Tree planting in the wildlife garden

I’ve been pretty quiet about my plans for our wildlife garden while I’ve been focusing on my goals for sustainable living in 2019, but be assured that the wildlife garden is still a really key feature in this.

Planting a tree, child’s play!

We actually planted a cherry tree in the garden on Sunday, but it was such a bitterly cold day, no one was much in the mood to take a photograph! We went for Stella on a colt rootstock. The blossom will be great for pollinators, it will help maintain privacy between our garden and our neighbours, and as long as the children get to eat a few cherries when it fruits, I won’t mind the birds having a share.

This is the second tree that we’ve planted since we moved in, the first was a Scrumptious apple tree to replace my beloved Scrumptious the First who we had to leave behind when we moved house. I’ve also got plans for an orchard of patio fruit trees to green up a paved area and our neighbours fence. It’s budget dependent as to how I’ll progress with that, but we have a Victoria plum on extremely dwarfing rootstock to form the first part of that because our eldest was so taken with our neighbour’s windfall plums that they were kind enough to let her keep in the summer.

We live in a country that’s quite prone to flooding so I’m hoping that by planting some more trees it will help contribute to reducing the flood risk. I’m also conscious that the Committee on Climate Change has said that tree planting in the UK must double by 2020 to help lock up carbon and reduce flood risks so our tree planting in our medium-sized garden is to help this. Even if they are less than a drop in an ocean of necessary change, they’ll make the garden look nicer, will provide food and shelter for wildlife and hopefully some fruit for us in time.

Homemade Reusable Beeswax Food Wraps

Social media can be so depressing sometimes but I’ve been really heartened to see a whole community of people who are committed to doing what they can to help tackle climate change in any small way online recently. Whether they are taking on zero waste challenges, joining in with Veganuary or campaigning pointless plastic, it’s so good to see that others are tired of feeling powerless and are taking action to help tackle climate change.

I had a bit of a list-making frenzy at the end of last year to see whether there were any disposable products that we could cut out of our lives and I realised that I could bring my kitchen closer to being zero waste by cutting out the greaseproof paper we were using to wrap leftovers and the foil that we were using to cover containers of food in the fridge.

I’ve wanted to try reusable food wrap for a long time but I couldn’t justify the price, so I was delighted when I saw a video tutorial on Pinterest for making your own at home. It had the added benefit that I could use up some of my scrap fabric stash that I have leftover from making various projects and which was sitting loved but unused in our attic.

I found a simple but brilliant tutorial on the excellent Trashbackwards, ordered some food grade beeswax and had a relaxing half an hour (seriously, these are so quick to make) creating my own beeswax food wraps.

I’ve been using them for three weeks now and I’m completely delighted with the results. They are perfect for covering bowls and mugs of leftovers in the fridge (avoiding both food waste and wasted foil that would need to be recycled), and are ideal for wrapping snacks and sandwiches for the children when I take them out for the day (reducing the likelihood of us buying over packaged food on the go).

I honestly love them, they make me happy every time I use them. My partner was more sceptical about them (because they didn’t come in a box from a shop… this is my struggle) but he’s been converted by the referential tones with which our three year old talks about “the beeeeaaautiful bees wraps”.

Shampoo and Conditioner Bars for a plastic free bathroom

Honey I Washed My Hair Shampoo Bar and Sugar Daddy-O conditioner bar

As part of my plans to be more sustainable in 2019, I’ve been looking at ways to eliminate unnecessary plastic from the house. My partner seems to think that this is a tad unnecessary, “It’s all recyclable, and you recycle everything.” He says with a frown.

Well, yes and no. In theory it is all recyclable, but actually many low-grade plastics are refused by recycling plants now that the can’t be exported abroad for recycling, and are just incinerated. So cutting down as much as possible is obviously the way forward.

I’d already started experimenting with beeswax wraps to use in the kitchen, and as I’d run out of shampoo it made sense to start looking at plastic free alternatives. I did some reading and decided to try solid shampoo from Lush. I did some reading about Lush’s ethical status and their decision to continue using SLS and other chemicals in their products, and decided while it’s a mixed bag, it was the best viable alternative to plastic packaged shampoo that I could find at this moment in time.

I bought Honey I Washed My Hair shampoo bar and Sugar Daddy-O conditioner bar. I’ve been using these for a fortnight now and I feel like I’m in a good position to share my thoughts on them.

 

Do they reduce waste?

From a zero waste or at least plastic reduction point of view they are good. The packaging that they arrived in is entirely compostable, with the starch pellets having vanished into my heap already and the cardboard slowly breaking down. The metal storage tins can be used over and over again and look more streamlined in the bathroom than the shampoo and conditioner bottles that would normally be in the same place. They take up a lot less space for a more minimalist look and according to Lush, one lorry load of their shampoo bars is the equivalent of 15 lorries of old style shampoo.

What are they like to use?

I was really impressed with the Honey I Washed My Hair shampoo bar. It works like a normal bar of soap (remember those?) in that you rub it on your wet hands to lather up, then rub this into your hair to wash it. A little goes a long way and I’ve learned that if I use too much my hair gets “squeaky clean” very fast. I don’t like the sensation of my hair squeaking and it feels like it’s been stripped of all it’s oils and protection so I’ve learned to hold back with the shampoo bar but even from the first wash it’s worked quite well though the sweet smell is a bit powerful if you use too much.

The conditioner is a bit more of an issue. I’ve always liked to use quite a bit of conditioner on the ends of my hair. It’s partly because my hair is fine and wavy and liable to tangle, and partly because my hair is pulled around a lot by babies and toddlers. After a few uses, I’d say that the fragrance isn’t great, but this is probably a good thing given how powerful the smell of Honey I Washed My Hair is. I found the Sugar Daddy-O conditioner bar a bit fiddly to apply, with lots of repeated rubbing through all of my hair to ensure an even coverage. Having said that, I haven’t noticed my hair feeling any drier than usual and that’s with weekly trips to a chlorinated pool.

 

Do I love them?

I like that they are plastic free and I like that they take up so little room in my bathroom. Solid shampoo would obviously be ideal for travelling. What I don’t like is that they contain SLS, my old shampoo and conditioner were SLS and paraben free for all that they came in plastic packaging. My skin on my face and body has felt dry since starting with the dry shampoo, as if I’d washed with soap, and given that I’m quite prone to eczema and dermatitis that’s obviously not ideal and I’m having to layer up with moisturizer to compensate.

Having said that, my hair does seem to have more volume than usual and my boyfriend did tell me that it was looking very shiny the other day, so if dry skin isn’t a concern for you, I’d definitely recommend trying these out.

In the meantime, I’ll be keen to experiment with less drying shampoo bars when I’ve finished this. Can anyone recommend one that would work on blonde hair? I’m also in the market for a sustainable deodorant.

Experimenting with Visible Mending

I managed to get an early start on my resolution to be more sustainable in 2019 by experimenting with visible mending on some jeans I’d torn. I yanked them up by the belt strap while hurrying to get dressed and out with the baby and riiiiiiiiip.

I’ve been getting increasingly interested in visible mending and sashiko after seeing some Instagram posts on the subject. The mends were so creative and fun that I wanted to try myself. And what isn’t to like about the idea of being sustainable while making your old clothes stronger and warmer?

I’m not an expert craftswoman but I’ve always been confident enough playing around with a needle and thread thanks to my grandmother and a formidably skilled great-aunt, so while the little ones were both having a nap one day I grabbed a scrap of fabric and some embroidery thread from what my eldest calls my mending box and fired up this video on YouTube to check the basic technique.

Mine was only a small tear so it only took minutes to fix, but as you can see from the photo at the start of this post, it was on tight-fitting stretch jeans so was liable to get worse quickly. In the end, the mend isn’t very visible but the jeans do feel stronger at that point as a result and I’m excited to experiment with more visible mending going forward.

The five minutes quiet that this gave me to be alone with my thoughts was quite therapeutic as well. This isn’t my first experiment with visible mending. When I was a teenager of about thirteen or fourteen, my favourite pair of jeans ripped at the front (baggy skater jeans if you remember the style? You couldn’t walk without stepping on them) and I patched them with some blue forget-me-not fabric and embroidered around the sides. This is when patching was going through a cool patch, if you’ll forgive the pun. Anyway, most of my friends were very complimentary about them but then one day a boy I liked, another guy and a girl and I were hanging out and they told me how awful they thought my jeans looked. And I never wore them again… Well, I ended up going out with the boy for a few years before realising he was an idiot, the other boy now has an incredibly dull sounding job in the civil service and the last I saw of the girl she was doing an emotive face pose in a Daily Mail article, so maybe it was never my jeans that needed to go but my choice of company that day.

I’m older and wiser now and will wear my patched jeans with pride.

Sustainable Living in 2019

Happy New Year! Normally a New Year feels like a reason to celebrate, but I found myself feeling unsettled on New Year’s Eve this year, a bit unready to face the unknown that is 2019.

Personally, 2018 has been a good year, as we welcomed our new baby and moved into our new home but it’s impossible to ignore the seemingly global political turbulence and news of impending climate disaster. It’s hard to hope that all of this can be solved in 2019, and I feel so powerless in the face of it all.

I read something about setting single word goals recently, and while hope would seem to be a necessary one, it still feels a little passive. So for 2019 my target is sustainability, focusing on making changes to improve our family’s impact on the planet. This is a pretty broad brush and I’ll be actively seeking out opportunities to reduce our impact on the world but at present I see it falling into three main areas:

Food

According to Friends of the Earth, a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the USA and China. We don’t waste much food in my house but I feel that we could always do better. At present, all uncooked vegetable waste is composted ready to go back into the garden, but I want to look into setting up a wormery to allow me to recycle cooked vegetables and baby food scraps. At the moment anything that can’t be composted is put into our council food bin and I understand that this is used to generate electricity. Last year, I managed to implement meat free Mondays in our house (though I vary the day to keep my partner on his toes… he’s very much focused on meat as the heart of every meal) and I want to extend this. It’s not as good as vegetarianism or veganism, I know, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Clothes

The fashion industry is a major polluter, and while the old stat about the fashion industry being the second biggest polluter after big oil has been challenged, the whole industry from crop growth to disposal of garments is a myriad of environmental and ethical problems. This year, I’ll be focusing on reducing our impact in terms of buying clothing by making use of my older daughter’s old clothes for the baby, making sure my clothes last as long as possible and buying ethical and second-hand clothes rather than fast fashion. This hopefully won’t be too much of a hardship as I’m not particularly image conscious and have always gotten a huge buzz from an eBay bargain, but it does mean that I’ll have to plan ahead to consider what I’m willing to buy second hand vs new for my oldest, and will also have to anticipate her seasonal needs in order to source quality second hand items. I’m already experimenting with visible mending thanks to an incident with my jeans earlier this week!

Zero Waste

I’m looking at ways to cut out waste, particularly plastic waste, from our house. Again, I don’t think that we are especially wasteful as a family but at the same time there are substitutions that I know we could make to improve our environmental impact. So far I’ve made reusable beeswax fabric to replace foil and baking paper for covering food (I’ve never trusted clingfilm), buying solid shampoo and conditioner to remove the plastic waste from the bathroom, experimenting with a mooncup after a failed attempt while I was at university (rushed, I don’t think I gave it a fair chance), and replacing our plastic toothbrushes with sustainable bamboo ones.

Greening

This is something I’m very passionate about, and it’s taking what I’ve been doing with my wildlife gardening to the next level. A lot of sustainability seems to be negative in terms of being about what you’re not going to do anymore, so I wanted to take an active approach to greening our environment by planting my wildlife garden (the committee on climate change says that tree planting needs to double by 2020, and I want to be doing my part in a small way), growing our own vegetables and filling our home with plants to help tackle indoor pollutants.

It’s all a bit amorphous at the moment, but I’m hoping to feel more and more inspired as I go, and also that the changes will feel more like natural progressions than big shifts. I’m hoping that writing about this here will help me find like-minded people and will keep me accountable as well, so please let me know if you have any helpful tips you think I should keep in mind while seeking a more sustainable life.

 

 

Pruning and crafting our way into Christmas

I’m sneaking five minutes of peace and quiet while the baby sleeps and my oldest is being read a bedtime story by her father who is just back from work. Monday is my long day with both of them (I work part-time when not on maternity leave so Monday is my traditional quality day with the little people) but it’s normally very relaxed and low key. The closer we get to Christmas, the wilder it seems to be with nap refusals, manic giggles and tears a bit too close to the surface.

The baby wakes, I go for bedtime cuddles… an hour later I’m able to carry on what I was doing. I love our days together but everything does seem a bit fragmented at times, and my to do list is only ever half complete,

I’ve been trying to bring a bit of calm to the Christmas frenzy by making lots of our own decorations this year. Our new garden is a mass of ivy which I left to flower for late season pollen and much of this now is covered in the luscious looking purple berries which will be a nutritious treat for the birds in the lean months. I’d like to plant more holly as we only had enough for a few sprigs to sit on top of photo frames, but we had an abundance of fir and conifers to provide the materials for a festive garland for the stairs. I went a little over the top foraging this in the back garden with the eldest on the weekend, so I’ll need to make some kind of table centre piece to use it all at some point.

 

As well as our stair case garland from the garden, I made a scented garland while my oldest was painting. She was quite critical of how long it took and pointed out that she’d produced quite a prolific body of work while I was stringing dried orange slices onto garden twine (she insisted that the limes were dried kiwi fruit). I really enjoyed making this and might try drying my own oranges next year, they are slightly sticky but smell so Christmassy with the cinnamon sticks. It’s not the most polished creation ever, but fills a gap above the fireplace where I want to get just the right mirror but have yet to find one that’s on budget.

I’m planning to make some pomanders to decorate the Christmas dinner table on Christmas Eve Eve.

 

What I’m doing for wildlife in November

Is anyone else feeling a little bit lost now that Gardener’s World has finished for the year? I mean, I never had time to do the jobs for the weekend that Monty Don suggested but I did appreciate the slightly Mary Poppins-ish direction.

This has led me to develop my own list of key jobs for the wildlife garden in November, and while it might not look like much, I’m finding it difficult to get it all done with my two little helpers!

My November Wildlife Garden Jobs

Planting spring bulbs

Because we’re in a new garden which has some great trees but otherwise not much growing I spent big (well, relative to my budget) on Spring bulbs. I normally like to save money in my garden, but I see the spring bulbs as an investment because they will come back year after year and with a bit of luck the ones I’m naturalizing in our lawn will spread themselves all across it in a few years giving any early bees and insects some vital fuel on the go. I’ve nearly finished planting and the weather hasn’t gotten truly frosty yet so I’m counting that as a win.

Planting for winter flowers

I get quite bad seasonal affective disorder, so I like to get out in the garden as much as possible even on very cold days. I’ve thought ahead and got the groundsman to dig two holes to plant a winter honeysuckle and winter flowering viburnum to allow some more early season nectar followed by some useful berries for the birds. I’m hoping the flowers and fragrance will be a big mood boost when I need it.

Feeding the birds

I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t like feeding the garden birds, but it’s obviously so important for the survival of UK birds when food starts to become scarce. I’ve already got some basic fat ball feeders hanging up, one at the front, one at the back, but I want to make sure that I have some high energy bird food made for colder days and stations offering food for the insect feeders when their prey is in short supply.

Making wildlife habitats

I’ve been doing some pruning as and when I can and the Happy Dandelion and I have been using the woody off cuts to create some wildlife habitat areas under hedges in the vain hope that they will be useful for a passing hedgehog. Vain because of the lack of hedgehogs available to take up residence not because the piles are no good. I’m planning to make an even bigger pile behind the compost heap with some of the bigger branches. We had stag beetles in our old garden, so I’d love it if we could create an environment for them to thrive here as well.

Creating hedgehog holes

I’ve gone out with my measuring tape to check whether the holes under our back garden fences are big enough (they need to be 13x13cm) to allow any hedgehogs that did happen to be passing to access my garden. There’s a lovely gap between the one neighbour’s hedge, but not in the other fence so I’m going to ask whether they would mind me cutting a small access hole in the wire when I see them. In the meantime, I’ve persuaded the groundsman to cut some holes in our back fence and front gate to allow easy access to the back garden so I need to hold him to that.

Am I missing anything that you do for wildlife in your garden in November? I’m keen for new ideas!