Friday, 18 September 2009

Global Age of Stupid premiere

Just in case you didn't know it's on the 21st / 22nd of September...

It's going to be one hell of a premiere!!

PS. Sorry about the silence, lots of things going on. I'll be back soon...

Thursday, 18 June 2009

As if by magic

Just as I was wondering how, as a new vegan, I was going to ever eat ice cream again, a recipe appears!

Vegan Scoop - ice cream bookI can’t wait to get Wheeler’s ice cream over here, but at least in the meantime they have produced a recipe book, The Vegan Scoop. Yay!

Wheeler’s have very kindly given me permission to post one of their recipes on this site. I can’t wait to try it, it looks delicious, unfortunately my local health food shop has run out of soya cream – could it be that the neighbours already know about the book?

I've just realised that the ice cream will have a third less calories approx than a dairy version. How brilliant is that?!! I love being vegan. Thank you Wheeler's.

Cinnamon Banana ice cream

3 bananas, peeled and sliced
1 cup (235 ml) soy milk, divided
2 tablespoons (16 g) arrowroot
2 cups (470 ml) soy creamer (I’m pretty sure this is soya cream in the UK)
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
3 teaspoons cinnamon

In a food processor, puree bananas and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup (60 ml) soymilk with arrowroot and set aside.

Mix soy creamer, remaining 3/4 cup (175 ml) soymilk, bananas, and sugar in a saucepan and cook over low heat. Once mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and immediately add arrowroot cream. This will cause the liquid to thicken noticeably.

Add vanilla extract and cinnamon.

Refrigerate mixture until chilled, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instruction. I don’t have an ice-cream maker, but it looks like there are plenty of other ways to make the ice cream set.

Yield: 1 quart (approximately 600 g).

Banana and cinnamon vegan ice creamUpdate

At last! the soya cream is back in stock!! Boy was it worth waiting for. This Banana and cinnamon vegan ice cream is simply gorgeous (even when I made it!) and so easy to make even with out an ice cream making machine. The Vegan Scoop book is now officially on my wish list!

A Delicate Balance

A delicate balance, film by Aaron ScheibnerThis year seems to be a year for brilliant independent films. Watching “A delicate balance” by Aaron Scheibner was a life-changing event for me.

So what’s it all about, well it’s about food, nutrition and the escalating health problems we see in affluent countries – not just cancer, heart disease and obesity, but also autoimmune disorders too like diabetes, crohns disease and all the many different ways the body can attack itself.

The film is full of interesting things I hadn’t even thought to think about regarding the food that I eat. The facts are backed up by years of research by medical doctors and scientists at leading educational research institutions across the globe.

Before the film I was vegetarian (but still ate dairy in the form of cheese and eggs). So obviously, I had thought about the animal welfare aspects of my food and with the remaining food stuffs left to me I tried to eat a relatively balanced diet. My main reason for still eating dairy and eggs was so that I could get enough protein (I tried to ignore the welfare aspects of cheese, and eggs were always free-range). But this film isn’t about animal welfare (much). This film made me concentrate on the consequences of my diet on my health and it was incredibly eye opening. The result is that I am now vegan – no meat, no fish, no milk, no eggs. The good news is that I can get all the vitamins, minerals and everything I need, including protein and B12, from a vegan diet. I am about 10 days into the new diet and feeling great!

So friends and family, I will make you watch this film too, you may borrow my copy. Everyone else, I urge to either buy a copy of the film or go to a screening you can also pay to watch in online.

This film is about you and your health, if you care about yourself, you need to watch this film.

You can watch the trailer on the delicate balance website (the film is also covers meat production and climate change).

Seeds of change

I’ve got a bit of catching up to do on the blogging front. First up, the lovely people at Seeds of Change sent me some of their new chocolate bars to try. Whooohoo, free chocolate. Fab.

Seeds of Change logoYou’ll probably recognise the Seeds of Change brand, they’ve been in the UK since the late 1990’s with their organic sauces and soups (amongst other things). It was the American branch though that sent me the chocolate.

But what to do, I could just scoff all the chocolate and tell you that it’s scrumptious but where is the analysis in that?

I decided to rope my friend and chocolate connoisseur B, into a double blind taste trial. Which of course (cough) meant that we had to compare the bars against our favourite chocolate nibbles, which for me is Green and Blacks dark chocolate, and for B is Galaxy (by Mars). I bought the milk chocolate G&B bar too, so that we could compare that in the taste trial.

4 types of chocolateNow, on to the flavours; from left to right,
dark chocolate,
milk chocolate,
dark chocolate with mango and cashew, and
dark chocolate with cherries and vanilla.

3 mini bars in each packWe went “ooooh”, when we opened up the first packet. The chocolate is split into three individually packaged mini bars. Wrapped in plastic though, plastic?! Needless to say, I’d have preferred paper. B thought the three bar idea might help her willpower and resolve not to eat the whole pack in one go!

The results

Milk Chocolate
Seeds of change
B – nice smooth texture, more chocolaty that she would expect from a milk chocolate. Bit of a funny after taste though. Overall rank, second.
Me – Definitely chocolate, but I thought it had a slightly waxy texture. Overall rank, second.
Green and Black
B – creamy, smooth, but tastes of soya. Not bad though. Overall rank, third.
Me – I couldn’t really tell that this was chocolate (but I prefer dark chocolate). Overall rank third.
B – “mmm now we’re talking” – I think that about said it all really. Rank 1
Me – Sweeter than all the other two, honeycomb sugar taste, annoyingly I also ranked this the best of the milk chocolates. Rank 1 (on flavour and texture only).

Dark Chocolate
Seeds of change
B – It was amusing to watch her face as she analysed the flavours. I hadn't thought to ask whether she actually likes dark chocolate and didn't need to now, she spat the whole chunk out complaining that it was bitter and sour!
Me – not as chocolaty as I would expect from a dark chocolate (it’s 61% cacao). I would have said it was more milk chocolate.
Green and Black
B – decided that in the name of science she would continue with the trial. The chunk lasted a little longer before it was spat out, apparently it wasn’t as bitter.
Me – yep my favourite, definitely chocolate.

Onto the other two bars. It was odd that although the base chocolate was the same dark chocolate, B like both the flavours.

Dark chocolate with mango and cashew
B thought the bar was more mango cashew, I thought the opposite. We concluded that was just the way the chocolate chunked. A nice bar.
Dark chocolate with cherries and vanilla
Cherries, raisins, whatever. Fruity. Surprised to read that there was vanilla in there too. A little disappointed because we both thought was the more enticing combination of flavours to read.

Would I buy the chocolate? Umm, not for me (more because of what's happened since than because of the taste), but for a chocolate loving friend who hasn't tried it before as a gift - possibly. I couldn’t really tell from their website whether they have a fair trade policy for the ingredients, but they are organic and the flavour combinations were different. B will probably stick with Galaxy – she has no morals!

I have also discovered that you can now buy Seeds of Change chocolate bars in the UK. Looks like it was only the Dark chocolate flavour that made it over though.

Friday, 12 June 2009

In Transition film - online now

I've just watched the online screening of the "In Transition" film. It's not the final version, but it looked pretty good to me, a little bit of tweaking and I'm sure it will be a brilliant. It's only online for a few days, so catch it now, or else you'll have to wait for the finished product. It's about an hour long.

I'm familiar with the "Transition" concept, so I'd be really interested to hear what anyone who is new to the subject thinks of the film.

The idea of creating a positive vision of the future I think is powerful and necessary, but for me methodology the transition movement is generally using to get people to think about the future is a bit "new age" - but granted it does work (it tends to revolve around group meditation, which, if you are not used to meditation, either on your own or in a group, is uncomfortable - I just can't imagine that going down well with the majority of the people in my town!). The practical aspects, great. Some fantastic projects highlighted in the film.

By the way the film didn't play in Firefox. It was fine in Internet Explorer.

If you want to comment on the film to Rob, post your comments on the Transition Culture In Transition Film blog post.

If you want to watch the full 350 degrees animation, you can find it at

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Paper, paper everywhere

Piles of magazines
but no surfaces left!

I have had just about enough of the piles of magazines that have been building up. Even the wooden stool we made a few months back has somehow changed it's purpose and is now just extra space for stacking magazines on and under. Grrr.

We subscribe to a few different magazines (and read them!). I know we should transition to electronic versions, but for magazines, for me, nothing yet beats paper (if anyone would like to send me an e-book to trial please feel free, I'll happily review it for you!!).

The thing with the magazines is that we just don't want to compost of recycle them, the articles are too interesting and we know that will need to refer to them at a later date.

Time to file the magazines. The thing is how to do it without punching holes in the paper, or squeezing them into plastic sleeves? I didn't want to spend out on fancy embossed magazine archive files they are far too freaky. I found some magazine holder "clips" online that you use with ring binders that looked as if they might fit the bill, but made from plastic and then I'd have to buy some files.

Magazine filesThe answer hit me when I found out that my workplace was going to bin a load of lever arch files. The files were old and the lever arch mechanisms had failed, you know the way they do when the metal pins that goes through the paper holes no longer match up, very annoying. But I didn't need the metal bit, just the file cases. My lucky day.

Here are the first finished magazine storage files.

Magazine bindingAfter I had drilled out the rivets holding the metal mechanism to the board casing the rest was really easy. I wound string around the spine so the middle page of each magazine could be secured into place. Each lever arch file holds approximately 15 magazines. In no time at all, I will have my surfaces back. Hooray!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Feed-in tariffs

We Support Solar logoIf you are in the UK and are thinking about getting photovoltaic solar panels, then a quick step over to Friends of the Earth could pay off, quite literally! They are working on a "We Support Solar" campaign to get feed-in tariffs (ie pay households for any excess electricity their PV panels produce) set at a good rate. A few clicks and you can let your MP know that you'd like them to support the idea. Or you can find out if your MP has already signed EDM 680: Solar Energy first and thank them!!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Duck steps

Exposed roots on the way down to the poolThere was a bit of a duck population explosion a few years ago (from three to 10 or so ducks) at Chris Dixon's. The increase in duck feet meant that the soil on their regular route down to the pool had been eroded and the tree roots steadily exposed. On top of this, the change in weather patterns over the recent years has increased the occurrence of sudden downpours of rain. The huge quantities of water hurtle down the stream (raising the level of the water) and causes further damage to the banks.

PondAll in all, the instability of banks had been playing on Chris’s mind. He had experimented with using bundles of long thin lengths of wood (he called them fascines) and laying the fascines on contour across the slopes so that any leaf litter, twigs etc would get caught behind and create steps/areas where plants could eventually grow. You can see Chris’s work on the left of the picture (the duck house is at the top of the slope). Our job was to add the fascines to the slope on the right (the fascines are already layed in place) and create steps for the ducks to take a different route down to the pool.

Chris had already made up a good supply of fascines and had identified a willow that we could take lengths of wood off to make stakes to keep the fascines in place. The rest was straightforward really, but it took us all of the day to lay and secure the fascines and weave a stairway banister/barrier for the ducks.

Newly created stepsThe next day we needed more wood and stakes to make the steps down to the pool and generally finish off. It was great to have the right kind of wood just growing on site (we took more from the willow used the day before). I wove the steps while Craig (Transition House) ferried well-rotted compost from another part of the garden to fill in the steps. The infilled steps covered the worst of the exposed roots.

Mac (the dog) hung around with us for the two days. She thought it was great fun to help us move the sticks, although they always end up rather chewed (we resorted in the end to hiding the pieces we needed in the duck house).

Apparently the ducks have taken to the steps like ... ducks to steps. Actually Chris assures me they're doing pretty well. I'm pleased.

Just so that you know, Chris is now back to just three ducks (the others have been rehomed). The small number of ducks is not causing further erosion, so the banks should be able to recover.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Comfrey day

Tuesday, the first day volunteering at Chris Dixon’s. We hadn’t really discussed what I’d be doing, only that it needed to be something that I could get on with on my own. Craig (Transition House) was at CAT attending a thesis module for his masters.

(Oh, the reason I was volunteering is on Craig’s blog)

It was a gorgeous sunny day, a good day for working outside. After a cup of tea, Chris explained that his comfrey needed sorting out and asked if I’d be happy to do that. Of course I was.

Comfrey bed beforeChris’s comfrey bed is next to his polytunnel, in the enclosed formal productive garden (by formal I suppose I mean more allotment style garden as opposed to food forest). The gates to this area are kept shut for most of the time (as far as I could tell), which meant that I couldn't be distracted too much by Mac (the dog) and Scamp (the lamb (that kind of thought she was a dog because she’d had been reared in the house)). It also meant that because Chris’s khaki campbell duck slug patrol unit do such a good job at eating slugs outside of this area, it’s worth scooping up any slugs found within the fencing and giving them to the ducks (I didn’t find any slugs).

Chris makes a liquid feed for his vegetable and fruit garden from the comfrey plants (the feed of course needs to be diluted before it’s applied). The latest crop of comfrey plants were big enough to transfer into the comfrey barrel for fermenting into the liquid feed, but before that could be done, a few things had to be tackled first.
  1. Take out the buttercups, wild raspberry and other “weeds” from the comfrey patch.

  2. Trim the surrounding hedge

  3. Add the “weeds” and hedge cuttings to the causeway (water slowing and filtration system, more about that later)

  4. Empty the comfrey barrel of the last batch of liquid feed

  5. Take the old comfrey leaves out of the barrel.

  6. Add the fermented comfrey leaves to the compost

  7. Straighten the barrel (it was sitting a bit on the wonk).

  8. There are two things to know about comfrey, the first is that some people have a slight reaction to handling the plant (where it touches the skin it can bring you out in a rash), the second is that fermenting comfrey leaves smell, I mean really smell.

    So on this sunny day, I kept my long-sleeved hoodie on. Which was probably a good idea anyway. And I tried my best to keep my distance from the stinky comfrey.

    Thankfully when I got to step 5, Chris was on hand to help empty the barrel. Boy did those leaves smell! Probably Chris reckoned five seasons worth of plants. Blimey! – I stayed up wind as Chris pitched his fork into the barrel and heaved the soggy, stinky mass out and into the wheelbarrow. The top of the barrel was almost at shoulder height; Chris did really well not to get any of the contents on his clothing. I was really glad that he was doing this, if I was doing it, I just know I’d end up smelling of old comfrey for the rest of the day.

    Lunch was great, a fried duck egg and probably the best salad I’ve ever eaten all straight from the garden, it was also a good time to chat with Chris and Lynn (I’d also taken Chris up on every tea break he had offered as I wanted to talk about permaculture design with him as much as possible).

    After lunch:

  9. Cut the comfrey crop and fill the barrel

  10. Place cardboard along the poly-tunnel edge for extra weed protection

  11. Cover cardboard with straw

  12. Plant extra comfrey plants to fill in any gaps

  13. Mulch the comfrey crop with horse manure

  14. Tidy

Comfrey bed after. Note the now upright barrel to the left and the bed full of onions now visible in the middle distanceJob done.

It was a good piece of work to do as it was completed in the day. Excellent job satisfaction. I know that Chris was pleased with the work, which makes it even better.

At some point during the day, I think it was as we were emptying the smelly leaves from the barrel, I commented to Chris that Craig (Transition House) would be disappointed not to be here. I think Chris thought I was joking, but I was serious, and I was right. Pretty much as soon as we got home, we made our own comfrey bed, see Craig’s blog. Fab.

Thanks Chris for all the excellent tips and for providing us with the plants to divide to make the new bed.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Don't leave it to the last minute

The last few hours have been quite intense, but I've done it, with a day to spare. I've writen all the comments I can think of about my council's Local Development Framework Core Strategy and Issues document (nice title).

Blimey that was a huge document. Not surprising really as it sets out how the council will develop the district over the next 15-20 years. 15- 20 years! I felt it was important to try and influence the process in my own little way. I won't bore you with the details of my response, but it included peak oil (can you believe there was no mention of that in the document at all!), green dragon standards, the Happy Planet Index (in relation to measuring economic growth), leading the way in feed in tariffs, to name just a few.

What a way to spend a bank-holiday afternoon, but hey, the sun wasn't shining (much).

All councils in the UK are creating a similar documents at the moment, so if your council is still in that "consultation" phase, I urgently whisper to you that if you have things to say about how you want your city/town/village to look in the future, find that document now and submit your comments about it. After all once it's written, it's going to take an awful lot of persuading (almost impossible?) to get them to change it until the next consultation in 20 years time.

Democracy. You've got to stand up and be counted in order to say "I told you so!" I hope that isn't the case in this instance. If they only take on board one of the things I said, it will be worth the effort this afternoon.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Kettle on, cuppa, teabags, oh

I love visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales, there is always something new to see, and of course there is their shop. I know, I can shop online, but nothing quite beats flicking through new books. So when Craig (Transition House) said he had to go to a thesis workshop at CAT for his MSc, I jumped at the opportunity to join him for the week.

Initially we thought that Craig would need to be at CAT all day everyday (he was going to attend the straw bale building modulebut in the end he was just there for just over a day (he’s postponed the module)), so I arranged to volunteer to work with Chris Dixon at his permaculture holding at Tir Penrhos Isaf. You might recognise his name. Chris has recently featured on BBC2’s Natural World program - A Farm for the Future – more about my experience at Tir Penrhos Isaf in later posts.

Bluebell wood WalesWe rented a small cottage for the week that had spectacular views across the Dyfi valley and a gorgeous bluebell wood just along the lane. First impressions were good, small glass and metal recycling boxes outside, paper and plastic recycling bins inside. Fantastic. Kettle on, cuppa, teabags, oh… What do I do with this then? I spent the next few minutes walking around while balancing a spent tea bag on a teaspoon, trying to find a compost bin. Bokashi bin in the cupboards? No. It had to go into the landfill bin. I have to say, that was a very odd experience. I can’t remember the last time I’d put compostable waste into bin destined for landfill (I managed to persuade the caretakers at work to give me space for the “team worms” – the wormery behind the bike shed – ages ago). It was surprising just how easily the small green changes at home and work had been incorporated into my life and that not recycling just felt alien and wrong.

I’m not going to even get started on the light bulbs or heating, suffice to say, I'd have thought that even if a small business isn’t particularly environmentally minded, the money saving aspects of energy saving light bulbs and thermostat controls would be a no-brainer.

There, I’m done.

We did have a loverly time (we kept passing the bus to Bangor, but no, we didn't go).

The bargains I picked up at CAT were;

All interesting reads.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

'In Transition' film

"In Transition" is an hour long film about the worldwide Transition movement. It will premiere online at 1.45pm on the May 23rd - but there is nothing to see at that link yet...

For those of you not in the UK, here are the dates and times for your part of the world. I hope you can make it.

In the meantime here is the trailer.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Bokashi blunder

There had been an odd smell in the kitchen for a few weeks. We just couldn't work out what it was. A blocked sink u-bend? the pot of coriander? Something at the back of the fridge or cupboards? Everything was checked, but the smell continued.

We didn't think it could be the Bokashi bins because they're not supposed to smell, but, as it turns out, it was.

The Bokashi bins had been great during the winter months, using them meant that we didn't have to traipse all the way down to the compost bins at the bottom of the garden (because the wormery, which is closer, had practically gone into hibernation and you can put anything into a Bokashi bin).

When the wormery warmed up and the worms were happily munching their way through our kitchen scraps we had (I'm extremely sorry to say) neglected the bokashi bins. Plus we had only read the beginning part of the instructions propery, the bit about filling it, so had forgotten that once the bin is full it's only supposed to be left for two weeks max before either adding to the compost bin or digging into the garden.

It had been about two months since we'd filled the second bin! Whoops.

Having said that, I'm not sure that the smell was just due to the length of time the materials had been fermenting. During those two months, we hadn't been draining the liquid off regularly either. Or possibly we hadn't added enough of the innoculated bran...

What is for sure, it that we'll definitely be paying more attention this time round.

Full Bokashi binI wasn't really sure that to do with the contents of the bins. I don't know if they will still have the same beneficial properties of properly made bokashi (probably not), or whether they are going to kill any plants that grow near it (I hope not!), so I decided to add one to our main compost bin (on the grounds that it's only half full and it will be diluted) and one to a flower bed.

Craig (Transition House) had recently moved a buddleia to a better position. The area that it was growing in is sandy, nutrient poor and dry. Hopefully the mixture will improve the soil. My guess is that any organic matter would improve that soil, but I'm not going to risk my veggies in it just yet!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Tetra pak purse

Tetra Pak purse - the one I made!I was given one of these rather super recycled tetra pack purses recently and need to know how it was made, so I took it apart.

I'd volunteered to make a load for the local food initative. They are running a stall at a country show and are looking for some interesting things to draw the crowds in. I think they'll need a few more ideas, but hey, it's a start!

It turns out that they are really easy to make. I reckon they would make great party bag gifts for eco-conscious mums, or as an unusual crafty present for any green friend.

The rest of this post consists of instructions for making the purse. If you can't get your head round the stages or don't have enough time to make one and you've decided that now you know they exist you simply can not live without one, please just send me an email and I'm sure I can sort something out for you; transition dot housewife at google mail dot com (removing all spaces and were "dot" = "." and "at" = "@").

Instructions for making a tetra pak purse

Step one, save some tetra paks1) You'll need some tetra pak cartons. For this purse I used the tall 1 litre type.

2) If you're going to save up the packs and create a lot of purses in one go, rinse out the cartons as soon as they are empty (reduces the likelyhood of that final drop of juice going mouldy and smelly while you store them).

Step two, cut off top and bottom and clean and fold3) Cut off the top and bottom.

4) Clean thoroughly, then dry.

5) Neatly fold (concertina) the sides of the cartons inwards, so that the carton lies flat.

6) Decide which what side of the carton you'd like to me most visible and put that side on the table.

Steps seven (left) and after step 11 (right)7) Fold the bottom of the carton towards the top, and the top towards the bottom, so that it has three (aproximately equal - but the top can be shorter) parts.

8) Cut down each of the four orginal corners from the top of the carton to the nearest (top) fold.

9) Cut away the top sides between the cuts you made in step 8.

10) Round the top of the flap on the external side of the carton.

Step 12, fold the purse11) Cut the internal flap to about 1.5cm (half an inch) above the crease and diagonally cut from about 1cm along that edge to the nearest corner (on each side).

12) Fold the bottom of the carton to the middle

Step thirteen, secure13) Put the shorter flap over and inside of the bottom compartment. You will need to secure this some how. I've used a paper clip in the photo because I couldn't find a darning needle to make some holes and sew the sections togther - that would be my preferred method, but you could glue the flap in place.

14) Make a hole in the middle of the top flap about 1cm from the edge. I used a hole-punch.

15) Put an elastic band through the hole, then through the elastic band and tighten.

Tetra Pak purse16) Loop the elastic band around the purse to secure the contents.

17) Hold the complete purse up and feel jolly proud of yourself.

18) Recycle any of the bits you cut off at the nearest tetra pak recycling bank if you have one.

If you can't be bothered with all of that, but really really want one of these fabulous purses, please send me an email at; transition dot housewife at google mail dot com (removing all spaces and were "dot" = "." and "at" = "@").

Friday, 17 April 2009

Chilli hot house

Growing chillies in yoghurt potsCraig has a penchant for chillies so this year I'm growing him several different types (some have rather concerning names like "Ring of fire" and "Fatalii"). Anyway, that combined with my desire to have a bountiful vegetable garden means that I am rapidly running out of window ledges to start my seeds off on.

I have one of those clear-plastic covered shelving units, that's full too. I could get more, but I would have no where to put it without it getting in the way of opening windows, plus they don't really have enough space for cucumbers to grow.

I've been investigating greenhouses. Our back garden is south-ish facing so should be ideal. The thing with greenhouses, well there are two things. The first is that if you get a stand alone one in order to get the most out of it during the winter it needs extra heat. The second, if you attach the green house to your house it's not a conservatory. By which I mean, if at some point you want to sell your house, people expect (or at least in this neighbourhood) attached mainly glass rooms to be sunny sitting places with blinds.

Permaculture principles and logic suggest that the lean-to type would be best. The lean-to will help heat the house during the day, and the house will help heat the greenhouse at night. The fact that if I had a conservatory I'd only fill it up with plants anyway suggests that I may aswell go for the cheaper lean-to greenhouse option.

So a lean-to greenhouse it is.

I've checked the pretty cool (for government) interactive UK planning guidance on the web and it won't need planning permisson - it's not going to be that big. If there is a door into it directly from the house though it will need safety glass. If you're thinking of getting a green house, best you check the planning site for your specific situation.

If I can find a lean-to greenhouse that suits, we'll have a chilli hot house soon. I just hope the chillies don't live up to their names.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Story of stuff

Story of StuffI've been meaning to watch the Story of Stuff for a long time now. I don't know why I didn't watch it earlier, just one of those things. It's a 20 minute long animated story of the mess our consumerism is getting us into written by Annie Leonard. Concise and nicely illustrated. Definately watch it if you have 20 mins spare, and encourage others to watch it too.

The Story of Stuff reminded me of a great book, The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken. Get it from the library (it's going to take longer than 20mins to read though!).

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Easter egg headache

Easter egg headache
If I had anything to do with it, I’d have nothing to do with Easter eggs. Everything is just stacked up against them;

  • I’m not Christian, so Easter has no religious meaning,

  • The chocolate used is mediocre at best and…

  • … way too expensive,

  • The packaging is excessive.

So why do I get in such a tizz about them? Because I’m expected to buy something around this time as a gift because I’m an Aunt.

So what should I do? As far as I can tell I have five options

Option 1 – Buy nothing
And look like a rubbish money-pinching aunt to my family, nephew, niece, their neighbours, play friends, school, village and countless others. Even if I did explain all of the points above, what would be remembered about my present is that the kids didn’t get anything from me.

Option 2 – Buy non-fair-trade, over packaged Easter eggs
This would probably go down best with the little chocolate munching munchkins, after all it's what the countless adverts say will happen, but would leave a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not an option really. Even if I sought out an egg with non-excessive recyclable packaging, it’s unlikely to be fairly traded and if it is – see option 3.

Option 3 – Buy a fair-trade Easter egg
This would be an option if they were a little older, but frankly their expectations and the fair-trade eggs market are two very different things.

Option 4 – Buy something else
Why? They are expecting eggs. I don’t understand Easter bunnies. As far as I know they are not religious either, so yes the whole thing is even more of a consumer nightmare than I am prepared to start thinking about. Plus the whole point of Easter when you are a kid is to tell your friends how many chocolate eggs you got. End of.

Option 5 – Make something
What? A chocolate Easter egg? I can’t even imagine all of the moulds that I would need and time, and for what? to get that look that means, “What’s this? I wanted a Mars egg”. Make something that isn’t a chocolate egg? What would be the point of that? - see option 4.

Worry not; I have a cunning plan, or at least half of one... if I ignore any Easter/consumerism arguments. It should keep everyone happy, apart from Craig (Transition House), he prefers option 1.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Baby Baobabs

Baobab seedlings - Adansonia DigitataThere are only a few things that are guaranteed to get me dancing around the kitchen on a Saturday morning like a whirling, jumping loon. This was one of those moments.

My Baobab seeds have grown!!!!!!!! well, two of them. Two out of ten ain't bad.

The Baobab (Adansonia Digitata) is native to Africa, I first found out about it from a Tree Aid leaflet. It is the most amazing tree, you know the kind of thing - the fruit has more vitamin C than 6 oranges, more calcium than milk. Plus, when it's fully grown it looks like it's been planted upside down. It's ggrrrrrreat!!

Oh, the courgettes, soya bean, peppers, chillis, goji berries, rainbow chard? They're doing fine too.

Plarn purse

Plarn (plastic bag yarn) purseA quick update about the plarn knitting experiment (hate plastic, love plarn post). A friend gave me a load of plastic bags that were nearing their re-use (as a plastic bag) life, so I was able to get on and start knitting with plarn.

As it was just an experiment I wasn't too fussy about the colours of the bags I used, but as I like the finished texture I now wish that I had thought more about the combinations! The colours kind of work.. erm.. possibly...

Anyway, I created the plarn and started knitting. The plarn as described is a kind of two-ply yarn, that was quite thick to work with, but no knots because of the way the strips are joined. The plarn would go further if the lengths of plastic are knotted as single strips, so I'm trying that now. It will of course effect strength and texture as the knots might get in the way of the knitting, but I'll see and post up the next creation.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Don't you just hate those people that when ever you try to talk to them about climate change or sustainability, they are totally convinced that what ever they do, somehow their actions don't count?

8:30pm on the 28th of March for just one hour, everyone can get to take part in a global demonstration that proves that individual actions do count. Earth Hour 2009. What's more you don't have to even leave your house and you could save money on your electricity bill. All you have to do is turn your lights off for an hour.

If you want some ideas about what you can do during that hour, with no lights or tv, watch the pandas...

Literally millions of people from all over the world took part in last years Earth Hour event. Even Google's home page was black for the day.

I wonder what Craig (Transition House) will want to do ...

Rubbish award

Rubbish Diet Awards 2009 - Rubbish NewcomerMay I accept this rubbish award for Rubbish Newcomer on behalf of the Transition House and this blog.

Thank you Mrs Average.

[takes award and studies it for a moment]

Gosh, it's amazing what you can do with a Pringles tube and a load of bits and pieces from the bin.

On that note, please accept these rubbish flowers on behalf of all the rubbish bloggers who have been inspired by your rubbish adventures and for hosting this great Rubbish Diet Awards 2009 evening.

Rubbish flowersThis bouquet was made, at great expense (to the housework), but you will be pleased to hear that not a single heated greenhouse was used or air mile flown to get these flowers to you today. All the items can be re-used, if you so wish, the stalks are plastic bag wrapped knitting needles and the flowers strips of plastic yarn (plarn). Oh, and a little photo jiggery-pokery. Well, plastic bags are so difficult to find these days!

It only remains for me to say, good luck with the MediaGuardian Innovation Awards (MEGAS). Don't stay behind too long after the event to help them sort their rubbish, we can't wait to hear how you got on.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Age of Stupid Premiere

We were there! It was fantastic.

We went to the people's premiere in Cambridge (the film was screened simultaneously in 60+ UK venues - world record!), with a couple of friends. The atmosphere was great.

The film was brilliant (I know, I would say that, but really it was).

I urge you all to go and see The Age of Stupid, when it reaches a cinema near you sometime after the 20th of March.

In the film, Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite stars as a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, looking at old footage from 2008 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance? All the footage from 2008 and before is actual footage, ie real, happened, not made up. It is very powerful. The main focus is climate change, but it also weaves in other issues like peak oil, poverty and consumerism by focusing on people in different parts of the world and their various struggles to make the world a better place.

After the film there was a live hook up with the premiere in London where Franny Armstrong (director) and Lizzie Gillett (producer) chatted with Pete and others in the film and everyone gave Ed Milliband a bit of a grilling about doing the right thing at the UN Climate summit in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Pete declared passionately that he would hand back his OBE and ask the Queen to disband the government if the government are generally "Stupid" about all things climate change related, like the giving the go ahead for the coal-burning power plant at Kingsnorth and the 3rd runway at Heathrow airport.

All of which you can see here:

The President of the Maldives got a standing ovation for his speech. He stated (via video) that the Maldives will be carbon-neutral within 10 years. Wow. You can watch the video now:

Message from the President of the Maldives from Age of Stupid on Vimeo
or at

Tony Juniper and the Transition HousewifeThe evening ended back in Cambridge where Rosemay Randall (Cambridge Carbon Footprint) and Tony Juniper (FOI director for 8 years) gave a couple of excellent speeches. Then Craig (Transition House) persuaded me that I needed to have my photo taken with Tony for this blog so here we are! (and yes I am wearing a dress!! well it was a premiere).

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Guerilla bagging

My first guerilla bagI've made my first guerilla bag!! I know I should give it away, but I'm going to keep it. I figure it gets the message out whoever is carrying it. Plus I haven't sewn with a sewing machine in ages, so the stitching is a little wonky and I think, actually, I've sewn the wrong three sides together - I'll call it a "practice" bag.

The idea is to make a bag out of material that would otherwise be landfilled and give them away to shoppers so that they use that instead of plastic bags. I got the material for my bag from a local charity shop (St Elizabeth Hospice shop came up trumps again). The old blanket was in the "rag bag", which means that it wasn't good enough to be sold, but seeing as I was going to cut it up it didn't matter that there was a hole in one section.

A label is sewn onto each new bag so that people can go to and find out about why plastic bags are soo wrong.

More and more people are taking their own re-useable bags with them shopping, especially if (like in our town) the main supermarket no longer gives bags away for free. But there are plenty of people (and shops) who use plastic bags, so I think guerilla bagging is a good thing. If you have a sewing machine the bag is quick and easy to make, there are instructions on the website.

You need to register a "pod" if you want to get the morsbags labels. If you'd like to join my pod it's called "presents" - I'll just be making bags to give away as presents in the first instance (I'll put something wrapped and lovely in it too).

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Worm spaghetti anyone?

Yesterday was a bright sunny day, so I decided to sort out my worms.

Wormery, composting worms you understand.

The wormery has been sheltering from the harsh frosts in the shed all winter. The cold weather has meant that the worms really haven't been converting much of our food waste into compost, but the change in the temperature means that they'll soon be back to their composting best. They are on their third wormery tier, so it was definately time to sort the worms from the compost and make space for more food waste.

Sorting the wormery compostStep one

Get the wormery out of the shed and lay some plastic sheeting on the grass.

Step two

Take the top tier off the wormery and set to one side.

Step three

Tip the other two tiers of worm compost onto the sheeting and use the empty tiers to weigh down the plastic sheeting edges.

Step four

Get all of the worms out from the compost and put the worms back into the wormery and use the compost.


Only it's never quite as easy as that, especially if your not that keen on handling worms!

The trick to sorting the worms from the compost is to understand that worms do not like to be exposed to the sun or to dry out. So they will seek dark, damp places.

With that in mind, I put some dampened newspaper onto the worm/compost mix and pile the compost up. The worms work their way down and towards the moisture, so the compost can be skimmed off the top. I keep a small container near me to rescue any rogue worms.

Worm SpaghettiTowards the end of the sorting process my mind usually flits to a book I read as a child, The Twits by Roald Dahl. The worms have so little space to hide from the sun that they mass together in a wiggling, wriggling worm spaghetti.

If any readers have young children and are thinking about getting a wormery, I'm sure that kids would love to help you sort your compost.

Incidentally, the wormery we have is the Can-O-Worms. We bought it (3 years ago) for about a third of the normal retail price through our local council. So if you are thinking about getting a wormery check out your council for offers first.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The artful bodger

I have had the most brilliant weekend. My husband (Transition House) arranged for us to spend 2.5 days with Mike Abbott - master of green woodworking ( It was fantastic.

Transition Housewife making a stool leg using a shaving horse and draw-knifeI have never worked with green wood before, it was so much fun and, unlike working with seasoned wood, it was peaceful, gentle and not dry!! I'll explain (Skip this paragraph if you know about green wood!!). Green wood is wood from trees that has recently been felled. It has not been dried (seasoned) and so it still wet. because it is still "green" we could work on it with tools and machines that didn't need any electricity. The process of making things out of the wood didn't dry our hands, it didn't create dust (so no need for face masks and goggles) and there was very little chance of getting splinters. What's more, because no heavy machinery was involved, we could hold conversations whilst getting on with the work. I say "work", - we made a load of useful things.

Stool made from green woodUnder the expert and skilled guidance of Mike, we made a fabulous stool, froe handle, club, maul (huge great club for whacking onto axes into logs), and a shaving horse. We both got to have a go at using a load of different tools including (my favourite) a pole lathe.

We even had time to see the wood that Mike gets all his timber from (and runs his courses from in the Summer).

Hanging from the stoolProbably the most impressive thing about the whole green woodworking malarky for me was Mike's technique for joining the mortice and tenon joints in the stool. Basically it all revolved around the fact that the wood will dry as times goes by. Therefore you have to make allowances for the shrinkage. If the mortice (hole) is made slightly smaller than the tenon, the tenon should never come loose. Certainly, when we had cramped one side of the stool together my husband was able to hang from it and the joints didn't budge one millimetre.

So now we have a shaving horse and draw-knife, so if I can find a source of good ash, I should be able to make a matching stool. If I find a suitably long and straight piece of ash I will definitely make a pole lathe and then I feel that I will be on the right course to be a proper bodger (someone who works with green wood). The question is, how long and how much practice will it take before I am the artful bodger? I'll definitely need to finish reading Mike's books, Living Wood and Green Woodwork, (that he signed for me) first.

We stayed, by the way, at a fab B&B called the Old Cow Shed. Richard and Helen were great hosts and I would totally recommend it if you are ever near Bromyard in Herefordshire.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Eat well and help save the planet

A meeting about a new local food initiative. It sounded just up my street so I went along.

It was my first experience of a Chamber of Commerce meeting, and I really should have remembered that when it got to the questions and answers part...

However, the speakers were really good:

  • Sally Bendall from Hollow Trees farm shop (and recent chairman of FARMA),

  • Stella Burton, from Beaumont school (an eco-school, also taking part in a european sustainable food project),

  • Karen Kenney, area rep of the National Society of Allotment Holders and Leisure Gardeners, (who was my favourite speaker of the evening for her enthusiam and impeccably varnished nails!), and

  • Mark David from a local cookery course company (who decided that his talk was about promoting his business - rather than local food!!, but was entertaining nonetheless).

Then came the Q&A.

I was quite surprised, we were told by someone who admitted he was a local food producer that it can cost more to grow your own food! No vested interests there then!!

Then someone else tried to knowingly pass Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's land share idea off as his own. I suspect this because after he had described the project perfectly (without mentioning the national campaign) and that perhaps we should have somewhere, perhaps a website, where people could sign up to the idea, I naively stood up and spoke about Hugh's landshare project and website and how it's a national campaign and people in the area might already be signed up for it. The chap was smiling knowingly before I'd finished saying "Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall" - I guess he was a web designer.

Nevermind. The evening was generally postive. The idea of making our small town a centre for fresh, organic, local food is just fab and very "transitional". The meeting ended with a show of hands supporting the Local Food Initiative, based on the Fife diet. I hadn't heard of the fife diet, and no-one mentioned it during the evening, but basically people in an area sign up to eat food produced in that area for a year and therefore eating well and saving the planet.

The Transition HandbookFor more information about transition towns see The Transition Handbook (I'm on page 61) or the Transition Towns wiki.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Greening the desert

Don't forget permaculture on BBC 2 tomorrow night at 8pm!!!

If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, here is one of my favourite YouTube videos. It shows how working with nature really does work even in the most extreme conditions.

You can find out more about Geoff Lawton and The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia at (the UK site is and the USA site:

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Age of Stupid at a cinema near you in ...

The age of stupid is an independent film that has been crowd funded.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Sticky backed plastic

baby girl card
A text. A friend has just given birth to a baby girl.

Now obviously I had plenty of time to buy an appropriate card, but you know time - it has a way of disappearing.

But "buy"? What am I thinking? What could be nicer than a lovingly hand-made card? Well pretty much nothing according to my new bible The Thrift book by India Knight. Let hope she's right.

A quick tour of the house and I'd found everything I needed including the sticky backed plastic (I keep absolutely all wrapping paper and interesting cards). A few Blue Peter moments of cutting, glueing and sticking later and the card was created, I hope she likes it.

A hand-made card for the cost of a stamp, bargain. Now who's next? Ah yes, Valentine's day.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A bag is just a folded scarf

Knitted bag
Following on from the "Hate plastic, love plarn" post. The bin didn't contain enough plastic to make a ball of plarn. So, while I build up my supplies, I found some wool to practice on.

I thought I had some ordinary wool in the house, but if I do I couldn't find it. I found instead some ridiculously fluffy yarn that is very pretty, but, as I soon discovered, not very easy to see what you are doing with.

1) Casting on using the learn 2 knit instructions was easy. Then I knitted and purled rows of between 30 and 33 stitches (depending on how many I dropped and accidentally created - don't ask me how, I couldn't work what I'd done because of the fluff!) until it was long enough to create a decent sized bag. After all a scarf is just a bag that hasn't been folded and the edges sewn together, right?

2) Feeling confident about casting on, casting off looked like a doddle. So I curved the end. The shoulder strap I managed to keep at 8 stitches wide all the way along (I think I was getting the hang of it) and had enough wool left over to make a decorative pompom.

I had an old pillow case that was part of a set that has long since gone. I decided to use the material to line the bag so that the knitting doesn't stretch when I fill it.

3) Et voila! The fluffy wool hides a multitude of errors, so that turned out to be a good choice :)

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Whoohoo! Christmas again!!

My Christmas present from my mum and dad has arrived!!


and yes, I can be that excited about seeds, you see these are not just any old seeds, they are seeds for vegetables that are particularly suited for growing on a patio. Which is brilliant because my I intend my vegetable garden to overflowing this year. If I can make use of the patio as well, all the better.

The larders will be full of chutney in no time. I've got pretty much everything from aubergine to zucchini (okay so it says courgette on the packet - but that didn't have the impact I was after), including potatoes (which I've never grown before).

So thank you mum and dad, I can't wait to get sowing.

PS. There's a great programme about permaculture on BBC 2 on the 20th of Feb, watch it if you can.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Hate plastic, love plarn

We recently had our first rubbish weigh-in. I suppose, compared to some, it wasn't a great deal of rubbish (mainly plastic) heading for landfill, but given the objectives of this experiment we need to do better. We have since discovered that we can recycle some of the plastics at the local waste and recycling centre (or "tip" as they used to be called), but that's a journey we don't make very often. In anycase "re-use" is better than recycling. So in my new found creative thriftyness I am going to make the plastic into something fabulous. Well, that's the plan.

I've discovered "plarn", plastic yarn or plastic bags turned into something that can easily be woven, knitted or used to crochet.

The only problem is...

although I used to knit as a child, it turns out I can only do the middle bit (knit one, purl one etc). My aunt, gran or mum would cast on and off for me (or for those of you not knitting minded, that means start and finish, what was usually, a scarf). So my first step is to learn how to knit, properly this time. Thank goodness for the web, the library books were way too advanced. I'll follow the instructions on learn 2 knit and see how I get on. I think I'll practice with some old wool first though.

Charity shops are always great

I popped into a nearby St Elizabeth Hospice shop and picked up three pairs of knitting needles for just 30 pence!! Plus a load of advice about what size needle would be best to learn with. Fab. They had an entire draw full of knitting needles, so I know where to go for more.

Now to rescue that plastic from the bin ...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Thrifty and frugal thoughts

On the run up to Christmas 2008 my husband, Craig, was using the words "thrifty" and "frugal" a lot. That wasn't usual. Something was definately up. Peak oil, climate change and the credit crunch were all playing their part.

Here are some of the books I received that Christmas;

The thing is, I love these kind of books.

Was my husband coming around to my way of thinking? Will I be able to store bits of old "junk" on the off-chance that it will be useful at some point without having to go through that dreaded "clear out"? Will he no-longer complain about the smell of clothes from second-hand shops? Only time will tell.

On a more serious note, this is a year long experiment to see how much we can reduce our footprint on the planet. It's going to be fun.