages in my garden but they leave trails and if that is not enough...the pigeons like to peck at them too. Do they stand a chance I wonder? Still ever hopeful of cabbages this winter.

The last seedlings in the cabbage family will get planted this weekend, hispi cabbage being a spring cabbage which will live in the polytunnel beds over winter, and mizuna and mibuna salad which will provide some greenery over the winter season.

I am three quarters through my planting plan now and if I have got it right, the beds will be full of greenery over winter instead of lying barren. The empty ones will be filled with green manure.

The tsar plums are on standby, a few more sunny days and they will be ripe for picking and preserving.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Freecycling for sheep clothing

Freecycling is not just for dealing with items you may no longer want and wish to give them away for free. Freecycling can also work the other way; you can post a wanted add for the item on your wishlist and hope that someone is ready to gift it away.

I am a keen knitter and last year decided to start spinning and dying my own yarn. There were 2 reasons, I knit very fast and enjoy the process more than the end product, and secondly, it was one of those categories of spending that had to be curbed. Spinning and dying my own yarn reduced the amount I bought, and I spent more time doing something I really enjoy ( I know not everyone else has the same hobbies). The point is that I can create a sweater out of nothing by putting my time and effort into a creative process. I value the items a lot more.
Based on buying locally, I wanted to find out who produced fibre in my area. I already have a collection of fleeces from a local farmer but got interested in rare breeds. Farmers and small producers at the moment get less for a fleece than they have paid the person coming to shear it. So far I have identified producers of alpaca, shetland and jacobs fleece as above. I wanted to try a jacobs fleece as it is relatively soft and comes in 2 tones leaving room for possibilities, either using both colours individually or blended.
Posting a wanted add on freecycle produced not only 2 fleeces but I got to meet a new person in the community who runs a Forest School so that really made my day.
The free result has been, one new person met in the community, a fleece I wanted to spin for free and eventually free clothing. ( Free from monetary value, but probably very timeconsuming, priceless and unique)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

80% reduction - waste 1 - paper

Birch Trees by Ian Sanderson
Birch Trees
The contents of our bin contain 18% on average of paper waste products.
Paper is made from trees ( generally) and in saving paper we in effect need to cut down less trees to make the paper.

Here are 11 ways to reduce and reuse the paper coming in:
1. read your newspaper online if you can , if you want to have a physical newspaper, stick to having one at the weekend when you have time to read it from cover to cover ( its heavier too)
2. when receiving e-mails- think before you print them out. If anything needs saving that you see on the web, use a pdf facility to save it to your harddrive. Then you can print it when you really need it.
3. Stop junk mail from arriving at your home by adding your name to the Mail Preference Service. This will stop mail coming in that you then have to put in the recycling bin.
4. If you need to print using the printer, use both sides of the paper ( by setting your printer to do so), or by physically reusing paper that has been printed on one side. ( If you work in an office and there are no data protection issues about that, use some paper at home that has been used before)
5. Printed paper on one side also makes good notepads and drawing pads for children.
6. Envelopes can be reused. You need to use a letter opener to slit the mail open on one side and then use labels and cellotape to stick it back together again.
7. Envelopes can be used as shopping lists or reminder lists too.
8. Download brochures from the web instead of asking for paper printed brochures.
9. If you want to opt out of ' to the occupier mail' you need to write to Door to Door opt outs, Royal Mail , Kingsmead House, Oxpens Road, Oxford OX1 1RX.
10. If you buy paper products, buy recycled paper if possible.
11. When it comes to birthday cards and Christmas cards, consider sending e cards instead, or use the phone to deliver your message in person.

Recycling paper:
Most councils now offer a kerbside collection box for paper and cardboard.
If you have more than that you can take it direct to the recycling sites in your neighbourhood.
newspaper and shredded papers, as well as cardboard makes a good layer addition to your compost bin.
Recycled paper is turned into catlitter, paint and loft insulation.

ACTION : Take control of the paper coming in, reuse paper and look at alternatives, use kerbside collection for paper and consider alterntive products made from recycled paper.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Plum job

last year I canned some plums that were not quite ripe and the result was interestingly, unripe plums in sugar. Good for making tarts with but not that palatable. This year, we picked 25 lbs of plums at my friends house, red small plums and they have been preserved in a variety of ways :
bottled in 1 pint cans, with medium sugar syrup ( good to have with porridge in winter)
in 1 lb bags in the freezer ( they will need cooking overnight in Aga)
cut up in 1lb bags, and stoned, frozen for pie fillings.

25lbs of plums allow for 2 plum meals per week ( tart, porridge or stewed fruit).

Our own plum tree, which is a cooking variety Tsar will soon be providing a bumper crop too and will be turned into plum jam, plum jelly and plum chutney.

The thing about preserving is that you need to decide the quantity you are likely to consume, the quantity you can give away as gifts ( jams and jellies) and what amount can be given away or sold at the farmers market. There is no obligation to process all of it yourself. I plan 52 jars of jam and jelly per year ( 1 for each week).

If you are planning an orchard, look at succession of fruits so that you can eat them fresh without preservation. Plums are not guaranteed each year so its nice to have some stored away.

Looking forward to raspberries, apples and blackberries next.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

80% reduction - Food strategy

Red Squirrel, Searching, Lancashire, UK by Elliott Neep
Red Squirrel, Searching, Lancashire, UK
During the nut season, squirrels can be seen scrurrying around finding and burying their nuts as a food supply for winter.Most of the food we eat today, is provided via one supermarket and travels miles to get to us and back again. My aim last year was to learn the skills of home canning and preserving and become like a squirrel. I made mistakes mainly on what to preserve and erred on the cautious side as to quantities. Recipe books are full of wonderful chutneys and jams and may not need as much as that to compile a larder of plenty.

The pocket book of homecanning was produced during wartime in 1943 and it makes fascinating reading about why and how to can. There is devision today as to the need and the safety of home canning but if you do home canning carefully observing hygiene and canning times, as well as eating it within the shelf-lifespan, it is a delightful way to store local food. I will get back to that subject over the next couple of days.

First, as part of the 80% reduction promise I want to look at what the task is that lies ahead to achieve that and then break it down into segments to look at individually.

under the 80% reduction on food, I have committed to the following :

1. growing and preserving local food. ( local = within 100 miles), grassfed and organic.This should be 70% of the diet.
2. Dry bulk goods transported from longer distances. That is, *whole, unprocessed* beans, grains, and small light things like tea, coffee, spices (fair trade and sustainably grown *ONLY*), or locally produced animal products partly raised on unprocessed but non-local grains, and locally produced wet products like oils. This is hard to calculate, because we spend very little on these things (except coffee) and whole grains don’t constitute a large portion of the diet. These are comparatively low carbon to transport and produce. Purchased in bulk, with minimal packaging (beans in 50lb paper sacks, pasta in bulk, tea loose, by the pound, rather than in little bags), this would also include things like recycled toilet paper, purchased garden seeds and other light, dry items. This should be no more than 25% of your total purchases.
3. Wet goods - conventionally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, juices, oils, milk etc… transported long distances, and processed foods like chips, soda, potatoes. Also regular shampoo, dish soap, etc… And that no one should buy more than 5% of their food in this form. Right now, the above makes up more than 50% of everyone’s diet.

Thus, if you purchase 20 food items in a week, you’d use 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

The above list looks daunting but here are some ways to work towards achieving the aim:
1. Go shopping as you would normally
2. look at what you have bought in terms of size, value and packaging.
3. Divide into food groups as above and look at the percentages.
4. Create a menu over a period of one year to see what you actually eat ( I have written about this before). When you have an idea of what you actually eat you can plan the ingredients you need and how to purchase them in bulk. I gave an example of a loaf of bread per day which will require 500g of flour, therefore, you would need about 160kg per year devided into 25kg bags, you would need to purchase about 7 x 25kg bags per year. You could bulk buy these every 3 months?
5. In order to store food you have to make room. You will need to declutter some space in your house to do so and rotate the foods that you buy.
6. The menu should provide you with favourite meals that can be cooked in bulk and preserved. For instance, we eat a lot of pasta bolognaise, well at least every month once, as well as chili con carne, another favourite. I know that I could cook 12 quart jars full of each and have one convenience meal sorted for the rest of the year. I can do this whilst buying local meat in bulk, reducing not only mileage but packaging. I have made an investment in jars and bottling equipment but that is a one off. Even if the electricity fails, in principle the larder should be full of food that is easily prepared with minimum effort in for example a solar oven in future.
7. Grow a garden. Our plan has been this year to grow one salad and one green vegetable per day. Glut can be preserved to make up for the ones that do not grow and as a last can go to the farmers market and buy what failed. Carrots and potatoes are stored in the ground until I need them, not in the supermarket, cleaned and packaged.
8. It is not feasible to bulkbuy from the wholesaler until you have a picture of exactly the quantities your family requires over a year. When you have that information, you can then plan the shopping list every 3 or 4 months for your bulk supplies ( toiletpaper, flour, rice, tea, cleaning materials etc). The order amount from the wholesaler may seem high but you are cutting out the supermarket profits and it will be delivered to your door.
9. Take one step at a time.
10. Relax and learn new skills.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Food factory

There is not much food preserving in the summer - until the soft fruits come along. There has always been a good harvest of blackcurrant, and consequent jam boiling, and a harvest of gooseberries with consequent bottling as well as jam boiling. With the ever eager Aga at hand this is not a laborious job.
John Seymour, The fat of the land ( 1963:107)

A few sunny days and with small people to help we went over to a friends' garden to pick blackcurrants and plums. The plums were dripping from the trees and some of those will be canned tomorrow. Today blackcurrants have been turned into blackcurrant cordial and blackcurrant jelly for delicious spreads later in the year. Blackcurrants are high in vitamin C I believe, so a good spread to have in winter. the colour is splendid and gets everywhere. Our own bush gave us about 1 lb of fruit but with the 5lbs picked yesterday we have managed to get a sizeable larder contribution. I will be sharing it with my friend as her Dh is in hospital and unable to gather and preserve. It pays to help your friends and neighbours......

Ready to fly

Over the last few weeks, the second nest full of fledglings has been growing and a lot of chirping has been going on. There are three visible in the nest but originally there were 5 beaks so it is feasible that there are 2 smaller ones. I hate to think about them buried by the bigger ones but I guess that is possible. Soon, they will line up with one parent one either side and be encouraged to go and fly away and discover the world. Then they will all leave in the beginning of September and herald the end of summer. Already? Where has it been?