Beans, beans…

At the beginning of the pandemic, the panic-buying highlighted issues in our food supply chain. In response, there were so many posts online about self-sufficieny.

Whilst I’m sure most of these were well-intentioned, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that people who’ve never attempted gardening before could support themselves completely. That said, there are lots of awesome things you can do to supplement your food shopping with delicious home-grown vegetables, even if you just have a windowsill.

Before I start, I just want to say – I’m not a gardener. This is the first year we’ve tried harvesting more than some herbs, perennial fruit,  and what we can forage. We built the raised beds last November – prior to the pandemic – and have tried to fill them as best we can this season, using what we had on hand (as seeds and seedlings were hard to come by).

So, without further ado, here are the things we grew from the store cupboard.

Garlic

By putting a bulb of garlic in the fridge for a few weeks, and then planting the individual segments, we managed to start 2 rows of healthy garlic plants. When the plants start to wilt a little, I’ll cut the leaves, chop them and freeze them for a milder garlic taste that I can add to stir-fry etc. Then I’ll let the bulbs dry and store them somewhere dark, and cool, and dry.

Corriander

I have a large stash of herbs and spices, and basically anything called ‘seeds’ are exactly that (which took me far too long to realise!). I’ve been growing corriander seeds on the window ledge in the kitchen for months now and they’re doing really well.

Peas

The peas that I grow are from a packet of dried store-cupboard peas, gifted to us in the early 2010s by Husband’s Norwegian colleauge when she moved back to Norway. I couldn’t think of a way to use dried peas that anyone would actually eat, and my eldest was going through a phase of planting things so I let nature take its course with that one…. and got the most wonderful, prolific pea plants I’ve ever come across. I’ve been growing from them ever since, and even though they’re now (at least) ten years old, they still reliably germinate. In short, don’t overlook dried legumes – they’re a wonderful way to plant from your kitchen.

Beans

This one was actually a little mind-blowing (to me, because I’m a numbers nerd)…

A pack of beansprouts at Tesco (correct at the time of writing) costs 70p for 300g, or £2.34 per kilo.

You can buy a bag of dried beans for £2.25 a kilo (already slightly cheaper than the sprouted counterpart).

To sprout beans yourself, all you need is a jar, some cloth, an elastic band, and some water (and some beans, obviously). To be honest, the cloth and the band aren’t 100% necessary either.

Cover the bottom of your jar in beans. What you can see above is around 25-50g, or between 7-11p worth of beans.

Soak them in water for around an hour…

Fix the cloth onto the top of the jar with the elastic band, use it as a seive to remove the excess water and place on the window ledge.

After 24 hours, I could see the start of germination. I added a little more water…

After 48 hours, they looked like this.

After a week, they looked like the picture above! It’s amazing how they can go from just covering the bottom of the jar to filling it.

At this point, just as the first leaves are forming, I normally put the jar in the fridge. This slows growth and make them keep for longer.

The finished sprouts weigh around 200g, which means that per kilo – if my maths is correct – they cost around 35-55p. That’s a lower price per kilo than for 300g of pre-sprouted beans.

If you can buy the beans from a refillery – which I’m lucky to be able to – this results in zero waste sprouts. I use them as a base for winter salads, as texture in summer salads, in stir-frys, and on sandwiches. If you’re meal-planning anyway, it’s very little extra effort to put some ‘beans on to sprout’, and potentially save yourself a few pennies and a plastic carrier.

Even if you can’t buy the dried beans free from plastic, you’re still saving a lot of packaging from landfill. Let’s say – for the sake of easy numbers – that you sprout 50g of beans a time. This means that the 1kg back of beans will give you 20 sproutings. Each sprouting will give you around 250g (I’m saying 250g for easy maths, plus I’ve used the large example of 50g so the resulting sprouts will be slightly heavier). So that’s 20×250=5000g, or 5kg. The equivalent 300g packs of pre-sprouted beans would come in 16.6 plastic bags.

That’s effectively 15-16 plastic bags that you’ve saved from landfill, depending on whether you bought the dried beans loose or packaged.

Hhmmm… I got excited about beans there…

Moving on.

Brocolli & spring onions

Something to bear in mind while storing brocolli and spring onions:

Putting the stem of brocolli in water whilst in the fridge will keep it fresh for far longer. It is the flower of the plant, and needs treating as you would any cut flower.

Spring onions, meanwhile, usually have their roots which means they can effectively be used as ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables. All you need to do is pop them in a glass with water on your window ledge, then when you need some, cut down to the leaves, stopping as the colour begins to change to white.

I’ve heard you can do the same thing with leeks, but I’ve never tried it. They don’t last that long in my house. I’m a big lover of leeks…

Regrow?

Finally, I thought I would touch on those videos that seem to be everywhere just now, implying that you can regrow all sorts of things from food scraps. I’ve heard that lots of the ideas don’t work, so I thought I’d test them by putting a lettuce nub in the ground… I’ll let you know how that pans out…

Don’t be discouraged, though. In the past, I’ve had great success as a result of Plants from Pips – specifically with avocado stones.

And that’s all, really.

Have you tried growing anything from kitchen scraps and seeds? I’d love to hear about any successes, either here or on Twitter.

Earth Overshoot Day

Recently, I stumbled upon the website Earth Overshoot Day.

I’ve known about the concept of Earth Overshoot Day for a while now. It is defined as being;

…the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was a heartbreakingly early July 29th. In real terms, this means that we need over one-and-a-half planets to sustain the rate of human consumption.

Due to the Covid 19 outbreak, Earth Overshoot day falls on 22nd August, 2020 – later than the previous year. On the surface, this feels like cause for celebration – good news amidst the dark – but to me, it simply highlights the fact that even when so many nations effectively shut down, we’re still not staying within the planet’s ability to replenish its resources.

But I digress… On the website, there’s a calculator which allows you to estimate when your own personal Earth Overshoot Day is. I’ve had a go at these sorts of things before, via websites like the WWF. The results were not pretty. Partially, this was down to the level of accuracy – one isn’t able to select local produce, as I recall, and as far as I remember there are no options regarding the consumption of non-food items. The terrible results were also partially due to our heavy dependency on oil – for the past year, I’ve been doing 50miles per day in school drop-offs/pick-ups, and our house still runs on oil-fired central heating whilst being made of icy-cold rock.

As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for punishment, so I thought I’d have a go at this calculator and beat myself up a bit more about the fact that I’m overconsuming…

Except, given the results of the previous calculator, this was actually better than I’d feared.

Don’t misunderstand me – two months of overshoot is still two months too many – but actually, I expected to be closer to the achingly soon July date of 2019, or the still-too-early August 2020.

And in fairness to my former self, I filled this calculator in using my predicted miles for the coming academic year – 40 fewer every day (providing we all go back to school!) – now that both children are studying in the same place. That’s a huge relief.

And all this is well and good – I know where I need to cut back (oil!) – but what I really wanted to mention was the discrepency I came across the following morning. Because I intended to write about the calculator, I went back to check I’d got my numbers right. When I reached the end of this second calculation, I got a vastly different date – July 11th.

Confused, I went through each of the questions carefully and stumbled upon the one I hadn’t remembered to input extra detail into. It was a query which dealt with the consumption of objects around the house.

So, here are the answers I added:

Here are the answers which were automatically presumed:

As you can see, the difference between the responses isn’t huge. It’s not like the average is a ‘massive’ amount by modern consumer standards. But the difference in outcome is huge – 24th October to 11th July sort of huge.

That’s a whole 3 months and 13 days more resources used.

When we use these calculators, it’s easy to feel as though we’re not doing enough – not making any kind of difference – but that isn’t the case. The work we’re doing does matter and we should absolutely keep on doing it.

If you are going to have a go at one of these quizes, I would encourage you to fill it in multiple times. On completing it presuming that lockdown conditions continue for the year, for example, my overshoot day was December 3rd – simply by changing one aspect of our lives (namely travel).

By looking at the potentially huge impact of a single environmental decision, we can decide where best to personally focus our own efforts and where we can realistically make changes.

Coming out of lockdown, I’m definitely going to try and drive less, and to continue with my efforts to buy nothing new. Do you have any resolutions as this period of quarantine begins to ease off? I’d love to hear them, here or on Twitter.

 

 

Happy Birthday…

It’s my birthday in the next few days.*

I feel funny about celebrating birthdays – on the one hand, I’ve been around the sun one more time** and that’s an absolutely mind-blowingly awesome reason to celebrate, if you think about it.

On the other hand, I didn’t actually do anything to get this far – my mum did all the hard work. Really, I should be celebrating her for having had the patience to raise me to adulthood.

An aside: interestingly, I’m all about celebrating my kids’ birthdays for them. I know – I am nothing if not inconsistent. 

In any case, usually, I’d mark the occasion with a big family meal, but obviously that isn’t possible right now, so I will do the next best thing and pledge to buy nothing new for myself for the next 12 months. Because obviously, those two things are basically the same… ?

The thing is, I keep getting asked what I want for my birthday, and honestly – without belittling how rubbish lockdown is in many ways – I want this to continue. I want the swallows to be the only things in my skies, and for all engine noise to stop when the farm parks the tractor at 8pm. I want to sit out in the garden and hear birdsong, and insect life, and smell herbs that I’ve had time to plant.

I’m always telling the kids that we can’t control other people, and that the only thing we have dominion over in this life is ourselves. So I’m going to do what I can do in the hopes that lots of other people have similar thoughts in coming out of lockdown. I’m not going to buy anything new for a year.

I’ve spoken before about having found Jen Gale’s attempt at this utterly fascinating, and having recently seen first hand what a stonking amount of difference consumption can make to our environmental footprint, I figured that I’d have a go myself.  I seldom buy new things anyway, so I’m not sure how much of a challenge this will be, but I guess that’s the point – to open our eyes to our own levels of consumption.

I’m going to try and extend this to my children too, but obviously they do things like grow lots, and have pocket money that I can’t spend on their behalf, but we’ll see how we get on.

I think I need to define some rules about what constitutes buying things for me. For example, am I ‘allowed’ to respond with items that I’d like if I’m asked what I want for Christmas? Or does a gift that I’m buying for my friend count as something for myself?

I mean, the easiest thing to do would be to follow Jen’s rules, which are here. The one about new running shoes definitely doesn’t apply to me, and though I think I’ll probably regret saying it, I think I’m able to make soap for hands and shampoo and cleaning so other than washing-up liquid, I’m not certain I’d need to buy any toiletries or cleaning products. I’m definitely on board with brand new underwear only, but as I’ve got patterns for this and a lot of fabric, there’s no reason I can’t make it… I can’t see me running out of crafting stuff either, but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose.

So… yeah, I guess for the next 12 months, I’m going to try and not buy anything new. And I’m going to write about it…

Things I expect I’ll miss: 
Books: If Covid means the libraries stay closed, I will eventually run out of reading material. Though I suppose I can get the classics via Kindle?
Craft supplies: I might end up breaking my own rules on this one in the run up to Christmas, but mostly I think I’ve got enough stuff to see me through 12 months and then some.
Jeans: I wear through jeans like you wouldn’t believe. And I’ve tried visible mending and machine darning and I still keep wrecking them. It’s not like I don’t have other clothes, mind you – I just never wear them. So maybe this will force me to be a lot more adventurous.

What will probably happen:
I’ll either ace this, and it won’t be an issue, or – I’m not going to lie – I’ll quit because it’s too much work. I hope the later won’t be the case, but I’m a realist and there are various forces at play within my life that I can’t control – there’s an unsteady income, various additional needs to contend with, and a dog which eats everything including his own tail. I’ll do all I can, but I’m only human.

So… that’s that, I guess.

Wish me luck!
___

*Also, the two year anniversary of my quitting Facebook. Time flies when life is full!
** For a total of 20440 million miles, if my calculations are correct.

Update on the carrots…

You might remember me planting carrots a few weeks ago? I used some snotty looking gel to try and speed up the process somewhat, so I thought I would report back on how that had worked out…

Well, both the kitchen-roll method and the gel method worked wonderfully and both patches of carrots sprouted at the same time! The big difference is that it took three weeks of patience for the kitchen-roll carrots, whilst the gel seeds took fewer than 7 days to germinate. The gel and soaking really does speed things up…

That said, I think that I possibly suspended too high a concentration of carrot seeds in the gel. The little seedlings poking up are still very tightly packed.

You can just about see the little green shoots amongst the onions in the picture above.

The point of the gel method was to speed up the rate of germination, and to avoid wasting the tiny, precious seeds by planting them all and then needing to thin them out. I think if I had used more gel/fewer seeds and planted over a larger area then I would have had a lot more success with the planting.

In contrast, the picture above is the little seedlings, happily spaced from having been carefully laid out on kitchen roll. A slower start, sure, but one which results in a lot less wastage.

The gel method did nothing for the root parsley, incidentally. It’s either not going to make an appearance, or it is taking far longer than anticipated.

Behind the kitchen-roll carrots, you can see some giant daikon radishes – something that a lot of our cookery books call for but which you can’t readily buy in rural Aberdeenshire (a region once described to me as, ‘the place good food goes to die slowly’.) Behind that, you can just about make out some wisps of fennel, whilst garlic and chives are hiding towards the back. To the right, you can see the ghost of a courgette plant, stunted by some mid-May snow!  We’d been gifted the seeds at Christmas as we had expected to have a greenhouse by now, but as we haven’t had any luck in sourcing one, the courgettes were a gamble for the cold, northern soil that doesn’t seem to have paid off.

The back garden is looking increasingly green, at long last. And true to form, the plants seem to have finally realised that we’ve entered spring and are merrily growing now. Lettuces and radishes make up the first half of the closest raised bed…

Onions and carrots are next in line, then potatoes and tentative celery…

And finally there are the peas and basiccas, asparagus and beetroot.

I don’t know how all of this will work out – whether we’ll get anything worth eating, but it has been an absolute joy to watch all of these things grow and flourish, despite the strange weather.

The mystery trees from Freecycle have all grown their seasonal foliage now – all are rowan, except for the beech and holly. The holly doesn’t seem to be doing particularly well, though, and will perhaps end up being replaced by a second rosemary bush, the first having been planted a little further back in the same row.

At the front of the property, we’ve let the grass grow long – better for pollinators and small children.

The enormous branch was gifted by the farm as firewood, but the children love playing on it so much that we haven’t cut it up yet. You can also see the den they made, and the log planter in the foreground.

The herbs and flowers in the planters are growing well. I know that I’ll have to move a lot of the plants as they grow and take up increasing aounts of space, but for now, they all fit in nicely.

This is the second planter – it contains parsley and chervil, and some edible flowers from a selection of seeds we got for Christmas.

I’m also trying to reduce the number of weeds that I can’t use, by introducing weeds that I can. In the pot with the rose above, I’ve scattered camomile seeds…

And though my tea plant didn’t make it through the winter, the rocket I scattered at the base seems to be doing well.

in the back garden, up by the apple tree, there is a stump from a sycamore which had succumb to the giant polypore fungus. Too large to move, we decided to make a feature of it. If all goes to plan, these little bean plants will climb up the sides to the netting and create a lovely little leafy den on top of the stump – a perfect spot for summer reading!

We tend to be a little late to the party in Scotland, but here are some of the beautiful flowers, finally making an appearance as we march towards June…

Did you plant anything this year? How are you getting on with it? I bet your veg is further along than mine!

 

 

Nettle Soup

Nettle soup is one of those ‘literary’ dishes. It sounds like something lifted straight from Beatrix Potter, or something that Merry Men would ‘sustain’ themselves on whilst hiding out in the forest. I think that’s why I loved it, to begin with – because I could pretend to be romantic and windswept and Tess-of-the-D’Urbervilles-y frugal.

Except that now, it’s just a thing that I eat, because we have nettles and I’m too lazy to go shopping.

To make a hearty bowl of nettle soup you need: 
– some nettles (obviously). I find around two big, fat handfuls works. Try to take the leafs from the top of the plant. You want the small tender ones.
– some kind of oniony taste (slightly-sprouting back-of-the-cupboard onions are fine, as are spring onions, leeks, garlic, and chives)
– some stock (I use a chicken OXO cube or some veg stock I made)
– possibly some diary – I like stinky cheese rinds, but these aren’t essential

I fry off the oniony-component in a little oil. As I’m doing that, I put a seive over a bowl, pop the nettles in the seive, and then pour boiling water over them to rid them of all stingy parts and any muck from outside. Once that’s done, I add the nettles to the onions. (I let the water in the bowl cool – it’s going on my house plants.) To the soup-pan, I add my stock and enough water to cover the nettles. When these have cooked through and gone tender, I blend them and add any dairy leftovers – a teaspoon of soured cream, some creme fraiche about to turn, some grated stilton rinds…

If I want something thicker, I like to add potato to the mix. Leftover mash is ideal, but tiny cubes cook quickly and really help to thicken things.

The taste is earthy – a bit like spinach – and wholesome. And if you grow your own chives and otherwise use up your leftovers as you make it, nettle soup can be one of those oh-so-rare free meals.

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you think. As ever, you can get in touch here or on Twitter.

Foraged food – the Giant Puffball

My absolute favourite way of getting zero-waste food is foraging. I mean, for a start it’s free, but more than that, there’s a thrill to it – seeing the golden, shining cap of a chanterelle mushroom is so like finding treasure.

Aside from the usual berries and leafy weeds, Husband is a great mushroom hunter. It’s important to add here that this is absolutely not a tutorial for how to find or identify fungi. If this is something that you want to get into, you need to seek out expert guidance. In our case, though, Husband grew up with a father whose granddad was an actual Snow-White style German woodsman. I’m not even kidding. So when my father-in-law was little, he used to walk in the woods with his granddad and search for mushrooms.

Despite his life-long skill, my father-in-law still carried an identification book at all times and never ate anything he was in the slightest doubt over. Contrary to popular belief, there are few ways to go wrong with wild mushrooms, but when one does make a mistake, it’s deadly.

It just isn’t worth the risk.

Just to stress again – this isn’t a tutorial. It’s just what we do. 

All that aside, as the season for mushrooming gets ever closer, I find myself getting increasingly excited and I thought I’d share one of my favourite recipes from last year, in case you’re lucky enough to find someone who knows what they’re doing.

We made what are essentially vegetarian schnitzel from the flesh of a giant puffball mushroom. I started by removing the outer layer, leaving the nice, clean centre.

Then, I sliced it into 4 rounds.

I smashed some stale bread into crumbs…

… mixed said crumbs with salt and paprika…

… then turned the ‘steaks’ in a whisked egg and the crumbs. I then fried this off as I would a chicken burger – until the outside was golden-brown and crunchy.

We ate these as burger substitutes and the mushroom flesh was delicious – aromatic and light, silky but firm. It was almost like tofu, but less chewy and more flavoursome.

As the breadcrumbs are leftovers from loaves gone by, the only real cost in all of this is the egg and the spices – a definite improvement on a pack of four vegeburgers/meaty burgers.

I’ve been told that it’s getting increasingly easy to source oyster mushrooms in the supermarket, and that being the case, I can imagine that this is a great way to serve larger examples. If you can, I would defintely urge you to try it with a fungi you know is safe (though not with a Portobello mushroom – I find tey go slimey).

Do you forage? What are your favourite things to find? I’d love to try out some of your recipes. As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.

Recovering my ironing board…

Some of you might have seen my recent post about beeswax wraps, and that I wrecked my ironing board cover while making them.

I’ve made covers for this baby ironing board before, but they’ve all been more than a little rubbish until now. I just couldn’t quite figure out how I should add the elastic/string to the main fabric. Then my friend posted a really clever method of doing so, and I’ve been waiting to try it ever since.

But I’m lazy, and the other cover was… mostly fine?

Maybe not.

Anyway – after I clarted everything in wax, I decided that now was the time to fix things. I grabbed an offcut of cotton from the kids’ curtains and set to work….

First off, I chose cotton because I know it’s not going to melt, and because I know I can machine wash it, if I get grease on it from making cheese toasties.

… Irons can do many things…

Anyway, first of all, I took the string out of the channel and set it to one side. Then I ripped off the horrible, amalgamated Franken-channel, formed from the deceased ironing board covers that came before it…

Which left me with a shape I could cut around.

After I’d done that, I went stash-raiding for some bias binding. This I found amongst my mother-in-laws things, in the ideal shade of turqoise.

And all I did after that, was open the binding out, fold it in half, and sew it around the edge of the old curtain, using the machine.

If you’ve got a more recent machine than mine – and being quite honest, as my machine is from 1895, chances are  you will have a more recent one – you should probably do a zig-zag stitch around the raw edge. Or use an overlocker if you have one. If you’re using an overlocker, you could do as Amelia suggests, over at Sewing Machinations, and overlock the wadding to the cover, but again – I’m lazy. And I didn’t.

After I’d finished, I tied the original string to a safety pin and passed it through the new bias binding channel.

An important point to note, at this stage. As soon as you have both ends of the string in your hands, tie a knot at the very tip. Then, as you try and even out the distribution of the string through the channel, you won’t lose one end and have to rethread the entire thing. After you’ve placed the cover on the board and tightened the string, then you can untie it and retie it in a tight bow. This will save you a lot of work if it gets lost.

All that’s left to do then is to put the cover on the board. As you can see, my ironing board is a tiny, table-top one – largely used for ironing sewing projects and toasted sandwiches (because who has space for a dedicated sandwich toaster?!) – but the principal is the same no matter what size of ironing board you have.

I really hope you’ve found this useful – I’d love to see your before/after pictures if you’ve had a go, either here or on Twitter.

Beeswax wraps

A little while ago, my friend and I had a go at making beeswax wraps and – quite honestly – it was a total disaster that resulted in a lot of wasted wax and a huge amount of mess.

Having then bought some wraps from a lovely lady at a craft stall just before Christmas, I discovered that instead of using the internet’s favourite ‘brush the melted wax on with a pastry brush’ method, that I could have just sprinkled some grated wax on some cloth and ironed it between two sheets of baking paper.

Well, now I’ve had a go at that and I can absolutely say – it’s so much easier and it actually works!

First, I grabbed some scraps of cotton, some pinking shears and some beeswax blocks, then I trimmed the scraps into regular shapes.

After I’d done that, I had a good pile of lovely squares.

Next step, was to grate the wax. I just used my regular cheese grater, but I think going forward – if the charity shops reopen any time soon – I’ll get one specifically for wax. It just makes cleaning it perfectly far less important.

I would like to state at this point that each of those nubs of wax made one wrap. So, if you want to do more than around 3, you’ll need several bars of the beeswax that you find at hardware stores. I buy this because it’s package free – unlike the stuff you get off eBay. But if you’re making these during lockdown, and you decide to order beeswax online, I would absolutely opt for the pre-made pellets, rather than grating a block.

Anyway, this is one of those nubs, grated…

And this is that grate nub spread out onto the cloth it’s about to cover.

And now, for the ironing. I put one sheet of greaseproof paper under the fabric and one on top, then brought out Old Faithful.

This is my Nan’s Rowenta iron. It was made in West Germany, which should give you some idea as to its longevity. Unfortunately, the temperature dial no longer works, so now I use it to iron toasted sandwiches and various craft projects. My ‘fancy’ iron – a sale buy from John Lewis costing a whole £10 – ends up staying clean this way…

Anyway, after you’ve run the iron over once, you’ll notice some parts of the cloth aren’t saturated – like the edges here. They’re a much paler colour to the rest. All you do is sprinkle a bit more wax on and repeat the ironing process.

And then you’re done – two lovely beeswax wraps, from scrap cloth and some package-free wax, ready to replace freezer bags and clingfilm. As these are for my mum, I made some packaging for her…

I just got some brown paper that had been used for padding in an online order, and cut it down. Then I drew on it with the kids’ felt pens.

As you can see – hopefully – from my scrappy handwriting, these wraps are really easy to care for. And if you’re a heavy cling-film user, they could end up saving you lots of plastic over the course of those 6 months.

I feel that I should add at this point that I wrecked my ironing board cover whilst doing this. I didn’t mean to, but actually, it was a good thing because it was dropping to bits anyway. It gave me the impetus to replace the manky, ancient thing I made when I was learning to sew. This could have absolutely been avoided, however, by making the fabric significantly smaller than the baking paper. As I wanted to ‘use up’ some baking paper that we’d used for bread, however, I cut my fabric to the same size and so spilled wax onto the ironing board. And the iron. It’s all a big mess…

Click ‘follow’ for ‘how to recover your ironing board’! 😉

Have you tried making beeswax wraps? Which method did you use?

I’d love to hear about your experiences – why not get in touch in the comments section, or on Twitter?

4 easy things you can do to reduce your environmental impact – right now.

At the moment, it can be hard to make planet-conscious choices at the supermarket, given the various supply difficulties that Covid 19 has brought about. But there are still so many things we can do around the house to help keep our environmental impact low.

The actions detailed below shouldn’t cost anything (with the possible exception of number 4), and in most cases should actually save you money by reducing consumption of the item in question.

The ideas below aren’t listed in any particular order. In terms of impact though, switching your energy supplier is probably going to be the best single thing you can do.

  1. Squish your toilet rolls. It sounds daft, but if you change the shape of the inner tube, you make it less likely to turn too far on the dispenser, leaving you with too much loo roll on your hands. This is especially good when dealing with small children. It seems like it wouldn’t make a difference, but I honestly notice when I forget to squish the tube as I replace it!

  2. Mark your kettle so you only boil what you need. Take your favourite cups, fill them with water, and pour this into your empty kettle, one at a time. Use a permenant marker pen to note the point the water comes up to after each one. I know some kettles come with ‘cups’ marked on them, but in my experience, these don’t match up to the bucket-like vessels I drink my tea from. Also, marking the kettle myself made me more aware of over-filling so I tend to take the time to fill to my own mark now.

  3. Switch your search engine to Ecosia. This is something you only need to do once, but after it’s done, the ad revenue your searches generate will go towards planting trees. I’ve been using it for years now and have no issues with it, but some people report that as it’s based on the Bing engine and not Google, that searches aren’t as… accurate? thorough? good? as they might be. As I say, I’ve never had an issue, but you could always use Ecosia to search Google at the start of each session – then you’re getting the best of both worlds? You can read more about it on Wikipedia – here.
  4. Switch to a green energy supplier. Again, this is a simple, one off act that you can do now and then forget about. I use Cheap Energy Club to keep me updated on the lowest price green provider. The beauty of looking for energy prices this way is that you’ll get an email if a cheaper provider becomes available, so it takes the hard work out of keeping your costs down.

And that’s it! Four simple things which don’t necessitate buying zero-waste alternatives, four simple things which are either free or will save you money, and four simple things you can do from your house!

Which actions would make your list? I’d love to hear if there are any other obvious things I could be doing! As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.

Working from home – with children – in relation to Covid 19 (and the climate crisis).

Husband has been working from home as a translator since our eldest was a year old. That was 8 years ago, and last year, I joined him as a proof-reader. We originally made the rather terrifying decision for him to go self-employed because – primarily – of the commute. When working in an office, Husband would get up before the baby woke, drive to work, do a day in the office, and arrive back after I finished the bedtime routine. Weekends were spent trying to form a connection with our child which would then feel undone in the following week of absence.

Changing the way we worked to avoid the commute gave us more time as a family, allowed us to cut back to one car, saved us a small fortune on fuel, and reduced our food spending too – an unexpected bonus of not having to worry about lunch away from home. One might also argue that our eating the previous night’s leftovers for lunch also helped reduce food waste, but I feel that would be reaching.

Of course, our decision to begin working this way is very different to those people being forced into remote working due to Covid 19, and it is important to acknowledge that.

I have, however, had multiple requests for advice regarding how we work – with children at home. And going forward, doing away with unnecessary travel is a great way to keep emissions low. If this works for you, and your employer is on board, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t continue working remotely in the aftermath of the pandemic – even if just for a few days a week.

What follows are strategies which have been successful in our family. They may not work in yours. As they’re based on experience, I can’t speak for single-parents, or homes in which earning is shared equally between partners, but if that is your situation, I hope there are at least parts of the following which you find useful. I’m also coming from a household in which there are various additional needs present – these require certain concessions such as extreme continuity, routine, black and white boundaries etc. – so you might find a more fluid, flexible approach easier than the one I detail here.

Again, our choices were made in a different time, for different reasons. Please take whatever good you can from what follows. 

  • It might be helpful, if you’re able, to sit down as a family before remote working is due to begin in order to discuss with the children what’s going to happen. In my experience, it helps to be as clear and concrete as possible. i.e. “Adult A will endeavour to work between X o’clock and Y o’clock with lunch breaks at Z. Adult B will be your immediate responder until after Y o’clock, when Adult A becomes your go-to human and Adult B starts work.”
    If your children are too young for specified times, buzzers can help. i.e. ‘Adult A is only contactable after the buzzer has gone.”
  • It might be useful to explain why you’re working, or if your children are older, to reiterate why it’s important. It seems like an obvious thing to us, but for the longest time, my children thought we just preferred working to other activities! Talk about the things you need in order to live (a home, food, heating etc.) and explain that money is required to buy these things, and that jobs pay money. If applicable, you might want to frame working as an act of love – in my experience, it changes prioritising your job from possibly invoking feelings of mild rejection to being an active act of affection.
  • It is hard, but it will help if the person working can be consistent regarding boundaries. If your children come to you while you’re busy, it can be so difficult to say, ‘No, not right now, go find Adult B’ – every single time. You love your babies, you want to meet their needs, but in our case, doing so fostered the expectation that Husband would drop everything to respond and this isn’t always possible. If you’re working, you’re working. If you’re not, then you’re not. Having these really clear blocks of time and sticking to them can mean the difference between getting interrupted every five minutes and being left to really buckle down for two hours, undisturbed and thus, potentially, finishing work early.
  • Consistency in space might be useful. We never had a dedicated room for an office, but we’ve found it incredibly helpful to carve out a corner of the dining room from which Husband can work. It’s a physical representation of what he’s doing – a very concrete boundary. If he’s in the chair by his desk, leave him be. In contrast, I sit by the fire with the dog and use my laptop on my knee. This is exactly how I sit when I’m playing video games. It’s not fair to expect the children to be able to instantly tell if I’m working or not, whereas it’s really easy for them to see if Husband is. Result: he’s left alone to get on with things and I get interrupted.
  • When you’re present, be present. I spoke above about having unambiguous blocks of time i.e. if you’re working, you’re working. But this goes both ways. You can’t expect children to just leave you alone entirely throughout the day. They still need us.
    Some might need your help with their remote schooling, or they might be frightened and looking for connection. They might be bored without their classmates. Setting aside time specifically for them, in which they get to select an activity to do with you can make all the difference. Obviously, this might not be possible – your job might not be one which allows it, or you might not be used to managing your workload yet (a real issue for freelancers – the temptation is to take whatever work there is when you can get it and worry later about how you’re going to manage to get it done in time). Just do your best. Again, I wrote about consistent workspaces above, but if all you can commit to at the moment is putting a film on and sitting beside your child as they watch it while you work, then that’s all you can manage. Don’t feel bad about it. We’re all just doing the best we can.
  • I find it helps to keep an ace or two up my sleeve when I’m the one not working… By this I mean things my children only generally get to do as a treat. In my house, this includes-but-is-not-limited-to watching the TV, playing a video game, having some sweeties, (at the moment) going for a walk, getting out a huge roll of paper and paints. When my youngest is really struggling with the fact that my eldest child is doing school work and can’t play, the hierarchy of distraction goes;
    1. Use favourite toys – build a track, or draw a picture… something I can fade out of if my child’s invested enough in the activity.
    2. Provide lunch/snack food. Sometimes the pestering is a manifestation of hunger and not boredom.
    3. Pull out one of the special activities.
  • Be kind to yourself in every free minute you have. None of us know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to keep things as usual as we can. Stick to a routine you know works as much as possible, and make sure to include lots of self-care – you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Covid specific advice.
You’re not a teacher (unless you are!), and no one expects you to be. You’re not meant to home-educate your children unless you were doing that already – you’re not duty bound to be setting a curriculum, or introducing new concepts. If your school is sending work home, it’s work they believe your child can do. Teachers are amazing, incredible humans who have managed to reinvent the education system with 48 hours’ notice whilst still working within the confines of the national curriculum. They’re setting tasks designed with your community in mind, and around resources they can either provide digitally, or which they’re relatively certain most families will have. If you are struggling, talk to your child’s teacher and explain the confines of your situation. There is every chance that they’ll be able to either alter the task, provide an alternative, or reassure you that when schools return to normal, they can support any catching up that’s necessary. The main aim of every teacher I’ve spoken to at this time is that the children they work with are as happy as the situation allows.

Additional: I hope this has been useful to you. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like to know, please feel free to comment either below or on Twitter, then if it’s helpful I can do a follow-up post addressing any queries. If you know me in the real world, I’d ask that you make any question that relates to my children as anonymous as possible – I go to great lengths to keep my language around their descriptions as neutral as I can, and I would appreciate your doing the same. They didn’t ask to be included in this, and I endeavour to only mention them in passing if at all possible.