Saturday, January 30, 2010

Teaching children financial responsibility

This article is in response to Jenny's email about how to introduce personal finance principles to children

From birth children are dependent on their parents. Gradually from fulfilling all their needs we teach them to take care of themselves, to eat sensibly, to exercise, we provide them with an education yet seldom do we teach them how to be financially responsible.

When I was a child I was often told to clean my room and yet it took me a while to realise that although given the instruction, I was not told how to clean it and what tools to use. Subsequently I would be proud of my efforts in a 'clean room' to be told that actually it did not conform to my parents idea of ' clean room'. Thus I learnt that people's expectations are different and levels of comfort are different. So how can we expect our children to be financially responsible in the future if we do not give them the tools and provide opportunities to learn the necessary skills within a safe environment.

Money is a tool, it is a major component in our society, it is complicated to comprehend only because it has been made invisible.

As a family we gradually prepare our children from childhood to look at what money does, how you get some, how you spend it, save it and work with it and how you get by without any.

Most children in today's society have a lesson on coins at school as part of the mathematics curriculum but do not have any practice in using real money to purchase items with. Most families would shop at supermarkets, take what they want from shelves, put a card in the reader and voila, shopping done. This reinforces children's knowledge that yes everything you want is provided for by parents and food and other items can be obtained by putting a card in the reader. Easy as pie.If that is their only exposure to finance and money then it would follow that when they leave home at 18 their expectation will be that a) parents will provide everything you want and b) that a card in the reader does pay for everything. Add to that credit cards, student loans and the relationship with money is easily lost.

There are pitfalls as parents in letting go of some of the control by giving your child money to spend but if handled in a progressive way, children do learn from their mistakes and learn to find solutions that work for them. It can be an empowering  learning path for everyone involved.

Our basic progression is as follows :( not really age related but progress when stage satisfactory negotiated)
age 5 to 10 - give your child opportunities to buy items with real money and opportunities to earn pocket money, save for special items and donate small amounts to charity. In the shop we encourage our young shoppers by helping them make a connection between the coins in their hand and the items they can purchase. Its mostly sweets and treats at this age but it is an important step.
age 7 to 10 - we set up a savings account in the child's name with a book in which each transaction is recorded. This provides ownership of money as a tool and the opportunity to save, withdraw and spend money as they wish. Money is still used for items they mainly want at this age and can give an insight into your child's priorities.
age 11- the savings book is changed to a card account and the child has some autonomy over the transactions. A small amount is paid into this account to finance personal spending.  At the same time, we withdraw money from our account by card as a budget when planning purchases such as clothes and give the child opportunities to choose and buy within the money they have to hand. If they find a cheaper item they get to keep the rest. This encourages them to shop for best value and rewards careful consuming.( best value does not always mean lowest price) Our children soon figured that if you did a bit of research your basics could be provided for and then you had extra for all those treats you wanted.
age 12 - We make a list of all clothing requirements to ensure that the child starts off with all its needs catered for. After this shopping experience we discuss an allowance which is to provide funds for clothes, shoes, entertainment, gifts, hair cuts i.e all the items shopped with previously in cash as part of their budget. We ask the children based on their experience what they need and if we believe it is not sufficient we give them more, if too much is asked for we ask them to justify their budget. This helps them negotiate. In our experience they underestimate what they need and quote a ridiculous low figure. We agree the boundaries of the allowance( i.e. we pay for educational expenses), interest rates for loans and opportunities to ' earn' money and agree that we will pay a certain amount into their account monthly and they agree that they will manage their money as they see fit and come and speak when they experience difficulties. Loan rates are offered so they know they can borrow money too. We as 'parent bank', are quite flexible and agree not to criticise their buying decisions, merely be available to help them find solutions should they have difficulty. This crucial period provides them with complete control over their finances without in fact lacking in anything.

As a parent this is the most interesting time. It is hard to see your child spending money on what they perceive as their necessities and the firm boundary needs to remain in place.( often I deliberately stay silent on my opinions but listen as they tell me about their exciting purchase)  So if for instance there is no money to go on that cinema trip with your friend because you have spent it all on comics, well then maybe that acts as a lesson to leave some money aside for going to the cinema. It is hard on parents. Its hard on children but a useful step towards independence.

As the years go by, the children establish their areas of budget and some for instance spend more on image and others more on gadgets it depends entirely on what their expectations and interests are as well as the effects of advertising and peer pressure. When the money does not stretch they have to find ways to for instance, delay,borrow, buy secondhand, do without, barter or find opportunities to earn more just like adults. It provides useful discussions as to why the amounts suddenly do not meet their needs. They create their  own ideas, purchase their own stuff and are asked to deal with their own stuff and its consequences. ( i.e. new game station = more expensive games)

At age 16, we do not clean nor tidy rooms, we do not wash clothes and watch the children as they gradually gain confidence ( and do not buy red tshirts that they wash with white ones). We discuss the allowance each year and check that it meets their needs ( not always their wants) and so on. We discuss safety of internet banking and personal safety. Be prepared to deal with anxious children who lose their card and enable them to make the call and answer all security questions.Stand by if help is needed. By paying money into their account you should have at least the account number available as odds are they have no idea. Once a hurdle has been overcome they learn how to deal with mistakes and difficulties. Teenagers rarely have any money in their account to worry about....

At age 17 and 18 we listen to their plans for the future and offer ideas on costs involved. We introduce the idea of real living expenses, transport, taxation. etc.  ( we levy a tax on their earnings of 10% which is to be paid into the family account and discuss taxi fees). Expect as a parent to be challenged on this issue and show evidence of electricity use, phone bills, transport costs etc.

As an adult we will ask our young adult to contribute a proportionate cost of earnings to living at home at a fair percentage of overall costs.

This would be an ideal progression and there are likely to be unique challenges with your unique child. We try to keep calm, encourage them to come and see us if they have a difficulty and offer possible solutions : the actions that they need to take to solve the problem need to be taken by them and is their decision. So delaying telling the bank that you have lost your card for 3 months means you cannot access any money. 

As they reach adulthood and earn money, the allowance is reduced as they gradually earn their own money. Should you be faced with a child that refuses to work, an allowance can easily be reduced until it is stopped. Nothing focusses the mind of a young adult without money.

One of our children has reached adulthood and found it a worthwhile experience( we think), maybe a unique way to be taught about money but is and has been for many years financially independent. ( leave a comment if you want, well done, you graduated!)

So far we have an 11 year old who has his first bank card and it has proven to be a real temptation to use it, a 14 year old who finds that the way he spends in fact does not actually make him happy and he is without certain items and a 16 year old who compromises on clothing to upgrade his gadgets. Each has their own way of managing their money, some better than others but they work together to find solutions. So far only 1 child has asked to borrow from the parent bank and did not take out the loan as apparently the interest rate was too high and saving for 3 months would cost less. ( at that point you smile inwardly!)

Simply because we as parents chose a frugal life following the principles of voluntary simplicity does not in fact guarantee that our children will follow the same path. It does however provide opportunities for discussion, mutual respect and personal development all around.

The above plan encapsulates the three basics of life,food ( as well as treats), warmth ( clothing) and shelter( living costs).

It is a journey with pitfalls, mistakes, joys and scary rides for parents but we know that they have the opportunity to make mistakes with the ' parent bank' and that when it comes to negotiating their money as a tool, they should in principle be money wise.

As parents you gain boundaries on your children's budget, you learn from them and will be able to see some who spend, some who save ,some who live above their means, and some who are minimalist, in fact a cross representation of every adult.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world | Video on

Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world | Video on

Solutions are available in nature, can we harness them and reconnect with the possibility. If you watch
it to the end, Paul Stamets has some interesting patented concepts in his 17 min talk.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wild food - January - Velvet Shank mushroom

According to Richard Mabey's book the Velvet Shank mushroom is the only  one able to survive frosts in winter and while walking through the garden I spotted a tree trunk with wonderful mushrooms on it in the most vibrant orange. I am not knowledgeable about mushrooms but if they are Velvet Shank it would be a useful addition to stews  as they require a long cooking time. Its Japanese variety which looks paler and longer is reputed to have medicinal properties.

Surprisingly we will be having mushoom pasta for supper tonight but I am not going to give it a go this time.

Steve Kirk of Bushcraft Magazine does show in the video above how to cook them wrapped in bacon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ikegai - the meaning of life

There is no direct translation from Japanese to English but it appears that to live longer a series of daily habits creates a more harmonious being. One of these is Ikegai, a life purpose or a reason to get out of bed. Living in the Bluezones explores the habits some communities have that create longer, healthier, connected lives.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Canine cuisine

Having analysed the contents of the bins again recently it became apparent that we have definitely reduced the amounts of waste we produce as humans but our animals create an enormous amount of empty cans that need recycling each week.

Our labrador likes virtually any food so when Rhonda Jean shared her dogfood recipe on her blog Down to Earth, and I simultaneously was presented with a nice amount of beef mince that was near its best sell by date, I could not resist cooking the recipe.

There was a great joke when the children asked what was for dinner and stared into the stockpot at a mass of food that looked very similar to the tinned dogfood. I did have a helper in the kitchen who measured the cups of ingredients and stirred the pot.

The result has been sampled and approved of by the dog and we shall gradually introduce the food over the next few days. Even if we feed her one portion every other meal we will halve the amount of tins we currently recycle and take some interest in the ingredients we feed her.

The value of pets is personal but she guards the home very well, she used to be the first cleanup attempt when the children sat in highchairs and threw their food about and she keeps the cats from fighting. She also encourages exercise in all of us and we always get a friendly and interested greeting when we come in the home. When I was bed bound she was a constant companion and on many occasions acted as my hot water bottle. She also has been known to listen to all the children's complaints with very attentive ears without once talking back.

We cook for ourselves so why not provide home cooking for our dogs.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Preparing the soil

The future tomato bed has been created by putting a layer of spent straw, compost and soil together with some leaves. It will not be required until April, May this year but preparing it now allows the garden worms to aerate the soil and create a good growing medium for the tomatoes.

The bed will have bush tomatoes  from Siberia in an effort to grow a heirloom variety that produces fruits early in a colder climate. The plants will be interspersed with basil and parsley as companion plants with a coreopsis in the background to attract beneficial insects.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The promise of a seed

Having decided what vegetables to grow and poured over a variety of seed catalogues, choices have been made and today, the seeds have arrived. This year instead of buying them from the gardencenter , the seeds have been chosen from the real seed company because the seeds are true to type and hopefully will not only produce the named variety but also be used to create our own seeds for next year. Not practical probably for all seeds but important to continue to grow vegetables in the future.

Each packet comes with growing instructions and instructions on how to save seed. Currently, you could be spending a lot of money on seed varieties that promise a bumper crop but then cannot be reproduced as the seeds are genetically programmed to produce a harvest but not seeds. This guarantees seed producers a constant demand each year for new seed.

Gardeners have always saved seed from their produce and produced lasting and enduring results in gardens and allotments and with a little care, we too could be building up a seed bank. Companies like Monsanto genetically engineer seeds to produce the most yield but these plants do not produce seeds true to type and thus farmers and gardeners are dependant and compelled to purchase seeds each year for their business. It is quite likely that tomatoes and peppers found in the supermarket come from genetically modified seeds.

To store the seeds we use an office concertina file with 12 tabs for each month of the year and the seedpackets are slotted into each month of sowing. That way at the beginning of each month, sowing seeds is easily identified and if succession planting is required, it gets put back into the following month. April currently seems like the busiest month for sowing seeds.


the real seed company
organic gardening catalogue
sarah raven
seeds of change ( USA)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti- ways to help

Looking at the situation in Haiti enables me to realise how fragile our lives are and how much we take nature for granted. It is heart wrenching to see children and adults being buried in rubble from crumbling buildings.

Human beings are resourceful with aid organisations set up for these scenarios that seem to take on biblical proportions.

Here at home we have found simple ways to reach out :

Donations from regular contributions in our charity account can be used for occasions such as this. Following Janine Bolon's suggestion to give 10% to charity, we use the Charities Aid Foundation to make a regular contribution. Now that we have a focus on Haiti, a click of a button sends the money towards aid that is needed.

The children's schools are raising funds in their own way by holding a uniform free day for which each childs pays a fee and another school is raising money to purchase Shelter boxes that enable 10 people to survive for a long period of time out of the contents of the box. The village wassail night shared its proceeds between a children's hospice and Save the Children with a specific focus on Haiti. You can choose between individual charities or direct funds to the Disasters Emergency Committee ( DEC).

All sales from Amazon books, DVDs. CD's ( through Magpie), and ebay sales are diverted towards Haiti and whatever we spend on a given day will be matched by a contribution to charity. The day remains secret otherwise family members may not spend anything but at the end of that day, all receipts will be accounted for. Sometimes adversity provides opportunities to share with our children how we can turn a feeling of helplessness into action so that a hand can be reached out to those who need it most.

' Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying.' I will try again tomorrow.'
Mary Anne Radmacher

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Come out, come out whoever you are?

In the midst of the snow we also had a small hazard appear in the shop.While I was mopping the floor my foot simply disappeared into a hole the size of a dinner plate. Not a good thing in a shop!
On further investigation by the man who came to fill the hole, a stash of walnuts was discovered and a nice set of oak leaves, a few corridors going in different directions. So who could this mystery escapee be?

Squirrel Nutkin is probably hibernating and lack of food must have directed him to very old passages underground. Where better to keep your produce for winter than underneath the village shop. Rumor has it that squirrels can burrow up to 160 m from their base tree but alas no more escapes will be made this way. The hole has been filled with concrete and when summer arrives, the area will be excavated and secured.

So are you lurking somewhere in the ether? Why not make yourself visible with a comment. Let me know what interest brings you to this blog and if  you have a blog, leave a link as  I would love to read it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What vegetables to grow in the garden?

No matter how small or how big your plot it can be daunting to decide what you are going to grow.
Much depends on where you are situated on the globe, what hardiness growing zone you are situated in. This will help determine what plants are most likely to survive in your climate band. Our  garden is situated in hardiness zone 8 meaning that the lowest average temperature is - 7C. It does not mean that we can grow olives but it does mean that our soil may warm up quicker than in other places in the UK.

Having established which zone you live in a trip to the local garden centre and visiting local gardens will give you an indication of what you can grow in your climate.

My first list is made up of the vegetables that can be produced in our climate:
salad leaves
chard, spinach and broad beans
borlotti beans
globe artichoke
leeks, onions and garlic
butternut squash and pumpkins
french and runner beans
florence fennel
cabbages, broccoli, brussels sprouts

With heat the following could be grown :

tender herbs such as basil and chervil

Secondly, I have a list of foods that we eat regularly as well as vegetables that are produced by local farmers  such as asparagus, onions and potatoes. I will still grow a small amount of these such as small tasty carrots, salad potatoes, spring onions, but not vast quantities as I am limited on space. It is however important to include them in small measures for diversity and the nutrients they bring to the garden.

My vegetable plot is allocated to 4 categories :
50% are vegetables we eat daily and weekly ( i.e. salad leaves)
30% are vegetables that we eat 2 or 3 times per week ( i.e. potatoes, carrots, onions, peas, beans)
20% are vegetables that we eat every couple of weeks or are more specialised ( pumpkins, sweetcorn, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc)

The above gives an indication of what  we can grow, how much space in the garden will be allocated to that produce to avoid gluts of items we will not eat.

I like growing vegetables that are best eaten freshly picked from the garden and give my tastebuds an explosion such as tomatoes, salad leaves, herbs, sweetcorn and cucumbers that in general are quite tasteless in shops. 

( broadbean seedlings - January 2010)


Garden action provides a tool to set your town in the UK and it will then produce a vegetable gardening calendar for each month based on your area.

My interest lies in edible plants and Plants for a Future has an interesting selection of unusual plants that could be used in the garden.

What fruits to grow in the garden follows in a few days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A relationship with coffee - part 2

The second part of the sustainable business model.

So where do your coffee come from?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A relationship with coffee - part 1

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

St Exupery

Today's reflection is on St Exupery's words and how they relate to the simple act of enjoying a cup of coffee. It looks simple but in fact the chain of events to bring you that cup of coffee are immense and full of buying decisions we need to understand together with its worldwide implications. Before I savour my cup of coffee, do I really know how it got created in the first place?

Many gadgets were created to provide solutions to tasks that were being achieved manually, changing the world gradually towards mechanisation. Personally, I am unravelling some of the mechanical operations being done in the home in a bid to increase my personal productivity and use the time available to create a better relationship between the elements it presents. Knowing more about where coffee comes from instead of accepting the instant jar enables me to make decisions with regards to the outcome of my cup of coffee.

The gadgets required to provide a cup of coffee are staggering.

Ever since coffee was taken as a beverage, roasting grinding and leaching comprise the trio of essential preparation stages, prior to consumption, irrespective of where and how they are carried out.

Soluble coffee turned out to be a truly global phenomenon .It occurred in Guatemala, home of some of the world's great Arabica origins. A George Washington, born in Belgium of English parents and bearing the same name as the first President of the U.S.A, happened to notice a deposit building up under the spout of his sterling silver coffee pot. He tasted the deposit to find that it possessed real coffee flavour corresponding to origin and blend of beans blend he was drinking. His chance observation has not only made soluble coffee possible, but the core science and basic mechanics of what happened over 100 years ago are used today by soluble coffee manufacturers. They capture the entire soluble fraction of roast coffee beans in a highly concentrated solution of liquid soluble coffee and subsequently evaporate off the water using spray drying or freeze drying, thus encapsulating the water soluble coffee compounds in a solid instant coffee formulation, as powder or granules depending on the method used.

It did increase coffee consumption as the arduous task of grinding the beans, straining them through a filter to create the dark sensuous liquid at the time demanded equipment, personal energy, time and effort to get a cup of flavoursome coffee. More granules could be shipped easily all around the world than roasted beans of the coffee plant.

An electric kettle provides an amount of boiling water in an instant to pour on coffee that for my convenience has been pulverised and freeze dried. No need to percolate because that has been done somewhere in a factory. The resources used to create that cup of coffee are immense.

My grandmother used to have a coffee grinder and coffee making used to be a ritual when we visited. Her best linen tablecloth would be spread out on the table, china set out and some ' koffiekoeken' ( cakes to be eaten with coffee) would be served on a silver platter. Then she would disappear in the kitchen to take the roasted beans out of a tin, put them in the grinder and when its little drawer opened, the ground coffee would be tipped in a ' Melitta filter', water boiled on the stove and poured through the filter into the coffee pot. Having coffee was a special occasion and we would enjoy its aroma at the table. I also had no idea how the bean got to the shop and the process involved in getting it to the grinder.

The world is visible in a single cup of coffee.


Sustainable harvest international
Where does coffee come from
Fair trade coffee campaign
Huffington post article about Fair Trade and Eco Friendly Coffee, Tea and Cocoa

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Breadmaking tutorial

Let atree guide you through the therapeutic way of making bread.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, January 15, 2010

Upgrading your bread options

Living in a shop it seems silly to be making bread on a regular basis but nevertheless its an enjoyable, beautiful, creative food item to make and it takes time.

We do have a variety of bread options available within the shop with various levels of nutrition:
sliced white bread ( mass produced, sliced and locally known as ' pappy bread'
bread baked by the local baker ( unsliced, white, brown, malted brown)
Part baked bread - baked on the premises ( rosemary and cranberry loaves, baguettes, malted brown rolls).
Bread flours to make your own bread : white, brown, mixed seeds, locally produced wholemeal flour.
Sourdough bread will be introduced shortly.

The art of making bread has been covered in a variety of posts previously on this blog and these are listed in the resources.
So why would you want to make your daily loaf given time, space and ingredients?

Baking bread is easy. When you bake your own bread you can guarantee exactly what goes into it and have a fresh, organic loaf at a snip of the price you would pay at any shop. What’s more, the smell of baking bread is irresistible.

Baking bread is immensely satisfying and involves a process of flour, yeast, water and sugar and turning them into a loaf of bread. The process itself can take up to 6 hours.

You could use a breadmaker as a step towards making your own which we used to for while but sadly, the amount of sugar and salt in the recipe are quite high due to the fact that the bread process needs to happen within a short space of time and baking space inside the bread making machine. It can however happen during the night so you wake up the lovely smell of freshly baked square loaves.

All options are described on the site to get you started. Baking bread by hand is enormously satisfying.

And if you do not want to knead any dough, try this method.

Resources from previous posts

the 5 min bread
Easy bread

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Woodstoves and Ecofan

Melissa from Lehmans country store explains the ins and out of a wood burning stove.

Creating heat without central heating systems does not come naturally usually but it does provide an independent means of creating heat in our home. The wood burner does more than merely warm the room.
The kettle placed on the stove eliminates the use of an electric kettle during the winter months; there is always plenty of boiling water on hand ( without the use of electricity). Hot drinks are a must when the weather is snowy.
In general the wood burner has the ability to dry the air and warm air tends to move upwards and stagnate in the area around the stove. As our stove did not have the ability to distribute heat evenly throughout the room, a neighbour introduced me to the Ecofan. It is a sizable investment but it is a fantastic piece of kit that uses a thermoelectric module to create its own electricity and is really quiet. It always provides a discussion point when people ask what ' that thingy' is at the back of the stove.
The third item on our stove is a pan with water ( which is noisier) but it contains aromatherapy oils that change with the season. Currently I am using eucalyptus oil to help those in the house that are suffering from a chesty cold.
Lastly by using a cast iron casserole, it can be used to cook a one pot meal or reheat food that has been stored in case of power cuts.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How big a garden do you need for food production

Once you have made a decision to grow all or some of your own herbs, vegetables and fruit the next step is to find the right place in your garden to do so.

The vegetable garden should have the following elements:

  • requires maximum sunlight ( not shaded by buildings and trees)
  • requires good soil which is well drained
  • is free from weeds and other competing plants
  • has access to a suitable water supply
  • is sheltered from prevailing winds.

In the end it all depends what you have available. In our garden some areas are sheltered by trees and walls and sunlight is not always prevalent all year around due to the surrounding buildings. I am trying to use the sun facing patio to create more growing conditions for sun loving plants. Shady areas in summer are great to grow salad leaves as they tend to bolt in sunny places.

Some herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil can be grown amidst the vegetables but annual herbs such as rosemary, sage and lavender can be grown as hedge plants at the edge of borders.

The size of your vegetable garden depends on what space you have available but to feed a family of four with a rotation of crops ( 2 seasons in each plot) would need to be between 80 and 100 square metres. ( An allotment is 250 square metres).

In principle it is therefore possible to grow much of your food requirements from a family garden or allotment. What to grow follows in the next post in this series.

Resources and inspiration for small gardens with big yields:
The Dervaes family- urban homestead
City Farmer

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ice map of Britain

This may not happen ever again, or maybe it will be a sign of things to come but the whole of the UK is covered in snow and ice. Pretty and brutal at the same time.

How does this fit in with global warming you may well ask but it is possible that in the future our climate will permanently change and resemble more the colder winter months of Scandinavia.

This is not a situation the country plans for as snow has been rare in our area, it usually happens once every 4 years or so, but last year's blast caught everyone unawares although it lasted about a week. This year we are seeing snowfall, icy conditions all around the country which makes travelling and transporting foods and goods rather more difficult.

If the economy is based on transport then it figures that it will be difficult for goods to reach their destination. Salt for gritting roads is being rationed around the country and as energy demands increase, it is likely that some rationing too will follow if the situation lasts longer. Schooling is disrupted, work is disrupted.

Birds are finding it hard to live in these unusual conditions and thus many people are going out to ensure that seeds, peanuts etc are made available. Deer that usually stay in the woods are venturing closer by in search of foods.

1981 was a very cold year too with snow for many weeks and the younger me went shopping in town swapping pram for a Davos sledge with my toddler daughter holding on to shopping. It was a rare sight.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tiny growing spaces

Every little space counts

In a small garden you need to use all your available space efficiently. Using the plan created of your garden enables the creation of every feature and structure as growing opportunities for plants.

  • Walls and fences can support climbing plants and espalier trees ,shelter plants and absorb heat to help ripen fruit.
  • Balconies and patios can be used for growing plants in pots that need extra protection or different soil conditions.
  • Sheds can be used for holding plants that need extra protection, potting up plants, tool storage and drying of herbs and other produce.
  • The garden shed may be a base to add a greenhouse or chicken run.
  • Pergolas can be used to support climbers
  • Ponds can be used for ducks and productive water plants.
  • Terraces can be created on sloping sites supported by retaining walls.

Explore areas that can take window boxes, pot stands and shelves in greenhouses.

Patti's video shows how to build an easy vertical plant support system.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paying yourself first

Paying yourself first is a strategy to save money in an automatic way to make saving a simple habit. Your savings become a ‘ bill’ requiring an automated payment.

For some years now I have followed Janine Bolon’s principles of saving money this way and indeed have seen our savings grow ( despite having 3 teenage sons). As a business at the end of January we have to file our tax return which gives me a rough indication of the amount of profit the business has made and I use that as a ballpark figure to calculate the amount to automatically save into business savings account. Janine’s formula talks about 10% to charity, 10% tithe to church, 10% short term savings and 10% into long term savings. As a business we do not directly give to charity but we do use a percentage of funds to raise money for local causes and successfully held a raffle in November for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance raising a total of £ 270. I therefore set aside 5% of profit for charity and community projects, 15% into short term savings( emergency fund) and 20% into long term savings ( pension contributions).

Once decided on the amount they are set up as regular payments into the different savings vehicles and adjusted only at the end of the 12 month period.

What happens if you fall short?

If there is not sufficient money left at the end of the month then there is something wrong. To cover the shortfall it would be easy to dip into savings but that defeats the plan, so the only way to cover the shortfall is to either earn more ( i.e. work harder) and at the same time cut down expenses.

Paying yourself first is a great way to start the habit of saving and once it happens automatically, the rest will follow.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Getting stuck in dirt

The amount of food you can grow in your garden will to some extent depend on the type of soil you have. The fertility of the soil can be improved and is the key to a healthy, thriving garden.

Some soil improvers :

  • Compost all the kitchen scraps and garden clippings, animal manures , ( not dog and cat),paper towels, tissues and inside of toilet rolls, then dig the compost into the soil.
  • Add seaweed from seaside foraging as well as other organic material that will break down the soil.
  • Collect leaves at the side of the road in autumn.
  • Check the amount of earthworms you have in your soil. Worms aerate the soil and turn organic material into compost. If low consider adding some to your compost bin to improve worm population.
  • Set up a worm farm and harvest their castings and worm juice to use as a soil conditioner
  • Use organic mulches on the soil surface to stop weeds competing with the productive plants and to reduce the need for watering.


what I put in the compostbin



composting worms

Friday, January 08, 2010

Organising a pantry

Creating Space & Removing Clutter:
How To Organize A Kitchen Pantry

Organised cupboards and pantries can become a reality this year and before starting a pantry full of fancy goods this year, it makes sense to have a tidy up. The above video has some excellent points to make. Little labels would indeed make it easier for others in the household to look at the contents and maybe venture cooking something without creating chaos.

Stackable containers are worth considering and Lakeland offer a variety of sizes and shapes to achieve a neat and tidy cupboard.

Community spirit - 4 x 4

There are times when 4 x 4 's are useful. They do use a lot of fuel but when other cars falter in snow, they are invaluable to drive on snowy, icy roads.

Food supply chains are fickle in the country but local suppliers brave the roads and deliver on time as where suppliers from further afield simply do not turn up. Not even a phone call. It definitely pays to build relationships with your local suppliers. The further produce has to travel, the less likely we are expecting a delivery.

The shop has been full of people in wellies, with rucksacks looking to buy whatever was available such as bread, milk and porridge oats. Some people had walked 3 miles to get to us. The boys were off school as buses simply did not venture down non gritted side roads and spent most of the day sledging and throwing snowballs. The adults are really tired after a busy days work but a game of cards around the table should finish the evening off nicely, and to the pub for a social drink. It probably will start all over again tomorrow.

The arctic weather conditions may prevent us from leaving but the beautiful blanket of snow and ice create great community spirit, lots of conversations and discoveries. And neighbours really are looking out for each other.

The children are not really having a day off school, as far was we are concerned they are learning new skills, spending time outdoors and having to negotiate risks which they would not be doing at school. School closed because the playground was too icy and transport unavailable. It is so easy to teach our children to be afraid of ice and snow instead of embracing the weather and sharing their excitement. Boys with rosy cheeks, wet wellies and dripping clothes sipping hot chocolate near the wood burner is definitely a sight I have been missing since childhood.

And as a bonus, noone is complaining about my handknitted hats, socks and gloves, I knew they would come in handy one day.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Creating a garden plan

Creating a garden plan will assist this year in maximising growth space and create a work plan to enable me to be more precise in my attempts to grow food in the garden. It is not an allotment and has a variety of raised beds that have been used this year. I want to explore possibilities for using the walls and pergola and adding a variety of produce to be grown in containers.

The process of planning the garden :

  • create a plan using your drawing skills ( mine are basic)
  • create a plan on how your garden space can be enhanced.
  • create a list of plants that can be grown in your area( fruits, vegetables, herbs)
  • check plants that are already growing in the garden
  • create a plan of how growing space can be increased
  • analyse soil and how fertility can be increased.
  • plan when plants need to be sown, transplanted and harvested
  • work schedule for improvements

Its a work in progress, harnessing what the garden provides already and planning what can be introduced.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reconnecting with nature

In Children of a Virtual world, ( Guardian, 3rd January 2010) carried photographs of our youthful generation all attached to technology, seemingly connected to eachother but disconnected from a living environment that nurtures us. Surprisingly easy to turn around according to Satish Kumar from Resurgence.

Nature indeed has the ability to draw us out of ourselves. As the country comes to a standstill because of snow it occurs to me that as adults we run inside our homes and our younger children cannot wait to enjoy and envelop themselves in the beauty, fun and sheer abundance of the beauty of a snow landscape. Lets join them and remember.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Frost as inspiration

Sea holly, leaves, bare shrubs, stones and earth. Frozen in situ.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Victorian Farm

The BBC ran a Christmas special about the Victorian Farm which was interesting to watch. Downshifting is not about returning to the ways people lived in the 1880 period but it helps me personally to understand how our historic home used to function. Ruth Goodman in particular has some excellent suggestions about how to cook on a range, how to preserve foods and how to live without electricity.

If you are planning a holiday this year and you want to experience a downshifting lifestyle without modern conveniences you can do so at Henley Cottage on the Scott Acton Estate. There is however a garden shed that houses a shower in case that is taking the experience a little too far.

Nevertheless, it would be a fantastic experiment. Last year we visited Thomas Hardy's cottage in Dorset only to find that it was not all that different from our own home.

As a general observation, people lived closer to the rhythms of nature and every task needed to be carried out with a vast amount of personal energy. Washing laundry took a whole week, people had fewer clothes and more care was taken of the few possessions they had.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Living comfortably with less heat

Our home behind the shop is north facing and every room has outside walls. It was bitter when we moved in 2 years ago and the central heating did very little to warm the place up. Our gas consumption was 3 x 47kg propane gas bottles every 10 days between September and March, so for 7 months of the year we used to get a delivery every other week. The heating was only on morning and evening and really just took the chill off the air. It was very cold but we also felt the cold as we had come from a centrally heated house.

Some improvements were made to the property when we installed loft insulation which required an investment cost of £ 900. We also had the boiler serviced last year and the engineer showed us how we could lower the control on the boiler as well as the controls on each radiator to reduce consumption.

The shop and the ground floor do have radiators but are on a second circuit which we choose not to use.Most of the year the shop door remains open. We did close the door when the temperature plummeted to minus 5 Celsius.Usually the heat given out by refrigeration units is sufficient to keep the place bearable.

The wood burner installed downstairs keeps the temperature cosy at around 21 degrees Celsius and the office is the warmest room. The heat rises to the lounge providing us with 2 rooms that are heated throughout the day. The central heating is only on to take the chill off the place early morning and late afternoon. There are plenty of afghans, duvets and blankets to cuddle under with a book and hand knitted woollen socks, sweaters and hot water bottles go a long way to warming us up when we need it.

This year, not only did the heating only go on in October but we manage 3 x 47kg propane bottles for 30 days instead of 10. Although the cost per bottle is higher this year I anticipate our costs to be less. In effect we have reduced our heating costs by 60% and have also increased our ability to withstand colder temperatures.

When we visit people with full central heating we usually boil very slowly and cannot bear the heat and upon investigation,their heating is on mostly during the day and night to maintain a steady temperature.

This is our way and may not be your way but from experience I know that by increasing personal and building insulation, reducing the overall temperatures required gradually can lead to an adaptation by our bodies and minds and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. And when power cuts happen, we still have the wood burner to keep us warm.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy 2010

A new decade, a New Year, a new start, new possibilities, new growth.
Often we take the start of a New Year as an opportunity to make new plans, to reflect on what has gone before. The last decade for me has been challenging health wise, but it has also been the most profound learning curve.
The boys have great plans for this year and mine are more centred around the home, family and business as I continue to be the change I want to see in the world. I am hopeful that my muse will inspire me to write often so that I can share our downshifting life with you.
The shortest day has passed and we have partaken in a great culinary feast to guarantee our survival through the winter. What better way to start a sluggish body with some vitamins and minerals to make it zing. Cranberries are plenty in the shops, as are citrus fruits and the above juice smoothie is guaranteed to make your physical body zing. Its tangy but its high content of vitamin C will help guard against the effects of a lowered immune system.

Cranberry Zing

Juice 1 bag of cranberries, 1 orange, 1 lime or lemon and blend with 5 raspberries.