Monday, March 31, 2008

Buddha of the Onions

Buddha of the onionsOn one of the allotment plots I found this Buddha head, nestling among a row of onions. The plot belongs to a white-haired cloth-capped Mancunian gent, who I would not have suspected of being a closet Buddhist. When I asked him about it he told me "it just turned up one day", and he rather liked it, so he set it among his onions.

I know little about Buddhism, but I thought that onions, garlic and other alliums such as chives and leeks were forbidden foods for Buddhists. But I've been searching the web and it seems that only some branches of Buddhism observe this rule.

I rather like the Buddha of the onions, and I hope he feels at home here. During my web research I came across the same story many times; how as a young boy watching his father plough a field, Buddha had fallen naturally into a state of blissful meditation. Perhaps he can meditate on we allotment holders digging our plots, too.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Environmental Quips from the Late Night Shows

"President Bush said he just saw a film about global warming, 'Ice Age 2; The Meltdown.' He said, 'It's so much better than that boring Al Gore movie.'" --Jay Leno

"On the other hand, Dick Cheney said he's seen Al Gore's global warming film five times, and it still cracks him up." --Conan O'Brien

"President Bush says he's really going to buckle down now and fight global warming. As a matter of fact, he announced today he's sending 20,000 troops to the sun" --David Letterman


Cartoon by Marc Roberts of Throbgoblins. Click on the panel to view the rest of the strip.

Cantankerous Frank Cartoon panel

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

Frank and Ern Cartoon Earth Hour

Thanks to Throbgoblins for the image.

It's Earth Hour at 8pm this evening. Please turn your lights and other unnecessary gadgets off at 8pm local time for one hour to save energy and (mainly) to raise awareness about climate change.

Google is marking the day by putting a dark background on its home page. Dark colour schemes are said to reduce energy usage on older-style CRT monitors, although they make no difference on modern LCD flat screens.

The BBC are covering the event with a story on their web page and an audio story. Bean Sprouts reader Killi tells us that her electricity bill from ESB, the Irish electricity supplier, had the WWF logo on the front and a promotion for Earth Hour on the back. The city of San Francisco has moved its Lights Out event from October to March 29th, to align with Earth Hour.

Tell a friend. Spread the word. Start a debate. Join in.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Link Love: Marc Roberts

Cantankerous FrankMarc Roberts is a friend of Bean Sprouts. He draws and writes (sometimes with the help of Marc Hudson) the cartoons I usually publish on Sundays. If you're too impatient to wait for next Sunday you can have your fill of Cantankerous Frank, The Chocolate Fireguard and all of Marc's other creations by visiting his website, Throbgoblins.

He very generously allows free use of his cartoons for campaigning, educational or other ethical purposes, as long as credit is given to the cartoonist and the site. See the bottom of his website for details. If you're a green blogger, why not add Marc's cartoons to your own site? The specifically climate-related cartoons are all gathered in one blog called Climate Chaos. There is also a non-blog website called Climate Cartoons, where the climate cartoons are arranged into categories. So if you know you want a single-panel cartoon to fit your blog layout, or if you want to see all of the Labrats cartoons in one place, it's eaier to find what you want at Climate Cartoons than at a blog.

Marc also has a new website where he uploads his art rather than cartoons. It's called More Joy in Heaven and I very much like the paintings he has put on there so far. I have lots of talents but art is not one of them and I am in awe of people who can imagine and create images like this. I'd very much like to buy one of Marc's paintings. I'll have to get in touch with him about that.

Why not go and visit Marc's blogs? You've got a pretty wide choice - edgy political and environmental cartoons, or serious art with mythological themes. Leave him a comment. Tell him I sent you. Enjoy.

Seed Finder from Mother Earth News

Mother Earth News CoverI got an email that made my day:

We've been reading your Bean Sprouts blog here at Mother Earth News and we're hoping you might be willing to help us test a new feature we are developing for our web site!

Mother Earth News reads my blog? I'm as chuffed as can be. It's the spiritual parent of Bean Sprouts, my inspiration and my model.

So I'm very happy to share with you the news of their new online tool:

With all the time and care a garden takes, I wanted to invite you to try a time-saving - and free! - tool from Mother Earth News magazine. Our custom Seed and Plant Finder is a quick and easy way to find mail-order sources for pretty much any vegetable, flower or herb variety, old standards as well as new and hard-to-find varieties.

The free Finder searches more than 150 garden catalogs - from the big names to small, specialized companies. Our initial emphasis is on sources for vegetables, but we plan to add fruit and nut tree and ornamental catalogs in the near future.

I've tried it and it looks good - as long as you live in the USA. It only includes American seed catalogues so far, so it's no use to me or my many British readers, and readers from other countries outside the USA. That's fair enough - Mother Earth News is an American publication. If Gardener's World magazine produced a seed finding tool, I expect it would only cover British seed catalogues.

I hope my many American readers give this new online tool a try and find it useful. If you're not American, why not visit the Mother Earth News website, where you can read thousands of online articles about sustainable living topics?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Review: Compost

Compost by Ken ThompsonThe first thing that strikes you about Compost by Ken Thompson is the groovy cover. I mean literally groovy. It feels like it has been made out of corrugated card. It's striking and eye catching, which is exactly what you'd expect of a book by Dorling Kindersley.

When you open the book, your expectations are not disappointed. The photographs, the graphics, the typesetting, everything about this book is beautiful. It's even more of an achievement when you consider the subject matter: if you had to create a book about decomposing vegetables, worms, poo, bacteria and fungi, could you make it a feast for the eyes?

But what about the content? To be honest, I'm in two minds. DK books are always visually stunning, but sometimes they can be rather shallow when it comes to content. This book is a bit like that. Any page you flick open you will find a full-page photo on one side and a few lines of enormous text facing it. It took me about an hour to read it cover-to-cover. And although it did contain a few things I didn't know (apparently a human corpse decomposes to a skeleton in about three weeks), there wasn't much (and even that wasn't terribly useful. I hardly ever put human corpses on my compost heap).

But on the other hand, I've read books on compost that went into so much science and detail about aerobic and anaerobic, thermophilic and mesophilic, exact recipes for the perfect compost heap, how frequently to turn it, the correct moisture content and so on, that it would put any sensible person off the idea of composting altogether. And that's silly, because as Thompson quite rightly says:
Even if you do everything wrong, you will still make decent compost eventually.

(only he says it in 197pt text).

This matches my experience perfectly, and it also matches common sense. It makes me laugh when people say things like "You can't put avocado peel on the compost heap. You can't put orange peel or any citrus on it." Of course you can. Orange peel decomposes perfectly well. I've got a decomposing orange in my fruit bowl at this very minute (I really should chuck it on my compost heap). Otherwise we'd all be neck deep in perfectly preserved avocado and lemon peels that would have been accumulating since the evolution of avocado and citrus trees. Getting stuff to decompose isn't hard. Stopping it decomposing is hard, but making compost is not hard.

So I liked Thompson's sensible, relaxed attitude. There's a chapter where he describes the standard "recipe" for perfect compost. You know the one: collect together at least a cubic metre of equal amounts of "green" (soft, nitrogen-rich material such as veg peelings and grass clippings) and "brown" (dry, carbon rich material such as shredded paper and hedge prunings). Layer them in six-inch thick layers. Ensure there is just enough water. Turn once a week. And so on. Then Thompson rips into this recipe with satisfying ridicule and sarcasm. Where are you supposed to store all this green and brown material whilst you're waiting until you've collected enough? How do you stop it decomposing in the meantime? Keep it in the fridge? Forget that, just decide where you want your heap then bung compostable stuff on it as and when it becomes available. There's no need at all to follow a precise recipe. It's a compost heap, not a damn souffle.

If you've never made compost, you might like this book. Especially if you're scared of compost-making for some reason, perhaps because you've read one of those silly books with too much science and prescriptive instructions. Ken Thompson's books is guaranteed to remove the fear and assure you that compost-making is easy and worthwhile. If you're an experienced composter, you don't need this book. Actually, you don't need any book, because all you really need to know about compost is this: 1) Put organic stuff in a heap. 2) Wait. And that's all that Thompson says, but with better pictures.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Birthday Present For Me

It's my birthday on Saturday, March 29th. I'll be thirty-mumble, but that's not important right now. Do you know what I'd really like as a present? I'd like you to turn your lights off between 8pm and 9pm, local time. It's Earth Hour:

On March 31 2007, for one hour, Sydney made a powerful statement about the greatest contributor to global warming – coal-fired electricity – by turning off its lights. Over 2.2 million Sydney residents and over 2,100 businesses switched off, leading to a 10.2% energy reduction across the city. What began as one city taking a stand against global warming caught the attention of the world.

10.2%? That's incredible. It's what E-Day should have been if it hadn't been so badly stuffed up.

In 2008, 24 global cities will participate in Earth Hour at 8pm on March 29. Earth Hour is the highlight of a major campaign to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to take the simple steps needed to cut their emissions on an ongoing basis. It is about simple changes that will collectively make a difference – from businesses turning off their lights when their offices are empty, to households turning off appliances rather than leaving them on standby.

So please will you give me a birthday present? Will you participate in Earth Hour, even if you don't live in one of the participating cities? Will you blog about Earth Hour and spread the word? Will you email people who you think might be interested?

I think this is really important. I think this could wake up the people who say "It doesn't matter what I do, I'll cut my carbon footprint when industry/the government/China cuts theirs". It proves that what individuals do does matter. I think it could shake up the people who say "I'm not prepared to go live in a cave just in case man-made climate change is real". It proves that you don't have to go live in a cave, small changes can make a big difference if everyone does them.

Just one hour. It will be fun. Turn off your lights (and other unnecessary devices). Then you'll have to figure out how to entertain yourselves in the dark for one hour. Personally I think burning paraffin wax candles kind of defeats the point, but we can quibble over that in future years. Burn a candle if it makes you happy. Join in, have fun, and talk about it to your friends and neighbours. Sing "Happy birthday dear Melanie", and then leave a comment here to say you did it. For me. For my birthday.

UPDATE 16/11/2009: This post seemed to be attracting a great deal of spam comments so I have reluctantly deleted the spam and disabled new comments

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Practical Jokes for Chickens

red hen eating grassI sometimes check my blog stats to see which search terms bring visitors to Bean Sprouts. "How to make Greek Yogurt" is popular, as is "Can I eat bean sprouts when pregnant?".

But one I saw today made me laugh: "practical jokes for chickens".

Happy Easter

Easter by Marc RobertsHappy Easter to all Bean Sprouts readers. We woke this morning to several inches of snow, which is more than I've seen all winter. We had an Easter Egg hunt in the garden, thanks to my Dad who provided a huge bucket full of chocolate eggs for the purpose. Once all the eggs had been found a snowball fight ensued, followed by a breakfast of hot chocolate and chocolate eggs indoors. We'll go to church at 11am and I expect the snow will have melted by then. But if there is any still lying on the hilltops we may head up to Lyme Park with the sledges for a bit more snowy fun, and then come home to roast lamb, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables for dinner.

The stunning image is by Marc Roberts of Throbgoblins, who is also behind our regular Sunday funnies. If you get it printed up as a greetings card by next year, I'll buy a couple of packets, Marc.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Guide to Cavity Wall Insulation

I wasn't sure whether to include this video as I think it's irritatingly patronising. What do you think?

Annoying videos aside, cavity wall insulation can make a huge impact on your home heating bill and on your carbon footprint. About half the houses in Britain have cavity walls, although if your house is under 25-30 years old it probably had the cavity walls insulated at the same time it was built.

If you live Britain you can contact the Energy Saving Trust who will put you in touch with a local contractor. They will check whether your house already has cavity wall insulation by drilling a small hole in your exterior wall to have a look. They will fill the hole up again when they're done so there is nothing to worry about, and they will carry out the check free of charge. If you don't have cavity wall insulation it's great news in a way, because you can save up to 15% of your home heating bill (abut £90 per year) by getting insulation installed. That's about the same as you can save by having your loft fully insulated - almost as much heat leaves your house through the walls as through the roof.

It costs about £500 to get cavity wall insulation installed. It's a quick and clean procedure. And you should recoup the cost in lower heating bills within about 5 years. There may be grants available, so ask the Energy Saving Trust about grants when you speak to them.

We've already got cavity wall insulation. It was here when we bought the house. But if we didn't I would definitely get it done. It's one of the most important things you can do to save energy, save carbon (about 3/4 of a tonne per year), and save yourself loads of money.

If you get a contractor to come and check whether you have cavity wall insulation, you can tick "I've done one thing on the list!" in the poll in the right-hand-sidebar. If you need to install insulation and you do it, you can tick it again.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lenten Moon

animation of phases of the moon
It's a full moon tonight. The reason Easter is so early this year is that the full moon is only one day after the equinox. The date of Easter has a complicated definition, but the short (slightly inaccurate) version is that it's the Sunday after the full moon after the equinox.

It's not the earliest possible date for Easter - that would be March 22nd, one day earlier than this year. That won't happen until 2285, and it won't happen on March 23rd again until 2160. So nobody alive today will ever see such an early Easter as this for the rest of their lives. I'm sure teachers will sigh with relief at this news, as it has really messed up the length of school terms.

I hope the sky is clear tonight so I can get a good view of the March full moon, also known as the Lenten Moon. If the skies are clear where you are, why not wrap up warm and go and look at it?

(Isn't the animated picture of the phases of the moon amazing? It's by Tom Ruen and is public domain. Click on the picture to go to the Wikipedia page I got it from and find out more about it.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Spring Equinox

forsythiaToday is the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. It's also the equinox in the southern hemisphere, but it's the autumn one there. The equinoxes are the two points in the year that are halfway between midwinter and midsummer; halfway between the shortest day and the longest day. So today, day and night are exactly the same length, as long as you define "day" as "the time when the midpoint of the sun is above the horizon" and "night" as "the time when the midpoint of the sun is below the horizon". Most of us think of the day as beginning when any part of the sun is above the horizon and ending when every part of the sun dips below it, so in practice the day is slightly longer then the night on the equinox.

I imagine that ancient people, noticing that the midday sun was getting lower and lower in the sky as winter progressed, may have been afraid that this year it might carry on getting lower and eventually disappear altogether. Maybe they were very relieved after midwinter passed and they noticed the days lengthening again. Perhaps it seemed to them like a battle between light and darkness, between day and night, warmth and cold, life and death. At midwinter it must have seemed as if the darkness was winning the battle, but then the light began to fight back. By the equinox, the light was winning the battle - day is longer than night once again and all of nature is coming back to life. Plants are starting to grow again, animals are active and breeding. Hurrah for the force of light and life and everything that is good for we humans.

So it's no surprise that the date of midwinter is close to the feast of Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of the son (sun). He is small and weak at that point, but he is growing and he brings hope for the future. Other cultures past and present have important celebrations at that time of year which include ideas about light and life and warmth. Similarly, the date of Easter is defined in relation to the equinox. And other cultures have celebrations at this time which are all about rebirth, renewal, and the triumph of life over death. It's all the same celebration. It's all the same idea. It's built into us because we are alive and we live on a planet which has seasons. Maybe you're not religious yourself and don't celebrate Easter. Maybe you didn't know that today is the equinox before you read this post. But you knew the flowers are all coming out, didn't you? You noticed that the mornings aren't so dark, and the evenings are getting longer. It's good to be in tune with the changes of the year. Happy equinox.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Close Curtains at Dusk to Save Energy

curtainsThis month I've challenged myself (and you) to try to cut my home heating bill with energy saving measures. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to cut your carbon footprint, as 84% of typical domestic energy use (in Britain) goes for space heating and water heating.

I've already talked about loft insulation, but that's quite expensive (about £200-£500) and time-consuming. It's worth it, as it will only take couple of years before you've saved that much on your energy bills. But there are also simpler and cheaper things you can do to cut your home heating bills.

For example closing all your curtains at dusk will trap heat in your home. Remember to close the curtains in any room that has a radiator (such as bedrooms and spare rooms) at the same time. However you heat your house, closing the curtains after dark prevents heat from escaping through the windows.

For maximum benefit, make sure all your curtains are lined, preferably with thermal lining. Mine aren't, but as I get round to replacing them I'll make sure any new curtains I make or buy have thermal lining. Pelmets also help to stop heat escaping through the window (I really hate the look of pelmets though - ugh). And finally, make sure your curtains don't drape down over the radiators, as this would totally defeat the purpose - all the heat would be trapped behind the curtain and go straight out through the window. You might as well burn money. If any of your curtains fall over the radiators, go and chop them off with scissors straight away - it doesn't take long to sew up the hem with a sewing machine, or get some iron-on bonding to neaten up the cut edge.

If you promise to remember to close all your curtains after dark, you can click "I've done one thing on the list!" in the poll in the right-hand-sidebar. If you want to see the other items on the list, they're on the March Challenge blog post.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Rubbish Diet

empty wheely binHave you been following the progress of The Rubbish Diet? Regular Bean Sprouts commenter Karen Cannard (aka 21st Century Mummy, aka almost mrs average) has been aiming to slim her bin to a size 0 by Zero Waste Week which started on 10th March, and she has been blogging about her family's quest to do just that.

The latest entry tells how, with a lots of effort and a bit of lateral thinking, she put only one item in her black (landfill) bin during zero-waste week - a used sticking plaster. She also starred on BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour between the 10th and 14th of March, and you can listen to the show on the Women's Hour website.

I loved the way she announced it:

Today is Bin Day and I am going to celebrate by NOT PUTTING THE BIN OUT...because for the first time in my life as a responsible adult...there's no need to.....HOORAY! Indeed, if I keep this up, I won't have to put it out for weeks or months!

We all hate putting the bins out, don't we? Wouldn't it be great if we could all make as little waste as Karen, so we didn't have to put the bins out at all?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Getting Ready for Planting

view of allotmentsWe haven't been down to the allotment so far in 2008. Either the weather has been dreadful (you can't really garden in a gale) or we've been very busy doing other things, or we've been ill. So last weekend we took the opportunity to get stuck in.

I planted some raspberry canes and weeded a bed full of some kind of alliums - they're either onions or shallots, or possibly funny-looking garlic. I simply can't remember what I planted there, and if I put a label on then it must have blown away. Anyway, whatever they are they're looking well. I do remember where I planted the garlic which came from the garlic fairy. That's looking great, too, and I'll get round to weeding it soon.

Ed dug some ground elder out of a bed ready for us to plant something there. There's a lot of things need planting soon and we haven't yet decided what is going to go there. The broad beans I planted in October have grown slowly all winter and are now ready to leap into action as the days start getting longer. I hope we'll get a crop off those fairly soon, although I've planted far too many and always intended that some of them would just be dug back into the ground as green manure.

I also planted as green manure a proprietory mixture from the garden centre. It contains rye and tares and other things I can't remember or identify. It has come up nicely and has smothered out any weeds in the patch where I sowed it. It now needs mowing and digging in, then leaving to rot for a little while before I plant out the nicely enriched bed. It's basically the same thing as the fallow part of old crop rotation methods, putting nutrition back into the soil. So I'll plant something hungry there that will appreciate the extra nutrients.

I could go on - there are a couple of clumps of daffodils that always make me smile when I visit the allotment in Spring. Next time I go I'll probably cut a few unopened ones to bring back to the house. My rhubarb is starting to come up, but the variety on my plot is a late starter and I'm always jealous of my neighbours with early rubarb varieties. Maybe I can barter some early rhubarb for eggs or something. I've still got brussels sprouts growing on the plot, and late-season spuds in storage, although I'm pretty sick of them by now. I'm clamming for fresh home-grown salad, radishes, tomatoes, peas, mmm-mmm. I want it to be summer already but it's not even the equinox yet.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Grocery Store Wars

Our Sunday funny this week is Grocery Store Wars - a 5-minute video about buying organic, based on Star Wars. It's right up my street. Hope you enjoy it, too.

But if you don't - why not? If you'd prefer a video that's not as funny but actually contains some persuasive information and arguments about how our shopping choices affect the environment, try The Story of Stuff. Alternatively, if you'd prefer really funny videos about Star Wars set in a supermarket without the irritating environmental message, try Chad Vader.

Cartoon from Climate Cartoons. Click on the panel to read the whole strip.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Loft Insulation

not enough loft insulationDo you ever wake up in the night to discover that your partner (or pet cat) has stolen most of the duvet and your uncovered feet feel like they've frozen solid? Imagine going to sleep without any blanket or sheet to cover you. Brrr. If you could get a thin blanket, that would be an improvement over nothing at all. But if you could get a really thick down-filled duvet instead, mmm, you'd be cosy and snug all night.

That's what loft insulation does to your house. Without any insulation at all 15% of your heating costs (about £110 per year)could go straight through the roof. If you have a little bit of loft insulation, say up to about 50mm (2 inches) that would be a lot better than nothing. But if you had a really thick layer of loft insulation, say up to 270mm (about 10 or 11 inches), then every bit of heat stays in your house where you want it, your bills come down, and so does your carbon footprint, by around 1 tonne of CO2 per year.

That's why I climbed up into my loft armed with a ruler, a torch and a camera (you probably don't need the camera) to see how much loft insulation I have. It turns out there's about 80mm up there (just over 3 inches). That's better than nothing, but not really enough.

Since space heating and water heating account for a whopping 84% of our typical household energy consumption, topping up my loft insulation is perhaps the single most significant thing I can do to bring down my energy bills and my carbon footprint. It puts low-energy lightbulbs in the shade. However it's a bit more costly and time consuming than simply buying a different type of bulb whenever one goes "ping". Topping up your loft insulation costs around £200 if you do-it-yourself (maybe £500 if you GALMI - Get A Little Man In). But you'll save the DIY cost in under 2 years of reduced heating bills (less than 5 years for the GALMI version). There may also be grants available. I'll be looking into that over the next few days - if anyone knows anything about loft insulation grants, please drop me an email.

It takes about half a day to insulate your loft, but perhaps more if your loft is full of junk which will have to be removed first. I don't know what the insulating value is of boxes full of old clothes, books and unused sporting goods. I wouldn't rely on it myself.

Do you know how much loft insulation you have? Go and have a look, and then you can click "I've done one thing on the list!" in the poll in the right-hand-sidebar. If you need to add more insulation and you do so, you can click it again.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bear Convicted for Honey Theft

Two National beehivesI've been both very busy and rather poorly for the last week or two, so I've been mostly blogging about news stories, books, other blogs and so on. But my dad has now gone home to Ireland and my cold is much better, so I am determined to blog about things I'm doing - checking on my loft insulation, digging the allotment, raising seedlings and so on.

But I couldn't resist sharing this news story - a court in Macedonia has convicted a bear of theft and criminal damage after repeatedly attacking a local beekeeper's hives. I loved this bit:
For a while, he kept the animal away by buying a generator, lighting up the area, and playing thumping Serbian turbo-folk music. But when the generator ran out of power and the music fell silent, the bear was back and the honey was gone once more.

I wonder if Jethro Tull would have the same effect?

Being a wild animal, the bear had no owner, so the court ordered the state to pay compensation to the beekeeper of $3,500 (£1,750 or 2,238 euros). I wonder if it is possible under UK law to sue a mouse?

And in case you're worried:
The bear, meanwhile, remains at large - somewhere in Macedonia.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

New Wiggly Wigglers Catalogue

Wiggly Wigglers catalogue 2008Wiggly Wigglers have a new catalogue out, and it's a bit unusual. I came across WW years ago and still think of them as "The people who sell bird seed and ladybird houses and whatnot" - but goodness how they've grown. You can still get your nest boxes and composters from them, but now you can also get seeds, tools, books, clothes, eco-cleaning products, trees, sprouters, preserving supplies and all sorts of other things. Their new catalogue is over 200 pages long, and it's like the biggest funkiest garden centre you could ever wish for.

But this new catalogue is also more than that. Heather Gorringe is an astute user of new media: the Wiggly Wigglers website, podcast, blog, Facebook group, and Heather's personal blog (subtitled "One womans journey around the World - with the aim to shake up farming using Web 2.0 and Social Media") are all testaments to that. The new catalogue blends contributions from bloggers, customers and celebrities such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in a scrap-book style. When it plopped through my door this morning I stood in the hallway to flick through it, but eventually had to go and make myself a cup of tea and get more comfy. It's not a catalogue you "flick through". It's so full of articles, features and columns it's more like a magazine. It's actually a good read.

I think what excites me most about the new Wiggly Wigglers catalogue is the beekeeping and poultry-keeping equipment. Having to track down suppliers for those sorts of things can be daunting, I know. To make them available in a catalogue such as WW which has a much broader appeal must sow a seed in lots of people's minds that they could do those things too. I think I might have taken the plunge into chicken and beekeeping much sooner if they had been presented as just normal gardening activities, alongside feeding birds and composting scraps.

What I just wrote isn't strictly true. What excites me most about the new Wiggly Wigglers catalogue is the short piece Heather asked me to write for it about growing your own salad, which is printed on page 57. I don't expect you be particularly excited about that, but I bet you'll be excited about the rest of the catalogue.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Self Sufficientish Bible

The Self Sufficientish BibleDave and Andy Hamilton are good friends of Bean Sprouts, and maintain one of my favourite websites On Thursday April 3rd their first book will be published, The Self Sufficient-ish Bible.

They say:
It is full of practical advice not only on how to be more self sufficentish but also how to be more ethical and greener. We hope that it is one of those books that will look really tatty within weeks of owning it as it will be referred to so frequently.

You can pre-order it from, from your local bookstore, or your local library (the ISBN numbers are # ISBN-10: 034095101X - # ISBN-13: 978-0340951019).

Congratulations, Dave and Andy. It looks really good, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Religion and the Environment

Pope BenedictI noticed two interesting stories about religion and the environment yesterday. The Vatican has listed seven new mortal sins, including polluting the environment, causing poverty, and accumulating excessive wealth. I'm a practicing Christian and my environmentalism and personal ethics come directly from my faith, so I'm delighted with this new list. I'm also very surprised to see the Pope (particularly this Pope) so in tune with my own thinking. I know a lot of people might find this news story totally irrelevant, but I found it very welcome.

The other story that attracted my attention was about the Southern Baptist Church in the USA. Church leaders have announced that man-made climate change is real and their members have a duty to prevent it. I'm not knowledgeable about American politics, but I know the Southern Baptist Church has a great influence on the Republican party in particular, and a knock-on effect on the Democrats as well since they cannot ignore what the Southern Baptists say and do. Another major influence on Republican politics is the energy industry, and green commentators have blamed this influence for President Bush's infuriating inaction on climate change. Now that the Southern Baptist Church has taken this position, it will be very interesting to see what effect it has on Republican policy.

Photograph by AgĂȘncia Brasil, a public Brazilian news agency.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hello Observer Readers

The ObserverThe Observer has included Bean Sprouts in its list of The world's 50 most powerful blogs. We come in at #34, which is a big thrill, especially so soon after the blog was recognised by Amnesty International. It's all terribly subjective, of course, but it has already brought a lot of extra visitors and links which I always like to see.

I hope some of you will stay a while and have a look around. Why not browse the archives, leave a comment, subscribe to the feed or participate in our monthly challenge? There's usually a new article every day, so hit "favourites" and save the link so you can visit us again.

Hello also to Bean Sprouts' loyal readers who have stuck with it all along, especially to everyone who gets involved by commenting, participating in the challenges and so on. I hope you have that nice feeling of having discovered something before it became "cool".

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Department for Transport apologises over usable cycle lane

phone box in cycle pathFunny story from the satirical newspaper
The Rt Hon. Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport, issued a full apology today after it transpired that a cycle lane in Wilmslow, Cheshire, did not contain substantial fragments of broken glass, abandoned vehicles or a telephone box placed right in the middle...

‘This places us in an impossible position’ said one local cyclist. ‘We were already as self-righteous as it was possible to be. This new outrage against our healthy and carbon neutral form of sustainable transport has left us unable to be any more self righteous.’

Read the whole story here.

Cartoon from Climate Cartoons. Click on the panel to read the whole strip.

cantankerous frank cartoon

Thursday, March 06, 2008

International Women's Day

drawing of mum, by EleanorIt will be International Women's Day on March 8th. I wasn't planning to do anything special for the day, but I am very pleased that Amnesty International UK has chosen me as one of its favourite female bloggers to celebrate the day.

To be mentioned on the same page as The Huffington Post, Dooce and Rachel from North London cheered me up on a day when I was feeling a bit low. I have two important concerts this weekend, and I am starting to come down with the same cold that flattened Ed for several days. Poor me. Come to the pity party.

Anyway, my dad is arriving tonight for a week-long visit. I'm going to be singing two wonderful works in inspirational settings this weekend. The garden is full of spring flowers. And Amnesty International likes my blog. So what reason is there to feel sorry for myself? No reason at all that a big glass of whisky and hot lemon can't fix.

The picture is a drawing of me by my 8-year-old daughter Eleanor, which she drew for a mother's day card this year. See, even more reasons to feel good.

February Bird List

great titBirds I have seen from my house in February 2008:

  • Blue tits (some are inspecting the nesting box on the wall of the house)

  • Great tits

  • Crows

  • Woodpigeons

  • Robins

  • Sparrows

  • Dunnocks

  • Wrens

  • Blackbirds

  • Magpies

  • Jays

  • Starlings

  • Canada geese (NEW - didn't see these in January)

  • Pheasant (NEW - didn't see these in January either)

That's 14 species. Birds I saw in January that I didn't see again in February include long-tailed tits, woodpecker, gulls, herons, nuthatch, chaffinch. But didn't spend as much time birdwatching this month. So they were probably there, I just wasn't looking out of the window at the right time.

It was only a few years ago I decided I wanted to be able to identify all the birds that frequent my garden. I'm not a dedicated "twitcher". I have no interest in going to some desolate spot and sitting in a little camouflage tent in the driving rain in the hope of spotting some rare bird.

But I was delighted at how quickly I learned to identify my local garden birds. It was quite strange; I would have told you that I didn't get many birds in my garden, and most of them were all the same - a mass of small similar brown birds. But when I started watching I realised there were quite a few birds I could already identify - robins, blackbirds, magpies etc. And the "little brown jobs" eventually separated themselves out into sparrows (male and female quite distinct), chaffinches (again males and females are different), dunnocks, wrens and a few other things. Blue tits and great tits stymied me at first but now they look totally different, I don't understand why I found it so hard to tell them apart. Woodpigeons and collared doves also confused me for a while. And I don't know why it took me so long to decide whether the big black things I could see were crows, rooks or jackdaws - they're quite different from each other when you know what to look for. But I still can't tell gulls apart at all. And there's a little grey-and-white fellow I see sometimes who is either a marsh tit or a willow tit, but in every book I've read they look completely identical to me so I've no idea how to decide which one he is.

If you can't already identify your neighbourhood birds, I recommend you get a good bird book and start keeping a monthly list. It's not hard. It seems hard at first but once you've identified a regular visitor you never have to do it again. It's free. It's not time-consuming. I do it whilst I'm doing other things, the washing up, for example. And it's a lovely skill to have.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Focus on Heating Challenge

household energy consumption pie chartLast week I reproduced this pie chart about British household energy consumption. I hadn't realised that 84% of our energy usage is for space heating and water heating. It makes low-energy lightbulbs look like a bit of a waste of time.

They're not, of course. They're an easy thing that everybody can do. And if everybody does it (switch to low-energy lightbulbs) then it makes a big difference.

Reducing your home heating bill isn't quite as straightforward. But it has the potential to make a much bigger impact than changing lightbulbs - both on your own fuel bills and on your carbon footprint.

I made a list of ways you can reduce your home heating bill, and none of them involve turning the heating off and shivering:

  • Add to your loft insulation
  • Make sure you have cavity wall insulation
  • Install double or even triple glazing
  • Exclude draughts
  • Close curtains when it gets dark.
  • Make sure the curtains have thermal lining
  • Put foil behind radiators
  • Turn off radiators in unused rooms
  • Use timers to make sure the heating is only on when it needs to be
  • Wear a jumper
  • Turn down your heating thermostat

If you can think of any other things I could add to the list, do let me know. Notice that turning down your thermostat is last on the list. Once you've made your house more insulated and draught-proof you'll want to turn your thermostat down anyway because you'll be far too warm.

I tried to pick one of these things for March's challenge, then I thought - let's do them all. So that's this month's challenge. Every time you do one of the things on the list, vote in the poll. Even if it only makes a 5% difference in your home heating usage, that will swamp any saving you could make in lighting, appliances, leaving gadgets on standby, or any other single part of your domestic energy budget.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Start A Blog Challenge Results

start a blog challenge pie chartThe results of February's Start A Blog Challenge are as follows:

  • I've started a new blog! 23 (24%)
  • I already had a blog! 57 (60%)
  • I don't want to! 10 (10%)
  • I can't! 5 (5%)
I'm really pleased that 23 people voted to say they started a new blog in response to this challenge. I hope you find blogging as rewarding as I do. Together we're part of the green blogosphere: researching, communicating, debating, and motivating ourselves and others to live more responsibly.

I already linked to a lot of the new blogs, but I also lost a few because they were getting posted to several different places and I lost track. So if you started a new blog this month, please leave the URL of your blog in the comments to this article. I'll collect them all together in about a week.

A new challenge for March will be coming soon.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Poynton 1 - Tesco 0

Today the Macclesfield Borough Council have unanimously rejected Tesco’s application for a supermarket in Poynton during their planning meeting.

That means Tesco have three options: give up the idea of building a store in Poynton, second, appeal within the six months, or lastly, submit a new or modified scheme.

From Poynton Against Tesco website.

The bad news is Waitrose have also applied to build a supermarket in Poynton. This is receiving more of a mixed reception from Poynton residents who seem to like the idea of upmarket Waitrose more than the low-brow appeal of Tesco. But all the reasons I objected to Tesco - the risk to local traders, the influx of extra traffic, the loss of local jobs and the siphoning of money out of the village - also apply to Waitrose or any other chain supermarket. So I'll be objecting to Waitrose too.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Sustainable Warfare

In The Know: How Can We Make The War In Iraq More Eco-Friendly?

Last Sunday I posted an article from The Onion, the satirical online newspaper. Here's a satirical video from The Onion which had me hooting with laughter. Some panelists discuss ways to wage a greener war in Iraq, such as driving biodegradable tanks and shocking detainees' testicles with wind power.

Cartoon from Climate Cartoons. Click on panel to read the complete strip.

climate cartoon chocolate fireguard

Saturday, March 01, 2008

How to Assemble a Bee Hive Frame

I bought the frames and wax foundation to replace what the mice damaged. It came to £70. Two mouseguards would have cost £1.08. That's an expensive lesson. Not to mention the honey I will lose whilst my bees expend energy replacing the eaten wax and stores. On the other hand, my bee guru, Arnie, has given me some old frames and hive floors that used to belong to another beekeeper who passed away. I'll clean those up and repair them. The mice would have cost me even more without Arnie's generosity. I know I'll never neglect to fit mouseguards again.

hoffman frames before assemblyToday I've been busy assembling lots of brand new frames and fitting them with wax foundation. They come flat packed - lots of odd-shaped bits of wood, sheets of beeswax stamped with a hexagon pattern and reinforced with wire, and 19mm gimp pins. You'll also need a hammer and/or pin punch, your hive tool, and probably a pair of pliers for removing any nails that go in wrong.

splitting slat off top barThe first thing to do is to identify a top bar and snap off the foundation-retaining slat using your hive tool. Clean off any slivers of wood that remain stuck to the top bar and the slat.

Fixing side bar to top barThen lie the top bar on your work surface flat face down, and find two side bars. Orient them so the foundation grooves face inwards, then gently push them onto the top bar. They should fit snugly. If they are too snug to push into place by hand, tap them into place with a hammer using a waste piece of wood to avoid hitting the slotted ends and damaging them. Pin the top bar to the side bar through the side, not through the top. When the frame is laden with honey a nail through the top may not take the weight, with sticky consequences.

inserting wax foundationNow take a sheet of wax foundation and figure out which way up it goes. You should have three long loops of wire at the top. If you have two short loops it's upside down. Bend the three loops at right angles and gently slot the foundation into the grooves. If all is well it will fit snugly, but if necessary trim a little wax off the side.

Find the slat you separated from the top bar earlier, and put it back in place. Pin it with three gimp pins through the loops in the wire. Take care not to lose concentration and put your hammer through the beeswax. It's really annoying.

nailing the bottombarsNearly done. Now find two bottombars and gently fit them into the slots in the sidebar. Be careful not to bend the foundation at this stage. Pin the bottombars through the bottom, not the side. At some point you will want to partly disassemble the frame and remove the wax. If you nail through the sides it will be almost impossible to avoid damaging the frame if the pin goes through the side.

assembled bee hive frameAnd that's it. I now have one complete bee hive frame. Only 39 more to go. Sigh.

100,000th Visitor

Sometime today Bean Sprouts is expecting its 100,000th visitor. Check the counter at the bottom of the screen, and if it's you, please say Hi!