Now available for pre-order from Obverse Books: The Perennial Miss Wildthyme, featuring Iris Wildthyme, and a story from me. It’ll be out this autumn, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading the rest of the stories.
(Should you feel unable to wait for your Iris fix, Iris Wildthyme of Mars, in which I also have a story, is available right now.)
A fortnight ago I went to LonCon3 – not just my first Worldcon, but my first SFF con of any sort. Given that they were holding it about 20 min tube/DLR ride from me, in ExCel, it would have seemed churlish to skip it.
There were a lot of panels. A LOT of panels. And I went to quite a few of them. I found myself ducking out of this one 15 min early so I could have a quick break / snack before dashing back for the next slot. It reminded me of when I first went to music festivals (20-odd years ago now) where I would pore over the programme planning how if I left *this* then and dashed over here I could catch half an hr of *that* on the way to *the other*… Another time I might endeavour to take it a little easier and give myself more time for everything else. (I entirely missed the Art Show, for example.)
Having said that, I enjoyed nearly everything I went to, and could happily go back and start over with a whole different set of things. (I missed most of the science track, for example). I have many pages of notes I am not about to type out, but a couple of panels particularly stuck in my mind afterwards (ie came to mind without checking said notes while writing this).
— Race and British SF: a really interesting discussion about who is writing what, where, and why, which left me with a much longer to-read list.
— Ideology vs Politics in SF: the premise was that ideology (noble ideas) shows up in SF more often than politics (the grubby business of hammering out solutions), probably because the former is in general more interesting to write/read. Lots of discussion about the value of both about writers who do tackle politics, and about the radicalism of imagining a political alternative.
There was also one talk (on worldbuilding) I left after getting too annoyed by the panelist who invariably referred to a hypothetical character as “he”. A shame as there was good stuff from the other panelists, but it was just too irritating. I cheered myself by getting some dal for a late lunch.
I saw “kaffeeklatsch” repeatedly on the programme with no explanation, then when I established what it was, was too shy to sign up. Then I found myself sitting next to Stephanie Saulter (author of the excellent novels Gemsigns and Binary, about which I was most enthusiastic at her) at another panel. She mentioned her kaffeeklatsch, which gave me the courage to sign up. I’m glad I did – it was a lovely hour, and I also got to meet and chat to Anne Charnock (whose novel A Calculated Life I have since read and enjoyed), Cindy of Draumr Kopa review blog, and someone from Birmingham SF group whose name now escapes me (oops). Buoyed by this I also went to Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden’s one, which was interesting if less chatty.
Despite my extensive panel attendance, I also managed to do a bit of socialising with people I didn’t know at all, and thus award myself a Big Gold Social Person Star. (I had a drink with a couple of folk I did know, too, but that is less challenging because I already know that they’re nice.) The fan village in many ways was great from a social point of view – lots of opportunity for mingling – but it was also very noisy (and echoey, being as how this was ExCel and therefore it was inside a big concrete box) which made life harder. I left one thing because I just couldn’t hear anyone, which did nothing for my intermittent social anxiety.
Sunday I missed most of everything that didn’t involve hanging around in the fan village, as Leon came along for the day. He was delighted with his badge and First Worldcon ribbon and very enthusiastic about running round the ‘village green’ with a hula hoop. He is, however, still not panel-compatible. I went home with him and D at dinner time rather than staying for the Hugos. I was a little sorry, but following it on Twitter over pizza and a glass of wine at home was still pretty exciting, and also involved pizza. A very pleasing set of results.
(Given how Sunday panned out and that I would have had L with me on Monday too, I somewhat reluctantly stayed home on Monday and missed the final day, bah.)
Brilliant weekend, if exhausting. I would go again like a shot if it ever comes back to Europe. And after over 20 years of being a fan of sorts but never going to a con, I am now signed up for both Eastercon and 9 Worlds next year and greatly looking forward to both.
I wrote a piece on applying Holmgren’s 12 Principles of Permaculture to parenting for the current issue of Juno, now out online and in shops.
Other things in this issue include an interview with Shelia Kitzinger; an extended feature on home education; Sarah Ockwell-Smith discussing bed-sharing myths; Talking Point on organic cotton; a mum sharing her positive experience of elimination communication; ideas for free outdoor activities for Spring; eco-holiday recommendations; encouragement to become a Flexitarian and simple gardening inspiration. I’ve just finished my copy and thoroughly enjoyed it; it’s all worth a read.
My forest garden is really more of a forest fence, but nevertheless, over the winter I have started planting up. At a workshop recently someone mentioned that you should try to get a photo from the same place once or twice a year as your garden develops, so here is my first one:
Very far right, in shade, is a blackcurrant bush with some daffodils by it, and to the left of that, a space where I will plant tomatoes in pots again this year as they did very well last year. (Not really part of the ‘forest’.)
In the bed right of middle, I’ve planted a fig tree against the fence, in a paving-slab box. There’s some volunteer parsley in that bed too, and some ground cover strawberries. I’m planning to plant some fennel, chard, and perhaps Good King Henry in there later this month as a herbaceous layer; and probably some rocket will show up as it does everywhere else. I may well train the fig against the fence, which is a bit against the forest garden theory but more practical in this tiny space.
The left-hand bed has a grape vine, which I will train up the fence and over to the left. There’s also a Daubenton’s Kale (looking a bit toppled-over; it seems taller than the one I have had before but we’ll see how it does), some chard and rocket, and I’ve moved my thyme in there. I’m considering moving some of the other perennial herbs in there too.
Then looking left again there are the herb pots; and since taking that photo earlier in the week, I’ve moved the mini greenhouse again so it too is against the fence. I planted a dwarf cherry tree in a pot against the fence at the other side, and an autumn olive at the shady end of the garden, so there are lots of things to keep an eye on this year. I’ll take another photo like this in late summer to see how it’s all looking.
Somewhat to my surprise, my volunteer squash has actually produced a couple of baby squashes. (It turns out that it’s a butternut squash. Hurrah!) But as we head conclusively into autumn, there isn’t enough warm weather left for them to grow to a decent size, let alone to ripen.
Apparently you can use unripe winter squashes (like butternut) in much the same way you use summer squashes (like courgettes), so I anticipate experimenting with Butternut Courgette in the near future. I’d still like them to get a little bigger first, though, so I raided the pile of bamboo poles, and the big stash of bubble-wrap in the garage, to construct an Emergency Squash Cloche:
I’m not sure if it’ll work, but it was free and took only 15 or 20 minutes to set up and tie together. It’s not a good long-term cloche, either, as it’s hard to get in under it, but it’ll do for the next couple of weeks to see what happens. My main problem at this point is preventing Leon from pulling it down in order to pop all the bubbles.
- Lack of time for maintenance; this led to no blueberry fruit (lack of netting and fertiliser) and a poor strawberry harvest (lack of watering).
- Lack of time? inclination? for harvesting.
- Snails eating seedlings (and the grape vine).
- Some under-utilised space.
- More of an observation than an issue: the things that have done best are the things which require the least input, and are the least vulnerable. (eg tomatoes, which largely look after themselves once the seedlings are robust enough to go outside, especially with the self-watering containers.)
After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded that the maintenance and harvesting problems actually break down into three factors:
- Real actual lack of time.
- Not spending enough time out in the garden. (“The best fertiliser is the gardener’s shadow”). This is largely because it is so very hot out there in good weather.
- Watering is a big faff: the watering can is slow to fill from the butt, and heavy to fill from the tap, and one watering can isn’t much for a whole garden.
I took a look at the permaculture principles while thinking about designing a solution. (The whole design maintenance process is about principle 4, “Accept self-regulation and feedback”.) (Italics are conclusions or things I need to add to my to-do list.)
Living with the snails
My very first conclusion was that however many solutions there are to snail and slug problems, my preferred solution was to learn to live together with the snails. (Principle 1, “Observe and interact; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”) As a vegan, I can’t really justify killing the snails, who are after all only trying to feed themselves, the same way I am. Observing the plants that struggled, the ones most at risk are small annual seedlings (carrots and turnips, courgette, basil), and that grape vine. This suggests a multi-layer approach (principle 10: “Use and value diversity”):
- Just give up growing carrots and turnips. They’re not a great crop for a small space, I’ve always struggled to germinate carrots, and I’ve never been that impressed by the taste of my home-grown ones.
- Work on getting plants big enough to resist snail attacks. That means protecting my annual seedlings (bean, courgette, basil) better (starting in the already planned mini-greenhouse, perhaps also using copper tape for the basil pot), and planting more perennial veg, which are better able to resist attack.
- For the grape vine, which I really want to try again: a mechanical solution. An anti-snail fence did seem to work this year, but the plant was already too damaged. Next year I can use it from the start.
Lack of time, and lack of time in the garden
My next problem was the lack of time, combined with the lack of time spent in the garden. The obvious solution to a lack of time is to grow plants that need less attention, which broadly speaking again points to perennials. (Snail-resistant and easier to grow! Principle 5: “Use and value renewable resources and services”.) A second solution is to plan what maintenance I do need (eg checking the soil pH of the blueberries, fertilising fruit trees) a bit better over the winter, ready for summer. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”; that is, use my winter energy to better direct my summer energy.) Making comfrey and nettle tea is also on my agenda.
The lack of time in the garden is strongly related to our excessively warm south-facing patio. We have a patio umbrella, but it doesn’t provide much shade, and it doesn’t shade the wall of the house which then radiates heat back out. It’s actually a difficult space to shade, because it is so very south-facing! One solution might be an awning with a ‘curtain’ falling a couple of feet around it. However, my preferred solution is another grape vine, trained over the patio. This will produce a grape crop, provide all-day shading for the house wall, and the transpiration of the green leaves will cool the space under them. I thought we would need a pergola for this (difficult to install on our concrete patio), but in fact installing strong wires should do the trick at least initially. (Principle 9: “Use small and slow solutions”, principle 3: “Obtain a yield” (of both shade and grapes!), principle 2: “Catch and store energy” (grapes store sun energy), and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate” (two functions, one solution).
There were other awkwardnesses in the patio space which I’ve already fixed and which are already meaning I spend more time out there and water a bit more, as the weather cools:
- The table and chairs are an awkward shape for the space — the table is too big and the chairs are in the way. However, it turns out that the chairs hang quite neatly on the otherwise-unused tall patio fence, which meant I could move the table out. It’s now much easier to navigate.
- Leon’s paddling pool was similarly awkwardly sized. Ebay provided a smaller, easier to manage second-hand pool.
Watering and harvesting
I’m currently working on watering and wicking solutions to make watering required less often, and easier when it is required. I’d like something in all the annual beds and anywhere else (eg the blueberry and cherry pots) it’s needed. I also need to add a longer hose to the tap for when I need to use that, to make the watering can easier to fill.
The planned perennial beds, with full ground cover, will also help retain moisture in the earth, as will adding more compost as it becomes available. I’m going to abandon the strawberry tower which doesn’t work at all well, and use the strawberries as perennial ground cover.
Harvesting: we don’t use as much rocket as we have; but as a self-seeded low-maintenance plant which gets eaten sometimes and is nice to nibble on while gardening, I’m happy to just let it keep on keeping on. I’m going to stop planting annual lettuce, but might plant a salad-type perennial leaf (low-maintenance, available if wanted).
I am going to put sticky notes on the herb jars which are for things we have outside, to remind cooks that the fresh herbs are there!
Finally, in terms of under-utilised space (principle 6: “Produce no waste”), a handful of different solutions:
- Two small and slow solutions (principle 9): a cherry tree to replace the satsuma in the big pot (principle 3: “Obtain a yield”), and a couple of raspberry canes to go into the wild east border. The raspberries should need little maintenance once established, the cherry might need netting once it starts bearing fruit. It will also help shade the patio a little.
- A mini-greenhouse for the sunny south wall by the door. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”). As above, this will also provide a safe place for seedlings to grow big enough to resist snails.
- Perennial plants in both west beds, using forest-garden-style stacking underneath tall plants against the sunny fence. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”.) This also, as above, helps to solve the watering, time, and snails problems.
- Moving some of the herbs (thyme and oregano, most notably) into the north-east raised bed next to the herb garden, where I think they will do better and will also act as ground cover. This is really part of the perennial bed planting and reduces my outlay on new plants in favour of ones we use.
- An autumn olive in the far south-west corner, above the rhubarb, for fruit, beautiful berries, and nitrogen-fixing. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”, and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate”.)
Generally, my aim is to set things up so that, as much as possible, they manage themselves. It’s going to require a certain amount of work over the winter to set things up, and over the first year or two to help them get going, but in the long run this should significantly improve the way the garden works, heading towards the “harvesting as maintenance” goal.
The big part of the plan is forest-garden style planting in the two western raised beds. I’ve worked out my plan for that and will write about it in my next post.
I am in VENICE, which is ace. (Although I cannot recommend a night on a sleeper train with a vomiting baby. Having said that, I cannot think of any *better* way of travelling with a vomiting baby, so my preference for trains remains undiminished.) (Leon thankfully recovered within hours, in plenty of time to be cooed over by Italian grannies.)
Anyway, this post is not to talk about lovely Venice, but to say, if you didn’t already know, that Marna’s fabulous Kickstarter, The Waste Land For Babies (picture book edition), ends tomorrow, so pledge your pennies now! Leon got the laminated original version for his Christmas so I am confident in declaring its awesomeness. Click! Love! Back! And, in due course, read and adore.
The single thing that best joins together my attempts at simple living and my environmental beliefs is Freecycle and its friends: the charity shop, the sale/free-for-postage board on my favourite forum, even Ebay (though more on that in a moment).
I hate wasting things; and I hate the idea that I am contributing yet more to landfill. But I also hate unnecessary clutter. So I declutter merrily, piling up the things that no longer serve me (don’t fit me physically, don’t fit me mentally, don’t fit my life now even if they did in the past)… and then I get stuck.I reach for the black bin bag, then I stop and think, well, but they’re not broken, they could still be useful. Maybe I should just hang onto them for now, just in case. It would be wasteful to throw them out, right?
If instead I can take them to the charity shop, or list them on Freecycle, or sell them off on Ebay, suddenly I feel better about the whole thing. I’m not wasting them, or losing them; I’m letting them go, to find better lives, to make someone else happy, elsewhere. (This also helps reassure my sentimental side, which hates to let go of old friends like my college-room kettle, even if it has lived in a cupboard for 5 years.)
It works best if I can just give things away. Ebay means a little bit of cash, sure; but it also means a certain amount of effort, photographing and listing and packaging up and posting. For most things the returns barely cover the time expended. More importantly, things to be listed on Ebay pile up in corners of my room, lurking at me.
Freecycle, on the other hand — no photos, just a quick 2-sentence listing, and the minor hassle of arranging a collection time (easier these days now someone is at home with Leon the majority of the time). The charity shop means a trike ride, but the charity box lives in the garage (out of sight, out of mind) so that’s better too. And giving things away also helps me get past the temptation to save them “just in case”. I see Freecycle like a giant karmic lending library. I put my stuff out there; and if I need it (or, more likely, something different) later, there’s a decent chance that someone else will have things to spare.
Of course, the next stage is to focus a little harder on not bringing these things in the house in the first place. My consumption levels aren’t huge, but they’re higher than I’d like. And, I fear, more so when I’m tired or stressed out, a state of affairs that can is a little more frequent than I’d like right now. So my next step in both simple and green living? Learning to think for a few moments more before I hit that ‘buy’ button.
Meanwhile: I think I feel another burst of decluttering coming on…
Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Read about how others are incorporating eco-friendly living solutions into their everyday lives. We hope you will join us next month, as the Simply Living Blog Carnival focuses on Daily Lives!
- Green Renovating: A Lot, A Little, Not So Much – Laura at Authentic Parenting ponders about the many things that have an impact on eco-friendly renovating
- Growing Native in My Flower Beds – Destany at They Are All of Me takes the guilt out of her flower habit by switching from high maintenance flowers to native plants which not only lessens her gardening load, but also benefits the local wild life.
- Baby Steps – Kellie at Our Mindful Life shares how her family became more sustainable, one step at a time.
- A Greener Holiday – Sara from Family Organic discusses the overwhelming amount of “stuff” that comes with every holiday and talks about how to simplify instead.
- Forcibly Green–Obligatory Organic – Survivor at Surviving Mexico talks about her family’s evolution from passive to active green and sustainable living.
- Giving It Away – Juliet Kemp of Twisting Vines writes about the role of Freecycle, the giant karmic lending library, in her simple and green living.
- Simply Sustainable – Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses her family’s attempts to live in harmony with the earth by living simply and more sustainably.
- How Does Your Yarden Grow – Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassafras writes about an ongoing permaculture project, converting her grass lawn into a mower-free paradise.
- Green? – Is it about ticking the boxes? sustainablemum shares her thoughts on what being green means in her life.
- Using Cloth Products To Reduce Household Waste – Angela from Earth Mama’s World shares how her family replaced many disposable household products with cloth to reduce their household waste.
- Going Green in Baby Steps – Joella of Fine and Fair shares some small, easy steps to gradually reduce your environmental impact.
- Are You Ready To Play Outside?! – Alex from AN Portraits writes about gardening, and playing in the dirt, and how it’s O.K. to get dirty, play in the dirt, play with worms, for both adults and kids.
- Lavender and Tea Tree Oil Laundry Booster – At Natural Parents Network, Megan from The Boho Mama shares an all-natural way to freshen laundry.
The manufacturer of these instant raised beds emailed me a while back. I haven’t tried them out myself so don’t know how sturdy they are, but they look like an interesting solution if you want raised beds in a hurry, or for an organisation like a school or community centre who might prefer a commercial type of raised bed.
The circular structure means that if you push them together you’ll lose a very little bit of space compared to a similar square bed, but there’s not much in it, and they’re clearly less hassle than the DIY pallet construction option. For ease of working the size does look good. I’d be interested to hear how they work in practice if anyone has encountered them?
(Oh, in fact I’ve just seen that you can score the sides so you could make them hexagonal and avoid any space loss at all. Neat!)
The owner of the site also sent me an idea involving DIY floor tiles and copper wire raised bed construction, pointing out that the copper would repel slugs. This was his quickly-knocked-up version:
(both images c. David Roberts)
He also mentioned the possibility of tidying it up a bit or making curved sides with a tile cutter. You would need to be a lot better than I am with a tile cutter to manage that! I am however now slightly annoyed that our left-over kitchen tiles are a) Marmoleum not slate, and b) too small to do that with anyway. Bah.
For avoidance of doubt: I have not been offered any recompense for making this post; I just think they’re an interesting idea.