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Five Little Things to reduce our environmental impact

I’ve recently returned back to work after a year’s maternity leave with my second child and it feels as though there’s been a big cultural shift. Everyone seems so much more aware than they did about reducing waste and their carbon footprints.

green waste recycling bin and brown garden waste bin
Our recycling bin and garden waste bins are currently the kids favourite toys for a game of peekaboo/tag

Not only are they are aware, but they are acting on it. Lots of my colleagues have gone full vegan, or vegetarian, and those who haven’t seem to be experimenting with flexitarianism to reduce their meat consumption. Conversations start up over tea in the kitchen about plant-based recipes people need to try, or ideas people have had for making an easy change that has made a positive environmental change without impacting on their lifestyle in any major way.

We’re still so far from being zero waste in my house, but sharing ideas and reading people’s blogs has helped me make small changes that feel though they’ve made a big difference in our household. Here are some of the things that I’ve done this year that have made me feel a bit better about how hard we’re treading on the earth.

Switching to a menstrual cup

This is one of those changes that feels like an all-around win without any compromises. I’ve found the Mooncup way more comfortable than using tampons or towels. The average woman will use 11,000 disposable sanitary items in her life time, and with a pack of sanitary towels containing the equivalent of 4 plastic bags, and the cotton etc used to produce tampons. Say you only bought one pack of tampax for your period (unlikely) across the course of a year that’s going to cost you £29.40 vs £21.99 for a Mooncup, but the cup can last for years. Wallet and planet friendly.

Buying second hand

Before #SecondHandSeptember made me so on trend, I decided at the start of the year to buy second hand clothes for myself and the girls as much as possible. I’ve got some things that I won’t buy second hand (underwear, shoes, swimwear) but on the whole, I’ve been buying all of the girls’ “new” clothes, and all of my clothes where I’ve needed them, second hand from eBay. According to Oxfam, 11 million clothing items end up in landfill every week, so it’s good to be able to give the children’s clothes that get grown out of so quickly a new lease of life. What my oldest grows out of is kept for her sister, and what she grows out of goes to her younger cousin.

Recycled Toilet Roll

Speaking of second hand, I read in July that toilet paper companies are increasingly using pulp from virgin wood in their toilet rolls and that the reduction in recyclable material is making toilet rolls less sustainable. I’d seen lots of adverts for Who Gives A Crap, a company that makes their rolls from 100% recycled materials and sustainably sourced bamboo, and donates 50% of their profits to improving sanitation in the developing world. Oh and they are plastic free. The Ethical Consumer also has recommendations for other sustainable brands.

Old School Milk

I was talking to a friend about reducing plastic waste in my kitchen, and she told me that she’d signed up for an old school milk man who delivered milk in glass bottles and took them away again to be reused and recycled. My partner pulled a long suffering face when I told him that I was signing us up for a milk delivery, and he wasn’t keen on the idea, but the children act like it’s Christmas morning when the milkman has been so he does like that. He can’t deny either that our recycling bin has been far more manageable now that it’s not full of plastic cartons or tetra packs. As a bonus, I like to add in the odd treat item every Friday, our milkman does baked goods, juices, even eco-friendly cleaning products. It is more expensive than supermarket milk, but it makes me feel better about how we’re feeding our family and affecting the environment. Making environmentally friendly choices definitely has an element of financial privilege so I do feel like it’s our responsibility as a family to make the best choices we can afford to and be mindful that some people won’t have that choice. If you want to find a milkman in your area, you can do so here

Growing our own cucumbers

I’ve been getting the garden in our new house set up to grow bits and pieces. Mostly because it’s a nice thing to do with the girls and I enjoy watching a relatively small seed turn into a giant plant with flowers which turn into pumpkins or squashes and take over the garden…. It’s real life magic. Anyway, this year I’ve grown cucumbers for the first time. I grew the variety cucino which is mini cucumbers and gave a few away to friends. The three plants I kept have thrived in a sunny spot outside and kept us in cucumbers all summer. I haven’t had to buy any, so no plastic wrapping, and they are quite small so none went to waste as they were picked as we needed them for salads, sandwiches and drinks. Money saving, reducing plastic, reducing food miles and reducing food waste at the same time. Oh and I companion planted them with marigolds and nasturtiums for aesthetics and we had sooooo many caterpillars, ladybirds and pollinators on the pot: great for biodiversity too.

What are your tips for living a more planet friendly lifestyle? I’m particularly interested in family friendly vegetarian recipes.

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.

 

Spring, nipped in the bud

Well, it was beginning to look a lot like spring.

The crocus, narcissi and hyacinth bulbs that we planted in the autumn were coming up nicely alongside primulas that we’d transplanted into tubs alongside the lavender cuttings that I took last year. The Under Gardener was enjoying wheeling her toys around in the wheelbarrow that she got for Christmas and telling them how the flowers were full of nectar for the hungry bumblebees….

Then along came “The Beast from the East”.

Now the flowers are wilting into the snow in their tubs, I’m guessing their roots have frozen to prevent them taking up water. I’m hoping that the buds on other plants aren’t getting too frost nipped. Even the birds seem to be keeping away from the feeders, hopefully sheltering somewhere warm while the snow piles up in drifts.

I was really looking forward to life coming back into the garden. Now it feels a bit like Narnia, always winter but never Christmas.

 

Planting up a log pile for wildlife

Recently, I’ve felt like I haven’t had much opportunity to spend much time doing anything in the garden because we’ve just been so busy doing other things. I hate the cult of business and am much more in favour of an Ode to Indolence outlook, but we have been very busy and when we haven’t been busy we’ve been faced with the issue of the wall.

You don’t have to be an expert in construction to see the issue with the wall, even from that angle. My neighbour’s lilac tree had damaged it over the course of decades to the point where it had so slowly almost as not to be noticed become unsafe for the under gardener to play around it. So it had to come down and the lilac tree had to have (with the consent of my neighbour) a pretty brutal pruning, branches, trunk and root to make sure that the wall could be rebuilt without the problem recurring for another 100 years. All of which meant that my garden has been covered in rubble and a twelve-foot section of lilac tree.

I decided to put the trunk to good use, but when I moved the tree to one side, it turned out the local garden snails had decided that under the canopy was a hip new hangout and were unsurprisingly very slow to act on their eviction notice…

 

I spent a few hours chopping the section of the lilac tree up into pea sticks, bean poles, twigs, sticks and log sections to use in the garden and began layering them to make a log pile. I used a long trunk section of trunk as a base and some thinner branches with some leaves on first to weave together a sort of hollow that I hope will be a good hiding place for frogs and snails, which I then layered some thick branches over to create a strong base.

Then I added in some tree trunks that the previous owners of our house had left behind from felling a tree, some gnarly roots from the lilac and a hollow log to create lots of nooks and crannies that mini-beasts will be able to hide in. This is stacked behind a hazel tree, some bushing roses and a carpet of mint, so I’m hopeful that there will be some seasonal nectar for wildlife. There’s a bird bath sunken into the ground in front of the hazel so there’s water for frogs etc. I’m also considering planting the log pile to create pockets of shade and moisture.

The structure is in place

Does anyone have any suggestions for wildlife friendly plants that would make it more aesthetically pleasing? I thought maybe some kind of trailing flowering plant, but I’m not sure what would suit full sun and a dry aspect. Can anyone offer any suggestions?

Breaking Bud

I was feeling a bit drained today, and even though the sunshine was glorious, when the under gardener first went down for her nap, all I had the energy to do was make a cup of tea and lie on the sofa catching up on Friday’s episode of Gardener’s World.

When it had finished, I dragged myself out into the sunshine with my camera (not my mobile phone for once!) to record some of the signs of spring that I could see. Tulips coming into flower, buds ready to break on the clematis montana and the flowers of my rosemary heavy with bees. Inevitably, my mood lifted.

So this is me, also being grateful for sunlight on the garden.

Lost Lavender

Last weekend, disaster struck my poor lavender plant. Or at least, last weekend saw the culmination of the problems that had crept upon my elderly lavender after two years of neglect. I hadn’t pruned the already woody and sprawling lavender since I was pregnant, then when I finally got around to it, I did a bit of a rush job and accidentally cut into dead wood. Last weekend I cut out the dead wood and was left with two long straggly branches with lavender growing at the end around a dead wood crown.

What had once been a beautiful lavender plant covering around a square metre, a buzz with bees and aflutter with butterflies, was a sparse, ivy-tangled monstrosity making a similar area of my garden look awful.

 

I was genuinely really upset. For the past six years, that lavender plant has been my favourite part of the garden. I’ve loved watching it come to life and seeing the wildlife enjoy it as much as I do, and though I have other nectar rich plants in the garden for pollinators, I knew it would leave a massive (both figurative and literal) hole in my garden. So I decided it needed to be replaced as soon as I could.

I used the healthy but straggly remains of the elderly plant and J.Arthur Bower’s Organic Rooting Powder to take a lot of cuttings in the hope that they will eventually form the basis of a similarly beautiful lavender hedge in our new garden when we move house. Really clear instructions on how to propagate lavender plants from cuttings can be found here.

While that little hedge gets going, I’ve bought the biggest lavender plant I could afford to replace my lost beauty. It just felt really important to me to replace as much nectar for the bees as I could (I’ll supplement with bedding plants on the bare soil) and hopefully whoever buys our house will love it as much as I loved the old plant so the bees and butterflies will have a lavender banquet for years to come.

A woodlouse by any other name…

Playing in the garden earlier, the under gardener found one of the biggest woodlice that I’ve seen in a long time. Being only 20 months old, she alerted me to her find by shouting, “Mammy, mammy, a spider! A spider!” Which caused her older cousin to sprint as fast as he could in the opposite direction.

I’ve always had a soft spot for woodlice with their little grey bodies, busy legs and inquisitive feelers, and I tried keeping one as a pet when I was four or five years old. I remember keeping it in one of my little sister’s wet wipe containers, and suspecting that my older sister had killed it because she was afraid of insects when in reality it was probably the chemicals they used in baby wipes in the 1990s.

I think my favourite thing about them though is that there are so many different names for woodlice – almost everyone seems to have grown up calling a woodlouse a different name depending on where they come from. In Gwent where I grew up, we called them granny granchers or granny greys, further down the valley, my friend from Neath called them piggywigs, and my Welsh-speaking friends have called them mochyn y coed (tree pigs) or pryf y lludw (ash worms), while my Irish friend grew up calling them slaters. I was a bit disappointed that my boyfriend just called them woodlice growing up!

Where did you grow up and what names did you call the humble woodlouse?