Thursday, May 31, 2007

What's Decomposing?

(In homage to

We get our hair cut by a friend who comes to our house every few weeks. The kids come into the kitchen one at a time, then when they're shorn they can go back to watching TV or whatever they were doing before. It beats trying to keep them under control at a hairdresser's shop.

We end up with a big pile of hair on the floor, and this is another bonus of having our hair cut at home. The cuttings go on the compost heap where they decompose just like all the other organic material we put there.

Human hair is said to deter pests such as rabbits, moles and deer - shy creatures who avoid the scent of humans. Put handfuls of hair in net bags and tie them to trees and fences around the garden. If you need more hair than you can personally provide, you may be able to scrounge some from your local barber shop. I can't vouch for this tip personally as I don't suffer from mammalian garden pests, and I doubt it works on sassy critters like mice who come right into human houses.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Seen Him!

It wasn't a rat, it was a mouse. And it was sitting on the carpet in Sam's bedroom bold as brass, then it ran behind the toy boxes when it saw me. That's great for two reasons. First, I'd much sooner have mice in the house than rats. And second, we now know where to put the trap - behind the toy boxes in Sam's room.

Sorry Andrew, I take your humane arguments on board but it's in my actual house, it's a fire hazard, a vector for disease, and I don't feel any qualms about getting rid of it in the most effective and efficient way I know how. In fact it was my husband Ed, a strict vegetarian, who bought the traps and set them. Maybe now I can persuade him we should get a cat.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Craft Fair

Yesterday we went to Gawsworth Hall medieval day and craft fair. Unfortunately the medieval reenactment was a washout, but we spent a little bit of time talking to people in medieval dress eating burgers in the shelter of a tent, and the boys were impressed by their swords, daggers, and chain mail. Gawsworth hall is a 13th century stately home and we escaped the interminable rain to have a look inside. The house is still occupied, and we got a glimpse of the family from time to time which was slightly weird. The highlight for me were the William Morris stained glass windows in the ambulatory (stop drooling, Steph).

The craft fair was very wisely under shelter, and the marquees were packed with people waiting to see if the rain would clear. It didn't. But we bought a wooden pop-gun for Sam, a wooden dolly for Eleanor, a plastic dinosaur for Tom (there's always one). I treated myself to a knitted tea-cosy. I've been meaning to make one but I just haven't got round to it. And I also bought a home-made chocolate cake for dessert when we got home.

Then in the evening Ed and I met up with my sister Lindsey and her husband Andrew to watch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (it was a dog's breakfast of a movie but I had a fun night out anyway). So we had a great bank holiday, despite the weather.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tagliatelle Primavera

One of my favourite seasonal recipes is pasta primavera - fresh in-season veggies (from the allotment or vegetable garden if you can manage it) with pasta and a light creamy sauce. It's very quick and simple to make. Serve with a huge garden salad and a glass of white wine, and you will be full of the joys of spring.

Tagliatelle Primavera

In a huge pan of boiling water, add some tagliatelle (I use about 100g per person, judged by eyeball). Bring it back to the boil and wait a few minutes before adding broad beans, asparagus, garden peas, spring onions and whatever in-season fresh green veggies you can lay your hands on. In another pan, gently warm some crushed garlic with some cream (or home-made yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream, fromage frais, smetana or any other creamy stuff you happen to like or have available. Don't over-heat cultured milk products or they could separate, but if this happens you may be able to rescue them by quickly stirring in a spoonful of cornflour). Drain the pasta and vegetables when cooked, and toss in the cream. Add freshly ground black pepper, and serve with salad and chilled white wine. Eat outdoors if you can manage it, with a red checked tablecloth.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Beekeeping Course Part 2

Yesterday was the second and final day of my beekeeping course in Keele University. Once again I had a lot of fun and also learned a great deal. I'm full of enthusiasm now to start with my own bees.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Blue Tit Chicks

There's a nesting box in our back garden and every year it attracts blue tits. They've got a brood of chicks at the moment and it's fun to watch the parents flying backwards and forwards with caterpillars for the noisy chicks. I managed to get a picture of a little gaping mouth at the opening of the box.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Green Electricity - Just A Con?

Hedgewizard raised an interesting point in response to this month's challenge.

The electricity companies' implication is that if you're on a green tarriff, they input as much extra renewable energy into the grid as you use (making your use effectively "green"). But this isn't the case. In reality, the companies generate as much power as they can sell to the grid at any given time, period. So your decision to go on a "green" tarriff makes no difference to the power generated - it's still 4.2% renewable, and nothing has changed unless the supplier is bringing new renewable plant onstream with your money. And there's the key; most of the companies offering "green" tarriffs aren't doing that. They inherited renewable plant when the industry was privatised, but they're just maintaining it.

... and he quoted some figures from an article in the June 2005 issue of The Ecologist. I've found the whole article online. I recommend you read it, it's very interesting.

We currently produce 34 per cent of our power from coal, 22 per cent from nuclear, 37 per cent from gas, yet only 3 per cent from renewables. This balance has to be dramatically shifted. The only way to do this is to build more renewable energy sources so that when old coal and nuclear power stations get decommissioned over the coming years there is enough renewable electricity being generated to replace them.

So if you want to change your electricity supplier because you're concerned about climate change, it's important to choose a supplier which invests in new renewable energy projects.

Fortunately there is a website to help you do just that. It is I have included the latest figures from them as the image in the top left of this article. As you can see, Ecotricity comes top of the league by a long way.

The Ecologist article goes on the examine all the green energy suppliers in the table, and finds that most of them are guilty of greenwashing (claiming to be green without really doing very much about it). For example, nPower spent more on new renewable energy than Ecotricity, but then again their customer base is vastly bigger so the spend per customer was much less. Also nPower is part of the group which owns Thames Water, which came top of the Environment Agency’s list of most polluting companies in the UK last year.

Personally, I want my money going to a company completely committed to building renewable energy, not one which is just a small, clean part of a much larger, dirtier whole.

I'm with nPower, but after reading this I'm seriously thinking of switching to Ecotricity. And that seems to be the "take home" message of the article. It's not enough just to switch to any old green energy supplier. If you want to make an impact on climate change, you need to switch to a supplier that is serious about building new renewable projects, and that seems to mean Ecotricity. Sorry to the six Bean-Sprouts readers who already voted in the poll to say they switched this month, I hope you picked the right one! If not, I believe you have a "cooling off" period when you are allowed to change your mind.

Finally, I found some interesting advice from the National Energy Foundation:

If you are really concerned about this, then there are two other things that you could do:

Install some electricity generating capacity on your own home, for example through adding a photovoltaic (PV) panel; or
Buy shares in a locally based renewable energy scheme, such as the community wind projects at Baywind or Westmill Farm.

You should also remember that even if you are buying green electricity, it is important not to waste power by being as energy efficient as possible - a kilowatt not used is the cleanest kilowatt of all!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Weed Tea

The weeds are growing on the allotment faster than I can deal with them. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I've used some of this fabulous green manure to make a huge drum of weed tea. No, it's not an accompaniment to cannabis cookies, it's home-made plant food. Much cheaper than buying tomato food from the shops, and another example of the law of return - never take anything away from the land unless you can put something of equal value back.

Weed tea is easy to make. Fill a container (we used a huge plastic drum that was left on the allotment when we took it over) with weeds - leaves, roots and all. I used a bunch of big dock roots and couch grass roots, as well as a trug full of leafy weeds such as cleavers, good king henry, bindweed and dandelions. Then I added as much comfrey as I could gather. Comfrey is fantastic stuff, and I always make sure I leave a clump somewhere on purpose (that's what I tell people anyway. The truth is it's a bugger to eradicate even if you wanted to). It has a deep root system and draws up nutrients from deep in the soil. As a result it is rich in the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) nutrients that plants need. It is a great addition to your compost heap, you can lay the leaves around seedlings as a mulch and feed combined, or you can use it to make cheap top-quality plant food like this. I'll also bring some chicken manure from home to add to the tea next time I go to the allotment. You could add nettles, manure (sheep, cow or horse - not cat, dog or human). You can put in grass clippings, seaweed, even perennial weeds like horsetails, bindweed, even japanese knotweed! Anything you've got a lot of, heave it all in, and cover it with water.

Now you need to cover it tightly because once it begins to ferment it will smell like the devil belched. Leave it a few weeks, then put on gloves and a gas mask (I pull my jersey over my nose and mouth) and ladle some into a watering can. Dilute it with clean water until it's about the colour of tea, and feed it to your plants. Tomatoes love it, so do courgettes and pumpkins, cucumbers, all those hungry crops that take a lot out of the soil. I'm told it's also good for flowers, and I'm prepared to believe it. The stuff is liquid gold and every gardener should have some on the go at all times. What's your excuse? Haven't you got enough weeds?

When you've used it all up, tip the foul black gunge that's left over on the compost heap and start another batch. See, even weeds have their uses!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Friends of the Earth Competitions

I've been asked to pass on a message from Friends of the Earth. As regular readers will know I'm a big supporter of FoE and always glad to help spread the word about their campaigning and activities.

Tell Friends of the Earth a story and you could win £100 voucher for its Shop

What makes you green? What is your proudest carbon-saving achievement? Tell Friends of the Earth in 300 words or less for your chance to win. The competition closes on May 31st. For more details see:

Friends of the Earth one-minute green film competition in association with Filminute

We are inviting amateur and professional filmmakers, animators and designers to submit their one-minute green films by 20th August. In September, the public will vote for the People's Choice Green Film and our panel of experts including Oscar-winning David Puttnam and Film Producer Andrew MacDonald will review and award Best Green Film from a short list of 25 films. All films will be hosted on Friends of the Earth's You Tube channel Early entries will qualify for summer showcases and screenings. A range of fantastic prizes include professional editing software and free post-production. More information at: or

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Steph

It's my sister, Steph's, birthday. Why not pop over to her blog, A Roker Artist, and wish her happy birthday. You could look at some of her fabulous paintings, sketches and prints whilst you're there.

Happy Birthday to you,
Cerulean blue
Raw umber, burnt sienna,
And vermilion (hue).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Allotment Update

We planted a lot of stuff on the allotment yesterday. Asparagus beans, tomatoes, cabbages, Brussels sprouts. My favourite though was planting three sisters.

It's an old Native American intercropping technique. You plant sweetcorn (which grows very tall) and runner beans (which climb up the corn stems) and squash (which trail around the ground) all together. Apparently the crops are slightly less than normal for each crop individually, but much more per unit area than you could otherwise achieve. I'm dying to see how it turns out.

The potatoes look amazing. The weather has really suited them and they've gone berserk. So I'm pretty sure we'll get eelworm or blight or something horrible, I just can't believe how well they're growing, it seems too good to be true.

The soft fruit is a bit mixed. The strawberries are doing well considering it's their first year, and if we can get them before the slugs do we should have ripe strawberries to eat fairly soon. Some of the raspberry canes we planted at the end of January haven't taken, but some of them have. Everything else looks pretty healthy and bunches of little green currants are already developing on the mystery soft fruit bush, so we might get to find out what that is.

I planted Japanese onions last autumn and they've grown well. They should be ready for harvesting in a few weeks. I pinched out a few flower heads today that were trying to develop, and they smelled great, really oniony and fresh.

The weeds are really getting ahead of us now, so I'm determined to go to the allotment every fine day and pull as many weeds as I can. There's a lot more to plant as well, successions of lettuces and radishes, peas, beans.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Getting Started With Chickens - Part 2

(With grovelling apologies for posting these out of order!)

Karla said...

My husband and I are looking into getting some chickens for the backyard but we are worried about what we would do with them in the winter. Any tips?

Your chickens should be fine through the winter as long as they have somewhere cosy and dry to go, and have access to water that isn't frozen solid. You need to check them every day, so if you get deep snow in your area you'll want to put the henhouse close enough that you don't need to dig a 100-foot-long path to get to them. They will stop laying when the days get short. You can put artificial light in their henhouse if you want year-round eggs. but last winter we didn't bother. We just used fewer eggs for a couple of months, and the eggs we did need we bought from the shops.

When I told people we were thinking about getting chickens they often said "You can't do that. They smell." Well, they don't. Like any animal, if you leave their manure until it builds up six inches deep, the house will smell. So don't do that. I pick up all the bedding from the hen house every couple of weeks, dump it on the compost heap and put down some clean bedding. And every month or two I give the house a more thorough clean with a shovel and stiff brush and a hose. The henhouse is right by our kitchen door, and there is no smell and no flies.

welsh girls allotment said...
it is not possible for 'everyone' to keep chickens, people who live in flats or rented accommodation where the tenancy agreement forbids it, personally I would love a few hens pottering around my garden but we go away most weekends and it would be unfair on them for me to be a weekday mummy and leave them to fend for themselves for three or four days.
Good point. If you live in a high-rise flat then chickens aren't for you. There are other circumstances where it's just not possible to have them. But I didn't realise just how little space they need. My garden at home is tiny (about 10 yards square) but the hens fit in a little corner of it very happily. Per chicken, allow at least 2 square feet in the henhouse and 4 square feet in the run. That's really not very much space.

Our chickens live in a converted wendy house with checky red curtains. All we did to turn it into a henhouse was:
  • nail a long stout dowel about 18" off the floor for them to perch on
  • Add a nest box (we use an old washing-bowl filled with hay)
  • Add a layer of bedding to the floor (hay or straw or even shredded paper)
Et voila! Luxury hen hotel. If you don't have an underused wendy house you can buy purpose-made henhouses, or join your local freecycle group and think laterally - old sheds, kennels, rabbit hutches, packing crates, a chest freezer you could cut a door and some ventilation holes in - use your imagination. Chickens aren't fussy as long as it's cosy, dry and ventilated.

You'll also need to provide some water. We bought a plastic chicken drinker a bit like this, and a feeder which is similar. You can top them up once every week or two and then forget about them. I think I paid about £2 each for them.

We originally intended to let our hens run free around the garden but we found two problems with this. One was that they tended to escape and get into neighbours' gardens or out onto the road. We soon get fed up of rounding them up. The other problem was that they did a lot of damage to the flowerbeds, eating plants and digging them up in the search for insects. So we decided to build an enclosed run. We cobbled this together from some timber we had lying around (actually the framing of the stud wall I ripped out of the kitchen), and some chickenwire that was in the garage when we moved here, and some wood preservative left over from another project. It's not a thing of beauty but it keeps the chickens in and so far it has kept the foxes out.

[At this point in the text it should have said "I'll discuss where to get your chickens in tomorrow's article" but since I published the three parts out of order, I already talked about it yesterday]

Links to Part 1 and Part 3

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How To Get Started With Chickens - Part 3

The third and final part of "How To Get Started With Chickens" will deal with actually getting your chickens. I got mine from a place in Warrington which seems to have closed down now. That's not a lot of help to all the readers I've got all fired up and wanting chickens of their own.

IYou can buy your chickens from the Omlet people. They sell those groovy-looking Eglu henhouses, and you can buy a whole package with henhouse, chickens, feed, and everything else you need with just a few clicks of your mouse. They'll even deliver it all to your door. Compared to getting everything you need to keep, say, a large dog, it's not that much more expensive. But if you want self-sufficiency rather than an unusual pet I think it will take you a long time to recoup the cost in eggs. If you have the money available, though, this option has the advantage of being the simplest.

Another way to get your hens is to rehome ex-battery hens. This is a feel-good way of getting chickens, but it will require patience to get these creatures back to condition. However I've heard that they lay very well once you have settled them in. The Strawbridge family from It's Not Easy Being Green and Richard from Down the Lane are both examples that I know of.

If I needed to buy more hens I think I'd look in the adverts of a smallholding magazine. My dad very kindly bought me a subscription to Smallholder and there are several columns of small ads in the back of each issue for poultry suppliers. I'd have a look before I bought, and I'd be ready to walk away empty-handed if I didn't like what I saw. If you choose to get your chickens from such a supplier, ask for point-of-lay hens. That means they're young and haven't started to lay eggs but they will soon. That way you get all the eggs - a chicken's useful laying life is only 2 or 3 years so if your hen is already an old lady she might not repay your investment.

My girls are "hybrid layers", that is they're not pure breeds, they're mixed breeds which have been selected to lay plenty of good-sized eggs. Alternatively you could go for a pure-breed layer. Just make sure that if you're after eggs you don't accidentally buy a bird bred for meat, or because it has a whacky looking pom-pom on its head, or any other reason. Know what you want before you go shopping.

I get my feed from the local pet shop. I live in a rural area (the pet shop seems mainly to deal in horse-related paraphernalia) so they keep layers pellets in stock, but I order organic ones especially. Before you get your girls sort out how you are going to to get their food.

Finally, other sources of information. I mainly use three books:
I also refer to websites such as:
  • Down The Lane which has pages devoted to keeping chickens in a suburban setting
  • Self Sufficiency In Style which has information about keeping chickens for eggs
  • Self Sufficientish also has an article about keeping eggs, as well as a friendly forum where you can ask any questions you have
  • which also has a helpful forum as well as articles on the topic
I hope I have planted a seed and a few of you are seriously thinking about getting your own chickens. I used to wish I could have chickens and now I realise I could have had them all along because they're inexpensive, low-maintenance and don't need very much space. and Part 2

Links to Part 1 and Part 2

Friday, May 18, 2007

How To Get Started With Chickens - Part 1

Wow, yesterday's post about why everyone should keep chickens got a lot of responses. As Steve said, people seem to want to know more about chickens. I had a lot of the same questions when I got started.

steve said...
what about noise? are they loud? we have a backyard but we have lots of close neighbors. i don't want the chickens waking everyone up (though i don't know why i neighbors have no problems letting their dogs out at 4am to raise all hell).

Nope. Cockerels are noisy, but you don't need one unless you're planning to breed your own chicks. Hens are pretty quiet, they just make this soft clucking occasionally which is very charming. Incidentally, if you have loads of space and you do want a cockerel, you can still eat the fertilised eggs. As long as you collect them promptly and don't let the hens sit on them and incubate them, they're indistinguishable from unfertilised eggs.

You might have heard that eggs with a spot of blood are the fertilised ones? Nope, that's a myth. Some eggs have spots of blood that's all, whether fertilised or unfertilised. Really, there's no way of telling fertilised from unfertilised eggs unless you have access to a lab.

Anonymous said...

Uh, you forgot the number one reason (which is a huge oversight given you repeat reasons to make a "top ten" list), which is that they eat all your kitchen scraps and turn them into eggs.

Actually in the UK it is illegal to feed catering waste to farmed animals. Catering waste is defined as any food which has been in a human kitchen, including domestic kitchens, and vegetarian kitchens. Farmed animals are defined as any animal which is normally farmed, even when they are kept as pets.

So if you feed carrot peelings to your free range backyard chickens you are a criminal. But if you keep thousands of chickens in a warehouse with no windows but with electric lights on 24 hours a day, each one in a box the size of a sheet of A4 paper so their feet dissolve from their own shit, and cut all their beaks off with a hot wire to stop them pecking each other to death, that's perfectly OK.

billy said...
You wait until one falls ill and you take it to the vets and it costs you twenty quid and dies anyway. . .

That never happens with guinea pigs does it?
Then there is the tears when the fox gets one. Then you breed and get seven cockerels. . .

I know we have foxes in our area because I've seen them. A guy down the road feeds them. They've never taken any of our chickens yet (touch wood). But I expect they will one day, c'est la vie. When that happens I'll decide whether the mess and upset makes it not worth carrying on. But from a economical point of view the hens have already paid their way, so even if I had to replace them once a year due to fox losses it would still be worth it.

I'm not breeding them and I don't recommend you breed them either unless you know all about it and have a plan for what do do with all the cocks. I'm talking about keeping backyard hens for eggs. Breeding, showing, preserving rare breeds, and rearing for meat are all very different operations. That's not what I'm talking about.
Guinea pigs are much less trouble and several times more intelligent than a chicken!

You'll get no argument from me there! But you don't get the eggs, do you. I'll stick with my chickens.

There were more questions and I'll deal with them in the next post. In the meantime you might want to look at the Omlet website. I found it very helpful for answering my questions and allaying any fears when I got started. The Omlet products were too pricey for me, although they look good quality. We cobbled our own henhouse and run out of materials we had to hand, which kept the cost to almost nothing. I'll cover that in a future post as well.

Links to Part 2 and Part 3

Thursday, May 17, 2007

10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Keep Chickens

  1. You get eggs

  2. They're no trouble. You top up their food and water occasionally, clean out their house occasionally, collect the eggs and that's about it

  3. Honestly, they're no trouble at all. A lot less effort than having a dog or even a cat. About the same as having a guinea pig or a rabbit, I'd say

  4. The eggs are cheaper than buying them because the food costs, well, chickenfeed

  5. The eggs are much, much nicer than shop-bought eggs, even free-range organic ones

  6. When they stop laying you can eat them if you like, as long as you haven't got sentimental about them

  7. They eat garden pests such as slugs, snails, leatherjackets etc.

  8. You can put their bedding plus the manure on the compost heap. It's excellent activator and will improve your garden or veg plot no end

  9. Even free-range eggs are often produced in conditions you might not expect. The hens must have theoretical access to an outdoor run but in practice they might never get there. They're less crowded than battery hens it's true, but still their living conditions won't be a patch on your own pampered hens, and that's why your own hens' eggs taste better (see point 5)

  10. You really feel you're living the good life when you have chickens in your back garden

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It is Easy Being Green

Switching energy supplier is as easy as clicking a few buttons online. It doesn't involve any workmen or digging or moving your electricity cables. It doesn't mean changing your meter or any appliances or any difference at all to the service you receive.
I like to picture it this way: The National Grid is like a great big reservoir of electricity, like a reservoir of water. There are lots of different electricity suppliers pumping electricity into the reservoir, and lots of users (like you and me and businesses and industries) taking electricity out.

All electricity is the same so it doesn't matter if it all gets muddled up.

You can choose whether you are a customer of "Dirty Old Coal-Fired Electricity PLC" or whether you are a customer of "Nice Clean Wind Energy Inc". But either way you take electricity out of the big reservoir (the national grid). The difference is that your chosen supplier will measure how much electricity you took out, and they will put the same amount back in, either from a coal-fired power station or from a wind farm (or nuclear power station, hydroelectricity farm, or a number of different options). Then they bill you for what you used.

This is an oversimplification but I don't think it's a bad one. I'm looking forward to being corrected by your comments, though!

Just to make things a bit more complicated there are a few different green energy schemes you can sign up to. Some use your money to buy 100% renewable energy from existing schemes. Some will use your money to invest in new renewable energy schemes. Some don't give renewable energy at all, but make a donation to the RSPB on your behalf. But don't worry, if you go to they explain it all very clearly.

Please visit the uswitch website and spend a few minutes investigating the options for changing your electricity supplier. This is really easy folks - even easier than changing to low-energy light bulbs or not leaving your TV on standby or all the other challenges we've ever had. I'm asking for five minutes of your time to slash your carbon emissions forever. Don't forget to vote in the poll in the right-hand sidebar wen you've done it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

You Gotta Switch

So far 3 Bean Sprouts readers have voted in this month's poll to say they have switched to a green energy supplier. I'm a bit disappointed about that. It's very quick and easy to do, it makes a major difference to the planet whilst causing negligible trouble or expense to you, and it sends a clear message to the energy industry, to the government and to other people just how serious we all are about climate change.

On the plus side, 8 people have voted in the poll to say they are already on a green tariff. That's encouraging to me, and I hope it encourages some of the waverers to make the switch. Go to and spend a few minutes changing your supplier.

Only one person voted to say they didn't want to change because they were already on the cheapest tariff. So what are the rest of you waiting for? At least go to uswitch and investigate. You can plug in your typical energy usage (dig out a couple of recent bills) and it will tell you how much green energy will cost you. We actually saved money when we switched to green because it turns out our previous supplier had been quite pricey.

If you're still unconvinced, I'll write a bit more tomorrow about what "green energy" actually involves.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Be Nice to Nettles Week

14-25 May 2008 is Be Nice to Nettles Week. Why not:
You could also look up some Nettle Week Events or take a nettle quiz.

Who knows - maybe if you be nice to nettles, nettles will be nice to you?

Stormy Weather

After an amazingly hot and dry April (usually a cold and wet month here in England) we seem to be having a whole month's worth of rainfall in just a few days now it's early May. The newly-installed waterbutt is full to overflowing and the poor old chickens need wellies, their pen is so full of mud.

On the one hand the wet weather is much-needed. If the April conditions had continued we would have been facing a drought. But on the other hand the timing is poor. A nice wet April dampens the earth ready for sowing and planting crops in warmer, dryer May. But a dry April followed by a very wet May means we have to wait for dryer weather to get crops in the ground, losing valuable growing time and increasing the risk of seedlings dying indoors.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Report on Beekeeping Course

Well I didn't get stung and I had a wonderful time. The instructors were undoubtedly knowledgeable and experienced. The talks were predictably dry but my intrinsic interest in the subject kept me from gnawing off my own leg.

But the hands-on session was brilliant. We all went out to some hives and watched as the demonstrator opened them up and took out the frames covered with bees. We passed them around so we all got a chance to handle them. And we saw the honey and pollen stores, and all the stages of the bee lifecycle - eggs, larvae, capped cells containing pupae, and adult workers and drones. We couldn't find the queen but I'm sure we will in a fortnight when I go back for the second part of the course.

So apart from the hands-on part with the hives I think my favourite thing I learned all day was a tip about how to avoid conflicts with your neighbours. You get an (empty) hive and put it in a conspicuous part of your garden for a few weeks. If your neighbours are cool with it, well and good. But if someone comes and complains loudly that they've been stung, you can show them that whatever stung them didn't come from your hive - your hive is empty, see? After that they'll feel so foolish you won't get any more complaints from them after you do get your bees.

I'm dying to get started with my own bees. I'll have to go back to the local association and see if I can get any good second-hand equipment and a nucleus (that's a queen and a few workers, just enough to start a new colony).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bee Keeping Course

I'm off to Keele today on the first day of my beekeeping course. I'm very excited about it so I won't hang about here updating my blog. I'll let you know tomorrow how it went, and whether I got stung.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spring Haiku

I've been reading Japanese Haikus recently. I knew that they were a traditional form of Japanese poetry, 17 syllables long, but I didn't know the length was chosen to be the duration of a single breath. I didn't know they were traditionally about the four seasons and the turning of the year. And I didn't know that a traditional Zen story tells of a young student who asked his master whether it is true that Zen masters are able to perform miracles. The teacher assured him it was true. What kinds of miracles? Fetching water and carrying firewood. "Those who practice this are all miracle buddhas."

I like that.
I liked this haiku, too.

Sitting silently,
Doing nothing,
Spring comes,
And the grass grows by itself.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bean-Sprouts Featured in The Scotsman

The Scotsman Online, the online version of Scotland's national newspaper, recently featured Bean-Sprouts in an article about Compost Awareness Week. Welcome Scotsman readers!

The article linked to the story I posted back in December about compost, the same one The Times Online picked up on. I don't know why the national press are suddenly so interested in compost, but I'm glad that green issues have become so trendy recently (or in this case should I say "brown issues"?) For one thing, it makes a pleasant change from being derided as "tree-huggers". But more importantly it greatly increases the likelihood that people will take action about the issues we tree-huggers have been howling about for years.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Humane Pest Control

Andrew made some interesting comments about humanely dealing with rodent problems.

... if we're trying to be eco-friendly, shouldn't we be trying to do this to all our furry friends, not just the pretty ones?? ... please please please save all the envirmonment, not just the cuddly bits!!

Point taken. But I don't think "eco-friendly" means the same thing as "kind to animals". Some people belong to both camps, but some belong to just one or the other. And sometimes the two ideas clash. For example there was a story in the news recently about whether it is ethical to hand-rear a polar bear cub rejected by its mother, or whether it should be allowed to die, since that would have been his fate in the wild.

I think Andrew his the nail on the head when he said:

I think we also need to remember, with our ever increasing urban sprawl, that it's us that have invaded their environment, not the other way around.

It opens up a can of worms when humans start interfering with nature. If you found an abandoned polar bear cub in the wild, perhaps it would be an easier decision to leave it to die "as nature intended", but since it was born in a zoo so is already in an unnatural situation, where do you draw the line?

If rats tried to set up home in a fox's den, would the fox deal with them humanely, or would it just kill them? Obviously, in nature when two species clash the matter is resolved swiftly and mercilessly. But it's different when it involves humans for two reasons. First, we are just so much more effective than other animals at what we do. No other species has ever had such a massive imapct on the planet and every other organism in it, because of the technology we have created. And secondly because we are intelligent, we ought to be able to predict the outcome of our actions and behave in a way that does not lead to irreversible damage and destruction, if only for selfish reasons: we want out own species to be able to survive.

So where does that leave me and my rat problem? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Water Butt

We installed a water butt a couple of weeks ago but we didn't have a drop of rain until yesterday. There is still only an inch or two in there. It certainly has been a strange month, so hot and dry compared to a typical cold wet English April.

Update: I've figured out why it only has an inch or two of water in it when there have been a few good downpours - the tap was left open. Doh!

Monday, May 07, 2007


One of the advantages of living in the countryside is watching all the wildlife right on your doorstep. One of the disadvantages is when the wildlife crosses your doorstep and comes right inside your house.

We've heard scrabbling and gnawing sounds from the space in between the downstairs ceiling and the upstairs floor for the last couple of nights. Ed went out and got a few traps (the old-fashioned Tom and Jerry type), but we're not sure where to put them to best effect.

I'll keep you posted about our progress in getting rid of these pests. In the meantime if anyone has any experience or tips we'd be glad to hear them.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Colwyn Bay

We've enjoyed an unusually warm and dry spring so far, but you can never rely on the British weather so we thought we should make hay while the sun shines and get to the seaside on the first day of the bank holiday weekend.

So we took the new car to Colwyn Bay in North Wales. The children played on the beach, paddling in the sea, digging and collecting shells. They ate fish and chips and ice cream and had a great time.

Colwyn Bay is beautiful. Ed and I passed through it a month ago on our way to a wedding, and decided we must bring the children as soon as possible. It's a sweeping bay with beautiful sandy beaches, and an old-fashioned feel. For example Ed found a smashing second-hand bookshop of a kind I haven't seen in years. It almost brought tears to my eyes as I realised how much I miss browsing in good used bookshops.

We all had a great time at the seaside, as you can probably tell from the photo of the kids on the journey home.

Friday, May 04, 2007

New Car

This week we found out just how bad our big gas-guzzling MPV really is for the environment. But what car should we choose instead? We'd love a hybrid, not only because they have much lower impact on the environment, but also because they cost about 4p per mile in fuel rather than the 10p per mile we're currently paying. But sadly they're way out of our price range. What are the alternatives?

The website came to our rescue again, with it's green car selector. You enter your requirements - in our case we wanted a petrol-driven small family car (but you can choose sports cares or SUVs or executive cars amongst other choices, and you can have diesels, hybrids, electric or LPG as fuel choices). It gave us a list of possible cars, but the greenest of the choices it presented was a VW Polo. So that's what we've bought, a little red green car, to replace our old road hog.

I've included the Environmental Impact charts so you can see how much "greener" the Polo is compared to our old MPV.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tariff Change Challenge

You've changed all your filament light bulbs to low-energy ones, you've got a brick in your loo and you never leave appliances on standby. So what's next?

How about switching your energy supplier to a green provider? It's easier than you think and might even save you money.

You can compare all the different energy suppliers at Get recent electricity and gas bills, because you will be asked for your postcode, your current suppliers and typical usage, and some details such as the number of bedrooms in your house, and how well insulated it is etc. Then you can ask for either the cheapest or the greenest electricity tariffs.

The site will tell you what you would pay with the new supplier, and how well they tare for customer satisfaction. You can even change online, although you will probably be sent a form by your old supplier confirming that you want to change. I even think you have a cooling-off period of about a month when you can change back easily, but I'll have to ask my personal domestic energy expert to confirm that one.

So how about it? Will you switch to a green energy tariff?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How Green Is Your Car?

I want to confess to one of my worst eco sins. I drive a big, gas-guzzling car.

At the time we bought it, it seemed to make sense. We weren't as aware of the damage to the environment caused by thirsty cars. And we needed a big car to fit three baby seats when the kids were all small. A saloon car just wouldn't do it.

But now the kids just need booster seats rather than baby seats, so they can fit in a much smaller car. And we have realised we can always hire a big car on the one or two occasions a year we really need it, such as going on holiday. It's time to trade down to a smaller car.

How environmentally friendly is your car? You can type its details into and get a rough-and-ready eco-rating. Ours scored 68% overall rating (confusingly, high numbers are worse, so that's quite a poor score), with 89% climate change score (a dire score) and 37% air quality (not a bad score). We're hoping to improve on that considerably with our next purchase, and save ourselves money on fuel, road tax and running costs as well.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Put A Brick In Your Loo Challenge Poll Results

The April challenge - Save Water, Put A Brick In Your Loo - results are in. I challenged you to install a water-displacement device in your toilet cistern to save 5 - 10,000 litres of water per year. Twenty-two of you responded to the poll.

I've gone green! I've put a brick in my loo! 32%

I was already green! I've got a hippo in my loo! 54.5%

I don't accept your argument! I deposit logs in my loo! 9%

I'm greener than thou! I recycle all my humanure! 4.5%

It's good to see most of you are already doing these basic things, like switching to low-energy lighbulbs and saving water in the toilet cistern. I can see I'm going to have to shift the challenges up a gear. Look out for the next challenge, coming soon.