Sunday, June 27, 2010

Peace in the Garden

I can't do everything, but if I do the important things first, take one step at a time, and accept the help of my family, I can find peace.
I am sitting in the garden right now with an ice cold smoothies made partly from my own strawberries, the first of which ripened today. The house is clean and tidy. The lawn is mowed and the plants watered and fed, as are the fish and the chickens. The washing is hanging on the line. All my essays are marked.
The garden looks great - the beans have climbed to the top of their bamboo pyramid and are starting to climb up the wisteria. The tomatoes are growing big and strong and starting to make flowers. The spuds are growing strongly, despite the dog's penchant for digging them up and eating them. I've been harvesting salad leaves for a while now, but am still awaiting the first radish harvest. The herbs are looking great, especially the mint. The rhubarb is doing well as are the courgettes. The garden is also full of flowers, and bees, and butterflies (I am not a fan of butterflies. Oh they look pretty and are harmless enough, but the caterpillars are buggers).
Peace? Yes, I'd say so.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice, Bean Sprouts readers! Tomorrow is the longest day and the shortest night of the year (in the northern hemisphere where I live anyway. In the southern hemisphere it is midwinter, the shortest day and longest night). At this time of the year light dominates over darkness, day dominates over night, warmth dominates over cold, life dominates over death.

Here in Britain we are finally having a nice summer after several long years of cold, dark, wet summers and it feels glorious! I am spending every minute I can out of doors shedding as many clothes as I dare and letting the sun warm my skin. I must admit I have got sunburned more than once already this season, which is not very wise.

Enjoy the special day, readers, and enjoy the summer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


When we were students at Aberystwyth university, back in the early 1990s, we would often have barbecues on the beach. At the time, Ed and I were both vegetarian, so our usual barbecue fare was vegetable kebabs. We'd thread cherry tomatoes, button mushrooms, pieces of coloured peppers, courgette and aubergine onto skewers, brush them with olive oil and grill them. When they were done we would transfer the veg to a pitta bread and top with hummus.

I always brought too much veg. I think it's much better to have too much food at a barbecue than not enough. So the next day I would fling all the leftover ingredients in a pan with a close fitting lid, put it on a slow heat, and make ratatouille. You can serve it hot or cold, in a bowl, and scoop it up with any leftover pittas.

It's really as easy as that. You don't need a recipe. The proportions don't matter. This is peasant food - the peasants didn't have recipes or kitchen scales. They didn't say "Sorry darling, I was going to make ratatouille tonight but we have rather too many aubergines and not enough yellow peppers". They just flung what they had in a pot and heated it until it was cooked. You can't break it if you leave one ingredient out because you can't get it, or don't like it. It doesn't matter if you chuck in some other things you have lying around in the fridge. I admit, my mind slightly boggles at the idea of ratatouille with neeps, but why not? Whatever floats your boat.

We had a barbecue yesterday so today we are having ratatouille. Like day follows night. Yum.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Low-Hanging Fruit

Infographics (displaying facts and figures in a pictorial way) are very trendy right now. My favourite producer of infographics is The Oatmeal but he hasn't tackled anything related to the environment yet, so I haven't linked to him from Bean Sprouts before.

But I also liked this infographic about the "low-hanging fruit" of energy saving - the easy, simple, money-saving things everyone should be doing, like installed low-energy light bulbs and turning down your thermostat by one degree. Do they actually work? Can they help save the planet? Isn't it just small potatoes compared to things like smoke-belching factories and long-haul flights? Isn't it pointless when the Chinese are... umm... I can't actually remember what the argument is but basically we don't need to do anything about saving the planet unless the Chinese do it first?

Well, no. These things are worthwhile. Loads of households doing little things is just as important as a few factories doing big things to reduce our carbon emissions, our fossil fuel consumption, water consumption and all the other stuff. This infographic shows you why, and if you go to the Wellhome blog who produced it, you can go read up all the information sources they used to make it. Top marks for your references, guys!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Funnies

I loved this poster from Fake Science (for when the facts are too confusing). Sometimes there's a fine line between "hilarious" and "heartbreaking".

And I'm delighted to see that the witty and talented Marc Roberts has a new website to showcase his climate cartoons, as featured in New Internationalist. Click this week's cartoon to see a bigger version.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup

Check Spelling
I'm not a massive football fan. I watch football matches in the following circumstances: When Liverpool or England are playing a cup match, and the World Cup.

My husband, Ed, hates football. So 12 years ago I watched the 1998 World Cup at my parents house. I would walk the mile or so to their house with little baby Thomas, and we would watch the matches together. We watched every match, however insignificant, Lithuania v Cote D'Ivoire, Netherlands v Japan, all of them. I don't remember if my sister Lindsey was there or if she was living somewhere else at that time. I remember watching tournaments with her and others without her, but I can't place this particular one. Dad would get very cross if everyone wasn't in place on the sofa by a good 10 or 15 minutes before kick-off. It was as if he thought we were in the team and they couldn't start without us. And he got very tense in the last few minutes of any match with a goal difference of 1 or less (which is the vast majority of football matches). He would leave the room and pace up and down the hallway. Occasionally we would arrange to all cheer or groan on 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... and he would come dashing in to see what he had missed.

Then 8 years ago I would leave baby Eleanor and toddler Tom with Ed and haul my pregnant self to mum and dad's place to watch the 2002 World Cup. We always had bowls of salted peanuts when we watched football games. I don't know why, it was just a sort of family tradition. Mum and I loved interactive wallcharts, and would obsessively fill in the results and calculate what they all meant, especially in the group stages: "So as long as England win against Slovenia by at least one goal we are definitely through...", "...unless France lose to Tunisia by more than four goals...", "...yeah but that's not going to happen..." but we still watched the France v Tunisia match with fingernails bitten to the quick. We watched every match until England got knocked out, and then we skipped the rest and watched the final.

Mum died five years ago. I seem to remember making a desultory effort to watch the 2006 World Cup on my own, but it wasn't the same. The football was only ever part of it. More important was the family time spent together. The family traditions, the shared focus, the common joy and grief.

Since mum died there have been many Christmases and birthdays, her grandchildren have made first holy communions, been in nativity plays and strings concerts and swimming galas. I often think "Mum would have enjoyed this, she would have been so proud", but mostly I was more sorry for her that she was missing things than I was sorry for myself. Today I feel sorry for myself. I wish I could watch the World Cup with mum.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Look for Bean Sprouts

Away with the old Bean Sprouts look and in with the new. What do you think? Is it readable and clear? Is there anything you can no longer find? Anything you have noticed is missing? I'll continue to tweak it for a few days so give me your feedback.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Relocating Feral Bees

I really enjoyed a video on the BBC news website of a beekeeper relocating a large colony of feral bees which had established in somebodies home in California. I wish I could embed the video here but there seems to be no way to do it, so if you want to see it yourself, follow this link.

I was interested to see the use of the bee vacuum, and the way the beekeeper cut sections of comb with honey and brood from the wild hive and inserted them (with elastic bands) into standard frames. Of course you can't just move the bees - you have to move all their stores and brood too. I didn't see anything about him ensuring he had the queen, that would have been interesting. But since the bees seem to be partially Africanised, and therefore rather aggressive, he will surely have wanted to re-queen them anyway. I would also have liked to see him examine some brood for mite infestation.

By definition, feral bees are resistant to pests such as varroa. If they weren't, they'd be dead. So hybridising feral colonies with managed strains could help develop resistant varieties of bees which is so desperately important in these days of colony collapse disorder (which is just a posh name for "Oh shit! All the bees are dying and we don't know why!")

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Green Britain Day 2010

Green Britain Day 2010 is on 17th June, 8 days away. But it seems to be a secret - I only know about it because I have a relative who works for EDF, the company behind it. Even after she told me about it I had a heck of a job finding any information about it on the internet. It's not on the EDF home page. It doesn't seem to have its own website, although there is a website for Team Green Britain which mentions it. My relative tells me it has been advertised on TV and in the national press. Have you seen any publicity for Green Britain Day 2010?

Well anyway, events for Green Britain Day 2010 include Bike Week which runs from 19th-27th June. You can search for your local Bike Week events and there do seem to be a lot of them going on.

There is also an event called The Big Lunch on 18th July which encourages people to have lunch with their neighbours, whether in a small event or a street party or whatever. Sounds like fun, and worthwhile to build up communities. Not sure what it has to do with "Green Britain" though.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that neither of these events take place on 17th June, Green Britain Day. So what is happening on that date? I have no idea. I have combed the Team Green Britain website and I have searched the internet for "Green Britain Day 2010" to no avail.

EDF, I am calling you out. Do you get some sort of tax break or something by claiming to have organised Green Britain Day, which sounds like a great idea but in practice is a load of puff? As the great philospher Bart Simpson once said "I didnt think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows". It's a shame because I happen to know there is an active group of people working for the company who are really dedicated to improving the environment, and who are imaginative and tireless in doing so.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Cowslip Wine

For my birthday, my dad bought me a bottle of Lyme Bay cowslip wine in a lovely stone bottle, and I cracked it open last week with Stephanie and Ed.

It was delicious! It's a long time since I have made any wine, but this has given me the bug again. It had that proper home-made "country wine" taste, entirely different from anything made with grapes. It was the perfect thing to drink on a long hot summer evening. Thanks, dad.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Eat Local, Wear - ?

Increasingly I am coming to the view that buying local food is more important than buying organic or Fairtrade food. But what about clothing? I live in Britain which is not exactly famous for its fields of cotton or its mulberry plantations producing silk. We produce wool, but it's difficult to wear all year round (and I have a horrible tendency to shrink it in the wash).

A surf clothing company called Rapanui contacted me a couple of weeks ago to publicise their products (full disclosure - they have not offered me any incentive except a link exchange. Loads of businesses offer link exchanges with Bean Sprouts but I ignore 99% of them as irrelevant to my readers). I checked out their website and I was impressed at the thoroughness of their eco credentials. Rapanui is not a clothing company that makes a token effort to claim the "eco" label as a marketing ploy. They truly seem to have built their business on sustainable and ethical principles that extend to everything they do.

I liked the traceability maps which show a product-specific supply chain traceability map for every product they sell. I liked the detailed description of the ethical standards for workers they apply in the (wind powered) factories and farms. I was very impressed by the in-depth carbon footprint calculations they make available for all their products.

I'm not exactly a surf chick so I'm unlikely to buy any Rapanui products, although the pashminas are rather nice, and so are the socks. The men's range is much more "fleshed out" than the women's range so far, and there are no children's products yet. The company is young, though, and they may already have plans to extend these ranges. But I really liked their approach to business. I wish many more companies would be as thoughtful about their environmental and ethical values.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Folk on the Coast

My second music festival in two days! Today I went to Folk on the Coast to help my sister Lindsey sell her hand-made jewellery and run jewellery-making workshops. Her stall was right next to a workshop area, so we got to overhear a song-writing workshop and a poetry-reading session with John Gorman of The Scaffold, in whose honour I have included the YouTube clip of Lily The Pink.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ed and Steph (with help from me and Guy) spruced up our garden pond, which was being reclaimed by nature. It was more of a garden swamp than a garden pond. But now the quantity of pond plants has been greatly reduced, the water has been topped up. The child-safe grille has been removed, and the turf has been trimmed back.

Living in the pond are 5 (non-native) fat goldfish, 2 different species of frog (common frog and British pond frog), smooth newts and common toads. Not to mention all the insect life attracted to the water. It's pleasant just to sit by the pond and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Having a wonderful day in the garden with family and friends. Good food. Cold beer. Chasing frogs. Making musical instruments out of old gas drums. Painting the gas drums. Playing music. Feeding snails to the chickens. Using scary power tools with lots of spitznsparken. Nice day.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Fresh Burst of Energy

My commitment to blog every day didn't last very long did it? I need to accept I have up days and down days (and weeks, and months...) But just lately I have had a boost from spending time with my sisters and my brother-in-law. The four of us went to London for a day trip. Lindsey and Andrew shared the driving, and we went shopping in Camden Lock and Covent Garden, and ended up sitting outside a bar in Soho drinking cold beer and people-watching.

It was a wonderful day, and it has put me in a good mood for the whole week. I will blog more about what I have been doing in the week, as well as passing on some news that various people have emailed me about. Lots of good things have happened recently which have felt like getting back in touch with the old "me", and I hope to keep the feeling going.