Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin Ale

Badger Pumpkin AlePumpkin Ale by Badger. Is it just me or is "real ale" getting crapper? This gimmicky "bitter" actually had very little bitterness and an overload of sweetness and fizziness. The flavour wasn't very complex or interesting. I could maybe detect a hint of pumpkin and clove flavours like it said on the label. But to be honest if it didn't have "pumpkin" printed on it, and a cute carved pumpkin on the cap, I don't think I would have said "ooh! tastes of pumpkin" just from drinking it.

If you like Hobgoblin by Wychwood you might like this. They're similarly sweet and fizzy. Actually Hobgoblin is rather better than this, the flavours are darker and more complex. Pumpkin Ale could be an interesting thing to serve at a Hallowe'en party where the company and the atmosphere are more important than the food and drink. I'm sure it would taste a lot better if you were wearing fancy dress and listening to "The Monster Mash". But I won't be buying it again after today.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


woman shoppingMy sister Lindsey and I went through my wardrobe and yanked out everything that doesn't fit me any more, everything too ratty to wear any more, and other things that needed de-cluttering. We also discovered some things I haven't worn for ages, and things I had forgotten I owned, and Lindsey suggested different ways of combining items into outfits I hadn't thought of before. Then she took some things from the "give to charity" pile that she wanted for herself. It was a lot of fun.

The next day she brought me some things from her own wardrobe that she didn't wear any more and thought would suit me, or would go with outfits I already had. And we hit the local charity shops and found some great bargains. We bought a few items new, too, from a shopping list we devised of "must-haves" (e.g. that brown skirt you have is fabulous but you really need a couple of matching tops and a brown belt to go with it).

So now I have a totally new wardrobe of outfits to wear, but with a minimal budget. And Lindsey and I had a great time together doing sisterly girly stuff, dressing up and trying different looks out. I get the point of retail therapy. I understand why people like to go to the shopping mall for a day as a leisure activity to cheer themselves up. I understand the pleasure of coming home with an armful of trophies from your day of 21st century hunting-and-gathering. But my green instincts rebel at the wastefulness of shopping for the sake of shopping, and treating clothes as if they were disposable. So it's nice to find ways of getting the same retail rush with a clean eco-conscience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hen House Cleaning

henhouseI thought I was so clever, using shredded waste paper as chicken bedding. But the problem is that shredded paper, when combined with chicken poo and left to dry, becomes a kind of combination of papier mache and adobe. It's almost completely impossible to remove from any surface it adheres to, including hens' ankles. On the other hand, I may have inadvertently invented an exciting new environmentally-friendly building material.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yesterday's News

recycled Chinese pencilsSteph and I went to my favourite art and craft supplies shop, Fred Aldous in Manchester. And one of the things we bought was a set of coloured pencils made from recycled Chinese newspapers. The newspapers are so tightly wrapped around the coloured lead that it feels like a normal wooden pencil, and can be sharpened with a regular pencil sharpener. But you can read the text on the outside of the pencil (if you can read Chinese). The packaging seems to be made of Chinese newspapers too. Very groovy.

You can also buy them online for £2.99 from

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Biggest Fan

drying laundry with a fanIf you are drying clothes indoors, either through choice or necessity, an electric fan speeds it up considerably but it still uses a lot less juice than a tumble dryer.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Funny

Sorry I didn't post yesterday. I haven't vanished again. But my sister Steph has arrived for a visit over half term. We've been learning to draw in pastels (well I've been learning, Steph is already very good at it), decorating the house for hallowe'en, shopping for our brother-in-law Andrew's birthday presents (happy birthday Andrew!) and generally having lots of fun.

Since it's Sunday, here are some funnies:

After an exhaustive three year study, scientists at the University of the Isle of Dogs, East London, (UIDEL) have discovered what they think could be the real cause of global warming - people all over the world hanging out their washing to dry writes special washing correspondent Barry Rooster.

The boffins say that when freshly-laundered clothes - especially whites and light coloureds - are hung on washing lines, they reflect the sun's rays upwards, leading to an increase in the greenhouse effect.

Head of Research Gunther Smallpiece comments: "We've previously been told to reduce the temperature on our washing machines to save electricity, but this is fact counter-effective. We will recommend to the government that the population use the full drying cycle on their machines, instead of hanging the garments outside in the fresh air". And he goes further: "This is so serious, we'd like to see hanging washing outdoors to be banned in the same way as smoking indoors.""We'd like to see it become, if you like, a 'hanging offence'!", he jokes, proving conclusively that even dull scientists do have a sense of humour.

From The Spoof.

Cartoon from Throbgoblins. Click on the panel to read the whole strip.

Throbgoblins cartoon panel. Click to read the whole strip.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How Bean Sprouts Can Help You Survive the Credit Crunch

Cartoon by Throbgoblins. Click to read the whole strip.So, the Credit Crunch. Funny to think that when Bean Sprouts began its sabbatical at the end of August, the credit crunch was part of the lesser-read financial news. Now it seems like it's on the front page every day. Today, for example, the announcement that Britain has officially entered an economic downturn and in all probability is in recession. So how can the Bean Sprouts archives help?

Well there is a wealth of articles in the archives tagged "frugal" which can help anyone who is tightening their financial belt. By far the most popular is How to Make Greek Yogurt, and if you don't like the Greek stuff you can also find out how to make regular yogurt and how to make Philadelphia-type soft cheese. You might also want to check out the very popular How To Get Started With Chickens - Part 1 , Part 2 and Part 3.

It's also worth looking at the posts tagged "foraging" to find out if you can pick any leaves, fruits, nuts, berries or mushrooms and get food for free. You can also find out how to make them into wine, jam, liqueurs, chutney and so on.

You might also consider signing up to Freecycle or one of the alternatives. You might want to join the Freeconomy community.

For a more general discussion of using your brain to reduce overconsumption without hardship, check out Money-Saving Toothpaste Tip, and if you're feeling blue and deprived then watch The Story of Stuff and console yourself that by saving money, you're also saving the planet. Find out Why You Should Know Your Hourly Pay. And if you're wondering why we're all in this mess in the first place, find out what sustainability means and think about why anybody could seriously expect that the economy can keep on growing forever.

Cartoon from Throbgoblins. Click the panel to read the whole strip.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When is an A-Rated Appliance Not?

broken tumble dryerWhen is an A-rated appliance not an A-rated appliance? When it only last 2 years before irreparably breaking down. Five years ago we bought a White Knight A-rated tumble dryer. As far as I know it was and still is the only A-rated dryer available. We really liked it. It has some nifty features like reverse tumble - it changes the direction it tumbles every few minutes, so your clothes don't end up in a tight sausage, bone dry and hot on the outside and wet in the middle. It has a sensor, so it goes until the clothes are dry then it stops automatically. I used this feature to test the tumble dryer balls a couple of years ago. You can set it to full-eco-mode where it takes all day to get your clothes dry but uses very little energy in doing so (this is the A-rated mode), or you can set it to murder-death-kill-mode where it blasts your clothes dry in an hour or so. But even in this mode it seems very gentle and I have stopped being fussy about what I tumble-dry and what I air-dry because nothing has ever shrunk in this dryer.

But just over two-and-a-half years after we bought it the drum ripped clean off the bearing leaving a huge ragged hole in the back of the drum. We inquired about getting a replacement drum but it was totally uneconomical - it cost more to do this than to buy a whole new appliance. So we bought another identical dryer. After all, we liked the model very much. Maybe it was a freak manufacturing fault which made it fail so quickly. But just in case it wasn't, we took out the optional 5-year-warranty.

It is more "green" to replace a part than to replace the whole appliance
We're very glad we did, because 2 years and 1 month after we bought it, the exact same fault happened again. And this time the warranty-people have ordered a replacement drum. I don't know why it is economical for them to do it when it wasn't economical for us, but hey-ho. I feel a bit ambivalent about this. It is more "green" to replace a part than to replace the whole appliance, so that's nice. But if they had just sent me a cheque to buy a new dryer, I would have avoided this model like the plague. I feel sure the new drum will also fail in another two years - or more likely in about 3 years, when the 5-year-warranty has expired.

How much energy have I saved by using an A-rated appliance compared to another appliance? I don't know. it depends on exactly how often I have used it, which varies from season to season. And it depends on how much I have used it on A-rated mode and how often I used it on regular mode, which also varies. I put slow-mode on when Ed is at work all day and I just tune-out the sound of the endless rumbling. But in the evenings and at weekends when Ed and the kids are at home I put it on fast-mode. There is enough noise in the house at those times without adding to it.

the embedded energy of the appliance
But how much energy is there in the extraction and processing of the materials that made the appliance? How much energy was used in its manufacture and transport? This is the embedded energy of the appliance. Think of it like the cost of owning a car - if a car is very cheap to run, then that's nice. But if it is very expensive to buy in the first place then that weighs against the cheapness of running. Maybe it still works out cheaper overall, as long as you keep the car on the road long enough. But if you buy an expensive car that breaks down after two years, then it's always going to be uneconomical compared to a car that lasts a long time. I don't think the White Knight dryer deserves to call itself A-rated if it only lasts two years, because I suspect the embedded energy outweighs the energy savings in use.

it is better to dry clothes on the line, and I do this when I can
P.S. yes, it is better to dry clothes on the line, and I do this when I can. But it has rained in England almost without let-up for the last two years. OK that's not strictly true, but it feels true. We have certainly had an unusually wet period for two years now. So line drying has been difficult, and I find a dryer is an essential emergency back-up when every surface in the house is covered in wet clothes and the kids need clean school uniforms by the morning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sad News

charcoal sketch of chickensOn Saturday I spent some time in the garden sketching things in charcoal, including the chickens. They all seemed fine. On Sunday I got dressed up in old jeans with holes in them, an old faded t-shirt, marigold gloves, headscarf and wellys (with a fetching cow-skin print) and went to clean out the chicken coop and run. It's a mucky job, and long overdue this time, but satisfying. I spotted one of the new Rhode Island Reds lying in the run, apparently dead. She moved a little when I went to investigate, but shortly afterwards she did expire.

I don't know what was wrong with her. She had seemed fine the day before. All the other chickens are healthy and well except for a mite infestation, which is why I went out to clean the housing and treat it. Anyway mites on a chicken are like fleas on a dog - they're annoying but not lethal. There was no sign that anything had got into the run or harmed her. She was only 18 months old.

We have two older chickens, both hybrid layers, which we got at the same time and have always got along well with each other. Then we got two Rhodies in January, and they were pals with each other but the older girls bullied them a bit. Well whilst I was cleaning the hen house, the surviving Rhodie went over to her dead sister, lowered her head to her and made soft clucking noises. I don't think we should anthropomorphise animals (anyway, they don't like it), but it was impossible not to interpret it as saying something like "Elsie? Are you OK? Elsie, what's the matter? Get up!" And she pecked at the dead bird a couple of times as if prodding her to move.

I buried her at the back of a flower bed. I might pop a few spring bulbs on top later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Did You Miss Me?

Sorry for the long break. Nothing horrible happened to prevent me from posting but thanks for all your concern, I'm really touched. After I came back from London, dad came to stay for a few weeks. I kept telling myself "I'll get back to blogging when things get back to normal", but somehow I didn't. Call it "the blogging blahs", call it getting out of the habit, call it sheer laziness, I don't know what.

I've got a new guitar, the first guitar I have ever bought for myself, so I've been playing a lot. I have been learning to draw and putting my drawings on a "secret" (or at least un-publicised) blog purely so my family far away can see them. But some of you have found it, you crafty things. I'll probably put some drawings on Bean Sprouts when they are relevant to the posts, but this isn't going to turn into an art blog. It will remain about living sustainably and our family's search for the good life. I've been watching old musicals with my 8-year-old daughter, like The King and I, and Calamity Jane. That's been a lot of fun. One of our chickens died from unknown causes. The allotment has been utterly neglected, we're thinking hard about what we want to do with that. Sam turned 7. I'm looking forward to Hallowe'en, Stephanie will come up then and I'm sure we'll hook up with Lindsey too. Life has been going on as it always does.

I already have ideas for the next few blog posts. More about our chickens, about keeping chickens in general, and particularly about pest control. When is an A-rated appliance not an A-rated appliance? And getting started making home-made Christmas gifts, but realistically. It may take me little time to get back into the "post every day, or more" habit. But I'm back now anyway, and it feels good. I missed you guys too!