Saturday, 28 July 2007

An early autumn?

It has been a lovely sunny day today which has been a very welcome change from all the dull wet weather that we have been having lately. It actually felt like summer at last.

Then, late this afternoon I went for a walk and started seeing signs of autumn. Has anyone else noticed that all the berries seem to be ripening much earlier this year?


Horse Chestnut




Perhaps all this cool damp weather coming after the very warm spring has fooled the plants into thinking that summer is over. I hope not, but the photos I took today look more like late August than July.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Back to normal

Things are just about back to normal for us now. The water levels around the village have gone down and we haven't had a power cut since Monday. My husband has been working from home this week as the trains haven't been running on part of his journey to work but this morning he decided to go in to the office. (He has just phoned me to say he is sitting on a rail replacement bus in a traffic jam somewhere outside Oxford so maybe things are not going to be completely normal for a while).

Of course, we are the lucky ones. There are thousands of people without running water or electricity or both and for some it might take a week or two before supplies are restored. Then of course there is the flood damage to houses with some people not likely to be able to return to their homes for months.

It has made me realise how vulnerable we are once the infrastructure breaks down and how unprepared we are as a family if this should happen to us. I always have some bottled water, for emergencies, but what use would half a dozen bottles be if we were without water for a week? We tend to have a reasonable amount of food in store but that is because I buy in bulk when things are on offer, so the food in store would not provide a very balanced diet and wouldn't last more than a couple of weeks anyway. I grow a small amount of vegetables and fruit on my allotment , but that is a mile and a half from home and in times of food shortage the chance of any ripe food or veg remaining on the plot for me to harvest would be very slim.

We are also completely dependent on electricity. We have gas central heating and water heating but that requires electricity to function and we cook by electric. Our house, built in the late 1980s has no chimney or space to put one so heating by solid fuel which we could store for emergencies would not be an option either.

A few years ago I investigated the possibility of getting solar panels for water heating but was told by the company I contacted that the combination of our house being situated east/west, being closely surrounded by houses and having tall trees to the west would mean that ours was one of the few houses that they would not recommend putting panels on.

Up to now I have concentrated on trying to live simply and reduce our impact on the environment and the amount of fuel we use, no clothes drier or dishwasher, low energy light bulbs, small 48 mpg car, not flying, buying local food, growing food, eating meat less often, buying used, etc etc but I've come to realise that although these are positive things to do, they won't actually help us as a family when there is a crisis. Although it seems frightening to do so, it is time to think about how we can better prepare ourselves for a future emergency.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Severe weather

On Thursday I heard that from midnight there was a severe weather warning for southern England. It was difficult to believe on such a peaceful evening.

The next morning we woke up to rain. It rained steadily at first and then the hardest rain I have ever seen. School was finishing early as it was the last day of term and late morning as I drove to the station to pick up my son from the train, water was just running down the road like a river. We drove up the hill to our home and I decided that before returning to work I ought to make sure that the chickens were not getting damp. Occasionally after very heavy rain, we get a couple of inches of water collecting at the end of the garden which stays for an hour or so but the coop was well away from that and I was sure they would be fine. It was just as well I checked, this is the view of my garden from an upstairs window.

I have never seen anything like this before, the whole garden was completely under water. Our part of the village is right on top of the hill, this was not water run off, this was just the sheer volume of water falling faster than it could drain away. You can just see the chicken coop on the right hand side, the poor things were completely flooded. They had had the sense to go to the top bit where they roost which was just as well because the whole of the door into their house was under water. There was nowhere dry to move them to, our shed had six inches of water in it, so I had to rescue them and bring them into the kitchen. You can imagine, wet frightened hens in a kitchen turns out to be a bit of a mess! After an hour or so the water level had gone down sufficiently to let them into the garden where they seemed to enjoy paddling.

Later in the afternoon we had bright sunshine and were able to get the coop dried out ready for the night. By this afternoon the water had completely gone so in a couple of days we should be able to move everything back to normal.

We got off lightly, the water didn't get in our house ( almost but not quite), we had no permanent damage and we were only without electricity for four hours. Also we all managed to get home. My husband managed to get trains to our local station just before they all stopped running in this area but it took him two hours and 25 miles to do the 2 mile drive from the station to home. Every route he tried to come home was flooded until he found one that was still passable. I heard on the news that some people are still at emergency centres with no way of getting home.

As we live in heated homes and can travel in watertight warm vehicles I think we forget how powerful the weather is. We make arrangements to travel and meet up with people, arranging times to the minute and assuming that everything will go according to our schedules, its not until something like this happens that we realise that we are not in control at all, the planet has the last word.

Monday, 16 July 2007

End of term and a meme.

Almost the end of term now, just one week to go, yet it still doesn't really feel like mid summer. My allotment is doing well with all this rain, lots of spinach beet, chard and lettuce which often by this time would be starting to bolt and set seed are still churning out lots of leaf. The downside has been the large numbers of slugs. These are always a problem in the garden but not on the allotment which has very gravelly soil but this year my courgettes plants have been nibbled as soon as the first two leaves have appeared. So while some allotment holders are harvesting courgettes I'm still persevering and sowing yet more seeds, I will be harvesting very late courgettes. Its a bit sad to have to admit that after more than ten years of growing vegetables I seem to have failed with courgettes but I am determined not to use slug pellets and am hoping for a spell of dry weather to solve the problem.

I have been tagged by Jenny for a meme, Bloggers for Positive Global Change. Thank you Jenny. I now have to think of five people to nominate for the award which is proving difficult as there are so many people writing about their lives and the changes they have made to lower their impact on the earth. So, just five is hard but here goes.

One of my favourite reads is Zane at Lichenology. He writes about the benefits, to his family as well as to the planet, of their decision to live a mindful uncluttered life.

Another blog I've been reading for a while is e4 at Green, Blue, Brown who at the moment is growing a very successful garden with very little rain and also posts yummy pictures of his local food meals.

Tash at Vintage Pretty writes about living her life thoughtfully. She grows her own veg, keeps chickens and shops locally. She also takes lovely pictures of the many flowers in her garden.

I'm sure my last two will have been nominated by many others already but they are Sharon at Casaubons Book and Miranda at Simple Living. They, like the others I've nominated are "walking the talk" ( or cycling in Miranda's case) and reducing their impact on the earth.

The rules of the meme are here.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

An Egg!

Two consecutive chicken posts I'm afraid as we have the excitement of the first egg.

The egg was fried and then cut into quarters so that we could share it and agree with my husband that it was definitely the best ever egg!

I was pleased to learn from the comments to my last post that the chickens would be fine if we let them out of the coop. They had their first taste of freedom this afternoon and seemed to thoroughly enjoy pecking everything in sight. At the moment they are still happily wandering round the garden but I am hoping they will take themselves home to roost soon as the light fades.

Thursday, 12 July 2007


Its all very exciting, the chickens and their new home arrived this week.

As these are my husbands birthday present he was responsible for their names, the brown one is Sage and the black one is Onion!!

They are settling into their new surroundings and seem quite content.

When they were delivered, I asked how long they should be kept in their run so that they could get used to it before they were let out into the garden. I was surprised to learn that it might not be a good idea to let them out at all. The reason for this was that while they only expected to stay in their run, then they would be quite happy but if they were let out into the garden sometimes but not others they would be less content.
Apparently even though our garden is surrounded by six foot fencing, a fox could still get in so letting them out when we might not always be around is not a good idea.

So, the question for any back garden chicken keepers is "what shall I do?" Obviously if the best thing to do is to keep them in the run at all times then that is what we will do. Perhaps its because I hate being stuck indoors that it feels a bit sad to confine them to a relatively small run. What do you think? If they are creatures of habit would a suitable compromise be to let them out for a few hours at the end of every day? As I only work part time even on working days I am always home by four. Would that be kinder? Please comment and let me know what you think. We were told not to let them out for at least a week any way so I have a few more days to think about it.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Saving Planet Earth

Its been one of those weeks this week and I just don't know where the time has gone. I am working an extra day a week at the moment and that together with all that needs doing in the garden and going away last weekend means that I seem to have been trying to catch up all week.

Friday was a big rush after school/work as we had tickets to the BBC Saving Planet Earth event at Kew Gardens. No photos though because in all the hurry I forgot the camera. My eldest son did get about a three second appearance on television when he managed to stand near Graham Norton as he did a piece to camera. We had set the video so we have a record of this and nobody will be allowed to record over it!

I see from the Saving Planet Earth website that the event raised over £1,000,000 to help endangered species. I do wonder though if when people make a donation to a fund such as this, they then feel that they have done their bit to help and carry on as usual.

The wildlife film they showed on Friday evening was about the disappearance of Orang-utans in Borneo due to the destruction of their habitat.
Huge areas of rainforest are being cleared to plant plantations of the palm which provides palm oil. Palm oil is used in many commercially produced bakery products. The pictures of the cleared areas were so sad, the area is just massive. Each Orang-utan needs an area of rainforest equivalent to ten football pitches to survive and every minute the equivalent of three football pitches is being destroyed. I find it so difficult to get my head around these facts, when we know how biodiverse the rainforest is, such a high rate of destruction is unbelievable.

Some of the money raised will provide a sanctuary for displaced orang-utans and fund the purchase of food for them. This is obviously very badly needed in order to keep these animals alive but I wonder if this is just helping to cure the symptoms (hungry orang-utans) of the destruction we have caused and maybe taking the attention away from the root cause.

The best way we could save the orang-utans would be to leave the rainforest intact. To do this we would have to stop planting palm oil plantations and to do that we would have to stop using palm oil. I rarely buy bakery products and don't think I am buying anything containing palm oil but I will check ingredients carefully if I do buy baked goods.

I just hope that as well as giving money to save endangered species we are also prepared to make other changes in our lives which will minimise the destruction of the environment.

Monday, 2 July 2007

A weekend in Wales

We've just returned from a weekend away in Wales. We try to get away each year between the boys' birthdays which luckily fits in well with the end of school exams. We had a 15th birthday three weeks ago and a 17th birthday on Monday so this was the last in between weekend. The boys take it in turns to choose the location but in fact it makes very little difference as we always end up just over the border into Wales either in the Brecon Beacons or in the Hay-on-Wye/ Black Mountains area.
This time it was a Youth Hostel way up in the black mountains, miles away from anywhere and it was brilliant. Unfortunately this hostel will be closing permanently in October. It is an old hill farm and it requires updating which would cost too much compared to the revenue that the hostel generates. Its such a shame when some of these hostels have to close, we have certainly benefited from their low cost unique accommodation for many holidays and short breaks as the children have grown up.
The weather this weekend.......... we had rain, more rain, heavy rain, low cloud, more rain. drizzle, well you get the general idea. Not much walking was done but we were able to retreat into Hay-on-Wye with its coffee shops and bookshops, so not much of a hardship really.

Some pictures from the weekend.

The Youth Hostel

View from the Hostel

A wet walk in the mountains