Author Archives: Siobhan

The Bumblebee Nest

bumblebee nesting in straw on compost heap

I was so pleased to see that they’d built a new nest, I stood holding my breath for ages watching this little one

In early February, my strawberry runners arrived weeks earlier than the website I bought them from had suggested they would. I popped them in toilet roll inners that I’d been saving for my sweet peas, and resolved to pot them up on the weekend. But I’d run out of compost from my open heap.

Ah well I thought, I needed to turn the dalek bin that I’d been filling up since July onto the open compost heap and while the three year old was playing in the garden and the baby was napping in her pushchair I proceeded to lift the black bin off the heap and with my garden gloved hands I moved chunks of semi-composted material to the open heap next door with my eyes on the prize of the good stuff at the bottom. I thought about getting the fork from the garage but didn’t want to risk waking the baby by opening the door.

There’s something fascinating about going through semi-composted materials. Especially when you get hints of what wildlife ha been visiting your compost heap. I was just thinking that I really need to set up a wormery for our egg shells because I could see a mouse had been gnawing at some of the empty egg boxes that I’d added to the heap when I thought I heard a buzzing sound. Then nothing. I checked where the three year old was playing and carried on moving the heap then “zzzzzzzzzzzzmmmmm” that buzzing sound, louder and more urgent than before. This time with irritated looking bumblebees. I’d inadvertently lifted a nest from my dalek bin onto the open heap. Fortunately for me, it was cold enough for them to be pretty dormant and not sting. Fortunately for them, I hadn’t tackled the heap from the base with a fork as planned.

Cue me coming inside and spending all my free time that day reading the bumblebee conservation trust website to learn all I could about what to do if you disturb a bumblebee nest. I duly snuck out after dusk to make sure that the nest was properly sheltered and that the bees have the best chance of survival.

I checked on them a week later, and they’ve fixed up their nest and are bumbling around questing for pollen. It means my open compost heap is out of action until the Autumn when the nests will die down naturally and the queens will move on, but I can use the daleks and have plans to make a wormery in the meantime. Either way, the inconvenience is worth it to have a thriving population of bumblebees.

 

Seeds are Hope

cosmos seedling emerging from seed caseThe sight of seedlings lifting their heads up from the soil always fills me with hope. No matter what else is going on, how busy or stressed I am, how many things I have to do, I always feel better for sitting down with some soil and seeds in the evening when the children have gone to bed and sowing some seeds.

Even though I know they take time, I check the pots constantly for any hint of the ever so slightly fuzzy white emerging from the darkness, the shot of green that promises baby leaves. And when they appear it always feels like the best sort of surprise. Flowers are beautiful, but there’s something about the elegance and hopefulness of the tiniest seedling that stirs my heart.

I’ve currently got two boxes full of seed sat in my utility room. Some I’ve bought, some I’ve been given, some I’ve collected. But when they start sprouting I find myself constantly on the lookout for more seeds so I can grow someone the perfect chilli for their cooking, the ideal calendula for their raised bed, the happiest sunflowers to pop in their border, I want to share the joy of those seeds.

So while the stormy winds are making it impossible to get outside, I sit in the conservatory, pretending that I too am soaking up the weak sunlight through the windows watching my seedlings emerge with a cup of tea.

 

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.