Green Stuff

Sustainability, renewables, permaculture and renewable technologies (solar, pv, gshp), ecology.

Recipe for Marrow Chutney

Marrow ChutneyHere is our version of Marrow Chutney – it has a little bit of bite, but nothing to worry the kids and quite warming for a winters day.  There is nothing complex about this marrow chutney recipe and uses up the last of the marrow from the garden.  You can also use Courgette if you have them spare.

So, let’s start with the ingredients…

1.5 Kg of Marrow (we also use Courgette)
Salt
250 g shallots
250 g cooking apples
250 g sultanas
20g bruised root ginger
4 teaspoonfuls of spice mix (see our simple blend below)
120 g brown sugar
1 pint (about 570 ml) vinegar

Our simple spice blend is as follows:

2 tablespoons of dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons of white mustard seeds
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
1 tablespoon of coriander powder
1 tablespoon of turmeric

First step is quite simple and ideally needs to be done the night before.  Chop, peel and de-seed the marrow – what you want is some small cubes – about 1cm or so.  Put into a colander in the sink and sprinkle liberally with salt.  This will help to remove water and take some of the rather bitter taste out.  We usually do this last thing at night and leave covered until the morning.  Don’t skimp on the salt as it will be washed off.

Salted Diced Marrow

Next step is to do the washing.  You want to get rid of all of the salt, so wash carefully.

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Put your marrow in a large pan and start to add all of the other ingredients.  Apples and shallots need to be cut into similar sized chunks and added.  Our spice mix is simple, but you can use something like pickling spice if you wrap it in muslin and take out at the end.

IMG_4598

 

With all the ingredients added, bring to the boil slowly.  Remember there is quite a bit of vinegar in here, so this is going to be a little bit smelly.  Keep the lid on and slowly simmer until completely cooked with a thick sauce.  You can stir as you go along and this certainly does help even out the contents, but don’t over do it.

Spicy Marrow Chutney

 

Allow to cool slightly and put into steralised jars.  Best to use hot jars and lids, add hot contents and leave to slowly cool.   Once the marrow chutney is cold store in a cool dark place.  A good larder or top of the fridge is ok.   Remember to put a label on it – especially the date.

Fukushima ground water exceeds 2 million becquerels per litre

It’s been quite some time since the triple melt down at Fukushima Japan.  Whilst the Japanese struggle to clear up and manage the situation, TEPCO announced that values ​​of 2.1 million becquerels per litre were measured on Friday 27th.  The Japan Times recently reported:

Tepco found 950 million becquerels of cesium and 520 million becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive substances, including strontium, in the water from 13 meters [~43 feet] underground.

Water from 1 meter down contained 340 million becquerels, and a sample from 7 meters down contained 350 million becquerels.

Let’s all hope that they get on top of the situation soon and that nations around the world will rethink their strategy on nuclear energy.  Imagine a similar incident in the UK – could we survive if a county or two were so highly irradiated that we had to abandon them?

Will our greed see Fracking on the agenda

Our greed has pushed fracking to the headlines as analysis shows that the gas deposits within shale rock could provide massive volumes of natural gas in England. We have two routes of investment here, clearly we as a country can invest in shale gas extraction (fracking) or we could look to spend the investment in renewable energies.

The problem with renewal energies is that it’s often the NIMBY crowd who don’t want to see this adopted. It’s not in their interests and after all, fracking just puts a few gas towers in someone else’s community. But in reality it’s likely to be their problem. There won’t be one or two towers, there will be hundreds, covering prime home counties as well as the midlands and north. NIMBY Tory and Lib Dem areas will suddenly be awoken with the reality of events.

But the bounty of cash for the local community will silence some.

Still those same NIMBY’s will be complaining about the price of gas (and not thinking about how they can reduce their consumption) and they will be convinced that the prices of gas may go down for their central heating.

They won’t be thinking about any long term damage. They won’t learn from the examples in the US and Germany. They won’t have spent time watching Gasland or many of the other documentaries out there showing the consequences.

Such is this selfish generation that we have produced that only when the impact becomes personal to them, will they act and complain. They will take the local community cash, they will take a bigger glug on cheaper gas, and then whinge when it goes wrong for them. Of course, if it doesn’t impact them, they will ignore it.

Seriously though, could we, should we, pump a chemical soup into our bedrock and not expect consequences?

Take some time and watch Gasland.

Five more new chick’s hatch

Five more new Chicks have hatched after being nursed by Lady Baldrick the Blackrock.  All looking like a healthy addition to the flock.  Now is the wait to find out what sex they are…

Lady Baldrick's new chicks

Flooding causes rail disruption in Newbury

Further heavy rain today has deepened the floods in Devon and Cornwall. The train line services from Newbury are limited as much of the service run’s from London Paddington to Exeter or Plymouth – both areas heavily damaged by floods. Newbury to Plymouth is a journey that I do on a regular basis. It’s lucky I don’t have to travel this way for a few weeks now, but feel sorry for anyone stuck – there is no rail diversion route and at best a long bus journey awaits those stuck. But this minor travel disruption for us should be in context: Pictures of the flooding in Devon are shocking – many of the places deep under water I have walked with the dogs and it’s difficult to understand from the picture just how deep and fast flowing the water must be in places. I hope that everyone in Devon and Cornwall have a great Christmas break and manage to stay dry and safe.

Local News Links:

Newbury Today web site

BBC News web site

Suffering of live animals at Ramsgate port

In yet more suffering for animals being exported from Ramsgate, an ex-river boat (the MV Joline) attempted to cross the channel despite warning of force 8 gales from the MCA. The boat had to turn back but only after being at sea for two hours. The conditions for the animals must have been horrific. In an earlier incident 45 sheep had to be destroyed after being injured. We must stop this cruelty and suffering.

Keith Taylor Green MEP for the South East posted a press release here.

There is a facebook page with more information here.

The Internet is not an excuse for bullying or abuse

I am a firm believer in free speech and freedom to speak; but freedom always has a price. The price on the Internet is that it's self regulated: i.e. you are required to moderate yourself, to be honest with yourself and understand the consequences of what you say and do. I comment on this blog, twitter, Facebook and loads of other places and I do so without anonymity and I fully understand the consequences. Many I know are too cowardly to put their own name to their words, they hide behind alias' – but that's fine too, as long as they understand that they are still responsible. Most Internet connections are heavily monitored by ISP's with actions taken by users – file sharing, abuse, hate speech, etc – all easily discovered and traced.

As long as people recognise this there should be no problem – quite often though they assume that anonymous comments and fake alias are enough to hide them from accountability. Free from inhibitions because they are hidden behind what they perceive as a shroud of secrecy, their words, their emails, their blog entries, can all become something that is unacceptable to society and to their peers. If their words were spoken in public to their family, friends and community would it be acceptable?

The Internet is not an excuse for anonymously bullying or abusing other people. It is an excuse to learn more about the people around you and throughout the world. To understand their needs and desires. To understand how you can help and how together we are not too different. The Internet does not directly convey age, sex, religion, class or even politics. It's only in how we describe ourselves and how others describe us that communities all over the world can form a view of us.

So please go out there on the Internet. Voice your opinion. Be proud of what you say and don't be shy – be prepared to be accountable.

Discovered a secret haul of eggs

Well, the fears that one of the chickens wasn't laying has been unfounded. After a dig around in the bushes we found a nice haul of egg's. Sneaky girl has been laying them in there for a while. All pass the float test so are good to go, might have to distribute quite a few to neighbours though.

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Japanese Nuclear Waste Heading for the UK?

It's a curios thought. Japan have a nuclear disaster in their country. Areas the size of Somerset are uninhabitable and they massive amounts of nuclear waste to deal with. Everything from radioactive cars, to livestock, plants, books, roof tiles and soil. Yet despite this, Japan has no nuclear waste storage facilities. Where are they going to put all of this contamination and could they export it to the United Kingdom?

In the UK we have extensive storage facilities, we have re-processing facilities and we have commitment to nuclear power and weapons that continue to feed the growing demand for further and more permanent storage mechanisms.

We, I am sure, could make significant amounts of money from such a transaction. Enough to put a good dent in the deficit, bring the balance of trade deficit more into line and provide an on-going financial commitment from Japan to the UK.

But is money all that we care about?

We are such a small island that any type of nuclear accident would impact every part. The reactors in Somerset would, with the standard prevailing wind, devastate South Wales, the Midlands and the North. Our nuclear waste sites are located on existing nuclear sites.

Any accident or deliberate attempt to compromise the storage facilities are also likely to cause devastating damage to the UK and our neighbours in the EU. Can we morally or financially withstand such an event? It is doubtful.

A Fukushima type breach and release of radioactivity in the UK would impact huge numbers of people and cripple our economy for decades. Our children and their children would not thank us for selfishly choosing Nuclear Power because other options seemed a little too difficult.

So why has the debate in the UK been closed? Lobbyists from big energy business want nuclear, for them it's a government guaranteed license to print money. The subsidies for nuclear are immense. Decommissioning, clearing sites, storage of waste, security – are all long term things. None of them are cheap and yet the nuclear operators don't seem accountable for these costs.

There are better options out there, starting with higher efficiency, local micro generation and renewable energies. There are 22 million homes in the UK – if each one of them generated 100W of locally produced electricity, it would contribute hundreds of megawatts of power to the local grid and without the loss factors from existing power stations.

So I call for a change in the planning process: each new build, renovation or extension must support a minimum of 100W of solar electricity for each bedroom; with the expectation that new builds and renovations provide significantly more. Commercial properties should also be subject to increasing requirements for renewable energy and efficiency savings.

Let's get on top of this now and not regret our inaction.

I don’t object to breast feeding a baby in public – is there something wrong with me?

I don't object to breast feeding a baby in public – is there something wrong with me? I am amazed by the number of people who object to feeding a baby in a natural way.

Half their objections seem to be based around assumptions that powdered chemicals fed in plastic and rubber bottles and sterilised in awful chemicals is healthier and better for babies. Something that I suspect only years of TV and other marketing has drummed into society.

The other half of their objections are based around thoughts that there is something indecent about breast feeding, especially in a public place.

I'm on sprog number 4 and I'm glad to say that the wife has fed all of them naturally. It's so much more convenient and so much more natural than any chemical mixture. I don't even recall any real debate between myself and the wife – it is just the right thing to do.

It's interesting though to see the reaction of different types of people to breast feeding. On the whole most men seem to look away and carry on – I would guess that most are ambivalent about the whole process and just find it a little awkward. Women on the other hand have a Marmite reaction – they either smile in that 'how wonderful' way, or they frown and mutter under their breath.

The objectors embarrassment must be a little innocence on their part – not quite understanding how the real world works. I do wonder if this pattern is matched in other countries or if this is just an old fashioned prudish behaviour instilled in some British.

For those dad's wondering what to do though, have a chat to your partner. There are significant pro's to breast feeding – grade A food on tap is one of them; but there are also some difficulties – unless you go through the rigmarole of pumping milk out, it's your partner who will be doing all the feeds, day and night; there are some people who object to breast feeding – we have even had people leave our house when the wife started feeding; and lastly your partner will have to be comfortable feeding when the baby needs it (where ever you are).

If I recall back a few years (blimey I must be getting old to start saying that) with sprog 1 we had a few weeks of things being difficult – baby not connecting right being just one thing that made feeding in public a little more uncomfortable; but after that when we were less conscious of breast feeding, you just go with the flow and do what comes naturally.

So for all those soon to be dad's out there: don't be embarrassed, it's all natural chemical free stuff that your baby needs, delivered as it should be and crucially it allows mother and baby to bond. Be supportive and do the right thing.

For everyone else: please be tolerant to breast feeding and get over your embarrassment – it's the most ethical, natural and sustainable method of keeping our babies healthy.

Long Term Review of Egg Skelter

Need somewhere to keep your eggs? Have chickens and want a neat way of showing your slightly unusual eggs? Well quite some time ago we purchase an Egg Skelter. This was well before they started showing up on various TV programs and boomed in popularity. They are a darn simple but amazingly effective design – two rows of welded steel wire allow you to stack your eggs. The eggs roll down the wires to the bottom or the last egg, and whilst running eggs down the 'skelter' is great fun for the kids, it's a sure way to produce an eggy mess on your worktop. If used as designed though you start at the bottom with your eggs and pile them up the skelter. So the oldest is at the bottom and the newest at the top. When you take the oldest eggs from the bottom they all neatly shuffle down the skelter freeing up room towards the top for more eggs. So it's simple, you use up the oldest eggs first (though in my house oldest egg's don't seem to be more than a day or two old!)

"Egg
Egg Skelter

So here is ours, it's in green obviously and has survived various moves, serious abuse from the kids and a trip in the dishwasher (it doesn't look like the sort of thing that would appreciate a dishwasher so I don't recommend it). Not too many egg's on it at the moment, the kids are going cake and boiled egg mad, but you get the idea. These egg's are small from our new batch of chickens – not the best size for this standard Egg Skelter, but the size should improve as they grow up a bit.

The only problem that I've ever had is with egg's that are too large or too small. My old black rocks used to fire out giant egg's that wouldn't fit, but egg's that size don't usually last past breakfast!

The only comment I get from people is – "why don't you keep your eggs in the fridge?". Of course, when they are as fresh as my egg's you don't need to keep them in cold storage – they don't need to last too long. I keep them out of sun light and I've kept them perfectly ok after a few weeks of being away on holiday. The whole issue is a bit debate – fridge or no fridge, I am firmly on the 'why bother – keep them on the worktop' side of things. You can always check your eggs by them by dunking in water – if they sink they are good, if they swim they are bad. Bit like the old witch trials eh – wonder if that is where they got it from?

So was it a good purchase? Oh yea. One of the best and most long lasting things that I have bought for ages.

Adrian Hollister

15 weeks and the new chickens have good egg production

At 15 weeks the new chickens are in their stride giving us eggs. We are getting a good mix of pure white and traditional brown eggs. All are a bit on the small side at the moment, but they are a great taste and have been making some stunning cakes. The new batch are also very friendly and already come when called (!) and are happy to 'play' with the kids, eat shoe laces etc. But it seems that the more eggs we have the more we use!

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Posh Dog ready for Crufts 2012

Our three year old Finnish Lapphund called Rauhan is ready to strut his stuff at Crufts this year. Rauhan is a three year old Finnish Lapphund dog, with a string of wins and top 3 places. A few notable wins are the following:

-Best puppy in breed 2009 in Welks and Southern Counties (Newbury)

-1st Junior Dog at the Finnish Lapphund Club 2009

-A string of 1st and top three places

-2nd Post Grad Dog at Crufts 2011

-My eldest daughter, Katy Hollister, has shown Rauhan twice in the 'Junior Handler' competition and won both times (Finnish Lapphund Club show 2009, 2010)

Rauhan is Finnish for Peace and despite his name, he is very noisy when excited and full of energy. Rauhan is often out with Adrian Hollister on long Downland walks, where he is happy to be running all day. He lives with a family and was brought up around children. He is completely soppy and the girls refer to him as 'posh dog' as he doesn't like getting dirty.

Finnish Lapphunds are an easy going pastoral dog and with their long thick double coats are water proof and usually happy to be outside in rain and deep snow. They are a highly intelligent and active breed – they take well to training. They moult once a year and shed over a short time, making them good for people who normally have dog allergies. They are also amazingly family friendly as they readily accept family life as pack life. They are great herders and are good rounding up the kids and making sure everyone is present. You can find more details of my walks in my blog.

"Rauhan

Consumption of drugs should be a personal choice – not something promoted by society and not forced on other people

So what's Adrian Hollister's position on drug use in Newbury and the UK? I have a rather simple view: “Consumption of drugs should be a personal choice – not something promoted by society and not forced on other people (such as through obvious consumption in a public area).”

For such a general statement I need to qualify my comments some what. There are boundaries to personal choice and there are those that choose not to consume or be forced to consume.

To understand the where they can be consumed, I should qualify my definition: where anybody around would be in full consent. So, for example, train stations are an unlikely location to consume drugs as people would object either through forced consumption (in the example of smoking), but also because it's not something that should be promoted in or by society. Perhaps an acceptable example would be single drug private clubs that could be labeled as such.

We have examples of these already with alcohol being served in places where people choose to consume it and it's not acceptable to consume it on the streets or on the train. How many people now use cafe's or similar avoiding the association with drugs (alcohol or smoking).

Clearly there would have to be exclusions such as proximity children, the vulnerable and on health or welfare grounds, as well as input from the local community (including those that do not want to see or consume drugs).

Inherited need

The change in our society brought about by the smoking ban could facilitate this change. We are starting to look differently on drugs now, especially smoking, where it's no longer something generally promoted by society but people are still legally allowed to consume the drug. There is a long way to go to reduce our inherited need to consume drugs, but as the generations go by the approach taken to smoking could be used to removed all inherited need – and that should be our goal. Remove the inherited need for drugs and allow personal choice and freedom to take over.

The classic example is the need on a Friday and Saturday night to binge on alcohol. This is not something seen (to this extent) on the continent, but it does seem to be an inherited right of passage that we as a society don't seem to be able to break. It's what everyone does and it has it's own badges of honour and gives people a shared experience, and it is that that appears to be missing in our society. Bonding without drugs and the shared experience can be difficult in our society today.

The Shared Experience Gap

It's the shared experience gap – an excuse to meet and bond with peers, to gain badges of honour, to impress, and perhaps to find a mate. So what's missing and where do we differ from our friends overseas? To keep to the point, I will cover this in another blog entry.

Modern Society Drug Use

We have the starting point of a modern system today. In effect a pilot has been conducted, mostly on health grounds, to break the inherited need to smoke. It's a compromise that has allowed people to retain their personal freedom whilst respecting other peoples right to avoid drug consumption.

I would extend this scope to other drugs and would look to single drug private clubs (consenting clubs) to allow freedom of choice (to consume and to not consume), to provide for the shared experience gap, and to create an environment that would not be promoted by our society but accepted and tolerated.

I would also place further safeguards than there are today, for example, ban drugs from any where near children (even at home), the vulnerable etc. It's just not fair to inflict drugs onto people who are not able to choose for themselves.

The Summary

I would both extend the use of the current system for nicotine consumption through smoking and provide further safeguards for those that need it.

So going back to my original statement: Adrian Hollister's position on drug use “Consumption of drugs should be a personal choice – not something promoted by society and not forced on other people (such as through obvious consumption in a public area).”

We have a right to know how our food is farmed

Following great success by Compassion in World Farming on production method labelling on shell eggs, they have launched a new campaign to introduced EU wide mandatory method of production labelling on all meat and dairy products. Their campaign is in partnership with the RSPCA, WSPA and the Soil Association. This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with – we need to be informed and we need to be given the choice. So if you can take a moment, visit their site and sign a petition to your local MEP's asking for method of production labelling for meat and dairy products.

Compassion in World Farming site

It’s a recycled Christmas this year – first up a snowman

I'm a fair bit fed up with the Christmas decorations that you have to buy – generally they seem to be tat with no real personal value and so much waste. So yet again we are making our own. First up this year is a snowman and some snow flakes. All make with left overs and bits we've got from charity shops. So anyway, the background of our snowman and his scarf was drawn by Spog No.1 and used some cardboard from an old box. Sprog No's 2 and 3 stuck a variety of cotton wall balls, bits and other stuff to make it white and we added a Spog No.2 designed Hat and Spog No.3 decorated anything she could with old coloured paper, crayon, or just about anything she could get hold of. We've added a whole load of simple snow flakes, white and what ever other colour paper, card etc that came through the door with flyers, bills etc.

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Next are some Christmas Tree's, more snow flakes and just about anything else we want to do. More recycling Christmas ideas to follow ":-)"

Solid Fuel? Keep your orange peel and save some cash!

It's that time of the year when satsumas, oranges and the like are adorning our fruit bowls and there is a handy by product of eating these sweet delights – the peel.  I know it can be candied and used as an air freshener, but for me they represent great value as fire lighters.  Ok, so this only applies if your lighting a fire, but for those solid fuel stoves out there, keep all your peel and let it dry.  I put them on a south facing window sill and leave them for a couple of weeks, harder the better.  Anyway, once dry they make excellent fire lighters and with quite an intense heat they are easily enough to get kindling going.

So, my money saving tip for the winter, keep your orange peel, dry it out and use it to light a wonderfully warming winter fire. 

Book review: Planet Dancing by Patrick McCusker

Had a good read this week with Patrick McCusker's Planet Dancing"". It's the format that's interesting – as a series of short stories, it reads as though you are ploughing through a series of well structured blog rants that you you enjoy reading whilst waiting for the next slightly over descriptive tale or Irish American stereotype. You can tell the author is not of the blogging generation, but he has managed to capture the essence of getting the point across without using 200 odd pages to do it.

The short stories paint interesting pictures in your mind and I am sure that at least one will resonate with any reader. But you know, if I hear another reference to the first nation people's of north America I think I may be sick. In one he discusses names and by somehow linking names to nature we can return to our natural past, or at least the authors romanic view of the 'first people's of North America' natural past. Of course there is nothing wrong with myth and legend, but I am not sure we should base our hopes of future conservation on this romance.

There are also signs of some innocence by the author, for example, in another chapter the children of the world donate money to one of the worst symbols of environmental and social destruction, the United Nations.

If you think of it as a better presented collection of rants from blogs then you can count it as an interesting read with a strong ecological pictures.

Adrian Hollister Sept 2011.

A new daughter to add to my litter

I have another girl !! fourth in my line of girls. Born at 8lbs 1oz at home in West Ilsley, Berkshire.

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Adrian Hollister Baby Number Four

Should company cars be speed limited?

At the moment I rarely drive, but when I do I am amazed by the cars speeding where drivers I assume are either desperately trying to make up time, or are in it for the thrills. Often it's the company car drivers that are pushing their limits without a care in the world for the consequences. Speeding and careless drivers are greedy consumers of fuel, car parts, road maintenance, and gas/noise pollution; they are also people who negatively impact communities the most. They do this by scaring people from walking, cycling, they turn communities into hermits afraid to leave their front door, and they risk the health of us all.

Regardless of the impact to speeding and inappropriate driving, there are also legal consequences – it is illegal to speed and something that can and often does lead to a criminal record. I don't know how many company car drivers there are out there, but I'm betting we have 100's of thousands of them and companies largely over look speeding as a criminal act. Generally companies would not do this for other crimes such as fraud (something we seem to have zero tolerance for).

I wonder then, if UK Companies should be compelled legally to restrict the speed of our company cars to 60/70mph and strictly discipline any speeding or inappropriate driving?

Greenpeace Campaign against Volkswagen

Help me in my Jedi training as I confront Volkswagen's threats to Planet Earth http://www.vwdarkside.com/en/jedi/adrian-hollister-729

The efficiency of various cooking methods

Not too scientific this entry, but found a discussion at work in our sustainability forums asking " I've been looking for information about whether it really is more economical to use a slow-cooker than an electric oven or cooker."

This has been bugging me, so I've clamp metered a few different devices to get a rough idea of how much electricity was consumed in my house making similar foods (stews). Amounts were about the same and the idea is to feed my greedy family of 5 (soon to be 6!!)…

1. Slow Cooker. An average of 20W per person for the food cooked (using boiling water at the start)

2. Microwave. An average of 85W per person.

3. Slow Cooker. An average of 100W per person.

4. Electric Hob (ceramic). An average of 240W per person.

5. Oven (electric non-fan). An average of 350W per person.

2 was higher than I expected, but in the 'rest' periods between the two microwave sessions the microwave still consumed power cooling itself down and turning the turntable etc.

3-5 are hampered by longish warm up times and cooking times are the key differentiator between them – longer the cooking time the higher the consumption

Device: Microwave

Cooking Time: 30 mins (10 mins cook, 5 mins rest & stir, 5 mins cook, 5 mins rest & stir, 5 mins cook all at 70% power on a 850W microwave)

Total consumption 425W, 850W per hour , 85W per person (five people)

Device: Slow Cooker

Cooking Time: 8 hours

Total consumption 500W, 63W per hour , 100W per person (five people)

Device: Electric Hob

Cooking Time: 1 hour (mostly low power simmer, seems to be 2.2KW hob)

Total consumption 1200W, 1200W per hour , 240W per person (five people)

Device: Oven

Cooking Time: 1.5 hours (put into cold oven)

Total consumption 1750W, 1160W per hour , 350W per person (five people)

Anyone else done a similar experiment?

Electric cars need a fully integrated transport strategy

The Leaf dubbed ‘the world’s first affordable, full production’ family, electric car has been available to order in the UK since September, with its first customers waiting until March 2011 for delivery. Two such customers have finally got their cars, read the full article.

It's a fascinating problem isn't it. Those who live in towns are likely to reap the biggest benefit of such as car, but I suspect that many wouldn't buy one just on the off-chance that they might make a longer journey once every year. Those who live in rural areas will be too scared to have one – after all, there might not be enough charge to get somewhere (and back). Until we have an integrated transport strategy, very limited range cars will always have a problem. If people thought that they could drive to a train station and comfortably get where they need to do, they would probably do it – even in rural areas; but at the moment a good percentage of the population has never or would never travel by train/bus as they are car centric.

For cars like this to make mass market they either need to improve the range (or options for recharging) to compete with existing car stock, or we need to reinvest in our transport strategy. But heavy investments would be required to change our car centric people into trains/bus users and I'm not sure any political party has the will to attempt this in one go – especially as the state of our public transport is poor at best.

Without chickens my recycling rate has dropped

Christmas has come and gone and give or take we have been good with our recycling. We've not used anything we haven't needed to use and we have reused everything we can (amazing how present boxes can be turned into play kitchens, dens and a whole bunch of other things for the kids). This year I also separated the different types of waste when presents were opened – largely wrapping paper, cardboard and plastic bits.

The bit we failed on this year is the food. Whilst the dogs did their best to consume anything meaty, smelly or windy (why do my dogs love brussel sprouts?); we are missing the chickens. They did an excellent job of consuming all of the bread, veg, rice, pasta, and to be honest just about anything passed their way; and, of course, there is only so much you can give the wild birds without attracting hoards of mice, rats and other nasties into your garden.

So for the first time in ages we are actually putting food waste into the bin. Next on the shopping list must be some more chickens.

White roof, white roof, white roof, brown roof. Hmmm.

The cold may be endangering for some, annoying for others, great fun for kids and the rest of us; but there is a clear advantage of all this snow. Go along a row of houses and you can see which ones don't have any insulation. Seriously try looking up at the roof line and follow the levels of insulation. I am surprise quite how many are snow free – melted due to heat loss from the house. Heading from Newbury to Reading on the train was amazingly interesting. Terrace houses work especially well for this little game as there is always one in a long row of them with a snow free brown roof. So go outside and look at your roof – white usually means you have good insulation (or no heating!), partially or fully melted snow shows how much of your household heat is heading out through your roof. A few quid spend now on insulation will add significant benefits to your heating costs and will do your bit for the environment and the sustainability of our fuel sources. Check your local energy companies for insulation offers.

Chickens in Hemp heaven

I've been using shredded paper for the chickens nesting box, it's freely available (with all the darn junk mail) and people pop it around when they come. It composts well (especially when covered with chicken poo) and works well when covered with anti-mite type powers. I've just been given a rather big bag of dried hemp 'chippings' so decided to switch over to using it. So do the chickens like hemp bedding?

The quick answers is that the chickens seem to love the stuff. I've not had a single broken egg and they have dug some nice nests in the stuff. Also cleaning out is easy as the hemp clusters around the chicken poo – this results in easy lumps that can be removed without mess and put straight into the compost bin. The nearest product I can find that I can purchase is used for horse bedding (http://www.hemcore.co.uk/bedding.php) – doesn't look exactly the same but I will give that a go as well. It's also a lot cheaper than sawdust and with the built in citronella it should keep the flies away in the summer.

Feather pecking might have to isolate the bullies

I seem to have a feather pecking problem with the chickens. Looks like the solitary black rock is being picked on by the ex-bat chickens. Might have to either isolate the ex-bats or find another plan B as I don't like the look of a poor ole black rock with feathers missing on the back of her neck. I do wonder if the pecking behaviour is inherent for birds that have been brought up in small busy cages with little free space.

Aminal Aid expose serious animal cruelty before slaughter

Animal Aid have exposed the abuse of animals in their before their slaughter. The Guardian has good coverage of the abuse and a rather sickening video. I've seen a lot of 'we must tighten up laws' on twitter around this issue, but the real thing we must do is tighten up our morals. These people should not be compelled in any way to want to do these things, and I'm certain consumers would not want a product with 'we treat animals with great cruelty' stamped on the box.

You can find the animal aid web site here: http://www.animalaid.org.uk

Willow bedding for the chickens

I gave the willow a good trim over the weekend and with the help of a friends shredder reduced the massive volume of cuttings into big bags of willow chippings. I know willow burns well when dried, so it can start the drying process in the chicken pen. Their scratching and digging through it should also help the drying process.

I've filled their run up to about six inches deep with the stuff and clearly they are enjoying every minute of it. With a summer like we are having the majority of the green stuff should be dried off within weeks.

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This is a small scale experiment, but on a larger scale I would hope to be able to fill the run every month in summer and rotate the chicken 'dried' stuff into a green house or similar hot place for further drying. Not sure how or if this is going to work, but it's worth a try especially as willow is so cheap and grows so fast.

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No plastic tea bags please

Recently brought up in the press again is the use of plastic in tea bags. Modern tea bags from the big brands use between 10-30% plastic in their bags. This, of course, is not compostable and won't bio-degrade quickly in your compost bin. Twinings, PG, Lipton and Tetley appear to be some of those brands who have been identified as using plastic in their tea bags. Given the very high price most people pay for tea and coffee in canteens and cafe's, shouldn't we be getting the best product available? Should we be worried by any chemical leaked from the plastic when immersing this plastic in boiling water?

Companies like Tea Pigs sell tea in bags that will fully degrade in the standard compost cycle. They are expensive compared to supermarket tea, but outside of the home our drinks are not exactly cheap. Perhaps a switch a switch to 'better for us all' tea bags would be a good idea and could be done in conjunction with a home composting campaign by the offending tea companies.