Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Spring in the garden

I know spring is well on its way when I hear the frogs croaking in our tiny little pond. A couple of days after first hearing them I noticed the frogspawn. There are often more than a dozen frogs in and around the pond and the amount of frogspawn seems a bit optimistic for the size of the pond. The frogs vary in size, I don't know how long it takes for a frog to become fully grown. This is one of the larger ones.

As I have now decided that it is spring I've already planted my potatoes in pots. I hope it is not too early but the pots are right up against the house wall which should give some frost protection. I tried this last year and got two or three meals worth of potatoes from each pot. However since last year the chickens have arrived and they like to sit in pots and generally destroy the contents!

I have surrounded the potato pots with chicken wire to keep them safe.

The potato tubers (two per pot) are planted two or three inches from the bottom of the pot and covered with a couple of inches of compost. Once the leaves are visible another layer of compost is added until the top of the pot is reached. To get good yields the pot needs to be much bigger but these were all I had. I have heard that potatoes can be grown in a similar way in black bin liners (with drainage holes) unrolling the bag and adding more compost as the plants grow but I've yet to try that, I'm not sure that bin liners would be chicken-proof.

I am now hoping for some more fine weather so I can get the allotment ready for some spring planting.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Keeping heating costs down

Since starting to reduce our fuel use for heating and hot water, this little Galileo thermometer has stood on our mantelpiece giving us a visual indication of the room temperature.

We have gas central heating and up until a few years ago I used to set the timer clock at the start of the winter and leave it on the same setting until spring. The heating would switch on for a couple of hours in the morning as we were getting up and then switch on again mid afternoon until bedtime. I think back then the thermostat was set for around 18-20C (64 -68F). Not any more!

When I started thinking about how much heating we actually need, I realised that the temperature of the house varies from day to day depending on the amount of sunlight, the number of people at home, the amount of cooking etc. The temperature we require also varies depending on what we are doing, the temperature needs to be higher if we are sitting reading or watching television than if we are cleaning, cooking or moving around.

So now we have reduced the thermostat setting to 15 C (59 F) and the heating comes on automatically for 45 minutes in the morning just before we get up and for three hours in the evening from 6-9pm. If the house cools too much outside of these times we push the "extra hour" button for some additional heating.

We use the Galileo thermometer as a quick guide to the temperature of the living room. Ours has four glass bulbs, calibrated at 16, 20, 24 and 28 C. If all the bulbs are at the top of the tube then the temperature is below 16 C (61 F) and if we are cold we add an hours heating. If the red bulb has dropped to the bottom of the tube (as in the first photo) then the room temperature is above 16 C and the rule is that if you are cold at this temperature then you should be wearing more clothes!

After several years of keeping to these temperatures we now all have a good supply of warm clothes (lots of layers) and find we are quite comfortable running the heating a lot less than we used to.

I have recently completed one of those carbon footprint calculators. I put in the figures for our 2007 gas usage and was pleased to find that per person we came out at well under a third of the average UK carbon dioxide emissions for heating and for electricity. Using this little thermometer to gauge whether the house really is cold or whether we should wear an extra sweater must have saved us a considerable amount of money and fuel - its certainly paid for itself.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Catching up

Its half term with us at the moment and as usual all is busy. I am in awe of bloggers who lead busy lives, are very creative making things, look after children, animals and gardens and still find time to blog frequently. Sometimes it seems to take all my time and energy just simply living leaving very little time to blog about living simply! - not that I'm complaining, I do like being busy.

We have just returned from a couple of days in Wales and as always it was really beautiful. It is our favourite place for a short break and with the wonderful weather we have had lately, it was just perfect.

Although we were not away for long it takes a while to get back into the routine. We had turned the heating off when we went away and with night time temperatures below zero the house felt very cold when we got back. My solution was to make a large quantity of warming soup. I used a recipe I spotted in the Times last Saturday for Spicy Carrot and Butternut Squash soup and can definitely recommend this as a very good soup for a cold day.

I also need to catch up with a couple of awards that I've been meaning to mention.

The first one was given to be by Learning to Step Lightly and the second by Barefoot in the Garden. Thank you to both. The rules for both state that the award should be passed on to 10 more blogs. Since that is an awful lot of links and I am feeling just a bit overwhelmed by everything I have to do at the moment I am going to cheat on this one and choose the blogs on my blogroll all of which I rate as excellent and in different ways all make my day!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentines Day

"when the gorse is out of bloom, then kissing's out of fashion"

Luckily more than one species of gorse grows in the UK. The Common Gorse or Furze flowers in the spring and is flowering now. It will continue until early summer when the Dwarf or Summer Gorse comes into bloom continuing until the start of winter. This covers most of the year but there are always a few flowers on gorse bushes all through the winter so I don't think kissing will be losing its popularity anytime soon!

Happy Valentines Day.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Allotment planning and planting

Its that time of year again. The recent warm days have started me thinking about what I will be growing this year at my allotment. The photo shows my choices for this year. Its actually very similar most years but this year I have decided not to grow potatoes. Last summer nearly all potatoes on the site suffered from blight and as it can linger in the soil I have decided to give them a miss for a year. The tomatoes will be grown at home away from other tomatoes and potatoes and I have chosen a blight resistant variety, Ferline ( thanks to moonroot for the recomendation) so I am hoping for a better crop than last summer.

I wanted to grow something new instead of the potatoes and I have chosen sweetcorn. I've never grown this before but other plot holders have. It was another crop that didn't do too well last year so perhaps this year will be a good year.

I have taken advantage of the recent warm weather and have already planted the onion sets and the broad beans together with some parsnips from saved seeds. This week I shall sow the leek seeds and possibly a row of early carrots. I like this time of year at the allotment, all the fun of planning and planting without all the mid-summer weeding and watering!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

February Sunshine

Like most of the southern half of the country we have had a wonderful weekend of blue skies and sunshine. Yesterday we went for a walk along the River Thames, all a bit muddy but great to get out into the fresh air. Today I have spent quite a bit of time sitting on my little bench with a book and a cup of tea, the sun was really quite warm though it did seem a bit odd to be reading in the garden in February.

At my allotment yesterday, I was talking to my neighbour on the next plot and she reckoned that this year the season is about two weeks advanced from usual. She has rented her plot for over fourty years so she should know! Today while sitting in the garden I watched a pair of robins flying in and out of a climber on the back of my house with beaks full of nest-building materials. When I was little I remember being told that the birds started nest building on Valentines Day. These robins have been nestbuilding for at least a week, possibly another indication that spring is arriving a couple of weeks early.

I took this photo of the first shoots of my early rhubarb just because I love the bright colour of the first buds and leaves as they push through the soil.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008


I've been tagged for an archive meme by Alexah at Learning to Step Lightly. There are five categories and I have to link back to a post I have written in each category. These are the rules and categories.

Below are the rules as they were presented to me:

Archive Meme Instructions: Go back through your archives and post the links to your five favorite blog posts that you’ve written. … but there is a catch:

Link 1 must be about family.
Link 2 must be about friends.
Link 3 must be about yourself, who you are… what you’re all about.
Link 4 must be about something you love.
Link 5 can be anything you choose.

I think this is a great way to circulate some of the great older posts everyone had written, return to a few great places in our memories and also learn a little something about ourselves and each other that we may not know. Post your five links and then tag five other people. At least TWO of the people you tag must be *newer acquaintances so that you get to know each other better….and don’t forget to read the archive posts and leave comments!

Looking at the categories listed I realise that I write very little about family, friends or myself. I am quite a private person and tend to keep things to myself and so don't write much about us other than in general terms. So the first three categories are going to be a bit tricky!

Link 1 - Family

I have chosen Pale Grey Days in which I mention the problems of living far away from family, in this instance the distance I live from my parents.

Link 2 - Friends.

I have written nothing about friends at all but rather than leave this section blank I have included this post about the arrival of our Chickens. Well, you can be friends with chickens can't you?

Link 3 - me.

I haven't written anything about myself. However, as the name of my blog suggests I do spend a lot of time thinking about the changes that have happened to our lifestyles in the last hundred years since we started living our current fossil fueled lifestyles and also wondering, as we reach Peak Oil and we have to cut back on fuel use, how our way of life will change once again. So the post I have chosen isn't really about me but it about the way I think - the post is Quiet.

Link 4 - something I love.

In contrast to the first three categories, there are many posts that I could choose for this, knitting, gardening, cooking, nature. The post I have chosen is Bluebells. This is a picture post of the bluebell wood just a few miles from home and at bluebell time it is my favourite place.

Link 5 - anything.

Again a big choice here, I have chosen Simple Living. Living Simply best sums up how I would like to live my life and I enjoy focusing on the details of each day.

Now I have to choose five people to tag. They are

Sunday, 3 February 2008


I haven't posted for over a week. Its not that I've been particularly busy but a combination of the end of the tax year and a lot of coursework assignments has meant that my husband and the boys have all had greater claims to the computer. Hopefully things will now calm down a bit and I will catch up with a bit of blog reading and posting.

I took these photographs this afternoon while out for a walk, I love snowdrops but the ones in my garden have been henpecked!

Continuing on a white theme I took some photos of some tree bark and some silver birch logs.