Tuesday 30 June 2020

Lockdown Day 99 - Blackcurrants

I spent the morning again picking blackcurrants. Now that we have enough in the freezer for our jam requirements I have taken to bottling them in syrup for use on my porridge on a morning and perhaps on ice cream. There's still loads on the bushes to pick but it was lunchtime by the time I had picked two punnets, as well as a punnet of raspberries.

For the blackcurrants, I wash and take out any stalks and leaves from the crop. Then I boil up my sugar (350g sugar to 600ml water) whilst sterilising the Kilner Jars. The blackcurrants then go into the jars and the syrup poured over them. They are then heat treated in an oven at 150 deg. C for 35-45 minutes.

Tomorrow will be the one hundredth lockdown blog and, as it is likely that my furlough will be ending in the next week or two, it will be the last in this series and I will put together some thoughts and reflections on this rather strange and worrying period and some thoughts about the future and how we can produce a better, more sustainable world in the recovery.

Monday 29 June 2020

Lockdown Day 98 - Rhubarb and Pumpkin Compote

Another rainy and grey day today, so I have been inside catching up on a few jobs. As we pick the berries we need all the freezer space we can get so I did a little digging and found a bag of rhubarb and some pumpkin from last year! It seems to have kept fine, albeit a little longer than expected so I have boiled it up with some sugar and some ground ginger to make a compote which I can use on porridge over the next couple of months.

I've planted some more pumpkins and expect to be able to do quite a bit of chutney later in the year, either ginger or spiced up with cumin and chilli powder. Ideal for putting on cheese or cooked meat sandwiches or as an accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes.

I also do courgette and onion chutney if the courgettes get too overwhelming!

I have two "go-to" books when it comes to preserving:

The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew published by Anness Publishing Limited


 The Preserving Book by Lynda Brown published by Dorling Kindersley in conjunction with the Soil Association

Sunday 28 June 2020

Lockdown Day 97 - Yet more soft fruit!

Just a quick blog today. This morning was spent picking yet more raspberries, strawberries and blackcurrants. That's at least eight grape punnets of blackcurrants picked so far! There was nearly another punnet full of raspberries, maybe that's at least three punnets full, maybe getting on for four in total. The strawberries are, I think, nearing the end of the season in the allotment although in the yard in the pots on the wall they are still going well.

I've preserved the blackcurrants in syrup made with 350g of sugar to 600ml of water, boiled and then poured onto washed blackcurrants put into two sterilised Kilner jars and then heat treated in the oven for forty minutes or so.

The weather has been very showery this afternoon and incredibly windy for the time of year. The rain is of course welcome and has swelled the blackcurrants and the blueberries are nearly ready to pick too.

Jobs for this next week include taming the grape vine, I will have to look up whether it is time to give it any pruning and indeed the minarette fruit trees may need pruning soon too. There's the potato patch to weed and very soon our first cabbage will need picking, not sure at this stage whether we will use it as is or pickle it or turn it into a kind of kimchi. There will be peas and beans to pick midweek and there's still several punnets of blackcurrants and more raspberries to harvest!

Saturday 27 June 2020

Lockdown Day 96 - Rainy Day

At time of writing I am trying to chill with some really nice Rioja but being bothered by small flies that seem to have got in the house and are really interested in my face for some reason!

Today has been a really rainy day, with frequent heavy showers and some thunder at times. I've finished pickling some cabbage but otherwise have been doing jobs inside the house.

However, this morning I popped out to take some photos of some of the plants in the yard, heavy with raindrops.

Poppy growing at the end of the yard

Pansies in one of the pots in the yard

Close up of a fig leaf on the 
minarette Fig tree 

Friday 26 June 2020

Lockdown Day 95 - Garden and yard update

Living in a terraced house, we don't have a big garden and have a concrete back yard with walls either side. This was one of the many reasons for getting an allotment!

The garden has a beautiful hawthorn tree with pink blossom at the far end and we brought some ivy with us from the old house which covers the fence. There's a holly bush which the blackbirds love eating berries from in winter! We also planted a buddleia and a fuschia as well as some bulbs soon after we moved in. After we got the allotment we got a small plastic greenhouse for the yard which one day got caught in a gust of wind and collapsed. We use the remaining shelves (without the covering) for storage of plant pots and for hardening off seedlings. We then got a wooden lean-to greenhouse for the front garden against the house wall. However, over time we have gradually grown more in both the front and back, including a miniature fig tree - which at time of writing isn't producing any figs although did produce two last year!

At the far end of the yard we grow sweet peas in tubs by one of the big gates and some wild poppies have decided to take up residence next to the tubs too in soil that has accumulated in the gap in the concrete between the end of the yard and the road. The potato wasn't a deliberate planting either, we think it is one we have accidentally put into a compost bag at some point so we have decided to leave it as it is growing healthily and see what we get!

 On the left hand side of the yard we have more pots - there's strawberries in planters on top of the wall, along with a tub with lettuce in, covered in a mesh frame so that the local sparrows don't turn up and have a party again like they once did - they do try their best to peck through the holes when the lettuce gets big! We have a minarette cherry tree which did start producing cherries but I think the late frost didn't do it any good so we'll have to wait until next year.

The peas were an accidental planting too - we had bought some pod peas from a greengrocer before ours were ready and found that inside one pod they had started sprouting, so we planted them! They are looking really healthy right now and have flowers! Behind them are some nasturtiums transplanted from the allotment (as they get everywhere up there!) and there's a lavender plant too along with some more sweet peas. The peppers were evicted outside after they got aphids in the house and seem to have recovered as there are insects outside that will eat the aphids. It gets very warm in the yard until about two in the afternoon before the sun is round the other side of the house and then there is a bit more sun in the late afternoon/evening time onto the top of the wall at least. The wall retains the heat and the wall temperature gets up to at least 40 degrees Centigrade in summer. We've got a few pansies in pots and some antirrhinums too. 

This is in the garden looking towards the lean to greenhouse with the fuchsia in the top left of the shot. In the greenhouse are peppers, gherkins, yellow courgettes and a tomato plant, with all the seedlings now in the allotment for the summer. Some wild poppies have also arrived in the planter that used to have a grape vine in it (which died suddenly one late summer, we don't know why) and we've popped a gherkin plant in there as well to climb up the trellis. 

We're going to be growing a pumpkin up the old swing frame - we hope! There's a few more antirrhinums in the same pot too, the pumpkin is being trained away from those. 

Our recycle bins were replaced by the council for bigger ones recently and so we have used one of the old ones to grow gherkins in! 

For the future I want to expand the range of pots and wall mounted planters as well as try and get some wild flowers to germinate in the grass - I hesitate to call it a lawn now! I have planted some seeds for two years now but nothing is coming up, and the yellow rattle last year hasn't germinated. I have got some seeds from a roadside ox-eye daisy and will scatter these the next time it rains to see what happens. I am also going to get some foxgloves next year to create some height in the border, along with the existing peony.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Lockdown Day 94 - Cycle ride to Askham Bog

Another very hot and sunny day today, so while it was still bearable I cycled to Askham Bog for a walk round before it got busy.

Walking down through the reserve there was a Blackcap and a Chiffchaff calling. It was quite shady under the trees. A few minutes walk along the boardwalk is a small pond which is a superb place to watch dragonflies and damselflies, but they never stay still for long and so are really difficult for me to photograph!

There were at least fifteen, maybe twenty of these Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella) flying around the pond, only rarely alighting on the leaves of nearby plants. I think I may have caught a glimpse of an Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) which the sign board said are present but it was too fleeting to be sure. 

Also near the pond, singing from a tree all the time I was there was a Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus). It was a very repetitive and quite loud song but the bird was obviously keen to stake out his territory!

It started to get quite busy so I headed out of the reserve and across the road to the wild flower area to see if there were any Six-Spot Burnet Moths but I think it is still too early for them. However, there were plenty of Meadow Brown and Small Skipper Butterflies flitting around the grasses, Ragwort and the Knapweed ((Centaurea nigra) shown below

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Lockdown Day 93 - Allotment update

Although today is a shopping day, yesterday I spent around four hours during the day in the allotment. It would have been far too hot for any work today to be honest, I really don't cope very well with heat and the thermometer in the shade was 29 Celsius in early afternoon today. Yesterday was cloudy at times so a fair bit cooler and I was able to get plenty done.

First job was weeding the peas and beans, there's around thirty pea plants now producing quite a few peas and around seventy borlotti bean plants, some of the early ones of which are now near the top of their poles! There's a few broad bean plants too. In the same patch I have also planted some pumpkins which will trail around underneath the beans.
The second job, a regular task at the moment, was to pick some soft fruit. We are eating the strawberries and raspberries as dessert with ice cream at the moment and the blackcurrants are going in the freezer to ultimately make jam from.

Also ready at the moment is the calabrese (headed broccoli) and this is the second really good head we've had with more to come soon.

The final cauliflower seedlings have gone in, it was a struggle to find room for them as our brassica patch has been so successful this year! I also weeded that area, especially around the mini sweetcorn.

The whole allotment then got a good watering with the hosepipe as I knew I wouldn't be up there today to do this.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Lockdown Day 92-Trip to the seaside-Part 2

In yesterday's blog I recounted the trip we made on Monday to Flamborough for a socially distanced trip to the seaside.

Having heard today about the relaxation of lockdown rules and social distancing we are very glad we were able to go this week as it will be the case that there will be so many more people there over the next month or two and probably not much social distancing going on, especially once people have had a few drinks in seafront bars and restaurants. Yes, we have to get back to normal living eventually, but this seems too much relaxation of the rules, and too soon given the number of cases and continuing number of deaths from Covid-19.

Anyway, as promised here are a few more pictures I took of seabirds on the cliffs at North Landing, Flamborough.

Guillemot striking a pose! 

Kittiwake chick still quite young and very fluffy!

Razorbill and a growing up chick, starting to get flight feathers. 

The Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) nest on such precarious ledges and there were a few broken eggs at the foot of the cliffs which suggest not all nest sites are that secure! The Razorbills (Alca torda) were often gathered in large groups and one Razorbill was determined that the Puffins (Fratercula arctica) would not steal its patch of cliff! There were plenty of Guillemots (Uria aalge) out at sea but most of them seemed to be nesting further round from where we could see from the cove. Further up the coast is Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve which has one of the largest colonies of Gannets (Sula bassana)  in the UK. There are at least 22000 Gannets on the cliffs around Bempton, and I remember going there in the late 1970s/early 1980s as a child when the number was just in the hundreds, this has been an enormous success story for the RSPB management of the reserve. 

Monday 22 June 2020

Lockdown Day 91-Trip to the seaside-Part 1

We have been very reluctant to take trips further than our local area, and especially to the seaside given the pictures we have seen of crowds on beaches during the first easing of the lockdown.

However, we love going to the coast and now that the general risk of coronavirus is lower, we decided to work out how we could safety go and enjoy a day at the seaside.

One of our favourite places is Flamborough and there's several possible coves on the headland to choose from so any visitors would be spread between them. We set off early so as to be there when the beach was relatively quiet, which turned out to be correct, and we had plans to move on when the beach got busy, which again was the case from about half past two in the afternoon. Given that cafes and pubs are also closed (apart from some takeaway options) this again was a factor as once people are able to go and have sit down meals and drinks at the seaside it will increase the number of visitors, so we figured that now - rather than in two or three weeks' time, would be the time to go.

At this time of year, lots of seabirds are nesting on the cliffs and at North Landing you can see them above your head at either side of the cove, and the noise was constant from them, Kittiwakes especially. There's also the strange growling noise of the Razorbills, in fact there were a lot more Razorbills there than I had ever seen before at this location. In total we also saw nine Puffins.

I'll pop some more photographs up tomorrow but for now, here's a Puffin!

Sunday 21 June 2020

Lockdown Day 90 - Quick Allotment update

After some early morning rain had cleared, we went up to the allotment to plant borlotti beans and pick blackcurrants.

There were lots of blackcurrants, in fact more than the two punnets I brought with me! These were the fifth and sixth punnets that I have picked this past week or so and there are still plenty to come.

For the past couple of days we have also been picking raspberries, enough to have with a few strawberries at teatime with ice cream (there are four of us at home at present)

The borlotti beans already planted are doing well and with the addition of the ones taken today that will be around seventy plants in all. We are putting plenty in as we have found that dried beans have been really difficult to get hold of during lockdown, and although we've managed to get a couple of packets now, we want to have plenty of our own in store over the winter and into next year.

Saturday 20 June 2020

Lockdown Day 89 - more photos from cycle ride yesterday

As mentioned in yesterday's blog on my way back from seeing the Red-Footed Falcon (which apparently is still there today!) I cycled along some winding country lanes and stopped every so often to look at the wildlife and flowers. We are very lucky where we are in that within a couple of minutes of cycling or walking we can be out in the countryside even though we live in a terraced house on the edge of a small industrial town. We can take many cycle rides and walks into what I call the "deep countryside" well away from villages and towns and can find quiet lanes and plenty of wildlife.

Red-Legged Partridges (Alectoris rufa) is a gamebird which was first introduced to the UK in the 18th Century, and has become naturalised, in fact often more frequently seen than the native Grey Partridge (Perdix Perdix) (photos of the latter in my blog here ) . Usually when I have encountered them, they are very skittish and will run or fly off low as soon as they see people but the one pictured above had decided to sit on top of a barn and wasn't bothered with my presence. Somewhere in the cornfield I could hear at least one other making quite a peculiar, almost electronic sounding, calling.

Having left the partridge, I cycled a bit further and came across a goldfinch eating seeds from what looked like some kind of plant of the brassica family that had flowered and gone to seed. Often I will see goldfinches feeding on the seeds of teasels and thistles and they are a very social species with flocks of a dozen or more frequently visiting my parents' bird feeders.

Over the fields are skylarks and I also saw yellowhammers, chaffinches, a couple of meadow pipits, swallows and swifts.

There's been a lot of talk online recently about leaving verges uncut to allow wild flowers to flourish, and of course then all the associated insect life and so on up the food chain. Certainly around us, most of the verges are left uncut or just cut to a small extent near the actual road and coming up from Ulleskelf there were dozens of Red Campion (Silene dioica) plants flowering by the side of the road.

There was also lots of Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris) along the same lane (in fact I have discovered some at the end of our street too!) but I had to wait until today to take a photo of one in a much safer place to pull over whilst cycling. 

Also today - although I couldn't safely stop and take a photo, we saw the edge of an oil seed rape field covered in red poppies, again by leaving a small area for nature it will respond and produce beauty and a much more environmentally beneficial landscape.  

Friday 19 June 2020

Lockdown Day 88 - Red-Footed Falcon!!

I am not one of those birders that dashes across the country in the hope of seeing some kind of rare bird, but very very occasionally one is close enough for me to cycle to it on a day when I have the time to go and look. Three years ago on a cycle ride I saw a Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) near Acaster Malbis former airfield and a couple of years before that a Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans) on Rufforth airfield.

Today, having read online about a Red-Footed Falcon (Falco vespertinus) near Biggin (near Bishop Wood), I decided my cycle ride would be out that way in the hope I could see this bird, a rare visitor from Eastern Europe and the western part of Asia.

Red-Footed Falcons migrate from Africa to their breeding grounds and it is only when they are driven off course in their migration that they end up in the UK. This year several have arrived in different parts of the country, perhaps because we have had quite a lot of easterly and south-easterly winds recently. These birds have a varied diet, small mammals, small reptiles and amphibians and also eat insects, beetles and worms.

Red-Footed Falcons are a similar size to a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and hunt in a similar fashion.

As is usual when a rare bird is sighted, there are quite a few people that go to see it and I was a little worried that there would be a crowd, however the viewing point was on a farm track and everyone was able to social distance easily. The falcon was mostly on some telegraph wires or in a tree next to some farm buildings quite some distance away, just visible to the naked eye if you knew where to look but a good view in binoculars or telescope. According to other birders it had been terrorising the local blackbirds into giving up worms and grubs!

As it was a long way away, my photos aren't the best pictures one could take of this bird, but you can see that it has very distinctive plumage compared to similar resident species. This is the female, the male birds are mostly grey plumage.

On the way home I saw some other, much less rare birds - although still pretty birds to see - and I'll do a post about them tomorrow.

Thursday 18 June 2020

Lockdown Day 87 - Allotment Update - Carrots

For quite a few years we struggled to crow carrots, yes we got a few but they were mostly riddled with the black marks of carrot fly. I read that carrot flies do not fly more than a couple of feet off the ground so we wondered whether we could grow the carrots in some kind of raised container.

We hit on the idea of using tyre stacks. I found out at a local garage that firms have to pay to dispose of them so they were glad to let us have a few as it reduced their costs! Also, tyres are frequently found dumped in the countryside and so we've added a few that way too, doing our bit to help clear up the awful fly-tipping that goes on.

At the base of the tyre stacks are perennial weeds as the heat built up in the base will be enough to compost them thoroughly. Then layers of ordinary composting and finally standard bought compost mixed with sharp sand from a builders' merchant. This is best started over winter as it takes quite a lot of material to fill a tyre stack which is three tyres high. At the end of the season the compost can be spread across the allotment.

Then, carrots can be planted and they take a week or two to germinate. The tyres do dry out quite easily so it is important to make sure there's sufficient moisture in the stacks but not too frequently as you want to encourage the roots to work downwards in search of water. Be careful also watering the seeds as they have a tendency to wash to one side of the stack and also when the carrots are very young they need gentle watering.

The carrots are very hardy when in these stacks, the tyres act as insulation in the colder months and some straw can be put on top to further insulate these, and we've been able to keep a supply of carrots going through to February or thereabouts.

The following picture was taken four years ago when the carrots were on the same patch as part of our four year rotation, and you can see that the nasturtiums can be used to hide the tyre stacks if you find them unsightly. Cosmos or a climbing plant can be used in the same way. Mint, chives and lavender can act as distractions for carrot flies if you companion plant. We grow carrots in the same rotational bed area as onions, garlic and parsnips.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Lockdown Day 86 - Remembering Grey Seals on Farne Islands

With today being a shopping day, I haven't been up to the allotment or out for a bike ride into the countryside. Although I was wearing a face mask, very few other people were, in fact at one store only myself and one shop assistant who was standing outside the shop were wearing one. This troubles me a lot as face masks can cut transmission of coronavirus in enclosed spaces although by wearing one, you are protecting others from any germs you may have rather than the other way round.

Anyway, today's blog is another flashback, this time to 2013 and a trip to the Farne Islands by boat from Seahouses, a beautiful fishing village on the Northumberland coast. That year we had amazing weather and spent a lot of time on the beach too. There are, in normal times, some very tasty fish and chips to be had from takeaways and cafes and there's some very unafraid eider ducks to watch you eat them!

Around the Farne Islands there are approximately nine thousand grey seals with at least two thousand pups being born every Autumn, the National Trust have a seal counting programme that has been going since 1970 (although seals were counted by others before that point) so there is good data of trends and numbers.


The Farne Islands have thousands of seabirds make their nests there, including Arctic Terns, Puffins, Guillemots and many other species.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Lockdown Day 85 - Allotment and prepping update

Another day in lockdown, another trip to the allotment. Whilst some seem to think that COVID-19 is all over, we are still being very careful. One trip a week to get shopping (with only a quick visit at another time if we forget something or need to get some gluten free products which aren't available in the stores we usually go in), still making sure any trips out for exercise are socially distanced, still keeping up stringent hygiene. A lot of other people are getting careless despite there still being lots of cases and indeed deaths from this virus.

Over the past few days I have done an audit of our finances. I already knew we are in a good position (I feel very sorry for those who aren't and we do our bit to support the vulnerable in our society) but it is good practice to do a check once in a while as bills and costs do go up over time, and unexpected costs can arise. I also have done an audit of what started a couple of years ago as our "Brexit Box", our store cupboard in case of disruption to groceries. The panic buying that happened at the start of the lockdown here in the UK emptied the shelves very quickly but as we had some backup supplies of staple foods, tinned fruit, vegetables, fish and meat in the freezer (and indeed toilet roll from Who Gives a Crap - ethical supplier!) we had no issues. The only thing we were short of was gluten free pasta and we eroded our dried bean stock quickly, so these are things which we are rectifying for the future. We've planted out about forty borlotti bean plants so far and have another thirty or so to go out, and we have stocked up with some tinned butter beans, pinto beans and red kidney beans.

There still remains significant risk from a second wave of coronavirus and indeed the risk of no-deal Brexit disruption to some food supplies at the end of the year and it is as well to be prepared for any sort of disruption whether this be caused by human factors or nature.

Our mini sweetcorn (the ones you put in Chinese dishes) and coming on well and with about forth plants and two or three cobs per plant there's plenty for the freezer. 

We've done really well with the brassicas this year and we've got some calabrese ready to eat now. There's also broccoli, cauliflowers and cabbage here. 

It will soon be time to harvest the first new potatoes, those are the ones at the rear of the photograph near the blackcurrants. Supposed to be twelve weeks from planting but I always give them a bit longer to avoid having pea sized ones! There's Red Duke of York and Cara in this patch.

This is part of the radish patch, and these are one vegetable it is wise to plant in small batches but often, there is a limit to how many radishes one can eat in one go! 

Another job done yesterday was trimming the hedge in the garden - it is only a low one which birds do not nest in and we were struggling to get up the garden path as it has overgrown quite considerably! Watering again after a few dry days too. 

Monday 15 June 2020

Lockdown Day 84 - Blackcurrants

Just a quick one tonight, I will be going up to the allotment in the morning so will have much more to say tomorrow!

Yesterday I picked the first batch of blackcurrants from our bushes in the allotment. We have a permanent bed in the middle section of the allotment that contains several blackcurrant bushes, some raspberries, a minarette damson tree with delusions of grandeur and a Gala minarette apple tree. There's a rhubarb plant there too and a comfrey plant, the latter of which is really buzzing with bees, I've seen quite a few tawny mining bees, carder bees as well as honey bees feeding on the comfrey flowers.

By midweek I shall probably be able to fill another tub full of blackcurrants, they are ripening really quickly at the moment. We put quite a lot into jam and some we put into sugar solution. One time I tried putting them in vodka! What happens over time is that the blackcurrants soak up some of the vodka. When you first put one in your mouth nothing happens but then when you bite into it you get a blackcurrant and vodka flavoured taste explosion!

Sunday 14 June 2020

Lockdown Day 83 - Allotment update

We're getting to the time of year that produce from the allotment is plentiful. The first peas are ready, in fact we picked a few yesterday and the plants look like there's going to be a good harvest this year. They are supported by sticks of which we have an infinite number having trimmed two hawthorn trees, the hazelnut tree and the hedges earlier in the year!

Further down the allotment is the soft fruit permanent bed and with all the warm weather, followed by lots of rain and now back to sunny weather again the blackcurrants are just about ready to be picked. Although quite a tedious job they do provide us with plenty of fruit for jam and for potting up in Kilner jars in sugar solution for use on porridge and ice cream. They are delicious soaked in vodka for three months for a dessert with a bit of a kick!

This is spinach beet which can be used in salads or stir fried as you would pak choi. It is starting to go to seed a bit now but there's still plenty that can be used. 

Finally for today, this is the first of this season's calabrese is almost ready

Saturday 13 June 2020

Lockdown Day 82 - Tree Bumblebee

After the rain had finally stopped this morning we went down to the allotment. Still very soggy though. As the sky brightened various bumblebees came to visit the comfrey and the blackberries, the latter of which are now flowering. The carder and tawny mining bees on the comfrey were just too quick for me to get a photograph of but a Tree Bumblebee spent quite a bit of time on the blackberry flowers.

The Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) is a recent and rapid coloniser, having first been spotted in Wiltshire in 2001 but has now spread all over England and now into Scotland and Ireland since then. They do like bramble flowers as well as raspberries, comfrey and cotoneaster. Apart from sometimes invading nest boxes they do not seem to be causing any issues for the native bee species. 

This one appears rather bedraggled from the morning rain though appeared to be feeding happily on the nectar on the bramble flower.

More about the Tree Bumblebee can be found on the Bee Conservation Trust's website 

Friday 12 June 2020

Lockdown Day 81 - Quick flashback from 2007

I haven't been out today as it has been mostly raining for almost two days! Very soggy outside and the only time I ventured out yesterday was to get some broad beans and strawberries from the allotment!

So, today is a quick flashback to the Gothenburg Natural History Museum that we visited in 2007 while staying a lovely cottage in the forest on the outskirts. (Somewhere I have a short video of a Golden Eagle that we saw circling over the cottage too!)

In the museum is what is the only stuffed and mounted blue whale! It is huge! This whale wasn't hunted, it stranded on the coast 150 years ago.


There's some whale skeletons as well but even when we saw a live one in the sea when in Iceland in 2010 which you can read about here you didn't really get an overall impression of the sheer size of these creatures.

Thursday 11 June 2020

Lockdown Day 80 -Small Steps-Part 4

In yesterday's blog I looked at the circular economy and the more sustainable purchase of goods and services and previously I have covered local food and recycling .

Today I want to look at, particularly at a time when there is so much disruption to normal life, how one can become more resilient and perhaps deal with the unexpected.

The dislocation of trade that perhaps many were expecting by now was a no-deal Brexit. This is still very likely (please take this seriously!) but having done some prepping for possible food supply disruption in the event of no-deal we were very well prepared for the situation that arose in March 2020 where there was panic buying ahead of the coronavirus lockdown and many foods became unavailable in the supermarket overnight. Even our local butchers was cleaned out on one day! However, our freezer was well stocked, we had cans of various vegetables and beans, pasta and various other foodstuffs so we could manage pretty well. The only thing we should have restocked was gluten free pasta but we managed to get some eventually.

Consider what you use over a two week period in terms of fresh foodstuffs, what vegetables and fruit and meat you use. Many vegetables will store for two weeks in a fridge and a sack of potatoes will keep for a few weeks. Fruit such as apples and pears will store well in a fridge or indeed in boxes in a cool, dark place - we store our own apples and pears from the allotment for - in the case of apples - up to four months or so. However, such as mushrooms are only able to be kept for three or four days and it is these sorts of foods that don't keep that are worth looking at having in a more preserved form. Any wholefood shop has dried fruit for sale and many fruit and vegetables are easily available in tins, jars or frozen. Take advantage of any offers in supermarkets to stock up or bulk buy online from wholesalers if you have the space and need.

If you have space to grow food, then look at crops that can be preserved - beetroot and gherkins can be pickled, soft fruit can be put into jam or put in sugar solution or frozen. Tomatoes can be dried or turned into puree, chutney or sauce.

Keep a good stock of dried food, pasta, noodles, rice and cereals as well as foods that - although not that healthy if you eat too many - provide lots of energy in a small, cheap boost such as biscuits, chocolate or indeed trail bars combine energy and goodness.

Other items such as jars of ready made sauces such as for curry or Chinese food will add variety. Plenty of canned items including oily fish. Oakcakes are a good substitute for bread. Keep some long life milk and some mature cheese which will last longer.

My one major worry is if we had a power cut for longer than around six hours which would start affecting the fridge-freezer. Kept closed, a fridge-freezer will keep food cold for some time and a tightly packed freezer will also help keep food frozen for longer. If you have money and the practicalities are right for solar or wind energy then a system combined with backup batteries may well be a good investment if you are going to be staying put in the same property for many years. I am going to look at this again when our combination gas boiler - now twelve years old - gets to the point of needing replacement as being able to convert one's heating system to using renewable energy - whether that be own generated or from the grid - is a good carbon emission cutting measure too.

Make sure you have some alternative means of heating food whether that is a barbeque or camping stove or even somewhere you can light a fire for cooking on and keep some fuel handy for these. We have a small camping stove in the shed and if the weather is fine and dry I have plenty of wood from allotment tidying for making a fire.

Keep your car (if you have one) at least half full of fuel, or if electric then make sure there is enough charge to get you to a nearby town with medical facilities. Keep your first aid kit topped up and know the basics of first aid and assistance. I had to stop a relative choking once and having attended several first aid courses in which this was covered I was able to immediately offer assistance and sort the issue out promptly. You never know when the knowledge will be needed.

Give your finances a good look over. The cost of basic items is rising all the time, and indeed I have noticed recently that, for instance, the council tax bill has risen quite a lot over the past few years. It all cumulatively erodes your finances. Of course, not everyone has the means to be able to put some money away for a rainy day but everyone can at least look at all their contracts, all their spending, take advantage of offers on food and other goods that need replacing, and consider what is necessary spending in your lives. Make a will and make sure that your affairs are in order so that someone else can, if necessary, deal with those things that need to be dealt with in a straightforward manner. I've known of someone who went to work one day and didn't come back, hit by a bus.

If you have spare cash, then consider a donation to those causes that help those who don't - food banks, homelessness services and other charities that support people in such need. If you know someone in your community that needs assistance, first of all ask them what they need, and then if you can't help directly, try and signpost them to services that can. I once encountered a homeless man in a nearby town and if I have the opportunity I will in such situations often go and buy some food for these people. In this case I did that, went to a bakery and got them something warm and came back to discover that many people had already had the same thought and there was a huge pile of bakery items in his bag behind him! Whilst of course it is good to make sure people are fed, there was more food there than what he could reasonably manage before it went off! Sometimes what someone actually needs is someone to talk to.

Ask yourself what you actually need. It is of course good to treat oneself now and again, and we shouldn't all live like hermits, but - as I said in my previous blog - buying clothes secondhand contributes to the circular economy and will often help a charity, a lot of the larger charity shops have furniture, electricals and many other items for sale, in the one I work in you could get most of what you need to kit out a house in one go. Advertisers of course want to lure you into buying something new, get the upgrade, buy now, pay later, but - apart from the mortgage - I have always only bought with money I actually have. Credit has its place of course if something unexpected happens and you need to spread the payments for a replacement, but it is in my opinion better to save up for something if you can. If you can put away a bit of money against a "rainy day" then so much the better but I do recognise that many can't do this.

Make sure you have a list of emergency contacts on your phone or in a notepad. A bit of cash handy - I know that of late there has been encouragement for safety reasons to go cashless and contactless but glitches can and do occur with the banking system. A multi-tool penknife and a set of other tools for basic repairs and spares of various items such as batteries, light bulbs, fuses etc as well as torches and candles. A wind up radio and torch are good items to have too as well as a rechargeable power pack for a phone. I have tried mini solar recharging kit and whilst it is good while it lasts the ones I used several years ago had a tendency to blow their discharge capacitors with long term repeated use but I suspect improvements have been made now.

Two go-to people I follow on the internet are James Patrick and Guy Dorrell and they have put together some resilience documents and podcasts which can be found from here . There is of course plenty of prepping resources on the internet and you can go into it as far as you want depending on your circumstances or needs. But everyone can make improvements and you never know what situation might arise.

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Lockdown Day 79 -Small Steps-Part 3

In yesterday's blog I looked at local food options, food miles and ethical food options, and today I want to look at how purchases of consumer goods and services can be done more sustainably.

You may have heard about the "circular economy". This is where products are re-used, recycled, re-manufactured, repaired making minimal use of inputs. I looked at recycling in my first "Small Steps" blog two days ago. But the concept goes much further than just recycling. You may have heard of Repair Cafes - where consumer goods, rather than being thrown away when they are broken, (as it has been hitherto easier and cheaper to just buy a new item than get it repaired through the manufacturer) are repaired while-you-wait by people with those skills in the community. How this will continue in the new normal of coronavirus remains to be seen but the concept needs to somehow as the amount of electronic waste, for instance, thrown away each year is huge - in 2013 a UN Report found that the UK generated 1.5Mt of electronic waste  and much of this could be either repaired or recycled. When I used to work in IT, I used a firm that would collect from us - for free if over 40 items/boxes - all our redundant electronic items, cables etc and then crushed and melted it down to extract all the different metals from it, including gold from the circuit boards and other rare earth metals.

At the charity shop I work for any donated clothes that are too damaged to sell are sent to a clothing recycling firm and the charity gets money for this, and we also send to another company things like sharp knives (that we can't sell for safety reasons) and broken jewellery and receive money for this. So you have local people donating things they no longer want, which we either sell to (in general) local people or, if we can, recycle if not saleable, where the money earned goes into supporting a local hospice which (aside from the support of end of life care) keeps local people in jobs who then spend money in the local communities and so on.

Unfortunately, the options there are to support truly local businesses have been in decline for decades. Look at any high street - with a few notable exceptional localities - you'll see mostly big chain stores, chain restaurants, chain pubs, chain takeaways where the profit is sent into one big - often shareholder owned or remote ownership - pot and many of these have become quite adept at avoiding the taxes they are supposed to pay on that profit. Whilst of course these also employ local people and indeed can provide valuable work and training for many local people, ultimately much of the profit from the business leaves the local area, maybe even overseas. If they require contractual services - for instance building work or maintenance, these are also often subcontracted out to big companies or firms that have no connection to the local area - I once saw a firm of shopfitters from Leeds working on a shop in Bournemouth (whilst this is of course providing the shopfitters with work, aside from maybe a bite to eat or perhaps a stay in a guest house, most of the money for the job leaves the local area where the work is taking place)

Compare this to a small business shop owner who will most likely live fairly locally, who will (in general) contract services from firms in the local area, will spend more of their money made through profit in the local area and perhaps work more closely with other local businesses in the promotion of the local area and in other community activities.

The rising cost of rents and business rates are often partly to blame for the demise of local shops, the trend over decades now to large out of town retail parks has diminished town centres, small shops like greengrocers and butchers can't compete on economies of scale that large supermarkets can, even though, for instance the product a local butcher may supply will often have come from a farmer he/she will know well in the local area, and you are getting a much more personal service than when you get from a row of pre-packaged meat in a chiller cabinet at the supermarket with much more traceability. The product itself may well be much more ethically produced than in a major retail service sector where the pressure is on - for reasons of cost cutting in order to appear the cheapest - to cut corners and produce more intensively.

In terms of the actual products themselves, there are a number of criteria by which a product should be evaluated for ethical standards. Where was the product made/produced? What proportion of the cost of the produce does the actual producer get? - a principle of fair trade. How was the product made or produced, using what materials and how sustainable is this? Can the product be recycled? How are the workers treated by the manufacturer? How local is the production? (there can for some products be a balance between this local criteria and the other factors - for instance you may wish to buy a product produced by a cooperative working in Africa, traded using fair trade principles rather than a more locally produced factory version). How durable is the product - the Buy Me Once website specifically looks at products that are built to last.

On the last point - products being built to last - how many of you have older items - for instance kitchenware cutlery, maybe white goods or other consumer items that were built or made twenty to thirty years ago (or even older) that are still going strong? Have you noticed that a lot of products nowadays have what seems to be a built in obsolescence or the manufacturers or retailers want you to ditch what is a perfectly good and working piece of equipment in order to upgrade to the next model or get some features that may or may not be useful but just sound good? How many of those now redundant items get sold on or recycled?

We have quite a bit of Sheffield cutlery at home perfectly useable, my mum uses a pre-Second World War jam pan, our original microwave only recently gave up the ghost after, I think, twenty-six years of service. The wok is now thirty years old. I have a printer and a printer/scanner that are over ten years old at least, both bought second hand from charity shops. Our piano is late Victorian and about a solid an instrument as you are ever likely to get! Plenty of opportunity to buy durable old items at charity shops and outdoor fairs and second hand markets.

We bought a Liebherr fridge/freezer as it does seem the case that German made brands (especially kitchenware) are designed with durability and efficiency in mind - though we noticed on our last trip to Germany that there is much less production in Germany than previously with some manufacturers succumbing to using imports from the Far East unfortunately.

So, there's plenty of ways in which you can be more sustainable and ethical both in terms of the products you buy and the community that you buy them in.

Tomorrow I look at household resilience

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Lockdown Day 78 -Small Steps-Part 2

In yesterday's blog I talked about recycling and how this can help the environment, and today I want to look at local food options.

We are quite lucky in that we have an amazing local butchers, which sources mostly from farms within a few miles of where we live (I think the chicken is from about thirty miles away, still in North Yorkshire), and they proudly display their suppliers in the shop and on the sign board for different products. You can buy pretty much any cut of meat and offal there, as well as cooked ham, tongue, eggs, pies and sausage rolls.

Near work there is another local butchers which I use occasionally - they do a wider range of cooked meats - and a lot of their meat comes from their own farm.

We use a farm shop and a greengrocers near where I work and sometimes the market in York if we are in the city. (Obviously we haven't been able to use the market of late due to restrictions). Most towns and cities have some kind of market, and I remember that my grandparents, living ten floors up in a tower block in inner city Leeds, got their fruit, vegetables, meat and fish from Leeds Market - it is a great pity that we do not go into the city centre in Leeds much nowadays as Leeds Market is one of the most amazing markets in the country in my opinion and growing up near Leeds I remember going there from a very young age. I particularly remember the fish market (which used to be in the middle of the market but now moved to the row nearest the Corn Exchange if you do know the place) and often I saw a crab or lobster crawling around a stall!

I appreciate that many of the out of town identikit housing estates have not been planned with local shops or suppliers in mind and so finding the sorts of shops and indeed markets we use can be difficult for some. However in many towns and cities there are (in normal times that is) farmers markets too and there are often food themed events at various public venues with local producers and artisan foodstuffs. There are though plenty of farms selling direct to the public either from the farm gate/shop or via box schemes or delivery, though these can sometimes be pricey. Eggs and potatoes are commonly sold at farm gates.

Some supermarkets are ok with having local-ish suppliers (Booths in Cumbria for instance) and it is getting better for finding out the traceability of some products in store, for instance in Tesco there are often labels on the packaged vegetables and fruit to say which farm they have come from and Morrisons works very closely with farmers for much of its produce and meat, and by all accounts, has been very good in payment terms during the coronavirus lockdown. That being said, if you can buy direct from farm or a local butchers or greengrocers you are cutting often cutting out one layer of profit slicing so more (if not all) of what you are paying is going to the farmer that produced the food. It is good to see that so many more people are re-discovering local food suppliers during this lockdown, prompted in many cases by the empty shelves in supermarkets early on in the crisis caused by panic buying. Hopefully many people will stick with these suppliers when the crisis has passed.

One way of course of getting local food is to produce it yourself and whilst the scale of what we do in the allotment is not available to many, everyone can grow something, and my grandparents grew tomatoes and cucumbers in the window of their tenth floor flat in Leeds. They also went foraging for blackberries every year too on the nearby railway embankment (there was a fence at the top next to the actual railway!) and local paths. It would be nice for us to keep chickens but we don't have the space at home to give them proper freedom and the allotment contract doesn't allow livestock. That being said, there may be someone in your local area that does and might be able to do a barter.

At certain times of year there is, even in urban environments, a variety of foraged foodstuffs to be found, whether that be blackberries, elderberries/flowers, apples, sometimes pears or damsons or sweet chestnuts. I have tried making my own dandelion root and also acorn coffee, although the acorn tastes much nicer than the dandelion one, indeed during the war acorns were used to make "ersatz coffee". Some people forage mushrooms but you really have to know what you are looking for as a mistake could be life threatening in a few cases.

This book is, in my opinion, one of the best books on the subject of foraging for food and has been in print for many years

If you fancy home brewing I can vouch for the blackberry wine recipe in this book!

Sometimes though, food miles are not always the best yardstick to judge a product's environmental impact, for instance with bananas, as they come over on a ship, the emissions per banana are quite small. Out of season, apples from New Zealand could be of less impact than local apples from the previous summer stored in temperature controlled sheds for long periods or, for instance, peppers grown in heated greenhouses here versus outdoor grown from the Mediterranean.

This book is a good go-to on this topic:

Checking the ethical status of the food production is also a good thing, although it is sometimes difficult to establish the traceability of the ingredients of a particular foodstuff and there are, sadly, often compromises that have to be made when it comes to budget. However, many brands do publish their traceability and ethical credentials, and there is money to be made in promoting good practice as more consumers become ethically aware.

Next time, I look at how one can make steps to purchase and use consumer goods and services in a more environmentally friendly way.

Monday 8 June 2020

Lockdown Day 77 - Small Steps - Part 1

In this blog I mention a few small steps that most people can take to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable in their everyday lives. Now, not all changes will possible for all people, whether that be through location, accommodation type, financial ability and so on, but it is my opinion that everyone can do something.

1. Recycle all you can. Look at what a product is packaged in when making the purchase.

This can be difficult. Not all councils collect all types of currently recycled material. Some may be doorstep collected but some may need to be taken to a collecting point, whether that be at a supermarket or car park, or council waste centre, which may be some distance away. However, we currently recycle the following at some point:

  • Plastic bottles including milk, shampoo and fabric softener bottles 

(we rarely get plastic milk bottles as we use a milkman)

  • Plastic yoghurt pots, margarine tubs (I am a bit disappointed that there's not many recyclable yoghurt pot lids yet)
  • plastic food trays
  • Plastic chocolate boxes - we always try to choose Easter eggs that have the minimum of packaging or have recyclable packaging.
  • Clean ready meal trays (plastic or foil) - very rare we get a ready meal but at least we can recycle the package should we need to
  • Empty aerosols (I think there is just the shaving foam for my legs but at least it can be recycled!)
  • Glass bottle and jars
  • Clean foil  including takeaway containers (not often we have a takeaway but as well as recycling, we have used some of the clear plastic rectangular tubs you often get curries in for our own leftovers in the freezer. 
  • Empty tins and cans

I was going to start recycling crisp packets via this scheme (which covers a lot of other recycling options as well) but my nearest collection points are schools at least four miles away and given the current coronavirus restrictions it would, I think, be a mistake to go calling at a school with these just now. 

Tetra Paks - we take to a collection point at a Askham Bar Tesco near York, there's quite a lot of collection points for these at many supermarkets. 

Milk Bottles - we send back to the milkman

Paper and Card - doorstep collection

Boxes have a variety of second uses although we do recycle some. 

Yoghurt pots also have a second life with us as plant pots, with a hole drilled in the bottom. Similarly for cottage cheese pots. 

Batteries and electrical equipment and light bulbs - should we need to dispose of any - go to our council recycling centre. 

Jiffy bags have a second life used for sending out presents and other post. 

However, it is better to try and not use plastic in the first place - we get most of our vegetables and fruit from a farm shop and a greengrocer in paper bags and those we get from a supermarket we use paper bags for or end up really annoying (not deliberately) the checkout assistant with lots of loose fruit as we have some padded bags that we put apples or oranges in to protect them on the way home!

There doesn't seem to be a way of not getting meat wrapped in plastic or in a plastic bag from our butcher (unless we were to take our own containers) and in any case we often buy in bulk so need plastic bags for meat put into the freezer. 

As you can see, even just covering recycling there are sometimes compromises to be made - for instance getting our meat from a local butcher supplied by farms within a few miles radius is of course a really good thing, but then it uses plastic that can't be recycled easily.

All our waste vegetable and fruit peelings, stalks etc go into composting. Some councils have food waste bins that cover a wider set of food waste.  

Hopefully it will be back open again soon, but we had started using a zero-waste shop (which used to be known as "scoop shops") near where I work for loose dried fruit, pasta, rice and other dried goods. These are often fairly good value too. 

Re-use of items, turning them into something new, is also good if you have the skills or opportunity - this blog http://www.cashandcarrots.com/2013/07/recycling-in-allotment.html covers a few things that we have re-used. A long time ago an old upholstered chair got turned into a dolls' house three piece suite! Old worn out clothes can be used for rags, used for patching (or indeed doll's clothes if you have children!) or to make a face mask, or can be sent to rag recycling via various charities that then get some money for them. Of course any still sell-able clothes can be donated to charity shops along with bric-a-brac and many other items. I am really quite happy to be part of that process of the circular economy in my job in a charity shop and we can also send away for recycling many items that can't be sold - damaged clothes, sharp knives, broken silver/gold jewellery and some other items that we can't sell for a variety of safety reasons, and receive some money for these. 

I appreciate that this can take a little bit of forethought and remembering to separate things out, which can take a few minutes, but we only generally one third fill our household general waste bin every fortnight. Some people go a long further into the zero waste methodology than we do, but we do look for ways in which we can improve - like I said, everyone can do something for sustainability and the environment!

In Part 2 I look at local food options.