The Waste Land For Babies!

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.

Give It Away

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.

Pop-up raised beds

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:

Tile panels mostly wired together
Tile panels mostly wired together

Lined and full of compost and plants
Lined (with a plant liner of some sort) and full of compost and plants

(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.

Shallow growing

In the course of planning both back & front gardens, I need a list of things that will grow in shallow (6-9″) containers, as I have quite a lot of them. Herewith the results of my research thus far.

Greens:

  • Rocket
  • Lettuce generally
  • Mustard greens?
  • Peas – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″
  • Beans – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″

Other veg:

  • Tomatoes – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″
  • Carrots – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″

Fruit:

  • Strawberries

Flowers:

  • Marigolds
  • Nasturtiums
  • Pansies
  • Poppies

And some things which in my experience don’t do so well:

  • Chard (probably because it’s secretly a root).
  • Parsnips, roots generally.

I’ve had trouble with peas and beans in containers before, but it’s possible they were a bit shy of 9″, so I’ll give it another try. Unfortunately I think the majority of my containers are less than 9″ deep so planting is going to be a bit restricted. My inclination is to plant in the ground in the back garden wherever at all possible (perhaps taking a few more paving slabs up), and to keep the containers for the front balcony and porch). I will return to this at the end of the season with my findings.

Any other suggestions? I haven’t got anything particularly out of the ordinary here, nor indeed anything perennial except the pansies. I’m considering looking into the Plants for a Future database or something similar. On the other hand, time is getting on so I might just try some annuals out for this year.

Garden Diary 25.08.2012

Planted:

  • Basil.
  • Leaf coriander.

Harvested:

  • Courgettes.
  • Very tiny baby carrots.
  • Salad leaves.

Other:

  • Discovered that three of my blackcurrant bush cuttings may have taken!
  • Snails ate many of the chard seedlings; but it looks like one or two have survived.
  • Ordered some autumn/winter seeds.

To do:

  • Thin out lettuce some more.
  • Dig/set in border of long west bed properly.
  • Transplant courgette plants which I think are overcrowded.

The Garden Project: one year in

It’s now just over a year since we moved in to our new house and I started working on the garden.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of what it looked like when we moved in. However, the first things we did were to decide which side the grass would be and which side the raised beds would be. Here’s what it looked like after I’d put in the first raised bed and a couple of polystyrene containers, and we’d started taking up paving to put the grass in.

Before that, the whole thing was paving slabs or brick all over, so it was already looking much greener.

Once that experimental grass section proved successful, we got up the paving slabs and the surprise! concrete underneath (thanks to some very hard work from Pete and doop), and got the rest of the grass and wildflower seed down.

With the addition of the herbs and tomatoes in pots from our old balcony, it was looking quite good by October:

(Note also the compost heap at the bottom of the garden by the rose tree, built from the bricks we’d taken up from next to the fence.)

The winter-veg bed did well through the autumn. Over the winter, we put in an apple tree, some raspberries from the allotment, and I built another 3 raised beds from pallets.

I also finished a small shed, also from reconstructed pallets, in February while 38 wks pregnant. (This may have been a form of nesting; 600l of compost for the remaining raised beds also arrived two days before the baby did after a last-minute order.)

And over the spring I planted salad leaves, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, peas and beans, courgettes, more raspberries, rhubarb, and some flowers. In June, it was all doing rather well.

And a year on, it looks like this.

Not bad going, I think.

The Balcony Project: plants for north-facing spaces

The next stage in the balcony planning is a little research on plants that will do well in north-facing areas. Given my other requirements, I’m most interested in edibles, and perennials or self-seekers (for minimal ongoing maintenance).

It’s a good idea to remember the difference between different types of shade: ‘open’, ‘medium’, and ‘deep’ shade. I have open shade (north-facing, but nothing much overshadowing it) which makes life a little easier.

In a small space it’s even more important than usual to consider height as wel as ground space, and I have a small area of wall and a railing available. Here’s a few potential plants:

Climbers and shrubs

  • Oregon Thornless blackberry: can be grown in a pot (2′ square x 2.5′ deep, ideally) and carefully trained up a trellis. It would need regular maintenance not to overrun next door’s balcony. But I do like blackberries, and in a pot it would be less of a menace than they are in the ground. It flowers on one-year-old wood.
  • Kiwi vines: will fruit in the shade, and could grow along the railing. I’d need a male and female plant, so one at each end. However, they would block the view through the railings onto the river, which is really valuable to me.
  • Honeyberry: prefers partial shade, so in that sense ideal. However, you need two plants (male and female), and they grow to 5′ so need a half barrel sized pot per plant. I think it’s either this or the blackberry.

Flowers

  • Plumbago: perennial, butterflies love it, but not edible.
  • Violet: edible, perennial, one of my favourites anyway.

Herbs, greens, etc

  • Mint: that old favourite for shady areas. I don’t actually use it much in cooking, but mint tea is nice, and mint, apple juice, vodka and ice is a lovely summer cocktail. Smells great on the balcony, too. I have a plant in the garden so would be easy to propagate.
  • New Zealand spinach: a new one on me. Perennial, best started from transplant, and needs blanching before cooking so realistically probably wouldn’t get used.
  • Chard, beets, other leafy greens: if they’re on the balcony, they won’t be readily harvestable for the kitchen, so we’re unlikely to use them.
  • Peas: in theory the above would also apply, except that raw peas fresh from the pod taste fantastic, so could be eaten on the spot.
  • Salad greens: could be eaten on the spot, so might be worth it, especially as the baby gets bigger and might be in and out of there more. Planting in partial north-facing shade might give some resistance to bolting and mean we get a midsummer crop, which is not possible in the south-facing and very warm back garden. I have plenty of salad green seeds so may try this out.
  • Alpine strawberries: very very tasty. Definitely try these next year.
  • Rhubarb: shade-tolerant, can be grown in a pot, but we already have it in the garden and it is quite large.

I did also find a list of some other shade-tolerant edibles, but they all seem a bit big for my purposes.

Now I have the list, the next step is to construct a plan. Watch this space…

Tip o’ the hat to: the Savvy Gardener on gardening in the shade, and Life on the Balcony on shade-tolerant fruit.

The Balcony Project: surveying

In addition to the back garden, we also have a front balcony. Now that the garden is well under way, I want to tackle some container planting for it.

The first stage of the permaculture design process is surveying: site, resources, and client requirements.

Site

  • North-facing, though not overshadowed, so some evening sunlight especially in summer.
  • Paved.
  • First floor (so need to watch the weight!).
  • 4.5m x 1m.
  • No water supply (any water has to be brought up from the ground floor). However, there is a drainpipe at the corner (possibly shared with next door?). Slight overhang above so doesn’t get much rainfall either.
  • Fairly windy, but with some protection to about a metre up.
  • Some containers, but nothing fixed.
  • Railing provides some potential support for climbing plants.

Resources

  • Plenty of containers of various sorts available.
  • Some already-planted containers: violas, primroses, pansies, evening primrose.
  • Possibility of propagating some plants from the back garden (or using some of my seed collection).
  • Some compost from the back garden compost heap, but is likely to need supplementing with bought compost (or wait for longer to plant more!).

Client requirements

  • Enough space to sit out on folding chairs.
  • Attractive when seen through balcony window — I’d like some flowers!
  • Attractive during the winter — at least something that will survive or even thrive through winter.
  • Nothing poisonous to dog or baby if they eat it.
  • At least one food-productive plant.
  • Minimal cost setup.
  • Neglect-tolerant / low maintenance.

The next part of the process is the analysis: sectors, zones, and input/output, which I’ll consider in the next post, before coming to the design.

Protecting tomato seedlings

A quick photo to illustrate why it’s worth keeping tomato seedlings inside (or in a greenhouse) for that little bit longer, rather than just dumping them outside once they’ve grown their first couple of leaves and been transplanted. These are the same type of tomato and were sown at the same time:

Tomato seedling with 2 leaves, looking a bit yellow, in a pot outside
Transplanted and put straight outside

Tomato seedling with 4 leaves in small pot on windowsill
Transplanted and given another week on the windowsill

Not only does the indoor one have a healthier colour, it also has an extra pair of leaves. I’m hoping that the outdoor one will pick up in time but it’ll certainly take longer to reach fruiting stage.

I am considering a further experiment by picking one plant to put straight out from the windowsill without hardening off, and comparing that a week or so later with its hardened-off siblings.

Potatoes, babies, and tricycles

I decided to plan for a very low maintenance allotment this year, given that I also have a new garden and (rather more time-consumingly) a new baby to deal with. Over the winter, the main beds have almost all been mulched with a double layer of cardboard to reduce weeding. The next stage was to plant potatoes (low-maintenance but tasty!) through the mulch. So, only a couple of weeks late, we headed down to the allotment last weekend to get planting.

The mulch is doing its weed-reducing job where it’s been put down, but around the paths and edges the dandelions are in glorious but weedy profusion. I ignored them in favour of getting 50% of the potatoes in the ground before the baby got too grouchy. (I should note that I did not actually plant anything but was instead acting in more of a supervisory/baby-feeding capacity. Many thanks to my glamorous assistant doop.)

The trip also provided the opportunity for the first test of our baby-transporting device, chosen after researching seats and trailers/cargo bikes: a Christiania trike with a car seat strapped in. Glorious success! Leon slept peacefully all the way there, and observed thoughtfully most of the way back, until a cobbly patch near our front door upset his equilibrium.


The Christiania in action


Baby in a trike!