permaculture, the garden project


This week I dug out the “composting” half of the compost pile, and lo! there was a big load of beautiful rich black compost:

Nearly all dug out by the time this was taken, but you can see what's left is still good stuff.
Nearly all dug out by the time this was taken, but you can see what’s left is still good stuff.
Soil fertility in action
Soil fertility in action

I covered half of one bed with it to a depth of an inch or so, and added a couple of spadefuls to the beans and the blackcurrant beds. Very pleasing; I just hope the new “composting” half (I’ve switched them over) does its thing just as well by winter when I want to spread some more of it.

In other fertiliser news, I think comfrey has appeared in the west flowerbed, where there are a bunch of other miscellaneous things busily self-seeding. Thumbs crossed! I also harvested nettles from under the apple tree (by pulling them up; nettles are fabulous plants in many ways but not suitable for a very small garden with a toddler) and am making nettle tea at the bottom of the garden.


Solar ovens

I made a pizza box solar oven at the weekend. I’ve been meaning to make a solar oven for a while, but this one struck my fancy because I had everything I needed already (including an old pizza box).

It turned out looking rather like this:

I used an A4 plastic document wallet (cut open and retaped to fit the hole I’d cut) for the film, and some black card (again, cut and retaped) for the bottom.

I tried it out with biscuits yesterday, and unfortunately wasn’t all that impressed. I’m not convinced that the box itself seals particularly well (so the hot air is escaping), and even allowing for half an hour to heat up, the biscuits were only halfway cooked an hour or so after I put them out. They did definitely warm up quite a lot; but not to anything like the temperatures suggested in the instructions linked above.

This may be to do with the UK climate, but my south-facing balcony catches the sun pretty well, so I’m loathe to give up entirely. Instead I intend to try this option, as soon as I’ve collected the necessary kit and have some free time.


Sustainability and self-judgement

The last week & a half, I have spent a certain amount of time over at Trafalgar Square, where a bunch of awesome people have been camping out for the duration of the Copenhagen talks. I’ve been going to and from, and doing some useful things, but I haven’t been camping out, for a couple of reasons*.

What I’ve noticed is the amount of guilt I have about that decision and the way I want to justify or explain it to other people. I worry that the people camping out there — many of whom I have a lot of respect for — will be thinking less of me for that choice. (I should note that no one has in fact indicated, in word or deed, anything of the sort.)

But in truth, it’s more about my own attitude. I don’t entirely trust my own decision; part of me thinks that if I were really dedicated, or if I were stronger, or if… then I would be down there in my tent.

Which is nonsense. I am, in fact, competent to make decisions about my own abilities and what I can sustainably do. More to the point, it is OK for what I can sustainably do, and what other people can sustainably do, to be different. And just as I wouldn’t (and don’t) judge other people on what they feel able to do, other people are not in fact going to judge me (and if they did, then that would be a sign that perhaps they’re not people I respect after all). In particular, my experience of Climate Camp is that there genuinely is an enormous amount of respect for everyone’s individual comfort levels.

This ties in to two things I’ve been thinking about of late: my tendency to judge myself unduly harshly, and my ongoing concern about the judgements of others (rather than relying on my own beliefs). I think those things are perhaps more closely related than I believe them to be; my fears about the opinions of others reflecting my self-doubt.

I genuinely believe that sustainable communities need to recognise individual abilities and needs. And for that to work, it has to operate both internally and externally; after all, if you can’t be fair and kind to yourself, then how can you let other people be fair and kind to you, or believe them when they are?

* Which I’m deliberately not specifying because as per above, I am trying to avoid the need to externally self-justify.


Community and sustainability

I wouldn’t entirely describe myself as anti-social; but I’m quite happy spending a fair amount of time on my own, and I can find it quite hard to go out and put myself in new social spaces.

I was interested to read this week two articles about community participation. As Belinda points out, in the long run if you’re expecting a major change in our current society, community is a necessity rather than a luxury.

I absolutely agree with this in principle. In practice, I’m finding it harder to engage at that level than I’d like. I’m increasingly aware that part of the problem is that I feel unsupported. The various groups or community events that I aim to attend (e.g. the local nature reserve meeting tonight) are often also potentially interesting to the people I’m closest. But in practice, those people usually lack the time, energy, or social inclination to go along.

Now, that’s not anyone’s fault, and of course, it doesn’t prevent me from going myself. But it does mean that every time I try to expand my social or community circles, I have to take myself away from my existing social links to do it, rather than being able to integrate them. That by itself makes the whole process harder.

It also means I’m always going to these things on my own. Which isn’t usually a problem for me; I spent 10 months pottering around the world on my own, meeting people and going to things with no problems. But I didn’t expect any social support then, because I had no existing social circle.

The only option (other than to give up!) is to keep looking for new opportunities, keep pushing myself to do this on my own, and to try to find the places where I feel comfortable and can make new friends and acquaintances. I think it’s important to do all of that. I could just wish I found it a little easier.


It’s the little things

Minor changes or things I have done to reduce my environmental footprint recently:

  • Stopped using rubber gloves to do the washing up. Instead I made up some hand-cream (aqueous cream, a little almond oil, some aloe vera sap, and a few drops of lavender and frankincense essential oils) and put that in an old moisturiser jar by the sink.
  • Started using handkerchiefs rather than tissues.
  • Switched to (fair-trade) tealeaves rather than tea-bags. I have a per-cup teaball that makes this easier. Not particularly impressed with the quality of the Co-op’s tealeaves, though.
  • Did not buy a dog-bed when we got Finlay; instead he sleeps on a pile of old blankets (and an old coat and jumper) that were too knackered to be of use for their intended purpose. Actually overnight he sleeps on the landing with no blanket at all; and half the time during the day he eschews both blanket piles in favour of sprawling all over the floor; but hey, that’s his decision.
  • Patched my slightly-split rear bike tyre (from the inside, using a piece of another old tyre) rather than replacing what is otherwise a perfectly decent tyre. (Safety note: it’s not a big split, nor is it on the sidewall, so it’s not dangerous to ride on; it’s just a place where punctures are more likely.)
  • Darned two holes in one of my nice thick black stockings. (This also affected by the fact that these are no longer available at all, so I need to keep them going for as long as possible!).
  • Bought a book I wanted (on woodworking by hand, which I want to try out) second-hand instead of new.

Do I think any of these have a major impact on my carbon footprint? No. But I do think that making small daily-life changes is part of making larger changes; that it helps to remind you to think about sustainability. One of the main things I’m working on at the moment is simply not buying things; reducing my footprint by reducing my consumption. (Hence the second-hand book; and on realising that I really do need some specific warm clothing for cycle-instructing purposes over the winter, I went hunting & found the organic fair-trade version of that.) That’s a daily decision, but it’s not really one you can point at.