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!

The Afterlife of A Halloween Pumpkin

Do you know what’s even scarier than zombies? The idea of the amount of food waste generated by carving pumpkins every year. Pretty much every house in the UK and America with children will have a pumpkin, but the ones sold for carving are, let’s face it, revolting and unlikely to get eaten. According to The Woodland Trust, 18 million kilograms of pumpkin gets thrown away every year.

I normally just compost our pumpkins, but I read that pumpkins are actually a good food source for wildlife, and I’ve heard that birds, squirrels, mice, hedgehogs, foxes and badgers will all give them a go so we’ve trialled putting our leftover pumpkins outside for the best part of the week to see if they do with a view to composting them when they start to look unhealthy.

While I haven’t spotted anything visiting specifically to snack on the pumpkins, when I have inspected the lids and interior it looks as though there are little tooth marks and something has definitely been having a nibble on them. My best guess is a squirrel or mouse because we have a secret visitor who leaves hazel shells when they’ve eaten the nuts inside.

The real bonus of using the pumpkins this way for me is that it’s a helpful transition for The Happy Dandelion. She got really upset at the idea of composting her pumpkin (even the gunk from inside when the seeds were removed- it was soup apparently) so seeing it looking happy under the tree has allowed me to get it out of the house, and I can compost it when she’s not looking. Like the wicked witch I am.

Four Go Wild In Suburbia, an update

I started this blog with good intentions of keeping a diary of our journey making a wildlife garden, but it’s been over six months since I posted in 2018. That’s not to say that I haven’t been productive. So productive I haven’t had a chance to blog.

The Happy Dandelion and I spent a lovely, long Monday in the garden in April making bird nests from long grass and hunting for minibeasts before I realised that I hadn’t caught the stomach bug The Groundsman had suffered on the weekend, and that Happy Dandelion’s sister was on the way. Oops. She was very overdue, and I felt a bit silly that I didn’t realise that I was in labour given that I’d done the whole childbirth thing before, but she arrived big, safe and well.

During the long, hot summer, the pieces of the house move that we’ve been talking about for the longest time finally clicked into place and we moved into our new house which has a much bigger garden. I’ve learned a lot from working as many wildlife boosting habitats as I could into my tiny wildlife garden, and I was sorry to say goodbye to it, especially as it meant saying goodbye to my apple tree, raspberry patch and flowers.

The new garden is much bigger (so I guess I’ll have to change the name of this blog, it’s not a tiny wildlife garden anymore!) and I’m looking forward to making it a friendly place for my babies and for wildlife. I’ve already started a few little things to get started on the wildlife garden (little things are about as much as I can manage most days!) and I’m looking forward to sharing these with you.

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?