Seed Library

THE EVENTS DETAILED IN THIS POST HAPPENED BEFORE THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS. THE MARKET IN QUESTION OCCURRED ON MARCH 7TH 2020, PRIOR TO MORE STRINGENT MEASURES TO CONTAIN THE COVID 19 VIRUS. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND.

Once a month, our little town hosts a market in the square.

I would love it if it could be weekly so I could do the bulk of my shopping there – stalls include local cheese makers, fish mongers, apiarists, pasta-makers, game butchers, vegetable growers and bakers. It’s everything a shopping experience should be – meeting neighbours and friends for a chat amongst the stalls, fresh air, local produce…

The absolutely incredible people from Deveron Projects were there too, on this occasion. And they were setting up a community seed library! The basic premise is thus; if you take seeds from the library, you have a go at growing them and then nom all the lovely food. And you return the same number of seed packets as you put in. It doesn’t have to be the same seeds – so, for example, if your crop of peas failed spectacularly because you got over excited and planted them out too early, you would be fine to send back an envelope of something else. Like rocket… just as an example…

Anyway, deeply enthused, I took home some ‘Dazzling Blue’ Kale and some ‘Jaune Obtuse De Doubs’ yellow carrots – both by Real Seeds – as well as some fine curled chervil, donated by a local.

In addition to the seed library, the group also run a community orchard and have operatd a swap shop for the past few years. But Deveron Projects isn’t the only wonderful initiative running in the town. There is also a community owned bookshop which is manned entirely by volunteers. And I could talk for hours about the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) project that is Tap O’ Noth farm, so don’t even get me started on the amazing work by Ellie and Martyn at the Ethical Gift Shop.

When I look at the amazing work that’s going on around me, I can’t help but feel hope for what’s coming next. If all of this is happening in the tiny town of Huntly, the thought of what’s afoot in the rest of the country helps to remind me that there are good people doing good work in spite of a system designed to favour consumerism.

Do you know of any amazing community centred ideas in your area? Are you a part of any? I would absolutely love to hear about your adventures! As ever, get in touch here, or on Twitter.

Every tree is a forest

Recently, I posted about replacing my evergreen hedge with native trees. 

I had been planning to purchase some saplings from The Woodland Trust,* but something last week stopped me, and I decided to put a post out on Freecycle instead. What I discovered was something inspiring.

My notice read something to the effect of;
WANTED: Tree weeds. Do you have saplings growing where there should be no saplings? I would be very happy to come and remove them, and give them a good home.

An amazing couple responded to my ad, and so I set off – armed with my shovel and some empty dog-food sacks in which to transport the roots.

As my sat nav brought me towards the house, I passed a plantation of young trees and wondered if this was where my saplings would be coming from – the response had said, ‘We have some trees to spare’ so I thought that perhaps the couple had bought a large quantity to fill the field and hadn’t been able to fit them all in.

When I arrived, however, the lovely people donating the plants took me round to the back of their house where they presented the biggest monkey puzzle tree I have ever seen. It looked to be around six storeys high and was apparently planted when the house was built. As the cottage looked to be around 200 years old, I could well believe it. It was absolutely magical – an enormous ladder of spiney branches, reaching into the sky.

And all around it, at waist height, were bare saplings. The homeowners explained that birds came to sit on the tree, pooped as they set off again, and spread a variety of mystery seeds all around the monkey puzzle tree. Most were obviously raspberry canes, but others looked more robust and it was these we settled on.

I mentioned the plantation as I began to dig, saying that I’d thought the saplings might be coming from there, and they explained that the entire thing had been filled with self-seeded examples from beneath the monkey puzzle tree.

I was absolutely taken aback. Here was the making of a forest, stemming from the planting of one single tree. The huge field full of saplings had been laid in the last ten years – how many generations had been in that house before this point and had pulled up all those potential trees? How many trees had been lost through being in the ‘wrong place’?

As humans, we have both the power to destroy and to protect, and never have I seen it as starkly as I did here. The residents of this cottage had the option to do as all their predecessors did – to rip out the self-seeded trees which threatened to take over their garden. But they didn’t. They chose to save literally hundreds of saplings and create native woodland instead. And now that they’ve filled their own land, they’ve chosen to help others plant trees too.

And each tree – as evidenced by that incredible, giant beanstalk-esque monkey puzzle tree – has the potential to create not just one, but a multitude of forests over the course of its life. And all those forests need in order to become are humans willing to work with the natural world, and not against it.

I took home and planted a beech, a holly bush, an-almost-certain-rowan, and three mystery trees. Whilst our slip of garden won’t ever be big enough to plant a forest in, I am now determined that I will pass on whatever saplings come form these plants. I might not be able to plant a forest here, but I can make sure that while I am custodian of these trees, that I give their forest every chance I possibly can – even if that’s dispersed throughout the region.

Have you planted any trees this year? Do you think it’s something you have space for in your garden? What would you plant if you did? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts – here, or on Twitter.

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*I just wanted to touch on why I did things this way. Firstly – fewer transport miles. There were a total of six miles between where I am and where the trees were. This means that – secondly – I know that whatever I plant can survive here and will be hardy enough to tolerate the weather. Third, there’s no packaging – I reused the sacks my dog’s food came in, and now that my saplings are in the ground, I’ll be able to use them again. Fourth – and it’s a big one – time. According to everything I’ve read, it’s actually pretty late in the season for me to be planting trees. Apparently, they need to be moved during their winter dormant phase so as we move into spring, the window for getting them in the ground grows ever shorter. I didn’t know how long postal delivery would be, so this seemed like an instantaneous alternative.

And finally, even though I didn’t get the trees from the Woodland Trust, I put in a donation to the same value as I would have spent. The charity does absolutely amazing work, and I want to support them – it’s why I chose them to buy trees from rather than my local garden centre. I feel like this way, everybody wins.

 

‘The 5 Rs’ – Reduce

I thought, over the next few months (or any other time I start to run low on ideas for content 😛 ) that I could look at one of the 5 Rs in more detail. This time, it’s the turn of Reduce.

I like ‘reduce’ as a concept – if I was the sort of person who picked a word as a theme for the coming year, I think ‘reduce’ would be the sort of word I’d pick. Reduce my spending, reduce my waste, reduce the time I spend online, reduce the number of things I own, reduce my worries, reduce any excess in my life… so many things I aspire to reduce. 

But realistically, what am I doing about it? I’ve written at length about reducing plastic in the bathroom and food waste in the kitchen, but not a vast amount about things like energy consumption and resource sharing.

I thought I would remedy that today.

Reducing resource use

Books are the obvious one – we get ours from the library, reducing our spending and the amount of resources we use in one fell swoop.

Clothes are another point to mention. In addition to buying second hand where possible, we use dye to make things last longer and do lots of repairing. I also try to select clothes made of natural fibres, but with school uniform, this is incredibly difficult. In future, I’ll post about the other ways in which I get the clothes which have to be new i.e. underwear.

Furniture is largely second hand, with the exception of the mattresses, pillows, and duvets for the beds.

In our room, we don’t use bedside lamps – we actually bought LED lanterns for when we go camping and use them by our bed for the rest of the year. I like items with dual purposes like this – our enamel camping plates, for example, serve as pie/crumble dishes for the rest of the year, and the solar lamps we use to highlight guide ropes to young children on toilet trips during the night double as Christmas lights in the garden. There is no sense in us having lamps by the bed in addition to the lanterns, when the lanterns can serve perfectly well.

In the bathroom, we’re down to the bare minimum of disposables. I recently wrote a long post about ways in which we’ve improved the bathroom compared to how it was in 2019, but I didn’t mention a few of the things I’m proudest of in there.

The bath mat, for example, was made from old jeans and duvet covers. I cut these up using my friend’s rotary cutter and then wove them using a peg loom. Whilst I really love this, and look forward to having another go on the loom when this rug gets too manky to use, I know that I can wait until I have the right fabric to shred by simply placing a towel on the floor. So many times, we buy things, or make things which we don’t actually need because an existing object will do.

In the photo above, you can also see an old pan-stand on which I’ve put some of my millions of spider plants. They’ve been potted in an old pyrex dish. Going forward, I really want to add some more plants with different shapes and textures so I get a lovely tower of green next to the bath… so far, though, it’s just spider plants…

In the dining room, we’ve switched to cotton napkins to reduce the amount of single-use paper towels/kitchen roll we were getting through. The napkins were made from a pack of tea-towels that we didn’t feel did their job properly. I sliced them into quarters, hemmed the raw edges and now they’ve got a new life as perfectly servicable napkins. Hooray!

I’ve spoken at some length about our kitchen before, but I think it’s worth mentioning the soap pump we use for washing-up liquid. This ensures that we’re not pouring more in than we need. The resusable brush handle, the recycled plastic brush heads and the washable knitted cotton cloths all help reduce waste here too.

Reducing energy consumption 

In order to reduce our impact throughout the house in general, we’ve done the obvious – fitted energy saving light bulbs, backed the radiators with foil and switched to a green energy supplier.

These are small acts to reduce our expenditure – both financial and carbon – but they are paying off slowly. One day, I would very much like to be able to reduce our fuel usage further by installing a different heating system, but for now, this will have to do.

In addition to the obvious things – cooking multiple things when the oven is on, hanging washing out to dry and turning off all the lights obsessively – we’ve tried a few other things to cut our electricity use. The camping/bedside lamps I mentioned above help to reduce our power usage as they run on rechargable batteries and each charge lasts for months so that’s great, but the biggest energy saving we’ve made has come from switching our NAS server for a smaller one.

When we set up our home business, we did the obvious thing and got a small-business sized NAS server as a way of backing up our data. It soon became clear, though, that this was total overkill. We were never going to fill 6 drives, doing what we do. We made the switch back to a domestic sized NAS and not only is our living room so much quieter (the ‘new’ NAS isn’t actively cooled), but we’re saving a LOT of electricity. I mean, evident-on-our-bills sort of a lot. Selling on the huge NAS earned us back a significant sum – far exceeding the cost of the ‘new’ (to us) NAS – so we’ve come out of the change more ‘cash rich’ too. It’s absolutely worth looking at your technology and its energy usage to see what you’re able to swap out. It’s just a case of gettinng the right tool for the job.

One of the more controversial swaps I’ve made, has been to do away with my smart phone. It had come to the end of its useful life (due to software updates rather than hardware issues, much to my chagrin) and as I’d deleted my facebook account, have a wonderful camera (which I clearly never use for this blog…) and a GPS for the car, I didn’t see any reason to spend horrendous quantities of money on a new one. Instead, I bought the 2017 remake of the Nokia 3310.

I absolutely loved the original Nokia and spent many a Higher Maths class playing Snake under the table. The bonus of the remake is that battery technology has improved so much since the year 2000 that I can now go seven days or more without needing to charge my phone! Whilst I haven’t seen the obvious change in my electricity bill that I saw with the NAS server, I’m sure that in a small way, this is making a difference. Going forward, I’d like to look into getting a solar-powered charger that would work with my Nokia, but for now, I’ll content myself with not having to plug in every 24 hours.

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As I said last time, it feels as if my efforts to cut fuel consumption have reached something of a plateau, but I will continue to try. Hopefully making all of the above changes (which are either free, or save us money long term) will help us to save up for the larger ‘upgrades’ we need to make in order to be more efficient.

Do you try and reduce your fuel consumption? I woud love to hear any tips you have, either here or on Twitter. 🙂

Your local library.

In 2019, I borrowed and returned 146 books from my local library.

Some of these were reference books, some audio books, some travel guides, and most were fiction.

Normally I buy books used, but even if the average second hand book only cost £1, that’s still £146 saved in 12 months.

If I factor my children into the equation, the financial saving roughly triples.

That’s a saving of £438, give or take a few pounds.

Definitely not a saving to be sniffed at. Admittedly, we are a family of avid readers anyway,  but the amount I read definitely took a sharp incline when I deleted my Facebook account, and when I signed up for the Do Nation ‘feed your noodle’ pledge.

Reading is an amazing, low impact hobby, and one of my great joys in life so it’s easy for me to prioritise it. That said, I understand that this isn’t the case for everyone – libraries everywhere are increasingly under pressure to cut costs, so opening times might be erratic. Ours, for example,  only opens for three days a week and the hours aren’t exactly ideal for shift work. I’m lucky in that I can pop in on my way to school pick up,  but this isn’t the case for everyone.

So, how can we utilise this resource if we’re short on time? Most libraries offer an e-book service which can be accessed at home at any time.  If you don’t have a dedicated e-reader, there are loads of apps out there which allow you to use your phone or computer. This is great for cook books,  or other reference books,  but it’s not necessarily great for reading novels just before bed. This is where Freecycle, Gumtree and eBay come in – both my brother and I have sourced free e-readers from these sites and in our area,  they seem to come up relatively frequently.

There are so many amazing environmental books available at this time – to me,  it just seems right to borrow them from the library so that we can better share resources.

Do you know of any other easily accessible resource sharing schemes out there?  I already rent my video games,  but I’m keen to see what else is out there!