We grew cucamelons from seed this year. I’d been meaning to grow them since I read about them in James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution when it published and I thought they’d go down a treat with the kids.
I’ll be honest, I was pretty underwhelmed by the flavour. The vines were cute, the fruits were adorable looking but the taste and texture was that of a slightly sour cucumber, so I don’t think I’d bother growing them for taste.
Having said that I will be trying to grow them again next year because when I cleared out the pot I was growing them in to reuse the compost for some cuttings I found…. cucamelon tubers! I hadn’t even realised you could grow cucamelons from tubers, I thought they had to be grown from seed but from the size of these they must have been putting a lot of energy into developing their tubers.
So now of course, I’m going to have to grow them from tubers to see if they crop more heavily in their second year, assuming they survive the winter….
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.
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.
I found myself with an unusual problem in the garden the
other day…. I’d run out of snails.
In my old Victorian terrace garden with brick walls
separating neighbour from neighbour and preventing freedom of movement for frogs
and hedgehogs, this was never something I would have thought possible. I had
quite the opposite problem. But in our new garden with hedges allowing snail
predators to roam at will, and a very active thrush, numbers are low.
Which wouldn’t normally bother me too much, but my oldest daughter has taken a liking to them. She thinks of them as pets. We’ve had a few weeks together before she starts school while her baby sister is in preschool in which we go out in the garden together to work on some project or other, and it’s never long before she starts playing the same game, building a house for her “snailies”.
Is it possible for a snail to have Stockholm syndrome? I
think these must. They’re so used to being picked up and put in a flower pot to
be studied that the seem to be quite happy coming out of their shells and
sliming away along her hands. They’re probably desperately attempting a low
speed escape, but she’s very gentle with them, picking the nicest flowers she
can find to make them at home. Some days she won’t come inside all day, and has
her lunch as a picnic so she can sit and watch her snails in their Everton mint
swirls. There’s no such thing as a common garden snail to her, each one is
Which is why I find myself in a position where I feel like I
don’t have enough snails in my garden anymore. Overnight, the snails creep out
of the flower pot she tucks safely under a rose bush, saying goodnight and
sometimes reading them a bedtime story. The next day when we go to see them,
they’ve gone. Once or twice there have been suspiciously similar looking snail
shells (I don’t dare mark them with paint) broken open and eaten by the thrush’s
hammerstone in the garden, “It’s okay Mammy, that can’t be my snaily, his shell
was whole.” Was.
So I find myself hunting anywhere dark and damp, in the ivy,
behind pots and it’s becoming harder and harder to find them.
But I think the snail obsession is good for her. She’s
learnt how to handle them gently, the foods and situations they prefer in the
garden. She’s learnt that if she sits in bright sunlight they won’t come out of
their shells, but if she sits outside they will browse the food she provides
for them. She doesn’t seem to have learnt that they don’t share her fondness
for floral aesthetics, but she will compromise and offer them a range of leaves
as well as flowers.
So now I just need to learn where they prefer to breed, and make sure that I have enough likely sites in the garden to boost their populations enough to keep the thrush and the children happy.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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 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.