August 2009


With the continuing problems faced by Britain’s bee populations, now is a great time to think about what you’re planting in your garden. You can have a really beautiful, productive garden that also looks after the bees – just by well-planned planting choices and avoiding using pesticides.

There’s a really great list of bee-friendly plants on the RHS website – Plants for Bees. And a less comprehensive seasonal list of  plants for bees on the Gardener’s World website.

I’m still looking for a list which tells you the flowering times of all the plants too, so that we can have a nearly-year-round bee friendly garden – I’ll post one if I find it!

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We’ve finally harvested the potatoes that we planted back in April – back before we even moved into the Eco-House. Having lovingly tended them for a very short period we then left them to be watered while we traipsed around the country for a couple of months. Now we’re settled we figured it was time to go back and harvest them!

Overall we didn’t do too badly for three smallish plastic bags. Here’s the resulting yield:

  • Carlingford: 1.7kg
  • Maris Peer: 1.5kg
  • Duke of York: 1.6kg

So, nearly 5kg of potatoes from an area of less than one square metre. It’ll be interesting to compare that with yields from our in-ground potatoes that we’ll be growing next year. If we were going to do it this way again, I wouldn’t bother with the kit – I’d buy some bags of compost and just use those. Just empty half the compost out, roll down the sided, punch holes in the bottom of the bag and put 2-3 seed potatoes in each bag. Roll up sides and add a couple of inches of compost each time you see shoots appearing – easy!

The best thing about it (other than just eating delicious potatoes) is how excited the kids get about them. By growing them in bags we had a bit of an advantage – we could tip the whole bag into the wheelbarrow and let the kids root through it looking for potatoes. They loved it!

Now we just have to decide if we’re going to try to grow some potatoes for Christmas.

While we’re thinking about it, here are some pics of the potatoes growing. I haven’t got any showing the “jungle” they had become before harvesting unfortunately, but here are some of the progress shots!

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Action for Sustainable Living
Action for Sustainable Living
We’ve just had a great visit from Action for Sustainable Living. They’re a really inspirational local charity working on building a sustainable future in Machester and Trafford – they’ve even been nationally recognised for their work, winning the 2008 National Guardian Charity Awards.

They’re looking out for local people who are passionate about making their communities a better place, so we said we’d help get the word out!

Volunteering with Action for Sustainable Living is a good way to gain amazing work experience with an award winning charity. As a volunteer you’ll make a massive difference in your local community by designing and implementing a sustainable project. They’re looking for Local Project Managers to cover Stretford, Urmston and Sale areas, complementing the volunteers they already have throughout Trafford.

The role is a challenging yet rewarding one; you will develop new skills, meet new people and really feel like you are making a difference. If you are an enthusiastic, self-motivated individual able to offer at least eight hours per week to support AfSL’s activities, why not nominate yourself for this unique opportunity?

‘To me, the 8 hours per week that I contribute to Action for Sustainable Living are more meaningful than a full-time job in any non-sustainable organisation’.

AfSL Local Project Manager Manchester City Centre

You won’t need any previous experience, and there’s a lot you can get out of it personally:

  • Voluntary experience can help you get the career you want
  • You’ll get lots of support, training, resources and mentoring from AfSL
  • You’ll be able to see that you’ve made a real difference in your local area

Local Project Managers attend events, give talks and workshops and set up local action groups and projects (Don’t worry! AfSL will help you get ready for these). Previous Local Project Managers have set up community allotment projects, fair trade societies, energy action teams, composting schemes, local shop campaigns and a whole range of interesting, locally-relevant things. You just need to be able to commit eight hours a week for six months or more.

You do need to apply – the deadline for applications is on Friday 18th September at 12pm, and if you’re interested in finding out more you can contact AfSL (details below) or attend the LPM Introduction evening on Thurs 17th Sept at 5:30pm (contact them to confirm your place).

If you want an application pack or have any questions you can contact Helen at trafford@afsl.org.uk, or by calling o845 634 4510. And you can find out more about AfSL at their website – www.afsl.org.uk

Action for Sustainable Living Volunteers

Assembled polytunnel

We had pretty good weather on the weekend for the polytunnel and got it about as far as I’d hoped. All the metal work is up – on Sunday we added the corner reinforcement, door bars and the crop bars (those horizontal bars that we’ll hang tomatoes, cucumbers and squash from).

It’s looking quite impressive now – can’t wait to get the growbeds and fishtanks in!

And the gravel has just arrived – 5 cu. metres – that’ll be fun to shift in our wheelbarrow!

Follow our journey with Aquaponics here

Blimey, what a day. Been hard at it since about 8.30 this morning (OK, we knocked off at 3.30 to go to the park). And we stopped for lunch. And a few drink breaks in there too.

But all that aside, it’s been a hard day’s hot work here in sunny Sale. Luckily we roped in a friend to help, otherwise I’d still be digging holes! So here’s how the day went:

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Now we’re making our own bread I thought it’d be worth working out how much cheaper / more expensive it is than just buying standard wholemeal bread.

So here’s the standard pricing of all the ingredients – I haven’t started looking for cheap bulk supplies yet so these are just from Sainsbury’s.

310 ml semi-skimmed milk 20.77p
225g Strong White Bread Flour 10.35p
225g Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour 14.85p
1 tsp salt 0.2p
3 tsp sugar 1.49p
25 g butter 7.5p
2x7g sachets of dried yeast 19.75p
Electricity 3.14p
Total 78p

So in total it costs 78p, which is about the same price as a Sainsbury’s wholemeal loaf. Cost wise then it doesn’t make much difference – as long as you’re not making a separate journey to buy your bread, as once you start your car up the cost difference would be substantial!

I’ll keep doing it because it tastes great, means we never run out, and it’s a good skill to have learnt for leaner times. I might also look for cheaper bulk ingredients.

Never happy to settle for good-enough, I’ve been tweaking our easy, reliable bread recipe to respond to a little family criticism that it could be lighter. So here’s the new result:

IMG_0391[1]

It’s about an inch taller than the previous recipe but it is not as reliably pretty:
Home-Made bread

But I’ve used the new recipe three times so far and had no failures – just great, delicious wholemeal bread. It’s significantly lighter, and now there are not even the slightest complaints! It even seems easier to slice.

Here’s the revised recipe:

  • 310 ml of lukewarm semi-skimmed milk
  • 450 ml of strong flour (I use half white, half wholemeal)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
  • 25 g butter
  • TWO 7g sachets of dried yeast

Put the milk into the breadmaker, followed by the flour. Add the salt, sugar and butter into each corner, then make a well in the center of the flour (not all the way through to the milk) and pur in the yeast.

Run it on the breadmaker’s express cycle. In our case that takes an hour, and only 0.24kWh.

Anyway, that’s enough talking about it, I’m off to slice it up for breakfast – the smell is divine.

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