Thursday, 1 August 2013

Recycling galore!

Here are ten alternatives to using Freecycle, just in case you have the recycling bug!
MySkip: a celeb-backed swapping site with photos
Freegle: a new breakaway set of groups from ex-Freecycle UK moderators
vSkips: a healthy reuse site with a simple design and over 25,000 "virtual skips" the original clothes-swapping, or "swishing", site
Big Wardrobe: another clothes-swapping site that recently launched a national swapping "road show"
RecycleNow: an official government site that has a postcode service to locate your nearest recycling centre
Gumtree: popular for giveaways and classified sales. Fairly London-centric but very busy
Don't Dump That: forum-based reuse site along the lines of Freecycle
Seedy People: seed-swapping site for gardeners and allotment owners
LetsAllShare: Freecycle-style site with feedback ratings for users

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Urban Permaculture

Excellent compact urban living permaculture design. Including vertical stacking, extended micro edges all beautifully designed and productive.

Water Kefir and Ginger

I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my quarter cup of Organic Water Kefir Grains (Tibicos) from this lovely lady on Ebay, and they finally dropped through the letterbox this morning! Yay!

So, with hardly a glance at what to do, I poured all my grains into two containers - half in one large rose coloured glass jug (left), and half in another smaller jam jar (right). Added tap water - although the instructions are to add filtered water (oops!) - a couple of slices of fresh peeled ginger to each container, and three tablespoons of unrefined demerara sugar to the jug, and one tablespoon of unrefined demerara sugar to the jar.

I mixed vigorously with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar, and left to stand on my kitchen counter top. The jam jar has a screw top lid and contains about a cup of water, and the jug I covered with cling film contains about half a litre of water.

This is day 1 - For more informed 'how to' check out this recipe on Whole Traditions.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Water Catchment Pest Management

I'm about to buy a small property with a stream fed/rainwater catchment system and know some of the problems with these kinds of systems are the potential for mosquitoes and other waterborne critters to get into the water and breed.

One brilliant idea I came across on the Ludlow Survivors Group was so simple, yet, so perfect, I had to share it here:

If you have problems with mosquitoes or other airborne nasties using the water stored for a solar shower and the toilets they can breed to highly irritating levels with accompanying medical problems.
due to the nature of a lot of these systems you may not be able to seal the containers adequately to prevent these nasties from getting in and laying their eggs, but the problem can quite easily be overcome with the addition of polystyrene balls (such as those used in bean bags) in a thick layer over the surface of the water.
This will prevent the mosquitoes and other nasties from accessing the water whist allowing the system to continue to operate as the balls float on the surface. They also conform to the contours of the storage vessel and can be prevented from accidentally accessing the system when drained by a simple mesh at the inlet. Water added to the system will simply push the balls out of the way and then they instantly return to cover it again.

The suggestion was made by Stuart at BCUK. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Cute reused milk container packaging

Just discovered this cool little container made using recycled milk cartons, over at Permaculture Ideas.

I have been looking for a good REUSE for all those milk cartons for ages now - there's only so many seedling 'greenhouses' one can fit in one's garden patch - and now here's this cute little box container thingie to try out!!

For cool REUSE this novel idea has to take the biscuit - can't wait to give it a try.

Thinking about it a little more, these might also become the new cool packaging for my  Cyanotype Kits instead of the brown bags I'm currently using. If I can figure out how to make them work, a well as how to create them easily. They are just soooo funky!!

Now all I need is to find the little popper button fastening!
Oh and drink up my milk!


Several cups of tea and milk later....

OKAY, I had to have a go... never have I wanted to drink my milk so quickly!!

Here's the first prototype in pictures, it's not pretty, but I learned a lot from the exercise and look forward to consuming my next carton of milk!

Drink milk, wash carton :o)

Mark out the cutting line - I have used pure guesswork here, but I think it's almost right - a few tweaks next time will make it much prettier. One thing to watch out for is making sure that each corner is the same height - I noticed (due to my tardy cutting and complete lack of measuring) that each corner was slightly different and the final container was a wee bit lopsided. I used a four pint carton here.

Make an incision/starting point with a sharp knife (I used a scalpel), then once you can fit your scissors inside, begin cutting around your drawn lines.

Once you have cut the basic shape out, you can now go around the edge and even up the corners and curves. If you want to get fancy, you could even go around the whole edge with crimping scissors!!! Whoah!

Fold in 'flaps' and measure the place where you will make the fastener.

I went for the 'use what you have' approach for the fastening and made a little straight incision on the main body, and a D shaped... erm... 'tongue', on the largest flap. The D-shaped 'tongue' hooks into the slice and holds itself in place, rather than sourcing/buying the little fasteners in the original post. Well that was the idea anyhow!

And... this works really well! You could adapt the fastening in all kinds of ways - different shaped tongues and flaps etc, or even using a hole punch and thread/twine to loop through and create a tie fastening!

Well, there you have it! Thanks again to the original post on Permaculture Ideas, this ugly little duckling has huge potential and I'll be trying this again once I get through my next couple of pints of milk!

If you have a go, please post a link to a picture of your creation. Lets keep more cartons out of the landfill!

Off Grid Living

Recently a little house (read: shack!) came on to the market that has, once again, piqued my interest in off-grid living. The property is very remote - accessible only by air or water - the small community uses mostly solar and wind to power their homes, and water catchment systems for their plumbing needs. Some also using additional generators, and wood burning stoves to heat home and water.

The seasons are split into two main types: warm and sunny summers, very wet and windy winters.

I'm currently researching as much as possible about options for the various 'services' that I consider must have requirements/desires (please suggest other areas if I have missed any) and will share what I discover here, for others on a similar path!
  • Heating
  • Generating a sustainable supply of wood
  • Sufficient hot water generation
  • Food growth and storage
  • Soil care
  • Water capture
  • Lighting
  • Transport
I would like to mention that I am not an expert, I'm just a regular kind of person looking for an alternative way of living - one that is mindful of available resources, and one that respects, and understands the difference between 'needs' and 'wants'.

I have lived semi off grid before, with stream fed water and a septic tank waste system, but we enjoyed the luxury of mains electricity. Solar only, will raise extra challenges and concerns and I'm also interested in learning about what those might be.

If others are doing/learning/experimenting with similar issues, please leave a comment and links, or just say 'hello'. I'm a sponge for knowledge at the moment!


Before considering the heat source - insulate, insulate, insulate!

One consideration is the solid fuel/oil/gas Rayburn/Aga option for space heating and water heating. One downside is that to generate hot water, one must keep the Aga/Rayburn working all the time! And once the water tank has been drained - that luxurious bath - then it might take a while to create another tankful. Another consideration is the potential for the space heater to provide too much heat during summer months, just to maintain hot water.

Reading the Green Living Forum, one person suggests an outdoor wood burning/hot water option - which does seem like a feasible option:
Perhaps these haven't appeared in the UK yet but here in the states there are outdoor wood furnaces. Looks like a little shed with a chimney and heats water which goes via insulated pipes to heat storage and house heating. I believe these mainly used because sometimes hard to retrofit wood burning (and here we often have a lot more grounds than you do; example, in this township houses may be close together in the areas zoned "village" but otherwise minimum housel ot is two acres).
If you have good chimneys and a basement how about a wood fired boiler down below? Might make the basement hot and dry but hey, could string clothes lines 
A hybrid option of this gets me thinking... would an outdoor version hooked up to a DIY underfloor heating system work?

Another person, also in the GLF touched upon wood burner underfloor heating:
I have under floor heating and pump solar heated water in the day and turn over to wood burner back boiler for night
But I am in Spain, so you would probably require a larger collector for the UK
Heat pipe vacuum tubes work very well and I am sure they would ok for the Uk
I've looked into various alternative DIY solutions for generating heat - preferably using wood (managed, grown and harvested at the property) - and will gradually post findings here.

The DIY solid fuel heaters made out of gas bottles are an interesting consideration.

The need to consider some form of coppicing - as I do not want to de-nude the property of wood! I cam across this site that discusses various options for coppicing varieties and their burn, growing and coppicing properties. Included are Eucalypts, Acacia, Casuarina, Cypress, Poplar, Alder and Pine.

Some helpful info from their site (

Eucalypts – very fast-growing firewood which burns hot and long. Eucalyptus nitens, E. botryoides and E. ovata, are all good coppicing varieties, and will grow in a variety of soils, from dry to wet.
Acacia (wattle) – very hot and very long burning. Acacia melanoxylon (blackwood) is readily available and will usually coppice. Grows in dry to damp soils.
Casuarina – (sheoke), hot and long burning. Grows in dry to damp soils.
Cypress – Cupressus lusitanica (Mexican cypress), a great shelter or timber tree, but also makes good hot burning firewood. It needs a reasonably well-drained site and is non-coppicing.
Poplar – not as hot or as long burning as the others listed here, but light to handle and worthwhile as fire-starters, or for earlier in the season, when you don’t need as much heat. Great coppicers, and excellent for damp or wet spots.
Alders – similar to the poplars for growth, habitat and performance.
Pines – medium hot and short burning.

Another option might be the DIY 'fire bricks' that some are making using recycled paper.

[ongoing as I discover more info - I'm posting this 'unfinished' as others may find this useful in its current form, or have interesting observations and contributions]

Other pretty neat 'wish list' items that I'll write/research about a little later include an outdoor sauna, outdoor hot water shower, outdoor bath tub, making cheese,

Further reading


Friday, 28 September 2012

Growing Horseradish

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is in the brassica family, which includes turnips, kale, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, daikon radish and many other plants with varying degrees of pungency and a similar taste. Native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia, this an ancient herb grown for its pungent roots and is a very easy-to-grow perennial.

Even though you dig up the plant to harvest the roots each year, new plants can (and will) return in the spring from any small pieces of root still in the ground. It is so prolific, it can get out of control if you are not careful, a good reason to grow it in pots!

Though horseradish is used sparingly due to its strong hot flavor, it does add some nutritional benefits to your food. Lots of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium to name a few. When ground, the root produces isothiocyanates, chemical compounds that are studied for their anti-cancer properties.

It's leaves are fabulous as peppery salad greens too, but the true value of this plant is in the wonderful horseradish root sauce that you can produce. The roots are chopped, grated or minced, and usually mixed with vinegar, bottled and then used as a condiment. The stuff you buy in the store doesn't even compare! Makes the best horseradish crusted salmon!

How to get started

For best results start with a selection of root cuttings from a reputable grower, or from a garden centre or gardening catalogue. Organic gardeners all over the world will share horseradish roots to get people started. If you know anyone with a horseradish plant already, these can be great sources for your 'starter' root. 

When to plant horseradish

If you are going to grow your horseradish in the garden rather than a pot, choose a sunny location and allow for at least 18 to 20 inches between plants. They will get to around 3 feet in height as well. With very large leaves, which can shade out most other plants grown nearby. Thankfully, they also shade out most of the weeds.

Planting should be done as soon as your ground is thawed enough to dig. You’ll want to dig down at least twice as deep as your piece of horseradish root is long to provide loose soil for the long taproot.

Purchased roots for starting horseradish usually have a square cut at the bottom and a slanted cut at the top, so you can tell which way is up. Bury the root standing “upright” with the slanted cut at the top, just above the soil level. If you buy a root without any clear top to it, you’re better off planting the root horizontally just a few inches under the soil and let the plant figure it out.

Keep the soil moist until you start to see sprouts coming up. Continue regular watering to keep the soil moist until the plant has developed several sets of leaves. Then it should be fine with just rainfall on its own.
Though horseradish will thrive even when neglected, you can help your plants out with a mid-summer application of a low-nitrogen fertilizer. A standard formula will promote too much leaf growth at the expense of the roots.

While the plants are growing, you can actually pick a few of the young leaves and add them to salads. They can be kind of spicy, so only try a few. Later in the season, your plants may go to flower. Horseradish blooms are small, white and not particularly showy. They won’t harm your future root harvest so don’t feel you have to cut them off like with many other herbs.

Horseradish is in the same family as broccoli and cabbage, so be prepared for the same host of insect pests as you find with these other vegetables. In particular, keep an eye out for cabbage worms. They are the larvae of a white butterfly that will lay its eggs on the leaves. They prefer cabbage but will be happy to feast on your horseradish if it’s nearby. Look for slim green caterpillars, and pick them off immediately.

Because horseradish can spread mercilessly through your garden, many people prefer to grow it in containers. You will need a very large pot to allow your plant to really thrive. A 20 gallon pot, or even a half-barrel is the best. Make sure there is good drainage and plenty of holes in the bottom.

Harvesting horseradish

You can either harvest your horseradish in the autumn after the first hard frost has killed back the top portions of the plant, or in the early spring just before new sprouts form. The root flavor intensifies quite a bit after a frost but if you prefer milder horseradish, then harvest a bit earlier.
Gently dig up your plants and cut away all the thick roots. To start new plants for the next year, leave one or two pieces in the soil. This will work fine to start new plants even if you are harvesting in the fall.

Quite often, you will have new plants spring up even if you don’t intend it. If you really don’t want any more horseradish plants, you will have to thoroughly dig the soil to remove all the pieces of roots.

Preparing horseradish

Once you grate horseradish root, it will soon start to turn dark unless you mix with vinegar. Once vinegar is added (usually referred to as prepared horseradish at this point), you can store it in the fridge for 6 weeks.
When you grate your horseradish, do it somewhere well-ventilated. The fumes are very potent can will burn your eyes and nose. Best to keep a window open if you can.

For later use, you can store the whole roots for about 3 months in a container with damp sand. It’s not really the most practical method but horseradish needs to be kept moist. Or you can freeze it once grated. The whole root doesn’t freeze well.
The longer you store your horseradish roots, the less flavorful they will be. That goes for prepared horseradish as well.

Further reading