All dried out

Yesterday I experimented with dehydrating as a way of preserving some of the great courgette mountain. I borrowed an electric dehydrator off my friend Linda so that I could test out the resulting produce and see whether it’s worth our while building a solar dehydrator of our own (i.e. one that does not use electricity).

I chose a sunny day to do the test because (a) the air was dry and (b) we were generating enough electricity from our solar panels to run the thing. I started by wiping and drying the courgettes, then sliced them by hand into thin pieces. I spread the slices carefully on the drying racks and switched the contraption on at about 10:20 in the morning. The temperature was set to 125°F/52°C, so it’s a fairly gentle process. Being new to all this, I checked how things were going every hour or so. It’s a slow business, but by about 8:00 in the evening they seemed to be ready. I allowed them to cool in the dehydrator and finally transferred them to clean Kilner jars. They taste very intensely courgetty to me and quite nice, but Mr Snail isn’t keen – he says that they taste like cucumber (which he doesn’t like).

The finished product

The finished product

I’m going to try re-hydrating some of them soon to determine whether the reconstituted product is good to use. If it is, I’ll do some more, otherwise it’s been an interesting experiment. I notice that sweet peppers are also supposed to be good for drying, and I might have a go at these if we get a big enough crop.

Have you had any successes with drying your own vegetables?

Every time you go away

Such abundance in a garden behind a semi-detached ex-council house

Such abundance in a garden behind a semi-detached ex-council house

On Saturday I took the participants on my course to visit Wade Muggleton’s wonderful garden at Station Road. I’ve blogged about it before and don’t wish to repeat myself, but do check out my earlier post if you haven’t already read it.

Wade very kindly offered everyone plants to take home, saying that whenever you visit a garden, you should always take some of it home with you (he was quoting someone, but I can’t remember who). We departed with a variety of goodies: an apple tree, horse radish, rubber plants and (my favourite) alpine strawberries. So, if you have a garden, next time someone visits, why not send them off with a cutting or a plant… or even some courgettes!

A house of straw

Over the weekend I was back at the amazing Karuna project in Shropshire. I was there to teach an introduction to permaculture course, but there was also a straw bale building workshop going on at the same time, so I had the opportunity to marvel at the construction of a load-bearing straw bale roundhouse. The straw bale course was being run by Bee Rowan of Strawbuild, and during the week participants learned all the techniques by taking part in the build.

I have never encountered a more calm and peaceful building site. So much so, that I think my teaching nearby disturbed them more than their building disturbed us! When I arrived on Friday, the build was in full swing (the course started on the Monday of the same week) and many of the skills had already been taught, so progress was very clear  over the weekend. By the time I left on Sunday evening all the bales were in place and they were getting ready to compress the walls. By now they are working on the roof.

Straw bales have an amazing capacity for insulation and are fire resistant. Once rendered it will be hard to believe that the construction is made of straw and, certainly, no big bad wolf is going to be able to huff and puff and blow it down!

It was also good to see that, after the long planning battle, the local newspaper, The Shropshire Star, featured the project on their front page on Monday and only wrote good things about it.

Next time I visit, I’m looking forward to being invited in for a cup of tea!

 

Blog hop

Many thanks (I think) to Kate Chiconi for nominating me to take part in this blog hop… aimed at introducing you to new blogs written by lovely creative people. Kate’s blog Tall Tales from Chiconia allows me to drool over wonderful (mainly quilted) creations that I would never make myself (having a love-hate relationship with my sewing machine).

Whilst I’m at it, I should also acknowledge that two other people asked me to participate in this blog hop – Jenny of Simply Hooked asked me a few weeks ago and her request somehow disappeared in a flurry of other things so that, by the time I realised I needed to reply, it was too late (sorry Jenny); and Wendy at Quarter Acre Lifestyle, who was pipped to the post because she asked me about two days after Kate! Anyway, go visit their sites too!!

The way this works is that there are a few questions to answer and then I point you in the direction of another couple of lovely creative blogs to check out, so here goes…

What am I working on?

It’s probably easiest to show you…

There’s lots of food and garden creativity too, which is on-going…

Currently, I am getting VERY creative with these:

The weight is in kilos not pounds

The weight is in kilos not pounds

And, at Denmark Farm, a whole group of us are getting creative to raise funds to support the work of the charity and keep the nature reserve open:

How does my work differ from that of others?

Well, apparently there are only a limited number of crafters who make mushrooms, bacteria, molluscs and the like! In addition, I do like to support local businesses (yarn shops and producers) and I try to buy British wool as much as possible. I also like to be as green as I can, so reusing, recycling and selecting ‘green’ yarn is important to me. I have spent quite a bit of time looking into the ethics of knitting yarns and continue to look for good options, although I know that I don’t always succeed.

In my life in general I try to be thoughtful about the resources I use and that’s reflected in my gardening – I like food metres rather than food miles whenever possible and I try to use the things I have creatively – hence a gate from a pallet, growing plants up an old rotary drier, planting seeds in old toilet roll middles etc. I’m certainly not alone in this sort of approach, but I do talk and write about it more than most people!

Why do I create what I do?

Because I’d go bonkers if I didn’t… I know some of you think I’m bonkers already, so just imagine how much worse I would be if I didn’t make all this stuff! Lots of folks I know tell me of the value of mediation (and medication), but frankly creating things is what works for me if I want relaxation or thinking time. What I think of as classic relaxation always feels like this to me:

Now, isn’t a spot of crochet much better than that?

Oh, and hand-knitted socks last so much longer and are so much more fun than bought ones!

And, I want to save the planet!

How does my creative process work?

I start doing about a million different things and then just pick up what I feel like when the mood takes me. This is why I’m not very keen on undertaking commissions… I just never want to do something that I have to do! It all works out in the end for me.

In the garden I do what needs doing plus whatever I feel like… as I said, I don’t like to feel obliged to do anything.

And now for my recommendations… two very different blogs, but both inspiring and both written by good friends of mine.

First is Katy the Night Owl’s blog about her crochet creations. Katy and I met through blogging and then discovered that we live about 500m away from each other. However, because Katy is mostly house-bound we would never have met without the technology. She’s currently helping me to make a dent in the great courgette mountain!

Second is Karen’s beautiful and poignant blog Sweet Baby Veg… full of amazing recipes and lovely pictures of Karen’s garden… I can only dream of a garden oasis as beautiful as the one she has created.

Katy and Karen will be posting their blog hop contributions next Monday, 4 August.

Listening

And the second piece of advice from Lizzie’s gran:

Listen properly before you speak, you don’t have to apologize as much then

I think this might be one our politicians would do well to heed!

Listening as we craft

Listening as we craft

 

Baskets of eggs

My friend Lizze has a very wise gran – Sylvia. In my absence I thought I would share some of her advice with you

Sometimes life makes you put all your eggs in one basket, but it doesn’t tell you what kind of basket you have to have. Get a rubber one with springs on the bottom.

Some of the outputs

Some of my eggs in a basket!

Plastic tea update

Some further research has revealed (thank you Linda) that one sort of teabags in Britain may be plastic-free. According to Gardening Which? Jacksons of Piccadilly make tea bags that are free of polypropylene.

So, I’m just off to write them an e-mail…

Plastic tea

There are a number of folks currently taking part in ‘Plastic Free July’  – a challenge to reject single use plastics for a month. You can read about how people are getting on on various blogs, but the one I am particularly following is Westywrites. And it was through her blog that I discovered my teabags have plastic in them – and yours almost certainly do too!

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

I know that some of you (Kate Chiconi) are tea purists and only use leaves, but I like the convenience of a tea bag and I find them easier to deal with when it comes to collecting them for composting. I thought I was safe buying Clipper Organic Teabags made of unbleached paper. Sadly I was wrong… visiting their website I discovered that the two halves of the bag are stuck together with plastic. At least they are open about it and I didn’t have to ask, as seems to be the case with most companies. Anyway, Westy has been encouraging her readers to write to companies and highlight their concerns about single use plastics, so yesterday I e-mailed Clipper:

Dear Clipper
On your ‘our story’ web page you publish the following statement:
“Always a pure, natural product – there isn’t a single artificial ingredient in any of our products.”
However, in your FAQs, I discover that
‘Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic’.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! As someone who is trying to live more sustainably, I want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from my life as possible. I love your organic tea bags, but feel that I’m going to have to revert to loose tea because of the presence of this plastic. Yes, I know it’s a small amount, but it’s still there and it all adds up.
Please, please could you consider ways of making tea bags without the plastic? I know it would make you very popular with customers like me who care deeply about the environment and the products we buy.
Many thanks
Dr Jan Martin

And I quickly received a reply:

Dear Dr. Martin,
Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper – it is lovely to hear from you!
With regards to your concerns about their being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.
In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.
Best regards

Hayley Butler
Consumer Care

http://www.clipper-teas.com
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clipper-Teas/172392210758

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Well, it’s disappointing, but at least they responded. However, perhaps if lots of people wrote to them (and other companies that make teabags) they might start to take notice. So, I’d like to ask you to write a single e-mail, letter or tweet to the company who make your teabags and ask them whether they use plastic in them and, if they do, to stop it!

If you want to join me, the e-mail for Clipper is: help@clipper-teas.com

All quiet on the western front

Don’t worry, I haven’t disappeared completely, it’s just a really busy time of the year.

We have been away for a couple of days celebrating my mum’s 80th birthday. She was taken ill on her birthday last year and since then has been diagnosed with two very serious illnesses and lost my dad. Now that she’s recovering somewhat, it seemed like a good time to celebrate and so we did. Let’s hope the coming year is less sad and stressful than the last one.

In the mean time, I’m still busily making things: all the hexagons are edged and ready to be passed on to others in my craft group for sewing together into a blanket; I’ve even worked out how to use all of them up (there are 46) in a blanket that’s a sensible shape:

It is possible to use all 46 hexagons in a symmetrical blanket

It is possible to use all 46 hexagons in a symmetrical blanket

And I’m back at work on edging the masterpiece. I’ve now done five complete rounds and I plan to do one more in blueberry, one in black and then the final wavy edge… unless I change my mind!!

Still going round and round

Still going round and round

At the end of the week I’m going back to Karuna to teach my annual introduction to permaculture course, so I will have to find something small to make whilst I’m away… socks? string bag? granny squares? a dish cloth? Who knows?

If you don’t hear much from me over the next few days, don’t worry, I will be back for sure on Monday 28 July… I know this because I’m already working on the post!

Oh, poo!

Over the past few days, a link to an article on the Guardian website has been doing the rounds on Facebook (at least in the circles I mix in, which are mainly related to sustainability). It’s entitled Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design and explains why we might not want to keep our toothbrush next to our toilet and why it’s such an environmental issue to mix the water we wash our hands in with the waste we flush down the toilet.

Basically, the issue with water disposal is that grey water (from washing) can safely be used to irrigate the land, whilst black water (from the toilet) needs to be processed to make it safe. By mixing the two together, we end up with a lot more highly contaminated water that has to be processed in some way. According to the Guardian:

Over 10bn litres of sewage are produced every day in England and Wales. It takes approximately 6.34 GW hours of energy to treat this volume of sewage, almost 1% of the average daily electricity consumption of England and Wales.

I don’t know what the figures would be if we separated the two sorts of water, but I know they would be significantly lower. The real issue in my mind, however, is that we see everything that goes down the drain as a problem – all waste water is pollution in the current paradigm. What we need to do is realise that, in fact, all waste water is a resource… faeces and urine contain valuable nutrients, and water itself is an increasingly rare commodity globally.

And if we are thinking about fertility, The nitrogen fertiliser industry is big business, closely tied in with fossil fuels… according to the International Plant Nutrition Index:

All N fertilizer begins with a source of hydrogen gas and atmospheric N that are reacted to form ammonia. The most-used source of hydrogen is natural gas (methane). Other sources of hydrogen, such as coal, are used in some regions. After hydrogen and N are combined under conditions of high temperature and pressure to form ammonia, many other important N-containing fertilizers can then be made. Urea is the most common N fertilizer, but there are many excellent N fertilizers that can be made from ammonia. For example, some ammonia is oxidized to make nitrate fertilizer. This same conversion of ammonia to nitrate takes place in agricultural soils through the microbial process of nitrification.

Because the production of hydrogen gas required for the synthesis of ammonia largely comes from natural gas, the price of this primary feedstock is the major factor in the cost of ammonia production. Ammonia factories sometimes close or open in various parts of the world in response to fluctuating gas prices. Higher energy costs always translate into higher prices for all N fertilizers. (IPNI)

The classic image of a compost toilet

The classic image of a compost toilet

So, we flush great fertiliser away down the toilet (remember a key function of urine is to expel excess nitrogen from our bodies), pay for that to be treated to make it safe and then pay even more to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere to apply to the land to grow crops. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem sensible. Why not turn the waste into a useful resource and avoid a whole bunch of pollution?

I know that most people are squeamish about composting toilets and they are currently not readily available for use in ‘normal’ houses, but technology is changing. Soon, you won’t have to deal with the waste yourself if you want to avoid the standard flush toilet, and you wont have to have a compost loo in the garden either. Take a look at Toilet Revolution if you want to see a whole range of options suitable for real homes.

 

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