Little Green Space
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June 17, 2012
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Wildlife Watch group
We love going to Wildlife Watch meetings and today's meeting was no exception. The group met up at Lathkill Dale to explore the nature reserve there with Natural England's Paul Maddox. Paul gave us a tour of the wildflower meadows, where we sketched ox-eye daisies, yellow rattle and red clover. Then we sat silently for a couple of minutes to see what we could hear - not easy with a group of 21 children! We did hear a curlew, a pheasant and a quail, though (as well as someone with hiccups, a sweet paper rustling and assorted coughs, murmurs and giggles).
Next we headed off to the dew ponds for some pond dipping. Newts and a large leech were the prize finds, but there were also pond skaters, water boatmen and dragonfly larvae aplenty.
For me, though, the highlight of the morning was spotting a hare running through the haymeadow - my second hare this year!
April 26, 2012
All Saints Gardening Club
On Thursday afternoons I work with children from All Saints Junior School, Matlock, in their organic vegetable garden. It's great helping the children learn new skills like seed-sowing, pricking out seedlings, planting and thinning out. The kids really enjoy being in the garden, and are full of enthusiasm.
The school has won awards in the annual Matlock in Bloom competition, and it's not hard to see why. The veg garden is superb, and the plants look so much better than the stuff I'm growing at home! Everything is so well cared for. This year, the school is hoping to set up a market garden stall, selling fresh organic produce, at the summer fair. So it's all hands on deck to make sure there's plenty of produce ready for harvesting in July.
This afternoon I've been helping the children to plant beetroot and lettuce seedlings, and showing them how to sow carrots. All the potatoes are now in the ground, or in pots, and there's a very healthy array of vegetable seedlings growing strongly in the greenhouse.
April 4, 2012
It's snowing hard here in the Peak District - which, given the fact that it was over 20 degrees here a week ago, is a bit of a shock to the system. Hoping that all the gardening we did during that hot, sunny spell was not a waste of time: potatoes, radishes, broad beans and peas were all planted, along with some strawberry plants. There are also some pepper and tomato seedlings in the unheated greenhouse - I didn't get a chance to cover them in fleece (not even sure we have any fleece) so I hope they're not getting too cold. If the worst happens I do, at least, have a few backups here in the warm and cosy house.
It just goes to show that you should never take your eye off the ball - or off the weather forecast - when it comes to growing your own. The upside of the snow is that, as it melts, it will give everything a much-needed soaking.
March 31, 2012
The Fifty Pound Challenge
It's been another challenging month, trying to keep the family's food shopping bills to under £50 a week. And once again, I was disheartened to tot up the bills and see I've not yet achieved this goal.
When I checked my spending against last year's, though, I was amazed to see just how much we have already saved, even though we've not yet been able to hit the £50 target. With more careful meal planning, more vegetarian meals, avoiding over-packaged and over-processed food, and a policy of zero food waste, we've saved over a thousand pounds in just three months! So all in all the challenge is going pretty well...
March 17, 2012
Happy St Patrick's Day; Happy Birthday Little Green Space!
It seemed fitting that we should celebrate Little Green Space's 4th birthday with a bit of tree planting, so we met up with members of Transition Matlock at Cavendish playing fields to plant a few native, broadleaved trees. It was a beautiful sunny morning and while we were planting three buzzards circled overhead and called out "Happy Birthday" to us. Smashing!
It's certainly been a busy week - there's been a lot of planting going on. At Castle View Primary School, Matlock, we worked with children from the gardening club to plant eight fruit trees in the school's grounds. And the following day we were at All Saints Infants planting up another bee and butterfly friendly nectar-rich flower border. The original borders, planted a couple of years ago, are now well-established, and look great. Elizabeth Hodgetts, a teacher at the school, tells us that in spring and summer the plants are buzzing with bees, and the children love spotting butterflies in the garden, too. That's what we like to hear!
March 5, 2012
First bumblebee and lots of frogs!
With the recent sunny weather it's really begun to feel as though Spring is just around the corner. And the wildlife in the garden thinks so too - a few days ago we counted twenty frogs in the pond, and today we saw our first bumblebee of the year, sitting happily on a dandelion in the sunshine!
February 29, 2012
The Fifty Pound Challenge
Well, I still haven't managed to keep my food shopping to under fifty pounds a week. But I am getting better - this month it was, at least, under sixty pounds (just). If we can keep reducing the family food bills at this rate, we should hit the under fifty pounds target by mid-summer.
Of course, it was never meant to be easy - if it was, I couldn't call it a challenge! And we are right in the middle of the hungry gap, with nothing much except a few salad leaves coming out of the vegetable garden. But I can see that the purple sprouting broccoli is about to sprout, and the Spring cabbages are fattening by the day, so there will soon be something to harvest.
And come mid-summer, there should be carrots, new potatoes, broad beans, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries ... my mouth's watering just thinking about it!
February 21, 2012
Today is Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as it's also known. I must confess that we don't eat pancakes only on Shrove Tuesday - they're a bit of a Saturday breakfast family tradition.
Since starting the 50 Pound Challenge, though, I've noticed just how much butter we get through. We make most of our meals, and treats like cakes and biscuits, from scratch - and butter tends to be a key ingredient in so many recipes. And it's quite expensive, at £1.25 for 250g.
Luckily, I've recently discovered that pancakes can be made with sunflower oil in place of the melted butter you find in many pancake recipes. Sunflower oil is a lot cheaper than butter, and it's better for you, too.
Here's the recipe:
100g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
melted butter or sunflower oil to grease the pan
Stir the salt into the flour, and in a separate bowl or jug beat together the eggs, milk and oil. Whisk the liquid into the flour, a little at a time, to make a smooth, thin batter. Add a few tablespoonfuls of batter to hot oil or butter in a pan, and tilt the pan so that the batter coats the base. Cook over a fairly high heat until air bubbles begin to appear in the batter, and the edges are solid enough to lift with a spatula. Shake the pan a little to loosen the pancake, and prevent it from sticking, then flip over and cook the other side - this should only take a minute or so. Repeat with more batter. Serve the pancakes with lemon and sugar; chocolate sauce; sliced bananas and golden syrup; vanilla ice cream, maple syrup and pecan nuts; rolled up with a filling of grated marzipan; sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon...
February 17, 2012
Last night we took part in the Dark Skies survey. Man-made light pollution is making it harder and harder to appreciate the beauty of the night sky, and some people in inner-city areas may find it hard to see more than a few stars in a clear night sky. Artificial light that shines where it's not needed is a waste of energy, too.
We are very lucky, here in the Peak District, to have some areas where the skies are dark enough to experience the joy of star-gazing. It's easy to do the survey and assess the extent of light pollution where you live. Just identify the constellation of Orion in the night sky, then count how many stars you can see. There are charts to help you make an accurate reading here, and full instructions here.
We counted over nineteen stars within Orion in the sky near our house, giving us a sky quality rating of 5 - not bad. But consider the poor city-dwellers who can only make out two stars: they can't even see Orion's belt.
The survey continues every night until 23rd February, and should identify some really good star-gazing locations across the Peak District, so that everyone can have a chance to see the night sky as it really is. Hopefully we'll have a few more clear, starry nights in the next few days!
February 10, 2012
Avoid food waste, save money
Doing the Fifty Pound Challenge has made me really think about my spending habits. Here are a few of the things I've learnt so far:
Alongside all this, we're making sure that no food goes in the bin. Smaller portions are put onto plates - if we want more, we can get more, but no food gets scraped off plates into the bin. Usually though, we've all had enough, and the untouched food can go into the fridge to be eaten another day. There are some great ideas for using up leftovers at Love Food Hate Waste.
February 6, 2012
The cold weather has brought some of the more unusual bird species into the garden. On Sunday we spotted a fieldfare pecking at the last remaining apple on the apple tree (apples are a favourite food for fieldfares.)
Then yesterday, six redwings landed in the plum tree, and hung around for quite a while. Today we saw the first siskin of the winter, feeding from the seed feeders.
I wonder what we'll see tomorrow?
February 1, 2012
The Fifty Pound Challenge
Last month, I set myself the challenge of spending just £50 a week on food and consumables such as toiletries and cleaning products.
It was hard. I'm so used to "stocking up" on those "essential items" that putting only what we really, really needed into the trolley has been a challenge. The weekly shop has taken longer, as I check and compare price labels and re-invent my shopping list to take account of special offers and discounts (before the discounted items and Buy One Get One Free offers just went in as well as the items on my list). And all the meals have to be planned carefully in advance.
At the end of the month I totted up everything I'd spent, divided by 31 and multiplied by 7 to get my weekly total. It was £64.53. So, I failed. Miserably.
Or did I? This time last year, my weekly spend was over £100. (And that was a good month. It was often much more). That means I saved over £170 compared to last year. If I can do that every month, I'll have saved over £2000 by the end of the year. That's a lot of money.
And over the course of the month, no food went in the bin. Some fruit and veg peelings went in the compost (along with coffee grounds and teabags) and a few scraps made a treat for the hens. But this family sent no food waste to landfill in January 2012. Given that the average family in the UK chucks over £500-worth of perfectly edible food in the bin each year, I think we did pretty well. If we all stopped throwing food away, we could make carbon savings equivalent of taking one in five cars off the road.
I'm now all fired up about February's challenge. Using all the things I've learnt over the past few weeks (which I'll share with you later) I just know I'm going to hit that £50 target.
January 30, 2012
Big Garden Birwatch
At the weekend we took part in the world's biggest bird survey: the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.
We were pretty happy with our sightings. In previous years we haven't always seen some of our regular birds during the hour, but this year we saw nearly all of them except a bullfinch and a nuthatch (both of which showed up the next day!)
But we did see blue tits, great tits, robins, chaffinches, greenfinches, a goldfinch, a long-tailed tit, some coal tits, blackbirds, a song thrush, jackdaws, wood pigeons and some dunnocks.
Right at the very end, with just a few minutes to spare before our hour was up, we saw a wren and a black cap! Magic!
January 25, 2012
The Fifty Pound Challenge!
My resolution this year has been to spend less money on food. At the end of December, I decided that I would try to spend only £50 per week in the supermarket. This includes all the food for three family meals a day, as well as those other supermarket spends such as toiletries and loo rolls. This will be a considerable saving on my usual weekly spend, which is often at least £100, so my bank balance will thank me for it.
So far it's going well - I think. I won't know quite how I've done until the end of January, because I'll be working out the average weekly spend over the course of the month. This means that if I spend only £35 one week, I can "carry over" the £15 for the following week. And if I overspend one week, I know I'll have to be really frugal next time I shop.
It's not been easy, though. There have been plenty of times when I've only had to look at my trolley to know there's more than 50 quids-worth of food in there. Then something has to go back. Those cereals on special offer? They're a good buy, but we don't need them this week. That pack of cakes? I can make some for half the price - and I already have all the ingredients I need sitting in the cupboard at home.
One thing that has helped immensely, though, is having a small supply of home-grown veggies - and plenty of eggs from our hens. We have had a lot of eggy meals! I've still needed to be careful, though - for a start, in January, there isn't a great deal available in my veg plot - just leeks, kale and some salads from the greenhouse. It doesn't help that, after a nasty experience with kale ("Mum, why are there bugs swimming in my gravy?") the kids won't eat it.
I'll let you know how I got on in a few days time!
January 16, 2012
Despite the freezing temperature, I managed to get out on the plot at the weekend. There's a surprising amount available, including two varieties of kale (Redbor and Nero di Toscana), leeks and parsnips. In the greenhouse I still have a few red chillis hanging on for dear life, as well as some pak choi and salad leaves.
The purple sprouting broccoli is growing very well, and has somehow survived attack from pigeons - so far. A friend has given me seven spring cabbage plants, which I managed to get into the semi-frozen ground. Unfortunately, though, the chickens made a beeline for them almost immediately. Luckily, I noticed them pecking at the plants and covered them up with some netting (the cabbages, not the chickens.)
January 11, 2012
We're getting close to the end of our stored garlic supplies, which has reminded me that it's now time to get some more garlic into the ground for later on in the year.
Last year's garlic came from plantings made in both in spring and in the previous autumn. I never got around to planting the garlic last autumn, though, so I'm relying solely on the stuff I've put in today. It says "plant in spring" on the packet, but I've always been led to believe that garlic needs a good cold spell to make it grow well. And with a hard frost forecast for the next few days, the timing seems just right.
3369 organic, free range eggs so far!